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Well, I can’t speak for anyone else, but current events have driven me somewhere I haven’t been in years.

Many’s the time some erstwhile doom wannabe or first timer excited to ape their very first Sabbath riff has been slammed down mercilessly in these very pages: roundly mocked for adhering to a simplistic if not downright overplayed late 60’s/early 70’s heavy rock template that most guitarists of a certain vintage, yours truly inclusive, had outgrown and left behind as children discard their playtoys with growth and experience.

Sabbath was great, sure – they’re even quite foundational somewhere within many a band and genre’s base sound (our old band’s earlier material included).  But eventually, you get tired of hearing the same old songs.

Back in the 80’s, we used to line bands up by whether they adhered to the Zeppelin or Sabbath school of metal.  As a Gibson player, lover of thick tone and open aficionado of Celtic Frost when they (and their earlier iteration as Hellhammer) were resoundingly mocked in most circles, you can guess which camp I firmly stood with.

But the years roll on, skills improve, you discover new and more fascinating vistas of music, and burgeoning subgenres of metal itself.  The mid to late 80’s bore witness to a plethora of scenes only dubbed as such with the passage of many a year since – and as a devotee of the underground over anything more mainstream and “poseur”, I was there for those first halting steps in the paths towards death, black and any number of later-christened sub-subgenres newcomers take for granted.

Hell, one of ’em was doom – Candlemass, Pentagram, Trouble and St. Vitus were all relatively new or just gaining traction within the last handful of years.  But hybridized crossover acts like Dream Death or Goatlord aside, it was just a song or three from each that really stuck with most of us – if there was a dedicated following for doom, it was rooted somewhere in Europe, not here in the States.

Sure, I still have my vinyl copy of Nightfall, and have long since upgraded certain early, pivotal albums from the aforementioned bands from old cassettes to CD…but always for those certain songs, and the albums would gather dust in the collection more than just about any other genre-centric corner thereof.

But all of a sudden over the past few months…I’ve rediscovered my love of the lumberingly heavy, syrup-to-molasses thick riff.  First with the recognition that I was never a Wino man in the least…it’s all about Reagers (the excellent Thirsty and Miserable EP aside).  And from Vitus, I’ve rediscovered and re-evaluated Candlemass…Pentagram…Trouble…Pagan Altar…Witchfinder General…and yes, the first three or four Sabbath albums.

Seriously.  After decades of groaning and turning the dial whenever somebody got the all too predictable itch to spin “war pigs” or “sweet leaf” (OK, I still hit the skip button on those two, but even so).  I’m listening to…and actually hearing Sabbath again.

Sure, the traditional doom movement more or less died off with the 80’s – outside of a few notable Italian acts whose names I often drop by way of praise (cough Black Hole and Run After To cough), those bands are pretty much all she wrote so far as I’m concerned.

But I’m seriously getting into doom again.

And if that doesn’t already toll a warning bell that the world’s about to end, then realize it’s probably more than just a never-truly-lost love of the heavy riff.  Because there’s always something going on beneath that drives us, our actions, our tastes du jour.

We’re talking about a genre of which a certain online source describes as (and I quote:) “…both music and lyrics intend to evoke a sense of despair, dread, and impending doom.”

And the fact that I’m apparently feeling that way about the world and our prospects for a more hopeful future somewhere deep down inside, should say a whole hell of a lot more than mere words ever could.

So with that sobering if not chilling thought, let us enter the chamber of ages, once again forcing open long closed doors to find what awaits us within, in this, our monthly rendezvous with darkness…

Please.  After you.

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TOKYO MOTOR FIST – S/T (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (February 24)

Ted Poley from Danger Danger and Trixter’s Steve Brown join forces.

Perhaps unfortunately, this feels more Danger Danger than Trixter (who surprised the fuck out of the wife and I by putting on one hell of an energetic, upbeat and damn good opening act on a package tour a few years back – who ever thought I’d pay Trixter any respect?)

…but even so, you know what to expect: big, melodic sing-a-long choruses and an upbeat, summertime cruising with the top down 80’s L.A. metal feel.

And I’d be the last one to knock that sound and feel.

Bring back those hot girls with big hair in form-fitting spandex, leather and lace…I’m missing ya, and so are bands like Tokyo Motor Fist.

Raise your lighters and hold your girl closer.

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ASIA – Symfonia – Live in Bulgaria 2013 (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (February 24)

A televised performance from a few years back gets the audio treatment courtesy of Frontiers. This is 3/4 of the band, being just post-Steve Howe’s retirement…but given his surprisingly shaky performance on XXX Live in San Francisco, that may be just as well.

Wetton, Palmer and Downes are still on hand, and while new kid Sam Coulson takes something of a respectful back seat to the others throughout (a situation not exactly helped by his turned down guitar and thin tone herein), if you like classic Asia and don’t mind a bit of a worn down feel pervading the proceedings overall, you should be reasonably happy here.

A few tracks get some symphonic accompaniment (hence the album title), but it’s far more subtle and subdued than you’d expect…so consider this a simple document of the current Asia lineup live.

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PLACE VENDOME – Close to the Sun (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (February 24)

Soaring-toned Helloween frontman Michael Kiske continues with his AOR project, featuring members of Vanden Plas and Pink Cream 69, plus a few guest spots from folks like fellow Helloween vet Kai Hansen (also of Iron Savior and Gamma Ray fame) and Firewind’s Gus G.

Kiske remains in fine form vocally, and some fairly accomplished songcraft on the part of Primal Fear’s Magnus Karlsson and Alessandro del Vecchio (among others) means AOR fans are in solid hands here.

Those who’ve been around for prior Place Vendome efforts like Thunder in the Distance should know exactly what to expect here: solid, melodic AOR with Kiske’s usual strong vocal performance front and center.

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LIONVILLE – A World of Fools (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (February 24)

Italian AOR act who take some very obvious and welcome inspiration from folks like Richard Marx, Survivor and Toto (all namechecked in the promo materials as well).

I’d say Marx circa self titled/Repeat Offender with a touch of the assuredness he brought to Flesh and Bone (yes, I had a ladyfriend who was really into the guy…his stuff wasn’t half bad, either) is probably the influence that rings through loudest.

And that should say something to those who appreciate particularly strong songcraft, catchy hooks and a general L.A. style AOR-bordering-“hair metal” 80’s vibe.

Best release from Frontiers this month, hands down…and they’ve got a Michael Kiske in there, so it’s no small shakes to say that, either.

Damn good stuff of its type.

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UNRULY CHILD – Can’t Go Home (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (February 24)

King Kobra frontman Mark Free (now going by Marcie Michelle Free) and Hurricane sticksman Jay Schellen join forces with more recent members of notable MOR acts like Ambrosia, Toto and Air Supply for this one.

It’s a bit light on the AOR scale, leaning more towards the aforementioned MOR sound than that of Free or Schellen’s former acts, so it’s your call – but there’s no denying the melodic nature hereof.

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Crystal Viper – Queen Of The Witches (AFM Records) (February 17)

We previously reviewed their Possession here: and little has changed since.

The band is still working a traditionalist, vaguely neoclassical cum King Diamondesque sort of thing, and vocalist Marta Gabriel is still trying to cop the same corner of the market that the likes of Veronica Freeman and Noora Louhimo have made their own: gravelly, midrange, sorta bar band rocker. It ain’t exactly Leather Leone, Gigi Hangach or Ann Boleyn, but there’s some vague affinity thereto, if you take several large steps remove…

It’s a weird fit, and one that doesn’t entirely work – the overall impression is of a much better band than the one this particular frontwoman would likely best suit.

That said, she’s far from awful and not especially grating in any way, and the band works pretty damn well in spite of the somewhat odd choice in vocalist here. There’s even a direct nod to their 80’s Euro metal leanings in their bringing Manowar’s Ross “the Boss” Friedman (OK, they’re a Stateside act…but tell me their sound isn’t as Euro as they come) and Jeff “Mantas” Dunn of Venom on for guest spots, and two covers of classic Exciter and Grim Reaper tracks from back in the day.

Now, here’s a bit of an answer for the unspoken question underlying much of the impressions Crystal Viper demands, as discussed once again herein. The “secret” behind Gabriel’s fronting a band that bears such an otherwise variant disposition is that she’s apparently the driving force behind them, composing all the music they perform (and likely designing their stagewear as well – look it up). Guess she’s kind of indispensible after all…

The only track that doesn’t work at all is, as you might expect, the ballad (“trapped behind”), but it’s no secret that bar a few “power ballads” that really pick up at the midway point for dramatics’ sake, I absolutely detest the ballad as a musical form, period – decades worth of skipped tracks and forwarded tapes hold evidence thereto. So even there, it’s kind of on the listener so inclined as to whether it really works for ya or not. And in case you were wondering, the demi-“power” balladeering of “we will make it last forever” did nothing for me either.

Covers, unless they’re a fairly radical, sped up or beefed up reimagining (like Minor Threat’s Monkees cover) seldom stand up to the originals, but they’re always a welcome treat live or as bonus tracks, so no complaints about their takes on Exciter and Reaper…but it’s the other 6 tracks that make Queen of the Witches worth hearing.

Despite all of this discussion, the bottom line is, this is a decent, if middle tier retro-minded traditionalist metal band, with decent production and playing across the board…and despite what I said about the vocals not really gelling with the band’s style, there’s quite honestly and objectively nothing to complain about on that front – Gabriel is more than competent and far from grating on the ol’ ears.

I’ll give ’em a raised lighter and a metal fist of salute.

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Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear (AFM Records) (February 24)

We reviewed their A Century in the Curse of Time here, and yeah, not a hell of a lot has changed.

They’re still working the steampunk affectations and still sound a hell of a lot more emo/pop radio teenage angst oriented than gothic or metal in any real respect…though you get to hear occasional hints of a death/pagan metallish vocal growl amidst all the longing and CW tweeny drama soundtrack emotionalism and clean vocalled melodicism.

Nothing whatsoever wrong with ’em…just the kind of band that fills up the T-shirt wall at your local Hot Topic, rather than any sort of metal band proper.

Best track: “I have seen my soul”

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Danko Jones – Wild Cat (AFM Records) (March 3)

Heavy rock that takes a general Motorhead meets AC/DC feel and injects a more modern day speed and powerful production into the mix. The overall feeling is as if you took Michael Monroe and backed him with a Swedish retro-traditional metal band, taking the punk energy and gritty, sleazy vibe of the former and marrying it to a cleaner, more polished template.

While none of it’s bad, especially if you dig the sort of hard rock cum “metal” coming out of Hollywood in the immediate post-GNR era, the simple fact is that “gotta rock” and “going out tonight” blow the rest of this right the fuck off the stage…those are straight up background music for a fistfight, which says they’re my kinda music indeed.

Two killer tracks and another 9 decent, gritty but far more sedate heavy rockers for the unrepentant glam/would-be “tatooed millionaire” crowd.

Totally sold on the two tracks mentioned, and you can take that to the bank.

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Bloodbound – War Of Dragons (AFM Records) (February 24)

uh…

Bloodbound tries to go all power metal, in the Rhapsody (of Fire) meets Sonata Arctica by way of Helloween sense of the word.

Apparently they’ve been touring with bands like Sabaton and Hammerfall, which probably explains it…but those (like myself) hoping for a return to Book of the Dead stylings will be somewhat nonplussed by their current reimagining and change of direction.

Sure, it’s a huge step up from the decidedly transitional In the Name of Metal…but most Bloodbound albums do fare better than that one.

You can pretty much tell from the cover that this is not the same Bloodbound as we’ve seen previously (any of the many iterations thereof, in fact). Is it an improvement? Well, yeah, if you leave Book of the Dead out of the equation – it’s a lot closer to the template they appear to be striving towards now, more upbeat, fantasy-oriented, dramatic and bombastic. If that’s who you wanted the band to be all along, then you could certainly be forgiven for saying “damn, these guys have finally gotten their shit together!”

But with so many changes, so many versions of the band along the way…is it really Bloodbound?

And for that matter, given the ever-changing sound, membership and focus of the band from one album to the next, you have to ask…who or what really is? 

Works pretty well for fans of any of the aforementioned acts…probably will come as a real shocker and somewhat of a head scratcher for Bloodbound regulars.

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Helion Prime – S/T (AFM Records) (February 24)

What do you get when you cross the SF-oriented power metal of Iron Savior with the alto, nigh-sprechtgesang vocals and general detuned vibe of Lacuna Coil?

You guessed it, Helion Prime, a female fronted, Stateside-origin (!) European-style power metal act (so don’t walk in expecting, say, Helstar…this is a decidedly Euro variant despite its terrestrial home base) whose major label debut this self titled represents.

They’ve apparently undergone lineup (and frontwoman!) changes already from an earlier, more indie release EP, so who knows, this time next year, we may see yet another incarnation of the band…but for now, this is pleasantly inoffensive enough.

Lyrical bent aside, there’s not a hell of a lot to speak to here. Production’s decent, guitar solos are likeable and somewhat inventive (or at least phrase-oriented and distinguishable from one another!) It’s melodic and Kayla Dixon’s vox are pleasant enough…but while certainly listenable, there’s something indefinable lacking, some grit, some hookiness that bands like Battle Beast (in the Steel and self-titled era, anyway) have going for them that engages the listener and draws them in.

In other words, I’d be the last one to shut this off if someone gave it a spin – hell, I’d probably turn it up for a track or two.  But I’m not sure this kind of light ear candy holds up to even the full album length, much less repeat listens.

Those of a more light and airy disposition may want to turn off the Dream Theater long enough to give this one a listen. You’ll probably love it to pieces.

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WARBRINGER – “Silhouettes” (Napalm Records) (March 31)

Damn, how ironic. I dig into the reviews today, and what do I discover but a modern anti-war thrash track I just heard on the radio on the drive in this morning.

Seriously…weird. “We’re ghosts!”

I thought it sounded interesting a few hours ago…and hearing it again here hasn’t exactly changed my mind.

Curious if the full length will hold up to the promise shown herein.

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EX DEO – The Immortal Wars (Napalm Records) (February 24)

And here’s the full length. We reviewed lead single “the rise of Hannibal” last month, and I’ve since been moved to check out Maurizio Iacono’s previous dissertation on the glory daze of Rome, Caligula (not to mention being equally motivated to pull out both Tacitus’ Annals (covering Tiberius through Nero) and Cassius Dio’s Rome Book 4 (covering Augustus through Caligula)* – so thanks, paisano!

* some absolutely terrifying and direct parallels in the fall of the Republic and creation of Empire/Dictatorship and what’s happening right now in American politics to be found in both – Dio in particular, given the period covered…worth checking out as a wake up call to just how dangerous this fucker is to our way of life, people…)

Now, Caligula led off with one hell of a single (“I, Caligula”, which came complete with an amusing “filmic” video), but fell a tad flat thereafter. So given how strong “rise of hannibal” was…how does the rest of The Immortal Wars hold up?

And the answer is…comparably. If Caligula worked for you as an album, The Immortal Wars should offer few surprises.

