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Well, this has been an interesting month.

Forget about the long awaited and apparently impending collapse of the right wing empire playing out in the daily headlines (that burning Pile of Dead Bards may be getting expanded to include right leaning politicos – down you go, baby, the Whack-A-Mole hammer is about to work some blastbeats on your collective heads…), I’m talking about right here, in these very pages.

Because yes, people do seem to listen.  And as such, I’ve been seeing more doom, classic death metal and death/doom, thrash…even a slightly better grade of black metal filing in this time around, bands less slavishly indebted to the PoDB school of Swedish-origin black/death.  One or two even sport elements vaguely reminiscent of the sort of thing that attracted most of us to black metal in the first place.

All sorts of goodies (or at least not-so-baddies) under the reviewing lens this month, so unless you have something you want to get off your chest, let’s just put all the preliminaries aside and roll with it, bay-bay (God, I HATE that fucking song…)

Avaunt, the vesper bell tolls!

WARRANT – Louder Harder Faster (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (May 12)

Warrant goes “dirtbag metal”.

Yeah, yeah, I know, nobody used that term outside of me and my drummer back in the day.

But you know exactly what I mean – the tattooed junkie hard rock gone sorta metal sound that dominated the Hollywood (and then global) metal scene for a few years after Guns N’ Roses brought Hanoi Rocks and Aerosmith-style street kid sensibilities to utterly decimate and replace the formerly polished and still NWOBHM/Sabbath-derived traditional metal scene circa ’88-91.

Which is a bit weird, when you think about it – Warrant was always uber-lite and glammy, with the famed Jani Lane-led iteration of yore falling more properly in with the likes of Poison, Cinderella and their clones Britny Fox, Winger and Firehouse. Soft metal, not so hard rock for the ladies on the scene. Some good songs, to be sure, but not the kind of thing the guys paid much attention to unless the missus was in the car and working the tape deck.

While I can’t speak to anything but a frankly kinda boring multi-band concert experience a few years back (see my review of Trixter for that story) in terms of the post-Cherry Pie Warrant, it’s clear there’s been a big change, and not just in vocal terms.

This is, as the label claims, louder, harder and faster than the Warrant you knew – much grittier vocals, more aggressive and grinding guitars, uptempo pace. Think more Badlands meets Dirty Looks with a touch of Law N’ Order than Warrant

Yeah, there’s still some of those famed pop sensiblities peeking through all the din every now and again – there’s a ballad or two and at least two or three tracks further that feel decidedly Lane-era. And even those aside, all of these songs are filled with hooks as well as grit (not that that’s a bad thing by any measure!)

But this is a Warrant you can play without being overly embarrassed…and I wish they’d written this album and toured this material back when I saw ’em – would’ve been a much better show.

Look, it’s Warrant. You can’t expect miracles from the guys responsible for Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich and Cherry Pie.

But if they’re making a bid for more street cred…yeah, they’ve done an admirable enough job here.

INGLORIOUS – II (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (May 12)

Whitesnakelike in many respects, these guys stretch the template a bit by featuring a ballsy Joe Lynn Turneresque vocalist and combining the Slide It In John Sykes era (or Turner/Bonnett era Rainbow) with the Jon Lordlike keyboards of boogie band-era Moody/Mardsen Whitesnake (which is yours truly’s go-to when it comes to Coverdale and company).

Apparently the vocalist in question was one of the frontmen for Trans-Siberian Orchestra, of all concerns, but don’t let that fool ya. This is gritty and in your face, throaty hard rock vocals in the Turner vein, over driving Whitesnake style guitar courtesy of Andreas Eriksson and Wil Taylor and an uncredited yet quite prominent keyboardist doing the decidedly 70’s Hammond organ thing (come on, guys, give the man some credit…)

Damn good stuff, all ’round.

Be prepared to rock your socks off.

SNAKECHARMER – Second Skin (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (May 12)

Snakecharmer without Micky Moody?

That’s right, Neil Murray has soldiered on, replacing his fellow Whitesnake veteran with new kid Simon McBride, and things have both seriously changed and remained much the same as a result.

This time around, the band sounds far less indebted to their storied former act’s mid-to-late 70’s boogie band vibe, owing a hell of a lot more to Mr. Big or even Badlands than it ever does Whitesnake.

Vocalist Chris Ousey works a decidedly Eric Martin-esque gravel-toned blues-pop rasp, which on all too infrequent occasions leans a tad Ray Gillen…and the band follows suit, aiming for more of a “70’s rock/Bad Company inspired” take on late 80’s hard rock/glam metal.

The 70’s (somewhat Jon Lord-ish) Hammond keyboards of Adam Wakeman are still present, which gives a lot more authority to the enterprise than it may have held otherwise, and Ousey’s vocals are pretty sweet, suiting the blues-rock style to a T…but the more radio-oriented bar band “classic rock” vibe predominates this time around, leaving Second Skin far less Whitesnake or Badlands than Mr. Big redux.

Surprised there wasn’t a cover of “green tinted 60’s mind” here…

Bad Company aficionados…or those missing the heyday of the Martin/Gilbert/Sheehan popsters should be quite happy with this one.

Those (like myself) expecting another winner from one of the more authentic of classic Whitesnake-style hard rock boogie band acts may want to stick with the debut.

ROYAL HUNT – 2016 (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (May 12)

Tis the month for Frontiers live/festival releases, with no less than 2 out of their 5 slabs of AOR/80’s hair metal-oriented goodness consisting of such.

This one features D.C. Cooper and company working another time stamped DVD/Blu affair (following their prior “1996” and “2006”), this time recorded in a tour stop in Moscow last year.

As we’re only reviewing the audio portion hereof, all I can comment on is the unexpectedly excellent recording quality here – in all my years of live albums, I have never heard one with such a full and present mix.

While you can easily tell this is a live recording (fan appreciation aside, the tone, acoustics and interplay of same between the respective instruments are a dead giveaway), nothing feels “missed” or buried by other players – the drums are as clear as the keyboards are as clear as the guitars, and (gasp!) you can even make out the bass fairly distinctly in slower/quieter passages.

Cooper is in fine form, with the acoustics of the setting (and/or mic settings and recording setup) giving a welcome reverb and resonance, but with full clarity of the original (vocal tone) signal throughout – this may be one of the best recorded performances I’ve personally reviewed of the man, which may well entirely come down to the recording and mix rather than any increased quality of performance
here (or comparative lack thereof on prior studio releases). Bottom line, he sounds damn good here, as does the band per se.

As you might expect, the band pulls from a selection of material spanning much of their career, and I definitely recognized a few of their more recent efforts here…but as with the best live albums, there’s a bit of extra gravitas and force (not to mention sped up energy) in the delivery herein.

Audiophiles deserve to check this one out for the recording alone…kudos to whoever handled the mixing board and whatever state of the art equipment companies were responsible for this.

VANDEN PLAS – The Seraphic Live Works (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (May
12)

Of a far more typical live experience, recording quality and arguably, performance comes another DVD/CD combo which we’re only covering the audio for from labelmates Vanden Plas, who if anything come off a tad muted and compressed here.

Even Andy Kuntz’ vocals seem a bit squeezed and…not “thin”, exactly, but “squat” – think compression on the vertical plane as opposed to the standard horizontal “width”, it’s hard to put into more concrete terms.

The rest of the band suffers far worse, with keyboards feeling as if they were layered on top of the guitar/drum base in post production, Andreas Lill’s drums sounding rather thin and Stephen Lill’s guitars only opening up tonally during the solos.

If anything, it’s less typical for a live recording than perhaps a tad subpar – again, speaking entirely to the recording and mix quality here.

For their own part, the band performs the material as admirably as expected, if without any real extra injection of energy and suchlike, though Kuntz really holds a high pitched wail at the denoument of “postcard to God” that deserves the spontaneous applause it garners. Hell, Kuntz is rather on point throughout…

Bottom line, if you’re a diehard, card carrying member of the ProgPower crowd, you’ll think this is a more or less typical live affair with a decent performance from the band…but damn, after the absolutely stellar sound on Royal Hunt’s live 2016?

This one sounds pretty damn iffy by comparison – no fault of the band or their performance implied thereby.

But hell, if this were given Royal Hunt’s recording rig and mastering?  I’d probably like this one more: there are some damn good songs here, and Kuntz does himself proud.

   

HATE – Tremendum (Napalm Records) (May 5)

hmm. A Polish black metal act I’ve never heard of. Probably because they’re working the post-Grom Behemoth black/death thing rather than the more traditional early second wave black metal sound the nation’s best known for…

So yeah, I guess if you’re looking for Vader gone all Behemoth (with touches of a less polished Belphegor and occasional ringing open chord PoDB nonsense), you were probably already a Hate fan.

I was fine with the more straight ahead, double bass-driven, sorta Immortal-meets-Marduk school overproduced “black metal machine” sections – like every act mentioned herein, it’s listenable if unspectacular.

When they get all quirky and experimental, is my problem with these guys.

ATM Skimmer…er, “ATF Sinner” (reasonable mistake, there…) sticks to belchy death croaks throughout, the band sticks to Swe-black/death ugly chord moved up and down the neck nonsense in the grand Dark Funeral tradition, then add on some wheedly whoo (modern) death metal solos and the atonal open chord bits (Watain, Inquisition, you get the idea).

It’s fairly template for the burning Pile, but in a more drivingly aggro death meets Norsecore vein…which is what saves Hate from consignment thereto.

Like I said, nothing spectacular, by any means.

But sorta listenable for its given niche.

KOBRA AND THE LOTUS – Prevail I (Napalm Records) (May 12)

We’d reviewed advance single “you don’t know” last month and found it rather likeable, if a bit overly pop (to the point of leaning Nashville, even). So how does the full length hold up?

Well, there’s definitely more of a metallic edge to the album as a whole than that radio-oriented, more pointedly anthemically pop track would suggest.  I mean, “trigger pulse” is hardly Exodus or Deicide, but that’s not the market Kobra and the Lotus are shooting for…and compared to “you don’t know”, “manifest destiny” or the uber-sappy future American Idol standby “light me up”*, it’s positively aggro.

* all I can say about that particular track is P-U…Midwestern truck driver countrified ballad hell alert – danger, Will Robinson!

The production, while adhering to the direct mic’ed ProTools thing that modern metal (and emo/punk/metalcore, for that matter), particularly in the more power/gothic/symphonic Euro variants thereof is all too prone towards, is more than accomplished, with clarity and power on all instruments…though given the band dynamic here, necessarily emphasizing and centering on Ms. Paige’s pipes.

There’s also an overly distorted, “wet” feel to both guitars and drums, with vocals utterly subsuming guitars and guitars washing out drums (is there even a bass in play here? Probably not…), so don’t get the impression this is what usually gets praised as good production for a given subgenre in these pages.  But it’s definitely solid, and works quite well for the approach being taken. Nobody will ever question who this band is centered on, and Paige will never be able to accuse the production staff of not showcasing her efforts…

In point of fact, that’s how Prevail I (I gather we have to prevail in stages, like a videogame boss battle?) is best described en toto: solid. Very likeable, more than competent, perhaps unspectacular in some respects, but very, very solid.

Even the guitarist gets a little Shrapnel wannabe showcase (“check the fridge (spelled wrong)”) that given the band’s provenance felt like a homage to Jeff Waters and Annihilator.  Didn’t fit with the album at all, but nice playing, brought me right back.

Yeah, there are a few stinkers in there (we noted both of ’em earlier) and a few tracks that feel like filler. But the high points are pretty damn high, and even the lows aren’t all that low, depending on your tolerance for Taylor Swift or whatever hack they’re pushing nowadays on the country pop circuit.

Overall, a very solid album, and well worth giving a spin to see how it grabs ya.

When she was good, she was very, very good.

NITROGODS – Roadkill BBQ (Steamhammer / SPV) (May 26)

Matt, I didn’t know you had a fucking band!  You should’a told me, we could’ve jammed out…seriously, this one guy on the left looks just like At Eye Level cohost Matt G.

Anyway, what do you get when you cross classic Dio with Motorhead?

Seriously, take the style of Vivian Campbell doing something like “stand up and shout” or “we rock” and append the hard drinkin’, hard livin’ biker band feel and vocal croak of Lemmy and company and you’ve got opener “rancid rock” and the later “bad place, wrong people”.

Now for the rest of the album, drop the Dio/Campbell influences entirely, leaving just the Motorhead. Maybe tag in a similarly boozy one percenter-approved act like Intoxicated, squeeze in the Texas bar band boogie of a ZZ Top and you’ve got Nitrogods.

