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I don’t think I need to say a word, after what went down last Tuesday.

Time for a whole lotta folks to start looking in the mirror and realizing what went wrong here…and while there were many, many factors playing into this (the only true alternative being forced out of the running over the summer being a major one…), the bottom line is it’s all about the exclusionary politic of “political correctness”…an Orwellian concept smacking of thought crime that must. MUST. be abolished, once and for all, if we’re to have open and honest discussion and debate.

If we’re to unify as a nation here in the States.  If we can survive the next four years, which is more than a little in question.

Seriously.

What the fuck were you people thinking?

On both sides of the argument?!?

So.

At this point, it’s too late for words.   Go off and ponder this, on the Tree of Woe.

As such, let’s just get on with it, shall we?  Time for some music.   I’m sure by now you’ve noted the title.  But in reality?

Well, OK, not all of ’em are turkeys.

In fact, the real gobblers make up a fairly small percentage of the musical* offerings herein arrayed.

* well, calling some of this “music” is being a bit generous in one or two cases…

It’s actually something of a smorgasbord of side dishes and hearty trimmings, with two or three truly rancid bits of business decoratively displayed as aesthetic garnish.  And everybody knows you don’t eat the damn garnish.

Time to shift gears and hit the gas.

Let’s blow this popsicle stand.

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GRAHAM BONNET BAND – The Book (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (November 4)

Legendary Rainbow/MSG/Alcatrazz/Impelliteri/Anthem frontman Graham Bonnet shows no apparent signs of losing his gravel voiced, anthemically inclined bellow, joined here by Fates Warning sticksman Mark Zonder and Alcatrazz keyboardist Jimmy Waldo.

This is actually a 2-disc affair, with new material appended by a run-through of career highlights: classics from Rainbow, MSG and Alcatrazz predominate, but “stand in line” also makes an appearance here. While no one would dream of claiming the 2015 versions hold a candle to the originals, on the flipside, they are exceedingly well performed as decades-on covers go, and no one leaves the room embarrassed in the slightest.

What makes Bonnet interesting is that unlike just about every other famed vocalist to hop from band to band, his every appearance entirely redefined the band in question.

Can you really say any other Rainbow album sounds in the slightest degree like Down to Earth? Or another MSG record anything akin to Assault Attack?  Or for that matter, another Impelliteri album anything like either Stand in Line or the later System X? Whether due to songwriting or sheer force of persona, Bonnet took some of the most famed (and most strong willed) guitarists in rock history (Blackmore, Schenker, Malmsteen, Vai, Impelliteri) and conformed their sound to his, each and every time.

Love him or hate him, you have to give him respect for that

History aside, another big plus with Bonnet is his strong…in fact, overridingly melodic bent. If you can’t find at least two charting hit singles (whether actual or deservedly so) on each and every Graham Bonnet-fronted album, you’re just not looking hard enough. And none of this has changed.

If there’s anything “off” to be found here, it’s in the over-prominence of backing vocals. Bonnet’s foregrounded vocals sound pretty much the same as ever…and remember, the man’s heyday dates back to the very dawn of the 1980s here…but there is far too much of an emphasis on backing him up, particularly on the choruses. I’m not hearing any real need for it, so why muddy up the works with inconsequential and unnecessary “coverage” in the mix?

Even so, the guitar work from unknown new kid Conrado Pesinato is decent and much in keeping stylistically with at least the Vai era of Alcatrazz, so there’s no question that longtime fans of the man will not walk away disappointed here.

Raise a glass to a deserved living legend.

Cheers, mate.

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GLENN HUGHES – Resonate (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (November 4)

The Village People’s loveable Leatherman is back, crooning “Danny Boy” as sweetly as he did in Can’t Stop the Music so many years ago.

Oh, wait, that’s another Glenn Hughes…

So who we’re actually talking here is the former Deep Purple/Black Sabbath frontman, here paired with Red Hot Chili Peppers sticksman Chad Smith (who only actually plays on two tracks) and a group of unknowns.

The album itself is well produced, as you might expect from a Frontiers release, but it’s sadly somewhat unexciting.

Essentially, if you’re familiar with “classic rock” radio and when a beloved old band returns with a modern day attempt to recapture their glory days, you know exactly what to expect here. Competent performance, blah material and a very self conscious effort to sound “harder” and bear more of an “edge” than you recall…which always manages to come off rather “bar band circuit” as a result.

Hughes himself retains much of his powerful tone, and there’s really nothing to criticize about any of the musicianship here…

…you’ll just find yourself wishing the rather generic to boring material was up to the man’s seemingly undiminished vocal capabilities.

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PRETTY MAIDS – 
Kingmaker (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (November 4)

On the other hand, Pretty Maids continue to rebuild on old glories with a well crafted, power metal cum melodic metal effort that marries good production, finely honed songwriting, good performances and a feel that hearkens back to the mid-80’s era of the band…but with a more naturalistic, less snicker inducing vocal approach than utilized back in the days of Future World.

Heavy yet melodic, keyboard driven and AOR oriented yet crunchy, driving and very traditional metal in approach…there’s little not to like here.

If there’s a downside, it’s the passage of time and creep of unwelcome influences – some of the more power balladesque tracks seem to be aping post-Slippery When Wet Bon Jovi, and while some may think that’s just fine, it’s a bit disappointing to these ears. But that’s a small gripe, particularly given the rest of what I’m hearing herein…

We gave qualified props to their last effort Louder than Ever, but this time around, they’ve worked out the bugs and shaken out muscles too tight from disuse, resulting in an assured, wholly recognizable return to, if not form, then at least a very obviously Pretty Maids of yore.

Salute.

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ROTH BROCK PROJECT – S/T
 (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (November 4)

Winger touring guitarist John Roth and his Giant bandmate Terry Brock reunite without their former Whiteheart compatriots the Huff brothers (and those who know why reference of that band is both funny and tragic, considering – the band was never the same post-Vital Signs).

As fans of either of those bands may well expect, this is well crafted, melodic, well produced and uplifting radio rock in the best sense.

There’s not a lot to say about this one, perhaps paradoxically…because it’s the very definition of what makes Frontiers Records worth watching.  This is smooth, ear-pleasing, finely honed material performed by veteran musicians, with a decidedly retro vibe and some modern day-friendly polish…and a hint of flash in a Roth lead or two along the way.

Is it the sort of thing that sticks out like a sore thumb, demanding you pay attention for good or ill? Nope.

But for what it is, it works, and unimpeachably so.

Good stuff. Damn good stuff.

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FM – Indiscreet 30 (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (November 4)

Perhaps forgotten (at least on these shores, Stateside) British rock band from back in the day, whose Heroes and Villains we reviewed here.

These guys’ main claim to fame is that their rhythm section hailed from Samson, and their ties to the future Iron Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson led to this very album’s “that girl” winding up as a B-side cover to Maiden’s Somewhere in Time single “stranger in a strange land”.

