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Has your department been outsourced yet?

If not, stay tuned – under the new corporatocracy (aka the Reign of the Insane), some unseen clock is inevitably ticking down on your life and future.

Friends and coworkers will be shunted aside, let go, forced into early retirements and unforseen departures, or worse, find themselves en masse forced to “interview for their job” with some new outside vendor.  Losing all tenure, benefits and vacation time to effectively start their career from scratch at the same company, likely for lesser pay to boot.  Forced into second class citizenship at their very own place of employment, despite literal decades of service.  All in the name of “continuous improvement”, “business metrics” and putting forth a good face to the shareholders.  Bean counters and tyrannical HR reps are the new gods, and like Crom, they care not whether you worship or defy.

Go ahead, keep supporting these clowns, voting their bought and paid for representatives of the right wing into power, shunting personal tax dollars into their decade long zero-tax incentives and corporate subsidies.  That’s right, you personally are paying welfare for the folks who turn around and abuse your trust, treat you like an indentured servant while cutting away any measure of personal worth, benefits or “work life balance”.

You work because you like it, not because of the renumeration.  And yes, they actually say this in public – just listen to statements being made on the RNC election trail.

What does all this have to do with music, you ask?

Everything.

Because in a world where there are less and less “outs”, less ways to vent personal frustration (and therefore mounting aggression) at widespread mistreatment and assaults on individual rights, we can still count on dark, aggressive music to sublimate and channel all of this negative energy to enough of a degree to keep slogging through every day.

Punk, metal, even gothic rock affirm the value of the individual and the subculture, that we can personally effect change, that we have a reason to exist, that together we are strong.

That we can upend a corrupt system, and make a better world.

This is your wake up call.  Because that metaphorical clock is ticking down, and your time is coming too.

Act now or forever hold your peace.  Stand on your feet like a man (or in the ladies’ case, strong individual).  Or die on your knees like a worm.

Which will you choose?

Time to rock and roll.  Let’s go…

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ELECTRIC DEATHBEAT – DEAD ECHO PARANOIA (self released) (July 10)

In the vein of Gothminister, Megaherz and to a lesser extent such forbears as Marilyn Manson, Nine Inch Nails and Skinny Puppy comes Electric Deathbeat, a Finnish gothic-industrial metal act marked by strong keyboard and programming elements, crunching, post-death metal guitars and double bass drumming and sprechtgesang vocals in the Manson vein.

The vocals also cross into straight up gothic neo-baritone territory (think Audra or Voltaire) and occasionally into aggro growls that owe some measure of allegiance to the Phil Anselmo school, though the latter are thankfully brief and somewhat thin on the ground.

There’s a strong melodic component to all of this, which is where the more gothic metal elements come to the fore and why names like Gothminister and Megaherz come into play, but it’s an interesting hybrid that should work quite well for fans of subgenre standbys as far afield as, say, Slipknot, Ministry and the more radio friendly strains of European gothic metal (think Unsun, Nemesea, post-Silent Force Within Temptation, et al).  Then there’s that noticeable late Death machine gun stutter riffing that brings Echoes of Eternity to mind…

Apparently, and much in line with both Gothminister and NIN’s Reznor, this started as a one man show about 4 years back, before expanding into a more workable and tourable four man unit.

I was both comfortable with and sufficiently impressed by these guys, and can’t see why those of a similar musical bent shouldn’t concur.  Another surprisingly strong self release to kick off the monthly reviews.

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RATTUS – FINNISH PUNK VETERAN RATTUS MEXICO TOUR 2015
(Twisted Entertainment) (October 8)

Not quite sure what to make of this one. I was given four tracks of at least 8 total (to judge by the numbering) from Finnish punk collective Rattus, whose 2013 release Turta we’d reviewed previously, but no real info other than that the band will be (or is currently) touring south of the border.

Okay…nice to know…

In terms of the music, Rattus plays a very modern variant of punk, where the energy and gang choruses definitely say punk, but the growly aggro vox, noisy double bass kitwork and general sound point much more towards post-millenial mallrat skatepunk nonsense.

Has its moments to be sure, with the best of the four being “Mina”.

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LYNCH MOB – Rebel (Frontiers Music srl) (August 21)

George Lynch and Jeff Pilson together again.!  If “Wild” Mick Brown (who was with Lynch Mob when Pilson wasn’t) were still in tow, it’d be for all intents and purposes a Dokken reunion.

Of course, it’s sort of a Lynch Mob reunion, too, as original singer Oni Logan’s back in tow…so think of it as a mixed band reunion, half Dokken get together, half Lynch Mob barbeque.  Pull out the ribs and steak, and let’s get grillin’!

OK, first thing’s first. If you’re like me and haven’t touched anything Lynch Mob since Wicked Sensation…don’t expect anything like that album, much less its amazing, guitar-centric title cut.

This is more of a mid-90’s style heavy rock affair, with a touch of modern production and slow, somewhat detuned riffing.  There are some decided Lynch touches in the busier riffs and open string/triad stings, and of course his patented “Mr. Scary” legato leads are very much in evidence.

But it all feels very countrified, as if old George shuffled his ass down past the Mason-Dixon line…and for all I know, he may very well have!  There’s a definite Southern rock vibe to a lot of this working alongside the 90’s grunge-era/post-Guns N Roses last gasp of metal feel that was always part and parcel of the Lynch Mob template as opposed to his slicker, more melodic work with Dokken (see also Hungry-era XYZ or Slave to the Thrill-era Hurricane for this sort of radical, polished metal to noisy roots-rock change in sound).

And honestly? You know those smooth vocal harmonies Jeff Pilson brought to the Dokken template? Nowhere to be found. His name holds marquee value, to be sure, but this listener couldn’t even tell the guy was there, as opposed to any other stalwart hard rock-style bass player.

There’s still stuff to love here, but it’s primarily found in paying close attention to Lynch’s playing, and particularly his famous solos. The rest is listenable, and should probably make more stalwart fans of Lynch Mob happy.

I just know these men are capable of so much more.

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JOEL HOEKSTRA’S 13 – Dying To Live (Frontiers Music srl) (October 16)

Joel Hoekstra, one of the guitarists with post-millenial incarnations of Whitesnake, Night Ranger and Trans Siberian Orchestra, pulls together a bit of an all star thing.

Vocals run the gamut from Yngwie frontman Jeff Scott Soto to Symphony X’s Russell Allen and the aforementioned Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s Chloe Lowery, while Dio sticksman Vinny Appice and Blue Murder’s 4-stringer Tony Franklin provide the backup.