Apparently a few of these folks (drummer Klaus Sperling, guitarist and frontman Henny Wolter) have passed through the ranks of Primal Fear, Sinner or both, though you’d never know it to hear this.

The band themselves name check folks like the aforementioned Motorhead and ZZ Top, but also similarly hard rockin’ 70’s acts like Ted Nugent (before he flipped out totally – no comment) and Rose Tattoo, so you get the general vibe.

If they’d have kept up the Dio meets Motorhead thing of “rancid rock” and “bad place, wrong people”, this would have been one killer record.

As it stands, not bad, more than listenable…but much, much better when they get more pointedly Motorhead than the other influences they’re paying tribute to here.

Damn, Bray Wyatt looks good since he lost all that weight, huh?

Beastmaker – Inside The Skull (Rise Above Records) (May 19)

Doom very much in the old school Black Sabbath meets Carnival Bizarre-era Cathedral vein. Surprised Lee Dorrian didn’t drop a guest vocal here, actually…

We’d previously praised their “you must sin” single and Lusus Naturae album to high heaven, with the only minor gripe being the more muted and hollow production on the latter.

Guess what they fixed for this round.

Yeah, Beastmaker feels a bit more Vol. 4 than Master of Reality or Paranoid to these ears…but that’s hardly a slag.

To hell with all your Count Ravens and Witchcrafts and Reverend Bizarres…this is the sound of “modern” retro-doom.

The others simply don’t hold a candle.

  

SPEEDCLAW – Iron Speed (TAPE) (Shadow Kingdom) (June 30)

Well, you wouldn’t know it from their choice of moniker or self-titled opening track, but these guys intend themselves to be an NWOBHM-style take on old fashioned speed metal.

They get the NWOBHM part down…but where’s the speed?

Don’t expect stuff like Toxik, Annihilator, Agent Steel, TNT, Racer XSkull Fist or even early Megadeth here – this is pretty straightforward Sweet Savage by way of Blitzkrieg style NWOBHM, with a propensity towards early Metallica-style thrash that becomes apparent from the midpoint of the album on. Solos even approximate the Iron Maiden school of dual harmony lead, to make the package complete.

Taken by those measures, these Croatians really seem to know their shit, pulling off an album that sounds shockingly authentic to that era, right down to the raw, vinyl-oriented production and tightly reverbed/dual tracked vocals, straight from the Marshall stack guitar tone and melodic yet driving classic British metal orientation.

Their choice of name is wayyyy off base (there ain’t a lick of “speed” to be found here, unless you count the blastbeaty thrash of “power from hell”), but Iron Speed is one hell of a classic album, worthy of if not destined to sit alongside your Tygers of Pan Tang, Witchfinder General and Praying Mantis in the collection.

 

BAD KARMA (U.S.) – Death Has No Calling Card (CD) (Shadow
Kingdom) (June 23)

I’m pretty big on obscure “finds” from back in the day.

Be it previously unreleased or uber-marginal (and only recently unearthed) cult cinema from the 70’s and 80’s or the many never before indulged in deep dive into demo-and-EP-only bands of the thrash, death and black metal scene, I find more value in some of these bands than the more celebrated ones we came up on and continue to fete (justifiably or no) to this very day.

Maybe it’s just the hunter/gatherer in me…but I always found that bands in the metal scene (and for that matter, the goth scene of yore) did much better, more exciting and worthwhile work on their demos, EPs, splits and singles than anything that they worked up for an album release proper (if they even got one – many bands I’m getting into of late never got to that point. It was a very different scene, kids.)

So I was glad to see this collection of demos from yet another unheard of act cross the virtual desk…though admittedly, it’s hardly “extreme” in any sense.

The label’s calling this a thrash/speed metal act…and that’s true, at times: “tame the beast” is certainly speed metal; “capitol (sic) punishment” is definitely thrash. “Unsane” eventually becomes thrash, about halfway through its running time.

But the rest? Straight up traditional metal all the way, not a hint of thrash or speed to it.

There are three demos here, from 1988, 1990 and…1999?!? The vocals change almost from track to track, though I believe it’s the same guy all the way through – on some tracks, he’s got more of a Chuck Billy Legacy-era declamatory snarl, on others, it’s more of a…I don’t know, maybe Omen-like sound. And then there’s the ringer, to be discussed momentarily…

The music similarly wavers uncertainly – are we doing a sort of NWOBHM take on traditional metal? Are we trying for something slightly (pre-sellout) Metallica or Xentrix-esque? Do we want to go more Toxik by way of Abattoir, but with James Hetfield vox (“tame the beast”)?

If there’s a reason Bad Karma didn’t make a name for themselves back in the day, this is it – it’s certainly not for lack of quality musicianship or substandard production, both of which are pretty damn decent overall.

Weirdly schizophrenic…but has a few moments worthy of investigation.

Thus Defiled – A Return To The Shadows (independent) (June 6)

The Britons return with another slab of symphonically oriented, oddly UK-style black metal.

The comparisons that spring to mind here are Cradle of Filth (particularly in the Principle of Evil Made Flesh era) and earlier Theatres des Vampires (before Sonya Scarlet took the reins), and the more astute will see past the latter’s Italianate origins to see the rather direct ties binding the two in both sound and aesthetic.

Apparently, despite the band only recently re-emerging from a 5 or 6 year hiatus, they’ve already decided to pack it in. As a final offering to the fanbase, they’ve put together this package of covers (Death’s “evil dead”, Metallica’s “creeping death”, Morbid Angel’s “demon seed” and WASP’s “hellion”) with Mike Browning himself doing vox on the Morbid Angel track. It’s hardly Abominations of Desolation (or for that matter, The Key), but still nice to see the old guard brought in for the end run every now and again…

Thankfully, given the oddness of “Paul C’s” Dani Filth-like black metal shriek/snarls over otherwise fairly faithful renditions of death, thrash and traditional metal favorites, there’s one original track to bring in the less diehard of Thus Defiled fans, the decidedly Filth-monikered “armagedda in rapture”.

This one’s as epically oriented and symphonically black metal as you’d expect, and the best Cradle track you’ve heard since Cruelty and the Beast (or arguably the strangely overhyped Midian, which marked the band’s jump the shark moment for yours truly…but fans seem to love it, and it’s more or less still in the classic Filth style, so there you have it).

If we were reviewing a single for “armagedda in rapture”, I’d slap another glowing rating on this one. As it is, you get one killer track backed by a few instrumentally well performed (if a tad sped up) covers…but as with Filth, made quite strange by the inappropriately paired and very black metal vocals.

I really dug the original track.

Fellwarden – Oathbearer (Eisenwald)

Grim, expansive, somewhat contemplative yet grandiose black metal.

There’s a strong feeling of Prophecy…or for that matter, Eisenwald to the proceedings, with a wide open, lightly symphonic approach that nonetheless seems quite grounded in tradition.

While you could argue this is somewhat “post-” black metal in the sense that it’s not incredibly dark and sinister, nor does it speak to directly esoteric matters…the same can be said of any number of bands out there, going all the way back to Immortal.

Further, most of the first and second wave black metal bands seldom directly referred to the diabolical, but rather emphasized isolation, myth, nature and the majesty of the nightsky – don’t believe me, go back and pull out your classic Mayhem, Burzum, Ulver, Tormentor…hell, even Carpathian Forest. The in your face, kinda silly “orthodox” schmutters was always a Swedish thing…and that’s a nation best left to and celebrated for its death metal, honestly.

Either way, this is that sort of “cascadian” Wolves in the Throne Room-esque thing that merges black metal with a vaguely postpunk clean guitar and mournful gothic darkwave vibe. Maybe it’s the slow build and use of keyboards as punctuation and atmospherics (think of ’em more as aural wallpaper to set the mood than anything in your face), but yeah, I see links to stuff like Lycia here, or even earlier Echo and the Bunnymen, in a weird way.

Yet and still, this is quite black metal, and unarguably so – this is no genre miscenegation hipster affair, but a confident and accomplished feeling wave of sound that washes over you like the best shoegaze (think My Bloody Valentine in that respect).

It’s hard to describe how the two very distinct and unlike sounds mesh so well here, and yet remains authentic in feel…and yet, it does, and there’s nothing to be done about it. You could make comparisons to Vintersorg and Vardan as well as all the non- black metal ones offered herein…but would that be any more or less accurate or true to the sound being laid down here?

Regardless.

Yeah, this worked quite well for me, thanks.

Blaze of Sorrow – Astri (Eisenwald) (June 9)

Italian pagan-ish black metal act. Feels more Skyclad than the sort of arena-mobilizing sound generally associated with the pagan scene, more folkish than black by leagues.

The band is quite quirky – these feel like somewhat disjointed, only tangenitally related suites rather than songs proper. Did I mention the band is just too damn happy to be in any respect properly black metal?

Things even go all George Harrison on “empito”, which is just fucking weird, I’m sorry…

I guess if you look at this as Skyclad with gargly pagan metal vocals, you’ll walk in with a better attitude and have a better experience of the band than I did, expecting a folk-inspired black metal band (as in something like Ulver, Taake or Kroda, which respective sounds Blaze of Sorrow bears almost no kinship to whatsoever).

It’s a two man operation, with “Peter” handling everything but drums (which are essayed by a “Nevon (N)”) – and this may account for the disjointed feel, in a way.

Quick, switch instruments!

Or maybe “ok, let’s cut and paste this together into something coherent from all these individual takes on different instruments!”

Either way…wasn’t what I was expecting at all, and while not bad in its own right (and certainly well produced), subsequently didn’t work for me at all.

Walk in expecting a really folky pagan metal – and I mean folk as in Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez, not in the usual sense it’s applied to in extreme metal, mind – and forget they ever mentioned black metal.

You’ll enjoy it more that way.

Panopticon – Kentucky (Nordvis Produktion / Bindrune Recordings) (June 2)

We’d previously reviewed their Revisions of the Past and split with Waldgefluster and this one is, for the most part, more akin to the banjo and fiddle hillbillies on the back porch folk we saw on the Waldgefluster split than the On the Subject of Mortality disc of Revisions of the Past.

Now, given that this focused on the state in question and the subject of coal mining, that sorta hick bluegrass mountain boys thing is quite apropos. What’s odd is when one man band Austin Lunn does return to his black metal roots, which seems a bit at odds with the subject matter or the rather simplistic backwoods musical tastes of those under discussion…but that’s exactly the few moments where this otherwise almost exclusively hillbilly folk gone ambient album shines.

In other words, don’t be fooled by 12 minute album centerpiece “killing the giants as they sleep” (which is absolutely killer)…

…because the rest of this could win a grammy for best bluegrass album or something, which is wayyyyyyyyyyyy outside the purview (or socio-musical tastes and orientation, for that matter) of this site.

Lød – Folder (Tough Love Records) (June 30)

Speaking of postpunk, here we have a gothic rock-like, driving yet midtempo, clean guitarred, reverb-swathed dark tenor-vocalled Danish act that manages to evoke earlier Siouxsie and the Banshees, Southern Death Cult, early Gene Loves Jezebel and arguably Kraftwerk all at once.

Promo materials reference Joy Division, and that’s not all that far off the mark, if you keep it to their superior Unknown Pleasures era (never did feel Closer, “love will tear us apart” aside)…that sort of propulsive, autobahn-travelling relentless yet introspective and gothically dark vibe.

While opener “sa bla” and closer “folder” fall right into the aforementioned bucket of “positive punk”/postpunk/gothic rock by way of “krautrock”, the two tracks sandwiched between veer between Nina Hagen-esque experimentation (“taitschi-tarot”, meet “traeder ind. bukker, bukker”) and that of early Simple Minds (tell me “faelled” wouldn’t fit right in on Sons and Fascination or Sister Feelings Call…).

Either way, it works, and given the propulsive vibe underling most of this, it’s also justifies their self-imposed tag of “dance band”…in the way a lot of 80’s postpunk and later 70’s-80’s Kraftwerk was danceable, anyway.

If you told me this was some heretofore unheard slab of early to mid-80’s neo-gothic postpunk unearthed for the first time, I might even have believed ya.

Damn good, especially on the outer tracks.

Social Arsonist – Duality of Perception (self released) (October 27, 2016)

Driving, in your face and very aggro thrash in a few senses of the word.

I guess if you took Exhorder, crossed ’em with Meliah Rage, tagged in a hint of Forbidden and threw some half-assed Anselmo wannabe on shout-croak “vox”, you’d have something reasonably akin to Social Arsonist.

