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Well, it’s that time again.

Another month has passed, and we’re finally nearing the close of this interminable election, about which the less said the better.  Suffice to say, either way, we lose…just one way could be less final and bear less far reaching repercussions than the other. Let’s hope for the best in a pool of bad options.

Won’t even get into the daily shit sandwich that is “gainful” employment, as that’s also turning for the worse in major and longstanding ways on a drawn out and ongoing basis…but hey, I personally know folks who’re dealing with much, much worse.  There’s always worse, always lower to sink in this shithole of a world.  So much for a brighter future.

So on the positive end, we have yet another batch of rather good releases to cover this month…and, of course, a batch of pure, unadulterated shite as a complement.  You have to sift through the sewer to find diamonds, that’s just how life runs.

And as we rapidly approach the season of renewal, let’s just hope that the holly king brings good tidings of a year that, for once in so many years it’s hard to count at this point, may actually turn out better than expected…rather than still worse.

There used to be an annoyingly ubiquitous motivational poster, with a cat barely holding itself from falling out of a tree.  “Hang in there, baby!” it said.

Yeah.

At some point, we’re all going to need a helping hand up…or our collective grip will finally loosen.

Guess which is more likely, given current political and economic trends.

Oh, sure, keep electing assholes, keep taking our money and funneling it up to give even more breaks and advantages to the rich and corporate.

Great fucking idea.

I’d say the time for waiting is long past.

Time to bring the torches to Castle Frankenstein.

And on that hopeful note…

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HARDLINE – Human Nature (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (October 14)

Bon Jovi, circa 7800 Fahrenheit cum Slippery When Wet.

Johnny Gioeli sounds a hell of a lot like Signore Bongiovi and there’s the same light, semi-aggressive AOR leaning metal touch in both Josh Ramos’ guitars and the ubiquitous Alessandro Del Vecchio’s keyboard work.

It’s a bit more complicated (particuarly in Del Vecchio’s oft-snaking lines and Jon Lord-esque Hammond B3-style chordal stings) and aggressive, which leaves it more pre-“smiles to the ladies” era Bon Jovi, but you get the idea.

Even back in their heyday, the only albums yours truly ever paid a whit of attention to were in fact the self titled and F-7800, so this works pretty well for me – but whether it’ll resonate with New Jersey-forward fans of that act to the same degree, it’s hard to say – may just be too rockin’ for your softie asses.

You already know whether you’re interested or not.

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TYKETTO – Reach (Fontiers Music s.r.l.) (October 14)

OK. So Pete Way leaves UFO and Fast Eddie Clarke leaves Motorhead to form Fastway. They record two albums and wind up on a horror movie soundtrack or two, then part Ways (cough) themselves.* Way forms Waysted, they record an album or two, then repeat.

* according to certain sources, Way’d already left the band before the debut album, but you get the idea…

Now, at this point, I’m sure everybody’s wondering…what the hell’s up with Pete Way? But this isn’t about him, it’s about a casualty from the last of the aforementioned bands, namely Waysted vocalist Danny Vaughn.

Dusting himself off from that fallout, Vaughn gathered together a new combo named Tyketto. If you were paying attention, you may have heard of ’em…

They recorded two (unfortunately ill-timed) albums in the early to mid 90’s (when absolutely zero people were still playing or admitting to digging or ever having been a fan of metal – the sheer level of omnipresent public mockery here in the states drove just about everyone underground, particularly after the final collapse of both the thrash and death metal scenes circa 93-4), personal tragedy struck, the band tried to soldier on with altered staff for a bit, but for all intents and purposes, that was it. Some of us remembered the band, however vaguely. Others forgot. Life goes on.

So here we are in 2016. The original band attempted a reunion about a decade back, didn’t last for long. So Vaughn and original drummer Michael Clayton rustled up a few new players and jumped back in the saddle for this one. So how’s it hold up?

Well, longtime Tyketto fans should be pretty pleased – the band’s trademark melodic hard rock/AOR sound is pretty well intact, and Vaughn’s vox are in fine form, defying the vagaries of time. Clayton (now going by his proper name of “Michael Clayton Arbeeny”) is mixed right up front and center, so you can catch every beat, tom roll and cymbal crash. Sure, he’s not doing anything overly fancy…but this ain’t prog metal or anything, so what did you expect? A nice, understated but very competent performance on that end.

In fact, the production’s pretty damn good overall, with vocals and drums more upfront than you might expect from a rock leaning light metallic act, but rest assured, this does not impact the sound overall – the guitars are loud and clear, and more than crunchy enough to satisfy.

New kid Chris Green’s guitar work is more than respectable, with the intro and chorus riff of “tearing down the sky” bringing hints of XYZ if not Lynch Mob or early Winger to mind, and there are some very sweet vocal harmonies going on through every song’s bridge and/or chorus section (every member joins in on background vocals, and it shows through).

If you’re going to be obnoxious and compare this month’s Frontiers releases against each other (cough), I may admit to a slight preference towards Hardline…but it’s a close call.

The bottom line? Vaughn’s vocals (and the group harmonies) combined with the sweet drum production and a few really good songs (“remember my name” particularly stands out on the lyrical end) sum up to a killer melodic AOR affair sure to cure your ills.

Very good stuff, hats off to ya.

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SECRET SPHERE – One Night in Tokyo (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (October 14)

Italian power metal act. I’ve never heard of ’em before this, but apparently they’re huge in Japan…which puts them in the same company as Cheap Trick and Michael Schenker (Legend of Black Heaven, anyone?). This is one of the few countries that kept the metal flame alive throughout the dark days of the 90’s and into the millenium, so all respect to the Nihonjin for that.

They seem to cross a vaguely Sonata Arctica sound and feel with the more bombastically expansive Italian school of thought (most prominently, Rhapsody (of Fire). Clean, often quite dramatic vocals (courtesy of a Michele Luppi – hats off, paisano), typewriter double bass drums and prominent keyboards predominate the Secret Sphere sound…but before you start thinking typical power metal leaning symphonic, realize there’s a lot of the more radio-friendly melodicism of, say, Theatres Des Vampires and the positive toned feel of Edenbridge playing into this as well.

It’s just a live retrospective album, but it makes me wish I’d heard of these guys earlier.

An easy raised lighter and fist pumping salute.

Bring on the next studio album, my interest is piqued.

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KEE MARCELLO – Scaling Up (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (October 14)

Longtime Europe 6-stringer Kee Marcello* strikes out sans Joey Tempest or John Norum. He does bring in the aforementioned Secret Sphere vocalist Michele Luppi on keyboards for one track, but otherwise handles all vocal, guitar and keyboard duties here.

* apparently, also making headlines as a horse jockey, if you can believe that

As Europe fans might expect, the playing is never less than competent if not excellent – I certainly enjoyed the solo sections, with “black hole star” and the minor key section kicking off “on the radio” particularly resonating.

The problem here is twofold: first, the vocals – Marcello is prone to a gravelly wide vibrato that makes Maria Callas’ infamous high wobble look understated by comparison, and often pushes himself into a nigh-aggro growl-scream that just comes off sorta ridiculous.

