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Sigh.

Electoral fraud, corporate money influence and longstanding “buddy system” promises have saddled our nation with two of the sorriest damn candidates ever put forth as ostensible “alternatives”, both of whom are bought and paid for by the same people and who’ll take us to pretty much the same place, continuing ever further down this downhill spiral of offshoring, negative tax amortizations and ever increasing profits for the rich and corporate, while the rest of us get saddled with poverty, police brutality and the prospect of a multiple front global war.

Thanks ever so much.  And all the general populace can do is growl and snap at each other on social media.  No third party movement, no uprising against the malfeasance of the powers that be, no demands for equity, oversight and worker protections…just a batch of “unfriendings” and gasp-inducing soundbytes that accomplish nothing whatsoever.

Can you tell I’m sick of the bullshit?

So, with America’s hopes fading by the day as we trudge fatalistically on this death march towards Bataan…I mean Election Day…let’s try to forget all that, eat and drink and be merry tonight, for we collectively die tomorrow, as it were.

Time to liven shit up.

On with the party, then, shall we?  Because as Overkill once put it…”there’s no tomorrow…”

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FIRST SIGNAL – One Step Over The Line (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (June 3)

Harem Scarem’s Harry Hess returns, this time with Find Me/Murder of My Sweet producer Daniel Flores on keys and drums. They pull in bandmates and associates from both bands (Darren Smith from Harem Scarem, Angelica Rylin from Murder of My Sweet) and Frontiers regular Allesandro del Vecchio on backing vox.

It’s hardly as strong as the last few Harem Scarem efforts, but with Hess more or less running the show, you know you’re in safe hands in terms of radio-ready melodic rock. Flores’ keyboards accentuate and punctuate rather than overtake, adding body and melodic counterpoint to the more straightforward guitar harmonies and Hess’ gravelly but full-toned vocals.

For his part, Hess is sounding a bit more raspy than usual, again feeling a tad Bon Jovi (albeit without the sprechtgesang talking into his own chest drawl bits Bongiovi falls back on with regularity). Sappier pop radio types (like your girlfriend, most likely) would probably term the sound “soulful”. Regardless, it works.

Another one like Dan Reed Network that’s quite listenable, if a bit light toned for my tastes (and those of the average hard rocker/metalhead). It’s pleasant, sorta mid to late 80’s radio rock/AOR in the general ballpark of Autograph, Y&T, Richard Marx, Vixen and, oh yeah, Bon Jovi.

And if you lived through that era or just enjoy all the beach-set “teen sex comedies” ala Hardbodies or Bikini Summer that sprouted therefrom, you should absolutely love the keyboard work…it’ll bring ya right back.

Favorite track: “pedestal”

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DAN REED NETWORK – Fight Another Day (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (June 3)

Always surprises me when some band I never heard of has a “comeback album”.

Now, generally, that refers to the more obscure corners of the underground: demo bands just now getting around to a proper album release, local, quirkier and less celebrated acts from strange corners of the globe.

So it’s kinda weird when you get a band that supposedly toured with Bon Jovi (admittedly in their jump the shark New Jersey era) and put out no less than three albums, one of which was produced by none other than Nile Rodgers (Chic, Madonna, David Bowie, B-52s, David Lee Roth, you name it).

Well, color me shocked.

That noted, all I can go by is this album, and you know, it’s kinda good.

Catchy, radio friendly AOR with some pop and funk leanings. Think a less pretentious Dave Matthews, a less snarky Spin Doctors, but with the songwriting finesse of, say, Desmond Child (Bon Jovi, Kiss, etc.).

When I say it’s palatable, I mean this shit is smooth – like cutting into a well-prepared filet mignon, this goes down like a hot knife through butter – you’ve already gone through 3 or 4 tracks bobbing along to the rhythm before you even realize how much time’s passed.

Now, look, this is not the sort of thing seasoned hard rockers or metalheads are going to go for. This is silky smooth late 80’s/late 90’s style radio hit sort of material, the kind that clueless pundits label as “rock” for lack of an easier genre fit to drop it under. But to tie this to, say, The Who, Foreigner or Dokken is a serious stretch. Closest I can offer is a Dave Matthews without his head up his own ass, if you can even picture such a thing.

Light, airy, a bit bouncy and quite listenable radio stuff to accompany long drives with the ladyfriend (who’ll be all over this, trust me).

Not bad at’all for what it is.

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JORN – Heavy Rock Radio (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (June 3)

Jorn Lande (of Masterplan, Allen/Lande and about 12,000 guest appearances across the lighter end of the metal and AOR spectrum) delivers an albumful of unusual covers, touching bases as far afield as Abba’s Frida (“something’s going on”), Kate Bush (“running up that hill”), Journey (“don’t stop believing”), Queen (“killer queen”), Dio (“rainbow in the dark”), Sabbath (“die young”) and Deep Purple (“stormbringer”). The choices are sort of all over the place, and oft unexpected…and that’s exactly what’s good about it.

Personally, I got a kick out of hearing more aggressive, gender-swapped takes on classic new wave hits like the Bush and Frida cuts, and to see them on the same playlist as “classic rock” stuff like Queen and Journey and then toss in some straight up metal to boot was unusual to say the least.

Doesn’t make Lande’s covers any better than the originals, but they’re certainly different enough to be interesting and what real musicians consider a proper cover: not a slavish and necessarily inferior regurgitation of a beloved classic, but one’s own unique, unexpectedly tangenital interpretation of same.

Think, say, Tori Amos covering Slayer’s “raining blood” – who the hell expected that, and is it even recognizable as the same song? That’s the idea, kids. Put your own stink on it.

A good selection of songs in and of itself, Heavy Rock Radio shifts dynamics and alters the originals just enough to work with Lande’s own gravelly power metal meets Dio-style vocal approach, complete with midrange but still quite obviously distorted guitars and pealing solos.

Sure, it’s a covers album.

But nice work.

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WITHEM – The Unforgiving Road (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (June 3)

Norwegian act that delivers a rather more aggressively distorted and in your face take on the sort of Windham Hill progressive of bands like Dream Theater, Trans Siberian Orchestra and (to a lesser extent) Symphony X.

All tinkling piano and light midrange tenor vocals (think Bon Jovi with more of a soaring, relatively clean high where required), they move a touch more metal proper than their inspirations by shoving some rather grungy distorted guitars right up front in the mix, often pushing more aggressive tempos and having a drummer who really pounds at those skins amidst all the meter play and fancy tom rolls.

I really liked the drumming here, and appreciated the band’s pushing of the overly light and new agey Dream Theater prog template towards the metal end of the spectrum, but found the guitar tone and approach too late 80’s/early 90’s, the dirty end of Hollywood glam by way of grunge or even a bit aggro in tone.  It’s mainly down to the distortion and treble settings on the rig, but there’s an over- attention to lunkhead-leaning chunkiness if not “groove” that’s something of an ill fit to their style otherwise.

Vocals are good when he’s going for the more soaring and dramatic phrases and I liked the drumming a lot – but could use some work and tweaking otherwise, at least for my tastes.

Prog fans more enamored of the aforementioned acts and subgenres than stuff like Fates Warning, Queensryche, Crimson Glory and Watchtower should really enjoy this one.

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Narnia – “Reaching For The Top” (single) (Narnia Songs) (June 3)

Pretty much the entirety of the original lineup of the long running Swedish
Christian metal act get back together for a typically epic and uplifting bit of
symphonically oriented power metal.

This is an advance single for their upcoming self titled, which if “reaching for
the top” is any signifier of, should be absolutely killer.

The guitar work of Carl-Johan Grimmark is both melodic (with impeccable phrasing, quite the rarity these days!) and at least as flashy as Luca Turulli-era Rhapsody (of Fire), the music is driving in a nigh-Dio sense, and the vocals of Christian Rivel-Liljegren work that tenuous no man’s land between power metal gravel and soaring clean tones.

We’ll see how the album proper plays out, but judging solely by this track? Dead on.

Well worth your time. Welcome back, guys.

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Billy Momo – “Swim” (Mo Better Music) (May 27)

Those more addicted to the endless wasteland of rubbish that is American television will likely be more familiar with this band, whose “wishing ain’t no sin” was used for the promo trailer of Better Call Saul (a show I’ve heard a few friends throw some praise towards).

This single is all I have to work with, and it shows a busy, nigh-flamenco guitar line of arpeggiated nylon string acoustic flourishes melded almost seamlessly with a very 90’s druggy trip hop sort of thing on the choruses, complete with obviously stoned vocals. Think anything from Curve and the Afghan Whigs, but with a lighter, more Britpop meets dreampop orientation and feel.

I doubt they’d be the sort of act where an entire album of (likely eclectic) material would work for me, but this song brought back memories of a certain rather wild and edge-dancing period of my own life, and as such, is worthy of a nod of respect.

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Die Krupps – Live Im Schatten Der Ringe (AFM Records) (June 3)

Teutonic gothic-industrial veterans Jurgen Engler and Ralf Dorper reunite for a
live walk through their long and storied history. Promo materials note comparisons with Kraftwerk (unfounded) and Einsturzende Neubaten (a bit closer to the mark), but what you get with Die Krupps is a lot closer to the likes of Skinny Puppy, Meat Beat Manifesto, Nine Inch Nails, Front 242, Spahn Ranch or even earlier Ministry.

It’s dark, lush, and quite gothic, mixing crunchy guitars with throbbing, pulsing, fat sounding keyboards, with the added frisson (which may actually have proved something of a liability in terms of elusive international crossover success) of being performed entirely Im Deutsch (see also Rammstein, Laibach or the aforementioned Einsturzende Neubaten).

Anyone who lived through the 90’s and walked in darker circles lived and breathed the aforementioned bands (and many more – My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult and their lesser, more on the nose camp offspring Electric Hellfire Club, anyone?), so it’s nice to hear this sound being trotted out of history’s dusty and cobwebbed closets once again.

