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You know, sometimes getting burned out on crap leads to better things.

As Third Eye regulars can probably tell from the last few months, my own two decade plus long affection towards the black metal subgenre has begun to…shall we say waver a bit (hang in there, it ain’t that simple or straightforward…)a surprising scenario almost entirely attributable to the absolute dearth of worthy entries of late.

I mean, the classics still hold up…though admittedly, they don’t feel quite so important, somehow.  I still really enjoy the quirkiness and individualist spirit of the first wave, perhaps more than ever…but once the scene began to codify, nation by nation, trope by trope?  I don’t know.  I’m not feeling it so much.  These things tend to go in cycles, and this is far from a general kiss off to the genre per se (hang in there, we’ll get to it). Just feeling a tad burned out for a bit…and trust me, it wasn’t stuff like De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas that caused that.

No, it was a proliferation of minimal talent fanboys and hipsterish poseurs who felt that slavishly copycatting the same four or five bands and periods…ones I’ve long since gotten over, mind…would be their ticket to glory, on some bizarre low level.  Because we all know how rich and popular black metal scenesters are, right?

But there are a handful of ever-more significant to the current “scene” bands who I used to love when they were in their prime, but who have fallen from favour through later, lesser efforts and the sheer number of wannabes aping their every note over…and over…and more, and more until we have a Pile of Dead Bards higher than K2.  Even Crowley would balk at climbing this one…and when you boil it down to brass tacks, they all align with one specific, strangely popular and utterly played out genre miscegenation cum “crossover” style.  Keep reading, I’ll spell it out for ya as we go.

So yeah…I could care less if I ever hear a Gaahl/King project (their era of Gorgoroth, God Seed, Trelldom or what have you) again.  Ditto on Dissection.  Or “Emperor Magus Caligula” era Dark Funeral.  Or (wait for it) Watain.  Enough.  I’m done with all of you (Dark Funeral aside, that last album was absolutely killer…and hell, even Frontschwein wasn’t half bad, if you’re determined to ape Swedish bands).

So as I continue to savor the world of doom (particularly the Italian variant) and death/doom and return to my love of classic (and now ever more obscure) death metal…I’d like to at least try to keep my black metal consumption more oriented towards the scenes that still work, at least on occasion.  Stuff like Nox.  Gjendod.  White Death. Enisum.  Satanic Warmaster.  Hell, even Black Cilice and Death Worship are among the many still on the iPod and in semi-regular rotation.

Then there are more general categorizations that definitely still work on the whole: The Quebecois scene.  The pagan-leaning, bombastic and Viking variants.  The classic Polish scene.  And especially the Italian and Greek scenes, where that quirkiness and individualism (or at least Rotting Christ worship) are still in relatively full effect.  I even enjoy me some blackened thrash and war metal…more than just a bit, in fact.

But make no mistake, while I still love and identify myself with what would seem like a fairly wide swath of the black metal scene, I’m pretty much done with “black/” or “blackened” death, “occult black metal”, atonal, ringing open chord nonsense, utter lack of atmosphere and faux-“seriousness” about subjects a fair portion of ’em appear to understand jack shit about.

As a statement of intent and act of Will, I’m setting fire to the Pile of Dead Bards…long may it burn.

Now watch as more of ’em keep popping their corpsepainted heads up now and again, like a game of Whack-A-Mole.

Gimme that foam-plush hammer.

CRAZY LIXX – Ruff Justice (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (April 21)

They dub themselves “sleaze metal” with a decidedly retro feel (two tracks are slated for the upcoming Friday the 13th videogame, so you get the general idea here), but it’s a bit of a misnomer.

Don’t know about you, but when I think “sleaze metal”, I’m thinking the filthy tattooed junkie end of the spectrum – bands like Sleeze Beez, GnR, L.A. Guns, Dirty Looks and Cats in Boots who lived off their girlfriends and spent their days boozin’ and shooting up and their nights working an Aerosmith meets Hanoi Rocks style hard rock sort of thing…not the clean cut, crisply produced 80’s “hair metal” feel of bands like Whitesnake, Winger, Autograph and Y&T…which is exactly the company and sound Crazy Lixx more properly falls into.

Is that sleazy? Nah, not in the same way…though bands like Motley Crue and 80’s Kiss certainly lived the sort of lifestyle we all wanted, for a few years there.

But if you’re looking to relive a better era, when things were less monitored and far more dayglo and easygoing, where choruses were big, riffs came hard and solos fast and the hair highest of all…Crazy Lixx certainly has your antidote to the horrors and impending menace of Trump/Brexit/LePen-era modern life.

It’s as retro-80’s as they come.

ADRENALINE RUSH – Soul Survivor (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (April 21)

Tave Wanning and company tweak the volume and amp up the 80’s-style traditional metal considerably from their 2014 debut.

There’s still plenty of pop feel here, but very much in the sense of something like Femme Fatale or Metal Queen-era Lee Aaron – AOR metal, perhaps? New co-creator/co-songwriter Fredrik Folklare brings a heavier, more Hollywood “hair metal” approach than the more blatantly melodic Erik Martensson had on the previous album – which brings it down to a matter of preference, in the end.

Those looking for a more prominent AOR feel may want to stick to the self titled…but should find themselves in comfortable enough, if far more “metallized” waters here as well.

Wanning’s voice may be a bit thin for what the material demands – she never really opens up her throat and lets one rip, even in the sense of a Vixen, Sandi Saraya or Lorraine Lewis.

But overall, the music is solid, the production’s decent enough and the sound is quite pleasantly retro enough that the less discriminating may not even notice.

TREAT – The Road More or Less Traveled (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (April 21)

Live show from the Frontiers Festival at Milan, Italy.

The Swedes come hot on the heels of their Ghost of Graceland with a show filled with melodic, catchy AOR-style hard rock. Doesn’t seem to be much of an audience response, but that could be down to sheer sonics or lack of proper crowd mic’ing – they certainly merited a round of applause or two for their efforts here.*

* yes, you hear a bit when things get quiet between songs, but even so…

Nothing much else to say about this – effectively, it’s a studio album with a bit more of a signal bleed “live” feel and occasional light cheering between tracks. The music’s solid and catchy and the band’s energetic throughout.

If that’s enough for you, dig right in – there’s no real flaws to pick at here,
so I’m good.

LABYRINTH – Architecture of a God (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (April 21)

Italian power metal, straight outta Tuscany.

Apparently this was Fabio Lione’s prior gig before making his mark with Rhapsody (of Fire), and if you believe the promo writeup, they were something of a big deal on the early Italian power metal scene.

Reuniting Lione’s replacement vocalist Roberto Tiranti (who took over with the band’s second album back in ’98) and original guitar duo Olaf Thorsen and Andrea Cantarelli, this is some pretty powerful and uplifting stuff, with more than just the standard snooze-inducing typewriter power metal drum style from Realized Fantasies-era TNT vet John Macaluso (who brings variation, syncopation and actual life to the bottom end here).

Is this anything like Rhapsody (of Fire)? No, not in the least.

But is this some decent, well written, uplifting power metal with just enough drama, nice licks and impressively flashy leads on the guitar, clean, soaring vocals and busy, “change it up before it gets boring” style drumming?

You bet your ass, paisano.

Raise your lighters to the sky.

   

Helker – Firesoul (AFM Records) (May 5)

When I spoke with the likeable and enthusiastic Diego Rivera upon their signing to AFM for Somewhere in the Circle, he mentioned it was one of his first interviews, perhaps his very first in English. He fared rather well, you’re welcome to give it a listen – and I liked the guy’s attitude. This was a band on its way up. So has a break of four long years changed anything?

Well, no, not really. The band certainly comes off more self-assured, with some nice dual leads from six stringers Mariano Rios and Leo Aristu and a confidence that didn’t come across so defiantly on their (major label) debut.

For his part, Valdez has kept himself busy, working with Dushan Petrossi’s Yngwie-esque Iron Mask and showing up on albums like Sinner’s Touch of Sin 2, the only proper Nightwish vocalist Tarja Turunen’s Act I and Universal Mind Project’s The Jaguar Priest dropping his powerful Ronnie James Dio-esque tones all over the world of power and symphonic metal.

In terms of growth in songwriting ability and construction, yeah, you could definitely say there’s more of a solid base to the Helker sound this time around.  The songs work that crucial DMZ between melodic and anthemic, between memorably chorused and hummable and drivingly aggressive (in relative terms, anyway).

Has appeal to the ladies with the more pop sensibilities of the former school of musical thought, works just fine for the fellas with the angrier, more knuckle dragging take it out on the roads instead of the boss vibe of the latter…

…or in other words, walks that fine line that makes traditional metal and all its close variants (power metal, the harder end of AOR) work so well and for a broader audience than the more “extreme” end of the metal spectrum (which builds hardcore devotees, but tends to be more “cultish” and have a smaller fanbase).

So if you’re, say, a diehard death or black metal fan and have no closet appreciation for power, gothic, trad or symphonic metal (yeah, right), then this may not seem like anything overly special…but for everyone else (and those more honest with themselves), Firesoul is a pretty damn solid record, filled with a fairly equal balance of hooks and polish on the one hand and trad-leaning, fist pumping, very much metal anthems on the other.

Yeah, I liked it just fine. Muy bueno, amigos.



Wolfpakk – Wolves Reign (AFM Records) (May 5)

The guys behind Crystal Ball (whose Liferider and Deja-Voodoo were previously reviewed in these pages) and Mad Max (whose Thunder Storm and Passion was similarly covered herein) return with yet another all-star affair, following on the heels of their Cry Wolf and Rise of the Animal.

This time around, big name guests on the vocal end include Saxon’s Biff Byford, Pretty Maids’ Ronnie Atkins, Obsession/Yngwie/Animetal USA frontman Mike Vescera, TNT’s Tony Harnell, Grim Reaper’s Steve Grimmett and (get this) Tyketto’s Danny Vaughn. Seriously?  Tyketto?  Can’t say these guys don’t dig deep…

On the instrumental side, we have Delain’s Timo Somers, Night Ranger’s Brad Gillis, Dokken’s George Lynch, W.A.S.P.’s Chris Holmes and Ozzy/Quiet Riot/Whitesnake four stringer Rudy Sarzo…and there are plenty of other folks, probably more familiar to the European power metal crowd.

These Wolfpakk albums are pretty much all the same – the two masterminds try to craft melodic-leaning-power metal tracks with big choruses and multitracked to somewhat bloated production to suit a roster of name scenesters from back in the day (and to some extent, the current metal scene).

The extent to which this actually works as more than the usual mouth agape starfucker sort of thing (wow, you mean all those guys are on the same album?) is open to interpretation (though to be honest, the more you identify with the power metal scene, the more likely you’ll be to appreciate it)…but they’re never less than listenable, and offer a rare chance to see impromptu collaboration (however virtual) between a number of teenage heroes.

Can’t knock the sentiment.

   

AXEL RUDI PELL – The Ballads V (Steamhammer / SPV) (April 21)

Anyone who knows me personally is already rolling their eyes, slapping their foreheads and making exclamations of “oh, boy…”. Not because it’s another release from (the German) Steeler’s Axel Rudi Pell. Because it’s an album of nothing but ballads.

Yeah, I have to lay it on the line – I hate the form.

Now, anyone who came up in the 80’s metal scene, you know just how hard bands (or at least their record labels) would lean on the power ballad…and later, with decline and fall-era acts like Extreme and Firehouse, the straight up wimpy ballad per se, hold the power.  I fucking hate ballads.

My drummer used to marvel at how “damn, man, you really do not like the slow songs!”, and yet when it came to our material, “you are so much better than (a rival band he used to play for and would occasionally sit in with to that day) at slow songs!” But what he was referring to was more of a doomy, psychedelic cum fusion sort of thing I was prone to extending into lengthy jam sessions…rarely if ever did this meet the criteria of “power ballad” by anyone’s standards.