Secondly, he’s strangely prone to that sort of mid-90’s post-GNR Jackyl-esque “Southern groove” style “dirty bounce”. It’s hard to explain this goofy-ass approach without sound clips or even a vocal impression, but it’s that stupid sound that makes you feel like doing a mocking jig to – again, think stuff like Jackyl or Jake E. Lee’s Red Dragon Cartel and you should get the idea. And far too many bands…even former shredders like Vinnie Moore!…have this crap sound somewhere in their early 90’s-to-millenium back catalogue. Why, people? Why?

With a more “serious”, less “bouncy” and “groove” oriented approach, this could have been quite good, quirky vox aside.

As it is…some very nice solos and decent playing amidst the dross.

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Robert Pehrsson’s Humbucker – Long Way To The Light (High Roller Records) (November 4)

A rockier, less indie/punk Matthew Sweet. Without any ex-Voidoids or Television guitarists in tow, the sound feels more straightforwardly early 80’s AOR, the solos more direct and flash rather than quirky and pointedly sloppy.

Of course, this isn’t Sweet we’re discussing, but a fellow whose credits include Nicke Andersson’s excellent Death Breath and (more apropos to the album under discussion) Imperial State Electric.

As such, if you take the sound of Matthew Sweet, tag in a bit of Todd Rundgren vocal harmonies and a hint of Thin Lizzy, then factor in the whole dead on retro-70’s Imperial State Electric background, then throw in some rather nice guitar work in the aforementioned early 80’s AOR style…you’ll have something damn close to the eponymously named guy and his choice of pickup.

Yeah, I prefer rear pickup double humbucker tones to the reedier, fragile single coil sound myself (you’d never catch me playing a Strat or Tele, that’s for damn sure!)…but still a strange thing to fetishize, there, Bob…

If you like Imperial State Electric and/or Matthew Sweet, you should absolutely love this one…I was pleasantly surprised and impressed, myself.

Some really nice solos, bro.

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Leaves’ Eyes – Fires In The North (EP) (AFM Records) (November 4)

And now, the acid test. Can Leaves Eyes survive without…well, Liv’s Eyes at the helm?

Well, I can see why they picked Elina Siirala – she has a vaguely similar throat voice soprano leaning (but never actually approaching) coloratura to the departing Liv Kristine...but it’s distractingly different at the same time. The more sprechtgesang passages, the verses…just sound…wrong.  The phrasing feels more forced.  The warmth of tone is missing entirely – it’s a decidedly chillier affair.

That said, when they get into the choruses and the backing vocals, it works well enough. It’s not Liv, by a longshot. But she should be able to hack the back catalogue without any issues or concerns, and as emergency substitutes go? She was a damn good choice.

Me, I’ve been a fan too long, of both Leaves’ Eyes (Freudian slip – I actually typed “Liv’s Eyes” there…) and Theatre of Tragedy before them to just accept such a…well, radical is not the word, Siirala’s doing her damnedest here, and could possibly fool the less attentive noob for a few bars…but such a huge change without squirming in my seat and some involuntary grinding of teeth.

But I’m not as glibly dismissive as I was when I heard the news a few months back.

And that says a lot.

Did I mention Alex pulled in Erben der Schopfrung and Elis mainman Pete Streit on second guitar? Oh, yeah, there’s that too – a definite plus to this veteran’s ears.

Here’s to a comparably strong future…perhaps.

We’ll see how this plays out.

Watch this space.

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Herman Frank – The Devil Rides Out (AFM Records) (November 18)

Balls to the Wall-era Accept veteran Herman Frank (also of Touch of Sin-era Sinner pulls in gravel-voiced Masterplan rasper Rick Altzi and Silent Force drummer Andre Hilgers for an eponymously titled affair.

The sound is not a million miles removed from Accept (“running back” indeed!), but with touches of Helloween or perhaps even the more uptempo Dio (think stuff like “stand up and shout”, then compare to “shout”). In short, it’s very, very Teutonic power metal in the earlier, less template sense (i.e., no real keyboards, not much typewriter double bass, more gallop beats, you get the idea). They even go all Painkiller-era Priest on “run boy run” (and arguably “thunder of madness” as well).

As such, it’s reasonably traditional in feel and likeable enough, if somewhat forgettable. It’s all fairly well done and competently performed, as you might expect, but this is nothing to really write home about either.

A pleasant enough way to pass an hour to be sure, but unlikely to earn a place of prominence in your collection.

I’m cool with it.

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ROCK WOLVES – Rock Wolves (Steamhammer / SPV) (October 28)

I’ve been a fan of the Scorpions longer than I’m sure some of our younger followers have been on the planet. And one guy I always got a kick out of was Herman “zee German” Rarebell.

A jovial sort, his Teutonic good humor joined with that of Rudolf Schenker to make the Scorps one of the most tongue in cheek, fun loving acts in the classic metal scene, from photo shoots to interviews – just check out some of the stories he shares on the recent 50th anniversary remasters if you forgot just how much fun the guy can be.

So here he joins forces with Michael Voss (Phantom 5, Bonfire, Wolfpakk) and bassist Stephan Hinz for a more AOR-lite affair than fans may expect…yours truly inclusive.

Voss’ vocals are thin and reedy, somewhere between Michael Eden (formerly of Edens Curse, Michael Sweet of Stryper and Jon Bon Jovi, but with an overtone of syrupiness that helps them go down fairly smooth throughout.

There’s not a lot to say about this one, really, other than to note the decidedly eyebrow raising choice to cover Heart’s “what about love”…otherwise, it’s a light rock affair throughout, perhaps a bit too Stateside Lite FM for Frontiers.

It’s listenable, but so’s Firehouse.

See what I mean?

Nothing wrong with it…just expected something more…bold? bombastic?…from the former Scorpions sticksman.

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workin’ hard to hit that one note keyboard sting.

THE OUTLAWS – Legacy Live (Steamhammer / SPV) (November 11)

Allman Brothers-style dual leads and multi-part vocal harmonies mark this retrospective live album.

Sadly, only drummer Monte Yoho and guitarist Henry Paul remain from the more notable classic era of the act – even notable former member Rick Cua fails to return to the fray (doubtless still off doing the bible circuit – a few killer albums back in the mid-80’s from that man).

Even so, tracks like “so long” and “freeborn man” are sure to give you that Allmans meet 38 Special by way of Skynrd fix. I’d throw in fellow guitar-heavies Molly Hatchet as well, but The Outlaws work more of a mellow country-Byrds sort of thing than the more metallized feel of the Flirtin’ With Disaster veterans.

Also, it’s not one of those all too typical “package tour reunion” jobs, where there’s one original member and a bunch of fly by nighters recruited for touring purposes. In addition to Yoho and Paul, mid-and late-80’s members Steve Grisham and Chris Anderson are present and accounted for, with new kids filling the keyboard and bass chairs. It’s pretty damn authentic as these sort of affairs go.

There’s a bit of a blues-rock thing going on here as well, which brings earlier ZZ Top to mind on tracks like “born to be bad”, but a few too many songs are playing into that mellow countrified stoner vibe that comprises the strangely codified, same dozen albums, same 3 tracks therefrom playlist of “classic rock” radio. Think Tom Petty at his most laid back and sleepy crossed with…say, Bad Company, but with the vocal harmonies of the Gram Parsons-era Byrds or perhaps even Buffalo Springfield.

