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Sheesh, it’s been a pretty dark month.

From oddly cold, Britain-worthy soggy weather to a return of some more evil than it’s been in a month or two job related…well, OK, manager related bullshit to the Presidential election narrowing down to two equally unlikeable and terrifying prospects (whichever way the nation swings, we’re doomed…thanks again, DNC…), there’s nothing possible to say in summation other than to quote Laaz Rockit: “shit’s ugly”.

On the plus side, though, we have a few new labels and bands onboard, and a hearty welcome to all!

This month felt like there was a lot more praise being handed out than usual, with a surprising percentage of releases sporting some rather spiffy production and bands from all over the musical map flexing their melodic muscles for a change.

No idea why, maybe it’s a new trend towards the positive.  Maybe it’s just Spring.

Either way, I’ll take it.  Keep the good stuff coming, guys.

And now, without further ado, heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeere’s the June Roundup!

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Black With Stars – S/T

Unusually existentially minded doom metal with hints of stoner-style if not
straight up Black Sabbath riffing. The overall feel is very 70’s hard rock, but
with a far more aggressive, distorted, metal-ified feel.

Comparisons with the heyday of Rick Rubin are inevitable: the Trouble and Danzig self titled are all over this one in terms of influence.

But in place of the pondering doubts of Eric Wagner or the grim inevitability of
Glenn Danzig (think “end of time” or “anything” in particular), vocalist/guitarist Brian Day (of The Vladimirs, Sono Morti and Acrolith fame) brings a studied assurance to his metaphysical mullings.

I know the guy for several years now, at least in a long distance but semi-regular (deep) discussions sort of way, so I can tell you he’s come to his stance through quite a bit of metacognitition and study – this is no casual, misguided “pass it down through the family and friends” bullshit we’re talking. The guy is a genuine thinker whose spiritual/metaphysical inclinations are a whole hell of a lot deeper than 99% of the clowns who lay claim to sharing same.

And being the gadfly, devils advocate and right bastard that I am by both nature and choice, if I can give the man some profound and heartfelt respect, you can rest assured he’s the real deal and take that to the bank.

I’ve been increasingly impressed by everything Day (generally in tandem with
bassist and indie comic artist Crank) has passed my way since we first spoke a good 4 years back, but this one still kinda bowled me over.

Musically intense, with a very Sabbath/Trouble (and as he mentioned, an strangely appropriate Thin Lizzy!) vibe (catch those dual tracked guitar lines and leads over the relentless, nigh-Pentagram chugging riffs…). Day’s become an increasingly impressive player with each successive project, and this one’s definitely got his best playing to date.

Better still, there’s some rather strong production for an indie project and
moreover: more thoughtful, existential lyrics than I’ve encountered since Talking Heads dropped “once in a lifetime”. I’m not exaggerating when I say my eyebrows were raised fairly early on in the opening track, and pretty much stayed that way throughout.

What the fuck is not to love here?

Not like.

Love.

Yeah, I know, I tend to give high marks to all the Day/Crank/Marquis Thomas related projects (and even a few Ash Thomas ones to boot), but there’s a reason for that.

And I’ll give you a hint: it ain’t because I have deep discussions with the guy
every now and again.

Fans of any of the aforementioned bands should share my sentiments musically.

And the thinkers, contemplators and the spiritually inclined (whatever in specific that may imply, and in whatever direction) should be ecstatic (ahem) over the surprisingly intelligent, existential lyrics as well.

Five stars ain’t enough.

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Midnight Eternal  – S/T (Inner Wound Recordings) (April 29)

Local favorites (who boast none other than Symphony X’s Mike LePond among their alumni – he even joined them onstage at the show where we first discovered them) move beyond their two song demo to their debut full length.

Fans of Krypteria or perhaps Ailyn Gimenez-fronted Sirenia should find plenty to like here, with the Ji-In Cholike vocals of Raine Hilal bolstered by the driving double bass of drummer Dan Prestup whose live syncopation and unrelenting aggression were quite remarkable and whose propulsiveness sets the band apart from far too many of their more generically power metal-influenced peers.

Guitarist Richard Fischer similarly comes into his own here, offering a more
eyebrow raising level of melodicism and skilled fretwork to go with the already strong sense of song construction evidenced previously.

What’s interesting is that the album serves as both a progression and a bit of a step sideways. While it does feel that the band, and Fischer in particular, have gained some momentum and craft since the demo, there is a definite shift in evidence here.

While my favorite of the two demo tracks “masquerade of lies” is not repeated here, the band does rework “where love and faith collide” for the debut. But oddly, the production, while clear and strong in and of its own merits, lets them down by comparison to its demo iteration: the fullness, crunch and bombast of the guitars and the “fat” sound of the keyboards, drums and vocals seem almost entirely absent.  It’s as if someone told the band, “hey, your sound is too big, let’s squeeze you into this tiny box and suck all the air out of the room, that’ll be good, right?”

It’s strange, and something only an owner of the original demo would notice, but it’s possible that the mixing and mastering (by Helloween/Pretty Maids level flipper Tommy Hansen, yet!) really compressed the band’s lush, very gothic and expansive sound to fit into a “clean but tight” AM radio approach. It’s more syrupy, and possibly aimed at catching the ear of a non-metal (or non-goth, for that matter) radio listener, but the final production lets the band down quite a bit when played back to back with the original demo version (or its B-side).

Back on the plus side, you do have the dramatic, nigh-Epicaesque gothic symphonic opus “till the bitter end”, the driving, Helloweenlike “repentance” and the appealingly melodic (and likely single candidate) “signs of fire”, the sweet nigh-coloratura bridge and chorus of “first time thrill” and “midnight eternal” (which I recall the band delivering a strong rendition of at the aforementioned show and was surprised not to find immortalized on the earlier demo). Hell, there’s even an instrumental, finding Fischer playing against keyboardist Boris Zaks and drummer Prestup in a bit of call and response (“pilgrim and the last voyage”).

While I do feel the band was let down a bit by the production and/or mix and mastering thereof (seriously, if you want to hear how much more lush and full sounding the band can get, check out their demo) and there are a few quirky moments contained in some of the songs not namechecked hereinabove, overall the self titled shows Midnight Eternal continuing their upward trajectory and perhaps getting a bit more self assured in their delivery.

It’s certainly something gothic symphonic fans will want to check out, and Krypteria fans in particular, who’ll be forgiven for thinking Ji-In was working her magic in NYC for a spell…

If only they’d had the same production as last time around!

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Ravenia – Beyond The Walls Of Death (Inner Wound Recordings) (April 29)

More pointedly gothic/symphonic than Universal Mind Project, Ravenia takes a page out of the Epica playbook by self-christening as “film score metal”. And while an utterly ridiculous addition to an increasingly absurdist flow chart of ever-expanding metal subgenres, I can hear a slight argument towards this one.

There are decided Danny Elfman meets John Williamsisms about all the bombastic (and kinda cheesy) strings, and unlike most acts who make affectations towards being grandiosely symphonic, Ravenia actually employs a chamber group worth of traditional classical orchestra types: a proper string quartet of two violins, viola and cello and an additional contrabass. So at least in a reasonably intimate concert or club setting, these guys can actually perform this stuff live, to hell with the all-too overused crutch of prerecorded backing tapes.

There’s a bit too much sleepiness and syrup to vocalist Armi Paivinen, bringing to mind the likes of Sarah Brigthman and Charlotte Church more than any of your gothic symphonic faves ala Tarja Turunen, Simone Simons, Liv Kristine or Sharon Den Adel, and this leaves Ravenia feeling softer and less “metal” than they likely intend. In fact, she’s so pointedly slow and relaxed in appproach as to make me wonder if the guys need to give the lady a shot of B-12 or a pitcher of espresso before setting her in front of the mic next time around!

Seriously, this is some laid back, mellow singing with a light midrange feel and precious little body. She can work up a few sweet phrases (like towards the end of “we all died for honor”, but for the most part, she’s not as impressive or dramatic as one might have expected, with precious little power and force behind her tone. It’s pleasant enough, alright…just far, far from the sort of nigh-operatic thing fellow gothic symphonic metal aficionados are used to.

Toss in some nigh-power metal leanings (something that can be argued of a lot of symphonically inclined metal anyway), more or less think of a car commercial in terms of the sort of string and symphonics, and you get a pretty fair idea of what to expect here.

It’ll grow on you, mark my words – just save it for when you’re snuggling up with a cat with a cup of chamomile or something, it’s that sort of mellow.

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Universal Mind Project – The Jaguar Priest (Inner Wound Recordings) (April 29)

Unsun meets Krypteria by way of Dream Theater.

There’s a whole hell of a lot of gothic-symphonic metal to this one, but the prog leanings are evident – at least the softer end of prog ala the aforementioned Dream Theater – in the prominently tinkling keyboards and super-polished ProTools production.

The vocals from Elina Laivera are warm and sweet, somewhere between the long-lost clean vocal range of Alissa White-Gluz (anyone else remember that she could actually sing when she wasn’t wasting all of our time with that goofy puking shit?), Angelica Rylin, Ji-In Cho and the less throaty end of either Floor Janssen or Simone Simons.

There’s no operatic affectations to be found herein, just a full bodied yet fairly angelic, pop-ready femme vocal. Guitarist Michael Alexander does give in to the unfortunate propensity of gothic-symphonic acts to go all “beauty and the beast” with lame sub-death metal/sub-Viking growly backup, but he’s mixed low and while a bit silly, isn’t all that offensive (unlike some I could name).

