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It’s the shortest month of the year, so not only are we bumping the monthly reviews up by a week, but we’ll try to keep things brief.

Not a lot has changed since last month, though the body count appears to have diminished to a mere trickle, and the uncontrolled flow of blood seems to have stemmed somewhat.

We’ll take this as an omen, and hope last month was an anomaly, one last wave of destruction to mark the long awaited demise of yet another vicious beast of a year, who kicks and thrashes wildly in his death throes.

So let’s hope 2016 is a far kinder year to all of us, and if she proves to be as horrific a gorgon as 2015 (and January) was, that at least she’ll allow us to put her down easier when the time rolls around.

Some very good stuff this month…also some pretty damn bad stuff.  Very few in the middle, mirroring the global political and economic situation with due aproppriateness.

So, the hell with all this ado about nothing.  Let us sally forth to face the ghost of our (founding) fathers and right the wrongs that have been done us since due to our collective apathy…o, sinews, bear us stiffly up!

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Sinbreed – Master Creator (AFM Records) (February 26)

Speed meets power metal, straight outta the Sudetenland.

Well, not literally, but they are a Teutonic act, with vocalist Herbie Langhans sounding like a cross between Grave Digger’s Chris Boltendahl and Udo Dirkschneider and drummer Frederik Ehmke keeping the pace strictly in Helloween territory.

It’s melodic (and very much so!), decidedly uptempo and as well produced as you’d expect from the impeccable Germans, with some nice guitar harmony leads sprucing up the mix every so often.  Sounds like a few of the members moonlight with Blind Guardian, so you get the idea.

As typical for this sort of power metallish endeavor, there’s nothing whatsoever to complain about – there’s a very positive tone and message to the lyrics and the musicianship, production and melodicism are all in place and well polished.

The only question is, does this sort of thing really excite you, release after release, band after band?  Or is it just eminently listenable BGM?

That’s my only issue with power metal as a whole, particularly when it stems from the Teutonic source of said genre, who did it first and still do it best.

No complaints whatsoever.  It’s actually pretty catchy, and for a power metal act?  I really liked this one.

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Iron Mask – Shadow Of The Red Baron (AFM Records) (February 5)

Whew, 6 albums and 5 vocalists. I guess Dushan Petrossi is a bit more Yngwie than he intends to be…

This is a reissue of Iron Mask’s third album, which features the band’s longest running (two whole albums!) frontman, the rather Jeff Scott Soto-esque Roma Sladetski (who then gave way to the one and a half album-fronting former Yngwie frontman Mark Boals for the quirky Fifth Son of Winterdoom).

Curiously, this one now encircles Boals by including two re-recorded tracks from the aforementioned album as led by (you guessed it…) yet another vocalist, one Artur Almeida.

What’s interesting here is that the herky-jerky playing on display in that opus minimus is shown to have been somewhat of an anomaly.  Whether the fault of equipment (maybe he picked up one of those cheese grater Dean Markley jobs with the unsanded frets and unpolished fretboard?) or the production, the wannabe-shred ineptitude we’d noted upon the album’s release is utterly absent herein.*

* though some of the runs on “universe” do bear a bit of that same uncomfortable stiltedness that became so noticeable on Winterdoom…

While the (much) stronger songwriting, production and yes, playing on display here are far more in the caliber of a very obviously Yngwie-inspired shredder (see also the generally far more impressive Chris Impelliteri), what’s fascinating is that this is not only the case with the two re-recorded tracks, but the earlier Shadow of the Baron material!

So if you’d been following Iron Mask prior to Winterdoom, it must have been one hell of a shock to hear the rather questionable and forced playing on display therein…

As a newbie to the band (and in fact starting with that generally and quite justifiably low ranked album), to hear the band they were, and more particularly the player Petrossi was (and would seem to be again), I can only shake my head in disbelief that the earlier album was ever allowed to see release…

I mean, look, the two tracks culled from it still kinda suck, and you’d be hard pressed to say that Almeida, while serviceable, trumps Mark Boals in any way, shape or form.  But Petrossi seems to be playing just fine here, even on those songs.

So here’s the scoop.  Can’t speak for any of the earlier Iron Mask material, nor can I clairvoyantly divine how their next release will turn out.

But given the quality of Shadow of the Red Baron?  I wouldn’t be surprised to find myself turning into an unabashed Petrossi supporter.

Just by all means, unless you’re a diehard Mark Boals collector?  Do yourself a favor and avoid Fifth Son of Winterdoom.

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Bloodbound – One Night Of Blood (AFM Records) (February 26)

Swedes celebrate three albums with Patrik Johansson on vox with a live album and DVD, of which we have the audio end for review.

The setlist ignores the excellent Michael Boorman (Silent Force)-fronted Book of the Dead and Urban Breed-fronted Tabula Rasa in favor of the three more middling efforts Johansson was involved with, including no less than 6 from Stormborn and 2 from In the Name of Metal, filling out the remainder of the set with two from Nosferatu and one each from Unholy Cross and Book of the Dead.