Is this my kinda thing? Well, on the more rocking, guitar heavy tracks (“so long”, “freeborn man”, “grey ghost”), Hugh Betcha.

But that’s a comparatively small subsection of what these guys have to offer, at least to judge by the album at hand…and so the overall answer flips to “nope, not at all.”

Fans of the bar band circuit and regular listeners to those same, tired old 70’s rock radio “hits” will doubtless have a lot more affinity and affection towards this general sound.

All I can say is, they’ve got a trio of killer tracks and some excellent guitar players here, and the vocal harmonies are pretty sweet for the “southern rock” genre.

Three major wins out of 23 tracks total.

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Obituary – Ten Thousand Ways To Die (Relapse Records) (October 14)

2 song EP with some live material appended as a bonus.

It’s typical Obituary sans the saving touch of James Murphy: competent, simplistic, chunky riffing, vague, decidedly minimalist lyrics (or more accurately, oft repeated phrase fragments) and syncopated double bass drumming from the Tardy brothers and Trevor Peres (here joined by Massacre/Death four stringer Terry Butler.)

If you’ve heard Slowly We Rot, The End Complete or more precisely any of the albums which came thereafter, you already know exactly what to expect.

Best argument against getting locked in to a long-ago past ever. Sure, those first three albums were great…but it was Cause of Death that really stood out and made a name for ya.

Treading water for so many years pushes things from admirable resistance to change straight over into “seriously? still the exact same riffs and sound?” territory.

If you’re still a fan, here’s two more songs for ya.

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Dayshell – Nexus (Spinefarm Records) (October 7)

Sorta industrialized, touches of aggro and a simplistic nu-metal riffing…but some nicely crafted, melodically oriented choruses and enough quirkiness to carry you through the rough spots should you be so inclined.

If you crossed, say, earlier U2 (vocally) with Orgy and tagged in your favorite emo band (they all kinda sound the same to me, kid…) you may get something much akin to Dayshell. Add a weird quaver to the vocals (ooh, now I’m thinking Gerard Way – take that as you will…) and tag in some Faunts-esque keyboard/electronic layering, and bingo: Nexus.

As you might expect from the emo reference, the vocals tend to be a bit teenage-whiny if clean and marked by that strange quaver, punctuated by aggro shrieks and “veeerrrry emotional” screamo bits. It’s pretty inoffensive by those standards, though – in fact, I was downright comfortable with everything Dayshell was laying down here, both vocally and musically.

Think of it as one of the best things you’re likely to hear playing at your local Hot Topic.

Pretty good, given what they’re shooting for here.

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Darke Complex – Point Oblivion (Spinefarm Records) (October 21)

Longing for the days of Korn and Limp Bizkit? How about a touch of Eminem with your Marilyn Manson or NIN?

Yeah, me either. I hate that shit.

But one of my podcast cohosts loves it, go figure (hello, Matt!)

No accounting for taste…

So here it is…rap mixed with industrial, crossed with thunka-thunka detuned lunkhead groove riffs.

You know, they had a name for this stuff, what was it? Oh yeah. Nu-metal.

If you’re attending the Gathering of the Juggalos and want something to play between the Slipknot, Twiztid and ICP, Darke Complex will fit the bill quite nicely.

Yeah, you’re not mistaken. I’m really trying to be nice here.

Next…

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Amaranthe – Maximalism (Spinefarm Records) (October 21)

oh…kayyy…is this Darke Complex part 2?

Seriously, if you cross the more radio friendly end of gothic metal with that goofy ass nu metal growl-rappin’ shit, you’d have summed up “maximize” to a T.

Stop the goofy groove-oriented riffs and eliminate the lame “Jake E.” raps and just leave it with Elize Ryd’s clean vocals (and even Jake’s occasional clean sung bits), stick to the more gothic metallish choruses rather than the annoyingly aggro-style verses and this would be one whole hell of a lot better than it is.

Look, I loved High & Mighty Color, at least until Makii left…but you can’t just count on the choruses to save you every time.

Lacuna Coil goes all hip-hoppy (even Ryd gets in on the bullshit, with the wannabe Erykah Badu/Fugees-isms of “that song”).

No thanks. If I wanted fucking hip hop, I’d dig out an old Biggie Smalls record. Fuck this shit.

Coulda been, shoulda been…got infected with the urban hipster virus and died a horrible, painful death.

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SHVPES – Pain. Joy. Ecstacy. Despair. (Spinefarm Records) (October 14)

Aww, how cute.

Have we been transported back to ancient Rome? Are these some Italians trying to reclaim their storied national heritage?

Naw, just a bunch of hipsters trying to be cute. In that case, you can read this as “SH-VIP-EES”, and that’s how I’ve been referring to it all along.

Sh-vippees!

Sounds like a sugar-based breakfast cereal for kids…

OK, you know how I said Dayshell was a bit emo, a touch aggro and very Hot Topic? Well, these guys fit all those definitions as well…but far, far moreso.

In fact, it fits them to a T.

Some interesting bits on the guitar (the finger slide-chorus riff on “bone theory”, for example) and a fairly typical for emo melodicism at the choruses and bridges saves ’em from the screamo/aggro bits and simplistic lunkhead riffing on the verses, and you’d be forgiven for saying they even lean a tad metalcore over emo proper…but all that stuff tends to blend anyway, Killswitch (and arguably early In This Moment) aside.

Despite the goofy affectation of the Roman V, Sh-vippees really aren’t all that bad, and if this is the sort of sound that floats your boat, (the rather pretentiously titled) Pain. Joy. Ecstasy. Despair. should fill the bill admirably.

Dare I say it was pretty damn listenable? Because it was…

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KEVIN LAWRY – THE SHADOWS STOLE THE DAWN (KLM) (November 11)

On its best tracks, this one’s pretty awesome.

Openers “broken arrow” and “fracture” are playing in the same ballpark as psychedelic Cure crossed with…I don’t know, maybe earlier Human League, but more guitar based.

The same Beatles-lite flute, child’s toy piano and faux-orchestral touches, the same warbling clean to lightly overdriven (but heavily reverbed and chorused) guitars, the same sad, confessional and slightly quirky British vocals…you get the idea.

Bordering the often thin line between vintage synthpop, 80’s style psychedelia and gothic rock leaning postpunk, on those two tracks, Lawry hits all the right notes for fans of a certain stylistic bent and demographic.

Fellow 80’s survivors and the postpunk crowd should gravitate to those tracks like flies on shit.

Unfortunately, that’s pretty much where it ends. The rest of the album gets increasingly odd, more folky, more hipsterish. We started off vintage 80’s and went all man bun and huge-ass beard…

Now, the last 5 tracks of the album, these should appeal to the Prophecy crowd – the more mournful, semi-gothicized folkie contingent who likely gather at coffee bars and work politically correct slam poetry to the applause of their peers. Nothing wrong with it, really…just a very different sound (and scene) than what the man was shooting for on the opening tracks…

So in sum, this is a seriously schizophrenic release.

The retro-80’s thing of the opening salvo may cross borders to appeal to the hipster crowd…but will the hipster-oriented majority of the album appeal to those energized by the earlier tracks?

Nah. Not really.

Two killer tracks and a whole bunch of filler thereafter.