Will this “live in the shadows of the ring” performance gain the veterans any new fans? Probably not.

But for those already acquainted with (and perhaps pining for) this very 90’s style and sound, you know what to do.

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Paradox – Pangea (AFM Records) (June 24)

A few years back, namely 2012, Paradox dropped Tales of the Weird, an interesting successor to their 80’s classics Product of Imagination and especially the excellent Heresy.

They’d been back together for a decade by then, but this was news to these ears, and I was interested in speaking to a veteran of the glory days of thrash metal. Sadly, right around that time, mainman Charly Steinhauser ran into some health issues, and the intended Third Eye interview was set aside.

Four years later, Charly is back, delivering even more chunky riffs and clean emotive vocals than he had on that prior effort. And it’s good to hear, in many respects.

Is Pangaea a throwback to the band’s late 80’s heyday? Well…in all fairness, probably not.

But it is a damn sight more intense and impressive than Tales of the Weird, with more energy, vim and vigor than you’d expect from a band of this vintage, with speedy, aggressive riffing, flashy yet melodic soloing and slightly raspy yet clean vocals…and in many respects, it’s not all that far removed from the heyday of Heresy after all.

Definitely worth a listen for fans of classic thrash, particularly of the Bay Area sound (which Paradox…er, paradoxically (ahem) makes their own, despite their obvious Teutonic origins). Even the production style leaves it sounding more traditional than “modern” in tone, which is a decided mark in the band’s favor.

Bang your head and give the man some serious respect for pulling together an album this strong not only at so many years remove, but after some nasty personal setbacks to boot.

All the best to ya, mein freund.

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Illdisposed – Grey Sky Over Black Town (Massacre Records) (July 8)

We were, to say the least, unimpressed with Illdisposed’s prior release With the Lost Souls on Our Side. Will their latest fare any better?

Well, without digging back into the archives to compare and contrast, I do get the impression the production is much improved, with a thick yet clean tonality that matches the dark gothic feel of the album cover.

The sound is fairly crisp, but not annoyingly in your face, with grinding guitars and easily discernible kitwork, which is actually not bad at all if you can get past all the blastbeat bullshit far too many drummers rely on as a fallback measure nowadays. The double bass is a bit too typewriter triggered for my tastes, but it’s undeniable that Rasmus Schmidt knows syncopation and has a studied command of the kit per se, with plenty of off-meter phrases, turnarounds, jazzy cymbal fills and speedy rolls spicing up the mix.

Hell, even the vocals are inoffensive, leaning towards the barf end of generic modern death metal but never actually tripping the light fantastic straight into “let’s piss everyone off” territory. It’s quite likely that the dual tracking and hint of slap echo/reverb helps, but in the end, it works with the music.

I liked how the drums were, if not right up front, then at least on a fairly even level with the guitars, with the vocals just barely in front of both. Nice mix and master from Tue Madsen here.

Whether this is all down to the production or a more tempered take in light of so many comparatively inferior acts reviewed over the past few years is hard to say, but you know what? I didn’t mind this one at all.

Hell, I kinda liked it, which is a real shocker given our take last time around.

If you’re going to give these guys a listen, now’s the time. Obviously something’s changed, and in a very major way.

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Lonewolf – The Heathen Dawn (Massacre Records) (July 8)

We had a few laughs over The Fourth and Final Horseman, which featured a tight band who we praised for their catchiness and musicianship, but marred by some highly amusing Pretty Maids meets Pee Wee Herman vocals from Jens Borner. Well, nothing’s really changed, though they’ve traded up longtime member (and presumed lead) guitarist Alex Hilbert for Michael Hellstrom.

All this means is that there’s less obvious musicianship and flash on the lead end, though what Hellstrom and Borner do have going for them is a sort of Helloween meets Iron Maiden harmony lead line thing running throughout the course of most songs.

The solos are more harmony oriented than shred, but otherwise, it’s pretty much the same story: gallop rhythms and melodic lead lines bolstered by a thundering typewriter double bass.

It should be noted, however, that this also represents a slight change to the dynamic of the band, as the bass drums appear to be mixed unusually loud, which brings more of a Philthy Animal Taylor vibe than is typical for power metal. You can literally feel the speakers throbbing under the assaultive footwork, as straightforward as new drummer Antoine Bussiere’s playing is otherwise. I liked it, whether a vagary of the man’s playing style or more on the production and mixing end, and I’ll call it a definite plus.

So is it any better than Fourth and Final Horseman? Probably not – just going from memory, I thought the songs were more likeable if not impressive last time around, with the current album feeling more generic in that respect. Changes and bass drum mix aside, this isn’t the sort of album I’d have singled out for musicianship, like I had last time around.

So the bottom line is, how much of a power metal fan are you?

More to the point, how much of a Lonewolf fan are you, as the vocals will probably strike the casual listener as pretty damn cheesy (and prone to instant comic impressions from any and all comers on the fly).

Listenable, melodic enough, even sorta likeable in that power metal sorta way, with a somewhat atypical drum feel in either approach or production – I’m really not sure whether to credit Bussiere or Powerwolf’s “Charles Greywolf”, who handled the mix and master here, for that one.

But I dare you not to break out into a Pee Wee Herman impression.

“LA-LA LA-LA-LA! HAH!”

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NERVOSA – Agony (Napalm Records) (June 3)

More of the same from the Brazilian all-femme thrashers. Still with the hyper-aggro vox from cutie Fernanda Lira, but with more of a driving, nigh death metal riff and drum approach from Prika Amaral and Pitchu Ferraz, respectively.

It’s more of a gimmick thing, really: you probably weren’t expecting an all-female trio to sound this aggressive and vaguely retro blackened (yet overly polished) thrash. They’re decent enough players, though there’s nary a lead in sight…or at least none I recall hearing, which amounts to the same result. But is it the sort of thing you’re likely to gravitate towards, revisiting time and time again over the years?

mmm…probably not.

I guess if you crossed post-Coma of Souls Kreator with later Cavalera-era Sepultura and threw in some modern day Exumer, you might have something not all that far removed from Nervosa on Agony.

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SUNS OF THYME – Cascades (Napalm Records) (May 27)

Ambient space rock crossing over into the sort of electronic trance those snotty proto-hipster clerks used to favor over at the trio of Kim’s Video stores in the Village back in the weird and wild days of the mid to late 90’s.

Somewhere between Faunts, Stereolab, Curve, Lush, My Bloody Valentine, Boy-era U2 and Echo and the Bunnymen, but mixed with touches of gothic rock (“intuition unbound”), Gary Numan (“to vanish”, “deep purple rain”) and electronica (remember that short lived mix of trance and drum & bass?) lie the Suns of Thyme.

Retro in all the right ways for a decade that was spotty at best.

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MORTILLERY – Shapeshifter (Napalm Records) (May 27)

Edmonton, Ontario Canada. You know, oil sands? Wildfires out of control? Yep,
it’s sort of like Buffalo, NY.

And in that respect, it’s no surprise to get a band as aggressive as this hailing from Edmonton’s petroleum-soaked climes – after all, Buffalo gave us nasty, hyperactively mean spirited death metal acts like Malevolent Creation, Suffocation, Cannibal Corpse and Baphomet. I’d blame ’em for Demolition Hammer, as well, but they claim a NYC origin, which seems unlikely given their special brand of Buffalo-style virulence.

So, back to Mortillery. I had ’em on the podcast for just about every album: Alex joined me for their debut Murder Death Kill back when we first shifted from an exclusive cult film orientation towards a more inclusive and comprehensive music, audio and literature umbrella. Then both Alex and Cara got on the horn for Origin of Extinction 3 years back. Suffice to say, I’ve been championing these guys all along, and this month’s release of Shapeshifter is no exception to that rule.

If anything, the band keeps getting more solid, with the comparative shakiness and inexperience of MDK making way to a more aggressive and polished Origin. Now trading up lead guitar Alex Scott for new kid Kent Quinlan seems to work the trick, removing the last gaps in the chain and bringing a new strength and cohesiveness to the Mortillery mix.

This is a tighter band, a more battle hardened, stage veteran Mortillery than we’d seen before. While Cara’s vocals seem to have taken a bit of a hit from all those years of screaming her heart out, there’s also a bit more assurance that comes with it, a bit less of the pealing edge to the red-faced shrieks and howls.  And the Bobby Blitz-style dramatic and declamatory clean vocals, while showing a bit more rasp and fragility than they had previously, are still present and accounted for. We haven’t tripped the line into Horroscope-era Overkill or Painkiller-era Priest yet, and that’s a good thing.

The songs are arguably stronger, the band is more in lockstep to the point where they actually anticipate each other’s next pause or thrust, the production is thicker and more thrashlike in the classic Bay Area sense (which includes such non-SF but similarly minded acts like the UK’s Xentrix and Germany’s Paradox in the sentiment)…and subjectively, I just liked this one more.

Come on, they actually did a song about the Wendigo, and the album has the balls to end on its strongest track (“torture”).

I ask you. What’s not to love?

These pals and gals from north of the border just keep getting better. Grab a copy and thrash your ass off.

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THE ORDER OF ISRAFEL – Red Robes (Napalm Records) (May 27)

Pretty much the same as 2014’s Wisdom, reviewed here.  Former Church of Misery guitarist Tom Sutton does the St. Vitus meets early Trouble by way of Cathedral doom thing.

It feels a bit more folky than the last album, in the British trad/folk rock manner (think stuff like Steeleye Span, Fairport Convention or Mr. Fox). But that’s only on certain tracks and as little flourishes to break things up every now and again – on the whole, this is pretty straightforward 70’s style retro-doom.

Nothing overly special, but likeable enough, and definitely represents something of a shift in style from Wisdom.