Guests include Dream Theater keyboardist Derek Sherinian and Coldplay cellist Dave Eggar, and the album itself struggles to find its identity between a very Yngwie Malmsteen-feeling riff and keyboard approach, the more Vivian Campbell-meets-John Sykes through a wah filter playing style of Hoekstra himself.

Vocals occasionally slip into wannabe Dio growling (“say goodbye to the sun”, “dying to live”), but more often tend towards the more melodic and clean midrange-to-soaring approach listeners have come to expect from Frontiers (and Jeff Scott Soto) per se.

“The only way to go”, while straddling the two styles, ultimately comes off more like classic Joe Lynn Turner/Graham Bonnett era Rainbow, and closers “start again” and “what we believe” actually feel soft and neo-countrified enough to pass as post-Don’t Look Back Boston or even Kevin Cronin-era REO Speedwagon (!)

Ultimately, if you’re looking for catchy, well produced AOR/traditional melodic metal with some good playing and strong vocals, you really can’t go wrong with this one.

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VOODOO HILL – Waterfall (Frontiers Music srl) (October 16)

Guitarist Dario Mollo joins Deep Purple/Black Sabbath singer Glenn Hughes for this project.  No stranger to collaborations with big names in rock and metal, Mollo’s also done work alongside fellow post-Dio Sabbath frontman Tony Martin and Rainbow/Alcatrazz mainman Graham Bonnett.  Not a bad resume…

Opener “all that remains” is by far the best thing on offer here, but “evil thing” and “eldorado” play in more or less the same ballpark, crossing occasionally flashy, emotion-spilling leads with the riffing style of, say, a more traditional metal variant of Junkyard, or even Wicked Sensation-era Lynch Mob.

Hughes keeps things relaxed and smooth, and the album features the melodically inclined, well produced AOR Frontiers is famous for.

If the rest of the album came off half as strong as “all that remains”, this would have been a five star review. As it is, Waterfall is a very professional if somewhat middling affair, but one that definitely has its moments.

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MAGNUS KARLSSON’S FREE FALL – Kingdom of Rock (Frontiers Music srl) (November 6)

Frontiers pulls together another all-star jam, but this one is well worth looking into.

Why, you ask?  What exactly sets this one apart from a fairly crowded pack? The answer is a simple one: a fella named Magnus Karlsson.

Like Primal Fear bandmates Mat Sinner and Alex Beyrodt, Karlsson is something of a master craftsman, with the guitar and composition notebook the tools of his trade.  And much like his aforementioned peers, Karlsson constructs some absolutely flawless melodic tunefests, but with the additional garnish of flashy, Shrapnel-style fretwork.

Ever picture Yngwie Malmsteen, Paul Gilbert of Racer X and the girls of Phantom Blue, but with the strong melodic orientation of, say, Kane Roberts and Neil Schon?  I know, pipe dream, right?

Yeah, well, check this shit out.

Solid melodic metal/AOR with some nicely done, very obviously flash and multitracked neoclassical shred guitar, that somehow manages to remain subdued within and integral to the composition as a whole…who the hell ever imagined such a thing?

With a strong list of guest vocalists, including Jorn Lande, Rainbow/Malmsteen frontman Joe Lynn Turner, Black Sabbath/Deep Purple vet Tony Martin, TNT’s Tony Harnell (!), Harem Scarem’s Harry Hess, Pink Cream 69’s David Readman and interestingly, Karlsson himself.

While the standout performances come from the usual suspects (Lande, Martin, Harnell, Turner and Hess), nobody here is a slouch, and Karlsson pulls off a more than respectable pair of performances here. Odds are good that he’d recorded guide tracks and everyone decided they were good enough to leave him in the vocal chair, but even against such distinguished company, the guy manages to hold his own.

A very good month for Frontiers, and this is still far and away the standout.

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Gama Bomb – Untouchable Glory (AFM Records) (October 30)

Obvious nods to “ace of spades” and early Overkill kick off what feels like an astronomical improvement over the scat-obsessed 2013 Terror Tapes.  Then it goes sort of Leeway for “avenge me” (complete with a spoken/rapped bit in the middle), somewhat Nuclear Assault on “drinkers inc.”, and you can discern touches of Forbidden in some of the riffing on “my evil eye”.

You can pick up a little Vio-Lence in “the night” and portions of “tuck your T-shirt in” and Anthrax in the gang chorus of “she-thing” and the intensity of Slayer by way of Annihilator informs “James joints”.  There may even be hints of Exodus to the pummelling “I will haunt you”, though all of this is buried within overly-speed driven (and therefore somewhat samey if not indistinguishable over time) riffing structures.

If I had to simplify this, I’d compare them in terms of intensity to Vio-Lence as fronted by Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth, but with the speed of Annihilator or even Toxik.

They’ve got a pronounced and very obvious sense of humor, they really dig cult cinema (check out some of the shirts they’ve been photographed wearing over the past few years, or the very 70’s exploitation poster cover), and they’re Irish, as in hailing from the Emerald Isle, so I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for ’em (thoughts of rolling countryside, crashing waves and village pubs are probably entirely inaccurate fantasyland bullshit, but hey, they come to mind!).

Look, it’s far from perfect, and I don’t know they’d have gotten much beyond the C-list (if that) back in the day.  But I appreciate all the obvious homage, enjoy the manic intensity and good humor and am willing to overlook the inescapable one note-ness of it all to give this one a thumbs up.

So long as you don’t go in expecting a classic for the ages, you should find yourself pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable this one is.

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21 Octayne – 2.0 (AFM Records) (October 2)

Holy crap, they tuned up their guitars!

Last time around with Into the Open, the band showed some strong melodic leanings, but kept things to a very modernistic feel, with detuned guitar tones and a sort of hipster rock modality holding them back somewhat.

Well, no more of that shit, here you get standard tuning, with some very fluid dual guitar work (presumably separately tracked and overdubbed by sole listed guitarist Marco Wriedt), snaking lead lines, relatively strong melodic vocals and occasional but notable bursts of energy make 2.0 an even more solid package than its predecessor.

You can pick a few things apart here: despite some strong phrasing and soaring held tones, vocaliist Hagen Grohe oddly keeps the verses somewhat close to normal speaking range, which keeps a bit of that neo-countrified hipster rock feel (think a less whispery/growly Dave Matthews to get the idea of what I’m saying here).

There are also some really incongrous bits, like the synthesizer-toned bass trying to go a bit Les Claypool meets Mind Funk on “the circle” and the very Garth Brooks-Nashvilleness of “date with myself”.  This stuff isn’t deal breaker territory, it’s just…weird.

But the strong points are pronouncedly so, the improvement between albums is markedly obvious, and tracks like “devil in disguise”, “love’s just a heartbreak” and even “fly with me” and “tale of a broken child” make the ride well worth any bumps along the way.