Listenable, sure. But what a letdown come track 3…

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Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell – Keep it Greasy (Rise Above Records) (October 14)

The same vintage 70’s blues rock riffs (think Grand Funk by way of Hendrix with a touch of Foghat to get the general blueprint here) and a much appreciated classic deep dish drum sound (who the hell does that anymore?) are the highlights here. You can even make out the bass at times, and it’s got that speaker thumping rubber band feel particular to that era…it’s all pretty godddamn authentic.

The only thing that doesn’t work very well for me is the vocals, which are overly raspy and sorta 90’s indie feeling. Nobody sounded that openly stoned back in the day…even Hawkwind sounded more sober than this!

Overall, though, if you dig the vintage sound, these guys have that shit down pat.

Raise a lighter and take a bong hit.

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Gravehill / Mordbrand – Skullbearer / In Nighted Waters – split LP (Doomentia) (November 18)

L.A.’s Gravehill is a sorta Hells Headbangersish act bordering the crustier end of death metal – some doom elements, some decided black metal elements, especially on the vocal end. Nothing special.

Sweden’s Mordbrand has their finger more on the pulse, with a sorta blackened-cum-Motorheadish take on Swedeath. With better vocals, their contributions to this split could have been pretty interesting…as it is, not the worst I’ve heard, and sure to appeal to some of the more biker-USBM oriented black/death fans.

I liked the drumming and use of the HM-2 on Mordbrand’s stuff.

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Evil Madness / Infant Death – split LP (Doomentia) (November 18)

Chile’s Evil Madness are working a South American blackened thrash variant on old Possessed (vocally) with more than a hint of Sodom (riff and drumwise). Sounds more interesting on paper than it is to the ear, particuarly given the uber-muddy, mids-heavy production…felt like it was recorded through rice paper or something. But has some promise.

Norway’s Infant Death are far more abrasive, and make the unfortunate production decision to shove the (perfectly awful) vocals up front, slather them in copious reverb and bury the rest of the (rather noisy to start with) band well beneath. It’s actually a bit painful to listen to.

You may be interested in Evil Madness – better production may well result in a killer EP or full length next time around.

Forget Infant Death ever existed.

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Cardinal Wyrm – Cast Away Souls (Svart Records) (October 14)

San Francisco based doomsters. This time around, they tap ambient weirdo Leila Abdul-Rauf (of Cloud and Cold fame) for bass and trumpet duties…seriously, their site says “trumpet”…to round out the duo of Nathan Verrill (guitar) and Pranjal Tiwari (drums and vox).

Their sound is rather strange – very post-metal in approach, with quavering neo-gothic rock vocals and an offputting syncretism that pulls in hints of death metal, ambient, indie/hipster and who the fuck knows what else.

Their overarching conceit appears to be an excessively thick guitar sound, mainly achieved through the now yawn inducing detuning of said instrument, supported somewhat by lumbering riffs that lean into trebly “occult black metal” territory every time you’re starting to think some post-millenial take on Sabbath or what have you.

It’s exceedingly strange, which means it may gather as many ardent aficionados as it pushes away those whose nose gets bent out of joint by such unabashed disdain towards genre blurring.

Third Eye regulars already know where I stand on that one.

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Perikato – Kuka hyötyy (Svart Records) (November 18)

All screamy and shit.

Oh, and shit production through and through. Makes Guitar Wolf sound like a Scott Burns job.

They have some more recognizable punk roots, given some of the riffs and vocal phrasing, so it’s hardly Vvorse we’re talking here…but so not my thing.

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Lauri Ainala – Orpokotijuhlat Saarella (Svart Records) (November 25)

Weird dark ambient affair, with snatches of organ and chanting looped and mixed in strange ways.

Supposedly, Ainala atended some church function and recorded it, later messing around with it to “craft” this release.

Interesting, but I’d have preferred to hear the original recordings – they’d probably be a whole lot creepier and more gothically atmospheric without the electronic manipulation.

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Panphage – Drengskapr (Nordvis Produktion) (November 18)

Black metal with oddly pagan elements.

Apparently, this tells the tale of Icelandic folk hero and outlaw Grette Asmundsson. Don’t ask me, ask an Icelander…

It’s respectable enough for modern black metal – not very well produced, but certainly listenable, and there’s little here that grates on the listener (at least if said listener is a longstanding black metal aficionado). There are folkish elements and a pagan feel to the choruses and such, and I dug it well enough.

Definitely worth a listen.

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ODDHUMS – The Inception (Inverse)

Ambient-leaning doom with some sludge elements to the ponderous riffs and corner of the mouth moans and growls on the vocal end. You even hear hints of Soundgarden to some of the lead lines (“big brave”).

Nothing wrong with it. Hell, I kinda liked it.

Good background music, inoffensive and sorta likeable to boot.

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VVORSE – Näkyjä Helvetistä (Inverse)

OK. I’ve got to know.

When the fuck did the term “hardcore” get co-opted by incompetent aggro assholes from bands like Minor Threat, Fear, Germs, Black Flag, Bad Brains, Cro Mags and Agnostic Front?

Because that’s fucking hardcore, kids.

Screaming like an asshole into a microphone? That’s aggro.

Your Pantera’s showing, try hoisting up your pants and zipping your fly.

Next…

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Dark Clarity – S/T (Inverse) (October 28)

Is that Messiah Marcolin?

Nope, but there are tonal (and stylistic) similarities to Jukka Tuomi’s vocal approach…despite this band being far more trad metal leaning power metal than doom of any sort.

Think melodic, midtempo and sorta hooks-based…but with open throated nigh-baritone vocals over the top.

Only two songs, that’s the only downside.

I liked it well enough.

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Pohjoisen soturit – Oksat pois… ja osa latvuksista (Inverse Records) (November 11)

Growly-pukey death metal vox with more of a pagan/power feel and approach musically.

It’s a bit too quirky and occasionally atonal-leaning for my taste, but not the worst I’ve heard by a long shot. That said, tracks tend to blend, one sounding much akin to the last…or the next.

Kinda boring, really.

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Infecting the Swarm (Germany) – Abyss (Lacerated Enemy Records) (September 9)

Gee, with a name like “Infecting the Crypts…er, Swarm…d’you think these guys are Suffocation wannabes?

Well, surprise, surprise.

They are.

I liked how the promo writeup conspicuously avoided namechecking their most obvious influence…I can only imagine someone was embarrassed to state the patently obvious!

So, how much do you like and miss Suffocation? Did you want a nigh-exact clone, as General Surgery is to Carcass?

If so, this is your baby, right down to the smallest detail of vocal, song construction, playing style,  production and oh, yeah, logo.

“Jesus Wept” that nobody wanted to acknowledge what’s blatantly apparent.

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Calligram (UK) – Demimonde (Cimmerian Shade Recordings) (November 4)

Post black metal act which leans a tad blacker than most. For some unguessable reason, they promote themselves as “punk/black metal”…without displaying even the barest hint of punk in the mix.

I guess if vague touches of Venomesque blackened thrash (or perhaps more precisely, black/death in this band’s case) somehow say “punk” to you…

…well, you’re a fucking idiot, but we’ll let that slide for now.

Ignore the bullshit they’re trying to feed you and realize it’s a post-black metal act with slightly more aggro than black metal snarls on the vocal end and occasional lapses into Entombed-like death metal riffing along the way.