And yeah, there were some pretty strong examples of the form floating around out there – “the price”, “still loving you”, you name it. But those were seldom if ever the songs I gravitated to…and usually the ones that sent me scrambling for the fast forward button (on tapes) or skip track button (on then-newfangled CDs). Records were a pain in the ass, you had to sit there and pick up the damn needle, and they weren’t portable…even back then, I was sick of the format and found its sonics inferior to the emergent digital “exactly as recorded, don’t miss a trick” reproduction of the CD. Bottom line, I just don’t like ballads.

Well, guess what. This one’s pretty damn good.

Sure, it gets pretty samey about halfway through. You mean it’s another ballad, pretty much just like the one prior and the one to follow?

But Pell clearly doesn’t share my disdain for the form, and his obvious care and craftsmanship elevate his seemingly doomed to fail experiment in “love songs…nothing but love songs” (as a late unlamented NYC radio station used to bill themselves) to a Scorpions-level mastery of same. And if I’m gonna listen to a fucking ballad, it’d damn well better be by the 70’s-80’s era Scorps!

Highlights are the Bonnie Tyler duet “love’s holding on”, “lost in love” and surprisingly enough, “I see fire”, which is (apparently) an Ed Sheeran cover. I know nothing about the guy except how he looks and that he’s a one man boy band/tweeny crush type…but with this song being the real standout, now I’m halfway curious LOL. (Odds on Pell’s cover version being the only thing I give a flying shit about in his entire oeuvre = 99.9 to 1.)

Even so, Johnny Gioeli’s Bon Jovi-esque vox and Pell’s flair for injecting the proper degree of dramatic build and soaring anthemicness to the distorted release and solo sections (it’s all so Wagnerian, i.e. the prolonged build to musical orgasm the composer was known and much derided for) make this one surprisingly likeable.

Never heard Pell before Game of Sins, though I’d heard tell of the man and his former band many a time…but suffice to say, I’m liking what I’m hearing thus far.

Salute. Tschus!

    

THE UNITY – S/T (Steamhammer / SPV) (May 5)

Thick, wide open John Sykes-era Whitesnake style chords (specifically the production and feel of the ’87 self titled), complete with the dramatic, anthemic, keyboard-doubled feel and emphasis on melodicism, but as driven and defined by some truly deadly traditional metal guitar riffs.

The Sykesian touches are all there, from the aforementioned wide E5-style chordal structures to the Vinnie Vincent-style single note “dives”, wide false harmonic vibratos, multi-tracked lead fills and light Zeppelinisms, and the vocals from a certain Gianba Manenti are a reasonable mix of gravelly AOR/hard rock style and soaring metal-inspired high note screams.

While a few tracks around the midpoint fall a bit flat by comparison, all around it’s a surprisingly good mix, and while very, very Whitesnake of that specific point in time, is about as far as you can get from the more slavish tribute of a Voodoo Circle.

The Unity has its own identity, one that draws heavily from the Whitesnake ’87 playbook while moving into other areas of more unspecific AOR leanings – perhaps a bit too raw and aggressive (not to mention less studio-sheen polished) than a Frontiers release, but about as close to that template as you can imagine.

I just pulled out the ’87 self titled a week or two back, and found it a better album in every area than I’d even remembered. If you’re looking for a similar vibe, but without being a slavish copycat of Coverdale and crew, The Unity should fill the bill quite nicely.

  

LIFE OF AGONY – “World Gone Mad” (Napalm Records) (April 28)

hmm.

I’ll be blunt about this. I was never a fan of Life of Agony.

Yeah, they played the living shit out of ’em back in the day on our local college radio station that wishes it were and runs itself like a major league station. But even though they were local boys, to say that “I never felt it” is the understatement of the century.

But to be fair, despite the weird, theatrically declamatory vocals (try saying “hey, honey, we’re out of toilet paper” in the classic River Runs Red-era Keith Caputo voice, and you’ll see just how ridiculous he sounded), they were far from the worst band of that era…and at least they didn’t have the aggro-screamo vocal approach. Caputo was like the weirder, deeper throated brother to John Joseph, and while that can come off kind of silly, it’s still listenable enough.

Well…things have changed over the years. A lot.

Caputo’s not the same person he was, and the Life of Agony of “world gone mad” is not the one who delivered albums like River or Ugly. If anything, they come off more like Love-era The Cult now…all psychedelia and upbeat indie-rock in orientation.

So this is a shot fired over the bow, a single prefacing a full length album to come…and it’s telling folks like yours truly that hey…all bets are off.

Time to come into this with a fresh start, and see where it takes ya.

LIFE OF AGONY – A Place Where There’s No More Pain (Napalm Records) (April 28)

Well, some things have definitely changed since the last time I’d been exposed to Life of Agony. Probably the most important thing is that the music is a bit less…Type O Negative, I guess, but with weird declamatory baritone howls for vocals.

Instead, a very different Caputo fronts the band with a more sidewinding sprechtgesang that brings the likes of Layne Staley to mind. It’s far less overdramatic and bombastic, and that in itself leaves 2017’s Life of Agony feeling like a very different animal than that of the early to mid-90’s.

Tag in a more grinding, Rollins Band-esque riffing (which moves from stuttering light aggro to straight up indie/grunge in feel) and you have a sound that feels extremely 90’s…but quite different from the Life of Agony of yore.

And you know what? To the extent they pull off melodic chorused affairs like the title track…I didn’t mind this at all.

May seem like faint praise to you…but you should have heard me make fun of these guys back in the day. Trust me…it’s either a real improvement on their part, or some serious mellowing on that of yours truly.

Either way, while I’m hardly going to be starting a pit front row at the next LoA show…the fact that I didn’t mind this at all says a lot.

KOBRA AND THE LOTUS – “You Don’t Know” (Napalm Records) (May 12)

And here’s another preview single for an upcoming release, this time by a band I have zero prior experience of.

To be fair, there’s been a lot of hype surrounding these Canadians since their self titled major label debut back in 2012, but nothing ever crossed the virtual desk and I’ve never (knowingly, at least) stumbled across ’em on radio or what have you since.

So what you get here is a fairly typical gothic metal-style female vocalist of the more radio-friendly, pop-oriented end of the spectrum (think stuff like Evanescence, Lacuna Coil, Nemesea or Unsun, not the operatic style that made the scene like early Nightwish and Epica or even earlier Theatre of Tragedy.  She’s a bit on the throaty end, but perfectly respectable and I’m hearing the potential for her to really open up and let ‘er rip…it just doesn’t happen in any respect here.

It’s hard to judge a band by a single, unless they’re particularly awful…and that’s far from the case here.

But taken as a discrete entity, “You Don’t Know” is hummable to the point of being pop if not country radio, but with a downtuned metal-esque sound to the guitars and some emo-style lead line arpeggio business keeping things from getting too boring on the instrumental end. An updated, more credibly “metal” Evanescence, if you will.

Promising enough. We’ll see what the full length tells us.

MAMMOTH MAMMOTH – Mount the Mountain (Napalm Records) (April 28)

Another offering from the Aussie hard rockin’ biker band responsible for Vol. III-Hell’s Likely and Vol. IV-Hammered Again.

This time around, the production’s back up to Vol. III standards (which is a good thing) and the band remains as steady as a jackhammer. Much like their countrymen AC/DC, you know exactly what you’re getting into with a Mammoth Mammoth album…and while production style may change, that’s about all that will.

Rev up those Harleys, it’s time to head down to the Sturgis rally with your one percenter brothers.

Shores of Null – Black Drapes For Tomorrow (Candlelight/Spinefarm) (April 14)

Italian “doom” act, but not in the sense of either traditional or death/doom.

This is more somewhere along the lines of acts like Paradise Lost, as crossed with Frozen Ocean…the sort of dreampop shoegazey melancholy, clean, multitracked vocals and guitars and crystalline production more associated with the gothic neofolk cum indie acts on the Prophecy roster.

There are moments that are more electrified and dramatic, with lightly distorted guitars (don’t expect full on death metal here) and a few phrases delivered in a more guttural, Viking/pagan metallish gargle-growl, but overall this is clean and mellow with a lot of nuance and subtlety.

I actually found myself drifting off into reverie as the album progressed, with their music serving more as background than grabbing the listener and keeping them at full attention.

In a way, you can say that this is somewhat of the intent for this particular variant of doom – a call to reflective introspection, if you will. But it should be noted, as you can just as easily flip that on its head and refer to it as a form of aural wallpaper – perfect background music more than something to actively engage with.

Either way, I liked it well enough.

Just can’t see this sound becoming a time honored standby like a Candlemass, St. Vitus or Trouble.

Coltsblood – Ascending (Candlelight/Spinefarm) (April 14)

More to the death/doom end of the spectrum come Liverpudlians Coltsblood, who manage to stifle their John Lennon accents beneath wet-sounding growls and snarls.

The band itself works all the tropes you’d expect, with a Winter-esque, funeral doom-leaning pregnant hesitation to the riffing that alternates with a more straightforward midtempo style (and then a crazed, overly speedy blastbeat-and-black metallish snarl!) more than you’d expect it should.

The drumming is as busy at the form allows, but the production (bizarrely, by a guy who should know better, having worked both Winterfylleth and Primordial, two bands generally known for quality on that front!) leans strongly towards the hissy end, with every snare hit and cymbal crash seeming to swallow the rest of the band in the mix – this gets appreciably worse in the blastbeat sections.

Things do take a noticeable turn for the better with the last two tracks, which stick more to template than the three that precede them…and in point of fact, if we were reviewing just “ever decreasing circles” and “the final winter”, you’d be seeing an entirely different tone to this review. But it is what it is, and you take the pluses with the minuses…you just don’t generally put the (comparative) minuses first on the album!

With better production and less of a BM influence, this would be fairly textbook death/doom very much in the vein of Sorrow and the aforementioned Winter…as it is, it certainly has its moments of lumbering sludginess to its credit.

Me, I tend to prefer my death/doom cleaner (in production, not guitar tone!) and slow as molasses…so this one’s a bit of a mixed bag by definition.

But trust me, mate – taken on the whole, these Coltsblood geezers ain’t half bad at’all.

In fact, this one’s gotten several plays since the initial review and isn’t likely to leave the iPod any time soon, either…

More, please.

Ancient Ascendant – Raise The Torch (Spinefarm/Candlelight) (April 21)

Another group of Britons, but working a very different, far more eclectic sound than Coltsblood. In fact, it’s so damn inclusive, it’s practically scatterbrained.

Just inside of a single track (“our way”), you get some especially virulent black metal snarls in the vein of Satanic Warmaster, textbook pagan/death growls, some very traditional metal riffs and leads, a bridge at about the halfway mark that veers into full on Watain Wannabe territory…oh, and did I mention it kicks off with over a minute of blastbeat-driven, ringing open chord straight up atonality?

Sure, there’s plenty of traditional metal (with distinctly Accept-style power metal leanings and a touch of Stateside biker metal groove-rock riffing to boot) driving the band’s sound, and even with the pagan cum death growls, that part works well enough. So why pull in the absolute worst aspects of modern black metal, with so harsh and nasty as to be repellent vocals and numerous sidesteps into the snooze inducing “black/death” “occult black metal” toolbox?  And does the bikerish/groove thing really mesh with the trad/power metal even?

In the end, all you can say is that the band shows some promise, as in “if these guys went their separate ways and joined bands or projects that adhere to one of the disparate styles they mush up together like one of my father’s “mud pie” dinner plates, they’d probably put out some killer records.”

But all smooshed together like this?

(sigh)

Next?

Dead By April – Worlds Collide (Spinefarm Records) (April 7)

Swedish emo/screamo band with pronounced pop sensibilities.

If you took the (textbook screamo) verses and separated them from the (textbook radio-friendly pop record) choruses, you’d have one really shite band (the former) and one rather nice (if perhaps a tad light) AOR-style one.

