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I don’t get it.

What we have here is an overwhelmingly (and often quite surprisingly, given some of the bands and genres involved) strong month filled with more positive reviews than usual…

…and this despite the shit sandwich life has delivered to both yours truly and the world at large over the past 4 weeks or thereabouts.

hmm.

Must be something in the air, or some labels and bands have really cracked down, set their noses to the grindstone and produced some seriously good material (and in more than a few cases, major improvements as well).

You’d figure all the negativity and black emotions running wild of late would come out in everything you do…so I guess it’s true, quality will out in the end.

Prepare for a whole lot of positivity amidst the usual selection of ne’er do wells and well deserved putdowns…

Let’s have at it, shall we?

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OPERATION: MINDCRIME – Resurrection (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (September 23)

Former Queensryche frontman moves on to more MOR-oriented, far less bombastic new Frontiers.

I’d seen Tate with Queensryche on the American Soldier tour, and it was already apparent things were beginning to fray at the seams – not only with the band proper, but in terms of his own once quite formidable powers.

Older material was met with some serious struggle on the vocal end, which is entirely understandable (we all age, and which of us sounds the same as we did in our teens and early 20s?)…but even the newer material sounded…bland.  No longer reaching, no longer searching.  Even the material seemed strangely conservative, with Tate taking long stretches for between song banter about his relations with his career military father.

Interesting, certainly, but he seemed to be implying a creeping swing towards the right in his own outlook…showing just how far we’d fallen from the days of The Warning and Rage for Order. He swilled from a huge goblet of red wine (credits for taste and aesthetics there, but still…a bit odd “in concert”, as it were) and brought his daughter out to sing a few tracks with him, while the band just looked sorta embarrassed if not frustrated throughout the whole Geoff Tate dog and pony show. It was a terrible show.

Subsequently, the band split into two, and while cautious given the experience mentioned, I found myself curious just where Tate would take things from here. Would complete creative control (and a more controlled studio environment) reinvigorate old fires in this respected elder statesman of progressive metal?

Well…no.

We review any number of Frontiers releases, from former “hair metal” acts to “classic rockers”, from 70’s bands to those hailing from the 80’s and early 90’s…from radio friendly metal of the “glam” and NWOBHM varieties to hard rock to what was once considered top 40 pop (Kevin Cronin era REO Speedwagon, for instance). With few if any exceptions, the quality of composition, production and in fact the performances of these veteran rockers has been impressive, catchy and downright laudatory.

But there’s always an exception to every rule, and sadly, this may be the one.

While listenable in parts (“invincible” is about as driving and likeable as it gets, people), this is a problem of concept over execution, of style over substance. Tate is still writing Mindcrime-style concept albums, telling stories in as tight a sense as King Diamond – all as you might expect.

What you probably didn’t expect is a lackluster, midrange vocal turn that seldom even tries to rise above a lilting speaking tone (not literally sprechtgesang, but that basic range of voice) over some seriously mellow, often meandering, almost ambient music that never actually approaches rock proper, much less metal of any sort.

There are moments of weird instrumentation (the quirky, almost random horn section blurts and blasts in “into the hands of the world”, for example) and a whole lot of music to accompany one’s personal journey into slumberland.

Did Tate have that huge snifter of port on hand while writing and recording this one? Did the band polish off a few bottles prior to recording? It’s that kind of mellow.

Hardcore Queensryche fans who’ll accept anything from Tate will doubtless see this one in a very different light…but color me unimpressed.

I think I’m going to give a spin to The Warning to exorcise this crap from my memory.

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CRY OF DAWN Feat. Goran Edman – S/T (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (September 23)

Eclipse/Fire and Ice-era Yngwie frontman Goran Edman joins forces with Palace’s eponymous Michael Palace (also of First Signal) and Daniel Flores (of both Find Me and Palace fame) for this extremely likeable 80’s soundtrack style AOR meets Hollywood metal affair.

All the goodness and upbeat nature you remember from bands of this ilk (or the ridiculously catchy soundtracks to films of this vintage) are present and accounted for, with more hooks, nigh-perfect song construction, pleasantly flashy solos and guitar lines and smooth, ear-tickling vocals than you could possibly hope for.

The lightest things get are the rather California Dreamslike power balladeering of “hands around my heart”, and quite honestly? That’s still fucking awesome to these ears.

This album is seriously nonstop goodness all around, with pristine production, excellent musicianship and powerful, well structured songcraft. And while hardly likely to appeal overmuch to the hardened thrasher or underground death and black metal crowds, it’s not exactly softsoap, either – these guys can rock out with the best of ’em, while being musical and melodically smooth enough to please the ladyfriend at the same time.

Another A-class production courtesy of the fine folks at Frontiers.

You definitely want to check this one out – may not be your style, but there’s no way you’ll come away saying it’s anything less than excellent in production, performance and construction.

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Theocracy – Ghost Ship (Ulterium Records) (October 28)

Huge choruses, clean high pitched vocals, chugging guitars and typewriter double bass drumming…gee, it wouldn’t be another power metal album, would it?

With reasonably anthemic choruses and an uplifting, battle-ready vibe
throughout melded with light melodic bits and expansive-feeling keyboard parts, it’s kind of surprising these guys hail from Athens, Georgia rather than, say, Sweden, Germany or Italy.

While my idea of “Christian metal” aligns more precisely to the likes of
early Angelica, Bloodgood, Resurrection Band and Sacred Warrior, it’s
heartening to see the form making something of a belated return to form with acts like Narnia (whose stellar self titled we reviewed last month) and Theocracy (whose closest arguable “secular parallel” would likely be earlier Sonata Arctica.

And while Matt Smith (no, not that one) and company aren’t quite so admirably in your face with their cosmological-philosophical-spiritual viewpoint as Narnia, it’s still pretty apparent where the band’s stance lay from tracks like “call to arms” and “currency in a bankrupt world”.

As the world (and scene) lean ever more towards the darkness (whatever the merits and failings thereof), it’s refreshing to see a few brave souls attempt to redress the balance, and try to light the way through increasingly stormy seas.

Who knows.

“When hope is gone, looking for a reason just to carry on,” maybe there’s an answer to be found after all.

Salute to the soldiers, whatever your stance or chosen side in this battle.

Bravery and forthrightness deserve at least that much.

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Dirkschneider – Live- Back To The Roots (AFM Records) (October 28)

Never shy of dropping live albums or for that matter including a few Accept classics along the way (think Live from Russia, Nailed to Metal, Best of & Live, Live in Sofia, Live from Moscow, Navy Metal Night…), veteran warhorse Udo Dirkschneider returns with yet another U.D.O. in all but name live affair.

This time, the band makes no bones about covering the classics, and nothing but (which may be the impetus for the change in nomenclature here). In short, there’s not a single U.D.O.-era track to be found herein, just a full rack of Accept classics covering multiple fan favorites from Breaker, Restless and Wild, Balls to the Wall, Metal Heart and even the somewhat questionable Russian Roulette. The band’s pair of eponymous debut records albums remain ignored, though the 1980 iteration (subsequently rebranded I’m a Rebel) is represented by the (de facto) “title cut” (which he’d previously trotted out of the cobwebs for Live in Sofia).

For the most part, these are well done if occasionally sped up renditions of these vintage recordings, though there’s a touch of lacklusterness to the solos – the neoclassical gravitas of Wolf Hoffman is sorely missed on that end.

On the plus side, the neophyte would be hard pressed to tell that the songs (aside from leads) are performed by anyone other than Accept proper, and Dirkschneider takes less liberties than usual with the now-hoary material, only occasionally slipping in a bluesy bit or non-traditional flourish to prevent the inevitable ennui of having to deliver these same old songs yet again for a paying audience. And as those who’ve been paying attention should be well aware, Dirkschneider’s gravelly tones appear more or less ageless, where most of his peers have fallen into pale imitations of what they once were.

Bottom line is, if you were looking for a live compilation of (most of) the
classic Accept, you should be pretty damn happy with Back to the Roots…and if Dirkschneider’s threat to leave this material behind once and for all turns out to be true, this may serve as a final record of the glories of what once was.

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Eden’s Curse – Cardinal (AFM Records) (October 14)

Another strong effort from the likeable Paul Logue and company, continuing to shut down the naysayers who thought the band would be over with the departure of original frontman Mark Eden.

Working a melodic metal motif that calls to mind everything from 80’s Kiss and XYZ to vintage TNT, Cardinal delivers the goods with throaty Animalize/Asylum style group choruses and Nikola Mijic’s rather Tony Harnell-esque toothy head voice over anthemically melodic slices of ear candy whose sheer palatability betrays a careful and considered song construction beneath. Throw on some unexpectedly proficient, vaguely neoclassical/shred style solos from Thorsten Koehneadded, and you have a recipe for musical nigh-perfection.

Did I mention Liv Kristine (ex-Theatre of Tragedy, ex-Leaves Eyes) drops by for a guest appearance on the rather 80’s new romantically inclined “unconditional”? It’s as good as you’d expect.

Now, there are a few tracks that lean more AOR than even trad metal (“utopian dreams”), and some that are downright quirky (“kingdom of solitude”), but even those have their moments and go down a lot smoother than you’d expect.

Anyone familiar with this band knows that they’ve had few if any missteps along the way, but the simple fact is, they just continue to improve with each succeeding release.

Raise your lighters for another excellent album that could easily have hailed from the mid-80’s Los Angeles scene, were it not crafted in the year 2016.

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Brainstorm – Memorial Roots (Re-Rooted) (AFM Records) (October 14)

Remix and remaster of the band’s 2009 effort, with revamped sound to give it more punch and crunch, as it were.

You get the original album plus bonus tracks only available on certain versions back when, so while I can’t comment on the difference in sound quality (I leave that one to the diehard Brainstorm fan), it should follow that this one should appeal to those who were wishing for a fuller mix, better production or who missed those extra tracks.

As a first timer to Memorial Roots, I can only say that the album feels rougher than 2014’s Firesoul or this year’s Scary Creatures, with Franck only occasionally really laying into his neo-Bruce Dickinson schtick – a fair portion of the material comes off midrange to raspy, and he seldom really lets those tones soar, comparatively speaking.

Nonetheless, fans of the man and his band should already know the relative merits or failings of this album by comparison to the rest of the band’s discography, so for the newbies, think a fairly AOR-ish variant of power metal with plenty of melodic orientation but a lot less bombast and over the top cheesiness than the genre tends to gravitate towards. Tag on a singer who approximates a far more low key take on Manowar’s Eric Adams by way of Bruce Dickinson, and there you have it.

Nothing wrong with it, certainly quite listenable. Didn’t set me on fire,
though.