Fair, despite the vocals.

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Soothsayer (Ireland) – At This Great Depth (Transcending Obscurity Records) (December 30)

Two long songs. Few if any vocals (unless you count some fairly ambient screams) and a very mellow doom-death approach in the intended expansiveness of the composition…

…though strangely, given the production and over-distortion everything (vocals inclusive) appears to be subject to, it never actually feels very evocative or expansive.

In other words, Frozen Ocean this ain’t.

Nothing wrong with it otherwise, and these guys definitely have potential.

Just give ’em a clean production and some reverb next time…they need a lot more room to breathe to achieve the effect they’re so clearly reaching towards.

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Sepulchral Curse (Finland) – At the Onset of Extinction (Transcending Obscurity Records) (December 15)

OK, this one I don’t get.

Mix an Amorphis-inspired melodic death metal gone sorta power metal with bottom of the bowels barf vox (think somewhere between Suffocation and Demilich) and occasional punk gang chants (or multi tracked semi-clean screams that sound much akin to same).

Say what the fuck?

Well, it works well enough, I guess…though this guy’s the absolute last vocalist I’d have put together with this band to (totally not) fit their sound.

I did really like the band’s quirkily Finnish take on melodeath…and you know, those vocals would work just fine on a band suited thereto.  Together…

Well, it still works pretty well, but in a way that leaves you shaking your head involuntarily throughout. You just keep hearing yourself saying, this doesn’t fucking work…this just can’t work.

Two great tastes that should never be crammed together…

And yet.

Strange enough, melodic enough and well performed enough to get a horns up.

God help me.

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Echelon – The Brimstone Aggrandizement (Transcending Obscurity Records) (December 22) 

And here’s another one of those “death/grind supergroups” ala Stench Price, once again featuring former Benediction frontman Dave Ingram and Rogga Johansson.

This one’s a lot more traditionally minded, with a fairly straightforward death metal approach that mixes a modern production and approach with some rather old school stylings and intent (mainly, though hardly slavishly so, of the Swedeath variety).  Think of this as picking up where Benediction left off around Rubicon, but with a bit more melodeath, somewhat flashier leads and even crunchier riffing.

Guitars are crunchy and “clean” in the sense of leaving enough negative space and room to breathe – you can actually hear and appreciate the sheer crunchiness of those riffs, even when they pick up the tempo and go all tremelo guitar-happy (very much in the death metal sense of the term, mind – blackened this is decidedly not. Hats off once again to Johansson and lead player Kjetil Lynghaug (both previously given props for their work with Paganizer).

And come on, it’s Dave Ingram. If you don’t already venerate his work on The Grand Leveller, Dark is the Season, The Grotesque and Transcend the Rubicon, I don’t know what to say to ya…

There’s even a surprise guest appearance from the Daleks, of all…er, creatures…

Well? What the fuck are you waiting for?

Death metal greatness awaits…

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NordWitch (Ukraine) – Mork Profeti  (Satanath Records (Russia) (September 30) 

Fairly standard modern melodeath affair, until you realize they pulled an Angela Gossow on ya.

Seriously, this guy’s deep belches and growls are coming out of a young woman.

I didn’t get that with Gossow, can’t stand it with Gluz or Gossow’s followers and wannabes…but at least I can give “Masha” the credit for pulling off a very credible Gossow impression. A far better one than her replacement, that’s for sure…

Masha should have taken her spot in Arch Enemy, maybe then War Eternal would have been a much better album.

Dark, melodic and moody, with likeable lead lines and solos, and Angela Mark II on vox. In fact, just think of this one as Khaos Legions 2: The Darker Chapter.

Maybe AE’s fanbase should shift allegiances and start listening to NordWitch…Amott’s deft melodicism and soloing skills aside, these guys do it much, much better since the frontwoman switch.

Weirdness of the “WTF…that’s a girl?!?  O-kayyy….” factor aside, this one’s pretty damn good for the type, and will probably stick in the iPod for a few more spins.

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Grausig (Indonesia) – Di Belakang Garis Musuh (Obscure Musick) (December 9)

Death metal with a decidedly mid-90’s feel. Think later Suffocation, maybe, with hints of later Malevolent Creation or Nile gumming up the mix.

The vocals are kind of growl-spat ala Brett Hoffman, with occasional Glen Benton-style “evil snarl” accompaniment on the backing track and very in your face production that feels somewhat Despise the Sun-era (if more aggro than that implies – again hearkening to later Malevolent Creation in that respect).

The band clearly wants to be Suffocation, but there’s just as much if not more of Hoffman and a touch of Sanders in there messing with that plan.  Still not the worst thing you can say about a band, by a longshot…

Strong production, a relatively old school feel and those early Deicide snarl vox lending a touch of gravitas to the otherwise swallow the mic and belch ones.

Not much on Suffocation imitators as a rule, but these guys do it with style.

Respect.

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Shambles (Thailand) – Realm of Darkness Shrine (Nero One Records) (September 26) 

Sorta blackened death metal. Promo materials namecheck Incantation (true enough) and Goatlord (nah, not in the least), but it’s more well produced than that implies, and far more standard in sound.

If you keep it midtempo leaning a tad slow, set the guitar tone to “detuned and decidedly dirty” and puke the vox to a degree where it all starts smelling dankly underground, you may well wind up with something similar to Shambles.

The only weird bit was the vocal production – the vocals are so low in the mix, they’re actually a bit hard to make out beneath the din of guitar, drums and reverb.

Incantation, perhaps done a bit more modern style and with (overall) nicer production and a tad more “death” than “blackened”.

Surprised this wasn’t a Hells Headbangers signing.

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Crystalmoors (Spain) – The Mountain Will Forgive Us (Casus Belli Musica (Russia) (September 9)

Pretty damn mellow and folky. I’d listened to this one a few times (on separate days, mind!) before it even registered enough to review…which says this is pretty much background music.

It’s obviously quite pagan, with a strangely Celtic folk feel to it, plenty of lilting acoustic guitar, flute and tin whistle along with some plaintive but never mournful chanting and tribal drumming.

There’s a second disc, titled “the sap that feeds us”, that’s a bit more typically pagan metal…the first was titled “la montana”. Who knows, maybe they switched the order on us…but maybe not, given the album titles provided. Who knows what the real story is here.

Some of the same tracks appear herein – certainly “over the same land” and “the mountain” appear on both – but this time, done more typically, with distorted guitar, with chant-and-growled vocals in a more standard Viking/Pagan manner.

It’s not bad, either way, and they’re clearly trying to work similar territory to Manegarm (particularly with respect to the first disc and the similarly acoustic Urminnes Havd)…but they don’t have anywhere near that band’s gravitas and bearing.

It’s not bad at all, really…just didn’t exactly set me on fire.

Who knows, maybe if you reverse the disc order, you’ll experience this one differently.

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Putrified – The Flesh. The Scythe. The Tomb (Unholy Prophecies) (December 19)

Very blackened take on Swedeath. Not as quirky or fascinating as Grotesque, but bears a (fairly vague) bit in common with Blackmoon-era Necrophobic, minus the driving, snaking guitar lines.

Despite bearing the titles “devil’s whorehouse” and “morbid tales”, they clearly did not cover the Misfits or Celtic Frost.

