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Whew, what an ugly month it’s turned out to be!

With Brexit shaking up European shores and threatening to tear the UK itself apart (maybe it’s time for Scots independence and “the Irish question” to finally be settled, eh?) and the US election turning into ever more absurd of a debacle by the day…

Look, when we have two of the most acknowledgedly detested candidates in U.S. history as the putative “front runners” in the existing (and after this, soon to be defunct) two party system, and both Sanders and Warren turn tail (or is that turncoat?) and ignore their respective principles, voting record and message to stand behind that woman?

Anyone not going full on Jill Stein is out of their fucking gourd.

Just sayin’…

But anyway, tag in all the social unrest, police brutality and an increasingly divided pair of nations (not to mention world), and shit just got ugly any way you want to look at it.

And that kind of fits with the subsequent reviews.  I mean, seriously – forget about the real world crisis point situation we all have to find a way to muddle through.

Because if this month proves nothing else, let its many questionable, atonal, sloppy and misguidedly syncretist releases (particularly, though hardly exclusively, on the black, death and thrash end of the equation) serve as an object lesson:

Before you can subvert a musical language, you have to learn how to play it properly first. 

Sheesh!

So without any further ado, let’s dig in and appreciate those who deserve it…

…because for whatever reason, this month’s chock full to the rafters with those who decidedly don’t!

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Q5 – New World Order (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (July 8)

“We came here to rock” kicks things off as a sort of Brian Johnson-era AC/DC with Saxon’s Biff Byford on vocals. The AC/DC influence becomes far less pronounced in later tracks, but the Saxon one grows accordingly, so it’s more or less a win-win regardless.

Apparently they’d released an album or two back in the early to mid-80s with no less than Floyd rose (of the infamous locking whammy bar setup fame) on guitar, but this is the first I’m hearing of ’em, so take that as you will.

These days, 3/5 of the band are joined by former Fifth Angel drummer Jeff McCormack and a new kid on the block named Dennis Turner for this interestingly driving and reasonably uptempo slice of mid-80’s hard rock/metal underground.

There’s enough of an NWOBHM feel in there to notice, but it’s more of a cross between Saxon, L.A. trad metal and the harder end of radio-friendly AOR. You can certainly make valid comparisons to the non-GNR/LA Guns vein of Hollywood glam (think anything from Roxy Blue and XYZ to Hericane Alice here), but that Saxon-esque sense of drama and pulse leave the band feeling far more Euro than Stateside overall. Hell, “unrequited” even tiptoes into Maiden territory…

Trad rarely gets me excited these days, but this was more than solid and definitely brought me right back to the mid-80’s metal scene. If these guys weren’t (at least in part) veterans, it’s unlikely you’d get an album this solidly constructed and confidently performed, much less authentic in feel.

Definitely worth checking out.

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TRICK OR TREAT – Rabbits’ Hill Pt. 2 (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (July 8)

Helloween much?

Uptempo, typewriter double bass and chugging thrash tremelo-driven riffing with soaring vocals and a strongly uplifting, listener empowerment sort of feel. They even have a sort of tongue in cheek “spooky” Octoberish motif for the band per se.

Did Kiske and Hansen…possibly even longtime Hansen collaborator Piet Sielck get together again after all these years?

Well, no, but there’s a reason Trick or Treat sounds so especially Helloween…they were actually a Helloween tribute band!

Seriously, not making a joke here.

Did I mention Michael Kiske actually guests on the record? How about Sonata Arctica’s Tony Kakko? And how about Judas Priest tribute band Stained Class veteran (and temporary Priest frontman!) Tim “Ripper” Owen? Or that vocalist Alessandro Conti sang on one of the Luca Turilli iteration of Rhapsody‘s albums?

Power metal. These guys stick together.

Or at least shuffle more members than death and thrash acts back in the day…

Oh, and just for weirdness sake, this is actully a concept album based on Watership Down, of all things.

Well, there’s no question these paisano can play with authority and gravitas, the music is bold, dramatic and leaves the listener feeling like they can scale mountains. How Rhapsody (of Fire) of them. Or Edenbridge. Or Iron Savior. Or…well…Helloween.

I guess the closest analogue would be if you mashed up Helloween and Rhapsody (of Fire).

If you dig any of those bands…and if you don’t, what the fuck’s wrong with you, anyway?…you should be well pleased with Trick or Treat.

Raise the horn of plenty and join the victorious warriors at their celebration.

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CRAZY LIXX – Sound of the LIVE Minority (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (July 8)

More Hollywood glam, but very pointedly so – think a cross between Bulletboys and Black N’ Blue, but with Jesper Binzen of D-A-D on vocals. It’s likeable as all get out, and you can pick up a heaping helping of the acts used as touchpoints in our review of Q5 like XYZ and Roxy Blue in their sound, to be sure.

The only oddity here is that this is a live album, which leaves some awkward moments (like the suddenly rushed, quirky key change/transposition near the end of “lock up your daughter”) in situ.

Overall, the band pulls off a fairly emotive and spirited performance in front of a live audience, and presuming there wasn’t a massive degree of studio cleanup after the fact, that does show a band that can think and work on its feet.

Apparently this is the last show (and album) with their lead guitarist, so who knows how any future releases will play out, but those who got a kick out of 2014’s self titled and don’t shy away from live albums as a general rule should be pleased enough with this one.

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CIRCA – Valley Of The Windmill (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (July 8)

Yes alumni Tony Kaye (keyboards) and Alan White (drums) plus new Yes bassist Billy Sherwood do a rather Yes meets Cherry Red (pre-Goblin Italian/British prog act that you need to hunt down) sort of thing. Well, OK, White left before this album, which is apparently the band’s third, but you get the idea.

Only four songs in the 7-20 minute range, but what did you expect from classic British-style prog rock?

You can pick up some hints of Gentle Giant in here as well (“empire over”), but this is effectively Yes squared, or Yes with more vigor and youthful fire than that band’s had since the early 70’s (which is where the Cherry Red comes in).  It’s still pretty mellow and trippy, but we’re talking relative scale here.

More Yes than Yes. If you’re into the style, you should be quite happy with this.

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Kissin’ Dynamite – Generation Goodbye (AFM Records) (July 22)

A post-New Jersey Bon Jovi album more or less focused on, or at least suffused in, nods to modern technology and how it affects our interactions.

It’s hardly as deep and profound a statement as that makes it appear, but when you get past obvious cheese like the title cut, “highlight zone” and “hashtag your life”, you’ll find bits of fairly apropos social commentary like how everybody needs “somebody to hate” – never more apparent than in this year of global and domestic social unrest. Now if only people would direct that rage against the proper targets (cough-corporatocracy and crony capitalism-cough), maybe we could make a real change to our collective benefit…

But again, this all comes off like Kissin’ Dynamite suddenly went all Mob Rules circa Cannibal Nation or 80’s punk and thrash with the earnest if not strident politicosocial stance…which is by no means the case.

If anything, this is not all that far removed from 2014’s Megalomania, albeit with a softer, less energetic approach. There are likeable tracks like “friendly fire” and the aforementioned “highlight zone” that still bear some of the band’s earlier joie de vivre, but far too much of the album is bogged down in Bon Jovi-goes-Garth Brooks style country “safeness” and, to a hard rock/AOR cum glam metal audience, sorta boring therefore.

If you’re looking for something sorta catchy that won’t push any real boundaries and has a light concept pulling several of its tracks together (in a fairly loose fashion, mind), there’s nothing wrong with Generation Goodbye.

The musicianship is unimpeachable for what they appear to be shooting for here, the songs are if nothing else quite (pop) radio-friendly and the production is excellent…just doesn’t do a damn thing for me.

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Asenblut – Berserker (AFM Records) (August 19)

Pagan metal goes uber-melodic. Consider this the AOR equivalent of Amon Amarth, I guess.

You still get the silly gargle-growl vox the genre tends towards, married to a very power metal musical approach enlivened by touches of more blackened influence (the otherwise power-approved midtempo typewriter and crisp tom rolls of drummer “Balrogh” – gee, Tolkien much? – do stray into occasional blastbeat territory every now and again) – so far, all very power metal leaning pagan. Not quite Viking and hardly playing in the same ballpark as the likes of Tyr, Arkona, Manegarm, Primordial or even syncretist types like Alestorm and Leaves Eyes, but still recognizably working within a pagan-leaning power metal arena.

