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Well, it’s only been a week or two, and things are already looking far worse than most of us imagined.

I mean, seriously.  Issues of hubris on the ostensible Left (who seriously thought that deeply unpopular career politician had a shot at the brass ring…particularly given the historic groundswell of support for the “outsider” who should have taken her spot in the primaries?) and hostile foreign manipulation and interference aside (just call us Putin’s little Puppet Kingdom for the next four years…assuming we survive them in any recognizable form)…

…which of you idiots seriously voted for this narcissistic, bullying, lying, two faced, selfish (and these are just superlatives offered by the legions of former business partners and contractors he’s personally screwed over in decades prior!), unintelligent and openly fascist (with a father who’s on record as having marched through NYC with the Klan back in the 20’s, yet) piece of shit?

Pair that with the Brexiteers and rising far-right opposition forces in Germany, France, the Netherlands and more, and there’s no denying we’re at a societal and cultural tipping point, where we’re about to fall into financial ruin, societal collapse, global warfare and suffer the ravages of unchecked global warming.

Good job, that.  Congratulations, voters and those who chose not to stand against these assholes, because “both parties are the same”, and “my vote doesn’t matter”.  Well, the absence of your vote against this fool sure mattered this time around.

Whew.

So rather than explode in justified rage at all the selfishness and stupidity that surrounds us and the divisiveness that threatens to bring down Western Civilization as a whole, let’s kick back with a drink, smoke or drug of choice and pretend everything’s going to be OK, somehow, against all odds and every tingling nerve ending or warning of history.

There’s no place like home (click click). There’s no place like home (click click).

Feeling better?

Feeling kinda nice, right?

OOGA BOOGA!!!!

OK, I’ll put the Trump head on a stick away, for now.

Chill out…here’s some tunes for ya.

(cue scary music…)

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Borealis – World Of Silence MMXVII (AFM Records) (January 27)

There’s a strange mentality in some corners of the metal world that you can relive and recapture specific moments in distant time.

I mean, we all do it these days – folks who’ve been there to live through it and wide eyed teenagers alike, across the spectrum of music, film and fashion.

Many of us feel that it speaks more to the barrenness and formula pap of today’s “arts and entertainment” scene – that the very soullessness of what’s being produced these days leads a multi-generational tidal wave of humanity reaching back into time for better days, for music, film, art and literature that actually spoke to us.

Personally, I think that’s barely scratching the surface of what’s actually going on – just look at how often people praise heretofore forgotten corners of the music and film worlds with the phrase “there’s just no way you could get away with/do that nowadays”.

But just for the sake of brevity and conciseness, let’s assume the base argument tells the bulk of the story (it doesn’t). This leads to an ever-cycling, ever expanding wave of remasters and ever more comprehensive reissues of albums and films to meet today’s hi-def standards, often resulting in shocking revelations as to the heretofore unseen quality of material whose original production, packaging, distribution, mastering or what have you consigned that very same piece of (if you will) “art” to derision or the oblivion of becoming a mere footnote in genre history. And this, we celebrate wholeheartedly.

What becomes far more questionable is when bands…let’s just say “Saxon” as the most egregious and consistent example hereof, having inspired an  apparent army of reunited or differently staffed iterations of bands to lazily revisit the back catalogue in likely fan-service performance of audience favorites.

Yeah, we’re talking about guys ranging from Accept’s Udo Dirkschnieder to Japan’s Luna Sea heading back to the studio to re-record, en toto, an early, defining album in their back catalogue.

And with few exceptions (Luna Sea’s recent reworking of their underproduced debut being a poster child for the more positive end of this equation), you have to wonder…why the fuck did they bother?

Sure, there are instances that are much welcomed – Sodom’s Final Sign of Evil is fairly essential for being the sole release/recording of what was intended as their debut back in ’84 (squashed to a mere EP due to finances)…but can anyone argue that the new versions of classic tracks – even in such cases as just mentioned hereinabove – are in any way save the dynamics of production and recording actually superior to the original recordings?

Yeah. Exactly.

So here we have a Canadian act who consider themselves “progressive power metal” (whatever that means) heading back to the studio to entirely redo their off-label debut 8 years on. It’s hardly the span of time we’re looking at with folks like Udo, Saxon, Sodom or Luna Sea (among dozens of others), but why not just remaster the originals, possibly include a track or two of “2016 version” as bonus tracks?

You’ve seen that before…you know, those tracks you always skip? Cough Behemoth cough…

Well, arguments against the practice per se aside, I can’t actually compare the two versions of World of Silence for ya, as 2015’s Purgatory is my only experience of the band prior to now.  So we’ll have to take this as a standalone.

And on those merits, the album stands up well enough – Rhapsody-esque dramatic keyboards, power metal template chugging guitars and typewriter double bass and a gravel-growly grunge style vocal that while evoking a tad too much Chris Cornell isn’t a million miles away from some corners of the power metal scene.

The songs tend towards the somewhat unspectacular, but are likeable enough in genre terms, with enough melody, solid playing and bombast to please the average punter. In fact, as workaday background music for the average metal fan (particularly the more Euro-inclined power/symphonic variant of same), this works quite well indeed, and I could see a putative (and presumably wholly mythical) “powermetal.com” offering fairly high praise.

As it is, you’ll have to settle for this:

Good band, good production, decent musicianship, strong grasp of melody, more than a touch of songcraft and plenty of appropriate bombast.

Despite the automatic eye roll that comes with the very idea of re-recording (rather than simply remastering and reissuing with bonus material) of classic albums in a given band’s back catalogue, Borealis appears to have done themselves proud here.

Yeah, I liked it.

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Vanishing Point – Tangled In Dream (AFM Records) (January 27)

I spoke with the quite likeable Chris Porcianko when their last album Distant is the Sun dropped, and it turned out to be among my personal favorite interviews.

For a band whose subject matter so often leans towards the introspective if not shoegaze and whose history is quite so fraught with drama and difficulty, the man’s boisterous Aussie sense of humor was easily drawn to the fore, and plenty of laughs were to be had amidst all the discussion – he definitely seemed the sort to invite you over for a Fosters and shrimp on the barbie, if you will.

So here we have what we were just arguing in terms of Borealis, namely an actual reissue and remaster, complete with a full disc of bonus material: 10 full “rare and unreleased” tracks, with one being a recent re-arranged, re-recorded version of one of the songs herein (“samsara II”). This is the way it’s supposed to be done, folks.

Beyond that, you get the (apparently out of print) 2000 album itself, which features Porcianko and company’s usual mix of hyper-melodic, impeccably constructed material. Very much keyboard inflected and with strong leanings towards the more emo end of the musical spectrum, Porcianko has a knack for making…well, depression sound absolutely gorgeous.

This is not happy music, though you could be forgiven for thinking such, given the exuberance and beauty with which it’s presented – that’s songcraft master class, children. Burt Bacharach and Hal David have little in common with this on the surface…but think about it, and you’ll see what I mean.

Silvio Massaro comes off like he’s recording this at 4am, with a sleepy, sad tonality that breaks into smooth, more soaring tones at the appropriate times. He’s a decent singer to be sure…just sounds like he either just woke up or is about to pass out. Who knows, given the sorrowful overtones of the material, it may be a deliberate affectation, even. Either way, it fits, and you really couldn’t picture anyone else filling the vocal chair here – so that should say something in and of itself.

Excellent album, with touches (mostly on the keyboard, backing vocal harmonies and portions of Porcianko’s solos) that feel rather 80’s AOR…but overtones that push the band right into emo territory. Then slather all this in symphonic, vaguely 80’s Curelike keyboard overtones, and you have a fair idea of what to expect here.

I liked Chris a hell of a lot…and his music nearly as much.

This one’s a great place to dip your toes in and see how it grabs ya.

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MORS PRINCIPIUM EST – Embers Of A Dying World (AFM Records) (February 10)

Yet another slab of melodeath from the ever-rotating cast of Swedes.  Surprisingly, given their one album per guitarist track record, their sound has remained remarkably consistent over the past three albums, …And Death Said Live, Dawn of the 5th Era and now Embers of a Dying World.

Well, OK, those In N’ Out Burgers…I mean guitarists were filling the supplementary second guitar seat, with lead guitar/songwriter Andy Gillion remaining for all three, so I guess it’s not that surprising after all. Sounds like a good hook, anyway…”band fails to change despite losing guitarist/songwriter after each album!”

Yeah, yeah, I’ll stop now…

But the fact that we’re talking about quick double take assessments (and the disproving of same) points to something more important about the band…and it’s something that could be seen as a positive just as much as a negative.

Namely, that the band simply hasn’t changed a bit over three albums.

OK, I did play up the greater inclination towards busyness if not shred inclinations that the last guy in the 2nd guitar chair brought to the table on Dawn, and the changes in production – and sure, you can hear that there’s a slightly different tonality and orientation on the guitars this time around (less aggression, less shred inclination, far more of a tight Iron Maiden dual lead melodicism). And yes, the production’s changed…and in fact, improved once again.

But is it really that dramatic a change across the last 3 albums?

Hardly.

But whether due to sheer consistency of quality or gradual improvements in tone, focus and production values…I find they sound a little better every time.

Would you be ill served by digging in 3 albums back instead of starting off here? Nah, not really.

But I do think the band’s on a glacially slow but steady incline towards the increasingly positive.

Consistently likeable, if still not quite headliner territory, scenewise.  Definitely working their way towards it, though…

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JACK RUSSELL’S GREAT WHITE – He Saw it Comin’ (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (January 27)

oy, the dirty laundry we could go into here.

You know Great White. Poking around since the mid-80’s, they had their biggest and best album in ’87 with Once Bitten – “lady red light” and “rock me” were fucking HUGE back in the day.

Sadly, they quickly…er…jumped the shark (ahem) with the more radio airplay-minded Twice Shy (whose only major hit was a cover). They still sold records with Hooked, but metal and hard rock per se had more or less peaked – death metal was all the rage, black metal was just on the horizon, and for all intents and purposes the nation had gone college rock, “indie”, “industrial” and grunge. It was a pretty bad time for music, and about to get much, much worse.

Great White kept trucking on – have fun looking up all the personal and professional issues this band faced throughout the course of its lifetime (dating all the way back to the late 70’s, mind!)…but it’s been kinda dark. The fact that this is “Jack Russell’s” Great White brings such “cheats” as “Dee Snider performs a night of Twisted Sister” and “Mike Tramp’s White Lion” immediately to mind. You know what you’re in for.

That said, Russell and his gang of whozits (including fellow former Great White vet Tony Montana) somehow manage to face down the inevitable chorus of jeers and come out swinging…and in the end, stand there smiling as people start to crowd in and walk up to slap ’em on the back and shake their hands.

Because this is the most Great White album I’ve heard since Once Bitten…

Russell is in fine form vocally, Montana manages to pull off a reasonably Mark Kendallike performance while upping the ante to more of a flash metal soloing style, and the production is quite good throughout.

And most importantly, when they’re firing on all cylinders? This is classic Great White, through and through.

Yeah, things get a little weaker late in the album, there are tangents, the energy peters off a bit. But this is so not what I expected out of Russell sans Kendall and company.

Give the man a round of applause.

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STEPHEN PEARCY – Smash (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (January 27)

Somewhat on the flipside of that equation comes Stephen Pearcy, former Ratt frontman whose rather unique vocals have, perhaps unsurprisingly, not held up quite as well over the years.

It’s a bit of 80’s metal old home week, as Pearcy recruits White Lion sticksman Greg D’Angelo to keep time, and while keeping things a bit subdued as the material warrants, the man still manages to throw in one or two of his classic fills every now and again (as in album best “ten miles wide”).

The band certainly tries, and the sound is recognizably enough in the Ratt ballpark (though a bit too “Way Cool Jr.” and a little too little Invasion of Your Privacy for my tastes). And it must be said, when he’s in the groove, Pearcy does sound a hell of a lot like the Stephen Pearcy we knew and loved back in the day.

But there’s too many awkward moments. Too many phrases where the tones aren’t there, too many warbles of uncertainty and moments of quavering sprechtgesang sprinkled amidst the good ones. If anything, Pearcy comes off like an ersatz Alice Cooper more than himself in better days.

Maybe they should have recruited Scott Wenzel of Whitecross to cover for the iffier phrases and tracks? Or has he lost it over the years as well? Who the hell knows.

Check out “ten miles wide” and “want too much”. That shows the man at his best.

If you’re digging it, that means you still like classic Ratt, congratulations.

But word of advice: be sure to give the rest of the album a spin and see if you’re still down with it.

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PRIDE OF LIONS – Fearless (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (January 27)

Former Survivor guitarist Jim Peterik grabs someone named Toby Hitchcock (your guess is as good as mine) and the Temple of Set’s Michael Aquino…

…oh, you mean it’s not that Michael Aquino?

Anyway, Peterik works some of that old Survivor magic here, with Hitchcock coming off as a sort of countrified (and a touch overdramatic) analogue to Dave Bickler.

Songs approximate the feel of other bands as well – “the tell” feels rather Michael McDonald-era Doobie Brothers, “all I see is you” feels rather countrified (no doubt the reason they tap a Robby Steinhardt soundalike fiddler for this track).

They even work the tropes of different musical eras – with the aforementioned feeling rather 70’s rock, “silent music” and “fearless” feel particularly 80’s (and movie soundtrack Los Angeles, at that!). Other tracks tend to stick to the classic Survivor template, and thus lean intrinsically 80’s by default, but there are riffs on tracks like “fearless” and “rising up” that feel considerably more 90’s or later.

Did I mention the lyrics are so positive and uplifting, you’d be forgiven for thinking this was a particularly good Christian rock album? It’s a bit weird, but overall, fans of the man’s work should be quite happy here.

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THE MURDER OF MY SWEET – Echoes of the Aftermath (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (January 27)

We’d interviewed attractive (and friendly) frontwoman Angelica Rylin back when she released her solo album Thrive. This is her main gig, following their somewhat over-layered 2015 release Beth out of Hell with yet another barrel full of bombast and faux-cinematic overkill.

Rylin herself has a sweet, pleasant and quite radio friendly vocal range and approach, but it feels like the band does its damnedest to, if not bury her specifically, then at least slather on so many unnecessary sound effects, keyboard layers and oddly over-distorted guitars that the whole mix just feels…unwieldy.

It’s melodic, to be sure, and Rylin sure sounds nice – but you have to showcase a voice like that. She’s not going to out-shout you, scream through you or blow you away with operatics, after all – it’s a sweet, syrupy midrange soprano that needs more separation in the mix to really shine.

Once again, unnecessary overkill ruins what should have been a more palatable presentation.

At this point, you have to assume this is their M.O., and what they feel they have to do “for the fans”.

Hey, Angie, how about another solo album, huh?

Best track by several orders of measure: “echoes of the aftermath”

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EX DEO – “The Rise Of Hannibal” (Napalm Records) (February 24)

You know, I was actually shocked when I put this one in.

See, I’d confused the similarly minded Italians Ade (whose Carthago Delenda Est we reviewed back in September) with the tres Francais Ex Deo (well, OK, vocalist Maurizio Iacono’s shared heritage with yours truly is patently obvious from the name). As the press release puts it, “Italian blooded frontman Maurizio Iacono and his converted Gauls from French Canada”. Good one – not only did it give me a laugh, but I probably couldn’t have put it better meself.

Speaking of shits and giggles, Manowar style, here’s a statement from the band:

“People of Rome, there is a threat looming from Carthage, a force has awaken and we most stop The Rise of Hannibal, the soundtrack to ancient Rome is here, you have waited so long … raise your Gladius in pride!”

Yeah, I can get with that. I feel old Sicilian/Napolitano blood stirring with a roar of response. Fuck those Carthaginians!

You guessed it, I made myself laugh there…

Anyway, all that aside, it’s just a single, so there’s not a lot to speak to here. Apparently these guys dropped two albums (one about this Decadent’s favorite emperor, Caligula) before going on what looked like a permanent hiatus thereafter. So it’s probably something of a shock to fans to hear that they’re back and dropping a new album…

If this is anything to go by, they sound sort of like the male answer to Leaves Eyes, but instead of Viking hordes, it’s Roman legions. Same midtempo, chugging guitars, same soaring, anthemic/dramatic keyboard bits, Pagan metal-style death growls and shouts on the vocal end.

And Third Eye podcast veterans know how much I love Leaves Eyes…hell, had Liv Kristine on twice, and Alex Krull on as well…and that’s not to mention the many times they were reviewed in print in these monthly roundups.

So yeah, I’m good…and looking forward to a full length.

Now to look up that Caligula album…saluti!

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XANDRIA – “We Are Murderers (We All)” feat. Bjorn “Speed” Strid – Soilwork (Napalm Records) (January 27)

Dianne Van Giersbergen brings more of her Ex Libris “Medea”-style operatic dramatics to this single from the new and improved Xandria.

Those who haven’t experienced Xandria since the days of Salome should be pleasantly surprised at just how different a band they’ve become – far more gothic symphonic than light gothic in orientation. And while Neverworld’s End was a step in the right direction, I’m inclined to believe that Van Giersbergen was exactly the right missing piece to complete the puzzle.

