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Well, it’s that time of year again, the Hallowe’en season.  Samhain, the time of renewal.

So what do you do when what’s been renewed is a negative?

Sometimes, people think they’re doing you a favor when they’re actually proffering the obverse.  Sure, one more name was unchecked from the blacklist of layoffs, outsources and downgrades, which should be a plus.  Hey, at least it buys some extra time, right?

But when the price tag for that involves an adversarial relationship with your employer and a situation wherein your basic, hard earned and time tested dignity in a role is chipped away to the point where the victim despises the very idea of returning to work the next day?

When one finds oneself afflicted by disturbed sleep, foul dreams and a bill by bill paranoia, with the up and down progress towards moderate financial goals the only thing that gets a person through the day, much less justifies their continued acceptance of an increasingly dark situation?

Who the fuck wants that renewed?

And only half facetiously, can I shove my boss into the Samhain fires instead?

It’s sad when you daily wish you’d been among the (ostensibly “unlucky”) folks who got the package and axe.

Welcome to the new regime of the almighty Corporatocracy.

Get out there and vote these pricks out of power, before it happens to you and yours as well.

Now let’s get down to business, shall we?

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Chastain – We Bleed Metal (Leviathan Records) (November 6)

Public service message: be warned, album number two of the Chastain reunion kicks off a bit oddly, to the point where you’ll be wondering whether this one will even try to match up to prior efforts or shoot off in an entirely different direction. I sure did.

But hang in there.

I’ll admit this right off: I put this one in and very quickly started drifting off.

Here’s the deal.  The album kicks off with the title track…which starts the album off on the wrong foot.  Sure, it’s not a bad song, but the orientation is more oddly rock n’ rollish than classic Chastain fans might expect.  In fact, it seems to be hearkening towards the 90’s material of a very different incarnation of the same band.

But two things drag the listener back to attention: a typically blazing old school David T. Chastain guitar solo and the leather lunged vocals of the inimitable Leather Leone.

Now, nobody was happier than I was to see Leather back in action, originally returning from a long musical retirement to work with Malibu Barbi/Warbride drummer Sandy Sledge a few years back, but what we all were really waiting for was a reunion with David T.  And hey, can we throw in Mike Skimmerhorn and Ken Mary (or Fred Coury) as well?

Well, Surrender to No One did in fact appear, reuniting three of the four members of the Chastain veterans like myself fell in love with in the first place.  And it was good.

Guess what.

Once we get past the very 90’s hard rock feel of “we bleed metal”?

It’s old school all the way.  And they upped their game.

This ain’t no Surrender to No One, kids – as much as we all enjoyed that one, it still felt like “hey, great comeback/reunion album!”.

This time around?  There’s no piddling around – it’s classic Chastain all over again.

FUCK YEAH!

Seriously, I think they put that opener in to throw everyone off, then shift gears abruptly to deliver tracks that could easily have been outtakes from at least Voice of the Cult and For Those Who Dare if not 7th of Never, Ruler of the Wasteland and Mystery of Illusion.  I am not shitting you.

The solos are there, the man not only has the same style, but this time around, the energy is back. And with a few exceptions, the dark, brooding riffs are once again in place.  Hell, “I am a warrior” even has him doing that pseudo-acoustic (but really overdriven electric guitar with the volume knob turned down) thing he used to open tracks like “the wicked are restless” with.  DAMN!

And Leone?  There’s none of that hesitation we talked about during the Sledge Leather days, the “rustiness” the lady was so concerned about after so many years out of the game.  For her third album since returning to the mic (and second with Chastain), the Leather Leone of 2015 is fucking indistinguishable from the Leather Leone of Shock Waves and the glory days of Chastain.  Chills running down my spine, seriously.

Yeah, there are a few riffs and approaches that don’t work as well as the others (“evolution of terror”, the title track).  But nothing’s “bad”, there’s precious little here to find fault with on any level.  Better yet, there’s not much about the album that serves to break the illusion that this is 1987 all over again, beyond the obviously modern production style and an approach to double bass drumming that just weren’t around back in those days.

But whenever you hit even the slightest hint of choppy waters, there comes another classic Chastain riff, another legato neck-traversing solo, another nigh-flawless vocal performance from Leone.

Screw five stars, I’m giving ’em six.

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LORD VIGO – Under Carpathian Sun (No Remorse) (November 20)

Oddly reedy, mids-heavy production mars a very doom-inspired project out of Germany.

Retro keyboard, clean if quavering vox and occasional Sabbathisms if not Cathedral or Candlemass-isms bolster the doom label, but it’s too detuned and modern sounding to really fit the bill. It’s like they checked off half of the laundry list, then decided the hell with it, good enough, we’re a doom band.

Equally laying claim to modern metal, doom and even “occult rock” to some extent (“in pago aquilensis”), Lord Vigo is an amalgam of several disparate elements that never quite gels or falls under any of their respective labels.

Certainly listenable enough, but unspectacular.

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DRACONIAN – SOVRAN (Napalm Records) (October 30)

hmm. My Dying Bride much?

This is the original subgenre designated with the “gothic metal” label, before more polished, operatic, symphonic, neoclassically inspired and eventually radio friendly acts such as Tarja Turunen-era Nightwish, Epica, earlier Within Temptation and Leaves Eyes took over and more properly defined its borders and limitations. Once upon a time, “gothic metal” meant Moonspell, Therion, Paradise Lost, Tristania and My Dying Bride – bands where the male element and a funereally doom-ish approach predominated over any guesting (or regularly associated) female ones. Hell, even Cradle of Filth was bandied about as “gothic symphonic” by some folks back in the day, so you get the general idea.

So despite the apparent centrality of distaff member Heike Langhans, this is far closer to the aforementioned (male dominant) acts than anything associated with the genre these days, save perhaps Lacuna Coil (and even they’re more focused on Christina Scabbia these days).