Well, OK, they actually did try to, but their versions are so unrecognizable from the songs we all know and love as to be boringly generic black metal originals…

Whatever. Kinda liked “sarcophagus”, anyway.

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Goatblood (Germany) – Veneration of Armageddon (Dunkelheit Produktionen) (December 24)

War metal with a sorta Repulsionlike grindcore sensibility.

In other words, the riffing feels fairly traditional, almost thrashlike in its meaty tone and approach, but sped up every so often and paired with some sloppy, open cymbal-driven, occasionally blastbeaty drumming and snotty gargle-vomit vox.

Unusually, you even hear occasional keyboard accompaniment, just to add a bit of “haunting” feel to the proceedings…but overall, it’s like Repulsion just discovered Blasphemy, Conqueror and Revenge and decided to make a war metal album.

I loved the guitar tone, that’s for damn sure…particularly as these sort of things go, it feels far heavier and more traditionally-minded than usual.

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Fluisteraars – Gelderland (Eisenwald)

Dutch black metal.

Let that one sink in again.

OK, ready now?

Now look at the silly cover. Nice coat of arms, there. I like the old Scotch coot with a corn cob pipe. Where’s his kilt?

OK, now take a deep breath.

Guess what. If you ignore the provenance (the land of cocoa and Dutch Boy paint! Well, OK, not really…and the ridiculous cover…it’s not all that bad.

A bit more aggressive than Panphage (in fact, opener “ziggselt” sounds a tad Marduk, but with more Finnish-style melody), this is likely to appeal to the same audience.

Not as dark and atmospheric as “the real deal” on one hand, but far from being either that hipster-oriented “post-whatever” or the annoying, atonal “occult black metal” shit that tries so badly to ape the relative genre success of Watain over the past decade or so.

In other words, it finds a happy medium, adhering to neither the essential or crap ends of the ever-expanding (but ever diminishing in quality) black metal scene.

And given how much of the contemporary scene leans towards the abysmal latter end of said equation…comfortably middle of the road will do quite nicely, thank you.

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GESPENST (DK) – FORFALD (HELLTHRASHER PRODUCTIONS / DUPLICATE RECORDS) (October 14) 

Now this one sounds a whole hell of a lot better than most of the black metal that’s crossed the virtual desk thus far this month.

Better production, more of a boldly dramatic and expansive feel, plenty of tremelo riffing and vocals that are heavily (but not overly) reverb-suffused, touches of quiet atmosphere amidst all the driving chaos…it’s still a bit too “modern” feeling for yours truly, but it blows all the other shit we’ve hit thus far right the hell out of the water…

I also liked the syncopated drumming on “revelation of maggots”. In fact, they keep up the more measured pace on “min sjael raadner”, leaving the listener some room to breathe and appreciate the chilliness and crispness of the production, allowing the grim atmosphere a chance to seep in to your head before picking things up again somewhat for the vaguely Clandestine Blazelike closer “life drained to the black abyss”.

I can dig it.

Here’s hoping there’s at least one more comparative gem like this in the rest of this month’s offerings on the black metal end…so far, this is it.

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The Shiva Hypothesis – S/T (self released)

Dutch black/death affair. There’s a lot about this that feels Watainish, but with cleaner, more death metal-style production and better playing – I even heard the bass every now and again.

I guess the best way to put this is a Dorkness Rising reference:
“Hide behind the pile of dead bards!”

Here’s what I mean. The band namechecks Behemoth (possible, at least in their post-Grom sound), Immortal (nah, not hearing it), Death (nope), Mayhem (maybe post-Euronymous, but not as obnoxious or atonal by a long shot) and Gorgoroth (not in the least, unless you’re reeeeeally into those two crappy Gaahl/King-scripted albums)…so that really doesn’t help to describe their sound except in the vaguest sense.

I guess if, to go by their own stated influences, you crossed Atilla’s vocals with more recent, death-ified Behemoth and Twilight/Ad Majorem-era Gorgoroth and the un-noted by them Watain, you might have a general idea of what they’re shooting for…but it’s better produced, more competently performed and more listenable than any of those signifiers would imply in and of themselves.

Given that this is a self-release, I’m a bit surprised at the quality of the EP, sonically speaking – you’d think a sound this crisp and clear would require a far larger production budget than most bands could (or would want to) lay down the bucks for. Then again, these days, everything’s home recording and ProTools, so who the hell knows. Either way, it sounds pretty good, production wise…especially for black/death metal.

This isn’t the sound I go for in black metal, much less death metal…but it was well performed, well produced and had enough interesting, individualistic quirks to keep The Shiva Hypothesis from being yet another wannabe in the “pile of dead bards” that the modern scene churns out on an all too regular basis.*

* See? Told ya it all ties together…

Not bad, particularly if you’re into the more generic, “occult” oriented vein of modern black metal.

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COWARDS – Still (Throatruiner Records) (December 2)

Shrieky falsetto vox not far removed from Fleurety. Excessively slow, drag your feet, piss off the audience deliberately tempos ala Flipper. Weird breaks into more of a death-thrash territory. Droning nigh-ambience. Then a weird spoken word track.

Somehow this is being vetted as some cross between “hardcore” and “black metal”.

You tell me. I get the distinct impression they’re just trying to screw with everyone, Flipper style.

Next…

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VERMIN WOMB – Decline (Throatruiner Records) (October 28)

Crazed black/death with a particularly noisy, relentlessly paced bent.

Did nothing for me.

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VIOLENT MAGIC ORCHESTRA – Catastrophic Anonymous (Throatruiner Records) (December 2)

Remember Atari Teenage Riot? You know, the faux-punk, faux-dance act who tried to be all punk rock while making irritating noise on a Mac with high speed drum machine loops?

OK, now change that last bit to “irritating noise on a Mac with everything processed through an uber-signal bleed noise filter and high speed drum machine loops”.

Oh, then they do that weird new black metal vocal thing, where he starts yodelling for no reason whatsoever.

“YOO-HOOOOOO! YOO-HOOOOO!”

Whatever.

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ROOT – Kärgeräs – Return From Oblivion (Agonia Records) (November 25)

I’d been hearing vague rumors about Root for many a year. Black metal bands have both name checked and covered their early material, some even counting them as some sort of influence. But I’ve never actually heard them till now.

So it may be unfair to point out my surprise at those nods of respect…because how many veteran acts can you count on one finger that sound anything like what made them great in their heyday?

Now, there’s a flipside to that statement, an implication that somehow Kargeras shows a band past its sell-by date, overly influenced by sorrier modern trends and vagaries of genre into delivering something best left to the diehard fanboy, avoided by all else. And that really doesn’t apply here.

While I can’t speak to how things may or may not have changed from their late 80’s/early 90’s material, the fact is that there’s enough quirkiness here to suggest that, yes, these guys may hail from the same Eastern Europe that once produced acts like Tormentor and Master’s Hammer. Who knows, maybe Root, at least in their earlier days, actually belongs in their company as many have suggested.

But what you get here…is strangely standardized.

Think gothic rock, with more deliberately overdramatic, quavering faux-operatic intonation on the vocals. Then put that over a sound that mixes the mid-90’s sound of…say, Nosferatu, with the production and feel of power metal (or more to the point, a somewhat pagan metallish variant thereof).

