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I don’t know about you guys, but I’m ready for the holidays.

I mean, seriously…this has been one hell of a year, and decidedly not in a good way.  Is it even possible for things to continue to spiral downhill on a yearly and ever-intensifying basis?

So whatever you’re celebrating, be it Yule Solstice or Christmas, Chanukah or Kwanzaa, Eid or…hell, I don’t know, Jholi!…be sure to kick back, try to forget about how the world is going right down the shitter and the fact that everyone in any position of power is hellbent on taking you personally first…

And have a happy.

Here’s a few laughs and accolades to brighten your celebrations with.

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ENUFF Z’NUFF – Clowns Lounge (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (December 2)

Never was much of a fan of Enuff Z’Nuff.  One of those post-“hair metal” acts that took visual cues from the L.A. scene, but which leaned much closer to rock proper (or more precisely, towards what was at the time referred to as “corporate rock”).

Regulars on the Howard Stern show here in NYC, Chip Z’Nuff and (now album only) vocalist Donnie Vie were always more pop oriented, syrupy and leaning somewhat psychedelic, fitting in more with the early to mid-90’s timeframe they made their fame during. Nothing wrong with ’em, hardly the sort of thing you ran to turn the dial away from…just lighter than Firehouse or Danger Danger, and far more quirky.

So here we have a collection of unfinished demos and material from the dawn of the ’90’s (technically speaking, ’88-89, but there’s nothing truly “80’s” about what you’ll hear here).

As such, it’s pretty much exactly what I’d remembered the band putting out back in the day – listenable, catchy enough and filled with lazy day, sorta tripped out hooks, slathered in syrupiness and sub-Beatles/kinda Cure meets All About Eve psychedelia.

That said, revisited in today’s far more populous but astronomically more quality-challenged music scene, Enuff Z’Nuff delivers a slightly different impression than they did back in the day.

While all of the above still holds (to a T, in fact), the more subjective, value judgment end of the review spectrum shifts more in their favor, leaving the band as more solid feeling, more authentic in spirit than far too many acts reviewed in these pages (much less those falling outside our purview, about which the less said the better!)

In other words, this is the same band, the same sound, even for the most part, hailing directly from the same exact era, a time capsule unearthed for your contemporary delectation.

But you can take this two ways.

Either the scene has caught up with them at last…

…or there’s so much subpar crap floating around out there nowadays, even the lesser lights of a more dayglo era come off as practically golden among the dross surrounding.

Longtime fans already know they want this one, bad.

Those like myself who found them somewhat passable may want to give ’em a second chance…time really changes things, that’s all I can say.

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NIGHT RANGER – 35 Years and a Night in Chicago (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (December 2)

Jack Blades and Brad Gillis (albeit sans co-guitarist Jeff Watson) deliver a solid lineup of vintage hits in a live setting.

I was just happy to see them including their greatest song, “don’t tell me you love me” – strangely seldom referenced when the name Night Ranger comes up (people just loooooove “sister christian” and “rock in America” – you seldom even hear the likeable megahit “when you close your eyes” mentioned in the same breath as the band’s name nowadays).

The more ballad-oriented material is here, but this is more of the Night Ranger I recalled liking (and the case of “dont tell me…”, actually loving) – one of the “heavier” AOR acts, with the guitar skills of Gillis (and back in the day, Watson) leaving them as a sort of “more metallic” younger brother to Journey (whose Neil Schon is no slouch at the instrument himself). Hell, Gillis even toured (and de facto “recorded”) with Ozzy, so you get the picture here.

All told, I was quite happy with this live collection, and it’s nice to hear that Gillis and Blades are still in fine form 30 plus years on.

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ETERNAL IDOL – The Unrevealed Secret (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (December 2)

Well, it’s hardly a secret that I absolutely love Rhapsody (of Fire)…and beyond all the typically operatic Italian bombast and D&D-inflected power metal cheese, one of the biggest reasons for that was the (perhaps over-)dramatic vocal performance of the great Fabio Lione.

It is with much sadness that I must report to those who weren’t already aware that Rhapsody has broken camp once again, with Lione joining Luca Turilli as a rather prominent “ex”. Not sure what the future will hold for Alex Starapoli and company, but I have to admit to some bafflement as to Lione’s choice of new direction here.

So much akin to Visions of Atlantis as to make me check the liner notes to make sure Mario Plank, Wolfgang Koch or Werner Fiedler weren’t taking part in this, Eternal Idol seems to revolve more around co-vocalist Giorgia Colleluori than their deservedly more famed ostensible lead.

Lione’s soaring pipes are seldom in evidence here, where he works more of a Plank-like supporting vocal role to Colleluori’s rather piercing to shrill de facto lead. The band itself keeps things quite grounded and radio-oriented, with a somewhat questionable propensity towards modulating up, down and all around through the keys while keeping the sound rather stripped down and tight (despite the bombastically toned keyboard sound, which is strapped tightly to unison with the guitar riffs).

The end result falls somewhere between Delain and…yet again, particularly given the male as backseat to female “dual vocal” approach, atypical for the genre groundedness and apparent dislike of picking a key and sticking to it, Visions of Atlantis (minus the excellent Trinity, which appears to have been all Wolfgang and Melissa’s baby).

And while you may or may not dig this one (or be curious to check it out given the presence of one of the greatest vocalists in symphonic power metal), that’s hardly a mark of distinction…

If you hadn’t told me this was Lione, I’d never have known, and may have reviewed and judged Eternal Idol on a different scale. There are elements here that work, and things to like on a purely objective basis.

But from the guy who made Rhapsody (of Fire) my all time favorite symphonic power metal band by a Missouri mile?

To say this is seriously disappointing doesn’t even begin to cut it.

Think of this is as the Devil You Know to post-Killswitch Howard Jones.

Get the picture now?

Give it a listen, you may not be so invested in the man and his formidable capabilities…which aren’t exactly being tapped, much less challenged herein.

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HEVIDENCE – Nobody’s Fault (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (December 2)

Former DGM guitarist Diego Reali brings his brand of sorta neoclassical, sorta Roxy Blue/neo-Van Halen approach to guitar shred to a more AOR-inflected 80’s “hair metal” template.

The band’s solid enough to have landed on Shrapnel, but without the tightness and strict attention to traditional metal and shred that implies. The darkness, the nighttime feel of bands like Racer X and debut-era Phantom Blue just isn’t there.

In its place is more of a pop radio-style feel that comes off sorta like Night Ranger, Autograph or Y&T, but with a flashier, showoff inclined guitarist at the helm.

The vocals from Corrado Quoiani are solid and likeable in the same manner as classic Jack Blades, and the band is nothing if not tight – overly so at times. You’d think for all the syncopation sticksman Emiliano Bonini’s throwing in there, the drums would stand out more…but he keeps it so compact and closes ranks with bass and guitars, he’s almost unnoticeable. Oh, he’s decent alright…just wayyyyyy too tight for my tastes.

Not the way I approach music, that’s for damn sure…

Rather, this band is all about Reali, with Quoiani and Bonini, for all their individual merits, serving as supporting players in the Diego Reali show.

Luckily the guy’s damn good and often pretty impressive…

There’s a lot of Malmsteen in Reali’s sound, and he pulls it off a hell of a lot better than more obvious would-be disciples like Dushan Petrossi…but he brings a lot more of the Roxy Blue/Alex Masi/Eddie Van Halen approach to flash and songwriting to the table than that would otherwise imply. This ain’t no turgid neoclassical affair, to be sure.

I liked these guys quite a bit, actually.

A bit more looseness and flash on the drum end, they’d be at least another M.A.R.S. Project Driver…if you can picture that shred “supergroup” performing “rock the cradle”, anyway.