But then you bring in some decidedly pronounced trad melodicism (“titanenerbe” even goes all Dio / “bark at the moon” on your ass, riffwise), and you get something different entirely. Sure, you could still point to Amon Amarth somewhat – nobody’s ever accused them of not tapping into the melodic end of the musical spectrum. But this is different, far less pagan metal in stylistic orientation.

It’s still power metal with growly neo-death metal vox on top, and they at least title tracks and appropriate the aesthetic of Viking/pagan metal…but think of this more akin to the Teutonic school of power metal (think everything from Running Wild to the likes of Helloween and Blind Guardian) doing a “Viking”-based concept album than any actual pagan or Viking metal band you can think of.

Extremely catchy, well performed and well produced, and yep, I definitely did like this (quite a bit, in fact!), make no mistake about that.

Give ’em a listen, you’ll probably love it.

But beware of false labels.

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Tanzwut – Schreib Es Mit Blut (AFM Records) (August 19)

These guys self-identify as “medieval rock”, which is just strange, and I’m not hearing much if any of the Ren Faire-style peasant folk that (wholly made up on the spot) designation would seem to imply.

That said, if you always wanted to hear the guy from Rammstein croak/declaiming over some very melodic industrial-leaning power metal with a prominent and consistent bagpipe accompaniment (!), this is…kinda cool.

You know, you don’t hear the pipes much outside of a traditional Scots tattoo or replays of Bon Scott working “it’s a long way to the top (if you wanna rock n’roll)”, so I definitely appreciated Tanzwut’s appropriation of the instrument as not merely an occasional garnish (ala, say, Theatre of Hate or the faux-piping guitar line of “in a big country”), but as an actual part of the band, working melodic lead lines while the guitars stick to a crunching chordal rhythm throughout.

If you don’t have a thing for pipers mixing with an uber-melodic strain of industrial (this even gives acts like Megaherz, Gothminister and the aforementioned Rammstein a run for their money in terms of pure catchiness), this will just sound fucking weird to you.

But if the sound of the pipes makes you want to don the tartan and salute, Schrieb Es Mit Blut (which is a reference to Goethe, mind…) should be right up your alley.

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Solution .45 – Nightmares In The Waking State – Part II (AFM Records) (August 26)

Three years on from Part I, modern metal act Solution .45 returns with the second part of what was actually the same recording session.

OK, Helloween did the same with Keeper of the Seven Keys, and we’ve heard about other bands back in the day who’d recorded their best albums at or around the same time, despite their necessarily separate releases over subsequent years for sales and marketing purposes. Not common, to be sure, but far from unheard of.

So why wait 3 years between?

Well, anyway, don’t know if I’ve begun to mellow out here (nah, not very likely) or (more likely) have just been exposed to more “modern” iterations of the genre like power, pagan, melodeath and…er…”modern metal” in the years since, but what I found strange about this is that Part II comes off as a distinct improvement over Part I.

Now, my first thought would be that I’ve had to sit through so much crap over the past few years that the comparisons are no longer based on the longstanding classics of the scene, but against newer (and lesser) variants thereof.

But then you progress through the album, and notice something very different from last time around: all the aggro/nu-metal crap I complained about profusely on Part I?

Absent. Almost entirely absent.

Last time, our closing salvo went like this:

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

Well, bless my li’l heart. They listened.

A HUGE improvement, with all the comparative positives noted 3 years ago, and few if any of the negatives still standing to their detriment.

Still not my go-to, sure. But damn if this ain’t a much better band than we heard on Part I.

Don’t ask me what happened to those recordings over the last 3 years – maybe they reworked most if not all of the aggro bits out. Maybe they were just saving the best for last.

But for fans of the more modern, prog-leaning end of the modern cum melodeath genre(s), this should work quite nicely.

Due nod of respect for the changes and improvement.

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J.B.O. – 11 (AFM Records) (August 19)

OK, once again German comedians cum metalheads J.B.O. return with another good natured album that will likely not translate to non-Deutsche sprechen volkischer. And it’s a shame, too, given that my own limited comprehension (ich spreche kaum Deutsch, ja) noted a song whose chorus kept joyfully calling someone a shithead (“Wacken ist einmal en jahr”), and another talking about how crappy (or shitty, if you prefer) something or other was, and which includes an Ace Frehley cover repurposed as “back in the Nurenburg groove”.

Did I mention they all dressed up like pink elves?

It’s patently obvious to even the densest of listeners that this is all decidedly tongue in cheek if not entirely over the top and played as a very clearcut joke, but at whose expense, outside of the Wacken festival, apparently, your guess is as good as mine.

Amusing enough visually and catchy enough musically, but unlikely to draw anything but bemused stares and raised eyebrows outside of German-speaking territories.

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LETZTE INSTANZ – Liebe im Krieg (AFM Records) (August 19)

Another all-Deutsche affair, this time playing in a sort of AOR rock arena but with light gothic/industrial elements.

Effectively, a tiny string section of violin and cello accompanies occasional electronic and crunchy distorted phrases in an industrial-meets-Evanescence fashion – otherwise, this is pretty radio-ready melodic AOR with a dash of metal aesthetic.

Again, more than listenable, but it didn’t exactly set me on fire either.

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Elm Street – Knock ‘Em Out… With A Metal Fist (Massacre Records) (September 9)

Interesting but oddly syncretist Aussie melodic metal act. Songs are traditionally structured but come off very modern/power oriented in production.

Guitar riffs are strong and sorta memorable (at least in the same vein as, say, 3 Inches of Blood circa Advance & Vanquish) and the drumming varies between straightforwardly traditional and typewriter gallop power metal in approach.

There are some very likeably melodic solos and lead lines sprucing up the mix and elevating Elm Street to another level, but as you might expect from both the words “power metal” and the reference to Canada’s 3 Inches,* Ben Batres’ screechy-shouted vocals leave somewhat to be desired (and that’s being nice about it).

*you could also reference the ear piercingly asthmatic tones of earlier Believer as a touchpoint for what to expect on that front.

It’s not a deal breaker, particularly given how strong the guitar proves all around, but make no mistake, the poor vocals represent a serious problem and a barrier to wider acceptance among the more traditional and melodic crowds.

Even so, this is a very in your face production with some strong, traditionally minded compositions and rather good playing on both rhythm (Batres) and lead guitar (Aaron Adie), and there’s a reason I’ve had the aforementioned Advance & Vanquish in the collection all these years, despite Cam Pipes’ ridiculous reedy screeching…same applies here.

There’s also a very weird mix on this one. For some strange reason, they mixed the buzzing, over-distorted bass up front, just barely behind (but easily heard through on tracks like “fear the reaper”) the guitars and vocals. Maybe this guy thinks he’s Lemmy or something, but it’s not like this was an impressively technical or funky bassline he’s working – it’s the typical simplistic “follow the guitar” sort of stuff you expect from rock and metal.

Very good band with a lot of promise…just depends on your tolerance for fingernails being scraped across the blackboard on the vocal end.

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Gus McArthur – Chapter 1: Hysterics (self released) (July 22)

OK, so brothers Honan (guitar) and Gordon McArthur (vox) invent a fake ancestor named “Gus” who apparently pops up throughout history ala Melmoth the Wanderer and name their band after him.

The band itself (which also includes aggressive and often technical drummer Johnson Zhang) works mainly in a (modern) thrash arena, but with vague “dark metal” leanings and even occasional hints of a more trad/Maiden feel (portions of “he who swallowed god” and the sorta-power ballad “final prayer”). Then push things a bit more “progressive death” (the intro to “harlot’s kiss”).

It’s all rather strange, but quite well produced. Honan and Zhang are musicians to be reckoned with, navigating some high-speed turnarounds and winding, complicated (yet still likeably old school in their near-melodicism – none of that atonal bullshit that usually derails “prog death” and “technical/math/djent” affairs) riffs and kitwork…

…the only issue here is, and this not consistently – Gordon’s vox.