Then leave some uniqueness, something that’s sort of but not quite any number of subgenres. Hints of black metal, hints of trad, hints of doom/death. It’s actually hard to explain, how something can be this generic sounding, yet hard to pigeonhole at one and the same time.

In the end, this one’s more likely to appeal to fans of later Bulldozer (when they were more polished death-thrash than quirky blackthrash) than Tormentor or Master’s Hammer, or perhaps even post-Demonaz Immortal, with all the generic faux-bombast and commerciality that implies. After all, everyone knows to stop listening after Blizzard Beasts, right? If not, why not?

It’s more than listenable, and given the band’s long history of service, probably laudable that they’ve delivered something this competently pleasant to the ear.

But is this the sound of a highly respected, influential and much lauded (in underground circles) first wave black metal band?

No fucking way.

I leave it to those more familar with the history of Root to analyze further the trajectory of their career and more comparative discussion relative to their earlier, more celebrated material.

Nothing wrong with it…just in no way lives up to their rep.

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LIBER NULL – I, The Serpent  (Osmose Productions) (November 25)

Now, talk about generic…

Black/death with a strongly emo undercurrent. Some mournful melody lines in the guitar, despite a piss poor, trebly-hiss production and an overly Watain-lite “occult black metal” approach to much of the sound here.

Too underground feeling and noisy for what they seem to be shooting for (“melo-black/death”?).

Hardly the worst I’ve heard, but far from impressed.

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KHAOS DEI – Opus II: Catechism (Osmose Productions) (November 25)

uh…did I just flip to the B-side of I, the Serpent? Because there’s precious little to distinguish Khaos Dei from Liber Null.

Working even more of the emo/screamo thing alongside the sub-melodeathisms amidst all this “occult black metal” schmutters, this is a slightly louder-produced variant on what I just listened to.

Seriously?

Nigh-exact soundalikes is all the black metal scene has to offer nowadays?

Whatever.

Next…

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Do Skonu – Hell (Forever Plagued) (December 16)

Pretty intense and unique-feeling Ukrainian black metal act.

Quirky, dark as they come, very much indebted to the sort of early second wave black metal sound that built the (sadly much lacking, but far more “mainstream”) scene we have today.

If you dig the same sort of bands that inspired the early Norwegian scene, those oddball Italian, Czech, Romanian and mittel-European acts that are still to this day venerated for their earlier, stranger efforts, but also love the sinister yet polished feel of the Norwegian-led second wave circa 1993-6, you probably want to put down whatever you’re doing and go check this one out.

“Hell” awaits.

Horns up.

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Primogenorum – Damned Hearts in the Abyss of Madness (Forever Plagued) (November 25)

Well, they do the whispery Beherit vocal bits, and throw in some weird sound effects and off-kilter trebly guitar lines, squeaking harmonics and light atonality. Sometimes it sounds like they’re processing through a Mac in the NIN industrial sense (think the title cut), the hissiness and signal bleed are so over-prominent in the mix. Oh, and there’s a Coffin Joe dialogue snippet in “on the other side…” for what that’s worth.

I guess they’re trying to be experimental…

I’ve heard worse.

But nah, not my thing.

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Vinnum Dei Satanas – The Wine Of Satan LP (Forever Plagued) (November 15)

Speaking of Beherit, here they are in conjunction with other old scene favorites Mortuary Drape and Master’s Hammer.

Seriously.

Who gives a flying fuck about the rest of the bands on this comp? You’ve got three of the quirkiest and most celebrated first/early second wave black metal bands together, for the only time ever.

Yeah, this ain’t exactly the best Beherit track I’ve heard (and you can also get it on their Beast of Beherit comp). Mortuary Drape’s “into the catacombs” you can get on their Mourn Path EP. Not sure about Master’s Hammer’s “lithographi”, though it sounded pretty damn familiar.

But both Drape and Hammer’s tracks are fucking killer, and both Perdition Hearse and Pandemonium (and to a lesser extent Crucifer) deliver some pretty respectable black/death.

The other cuts are crap, sure. But this is a pretty strong comp overall, and if by some bizarre streak of fate you haven’t yet dug into the back catalogues of either Italy’s Mortuary Drape or Czechoslovakia’s Master’s Hammer…

…first off, what the fuck is wrong with you, but secondly, this serves as a fair introduction to their respective, rather unique and essential contributions to the earlier black metal scene.

I’m counting this one as a definite win.

Raise the horns!

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Hæresiarchs Of Dis – Tria Prima Diabolica (Moribund Records) (November 25)

An odd blackthrash cover of Mercyful Fate’s “nightmare”, an acoustic instrumental and one weird, slow paced, somewhat atonal track to close things out.

Not sure what these guys sound like on a full length of originals, but this strikes me as one of those “catch all” garbage can pizza jobs (or if you prefer, an “odds and sods”).

(shrugs shoulders, flips to the next album review…)

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Nekro Drunkz – Lavatory Carnage (Moribund Records) (November 25)

More anal explosive “humor” from the guys behind Absolute Filth.  With titles like “interred in turd” and “asshole casserole”, you pretty much know what you’re in for.

It’s grindcore, it’s juvenile, ’nuff said.

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Azaghal – Helvetin Yhdeksän Piiriä (Nine Circles of Hell) (Moribund Records) (November 25)

Finnish black metal. This is apparently a reissue of their 1999 sophomore album.

Promo materials claim this one was fundamental in establishing the Finnish sound, though I’m not really hearing it – the strong sense of melodicism, the traditional feel, it’s just not there.

Of course, they note Horna’s Kohnti Yhdeksan Nousua as well, and that was hardly from that band’s peak era either, despite the vocal services of the future Satanic Warmaster, Lauri Penttila – a man whose later act would in fact go on to establish the recognizably Finnish school of black metal, sonically speaking. So we can probably chalk it up to early days and lack of polish.

That said, nothing wrong with it…if you don’t mind the abrasive, hissy production and overly raw feel of, say, early Horna.

For me, Horna didn’t truly come into their own until the Tapsa “Corvus” Kuusela era, but hey, that’s kinda late in the game, comparatively speaking.

Maybe it’s the same story with Azaghal.

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Mortualia – Wild, Wild Misery (Moribund Records) (November 25)

Somewhat akin to Vardan with thicker guitars and more expansive, less darkly atmospheric production, Finland’s Mortualia brings their mournful, almost doom-like feel to the black metal template.

Parallels can be made to the Quebecois scene as well – this is more ponderous, contemplative and introspective than most of what passes for black metal nowadays…and that’s a decidedly good thing.

Melodicism is placed to the forefront, the drums, while oddly muted and sounding like they were recorded under a pillow, both drive and complement the moody, tremelo-driven but similarly sluggish-to-motionless harmonic structure of the guitars.

In point of fact, there’s more of the Finnish sound as established by the aforementioned Satanic Warmaster and Clandestine Blaze to be found here than in this month’s Azaghal reissue, and as such stands as a far better example of what Finland has to offer in terms of said scene…so go figure, if you will.

Like Vardan…or much of the Sepulchral Records output…or a fair part of the French-Canadian scene…or the Finnish sound per se, Mortualia really delivers in terms of sound, feel and performance, offering a solid, melodic, somewhat depressive album well worth giving a spin to.