As far as this single, other than a bit of opera-style stage acting and a deliberately heavier, more aggro tonality, there’s not a hell of a lot to say – it’s acceptable enough, but didn’t really stand out by comparison to Sacrificium or Fire and Ashes. More of the same, if you will…

We’ll see how the full length plays out.

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XANDRIA – “Call Of Destiny” (Napalm Records) (January 27)

Okay, now this is more like it.

A fuck of a lot more lively and gothic/symphonic metal in the true sense than the more compromised and confusingly titled “we are murderers (we all)”, this one features the band in full on Leaves Eyes meets Epica by way of Rhapsody (of Fire) mode, with sweet yet epic sounding backing vocal choruses, Yngwie-style guitar and keyboard runs and a pace that sounds like they actually had someone lighting a bit of a fire under their asses.

Very good, a lot more promising of a teaser for the full length.

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XANDRIA – Theater Of Dimensions (Napalm Records) (January 27)

And through the magic of time travel, we have the album proper to review in the same month. So how does it play out?

Well, to be honest?

This is Epica, before they stopped being relevant.

Take the general sound and approach of The Phantom Agony, tag in the wider scope of Consign to Oblivion and emphasize the bombast.

Gorgeous, assured and distinctly operatic soprano vocals, big sounding (but likely Phantom-Agony size small group) backing chorus and the sort of huge sounding gothic symphonic sound we simply don’t get nowadays, and in fact haven’t seen much of since the early to mid-2000s.

Now, Xandria is not Epica, however close the parallels come here – the songwriting alternates between far weaker if not downright ill-fitting (“death to the holy”, “ship of doom”, “we are murderers (we all)”) and more akin to Delain (“forsaken love”, “dark night of the soul”)…but when they’re on point, they’re seriously on point.

This is too much of a mixed bag, too compromised to file among the classics of the gothic symphonic genre just yet. There’s too many flaws, too many cracks showing through the facade.

But they come damn close to some of the very best, and not just once or twice, on a rare track or two scattered amidst the Alestorm love and floundering direction.

And that says a hell of a lot.

Van Giersbergen is more or less flawless here, the backing chorus and scope are exactly what she needs in her corner.

It’s only a matter of burning off some chaff and sticking to the stylistic tropes…or in other words, stay on point next time.

Ya nearly took the brass ring here.

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JOHN GARCIA – The Coyote Who Spoke In Tongues (Napalm Records) (January 27)

Wait a minute, did he just do an acoustic cover of “green machine”?

That’s right, former Kyuss/Vista Chino frontman John Garcia returns, this time working a small group acoustic thing.

What was most interesting is that guitarist Ehren Groban, while capable of some nice classical/Spanish guitar moments (you could also reference Lindsay Buckingham here – particularly in the Buckingham/Nicks era), prefers to keep things in a very post-Woodstock hippie sort of vibe, with a percussive feel that comes off a hell of a lot like Randy Stonehill on Welcome to Paradise…which really says a lot, given just how good that album is.

I was quite chuffed with this one.

Fans of hippie-style acoustic rock of the (very) late 60’s through mid-70’s should find plenty to appreciate here.

The fact that Buckingham/Nicks and Welcome to Paradise both came to mind should seal the deal for those in the know.

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THE UNGUIDED – Brotherhood (Napalm Records) (December 23)

We’d reviewed their Fragile Immortality and Lust and Loathing and found their overall sound…I guess passably interesting would be the best way to put it.

Working tropes of both European power metal of the more melodic variety and metalcore, The Unguided straddles a middle ground, neither fish nor fowl…but both times, we evinced no small appreciation for an underlying degree of quality to the whole affair – a strong potential, if you will, that was being held back by the band’s (over-)reliance on ridiculous aggro/screamo vox.

As we put it with Fragile Immortality, ” there’s a very good band and songwriting to be found beneath those stupid ‘vocals’…You’d think they’d have more taste, given their sound otherwise.”

Well, I don’t know to what degree our own assessments of their efforts played any part in this, but the end result is…they listened.

Guitarist/screamer Roland Johannsson, the very force holding back the potential we heard, has departed for shores unknown, while the band soldiers on with new kid Jonathan Thorpenberg. And guess what.

Now, longtime fans, fret not – this is hardly a million miles away from what The Unguided have been delivering all along. But that fairly assured musicianship, the quality and melodicism that were there beneath all the silly aggro screaming? Now have more room to breathe.

WIth Thorpenberg, we get a lot more clean singing. So right off, we’re going closer to what makes a band like Killswitch (particularly under their less screamo-driven Howard Jones period and Disarm the Descent immediately thereafter) work, where other metalcore (and metalcore-oriented) bands tend to be more questionable if not annoying.

Sure, you can be totally fucking pissed…but it’s the melody that makes it go down smooth, kids.

And while there’s plenty of gargle-growliness going on in the verses here…it’s less annoyingly in your face, and counterbalanced by a hell of a lot more emotional, clean singing on both bridges and choruses (hell, even a few verses on occasion!).

They’re still a melodic Euro-metal/power metal take on “NWOAHM”-style metalcore, never fear.

But they finally got the right mix, the proper ingredients to make this band click.

Two songs, no waiting. Whether you loved or questioned ’em before, check out where they seem to be headed now…it’s one hell of an improvement, to say the least.

I actually, quite honestly liked it.

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Ember Falls – Welcome to Ember Falls (Spinefarm Records) (February 17)

“Well, fuck…”

So begins Welcome to Ember Falls, and while it’s tempting to call that emblematic of the listener’s likely reaction to what follows, these quirky Finns actually prove worth giving a listen to.

So here’s a question.

What do you get when you mix metalcore/screamo tropes with electronic/EDM by way of goth-industrial visuals and pop music overtones and aesthetics, then tag in a bit of wheedly-whoo Dream Theater wannabe prog-style guitar and drums that fall somewhere between the busyness of hardcore-metalcore-emo, the typewriter double bass of power metal and the light syncopation and occasional meter play of prog?

Then add nasal, lower register tenor vocals and plenty of polish (vocal harmonies, busy, fluffy-lite Aqua style keyboards and a rather pop sensibility overall)…and you’ll get something in the ballpark of Ember Falls.

So are they trying to be Senses Fail? AFI? Fates Warning? Gothminister? Roxette?

Who the fuck knows.

It certainly works, if you come to this with an open mind and expect something vaguely emo/metallically inclined that would be playing in your girlfriend’s car or on pop radio…can’t fault the production, the melodicism, the catchiness or even the surprisingly successful merging of what you’d think were rather disparate influences and genres here.

I guess in a way, that album opening was quite appropriate.

Your call – in the right mood, you could either find this pretty catchy and more than acceptable…in the wrong mood, the worst kind of “death to false metal!”-victim hipster joke.

Me, I’m in a decent mood at the moment.

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Greywind – Afterthoughts (Spinefarm Records) (January 27)

It’s a bit hard to get past the kewpie doll pop squeakiness of “Steph”‘s vocals here. When she gets to the bridges and choruses and finally opens up her throat, we move more into the intended emo/overdramatic pop-punk territory and you don’t notice quite so much.

But it’s a bit of a rough ride getting there.

Now, overall, this Irish brother & sister duo (who go by their first names only) pull off a rather likeable if predictably template Hot Topic emo sort of thing – soft, confessional bits breaking into sudden explosions of crunchy guitar and sadly tinkling lead lines and more forceful, open throated singing (thankfully no growling or screamo here!), lyrics inclined towards introspection, darkness and despair for the future and the seeming imminence of death.

In other words, its all very teenage.

But if you dig emo or its variants (metalcore, what passes for goth-fill in the suffix nowadays), Greywind offers a version that brings forward all the bits that work, while dumping the detritus (BLEEEAAGGH! BLUURRGHHH! YEAHHHHHGGGHHHH!!! is nowhere to be found here…how novel!).

In fact, the only downside is the singsongy, little girl tones of “Steph”, which leaves Greywind feeling more “safe” and “pop” than they likely intend. But hey, she’s pretty damn cute, and when she opens her throat and lets it rip, she’s got a nice enough voice…she’s just rather “girly” in a time and genre that strives towards aggro and “genderlessness” even from its female singers.

In a way, it’s pretty damn refreshing.

Just not sure that’s what they were shooting for here.

Rather good for its type, just note the caveats above.

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wars – We Are Islands, After All (Spinefarm Records) (January 27)

Emo. Not as melodically oriented as Senses Fail (nor do they have the ace in the hole that was Heath Saraceno on guitar), but nor are they quite as aggro-screamo oriented* as Atreyu or as fucking annoying as My Chemical Romance.

* well, the screaming’s not as annoying as Atreyu…but you could stand to sing more than a few choruses clean, you know, guys…

In other words, wars manage to skirt the extremes of the genre, ultimately sizing up as pretty typical and decent enough for the style.

They hail from the UK, and as with most emo acts, they tend to deny or efface the term (wars refer to themselves as “post-hardcore”). Similarly, as with most emo acts, there are enough elements akin to those of metalcore to satisfy the more open-minded (or younger) metallers out there.

Like the more recent (and on an unrelated note, far less interesting or likeable) Senses Fail, wars lean more philosophical and thoughtful than you’ll typically find in the genre, eschewing the usual Hot Topic “goth kid” suicidal masochistic ‘screwed up romance’ business in favor of larger ideas and more existential ponderings.

From what I’m seeing, wars rage against birth into this world and an unfair if not indifferent universe, jumping off from the “man’s inhumanity to man” vibe you’d expect from their moniker to a wider scale frustration at the nature of our place in the big picture of existence as a whole.

Or maybe I’m just reading too much into it and giving the boys more credit than they’re due, who the hell knows.

I was happy enough with it, and for the genre and style they’re working in, wars do themselves good.

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Seven Kingdoms – Decennium (self-released) (January 31)

Beneath that rather excellent cover lies a rather decent, decidedly melodic and reasonably retro-trad inclined symphonic power metal band.

Female fronted, with Sabrina Valentine’s vocals coming off a tad too light and sweet for the driving Helloween meets Rhapsody (of Fire) by way of classic Accept sound the band’s working, but it’s not a complaint that stretches very far – when she opens up her throat and lets it rip, it works well enough, and Valentine ultimately comes off like a cross between the late Sabine Dunstler (Elis) and Edenbridge’s Sabine Edelsbacher – hardly bad names to find oneself compared to.

The band is very trad metal in terms of leads and overall orientation, despite close adherence to the Helloween-derived relentlessly speed-driven power metal template, and you can pick out the Maidenisms and bits of classic thrash riffing amidst the din.

The leads and guitar tones are particularly pleasant, sounding a tad Loudness (are they working off a Rockman system like Akira Takasaki back in the day? The harmonic-oriented tones are certainly there, but it’s a lot fatter in tone than the Obsession/Randy Rhoads-style wah pedal set to open position thing most bands work in trying to get this sound…) Either way, it worked, and quite well at that.

I liked this one a hell of a lot, and the biggest surprise here is that it’s a self release…you’d think a proper label would have sniffed out a band of this level of quality and polish by now. Hell, there are much, much shittier acts being broadly feted on a global scale solely due to big label promotion…when a band like Seven Kingdoms would be far more deserving thereof.

No justice in this fucking world, I tell ya.

Well, here’s doing our part.

Horns way the fuck up.

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Ottone Pesante – Brassphemy (Set in Stone) (self released)

HAHAHAHAHA!!!!!

You know, when bandleader Francesco Bucci dropped me a line asking for us to review his album, I knew I was going to be in for something amusing. The way he emphasized that they “play metal” brought an instant smirk to my face and twinkle to the eye. This should be fun…

Sure enough, I pop this one in, and there’s a small brass section (trumpet and trombone with drums) doing full on arrangements that are unmistakeably metal. And extreme metal at that.

I felt like I recognized some riffs here and there, but the song titles didn’t ring any bells, and if any of this is a straight up cover of some thrash/death/black metal classic, they’re not giving…

They speak of being “more brutal and technical” than previously – can’t speak to that, but there’s no question that they’re working the sort of complicated, busy riffing you normally find only in the annals of “extreme” metal…and as absurdly hilarious as this intrinsically becomes (picture your marching band covering anything from Slayer to At the Gates and Suffocation and you get the idea), there’s no mistaking what they’re trying to do.

Not your grandpa’s marching band, that’s for sure…

Personally, I thought this was hilarious…i.e. great. But you know me, I love bands like Drescher, Trollfest and Kontrust…so it was kind of a given.

Your best bet? Get a few drunken buddies over, crack open a few, then check this one out.

Odds are, you’ll not only have this on order within minutes, you’ll be booking a trip to check out one of their live shows (if you read this right away, they may still be touring around Hungary, Slovakia/Slovenia or the Czech Republic).

Fun, funny stuff…and you have to appreciate the time it probably took to work up these arrangements.

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DOCTOR LIVINGSTONE – Triumphus Haeretici (Osmose Productions) (February 26)

(sigh)

Yep, you guessed it from the Crowley self portrait-style scribble of a cover…it’s yet another “occult black metal” act.

You know the kind. Guys who’ll waste a 16 minute long opening track on nothing but whispering and light ambient noise. Yeah, you really got me into it, guys. Totally put me in a trance, there.

pfft.

There is enough unusually uptempo aggression tossed into the mix, when they actually bother to start playing, that is, to leave me with a bit of a cocked eyebrow. It’s less boring and hard to listen to than usual, let’s put it that way.

Even so, having the drums pick the pace up beyond a low murmur and shriek-puking like a mental patient does not a proper black metal album make.

To say this was better than usual for this seriously annoying sub-subgenre of metal is far from being any sort of compliment.

Just says I hated it a little less than with the extreme vehemence that generally applies.

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Terrifier – Weapons of Thrash Destruction (Test Your Metal) (January 20)

In case you couldn’t tell from that great and rather colorful cover, this is yet another of the thrash revivalists, and equally unsurprisingly, they hail from the Great White North – specifically, Vancouver BC.

This is a retro-trad minded subgenre to the core, so it’s also somewhat of a given that I’d be happy with this one – you can go on about the history of all the underground niches as much as you like, but thrash was there first, kids.

So do you really need to hear that I can pick out riffs and licks clearly inspired by if not swiped from classic Bay Area thrash acts like Exodus, Vio-Lence, Heathen, Dark Angel and Forbidden?

They’ve got the right guitar tone, mixing the crunchy with the slightly too thin (but it really brings out the harmonics and sounds great on the dual lead lines), even the crazed vocals bring folks like Baloff, early Chuck Billy and Don Doty to mind.

It depends how hard up you are to hear another (and far more modern) addition to the classic thrash canon, really…but if you’re going by sheer authenticity of feel, sound and to some extent production (it was a bit too hissy overall…though the guitar tones and those points where the vocal was somewhat awash in reverb were dead on), then Terrifier is your new go-to.

I sure as hell liked ’em…and a lot more than several far more celebrated acts in this revival genre I could name.

Deserve to be top tier in the current scene. Horns up.

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Necronomicon – Advent of The Human God (Season of Mist) (March 25)

Blackened death metal from Quebec. Don’t confuse this with the more atmospheric and sinister Quebecois scene you’ll catch on labels like Sepulchral, though – this is more in the Belphegor/Behemoth/Dimmu school.

Apparently these guys were poking around a bit in the 90’s, but their output has been sporadic at best – 4 years from demo to EP, another 4 to the first album, 7 from their 2nd to 3rd. Of late, they’ve been a bit more consistent with 3 year intervals, but to say you have 2 albums and an EP over 20 years time doesn’t exactly qualify you as prolific…

There’s a lot of keyboard swirling around over the relentless double bass trills and hyper-aggro blastbeats and the slightly spastic guitar riffing that accompanies their drummer. Seriously, it’s that skewed – the drums really seem to be leading the band here, and we ain’t talking Tony Williams Lifetime either.

Vocals are strictly in the middle tier death metal school of bands like Baphomet and Desultory, which is fine by me…but a bit odd if you’re working more of a black metal (or more specifically, black death) aesthetic.

Production is very in your face and quite dry…overly so, in fact. Every instrument is crystal clear and powerful in the mix, which in a way should be good, but on the flipside, you lose any sense of the organic.

It’s pretty (melo)dramatic stuff, and certainly deserving of being mentioned in the same breath as Belphegor…but do I like ’em as much? Will this stand the test of time, or gather dust on the shelf? The fact that I’m sitting here pondering questions like that says something.

I could easily see more easily impressed corners of the metal world drooling and offering obesiance to Necronomicon – it’s certainly polished, powerful and something you wouldn’t be ashamed to play in front of strangers (trust me, some of the shit that comes our way every month does fall under that header…).

Me, I’m a bit tougher to satisfy, unless ya catch me in a pretty good mood.

Objectively speaking? Good stuff, they’re certainly on their game.

Just not sure I’m overly excited about it.

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Dark Messiah – S/T (self released) (December 2)

Tommy Victor from Prong, meet Billy Milano from M.O.D.. OK, you’re the vocals.