When he’s actually singing, whether attempting to approximate a dramatic Dickinsonian (or at least the cleaner end of power metallish) or a more mellow/trippy singsong vocal along the lines of Cynic or Dream Theater, there’s nothing wrong with the guy’s sound. It’s sorta middle of the road and not overly spectacular, but no issue there.

The problem arises when he tries to work more of a growly hardcore crossover cum thrash thing ala DRI, or worse, something even snarlier (bordering early Cro-Mags crossed with Biohazard or Agnostic Front).

You can see why he thought this was a valid approach, as it shows up only when the band starts driving into high speed thrash-oriented riffing and crazed yet precise drumming…it just doesn’t work, and makes for a really strange choice when combined with the cleaner and more intentionally dramatic or smooth phrases that immediately precede or follow.

It’s like, say, D.C. Cooper suddenly got kicked in the balls mid-performance and they left the tape rolling. When he gets his bearings again as the pain subsides, everything goes back to normal…but damn, those DAMMIT I’M IN FUCKING PAIN HERE growly-snarl bits sound fucking ridiculous in the middle of all that.

Look, it’s far from horrible by any standard – if he’d kept that silly punk/thrash crossover spit out the shouts approach throughout, you’d still mock it a bit, but end with a shrug of the shoulders. But in the middle of the clean and mellow and occasional dramatic vocals?

In any case, the musicianship…and for that matter, unconventional but still likeable song structure of Honan and Zhang are very impressive and point at greater things to come from these guys.

Taken in sum, I’ll give them a horns up.

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EARTH SHIP – Hollowed (Napalm Records) (June 24)

On the other hand, we have this.

Alice in Chains gets introduced to more of a groove/stoner/sludge sort of approach and gets an absolutely horrible growl-puke frontman.

The annoying stoner whine of the ghost of Layne Staley still hangs over this affair like a bad fart you just can’t waft away, but that’s not even the major issue here. Because not only do the puke vocal bits seriously blow…but like him or not, Jerry Cantrell knew his way around a grunge riff.

Sap everything that almost worked about Alice in Chains out of the equation, tag in some unimpressive (and often atonal!) metal bits and some awful death-style vocals, and you’ll have an Earth Ship you’ll be all too keen to leave.

Say, is that Mars colonization thing still going down? Because if this is the alternative, it’s time for the rest of us to take that dive into Ray Bradbury territory…

Next!

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BE’LAKOR – Vessels (Napalm Records) (June 24)

Weird, sorta proggy melodeath. Things tend to lean towards the ambient end of the spectrum more often than you’d expect, with most of the album’s running time being instrumental and the few vocal turns buried fairly deep in the mix.

What you do hear feels sorta Bolt Thrower, but the guitars, drums and spacier extraneous elements are mixed (however hissily) far louder than the guy’s microphone ever was. You can hear similar issues with the last Gorgoroth and Dark Funeral albums.*

* the latter of which sounds like it was produced with the mic up Daniel Bergstrand’s ass – hollow, mids-heavy, vox buried beneath the guitars and highly annoying blastbeat drums up front and center throughout. Great job, Dan! Hey, Svanberg, killer album otherwise, but where’s Dan Swano when you needed him most?

Thankfully, the production overall is nowhere near as bad as either of the aforementioned, but the fact remains that the vocals are, to say the least, difficult to make out amidst all the din, and the sound of the band proper is nowhere nearly as full as it should have been, leaning towards a thinner, hissier sound than the compositions demand.

Definitely listenable, the compositions are never less than interesting, and what you can make out of the vox work well enough with it…so why bury them?

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DAWN OF DISEASE – Worship The Grave (Napalm Records) (June 24)

Teutonic death metal. The riffing sounds sorta old schoolish, falling somewhere between melodeath and Swedish black metal ala Dark Funeral.

I guess if you added more of a melodic orientation to borderline Swedish black/death acts like Necrophobic or Grotesque and then tagged in sorta subpar Cookie Monster-esque death growl vox ala Alex Krull in Leaves Eyes you’ll have a vague idea of what to expect here.

As you’d expect from a German act, the production is spiffy if not impeccable (though the drums and cymbals push matters into far hissier of a range than I’d have expected or preferred) and the performances are tight throughout.

Look, the vocals are goofy and easily mockable and it’s more “modern” in orientation than this veteran would prefer, but the strength of the band and album overall sorta pushes such gripes into the realm of needless nitpicking.

It’s melodic, mostly well produced with crunchy riffing, lead lines and solos that’ll stick in your head long after play and the band is just fucking tight musically. They even push into Slaughter of the Soul territory in the final moments of “ashes”.

Melodeath doesn’t get much better than this.

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DUST BOLT – Mass Confusion (Napalm Records) (July 8)

Two years on from Awake the Riot, and what do we have?

Well, the vocals from Lenny Breuss still work that Scott Ruth Ripping Corpse sort of thing, though if anything they’ve become a bit deeper and raspier than last time around. May or may not be a sticking point, depending on your tolerance for the more sprechtgesang end of the thrash spectrum.

The band is still working the retro-thrash, but I’m hearing a lot less classic Bay Area than they offered last time around. They’re still decent players, but think more…Re-Animator than Xentrix, much less Forbidden.

Thrash completists…at least modern retro-thrash oriented ones…will definitely want to check these guys out, as they’re certainly accomplished enough players and have much of the vibe down.

Just doesn’t impress me half so much as they did last time around.

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DEADLOCK – Hybris (Napalm Records) (July 8)

Essentially it boils down to a one line review:

Lacuna Coil, the Teutonic version.

As typical for these beauty and the beast affairs (think anything from more symphonically oriented affairs like Epica to more “earthy” ones like the aforementioned Italians), the male vocals kinda suck some serious ass, leaving listeners waiting with baited breath for the choruses and bridges where the far more pleasing female vocals chime in and take over.

New vocalist Margie Gerlitz works an alto-leaning (but still soprano) range and approach somewhere between Charlotte Wessels of Delain, Raine Hilai of Midnight Eternal and Cristina Scabbia.

Like the aforementioned touchpoints, her vocal style tends towards rather midrange and pop radio-oriented as opposed to the dramatic flourishes of, say, Liv Kristine or the Tarja Turunen school of neo-operatic types, but it’s certainly likeable and ear tickling enough, and she does represent something of an improvement over former singer Sabine Scherer in her lighter, more femme tonality. It’s hardly pushing into, say, Darling Buds territory, but all traces of aggro and butchness are gone. It’s a lot nicer, and far more winning of an approach.

The band is kind of middling, working that same “modern metal” cum “gothic”/industrial-leaning metal trope that Lacuna Coil is. Not bad, sorta inoffensive, but nothing to write home about either.

But those male vocals…sheesh! Give the vocal chair over entirely to Gerlitz, you’ll be all the better for it. As it is, she’s brought some new life to a band that barely rated above a shrug of the shoulders last time.

Still not “excited” by any means. But there’s no question Gerlitz is the better frontwoman, at least in terms of the audio end of the job description – I leave it to the festivalgoers to rate her comparative stagecraft for yea or nay.

And honestly, for the record?

I kinda preferred this to Lacuna Coil.

A definite improvement, at least in terms of the new vocalist.

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Revocation – Great Is Our Sin (Metal Blade Records) (July 22)

Awful aggro-vox that alternate with clean, over-processed phrases lead the charge over the sort of “modern metal” that borders (modern) thrash, “progressive (and therefore atonal and convoluted) death” and emo.

There are ringing atonal open chord moments that bring an unwelcome waft of Watain to the equation, and some of the clean “gang” (or at least multitracked) vocal sections point towards grunge (think the Alice in Chains school thereof), and we’ve already mentioned “progressive death”, so this is definitely not my ballpark by any stretch of the imagination.

I’m not sure how they self-classify: are they thinking something in the death ballpark (an ersatz melodeath, a more traditional variant of djent/math metal, “progressive metal”)? Something more thrashlike? Just plain old “modern metal”? – but however you slice it, it just doesn’t work.

The best thing on this is the Marty Friedman guest solo on “the exaltation”, which brings a much needed sense of structure and melodicism to the table. It actually sticks out like a sore thumb – if I hadn’t mentioned the name of the track, you’d be able to pick him out instantly, so far above the rest of the material does his quick 2c elevate matters.

