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Ever since our March Roundup arrived a week early, the virtual desk has been awash with one hopefully amenable if not awesome release after another (yes, you can tell the introduction’s being written before diving into all of this stuff…).

In point of fact, there are so many new labels and bands, not to mention a few returning champions here and there, that this may actually be the largest review cycle to date.  And being the glutton for punishment that I am, I say, keep ’em coming, folks.

Postscript: a few weeks later and about 80% of the reviews complete, all I can say is there must be something in the air.  Not only have there been a veritable landslide of releases to cover this month, but – and no, we haven’t gone soft all of a sudden – a surprising number of them are actually good.  And I mean across all genres.  

Say what the f***?!?

Must be something going down, and it ain’t with us…

And when we find ourselves giving the nod to bands previously and deservedly slagged mercilessly…all we can do is shake our heads in pleased disbelief.

So if you’re ready for this one…

Time to kick it into full throttle.  Onward!
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THE TREATMENT – Generation Me (Frontiers Music srl) (March 18)

Old school high energy 70’s hard rock in the general ballpark of Bon Scott-era AC/DC, with some hints of the late 80’s Hollywood glam rock scene ala LA Guns, Junkyard or Dirty Looks.

Wouldja believe this came out of stodgy, sedate old Britain?

The strongest and most obvious influences you’ll pick up here are the aforementioned classic Aussie barnstormers and the Jake E. Lee Badlands – both of which are some very good acts to be aping the sound of.   But while the guitar work (courtesy of likely brother act Toa and Tagore Grey) says Young Brothers minus the high energy solos and the vocals scream Ray Gillen, there’s something fresh and appealing about the syncretism for a change.

Rather than the expected retro copycat thing, The Treatment brings an often original-feeling approach to the blender, pulling in anthemic 80’s AOR (“backseat heartbeat”) and Poison-like gang vocals (“cry tough”…and no, it’s not the Poison song) to the AC/DC meets Badlands by way of Junkyard thing they’re working otherwise.

The only parts that felt uncomfortably out of place were the Jackyl meets detuned modern metallisms of “we are beautiful” and the quirky melodic line of “I know she knows”, both of which seem so out of touch with the rest of the album here that they have to be holdovers from an earlier lineup and approach.  They aren’t horrible or anything, just jarring in the otherwise elevated company they find themselves inappropriately sandwiched between.

Skip those two tracks (or play them separately), and you have a seriously kick-ass heavy rock album on your hands.

Definitely one to watch.

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LORDS OF BLACK – II (Frontiers Music srl) (March 18)

Power metal with a dark, vaguely progressive-rhythmed approach.

Nice, midtempo baroque-inspired neoclassical leads from Tony Hernando and a grimmer-than-usual melodic approach are the real standouts here.  The vox from a certain Ronnie Romero aren’t bad either, if a touch overdramatic and too raspy for my taste. The only real issue is that the dual tracking doesn’t work at all in this case – there’s far too much disparity between his vocal lines for that to gel.

What bugged me the most is the production from Hernando and Roland Grapow, which is overly hissy and thin-sounding, like the mids were boosted at all costs, with bass tones applied as an afterthought and the treble allowed to bleed all over the resulting mix thereafter without any hint of compression or noise gating.  The everyday, undiscriminating listener will most likely barely notice, but I found it odd and a bit annoying, particularly when most power metal is overly clean and well produced (albeit in the modern, ProTools manner).

All that noted, I did like the overall feel the band was reaching for, which was bombastic enough, but managed to be intimate and dark at the same time.  It feels more personal than most of what comprises the power metal scene nowadays, and therefore more essential.

Check it out for the guitar work and its unique standing amidst a scene of effective soundalikes, a scene wherefrom Lords of Black do decidedly stand out in the crowd.

Not bad at’all.

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CIRCUS MAXIMUS – Havoc (Frontiers Music srl) (March 18)

Prog metal. You know the score. Vaguely Dream Theateresque stop-start playing with meter in a sub-Fates Warning manner, but with a far greater emphasis on Kenny G-crowd MOR melodicism.  It’s grandiose, but never quite approaches the level of Edenbridge in their heyday, and never gets gritty or difficult enough to hearken to prog forebears like the aforementioned Connecticut veterans, Watchtower, Queensryche or Sanctuary.

There’s no faults to be found in the leads from Mats Haugen or the clean AOR-style vocals from Michael Eriksen, save that the latter can come off a bit too smooth at times, much like the similarly toned D.C. Cooper – which again, is not bad company to be counted among.

No, the real problem here, at least for those not already converted to the Circus Maximus fanbase or regular attendees to ProgPower, is the nigh-countrified mainstream radio approach and feel.  Not only can you picture your Taylor Swift-fangirl girlfriend getting into this, but you can probably see your mom digging it as well.

Great for sales?  Sure.  Shows a talent for radio friendly melodicism?  You bet.

But for the metal crowd?

I’m not so sure about that.

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ROYAL HUNT – Cargo (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (March 18)

And speaking of D.C. Cooper, we have a live album from the aforementioned Royal Hunt.

Hot on the heels of last summer’s Devil’s Dozen, Andre Andersen, Cooper and company rolled tape on some of their festival gigs last year.  So if you caught ’em at LoudPark, ProgPower or Rockingham, who knows, your cheers may be caught on vinyl herein.

Being a live album, there’s not a lot to say about the band that hasn’t already been addressed in previous studio album reviews.  If you love ’em, you’re already on top of this release – if not, as with most live albums, the concert recording is unlikely to convert ya.

Cooper’s in pretty fine form here, occasionally slipping into a more nasal, constricted throat thing but generally speaking delivering the same clean but powerful and oft soaring vocals the man is well noted for.

For their parts, Anderson’s Jens Johansson-like keyboard flourishes, Jonas Larsen’s guitar and Andreas Johansson’s drums are all on point and certainly pull off in a live setting the same level of musicianship they routinely deliver in the studio.

Naturally, the sound is recorded live, and therefore a bit thinner than you’d get in a studio production, but the residual excitement of performance in front of a paying audience translates well enough.

While hardly another Worldwide Live, Live at Budokan or No Sleep Til Hammersmith, Cargo holds its own as a more than respectable live album from a long running and much beloved melodic power metal band.

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WALLS OF JERICHO – “Relentless” single (Napalm Records) (March 25)

Some really silly soundbites of a bunch of random folks saying “I am relentless” kick off yet another aggro act.

I’d almost be inclined to lump it with metalcore given the strong production and fairly busy guitar lines amidst all the chugga chugga bits, but there’s one very important element missing:

Namely, those winning, anthemic, clean sung melodic choruses that save the genre.

I’m curious whether the band ever trips the wire and goes full on metalcore, or continues to wallow in the smelly mire of screamo-aggro on a full album.

This single fit only for the hormone-raging teenage Hot Topic haunter, but I reserve judgment for the full monte, presumably to be released next month.

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DELAIN – Lunar Prelude (Napalm Records) (February 19)

Westerholt and Wessels seem to be on an EP kick of late, with this one comprised of two new tracks, a more aggressive, nigh-industrial reworking of Human Contradiction’s “don’t let go” and a handful of live renditions.

Of the new tracks, “suckerpunch”, while likeable enough, isn’t quite up to the band’s usual standard, and therefore fully explicable as to why it was given an EP release.  The lyrics, if nothing else, are a bit silly…

“Turn the lights out” is a bit more suitable to a regular album release, with a nice nigh-soprano chorus from Wessels and a sad yet triumphant feel that should translate well to concert staple going forward.

Don’t particularly care for the aggro reworking of “don’t let go” and live tracks, as always, are negligible for all but the most hard bitten of fans, but the two new tracks are pretty good, if you don’t mind stifling a well-deserved snicker at lines like “would you give it all for me? Suckerpunch the demons from my dreams!”

That aside, two good tracks in anticipation of a full album.

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GREENLEAF – Rise Above The Meadow (Napalm Records) (February 26)

Stoner metal.  The usual generator party meets Grand Funk schmutters, well produced and with decent syncopated drumming.

Nothing particularly special here, though they may in fact be a lot tighter and more well-produced than your run of the mill act in this genre.

Very listenable, but I can’t claim to have been excited by it either.

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THE UNGUIDED – Lust and Loathing (Napalm Records) (February 26)

Well, it’s a decided step up from Fragile Immortality.  There’s more of an emphasis on clean vocals (both in verse and chorus, when they do appear…) and a bit more melodicism to the overall product.

Production’s pretty hissy in the treble range and they still work a weird, uncomfortable blend of aggro, metalcore and European power metal (!), and there’s still wayyyyyyyyyyyyy too much of the screamo crap going down for my taste, but it’s nowhere near as hopeless as the prior album.

There’s a whole hell of a lot of keyboard, slow and motionless-feeling power metal-approved typewriter kitwork and some guitar harmony leads to be found, if you can get past all the ridiculous tonsil-waggling screaming.

My advice, dump the silly screamer and stick to the clean backing vox, you’ll have a much more palatable product on your hands.

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Mystic Prophecy – War Brigade (Massacre Records) (May 6)

Germany brings us yet another power metal band bordering on traditional, albeit filtered through a very modern production style and detuned guitars.

As expected, the vocals are a bit raspy but melodic, with R.D. Liapakis’ throaty baritone playing into a more profundo Bruce Dickinsonian territory over the moody Helloweenisms of Markus Pohl and Laki Ragazas.

The production by Liapakis and C. Schmid is pretty full and beefy, but with a tad too much hiss on the treble end – cymbals and higher toned guitar distortion elements tend to bleed more than you’d expect.

The music itself is, like Lords of Black, darker than you’d expect from the usual power metal template, but Mystic Prophecy plays more into a neo-trad sort of thing, more “metal” than “power”. Solos are decent and occasionally emotionally stirring, and fit well with the music that they accent.

Like most power metal, you can trace the basic sound back to a mix of HelloweenAccept and more than a hint of Yngwie Malmsteen (at least in terms of song structure), but these guys are more lively and modern metal-oriented than those comparisons would imply.

It’s been a surprisingly good month on the power and traditional metal front, and Mystic Prophecy are certainly up there in the front of the pack.

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Wicked Maraya – Lifetime In Hell (Massacre Records) (May 6)

A more screamy Eric Adams (Manowar) on vocals, some fairly midtempo thrash ala Meliah Rage or Xentrix and some 80’s Kiss-style choruses all blend together in an odd melange that just screams that time period.

Now here’s a name I never thought I’d evoke: Anvil Bitch.  That’s another one I’m hearing in here… Did I mention there don’t appear to be any guitar solos?  Don’t ask me.

Apparently this was actually recorded (and apparently shelved) back in ’91, by none other than Jim Morris at Morrisound.  Well, that explains the decidedly of its time if not a year or two behind vibe on this one.

I love all the bands this brings to mind to one degree or another (probably less in the case of Anvil Bitch!), so this was certainly good by me.  I wonder if there’s any other decent albums from that era still rotting away in some studio vault somewhere…?

More traditionalist, everything must fit into a predefined box types may well turn up their noses at this.

But if you don’t mind your metal heavy enough to feel thrashlike but with moody, Simmons/Stanley melodic choruses breaking up the more genre-appropriate elements, Lifetime in Hell is a decided winner.

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Human Fortress – Thieves Of The Night (AFM Records) (April 1)

Arguably more well produced than 2014’s Raided Land, Thieves of the Night comes with a fuller, slightly more melodic sound that plays at times into more of a Helloween ballpark (as on “rise or fall” or the standout title cut).

While it’s pretty template for power metal and objectively not all that dramatic a shift from their last release, subjectively I can say that I enjoyed this one a whole hell of a lot more than I did Raided Land!

