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You know, over the past month or two, I’ve been reassessing a lot of stuff.

Instead of my usual variance between classic death and thrash metal (in warmer weather) and black metal (in chillier weather and darker times of the year), I’ve unearthed a latent love of (classic, traditional) doom metal, returned to my (classic) hardcore punk roots, and dug deeper than ever before into quirky Italian metal.

That’s right, my playlist of late has moved from stuff like Pentagram, Trouble and Candlemass (with a foreshadowing of Black Hole and Run After To) through the likes of Black Flag, MDC, Bad Brains and Uniform Choice…to a whole lot of stuff like Paul Chain, Death SS and The Black. I always loved the weirdness of the Italian scene, but was more thinking things like Bulldozer, Mortuary Drape, Theatres Des Vampires and Vardan…this is more of a gothicized take on…well, doom.

Which, when you think about it, brings us full circle.

But when you dig so deep into various scenes (even my death and thrash metal ventures of late have been oriented more towards the obscure demo acts who never graduated to actual label releases, or the earliest iterations of bands who later did – Abhorrence (pre-Amorphis), Necropsy, Nihilist, Corpse and Putrefaction (pre-Grave), the Nocturnus, Morbid Angel and Pestilence demos, etc.), you start to notice something.

There’s more of a “purity of vision”, if you will – and far less of a copycat conformism or label polish compromising the original band voice and intent – that marks these versions…and which points out a few things desperately wrong with the scene today.

Because even damn good bands across the spectrum of traditional, thrash, death and black metal had to build their chops and hone their skills enough to…maybe…attract the attention of a label, major or no, and get signed (which meant funding, distribution, tours, promotion…all of which were minimal at best in the pre-internet era sans label support).

Now you can argue that a lot of pretty decent acts were lost in the shuffle, never really getting their shot at glory or getting one too late in the game, when the old songs were overplayed and the bands were bored with ’em, resulting in far less aggressive and motivated performances on the albums over their original demo versions. And sure, there’s definitely a bit of that playing into things.

But the bottom line is…there was a vetting process. If a label already had a Slayer…an Entombed…a Carcass, they sure as fuck weren’t going to sign another one, much less three dozen clones thereof.

See my point?

Hammering all of this home was a recent cleanup, where I’ve started to dig into those promo discs that come with certain magazines (or orders at label distros). You know the ones – they often have silly titles like “Brazilian black metal assault!” or “Fun with France!”, denoting how the entire comp is dedicated to unsigned or obscure new bands from a given region or within a certain scene.

Sure, you find a few gems now and again…but for the most part, these things suck some serious ass.  And if you take, say, a few dozen of these at a clip, you’re struck how there are literally hundreds of bands out there…9/10 of which are working the same tired tropes, with the same lousy production style, copycatting the same vintage bands.

Oh, look, here’s another fifth-rate Suffocation wannabe. Oh, great, another aggro-vocal (thanks, Anselmo!)  Yay, more hyperspeed typewriter double bass and machine gun guitar riffs. Snore.

You know, back around ’87, there were maybe a few dozen bands signed in metal.

Seriously. Metal as a whole.

There were some obscurities in the batch, to be sure. But most of what got played, even among the most underground, finger on the pulse of what’s happening radio shows or friends in the scene? The same 3-6 bands in the Brazilian or Teutonic blackened thrash scene. The same 5 or so bands in “mainstream” traditional German metal. The same dozen or so thrash acts. Maybe half a dozen death metal bands, and really only one black metal band, which was Bathory…Goatlord was pretty early, if you count their blackened doom/sludge debut, and Venom was…well, is NWOBHM, not “black metal”.

Sure, those were early days – the height of the thrash scene, the dawn of the others, and well before all the splits into minutiae of sub-scenes and styles.

And do you know why that last part is? Because there were few if any copycats. To say a band was a bit Slayeresque (think Sacrifice or Exumer) was by no means implying those bands were “trying to be Slayer”…it just meant some element of crazed vocals, speed and aggression (and possibly a light “satanic” overtone) were present and accounted for.

Today’s scene, you really can’t say that for…it’s one blatant copycat act after a dozen others, with a growing contingent of post-millenial post-fill in the stylistic blank acts taking cross-genre syncretism to ridiculous new extremes. Blackened jazz-folk with a Suffocationesque “brutal” tech-death feel and ambient symphonic leanings? There’s probably a group of hipsters working on that one right now.

So yeah, maybe it’s just the tenor of the times – the crazily back and forth weather (is it early Summer? Did you say there’s going to be a snowstorm tomorrow? Oh, wait, it’s Spring…), the abominable politicosocial situation (if we’re still here as a nation, much less a world power post-Trump, color me extremely surprised…) or just the revisitations, reassessments and discoveries mentioned hereinabove – but this month may seem a bit more disaffected than usual.

I’m looking for something new and exciting, even if it is heavily indebted to the classics (hell, all the better if so!)…and feeling more than a bit worn out on the sort of blandness and blase product the metal scene seems to have on offer in ever-expanding numbers of late.

Come on, people. This is a call to arms.

Surprise me.

ECLIPSE – Monumentum (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (March 24)

WET/Nordic Union guitarist and Dalton/Adrenaline Rush producer Erik Martensson rejoins his main act Eclipse for this typically likeable melodic rock effort that effortlessly merges radio-friendly hooks and pop sensibilities with an AOR feel.

If you’re missing the summertime feel of 80’s “hair metal” (and particularly the more radio-oriented acts like Y&T, Autograph, Bon Jovi, Europe and Winger), Eclipse definitely has your fix – big choruses, flashy 4 to 8 bar solos, anthemic sing-a-long vocals and hooks that just won’t stop.

Yeah, when I’m in the mood for this sort of thing, then this one’s definitely a potential go-to. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winnah!

HOUSE OF LORDS – Saint of the Lost Souls (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (March 24)

We’d previously reviewed their Precious Metal and Indestructible, and the notable improvement between those albums is maintained on their newest opus, Saint of the Lost Souls.

While not exactly an “improvement” over the highly likeable Indestructible, this one certainly keeps the momentum going, with Christian and Bell keeping the ball rolling with smooth, hooky choruses, brief if flashy fretboard work on the solos and never less than competent or assured songcraft.

I get the impression things are a tad softer this time around, with more of a midrange AOR orientation and emphasis on a few near-power ballads over the more pointed trad metal stylings of Indestructible…but it’s not exactly a million miles outside the ballpark, either.

I really liked Indestructible, so the band would have been hard pressed to deliver an actual improvement on that formula with the followup. But suffice to say, while this isn’t necessarily the one to gravitate to for new (or returning) House of Lords listeners between the two albums, there’s precious little to take issue with here: a good, solid melodic rock album with pronounced 80’s metal tendencies and just the barest touch of guitar heroics for good measure.

NIGHT RANGER – Don’t Let Up (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (March 24)

Veteran rockers Jack Blades and Brad Gillis return with yet another fairly solid entry in the Night Ranger catalogue.

Gillis, now trading his patented two handed leads with newcomer Keri Kelli, remains on point, keeping the flash a bit too much in check for yours truly’s own taste, but fans of the band know this is how the man rolls…and when he does let ‘er rip, you’re damn straight gonna notice.

There’s a touch of latter day Deep Purple in the Jon Lordish organ riffing (“day and night”) and hints of Nashville to boot (“don’t let up”, the twangy vocals and southern fried guitar and piano stylistics of “(won’t be your) fool again” and “we can work it out”), which taken all in all leave Don’t Let Up feeling somewhat akin to a vintage 38 Special album more than the band who gave us “don’t tell me you love me”…but they’re still not exactly broaching entirely new territory on the whole.

ONE DESIRE – S/T (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (March 24)

A new band on the AOR circuit, with smooth clean vocals from an Andre Linman and some decent fretwork from Pitbull songwriter Jimmy Westerlund (“game on”).

They’re hook oriented and melodic, with plenty of production polish and a pop radio approach.

Honestly, there’s not a hell of a lot more to say about it – this is the sort of music that will lift you up when you’re down and leave both you and your girlfriend singing along during those long night drives.

Decent stuff, to be sure – a promising start.

Sinner -Tequila Suicide (AFM Records) (March 31)

German trad metal/AOR vet Mat Sinner returns, 4 years after likeable “greatest hits reworked” effort Touch of Sin 2 (and a full 6 years since this combo’s last studio album) with another dose of blues rock-inflected melodic metal in the (very) late 80’s/(very) early 90’s manner.

Sinner himself has kept busy with Primal Fear, Voodoo Circle and a brief stint with Silent Force, but missing this time around is his erstwhile compatriot in all of those projects, guitarist Alex Beyrodt...and that may be what makes Tequila Suicide feel a bit…off.

Now, make no mistake, this is still some very recognizable 80’s style trad/AOR-oriented metal, with the simple yet anthemic dual guitar assault of acts like Twisted Sister crossed with the pre-Sykes Whitesnake and a clean approach all their own. It’s melodic with big choruses, powerful if basic riffs and some rather nice guitar solos courtesy of returning Primal Fear/Sinner six stringer Tom Naumann (last seen in both bands circa 2006), backed by continuing Sinner rhythm guitarist Alex Scholpp.

Even so…something feels odd here. Is it Sinner’s forcefully gravelly tones? Is it the fairly in your face production, that puts his voice well ahead of any backing choruses (which were pretty damn sweet on Touch of Sin 2)? Or is it just down to having different players, and therefore a different sensibility and approach to music per se (and the Sinner sound in particular)? Probably more of the latter, in the end.

Bottom line is, if you dig what Sinner’s had to offer in recent years, you’ll probably enjoy this one as well – there’s no major faults to dig into, nothing seriously or obviously flawed about Tequila Suicide.

But think of it as Kix post-Blow My Fuse…hell, even compare that very commercial, but somehow still less appealing album to the three that came before it. There’s been a change, and only the individual listener and their particular preferences and orientation can say whether this is a good thing or not.

Me, I’m sticking to Touch of Sin 2, and relegating this one to the status of “yeah, that was pretty decent, too, I guess…”

circa Breaker

Accept – S/T (Platinum Edition) (AFM Records) (April 14)
Accept – Breaker (Platinum Edition) (AFM Records) (April 14)
Accept – I’m a Rebel (Platinum Edition) (AFM Records) (April 14)
Accept – Restless and Wild (Platinum Edition) (AFM Records) (April 14)

And here we have four of the only six Accept albums you’ll ever need. If they’d included Balls To The Wall and Metal Heart (and U.D.O.’s Animal House), this’d be a complete collection of the essential Accept/U.D.O…as is, it’s a damn good chunk of heavy metal history’s essentials.