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Ambush – Desecrator (High Roller Records) (October 30)

High quality old school-style traditional metal. Picture, say, Omen, Malice and Marshall Law-era Obsession coming together for a 2015 reunion and you’ll probably get a good idea of what to expect.

You can put it in retro-traditional metal territory alongside bands like Widow, Cauldron, Skull Fist, Enforcer, Viper and White Wizzard, but there’s something even more “true” feeling about it, if you can believe that.

Like Malice, it’s very Judas Priest vocally, but it has the clear production and open space of Omen, early Obsession or classic Accept.  Hell, even Priest themselves, if you stick to their post-Sin After Sin, pre-Screaming For Vengeance period – that wide open feel that Rick Rubin would co-opt and perfect for a string of classic metal albums towards the end of the 80’s.

Olof Engkvist and Adam Hagelin deliver that dual harmony lead thing that bands like Priest, Maiden, Accept, W.A.S.P. and Twisted Sister were known for, but never get particularly flashy or noticeable…and when you think about it, that’s pretty true to form for the aforementioned bands as well, none of whom were known for featuring guitar heroes like Eddie Van Halen, George Lynch, Warren DiMartini and so forth.

Just two respectable if somewhat workmanlike players who gelled well and played off each other, occasionally trading leads, other times joining for harmony lines, backed up by pounding if rather straightforward and basic Dave Hollandesque drums and fronted by Oskar Jacobsson’s John Cyriis meets James Neal trying to be Rob Halford vocals.

It’s a damn good package all around, the songs are catchy if not memorable, the production is crisp and the all around feel is actually like this is another lower tier act from the early to mid 80’s that escaped everyone’s notice until now…which is exactly what a retro-trad band should be trying to sound like.

Five stars for this one. Shelve alongside your Priest, Accept, Malice and Omen CDs.

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Deadheads – Loaded (High Roller Records) (October 30)

OK, these guys namecheck Iggy Pop and James Williamson, so they’re already on my good side.

Sure enough, the material is hard driving, on the edge of sloppy, distorted to the point where the faders are pushing into the red (shades of Guitar Wolf!), fast paced NYC-style punk rock – think Dead Boys, The Heartbreakers, the harder early Patti Smith or Detroit boys Iggy & the Stooges or the MC5.

This is hard rock done right, pushed to its limits and past the edge of punk but hailing from a vintage prior to the advent of hardcore.  In other words, fucking awesome.

Did I mention Rickard Hellgren drops guitar solos very much in the mold of folks like Cheetah Chrome, Johnny Thunders and Steve Jones?  That’s right, kids. This is the real deal, or at least a band who knows exactly what influences to wear on their collective sleeve.

Bands like Motorhead and AC/DC were working from the same template in the early days – a harder rocking, crazed tempo gutter level boogie band gone aggro sort of thing.  So do I really need to spell it out?

Don’t know what’s up with Sweden and the retro thing, but this is definitely my cup of tea.

Gimme danger.

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Debauchery – F*ck Humanity (Massacre Records) (October 2)

German death metal band who takes their cues from Bolt Thrower in basing their schtick, at least this time around, on Warhammer (they specifically note it’s Warhammer 40K, for all you tabletop gamers).

Apparently they worked some sort of tie in to the series, as the promo materials reference the existence of a “Debauchery tabletop war game” with two manuals (presumably a players guide and DM one/Monster Manual sort of thing) floating around out there.  Don’t ask me, just passing the word.

Their sound is more modern than traditional, crossing the basic feel of tourmates Vader with something of a UK death metal sound.  It’s thick and meaty, with some barbaric sounding milk-gargling vocals that occasionally turn a bit less rheumy for a GWAResque snarl.

The band have some pretty silly and basic monikers as well: Mr. Kill, Mr. Blood, Mr. Death and Mr. Debauchery, if you can believe that.  Stifle those snickers.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this, beyond being rather basic and, at times, a bit plodding.  The solos are acceptable enough when they do appear, but they’re always quite brief and easily missed.  I actually got through half the album when I started to wonder if there was a “no guitar solo” policy in effect here.  I did go back and check, and they’re there alright…just as mentioned, really quick and to the point.  It’s the sort of thing where if you’re not paying close attention, they’re almost invisible.

I don’t mess with Warhammer, but I’m sure if they’d recorded an album by and about the denizens of the Monster Manual (or going way back, Fiend Folio) I’d be talking about how cool an idea this was.  Not sure how they’d handle a song about a Roper or a Flumph, though.

Warhammer gamers, check this one out.  Those who like fairly straightforward modern death metal may also find some value here.

I thought it was listenable, and got a kick out of the concept, but that’s about all I can offer on this one.

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A Sound Of Thunder – Tales From The Deadside (Mad Neptune) (September 25)

Diminutive powerhouse vocalist Nina Osegueda and company return with yet another metal meets hard rock affair.  Crossing heavy metal bombast and dramatics with the sort of riffing that brings acts like Jackyl to mind, she and guitarist Josh Schwartz pick up on an obscure comic series to craft their latest concept album.

When Jim Shooter got fired from Marvel back in 1987, he founded or fronted any number of sub-Marvel companies falling under the header of “indies that really aren’t”: Broadway, Defiant, and most to the point, Valiant. Together with fellow Marvel exes Steve Englehart (Avengers, Doctor Strange) and Bob Layton (Iron Man), he made a go of it with forgettable knockoffs like X-O Manowar and acquisitions from long folded companies like Dell and Gold Key (Magnus Robot Fighter, Dr. Solar, Turok).

It seems that one of the company’s more lasting original creations was something called Shadowman, which moved to videogame company Acclaim before a recent reboot of Valiant and the series.  Yes, folks, normally I speak from personal knowledge and experience.  This paragraph, I had to look up.

Hey, I grew up on comics, and still love all that crap – my wife’s big on all the movies and TV shows, and we still enjoy and treasure a lot of those character-defining story arcs from the 60’s-early 80’s.  But Valiant?  Really?  What’s next, Topps?

In fairness, I guess Spawn and The Darkness were already taken…

Anyway, ignoring the modern day Atlas/Seaboard goes Operation Mindcrime aspect of this, what do you get?

Well, there’s plenty of bits where the music gets quiet so someone can do a “serious” spoken voiceover, a saxophone break, and a very modernistic production sound.  There are decent guitar solos and strong, often double and triple tracked vocals, and the pace is fairly midtempo throughout. Unfortunately, the riffs are fairly forgettable, and that early 90’s feel is all over this one.

I imagine less demanding listeners, and especially those familiar with the comic series being tapped here, should find themselves a lot more enamored of this one than I was.

While it does sound a bit better than Lesser Key of Solomon production-wise, the apple ultimately doesn’t fall very far from the tree.

meh.