The pace seldom raises above Chopin’s funeral march pace, and often hearkens directly to that very piece melodically.  It’s obviously therefore quite doomlike, but bears more than a few elements akin to death metal riffwise.

The only time they sound like a gothic metal band proper (in the late 90’s-2015 sense anyway) is on “dishearten”, but if you’re a fan of doom meets gothic bands like Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride, Draconian should be right up your alley.

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GRAVE DIGGER – Exhumation – The early years (Napalm Records) (October 23)

Speaking of Grave Digger, here’s one of those re-recordings that bands like Saxon and White Lion have made their stock in trade.

Like Sinner‘s Touch of Sin 2 a few years back, this is less a redo of a now classic album with a new lineup and modern production than a compilation of favorite tracks from the early days, spanning their first few albums, demo and even the ill fated “Digger” mainstream crossover attempt.

As such, this is less the more plodding and historically focused power metal fans have come to expect from the band and more of an Accept meets Running Wild sort of affair, with driving uptempo riffing, silly lyrics in a fantasy roleplaying vein (with plenty of “hymns to heavy metal” to make the illusion complete) and a very old school feel throughout.

It’s definitely not what fans of Grave Digger hailing from the past few decades would expect to hear, but I think it’s a real improvement.  The only thing that would make this package complete would have been a bonus disc with the original versions so we could play compare-contrast.

Even so, what we have here is more than enough.  More Accept than Accept has been since Metal Heart.

Horns way the hell up.  Bang your fucking heads.

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SKINDRED – Volume (Napalm Records) (October 30) 

OK, last month we reviewed single “under attack”, which with one exception is actually the best thing on the album, so nothing’s really changed.

I will say that the aforementioned single has grown on me, particularly the very strong chorus, where Webbe is actually singing and things get proper melodic.

This is the template for the band, apparently, as every song runs to this exact blueprint: a bouncy, pogo-friendly “groove” meets nu-metal thing, falling somewhere between Tool, Clutch and Limp Bizkit (with touches of juggalo business like Twiztid to boot).

In other words, lunkheaded, trampoline bounce-style detuned guitar single note riffs and pedal tone ostinato with basslines following in unison and Korn-esque noise effects, with frontman Benji Webbe doing the Rastaman toast thing. Then the chorus kicks in out of nowhere, with band and Webbe suddenly getting all melodic and harmonious.  There’s clean baritone singing and actual motion all of a sudden, and Skindred sounds like a completely different band.  And THAT band I really like.

But you know what?  That’s actually the nu-metal/groove formula, folks – dead stopped and bouncy like a barrio car at a stoplight, then suddenly the light goes green and you get an actual song for a few bars.  Then dead stopped again.  And seriously.  Who the fuck wants to listen to music that sounds like a traffic jam on the way to work?

In all honesty, I’m down with the roots, rap, reggae bits, particularly when they throw in a few (excellent) interludes that come off like the soundtrack to an episode of Death in Paradise (stick to the first two seasons, folks), and I’ve made no bones about my love of the melodic choruses.

And hey, from what I’m reading and the high energy of Webbe’s performance here, I bet they’d be a real fave as a live act.

But look, other than those interludes? “Under attack” is by far the
catchiest and most likeable thing on the album. The rest is more or less filler.

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Solution .45 – Nightmares In The Waking State – Part 1 (AFM Records) (November 20)

Modern metal once again, with melodeath leanings and even a touch of sorrowful symphonic elements.

The sound is all jackhammer guitars, marred by awful aggro vocals but bolstered by prog-worthy drumming from a former Stratovarius member and in your face if overly redlined and hissy production from Watain producer Thomas Johansson.

When the vox go clean and the lead guitars kick in, things suddenly become far more palatable and hearkens much closer to progressive metal (albeit with pronounced melodeath elements), but then the barked/barfed shit starts up again and it just sounds ugly.

Johansson’s production puts too much of a sheen on the band’s sound, despite the aforementioned hissiness, leaving them sounding oddly futuristic and machinelike.  It’s like if Cynic went in a whole other direction after Focus, pursuing more of the robot vocorder thing and trying to get all Blade Runner if not Fifth Element on your ass.  And this may actually be a plus, it’s just strangely alien to these ears at this point.

There are several elements of Solution .45’s sound I appreciate, at least as something of a change from the usual, but these relate to the prog and melodeath ends of their sound: the drumming, the leads, the clean vox – maybe even the overly prominent futurism of their sound per se.  It’s not my go-to sound by any stretch of the imagination, but objectively, these parts work well enough.

Where things fall apart are in the more aggro meets nu metal by way of groove bits, when they slow down and do those lunkheaded caveman riffs and the vocalist goes all belch and farty on the mic.

THUNK THUNK THUNK. THUNK-THUNK THUUUUNK THUNK THUNK, go the guitars.  BURRRPP AARRRGGHH (break wind) GRRRRR goes the voice.

A more clearly defined approach as a prog metal act, or progressive melodeath even, is called for here.  The band seems to hold a lot more promise than the last paragraph’s failings imply, and could clearly benefit by losing the derivative doofus bits still holding them back.

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Ektomorf – Aggressor (AFM Records) (November 20)

Modern metal, all detuned aggro meets death metal without soul.  There’s nothing that makes Ektomorf particularly stand out from that increasingly overcrowded subgenre, being neither appreciably better or worse than any two dozen other likeminded acts you could name.

I do understand this is lyrically relevant to bandleader Zoltan Farkas’ firsthand experience of racism, which elevates it a bit at least in terms of relevance – the sheer frustration and anger of “no, you can’t get more, fuck you!” is palpable.  At least the man has a reason to be this angry!  But in purely musical terms…nah.

This is where heavy music went in the 90’s and (very) early millenium, and a major reason I went looking elsewhere (mainly well into the past and decidedly cross-genre) for my musical fix.

Probably already in heavy rotation on WSOU, which should say it all.