Even so, they’ve been kicking around on and off during the 1986-95 and 2010-present periods, having released as many albums since their post-millenial reunion as they did back in the day. From what I can tell in the two albums that crossed the virtual desk, they’re firmly in the melodic rock camp, with this album bearing all the hallmarks of a classic 80’s movie soundtrack sound…a definite plus, particularly in this age of questionable-at-best mass produced pap.

In short, this one does stand out like a sore thumb, and I mean that in the best of ways.

Plenty of atmospheric keyboard business, clean guitars overdriven with reverb and a hint of delay, good drumming, excellent song composition and construction, solid playing, punchy production and likeable vocals in the vaguely Glenn Frey to Michael Bolton spectrum of gravelly and oversmoked but clean tones.

There’s a distinctly Bon Jovian “runaway” feel to “I belong to the night”, but a lot more polish and fullness to the sound and approach here…and there’s a lot more to it than that. I’m hearing a bit of Contagious-era Y&T crossed with Autograph on “American girls”. In fact, every track feels a bit different, and brings other bands of the era to mind, without ever feeling overly jarring or copycattish. It’s a pleasant mix, and one that works quite well overall.

So how does the “30 years on” do-over compare to the original?

Honestly? I have no bloody idea, mate.

But I can surmise with fair assurance that the production and tones are beefier and more pronounced, and it’s quite possible that the musicianship has ripened with age like a fine wine. All speculation, mind…but this tends to be how things run, at least when the quality of the material and playing comes off quite this well.

Another easy win from the fine folks at Frontiers, and well worth your time to check out.

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SIRENIA – Dim Days of Dolor (Napalm Records) (November 11)

Sirenia switches gears once again.

Leaning far more towards the approach…at least vocally speaking…of earlier material like At Sixes and Sevens than the four more radio friendly albums fronted by Ailyn Gimenez, Dim Days of Dolor nonetheless retains some of the synth-oriented, slightly “pop” feel of recent years.

What’s desperately missing? Is Ailyn.

What exactly happened there, who the hell knows…and does it really matter?  It’s not like Seventh Life Path exactly set anyone on fire…

Now, saying this is no slag to the vocal skills of new kid on the block Emmanuelle Zoldan, who can get positively operatic at points (generally at choruses or bridges, and with multi-tracked self accompaniment)…it’s just a matter of feel and approach.

While the operatic portions, where applicable, are certainly present and accounted for (where they remained entirely absent during the warmer toned, more radio-pop reign of Ailyn), there’s a stiffness to her take on the material, a sense of blandness that brings Carmen Schaffer cum Lorch of Coronatus immediately to mind.

It’s less a slag on Zoldan or her abilities than a failure of approach and cohesiveness – at the very least, it’s a huge jump from pre-Ailyn Sirenia to Ailyn’s four albums to post-Ailyn Sirenia, and fans of either the pre- or post- eras are kind of unlikely to cross over with Ailyn fans (and vice versa).

Even so, there’s enough poppiness and melodicism to the material…and enough operatically inclined impressiveness to Zoldan’s mezzo tones…to keep the more generic “gothic metal fanbase” happy, and this isn’t the sort of album that deserves any major slag in response.

In fact, it’s not all that bad…just kind of workaday if not dull and unspectacular.

Albums like this aren’t why gothic metal has become a closed book, locked to a certain (1999-2006ish) time period…but they won’t exactly change anyone’s mind or convince the curious to pull that increasingly dusty and ever-more neglected chapter of the metal history book off the shelf, either.

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HAMMERFALL – Built To Last (Napalm Records) (November 4)

You know, back in the early millenium, when I graduated from collecting at the time fairly rare (and often Japan import) CDs of old cassette-era favorites from the days before grunge and aggro killed metal definitively in the US (and to a large extent, worldwide) to discovering that there actually were a few bands still recording in a fairly retro-traditional style in Europe and Japan (domestic bands of like mind such as Widow, Cauldron and Skull Fist were decidedly nascent if not a few years away at the time)?

I kid you not, one of the first, if not the first such band I discovered? Was Hammerfall.

Now, in retrospect, that’s both glaringly obvious and hilarious. Perhaps the most OTT bands outside Manowar in the “all for metal!!!!” sweepstakes, Oscar Dronjak and Joacim Cans were so dedicated to forcing a long-since quashed flame into flickering back to life that it’s been a point of mockery throughout their history.

But with the tide having turned in a fairly major way in recent years, realize that all your favorite retro-minded acts, veteran reunions and bullet belted, chains, spikes and leather bedecked standbys owe a hell of a lot to these Swedes in holding aloft a banner that had so much shit flung at it by the slacker cum hipster generation of the 90’s, only the bravest of us dared to approach, much less join them in holding the banner high. I mean, even a fellow (if younger) longhair and metalhead I’d bonded with at a local video store could barely suppress snickers at my admiration for Hammerfall…forget about the public at large.

Now many a year agone, with all that was old and derided made new and (at least in certain increasingly larger circles) celebrated, Hammerfall seems rather quaint and dated – of a particular time and sound so slavishly devoted to the 80’s sound-as-filtered-through power metal cheese as to have come full circle into unintentional hilarity. Personally, I haven’t touched a Hammerfall album in over a decade – I dropped off just post-Renegade, having been left a bit flat by Chapter V.

But even so, they deserve the respect of the metal community. When even diehards like Accept and U.D.O. had degenerated into aggro/industrial/grunge tropes and flirted with nu-metal trappings, who the fuck else had the balls to hold the banner high?

That’s right.

Hammerfall.

So while this is more of the same ol’, same ol’ from these guys, continuing on in the acceptable but unexciting style that put yours truly’s nose slightly out of joint come Chapter V, I have to give ’em props for continuing the fight, unabated and oblivious to trends around them.

Has anything changed since the band’s late 90’s debut? You bet. But you’d never know it to hear them tell it…in the hive-mind of Hammerfall the anthropomorphized, it’s still the mid-80’s, and we’re still working the tropes left behind by Helloween and company.

Maybe less of the syncretism of various metal styles than they once offered (everything from Accept to Dio to Dokken came across on Renegade)…but you can’t say they’ve bent with the wind or given in to transitory trendiness, even within their chosen subgenre.

Give ’em props for that, at least.

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DRESCHER – Erntezeit (Napalm Records) (November 18)

Heino goes metal!

Seriously, Erntezeit kicks off with some especially German oom-pah style
accordion business before moving into more of an aggro-voiced emo meets
melodeath thing (vaguely in the Killswitch ballpark, musically, but that’s
being reeeeeeallly general about it – it’s pretty firmly “melodeath” in
several respects, but with a more “youth oriented” metalcore vibe. Again,
kinda Killswitchesque)…while keeping the accordions honking away
throughout.

And that makes the whole thing worthwhile, if not priceless.

