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With all the electionate nonsense quieting to a dull roar (and in the case of one end of the equation, emphasize the “dull”, as in mentally and socially challenged…) and summer coming to its inevitably impending end, there’s a feeling of wistfulness in the air.  You can feel something’s lost.

Sure, it’s a season of change, a move into the darker half of the year where the putative Oak King passes and his dark brother the Holly King holds sway, but it’s more than that. Something’s missing, and it’s something vital to the human spirit.

It’s like with the rather out of control if not underhanded way this election has gone here in the States and all the nonsense with Brexit, plus the ongoing (and worsening) situations in Germany, France, Greece and the absurdly perpetual battlezone of the Middle East, we’ve all given up.

Whether on a personal and individual basis or collectively, we’ve all chosen to surrender our essential humanity, the very idea that we deserve and can strive for more, both individually AND collectively (and that the furtherance of one is hardly exclusive to that of the other…in fact, they’re irrevocably intertwined, like it or not).  With shrugs of the shoulders and jokes, we give in to a sullen “I guess I’m with her” or “oh, well, I didn’t vote for the departure”, as if acceptance that “that’s just the way it is” will suffice.

In short, it’s like the fight’s gone out of every one of us, and we’re all in that stage where you stick your head in the sand, lock the bedroom door and sit there pouting in the dark.  No, I won’t come out for dinner, mom.

Maybe it’s time to recognize that there’s some things worth fighting for.  Some things that not only shouldn’t, but can’t just be surrendered.  Even if we lose, there’s always a resistance, always a plan B.

Never surrender your ideals, your basic humanity, the fight for personal and collective rights to freedom and quality of life.

Time to raise that flag and see who stands with us to salute.

And the “powers that be” who “control our destiny”?

Fuck ’em.

We put them there.  We can take them out of said seat of “authority” if need be.  No system of oppression can exist without your consent…and that means individually and personally.  How much moreso collectively?

Gird your loins and prepare yourself, the hour is getting late.

Onwards…

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Narnia – S/T (Narnia Songs) (September 16)

Damn.

Well, that’s probably the last word this particular band would want to hear in praise of their latest self titled effort, but hell, it’s me. You can’t realistically ask a leopard to change his spots, even briefly…so there ya go.

In the wake of last month’s single release (for absolutely killer) album opener “reaching for the top”), the Swedish melodic metal band drop a full album that shows a band who exemplifies Christian metal at its best and in its truest form: none of this mamby pamby Dakoda Motor Company or metalcore-style “are they? aren’t they?” bullshit.

Instead, you get some perfectly in your face statements of faith, delivered in a powerful, uncompromising fashion. One or two songs in, there’s no way in hell…or heaven, for that matter…that you could bear the slightest hint of confusion as to exactly where these guys stand, and why.

Some tracks (like “I still believe”) are downright confessional, others (like “on the highest mountain”, “messengers” or “moving on”) are anthemic declarations of standing in opposition to the darker corners of the scene (many of which are also to be found discussed herein, on a regular basis) – less as any sort of antagonism towards bands or subgenres than against the forces that motivate many (and to which all too many others feel the need to pay token lipservice in search of “scene cred”).

Musically speaking, this is melodic metal with strong power leanings (the keyboard bits of Martin Harenstam fattening up the sound and adding extra drama, the emotionalism and bombast of Christian Liljegren’s smooth vocals) bolstered by plenty of traditional metal orientation (the Dio-sims of “reaching for the top”, the decided Yngwie-ness of “set the world on fire”) and a guitarist who leans Dream Theater-style prog but has enough talent on the fretboard to border on an arguable shred, namely mainman CJ Grimmark (who also handles backing vox and additional keyboards).

The production is excellent and well balanced for all instruments, allowing each individual player’s contributions to be heard while never leaning overly towards bassiness or hiss: it’s pleasantly muted where called for, but has enough crispness to pick out everyone – even the bass of Andreas Passmark is audible if you listen close enough. I was happy with it, and you know how fussy I am about that end of things.

Like ’em or mock ’em for it: Narnia know exactly where they stand, and make no apologies for it. And if what they’re saying makes sense to you, maybe they can lead you to where they’re at as well. And hell, that may be the entire point.

And music aside: in a world of greys leaning all too often to the blackest of the black?

I, for one, respect that.

Raise the…er…hands in praise, I guess?

You get the idea. Top marks.

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CRUZH – S/T (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (August 26)

Less particularly “metal” in any respect than other Frontiers releases this month, this Swedish trio works a more especially Survivor by way of Foreigner radio rock (with maybe a hint of modern country, even) template.

They claim (presumably Hysteria era) Def Leppard, Winger, Firehouse and Toto as influences, so you can get the idea* – it’s highly melodic and your girlfriend will absolutely love the shit out of these guys, but it may be too light for the average hard rock/metal fan’s tastes.

* though honestly, some of those guys felt a bit more “gruff” and “street” than Cruzh!

I certainly didn’t mind it, and both the band and Frontiers’ usual standards shine through with some assured musicianship and quality, polished production, so this ain’t a slag by a long shot.

Just save it for date night or something.

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KING COMPANY – One for the Road (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (August 26)

Fast paced drumming and flash playing ala Yngwie kick off what you’d otherwise expect to be a fairly standard Mr. Big by way of Hericane Alice affair. And if it weren’t for some class playing on the guitar and drum end, that’s exactly what it would be.

It’s a bit of a weird band to speak to, as Antti Wirman (guitar) and Mirka Rantanen (drums) both seem to be playing in a very different vein than where the band otherwise seems to be going.

I guess if you mix Paul Gilbert by way of George Lynch (with an eye opening nod or two towards Malmsteen), tag in occasionally proggy keyboards and power metal-style drumming…and then lean more Hollywood metal/AOR vocally (Pasi Rantanen comes off somewhere between Eric Martin and Ray Gillen, and the band falls somewhere between second album XYZ, second album Hurricane and the aforementioned Mr. Big and Hericane Alice). It’s a strange blend.

While not incredibly far removed from some of the other Frontiers acts reviewed this month – they’re still working a basic metal meets hard rock/AOR thing, after all – this one’s not as instantly catchy, flashy or impressive as DGM, and not as 80’s soundtrack as Palace. Good guitars, good drums, vox that fit well enough…but something feels a bit “off” by comparison.

Still a strong offering overall, and probably worth taking a peek to see if the guitar and drums pull you in.

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PALACE – Master of the Universe (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (August 26)

Former First Signal guitarist Michael Palace cuts out on his own. The band sounds a bit Europe goes (more particularly) AOR, with likeably 80’s-style minor key choruses and plenty of retro-style “night and (outer) space” oriented keyboard business (which is strangely uncredited in promo materials – Allessandro Del Vecchio perhaps?).

It’s Streets of Fire meets Eddie and the Cruisers by way of just about every metal/rock filmic band/club scene of the 80’s all tied up in a neat bundle and festooned with ribbon, as a love letter to the fans.

The guitar isn’t flashy at all, but Palace provides enough decent playing (like the outro of the title cut) to keep the average punter well chuffed throughout, and while Palace’s vocals tend to break and strain when he really stretches for a few out of his range high notes (some points in the title cut are a bit cringeworthy), overall his voice is working in a pleasantly familiar Bon Jovi/Joey Tempest/Lou Gramm territory.

With the omnipresent, minor key oriented keyboard business taking effective center stage throughout and the general summertime driving with the top down feel, Palace works the same tropes and sound of all those bands (both known and unknown) that littered the Sunset Strip (and film soundtracks) throughout the mid 80’s to (very) early 90’s, and that’s good enough for me.

Another strong release from Frontiers, well worth looking into.

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DGM – The Passage (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (August 26)

What would you get if you crossed the wheedly-whoo guitar synth noodling sensibilities of Dream Theater with the neo-Van Halenish flash of Roxy Blue and the melodicism and vocal harmonies of Dokken, add a touch of power metal, then make the whole melange sound fairly AOR overall?

The choruses tend towards being mind blowing in all their sheer dramaticism and harmony, the guitar solos are excellent and Simone Mularoni (who also handles some keyboard duties alongside Emanuele Casali) keeps things very busy during the verses, both chordally and in terms of lead lines and Rhoads-like flourishes and bits of business.

The Dream Theaterish “prog” elements bored me (as always – someone please ban the guitar synth and unpicked guitar lines NOW), but the playing is impeccable (particularly on Mularoni’s part) and busy enough to keep the listener wholly engaged…and a bit impressed at that, throughout. Tag in the stunning Jeff Pilsonesque vocal harmonies at the choruses, power metal’s propulsiveness and drama and the radio-friendliness of AOR, and you have a decidedly winning combination.

Saluti, paisan.

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BLOODY HAMMERS – Lovely Sort of Death (Napalm Records) (August 5)

Did you dig 90’s gothic-industrial? Think anything from latter-Liv Kristine era Theatre of Tragedy or Bigod 20 to later incarnations like Megaherz or Gothminister. Now tone it down a bit on the electronic/industrial end. Sounding more like, say, Irreligious-era Moonspell crossed with H-I-M?

Yeah, I think you’ve got it.

Now hold that general sound in your head, but prepare to take things back a touch further…to the goth scene proper.

Because someone’s roots are showing, and that’s a very good thing.

It’s very well produced, the song construction is impeccable. I absolutely loved the cover, the opener is totally killer (“bloodletting on the kiss”), and hell, I even heard a dash of the Mission if not more recent Cure in “lights come alive”.

Then speaking of the Mission, “Messalina” comes off quite Sisters of Mercy (with a touch of Sonya Scarlet-led Theatres des Vampires), as does “stoke the fire” (perhaps even moreso). “Infinite gaze to the sun” even bears the traditional second wave goth gallop beat (think Inkubus Sukkubus in particular). All of these tracks are positively
stellar.

There are a few letdowns – “the reaper comes” sounds like a dark neofolk ala something off Prophecy or Nordvis, which is perfectly fine if that’s what you’re shooting for, but didn’t fit very well with the more uptempo and pointedly gothic cum electronic/industrial vibe of the album otherwise. That said, the opening sounds right out of Mass Effect, so I’m good with this one regardless.

Similarly, “ether” is straight up Sabbath-style doom metal, which is sorta overplayed nowadays, and likewise doesn’t fit with the more gothic orientation of the rest of the album. “Astral traveler” goes straight up Blues for the Red Sun-era Kyuss stoner metal, but at least it’s upbeat, so I’ll look the other way on that one…

Look, after the fair to mediocre Under Satan’s Sun a few years back, I was positively shocked to find myself really digging a Bloody Hammers album overall.

Sure, they should have cut their losses at track 6, dropped the second half of the album (which is where almost all of the questionable tracks, which by the way hearken back to what they were doing on Satan’s Sun, are located) and made it an EP – it would have been a five star hands down win.

As it stands, my advice is play it straight through “stoke the fire”, then put on something else.

Five of those first six tracks show a Bloody Hammers I am amazed to find exists, one whose roots and orientation are decidedly gothic rock (or gothic-industrial) and whose songwriting, production and musicianship (to the extent that plays into the sound they’re working here) are unimpeachable.

Let’s just pretend the last four tracks never happened.

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ZODIAC – Grain Of Soul (Napalm Records) (July 29)

You know that late 90’s cum early millenium sound of pop radio?

Not the Disney Kids, necessarily (most of whom we sadly still have cluttering up the charts, desperately trying to maintain their corporate hold on the airwaves while prissily whining “look! I’ve grown up! Really!”), but that sorta post-grunge, post-groove, sorta Nashville-lite sound.

You know what I’m talking about – guys singing close mic, sorta gravelly, sorta caterwauling outta the corner of their mouth, with dirty sounding but patently overdriven guitars and more than a touch of both Seattle and GNR’s Slash in the sound. Drunks sing this crap at bars, you see the braindead mumbling along as they play at your local mall or supermarket (yes, this is the new elevator music). You know the sound, some of you probably even like it.

Yeah, well, this is it. Pretty well produced, some decent guitar work on the leads (the Slash influence shines through there), but as for me?

I absolutely hate this shit.

Those who enjoy the sort of thing described above, have at it – they’re very polished and melodically oriented for the unfortunate style they’re shooting for here.

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VALIENT THORR – Old Salt (Napalm Records) (July 29)

uh…OK, you know that annoying, sorta “indie rock” thing, where the guitars are thin and there are off kilter lead lines running throughout?

OK, so add a pretty generic hardcore vocalist and a midtempo drummer.

That sums up opener “mirakuru” to a T, but after that they move more into the post GNR Hollywood hard rock thing (somewhere between Junkyard and Jackyl, if not the Black Crowes), with the vocalist gargling like some sub-Dave Wyndorf.