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Gloria Story – Greetings From Electric Wastelands (Wild Kingdom) (November 27)

We already spoke to their excellent kickoff single “beast of a northern light” last month here, so here’s the full length followup.

And I’m pleased to say they do not disappoint.

More Kiss than Kiss has been in decades, this is the sound and feel of the pre-Destroyer New Yorkers at their very best: most particularly the raw yet muted but decidedly high energy feel of the 1972 demos.

Guitarists Fredrik Axelsson and Carl Ahlander do their best Ace Frehley, Filip Rapp does a killer Paul Stanley and the production is so retro, you’d never believe it without having first heard it.

This is the old school Ken Scott-style uber-dry style of production, with guitar tones fat and overdriven, but muted and with immediate signal fade, just like it was recorded back in the mid-70’s.

The drumming is quiet and muted, but the bass drum and snare are, alongside the bass guitar, very present and thumping right up against your speaker, but without ever getting all up in your face like more unfortunate modern productions tend towards.

There are touches of Rick Derringer, Todd Rundgren, The Who and even early Whitesnake to be found herein, but the touchpoint is very clearly and definitely classic Kiss, and only the best elements thereof.

If you lost interest after Love Gun and positively detested the excesses of Ezrin (hello, Destroyer), then Gloria Story are calling you.

Skovde rock city?

Works for me.

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Rebellion – Wyrd Bið Ful Aræd – The History Of The Saxons (Massacre Records) (October 16)

What is it with German power metal bands and history?

I spoke with Chris Boltendahl of Grave Digger a few years back, amazed that a band would have aligned itself so pointedly and consistently with a more intellectually oriented if not scholarly pursuit as the record of historical writ…and here’s another such act following suit – they’ve already done three albums about the history of the Vikings.

This album’s all about the rise and fall of the Saxons, from their effective inception as a force to be reckoned with to their subjection to the Franks.  They even lay down the history in the booklet, commenting on and supplementing the lyrics of the songs themselves.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the bass player and a former guitarist actually hailed from the aforementioned Grave Digger, though through a series of unfortunate events a few years back, only founding bassist Tomi Gottlich remains.

The band takes a more melodic, less particularly power metal approach than Grave Digger, with vocalist Michael Seifert relying a bit less on Chris Boltendahl-style growls and gravel and incorporating a tad more of a Bruce Dickinsonian orientation towards dramatics.

That noted, it’s still in the traditional meets power metal ballpark, with Seifert still working way too much of a Pretty Maids-like gargle and the sound feeling far more Teutonic and modernistic than the pure traditionalism of, say, classic Accept.

So to sum all that up in simpler terms, Rebellion ain’t exactly Lonewolf, but they sure aren’t Judas Priest either.

It’s definitely listenable, the guitar work is decent and things lean more melodic than not, but for all its merits, History of the Saxons is still far more likely to appeal to the power metal crowd than anyone else out there.

I could take it or leave it.

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VANDEN PLAS – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II (Frontiers Music srl) (November 6)

Wait, didn’t somebody just do one of those “rock opera odes to Dracula” recently?  Oh, right, it was Jorn Lande, with Swing of Death.

OK, so it’s not technically Dracula per se, but we’re still working that ooky spooky tragic vampire thing that worked so well in the late 80’s through the 90’s with stuff like Anne Rice, Forever Knight and Buffy.

But in these far sorrier days of Twilight, Vampire the Masquerade LARPers and CW “vampire” tweeny dramas, it’s embarassing to admit this was ever a thing, much less that it was sorta cool…

Anyway, Vanden Plas is pretty much a poor man’s Kamelot with elements of Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Edenbridge thrown in for good measure.

Now I used to love Kamelot and Edenbridge (though more recent material has been a bit more iffy in both cases), so this isn’t exactly a bad thing.  The drama, the bombast, the pomp and theatricality are certainly there – it’s no surprise to hear Vanden Plas has been putting on “theatrical productions” for years (having staged no less than 5 over the past decade), but while Stephan Lill is certainly a better player than Thomas Youngblood, Andy Kuntz is no Roy Khan.

So picture Kamelot with even more bluster and dramatics, but fronted by a guy with a thin, reedy tenor.  Kuntz can certainly hold and work the notes, that’s not the issue – but there’s really no power there, at least so far as can be discerned in the full band sound mix we get here.  It’s like hiring Kevin Cronin to front Epica.

That aside, what you get here is pretty much what I described: a Kamelot album with Lanvall and the Trans-Siberian guys dropping by to contribute symphonics and structural flourishes.

And that’s hardly a bad thing.

All objective criticism aside, I kinda liked it.

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Chaos – Mortality Makes The Humanity (Inverse Records) (November 13)

The aptly named Chaos draw on elements of math metal, progressive and just plain freakout to deliver a real head scratcher of an album that comes off like Mr. Bungle shook hands with Frank Zappa and Meshuggah, but wound up sounding like Sykotik Sinfoney instead.

Seriously.

Aggro screamo vox alternate with clean but quirky “I’m making fun of this” quaver vocals and guitar lines that sound like whoever composed them snorted a few lines first.  Atonal bits clash with more straightforward riffs, weird climbing note bits become songs before switching to something else entirely…it’s like Atheist joined forces with Mike Patton during a mescaline trip.

And then they fool you: there are acoustic bits and long sections that are perfectly melodic and structured.  Wait, am I listening to that same shitty band from earlier?  Did I mishear the last 3 or 4 songs?  Am I tripping on something myself?

Nope, they just throw in some “normalcy” every now and again to fuck with ya.

I honestly don’t know what these guys were shooting for with this, but it doesn’t make a whole hell of a lot of sense.  If you’re really experimental and/or have no real sense of rhythm and melody, you may really dig this.

A strange mess, far more ugly than beautiful, but – and this is interesting – somehow less offputting than you might expect.

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Revolted Masses – Age Of Descent (Inverse) (November 13)

ugh. Modern death metal with black metal elements and a typically pathetic screamo singer.