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Iron Mask – Diabolica (AFM Records) (October 14)

Yngwie worshipper Dushan Petrossi returns with another slice of neoclassical-oriented power metal, but there are some changes this time around.

Unlike the rather silly Fifth Son of Winterdoom or even the far more likeable Shadow of the Red Baron reissue recently, Diabolica shows a Petrossi far more informed by the likes of Helloween or even Extreme (!)

Seriously.

There’s a lot less of the midtempo Viking/fantasy gravitas and drama of Malmsteen on display this time, unless you’re thinking something in the Odyssey vein. Instead, Petrossi goes for a surprisingly major key-oriented, Sonata Arctica meets Helloween vibe and a looser, more legato soloing style that leans more Impelliteri if not Reb Beach and Nuno Bettencourt: speed, to be sure, but far less articulated, deliberate and baroque.

In its place you get more of a playful, almost “fun loving” feel that flirts with Rhapsody (of Fire) territory, at least on the lead guitar end of that equation, but goes even lighter at times, bringing the likes of Extreme and the first Winger album to mind (again, more in terms of lead lines and solos than the songs proper).

Also of interest: he’s co-opted Dio-devoted Helker vocalist Diego Valdez to work the frontman spot. He seldom really gets to lay into the Dio thing like he had with his other band, but certainly gives Petrossi a competent voice to front his compositions.

Petrossi also multitracks his leads. A lot. To the point where Chastain’s Voice of the Cult comes to mind. It’s cool, but can be a bit over the top, and contributes to the Reb Beach/Nuno Bettencourtesque lightness of feel mentioned earlier.

Now, those expecting the Yngwie business, fear not – you still get tracks like “march 666” or the Acceptlike “all for metal” to satisfy your cravings. It’s just that those elements seem to play less of a part this time around, with Diabolica coming off as an oddly light, middle of the road feeling melodic power metal affair.

Who knows, maybe it’s the production. Or maybe Petrossi just had more time to work on this one, and this was the sound he was reaching for all along.

Either way, it should work well enough for fans of the band’s prior work, and should appeal to the more mellow, melodic end of the power metal fanbase as well.

Not bad at all, just not what you’re expecting either.


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FINSTERFORST – #YOLO (Napalm Records) (September 16)

If Trollfest and Alestorm went all Kontrust and tagged in a touch of J.B.O., you might get something akin to Finsterforst.

Top it off with sorta raspy-growl GWAR vox, be sure to include the comical use of traditional (Bavarian) instrumentation (I felt like I was in an oom-pah band hall at points…where’s my lederhosen and stein?), tongue in cheek lyrics and gang chant choruses pseudo-hardcore style (if hardcore were done by pirate and troll metal fans, that is!), and you’ve got a fair idea.

Like the pagan/troll end of that musical equation, you get a heaping helping of neo-black metal (of the more mid-to late 90’s sort), but without the meanness and aggression associated thereto (never mind the po-faced “seriousness”!)…then things erupt into all out pagan-folk style traditionally instrumented chaos, generally with beer hall audience participation singalong chant bits for the choruses.

You know these guys will be a riot in a small club setting, with a crowd of good natured drunks on hand…

Where things turn weird is in the second half of the album, where the band eschew originals for a series of covers. Some fit right in to their motif: the Dubliners’ “wild rover”, “das schlimmste ist, wenn das bier alle ist” (Die Kassierer) and “der durch die scheibeboxxer” (K.I.Z.) are all rather silly drinking/barfly songs…but then there’s Miley fucking Cyrus (“wrecking ball”) and Wacko Jacko hisself (“beat it”).

Say huh? 

Sure, I get the non sequitur comedy of sheer incongruity…but their delivery of these two songs comes off fairly straight. There’s really not much of a laugh to be found…

But let’s just forget those two tracks exist and rate the rest of the originals and covers, shall we?

Highly enjoyable, and a few odd covers aside, the best album of its type since the release of Kaptein Kaos.

Prost!

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SKÁLMÖLD – Vögguvísur Yggdrasils (Napalm Records) (September 30)

Middling Viking metal.

It’s got the requisite bombast and scope and a fair helping of melody at the choruses, but the vocals are so silly as to approach “pirate metal” and the overall sensation you walk away with is blandness.

Nothing wrong with it other than the vocals, and if you’re desperate for another hit of Viking metal between Manegarm, Tyr or Leaves Eyes albums, Skalmold may tide you over for a bit…but I found it fairly bleh overall, despite some excellent production and a few crunchy riffs (“nifelheimur”, for example).

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EVIL INVADERS – In For The Kill (Napalm Records) (September 30)

Speed/thrash metal straight outta Belgium.

We reviewed their Pulses of Pleasure here and this is more of the same – Exciter worship with Toxik’s Mike Sanders or Annihilator’s Randy Rampage doing that YIPE! I just got goosed! thing on the vocal end (which also screams Paul Baloff, it must be said).

Despite how silly that sounds on paper, it fits well enough, particularly for veterans, who’ve come to associate John Cyriis-like, Tony Harnell by way of Jim Gillette girlish squeaks alongside their speed metal riffing.

Once again, these guys rate a very, very good rating for what they’re trying to evoke.

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The Phans – S/T (El Puerto Records Gbr) (September 9)

Retro 70’s hard rock in a very Grand Funk meets James Gang by way of Allman Brothers cum 10 Years After vein. I kept hearing some Glen Burton-era Alice Cooper touches mixed in there as well, which was a definite mark in their favor.

I also really liked how the bass drums were mixed, so you could hear some of the non-standard foot patterns drummer “Dany” was throwing in there.

The retro thing is so common as to be turning a bit old hat at this point, but when bands like The Phans are pulling the sound off quite so well, who am I to complain?

Definitely one of the better retro-70’s rock albums I’ve come across of late.

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Stepfather Fred – Dummies, Dolls, & Masters (El Puerto Records Gbr) (September 9)

Odd act who take the less savory aspects of where (mainstream) metal degenerated circa 1988-91, with all that scratchy voiced howling and thunka-thunka riffing that manages to cross GNR with Pantera somehow.

Maybe I was just tired, but at least these guys came off more listenable than that description would leave you to expect, and I kinda liked the clean-toned white boy funk of “have a a good time”.

In fact, whenever they go clean toned, it sorta works in a vaguely hipster take on Dirty Looks. Another way to look at it: promo materials reference Red Hot Chili Peppers, so think vaguely along those lines, minus the annoying Kiedis/jumping around in tighty whiteys associations that brings and with more “metal” and gravel-puke vox over the top.

I didn’t sit there thinking “damn, this is fantastic” or anything even close to that…but I was able to listen to the whole damn thing straight through without skipping and forwarding through tracks, so that says a hell of a lot in and of itself.

Whether it’ll appeal to anyone not already inclined towards, say, D-A-D or the aforementioned acts is anyone’s guess – and even then, there’s a hell of a lot that screams “indie” and “millennial” about these guys.

Your call. But you can’t take away the fact that this is pretty damn listenable, considering all the quirks, questionable influences and stylistic choices they evoke.

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Seven Kingdoms – In The Walls (self released) (September 30)

Melodic power metal at its best, with riffs crossing Helloween, Hammerfall and King Diamond and a nigh-alto, bottom of the soprano range vocalist that calls both Delain and (early) Epica to mind. Rub in a generous helping of hooks and crowd-pleasing catchiness, and you’ve got a real winner…and they’re not even European, hailing from of all places, the once-was death metal capitol of Florida(!)

Slick production and processed group choruses that bring more than a touch of Tommy Shaw/Dennis DeYoung-era Styx to the table, but cribbing from a decidedly Andy LaRocque riffing template. “Stormborn” even pushes things into a Killswitch-esque metalcore, which when taken in tandem with the band’s sound otherwise, proves quite effective.

Could I possibly like this fucking EP any more?

Well, yeah, sure, but it sounds good…as does In the Walls.

So?

What the hell are you waiting for?

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Scratch – El Monstro (EP) (Trev Records) (September 9)

Glen and Chuck Stilphen, who left Gang Green right before the band broke into prominence with You Got It, are back with a sorta indie rock cum late 80’s/early 90s punk EP.

Only the title cut really pushes into punk territory in terms of either speed or riffing style, and even then it’s more of the quirky, Flipperesque end of the punk spectrum (as in, is this really punk? And if not, what the fuck is this?). The rest flirts with Soundgarden-esque grunge, post-Pantera groove and oddball indie rock in a decidedly 90’s manner.

I kinda liked the title track, but the rest, while inoffensive overall, I could easily live without.

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Charred Walls of the Damned – Creatures Watching Over the Dead (Metal Blade Records) (September 23)

Something of a metal supergroup, this is Sound of Perserverance-era
Death/Iced Earth drummer Richard Christy, Sadus/Autopsy/Testament/Death bassist Steve DiGiorgio and Stained Class cum Judas Priest frontman Tim “Ripper” Owens, together with producer Jason Suecof (of post-millenial efforts from Monstrosity and Death Angel, plus aggro “metal” acts like Black Dahlia Murder, DevilDriver, Job for a Cowboy and Trivium, if anyone actually cares about bands like that) on guitars.

The sound of the band mixes traditionalism (song structure, hook-oriented choruses, Owens’ newly-Dio style vocal approach) with the modern (Suecof’s power metallish riffing and decent but rather metalcore-ish “technical”-style leads), and while still a bit too au courant for my tastes, it works pretty well overall.

If you’ve been clamoring for the likes of Dio and Accept to sound more appealing to the Hot Topic crowd, Charred Walls of the Damned will be your manna from heaven.

For old schoolers like yours truly, there’s more than enough here to hold you over between spins of the classics (or whatever subgenre you’re identifying closest with these days).

I’m giving ’em a horns up, and a definite A for effort.

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Monte Pittman – Inverted Grasp of Balance (Metal Blade Records) (September 23)

A decent, quirky guitarist when it comes to solos, this former Madonna touring guitarist and Prong member strikes out on his own on a rather bleh, 90’s style “metal” record.

I guess fans of aggro/groove, nu-metal and the stuff that came in the aftermath of grunge should love this one, but the riffing is pretty simplistic and straight ahead and the vocals have that sort of Tool/Clutch/Sponge/name some mundane object and ironically make it the name of your band feel that left metal fans running for the hills throughout the dark days of the 90’s.

At least the solos are interesting – he can really shred when he puts his mind to it, and is never less than quirkily interesting on that end.

Supposedly Charred Walls of the Damned drummer Richard Christy and of all people Talas/David Lee Roth/Mr. Big four stringer Billy Sheehan are along for the ride here, but I didn’t pick up anything overly virtuosic.