Some interesting solos, plenty of melodic lead lines and Chastain circa Voice of the Cult-style “guitar army” of overdubs, and a Trollfest-like drunken party feel (mainly from the aggro-growly “pagan/troll metal” vox and the omnipresent accordion). Matters close out on a quartet of covers (Maiden, Motorhead, the Stones)…but the one that really stood out was their absolutely killer take on Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus” (!)

Absolutely loved these guys…

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DRESCHER – Steinfeld (Napalm Records) (November 18)

Now, Steinfeld was a different matter. This one’s more formative, with less
accordions and a whole lot less fun. The melodeath-ish feel is still
present and accounted for and there are a few tracks that feel like outtakes
from Erntezeit, but there’s a decidedly depressed if not moribund feel in
play here. Only one cover this time, namely Slayer’s “reign in blood”.
Again, a far darker affair all around.

If you loved Erntezeit, you may well find something to like in Steinfeld –
many of the same elements are present and accounted for.

But otherwise, between the two, this is the one to avoid.

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DIABULUS IN MUSICA – Dirge For The Archons (Napalm Records) (November 18)

Now on the flipside of bands who seem to be moving in the wrong direction,
comes Diabulus in Musica, who after three albums seems to have finally
nailed it.

A far more polished and mature Diabulus than that to which regulars are
accustomed, this is the one to throw in the face of the naysayers who turned
off and slagged the band for inconsistencies, flaws, and essentially, immaturity in their prior efforts.

Think of this as the Trinity to Visions of Atlantis. This is the one where
they get it so right, you’ll be shocked it’s even the same band we’re
talking about.

Zuberoa Aznarez brings more body, fullness and gravitas to her dark toned
soprano leaning mezzo than ever before. The guitars (courtesy of Alexey
Kolygin) are more bombastic and crunching than ever before, and the sound is
much more dramatic, more punishingly metal and most importantly, far
more gothic-symphonic than anything we’ve heard since the heyday of Epica
(back in the Phantom Agony/Consign to Oblivion era)…and this band’s the
same one that delivered the spotty Argia, to the man.

This is where Diabulus moves out of the bush leagues to play with the big
boys.

Scoff and ignore this one at your peril.

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Hugh Myrone – Drift Stage, Vol. 1 (self released) (October 28)

Guitarists and shred fans of a certain vintage should be well acquainted with this sort of release.

Take a good player, whether known from his session work with a more established group or a “new discovery” from shred/guitar aficionados like Mike Vraney and Shrapnel, Guitar Player magazine or some other semi-indie source catering to the six-string musico crowd, put him together with a decent (and probably more established) drummer, and possibly even a vocalist for a few tracks here and there…and let the guy strut his stuff.

Mostly (if not entirely) instrumental, somewhat melodically inclined, often somewhat genre syncretist…but it’s guitar, drums and bass carrying the song, and for the most part, if you’ve heard one decent example of same, you’ve heard ’em all…or at least know exactly what to expect.

Myrone apparently works in video games and does whatever passes for the LA circuit nowadays, so there’s a bit of that feel to the proceedings – but think more “80’s style arcade game BGM” than Herman Li-style “let’s steal a Mario 8-bit riff” nonsense.

As such, there’s also a feel of 80’s movie soundtrack, particularly if you’re thinking the lighter hearted, more comedic end of that spectrum. And neither of these is a bad thing.

I guess if you were looking for Joe Satriani to cross over to do Street Fighter, DOA, Soulcalibur or Tekken OST/BGM, you should absolutely love Drift Stage. Hell, there’s even a bit of “80’s/early 90’s fighting anime” to the sound and feel here. You get the idea.

He’s a good player, the compositions are sound enough (within the limitations of the style – this is video game music, after all, so don’t expect songs for the ages here! – and the drumming appropriately balances utilitarianism with touches of flash.

I liked it well enough.

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FREEDOM CALL – Master Of Light (Steamhammer / SPV) (November 11)

Anthemic power metal straight outta Bavaria. As you might expect, there’s
plenty of Helloween to the equation, complete with huge choral accompaniment
at the choruses and multi-tracked vocals, typewriter double bass drums and
chugging tremelo riff guitars.

It’s pretty good stuff if you’re obsessed with the subgenre, and it’s
melodic as all shit…but the only thing that really makes these guys stand
out from a few dozen likeminded acts is their oddly “happy” positive tone.
These are the kind of guys you want to book for your beer hall, folks will
be downing ’em by the keg and chanting along.

Can’t say I was really impacted by this, one way or the other. But those in
search of kinda uplifting power metal cheese, perk up your ears.

Hammerfall by way of Helloween, anyone?

Prost!

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Ranger – Speed & Violence (Spinefarm Records) (December 2)

More Exciter worship from these Finnish retro speed metallers.

The squeal and squeak-inclined vocals are kind of silly, but those of a
certain vintage will instantly recognize what he’s drawing from, influence-
wise. Ranger is nothing if not slavishly retro…

If you hear, say, one track on your local metal radio feed, you’ll think
this is the greatest fucking thing ever.

Put an album together of this, and the impact lessens considerably…but you
have to give ’em respect for getting it quite so right.

The equivalent of a New Renaissance (LINK to Blood Feast/Dream Death) band,
but here in 2016.

You already know whether you’re running to the record store to grab this one
or not.

I was cool with it.

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Enemy Of Reality – Arakhne (FYB Records) (October)

The Nia Vardalos of gothic/symphonic metal and company return for another
round.

We’d previously reviewed their Rejected Gods here and were suitably impressed by their Greek myth-saturated debut.

This time around, the band continues its delve into their nation’s rich
tapestry of tradition to speak to the tale of the mortal who dared challenge
the gods and paid a decidedly anthropomorphic price for it.

What’s more important is the musical end of the equation, and suffice to say
that Iliana Tsakiraki’s piercingly nigh-coloratura dramatic soprano remains
in fine form, aided and abetted by what appears to be a more solid base of
machine gun tremelo riffing and melodic leads from 6-stringer Steelianos
Amoiridis, tight power metalesque drumming from ex-Meden Agan drummer Philip Stone, the loveably named Thanos (Murikka, not the Adam Warlock baddie) and new keyboardist Leonidas Diamontopulos.

I was perfectly happy with Rejected Gods, but the impression I take away
from Arakhne is that the band has upped their game, with more force and
drive to their credit, and perhaps a touch or two of extra ethnic flair (the
nigh-Arabic chanting bits on “nouthetisis” were particularly affecting…).

I’m calling this a decided stride forward from these guys, who seem to be on
a trajectory towards…and well deserving of…greater fame on a more global
stage.

Did I mention their guests this time include quirky Annihilator axe slinger
Jeff Waters and the untouchable Rhapsody (of Fire) frontman Fabio
Lione?

Yeah.

What the fuck are you waiting for?

Yasou! 

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ANNISOKAY – Devil May Care (Long Branch Records) (November 11)

Oh, my GOD. More aggro screamo shit.

Wait, hold up…there’s a clean vocal…OK, now it’s feeling a bit more
emo/metalcore. Whoops, back to the screamo crap.

They’ve actually dedicated a band member to nothing but “shouts”.