As a mostly Chilean affair, the Vio-Lence meets blackened thrash degree of in your face intensity and aggression makes perfect sense – tag in a busy, generally straightforward but lightly progressive at times feel (this is where the Forbidden comes in), and musically speaking, this is a pretty damn strong modern, yet retro-minded, thrash album.

The problem lies in the fact that Morgado and Zuniga (guitar/bass) were apparently dissatisfied with the quality of vocalists in their native land, and wound up moving to the Great White North.

Now, that’s fine in and of itself – that’s a pretty nice country up there, and most if not all Canadians I’ve ever met, dealt with, interviewed or hung with were among the coolest, most likeable folks I know. Must be something in the water…

Anyway, they hooked up with Canadian sticksman Danny Sever, and while there’s a propensity towards keeping to a simplistic snare/bass two-beat, his fills and kitwork otherwise are definitely decent. So far, so good.

But then…there’s the vocal chair to contend with.

I mean, I’ve never been to Chile. But you mean to tell me you couldn’t find a better frontman than this?

Pantera by way of Pissing Razors crossed with Madball…you know the score. Aggro. Half the high schoolers starting up a band nowadays do it. BLEEEAHHH BURRRGHH WUAHHHH UGGGRRRRHHHH…worship the porcelain god, he’s ridding himself of the last few days worth of food there. Or is he pulling a Fat Elvis last curtain call and “straining at stool”?  Either way, did you really have to record it?

Like I said, can’t speak for the thrash metal vocal pool down in Santiago…but you’re in Canada, now, guys.

Good riffing, definite potential on the drumming end.

But come on, you can do better than that on the vocal front.

Karkaos – Chidlren of The Void (self released) (May 26)

Rather expansive sounding Euro-symphonic power metal affair hailing, oddly enough, from Montreal, Canada.

Vocalist Viky Boyer (no relation to Erica, I take it…) doesn’t even try for the soaring operatic thing you’d expect, but keeps her vocals extremely down to earth and conversational, like a Trudeauian take on Cristina Scabbia or something.

As with the lovely Mme. Scabbia, this is perfectly acceptable, and fits well enough with what the band is laying down…but is the era of ladies like Tarja, Liv, Simone, Ji-In and Melissa Ferlaak gone for good?

The band still works the (now tired) “beauty and the beast” dual vocal thing, with typically goofy-ass growl vocals from…oh, come on. Hold up, it’s another Agonist…

That’s right, Boyer is working the midrange conversational vox because she’s also the growler/screamer. I’m seeing a whole hell of a lot of ladies in metal wanting to go the Gossow route…what the hell is it that you gals see in this that you think is so great? Always sounds a bit absurd to these ears…

Well, anyway, the band is more than competent, melodic as hell and quite well produced overall (given the generally bombastic ProTools production style the genre is necessarily prone to), and Justine Ethier pounds those skins like a motherfucker, complete with some nice gallop beat syncopation on the footwork end (“let the curtain fall”).

Keyboard work is subdued (in the sense of sticking to atmospherics rather than taking the lead – think Cradle of Filth more than Magica), guitars are thick and crunchy with actual solos that feel a touch melodic, a touch wheedly-whoo. Enough good in there to notice ’em, let’s leave it at that.

Overall, Karkaos seems poised to become a real contender in the symphonic power metal stakes – only time will tell whether geographic location will impact this or no (they’d be a mainstay on the Euro festival circuit, that’s for damn sure).

And ya know, Once Only Imagined wasn’t all that terrible, except when Alyssa went into that stupid death growl thing that ruined the band’s subsequent work…and Karkaos is more bombastic, melodic and symphonic than the Agonist ever was.

I liked this one, make no mistake.

Deity – S/T (self released) (June 2)

Let’s start off basic.  It’s death metal.  Production’s thick, but a bit swirly and hissy (though given the digital swishiness, I’m wondering whether or not this was just a dicey download), the band is overly fast and busy.

They do the dual vocal grindcore thing (Carcass, Napalm Death, ten billion copycats thereof), but weirdly – the death growl is more shrieky-snarly, the blackened snarl is more screamo back of the throat dry rasp/croak.

The band is wayyyyy over-busy. They claim inspiration from Death, Slayer, Immortal and Suffocation, but all that comes across is Necrophobic and those shitty “tech death” “math metal” acts that were all the rage in the later 90’s. Meshuggah or later Gorguts or something, I don’t know. They all sound the fucking same to me…

They even got one of said bands to get involved, with Cryptopsy’s drummer Flo Mounier and mix/master by Cryptopsy producer Chris Donaldson.

If you’re into the “tech death”, “math metal” and/or “djent” thing, then this one should probably have you creaming your jeans with excitement – the drumming’s relentless, busy and fast, and you can’t fault the technique, that’s for damn sure.

But the vocals…I don’t know. I don’t like ’em, bottom line. The guitars…too jump cut and overly fucking busy on the riffs, too wheedly-whoo on the solos.

I’d probably prefer to hear the drum tracks in isolation, or maybe re-paired with a more traditional midtempo to sluggishly doomy death metal band (playing 3 against 4, if you will – the contrast between slow riffs and high speed technical drumming could be truly killer if done right).

Has some potential in there…though more in terms of the drum track and production than the rest.

Divinity – The Immortalist (self released) (May 26)

OK, I knew I was in trouble when I saw the producer for Cryptopsy was involved (remix and remaster in this case) and that the guy from Soilwork dropped by for guest vox on one track (and he turns out to be the best thing to happen to the album besides!).

Yeah, expect aggro vocals over dedidedly over-technical death metal, leaning sorta “math” if not “djent” (never could figure out what the hell separates those 3 – it’s all overly busy and pointlessly aharmonic, amelodic and utterly soulless to these ears).

The only saving grace, if you can sit through the rest to get there, is a noticeable if somewhat light melodic orientation to the vocals on the choruses…most notably when Soilwork’s Bjorn Strid drops by on “D.M.T.”, which will likely wind up as the single therefore.

Oh, and the solos are pretty good throughout – they do manage to balance tech and melody there, at least.

But that aside, if I’m left to praise Soilwork as the best part of the album…

…yeah.

More melodicism, less tech/math/djent and cut the aggro vox, please…

  

Eleine – S/T (Black Lodge Records) (July 6)

Lacuna Coil seems to have spawned quite a few imitators, eh?

Yep, it’s another Scabbia-like female vocal over arguably gothic, keyboard-driven and thus somewhat symphonic leaning power metal. Best call: Lacuna Coil-esque gothic metal, but less downtuned and neanderthalic on the riffing, and led more by the keyboardist.

Vocalist Madeleine Liljestam is certainly a bit of a looker in the overly tatted Suicide Girl vein, which makes it unsurprising to hear she’s also working as a “well known alternative/gothic model” for various indie clothing stores and lines (ones you’ve probably never heard of, but hey). Vocals aren’t bad either, she can pull off the sweet pop radio oriented vein of gothic metal as well as the next metal pinup vixen.

I did like Sebastian Berglund’s approach to keyboards, which move back and forth between the more typical symphonic/power metal wallpaper and adding an epic feel to the proceedings and taking the lead, working little lines and phrases. Best of both worlds in the gothic/symphonic metal sense, there…

The rest of the band works the usual machine gun riffing ala Epica and suchlike, but honestly take a decided backseat to Berglund’s keyboards and Liljestam’s light and sweet vox.

It works quite well, and should appeal to fans of Lacuna Coil (duh!), early Evanescence, Nemesea or more recent work from Within Tempation or even Delain.

I was good with this, definitely.

 

SHADOWFLAG – THE DELUSION MACHINE (INDEPENDENT) (June 23)

Black metal. The production and chilly, wintry-crisp feel leave this feeling rather old school late second wave – not quite the symphonic and “Norsecore”-obsessed late 90’s, but definitely past the days of burning churches and classic albums for the ages.

The vocals are a bit too “modern” in feel for the sound the band evokes otherwise, falling into the trap of generic howling croak-snarls that marks far too many acts in the post-millenial era.

The drumming, from a live member of Anaal Nathrakh, yet (Anil Carrier), is solid and fairly straightforward, emphasizing double bass, kitwork and even strong syncopation over the sadly all too usual blastbeaty childishness – his work feels accomplished, even without knowing his scene provenance.

The band styles themselves “poetic black metal”, whatever that means…elements lean a tad pagan in the sense of grandiosity that pokes through every now and again.

But while I have to admit that what they’re laying down here with The Delusion Machine is not exactly what I gravitate towards in terms of the darker end of the “extreme metal” spectrum, the feeling of polished, assured and retro-mindedness suffuses every phrase and pore of this one.

Love ’em, hate ’em or totally indifferent to ’em, you have to respect their accomplishment and skill level – these guys may or may not be your personal cup of tea, but they’re clearly no corpsepainted hack bedroom recording one man band wannabes, and won’t be winding up consigned to that flaming Pile in any forseeable future.

Very, very high marks for production, drumming and display of idiosyncratic tendencies in a highly orthodox scene, not to mention the sense of professionalism and assuredness on display.

In terms of how they rank on the black metal scale, though…that’s a bit more up in the air.

Nicumo – Storms Arise (Inverse Records) (July 7)

Melancholic melodicism over a modern metal leaning gothic metal setting.

Vocalist Hannu Karppinen works sort of a baritone nigh-sprechtgesang that erupts into smooth if not especially dramatic (or at least far from bombastic and show-offy) clean singing at the choruses – it’s so subtle a transition between the two, you barely notice it. Think of a less close mic’ed, less masturbatorily self-obsessed Vile Valo and you’ll get the general picture. Regardless, it works, and quite well at that.

OK, he goes full on Valo on the verses of “beyond horizon” and to a lesser extent, “poltergeist”, but hey. What’s much worse is that he does a ridiculous aggro growl at the start of “unholy war”, which reappears, however briefly, in portions of “guilt”, “beyond horizon”, “if this is your god” and “dream too real”, and which is just inexcusable in all its chocomel-driven ineptitude.  But you see what I’m getting at, here – the former paragraph applies far more regularly than the exceptions noted herein.

Nice, generally understated but accomplished guitarwork from Atte Jaaskela and Tapio Anttiroiko wraps the whole thing up in a nice neat bow-bedecked package.

Drop the absurd gargle-aggro thing…it really does make you sound foolish, bro…and you have a surprisingly strong, well produced, well played album on your hands.

BLURRGGHHLY BURRRP exception instances aside, I liked this one quite a bit, actually.

RED MOON ARCHITECT – Return Of The Black Butterflies (Inverse)

An odd take on funeral doom, here.

Emphasizing loud, clean, out of tune “acoustic” guitar arpeggios, piano and airily light female vocals straight out of a gothic/symphonic metal band, this is a rather full and lush sounding but oddly soft variant of the established template.

Did I mention it’s not quite so lumberingly, hesitatingly slow as you’d expect for the genre? Hell, tracks like “tormented” are hardly even so sluggish as your average death/doom affair, though make no mistake, folks unaccustomed to this interesting niche would still consider this pretty damn heavy and slow.

It’s doom, there are sorta death vocals (think the gothic/symphonic “beauty and the beast” vocal quality – as ever for the style, she’s fine, he’s a bit ridiculous and unimpressive…), but it’s overly lush, filled with tinkling piano, melodic guitars and clean/pseudo-acoustic guitar lines, plus the sweet femme vox.

Think of it as a slowed down take on something like Paradise Lost or My Dying Bride as opposed to an Ahab or Winter sort of thing…and even Winter isn’t really considered “funeral doom”!

Issues of subgenre classification aside (and make no mistake, Red Moon Architect aren’t exactly trying to set the land speed record here, so it’s not totally out of hand…), this worked pretty damn well for me.

Just expect more of a gothic to gothic/symphonic take on the more lush and melodic end of death/doom, but with a propensity towards nigh-funereal sluggishness at points, and you’ll probably love it.

Roctum – Nothing To Do With Hell (Inverse)

You know what we haven’t seen in a few minutes? A gimmick band!

That’s right, these Finns style themselves as comic book characters of some sort, all adopting silly pseudos (and possibly, to judge from the cover illustration, makeup and glammy outfits as well).

Seriously. They go by names like “Stunk Man”, “Banana Boy” and “The Beast”. I shit you not.

Luckily the music holds up well enough to support this rather silly base, with a punkified take on the biker rock of Zodiac Mindwarp, Sonic Temple-era The Cult or Circus O’ Power, as done by, say, AFI or The Offspring.