There’s just more propulsiveness to the material, with better production and far more well written material bolstered by the band’s usual level of musicianship. If you liked them previously, you’ll love this one.

But if you found their previous efforts somewhat lacking (cough), you may want to give Thieves a listen – you may find yourself pleasantly surprised.

I sure did.

A surprise thumbs up.

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Thunderstone – Apocalypse Again (AFM Records) (April 15)

Finnish power metal act reunites with original vocalist Pasi Rantanen, and the results are pretty decent.

Promo materials mention Stratovarius and (more to the point) Sonata Arctica, but there’s more to it than that – I’m hearing several power metal acts in their sound.  The vocals are a bit whiny and raspy, but definitely powerful and well suited to the band’s melodic, sorta Yngwie meets Tony Kakko approach.

It’s bombastic and radio airplay-catchy throughout, moving from neoclassically inclined material to simpler, more AOR-esque song structures and tagging on occasional Jon Lord organ stings and phrases that meld straight into Dream Theater guitar synthesizer cum keyboard slurs before flowing back into simple midtempo riffs bolstered by busier Killswitch Engagelike rhythmic guitar fills.

It sounds a whole hell of a lot stranger than it actually plays out, and the smoothness of the sound and adeptness of the musicianship that allows all of this to come into play and blend without becoming in the least jarring says a hell of a lot about the musical skillset and diverse palette being drawn upon here.

Rather good.

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Ihsahn – Arktis (Candlelight Records) (April 8)

Sounding like a cross between Ron Royce of Coroner and Vintersorg vocally, the former Emperor frontman and hiss-and-snarler (whose vox were once the single most abrasive in second wave black metal) brings his one man band dog and pony show to the next level here.

Incorporating weird electronic and neo-industrial elements to an otherwise melodic metal template (at times approaching a very traditional power metal, at points moving more modern and detuned), flipping back and forth between a very smooth and likeable clean singing and an odd croak that brings the aforementioned Royce, Gylve “Fenriz” Nagell and even Roger “Nattefrost” Rasmussen to mind…to call this black metal, even “progressive black metal” ala later Enslaved would be to do a disservice, not only to the reader (who would get the entirely wrong idea) but to Vegard “Ihsahn” Tveitan himself (who deserves better).

Always one of the more intelligent and insightful of second wave BM spokesmen, here Ihsahn reins in most of the abrasive and offputting elements of his earlier work (both with Emperor and solo) in favor of a far more palatable and musically inclined stylistic template.

While he still goes more than a bit overboard with the atonality and layering in far too many unnecessary sound effects and electronic bleeps and blurps, the core material, the musicianship itself, the song construction, even the non-clean vocal approach all work, proving once again that setting up a sound base is the only framework capable of supporting conceptual stretches and tonal experimentation.

Probably the strongest material the man’s released to date…and that most certainly does include a certain, strangely overrated symphonic black metal band of yore.

I liked it.

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TOMBSTALKER – Black Crusades (CD, LP) (Shadow Kingdom) (June 3)

Another act out of Kentucky, Tombstalker works an old school crunchy death metal sound that once again borders on black metal.

I guess you could compare them to Necrophobic in that respect – truly death metal enough to give a nod of respect to, but young or modern metal-inclined enough to pull in some ill fitting (Swedish) black metal bullshit that almost fucks the works.

Overall, I think they’re pretty decent – there’s enough Entombed, Carnage and Dismember in the mix to keep old school (Swedish) death metal fans happy.

But to the extent the vocals, and occasionally the music, swing towards the black, the train starts to careen off the rails.

Thus far, they’re still hanging on to the track for dear life – a shift to one stylistic direction or the other is recommended.

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SACRED FEW – Beyond the Iron Walls (CD, 2LP) (Shadow Kingdom) (June 3)

Cleveland based female fronted early 80’s traditional metal in the NWOBHM vein.

Vocalist Sandy Rago is of the clean singing variety, somewhat reminiscent of a raspier, more aggressive Nancy Wilson or Cherie Currie.  The guitars are pretty simplistic and straightforward, but catchy enough in that early Trouble or Cerebus (of Too Late to Pray fame) vein.

Fans of obscure and unearthed old trad metal should be happy with this one.

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ICE WAR – Dream Spirit TAPE (Shadow Kingdom) (January 22)

Continuing in the promising vein of the Battle Zone 7″, Ice War drops another quickie EP (this time 3 tracks instead of 2).

Improving in leaps and bounds over his earlier Iron Dogs material, sole member Jo “Capitalicide” Galipeau drops another slab of simplistic but effective outsider art and one-man metal in the traditionalist/NWOBHM vein.

Closer “chains and leather” is probably the most anthemic of the three, but Galipeau makes no bones about what he’s trying to achieve here, and on a certain level, it’s unquestionable that he does.

Looking forward to a full length.

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GALLOWER – The Witch Hunt Is On TAPE (Shadow Kingdom) (December 4)

Raw and sloppy blackthrash out of Poland (of all places).  So raw and nasty, I’m surprised this one didn’t drop through Hell’s Headbangers…

It’s a bit limited and one note, but the aggression is self evident and they’ve definitely got the feel of the loosest Brazilian blackened thrash acts (say, Sextrash) with a touch of the eeeeevillll vocals of, say, early Sodom.  Hell, the relentless speed even hints at Violent Force, though these guys are NOT playing in that league…

Overall, I love this sort of thing and appreciate modern acts trying to replicate the sound of the classics.  Imperfect, sure.  But a raised fist and headbang of respect to these guys for the effort.

All told, horns up.

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Devils Gun – Dirty n Damned (Black Lodge Records) (April 29)

Er…

OK, if you thought Dizzy Dean Davidson’s near-comic take on Cinderella’s Tom Kiefer in Britney Fox was funny, you’ll be rolling with laughter over Joakim Hermansson’s hilariously overstated shrieks here.

The (very Swedish) band seems to be shooting for a vaguely Teutonic take on (Aussie) Brian Johnson-era AC/DC, but with some amusingly Hollywood glam vox somewhere between the aforementioned Davidson and Jason McMaster circa Dangerous Toys.

Seriously.

So you get some very Accept meets Warlock gang-chant vocals on the choruses, some loose but growling four-to-the-measure rock n’ roll riffs ala the (post-Bon) Young Brothers, and Hermansson’s who goosed me shrieks and yelps over the top of all of this.

Better yet?

It works!

So yeah, as patently ridiculous as all of this sounds on paper, once your ears and brain adjust the old camp meter to bemused acceptance of the straight out of left field vocal approach, Devils Gun actually fucking works.

Picture “girlschool” or “long way to love” with Angus and Malcolm rewriting the riffs and the guys from the Accept/Warlock/early UDO axis dropping backing vocals on every song’s chorus.

Once you get done laughing uncontrollably, put this album on.  I promise, a song or two in, you’ll start to appreciate the awkward genius of all this, and join me in saying:

Holy crap. I didn’t just like this insane mishmosh of genre and style…I fucking loved it.

Bring on the next album!

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Blood Ceremony – Lord of Misrule (Rise Above Records) (March 26)

Alia O’Brien and company, who provided us with what remains hands down the best “occult rock” album not produced by Black Widow or The Devil’s Blood in 2013’s The Eldritch Dark, return with another slab of – at times – unutterably heavy retro-Age of Aquarius rock for those of us with a dark inclination.

Filled with riffs that fall somewhere between Sabbath and Pentangle, O’Brien delivers both a retro-pagan flourish of flute and Hammond organ alongside her droning alto sprechtgesang (which itself evokes period-appropriate echoes of the likes of Shocking Blue and early Coven).

Is it as strong as its predecessor?  Well…no.

While Lord of Misrule certainly has its moments in the sun and doesn’t stray incredibly far from the band’s defining moment a few years back, there’s far too much of a diversion straight into 60’s bubblegum pop territory, with “loreley” and “flower phantoms” diving into a bizarrely inappropriate Motown aesthetic and both “weird of finestre” and “things present, things past” going far too mellow hippie folk for their own good.

It sorta makes sense in a way, but isn’t the Blood Ceremony fans of Eldritch Dark want to hear.  What’s next, a Mickey & Sylvia cover?  How about The Left Banke?

Consider this the little witch with a curl.

When she’s good, she’s absolutely stunning.

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Beastmaker – Lusus Naturae (Rise Above Records) (March 25)

A more oddly muted and hollow, far less in your face guitar production than the “you must sin” single offsets what is otherwise a very strong, heavily Sabbath-influenced debut straight out of the unofficial raisin capital of the world, Fresno California.

Filled with a Carnival Bizarre-era Cathedralesque focus on classic 70’s horror and grinding Tony Iommilike riffing, Beastmaker fulfills the promise shown on their earlier single by working a distinctly Relentless-era Pentagram meets Black Sabbath template, all lumbering grimness and meaty midtempo grind.  And with a sound this open and organic, there’s really no question this was recorded analog…if not, it’s one hell of a fake!

Another nigh-flawless slab of hulking doom in the best retro fashion from the fine folks at Rise Above.

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Dream Death – Dissemination (Rise Above Records) (March 4)

Old pal Brian Lawrence finally gets the label he deserves.

After a few killer demos and one underground classic (which he says they never saw a penny from!) in Journey Into Mystery, Dream Death did like most of us here in the states during the grunge and nu-metal oriented 90’s and early millenium and pursued other ventures and means of making a living.

As a longtime fan of their justly (if decidedly retroactively) feted 80’s work in the death-meets-doom metal vein, I tracked the man down for a fun interview where he mentioned the band had gotten back together for a few one off shows and was actually looking to record some new material.

One year later, I had the man back on the show to celebrate the (self) release of that very album, the somewhat progressively inclined Somnium Excessum.  No one was more glad than I to see Dream Death back in action, but in retrospect, all the kinks hadn’t quite been ironed out yet.  While a worthwhile reunion album with some strong hints of the past, it was too different from what came before, too experimental.

So here we are, and Dream Death has resurfaced…this time on a label arguably oriented towards if not specializing in the unique niche the band occupies. Here’s hoping they see some profit this time around!

In a just world, they certainly will: this is the Dream Death album fans both old and new have been waiting for, a true successor at last to the fabled Journey Into Mystery (and the mighty trio of demos that both preceded and succeeded it).

For those who still haven’t heard of Dream Death…boy, are you in for a treat.

Picture Celtic Frost in the Emperor’s Return era crossed with even more of an underground vibe (they were on the legendary…for fans, at least…New Renaissance Records, after all) and more of a St. Vitus/Trouble meets classic punk rock riffing approach. Make it lumber awkwardly and jerkily, just like you’d picture from a reanimated corpse stumbling and shuffling its way towards its intended feast of living flesh, throw in some arcane, Lovecraftian lyrics and give it all a snarling, sneering declamatory punk rock vocal bordering on baritone growls, and that’s it in a nutshell: one of the greatest (if sadly oft unsung) underground metal bands of its era.

If Somnium Excessum left you a bit nonplussed, this one’s for you – Journey Into Mystery Redux has finally arrived.

I had the man on the show twice.  Do you really need to ask for a score?

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Church of Misery – And Then There Were None (Rise Above Records) (March 4)

Japanese doom metal act goes international, and nabs Repulsion/Death Breath mainman Scott Carlson in the process.

Well, you can’t say sole standing (original) member Tatsu Mikami doesn’t have a sense of humor, with that album title!  It’s great to hear more of the old school still kicking around, and Carlson’s very retro vocals are more than welcome here.

Surprisingly, the entire album appears to have been composed and recorded inside of a two week trip to the States, with one week taken up with rehearsals and the second for recording.  That’s it – no more time allotted.  All that’s left is a long flight back home to the land of the rising sun, finished product in hand.  Whew!