Now take some weird hybrid between Exhorder (or more likely Pantera) and post-Mustaine, post-Burton Metallica. You run the rest of the band.

That’s pretty much what you get here.

Not the worst thing I’ve heard by a long shot – at least there’s a measure of very, very late 80’s Metallica riffing (in their last gasps of still claiming to be a thrash band, circa Justice for All) to be found here.

But it’s kind of silly at the same time, particularly with those “beg to differ” meets “don’t feed the fucking bears” gargle-shout vocals.

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Van Halst – World of Make Believe (self-release) (March 4)

Into Veronica Freeman from Benedictum? Ever wish they were a tad less “metal” and a bit more hard rock with touches of pop radio “gothic metal” ala
Evanescence? If so, c’mere. Got one for ya.

Toronto’s Van Halst is a two-female/three man operation that sounds very much like Ms. Freeman took up residence with Eva O (this applies both vocally and physically – there is a notable resemblance on both accounts).

The band wavers between the aforementioned and odd “rock” tangents (“plastic smile” incorporates a slow Kevin Haskinslike tribal drumming and Chris Isaakesque quavering Silvertone guitar), but the general feel is less metal of any sort than a semi-metallized hard rock…something we’ve also accused Benedictum of.  Again, full circle stop.

Nothing wrong with this sort of thing – it’s pretty bar band/local opening act
in tone…but some folks may find the pointedly feminist lyrical bent a touch
offputting.

Fair enough. Not really my thing, but you won’t be running to change the dial
either.

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Jupiter Hollow – Odyssey (EP) (self-release) (January 13)

Ontario prog rock duo very much in the Rush/Trytan vein. In fact, Kenny Parry (vox/drums) could be the long lost son of Geddy Lee, tonally speaking…it’s pretty damn close.

Hell, Grant MacKenzie (guitar/bass) similarly pulls off a sort of
Hemispheres/Farewell to Kings/Caress of Steel-era Alex Lifeson minus the
somewhat predictable back and forth modulation schtick, and while Parry’s no Neil Peart, he definitely keeps things busy on that end.

There are some noise metal…er, math metal elements that bleed in late in the album (“over 50 years” almost made me stop the album right there), but overall, this is like an alternate universe Rush, one who came into being post-Dream Theater.

The earlier half of the album is more solid, melodic and likeable than the
more…”challenging” latter end, but there’s no questioning their chops.

Definitely has promise.

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SATAN – Un Deuil Indien (Throatruiner) (February 17)

French blackened…punk? 

yeah, apparently so…unfortunately, think more “occult black metal” than either “blackened thrash” or “punk”.

Every song sounds the same, and bar the short running time and crazed Lucky Lehrer-style drumming, you’d be forgiven for not even noticing this wasn’t yet another of the Pile of Dead Bards that is “occult black metal”.

neeeeext…

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SOLITARY – THE DISEASED HEART OF SOCIETY (UKEM) (March 3)

Hmm.

A UK thrash band. Well, OK, I like Xentrix well enough, and Re-Animator weren’t half bad in their Condemned to Eternity days, save for the shite production.

Wait…you mean they formed in the mid-90s?

As in the middle of the grunge era? When every remaining metal diehard had either hung up their denim and leathers or tried to “go grunge” or “do industrial”?  Shit, even black metal wasn’t far from the end of even its next wave glory days…

OK, so poor timing and national origin aside, let’s back this up and give the blokes a chance, oi? They might be a lot o’ right geezers…

Vocalist (and second guitar) Richard Sherrington does his best to appropriate the Xentrix growl with a curl at the end…you know that silly “yee-EEEAHHHHH” thing Chris Astley always does? OK, fair enough. Didn’t bother me with Xentrix, and shows a bit of national scene solidarity.

The guitars are crunchy if a bit thin toned, again coming off more Xentrix than not.

Drums are punchy and unspectacular, by which I mean “not flashy”. He can pull off a few nice rolls and fills, but keeps things rather straightforward… overly so, in fact. Again, rather Xentrixlike.

Oh, look, promo materials make light comparison to bands like:

Slayer (no. Not in the least.)

Testament (hmm…OK, yeah, I can see that, if we’re limiting this to The New Order through The Ritual era.)

Forbidden (mmm…veeeeery tenous, but Testament is to Forbidden as…you get the train of thought they were pursuing there.)

and oh, lookee here...Xentrix.

Fair enough. Xentrix with a hint of latter-Skolnick era Testament (nobody touches The Legacy, interestingly enough…another first album career high point for ya).

If you were dying for a new album from either of those two bands that sounds and feels like what they were doing in their arguable prime, Solitary should fill your bill quite admirably.

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Witherfall – Nocturnes and Requiems (Witherfall Music LLC) (February 10)

White Wizzard and Iced Earth alumni come together for this melodic power metal project, which also serves as the last recording of drummer Adam Sagan.

It’s well produced and melodic, the cleaner vocal sections are pretty sweet (think Styx or The Sweet by way of Edenbridge) and the playing is decent – particularly, sadly enough, the drumming.

I can’t say this one really did much for me, particularly given all the pointless, wasted tangents (“what are we dying for”, “act II”, “the great awakening” and “finale” could all easily have been disposed of, you’d have a much tighter album on your hands)…but it’s rather nice when the band’s actually doing something, the vocal choruses are quite that uplifting and likeable and that drumming is going down.

Has some seriously admirable moments, just be prepared to wade through the sewer to find ’em…or keep your finger on those fast forward and skip buttons!

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Mustan Kuun Lapset – Saatto (Inverse)

Another band who prematurely announced their end only to bounce right back in full fighting form, we’d previously offered praise for their Kuolemanvirta EP and this full length does not disappoint the lofty expectations that brief offering left.

In fact, this is one of the most melodically oriented, dramatic takes on the overall black metal template I’ve come across…can we coin the phrase “meloblack”? Sounds ridiculous, but that’s what these Finns are working, without a doubt…

In point of fact, the sheer bombast of their sound would seem to say “Pagan metal” more than not, but lesser, comparatively hissy production and some virulent black metal snarl vox state decidedly otherwise.

Either way, the listener wins out on the deal, with a jaunty, paganesque feel to the lead lines, keyboard-enhanced crunchy and ever-forward thrusting guitars, occasional folkish breaks (again, a staple of pagan metal), crowd participation-oriented choruses and overdramatic bass lines that practically scream an emo background. Hmm, maybe we should rethink this…I guess they are pretty pagan metal overall…

Whether you classify them as a particularly black metal inclined pagan metal act or a particularly melodic variant of black metal proper (and the more I listen to this album, the more I lean towards the former), it’s damn good stuff, with enough anthemicness and melody to get any crowd riled up and shouting along.

Raise the Viking…er, Suomalaiset I guess? horns.

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Rajalla – Diktaattori (Inverse) (December 30)

Another thrash revival act, this time out of Finland.

You’ll recognize some of the riffing style, but the production’s kind of off: the bass line is fat and prominent, the drums are in the forefront and kind of annoying in their simplicity and hissy cymbalness, and the vocals are right up the middle, with guitars buried behind everyone else.

There’s also a distinct lack of urgency to the band’s sound. They’re working a classic midtempo sound, which is fine (bands like Metallica, Exodus and Overkill were known for their crunchy midtempo riffing) except for the fact that…they come off sort of sleepy and relaxed for a thrash band, even when they’re in high gear (“ihmisviha”).

Tag in a very incongrous vocal style (far more aggro/shouter than thrasher), and what you get is a sorta acceptable but rather outside of template and ultimately unspectacular Euro take on Bay Area thrash.

I won’t slam ’em for trying, but meh.

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Scarecrow – Exterminators of the Year 4000 (Inverse) (December 19)

OK, I picked up the AFI-esque punk orientation right away, so it’s probably not a huge shock to find that Scarecrow consider themselves a horrorpunk band.

What’s a bit off is that the guitars, probably aided and abetted by some rather muffled production, leave the riffing (when sans modern punk-style lead lines) and drumming style (which leans towards straight on double bass and not much syncopation) sorta metal sounding as opposed to punk proper.

Also, the vocalist goes in for the Mighty Mighty Bosstones cum Tom G. Warrior gargling Chocomel school of gargle-grunting…not unheard of (hence the Bosstones), but not what most folks associate with punk. Like the aforementioned issues with the riffing and drumming style, it’s not a deal breaker, but comes off a bit odd, overall.

More akin to Misfits/early AFI/Vladimirs template horrorpunk, we have Danzigesque howl/chant backing vocals and songs dedicated to such genre favorites as Horror of Party Beach and Herschell Gordon Lewis’ the Gore Gore Girls. Surprised Arch Hall’s Eegah didn’t come up…

Not bad, but again, rather far from the template they ascribe to adherence of.

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Hate Unbound – Plague  (Inverse Records) (February 17)

Weird modern metal hybrid of annoying aggro-style vocals, vaguely (modern) thrash guitars and an overall (modern) death metal feel (particularly on the drums).

Extremely disjointed at points (“baptized in lies”, “burn your idols”) and hard to get into.

Next…

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Skeletal – Dreadful Life (Inverse Records) (February 3)

Driving and fast death metal who seem to borrow more from Slayer and more polished, late 90’s variants of black metal in terms of riffing and approach than they do Obituary or Deicide.

So it’s sorta blackened death/thrash…albeit with a Martin Van Drunen wannabe on vocals.

Go figure.

It ain’t Slayer…nor is it Malevolent Creation, Demolition Hammer or Pestilence…or Dimmu, Emperor or Cradle of Filth either.

I guess if you’re into what my father used to call “mud pie”, go ahead, throw all that incongrously incompatible shit in a blender and enjoy your Skeletal smoothie.

Next…

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NORÐ – Alpha (Inverse Records) (March 3)

Odd Danish affair that mixes elements of doom, punk in the 90’s/millenial sense and modern metal with annoying aggro puke vox and a vaguely Rick Rubinesque use of negative space.

However.

Being recorded fairly “dead”, that means when nobody’s playing a note or hitting a drum, the sound just…stops. Since this is home studio/midi/ProTools recording, that means no studio ambience or reverb like you’d hear from Rubin’s glory days – it just goes…dead silent.

Nothing wrong with the band’s appropriating use of negative space – in fact, it’s wholly underused nowadays. But with this production style…it just comes off kinda weird.

Similarly, the drums and guitars, while as crisp and clear as the vocals in one sense…feel kind of muffled in another. It’s hard to explain – it’s as if you were standing right in front of the amp, the PA and the drum kit simultaneously, but then stuffed a big wad of cheesecloth in your ears or something.

I have to admit, the oddness of approach and recording leaves Nord’s Alpha as interesting…which is more than I can say for a few too many bands that have been reviewed over the years in these pages. So take that much as a plus.

Whether you actually like it or not is on you.

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Blood Region – For All the Fallen Heroes (Inverse)  (January 26)

Finnish melodic power metal act. Typically, if amusingly, they decline allegiance to any specific genre beyond “traditional and melodic”, even coining their own faux-genre designation of “Korpi-metal” (as in Korpiklaani).

There are elements that hint of pagan metal (the growly Viking-style vox, some traditional instrument/double acoustic guitar sections), but the dividing line between the European strain of power metal and pagan/Viking is often a bit thin…so there’s nothing particularly new or unique about what Blood Region has on tap here.

I did appreciate all the melodic orientation, particularly on the extended instrumental sections (and non-vocal tracks like “in my father’s room”), but that’s been a hallmark of Finnish metal for ages, whether you’re talking death (Amorphis), black (Satanic Warmaster) or otherwise.

Quite welcome, reasonably well produced and likeable enough.

But hardly anything new under the sun.

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Damage Limit – Crank (Secret Entertainment) (January 13)

Remember the Hollywood scene from the very late 80’s and very early 90’s?  You know, glam bands on one end, GNR style junkie acts trying to be Aerosmith or Hanoi Rocks on the other. Some of ’em were pretty damn good (Dirty Looks, early L.A. Guns, Vain)…others kinda blew, maybe squeezing one or two good tracks out of an otherwise barren catalogue of material.

OK, so Damage Limit is Helsinki’s version thereof. If you discount Hanoi Rocks, anyway.

Luckily, they definitely seem to err on the side of “pretty damn good”, with some decent guitar playing from Mikael Tiiro and vocalist/guitarist Samu Peltonen and a generally driving hard rock/glam sound overall.

It ain’t exactly Vain…but who the hell else is?

I’m good with it. Raise your rusting cans of Aqua Net in salute.

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Rückwater – Bonehead (Secret Entertainment) (February 24)

Stoner rock, but with a more upbeat, vaguely 70’s radio rock orientation.  If they’re stoned, it’s probably not the wacky weed, let’s put it that way…this is too aggressive and fast paced.

Then later in the album, they go almost punk (“bonehead”). Then slow it down to a spacier, Faunts-like thing (“flame doesn’t cast a shadow”).

Don’t ask me.

Weird shit, and far from what you’d expect from the “stoner rock” label.

Clearly they’re tripping on something other than bud.

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At The Hollow – We Are The Night – Live (Suomen Musiikki) (December 16)

OK, this is some fella named Kalle Koo. Apparently he’s just released a debut album a year or so back…so how do you follow that up?

That’s right, with a live album!

(pauses, cocks eyebrow, scratches head Stan Laurel style)

uh…anyway, this is sort of emo lite. The same sort of whining confessional aesthetic, but without the screamo bits or the (modern) punk sound to bolster it.

Actually surprised this one didn’t come from Prophecy, it’s more or less in that vein of dark to the point of moribund, neo-folkness…just without the atmosphere or gothic folk bits.

I could see this one being a hit with the hipster crowd, for sure.

(shrugs shoulders)

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Mosaic – Old Man’s Wyntar (Eisenwald)

Reissue and expansion of the contemplative bordering on ambient Deutscher black metal act’s 2014 EP.

They tagged on 3 tracks (one of which clocks in at a whopping 22m), included a few guest spots (including the guy behind Third Eye regulars Grift) and added English translations of the lyric sheet, so if you dig these guys, it’s probably a no brainer of an upgrade.

This is that hard to describe variant of black metal that covers bands like Vardan and many of the Quebecois crowd: slow, atmospheric, haunting and transporting. They pull in a few neofolkish elements, but it never really goes pagan or Viking metal; they syncretize, but without really falling into the trap of “post black metal” hipsterdom. While not my go to when it comes to black metal, this style is always more than acceptable, and subject to random revisitations and repeat spins throughout the years.  It simply works.

Suitable for long solo treks through the woods, particularly after dark, and while some of the new material doesn’t hold up to the original EP tracks in either style or quality, the 22 minute “silver nights” fits like a glove, and is well worth checking out…as are the original 6 tracks that comprised the 2014 version.

Join the chorus of howling wolves in salute to our Teuton brethren.

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The Flight Of Sleipnir – Skadi (Eisenwald)

Doom-oriented stoner rock goes kinda black metal. We reviewed their V a few years back, and not a lot has changed save perhaps production values.

And on that front, this one sounds pretty damn good, particularly in the quieter, more chanted acoustic sections. Can’t fault the production here in the least – crisp, plenty of distinction between instruments, not much hiss or signal bleed, just a fat, clean sound that lets you pick out every note, every hit of the skins while being pleasantly marked by reverb and (very) light delay.

In other words, it sounds cold. It sounds night. It sounds rather 80’s metal, production wise…and that’s something you seldom hear nowadays, to the scene’s detriment.

In fact, the production on this is so nice and well suited to what the band’s laying down, that I actually found myself enjoying Skadi, which resonated in a way that V never did (or presumably could). It’s not the greatest thing since sliced bread or whatever, but the mix of the rather excellent production and the band’s material and performance this time just works, where V didn’t.

Yeah, all of this stuff is somewhat subjective, at least in terms of how well things come off after noting the more objective pluses and minuses of performance, adherence to style and genre and production…so you can argue that maybe I was just more receptive this time around.

But I doubt it.

I’ll give ’em a well deserved nod for upping their game. Good production only takes you so far…it takes good material, well performed to seal the deal.

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Pillorian – Obsidian Arc (Eisenwald)  (February 10)

Members of bands you’ve probably heard of like Agalloch, Uada and Infernus (the band, not Gorgoroth mainman Roger Tiegs) come together to work some more contemplative black metal in a similar ballpark to that of Mosaic…but far more aggressive and in your face in terms of production, vocals and drums.

In other words, it made me pretty happy, when it worked.

And when it worked? Really twice: “By the light of a black sun.” “Forged iron crucible.”

They come close with “dark is the river of man”, but it’s not quite there.  Other tracks veer too far into atonality or simply lose the plot, with too little of the ambient mournful thing (“stygian pyre”, “archeon divinity”, “vestige of thorns”) or far too much of the ambient and not enough actual song (“sentient arcanum”).

So the bottom line here?

Two excellent tracks. If they’d kept down the paths they blazed therein, this would have been an easy 5 star review.

Unfortunately, that appears to be all they had…the rest is unwanted filler.

Consider it an excellent 7″ single, and ignore the rest of the album.