It’s all catchy enough, if fairly standard power metal, but unlikely to convert any newcomers to flag waving, T-shirt sporting Bloodbound fandom.  Guitar work is decent, vocals are fine…just nothing to get overly excited about, despite a reasonably appreciative audience caught on tape here.

Maybe the visuals add more to the experience, maybe not.  But while not exactly bad, this is sort of a shrug your shoulders moment overall.

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The New Black – A Monster’s Life (AFM Records) (February 26)

Fabian Schwarz and The New Black return three years on from III: Cut Loose with another slab of crunchy, detuned Deliverance-era CoC.

Like last time, there’s more polish and melodicism than that reference implies, and it’s probably a touch more detuned than Pepper Keenan and company were back in those days, but it’s still a good touchpoint to go by.  Fabian and Christof Leim still drop some fairly busy riffs for the style, and the often wah pedal-heavy solos are more than listenable if not a touch flashy.

Production is very in your face and very much of the modern ProTools variety, but the real selling point here is the energy, melodicism and underlying good humor Schwarz and company bring to the table.

He was one of the more likeable and entertaining interviews I’d done with Third Eye (and looking back, many of the really amusing musician chats were in fact with Germans or Austrians – Piet Sielck of Iron Savior, Stefan Lichtenberger from Kontrust and the guys from Serenity come immediately to mind), and that same good natured sense of fun (and not taking oneself, or life, all that seriously) comes across in his music as well.

Another strong release this month from AFM, and sure to please those whose definition of “metal” runs a bit more towards heavy rock and groove.

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The Last Vegas – Eat Me (AFM Records) (March 18)

Post-Poison Alice Cooper with more than a hint of late 80’s/early 90’s post-GnR Hollywood tattooed junkie “metal” in the Aerosmith/Hanoi Rocks vein.

Think D-A-D meets Circus O’Power overall, though several bands of the era and style show forth some very strong “influence” – the riff on “here we go again” is totally AC/DC, and Junkyard is all over “along for the ride”, for example.

It works to the extent you dig bands like Vain, L.A. Guns or the aforementioned. Guitar work is pretty good, the riffs never get lunkheaded or boring and the solos aren’t quite Tracii Guns, much less Jamie Scott or Slash, but saying that isn’t exactly a slam – every one of those guys is/was a damn good player for their chosen style.

Like many of the bands referenced here, I can certainly dig what’s being laid down here, but the more polished and metal-oriented Vain aside, it’s not really my go-to.

If you’re in a nostalgic mood and missing everything from the Hollywood glam scene to the Black Crowes, The Last Vegas should give you the fix you’re getting the sweats over.

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ADEPT – Sleepless (Napalm Records) (February 19)

Metalcore.  You know the score: nice, clean sung melodic choruses and harmony lead lines in the pop-punk/emo mold offset by ridiculous tween-targeting screamo verses.

There’s seldom anything to add about this particular genre, unless we’re talking Killswitch Engage (and the Howard Jones era thereof, at that).

The production is always pretty polished in that over-digitized ProTools fashion, there are some dramatically mournful/depressive bits thrown in, the guitar work and drumming is generally respectable if not pretty decent, at least when layered as part of a whole and focusing on ringing, nigh-harmonic lead lines (as opposed to the lunkhead neanderthal riffing that accompanies the screamo bits – Pantera much?)

I was amused to hear the frontman actually spitting into the microphone and popping his P’s a few times on tracks like “wounds”, and I will say that at times (such as in “carry the weight”) you can say they’re closer in spirit to the aforementioned Killswitch than other, lesser acts of the type.  Hell, they even ape AFI a bit on “rewind the tape” – two very good touchpoints to adhere to in this style.  But speaking in broader terms, these sort of acts are all very much of a piece.

I can certainly listen to them if the clean bits are plentiful enough and the lead lines dominate the musical end of the equation, but ya know, same old, same old.  One CW tweeny drama is the same as ten others, the only thing that changes is whether the troubled teens are everyday high schoolers, vampires or superheroes.

Same old, same old.

Make no mistake, I certainly liked it well enough for the type.

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MILLENNIUM – Caught In A Warzone (No Remorse) (February 19)

Another obscurity of the NWOBHM era unearthed by No Remorse, this is a set of demos dating to around 1985 from an obscure UK act who’d apparently managed to release one album before having to shelve these recordings, intended for their next.

As you might expect from NWOBHM, it’s melodic yet raw, with the straightforwardness and punchiness of punk but with a more accomplished musicality and throaty (not exactly “soaring”, but you can hear the intent) vocals.

The guitar work is a tad stiff, but quite likeable, and Duffy’s vocals work well with the sound they’re reaching for, which falls somewhere between On Through the Night/EP era Def Leppard and Paul Di’Anno-era Iron Maiden.  You could toss in touches of Tygers of Pan Tang and other similarly minded NWOBHM acts as well, but you get the general idea here.