BLEAHH BLUAAHHH BLAH BLAH BLEAAAAAAAAAAAH!

I understand they’re talking revolutionary politics lyrically, which may or may not be cool, because I have no idea what the fuck they’re even saying.  It’s just Phil Anselmo throwing up in a Burger King bathroom after shooting up some bad junk – all you hear is that throat ripping BLEUAHHHGGGHHHH shit over and over again.

There must be some audience out there for aggro/screamo.  Presumably they’ll gush over this.

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Hautajaisyö – S/T (Inverse) (October 31)

Modern death metal.  Vocals vary between the expected belly-roars, growls and belches to a more emo-esque “clean” approach, and there’s a bit of that Watainish meandering sprinkled throughout, but overall, this is very much in the expected machine gun guitar and double bass drumming milieu the aforementioned phrase implies.

When things stick to the template and remain driving and riff-based, it’s not bad at all.  As ever, it’s the other elements introduced into the mix that fall a bit flat.

Remember those kids’ toys where you had to put the shapes into the corresponding slot?

Bands would do well to stop trying to hammer square pegs into round or star shaped slots.  It just works so much better without jamming in stuff that simply doesn’t fit.

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TUSEN ÅR UNDER JORD (Swe) : Sorgsendömet Fobos (Trollmusic) (November 6)

Traversing the distinct yet vaguely interrelated fields of soundtrack background music, dark ambient trance and drone, Sweden’s Tusen Ar Under Jord comes off like Era I Mortiis (or more to the point, Vond) as delivered by JG Thirlwell.

It’s atmospheric at points and certainly conducive to kickoff of certain trancelike states, but I wouldn’t recommend utilizing Sorgsendomet Fobos to that end – the metaphorical equivalent of a “bum trip” would certainly ensue.

While on a surface level all appears relatively harmonious, there’s just too much jarring about this, too much distraction and not-so-subtle changes of mood and tone amidst the overall repetitiveness.

Unlike the minimalism of say, Steve Reich, Tusen Ar Under Jord works a strangely Burroughsesque variant of cut up technique, drawing from multiple sources and sonic traditions a collage that seems to work quite nicely…were it not marred by some very obvious and abrupt (and therefore quite jarring) edits.

What works?  Well, the project (because I have strong suspicions this is a one or two man bedroom operation rather than any sort of collective neo-“band” effort) as a whole works quite well, actually.  The overarching mood and aesthetic is of gloom, despair, the small hours, silence (discern as you will).

There’s a pleasant faux-analog warmth provided by samples of crackling vinyl (and those of us who’ve experienced or collected record albums of vintage and heavy use know just how calming and welcome that particular form of white noise can be), and the samples chosen and utilized throughout, whatever their derivation, are very much of a piece and appropriate to the feel.

It’s unclear whether the person or persons behind this project are just inexperienced with the art of the edit or whether it was a case where it was better to leave things like this than making any effort to more properly smooth out transitions between samples, but there’s a distinct feel of a record skipping a groove endlessly (cf Strawberry’s place in Up in Smoke) if not someone attempting to edit the material with a chainsaw while considerably soused.

Now, mind, the more untrained ear will probably barely discern what’s being discussed here, and in an overall sense, you can just take this as a thumbs up – I did enjoy this one (very much so, in fact), appreciate the rather efficacious mood it sets, and will freely state that it won’t be leaving my iPod any time soon (if ever).

So taken on those merits, mark this one your balance sheet as a major thumbs up.

But given that we’re talking a quiet, dark ambient sort of thing?

Sheesh, those edits can be pretty damn harsh!

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THE MOTH GATHERER – The Earth Is The Sky (Agonia Records) (November 27)

Very modern metal.  The pluses are the inclusion of elements that suggest a slight doom influence (in the ponderous sluggishness of the riffing), a far stronger and more noticeable borrowing from the feel and aesthetic of the Mass Effect soundtrack (s) and a nicely forefronted yet thick and reasonably muted drum production.

So in other words, if you crossed Faunts with Cathedral by way of Mastodon, it would probably sound a hell of a lot like this.  Spacey, hypnotic electronic ambient moments alternate with fat distorted guitar tones and close mic’ed under a pillow drum tones.

The vocals are just goofy yells, growls and sinister whispers for the most part, but they aren’t really as important to the band’s sound and approach as usual – they’re practically thrown in as an afterthought if they appear at all.  Besides, unlike the usual for bands tapping into the modern metal/aggro/groove aesthetic, the vocals didn’t really piss me off – my comments about same can be taken as more dispassionately objective than usual.  No, they aren’t “good” by any standards…but they won’t send you off screaming and covering your ears either.  Good enough!

Like Tusen Ar Under Jord (also reviewed this month), this album definitely sets a mood, and the overall sound just works, regardless of any comments or observations to the contrary.  Sure, there are flaws to be found. But it still works.

Hats off to the Finnish Faunts.

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Jess and the Ancient Ones – Second Psychedelic Coming: The Aquarius Tapes (Svart Records) (December 4)

More upbeat and listenable than their prior material, this one kicks off on the right foot with “samhain” which is not only properly pronounced for a change, but driven by a cheesy Peter Gunn riff and surf rock stutter drumbeat.  And the rest of the album doesn’t stray far from the (kabbalistic) tree, as it were.

While Jess and the Ancient Ones never have been able to hold a candle to fellow “occult rock” leading lights like Blood Ceremony and The Devil’s Blood, this is by far their finest recorded moment to date, with a very…well, psychedelic retro 60’s feel permeating throughout, from tube amp-style, wah filter jangly guitars and rear pickup guitar solos, appropriately alto female vox and nigh-Farifsa keyboard.

While things definitely begin to falter in the second half,* the whole affair just feels vintage through and through, and for the first time in their career, we can actually consider Jess and the Ancient Ones as an actual contender in the “occult rock” stakes.