Younger and less musically inclined ears may think these guys are the shit, and hey, more power to ya.

More experienced and tonally-oriented ears will more likely remove “the” from the preceding.

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Ringworm – Snake Church (Relapse Records) (July 29)

SCREAM AT THE TOP OF YOUR LUNGS like a half-assed take on Tom Araya and NEVER STOOOOOOOOOP!

No wonder “HF” decided to go by an initials-only pseudo…oh, wait, it gets worse. According to the promo materials, that actually stands for “the Human Furnace”.

O-kay…

Maybe he’s suffering from chronic inflammation. Watch the diet, try to get a little more exercise. Maybe it’ll solve all that LAME SCREAMING SHIIIIIIIIIIT! AAAAAAHHHHH!

The band otherwise seems to tread a safe line of high-tempo “modern metal” that they claim to be “hardcore”.

Sorry, nope. It ain’t DC hardcore. It ain’t Boston hardcore. It ain’t West Coast hardcore. It ain’t even New York hardcore. It’s Araya-esque aggro-vocalled “modern metal” leaning “modern thrash”.

Whatever. Time to go put on some real hardcore like Minor Threat, Black Flag, Uniform Choice, Verbal Abuse or the Bad Brains…or maybe some crossover like DRI, Agnostic Front or the Cro-Mags.

Screw this shit.

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VICIOUS RUMORS – Concussion Protocol (Steamhammer / SPV) (August 26)

Ah, Vicious Rumors. Among shred circles, they were notable mainly for being the vehicle Mike Varney used to debut personal teenaged guitar hero Vinnie Moore (I wore through 2 tape copies and a CD of Time Odyssey and used to talk him up everywhere, before he dropped the neoclassical orientation and went…somewhere else). I still enjoy Soldiers of the Night, and pull it out on a semi-regular rotation.

That said, the album was something of a one-off, featuring what amounted to a guest guitarist AND a guest vocalist (Marty Friedman’s old band Hawaii’s frontman Gary St. Pierre handled vocal duties here). Like far too many bands who changed vocalists (Annihilator, Toxik) or style (Heathen) after a strong debut, this shredhead shrugged his shoulders and walked away with the release of Digital Dictator. Who’s this new guy singing? Where’s the jaw dropping neoclassical guitar? Is this even the same band?

Well, here we are 30 plus years on from Soldiers, and the band’s on their FIFTH recorded frontman (the late Carl Albert having passed, to be succeeded by Helstar mainman James Rivera and a Brian Allen giving way to current lead Nick Hollerman…and this doesn’t even include FOUR other guys who never made it to an album proper!), having boasted both Jason Becker/Greg Howe/Richie Kotzen/Cacophony drummer Atma Anur and Night Ranger/Ozzy two hand fret pioneer Brad Gillis in their ranks at one point or another. A lot of history, a lot of water under the bridge.

Now, all I have to compare Concussion Protocol to, beyond some vague memories of post-Moore airplay on Midnite Metal and WMSC with Bill Zebub back in the day, is Soldiers of the Night, to which this necessarily bears precious little lineage.

Mainman Geoff Thorpe (guitars) is still present and accounted for, so it’s still not a million miles from the template set down back in ’85, and Hollerman occasionally pulls the vox straight into Jeff Martin/Racer X territory (“the last of our kind”). There’s even a special guest…no less than the aforementioned Brad Gillis drops in for a solo.

While it’s hardly Shrapnel territory in terms of the leads, you get more than enough of that sort of drumming, production and classic riffing to say hmm…this could have been another Varney-style late 80’s L.A. metal release along the lines of, say, the early Apocrypha. They’re definitely playing in the same ballpark in terms of sound and composition, just without the pronounced guitar heroics.*

* Thorpe and new kit Thaen Rasmussen are more than decent players in their own right – just don’t expect Shrapnel shred by any means.

While I’m obviously comparing the new album to an impossibly high standard just because that’s my best point of reference (it is the same band’s debut, despite a few very crucial lineup changes since), make no mistake: this is a killer album by just about any standard, and it sounds close enough to the real deal to fool some veterans into thinking this was a long lost rediscovery from the latter heyday of Shrapnel (fancy fretwork aside).

Very strong “comeback” from a veteran act. Raise the horns in salute.

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The Browning – Isolation (Spinefarm Records) (June 24)

Damn, there’s a lot of stinkers this month!

Another aggro screamer, this time leaning more death-industrial, over a gothic-industrial setting of keyboard and electronic effect-filled lunkhead riffing.

THUNKA-THUNK-THUNK GRUAAAHHHHHHHHHH as processed through a phone reciever with Cradle of Filth/Gloomy Grim style ooky spooky keyboards and NiN meets Rammstein electro-industrial business on the guitar and what have you (all those sampled FX aren’t really from any instrument per se).

“I am pure evil” indeed. But not in the way you intend…

Whew.

Next…

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Nonpoint – The Poison Red (Spinefarm Records) (July 8)

Now this is a lot closer to “hardcore” in spirit and aesthetic than Ringworm could ever be.

Don’t get the wrong idea from that. This is more nu-metal in execution, sort of a cross between a melodic “modern metal” cum “gothic” in the Evanescence/Lacuna Coil sense on the guitar end, with punk-goes-Kid Rock style neo-rap vocals (especially on openers “generation idiot” and “foaming at the mouth”) that go power metal-gravel melodic on the choruses.

But in terms of what they’re trying to get across (personal empowerment and being a survivor through life’s inevitable adversity and antipathy towards us all) and much of the attitude vocally comes across more punk in that sense than a (incorrectly) self-identified hardcore act (hello again, Ringworm). And that says something.

I like the message and can identify with the in your face nature of the first two tracks, and there’s enough melodic orientation throughout to let most of it play through without hitting the fast forward button, so there’s something to be said for that.

Oddly, I found I’d have preferred if they stayed in the modality of “generation idiot” throughout rather than petering off into a less pointed (and consequently more generic) feel as the album progresses. The energy, the forcefulness just vanishes, and you’re left wondering where the hell it went.

I liked the first two tracks a lot. After that, you’re on your own.

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Heartaches – Svart (Artery Recordings) (August 12)

OMG, it’s Ricky Schroeder! I guess Mark Paul Gosselaar isn’t dead after all!

OK, OK, just having a laugh on lead singer Casper Frisk here, who looks a whole hell of a lot like a pierced and inked version of Zack Morris by way of Ricky Stratton and his indoor choo-choo. Cheap shot, I know. (hangs head in insincere shame, gives the guy a slap on the back to show no hard feelings). We actually have something in common, and he’ll know what it is when I mention “memorial”. Respect and sympathy, bro.

The aforementioned visual comparison only gets more amusing when you encounter the band’s sound, which is being marketed as emo/hardcore, but comes off more like a super-aggro, atonal bit of Hot Topic nonsense. You know all those screaming over generic but noisy and rarely melodic “modern metal” with wierd electronic effects sort of things?

Maybe tag in a few seconds of Korn (the annoying squeal-vibration bits at the midpoint of “ruthless”, for example), but that’s what you get. Atonal, “modern metal” oriented, with touches of nu-metal and an incessantly shriek-screamed aggro vocal.

I’m not hearing the emo, unless you count pure rage as such – and there’s no question this music is all about being totally pissed off.

I’m also not hearing the hardcore.

I’m not hearing anything I can point out as a positive, and I feel kinda bad about that, given what was hinted at earlier.

But there are much better soundtracks to living on the edge and being filled with nothing but rage – try the Dead Boys and Raw Power-era Iggy Pop as a starter.

I’m shutting this off and moving to the next album.

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Sunburst – Fragments of Creation (Inner Wound Recordings) (February 26)

Greek prog metal. Promo materials mention Dream Theater, but that’s not really a good marker for the far more aggressively toned sound Sunburst is shooting for. The similarly mentioned Conception (better known as Roy Khan’s pre-Kamelot when anyone cared gig) works a lot better.

Vasilis Georgiou is no Roy Khan, but then again, who the hell is? He does work in a recognizably Khan-like milieu, with a stronger measure of dramaticism and occasional lightly soaring phrasing than you’ll generally encounter in the prog arena, and while his vocals are oddly buried in the mix below Gus Drax’ guitars (big mistake there – put the man front and center), they are likeable and impressive enough.