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Hymn – Perish (Svart Records) (February 17)

OK, this one I don’t get.

“Rise” kicks things off with a good 12 minutes of stonerish doom riffing.  The vocals don’t fit, but consider it an anomaly at this point.

Then “serpent” comes along, and it’s sort of death/thrash riffing…that turns kind of underground black metal (or blackened death). Again, the vocals really don’t fit.

Things more or less stay in this vein, somewhere between atonal underground blackened death, doom and stoner, but with these perfectly shit aggro/screamo vocals.

BLEEAHHH BLAAAHH BLEEEARRGH BLAAAAAHHHH! Over, say, Trouble riffs. That suddenly go all atonal for no reason whatsoever. That feels kind of blackened.

Yeah, I don’t know what the fuck these guys were going for…but it doesn’t work.

Next…

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Pintandwefall – Red and Blue Baby (Svart Records) (January 27)

Remember the indie rock scene? You know, 120 minutes, proto-hipsters, snotty “college rockers” who pushed their horn rimmed glasses up the bridge of their noses with skinny arms, snorting at you for your plebian tastes in music because you weren’t a fellow fan of this obscure band that sold like 12 copies worldwide?

Yeah, I remember the early to mid 90’s. They kinda sucked.

Well, Pintandwefall, through no presumed fault of their own, is one of those kind of bands, that the hipster kids and Seattle-and-Sub Pop worshipping slackers of your acquaintance would have latched onto and shoved in your face.

Kreator?  Snort…you probably listen to Motorhead or something. Did you have long hair and wear, like, a leather jacket? Were you in a band?  Was your girlfriend, like, one of your groupies?  Snort…here’s this Cardigans album.  Have you heard Inspiral Carpets?  Hazel?  I didn’t think so…

So, anyway, now that we’ve sort of established the sound these girls are putting out and the demographic they’re likely venerated by…well, what else is there to say?

Quirky, and very, very indie. Hipsters you know probably already have their last four albums in the collection…unless they’ve moved on to another obscure indie band in the interim.

Nothing wrong with it, if you dig, say, Camper Van Beethoven.

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Bathsheba – Servus (Svart Records) (February 24)

Female fronted doom/”sludge”. The clean, declamatory female vocals make it feel kind of “occult rock”, but the music says doom of the more detuned, sluggish and filthy sounding variety.

It’s interesting.

As the album progresses, there are more riffs and elements that speak to a stoner rock influence, and vocalist Michelle Nocon tries to get a little growly and ooky spooky at points (which doesn’t work in the least), but you can safely classify this as doom and be done with it.

Overall, works pretty damn well – as usual, it’s the unnecessary syncretist elements that fuck the works.

Run some Gunk Out through the engine, Bathsheba’ll be as good as gold.

She’ll run like a tigress, if we can just get’er to stick to being the doom metal machine she actually is.

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Força Macabra – 25 Anos (Svart Records) (December 9)

Finnish act pretending to be Portugese.  And they’ve been doing this since the early 90’s, almost nonstop (their last album was in 2008, but that’s their longest break by factors of years).

The plus is, they “get” South American blackthrash…albeit perhaps without the blackened end. Don’t expect Sarcofago, early Sepultura or Holocausto here…but you get an idea of the punkified speed, aggression and straightforwardness they’re putting out.

Crossover punk/thrash in a way, but very much in the South American style.

Yeah, I don’t get how these guys hail from Finland either.

But I sure as fuck dug this one.

Start a pit, and prepare to have a few bones broken.

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Abhorrence – Totally Vulgar – Live at Tuska Open Air 2013 (Svart Records) (February 10)

Holy crap! Tomi Koivusaari’s pre-Amorphis band is back together…and I mean the entire lineup…and sounding better than ever.

They cover 9 of their mere 10 song track record (“the macabre masquerade” is strangely absent, but that’s the only one…) here in a live setting, which while marked by the thin, outdoor festival tone you’d expect, actually sounds pretty full and powerful (likely ripped direct from a well-managed soundboard)…in most cases, moreso than the original versions!

Amorphis “covered” Abhorrence’s “vulgar necrolatry” back on their own masterwork The Karelian Isthmus, so those unfamiliar with the band’s brief history should have a fair idea of the straight ahead death metal sound to expect here. Which is to say, well worth your time.

As one of those who tuned out when Amorphis went all clean vocalled and sweet, the reunion (and vague hints of new material on the horizon) is much welcomed on the part of yours truly…and as such, can’t recommend this enough for fans of old school death metal and early Amorphis in particular…and Abhorrence is a much better death metal band of the more template variety than Amorphis was in their Privilege of Evil days, that’s for damn sure!

Great stuff, looking forward to seeing some new material from these guys.

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PH – Eternal Hayden (Svart) (March 10)

Not a million miles removed from Canada’s quirky yet interesting Faunts (of Mass Effect’s “M2” fame), Finland’s oddly monikered Mr. Peter Hayden (now going by the NKOTB-style intialized abbreviation of “PH”) similarly meld an effects-laden electronic orientation to a doomier space rock aesthetic…which belies that genre’s retro Hawkwind/stoner leanings (Monstermagnet, anyone?) by feeling quite modern.

With an appropriately polished sheen (evocative of the steel and glass silicates of a putative space vessel, as well as the frigid emptiness of the vacuum of space itself), PH (if you will) could fit without much argument into the end titles of a Mass Effect title…which brings things back full circle to Faunts.

There’s enough difference in tonality and ostensible direction between the two bands, alright – PH manages to come off more organic in feel, with a tad too much groundedness and doom/stoner leanings to work in terms of accompaniment to proper hard SF like Faunts did quite so well. But there’s also less of the stink of hipster swirling about here – if anything, a track like “rock and roll future” feels a tad emo – a sort of Senses Fail gone trippy, in a way. It’s strange.

There’s plenty of sub-Tangerine Dream, neo-Rheingold keyboard driving matters, or more precisely, pulling the doomy, stonerish guitar and drum bits in a more spacey, psychedelicized but decidedly chilly and emotionless direction, and this is in fact what elevates the band’s otherwise trancey drones and retro leanings from being yet another disposable stoner act.

They straddle genres, but deftly and quirkily enough to feel somewhat original…if you count “feeling a hell of a lot like Faunts gone in a different direction” as original, that is.

I was quite happy with this one – like the best Quebecois-style contemplative/ambient leaning black metal, this one’s ideal for introspective solitary moments and nighttime walks through empty woods…or at least sparsely populated streets.

Surprisingly good stuff.

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CODE – Lost Signal (Agonia Records) (January 25)

Another fascinating turnaround.

You may remember our crossing paths with Code previously, on the somewhat iffy syncretist affair Augur Nox and the aimlessly atonal affair Mut but neither time actually worked…particularly not in the case of Mut.

So why does Lost Signal, a revisitation of tracks from past albums (three of which hail from Mut itself!) actually work?

I mean, it’s not perfect by any stretch, but I was able to sit through this one more than once, and found that some of it…particularly the new takes on the Mut material (!) was actually pretty decent.

Knock me over with a feather.

Apparently what they’d done here is to swap out stylistic flourishes. In other words, take the aimless, meandering approach (minus perhaps the atonality) that fucked the works on Mut and apply it to material from Augur Nox and earlier albums…and more importantly, take their earlier Augur Nox-era style and rework Mut-era material to suit.

I guess it makes sense why it works better this time…they effectively took Mut and did it as if it was Augur Nox. The former may have been a bit odd and syncretist, but overall, it worked…at least a hell of a lot better than Mut did!

Even so, credit where it’s due – Lost Signal works in at least the same manner and degree to which Augur Nox did…possibly, at a few years remove from diving into said album, even better.

Who knows, maybe yours truly has mellowed a bit, having been exposed to so much detritus over the past few years. Plenty of damn good stuff, too…but you know, you start grading on a bit of a curve after a while.

Then again…you know how vicious and blunt we can get, when merited. So I’m not buying that train of thought for more than a station or two.

End result: Code done themselves proud, making up for Mut and at least equalling Augur Nox. Give the boys a well deserved round of applause for that.

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Skogen – Eld (Nordvis Produktion) (February 24)

We’d reviewed their I DodenVittra and Svitjod, the latter of which reviews called out for a reissue of this very album.

As we’d pretty much loved all of them…well, perhaps a bit less in terms of Vittra, but even that debut effort had its merits…did you really expect less of Eld?

As Skogen is one of those (sadly all too rare) bands who actually improves with each successive release, realize that Eld is the third of thier four albums to date, with only personal favorite I Doden following. And given that you can pretty much rank the albums respective quality in terms of their release order, you already know where this one stands.

Ulveresque…not quite to the degree of the much maligned Myrkur, but the influence and stylistic comparisons are unmistakable…with generally good production, quality musicianship and sufficient atmosphere. Tag in more than a hint of early Primordial, and you’ve pretty much got the picture.

Sure, the simple fact is, if you’re going to check out one of their albums to date, I Doden is by far the one to go to. But if you dig black metal of this variety, you really can’t go wrong with Skogen.

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Draugurinn – Myrkraverk (Nordvis Produktion) (February 24)

We’d reviewed their Isavetur and found its extreme (and we do mean extreme) minimalism to be rather pointless. Revisitation of that album for this review only cements what was said last time around.

That noted, while very much of the same bent, Myrkraverk does improve on the Philip Glass goes all John Cage formula thereof by offering some more noticeable drones (possibly keyboard, though I wouldn’t be shocked if you said it was a swirling digeridoo) and horror movie soundtrack gargles and heavy breathing on certain tracks: “uroarmani”, “purizas” and “nornaskapur” sound positively Deicidean by comparison to Isavetur.

It’s all very American Indian tribal by way of Buddhist temple in feel, but so much of the album is simply wasted space where nothing happens. Even at their “busiest” (i.e. the three tracks noted hereinabove), the best way to describe it is exactly how we’d done it two years back:

“Great intro, seriously. So when’s the song gonna start?”

Given all that, definitely an improvement, and if you stick to the tracks where something…anything actually happens, it certainly sets a mood.

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Tervahäät – Kalmonsäie (Nordvis Produktion) (February 17)

We’d reviewed their self titled and if I’m not mistaken, they’re still using the same (admittedly quite evocative) promo photo.

Little if anything has changed between the two albums, save a slightly more in your face production…so I refer the curious to the earlier review for a still quite apropos description of the duo’s sound and approach (which remains equally applicable to the album in question today).

Not far removed from what Draugurinn is doing, but much busier and more folky in feel.

As you might expect, certainly sets a mood.

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Falls of Rauros – Vigilance Perennial (Bindrune Recordings / Nordvis Produktion) (March 31)

Often fascinating black metal spectrum band operating somewhat in the pagan/folkish tradition. But in saying that, expect more of a cross between Wolves in the Throne Room meets Wayward Sons-era Skyclad, with some riffs that feel quite…70’s rock in a vaguely proggish sense. Rushlike, sort of…but only hinting at that.

This is what makes Falls of Rauros interesting – they hint at influences and tangents more than pursuing them wholeheartedly. I even hesitate somewhat to slap them with the label of “post-black metal”, because bands that work in that particular arena tend to be far more obvious in their hipster/indie rock/shoegaze inclinations. Though you can certainly throw them under that umbrella without a hell of a lot of argument, this is nonetheless a more subtle affair overall.

If you’re going to be all syncretist, merging 70’s (prog-leaning) rock, indie schmutters, black metallish vox and guitars and who the hell knows what else, this is probably the way to do it.

While the mere mention of (very) early Skyclad seems rather inappropriate (Wayward Sons was a killer album through and through, nothing they’ve done since even comes close to touching it), there is a similarity of quirkiness, of difficulty in locking down exactly what genre the band belongs to…and not in the annoying sense of far too many acts nowadays, but in the sense of being something of a curiosity.

Excellent production, strong playing skills and musicianship, introspective but oddly “upbeat” (in the sense of something like Faunts rather than in the contemplative black metal manner).

Now, don’t mistake this for black metal proper, because it’s certainly not that – no satanic psychobabble or corpsepaint to be found herein. But again…it’s somewhat superior to, more seasoned and mature feeling than most “post-black metal”. The pagan/folkishness is far from template as well, aside from the band’s lyrical bent – this is hardly, say, Northern Oak we’re talking.

Also, don’t mistake my cocked eyebrow fascination for a wholehearted raised horns – I’m actually not sure how I feel about a band that feels this “fake” representing itself as (some variant of) black metal.

But if you’re looking for something different, thoughtful, well-played and properly produced that leans rather more prog than BM, this is a damn good choice for your next venture into more or less uncharted waters.

Taken as its own quirky, somewhat unique specimen, I can stand behind the pronounced quality and listenablity hereof.

So yeah, I liked it.

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Janne Westerlund – There’s a Passage (Ektro) (February 17)

Circle veteran pulls a Bruce Cockburn, stretching both new material and reworked Circle tracks through often archaic and obscure corners of music history – nigh Gregorian chant, weird, pagan to folkish dirges, dobro-inflected Southern acoustic blues, all delivered in a nasal, Dylanesque vocal tone.

Yeah, it’s not quite up to the level of Cockburn’s musical and stylistic archeology (and if you haven’t already dug into his storied Christmas album, what the fuck are you waiting for?  It’s seriously amazing…, the mere fact that Westerlund evokes such with his efforts here says a hell of a lot more than I could by rambling on about the specifics of each track.

Check it out – I’ll personally guarantee that if you know and appreciate what Cockburn was doing on the aforementioned album, you won’t be disappointed by what Westerlund’s doing here.

Damn good stuff.

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Baxter Stockman – Haul (Ektro) (February 24)

Hard driving, catchy indie rock.

Which is really fucking strange, given how obnoxiously unlistenable Punter tended to be.

Even so, some of the review there still applies – it’s still rather Rollins Band, but with a lot less noise tangents this time around. Think with elements of Dinosaur Jr., perhaps – it’s still the same band, but far more cohesive in terms of song structure and much more likeable for all its quirkiness and noise orientation.

Like I said earlier, it’s driving and kinda catchy…so yeah, I kinda liked this one, for all the Scott Pilgrim Sex Bob-Bomb sort of thing they aspire towards becoming.

In fact, it sounds like they were on something of an upswing, in terms of musicianship and ability…which of course implies that something went wrong.

You guessed it…they broke up.

So enjoy this one, if so inclined…or not, if you prefer.  Because that’s all she wrote.

Maybe they’ll come back as Krang next time. Or they’ll have a sex change and dub themselves April O’Neil.

I hear weird shit like that’s popular nowadays.

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Persefone – Aathma (VICISOLUM PRODUCTIONS) (February 24)

Prog cum progressive death metal, but more in the positive sense (think Fates Warning, Cynic) than the eye rolling get me the fuck outta here one (Dream Theater, Opeth, Atheist).

Production’s excellent.  Keyboards are lush, layered guitar tones are both clean and crisp (on the lead/overdub tracks) and distorted and crunchy (on the base tracks), vocals switch between Euro-style clean and soaring bits and death growls. The drums are kept rather busy throughout, there’s plenty of syncopation and lots of time changes and motion through modes and cycling keys.

It’s still a bit too wheedly-whoo on the lead tones for my taste, but the band overall is aggressive enough and displays enough Racer X cum Marty Friedmanlike speed, accuracy and articulation to absolve them of the Petrucci/Myung school of legato pick every 27th note jacking off on the guitar nonsense. Whoops, I’ve managed to not pick another few arpeggio flourishes…can someone clean up that sticky mess on the floor? Assholes…

Anyway, the bottom line here is that Persefone’s a better band than that – the fact that they managed to drag Paul Maisvidal in for a guest spot should say something already. There’s a world of quality differential separating the good stuff from the dogshit, kids. Persefone, while displaying some failings along the way, thankfully inclines towards the positive end of the prog (/death) metal equation.

I was good with it.

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Ekpyrosis – Asphyxiating Devotion (Memento Mori) (January 23)

Italian old school death metal band. Things lean a bit towards the simplistic end, with from the depths of the bowels vocal growls and decidedly basic, detuned riffing. Promo materials mention Incantation; I guess if you cross that with Acheron, Baphomet, Necropsy, Morta Skuld and Demilich, but with a decidedly raw, Autopsylike guitar sound, you’d get something pretty damn close to Ekpyrosis.

I like a lot of those bands, and in case it wasn’t patently obvious, I love old school underground metal per se – that was my scene back when it was all happening. Did you think I wouldn’t enjoy the living shit out of this one?

Saluti, paisan. Keep the flame alive.

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Óreiða – Demo 1 (Signal Rex / Óreiða / Harvest Of Death) (January 20)

Not a hell of a lot of info on these guys, other than that they’re Icelandic. Promo materials quite accurately compare ’em to Les Legions Noires, but I’d say more specifically the moodier, less feted acts like Brenoiritvrezorkre, Belthazur and (arguably) Aakon Keetreh than bigger, more aggressively inclined names like Mutiilation, Vlad Tepes and Torgeist.