The music is also pretty full bodied, with occasional speedy two hand lead
flourishes and a generally dramatic approach, as you might expect from a band featuring two former members of the Luca Turilli iteration of Rhapsody, and they pull in an impressive roster of guest stars, including Mark Jansen of Epica, Diego Valdez of Helker, Mike LePond of Symphony X and Midnight Eternal and Charlie Dominici of the aforementioned Dream Theater.

While all the high profile assistance certainly gives the band a bit of extra
cachet, they honestly didn’t need it – their own material and skills are formidable enough, and Laivera’s vox, when she does appear amidst all the guest roster name checking, are definitely their strongest asset.

Surprisingly strong.

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Project Aegis – Angel In The Ashes (Ulterium Records) (April 20)

Well, talk about blast from the past – here’s a power metal/AOR/symphonic oriented Hear N’ Aid analogue.

With all proceeds (yep, every penny) going to feed homeless and refugee folks in the economically hard hit nation of Greece (check out my interview with Nico Mastorakis to get the general idea of just how bad things are), this features Impelliteri, Project M.A.R.S. and Angelica frontman Rob Rock alongside members of several less internationally known acts (Sunburst, Soulspell, Darkwater and Theocracy, in case any of those names mean anything to you) for a male/female vocal tradeoff song with huge angelic choruses in the vague ballpark of Edenbridge.

It’s for a good cause, nobody’s cashing in on this, the song’s pretty catchy for the style…come on, hit ’em up – I’ll even give ya the links so you don’t have to go searching.

Bandcamp: https://ulteriumrecords.bandcamp.com/track/angel-in-the-ashes
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01ECSUF9Q

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Diviner – Fallen Empires (Ulterium Records) (November 20, 2015)

Anybody else out there remember a band called Liege Lord? Well, Diviner clearly does.

Taking the sorta Dio, sorta Crimson Glory, sorta Omen, very Andy Michaudlike vocals of Yiannis Papanikolau as a jumping off point, guitarists Thimios Krios and George Maroulees work a dynamic somewhere between the aforementioned Liege Lord and a more modern Teutonic power metal along the lines of Iron Savior.

There are hints of Judas Priest (as filtered through Omen, Malice and Liege Lord) to all of this, and the overall feel is very traditional and retro. If the production weren’t quite so strong and in your face, you could be forgiven for thinking Fallen Empires was released circa 1985 rather than in 2015 – even the solos feel kinda retro in that respect.

High marks for both authenticity and listenability aside, you’ll probably note that most of the bands mentioned herein were distinctly second (if not third) tier acts back in the day, and that’s really the only issue with Diviner. They have the chops, they have the “straight outta the 80’s” thing down pat…it’s just not the sort of sound that says “mass appeal”.

Personally, I dig these sort of semi-obscure also ran acts (Obsession, Savage Grace, Abattoir, Sentinel Beast, Lethal, you name it), so I was pretty happy with this one, and can picture less well versed reviewers name checking Geoff Tate for the vocals and comparing the band to, say, Helstar, but you get the idea of what to expect.

Very well done, good performances musically and quite well produced. Just realize it’s a very faithful xerox of the sort of band that didn’t quite fly with the general public…and by that I mean the general metal audience…30 years ago.

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0N0 – Reconstruction and Synthesis (self released) (April 29)

The background may be a bit more interesting than the final product in some respects here. Apparently 0N0 was originally the brainchild of two former members, long since moved on to other, presumably non-musical endeavors, back in the early millenium. Recruiting a teenage guitarist going by the moniker “Twisted”, the band proceeded to call it quits before ever releasing any material.

But said guitarist kept the flame alive, rebranding 0N0 as a one man band affair, and to date has dropped 3 EPs and two albums on an unsuspecting public, of which Reconstruction and Synthesis is the most recent.

Now on to the album at hand. Well, it’s got some fairly typical, respectable
enough death metal vocals. It’s well produced, with the drums being particularly well mic’ed and chunky. The double bass work and kitwork are pretty much level, with the same percussive force and clarity – very nice job on the engineering end.

Musically, there are decided hints of prog lurking about the mix, with even a
few…well, more than a few phrases of Cynic-like vocorder-clean vox and playing with the meter on the drum end. All good so far.

My issue with it is that 0N0 tends to play a bit too much in the atonal end of the swimming pool, where it’s a whole lot easier to lose the narrative if not drown. You could call it akin to a tech death/djent orientation, but that’s not entirely accurate, as this is less “impressively fast and difficult to play” than slow to midtempo and awkwardly atonal. Unexpect comes to mind as a vague analogue, though they packed a lot more density of material into a given number than 0N0 does in six songs here.

In fact, it’s so detuned and atonally oriented as to approach a current overworked trend in black metal and underground “black-death” – hardly the sort of thing you’d find in a band that’s going for technical precision, whether melodically inclined or no.

I give it thumbs up on the production end, and liked the slightly trancey, nigh-psychedelic later Cynic elements that the man brings to the table here.

But I was not fond of all the overly detuned atonality, the sluggish, almost dreamy pace (which would have worked better with a more mellow, shoegazey sort of approach than it does with an angrier, far more abrasive death metallish one) and the occasional wheedly-whoo whole tone scale lead flourishes. In fact, if you’d have asked me, I’d have assumed “Twisted” was a drummer or producer by orientation rather than a guitarist.

If the thought of a doomier take on, say, later Gorguts or the aforementioned Unexpect appeals, you may well want to give this a listen.

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Conquer Divide – S/T (Artery Recordings) (June 16)

All female metalcore band with decided emo leanings between all the Alyssa White-Gluz cum Angela Gossowisms.

They’re far less along the lines of something like Killswitch, All that Remains or earlier In This Moment than the sort of business you hear in CW tweeny dramas (superhero based, vampire based, whatever – you know the type). Angsty high schoolers who lean a bit more Avenged Sevenfold or (more particularly) Atreyu than AFI or My Chemical Romance will certainly make a meal of this.

There’s enough of what makes bands like the earlier mentioned metalcore trio work, namely strong melodicism, jangly, lead line-driven dual guitar interplay and a decided orientation towards clean vocals over full on screamo to give these ladies a nod of due respect, and I doubt anyone would give a second look if you shelved Conquer Divide among those three bands’ respective discographies.

As ever, it’s the screamo puke vox that drag things down a few notches, but like those bands (and unlike, say, The Agonist) the proportion of each song that falls back on the BLEAAHH BLURRGGH BLAAAAAAHHH bullshit is kept to a comparative minimum, and this is what saves said bands…and for that matter, Conquer Divide…from the garbage heap that so many likeminded acts inhabit.

Their overall sound works quite well, and while at times leaning paradoxically pop radio (the whoaaa-oh-oh bits in “nightmares” feel a bit Carly Rae Jepsen to these ears, just as one example of what I’m referring to here), generally speaking this one’s a strong debut that should please the average emo-leaning metalcore fan quite admirably.

I liked it well enough for the style, and just in case anyone’s still stuck in the 80’s: vox aside, you’d never know it was an all-femme outfit from the quality of musicianship or level of intensity.

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TED POLEY – Beyond the Fade (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (May 13)

In a similar fashion to Vega’s Who We Are, former Danger Danger frontman Ted Poley (of “naughty naughty” fame) delivers a pleasant if rather soft AOR/melodic rock album in conjunction with Frontiers Mr. Fix It Alessandro Del Vecchio (Eden’s Curse), who moves beyond his usual songwriting, production and keyboard duties to work the drums as well.   Damn, Al…when’s your one man band solo record ala Prince coming out, anyway?

There’s nothing wrong with this at all, and it’s certainly catchy radio rock in the same sense as, say, later Survivor, Foreigner or perhaps even Autograph. But it’s pretty light and mellow feeling, with Poley’s voice being so smooth and pleasant as to feel like a comfy pillow. Damn, this is plush and soft…I might just fall aszzzzzzzzzz zzzzzz zzzzzz

HUH? WHA?!?

Oh, sorry. Drifted off there.

Seriously, if you like your AOR catchy and melodic but soft enough to knock you out of the realm of consciousness, Beyond the Fade should be the soothing cup of chamomile tea that sends you there.

Should come with a warning sticker, though:

“Do not listen while operating heavy machinery. Listener may become drowsy.”

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SUNSTORM – Edge of Tomorrow (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (May 13)

New Jersey native Joe Lynn Turner (Rainbow, Yngwie Malmsteen) joins forces with Frontiers dependables Alessandro Del Vecchio (keyboards, songwriting and production) and Franceso Jovino (drums) for this midrange AOR affair.

Parts of it lean a bit lighter and more radio friendly, others (like the driving “heart of the storm” or the speedy “you hold me down”) gravitate more towards the hard rock/metal spectrum. Naturally, my allegiances lie more towards the latter, but it’s all well written and performed and more or less of a piece.

Probably more exciting for the diehard devotee of Turner, but it was likeable enough.

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PHANTOM 5 – S/T (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (May 13)

Former members of Bonfire, Jaded Heart and even the Scorpions’ Francis Buchholz (!) get together for a new project. The sound is very Dokkenesque, right down to the decidedly George Lynchlike solo on “all the way”, but with the oddly nasal sprechtgesang vocals of Claus Lessmann and more of an Autograph meets Y&T feel.

Keyboards keep things lush but provide more of a Giuffria-esque accompaniment than the more annoyingly in your face “keys take the lead” approach you get all too often these days with similarly minded projects.

There’s a very AOR feel to the guitar riffing and sweet harmonized group choruses that suggest vintage Bon Jovi, and guitarists Michael Voss and Robby Boebel even resurrect the lost art of the volume swell in the solo/lead break for “blue dog”.