All four have been remastered with the addition of a few live tracks from Udo’s recent retrospective tour (under the name of Dirkschneider), with 1979’s Accept (not to be confused with 1980’s Accept, later retitled I’m a Rebel to avoid years of confusion thereto) instead featuring an audio interview with Herr Dirkschneider detailing last minute membership shuffles around the signing of the band’s first record contract (when the man still sported flowing long locks and spandex…hardly the image he’d later make his own!)

Naturally, of the four, Restless and Wild is the most recognizably “Accept”, with each and every track being more or less a stone cold classic. Like the two (or if you include the unofficial Accept/Warlock crossover of Animal House, three) albums that would follow it, there are really no weak points here, unlike their more feted peers Judas Priest and Iron Maiden (who’d always include their fair share of clunkers alongside the tracks everyone remembers and salutes). In short, it was the start of Accept as the real deal, a nigh-untouchable metal machine who defined not only traditional metal, but arguably helped kick off both the thrash (“Fast as a Shark”) and power metal scenes to follow.

Given that degree of quality, the earlier albums can’t help but pale somewhat by comparison, but each has their merits. “Lady Lou” and “Tired of Me” are two parts of the most notable three tracks on the debut, but offer a decidedly quirky start to the band’s career, with a Sweet-derived bubblegum poppiness infusing even the most aggressive numbers (final standout track “Free Me Now” being a perfect example of this) that would quickly vanish from their repertoire.

The 1980 self titled offers a far more solid hard rock base, with “I’m a Rebel” the clear favorite, but tracks like “China Lady” also standing out from the rest of a still quirky, but far more solid and drivingly heavy rock/proto-metal pack.

Breaker is a far more generic feeling affair, with the de facto anti-censorship middle finger to their then record label of “Son of a Bitch” being the band’s best song to date (and one of yours truly’s favorites to this day…despite being served with a bowlderized version on an early record purchase (“BUTTERY WITCH! KISS MY ARM!” and a series of mumbled under the breath cusses were somewhat unforgettable, if not unforgivable…).

That said, with the possible exceptions of the title cut and “run if you can”, the rest of the album is still very heavily influenced by a late 70’s heavy rock framework, and thus is hardly up to the standard set by their subsequent trio of masterworks. What has become increasingly clear is that the band’s sound has skewed album by album towards an ever more metallic orientation, as the trio of tracks aforementioned (and “breaker” and “son of a bitch” in particular) make qiute apparent.

Even so, Breaker’s longstanding reputation as “the first real Accept album” among certain circles remains a bit questionable – while continuing to shed the Sweet-heavy glam influences slathered all over the two self titleds prior and skewing much heavier than previous albums would suggest, the majority of the songs here are still too quirky and off template to be properly classified as “heavy metal” in the accepted sense.

The bottom line is, we all have these albums already, possibly in multiple versions, so it all comes down to the remastering (and if so inclined, the addition of 2016 live rendition bonus tracks courtesy of the current U.D.O. lineup).

If there are any unfortunate, pitiable souls out there unfamiliar with Accept (or at least their far quirkier early trilogy of pre-Restless, pre-metal albums reissued here), this is your shot at the brass ring.

Older fans may or may not be swung by the slight upgrade in clarity and mastering…but either way, much in the same manner as the 70’s/very early 80’s output of fellow workhorses Judas Priest and (especially) The Scorpions, the more fluid and formative releases from Accept are essential listening for those interested in the history of metal and how the 80’s sound we all know, love and continue to pay homage to didn’t just spring to life spontaneously out of nowhere sometime in the first few years of that decade.

And as fucking weird as some of the songs on the two self titleds and Breaker are, there’s still enough killer contained therein to justify all the filler surrounding.

Salute.

infernal-majesty-no-god-coverart chris5_600dpi

Infernal Majesty – No God (High Roller Records) (April 14)

Well, here’s a band I wasn’t expecting to see back together.

A quirkily aggressive Canadian thrash act with strong Slayer influences, Infernal Majesty transcended a rather silly cover graphic to deliver a strange yet quite memorable and respected (and oft played, both personally and on a few underground radio shows of the era – check out our chat with Bill Zebub for a bit on that subject) release in None Shall Defy.

Sadly, it was something of a one-off, coming at the very crest of the 80’s thrash wave but with the band vanishing thereafter – a brief dalliance with Canadian tabloid headline and talk show weirdo “Vince Vampire” (Kuntz), who even my generally metal-free wife remembered with a laugh (“oh, that loser?”) was about all she wrote, so far as anyone knew Stateside…and possibly globally, though I’ll leave that to others to confirm or deny.

Either way, the situation is that they dropped one promising album and, beyond an embarassing alliance with a bizarro attention whore, dropped off the face of the earth thereafter.

Well, apparently, that isn’t 100% true, as the band has continued a decidedly on-and-off career since around the dawn of the millenium, with a pair of releases in ’98 and ’04…and now again in 2017. Who knew?

So all that aside, the first thing that strikes you is…this isn’t the same fucking band.

I mean, personnel-wise, it sort of is – vocalist Chris Bailey and guitarists “Steve Terror” and Kenny Hallman are all present and accounted for, which all things considered is pretty damn good for a reunion album 30 years on.

But what I mean is…this is not the Infernal Majesty of None Shall Defy.

You can pick up some of the quirky riffs…but this isn’t the same sound.  It’s a far more “modern thrash” affair, complete with overly aggro in your face ProTools production, triggered overly-high speed double bass flurries, a nearly (modern) black metal feel (think more along the lines of Belphegor and the Teutonic scene than the usual suspects here) and a Chris Bailey whose vocals have turned into a raspy croak more akin to Blood Feast’s new vocalist Chris Natalini than the Tom Araya by way of Schmier stylings he was prone to back in the day.

Sure to hold some appeal for newcomers, definitely – the off kilter riffing and a few nice, vaguely Sherman/Denner-esque leads should turn a few heads jaded by a scene as compromised and flooded with subpar soundalike acts as we have today.

It’s been a lot of years, you expect changes. But if you’re expecting None Shall Defy part 2…

…forget it.

covermy-silent-wake

My Silent Wake – Invitation To Imperfection (OPA LOKA) (March 20)

Hmm.

Well, after being introduced to the band on 2015’s Damnatio Memorae and “getting” what makes the band worthwhile on the retrospective An Unbroken Threnody, Ian Arkley and company throw yet another wrench into the works, offering a release that’s almost entirely ambient, with excursions into instrumental folk.

Seriously, only “lament of the defeatist” and “song of acceptance” even have
vocals…the rest seesaws between a nigh-Celtic British Isles pagan folk orientation and a more spacey, nigh-world music ambience (with elements that hint at Moroccan and Tibetan indigenous music).

So…what are we to make of this?

Well, it’s certainly well produced…the instruments are well played…and if subtlety is your thing, this is certainly that.

Bottom line? If you used to haunt the World Music section at Tower Records or
just were looking for something to meditate, trip or work some manner of ritual
to and don’t mind an overarching grimness of tone, Invitation to Imperfection
should fill the bill quite nicely.

But if you’re looking for “the new My Silent Wake album”…sorry, this one,
whatever its own unique merits, just ain’t it.

  

Lunatic Hooker – Embracing The Filth (Black Bow Records) (April 17)

Grindcore act with more chops than you tend to find or expect with this
particular subgenre.

Production is still kind of questionable, at least given the speed they tend to
play at and with the hissy snarl vox “George” is prone to deliver…but their
greater kinship to Carcass…and even early Swedeath, in terms of guitar
tone…than early Napalm Death, much less acts like Impetigo, Regurgitation and
the like, is obvious.

Grindcore is a scene filled with death metal bands that couldn’t…and aside from
their hilarious choice of moniker, that’s what makes this band weird.

The little grindcore band that could…but chose not to.

Definitely good for the type…I’d just rather hear ’em graduate to death metal
proper.

Basement Torture Killings – There’s Something About Beryl
(Grindscene Records) (April 7)

And now we come to a band I’ve assiduously steered clear of, solely based on
their Saw/Hostel-oriented “torture porn” film imagery and orientation. And maybe that’s unfair…but sorry, I just despise the stuff.

I mean, even Girl with the Dragon Tattoo went too far into that territory for my
taste…some Necrophagia videos push it there as well. Hell, even CW tweeny
dramas dip their toes into those uncomfortable waters on occasion, so it must be “a thing”…no thanks, I’ll opt out.

So in the interest of fairness, I’ll be reviewing these folks imagery aside.

Well, it’s grindcore, alright, and again, like Lunatic Hooker in this respect
(only), they seem to bear more of the chops and orientation of a death metal act proper than what you’d get with something like Caninus or Hatebeak (yeah, I know, they’re gimmick joke bands…but when you base your look and image on Eli Roth films, what are you if not a gimmick joke band? “Gwar gone gore…”)

Anyway, what you get here is a dual vocalled (surprise, surprise) grindcore act with the dentally-challenged “Beryl” taking the lions share of the mic time and guitarist/vocalist “Tarquin” (also of Thus Defiled, who’ve crossed the virtual desk last summer) working backup.

The tracks are, as you might expect, a bit samey, but hey, they bothered to get all dressed up and put on a show for ya, and unlike Gwar (not to mention far too many of their grindcore contemporaries), they seem to posess some measure of proficiency on their instruments.

No, it’s not my thing in the least. But does it work well enough, given the limitations of the style and approach?

Yeah, I’ll give ’em that. Not bad, really.

In fact, and far moreso than Lunatic Hooker?

I kinda liked it.

MAXDMYZ – ALCHEMICAL METAL (RENEGADE RECORDS) (April 17)

Damn, it’s the 90’s all over again. Circus O’ Power, meet Pantera, The Rollins
Pand and their pal Zodiac Mindwarp.

So yeah, if you were missing the raw, sorta sloppy sounding, simplistic riffing
that feels almost tube amp-hollow for all its distortion and…well, “Twister”
doesn’t fall into the usual ulcerated howls, barks and growls that tend to mark
that sound much. Oddly, he tends to sing (or more accurately, declaim) fairly
clean throughout, with Rollinslike shouts used as punctuation every now and
again.

It’s an unusual mix, particularly when you tag in a few more active double bass
stutter phrases than generally encountered with this era and style, much less the weird electronic punctuation here and there.

Even so, it’s pretty much a trip back to the early to mid 90’s Lollapalooza
festival scene all over again.

Listenable enough, didn’t mind it as much as I’d have thought…but not my scene then or now.