The choruses and occasional bridges that feature the clean sung, electro-pop bits are quite hummable and well crafted and feature decent production. It’s a bit too ProTools and overly jumbled and busy for my tastes, but it’s clean and strong enough. You could take these portions and isolate them, and you’d have a band with a strong, if likely teenaged and female fanbase, probably wind up representing Sweden in the next Eurovision or suchlike.

As ever, it’s the silly screamo bits that fuck the works, throwing a wrench into the gears and leaving fans of both camps scratching their heads in confusion.

Apparently they’ve toured with Killswitch, which is surprising…but they’ve also done so with acts like Linkin Park and Slipknot, which isn’t surprising in the least.

Your call how to take this one…it’s like Ace of Base gone aggro.

(throws hands in air in defeat, shakes head)

Hey, as cheesy and light as the poppier portions were, I kind of liked ’em on that level…despite a quote from Nietzche slipped in there (“warrior”), it’s the other half that ruins it.

  

He Is Legend – few (Spinefarm Records) (April 28)

Hahahahaha…when you hear this album, go back and realize they titled it with (of all people) Helena Blavatsky in mind.

Go figure. Because these guys are about as far from what you’d expect from hearing that tidbit as you could ever possibly get…

Apparently, the guys crowdfunded this album, spending a week in an Evil Dead-style “remote cabin in North Carolina”. Probably with a few deadites in residence. “I’ll swallow yer soul!”

This is more or less emo in style and lyrical approach, but far quirkier and off template than that might suggest. There’s a weird mix of that approach and a more rootsy Southern groove to bar band “classic rock”, and a hint of Billy Corgan and the Smashing Pumpkins, even (“Beaufort”, for example.)

Bottom line, it’s strange, very “modern” and obviously rooted in both the emo and “southern rock” to grunge schools of thought. Plenty of melodic elements to be found and the production’s not bad, so I won’t give it a slam, but really didn’t set me afire in any respect.

I dunno. Trying to be objective, here, work with me, huh?

Hell or Highwater – Vista (Spinefarm Records) (May 19)

Less than a minute into “colors”, and I knew I was listening to something a bit different from the usual.

Not metal, surely…nor AOR or any of the many variants of the musical
“underground” we usually cover. It felt “younger”, more “punk” in the sense of the heyday of AFI, more metalcore-ish, but without any of the signifiers of that sound.

It was softer…a lot softer, in fact. Almost pop radio, with that weird
Nashville-ish feeling you get from some of the more emo-inspired pop/rock songs of recent years…hell, you can even go back and draw a skewed lineage to something like Smashmouth on some of this (“walk out in the rain” definitely falls smack dab in the middle of that particular ballpark…and there’s even a touch of Sublime or for that matter, DNCE on “another good time”).

Probably the most oddball tidbit about these guys is that our frontman is none other than Atreyu’s head alternating clean vocal/screamo guy Brandon Saller (how the fuck do these guys do that, anyway? And better yet...why?…here working a gravelly voiced countrified pop/rock sort of thing rather than either of the tones he typically gravitates towards with The Curse veterans he’s best known for.

There’s enough of that emo bombast and mix of uplifting/depressing that Saller’s main gig is prone to that Hell or Highwater isn’t exactly utterly foreign and unexpected…but it’s distant enough in feel and sensibility to appeal to a very different, far more “mainstream” audience.

From hipster “party rock” and Jonas Brothers to Atreyu seems like a hell of a jump on paper…but Hell or Highwater will leave you convinced the chain between those styles remains unbroken and far more solid than you’d ever expect.

Quirky, not really my thing at all…but I can see it having strong appeal to
the workaday, non-“extreme” or “underground” pop radio loving crowd.

UNEVEN STRUCTURE – La Partition (Long Branch Records) (April 21)

French prog act, arguably leaning a bit more tech-death on the guitar/drums end but with clean vocals for the better part of the album.

The drums are super hyperactive…not in the sense of a Dave Lombardo or Pete Sandoval, much less a Tony Williams, but in a stilted prog metal sense. There’s a whole lot of off meter playing, it’s very fast and erratic and feels more like volleys of gunfire than any sort of feel-centric syncopation or meter-play.

There’s turnarounds and time changes by the dozen, but it feels cold, calculated, machinelike, even. You may be impressed by the technicality and skill level, but you won’t be feeling a damn thing.

It’s admirable from a strict “can I do something that complex?” junior musician standpoint, but absolutely soulless and minor league therefore…a problem you run into with regularity when it comes to tech metal and prog on the whole, unfortunately. There’s a reason Phil Collins became more famous after parting ways with Brand X, you know…

That said, this is no Unexpect-style love affair with randomness and atonality. Uneven Structure does their best to keep things as smooth and melodic as possible given all the metric shifts and stutter-stops on guitar, bass and drums.

In the end, this is no Fates Warning…but may be a lot more palatable to non-prog/tech heads than a Watchtower, and is a lot busier and more interesting than the Wyndham Hill John Tesh/Kitaroisms of the Dream Theater crowd. I both appreciated and disliked it in roughly equivalent measure.

Well, they certainly weren’t lying with the band name.

Call this one split down the middle…just remember, it’s missing something vital at its core.

Like a soul.

Ides Of Gemini – Women (Rise Above Records) (April 28)

Whoa, where the fuck did this come from?

Rise Above is a doom label. They carry quality doom, stoner and 70’s-retro acts by the dozen, it’s what they’re known for.

So how did this early Siouxsie and the Banshees by way of Skeletal Family/Ghost Dance postpunk/gothic rock outfit wind up under their auspices?

I’m quite chuffed, that’s for sure…

You may also be able to toss in slight hints of Garlands-era Cocteau Twins or Return to Eden-era All About Eve (ever notice how many bands were better before they ever issued a full length?), but it’s all on the same spectrum of dark, female fronted, somewhat declamatory gothic rock leaning postpunk.

In other words, right directly up my alley.

Apparently there’s been a bit of tragedy and some band changes/expansion of roster involved, so this may not exactly be the Ides of Gemini punters are familiar with.

All I can tell you is, I’ve been waiting to hear bands properly tap the gothic rock sound for far too long – Beastmilk did themselves quite admirably, then folded after one album.

It’s high fucking time someone else took up the slack.

There’s a meeting out at the cemetery under the full moon.

I’ll see you there.

Galley Beggar – Heathen Hymns (Rise Above Records) (April 28)

Very 70’s feeling variant of Eldritch Dark-era Blood Ceremony. Captures some of the vibe of Sandy Denny-led Fairport crossed with the more mystical and jazzy-psychedelic feel of Pentangle (my personal favorite of such acts when I was quite posthumously immersed in that whole rather witchy-feeling scene and sound back in the 90’s), and a touch of early Coven, Mr. Fox or Jethro Tull just for garnish.

Throw in some arguably more modernist bits of business (the drum track on “four birds”…which can also be viewed as a Sweet swipe (“into the night”), but overall, this feels quite post-hippie, British isles folk-rock with a bit more of a bounce and drive to it. Are you really surprised it’s on the Rise Above roster?

As we move deeper into the album, it gets less “folk rock” and veers right into straight up folk, which is comparatively disappointing – those first couple of tracks were quite excellent.

But look, it’s still very much faithful to the general scene and sound they’re aping, and moreover, they actually cover Pentangle stanbdy “let no man steal your thyme”. And while it’s not even a pimple on the ass of Jacqui, Bert and John’s version, the sentiment is there and much appreciated. So yeah, I’m cool with this.

Not bad, not bad at’all. In fact, I rather liked it.

  

Tribulance – The Aftermath of Lies (self released) (May 5)

Wow, this was nice.

An actual old school thrash act,* somewhat in the Bay Area vein…with a dramatic, mostly clean vocalist who comes off like a cross between Feel the Fire/Taking Over-era Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth, Russ Anderson and something else I can’t quite peg…why am I thinking Meliah Rage here?

* more or less…read on.

The band themselves are fairly simple and straightforward with their thrash riffing – which helps on the Meliah Rage argument – but with little single note riffs that come off more in the vein of a Forbidden or Annihilator, minus any fretboard heroics whatsoever.

Gama Bomb without the scat, maybe? Nah, not really – it’s a lot more midpaced, not so one note and the vocals are much, much better. It’s almost Spreading the Disease-era Anthrax in some respects, but saying that gives a very wrong impression.

Let’s just go back to Bay Area-like thrash, simple, midpaced, no guitar solos or flash whatsoever (or at least so generic and basic as to flit by completely unnoticed), with a mostly clean, declamatorily dramatic vocal. Ah, maybe that’s what I was picking up – there’s a bit of Davey Havok in there (“the aftermath of lies” betrays those telltale AFI inflections more obviously than not).

Now, put Tribulance up against the classics, and while it bears obvious similarities and homage thereto, there’s something of an ill fit. You can see why you’d lump ’em in with that scene…but it’s not quite right, like jamming a square peg into a star-shaped hole. Call ’em “very retro-thrash oriented and inspired”, I guess.

Even so, this was a pretty damn comfortable pair of shoes to be donning, given that this is a young act going the self release route.

Hilarious photos of what I’m guessing is the lead singer aside, I’m down with this.

Siriun – In Chaos We Trust (self released) (May 19)

Modern metal to an absolute fault. Death growls that lean screamo GYEEEEAAAAHHH!!! on a ridiculously regular basis. Weird atonal licks and stutter-stop nonsense cribbed equally from nu-metal noise acts like Korn and the annoying tech death scene. And some really crummy, thin toned, treble-happy and white noise-inclined production.

Holy shit, did I just fall backwards in time through some unseen wormhole
straight into the mid-90’s?  This is a Pissing Razors album, but with members of Korn, Pantera and post-Spiritual Healing Death (or their fanboys by the dozen) bringing even more noise and math/tech/djent orientation to the table, right?

I mean, there is some latter day/touring/session drummer from
Suffocation, Six Feet Under and DevilDriver involved…

No, no, no, fucking listen to me already, I said NO.

NEXT ?!?

Wind Rose – Stonehymn (Inner Wound Recordings) (May 26)

Bombastic, (over)dramatic symphonic power metal (with arguable pagan leanings) hailing from Tuscany. That’s in Italy, for the geographically challenged. Just wanted to make sure you knew these were paisan.

So it’s probably unsurprising that they owe a huge debt to both Rhapsody (of Fire) and Helloween, though obviously far more to the former.  They even have little flute and fiddle bits and crowd noises like you’re walking through a hobbit village or something…like their forbears, this is perfect background music for a D&D campaign, re-read of Tolkien, classic JRPG or what have you.

What’s missing here that Rhapsody had going for them is a Fabio Lione. While bombastic, Wind Rose keeps things overly busy and “medieval tavern song”-like (check out “under the stone” and tell me it doesn’t bring you back to playing The Bard’s Tale or the original Fable, not to speak of Dragon Age)…and while he does pull off a booming, theatrical nigh-baritone warble on occasion, Francesco Cavalieri is no soaring, operatic frontman ala Lione or even a Roy Khan.

So that gap, and a lot less of the Yngwie chord/song construction fakebook thing going down, leaves Wind Rose more of a straight up power metal band with strong symphonic leanings (think a more subdued Orden Ogan and rather pronounced Rhapsody-esque tabletop gaming tendencies.

Good by me – just leaves the band more second tier than they could have been.

Make no bones about it, I liked ’em just fine.

 

X.KERNEL – FACE THE TRUTH (CIMMERIAN SHADE RECORDINGS) (April 7)

Ukranian melodeath…or such is the intention, anyway.

What’s a bit weird about it…and winning, it must be said…is the decidedly Magica-esque reliance on harpsichordlike keyboard and quirky riffing feel. I wouldn’t be shocked if Bogdan Costea and “Six Fingers” jumped ship and national borders to form this band…and Third Eye regulars know just how much I love Lightseeker.