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WA.S.P. – Golgotha (Napalm Records) (October 2)

Anthemic with a slight touch of guitar heroics in the traditional metal (or more
accurately, hard rock/AOR) sense.

The songs are melodic and fairly well constructed, Blackie’s raspy screams don’t sound too far removed from the band’s mid-80’s heyday, and while the playing never even approaches shred territory, there’s a pleasant vibe of old school “pay attention now!” to the guitar solos.

The man even tries a power ballad or two, but while it’s definitely a kick ass number, I doubt anyone will be mistaking “miss you” for, say, “sleeping in the fire” any time soon.

And that’s a pretty good metaphor for the album as a whole: more than competent, solidly anthemic, surprisingly listenable and old school enough to please fans of the classic self titled/Last Command era, but it’s unlikely anyone will be fooled into thinking it’s a long lost unreleased album of that time.

That said, Golgotha is clearly the album that should have followed if not replaced Inside the Electric Circus and the band’s Ghoulies soundtrack appearance, marking what is likely a long-overdue return to form.

I can’t honestly say in that respect: I dropped off when I heard my drummer (and a later famed nu-metal act’s bassist of our acquaintance who jammed with us once or twice) trumpeting the virtues of post-jump the shark affair The Headless Children, which I recall absolutely detesting at the time. So for me, this really is a return to a band I haven’t messed with since the cassette days.*

* I did upgrade W.A.S.P. and Last Command to CD many years ago, and once again played the hell out of them at the time, but like a lot of objectively excellent albums I wore out copies of in my teenage years, they haven’t exactly been in regular rotation since.

Any way you slice it, this is a band who comes off with the sort of youthful energy and fire seldom heard from the over-30 crowd, yet clearly playing in the same general ballpark as they were that very same number of years agone.

I’m giving this one a spandex and bandana wearing, big hair headbanging horns up.

And if you dig traditional metal, odds are you will too.

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AUDIOTOPSY – Natural Causes (Napalm Records) (October 2)

I wish I was Five Finger Death Punch.  I wish I was Five Finger Death Punch.

Former members of Mudvayne come together for yet another nu metal/aggro project.  As typical for the genre, there are hooks and melodies buried beneath all the throaty screaming, depressed yet really, really angry lyrics and lunkheaded detuned neanderthal riffing, but seriously: who cares?

There was really nothing else to listen to during the early 90’s in “heavy music”, so it was sort of forgivable that everyone started turning on to acts like Pantera, Korn and Coal Chamber.

It’s nearing the end of 2015. Is anyone still listening to this shit?

And if so, why?

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MONSTER MAGNET – Cobras and Fire (The Mastermind Redux) (Napalm Records) (October 2)

Apparently last year’s pointless Last Patrol do-over Milking the Stars lit up whatever jones Dave Wyndorf is feeding these days.  So guess what?

That’s right, he’s gone back a few more years in the discography to give the same lighter, more ostensibly psychedelic treatment to Mastermind.

Look, Spine of God and Superjudge were among the handful of records that helped me get through some very rough years in music, personal life and society as a whole, so you’d be hard pressed to get much of a slag out of me when it comes to Monstermagnet.

It’s more than listenable, and feels a bit heavier (and occasionally more 60’s meets early 70’s retro in a Zombies/Music Machine-esque Farifsa organ sort of way) than Milking the Stars was.  Hell, in a lot of ways, it feels even more retro-Monstermagnet than Last Patrol (the real version) did.  There’s certainly elements here that smack more of Dopes to Infinity if not Superjudge than anything the band’s released since, particularly once you come to the one two punch of “when the planes fell from the sky” and “ball of confusion”.

And in that respect, this one’s a huge improvement over the last (re)release. But come on, another “radical reworking of old material”?  Fairly decent it may be (and yeah, I did like most of Cobras and Fire – feel free to take that to the bank), but this makes the second one in a row.

Was there any real call for this?

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GLORYHAMMER – Space 1992: Rise of the Chaos Wizards (Napalm Records) (September 25)

Alestorm mainman, unrepentant geek and all around good humored bloke Christopher Bowes returns to buy everyone a second round with a significant side of power metal cheese.

A bit less obviously tongue in cheek than Tales From the Kingdom of Fife (“unicorn invasion of Dundee”, anyone?), Bowes and company once again don the D&D cosplay for another LARP session (check out those photos!) and nigh-slavish homage to European power metal in general and Rhapsody (of Fire) in particular.

While there’s still something about the delivery (particularly that of vocalist Thomas Winkler) that says the band isn’t exactly taking themselves seriously, things do seem to be a bit more po-faced than last time around. About the most obviously taking the piss out of all of this things get is “The Hollywood Hootsman, the King of California” and some very obviously Styx-style keyboard phrases that open “victorious eagle warfare”.

The plus to all of this, of course, is that Bowes and company know their shit, and thus Gloryhammer could easily be slipped in among a more straight faced Teutonic power metal aficionado’s playlist without an eyelash being batted. It’s well played, competently produced power metal through and through…just with a knowing smirk and wink of the eye to the more savvy among the audience that all is not quite as it appears.

The question of whether or not Space 1992 (cute nod to a 70’s TV classic there) marks any major improvement over Kingdom of Fife or simply represents more of the same is a more arguable point, though I’m inclined to call this one more consistent, with some markers of increasing comfort and cohesiveness as a band per se (rather than a hastily gathered contingent of musicians) becoming apparent to the closer listen.

Let’s put it this way, there are tracks here like “universe on fire” or the title cut that would work as singles in their own right, the latter tapping into not only Rhapsody, but Epica territory on the latin chanted choruses.

Pure cheese, but fun stuff and well worth a listen to fans of the style.

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SKINDRED – Radio Single “Under Attack” (Napalm Records) (October 30)

Hmm.

Well, this kicks off in a very “groove” by way of nu-metal vein, somewhere between Tool, Clutch and Limp Bizkit (with touches of juggalo business like Twiztid to boot).  Thunk-thunk-thunk-a-thunkathunk detuned guitar and basslines in unison over some Bad Brains- reminiscent Rastaman rapping and Korn-like noise effects.  So far, ugh.

Then all of a sudden, they drop all this shit and go melodic for the chorus, with smooth, clean baritone vocals from Benji Webbe, and damn if I don’t love this part.

Unfortunately, they go right back into the “groove” thing again.  Jeez…

Well, I understand these guys put on an energetic live show, which is a plus, and I did really like the melodic chorus and that mellow break about 3/4 through, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

Curious to hear how this plays out over a full album – like I said, when it goes melodic, it sounds really nice, and Webbe’s warm tones make those parts go down right smooth.