The guitars are thin sounding but raw, the expected (modern, sorta pop-) punk melodic lead lines are in place, but the tone, pace, drumming and dirty feel are straight up late 80’s/very early 90’s Hollywood hard rock. Occasionally they even go into traditional metal/NWOBHM-style gallop phrases (“nothing to do with hell”).

Can you mix Bon Scott-era AC/DC, Hanoi Rocks and, oh, I don’t know…NOFX?

Well, if Roctum’s three track EP here is anything to judge by, the answer is a resounding “yes!”

Rev up those Harleys and crank this shit up.

   

Humangod – Real Me (Inverse)

Weirdly electronic/industrial tinged take on prog metal.

Ever want to hear machine clanking and robot voices with your Dream Theater wheedly-whoo?

How about if we tag in a decidedly Helloweenlike power metal guitar and drum pattern?

What if we give you a vocal so absurd and theatrically colorful it puts folks like Annihilator’s Randy Rampage, Toxik’s Mike Sanders and Hell’s Dave Halliday to shame?

Naturally, you can’t fault the guitar work, as much as I detest that particular guitar synth legato thing (see also Dragonforce)…but this is just fucking strange.

Is there really an audience for this?

Because before they change key and modulate back and forth, the chorus sounded pretty damn good. You know, for all of two or three bars, there.

Yeah, my curiosity’s definitely piqued by how insane a full length of this might turn out…but from this?

Nah. I honestly don’t get it, or see who out there actually would. 

OK, next?

Perpetual Rage – Empress Of The Cold Stars (Inverse) (June 16)

Back into the Deaf Dealer meets Dickinson-era Iron Maiden by way of Barren Cross sweepstakes comes Perpetual Rage, whose main selling point is powerhouse vocalist Tomi Viiltola, who’s working the same dark, dramatic low end tenor as the three bands mentioned hereinabove.

The band sticks to a fairly traditional metal that feels somewhat akin to Love You to Death-era Lizzy Borden crossed with Obsession by way of Omen and…well, Rock for the King-era Barren Cross.

Lyrics are cheesy as shit, but I always enjoy hearing the rare science fiction oriented affair (like, you know, Iron Savior) in a realm more typically dominated by fantasy roleplayers and pseudo-satanists bitching about religion (snore). Just the title was evocative enough to raise the ol’ eyebrow – Tanith Lee’s “Sabella” sprang immediately to mind, and that was both unexpected and a pleasure to report. Sometimes, After Sunset would make a hell of a concept album…

While the plethora of Maiden wannabes peppering the retro-traditional metal scene of a few years back tends to leave yours truly rolling his eyes and yawning, there are a few bands that bring enough originality and quality to the table to become likeable in their own right…all of whom were mentioned somewhere in this review.

Perpetual Rage decidedly inclusive.

Damn good stuff. Just be sure bring a bottle of vino to make all that cheese go down easier.

  

Narthraal – Screaming From The Grave (Inverse) (May 26)

Quirky as shit take on death metal.

Something about Viktor Penalver’s nigh-spoken word choke-growl and the spastic riffing of guitarists Birkir Karason and Antonio Aguilar left this feeling rather nontraditional, to say the least…which is kind of weird, given that they’re aiming to be Finland’s answer to HM-2 driven, Sunlight Studios style Swedeath.

This is apparently their first full length after a pair of EPs, one of which (Chainsaw Killing Spree) we reviewed here.

There’s too much of the patented Finnish melodicism to be Swedeath, and it’s too lush, oddly structured (or performed, not sure which is more the case here) and modern in feel to be classic...but is it bad or unlistenable in any respect?

No way.

Doesn’t feel “right” at all, doesn’t have that classic “kick”, and it feels more…something else than death metal proper…but it’s very melodic, the performances are tight enough (if, as noted, rather weird in tone and feel) and the production was pretty decent.

I liked it more as a modern metal act…possibly pagan, in its appropriation of several tropes of death metal…than as a wannabe Nihilist or Unleashed, which it resembles or relates to in no real way whatsoever.

Not bad for whatever it is.

Post Pulse – Halls Of The Damned (Inverse) (May 26)

Also claiming to be a death metal band, but coming off very pointedly as an aggro act instead, are Narthraal’s countrymen Post Pulse.

Lose the melodic orientation and death metal leanings of Narthraal entirely. Tag in those fucking annoying screamo meets Anselmo “vocals”, which just piss me the fuck off on a visceral level – dude, Madball sucked ass, give it up already! …detune the guitars to nu metal levels and you have Five Finger Death Punch.

I mean Post Pulse.

Well, not exactly – those ugly fuckers in Death Punch at least had some whining, mopey-ass melodies buried within all the ugliness and talentlessness of their sound otherwise.

Crap, pure and simple.

Next?

   

Ghost Toast – Out of This World (Inverse Records) (June 7)

Instrumental prog rock. It’s clean enough to suggest a postpunk point of reference or even (at a stretch) somewhat of a fusion background…the Fripp/Belew King Crimson by way of Frank Zappa, but as performed by, say, early Simple Minds or Ultravox, if you can wrap your head around that.

They also work a fantasy/myth thematic that brings Gentle Giant (or for that matter, Hawkwind) to mind, with all the Moorcock by way of Tolkienisms thereof (though Ghost Toast downgrades to the more lowbrow likes of Stephen King and as much as I love him, 70’s TV movie horror king Richard Matheson).  Of course, being all instrumental, they could say they worship The Great Clown God of Clarabellus and hir Bike Horn of Plenty, and who’d really give a shit?

It gets a bit quirky and leans decidedly modern…but you can’t fault the technique, and they’re wise enough players to keep melodicism and good harmonic structure in place while working their syncopated modular explorations into uncharted territories.

There’s even a bit of outre instrumentation for this sort of thing – keyboardist Janos Pusker also drops cello into the mix on a fairly regular basis (which brings Zappa’s collaborations with Jean Luc Ponty to mind). It works so well, I can’t even tell ya…sweet.

In case you can’t tell: I liked this a hell of a lot, actually.

SVARTSYN – In Death (Agonia Records) (June 9)

Black metal. More or less a one man band, two if you count the (otherwise non-contributing and possibly session) drummer.

This is definitely of the mid to late 90’s and beyond post-second wave black metal school – the overly polished, well produced type that comes off with more of a metallic sheen than anything truly black and sinister.

You know the type – “Norsecore” acts like Immortal, Tsjuder, “Legion”-era Marduk…though even the latter brought a touch of “evil” to the table that really isn’t present here.

Drumming is speedy and blastbeat-driven, riffs are tremelo based and relentless. Occasionally melodic line oriented, sure, but straightforward and nonstop – we’re not talking Ulver or Finnish scene here, this is very Norwegian/”Norsecore” in approach.

Those of us who’ve been around the scene long enough have lived through this before – everyone wanted to be Immortal or Marduk on one hand, or Cradle, Dimmu and Emperor on the other. We won’t even talk about the faux-“prog” sellouts like Enslaved…

Considering how much I despise and disregard the latter noted trio, yours truly tended to stick more with the former school during those days (though early Cradle and similarly minded gothic/Decadent symphonic black acts were of far greater quality and remain in much higher regard to this very day, so far as I’m concerned).

As such, I see nothing to really complain about with Svartsyn’s efforts here, beyond being a bit “retro” to that particular “expansion” era of black metal – a time when the original flame seemed lost, and newcomers like Dissection and the later Watain actually felt relevant and exciting for a few minutes (before ten million slavish copycats and wannabes made their take utterly redundant if not laughable).

Return to the days when Immortal and Tsjuder still seemed to matter, and Marduk went all speed and crystalline sheen at the expense of any darker vibe they had or later tried to recapture.

Fair enough, if you dig that style and miss those days in any way, shape or form.

Televisio – S/T (Ektro) (July 14)

Somewhere between 80’s synthpop, the Kraftwerk/Rheingold school of later 70’s/early 80’s “krautrock” and Danse Society-style “dancefloor ready” postpunk/gothic, this two man synthesizer and drums combo treads a darker territory than Yazoo, a more self consciously danceable one than Depeche Mode (though elements of the Vince Clarke-era Speak and Spell do most certainly come into play herein).

All instrumental and with the sort of goofy baloon pop-percussion that so marked the last days of disco (parts of “kakkonen” feel almost Meco, if not M or Giorgio Moroder), this one brought me way on back to my earliest days…how do you straddle the kitsch of electro-disco and the po-faced seriousness of postpunk or Teutonic synth-rock and still have it work as a cohesive vision?

Well, hats off, because these two Finns have pulled that off quite admirably.

If any of those strangely disparate signposts draw you in, you’ll very likely want to join Televisio on their rather retro travels into long-abandoned trails of synthesized electronic goodness.

    

Psychosomatic Cowboys – From Here To Hell (Wild Kingdom) (June 23)

Swedish…I guess Southern rockers, sorta kinda-like?

The band does openly acknowledge the influence of Lynyrd Skynrd, as well as Thin Lizzy…and there’s a whisper of each in From Here to Hell.

But to these ears, it’s more of a .38 Special goes Tom Petty sound and vibe that come across in the end.

Never was much of a Southern rock fan, though I confess a definite affection towards Molly Hatchet’s Flirtin’ With Disaster…and Thin Lizzy, well, they ain’t Southern rock in the first place, so there.

But Psychosomatic Cowboys? While decent players overall, they’re no Thin Lizzy…much less a Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet or Marshall Tucker Band, like the sound or no.

If you miss the overly polished .38 Special variant with some Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers thrown in for good measure, you may enjoy the hell out of this one.

For me, it was inoffensive, but boring as shit – and totally not my thing.

COFFEINNE – Circle of Time (Fighter Records) (June 15)

(laughs out loud)

O-kay, so I guess all the good band names were already taken, then?

So, Starbucks regulars, how would you like to switch from all that hipster world music/folkie/Lilith Fair shit to some melodic power by way of gothic metal instead? Probably sell those venti frappucinos faster, with all those heads bopping away to the beat…

Well, hilariously out of left field choice of moniker aside, these Spaniards deliver a polished, memorably hooky take on detuned, fairly radio friendly and slightly mournful (thus gothic metal) but machine gun riff, typewriter drumming and light keyboard embellishment-driven, with oft-anthemic choruses (thus power metal) modern Euro-metal.

Inaki Lazcano has a tone that brings ex-Shakra frontman John Prakesh to mind – slightly raspy/gravelly, but with a strong melodic bent and propensity towards soaring dramatics at the chorus. It’s kinda nice overall.

There’s nothing here that will shock the seasoned Euro-metaller (or aficionado thereof) – you’ve heard elements of this from dozens, maybe hundreds of bands across the power, gothic and even the harder AOR ends of the post-millenial metal spectrum.

The operative question is, has anyone brought all of these particular elements together in one package, and did the end result come off even half so palatable as Circle of Time? Somehow, I doubt it.

Hell, I love me a good coffee…and don’t even whisper the curse word “decaf” in my presence.

So sure, I’ll raise a mug to Coffeinne – they’re pretty damn good at what they do.

Just don’t mind me if I snicker and smirk a little at mention of that name.

Kafirun – Eschaton (Seance Records) (June 26)

Black metal. “Occult black metal” or “orthodox black metal”, if you prefer…but no trace of Watain wannabe as has become distressingly and unconscionably usual and typical for the style.

That said…I don’t know. I did like the busy, relentless drumming (where trilling footwork is emphasized rather than buried beneath pointless blastbeatery, though the latter is still present and accounted for), and the production, while weirdly muffled and muted, suits the band somehow.

It’s like hearing the band from under a pillow, but with occasional crisp snaps on the drums. Never quite heard a production like this, though I’ll take this in a heartbeat over the usual treble and signal bleed – at least you can make everything out clearly and jack this up on the stereo if so inclined!

Now, it’s “occult/orthodox” black metal, so expect the usual ringing open chord nonsense, chanting, atonal chord progressions and oogity boogity promo materials trying to convince you how “authentic” the band’s esoteric explorations are.

Personally, I’m sick of the bullshit – there are a lot less of “the real deal” out there than not.  Where these guys in particular manage to fall on that scale, I leave up to you – I honestly don’t care at this point.

But as a general bone of contention, I swear, if I read about another “live ritual” or yet another wheelbarrow load of cowpats…er, I mean gibberish*…about dark doings in the chaos vortex of the cosmic infinite, much less some pretentious asshole spewing about how “the music is less important than” their pose in some interview (if that’s the case, why not take it to the catwalk and spare us all having to suffer through your shitty music?  I mean seriously…), I’m going to heave all over the author or band member suggesting same.