While far from perfect – the lyrics are cheesy as hell, and face it, by 1985, this sound was positively stodgy and so 5 years ago – it’s surprising material of this quality never got an official release until now.  We can all name far less impressive albums that dropped around that time, I’m sure.

One of the better No Remorse discoveries to pass across my virtual desk and well worth looking into for fans of the era and style.

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Inglorious – S/T (Frontiers Music srl) (February 19)

Chris Cornell resurrects Temple of the Dog and throws a touch more Zeppelin into the mix.

“Breakaway” goes all Sammy Hagar-era Montrose (but with a hint of Whitesnake, which becomes more pronounced in later tracks), and there are bits that suggest Bad Company or possibly even a whisper of the Allman Brothers, but the initial assessment holds pretty damn well.

I applaud the band’s decision to record not only analog, but “live in studio”, and agree that this gives a certain energy and vibe that is simply irreproducible by more modern digital file sharing methods.

The playing is decent, and they’ve certainly got the right idea here.

Just feels way too “classic rock radio” for my tastes.

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Neverworld – Dreamsnatcher (Dream Demon Recordings) (March 4)

Innocuous neo-prog in the Dream Theater meets power metal vein. They have a song called “into the mouth of madness” that had me thinking Lovecraft (or at least John Carpenter), but it was so middle of the road that it was over before I knew the song really kicked off (there’s a long drawn out intro that never really builds into anything spectacular thereafter).

Later tracks thankfully fare better, dropping the prog for the most part and getting a whole lot more traditional, with “armies of the night” feeling particularly mid-80’s semi-underground in approach.

There’s prominent keyboard use, but it’s more “in tandem with the guitars” than overpowering for the most part – we’re hardly talking “symphonic black metal” here (shudder).  Even so, it does lend more of a prog feel to the album than the band likely intends.  Drumming is rather straightforward, but competent, with occasional tom rolls and double bass flourishes to spruce up the otherwise quite Dave Holland approach here.

The vocals from a certain Mike Vaughan are throaty, approaching baritone. I found myself thinking of a milder version of Ted Pilot from Fifth Angel or Andy B. Franck from Brainstorm, which isn’t a bad thing, but don’t get the wrong idea here – while certainly respectable enough, he’s nowhere nearly as impressive as either of those folks.

I also liked the unusual, often inventive leads, which focused more on odd phrases than the sadly typical, generic doodly-wheedly-whoo crap most millenial “metal” guitarists gravitate towards.

Promo materials mentioned both Savatage and Vicious Rumors as touchpoints, and while that’s a bit of a stretch, I can see where that’s coming from – more post-Vinnie Moore Rumors than Savatage, and certainly not Criss Oliva in terms of leads, but the quirkiness and off kilter riffing style of both bands is certainly there.

Despite a fairly weak start to the album, Neverworld will definitely appeal to fans of the aforementioned acts, so long as they don’t mind all the keyboard tinkling alongside their traditional guitar/drums/completely unheard bass* band setup.

* and what the hell is that all about in rock and metal, anyway?

Not bad, not bad at’all.

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Droids Attack – Sci-Fi or Die (Riff Reaper Records) (February 26)

It’s the late 80’s/early 90’s all over again.

Big, thick single note riffs that just stink of post-GnR Hollywood “metal” (think stuff like Junkyard and Jackyl) and grunge (think Soundgarden and Screaming Trees).

I could see folks mistakenly lumping this in with stoner rock or even some lighter variant of doom, due to the singlemindedness of the simplistic “heavy” riffing, but while heavier than AOR, “classic rock” or whatever shit they’re playing on the radio these days, it’s about a thousand miles away from metal per se.

The Soundgarden influence is particularly pronounced, given the rather excellent drumming by Tony Brungraber, and it’s listenable enough if you don’t mind Brad Van’s Tommy Victor-esque growl-vox, but it’s a real stretch to put this in the same ballpark as acts like MonsterMagnet or Kyuss.

There’s a hard luck story here, as apparently Van had a hell of a time securing a bass player for this project, and then wound up losing all of the original recordings in a hard drive crash (!), so you may be moved to check this one out out of sheer pity.  But while it’s listenable enough…it’s not really what I was looking for or expecting here.

The drumming is worth checking out.

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Magrudergrind – II  (Relapse Records) (February 12)

Well, it’s grindcore alright.

A bit more musicality than the first two Carcass records but without their winning riffing, so forget about the riff-fest Repulsion brings to the table.  Not as appealing as General Surgery.  Missing the cool grindhouse horror film clips of Impetigo or Mortician and without the weirdo appeal of “animal as vocalist” gimmick bands like Caninus or Hatebeak.