Lyrically, it’s 100% serial killer “true stories” (how death metal of them!), which seems a bit dubious given the opening track “the hellbenders” inspiration from the Sergio Corbucci/Joseph Cotten spaghetti western and the following track’s title of “make them die slowly” (how Lenzi of them!), but supposedly even these are based on true crime narratives.  Carlson did double duty here, composing the lyrics as well as working the vox…

Musically, it’s pretty straightforward if instantly likeable doom in the Sabbath meets Cathedral vein.  In fact, with Carlson’s growl-snarled vox and the movie-inspired opening track or two, the album this is most reminiscent of is Carnival Bizarre (right down to some four on the floor cowbell in “make them die slowly”!)

As that remains my go-to Cathedral release to this day, that’s about as good a recommendation as I can give.

Dig in and enjoy.

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Ensiferum – Two Decades of Greatest Sword Hits (Spinefarm Records) (April 1)

Wildly over the top pagan/Viking symphonic power metal.  This compilation combines tracks from their 5 albums and an EP, effectively drawing the curtain on the Finns’ long run with Spinefarm.

Dramatic, string-emulating keyboard flourishes and huge choral group backing bolster the expected Helloweenesque power-speed chugga-chugga guitar and typewriter drumming.  The weirdest element here is Petri Lindroos’ swallowed growl-snarl vocals, which fall somewhere between death metal (think Desultory) and black metal (think Nattefrost/Carpathian Forest).

At times, the pagan elements come to the fore, with some traditional instruments and folk melodies dropping into the mix, but it’s very busy, more oriented towards speed and bold dramatics than you’d expect from the more sedate, midtempo and often introspective thing you get in pagan metal (and to some extent, the Viking variant as well – think Manegarm’s Urminnes Havd or Leaves Eyes.

The gang choruses bring everything from Turisas to, oddly enough, hardcore punk to mind (!), but generally speaking, Ensiferum occupy a weird space all to themselves in the three or four subgenres of metal they straddle.

It’s certainly not what I’d think of when someone says “Viking metal”, “pagan metal”, “symphonic” or “power metal”, but look, they’ve been kicking around arguably since ’97 (if you count the demo years) and certainly since the debut dropped at the dawn of the millenium.

Those so inclined, here’s a sampler and reminiscence of 15 years plus.

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Reckless Love – inVader (Digital Only) (Spinefarm Records) (March 4)

Hmm. Is this party rock bordering on glam ala Poison? Or are we hearing a more anthemic and aggressively guitar oriented variant of top 40 pop?

That question never really gets answered, despite the occasional wah-inflected Jake E. Lee solo (followed by “thriller” organ swipes…that’s right, I said Michael friggin’ Jackson there…) and obvious glam visuals (check out that Jim Gillette by way of Michael Monroe 3 cans of hairspray ‘do on vocalist Olli Herman!) – there’s just too much teenage girl-beloved boy band pop in the mix (“child of the sun”, anyone? How about the admittedly quite likeable “scandinavian girls”?)

That said, guitar work (by one “Pepe Reckless”!) is pretty decent for the type, and you could argue these guys are just some modern day cross between Bulletboys and Extreme (minus Nuno Bettencourt’s speed metal fretwork)…there’s just something kinda “off” about the sound as a whole that leaves their otherwise obvious mid-late 80’s glam metal credentials a bit in question.

Putting that aside, these Finns have a pretty winning sound on their hands, sure to garner plenty of airplay on local pop radio and cross over to the metal-shy female of your acquaintance that you’ve been trying to explain all of this stuff to.  She’ll never figure out the Carcass or Burzum on your mix disc, but Reckless Love?  Yeah, she’ll dig it.

Catchy and instantly loveable pop music with glam and guitar-heavy rock/metal touches.

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MOB RULES – Tales From Beyond (Steamhammer / SPV) (March 18)

Dropping the contemporary politicosocial commentary of 2012’s UDOesque Cannibal Nation, Germany’s Mob Rules steers closer to power metal template with a more historical meets fantasy-oriented affair reminiscent of everything from Grave Digger and Serenity on the former end to Orden Ogan, Rhapsody (of Fire) and Helloween on the latter.  Klaus Dirks’ vocals are soaring and resolutely melodic, veering more towards the likes of DC Cooper or Michael Kiske (even approaching Bruce Dickinson at times – check out “my kingdom come”) than the more typical rasp-meets-growl of “Pata” Johansson or Chris Boltendahl, and the twin guitars of Matthias Mineur and Sven Lüdke join with the understated keyboards of Jan Christian Halfbrodt for some of the most palatably melodic and catchy power metal out there today.

There’s just enough dramatics to keep your average power metal fan happy, but enough real-world restraint to keep things from sliding straight into Gloryhammer territory – or for that matter, Rhapsody (of Fire)‘s ballpark!

Very, very smooth going down, if, like most power metal, a tad cotton-fluff forgettable.

A likeable band delivers a quite excellent album of its type and genre.  Who am I to resist the call?

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LITA FORD – Time Capsule (Steamhammer / SPV) (April 15)

Apparently back in the final days of (80’s) metal, Runaways guitarist Lita Ford,
following a pair of excellent albums (namely the guitar-driven Out for Blood and the more mainstream Dancin’ on the Edge) and during her transition to cheesy pop on her 1988 self titled apparently recorded a number of tracks featuring guest appearances from other musicians of the “hair metal” era.

Laying unreleased in the unwelcome wake of grunge and the whole hipster alterna-thing, these have now been resurrected for your delectation.

So if you were jonesing for another “close my eyes forever” or “kiss me deadly”, this is your chance, a batch of recordings straight from the same era featuring the likes of Jeff Scott Soto, Billy Sheehan, Robin Zander & Rick Nielsen and Gene Simmons & Bruce Kulick.

If this were from a slightly earlier era – say, lost outtakes from the Runaways or Out for Blood era, I’d have been all over this – Lita was one hell of a player in those days.

Unfortunately, it’s more of a Lita-era assortment of Ford-lite, more concerned with radio airplay than musicianship and just plain rockin’ out.

While she does a cover of Hendrix’ “little wing” and a respectably driving glam rocker in “anything for the thrill”, so far as I’m concerned, the sole exception to the pop-metal cum schmaltz rule is the Simmons/Kulick starring “rotten to the core”, which hearkens back to the Dancin’ on the Edge era of songwriting – think “fire in my heart”, still one of my favorite Ford tracks to this day.

I’m glad to see these sort of things unearthed, particularly after such a long remove, and always considered myself something of a Lita Ford fan – even beyond the expected teenage posters all over the bedroom and suchlike (yeah, I remember the 80’s, do you?), I was and remain a huge fan of her Runaways and Out for Blood-era fretwork, and hold a soft spot for much of the more streamlined Dancin’ on the Edge.

But this is more of her later orientation, where rock’s toughest gal started losing a lot of that edge.  And a few tracks aforementioned aside, that’s pretty damn evident from the material released herein.

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BIRTH OF JOY – Get Well (Long Branch Records / SPV) (February 26)

Uber-quirky Dutchmen who work a vaguely 60’s-psychedelic thing on the Hammondesque keyboards and swirling yet muted production, but eschewing any retro tags by managing to sound very hipster-modern in approach.

If you always wanted to hear, say, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Arcade Fire and The Black Keys playing vintage instruments ala Stereolab, Birth of Joy should be right up your alley.

I just found it kind of weird.

Not bad at all, so don’t get me wrong…just not the sort of thing I listen to by choice.

I’m sure there are plenty of aging hipster types and genre-eschewing millenials who’ll put this one into heavy rotation.

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DUST BOWL JOKIES – S/T (Rodeostar / SPV) (April 22)

L.A. glam circa 1989-91 rears its hairspray and lipstick-bedecked head once again.

The Aerosmith meets Hanoi Rocksisms are all there, with ringing distorted guitars with snaking single note riffs and raspily screamed YA-GAK-GAK-GAKK-GYAAAAA Stephen Tyler vocals that often cross straight into Jason (Dangerous Toys) McMasters territory.  They even pull in big, dramatic choruses ala Guns N’ Roses, punctuated by some very Tracii Gunslike guitar fills (and even horn section blasts).

It’s template, which while sort of overdone, at this many years remove ain’t exactly a bad thing.

Sure, they’re pretty far removed from the Sunset Strip geographically speaking, but is Sweden any further than Denmark (Dirty Looks), the Netherlands (Sleeze Beez) or Finland (Hanoi Rocks)?

Another one for the Sleaze Roxx crowd, and a pretty damn strong one at that.

My late teenaged self raises a boozy, nicotine-laced bottle in salute.

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JESUS CHRÜSLER SUPERCAR – 35 Supersonic (Rodeostar / SPV) (March 18)

More Hollywood glam/tattooed millionaire hard rock, but with a higher energy, nigh-Motorhead propulsiveness and a touch of (wah filtered) Boss HM-2.

The riffs are busier and angrier, which leads them to self-label as (late period) Entombed style “death n’roll”, but while it’s certainly instantly likeable, “backfire” aside, this is no Wolverine Blues, Maax or Intoxicated.

Lots of late 80’s L.A., but with a thicker, darker and far more driven vibe. They even go a bit doom on “I can get it”.

If that sounds up your alley, it probably is – I dug it.

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Savage Master – With Whips And Chains (High Roller/ Skol Records) (May 13)

ooh, yeah. Old school mid-80’s traditional metal ala Hellion, Bitch, Sentinel Beast or early Lizzy Borden, with a noticeable NWOBHM vibe.

Cute vocalist Stacey Savage sounds like a cross between the aforementioned Betsy Weiss (nee Bitch), Debbie Gunn and Metal Queen-era Lee Aaron, taking fashion tips from the latter (if not the likeminded Manowar or Jon Mikl Thor).

The guitars are thin and crunchy and the sound is totally vinyl LP, which is exactly how this was released.  While I’ve long since converted to the as-recorded audial perfection of the CD format over the imperfections of vinyl, this lends Savage Master the very retro underground feel they’re aiming towards, and in short, it just works.

Promo materials note a Cirith Ungol influence, and you can pick that up too – this is very much the sort of band I was digging on back in the WMSC days with Bill Zebub and company.  While peers were worshipping the comparatively mainstream likes of Dokken, Ratt, Dio and Quiet Riot, stuff like this and the dawning blackened thrash, black and death metal subgenres were who I idolized…and Savage and company have managed to unearth that very vital sound and feel at several decades’ remove.

Blazing right the hell out of Tim Ritter country, these Kentuckians have something special on their hands.  Let’s just hope they find the audience they deserve.

For my part, due hails and a decided horns up.  Keep on rockin’.

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Hellsingland Underground – Understanding Gravity (Wild Kingdom) (April 1)

Holy crap, the Grateful Dead recorded one last album before they all kicked off…

Well, not entirely, because there are bits of the lighter side of the Allman Brothers in here as well, and a bit of that early 90’s indie cum jam band thing going down.

Phish without the Zappaesque chops?  The Dead if they came into being in the early 90’s?

You decide.  The playing’s just fine, production’s decent enough…but this is wayyyyy outside my comfort zone stylistically.

Find your favorite hipster/wannabe hippie and point him in these guys’ direction, they’ll probably love you for it.

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HITTEN – State Of Shock CD (No Remorse Records) (March 1)

Retro-traditional metal with a speedy power metal base (as usual, falling somewhere between Helloween and Accept in orientation).

The vocals (from a certain Aitor Navarro) are unusual, sort of like a throatier, deeper toned Paul Stanley, but that’s hardly a bad thing. Guitar work (from the given name-only “Dani” and “Johnny”) is pretty old school, working the Enforcer by way of Cauldron, Widow and White Wizzard template for all it’s worth.