* outside of “the lovers”, you’d might as well pop the disc after “wolves inside my head”.

Well, damn. No longer the butt of an unspoken joke, it looks like they’ve finally begun to figure it out.

Raise those robed arms in salute.

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Malady – S/T (Svart Records)  (November)

These guys should tour with Death Hawks, they’re operating in a very similar neo-psychedelic, semi-progressive early 70’s rock vein.

They’re more instrumentalists, from the sound of it, working more of a Keith Emerson meets Frank Zappa vibe with a kiss from the boys in Yes and a respectful nod from Gentle Giant to boot.

There’s a stronger 70’s “classic rock” feel to the keyboard and meandering guitar solo thing Malady has going on, and to call them something of a jam band wouldn’t be wholly out of hand.  But they’re definitely working classic prog as a core identity – the more you listen, the stronger the Gentle Giant by way of Emerson elements come to the fore.

I love all that stuff,* so Malady gets the edge over the similarly likeable, fairly closely aligned Death Hawks.

* bar Yes and Emerson’s ELP, both of whom I find inordinately ponderous – Emerson’s earlier The Nice and later soundtrack work were quite excellent.

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Death Hawks – Sun Future Moon (Svart Records) (November 13)

We’ve reviewed Death Hawks before, so Third Eye regulars know what to expect.

It’s retro-hippie music, in a certain sense. You check out a live album from one of the more “psychedelic” acts of the era, you’ll hear the same sort of open space, reverb, Hammond organ-isms and general experimentation as these guys make their stock in trade.

Last time around, we referenced everything from au courant gothic western pals Sono Morti to Joni Mitchell and H.P. Lovecraft (the band), so take that to the bank – they’re working more or less the same territory here as they had on the self titled two years ago.

But what’s changed, or perhaps is more noticeable here on Sun Future Moon that wasn’t quite so apparent back on the self titled, is a strong Britpop influence.  You know, that sort of dreampop thing that bands like Echo & the Bunnymen and Gene Loves Jezebel pioneered and similarly minded UK bands in the 90’s bolstered with electronic touches and harder drugs.

You could argue that it’s still space rock ala Hawkwind, but there’s something about the keyboards in a track like “dream machine” that feels particularly 80’s, something about the band’s under a cloud-mellow approach and vocal style that speaks to the 90’s Britpop scene.  I wonder if Patsy Kensit is a fan…

Either way you look at it, this is still relaxing, mellow, and trippy, and a great way to lower the blood pressure and destress after a typically rubbish day at the grist mill.

I’d just point more to the Britpop/dreampop thing than proper psychedelia in the classic sense.

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Night Viper – S/T (Svart Records) (December 4)

Hard rock with doomish, very 70’s tube amp oriented guitar tones.  There’s a feel of “occult rock”ness to the whole affair, though the band doesn’t appear to be particularly oriented towards any variant of the left hand path.

I guess if you married Trouble to Motorhead and kept things to the sort of driving midtempo you only really get with 80’s metal (and retro-minded homages thereto) and put a cute Asian vocalist with a pleasantly clean-yet-throaty alto at the forefront, you might get something akin to Night Viper.

Seriously, these guys are damn good – I’d shelve this next to Psalm 9, The Skull and Pentagram’s Relentless, just recognize there’s no real religious orientation here (in one direction or the other).

My only beef with the affair whatsoever: the production’s a tad too dry.  While the muted yet thick and chunky guitar approach is nice and suits the retro doom-goes rock feel, I could have certainly done with a touch more crispness to Jonna Karlsson’s drums and would have shoved Sofie-Lee Johansson’s vocals further up front to better showcase her talents (which are considerable enough, to judge from this).

Lovers of 70’s style hard rock, classic doom metal and “occult rock” should find plenty to gush over here – I sure dug it.

Give ’em a spin and get yourself bitten.

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INVOCATION SPELLS – Descendent The Black Throne (Hells Headbangers) (December 11)

Chilean blackened thrash, slowed down to a traditional metal pace.

Like most acts tapping into this subgenre, it sounds very retro 80’s, bringing bands like (early) Sepultura, Vulcano, Sacrifice, Destruction, Kreator and Violent Force to mind.

Despite this, it’s more “evil” sounding and black metallized, and (comparatively) relaxed if not sluggish throughout – while decidedly blackened, retro and underground, to refer to this as a variant of “thrash” just feels wrong somehow.

Even so, stuff like this is what makes Hells Headbangers one of my “go to” labels every month, knowing that while they may drop a stinker or dud every now and again, for the most part their taste is sufficiently impeccable to dig up bands like this for our shared delectation.

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DIAVOLOS – You Lived, Now Die (Hells Headbangers) (December 11)

Hiding behind that early Slayerized variant of Exciter’s Heavy Metal Maniac cover is a typical blackened thrash act with members of more established acts (Satan’s Wrath, Impaled Nazarene).

For some reason the promo materials try to identify their sound with pre-Morrisound/Sunlight death metal, but that’s a crock – this is more blackened thrash ala early Onslaught by way of Show No Mercy-era Slayer, without more than a hint of death wafting about.

The closest they come to that is a vague Death Breath-like sensibility to some of the riffing (as in “come to salem”), but this is more of its own animal entirely: retro minded to be sure, but a bit undefined in source reference.

Even so, it’s often speedy, dark and old school in feel and works despite subdued, somewhat lackadaisical vocals more or less buried behind the often tremelo driven guitars and pounding snare.

I liked it.

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ABYSMAL LORD – Disciples of the Inferno (Hells Headbangers) (November 27)

Piss poor production compared to last year’s Storms of Unholy Black Mass.

Abysmal Lord do straight up “war metal” ala Blasphemy and early Beherit, the latter of which comes out in the weird choice to forefront and compress the vocals this time around.