* not really.  Enough’s enough with this trend.  I call bullshit.

What I will give you is a discussion of the music and musicianship itself, the production, some musical and cultural references to act as signposts…and hopefully a few laughs and insights along the way.

The rest is utter horseshit, 9 times out of 10 (and those who know, know whereof I speak, and of what authority).

There used to be an old saying: only poseurs and phonies go on about the mafia.

The real deal will tell you there is no such thing, and keep silence as the watchword.

Musically, productionwise, this one’s not all that bad…particularly given the abominably abysmal standards of “occult/orthodox black metal” in the main.

But that whack-a-mole hammer is simply itching to be called into use, on the promo writeup alone.

MRTVI (UK/Serbia) – Negative Atonal Dissonance (Transcending
Obscurity Records (India)

Three tracks…two actual performances and an ambient drone track.

What they do is much akin to a far less talented Ornette Colman, if he were a crackhead and reeeeeeeally into black metal.

Random bits of blastbeats and dissonant noise riffs with eeeeevil black metal snarls over the top. It’s incredibly annoying, to a degree that simply can’t be expressed in print.

Consider it nails scraped across a chalkboard mixed with a chorus of honking horns in a traffic jam by way of squealing rubber on pavement as done by fucking Mr. Bungle.

And then realize that’s giving this wayyyy too much credit for musical aptitude.

There’s really no nice way to put it, so I’m leaving the exact phrase that came to mind right here in print:

holy shit, this sucks!

Next?

PAGANIZER (Sweden) – Land of Weeping Souls LP / Box Set / CD / Digital (Transcending Obscurity Records (India) (August 5) 

More robust, “wetter” production than On the Outskirts of Hades, but otherwise more of the usual Sunlight Studios HM-2 worship.

To Rogga Johansson’s credit, he manages to keep his various bands reasonably distinct – Ribspreader is far more polished and traditional, for example – and yeah, I still think that band’s a lot better than Paganizer.

But even so, the very fact that the two bands sound so different, yet still recognizably wearing the same influences on their sleeve says something. The fact that both bands stand distinct from the flood of far more slavish HM-2 wannabes out there of late says even more.

So is this another Suicide Gate? Well, back to back comparison, no.

Compared to On the Outskirts? The production’s better, for sure – and this one feels more solid overall.

Compared to the better part of any contemporary competition?

These bands have actual character…something you rarely find in the current metal scene, it must be said.

Give the man some much deserved props for keeping death metal alive.

URSINNE (International) – Swim With The Leviathan Box Set / CD / Digital (Transcending Obscurity Records (India) (August 20) 

Another act featuring that same Wombbath veteran (Jonny Pettersson) from Ashcloud joining forces with none other than Benediction frontman Dave Ingram (this time Pettersson keeps to guitar duties and adds drums for good measure), this one comes off a lot better than Ashcloud, despite a less than stellar production once again.

The guitars are much crunchier and more upfront this time, and while the Sunlight Studios HM-2 thing is in full force, the tempo has been slowed to more of a marching pace, which accentuates the tone and adds crunch and heft to their sound.

Ingram’s deep bellows and death growls suit this sound quite well, and generally speaking, Pettersson’s drums are far more straightforward and suitable than that blastbeat-happy session drummer on Ashcloud (hint hint for next time, Jonny).

The only issue here, in fact, is the production and mix. While far from the mess we heard on Kingdom of the Damned, there’s still too much of a signal bleed-prone treble feel (likely intended to accentuate the classic Swedeath guitar tone, in all honesty), with Petterson’s guitars mixed too far in front, burying Ingram’s powerful vocals beneath the riffs. And given how loud and forceful his bellows are, that’s really saying something!

Worse, it feels 80’s in the wrong way, in that the snare is the loudest and most prominent instrument here…and while his kitwork and footwork are just fine, Pettersson is too prone to the 4/4 on the beat POUND POUND POUND POUND thing ala Hurricane’s Take What You Want or The Fine Young Cannibals and their tupperware drums (two of the absolutely most egregious and painful examples of bad 80’s drumming forefronted in the mix to the exclusion of all else).

They also get a bit gimmicky, covering oddball new wave and goth tracks by Siouxsie and the Banshees and the Vapors (and for some ungodly reason, the fucking Osmonds!), but those are all pretty silly and don’t work in any way whatsoever. Just pretend they never happened and enjoy the primo death metal surrounding.

Again, get a real producer, and you’ll have a serious winner here – hell, even Massacre‘s Kam Lee joins in for vox on one track.

As is, definitely worth looking into and a very worthy effort from two scene veterans…just don’t expect audio perfection, because you certainly won’t find it here.

That aside, you bet your ass I dug this one.

PATHOLOGY (US) – S/T (Comatose Music (US) (July 21)

oy, those pig snort/squeal grindcore vocals…

Seriously, you have to wonder if there are even lyrics to most of this stuff…there are definitely a few tracks that are nothing but pre-verbal ululations (like opener “lamentation”). If I wanted to hear some…er, “autistic” kid gibbering like an idiot, I’d head down to the local Target, not buy a death metal album!

I swear, society’s gone so far into Lovecraftian territory…Devo was right, all those years ago…

The music is…well, it’s pretty much straight up grindcore. No acoustic intros, no build, just one or two good riffs beaten into the ground while this guy belches gibberish into the mic, pretending to be a vocalist.

The only thing differentiating Pathology from, say, Regurgitate is the lack of medical pathologist textbook orientation and the fact that said riffs and drums are clearly quite inspired by some combination of Suffocation, Immolation or both.

BLOYYYOYOYYYYY OYOYOYYYYY OY YOI YOIIIIIIIII yourself, buddy.

“squeal like a pig, boy!”

Next?

TARLUNG (Austria) – Beyond The Black Pyramid (Black Bow Records (UK) (May 5)

Thick, molasses and caramel-heavy stoner sludge.

Think a cross between Kyuss and Red Fang tonally speaking, but with more deliberate, sinister-sounding riffing that feels somewhat more akin to Pentagram or St. Vitus…possibly Electric Wizard back when anyone actually cared about them circa Dopethrone.

The vocals are whisper-growled, but that just means it’s not overly obnoxious and in your face – the riffs come first and foremost, then you hear the drums. The vox are pretty much an afterthought…which suits their sound just fine.

It’s more than a bit surprising that these guys hail from the land of Mozart, torte and Vienna Fingers – with a beer and bud suffused biker band stoner doom vibe quite this heavy and evil sounding, you’d figure they were flag waving Americans to the bone.  Australia, maybe, but not Austria.

Nobody’s breaking any new ground here, make no mistake.

But who the hell asked ’em to?

Fire one up and crank this shit all the way.

NADIMAC – Besnilo (Xtreem Music) (July 3)

Serbian new school thrash, with aggro vox.

They appear to ascribe to something of an anarcho-punk aesthetic, with promo materials noting they’re looking to “change our society for real, step by step” and song title translations (they perform exclusively in Serbian) speaking to such subjects as unchecked corporatocracy (“capitalism is cannibalism”), consumerism as a tool of oppression (“shopping revolution”, “anatomy of obedience”), environmentalism (“mother earth is vomiting”) and the rather 80’s punk calls for scene togetherness (“against elitism, pro unity”).

That said, the band is high speed and crazed as thrash goes and doesn’t feel a bit punk, unless you count the screamed/growled aggro vocals (which are a different beast entirely, owing lineage primarily to Phil Anselmo and the many turds that followed back to shore in his wake – nothing “punk” about the style).

Can’t say I cared for it one bit, but it’s certainly seriously pissed off, if that’s your barometer for what’s hip.

ASHCLOUD – Kingdom of the Damned (Xtreem Music) (June 20)

Swedish death metal, but rhythm guitar tone aside, this feels nothing like what you’re thinking whatsoever.

And that’s kinda weird, given that the frontman hails from the likeable (if somewhat obscure) classic death metal band Wombbath…

The production here is pretty screwed up – vocals are more or less up front and when they more or less stop dead, you can hear that classic Nihilist/Carnage HM-2 guitar tone…but when they get rolling, all you hear is those stupid out of control, mix-dominating blastbeat drums (mainly the snare, though the footwork does take precedence at times) and a rumblingly low sort of melodic lead line, plus a lot of distortion.

The overall effect is jumbled noise, where you’re begging them to stop the lead line thing and fire the drummer ASAP, just so you can hear the guitar and vox the way you’re meant to here…

Very, very bad mixing job, which damns the entire production (though elements were well recorded and there’s definite bass and body to the mix).

It’s almost unfair to judge the band’s instrinsic merits based on this one…but while I picked up elements here and there that definitely worked (and quite well at that, mind), no, I wasn’t especially impressed by this.

Come on, guys. Get a real producer.

I can already tell you can do a whole hell of a lot better than this.

KING SATAN – King Fucking Satan (Saturnal Records) (May 26)

One guy working in the more or less “occult black metal” arena who definitely isn’t just pulling faux-esoterica out of his ass to sell a few records is our man “Frater Zetekh”, now going by the pseudo of “King Aleister Satan” (gotta love it) for his new side project King Satan.

Those familiar with his other gig Saturnian Mist (or for that matter, his label Saturnal Records) should already know there’s more to the man than some disingenuously spouted, barely half-understood mumbo jumbo – our review of his album Chaos Magick and its associated videography, even dancing around certain matters as much as I’m wont to do, should close the book on any putative assertions of same against the man – ’nuff said.

So once again, our man Zetekh…or if you prefer, “King Satan” has offered up both audio and visual evidence of things as yet unseen, with both his new industrial/black metal/electronic project album and a pair of videos for our perusal. So let’s dive in, shall we?

Well…this is quite a different animal, let’s just say that, shall we?

It’s certainly far from out of hand to bring a more serious occultism to the dance-industrial field – one need only reference Genesis P-Orridge’s Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV or My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult and its offshoot act the Electric Hellfire Club as evidence of just how closely the scene was tied to the dark arts, but the simple fact is, even aside from the longstanding crossover between gothic rock and industrial, the genre was birthed by and speaking to the most atavistic impulses and forces from its very inception – even the lightest and most “mainstream” offerings touched on if not directly tapped into darker forces for inspiration and guidance (NiN, Marilyn Manson, Skinny Puppy, etc.) Suffice to say, no new territory is being broached here in that sense.

That noted, you can tell just from the song titles that this may be just a bit more than the sort of sinister camp or broad side of the barn satanic leanings some of the aforementioned bands were prone towards (or devolved into with successive albums and late career offerings) – “as above, so below”, “sex magick”, “psygnosis”, “kali yuga algorithm”. Even “spiritual anarchy” points fairly directly towards a chaos magick orientation, with all the Crowleyan sourcing to which the art is indebted.

Musically speaking, King Satan is much akin to 13 Above the Night-era Thrill Kill Kult as crossed with Ministry, though at points the more modernist orientation actually leans a bit Gothminister.  Tom Thorn and company similarly get a nod on “spiritual anarchy”, so it all comes full circle in the end.  Bottom line, it has definite “catchiness” and musical appeal to the dancefloor industrial and gothic industrial crowd.

Lyrically, it can be a bit hard to make out at times (as music of this style is wont to be), and a surprisingly fair portion of ’em are definitely kind of simplistic and blunt, to be sure. But listen a bit closer, and occasional snippets and lines every now and again speak more from the mouth of knowledge and the adept than not (“sex magick” definitely raised an eyebrow or two in that respect).

In point of fact, even in something as in your face and tailored for more of a “mass appeal” than the esoterically inclined underground black metal “Zetekh” is better known for, there’s still a bit more going on here than usual, as you might expect from the guy behind Saturnian Mist (who further works with and releases stuff like Sacrificium Carmen and Horna*, mind). Don’t let the band members’ rather obvious pseudos and in your face bits throw you off…that’s just the wicked humor and trickster absurdism messing with ya.

* the latter’s current frontman “Spellgoth” drops by for guest/backing vox on a few tracks as well.

Thus far, the band’s released three videos. “Satanized” opens on a quote from Jimbo hisself, the ol’ Lizard King, and proceeds to go full on Lords of Acid (an effect enhanced by the fetching “Kate Boss”, ponytailed, twerking and black contact-bedecked throughout).  I particularly enjoyed a shot of her dressed all schoolteacher (complete with pencil skirt, horn rimmed glasses and…er…pirate boots(?) in front of a photo of Uncle Al his own self, but hey, everyone’s got their thing (nudge, wink).