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CANDLEMASS – Death Thy Lover (Napalm Records) (June 3)

Candlemass has a long and complicated history. Oft cited as one of the great doom metal bands, they built on a reasonably strong debut (with vocals by a soon-departing Johan Langqvist) with a string of justifiably feted albums under dramatic operatic tenor Messiah Marcolin.

It’s after his departure that the cracks begin to show, with Therion vocalist Thomas Vikstrom, a Bjorn Flodkvist, Headless Cross-era Black Sabbath frontman Tony Martin and Solitude Aeturnus’ Robert Lowe all cycling in and out of the band like a revolving turnstile.

This week’s contender is Facing the Animal-era Yngwie Malmsteen vet Mats Leven, who joins longtime members Leif Edling, Mats Bjorkman, Lasse Johansson and Jan Lindh for this surprisingly generic four song EP.

While Candlemass post-Tales of Creation (excepting the likeable Marcolin reunion self-titled in 2005) has been consistently spotty at best, it’s still somewhat of a surprised to hear the guys who gave us tracks like “bewitched”, “a sorcerer’s pledge”, “dark are the veils of death” and “at the gallows end” seemingly bereft of life and power – a doom band without darkness, despair or even beefy Sabbath-style riffs is hardly a doom metal act at all.

While his approach is more “mainstream metal” than doom, all gravel and straightforwardness over clean gothic baritone or operatic tenor, you can’t fault Leven for this one – and while some of the funereal riffing can be discerned in tracks like “sleeping giant”, it’s unquestionable that the band has lost the very drive and dark force that made them one of the most notable standard bearers of doom throughout the 80’s and early 90’s…all vocals, for better or worse, entirely aside.

A deflated and rather limp baloon that used to be a grand Macy’s parade float, this one’s better left to the diehards.

Jinjer – “Words Of Wisdom” (single) (Napalm Records)

Advance single for an upcoming full length. Strangely, the promo materials claim they’re supposed to be working the metalcore card…nowhere on display herein.

Really bad Anselmo-lite puke vox and annoyingly atonal tech metal cum “groove” crap only occasionally enlivened by a line or two sung by clean female vocals.

Phew. Killswitch, early In this Moment, All that Remains or even The Agonist this ain’t.

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MGT – Volumes (Oblivion / SPV)

Joining ex-Sisters The Mission well after their Gods Own Medicine heyday, guitarist Mark Gemini Thwaite has wended his way through stints with such gothic and industrial luminaries as a post-Bauhaus Peter Murphy, Ministry’s Al Jourgensen and ex-Theatre of Hate alum Kirk Brandon’s Spear of Destiny before striking out on his own here.

Pulling in former bandmates like Vile Valo (HIM), Wayne Hussey (the Mission), Julianne Regan (All About Eve) and even Andi Sex Gang (of all people!) to handle vocals, Thwaite works a recognizably postpunk-inspired but strangely bland sound of more interest for starfuckers than in and of its own rather middling at best merits.

Feeling throughout like something that would get airplay on NPR or at your local Barnes & Noble if not Starbucks, this is inoffensive, hipster-folky and “quirky” in a precious sense without ever approaching the gothic highs of all of the aforementioned acts in their respective heyday.

Maybe it’s because Thwaite tended to work with these folks well after said career high points in every case, but this one would feel comfortable at some wine and cheese party or indie rock crowd baby shower…not something you could say about Bauhaus, Gods Own Medicine-era Mission, Ministry, Theatre of Hate, Sex Gang Children or even Return to Eden-era All About Eve, which were decidedly gothic and/or industrial in orientation and therefore far from “safe” or “mainstream”.

Nothing wrong with his playing, and it’s interesting to see the big names of a bygone day drop in for a spell, but that Abba cover was both boring and atrocious…the rest of the album just feels deflated, bland and yes, safe.

Nice idea, but nah.

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Dragonforce – Killer Elite (Spinefarm Records) (July 22)

I was never the biggest fan of Dragonforce.

Like just about everyone else, I discovered the band (and Herman Li’s predilection towards throwing guitar synth-driven classic video and arcade game themes into his high speed solos) with their appearance(s) on Guitar Hero, Rock Band and Brutal Legend. Appropriately, their success rested less on their own gimmick-aided power metal with a touch of shred merits than their association with an arena Li and Totman were already inclined towards, and it’s in videogaming that their legacy lives on.

Now, I picked up a copy of Sonic Firestorm and Inhuman Rampage, but the material, like a lot of power metal of its era, was rather samey. One track sounded like the next, one album wasn’t far removed from the last or the one that followed.

In short, it was kinda generic and blurred together, and that behind the scenes tour footage on the latter album was just crass. I was embarrassed for the Japanese groupies, and even more embarrassed for having bought into guys whose behavior was quite this childish.  I don’t know, it just feels like if you have some notable skill on an instrument, you should be somehow smarter, classier. This was just…sophomore year of HS all over again, and not in the best sense either. Both albums wound up in basement storage bins, all but forgotten.

So here we are, a decade later, and the band has parted ways with vocalist ZT Theart, replacing him with a similar if far more thin-toned Marc Hudson of no prior notables. How does Killer Elite hold up in relation to the same band in their comparative glory days?

Well, it’s a question being very deliberately asked here, with tracks from earlier albums being given a makeover featuring Hudson’s neo-Tony Harnell cum Jim Gillette by way of Tony Kakko squeaks on vocals. You’ll find tracks like “my spirit will go on” and “fury of the storm” alongside “through the fire and the flames” and “operation ground and pound” and tracks from the later Ultra Beatdown (“heroes of our time”, “reasons to live”) and so forth throughout their recorded career.

Unfortunately for Hudson, it’s not so simple as a side by side “Hudson vs. Theart”, as these are re-recordings at a decade’s remove, with a more tired sounding Li and Totman very much delivering the sense of a sighing retreading of old ground. The new recordings actually sound less powerful and exciting than their original versions across the board, and mind, none of this is on Hudson, whatever his merits or failings as a singer.

Rather, this is all on the passage of time and a band having to dig back, Saxon style, and rework its old material because that’s what’ll bring in the punters, dammit. “Screw your new stuff, mate – play “freebird”, that’s what sells drinks!”

Sure, they’re melodic, they play fast, there’s some cute tricks spicing up the solos. But it’s been a decade, and I’m no more excited to hear these songs than I have been since putting those CDs down the basement many years agone.

I spend a lot of my time cycling through the collection, revisiting older favorites and newly discovering albums I’d previously underrated. If anything, I enjoy and appreciate even more music than I ever did before, and this coming from a longtime musician and lifelong cross-genre omnivore.

To say that these songs bored me even more than I remembered really says something.

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Blood Red Throne – Union of Flesh and Machine (Candlelight/Spinefarm) (July 15)

A touring guitarist for Satyricon and Carpathian Forest/Emperor bassist Tchort come together to form this aggressive modern death metal act. Well, OK, Tchort’s history. But you get the connections.

That noted, this isn’t another one of those lame “blackened death” acts, Watain wannabes without a hint of death metal in ’em.

Nope, in this case, these guys are death metal all the way, with Suffocation-style vocals (and Mitch Harris Napalm Death-style backing snarls and shrieks) and thick, meaty guitars delivering straight up neo-trad death riffs over double bass-driven drumming with nary a blastbeat in sight.

Now, things get a tad too Suffocation at times, with touches of Carcass and a very modern death metal production and tonality informing the proceedings far more than I’d prefer.

But for a band whose origins lie firmly in the realm of Norwegian second wave black metal?

This is pretty fucking straight up death metal.

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Hellsworn – Repulsive Existence (Underground Movement) (July 12)

UK death metal band in the Sunlight Studios vein featuring members of Sheol previously reviewed here and here), Funeral Throne and Scythian.

The production is a bit odd, with the bass drum being overly muffled yet pushed right up front in the mix, vocals well above the guitars, which are detuned and raw in the tried and true Entombed/Dismember chainsaw grinding style…a strange mix of extremely clean production and raw, dirty tone on the guitars and vox. You can hear everything that’s going on, alright…but there’s an oddness to it, that keeps it from being “clear”. Think of it as more of an EP production than the extra care afforded an album proper.

Otherwise, nothing wrong with this whatsoever, aside from being yet another regurgitation of a classic sound. And hey, if that bothers you overmuch, metal…or for that matter, music per se in 2016…is really not the field to attend to.

Our best days are all behind us, apparently. It’s truly heartening to see so many up and comers looking back and learning from the masters…just wish there was something “new” coming out of that, rather than perfectly acceptable xeroxes of det som engang var, as it were.

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ThrOes – This Viper Womb (Aesthetic Death) (June 29)

A death metal scenester drummer (worked with Suffocation, Six Feet Under and a few others you’d probably recognize), the world’s most annoying shriek-vocalist (think the most irritating moments of Spread Eagle or Dangerous Toys goes black-death) and a guitarist with some rather weird syncretist sensibilities come together to piss listeners off massively.

At moments leaning blackened death, others groove, but ultimately feeling sorta indie/alt-rock cum grunge (with blackened overtones), Thr0es delivers what I’m hoping is the single worst release this review cycle. I’d hate to run into something more irritatingly bad than this…though I’m certainly afraid to call that particular dog!

P-U.

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uncertain – The Fox’s Blood Moon (for Ian Johnstone) (Wraith Productions)

uncertain – The Price of Existence is Eternal Warfare (Live Invocations) (Wraith Productions)

Fox’s Blood Moon first: ambient trance with disturbing overtones.

Apparently Florian-Ayala Fauna recorded this in the wake of the death of someone close to him, so there are odd polytonalities, incessant whispers and cut-up technique collages of sound all over what would otherwise have been a Gaiam meditation disc.

Of course, the same sound and dynamic applies to their live album, so who knows.

Too disturbing to use in any sort of meditative or trance work, too boring to listen to otherwise.