Solos aside, this is so not my thing…and that’s being nice about it.

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Airbourne – Breakin’ Outta Hell (Spinefarm Records) (September 23)

Appropriately enough hailing from Melbourne (well, technically, the more rural Warrnambool), we have yet another group of AC/DC wannabes, this time with a little Kix and post-GNR L.A. hard rock/glam leavening their sound.

Sure, it’s 85% Johnson and company…but that’s not the entire story. So if you always wanted to hear “what do you do for money, honey?” crossed with “cold shower” and “cool kids” (with a touch of Junkyard, Zodiac Mindwarp or Jackyl to boot), this is your manna from heaven, kid.

The vocals are screechy and raw, the guitars are set to hard overdrive rather than distortion in the metal manner and the songs lumber along at march tempo like Back in Black redux, occasionally picking up the speed to Flick of the Switch levels. It’s pretty clear who they’re using as a role model here, and that’s not a bad thing.

Sure, I’d have preferred more of a Bon Scott-era sound – but this is much akin to the most celebrated of the Johnson material, so it’s hardly a major complaint.

This is bar band boogie gone biker rock, and it’s pretty dead on.

Johnson-era AC/DC fans, here’s your hero’s long awaited return to form. Just don’t mind the fact that it hails from a different, if rather soundalike band.

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THE MISSION – Another Fall From Grace (Eyes Wide Shut Recordings / SPV) (September 30)

Sisters of Mercy/Mission veteran Wayne Hussey returns, complete with the better part of the Gods Own Medicine-era lineup.

As you could well imagine, it’s a surprisingly strong affair that hearkens back to the band’s best years, complete with pristine production and the same level of musicianship longtime goth/postpunk diehards love about the band in the first place.

What’s interesting is how existential a record this is, with the autobiographically confessional “met-amor-phosis” more or less laying it all on the line about acceptance of one’s past and the often surprising shifts in perspective and self that come with age.

Fascinatingly, both that track and “within the deepest darkness” (not to mention their take on a very familiar riff in “tyranny of secrets”) feel more Sisters than Mission at times, implying that Hussey wasn’t just talking through his trademark hat…

Always the somewhat lighter toned, more psychedelically oriented Sisters of Mercy, here Hussey embraces both ends of that equation, and tosses in elements that call Echo & the Bunnymen, mid-to-late period Cure and even hints of Peter Murphy’s solo career to mind.

It all works, and quite well at that – to the point where I was tempted to check the year of release. Are you sure this isn’t a reissue of some lost 1986-7 Mission effort? It says a lot.

Comeback albums from long-ago beloved bands tend to demand more than the requisite grain of salt from aficionados – as good as they get, they seldom measure up to a given band’s heyday.

So when an album this unusually strong and reminiscent of said glory days comes along, listeners should perk the hell up and pay attention.

Give the guys the kudos they so clearly deserve.

Salute.

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DARKHAUS – When Sparks Ignite (Oblivion / SPV) (September 30)

I remember Pro-Pain.

One of many thunka thunka BLUUURRRGHHHHH lunkhead aggro acts to rise in the scorched earth wake of Pantera, they were no better or worse than any of a dozen likeminded acts you may be able to name (well, OK, they were better than Pissing Razors, but who wasn’t?

So it’s a bit of a surprise to hear Pro-Pain frontman Gary Meskill working a sorta AOR-ish, very melodic project like this.

True, there are elements of puke-growling popping up throughout, and touches of industrial, even a bit of nu-metal/aggro riffing. But the choruses (and many of the verses) are clean sung and smooth, almost gothic metallish were they not so…Frontierslike in execution. I guess you can say Assembly-era Theatre of Tragedy or even Gothminister are somewhat analagous to what Meskill is reaching for here…were it not for his surprising orientation towards radio-oriented, rather AOR hooks, complete with the upbeat, almost triumphant feel (which you’d think would work against the darker, more gothic/industrial range the songs seem to be heading towards in the verses).

It’s a strange mix, to be sure, but it works – fairly well produced in the plugged in, direct line ProTools sense of the term (though the drums sound overly “wet” and hissy, like they put some NiN-style processing over the top to make them sound more computerized and artificial) and at least at the choruses, very catchy.

Odd, but very likeable. Fans of Frontiers Records who lean more modern, you’ll definitely want to give this one a spin.

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Winterfylleth – The Dark Hereafter (Candlelight/Spinefarm) (September 30)

A band about whom much ado has been made, but of indulging in whom this marks my first experience.

The UK black metal scene has been holding with a reasonable strength, with Cradle of Filth opening the doors for bands like Akercocke, Meads of Asphodel and A Forest of Stars to deliver what have been some interesting, often quite worthy efforts from a nation not generally recognized for its excellence in this arena. Sure, there are plenty of lesser lights and forgettables as well…but when a Briton truly puts his mind to it, the results speak for themselves.

Case in point: The Dark Hereafter, Winterfylleth’s 5th album in a steady bi-yearly release schedule thereof since the close of the Dubya reign of terror…I mean Presidency.

All the high points of Albion-style BM are here: the majestic sweeping wall of sound, strong musicianship and attention to production and the inherent melodicism and attention to, if not song structure proper, than at least audial palatability.

At a mere 5 tracks, I’d be inclined to classify this one more properly as an EP, but in the band’s defense, only one track runs much less than the 7m range, with “green cathedral” pulling in at over 13.

Did I mention the dead on cover of Ulver’s “troldskog faren vild” (here creatively translated into English as “led astray in the forest dark”)? An almost unheard of case where the cover is just as good as, and possibly even improves on, the original…

I was quite impressed by this one, and would certainly be inclined to dig back into the band’s back catalogue to see what I’ve been missing out on here…killer stuff.

Raise the horns way the hell up.

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Stiffy Jones – Narrow Road of Memories (self released) (October 28)

Fans of the likes of Flogging Molly, Dropkick Murphys or (arguably and with somewhat of a stretch) the Mighty Mighty Bosstones should be happy with this Celtic/punk style affair straight outta…

wait, Sweden?

What the fuck?

Yep, sure enough, four guys with names like Johan Keskitalo, Calle Sällström, Janne Reijonen and Patrik Hillerhag pull off a reasonably credible take on the booze-soaked barfly punk of Molly and the Murphys, with touches of the similarly drunken (if far more depressing) Gin Blossoms (particularly on tracks like “disconnect me”).

Promo materials try to liken the band to Social Distortion, but that’s something of a stretch to say the least…

I used to seriously love Flogging Molly in their jig pit-driven Swagger/Drunken Lullabies heyday and have been known to raise a glass in toast to a Dropkick Murphys song or two once upon a time, so this one works well enough for me…

But damn, lads…not an Irishman among ye!

If you don’t mind the creeping feeling of inauthenticity that brings, Narrow Road of Memories should fill that open slot in the local pub jukebox quite nicely.

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Mother Harlot – S/T (self released) (September 9)

Bringing the mournful, prominent lead lines of metalcore to a traditional metal template that crosses a bit of King Diamond with Iron Maiden, these Brookylnites tag in the poppier end of gothic metal by way of Sonia Goldberg’s likeable if somewhat workaday vocals – in other words, don’t expect operatic emotiveness, more pop radio palatabilty in tone and style.

The music vacillates between the 80’s metal template they strive towards (and which does come through loud and clear throughout) and a more postmillenial sensibility clearly informed by years of emo, metalcore and more au courant variants of the “punk” scene (as in “yeah, I went to that great punk show with AFI, My Chemical Romance and Magrudergrind!”, spoken without irony).

To put a finer point on it, while you could easily make arguments for their “traditional” orientation, the melody, the lead lines, the approach towards song construction and production and the inescapable undercurrent of nigh-suicidal sadness that runs through the music are so alien to traditional forms of metal as to hail from an entirely different mindset – one that only rose in the millenium, from out of the (then) resurgent (and often quite pop-oriented) punk scene.

Both have their merits, both have some space in my collection (early AFI, Killswitch and early In This Moment all have their respective and often quite considerable merits)…but it ain’t exactly metal (hint to the clueless: that “-core” at the end betrays the punk orientation every time).

Now all of this discussion and debate is just to pinpoint what genre to properly file Mother Harlot under – the fact that they consider themselves “occult metal” (whatever that means, particularly nowadays…) is kind of absurd, lyrical celebration of various “mother goddess aspects” aside.

But the question you’re asking with bated breath: will I like this?

And here’s where it all ties together…because the answer depends on your reaction to the whole discussion on genre.

If you’re looking for metal proper – you’ve got the back patches, the buttons, bedecked in denim, leather, maybe bullet belts and spikes…I don’t know if this’ll be your cup of tea, man.

It’s kinda light, just on the basis of Goldberg’s poppy vocals…and while there’s some gallop beats and such, it’s far more likely to appeal to more “modern” crowds…or more precisely, those who grew up on and are indelibly marked by metalcore, emo and “gothic fill in the genre” as opposed to metal, punk, gothic rock, never shall the three combine (at least without a dramatic and well noted shift in style and image – The Damned, TSOL and Siouxsie and the Banshees were all punk bands proper who went full on goth thereafter, as did the Misfits’ Glenn Danzig when he went all Samhain on our asses).

Me? I love all of that shit, most of it quite a bit (personally speaking, not much on emo and metalcore is iffy at best, the two aforementioned acts aside)…so I’m good.

Recommended…just know what you’re getting into before you dive in.

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Dark Sarah – The Puzzle (Inner Wound Recordings) (November 18)

I spoke with Amberian Dawn‘s new singer Paivi “Capri” Virkkunen on the podcast a year or two back, and one of the things we discussed was how she’d brought a more down to earth, pop sensibility to the band.

But there’s certainly something to be said for the airy, gothic-symphonic end of the equation, and former Amberian Dawn frontwoman Heidi Parviainen brings that in spades to the concept album Dark Sarah – the Puzzle.

While not exactly the sort of operatic, comparatively hard-edged sound I gravitated towards in the heyday of the gothic symphonic scene, Parviainen brings a sweet, if rather light and Sarah Brightmanesque soprano touch to this more theatrical, sorta Dracula – Swing of Death affair following the exploits of a jilted bride who went schizo as a result.

Don’t ask me. “Eve white/Eve black” for the new millenium, I guess…

In addition to some light gothic/symphonic metal, you get guest appearances by Delain’s Charlotte Wessels and ex-Xandria frontwoman Manuela Kraller, both of which further enliven matters considerably.

In sum, Dark Sarah measures up as vaguely akin to the lighter end of Tarja-era Nightwish, but without the power metal drive or the operatic force on the vocal end. The closest we get to that is when the far more forcefully dramatic mezzo Kraller shows up on closer “rain”. If only the rest of the album were similarly inclined…it’s a beautiful duet, their voices blend and contrast quite nicely indeed.