Moreover, there’s quite a bit of melodic orientation wending its way through this all too brief demo…something that becomes even more prominent with our next act (albeit to far lesser effect).

Raise the horns high.

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Ónefnt – Demo (Signal Rex / Óreiða / Harvest Of Death) (January 20)

As noted above, these guys take the melodicism of Oreioa and bring it to even greater prominence, but while they’re still very obviously working a (more obscure) Legions-inspired aesthetic, Onefnt seems to lose the plot along the way.

Don’t get me wrong – fans of this sound and feel should still find something at least vaguely worthwhile here to latch onto…

…just realize you’re going to have to dig a lot harder, and hang on a hell of a lot tighter than you would with the astronomically superior Oreioa.

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GRIMMD – Demo I – II (Signal Rex / Óreiða / Harvest Of Death) (January 20)

Another Icelandic black metal act, and by this point you start to realize just how good Oreioa was by comparison.

Losing the overt melodicism of Onefnt in favor of a more…well, not exactly Vlad Tepes style, but certainly more aggressive but still quite underground approach, Grimmd thereby manages to come off a whole hell of a lot better than Onefnt, while still falling far, far short of the increasingly better looking Oreioa in the process.

Not a bad pair of demos by a long shot…but if you’re looking for something Les Legions Noireslike, skip up to the last 3 tracks (likely the second demo, given the obvious change in recording quality and aggression). That end of this release works, and quite well at that – I guess you could compare them to the more aggressive Mutiilation, but with that silly yodel-howl vocal thing we’re seeing in far too many BM bands of
late.

Despite the comparative disappointment after the bar was set quite so high by Oreioa (you mean you haven’t grabbed that one already? Seriously?), Grimmd still pulls off some quality black metal of the decidedly underground and obscure variety, and I’m not disinclined to throw ’em the horns in salute.

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Selvans / Downfall of Nur – Downfall of Nur \ Selvans (Avantgarde Music) (November 7)

Black metal with a decidedly pagan bent…and weirdly, some symphonic elements as well.

Italy’s Selvans comes off as the better half of the split cum collaboration here, with a sort of ambient/contemplative feel marked by Jethro Tull-like flute and the sounds of nature that introduces some incongrously Dimmu-like keyboard bits before erupting into a tremelo-driven yet still quite melodic black metal affair.

Argentinians Downfall of Nur closes things out with a nice keyboard piece, but their main track is rather typical feeling for black metal of a given bent. I’m thinking UK/US in the Wolves in the Throne Room school of thought, but there’s something slightly more generic about this.

Not bad by a long shot – in fact, their two tracks are quite good, and you’d be hard pressed to find fans of the genre who walk away disappointed by this release or either band’s part therein…just compared to the gauntlet Selvans is throwing down, Downfall of Nur are simply a non-starter.

Matters are slightly complicated by the fact that the opener and closer (i.e. the two more specifically ambient oriented tracks, one from each band) were written and performed in collaboration…but both of those work quite well anyway. It’s the two central tracks that show the real difference in stylistics and quality between the two acts…and Selvans comes out the clear winner by a country mile.

Excellent release all around. Hails and raised horns in salute.

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Botanist / Oskoreien – EP3: Green Metal / Deterministic Chaos (Avantgarde Music) (December 22)

Another split, this time between a rather weird (in the best sense of the term) post-black metal act called The Botanist and a far more forgettable black/doom act of more recent vintage.

The Botanist is an amusingly Decadent-style affair whose concept revolves around a mythical postapocalyptic character named “Otrebor” whose whispers and shrieks revolve solely around paeans to specific plants (and insects).

Even more amusingly, though it sounds a whole hell of a lot like the sort of tinny, ringing guitars you get with a lot of indie and black metal bands, it’s actually drums accompanied by (of all things) hammered dulcimer…presumably processed with sufficient distortion to deliver the intended tremelo guitar-like effect.

While not exactly earth-shattering musically in any real respect (bar the level of “gimmick band”, which they fit quite admirably), the concept certainly tickles the fancy, and proves that you don’t have to focus on gore and diabolism to work a black/death sort of thing – you’d be hard pressed to deny this is black metal, or close enough to it that precious few would notice otherwise.

Black metal about orchids? Yeah, I’m there.

Oskoreien, on the other hand, has precious little to offer the listener beyond played out detuned doom riffing and that ridiculous howl/yodel/shriek thing every fucking crap neo-/post-/hipster-black metal band in existence seems to be gravitating towards of late.

Pure shit, really, at least on a certain level of aesthetics and scene dynamics…but here’s the caveat (and it’s a big one): it’s listenable enough if you lower your standards sufficient to appreciate the melodicism hidden therein.

So bottom line is, what’s your tolerance for experimentation and deviation from established template?

Personally, I enjoyed the shit out of the concept of The Botanist, and didn’t mind their sound herein either. While Oskoreien bored me to tears in a way…as noted, there was a strong thread of melodicism wending its way through an otherwise played out melange of doom and black metal elements that actually saved them in the end, all slags duly noted and set aside long enough to admit that.

Quirky and interesting pairing. Whether it’s seasoned to taste or not is contestable.

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Manetheren – The End (Avantgarde Music) (February 26)

Do yourself a favor.

I imagine you’re listening to this on an ipod or mobile device. Just play a few seconds of each track, then skip to the next.

Does every song sound EXACTLY the same?

Yeah, you noticed too.

Well, it doesn’t change all that much when you let them play out. Consider this “extremely slight variations on a theme”.

It’s sorta “occult black metal”, but with “post-black metal” touches that leave it with a vaguely “indie” feel.

If that sounds like a real gas to you, then have at it.

Me? I’m lighting a match.

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Asofy – Nessun Luogo (Avantgarde Music) (February 22)

Contemplative, mournful, mainly instrumental affair that sounds like something you might have found on Prophecy Produktions.

There’s a vaguely doomy feel, they name check Lycia in the promo materials, but it’s not really either, though both serve as touchpoints…as could the more dreamy elements of folks like Chris Isaak, Mazzy Star and especially Sono Morti.

It’s grim, late night music for the solo depressive or the very drunk as they fall into slumber. Nice production, a feel that borders both “post-black metal” and darkwave gothic rock ala classic Projekt Records but ascribes to the tropes of neither.

I liked it well enough for what it is.

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VILES VITAE (POR) – IV  (Caverna Abismal Records) (February 13)

Grim, sorrowful but aggressive Portugese black metal. The vocals are rather Glen Bentonesque (or Demolition Hammerlike if you prefer) in all their open mouthed, waggling tongue spit-snarling, but it fits strangely well with their more ambient/contemplative/arguably Quebecois oriented and melodic approach to black metal.

Play this to a newbie, they’d be lost as to how something this drivingly aggressive could possibly be classified as “ambient”…but veterans of the scene should get the score.

Damn good stuff. I’ll throw ’em a horns up.

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Ecferus – Shamaniacal Essence (Hellthrasher Productions) (January 20)

We’d reviewed their Pangaea almost exactly a year back and found them…somewhat questionable at best.

A band who cross Watain worship and atonal “occult black metal” orientation with a self-described “progressive” orientation, they’re a bit hard to appreciate, and the original three track EP this is an expansion and reissue of is no exception to that rule.

Which is why it’s a bit of a surprise to hear the new track “lobotomization portal ascent” appended hereto.

Now, admittedly, the main difference I’m picking up lies in terms of the (much improved) production – once you get to track 2, the quality drops measurably, losing most if not all of the studio ambience, crispness and fullness of bass the new track so proudly displays.

But listen to this stuff. Awash in reverb, quite obviously Danielsson-lite, noisy and thin…expressing a “meh” is really being nice about it.  So why does the first track work so well, and leave me wanting to reassess the band’s heretofore unnoticed potential?

Now, make no mistake – this is very openly grading on a curve. This is not a case of “wow, that was a killer random track on the radio, who did that?”, but rather a “oh, shit, it’s these clowns again…hey, wait, that’s not half bad…I was expecting so much worse!” Even so, credit where it’s due.

So who knows. Maybe Eceferus will continue down the route of fuller sound, better production and…well, yeah, that’s probably all it is, objectively speaking…and put out a release more in line with “lobotomization…”

As it stands, check out that track and see how it grabs ya…for Eceferus, it’s definitely an improvement.

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Vitriol – Vitriol (Hellthrasher Productions) (January 27)

Sludgy blackened death metal affair out of Germany. Promo materials call out Beherit and Incantation, and while I’d lean far closer to the latter than the former, I can see the argument thereto.

Not bad, really – just realize you’re dealing with a decidedly lo-fi demo release, and a quite underground aesthetic.

There’s a lot of bands working this sort of thing, so you can’t really claim they stand out in any way…but I don’t know, I found it listenable enough at the moment, and picked up vague hints of old school DM…dare we call something inclined to be quite this noisy and obnoxious “melodicism”?

Whatever. All I can tell you is that’s more than I can say for a lot of bands working this general style, so take that as a plus.

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Yith – Dread (Hellthrasher Productions) (February 10)

Black metal with a slightly downbeat feel and occasional moves into slower, doomier riffing territory.

Interestingly, they claim to draw lyrical inspiration from Lovecraft and M.R. James, which instantly endears them to my black Decadent gothic soul…the fact that they tap Huysmans favorite Odilon Redon for cover art cements their awareness of the finer sensibilities (however practiced or superficially recent) – so I raise a glass to you, gentlemen.

I wish the music held more uniqueness or interest to accompany their impeccable literary and artistic bent…but all I can offer is that it’s listenable enough.

Nevertheless, I salute you, good sirs. Anyone who knows and appreciates Redon (and I infer thereby Huysmans, who served to popularize or at least increase interest in both him and personal favorite Gustave Moreau to the masses) is more than worthy of a toast.

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DIGIR GIDIM – I Thought There Was the Sun Awaiting My Awakening (ATMF) (March 31)

Oy. Promo references “occult black metal” and “Sumerian”, which already gets the eyes rolling. Watain meets (the aesthetic and lyrical orientation of) Morbid Angel and the many lesser bands who followed in their wake…sheesh.

Musically speaking, this is generic “underground” black metal – there’s a definite orientation towards the atonality and open chord orientation of the “occult black metal” school, but perhaps a bit less than usual – leaving it slightly more listenable…but still quite generic.

The fact that I was starting to develop a headache by the middle of the fourth and final track should speak volumes.

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WORMHOLE (US) – Genesis (Lacerated Enemy Records (Czech Republic) (November 30)

What’s interesting here is that the band self-identifies as “brutal death metal”…and yet, it leans far more “tech death” in the sense of Suffocation (albeit without managing to capture either their quality or appeal).

Fronted by alternating Scotch and South African grindcore vocalists (the latter of Vulvodynia, which means a whole lot of squealing pig noises) the guitars and bass are handled by a pair of Indian brothers (Sanil and Sanjay Kumar)…presumably they’re working a drum machine here, as no one is credited. Doktor Avalanche it is, then!

There’s nothing wrong with the riffing, which as mentioned is sort of Suffocationesque if generic…but the pig vocals are fucking annoying, the drums are Atari Teenage Riotesque in their in your faceness and over-speed and the overall product is just…I don’t know.

The mix is all fucked up – check out “symbiotic corpse possession” to hear just how bad things can get, with everything up in your face all at once in a wall of noise – and while the Kumar brothers lay down a few nice leads here and there, as a whole, Wormhole fails to distinguish itself in any positive way.

Maybe with a proper drummer, more organic production and less annoying grindcore vocals, this would have played out better – you really can’t fault the leads these guys are throwing down, and if you like the style of death metal they’re working, the guitars are very much on point.

Next…

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THE RITUAL AURA (Australia) – Tæther (Lacerated Enemy Records (Czech Republic) (November 11)

Aussie tech death, somewhat in the same vein as Wormhole but with better production, a whole lotta keyboards and a bit more polish.

That said, you still get pig noises for vocals more than necessary (i.e. ever, but they pop up at least once or twice per song for a phrase or two), things lean overly busy to atonal and as with most prog/tech/math metal, there’s an emphasis on weird time signature changes and staying pointlessly busy on the guitar at the expense of proper songwriting or following an actual melodic line.

I guess if you crossed Atheist and Meshuggah with Vulvodynia, you might get a twisted bastard child with genetic similarities to The Ritual Aura.

NEXT…

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MALOIC (India) – Death (self released) (January 25)

Well, this is a lot better than the last two, that’s for sure!

Silly Ron Royce-like puke vox aside, these smalltown Indian fellas lay out a surprisingly well produced affair that borders on power metal, retro-trad and progressive thrash all at once, while never comfortably settling down into any of those subgenres.

It’s overly busy, to be sure, and a bit more focus would move mountains for these guys – i.e. pick a stylistic bent and run with it, rather than remaining resolutely syncretist. Jack of all trades, master of none, like they say…

Even so, there’s enough elements of power metal meets Iron Maiden gallop riffing and suchlike to sound comfortably familiar…for a bar or two, before things speed up and shift gears once again. It’s too jumbled and ADD-short attention span oriented to make old school metal fans, power metallers or thrashers happy, and probably bears too many of those elements to please the prog crowd as well.

Regardless, it came at the right spot in the playlist…it’s well produced, the playing is certainly solid, and at least I don’t have to increase the yell level to “NEXT ALREADY!!!!”.

I just think there’s a lot more promise shown herein than the current end product has to offer.

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AGGRESSION (Canada) – Fragmented Spirit Devils (Xtreem Music) (November 10)

Quebecois thrashers bring on Infernal Majesty’s vocalist for their current effort.

No, not classic None Shall Defy-era frontman Chris Bailey…or the late “Vince Vampire” Kunz (of much Canadian notoriety to this day for his offstage criminal exploits). No, this is blink and you missed him Demon God EP vocalist Brian Langley…

For what it’s worth, his raspy mic swallowing belch-howls don’t seem all that out of place with the hissy signal bleed-oriented din of Denis “Sasquatch” Barthe’s guitars (check out “unleashing the ghost” for a perfect example), and the crazed Necrophobic by way of Infernal Majesty riffing must have felt like old home week for Langley in turn. It’s thrash, alright, but of the most off the rails variety.

Expect something more akin to, say, Infernal Majesty crossed with Abattoir by way of Sadus and drop the production quality,* you’ll get something akin to Fragmented Spirit Devils.

* which is weird in itself, as some of the rhythm guitar sounds fat and chunky…but then you get the signal bleed and overdistortion and Langley’s nigh-grindcore vocal approach, and it comes off rather poorly in the end…

I was a big time thrasher back in the day – I was there when certain thrash acts began to branch off into what would later become entire subgenres of their own, like black and death metal. I loved the Bay Area stuff, but also the Teutonic and Brazilian blackened variants, and the smaller scenes of several nations all over Europe and states around the US to boot.

I’m not sure where the hell Aggression fits in all this…particularly to judge by this album.

The fact that I’d never heard of them before this should also say a thing or two.

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IN THOUSAND LAKES – Age of Decay (Xtreem Music) (February 20)

Here’s something you don’t see every day: Spanish melodeath.

As you might expect, it deviates from the Swedish template by a rather wide margin*, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing – there’s plenty of melody in the lead line driven, rather thrash-style riffing, matched with some rather cheesy death metal belches (doubled under a light slap echo, yet). They even occasionally move right into trad metal territory, as in “age of decay”.

* if anything, the band leans slightly Finnish, as in early Amorphis.

The leads are pretty decent if as quirky as you’d expect from the above description, and the drums are acceptable if a tad generic. Think power metal and you’ll get the idea there – and hell, the entire band joins him on at least one occasion: “true north” is about as template a power metal anthem as you’re likely to find!

Can’t claim it set me on fire in any way, but it’s certainly melodic and breaks the mold enough to make In Thousand Lakes worthy of checking out.

Who knows, you may absolutely love ’em.

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CRYPTIC BROOD – Brain Eater (Xtreem Music) (March 1)

German death metal of the decidedly raw, underproduced and underground variety.

There’s enough recognizable riffing for the genre to leave this an acceptable listening experience, but while I wasn’t put off by it in any way, I can’t claim to have been particularly excited by it either.

I guess if Goatlord went death metal in the early Morgoth (or Autopsy)
sense, it might sound kinda like Cryptic Brood.

Fair enough.

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CANDLE – Demo 2016 (Fighter Records) (February 15)

Swedish retro-trad with dramatic vocals. It’s all rather NWOBHM, or more precisely, the global wave of NWOBHM-inspired bands that followed in their immediate wake.

Should give you a feel somewhere between early Bruce Dickinson Iron Maiden, Hell and more underground acts like Blacklist (of “sin sentence” fame).

While much of the Swedish retro-traditional thing has proven to be a bit cold if not soulless, I was definitely good with this one – and it’s very likely that Erik Nordkvist’s stagey bombast. Other parallels and touchpoints for what he brings to the table could be Erik A.K. or early Bobby Blitz, but with far more of a Dave Halliday/Kev Bower sort of declamatory doom flair – think Messiah Marcolin with Candlemass.

Very, very promising start for these guys. Support!