Much like Enforcer (and to a lesser extent, Cauldron), things tend to blur and get a bit samey after a bit, though a song or two on radio or a comp somewhere would probably stand out dramatically as a band to watch.

Not bad at all.

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Tombs – All Empires Fall (Relapse Records) (April 1)

Starts off sorta (modern) death metal (you know, the kind that’s really, really black metal at core?), then goes full on, no questions asked black metal.  A veer off into blackened doom, then back to the death metal thing, ending on a sort of doom-death with quavering gothic rock vocals much akin to Nosferatu under Dominic LaVey.

Wouldja believe they’re from Brooklyn?  Biohazard this ain’t…

Generally well produced* (in the digital ProTools manner) and competently performed, but doesn’t exactly set my ass on fire.

* black metal vox aside, which are totally processed hiss ala Beherit…

I liked the doom and gothic bits a whole hell of a lot more than the rest.

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Surgical Meth Machine – S/T (Nuclear Blast) (April 15)

OK, Ministry mainman Al Jourgensen tells us in no uncertain terms on the first track here that “I don’t fuckin’ care…go ahead and talk shit, I’ll just unfriend you and then quit”.  So why bother reviewing this?

Well, screw that.  “I don’t fucking care” either, Al…so take this.

OK, essentially what you get here is typical Ministry.  Not the likeably amusing dancefloor goth of With Sympathy, but the stuff most folks think of when you mention the band: Psalm 69, Land of Rape and Honey, Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste.

That whole era, where he took on Bush Sr. and his vomit on the Japanese embassador-highlighted “new world order” of blood for oil cum neverending “war on terror” (so dutifully picked up and escalated by his dopey son Dubya less than a decade later).

So here he is again, taking on tax-dodging, offshoring corporate assholes and selfish rich fucks, narcissistic millenials, war and the corruption of our political/legislative system, complete with soundbytes galore and Atari Teenage Riot-level computerized industrial speed.

Weirdly, he covers classic Devo (“gates of steel”) in the middle of all this, with some strangely unclassifiable and slower tracks towards the end of the album.  Don’t ask me.

So don’t believe the change in moniker: it’s just another old school Ministry record, for better or worse.

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Fake Moss – Under The Great Black Sky (self released) (March 25)

Strong hints of early to mid 80’s synth-driven (and generally British-origin) new wave, touching on everything from Ultravox, Berlin and (earlier) Human League to The Cult, Depeche Mode and (earlier) Duran Duran.  Hell, something about the bell tone keyboards on “les mannequin” even reminded me of Erasure, so you can’t say they’re not covering their bases here…

Much of this sound and style was incorporated by if not indistinguishable at points from the gothic rock and darkwave scenes retroactively, so you can expect a reasonably gloomy feel to predominate – think, say, Concrete Blonde on Bloodletting or perhaps even Floodland era Sisters of Mercy.

Erik Johnsson at times sounds quite Ian Astbury (“electric night”, “les mannequin”), others a bit more in the Jim Kerr arena (“more than you”), even touching on a sort of Nick Drake as accompanied by Gary Numan keyboards (“drinking song”).  Then both vocals and music go full on Gahan/Gore for “fear and motivation” (where even the title screams Depeche Mode).

It’s all very retro minded, albeit in a very self consciously modern sense (as Belanova is to Flock of Seagulls, so Fake Moss is to the signposts noted herein).

Look, I live and love this era of music, just as strongly as my goth, punk and metal roots and orientation, so when a band comes out trying to work that arena, chances are I’m going to at least give a nod of appreciation.

But when you get a guy who essentially wants to be a more Nick Cavelike variant of Ian Astbury, working over some 80’s synthpop?

Yeah, this one definitely gets a raised lighter.

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Kuoleman Galleria – Kärsimys Kunniaan (Inverse Records) (March 25)

Clearly black metal inspired (check out those vocals!), but marking their own bizarre territory by pissing all over your house.  Hey, didn’t you read those “curb your dog” signs, asshole?

Honestly, though, I was good with the gargle a gallon of snot snarl-vox, and I did enjoy the really quirky local color bits (you have to imagine tracks like “karsimys kunniaan” and “myrkyttaja” are based on some sort of Finnish traditional folk tunes, they’re so off kilter and weird).

Generally well recorded and produced, the guitars are crisp and clear and the vocals are right up front in all their nastiness – only the drums suffer in the mix, with the snare and occasional tom hits being the only bits that jump out at you now and again.

It’s very, very weird and unlikely to appeal to your everyday black metal fan, but I kinda liked it for its sheer strangeness.

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Mad Hatter’s Den – Excelsior (CD/download) (Inverse Records) (April 8)

The busy riffing, the multi tracked falsetto scream…is this going to be a King Diamond tribute band?

Sadly, no, as things turn more prog thereafter, with bassist/vocalist Jarno Vitri alternating between corner of the mouth grungelike yawww waaawww naaawwww crap and a more faux-Geoff Tate/Midnight (of Crimson Glory fame) high pitched nasal cry. Without the corner of the mouth bits, though, it’s actually kind of nice and sorta retro, and his approach grows on you quite a bit as the album progresses.

The band itself is somewhere between power metal and symphonic, with that sort of Yngwie meets Rhapsody (of Fire) song structure and decent guitar playing bolstered by a Cradle of Filthlike keyboard thing and busy, time signature-shifting drumming.

It’s all very well recorded, and you can hear every instrument and the vocals quite well, without too much clash.  I might have pulled the drums a bit more front and center, but the production really can’t be faulted here, it’s quite crisp and oriented towards a crystalline clarity overall.

By the time I hit the 5th track, I was really liking this – sort of like a less depressive Crimson Glory with strong Running Wild if not Iron Maidenlike touches.  The riffing tends to evoke that mid 80’s traditional metal feel, even as the overall approach hearkens more to a modernist power cum symphonic metal orientation.

For his part, Vitri really seems to have spent an inordinate number of hours worshipping at the altar of Midnight (which also explains the corner of the mouth yowls-to-soaring cries thing), so if you give ’em half a chance, there’s a very good chance Mad Hatter’s Den will grow on ya.

A very promising band by any objective measure, easily one of the best on the Inverse roster at present.

Whether the prominent keyboards, power metal-patented rat-a-tat typewriter drum gallop or the atypical vocals appeal or put you off is entirely subjective.

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fubear.  – S/T (Inverse Records) (March 3)

Stoner rock at its most template. Totally retro, with thick, fuzzed out guitars and clean but sorta quirky vocals and plenty of crybaby wah.

It’s hardly Kyuss or Monstermagnet in their respective prime, but this sort of thing is generally good by me, fubear. being no exception to the rule.

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Khroma – Stasis (Inverse) (April 1)

Oy vey. Uber-detuned nu-metal.  Didn’t we get over this crap a decade plus ago?

They’re trying to rebrand this as “electro-metal”, but don’t believe the hype.  Bands like Slipknot and Ill Nino were doing the same damn thing back in the late 90’s and early millenium.

Pass…!!!

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Sarvas – S/T  (Inverse Records) (April 8)

Oh, my GOD, another one?  Same era, this one more detuned aggro (vocally) with sludge/doom orientation (musically).

P-U…

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Alexanred – “Zombie Virus” (Inverse) (March 21)

Dancefloor oriented industrial.  Those missing the days of tripping out to the likes of Skinny Puppy, Nitzer Ebb and Front 242 (but with a bit more melody!) should be happy here.

One song, three minutes, no frills.

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Angertea – Snakes in Blossom (Inverse Records) (March 15)

I remember hearing a whole shitload of bands that sounded just like Angertea on what passed for “metal” radio back in the early to mid 90’s, smack dab in the middle of all the grunge and “alternative” bullshit that wrecked those years (and far too many a career in music).

The fact that I can’t rattle off specific band comparisons for you speaks more to my utter disdain and abiding distaste for this general sound and approach than anything else, but fellow veterans of that awful era should be able to pick ’em up with due rapidity.

I’m thinking stuff like Alice in Chains, Sponge, Clutch and Tool, but that may be way off the mark – any fans of that particular consistency and stench of dogshit out there who can fill in the blanks?

Another pass…

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Steel Jungle – Soidinmenot (Secret Entertainment) (March 30)

Well, this I kinda liked…

Some space rock touches enliven a clean overdriven but very quirky progressive funk-style guitar and some very busy, time change a bar syncopated drumming.

Then they go a bit surf rock ala The Ventures before turning all psychedelic on
“delutions”, decidedly prog guitar wankery on the appropriately named…well,
“wanker”, somewhere between moody jazz chording and Fair Warning/Women and Children First-era Van Halen on “light”, sorta Fripp/Belew era King Crimson (with hints of Mahavishnu-era John McLaughlin and even a touch of Randy Rhoads!) on “funk revival”, a bit Hendrix goes Nile Rodgers on “7th Heaven”…you get the idea.

It’s all instrumental,* but done by some retro minded folks with some serious musical chops.  This would not have been out of place during the 70’s fusion movement, and that’s a big, big plus by me.

* Unless you count a very Focuslike yodellike wordless ululation that pops up every now and again…

Sometimes it’s a bit too busy, like they’re overly bored and in search of a song, if not a melody per se, but you can certainly apply the same to the aforementioned McLaughlin (or worse – Allan Holdsworth!), so it’s hardly a slag – all the musician comparisons I’m picking up are some very good company to be keeping.

Very, very good, if highly likely to be more appealing to musicos and fellow players than any sort of general audience.

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Goatess – Purgatory Under New Management (Svart Records) (April 15)

On the other hand and sticking far more closely to the stoner rock cum doom template, Goatess offers a record that shows little stylistic progression from their own self titled debut…but a heaping helping of increased assuredness and comfort both with their instruments and in terms of gelling as a band.

Of course, unlike Tombstoned, these guys weren’t quite so slavish in their debt to the likes of Kyuss and Fu Manchu, tapping equally if not more directly into the Sabbath vein of riffing and decidedly Osbournesque vocals.  If Ozzy ever did hang it up, Christian “Chritus” Linderson would make a nigh-uncanny replacement – doubters, check out “murphy was an optimist”.

The only mystery here is how this one didn’t wind up on Rise Above.

Looking for a new Black Sabbath?  Guess what.  Goatess may very well be the band you’ve been searching for.

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Tombstoned – II (Svart Records) (April 22)

The slavish idolatry of Blues for the Red Sun-era Kyuss has morphed, taking Tombstoned from an effective generator party scene stoner rock cover band towards a more psychedelic doom sort of thing.

With moaning, mournful yet quavering vocals somewhat akin to early Ozzy Osbourne gone all Lene Lovich (with touches of Ian MacCulloch and Bono to boot) and a more ponderous Trouble meets St. Vitus approach to riffing, II finds a very different Tombstoned than we saw last time around, and therefore a decidedly more interesting one.

If you were bored or turned off with their self titled, you may want to give
Tombstoned another look.  It’s not a million miles away from the debut, but improves on that album in just about every way.

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Uada – Devoid Of Light (Eisenwald)

Modern black metal, but with enough unusual flourishes as to stand out from an increasingly soundalike crowd.

Those weird Fleurety-esque howls are in there, punctuating phrases at semi-regular intervals, there’s a mournful but speedy nigh-Swedish BM feel to the guitars and blastbeat n’ (un-triggered! Well produced!) double bass drumming…and yet.

And yet.

Probably one of the most “original” feeling black metal albums I’ve run across in the last few years, vaguely akin to Saturnian Mist’s Chaos Magick or Belphegor’s Blood Magick Necromance in its sheer oddness and variance to the clone wars the black metal field has sadly devolved into.