The vox are all gargling death growls, as you might expect; the riffing, when more particularly melodeath oriented, hits all the right beats…but the end result is so unlike what you expect from the words “Swedeath”, “Gothenburg sound” or “melodeath” as to be a different animal entirely.

Think of ’em as a less gothic/symphonic, more melodeath-oriented Magica, minus Ana Mladinovici’s sweet and quirkily endearing tones.

Good stuff, and definitely off template…the very fact that they’re not just another bunch of slavish copycats and yet not hipsterish “genre/other genre that don’t belong together or mix well” clowns either speaks volumes.

They found a mix and variant that works and marks them as somewhat unique among the genre they self-identify with.

I’m down with that. Na zdorov’ye, comrades.

Sludgehammer – The Fallen Sun (self released) (June 10)

Canadian power/traditional metal act. They have a decidedly Teutonic sensibility and feel about them, right down to the back of the throat swallowed croak vocals (which flip to growly bar band style vox at random intervals…very power metal of them!) and relentless typewriter double bass throughout.

I liked the guitar work from Jeff Wilson, which veers into 80’s Los Angeles-style metal riffing amidst all the otherwise straightforward power metal business, before exploding into Jeff Waterslike solos. Who was expecting a budding guitar hero with otherwise workaday material like this?

It’s fine for what it is, and even leans a touch aggro (“ectogenesis”) if not somewhat death metallish at points…but you’ll find yourself forwarding up to the fills and solos from Wilson after a few tracks.

Damn good player, but saddled with a middling at best act. Boil it down to nuts and bolts, and it’s Wilson’s licks, fills and leads keeping things if not afloat, then at least certainly more interesting than The Fallen Sun would otherwise merit.

I’d like to hear him in a more traditional metal band…or a retro thrash act, both of which would suit his style and skill level much better than
Sludgehammer.

Rapheumets Well – Enders Door (Test Your Metal Records) (May 26)

What a weird band!

Seriously…for a few tracks, I’m sitting there thinking damn, these folks really wannabe Cradle of Filth, minus the black metal affectations. Light female vocals and growly death ones, lush gothicized keyboards and vocal layering, speedy and busy on the guitar/drums end, alternating between death metallish double bass and black metallish blastbeats…yeah, that’s the verdict.

But then they get really light, to the point of being more pagan/Viking style volkisch than anything else…then a few minutes later, things feel more directly gothic/symphonic in tone. Then they go sorta proggy, but in a really off kilter way, often leaning a bit too much towards progressive death/math metal for comfort.

Did I mention they have sci-fi themes lyrically? So yeah, from Tim Burtonish CoF gothic black metal to folk-style pagan/Viking to straight up gothic/symphonic, but totally prog to the core underneath it all.

Is your head spinning trying to keep up with all this? Because mine is.

Well, you certainly can’t accuse ’em of unoriginality…or at least fearless syncretism in that rare manner that actually kind of works and feels like the parts sort of fit together rather than grinding against each other teeth gratingly (in the usual ill-fitting “crossover” manner, adopted by hundreds of hipster post-whatever and black/fill in the blank bands as we speak.)

This is seriously fucked up and you wonder what kind of oil spill-altered Southern mushrooms these folks were digging into…but you have to admit, they make what they’re cribbing from all of these disparate and distinct styles work together reasonably well somehow.

Now what all this Gentle Giant goes Iron Savior nonsense has to do with Cradle of Filth meets Gloomy Grim stylings, pagan folk and nigh-djent aural torture tactics…er, “progressive death elements” (cough), I have no fucking idea. But for the most part, they keep the latter business to a dull roar and lean heavily on all those other borrowings and “influences”…which was OK by me.

Interesting, to say the least. Prepare to have your eyebrows arch, Duane “Rock” Johnson-style.

CRYOSTASIUM  – Project:00  (Metropolitan State Productions/Satanath Records) (April 20)

hmm.

Well, it’s hyper-industrialized, sort of tongue in cheek futuristic feeling and some sort of take on black metal.

But with ooky-spooky cartoon sound effects (think when the ghost shows up in the old Scooby Doo cartoons and you’ll have it.)

And singsongy female vocal samples (from a MEIKO), which give a pronounced, if odd, sense of melody prominence over the more “extreme” elements.

He’s got a definite J-pop cum anime orientation, which speaks to this old guard J-fan’s soul (I was into this shit back when it was a cult, well before it went tweeny mainstream CG bullshit and obnoxious cosplay kids at the dawn of the millenium), and a look back at his past history on cryostasium.bandcamp.com shows he’s been working this for a bit (with new school anime heroines listed as collaborators, yet).

Sharon Apple goes “lazerpunk” black metal?  Well, I dunno how well this sort of oddball post-whatever will sit with the average “deadly serious” black metaller (actually, I do, but hey), but I found it interesting enough.

One more for the “extreme metal” loving modern anime fan than the “troo kvlt” crowd, but it’s quirky, melodic and very cyberpunk in orientation and feel…

…so yeah, I kinda liked it, actually.

Haze of Summer – Znoi (Sound Age Productions)

What would you get if Arkona (Russia) shook hands with Kroda, then pulled in some Finnish black metal melodicism (and a hint of early Norwegian black metal as an undercurrent beneath) to pull it all together?

Seriously. A very Slavic volkischer feel, but more inclined towards strong melodic lines on the guitars and less of the “nature sounds” of a Kroda or the Pagan metal cum death metallisms of “Masha Scream” and company.*

*which may not be as much of a surprise, given that that very band’s drummer Andrey Ischenko takes part herein…

“Stenka na stenku” with a Finntrollish accordion/harmonium, gone all driving yet very, very melodic black metal?

(slaps head in bemused disbelief at what jumbled, seemingly disparate
associations this has brought together)

Listen.

Just check it out. It’s really quite good – melodic enough to be memorable and very listenable, folk/traditionally instrumented enough to be interesting, driving enough to be more black metal than pagan.

Instruments are mixed louder than the vocals, which actually helps things considerably by comparison to the usual (where the reverse…or worse, mids, hiss and signal bleed tend to take precedence)…so I’ll say the production’s pretty good overall.

Some weird hyperventilation and a few not unwelcome Kroda-esque chirping bird foley work sections are joined by the rare nigh-industrial electronic sampling business (think late Liv Kristine-era Theatre of Tragedy without the dancefloor orientation) or vaguely Magica-esque keyboard accompaniment (“May”) to keep things rather strange overall…but none of it is a deal breaker.

In fact, all of this business kept to enough of a minimum to be an interesting bit of punctuation, rather than the destructive incongruity all of these oddball elements could have been in lesser hands.

As weird as it may sound on paper…it works.

I liked this one just fine, thank you very much.

THE PIGGYBACK RIDERS – MIDNIGHT AT THE TENTH OF ALWAYS (Wild Kingdom) (May 12)

Slightly stoned sounding country of the bar band variety.

Less Nashville polish than the older school, sorta Hank Williams, sorta Hank Snow or George Jones kind of thing Mike Ness made his own for a few excellent solo albums about a decade back (saw him on that tour, got attention from the audience as I was the only one singing along to all the Bob Dylan, George Jones and Marty Robbins covers. Yeah, my daddy was a country boy).

Overly mellow for my tastes (what little country I dig falls firmly under the “rockabilly” header…which is most of what my father used to sing to me all the time as a kid), but entirely respectable and well delivered, and great accompaniment to a night of boozin’ and slow dancin’ with your favorite ‘tight fittin’ jeans’-sporting country girl.

Figure somewhere between the folk-rockishness of The Wallflowers and the more rockin’ Tammy Wynette tracks, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect from The Piggyback Riders.

If you see they’re playing a juke joint nearby, I’d head right on down, if I were you.

Hell, maybe I’ll join ya. Bartender, another round!

The Leather Nun – Vive La Fete! Vive La Révolution (Wild Kingdom) (May 5)

We’d reviewed this veteran postpunk band’s surprise comeback album Whatever two years back (almost to the day!), and this is…well, not a followup, exactly.

In fact, this is an unreleased (well, it was televised in Finland, if that counts) live recording dating back to 1988, when the band gigged with Johnny Rotten’s Public Image Ltd. and Scots new wave rockers Big Country at the very first rock festival date booked behind the Iron Curtain, right in the heart of the USSR.

As the promo materials claim, “outside the festival ground, soviet tanks are gathered with the cannons directed towards (the bands and audience)…change is in the air. Let the revolution begin!”

The show comes right at the conclusion of the band’s career, after 3 of their four albums had already been released, and as such, shows a Leather Nun still at their peak, putting on a reasonably energetic show for fans whose experience of rock had been limited mainly to furtive black market dealings and covert club appearances heretofore.

Veteran fans of the band or the more rock oriented end of the postpunk scene, take note.

The Guilt – S/T (Heptown Records) (May 5)

OK, I’ve been running into slightly more of this sort of thing lately.

This faux-Atari Teenage Riot wannabe punk (or as these folks dub it, “lazerpunk”), wannabe dance music electro- kind of sound, with processed vocals and what sound like fake drums and guitars…though it could just be more of that Nine Inch Nails-style run through a Mac sort of crap distorting and signal bleeding all analog signal beyond recognition.

Now, there both was and is some industrial stuff I like – Rammstein, the occasional Skinny Puppy or Front 242, certainly My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult and later gothic/industrialized efforts like late-Liv Kristine era Theatre of Tragedy and Gothminister. But stuff like this?

Whatever.

Next?

 

A Ghost Orchestra – Blood (Firestarter Distribution)  (March 10)

Aussie act crossing the borders of aggro, (modern) punk of the “hardcore” variety (again, this screamo-inflected sound is not hardcore to me…I’ll stick with Minor Threat, early Black Flag, the Bad Brains and M.D.C., thanks) and crossover metal.

Similarly to my assertion about what’s being referred to as “hardcore” of late, this is hardly the “crossover” you’re likely to think of – this is no Agnostic Front/D.R.I./M.O.D/Cro-Mags/Gang Green, but something that crosses a Flipper-esque open chord dissonance and punkish attitude with post-Anselmo screamo bullshit and a NWOAHM to black metallish guitar/drum vibe.

In effect, it’s still “crossover” in that it’s crossing a punk (think modern, bordering on emo) vibe with a very metal approach on guitar and drums – hard to picture punk kids doing the HB strut, stage diving or building a pit to stuff this midtempo and…well, metal feeling…but it’s a million miles removed from what most people…at least veterans and respecters of scene history…consider either “hardcore” or “crossover”, which it bears absolutely nothing in common with.

Now, there’s another variance, here – because you’d think that saying “modern, almost emo-style punk” crossed with metal would imply “metalcore” or “deathcore” or something along those lines…and again, this is far removed from that sound.  So what the fuck do we call this?

Who the hell knows, honestly.

Bottom line is, if you’re OK with some guy screaming into the mic to the point where you can hear his tonsils waggling and picture the veins popping out of his red-faced neck and don’t mind a quirky, open chord atonality that feels more like a midtempo to speedy take on Flipper than Pile of Dead Bards Swe-black/death crossed with a modern to black metal riff and drum approach…Adelaide has the perfect band for ya, mate.

For the soundbase they seem to be working and drawing from here, I didn’t mind it all that much – sat through 7 tracks without forwarding or skipping, which says a lot when a band’s pulling the Anselmo vox.

Of course, I’ve been listening to a bit more WSOU of late, so admittedly, the old standards may be a bit lower than usual. Just sayin’.

If all this sounds like it’s up your alley, give ’em a listen.

Funeral Baptism – Gate EP (self released / Loud Rage Music) (March 30)

Ah, Romania. Home to one of my favorite gothic metal bands back in the day, namely Magica (shut up, haters – go listen to Lightseeker, it’s both awesome in terms of musicianship and pretty damn quirky if not unique in style and execution).

Also home to eerily scenic Transylvania and its Carpathian mountains…not to mention Dracula’s castle, with all the historic and mythic horrors and atmosphere associated thereto.

And…uh…Nicolae Ceausescu?