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HEATHER WASTELAND (Greece) – Under the Red Wolfish Moon EP (Transcending Obscurity Records) (December 21)

Quirky pagan metal, but more in the neofolk-inclined later Skyclad vein than the bombast of acts like Primordial, Arkona or Leaves Eyes.

It’s a vocal free affair, and consists of not only the expected guitar/drums/bass setup, but some native Grecian instrumentation akin to the mandolin.

The only weird bit (beyond hearing this sort of thing performed entirely sans vocals) is the bass tone, which is the sort of thin growling bounce you tend to get with prog metal acts…not pagan folk.

I enjoyed it for its oddness and local colour, if you will – I kept expecting to see folk dancing and hear plates being broken. Opa!

If you’re looking for something a bit different, this may just fit the bill.

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The Furor (Australia) – Cavalries of the Occult (Transcending Obscurity Records) (March 5)

Aussie blackened thrash metal act who haul in the drummer from Singapore’s Impiety on triple duty (songwriting, drums and vocals). Do NOT expect “blackened thrash” in the classic manner – there is absolutely nothing about The Furor that says bands like Sodom or early Sepultura.

If anything, you can think of this as crazed, noisy and overly busy black metal…but with too much of a thrash metal riffing and lead approach not to remark on or notice same.

It’s very strange, and really doesn’t fit anywhere you try to put it.

Which is pretty much what you’d expect from the Singaporean or Indonesian metal scene. Never mind the two Aussies on guitar/bass…this is Impiety Jr.

Okay, next...

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ILLIMITABLE DOLOR (Australia) – S/T (Transcending Obscurity Records) (March 22)

Aussie doom/death act.  The overtones are all Paradise Lost/Anathema/My Dying Bride, but the feel is more early Ahab and funeral doom.

Funereal keyboards, deep gargle growls, and lumberingly sluggish riffs (how the hell you don’t fall asleep trying to drum to this, I’ll never know…), excellent production and a decidedly introspective, mournful feel.  Which is appropriate, as apparently this four track is in tribute to a deceased bandmate.

Very, very good.  Surprised I’ve not heard of them before this.

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ALTAR OF BETELGEUZE (Finland) – Among the Ruins (Transcending Obscurity Records) (April 15)

Finnish stoner doom. It’s a bit more uptempo than you’d expect, and that’s a plus. But they’re still talking about dragging “on a heavy doobie”, so you get the idea.

There are slight death metal elements – death growls show up once or twice during “no return” and the title track – but overall, it’s stoner rock gone doom metal.

I liked it well enough.

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MORDANT (Sweden) – Demonic Satanic (To The Death Records (Sweden) (November 30th, 2016)

What at first appears to be some pretty killer old school blackened thrash
turns more modern in feel with an annoying “sinister” lead line riff and some
eeeeeeviiiiillll snarly vox much akin to a half-arsed take on Ace Still.

Ultimately, things feel somewhat like a cross between Japan’s Abigail and
Sweden’s Grotesque…which is pretty fucking awkward, when you sit back and
think about it, but there you have it – that’s Mordant for you.

Best part? They’re sort of a gimmick band, as this black thrash juggernaut is actually fronted by a woman!

Oh, wait, you mean a guy actually chose the name “Bitchfire” for himself?

seriously? 

o…kay, then.

Moving on…

umm…anyway, like we said, it’s kind of like Yasayuki hooked up with Necrolord. They dropped the sex angle, play up the Hells Headbangers-style USBM bit, and there you have it.

Not bad, just falls in a sort of middle ground that neither pleases or displeases, and is neither black metal proper or blackened thrash in the sense of the early Teutonic, Brazilian and if you’re counting Bathory as an entire scene, Swedish scenes.

Kind of likeable for all its weirdness.

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PLASMODIUM (Australia) – Entheognosis (Cimmerian Shade Recordings) (December 29)

Was I listening to a bunch of children? Seriously, every track consists of the “guitarist” bending his E string back and forth while picking it.

Sound quavers. I think pissed off little kids get past that after learning their first proper song or two.

Seriously, WTF?

Next…

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White Death – S/T (Werewolf Records) (February 17)

Straightforward “true” black metal in the general ballpark of Ormgard.

They’re a Finnish act, but don’t expect too much affinity to the Satanic Warmaster/Clandestine Blaze school of melodicism…at least until you hit “white death’s power”, which feels even more anthemically SW than even that band’s last release or two managed to pull off.

Overall, if you dig the Finnish (and for that matter, earlier Polish) black metal underground, you’ll certainly find some affinity to the style with White Death – they aren’t bad at all, really, and they certainly grew on me more with subsequent listens, for what that’s worth.

It’s just a shame they only managed to really bat one out of the park on the last track.

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GOATMOON – Stella Polaris (Werewolf Records) (February 24)

Not a million miles removed from White Death in a certain sense, but far more polished and melodic – probably unsurprising as they’ve been poking around for about 15 years.

If anything, Stella Polaris is a touch over-produced, and feels at points rather traditional metal (the solo section on the title track is actually worthy of an 80’s L.A. metal band), and this, combined with the band’s quirky syncretism (tell me “kansojen havitaaja” doesn’t bear that jaunty Taake-esque volkischer feel) gives the album a feel that’s more…late 90’s/early millenium, slightly symphonic (when the lush keyboards kick in, anyway), and therefore rather more Norwegian/Swedish than Finnish.

It’s a strange beast, all told – very pointedly black metal proper and “old school” in the sense of “late 90’s/early millenium”, but with rather strong elements of trad and even touches of pagan folk (the opening of “sonderkommando nord”, the bouncy Taake-ness of it all).

In the end, both bands are decent enough and should keep your average black metaller happy…but neither one really resonated with me this time around
(“white death’s power” aside). If anything, Goatmoon feels a bit “safer”, more “mainstream” for the less hardcore black metaller…which leaves me leaning more towards White Death between the two.

All told, both bands are worth a listen…just recognize neither one of ’em really floated my boat either.

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FÖRGJORD – Uhripuu (CD) (Werewolf) (March 10)

Here’s another semi-veteran Finnish black metal act, but unlike Goatmoon, their output has been awfully sporadic: this is only their third album, aside from two splits and a pair of demos over the last 16 years.

Even so, as with Goatmoon, the experience shows in terms of polish and
assuredness…and unlike Goatmoon, they aren’t throwing down the syncretist card. This is pretty straightforward Finnish black metal of the type you’d expect, and adhering fairly closely to the SW/CB template.

As such, you’d think these guys would be my favorite of the three releases from Werewolf this month.  And yeah, I liked them alright – definitely giving a raised horns in salute here.

But you know…maybe White Death was better than it seemed on the first few spins. Because in the end, I kept cycling back to compare the other bands to them.

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HAXXAN – Loch Ness Rising (Hells Headbangers) (February 17)

Okay, this is interesting…longtime Necrophagia mainman Killjoy (whose
excellent past work with a certain Phil “Vincent Crowley” Anselmo is oft
mentioned in these pages) has pulled together a new project based on none other than “Uncle Al” Crowley…which I picked up as soon as I heard the man’s voice on the opening (title) track.

Well, knock me over with a feather.

Because this ain’t about Nessie, kids. More like Boleskine.

Along the way, Killjoy displays more than a passing familiarity with the man and his Work, with such subjects as the (current) aeon, various libers and their contents, certain societies, entities and workings coming up along the way. It’s not an especially deep dive into the material, let’s put it that way – but you can tell he’s at least taken more than the most superficial of looks into Crowley lore.

As such, I can’t not offer salute (or perhaps more apropos, the sign of
Harpocrates) in appreciation thereof.

In terms of music, it’s fairly raw and doomy, generally leaning towards the
“occult” variant of black metal but grounded in a far more “black n’ roll” vibe that begins with a slight nod towards Hour of 13 (as on “disciples of the silent”) which culminates in a vague nod to early Danzig (the solo section of “chemical perversions”). It’s hard to describe and quite familiar all at once…but suffice to say, it worked.

Again, this is not especially deep material – we’re hardly talking Saturnian Mist here.

But neither will this one be leaving the iPod any time soon.

Hails.

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MIDNIGHT – Shox of Violence (Hells Headbangers) (February 20)

Collects the eponymous 4 track EP and their contributions to the Midnight/Shitfucker split, plus covers previously released on the “too loud for the crowd” single, the USA Violates Australia 2013 EP and the Midnight/Abigail split. There’s a pair of live tracks (possibly hailing from Alive on the Streets of Cleveland) and then a batch of covers that may well be new to the medium (four being covers of local punks The Spits).

As ever with Midnight, this is catchy punkified blackthrash, leaning a bit more punk than usual given all the covers chosen.

Can’t knock it in the least – we pretty much loved these guys on the Shitfucker split and their own No Mercy for Mayhem, so did you really expect any different here?

Damn good stuff of its type.

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Funeral Storm / Celestial Rite – Funeral Rite – split MCD/MLP (Iron Bonehead) (February 24)

This represents the third split from a rather young Greek black metal outfit going by the name of Funeral Storm.

That noted, two of ’em have deeper roots in that scene, hailing from Varathron (whose Confessional of the Black Penitents and Untrodden Corridors of Hades we reviewed previously) and Kawir (whose Father Sun Mother Moon we reviewed just last year), to be precise…and the experience shows.

This is the most likeably melodic, traditional metal meets first wave black metal (think stuff like Tormentor or Masters Hammer) since the early days of Rotting Christ…a worthy successor to the throne, and a heartfelt hail in salute to Funeral Storm.

Celestial Rite, on the other hand, is a band from sorta back in the day, whose two 1998 demos comprised the totality of their existence until fairly recently (when they dropped another demo and EP in 2012 and 2014, respectively).

Apparently this appearance is their throwing in the towel once again, and while you can certainly hear those classic Rotting Christ-style Greek black metal stylings (the prominent keyboard doubling on “into the gorge”, the slow and simplistic neo-blastbeat drumming, the prominent use of melody throughout), they aren’t quite as impressive as their splitmates.

Even so, that’s no slag – their two tracks are decent enough and could have stood fairly well on their own. But with a sound as polished and accomplished as what Funeral Storm is throwing down here, even a perfectly good, retro-minded band like Celestial Rite feels like window dressing or garnish on an already nigh-perfect meal.

Both bands get a well deserved salute…but get this for Funeral Storm.

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Vomit Angel – Sadomatic Evil 12″ MLP (Iron Bonehead) (February 17)

Never mind the fact that they look like The Mentors…this is actually Danish “war metal”. It’s filthy sounding and sludgier than template, but the lines separating this kind of super lo-fi, simplistic blackened sound are hardly well defined.

Think of Vomit Angel as the long lost bridge connecting Blasphemy, Goatlord and Shitfucker and you’ll get the general idea of what to expect here.

Given the midtempo pace, the riffing is allowed to forefront and breathe more than the usual blur of noise you get with the typical “war metal” effort. It’s still not blackthrash or blackened doom, but there’s a definite shared aesthetic in play here that links what you’d think were reasonably distinct lines in the metaphorical sand.

Sounds pretty damn evil in the old school blackened thrash sense, without really adopting that sound at all.

I liked it.

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Praecognitvm – Inalienable Catharsis TAPE (Iron Bonehead) (February 10)

What if the Norwegian second wave were actually performed by some lo-fi, blackthrash oriented USBM act like Nunslaughter?

Picture if you can that sort of sweep, atmospheric orientation and general aesthetic, but tied to a zero budget, dicily performed band out of some Texas garage somewhere.

That’s what you get with Praecognitum, a Chilean act who eschew both the uber-raw, crazed sound of the modern South American scene and the classic blackened thrash sound of the mid-to-late 80’s first wave bands that kicked all of this shit off in the first place in favor of the sort of dramatically dark sound you get from Euronymous-era Mayhem crossed with the symphonic black sound that came from far lesser (but oddly much feted) bands thereafter.

On no budget.

With the playing skills and production quality of your typical South American blackened thrash act.

It’s weird, actually, but if you can get past the iffy drumming, thin guitars that wobble in and out of tune and quickie rehearsal room production sound…it still manages to work.

Sure, all four tracks pretty much sound alike, one blurring into the next without a blink of an eye from the listener. Sure, they obviously had no money here, and the performances aren’t always 100% on point.

But like I said, it works, regardless.

Could be the dawning of a new South American sound and scene. Stay tuned.

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Light of the Morning Star – Nocta CD/LP (Iron Bonehead) (March 3)

A moaning nigh-sprechtgesang somewhat in the ballpark of Andrew Eldritch over a sort of “occult black metal” meets gothic/postpunk sound.

Appropriately for a band appropriating or at least attempting to approximate the classic gothic rock sound, the production is reasonably full and lush and there’s plenty of reverb on the vocals…but does this really work?

It’s somewhat in the vein of Beastmilk and Moonspell, but far quirkier…and while certainly listenable enough, ultimately far less memorable than any of their stylistic touchpoints or forebears.

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Disharmony (Greece) – Goddamn the Sun CD/LP (Iron Bonehead) (March 3)

Greek black metal act who never got past 2 demos and an EP at the dawn of the second wave.

Looks like they may have gotten the original guitarists and vocalist/bassist back together recently, but whether they appear on this release or no is a question I don’t have the answers for at the moment – in terms of official band records on the date of writing this, only vocalist/former bassist “Damien King III” appears to be left standing.

You can certainly tell this sound hails from the early Greek scene – while this isn’t exactly Rotting Christ, there are some pronounced traditional metal and melodic elements playing into Goddamn the Sun, alongside the more expected gargle-snarl vox and occultic orientation that marks this as a certain variant of black metal. There’s even a surprisingly good production, which wasn’t exactly something I expected out of this.

Yeah, it ain’t perfect…but chances are you’ll like it if you appreciate what this nation’s scene had to offer (and who knows, may yet again, if this is any indication).

I was definitely good with this one – there’s more than enough Rotting Christlike quirkiness and melodic traditionalism to give this one the raised horns…and hope for more of this quality to come.

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Black Cilice – Banished From Time CD/LP/TAPE (Iron Bonehead) (March 10)

We’d reviewed this Portugese one man “bedroom recording” act twice before, first with Mysteries and then Nocturnal Mysticism, which while a decided improvement in production, still wasn’t exactly up to snuff. So here they are with another how does Banished from Time hold up?

Well, first off, it seems like the production has devolved again. Not quite over the edge of unlistenability, this is more like someone set up mics on the stairwell of a school basement…and he’s playing somewhere way the hell down the hall and around the corner, quite some ways away.

Tag in a whole lot of digital breakup and well beyond the redline signal bleed ala Guitar Wolf, and you have the general idea. The former part, however odd, remains quite listenable…but when the vocals (or more precisely, the moans and yells) kick in, everything just goes on the fritz, like an overplayed, overly scratched up old 78 record meeting a broken needle. This happens to a lesser extent on the drum track as well…but it’s unavoidably in your face on the vox.

Even so, it’s atmospheric as all get out, and sets a definite sorrowful mood…and those stumbles into atonal noise we’d mentioned on the earlier material appear to be all but absent here.

Some things have not changed – every track does still more or less sound alike, and there’s precious little actual forward motion, discernible riffs or chord changes – it’s more like tremelo drones that (barely) vary from one track to the next.

And yet.

This is the first Black Cilice record that I wasn’t only able to sit through without gritted teeth or judicious use of the fast forward button…but which actually set a mood with its deft if likely quite naive use of atmospherics.
For all the signal bleed and uniformity of the material (to call this a collection of songs would be an abject lie – more like a suite of barely altered variants on the same lengthy drone), it worked, and particularly given how well the last two went over, that alone merits ’em a nod of due respect.

They keep improving like this, we may actually wind up praising them on more objective merits.

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Front Beast – Third Scourge From Darkness CD/LP (Iron Bonehead) (March 10)

Lo-fi “bedroom recording” aesthetic, check.
Silly screams and goofy vox to the point where you actually snicker, check.
Questionable, continually falling off meter drums, check.

Must be another Front Beast release…

With shrieking, gargling, growling vocals that sound just like Animal from Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem and an iffy grasp on rhythm, the guy behind The Fog (who we actually liked, mind) returns with his long running Teutonic blackthrash one man comedy show.

This is actually only his third album, despite kicking around since 1999 (!)
and dropping about 5 EPs and a number of splits. Even so, Front Beast is no Horna or Satanic Warmaster in that respect, which shows that he probably knows he’s better off working as part of a proper band.

We’d had a few disbelieving laughs at the expense of Demon Ways of Sorcery four years back…and yes, one split aside, that’s all he’s put out since.

Now, I will give the guy credit, and not just for sheer persistence, either.
He’s actually improved on Third Scourge from Darkness, to the point where the drumming is off more in the sense of early “Ventor” (Kreator) or Abbath’s stint on the drums for Battles in the North than the jaw dropping ineptitude displayed on Demon Ways several years back. In other words, if you’re not paying close attention, it could pass.

And the guitars, while perhaps a tad naive in execution, are certainly
acceptable enough, particularly for underground metal, and black metal in
particular, where standards for this sort of thing tend to be a lot lower. So
if it’s not really the drums (well, make no mistake, that definitely plays into
it!) and it certainly isn’t the guitars…what does that leave us with?