But unless you’re a diehard Slipknot fan or something, what holds Skindred back lies in the rest of it.

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JACKSON FIREBIRD – Shake The Breakdown (Napalm Records) (September 4)

Nu-metal goes hard rock. How 90’s of them!

Seriously.  Bad rapping alternates with raspy singing and lunkheaded “Southern groove” style riffing – this is how they open the album.

Later they drop the rap bits for more pointedly country (“sin for your lovin'”) and high pitched compressed vocals alternating with the deeper, raspier ones. But wait, they’re back!*

* The aptly titled “headache mantra” and my take on the album per se: “sick and tired”

So I guess if you’re a bigtime Kid Rock fan with a jones for Jackyl and possibly Black Label Society, you should be happy with this one.

Great photo shoot, but they called it themselves.

Don’t know about any of you guys, but I’m “sick and tired” of hearing shit like this.

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HUNTRESS – Static (Napalm Records) (September 25)

Jill Janus is quite a character.

Spoke to the lady around the time of her debut full length Spell Eater, and she’s only become more infamous ever since.

Mixing a Cheech and Chong-style stoner vibe with some self-styled wiccan elements, a truly crass and explicit sense of humor (check out some of her artwork and signatures she gives to fans) and an unusual background (associations with Playboy and dance music DJ’ing), Janus offers some truly over the top visuals (barely dressed hardly covers it) and vocals: the wild growling and shrieking on both Spell Eater and its slightly more sedate successor Starbound Beast were so crazed and prominent as to nearly bury the King Diamond/Mercyful Fate-inflected musicianship of guitarist Blake Meahl and company.

Needless to say, the lady’s both garnered exorbitant attention and on the flipside, taken a lot of slagging in the metal press. So with third album Static, we have to ask: what does the band have to say for themselves at this point? Are the critics right?  The band’s growing contingent of fans?  Three albums is more than a lot of bands, particularly flash in the pan, image conscious gimmick acts, ever get.  Will they sink or swim?

Surprisingly enough, the band puts out its best effort since the Off With Her Head EP, if not better.

Janus’ several years of shrieking and snarling have left her with a raspy toned, 80’s metal female frontwoman sort of vocal style, and possibly on the advice of a throat doctor, she keeps things as clean as possible.  Never once does Janus sink into the sort of crazed polyp-producing screaming listeners to her earlier material have come to expect, rather shifting to an open throated if hoarse “clean” singing that gives a tad more believability to early claims of operatic training (which were nowhere in evidence previously).  While I still don’t quite buy that one, she keeps the throat open and delivers a non-stop barrage of powerful yells that prove to be something of a major improvement over the sort of thing she’d delivered in the past.

The band is also pushed up more front and center, just behind the vocals and very much in your face.  It’s not quite a classic Rick Rubin production (the Cult’s Electric, Danzig and Trouble’s respective self titleds, Slayer’s Reign in Blood), but there’s enough negative space and room ambience (however faked it may actually be in these days of ProTools and direct computer interfaces) to showcase a consistently midtempo, but very listenable sound throughout.

To say this band has grown, and dramatically, since the iffy Starbound Beast would be a true understatement.  While it may or may not be to everyone’s taste, the obvious improvement in vocals and the Rubin-esque production on the rest of the band work quite well for me.

Throw out everything else you ever heard or bought from the band, this is the only Huntress album you need.

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AMBERIAN DAWN – Innuendo (Napalm Records) (October 23)

Another band I’d chatted with previously, Amberian dawn ups the game from last year’s Magic Forest.

Frontwoman Paivi “Capri” Virkkunen continues to show improvement and (perhaps more to the point) comfort with the style and tropes of gothic metal, moving beyond her midrange alto and more rock/pop orientation towards a more airy and soaring tone, complete with soprano-esque highs and increased expressiveness whenever and wherever Tuomas Seppala’s material calls for it.

For his part, Seppala has (wisely) chosen to eschew much of the heavy-handedness and stiff feel of prior work for a smoother, more Edenbridge-like compositional structure.   There are hooks and melodies aplenty, a welcome use of double and triple tracking on Virkkunen’s voice and some very busy, continually modulating keyboard and guitar work, backed by inobtrusive but accomplished galloping double bass kitwork.

About the worst thing you can say about it is that it all tends to feel a bit samey after awhile, and if anything, the key changes are too rapid and overdone – did we really need to cycle through all of those modes and key changes in, say, “the witchcraft”?  And that’s just playing devil’s advocate, which falls apart most rapidly when seen in comparison to and contrast with the band’s prior work.

Like Visions of Atlantis’ brief moment of glory Trinity, it’s as if Amberian Dawn has finally “gotten it”, regrouping and working out all the kinks and dumping everything that didn’t work about their sound to date.  While hardly “perfect” (and hey, who and what is?), this is to date the summa cum laude of the band: a perfect jumping on point for the curious and well worth a second chance for those who’d held less than starry eyed feelings about them in the past.

Finally grasping and achieving that delicate balancing act between radio friendly and true to genre, the only Innuendo here is that Amberian Dawn has finally cracked the code.

Corset and lace bedecked gothic metallers and steampunk types take note.

Nice job, folks.

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Märvel – “Love Machine” (Killer Cobra Records) (September 4)

Swedish rock band hires Dismember/Carnage sticksman Fred Estby to produce their oddly laid back, 70’s hard rock/psychedelic cover of W.A.S.P.’s heavy metal classic.

One thing I look for in covers is that the band actually puts a spin on the thing, giving a stamp of their own unique persona and twist that wasn’t there in the original.  In other words, if you’re doing a dead on, note for note cover and aren’t selling yourself as a tribute band, why the fuck are you even bothering?

So I’m happy to say that Marvel at least holds to this adage, taking the dark, raging beast of W.A.S.P.’s early to mid-80’s anthem and twisting it sideways into more of a Killer-era Alice Cooper meets Grand Funk (with just a hint of Hawkwind) variant.

What’s more, they make it sound like it was always supposed to sound this way, which is something of an achievement in and of itself.

Good stuff.

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Antimatter – The Judas Table (Prophecy Produktions) (October 9)

Nick Cave by way of Nick Drake, with a vague Greg Dulli Afghan Whigs sensibility about it.

The UK’s Mick Moss wears his influences on his sleeve, warbling away in a dark, weirdly warbling tenor that sounds more like an oscilloscope than proper vibrato.  But if you can get past the oddness of it, it’s positively hypnotic, particularly with the very 90’s electronic sound effects and the alternative/neo-grunge guitar and drum bits that punctuate his depressive musings on tracks like album standout “killer” and the slightly more sedate “stillborn empires”.