It’s not really “old school” in any respect, but it’s not exactly “modern” either.  These guys have a left of center vision and muse all their own, and they should be encouraged to continue to pursue it…particularly if Devoid of Light is any inclination of what these guys are capable of.

You really need to hear this one for yourself.  I’m on board.

Raise the horns.  Hails!

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OCTOBER TIDE – Winged Waltz (Agonia Records) (April 22)

Katatonia side project returns after a decade plus hiatus for the third of its triannual reunion albums.

It’s all melodic doom with death metal vocals, if you can picture all that in one place, with tempos seldom rising above a plodding midtempo and riffs crossing death and modern metal in all the busy melodic lead lines that snake over the top throughout.

It’s quite listenable and often pensive, and while never quite getting into Ahab territory doom-wise, the parallels are there to some extent.

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Akem Manah – Demons Of The Sabbat (Possession Productions) (January 11)

Blackened doom metal, but not in the sense of The Fog or Goatlord.  This is a very modern take on doom, where portions of tracks like “reign of terror” or “possession of nun” are very clearly working the doom template, but are surrounded (within the same track!) by more of an overly detuned blackened death sound.

Don’t ask me.

When it’s actually doing the (vaguely funeral) doom thing, it’s decent enough.

The rest I can definitely leave.

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Cadaveric Fumes – Dimensions Obscure 12″ MLP (Blood Harvest) (May 2)

Another blackened death metal affair.  The multitracked solos can be interesting and the vocals are very death metal, but the overly detuned and quite BM atonal guitars combine with the pseudo-mystical lyrical approach to call their fealty into question.

Whatever.  I’m getting tired of bands pretending to be something they’re not.

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Lucifericon – Brimstone Altar 12″ MLP (Blood Harvest) (May 2)

And yet another supposed death metal band from former members of black metal acts like Destroyer 666 and Pentacle.

If it’s all evil and spiritual/magickal/esoteric/satanic and your name’s not Glen Benton or Trey Azagthoth, it’s black metal.

2 tracks.

Moving on…

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Near – Own Sun (De Tenebrarum Principio) (May 6)

Black metal straight outta sunny Northern Italy.

The production’s pretty rough and ready and the songs are speedy and as hypnotically repetitive as a mantra, which speaks to an earlier second wave orientation ruined only by a symphonic/keyboard overtone on tracks like “invoking the night” and an overreliance on noisy ringing open chord drones ala Watain.

There are also elements of traditional metal if not melody on display (as in the title cut, with its throbbing three chord Motley Cruelike bass ostinato), but this is a definite plus and speaks more to their devotion to the early to mid 90’s Norwegian-driven black metal scene than not (as what made most of that material work was its unshakeable indebtedness to Bathory and the blackened thrash scenes, which were nothing if not NWOBHM given a far nastier and rawer spin).

Is it fantastic?  Hell no.

But do these guys have the right idea?

Damn straight.

Looking forward to what future releases bring.  Definitely worth a listen.

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Chaos Moon – Amissum (Hellthrasher Productions) (March)

Tennessee birthed, Pennsylvania-based USBM being released on a Polish label.  Damn, we are getting global…

Expansive sounding modern BM, without even a hint of symphonics or pagan feel to explain it.

What’s really weird is how they kick things off and close the album on some very raw and aggressive material…but what’s in the middle but some moody, slow, nigh-ambient material (in three parts) and a sorta gothic darkwave affair (think Lycia) in “to transcend the spine”.

The latter track is the only one that worked for me, but it shows a band with breadth of focus, anyway.

More like “transcend” and we can start comparing them to earlier Alcest.

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Paroxsihzem – Abyss of Excruciating Vexes (Hellthrasher Productions) (March)

Canada gives us another detuned, atonal slab of blackened death metal, with some grindcore aesthetic in the bottom of the belly belch vox and occasional sloppy whammy bar solo.

Sorry, fellas.  You know I love Canadians and the Canadian metal scene.

But we are not impressed.

Next…

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Teloch – Thus Darkness Spake (Saturnal) (May 20)

As you might expect from a band on Santtu “Frater Zetekh” Kaunulainen’s house label, this is some very “true” if modernist leaning black metal ala Saturnian Mist and Sacrificium Carmen.

Similarly consistent for the label is the top notch production and more than respectable degree of musicianship on display for the genre and style – it’s really no surprise to hear that, atypically for a black metal concern, they have a history of regular live performances.

What marks these three bands, at least, is a greater than usual attention to spirituality in a more profound sense than the usual “blah blah yay, satan” bullshit in the lyrics – I liked the dig at the folly of materialism in “obliteration” – and a surprising undercurrent of catchiness and (while an overused term, and not necessarily equivalent to, say, a Frontiers AOR release) melodicism amidst all the grimness.

In sum, it’s another strong black metal release from Saturnal, well worth the attention of modern and old school black metal diehards alike.

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ABHOMINE – Larvae Offal Swine (CD, LP) (Hells Headbangers / Osmose Productions) (April 29)

Now here’s one I’m surprised Osmose is involved with.

More of a Hells Headbangers sort of affair, Abhomine is a one man band consisting of Pete Helmkamp (of Revenge fame).  As you might expect from the HH/Revenge connections, it’s very underground and raw USBM in the best sense.

It does tend to get a bit samey as you progress through the album, but you knew what you were getting into from the first track, so shut your face, there’s no room for complaints!

Those jonesing for the likes of Nunslaughter or the classic Brazilian blackened thrash sound should find themselves quite at home here.

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ABYSSIC – A Winter’s Tale (Osmose Productions) (February 26)

With vocals somewhere between Bolt Thrower and Karelian Isthmus-era Amorphis, former members of Borknagar and Old Man’s Child (among a dozen other bands you probably never heard of) join forces to create a strangely Epica-esque blend of string and horns-bedecked film soundtrack music and old school death metal.

It’s profoundly strange, but interesting, and sure to find an audience with the
symphonic (or earlier, Therion-style gothic metal) crowd.

Four rather long tracks (we’re talking a half hour apiece on a few of these, folks).  Sample a bit and see if it grabs ya.

Way too John Williams for my tastes, and that’s no compliment.

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PHAZM – Scornful of Icons (Osmose Productions) (March 25)

A very modern variant of death metal with some pronounced black metal leanings. At least it’s not yet another Watain clone, so I’ll give them that much for (relative)
originality.

There are moments that really play havoc with the syncretism thing: “ubiquitous almighty” shows some strong Cradle of Filth influence and riffing before throwing down a Justice for All/Black Album-era Kirk Hammett wah-pedal guitar solo, for example, and “the soothsayer” kicks off with an old school Bay Area thrash riff that seems a tad Possessed (even hinting a little towards Judas Priest’s “the ripper”!) before going back to the Swedish black death thing ala Dissection.

In fact, a lot of the riffing hearkens back to classic thrash, while still falling back on lame blastbeat drumming and the whole overdone Swe-black-death bullshit after a minute or less.  In this respect, it reminded me of earlier Rotting Christ, where the oddball and vintage influences offset the lame modernist bits to some degree or another (in the Sakis brothers’ case, quite well indeed…here, with far more mixed results).

I almost feel I should reserve judgment here: there’s enough of interest, inclusive of some decent guitar work, old school tendencies fighting to emerge and very good production, to give Pierrick Valence and company the nod.  But there’s enough of a more played out Watainishness bleeding through to turn up the nose, like a favorite cheese starting to show traces of mold.

A good colon cleanse to purge all the Swedish black/death elements would do wonders.

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DARKESTRAH – Turan (Osmose Productions) (April 29)

Grim and expansive modern black metal.  There’s a sort of epic and dramatic feel here, partially from the trebly guitar riffing and partly from the keyboard ostinato that leaves the listener practically tasting a solitary trek through snowy wastes (which flips to a similar but rather temperature shifted one through a more desert setting when the traditional instruments drop in for a few bars).

It’s not for diehard second wave BM aficionados or Les Legions Noires, but for fans of the more dramatic and/or introspective French and French Canadian style du jour (albeit melded with a more particularly Pagan metal/symphonic approach), Turan is a strong offering that should slake your parched spiritual lips.

If that definition tickles your fancy, this audial journey should definitely prove worthy of your time.

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COFFIN LUST – Manifestation of Inner Darkness (CD, LP, TAPE) (Hells Headbangers) (May 13)

Here’s another one of these “is it black or is it death?” affairs, but much closer to the Necrosic template than the likes of Irkallian Oracle.  The vocals, the riffs, the overall fatness of the guitar tone (well, OK, it’s pretty hollow, but comparatively speaking…) and (when he’s not falling back on blastbeats) the double bass drumming all say “death metal”.

But then again, we’re talking about a band from the land down under, home of a huge and seemingly growing black metal scene, and whose members hail from bands like Denouncement Pyre, Impious Baptism and Cerekloth, all of whom, if memory serves, were either full on BM or BM in death’s clothing.  And then there’s that very blackened thrashlike cover…the Chilean Pentagram much?

Even so, there’s plenty about this, lyrics, aesthetic and outside band membership aside, that screams “death metal”, so we’ll give it a qualified pass as being such (just keep telling yourself to ignore those obvious signifiers and gnawing doubts…).

Enough of this is on target to enjoy it as presumably intended, and there are some decidedly killer riffs on display.

I just hate the sort of people who play games (“oh, we don’t fit into any genre”), and prefer to call a spade a spade, as it were.

If your tolerance for cross-genre miscegenation is higher than mine ever will be, you’ll probably enjoy this one without compunctions.

Me?

I liked what rang true, and winced and curled a disgusted lip at the inappropriate bits and unwelcome influences bleeding through.

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FROM THE DEPTHS – From the Depths (LP) (Hells Headbangers) (April 21)

Speaking of genre blender, this is a re-release of the first album from a short lived black/death band featuring Shed the Skin guitarist Matt Sorg and the late Nunslaughter drummer (here vocalist) Jim Konya.

The riffs alternate between Necroticism/Heartwork-era Carcass (as seen on tracks like album standout “it lurks”) and a comparatively disposable modern, keyboard backed semi-symphonic black metal thing falling somewhere between Gloomy Grim and Cradle of Filth (as seen on tracks like “the wraths of the other realms”).

Likewise, Konya’s vocals switch between a Bill Steer death vocal and a raspily snarling black metal one almost as irritating as the one affected by Ihsahn in Emperor (yeah, I know a bunch of ya think that’s actually some kind of compliment, but it’s not.)

As with all of these “cross-genre/no labels” affairs, one style clearly predominates, and in From the Depths’ case, that is (surprisingly and thankfully) that of old school death metal.

There’s a hell of a lot of Carcass, Deicide and Malevolent Creation playing into their sound, with the rest being taken up by the aforementioned likes of CoF and Dimmu. In many ways, the death metal predominates, right down to the (often quite excellent) drumming – check out some of that kitwork late in “war of the captive spirits – and crystalline (if obviously ProTools based) production, and that’s definitely a good thing.

There are moments that fall flat (like when Konya breaks into poorly dual-tracked clean vocals that don’t match up, and therefore just turn into off key warbling) and make no mistake, the Dani Filth influence isn’t just worn on the sleeve: these guys might as well have hired Nigel Wingrove to do the cover.

But overall, it works – and honestly, however far they’ve fallen…how many of you were Filth fans back in the day? I remember seeing dozens on dozens of you in their shirts at shows and cons in their heyday…

So as much as I generally despise these sort of affairs, there’s no getting around the fact that From the Depths is a quality affair across the board, whether you’re an old school death metal fan or a CoF diehard from way back…because somehow, these guys actually manage to bring to the fore the best of both styles…not something you can attribute to 99.5% of bands attempting the same thing.

All hail the victors, fallen.  Veni, vidi, vici, mortuus.