Sigil – Kingdom of The Grave (Horror Pain Gore Death Productions) (April 7)

What would you get if you put shitty aggro croak-scream vocals over an otherwise fairly straightforward (modern) death metal act?

No, not Solstice…or Rigor Mortis…or even Demolition Hammer, though all of
those arguments will be heard in this court. In fact, we’re talking about a new
band out of the Lone Star State of Texas, home to MDC, Exhorder and Helstar.

Well, the band is fine, if a bit generic – there’s a whole hell of a lot of bands
out there who sound pretty similar to what they’re delivering and the tonality
they’re working with. It’s just the croaky-screamy vox that mar an otherwise
middle of the road, but acceptable death oriented act.

Not melodeath, not traditional death, certainly not tech, “brutal” or grind…but
more in common with the first than the rest.

Oddly, they seem to be claiming kinship to Entombed (albeit the “death n’ roll”
Wolverine Blues era, but even so)…and there’s just about zero links between the two sounds to be found.

So here’s the real scoop: if you don’t mind Kermit the Frog crossed with Animal
from the Dr. Teeth band on vocals, this is more than listenable…hell, may even
be kinda likeable, it’s certainly consonant enough (again, not exactly “melodic”, but close…)

I was OK with it overall.

saturn-beyond-spectra-red saturn-estersegarra-9027

Saturn – Beyond Spectra (Rise Above Records) (March 31)

70’s style hard rock (“heavy metal” before the term was properly coined and
coalesced into a true genre around 1979 with the NWOBHM) in the vein of Heavy Load and suchlike.

The guitars are heavy and grinding, the riffs lean more rock and roll than
“metal” as we’ve known it since its 80’s heyday, the overall feel is lo-fi and
trippy. You could say “doom” or even “stoner”, but it doesn’t truly fit either
genre to any appreciable extent – it’s more “retro” and “traditional” in the
sense of 70’s Priest and Scorpions by way of bands like Heavy Load (who given
their shared Swedish heritage were probably a much bigger influence on the sound presented herein).

There was a tape I used to have that was all 70’s hard rock – everything from
Alice Cooper and Grand Funk to Focus and Edgar Winter. It was a damn good
cassette, and got a lot of wear and tear during my mid-teens…but in no way,
shape or form would I consider it “metal”, despite some obvious heavy rock,
guitar-oriented leanings.

Saturn would have fit damn well on that tape.

I’m good with it.

Troubled Horse – Revolution on Repeat (Rise Above Records) (March 31)

Retro-70’s hard rock – a tad lo-fi, vaguely trippy, vaguely doomish, but not
really falling under the usual genre tropes of any of those. Are you really
surprised they hail from the same town as Witchcraft?

What’s most unusual is their upbeat, uptempo orientation, combined with a
decidedly Dio-esque vocal approach…though there are moments here that feel
somewhat Devils Blood (“which way to the mob”), and others that go full on Grand Funk (“peasants”).

It’s clear these guys are well steeped in 70’s heavy rock…and more importantly,
less of the lame, overplayed “classic rock” bullshit most folks gravitate towards
and more of the Grand Funk/Blue Cheer/Ten Years After/Alice Cooper/Edgar Winter and Rick Derringer-ish sound that still works and hasn’t been beaten into the fucking ground until you want to strangle anyone who even suggests their love of bands like Led Zeppelin, Bad Company, Tom Petty and the like.

It’s a bit too diffuse and varied in influence to really lock in as a “best Grand
Funk album you’ve heard in 40 plus years” or what have you, but suffice to say,
when this works? It really works.

Entrapment (Netherlands) – Through Realms Unseen LP (Doomentia) (April 15)

Sluggishly lumbering death-doom (or to attempt to achieve further precision using rather imprecise and arbitrary terminology, “sludge”).

It’s messy sounding and fond of an old school riffing style, but hardly fits my definition of “old school” overall. There is an affinity with the sort of muddled distorted mess of riffing and simplistic pounding drumming you get with early Morgoth and Gruesome’s attempts to copy Scream Bloody Gore-era Death, but that’s about as far as it goes.

Sort of in the ballpark, you get the impression they were trying for that sound and approach…but not quite there.

Certainly enough to be listenable or to satisfy your fix, if you’re in that mood.
May be a not wholly convincing fake, but I was cool with it.

  

THE ROYAL – Seven (Long Branch Records) (March 31)

Aggro of a decidedly modern bent.

The usual stutter-stop slow machine gun and detuned lunkhead riffing, the usual BLEEEAAHHH BLURRRGHGHH EEEYAAAAAAAAAAHHH growly-screamo wannabe Phil Anselmo wankery.

The only change from template is that there are ringing guitars and lines going
on, which hails more from the emo/modern “punk”/metalcore arena than the even more balls-scratching neanderthalism of the Pantera school, suggesting some light advancement and degree of musicality tossed into the otherwise rancid mix.

(sigh)

Next?

Brother Firetribe – Sunbound (Spinefarm Records) (March 23)

The lighter end of AOR. Hooky, radio friendly, but comes off kind of…soft.

The vocalist sounds like an aging rocker of note, but I can’t put my finger on exactly who I’m thinking of at the moment – possibly a latter day Ian Gillan? Quavering vocals with a dramatic bent, is the bottom line here.

Features Emppu Vuorinen, founding (and ongoing) member and guitarist of the once-storied Nightwish.

If you dig this kind of thing and don’t mind a much less “metal” than usual feel, you should be quite happy with Sunbound – you know who you are.

Royal Thunder – WICK (Spinefarm Records) (April 7)

The first thing that strikes you when you pop Wick into the player is how damn incongrous it is.

Here you have a female fronted affair with aggressive, throaty-to-shouted vocals that would fit any number of metal or hard AOR acts out there…over a rather quiet and mellow sounding, barely distorted, thin, clean to overdriven guitar and drums combo. Did I mention they come off sounding kinda major key and happy? 

Veronica Freeman of Benedictum fronting REM, anyone?

So yeah, I don’t get it.

Next?

  

EXCALIBUR (Spain) – Humo Negro (Fighter Records) (May 3)

OK, there’s something that instantly bothers me about these guys, but I’m not going to spell it out.

No, it’s nothing personal or especially horrible, if that’s what you’re wondering…just unhappy with something here aside from the music, nation of origin or whatever other nonsense probably springs to mind for most of ya…and it’s something they’d have no way of knowing about in the first place, so forget I even said anything (hearty laugh). Let’s just leave it duly noted and move on.

So forgetting all of that, these guys have apparently been kicking around since 1984, with some weird mishap involving an overpriced debut album (to the tune of about $1500, if you believe the promo materials!) and an unreleased follow up. Sheesh, that’s some serious mala suerte…

Anyway, here we are, with what probably amounts to their first generally accessible album, “Black Smoke”. What strikes you most about this is the youthful, rather punk-style vocals of Paco Mira, which would seem to be entirely at odds with their more traditional metal/hard rock approach (think stuff like Aldo Nova, early Eddie Money or Greg Kihn with leanings towards a Bon Jovi/Autograph/Y&T sort of “hair metal”). Even so, it works pretty well, once you get over the WTF factor and give it half a chance – his approach gives the material more aggression and energy than it would have otherwise.

Then what strikes you is how thin sounding and open this feels, despite having a two guitarist, keyboard, bass and drums setup. You’d expect more of a heavy rock to metal crunch, but it comes off a whole hell of a lot more like California Dreams (especially on material like the summertime anthem “rock and roll”). Where’s Brentley Gore? “Don’t wake me up, if I’m dreaming…”

Even so, this album, and the band’s sound overall, worked for me. In fact, beyond the weirdness factor noted hereinabove (and the little thing I have against ’em, however irrational and unbeknownst to both parties heretofore), I can say that if you like old school, 80’s style hard rock/AOR of the sort mentioned earlier, then Humo Negro should fill your bill quite admirably.

I’m even going to give them a horns up. Keep on rockin’, amigos.



THE WIZARDS – Full Moon in Scorpio (Fighter Records) (May 16)

Spanish “occult rock” act.

Don’t expect something on the level of The Devil’s Blood or Eldritch Dark-era Blood Ceremony by any means, but if you’re looking for something along the lines of Hour of 13 and don’t mind some rather gratingly shitty all mids and nothing but production, these guys certainly have that 70’s hard rock sound down pat.

Painful on the ears (that production…seriously, it’s pure shite!), but a decent band to be found beneath all that, if you don’t mind seriously playing with your sound system to compensate.

Booze & Glory – Chapter IV (Burning Heart Records) (March 31)

British pop-punk in the general vein of acts like the Dropkick Murphys, a horn section and ska-less Mighty Mighty Bosstones or a less particularly Irish-oriented Flogging Molly.

Apparently the current iteration of the band has gone full on EU, with Poland, Ireland, Italy, Greece and the UK all represented…so despite the boisterous, nigh Chumbawamba to Oi! gang choruses, this is no bunch of football hooligan Brexiteers we’re talking about.

Catchy as hell (especially if you love bands like the aforementioned, and I was pretty big on Flogging Molly back in their Swagger heyday), more punkish and propulsive than the more boozy late night bar stylings of those bands would tend to imply, and forward thinking (or at least not backward-leaning!)…what’s not to love?

Time to break the HB strut out of mothballs…throw a fist in the air and watch out for the stage divers.

Trollfest – Helluva (Noiseart Records) (February 24)

Our favorite party rocker “Troll Metallers” are back with yet another slab of cross-stylistic multi-instrumental goodness.

We discovered them like we used to find a lot of favored bands, as openers to previously beloved headliners who didn’t make half as good an impression (and consequently found themselves more or less phased out…happened more often, and across genres, venues and years than I’d care to recount). In this case, opening for amusing Pirate Metallers Alestorm on the Brumlebassen tour.

We had “the Trollmannen” on the podcast to share a few laughs about that show and to discuss their even more musically advanced and stylistically diverse Kapiten Kaos and their progression from En Kvest For Den Heilige Gral to that very album, and now they’re back with yet another slab of accordion inflected, beer hall-ready Trollish madness.

Interestingly, this one takes them back to their earlier stylistic roots, coming off far more akin to Heilige Gral than either Brumlebassen or Kaos. What this means to you? Expect less syncretism and hooks. While you’ll catch elements thereof, don’t figure on excursions into Latin, jazz or Polka here, much less “mainstream pop” efforts like “sellout” or “ave maria”.

That said, Trollfest is who they are, and despite their obvious (and admitted) base indebtedness to Finntroll, that is a far more diverse and ambitiously far-reaching band. If they weren’t quite so aggressive and came with a lounge singer vocalist, you could even picture your grandparents getting into some of this…the base orientation may in fact be “extreme metal”, but the tropes, instrumentation and styles touched on and drawn from venture quite far afield therefrom.