Exactly what niche does this intend to fill?

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Strafk – Entomophobia (Wraith Productions)

Another noise-based nigh-ambient act, though there is a slow march guitar/bass thing that pops up halfway through side 1. All instrumental, not a lot going on.

Side 2 is a bit more of a song proper, with nearly inaudible “vocals” somewhere between a growl and a whisper. It’s too atonal to have any real merit.

Next?

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The Von Deer Skulls – Bitches Of The Wood (Wraith Productions)

Weird French act who veer between a slow atonal nigh-black metal to more of a stoner feel to a simplistic Elton Johnlike piano, while mumbling and industrial-like noise fills the mix throughout.

Next…

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Circle of Unexisted – Dissolving Into a Black Light (Wraith Productions)

Black metal vox over an atonal dreampop/shoegaze guitar and drum thing.

It’s a bit too dark to really call shoegaze per se, but it’s not blackened enough to call “post black metal” either. Oh, and the threatening snarl-shrieks turn into traditional goth baritone vox ala Peter Murphy at random intervals. One song, 1/4 of your hour.

Interesting, but a bit repetitive and I could do without all that damn atonality.

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Circle of Unexisted – Kettery (Wraith Productions)

A bit more industrial/synthpop ala early Depeche Mode if not Yaz (“niks is hellig”) before going more directly “post black” with extreme dreampop leanings. The black metal vox don’t chew up the same proportion of the running time on this full length album as they did on the “dissolving into a black light” single.

Not the sort of thing I’d pull out very often, but interesting and for the most part listenable.

I certainly liked the clean goth vocals.

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Somnambulist Red – Drowned in phosphorescence (Wraith Productions)

Ambient shoegazey business once more, but this time far more harmonically inclined.

The trancier bits tend to feel more authentic, there’s less atonality (though it’s
still there enough to grate and make the listener grind their teeth more than necessary) and the distorted metal bits tend to be dead on, with very little fiddling and bullshit by comparison to other Wraith acts reviewed this month.

If these folks could learn to keep things more consonant, they’d be pretty damn good for a band working this general instrumental/ambient/shoegaze cum metal style.

As it is, interesting and may be worth a quick skim to see if it tickles your fancy.

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Underdark – Ynomrah  (Wraith Productions)

After kicking off with weird throat gargling noises…nothing else, mind, just that for a minute or more…Underdark turn out to be some odd symphonic black metal variant.

Too underground to work the same territory as Cradle of Filth, Dimmu or even Gloomy Grim, they nonetheless pull in the keyboards, some industrial-style noise effects and a sense of depth and body to their otherwise pretty grungy take on black metal.  Alternating between slower rock tempo and the expected speedy blastbeat nonsense, a growly-snarly vocalist…and then come the keyboards, filling things out and making them “dramatic”.

And, oh yeah, just about every other track is a pointless sound effects and rehearsal fiddling “instrumental”.

The keyboard symphonic thing really doesn’t fit the low rent production or the band’s weird, decidedly underground orientation.

Pass.

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Diabolical – Umbra (VICISOLUM PRODUCTIONS) (July 8)

Expansive blackened death metal. They go full on Therion on “requiem”, complete with a vocal choir and a lot of hesitation and pulling back on the reins, only giving some measure of release with “diaspora”, which goes more traditionally black metal in all the speed and unfortunate overlaid dissonance.

Things continue in the same vein thereafter, with “tremor” being some captured dialogue with a very casual Chris Isaak-style quavering guitar. It’s barely music at all, in fact. Then “decline” goes back into “diaspora” territory, albeit a bit less successfully.

The only thing that said “death metal” about this was the throatier growl vocals and sticksman Par Johansson’s ability to actually work the kit in a proper sense when not falling back on blastbeats. The drum production is also very good, with a lot of crispness on that track allowing you to hear every hit, every stomp. The guitars and vocals are more blurred and hazy, but all things considered, that’s a real plus.

Just isolate the drum track and you’ll probably like this one more.

“Requiem” was an interesting idea, if a bit frustrating musically – like a horse chomping at the bit, but continually hauled back by strong yanks at the reins. Drumming (and drum production) aside, the rest is typical black death detritus.

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GJENDØD (NO) – S/T (HELLTHRASHER) (JUNE 24) 

Norwegian black metal. They’re claiming inspiration from demo-era Thorns and Manes, Mayhem, Burzum and Ulver…but you sure could’ve fooled me.

If anything, they sound rather Finnish, with grumpy overdriven snarl vox on “evig svart royk” that call acts like early Satanic Warmaster to mind, later switching to a tonsil-rattling declamatory style that feels vaguely Immortal-esque but which could easily be taken as inspired by Polish acts like Graveland.

The basic thrust of the band feels a bit generic, and much akin to Sweden’s Marduk (not the Legion-era “norsecore” so much as the earlier and later iterations of the band), but there’s a quirkiness to the overall sound that brings us right back to Finland.

So in sum, almost nothing about this says Norway. Sweden, maybe. Poland, somewhat. Finland, yeah. But Norway? Possible vocal inspiration aside, not a hint.

That aside, the production’s kind of abysmal – very trebly with almost no bass or room ambience. “Volume” was the word that kept springing to mind, but not in the base sense of “turn it up/down” – more in a sense of space, or the absence thereof. It sounds like they were stuffed inside a cardboard box or something, it’s too compact and confined with zero room to breathe.

You do get a bit of the dark, singsongy feel of Manes in one portion of “likdans”, but it’s all too brief a diversion before heading back off into speed and atonalityville. Again, the Watain influence is overbearing, and fucks the works for any old school intentions the band was reaching to unearth.

Now, look, it’s definitely black metal, and definitely listenable for fans of the old school Norwegian-driven second wave…albeit without much of a Norwegian feel to it (again, think Finland, with strong elements of Sweden and possibly some Poland instead).

But for what they claim to be aiming to evoke?

Missed the mark by a good 600 miles.

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Vukari – Divination (Bindrune Recordings) (August 1)

Chicago based ambient electronic act.

Just kidding, that’s only on “divination I”, “ad delirium I” and the first half of
“ad delirium II”.  The rest of the time, they’re working the “post black metal” thing, all tremelo guitars against the sort of dreamy open space thing that Will Sargeant and Robert Smith used to specialize in.

Contemplative and sorta atmospheric. Works well enough for the type, though I can’t claim it stood out in any way.

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Panopticon – Revisions Of The Past (Nordvis Produktion / Bindrune Recordings) (July 29)

Lush, mournful and meditative post-black metal with crazed, extremely busy nigh-prog drumming playing against tempo.

It shortly breaks into full on black metal mode, retaining the wild drumming and multitracked, layered and reverbed alt-style guitars, but kicking in with angry distorted rhythm guitar and more closely matching the drum meter.

Then all of a sudden, you’re there with muted acoustic strumming, bongos and out of tune player piano, like you’re in some beatnik variant of a Kurt Weill barroom…then it turns all prog rock, complete with clean arpeggiated guitar lines.

This is all one 12m track, folks.

And so it plays out, albeit in somewhat less pronouncedly dramatic of a shifting fashion, throughout the course of “On the Subject of Mortality”, which is without question the reason to grab this reissue. Apparently it’s a dramatic remaster from the original version, though I can’t comment on that one.

The second disc, “Social Disservices”, apparently is also a remaster, but the sound on this one is more raw and forbidding if not repellent, so I’d hate to have heard the original! Seriously, this one’s hissy and poorly recorded, period, losing most if not all of the atmospherics and dramatic boldness of the first disc.

I really liked the “On the Subject of Mortality” material, which pushes towards that sort of ambient melancholic leaning strain of black metal the Quebecois scene gravitates to.

That said, it’s a mixed verdict.

While it’s definitely worth grabbing this one for the aforementioned, disc 2 is afflicted by awful production and whether as a consequence of same or due to changes in the orientation of the band and its sound in the interim between these two releases, falls flat on its ass by comparison.

Get it for disc 1.

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Falsifier – Life in Death EP  (Artery Recordings)
FREE RELEASE TO ALL

Artery Recordings picks up Ontario, Canada’s Falsifier’s debut EP and offers it free to all comers, right here: http://smarturl.it/34gamm

Overly detuned aggro with soundbytes from serial killers tossed in for good measure. Anselmo and Pantera go more death metal, and underground blackened aggro cum death metal at that – no self respecting death metal band would tune that low, lean that atonal or work that thunka-thunka neanderthal riffing thing.

May well appeal to the extremely pissed off and/or hormonally raging pimply teenager – this is pretty angry shit.

For my part, though?

My great-uncle used to have a saying.

“Anything you get for nothing’s worth just that.”

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Set On End – The Dark Beyond (Artery Recordings) (July 29)

Speaking of aggro, here we have a band that melds aggro-screamo vox with a busy atonal thing that falls somewhere between “groove”, “nu metal” and “tech death”. The guitars just keep moving, without ever saying anything or falling into a proper harmonization – forget melody, what’s that?

Especially on tracks like “dissent”, it’s like a bunch of buzzing bees. Even when they slow things down (“cimmerian shade”, for example), there’s all this polytonality building up to a teeth gritting crescendo.

You have to wonder if they’re deliberately setting out to be annoying, like how “Terminator X” used to sample tea kettle whistles to incite the listener to
violence and riot back in the heyday of Public Enemy.

A whole lot of motion and business without actually going anywhere or saying anything.

Those pining for that sweet whine and sudden twinge of intense pain you get from the dentist drill, don’t walk, RUN to grab this one.

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Arkadia – Aspirations & Reality (Inverse Records) (June 17)

You know, one of the bands the band claims as inspiration is Amorphis, and you can definitely see that.

While not as deep throated as Amorphis was back in their Karelian Isthmus heyday, there’s the same oddness, the same strong feel of traditionalism and arguably folk-origin melody throughout.