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Kawir – Father Sun Mother Moon CD/LP (Iron Bonehead Productions) (April 29)

Now here’s a band with a similar sound to a lot of the so-called “death metal” acts reviewed this month, who never claimed to be anything but black metal.

Refreshing, isn’t it?  Honesty really is the best policy, and admitting the facts to oneself is the first step to living in existential authenticity…

Anyway, Greece’s Kawir has been kicking around since the early 90’s, even sharing a split with Japanese uber-syncretist Frank Zappa analogues Sigh back in the day, so they’ve been around the block a few times, OK?

The current release finds them celebrating their nation’s heritage with a decidedly Greek mythos-based release, bringing pagan metal-style epic dramatics to their hymns to the likes of Heracles, Artemis, Dionysus and Hades (well, technically Persephone, but he’s an important part of that particular tale…).

With a Rotting Christlike quirkiness, Kawir appropriates some folk instrumentation (including lyra, psaltere, bagpipes and singing bowls!) and a bold, nigh-Viking metal sound in place of the more expected Bathory, Mayhem and Burzum-tested aesthetic. The band is tight as shit, and while no instruments really “stand out” (as they might in a more traditional, symphonic, power or death metal act), they form a cohesive
unit charging forth like an army of Spartans taking Athens so many centuries agone.

Ignore the black metal tag and their long record therein: this is a pretty epic pagan-style take on the all-important Grecian end of Bullfinch’s Mythology.

Yasou!

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Ithaqua (Greece) – The Black Mass Sabbath Pulse 7″ EP (Iron Bonehead Productions) (April 30)

Also hailing from Greece are returning champions Ithaqua, whose patently excellent Initiation to Obscure Mysteries was reviewed last January.

Here pulling another Passage to Arcturo-era Rotting Christ sort of thing, Ithaqua belies their age and recent vintage with yet another retro to the core single worthy of your attention.

While it’s unquestionable that the titular A side is the real standout here, B side “walpurgis, the flight of spectral witches” ain’t no slouch either, picking up from its sluggish pace for a neat pizzicato and keyboard section at the midpoint.

So Rotting Christ you have to wonder if the Sakis brothers were involved somehow.

All hail the new kings of Greek black metal.

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The Fog (Germany) – Perpetual Blackness LP (Iron Bonehead) (March 25)

I wish I was Goatlord…I wish I was Goatlord…

So beholden to the late Las Vegas blackened doomsters as to appropriate the name of one of their better songs, Germany’s The Fog features Front Beast’s Daniel “Avenger” Cichos on Drums and a Matthias “V. Lord” on vox.

The doom is sludgy and sluggish as molasses (shades of the now sadly notorious and late Joe Frankulin), the vocals are somewhere between a choked gargle and a snarl (how Ace Still of them!) and the general lyrical-vocal approach is so Reflections of the Solstice cum self titled it’s nigh indistinguishable from the template.

Hey, I loved those guys enough to get Ace on air a few years back, so you know I’m totally chuffed with this.

A promising debut from a band I definitely wouldn’t be averse to hearing more from in the future.

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Ifrinn – S/T 12″ MLP (Iron Bonehead Productions) (March 25)

Bonnie ol’ Scotland, home of Alestorm and Eden’s Curse, shows its darker side with the release of this grim, Lovecraftian-leaning black metal concern.

This is one of those things where nobody wants to be associated with the project, so I doubt it’ll have legs – outside of Ghost, how many bands have built careers entirely “anonymously”?

Musically, it’s your typical ATMF/Ajna Offensive sort of affair, all speedy, underground and intentionally esoteric Watain zombie schmutters.

As usual for bands taking this approach, it just doesn’t work.

Music first, guys. Message…if any…second.

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Prisoner of War – Rot CD/12″ MLP (Iron Bonehead Productions) (May 2)

Grotty, roughly (under)produced underground death metal with the sadly expected black metal influences bleeding all over the place.

They hail from New Zealand, so the blackened stuff is to be expected – one of the stronger BM scenes out there nowadays comes from down under, albeit a tad more applicable to the Aussie than the Kiwi…

It should be noted that despite the sonic aspects of BM being easily discernable herein, POW are (as you might expect from the moniker…come on, how At War can you get?) totally focused on warfare and the battlefield, ala Bolt Thrower (but without the Warhammer tabletop gaming tie in).

Vocals are “grim”, guitars are overly detuned and generally gravitate towards buzzing tremelo riffing, solos veer towards wah-play and noise…lack of blastbeats and a few clearly DM riffs aside, this leans more black than death to any veteran’s ears.

But hey, the kids think this sort of blackened crossover stuff spells death through and through, so I guess it depends on whether you were there back in the heyday of Morrisound and Sunlight or not.  Sure, Deicide, Morbid Angel, even Grotesque were hardcore satanic schmutters through and through, but nobody ever questioned whether or not they were playing death metal!

All that aside, once you shut the brain off and just let the music flow on its own merits, it kinda works.  The raw, frost giant-style vocals (which have to be heard to be believed, it’s hard to picture any direct analogues to all this beefy, low toned snarling), buzzing riffs and thankful absence of blastbeats all blend together for a dark, Death Breath gone USBM sort of affair.

Depends on whether you like your death metal straight or adulterated by household cleaning products and synthetics, really.

Taken wholly on their own individual merits, I kinda liked ’em.

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Impurity (Brazil) / Sex Messiah – Vomiting Blasphemies Over The World – split LP (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (March 11)

Hellhammer…or perhaps even early Celtic Frost goes post-millenial black metal.

Seriously…a cool Tom G. Warrior riff, complete with Warhammer-level obesiance to tone, kicks things off before getting buried by a puking, Von-style whisper-grunt and “D.D. Crazy” style nigh-drum machine to just plain sloppy blastbeat drumming.

The same pattern holds true to all three tracks from Brazil’s Impurity, whose guitarist definitely has the right idea…if only he could get the drummer and hock a loogie-punctuating vocalist in line, these guys would be killer.

Even as is, it works.

Japan’s Sex Messiah, on the other hand, is working more of a Darkthrone thing, riffwise, but with even more questionable drumming and a poorly recorded, hissy overdriven vocal approach.

If you’re going to indulge, get it for the cheesy child’s drawing artwork or for Impurity, who at least are working the sort of sound veterans were grooving on back in the mid-to-late 80’s, when all these underground scenes were first coming into being (and whose heights have never truly been duplicated, despite a literal legion of clones and wannabes).

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Irkallian Oracle – Apollyon CD/DLP (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (March 31)

Speaking of which…death metal drumming, black metal guitar and low end gargle-puke vox in the USBM vein, but hailing from Sweden.

Now I know what I think when I hear “death metal” and “Sweden” in the same sentence…but nope. Not a guitar solo in sight, plenty of blastbeats, a soundalike, detuned so low the strings are practically grinding on the pickups, a very blackened aesthetic…hmm.  Did I mention it’s pretty fucking boring?

I’m sure you’re all intelligent enough to fill in the blanks.

Swedish death metal this ain’t.

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Necrosic – Putrid Decimation 12″ MLP (Nuclear War Now! Productions (April 15)

Old school death metal from the other founding member of Autopsy.

Autopsy co-founder Eric Cutler joins forces with members of a few newer (and smaller) death metal bands for an understandably strong and very “true” death metal release.

The guitars are by far the strongest element on display (as you might expect), but the drums (from a Charlie Koryn) and vocals (courtesy of a Sean McGrath) are entirely appropriate for the classic ’89-91 era death metal sound being worked here.

Only four tracks, but you’ll join me in wishing this were a full length.

Totally killer, and in a market saturated by a phony “death metal” far more influenced by and inclined towards the sound and aesthetic of black metal, absolutely essential.

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Howls of Ebb – Cursus Impasse: The Pendlomic Vows LP (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (May 15)

Better production than last September’s The Marrow Veil, San Francisco’s Howls of Ebb are still working that mix of raw, aggressive death meets black metal…when they actually choose to play, that is…and weird, pointless atonal experimentation and effective (easily skippable) dead air sections between.

The real improvement here is that the band is actually going for the throat, actually playing more often than not…which is exactly the opposite of what they gave us on Marrow Veil.

But yet and still, this is wholly by comparison to the earlier EP. For a full length, seven track release, they still spend an inordinate amount of airtime without a single instrument playing, or with bored rehearsal room fiddling on either lone guitar or a simple pulsing drumbeat as sole accompaniment to some spoken (growled) word or wordless grunts.

It’s by no means as insultingly egregious as it was on Marrow Veil, and takes up what in sum becomes far less of the running time of each track and the album as a whole, but it’s still kind of silly.

The difference really lies in the fact that the band is actually performing, as a band, this time around, and what they have to offer is very much a raw, sort of old school death metal kind of thing.  The drums sound both in your face and kind of flat, as if every hit of the snare or bass drum is a slap of wet cardboard across your face, but it actually works and leaves the band feeling more aggressive than they might have with crisper production.

The guitars are still working a far more atonal style than I care to hear, but there’s enough semi-traditional death metal business (including a nigh-Morbid Angel inspired solo on “the apocryphalic wick”) to give ’em a pass this time around. Even the vocals work, especially so on the more straightforward tracks like “the 6th octopul’th grin”.

Quite surprised to be giving the guys behind The Marrow Veil a bit of a horns up, but this is such an improvement, it almost feels like a different band.

There were hints amid all the dross previously, but this time they more or less got it right.

If you can handle all the atonal riffing and weird, meaningless diversions into a meandering pre-show tuning up session, Cursus Impasse, suprising as it is to admit, ain’t all that bad after all.

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Darvulia – Mysticisme Macabre LP (Nuclear War Now! Productions / Battlesk’rs Productions) (March 18)

Hey, look, a French black metal band!  I usually dig those.  And they’re named after the witch who advised Elizabeth Bathory into her days of infamy.  Nice.

Should be great, right?

uh…

Atonal noise in the ringing open chord, Watain zombie manner.  They never truly resolve into a song proper, just droning atonality with blastbeats and recorded through an empty toilet paper roll croaking ala some cut rate variant of early Darkthrone.

Whew!

Well, if they hire a guitarist who knows how to form a proper chord, maybe these guys will turn into a real band someday.

For now, toss this one into that pile of skulls on the cover and just walk away.

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Obsidian Sea – Dreams, Illusions, Obsessions LP/CD (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (March 18)

Doom meets occult rock, coming straight out of Bulgaria.

It’s heavy but quirky, which brings St. Vitus to the top of the list of likely influences, but those Sabbathesque riffs and the reverb-blessed analog sounding production could hail from anyone from Pentagram or Trouble to Cathedral and Candlemass.  There are important differences between all of those bands, but the ties that bind them are far stronger than the walls that divide…

You could even pull in a touch of the far quirkier Italian occult rock/doom scene of the 80’s, like Black Hole or Run After To – the oddness of the feel here suggests more than core band, template doom as influence and analogue.

There are quieter sections, some of which even haul in eerie psychedelic rock-style Hammond organ drones (“child in the tower”) and swirling, heavily reverbed wah guitar (“mulkurul”), but while multiple indicators are present throughout, this never gets overly “retro” in feel.

Interesting, well done and therefore quite essential.

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Ruach Raah / Ordem Satanica – Tradição Decadente (War Arts) (March 18)

A pair of decidedly (early) Graveland-inspired bands out of Portugal.  Who has the more Darkenesque vocals?  Who has the rawer, more simplistic yet effective guitar and drum combo?

Actually, no contest here.  In this case, Ruach Raah takes the crown, with their catchy old school Polish BM being the more crisply produced and effective.