About the only possible parallel in grind terms is to early Napalm Death and/or Terrorizer, and that only in terms of some apparent politicosocial stance (not holding a lyric sheet with shrieked vocals like this leaves the listener at a distinct disadvantage).  OK, I’m down with that, at least…

There’s a lot of aggro in this, but despite some general tendencies towards death-grind, it doesn’t really fit comfortably in that arena.  The playing seems a little too good, the production far too crisp, the sound is just…somewhere else.

I like all the bands I listed earlier, albeit to very different degrees, but Magrudergrind is simply not even on the charts.  To compare (Necroticism/Heartwork era) Carcass, Terrorizer, Repulsion or (Scott Burns-era) Napalm to these guys is like comparing an expensive lobster dinner to a fart.

I dig where they’re (ostensibly) coming from and liked both production and drumming when he’s not getting all blastbeaty (which just sucks, as ever with that unfortunate “technique”), but nah.

This one’s for the kids, and ones too dumb to go back and dig up the bands and albums this is (rather poorly) stealing at least stylistic inspiration from.

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Wishing Well – Chasing Rainbows (Inverse) (February 5)

Finnish hard rock act whose Graham Bonnet-starring “hippie heart, gypsy soul” single we enjoyed last month.

That single’s contained herein, but it’s a one-off, with the NWOBHM-reminiscent overdramatic nigh-baritone of Peter James Goodman taking the lead over the rather chameleonic material otherwise.

While this is best described as a sort of grungy hard rock affair with NWOBHM elements (OK, the vocals), there are Dokken riffs, early Kirk Hammett solo licks, Acceptlike double bass drum sequences and lyrics about metal to be found herein alongside the more expected 70’s influences: tinkling boogie woogie piano, midtempo corporate rocklike guitar riffs and a very classic rock-oriented drumming style that even comes across when they’re doing something speed metallish (in the sense of Motorhead or Accept).

You get the sense from the cover and some of the lyrics that they were trying to be a bit psychedelic as well (“the holy mountain”?), but it’s more of a confused, if musically accomplished, mix of 70’s hard rock and straight up 80’s metal.

I could see aficionados of either camp equally loving and hating these guys for what they get right, and what just doesn’t belong, in each given style they appropriate herein.

If you’re reasonably openminded about mixing fairly disparate stylistic tropes and don’t mind quirky vocals, Wishing Well may just be worth your time. They’re certainly decent players, and that in itself covers a multitude of sins.

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Among The Prey – Only For The Blinded Eyes (Inverse) (February 19)

And here goes yet another one with terrible screamo vox.

BLEARRRGHH BLAH BLAH BLUUUUUUHHHGGGGHH

Yeah, I’ve had those nights hanging over the bowl tossing up last night’s booze too, kid.  Never felt the need to record them as “vocals” to my band, though.

A lot of quirky, Prong-like start-stop herky jerky riffing of thin-sounding distorted single note guitar lines and a freakishly hollow sounding production that makes the drummer sounding like he’s playing tupperware work behind the awful “vox”.

BLEEEEAHH BLURRRP BURRRRRRRRRRRRP

Give us a courtesy flush, willya?

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MAGNUM – Sacred Blood “Divine” Lies (Steamhammer / SPV) (February 26)

Long running NWOBHM-era heavy rock band drops their 19th studio album.

They seem fairly straightforward in approach, with the title track being particularly killer…except when they drop everything and go off into weird symphonic keyboard and string passages mid-song for no apparent reason.

This bizarre inclination continues throughout, with “crazy old mothers”, “gypsy queen” and “afraid of the night” all starting off (and in some cases, remaining) in that mode before suddenly surprising you by turning into a decent rocker a few minutes in.

Tracks like “afraid of the night” and “a forgotten conversation” are working a Kansas meets Styx proglike modality, a track titled “quiet rhapsody” is in fact anything but, and the last two tracks just fall straight into MOR territory.

The overall effect is to leave the listener saying “what the hell!?!?” throughout.  Are they a straight up hard rock band?  A 70’s prog affair? Neither?

The bottom line is this: when Magnum settles into a groove and actually starts rocking out, they’re pretty good.  But there’s wayyyyyy too much of the florid stuff…and mind, it’s not as bombastic as the aforementioned comparisons might suggest when they go there…for my tastes.

Much like Queen with a lot less drama school and musical theater, this is a good rock band with too many schmaltz elements rearing their head and fucking up the mix along the way.

As it stands, it has its moments.

Less of the flowery shit, and these guys would be a real find.

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ANVIL – Anvil is Anvil (Steamhammer / SPV) (February 26)

Damn, Steve “Lips” Kudrow and Robb Reiner are still at it.

From a band I remember being discussed as one of the first great speed/thrash acts back in the day (they seemed to be an influence on just about everybody back in the mid 80’s…) to the subject of the most depressing mockumentary I’ve ever sat through, Anvil has trudged along from the metal underground to a brief glam-comedy sort of thing (remember the “mad dog” video?) straight through to 2016.