“Zetekh” stands smirking as she humps pentagrams, tarot cards, kaleidoscopic mandalas and sigils, utilizing the time-honored industrial tradition of found footage (though less extreme than the sort of thing veterans are accustomed to from club and video releases) ranging from classic and silent cinema to Vinegar Syndrome territory (with the naughty bits carefully edited out for mass consumption). A few questionable salutes aside (don’t think this one will get much airplay in Germany), it’s pretty standard, if more catchy than usual for the style.

“Enter Black Fire” hints at the correlation between the magician or adept and the fool in tarot symbolism by utilizing 1950’s television circus clown Clarabelle as our greeter, welcoming us to a fatalistic if not nihilistically fiddle while Rome burns-style world of sin – laying down heavy odds and crapping out, as Vegas showgirls and burly-Q dancers, atomic test footage and soldiers marching to war head in your direction.

This video comes off more akin to Thorn-era Thrill Kill Kult by way of the dark sociopolitics of Ministry, as dictators and religions flash by, simultaneously contrasted with stripper footage – Howdy Doody himself taking the demonstrative role of the puppets of the forces and powers of the air (or aethyrs) bringing about the end times/kali yuga/closure of the Aeon of Horus in which we reside, and of whom (ahem) the lyrics discuss (selah…and nuff said).

Finally, we have “Psygnosis”, which kicks off with a helpful definition of gnosticism for the uninitiated and works something of a medical horror cum torture porn aesthetic, as “the patient/EGO” is forcibly “treated” by “doctor and staff” into “submitting to authority” and opening the ajna into the identification/union of dhyana (the “to be continued” at the end implying the quest towards samadhi/the Crowleyan “Great Work”). It’s dark, but less classic industrial in feel than the others – again, likely implying the assumed positive of submission to Will.

Now, look, this is magick…or more precisely, gnosis 101, and hardly on the same level of what the same man was getting at with Saturnian Mist and Chaos Magick, either lyrically or in terms of the videos.

But realize also that this a style of music and associated video accompaniment deliberately tailored towards a wider, more mainstream leaning audience – like ’em or not, Ministry, NiN and Marilyn Manson were always more palatable towards your hipster or slacker cum yuppie neighbor than something deliberately dark and obscure as black metal was intended to be (at least in its earlier, more serious days).

So think of this as the Gerber stewed prunes, or the colored sprinkles-bedecked Pokemon ice cream cone to Saturnian Mist’s straight up fifth of Jim Beam – baby food and brightly colored children’s treats, designed to appeal to the little ones and made extra palatable for those of simpler tastes.

And then watch out for the significant dose of strychnine contained therein, less noticeable than usual, but suffusing and informing every bite thereof.

Rienaus – Saatanalle (KVLT) (May 26)

Finnish black metal.

Feels especially Gorgoroth-like overall, but the good news is that it isn’t exclusively Gaahl-era in orientation – if anything, “polku” (which features guest shrieks from some overly tatted scenester going by the handle “possessed demoness”, in case anyone’s actually heard of her) comes off like a typically melody-first Finnish take on the Hat or Pest-era.

Other tracks lumber menacingly in a nigh-death metal manner (“kuolleen jumalan silmien alla”) or fall somewhere along the more recent Satanic Warmaster/Clandestine Blaze axis (“saatanalle”, “kehoonsa kahlittu”).  There’s even a straight up church organ piece (“valisoitto”).

The band saves their best track for the close, with “pimea hehku” approaching the evil/bombastically epic/melodic best of Tiegs and Pentilla. You could even throw “Corvus”-era Horna into the mix for good measure, but it’s far less abrasive than that particular marker might imply – this is this particular school of black metal at its most appealing and powerful.

Bottom line, if there’s a true onyx or black pearl of a gem in this month’s black metal (or black leaning) releases, Reinaus’ Saatanalle is it, hands down, no questions asked, no bullshit.

Raise the horns to one of the few bands actually keeping the black flame burning in a veritable sea of wannabes, poseurs and instantly disposable trash.

ORDEM SATÂNICA – Monte da Lua (Signal Rex) (June 23)

boy, what great production!

I’m kidding, of course.

This is absurd, actually – think of the worst band rehearsal recording you’ve ever heard, then cover it with vocals that actually seem post-synced and properly recorded, then slathered in slap echo and heavy reverb. Bury those new vocals a bit in the mix so they almost sound on par with that awful basement rehearsal recording of the band, and bam!

We’ve heard these guys before, on both their split with Ruach Raah and
their Ventos de Odio (both reviewed here) and it’s not that much of a surprise that the recording sucks some major ass – but it becomes a bit more of a hmmm…moment when you realize that Ventos was a demo, and the Ruach Raah split seems to have been a drunken castoff of a jam session. This is a full length debut album release…

Same ground rules apply – Rob Darken-style vocal croaks, basement rehearsal quality recording, a bit too much reverb…but it’s thankfully more akin to the Ventos de Odio EP, minus the silly yodel howls.

Last few tracks sound a bit louder and fuller, which implies another recording session was involved…but the apple never falls far from the tree, so to speak.

I appreciated the attempt to go old school second wave and the nod to Les Legions Noires in the promo writeup – I guess if you crossed the noiser demos of Vlad Tepes, Torgeist and Belathuzur with Darken-style vocals and a bit of extra weirdness, yeah, you’d have something not a million miles removed from this.

More likeable for what they’re shooting for than the actual end result…but they do seem to improve with every release reviewed here.

PRISON OF MIRRORS (Italy) – Unstinted, Delirious, Convulsive Oaths (Signal Rex / De Essentia Diaboli) (June 30)

“Occult black metal” of the more underground variety.

The usual Watain/Dark Funeral-style repetitive atonal chords sliding up and down the neck implying an otherwise wholly nonexistent harmonic motion, but the ringing open chord nonsense is kept to a bare minimum of embellishment and the vocals are more snarling and evil sounding than usual.

There’s also a propensity towards ambient and trance that comes into play in quieter or more drawn out moments…not horrible for the type is about the best you can say about it.

At least it feels dark and evil, in a certain sense.

ÆRA – Of Forsworn Vows (De Tenebrarum Principio) (July 2)

Grim, atmospheric, wintry black metal.

Promo materials reference (very) early Carpathian Forest, and yeah…you can see why that was brought up as a touchpoint.

There’s a slow build to each of the three tracks here – don’t give up on a song from the first minute or two, because they seem far more inconsequential and throwaway at first. Let ’em play out to the midpoint, and suddenly you notice just how much of a majestic peak they’ve built to from decidedly humble if not awkward beginnings…

Keyboards are fairly prominent, but don’t expect symphonic cheese or the overblown, obnoxious Dimmu sort of thing – this is more for effect and atmospherics. Again, going right back to Through Chasm, Caves and Titan Woods, if not the demos that preceded it…

When this first got aired, I practically sighed…yet another humdrum modern day black metal affair.

But a few minutes in, and yeah.

This fucking works.

Damn good stuff, well worth a listen.

CULT OF ERINYES (BEL) – Tiberivs (Caverna Abismal Records) (June)

Oh, look – “occult black metal” isn’t enough, now they have to invent a new one for the suckers: “ritualistic black metal”.

Yeah, sure, whatever.

Anyway, these guys go for an Ancient Roman empire thing here (saluti!) and unless their Roman history really sucks, the “Nero” they’re referring to here is Nero Claudius Drusus, brother of “Tiberius” and father of “Germanicus” (all of whom get a dedicated track herein)…the famed overweight queen and aficionado of the arts (oft tarred with utter dismissiveness towards if not responsibility for the Great Fire of Rome, which is arguable) came much later.

Even so, this is hardly, say, Ex Deo we’re talking about here…this is at least in the vein of bands like Acherontas, if not leaning PoDB.

As such…I liked the concept and lyrical focus a whole hell of a lot more than what’s passing for music here (which is utterly dismissable).

Too bad, as the subject matter was something of a ringer for yours truly…

Cryptic Wanderings – You Shall Be There… (Forever Plagued) (June 30)

Spanish black metal of a rather odd sort. The vocals seem existentially tortured in a way – not in the direct sense ostensibly essayed by the late Tony “It” Sarkka from Abruptum, but in a complaining yell that almost feels emo-esque. I guess they were looking towards “suicidal black metal” for inspiration?

It’s otherwise kinda straightforward, modernist feeling and just…blah.  There’s nothing particularly bad about the production or sound the band is working here…

…it just doesn’t set me on fire in any way, either.

Trust me, you’ve encountered much, much worse on the contemporary black metal scene.

Damning with faint praise, yeah, that’s about the speed of this one.

You shall be there, but bored off your ass…

 

Sator Malus – Dark Matters (Forever Plagued) (June 30)

Dutch black metal. Can’t figure who’s who from the ever-changing pseudos, but I’m since informed by the band that six stringer ” Naberius” is the former “Odium” of Cirith Gorgor, so that’s something for ya.

It’s reasonably well produced for this variant of black metal, feels a bit dark and sinister with slightly Horna-esque vocals and grinding midtempo guitars that in some ways feel Gorgoroth-esque (though without the precision and melodic lead line tremelo feel Roger “Infernus” Tiegs brings to the table). It’s familiar, yet nebulous all at once.

Hard to put a finger on just why this works as well as it does, but in a veritable sea of shite stinking in different degrees that comprises the contemporary black metal scene, Sator Malus comes up shining like a gem by comparison.

I was definitely comfortable with this, yeah. Light a candelabra and join the nightside gathering.

Wode – Servants of the Countercosmos (Avantgarde Music) (May 31)

You know, even after several decades of thrash, death and black metal acts working the atmospheric/ambient/acoustic intro before bursting into all their subsequent chaotic glory, sometimes you still have to ask:

How in hell did we get from that nice intro to all this virulence and out of control noise?

And that’s definitely the case here with Wode, whose “crypt of creation” starts off promisingly before descending into an out of control “occult black metal” leaning flaming Pile of Dead Bards affair. Not sure where it falls on the Inquisition/Gaahl-era Gorgoroth/”Emperor Magus Caligula”-era Dark Funeral/Watain scale, but
it’s definitely screwing around in that frankly wayyyyyyy overplayed ballpark.

Now some of the subsequent riffs lean sorta Grotesque (as on “temple interment”), others feel pretty straightforward and almost death metal-like (all but that awful, sped up and noise driven middle eight on “celestial dagger”)…and admittedly, even when they go straight into the trap of Watain wannabe, they still bring a bit of Finnish-style melodicism (the title track).

So it’s not all bad news – there is enough variation and syncretism to keep the less jaded modern black metaller contented.

But it’s playing too close to the metaphorical fire not to come out burned, and I prefer my steak a touch rare…this one comes served up charred to the bone.

SKELETHAL – Of the Depths… (CD, LP, TAPE) (Hells Headbangers) (June 23)

We’d reviewed these Frenchmen’s prior releases Deathmaniacvs Revelation and Interstellar Knowledge of the Purple Entity, and this one continues the patented Sunlight Studios-style Swedeath and HM-2 worship displayed therein.

Thankfully, production here comes off more like what we’d seen on Deathmaniacvs Revelation than the noisier, wetter sounding but ultimately muddier sound of Interstellar Knowledge.

Both were acceptable enough, but the drier sound suits ’em better and feels more authentic to the style and sound they’re copping to, bringing out the chainsaw grind of the guitars and flat pop of the drums, while leaving the decidedly (early) Unleashed-like vocals reasonably close to the fore.

Yeah, I’d prefer less mids, maybe the vox a notch more up in front and the drums deserve a much better mix (all you hear is the snare, really – a few cymbal crashes, but no footwork or tom rolls are audible without really straining to hear ’em. Bottom line is, they buried the guy).  But if you’re looking for a sound that’s really faithful to the Dismember/Carnage template (with possibly a less well recorded EP like Stranger Aeons on the Entombed side), they don’t really come much closer than this.

The riffs are straight out of the Dismember playbook, the vox out of Hedlund’s first two efforts…and it’s at least 25 years later.

Am I sold?

Cue the O. Henry skit, with your host, Hugh Betcha. “It’s a lion! In a bar! You were surprised, weren’t ya?”

Damn good stuff. Raise the horns.

BARBARIAN (Italy) – S/T (7″ EP) (Hells Headbangers) (July 21)

An old school blackened thrash vibe that owes as much to Motorhead and the biker band aesthetic as it does Kreator, Destruction and Sodom…gee, think it’s a Hell’s Headbangers signing?

Yep, one of the old faithfuls among the many labels we review every month has done us yet another solid, dropping the followup single/EP to last year’s Cult of the Empty Grave.