When the decidedly unusual vocals kicked in, I really wasn’t expecting to like this one. But the strength of the playing, the sheer melodic songcraft, the excellent production, the chorus harmonies, the sweet depth given by the understated but integral keyboard presence…

This one’s a clear winner.

Easily the best Frontiers release this month.

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VEGA – Who We Are (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (May 13)

Harem Scarem frontman Harry Hess helms the mixing board and faders on this one.

As typical for Frontiers (and moreso for a project Hess is involved with), it’s
very melodic, with well constructed, concise songs that hit all the right points
and make sure to tweak every auditory sweet spot along the way. The guitar work from Tom Martin and keyboards from James Martin are pretty accomplished and the whole thing’s quite radio friendly.

My only problem is that Nick Workman’s vox feel a bit light and airy for my taste, and the band’s sound veers a bit too much towards what passes for country these days – that sort of Garth Brooks meets Taylor Swiftiness that you hear on “every little monster” – and then makes pitstops into maudlin pop (the tinkling piano balladeering of “nothing is forever”.

Musically, it’s seamlessly sound, from the songcraft to the musicianship to the
production. And it’s sure to tickle the ear of everyone from casual radio
listeners to hardcore musicos like yours truly – it’s designed to do that very
thing.

But like what passes for country music nowadays, much less what passes for pop-rock radio…it feels like empty calories in the end.

No slag implied here, because it’s actually pretty damn good for what it is – the problem is that it’s just like when you head to the fridge and grab the wrong snack.

Nope, not what I was looking for at the moment.

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Jaded Heart – Guilty By Design (Massacre Records) (June 10)

Speaking of Jaded Heart, here they are with their latest AOR-oriented melodic metal offering. It’s been over a decade since Michael Boorman (Bloodbound, Silent Force), but I can only imagine it must’ve been a huge change from Boorman’s booming tones to the lighter, thinner nigh-Irish tenor of Johan Fahlberg. Still raspy (as you expect from power metal and similarly minded hard rock/AOR in that general ballpark), but far more “down to earth” and workaday.

Guitarists Peter Ostros and Masahiro Eto move from a heavy modern metal crunch on tracks like “rescue me” to a softer, more radio-friendly rock tone on others such as “guilty by design”, with a few nice dual leads tossed in for good measure.

The end result is sort of middle of the road, perhaps a bit too “heavy” for the rock crowd, but a bit light for the more metallically inclined.

I liked the guitar team interplay where it reared its head, whether in lead lines during the verse or in some of the solo sections, but there’s nothing here to get overly excited about.

Serviceable if unspectacular.

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DEVILDRIVER – Trust No One (Napalm Records) (May 13)

Dez Farfara and company continue their progression from groove towards a more aggro-voiced pseudo-melodeath ala tweeny “metal” bands like Avenged Sevenfold and suchlike.

There’s definite metal if not death leanings here in some of the riffing and certainly the drumming veers between death metal double bass and black metal blastbeats, but even setting the shout-puke Slipknot style vox aside, even musically this feels too…nu metallish, too “modern metal” to feel in any way authentic.

I know the kids think bands like this are the real deal.

They’re not.

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SATYRICON – Nemesis Divina (Reissue) (Napalm Records) (May 20)

Depending on your orientation, this was either the moment Satyricon finally got it right or their final blaze of glory before they jumped the shark.

After the folk-oriented pagan black metal of Dark Medieval Times and the more typically Norwegian black metal feel of The Shadowthrone, Satyricon upped the stakes with greatly improved production, a more in your face feel and longer, more dramatic songs that felt much akin with post-Demonaz Immortal (which sorry, younger fans, but kinda sucks by comparison) and the more midtempo, accessible, “mainstream” approach of mid-late 90’s black metal ala Cradle of Filth in their prime (both of which acts Nemesis Divina could easily have hailed from).

Personally, it was my introduction to the band, and while it’s gotten its fair share of rotation over the years, the fact that this was both “my first” and touted as “their best” may have colored my feelings about them ever since.

In point of fact, while I do enjoy their first three albums to some extent, Satyricon always felt decidedly second tier, if not lesser by comparison to the ostensible “founding fathers” and “leading lights” of second wave black metal – Euronymous-era Mayhem, earlier Marduk, Burzum, Thorns, Immortal through Blizzard Beasts, etc. While Frost cut an interesting figure on the scene through his own antics and comments, Satyricon by comparison to acts like that just didn’t rate.

So here we have a remaster of what is often considered to be their “key album”. The sound does feel a bit fuller than I recall from the last time I gave this one a spin, but the production was always quite lush, so this was hardly a difficult salvage job.

I do feel that Nemesis Divina may in fact be their most developed work – for all their merits, both DMT and Shadowthrone felt like a band in search of an identity, and after this, they more or less went “pop”, nearly losing their underground(ish) black metal feel entirely in favor of a more “black n’ roll” sort of thing. There is no question whatsoever that “mother north” is their most defining song.

But how much of an impact the remaster and re-release of Nemesis Divina makes on you as an individual listener depends on a few things: whether or not you’d previously been exposed to the album, how you feel about Satyricon and their place in second wave black metal per se and most importantly, whether you feel an album that sounded pretty damn good in the first place production wise actually needs a remaster.

Speaking for myself, it was good to hear this one again, and in the course of the usual monthly review cycle, it even felt like a breath of fresh air. No matter how good the new stuff is, it never seems as potent or worthy of ongoing replays as “the classics”…

…even the more bottom tier offerings thereof.

I’ll still throw the horns in the air for this, all things considered.

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ASSASSIN – Combat Cathedral (Steamhammer / SPV) (May 20)

You know, of all the classic thrash acts getting back together, the absolute LAST one I expected to hear from was Dusseldorf’s Assassin. You know, the guys of “junk food” fame?

Well, there are two original members still present: guitarists Jurgen Scholz (who dropped out after The Upcoming Terror) and Michael Hoffmann (who left before that album, but returned for Interstellar Experience). And apparently, this is actually their third reunion album, and second with Steamhammer, so it all shows ta go ya.

They’ve lost crazed snarler Robert Gonnella, so it’s a slightly different experience this time around, but new kid Ingo Bajonczak works in a very similar ballpark, still reedy, rasping and strangulated.

If you’ve never heard Assassin back in the day, think gasping for air Pestilence/Asphyx mainman Martin Van Drunen crossed with Demolition Hammer’s snarling Steve Reynolds – that’s exactly what you had with Gonnella. Bajonczak is a bit more “modern thrash” in tonality, with a beefier feel that may stem from his bigger build. But it’s still pretty close.

While the band is far more subdued than the arguably likeminded Exumer whose wild, off the rails Slayerisms made Possessed by Fire such a killer thrash album and whose reunion albums have brought much of that intense aggro into a more modern setting and aesthetic, there’s no question that Assassin is far from laid back and polished.

The riffs come flying fast and hard, and you’d be hard pressed to find a seasoned thrasher unmotivated to start up a pit when tracks like “servant of fear” are playing.

For fans of bands like Exumer, Exodus and Vio-Lence who don’t mind that overly sheened file sharing/straight into the computer ProTools production style with their thrash.

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VARDIS – Red Eye (Steamhammer / SPV) (May 20)

NWOBHM act whose “If I were king” showed up on Lars Ulrich’s similarly named collection thereof back in the day.

They’re a lot more blues rock than heavy metal in feel, from Steve Zodiac’s Eric Claptonesque vox to the midtempo heavy overdrive grind of the guitars (also by Zodiac). Fellow surviving founder Phil Medley (drums) joins him here, alongside the late Terry Horbury, who’d played with them on one album in the mid-80’s and passed not long after recording.

It’s more inclined towards fans of vintage 70’s style hard rock than metal or even NWOBHM, but there’s no question that Zodiac’s voice and guitar skills have aged gracefully – you won’t pick up much of a difference (if any!) between “If I were king” and anything on Red Eye, and that’s a definite plus.

And hey, just by way of keeping the pluses going, the Ten Years Afteresque boogie of “Back to school” could be a Bon Scott-era AC/DC track…or a Moody/Mardsen Whitesnake track…or even the Ronnie James Dio-blessed Elf self titled, for that matter. And you already KNOW how much I love those bands and eras.

I really dug the Fast Eddie Clarke-like solo on “the knowledge”, too…respect.

Salute to the veterans.

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TIDES FROM NEBULA – Safehaven (Long Branch Records) (May 6)

Excellent production (all the more suprising given that this one’s self produced!) and a mellow, shoegazey darkwave gothicism informs this Polish instrumental combo’s latest release.

There’s a lushness to all of this that goes well beyond vintage My Bloody Valentine, Lush or Curve, pushing closer to Bloodflowers-era Cure and Echo & the Bunnymen in terms of clarity of tone, use of reverb and delay and sweeping fullness of sound.

To describe their sound as waves crashing on the shoreline would be to do the band a disservice, it’s quite powerful and affecting on tracks like “safehaven”, while “all the steps I’ve made” feels very emo and “the litter” feels like some outtake from the original Mass Effect soundtrack. It’s no Faunts “M2”, but there’s a clear motion through space sensibility being striven after here that would complement the aforementioned game quite well.

In fact, their clean toned sound is so powerful that the only comparative letdowns are when they “plug in” and throw on the distortion pedal! Bet you never thought you’d hear that one…but seriously, so much of the reach and sweep of their sound gets lost with the addition of said compression and grit, it’s practically a crime.

Imperfect to be sure – several of the bands mentioned herein have done (and continue to do) much stronger work than this.

But the fact that the analogies spring unbidden to mind, and the sheer force and affect their sound is capable of evoking when they do get it right makes Tides of Nebula a force to be reckoned with.

Quite impressive overall.