Seriously.

And he’s the most glaring problem here.

hmm…I smell “easy fix”, guys…

Did I mention the industrial-electronic bits? Yeah, I can never figure out
why the hell people put those in, they never work.

Remember Pissing Razors?

Yeah, nobody does.

There’s a reason for that.

Stick to the clean vocal bits with the chiming and ringing guitars. That
speaks to the more AFI-ish end of the musical spectrum.

The rest of it…sheesh.

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CONDENADOS – The Tree of Death (Shadow Kingdom) (January 13)

“Messiah” Marcolin-era Candlemass, meet Hour of 13.

As you might guess from that, this is fairly traditional doom metal, blessed
with some excellent clean vocals – a very dark toned tenor leaning baritone,
much like Marcolin, but without quite so much gravitas and throatiness.

Their sole failing is that the more clean, acoustic parts meander aimlessly.
But once they step on the distortion pedal, we’re off to the races…

Now, don’t expect Lief Edling-style riffing here. While perfectly
acceptable and more than a little Sabbathesque, things never get overly
memorable on the band front.

In point of fact, it’s all about Fernando Vidal’s transcendent vocals.
Everything else is just support, and in that respect, the guitars hold up
well enough, and the drums are just busy enough (when not in full on “I’m
just here to hold the line” mode) to keep the listener engaged.

Quite excellent, on the whole.

Hey, Edling, need a new vocalist? Because there’s a perfect one right
here…

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HMS Keelhaul – Anchord  (Inverse Records) (December 9)

Finnish oddity who draw from a very modern melodeath/metalcore “ringing lead
line guitar” sound as much as a power metallish chugging typewriter
guitar/drums one, just as much as they do from a more standardized, nigh-AOR
approach.

So is it Frontiers bait? Nah. Are they another Helloween wannabe? Well,
no, not really. Are they Gothenburg-style Swedish melodic death metal or
metalcore? Well…no.

Hard to peg, really…

The vocals are a bit quirky, to the point where I’m wondering if this guy
just can’t sing or if he’s just got a very strange, nasal, sleepy sounding
back of the throat style that pulls him slightly off-key on a regular basis.

Despite his weird vocals, the band comes up with an unusual concoction that
is quite listenable.

Kind of hard to give this a thumbs up overall, but they’re pretty good given
the (rather general, hard to nail down) sound they’re shooting for…so
there’s no way in hell I’m going to slag ’em either. They’re too decent to
deserve that.

Like I said.

Hard to pin down, even for a rating.

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Callidice – Scarlet (Inverse) (August 21)

Finnish melodeath. The vocals, much like HMS Keelhaul, take some getting
used to.

That said, they’re not half so…odd as the aforementioned act, with some
pleasant clean vocals and the weirdly toned growly ones being recognizably
acceptable for the genre, at least.

“Rightful bullet” and “domicile of hate” are the ones to listen to.

The others…pass.

Has potential, anyway.

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Luciferian Light Orchestra – Black EP (Svart Records) (December 9)

Therion’s Christofer Johnsson gets his Abbaesque on.

Seriously, the vocals sound kinda Agnetha Faltskogesque, at least when she
was working more of the lower end sprechtgesang parts (before breaking into
the dramatic bits, which you won’t find here).

He’s playing this up like it’s totally retro-70’s in the patented “occult
rock” vein, but don’t by any means walk into this expecting another
Devil’s Blood or Blood Ceremony sort of affair…in fact, a few bits of
instrumentation and a vaguely less distorted, more analog flair aside, this
felt more 90’s-ish (if anything) than 70’s.

And that’s by a long shot.

Unfortunately, the end result, while certainly listenable, never raises
itself above dirge level. Depressed, nigh-monotone range on the vocals
combined with a sluggish, sorta pointless approach on the instrumental end.
Throw in occasional Farifsa organ stings, and poof! Faux-“occult rock”!

Well, at least they’re probably genuine with the “occult” end of the
equation, given Johnsson’s provenance…

So not impressed.

Next?

Virta - Hurmos: Tero AhonenVirta, valokuva: Tero Ahonen

VIRTA – HURMOS (Svart Records) (December 2)

Sounds like a live recording. Ambient business that goes slightly AM MOR by
the third track, hitting Chuck Mangione along the way (“harma”) before
falling back asleep. They close out on a sub-Herb Alpert piece (“on the
run”).

You can tell there was some “smooth jazz” background here, and when anyone’s
actually awake enough to play, the drumming’s rather good.

But nah.

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KAIRON; Irse! – Ruination (Svart Records) (February 3)

Same shit, different day.

This time we move from a more soft jazz AM radio feel to a more mid to late
90’s indie/alternative rock take on a very similar bedtime/dank smoke vibe.

I guess you could call it “shoegaze” with light trance elements, and there
are vocals buried somewhat lo-fi in tried and true 90’s indie/Sub Pop
fashion.

But it’s so, so mellow and pushing hard at the borders of ambient…

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Murg – Gudatall (Nordvis Produktion) (December 16)

We’d reviewed these Swedes’ prior effort Varg & Bjorn last March and found them interesting, but a tad too noisy and Pest (Finland)-like for our taste. So how does this year’s effort hold up?

Well, you can still hear hints of what we’d discussed last time around, but
if anything, they appear to have leapt further over the cliff of good taste.
Without having last year’s album on hand to compare, things here are quite
noisy (to the point of distraction, in fact).

If you strain a bit past the wall of noise, you can hear some production on
the drums every now and again – mostly in terms of the floor tom and
footwork. But it’s kind of hard to get to, and spotty at that – the noisy,
hissy, signal bleed-heavy guitar and growly-snarl vox are all over the damn
mix, subsuming everything and leaving scorched earth in their wake.

The band also has an annoying tendency to extended intros, with several
tracks leaving the bored listener forwarding up upwards of 2 minutes before
the band finally wakes up and delivers. Not a winning trait. Haven’t you
ever heard of Resurrection’s Embalmed Existence? Why do you think folks
still jimmy with it and mock it to this day? Hint: it ain’t the music…

Even so, when Murg is “on”, they’re really “on” – check out “midnattsmassen”
if you want to see them at their comparative best.

Get a real producer in there, stop with the long, boring intros and you may
really have something.

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Rivette – In Vertigo (Ektro) (December 16)

Uptempo indie rock to the bone. Oddly, they ascribe to having formed to be
a cross between Iron Maiden and Mustaine-era Metallica! But don’t get your
hopes up, because absolutely zero of that is on display herein…

That said, this is rather good in the sense of Urge Overkill by way of The
Pursuit of Happiness with a heavy dose of 1981-3 Tom Petty and a hint or two
of The Knack to boot. Dare I tag in Neil Giraldo’s work on the first few
Pat Benatar albums and Rick Springfield’s Working Class Dog?

Well, no, they’re not that good – Girardo in that period remains a
major influence and one of my seldom-named favorite guitarists…but to
bring that sound and feel to mind is hardly a mark against ’em, you can bet
on that much!