Then back to the weird indie thing on “no count blues”. You know what?  Think Mudhoney.

Seriously.

Whatever.

Next…

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JINJER – King of Everything (Napalm Records) (July 29)

Ever want to hear Gwen Stefani front a fairly aggro, sorta atonally oriented metal band?

When Tatiana Shamilyuk is doing the clean vocals and not doing that patented Stefani sprechtgesang sass and corner of the mouth yowling, she can actually pull off a pleasant enough sort of soprano (as she does towards the end of “prologue”).

Unfortunately, the music doesn’t really allow for that very often, and falls into Phil Anselmo territory when she’s not doing the hollaback thing while walking in the spiderwebs.

I really hate “groove” and “aggro”. Did I ever mention that?

Fuck Pantera.  They have so much to answer for, and left so many shitty bands in their wake.

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ALTER BRIDGE – “Show Me A Leader” (single) (Napalm Records) (October 7)

I vaguely remember Alter Bridge from when they came out a decade or so back. They had a reasonably vocal contingent of fans, but they never really did anything for me.

So here we are, some time on, and they’re still alive and kicking. How’s this advance single hold up?

Well, they’re more uptempo than I remember, and the guitar solo (courtesy of Mark Tremonti) was actually very good – color me impressed on that end. They’re also playing into a sorta melodic metal goes prog vein, which isn’t how I recalled them being (which was more indie oriented “powerpop” cum “pop punk”).

It’s pretty radio friendly, for what that’s worth. Not sure how the sound will play out on a full album, but the single moved by at a fast and breezy pace, it seemed reasonably well produced and again, I really liked that solo.

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POWERWOLF – The Metal Mass – Live (Napalm Records) (July 29)

The masters of oddly anti-Christian yet otherwise patently dyed in the wool power metal cheese return with a 2 DVD set of three 2015 shows en toto.

Fans who’ve been to the Masters of Rock, Summer Breeze or Wolfsnachte shows may want this as a memento (or to see a quick glimpse of themselves somewhere out in the crowd), and you also get the band’s four videos.

Unfortunately, perhaps, I’ve only been given the audio portion to review, namely the third disc (CD) containing 16 tracks culled from some mix of the above referenced trio of shows.

There’s really not much to say about the music end, though: this is a band who’s big on image and, to judge from the promo photos, their stage show. So when you’re left only with audio, you get some catchy but fairly generic and soundalike material that positively screams “POWER METAL!!!!” – all typewriter double bass, fast gallop tempos and relentless tremelo riffing in the Helloween vein.

Nothing wrong with it, it’s listenable enough…but it’s kinda hard not to laugh at a band who drops a track like “resurrection by erection”!

Powerwolf fans should be all over this one.

I imagine if I’d reviewed the full set with visuals, I’d probably have a far more positive impression to offer – those photos looked pretty amusing and very theatrical.

As it is…(shrugs shoulders).

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DELAIN – Moonbathers (Napalm Records) (August 26)

Let’s set the record straight right off, so you can gauge how well your personal sensibilities in relation to the now veteran Dutchmen align with my own:

Delain for me has always been, and will always be, Lucidity. While they’ve dropped some quality songs in the years since (and I was quite pleasantly surprised by The Human Contradiction a few years back, that’s kinda it.

So here we are, album #5, release #7 and 10 years on from their impressive and much beloved debut. They’ve taken on an new member or two (drummer Ruben Israel and rhythm guitarist Merel Bechtold) and dragged Agonist/Arch Enemy silly growler Alyssa White-Gluz in to muck up the works for a guest spot or two, and reworked catchy if silly lyriced Lunar Prelude track “suckerpunch” and its companion “turn the lights out” for
the album proper, effectively rendering the EP obsolete.

But after this…there’s something indefinable that’s just kinda off.  It’s hardly We Are the Others or Interlude…but it’s not exactly April Rain, much less Lucidity.

In more blunt terms, while it’s perfectly standard gothic metal with mild symphonic touches (the keyboard break from “fight fire with fire”, for example), it just feels rather…generic. And while that’d be perfectly fine coming from a new band or workaday contender, hailing from a former scene leader? Just feels disappointing.

Now, this may be psychological, as frontwoman and lyricist Charlotte Wessels admits to (unintentionally) building the album around the theme of death – hardly the most inspiring and anthemic of topics, there!

But before anyone expects Delain goes goth proper (Siouxsie Wessels?), remember this is Delain we’re talking about – a decidedly major key, radio friendly variant of gothic metal to be sure. So all this spells for the listener are some wistful, mildly depressed tracks struggling to be anthemic.

It should be a flashing red warning sign that the only tracks that really stood out here were the two reworked from the Lunar Prelude EP.

Not horrible, or anything…but they’ve done so much better, both on album and on stage.

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Evergrey – The Storm Within (AFM Records) (September 9)

Pretty much the same assessment as 2014’s Hymns for the Broken.

It’s all about emo-style melodrama and more desperate melancholy than a CW tweeny drama (hold the vampires or superheroes).

Vocalist Tom Englund essentially sings clean, and can hit the high notes when called for – check out his nice duet with After Forever/Nightwish frontwoman Floor Janssen on “in orbit” – but he’s still raspy and emo enough to sound more than a bit constipated while doing it.

It’s polished, alright – this is the band’s 10th album, after all.

But for me, the only real draw here is the aforementioned duet, which was kinda something special.

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Serious Black – Mirrorworld (AFM Records) (September 9)

One of the stronger power metal acts I’ve come across of late, Serious Black combines some Yngwie dueling guitar and keyboard business (“castor skies”) with a more traditional and decidedly positive toned aesthetic (“as long as I’m alive”), the occasional power ballad (“dying hearts”) and straight up Helloween worship (the very “I’m alive”-like “you’re not alone”).

Former Bloodbound mainman Urban Breed really hits his comfort zone here, sounding a lot more likeable and accomplished here than with his former bandmates. Former Edenbridge co-guitarist Dominik Sebastian and former Rhapsody (of Fire) sticksman Alex Holzwarth are joined by ex-Visions of Atlantis four stringer Mario Lochert and a fella named Bob Katsionis to make Serious Black something of a symphonic/power/gothic metal supergroup…and it shows.

What’s funny is that the promo materials keep referring to these guys as a young band, as if everyone involved didn’t have a storied career with some top notch acts prior to this.

Please.

This is a banding together of some A+ performers with impeccable credentials to their names – Visions’ Trinity is still one of my wife’s favorite albums of all time (seriously), and I count myself lucky to have caught that incarnation of the band when they toured with Epica about a decade back, and listeners to the Third Eye interviews with Lanvall and Alex Starapoli already know how I feel about Edenbridge and Rhapsody (of Fire). Even Bloodbound has their moments (though I’m thinking more Book of Hell there)…

Catchier than you’d ever imagine, with plenty of traditional metal feel, melodicism, impeccable musicianship, good production, and a cast list to die for.

What’s not to love?

I’d be crazy not to give this one five stars.

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Lordi – Monstereophonic (Theaterror vs. Demonarchy) (AFM Records) (September 30)

The GWAR of power metal returns for another dose of melodic gimmick silliness.

What is there to say about a band whose schtick involves rubber monster masks and who opens with a chorus stating proudly “I wanna be the Beast Man in the Masters of the Universe!” and follows it up with “I know he’s a loser, and what the hell’s with that hair? He-Man’s head should be on a stake in front of Grayskull’s gate”?

The funniest part about all of this is that one’s actually the catchiest damn song on the album, and will be sure to stick in your head for weeks..

The rest of it is listenable but forgettable fluff with (generally) slower tempo and less than half the catchiness (not to mention comedy) of that track, so while it’s typical fare for Lordi, it’s something of a shoulder shrug otherwise.

But if this was just rating that song as a single? They’d get 5 stars and a raise of the flagon for delivering the laughs and anthemically melodic catchiness in a major way.

Next album: Lordi vs. She-Ra!

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Kryptos – Burn Up The Night (AFM Records) (September 30)

Another in your face dose of riff-heavy Desi metal courtesy of continually impressive Bangalore thrashers Kryptos. Took a few years to get around to a followup to the excellent Coils of Apollyon, but it appears to have been worth the wait.

With vocals very much in the Ron Royce (Coroner) vein, busily chugging riffs and accomplished, often surprisingly melodic solos, fun loving mainmen Nolan Lewis (vox) and Rohit Chaturvedi (guitar) – great interview, guys! – may actually have improved upon their prior success here.

Slowing things down to more of a driving midtempo ala Exodus than their prior, more crazed Kreatorish vibe, the excellent phrasing, melodic lead lines and absolutely killer solos are given room to breathe and come to the fore without competition from an overly busy, speed driven riff structure.

The production appears to have also improved, working a more stripped down, arguably Rick Rubinish approach – always a plus when the band is good enough to handle more sparse and open arrangements and clarity on all instruments – which these guys clearly and obviously are.

Think a bit less “Teutonic thrash” this time around, and more Accept/Judas Priest with strong elements of Bay Area thrash (think Burton-era, still mining Mustaine material-era Metallica, when anyone actually gave a flying fuck about those losers) – the chugging feel of those guys and classic Exodus, but slowed to a trad metal speed. Again, Coroner weighs heavily on the sound and approach here…

Those expecting another Coils of Apollyon will either really appreciate the improvement in sound (hate to say “skills”, given how much I enjoyed that album) or feel sorta betrayed by the move to a more measured and paced traditional metal tempo and sound…but for my part, it worked damn fine.

Taken both on its own merits and in terms of the progression of the band, I’m giving this one an easy five stars.

Koi chinta nahin, guys – and all the best, as ever. If you’re ever in the NYC area, drop me a line, we’ll grab a pint or two. Cheers!

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Debauchery & Blood God – Thunderbeast (Massacre Records) (September 9)

Thomas Gurrath returns with a split of his two bands. He helpfully separates them for you by noting “Monster Voice” for Debauchery and “Demon Screeching” for Blood God, which is actually a good thing, because musically you’d be hard pressed to tell ’em apart.

While things kick off on a more uptempo, Motorheadlike foot with “heavy metal monsternaut” and “murdermaker”, where Gurrath tends to plant his feet is firmly in AC/DC territory. The riffs, the tempo, even the rather Brian Johnson vocals on the Blood God material, it’s as AC/DC as the Young brothers.

Nothing wrong with that if well done, but Gurrath’s take on the Aussie’s Johnson-era sound is just kinda…odd. Not terrible, or anything. Just a bit…off, somehow.

Me, I’m a Bon Scott man through and through, and there ain’t a lick of boogie band in this. It’s Johnson-era through and through…just with weird vocals and as done by space aliens or something.

I shrug my shoulders and move on…

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Darkwell – Moloch (Massacre Records) (September 23)

Pleasant take on the standard gothic metal template, straight outta Austria.

Alexandra Pittracher’s vocals are a tad nasal when she’s working the Mephisto Walz Christianna Leonard sprechtgesang thing, but she effortlessly works in a sweet light soprano for punctuation at the end of phrases, for choruses and as dual-tracked backing vox. And as you can imagine, as a died in the wool goth of the (first and) second wave(s) and a gothic/symphonic metaller back in the genre’s (late 90’s-) early millenium heyday, this played right into my comfort zone.

As expected from the genre, the band works in tandem to bolster their frontwoman as a unified front – guitars, keyboards and drums never really step out into the spotlight, and as a result there’s no flash or outstanding performers to make note of here.

That noted, their sound is quite dramatic and often transportative in its studied mix of emotionality and ethereality (“in nomine serpentis” stands out in particular in this regard).

The only bum note here is the oddly progressive and major key anomalies of “yoshiwara” and a few choruses along the way (“fall of ishtar”, “im lichte”, the entire latter half of “loss of reason”). While these moments may have been intended to give the band a bit more of a workout on the chops end, they seem something of an ill fit with the reasonably haunting, decidedly airy and ethereally oriented gothicism of the rest of the album.

The keyboard (courtesy of Raphael Lepuschitz) is omnipresent here, though it never quite feels overpowering…I got something of an early Cradle of Filth vibe out of it in this respect (only). But lest that give the wrong impression, be advised that this is quite firmly gothic metal, and with less crunchy guitars and more tribal, less double bass-driven drumming, Darkwell could almost have passed as gothic rock proper during the second wave revival of the scene in the mid-90’s (think something between post-Thalia Mephisto Walz and post-Serpentine Gallery Switchblade Symphony).

Apparently they’ve been working the right circuit, boasting appearances at Wave Gotik-Treffen, tours with Leaves Eyes, Tristania and even smooth-toned black metaller Vintersorg to their credit, and the experience that allows them to play on that level shines through on every aspect of Moloch.