As with their last effort, it’s still a sort of modern power metal meets melodeath approach, with Iacono’s choke-shouted vox providing the largest hurdle to the otherwise fairly straightforward and often melodic sound the band is throwing down. Once again, there’s one obvious single, and it’s up for grabs after that – some songs work better than others.

As you might expect, it’s all based on ancient Roman history, though this time around a bit more cohesively in terms of concept – Caligula felt a bit more scattershot and less focused on the specific reign of the mad emperor in question than of various battles and events in the timeline of the Empire per se.

The production sounds quieter and more stifled by comparison to its predecessor, though it’s the same producer and same guitar duo in tow…so why does this one take on a muted pallette? Something with the final mix, perhaps? Who the hell knows. It’s not a million miles off target either way, just realize Hannibal’s more than a touch less crisp and powerful when played side by side with Caligula.

Regardless, I love the concept, respect the execution and salute my brother in heritage for re-igniting and inspiring a further dig into the annals of Rome (my adoration of Seutonius and the later Augustan History was hinted at here, among other places…and John Hurt will always be Caligula for me, forget anything else he’s done or anyone else who’d tried to essay the role).

Hails and a heartfelt saluti, paisan.

Carthago delenda est!

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ZOMBIE MOTORS WRECKING YARD – Supersonic Rock n Roll  (Napalm Records) (February 24)

Aussie act just discovered Circus O’ Power and Zodiac Mindwarp, apparently.

It’s pretty driving and more than a bit stoner rock (they mention Red Fang in promo materials, so you get the idea there), but there’s plenty of grunge and biker vibe going on as well.

Does it work? Well, I don’t like the vox at all, and hate grunge as a
rule…but the biker thing works and stoner rock can be pretty damn good when done by folks like Kyuss and Monstermagnet. Circus wasn’t all that terrible, Mindwarp was…occasionally listenable, I guess, and I did enjoy The New Black, who wasn’t playing all that far off the general template being blended together here.

So overall verdict?

Definitely listenable.

Can’t really offer much more than that…but when you boil it down past all the labels and comparisons, it’s aggressive hard rock and you probably won’t be running to shut it off either.

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MY SLEEPING KARMA – Mela Ananda – Live (Napalm Records) (February 24)

Speaking of stoner rock, trippy psychedelicized Eastern religion-inspired potheads My Sleeping Karma are back after 2015’s Moksha with a longer form live album.

You know they’ve got to be playing seriously fucking loud, because in place of the thin sound and crowd participation generally found with live releases, all you really get here is a more expansive, wide open sound and occasional barely audible cheers and applause between songs.

It’s trippier than your grandpa’s Strawberry Alarm Clock and Peanut Butter Conspiracy albums, the drumming is busy, syncopated and on point, the bass is as prominent and prone to “walking” as it should be in a stoner/doom band and the guitars veer between clean processed tones and thick lo-fi fuzz tone where appropriate.

Yeah, it’s no Blues for the Red Sun or Monster Magnet…but I’ll take My Sleeping Karma as a close third for this style any day.

Tune in, turn on, drop out, man.

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BLACK MIRRORS – Funky Queen (Napalm Records) (March 3)

Promo materials namecheck The White Stripes and Queens of the Stone Age, so you get the idea. Female fronted, melodic but leaning decidedly indie on the guitar end, with, as you might expect from the EP title, a funky drummer.

For some reason, she covers the MC5 in the middle of all this, and adopts an American Indian aesthetic despite being from Belgium. Don’t ask me.

Nothing wrong with it, but it’s not metal or even AOR by a long shot.

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Obituary – S/T (Relapse Records) (March 17)

Veteran death metallers return with what must be their 20th album or EP…at least it sure feels that way!

It’s kind of hard to believe in retrospect that these guys were right at the top of the (then burgeoning) death metal food chain, but face it – they brought the goods and delivered them.

Who the hell else could get away with just grunting a few lines over and over and calling it a lyric? And yet they did, with Cause of Death remaining one of the highpoints of the genre, a decided checkpoint in any discussion of both the Florida Morrisound scene and death metal as a whole.

Of course, a certain hotshot fill-in guitarist was a major part of that album’s success and pivotal position in the genre’s best years, but that’s not to take away from the primo Scott Burns production job…the grinding, repetitive but never boring riffing of Trevor Peres…the relentless typewriter double bass drumming of Donald Tardy (one of the first and most influential of that particular style, in fact) and of course the still quite unique grunt-shouts of John Tardy.

While time and numerous bands who came up in their wake have necessarily diminished the uniqueness and power of Obituary, you have to note that they’ve remained fairly consistent, at least post-The End Complete, which was the last of their essential trilogy of defining albums in the genre.

Sure, they’ve incorporated weird groove and even Autopsyish “blues” elements in years since somewhat to their detriment…but alongside a precious few acts – Unleashed, Deicide – they’ve more or less stuck to template ever since.  The downside, of course, is that we’ve heard all this before, and to far greater effect from the very same band(s) in question…but you can’t fault them for drifting too far afield.

What I can tell you on the plus side is that I’m not hearing many of the outside elements and 90’s influences this time around. If anything, this one’s their most consistent, credible release since The End Complete, an album it bears a hell of a lot of kinship to stylistically.

Sure, you don’t get the Scott Burns production. Neither James Murphy or Allen West are on hand to assist and embellish Peres’ riffing on the guitar end.  And the late Frank Watkins is necessarily unable to complete the “classic lineup”…though in a way, it might have been appropriate if he were to return from the beyond for this one! In his place, a fitting substitute was drafted: none other than Death/Massacre four stringer Terry Butler.

But all things considered, for 3/5 of the Obituary you know and love, at a remove of 25 years?

This is about as close to The End Complete as you never thought you’d hear them get again.

Respect.

Hail to the conquering veterans.

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EDENBRIDGE – The Great Momentum (Steamhammer / SPV) (February 17)

It’s always weird to me when bands have to resort to a Kickstarter campaign to fund their next album.

I mean, I get it for the unsigned indie release types – if you’ve got fans who dig your stuff enough to toss a few bucks at you in the hopes that your next one will be half as good as the last album, why the hell not – someone’s got to foot the bill, and if you can get some up front rather than all on the back end, all the better.

It’s hardly the old days, when bands needed to book studio time and find themselves a good producer – most folks seem to be doing this from home in one form or another, often sending files back and forth to “band members” they’ve never even met in person, but OK, I can hear an argument for it.

But when it’s a major band, signed to a fairly large and significant label in the scene? Sorry, I just don’t get it.

Regardless, the Kickstarter was met a few months back, and here we are with a new Edenbridge album. How does it hold up?

Well, let’s put this on the table. I was and am an Edenbridge fan, which is why I got Lanvall on the podcast a few years back. That said, listeners to said podcast can probably also divine that so far as I’m concerned, the band’s best days were from Sunrise in Eden through The Grand Design (or if you prefer, the Chronicles of Eden comp, which had a few extras, B-sides and surprises of its own).

MyEarthDream certainly had its merits and may in fact have been the band’s most bombastic album to date, but it served as a turning point separating “classic Edenbridge” from a new iteration, more aggressive and downtuned – arguably Epica-esque at points, but far more…angry? Typically power metal?

It felt like that special uplifting sweetness (for lack of a better way to describe it) was suddenly lost, shunted aside in favor of a more workaday, perhaps realistic, perhaps just “less spiritual” vibe. Probably gained them some new fans and respect from whatever corner of the metal scene may have knocked them for being too light and airy, too positive toned, what have you. But what made Edenbridge unique was more or less lost on darker albums like Solitaire and especially The Bonding (whose motivating circumstances behind the scenes were discussed on the podcast – suffice to say, there’s a reason it was quite so grim in tone).

So bar another hits comp, that’s been all she wrote from Edenbridge for a full four years. And when you’re talking a band who dropped classics on a literal yearly basis, that can seem an eternity.

Well, I have some good news for both camps – those who miss the classic Edenbridge of the millenium and those who only came on board when things went all sideways in the 2010s.

Managing to recapture some of the neoclassical and spiritual feel (though admittedly not half so much of the lightness and uplifting tone perviously associated thereto), Lanvall and Edelsbacher simultaneously continue the darker, more world weary tone and crunchy detuned guitars brought on board in more recent years, resulting in an odd mix of old/new, spiritual/workaday, operatic/aggressively metal throughout. Just about every song bears the punishing, almost modern thrash style riffing, but several of them also come with the orchestral bombast and general feel of at least MyEarthDream-era Edenbridge.

“Shiantara”, “the die is not cast” and “a turnaround in art” are surprisingly akin to millenial Edenbridge, with big choruses, sweet singing and some straight up pre-detuned, wide open chorded power metal guitar in the fashion of their first five albums…and if the album was all like this, I’d be heaping praise for a long awaited return to form of sorts.

Other tracks are more oddly skewed – “return to grace” certainly bears some measures, lyrics and a chorus that feel quite Sunrise-Grand Design in orientation, and Lanvall even throws in some of his patented two handed fretwork…but there’s still that aggro-leaning verse riff and some angry whammy bar business to contend with.

A very similar dichotomy marks closer “the greatest gift of all”, which feels like an Aphelion track at times…except for the inverted motion (we’ll get to that in a moment) and grinding detuned guitar shoved comparatively up front in the mix.  “Until the end of time” and “only a whiff of life” are straight up ballads, and the other tracks lean more Solitare/Bonding era than not.

Now, beyond all of that, there’s been a rather profound change in Edenbridge. Listen to the lyrics, first off. Where Edenbridge’s lyrics were once, if anything, overly optimistic, spiritually toned and well beyond positive to the point where they were actually uplifting. You’d listen to Edenbridge and walk away feeling better about yourself, the world around you and your place in it…not something I can ascribe to just about any other band out there, regardless of genre.

Further, this was mirrored in the music itself. However cheesy or obvious, Lanvall deliberately indulged in a touch of “word painting”, having the music continually ascend through the modes, ever upward. Like the positive, spiritual feel and the omnipresent, almost guitar synth-toned two hand work he was prone to, this “ladder to the heavens” approach was unique to Edenbridge, part and parcel of who they were as a band identity.

What you’ll notice with The Great Momentum, however subtly, is that even the most “Edenbridgelike” tracks (“shaintara”, “the die is not cast”, “a turnaround in art”, “the greatest gift of all”) are inversely marked by a downwards motion. The progressions continually descend where they once ascended…the lyrics feel more resigned and world weary, even the choruses and backing vocals shift unerringly towards the minor.

This is an Edenbridge beaten by life, an older, perhaps “wiser” one who may not yet have been embittered by struggles and the troubles that come with age… …but who is similarly no longer the positive, uplifting friend you wanted to be around, because you knew they’d always have a good word for you, a cheery, more hopeful outlook to carry you out of the doldrums and cut short your personal pity party du jour to see the bigger picture…and that it all worked together for good.

I’m giving this a guarded thumbs up for the degree to which it felt somewhat akin to that old friend many of us have missed so dearly.

Just be warned, he’s really been through the wringer, and is not the same man you once knew.

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Heavy Tiger – Glitter (Wild Kingdom) (March 24)

We reviewed their way, way pre-release single “Devil May Care” here, and despite ow it may have come off in print, we found this one more than likeable.

Little has changed here – they’re still working a one band glam rock revival and bringing the spirit of the Runaways and Suzy Quatro back for the modern day even more obviously than the equally Ramones-obsessed The Donnas. With Entombed/Death Breath and (more to the point) Imperial State Electric mainman Nicke Andersson once again producing, the 70’s glam feel is about as authentic as you’re likely to find – try playing it to your grandparents and pretend it’s some long lost 70’s band making a comeback or something.

Why it took so many months to drop a full album is anybody’s guess…but when the quality’s this strong, who really gives a damn?

Good lead guitar, solid if straightforward power trio backing and a faux-authentic feel likely to fool even those who were there to live through it last time around.

Glitter rock, indeed.

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Wolfheart – Tyhjyys (Spinefarm Records) (March 3)

Viking metal…or perhaps more precisely, the closely related but slightly more expansive pagan metal, of the most melodic type.

More bombast than you can handle, growly-belch death metallish vox, clean production, acoustic “folk instrument” sections, sampled choir punctuation, power metal-approved typewriter double bass…you know the deal.

Vocals are shittier than usual, but otherwise, it’s fairly template except for a touch of blackened business (injections of BM-style tremelo riffing and blastbeats on a semi-regular basis). And yet, somehow they think they’re worthy of their own personal genre (“Winter Metal”, whatever the fuck that means…yeah, whatever, pal…)

That foolishness aside, as noted, it’s pretty template pagan/Viking metal, albeit with a slightly stronger than usual emphasis on melody and occasional elements stolen from the black metal scene.

Nothing special, all told. But if you like this general sound and subgenre(s), Wolfheart should hold you over till the next release from a much more interesting and accomplished act such as Manegarm.

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Striker – S/T (Record Breaking Records) (February 24)

Another year, another Striker album.

Seriously, that’s how it comes off – since I first encountered (and spoke with) them back in 2012 with Armed to the Teeth, they’ve dropped no less than three further albums, with Stand in the Fire hailing from, quite literally, last year. You have to guess that their 2 record deal with Napalm was holding them back somehow: “No, you can’t put out more than an album every other year, you’ll flood the market!”

Seriously, it’s crazy. I’m fully expecting another album early next year.

Well, look at it like this. Armed to the Teeth was an enjoyable entry in a then-burgeoning US/Canadian retro-traditional movement. City of Gold was an odd move towards a more aggressive, almost Bay Area thrash vibe, and Stand in the Fire was a move back in the right direction, if noticeably improved – the eubellience and first flush of freedom really shined through.

So how does this year’s self-titled fare by comparison?

Well…it’s kind of a mix, drawing from all the stops along the way…but sadly leans a bit more towards the sound of City of Gold than that of Stand in the Fire or the better parts of Armed to the Teeth.

On the plus side, you have the positive toned, catchy melodic anthemicism of “born to lose”, and they were clearly attempting to recapture that feel on more compromised tracks like “rock the night” and “freedoms call”. “Curse of the dead” is quite obviously Enforcer inspired, and while not quite the same thing, is certainly of merit.

But overall, it’s the harder, more thrash-oriented feel that predominates. The riffing is darker, more aggressive, the choruses more grim, far less soaring and celebratory.

There’s no issue on the objective musicianship level of review – the band is as competent as ever, the vocals are soaring and powerful, the production is strong and clear and the musicianship is unimpeachable throughout.

But on a more subjective, intuitive level…the darkness has returned, and it’s an ill fit with “Striker at their best”, who are a more hopeful, positive and yes, uplifting band than the one we’re hearing herein, bar the excellent born to lose”.

I’m sure the pendulum will swing back again with next year’s release – their track record to date seems to support that paradigm practically without fail.

For now, give ‘er a test drive and see if it floats your boat…or just head back into the band’s archives and pick up a copy of Stand in the Fire until the next one comes around.