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DARIO MOLLO’S CROSSBONES – Rock The Cradle (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (December 2)

You know the sort of neoclassically influenced but rather basic and non-flash guitar style of Wolf Hoffman? OK, now take the sound of Perfect Strangers-era Deep Purple and marry the two.

That’s Dario Mollo’s Crossbones, to a T.

Nothing wrong with it, but nothing all that spectacular either…though the fact that they can drop a real shitkicker of a track like “take me high” on ya says there’s more talent and potential bubbling just beneath the surface than is generally being tapped into here.

An album full of tracks on the level of “take me high” would have made this a real winner.

As is…passable, but nothing to write home about.

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Firewind – Immortals (AFM Records) (January 20)

Does anyone actually listen to Ozzy anymore?

I mean, not his classic albums with Tony Iommi and company, the pair of career-defining Randy Rhoads masterworks or even his duo of more glam-oriented Jake E. Lee efforts…but just about anything the stumbling, foot in a dog dish “reality TV” star has released since?

Well I know exactly where I stopped: No More Tears. Where No Rest for the Wicked really left me questioning the guy’s direction, at least it had the killer riffs of “miracle man” and some decent playing from Zakk Wylde to get us through what was ultimately a rather dicey album.

By the time Tears dropped, with all its shameless balladeering (“I don’t want to change the world”? The title track? “Mama I’m coming home”? “Road to nowhere”?), that was it. The guy was dead to me – back to Randy (and occasionally Jake) for me, if I played his stuff at all.

Well, apparently, Zakk hung around for quite some time, replaced by somebody named Gus G. Whatever, nothing to do with me. Gus had a power metal band of his own called Firewind. Heard of ’em, sure…but never heard ’em till now.

So after hearing several years of buzz if not hype surrounding Gus and his work…how does it hold up to unbiased scrutiny (or at least “virgin ears”)?

Well, he’s a good player, alright, if a bit more inclined towards Dream Theater approved wheedly-whoo than actual baroque-approved mostly picked note runs in the Malmsteen/Shrapnel vein than I’d prefer. Compared to most of the “prog metal” school that grew in the wake of Dream Theater’s fame, he’s certainly rather “neoclassical” indeed…but inversely, compared to the standardbearers of that school, he doesn’t seem to fit all that well either.  Let’s just leave it that “he’s a good player” and move on.

Beyond their leading light, Firewind as a band isn’t bad, but far from the bombast typically associated with power metal.

There’s more than a touch of Racer X to “back on the throne” (tell me that track, much less Henning Basse’s dual tracked gravel vocals thereon, couldn’t have hailed from Street Lethal or arguably even Second Heat), which made me more than happy, but that’s more of a much welcomed exception than the rule here.

Overall, there’s far less of the Helloween meets Yngwie vibe, much less the Manowar by way of Rhapsody (of Fire) thing that defines most of power metal. Even the more subdued Accept by way of Helstar school of thought isn’t really being tapped into here.

Instead, Firewind appears to be carving their own specific trail, somewhere closer to traditional 80’s metal than the European school of power metal per se…but with an often Jeff Martin-like vocalist and hints of neoclassical lead guitar.

Trying to find a close parallel to describe them by is like looking for a needle in a haystack…in many ways, they feel rather Frontierslike and AOR-esque, despite their heavy vibe and clear “metal” orientation otherwise.  Again, let’s leave it as “they seem to be carving their own specific trail”.

So what’s the takeaway here? Who is the likeliest audience for Immortals?

Well, Racer X fans (like myself) are sure to find enough Jeff Martin (and occasional direct nods to the band’s sound, most notably “back on the throne”) to keep them happy. There’s also a bit of the more expected power metal Malmsteen meets Helloween thing late in the game, with the Jens Johanssenlike harpsichord-toned keyboard playing “dueling banjos” with Gus on “visions of tomorrow”, but that’s a bonus track, and hardly reflective of the album as a whole.

I’d say that Immortals is the sort of album that grows on you more as you progress, with track 10 coming off far better than the first few had…but again, this is coming from the perspective of “virgin ears”. Longstanding fans of Gus’ work with Firewind (or the doddering “prince of darkness” Osbourne, for that matter) may feel quite differently, for better or worse, and have prior albums to compare and contrast this with.

For my part, what really worked was “back on the throne” and “visions of tomorrow”…or in other words, the two tracks where Gus and company were clearly wearing their influences on their collective sleeves.

Not bad at all…and the sort of album that will probably grow on ya with repeated listens.

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Nightmare – Dead Sun (AFM Records) (January 20)

Female fronted French Pantera fanboys go all melodeath.

The end result is kind of like if Exhorder was formed in 2016 instead of the mid 80’s, and went more with current trends (metalcore, melodeath, that sort of thing) than thrash proper.

Despite my longstanding hatred towards Anselmo-era Pantera and the legions of shitty screamo “Southern groove” throwaway acts their contributions to what made the early 90’s suck so fucking bad foisted upon us since, the simple fact is that I still like Slaughter in the Vatican, and quite a bit at that.

You can see exactly where Pantera got their schtick, to be sure, but the album is more thrash leaning death (albeit with aggro vox and a few “groove” riffs in the mix) and has that crisp Scott Burns production. The Law’s a whole other matter…can’t stand that one.

So what does that have to do with Nightmare?

Everything, really. Because regular readers are likely going to be in shock when I give these guys (and gal) a decided horns up.

Melodic as fuck, decent production with relative clarity on all instruments, good song construction, very melodeath (with hints of other subgenres bleeding in – I could hear arguments towards modern thrash or “progressive death” on the guitar end just as much as the “groove” thing)…

…and just as importantly, a vocalist who, while clearly loving Uncle Phil a tad too much, also bears some respect and possible influence from ladies like Leather Leone and Gigi Hangach as well…hence the grit mixed with melodicism. And no, we never really get to (or at least stick with) the aggro belch-howl crap that the “P” word carries with it like the stink of a particularly heinous fart.

So all that to say, while there’s definitely that hard boiled eggs and turkey stench wafting around the room a bit, another half-assed aggro “groove” act this decidedly ain’t.

Very good stuff, in fact.

Vive la France!

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Burning Point – The Blaze (AFM Records) (January 20)

A bit more Dragonforce than Yngwie, rather more Hammerfall than Manowar, this is a super cheesy, rather upbeat and quite melodic if rather by the numbers power metal affair whose major mark of distinction is the coup of scoring ex-Battle Beast frontwoman Nitte Valo on vocals.

Now, when that little fact is mentioned, it may throw you a bit. After all, Steel was arguably a much more solid affair than the subsequent self titled (with Noora Louhimo taking the vocal chair)…and the less said about Unholy Savior the better.

But is this another Steel?

I’m not sure if it’s just the production, which tends to come off more thin and reedy than I’d prefer (think Invasion of Your Privacy-era Ratt, the first two Dio albums or earlier Yngwie…that sort of overly thin sound and approach) or the fact that her vocals appear to be (at the bare minimum) triple tracked throughout, but there’s an overly digital feel, too much processing.

The end result is that a woman whose vocals were sort of noted for being full comes off comparatively piercing and reedy in the sense of your emphysematic grandfather’s wheezing. It comes off as something of a disservice, and I think her vocals deserve better.

Even so, the Battle Beast comparisons aren’t a million miles off the mark – the traditional metal feel (“my spirit” in particular), the attempts at flashy leads, the (over)production…it’s all there, if you’re actually listening for it.

And hey, I really like those first two Battle Beast albums, Anton’s sorry and amusing attempts at vocals aside. Plus they actually cover Lee Aaron’s “metal queen”…big points right there.

The more you listen to it and accept the quirks and relative “flaws” mentioned hereinabove, the more you get used to ’em and accept it as part of a package deal.