Interestingly the album is further mastered by Dark Age’s Eike Freese, but I can’t say whether that plays to the fullness and clarity of the production (which is notable) or to the annoying inclination towards high end hiss (the cymbals and distortion bleed are omnipresent in the mix, and surprisingly offputting given the smoothness of the production, and for that matter, the band’s overall sound otherwise. All it takes is a fader or two pushed down a few levels, guys…

All that being said, rest assured you’re in some very competent, and yes, assured hands here. If you dig gothic metal at its finest, all you have to do is look at some of the company they keep.

Pull out the hair dye and black makeup and don your corsetry and velvet finery, because this is gothic metal in its purest form.

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Crystal Ball – DÉJÀ-VOODOO (Massacre Records) (October 7)

You know, I have to ask, given the same production on last year’s LifeRider

Is Accept legend Stefan Kaufmann losing his hearing?

Seriously. The production is Don Dokken’s Up from the Ashes level, or perhaps Ratt’s Invasion of your Privacy – all hiss and high end, with thin guitar tones and a lot more trebly noise and compression than you’d ever believe otherwise. They say comfort with things in the higher treble end is a sign…may want to get that checked out, brother…

Anyway, thin, hissy production aside, what we have here is some rather warbly, wide vibrato yet raspy power metal-style vocals courtesy of Steven Mageney, solid, almost Accept-like midtempo guitars and straightforward if not simplistic paced drumming and some rather nice dual lead guitars in that sorta Judas Priest/Iron Maiden/Twisted Sister vein. Nobody’s doing anything flashy, but it works, particularly as a dual lead team sort of thing ala Murray and Smith.

Things have become more melodic, the songs are catchier and more concise and straightforward than last time around, and as a consequence, Deja-Voodoo comes off a whole hell of a lot better than LifeRider. Sometimes simple and straightforward is the best route to take – check out earlier Priest, Twisted Sister, even the Matthias Jabs-era Scorpions…oh, and, er, Accept for proof.

Anthemically melodic and more structured, well phrased and concise than you’d expect from their last offering. Hissiness and thin sound aside, having Kaufmann at the helm must be good for ’em.

Flagrant production issues aside, this one’s a winner.

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Dead Earth Politics – The Mobius Hammersmith (Self-Released) (July 29)

Austin Music Awards four times winners. Don’t ask me how that works, given their busy, kinda aggressive take on modern metal. There’s some groove, more than a touch of progressive death, and some stoner/grunge to the growly corner of the mouth yowling vocals.

When they have a good riff going (which seldom lasts for more than a bar or two, sadly enough), you think you’ve found something to latch onto…but then they shift gears. Twice. Then the choruses go almost pop radio by way of Layne Staley, which is unexpected, but OK…then they shift gears a few times again. This is in the course of a few measures.

It’s not melodic, though there are melodic elements to be found here and there. It’s not quite atonal, though it feels sorta latter day Gorguts by way of Unexpect. It’s not really groove or aggro, though that general vibe is in there, poking its head through all the busywork at regular intervals.

So what the fuck is this?

Fans of prog death/djent/math metal may think this is the world’s most hyper-melodic, catchy band in their genre…or that it just doesn’t fit.

Honestly, I don’t know how to call this one. The parts that work really ain’t bad, and if someone gave these fuckers a case of valium, maybe they’d calm their asses down enough to stick to a riff for more than a few bars and write a proper song.

But on the other hand, it’s a lot catchier and more well performed than a lot of stuff that comes across the virtual desk (outside of the more power metal/AOR/gothic/trad/symphonic stuff, anyway), so I honestly don’t want to slag this one either.

It’s like all the right elements are in there…just needs a much more experienced chef with a far more refined palate to bring out the flavor and get rid of all the nonessentials that are fucking the works.

Interesting to be sure, and I for one plan to keep an eye on these guys.

Who knows, a little more polish and melodic orientation and a little less of the go for broke, throw any fucking note or meter shift in and see what sticks bullshit, these guys could be truly top notch. Only time’ll tell.

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High Spirits – Motivator (High Roller Records) (September 16)

We absolutely loved the band’s debut 7″ and subsequent full length two years back, and High Spirits continues to manage to keep us in…well, high spirits by maintaining that same quality of positive punk hardcore meets early 80’s AOR (think bands like Minor Threat and Seven Seconds by way of Greg Kihn, Aldo Nova or even arguably Rick Springfield) throughout.

There’s really nothing “new” to report here, but I am quite pleased to state with full assurance that High Spirits continues to deliver some truly excellent and continually uplifting music to get you through both good times and bad.

Actually, I take part of that back: there is something new to report about Motivator: namely, that they’ve progressed from their former “no lead guitars” stance to include some fairly prominent, well phrased and melodic leads – even tacking on a few lead lines as part of the phrasing, as on “reach for the glory”. This in addition to the newly minted guitar solos proper.

Look, this is more or less positive punk (in the sense of empowering messages and the earlier straight edge scene, not as in that weirdly misnomered appellation for the early 80’s gothic rock scene) leaning stripped down early 80’s AOR/hard rock, so don’t expect flashy 16 bar leads or anything.

But this is something I’d mentioned on previous reviews as being the one thing missing from their otherwise dead on approach…and they listened.

Kudos, and an easy five stars.

I love these fucking guys!

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Imperial State Electric – All Through The Night (Psychout Records) (September 23)

Nicke Andersson, as I understand it recently reunited with his old Nihilist/Entombed bandmates (come on, you guys can do it – another Left Hand Path, Clandestine or Nihilist demo!), here delivers yet another of his vintage 70’s rock affairs.

The fact that it’s been just a single year (almost on the dot) since Honk Machine may seem quite bizarre to metal fans long accustomed to two (and more recently, three-four!) year breaks between albums, but shows that Andersson is more versed in retro chic than even he likely realizes.

Just go back and check your favorite 70’s rockers’ release schedules, I’ll wait. Hell, some of ’em even dropped 2 in the space of a single year (cough Kiss cough) and you don’t hear anyone complaining about the lack of quality material there!

Sure enough, things start off on a very good note with a seriously kick-ass “empire of fire”, move into a sorta bubblegum pop “all through the night”, then back to a very Kiss or Alice Cooperlike vibe on “remove your doubt”.

Weirdly, he goes all 70’s West Coast faux-country ala the Byrds or Eagles on “break it down”, then picks it up to a 70’s punk pace for “over and over again” (think, say, Buzzcocks here), then it’s the bar band blues of “bad timing”, the Eagles meet “beth” of “read me wrong”, only getting back on course for the piano-and-guitar boogie of “get off the boo hoo train” (which is the other standout cut on the album after the opener). Last two tracks get weird again, with closer “no sleeping” being decidedly George Harrison, right down to the guitar tone and solo.

While a strangely varied record, Andersson certainly has the sound and vibe of the decade down, at least in terms of rock. He’s a damn good player (the riffs, solos and even the vocal harmonies are a real pleasure) and there are several very good tracks on here (the opener, “remove your doubt”, “over and over again”, “get off the boo hoo train”).

While the others aren’t exactly up my alley, there’s no denying they could easily be slipped into the rotation of your local oldies station without anyone batting an eyelash.

Not bad, not bad at’all.

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Imminent Sonic Destruction – Triumphia (Luxor Records) (September 2)

sigh.

Yep, it’s another prog metal job.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I love Fates Warning, Believer, earlier Queensryche and their clones Crimson Glory and Lethal, hell, even Sanctuary and Watchtower work for me.

But as a rule, prog as defined by either the Dream Theater school of “John Tesh goes METAL!” bullshit (towards which Imminent Sonic Destruction most closely tilts its ear) or the equally irritating post- Spiritual Healing Death and Gorguts “math” “djent” or “progressive death” (see also Atheist, who may actually qualify as “prog thrash”) just sucks, I’m sorry.

There was an old accusation with more than a grain of truth about jazz aficionados, that the only people who actually listen to some of this stuff is fellow jazz musicos, and half of them are only pretending to like it. This is also true of shred, and I’ve been a fan and player of both styles, so it’s a bit of an “ouch and a laugh” moment to say that.

But honestly, that barb has never applied more precisely than it does to the prog metal scene (whatever the associated subgenre qualifier). The lay of the land is plain and clear to any onlooker: nobody likes this stuff but other prog players and musicians who’re learning it to play with their own future bands. Bottom line is, it’s a very incestuous
scene, with little appeal to anyone outside that closed circle of proggers.

Case in point here. The production’s pretty good overall, the skill of the players is obviously of a high caliber, and they play with genre tropes almost as much as they do with meter, mode and key.

But did I enjoy this in any way, shape or form?

I think you already know the answer.

Proggers, you’ll probably want to check these guys out.

The rest of us, let’s move on, shall we?

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RUNNING WILD – Rapid Foray (Steamhammer / SPV) (August 26)

Now here’s a pair of bands that go way back.

First up, Running Wild. I knew (and dug) these guys back when they were pseudo-“satanic” Judas Priest wannabes (a sound they managed to recapture and emulate better than most) – those first two albums were kinda killer.

Fortunately or unfortunately for them, “Rock’N’Rolf” and company were exposed to the weird proto-Disney Polanski and Matthau effort Pirates – a quirky mainstream oriented flop that was, as history shows, a decade or two before its time in grabbing hold of said mainstream audience.

The result? Under Jolly Roger, a then-bizarre shift into North Sea-set cosplay piracy. While the musical shift doesn’t seem quite so radical these days (“raw ride” could easily have fit on Branded and Exiled, if not Gates to Purgatory), the overall tone was lighter, happier, even sillier.

I remember metal “authorities” of the day turning the band into the butt of jokes on a fairly regular basis – Matt O’Shaunnessy’s Midnite Metal in particular had a real field day with the album and the band’s odd shift in image from “chains and leather” to Ren Faire camp. We all laughed, and sorta forgot about ’em.

But the band kept going with their new direction, dropping one album after another – the last of which I recall hearing anything about whatsoever being the following year’s Port Royal (which supposedly got a video on Headbangers Ball, but I was a regular viewer and have zero recollection of this one – must’ve played all of once).

And then something strange happened.

Disney picked up where Polanski left off, casting wacky Johnny Depp (somewhat fey himself) in their oddly popular and ridiculously ongoing Pirates of the Carribean film series. With Jack Sparrow embedding himself firmly in the cultural lexicon of a generation or two of international youth and “geek chic” moving from a seldom-acknowledged guilty pleasure to an open phenomenon, cosplay became an accepted movement, and love of pirates blended in with both the Renaissance Faire/Shakespeare Festival and anime/Harry Potter crowds.

Further, power metal, always bombastic, began to display a tolerance for, even appreciation of, outright cheese in the wake of Rhapsody (of Fire). Bands like Orden Ogan wrote a tribute song to Running Wild and their pirate theme, and Scotland’s Alestorm picked up where “troll metal” left off, bringing outright tongue in cheek comedy into the metal arena. Some even consider “pirate metal” its own genre (though most would be hard pressed to name more than Alestorm and Running Wild among its proponents).

Somehow, between all that mocking the band took back in ’87 and the present day…Running Wild became cool again.

Who’d’a thunk it?

So how do things stand in 2016?  Well, rather good, actually.  The band’s
improved on their sound since Under Jolly Roger, with Rapid Foray displaying more variation within their general upbeat and anthemic power metal style than they were able to pull off in ’87. It’s like they took what worked best about Port Royal and refined it with more melody, better production and perhaps even improved musicianship.

What clips I’ve skimmed from the many albums they released between those days and now show the band to be nothing if not consistent, but with an arguable improvement in more recent days: a fine wine having finally reached its prime of potability.

While I strongly doubt this album will convert anyone not already inclined towards Running Wild’s longstanding brand of piracy on the high cheese, the fact is that the most varied, melodic and consistently well produced material of the band’s pirate era hails from a surprisingly recent vintage.

So if, like myself, the last you’ve heard of ’em was back in the heyday of metal during the mid to late 80’s, you may want to take a chance and dive back in.

Who knows, you may just get shanghaied all over again.

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SODOM – Decision Day (Steamhammer / SPV) (August 26)

Another band who’s seen a significant retcon over the years is Sodom.   Once considered the black sheep of the Teutonic thrash (and more specifically, the posthumously applied qualifier “blackened thrash”) trio, Sodom was knocked mercilessly back in the day for their loose and sloppy approach.

Kreator was more aggressive, by far. Destruction was more tight, and had a much better guitarist than either of its peers. Sodom? They were just “evil”, and at points, it felt like both Kreator (Endless Pain/Pleasure to Kill) and Destruction (Infernal Overkill through Mad Butcher) did that better as well.