Among would-be successors to Khan – all one or two of ’em, if that – he’s more than respectable and parched former fans of Kamelot and Conception (like myself) can certainly find a few drops of cactus water to wet our long-blistered and sun-cracked lips.

Drax is a busy player, working a few too many of the John Petrucci/Herman Li overprocessed guitar synth wheedly-whoo two hand runs and flourishes for my tastes but still offering enough motion-oriented and occasionally complex lead lines to keep listener attention.

Not bad at all, though it can’t hold a candle to the four Conception albums or Khan’s Siege Perilous through Black Halo-era work with Kamelot, for all of Georgiou and Drax’s more than respectable skills.

Good effort, and should definitely appeal to fellow Khan lovers.

But next time? Put the vocals front and center.

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USURPRESS – The Regal Tribe (Agonia Records) (September 23)

Ridiculous puke vox over a decidedly atonal (and therefore annoying) black/death affair (in terms of all the tremelo and open chord atonality) that pushes into a similarly atonal progressive death territory at points.

There’s a lot of blackened simplicity to the riffing, but they jump all over the place scattershot, like an ADD-afflicted meth-head with a bad case of the rickets.  The Jackson Pollocks of death metal, ladies and gentlemen…

Weird trivia footnote: author Daniel “Swedish Death Metal” Elkeroth handles the (typically nigh-indistinguishable) bass duties.

The album cover is by far the best thing about this.

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Stilla – Skuggflock (Nordvis Produktion) (August 19)

Nowhere nearly as well produced as their 2013 debut Till Stilla Falla, but better mixed and mastered than followup Ensamhetens Andar.

Musically speaking, Skuggflock has much more in common with their earlier, and while production certainly played a major factor here, far superior debut, while still remaining recognizable as the same band and general approach to black metal throughout.

There’s enough of an off-kilter (and genre-atypical) prog-style “organ” keyboard and general quirkiness to leave more orthodox types questioning just how black metal Stilla actually is, but in a genre split between a clearly defined if not rigid template of old school-faithful and overly syncretist, barely-even-post black metal types, Stilla falls straight down the middle. True enough, alright, but sufficiently weird to please those who like to push the boundaries. In fact, even in terms of the band’s own catalogue, this one’s right down the center.

Think of this third album as the middle sister, bridging the gap between the hot older one (Falla) and the ugly and annoying little one (Andar). She may not seem quite so flash and instantly appealing as the former, but she’s kinda sexy in her own right.

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Drudkh & Grift – Betrayed By The Sun / Hägringar (Nordvis Produktion) (September 16) 

Recurring champions Grift come back with a two song contribution to this split with Ukrainians Drudkh.

While perhaps pushing his shrieks closer to Fleurety territory than previously, Erik Gardefors’ work here isn’t amazingly far removed from the rather good Fyra Elegier or its slightly more melancholic and cleanly produced Syner, whose more dry and crisp (and yes, therefore less atmospheric) production aesthetic his contributions here share.

If anything, this is almost directly on par with his (single track) split with Saiva both in terms of production and style. It’s still pretty damn good, but Fyra Elegier still stands head and shoulders above the later releases.

When it comes to black metal, a more muffled and obscure production often is a band’s best friend.

While everything we’ve heard from Grift has been of a comparable degree of quality and well worth looking into for the typical black metal diehard, it’s unquestionable that the cleaner and more dry the production gets, the less evocative and atmospheric it gets, however well composed and performed the music itself.

Drudkh is far less interesting, which is probably why I’ve heard their name bandied about more frequently – lesser acts do tend to have broader appeal for some obscure reason. Inverse logic, I guess…

That said, I can see why Gardefors chose them to share a split with, as they similarly work a sort of aggressive take on the more melancholic end of modern black metal. They even share a similar (and in this genre’s case, generally unwelcome) orientation towards clean, dry production.  Their tracks aren’t bad, really – they’re certainly introspective and listenable enough.  Just didn’t set me on fire.

It’s a well-matched split from an interesting band and a comparatively generic but similarly minded one who seems to have more of a name in certain circles for whatever reason.

Take a listen, you probably won’t be disappointed.

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Marsh Dweller – The Weight of Sunlight (Eihwaz Recordings) (August 15)

Dramatic, expansive, nigh-Viking pagan black metal.

Vocals once again tap into the Into Eternity-era Desultory/Immortal-style croak-rasps, but the sound is melodic and wide ranging, delivering a sense of enormous space and wasteland expanse. It’s very good.

You’d never believe, from the sound being evoked herein, that this is a one man band. He brings in a few guests from bands you’ve never heard of, but that’s just one fella, a John Owen Kerr, handling vox, guitars and drums, all of which he handles more than competently for the sound he’s going for.

Surprisingly impressive, very glad this one dropped in the middle of a rather iffy midsummer batch of releases.

Horns decidedly raised in salute.

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Volturyon – Cleansed by Carnage (VICISOLUM PRODUCTIONS) (September 2)

Wall to wall uptempo and aggressive, driving death metal. Think Desultory circa Into Eternity, but with far less melody and appeal.

They push things into blastbeat/nigh-grindcore territory far too often, with that sort of overcomplicated multi-guitar layering that James Murphy was doing with Disincarnate. Some death fans absolutely love this style, but it’s not “old school” in any of the accepted senses (remember, Murphy didn’t drop Dreams of the Carrion Kind till ’93, which was pretty much the final death knell of the scene chronologically (name one good album from ’94 forward – “prog” and “tech” heads need not apply).

Production is up front and in your face, so it was obviously another ProTools job, but it’s clean enough for all the distortion and hiss bleeding around the edges. The band is obviously fairly tight, and if you spend your days wanking to Disincarnate and lesser acts that followed in their wake, these guys will most definitely appeal to you.

Semi-old school, with a close approximation of the ass end of the scene, so I’ll give ’em a nod of due respect…

…but really did nothing for me in the end.

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Zephyra – As The World Collapses (Inverse Records)  (August 5)

“Hey, let me tell you a sto-ry. It goes some-thing like this.”

A raspier/snarlier Angela Gossow type, Asa Netterbrant and (brother? husband?) Tony Netterbrant (guitars) cross the Arch Enemy brand of melodeath with a very common strain of gothic-industrial. Think radio friendly and simplistic, but with goofy ooky spooky Tim Burton movie electronic effects layered all over it.

The death metal bits, while a bit neanderthalic at times riffwise, should work well enough for Arch Enemy fans (and arguably as good as the Alyssa White-Gluz iteration thereof, in fact), but the mix of this sort of Teutonic nigh-dancefloor ready industro-goth with that rather different tonality just comes off as bizarre.

If they wanted to do the dancefloor goth thing ala Suspiria by way of latter Liv Kristine-era Theatre of Tragedy, sticking to clean vox and dropping the melodeath would have been called for here. If they wanted to pull a Pantera-inflected take on Arch Enemy, they should’ve dropped the other business.

But as an ill-conceived stylistic mashup? Imperfect together.

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Creinium – Hallucinosis (Inverse Records) (July 1) 

Reasonably well produced prog ala Dream Theater goes sorta aggro cum death metal (in both vox and somewhat neanderthalic chunka-thunk meets machine gun riffing). Then they get slightly (overdramatically) gothic in the Cradle of Filth sense of the word.

When they lay into a more standard death metal/black metal tremelo riff with double bass, it works well enough.

But it’s all over the damn place, and they admit it, wearing this like a badge of pride…

…rather than a more appropriate mark of shame.

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Månegarm – Nattväsen (Black Lodge Records) (July 27)

Now that Black Lodge Records has more or less reissued and remastered the entire pre-Napalm Manegarm back catalogue, the only one that hasn’t crossed the virtual desk for review was their own 2007 release of Vargstenen. How about a remaster on that one, guys? Sure would love to fill that last hole in the Manegarm collection…

So as both Manegarm fans and regular readers of these monthly reviews should be well aware, this falls well past the band’s earlier nigh-black metal days or their most likeably bombastic and folk-inflected Viking high points, marking the dividing point where the band heads straight into a more pop radio leaning melodic power metal (which they’d flesh out further with the subsequent Legions of the North and the recent self titled).