That’s right…the vocals.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’d rather hear “Avenger’s” growls, shrieks and snarls than these hipster wannabe kids doing the yodel-howl thing any day of the week – at least he’s the real deal, however hilariously inept it may come off.

And to be fair, there are countless offenders, to some degree or other, in
terms of questionable or questionably executed “raw” vocals all across the
heavy music spectrum. It’s almost a given.

But if you put all of these elements together – the naive if often effective
riffing, the oft-stumbling, but at this point almost respectably entry level
drumming and the muppet on a rampage vocals (you can practically see
those little muppet arms swinging around wildly as he approaches the mic on each and every track)…I’m sorry, it’s just fucking funny.

And you know what? I appreciate a good laugh…particularly in an oft-
humorless, poseur-or-psycho afflicted subgenre of metal.

Horns up. A definite horns up.

Huge improvement, atmospheric, redolent of classic Teutonic blackened thrash in many respects (including the Sodom/early Kreatoresque occasional ineptitude!), and most of all, it made me fucking laugh. 

If ya ever tour the States, first beer’s on me, mein freund. Tschus!

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Tomb Mold – Primordial Malignity CD/LP (Blood Harvest) (February 3)

We’d covered their Bottomless Perdition demo and found the recording quality quite simply too offputting to even attempt a proper review – it was that bad.

Sadly, things only improve incrementally here. You can make out that a band is playing and that someone is belching or puking somewhere down beneath a wave of hiss and signal bleed. Sounds really tinny, though, and hard to make out what’s going on…except for a strangely right in your face bass drum pedal (which must have been contact mic’ed) and fairly high in what mix there is snare and toms behind that.

The vocals blur into all the noise well beneath that, and I think there are guitars playing, but the sound is so compromised, you almost can’t be positive of that fact.

So how do you review something like this? Admittedly, it sounds a lot better than the demo, but that’s not saying much…this still sounds like crap, drum recording aside.

I think if Tomb Mold stepped into a proper studio with a real producer – say Scott Burns were to come out of corporate hell to do another recording, or Tomas Skosberg, Colin Richardson or even someone later like Dan Swano, then maybe this would stand as what it appears they’re trying to be – a fairly low rent but decidedly old school death metal band with “sepulchral” vocals. Think Immolation crossed with early Pestilence, but without any hints of “technicality” or any notable guitar skills whatsoever.

But under this shit production?

It’s honestly hard to appraise them with a fair hand.

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Death Worship – Extermination Mass MLP/MCD (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (March 15)

Speaking of shit production…even after Black Cilice and Tomb Mold, this one takes the cake.

Sounds like your mom’s running the old Hoover vacuum, while your father and brothers are blaring competing TV and stereo trying to drown her out.

Somewhere in the middle of that incessant wave of noise there’s a fast tink tink tink tink of cymbals and someone practicing death metal vocals next door.

That’s about the size of what you get here. It’s “war metal” to be sure…but marked by some particularly egregious production failings.

Can you believe this is actually 2 members of Blasphemy and the guy behind Conqueror and Revenge, working together?

Shouldn’t someone have made sure they recorded this properly? Wouldn’t you think fans would be excited to hear this collaboration?

Well, the only thing you can say in their defense is that unlike Tomb Mold (who really have no excuse for terrible production as death metallers), this is “war metal”…so you’re unlikely to get gothic or power metal level production quality regardless. Still sounds pretty damn awful.

Suffice to say, the ol’ eyebrows raised rather dramatically when I heard who was in there playing amidst this mess of a recording – so fellow fans of Blasphemy, Conqueror and Revenge, you already know you want to grab this one regardless.

But damn, what did they record this on, a speak and spell?

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Harvest Gulgaltha – Altars of Devotion LP/CD (Nuclear War Now! Productions ) (March 15)

We’d previously reviewed their I,  and the gist of that still holds: this is a fairly straightforward blackened death affair.

Far too droning, trancelike and simplistic to be death metal, but it’s hardly black metal either…unless you want to argue their sound as some weird, ritualistic death-style variant of Swedish-style “occult black metal”.

It’s listenable, for all that – while nowhere nearly as effective as Black Cilice, it similarly sets a mood in its very track to track sameness and droning doominess.

Nothing to get thrilled about, but not really deserving of a slag either.

The less discriminating may feel better about this one than I did.

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Rites of Thy Degringolade – The Universe in Three Parts TAPE (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (February 15)

Yet another atonal, open string-obsessed “occult black metal” act.

The only real plus here is it’s mercifully brief, at one 7 minute track.

Yawn.

Next…

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Demoncy – Within the Sylvan Realms of Frost LP (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (February 20)

Whoa, what the fuck happened to Demoncy?

After the excellent Joined in Darkness and equally praised re-recording of Empire of the Fallen Angel the one man band appears to have seriously dropped the ball.

First we got the nigh-unlistenable Faustian Dawn reissue, and now this.

Well, it’s the same problem: perfectly unlistenable production. All hiss, all mids, plenty of signal bleed, repetitively childish POUND POUND POUND POUND four on the snare drums…zero atmosphere.

There’s more of a feel of the mid-period Judas Iscariot here, when they were at their most droning and least interesting…but with a production so bad, it makes both Nattens Madrigal and Transilvanian Hunger sound full and lush by comparison.

There’s really nothing to be found here, unfortunately.

Even Faustian Dawn had an ambient track or two to deliver a touch of atmosphere. And to think, I was looking forward to this…

This is hands down the worst thing I’ve been exposed to from Demoncy.

I don’t just feel cheated here…I’m actually pissed off by the sheer lack of care evidenced herein.

NEXT !?!

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Holocausto – War Metal Massacre LP/CD (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (March 1)

Holy crap! You mean the Brazilian blackened thrash (and self-labeled “war metal” long before people started referring to the simplistic black metal subgenre of Beherit and Blasphemy as such) veterans behind Campo do Exterminio are back?

Well, OK, they apparently did a few more albums into the early 90’s…and even one in 2005, but who the hell ever heard anything about those?  No, it was Campo that established the band as a worthy fourth wheel to the more famed Brazilian blackthrash trio of (early) Sepultura, Sarcofago and Vulcano…far moreso than the amusingly sleazy Sextrash, in fact.

So as far as I’m concerned, this is their first record since 1987.

Yeah, yeah, roll with it. That’s where I’m standing on this one. So given that, how does their decidedly unexpected if welcome latest and greatest hold up?

Well, the production’s a lot fuller!

Seriously, that’s about all that’s changed in all these years LMAO…

OK, you can say they slowed things down slightly, and the drumming seems less crazed than it was back then.

But come on, by today’s standards? This is pretty much the same thing.

If you liked ’em then, you’ll like ’em now, simple as that.

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Poison Rites – S/T (self-released) (March 9)

Guitar Wolf, meet Glenn Danzig.

Add a pinch of the MC5 or (arguably, and at a stretch) Stooges-era Iggy Pop, and you have a pretty good idea of what to expect out of Poison Rites.

Mind, this also bears the production of Guitar Wolf…so ears and speakers beware.

But high energy, catchy and very much right up in your fucking face, what are you gonna do about it, huh?

My kinda rock band.

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Crurifragium – Beasts of the Temple of Satan (Invictus) (January 30)

A fart by any other name…

That’s right, these guys are really Warpvomit, whose Barbaric Triumph of Evil we reviewed here, now operating under a different moniker. And, well…that’s about the only thing that’s changed, really.

Except that they occasionally slow things down to a walking pace for a few bars, before returning to the crazed “cyclonic black metal” (read: “war metal”) that the band is…er, was known for.

Same tupperware drum sound, same blur of noise passing as a song, same snarl n’ hurl vocal approach.

Well, like we said last time, if you’re really into the style and you’ve gotten all the big guns…these guys are sitting on the shelf too, waving at you and desperately trying to get your attention.

“Hey, over here! Don’t you want me too? I’m not too bad once you get to know me…”

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Naddred – Sluagh (Invictus) (February 13)

Irish underground black metal approaching war metal in some respects – it’s certainly detuned, grungy feeling and poorly recorded enough!

Even so, there’s a bit more of that yawn inducing “occult black metal” feel pioneered by folks like Watain, Dark Funeral and Gaahl-era Gorgoroth. Ho hum. Might have been better if they sticked to the Beherit/Blasphemy template…

Vocals are a bit more flat and nasty sounding than usual, which is pretty much the only real point of interest here.

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Apostate Viaticum – Before the Gates of Gomorrah (Invictus Productions) (March 13)

Another Irish black metal band.

These guys are more grungy sounding blackened death, and the riffing is more prominent, if still overly detuned and way too noisy to be death metal proper. I’m wondering if they share a vocalist with Naddred – they’re not all that far removed from each other in style and tone. Overall, the album feels a bit one note – certainly could have stood to introduce a touch of variation to keep listener interest.

Even so, you could definitely compare this guy to the snarler from Demolition Hammer, and there’s enough quirky DM-style riffing to salvage matters.

Could have used better production. Could have used a guitar tuner. Could have skipped the silly blastbeats and stuck to proper death metal drumming.

But it’s not all that horrid, despite all of that.

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Consummation – Ritual Severance (Invictus Productions) (March 13)

Aussie blackened death metal drops a rather lengthy single – both sides run about 10 minutes.

There’s nothing overly special about it, unfortunately. There’s just far too many bands worldwide putting out stuff quite similar to this to churn out yet another in the Pile of Dead Bards.

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Ash and Coal – Legacy – VICISOLUM PRODUCTIONS (February 17)

Driving, semi-gothic rock cum metal.

Tribal drumming, midtempo riffing, sinister riffs, clean if slightly raspy
vocals…Fields of the Nephilim, Danzig and Nick Cave are namechecked in promo materials, and there are definite riffs and stylistic elements of all of those tossed into the mix here – to the point where you can practically point at tracks and associate them to the band in question.

“Never learn” = Fields, albeit with Kevin Haskins on drums.
“Tell them not to be afraid” = Danzig with a touch of Nick Cave.
“War is coming” = Nick Cave.
“Everyone’s a misanthrope” = back to Fields, with a hint of Sisters of Mercy.
You get the idea.

Look, I love all the bands and signposts they’re drawing from and the
production’s about as crisp as it should be (though it leans a tad more
distorted than most of the above might lead you to expect – think Dawnrazor-era McCoy more than the others in this respect).

I admit, Legacy may not have exactly set me on fire, particularly not to the
extent the obvious influences still do. But did you seriously think I was
going to slag this one?

Respect, earned. Keep the flame alive.

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Venenum – Trance of Death (The Ajna Offensive) (March 17)

Blackened death metal. The riffing, vocals and arguably drums are definitely leaning heavily towards the death end of the equation for a change, but there’s something wayyyy too black metal about the sound and feel for this to be a proper death metal band in the traditional sense.

The fact that there are pointless ambient noise sections, open string atonal bits ala Watain and even a track entirely devoted to a cello piece should be a flashing neon warning sign – “this ain’t really death metal!”

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Anomalie – Visions (Art of Propaganda) (March 17)

We previously reviewed their Refugium here, and the changes that have occurred in the interim are important, but not exactly profound. The biggest one is that they’re leaning more black metal proper…sans all the quirky “post-BM”isms that marked their sound previously.

What hasn’t changed? Vocalist “Marrok” is still working a croak somewhere
between Desultory’s Klas Morberg in the Into Eternity days and Dark Funeral’s new kid “Heljarmadr”. And it’s still pretty damn listenable…but read on, we’ll get to that.

The production is a lot fuller and less “flat” sounding, though it’s strangely
arguable as to whether this helps or hurts the band – their sound (and
particularly the vocals) seemed oddly well suited to the dry, flat production
of Refugium.

The new production style is far more “wet” and dark toned, leaving Anomalie
sounding far more black metal, and Swedish black metal at that. It
certainly works, objectively it’s a big bump up…but it may leave them
sounding less distinct, a bit more generic than they had previously.

That said, there’s plenty to appreciate here – as with Refugium, I actually liked this one with few real reservations. They even go a bit Moonspell on “white forest”, which is a break from the more typical modern/Swedish school BM approach they’re leaning towards otherwise.

Sure, there are some quirks and variations here, but only to the extent that
Anomalie manages to inject a touch of pagan/Viking metal feel and dramatics into what is otherwise now fairly recognizably template Swedish BM of more recent vintage – and they were quirkier than this, much harder to peg or pin down previously.

Is this necessarily a negative? Hardly. In fact, I’m willing to bet Visions
wins the guys new fans who may have been disinclined to dig in previously,
while the odds of their losing or alienating older fans is nearly nil.

This is quality material, well played, well produced and emotion-inflected.
Whether you happen to prefer the “old” Anomalie or this year’s version is
simply a matter of taste and degree.

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Allochiria – Throes (Art of Propaganda) (March 17)

After opening on the most irritating dissonant riff on the face of the Earth (“thrust”), these guys turn sorta proggy, albeit with nasty belch-snarl gargled vocals. Subsequent tracks do little to alter this first impression – in fact, it becomes more cemented with each succeeding minute.

Super annoying black prog?

There’s an odd, but welcome laid back feel and clean, reverb and delay-suffused tonality that keeps popping up throughout each track that leaves me wondering – were these kids former Dream Theater wannabes who made a foolish dive into dissonance for its own sake? Former emo kids who discovered satan?

Either way, you get the picture – beneath the irritating vocals and smash this fucking speaker before I get really violent about it ear-torturing dissonant riffing lies a more mature prog act…or a sadly still more mature teenaged emo one, gone full on juvenile with the eeeeevilness and the decision to punish any prospective listeners with grating noise and severely strained dissonance.

Let’s hope they either grow into one of those, or return to being one of those, whichever the case may be.

Because this shit sure as fuck ain’t cutting it.

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Acrania – Fearless 

Mexican death metal act, this is their second full length (following an EP).

As appears to be all too typical for metal acts hailing from Mexico, they favor a gargle-growly shout sort of thing on vocals, which is just annoying.

Thankfully, that’s not the end of the story.

All of a sudden, things explode into a sort of mariachi take on Carnaval, and the band goes all Soulfly on your ass. Say what the fuck?

Seriously. Bongos, horns, all sorts of traditional percussion instruments…it’s like a Santana album for a bit, complete with jazzy clean overdriven chords.  Then they go all wheedly-whoo Dream Theater prog on your ass, but that’s only for as long as the lead lasts…the band beneath is doing more interesting stuff.

And the Chepito Arias meets Selena by way of Miami Sound Machine large group accompaniment thing is never far away. The sax even goes all Romeo Void for a few bars on “I was never dead”.

Ooh, yeah, I like this…

Damn. Get a real vocalist, Acrania will be a new go-to for me. It’s an open secret that Carlos Santana and Randy Rhoads were literally the reason I picked up the guitar…and Carlos was once again the reason I returned to playing a few years after my father passed.

This is more or less the Santana rhythm section gone progressive thrash. It’s therefore overly busy. The key is contrast – fast against slow, clean against dirty, hyper against laid back. But even so. Overall?

Yeah.

I’m so down with this, you have no fucking idea.

You guys hit the NYC area, I’m taking a solo with ya onstage…

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Crimson Slaughter – Cycle Of Decay

Spanish retro-thrash act. Sounds very Bay Area, but with a tad extra speed and aggression – think a much less crazed (or annoying!) Sadus.

They sound pretty self-assured for a band on its first release (I don’t believe they even dropped a demo before this one!).

In fact, I was really enjoying this one…took me back to the days when this
stuff was still fairly new and exciting, and second wavers like Forbidden and
Vio-Lence were just starting to drop albums that sounded a fuck of a lot like this.

Like I said, cross Sadus with Paul Baloff, slow things down slightly and you’ll have something not far removed from Crimson Slaughter.

Bang your fucking head.

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Deathinition – Online 

First full length from this Polish thrash act.

They seem to favor the sort of single note staccato stab riffs Vio-Lence was
known for, but without the scaling up and down the neck by semitones thing – the feel is actually a bit more…I hesitate to say Forbiddenesque or
Testamentlike, but vaguely in that vein.

I guess simplest analogue would be later to post-Skolnick Testament crossed with Xentrix and a touch of more recent iterations of Exodus.  Not quite that either…but close enough.

Fair, but after digging into Crimson Slaughter, this felt a bit…well, you’d
be highly unlikely to flip the channel if this was playing, let’s put it that
way.

But didn’t inspire me to pull the old pins & patches denim jacket out of the
closet either.

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EUPHORIA – Operation: Genesis

Speed metal cum thrashers straight outta Detroit. Hailing from the same city as Iggy Pop and the Stooges and the MC5, you have to expect they’ll be seriously pissed off…and more than a bit raw.

So it’s kind of a surprise to hear so clearly Maiden-inspired an act…leaning
more speed than you’d expect from a thrash act proper. Though admittedly, the rather subjectively boundaried genres were prone to crossover – maybe Agent Steel was “speed”, but they said that about early Megadeth too…Annihilator is sort of both, and what about Abattoir? So whatever…let’s just call it thrash in the end, y’all can hash out the particulars amongst yourselves.