But with the advent of the second wave of black metal, that perception began to change. Sodom also shed their “satanic” orientation and polished up their playing, but did so later than either of the competition, specifically with 1989’s Agent Orange. And let’s be honest, a track like “incest” still seemed pretty damn tasteless if not “evil”, even there…

Oddly enough, while Agent Orange led the band somewhat belatedly into earshot of more “respectable, mainstream” thrash audiences, it also served as a cutoff point for a new and growing fanbase for the band’s earlier material…an audience who found more to appreciate in the crude but sinister appeal of In the Sign of Evil, Obsessed By Cruelty, Expurse of Sodomy and Persecution Mania than what would come after. And you can include yours truly among that crowd: while I still appreciate Agent Orange, when I finally “got” Sodom, it was the older material that I fell for.

The band has been a stalwart of the thrash scene over the years, dropping at least 10 albums (and an expanded reworking of In the Sign of Evil retitled The Final Sign of Evil, which was actually pretty decent, if more of interest for the numerous previously unrecorded tracks than for its newly recorded versions of those we’d already heard back in the day).  But said album of interest aside, the last I’ve heard of ’em was Agent Orange. So again, the question arises: how do they fare in 2016?

Well…not bad, really.

While you’d be hard pressed to assess matters in the same respect as Running Wild (whose newer material actually improves on what they’d been offering since the switch to Jack Sparrow territory back in ’87), the fact is that Decision Day shows a Sodom unrepentantly continuing in the vein of the average veteran thrasher nowadays: only vaguely hearkening to the sound that made them famous, but adapting quite well to the newer, more “modern” sound of their ProTools-raised peers.

Essentially, think modern day Onslaught, but with a better guitar sound, nastier riffs and snarlier, more sinister sounding vocals. It’s highly listenable, but kinda samey from one track to the next.

Overall, I can say it’s probably likeable enough for the diehard (modern) thrash fan, and certainly for those who’ve stuck with Sodom in more recent years…

But if you’re expecting vintage blackthrash Sodom, you’ve got another think coming.

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LACRIMAS PROFUNDERE – Hope Is Here (Oblivion / SPV) (August 12)

Well, we spoke to this band’s Antiadore back in 2013 and seemed to like it well enough at the time.

But whether time has changed me, the band tying themselves to a concept album (always the kiss of death) or just being in a bad mood when listening to this are more or less to blame, I’m just not hearing it this time around.

They’re clearly still playing in a modern, sorta gothic/symphonic arena as fronted by Ville Valo, and it’s inoffensively listenable enough, so don’t expect a slag here.

But on the flipside, nothing here really set me on fire either. It felt kind of one note, like one track bled into the next with no appreciable variation. Objectively, that’s not true, of course…but subjectively, that’s how it felt.

Now, make no mistake, those sporting a heartagram inked on their person somewhere or other should absolutely love Lacrimas Profundere – they’re playing right up that same general alley, if perhaps more symphonic and expansive at points (though that’s an arguable point to be sure). So yeah, it’s good enough, and certainly worthy of a listen if you’re so inclined.

But speaking for myself and where I am here and now? Nah, didn’t really work for me.

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Visions of Bone – The Wounded Kings (Candlelight/Spinefarm) (August 26)

And speaking of stuff that doesn’t quite work for me, here we have a grinding doom band whose lumberingly sluggish tempo suggests a nigh funeral doom at points.

Sure, it’s not quite that slow, there’s a bit more jangly alterna-guitar at times, and the fairly active and busy drumming’s more akin to a stoner rock band. Oh, and the vox are kind of clean but exclusively inclined to whine and moan, again suggesting a post-something or alterna/indie-something or other.

I found it interesting enough for a stoner act, a bit too weird to hack it as a funeral doom affair, and a bit too boring and prissy to stand as a proper doom band…so while I’m not “against it”, I’m certainly not “for it” either.

I guess if you’re just looking for something “unutterably heavy”, with thick, brontosaurus-speed guitars to get stoned to, Visions of Bone will fill your bill quite nicely.

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Steve ‘N’ Seagulls – Brothers in Farms (Spinefarm Records) (September 9)

OK, you know those youtube clips everyone and their mother seems to love to spread around?

You know, these real redneck farmboy types with no shirt and overalls and a silly straw hat, standing out there by a rotting barn, maybe with the chickens wandering around a haystack and a pigsty trough somewhere in view?

Yep, well these guys are the ones responsible, apparently (though I’ve seen several presumed copycats along the way, so who knows if these guys just kicked off some weird trend or what…)

So if you really get laughs out of hearing old rock and metal tracks done on banjo, mandolin and accordion (or just have enough hipster friends that this would work as a joke at parties or what have you), this is the “must see TV” of album releases.

I found it amusing first time someone sent it my way…but like I said, there’ve been quite a few of these floating around in the interim, to the point where it’s kind of hard to care anymore.

There’s one real oddity among the covers here, to be sure: namely Nightwish’s “wishmaster” (?!?), and a few classics (“aces high” “it’s a long way to the top”) – but the majority are geared towards said hipster crowd: sellout-era Metallica (“sad but true”, which could apply to their entire post-Garage Days Re-Revisited career), The Offspring, Nirvana, post-Appetite GNR (yawn), even Deep Purple and Steppenwolf. (bigger yawn and a stretch)

I don’t know, it seemed funnier when they did “thunderstruck” a few years back.

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ALTAR OF OBLIVION – Barren Grounds (CD, TAPE)  (Shadow Kingdom) (September 30)

Four track EP from this Danish act. It’s about as bereft as the cover photo suggests, all mournful neofolk in that neo-Chris Isaak/Mazzy Star sorta vein that moves into a sorta alternative doom kinda thing when they actually pick up the pace (in a very relative sense of the phrase).

Doesn’t really fit with the Prophecy school of music, nor the Rise Above end…so what the hell is it in the end?

Honestly?

I don’t care enough to ask in anything more than a rhetorical sense.

Shadow Kingdom has put out much, much better stuff than this.

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Rattleplague – Bourbon Scenes EP (Inverse Records) (August 19)

Shit, can I put the last few albums on again? Lacrimas Profundere, Visions of Bone and Altar of Oblivion, I apologize, all is forgiven!

Seriously, people are still. STILL trying to ape Anselmo. It’s been fucking decades of that asshole and his various shit bands (one lousier than the other – excepting the one time he shut the fuck up and played his guitar with Necrophagia, which was kinda awesome actually), and all we get are wannabes trying to copy his style?

Yeah, it’s less on the “screamo/aggro” end and more on the “mouth in an O” warbly shout “groove/grunge” end, but goddamn it. Enough already.

At least the guitars are a bit less lunkheaded, leaning a tad more CoC or Alice in Chains than Pantera per se.

If that’s your thing, have at it, you’ll probably love these guys.

Me, I was tired of this shit upon the respective release dates of Facelift and Cowboys from Hell.

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Guitar Force – Different Universe (Inverse) (September 16)

When I think of Poland, I’m thinking of its black metal scene (one of the world’s finest at one point). Possibly Vader and its gothic metal offshoot Unsun. And while they haven’t been worth a shit since their black metal days, everyone seems to jerk off to Behemoth. That’s about it.

So it’s kind of strange in several respects to hear this unusual release from Poland’s Guitar Force. With likeably accented vocals from frontwoman Marcelina Bieniarz, the band consists of three guitarists (one rhythm, two lead) and a violinist (who along with the rhythm guitarist delivers a three woman vocal).

The three female vocal approach keeps things busy on that front, while two leads and a violin keep that end both harmonized and (at times) contrapuntal, with an odd high end tonality from the electric violin being paired with the guitar lead lines.

It’s actually sort of unique, and therefore fascinating in and of itself, with Dorota Kulig nearly dropping into Jean Luc Ponty mode every now and again (I caught that break in “tribute”, there…), which is a very big plus to these fusion-loving ears. They even push things into Pentangle territory on “white lady”…yeah, they’re hitting all the right marks here.

Marcin Habaj and Jakub Calka offer a very solid dual lead guitar team on their own merits, and Bienarz, Kulig and vocalist/rhythm guitarist Antonina Rysz complement each other quite well on the vocal end.

It’s all quite busy, but with excellent phrasing, a palpable sense of melodicism and lack of wasted movement throughout – every note played belongs exactly where it is, no more and no less. It’s almost flash enough (at times) for shred, prog and jazz fusion fans, but never really steps outside the bounds of melodic or (female fronted) gothic metal. Again, everything’s quite concise and to the point.

There’s also a winning quirkiness, much akin to early Magica, a sensation of oddness and “otherness” only reinforced by Bieniarz’ accent. I liked it quite a bit, even during the ballad (and when do you ever hear me say that?)  In fact, it’s a lot like Lightseeker/Hereafter-era Magica in many respects, though hardly as heavy or dark. And being a huge fan of the Romanians back in those days, this is a decided plus.

I liked this one a lot. May be too light for the more hardcore types with something to prove, sure. But it was good enough for me.

Raise a lighter in salute.

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Rekoma – Circle Of Hate (Inverse Records) (August 12)

Dramatic and bombastic overall, but still very much in the modern metal leaning aggro vein.

Even within phrases of a given song, there were moments I definitely liked (the more transcendent, expansive bits with clean singing that felt sort of Viking metal, which the band or at least the promo authors seem to think is melodeath inspired) and moments I hated (the more lunkheaded aggro bits, often complete with Anselmo puke-howl vox to make the nauseous sensation complete).

Half very right, half very wrong.

I’ll give it a passing nod of mild respect for the half that worked, and let ’em off with a warning.

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Death Design – “Drown With Me” (Inverse Records) (August 4)

oy, more aggro business, crossed with prog death.

The drumming’s pretty precise and blazingly fast on both double bass and kitwork, and the guitar is doing a spastic machine gun riffing sort of thing that brought Echoes of Eternity to mind. But good God, those vocals…

Could have just been sorta quirky to interesting with an actual death metal vocalist, instead of being dragged down by yet another crap Anselmo wannabe puking his guts out on top.

BLUUAHHH BLURRGGH BLUUUAAAHHHH BLAAAHHHH!!!

Hey, bro, how about a courtesy flush?

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Quake The Earth – Declaration Of War (Inverse Records) (September 9)

And yet another one. What is with this month, anyway? Usually it’s the Watain wannabes, now it’s the Pantera clones?

(sigh)

…anyway, aside from the perfectly atrocious “vocals”, it’s yet another groove/aggro mixing with some tropes of modern death metal. They call themselves “hardcore”.

uh…since when did hardcore punk morph from bands like Minor Threat, Bad Brains, Agnostic Front, Cro-Mags and D.R.I. to guys who beat off to posters of Phil Anselmo?

Sorry, kid, don’t know what that is, but it sure as fuck ain’t hardcore.  Can you believe they have the balls to give a nod to Agnostic Front in the promo materials? Seriously, I made that comment and took a look over at the writeup they send out to the press, and there they are. Whoo, missed by a Missouri mile, there, fellas.

I don’t know. First that Magrudergrind thing claims to be “hardcore”, now these clowns.

Sorry, Pissing Razors and Pantera are about as punk as Britney Spears, and even less metal.

I think I’m going to turn this shit off and put on some Exploited.

“Let’s start a war, said Hilary one day…”

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Harri Kauppinen – Helvetin laulut (Concorde Music) (September 30)

Former frontman of a “dark metal” band called Beyond the Dream (raise your hand if you’ve ever heard of ’em. Yeah, you out there in the back, I’m talking to you.) does his solo project.

It’s pretty one note, crossing weird mumbly ambient tracks (whisper mumble whisper bird noises…OK, next track) with piano and detuned, sorta doom/sludge metal guitar chugging away at a snail’s pace.

Parts of it are gothically inclined neofolk enough to hail from a label like Prophecy or possibly Nordvis, but the whole thing feels kinda sparse…and therefore somewhat pointless.

I guess if you’re overdosing on Prozac and play a few bars of actual music between dozing off or crawling off into the corner of the studio to rock back and forth for a bit, only to return after throwing down a stress card for several minutes, it might come off something like this one.

Hell’s songwriter, indeed.

COVERNORESIZE

Rotör – Musta käsi (Svart Records) (August 30)

Surprised this one didn’t come out on No Remorse, it’s totally retro NWOBHM. Somewhere between Sweet Savage, Tygers of Pan Tang, Motorhead and Heavy Load should give you a fair reference point.