The playing is strong, the clean vocals are pleasant enough, the growl vox are inoffensive (though hardly standout in the annals of death metal…an argument which could equally apply to Amorphis, for that matter!) and they even pull in some unusual touches like a grinding death metal guitar and drum duet with…acoustic classical piano!?! Better yet, it works, and quite well at that.

What’s most fascinating is that over the course of Aspirations & Reality, Arkadia starts sounding more and more like a traditional metal band (leaning somewhat power metal in many respects)…just with more aggression and those deep death metal vox.

Strange as shit, but it works so well, flows so well, is played so well and proves so unexpectedly well constructed in terms of songwriting – and this, given all the disparate elements being dragged kicking and screaming inside the course of each track! – that you really won’t give a damn in the end.

Well played, gentlemen. Well played.

A force to be reckoned with. Horns up, to be sure.

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Disclarity – What Will Be Left (Inverse Records) (June 17)

Modern metal, complete with atrocious aggro vox and lunkheaded “groove”/nu metal touches. At least that crap is integrated into a larger structure that borders traditional metal if not dark radio pop (in the emo/metalcore meets “dark metal” vein).

The dark melodic and traditional elements offset the negatives considerably, the playing is good throughout and the production is actually quite well done overall…just lose the screamo vocalist, guys.

Has potential to be sure.

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Sintax – Sway For A Better Day (Inverse Records) (June 17)

Israeli act that appropriates elements of thrash and death metal but feels more like…

OK, you know how Megadeth and Metallica ceased being thrash bands right around 1990 or thereabouts? You know, after And Justice For All and Rust In Peace, respectively?

Yeah, now you know that weird sorta traditional metal, sorta just plain crap that they’ve been playing ever since?

Yeah, that’s what Sintax is shooting for, and what they fairly successfully emulate.

The musicianship’s fine, the production’s actually kind of nice (I loved that early Loudness Rockman-style tone on the rhythm guitars – think “four more years” for an example, then compare to, say, Thunder in the East to see what I mean)…but the vox are somewhere between modern day Hetfield by way of Mustaine’s whiny intonations and a vague touch of Anselmo. Can you say “ugh”?

Hard to review something like this – the band is more than competent, the production’s not bad…but both singer and the sound they’re trying to ape really fucks the works.

Give it a listen and see where you stand. May be your new favorite band, if you think Youthanasia or The Black Album are killer “thrash” albums instead of the dustbin refuse non-thrash records they actually are.

I’ll close by agreeing wholeheartedly with the band that “making sense is not politically correct.”

Amen.

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Iron Imperium – Dead Ahead (Inverse Records) (June 1)

There’s a strong Enforcer vibe to this single, with a lot of modern feel and production masking a deeper allegiance to (very) late 80’s Hollywood glam as filtered through, say, “electric crown” era Testament.

The solo was well phrased and handled modulation nicely (none of that annoying Bon Jovi/Skid Row transpose up one whole tone children’s crap here) and there’s a lot of D-A-D and their ilk to the bounce vibe throughout, but with a post-Legacy, perhaps post-New Order Chuck Billy style vocal approach, clean(ish) but gravel-growled (sorta).

Good stuff, and kind of what I was referring to in my review of Hellsworn elsewhere in this month’s reviews – taking influence from the masters, but still managing to give us something that feels “new”.

Looking forward to a full length.

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Denominate – Those Who Beheld The End (Inverse Records)

Well produced death metal with light progressive/tech tendencies. The drumming is pretty crazed, with changes coming so fast and furious and at such a high speed you have to wonder if the guy’s snorting crack.

They work a dual vocal thing, but it’s not quite Carcass or Napalm Death style – the one’s deep, but not that deep, the other’s more like a sprechtgesang of a croak – and they trade verses back and forth with surprising regularity.

OK, let’s make this really weird…they only list one vocalist.

Is this guy possessed or something?

Anyway, it’s got crisp, if pretty damn off kilter production that favors a bass pedal on wet Saran Wrap sound and forefronts the drums without allowing any body to them – it’s all thin as rice paper. The guitars are also pretty clear, with lead lines and old school-oriented but still pretty damn atonal solos fairly forefronted in the mix alongside or just under the drums.

The guitars otherwise are middle-thin and work dual lines – think Chuck and James Murphy on Spiritual Healing – but never as thick and forbidding as you’d expect from death metal per se. But it works, nonetheless.

Overall, I guess I sort of…liked isn’t the right word, but appreciated what they were going for here. The musicianship is decent and deliberately complex without really going too far into the annoying “tech death”, “math metal” or “djent” arenas. It’s very much Death in the transitional Spiritual Healing period, where they’re still worth hearing and haven’t quite tripped the wire into nonsensical bullshit yet.

There are things that could easily be picked apart here on all ends: stylistic leanings, crazed to the point of being too loose musicianship on the drum end, bizarre if essentially crisp production and mixing.

But taken as a whole?

May not be what I prefer to hear when it comes to death metal, but I have to admit:

Not bad.

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Mustan Kuun Lapset – Kuolemanvirta (Inverse Records) (June 15)

Damn, this is really good!

Somewhere between Pagan, Viking and black metal lies Mustan Kuun Lapset, who marry excellent production, lilting folkish melodicism, occasional keyboards, raw blackened vocals (which lean more death metal on the live tracks) and tremelo riffing (on the live “kuka palvoo saatanaaa” anyway) to come out with a decidedly winning mix that approximates the majesty and effectiveness of Primordial or Manegarm without ever truly fitting into a given genre with any degree of comfort.

It’s sort of all over the place, but all of it works. And while the two studio tracks are necessarily more likeable than the pair of live ones (the last of which leans far more towards black metal or at least blackened death than the three songs prior), it. all. works.

Looks like this is some sort of comeback, the band’s first since ’07. Welcome back, then.

Looking forward to a full length.

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Atomikylä – Keräily (Svart Records) (April 29)

OK, picture the nastiest, gnarliest black metal snarls you can imagine.

Then tag in a sort of dark, nigh-blackened underground throbbing guitar/drum/bass thing, with trippy psychedelic leanings.

Then at points, have it go full on underground doom cum death metal…then pull it back and make it sort of clean guitar postpunk Arabian, like some ersatz take on the Pink Panther theme music. Then push it back towards some weird experimental variant of modern black metal.

Say what the fuck?

Don’t ask me. Can’t say I liked it at all, but it was kinda fascinating in its sheer fucked-upness.

Weird shit.

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Dominhate – Emissaries of Morning (Lavadome Productions) (April 22)

Speaking of detuned, atonal blackened death metal…

Bowel-deep death metal vox buried in the mix behind a busily buzzing tremelo line driven guitar and drums that alternate between black metal blastbeats and death metal double bass and kitwork propelled business.

Well, it’s fast and dark, and leans a bit closer to death metal than a lot of what falls under the “blackened death” genre header, but it’s still not what I consider either black or death.

Once again, we come back to the same point.

Think of it like going out for a night on the town with your pals barhopping.

BE CAREFUL WHEN YOU MIX…be it drinks or genres…or you’ll seriously regret it in the morning.

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Heretique (Poland) – De Non Exisentia Dei (Via Nocturna (Poland) (March 26)

Another one like Denominate, where they claim one vocalist, but there’s all this switching back and forth between guttural Pagan/nigh-death belches and Mitch Harris/Jeff Walker-like snarls.

The band themselves are too detuned and claustrophobic (seriously, the sound feels “close” in an uncomfortable sense…where the hell’s the ambience, the room for all this crazed business to breathe?) to do anything for me, but again, the solo sections and the Carcass cum Napalm vox scream death metal.

Not sure the rest of the riffing really does, though there are points that feel sorta Demolition Hammer (“dying in hate”, “czarna polewka”).

Again, not what I was looking for or expecting.

May work for the less discriminating.

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Macabra (International) – To the Bone (Morbid Visions Music/Vonfrost Records)  (July 1)

Well, there’s Dan Seagrave cover art, though that’s not readily apparent from the fairly generic scene he chose to portray here.

They claim to be trying to evoke old school death metal, but not in any form most folks would recognize or conjure to mind in so noting. Promo materials make comparisons to Convulse and Demilich, and that’s not far off the mark – there’s a decided Finnish death feel to this.

The strangest part, beyond the nontraditional riffing, is the inclusion of keyboards. What the fuck is this, Nocturnus?

Strange, off kilter and not what you’d expect…but the vocals are dead on, production isn’t half bad and while it’s hardly old school death metal in any sense you’d expect or wish for, it does appropriate something of that feel of strangeness and (gasp) newness, like you’ve just discovered something totally unlike anything you’d encountered to date.

And there’s something positive to be said for that, however decidedly middling the impression left by the album itself.

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Infernal Diatribe (Kolkata, India) – Videha Mukti EP (Transcending Obscurity Distribution)  (June 20)

Some truly grim black metal vocals and some Watainish atonal guitar noodling with occasional explosions into more of a Marduk-style modern black metal speediness.

At times the pace is funereal, and the band allows their music plenty of space to breathe, with the drummer, subjectively speaking, appearing to fall back on the usual crutch of blastbeats a lot less than usual.

A second listen showed he used them often enough, but only for short bursts, alternating with triggered double bass high speed flourishes and a whole lot of midtempo kitwork. Not a “perfect” approach, but an interesting one, and one that falls outside the “same old, same old” bullshit we get over and over from one band after another of late.

What’s most interesting here is that the band comes straight outta India, with promo materials bringing up the aghori…seekers and “holy men” who like ghouls haunt graveyards (and according to at least one source I’ve encountered, are further known to be mad eaters of the dead they choose to spend their time with – take the veracity of that one as you will).   Like I said, fascinating.

I for one wasn’t expecting to find a black metal so aggressive and “true” feeling coming from below the equator…and call me a tad provincial, but particularly not from the swarthy climes of India.