If you were looking for a rather dawn of the 80’s radio rock sound as
filtered through some decidedly 90’s indie sensibilities, Rivette has the
keys to your shiny new car in hand.

Wanna take it for a spin?

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Sokea Piste – Valmiiseen maailmaan (Ektro) (November 18)

Punk-style gang chants over a noise-oriented Flipper sound and zero
production indie feel.

I don’t know.

I appreciate the punk vocals, but outside of that? Does nothing for me.

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Sakset – Lahja (Ektro) (November 18)

Weird ambient electronic project. Very trancelike, generally kinda
pointless.

I sort of liked the last track, which married Top Gun-era Berlin to a faux-
Nightstatan kind of thing. You might even say a hint of Rheingold, at a
stretch.

But that’s just one track.

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Dawnbringer – XX (Ektro) (December 23)

Damn, I really liked this!

Melodic, mournful, very dark but with clean, emotional and dramatic
vocals…could you call this “doom”? Not really. It’s more AOR in many
respects, but without the lightness of tone and appeal to a mainstream
audience that implies.

Lyrically, this one’s dark as shit – every song seems to revolve around
death and endings. But anyone casually walking in would hear midtempo
guitars, excellent, almost Rick Rubinesque production and those clean, often
soaring vocals from the guy behind High Spirits (of all bands!), and think
nothing of it…

Very strange band.

But one well worth your time.

Raise the horns in salute.

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Motelli Skronkle – Juna (Ektro) (December 23)

A really quirky take on American-style “roots rock”. I guess if you took a
Finnish Tom Waits and crossed him with Def Jam…er, “Def American” era
Johnny Cash, then removed all the self destructive darkness and boozy vibe,
you’d have something much akin to Motelli Skronkle.

Where things get really weird is when they start travelling around
Europe and dropping traditional dances on your head. “Polska” actually
feels a bit more Greek than Polish to these ears, but they move on to a
fairly accurate Italian “Tarantella” and head to the Austrian Alps for a
“Tyrolin kaki” before returning to the Finnish Tom Waits thing.

And is “Paratillislinut” some take on a Spanish mariachi? Felt like I was
in a paella western or 60’s Eurospy film for a minute…

Strange, and very much “folk”, so it’s not quite my ballpark…but
interesting enough. If I was still talking to an old friend who was more
than a bit of a hipster before they named them that (and before he flipped
out and went all Tea Party on everyone…hence the “ex” status), he’d have
absolutely adored this.

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LASCAR – Absence (A Sad Sadness Song) (December 4)

Post black metal. The usual mournful feel, the nigh-ambient soundscapes
driven ever so slowly by tremelo guitar and melodic lead lines, accompanied
by pre-verbal shrieks.

Not bad for the type, certainly makes good background music.

As you can probably tell, it did not excite me.

But nothing to complain about, either.

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Laster – Ons vrije fatum (Dunkelheit Produktionen) (January 9)

Dutch black metal. They’re working that Sepulchral-style, Quebecois
oriented sound that marries breadth of scope and a wide open sound to harsh
shrieked vox.

The difference here is that they then deviate rather far afield of the
script to tag in some more major key, positive toned anthemic sections,
before moving into more indie rock territory.

There’s a bit in the middle of “binnenstebuiten” that pulls you right out of
the reverie they were creating…and what the hell’s up with “bitterzoet”,
anyway? Is this some hipster electronic project all of a sudden?

Then things get worse. “Helemaal…” goes even more indie rock. “De tijd
voor” goes even further into the electronic thing. “De roes na” can’t
decide whether it wants to be Curelike or black metal. And “Er wordt…”
goes all Mazzy Star on your ass…

I’m not sure what’s going on in this newly burgeoning Dutch BM scene, to be
honest. Parts work, and quite well at that…but then they get all weird,
and nobody knows what the hell to make of ’em.

Laster’s one of the more noticeably strange examples of this.

Very mixed verdict here. Another little girl with the curl situation…

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Draugsól – Volaða Land (Signal Rex) (January 13)

Poorly produced, noise oriented business that occasionally strives towards a
sort of black metallish take on pagan metal (“formaeling”, “spafarir…”),
Viking metal (“vabodans…”) or thrash (“bot eour…”).

The drummer’s pretty busy and clearly trying his damnedest to save this
sinking ship, but there’s not much you can do on a purely percussive end
when the guitars and overall production are quite this…shite is the only
word I can come up with for it.

Shrug of the shoulders.

Next…

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Thron – S/T (Clavis Secretorvm) (January 20)

Blackened thrash in a modernist sense.

The guitars lean more black metal proper (and often Watainish “occult black
metal” in slower, more open chorded sections) than blackthrash in the
classic manner, and the vocals are more raw and snarling than fans of the
Teutonic and Brazilian schools may care for, but it’s definitely a rather
thrashed out take on BM that these guys have to offer.

I guess if you took Watain and injected them with a huge dose of Teutonic
thrash…hell, let’s make it more pointed to German blackthrash and say
Desaster…it might sound a hell of a lot like Thron.

Good production, despite the vocals and cymbals pushing things into the
hissy signal bleed end of the recording spectrum, and I can’t fault either
musicianship (this is GERMAN metal, folks. You know, as in “like clockwork
perfectionism”?) or the end result.

Definitely one to watch, and I’ll throw a raised horns at ’em for their not
insignificant efforts herein.

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Suffer Yourself (Poland) – Ectoplasm (Cimmerian Shade Recordings) (November 25)

Funeral doom, essentially. Not always quite so punishingly slow as that
desingation implies…but funeral doom to be sure.

Dark, glacial, throaty vomit-bedecked and abetted by funereal bells and
chimes at points.

The last track’s a duffer, just chanting and ambient crap…so it’s four
long tracks of gloom & doom somewhat in the early Ahab vein.

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Sorguinazia – S/T  (Vault of Dried Bones) (November 4)

Weird “occult black metal” act that works a more “underground black metal”
thing than the usual “pile of dead Bards” Watain wannabe thing more common
to the sub-subgenre.

Instead, this is more noise and nonsense, with weird tortured shrieks and
snarling coming from far right rear channel, then moving to front left for
more of a spastic thing in a vaguely Masters Hammer meets Morbid sort of
vein. That’s just in terms of the “vocals” or what pass for such.

The band is just…noisy. Atonal. At times they actually slow down a bit
and sound semi-traditional…for about 8 bars, then back to the nonsense.
There’s tremelo guitars and open, ringing atonal bullshit, and the drums are
rather sloppy.

Production here is all for shit, with the mix being done by a crazy person –
the guitars at times sound full and reverbed, but other times just noisy.
The drums veer between clarity and signal bleed, not exactly helped by the
uber-loose playing style. Then there’s those fucking “vocals”, subsuming
and being subsumed by the rest of the mix in varying intervals. While
elements may have been recorded properly here and there, it’s just bad
production, in the end.