And taken on the whole?

Yeah, I’ll sign up for that.

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Words Of Farewell – A Quiet World (AFM Records) (January 20)

Dark Age’s Eike Freese offers production duties on this odd “dark
metal” offering.

Melodic to be sure, and also rather electronic-feeling: “limit cycle” sounds
a hell of a lot like Mass Effect’s Faunts (and “M2”), which is a good thing…but it’s got growly pagan metal vocals and busy metalcore-style lead line driven guitars.

Spacey electronic indie rock, pagan metal, metalcore…so what the hell is
it? Oh, I know, we’ll tag it with that meaningless modern metal tag of “dark metal”…

Well, it’s listenable enough, reasonably well produced (if overly busy and crowded and very, very ProTools) and melodic. Busy guitars are never a bad thing, and while the vocals are goofy and don’t really fit at all, you get used to this sort of thing in the more radio-ready/”mainstream” corners of metal.  Can’t actually sing?  Just growl, bark, puke or snarl, that’ll do it!

I’ll judge this call as “safe” overall, albeit acknowledging we’re grading on a very big curve.

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Circle of Dust – Machines of Our Disgrace (FiXT) (December 9)

Oy.

Remember industrial?

If you lived through the 90’s, there was no avoiding the stuff. Everything from faux-“metal” of all stripe (nu-, “groove”, “aggro”) to the goth scene and dance/club scene were positively infected by this stuff, like it or not.

In fact, there were quite so many bands working some variation of the sound into their own at the time, it would be impossible to just turn off and say “I really hate this shit!”…because your go-to act would just drop an industrial-leaning track or album on your ass sometime in the next 5 minutes. You got used to it.

So, here we are in 2016 and…I guess some of ’em are trying to make a comeback. Case in point.

The first album from Scott “Klayton” Albert since 1998 (and apparently his first post-“Christian alternative” one as well…don’t ask me how a band like this fits in with Mad at the World and Daniel Amos, but he was on R.E.X…), this is a lighter affair than your prime-era Ministry, Marilyn Manson or NIN (much less something as relentless as Skinny Puppy!), but clearly playing in the same ballpark.

You know, crack out the Mac, go all cyberpunk on the look, dump a bag of flour all over yourself and have at it.

So what’s the end result?

Depends on how you feel about the 90’s industrial scene.

Do you desperately miss it, and find yourself cracking out the BiGod 20, Nitzer Ebb and Meat Beat Manifesto on a regular basis, pining for darker days?

If so, then yeah, Circle of Dust will fill your bill admirably enough.

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Solitude – Beneath The Sky (Test Your Metal Records) (November 25)

Hmm.

Never really comes up in these pages, but I’ve been a J-rock and metaller going way, way back.

Among the earliest metal bands I latched onto was Loudness (starting with Thunder in the East and working my way backwards through Japanese imports, then forward to Hurricane Eyes…even stuck around for the two Mike Vescera albums, which were essentially bad covers of songs from their pre-US era).  And this is in the mid to late 80’s.

Around the same time, got into Earthshaker. Later found Show-Ya and Anthem.  In the 90’s, it was stuff like Dahlia-era X (Japan) and Luna Sea (proud “slave” for life), even crossover stuff like High and Mighty Color. So yeah, this is one of my scenes.

That said, this is my first experience of these guys, an amalgamation of Sacrifice (Japan) and Rip Ride. I’d heard those names tossed around, but this was the 90’s…the era of no-talent “visual kei” acts like Gackt and Malice Mizer. You had to be cautious before diving in, essentially. I stuck with bands I saw on Hey Hey Music Champ or stumbled across through other means…and those guys weren’t among them (for good or ill).

So here we are, 4 albums in on this newly merged act, with the North American reissue of last year’s Reach for the Sky. How’s it come off?

Well…interesting. I would in no way have thought “this is a Japanese act”, and you can take that as you will.

Loudness had their particular quirks, as did each and every one of the bands I followed and love to this day. They borrowed just enough from the US and European metal scenes to make them familiar and “fit in”, but retained enough uniqueness and “local colour” to make them interesting. That’s a big part of what I love about ’em.

Solitude, on the other hand…could be a particularly polished Hell’s Headbangers act (Abigail with less of a gutter mouth and far less “weirdness”, perhaps?), could be a Teutonic power metal act leaning somewhat Motorhead (particularly with the straight ahead, relentless typewriter drumming and oversmoked/boozehound rasp of Akira Sugiuchi’s vox.

Now, I like all that stuff well enough – was a huge Motorhead fan until they got all weird with 1916, and almost got a photo in a yearbook of me in a Motorhead shirt in front of the school sign (sadly nixed for obvious reasons in the final run) – Lemmy’s still one of my two teenage heroes (the other being the late Bon Scott)…so you know I’ve got no complaints.

The guitars are decent, the production’s reasonable enough, no faults on the playing and the vocals at least fit and don’t offend in any way. So yeah, these guys aren’t bad at’all.

But what nags at me, at least?

There’s nothing about this that says “Japanese rock/metal band”, sound-wise.

May be a positive for a lot of folks out there, so take a listen, they’re pretty decent. Best track: “you got my mind”.

But misses the mark for my tastes, at least in that respect.

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Endemise – Anathema (Self-Release) (October 28)

Take dual tracked death metal vocals done in unison…I mean early Deicide/Carcass/Napalm Death shrieks and growls, but with less tonal separation and not alternating back and forth…actually sounds somewhat “inhuman” until you get used to it and start picking out what they’re doing to get that sound…and put it over a fairly generic melodeath* base.

Add prominent keyboards (and I mean overly bombastic power metal meets Cradle of Filth style keyboards here…), some faux-string orchestra samples used as stings, typewriter double bass, and a vaguely gothic doom melancholy (particularly in the mournful guitar lead lines).

* or perhaps more to their intent, Dimmu-style “symphonic black” (death)…

Yeah, this one’s a tad weird…

Well, you can’t say the sound isn’t full. You have to wonder just how many tracks were utilized here, there’s so much going on at points. The end result would be best categorized as “lush” were it not for all the (overly) busyness on the guitar and keyboard end, the relentless high speed double bass drumming (he loves gallop beats and syncopating his footwork, by the way – not bad work on that end) and the GROWLSNARLRASP all at once vocals, which kind of kill any sense of gothicism or lushness.

Taken in sum, Anathema comes off somewhat confusing.

All the chaos and nigh-technical playing works well enough…the sorta gothic-symphonic-blackened melodeath orientation works in its own right. The strange, sorta offputtingly “creepy” (for lack of a better word to describe it) vox are interesting as well. But thrown all together in one bowl and slopped around?

My father, who had no class when it came to eating habits, used to do something he called “mud pie”. He’d take his steak and mush it up with mashed potatoes, vegetables and gravy and eat it all at once like that. No separation of flavor, no complements and contrasts in the gustatory sense…just one big fucking mess, gulp.

His regular defense was “it’s all going in the same stomach!”

Yep.

That’s Endemise.

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Decadawn – Solitary Confinement (Self-Release)

Somewhere between metalcore and melodeath (with elements of straight up melodic power metal) lies Decadawn, a rather likeable act out of Montreal who manage to score Tomas (Grotesque/At the Gates) Lindberg for vocals on the title track. I’d call ’em a Quebecois act, but I’m seeing at least one Scots name in there, so does that still count?

What’s most interesting about these guys is that, while we’re essentially talking melodeath (as in “melodic death metal of the Gothenburg school”)…this isn’t quite.

Like I said, there’s more of a metalcore feel to the upbeat positivity and (even more) melodic approach they’re bringing…and even there, the vocals don’t just alternate between clean and screamo (or death yowls in this case)…but go more into straight up melodic territory. There’s a strong feel of power metal (minus the cheese), and you know what?