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Dynazty – Titanic Mass (Digital Only) (Spinefarm Records) (April 15)

Sorta symphonically inclined, sorta power metallish, vaguely prog-feeling AOR from Sweden.

Apparently they were Eurovision contestants at one point, so you get the idea of how melodically inclined they are. Plenty of up front keyboard schmutters (which brings the symphonic and/or prog sensibility) and occasionally soaring but gravel and grit vocals (which says “power metal” through and through) match with heavy guitars (which says any of the three metal genres over AOR) and burbly-blurbly Dream Theaterlike solos (prog)…but the pointed emphasis on hooks and radio friendliness combined with some very soft backing choir on the choruses suggests AOR.

Basically, consider it a nice combination dish. Pick two from column A and three from column B, you get a free egg roll.

Fans of Rhapsody, Dream Theater and Royal Hunt should dig this.

Pretty strong given what they’re shooting for here.

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Helhorse – S/T (Spinefarm Records) (May 13)

OK, they market themselves as stoner/sludge, but I’m not hearing anything even vaguely similar to Kyuss or Monstermagnet on the former end or Dream Death and Goatlord on the latter.

Baroness these guys ain’t…in point of fact, what they sound a whole hell of a lot more like are questionable near-grunge-to-these-ears acts like Red Fang or Mastodon.

In other words, no thanks.

Next…

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MONASTERIUM – Monasterium (No Remorse) (May 27)

Geez, someone’s trying to be Messiah Marcolin!

But you say that like it’s a bad thing, a little voice on my shoulder says…

Yep, in point of fact, the entire band is clearly shooting for that whole Nightfall-era experience, the hyper-dramatic vocals and martial-tempo doom with vague occultic/existential leanings are all present and accounted for.

Now, don’t get me wrong, here: while he’s got a likeable, throaty voice and good projection, Michal Strzelecki is no Marcolin by a long shot, and guitarist Tomasz Gurgul is a lot lighter toned and melodically oriented than Leif Edling ever was.

In fact, where Candlemass was hyper-informed by earlier Black Sabbath, that influence doesn’t trickle down even a lick with Monasterium – their influence was clearly Candlemass of that vintage and nothing further.

This is the problem with bands overly influenced by earlier ones, however great the originals or accurate the spit take thereof – the originals were great because they distilled a number of influences that they’d grown up on to create the sound we know and love.

Without that, all you get is a gradually fading Nth generation xerox.

And think about it: what influences can modern acts really claim to have grown up on, Nirvana and Pearl Jam? Pantera, Twiztid and Kid Rock? Disney kids?

All that aside, Monasterium does deliver an interesting, very listenable trip straight back to the best days of what (at the time) was one of the best doom metal bands out there.

The guitar work – especially the oddly melodic, nigh Frontiers-worthy solos, which you wouldn’t think would fit with doom – is pretty nice, though I’d certainly recommend beefing up that guitar tone dramatically.

And the vocals, while not bearing anything near the same level of multilayered gravitas that Marcolin brings to the table, are very much in the same style, which is quite rare to hear in and of itself – so make no mistake, I liked these guys and Strzelecki’s vocal approach very much.

As Candlemass clones go…well, fuck, are there any others out there in the first place? I don’t think so…but these guys certainly have the right idea and come close enough to the mark to throw the horns in the air.

I dug ’em.

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High Fighter – Scars & Crosses (Svart Records) (June 10)

Mediocre stoner rock. Feels a bit grunge to these ears. And who ever heard of someone fighting (at least successfully) while high?

Yeah, it’s listenable, but they’re no fucking Kyuss, that’s for damn sure!

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Mikko Joensuu – Amen I (Svart Records) (June 3)

Seriously mellow, surprisingly mainstream and rather syrupy neofolk.

I could easily see this being played on more indie if not hipster radio, whether college or NPR in origin, and I’m sure old school folkies still clutching tightly to their Joni Mitchell and Richard Shindell records would gravitate to this like moths to an exposed lightbulb.

I guess if you crossed the light fare and tonality of Wallflowers mainman Jakob Dylan with the occasional speech inflections of his more worthwhile and incisive father, the depression of Nick Drake and the acoustic fingerwork of the aforementioned Shindell, you may wind up with something much akin to Mikko Joensuu.

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Sink – Ark of Contempt and Anger (Svart Records) (June 17)

Speaking of Genesis P-Orridge, apparently the ToPY/Throbbing Gristle/PTV mainman apparently bears some connection to these Finnish weirdos, last encountered with two volumes of The Holy Testament.

As previously, Sink works primarily in the gothic industrial arena, but leaning more heavily towards the former this time around, and eschewing entirely the strangely inappropriate ventures into straight up black metal that left prior efforts so confused and flawed.

As such, you could give Ark of Contempt and Anger a comparative nod of approval for showing some growth and shedding a particularly ill fitting skin. You could say they finally chose a side (in the tug of war between black metal and darkwave gothic cum industrial), and in so doing, gravitated towards their own more natural orientation of electronically infused gothicism. A huge improvement, and leaves this one far more listenable than the Holy Testaments ever could have been.

That said…nothing sets the listener afire.

There are moments that suggest Rheingold or Gary Numan (“consolation”) and others that feel almost Birthday Party-era Nick Cave (“dream map”), and we move perilously close to ambient with (at least the first half of) “crystal ship”. There’s even a strange melding of Chris Isaak, Mazzy Star and a more contemplative take on the tribalism and collage technique of earlier My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult (“enchant”), but all of that suggests better bands, better albums, more effective music.

There’s really nothing wrong with Sink this time around, and perhaps that’s somewhat to my surprise.

But whether it merits any real recommendation or no is another question entirely, and one that hasn’t yet come to conclusion.


Imperial State Electric – “Read Me Wrong”  (Psychout Records) (May 13)

Nicke Andersson’s post-Entombed, post-Death Breath classic rock project continues to deliver strong material, this time working a very Byrds by way of Todd Rundgren vibe.

It’s 70’s AM radio rock, but done so well you’d think it was the real deal…not the work of a founding father of Swedish death metal in the year 2016.

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TheClosedCircle – Love, Shine & Die (Inverse Records) (May 6)

High energy but sort of confused.

They take a lot of groove and 90’s indie rock cum grunge elements and marry it to a more hard rock vibe ala D.A.D.  In fact, vocalist “Borja” often sounds like a Spanish accented Jasper Binzer.

Then again, they’ll throw out a curve ball like “lilith’s kiss”, which left him sounding like a gender swapped Silvia Superstar, particularly with the more pop-punk approach of the track suggesting a latter day Killer Barbies. It’s subtle, but fans of that late lamented act should be able to pick it up easily enough.

What’s weird here is that they’re produced by HIM fader pusher Hiili Hiilesmaa.  They don’t sound a damn bit like Vile Valo and company on the whole, though on “love or die” and “a quiet man” there are elements that heartagram-sporting fangirls could reinterpret as bearing some vague similarity thereto.

So I dunno. Do they want to be D.A.D.? HIM? The Barbies? Who the fuck knows.

Bottom line is, I definitely liked the three tracks aforementioned and “the art of losing”, with “lilith’s kiss” being the real standout…but more or less hated the rest of the album.

How the hell do you rate something like that?

Has some potential, that’s to be sure. Depends on what direction they decide to pursue and throw their energies behind next time around – this one’s all over the fucking map.

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Fear Of Domination – Atlas (Inverse Records) (May 6) 

(Modern) hardcore-style vocals over power metal with lame aggro/groove touches.

There’s a lot of neo-industrial/electronic business in here in between the more
standard keyboard support, which hints at better acts like Dark Age or Gothminister without ever approaching what made those bands worth hearing in the first place.

The vocals are fucking terrible, I’m sorry.

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Blood Region – Of Northern Fire (Inverse)

Not sure how to classify this one.

You get snarl-growl-whispered vocals that say anywhere from Viking to death metal. Then the guitar and drums veer between a chunky, somewhere between thrash and death distorted thing to a clean to overdriven, more classic rock tone, but the songs, such as they are, veer from progressive off-meter bubba meises to sheer atonality akin to a Romeo Void sax solo.

What the fuck?

Now for the positive: I really liked the busy, metalcore-like guitar approach, all melodic lead line-driven and filled with pinched harmonics throughout each and every song. I don’t think it ever really let up throughout. May be a touch of overkill, but worked for me.

But lead guitar (and lead line) work aside, who the hell is this really marketed towards? Did I mention the promo materials claim they were shooting for some unholy cross between thrash and NWOBHM?

Uh…hate to be the one to tell ya, guys…but you missed. 

By about 10,000 miles.

I’m giving Mika Minkkinen and Aleksi Moksy props for their guitarwork – not for the quirky, all over the fucking place riffing or bizarro songwriting or Mika’s weird vocals. Just talking leads and lead lines. Those were really good, guys. Kudos.

The rest of it…aah, I don’t fucking know.

It’s not like it offended me with its sheer terribleness, like one or two bands reviewed this month (and far too many covered on a regular basis).

I just have no fucking clue who’d pick this up and say, “yeah! Just what I was looking for!”

Assuming there’s anyone like that out there, which I have serious doubts about.

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Whispered – Metsutan – Songs Of The Void (Redhouse FMP / Inverse Records) (May 20)

OK, I have to admit I liked hearing the Japanese folk melodies and instrumentation mixed with (modern) metal. I’m surprised no enterprising J-rock/metal band tried this before (though Do As Infinity did have one song based around a Chinese pipa and flute line).

There’s a progressive power metal vibe to all this, with hyperspeed triggered typewriter D-bass and riffs that play with the meter a bit, but the band considers themselves melodeath (or if you want to get cute, “samurai metal”. Try saying that with a straight face, I dare you).