I always liked those two bands – in fact, bar Bathory and the blackened thrash scenes of Germany and Brazil back in the day, Beherit’s Oath of Black Blood was the first “proper” black metal cassette I ever bought, back in ’91.  So hearing them aped shamelessly isn’t exactly a bad thing.

Of course, not everyone will feel the same – it’s very soundalike from track to track, not to mention uber-simplistic, poorly played and in this case, oddly if not downright badly produced.

Think of “war metal” per se as the black metal equivalent of death metal’s
“grindcore” – all unskilled, sloppy, juvenile aggression.

And Abysmal Lord are nothing if not by the numbers.

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NOCTURNAL BLOOD – Abnormalities Prevail (Hells Headbangers) (November 13)

This is a comp of the one man band’s demo, EPs and splits from 2007-2009.  Supposedly it’s all the work of some kid going by the handle of “The Ghastly Apparition”, who was 17-19 at the time.

Hell, we were working the band thing around that age, too, and were fairly progressive and syncretist at that, so it’s not too far outside the realm of possibility.

The demo is certainly the work of a juvenile mind, with tracks like “temple of masturbation” and “pray evil I will cum” pretty well sewing up that argument…

It’s very detuned, with deep growls and somewhat soundalike, particularly in the earliest material.  There is a progression of sorts, as despite the pre-demo track being better than the demo itself, the later split and EP tracks seem to be somewhat more accomplished and assured, pulling in some obvious Drawing Down the Moon-era Beherit influence but with a far more polished (well, relatively speaking, anyway) double bass drumming and unhesitating tremelo riffs.

Of course, some of the kitwork is flawed and more than a tad out of control, but hey, who’s counting?

There’s something about this that says “blackened death metal” just as much as it does “war metal”, but you could toss this into a mix with Blasphemy and Beherit without anyone batting a loose eyelash.

Not for everyone, but if you dig that style, and particularly the more “evil” and whisper-vocal sound of a certain period of Beherit, you should be more than satisfied with Nocturnal Blood.  I sure was.

Just forward up past the “True Spirit of Old” demo tracks to get to the good stuff.

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Resuscitation – Eviscerated Divinity 7″ EP (Iron Bonehead) (November 27)

A blackened death metal act out of Belgium who must be seriously lazy: since 1997, they’ve only released one full length, three demos and this two song EP.

Since 1997.

2 songs.  10 if you include the album 5 years ago.

Yeah.

Well, at least they try to sound like a proper (modern) death metal band for the most part – not a hint of Danielsson’s farts wafting through their material.  Gasp!  Can they really be a “blackened death” act without that?

It’s OK, but didn’t exactly set me on fire.

Maybe they wasted the match getting rid of the Watain influence.  You know, as in “hey, dude, light a match!”?

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Blackosh – Whores, Booze & Black Metal (Iron Bonehead) (November 27)

Czech black metal. Hardly Master’s Hammer or even Triumph, Genus, nor is it the sort of fun Motorhead, Bathory and Venom lovin’ biker band USBM blackened thrash affair its title (and the amusing photo shoot) would seem to imply.

Instead, this is a comparatively straightforward speedy black metal oddity with vague but definite elements of bands like Tormentor and Master’s Hammer without the quirky appeal that made either of them notable Eastern European scene standbys back in the day.

The closest you get to comedy is in the vocals, which come off just a bit too over the top, even given the strangeness of the Slavic scene.

You may like it, you may hate it.

I remain distinctly nonplussed by the whole affair.

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Chthonic Cult – I Am the Scourge of Eternity (Iron Bonehead) (January 22)

Thick, fat death metal guitar riffs quickly devolve into that sloppy “blackened death” style, all noisy if detuned tremelo riffing and blastbeat-inflected drumming.

Works much better when they stick to a more particularly death metallized riffing standard, with chunky chordal movement and early Death (the band)-style single note lines than the noisier, faster “underground modern black metal” approach they vacillate back and forth between like a pendulum.

Not bad at all, if a bit samey even within a meager four tracks worth of running time.

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Eucharist (Australia) – Demise Rites 12″ MLP (Iron Bonehead) (November 27)

Compilation of two demos from a particularly grim Aussie blackened death metal act.  There’s no track breaks, just one demo per side.

The earlier, better produced Tenebrous Summoning works astronomically better than the subsequent Demise Rites, so if the band’s still around…you might want to recapture what works so well about your earlier material.

Get it for side 1 and don’t bother to flip the record.

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Pyriphlegethon (Netherlands) – Night of Consecration LP (Iron Bonehead) (December 4)

Dutch black metal.  There are a few quiet, sorrowful piano pieces tossed in to offset the more traditionalist material, which is a nice touch.

What’s really odd about this is that Pyriphlegethon (nice tongue twister of a name, there, buddy) is more of a straight up, nigh-“dark metal” act musically, all sub-midtempo pace and wide open, standard rock drumming.  That’s right, no blastbeats, no double bass, it’s all very “normal” sounding.  Max frigging Weinberg from the E. Street Band could handle kit duties with these guys, I’m not shitting you.

There are occasional guitar lead lines or keyboard accompaniment that lend extra layers of melody and atmospherics to the proceedings, and it’s got a decided early 90’s feel to it, appearing to hail from the dawn of the second wave, before the style really got codified and you could hear bands offering weird cross genre hybrids of influences like this.

It’s black metal, alright – most of the signifiers are there.

But it’s really odd.

I think I dug it overall.

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Dodsferd – Wastes of Life (Moribund) (November 20)

After a really strange and pointless intro, we get a surprisingly melodic neofolk acoustic piece.  This morphs into a long post-black metal track that layers a consonant rhythm track with dissonant noise open chord business and modern underground black metal shrieking vocals.  And the next four tracks follow suit.

Moving from moody folky business to straightforward “dark metal” to post-black metal in nearly every track, there’s even a track that is mostly sung clean before falling back into the sub-Burzum wannabe shrieks.