So final words? If, like the wife and I, you’ve fallen victim to the Norwegians’ decidedly unusual spell (and trust me, you have to see ’em live to get the full effect…most fun we’ve had at a show, probably ever), there are no real surprises here. It’s Trollfest, and there’s a clear line connecting their last four albums.

The only caveat would be if your first experience was with Kapiten Kaos or their more “radio oriented” material…in which case, you may want to dig a bit deeper into their back catalogue to see if you’re up for this.

For me? This was a “Helluva” good time, as ever.

Next time, throw me that pick, willya?

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Pyramaze – Contingent  (Inner Wound Recordings) (April 28)

Progressively inclined power metal (think stuff like Kamelot here) with a Chris Cornell wannabe on vocals. Soundgarden goes Euro!

The sound is lush, with prominent but never overpowering keyboards punctuating the dramatic choruses and driving power metal riffs and some off-meter syncopation adding value and listenability to the drumming. It’s pretty damn good, really, particularly if you’re into the style, which could equally fit on a Dream Theaterish prog or straight up Helloween-style power metal bill.

Production is pretty damn good, if a tad inclined to hiss and signal bleed on the high end, which is strange considering the fullness and clarity of tone otherwise.

Highly listenable, and quite recommended for fellow fans of the classic Khan-era Kamelot (or for that matter, Conception).

 

Vandroya – Beyond The Human Mind (Inner Wound Recordings) (April 28)

Of a similar bent, but far more inclined towards the standard power metal template comes the female fronted(!), Brazilian(!) act Vandroya.

Daisa Munhoz betrays precious little native accent on the vocal end, delivering an accomplished feel alongside her forceful alto. Choruses and bridges tend to be doubled and triple tracked so she can self-harmonize, and occasionally she even really lets it rip with a soaring phrase or two…but that’s sadly more infrequent than I’d care to hear from her. Even so, it’s a commendable performance.

The band offers a respectable, if somewhat generic backing to her efforts, sounding a hell of a lot like 3 dozen other Helloween/Iron Savior inspired power metal acts – traditional metal-to-machine gun riffing, typewriter drumming and keyboards. Not bad by any means, just nothing truly standout or anything to write home about. They get the job done.

Are these guys going to take the long-vacated thrones of once mighty female fronted acts like Leaves Eyes, Epica, Nightwish, Krypteria, Visions of Atlantis (Trinity-era is the only one that counts, people), Magica, Within Temptation and suchlike?

Hell, no.

But are they well worth looking into, particularly given the rather sorry state of female fronted gothic/symphonic/power metal nowadays?

Not even in question – they easily take a front running position in those stakes.



MindMaze – Resolve (Inner Wound Recordings) (April 28)

Female fronted brother/sister act progressive metal with strong power metal leanings. Think somewhere between a femme-led Queensryche (or more precisely, Lethal or Crimson Glory) and a Helloween-worshipping alternate universe Kamelot.

The guitars are pretty flash, with Jeff Teets certainly making himself conspicuous throughout the busy progressive riffing and (gasp) interestingly phrased solos herein…and he also handles keyboards for good measure.

Sis Sarah Teets offers Grace Slick-like throaty shouts throughout, but comes off far more declamatory (and far less smooth and lyric) than the music truly demands. She’s got a lot of power…but leans well to the declamatory throughout, even in quieter moments.

Mark Bennett offers some busy syncopated drumming, unfortunately let down by the production and mix here, which highly favors the Teets twins at the expense of drums and (admittedly still audible and rather busy) bass. They’re certainly there, if you listen hard enough…but tend towards the thin and trebly, shoved back behind the guitar and vocals (and possibly keys as well) in the mix. Which is a shame, when you have an instrumental section quite this strong on all fronts.

Even so, this is a pretty good album, particularly for those who lean a bit progressive (in the proper, old school sense as opposed to the Wyndam Hillisms of the Dream Theater crowd) in their orientation and tastes.

A Mournful Path – From The Wreckage Of Humiliation (Inverse) (March 16)

Aussie black metal of the most annoying sort – atonal, ringing detuned open
chords mixed with “Norsecore” high speed blastbeats and tendinitis-begging
tremelo riffing, with a hiss into a blender barely discernible in the mix
“vocal”.

Super annoying, and so relegated to the Pile of Dead Bards as to qualify as
“template for same”.

NEXT!?!

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A Lie Nation – Begin Hate (Inverse Records) (April 5)

Umm…

OK, take a blackened death metal sound, complete with jagged riffs, blastbeats, noisy production and snarly-spit vox and a highly aggressive feel…and add a touch of melodeath and prog-style arpeggiated guitar solos.

What the fuck?

I can’t imagine the crowd that would dig into the nigh-groove of “rot of the spirit” would go for the Judas Iscariot riffing intro of “shooting the messenger” or the Tsjuderisms of “a burn afar”…much less that the crowd that likes a touch of melody in their metal (death or otherwise) would accept all of this in conjunction thereto.

Look, they’re trying – I do appreciate the attempt to inject a bit of melodicism and consonance into the various “extreme” templates being otherwise evoked herein.

But I can’t picture the audience who’d gravitate to this bizarrely syncretic sound in the first place.

Return To Void – S/T (Inverse Records)  (April 26)

These guys self-define as prog rock, so you know this’ll be a bit different from the usual: neither “metal” or the AOR that so obviously informs their upbeat, anthemically inclined choruses.

There are vaguely Jon Lordesque keyboards, brief jazz excursions, and the sort of middle of the road, radio friendly bombast you’d expect from AOR-oriented hard rock, but then tag in some messing with tempo and meter ala Yes.

It’s a strange mix, but I guess it works.

Not incredibly impressed with the gravelly growl vocals, though…and wouldn’t this general approach be better suited to a metal context than a rock one? Can’t picture grizzled barfly “classic rock” types grooving to Return to Void during their weekend barhopping run…

Goresoerd – Antikeha (Crunch Industry) (March 3) 

Weird, sort of industrial/electro take on a pop-punk meets death/grind template out of Estonia of all places. They even lean a bit power metal at points, which is just totally fucked up…

I don’t get it.

Next?

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Crucify the Faith – New Breed (self released) (February 28)

“Melodic deathcore”, according to the promo materials. What the fuck is that supposed to imply?

OK, as you might expect, it’s a variant on metalcore, so you get that AFI-ish, slightly emo take on punk you’d see with acts like Killswitch, All That Remains or (early) In This Moment, but with more mouth in an O death growls (the sort of mic swallowing thing you get from acts like Suffocation, vaguely speaking) occasionally punctuating the usual clean/screamo vox.

Otherwise…it’s metalcore. Don’t let ’em bullshit ya.

I like a few metalcore acts now and again, myself (GASP! Blasphemy!), so this was definitely OK by me…just fail to see how it really varies from the template in any appreciable respect.

If you consider Killswitch “melodic deathcore” too, then fine. But if this is supposed to be something different?

Listen to Flavor.

“Don’t believe the hype.”

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AncarA – Garden of Chains (Concorde Music Company) (March 3)

These Finns self-label as “alternative rock”.

Well, there’s certainly a riffing approach that brings 90’s grunge to mind…but does anyone really consider acts ranging from Soundgarden and Screaming Trees to Tool and Prong “rock”? Or do they tend to be more lumped in, however inappropriately, with the “metal” crowd retroactively?

So whatever your personal take on that, AncarA (have to stylize that Double A, and I don’t mean old buddy wrestler Andrew Anderson) delivers an aggressive, distorted guitar riffing with vocals that cross modern Nashville country-pop (on the cleaner vocal end) with Cornell/Vedder-style grunge howls (on the raspier/growlier end) and weirdly inappropriate electronic elements.

Also in favor of their argument, about half of the tracks here lean softer (and even a touch trippier, Faunts-style) than you’d expect from either a grunge or “metal” act…so all you come away with is “yeah, the hipster millenial crowd would probably love this.”

It’s melodic and consonant enough, and clearly designed with radio airplay in mind.

If that’s good enough for you, have at it.

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Topplock – Overlord (Heptown Records) (March 10)

Really old school, NWOBHM by way of Swedish retro-trad style metal.

They consider themselves “riff based blues hard rock”, but the simple fact is it’s NWOBHM meets psychedelically inclined traditional doom, done more or less Enforcer style. Or should that be Count Raven/Witchcraft style? Nah, not that psych or doom. You get the general idea.

Apparently, they’ve got a solid in with the Euro biker scene, and anyone that’s in with the one percenters is good by me. Raise a fist in salute.

Plus, I love that monster on the cover. What is he, the talking pile of shit Kelly LeBrock turns the jarhead brother into in Weird Science?

Killer…well, loveably goofy cover + doomy NWOBHM feel + good with the outlaw biker crowd = horns up.

    

Highland – Loyal to the Nightsky (self-released) (May 15)

Stateside black metal “power trio”. They clearly draw from the mid-to-late 90’s Norwegian and Swedish playbook, and given their choice of album title, very likely with the strangely common masturbatory devotion to the ever-lame Emperor (sorry, Wrath of the Tyrant was the only good thing they ever did, and even that’s hard to listen to. Never got the wide fannish reaction to those clowns…)

In all honesty, I was bored to shit by this.

Emperor fanboys, have at it – you’ll probably hail ’em as the second coming.

Without Mercy – Mouichido (EP) (Self-Release) (May 27)

Canadian aggro meets tech death affair – apparently a full re-recording of the intended release with a new singer (hence the title, for those of you who Nihongo ga wakarimasu e hanashimasu.

If you always wanted to hear Phil Anselmo drop vox over latter day Gorguts or something, this should really set you on fire.

I liked the guitar solos.

Slagduster – Deadweight (Waterlow Audio Records) (April 5)

The fact that they have songs entitled “soldiers of meth” and “peeping Ron” should give you an idea of the comic sensibilities here.

Musically speaking, every song sounds exactly the same: El Duce from The Mentors shout-growling on top of stuttering guitar riff fragments and hesitating-then-flurries of activity how the hell do I keep up with this pseudo-musical nonsense drum patterns.

Look, there’s an audience for all kinds of shit out there – modern hip hop, Disney kids, Nashville…and bands like this.

I remember seeing Unexpect open for Visions of Atlantis and Epica, and while we found their onstage antics amusing (and them rather friendly – they mingled with the crowd for the rest of the show)…it was like, what the fuck was that?  Did they even have discrete songs (or something approximating such), or was this one long performance art bit?