That said, you can also pick up bits of Savage, maybe a hint of Tank. It’s reasonably punky in the classic sense, but with reverb-washed,  Marshall stack driven solos and dual lead guitar lines. Promo materials  namecheck Speedtrap and Hard Action, which ain’t too far off the mark, actually.

Not as instantly classic as Hard Action by a long shot…but sure to garner a favored spot in your retro-NWOBHM collection.

Some decent riffs in there to be sure.

I liked it well enough, yeah.

COVEREXACTYX

Seremonia – Pahuuden äänet (Svart) (September 30)

OK, so they’re still working the same sort of psychedelia and vaguely “occult rock” cum doom thing they were on the still quite enjoyable Ihminen and Noora Federley still sounds just like the Shocking Blue’s Mariska Veres long lost daughter, but it’s more akin to last year’s Kristalliarkki than the band we saw on Ihminen.

There’s a bit more life in them than we saw on the last go ’round, but the production’s kinda lo-fi and lousy by comparison (I had to turn it up quite a bit when switching from Ihminen to this one, which was like low mumbles by comparison).

I like these guys overall, and it does seem a damn sight more sprightly than the last album…but you’re still better off sticking with Ihminen.

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Skogen – Svitjod (Nordvis Produktion) (October 7)

Reissue of the Swedes’ second album from 2001.

Expect thicker, more in your face production than their more recent I Doden but leaning more towards the sound of that album than their debut Vittra each of which got reissues last year. Hey, 3 out of 4, when’s Eld on tap for a reissue?

But to get to brass tacks, Skogen are sort of an Ulver-lite, with heavy folk influence sprucing up and providing breaks from their otherwise midtempo, mid to late 90’s black metal sound. I guess if you crossed Bergtatt/Kveldssanger-era Ulver with post-Demonaz Immortal and Frost-era Enslaved, you’d have something vaguely akin to Skogen…just slow things down a bit and make them more pagan/ambient, I guess.

I’ve liked the three Skogen albums I’ve been exposed to thus far, and while they aren’t exactly the sort of genre defining classics to which I return again and again, they are both atmospheric and well done, and quite easy on the ear for those attuned to the more extreme corners of the metal scene.

Given the slightly improved production over I Doden and the more pronounced Ulverisms here than on Vittra, this may be my favorite of the Skogen albums reviewed to date.

So when’s Eld coming again?

Either way, horns up in salute. Succumb to the majesty of the hoarfrost (great cover, by the way).

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Demonstealer  – This Burden is Mine

Collaboration between Indian guitar virtuoso Sahil Makhija and Nile’s George Kollias. As you might expect, it’s essentially death metal. OK, that noted, let’s get into it further.

Some of these riffs are catchy enough to call this melodeath, a thought bolstered by some melodic choruses with clean, multitracked, sorta droning vocals (shades of Cynic!). At points, it almost leans metalcore (as in the At the Gates inspired Killswitch Engage), but the heavy parts are more particularly modern death leaning progressive.

I don’t really get the cult of George Kollias. All I’m hearing is hyperspeed on the double bass end, not a lot of kitwork and while there was certainly some syncopation in play, it wasn’t all that pronounced – I’ve heard some stuff that really stands out over the years, cross genre and style, and his was just…kinda “high average”, I guess.

Sure, he’s good, that’s not even in question. But I seriously don’t get the obsessive cult he’s apparently built around himself…

I did really like Sahil Makhija’s guitar work, particularly on the solos, which were phrased and sorta old school. None of that Dream Theater school of wheedly-whoo arpeggiated nonsense, this sounded more akin to a more metallized Ulrich Roth or something – and if you know me, that’s a huge compliment to be throwing down here. There was melody, phrasing and a point to be made in each solo…something you don’t hear
all that often these days. Hats off.

Makhija’s death growls are nothing spectacular, but were inoffensive enough, and I certainly appreciated all the clean, harmonized parts, though at times the slower bits seemed…I don’t know, more than I was expecting to hear given all the controlled chaos surrounding.

There’s even a bit of traditional Indian folk at points – while decidedly underplayed overall, I did pick up some sitar and tabla in there on a track or two (“the failures of man” being one instance). Nice touch.

Tag in some super-fast drumming with a bit of syncopation every so often from Kollias, and you get a pretty winning affair all around – even the bits I groused about are pretty fucking mild criticism, you have to admit. “oh, this pizza’s really good…could’ve used more oregano, though.”

Four and a half stars easy – arguably five. Looking forward to the next round.

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Hyponic (Hong Kong) – 前行者 (Weird Truth Productions)  (August 10)

Pointless ambient noise.

People pay for this stuff?  You can stand near a construction site and get the same effect…

NEXT!

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Swampcult (Netherlands) – The Festival (2016) (Transcending Obscurity Records) (October 2)

Interesting concept, not entirely sold on the execution.

A sort of more polished, less evil sounding take on Goatlord, Swampcult directs their muted, detuned and simplistic guitar riffs, equally simple, occasionally shaky on meter but strangely crystal clear drums and weird, declamatory vocals (which are sort of a growly sprechtgesang breaking into odd cackles at points) to the service of relating a single Weird Tale, namely the 1923 Howard Philips Lovecraft story “the festival”.

It’s kind of surprising that a story quite this short somehow merits an entire 9 track, 40 minute plus album, but these guys manage to pull it off regardless, which gives a vague flair of King Diamond (somewhere between Abigail and Voodoo) to the otherwise sorta unspectacular proceedings.

If it wasn’t Lovecraft (or someone equally evocative and eerie like Seabury Quinn or Robert E. Howard), you wouldn’t bat an eye at this one, and may even mock the players for their basicness and occasional technical and rhythmic ineptitude.

That said, thanks to the unearthly atmosphere Lovecraft always manages to evoke (and which the band at least on the vocal and effects end does actually pull off in transliterating to a new medium), Swampcult’s The Festival is well worth a listen for those so inclined, and Lovecraft devotees in general.

In effect, the very limitations of the musicianship actually suits the material, lending itself contrarily quite well to the awkward, unearthly nightmarish dreamscape the author achieves in eliciting from the reader. So while on one level, it’s disposable detritus…yet and still, it actually works.

Personally, despite the notable flaws in (musical) execution, I’d be looking forward to the band taking on more from the Lovecraft canon…or that of Howard or Quinn’s Jules de Grandin tales, for that matter.

Quirky, flawed, but creepy as shit and kind of essential despite any limitations of performance.

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Darkrypt (India/International) – Delirious Excursion (Transcending Obscurity India (sub-label)  (October 15) 

Indian death metal of the old school, actually mastered by Dan Swano at Unisound (!)

They note influences from more classic Finnish death acts than Swedish or US ones, so you can sort of divine the sound here for yourself – yeah, I can hear Karelian Isthmus Amorphis in here, a touch of Demilich, sure.  Maybe a few second tier Swedes like Seance as well, but that’s arguable…it’s in that general ballpark, though.

So expect busy tremelo lead lines, Immolation or Suffocationesque harmonic squeals, a touch of harmony and a lot of “damn, this sounds so familiar, but I just can’t quite place it” along the way.

The production is impeccable as one might expect, the playing is totally on point and yeah, you could probably fool the average listener that this is some long lost unearthed gem from the Finnish (or less celebrated end of the Swedish) death metal scenes of the early 90’s.

I’m happy, they get to be happy too. Horns up and five stars.

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Carnal Tomb (Germany) – Rotten Remains (Memento Mori (Spain) (July 25)

Swedish death metal, straight outta Berlin.

Sounding like a lost rehearsal tape of either Dismember or Carnage (and more likely the latter), this is the first full length from these guys, who namecheck not only Grave, but Crematory and Convulse in the promo writeup. Hmm…yeah, I can sorta see that.

You know, I have to admit, as much as I love the original bands and albums that made this sound back in the late 80’s/early 90’s, newer bands trying to ape the sound usually only half works. I mean, it’s not hard to get the basic sound down – just find yourself an HM-2 and jack all the dials.

But something’s always missing, some essential spark that’s never really there. Closest I’ve seen were Death Breath, who had both Nihilist/Entombed’s Nicke Anderssen and Repulsion’s Scott Carlson in tow, so does that really count? Grotesque’s new EP is a pretty killer take on classic era Death…otherwise, it’s always “yeah, that sounds really
close…but there’s just no soul”.

What’s interesting about this one is, for whatever ungodly reason…it just feels a bit more authentic. Maybe not dead on…but closer than usual.

For that alone, I give ’em props.

Nice job, guys.

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Deprive (Spain) – Temple of the Lost Wisdom  (Memento Mori (Spain) (July 25)

Strangely, another rather old school, second tier Swedish or possibly Finnish sounding death metal act this month. This time they name check not only Amorphis and Convulse, but Gorement and Cemetery.

That sort of feel, the Seances, Cemeterys and suchlike of the early 90’s death metal scene are certainly present in the overall sound here…you might even throw Sorcery into the mix (though that’s a bit of a stretch).

It wasn’t half as melodically enclined or likeable as Darkrypt, but it’s a hell of a lot closer to the sound of bands of that level and style back when than a lot of more particularly “retro” acts crossing the desk every month, so there’s something to be said for that.

Not the kind of thing you’d be reaching for often, but yeah, it’s probably one you’ll want for the collection when you’re bored and looking for something in the same vein, but a bit different from your usual go-tos.

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Ade (Italy) – Carthago Delenda Est  (Xtreem Music) (July 15)

Fans of Nile should be wetting their pants with excitement over this one.  Because yep, it’s the Italian Nile.

The only real differences I’m picking up are that instead of the Egyptian modes, motifs and lyrical approach, my fellow paisani here are rightly celebrating the Empire that brought the desert nation to its knees.

That’s right, we’re talking la bella Roma here, motherfuckers.

Appropriately (if amusingly), the band all take pseudos of Imperatori Romani (Traianus, Fabius, Commodus and more infamously, Nero and Caligula), complete with Roman “V”s substituted for the modern “U”. That’s kinda cute, but that’s hardly all…because the band actually dons traditional gladiatorial apparel (yep, that means those little leather toga things…) and shows off their hairy legs in salute to the world’s greatest Empire and the days of Hadrian, Julius, Augustus and Tiberius Caesar.

OK, it’s actually a bit earlier in the timeline than that (in fact, Rome was still a Republic during the Punic Wars the album title references), but you get the picture, I ain’t gonna nitpick.

So crack out your Seutonius and kick back with a few goblets of Neapolitan or Amalfi Coast vino, as these guys take you back with some modern, winding riffed, relentlessly paced death metal.

It’s not the style of death metal I care for as a rule, but I did appreciate all the ethnic melodies thrown in and the general conceit of the band, so they get a nod where Nile, to be quite honest, wouldn’t.

Saluti, paisan.

Veni, vidi, vici.

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Vulvodynia (South Africa) – Psychosadistic Design (Lacerated Enemy Records (Czech Republic)  (June 30) 

Somewhere on the outskirts of grindcore lies the strangely reclassified silo of “brutal” death metal. It’s grindcore right down to the grossout lyrics, dual black/death vocals that devolve into animal noises, (usually horror) film clips and blastbeat/highspeed double bass drumming…just with some slower bits thrown in to leave some of it comprehensible to the listener.

But make all the undeserved distinctions you want, it’s fucking grindcore.

So here’s a grindcore…er, “brutal death metal” band out of South Africa. They’re no Carcass, Repulsion, Terrorizer, General Surgery or even Mortician, and don’t even have a silly gimmick like Hatebeak or Caninus.

The only thing they have going for ’em is that they bring in several guest vocalists from other bands in this sub-subgenre, which is a damn good thing, because all of them are better than Vulvodnynia’s own frontman, who prefers high pitched pig noises to any actual attempt at death growls or black metal snarls.

“Squeal like a pig, boy!”

He must’ve taken that filmic line delivery as some sort of personal epiphany…”yes! I shall, sir!”

Next…

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Seputus – Man Does Not Give  (PRC Music) (October 21)

Black metal meets grindcore, but they self-identify as “blackened technical death”. Go figure.

Way too noisy and samey for my taste.

Next…

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ORDO OBSIDIUM – A crooked path to desolation (Eisenwald)

Well, these guys call themselves blackened doom ala Paradise Lost, but I’m not really hearing that. It’s more uptempo than that would imply: the drums are running at a rapid pace throughout, with tremelo guitars buzzing away in patented black metal fashion.

The vocals are sorta chest belch-oriented, which speaks to a sort of death/doom hybrid, but it’s kind of its own animal as a whole. “Death-ened” black metal with a vaguely depressive bent, I guess.

It’s not bad for what it is, certainly listenable enough.

Just felt kinda aural wallpapery to these ears.