It’s really well produced and the consonant bits, whether folk/acoustic based or more typically distorted and metallized rhythm tracks, work very well.

The shrieky bits, noisy open chord neo-Watainisms and the stupid intro track (which goes on for nearly 5 minutes, mind!) I could do without.

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Hiems – Cold Void Journey (The Forsaken Crimes) (Moribund) (November 20)

Italian one man band black metal.  Oddly, the music feels more straightforward than that label implies, much akin to Carpathian Forest’s whole “black n’ roll” thing.

In fact, that’s probably who I’d compare Hiems to: Carpathian Forest performed by a member of forgettable emo/modern BM lunkheads Forgotten Tomb.

It’s listenable enough, if you can get past the annoyingly overdriven whisper-hiss vocals (get any delusions of Beherit right out of your head, NOW – what Comerio is doing here totally sucks, but like the erstwhile bassist’s main gig, is just sort of…passable at best.  And that’s being generous.

Probably best (wait for it…) forgotten.

Pun very much intended.

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Austral / Cold – The Exalted Shadows of Death are Dancing (Tyrannus) (November 13)

Chilean black metal with an atypically modern approach.

When I think South American metal, it’s either blackened thrash in orientation (anything from the classics of Brazilian thrash through more recent acts like Bestial Holocaust) or seriously gnarly, out of control black metal (ala Chile’s Pentagram or Brazil’s Mystifier).

To hear two bands that lean far closer to, at best, the demo end of Norwegian if not French black metal (particularly the howling near-Fleuretyisms by way of early Manes if not Vlad Tepes of Cold) if not even more modern black underground acts is just odd.

Sadly, neither is really very interesting, though the more somber Cold appeals to me far more than the noisy Austral (whose “vocalist” gargle-yells snarls out the corner of his mouth like a pit bull at a dog fight).

I’d be curious to hear more from Cold, just to see whether a more polished release from the band shows progression towards the sound they’re so obviously emulating: can they pull off their own modern variant of Dans Notre Chute or Maanens Natt?

Austral, I think we can safely write off entirely based on their work here.

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Teach Your Soul With Fire – Vol. IV (Signal Rex) (November 24)

Odd insider comp that comes cassette only and whose Vol. III streeted way the hell back in ’99, if you can believe that…

Apparently there was supposed to be a fourth volume back when, but as the label guys say, “results weren’t the best”.  So here we are 16 years on, and somebody gets the bright idea to put together and release that intended final volume at last.  So here you are.  You can all queue up to thank me later, financial donations graciously accepted.

So what we have here is a comp of now-quite vintage material from, and let’s be honest, a bunch of bands you’ve never heard of.

On cassette.

Yeah.

Well, I do have some good news for you.  While there really aren’t any tracks that will seriously set your ass on fire (much less the black metal world, or as the title claims, “your soul”), they are all surprisingly decent.

Now mind, we’re hardly talking the sort of veteran acts every serious extreme metalhead has in their collection, spins regularly and which are venerated in book after book (and documentary after documentary) on the subject, so don’t get your hopes up too high.

But I can say, much to my surprise given the general low quality of comps in general (and black metal focused ones in particular – the only two I’ve ever encountered that were worth even half a shit are the long-acclaimed Nordic Metal and Fenriz Presents Old School CDs – both quite worthy and excellent primers for newbies), that Teach Your Soul With Fire Vol. IV really doesn’t have any glaring weak points.

Sure, none of the bands or tracks actually stand out from the rest in any appreciable respect, though admittedly, side 1 does feel a bit stronger than side 2.  I guess they frontloaded the more vaguely palatable material and ran out of steam a bit towards the end.

But guess what.  None of them exactly drag the proceedings down either.

And for a comp filled with effective nobodies?  That’s high praise indeed.

Horns up.

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Zgard – Totem (Svarga Music) (November 27)

Feeling far more aggressive and better produced (or at least more in your face) than last year’s Contemplation, one man band “Yaromisl” ups his pagan metal goes black game with a strangely screeching vocal approach (courtesy of guesting Stryvigor frontman “Dusk”) and driving drumming from similarly guesting “Severoth”.

While there’s a definite feel of Manegarm and similar Viking oriented acts about the production, make no mistake the primary orientation here is an early Enslaved-like black metal (think Vikingligr Veldi if not Frost).

The more sedate and melodic feel of Contemplation is much missed this time around, but Totem thereby shows an entirely different side of the band – this is his “angry” album to be sure, the raging fire to Contemplation’s snow and ice.

Is one album better than the other?  Not really – think of these as different aspects of the same goddess, if you will.

The season of wrath is upon us, apparently.  And Zgard has helpfully brought along the soundtrack.

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Abominator – Barbaran War Worship (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (December 1)

Abominable production, anyway!

Bearing surprisingly little in common with Evil Proclaimed back in Spring of this year, Barbarian War Worship is a reissue of the band’s 1995 and 1997 demos with a few more recent bonus tracks tacked on for good measure. At least those have better production!

The 1997 Conqueror Possessed material is more listenable than the earlier demo, but still kind of a mess, so it’s really all about how much you want to hear the four recent bonus tracks (which aren’t bad at all).

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Ysengrin / Black Grail – Nigrum Nigrius Nigro – split LP (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (December 1)

Sounding nothing whatsoever like 2014’s Liber Hermetis, France’s Ysengrin returns with a rather pointless four track EP split with Chile’s Black Grail.

There’s a lot of ponderous, plodding business and effective dead air combined with screaming and keyboard noise that seldom gel into proper songs – it actually felt like Ysengrin were trying to resurrect the unwelcome corpse of Abruptum.

Sorry, I don’t get it.

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Kvltist – Catechesis (W.T.C. Productions) (December 3)

More Watainism,* this time out of Germany.

* or is that “Watainianity”?  Might as well make it a religion, so many fucking bands out there want to sound just like them!