Who the hell’d ever have believed that?

So we start off Running Wild style with a cheesy pirate anthem, take on the “zombie apocalypse”, a ride on a “runaway train” and discuss “gun control”. It’s all “up, down and sideways” for an album that seems to be power metal leaning thrash (check out the riffing and drumming on the aforementioned “up, down and sideways,” “runaway train,” “fire on the highway” and possibly “run like hell”) but with some odd, GNR meets Southern rockisms with Alice Cooperlike vocals (“it’s your move,” “ambushed,” “gun control”, “die for a lie”).

The lyrics come off sort of naive, despite the admirable attempt to address some pertinent subjects along the way, but that’s part of the charm, I guess.

The very oddness that kept me observing the band from a respectful distance over the years is in full effect herein, with elements I gravitate towards (thrash/speed metal riffs and drumming, politicosocial commentary) offset by ones that don’t work so well (genre-blending, a general goofiness that may in fact be deliberate – the guy who did “mad dog” can’t possibly take himself all that seriously, after all).

To say that I’m a bit nonplussed by it at this point in the veterans’ long running career would be a bit silly – because they always left me with something of a cocked eyebrow.  Too hard to place in any genre or style, too weird to pin down or use to sustain or comment on a given mood, Anvil themselves explain it best with their album title.

Because love ’em, hate ’em or just scratch your head and walk away, Anvil is in fact Anvil, for better or worse.

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KARMA TO BURN – Mountain Czar (Rodeostar / SPV) (February 26)

Kyuss circa Blues for the Red Sun, but only the instrumental bits.

There’s more than a touch of Southern groove and some strong Red Fangisms in the mix as well, but it’s all instrumental, so we can more or less forgive those musical missteps.

The band doesn’t even bother to title its tracks (something we’re also seeing in the black metal underground lately…and hey, if you don’t give a shit enough about this stuff to even christen it with a title, do you really expect anyone else to?), with the exception of “uccidendo un sogno (murdering a song)”, which is some (easily recognizable) crap Tom Petty song (’nuff said right there) with an (obviously) Italian guest vocalist.  This song is not only the only one with vocals, but the only one with a solo, which ain’t bad, also hailing from an unfamiliar guest guitarist.

The music is chunky and very stoner rock throughout, even managing to make Tom Petty sound palatable for a change, so it worked well enough for me.

But without vocals, Karma to Burn pretty much boils down to very listenable BGM for the generator party circuit.

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KITTY IN A CASKET – Kiss & Hell (Rodeostar / SPV) (February 26)

Austria apparently misses Sylvia Superstar and the Killer Barbies as much as my wife and I do, because they have their own effective copycat act.

Smokin’ hot punkette with an alliterative stage name?  Check.
Punchy, radio-friendly punk with a decided trash horror bent?  Check.
Tongue implanted firmly in cheek?  Hugh Betcha.

Now, this ain’t exactly the Barbies, as catchy and fun as it is, nor is it up to the quality of both bands’ obvious forbears, the Cramps and the Misfits.  But admitting to that hardly constitutes a ringing condemnation.

And it’s not all punk – even refining this down to some cross between horror punk and pop-punk, there are other influences bleeding in there that don’t quite fit.

There’s more than a touch of the good time party rock vibe of lamented local band Pretty Suicide to Kitty’s vocal approach (though I hardly imagine the Austrians would be familiar with a defunct New York bar band!). We also have to contend with the relentlessly major key orientation of the band, which is so oddly cheery as to feel somehow countrified.  Then there’s those occasional screamo backing vox in tracks like “bloodlust”…of which all I have to ask is, why? 

But the band keeps things pretty uptempo and propulsive, with that odd horror punk trait of a general cheeriness to the music offset by the (tongue in cheek) grim lyrics, and as a longtime fan of classic Danzig-era Misfits, the aforementioned Killer Barbies and Ohio pals The Vladimirs, this one played right up my alley to be sure.

And as with the Barbies, having a sexy frontwoman doesn’t exactly hurt matters either…

Looking forward to hearing more from these guys (and gal).

And just as a postscript apropos of nothing, really enjoyed hearing the lady go au naturel in the lone native tongue track “feuer und eis”…

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K-X-P – III Part 2 (Svart Records) (March 18)

Echoes of The Normal’s “warm leatherette”, Joy Division, Throbbing Gristle and early Cabaret Voltaire if not pre-Dare Human League or John Foxx-era Ultravox raise this effort well above K-X-P’s prior releases such as History of Techno or III Part 1.

You can even pull in stuff like earlier Depeche Mode, Kraftwerk or the soundtrack work of Simon Boswell as a reference point here – the material is driving, dark electronic music with a propulsive dance beat.  Even “this is what you want…this is what you get” era Public Image Ltd. comes to bear in this surprisingly likeable melange of retro-electronic bordering on goth, and these are all some very good reference points to be picking up in a release come 2016…

Those who bear some ongoing measure of affection for the late 70’s/early 80’s postpunk/electronic/industrial scene coming mainly out of England (but also from Germany – think Rheingold) should definitely find something to latch onto this time around.