Many times he actually tries to be Nick Drake, as on “goodbye” – just a miserable guy with a stuffed nose groaning from the back of his throat while playing a steel string acoustic. And yet, that said, it’s likeable enough, and often quite listenable (“killer” in particular).

The fact that I mentioned Cave, Drake and Dulli should tell you something – all of them carry loyal fanbases, and hold respective spaces (however small) in my own CD collection.  For those who need it spelled out in broad neon letters, this ain’t exactly a slag, folks.

Those looking for a trip back to the dark days of the 90’s, sign your name right here.

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Baron – Torpor (Svart Records) (October 23)

UK psychedelic act.

Organ, clean and fuzz guitar with plenty of reverb, sleepy, droning chanting vocals…kind of falls in a no man’s land between The Jefferson Airplane, H.P. Lovecraft and the Strawberry Alarm Clock at their most respectively psychedelic.

This was one of the many genres and styles of the past I turned to during the dark days of the grunge/aggro/nu-metal 90’s, so to hear this sort of mellow yet revolutionary material being resurrected so many years after its heyday is interesting.

While I’d hardly put Baron in the same category as the aforementioned acts in terms of quality (I mean, objectively, they’re hardly even an Electric Prunes), they do tap that same vibe and often make magic along the way.

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Eïs – Bannstein (Lupus Lounge) (October 2)

Teutonic modern black metal.  There’s a bit of that Watainish feel that marks (and often ruins) far too much of the modern wave, but the thick, beefy guitars and crystalline production pretty much serve as flashing neon letters that this is a German affair.  Think a less symphonically orieinted or rhythmically complex Belphegor and you may get the general idea.

Like most modern style black metal, there’s a strong feel of ennui and sameness to the album, despite all the riffs and time changes Eis tries to throw into the mix.  It’s listenable enough, but the feel of being just another bit of background music for the disaffected proves somewhat inescapable.  Think post-Blizzard Beasts Immortal – they may or may not have been “playing better”, but it’s just kind of…there.  Hmm, should I put on Battles in the North or Damned in Black? Let me think, it’s a hard one…

Yeah, that’s dripping sarcasm, in case you missed it.

In any case, Eis provides a very well produced, almost pagan metal-like bombast that should satisfy the less demanding or more post-second wave black metal oriented.  For my money, once bands left the stylistic touchpoints of Teutonic and Brazilian blackened thrash, pre-Viking Bathory and early to mid 90’s Norwegian (and Swedish, and French, and Polish) second wave, it’s all become kind of middle of the road and dispirited, if not flat out lifeless.

While certainly one of the better releases I’ve encountered in the modern style of late, Bannstein is no exception to this rule.

Depressively bombastic, but a bit aural wallpapery.  Worth a listen to see whether or not it floats your personal boat.

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VHOD – Dreamcleaver (Inverse) (November 13)

B.C. Canada give us this one man death metal/industrial band.

Sole member Chris Shaver drops Barney from Napalm Death and Benediction-esque vocals on top of double bass drumming, but that’s about all that really sounds death metal here.  The riffings are strange, but cross electronic/processed guitars in the industrial vein with electronic bits and the strangest, thinnest yet noisiest production you’re ever likely to hear.

How much of this is down to a highly overcompressed, very in your face mix where the guitars bury the drums and directly compete with if not overtake the vocals is open to debate, but this is the least death metal-sounding death metal record ever released.

Hey, look, some of this is really quite catchy.  But what genre this should actually be classified as is a matter for serious discussion.

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Tantrum – Devirginized (Inverse) (September 25)

Heavy thrash (or even heavy traditional metal) riffing with blackened thrash-style vocals and sloppy drumming.  When he gets a pattern going, it’s not bad, but the time changes and turnarounds really throw this kid off…

It’d be very listenable with clean thrash style vocals, even with the often distracting stutters and flubs on the drum end, but the growly-yelled vox from “Jo” don’t exactly go with the music.

And what the fuck was up with that crappy Pantera-aggro groove track “rebel”? Horrible, really threw the album’s vibe all out of whack…then the last two tracks go full on death metal.

Whew.  Confused much?

So.  Are you guys a thrash act?  Death metal?  Aggro/groove?

And there’s the rub, and the crux of the problem with Tantrum: they don’t seem to know themselves.

Parts work very well, other parts are acceptable (yes, even the drumming – with time and practice, the kid will improve and iron out all those glitches)…others are not (hello, Pantera!) and none of it actually gels.

I think they need to have a long band meeting to hash out just what direction they really want to take this before dropping another release on an unsuspecting (and very confused if not nonplussed) listener base.

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The Physicists – My Love Is Dead (Inverse) (October 2)

Freakout industrial/metal/electronic act from Finland.  They talk like a cross between Einsturzende Neubaten and Throbbing Gristle in the promo materials, but the music is a lot more straightforward than that.

I guess if you took the weirdest elements of early Marilyn Manson, crossed them with Korn and threw one or two of The Residents in the band just for laughs, it might come off something like My Love is Dead.

Seriously, it’s goofy, self consciously weird, and yet nu-metal meets industrial in itsmixture of plinka-plonka electronic noises, detuned, weirdly played guitars (seriously, who thinks up fucked up “riffs” and patterns like this, and why?) and strangely tuneful undertones.

It’s slow and very, very bizarre in the manner of a Mike Patton or Les Claypool project, but more well produced and singalong than either.

Fans of really screwed up outsider music, particularly the sort that seemed oddly popular during the 1990’s, may love this.

I can only shake my head in bemused disbelief.

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NYX – Home (Agonia Records) (October 30)

Two-woman black metal band from Germany.  They have strangely uncreative pseudonyms (“Winter Barn” and “Blitz”), but a few interesting ideas get bandied about amidst their thin-sounding, weirdly unconventional material (the singsongy, almost Juliana Hatfieldlike bits in the middle of “beyond” for one).

I found I liked it much better when “Vinterbarn” was doing a clean warble (as in the midpoint of “black Isle”) than when she was trying to shriek black metal style.  Let’s put it this way: Amalie Bruun may be able to work the Enya meets Cocteau Twins thing and the black metal snarls equally well, but Myrkur Nyx ain’t.

My advice, ladies?  Stick to the clean, whispery warbles and stop trying to be the guy from Fleurety.

Whether you decide to bring in a second guitar and up the fullness of the sound or not is up to you.

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VARATHRON – The Confessional of the Black Penitents (Agonia Records) (October 23)

Sounding a whole hell of a lot more like fellow countrymen Rotting Christ than Watain this time around, Varathron proves they can do so much better than the Danielsson-zombieism of last year’s Untrodden Corridors of Hades.