Louis-Charles Tardy’s clean vocals?

Sound a fuck of a lot like Ray Alder’s. As in Fates Warning Mark II.

So does that make Decadawn a sorta melodeath, kinda metalcore, leaning power metal progressive metal band? They do drop into slower, more mellow acoustic bits every now and again (“falling down”, for one)…there’s no question they were paying attention to Darkness in a Different Light, if not Theories of Flight. There’s wayyyyy too much of that fairly specific (and much welcomed!) sound bleeding into what these guys are putting out herein to deny it.

I’m sorry, I don’t really need to write any more about this.

Excellent album, excellent band, you’re pretty much an idiot for not opening another browser window to check ’em out right now.

Horns way, way up.

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Kratornas – Devoured By Damnation (Grathila Records) (December 8)

OK, so realize this.

You’ve got an ostensible blackened thrash sound. But it’s done all crazed and grindcore style. Every. Single. Track. Sounds EXACTLY the same.

Now recognize the fact that this is all done at high speed, with snare/foot pedal alternating blastbeats thumpathumpathumping relentlessly throughout. With a rabid yappy little dog barking at you from behind the neighbor’s fence.

YAPYAPYAPYAPGRRRRAARRRRR YAPYAPYAP!!!

Need I say more?

Possibly interesting tidbit: he’s Filipino expat.

Which means absolutely nothing, really, except to give the hint that, like what little we hear from the Filipino and Indonesian scenes, it’s so raw and overly aggro as to make it nearly amusical…until he slows down for a few bars here and there (as on the intro of “evil is reborn”) and you can actually hear a few cool riffs and some pretty damn good double bass-driven kitwork.

So in other words, like Picasso and Kandinsky, the guy may actually be able to play beneath it all…he just chooses not to, and to release stuff that sounds like a pissed off 8 year old throwing a temper tantrum because you took away his cookies till after dinner.

Sigh.

Next…

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Trollwar – “Omens of Victory” (Self-Release) (November 18)

Viking metal straight outta Quebec (say huh?), but with a weirdly computerized, overly processed guitar tone. Think old school guitar synthesizers, but even weirder and more artificial sounding.

That said, it is a pagan (and specifically Viking) act, so there is accordion being played throughout…which may play part in the aforementioned sound. But we’ve heard that many a time before. This particular tone, not really. Strange choice on the pedal board or tone bank…

Otherwise, it’s fairly standard, making sure to hit all the right beat points: anthemic, growly death-style vox, traditional instrumentation somewhere in the mix, an orientation towards midtempo and 6/8 jig time, you name it.

This is apparently an advance single for the band’s upcoming album, and yeah, I imagine it should be pretty decent if this one’s anything to judge by.

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Kaos Krew – “End My Pride” (Inverse)

hmm.

Well, it’s reasonably straightforward “modern metal”, until you tag in all the industrial-electronic bits.

We’ve been hearing this sort of thing more and more often of late, and there’s nothing particularly offputting about what I’m hearing here…at least on one single. Not sure how this would hold up over the course of a full album, but the band’s listenable and melodic enough, and the lead guitar isn’t bad at all.

I don’t know that I’d run out to grab this one personally, but I certainly wouldn’t flip the station if it came on the radio.

Hell, I’d probably turn it up.

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Beating Dead Meat – With Full Force (Inverse Records) (December 23)

Wow. A band that never changes key.

Seriously, I skipped back and forth through tracks 2-4, and could not tell them apart. Then the same for tracks 5-6.

Achievement unlocked, guys…

They have a cover of Pantera that they retitled “the great Northern djentkill”, but as much as I can’t stand “math metal” and “djent”…what BDM has to offer may actually be worse

Simplistic, repetitive, yawn inducing, rather one note. Not much else to say.

Kind of like the band themselves, really.

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Herem – III  (Inverse)  (December 16)

Lumbering doom metal act, but with nasty black/death vocal growls and snarls.

Things get a bit weird at points throughout, with the band periodically moving into a more lighthearted psychedelic vibe before returning to the doom thing.

Didn’t care for the vox, otherwise not terrible.

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Guruzsmás – Üst A Gríz Felett (Secret Entertainment) (December 14) 

Weird Hungarian act that incorporates throat singing, zither and digeridoo to their quirky rock compositions.

It’s hard to describe, sort of like Greek folk music given a more amplified rock setting. It’s similar to the sort of thing we used to get from labels like Prophecy and Ektro, I guess – there’s definitely a Circle-esque vibe to the proceedings here.

I kind of liked this one, actually.

Just can’t forgive them for referencing Bela Bartok, yet never even attempting to approximate the man’s work (his sonatas for violin and klavier are the real world approximation of the Music of Erich Zann…).

Worth a listen, to be sure.

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Rainbowlicker – I Saw The Light But Turned It Off (Svart Records) (January 20)

hmm.

Well, you have an ex-Beastmilk member together with some leftover from the long-defunct “riot grrl” scene, and they’re doing dance music that sounds like some unholy cross between Meat Beat Manifesto, Nitzer Ebb and M (of “pop muzik” fame).

“Peps” vocals are whiny and annoying in that sorta little girl throwing a fit tone you get from Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill (when not screaming), or Cia Berg from Whale (minus all the deliberate sexual overtones), but unforgivably crossed with the detestable shut that fucking radio off NOW before I kill you in your face gibberish manifesto shoutiness of Gwen “hollaback” Stefani or those losers Icona Pop (“I love it”).

I have no idea what Johan was thinking here, really – the music per se is inoffensive and kinda dancey in an industrial goes disco sort of way, but this whiny, shouty bi-otch (and she’s probably proud of the term at that) has really got to go…

With a less obnoxious frontwoman, this could work just fine.

As is, you’re on your own, kid.

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Heikki Sarmanto Serious Music Ensemble – The Helsinki Tapes Vol 1-3 (Svart Records) (November 18)

Old school “cool jazz” like you’d hear in a club setting back in the 60’s and 70’s…at least to judge by all the recordings we have to go by.

Think fusion-era Miles Davis and the areas his Miles Smiles-era quintet went afterwards. You can pick up some Herbie Hancock, a general leaning towards Weather Report…but not obnoxiously so.

Nor is it what I consider “fusion” proper (Mahavishnu Orchestra, Tony Williams Lifetime, Jean Luc Ponty, Billy Cobham, Return to Forever, Al DiMeola, Brand X, Frank Zappa, you get the idea)…but it’s certainly electric jazz, with a fairly Joe Zawinul by way of Jan Hammer with hints of Chick Corea-esque keyboard in the lead and busy if clean toned electric guitar in the general ballpark of Allan Holdsworth (though far less experimental or modulation-oriented).

As such, you already know I pretty much loved this.

But.

Admittedly, the band…or at least the compositions (to the extent not improvised, which this sort of music generally is) never really gel in the sense of any of the “real” fusion acts noted hereinabove…which is why I say more Miles Davis style “fusion” with more than a nod towards Weather Report (who evolved from that very era and band in the first place).

I listen to that stuff too, but far more rarely…because it never gels or really goes anywhere.

Which will probably be the fate of this trio of releases from M. Sarmanto and company. I can certainly appreciate the musicanship, and enjoy the laid back vibe…but it’s leaning way too far into the aimless and psychedelic for my taste.

In terms of the breakdown, Vol. 1 is probably the best, and leans closest to the proto fusion style of Davis and company.

Vol. 3 is second best, leaning a tad more traditional jazz, complete with a rather Eric Dolphy by way of Roland Kirk-esque saxophone (there are variations in combo, i.e. who’s sitting in on each volume’s session).