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Sainted Sinners – S/T (El Puerto Records Gbr) (February 24)

Former Bangalore Choir, Bonfire and Accept frontman David Reece returns with a new project that leans more on mid-70’s through 1980’s Deep Purple and Rainbow with some touches of Led Zeppelin than the glam and power metal he’s best known for.

Hey, say what you want about the unfortunate frontmen who had to sit in for bands like Accept and Judas Priest during their more famed and long running precedessor/successors’ hiatuses from said bands, but I still have a copy of On Target in the collection, and always liked it – not least for Reece’s dark and throaty vox (a rarity in metal at that time – who the hell else did you have, Fifth Angel’s Ted Pilot and Hurricane’s Kelly Hansen even attempting to approximate some sort of clean dramatic baritone?). So this is a guy I’ve held some measure of respect for, for many a year now.

This one is pretty much post-Ian Gillan (Mark II-era) through Joe Lynn Turner-era Deep Purple, with some mid-70’s Zeppelin tagged on for good measure. It’s like House of Blue LIght and Perfect Strangers with hints of Physical Graffiti, but more oriented to that thicker 80’s production sound and darker feel of the Gillan/Lord/Blackmore Purple. That vibe gives their intended Zeppelinisms (“this love that I have found” in particular) somewhat of a Whitesnake*/Kingdom Come feel, but it’s all comfortably ensconced within a very Purple formula throughout.

* which becomes even more pronounced on “in need”.

Hey, “knockin’ at your backdoor” is probably my favorite Deep Purple song or damn close to it (seriously), so this works pretty well for me. Tag in the guy from Bangalore Choir and give his tones more gravel and quaver, and you’ve got the makings of a damn strong hard rock album, the likes of which we really haven’t seen since around ’87.

Nuff said. I’m good.

You will be, too.

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Sammy Berell – Passion Dreams (self released) (March 17)

Gee, you wouldn’t have guessed from the flouncy 60’s Mod sleeves, crushed velvet jacket, huge-ass aviator sunglasses and piss-yellow Stratocaster that this is yet another Yngwie wannabe, right?

I mean, having no less than TWO former Yngwie vocalists (Obsession/Loudness/Animetal USA/Yngwie vet Mike Vescera and early 90’s blink and you missed him frontman Goran Edman) doesn’t suggest anything, right?

Well, hey, I came up in the days when Yngwie was considered untouchable, despite a dozen or so truly master class guitarists making names for themselves simultaneously (Gilbert, Lynch, DiMartini and Van Halen were barely the tip of the iceberg of flash 80’s fret virtuosos)…so to hear folks copping his style is fine by me.

The problem is, so few of them actually have his style down.

Yeah, we probably review at least one band, one young hopeful every other month trying to ape some aspect or other from the Malmsteen sound. Hell, Chris Impelliteri was perhaps unfairly tarred and feathered with that brush on the basis of one rather atypical album (the blatant Alcatrazz-worship of Stand In Line), and Rhapsody (of Fire) frequently and obviously pulls from the Yngwie chord progression handbook (though the leads sound absolutely nothing like the Swede, it must be said).

And those guys are well established – we’re not even speaking to the dozens of young guns who pull this shit on a regular basis. Cop one of the dozen or so former Yngwie singers (say, Mark Boals), write an album full of vaguely Baroque march tempo canons and jerk off on the fretboard, trying to actually pick those slurred runs and sweeping arpeggios as often as possible (so you dont wind up classified as yet another Dream Theater wheedly-whoo progger instead).

So this month’s contestant in the “I wannabe Yngwie” sweepstakes is a certain Sammy Berell. He wins points for copping even the coiffure and couteure without a hint of shame, and let’s be honest – if you’re going to pick an Yngwie frontman, Vescera is probably the best choice after Joe Lynn Turner, and both men have had the most varied and long running careers both pre- and post-Malmsteen. So however bemusedly, the guy earns nods of respect on both fronts.

Then he manages to cop more than the most obvious aspect of Yngwiedom. That’s right, he isn’t just working the expected classic Steeler/Alcatrazz/first three solo album Malmsteen – he’s daring enough to write more than a few tracks in the vein of Yngwie’s more poseur pop radio period (which let’s be honest, is when most of us dropped off and started considering the guy a bit of a joke).  Daring, indeed.

And then he really raises the ol’ eyebrows by copping to Malmsteen’s increasing Hendrix fixation of the same period (“red light eyes”). So let’s run a checklist.

  • Romantic / 60’s mod / Louis XIV court fashion and giant, long out of fashion 80’s aviators – check.
  • ugliest fucking Strat finish ever produced – check.
  • former Yngwie vocalist in tow – double check.
  • baroque neoclassical and Richie Blackmore/Rainbow fixation – check.
  • tacky balladeering and pandering to the pop crowd of the late 80’s/early 90’s – surprisingly, check.
  • Hendrix fetishization – damn, nobody ever works that part in. Check.

Well, let’s be honest here. Sammy Berell is not Yngwie by a long shot.

But just look at how long and hard he’s studied the man, in multiple periods of his career, in his style, obsessions and fashion sense.  This is an extremely practiced homage, and goes far beyond your workaday Yngwie wannabe in that sense. I’m picturing wall to wall cutouts of photos and articles from vintage metal mags, all Yngwie, all over the guy’s bedroom. This borders on obsession, it’s so deliberate, studied, focused and comprehensive.

So there ya go. Looking for an Yngwie clone who looks the part and actually leans towards areas and periods most fanboys ignore, eschew or fail to capture?  Then look no further, here’s your “Passion Dream”.

Just watch out for sticky seats and floors, because there’s got to be something more than appreciation for a particular musical skillset going on here.

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ANVIL STRYKEZ  – S/T (Wolf Force Corporation) (March 10)

Damn, who knew that Nightsatan 80’s postapocalyptic film soundtrack vibe was actually a thing?

Well, much to my pleasant surprise, here’s another one, also straight outta Finland. That same driving, upbeat 80’s dance club/aerobics video feel is here, like a John Carpenter Casio soundtrack crossed with 8 bit videogame BGM, but more lively and evocative.

While later tracks lean a bit more Kraftwerk (or more precisely, the UK and Aussie New Romantic bands they influenced – think anyone from Real Life and Human League to Depeche Mode), there’s still a lot more 80’s soundtrack than Speak and Spell or Dare to this…and while either way’s a win in my book, that gives Anvil Strykez far more of an edge.

If you aren’t seeing the closing credits or action sequences to some (likely Italian) Mad Max or Escape From New York knockoff running in your head, you’re just not listening hard enough.

Most evocative and dead on track by far: “neon knights”.

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Valfreya – Promised Land (self released) (January 13)

Wait…you mean the Vikings have landed in Montreal? Shouldn’t they be Normans and Gaul?

A weird mix of the expected Viking/pagan and a decidedly Cradle of Filth sensibility, Valfreya incorporate awkward blastbeat sections and gothic/symphonic black metal keyboards in the Cradle/Dimmu/Theatres des Vampires tradition to the usual volkisch elements and Viking bombast.

It’s kind of bizarre, really – in a certain respect, it works and you start to see connections and parallels in some otherwise quite discrete subgenres of the metal spectrum. But who the hell’s expecting to hear a very Epica break amidst the Rhapsody (of Fire) by way of Manegarmisms of “mortal supremacy”…or quite so much Dusk/Cruelty-era CoF punctuating and interrupting the flow of “odin’s fury” and opening “pandemonium”?

All they really needed to do was tag in the silliness of a Drescher or Trollfest or put on a fucking pirate hat and go full on Alestorm to make it complete: let’s syncretize every single element of vaguely pagan, Viking, symphonic, gothic black, gothic/symphonic, troll and pirate Euro-metal and see what happens!

Seriously…minus the overt troll or pirate bits, that’s exactly what you get here.

Now, I like all of that stuff and all of the bands mentioned (except Dimmu – fuck them, they always sucked and I never got the appeal from day one)…so this is as far from a slag as you’re gonna see in these pages. But it’s fucking weird, and there’s just no escaping that fact.

Look, they’ve apparently opened for Russia’s Arkona, Tyr and a few other notable pagan and Viking acts, so it’s not like they’re as far afield from template as an emo act would be on those same tickets and stages.

There’s enough catchiness, bombast and melodic touches to make their sound appealing for all its strangeness, and I’d be lying if I claimed anything other than playing it through with a sense of relaxation – i.e., all the disparate elements were both familiar and somehow gelled – there’s nothing jarring or overly forced about the syncretism here.

Tag in good production, strong, almost melodeath level playing and audial palatability and some head shaking bemusement at some of the bits of business they managed to pull in to every song that just shouldn’t fit, and you have something of a winner on your hands.

Head shaking in disbelief, one eyebrow cocked and with a laugh and a smirk, I raise my flagon along with the rest of the crowd.

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Vangough – Warpaint (self released) (March 17)

What would you get if you cross the playing style of Fates Warning with the sensibilities of (get this:) Tool? 

“Why can’t we not stay sober” indeed…

So the metal/not metal, prog/grunge, rather good stuff/hipster BS dichotomy resonates throughout this decidedly unique and quite interesting self-release from a young band going by the name of Vangough (which despite the misspelling may explain the bizarre waxed mustachio affectation on that one guy…I hope…).

Let’s be honest. The promo photos did not leave me with a lot of hope for the quality on this one.

And yet.

Take a listen to what’s going down here. If you can look past the obvious Toolisms (and Alice in Chains riffs)…there’s actually some decent playing going on here, particularly on the drum chair. The production is crystal clear, and the band is oriented towards clean tone playing (with distortion at the choruses or for punctuation). And even coming out of a crap laptop speaker (there was a quickie sound test relating to some behind the scenes download concerns since resolved)…this sounded pretty good to me.

Color my eyebrows raised.

So overall, you can certainly consider this very much akin to progressive metal, and in the proper sense (Fates Warning style, mainly, but you could tag in acts like Queensryche, Sanctuary, even Watchtower as vague stylistic counterpoints)…just as filtered through the sensibilities of kids who grew up thinking shit like Tool was actually cool rather than the whiny proto-emo proto-hipster crowd grunge crap it actually was.

Like it or not, we’re going to see more of the 90’s kids…and millenials…and post-millenials coming up in the scene, and you have to give a heartfelt nod of respect to the fact that they even found enough value in “our music” to try to resurrect and emulate it.

It’s the other shit they grew up on, bleeding through every pore of their otherwise laudable efforts, that you have to hold your nose over.

And hell…at least they didn’t try mixing prog metal with Beyonce or some utter dogshit like that…Tool sucks, but you can kinda sit through a song or two from ’em. More than I can say for the other…

Good band, decent sound, good playing, excellent production – nothing (beyond the aforementioned underlying issues) not to like here. More importantly, there’s enough of Alder-era Fates Warning in here (and plenty of it, in fact) for me to give this the nod.

Try it, I’m laying odds you’ll like it.

Respect to the next gen.

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Ominous Eclipse – “The Horde” (self released) (January 27)

Grindcore vocals, devolutions into sheer blastbeat-driven noise…then touches of (modern) death metal with light melodeath and busy tech leanings?

Say what the fuck?

No idea whether the full length will display more of the melodic death positives or more of the noisy puke gibberish shit, but this single was quite schizophrenic.

(shakes head)

OK, next…

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ZOMBIE ASSAULT – S/T (Eclectic Productions)

Retro minded death metal side project, ala Death Breath or Gruesome.

The difference is, while these guys still work the classic 80’s horror/gore film and Lovecraftian lyrical bent and do their best HM-2…well, let’s say Dismember or Carnage, because this is sloppier, rawer and less likeable than anything Nihilist/Entombed was ever involved with…worship, it’s not quite so dead on as usual.

Picture a slow, grinding, less adept guitar whose tone tends to blur into mush, and a croaking death vocal that’s passable enough…but back in the day, nobody’d be talking about it or trying to emulate it, let’s put it that way.

So essentially, boil it down to Autopsy goes grindcore, but without so much of the speed and chaos that implies. It sounds like old school death metal, alright…just seems to miss the boat and barely tread water more than float alongside the fleet.

The drumming’s busy and likeable, despite some piss poor production that leaves it sounding like they were recorded in a suburban garage, then buried under those mushy, formless detuned grind guitars and the heavily reverbed choke-croak vocals.

Liked the idea, liked the drumming.

The rest is passable at best.

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CRIME (Chile) – First Crime (TAPE) (Shadow Kingdom) (March 17)

Chilean act who feel a hell of a lot like Witchtrap (Colombia), but with an important difference.

Even so, while “highway robbery” comes on like classic South American blackened thrash (complete with snarling Kreator-esque Teutonic blackthrash vocals), there’s more of a Motorhead vibe to the proceedings. By the time you hit “give your life to the ruin”, they’re feeling more NWOBHM, if not downright early Maiden in tone. Final track “we shall destroy” brings things back full circle.

Their name describes their subject matter, and whether intended as an homage to such uncomfortable Italian crime films as Hitch-Hike and Rabid Dogs or no, “highway robbery”, particularly with that spoken intro/sound clip, comes off as decidedly uncomfortably misogynistic. And when an old school guy like me is saying that…yeah, it’s pretty intense.

So for those not planning on a future spent in incarceration, my advice is to skip up a minute and a half or so and just listen to the songs proper – these guys are pretty damn good, and in fact, “highway robbery” (the song, not the intro) is the best thing on here by far.

Looking forward to that Second Crime.

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MURO – El Cuarto Jinete (Fighter Records) (March 15)

Classic Spanish metal act reunites. Apparently they marketed themselves as “speed metal”, but think more Accept and Helloween than Toxik, Skull Fist or Annihilator here. Really, it’s just traditional 80’s style metal, the branch that developed into the European power metal scene come the late 90’s/early millenium.

If you don’t mind their singing in their native tongue – and nowadays, after a few decades of black, pagan and Viking metal oft delivered in both national and even archaic dialects, does anyone really care? – this is pretty damn good stuff.

The title track reminded me of an XYZ riff and “maldito bastardo” has that mid-80’s Metal Blade act sort of feel, but the overall feel of the album is very much…well, classic Teutonic power metal in the manner of Helloween by way of Accept. Song construction is of a style that modern bands tend to find all too elusive, with genuine build, powerful bridges, melodic verses and anthemic choruses.

Unfortunately, the reunion appears to have been short lived, as vocalist “Silver” has since parted company with the others. Looks like they got themselves a female vocalist, so one way or another, any future output should be quite a change in tone…

This is a surprisingly strong album with an assured sound…which with a younger sounding “Silver” could fool most vets into believing it’s a long lost reissue from back in the day.

Granizos, amigos – muy buenos!

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VENEREAL BAPTISM – Deviant Castigation Liturgy (Osmose Productions) (March 24)

Hyperspeed blackened death metal.

Very generic, and leaves me just as unimpressed as I’d have been if it were yet another Watain wannabe “occult black metal” release for the Pile of Dead Bards.

What the fuck happened to black metal, anyway? Remember when it used to be atmospheric, eerie, moody, dark and sinister…and actually move the listener?

Now all we get is a shit ton of snooze inducing, soundalike crap like this.