It’s respectable enough, and is sure to find an audience among gothic symphonic fans, with Parviainen delivering a more than respectable performance – her voice is quite sweet, if far softer and lighter in tone than you’d expect for the genre.

I’m just waiting for a full Kraller-Parviainen album next time around. That track seriously stood out from the rest.

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Enbound – The Blackened Heart (Inner Wound Recordings) (November 18)

Melodic power metal with a light (if decidedly dramatic) tenor at the helm.

Reasonably well produced, if a bit hissy in the final mix – the guitar and drum tones are thick and both keyboards and vocals (both fore and backing) are clear and very upfront. It’s more a case of too much information being crammed together and overly compressed than any failing of production on the individual recording tracks – the final mix is at fault, not the engineering per se.

The band’s sound is upbeat and powerful if not triumphant, and was so clean, melodic and uplifting in the sense of “put this on to cheer yourself up and really rev your motor” that I was surprised they weren’t (openly?) Christian ala Theocracy or Narnia (who display some very similar tendencies musically).

Of course, that very fact may make Enbound more palatable to those with issues on that end (which is kind of ridiculous – if you can listen to “hateful, anti-human” black metal and serial killer focused death metal, why the hell would you have issues with something more positive toned lyrically?)

There are moments that lean slightly more AOR (“get ready for”), but in the superlative Frontiers sense of that designation, so the average power/symphonic metal fan should have no real complaints. Hell, you could say something similar about the more recent efforts of Sonata Arctica and Edenbridge, though to be quite honest, those don’t work half so well as what I’m hearing here.

While like several genre offerings this month which are getting some surprisingly stellar reviews, this sort of thing isn’t my “go to”, nonetheless it was a real pleasure to dive into and spend the better part of an hour exploring the vagaries of…and I certainly look forward to hearing more like it in the future.

Very well done, hats off to ya.

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Blind Ego – Liquid (Gentle Art of Music) (October 28)

Holy crap, is this good!

Those expecting the more underground, metal sort of thing from these pages, keep scrolling down for the “good stuff”, because this is more for the AOR, indie, alternative and “dark metal” crowds…but unlike most of that sort of thing (Frontiers’ always stellar AOR releases aside – there’s a reason that label is praised so often in these pages, and it comes down to “quality”), this album is seriously killer.

Excellent production, quirky but dead on musicianship on the guitar end, perfectly acceptable (if not downright decent!) vocals…guitarist/songwriter/producer Kalle Wallner (hailing from a band named Numb, if that rings any bells for you) pulls in 3 guest vocalists, 3 guest bassists and one drummer (none of whom or whose bands I’m familiar with…which given what I’m hearing here, I’m sorry to say!) for one hell of a “quirky alt-metal with a heavy prog orientation goes AOR” sort of affair.

And while that may sound confused and sort of all over the place in terms of genre-blending, the end product goes down so ridiculously smooth, you’d be forgiven for just calling this the year’s most likeable prog/metal/radio rock album.

I’m actually dumbfounded by the sheer number of positive reviews being drafted this month, but as ever, praise (or putdowns) are well deserved based on each album’s individual (I hesitate to say “objective” when it comes to music and the appreciation and subjective interplay with each respective listener thereof) merits. And meritorious this project certainly is.

While most likely to appeal to the Frontiers crowd and alterna-types, Blind Ego’s Liquid is so well crafted, played and produced that I’m hard pressed to think who, other than the diehard grindcore/troo kvlt/atonal noise crowd would actually find something bad to say about it – at the very least, they’d have to admit its quality of performance/production alongside the usual “this fuckin’ sucks, bro! Magrudergrind kills!”

While not something I’d expect to embrace quite so well as actually proved to be the case (let’s just say I was hardly cheering with excitement to see the promo photos and grimaced a bit at the hipsterishly pretentious band name), once you give this one a spin, you’ll see.

I didn’t think this’d be my cup of tea either.

But five stars all the way.

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Billy Momo – Seven Rivers Wild (Mo Better Music) (November 11)

Quirky-ass indie rock to the bone. Opener “forget everything” is BY FAR the best track on here – I actually like that one.

But that doesn’t tell the whole story – after this, they go on weird psychedelic Beatles tangents (“following me, following you”), 70’s soft rock/MOR (“drive”, “we don’t mind the tears”, “Jesus Dean”) with a special emphasis on the Moody Blues (“choosing the chosen ones”, “say you’re sorry”, “we are the truth”).

They go a bit Tom Waits (“seven rivers wild”) and maybe a bit Randy Newman even (“back on the grind”, “anyone but you”). Then they close out by trying to be Gordon Lightfoot (“once”).

Wayyyyyyyyyy too mellow for my taste, though I did like the fairly atypical-for-the-album “forget everything” quite a bit.

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Horse – For Twisted Minds Only (Rise Above Records) (October 14)

British 70’s rockers (literally released in 1970!) getting what may be their first “official” reissue over 45 years, courtesy of the always quite retro-minded Lee Dorrian and his Rise Above label.

It’s quite retro, you’d be hard pressed to tell it was made in 2016.

Just kidding, wanted to see if you were paying attention…

It’s psychedelic meets hard rock, where the trippiness and social concern of the 60’s gave way to the cynicism and “me generation” of the 70’s and consequently music got darker and heavier. Aficionados of the more obscure corners of the early to mid 70’s rock scene should know exactly what they’re getting into here; younger fans should have a fair idea from all the “occult rock” “stoner” and retro acts out there nowadays.

I always liked this sound and era, and while not necessarily my “go-to”, it’s always been part of my musical palate and “safe” to play with rather varied audiences of all ages – everyone seems to like this stuff to some extent or other. So to find yet another obscure, to date unheard release excavated from the dusty archives of history is a damn good thing.

Hats off to ya, Lee.

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GARGOYLE (Italy) – Reborn in Blasphemy (TAPE) (Shadow Kingdom) (October 31)

Quirky Italian doomsters. Think Black Hole by way of Mortuary Drape, with hints of Bulldozer – the typically Mediterranean strangeness (and therefore sorta dark, almost occultic feel) you find with at least the earlier, more idiosyncratic albums of bands hailing therefrom.

As Third Eye regulars should well know, I love this sound and the aforementioned bands to no end.

Did you really think Gargoyle would be an exception to the rule?

Saluti, paisan!

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NIGHT DEMON – Night Demon (TAPE) (Shadow Kingdom) (October 31)

Old school NWOBHM-style retro-trad.

May be due to the rough and loose production more than anything else, but it felt more “authentic” than similarly minded acts like Enforcer. Try it on a diehard – pull out the tape (yep, this is a cassette only release) and pretend it’s some UK act from circa 1979-82. I’ll bet they fall for it.

They even cover Diamond Head, and it’s credible – the fact that the (likely pseudonymous) “Jarvis Leatherby” can pull off Sean Harris says a lot in and of itself.

Apparently it’s a reissue of a 4 song EP, appended with just as many bonus tracks (2 studio, 2 live – one of which is a far more faithful cover of Golden Earring’s “radar love” than White Lion could pull off) and given a more appropriately raw mix…which as I said earlier, is what really sells it in the end.

I liked it well enough, sure.

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Shadecrown – Agonia (Inverse Records) (October 21)

Finland is by now well known for its quirky, yet defiantly melodic takes on metal: their black metal scene, with the likes of Satanic Warmaster and Clandestine Blaze, rubbing shoulders with death metallers like Amorphis and pagan acts such as Battleore, Korpiklaani and Turisas.

Whatever the approach, you can be assured of hummable melodies enlivening even the harshest of settings – and this is exactly what makes the Finnish metal scene stand out on the global stage.

So in that longstanding and ongoing vein, we have the first album proper from Vitasaari’s Shadecrown, who mine the Paradise Lost/My Dying Bride/My Silent Wake sort of doom/death for all it’s worth, and nearly manage to upend ’em all by increasing the focus on melodic lines, hooks and general catchiness.

So, like, be all sad and stuff while you mosh around happily in drunken abandon, or something.

I guess.

Eyebrow-cocked bemusement at the very concept aside, Shadecrown brings a surprising credibility to the table, with excellent keyboard and guitar lead lines bolstered by what are (perhaps shockingly) perfectly acceptable death growl vox and well-mixed drums (which despite some recording/production flaws, are right up there with if not in front of the guitars throughout).

The production is strong if you really pay attention to the small things (like focusing in on the drums or just the vocals), but as a whole it comes off kind of overly dry and hissy. Some reverb and cleanup on the distortion signal bleed is definitely called for here…and that’s an understatement.

Yet and still, the sound comes off reasonably beefy and hardly does the band a crippling disservice – if you’re distracted and/or distanced enough from the vagaries and failings of the mix, it works well enough. I guess you can think Karelian Isthmus-era Amorphis, but even scratchier and (arguably) similarly thinner.

If all I have to grouse about is some mild misgivings about the production and final mix, you know this is a goodie.

Get up off your ass and check this one out, you’ll like it.

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Soulwound – No Peace (Inverse Records) (October 21)

Finnish thrash that mixes a straight ahead, almost Sepulturalike simplicity and some easily sussed out Slayer riffs and drum patterns with an atonality and guitar wankery more commonly associated with the “tech death” scene.

You could call them sorta successors to the likes of Solstice, though they never really get that Scott Burns production that elevated the self titled above the annoying aggro meets hardcore vocals that made them so hard to appreciate in the first place.  As you might imagine, that further implies Soulwound is bordering on the “death/thrash” line (see also Morbid Saint and Demolition Hammer).

Can’t complain too much about the production, though the guitars are too thin and the vocals too far up front – it needs more bottom end and thickness to go with the strong and nicely in your face drum track.

While I don’t like the vocals, they don’t piss me off quite as much as any of the aforementioned, and while the atonal wheedly-whoo bits are obnoxious, they are far less so than any number of bands leaning that way who get deservedly slagged here on a regular basis for doing so.

In other words, production’s mixed, but undeniably powerful, and good on the drum end, and the band’s apparent devotion to the classic, somewhat simplfied thrash template of both Cavalera-era Sepultura and Slayer carries you through the rough spots.

Has definite promise, despite all the bits and bobs that suck enough to drag ’em down a few notches.

There’s something of value buried here, despite how it may appear. Needs a spit polish to bring out the proper lustre.

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Narthraal – Chainsaw Killing Spree (Inverse) (October 17)

Two song single/EP from these Icelandic death metallers, apparently their second of such.

Didn’t do much for me, but it’s undeniable they’re trying to work the old school Finnish death metal template, with elements of Swedeath (i.e., the HM-2 pedal, some vaguely Desultory-esque vocals).