Vol. 2 is the least of the three by far, partially due to the sonics of the recording environment (which may actually be “live soundboard”), which leaves everything rather low and quiet…but also due to the inclusion of some middling at best vocal turns. And unless you’re talking Julie London or Ella Fitzgerald, jazz and vocals seldom mix…

Check ’em out, particularly if you appreciate good musicianship and improvisational/classic/”true” jazz (forget that “smooth jazz” shit they play on certain radio stations since the 80’s…that’s MOR done by competent studio musicians, not “jazz”).

Just leave vol. 2 for last – consider that one “for hardcore fans only”.

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Dutch Futurismo – Festival of Misfits (Ektro) (December 30)

Blue Man Group with more rhythm and a dancefloor vibe.

Remember Art of Noise? Yeah, take away all the Burroughsian cut-up business and you’ll find a similar aesthetic here.

Cross those two groups with the cast of Stomp!, toss in some sub-Residents atonal noise “guitar” (Snakefinger has nothing on the brilliant lead work here) and some weird elf/gnome vocals (again, feels rather Residents-like…or even a tad Diamanda Galas, minus the schizo ululations), and you’ve got Dutch Futurismo.

As I get a kick out of at least half of the aforementioned (guess which two) and appreciate the rhythmic focus herein, I definitely liked this…hell, they even directly reference Dadaism…

Art rock/experimental/modern classical/futurism at its best. Weird out your friends (or impress the hell out of the more arty sophisticates of your acquaintance)!

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Nachtzeit – Sagor I Natten (Nordvis Produktion) (December 23)

Pretty much the same thing as last December’s Dar Foddes En Langtan but with worse production.

For black metal of this decidedly Burzumesque school, the production isn’t even that bad per se, but if you play the two releases back to back, you’ll wonder just where the fuck all the bass tones went…

Otherwise, another winner from the guy behind the rather differently oriented Lustre.

 

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DUSK – Eko (Ritter Records)

Industrial with metal elements (thick, crunchy riffing) and a whole shitload of Atari Teenage Riot influence.

Seriously, you can’t get through a few bars without some sort of CD-skip high speed stutter on drums, guitars, even vocals. They’re self-labeling this end of the sound equation as “darkstep”

I guess this is supposed to be some sort of darkwave dance club thing…I certainly cringed when the second wave gothic rock scene experienced something of a hostile takeover by industrial in the mid to late 90’s, and can’t see how anyone could “dance” to something as crazed and spastic as this…but it’s too “dance industrial” to really call “metal” either.

Yeah, you can hear hints of a Ministry influence somewhere in there. Promo materials even suggested Fear Factory, though I’m not so sure about that one. But it’s definitely “industrial” overall.

But whether all the Atari Teenage Riotness of this appeals to you or no, I leave on your own head.

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DEMIMONDE – CYGNUS ODDYSSEY (self released)

Czech act who describe themselves as “experimental/space/dark progressive metal”. As you can imagine, the end result is kinda strange…

As the album is being released with a comic book (!), I’m gathering there’s a story being told here, and obviously it’s sci-fi in orientation.

As such, you get a vaguely Voivodian template of off kilter, spacey experimentalism, never so close to their obvious forebears as “singularity” (which sounds like it could have come off of Dimension Hatross).

Several tracks at least start off as ambient and Tangerine Dreamlike, and a few stay there throughout (“final destiny”, “data breed”), the others fall somewhere between Voivod and atonal modern black metal, if you can picture such a thing. It’s strange.

A bit tighter, a tad more (early) Voivod (as in War & Pain and Rrrooooarrrr) and Demimonde would easily earn the title of “a Voivod for a new generation”…or at least a spot on the band’s next European tour!

But it’s a bit too off…a bit too weird to really deserve that designation.

Interesting, to be sure. In the same general ballpark, you bet.

But misses the mark.

Voivod fans, you probably want to give this a listen and decide for yourselves.

 

Hordes of the Apocalypse – complete discography

We’d recently reviewed this band’s debut, Now They are Everywhere! There is No Escape! and apparently the band was amused and appreciative enough to send over the rest of their discography for our perusal.

That’s right. All 21 of ’em. With all but one of them hailing from this year.

So buckle up, ’cause here we go…

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First up, we have By Sword, By Pick, By Axe, Bye Bye, the first of many 80’s slasher/cult horror film appropriations (in this case, a tagline for The Mutilator.

A bouncy saxophone jazz tune drops into a (wholly unrelated) Bathory doing Motorhead affair immediately thereafter. Same track, by the way. Then they bring in the silly Viking chants. Back to Bathory (though arguably, they could be making fun of the Bathory of both periods here…). Weird, but actually worked for me.

The band stays more or less in this hard driving, Bathoryesque mode throughout, with the odd parts sprucing matters up every now and again. I heard some shout outs to King Diamond’s Andy LaRocque in the solo for “ghosts of gamblers”, Jimi Hendrix/Stevie Ray Vaughan in “the source of…” and Ennio Morricone-style spaghetti western soundtrack in “hordes of the living dead”…but like the jazzy intro on “creepy bloodsuckers”, it never really distracts. It’s just kinda silly…

I definitely liked this one overall.

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Next is the Melting Body Horror Experience, which kicks off with a clip from the hilariously catchy theme song to The Green Slime (kudos just for that!) before going a bit more…well, they’re not really doing blackened thrash anymore, are they?

I guess it’s more reminiscent of Abigail this time around – the vocals are sort of off time and clearly tongue in cheek, as if El Duce from the Mentors came back from the dead to record with ’em…more recent Darkthrone might be a good marker for the sound here. And those lyrics…yeah, this is getting kinda distastefully comic for sure…

Now there’s Indian film music playing…more film clips…a really silly solo making fun of shredders…weird vocals like early Mercyful Fate…and a song titled “haunted creme de menthe”, which is just fucking hilariously absurdist, I’m sorry…(laughs off camera)

Not as likeable as the earlier EP, but definitely funny if you’re looking for a sophomoric laugh or two. Again, the Mentors come to mind…

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Then we come to the ever so tastefully titled “A.I.D.S.“, about which the less said, the better…

Well, I guess we should say something, so here goes. They use a kazoo to cover one of the more recent Darkthrone album tracks (the title is slightly changed, but you’ll pick up which track they’re doing right away)…

They add in a whole hell of a lot of faux-Saga space rock keyboard wankery on this album, pull a Spandau Ballet at the start of “humans are such easy prey” and the influences are clearly early Mercyful Fate and post-black metal era Darkthrone with all the weird vocal turns and quirky falsettos.

Still working reasonably straight ahead blackthrash-style riffing, just getting ever more silly as they go.

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Then it’s time for a trip to Rollin’s France for Une Nuit Dans Le Cimitiere, where they seem to be going more for debut-era Carnivore than what came previously. Not like their lyrical themes haven’t always been comedy takes on 80’s postapocalyptic cinema, but the vocals and musical approach seem to lean more in that direction here than ever before.

Also, there’s a less goofy feel this time around, perhaps as this appears to have been a straight up celebration of the cinema of Jean Rollin (try to pick which film each title refers to. Give yourself no more than 3 seconds per title to blurt out the film in question…).

Really, really appreciate the idea…longtime Rollin fan myself. But compared to the ridiculousness and catchiness of their first album, or even the idiot savantness of the post-Panzerfaust Darkthroneisms that came since…musically, it feels a bit bland, which is a damn shame, considering.

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Then we head south of the border to Mexico for the luchador cinema inspired El Santo Mata a una Gorila Travesti en las Bermudas, which kicks off with a super cheesy lounge lizard “shake”, hits similar territory again near the end of the album (“surfing the bermuda”) and ends on a silly accordion piece. Well, one track does, anyway…

Again, same idea, same problem, this time lurching through the world of Mexican horror (mostly of a more modern bent than its luchador film-style title would suggest – think stuff like Mary Bloody Mary, Night of 1000 Cats, Mansion of Madness and Alucarda rather than The Brainiac or Samson in the Wax Museum). Good concept, middling execution.