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SLAGMAUR – Thill Smitts Terror (Osmose Productions) (March 31)

Behind a creepy, sorta Sono Morti circa Revival cover lies…

…well, honestly, what the hell is this?

Decidedly industrial in tone, complete with an overbearing reliance on fuzzed out signal bleed, Norway’s Slagmaur tags in overtones of an overly polished, pseudo-symphonic black metal, and only the listener loses.

And it took ’em 8 years to pull this one together?

Apparently they’re doing some weird reworking of children’s fairy tales and nursery rhymes, but unless you’re Norwegian by birth and can pick up what’s being said behind all the FRTZZZKKKKKZXZZZ and triple-tracked shout-snarl-puke vox, that has absolutely zero bearing to the end product.

Too bad, I really loved that cover.

(sigh)

Next?

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Kaos Krew – “Panama” (Inverse Records)

Industrial/electronic metal act out of Finland. It’s no Megaherz or Gothminister, but it’s melodically inclined, has a catchy chorus and feels more pop radio oriented than Rammstein or Laibachesque.

Not a huge fan of the riffing style, which feels wayyyyyy too nu metal for my taste…but those looking for a more likeable take on, say, Slipknot should appreciate this one.

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Nighon – The Somme (Inverse Records) (May 5)

Okay, this is a bit of a twist on the standard template…

Figure the radio-oriented, less bombastic or symphonic end of gothic metal. You know the type – detuned riffs, melodic choruses, “beauty and the beast” vox.  We’ve heard it thousands of times since bands like Theatre of Tragedy more or less invented it back in the earlier to mid-90’s.

What we haven’t seen thus far is some clown trying for full on black metal snarls and gargles. I was thinking, “damn, this is a pretty lousy BM album…”, before out of the blue, here comes this gorgeous female alto voice, belting out the chorus with authority and force.

Say wha?

Yep, this is a sort of industrial-inflected variant on the more Lacuna Coil by way of Nemesea style of gothic metal, with a Nico Haggblom providing the ridiculous gargle-snarl vox and Alva Sandstrom and some truly huge, anthemic choruses waltzing in to save the day.

Can we keep the choruses and dump the rest next time?

Seriously…this is effectively Lacuna Coil squared.

Apparently they’re rather history/war focused (no surprise, that’s all over the various genres of power, black and gothic symphonic metal – see bands like Serenity and Grave Digger, just for a pair), as the title should indicate…but the bottom line is, how much do you like Lacuna Coil?

If, like myself, you wish Cristina would take the helm all by her
lonesome…sorry, you’re shit outta luck. Same problem applies here.

If it helps, the band itself is better, and plays more towards the “metal” than the “nu metal” end of the spectrum…

Hats off to Mme. Sandstrom, who nearly saves the day here.

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Achiote – Loneliness of Endless Days (Inverse) (February 10)

Sheesh!

The backstory behind this one’s a real bitch for those involved. Apparently a “typical Finnish household mold problem” sickened their former bass player, and “divorces and drifting apart” were also mentioned in promo materials…

Yay! Ain’t we got fun…

So as you might imagine, this isn’t exactly a positive toned and uplifting affair.  I’m not familiar with the band’s prior work, so I can’t say if they’re the same as they had been before all this chaos struck, but to call this “metal” is a bit of a stretch.

If anything, it’s a rather dark, almost folky pop-rock, with lots of Farifsa organ-style keyboard and occasional classical piano swipes (“ghost under the sun”) and a whole lot of 90’s-style navel gazing set to clean guitars, mopey baritone-leaning vocals and slow drums with occasional 70’s prog nods (the “solo section” of “something isn’t right” for one), but a feel more suitable to a Euro take on Pearl Jam than any variant or subgenre of metal you could possibly dream up.

There’s plenty of melodicism to be found herein, and it’s as far from a harsh sound as you can get…but it still manages to come off as rather hard to listen to.

Some folks like to wallow in misery – I could name a podcast cohost who suffers from that tendency, and trust me, it doesn’t help to stay there for very long.

But sometimes, for the person creating and expressing all that bottled up despair, it can be cathartic – so here’s hoping for their sakes that the band was able to get all that off of their collective chest with this extremely depressive, decidedly depressing release.

The sound of someone slitting their wrists and wallowing in self pity never sounded so melodically “sweet”.

But this is not the kind of darkness I embrace.

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Damnation Plan – Reality Illusion (Inverse Records) (March 10)

Another one of those weird post-whatever hybrids.

These guys combine electronic elements (doesn’t really sound like “keyboard accompaniment” in any traditional sense, more oriented towards sound effects and electro-wallpapering), a radio-oriented gothic metal-style at the choruses, light Dream Theater orientation in the solo sections and some seriously shite aggro-screamo shout-croaks in the ever detestable Anselmo tradition.

So what do you take away from this? Do you go for the smoother, gothic/Wyndam Hill prog (which is pretty much what Dream Theater is – wheedly-whoo takes on fucking Kitaro and John Tesh)? Or do you go for the irritating prison bitch life is hard, yo aggro horseshit that the vocalist is working?

Two not so great tastes that don’t fit together.

I can take the goth/prog/electro half, which is at least melodic and has busy drumming.

It’s the other half that we can all live without.

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Serpico – “Ain’t Better To Leave” (Inverse) (February 22)

Sometimes promo materials get kinda weird.

This time around, they tell you absolutely nothing about the band in question, except to share an (admittedly amusing) tale of a recent attempt to tour the UK that went belly up, leaving the band “slow dancing with suburban princesses to Bon Jovi” so they had a place to sleep for the night.  Probably apocryphal, but funny nonetheless.

So what does this have to do with anything?

And what does it have to do with a cop whose principles meant more to him than just playing along with the usual Thin Blue Line kickbacks and evidence planting, or the movie they made about him?

That’s right…zip.  Zilch.  Not a fucking thing.

The song in question is a midtempo hard rock/Hollywood/glam metal sort of thing, much akin to Junkyard crossed with Hericane Alice, perhaps with a touch of Hungry-era XYZ. And hey, if bands like GNR had druggy poverty-level “life in a band” stories like that in the can…well, sure, some young Finns can cop to the same faded glory, right?

Well…if you buy it, then maybe.

Me? I just enjoyed the story…as fake as it may well have been in this case, and as calculated an inference as it was intended to produce.

Song’s good by me.

Your call on how you feel about either their “rock n’ roll cred” or, (I)nversely, being played by hype.

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My Own Ghost – Life On Standby (Secret Entertainment) (April 7)

Somewhere between the radio-ready strain of gothic metal and sorta hard rockish femme rock ala Halestorm lies My Own Ghost.

They’ve got a very melodic, hit-friendly orientation, and their overall Evanescence-ish feel is unsurprising when you realize it was produced by HIM fader pusher Hiili Hiilesmaa – another band these guys bear no small indebtedness and stylistic relation to.

While it’s pretty damn unlikely that the more hardcore “extreme metal” crowd will find anything to celebrate here, it’s the sort of thing you’d be unlikely to turn off if it came on the radio – tracks like “everytime I break” are particularly suitable for long highway drives at cruising speed with the top down.

Your girlfriend is probably already hip to this one. Give it a spin when you’re out on the town, I bet she’ll think more of you for it.

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FANGE – Pourrissoir (Throatruiner Records) (March 17)

What do you get if you increase the punkish feel on the patented Sunlight Studios Swedeath sound of Nihilist/Entombed, Carnage/Dismember, Unleashed and Nirvana 2002, toss in some oddball industrial/electronic nonsense as filler and tag weirdly annoying shriek-shouted vox over the top of all this?

Given the weird syncretism and nose in the air “avant gardeness of the whole affair, let’s see a show of hands. Now who’s in any way surprised that these guys are French?

It’s a 6 track release, but two are nothing but the aforementioned filler and the last track (“ressac”) falls apart at about the halfway mark, giving way to some guy yelling “Garibaldi!” over and over while feedback whines. Hey, I respect ol’ Giuseppe too, he was a hell of a force in the creation of modern day Italy…but why do these Gauls give a damn about him?

“Les gemonies” is pretty fucking weird as well, coming off like yet another shite “occult black metal” Watain wannabe for a few minutes before giving way to punk gang shouting…but it never quite lurches out of that ghetto of a musical subgenre musically despite that.

So basically, you get a strange, somewhat experimental take on classic Swedeath for two and a half tracks, and the rest is just filler.

I was certainly good with “parmi les ruines”, “agapea” and the first half of “ressac”.

It’s the rest of the album that’s in question.

Split decision here – those 3…well, OK, 2 1/2 tracks work well enough.

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Délétère – Per Aspera Ad Pestilentiam (Sepulchral Productions) (March 18)

We’d previously reviewed their De Ritibus Morbiferis and Les Heures de la Peste (both here) and while we took issue with the oftimes horrific production (which left the cymbals sounding like a transmission from underwater), the fact remains that they’re still sitting there on the iPod nearly two years on…so that together with our similarly ongoing appreciation for Monarque (of Lys Noir and Legendes fame should say it all right there.

And guess what: he certainly cleaned up the production this time around. In fact, the pendulum may have swung a tad too far, as Per Aspera is overly clean, a tad dry and very much in your face by comparison. Even so, it works.

I loved the opening chant, which I’m positive came from some old horror film in the collection – Blood on Satan’s Claw, maybe? Either way, it’s evocative, and fits well with what follows.

Deletere’s sound remains more…dare we say “positive toned”? than Monarque, with that sort of triumphant if not bouncy feel you get from Taake. There are more keyboards and a more “serious” and “evil” feel than anything “Hoest” has been able to pull off since the days of Thule, but this is all on a sliding scale – the Deletere sound definitely feels rather “happy” and “mainstream” by comparison to a lot of bands out there, especially those whose best work hails from the early 90’s second wave.

Regardless, it’s accompanied by chants and nigh-organ toned keyboard and while there’s more than a hint of the sort of latter 90’s/early millenium “overly clean, speedy and approaching Norsecore” feel to all of this, the simple fact is that it works, and feels more black metal than far too many embarassments and shame to the genre’s black name that cross the virtual desk on a regular basis here.

Hails!

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Gjendød – Nedstigning (Hellthrasher Productions) (February 24)

Norwegian black metallers return. We’d previously reviewed their self titled demo here and found their sound decidedly Finnish, with touches of the Polish and Swedish sound as well. About as close as things came to the famed Norwegian variant thereof was a light affinity to demo-era Manes…and no, that really hasn’t changed here.

What has changed is the production. While still very much in the classic second wave black metal school of buried drums and bass with trebly tremelo riffed guitars and trollish growls and snarls on the vocal end…that sense of flatness and lack of space is entirely absent here.

They’ve graduated from that cardboard box their sound was constrained within to a proper studio space, and consequently, Nedstigning feels comparatively expansive…as if they were playing out over that wooded stream they menacingly haunt on the promo photo. Come on. You can’t tell me you wouldn’t get freaked out seeing those two weirdos with bloody hands standing there silently, staring at you all alone in the middle of the forest…

But especially evocative album cover and photos aside, the fact is that it feels, at least subjectively, like more has changed here than just improved production. There’s more surety to their footing, more of a welcome individualism to their voicing than we heard on the demo. They’ve finally gotten their shit together, and suddenly the world begins to tremble.

Promo materials describe this as being “filled with bloodfreezing atmosphere”, and taken all in all, photos, sound and the feelings it evokes…yeah, for a change, I agree.

One of the better black metal albums I’ve come across of late, to be sure.

Raise the horns…and pray you don’t meet these two fuckers in the woods.

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Engulfed – Engulfed In Obscurity (Hellthrasher Productions) (March 10)

Turkish death metal.

Say huh?

Well, before you can say “unlicensed comic book character mashup live action film”, here comes a punishing slab of straight up classic death metal with a feel that speaks to a genesis in 1993 or thereabouts.

And for those starting to dig around for Tarkan films, you may be interested to know there’s a band member named Serkan…probably fighting Spiderman, Captain America, Shazam! and Killink in Istanbul as we speak!

Not really. He’s probably chilling with a pack of Murads or taking a hit off the family hookah right now, actually…

Anyway, there’s not a lot to say here – it’s well produced in the modern sense, but with a feel that says “retro” in the playing and guitar/vocal tones. Speedy, aggressive, tremelo riff heavy but decidedly death metal through and through – no shit “blackened” crossover here. Vocals are bowel-deep and throaty, but with more projection than, say, Immolation or Baphomet. It works.

It probably says something when you have to go halfway around the world to the seat of the former Ottoman Empire to find a decent death metal band, at least one that isn’t a “side project” or “deliberately trying to recreate the sound of (fill in the band here)”.

But if that’s what it takes…fuck it. Here they are, kids.

Looking forward to hearing more from these guys. Profound hails.

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Lubricant – Swallow This (Svart Records) (March 10)

Self-identifying with the brief, unlamented “death n’ roll” movement (Entombed post-Wolverine Blues, Grave post-And Here I Die…), this Finnish death metal act is actually far closer to Carcass circa Swansong, minus the huge melodic choruses or weird blues affectations. They even do the vomit/belch vs. black metal snarl dual vocal thing…

This is a compilation of their 1993 Nookleptia EP and their third demo. It’s not complete, as it ignores both two earlier demos and their lone track on the Zander split, but it’s about as close as you’re likely to get, particularly in remastered fashion.

Their sound is weird to be sure, but it’s far more of a reeeeally quirky take on grindcore than anything implied by the “death n’ roll” tag – the fact that the guy actually starts quacking in the middle of “inflammatorious pulmonectomia” should tell you these guys were either clearly taking the piss out of the whole Carcass thing or seriously fucked up on some heavy drugs, take your pick which…

Well, it kept me listening attentively, that’s for damn sure!

Not sure what to think about this, honestly. No, it doesn’t “work” in any accepted sense. But it’ll have you scratching your head and at least skimming around from track to track in disbelief…

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Helén – Svart Records (February 17)

Dark, gothic and brooding.

Strong production that gives separation between all instruments while still retaining clarity and giving due prominence to the throbbing, sinister 80’s postpunk bassline. Occasionally a tenor saxophone takes the lead…other times clean guitar. But always the bass throbs, and a moody, sinister feel predominates.

I’d recommend this one for fans of Nick Cave in particular – there’s a strong neofolk, dusty Americana “murder ballads” feel to it, but realize that’s not the entirety of the story.

I certainly enjoyed it.

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Vaiya – Remnant Light (Nordvis Produktion / Bindrune Recordings) (April 14)

Majestic and sweeping melancholic and introspective black metal in the Sepulchral vein, or perhaps a more bombastic take on Vardan.

I always enjoy this style of BM – perfect accompaniment for long solitary walks in the woods and suchlike. You could say “depressive”, but it’s not that self-cutter Shining crap, which is pretty much unlistenable and strictly for the emo kids…but there is a dark, thoughtful and yes, depressing vibe that this more genuinely dark style evokes.

There are long stretches of acoustic guitar and nigh-crooning that suddenly burst into flurries of blackened energy, like a sudden windstorm or violent rain coming on the traveler by surprise…and other moments of brooding melancholic intensity, like the moodier, mre doom-oriented side of the Clandestine Blaze musical equation. Put quite simply, it works.