As this is an EP with three new songs (one of which is the pointless growl over acoustic guitarsness of the title cut) and four live tracks (one of which hails from the aforementioned album), it’s a bit hard to judge if this is more of a change in direction for the better or a self-conscious ode to a more interesting past.

All I can tell you is, don’t bother with the opener or closer, and stick to the five in the middle.  They’ll have you wondering if Sakis and Themis dropped by for a jam session.

Huge improvement, and worth checking out for those so inclined.  This one’s staying on the iPod, which is more than I can say for either Untrodden Corridors or any of the other wannabe Watains that cross my desk every month.

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DECEASED – Cadaver Traditions (Hells Headbangers) (September 11)

Wow. 53 track compilation of two all-covers releases with a bonus disc of unreleased covers to top off the cake.

The selections are almost faultless right across the board: everything from punk acts like MDC, Bad Brains, the Plasmatics and Verbal Abuse to crossover acts like Agnostic Front, DRI and the Cro-Mags, traditional metal like Ozzy, Maiden and Mercyful Fate, thrashers like Anthrax, Slayer, Kreator and Xentrix and even a few real surprises (45 Grave? Agent Steel?).

Best part is, they’re all quite faithful and well performed…but you’d be unlikely to mistake them for the originals.

Yeah, in some ways it almost violates my rule about covers, since they’re so faithful, but with King Fowley’s voice, there’s no confusing him with anyone else.  Not growly and abrasive enough to take away from the many disparate genres and vibes being tapped here, but not slavish enough to try to imperfectly emulate the source material. It works.

And just look at the tracklist…this guy puts together one hell of a comp, with welcome obscurities (at least for those not in the know) rubbing shoulders with undisputed classics of the genre.

Yeah, it’s just a bunch of covers.

But what a bunch of covers it is.

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Pneuma Hagion – Trinity I TAPE (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (September 15)

oy, more of that bottom of the bowels vocaled, uber-detuned “death metal” that’s really black metal in disguise.  Why is this shit so popular lately, at least to produce?

If it matters to anyone whatsoever, the promo materials went on and on with some gnostic blather.  What the hell that has to do with anything, much less the sub-grindcore simplistic “music” on tap here, is beyond me.

And here I thought the devil was supposed to have all the good music.

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Denial (Mexico) – 11°22?.?4’N 142°35?.?5’E 7″ EP (Blood Harvest) (October 2)

OK, who’s figured out the map coordinates for this? From what originating point?  For all we know, they could be pointing everyone to Perez Hilton’s house…

More of this low rent noise-oriented variant of modern death metal, with deep growls under heavy reverb if not slap echo, simplistic, uber-detuned guitars and sloppy sounding double bass drumming.  This sort of thing would never have flown back in the heyday of death metal, but it’s been a long time since Morrisound and Sunlight ruled the roost.

Losing their guiding light appears to have left us with subpar shit like this.

More’s the pity.

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Slægt – Beautiful and Damned 12″ MLP (Iron Bonehead) (January 22)

Danish act with members of Reverie.  They’re a lot more straightforward than that act, which is a plus, and the EP cover is a priceless example of Jazz Age Decadent art…well, photography, anyway.

They do a sort of post-black metal on “move in chaos” that draws from the Swedish black/death template without ever getting slavish to the two main bands that drive the style – again, something of a plus, as it marks them as iconoclastic, if not a tad individualist. The nods of respect keep mounting.

The title track comes off somewhat majestic in its mounting build, complete with a memorable riff, harmony leads and a fairly explosive solo near the end. Wait, are they working traditional metal, somewhat influenced by both Iron Maiden and Mercyful Fate?

Sure enough, that same feel and influence is all over “aishincheri”.  So if you cross Swedish-style black metal, post-black metal and vaguely neoclassically structured traditional metal, you may get something vaguely approximating this.  Then again, you probably still wouldn’t – Slaegt have the distinct feel of a one off about them.

Then they go all Kveldssanger-era Ulver on “church of the night”…sheesh.

Seriously, what the hell are you sitting there for?  Go, look ’em up, check it out. Damned or no, at least 3/4 of this 4 song EP is pretty damn beautiful.

Horns up.

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Gnosis (Florida) – The Third-Eye Gate CD (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (September 18)

Previously reviewed here.  We liked it.

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Onirik (Portugal) – Casket Dream Veneration (Iron Bonehead/Altare) (October 23)

Unimpressive Portuguese act who apes the worst of the current Swedish and Greek black metal scenes.

Very strange production that in parts sounds quite full (the bass drum, the vocals, the rhythm guitar), but at the same time and in other aspects, very thin and hissy (the cymbals, the lead guitar and open string riffing).

Pass.

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Månegarm – Urminnes Hävd – The Forest Sessions (Re-Mastered) (Black Lodge Records) (September 25)

And so we come to the 6th in Black Lodge’s reissue and remastering of the Manegarm back catalogue.

As expected, we’re getting closer and closer to current days, and so we’ve lost the black metal feel of Vargaresa, Nordsjarnans Tidsalder and to some extent Havets Vargar.  Despite Vredens Tid being an enjoyable upgrade from the more particularly Viking metal-styled Dodsfard, it seems like Urminnes Havd follows more in the footsteps of Dosfard or looking towards the recent Legions of the North.

What this means to you is that this is kind of boring, exclusively acoustic pagan folk.  About the most you can say for it is that it’s very well played and atmospheric, and there are joint female vocals, which taken in tandem with the mouth harp and rhythmically strummed acoustic guitars and suchlike makes it feel like great accompaniment for an act at your local renaissance faire.

I love Leaves Eyes, Primordial, Ulver and particularly Myrkur, but that’s pretty much it for folk-oriented pagan metal (unless you’re going to the amusing sideline of “trollish metal” like Finntroll and Trollfest) – just about everything else seems to fall into varying shades of dull.*

* admittedly, there may be exceptions I’ve forgotten to mention herein – it’s less the concept than the execution that tends to fall short with this genre.

Now mind, I didn’t exactly dislike this – it has its place, particularly if you’re in a certain (depressive but relaxed) mood, and the crackling fire effects make the EP feel like a night by the campfire with fellow warriors or questing adventurers. And hey, if you get in that sort of mindset, it works quite well.  But it’s really not my thing.

Best thing on here is “himmelsfursten”…unless you’re really big on neofolk, it’s more or less all downhill from there.

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Gloria Story – “Beast Of A Northern Light” (Wild Kingdom) (October 9)

Holy crap, did someone dig up an early 70’s Kiss track?

Well, so long as Stanley & Simmons don’t come after your asses, it’s good by me.  I mean, seriously, even Ace Frehley might want to get in on this one, the “homage” is so blatant and worshipful, you wouldn’t believe it.  Even the guitar tone and harmony vocals are dead on…

That said, Gloria Story almost one-ups the originals by ramping up the energy and picking up the speed considerably.