The only saving grace is an apparent sense of humor: the vocalist actually called himself “Amon Xul” (“krautrock” and 70’s electronic fans will get that one).

Otherwise?

Snore.

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Hellish (Chile) – Theurgist’s Spell 7″ EP (Blood Harvest) (November 30)

Aggressive as hell Chilean blackened thrash.  Reminds me of when Colombia’s Witchtrap was still exciting.

I really dug it, particularly after the last few bands I listened to this month (not necessarily represented in order here – you’ll know which ones I mean when you hit their reviews, I’m sure).

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Caecus – Affliction 7″ EP (Blood Harvest) (November 30)

Modern death/black metal of the Watain worship school. What saves it is some very strong production and the band’s orientation towards crazed pummeling speed.

Riffs come at you like an oncoming locomotive, chugging along like early Exodus on crack, then stopping dead ala Morbid Angel.  It’s hyper aggressive and pretty cool, though I could really do without the open chord dissonance ala Danielsson and company, which drags things down more than the material would otherwise merit.

The drumming is afflicted with blastbeatism and the worst, most hollow sounding thin dish snare sound ever recorded, but the double bass work is on point and the guy can really work the hyperspeed polyrhythms when not sticking to that annoying POUND POUND POUND POUND POUND on the snare shit (oh, Jan Axel, what hath thou wrought?).  Vocals are uber-deep and throaty and there’s a feel of Suffocation to the proceedings, but it’s more melodic than that.

If they’d have made this proper old school death metal but retained most of the same approach, this would be one of the best things I’d heard of its type of late.

Too bad they heard Watain first.

Will the (Rabid Death’s) Curse never end? Come on, people. Do you all need to follow those assholes like sheep?

A purge of their influence would work wonders.

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Anomalie – Refugium (Art of Propaganda) (November 20)

“In fear of tomorrow” kicks off with the sort of dark acoustic neofolk that taps into the same space as Myrkur, Ulver and to some extent Manegarm’s Urminnes Hävd – The Forest Sessions – awesome, right?

But whoops, that’s the last you hear of that particular aesthetic on Refugium.

So what do you get?  Well, it’s more of a “dark metal” meets gothic metal with touches of emo and the bombastic feel of pagan or Viking metal. There are chugga chugga guitars like a goth metal band, depressive layered guitars and screaming ala emo and a vaguely black metal vibe that’s more indefinable undercurrent than anything surface level.

I wasn’t overly surprised to see it was the guy behind Harakiri for the Sky – not the shit garnish of a vocalist, but the chateaubriand of the compositions behind him (check out our review here).

So obviously, this is all that is good about the aforementioned project, without the bullshit holding them back.  “Marrok” himself delivers an Into Eternity-era Desultory croak vocally, but that’s at least listenable and doesn’t distract in any appreciable way from the bombastic paganesque feel or the dark emotion throughout.

He pulled in a session drummer and bass player, but they’re just sort of there – while serviceable enough, nothing they do really stands out or impresses.

If you’re looking for something a bit dark, over-emotional and bombastic without being triumphant or involving any measure of chest thumping, Anomalie should fill the bill quite nicely.

I liked it well enough.

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Whiskey Ritual – Blow With the Devil (Art of Propaganda) (November 27)

Italian act that does the blackened thrash thing USBM style.

Seriously, they have the biker aesthetic, the raw, punkified approach ala Nunslaughter, Intoxicated, Maax or Venomous Maximus (among dozens of other such acts released on Hell’s Headbangers and Iron Bonehead) and the stated if not already obvious indebtedness to Motorhead, Venom, first album Bathory and early Celtic Frost/Hellhammer.

Are you sure they come from Italy and not Ohio?

There are much better bands out there working this exact same territory, but as I appreciate (and often champion) the style, I’ll be generous and give these paisanos the nod as well.

Hey, don’t say I never gave ya nothin’, capisce?

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Malrun – Oblivion Awaits (VICISOLUM PRODUCTIONS) (December 4)

Detuned, melodeath-oriented modern metal. Nicklas Sonne’s vocals are more clean with growly flourishes, which allows for some nicely Euro-style melodic, almost power metal touches at the choruses.

The production is oddly in your face and thick yet still feels quite hollow at core, similar to the tonality of guitars processed through a wah pedal held midpoint to grab the harmonics (think classic Obsession for a good example).

The detuned groove/industrial thing doesn’t help either – I could have sworn that stupid neanderthal riff opening “oblivion awaits” was stolen from a Slipknot record or something.

Essentially, this is marked by the poor choices of the past few decades in heavy music: nu-metal, groove, industrial metal, aggro and emo have all left their unwanted caress and spoor on the less retro-minded of today’s metal (and punk, for that matter) acts, and there appears to be no way of getting away from that.

More’s the pity – Malrun definitely know their way around a memorable hook, and bury some rather likeable choruses amidst more generic machine gun and thunka thunka groove/nu style riffing at the verses.

It’s nowhere near as dependable in quality as Killswitch Engage, though that wouldn’t be too far distant a marker for the general orientation here.  Just give them a far more melodic, almost Frontiers Records-style vocalist and drop most if not all of the screamo bits.

A little less of the last few decades in that mix would have resulted in one hell of a souffle.  As it is, I wouldn’t send this one back to the kitchen…just not sure I’d become a regular patron of this particular establishment.

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Ur Draugr – With Hunger Undying (ATMF) (December 7)

Weird atonal modern black metal with pretensions towards folk ala Ulver or Myrkur and an off kilter, pseudo-prog sensibility.

Think everything you hate about bands like Atheist and Watchtower, multiply it by the unlistenably atonal gibberish of later Gorguts and bands who followed in their wake and make the whole thing fairly Watainish in feel and aesthetic, and you’ll have Ur Draugr.

I found myself getting really irritable after sitting through a few songs – by the time you get near the finish mark, damn if you aren’t pissed off and feel a headache coming on.

People listen to this sort of thing voluntarily?

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