Another quality release from Nordvis/Bindrune.

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Coldfells – S/T (Bindrune Recordings/Eihwaz Recordings) (April 1)

Slow, deliberate death/doom.

Despite the (generally) snarly-growled vox and rather death metal-style distortion, these Midwestern doomsters still manage to come off as quite melodic (almost to a fault!) and molasses-heavy.

Their sound is vaguely reminiscent of Ahab more than stuff like My Silent Wake or Paradise Lost, though you could certainly connect the lines Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon style if so inclined.

The strong melodic lines driving every track give them a bit of a Finnish feel, the occasional clean vocals feel strangely emo, but a pop-countrified variant thereof. It’s hard to describe, maybe there’s a bit of a twang in there. “Don’ matter, son – ‘cuz it’s heavy, y’all, hear?”

Did I mention they even throw in a quick blastbeat driven section, Norsecore style?

Any way you look at it, this is a definite example of how syncretism should be done – despite picking up several apparent incongruities in relation to the template, it all blends together quite smoothly, and the end result is far more palatable than you’d ever imagine.

Tag in some chilly, wintry-feeling crystalline production (matching exactly the feel being evoked by the rather spare cover and Immortal-style band logo), and you have an easy winner.

Perhaps not so grim, these frostbitten kingdoms.

Well worth a spin.

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AZARATH – In Extremis (Agonia Records) (April 7)

Death metal-vintage Behemoth drummer “inferno” (love these asinine, not to mention generic to the point of banal pseudos they come up with. Picture them at the airport. “Paging “inferno”?”) works his side project.

Where post-black metal Behemoth is bombastic (if admittedly kinda dull), Azarath (where’s Raven and Trigon?) is more death metal with a strong blackened approach…but on the plus side, they lean far more death than black in several respects.

Sure, they’ve got the ooga booga aren’t we eeeevil “occult” lyrics, and they’ve certainly gone in for blastbeats and tremelo riffing…but the production’s wayyyyy too clean, the playing’s too precise. It’s definitely in the “black/death” hog pen…but this pig’s a lot less covered in shit than usual.

I guess if you crossed Belphegor and “inferno’s” era of Behemoth, you might get something like In Extremis.

Can’t say I liked it much…but definitely not one for the Pile of Dead Bards, either.

Fans of either of the aforementioned bands will probably eat this right up.

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Abatuar – Perversiones De Muerte Putrefacta (Dunkelheit Produktionen) (April 17)

Panamanian one man blackened grindcore (get that…)

It’s pretty wild and noisy. The drums go off the rails and off tempo on a regular basis, but when he slows things down to a more steady pace, he can certainly handle the kit reasonably well…the guys skill level is just not suited to the style he’s trying to work (where things get a lot messier than he likely intends).

The riffs…or whatever you want to call the wall of blurred noise he’s creating on the guitar end…are pretty indistinguishable and not at all engaging – Carcass or Repulsion this decidedly is not.

But if you’re looking to throw some black metal all over your sorta-grindcore, sorta South American blackthrash insanity, you may come away with a much better opinion of this than I have.

Whatever.

Next?

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Morbid Flesh – Rites of the Mangled (Unholy Prophecies) (April 24)

Ah, Barcelona. Famed tourist destination, long feted by swinging jet setters and loud shirt and tacky shorts-bedecked lowbrow touristas alike for its beaches, museums, gothic churches and historic locales.

And home to one of the gnarlier classic-oriented death metal acts of late.

Promo materials compare ’em to Swedeath, but that’s more in the grinding stylistics than the standard buzzsaw HM-2 sound, which is pretty far from template here (particularly when hearing this one right after Fange, who for all their faults otherwise totally nailed the guitar tone). I’m thinking more Eternal Darkness than the usual suspects, but not even that, really. Maybe somewhat Unleashedlike? Nah. Sort of. But not really.

It’s detuned, highly distorted guitars playing in a reasonably simplistic, straightforward death metal style, with thick toned double bass drums and garglingly wet sounding vomit-belch vox.

The production…or more precisely, the mix is a bit questionable, as the drums are overly thick and missing most of their clarity, the guitars, for better or worse, are buried in the back throughout and the vox sound tagged in and more or less subsume the rest (though it can be argued they’re on the same level as the drums here, just without all the muted tone).

All that being duly noted, this is some pretty damn faithful to template, old school early 90’s death metal more or less of the Swedish…or at least non-US, non-UK style…and it quite simply just works.

One of the better death metal releases I’ve heard of late, at least one that wasn’t a reissue or rediscovery from the glory days of the scene.

Profound hails, amigos.

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Iron Magazine – Queen of Hell (Ektro) (March 17)

Danko Jones, whose latest is also reviewed herein, joins forces with two members of Third Eye Roundup regulars Circle (first reviewed all the way back here). He even brings one of his band members, making this an even split.

That little tidbit actually shows through, because it’s both quite Circlesque (and as promo materials point out, Aktoresque – another Circle side project whose I Am the Psychic Wars and Paranoia we reviewed previously) and somewhat Danko Jones (not least because the guy’s on vocals here…).  It’s all rather tongue in cheek (“665” should give you a hint of where their heads are at), and vocals are appropriately goofy and camped up (“rise of the deth”).

They seem to be shooting for a classic Frontiers-style AOR, but it’s both a joke and filtered through more modernist, synthpop/electronic Circleesque processing.  At once recognizable and bizarre, I doubt it’s really meant to do anything beyond give the guys in the band (and presumably any listeners thereto) a laugh…despite it all coming off like a bit of an inside joke.

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Jesters of Destiny – The Sorrows That Refuse To Drown (Ektro) (April 7)

L.A. weirdos Jesters of Destiny (whose Fun at the Funeral was reviewed here) return with their first brand new album in decades.

Apparently since the band broke up, the two remaining members have produced folks as far afield as Jon Mikl Thor (who we actually interviewed for the Third Eye Cinema podcast, but for various absurd reasons never got past discussing his bodybuilding career…there’s a story behind that abortive and unaired interview), Christian Death’s Rozz Williams and discofied funksters Shalamar (from which Jody Watley emerged).

As you can imagine from that rather quirky and disparate resume, these guys draw from a multitude of influences, with feel, tonality and putative genre changing from track to track – the rather Beatles meets Byrdslike “the flesh parade” comes complete with an over-chorused Mephisto Walz/Christian Death guitar riff (!), other tracks mix hard rock with R&B, old school British punk with 60’s bubblegum and garage rock (“my card, sir”), Cheap Trick with Styx and Romeo Void (“chalk outline”)…you get the idea.

They ain’t exactly The Residents, but they’re at least as weird as Faith No More and Mr. Bungle…

The plus is, the guys know production and they’re rooted in the more melodic (if admittedly cheesy) sounds of the 60’s and 70’s…so like Enuff Z’Nuff, you may love ’em, you may hate ’em…but at least you can listen to ’em without bitching too much.

Weird music for weird people.

Hey, you know what? Given some of the noted oddball acts they sign and make part of the overall label identity, maybe Ektro should adopt that as a tagline…?  Well, just remember to give me the nod if ya do. Cheers!

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Hopeajärvi – Mahdotonta (Ektro) (April 21)

We reviewed their self titled here, and nearly four years later, these quirky Finnish “college rockers” are back.

It’s still sorta Dinosaur Jr. minus all the fuzztone and some of the aggression, but with vague hints of being raised on Sonic Youth in occasional divergences into off-tones and droning, slightly out of tune two guitar experimentalism.

It’s not incredibly pronounced – the unusual chordal structures, weird tunings and sheer vacuum cleaner on high force of the aforementioned bands are rarely if ever to be found herein.

In fact, while borrowing moments of their respective aesthetics, Hopeajarvi is far “safer” and more “radio friendly” in an indie/college circuit sense. You can tell they were fans, sure…but ultimately think more Camper Van Beethoven meets Fountains of Wayne, perhaps with a touch of Ween for good measure.

Nothing against it – I certainly loved Sonic Youth up through Goo (Dirty skirts the borderline of jumping the shark) and early J. Mascis has its appeal. But like I said…this ain’t them.

Not bad at all, if this is your scene as a go-to.

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Kansakunnan ylpeys – S/T (Ektro) (April 21)

When the promo materials compare you to Flipper, you just know something’s up.

And sure enough, that same deliberately provocative, abrasive, sloppy punk meets performance art thing plays through, though less in the sense of the earlier New York and Los Angeles punk scene (think stuff like The Screamers and the Voidoids) than in the directly confrontational thing Flipper was known (and hated) for.

In fact, this came off so much like Flipper that I almost thought I was listening to ’em once or twice. You drift off with the music and unfocus a bit, and there it is – Flipper with a bit more pep and shouting at you in Finnish…

The Fall was also mentioned as a comparison point, and musically, yeah, I can hear that…but there’s no “punk rock poetry” ala Mark E. Smith (or for that matter, Patti Smith, Tom Verlaine, Richard Hell or John Cooper Clarke) to be found here: it’s all about the out of tune, ringing thin guitar tones and vibe of utter chaos that plays throughout (just wait till they introduce that bleating sax noise solo on “tapaa hyonteisia”). I’d also toss Pere Ubu into the comparisons there…

I happen to enjoy most or all of the aforementioned, some to greater degrees than others (Television, the Voidoids and especially Clarke being leagues above the rest)…so I was totally comfortable and good with this one.

But come in expecting the worst – this is indie art rock on the verge of pure anarchic collapse, both musically and otherwise.

Music that barely qualifies as such; a call to incite violence in the listener and speaking to the rage and personal collapse of the men producing it. Without knowing the guys involved here, consider this the Iggy Pop live experience, if you will.

The repulsively fat legged ballerinas on the cover are just the beginning, kids.  Be prepared to be pushed, prodded and screamed at until you engage.

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PANIKK – Discarded Existence (Xtreem Music) (March 15)

Slovenian thrash act. Vocals bear the general tone of Russ Anderson (Forbidden), but the inflections of Sean Killian (Vio-Lence)…which is appropriate as much of the band’s riffing style feels quite Vio-Lence, albeit minus the punishing high speed chromatic thing most folks associate with them.

You can hear a touch of Exodus as well, but it’s subtler than usual – as with the Anderson reference, it’s more a matter of general vibe and overtone than any specific swipe. Bottom line is, Panikk really digs Vio-Lence.

Mix in some of the other bands’ styles to take the edge off, and there you go.

Sure, it’s more polished and not as hard (or for that matter, violent as their most obvious progenitor…but that’s still some serious thrash we’re talkin’ here.

I was (and am) a huge fan of Vio-Lence’s two albums from back in the day (don’t talk to me about anything beyond that)…so did you really think I’d give these guys the bum rush?

Enter the pit at your own risk.

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HOLYCIDE – Annihilate… Then Ask! (Xtreem Music) (February 1)

Speaking of aggressive…wait, you mean a member of Dark Moor is in this band?

Seriously? 

Gothic metal associations aside, this is some rather driving, fast paced and yes, angry thrash metal. I’d call it more “modern” than retro-style…something about the weird drunken guy puking his vocals all over your new shag rug and the punchy, in your face production just says “new school”.

Biggest problem here, beyond the vocals (seriously, while it does sorta fit the music? Yeah…drunk you don’t even know who crashed the party and is heaving all over your shit.) is that every song sounds exactly the same.

Not quite as bad as some black metal bands nowadays, or even a few of the crappier death metal ones (let’s not even discuss “blackened death”…shudder…

...but yeah. Every song pretty much sounds like the one that preceded it, and ain’t all that distinguishable from the one that follows.

Even so, they’ve got the right general idea, and with repeated listens, you may get past the “what the fuck?!?” factor and kinda respect ’em for their efforts.

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FAMISHGOD (Spain) – Roots of Darkness (Xtreem Music) (December 1)

Really good death/doom with strong funeral doom leanings, particularly on the vocal end.

Painfully slow, bowel-generated just rose from a quicksand grave-style vocals, detuned, rumbling guitars…but the guitars are working more of a lumbering doom metal tempo than the glacial fermata of funeral doom.

There’s also more of a death metal vibe to the riffing than the more stoner oriented doom sound…but make no mistake, the primary allegiance here is to funeral doom, just “sped up” to a zombie stagger pace.

All together, it just fucking works, and quite well at that.

I really liked these guys. Hails!

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GUTTED (Hungary) – Martyr Creation (Xtreem Music) (December 20)

Hyperspeed “tech death” nonsense from Hungary.

Vocals and musicianship aren’t in question…it’s just the whole subgenre that’s in question.

Now, I’ve heard (of all bands) Deicide and the fucking Hoffman brothers’ sloppy-ass noise leads described as “technical” (oh, you mean like early Kreator, Celtic Frost and the storied Hanneman/King guitar team were? Virtuosity abounds!), and bands I like like (Considered Dead-era) Gorguts and Pestilence have been accused of tripping the line into “progressive” and “technical” death metal…as did Death post-James Murphy and Cynic, though they’re sort of unique. A lot of people consider Suffocation “technical”, I always considered them a sort of “brutal” anomaly prone to atonality. But I like all the bands I mentioned…and despise “tech death”, “math metal” and “progressive death”.

Sadly, Gutted does not possess that je n’sais quoi that separates the aforementioned bands from the crap pile that the latter subgenre designations imply…and yeah, Death and Gorguts did dive headfirst into the shitpile after the albums and members mentioned.  But they still had their glory days before that.

Can’t vouch for whether Gutted ever did or not.

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GOAT WORSHIP (Brazil) – Blood and Steel (Xtreem Music) (December 10)

Brazilian blackened thrash.

I love this shit as a rule, so the closer ya get to early Sepultura, Vulcano and their ilk (not to mention the Teutonic variant thereof – both of which are more recently encapsulated in Colombia’s Witchtrap), the better.

And Goat Worship? They get pretty damn close to template.

Production’s kinda crap, but in some ways that helps their case. Yeah, it might have sounded great with a touch of 80’s studio ambience and light reverb and cleaner guitar tones…but the very roughness lends some weird sense of authenticity.

Aggressive and retro-styled – and vocally, they even sound a bit like Witchtrap.

Damn good stuff, particularly given the dearth of worthy contenders in the style nowadays. Raise the horns.

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DAEMONIAC (Italy) – Spawn of the Fallen (Xtreem Music) (January 1)

Blackened death metal.

Poorly produced (think a wall of noise coming from a cave you’re standing at the mouth of) and leaning on the HM-2 to the point where it no longer sounds Sunlight Studios and starts sounding like the usual black/death mush.

Deep belch vox, blastbeats, a whole lot of hiss and signal bleed…bleh.

There’s a bit more Swedeath to the Daemoniac sound than your typical straight to the circular file blackened death metal act, which saves them from a more virulent brushoff…but this ain’t exactly what I consider death metal either.

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NASTY SURGEONS (Spain) – Exhumation Requiem (Xtreem Music) (January 15)

Death metal of the modern style.