Yeah, let’s forget that one. I know somebody who got the hell out of there during his endless reign. Dictators of any ostensible political persuasion…not pretty, particularly for those who are stuck living under ’em.

Anyway, recently stumbled across a label working the extreme metal end of the spectrum hailing from those very environs. So let’s take a look at what opening salvo of releases they have to offer to our fine followers this month, shall we?

Well, first up, we have a pretty template “black/death” outfit by the name of Funeral Baptism.  I will say that they seem to incline more “Norsecore” ala Marduk than the usual open chord “occult black metal” Watain Worship bullshit…but you already know where I’m at with this sound.

Let’s be nice. Not my idea of what it means to be black metal.

So next up, we have…

Sincarnate – In Nomine Homini (Hatework) (April 1)

Mixing black metal blastbeat flourishes with pagan metal attention to volkisch tradition and heritage folk melodies, this Romanian act has been poking around since 2008 – this is their second full length.

They seem to self-identify with the doom/death scene, while acknowledging their indebtedness to BM, but I’m not really hearing the doominess here. They’re more or less midtempo (blastbeat sections aside), but I’d lump them in with pagan metal overall – a much more comfortable fit for a band mixing death and folk elements (with or without the light black metal swipes).

Throaty, Eastern European-style chants and little folk ditties resonate with a resurgent atavism in contemporary culture and gives ’em one up on the more standard adherents to either death, doom/death or black metal per se.

Gets a bit samey after a few tracks, but yeah, I liked it well enough, and certainly sets an atmosphere.

Hteththemeth – Best Worst Case Scenario (self released) (April 1)

Things open on a clean guitar and vocal, lush, moody keyboard and decent (if a bit squashed sounding) production, such as you’d expect from the likes of your average progressive metal act (Queensryche, Fates Warning, Crimson Glory, Lethal, Sanctuary…you get the idea).

Then things get a bit weird.

Now there are odd…but still interesting, mind – guitar noise effects that point to a Korn influence* driving the song.

* Later instances point equally to a more Faith No More/Mr. Bungle-ish sensibility (“I’m in hate”, “I get and I give…”).

Then the next track starts, and it sounds quite gothic metal if not gothic/symphonic, with detuned, simplistic guitars, slow drumming and those same prominent, lush keyboards. But this isn’t gothic metal at all, really…once the clean, but quirky and heavily accented vocals kick in, it’s back into the prog metal arena.

Then some surprisingly credible for a change death growls kick in, with heavy distortion on the guitars. Did this just turn into a death/doom affair?

But wait, now we’re back into the long, weird interludes of nothing happening that suddenly become songs more than halfway through their running time. Then it goes all Yes on your ass. Wait a minute…now they’re doing a pretty standard blues rock?

What the living fuck?

Well, you can’t say these guys won’t keep you guessing. I was appreciative of their overall polish and skill level, and was most impressed when they went from a sort of Queensryche goes death/doom (they pull that on a few tracks, nothing described here is a one-off) – if they’d stuck to that and ran with it, I’d give this a horns up, 5 star review.

But as it is…it’s pretty fucking weird and a bit hard to peg for good or ill, even within a given track, forget about as an entire album.

But when they’re on, dammit, they’re on. 

Yeah, you need to give this one a listen, no question.

ARGUS MEGERE – VEII (Loud Rage Music) (April 14)

former members of Negura Bunget (whose Tau we reviewed here) work an even more black metallized take on Eastern European pagan metal.

At points, the keyboards are almost gothic in the sense of earlier Cradle of Filth and many of the riffs are heavier and more driving than you’d expect from pagan metal per se (which tends to work a middle ground between the cheese of power metal and the native folk that drives the genre and the death/light black metal stylistics that it tends to adhere to).

While perhaps a bit too late 90’s black metal (mostly Norwegian on the vocal/guitar/drum end and UK/CoF on the keys) for my liking, there’s no question that Argus Megere built themselves a rather full sound pallette, and the playing is never less than assured and confident throughout.

The production’s a tad muted (and the sound a bit overcrowded) but you can certainly hear every instrument if you really dig in there, and it’s clean and full overall, adding to the general polished feel of VEII as a whole.

Not the sort of thing I’m likely to revisit, but you have to give a nod of respect, at least for the musicianship and quality feel on the production end.

KATHAROS XIII – Negativity (Loud Rage Music) (April 5)

And guess what, several members of Argus Megere either are or were part and parcel of this band, Katharos XIII.

Here’s where you really see the difference in production – the sound here is paper thin, all mids and no bass, absolutely flat with zero fullness or coolness (“warmth” is not the word, this is more “brittle enough to spontaneously combust”…not a positive, I assure you).

So absolute shite production aside (who the fuck was responsible? We want names, they should be publically shamed, like when they used to put people in the stocks for embarrassing misdeeds so the locals could jeer and throw tomatoes at their heads…), how’s the band itself?

mmm…well, look, some of these guys are the same players we heard on Argus Megere, did you think they’d magically lose their skills? But even so, the sound and style being worked here is very different. In many ways, I may actually prefer Katharos XIII’s overall approach, as it felt more “traditional” and melancholic.

But god damn, that production!

Bottom line: a decent to likeable black-ish metal band of the more introspective/mournful persuasion, hampered by dog shit production.

Dump whoever’s responsible for next time. Someone like a Dan Swano might work wonders with this material…which was actually rather good overall.

I liked the band.

GOTHIC – Demons (Loud Rage Music) (January 14)

Only the third full length from these guys, who’ve been poking around the demo world since 1994. For a band who apparently ascribes to the gothic and doomier end of the death metal spectrum…they certainly sound pretty damn cheery and anthemic!

No, actually what you get here is the sort of crowd pleasing, feel good power/pagan-ish/Viking-ish vibe of bands that dominate the European festival circuit…but a sound that leans as much melodeath as it does power/pagan.

These guys are clearly in the market for crafting hits and sing-a-longs for sweaty longhairs to raise their beer mugs to, and guess what – they succeed, and quite consistently, in fact. Where, say, an Orden Ogan or an Iced Earth may pack 2 or 3 clear favorites per album, Gothic stuffs an entire album’s worth into Demons. Is it really any wonder they “represented Romania at Wacken 2012”?

These guys are simple and unpretentious – what they want, they’re clearly willing to work at getting…and what that is, is to craft a battery of crowd pleasers to appeal to a pan-European if not global festival-going audience.

Nothing different or overly “exciting” about it – just good, uplifting songs that large crowds of the likeminded can raise a toast to and yell along with.

And in that respect, yeah. They succeed quite admirably.

AKRAL NECROSIS – Underlight (Loud Rage Music) (October 14)

The riffing, drums and vocals are so Swe-black/death as to be template. Dark Funeral meets Watain with a hint of Tribulation, but with a few quick popper hits from Dissection just for the fuck of it.

sigh.

where’d I put that whack-a-mole hammer again?

FALSE REALITY – End of Eternity (Loud Rage Music) (October 28, 2016)

What’s interesting here is that the band seems to self-identify as melodic death metal (or melodic black metal, or both)…but comes off more as an ersatz progressive death metal act in the end.

Dream Theater dry humped Atheist, then spent a few years listening to wayyyyyy too much modern post-black what have you. Their distorted lovechild? That’s right, False Reality.

As you might expect, moments definitely work, the cleaner stuff is pretty decent if not downright accomplished and the production’s pretty damn full and crisp throughout…but there’s too much weirdness all smooshed together to sit right in the ol’ palate.

Walk in expecting a really over-symphonic black metal keyboard inflected, rather Dream Theaterish take on progressive death, which is weird in itself, but which really shoots itself in the foot by taking on Pile of Dead Bards-style BM elements as well.

Consider End of Eternity a cake that doesn’t rise, that some kid dumped a whole fucking salt shaker in to “give it extra flavor”.

I was OK with the first half, as odd as it was to hear the light prog, symphonic black and death metal bits all thrown together in a blender like that.

As ever, it’s the PoDB elements that oversalt and ruin an otherwise odd but perfectly acceptable mix.

BLUTRINA – Looney Fuckin’ Grind (Loud Rage Music) (September 23)

LOL…o-kay…

Here’s a death metal act (self-identifying as grindcore, but nowhere nearly as sloppy to amusical as that implies) who claim to be “heavily inspired by Looney Tunes…and Family Guy.”

Well…yeah. I did hear a few goofy voices that reminded me of the former (not to mention a few soundbites and riffs along the way that hammer that assertion home without equivocation), and they’re certainly being silly with song titles like “no more shitting”, “defleshing Porky Pig” and “uranus”.

In terms of the grindcore thing, beyond just being a bit crude lyrically/topically, they do that stupid pig squealing vocal a few times (though more in the appropriate context of the aforementioned Porky Pig track).

“You’re a loudmouthed schmuck!”

Like I said, it’s far more death metal proper than grindcore, musically or production-wise…so if your sensibilities aren’t easily offended and you grew up on the same crap, you should definitely get a laugh out of this.

  

Enragement – Burned, Barren, Bloodstained (Inverse Records) (June 9)

Boy, someone really liked Demolition Hammer, maybe with a side of Ex Mortis and Morbid Saint…

At least the vocals vary from that snarl to a deep death belch every now and again…but the music is just as fast, crazed, almost tech death in its speed and spasmodic disjointedness.

Yeah, I gather there are fans of this style out there in the death metal world.

I’m not one of ’em.

  

Pyroxene – EP (Inverse Records) (April 21)

Weird Finnish band that crosses quirky folk melodies, some of the tropes of metal, bar room hard rock of the “classic” variety and…I have no fucking clue what, but it’s kind of a screwed up, highly individualist take on metal, that’s for damn sure!

They’re more than listenable, certainly melodic (if a bit prone to drawing from a waltzes and marches volkischer tune base) and the production is rather good, if very much of the “dry” variety – sounds are deadened immediately after tones are struck, there’s little to no reverb or room ambience and an overall “flat” sound permeates. Even so, it’s a solid job – everyone gets a fair shake and you can hear everything that’s going on, with zero signal bleed or muddiness fucking the works.

Nothing wrong with these guys, and at times, vocalist Jan Tehovnk comes off like a Finnish Alan Tecchio (Hades/Watchtower/Non-Fiction)…no mean feat, that.

Yeah, I’m looking forward to seeing what a full length brings.

Noumena – Myrrys (Inverse) (April 28)

And speaking of melodic metal, here we have another Finnish act who take their national reputation for injecting heaping helpings of melodicism into even the harshest and most “extreme” variants of metal to…well, an extreme.

Seriously, as soon as we hit the first actual track “mets n viha”, I was paying rapt attention. This is so 80’s traditional metal, despite the death growl vocals, you could, him and some detuned rhythm guitar aside, fool some veterans of that scene. When I say this is catchy, well constructed stuff, I mean this is catchy.

To judge by tracks like the aforementioned and “rolhu”, this band understands proper song construction like precious few bands outside the Frontiers roster (and/or returning 80’s veterans themselves), with a proper build through verses, bridges and choruses further enhanced by some nice dual lead lines and nice, somewhat flash solos.

At least on tracks like those, you can sit back and nod your head with a smile, because this is no hackneyed melodeath affair, growly vocals aside. This is real deal traditional-oriented metal in more respects than not.

The rest of the album changes the gameplan, though. There are several tracks with guesting female vocals (this becomes more prominent towards the end of the album) and there things lean a tad modern punk (emo to metalcore spectrum).

On the rest of the album, things feel more pagan metal, melodic but volkisch, with the midtempo dramatics and bombast associated with that scene and sound. Still not “melodeath”…but not a million miles removed therefrom.

So what are we to make of Noumena? They seem a tad schizophrenic, to these ears. There’s the Noumena of “mets n viha” and “rolhu”, which is pretty damn sweet and trad-minded. Then there’s the female fronted, more emo/metalcore-informed Noumena. Finally, we get the pull out your lighters and toast our Viking ancestors festival pleasing pagan metal Noumena of the remaining material.