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DULVITUND – Huldar Slóðir (Dissociated Records) (August 26)

Ambient electronic affair. It’s sorta moody and dark, and crosses some unspoken border between early 90’s SF soundtrack (think something like Hardware), Mass Effect and Nightsatan.

All good by me. If I’m gonna listen to ambient, it’s going to sound something like John Carpenter or this.

Dig it.

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Netherbird – The Grander Voyage (Black Lodge Records) (October 28)

Oddly upbeat if not major key feeling (self-identified) black metal, often dropping off into nigh-ambient acoustic folk territory.

It’s got some melodic touches, decent drumming from current Marduk drummer Fredrik Widigs (who gets to syncopate all over the place…picture that happening in fucking Marduk!) and a few anthemic, pagan/Viking style riffs (“windwards” is an easy target, but that sound comes up all over the album), and vocals that would easily fall under that umbrella as well.

In fact, it’s so particularly pagan metal (if not Viking metal straight up!), I’m surprised the band doesn’t self-identify as such. It’s anthemic, melodic, suffused with folk elements and features vocals that more closely approximate that scene.

In sum, Netherbird is only as black metal as, say, Primordial and Manegarm, so why not just embrace it? No shame on the mattress, right?

Either way, it’s instantly likeable, with good production, fairly excellent drumming, good playing on the guitar end and an anthemic, melodic feel.

Raise the sails, it’s off to the next raid!

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CRYFEMAL – D6s6nti6rro (Osmose Productions) (September 30)

OK, I’ve just been through half of this album and it’s made no impression on me whatsoever.

Seriously.

Amazingly generic, with that open chord atonal thing alternating with tremelo picked lines and a lot of earlier Dark Funeral-style “let’s move the chord up and down, back and forth, kids! Fuck key changes!”

About the liveliest things get are on “requiem eterno” and “espectros de belmez”, which at least pick up to a more classic era Immortal freneticism of pace.

Otherwise?

Not impressed.

Next…

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PRINCIPALITY OF HELL – Sulfur & Bane (Osmose Productions) (October 28)

While their earlier Fire & Brimstone was rather Maax-inspired in all of its Motorhead, Bathory and occasional Celtic Frostisms, Sulfur & Bane gets a meatier, more in your face and 80’s retro reverb production. While not a hell of a lot has changed on the music end, this gives the album a very different feel from its predecessor.

Which is better? Who the hell knows, both work – but they’re two different animals to be sure.

I guess if you compare Bathory’s self titled to Under the Sign of the Black Mark in terms of production and approach, that may serve as a general (if vague) idea of the change here.

One definite improvement is how the drums really get front and center, so you can really appreciate just how good a sticksman John “J.” Vostis actually is. Seriously, he works a sort of death metal double bass for a few bars, then does some speedy full kit tom rolls ala Reed St. Mark on meth in the next, then tosses in a measure or two of light syncopation and cymbalwork thereafter. All in just a minute or two of one track.  None of that blastbeat bullshit here, kids…

I mean, don’t get the wrong idea, this isn’t prog, fusion or tech we’re talking here – this is some pretty straightforward black n’roll. But he’s busier than Keith Moon and crazed H.P. Lovecraft sticksman Michael Tegza combined, and at more of a breakneck speed besides. I certainly liked his playing here, let’s just say that.

Even so, it’s not a million miles removed from Fire & Brimstone – they even make a point of covering both Bathory AND Celtic Frost, and add some from Sodom, Venom and Razor to boot. Hey, guys, you forgot to tag in a Motorhead track…wear those influences on your sleeve proudly!

I liked ’em both, but by the time you get through the album proper and all the covers, tag in the improved drum production…yeah, I think this one actually does inch out Fire & Brimstone after all.

Raise the horns and a mug of pilsner in salute.

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MOASE – Vertigo  (Signal Rex) (September 30)

Well, it’s well produced enough, and far from unlistenable.

It’s another one of those post-something or others. Not really “post-black metal”, but somewhere in that sorta indie “too hip to fall under classification” vein. You can just see the man bun, scrawny bod and enormous beard. What, you’re not vegan? What-EVERRRRR…

There’s enough stoner doom mixed with 80’s soundtrack-style Casio keyboard to this to keep it on the “yeah, that’ll do” side of the pass/fail line, but it’s just instrumental and didn’t really stand out over your typical Kyuss or Monstermagnet workout.

“Lull” and “whorl” are your best tracks, it’s all listenable enough and kinda trancey background music for a late night drive.

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ENDALOK – Englaryk (Signal Rex) (October 7)

On the other hand, we have this, also totally instrumental/ambient venture out of Iceland, which doesn’t work at all. Damn, Moase was pretty great after all, huh?

You can tell this is somehow “black metal” related, because there’s an occult sigil, and they appropriate that lame Watain wide open and ringing atonal chord thing that all good “occult black metal” acts do these days. Snore.

I dont really see a purpose, these aren’t songs proper, just atonal ambience. It’ll give you a bad trip to be sure, so there’s not even “ritual value” (yeah, we’re really reaching trying to find some kind of justification for this one’s existence…and failing miserably).

Next…

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RICARDO REMÉDIO – Natureza Morta (Dissociated Records / Signal Rex) (October 3)

The guy behind Lobo joins forces with Sunn O)) mainman Daniel O’Sullivan for this vaguely Mass Effectlike dark electronic instrumental album.

There’s really nothing more to be said here.

If your inner Shepard is itching to explore a few new planets around the galaxy post-Reaper invasion, this “dead nature” should provide excellent accompaniment.

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Hexenslaught – Demo I (Invictus Productions) (August 22)

Some pretty simplistic old school thrash leaning death metal, recorded with the mic placement up somebody’s ass.

Seriously, there’s so much red zone noise bleed on this, the entire signal is fuzzed out. You can actually hear the speakers crackle in ways they’re not supposed to, ala Guitar Wolf but worse.

Which is too bad, because otherwise, I really kinda liked this one – think a “war metal” take on early Slayer, Dark Angel or possibly even Mantas/Death.

Were they kidding with the (utter lack of) production here?

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Predatory Light – S/T (Invictus Productions) (September 23)

Better production than MMXIV, to be sure.

This is a sort of black metal/doom hybrid out of Seattle, the home of grunge. Go figure.

Seems more polished than last time around, and not just in terms of production, so that’s a plus. But did nothing for me.

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Deathcult (Switzerland) – Beasts of Faith (Invictus Productions) (September 26)

OK, this is the Swiss Deathcult.

Not to be confused with the two Deathcults from Germany, the one from Norway, or the two from the States. Oh, and of course, the goth band from the UK, who renamed themselves from their original moniker of Southern Death Cult, then finally shortened it to just The Cult.

These guys are death metal with Sabbathy doom moments. I’d say sorta like Autopsy, but there’s nothing even vaguely “bluesy” here, nor do the lyrics tend towards the crass. But think simple, raw, underproduced (particularly on the guitar and vocal end) death metal that doesn’t feel very old school, but isn’t exactly modern style either. It just comes off feeling raw and dirty.

The pace is usually pretty brisk (think early Death crossed with Nihilist/Entombed), but the sound is more…again, Autopsylike, minus the elements mentioned above. It’s familiar enough, but just not right.

That said, there are a hell of a lot of fans of Riefert and company, particularly in the UK…so Switzerland’s Deathcult should find a waiting fanbase eager to lap this stuff right up.

I didn’t mind it at all…just not sure I can really recommend it either.

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NUNSLAUGHTER / GRAVEWÜRM – split picture-disc 7″ (Hells Headbangers) (July 29)

Nunslaughter drops another split, surprise, surprise!

What’s good here is “the red ram”, where they slow things down a bit and get a bit trad metal…even slightly anthemic! at the midpoint. Those are some potent riffs there…

Then they do a faithful if less sinister sounding version of splitmates Gravewurm’s “on the icy plains I die”. Nothing wrong with it, but I still prefer the original, warts n’ all.

Then the aforementioned band steps up with a far more poorly produced flipside – I had to jack the volume dramatically once Nunslaughter exited stage left. “Cult of the dying god” is a bit more sludgy than their usual fare, pushing them slightly into Goatlord territory, albeit over an Absurd riff (!)

Whoops, their cover of Nunslaughter’s “killed by the cross” sounds a hell of a lot more powerful and loud, making me wonder if “cult” was a pre-existing track repurposed for this split? Who knows.

I’m usually at least comfortable with Nunslaughter releases, and often really enjoy ’em – this is no exception. And on the flipside, I’ve bought a Gravewurm disc or two over the years of my own volition, and reviewed ’em once or twice here as well – so did you really expect a putdown?

If you dig either or both of ’em, you’ll love this.

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AGATUS – The Eternalist (CD, LP, TAPE) (Hells Headbangers) (October 9)

When I get a black metal release from Hell’s Headbangers, I’m expecting something along the lines of Nunslaughter: gritty, raw, unpolished, often rather killer USBM of the old school variety. Think Motorhead meets Venom and go totally outlaw biker on the whole thing, that’s the usual M.O.

So this one was a bit of a curveball.

Greek black metal of the (more or less) Rotting Christ school of thought, these guys keep the production clean and fairly polished, the riffing decidedly traditional metal leaning NWOBHM and the vocals alternating between a Sakis Tholis sort of growl and a clean, postpunk meets gothic rock heavily reverbed approach.

The riffs still lean towards the loveably quirky, with plenty of stuttering phrased tremelo lines over their otherwise vaguely Maidenesque leaning Viking metal (“the oath”) chordal base, light bombast and dramatics.

Actually, it’s so unlike the typical Hells Headbangers release, as good as those quite often are, as to feel somewhat out of place on the label.  What is something this “professional” and accomplishedly polished doing on the same label as, say, Intoxicated, Atomic Aggressor and Shitfucker?

It’s like they come from two entirely different planets. But either way, I’m glad they picked this one up – it was not only surprisingly good, but a refreshing change from the same old, same old.

Raise the horns.

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THRONEUM – Morbid Death Tales (CD, LP) (Hells Headbangers) (October 14)

More of an arguable fit here is Poland’s Throneum, whose underground approach to black-death is messy, noisy and fairly atonal.

Awash in reverb and delay, with guitar lead lines laid over the top that don’t actually work for the music (it’s more like just playing with the delay pedal to create atmospherics), the guitars are detuned and doomy in tone, but with crazed and sorta noisy hyperspeed drumming pulling their sludginess into a false sensation of almost grindcore speed.

But those guitars keep chugging along at a midtempo to slow pace – it’s all the drumming and those odd delay line overlays that make it feel faster than it actually is.

Not the worst I’ve sat through by many a mile…but kind of pointless.

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HOBBS’ ANGEL OF DEATH – Heaven Bled (CD, LP) (Hells Headbangers) (October 14)

Aussie underground act makes a long delayed comeback.

I have Hobbs’ two prior releases (well, the ’88 self titled and demo compilation Hobbs’ Satan’s Crusade) in the collection for many a year, and got a bit of mileage out of these upon first encountering the two about a decade and a half back.

While the intervening years haven’t been quite so kind to them (other than an occasional spin, they’ve sort of collected dust since), they were a fair enough example of third tier thrash (of at least lyrically blackened bent) from back in the day, and suffice to say, if you like this one (or even if you don’t) you’d be well advised to check at least one of these two out (there’s a lot of song duplication between them, which is understandable given the move from demos to first official album release).

So how does Heaven Bled hold up by comparison?

Well, given all the years between (they’d apparently dropped another release around ’95, which I can’t comment on one way or the other), there’s certainly more than enough aggression on display here for the less discriminating listener.

My problem with it is that what you get seems far more generic than Hobbs’ earlier material: a fairly aggressive sounding, if by thrash standards sort of midtempo and kinda samey from track to track very modern thrash affair.

Like Onslaught or (to a far lesser extent) the aforementioned Sodom, Heaven Bled is a perfectly respectable attempt to recapture 80’s glory by an iteration of the same band nearly 30 years later. And honestly, if you have, say, your dad trying to grow out his hair again and get the old band back together? You’d have a pretty cool father indeed if they sounded half this lively and aggressive, or managed to recapture quite so much of their youthful sound so many years down the road.

That said, it ain’t the same thing, in the end.

Hats off for a strong effort – a few tracks (“suicide” in particular) come reasonably close to the classic Hobbs sound.

But overall? Expect a far more modern approach to thrash, with a few vaguely Slayerish “evil sounding” riffs and blackened lyrics sprucing up the otherwise fair to middling results.