Where Ordem Satanica delivers a comparatively much stronger release on their own Ventos de Odio (see below), here they find themselves buried under an absurd degree of reverb, with the drummer inserting silly, girlish falsetto gasps and shrieks as punctuation (they had to have been stone drunk during the recording sessions). It’s incredibly noisy when they pick up the tempo and just sound like a couple of teenagers screwing around in a basement rehearsal otherwise.

Pick it up for the trio of Ruach Raah tracks and just kick back with your beverage of choice and laugh at the essentially quite silly Ordem Satanica tracks.

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Deathcult (Switzerland) – Demo ’12 (Invictus) (March 28)

Swiss death metal. Very poorly recorded, but the vocals, riffs and drum stylistics are all there.

Think earlier Death with the worst production you’ve ever heard (bar the drums, where the double bass, snare and cymbals come out more or less front and center – go figure) and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect here.

If they could have cleaned this one up to a better sonic standard (like, say, the level of the bonus track), I’d be all over it.

Damn good stuff marred by shit production.  If the promised full length is anything like the demo, this’ll be a band to watch.

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Occult Burial – Hideous Obscure (Invictus) (April 25)

Canadian metal with strong leanings towards the darker end of classic thrash.  Think Sodom and Possessed crossed with Colombia’s Witchtrap and early Sacrifice and you’ll get a pretty idea of what to expect here – especially if you concentrate on the Witchtrap end of this makeshift equation.

Damn good, despite dicey production.  Shades of Torment in Fire!

Really liked this one, totally old school in approach.

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Malokarpatan – Stridžie dni (Invictus) (April 25)

“What the deuce did that hideous old hag pour into my cup?!?”

So begins the amusing English translation of this album straight out of Eastern Europe, namely Slovakia.  With the quirkiness of Master’s Hammer or Tormentor tied to the musical aesthetic of Mercyful Fate or Italian oddball metal (think stuff like Black Hole or early Bulldozer here), this is another Master’s Hammerlike excursion into the wilds of Czechoslovakia and its vibrant mythos (think Baba Yaga and her moving hut on chicken
legs).

Weird as shit (any Maniac Butcher fans out there? How about Triumph,
Genus?), this is so obviously of its region as to practically be carrying a placard.

Me? I love all of those bands, especially Masters Hammer, and quirky spells interesting in my book.

Raise the horns to our brothers of the East.

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Magick Touch – Electrick Sorcery (Edged Circle Productions) (April 22)

Raw, scratchy production like a worn vinyl record complements the rawness of the riffing in this retro-hard rock meets Hollywood glam concern.

The fact that they’re Norwegian is no indication of the sound here, which calls stuff like Firehouse and Poison to mind (in terms of the vocals, melodies and fairly simple but upbeat and slightly anthemic wah pedal soloing) while amping the force and aggression of the guitar riff up to straight on 70’s NYC punk meets modern metal levels.

It’s retro-trad in the time tested Enforcer vein, but with far less of the staid, stainless steel-production speed metal that implies.  No, this is more Thin Lizzy as they might have been if Phil Lynott and John Sykes were still together in 1988, crossed with a very Hollywood glam sensibility as recorded by Iggy Pop and the Dead Boys.

Guitarist/vocalist HK Rein claims he loves “loud lead guitar, classic hard rock, mighty guitar solos, beer and whiskey”, and it shows.

The Sleaze Roxx crowd should love the living shit out of this one.

Nice stuff.

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Reptilian (Norway) – Perennial Void Traverse (Edged Circle Productions) (April 22)

ummm…OK, that was weird.

Hyper-aggro swirling swarm of bees guitars ala Necrophobic or Centurian with desperately shrieked vox vaguely akin to a far less raspy Martin Van Drunen…that’s the good part.

But then every track has to stop/start and go off on some weird tangent or three…I just don’t get it.

Well, the playing is pretty tight (it has to be, with structures this crazy) and bordering at times on the feel of “technical” death/”math metal”, but with a much looser, more wild feel.

Production is pretty damn nice – hats off to the knob twirler and fader worker here – and when the drums aren’t just going crazy on blastbeats and cymbal work, the drumming  is pretty good.  Probably could’ve moved them more front and center in the mix and/or captured more of the kit than comes across here, but not a bad job by any stretch of the imagination.  There’s really no hiss, every instrument is audible and clear, from vox to guitars to drums – hell, at points you may even hear the bass, though it’s just doubling the guitars as usual (zzzz).

Given the obvious skillset (albeit of a certain orientation and genre) being tapped here, the comparatively excellent production and some elements that really work (the vocals, the wild guitar structures and busy lines), it seems we have one to watch here.

Just really not sure about those spastic oddball tangents…latter-album Death and Gorguts fans may well adore that shit, but it never worked and still doesn’t. Stick to the essentials before you try to expand horizons too far and cast the net too wide…

Overall, it’s pretty killer.

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Putrisect / Scorched – Final State of Existence (Edged Circle Productions) (April 22)

Split featuring a pair of mid-East death metal acts.

Putrisect, who takes the lion’s share of the running time here, hails from Baltimore, and boasts an odd production that at times seems muted (thick, front and center drums, slightly reverbed, somewhat buried puke-vox, up front but comfortably cushioned distorted guitars) but which simultaneously lets the treble distortion (and to a lesser extent, cymbals) bleed messily over the mix, resulting in a weird mix of over-hissiness and dead room clarity.

The band themselves keep things straightforward and traditional, which leaves them in a similar ballpark to, say, the first Gorguts album, Baphomet (of Dead Shall Inherit fame) and Desultory, without the vibrancy and color that those bands brought to the table for their respective single album heyday(s).

They’re really not bad at all – in fact, let’s make no bones about this: I kinda liked ’em! But there’s no special kick, no standout elements to recommend them over similarly inclined acts from the early 90’s glory days of death metal.

Scorched calls Delaware home, and is a good match for Putrisect: they’re also pretty straightforward and old school death metal, with a similar vocalist.  This guy sounds a bit more like he hails from Mortification, though, and the band seems to be working the Suffocation meets Immolation thing more than not.

Also, the production isn’t as good on their tracks, with more clarity in terms of room ambience and hiss, but therefore less palatability and actual instrument clarity.  There’s too much extraneous signal bleed and noise to really hear the guitars, vocals and drums so well as the more blunted approach Putrisect adopts…hmm, those guys are sounding better and better the more I listen to this very similar band with an altered approach!

In all, you really can’t go wrong with this one: both bands are pretty damn good and are definitely keeping the flame of true (non-black metal-oriented) death metal alive.  I just think Putrisect has a much better approach to production, which leaves them sounding like the better musicians of the two…and I think I liked their singer better as well.

Heed this call from the grave…you won’t be disappointed.

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Ectovoid – Dark Abstraction LP (Blood Harvest) (March 28)

Oh, that was nice of them – the promo guys mentioned another death metal band that pushed things into BM territory lyrically and aesthetically without compromising their unshakeable death orientation: Immolation.

Appropriate to bring Ross Dolan and company to mind here, as these Alabamans go so far as to do a full-on Dolan impersonation on the vocals (courtesy of a certain “Ground Chuck” Bryant). It’s so close I thought Dolan dropped by for a guest spot, so good by me.

Then you notice the Craig Smilowski inverted cymbal punctuation and drum style. And hey, those riffs are kinda Bob Vigna, aren’t they?

Yep, it’s a pretty dead on take on Dawn of Possession-era Immolation, and a damn good one by any standards.

I loved the hell (pun intended) outta that album, so to hear what sounds like Dawn of Possession Volume II makes this ol’ black heart glad.

Fellow fans of the old school, don’t walk, run to grab yourself a copy of this one.

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Izegrim – The Ferryman’s End (Listenable) (April 15)

Snarling freakout black metal vocals over death-thrash guitar riffing and death metal double bass drumming.

The bass drums are right up in your face so you can hear all the fancy footwork (which is quite syncopated!), but that’s about all that’s well recorded here, with vox drowning out guitars and guitars drowning out the rest of the kit.  Much hiss and signal bleed ensues, despite the thick tone of the production otherwise.

Solos are thin on the ground (on some tracks, absolutely nonexistent!) and while this isn’t the sadly all too usual black metal in death’s clothing, we aren’t exactly talking old school death metal, despite some Carcasslike touches…and it’s certainly not thrash, unless you’re the type who considers Demolition Hammer “thrash” rather than death metal…

It’s listenable, particularly if you’re more inclined to the noisier Earache production style than the more palatable and clarity-obsessed R/C Morrisound one, and there’s enough recognizable tropes of classic death metal to keep fans of…well, Demolition Hammer well chuffed.

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Crisix – From Blue to Black (Listenable) (April 15)

Full on Spanish thrash with death metal elements and hints of aggro/metalcore in the vox.

Like most of the modern wave of thrash, it’s nonstop on the speed front (think Gama Bomb) and fairly relentless, with that in your face over-produced feel that just screams ProTools/direct instrument jack into the mixing board.

It’s fine if you’re used to that, but it loses the organic feel of the real deal back in the day: there’s no room to breathe, no mosh breaks, no unexpected silences amidst all the mayhem.  You lose a lot of what made the genre work in the first place.

That aside, the band is pretty damn tight, some of the gallop beats (as in the intro to “G.M.M.”) show off some skills on the kit, the riffing is 100% thrash through and through.  On the flipside, though, vocals are a bit weak and not exactly appropriate for the genre (as noted earlier, they’re way too scream and growly ala death or metalcore) and the solos were middling at best.

If you’re really digging on (and let’s coin a phrase here) the New Wave Of Thrash Metal and Gama Bomb is right up your alley, you should totally dig on Crisix – they’re more than competent and have enough of the style and spirit of thrash down to satisfy your needs…and honestly, they’re a lot more musically multifaceted than Gama Bomb!

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Serpentfyre / Dolentia – Split 7″ (Altare Productions) (April 1)

Finland’s Serpentfyre comes with a horribly produced, hissy slab of speedy black metal that wafts in one ear and out the other before you notice it was even there.  Not horrible, and there’s a slight hint of Taake-esque (or perhaps Satanic Warmasterlike) folk melody to the bridge, but nothing spectacular either.

Portugal’s Dolentia drops the relentless speed a notch and ups both production and palatability.  The folk melody feel mentioned earlier comes straight to the fore here, and while it’s arguable whether or not the musicianship is actually any better than Serpentfyre’s, there’s no question that it’s more pleasant to the ear and much improved in terms of recording quality.

Neither band (or track) really “loses” here, but Dolentia is definitely the reason to pick this one up.

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Hatespirit – Blood & Poetry (Altare Productions) (May 1)

Uber-raw and violent sounding Finnish black metal. The vocals are overly abrasive, all overdriven swallow-the-mic flourishes of unintelligible shrieks that shove meters well into the red zone throughout, and that will probably put all but the most dedicated BM aficionado off right there.

The drums are pretty damn sloppy, so crazed in their blastbeats and trying to keep up with the speed and awkward time and key changes on the guitars that they tend to fall apart more often than not.  Essentially, it’s a mess.

But if the guitars were a bit slower and more precise, the drums and changes a bit more controlled…the band would have a very good old school BM vibe.

It does feel (at times) somewhat akin to the Finnish school of acts like Satanic Warmaster or Clandestine Blaze, but far noisier and (generally speaking) without the strong degree of melodic orientation that makes those bands worth listening to.

The sort of band you catch on a split with more established (and to put it bluntly, much better) acts. At times it sounds pretty good (“silvery howls”, “the wolfish hunger”), but overall far too spotty and inconsistent for their own good.

With experience and improvement, they may become a real contender.

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Poem – Skein Syndrome (VICISOLUM PRODUCTIONS) (March 18)

Prog metal straight outta Greece.