Well, at least all three versions of the band are melodically inclined and fairly likeable…

…but damn, I really, really wish they’d singlemindedly pursue the trails being blazed by “mets” and “rolhu” instead of the rest of this far more typical nonsense that pads the remainder of the album.

Because that’s something special.

Black Dreams – “My Hell” (Inverse) (May 10)

A very declamatory, Danse Society-esque male baritone vocal over a far more straightforward hard rock (arguably leaning biker rock…Zodiac Mindwarp, anyone?).

Not sure what to make of this single and its flipside, to be honest – Juha Kraapo should be belting out “we’re all so happy”, not “prime mover”, so this is just…strange.

Well, I liked the vocals and the music was acceptable…just a case of “two great tastes that (don’t) taste great together”, to quote an old advert…

Emptybrook – S/T EP (Inverse) (April 17)

Screamo vox over a poorly produced, overly distorted, signal bleed driven guitar and drums.

It’s detuned and the riffing is a bit lunkheaded, or you could lump this in with the late 80’s/early 90’s tattooed Hollywood junkie hard rock/”metal” sound of bands like GNR, Junkyard, LA Guns and the Sleeze Beez – it’s got that shite raw and unpolished sound all over it. Given the former issue, though, it’s very much a post-aggro, post-nu metal take on the aforementioned.

Best part is what most of us will miss the reference to: apparently “the band’s music is strongly inspired by Finnish low budget movies from the 70’s and 80’s…the weed is green at the Finnish countryside, but the summer is short – too short.”

Sounds evocative and amusing. Unfortunately, not being from Finland, I have no fucking clue what they’re on about…

Whatever. Next?

STREAMS – “Streams” (digital single) (Inverse) (April 14)

Blackened death metal in the general vein of Grotesque crossed with the harmonizer-vocalled sound Entombed was going for on “premature autopsy”.

You can practically hear “Atlas” belch-yelling “SLOW DEATH!” over blastbeat cum machine gun drums, Kristian Wahlin-style winding single note riffs and symphonic black metal faux-“choral” keyboard stings, it’s that close to the dual template they’re striving to attain.

I was OK with it, yeah.

  

Final Void – Sounds of Absence (Inverse) (May 25) 

Well, this is a Finnish act who apparently evolved from your average bar band/classic rock cum “hard rock” act towards a more melodic metal orientation…and that’s what makes them a bit odd, because you can tell.

Seriously, the bar band rock sound is all over this. “The scent of ciggies and stale beer are strong with this one!”

Now, there’s certainly a fair share of moments – often around the choruses and guitar solos, mind – that bring that telltale drama, bombastic feel and anthemicism that you just don’t get outside of the more “mainstream” and less “extreme” branches of the Euro-metal tree (bands Stateside seldom if ever manage to grasp the melodic/power/goth-symph idiom, I’m sorry to say).

So in short, yeah, you can certainly refer to Final Void as “melodic metal” in that sense – the markers are all present.

But the sound is too small, too compact – like the “power trio” of the late 70’s and early 80’s, no matter how excellent the individual players or catchy the songs, it always manages to feel lighter in tone, more insubstantial…like something’s missing, and that something is power.

Even so, tracks like “dianthus” make a strong argument in the band’s favor, and the songs are never less than hummable if not catchy. Did I mention the playing’s pretty decent as well?

So I guess if you always wanted to hear your melodeath with a lot less force and…well, the death metal end of the equation, and far more of a local bar band cum “occult rock” act’s thinner, more “intimate” band jamming in your garage feel and tone…Final Void is the best melodeath-ish local classic rock band you’re ever likely to hear.

Don’t let any of this fool ya – I really liked these guys.

Respect.

J.T. Lehtonen – Land of Dust (Concorde Music)

You know, when someone goes by their given name, has a cover of themselves staring at their feet and a promo writeup sthat mentions “a long run (as a) musician and songwriter (who)…built his own rehearsal room and recording studio…(in) his garage,” you’re expecting “mature”, “thoughtful”, folkie sort of stuff. Tom Waits, Bruce Cockburn, that sort of thing.

So why is J.T. Lehtonen such a credible hard rock/traditional metal player?

Riffs for days, flashy leads and tricks like you haven’t heard since the days of Dokken, Ratt, Dio and Stryper (seriously – check out some of the fills on “adultery” or “day after day”), properly tuned guitars…

Hold up…you mean someone else actually uses standard tuning? What the fuck’s wrong with this guy? He may be an actual musician for a change…gasp!

Now, there’s not as much energy as I’d have liked given just how far into retro territory he takes things here…but this is one guy, playing all instruments bar drums (most of which were handled by HIM’s Miika Karppinen), recorded in a home studio. You have to cut the guy a little slack…and honestly? You don’t need to cut much at all.

A surprise breath of fresh air…mostly because I was expecting another navel gazing former rocker gone all Neil Young or what have you…not an 80’s metal riff-fest with flashy leads and tricks!

Who the fuck was this guy, anyway? I bet his band was killer back in the day…

Hats off to ya, sir.

 

Tusmörke – Hinsides (Svart Records) (May 12)

We’d previously reviewed these odd Norwegian syncretists’ albums Fort Bak Lyset and Riset Bak Spielet, and not a lot’s changed – they’re still working a fairly Jethro Tull-like 60’s psychedelic sort of vibe overall, and they’re still pretty fucking weird.

If anything’s changed, it’s the (more prominent, anyway) inclusion of Tim Burton soundtrack-esque, Tommy Heavenly6-like goofy cartoon “gothicism” (you can also think Tom Petty’s “don’t come around here no more” video for the same general “children’s gothic” aesthetic).

It’s a very “cute girl-ish” take on what it means to be gothic or “creepy” and “spooky”, but one that seems to have more resonance of late with the Japanese-origin “gothic lolita” variant of the scene that’s filtered through Hot Topic culture to teenage girls around the nation, if not the globe. Cute on you, sure…but no. It’s not actually gothic in the least.

So all told…it’s Tusmorke. If you dug what they were laying down on their last two albums, you should dig this one as well…but it may have appeal to a new audience of faux-gothettes and Halloween Addicted Lollipop Candy Bad Girls as well.

Mikko Joensuu – Amen 3 (Svart Records) (June 2)

We’d reviewed Amen 1 and 2 here and here respectively, and it looks like Joensuu is continuing his gradual album to album progression from a light, syrupy neofolk towards a slightly more aggressive, rather Mass Effect soundtrack-like electronic shoegaze cum space rock/ambient sort of affair.

Just about every track here tops the 10 minute mark, with one pushing twice that, so you get the idea…and precious little of this features vocals of any kind.

The last track or two get a bit more folky and feel somewhat orchestral (as in pulling together a chamber group to work strings over the electro/space/soundtrack sort of thing that was more direct and in your face during the first half of the album), but it’s the first 3 or 4 tracks that interest me here.

I used to drive my wife nuts spending a hell of a lot of my Mass Effect playing time (especially ME2) exploring the entire map of the universe, mining and checking out stats on every single planet. It was less a strategic move than a pleasurable one – the music, the aesthetics…the sense of drifting into deep, uncharted space and just seeing what there is out there was just as important (if not moreso) than the drive of the story proper.

And the music for all that exploration sounded a fuck of a lot like what Mikko Joensuu is working for the better part of Amen 3.

I loved this.

Not so much the last 2 tracks, which broke the mood.

But the first 3 or 4.

I won’t repeat the promo writeup, which is a bit of an interview with Joensuu…but suffice to say, he describes some existential metacognition and soul searching that bring him to some answers that seem quite obvious when and if you actually find them for yourself.

I’ve been there too, my friend. Hell, I am there, because when you dig that deep, there are always more questions, more nuances to seek answers for…and more struggles within yourself, more examination of the self and the networked cosmology we are part and parcel of and our relations thereto.

But we both know the answers are there, waiting for us to find them.

I’ll give this one five stars, as an all around package deal.

Medusa1975 – Rising From The Ashes (Svart Records) (April 21)

There’s an album that in certain prog rock circles has been considered one of the holy grails, whether due to the rarity of its initial pressing or the quality and obscurity thereof I can’t really say – never heard it myself. But it’s a band named Medusa, who released their lone album First Step Beyond in 1975.

To judge by this far-removed comeback record from both of the band’s original guitarists (couple Gary and Donna Brown) and with one track featuring lyrics from Medusa’s former vocalist Peter Basaraba, the band’s retained a very 70’s hard rock feel, complete with Farifsa organ and thick, muted heavy riffing guitars puncutated by vintage blues rock solos.

Even the drums lean on cowbell, single bass drum and a fairly muted production (though more on the bass drum and toms than the snare or cymbals, which are a bit too in your face and bear too much snap and hiss to feel properly “of its era”). Some tracks bear quiet psychedelic breaks with Santana-like solos (in general tone, if hardly with that level of feel and “speaking to the listener’s soul” that marks same!) and the general approach is very much congruent with the era from which the band hails.

I have to say, it’s been quite a surprise to see the older generations eschewing the expected decline into mellowness and irrelevance in favor of sticking to their youthful guns – just this month, we have J.T. Lehtonen’s very, very 80’s metal garage project and Medusa (now going by “Medusa1975” in reference to their famed lone release prior), both of whom are working a driving, youthful sound at several decades remove. And realize, these folks in Medusa have to be in or pushing at the gates of their 60’s at this point…

That’s the way I want my old age to be, that’s for sure – and the fact that this is a couple doing this only makes it rarer and sweeter.

Keep on rockin’, folks.

Gravetemple – Impassable Fears (Svart Records) (June 2)

De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas-era Mayhem and Anno Domini-era Tormentor frontman Attilla Csihar and Sunn O))) mainman Stephen O’Malley come together for a weird, sorta death/doom, sorta noise rock, sorta experimental/atonal thing (with three or four ambient drone pieces tossed in the back half of the album for good measure).

Everyone nowadays has to go on about how whatever silly experimental thing they’re doing (or their concert appearances, or their music, however derivative of obvious Swe-black/death forbears, as is so often the case) is some sort of “ritual”, so are you really shocked to hear Attilla claiming that here?

Yeah, sure, whatever.

Sonic Youth did it first and better…as did a few dozen sluggish and detuned death/doom bands, or with respect to later tracks, about the same number of space rock/ambient “krautrock” acts.

Boy, Attilla. For the man behind two classic, scene defining albums, “you’ve come a long way, baby”…

Next?

Panphage – Storm (Nordvis Produktion) (May 19)
Panphage & Thul – Ginnheilagr (Nordvis Produktion) (May 19)

We’ve reviewed Panphage’s Drengskapr previously, and many of the same pagan-orientation markers are still present here.

These are a pair of previously cassette-only releases from the Swedish pagan black metal act, one of the few hailing from that nation not adhering to the long played out and ridiculously over-cloned Pile of Dead Bards school of “black/death” nonsense Sweden’s become notorious for.

Instead, what you get – particularly with respect to Storm – are more Bathory Viking-era/Graveland-esque grim chants and volkischer melodies punctuating and driving a far more expansive and evocative variant of black metal that moves, somewhat obviously, perilously close to pagan and/or Viking metal thereby, but minus the feel good festival drinking anthems or death metal appropriations and associated clean production.

In other words, Storm is more akin to the aforementioned acts crossed with a Taake…but bearing more of the listenability and bombastic anthemic feel of Bathory and later Graveland. As you might expect, I was definitely good with it.

Now, Ginnheilagr is a bit of a different story, as the Panphage tracks are rougher, less well produced and much more raw feeling. It’s a far less bombastic and dramatic take on the same basic material, and leans more black metal per se than paganesque thereby.

The Thul tracks, which alternate with the Panphage tracks, are absolutely worthless. The reason they appear between each Panphage song is that they’re little more than those pointless intros you have to skip or forward through to get to songs on just about every single black or death metal album out there nowadays – wind noises, a little chanting, a dog barking, that’s it. Back to Panphage, who actually spend their tracks playing music.