I didn’t care for the vocals in the least, but they’re less offensive than just boring growly snarly neo-death bullshit. No character to ’em whatsoever.

Outside of that, the band’s brand of power metal…er, “melodeath” is equally generic, despite the prog influences bleeding through. Nothing wrong with ’em, they just sound like 5000 other power metal bands you could name, complete with big dramatic gang/choir choruses, unrelenting typewriter drums, lush keyboards and melodic inclinations on the lead line and solo end of the equation.

But the Japanese instrumentation – wood blocks, shamisen, koto, shakuhachi – gives these guys a level of interest they would not otherwise merit.

Now for a more interesting and worthy band to pick up the glove Whispered has just thrown down, to slap them back in the face with it and do this idea proper justice.

Who’s up for the challenge?

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Forteresse – Thèmes pour la Rébellion (Sepulchral Productions) (June 24)

Faring far better are fellow Quebecois Forteresse, who retain the reverb-kissed atmospherics of the Legendes split and benefit from similarly minded but decidedly improved production. If Neige et Noirceur had taken a leaf from their book (or at least borrowed their producer!), I’m sure it would have been a very different story on that front…

Anyway, Forteresse continues to build on the (very) good impression they’d made on the earlier split here, working a similar historical/warfare angle to what NeN are on their current album, though in a more nonspecific sense.

While they are obviously talking uprisings, revolutions and rebellions herein with tracks like “spectre de la rebellion”, “la ou nous allons”, “le sang des heros” and “par la bouche de mes canons”, I’m not picking up any specific conflict or series of events being spoken to herein. And that leaves these anthems of revolt more universally applicable, more worthy of replay.

Gravelandesque vocals, speedy tremelo guitars, double bass-driven (rather than lazy and blastbeat-reliant) drumming, awash with (but never buried by) tastefully deep reverb…what’s not to love?

If it takes a trip to Sweden to finish a strong album off with such worthy, clear and yet still quite atmospheric production, then perhaps NeN should consider ponying up for a week or two overseas. Because it sure as hell works wonders for Forteresse here.

Releases of this level of quality are why I name check this label on a semi regular basis. Horns way the fuck up.

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Neige et Noirceur – Les Ténèbres Modernes (Sepulchral Productions) (June 24)

Damn, the production on this one really sucks!

After giving the band a (well deserved) glowing review for their prior effort Gouffre Onirique et Abimes Cosmiques, the Quebecois black metallers return with an album that repels rather than draws in, eschewing cold atmosphere and resonance for hollowness and abrasion.

How much of this is due to any changes in the band (they do sport a brand spanking new vocalist herein) vs. getting ripped off blind by the world’s worst production team is open to debate, but my feeling from what we have to work with here is very much the latter. Hell, even the promo materials seem to notice this flaw, calling it “without a doubt the harshest NeN album to date!” Yeah, no kidding. Shit…

With a similar production to Gouffre Onirique, this may very well have been another horns up review.

As it is, depends on your tolerance for…and willingness to invest hard earned cash on…some painful, poorly engineered, haphazardly mixed and decidedly underproduced nigh-demo quality material from an otherwise worthy band.

Maybe it’ll grow on me over time, when I walk in with diminished audial
expectations, but at this point, it’s just hard to listen to and completely lacking in atmosphere or anything but abrasive, in your face mids and up against the speaker instrumentation.

I don’t know about you, but I’m waiting for the special edition remaster to fix this comparative mess.

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Thus Defiled – An Unhallowed Legacy (SHAOWFLAME PRODUCTIONS) (June 6)

Dramatic, Paradise Lost-style gothic/pagan oriented black metal. This is a reissue and remaster of the band’s two indie-released EPs A Darker Beauty and Fire Serpent Dawn from the early millenium.

What’s odd about this is that even within the same EP, the quality of recording appears quite different – “a darker beauty” sounded far more muted and distant than either of the tracks which surround it. I doubt this is a remastering issue, so there’s probably some backstory behind that track being recorded at another studio or by another producer. Who knows, maybe it’s a Fleetwood Mac Rumours sort of thing where everyone was partying and dumped crap on the tapes!

Even so, that track aside, the production is pretty damn clean and in your face for black metal of its vintage, bearing more in common (in that respect) with pagan or Viking metal than the “true Norwegian” variant that more or less defined the genre as we know it.

And while I’m pretty hardcore on old school aesthetic and feel as a rule, this actually works in the band’s favor, bringing a uniqueness and oddity to the table that touches in some respects on the sort of sound countrymen Cradle of Filth were capable of delivering back in their Principle through Cruelty heyday while avoiding the gothicism and Anne Rice “vampire” elements that band is (perhaps unjustifiably) mocked for in retrospect.

Instead, Thus Defiled offers a far more direct approach, falling somewhere between the gothic bombast of bands like Paradise Lost or My Silent Wake and the crystal clear production-based, power metal-flavored pagan/black metal of latter day Primordial.

It’s surprisingly listenable and instantly likeable for fans of any of the aforementioned, and bears enough “crossover appeal” to work for seasoned black metal fan, pagan/Viking fan or CoF-style “blackened gothic” fan alike.

Honestly, if this were a “new” release rather than a reissue, this would have made my shortlist for best releases thus far in 2016.

As it is, if you don’t have the original versions or are looking for a sonic upgrade, you really can’t go wrong here.

Raise the horns to our brothers on the “haunted shores” of Old Blighty.

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Epidemia (Ecuador) – Leprocomio (Satanath Records (Russia) (May 15)

Ecuador gives us a raw but vintage-feeling death metal effort. There are definite touches of Suffocation in the start-stop flurries of motion that recur throughout, but their main influences would seem to be more along the lines of Baphomet or Cannibal Corpse.

It was a bit too raw on the guitar end, hissy on the cymbal, tom roll and blastbeat end and too indebted to Suffocation and Cannibal Corpse for my taste – I always considered those bands (especially CC) somewhat lesser on the scale of “genre leaders”, more “likeable also rans” than somebody you’d look to swipe riffs and licks from. But obviously, they have their fans, and some quite vociferous at that – so hey, whatever floats your boat.

Nothing wrong with it either way, and it certainly feels credibly old school
overall, so I’m good.

As with Strangulate, this should appeal to said aficionados of all things
Barnes/Fischer and Mullen.

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Evil Reborn (Venezuela) – Throne of Insanity (Satanath Records (Russia) (May 17) 

And here’s some death metal from Venezuela. Once again, fairly old school, but with more speed and a vague (but not so far as to be annoying) “technical” orientation.

The fact that the promo materials namecheck Monstrosity and Sinister should tell you something. It’s likeable enough and like many retro-DM bands this month, feels reasonably authentic (despite the overly modern and clean ProTools production in this case, which undermines that feeling somewhat)…but they aren’t exactly shooting for the moon here.

Decent enough, but there were much better and far more beloved bands to draw from stylistically.

No real complaints otherwise.

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The Morningside (Russia) – Yellow (BadMoodMan Productions (a subsidiary of Solitude Productions) (May 2)

More post-black metal, with the expected crystalline production, clear tones and easily discernible instrument separation. Tremelo picking over slow, shoegazey chords and minor key solos. Vocals are more of an infrequent complement than a major player here.

If you want to hear Echo & the Bunnymen by way of Lush or Curve with the barest touch of Radiohead, but equally informed by some of the trappings of the more gothic strains of BM, the Morningside should fill the bill nicely.

It’s the furthest thing imaginable from aggressive, satanic or having to deal with the majesty of the nightsky and endless forest.

But if you dig syncretism of otherwise wholly unrelated musical genre, this is a well crafted, well played, well produced bit of business that is sure to satisfy the more doom/”dark metal” oriented of alt/shoegaze fans.

I dug it.

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Strangulate (Kolkata, India) – Catacombs of Decay (Transcending Obscurity Distribution)  (April 20)

Yet another Indian death metal act (quite a few this month, nice to see). These guys seem to be more influenced by Suffocation both vocally and in some of the rapidfire blasts of frenzied activity. You know those flurries of tremelo picked, blastbeat and bass drum two-beats? Yeah.

Just give listeners more room to breathe between. Promo materials note Malevolent Creation as another touchpoint, so I guess if you put hints of the Buffalo veterans’ early output into the template established by the aforementioned Floridians, you probably have a fair idea of what to expect here.

I can’t claim that this really excited me in any way, but it was listenable and
competent and fairly well produced, though the instruments did seem a bit buried beneath the nicely reverbed vomit-vox.

I wouldn’t have been shocked to hear this was a reissue of a 1991 R/C release.

Hardcore fans of Suffocation and Malevolent Creation, you’ll probably be in heaven over this one.

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Exalter (Bangladesh) – Obituary for the Living  (Transcending Obscurity Distribution) (April 28)

Old school thrash in the vein of, let’s say Vio-Lence, as informed by the thick, chunky sounding guitar style and clean production of Xentrix.

I love both of those bands – For Whose Advantage, Eternal Nightmare and Oppressing the Masses are regulars in my player, and Shattered Existence gets frequent spins as well – so you know I dug this one, bigtime.

80’s Bay Area…or is that Lancashire? thrash metal of the highest quality,
straight outta Bangladesh.

Top notch, and entire leagues above its peers in the thrash revival scene.

Raise those fists and start a fucking pit.

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Godless (India) – Centuries of Decadence EP (Transcending Obscurity Distribution) (May 7)

Remember that hissy, noisy, sorta ear-antagonistic but still (arguably) clear
production Earache Records used to specialize in back in the glory days of death metal?