This is another debut release, without even a demo prior, and while far from the raw, dry, in your face feel I was expecting from a Motor City based act, there’s certainly enough grit to be had here…not least with Justin Kelter’s rather snarly-rasped vocals.

Otherwise, it all goes down pretty smooth, with the band’s fairly melodically inclined sound crossing the classic Bay Area thrash sound and clear, strong (if in this case, often rather mids-heavy and wah pedal set midway for extra harmonics-oriented production and the syrupy dual harmony lead feel of Maiden (or earlier Priest, for that matter).

I’ll admit it, I was not and am not sold on the vocals. They’re listenable,
they fit OK…but I was never a Morbid Saint fan…and repeat listens to
Demolition Hammer are pretty few and far between these days.

But aside from that? Yeah, I definitely dug these guys.

Raise a studded glove fist and prepare for the stage dives.

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Fabulous Desaster – Hang ‘Em High

Teutonic thrash, but not in the expected Kreator/Destruction/Sodom vein. Once again, this is their first full length after an EP six years ago (and a few
demos since).

As you might expect from a band named after their (half killer, half filler and ultimately jump the shark) third album, this is quite Exodus-inspired,
from the chunky, aggressive riffing to Jan Niederstein’s cross between Baloff and Steve “Zetro” Souza on the vox.

If you dig classic Exodus, you’ll love these guys…and yeah, they introduce
enough variation from the template to keep it from getting either slavish or
boring.

I was right down there in the pit with this. Join us, wont you?

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FUSION BOMB – Pravda

And yet another debut release from thrashers straight outta…Luxembourg?

You mean, as in that little place squeezed in between Belgium, France and
Germany?

Picture the drunken, sorta mushmouthed singers from Gang Green and Genocide (of Submit to…fame) in front of a midtempo thrash act. The overall feel here is quite crossover – any and all bands Fusion Bomb brings to mind are 80’s punk/thrash crossover acts rather than thrash proper, so that should say it all.

You could even throw DRI and Nuclear Assault into the mix, at a stretch – but it’s more laid back, less aggressively in your face than most or all of
’em…save Gang Green and Genocide. So back to square one.

I was OK with it, but crossover for me is a bit questionable – early M.O.D.
aside, while I do enjoy some albums from S.O.D., D.R.I., Sacred Reich and a few NYC hardcore acts like the early Cro-Mags and Agnostic Front, I don’t dig acts like that out of the collection very often.

Well, OK, Age of Quarrel is fairly perpetual, but you get what I’m saying –
this one’s strictly for the classic crossover crowd.

And yeah, it stands up alongside many of those guys reasonably enough.

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Infrared – No Peace

Ontario thrashers. They had a demo way back in ’88, albeit with a few
different members – this is the drummer and guitarist/vocalist, back together with another original member (who predates said demo) on 2nd guitars. Only new kid’s on bass…that’s pretty damn good after so many years’ remove.

Makes me wonder if the old gang might want to get back together in my own corner of the world…who the hell knows. But it’s good to see when it does work out like that.

Crunchy, heavily distorted staccato riffs, very in your face production (if
anyone this month was going for the guitar sound on Speak English or Die, it’s only Infrared who actually nails it)…

Armin Kamal’s thin, reedy vocals aren’t really my preferred style, but he
definitely tries for a rather Chuck Billy-esque phrasing and doesn’t seem too far out of line by comparison with many of the second wave “new kids” of the Bay Area scene back in the day – somewhere between an uber-light take on Billy crossed with Sacred Reich’s Phil Rind.

The riffing is resolutely midtempo, coming off like S.O.D. by way of Metallica (pre-“black album”, when anyone actually cared about those losers)…but indelibly marked by the melodicism of Skolnick-era Testament.

If they were a young band, this would be more of a shrug of the shoulders –
it’s listenable, some of the riffing is dead on (loved the especially S.O.D.-
like “inframental”)…but it comes off a little soft for a classic thrash band.

Even so, this is a band of veterans, coming back together to recreate and
continue their glory days…and make no mistake, they come off as polished and quite self-assured.

Give ’em props for that, at least.

Who knows, you may love ’em.

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MORTAL STRIKE For The Loud And The Aggressive

Austrian thrashers, and you guessed it, it’s their first full length (following
on a demo and EP).

Faster and more drivingly aggressive than a lot of the retro-minded thrash acts spoken to this month, Mortal Strike comes off as a sort of more serious, far less scat and horror film-obsessed Gama Bomb. As such, it gets a little samey from track to track – it’s rare they change tempo below highway cruising speed.

Still and all, there’s plenty to be said for a thrash act marked by racing,
galloping to machine gun riffing, and it’s not like they don’t throw any
memorable riffs into the mix – I liked the chorus to “smash the tyrants”, for example.

Decent production, tight playing, nothing to slag ’em about – at their best,
they come off vaguely Vio-Lence by way of Exodus, but on the whole, they feel decidedly Gama Bomb-esque…which is a far more generic, if still acceptable sound to fall back on.

Not bad at all, but I’d have preferred them leaning more towards their intended Vio-Lence homage.

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NEGLIGENCE – Coordinates of Confusion

Thrashers hailing from Slovenia. This is actually their second full length
(now, how about that! I thought this was going to be all first timers or debut full lengths at this point…)

Their sound falls somewhere between Xentrix and Exhorder, but with more melody and nigh-baritone clean (if raspy) singing at the choruses. They throw in quirky Atrophy-like riffs and feel rather Tourniquet-esque…but this isn’t quite “progressive thrash” either.

They aren’t working a specific template, though the vocals feel especially
Tommy Victor-like…and while they have their merits, Prong is hardly what I’d consider “metal”, much less “thrash” per se.

Why am I thinking something about this screams Meliah Rage?

Can’t pinpoint what these guys are going for exactly…but throw all those
elements into a steaming goulash and stir till thickened and rather modern-feeling.

Melodic, slightly prog, thrash but not especially retro…probably my least
favorite thrash band reviewed this month, but you can’t fault the musicianship, production or performances…vocals, guitars and drums are all on point, if not necessarily seasoned to taste.

If that sounds mouthwatering to you, dig right in without hesitation. I was
looking for something more spicy or well nuanced.

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NUKEM – The Unholy Trinity

Thrashers from California…but no, not the Bay Area. They hail from El Cajon (San Diego area). And yep, it’s their first full length (preceded by a demo).

Some obvious Motorhead influences aside, Nukem are simply Nuclear Assault with (much) improved production…right down to the vocals.

Your call, therefore – I always liked a few songs, but found Connelly’s vox a
bit one note if not downright offputting and the band’s sound a bit too samey to make them a serious contender in the classic thrash game.

Nukem sounds a lot more composed, the production’s much fatter and clearer and they have some unexpected changes in orientation (mainly towards a more Motorheadesque bar band rock n’ roll riffing every now and again)…so in a weird way, I think I liked them a bit more than Nuclear Assault.

Don’t hold me to that one six months from now…this is brand new, and Nuclear Assault has been with me since my own misspent youth, so there’s a big difference right off the bat. Who the hell knows whether I’ll be spinning this one or feel the same way about their relative merits even half a year from now, much less nigh on 30 years from now!

But production wise and in terms of keeping the listener more off guard by
changing things up (loved that riff on “D.O.I.”), yeah – at this moment, that’s my take and I’m sticking to it.

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POKERFACE – Divide and Rule 

Russian thrashers, this time a mixed gender affair (hey, we haven’t seen any of those so far this month, so it’s remarkable enough to comment on…). The ladies run the show, working vox and lead guitar respectively, and you guessed it, it’s their debut full length (preceded by an EP). A lot of young thrashers this month!

They kick off with a very Slayer meets blackened death metal vibe – the leads are definitely Hanneman/King, but the sound that follows (on “all is lie”) isn’t really thrash proper, it’s very much informed by later developments in the underground “extreme” metal scene.

Luckily, come the next track, they’re back on course and working more of a
modern if chunky gallop riffed thrash thing, with six stringer Xen Ritter
keeping things feeling retro with her loose, admittedly somewhat sloppy but loveably in your face (and inventively phrased, it must be said!) old school leads.

Have to say, the high points of every track for me were Ritter’s leads – I
found myself waiting for them to come back around, and at least on the first half of the album, she kindly accommodates by offering several brief leads and fills per track rather than the one solo showpiece per song most bands fall back on.

Somewhat thickset (but undeniably damn sexy!) Alexandra Orlova provides a suitably fetching frontwoman, but sadly ascribes to the death growl/shriek school of vocals far too many femme vocalists gravitate towards nowadays.

What saves her is twofold: a Romeo Voidlike spoken section in “kingdom of hate” works better than the screaming business otherwise, and the fact that she remains resolutely female in tone. She may be shrieking and growling throughout…but this is no creepy/silly Gossow/White-Gluz affair – you can tell it’s a woman throughout.

It’s more modern than I tend to prefer. And there’s a lot of screaming in
place of vocals. You’d expect a slag at this point.

And yet…

I found myself looking forward to Ritter’s leads.

I wasn’t crinkling the old nose at Orlova’s vox.

And yeah, let’s be honest. I kept going back to look at the band photo.
Mmm-hmm. She ain’t half bad, wot?

I was good with this…when by all rights, I would hardly have expected such.

Hats off to ya, ladies.

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Skurk – Final Gift

Now, this is different…Icelandic thrashers.

That’s right, the land of Bjork and the Sugarcubes…and a really weird black metal scene of more recent vintage. This is their debut EP, no priors.

They come off like a more melodic Messiah (the Dutch weirdo death metal act of Choir of Horrors fame) more than anything else.

It’s thrash riffing, alright, but with the overly upfront, undistorted bass (the kind where you can hear the metal of the strings slapping the frets, usually associated with bands like Primus or stuff like Massacre’s unreleased The Second Coming) and quirkiness off…well, Messiah.

Not boring, really…certainly not “predictable”…but overly comfortable, in its own weird way. Nothing really stands out about this beyond the aforementioned.

Your call – definitely worth a listen to see whether something this off kilter yet still recognizably thrash does anything for you or not.

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Soul Collector / Re-Animator – In Union We Thrash (split)

Polish thrashers work a split with the Canadian Reanimator (not to be confused with the more Metallicaesque hyphenated UK act of Condemned to Eternity fame).

Both bands have a little more experience under their belts than most of the thrashers we’re talking this month, with the Poles having gone through the standard demo/EP/full length route prior to this and the Quebecois having pulled double duty (2 EPs, 2 full lengths and a demo).

Soul Collector clearly ascribes to an And Justice For All-era Metallica riffing style and production (the crisp but extremely thin drum sound combined with the quirky riffs really seals the deal), but with some serious Exodus love on the vocal end. This guy can’t quite decide whether he wants to do Souza or Baloff, but leans much closer to the former, which is an interesting change among these legions of Exodus homages.

There’s also a light Testament influence (in the Skolnick-esque solos) and even a touch of early Metallica (when they were still trying to be a sped-up NWOBHM cover act) on the comparatively superior (excepting the vocals, which trip the line straight into self parody) “never enough”.

Suffice to say, they reeeeeeeeeeeally love Metallica – this latter track even kicks off with a very Kirk Hammett-like solo before flipping back to Skolnick. Then they throw in Biohazard-esque gang chants? WTF?

Well, it’s all good by me, and as weird as it is to hear these disparate, distinct sounds all mashed together like this, you can’t fault their taste in musical idols (at least they kept it to pre-“black album” Metallica!).

Reanimator, on the other hand, comes off by far the worse here. The production is certainly full…but overly so, coming off far too “modern” for the 80’s thrash sound they’re trying to evoke. It’s at best “quite 90’s”, if that. I found myself thinking more Ill Nino than Bay Area, let’s put it that way.

Worse, the “vocalist” comes from the aggro/screamo school by way of The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. Gargle choke swallow shout. BLEEEAH BLURRGH BLEEEAAAAAHH blu-BLAAAHHH!!! ARRRGGHH!

Instant fail.

Him aside, the situation isn’t quite so dire. The band shows themselves as deserving a much better frontman, and while the bass is far too metallic, forefronted and bouncy (speaking more to the funk and prog crossover acts of the early to mid 90’s than thrash in any real way), the riffing is chugging and aggressive in a vaguely, perhaps post-Souza Exodus manner…though in reality, it feels more like Prong or Pantera in combination with the bass and “vocals”.

I guess if your tolerance for post-metal and what passed for heavy music post-grunge is much greater than mine…otherwise, fuck ’em, stick to Soul Collector.

Split decision on this split.

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Torrefy – The Infinity Complex 

Victoria, BC Canadian act’s second full length (no demos or priors – just right into a pair of albums proper).

Overly proggy, like they were trying to cross the general aesthetic of Cynic and Atheist with both Dream Theater and…what? Who the hell sounds like this? And what the fuck’s up with those snarly pseudo-black metal vocals?

Well, I’m sure there’s plenty of acts from more recent years ascribing to a similar sound and approach, honestly. But here’s a big secret for those who wonder why I miss some “obvious” comparisons you may be picking up amongst yourselves: I don’t listen to shit on a voluntary basis (though I do…occasionally…get stuck with it here, as certain reviews every month will attest).  So there’s really nothing to compare this to among bands I came up on and with, or worthy players I’ve discovered and spend my free time with.

They’ve got a fantastic album cover…really, really liked this one in both concept and execution…and it’s clear they’ve got both some measure of musical ability and an affection towards second wave thrash – there’s hints of stuff like Realm and Watchtower in here, and you could argue some light derivation from the more “progressive” or “technical” thrash acts like Forbidden…but almost zero of their sound and approach. Maybe second album Heathen or second album Toxik (two bands who peaked on their respective debuts…no great compliment, that), but that’s about it.

Has elements, may have promise buried in there somewhere.

Doesn’t work for me.

Too bad, that cover is fucking awesome.

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TOXIC RUIN – Subterranean Terror

Ah, Wisconsin. Home of cheese. Beer. And the butt of many a joke on MST3K.

Also home to…a young, presumably dairy and brew-sated thrash act!

Once again a debut full length with no priors, Toxic Ruin cleans themselves off after being “submerged in cheese”…er, “chaos”, to a nicely aggressive and speedy thrash/”speed metal” riffing style that would sit equally well with fans of, say, Annihilator, Toxik and Agent Steel as Bay Area acts like Testament and Forbidden.

Again, not fond of these vocals one bit – the guy’s clearly drawing more from modern punk and aggro/screamo than thrash, just throwing some more open mouthed WEEOOWWWs and such at the end of phrases to sound more “crazed” and “thrashy”. It’s vaguely ballpark and far from offensive or any kind of deal breaker, but still comes off kinda silly in the end.

The band even tosses in some Maiden worship (the bridge in “seal of corruption”…you’ll hear it immediately) just to show their “broad” tastes in metal (and well beyond, given the vocals), but in the end, the riffing and approach (bar the vocals) is more thrash than you can handle.

Didn’t set me on fire, but due respect to these up and coming thrashers…bar those silly, somewhat inappropriate vocals, which just bring things back down to the fondue they announced themselves as.

“Submerged in cheese,” indeed.

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TÖXIK WALTZ – Declassified

Another set of Spanish thrashers, another debut full length (following a demo 3 years back).

Very thick and driving guitar sound, buried under an even thicker and more in your face drum track. Add some crossover style vocals (think anything from DRI to Sacred Reich to even Prong here, then make it a bit more tongue in cheek silly and gargly) and you have a band that positively screams old school late 80’s/early 90’s hardcore crossover thrash.

Well, it ain’t the Cro-Mags or Agnostic Front…ain’t even another Surf Nicaragua or USA for M.O.D., for that matter. But is failing to achieve the heights of a given genre that awful of a crime?

Hardly.

Wasn’t overly excited by it, but it works well enough for a retro-crossover sort of thing.

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VORBID – S/T

Norwegian thrashers drop a self-titled EP.

Ooh, is that riffing aggressive and stylized. In fact, it’s very familiar…and that’s a good thing.

The vibe you pick up is if you cross a band like Vio-Lence with a more technically inclined, melodically oriented one like Forbidden or Testament…then tag in an annoying vocalist along the lines of John Connelly (Nuclear Assault) or Darren Travis (Sadus).

Well, OK, a lot more like Connelly than Travis, or they’d be living down a big slag instead of praise here…damn, nice shrieks, Travis. Did someone put your nuts in a vise during recording? Sheesh…

Anyway, Vorbid are a very busy sounding, aggressive, somewhat technical, melodically oriented (at least on lead lines and solos!) and very second wave Bay Area thrash oriented act.

Hell, the Forbidden is so on their sleeve by the time you get to “desert of the wicked”, you start to realize that irritating John Connelly sound may actually be an attempt to sound like Russ Anderson after all…and yeah, on this track, he at least gets the shout-gesang parts of that approach pretty close to template.

No “through eyes of glass” to be found here, but Forbidden fans may want to give this one a listen.

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