So take something as atonal, overly busy, fragmented and bizarre as Unexpect, put El Duce as frontman and tone down that sense of weird sophistication several degrees, and you’ve got Slagduster.

Whatever. My ears hurt.

Next?

LONGHOUSE – II: Vanishing (self released) (April 14)

Self-identifying as a doom band, Ottawa-based Longhouse work strangely eerie atmospherics into their black metal vocal-snarled, sludgy death metal template.

You could certainly make a credible argument for lumping them in with other more than respectable “death doom” acts like Winter, Mythic or Sorrow if not Eternal Darkness…but I’ve always considered such bands far more ponderous death metal than “doom” (which is more Sabbath/Trouble/Pentagram/Candlemass-school than anything being laid down here.)

Lead snarler and four stringer Joshua Cayer is Algonquin First Nations, so there’s more than a bit of (if you forgive the term) “ancient Indian lore” playing into the album…and for those of us who grew up at a certain time, that brings both a welcome ring of nostalgia and due respect.

Is this Wolfen, Nightwing and (arguably) Altered States set to death/sludge (or “death/doom”) accompaniment?

Perhaps not. But you get the general zeitgeist being tapped here.

I was certainly good with it…but then, I’m never caught without a prayer offering to the Great Spirit on my belt, so user resonance may vary.

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Ghost World – S/T (Svart Records) (March 17)

I can’t speak for anyone else, but there’s a regularity of synchronicity in my
life.

I mean, it goes a lot deeper than this, but just as an example…for no real reason, I finally decided to sit down, after all these years and more than a few friends past and present’s fervent recommendations, and watch Ghost World.

And you know, there was a core truth to that film, about living outside the mainstream and marching to the beat of your own existential drum, that positively floored me. Despite the obvious hipsterisms and snark and what have you…there was a deep level of identification and familiarity, a bond that transcends the obvious but resonates with profundity nonetheless.

So maybe…a week later? Less? Onto the virtual desk flops a self titled release from a Finnish band named after that very film (or perhaps the indie comic series it derives from…don’t ask me, I have zero awareness on that end of the matter). I’d never seen or heard anything relating to such a band prior, nor was there any real reason for me to finally buck up and check out the film at this particular date and time.

Weird, right?

Yeah, shit like this (and much more) happens to me on a regular basis. Welcome to my wacky world.

Anyway, it’s from the standpoint of seeing so slacker she can barely open her mouth to sing properly Liisa as some ersatz real world version of Thora Birch’s Enid Coleslaw (seriously, that’s the name)…which given the band’s choice of moniker, may in fact be a deliberate affectation of association.

Aside from her…think late 80’s to mid 90’s “indie” “college rock” “alternative”. Anything from stuff like The Darling Buds, Sonic Youth, Husker Du and Dinosaur Jr. to Lush, Curve and the more Projekt darkwave-inclined Mira.

It’s kinda punky, kinda noisy and sloppy, there’s some loveably busy Steve Shelley-esque drumming over guitar riffs that are so loose and uncontrolled as to go right out of tune – Dinosaur Jr., Black Flag and Sonic Youth are clear touchpoints stylistically here, and more indebted to J. Mascis than Ginn or Moore/Ranaldo by far.

Very old school “alternative”, in the sense where they borrowed more from a depressively introspective post-punk (as opposed to “postpunk” as in “gothic
rock”) aesthetic than the intrinsically inferior grunge-style “let’s just self consciously try to be weird and miserable junkies” one that rose later on a more popularly embraced global stage.

This is more vintage SST than L7/Four Non-Blondes/Pearl Jam type shit…which should instantly vindicate it to those who get what I’m saying here.

Yeah, I could see Enid fronting this band.

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Hello Black Hole – In No Good Hand (Svart Records) (March 17)

Not entirely dissimilar to (but still far less interesting than) Ghost World comes the latest from expat Beastmilk vet Johan Snell.

Rather than 80’s postpunk and Depeche Mode-style dark synthpop, here he’s quite precisely if not obsessively raising the flag of Frank Black and The Pixies…

…to the point where there’s really nothing further to say about it.

The best reunion album Black Francis and Kim Deal never had, consider this Pixies redux.

I’m good with it.

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Alunah – Solennial (Svart Records) (March 17)

Following on 2014’s Awakening the Forest comes yet another slab of “occult
rock”-inflected traditional doom from a pointedly wiccan perspective.

Here they make the jump from Napalm to Svart, which in a certain respect may be a better fit for the band, who were never oriented towards a “high profile”
mainstream sort of endeavor in the first place, being more of a self-directed,
folkish affair at core. While it probably won’t amount to a damn thing to those
outside the band proper, the change may in fact signal a move towards a more
likeminded assembly and focus. Who the hell knows, really…but that’s the vibe
I’m picking up on here.

In any case, Solennial is pretty much more of the same thing we saw on Awakening the Forest, perhaps with a more appropriately SST-era Saint Vitus-style guitar tone and production (which suits the band’s aims and identity far better than a more clean and polished one ever could).

Those of “lugh’s assembly” should be quite chuffed once again, as should fans of “occult rock” and traditionally-minded doom metal.

Is it really that big of an improvement, or is it just my recent re-infatuation with the doom metal genre (as discussed last month)? 

Either way. I really enjoyed this one, which felt rather Eldritch Dark-era Blood
Ceremony crossed with early St. Vitus to these ears.

Hail and well met, sosteren av natten.

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Black Magic Six – Choose Death (Svart Records) (April 7)

When your album kicks things off with some ersatz, stiffer cross between Mind Funk (a forgettable early 90’s outfit that bizarrely sported former straight edge heroes Uniform Choice’s frontman Pat Dubar on vocals) and El Chicano (“dance with me satan”), you just know you’re in for a weird ride. And in fact, things get even stranger than that.

This is a rather weird indie act who appropriate elements of Cramps-esque 50’s exotica, Chris Isaak-style guitar, Latin and punk while putting their handprints in the cement laid by weirdo “outsider art” types like Tom Waits and (wait for it…) The Residents.

Seriously, I kept expecting Snakefinger to show up for one of his patented oddball “guitar solos”…and sure enough, some of the plunka-plunka distorted lead lines even seem to borrow from his unique stylings.

Now, I’m well accustomed to The Residents. The old (literal) hippie who introduced me to the joys of Italian grindhouse cinema (thank you, my brother) was apparently a chapter head of the Residents fan club back in the 70’s and early 80’s, so I’d been gifted more than a few of their slabs of audio weirdness over the years (their album-spanning covers of Elvis, Hank Williams and James Brown and the eerie tribal chant of “picnic in the jungle” particularly stand out among a very strange pack). But suffice to say, they took some getting used to.

So if you’re acquainted with…or better, find some enjoyment in The Residents and Waits, and would like to hear it slightly punkified, with further disparate elements noted hereinabove tossed in to garnish the mix, then dig right in – Black Magic Six should be right up your alley.

But if you’ve tried Mr. Skull and the top hat-sporting eyeballs and found them just too freakishly bizarre and offputting?

Stay away. Stay far away.

Me? I enjoyed this profusely.

So the operative question here is…

is everybody ready for the picnic in the jungle?

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Pekko Käppi & K:H:H:L – Matilda (Svart Records) (March 31)

Er…well, this is certainly different…

Off kilter mellow pop music crosses paths with a studied revivalist folk and traditionalism ala Bruce Cockburn, meeting halfway at the local bar where they try to stick to more workaday blues rock tropes ala Tom Petty or John Cougar for a song or two. Then they get a bit more augmented chord pseudo-“punk” ala the more aggressive moments of The Who.

Well? It’s certainly unusual…

‘scuse me, I have to go get rid of this beer.

(feigns heading to the john, actually exits the bar and drives away)

Hisko Detria – Mal Du Siècle (Svart Records) (March 24)

These folks claim to have been put together as “a ruthless Neu! pastiche”, and you can definitely hear a Circle-esque devotion to the tropes and feel of “krautrock” (think stuff like Faust, Can, early Kraftwerk and Rheingold)…but it’s more psychedelic than that…and more college rock in the guitar style.

The promo materials are particularly amusing for this one – apparently “comments from worldwide audiences have included “hipster-droning”, “they look funny” and “the sound is good but nothing happens”…and then they claim inspiration from Neon Genesis Evangelion of all things.

Well, I wasn’t hearing echoes of NERV or our trio of schizophrenic pilots (much less the perpetually drunken eye candy of Misato) anywhere in this, but “experimental krautrock” and “poor man’s free jazz” can certainly be applied.

Think 70’s experimental music of all stripe (from trippy live Santana of the period through Miles Davis-style fusion to Ornette Coleman and Sun Ra to the weird mix of cold precision and psychedelic experimentalism of earlier Faust and Can) and you’ll have a good handle on what to expect here.

A tad too pointless for my taste, but not completely outside the ballpark.

John Richardson – The Fold (Svart Records) (March 31)

This is interesting: an acting Professor of Musicology at Finland’s Turku
University, getting his material released on a respected label with international
attention. Not something you see everyday, that’s for sure…

At times this feels Bruce Cockburnesque (which is appropriate enough), but at
others, it comes off rather Al Stewart (“dawnsong”)…and particularly given
their similarity of vocal tone, very much akin to the solo work of Richard
Thompson (try “birdman of bongor” for just one example). Not bad names to be
compared to, however oblique the actual connections thereto.

Then he goes a tad jazzy with the saxophone section on “sanitarium”, and somewhat America-esque on “open page”…which could also suggest Jakob Dylan and the Wallflowers to a more recent touchpoint. “Skin gone dry” could be a less pointedly morose Nick Drake number, and “Brushfire” brought Richard Shindell to mind (for some reason I can’t logically peg).

Taken all in all, he was a folkie, to paraphrase The Bard.

Those so inclined, have at it, you’d seem to be in good hands here.

Horte – S/T (Svart Records) (April 7)

Glacially slow, trippy, almost ambient…then the crunchy guitars and steady drums kick in. Brings me right back to the 90’s, when Tower Records, all four locations of Kim’s Underground and Other Music were regular haunts (I’d mention Generation, Venus and Bleecker Bob’s as well, but they didn’t play stuff like this).

This is the sort of music that makes you feel like you’re on drugs…even if you’re pointedly straight edge. Soundtracks to movies like Irma Vep and the Doom Generation were full of this sound…bands like the Darling Buds, My Bloody Valentine, Curve and Stereolab…hell, even the Sneaker Pimps (!) were among its many proponents.

Damn straight I liked this one.

Ajattara – Lupaus (Svart Records) (May 12)

Huh?

I mean, after multiple releases this month that lean 90’s indie rock, folk and just generally quirky (and yes, more than just a bit hipster)…Svart drops a viciously snarling black/death act on us?