Looking forward to hearing more from these guys, because between all the little surprises aforementioned, musical, ostensibly lyrical and otherwise…I thought this was pretty fucking awesome.

Raise the horns.

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Nuisible (France) – Inter Feces et Urinam Nascimur (Deadlight Entertainment (France) (June 23)

Discharge goes a bit more metal. Still the same d-beat alternating snare and bass drum, still the growly sprechtgesang vocals and simplistic to a fault “lyrics” (sloganeering may be more appropriate a descriptor in this case).

The only difference is more of a crunchy, thrash metal-style distortion on the guitars and some busy lead lines every now and again (“forest fire”).

At other points, they appropriate hints of black metal (the tremelo riffing bits on “night wanderer”, the blastbeat driven “norsecore” bits of “proletarian hung”) or classic Swedish death metal (the very Dismember-esque “out come the wolves”, “reign of confusion”), but it’s Discharge to which they cling the tightest and most consistently.

Your call on this. GBH was a bit too dumbo for me – the Exploited is about as Oi (much less “crust”) as I go on the punk end.

Discharge only sounds good in Metallica covers…and considering the band was well past their prime when they recorded said homages, that’s really saying something.

And let’s not even get into the translation of the Latin here.

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(EchO) (Italy) – Head First into Shadows (BadMoodMan Productions (Solitude Productions subsidiary) (May 23)

More mellow, sorta gothic darkwave, sorta dreampop “post black metal”. The vocals alternate between a less breathy Vile Valo sort of thing and some Paradise Lost-style gargle-grunt “death doom” vox.

You can sorta see why members of Ahab drop in for a guest spot, as it leans progressive doom (not too far removed from where that band was heading with The Giant and The Boats of the Glen Carrig – particularly on the similarly aquatic themed “beneath this lake”). “Gone” even pushes somewhat into Cynic territory, albeit more in respect to mood and tonality than in technique.

Playing’s not bad either, especially on Paolo Copeta’s drum end (which does lean more than a touch progressive with all the turnarounds and changes in and playing against meter).

It’s not bad at all, just doesn’t have that certain something that grabs ya like, say, My Silent Wake or the aforementioned Ahab.

Think of Ech0 as the sort of thing you look into when jonesing for the next album from one of your favorite symphonic/prog leaning death-doom acts, more than one you’d gravitate towards on its own merits.

I dug it well enough. Give it a spin and see what you think.

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Nogrod (Guwahati, India) – Abstruce Dismal EP (self released) (May 13)

Well, the promo materials dredge up comparisons to Behemoth, Belphegor and Immortal. Not the sort of thing you see very often, particularly in relation to a desi act. But does it hold true?

Well, yeah, there are definite signifiers that align Nogrod into the same school as (post their black metal days, and therefore sorta meh) Behemoth and (the somewhat more laudable) Belphegor:

  • The black metal snarls alternating with (or paired against) more gargling death metal ones,
  • The Swedish BM-style riffing (think Dark Funeral or Watain more than Marduk or Dissection, but you get the idea),
  • The death metal orientation towards double bass and kitwork over blastbeats (though here are tracks like “reign of the fallen” that trip the line straight into full on “norsecore” at points),
  • and most importantly, the sense of symphonic drama (see also peak Nemesis Divina-era Satyricon or even Cradle of Filth). Sorry, guys, not a whisper of Immortal in there.

I’ve liked all of those bands to some degree over the years, and strongly disliked all of those bands in other respects and periods, so it’s a mixed bag as to whether this would work with me or no.

That said, I’m proud to deliver a raised thumb (or more apropos, horns) to these guys – there was a lot more going on here that resonated than there was a regurgitation of the flaws of the aforementioned bands (Behemoth post-Grom, DF post-Swano and pre-Shadows, Watain post-Lawless Darkness and their many zombie clones, Marduk at several points in their long career of revolving door vocalists, CoF post- Cruelty…and for the record, Immortal post-Blizzard Beasts, though they have absolutely nothing to do with the sound Nogrod evokes). To make a long story short, it just worked.

There seem to be a crop of surprisingly worthy contenders coming up in the Indian metal scene of late.

I feel quite assured in adding Nogrod to that list.

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Fractured Insanity (Belgium) – Man.Made.Hell  (Xtreem Music (Spain) (April 15)

Ugh. The sort of “modern death metal” that falls a fuck of a lot closer to straight up aggro than it ever does death…

Picture the worst aggro or metalcore vocalist you can think of. You know, something along the lines of Madball, where it sounds like some fat constipated guy trying to squeeze one out on the crapper after eating too much starch.

Got the mental image? Picked a band yet?

OK, here’s a soundalike, but with blastbeat-driven (say huh? This ain’t black metal, guy…) sorta aggro, sorta “blackened” approach to…I hesitate to even call this “death metal”, it’s more like the shit they play on WSOU.

BLUUURGGHH UHHHHH GRRRUUHHHH (frantic blastbeats and double bass, uber-generic riffing)

Cue flipping the station…or in this case, changing albums.

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Paganizer (Sweden) – On the Outskirts of Hades MCD (Transcending Obscurity Records) (August 1) 

On the other hand, here we have a band who very clearly is playing death metal in the Swedish vein – not really Sunlight Studios style, but more oriented towards Gothenburg, or at least At the Gates, in all the crazed noisiness and tremelo riffing of it.

There are some Dismember-like riffs (“adjacent to purgatory”), but the production is hissy, treble-afflicted and thin, which when combined with the busy, sorta leaning black metal lead line tremelo schmutters, it’s far more Slaughter of the Soul or In the Embrace of Evil than Left Hand Path or Pieces.

Fair enough for what they’re shooting for, but the grumpy old man declamatory belch-vox and perfectly awful production leave this release more than a bit wanting.

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Infinitum Obscure (Mexico) – Infernal Dark Force (Death Elite) (June 10)

Death metal from south of the border. Think they’ll be the house band at your local Trump rally? That’d be a sight to see, I tell ya…

It’s more indebted to black metal than death per se, but there’s enough of an authentic feel to lump Infinitum Obscure in with acts like Necrophobic or Centurian, at least in spirit if not in specific technique.

There are definite elements in the solos, riffing and Sepultura-like spat grunt (and occasional nigh-Tom G. Warrior choke-grunted) vocal sections that say “oh, yeah, these guys are death metal for sure”…but the busy tremelo riffing, the dissonant atonality and the more snarling, gargling vocal sections just as clearly spell black metal.

Not bad at all for a hybrid of two genres that really don’t belong together, complete with solos that, while kinda off the cuff and sloppy, bring Slayer, Morbid Angel and even (in tempo and shifting dynamics more than any degree of skill) James Murphy to mind.

Not a fan of crossing two such distinct genres – you always wind up sounding like a half assed version of one of ’em and very little like the other.

But given what they’re striving for here, Infinitum Obscure is pretty damn decent.  I’ll give ’em a nod of respect, at the least.

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Wired Anxiety (India) – ‘The Delirium of Negation’ EP (Transcending Obscurity Distribution) (August 1)

Modern thrash, really, but with aggro-growly vox.

They self-identify as death metal for whatever reason, though neither the hyperactive thrash-style riffing or the crazed new land speed record contender drumming support this – the vocals and an occasional death-style tremelo riff now and again are all you get to bolster that claim.

It’s not until “severe comorbidity” that you get a riff that feels a bit Gorguts or perhaps even Malevolent Creation (that whole ascending arpeggiated thing in the bridge), but the overall feel is more modern day Exumer by way of modern day Onslaught crossed with, oh, let’s say Meshuggah.

I’d have appreciated more of a death metal feel, whether in the riffing, vocals, solos (were there any to be found? I didn’t notice ’em…), drumming or production (which is really bad, by the way – all hiss and foot pedals slapping against wet pie tins TIPPA TIPPA TIP).

Not my thing. Those inclined towards modern thrash, aggro or the less orthodox bastardizations of death metal may find a lot more merit here than I did, they’re certainly busy players and aggressive as shit.

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Ashcloud – Children of the Chainsaw (Xtreem Music)  (May 1)

Swedish/British act with supposed “scene veterans” you’ve probably never heard of.

It’s extremely poorly produced, except for the vocals (?!?) – all hiss and grind on the guitars and tippa-tappa CSHHH CSHHH drums, but the vox are pretty clear for all the death growl-belches that they are.

I think they’re shooting for something of a Carnage/Dismember vibe here with the HM-2 guitar tone, but it’s so badly produced, and their lead line harmonies are so weird and Amorphis-like, you’d never really be able to make that association stick.

Wasn’t impressed in the least, though I will admit this was heavily skewed by the dogshit production.

With a real producer, these guys coulda been a contender in the retro-Sunlight sweepstakes.

Who knows, maybe next time around.

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Chalice of Suffering – For You I Die (Times End Records) (July 8)

Rather slow and brooding symphonic leaning doom, with some sort of an unofficial moratorium on vocals, which appear only sporadically throughout the album’s six rather lengthy compositions.

More often, mainman John McGovern will just declaim conversation voiced oratory to the listener, like a half in the bag barroom politician getting on a soapbox for the benefit of his fellow drinkers. Hey, can you croon us a round of “Danny Boy” while you’re up there, mate?

Nothing wrong with this, particularly if you’re a fan of the Paradise Lost/My Dying Bride/My Silent Wake school of (over)dramatic doom. Hell, he even throws tin whistle and bagpipes into the proceedings at points, and all of this does certainly set a (rather contemplative if not depressive) mood, so achievement unlocked.

But was I particularly excited about this? Did it really stand out or set me on fire in any respect?

Nah.

Fair enough, if unspectactular.

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Somnium Nox (Australia) – Apocrypha (May 30)

A long, boldly dramatic build to what sadly winds up being yet another checkmark in the seemingly endless ongoing list of Watain wannabes…but wait, there’s more to it than that.