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Then we take a tip from the Killer Barbies and take a nostalgic trip to Tromaville with Send Me Back to Tromaville High, which continues this genre cult film tour with a trip to the lowest of the low budget labels. You just knew Hordes had to pay a visit to Troma at one point – its sensibilities inform their own far too obviously for this not to happen.

Toxic Zombies and Class of Nuke ‘Em High (or is it just the latter?) are best served here, with the amusing yet driving “radioactive marijuana”, but overall, the band seems to pick up the pace again over their last two releases.  Never much of a Troma fan myself, but it’s pretty obvious once again which films are being referenced in each song.

At least it was all films from their “glory days”…

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Then it’s zombie apocalypse time with the Invasion of the Flesh Hunters, which surprised me by kicking off with a truly killer riff that implied they were going in a more trad/speed metal direction…before slowing down into something more death-grungy ala Autopsy.

This time around, they’re working more of the Italian cannibal film somewhat loosely speaking, since they clearly reference Joe D’Amato’s Anthropophagus/The Grim Reaper as well as more typical territory like Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust. And I’m kind of wondering if “mother hold my hand” is an oblique reference to Andrea Bianchi’s Burial Ground…

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Next, wave your hands in the air for a Hard Rock Hallelujah, a single that’s actually a cover of a Lordi song. As you might expect, this is more melodic and radio friendly than usual, and they play it about as straight as you can expect from a tune by a bunch of Finns in goofy GWAR costumes.

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The titling conventions start getting especially weird with The Curse of this Observed Melting Phenomenon, which covers films from a wide swath that could arguably be considered “body horror” – Cronenberg is the obvious choice, but they pull in Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator, Fred Henlenlotter’s Basket Case and the John Carpenter remake of The Thing as well, so you get the idea of the scope here.

Very much akin to Invasion of the Flesh Hunters in that respect…some Glen Benton dual snarl/growl vox play into “who goes there?”, but otherwise reasonably typical for Hordes during this period of EP releases.

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Weird titles continue with The Bioslajmical Monster Frenzies Strikes Back, which tackles CHUD…and a bunch of films I didn’t recognize from the lyrics. One of ’em’s a brand new (2015!) film called “the mildew from planet Xonader”…don’t ask me. Sounds amusing from the title, anyway.

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Then we go all Video Dead with Television Freakshow,  a two song single that appears to cover the same double feature blu-ray…

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Things start getting particularly collage-oriented with the cover to “Suck my Spinning Steel, Shithead“, where they go all ska-punk on “in search of human flesh” and seem to be referencing Bad Taste…not sure otherwise.

Have you noticed the band’s more unusual excursions into genre-blending and style collage seem to have normalized somewhat during this “middle period”? Because they have.

Don’t ask me, but I guess it’s a good thing…

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I have no idea where they were going with “Punky Funky Kentucky“, really – there’s Fulci, Toxic Zombies and if I’m not mistaken, a few SOV efforts (Todd Sheets, possibly Andreas Schnaas) referenced lyrically here.

What makes this particular EP really stand out is that, as the title partially references, the band goes full on, straight ahead punk rock (or at least 80’s punk/thrash crossover) throughout. Short, catchy, and pretty cool that their sole chosen cover actually hails from the early (punk-era) Beastie Boys…talk about the absolute last punk band you’d ever think of!

I liked this one a lot, actually.

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They mock pretentious album titles by giving themselves the even more pretentious album title of “Momentum VII – In Vitae Pretenturius“, simultaneously shifting straight into grindcore territory for the better part of the release.

That said, there’s enough punkified blackened thrash in the middle of the EP and the songs remain short enough (once again, every track barely crosses the minute mark) to keep this on the tolerable end of the grindcore spectrum…and they actually give a nod to old pal Mark Polonia and Splatter Farm herein…

Just to add icing to the cake, Hard Rock Zombies gets referenced on “rock n’ roll zombie mayhem”, and Shock Waves on “seaweed nazi bastards”…again, the apparent subject of every EP can be sort of discerned (well, they’re talking zombies more often than not…), but they never strictly adhere to a theme (find me the zombie in Splatter Farm, I dare ya). It’s still pretty grindcore to crust throughout, so hardly one of their best, but listenable enough.

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Another oddity, with Play Datt Punk Ones Again…the first time I didn’t pick up any real filmic references (bar the rather odd and oblique nod to Fulci’s Gates of Hell that is “Dunwhich priest from the east”). Still pretty straightforward and (crossover) punk-to-grindcore in orientation, and it sounds like it may have been recorded “live in rehearsal” to judge by the vocals.

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Then it’s Necronomicon featuring Squirrel Squad, a rather goofy single where the guys were clearly just screwing with ya. Vocals are sped up to make a sort of croaky take on Alvin & the Chipmunks on “necronomicon”…the B-side is simply the karaoke version of the same track, retitled.

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Goes to Smygehuk” is, believe it or not, a live album of “greatest hits”.
Nuff said.

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You’ve got me on the Latin meets Scandinavian by way of Italian titled “Moltum in Sanctum – Dass Trallish Prego“, where the band talks Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, Howard the Duck, Troll 2, Killer Klowns from Outer Space and a film called Elves involving neo-nazi elves trying to take over the world (go figure…and WHY hasn’t this come to DVD?!?)…followed not long thereafter by Troma’s Surf Nazis Must Die!

This is another contender for “most likeable and accessible” Hordes of Apocalypse release, though more for the pop-punk crowd than usual, as the vocal approach is more akin to a quirky Euro variant of Green Day or Good Charlotte than punk proper.

The comedy’s more prominent than ever and the films, while still cult (and arguably “horror”) are more lighthearted and approaching “mainstream” sufficient that your less dedicated, non-gorehound pals are likely to have heard of and/or seen most or all of the films referenced herein than the band’s usual, more comprehensive Italian/Mexican/French/global cult horror subject matter (and trust me, I’m only scratching the surface in reviews here – we could sit down and list off a film per song on just about everything Hordes released…).

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The covers get particularly amusing starting with the Count Duckula sporting That Castle Weeping Notes of Joy and Sorrow, That Castle Weeping Notes of Joy and Sorrow, which goes full on kid movie – the aforementioned “duck of darkness”, Garbage Pail Kids, and a whole bunch of other films I don’t recognize.

Plenty of film (or show) clips, for those more familiar with this sort of fare, and they’re working very much in the same vein and musical approach as Moltum in Sanctum, so it’s fun even if you have no fucking clue what they’re talking about here (like yours truly).

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And finally, my favorite of the covers comes with their most recent effort, They All Came Here To Smear (At Halloween Night of 2016) – The Count in full Ghost regalia and that goofy Charlie Brown ghost are priceless!

This is an EP where they cover The Misfits and work four originals that for once have nothing to do with cult cinema – one about how there’s never anything worth a shit on the idiot box (which is why we have collections of cult DVDs in the first place!), another about trick or treating (and scaring old folks who give you apples!) and a brief return to the Mercyful Fate falsetto on “the night they all came here”…which does contain a film clip I didn’t recognize, so who knows, this one song may be the exception to the EP’s rule.

As you can tell, the band has a few albums and EPs that are more than worth your time, even if you didn’t get (or dig) what they were throwing down with Now They Are Everywhere…There Is No Escape. There’s a whole hell of a lot of horror and cult film love, some more typical blackthrash and more recent Darkthrone worship and even a few EPs worth of straight up pop punk and crossover to be found.