K-X-P finally pulls it together and delivers their masterwork.

I’m down.

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Talmud Beach – Chief (Svart Records) (March 18)

Bluesy boogie-rock with Steve Miller on vox.

If you dig early Whitesnake, Elf and Bon Scott-era AC/DC, you may be on track to enjoy this one, but it’s more particularly for the fanboy of classic Clapton, Steve Miller Band or even BTO. Promo materials specifically mention Canned Heat, and that sound is very evident herein as well.

It’s that sort of classic rock with clean overdriven guitars and a clean but thin sounding production, and a very strong blues-rock guitar approach in the leads.  Most numbers fall somewhere between boogie and shuffle, occasionally evoking a bit of Chris Isaak or Webb Wilder, though with more of the crazed tempos and incessant motion of the latter.

There’s a touch of folk as well, with a track like “mountain man” particularly walking down those dusty trails of old, and the busy, layered guitar (and at least on this track, mandolin) of Aleksi Lukander similarly evokes III/IV-era Zeppelin thereby.

Things stay a bit too stiff to feel truly “down home blues”, but you can level similar accusations at the entire (and decidedly blues-obsessive) British Invasion.  Early Stones and Yardbirds aside, this is at least in the same ballpark as those record-hunting, career-reviving purists of an earlier era, so I have no major complaints on this front – just note that it’s very obviously “white” for all its blues/roots rock flair.

Those wondering about the name…keep wondering. Apparently nobody in this trio of Finns is of yer kosher yiddisher extraction (though guitarist/frontman Lukander was in fact mistaken for such, running into some unfortunate racist opposition during an Eastern European visit – somehow this inspired the band name thereafter.  Don’t ask me.)

Also, despite a few strong tracks in the first half, things veer decidedly mellow on the flipside, with the title track being the sleepiest of the nine contained herein.

I can’t really recommend this one, as it’s pretty far outside my usual purview or tastes per se, but the guitar work is accomplished and busy, if not downright impressive at points.

To the extent they come off sounding akin to the aforementioned Whitesnake and company or the early Stones/Yardbirds, it’s pretty good…but the rest is too mellow and indie-rock oriented to do much for either myself or the typical follower of these monthly reviews.

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Chestburster – Slime and Guilt (Svart Records) (March 4)

Noisy, Watainish riffing with Sabbath trills turns into some sort of grungy postpunk affair filled with blastbeats.  So is this Swedish black metal gone wrong?

I like how the promo materials say “it’s just dirty, sludgy rock’n’roll played by losers” (!), but I’d be disinclined to go quite that far with my slag here – because there’s nothing rock n’ roll about it!

By the time you get halfway through the album, the Watain riffs start to vanish in favor of just plain noisy indie rock/post punk guitar noise – the sound is sloppy and annoying, but not in the likeable sense of, say, Guitar Wolf, Iggy Pop or Dinosaur Jr.

The closest they get to listenable is the rather Iggy and the Stooges meet the Dead Boys-like “ice age inside my head”, and I can in fact recommend this one song for fellow fans of classic punk rock by way of that mid-90’s Guitar Wolf aesthetic.

The rest of this…I’m sorry, it’s too deliberately noisy (a fault more of the production or playing at a volume too loud for the mix – levels stay in the red throughout) and at least for the first 3 or 4 tracks, too Swedish black-death oriented for my tastes.

One good track buried amidst a horrible production job and a heaping helping of detritus.

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Panopticon & Waldgeflüster – Split album (Nordvis Produktion) (March 11)

A bit of a schizophrenic affair, with Waldgefluster’s “der traumschander” being a particularly epic piece of Viking/pagan metal…followed by a decidedly sleepy bit of acoustic folk in “Norwegian nights”.

Then Panopticon gives the almost power metal meets emo-ish bombast and aggression of “hakan’s song”, then similarly falls asleep for the banjo folk of “trauerwelde II”.

I really liked “traumschander” and kinda dug “hakan’s song” as well. The other tracks…nah, sorry.

Great drum production, particuarly noticeable on the bass drum/foot pedal action on the two good songs here, which come off far more crisp than you’d expect from this genre.

Try it out and see what you think – chances are you’ll dig “der traumschander” if nothing else.

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Cantique Lépreux – Cendres Célestes (Eisenwald)

Quebecois black metal.  Like their peers in the French Canadian (and to a lesser extent, French per se) black metal scene, “Leper Song” delivers a moody, atmospheric and often quite mournful variant of the more modern BM sound.

While keeping things busy and reasonably aggressive on the tremelo picking and blastbeat drum end, it all feels very much like running in place. You could make analogies to more recent Norwegian acts in the vein of Gorgoroth or perhaps even Nattens Madrigal-era Ulver, but the simple fact is that this album felt a whole hell of a lot more like late period Judas Iscariot to my ears.