B-side “descent into darkness” has it all over the title cut.

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Bloodride – Planet Alcatraz (Inverse Records) (November 25)

Finnish thrash act. Apparently they’ve been kicking around since the Dubya era.

There’s enough of an Exodus meets Toxik feel riffwise to call ’em officially thrash (there’s so many misguided syncretists running around these days, nobody even knows what a given style implies anymore…).

Some gang vocals at the choruses bring Vio-Lence if not Anthrax to mind as well…but there’s a rougher, looser, wilder edge to this. Think something more aggressively quirky, like Abattoir or even Exumer.

Wasn’t overly fond of the vocals, which sounded more “NY hardcore” (think Biohazard crossed with Max Cavalera, but with more of a punky, Mighty Mighty Bosstoneslike feel – and yeah, I know only one of those bands actually hails from the boroughs), but they were inoffensive enough in the end, particularly with the rest of the band thrashing quite this hard.

Wouldn’t be in my top 40 of thrash bands or anything, but you can see why they’ve done shows with folks like Deathchain, Toxic Holocaust and the aforementioned Exodus.

Start a pit.

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Zombie Rodeo – Cult Leader (Inverse Records) (November 18)

Another sorta retro-70’s, sorta stoner rock act, with Dave Wyndorf-esque vocals, Hammond style keyboard and more than a touch of doom.

Not much to offer here, other than a mild giggle: good luck telling Mika, Miika, Mikko and Mikko apart from one another in an interview!

Seriously, that’s their names (vocalist Thomas Vee aside)…

Not bad, really. Well produced, somewhat Sabbathesque at points (“cult leader”)…but sort of a shrug of the shoulders in the end.

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Dead End Finland – Slaves To The Greed (November 4) (Inverse Records)

Modern, sorta industrial/”dark” metal with some really cheesy keyboards and a strong sense of melodicism.

There’s a bit too much of the thunka thunka nu metal-style riffing going on, but the typically Finnish emphasis on melody will make that almost unnoticeable if not irrelevant.

There are some growly aggro-death vox during the aforementioned portions, but the good parts are all sung clean, and in sum, this is a pleasant 43 minutes of your time.

I played it twice in a row as background music, and that should say two things immediately: on the downside, it’s a bit forgettable and serves that purpose more admirably than bands that demand more of your attention to appreciate.

But on the plus side, that also implies that this is a likeable effort, full of melody and wholly inoffensive, which borders the more modern strains of radio friendly metal and even touches on power/pagan metal at points (“screaming back to hell” being more bombastic and expansive than most).

If you’re asking my opinion, then I’m calling this a win – I liked it enough to run it twice in a row (not something I can say about all too many bands and albums reviewed here over the years) and never winced once (even moreso). The melodies may not stick in your head long after playing…but that may just encourage you to give it another spin.

I’m giving it an easy horns up, and look forward to hearing more from these guys.

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Black Dreams – Soul Stealer (October 14) (Inverse Records)

This one’s more likely to appeal to 80’s survivors and aficionados of the more postpunk/gothic end of the musical spectrum.

Not only is the music a more metallized take on the darker, UK and Euro-originated synthpop of the era, but it’ll probably take someone used to this sort of thing to appreciate Juha Kraapo’s thickly accented vocals without being overly taken aback or amused thereby.

“Soul stealer”, strangely the B-side, despite the single/EP bearing its name, shifts things a bit towards the more raucous, Zodiac Mindwarp-style hard rock meets biker metal end of the equation.

Sure, it’s pretty good in and of itself, but it’s far more “happy” and likely to appeal to old cover band/classic rock loving barflies than its more appropriately dark flipside. If they were going to drop an album, I’d hope they lean towards the sensibilities displayed on “black heart” all over this one.

Not bad, but I’m not sure the two sides belong together, or will even appeal to the same audiences.

In case it wasn’t already apparent, I liked “black heart” quite a bit.

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Somehow Jo! – “Go with the Jo” (Inverse Records)  (September 29)

We’d reviewed their prior album Satans of Swing last June, and found these guys quite bizarre…too much so, in fact. The operative question is, did these guys improve, is this some likeable anomaly of a one-off, or has yours truly changed that much in a single year?

Yeah, pretty unlikely on the latter end. Sure, I’ve had to review a whole lot of questionable (and excellent, for that matter) acts, but we’ve been doing this for 5 years now (and living, playing and breathing a wide range and scope of the music scene for decades prior)…so while tastes may change somewhat over time and you may come to appreciate more than you used to, it’s kind of bizarre to think that a tiger could or would change its stripes, particularly in so brief a period of time.

All this to say, I find myself surprised to be giving this one a thumbs up, at least for the crowd who (like yours truly) appreciates the party-friendly, don’t take this shit too seriously goofiness of bands like Trollfest, Kontrust and Alestorm.

There’s a reeeeeeally goofy folk music lilt to this one, which reminded me of (but probably wasn’t) Jewish traditional music, as crossed with a sorta rock, sorta metal thing ala Anthrax in their sillier moments or, as already referenced, Trollfest (and to some extent or other, a fair swath of the pagan metal scene per se).

No idea how a full length will play out – probably will wind up with a rating not far from Satans of Swing last year, just thinking logically here.

But this song was loads of fun, and I’m secretly hoping the rest of the impending album holds true to the sensibilities displayed herein.

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Death Is Liberty : A Statement Darkness (Concorde Music) (October 7)

Rather “norm” leaning whiny vocals, quirky indie guitar parts, thrash bass and gallop riffs…then it goes all metalcoreish. Then it’s sorta mournful in an indie manner (think REM meets the Gin Blossoms, I guess). Then it’s going all “dark metal” again.

Say what?

Well, it’s certainly listenable enough, and more likely to appeal to open minded post-metal hipsterish types than either the indie crowd (who’ll recoil at the heavy, metal elements) or the metal crowd (who’ll be baffled by all the syncretism and weirdness)…but on the flipside, you’d also be hard pressed to slag ’em.

There’s something too accomplished and professional about the musicianship here, something too likeable about the melodicism (where applicable) and vocal approach to really come down hard on these guys.

I don’t know, maybe I’m just in the right mood hearing this, but it actually works, for all its unclassifiability and quirks.

I’ll defy expectations and give ’em a “hey, what the hell” thumbs up.

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Heavy Tiger – Devil May Care (Wild Kingdom) (September 30)

70’s girl gang rock in the Suzy Quatro/vaguely Runaways vein.

Produced by Entombed’s Nicke Andersson, which makes sense given his obvious love of the period (Imperial State Electric, anyone?), all this one’s missing is the handclaps.

Glam rock lives again! What the hell, I hear rollerblade’s making a comeback, too…what’s next, high heel sneakers?

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Satans Kadaver – Det Allseende Brunögat (VICISOLUM PRODUCTIONS) (October 28)

Swedish punk band in the (early) AFI by way of Social Distortion vein.

In other words, the music is sorta modern-punk with those vague emo/metalcore/something not punk proper flourishes throughout, but with vocals that feel rather Mike Ness (and at points, even Richard Butler of the Psychedelic Furs – check out the “phoned in” compressed section halfway through “baron lordag”).

It’s not quite as crazed as early AFI, but you’ll get a fair idea of what to expect from that. Less emo, less dark…but the same chanted gang choruses, the same inclinations towards steamroller speed that suddenly break down into something slow and contemplative, the same sense of omnipresent melodicism.

Definitely would have fit in on one of the old Fat Mike Fat Wreck Chords comps, alongside bands like NOFX and Lagwagon…so I’m good.

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Katla – Embryo (Svart Records) (September 30)

Hawkwind by way of Ozzy-era Black Sabbath.

Promo materials go on for a bit about “krautrock” influences, but I’m not hearing it.

Not much else to offer here – if you always wanted a slowed down Hawkwind as fronted by John Osbourne and tripping on more acid than “Captain Trips” himself, here’s your holy grail.

It’s stoner rock, emphasis on the psychedelic. You already know whether you’re curious or not.

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Kremlin – S/T (Svart Records) (October 7)

And hailing from Finland, here’s another space rock/stoner affair, this time marked by Cramps-like rockabilly single note guitar lines and full of the synth and keyboard effects you’d expect from Hawkwind wannabes…as fronted by the guy from Tool, but without the angst.

Two very similar acts from Svart this month – which one you prefer, whether you love ’em both or don’t care at all is pretty much down to how much you love psychedelically inclined stoner rock.

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Initiated – World On Fire (Svart Records) (November 18)

Sorta heavy rock meets punk with Misfits howls at the choruses (and more than a few recognizably Danzig-like riffs for good measure – cough).

Their lyrical approach marks them as “occult rock”…or quite in the mold of the aforementioned Signore Anzalone, to be more precise. That said, don’t expect the feel, energy and quality associated with his deservedly famed trio of past bands – the closest this gets is to II/III-era Danzig, but without the Morrison meets Elvis vox…and more importantly, without the menace.

For various reasons we won’t go into here, I’ve met the man and members of a few of his bands a few times over the years, and have always been a huge fan of his 1977-1994 output – hell, it’s what led me to The Vladimirs. So when someone is trying to ape that sound (or soundS, given his progression through several genres during that time), you know I’m inclined to dig it.

But they just ain’t him.

If you love Danzig (with elements of both the Misfits and Samhain), you’ll probably feel the same about Initiated – close enough to appreciate, but so, so far from what makes all his stuff from that era work in the first place.

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Teksti-TV 666 – 1,2,3 (Svart Records) (October 7)

Husker Du redux.

Apparently this is a compilation of 3 EPs from a Finnish band who sports six guitarists, Spinal Taplike. The sound is very indie powerpop, and while there are moments of Sonic Youthlike experimentation (“hautakivi”), their sound calls the heyday of Mould and Hart to mind more especially than anything else.

Good by me, I used to play the living shit outta Warehouse Songs and Stories back in the day, and I’ll bet Teksti-TV did as well.

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Underwater Sleeping Society – Instrumental Healthcare (Svart Records) (October 7)

Todd Rundgren would be proud.

Utopia-esque vocorder effects, quirky keyboard/synth tones and a trippy, uber-mellow 70’s soft rock feel predominate. You could be forgiven for thinking a more loaded 10cc as well, though they were more aggro by far!

Then they trot out the Romeo Void sax sections…and it starts to turn more David Sylvian/Japan (“tomorrow’s yesterday”) before going happy-Cure (“on a vitamine strut”, “complete, compass”), then veering straight into Radiohead (“origo”). Then back to the AM radio MOR, before heading towards Ian MacCulloch territory (“bow & arrow”, “the last door”).