There are strong grindcore leanings in the dual vocals (the non-growled of which are strangely whispered and phased around the speakers rather than snarled), but the riffs are there and distinguishable, the pace is more midtempo than crazed and you can make out the drums throughout…and they’re not laying on the blastbeats, but playing properly with double bass and actual kitwork.

OK, he does fall back on blastbeats sometimes, but a hell of a lot less than you’d expect from a band casting allegiance to the grindcore template.

Also, songs are average length – no minute and a half long early Carcass/Repulsion/early Napalm Death quickies here. So is it really grindcore?

Well, the lyrics certainly work out of the Carcass playbook, and there are elements aforementioned that suggest some definite leanings in that direction…but again, it’s more death metal proper in orientation.

In other words, some stuff may be a touch iffy…but it doesn’t straight up suck.

Give ’em credit for not succumbing to the usual grindcore failings, while still wearing their love of the genre on their sleeve.

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LUCIFERA (Colombia) – Preludio Del Mar CD (Morbid Skull Records) (February 24)

South American blackthrash, but with a few twists.

Like Peru’s Bestial Holocaust, Lucifera is fronted by a female (Alejandria Blasfemia, who also handles bass duties and lyrics). Fine by me, I loved Exterminacion Final and brought it up more than a few times in early site reviews.

But there’s also an odd polish to the production, if not their sound per se…that just works.

These guys clearly didn’t just pick up their instruments last week and start bashing away (which to be fair, is a lot of the charm of the blackened thrash subgenre in the first place), because they pull in some traditional metal sections, actual hints of songwriting ability, and occasional glimpses into the fact that they can actually play their instruments. That’s not the usual 4 year old beating on a tin can blastbeat bullshit on the drums…and are you picking up how comfortable the guitarists are switching up from one riffing style to the next here?

Look, it’s not really supposed to be pristine production and world class musicianship – it’s Colombian blackened thrash.

But the production’s a damn sight better than you’d expect for the genre…the playing as well. And who the hell was expecting trad metal breaks and riffs amidst all the usual eeeeeevil high speed business?

I liked it, alright.

Levantarlos las cuernas!

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WARCRAB (UK) – Scars of Aeons (Transcending Obscurity Records) (May 1)

hmm.

Well, the promo materials reference both Bolt Thrower and Crowbar, so you know this isn’t an easy one to describe. To the extent they keep things to the heavy, lumbering riffing and belch vox of death metal, it works well enough – portions of “conquest”, the fast section in the first half of “scars of aeons” and the better part of “the shadow of grief”, for example.

The obvious Sabbath/St. Vitusisms they toss in near the end of the latter track are just strange and a tad jarring, but inoffensive…but there’s something just…off about the whole thing.

The fast sections – apart from the aforementioned, anyway – just don’t work, and there’s too much of a…not quite nu metal, not quite “Southern groove”, but that sort of weird bounce going on. Tag in the ill fitting stoner doom bits and the awkward speedy sections, and it just takes you out of whatever lumbering take on death metal they were shooting for.

Not bad – I could certainly sit through this one a few more times without throwing the ipod at the wall – but overall, such a weird mix of styles and subgenres didn’t work for me either.

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ENTITY OF HATE (India) – Cursed for Eternity EP (Transcending Obscurity) (January 20)

A rather cool, somewhat Italian-feeling black/melodic metal band straight outta India.

The vocals are sinister as satan himself, all nigh-whispered hissed and gargled snarls – last time I heard vocals quite this nasty (but appealing!) was Ace Still of Goatlord and Doom Snake Cult.

Tag that onto a highly accomplished-feeling, very well produced late 90’s black metal template that crosses the gothic and symphonic feel of Cradle of Filth and Sonya Scarlet-era Theatres des Vampires and the crisp production style and thick guitar tones of the Teutonic variant (think, say, Belphegor) but with a general vibe that says more Mediterranean if not straight up Italian.

Three tracks of symphonically oriented black metal goodness, plus a straight out of left field cover of an old Castlevania II theme (seriously).

Short, melodic, sinister sounding and oh, so sweet.

Hails to the rising forces of South Asia.

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DEMONIC RESURRECTION (India) – Dashavatar (Demonstealer Records (India) (March 15)

Another interesting attempt to bring traditional Indian instrumentation (and mythos) into the metal arena.

These guys are working a (modern) death metal thing, but with odd symphonic black overtones and plenty of (I gather sampled) traditional sitar, tabla and suchlike brought into play throughout.

Tag in some surprisingly melodic, traditional metal/AOR style solos and a few busy riffs that lean more progressive thrash than death, and you’d more or less have a winner.

But something’s a bit too modern about this, perhaps a bit too “tech death” or overly “brutal” at points. Not throughout, mind – there’s plenty of the good stuff described hereinabove to catch the listener’s ear.

But that nonsense does rear its ugly head often enough in the verses, usually in the first half of the song. That said, as things build into and beyond the solo, the band tends to work things towards the emotional and dramatic, leaving most tracks ending a fuck of a lot better than they started off as.

As such, it’s kind of hard to drop a final rating on this one: there are enough annoying touches on a regular basis to keep it from getting the unabashed praise the rest of what they’re doing here clearly deserves.

Others may not share yours truly’s extreme distaste towards the “technical” and “brutal” bastardizations of the death metal template, and just think Demonic Resurrection is fucking killer.

As is, split decision. I’ll give ya a definite A for effort…just feels like you guys deserve more.

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CEMETERY WINDS (Finland) – Unholy Ascensions (Temple of Darkness (Italy) (February 10)

Finnish death metal with blackened elements.  What’s different here is that unlike 99.9% of bands falling under the “black/death” banner, they don’t fucking blow.

In fact, I would hesitate to even call them “black/” or “blackened”, as they’re working more of an old school Swedeath sound, but with light black symphonic elements, rare lapses of taste (i.e. giving in to the laziness of the blastbeat) and a bit more of the guitar lead line melody thing that more or less originated with bands like Ulver. So yeah, in that respect, there is definite crossover appeal.

But there’s no “occult black metal” ooga booga bullshit, none of the utter dogshit sound associated thereto (open chord ringing dissonance, Dark Funeralesque moving the same obnoxious made up atonal chord up and down the neck and calling it harmonic motion, an overriding desire to be Watain, you know the score there)…this is very much Swedish style death metal, but with melodic elements and a bit of dramatic bombast (aped from the BM scene) appended thereto.

As they’re a Finnish act working in the death metal genre and bringing melodicism and lead lines in, Amorphis was naturally name checked, and yeah – you can hear vague hints of Karelian Isthmus herein. But they’re far from compatriots stylistically – Cemetery Winds is working something entirely other here.

Now, is this some second coming, a savior of and example to death metal bands who want to bring in some black metal touches without getting instantly consigned to the Pile of Dead Bards? No, not really.

There’s still the vocals to contend with, which work well enough for a slower, more lumbering style of death metal, but feel rather awkward in this setting…particularly when they devolve into nigh-grindcore ululations (there’s at least one verse per song where the guy starts making UHY-YOI-UHY-YOI noises in place of any manner of enunciation).

And while Cemetery Winds offers a far more viable form of genre blending than we generally get to hear these days, it’s still musical miscegenation. And I’m sorry, but genres are built on their difference from other, similar musical forms and variants.

Their very similarity to likeminded bands, death metal to death metal, thrash to thrash, black metal to black metal is their strength…not their genre-blending (which tends to weaken the final product and effect on the listener). You don’t go to a classical concert to hear jazz or punk…and I’m sorry, but Gershwin should’ve stuck to jazz – case in point.

So cut the shit, people. Pick a style and stick to it…or do a side project.  Or start a new band – hell, run several bands in several distinct genres simultaneously.

Just stop mixing oil and water.

All that said, Cemetery Winds comes off a damn sight better than most would-be cross-genre affairs that land on the virtual desk…so I’m saluting ’em for a surprisingly strong effort here.

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Gurthang (Poland) – Shattered Echoes (Cimmerian Shade Recordings (US) (January 20)

Biggest surprise here is that this hails from Poland.

I’ve come to expect a certain sound and vibe out of Polish black metal…and whatever your feelings about that particular scene, these guys sure as hell ain’t it.

Instead, they’ve sadly chosen to ascribe to the tired and played out “occult black metal” sound, right down to adopting initials for pseudos.

Production was kind of dicey to say the least, but it’s possible this was a vagary of the download provided – there’s a hell of a lot of swishing and treble end hiss going down, which leads me to believe there’s more than just crap engineering to blame here. But then again, who knows – your listen to the album may sound just as rubbish as mine did.

There’s a slight nod to cross-genre syncretism, as some of the vocals are groaned in baritone ala Beastmilk and suchlike…but the only thing you walk away with is “fuck, another shit “occult black metal” album? Why?

Why, indeed.

NEXT!

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EVER CIRCLING WOLVES (Finland) – Of Woe or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Gloom  (Cimmerian Shade Recordings (US) (January 27)

An oddly subdued, almost alternative/post-something or other take on death/doom.

As neofolk inspired as it is by bands like Paradise Lost, Ever Cirlcing Wolves can only be summed up simply as “depressed”. It’s an exceedingly odd hybrid of styles that tends to fade into the background more often than not – I’d gone through 3 or 4 tracks before I realized I’d gone into something of a daze and hadn’t heard anything of particular interest to focus in on here.

The production’s good, as you might expect, and the playing’s fine…there’s nothing nose crinkling, groan inducing or eye rolling about it, and that’s already better than we can say for a lot of bands that come our way on a regular basis.  But is it any good?

Well, if by “good” you mean “adept at setting a mood”, then yes. But if you decide to start off by listening to “coeur”, recognize that is not only the best track here, but somewhat of an anomaly, and the one that most closely adheres to a sort of mellow death/doom template.

The rest leans more post-folk or something as a rule.

Surprised this wasn’t out on Prophecy.

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YMIR’S BLOOD – S/T (Archaic Sound) (March 1)

My first thought, particularly on hearing the clean vocalled “1589”, was “damn, he really wants to be Scott Reagers!”. Sure enough, the St. Vitusisms are all over the place here, though the thin, reedy production (rather than the molasses thick production of Vitus in their best days) says Wino-era at best.

Yeah, I know, everyone loves Wino. But there’s simply no comparison, those first 2 and especially the Walking Dead EP are all you need to know.

So essentially, if Wino-era Vitus was more influenced by Viking metal than early Sabbath and put Scott Reagers back in the vocal chair…you might have something very much akin to Ymir’s Blood.

I’m totally down with Reagers-era Vitus…so this certainly worked for me.

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CATALEPTIC – Forward (Archaic Sound) (March 1)

A roaring Viking metal-style vocalist over a typically well produced, moody death/doom affair. You can tell they’re Finnish, because there’s a definite propensity towards melody running throughout.

First three tracks run about 10 minutes, the fourth twice that. You get the idea.

I liked it, though with a slow moving, doomy death metal-oriented affair like this, it’s not always easy to say why.

It’s not like there’s a hell of a lot going on and while the melody lines are prominent throughout and quite welcome, the riffs themselves tend to be pretty slow and soundalike – you know how this sort of thing goes.

Even so: it set a mood, was about a million miles from annoying or even “boring”…and yeah. I definitely enjoyed it.

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Blood Moon – Through the Scarlet Veil (2LP) (Iron Bonehead) (March 24)

What would you get if you crossed doom metal proper with the production and clean baritone vocal approach of gothic rock, but filtered the whole thing through the lameness of “occult black metal”?

Well, now ya know.

I liked the grimness of the sound – there’s an early Mayhemness to the chord progressions in “g.n.o.s.i.s.” and clean production, chanting, gothic vocals and pleasantly muted to lo-fi guitar always works for me…but there’s wayyyyyyy too much of that lame “occult black metal” by way of Sabbath Assembly bullshit for this to be anything but a profound whatever. 

So yeah.

Whatever.  Take a number.

One more for the Pile of Dead Bards!  NEEEEXT!

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Naudiz – Wulfasa Kunja CD/LP  (Iron Bonehead) (April 14)

Italian black metal. Unlike most Italian metal bands (of all genre), there’s none of that loveable quirkiness about Naudiz…they’re pretty firmly mid-to late-90’s Norwegian style black metal.

Now, there’s definitely something to be said for that, so don’t consider it a slag by any means…just don’t walk in expecting something like Black Hole, Bulldozer or Theatres des Vampires, or you’ll be mightily disappointed by the far more generic sound on the plate here.

You’ll pick out a few riffs you recognize – “garmr” is definitely swiping from the (early) Mayhem/Thorns school of riffing, for example.  But hearing a band trying to keep that sound alive is hardly a bad thing…as much as I prefer the earliest days and quirkier variants of the scene to the more codified sound being aped herein.

And you’ve got to admit…they’ve definitely got that old school second wave sound down pat.

Raise the horns.

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Pyriphlegethon (Netherlands) – The Murky Black of Eternal Night LP (Iron Bonehead) (April 14)

Gloomy Grim/Gehenna-style keyboards and a feeling of being more old school second wave black metal than not pervade this second effort from Dutch oddity Pyriphlegeton, whose Night of Consecration we reviewed here.

Once again, the so simple Max Weinberg could handle drum duties percussion, throbbing, brooding Thornslike basslines and general early black metal weirdness is all over this one…which, as with their previously reviewed debut, means I definitely dug it.

Come on, any album that kicks off with a track titled “curse of the old coffin”, you know it’s got to be good.

What’s being sought after here – and somewhat achieved, mind, is something that’s missing from just about everything being released under the header of “black metal” nowadays: an actual sinister, uniquely personal and idiosyncratic outsider vibe.

A whole lot o’ you fuckers out there should take that lesson to heart.

Another pair of raised horns is due.

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Katakomb – Chained to a Wolf TAPE  (Iron Bonehead) (April 14)

Swedish one man black metal act.

Feels very au courant…which sadly means more “occult black metal” nonsense in place of the real deal.

Come on, stop slacking back there…we’ve got another one for the Pile…

Neeeext…

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Celestial Grave – Pvtrefactio 7″ EP (Iron Bonehead) (April 21)

We reviewed their Burial Ground Trance here, and quite enjoyed their pronounced true Finnish black metal orientation.

So here they graduate from demo to single (or “two track EP” if you prefer), and…well, not much has changed, happily. You still get that patented Finnish melody both driving and always underlying all the sinister goings-on, with moments leaning more doom (Clandestine Blaze-style, not the traditional St. Vitus/Pentagram/Trouble sort)…and if anything, this predilection towards blackened doominess has increased, appearing on both tracks herein.

I was good with it last time around, and if anything’s changed, it’s for the better.

Hails!

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Necroblood – Collapse of the Human Race CD/LP (Iron Bonehead / Amor Fati) (March 31)

Blackened death metal out of France. The fact that promo materials reference Von and Beherit rather than any actual death metal bands (well, OK, they mention Immolation later) should tell you exactly how much of a “death metal” band these guys actually are.

Geez, call a spade a spade, willya?

For fans of black metal wannabes with a fading death metal orientation (think stuff like Incantation or Profanatica more than anything out of the Florida, Buffalo NY, Swedish or UK scenes…and forget about proper Morrisound/Sunlight-style production!) only.