This release consists of a single 16m track from this Aussie black metal act, which has elements that hint at more originality than tends to come across en toto.

There are sequences that lean more experimental, others that feel a touch progressive, still others that feel quite expansive and bombastic. There are bits that scream “post black metal”, and others that feel vaguely In the Heart of Winter-era Immortal or perhaps even Nemesis Divina-era Satyricon. And they throw a bit of digeridoo in there towards the end.

I’m going to give this one a contemplative “hmmm…” for the intro and second half of its running time…if only they’d lose the snooze-inducing and seemingly omnipresent Watainisms of the first half, we’d have a much more interesting act on our hands here.

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Kuolemanlaakso – M. Laakso – Vol. 1: The Gothic Tapes  (Svart Records) (August 26)

We’d previously reviewed Kuolemanlaakso’s odd Tulijoutsen on its release a few years back, and found it a strange mix of doom and death marked by clean baritone vocals alternating with death growls.

But even with the expectation that this would likely continue their genre-blending “borderless metal” approach, who the hell was expecting a Floodland-era Sisters of Mercy by way of Elizium-era Fields of the Nephilim? It wouldn’t be out of hand to pull in a touch of Irreligious-era Moonspell as well…suffice to say this is a more particularly gothic rock leaning metallic affair (with vague hints of industrial, pop or even the more “mainstream” strains of black metal) than last time around.

The fact that Secession (of “sneakyville” fame) comes to mind at multiple points herein really says something. While M. Laakso vol. 1 is far too straightforwardly “metal” in orientation to be properly classified as gothic, it’s of an even darker vein than gothic metal tends to be, with all the signifiers falling squarely within the outer reaches of goth proper.

I liked it, quite a bit in fact.

Those jonesing for the “just over the hill/jump the shark” days of Messrs. Eldritch and McCoy should find themselves quite chuffed.

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CENTINEX – Doomsday Rituals (Agonia Records) (July 8)

Surprisingly, after the excellent Redeeming Filth two years back (which we quite justifiably praised as a breath of fresh air in the all too pallid death metal arena of today), Centinex returns with a poorly produced, sorta generic followup.

Marred considerably by a hissy, everything in your face at the same time production that leaves the guitars sounding like a grinding blur and limits the audible drums to a sloshy, playing against tupperware in the rain-style double bass, snare and cymbal crashes, Doomsday Rituals drives ahead in more of a modern metal style than its predecessor.

The riffing is still sorta traditional and recognizably old school, but the overall feel is decidedly...not.  I could see Centinex diehards just snapping this one up and appily moshing along, but even they’d have to admit something’s missing here…and while that certainly puts a terrible smear over everything the band’s trying to do here (think of those jerkoffs who “wash your windows” with a filthy rag, then try to charge you to clean it off), it’s not entirely down to an incompetent production staff. Something’s not quite right.

Look, they’re veteran Swedish death metallers, and just came off a big win two years back. They’re entitled to a misstep.

But good God, fire that fucking producer and get this thing remastered already!

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Black Fucking Cancer – S/T (Osmose Productions) (June 24)

Well inside the first few seconds, it was dead obvious that this was a US based wannabe rather than the Norwegian or Swedish affair they’re so obviously trying to imitate. The sound is very modern black metal with a strong “norsecore” basis, but the name was too obnoxiously on the nose, the atmosphere entirely absent.

In short, within seconds of “a sigil of burning flesh” it becomes quite apparent that this is was no Nordic band. There’s none of the “majesty of the nightsky” and allegorical peans to the wilderness and winter weather. There’s none of the grim, foggy evocations of days long past, which likely never were. In fact, there’s just nothing.

Entirely missing the strong points of USBM – the trad metal melodicism, the “biker band” aesthetic, the intense dedication to perpetuating the musical legacy of Motorhead, Bathory and Venom shared by bands as diverse as Judas Iscariot, Maax, Grand Belial’s Key and Nunslaughter.

In short…it just doesn’t fucking work.

1349 gets namechecked in the promo materials, and that sorta fits…picture a much lesser take on a band that’s already in the lower echelons of the “norsecore” modern BM arena, and you’ll probably have something much akin to this.

Aptly named band, and about as welcome.

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Violent Scum – Festering in Endless Decay TAPE (Blood Harvest) (June 24)

Chilean blackened death metal. Their fellow countrymen Pentagram are mentioned as a touchpoint in the promo materials, but it’s nowhere near as sinister as that band’s patented variety of blackened thrash.

The production’s strange and leans towards the lousy end of the spectrum, with the sorta snarled belch vox and some seriously annoying INRI-era Sarcofago style drums shoved right up front in the mix.

It sounds “evil” enough and definitely leans more (blackened) death than the blackthrash South America is best noted for, but think more along the lines of Grotesque than the expected Sunlight or Morrisound schools thereof.

Not bad, really, but you’ve heard this all before, and done better at that.

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Ossuary Insane – Possession of the Flesh LP (Blood Harvest) (July 29)

First in an apparent series of reissues of an obscure Minnesota black-leaning death metal act in the vein of, you guessed it, Grotesque (hey, who the hell else was doing this sort of thing back then outside of a few very different sounding bands in the Morrisound scene like Deicide and Morbid Angel?).

This is a weird compilation, taking 5/6 of their 2005 “soundtrack to human extermination” demo and adding some (apparently previously unreleased) 2001 versions on essentially the same material.

I did like the sound on the 2001 tracks better than their later, somewhat more studio polished iterations from the 2005 demo, but it’s all of a piece: Pete Sandoval goes black metal-style blastbeat and hyperspeed drumming, loud, double tracked death growl-belches vaguely similar to later Deicide and twisting (but often barely audible beneath the drums and vox) riffing that has Kristian Wahlin all over it.

It’s not bad, definitely has a lot of the old school death metal in its flourishes and obvious inspirations, but that’s more of a “here and there” thing than taken as a whole, where it leans more “blackened”.

I liked when they slowed things down a bit and got into a proper death metal groove (as in the midpoint on “hell city”), and noted touches of Deicide, Terrorizer, Suffocation, Malevolent Creation and Immolation popping up in one minor phrase or inflection every so often, so I’m hardly going to slag this one – it’s “true enough” in the end, despite all the weird diversions into la la land.

But I can’t say I particularly liked it either, and would hesitate to shelve it with my death metal collection proper…it’s just too far over to the black/death end of the equation for my tastes.

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PROFANATICA – The Curling Flame of Blasphemy (CD, LP, TAPE) (Hells Headbangers) (July 22)

Former Revenant and Incantation sticksman Paul Ledney returns with yet another slab of…well, profane blasphemy.

Trying to evoke both better days and material by offering a Dawn of Possession-lite on the cover (which ain’t so bad a bit of artwork in and of itself), this one finds Ledney slowing things down a bit and delivering an album filled with menacing midtempo riffs bolstered by a whole lot of extended snarl-growls.

In fact, it wouldn’t be too shabby, if not for Ledney’s own uber-simplistic drumming (literally four on the floor snare that alternates between a right on the meter POUND POUND POUND POUND and a sub-blastbeat POUNDPOUNDPOUNDPOUND – that’s it.  No variation, no rolls, no fancy footwork, nothing. That’s all you get.), the overly detuned guitars (how Incantation of them) and the usual gag me with a spoon blah blah hate God blah blah rah Satan aren’t we evil bullshit that every metal band outside of power metal seems to think is de rigeur these days. Hell, even Anthrax started using frigging pentagrams on their covers. I mean, seriously?

Bo-ring…

Anyway, I never walk into a Ledney affair expecting anything much, so the fact that this didn’t instantly piss me off really says something. I’m not sure what, but something. 

It’s either better than other Profanatica releases that passed my way or I’ve just given up on the guy entirely, like a father tired of scolding an unruly child who just won’t get the hint.

Yeah, sure, whatever, just don’t beat on your sister.

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NUKE – S/T (CD, LP)  (Hells Headbangers) (July 22)

Damn, I love the riffing on this one! Promo materials claim it sounds like it could’ve come out on Combat back in the day, and while true, I’d add Noise and New Renaissance to that sentiment.

The only weak element here is the growly-snarl vox from Shitfucker’s Ritchie Riot, which while not the worst in and of themselves, are mixed way the hell to the front and given plenty of old school reverb. Nice touch, except that the guitars and drums get buried way in the back behind ’em…

This is really raw, punkified old school thrash that practically screams Teutonic blackened thrash (early Kreator, Destruction, Sodom) with touches of Mustaine-era Metallica and Baloff-era Exodus, but a hell of a lot more underground in feel than any of those bands at their gnarliest. Then they go all (early) Iron Maiden galloping dual leads on “dead space”…go figure, but it works.

Nice stuff, just needs to push the guitars up alongside if not a touch in front of
Riot’s vox next time around.

I dug it.

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DENOUNCEMENT PYRE – Black Sun Unbound (CD, LP) (Hells Headbangers) (July 22)

And yet another black death affair. The drumming leans pretty far into death, the vocals fall somewhere between the two genres, the guitars are leaning pretty close to black metal in the more modern Watain school of
“occult metal”.

At least it’s not another slavish copycat – overall, it’s slower paced than the usual and leaves plenty of negative space.

Quirky, in other words, if still easily recognizable as “heavily inspired by”. I’m not sure what the hell they’re shooting for here, honestly.

Whatever.

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ARPHAXAT – Ex Inferis (12″ MLP) (Hells Headbangers) (July 22)

Reissue of an obscure one-shot French blackened thrash outfit’s only demo.

Hissy, really shit recording makes this one a tough slog, to say the least.

Did anything happen? Or was it all one long vacuum cleaner of whiny trebly hissing noise?

Thank the heavens above (or hell below, if you prefer) that it’s only three tracks.