You know, that Colin Richardson approach, where he captured everything and put the barest bit of studio sheen on it, yet left everything bleeding into the red zone on the treble end?

Yep.

Here it is again.

The vocals (from one Kaushal LS) are kinda terrible for the genre, owing more to Phil Anselmo and the aggro/screamo crowd than death metal in tonality. He’s still belch-puking, sure…just sounds and feels more like Crowbar. Maybe Godless are trying to create yet another in the endless assembly line of newly coined metal sub-subgenres: Constipated death!

The band is tight enough, but the riffing feels generic and the drums, despite a triggered d-bass being shoved right up front in the mix, tend to gravitate towards lame black metal-inspired blastbeat fills over tom rolls (though both are present in abundance).

And oh, yeah, if you didn’t catch it, they’re an Indian act. Good to see the
scene’s expanding, or at least expanding its reach to a more global orientation.

In a certain sense, there’s nothing wrong with these guys that a more equalized production wouldn’t work wonders for…it’s just that they feel too modern in style, too generic. 

And somebody get Kaushal some Metamucil, huh? He’s clearly having a Maalox moment…

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Deceased (US) – ‘Fearless Undead Machines’ (2016) (Transcending Obscurity Classics) (June 10)

Transcending Obscurity releases the first of a trilogy of Deceased reissues,
beginning with album #3, 1997’s Fearless Undead Machines.

For whatever reason, there was no remastering done on this re-release, though on the plus side you do get the original artwork alongside some new liner notes and vintage photos of the band.

Somewhere in the collection, I have a long out of print “box set” that had
Supernatural Addicton with Behind the Mourner’s Veil, so I’m hoping Transcending Obscurity works backwards and gets Luck of the Corpse and 13 Frightened Souls a reissue, but hey.

Deceased has always occupied some odd netherworld between death metal, thrash and sludge, somewhat akin to a less Lovecraftian, far less Celtic Frost-influenced Dream Death with (at this period of their discography, anyway) some rather Venom-like vocals, so it can be a love it or hate it experience to anyone walking in expecting a more traditional death metal experience.

But look, these guys love the same horror movies we all do. The playing is decent, and you know, it’s a change from the expected – sometimes that’s a real plus. Keeps ya from getting bored.

Let’s be honest. I can’t say I was ever the biggest fan of Deceased. But they’ve been kicking around since the mid to late 80’s, and more or less stayed true to their approach throughout.

Respect for that.

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Seedna (Sweden) – Forlorn (2016) (July 15) (Transcending Obscurity Records)

Swedish post-black metal act. It’s very slow, acoustic-oriented and gloomy – surprised it didn’t come in via Svart or Prophecy, or perhaps even Eisenwald.

As well produced as that would suggest, sorta ambient with moments of atonality and sporadic black metal-style shriek vox and certainly mood evocative if utilized as background music…but did we really need more aural wallpaper?

Nothing wrong with it given what they seem to be shooting for…just another shrug your shoulders and walk away sort of thing.

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Systemhouse33 (India) – Regression (Transcending Obscurity Distribution)(January 31)

Oy. Groove metal, which is pretty much the same as saying “nu metal” or “aggro” in my presence.

And what points Systemhouse33 gets for introducing some thrash riffs and double bass trills to an otherwise tired and neanderthalic mix of everything that made the 90’s crap (well, OK, they missed grunge and “political correctness”, but fuck both of them) get instantly negated by the perfectly awful croak-vocals.

And honestly, it’s a shame, because they have a few things going for them
otherwise: firstly, they’re an all too rare (on domestic shores, at least) Indian metal band (I spoke with John Prakesh of Shakra and the guys from Kryptos here about that very matter on our Desi Metal Special here). So already, half of me wants to give them a pat on the back for the novelty, and give ’em a warm welcome to the (metal) family.

Secondly, they’re socially involved. Like most great thrash bands (and an even greater degree of punk bands) back when, Systemhouse33 is all about the issues, and unafraid to tackle the problems of the day. Taking on the problems of Ted Cruz-style theocracy (side note: Freudian slip just happened, I actually typed “theocrazy” there) and the problems that come with allowing religion to have a say in politicosocial matters that impact more than just the individual who chooses to hold such beliefs, these guys address issues relating to such heady but sadly politically relevant matters (for India, at least) as Hinduism and anti-feminism. Another plus.

Sigh.

Look, if you don’t share the virulent anti-Pantera aversion, don’t mind swallow-croaked vocals and have no issue with a bunch of thunka-thunka groove ala…let’s just say Ill Nino here…among your (modern) thrash, Systemhouse33 should be well worth giving a listen to.

The production’s strong, the musicianship is tight enough and they seem to have their heads screwed on straight, which is a hell of a lot more than I can say for far too many bands reviewed here on a monthly basis.

I can’t help it I detest everything Anselmo (and suchlike of his ilk) with a
blood-boiling degree of vehemence.

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Wolfpack 44 (US) – The Scourge (Deadlight Entertainment (France) (May 13)

Industrial with death/black metal touches. Former members of The Electric Hellfire Club and Kult ov Azazel join forces, bringing in satanic scenesters (and in one case, a fellow bandmate) Thomas Thorn (Thrill Kill Kult/Electric Hellfire Club), Mikael “Lord Ahriman” Svanberg (Dark Funeral) and (talk about a blast from the past!) Jinx Dawson of Coven (!) to drop guest vocals.

Unfortunately, while there’s some good lead guitarwork popping up every so often from EHC’s Riktor Ravensbruck and KoA’s Julian Xes, the songs themselves are hardly up to the level of listenability of TKK, EHC or fellow industrialites Marilyn Manson, Ministry, Skinny Puppy or even the more danceable end of Throbbing Gristle (and why no Genesis P-Orridge guest spot, considering?)

It’s more of a cute idea, like hey, let’s get some leading lights of the occult
music world together for an all-star project…hey, why not Zeena LaVey cum Shreck or Boyd Rice, for that matter? I mean, obviously Coil is out of the question, but you know…there’s more than a few options out there for such an affair.

May appeal to hardcore (and arguably LaVey leaning) industrialites, but far more interesting for what it was trying to be (and could have been) than what it actually is.

Kind of a letdown, considering.

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Bizarre (Spain) – Inner Necropolis EP (March 1) (Xtreem Music (Spain)

Grindcore vocals on top of semi-progressive death metal in the general Autopsy tries to go technical vein.

I guess if General Surgery were less of a Carcass tribute band and pulled in some elements of latter day Death, but with a Severed Survival-like detuned guitar and loose to sloppy simplistic two-beat drum style (which occasionally veers into double bass-driven but still minimal kitwork territory), you’d have Bizarre.

Hatebeak and Caninus fans wondering what their favorite bands would sound like with a slightly dirty sounding but more tech/prog leaning proper death metal approach, here’s your answer.

Inoffensive but unimpressive and sorta boring.

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Gorgosaur (Sweden) – Lurking Among Corpses (Memento Mori (Spain) (April 25) 

Ponderous Swedish death metal in the classic style. While the HM-2 is clearly being utilized here, there’s something a tad off – it’s more aggressive and loose (if not messy) sounding than even Carnage was, and the production is HORRIBLE.

Hissy, total red zone mix and mastering that leaves treble not only the most prominent, but pretty much the only thing you hear. Seriously, there’s barely any mids, fuck bass (which is absent entirely!).

If you always wanted to hear Swedish death metal in the…let’s say Nirvana 2002 style (a band the promo materials did in fact namecheck, and a fairly apropos marker for what to expect here) as played over the tinny public pool loudspeaker system, look no further.

I think Gorgosaur sounds like a decent band underneath it all, falling somewhere between Dismember, Carnage and Nirvana 2002 but with occasional female shriek vox punctuating the expected male death belch-growls.

They deserve a lot more than this absolutely dogshit production.

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Witch Vomit (US) – A Scream from the Tomb Below (Memento Mori (Spain) (April 25) 

Early death metal bands of the sort that would never set foot in Morrisound or sit still for a Scott Burns-style production are name checked in the promo materials, and there’s a reason for that.

While I’m hearing a hell of a lot more Grave or even demo-era Carnage than Autopsy, Incantation or Bolt Thrower, all of those aren’t too far off the mark. The guitars are raw and grinding, the drums are audible (and therefore “clearly recorded”), but kinda thin and hissy and the vocals are throaty belches from the bottom of the bowels.

You could toss in stuff like Mortician, Death Breath and especially Repulsion to the aforementioned analogues, but the bottom line is the rawness of non-R/C, non-Earache US death metal of the early to mid 90’s combined with the riffing and some feel from the Sunlight Studios crowd.

It works quite well, actually. Interesting that it takes a Spanish label to get
this out there – I’d have thought someone along the lines of a Hells Headbangers or Blood Harvest might have dropped this one on an unsuspecting world.

Typical of its type, so don’t expect a major standout here – but pretty damn sweet for the sound and style they’re shooting for.

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Sarcoptes (US) – Songs and Dances of Death (Cimmerian Shade Recordings) (April 22) 

Thought those Theodor Kittlesen illustrations were pretty cool? These guys use medieval art. Seriously, I’m not even much of a fan of the music, but I want that album cover on a shirt, now.

So what you get: sort of a cross between Emperor, Gloomy Grim and post-Demonaz Immortal, with raspy vocals, crystal clear production, far too much blastbeat bullshit, a touch of lame atonal business as punctuation (soooo Watain…) and tremelo riffs that somehow manages to feel…safe? Radio friendly?  Mainstream? 