Between the two, it’s obvious that Storm is the one worth looking into…but in terms of Panphage, both have their merits, and each was previously only available in the now rather silly cassette only market. Look, back in the 80’s, we all had cassettes because it was the only portable medium that we could play while we walked or in the car…there’s absolutely zero reason for all you little hipsters to be investing in a disposable, easily worn down and snaggable magnetic tape format in 2017, you’re all crazy.

So for the rest of us who actually appreciate a long lasting physical medium that accurately reproduces what was recorded in studio (or for the download only crowd a digital one, accurately reproducing what was recorded into a few guys’ computers and mixed together, as the case may be), this is your shot to hear one killer album and a fair enough batch of songs from a split, both of which you couldn’t hear prior to this.

Decent band, and Storm is definitely worth your time.

  

Maria ja Marsialaiset – Pysy hereillä (Ektro) (May 26)

Missing 90’s style, Lilith Fair femme-band grunge/alt rock? Jonesing for another L7, 4 Non Blondes, Babes in Toyland, Bikini Kill sort of affair, but leaning a bit more “raw and punkish hard rock” than grunge or ersatz post-Damaged Black Flag-style punk?

Well, here ya go, don’t tell me I never gave you anything.

The ladies all come with cute nicknames, like “lightning” “blizzard” and “thunder”, who bear Blasphemy-esque descriptors: “”gorgeous, wild and merciless basher of drums” and “rhythm guitar stumbling”. It’s pretty silly, but you’re pretty cold hearted if you don’t at least start to crack a smirk in response.

Honestly, it ain’t all that bad.

If you can overlook the declamatory/shouted L7/4 Non Blondeslike vocals, this is raw indie-punk with a strong hard rock base…and quite listenably consonant and melodic guitarwise to boot.

Didn’t mind it, myself.

HOUR OF 13 – Salt The Dead: The Rare And Unreleased (CD, DLP) (Shadow Kingdom) (June 23)

The original demo versions of Hour of 13’s debut – or if you prefer, the entirety of said album in slightly altered recorded form. I actually prefer the sound here, with more of an Ozzy-era Black Sabbath slap echo reverb on the vocals and the guitars more upfront, if still appropriately muted and muddy for the retro-traditional doom the band became known for.

Added to this, you get a few of the same songs with band mainman Chad Davis working the vocals and more of the same songs featuring Ben Hogg in the vocal chair.

The only “new” track is “upon black wings we die”, a tribute song to the late Jason McCash from Gates of Slumber…the rest is, like many Incantation demo and early EP CD releases, just the same couple of songs from the debut over and over, but with three different vocalists and slightly altered early arrangements thereof.

For those who’ve never heard Davis, he’s very much like Brian Day of the Vladimirs and Sono Morti, when he takes the mic from frontman Marquis Thomas – far lighter in tone and more of a tenor than a booming baritone, but perfectly acceptable and suiting the music just as well in his own right. Hogg is OK, but there’s no question that usual vocalist Phil Swanson was a better choice. All three of them work pretty damn well with the material, it’s just a matter of preference in the end.

If you’ve never heard Hour of 13, I suggest heading directly for this one – you’ll get their best material in (to these ears) improved versions and with 3 different vocalists’ takes on it.

Perhaps not essential, if you already own the debut…but Salt the Earth is certainly preferable thereto.



SOULSKINNER (Greece) – Descent to Abaddon (Xtreem Music) (May 22)

Greek death metal band with members of more famed Greek black metal acts like Rotting Christ, Necromantia and Thou Art Lord.

They’ve been poking around since 2003, with three prior albums and a few splits to their credit, and work a reasonably traditional death metal to judge from the album at hand.

Production’s pretty good (though a bit overly ProTools for these analog ears), the vocals are somewhat Malevolent Creationesque, riffs and drum fills are recognizable enough and there’s even some decent solos to be found herein.

Yeah, I was happy with this one, definitely.

DRÅP – Rotten Till Allt Ont (Xtreem Music) (June 1)

These Swedes apparently self-identify as crust punk/death metal, and there are undertones of classic, crusty, punk-inspired Swedeath in there, alright – you can pick up that old school Sunlight studios HM-2 worship beneath the proceedings without looking too hard. And that would be good, if a bit overutilized as an inspiration these days.

The problem with Drap is twofold, however.

First, the vocals, which are gargly and sound somehow overprocessed, coming off almost industrial in tone…despite the fact that I honestly doubt there was much (if any!) digital manipulation of Joachim Lyngfelt’s vox in the first place. It’s bizarre, but doesn’t sound right at all for that vintage Entombed/Dismember and friends thing Swedeath of the non-Gothenburg variety implies.

Second, and more importantly…while there are definite detuned death metal riffs of the Swedeath variety going on here…somehow the overall feel comes off as black/death. Maybe it’s the atonality and ringing open chord bits they seem to get off on throwing all over the damn place…maybe it’s something more intangible and hard to define. But it’s there, and very much so, to the band’s detriment.

Now, make no bones about it: if I had to listen to something that leans (whether deliberately or accidentally) Swe-black/death, these guys would be on the top of the list – it’s far, far less Pile of Dead Bards than just about any band we’ve consigned thereto over the years, and much closer to this particular branch of classic death metal than any such act ever dare dream of aspiring to.

So no, I didn’t hate this, really.

But no, I didn’t like it, either.

The fact that they note inspiration from Deathspell Omega in the promo writeup should serve as a warning that Drap is delivering a decidedly adulterated formula, in desperate need of filtering and quality control to remove those crap black/death elements and pull ’em back into straight up death metal territory.

  

APOSENTO (Spain) – Bleed to Death (Xtreem Music) (June 12)

Spanish death/thrash affair.

It feels pretty dead on and first generation (as the early death metal was, in fact, a direct derivative of the thrash metal scene, just as much as black metal hailed from both thrash and death before it), with a simple, straightforward crunch and grind and Carcass/Napalm Deathlike dual growl/snarl vocals.

Sure enough, promo materials note an early scene provenance (with a 1992 demo and run through 1997) and performances alongside thrash bands…with their more recent reunion touring alongside acts like Cannibal Corpse, Benediction, God Macabre and Sinister (i.e. straight up death metal bands from back in the day). Like I said, death/thrash with a very first gen feel.

A bit too much blastbeatiness on the drum end, but the guy does work plenty of standard death metal tropes (galloping double bass and tom rolls, syncopated kitwork) to make up for that all too common misstep of the modern era.

Production is thick on the guitar end, but guitars tend to be overshadowed by the vocals (they should have been more even if not reversed) and the drums sound overly thin and trebly throughout…not the worst I’ve heard by a longshot, but could use a few major improvements as noted.

I was good with it – definitely old school death metal enough (if a tad too
“brutal” and Malevolent Creationesque leaning vaguely Suffocationesque at points) for this scene veteran’s tastes.

Horns raised in respect.

VHÄLDEMAR – Old King’s Visions (Fighter Records) (May 4)

Retro-traditional cum power metal from Spain. There’s a very modernist, ProTools feel on the production end, but the riffs come off quite traditional metal style with strong power metal leanings (which the relentless typewriter drumming further brands the band as being).

Helloween meets Accept, but with growly 90’s-to-present vintage power metal vox and a eubellient, trad-feeling and melodically anthemic riffing.  You could pull in bands like Sonata Arctica or any of the Yngwie wannabes for some of this, but Vhaldemar is by no means as limited sonically as that would imply – it’s more Accept meets Priest with hints of early Europe and a whole hell of a lot of Helloween.

Come on, they even cover pre-Michael Kiske Helloween on the last track…

In fact, the most surprising part of this is that they aren’t German in origin…but then again, maybe that’s why they sound more traditional and “cheerily melodic” than usual for this general approach to (power) metal.

Nice, slightly flash solos from Pedro J. Monge further enliven matters.

I liked this one quite a bit, actually.

  

Horrid (Italy) – Beyond the Dark Border (Dunkelheit Produktionen) (June 1)

Italian death metal act. Great cover, solid, accomplished feeling to the playing…but too much of that modern, sorta blackened feel for my tastes.

Production is a bit thin with vocals overpowering the rest and with a tone that emphasizes the HM-2 Swedeath grind of the guitars, but the band tends to favor a higher, more relentless pace than most if not all of the classic Sunlight bands, so taking this approach doesn’t work as well as likely intended.

There are occasional hints of melodic lines ala the Finnish school of death metal (“blood painted walls” being a good example of this), but taken all in all, it feels overly modern…and sort of black/thrash (albeit once again, hardly in the Pile of Dead Bards sense).

Passable, but not my cup o’ joe.

TOD HUETET UEBEL (POR) – N.A.D.A. (Caverna Abismal Records) (May)

Portugese black metal.  2 songs, one runs close to 20m. This one is PoDB to the bone, somewhere between Gaahl-era Gorgoroth, Watain and Emperor Magus Caligula-era Dark Funeral in orientation.

Where’s that whack-a-mole mallet?

Whack!

YSENGRIN / SARTEGOS (FRA/SPA) – Resvrrezionespiritval (Caverna Abismal Records) (April 14)

We’d reviewed Ysengrin’s rather pointless split with Black Grail and their more Rotting Christ-esque (and thus far more worthy) Liber Hermetis and I’m happy to report this split finds the French black metallers back in proper form.

As they have 3 tracks to play with, they do give a nod to the aimlessness displayed on Nigrum Nigrius Nigro on the central of their trio of offerings herein, but so what – the other two are back in first wave-feeling, sorta Greek school/Rotting Christ-like fine fetters, I’m glad to say.

Splitmates Sartegos offer a blackened death metal in the best sense, again feeling more underground and first wave-like in their grim, Mortuary Drapelike crunchy riffs and evil belch-snarls. I actually liked them better than their more famed splitmates!

A definite return to form from Ysengrin and a very worthy offering from Spain’s Sartegos.

Hails!

IMINDAIN (United Kingdom) – The Enemy of Fetters and the Dweller in the Woods (Weird Truth Productions (Japan) (April 12)

Three relentlessly heavy, lumberingly sludgy tracks of template death/doom and a pointless tinkling piano intro just for the hell of it.

Yeah, this is exactly where I’m at lately – the Sorrows, Winters, Mythics, Funebrarums, (early) Incantations and (demo era) Rottrevores of the death/doom world. And the UK’s Imindain falls right into line with that school of molasses-thick harmonic motion and thunderous, ponderous riffing, but with a bonus of Paradise Lost/My Silent Wakelike melancholy and clean vocalled puncutation at appropriate points.

Did you think they’d get anything less than a decided horns up?

Damn good stuff for the type.



FUNERALIUM (France) – Of Throes and Blight (Weird Truth Productions (Japan) (April 12)

Well, this one’s sort of in the same ballpark…sorta not.

We’re still talking sludgy, ponderous, nigh-funeral doom on the band end, so again, I was good with this for the most part.

But.

The vocals…they’re another story. Screaming, snarling, yelling…totally not doom in any sense. In fact, they owe a hell of a lot more to black metal, and the more modern, emo-esque, post-black metal sort of hipsterish thing at that.

I guess if you can ignore…or at least abide with the whispering, screaming snarl pseudo-BM but equally emo/screamo-style vox, these guys are playing in the right general ballpark. At the very least, you can say they’re much akin to the doomier end of Clandestine Blaze…though again, better vocals on that project than you get here.

So it comes down to this question.

Like your (funeral-inclined) death/doom with a bunch of emo cum “post-black metal” crap slathered over the top?

If so, Funeralium should be right up your alley.

HEATHEN BEAST (India) – $cam (Transcending Obscurity India) (June 1)

Wow, that was quick!

Barely a year…or let’s be specific, 8 months after this tuned-in
political resistance cum blackened death metal act (!) announced they were calling it quits, they’re back with another slab of antifa-esque, spirit of punk commentary on governmental malfeasance.