Raise the horns high in salute.

 

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OCTOBER 31 – Metal Massacre (CD) (Hells Headbangers) (November 25)

Another one of those Deceased-style “let’s do covers of once-obscure classic metal bands” affairs.

Well, it’s really no surprise, given that October 31 is yet another King Fowley project…

I tend to enjoy ’em for the sheer sake of hearing all those seldom-heard acts brought together on one album rather than having to pull out a dozen CDs from the collection…but it also depends on how faithful the covers actually are performed…and while these guys certainly do their best, it must be said, the vocals don’t always fit.

Fowley is nothing if not an omnivore of classic metal, so you get to hear tracks from bands like War Cry, Omen, Hallows Eve, Tyrant and Death/Deaf Dealer alongside ones I’ve never even heard of (Aloha? Final Warning?).

I just think a straight up comp would have been far more awesome…it’s not like Fowley, long noted for his Kam Lee-esque growl cum sprechtgesang approach, is going to try to pull off Michel Lalonde’s Dickinsonian howl or J.D. Kimball…

Props and kudos for sharing the encyclopedic knowledge of metal’s more obscure corners, as ever.

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Blood Tyrant – Aristocracy Of Twilight LP (Iron Bonehead) (December 15)

Damn, if this don’t sound Graveland-esque…

There’s something about this that hints at Les Legions Noires, particularly Vlad Tepes in tone and feel, but the Rob Darkenisms are present and accounted for…right down to some overtones in the song titles, we’ll leave it at that. It’s nebulous enough to read as you will.

That noted, you could also pull in some other Polish BM influences…and perhaps even a hint of Finnish ones as well.

I think you get the general feel and sensibilities being evoked here, though the actual quality of Blood Tyrant’s material may not quite be up to those more lofty standards.

I liked it well enough to give ’em a mild “hails” in salute.

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Démonos – From Sacred to Profane MCD (Iron Bonehead / Tour De Garde) (December 9)

Indian black metal duo.

It’s got its moments: decent production for the type, a measured pace, some melodic overtones.

Can’t say I was overly excited, but it was certainly listenable.

You may dig it.

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Venefixion – Armorican Deathrites CD/12″ MLP (Iron Bonehead) (December 9)

French black/death. A bit more crazed than you’d expect, but nothing much to see here otherwise.

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Black Cilice – Nocturnal Mysticism 7″ EP (Iron Bonehead) (December 16)

Such an improvement, particularly in terms of production, over last year’s Mysteries, it simply cannot be overstated.

Portugese one man black metal act, still prone to overly long, droning material and devolving into noise (“part II” bears more than a few truly painful portions to its discredit)…but again, comparatively speaking? It’s almost night and day.

Still can’t say much for it in terms of the quality or lack thereof of the material…and it still kinda sounds like most classic second wave black metal acts’ demo material, sonically speaking.

But you can sit through it without ripping off the headphones in disgust and having to go grab a bottle of Advil…so again, huge improvement at least.

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Sacrificio (Spain) – Guerra Eterna CD/LP (Iron Bonehead/Nuclear War Now!) (December 9)

Well, ain’t this a huge improvement?

Yep, two years back, we covered this Spanish act’s two song self titled, and while the old school vibe of the band photo/cover was much appreciated, there was also a lot of work to do before they were…battle ready, if you will.

Well, I guess that two year interim was time well spent.

So what we have here is somewhat akin to earlier Bulldozer, by way of Witchtrap (Colombia), but with more of a South American blackthrash feel. The sound is clean and comparatively precise, lending a very traditional feel to the guitars and allowing the double bass drumming to be heard quite clearly amidst the din.

It’s aggressive without being feral, dark and blackened without jumping the shark into the usual “underground black death” thing that clutters up so much of today’s scene. All major pluses.

Minuses? Well, the production is overly “dry”, the guitar tone could be improved (whether by turning down the distortion a few notches or by hiring a more accomplished producer to work the recording and mix), the drums still sound like they’re recorded under a pillow. There’s issues, as you might expect.

But what’s important to take away here is that those issues don’t really detract from the overall experience, the vaguely Celtic Frost (or at least Hellhammer)-ish feel of the guitars on tracks like “razas del sepulcro” or the sheer improvement of the band and its sound per se since the self titled. Simple as it may be, and for any flaws you may pick up, realize that these guys have really honed their skills and polished things up, comparatively speaking.

Salute ’em for really upping their game, and if you dig the more traditionally-fired vibe of bands like early Bulldozer, early Rotting Christ, Witchtrap and the earlier Brazilian blackthrash school (particularly Morbid Visions-era Sepultura)…you may well dig this Guerra Eterna as well.

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Crimson Moon – Oneironaut (W.T.C. Productions) (December 6)

Uber-weird “occult” black metal. They mix chanting, snarling and atonality, but never depart from that annoying, very underground BM feel.

Did absolutely nothing for me.

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THE LOOM OF TIME – NihilReich (ATMF) (December 2)

Traditional metal ala Iron Maiden, but with a melodeath crunch, vibe and harmony lead guitar lines, black metal blastbeats and snarling black/death vox.

It’s very strange, but there’s a lot to like here, particularly if you dropped the vocals and swapped in a proper clean singer of dramatic inclination. Doesn’t have to be a Bruce Dickinson or a Fabio Lione, but that could work…

A very weird and somewhat awkward mix, to be sure…but take away the subpar, ill-fitting vocals and you have a rather interesting band and sound.

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Irae (Portugal) / Moribund (United States) – Our Worship To Epidemic Suicide And Death Of The World (War Arts Productions) (December 2)

Irae are a Portugese black metal act in the sense of the first wave, with bands ranging from the more populist (Venom, Mercyful Fate, Hellhammer, even Bathory) to the more obscure (Tormentor, Master’s Hammer, Mortuary Drape, Bulldozer). The sound is very traditional, the feel is quite “demo”, it’s old school blackened…trad? Can we coin that one?

The long and short of it is, they were convincingly old school, underground in the good sense, and while this really was a demo recording (with all the driness and failings of production and even performance that brings), I really, really liked it.

No idea whether a “proper” album with “real” production will help or ruin the sound and feel on display here, but the bottom line is, grab this one, you probably won’t regret it.

Moribund feels kinda generic by comparison. All three of their tracks appear to have been recorded under very different circumstances, resulting in none of them sounding anything alike, production (or lack thereof!)-wise…and the band themselves just sound like a snooze-inducing, chugging-riff machine with some guy snarling like a rabid dog over the top.

So not impressed.

Get this one for Irae…if this is any indication, they’re definitely one to watch.

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Ruach Raah / Wømb – Perpetual Commitment to Death (War Arts Productions) (December 2)

Familiar faces Ruach Raah (of Hate Fanaticism and split with Ordem Satanica fame) return for another round (and another split, this time with newcomers Womb.

No surprises from Ruach Raah, they’re still delivering some rather decent blackthrash with a traditional bent, we still give ’em the horns up.

Womb is far more questionable…and lacking. Promo materials claim they’re shooting for a hardcore vibe, and while the speed certainly feeds into that assertion, nothing whatsoever about their sound does otherwise – it’s just pretty bad, noisy, sorta atonal black metal with some thrashiness to the feel.

As ever, get it for Ruach Raah.

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