I don’t really know what the hell they were going for here, to be honest.

I just want no part of it.

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Eggs of Gomorrh – Rot Prophet (Vault of Dried Bones) (November 4)

War metal. A bit more death than black metal oriented this time
around…but you could argue that about Blasphemy, as well. Especially when
compared to Beherit…

Nothing overly special, and as usual for the style, every song is
grindcore-simple and pretty much the same from track to track. Best bet is
to start at the top with “lust of murder” and see if it grabs ya.

I still think that’s their best “song”. The riff’s kinda catchy in a
hypnotically simplistic sorta way.

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Versifist – Cipher (Vault of Dried Bones / Iron Bonehead) (October 21)

Nova Scotia Canada, of all places, gives us two rather thrashy black metal
tracks.

There’s enough about this to keep it on the plus side, despite some slight
pre-Shadows Dark Funeralisms with all that modulating up and down a step.
For one thing, the production seems a bit better than you’d expect for
something sounding like this – listen to the slight reverb and hints of room
ambience around the drums. Despite relying on the usual blastbeat bullshit,
you can hear more of a thick deep dish snare sound (already a plus) and
plenty of galloping, syncopated double bass footwork rather crisply and not
buried all that deep in the mix.

Vox are fairly typical, guitars tend to play a bit too much towards the Pile
of Dead Bards that is “occult black metal” end of things for my
taste…until they kick back and get all blackthrash for a few bars. The
end result? Their sound is compromised somewhat, but worth giving ’em a
pass on the usual slag that merits.

Second and final track falls into something of a trad metal-leaning punchy
gallop that goes all anthemic at the choruses. It’s actually a bit better
than the A side in that respect.

Again, they’re skirting the edge of the usual “let’s piss the guy off and
copycat this overused and overrated sound yet again” nonsense we see far too
often from what passes for the black metal scene nowadays…but given some
hints of individuality creeping into the standard mix (and a better than
usual drum production), I’ll give these guys a “has some potential”.

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Angela Martyr – The November Harvest (Avantgarde Music) (December 19)

A fellow named Morgan Bellini’s one man band.

Don’t ask me, I’ve never heard of him either.

Anyway, what you get is rather postpunk gone indie with a strong latter-90’s
shoegaze orientation. Think stuff like Curve and My Bloody Valentine as
much as, if not far more than, acts like Catherine Wheel or Shirley Manson’s
old band Angelfish.

Relentlessly dark and droning, distorted and grinding, this feels like a bad
drug trip in the vein of Assayas’ Day For Night update/inversion Irma Vep or
Asia Argento’s surprisingly autobiographical Scarlet Diva…either of which
it could have served as soundtrack for. And that’s hardly an insult – those
are two favorites from the era.

If this were a touring band, you could easily have seen them on the same
bill as bands like Sonic Youth in their heyday or even the Afghan Whigs –
dark, depressive, mercilessly heavy.

I liked it well enough…and look forward to hearing more from Bellini in
the future.

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Panzerfaust – The Lucifer Principle (Avantgarde Music) (December 19)

Don’t be fooled by the band name…these guys have absolutely nothing
to do with Darkthrone, or black metal per se.

Instead, what you get is…what the hell is it, anyway?

Hitler speeches punctuate semi-industrial schmutters that lean greatly over,
and gaze deeply into, the abyss that is noise, with the Nietzsche-approved
result.

There’s a lot of deep belch-cum screaming on the vocal end, and more open
ringing chord atonality than your average Watain wannabe…none of which
exactly endears this to me.

In the least.

Then they go so far as to butcher Johnny Cash. At least it’s not the real
deal…being hipsters, they know him only from his Def Jam…er, Def
American material, and that’s what they unrecognizably “cover” here. If
they’d have fucked up “rock island line”, I’d have to hitch a plane to
Germany just to kick some sense into their ass…

Regardless, it’s just bad.

True to form, the “Lucifer Principle” is to suck and screw everything up.
Gotta love the guy.

No wonder he got his ass handed to him and booted outta heaven…

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Earth and Pillars – Pillars I (Avantgarde Music) (October 31)

Wow, an entire track of botched digital download “radio static”.

Seriously, you know that gurgling, sorta underwater sound you get from a bad
digital transmission? That’s all “pillars” is.

For 18 minutes.

Then they go sorta post black metal, and matters improve considerably.

Now, I still have issues with a lot of this – the slower, more ambient
oriented sections in the other three tracks are kinda overlong, and it’s a
downward progression from here on out: “myth” kicks the living shit out of
“solemnity”, which still feels more “true” than “penn” (which goes more for
bombast and a nigh-pagan metal aesthetic on the slower parts than the more
properly black metal vibe of the two tracks prior).

But they may have done the right thing here, starting matters off with one
shit sandwich of a track that will certainly turn you right off.

If you bother to skip to the next track, even a pack of boiled ramen noodles
will seem like chateaubriand by comparison.

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Doomed (Germany) – Anna  (Solitude Productions) (September 26)

One man death/doom act outta Deutschland.

Vocals are so deep and gargly as to suggest funeral doom, but he’s got more of an odd prog metal approach, with keys clashing against each other (check out those really don’t fit here lead lines and overdubs on “your highness the chaos”) before resolving into a more melodic orientation. More Fates Warning than Watchtower, in that respect, but even so…it’s going to throw ya and fuck with the mood he’s building otherwise.

This guy Pierre Laube (don’t ask me, never heard of him) is clearly a better player than you tend to see in this style of music, again betraying a more progressive metal orientation…but when he lays back for a bit and lets the modernist, gothic doom elements (or the full on death metal bits, of which there are aplenty) predominate, you almost forget he’s screwing with ya.

Excellent production, excellent playing, and even when it gets all jumbly and discordant, it always resolves back to the sweet spot. Cynic also comes to mind in this respect, though they sound nothing whatsoever like what Laube’s going for here.

I have to say that I liked this one, despite much crinkling of the nose when he bent the unwritten rulebook a bit too much for my taste.

Well worth checking out, you’ll probably love it.

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Warlord UK – Maximum Carnage (Transcending Obscurity Classics) (December 31)

A British act who got their act together far too late.

Seriously, in the early 90’s, death metal was my scene…and I never heard
of these guys. So why is that, you wonder?

Here’s the reason: demos in ’93 and ’94…right at the cusp of the scene’s
implosion. Debut album: 1996.

Who the FUCK was listening to death metal in 1996?

Hell, metal per se was dead, unless you were in on the dawn of the black
metal scene. Personally, after the “one off” that was Bathory’s short lived
black metal era, I dropped off after hearing Beherit’s Oath of Black Blood –
which was too noisy and formless for me at the time.

At a subsequent job, someone let me rifle through a box of promo CDs, one of
which was Darkthrone’s Transilvanian Hunger, which I absolutely loved…but
again, a one-off. Didn’t discover there was a resurgent metal scene proper
until the early millenium – here in the States, it was all aggro shit like
Pantera, nu-metal shit like Korn and Slipknot and former metal acts who
hadn’t already dropped like flies pretending they hated metal and loved
grunge. Go take a listen to 90’s metal of any stripe (bar perhaps black
metal), and come back and tell me what you think. I’ll wait.