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CRUCIFIED MORTALS – Psalms of the Dead Choir (CD, LP)  (Hells Headbangers) (October 28)

Wasn’t overly excited about their split with Exorcism a few years back, but this one feels a bit more thrashy than I recall these guys being.  Vladimirs drummer Ash Thomas once again makes his increasingly ubiquitous presence felt, but apparently there’s been a bit of a shakeup in the ranks, leaving Craig “Reaper” Horval as the sole vocalist and instrumentalist otherwise. And to judge by comparison to the aforementioned release, that may have been exactly what these guys needed.

It’s still a kinda murky, underproduced-feeling hardcore take on thrash with light death/black elements, and the vocals are too “Handsome” Dick Manitoba growly to really work as a (likely intended) straight up thrash effort, but the improvement is notable.

Promo materials name check Carnivore and Rigor Mortis, and you can hear that, even in what I just said about the oddness of the vocals and the pointed hardcoreness of the whole thing. Think those bands, or the kind of (generally thrash) metal that came out on New Renaissance or Death Records back in the day, and you’ll get the general idea – At War, Mentors, Executioner, Genocide, even the more “major label” (cough) Sacred Reich could be used as vague signposts here. I hesitate to tag in Blood Feast, but this isn’t a million miles away in a certain general tonality and feel.

Plus they cover the (comparatively) obscure Desultory’s “into eternity”, which meant instant endearment. Hats off, I love that fucking album.

As a side note, “kill (up)on command” is not the Vio-Lence track, though it shares some sensibilities, to be sure. Ditto on “hideous” – not the Grotesque track, though I bet these guys could have covered both with the same degree of faithfulness as they did Desultory.

A big improvement and consequently a much better review to offer. Fans of the aforementioned labels may well wish to attend this choir rehearsal.

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EXCUSE – Goddess Injustice (12″ MLP) (Shadow Kingdom / Hells Headbangers) (September 30)

Finnish retro speed metallers. Production is rather pinched, and I don’t just mean how the guitars use wah pedals set to bring out all the harmonics ala Obsession. It’s very thin.

That said, it’s pretty straightforward, aggressive and likeable enough, with vocals that sounded kinda Genocide (of Submit To…fame). Think the puke-vox of a less stoned Darby Crash, I guess – very hardcore and a bit drunken/whiny, but instantly recognizable and very retro.

I dug this one to be sure.

Three headbanging, mind melting tracks (and one pointless ambient interlude…don’t ask me), no waiting.

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Solar Mass – Pseudomorphosis TAPE/CD/12″ MLP (Iron Bonehead) (October 3)

Quirky New Zealand act who really, REALLY like early Voivod.

From the weird, sorta avant garde vocals to the thick guitars to the cover art, it’s perfectly evident that these guys worship at the twin altars of War & Pain and RRRROOOOOAAAARRRRR, and yeah, that’s a good thing.

They even have that post-apocalyptic storyline thing going on…if there was any downside here, it’s that what the press was given was one 18m track, no breaks.

It’s supposed to play through like a cassette, but speaking as one of those who lived through the days of audiotape, I’ve counted it a fortunate change to have left that sort of thing behind in favor of the CD and mp3. Better sound quality, no more forwarding up to find the track you want, and it doesn’t wear out or get jammed up in the player.

What’s next, putting stuff out on 8-track? Can’t wait to hear that patented CLICK CLICK! (pause) WHIRRRR CLICK CLICK! in the middle of at least two songs on the album as the tape flips to the next track…

But that’s besides the point – you do have the option to get this one on CD or vinyl, and presumably won’t have the same experience as we did (unless you’re a fan of the cassette format, that is!)

Bottom line is, if you love early Voivod, you should appreciate this one.

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Spectral Voice / Phrenelith – Split 7″ EP (Iron Bonehead / Dark Descent) (October 14)

Spectral Voice is another band shooting for that sorta Swedish second tier death metal sound (busy, winding riffs, clean production with dirty sounding detuned guitars and upfront, otherwise well played drums that fall back on blastbeats for no real reason). The song ain’t bad, really.

Phrenelith gets more aggressive – I’m thinking something along the lines of Carbonized meets Seance, but with blastbeats, terrible production and the vocal approach of, say, Demilich. Between the uber-deep belch vox and all the blastbeaty nonsense, you could even say this is pointing towards grindcore, but never quite gets there – it’s still death metal proper, just noisy and a bit messy and frayed at the seams.

Both tracks were OK, but this is small doses – no idea how a full length from either would play out.

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Verberis – Vexamen CD/2LP/TAPE (Iron Bonehead) (October 21)

Blackened death metal from New Zealand. There’s a whole lotta Watain in that sound, but it’s more than the usual wannabe and clone this time around.

With more of an underground sound and a mix of death metallish typewriter double bass and black metal blastbeats, with a touch of the more winding Swedeath in the busy, meandering riffs, this is Watain done weird, so to speak.

Still doesn’t work for me in the least, but there’s more cred to be found in their very oddness. They may play in the same ballpark, but they aren’t saluting the flag and marching in lockstep, if you will.

If you always wanted to hear the Swedish black metallers crossed with, say, Necrophobic by way of…let’s say Monstrosity, just to be funny – you may well really dig this one.

Not my thang.

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Atanor – S/T 12″ MLP  (Iron Bonehead) (October 14)

Not quite the usual Danielsson zombie, though they play in the same, increasingly overcrowded ballpark.

There’s an old school, almost traditionalness to parts of it, with “storm of black fire” opening on an interesting, not particularly codified as black metal riff before going all atonal and Watainish (zzzz).

Then “fires of death” gets even more atonal, pushing the more experimental end of the French BM scene, before getting back into a more standard (if a bit dull) Watain by way of Dissection Swedish BM sound for “mystical rays of darkness”. “Revelations” waffles back and forth again, at times almost Italian blackthrash (check out the rather Bulldozerish trill riff in the middle), then the more boring end of the Greek “occult black metal” scene (i.e. not in the least Rotting Christlike…think, say, Acherontas).

It’s a bit weird and at times all over the place, but still too atonal and open chord-style to say anything very good about.

They try to be different. They were just raised on crap, I guess.

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Profanal – Supreme Fire (Iron Tyrant) (October 31)

Italian Swedeath. There are moments that feel a bit Dismember…never polished enough to go full on Nihilist/Entombed, and not quite as chaotic as Carnage, but definitely in that train of thought.

The production is surprisingly polished and in your face by today’s standards…or at least by comparison with the last batch of albums reviewed! – but still maintains a decidedly raw edge.

The vocals are more raspy and nasty sounding than you expect from Swedeath (bar perhaps Comecon’s temporary drafting of Dutchman Martin Van Drunen, who frontman “Rosy” is certainly shooting to emulate on tracks like “a call for revenge”), but the rest is close enough for the diehard looking for yet another new band trying to recreate and recapture the magic of the Sunlight Studios crowd circa 1991.

Doesn’t quite get there, and feels a bit alien and “off”…but that also keeps Profanal from being yet another retro copycat act.

Promo materials liken this to a “steamroller” and “tank tread”, and the album’s certainly got that air of inevitability and lumbering, unstoppable aggression to it.

I was comfortable with this, and can give ’em the nod without any real hesitation.

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Vornth – Black Pyres (Iron Tyrant) (October 31)

Their self titled debut being a rather Witchtraplike attempt to cross classic Kreator with the South American blackthrash sound, Vornth returns with a more polished, varied and therefore oddly less essential followup.

Moments are dead on, with tracks like “the wolf, the night” and “victims in marsch” pulling a very Pleasure to Kill meets No Anesthesia on your ass, but with clearer production than last time around. This is what’s good about Black Pyres.

What isn’t so good…or perhaps more to the point, is unexpected and somewhat offputting…is their shift to a slower, doomier and sort of off key warbled approach to tracks like “grave of the living” and “serpent flames”. Tag in a few slowed down moments in otherwise speedy ones like “evil woven in spirit” and the title track (all of which show off the limitations of Eric Blackflexer’s non-Mille Petrozza cum Schmier style vocals), and you have a far more confused and conflicted record than 2013’s excellent self titled.

This one’s the proverbial little girl with a curl. What works, works just as well as ever, and is deserving of high praise.

It’s the (arguably failed) attempts to stretch a bit from template where the problems lie.

Split verdict. Still love ’em when they’re firing on all cylinders, and it’s worth looking into for hardcore Kreator, Witchtrap and for that matter, Vornth fans.

Just watch out for those curveballs.

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Abigail (Japan) – The Final Damnation LP/CD (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (September 30)

Hard to believe this is only the fifth album from these Japanese sex-obsessed blackthrashers, but sure enough, their fairly ponderous catalogue of releases to date is full of EPs, splits, singles, comps and lives. And that’s not to mention Yasayuki’s side projects Barbatos and the Tiger Junkies…he’s a busy guy.

Soundwise, the production is sorta better than last year’s reissue of debut Intercourse and Lust, but not exactly “clean” – the drums, bass and guitars bleed into the redzone on a perpetual basis, leaving the edges sounding all fuzzed out and hissy while the central recording leans almost towards a goth-level of clean, studio ambience and traditional reverb otherwise.

The music is totally speed oriented, with a traditional metal leaning blackthrash sound, black metal snarl vox and drumming that varies between a straightforward Phil Taylor approach (“whisky, coke and bitch”) and blastbeats (“blasphemy night”) – but thankfully far more towards the former.

I’ve enjoyed all of Yasayuki’s material to cross the virtual desk to one degree or other, and this one’s no exception to the rule.

If you want some South American blackened thrash with your Motorhead and Venom, you really can’t go wrong with these guys.  Omedeto!

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Demonomancy / Witchcraft – Archaic Remnants of the Numinous / At the Diabolus Hour – split LP/CD (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (September 15)

Two war metal leaning acts join forces for this split.

Demonomancy works a vaguely Watain goes Blasphemy sort of thing (“archaic
remnants…”) before enlivening matters considerably by covering Goatlord’s “underground church”…but speed it up and clean it up (believe it or not!) a bit too much for my taste.

It’s recognizably the same song and if you’ve never heard the original, it’s pretty damn cool…just not sinister, swampy and “evil sounding” enough for my taste. Not a bad cover at all, just doesn’t quite capture that special something the original has to offer.

Witchcraft goes a bit more “war metal”, offering a pointless intro as one track, then sounding a tad pre-Drawing Down the Moon Beheritesque on “grave immolation” (seriously – think the 1990 rehearsals more than anything even remotely polished here) before getting a bit more doomy and actually leaving some negative space for the riffs to breathe on closer “perverted temple…”

If I had to choose a band/side here, I’d stick with Demonomancy – both tracks are much better produced and listenable by comparison, and have to give ’em props for covering Goatlord.

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Demoncy – Faustian Dawn LP/CD (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (October 15)

Reissue of the band’s second demo from 1993. Louder but much worse production than last year’s far superior Empire of the Fallen Angel – and keep in mind, this is actually a recent remaster.

Expect a far more compressed sound, a tone that’s trebly to the point of hurting the ears and a lot of hiss and signal bleed on the top end. The guitars sound terrible and those weird, sorta eerie whispers on Empire have morphed into louder, more growly bits that are overprocessed and even more treble-hiss distorted than the guitars.

Are there even drums? Oh, yeah, there’s that pound pound pound four on the floor thing ala Paul Ledney, but it’s just part of the fairly irritating wall of noise overall.

There are also a hell of a lot more ambient tracks here – as in pretty much every other track is an instrumental. Not bad, really – in fact, they’re the best part of Faustian Dawn! But be forewarned.

I liked the ambient bits, particularly closer “departure of the dismal”…the rest was kind of a letdown.

For the hardcore Demoncy fan only. Others may want to wait and look forward to the upcoming new album.

Hell, I know I am.

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Conqueror (Canada) – War.Cult.Supremacy DLP/DCD+DVD (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (September 30)

Reissue of the 1999 debut (and sole) album of this Canadian “war metal supergroup”.

Featuring current Blasphemy guitarist Ryan Forster and Revenge vocalist/drummer James Read, these guys are reasonably template for the style. Personally, I think it all hinges on Beherit (early) and Blasphemy, but there’s no denying the “name status” of both Revenge and Conqueror in shaping the scene thereafter.

If you dig Conqueror, this is certainly the version to go for, as it further contains the band’s two demos, making this the complete Conqueror discography all in one.

It further includes footage from the band’s only live show (from Nov. 2014) on a second DVD, but this is only a review of the audio end, so fans take note that this is a decidedly complete package of all things Conqueror.

I liked it well enough, though I have to admit to preferring the sound and feel of the demos over the album proper. Either way, it’s all here, and pretty damn crushing.

Horns up to the label for the all inclusive compilation, and to the demos for sure. The album itself…well, fans of the genre consider it a classic, so there you go.