Plenty of stop-start schmutters and off-meter drumming in the time tested Fates Warning inspired vein, clean singing that sounds more geared towards stoner rock than progressive and a propensity towards playing “clean” (or more precisely, overdriven) than jumping into full on metal distortion.

It’s hardly Cynic or, say, Obscura, but it’s the sort of thing that requires a given degree of musical skill and remains listenable throughout, with more of a feel of Alice in Chains gone prog than something like Watchtower or even Believer.

Fair enough, if sorta unspectacular.

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Ordem Satanica – Ventos de Odio (Altare Productions) (May 1)

Still pretty dicily produced and featuring the occasional inept howl on the drumming end, this still puts a much better light on the band than their goofy screwing around on the Tradicao Decadente split.

The sound is a bit clearer, as at least you can hear the detuned, droning guitars and the uncannily Darken-wannabe vocals are front and center.  Still buried under far more reverb than warranted, mind – but you can hear them pretty damn well, especially by comparison.

Is it great?  No.  Is it as old school or worthy of your time as it could have been with a bit more polish and (comparative) professionalism?  Fuck no.

But.

It’s a demo, really, so you can excuse the noisiness and party-atmosphere looseness (particularly on the drum end), it’s a huge improvement over their ridiculous performance on the split with Ruach Raah and the parallels to early Graveland are quite pronounced, so I’m giving it a somewhat relative win.

Time and practice may bring out more of the good points I’m seeing hinted at here.

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True Black Dawn – Come The Colorless Dawn (W.T.C.Productions) (May 17)

Another strongly Watain-inspired act.

The reason I don’t give them the usual disgustedly dismissive shake of the dust off my feet is that they actually manage to come close to the dark vibe that band was known for prior to the abysmally abyssal misstep that is known as The Wild Hunt rather than just slavishly appropriating the aesthetic and stealing ringing open chord progressions from Danielsson and company.

It’s so close as to be a cover band, but believable enough to substitute for the Swedes in a pinch – not something you can say about 99% of the Watain wannabes, clones and zombies littering the market and cluttering the shelves of distros over the last few years.

Don’t get me wrong: this is still a very played out sound, and I continue to be sick and tired of it at a very profound level: this approach and unofficial subgenre of black metal needs a long and deep burial so we can all move on to something newer and better (or hell, older and better).

But as these sort of affairs go, True Black Dawn certainly stands out among an endlessly regurgitating, self-spawning horde of detritus as at least believable and as a reasonably listenable example of the type.

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Winterhorde – Maestro (VICISOLUM PRODUCTIONS) (May 20)

Progressive black metal with some strong darkwave leanings. Where the latter comes to the fore is in all the traditional orchestral instrumentation on the intros and frequent accompaniment; the (modern) black metal leanings are in many of the speedy but dissonant riffs, partial reliance on the always silly blastbeats and occasional snarl vox…but it’s a bit weirder than that implies.

The drumming falls closer to death metal by way of prog, very well produced and front and center with polyrhythmic full kitwork and typewriter double bass when not lapsing into blastbeat territory, which comes far less often than you might expect – big plus right there.

The guitars are all over the place, working more of a symphonic power metal thing for a fair portion of the running time, using the black metal aesthetic as more of a fallback option than as a raison d’etre.

And beyond the classical-symphonic elements (which are quite pronounced, and well beyond the level of, say, Cradle of Filth in their heyday), the Israeli band even keeps a dedicated clean vocalist on hand (Igor Kungorov), who carries a respectable portion of the airtime.

It’s not “post-black metal” or anything, but this is something pretty far removed from any of the various black metal templates in general rotation nowadays.  I mean, you have to love a band who includes a guy on theremin!

It’s pretty strange, and whether this instantly appeals to either the symphonic or progressive crowds (who tend to prefer things a bit more clean if not syrupy in tone) or the black metal militia (who are almost by definition pretty damn conservative) is open to debate.

But it’s definitely a work of majesty and precision, if not “art”, and my respect meter was bordering on the red zone throughout at the fairly excellent production and all the tight, syncretist without being ridiculous musicianship on display.

Shalom ala’chem, guys.

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Blakk Old Blood – Greed (Clavis Secretorvm) (May 13)

Swiss black metal.

Seriously.

With an odd production that at times sounds pretty analog and reverb-suffused but which is marked by cymbal hiss and raw, almost buried vocals, Greed comes off like a trio of lost tracks from that Fenriz Presents disc from a few years back: all grinding, sorta lo-fi but very 80’s feeling ala Bulldozer or the early Teutonic blackened thrash scene.

While the “intermezzo” is one of those useless talky intros and “seed of greed” goes all doomy (very much akin to Clandestine Blaze’s “genocide operation” in tone and feel), “misanthrope” and “thou are (sic) the dragon” come off so much like outtakes from The Day of Wrath, you’d think this was an Alberto “A.C. Wild” Contini side project.

I absolutely love this one. Horns way the fuck up.

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Blakk Old Blood / Black Devotion – Split 7″ (Clavis Secretorvm) (May 13)

On the other hand, we have this…

OK. So after the aforementioned and quite excellent EP release, our Matterhorn-scaling corpsepainted pals return with a poorly recorded, decidedly “underground” blast of noise that bears little to no resemblance to what they were working on Greed. There’s nothing whatsoever to recommend here.

No, it’s not the worst I’ve heard, but “7 chants” is entirely unrecognizable as coming from the same band we were discussing earlier, and at the very least merits an easy pass.

On the other hand, Oklahoma is their home (HA! Get that earworm of bygone musical cheese out of your heads!) when it comes to Black Devotion, a far more listenable bit of death metal-influenced blackness that while still pretty damn raw and buried under cymbal hiss seems to be far better produced than its flipside here.

Nearly as doomy and grindingly detuned at points as Goatlord, Black Devotion comes out the clear winner on this split, to the point where they make what could have been trash can fodder into a fairly essential listen.

Get it for the Black Devotion side, and feel free to give the B-side to your B-boy pals for some hardcore “cuttin’ and scratchin'”…unless you’re a diehard Blakk Old Blood collector, you’ll never want to play that side again anyway.

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Morbus 666 – Ignis Divine Imperium (Moribund Records) (February 26)

Texas gives us some black metal in death metal’s clothing, once again…or more accurately, slow to midtempo black metal, complete with tremelo guitars and chanting, inappropriately claiming to be death metal.

Double bass drumming aside, there’s really nothing whatsoever about this that says “death metal” in any proper sense.

It’s pretty generic, and kind of forgettable.

Don’t mess with Texas, I guess…

(rolls eyes, moves on to the next review…)

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Unhuman Disease – De Templi Autem Veteris Serpentis (Moribund Records) (February 26)

Nasty, evil sounding snarl vox over a thin, reverb-suffused tremelo guitar
and…well, incessant hissy cymbals.

Production is really bad, where you hear some faux-clarity due to all the reverb, but the sound is extremely thin, trebly and light, with some squeaky harmonic overtones on the guitar and a drummer that may as well not have showed up, for all that you can hear anything but the open cymbals hissing over the top throughout.

Seriously, was there even a kit involved? Well…when they slow down, you can sort of hear the snare every so often.

No shit, that’s all you get on that end.

8 tracks that pretty much all sound exactly alike, though there is an evil atmosphere throughout.

The best track is the slowest and most deliberate, namely “holy flames of perdition”.  Check that one out for sure.

Your call on the rest of the album.

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Wyrd – Death Of The Sun (Moribund Records) (March 18)

On a far more mild, strongly pagan oriented end of the spectrum lie Hatespirit’s countrymen Wyrd, who blend some traditional instrumentation, clean vocals and relaxing acoustic passages into their black metal-inspired palette.

The blastbeats and rasping-shrieked vocals are there from the black metal end of the equation, with the (distorted) guitars dancing on the often precarious ledge separating BM from pagan metal.

Some epic, almost symphonic leanings betray their true orientation, though, as proven out by the aforementioned softer and more folkish elements that come to the fore.  There’s even some power metal-meets symph keyboard bits (as in “cursed be the men” or “rust feathers”) sprucing up the mix.

Look, Wyrd are no Primordial, or even a Manegarm.  But this is well produced, soundly constructed material from musicians who know their craft, so what’s there to knock?

Pagan/black metal fans, one more for the festival circuit.

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Goetic Equivalent – S/T (Ordo MCM) (April 1)

Another Greek BM act, but this time more in line with the likes of Embrace of Thorns or Akatechism – i.e. Watain redux.

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Chains / Suton – Balkanian Narko Doom (Ordo MCM) (April 25)

More business from East of the former Iron Curtain, this time a split between Slovenia’s Chains and Serbia’s Suton.

Chains doesn’t have a lot to offer here, just some dull, almost unaccompanied chanting over a darkwavelike keyboard drone for four whole tracks. Why waste the studio time?

Suton, on the other hand, brings a nigh-funeral doom sort of thing, with the first track being apparently instrumental, the second accompanied by deep, reverbed belch punctuation passing as vocals and the third covered in clean moaning chants.

The production’s not the greatest, at least in terms of vocals (which are pretty buried throughout), but the riffing is ponderously lumbering and repetitively trancelike and should appeal to fans of the stoner and funeral doom scenes alike (you can hear definite touches of Kyuss in “the sun has turned to black”).

Check out the Suton tracks and forget the rest.

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Tendagruta – Ensalmo Do Sargaço (Dissociated Records) (May 6)

Ambient noise, suffused in reverb.  No actual music being played at any point.

Why?

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Entheos – The Infinite Nothing (Artery Recordings) (April 1)

Modern death metal, but of the more “true” variety. So that’s the good news: no blackened bullshit fucking the works here, kids.

What makes this weird are some industrial and vague prog elements, which pushes Entheos straight into “technical death metal” if not “math metal” territory.

That being said.

There’s a reason I brought on surviving members of the earlier incarnations of Death, people.  Complexity for its own sake…or if you prefer, complexity without musicality…is just crap.

See also Sadus, later Gorguts and entire scenes built on the backs of these bands’ latter period work.

If you’re into the whole “tech death” thing, these guys should be right on point.

But while certainly competently performed, the bottom line is the same as with most bands working this particular trope.

Does nothing for me.

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PLEBEIAN GRANDSTAND – False Highs, True Lows (12″, CD) (Throatruiner Records) (April 29)

The most experimental excesses of Watain and Gaahl-era Gorgoroth (or for that matter, God Seed) bury this one. Can you believe it’s from France?

Nothing about this release says French BM – it lacks the mournful, almost laid back atmospherics, the sense of wandering through lonely deserted landscapes…or conversely, the raw old school feel of Les Legions Noires.

Neither is it entirely a Watain wannabe, veering far more towards an extended atonal experimental release than properly constructed songs…even black metal ones, which violate many of the traditional rules thereof.

If Watain were more “Norsecore” ala Marduk or Tsjuder on one hand, and far more awkwardly industrial-experimental in orientation…they’d probably be Plebian Grandstand.

Sorry, but nope.

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VERDUN – The Eternal Drift’s Canticles (2xLP, CD) (Throatruiner Records) (April 29)

Verdun…not to be confused with our old pal Vardan, mind – works a quirky death-doom sort of thing with odd, constricted vocals and vague hints of black metal aesthetic in the occasional pained and reverb-afflicted howls.

Overall, this occupies a similar territory to the sort of Sabbathlike thing Rise Above makes its stock in trade, with a touch of early Ahab-style funeral doom in the hesitant, nigh-glacial tempo of the guitar and drums.

It’s a bit odd taken as a straight up doom band, as there’s definite variance from the standard template and more than a bit of crossover with a darker, more black metallish sort of thing with those weird vocals, nigh-chants and semi-ritualistic tempos, but I kinda liked it overall.

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