Sure, there are some weird electronic sound effects and noise guitar during the solo section of “saatanan sinetti”, and they’re clearly shout-snarling in Finnish…but seriously. Where the fuck did this come from?

Anyway, there’s something about the riffing style that separates Ajattara from the Pile of Dead Bards that is the Watain Wannabe (also known as the “occult black metal” sub-subgenre) – some measure of negative space being brought into play, an orientation towards consonance if not occasional melodicism that says “Finnish extreme metal”…so it’s a whole hell of a lot more listenable than most of what’s trying to pass as black metal nowadays.

But there’s no atmosphere. No intrinsic wrongness, no oddity of feel, no eerieness…no “scent of evil”. Like most bands playing in this general field of
late…it just feels pointless and false.

Again, if you’re content with “the scene” of late, Ajattara are more than acceptable – in fact, they’re a hell of a lot less likely to make you toss the platter right in the circular file after a quick skim (which is so common of late, I can’t even put it into words here). In short, you can listen to them without getting pissed off.

But does that put them in the ranks of the classics of the second wave that took the world by storm back in the early 90’s (and which is, quite honestly, 9/10 of the only “black metal” worth referring to as such, a handful of long running and often somewhat underground bands excepted)?

Not even close.

To be objective and fair about this, I’ll give these guys a nod of respect just for their easily clearing the ridiculously lowered bar of what appears to constitute “black metal” of late.

Sabbath Assembly – Rites of Passage (Svart Records) (May 12)

Myers and the ironically monikered Christian return with yet another Process-proselytizing Sabbath Assembly venture.

This time around, things are a bit more busy if not aggressive due to the presence of ex-Gorguts six stringer Kevin Hufnagel.

Gabba gabba hey, it’s more nonsensical “profundities” from the DeGrimston family and friends.  Been there, done that, left some cake.

Whatever…

Next?

  

SHIBALBA – Psychostasis – Death Of Khat (Agonia Records) (April 30)

Extremely, extremely dark ambient trance music from the guy behind Acherontas (of Ma IoN and Amenti fame) and the guy behind Nastrond, if the latter’s familiar to anyone.

Seriously, if you’re planning on using this to accompany any…personal journeys,
shall we say…you’re going to have the worst experience ever.

The cover should serve as a warning. The second you put this one on, it just
feels wrong, and not in a good way.

Moving on…

THE MOTH GATHERER – The Comfortable Low (Agonia Records) (March 31)

We’d previously reviewed their The Earth is the Sky and this is more of the same, albeit in EP form.

Side 1 is the real winner here, but even the screamo silliness that mars a phrase or two of the flipside is mercifully brief and constrained.

Two tracks of surprisingly atmospheric, effective Faunts-meets-modern metal
goodness.

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Barathrum – Fanatiko (Saturnal) (April 28)

Here’s another one of those old school Finnish black metal acts who I’ve heard the name of but never indulged in previously. And as usual for bands who’ve been around for a dog’s age who I haven’t discovered, stumbled across or been pointed to (cough Archgoat cough)…there’s probably a reason for that.

These guys’ big schtick is that they use two bass players. OK, that’s kind of Spinal Tap of ya…and? How does this affect the price of stringbeans in Utah?  Certainly does nothing whatsoever for the sound, which is a highly over-distorted, in your face guitar and snarling vox which together with an annoyingly prominent snare (only – you don’t hear the rest of the drumkit) are all mixed well into signal bleed range. You don’t even hear a fucking bass, much less two.

So anyway, they’ve been kicking around since ’91, with albums from ’95-’05. They’ve sort of disappeared since, but have come back here a good 12 years on with…well, I can’t actually compare it to anything they’ve done previously, so it’s anybody’s guess on that end.

There are elements of the usual more melodic than par for the course and punkish Finnish school of black metal, which results in at least one halfway decent track with a killer riff (“arx satanas”)…but overall, you walk away sorta nonplussed.

Was it bad?  Nah, not really. And that one song was pretty respectable.

But is this a comeback to celebrate?

Pfft.

Next?

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ERUPTION – Cloaks of Oblivion (Xtreem Music) (May 2)

OK, is that Cam Pipes from 3 Inches of Blood on vocals?

Are you sure?

Well, other than the screechy vocals (which fall back into a more declamatory if still quite growly style on the verses), these guys clearly worship at the altar of late 80’s Bay Area thrash, and more in the pointedly “melodic” school of Forbidden, Testament and arguably Heathen than not.

Promo materials reference Sanctuary, and yeah, you can sort of catch a whiff of Darrell Wane and company about this, particularly when the riffs get more progressive leaning power metal (“cloaks of oblivion” for example).

Even so, there’s a lot about this that could be classified, not entirely inaccurately either, as straight up Helloween-school power metal – check out the verse riff on “drones”, for example. It’s still Bay Area thrash cum prog metal in the proper sense…but you can see the connections quite clearly.

I was certainly good with this, and it hit many of the right buttons, so objectively, yeah, this is a very strong attempt to recapture the spirit of the glory days – Eruption done themselves proud.

But subjectively, I have to say – this didn’t really set me afire like it should have.

Props for the effort, at the very least – fans of the aforementioned acts should definitely check this out, you may absolutely adore ’em.

AVULSED – Night of the Living Deathgenerations (Xtreem Music) (April 17)

Live album from the Spanish death metallers, essentially regurgitating (hurrrrghhh!!!) every track off their recent Deathgeneration.

As you can probably pick up from the earlier review of that album, these guys are working a fairly traditional death metal paradigm, with elements of grindcore and a Cannibal Corpse meets Barney-era Napalm Death aesthetic bleeding through more in this live setting than was apparent in studio.

Not bad at all…but unless you’re a sucker for the (recorded) live experience, you’re probably just as well off picking up a copy of Deathgeneration to hear these songs as intended.

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MARTYRDOOM (Poland) – Grievous Psychosis (Memento Mori (Spain) (April 24)

Weird Polish death/crust affair. Promo materials namecheck Autopsy (true), Demilich and Grave (not really, but I can see why), Obituary, Immolation and Cannibal Corpse (all entirely untrue).

There’s a severely detuned guitar distorted beyond recognition and riffs that feel a bit Swedish therefore (thus the Demilich and Grave claims)…but this is so doomy-slow and Goatlord-sludgy not to mention simplistic, as to be its own, somewhat unclassifiable animal.

Well, I just did classify it, but finding bands who this sounds like is not a simple task. It’s filthy sounding ala Autopsy or Morgoth, but with a Sunlight-oriented Swedeath approach and feel.

It’s incredibly simplistic, muddy and sort of doofy, like falling into a trough of hog slop or a huge pile of sloppy shit in front of your friends. Jeez, somebody get me a fucking garden hose, willya? This is embarassing…

For the decidedly undiscriminating old school death metal fan to be sure, but certainly well within the acceptable range.

Soulrot (Chile) – Nameless Hideous Manifestations (Memento Mori) (April 24)

Another Swedeath-worshipping affair, this time out of Chile. Bands tagged this time in promo materials include Carnage, Nihilist/Entombed, Autopsy, Grave, Necrony (!), Carcass (!!), Nirvana 2002 and Asphyx (!!!). Needless to say, a few of these just don’t belong…

You can hear the Sunlight sound and HM-2 abuse, to be sure, and Autopsy often comes to mind when trying to describe “loose, sloppy and filthy feeling” death metal of this variety…but Necrony was a surprise, however fitting. And where the fuck did they pull Carcass and Asphyx from? No, sorry…neither one plays into this sound in the least…

It’s fairly standard, stylistically speaking, though I have to admit it’s missing the fire and individuality that makes so many of those bands stand the test of time.

If Soulrot was aiming for “perfectly respectable Swedeath retro copycat act”, then yep, a definite success.

But in terms of distinguishing themselves from an increasing crop of soundalike acts paying homage (to be polite about it) to the early 90’s Sunlight Studios/Tomas Skogsberg school of Swedish death metal?

Sorry, amigos.

Again, fair enough for what they seem to be shooting for.

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DRUG HONKEY (Transcending Obscurity Records) (May 5)

What would you get if Dave Wyndorf of Monstermagnet went back to tripping on heavy psychedelics, but this time decided to go all death/doom on your ass?

Yeah, that’s right…you’d have something a fuck of a lot like the absurdly monikered Drug Honkey.

Weirdly, they pulled in Godflesh/Napalm Death alum Justin Broadrick for a guest spot here…and got the guy who does covers for Inquisition (of all bands) to work the art here as well. Don’t ask me.

It’s slow, it’s sluggish, it’s trippy, it’s angry.

There’s really nothing more to be said. If you like your metal lumbering and aimless with more than a hint of trippiness, here ya go, enjoy.

So! What’s next on the menu, hmm?

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SOMNIUM NOX (Australia) – Terra Inanis (Transcending Obscurity Records (India) (May 15)

Speaking of Inquisition…take away the memorably melodic trad metal riffs, mix in some Watain worship and drag things further “underground” into more of a pointedly black/death realm (complete with shaaaaaaaaa gaaaaaaaaa rrraaaaaa growly-snarl noise vox), while keeping the production values and more of a measure of musicianship than you’d expect (nothing astonishing or eyebrow raising, but you know how shitty black/death can get!)…and yeah, that’s Somnium Nox in a nutshell.

After Drug Honkey, this sounded like manna from hell, if you will…but does that give it intrinsic value?

I was more or less OK with it…just keep in mind we’re talking an improvement on both the prior act reviewed and the sub-subgenre they seem to be working their way into more than an objective “taken in isolation” statement of merit.

NORSE (Australia) – The Divine Light of a New Sun (Transcending Obscurity Records (India) (May 25)

Atari Teenage Riot goes sort of black metal!

Yep, the same computer programmed lightspeed faux-drums and weirdly random electronic noises over dissonant guitar riff fragments and a wholly detached snarly-vox laid over the top of this like some black cloud of industrial runoff floating above an acid rain-ravaged wetlands of unnaturally coloured toxic waters.

Yeah, I don’t get it. Next?

  

LUCIDREAMS (Bangalore, India) – Ballox CD / Box Set / Digital (Transcending Obscurity India)  (April 25) 

Hey, were you aware that there’s been a traditional metal scene in India since the collapse of our own Stateside back in the very early 90’s?

Yeah, neither was I. Pretty cool, huh? Who the hell knew?

So anyway, here’s one of the linchpins of said scene, kicking around since 1992 (yeesh, not a great year over here or for yours truly, to say the least…but damn, that’s longevity for ya on their part!) As you might expect, what they’re playing is pretty traditional metal, possibly with a few hints of thrash tossed in to the mix.