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In Obscurity Revealed – Grim Fumes of Revelation 7″ EP (Blood Harvest) (September 12)

Mexican black death. It’s all high speed blastbeats, declamatory snarl vox and thin, winding tremelo riffs throughout.

Opener “storms conjured” works a hell of a lot better than the slower, atonality-obsessed “varcolaci”, which in all honesty is just fucking weak.

If the above interests you, give a listen to “storms conjured” and forget the B-side even exists.

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Morbosatan – The Last Sacrifice 7″ EP (Blood Harvest) (September 12)

Two tracks (and one wasted track of whispering) from a Peruvian black death act who probably consider themselves blackened thrash but bear precious little in common with the likes of early Sepultura, Vulcano or Holocausto.

Hardcore fans of Pentagram (Chile) (or perhaps even Mutilator (Brazil) at a stretch) may find more to like here than I did.

Pass…

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Zealot Cult – Karmenian Crypt 12″ MLP (Blood Harvest) (October 24)

Cross Testimony of the Ancients-era Pestilence (possibly with a touch of John Tardy as well) on the vocal end with mid-period Death and a touch of…I don’t know, let’s say Nile on the guitar and drum end for this sorta tech but decidedly mid-90’s death metal affair straight outta the Emerald Isle.

It doesn’t have the class or musicianship of Pestilence by a long shot, nor the first class guitar work of the later Death albums, but that’s hardly a major knock against these guys, considering.

I really dug this one – looking forward to a full length.

Definitely worth looking into for those intrigued.

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Tortorum – Rotten. Dead. Forgotten. (W.T.C. Productions) (October 13)

It’s been two years since Katabasis and nothing much has changed.

Well, OK, they lost their drummer and slowed things down a little.

Still feels pretty Watain to these ears.

Still rates a zzzzzzzzzz…

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DEMENTIA 13 (POR) – Ways of Enclosure (Caverna Abismal Records) (September 13)

Straight up old school death metal.

I guess if you cross something slightly busy like earlier Van Drunen-era Pestilence or early Malevolent Creation with Scream Bloody Gore era Death and EP era Morgoth, you may get something vaguely reminiscent of Dementia 13.

Killer production on the guitar end, which really brings out the crunch and harmonic overtones while still leaving ’em feeling kinda “dirty” in tone. The drum production is fairly crisp and in your face as well, if buried somewhat behind the guitars and vocals.

It’s not a “good production job” by any means, but for all its slapdash “well, this part works, and so does this…let’s slap ’em all together and see what happens!” approach, it kinda works on its own merits. I dug it.

Not bad at’all.

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Minenwerfer / 1914 – Ich hatt einen Kameraden (Archaic Sound) (September 15)

Split between Germany’s Minenwerfer and the Ukraine’s 1914. As you can imagine, this one’s all about WWI, the “Great War”, the “War to End All Wars” that taught the world the horrors of chemical and trench warfare and introduced the biplane to the field of combat.

For Minenwerfer’s four tracks, picture Marduk with nastier, more underground black metal vox. I guess if Lauri “Satanic Warmaster” Pentilla took over as frontman on Frontschwein (or more to the point, Panzer Division Marduk!), it might have sounded similar to these guys.

1914 takes a very different tack, opting for a doomier, more “occult black metal”-ish approach. It’s better produced, there are slow, clean bits to let the listener grab a breath, and they generally come off as a more developed, expansive sounding band than their splitmates.

I actually liked both acts here, but have to give 1914 the nod – their sound manages to work the sorta-Norsecoreish Marduk end of the equation, but then brings it into something more interesting, contemplative and likeable. They just come off as a better band as a result.

Of course, there is that bizarre industrial goes 8 bit videogame nonsense with the remix of “gas mask” tagged on at the end…totally doesn’t fit.  But amusing enough. I always knew Mario was a black metaller!

(cough)

One of the better splits I’ve ever had the privilege to review…and possibly among the storied best thereof.

What the fuck are you waiting for?

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Bestial Invasion – Triligy: Prisoners of Miserable Fate (Shellfire Attack) (October 15)

Ukrainian prog thrash. They have a weird vocalist who comes off like some unholy cross between Hell’s late Dave Halliday, Sanctuary’s Warrel Dane, Toxik’s Mike Sanders, Geoff Tate and King Diamond.

Seriously.

Don’t ask me what the fuck’s up with that.  But I guess it works.

The riffs are a bit overly busy and songs switch from one theme or modality to the next at a frenetic pace, but there’s no question these guys were raised on the old school (whatever their actual age and background) and/or studied at the feet of the masters. There are hints of Crimson Glory, Lethal, Apocrypha and several of the aforementioned acts on the band end, but where it goes wrong is in what appears to be a far stronger Atheist influence.

I know, they have their fans. I’m not one of ’em.

But you have to give these guys some serious props for getting the old school technical/speed/progressive thrash sound down pat, right down to all the inherent flaws. They certainly have strong musicianship, good production, interesting and often well crafted dual lead lines and solos, busy, technical drumming and the sort of vocalist bands of this orientation tended to gravitate towards.

Honestly, it works, and quite well at that – any negatives you’re picking up here relate to the oddness of the vocals (who the hell would think to throw some of those rather quirky vocalists’…well, quirks all together in some weird retro mashup?) and the overly rapid fire, trying to get your bearings on a floor full of greased marbles ersatz (and at one point, sorta Pagan metal-folky!) Atheist meets Apocryphaness of it all.

Objectively? These guys are a surprisingly strong contender from a new label (or to be more precise, family of sub-labels – heads up, Archaic Sound, we’re talking about you) who really stand out from the pack.

Respect.

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Ars Moriendi – Sepelitur Alleluia (Archaic Sound) (October 15)

Fourth full length from this odd French syncretist (and arguably somewhat post-) black metal act.

They have an interesting album motif (the title refers to a rather pagan Catholic ritual from the Middle Ages relating to, effectively, “burying all joy” in Lenten anticipation of Easter) and a very expansive sound that brings fellow countrymen Alcest to mind, but remaining far more resolutely traditional in a certain sense. It may have clean sections and ambient/progressive leanings, but it’s very recognizably in the pagan and/or black metal spectrum.

There are touches of Gregorian chant, moments where the black metal snarls do a call and response with belchy death metal vox, sections that feel a tad Rotting Christ, others that go full on death metal, some Gloomy Grim by way of Cradle of Filth keyboard phrases, a few Watainish black/death bits and others that play in the post- section of your virtual record department (remember when stores had those?)  There’s even a mid-70’s Santanaesque section in “fleau Francais”, which was a really nice surprise.

In the end, you can consider these guys black metal with post-black metal tendencies and frequent leanings towards death metal (both proper and black/death). That’s about as simple as I can make it for ya – after that you’re on your own.

They had enough interesting stuff going on to keep me happy, even when they started going into areas that didn’t quite work or agree with my palate…and that’s good enough for me.

Worth a listen, to be sure.

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Morbo / Bunker 66 – Into the Morbid Bunker – split 7″ EP (Doomentia) (September 16)

Two Italian blackened thrash acts. You can more or less lay money that I’ll dig this right there.

Morbo prefers to change things up, alternating between a quirky, sorta sinister riff-filled midtempo to lumbering doom approach before kicking into high gear. They’ve got a lot more of the blackened in them, with definite death metal roots fighting for supremacy – which shall we be? Death metal? Blackened thrash? Atonal “blackened death”?, and like to border on atonality at points – but the good stuff outweighs the bad in the long run.

Where I really started to pay attention was with Bunker 66, who keep things in a sorta early Kreator meets early Sodom vein. It felt similar to No Anaesthesia-era Witchtrap, but without the precise “I wanna be Kreator!”-isms. Expect relentless high speed riffing and plenty of replays – I ran this split 4 times in a row, when the hell does that ever happen?

Bottom line is, while Bunker 66 is more to my tastes, both bands are worth checking out, and Into the Morbid Bunker is another of those storied “best splits I’ve reviewed here” – the second this month, when I can’t remember ever saying that before now.

I guess Doomentia is another new label to watch!

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Abomination (Chicago) – S/T LP (Doomentia) (September 16)
Abomination (Chicago) – Tragedy Strikes LP (Doomentia) (September 16)

Reissue of the 1990 debut and 1991 follow up and final release from yet another Paul Speckmann project.

Now, I was never much of a Master fan – while I find definite things to appreciate in his sociopolitical stance (more than just a few, in fact), the band was always too simplistic and straightforward for my tastes. Even with Scott Burns production and Cynic’s Paul Masvidal, there was really nothing special about the debut or On the Seventh Day.

While we’re talking about a very different approach here, leaning more towards a raw production death-thrash sort of affair, the same blandness and oversimplicity is on display.

I did notice the drumming (from cofounder Aaron Nickeas), which was pretty aggressive and on point for the style – plenty of double bass and speedy to crazed tom rolls…but outside of him?

Same ol’, same ol’.

The difference between the two albums is largely related to production: if anything, I prefer the rawness of the debut, which in its own way showcased Nickeas’ drumming better than the far crisper, more traditional death metal approach of Tragedy Strikes.

So let’s talk production on the 1991 album for a sec – because it’s complicated.

The guitars chug along like a freight train, but show too much signal bleed on slower phrases and solo bits (where they even exist). The bass drums are contact mic’ed for more of that typewriter sound (though it’s a bit beefier and less stuffed than usual, and the rest of the kit sounds overly noisy and in your face).

In effect, it tries to emulate the Scott Burns production approach, but misses the mark by allowing too much room ambience, over-reverb on the vocals and mixing compression with a far drier, all tracks shoved right up in your face and (comparatively) overly hissy and bleeding signal in place of that patented Morrisound “wet thickness” sound.

Elements are obviously inspired by the Burns/Morrisound style, but it’s a very mixed bag and sorta jumbled in the end. It’s not bad production by any means – just missed the mark, and leaves the (comparatively again) underproduced self titled coming off much better than the followup (which they likely sunk more time and money into).

In terms of the albums themselves, speaking objectively, Master fans with a hankering for uber-simplistic cookie cutter death metal should head straight for Tragedy Strikes, which is playing in a similar ballpark and bears a relatable production style.

But those who really want to hear Nickeas working that kit without the guitars (and to some extent, Speckmann’s snarling vocals) getting in the way quite so much are hereby directed to the debut, do not pass go, do not collect $100.

Oh, and I heard that Ulrich Roth Scorpions riff swipe there in “will they bleed”…

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AN AUTUMN FOR CRIPPLED CHILDREN – Eternal (Wickerman Recordings) (October 17)

Much like their previous The Long Goodbye, this is depressive yet anthemic emo with indie and synthpop elements…but with screechy black metal vox ala Satanic Warmaster.

These Dutchmen have hit on a very strange formula, here, and one that I’m not sure will work for either audience.

Will teenage CW addicted emo queens and metalcore screamo types gravitate towards a band with such pointedly black metal vox?

Will the “I’m too evil for this shirt” corpsepaint crowd let their “troo kvlt” front drop long enough to appreciate this decidedly “post-” sound and approach?

Who the hell knows, nowadays.

I didn’t mind it, and certainly appreciated both production and the instrumental end of things, with a good sense of song construction and melodicism bolstering the whole affair to the next level.

But to quote Oliver (a musical production which my mother once featured in, many a year agone): “who will buy?”

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Frozen Ocean – A Faded Missive Therefrom EP (Operator Produkzion)

A whole hell of a lot more towards the contemplative and ambient than The Prowess of Dormition, this takes everything that works best about the keyboard/synth driven ambient black metal scene and adds a far greater sense of drama, emotion and grandiosity.

While the former album was (comparatively) far more propulsive, complete with vocals, drums and songs proper, this is a quartet of fully instrumental tracks that almost lean space rock cum new age – think Tangerine Dream by way of Gaiam (complete with running water and bird and cricket noises!), tagging in John Tesh and the keyboard instrumentals of Rob Darken along the way.

This is excellent stuff, regardless of its entirely ambient orientation, with “expansive” and “grandiose” being the key watchwords and descriptors.

“Nox” moves straight into (modern) classical territory, with some atonal-leaning horror movie-style piano taking over from the John Carpenteresque dark symphonic soundscapes of “lux” and “pluvia”, with only closer “lichten op der muur” feeling somewhat pointless and extraneous – it’s like standing in a mildly windy cavern for 16m, no motion or music per se whatsoever.

The first two tracks are the reason to run for this one (which is limited to a mere hundred copies – contact the label at yao91404@mail.ru to get yours), but “nox” is worthwhile in its own right.

I liked this one just fine. Hats off to ya once again, tovarisch.

Nostrovia!

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