If this is any indication of how the rest of the album’s going to sound, bring it on, my man.

Killer stuff, if seriously copycattish.

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O.S.I.R.I.S. – The Conquest of Planet Death – Vol 2 (Tyrannus) (November 2)

Black metal is known for its one man bedroom and basement operations.

One guy with a vision manages to get a good drum machine or achieve passable playing ability on both guitar and drums and puts something out.  The lousier the recording, the more “true” and “kvlt” it is.

The plus side of this, of course, is that many interesting ideas, atmospheric quirks and oddities of individual persona are laid bare for the listening audience, unfiltered by band democratics, producer or label input.  There’s no censor between the creator and audience, as it were: you get what these guys throw together, however haphazard, flawed or idiosyncratic.  There’s a lot to be said for that, particularly for those of us coming from a more punk DIY aesthetic.

The downsides, of course, are obvious.

Even beyond lousy production, mediocre to atrocious musicianship and lack of quality control is the problem of ego.  Not merely limited to long windedness or absence of polish, we’re talking unabashed blowhard egotism.  Every bullshit project, every crappy idea, every horrible lyric or unlistenable demo is right out there – there’s nobody raising a voice to stop the one man band from putting this shit out to the general public.

And so we come to some guy calling himself “Count Czar Yang”, here doing the one man band thing with something called O.S.I.R.I.S.

Look, the promo materials name check Abruptum (and strangely, if entirely incorrectly, Goatlord), so you may get an idea of where this is going.

A lot of wasted track time, rumbling detuned guitars with the whammy bar depressed to the point where the strings are rubbing across the pickups, slow, sloppy drums, and off-time snarls spouting utter gibberish.

Yeah, Abruptum is about right.

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Lunar Mantra – Genesis (Invictus Productions) (October 30)

Wouldn’t be a monthly roundup without a Watain wannabe.

Here’s this month’s.

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Alda – Passage (Eisenwald) (September 2)

Aggressive, hypnotic, ever-mounting to a climax…this is more black metal than much of what passes for same nowadays.  And yet…it isn’t.

There’s something too clean about the guitars and vocals, something almost alternative informing it.  Hell, the vocals in “the clearcut” practically screamed Pete Townshend!

But yet and still…Ulverisms abound, and not just in the acoustic bits.  The title track is absolutely essential, pulling in equal parts depressive 90’s alternative (Catherine Wheel, Afghan Whigs) and grim black metalisms…and yet, ultimately is neither.

Yeah, it’s post-black metal. But it works.

They could have cut it off after “the crooked trail” and left listeners with a much stronger EP, but hey.  Good stuff, looking forward to hearing more from these guys in the future.

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Sepulcher – Mausoleum Tapestry (Edged Circle Productions) (September 30)

Almost as poorly produced as a black metal demo, leaning a bit towards hardcore on the vocal end, but very much informed by traditional death metal.  If anything, it sounds like they listened to Death Breath’s Stinking Up the Night and Let it Stink five thousand times in a row, then decided to record their own version.

I love Death Breath (and both Nihilist/Entombed and Repulsion, the bands from which it was birthed and to which it pays homage), so I was very happy with the riffing and didn’t mind the sort of inappropriate vocals much.

Hell, you can even hear some Rick Rozz-era Death in there…

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Ruach Raah – Hate Fanaticism (War Arts Productions) (September 25)

Pretty impressive blackened thrash outfit.  They keep everything fairly midtempo and show some punk influence in classic Bathory style, but it feels very much akin to an early to mid 90’s black metal demo outfit (you know, the kind who never stuck it out long enough to get signed to some label?)  And yes, that’s a plus – some of the best black metal recordings are from such bands (just look to France, Norway, Poland…the list goes on)

This is pretty gritty stuff, so those more accustomed to Watain wannabes and Dimmu need not apply.  Takes the Hells Headbangers/Iron Bonehead aesthetic and runs with it.

All hail the new standardbearers of the glory days of black metal.  Just try to ignore the tastelessly offensive album cover, if you can.*

* I’ve decided to let you guys search it out if so inclined.  Not territory I’m comfortable broaching, however it was intended.

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Cold Northern Vengeance – Maelstrom (Moribund) (October 30)

Picture the vocalist from Secession (of “sneakyville” fame) doing Viking metal, complete with droning, reverb-slathered chanting and a darker than Andrew Eldritch baritone.

There’s a lot of the cold but crisp production feel of Enslaved’s Frost album, but less in your face and aggressive than that would imply.

Hypnotically gothic and wintry to the core.

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Véhémence – Assiégé (De Tenebrarum Principio) (October 25)

Gorgoroth much?

Nooo, I’m sure these guys have never heard of Bergen’s finest.  Check out that opening riff on “de celestes cavalcades”…

With odd gargling vocals that suggest more of an ersatz hardcore outfit than a black metal one* and some nigh-power metal riffs thrown into the mix, this is a strange one to be sure…but so, so Gorgoroth.

* these do alternate with occasional and more traditionally black metal style snarls.

Now, I’m a huge fan of Roger “Infernus” Tiegs and company, having followed them through all of their half dozen vocalists and several dozen band members along the way, so this is a compliment.  There’s always a hell of a lot of dark, mournful melody and classically inflected tremelo lead lines of the sort that only Ulver ever truly approached the melodic power of, and while we’re talking about Assiege at present, the description equally applies.

Even incongrous bits like “le sang respire encore” with its more wide open, nigh-major key chordal riffing and the Ulverisms of the acoustic folk piece “chant d’honneur” work, and quite well at that.

There’s a good reason the French and French-Canadian black metal scenes are becoming ranked among the best in a growing global metal marketplace, and a quality release like Vehemence’s Assiege is a prime example of why.

C’est ci bon.  Saluer.

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Aosoth / Order of Orias – Split 12″MLP (W.T.C.Productions) (October 15)

Aosoth hails from France, but taps more into a Watain meets Mortuus-era Marduk vibe than anything their own countrymen appear to be working (excepting perhaps Merrimack).

The double bass drumming is relentless, but well produced and comfortable to the ear throughout, providing something steady to hold onto as the guitar riffs into swirling noise bits and wide open string chord drones much akin to the aforementioned acts.

Order of Orias isn’t far removed from that, but feels far less relaxed and comfortable – the production is horrible, all mids and hollowness with snare and guitar right in your face, vocals and bass drum lagging a bit behind, but with all the meatiness sucked right out of them.  They may actually have a bit more to say on the guitar end than Aosoth did, but the production absolutely kills their efforts here.

Nothing special, but trust me, I’ve heard far, far worse.

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