Vineesh Venugopal’s vocals are fairly declamatory and clean, bringing Bruce Dickinson vaguely to mind (though they sound nothing alike and the soaring dramatic tones just aren’t there – it’s all about the declamation. Hell, you could say early Bobby Blitz Ellsworth, too – you get the idea here.)

The production sound is a bit compromised, but again, this is an Indian band – you can’t necessarily expect “world class top dollar production” when the label support and cash just isn’t there to play with. But speaking objectively, it’s kinda thin and squashed sounding, particularly on the drum end. Vocals and guitars lean heavily towards mids and light signal bleed, and come across far more prominent in the mix than the drums or nigh-inaudible bass (which to be fair is pretty typical for rock and metal…how often do you really notice the basslines?)

Overall, Lucidreams’ sound is pretty straightforward and old school in the sense of the just post-NWOBHM sound, albeit with previously noted hints of thrash spicing things up a tad…which puts them in arguably the same ballpark as Spain’s Excalibur, also reviewed this month, if a bit more obviously “metal” than that implies.

Not bad at’all, really. While parallels may be a tad strained, fans of Iron Maiden should feel very comfortable here, let’s put it that way.

Didn’t mind this one bit.



ASSAULT (Singapore) – The Fallen Reich (Transcending Obscurity Asia) (May 10)

Death/thrash (or in this case, more precisely “black/death”/thrash) isn’t exactly one of my favorite genres. Anyone who’s stuck around for more than a month or two should know that I like my poison straight – pick a genre and stick to it, master it, finesse it.

Even so, I have a few bands like that in the collection from way back – Demolition Hammer, Solstice, I’m sure there’s one or two others escaping my mind.  Hardly stuff I revist often, but not entirely reviled either.

So this is a Singaporean act, which like the (comparatively) nearby Indonesian scene means a hyper-aggro sound and approach to “extreme” metal. Tends to be a bit much for my taste, whether working more or less black, death or thrash styles (these scenes are also known for mixing said stylistic tropes in a blender, which is part of the problem). Bottom line is, they’re pissed off and want you to know it, dammit.

Apparently they’ve brought members of Chthonic in for guest spots…but honestly, unless we’re getting an eyeful of cutie Doris Yeh, that doesn’t mean a hell of a lot to me either.

Expect thrashy riffs with more than a touch of black/death metal both musically and vocally. Production’s pretty good, at least on the guitar end (which is very in your face and leaves a bit of space at the bottom for reverb and a faux-studio feel, despite the hissiness and distortion on the drums and guitar tone and the growly-snarly vox).

Not my thing, but they certainly deliver a pummeling, particularly given the clean guitar production and punchy thrashlike riffing.

PLAGUE THROAT (India) – The Human Paradox (Transcending Obscurity India) (March 30)

On a more properly (if decidedly modern) death metal bent come India’s Plague Throat.

Promo materials note “influences of both brutal and technical death metal while remaining rooted in the classic death metal style”, and that’s not a million
miles off the mark.

I’d call them far more inclined towards modern death metal and the “tech death” scene than not…but yeah, I can hear that argument, at least if you consider post-Rick Rozz, post-James Murphy Death “classic death metal” in any real respect (hint: it’s not).

So if you dig well produced, reasonably “traditional minded” if still modernistic tech death (Nile and Cannibal Corpse were mentioned as touchpoints, and those are dead on…Suffocation, also noted, is arguable), you’ll probably love Plague Throat as well.

KAIHON (Dubai, UAE) – Terraform (self released) (March 13)

To judge by opener “chrysalis”, this is a trippy prog metal affair that owes as much to delay-inflected indie rock as it does Fates Warning and suchlike.

But then “awaken” kicks in, and it owes more to aggro than either indie or prog…

Sadly, it’s the latter sound that predominates throughout the four tracks herein, despite some accomplished musicianship and truly winning fretwork from guitarists Jude Mascarenhas and Shantanu Chakravorthy – seriously, these guys are good.

Drums are pretty straightforward rather than syncopated or particularly progressive, but are serviceable in the sense that power metal drumming is – acceptable, but aural wallpaper in the end.

You can even accept the fact that they waver back and forth across the hundred mile wide lines separating prog and far more aggro sensibilities, as the riffs seldom stick to the lunkhead neanderthal aesthetic of the Pantera school…it’s just those fucking vocals, man.

Hats off to the guitarists, who could easily share a stage with the likes of Watchtower, Sanctuary or (arguably) even Queensryche or Fates Warning…

…were it not for the shit vox and overindulgence in the red cap to da back Midwestern trucker trash world of aggro, which are far more suitable for the entrance music at a wrestling match (Luke Harper and Seth Rollins are already putting bids on ya…) than playing to an audience who appreciates technicality and musicianship as an art.

Definitely has promise, if you forge away the dross.

CHAOS (India) – All Against All  Ltd. Edition Box Set / CD / Digital (Transcending Obscurity India) (June 15)

Well, if you believe the promo materials, these guys are a pretty big deal on the Indian thrash metal scene, and they certainly come off as accomplished players here.

My biggest issues here are the aggro-squealing vocals (seriously, frontman “JK” shout-growls so hard, you can feel his tonsils shaking against the back of his throat, resulting in a John Connelly-meets Fleurety-esque shriek/squeal!) and the mix, which emphasizes the vocals and leads/guitar solos at the expense of the rhythm guitar. In other words…thrash where the crunchy riffs are buried beneath everything else in the mix.

Part of the issue’s probably the Spinal Tap-like “turn the distortion to 11!” tone (hey, guitar tech…get out here, quick!) emphasizing harmonics and mids-to-treble end (you’d think Nikhil was using a crybaby wah set to the middle position throughout…and he does, at least in the post-Black Album Kirk Hammetisms of the title cut’s solo), which when combined with the overemphasized (and already borderline shrieky) vox and the tippa-tappa drum tone (think Lars Ulrich on Justice for All) lends the production towards high end snap and suchlike…or if you prefer, earlier Nuclear Assault!).

All that said, it’s not the worst production you’ve heard by a long shot – just don’t expect the typical thick toned, crunchy riffing you think of when it comes to classic thrash metal.

The band themselves are tight and polished…just could use either a second guitar to beef up the tone or moving the rhythm guitar up towards the front in the mix and toning down the distortion to a much thicker crunch.

As is, a bit too “modern” and irritating in tone for my taste.

OPPOSER (Spain) – Darkest Path (February 17) (Morbid Shine Productions (Spain)

Seems to be a month for old schoolers to either reunite or drop their first album in quite some time. Excalibur, Lucidreams, Barathrum and now Opposer, whose roots date back to 1992.

These Spaniards are working a death/thrash sort of thing, with drumming that says “classic death metal”, vocals that are declamatory enough for thrash but whose snarly-growliness says death and riffing that moves seamlessly between the two styles.

Overall, they come off sounding more like a death/doom band tonally than either death or thrash per se, but take that general sound and append it to the drumming and riffing style mentioned above.

And you know, I’m kind of surprised that with tracks like “straight to hell”, “osiris land” and “satanas – abode of crow” Jesus himself would consent to work his six string skills on this album…

Seriously, the guy goes by his first name, and it’s Jesus.

I know, I know, it’s a common Spanish name…but think about it in this context.

Anyway, if we didn’t have to contend with the vocals here, I liked their general approach more than those of Assault or Plague Throat – it felt more “true” to the thrash and death metal genres depending on which style they’re going for in a given phrase, despite the fact that they really shouldn’t be mashed together like this. At least they have the courtesy to alternate back and forth between styles!

Again, grading on a curve, but fair enough for what it is.

DANTE’S THEORY (Singapore) – Amut (Independent) (April 15)

Blackened death metal, complete with weird pick and fingernail-stroked neo-arpeggios (check out that cutesy trick he’s pulling in “qiamat heretics”), crunchy riffs and prominent drums.

A bit too much hiss and signal bleed on both the overdistorted guitars and on the drum track, but with a pretty nice, full and crisp yet tonally muted production on the latter end.

Seriously, I would say I absolutely loved the drum production here, if the balance against the growl-shouted vox and overly in your face guitars didn’t leave every hit sounding overly hissy and wet sounding with every snap.

Hard to explain, but I’d wager cold hard cash that taken in isolation, this would be an absolutely killer drum track, speaking in terms of engineering, mix and production. Unfortunately, taken in tandem with the noisy, overly prominent vox and guitars, it comes off as part of the problem (hiss, bleed).

Damn close, though. And yeah, I’d love to hear that drum track isolated, I bet it’s got one of the best production jobs I’ve run across in the last few months.

The vagaries of production pro and con aside…acceptable if overly modern and a touch forgettable. There’s obviously a market for this stuff, or bands wouldn’t
keep churning it out…



TIME WALK – Beyond Eternity’s Grasp (Static Tension Recordings) (May 12)

The sort of thrash that borders the just past it’s sell by date early to mid-90’s decline of the scene and a slightly more modern approach thereto, incongrously slathered over with goofy-ass declamatory aggro shout vox.

While admittedly this is hardly the sort of thing I’d run out to grab and place alongside the classics of the genre, the riffing and style is more than recognizable enough – on the better end, think Heathen’s Victims of Deception or even possibly Xentrix – for a nod of respect.

But then the vocals kick in again, and I just laugh…

Definitely feels like thrash through and through. Just realize we’re talking more towards the ass end of the original scene than not, with a mild blandness that feels rather UK thrash – don’t expect flash, speed and guitar histrionics here.

Just be prepared to toss a few back before subjecting yourself to “JD”‘s doofy neo-Prong BLURRGH BLEEAHH! vocal skills…maybe he thinks he’s Max Cavalera or something?

Whatever. Don’t have a conniption or burst a blood vessel there, bro…

Certainly worth a listen otherwise.

ASHEN HORDE – The Alchemist (self released) (March 14)

More snooze inducing modern black metal, crossing out and out atonality with “Norsecore” high speed moments and (admittedly lighter than usual) hints of Pile of Dead Bards Watain-style Swedish school black/death nonsense.

Bo-ring…

Next?

Ensnared (Sweden) – Dysangelium (Invictus Productions / Dark Descent) (May 12)

Say, you know what the Pile of Dead Bards needs?

That’s right, another offering!

Well, I’ll admit this much: there’s more than a hint of Inquisition playing into the usual Watain/Dark Funeral-esque “occult black metal” tropes of ringing open chord dissonance, atonality and ooga-booga eeeeeeeevil mumbo jumbo.  So yeah, it’s a bit better than most of its ilk.