There’s a strong sense of stillness, a dramatic contemplation while standing at the helm of a Viking longboat heading into imminent conflict, if you will.  The band keeps things very much on the active end, but the melodies strain to rein all of that nervous energy in throughout.

This is the sort of thing I put on to relax, especially during the workday – a mirroring of the calm amidst the hellstorm we’re forced to endure and exhibit in the fruitless pursuit of mammon.

As such, I found this one quite comfortable, and while perhaps not a standout in any definable sense, definitely one of those sleeper affairs that will remain in rotation for years.

For fans of the aforementioned acts, particularly post-Dethroned Judas Iscariot.

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RAGNAROK – Psychopathology (Agonia Records) (March 25)

Belphegor meets Gaahl-era Gorgoroth and grabs a few hints from Watain, but manages to be less majestic than any of those acts.

Interestingly, despite being a Norwegian act, they somewhat tellingly recorded this one in Sweden with Marduk four stringer (and former axe slinger) Magnus “Devo” Andersson hittin’ switches and working the faders.

While former drummer John Thomas “Jontho” Bratland switches to lead belches, new sticksmith Daniel “Malignant” Minge takes over the kit, and he’s probably the best thing to be found here.

The riffing is fairly typical, particularly for those accustomed with the
aforementioned bands, and there’s not much to distinguish these guys from the modern day rule of thumb that there’s simply little to nothing of merit hailing from Norway (or Sweden, for that matter) these days on the black metal scene, longrunning standbys Marduk and Gorgoroth aside.

It’s reasonably well produced if a bit too modern and veering well into the noisy range and the drumming is pretty good, but otherwise…meh.

I’ve certainly heard worse…much, much worse.  But there’s no life or spark here to catch the listener’s attention, either. It’s just Laodicea-level bland.

And you know what Laodicea was fit for.

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Ill Omen – Æ.Thy.Rift CD/LP (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (March 31)

Speaking of pointlessly samey…

While we kinda liked Enthroning the Bonds of Abhorrence and appreciated the compilation Compendium Melificarum, this once again suffers from the same malaise that Remnant Spheres of Spiritual Equilibrium did, namely that there’s been zero progression from album to album.

Look, it is what it is, and fans of the guy certainly know what they’re in for.

If you’re obsessively collecting hours worth of what feels like the same bit of darkly ambient mood music (to say “songs” in conjunction with Ill Omen is a bit of a stretch), then hey, this is more of the same.

But if you were expecting something new and exciting…keep looking.

And if you’re waiting for Ill Omen to change gears and produce something different from what you already have in the collection…

Well, I don’t suggest holding your breath.

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APOKALYPTIC RAIDS – The Third Storm (LP) (Hells Headbangers) (April 1)

OK, when these guys released Only Death is Real two years back, we were simultaneously appreciative of their nigh-Warhammer devotion to the classic Hellhammer/Celtic Frost sound…and baffled by the ineptitude of the drumming (which was pushed right up front for your bemused delectation in the mix!)

This time around, they get it right across the board.  In fact, I’m wondering whether this is even the same drummer!

So I looked into it. And sure enough, this is a rerelease of the band’s third album (Only Death is Real was their first), and this is in fact a completely different drummer.  Think Stephen Priestly if not Reed St. Mark, and you’ll get the basic idea of the sound and quality here.  Hell, these guys are so slavish that they go beyond stealing riffs to even copy much of the guitar and drum production style!

I was a Frost fan when that was totally unheard of (and in some quarters, quite uncool), so this is once again right up my alley.

Admittedly, like Warhammer, they really have nothing new to offer. But when it’s one of your all time favorite thrash cum proto-black metal bands that’s being slavishly replicated…are you gonna complain?

Didn’t think so.

Good to know there’s a few bands out there keeping a very old flame alive.

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EMBALMER – Emanations From the Crypt (CD, LP, TAPE) (Hells Headbangers) (April 1)

Ohio demo band, technically kicking around since the heyday of death metal in ’91.

After apparently packing it in circa ’98 after 4 demos and an EP, the band appears to have made a few late-millenial attempts to pull it back together, one album in ’06, 3 more demos and here we are 25 years later with only their second album proper.  So how does it sound?

Well, figure on a heavy Suffocation influence (vocally and in the crazy riffs, which also suggest a lot of time spent digging on Immolation).  The band themselves cite Autopsy and Terrorizer, and you can hear a bit of each as well, though I think Suffocation meets Immolation is a better reference point for what you’ll hear.

The guitars are very detuned and speedy, with plenty of harmonic squelches as punctuation and crazed nigh-blastbeat drumming and straight from the bowels agita-belches as vox.