As ever with Manegarm, the music is likeable enough regardless, well produced and performed with the authority of tour and recording veterans, and you could certainly see the band pulling in a new fanbase with this more “accessible”, less spiky approach.

This is more in the good natured party vein of acts like Turisas, if not more tongue in cheek ones like Alestorm and Trollfest, so it’s hardly the sort of thing you’d slag or run to turn off if a likeminded friend threw this one on the turntable.

But is it another Vredens Tid or Urminnes Havd?

Not by a million miles.

Likeable it may be in its own right. But by comparison?

(shrugs shoulders, awaits the reissue of Vargstenen)

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FANGE – Purge (Throatruiner Records) (September 2)

ummm…was there a producer here?

Was this recorded on someone’s 1980’s vintage boom box, using one of those cheapo home use cassettes you used to find 3-6 in a bag for a buck?

Seriously, this is the most overdriven, wayyyyyy past the redline recording I’ve heard in ages. Guitar Wolf had better production.

Just how loud were you fuckers playing, anyway?

Well, beneath the atrocious non-production, this is a sort of ponderous, sludgy variant of death metal marked by squealing feedback and occasional odd, unwelcome bits of Swedish black metal schmutters.

I guess if you’re really big on the more simplistic, “heavy” sounding corners of the underground metal scene and don’t mind something that’s both super lo-fi and likely to wreck your speakers at the same time, this is listenable enough.

But sheesh.

Sorry, I just don’t get it.

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Sorcery (Sweden) – Garden of Bones (Xtreem Music) (September 9)

Sorcery, one of the few Swedish death metal bands from back in the day I have no recollection of whatsoever.

Maybe it’s because they just released one album (Bloodchilling Tales) back in ’91, but there are several others who only dropped one or two albums before disappearing, disbanding and dispersing into other bands (just limiting this to Sweden, we have Grotesque, Carnage, Desultory…you name it, the scene was lousy with ’em). Who the hell knows.

Well, they’ve made a comeback recently, dropping an album titled “Arrival at Six” 3 years back, and now we have their third album in nearly 30 years, Garden of Bones. So how’s it hold up?

Well, vocalist Ola Malmstrom is still here, though I can’t imagine he’d have this beefy hardcore gargle-shout back in the heyday of death metal – just wouldn’t have fit the genre.

Former drummer Paul Johansson is also in place, though he’s now on guitars (a spot he’d apparently held in the band’s demo era, before switching to drums, then bass, and now back to guitars…go figure.

Everybody else is new blood, which can be good in terms of renewed energy or bad in terms of inauthenticity – all depends on how you look at it.

Musically, outside of the aforementioned unusual vocal approach (which is more likely age and tour-damage derived than “as seen in 1991”, though I leave that to Sorcery fans to approve or deny), they’re certainly working within the standard Sunlight Studios template established by acts like Nihilist/Entombed, Carnage/Dismember and Unleashed. They’re a bit more detuned and “clean toned” than the usual Boss HM-2 buzzsaw guitar thing, therefore feeling more akin to classic Unleashed than the rest. But that’s hardly a bad thing to be noting, now, is it?

Overall, I liked this one, and would say it’s a respectable comeback (if not better) were I more familiar with (or had better recollection of) Bloodchilling Tales.

Since I’m not, let’s just say that I liked it, it felt quite old school and even if you were going to take the hardcore vox as a slag, that it all just works.

Raise a flagon in salute to the returning veterans.

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Stormvold (Spain) – IV Kataklismo (Xtreem Music) (June 1)

Black/death with reverb and slap-echo-afflicted shout-belch vox, incessant blastbeats and untoward tempo changes. Then slap on some overdramatic keyboard chants and such.

At times, it feels like it’s going to redeem itself by getting all dramatic and bold, but then they change tempo or key or suddenly go all atonal.

Nope.

Doesn’t work worth a shit.

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Colosso (Portugal) – Obnoxious (self released) (September 9)

Portugese black/death with a strong “brutal” and grindcore orientation. Then they throw a weird Mass Effect soundtrack-style ambient piece in the middle of all this, apropos of nothing.

It’s overly modern, and while the band verbally eschews the blackened end of the equation, it’s in there alright, and often enough right in your face (“a noxious reflection” certainly bears the stink of Watain at points, and that’s just one among several). Did I mention all the reliance on blastbeats?

Wasn’t impressed in the least.

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Bestialized (Colombia) – Termestella Cvltvs (Satanath Records (Russia) (May 21)

Colombian blackthrash-style blackened death metal.

In other words, it’s very BM, but with the noisiness, speed, aggression and who gives a fuck, nobody’s listening anyway mentality of the South American blackened thrash scene. That said, it’s still more black/death than blackthrash. Make sense?

It’s certainly listenable for fans of the style, with just enough traditional inflection and melodicism to keep things from going off the rails, but I can’t say it really excited me either.

Fair enough, and the production’s surprisingly not all that bad, given how fast and noisily they’re performing this stuff.

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Oracles (Belgium) – Miserycorde (Deadlight Entertainment (France) (July 1)

More “beauty and the beast” vocals, and again falling outside the standard gothic/symphonic arena.

In fact, this is all hyperspeed, overly detuned yet thrashy death metal with croaked, swallow the mic male vox and typewriter drums that rely all too often on blastbeats (despite the guy’s obvious nigh-prog technical skills in shifting tempo, high speed turnarounds and lightning fast tom rolls…so why fall back on juvenalia like the blastbeat?)

Solos are also capable of surprising melodic flourishes, albeit very much in the wheedly-whoo Herman Li/John Petrucci style, but you’d never know that from the riffing otherwise.

Obvious skill of drummer Ken Bedene aside, that end of the equation really doesn’t work. But then they slow things down, get a bit gothic-industrial and let Sanna Salou do her alto speaking voice vocal turns.

Take the drummer, take the Sanna bits and dump the rest…you’d have an absolutely killer progressive gothic symphonic act.

As it stands, it’s a highly flawed mishmosh of ill-matched styles featuring two indispensable band members, which occasionally brightens for the choruses and/or solos.

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Grace Disgraced (Russia) – Lasting Afterdeaths (Razed Soul Productions) (June 24)

Whew.

Another Arch Enemy wannabe, with a band that leans a bit more Pestilence (which is a positive).

The real letdown here is Polina Berezko’s snarly-rasp shriek vox, which feel wayyyyyyyy too Alyssa White-Gluz for my taste. We laughed at her switching from her (rather nice) clean vocals to this neo-Angela Gossow nonsense when the Agonist opened for Epica and Visions of Atlantis years ago, and nothing’s changed on that front.

Sorry, ladies. Females trying to do death or black metal “evil” “aggro” snarls and growls just sounds fucking ridiculous, much akin to guys trying to sing a sweet soprano aria.

It just. Doesn’t. Work.

Aside from the vocals, the band’s a bit herky jerky with all the stop-start business and atonal “let’s jump through unrelated modes” solos, but there’s enough post-Van Drunen Pestilential lineage in there to give ’em a pass rather than a total fail.

But a missed opportunity, unless you’re hardcore on female hyper-aggro vocalists.

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Heathen Beast (India) – Rise of the Saffron Empire
(Transcending Obscurity Distribution (sub-label of Transcending Obscurity India) (April 25th) 

OK, the band members keep themselves anonymous here due to political reasons (we’ll get to that in a sec), but I’m seriously wondering if this is another femme vocalist.

They’re working that uber-annoying band who shared the Chant of the Barbarian Wolves split with Satanic Warmaster overprocessed shriek into a telephone vocal thing, but the vocals are so thin toned, I’m seriously wondering if it’s another Arch Enemy wannabe on the mic.

The band itself is delivering the sort of black/death thing every single fucking post-millenial death metal band seems to be doing nowadays, which is just tiresome, but there is something interesting about all this…they’re tackling a certain regressive fascist-leaning Hindi movement (which includes some rather high ranking politicians as members – check the inner sleeve for a mouth dropping moment).

Further, you get moments where they go all Shakti with tabla and sitar (among other traditional Indian folk instrumentation), which is pretty cool and gives the otherwise ho-hum music a decided lift, at least of the eyebrows.

Apparently, this was the band’s last release…official repression, perhaps? – so in that sense, I want to give ’em the nod.