It’s listenable enough, particularly for the 80’s postpunk, 90’s indie and current hipster crowds – the production’s impeccable and they have their own uniquely syncretist sound down.

Not my cup of tea, but I’d hardly complain if it came on the radio or someone gave it a spin at a party some night.

Pretty damn good for what it is.

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Spiritus Mortis – The Year Is One (Svart Records) (November 11)

Another Sabbath wannabe, this time with Eric A.K. from Flotsam & Jetsam on vocals and a more expansive, modern production and more “metallic sheen” tone on the guitars.

OK, it’s not actually Eric A.K., it’s some guy going by the pseudo “Albert Witchfinder”…but you get the idea.

As doom metal post-Trouble, Cathedral, Pentagram and Cathedral goes, it’s pretty decent.  More importantly, the band manages to avoid enough of the cliched sound, at least in terms of the unusual for the genre vocal approach and the cleaner, more modern feel of the guitar tone and production, to leave them more interesting than your run of the mill retro-doomster nowadays.

Didn’t mind it at all.

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Trees of Eternity – Hour of the Nightingale (Svart Records) (November 11)

Dramatic, bombastic, depressive and modern, this feels quite mournfully doom-inspired, but in the Paradise Lost/My Dying Bride/My Silent Wake vein thereof, and without the death elements and harsh vocals.

Effectively, this is a sort of gothic metal, of the “poppier”, more radio friendly variety…but that doesn’t fit either. I’m sure the “let’s make up a silly and meaningless new label for our sound” crowd would call this “dark metal” or something equally hollow as a descriptor, but I hope this genre blender helps to suss out the general idea for ya. Did I mention the guitars feel sorta melodeath in their doubled lead lines?

Sadly (if perhaps appropriately, given the mournful tone of the album), this one’s fated to be a one-off, dedicated to the memory of vocalist Aleah Starbridge, who passed during post-production.

Her darkly sweet, gothic heroine tones lend this album much of its unique status – while this would have worked quite well under an Ian Arkley or Aaron Stainthorpe, hearing this performed by a sad, thick toned alto gives Hour of the Nightingale a more traditionally gothic (in both the musical and literary sense) sensibility. I was actually thinking her performance over this music evokes the imagery of the cry of a lonely nightingale soaring through dark evening skies, so the title was quite appropriate.

The band proper consists of members of Nightwish, Katatonia and Swallow the Sun, so you get the idea…now put the smoothest, saddest female vocal atop that and you should know exactly what you’re getting into here.

Not only did I like this, it brought me back to better days and memories of the (all too brief) early to mid 90’s goth scene revival. Could have been accompaniment to an Anne Rice novel in her heyday or an episode of Forever Knight…

Utterly enchanting…a dark enchantment, tinged with sweet sorrow and the palpable sensation of a loss made all too immanent. RIP.

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Mikko Joensuu – Amen 2 (Svart Records) (November 11)

We’d reviewed Mikko’s Amen 1 a few months back, and little has changed between the two.

Joensuu is still working something vaguely approximating the poppier end of 80’s postpunk/synthpop (think the lightest possible Echo & the Bunnymen effort, or something only slightly brooding off the soundtrack to a John Hughes film – check out “no one knows” to see exactly what I mean here), but by way of neofolk – last time around, comparisons were made to Jakob Dylan, Richard Shindell and Nick Drake. I even hear touches of Bruce Cockburn this time around (“dying rain”).

I’ll modify my earlier statement somewhat: what may have changed is that Amen 2 feels a touch more diverse than Amen 1, leaning slightly more…aggressive is a very wrong word here…but less mournful and folkish, more of that 80’s indie hits sort of sound is emphasized here.

Given that, I’ll say it’s an improvement on an already decent template.

You already know whether this is your bag or not.

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Waldgefluster – Ruinen (Bindrune Recordings/Nordvis Produktion) (October 14)

Post-black metal.

Huge sweep at times, and can be fairly contemplative, though there’s an odd urgency to the sound that sabotages that effect and vocals that lean more shoegaze-indie with black metal elements than vice versa.

It’s depressive and kinda emo, and certainly captures elements of black metal proper, particularly speaking towards the ambient-contemplative and Quebecois variants thereof…but the train never quite gets to its destination, so to speak.

Later in the album, things head more Viking/pagan mixed with screamo (“graustufen Novembertage”) and an oddly black metallized postpunk/gothic (“trummerfestung”), but for an album whose cover depicts a foggy mountain forest, bears the appropriately unreadable spiky logo and ostensibly sells itself as black metal at core…it’s very rarely playing in the right ballpark.

There are elements that almost work here.

But the final impression you get from Ruinen is that Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang hailing satan around Schroeder’s piano would feel more black metal than this.

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Grimoire – À la lumière des cendres (Reissue) (Eisenwald)

Much as with his previously reviewed L’aorasie des Spectres Reveurs, Quebec’s one man band Grimoire occupies some strange, almost post-black metal arena all his own, where 80’s postpunk in the Ian MacCulloch vein rubs shoulders with the contemplative sadness of Quebecois black metal.

The production is a bit offputting by comparison to that earlier effort, eschewing much of Spectres Reveurs’ chilly, reverb-inflected production in favor of a thicker, drier, more raw and in your face variant.

It’s somewhat akin to Neige et Noirceur’s recent misstep of Les Tenebres Modernes as compared to their prior (and superior) Gouffre Onirique at Abimes Cosmiques, though with Grimoire it’s more subtle of a change, and more particularly isolated to a change in production style rather than the band’s own sound…and consequently holds up respectably well where Neige et Noirceur fell flat on their asses.

Another difference: this actually came a full four years before said career highpoint (to date), making this more of an early, comparatively “unpolished” work from the band with many of the elements that made said album work so well as it did – in itself a huge difference from a band forging forward and taking a stylistic wrong turn, as was the case with Neige.

All this to say, A la Lumiere des Cendres should very much appeal to fans of L’aorasie des Spectres Reveurs. The production’s very different and therefore gives off a different sensibility and feel, and he’s got a (presumably) session drummer in tow this time around…but it’s right in the same general ballpark, musically speaking.

Ca c’est bon.

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Tardigrada – Emotionale Ödnis (Eisenwald)

Swiss black metal.

I keep picturing that Heidi lookalike on the box of instant hot cocoa mix,* but acknowledge the early and influential demos (and in the former case, an EP) from Hellhammer and Samael (who went right down a neo-death metal crapper as soon as they got signed…but those demos are still great!).

So anyway…

What you get is that modern sort of neo-Quebecois black metal that borders on ambient, retaining a contemplative and mournful feel even on speedier tracks, and buried under those silly howls and shrieks that far too many neo-black metal bands seem to be gravitating towards nowadays.

The band themselves are certainly more than competent, and between their deliberate soundscapes and some crystalline, nigh-gothic rock level production, Emotionale Odnis definitely sets a mood.

My only gripe here, if any, lies with that silly vocal approach.

Look, guys – and I’m not just addressing this band in particular, either – you’re not Varg Vikernes. You don’t really want to be Fleurety. You just sound like you’re being perpetually goosed by the guitarist (or possibly the drummer, if he has telescoping antenna-style sticks to do it with).

(YODEL-E-HEE-) HOO YOO HOOO HOOOOO HOOOOOOOOO!!!!

It ain’t a yodeling contest.

* see, it even ties together…and I wrote that before the goofy vocals kicked in!

I’ll give ’em the nod despite the vox – overall, this was decent enough and got me in the proper state of mind.

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DERANGED – Struck By A Murderous Siege (Agonia Records) (October 28)

Swedish death metal act (though it doesn’t sound like it!) leaning grindcore.

Don’t expect Entombed-style HM-2 worship or Gothenburg-like melodeath, this is kind of like speeding up Baphomet and siphoning away every drop of atmospherics, or giving Morta Skuld a spastic drum machine tapatapatapping away in half-assed blastbeats throughout.

Well, OK, some of the later songs get a bit more traditional, with typewriter double bass footwork predominating and slower, harmonic squeal-bedecked riffing ala Immolation or arguably even Suffocation. But the tapatapatap blasbeat shit keeps wafting back into the room like a bad fart on a particularly hot and still day…

On the whole, this will be listenable enough for the diehard death metal fan, but the sound is a bit simplistic and those blastbeats really gotta go, man…

Fantastic cover, though – quite Italian horror circa 1980.

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The Von Deer Skulls – The Rest Is Silence (Wraith Productions) (October 31)

We reviewed their previous single “Bitches of the Wood” a few months back, so here’s the full length.

They’ve apparently been named “weirdest band in the world” by another site – don’t ask me, but while I’ve heard weirder, I can certainly see why they’d earn that distinction.

Wannabe Residents with less quirk and even less talent, these Frenchmen use the guitar as a drone (I swear, every song rests on the exact same note – detuned guitars tend to blow as a rule, but could you at least not keep hitting the open E string as a modus operandi?) and work a pseudo-Snakefinger by way of Soundgarden thing that almost approaches “occult black metal” in its sheer unlistenability and repetitive atonality. Seriously, every song sounds exactly the same.

Throw in some nigh-whispered back of the throat croaks and drums that feel like they keep falling out of meter, and there you have it.

sigh.

next…

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Karg – Weltenasche (Art of Propaganda) (November 14)

Mournful, post-black metal with strong ambient leanings marred by a perfectly horrible vocalist.

It’s quite effective overall…you just wish he’d either shut the hell up or hire a proper black metal shrieker. That weird back of the throat pained howl thing just doesn’t work, bro…

To be fair, it’s not much worse (or for that matter, different from the yodeling thing so many younger black metal-oriented bands are doing lately (cough Tardigrada cough)…but “not sucking any worse” is hardly a mark of quality, here…

If you can tune out the vocals, this one may well float your boat – the instrumental portions definitely set a mood.

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Stench Price – S/T (Transcending Obscurity Records) (November 30)
Speaking of death/grind, here we have a multinational “supergroup” consisting of members of Nuclear Assault, Paganizer, Cynic, Benediction, Bolt Thrower and more. Do the names Dan Lilker, Dave Ingram and Rogga Johansson ring any bells?

There are folks from the States, the UK, France, Sweden, Australia and even Siberia on tap here, and every track sounds different due to the roundtable of vocalists involved.

That said, the only track that really worked for me without reservations was “the genocide machine”, fronted by 2nd Benediction frontman Dave Ingram – thanks to his familiar, well practiced tones, this is the most properly “death metal” track here.* No screeching, no whining, no aggro bits, just straight up death metal goodness.

* Rogga Johansson’s track worked pretty well, too, until that weird Michael Jackson break and the stupid atonal climbing riff at the end – yeesh!