Seriously, there’s a lot of keyboard and sampled choir, it feels kinda gothic ala Cradle of Filth in their heyday and they even shamelessly swipe a Hell Awaits-era Slayer riff or five (“the fall of Constantinople,” not so coincidentally their best song here) but there’s something about the vox and riffing (not to mention the utter lack of black metal’s biggest plus, i.e. atmosphere) that says later Immortal through and through.

It’s competent, professional sounding…and feels about as evil as a Hallmark Mother’s Day card.

Roses are red, violets are blue, Sarcoptes wants to give a big warmhearted hug and cuddle to YOU! Praise Jesus!

OK, maybe the last part’s pushing it. But you get the idea.

Seriously – it’s very listenable and fans of the lamer, more “commercial” end of the BM spectrum may really dig this.

But oh, so safe and cuddly.

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Nocturnal Hollow – Deathless and Fleshless (Underground Movement) (May 2)

Venezuelan old school-feeling death metal act, again working the Swedeath sound. They feel far more Unleashed than Entombed, Dismember or Grave, with a more speaking voice-style approach to growl vox (think Johnny Hedlund or Wolverine Blues forward Lars Golan Petrov) and a more wide open, simplified single guitar feel. They’re a “power trio”, so it’s understandable, but it’s hardly a detriment – just marks them as very much of the Unleashed school of Swedish death metal.

They also pulled in Dan Swano on production, which helps matters considerably. While hardly Reign In Blood/Trouble/Danzig/Electric era Rick Rubin, Swano offers enough clarity and space to give the music room to breathe while giving every respective instrument due focus and spotlight.

The end result is that while still playing very much in the retro-Swedeath ballpark that Rotten Casket is, Nocturnal Hollow manages to feel more fresh and, if you will, like a standalone entity with clear Unleashed influences than a classic Unleashed tribute band…something the aforementioned act, for all their merits otherwise, was simply unable to pull off.

Who knows what another, Swano-less album may bring. But Deathless and Fleshless is well worth giving a spin to for fellow aficionados of the glory days of Swedish death metal.

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Rotten Casket – Emerged From Beyond  (Underground Movement) (June 27)

Holy crap, did members of Entombed and Dismember (or Nihilist and Carnage, or hell, even arguably Grave or Unleashed) get back together to relive the glory days of Swedish death metal?

Well, no, but these five Dutchmen do their damnedest to dig up the rotting corpse of 1989-93 Sunlight Studios/Tomas Skogsberg produced, Boss HM-2 overdriven Swedeath.

This is another compilation, this time of two 2015 EPs, Simply Rotten Death and Consumed by Filth. I far preferred the more period-authentic and subdued (you could also say Entombed-like) production of SRD to the more in your face, Dismember/Grave feel of CbF, but both work and feel very much akin to the bands and style being evoked.

The problem is, it’s nearly 20 years later, and this sound has been reworked, rehashed and filtered into entire genres and subgenres of metal, metalcore, melodeath, you name it. Worse, these are not that same group of outsiders, growing up on a steady diet of certain older influences and a shared ostracism from even the metal-loving subculture of its day to mold a handful of albums that would forever define the words “Swedish death metal”…but a group of younger fans who appreciate the end product enough to want to play effective tribute band thereto.

Now, I’m as glad as anybody to hear “more new material” in the old style – those albums have stayed in rotation for decades around this veteran’s place. But you can’t deny that there’s something missing, some indefinable spark that made those albums and bands “special”.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the effort, and will note a degree of surprise that a few modern day bands have the interest and ability to replicate what were, you have to understand, quite underground, word of mouth style releases back in the day.

But while Rotten Casket certainly “do Entombed” quite well…sometimes you have to wonder if that’s all there is.

The tribute band circuit can be fun. But after a bit, you’ll find you get kinda tired of the copycats, however eyebrow raising they may be, and settle back with the real deal.

Due nod of respect for getting the sound and feel down pat.

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Quercus (Czech Republic) – Heart With Bread  (Solitude Productions (Russia)/Moscow Funeral League (Russia) (April 25)

Expansive, bombastically dramatic doom-death sort of in the vein of Frozen Ocean, but with the ingenious addition of pipe organ as a focus.

So in other words, it’s like taking a very well produced nigh-funeral doom band and tagging in some Johann Sebastian Bach pulling a Toccata & Fugue in D Minor sort of thing as punctuation – or perhaps more to the point, with the band serving as punctuation to that.

How much more gothic can you get?

They’re a Czech band, so think weird, unclassifable stuff like Master’s Hammer, Tormentor (ok, they’re Romanian, but still), Triumph, Genus or Maniac Butcher might produce, but with a more funeral/gothic doom orientation.

And a dedicated organist (Lukas Kudrna) in tow.

Fucking awesome, just for that alone.

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Manzer (France) – Beyond The Iron Portal (Armee de la Mort/Legion of Death) (January 19)

Hmm.

Well, picture an old school underground metal band of traditional bent. Perhaps throw in a vague thrash influence, leave things feeling kinda thin (as you might expect, it’s another “power trio”) and then tag on some weird growl vocals from drummer/label owner (and former Deathspell Omega frontman) “Shaxul”.

The end result is sort of like Front Beast meets Nunslaughter-style USBM by way of Motorhead. Did I mention that somehow they consider themselves black metal? Don’t ask me.

It has that odd “outsider art” feel you get from the stranger and more misfit European underground acts…kind of like a Heavy Load or for that matter any number of non-black metal acts hailing from Italy (Bulldozer, Black Hole, Run After To), Canada (think Iron Dogs) and France. Coincidental, that!

Some of the riffs are pretty cool in that mid-80’s sense you get from never-made-it bands like Malice and Omen, and “Shaxul” can certainly do those pealing shrieks so many vocalists were prone towards back in those heady days.

It’s fucking weird, alright?

But that makes me kinda like it.

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LJOSAZABOJSTWA (BLR) – STARAZYTNAJE LICHA (HELLTHRASHER)  (MAY 13)

Doomish Belarus-based blackened death act. It’s heavy as shit and sluggishly lumbering enough to allow the material to breathe, which is a definite plus.

I remember an old Celtic Frost ad back in the day that touted the band’s sound as “heavier than steel”, and that certainly applies here. More “death” than “black”, these guys have the heft and ponderousness of Goatlord with a more specifically old school death metal vibe playing into all the modern black-death clothing.

I guess if you got Autopsy and Death Breath to fuck the living shit out of Nunslaughter, you might wind up with Ljosazabojstwa.

Don’t know that I could picture myself running out to grab this one or anything, but it’s pretty damn heavy and worth giving a listen to be sure.

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Waxen – Weihung Auf Satan (Moribund Records) (June 24)

Well, I can’t say I’ve ever heard of the guy, but apparently Waxen mainman Toby Knapp has something of a reputation as a “black metal guitar virtuoso”, if you can even picture such a thing.

Now, to me, that says something like Gorgoroth’s Roger “Infernus” Tiegs or Ulver’s Havard Jorgensen – busy riffing with some clearly melodic lines driving and elevating the material above the competition.

But no, what you get here with Knapp is actually sort of what James Murphy was to death metal: a guy who actually throws in arpeggiated runs and occasional speedy flourishes amidst all the tremelo picked riffing.

Hey, works for me, but isn’t the very idea somewhat antithetical to the “anti-human” sentiment of BM? You know, how the guitar solo represents the voice of the individual striving against the machine and all the wrongs around him, saying “I am, I matter, fuck you, I’ll fight you to the end”? Not really what you get with BM, even with the early “sure, why not, let’s throw in a quick sorta-solo too” approach of Euronymous-era Mayhem (aka Mayhem when anyone gave a flying shit about them). Just strikes the seasoned listener as a bit odd…

In any case, I liked that he went for that, breaking the mold a bit and going for the James Murphyesque gusto in the otherwise all rhythm and occasional lead lines-based black metal scene. The music has all of that tremelo and melodic line overlay thing going on, pushing it into the vague realm of the aforementioned Gorgoroth and Ulver at least in that respect.

The problem here lies in the vocals, which push straight into the realm of a
certain rather questionable band who shall go unnamed, but who shared the “chant of the barbarian wolves” split with Satanic Warmaster. Think industrial, all overdriven screeching digital hiss throughout.

Then have that ear-grating shit all but drown out all of that guitar driven
instrumentation every time the guy opens his mouth.

I think Knapp has the right idea here, and could really have a killer band and release on his hands…

…if he’d only hire himself a proper fucking vocalist!

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SHED THE SKIN – Harrowing Faith (CD, LP)  (Hells Headbangers) (June 24)

The Vladimirs‘ drummer Ash Thomas returns for a full length.

Still offering the same Incantation-esque vocal delivery and busy, nigh-black metal guitars and the aforementioned Incantation’s Kyle Severn’s crazed (if still blastbeat-peppered) kitwork on the drum stool, Shed the Skin lean more towards the death end of the black-death equation, particularly in terms of production.

Even so, the black metal elements are clear and present, in vocals, guitar and blastbeat as well as lyrically. At the very least, there’s no question Thomas, Severn and company lean distinctly anticlerical!

As with their previously reviewed Rebirth Through Brimstone single, I liked it well enough, and there are enough markers of what I did and do love about old school death metal to offset my general distaste towards black/death miscegenation (pick a side, you can’t have both – this ain’t no fucking Charms Blow Pop, kids), so I’m calling this otherwise contestable play “safe!”

Enough of worth here not to throw the yellow card.

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Front (Finland) – Iron Overkill CD/LP (Iron Bonehead) (June 24)

Raw, poorly produced, but clearly indebted to Joakim “Af Gravf” Gothberg-era Marduk in style and tone. And that’s not a bad thing.