Och, my ears…

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Shataan – Weigh of the Wolf LP (Iron Bonehead) (July 29)

Volahn associates falling under that Mexi-American Black Twilight Circle banner.

Essentially, it boils down to this: production sucks and most everything sounds alike, like one long track filled with hissy, simplistic drumming (CHH-CHH-CHH-CHH-CHH throughout, nonstop) and fairly basic descending riffs under slightly growly sprechtgesang vocals.

Whatever.

Next…

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Temple Nightside – The Hecatomb CD/LP (Iron Bonehead) (August 5)

That sort of underground death metal that takes elements of doom (and in particular, funeral doom) and black metal, yet manages to be neither.

Detuned, sorta atonal, heavily reverbed and extremely sluggish, where most “vocals” consist of some guy going BLUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUURRRRRGGGGGHHHHH for about 4 bars at a pop, over and over. Label-happy types seem to have dubbed this “sepulchral”.

Nothing wrong with it, the production’s certainly clear and decidedly cold feeling, and it’s a lot closer to death than black or doom, by a Missouri mile. I was certainly able to listen to this, and was quite comfortable with leaving it running as background music for the day.

But is there really anything going on beyond some grim atmosphere, sustained over about 9 tracks?

Not really.

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Celestial Grave – Burial Ground Trance TAPE (Iron Bonehead) (July 22)

Finnish black metal act. They decidedly draw from the strengths of their national BM heritage, with the sort of grim melodicism and raw old school “true” second wave blackness of bands like Satanic Warmaster, Clandestine Blaze and Horna.

As such, this was right up my alley, and warmed the cockles of this seasoned black heart.

A new favorite, no bones about it. Can’t wait for a full length.

Horns raised in profound salute.

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Blood Chalice – Demo 2016 (Signal Rex) (July 8)

Really raw, gargle-vox driven and pointedly “evil” blackened thrash from Finland, once again with supposed “scene veterans” you’ve probably never heard of.

Coulda fooled me, this is as USBM as they come (think Nunslaughter or anything Paul Ledney – particularly given the horrible, simplistic blastbeat-driven drums).

Even the riffs are kinda doofy (that spastic march on “saint fornicator” will either make you spit out your coffee laughing or piss you off really fast).

Could work if you’re just looking for something to piss the folks, neighbors or girlfriend off. “Ugh, that’s horrible! How do you listen to that devil worshipping noise?

Yeah, with releases like this, I raise that question myself.

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Segregación Primordial – I  (Signal Rex) (July 8)

Chilean blackened death metal act. It’s got raw-throated, croaking vocals and aggressive, tremelo-based riffing with lousy blastbeat-driven drumming (though he does throw in some rolls and double bass every now and again to prove he may actually have taken a lesson or two at some point in life).

Very in your face, but doesn’t have that special something that makes bands from early Sepultura and Vulcano through stuff like Sextrash and Holocausto actually work.

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Snorri – Putrid Black Fucking Metal (Signal Rex) (July 8)

Aussie black metal, but it’s so fucking raw and evil sounding, it sounds more “true” than most of their ilk.

I guess if you think Horde, remove the religious orientation and make the production shitty enough to bleed signal into the red zone throughout (there were literal crackles running throughout…and I’m talking iPod headphones, not well-worn vinyl)…oh, and then throw on wayyyyyy too much reverb and slap echo…you’d have Snorri.

Hardly something I’d run towards, but may be listenable enough for fans of early Bathory and Graveland, if not the aforementioned Horde.

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Death Courier – EP and Demo LP  (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (August 15)

Death Courier – Demise LP (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (August 15)

Death Courier’s Demise is an oddly produced but recognizably Greek take on black metal – think earlier Rotting Christ, but perhaps mixed with Italy’s Mortuary Drape for sheer weirdness and tone.

The mix is pretty clear and “dead” sounding (no ambience or reverb, all mids, very in your face), with vocals and some rather muted-sounding drums (they sort of go “POP POP POP THUD THUD”) shoved right up against the speaker.

The guitars are buried a bit to the rear, and have more clarity and body, with a vague digital processing/pedal or rig setup sound coming through loud and clear.  When they give the bass a rare phrase, it’s also rather muted and pops and thuds like the drums. Like I said, weird production…but like my feelings on early Rotting Christ, a likeably weird one.

There’s enough of a Sakis and Themis Tolis vibe to this to call it a win-win.

The EP is more in your face and crunchy with a treble leaning towards digital bleed at higher volumes, but still with that “dead toned” sound. Interestingly, it may feel “better produced” in some respects, just by adding that touch of crispness that the album lacked!

But that’s arguable. What isn’t is that the guitars are more up front this time around, there’s more crispness and snap to the drums and less reverb to the vox, and that the material is just as strong as what you hear on the album. Think of it as the Thy Mighty Contract to Demise’s Passage to Arcturo or perhaps Non Serviam, in terms of the change in production.

Then, of course, you have the Demo…

Noisy rehearsal level nonsense. Almost unlistenable at points, questionable at best.

If these three were separated, it’d be an easy call: by all means, grab yourself a copy of Demise and the EP, and avoid the rehearsal…er, demo like the plague.

As it is, you’ll probably be best served by going for Demise and seeing how it grabs ya…you may well want to invest in the EP and Demo for those extra 3 tracks.

Horns up overall.

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Harakiri for the Sky – III: Trauma (Art of Propaganda) (July 22)

Same story as 2014’s Aokigahara, reviewed here.

Pseudonymous all-round musician “M.S.” takes the time and effort to craft some rich, layered, melodic and emotionally affecting compositions, for which he deserves some serious props.

Unfortunately, once again, he trots out his talentless little pal “J.J.”, who BLEAHH BLEAH BLAAAAH BLA BLEAHHHHHHGGGGGHHH’s all over it. I believe we’d described his contributions as a garnish of shit over chateaubriand last time ’round, and that still pretty much applies.

That said, whether due to the production or becoming a bit more forgiving of certain metalcore acts in recent months (gasp! shudder!), I found myself able to tune this hack’s juvenile tenor screamo vox out more than last time around, and just immerse myself in “M.S.'” masterful sonic pallette.

As such, I’m going to actually give this one the nod.

Seriously.  It’s really good.

Just be warned about the vocals. It’s like finally getting that dream home, hot wife and a Corvette…but getting saddled with some fucking brat kid smearing crayons and chocolate all over your stuff (what they haven’t already broken on you!) as part of the bargain.

You pays your money, you takes your chances, I guess.

Kudos to “M.S.” for not only building such excellent soundscapes…but for his apparent patience in being able to put up with this clown trying to fuck it all up afterwards!

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Pestifere – Hope Misery Death (Eihwaz Recordings) (July 15)

Well, this is a breath of fresh air after wending our way through all those questionable Wraith releases this month!

A proper black metal band in the modern sense, a bit too indebted to the Watain school perhaps, but with enough originality of style and performance to forgive them any allegiances thereto.

There’s a lot of traditional metal band interplay, with stop-starts and thrash-inspired dramatic builds on opener “don’t let the winter take you” before going more straight up modern/”occult” black metal on “cormorant tree” and “peregrine’s timbre”.

“Suffer the day” pulls things into more of a lilting, Taake by way of Satanic Warmaster melodically oriented black metal, “tomb of monumental decay” plays the guitar against meter in an almost tech death manner before returning to a busier lead line-driven affair.

“Mine is a strange prison” feels very early second wave Norwegian in its driving tremelo lead line giving way to grinding riffing, and finally “to those who lost their home” heads straight into Kveldssanger territory with its peaceful acoustic dirge.

Can you tell I really liked this fucking thing?

Sure, it’s not perfect…but it’s a damn sight better than any number of black metal releases discussed this month, and hearkens back to enough of the soul and spirit of what made the genre worth listening to in the first damn place to make Pestifere a worthy contender.

Horns way the fuck up.

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Korgonthurus – Vuohen Siunaus (Woodcut Records) (May 27)

Straight up black metal of the modern, Watain meets Mortuus era Marduk variety.

The best thing Korgonthurus have going for them is the inclusion of the best of the Horna frontmen, Corvus (who helmed the long running “true black metal” Finns during their peak Envaatnags Eflos Solf Esgantaavne through Sonojesi Aarelle era).

Things never really reach that level, nor that of other still-active scene leaders like Gorgoroth, Satanic Warmaster or even Marduk and (gasp!) Dark Funeral (whose latest is so good, it sent me back to reevaluate the EP and at least the Dan Swano Unisound mix of the debut…*), but easily trounce most of the competition in what’s sadly becoming a fairly moribund genre populated by sorry soundalikes and wannabes – something Corvus and Korgonthurus can’t really be accused of.

* the Tatgren mix, and as a consequence, Secrets of the Black Arts, still sucks ass, by the way.  But the EP is killer, and the Unisound mix ain’t so bad…completely different experience, and serves the band much better.

Interestingly, the strongest track here comes courtesy of the nigh-norsecore speed of “Inho”…and trust me, “norsecore” is not a style that I gravitate towards as a rule. “L.U.X” is another strong track, dramatic and lumbering in the sense of the slower side of the aforementioned Marduk, but with more despairing emotiveness to its credit.

While not by any means an “essential” black metal purchase, there’s a lot more merit and authenticity to the feel of Korgonthurus than you tend to get these days, avoiding the in your face “occultism” and slavish regurgitation of the Watain wannabe school while retaining enough of the polish and bipolar racing/lurching of the Swedish sound to be lumped in with that crowd.

But then there’s Corvus’ vox to reckon with – as harsh as Satanic Warmaster, Ormblut or, well, prime-era Horna…and more of a drive and “true cult” feel than Swedish black metallers as a whole seem capable of producing.

I’d be remiss not to give this one a horns up, despite the few reservations noted hereinabove.

 

 

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