Just not enough to save ’em from their inevitable fate.

(toss)

Burn, baby, burn.

Nargaroth – Era of Threnody (Inter Arma Productions) (May 16)

You know, the black metal community seems to be divided as to the relative worth of Germany’s Nargaroth. Me personally, I think Black Metal Ist Krieg is a stone cold classic – even got the damn shirt, I love it that much.

So is this the same band, really?

Well, at first glance, you might think “no”. I mean, that album was a one man show, courtesy of a certain “Kanwulf”. This one comes by way of a guy named “Ash” and uh…two other dudes. I don’t know, look at the picture.

But things get a bit muddier when you discover “Ash” is “Kanwulf”, just with an even stupider nom du guerre. And there are hints in the music itself that yes, this may actually be the same band. The dramatic, almost Viking/pagan metal bombast, sweep and overall scope. The Burzumlike repetition of simple riffs until a trancelike effect is achieved.

Yeah, it’s Nargaroth, alright. Not quite the same band that recorded Krieg, that’s obvious in many respects. But definitely the same guy.

Now, will Era of Threnody enter the lexicon of black metal essentials like Black Metal Ist Krieg did (regardless of any contingent of naysayers to the contrary)?  No, no more than Belus will stand alongside the first quartet of Burzum albums.  But does that make it unworthy?

Some might say so, and in fact have.

Fuck ’em. They’re morons.

No, it’s not the Nargaroth of old…but it’s still pretty damn decent. Looks like the old dog’s got a few burning embers of church tinder in him yet.

Raise the horns in respect.

Alchimia – Musa (Nadir Music) (May 5)

Under an absolutely stunning cover by an Ettore Tito (hmm…any relation to the band’s main man Emanuele Tito?) which is so nice as to bring Gainsborough to mind, lies an unusual gothic darkwave/light gothic and pagan metal/darker indie rock crossover straight out of old Napoli.

While the often hyperactive drumming and some slow detuned riffing suggests some influence of gothic metal and the album’s numerous acoustic moments feel decidedly Viking/pagan if not “folk metal” per se, the overall sound here comes off more indie leaning darkwave than not. Picture Mazzy Star shaking hands with later Skyclad and that may give you the general idea…

In other words, while it should work just fine for those so inclined in the metal scene…your hipster pals will be more likely to pull this one out and praise it to high heaven than we would.

It’s OK, certainly listenable and oddball enough to keep the unsuspecting listener on their toes a bit…but a tad too mellow for the metal crowd, a tad too busy and angry for the more melancholic and sedate gothic or folk crowds.

If it was half the work of art the cover is, this would be pure genius.

As it is, menza menza.



Satanize – Death Mass Execution (Larval Productions) (May 17)

Blackened death metal so raw, out of control and poorly produced as to feel a tad “war metal”. It’s more or less a wall of construction site sound with a few half riffs discernible amidst all the whining, squealing and pounding of hammers, jackhammers, rip saws and power drills.

I guess there’s something to do with satan in all this, given the name…

…otherwise, they could have named themselves “The Site Crew” and nobody’d be any the wiser.

YO! (loud whistle) HEADS UP! (2×4 whizzes past your head)

Sektarism – La Mort de l’Infidèle (Zanjeer Zani Productions) (May 19)

Kicking off with an apparent greeting to Seigneur Voland (cough), we get this…well, rather slow if not downright motionless 2 1/2 tracks of random guitar noise and nonspecific tribal drumming, with some drunk guy moaning and screaming over the top.

o…kay, then…

Next?

Enisum – Seasons of Desolation (Avantgarde Music) (April 27)

Italian black metal.

It’s oddly midtempo and relaxed feeling, for all the underlying menace and eruptions into Norsecore-speed drumming and tremelo riffing…which leaves the whole affair feeling unusually contemplative.

Production’s more crisp than usual, with the drums coming off particularly well in the mix and plenty of room ambience and reverb (however faked it may have been) in quieter and more spare moments.

Even the tremelo riffed, snarling vocalled, double bass sporting phrases never devolve into noise and mud, which definitely says something…but neither is the sound overly clean and chilly as with far too many productions of the mid to late 90’s black metal scene (particularly those hailing from Norway and Sweden at the time).

It’s a nice mix of accomplished and raw, allowing even the bass to show through in quieter moments but still feeling less than polished, without too much of a sheen to sap the nastiness of it away.

I’m not sure whether the band itself (the drummer is particularly good – check out all the syncopation at the end of “…of desolation”) or the producer is more to credit for the end result here, but I’m hearing unsual strength on both ends of the equation.

Definitely worth looking into, one of the strongest black metal releases so far this year (and easily the best this month).

Profound hails.

Mountains Crave – As We Were When We Were Not (Avantgarde Music) (May 13)

Another decent drummer enlivens this otherwise somewhat Pile of Dead Bards inclined entry out of Leeds, West Yorkshire.

The production is so dry as to feel brittle, all mids and hollowness, and the riffing, while inclined towards melodic lines, barely feels Taake-esque in that respect – melodic without being all that likeable, I guess.

Even so, it’s not exactly the typical Watainish “occult black metal” nonsense that gets relegated thereto, the drumming is far from average and there’s something about these guys that suggests a cut above the usual…so while I can’t claim to actually like anything but the drummer here, they’re spared the standard fate of bands approximating this general sound and style.

Good drummer, though!

Saule – S/T (Avantgarde Music) (May 13)

More or less “post black metal” – guitars more clean/overdriven than distorted, at least on the lead end. More or less all instrumental, no vox until the second to last track.

Fair, sets a mood, you’ve heard it all several dozen times before. Does it still excite you?

(shrugs)

Next?

cult-of-eibon-cover cult-of-eibon-band

Cult of Eibon – Lycan Twilight Sorcery CD/12″ MLP (Iron Bonehead) (April 28)

Riff heavy, quirky traditional-style metal with occult if not first wave/early second wave black metal leanings. Or if you prefer, Greek black metal very much in the classic style of bands like Rotting Christ.

You already knew this was good by me. So what are you waiting for?

Hails!

Jordablod – Upon My Cremation Pyre CD/LP (Iron Bonehead) (May 26)

zzzz.

Death-black metal from Sweden. What a shocker, there! At least it’s a bit more death than black, and somewhat listenable if you’re really, really bored and open minded to this sort of thing.

Amusing art-naif cover, there.

yawn.

Next?

Khashm – Asmodeus Rising LP + bonus 7″ (Iron Bonehead) (May 26)

Sheesh, what the fuck happened to black metal?

I mean, look. I was in on the earliest iterations of the genre, with stuff like Bathory, Mortuary Drape, the blackened thrash scene, early Bulldozer…you get the idea. All that stuff still gets rather regular play in my world.

While I’d moved on to other pastures after the decline and fall of first traditional…then thrash…and finally death metal in the early to mid-90’s (think classic jazz and fusion, 60’s psychedelia, UK/Celtic folk-rock ala Fairport and Pentangle, a return to/immersion in the then-resurgent gothic rock scene and a return to punk filling the better part of that otherwise rather sorry decade), I only slightly belatedly discovered and swore allegiance to the darkness of the second wave black metal scene out of Norway…and branched outwards to discovery and disappointment with the latter 90’s “commercialization” and sterilization thereof.

Then I found the French Les Legions Noires and Polish scenes, and a few pockets of interest all around the globe (Finland in particular). There’s the Quebecois scene as a more recent notable player…and Italy seems to be pulling up the slack of late, to some degree at least. So while a lot of this stuff may have been a few years out of date when I got into ’em in the very late 90’s (and in latter noted cases, ongoing through more recent decades), I’ve been well immersed and versed in the many varieties of black metal, and have self-identified as a black metaller for nearly two decades now.

But lately? The sheer volume of pointless, atmosphere-deficient, soundalike shit coming out under that banner is just fucking embarrassing…to the point where I’m rethinking that.

Yeah, I’m still a first wave black metaller.  Yeah, I’m still an early second wave black metaller, with certain strains of merit right into recent days.

But seriously.

Now, to bring this up in the case of a relatively listenable (if not incredibly exciting) band like Khashm feels a tad incongrous – because while far from my idea of black metal or what I’d include in my rather expansive and regularly aired collection thereof, they’re hardly Pile of Dead Bards fodder. In fact, as noted a few lines prior…they’re fairly acceptable, given the ever-lowering standards of what passes for “black metal” today.

But again. I’m not quite done…but fast approaching that.

Come on, people.

There has to be more than a handful of bands out there worldwide that are still producing the sort of eerie, atmosphere-oriented, dramatic and moving feel that makes black metal the…shall we say special musical idiom that it is – one that cannot and should not be combined with other, more surface-oriented, grounded and ultimately workaday metal genres such as death, thrash or traditional.

Again, Khashm did nothing for me, but they’re less guilty of this bullshit than 10,000 other bands calling themselves some form of “black” or “blackened” of late, who can pretty much all go get stuffed.

OOGA-BOOGA! I’m an “occult black metal” band!

Please.

Next?

Suffering Hour – In Passing Ascension CD/LP (Blood Harvest) (May 26)

Blackened death metal. There’s an undercurrent of death metal proper throughout…but all that ringing open chord nonsense and snarly vox of the Watain wannabe/Swedish/”occult black metal” Pile of Dead Bards crowd and all the noisiness and sloppy signal bleed inflections of the “underground black/death” scene just pisses all over any loftier intent here.

(huge sigh)

Did I mention they acknowledge “big influences on this album ranging from Inquisition (to) Mgla?”

Yeah, those guys are as death metal as they come…

(slaps forehead in exasperation and disbelief)

NEXT!?!?

Aversio Humanitatis – Longing for the Untold (BlackSeed Productions) (March 1)

Oh, thank GOD (or whatever you choose to place in the throne of deity).  Even a typically boring black/death Pile of Dead Bards entry sounds good coming off of Slagduster.  Yes, these are not necessarily reviewed in the order you see here.

So while there’s nothing unique or particularly worthwhile about Aversio Humanitatis in and of themselves, it just goes to show – put anything up against something entirely awful and ear-punishing, and they’ll sound good by comparison.

No reflection on Aversio Humanitatis, who are entirely forgettable, and are officially consigned to ye Pile forthwith.

(“swish! And he scores a 3 pointer!”)

Next…

Spectrum Mortis – Bestiae Dominatu Exanimis (BlackSeed Productions) (November 11, 2016)

…and here we have more of the same. A bit more aggressive, a better vocalist in black metal terms (i.e. more nasty and snarling)…but one more for an ever increasing Pile of soundalikes.

What the fuck happened to the black metal scene?

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