Kind of a mess, really…but starfuckers should be ecstatic.

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Queen Elephantine – Kala (Cimmerian Shade Recordings) (October 21)

Weird syncretist act with doom flavorings.

Almost goes ambient at points, and there’s a lot of sound effects and aimless noodling.

I don’t get it.

Next…

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Grossty – Crocopter (Transcending Obscurity India) (November 15)

A terrible thin dish snare punk sound and overly compressed production (those guitars are so squashed, they literally squeak!), hissy cymbals drown out nearly everything else in the mix.

Tag on a crazed, often relentless grindcore vocal (which makes everything sound like autism spectrum gabbling:)

AAALLAAA!! AAAALLLAAA!! UHBUHBUHUHBUHUUUUUUUUUHHHHH!!

At least tracks like “cop hand” and “corporate gigolo” allow for a few punk gang chant vocal sections…

21 songs, 21 minutes.

You already know whether this is your cup of tea or not.

I’d think it’s pretty obvious how I feel about it…

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Rudra – Enemy of Duality (Transcending Obscurity Asia) (December 17)

Singaporean blackened death metal…or as they refer to it, “Vedic metal”.

They obviously get a bit mystical and yogic, and throw in a few “gotchas” of Indian traditional music, complete with tabla and sitar (nicely played, that…) and believe it or not, shakuhachi (!)*

* well, OK, it’s probably the Hindi equivalent thereof, but sounds a hell of a lot like a Japanese chanbara flick to me…

Closers “hermit in nididhyasana” and “ancient fourth” are the closest they come to the syncretism I was hoping to here, with most of the chanted/traditional instrumentation sequences serving as intros or outros, wholly separate from the metal proper. At least these two tracks show what can be done, in a sort of south of the equator pagan metal fashion…

Interesting stuff…I was just expecting more of that sort of thing throughout.

When they’re “on”, they’re seriously with it, and consequently worth hearing.

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Fetid Zombie (US) – Epicedia (2016) (Transcending Obscurity Records) (November 25)

A one man project band from someone named Mark Riddick (don’t ask me…), this pulls in death/black metal shredder Toby Knapp (Waxen, Where Evil Follows) for a few solos and several guests unfamiliar to yours truly for vocal, guitar and bass spots.

The Knapp solos are, as expected, quite excellent and often handled in the classic James Murphy style, so those are certainly worth hearing.

Production’s decent, the drumming’s not bad at’all and the riffs are certainly death metal enough. I don’t get the vocals, and there’s wayyyy too much quirkiness for my taste – did I mention every song runs close to 10m, and that there are changes in genre throughout each track, ADD-style?

Very, very weird tangent of death metal, with enough traditional leanings to make it almost listenable…but you have to have a high tolerance for the bizarre.

Knapp’s solos (and possibly this Jamie Whyte person, who also solos on two tracks alongside him) are excellent.

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

Nigh-industrial processed vocal hissing and snarling amidst a whirlwind of poorly produced, hissy chaos on the instrumental end.

It’s actually such a shitty wall of noise that it was hard to differentiate guitars from drums (and all of ’em are buried by the vocal effects).

One of the worst production jobs I’ve heard for some time, really.

They’ll say they were being “deliberately abrasive” and striving to sound “inhuman” or some such shit. Maybe throw in some pseudo-occultic bullshit about “transcending the planes to trip the rubicon and tap interdimensional entities”. I love some of the utter horseshit some of these guys come up with to cover a middling to poor product and lack of substance…

Whatever. We know the score.

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Necroven (Spain) – Primordial Subjugation (Memento Mori) (October 24)

Geez, the number of important bands in the black metal scene just keeps shrinking as the sheer volume of acts working (or claiming to be) in the genre increases exponentially…

For every halfway decent act like Inquisition, there are a few dozen like Seputus…or less abrasively, Necroven. Go figure.

You can also go figure why they (like so many other bands on the current scene) claim lineage to death metal, when a few drumming sections and a slightly more belch-growl approach to harsh vocals aside, it’s all pretty much “blackened”.

Shit, I remember the days when “blackened” meant something awesome like early Sepultura or the Teutonic trio of Kreator, Destruction and Sodom. These days, it’s become something of a synonym for “questionable and soundalike”. I knew younger kids who threw together crappy bands in their garages that sounded better than a fair portion of “black/death” bands being released out there now…

So back to Necroven. What is there to say about them?

Well, there is a bit of the Necrophobic sound here, but it’s hardly as accomplished, well produced or traditional in sound…and mind you, they were syncretist as hell, with “Blackmoon” Parland pushing closer to what he was doing in Dark Funeral than death metal proper.

I guess that’s where we’ll leave it. They want to be Necrophobic, sooooo bad.

But they haven’t gotten there yet, or sussed out for themselves exactly what it was about them that made that band work.

A shrug of the shoulders.

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Algoma (Canada) / Chronobot (Canada) – Split LP (Dead Beat Media (US)

Generic noisemeisters with vague death leanings share an uncomfortable split with generic retro-doomsters.

I was bored off my ass by both.

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Self-Hatred (Czech Republic) – Theia  (Solitude Productions) (September 5)

Ponderously expansive death/doom.

The sound is quite modern and there feels like too much is going on at times between the guitar, drums, keyboards and vocals plus whatever effects they’re layering on in studio, like it’s a big ass tidal wave of misery slamming down on the listener. Maybe you just got sucked in by the undertow and can’t figure out why everything’s blue and you can’t breathe…

It’s melodic and mournful, and sure to appeal to fans of the more modern death/doom scene and emo veterans alike – there’s a lot of…well, self hatred and sadness in there.

Wasn’t bad at all.

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RECITATIONS – The First of the Listeners (Signal Rex / Avantgarde Music) (November 15)

More authentically black metal in approach and feel than anyone else reviewed thus far this month (though hang on, there’s still about 20 to go, a pair of which come from a real ringer by the name of Lauri Penttila), this is still a bit overly “modern” stylistically for my tastes.

They’re certainly playing in the “occult black metal” arena, with nothing really standing out here musically from any dozen other similarly minded acts you could name, except for the fact that they’re far less atonal and Watainish than usual.

There’s also an oddity of production where every track sounds a bit different from the last, some full and crystalline, awash in reverb without being buried by it…then the next sounds like it was recorded underwater, or that the microphones were covered in mud. Sometimes this changes within the course of a given track (“godspeak halilu ljah”).

Overall, it’s not bad, and moves from grim martial tempos to blazing (though hardly “norsecore”) ones, and the overall feel is right, particularly for the more “modern” and/or “occult” variants hereof.

I liked it well enough, though I’m not sure it’s anything to get overly excited about either.

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SIASKEL – Haruwen Airen (Signal Rex) (November 18)

Blackened death metal, but in the good sense for a change. For once, I can call Necrophobic and Grotesque to mind, but use them as a positive analogue rather than as a comparative perjorative to the band in question…

These guys hail from Chile, but this isn’t the usual hyper-raw, underground blackened thrashlike thing you’d expect to hail from those environs.
Instead, you get a reasonably well produced and full sounding (for the type) affair that feels slightly European in sensibility. More aggressive, crazy and noisy, to be sure…but we’re hardly talking South American blackthrash here.

Promo materials mention “old Marduk”, and I can see that if you’re referring to the Joakim Af Grav (or possibly even Andreas Axxelson) era – there’s that similar mix of relative clarity on the production end and high speed insanity , with well recorded and full sounding hyperactive blastbeats and bass drum played against busy tremelo riffing and harsh, reverb-suffused shout-snarls. They even get the sense of drama and scope down pat…

As a longtime Marduk listener (“fan” would be pushing it way beyond where things actually stand, but I do have all the albums and I’ve been spinning their earlier albums from nearly the dawn of my personal discovery of the glories of black metal many a year agone) I was quite chuffed with this one.

Those who appreciate the pre-Norsecore, pre-“Legion” era should run, not walk, to grab this one.

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Brutally Deceased – Satanic Corpse CD (Doomentia) (September 30)

Boy, somebody likes Swedish death metal…

Sounding like some long lost Dismember or Carnage album, we have Brutally Deceased, a Czech act who crank the dials on the HM-2 all the way and blaze away like some long lost cousing to Nihilist at their most psychotically aggressive.

Tag in a more or less appropriate production sound (yeah, it sounds like the usual ProTools job on a closer listen, but it’s full and clear, as if Tomas Skogsberg were working the switches himself), some decent drumming mixed right up in your face and rather Matti Karki-like throaty croak-growls, and you have…well, Carnage or Dismember redux, honestly.

There’s a lot of bands (justifiably) aping the hoary Sunlight Studios Swedeath sound of late, but count Brutally Deceased among the best of the “convincing fakes”.

Horns way the fuck up.

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Polyptych – Defying the Metastasis (Blood Harvest) (October 14)

Weird, if unarguably competently played, tech death goes prog, with all the atonality and quirkiness you’d expect from that.

It’s well produced, all the instruments and vocals are clear enough (though if anything, the drums predominate, with vocals covering the guitars, who lose out as the effective bottom of this sonic pallette…) and the playing is certainly on point.

There’s enough death metal proper about Polyptych to keep me from slamming this to the wall for its tendencies towards pretentiously proggy math metal bullshit, but be aware that this is effectively who they are when all’s said and done.

Think of them as a hyperactive, more obnoxious (but far more well produced, bar the Scott Burns demo) Disincarnate, minus a James Murphy to make it special.

I can’t call it crap when it’s definitely working some of the right elements and is as well performed and produced as this…but in the end, it’s just not my cup o’ joe.

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Master of Cruelty – Archaic Visions of the Underworld LP (Blood Harvest) (November 25)

Still more blackened death, this time from Paraguay. Not as crazed as Totten Korps, but not as well produced or interesting, either. Still noisy as shit, and while a whole hell of a lot slower, thanks to hissy production and over-distortion on the vocals and guitars, this is the case even when they slow to a crawl.

“Perpetual deadly hollows” and “the executioner” suggest they’re trying for Tom G. Warrior or Ron Royce vocally, but Celtic Frost this aint…Coroner either, though “executioner” comes closest (consequently marking that as their best song).

Look, it’s not bad, particularly by way of comparison to far too many acts who misguidedly mix black metal and death metal as an M.O.

I wasn’t overly fond of it, but there’s enough Coroner and quirkiness…think an ersatz, South American black/death take on Mortuary Drape…to spare ’em much of a knock.

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Totten Korps – Supreme Commanders of Darkness LP  (Blood Harvest) (November 25)

Another Chilean act, this time working the blackened death angle, and as crazed and noisy as you’d expect.