This time around, I’m hearing more of a Viking-era Graveland vibe, with all those moaning vocal samples in the background, and sure, you could draw inferences to post-Blood Fire Death Bathory or even Manowar from that…but it’s more particularly Darkenesque to these ears.

Consequently, there’s a hell of a lot less of the Running Wild-ish power metal thing going down here: it’s biker blackthrash with some Viking/pagan metal pretensions towards the epic.

As such, I found myself liking this one a whole hell of a lot more than last year’s full length, and look forward to more of this “new” orientation on the next releases – it worked pretty well overall.

Raise a horn of plenty and down a flagon of ale in salute.

Weregoat – Pestilential Rites of Infernal Fornication CD/LP/TAPE
(Iron Bonehead / Parasitic / Vault of Dried Bones) (June 30)

“Bestial”/war metal.

They’re pretty much the same thing – uber-simplistic, raw, noisy and musically unaccomplished takes on black metal with a strong blackthrash vibe.

Some are particuarly enjoyable (old Beherit, Blasphemy), others a bit more questionable (Black Witchery, Conqueror, Revenge), but it’s all pretty much of a piece – like the equivalent grindcore thing is to death metal proper, you either like the rawness and straightforwardly basicness of the style or you absolutely hate it.

Me, you already know I enjoy this stuff – occasionally, even love it, depending on the band and what mood I’m in.

Guess I was in the right mood. I dug this one.

Raise those horns.

Summon (Portugal) – Aesthetics of Demise TAPE (Iron Bonehead) (June 30)

Oy, it’s more of that “underground black/death” stuff.

You know the type. Cavernous reverb, slap echo and delay all over the vocals (which are probably more of an ululation and effect, Obituary-style, than actual lyrics and vocals per se), noisy “occult black metal” style riffing, a slightly tribal drumming style alternating with the usual blastbeat nonsense. A general feeling of falling into a deep cave, where the ambient noise subsumes any instrumentation or element thereof.

You’ve heard this all before, many, many times. Years back, when we first started doing these Roundups, this sort of thing was new to yours truly – you can see praise for acts like Zom (who Summon feel most like overall).

At this point, the most I can say is that it felt comfortably sinister, that it sets a mood and feels sorta Zom-like…and as such, that I didn’t mind it at all. Hell, in a way, I sorta liked being “transported to that place”, if you will.

But that being said?

There ain’t much else to it.

Vesicant (New Zealand) – Shadows of Cleansing Iron CD/LP (Iron Bonehead) (July 14)

Kiwi black metal, leaning heavily towards the more simplistic, underproduced and raw “war metal” thing.

Apparently their focus is more pointedly on the subject of war, with a concentration on WWI and the horrors of chemical and trench warfare.

Not much else to offer here – a Marduk-esque lyrical/subject matter focus on a repetitive and quite noisy (think signal bleed, overuse of distortion and the general feel of recording your lawnmower in operation and calling it “music”) war metal sound.

Nothing horrible for the type, but did absolutely nothing for me.

Qrixkuor – Incantations From the Abyss (Invictus Productions) (June
30)

Well, it’s black metal, alright – and thankfully not of the all too prevalent PoDB variety, though they do definitely cross the earlier, more pointedly blackened style with a later, more obviously black/death one.

This collects the band’s two demos Consecration of the Temple and…well, a rehearsal demo (cleverly entitled “Rehearsal 9/15”).

There’s a detuned, about to collapse feel at play throughout the earlier demo that leans death/doom – an informed supposition that is borne out more clearly on the later rehearsal’s covers like “winter bliss” or the altered version of Consecration’s title track, which went from noisily atonal black metal with death/doom leanings to straight up (blackened) death with a doomy orientation.

It’s still a bit too detuned, sloppy and blackened for my tastes…but the improvement in the band and its sound is blatantly obvious and frankly quite undeniable.

Maybe next time they’ll drop the blackened bits and go full on death/doom…that’d be a justly celebrated change if so.

As is, not bad at all for the type – at least they lean more death than not.

Seer (Canada) – Vol. III & IV: Cult of the Void (Art of Propaganda) (July 7)

OK, that was a surprise!

With the band name, album title and cover, I was expecting yet another esoteric to “occult black metal” affair. Sighing and girding my loins, metaphorically speaking, I delved once more into the abyss, hoping for the best while expecting the far more typical worst.

And I get a stoner doom album, complete with organ accompaniment and soundclips from Fulci films?

Well, paint my wagon. (breathes sigh of relief, cracks a smile)

Interestingly, even beyond the weird misappropriation of the cover and titling conventions of yet another flaming Pile of Dead Bards affair (which again, Seer is not), there’s another odd element at play here – the vocals are more “youthful” and declamatorily (modern) punk…at least the clean vocals, used most promeniently on opener “ancient sands (rot preacher)”.

But just when I’m about to praise this one justifiably…the vocal style changes right there on the second track to a more black metallish gargle-snarl thing. At least frontman Kyle Tavares has the good sense to return to the clean vocals on the verses…but choruses, bridges and breakdowns? BLEEEEAHHH YEEAAAAHHH GYEAAAHHH!!!!! Hear those tonsils quiver.

Then on to track 3, where things go more Viking metallish vocally speaking – sorta death growl, but not quite – before turning all Red Fang and then back to the blackened thing, only returning to clean on the choruses.

The band is pretty firmly in the stoner doom camp, albeit with a bit more crunchy death metal style distortion coming into play at certain points and emphasized on given tracks, so there’s not much to comment on there – it’s acceptably familiar and true to many bands in the style in its simplistic approach.

I guess it all leans on your tolerance for weird, ever changing vocals, which go from…I guess there’s a strong affinity to old Life of Agony in the clean declamatory parts…to inappropriate stops all along the “extreme metal” spectrum.

So let me take our frontman aside for some friendly advice. Here, bro, let me buy you a round – I have something to tell you that’ll help you out on the next album.

Kyle, stick to the clean singing. Your voice is just fine, and gives the band’s sound an odd affinity and kinship towards (modern) punk if not metalcore, even above and beyond the stoner doom thing being worked in a more general sense.

The screamy shit doesn’t fit, and just kinda sucks.

Cheers, buddy. Band’s pretty decent overall.

Comity – A Long, Eternal Fall (2xlp/Cd) (Throatruiner Records/Translation Loss Records) (May 26)

How “challenging” do you like your music?

I mean, not in the sense of jazz or psychedelic freeform explorations and suchlike, nor in the more generalized form of loving “extreme” music that falls outside of an intolerably bland, increasingly generic “mainstream” of formulaic pap…most of us are already there, or pushing damn close to it (face it, if you’re into anything “prog” or “technical”, you’re leaning heavily towards jazz, whether you realize it or not).

But in terms of this odd new sense of ennui towards all forms, styles and genres of music per se. The feeling, strangely all too prevalent in younger musicians, that we’ve already seen that, done far better than we ever could.

You see this a lot with the more hipster variants of music per se – “post-” anything, the genre blender thing (“black/death”, ” -core”, “crossover”, etc.) – but at least those bands are attempting to keep elements of the genres they try (and fail, often miserably) to “blend”.

Where things get ugly is when certain bands just give up entirely on the form and structure of any given genre (or even combination thereof)…and just go “dissonant” and “atonal” – not as an element of their otherwise processable form (as in “death metal is marked by an often dissonant chordal structure”), but as an entire raison d’etre.

Many of these folks come right out and admit it, and just call their efforts “noise”. Others mask it by calling themselves by the previously mentioned “dissonant”, “atonal”…or better yet, “avant garde”.

And Comity works several of those tropes and euphemisms, being referred to in promo materials as “forward-thinking”, “noisy”, “technical”, “love(rs of) all things dissonant” and even “post-metal”.

So you know exactly what you’re getting into here.

In fact, they don’t even title their tracks, leading one to wonder whether there are actual lyrics or just arrhythmic shout-growls in a modern “hardcore”/screamo-esque cadence and style. Who knows.

Some of the lead line fills are interesting – the close of “IV” felt sorta metalcore-ish before they faux-“slowed the record” and got sloppier and more atonal in the final phrases thereof.

There’s an occasional nod towards doom here, a vague hint of “progressive death” there, a healthy jigger of “occult black metal” here, there and everywhere…but in the end, it’s all decidedly atonal, dissonant, “avant garde” and “post-“.

Hard to listen to.

If you somehow manage to take that as a positive, have at it.

Direwolves – The Great Year (12″Ep/Cd) (Throatruiner Records) (May 26)

Not a million miles removed from the vocal approach of Comity, but about as far as you can get musically speaking, Direwolves work a more recognizably emo/screamo thing en toto.

The music is heavy and grinding, but in that oddly thin, signal bleed prone sense that marks punk as a whole, and particularly the modern variants thereof, by comparison to the thick and pounding feel of metal (particulary in the death or thrash arenas).

Even so, despite a propensity towards dissonance and atonality that marks the band as French (as opposed to the more radio-friendly, CW soundtrack-aimed emo/screamo/pop-punk feel of Stateside bands), Direwolves are playing firmly within a recognizable, teen-friendly framework. Not as in Up With People meets One Direction “teen friendly”, mind – but in the “sure to get airplay at your local Hot Topic by the mopey emo kid with purple hair, goth clothes and a nose chain” sense.

Obviously, I’m no fan of the vocals – but if you’re playing in this field, it’s become a stylistic trope you have to expect and deal with at this point. And by comparison to some screamers out there, this guy comes off somewhat less offensive than usual – take that for what little it’s worth.

I could have used more driving, uptempo aggression. I could have used more melodic orientation, and better, less hissy production and thicker tone on the guitars.

But were these guys “bad” for their chosen style?

Nah. Not bad at all, really.

In fact, it was reasonably listenable for the type.

Future Faces – Revolt 12″Ep (Throatruiner Records/Gps Prod) (May 26)

Hmm. This was unexpected.

Anybody out there old enough to remember when U2 were a good postpunk band, rather than the self-absorbed, bloated and overhyped entity of pure shite they’d quickly become?

Yeah, you remember Boy and October, dont’cha? You could make a case for War, but that was sort of the jump the shark for those guys – the sense of bloatedness and pomposity had already begun to bleed into the band and their output. From there forward, fuck ’em.

So take that interesting guitar/bass tone and feel – you could also point a crooked finger towards Skeletal Family, if you prefer.

Mix it with similarly uncharacteristic early efforts from then-postpunk acts like Simple Minds (think Sons and Fascination and Sister Feelings Call) and even some of the Daniel Ash guitar experimentation of Bauhaus (In the Flat Field era).

Then tag on a decidedly Andrew Eldritch-esque vocal, buried in the mix and awash in reverb. You could also say earlier Depeche Mode, if you prefer…

Holy shit, it’s a proper gothic rock act, in the very 80’s “postpunk” (or for those old enough to remember the misnomer, “positive punk”) sense.

This “eldergoth” was so, so happy (cue Danse Society here – “we’re all so happy…”) to hear this one.

I do expect Future Faces will continue on as a going concern (cough – Beastmilk – cough) and release a similarly excellent full length in the near future.

And that a copy passes my way for review and delectation.

Raise a fainted hand and sway.

Nordland – European Paganism (Satanath Records / More Hate
Productions) (March 25)

A doomy feel that comes off more stoner rock ala Kyuss than the paganized take on black metal it intends to be, Nordland feels much akin to the more doom/Celtic Frost inspired side of Clandestine Blaze, but with several more quirky touches dropped in for good measure.

When things pick up, the vibe lurches a bit more towards a latter 90’s feel (think Tsjuder minus the “Norsecore” bias, or post-“Demonaz” Immortal), but the ghost of Mikko Apsa haunts every corridor of this house, intentional or no.

Interestingly, one man band “Vorh” claims inspiration from the duller end of “classic” UK prog rock, though that’s hardly in evidence in the final product here unless you count a decided quirkiness and reluctance to just settle in to a given groove or tempo and dig in…but the same can be said of far too many bands of the “black/death” and faltering black metal scene of late. At least here it feels somewhat deliberate, rather than the more typical missing of the point entirely that marks the burning Pile of Dead Bards…

That said, this is no PoDB consignee, really – more of the pointlessly over-lengthy faux-“grandiosity” of latter Immortal as filtered through a decidedly Finnish Blaze, further bent out of shape by “Vorh’s” aforementioned over-restlessness and reluctance to just find a mood and build on it.

Only three tracks, but two push towards the 8 minute mark and one runs a full half hour, if you can believe that.