If only the music as a whole didn’t let me down.
(I did like the traditional instrumentation portions).

Worth looking into, for curiosity’s sake and to support their neo-Antifa stance, if nothing else.

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Ribspreader (Sweden) – Suicide Gate – A Bridge to Death (Xtreem Music) (June 15)

OK, here’s one for the kids. There’s this fella named Rogga Johansson. He’s apparently been part of, or remains part of, what appears to be a good 20 death metal bands.

I’ve never heard of any of ’em.

So, let’s go by what we have in hand, shall we?

Well, it’s clearly Swedish death metal, complete with decent, nigh-Sunlight Studios production and the traditional HM-2 guitar setup, tremelo riffing that slows into something far more crunchy and decent, non-blastbeat old school death metal drumming. Even the vocals fit.

Suffice to say, if you’re immersed in and/or came up with the classics (and honestly, what the fuck else matters?) like myself, this will be right up your alley.

Grave, Nihilist/Entombed, Carnage, Dismember, even Nirvana 2002 can be discerned herein, at least as close relations. You’d be forgiven for thinking this came out in the mid-90s, just post death metal’s heyday.

Sure, I never heard of this guy or his litany of bands.

But I’m hoping to hear more of ’em if they’re as strong and traditionally oriented as this.

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Carnage Inc. – Fury Incarnate (Transcending Obscurity Distribution) (August 1)

Whiny, reedy tenor vocals somewhere between Davey Havok and Nuclear Assault’s John Connelly make a comfortably familiar fit for this unusual sorta-thrash affair out of Mumbai.

They never really get the straight ahead speed and aggression down, nor do they tap into the classic thrash arena of nigh-anarcho politics, though some of the riffs are there…when they feel like playing them.

In point of fact, that’s what I found strangest about this band: not so much the uber-clean digital production or the fact that the vocals were far in front of the guitars, which were barely mixed at the level of the drums (!?!), not even the aforementioned lack of focus (after all, not every thrash band went the route of contemporary issues and raging against the machine…)

Rather, what struck me as fucking bizarre was just how laid back all of this was.

For a band with a name like “Carnage Inc.” (which appears to reference both a Metallica when anyone actually cared about those talentless fucks track and some World of Warcraft guild (don’t ask me), it seems kinda weird that they begin on a smooth jazz-level acoustic intro that only threatens to build to anything by the end of its running time, but never actually does (“dawn”) and then leads into four tracks that either never really build to terminal thrash velocity, or if they do, which then tend to slow down into a rocking chair motion (or druggy nigh-ambience!) at the beginning and end of the track – sometimes even smack dab in the middle of an otherwise typical thrash song.

Say what the fuck?

No question these guys have some of the sound down – when they get rolling, it’s very obviously thrash in the classic sense, despite the production, lack of lyrical focus and failure to bear one of those cartoony postapocalyptic album covers.

But then they drop into beddie-bye territory mid-track?

Holy shit, it’s like driving a stick and dropping into neutral while barreling down the highway in the fast lane.

You’re going to wreck the trans, kid.

Weird. I have absolutely no idea what they were thinking there.

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Grond (Russia) – Worship the Kraken (Xtreem Music) (July 1)

Barney Greenaway-style vox front this detuned and sorta “brutal” death metal act straight outta Russia. The pace is fairly relentless and the production is loose and messy, with moments of clarity buried under a whole lotta signal bleed and ProTools “let’s mix every instrument right up in your face simultaneously” nonsense.

With a better producer and a bit of organic room ambience, this could’ve been a pretty decent, kinda old schoolish death metal affair. I certainly liked the drum sound and the moments where the bass poked through, and the vocals are deep and booming, with the overall sound clearly favoring the vox and drum end in terms of clarity and likeability.

It’s too bad about those overly distorted, signal bleed-driven guitars…could’ve seriously used a Scott Burns to muffle and compress those (and the speedier, more cymbal-driven drum phrases) into a more unified, chugging train sound.

Not a bad band. Just needs a good producer to fix the bugs.

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Nox (Columbia) – Ancestral Arte Negro 7″ EP (Forever Plagued) (August 26)

Raw, driving black metal out of Colombia.

The sound is very polished and familiar, but I can’t put a name to it for a change, so think lesser lights like Ancient, Orcustus or possibly Tsjuder and 1349 minus the “Norsecore” orientation.

You know the type: well produced but still kinda cold and sinister sounding, very mid to late 90’s in feel, sorta snarly Bathory by way of Gorgoroth’s Hat and Pest vocals.

And keyboards. Subtle and well used keyboards, yes. But purists take note, they are present and accounted for.

It’s not what I’d consider top notch old school second wave black metal – it’s not quirky enough, not “underground” enough to give ’em that badge of honor.

But it’s damn good, and will not be leaving the iPod any time soon.

Raise the horns.

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Unbegotten – Proem of the Unborn TAPE (Forever Plagued) (August 26)

Weird Spanish black metal affair that borrows too much of the atonality and open chord experimentalism of the Swedish and (non-Les Legions Noires) French scenes for my taste.

The production is muddier and more mids-heavy than Nox, so there’s really not much of the patented black metal atmosphere on display here.  Worse, despite a slightly Gravelandesque vocal approach, the songs go nowhere, it’s overly atonal and it just doesn’t feel right.

I got nothing out of this one whatsoever.

Stick with Nox, which is kinda killer…this one’s barely filler.

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KERASPHORUS – S/T (CD, LP) (Hells Headbangers) (September 2)

Snarly-gargly and very, very USBM.

There’s a lot of death metal to this black metal, but once again, it’s too atonal and noisy to actually work. Apparently this is two of the guys from Angelcorpse, if that name rings any bells.

Pick a batch of unrelated notes and make a chord out of it.

Tremelo pick that and slide it up and down a little with a lot of distortion and signal bleed.

Then add some seriously noisy/sloppy blastbeat drumming and those silly vocals.

Presto, instant Kerasphorus!

Whatever.  Next…

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NUNSLAUGHTER – The Supreme Beast (Picture 7″) (Hells Headbangers) (August 26)

Yet another old Nunslaughter release resurrected by the band’s biggest longtime fans, Hells Headbangers.

The title cut is pretty decent, sort of a lurching, lumbering Dream Death affair with “Don of the Dead’s” King Fowley goes black metal sprechtgesang-ish snarly-growl vox.

Two rather brief (circa 1m and change apiece!) tracks fill out the middle, with a cover from some band nobody’s ever heard of serving as bookend.

It’s all pretty good by Nunslaughter standards (and as longtime readers of Third Eye are doubtless well aware, that band’s nothing if not ubiquitous with releases…) and worth checking out.

Salute.

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SURGIKILL – Sanguinary Revelations LP (HELLS HEADBANGERS) (August 26)

“Stevo” from Impetigo, Ash Thomas of The Vladimirs and an extended lineup that includes a husband and wife team results in an atypical grindcore affair with no less than FOUR vocalists and Thomas working double duty as co-guitarist and drummer.

Now, anyone who knows Impetigo should already realize that it’s a bit hard to connect them with, say, Mortician, much less the Carcass/Terrorizer/Napalm Death school of grindcore (which covers everything from General Surgery to joke bands like Hatebeak and Caninus) – for one thing, that cavernous mortuary atmosphere and production is wholly absent.

Then remove the politics of Terrorizer and Napalm.

Then remove all the film quotes and clips that Impetigo, Mortician and dozens of bands that came in their wake have made part and parcel of the subgenre.

Then give them that dry, guitar in your face/signal bleed drumming and distortion production of, say, Nunslaughter.

Yeah. It’s unusual, to say the least.

Well, it’s different, alright, marking something of a departure even from “Stevo’s” own prior band (whose Horror of the Zombies has long held a place in the old collection for “wizard of gore” if nothing else). But I’m not sure what else to say about this, other than to thank them for the highly amusing “ah, the hell with it, shoot it in the half-finished family basement” band photos.

It’s sorta grindcore. You probably already made up your minds anyway.

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SLAUGHTBBATH / GRAVE DESECRATOR – Musica De Nuestra Muerte – split 7″ (Hells Headbangers) (August 12)

Yet another Slaughtbbath split, following belatedly on the heels of 2014’s with Hades Archer and 2016’s with Ill Omen.