When these guys contacted me, I was kind of baffled – not like I’d laid down a glowing review of the aforementioned EP or anything, after all. But it’s apparent that they were astute enough to recognize some kinship in both good humor and cult cinema love (not to mention “metal brotherhood”) between us, and having gone through many (though admittedly, not all) of these EPs, I’m actually glad they did.

Respect, and while I’m not always big on the grindcore and overly crazed blending (not everyone can be Sigh after all) on some of the earlier albums and EPs, definitely worth checking out for many reasons laid out hereinabove…not least because they’ve built one hell of a back catalogue in a ridiculously brief timeframe!

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Sorrowful Land (Ukraine) – ‘Of Ruins…’  (Solitude Productions (Russia) (November 7)

Bombastic, nigh funeral doom, but more precisely of the melodic “death-doom” school of My Silent Wake, My Dying Bride, Paradise Lost, Anathema, et al.

I enjoy this sound, myself, particularly when it’s this well produced and pointedly melodic, filled with harmonies and as chest thumpingly overdramatic as pagan/Viking metal…or for that matter, opera.

Very good for the type, if a tad samey from track to track. I dug it.

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Ilemauzar (Singapore) – The Ascension (Sepsis Records (Indonesia) (September 1)

Singaporean blackened death metal. Riffs feel rather Watainish, but more particularly early Watain, with hints of more recent Marduk in the background. Even so, the sound and aesthetic forgive them from getting thrown into the ever-expanding Pile of Dead Bards of the Watain Wannabe crowd.

There’s little to none of the atonal open chord bullshit here, and they bear no small measure of affection towards (and influence from) a more blackthrash milieu, which also saves them from the usual fate given to bands bearing a tad too much of the Danielsson scent. There’s enough, say, Desaster (and even a smidgen of Belphegor and Necrophobic) to say hey, at least they’re trying to be different for a change.

As such, I actually liked these guys – the fluttering tremelo riffs and greater emphasis on double bass-driven footwork than finger-flicking snare blastbeats worked quite well in conjunction with the growly-yet-comprehensible vocals, and the guitarists even display a touch of proficiency on the instrument (“nectar of insanity” was quite nice, actually).

There’s more than enough blackthrash and Teutonic black/death metal playing into Ilemauzar’s sound to leave them quite likeable.

Tag in a surprisingly good, uncluttered production…how the hell did these guys afford to sound this good, anyway? Not quite Rick Rubin, but there’s plenty of negative space and separation between vocals, drums and guitars, and every part can be discerned and analyzed with ease throughout…and you have a surprise winner.

Hails.

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Cryptic Realms – Enraptured By Horror (Iron, Blood and Death Corporation/Death In Pieces) (November 25)

Beneath that rather cool cover lies something of an awkward gem.

Vocals somewhere between John Tardy and “Evil” Chuck Schuldiner matched up with basic, sorta muddy guitars that feel like some weird cross between Acheron, Resurrection, Morta Skuld and Baphomet…and most particularly Rites of the Black Mass-era Acheron.

Now, that’s fine by me – I certainly appreciated the rather old school death metal vibe being thrown down here – but the solos are few and far between, and super basic even then. Let’s put it this way – Allen West sounds like a shredder by comparison…

Apparently this is some sort of “supergroup” of death metal bands you’ve likely never heard of – members hail from big name acts like “Abyssus”, “Offal”, “Tritton” and “Necrorite”. But who really gives a shit?

All that matters is what they’re laying down here, and to boil it down to brass tacks, that’s early Acheron fronted by John Tardy, more or less.

Are you complaining?

I’m not.

I’ll throw ’em the horns – A for effort, and hoping to hear more from this project in the future.

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Henry Kane (Sweden) – Den Förstörda Människans Rike (Transcending Obscurity Records) (February 20)

Grindcore-like “crust” variant of death metal. It’s super noisy, overly busy and relentless.

You really can’t hear anything other than grinding chainsaw guitars (not in the sense of Nihilist/Entombed/Dismember/Carnage, but in the sense of “the next door neighbor’s cutting down a tree” or “the landscapers are here again”), hyperactive blastbeat drums that are so fast and obnoxious it just sounds like a wall of crap coming at you and overly-reverbed and slap echoed growl-pukes over the top (or more accurately, in the middle) of all this.

If you don’t have a headache within the first 3 tracks, there’s probably something wrong with you.

In the immortal words of Johnny “they call me Bruce” Yune: “I don’t get it.”

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AVULSED (Spain) – Deathgeneration (Xtreem Music) (November 1)

Damn. There’s a death metal band who’s been around since 1992, dropping EPs and albums since around ’94-96 and going more or less nonstop ever since…and I’ve never even heard of ’em?

Well, apparently so, and they’ve put together a re-recording of old material, complete with actual scene veterans you have heard of doing vocals on several tracks.

That’s right, you get Chris Riefert (Autopsy), the guy from Demilich, Will Rahmer (Mortician), new Third Eye Roundup regular Rogga Johansson, the guy from Pentagram (Chile), the guy from Sinister, Tomas Lindgren (Grotesque, At the Gates), John McIntee (Incantation) and Kam Lee (Mantas/Death/Massacre) all dropping in for vocal guest spots…”now how much would you pay?”

And for those who wanted to hear the original versions, disc 2 is just that. So you can actually sit there and compare/contrast…which version do you prefer on “exorcismo vaginal”? Hmm, well, I think the new version sounds a bit better, with the beefed up production and guest vox…

Have fun playing that game with your friends. Especially the “straight” ones who don’t get metal, much less something this “underground”. Just don’t be surprised if they never talk to you again…

Interestingly, and perhaps related to the fact that I’ve never heard of these guys before, the re-recorded versions, most of which have guest vox from classic scenesters in tow, appear to hold up much better than the original versions on disc 2 across the board. Not something you hear very often from yours truly, so it bears mentioning.

I enjoyed this well enough…you certainly can’t say it’s not classic (or retro) death metal!

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The Replicate – A Selfish Dream (self release) (January 1)

Prog death. It’s pretty weird and annoying, but sounds a tad less pretentious and chilly than usual, partly due to the muddier, more in your face production. Still decidedly not my thing…but Cynic, Gorguts or Atheist this ain’t.

It’s apparently a project band of a Sandesh Nagaraj, who handles both guitar and bass duties, while pulling in a revolving cast of vocalists (who also provide their own lyrics!).

Strange.

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ATILA – Body (Dissociated / Hið Myrka Man) (January 20)

Spahn Ranch for dummies, essentially.

Taps into the same old gothic-industrial sound and aesthetic, while claiming to be something new. Nothing wrong with the sound – been there, done that…but don’t pretend to be anything otherwise.

Could’ve shown up on one of the later Cleopatra goth comps (where they started leaning more and more industrial before turning into “the tribute album label”).

As such, not bad – mildly disturbing BGM for the goth crowd.

 

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Infamovs – Under the Seals of Death (Memento Mori) (January 23)

Chilean blackened thrash-cum-death. It’s got the crazed feel of Pentagram (Chile), Mystifier and Mutilator, but with the capability of slowing down to a neo-James Murphy solo section tempo, even leaning a bit towards doom at points (“serpent of sin”, for instance).

Guess which parts work, and which don’t.

When they slow things down a bit, it’s pretty good, old school style death metal, very much akin to Morta Skuld.

Can’t speak for the crazy parts, which simply do not work.

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IC Rex – Tulen Jumalat (Saturnal) (February 3)

“Occult black metal”, but in the more worthy sense of acts like Saturnian Mist or Sacrificium Carmen.

In other words, the music’s actually listenable and they may actually get some of the stuff they’re putting out there for a change (that in itself oh, so rare on today’s scene…).