About the worst you can say, presuming we’re talking to fans of the aforementioned period of the aforementioned act, is that most of this sounds kinda the same from track to track…which also applies to the aforementioned act. Not much of a slag there.

Nothing to get excited about, but if you always wanted the WWII aesthetic and focus of Legion-era Marduk retroactively applied to the “Af Gravf” era, Front has your answer.

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Light of the Morning Star – Cemetery Glow MCD/12″ MLP  (Iron Bonehead) (June 24)

British gothic rock cum black metal three song EP. If you ever wanted to hear, say, Dominic LaVey-era Nosferatu go a bit more first wavelike black metal (think stuff like Mortuary Drape or even arguably Tormentor here), this should appeal.

Moody, well produced, clean sung (ok, baritone moaned) and should play better with the unrepentant Anne Rice vampire crowd as opposed to the hardcore BM aficionado.

I came out of the goth scene myself (twice), so this worked just fine for me.

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Anal Blasphemy – Western Decadence CD/LP  (Iron Bonehead Productions) (July 1)

Weird Finnish black metal with obvious USBM/black n’ roll orientation, Clandestine Blaze-like vox and some (welcome) keyboard/organ use.

The name is absolutely tasteless if not downright tacky and I found the entire affair a bit yawn inducing despite its oddity.

But if your tastes lean towards both Mikko Aspa and Hells Headbangers-style USBM and don’t mind a bit of Paul Ledney-level orientation towards blasphemy lyrically, you’ll probably find sufficient similarities to dig in here.

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ELDERBLOOD – Messiah (Osmose Productions) (May 27)

Even in the Ukraine, they seem to be listening to a bit too much Watain.

To be fair, there’s a fair amount of Belphegor in the dramatics and excellent if clearly ProTools-based production, and you could argue bits of “Norsecore” from Legion and (to an extent) Mortuus-era Marduk as well.

Even post-glory days Cradle of Filth bleeds in more than just a bit, with the
sweeping keyboards and some very Paul Allenderlike riffing, but don’t be expecting Principle, Dusk or Cruelty-level material here, whatever its particular merits otherwise.

If you take the annoying ringing open string atonality of Danielsson’s crew and tag it onto post-Midian Cradle but with Blood Magick Necromance meets Panzer Division production, focus on speed and general aesthetic, you have Elderblood in a nutshell.

It’s bombastic, dramatic, sorta gothic black metal and aggro-speed inclined enough to qualify as another Tsjuder or 1349 if not Hakansson’s bounds of propriety-challenging crew, and should appeal to fans of any or all of the aforementioned equally.

I’d just drop the Watainisms next time around. The other bands noted hold up much better and have far less clones and wannabes running around these days.

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CB Murdoc – Here Be Dragons (VICISOLUM PRODUCTIONS) (June 24)

Swedish death metal. Oh, cool, like Entombed or At the Gates, right?

nooooooo…

oy, vey.

Spastic, Unexpect-style chaos and atonality. You couldn’t gloss the contents of this unflushed toilet bowl with the “progressive” or “technical death metal” tags if you tried – it’s sheer fucking noise with no structure to define or contain it.

What the fuck were you guys thinking?

Garbage. Circular file this one.

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THE DROWNING – SENESCENT SIGNS (CASKET MUSIC) (March 6)

Speaking of bombastic gothic doom, we have The Drowning, who more specifically work the My Silent Wake/Paradise Lost/early Amorphis thing as a deliberate M.O.

Apparently this is their first outing with new vocalist Matt Small, whose wheelhouse is the sort of intelligible death belch you get with acts like Karelian Isthmus-era Amorphis, Baphomet (of Dead Shall Inherit fame) or Into Eternity-era Desultory. Hell, you can even toss Barney Greenaway circa his Benediction days into the mix and still not be far off the mark.

The band themselves work a similar classic death metal sort of thing, but with a decided depressive, gothicized if not doom oriented feel. The acoustic passages (generally accompanied by strings and/or piano) are mellow and mournful enough to pass as a Prophecy or Svart release, and there’s even a bit of a wavelike motion to the material, particularly in tracks like “one with the dead”, that evokes the ocean voyage schtick of Ahab.

But in the end, it’s the more death cum gothic doom portions with distorted guitars, in your face power metal-style typewriter double bass drums and Small’s “mouth in an O” belly-belches that The Drowning really shine.

As you might expect from the bands referenced, these guys are all about evoking strong (if dark) emotion, so you could be forgiven for assigning them the meaninglessly generic but oddly recurrent “dark metal” tag, but you should have a better idea of what these guys are all about from the above.

Tag in some excellent production and an obvious attention to quality and you have it.

Another horns up and nod of well-earned respect.

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Insane Vesper – LayiL (Art of Propaganda) (July 1)

French black metal act. Puke vox, but still not quite death metal style.
Blastbeats and a truly horrific snare sound, but drummer “A.L.” can pull off
speedy, triggered double bass and some syncopation as well. He’s actually pretty good by black metal standards…just please, someone pitch in and buy the guy a deep dish snare!

Another one this month with brilliant sounding, crystal clear production – must be a new trend, and generally speaking, one I welcome.

There’s really nothing that sets Insane Vesper apart from the more modern, speed-oriented, zero atmosphere strain of Swedish/Teutonic-style black metal other than the (for the scene) rather excellent drumming and Teutonic-level attention to production quality, but those are definite pluses, and on the flipside, there’s really nothing that jumps out at me to slag them for either – another plus just in that!

I can’t say with any degree of honesty that this is a band I’d race to add to the collection and shelve with the many classic bands of its genre which get played on a regular basis around my place and ritual space (as it were).

But it’s unquestionable that these guys are pretty fucking intense, oddly classy between the production quality and the master class drumming…and well worth a listen.

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Toska – S/T (Eihwaz Recordings) (May 15)

When things slow down a bit, you can say this one has some rather good production.  Opening on an excellent guitar intro (“from the starless night”), Toska sets the stage for an unusually fretwork-driven and accomplished album for black metal. The drumming is so speedy on the double bass and kit rolls that you have to wonder if it was recorded by a drum machine, but it’s all quite clear and in your face.

In fact, the biggest failing here, if any, is in the whisper-hissed-belched vocals, which just sound like so much rumbling noise beneath the busy guitarwork and ridiculously fast drumming. Why have the barest suggestion of vocals when the instrumentation is so upfront and precise?

To be sure, they’re not breaking any new ground with this debut EP, but there’s more than enough to recommend about their approach, which works in ways that far too many bands of its ilk reviewed herein could barely dream of approaching. It feels much akin to the early to mid 90’s scene without borrowing too heavily from the usual sound and aesthetic, bringing improved studio savvy and more than a nod to the contemplative and mournful trend of more recent French-Canadian and French acts to the mix.

Overall, the takeaway is that this one’s a winner, with wintry if not icy
atmosphere, haunting melodies and a clinical coldness to the feel thanks to the (vocals aside) crisp production.

Horns decidedly raised here.

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Krigsgrav – Waves of Degradation (Bindrune Recordings) (April 1)

Three albums and an EP under their belts, Texans Krigsgrav belie both their
national and state of origin with a very Nordic-feeling approach to black metal.

Again capturing the sad, contemplative feel discussed above with Toska, Krigsgrav goes further into Wolves in the Throne Room/Northern Oak territory by introducing folk instrumentation and even some seemingly incongrous Chris Isaakisms (check out the neo-Silvertone section about 10m into “under trembling stars”).

It’s all surprisingly authentic-feeling and Euro-sounding in a way that few if any USBM acts (bar perhaps Heaven In Flames through Moonlight Butchery-era Judas Iscariot) are capable of capturing.

Another strong black metal release this month, you know what to do.

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Vex – Sky Exile (Eihwaz Recordings) (June 15)

The second Texas-based BM (or more precisely in this case, black-prog death cum pagan) act being reviewed this month (after the excellent Krigsgrav), Vex works more of a Legion-era Marduk on the vocal end while giving a strangely sluggish, sway-inducing blackened death metal that often veers straight into progressive metal on the instrumentation side.

The drums from a certain Eoghan (or Owen, depending on who you believe) McCloskey are respectable enough, though oddly his double bass footwork is buried in the mix to nigh-inaudibility despite his cross between blastbeat-driven and slow syncopation on the kit side being placed reasonably upfront. What’s doubly weird is that while clear (on the kit side, anyway), the drum sound is weirdly muted and flat – there’s no crispness to the attack, no resonance. Not sure who produced this one, but they might want to look into a more established or accomplished fader-pusher next time around…

The guitars, when not sticking to the straight up pagan BM approach of “to
anacreon” or “the cygnus light”, tend towards the clean if not acoustic clarity of the more particularly progressive death metal acts such as Obscura and Cynic, without ever really appraoching that level musically. In fact, a lot of what I was picking up was a decided emo cum metalcore melodicism and orientation towards dramatics on the guitar end – a welcome element that elevates Vex’s more questionable, take it or leave it elements (the vocals, the black-death leanings) into something far more interesting.

Even the bass makes an all too rare appearance in metal circles, opening up “solar sacrament” in a way that says more Fates Warning or Cynic than, say, Watain and their zombie legions.

Is it “death metal”, as they claim? No fucking way.

But what it actually is is far more up for grabs. Take some of the best, most ear-tickling elements of emo, metalcore and progressive metal, do some rather weird sorta right sorta very wrong production on the drums and give the whole thing some snarly-growl vox and black-death leanings, and you’ll have Vex.

I liked a lot more of this than I disliked. The overall impression is of a band
that’s still growing.

I’m looking forward to when they shed the chrysalis to become the band they’re reaching towards becoming.

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