They list their contribution(s) as one track, but it’s actually two songs with a fade and pause between, so don’t ask me. The Chileans continue their usual blackened thrash, remaining as middle of the road as ever. Nothing wrong with it, certainly listenable enough if you’re in the mood – but won’t exactly set the world on fire, either.

Grave Desecrator hails from Brazil, and it shows. After a nice, sorta contemplative but spooky intro, they blaze forth with a fairly typical slab of the sort of blackened thrash their nation is best noted for.

While it’s a bit overproduced and I’m not a fan of all the repetitiveness (that stop-start gallop section was cute the first time, but several times in a row?  But overall, it’s not bad. Curious to see whether they have more in their arsenal, or if this is it.

All told, while both have their merits and failings, this is kind of a wash – neither bad enough for a slag or worthy enough to praise.

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Warpvomit – Barbaric Triumph of Evil LP (Iron Bonehead) (August 19)

OK, the promo materials refer to this as “cyclonic bestial metal”, and y’know…that’s not a bad descriptor at that.

Fast, circular feeling tremelo riffing and noisy high speed drumming, with a cavernous underground style production and “evil” sounding snarl vocals sort of in the vein of Ace Still from Goatlord until they go all death growly. I don’t think there’s two vocalists involved, so it’s probably just dual tracked.

It has the general flavor of “war metal”, but is a bit more pointed than that – the lineage of Beherit and Blasphemy doesn’t really point towards Warpvomit. Side A is “new” (or at least “unreleased”), Side B is a reissue of their demo.

Interestingly, the demo sounds better in some ways – shades of Blasphemy! – but mostly in terms of silencing a lot of that signal bleed and reverb on the vocals, thereby giving the guitar more prominence and power (and making the drums sound like the guy’s hitting cardboard boxes if not Tupperware).

I guess if you’re a completist for the subgenre.

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Spire (Australia) – Entropy CD/LP (Iron Bonehead) (August 19)

Droning, chantlike vocals over droning, nigh-ambient guitar tones.

I used to listen to a lot of Tibetan monks chanting and working the bells and singing bowls back in the 90’s, and this is bordering on very similar territory, without capturing any of the aesthetic or feel.

Occasionally, they pick things up to a propulsively midtempo guitar and drums sort of thing, but still awash in slow moving overtones and never actually breaking the mood. There are some rather questionable growled sprechtgesang vocals that appear intermittently during those portions, but you can sorta ignore ’em if you let the mood overtake you.

Decent enough if you’re looking for a sort of contemplative, neo-black metal bordering on ambient trance kind of thing.

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Black Funeral – Ankou and the Death Fire CD/LP (Iron Bonehead / Dark Adversary) (September 9)

Vaguely Finnish feeling USBM, with the sort of folkish melodic line and thinly produced guitar and drums you get with bands like Satanic Warmaster or Clandestine Blaze…there’s even a prounouncedly Fullmoon feel on “shadows of oubor”.

Works quite well for me therefore, and they even had the amusing/sorta cool chutzpah to give the drummer the moniker of “An Unnamed Spirit”.

Raise the horns.

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Aum (France) – Om Ah Hum Vajra Guru Padma Siddhi Hum CD/LP (Iron Bonehead) (September 9)

French black/death act. It’s noisy, extremely poorly produced and so typical for the sadly all too emergent miscegenated subgenre it bored the shit out of me.

Incessant blastbeats, overly detuned tremelo riff buzzing guitars (though more in a Necrophobiclike death metal sense than a black metal one…until they drop those Watain-style dissonant open chord bits) and belch vox buried under reverb.  There’s a lot of hiss and everything’s buried in the mix behind a wall of white noise, effectively.

Next?

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Amphisbaena- S/T CD/MLP (Iron Bonehead) (September 9)

Canadian act finds another name for the ouroboros, then applies it to a noisy, sloppy and overly raw black/death template.

The fact that this album, and having to write that sentence, just elicited a huge sigh should say it all.

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Perverted Ceremony – Demo 1 TAPE (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (July 15)

Sinister sounding Belgian “war metal”. As expected, the production is horrible, with the guitars sounding like they were recorded through a busted speaker. To be even more precise, they buzz like radio interference when switching the dial searching for a signal. CRRKKKXZZZZZ BZXZZZZZCRKZZZZZ

The nasty sounding vocals and the fact that the entire thing is kinda buried deep in the mix helps matters considerably, so it just sounds sort of Finnish and eeeevil in a vaguely (early) Beherit-esque vein.

Nothing overly special, but considering much of the competition this month, sure.  I’ll give ’em a pass for being listenable enough and atmospheric in that sense.

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Coscradh – S/T (Invictus)

Ireland shows their feelings about Brexit (and England per se) with this angry black/death release. The riffs tend to hearken to death metal more often than not, the drums are atrocious four on the…er, snare simplistic blastbeats, the vocals are kind of snarly and black metal and (rolls eyes) once again buried under cavernous reverb and echo.

I liked when the vocalist shut the hell up and the band slowed down to work proper death metal riffs and traditional drumming without the half-assed blastbeats.  Those instrumental portions were actually pretty good.

The rest of it was just absurd, and yet another in an ever growing pile of black/death detritus.

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Impure Consecration – Succumb to Impurity Fire 7″ EP (Blood Harvest) (July 29)

Hmm.

Promo materials namecheck “early Morbid Angel”, and if by that they mean Mike Browning and Trey working the Abominations demo, then yeah, I can hear that. Nowhere near as complex, oddly melodic or off-kilter interesting as Morbid Angel ever was.

But the vocal sound, the production and drum sound and at least the intended “business” of the tremelo-driven (but still decidedly death metal) guitar does point to some similarity to the Browning era – though this guy’s definitely a better drummer than Browning was.

You know what, there’s been so much utter shit released this month, I’ll be nice and give these guys the nod.

Oh, wait, that was just side 1.

Side 2 is poorly produced and muffled, demo-style, and bears precious little in common with side 1.  Don’t ask me what the story is here.

I give the nod to side 1. You’re on your own with the rather generic, buried under a pillow sounding side 2.

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Tomb Mold – The Bottomless Perdition TAPE (Blood Harvest) (July 29)

Toronto. Of late notable for its retro-traditional metal scene (Cauldron, Skull Fist), it’s a city known for both its comedy and north of the border sophistication, home to a melting pot of Canadian ethnicities and cultures.

So how do we get a super-poorly produced, regressively oriented death metal band hailing from that selfsame metropolis?

The vocals are “morbid” (i.e. deep and belchy and buried under cavernous reverb and a touch of delay) and the guitar and drums are tinny and compressed so much that it sounds like it’s playing over a theme park loudspeaker.

That’s really the issue here: the recording is HORRIBLE, and the vocals subsume whatever’s going on with the band otherwise. I’ve heard better tone over the PA at the public pool.

I know it’s a demo reissue, but sheesh.

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Supremative – Servitude of the Impurity 7″ EP (Blood Harvest) (July 29)

Now these guys are definitely going for the “war metal” sound. Throw in some cavernous slap echo reverb on the morning after hanging over the bowl vocals and bury the noisy, hissy mess that we have to assume represents some seriously poorly played guitaranddrums (which I’ve made all one word to reflect how it’s all one nigh-indistinguishable wall of sound) well behind the vox.

It’s hardly interesting like early Beherit, but that uber-messy wall of noise aesthetic is certainly brought to bear herein.

Your call whether that’s exactly what you were looking for, or your cue to exit stage left.

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Vahrzaw – Twin Suns & Wolves’ Tongues CD (Blood Harvest) (August 26)

Aussie black metal act that appropriates grindcore-style dual snarl/growl vox and a more death metal-like approach to (the less tremelo oriented) riffing.

Vocalist “George” sounds like he’s gargling toothpaste more than “eeeeevil” and the production is noisy, with some pretty sloppy playing on the guitar and drums end. You definitely get the impression that’s what they were shooting for: this Aussie strain of black/death isn’t quite “war metal”, but it’s loose and sorta out of control.

Did nothing for me, but you may want to give a quick listen to see what you think about the vocals, which are if nothing else kind of unusual.

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