Vomit vox, satanic trappings and signal bleed speed. More black/death nonsense.

Huge yawn…

Next?

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Onirik / Grimfaug – MMXIV-MMXVI CD (Iron Bonehead / Altare) (March 17)

Speaking of “occult black metal” and suchlike, here comes another one from Portugal’s Onirik, whose Casket Dream Veneration was cast to the Pile of Dead Bards here.

Grimfaug don’t fare much better, despite a strong undertone of late 90’s, more bombastic and overproduced black metal vibe wending its way through their sound…though it should be noted, this doesn’t exactly extend to the production quality, nor does it overtake their doofier current wave of let’s bury the memory of the black metal scene with a ton of soulless soundalike shit “black metal” tendencies.

Room for one more on the Pile…

(toss)

Neeeext…

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BESTIAL WARLUST – Storming Bestial Legions LIVE ’96 (CD, LP) (Hells Headbangers) (March 31)

Aussie war metal. Surprised they dug up a live recording from back in the day, though the recording barely shows an audience – even in the crowd banter, it’s pretty thin on the ground.

Sure, it’s war metal…probably a bar or small club with a small audience. But there are plenty of punk albums that show more “audience participation”, if you will – this one just sounds like the guys are playing to an empty room, maybe with a few regulars throwing one back at the bar while they pound out some hyperaggressive, crazed vocalled “bestial” variant of black metal.

That said, it presents the band without any studio “interference”, in their rawest possible form…and you know, there’s something to be said for that in and of itself.

I enjoyed it well enough, considering.

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BLOOD FEAST – The Future State of Wicked (CD, LP) (Hells Headbangers) (April 14)

Damn, Blood Feast finally got it together.

I spoke with founding member and former drummer Kevin Kuzma wayyyy back at the dawn of the podcast which was one of my favorite interviews from that era – some great stories behind their (earlier) career.

I’d kept in touch with his (then brand new) bassist Tom since that time, as the band had recently reformed and were doing shows around the tri-state area. But despite staying active on the tour circuit (and losing Kevin along the way), there’s been no sign of activity on the new material front, unless you count in concert performances thereof. It’s been a long time – 7 years if you go from the band’s initial reformation.

Well, at long last, Blood Feast veteran Adam Tranquilli (guitars), reformation-era vets Tom Lorenzo (bass) and Chris Natalini (vox), together with new kids Joe Moore (drums) and CJ Sciosci (guitars) have pulled up their bootstraps and gotten around to dropping a new album on our heads.

Now, as those who’ve been paying attention since 2010 should know, this is not exactly the same Blood Feast who dropped the crazed, wild vocalled and decidedly Slayeresque Kill for Pleasure and Face Fate on our heads back in the day.

But does that mean they’ve calmed down, or given in to the vagaries of age?

Fuck, no.

While Natalini doesn’t have Gary Markovitch’s insane Paul Baloff meets Tom Araya and they both indulge in some Breaking Bad feel, he does have an extremely aggressive, nigh-shrieked growl, which when paired with often wordy lyrics delivered at high speed seems pretty damn nuts in and of itself. I guess if Killjoy decided to front Sadus, you might get something like Natalini’s tones here.

Tranquilli and Sciosci keep up the general feel and approach of Chopping Block Blues, but inject a bit more of the older Blood Feast aggression to spice the template.

Moore keeps the drumming old school and considered, with occasional deliberate bursts of precision double bass…i.e. very much in the vein of Kuzma. And yes, you can actually hear the bass in the mix, particularly in “quieter” moments like the opener to “last rites”.

Hell, even the cover is dead on, taking that horrified corpse head mascot from the first two releases and giving him the grim reaper’s body to rest on.

Yeah, it’s neither Kill for Pleasure or Face Fate…but it’s more akin to that general raw, less polished vibe and sound than we saw even in the days of Chopping Block Blues.

I’m down with this.

For all intents and purposes, consider Blood Feast back at last.

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TIGER JUNKIES – Green Tea or Die (7″ EP) (Hells Headbangers) (March 31)

We’d previously reviewed their D-Beat Street Rock N’ Rollers here, and Joel Grind and Yasayuki of Abigail and Barbatos are back together with another four songs filled with straightforward Motorhead meets Venom by way of Bathory goodness.

As you’d expect from a Yasayuki project, it’s filled with juvenalia and sophomoric sex talk, but at this point, if you didn’t get that outta him, you’d wonder what was wrong…

We’ve covered Intercourse and Lust, the Shitfucker splitThe Final DamnationStraight Metal War and Joel Grind’s Yellowgoat Project, so you should know exactly what to expect from these two guys by now.

And you should also know, that’s a decidedly good thing.

Did I mention I love these two guys’ work?

Time to start a pit.

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SCUMRIPPER – S/T (7″ EP) (Hells Headbangers) (March 31)

Midnight meets Shitfucker by way of Autopsy. Maybe a touch of grindcore-style extra sloppiness and noise to the whole affair to cap things off.

Bottom line, it’s punky, biker band-style blackthrash very much in the US tradition…but there’s less of the usual Bathory/Venom/Brazilian-Teutonic blackened thrash orientation this time.

As such, the sum total here is a lot less appealing than I usually find this sort of band (hell, even Shitfucker had “black mold”, which is even better with the video playing behind it)…but make no mistake, the guitarist’s efforts leave them still within the acceptable range, even at this “AS IS” fire sale.

Some truly killer old school riffs show up on a surprisingly regular basis.

You just have to dig beneath some overly unpalatable, slap echo-treated vox and a rather noisy mix to get to ’em.

Better production and a real vocalist would make these guys one to watch, no question about it.

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MENTORS / NEKRO DRUNKZ – Split 7″ EP (Hells Headbangers) (March 31)

You know, I used to get a real kick out of The Mentors.

Since first being feted by an older fellow metalhead on a construction site way back in ’87 (“you’ve got to see these guys – 3 fat guys in executioner hoods, singing songs about pissing on people or whatever. It’s hilarious!”), I’ve gotten more than my fair share of bemused laughs out of their “politically incorrect” humor-driven punk/metal.

My well-worn copy of You Axed For It and tapes of the Cathay De Grande/Whisky shows serve as proof…and laughing about their songs with my old band’s drummer in public got some disgusted reactions from the proles (which only made it that much funnier).

That said, you kind of grow out of this sort of crass humor after a bit – there’s only so many ways you can tell barroom jokes about cheap women and perverts before it gets kinda tired and the laughs start to fade. Hell, even by the time Up the Dose dropped, they were starting to lose it. Where were the “golden showers” and “peeping toms” that we found so amusing? Sophomoric off color humor’s one thing…but when it’s no longer funny? It’s just kinda pathetic.

And hey, I’m hardly the only one of that opinion. The band apparently felt the same, dropping off the face of the earth at the very dawn of the 90’s, before Eldon “El Duce” Hoke went on to greater infamy at the heart of a (faux?) scandal involving a pair of grunge “icons” and his untimely death not long thereafter.

Sure, I’d still love to see Axed and Cathay/Whisky reissued and remastered on one decidedly un-PC CD one of these days…but The Mentors were sort of the South Park of the 80’s, and like I said, it’s a joke that’s long since worn a bit thin.

As proof of this, here come two decidedly tired, previously unreleased tracks from the band’s latter days, of which “midnite mistress” is the (rather pallid) comparative success of the two…again, repeating themes and situations addressed to far better effect on You Axed For It. Yeah, yeah, we get it. It was kinda funny back in ’85/86. New joke, please?

Nekro Drunkz, of Lavatory Carnage and Absolute Filth fame continue their grindcore juvenalia attempts to take the questionable crown the Mentors left vacant, and as you might expect by now, continue to miss the not incredibly lofty mark they’re shooting for.

Far from the worst thing out there – even an obviously bored and tired El Duce is a hell of a lot more entertaining than his splitmates at their best – but stick with the aforementioned pair of Mentors “classicks” if so inclined…and don’t tell your mother or girlfriend I sent you there, they’re kind of “offensive” and sophomorically juvenile in the first place.

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Morte Incandescente / Illum Adora – Remnants of a Flaming Past (War Arts) (April 24)

Another middling at best effort from Portugal’s overly blackened take on…can this really be called blackened thrash? The orientation is on a sloppy, poorly produced, extremely raw variant of black metal proper…one which doesn’t actually feel like any form of black metal I care to acknowledge.*

* I guess the closest affinity would be to the lame, over-represented and decidedly half-baked “occult black metal” scene Watain and the Swedish scene unceremoniously dumped on our heads over the last several years and about 7000 bands choking any value out of the scene per se…but I’m sorry, that shit just ain’t real black metal.

We covered their previous …O Mundo Morreu!, and found it of more comparative value than what we’re seeing here.

Illum Adora, on the other hand, appear to be strongly indebted to Rob Darken and Graveland, particularly the earlier pagan/Viking era (somewhere between Thousand Swords and Impaler’s Wolves, arguably)…and as such, come off a hell of a lot more listenable and likeable by comparison.

Get this one for the Illum Adora side, and forget the other half even exists.

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Perverted Ceremony – Sabbat of Behezaël LP/TAPE (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (April 1)

We reviewed their Demo I here and ran into a lot of the same issues on display herein, albeit to a much worse degree: crap production, buzzsaw blade signal bleed distortion on the guitars, huck a loogie as heard through an empty slurpee cup vocals.

It’s war metal, so consider the production an improvement over the demo…not that saying that will mean a damn thing to those unaccustomed with the piss-poor sound palette typical of the subgenre.

In other words, people – it sounds like crap. But it’s more strunzu than merde.*

* hailing from a hilarious discussion with an Old Country paisan many years ago, detailing for me the difference between strunzu (a big turd) and merde (“it’s’a sloppy shit!”)

Beyond the production, there’s a general midtempo, downtuned and doomy “evil” vibe suffusing the album, which becomes far more prominent when the tempo slows to a walking pace (“necrolactation of the unborn goat”, “whips of impurity”, “dark necromancy”).

Honestly, if they’d kept to the more doomy side of the equation throughout, I’d be heaping a lot more praise on it than I’m inclined to given the album as a whole.

Still in all, definitely worth a listen, particularly if you’re into weird, doomy takes on the “war metal” template.

When they slow it down, they’re pretty damn sinister. I can get behind that.

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Sangue – S/T 7″ EP (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (April 15)

Reverb-suffused black metal of the earlier, quirkier variety. Is it really any surprise this is an Italian act?

I’ve been coming to appreciate the Italian (and to a lesser extent, Greek) metal scenes more than ever of late…their very oddness and failure to adhere to established, overworked template while still maintaining enough points of reference to be of interest (and not therefore jump the shark into “don’t label me!” post-metal hipsterdom) is the primary reason for that.

So while arguably a tad generic comparative to many of their peers from the Mediterranean and Aegean coasts, there’s more than enough oddness and sinister vibe emanating from these two tracks to give ’em the nod for now.

We’ll see how things play out on a full length.

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Aima / Supremative – Blood Chalices From the Impure – split 7″ EP (Blood Harvest) (March 21)

Aima offers a more underground, speedy and amateurish variant of the sadly standard black/death template.

Supremative is more of a grinding, almost grindcore take on “war metal”, or what folks are coming to term “bestial” of late.

Whatever. A nasty fart by any other name, and all that…

Even so, I was better with the neo-death metallisms of Supremative than the more “occultic” black/death bullshit Aima aspires to, so I’ll spare them consignment to the Pile of Dead Bards for now.

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Porta Daemonium – Serpent of Chaos LP (Blood Harvest) (March 31)

Chilean black/death.

One question before the verdict: how in fucking hell is this mastered by Tomas Skogsberg?

Talk about collecting paycheck without giving an ounce of effort…I’ll bet he gave it to an intern to handle. What a crap production job…

One more for the Pile!

Neeeeext…

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Tehom (Sweden) – The Merciless Light CD/LP (Blood Harvest) (April 21)

Blackened death metal. As expected, there’s wayyyy too much of a Watainish “occult black metal” influence here.

What’s not necessarily de rigeur is that they manage to retain some degree of death metal feeling beneath all the repetitive/hypnotic “crashing of waves” riffing and incessant blastbeat bullshit.

It’s really more fodder for the Pile of Dead Bards in any objective sense.

Subjectively, though, I did appreciate the regular, if still all too few returns to death metal proper in form and stylistic flourish.

Better than usual for this yawn and toss into the Pile subgenre, for whatever that’s worth.

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Ruin (US) – Drown in Blood (Memento Mori) (April 24)

The fact that two different tracks on this release are labeled “crawling through the vomit” and “sewer” should say it all.

With vocals that sound just like…well, someone trying to enunciate while vomiting or gargling sludgy waste products and guitars that are so slow, detuned and lumbering they can’t even stay in tempo (check out “the thirst for annihilation” and count how many times the guy struggles desperately with meter)…yeah, crawling through vomit and sewers about sums this up.

Next?

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Apokrifna Realnost – Na Rekah Vavilonskih (AnnapurnA) (March 19)

Weird industrialized noise concrete and sound collage straight outta Greece.

The general conceit is of a Catholic-style (or black) mass, complete with bells and chant vocals, which go full on Gregorian chant/Madrigal on the last track…and this is exactly what saves it and makes AnnapurnA of interest.

Apparently this originally dropped in 1988 (!)…and the fact that promo materials reference bands like Coil should give pause, one way or another.

I think if they’d done more full on faux-mass, this would have been a four or five star review…I’ve never been a fan of Stockhausen, Varese, Cage and the general school of noise concrete, and tend to avoid this earliest, purest strain of industrial for its core amusicality.

But when they stop “playing”…let’s call these likely found objects and suchlike “instruments”, because I doubt these sounds are all produced by instrumentation proper…and go back to the chants and bells…there’s something here worth attending to.

Interesting release, to be sure.

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Possession (Belgium) – Exorkizein (Invictus Productions / Iron Bonehead) (April 7)

Yet another release from Third Eye regulars Possession, whose His Best Deceit, Anneliese and 1585-1646 were all previously reviewed in these pages.

As befits their first full length album release, the band would appear to have upped their game somewhat, introducing (comparative) hooks and polish to their usual raw, nigh-blackthrash take on black metal.

Whether this is due to the infusion of new blood on the vocal and bass chair or just a logical progression and increasing skillset is open to debate, though “Viriakh’s” growl/snarls are more akin to those of Andreas Axelsson on a certain classic, wonderfully covered Marduk demo than the rawer, more “Hat” or “Pest” of Gorgoroth-like hissing rasps of the departing “Mestema”.

There’s also better, clearer production to reckon with, giving more of a neo-death metal feel to the otherwise blackened proceedings herein – again, very much in the manner of said demo (which all things considered was the best thing the Swede veterans have released to date!)

Those pining hopelessly for a return to 1991-era Marduk may finally have hit the jackpot. Best thing these Belgians have released thus far, and portends real promise for the future.

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

Aussie blackened death.

One more for the Pile!

Line forms to the right, take a number. NEEEEEXT!