Yeah. That’s what I mean.

So Warlord, much to their misfortune, came up in the middle of the “what,
you were in a heavy metal band? BWA-HA-HA! Did you, like, have long hair and groupies and stuff?” all out societal assault on metal.
Who the fuck knew they even existed in that environment?

So as you might expect, they called it a day for 14 whopping years. Now,
here we are in 2016, it’s a very different world and music scene, and
they’ve got three albums under their belt. How good are or aren’t these
blokes?

Well, they’re reasonably traditional death metal. I can catch vague hints
of Bolt Thrower at times, slight nods towards Benediction at others. It’s
pretty clear they’re British death metal, in other words.

In fact, they lean slightly thrash, but they’re no Xentrix. For that
matter, they’re no Benediction or Bolt Thrower.

It’s hard to pin down what’s off about Maximum Carnage, really. The
production’s not great, leaning towards a thinness of tone and signal bleed,
but the drums are pretty clear and somewhat forefronted in the mix, the
guitars are still kinda crunchy when they actually get chugging along and
the vox are gargle-growly in a similar sense to a rather youthful tenor take
on Bolt Thrower.

Ostensibly, there’s not only nothing much wrong here outside of a lack of
fullness and cleaning up all that hiss and bleed in the production, but
that’s not the whole of the story.

Because what Warlord seems to be missing is fire…the “maximum carnage”
they seek to evoke just isn’t there.

Even so, it’s not bad at all, particularly by current standards – at least
they’re trying to be reasonably old school and the playing is more than
decent throughout.

I think with a good producer to clean things up significantly, these guys
would deserve a far higher rating than I’m inclined to offer at the moment.

As such, I’ll give ’em the nod, however qualified. They seem like the sort
of blokes I’d love to join for a pint or two sometime, and there’s enough of
a Bolt Thrower circa the IVth Crusade feel to their sound to make me happy.
If only the production weren’t so shite.

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Revelations of Rain (Russia) – Akrasia (Solitude Productions (Russia) (October 24)

Likeably melodic gothic doom act out of Russia. Takes many of the elements that work from bands like Paradise Lost, My Silent Wake and My Dying Bride, but marry them to a less…dark? Grim?…sound.

So if you took a more…I hesitate to say “upbeat”, but certainly less funereally moribund approach to bands akin to the aforementioned, possibly marrying in a hint of the vastness of scope you get from countrym(a)n Frozen Ocean and tagging in the melodicism of Karelian Isthmus-era Amorphis, you’d have something similar to this.

Production’s good, sound works quite well for them. I liked it.

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Uncoffined (UK) – Ceremonies of Morbidity (Memento Mori (Spain) (October 24)

That’s a woman singing? Sheesh…even in the age of Angela Gossow, it just don’t sound like it…did I mention she’s also behind the kit?

Beyond that, it’s a sludgy, blackened doom sort of affair in the same sense as Goatlord or pre-Van Drunen Asphyx. Kind of dark and evil sounding, midtempo to slow, riff-heavy and ponderous.

They even threw in some of those Glen Benton/Mitch Harris backing snarl vox I like so much at the choruses, so you know that’s a plus.

But damn, those vocals came out of a woman’s throat?

I liked it. Quite a bit, actually.

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Cerebral Fix (UK) – Disaster of Reality (Xtreem Music (Spain) (September 15)

Another British act, this time working the crossover punk goes thrash thing
we all loved back in the mid-80’s. You know the score: DRI, the Cro-Mags,
Agnostic Front, Gang Green, Murphy’s Law, the list goes on and on.

While Cerebral Fix is a tad more laid back than those reference points may
suggest, they’ve got the same punk-approved dramatic builds that lead into
fast, sorta thrashy sequences, then slow into sections designed to get you
in the mosh pit.

I was a punk long before I got into metal, and grew up on this crossover
scene (remember all the punks vs. longhairs violence and bullshit at the
time? This handshake of scene blending was what helped get rid of all that,
kids…)…so you know I’m good with this.

Again, a bit less energy than I was expecting – they never really built into
quite as much of a thrashy, jump in the fucking pit thing as scene veterans
would expect.

But if you’re pining for those days as well, Cerebral Fix should fill the
bill admirably enough.

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Azooma (Iran) – The Act of Eye (Xtreem Music (Spain)  (October 10)

Blackened death of the all too rare “emphasis on the death” variety.

Busy, midtempo to speedy for the most part, with tremelo riffs and so many odd asides and quirks that it leans prog metal. Pretty far into the prog, in fact. At least it never jumps the shark into djent or math metal territory…

When it stays more particularly death in a vaguely old school manner, this is dead on – some killer riffs in there, and the production’s quite good.

Not so sure about the weird tangents they go off on, but it’s not irritating enough to slag. Let’s just sum up by saying they’re decent players and like to show off a bit.

When it’s on, it’s on.

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Church of Disgust (US) – Veneration of Filth (Memento Mori Label (Spain) (October 24)

Unpolished take on death metal. Promo materials reference Autopsy and
Necrophagia, and those really aren’t far off the mark, to be honest.

Scene legend Mike Browning (Morbid Angel, Nocturnus) drops by for “sunken
altar of dagon”, and naturally enough, that’s by far the best track on here.

The rest is kinda forgettably grindcoreish in its abject simplicity, but
with a more properly death metal…”polish” is not the right word to
use here, but the riffs are slower and clearer and you can make out the
drums (and even bass on occasion!). You could sort of stretch to tag in
Asphyx in that respect, but honestly? Autopsy by way of (very early)
Necrophagia is a good comparison.

Wasn’t too impressed, but nice to hear Browning in action again, however
briefly.

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Ignis Gehenna – Baleful Scarlet Star (Seance Records) (January 9)

Aussie black metal. You already know they’re known for producing some particularly nasty sounding black and death metal acts Down Under…by the dozen, in fact. Hell, it’s pretty rare to find a band like Vanishing Point, as discussed with them at the time!

So while this ain’t exactly Sadistik Execution, you get a fairly raw take on the sadly all-too standard Watain “occult black metal” template, but with a bit more gnarliness and proper chordal movement to go with all the open chord atonality and faux-scope.

Can’t say I was overly impressed, but it didn’t totally piss me off either, so I’ll spare tossing ’em into the ever-expanding Pile of Dead Bards.

They try hard.

Pretty aggressive and dark, by comparison to the same old, same old.

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MORDSKOG – XIII (CD) (Werewolf) (January 6)

Mexican black metal with a somewhat retro feel. There’s a lot of lyrical nods to snorting blow, don’t ask me what the fuck that’s all about.

Snarling vox, midtempo to speedy tremelo riffing and repetitive chordal movement, double bass drumming and less blastbeat nonsense than usual.