No fan of “Artifex IC’s” scream-shouted vocals, but the rest of it works well enough, and both “Spellgoth” (Horna) and “Frater Zetekh” (Saturnian Mist) show up to provide backing vox and suchlike, so there’s something of a fraternity running through this.

Ostensibly, the concept is “fire gods”, and most of those named fit that designation in more than the obvious respect…but one is a bit of a stretch (keeping this discussion to a reasonably surface level, Heimdall really has nothing to do with fire…).

Not bad, and certainly in keeping with the general quality of the label and more ‘serious’ orientation of its signings and releases.

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Diablerie (Finland) – The Catalyst vol. 1: Control (Primitive Reaction) (January 27)

Nu metal/aggro BS, but with a touch of melodicism at the choruses and some electronic/industrial elements.

The usual puke-shout aggro vox, the usual THUNK THUNK THUNK lunkhead riffs, but then you get an industrial dance music break with processed vox and the riffs may speed up for a bit.

I don’t know. Somebody must have an affection for this end of the 90’s music scene, because I’m hearing more and more of it coming out over the last several months.

Already lived this, kids. I didn’t mind the dance industrial stuff so much, though I’d never claim to “be a fan” by any stretch…

…it’s the rest of it that I find so especially tedious.

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Tenebrae in Perpetuum – La Genesi: 2001-2002 (Ordo MCM) (January 27)

Nice!

Old school black metal in the school of “early Norwegian third wave black metal demo acts” like Manes and Fleurety (though leaning far more towards the former).

Even acts that later “sold out” or lost much of their evil vibe (Carpathian Forest, anyone?) had some killer demos that sounded much akin to what Tenebrae in Perpetuum is laying down here…only there’s nearly a decade distance between the dawn of the black metal revival and these sinister Italians.

Simply put, this is fucking killer.

If you miss and treasure the glory days of (second wave) black metal as much as I do and recognize that far too many acts lost their way after leaving the demo realm behind (and many more, an album or two thereafter!), this one is most decidedly for you.

Raise the horns high in salute.

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Gloson – Grimen (Art of Propaganda) (February 13)

More of what you heard on Yearwalker.

Slow, detuned, growly, kinda melancholy. I guess you could use it to accompany a walk through the winter snow, particularly if you live out in the country or near some stretch of woods.

Doesn’t really serve any other purpose – just atmospheric background music.

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RIDE FOR REVENGE – Thy Horrendous Yearning (LP) (Hells Headbangers) (January 27)

Funeral doom-slow, Goatlord-simple blackened…something. It ain’t thrash, that’s for damn sure. Nor is it death metal. But it sure as hell ain’t black metal proper…or doom for that matter.

So what the fuck is it?

Got me.

For the most part, production’s passable enough, and that (and the lumbering tempo) is probably what saves ’em from the rubbish pile.

But is it anything wonderful or worth seeking out?

Please.

Next…

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Horn (Germany) – Turm am Hang LP (Iron Bonehead) (January 27)

Pagan metal. Oddly self-classify as black metal, but there’s absolutely zero justification for that.

  • Jaunty, triple time jig feel? Check.
  • Death growls that lean more Viking/pagan? Check.
  • Decent production? Check.
  • Group chants meant for audience participation sing-a-longs? Check.

Suuuuure it’s black metal.

Who the fuck are ya trying to kid?

Now, taken as it actually is and calling a spade a spade, Horn delivers some pretty decent pagan metal. Fairly decent (if a bit vocal-heavy) production, folky guitars, Viking longship style chants…

Other than the guitars being a bit buried in the mix, the only issue I have here is the drum production, which is atrocious. Thick…but overly so, and muffled…while oddly being shoved fairly up front in the mix. Reminds me of the drum production on Hurricane’s Take What You Want…POUND! POUND!!! POUND!!!! POUND!!!!! It’s perfectly hideous if not headache inducing, actually, and distracts from the music otherwise.

That aside, it’s likeable enough for pagan metal. A bit less happy and jaunty than the norm, a tad less well produced, a bit more “dry” feeling…but not bad at all for the genre.

But seriously.

Black metal, my ass.

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Ritualization – Sacraments to the Sons of the Abyss CD/LP (Iron Bonehead) (February 3)

French black/death. You can hear the occasional Immolation/Suffocation harmonic squeak thrown into the mix, but essentially it’s blackened death metal to the core, complete with high speed riffing and crazed blastbeats joined by 90mph double bass.

The riffing is utterly forgettable, the drumming is too fast and fighting for space in the mix against the wall of blurriness that are the guitars and vox, there’s far too much atonality and pointlessness to it all…even when they slow down to a more realistic pace (“herald of betrayal”), there’s really nothing there to hook ya.

Yeah, it’s a pass.

Next…

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Bestial Raids – Master Satan’s Witchery LP/CD (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (February 1)

Noise, essentially.

“War metal” buts heads with “crust”, “grind” and “bestial death/black metal”, and only the listener loses.

I prefer a touch of melody and harmony with my aggression, a bit of sinister atmosphere with my black, death or “blackened” metal.

This makes Conqueror sound virtuosic, and Blasphemy sound like they came off of Shrapnel Records.

Yawn.

Next…

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ENDALOK – Úr Draumheimi Viðurstyggðar (Signal Rex) (January 20)

There’s a band playing and a guy growling and snarling here.

Have to clarify that, because otherwise you’d be forgiven for thinking this was an ambient album…they’re buried so far in the mix and under cavernous reverb, it barely sounds like there’s anything going on other than a guy playing with his effects pedals.

O-kayyy….

Next!

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EVIL PRIEST (PER) – S/T (Caverna Abismal Records) (January 23)

After the obligatory pointless intro finally fades, you dive headfirst into
one of the nastiest mosh pits you’ve ever seen. Then it slows to a lumbering death metal pace. Later it picks up again, before working back to a more recognizably midtempo thing.

There’s a lot of classic death metal feel to the riffing style, anyway…if
only the vocals didn’t ascribe to the modern “underground” thing of unintelligibile noises buried under an impenetrable wall of reverb, and the
guitars didn’t jack the distortion pedal straight into signal bleed territory throughout.

It’s a pretty damn noisy affair…but one that could’ve been rather good
without all the reverb and signal bleed.

Partly down to shit production (hey, this is a Peruvian band, after all – can’t expect world class studiocraft from a decidedly DIY corner of the metal scene), partly down to the band paying too much attention to the crap imitators of today…

…and not quite enough to the sounds that made the scene what it is in the first place.

Has definite promise, beneath it all.

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Ululatum Tollunt – Quantum Noose of Usurpation (Invictus) (January 30)

They’re sort of classifying themselves as “war metal” (the promo materials kind of dance around the term), but don’t expect Beherit, Bathory, Conqueror, Revenge or anything similar thereto.

This is simplistic to a fault, alright, and about as noisy as a construction
site. Every track sounds identical, the production is absolute shit, I doubt there was a lyric or chord change on the release.

Sound like a winner to you?

Because who knows, it might for some folks…

Next…

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THYRANE – BLACK HARMONY (Woodcut Records) (January 13)

Early demo from a Finnish symphonic black metal act.

You can certainly hear the expected keyboards, but it’s more Gloomy Grim than Ancient, Dimmu or Emperor (which to these ears is a decidedly good thing), and the band leans a tad more traditional (as in the mid-to-late 90’s expansion period, not as in “troo kvlt” proper old school second wave BM) than you might expect.

I guess if you think a very raw variant of Principle-era Cradle of Filth,
but with a bit more of a Marduk by way of Tsjuder aesthetic, you’d have
Black Harmony.

Not bad, though it’ll hardly make it to regular rotation alongside the
classics and true leaders of the genre.

Worth a listen.

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