When they “slow down” enough that you can actually differentiate between instruments (OK, I’m exaggerating here…but not by much!), you can pick up some good drum production (and decent, layered vocal production on the barf-belch end of the equation).

You even get to hear the guy work the kit once or twice between the flurry of goofy blastbeats – at the very least, he’s trying to be another Pete Sandoval, and that’s not exactly a bad thing.

I think, from some of the times they cool it enough to make out actual riffs, they’re trying to be another Suffocation, except for the vocals, which are more…I guess Disincarnate isn’t a terrible analogue for the sound here.

Did nothing for me, but I can appreciate the skills…or certainly the stamina! – of the drummer, and they actually tried to produce this thing properly, so credit where it’s due.

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ROTTEN UK – That Is Not Dead (CD, LP) (Hells Headbangers) (November 11)

You know, before I pulled up the promo materials, I was thinking this sounded like some lower profile UK82 sort of act – hardly Exploited or Vice Squad level, but playing in that general vicinity of hardcore that leans vaguely Motorhead (and which consequently bore some appeal to both sides of the often violent punk rock and metal divide of the era).

There’s enough of a postpunk feel here to bring bands like Theatre of Hate to mind – “royal blood” could easily have wound up on one of those old Cleopatra goth comps, and to be quite honest, I’m shocked that this is a younger, current band. The sound is so particularly rooted in that long gone era in sound, production, political orientation and vocal approach that it’s really hard to believe this wasn’t some reissue of some long lost band I’d never heard of prior to now…

I was a punk (and goth) long before I got into metal back in the day. Did you really expect anything less than high praise for this?

Punk’s not dead is finally more than just an outdated Exploited slogan.

Tie off those Doc Martens and jump in the fucking pit.

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WITCHTRAP – Trap the Witch (CD, LP, TAPE) (Hells Headbangers) (November 11)

Old favorites Witchtrap (Colombia) finally recapture their No Anaesthesia glory days after a few atypical missteps (Vengeance is my Name, anyone?).

A tribute to the late lamented Lemmy kicks off the proceedings at their standard high speed chugging Exodus by way of Kreator worship sound, and things rarely slow down thereafter (“power of the maul” and “hard thrashing mania” being the exceptions to the rule).

This is the sound that made me love these South American retro thrashers in the first place, many a year back…and they’ve finally dropped whatever weird tangent they were going off on for a while there to get back to their superior roots.

Didja really expect less than a horns way the fuck up?

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Black Witchery – Evil Shall Prevail DLP/CD (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (October 31)

Now THAT’s more like it. Black metal to the core, obviously leaning “war metal”, but it’s less template Beherit/Blasphemy than something more Norwegian in feel. Can’t peg a band that matches this sound precisely (Sweden’s Ormblut, possibly?), but that’s the general vibe I’m picking up here.

The only problem?

Every song sounds almost exactly the same.

Really.

Going from “black witchery” to “evil shall prevail” to “summoning of infernal legions”, you’d be hard pressed to realize the song even changed. And while I love what they’re doing here…yeah, that’s a bit of a problem.

Now, it’s not all like that – “destruction of the holy kingdom” sounds different from the first three, and “unholy vengeance of war” from any of the four that preceded it.

Then it repeats, because this is a collection of the band’s two demos, EP and some additional session material (only one track of which wound up on a split with Conqueror). Great for fans and collectors…but expect to hear the same 3 or 4 tracks, over and over (albeit in varying degrees of production quality and assuredness of performance).

Regardless, I liked it just fine. Horns up.

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Mouth of Madness – S/T (TAPE) (Iron Bonehead) (October 7)

Blackened thrash, German style…but don’t expect the good stuff. Early Kreator, Destruction or Sodom this decidedly ain’t…

Admittedly, give ’em credit – “hailstorm of thorns” comes close (that riff!) – but the death metal vocals, uber-thin, hissy production (all instruments sound like SSHHHHH_BRR-RR-SSSHHHH! throughout) does them absolutely zero favors.

“Impregnated by venom” comes off like…I’m going to say an Inquisition outtake, but hardly that grandiose or evocatively impressive, and “scorched kingdom” has a decent Witchtraplike riff at the 3m mark, but that’s about it.

“Hailstorm” is by far the standout here, so check that track out and do. not. judge. the rest of the album by that one – it’s so far above the rest as to hail from a different planet.

Better production and more riffs like the ones in “hailstorm” and (ever so briefly and belatedly) in “scorched kingdom” may result in a different verdict next time around, who knows.

Has potential, but never realized in any appreciable respect.

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Chhinnamasta – Vajra-Sarpa 12″ MLP (Iron Bonehead) (November 11)

2 pointless ambient tracks with one post-black metal sort of thing in the middle.

An oreo sandwich isn’t what I was thinking of here.

Next…

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Cross Vault – Miles to Take CD/12″ MLP (Iron Bonehead) (November 18)

You remember early Gene Loves Jezebel track “shaving my neck”? You know that odd, nasally throaty whine in Mike Aston’s performance there?

Yep, that’s what Niklas “N.” (also of Latitude Egress) is working with Cross Vault, that sort of overly dramatic, back of the throat warbling thing. I’m OK with it (“shaving” is my personal favorite GLJ song, after all), but be forewarned – it’ll strike you funny to say the least.

Otherwise, this is an uber-dramatic, mournfully melodic sort of death/doom affair, once again mining the My Silent Wake-like template of nigh-pagan metal bombast and melodeath-ish lead lines over a lumbering modern doom underpinning.

Knock the vocals if you must, but he’s singing clean and the band’s sound is fantastic…partly because of what he’s doing over the band here.

Only two songs, but what a pair of songs they are!

If this is any indication of what’s to come, you can bet I’m looking forward to a full length.

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Heavydeath – In Circles We Die DLP (Iron Bonehead) (November 25)

We reviewed their last album Eternal Sleepwalker last February and found it somewhat wanting.

This one’s a bit more…likeable isn’t the right word, but it felt a bit less dull than last time around. Even so, it feels kind of samey from one track to the next, with only the title track standing out in any appreciable respect.

And while I guess you could say “one sorta decent track at least represents something of an improvement”, that’s nothing to write home about, either.

Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin.

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Bölzer – Hero CD/LP (Iron Bonehead) (November 25)

One pointless track of ambient noise, one pretty decent post black metal track marred by weird, comically moaning vocals. Sounds like they let somebody from the local ARC have the mic, really…

With a proper vocalist, “the archer” would have been kinda killer.

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SATANIC WARMASTER – Black Metal Kommando / Gas Chamber (Werewolf Records) (October 28)

It’s no secret that I’m a huge aficionado of the work of Lauri Pentilli, the former Horna frontman best known for his work as Satanic Warmaster. His albums and splits are filled with harsh, traditional yet melody-filled black metal.

Recently, he’s changed style somewhat, rendering his classic sound perhaps more palatable to a more mainstream black metal fandom, but it’s all pretty much of a piece – if you love one Satanic Warmaster track, there’s a very good chance you’ll feel the same about all of ’em.

Or maybe we should append that to “most of ’em”, because some of his earlier work can be pretty fucking harsh on the ears. Case in point, the Black Metal Kommando comp.

To be fair, this predates even Strength & Honour, so we’re talking some seriously early material here – and even amidst the harshness, poor recording quality and rough edges, some of that light from the “one shining star” comes through loud and clear.

Now, I’ve already told you, I dig this guy’s work. So for me, those first 6 tracks still work pretty well, their inherent unpolished, germinal nature aside. He’d go on to do much, much better…but it still works for the fan (though I would never suggest this as an introduction to his body of work!).

What doesn’t work are the three uber-raw demo tracks that follow…or far, far worse, the ostensible “Beherit tribute tracks” that close out the album. P-fucking-U. Marko Laiho wouldn’t exactly be moved by this touching tribute, that’s all I’ll say…

Bottom line is, if you like Satanic Warmaster and have already delved into at least the major album and EP releases, there’s nothing wrong with digging back a little further to check out the first 6 tracks here.

Just do yourself a favor and eject the disc or raise the needle thereafter.

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THE TRUE WERWOLF – Death Music (Werewolf Records) (October 28)

Another compilation of demos, splits and EPs, this time far rawer than anything released under the Satanic Warmaster imprint.

The only tracks that really work here hail from the Battlemoon and Weeping Lord of the Majestic Plagues EPs, aka tracks 5-6 and 9-10 – and even those are pretty damn raw and less melodically inclined than what you’d expect from Warmaster.

The others, arguably “bats crawl from my tower” aside, are pretty much worthless.

Again, for the dedicated and/or hardcore Satanic Warmaster fan only – those four tracks are worth checking out if you fit that designation.

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Kyy – Beyond Flesh – Beyond Matter – Beyond Death (Saturnal) (November 4)

Learned something new today.

You see, it turns out that in Finnish, “KY(Y)” means “viper”. Pretty nasty, right? A deadly snake, took out Cleopatra for one.

Too bad that for the rest of the world, it means you need some lube, presumably to bang your significant other up the ass. And that’s exactly what listening to this one amounts to: the aural equivalent of getting fucked in the ass.

Super harsh, ultra-compressed, and utterly pointless.

Even a pristine production can’t save material that’s bland, generic and goes nowhere…and that’s exactly what this one amounts to.

Now you know what they were really implying by “erecting temple of adversary” running straight into “the narrow gates of apoleia”.

No, thank you.

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Hoath – Codex III: Crown of the Mind (Saturnal) (November 4)

Blackened death. The vocals, riffing and crunch lean heavily towards the death metal end of that equation, giving Hoath more heft than most of their likeminded peers. But is that really enough to hang your metaphorical hat on?

I didn’t mind it at all – it was death metal enough for me, all things considered. Could it have been better? Oh, yeah, without question.

But I’ll give it a qualified nod – it’s listenable, heavy, occasionally dramatic (the solo section of “anael” in particular) and not a million miles off the mark for a change.

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Ur Draugr/Haar – Haar/Ur Draugr (ATMF) (October 7)

Atonal, crazed drumming pointlessness.

At least Ur Draugr tried to put a melodic section in the middle of their track…

Next…

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Adaestuo – Tacent Semitae (W.T.C .Productions) (November 11)

More pointless “occult black metal” nonsense, with ambient parts, weird sound effects and atonality as an end in and of itself.

Waiter? Check, please!

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FlaktiiN – Souls For The Legions  (War Arts Productions) (November 15)

And yet another blackened death metal affair, of the decidedly underground and “occult black metal” orientation.

Holy crap, are we done yet?

Thank God.

And I mean that, after all this pseudo-satanic schmutters.

Thank GOD, if this crap is the alternative…

 

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