There’s really nothing here to distinguish them from their arguable (and far more notable) peers, so it’s entirely a matter of whether you want new material from the aforementioned bands, albeit with far worse production.  While not the worst I’ve ever heard, it’s pretty damn noisy – someone like a Scott Burns was desperately needed to make sense out of all the cacophony here.

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BARBARIAN (Italy) – Cult of the Empty Grave (CD, LP) (Hells Headbangers) (April15)

Italian blackened power metal trio.

You read that right. Promo materials mention classic Manowar and Running Wild, and you know what, you can definitely hear that in here.  Picture mid-80’s Euro-metal leaning towards what would eventually be classified as power (Helloween being another obvious touchpoint here), with all the pluses and minuses thereof.

Where Manowar comes in is in the occasional chanted male backing choruses and a few chugging riffs that feel a bit bass-driven.  It’s far less prominent an influence than the more particularly Teutonic power metal elements, but worth noting as an occasional flourish to spruce up the mix.

Of course, being beholden to the likes of Running Wild (and Rage, and Helloween, and…) isn’t always a positive, as much of this subgenre has an unfortunate tendency to sound quite…samey, if not a bit dull.

Not bad, and I respect the guys for staying true to what could easily have been a long-forgotten corner of the retro scene – seriously, how many bands are aping bands like Running Wild nowadays?

But it hardly sets my ass on fire, either.

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GOATPSALM – DOWNSTREAM (Aesthetic Death Records) (February 29)

Frozen Ocean’s one man band Vaarwel joins up with three other folks for this odd project, which blends the atmospheric pagan/black metal of his own project to a more experimental leaning and quirky variant thereof.

You can still pick up most of the stylistic flourishes of Frozen Ocean here – parts are downright majestic, and there’s certainly enough traditionally instrumented pagan folk playing into the mix.

But this is far less grandiose, and filled with oddities – the nigh-80’s
synthpop/industrial synthesizer squeals, the polytonality that clashes key against key…it’s overly messy if not jarring, and prevents listeners from tapping into the same mood or zeitgeist you get with Frozen Ocean (though he’s certainly doing his damnedest, despite the other members’ apparent sabotage attempts).

It’s odd, quite pagan and almost aboriginal at points with all the mouth harp and croaking…was that a digeridoo in there somewhere?  Who the hell knows.

Has definite interest, but it’s no Frozen Ocean.

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Decrepit Soul – The Command of War!! CD/LP (Iron Bonehead) (March 18)

War metal, but with surprisingly good production and some groove/mosh breakdowns sprucing up the mix.

When they slow things down and go instrumental, it’s almost reminiscent of 80’s thrash, and this is where you can really hear the crispness of the production – I’d be surprised if at least the drums weren’t recorded analog, in studio – and for the most part, the guy’s pretty good on the kit. But then they pick up the pace and go beyond even the Brazilian blackened thrash sound to a more Blasphemy-esque wall of noise thing…and it all turns into sort of a mess.

I’m unsurprised there are members of Vomitor and Bestial Warlust here – it’s definitely playing into that ballpark.

But the better production, good drum skills and more 80’s underground/thrash leanings raise ’em a notch or two above their presumed peer group.

Vocals still suck, though.

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Voidnaga – Demo MMXVI TAPE (Iron Bonehead Productions) (March 11)

Sluggish, sorta doomy blackened death metal gives way to a noisier black metallized approach by the third track.  Final track goes more traditional death metal, at least in terms of some (barely discernible) riffing and Donald Tardyesque drumming.  Of course, this has to give way to the black metal noise and blastbeats after a minute or two, and the song never actually returns to form.

The first half of track 4 showed that at least the drummer can actually play in the proper sense…so why this?

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Veneficium (New Zealand) – Veneficium TAPE (Iron Bonehead Productions) (March 11)

Grindcore black metal mix.

Despite a welcome midtempo breakdown midway through “aggregation of sufferings manifest”, which hints at somewhat of a Repulsion influence, it works just about as well (or more to the point, poorly) as you’d expect from that one line description above.

I’ve heard much worse, but I can’t see anyone running out to grab this either.

Passably subpar.

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Turia – Dor  (Altare Productions) (April 1)

Dutch black metal.

Yeah, you heard that right.  Didn’t we have another band from the Netherlands trying to do BM last month?  Sheesh.

Well, Turia are a lot better at this than those guys were, simply by virtue of the fact that their sound is more of an indie meets psychedelic by way of stoner guitar drone thing (think anything from Sonic Youth to Monstermagnet or early Kyuss, but with that patented “black metal tonality” to the guitar).  Drums don’t get all that much to do, snarl-shrieked vox are very much an afterthought and punctuation.

It surprises me that someone would find merit in an extended jam session with no solos or instrumental prowess on display, but here you go, and not for the first time, either.

There seems to be a budding sub-subgenre of pointless instrumental drone-as-album/band/project releases recently.

I just have no idea who the audience for these would be, nor am I impressed by them in any way.

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