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Ascended Dead – Abhorrent Manifestation (Invictus Productions / Dark Descent) (March 17)

We’d previously reviewed this band’s The Advent and Arcane Malevolence and notice there was something of a split decision between the two as to the band’s merits, which appears to have been mainly down to lousy production and a fixation on the blastbeat on the part of the drummer (which was compounded by being foregrounded) on the latter release (the demo fared slightly better, due to its more lo-fi nature).

This time around, the production, while still pretty much crap, comes off better than last time around, though the drumming is still mixed up front, with muddy, buzzing bee guitars buried well behind them and the vocals pushed wayyyyy to the background, included almost as an afterthought. So beyond feeling slightly more crisp, what’s different here?

Again, it mainly comes down to the drumming. This time, the guy’s working from a more varied palette, coming off more akin to a Pete Sandoval of sorts than the blastbeat obsessed nonsense of yore.

That “technique” (cough) still appears every so often herein, but for the most part, it’s down to a more complicated, ultra-high speed kitwork, complete with off-meter syncopation and double bass – but it’s all going by so fast, it’s a bit hard to process.

Bottom line is, while the snare’s still being hit at 120mph, it’s not the usual sound or style associated with the blastbeat, but more driven by the footwork and busy rolls and use of the kit as a whole.

Sounds subtle in print, but you should hear the difference right away, like comparing the shittiest black metal skin pounder to someone on the level of Terrorizer/early Morbid Angel-era Sandoval. Yeah, both “sound fast” to an idiot, but it’s apples and oranges.

There’s even a short acoustic piece to break things up – and while this is hardly what I consider “death metal” (put in quotes as Ascended Dead is working more of the “bestial” to “black/death” end of the equation than death metal proper), there is no question that there’s been an improvement here, both in terms of playing (i.e. the drummer – the rest just sounds like a blur and somewhat of a messy roar as a whole) and production (which while similarly mixed in terms of “drums up front, fuck the other guys!”, still sounds markedly better than last time around).

Your call whether some crazily fast, quite Pete Sandovalesque drumming makes it worth a purchase or not.

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CRIPTA OCULTA – Lost Memories (Signal Rex) (March 31)

And speaking of black masses, this one opens up with a suitably eerie minor key church organ. A good sign, but what kind of nonsense will follow?

Well, you know what? It ain’t all that bad. It’s certainly different…

Applying a strangely sparse, single guitar approach to riffing, with open space galore, stop/start sequences and a very Polish scene feel ala Fullmoon, “para o reavivar das tradicioes” works best of anything else here (bar opening organ piece “mysterios do sangue”, which runs a full 5 minutes!). If they’d have kept up the oddball, mysterioso vibe of those two tracks throughout, this would have been a definite horns raised high.

Unfortunately, the best you get after this is the quirky to the point of being comical “uma noite de trevas”, which to be fair could still pass muster despite the weak, thin production (did I mention every track here appears to bear a completely different production style?).

It’s the other three tracks that fall flat on their faces. And when I say “fall”, I mean “epic fail“.

Seriously…what the fuck were you guys thinking on those last three tracks?

If you cut this in half and made the first three tracks their own EP, then yes, horns raised, run out and grab this, it’s great, weird stuff.

But what the fuck happened after that is the problem.

May be worth it for the first 3. Just be sure not to flip sides on the record – you will regret it.

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CORPUS DIAVOLIS – Atra Lumen (ATMF) (April 6)

OK, here’s a first – “occult black metal” that actually adheres to some degree of form and structure.

I mean, yeah, they’re all trying to be Watain, possibly Dark Funeral or even Gaahl-era Gorgoroth and failing at even those meager goals, with their wide open stringed dissonant chords and ooky spooky “look, I just visited the New Age section at Barnes & Noble” ooga-booga satanic trappings, so you could call that a structure of sorts…a crappy one, but fair argument.

But what I’m trying to get at here is that Corpus Diavolis doesn’t adhere to this all too standardized, incredibly boring and wholly unimpressive formulaic subgenre’s tropes…at least they’re trying to put their own stink on it for a change.

So expect more of a doomy sluggishness, a cleaner, almost death metal production style, even more cohesive song structure. They still play with the atonal thing, but a lot less than usual for the style; the blastbeats, open ringing chords and partially bent/semitone slurring barres are kept to a relative minimum. Even the vocals are a bit less snarly than usual, leaning more growl than the usual hiss/shriek/rabid dog thing black metal…and particularly the “occult” variant thereof…is all too prone towards affectation of.

So yeah, it’s a lot more listenable than usual.

Not saying I’m entirely sold on it…it’s still not what I look for in black metal by a longshot.

But for a band working in this irritating, surprisingly overutilized sub-subgenre?

Not all that bad.

 

And finally, we wrap up with a batch of materials from Satanath Records, their sub label Symbol of Domination and their partner GrimmDistribution.

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Aksaya – Kepler (Satanath Records / More Hate Productions / The Ritual Productions) (December 15, 2016)

An odd mix of blackened-style death metal, progressive thrash and…well, Voivod.

Are you really surprised it came from France?

They really are all over the place, self-identifying as “black metal”, adopting initials for pseudos ala “occult black metal”, but working a mix between prog and blackened death metal musically.

The production’s rather clean and in your face, the drumming tends to be more accomplished, double bass driven and syncopation-prone than blastbeat reliant, and what’s their main focus, both lyrically and as a band concept (note the album cover…)?

That’s right, sci-fi, specifically a cybermen-style “union of man and machine, flesh and technology”. They also talk some gibberish about outer space and exoplanets, so they were probably skimming Scientific American while indulging in some really powerful hash or something…

In any case, the end result is listenable enough – the production’s good, the cleaner, more prog-oriented sound definitely works…but most importantly, I really liked the drummer here.

She keeps the double bass running throughout even the oddest fills and snare timing – so picture even blastbeat sections with a Pete Gill-style “locomotive” double bass trill serving as undercurrent. It’s actually fascinating how she manages to pull a few of these phrases off, so my compliments to the ma’am’selle.

No surprise the promo photo is a solo shot of her – can’t speak to internal band politics, but she’s definitely the driving force behind Aksaya’s sound, and their greatest asset.

Worth sitting through just to pay attention to the kitwork, which I found quite engrossing throughout.

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Temple Of Nihil – Soul Extremist [ep] (Symbol Of Domination / Narcoleptica Productions) (December 19, 2016) 

Black metal of the late 90’s Norwegian bent, straight outta Russia.

Abbath-like croaks, deliberate, almost doomy and evil-sounding riffs which tend to give way to a more “Norsecore” stylistic bent, excellent production with more or less equal clarity on vocals, drums and guitars (though drums and vocals to get a bit more prominence in the mix). It’s all rather ProTools, as there’s no actual separation between instruments or room ambience – they’re just all up there together, right in your face. But you can make out everything with ease, and that’s a plus right there…

Surprisingly quite good, and given current, rather sorry trends in what remains of the black metal scene, rather retro feeling.

Raise the horns!

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Evilforces – Pest Plagues & Storms (December 25, 2016) (Symbol Of Domination / More Hate Productions) (December 25th, 2016)

No, that’s not a picture of Gaahl, believe it or not.

This is a Mexican act, or more precisely yet another “one man band” operation.  Despite self-labeling as black metal, there’s a lot of death metal stylistics in  play here – not the all too prevalent “black/death” sloppy bullshit, but actual, cleanly produced death metal, with double bass and crunchy riffing…mixed with the usual blastbeat bullshit and snarl-puke black metal vocals, chanting and corpsepaint.

May well have merit – certainly good production and decent playing to be found herein – but honestly, did nothing for me.

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Dark Phantom – Nation Of Dogs (Symbol Of Domination / United By Chaos) (December 27, 2016)

Here’s something you don’t hear every day – Iraqi thrash metal with death metal vocals and occasional leanings in that direction musically.

I liked the traditional instrumentation and desert bedouin feel the intro set up, and there are similar elements scattered throughout – the clean chanted solo section of the title cut, for example, which sounded a lot like evening prayers to Mecca. In fact, there are several clean sung/chanted bits to be found around the album – “judgment call”, for another – and it’s part and parcel of what makes this band unique.

There’s also a quirkiness to the thrashy riffs, where it often feels a bit spare and open, which contrasts with the otherwise modern metal overkill style being striven for here. There are two guitarists, but somehow it feels like just one at these points, and when the drummer pulls back as well, it leaves a lot of negative space…which while not coming off as “retro” in any real respect, is still a nice change from what we’re hearing from metal nowadays.

I’m all for hearing bands from rarely heard-from countries and smaller scenes, particularly when they bring some local colour and ethnic flair to the table (traditional instrumentation, cultural appropriation and exchange, that sort of thing)…and Dark Phantom definitely fits that bill.

Definitely worth a listen, see if it grabs ya.

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Hellcraft – Apotheosis Of War (Symbol Of Domination / More Hate
Productions / Murdher Records) (January 13)

Very upfront drumming, very much in the classic Morbid Angel school thereof. In fact, the band’s riffing owes one hell of a debt to Trey and company as well…but nowhere near as much as drummer “Scott” does to Pete Sandoval’s work with that band.

No, it’s not as crazed and on point as the guy in Ascended Dead…but definitely the same school of thought and style.

They also tag in some Glen Benton/Carcass/Napalm Death-style dual snarl/growl vox bits as punctuation…but the whole Morbid Angel thing disappears for the next two tracks, which come off far more generic in tone and style. Thankfully, they return to Blessed/Covenant-era stylistics for the bulk of the album (four more tracks, in fact) before closing out on another generic one.

If they pulled tracks 2, 3 and 8 (they’re all in Russian, so that’s the best I can offer here), they’d be a damn good Morbid Angel…”tribute band”, let’s say.

And I’m good with that.

Yet another winner from Satanath and Symbol of Domination.

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Aegri Somnia – Ad Augusta Per Angusta (Symbol Of Domination / United By Chaos) (January 30)

Coming off a hell of a lot like a vintage 90’s Projekt Records signing, these Spaniards are a duo consisting of a folkie going by the name of “Lady Carrot” (if you can believe that) and a guy named “Nightmarer” from As Light Dies (who I’ve at least heard the name of previously).

It’s a lot closer to gothic darkwave than metal of any sort, though to be fair, they self-identify as folk metal…a designation generally ascribed to bands like Skyclad (whose value for me pretty much centers on Wayward Sons of Mother Earth, the one album of theirs generally considered more “metal” than “folk” in any real respect). And as such, comparing this to later Skyclad, or even acts like Northern Oak…yeah, I can hear similarities.

They seem to avoid “band dynamics” in a proper sense – it’s all vocals and guitars, with various bits of odd percussion instrumentation (supposedly they improvised with things like cookware) – no drums, no bass.

There’s also a focus on doing traditional Spanish folk music, which sounded just fine to me – while she doesn’t have a full bodied operatic voice or the bombast generally ascribed to the ladies of the gothic metal scene, it’s certainly a pretty one, whose airy lightness of being is well suited to the folk scene she hails from.

I’d have preferred an actual full band – even an acoustically oriented one ala The John Renbourn Group – to the guitar only setup seen here…ideally, something more like Fairport Convention behind Sandy Denny, Steeleye Span behind Maddy Prior or best of all, Pentangle behind Jacqui MacShee. And this is simply not in those bands’ league.

But taken in isolation, yeah, this was pleasant enough…mainly down to the efforts of Ms. Galvan…er, “Carrot”.

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Стальные нервы – Открой глаза (GrimmDistribution) (December 17, 2016)

I bet you’re surprised this is a Russian band!

Well, apparently their name translates to Steel Nerves, and two of their songs are anti-war, but that’s about all I can tell ya insofar as background information. You’re on your own, kid!

I can tell you about the music, which feels like a sort of NWOAHM thing – clean vocals, an almost emo feel to the singing and melodic orientation, but a rather traditional metal sound on the band end.

You can’t even split the baby and call ’em metalcore, though as with the emo comparison, there are definite similarities in feel and approach…so consider it a trad metal leaning act that rose out of the emo and/or metalcore scenes for the best idea of what you’re getting into here.

It’s pretty powerful in a certain way (as you might expect from all that metal riffing mixed with the over-emotiveness of the newer hybridizations of punk and metal aforementioned), and clean singing with metal riffing (which even leans a touch thrash on the second track, which is filled with Sabbath-meets-early Metallica riffing and full-on double bass drumming) always works for me, particularly when the orientation is towards the melodic.

They could be singing about Perestroika, Glasnost or the price of butter, for all I know – but all I can tell you is that I kinda liked it.

And since a Russian friend finally corrected my written version (which I previously mistranslated in print as “nostrovya”, which is how it’s said), I can finally say this in a way you guys’ll understand:

Na zdorov’ye!

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Distressful Project – Fucked-Up Songs (GrimmDistribution / Darknagar Records / More Hate Productions / Narcoleptica Productions) (December 21, 2016)

Sort of a doom/death thing, but with clean (or clean growled) vox, thin, clean prog-style guitars and weird tchochkes from all over the damn place – here a death growl, there a 70’s prog organ, here some nigh-8 bit electronic crap, there a symphonic-sample keyboard phrase.  It’s all ever so very post-whatever and hipsterish.

Can’t fault ’em for truth in advertising!

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Khrophus – Presages / Eyes Of Madness [compilation] (Grinder Cirujano Records)

Brazilian death metal with vox that say grindcore: pig squeals, gargle-puke bowel-shredder growls…and a weird stop-start hyper-fast flurry of notes riffing and drumming. There’s some affinity with Suffocation, I guess…but none of their appeal.

Presages is more quirkily produced and in your face, ala Breeding the Spawn, Eyes of Madness has a beefier, far more standard death metal production. I think the latter sounds better overall, but the oddity of mixing and production on Presages lets you hear the instruments with more clarity…so it’s down to mood and personal preference which style ultimately works better for them.

Either way…not impressed.

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Cadaveris – The Ceremony Of Worshiping (Heretic Records) 

“I wanna be Madonna! …er, I mean, Watain!

Next…

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Nominon – Chaos In The Flesh… Live! (Deathgasm Records / Morbid Skull Records / Disembodied Records)

Swedish death metal band, but there’s precious little that says “Swedish death metal” about these guys.

As with Bestial Warlust…but to a far greater degree, there’s nearly nothing about this that says “live” except for thin, crappy sound that turns the entire thing to a big toilet full of mush. Or is that something else floating around in there…?

To be fair, it sounds like more of an open air show, with a larger crowd than barely discerned on the Bestial Warlust album…which just means this was probably recorded at one of any number of Euro metal festivals (which from the rosters I see listed on a regular basis allow just about anyone to fill out the bottom of the bill).

Unfair to judge ’em without sitting through one of their studio albums, but this one kinda sucks ass.

NEXT!

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Various Artists – Russian Death Metal vol. 4 [compilation] (Darknagar Records)

Another compilation of what the title describes.

Leans unusually heavily towards grindcore and “brutal” varieties thereof this time around.  As such…kinda passable.

Fantastic cover, though!

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