Much like their swan song that wasn’t Rise of the Saffron Empire, this is straight up grindcore, but with weird screamo vox and drums that betray a far more accomplished player than tends to be standard for the grind subgenre.

And given the band’s political activist stance, it probably helps matters that you can actually understand the vocals, too…

There’s a story behind this one, obviously – this time it’s the insane (and internationally derided as illogical and an extremely poor financial move) demonetization of all 500 and 1000 rupee banknotes (roughly equivalent to Stateside $10s and $20s!) all across India.

While domestically, you’d assume you could turn them in to the banks for equivalent updated currency, we’re talking a third world nation, where a fair majority of regular folks don’t even have a bank account – we’re talking farmers and suchlike. And as you might expect, turmoil, riots and general insanity have ensued…

So yeah, if you’re going to make a pissed off grindcore album slamming the “powers that be” for their utter lack of concern for the people they ostensibly represent, this is the time…and Heathen Beast have consequently upped their game in terms of production and comparative lyrical comprehensibility to suit.

Still not a fan of the vox or the blastbeat sections…but a clear improvement across the board, and you know I’m down with the resistance sentiment.

If you haven’t checked these guys out previously, this is the one to lend an ear to…if you have and didn’t like ’em, you may want to give another chance, things have certainly changed a bit.

DIARCHY (Bangalore, India) – Here Lost We Lie (Transcending Obscurity) (March 9)

“what’s so great about being sober?”

Surprisingly decent stoner rock act straight outta…Bangalore, India?

Sure enough, this rather believable, riff-centric 90’s style band hails from half a world away, right in the hotbed of Eastern mysticism. Which when you think about it, may not be that odd a happenstance after all.  cough the 60’s cough

Either way on the issue of to blaze or lotus-from-the-navel gaze, what really makes these guys stand out is their rather mid-70’s, Grand Funk-ish emphasis on busy, catchy retro riffing. Even Kyuss wasn’t quite this devoted to the art of the hook…but like the Arizona roll-the-bone’rs, Diarchy manages to feel decidedly 90’s regardless. Think Lenny Kravitz, and you’ll get the general picture of 70’s retro buried under an obvious 90’s vibe.

Further, they throw in more than a few late 60’s psychedelic “acoustic” (well, clean overdriven electric, but you get the idea) intros and suchlike that really set the mood and ground the more thick riffed distorted bits. I actually preferred these instrumental sections to the rest, as they remind me of some faux-sitar business I used to work with my own band back in the day (which in turn were cribbed and greatly adapted from Stephen Stills, at least as a basic launching point). Nice stuff, I’d like to hear them do more of this next time around.

Production is clean if “dry”, which leaves a similarly 90’s-like thick but very flat tone – the sort of thing that suffused everything from the “indie rock” scene through grunge and Pantera. Tones hit you right between the eyes, but die immediately therafter. No room ambience, no reverb, no space to breathe. But as they appear to be going very much for the aesthetic of that era, it fits the band’s style perfectly, so no complaints on that end.

There are a few songs towards the late middle of the album that sound more or less the same, but overall, this is riffs for miles with a lightly psychedelic, retro-70’s as filtered through the 90’s feel and stoner aesthetic.

Could they really be that baked and play music quite this busy on the guitar front? I’m thinking not. But hey, ya never know.

I liked this one quite a bit, for what it is.

Maza aa gaya, guys.

Or just in case a certain someone gave me a bum translation a few years back just for a laugh (“call him pandejo, that means my really good friend.”)…”awesome”.

Nice work.



Akerbeltz (Spain) – Satanic (BlackSeed Productions) (June 2)

Spanish one man band with Graveland-style gargle vox and a quirky, ringing guitar sound that feels (and get this) more indie rock meets traditionalist to very early black metal than anything you hear in the (overly standardized, overly Pile of Dead Bards-inclined) black metal scene these days.

As such, the very quirkiness and (comparatively) unique feel gives ’em (or ‘im, as the case more accurately turns out to be) a leg up on the competition.

Even so, don’t get the wrong idea here – you could equally classify this as much akin to the (very) early second wave coming out of Norway (or arguably even Poland, though that scene tended to be more melodic and focused on other, more questionable concerns) – it’s black metal, alright, and not another of those hipsterish post-millenial “post-black metal” concerns.

There’s just something about the riffing and feel that’s so out of step with all the current nonsense as to feel…well, indie (“the red dragon”, “ludum mortis”) with elements of blackened thrash (“chaos”) and the individualist spirit of…well, you could argue first, but more particularly early second wave black metal permeating throughout.

Is it a new favorite? Nah, not really. Certainly respectable, though.

But is this far more my idea of what black metal is and should be than yet
another Swe-black/death Watain Wannabe for the Pile?

You bet your infernal ass.

Marthyrium – Beyond the Thresholds (BlackSeed Productions) (June 2)

I wish I was Inquisition. I kind of wish I was Watain, too…sorta, kinda-like.

But I really wish I was Inquisition.

Next?

GOLDENPYRE – In Eminent Disgrace (Signal Rex) (April 20)

Portugese blackened death metal.

The fact that they toured with Behemoth and Destroyer 666 should say a lot…though keep in mind, they also played out with Suffocation and Nile.

A bit of both worlds, though the blackened seasoning always fucks the works and dominates the flavor wherever it appears.

Has plenty of machine gun riffs and death metal-style drumming, so it’s not fodder for the Pile…but every song kinda sounds just like the two prior and the four after that.

Which is what happens with blackened death metal, however light the peppering of the former to the latter base.

(shrugs shoulders)

I guess it’s OK for the type. Did nothing for me, really.

Next?

Triumvir Foul – Spiritual Bloodshed (Invictus Productions / Vrasubatlat) (June 9)

We reviewed their self titled previously, and found them somewhat wanting.

I guess you’re curious whether anything much has changed in the past year and a half since that release?

Let me clue you in.

Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin.

Moving on…

Contaminated (Australia) – Final Man CD/LP (Blood Harvest) (July 7)

Ah, that’s more like it. Classic death metal riffs, throaty, “morbid” vocals straight out of the crypt, strong production, loveably cheesy monster on the cover. AAAAHH!!!

Too bad about these Aussies’ weird propensity towards regular (and lengthy!) fast blastbeat sections, which really throw this train right off the rails.

That shit aside, this was pretty damn decent…when they stuck to straight up, sorta doomy midtempo to sluggish traditional death metal riffing, anyway.

Unfortunately, someone’s been hitting the Jolt Cola or similar substances…they really seem to base their material around the speedy, noisy (you can barely hear the guitars over all the cymbals and blastbeats) crap.

Seriously.

Take a chill pill, guys. SLOW. DOWN.

You’ve got a truly killer, grinding sound buried beneath all that hyperactive aggro bullshit you’re overly prone to.

Minus that unfortunate propensity, I’d have given this a 4 star rating easy…quite likely better.

As it is…pretty damn close.

Make no mistake, this is staying on the iPod.   I definitely dug it.

Desekryptor – Chasm of Rot TAPE (Blood Harvest) (May 26)

Underground style blackened death metal.

I’ve heard so, so many bands working this style over the years…hell, there must be hundreds of these just in the Roundup archives here.

Not horrible, certainly very much “of its type” and passable by those (admittedly lowered) standards…but far too standard and typical to make any real impression otherwise.

CEMETERY URN – Cemetery Urn (CD, LP, TAPE) (Hells Headbangers) (June 9)

OK, beyond the terrible, hissy, thin, signal bleed-wallowing production, what we have here is another Aussie death metal act…and one pretty easily tarred with the black/death brush.

Like Contaminated, they tend to gravitate towards overly speedy, blastbeat-afflicted black metal style passages in place of the more standard death metal grind and crunch and full kit/double bass-driven drumming.

Unlike Contaminated, there’s not enough of that classic death (bordering on death/doom in orientation) feel or good production to carry them through their blackened weaknesses.

It’s like black metal these days is an acid, burning holes in, weakening the fabric of and contaminating to the point of unrecognizability any other genre it’s inappropriately wedded to.

What ever happened to the black metal that mattered, the eerie, atmospheric, spiritually moving stuff that drove the scene’s earlier days?

Now it’s bled all over the music scene like runoff from a toxic waste spill, almost to the point of hitting the mainstream (I understand even pop stars are appropriating bits and bobs of the imagery, now)…and there’s precious little of value to be found not only in the “pure” scene, but in any scene or sound it touches along the way.

Cemetery Urn’s just another casualty of this ongoing crime.

Time to start declaring Superfund sites and get to cleaning this shit up.

Unaussprechlichen Kulten – Keziah Lilith Medea (Chapter X) CD/LP (Iron Bonehead) (June 2)

Reasonably long running Chilean act (as in dropping demos in the early millenium) finally gets to their fourth full length album.

Once again, more blackened than death proper, or at least death metal in the accepted, classic/traditional sense. Put this up against Carcass, Morbid Angel, Deicide, Entombed and Obituary, and you’ll see one act stands out like a sore thumb.  This one clearly doesn’t belong.

And sadly, that’s something that can be said about any number of bands referring to themselves as death metal these days…like the Chinese plastic that seeped into the dog food a few years back, “blackened” has become something of a code word for “virulently destructive to”.  So “black/fill in the blank” can be read as “virulently destructive to/death” or “post-virulently destructive“.*

* I’d have kept the metaphor going, but blackened thrash still works on the whole…it’s mostly death metal that suffers under this unholy alliance, in the end.

So what’s all that generality mean to Keziah Lilith Medea (Chapter X)?

Everything.  As in everything sounds the same, from track to track.  There’s no color, the vibe is all grey and dark pastels. There’s precious little of the accepted death metal sound, what you get is all very much blackened.

Hell, you can even tell that from the album name and song titles, who are we trying to kid here?

(sigh)

Next?

SunSpell / Saudade (Canada) – From the Mist…We are but Dust – split LP (Iron Bonehead) (June 9)

Sunspell is a Stateside act working something of a contemplative, Sepulchral Records-ish to “Cascadian” take on black metal – epic length tracks with a trancelike feel, lending the listener to a more thoughtful and introspective mindset. There’s a bit too much of an “in your face” feel more akin to death metal than black metal per se, but they’re working the right tropes and playing in the right ballpark, so I definitely dug it.

Canada’s Saudade is more Hells Headbangers-style blackened thrash in orientation, with a raw, in your face feel and terrible vocal processing.  It’s overly noisy and abrasive, but recognizable stylistically.

I liked Sunspell a lot…Saudade would have been better with a decent production and stripping the vox of that irritating sub-industrial processing business.

The verdict on this split…is split!

StarGazer (Australia) – A Merging to the Boundless: Void of Voyce LP (Nuclear War Now! Productions)

We reviewed the original release of this very album here, and this time around, it comes stripped of vocals.

Well, you can see why – as noted last time this album (or some version thereof) passed our way, StarGazer is far more of a progressive metal band than the “avant garde death metal” they apparently self identify as. And yeah, that’s probably a good thing.

There are plenty of off-time shifts and turns, odd time signatures and changes, syncopated drumming and quirky sections throughout.  You can even pick out a busy picked bass at points – it’s clear these guys are better musicians per se than 90% of the bands out there in the black metal scene, and a better part of the death metallers as well.

I’m not sure if it’s just the removal of vocals or the distance of a few years, but this time around, this sounds a lot more prog per se than progressive death…and again, that’s a good thing.

Perhaps without the ill-fitting trappings of a scene they probably don’t truly belong lumped in with, StarGazer can emerge from a somewhat questionable carcass as a more Watchtower meets Cynic by way of Fates Warning (with just a touch of Sanctuary)-style progressive metal butterfly.

In any case, whatever the reality of the situation…I’m far more inclined to appreciate what I’m hearing here, “void of voice”, than I found myself back in late 2014 (not that they got a horrible slam at the time either).

Not bad, not bad at’all.

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