Didn’t set me on fire, but on the whole, I was pretty happy with it.

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CULTES DES GHOULES – Coven, or Evil Ways Instead of Love (2CD, 3LP) (Hells Headbangers) (February 17)

Polish modern day equivalents to the sort of first wave Eastern European black metal oddities so many of us know and adore: Masters Hammer, Tormentor, possibly even Root…never mind the equally bizarre Italian crowd fronted by the likes of Mortuary Drape.

We’d reviewed Cultes Des Ghoules excellent Henbane a few years back, and it seems to have taken them three years plus to drop a followup on us.

They appear to have changed somewhat in the interim, unfortunately, losing much of the evil-sounding snarling and cackling vocal approach and relentlessly mysterious and sinister atmosphere that made Henbane so essential.

But what’s good about this is, they’re still kinda strange.

This is a full 100m double album, comprised of…wait, only 5 songs? Seriously? And it’s accompaniment to, or “concept album” dramatization of, an actual play the band drafted up?

No shit, this is one of those Decadent occult oriented paeans to the sort of medieval woodcut mystery play material Hawthorne was going for with Young Goodman Brown. The reason every track is so long? They put an entire scene per track.

Did I mention it’s more or less written (and performed) in a more comprehensible variant of Ye Olde Englishe?

Seriously. It’s no John Donne (no twa corbies to be found), so you’ll be able to work it out really easily…but you’ll get what they were trying to do here in the process.

I’m far more enamored of the concept than the execution here. The idea of it, the play, the pseudo-Donne and Hawthorneisms of it are pretty fucking cool.

Too bad this isn’t exactly the same band or sound we heard on Henbane.

Definitely worth checking out, and an “out there” curiosity piece to be sure.

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VOID MEDITATION CULT – Utter the Tongue of the Dead (CD, LP, TAPE) (Hells Headbangers) (October 31)

We’d reviewed their Sulfurous Prayers of Blight and Darkness a few years back, and the review still stands: low toned, gargled snot vocals over lo-fi grinding guitars.

They may have improved the production somewhat since then, or yours truly has just gotten used to shit over a few thousand reviews worth of similar material since. Wish I could say something positive about the recent track record for the genre here, but on the whole? I really can’t. The old grey mare that is the black metal scene just ain’t what she used to be, that’s for damn sure.

On occasion, they drop the gargling and resort to whispers (“the antichrist prevails”), and that was interesting as a change.

But overall, this is pretty standard for the more underground black metal scene nowadays, particularly here in the States. If they aren’t going for the Bathory meets Motorhead biker band aesthetic, they tend to sound something like this or Profanatica…

Whatever.

Next?

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WITCHTRAP – Sorceress Bitch (CD, LP) (Hells Headbangers) (January 6)

Reissue of a germinal classic.

I got into Witchtrap pretty hard on the release of No Anaesthesia. Someone who really gets what made Kreator and Destruction so awesome, but can still imbue it with enough individuality not to be a slavishly copycat “retro” act? Damn.

Sorceress Bitch (and the Witching Metal EP before it) were second best. Minus the production and authority of No Anaesthesia, but still bearing much of the feel, these were more polished takes on material previously vetted on the Turn in your Grave and First Necromancy demos.

Sacrificing (cough) some of the “evil” feel for a fuller, more studio-worthy production, it’s arguable which versions you prefer, but I recall playing Witching Metal and Sorceress Bitch a whole hell of a lot more often than the demos, so there you go.

Does it hold up after a decade? Well, yeah, but not quite so well as No Anaesthesia. I’d be very interested in seeing the demos (and for that matter, Witching Metal and No Anaesthesia) reissued by Hell’s Headbangers to play compare/contrast without having to dig through the collection for it…plus they’d probably give ’em a remaster along the way.

All of the band’s material up through No Anaesthesia (and after a long detour into meh-ness, again with the recent Trap the Witch) is well worth your time, particularly if you dig classic Brazilian and Teutonic blackened thrash, with an emphasis on Kreator (and almost as much to Destruction). These guys are and were absolutely killer, and there are few if any bands working this distinctly retro style who even approach ’em in quality.

If you haven’t heard this one yet, what in holy hell are you waiting for, man?

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Spectral Apparition – Manifestation (Invictus) (December 31)

More blackened death metal of the underground variety.

Three tracks of detuned nonsense. Nothing horrible, but distinctly unexciting.

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Sadokist – Thy Saviour’s Halo, Held by Horns LP (Blood Harvest) (December 22)

Crap production. All mids and hiss and signal bleed all over the damn mix. You can barely make out the guitars, much less drums (were there any? Or is that just a wall of white noise?)

All you hear are snarly gargle vox, which are OK but nothing new.

Again, unexciting. I did like the vocals better than Spectral Apparition, but did nothing for me in the end.

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Maligner – Demon TAPE (Blood Harvest) (December 16)

Swedish thrash-style death metal.

It’s not bad, really. The riffing’s kinda crazed and distinctly high speed, but not as off kilter as Grotesque. I guess you could lean a tad South American blackthrash or Necrophobic as a comparison.

This and Insulters were the best of the general style to hit this month, for whatever that’s worth.

Definitely dug this one.

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Ghoulgotha / Ruin (US) – Churning in Vertebraes / Becoming Disease – split 7″EP (Blood Harvest) (December 16)

Ghoulgotha has a really weird, crappy production where the guitars are overbearing yet hollow, as if they were a Grimer from pokemon go, reaching up and over you (and the vocals and drums, who are buried deep within this odd wall of hollow sound). Don’t ask me.

Ruin is more fun to be sure. Gargling from the bottom of the toilet bowl vocals, you can barely hear any instruments beneath ’em. Even so, it’s funny. I kept picturing the bubble slime from Dragon Quest on the mic.

That’s about all there is to this one. For my part, I’ll stick with Ruin.

Blurp burble gurgle splat.

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Insulters – Metal Still Means Danger (Unholy Prophecies / Equinox Discos) (January 1)

Blackened thrash in the early Bathory by way of Desaster vein. It’s pretty cool, and hearkens to the sort of present day USBM I gravitate towards (minus perhaps the biker associations).

Fast, brutal, unrelenting, with snarled vox and a rather Motorhead by way of Venom feel…as you’d expect from the aforementioned Messrs. Forsberg and Oliver “Okkulto” Martin (after him, things got kinda iffy in that camp…)

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Paria – Knochenkamp (W.T.C. Productions) (December 25)

Another one from the guys behind Surrealist Satanist.

Feels a bit dull and overly “occult black metal”, and not having that album on hand to compare with but going by that earlier review, I’m guessing the production budget was dropped somewhat – it sounds kinda thin and crappy.

The only track that felt individualistic, and for that matter, worthy of merit, was “call from the grave”…a very weird cover of the Bathory classic, marked by some seriously strange vocals.

Well done on that one, guys.

Aside from one excellent and distinctive cover, though, this is just another one for the Pile of Dead Bards…

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