There’s a singularity of vision that comes with a one man project like this, which can often bring out elements that tend to be stifled by the necessity of working with others and accepting their input, ideas and compromising.

But there’s also a distinct disadvantage in the lack of said input.

Sure, it’s well produced, listenable and competent throughout.

But just like contemporary Hollywood and its plethora of self-satisfied “directors” delivering bloated 2 hour plus “epics” that could have said just as much (and far better!) in half the time, this one’s in dire need of an editor.

Lava Invocator – Mork (Satanath Records / More Hate Productions)
(March 27)

Too bad these guys seem to love the blastbeat so much. There’s a fairly unique, crisp yet wet sounding pop to the drum production here, most audible on the slower bits, ride cymbal, footwork and tom rolls.  The snare’s a bit overly tight and snappy, but it’d still work really well…if not for the first sentence herein.

Because that just makes it fucking annoying.

There’s a weirdness to the feel of said slower portions, which is in fact where the band excels – familiar, yet strange in the manner of a town you knew all your life, but only visited in dream. These sections are odd, but work well enough, particularly with the interesting drum production and the overly in your face Demolition Hammer-like snarl vocals.

The bass is unusually audible, though more as a muted overtone than as discrete notes, and that was also a nice touch (though it could have been mixed crisper, for my tastes).

The guitars, though…I don’t know. They kind of blur beneath the in your face drums and vox, and even somewhat into the droning muffled bass tone. And did I mention that despite something of a South American thrash vibe bleeding through, the guy really seems to have a thing for Watain? Yeah. While it’s not as slavish as usual (hell, there’s even a weird solo section in “black dawn” which sadly is not the Corpse/Grave track, but a band original), this element just doesn’t work in the end.

This is a weird one to rate or sum up, really. The drum production works…except when they go all blastbeaty, and it fucking doesn’t.

The bass thing works, but it’s both in your face and overly subtle, which doesn’t leave me inclined to praise the production there. I guess early Mayhem comes to mind here, where the bass is very much present and noticeable, but serving more of a simplified rhythm guitar function and too muted tonally speaking.

The vox are both “black metal” and very much not – again, think stuff like Demolition Hammer, Morbid Saint, Ex Mortis…all of whom are either thrash or death metal bands with “crossover” tendencies to the other style.

And the guitars…just don’t work on any level. The “Swe-black/death” thing really needs to be consigned to the shitcan of history, already.

Parts work, and quite well at that…I’d be inclined to hear what these guys come up with next time around.

This time sort of skirted that funeral pyre of Dead Bards, albeit at enough of a berth to only bubble and char the paint job.

A visit to Earl Scheib may work wonders.

  

Here’s a photo of some random guy eating a sandwich. Because, you know, why the fuck not.

The new Jared Fogle. mmm, Subway.

The Sarcophagus – Beyond This World’s Illusion (Satanath Records /
Death Portal Studio / Fila Sophiae / Sphera Noctis Records) (April 4)

Turkish entree into the Watain Wannabe sweepstakes. The vocals are more swallowed gargle-snarly than usual and there’s a strange hint of Korn to the annoying false harmonic-based riff in “reign of chaos”, but once again, that Swe-black/death sound is all over this one.

Pluses are its intrinsic quirkiness, which includes a Metallica machine gunfire stutter stop riff (at the midpoint of the same song) and a feel that leans closer to Inquisition than template PoDB…but there’s a lot less than 6(66?) degrees of separation between those bands, and The Sarcophagus falls somewhere on a scale between the two.

Apparently they used to have Shining’s Niklas Kvarforth as vocalist, which may explain this.

Did I mention it was mastered at Necromorbus in Sweden?

Yeah, no direct ties there.

Crisp drum production overall, though…and more of the bombast and dramatics of “Dagon” and company than Danielsson’s crew, so they earn themselves a reprieve from being tossed into the burning Pile or bopped with the Whack-A-Mole Hammer of Justice this time around.

Next?

Funeral Tears – Beyond The Horizon (Satanath Records / Cimmerian Shade Recordings) (April 13)

Another one man band, this time working more of a lush, Paradise Lost-ish take on funeral doom.

Don’t expect something like Ahab here, this is far more simplistic in approach and betrays its one man origins with a general thinness of tone on both guitar (which tends to lean far more towards clean tone than crunchy and distorted, even when the distortion pedal is on) and vocals that veer between whispered and depressively mumble-growled like a drunk laying face-down on the kitchen table, slurring words with one cheek firmly planted on the formica.

So it’s more lush and expansive feeling than much funeral doom…but thinner and more simplistic (not to mention less in your face growly and distorted!) than most of it as well.  Say huh?

And yet…that’s exactly what this is. It’s got the lush, keyboard enhanced, roomy and polished feel of the more melodic end of the death/doom spectrum…but with the simplistic, lumbering feel of funeral doom, albeit without the intensity and crunch normally associated with same.

Sure, it works, alright…but you have to treat Funeral Tears as its own distinct animal, and appreciate it on that level.

Because typical for the style, this ain’t.

  

Amentia – Scourge (Satanath Records / Amputated Vein Records) (May 8)

Weird take on tech death (or perhaps more accurately, progressive death) that leans more towards the Watchtower end of the equation than the Cynic or Atheist one.

Lots of stutter stop riffing and atonality, often tied together by a solo lead line that doesn’t appear to bear any relation to the disjointed riffs that it’s supposed to be commenting on and jumping off from.

The drummer clearly spent a lot of time learning all these nigh-random patterns, but it’s so far from tonality and musicality in any sense other than “look, I can make my fingers move fast, mom!”…which is more accurately designated as technicality, and bears little in relation to music in and of itself (though when the two are wedded, watch out!)

Yeah, this was just (a)musical gibberish.

Somebody had to show off to his friends. Buy him a congratulatory beer and save yourself the irritation of actually having to sit through his set.

Next?

  

Opus Diaboli – Black Light Of Destruction (Satanath Records / The
Ritual Productions) (May 10)

Uruguayan black metal.

The sound, unfortunately, is generic enough for them to have shared the stage with Gorgoroth (likely Gaahl/King era), Mayhem (who simply don’t exist post-Euronymous) and Dark Funeral (likely pre-“Heljarmadr”)…nuff said.

I guess they bear most in common with (“Emperor Magus Caligula” era) Dark Funeral, to judge by this release.  Will not be the worst thing you’ve heard in contemporary black metal, by a long shot.

But doesn’t make much of a positive impression, either.

While They Sleep – Les Fleurs Du Mal (Symbol Of Domination / More Hate Productions) (March 29)

Beneath an interestingly off kilter cover and band name, not to mention excellent choice of album title and concept (all Baudelaire, lyrically speaking), lies a poorly produced black metal album that feels vaguely Finnish, albeit minus the pronounced melodic orientation that implies.

The vocals appear to be processed to the sort of pervert phone call hiss straight into the microphone nonsense strangely prevalent in some corners of the “underground” black metal scene of late (Waxen being a recent example thereof), and the guitars and drums are compressed to the point where they sound like kids toys or something.

The whole thing is a half mile away from you as heard through a toilet paper roll – hollow, thin, utterly bass-less in terms of both production and instrumentation. All of the body and life has been sucked out of the mix, leaving only the treble and a touch of mids.

Which is a damn shame, as while not the sort of black metal I gravitate to, While They Sleep has a doomy, midtempo sound that comes off practically as “original” in today’s scene of Wannabes, Dead Bards and “ain’t we eeeeeevil and sooo deep and, like, smart about the occult?” bullshit.

With any measure of actual production, this could have been a comparative winner…

…as it is, quite interesting, definitely worthy in concept and design…but kind of hard to listen to.

Pimeydentuoja – Hellcrowned (Symbol Of Domination / More Hate
Productions / Black Plague Records) (March 31)

And after a Ukranian act that felt rather Finnish, we get a Finnish act that feels rather…what? Swedeath in the proper sense, but with stupid blastbeats all over the damn place and blackened lyrics (and to a lesser extent, vox)?

It’s weird, because while they certainly do fall into the usual black/death pit traps, but the guitar tone leans more HM-2, the riffs tend to play more in the vintage Sunlight Studios ballpark. I don’t get it.

Needs a good colon cleanse to get rid of all those blackened elements…you may have a decent retro-Swedish death metal band on your hands after they shit all that nasty smelling stuff out of their system.

Disorder – Fuego Negro (Symbol Of Domination / Morbid Skull Records)
(April 21)

The weirdest thing about these El Salvador thrashers is that they self-identify as blackened thrash.

In reality, what you get is straight up old school thrash metal, with vocals that vary between a Phil Anselmo/Kyle Thomas meets later Chuck Billy gravelly aggro shout (“carroneros del justicia”) and a more snarly thing that feels more inspired by the likes of Morbid Saint.

Despite that, they’re perfectly workable and don’t distract much from all the headbanging-worthy (if apparently solo-minimal) guitarwork that drives the band.

Not a touch of black metal in this affair (or at least no more than, say, Kryptos), and given the absolute plethora of complete and utter shit piling up in that arena of late (you can’t escape the omnipresent smell of Bard flesh burning…), that’s a very good thing.

Some of the riffing gets busy and fast at points (the last quarter of “existencias paralelas”, for example), so you may be able to draw some skewed lineage to Grotesque or their inferior progeny Liers In Wait (or for that matter, Necrophobic), but that’s about it on the “blackened” anything here.

The riffing’s got plenty of crunch and falls right into the old comfort zone, and the drumming, while overly simple (and terribly overmixed on the snare – feels blastbeaty and in your face even though that style is seldom if ever used herein) is far from incompetent – you can hear plenty of fast trills and gallops on the foot pedal(s) at the very least.

The production’s a bit mixed – not bad by “extreme metal” measures, but hardly up to pristine thrash standards. To be a bit more precise, slower and less crowded parts sound good, but when they all join in and kick into high gear, it gets overly hissy and a lot noisier than you expect to hear from a thrash band. Not “bad”, really, just not quite up to snuff either.

Walk in expecting an oddly-vocalled classic thrash band without the funds for the expected crisp studio production and you’ll be happy here.

I was. Good band overall.

Khatano / Kundorez – Czech Madness [split] (Symbol Of Domination)
(April 22)

And speaking of Anselmo (and to a lesser extent, Exhorder), here we have two “groove” bands out of Czechoslovakia.

Khatano is the more obvious of the two, working BLEEAH BLAH BLUURGH BLEEAAAAAAAAAHHHH!!! growly-shout vox somewhere in the Biohazard/Fear Factory/Pantera range over grinding to thunka-thunka riffing. They even have that snappy “bounce” bass right up front throughout (that faux-“funk” thing that afflicted the 90’s scene – think Massacre‘s Second Coming as the most likeable example of this nonsense).

Even so, they manage to come off more…metal, I guess, than 95% of such bands tend to be. Can’t say I was a fan, felt like brain cells were dying with each lumbering neanderthalic riff…but a hell of a lot easier to listen to than fucking Pantera, that’s for damn sure!

Kundorez lays the distortion on thick and works more of a doom/death to grindcore thing vocally and tonally on the guitar end – it’s very in your face and thick.

But then you realize after a few bars that this ain’t death metal at all…they’re doing some bouncy groove/nu metal/overly melodic thing that sounds like grindcore gone pop, but with a 90’s sensibility all over it.

While Kundorez is clearly the weirder of the two bands here and at a very fast glance would appear to be the more “metal” of the two, that’s only on the surface – play a track or two, it becomes glaringly apparent that Khatano is a hell of a lot closer to anything most of us would ever be caught dead listening to than these guys are.

I guess if you took the vocals and guitar tone/production of Kundorez and gave it to the guys in Khatano, you’d have a good death/grind band.

As it stands, you have two really fucking weird “groove” bands trying to bring some very incompatible styles to the annoying Pantera-derived template…and interestingly, it’s Khatano who comes out as the more listenable of the two in the end.

Pure – J’Aurais Dû (Symbol Of Domination / Obscure Abhorrence
Productions) (May 13)

Well, they’re trying to be “classic” second wave black metal, alright – listen to that dogshit wall of noise production!

Crossing the French, Finnish and Norwegian scenes of yore stylistically, these odd Swiss (that’s right, the home of Shakra, Samael and Messiah – weirdo bands all) shoot for the all mids, hiss and signal bleed noise of, say, Transilvanian Hunger, Nattens Madrigal or Carelian Satanist Madness, but without the strong attention to melodicism and dare we say, catchiness that marked each of those releases and the bands involved.

This isn’t to say there’s nothing of value here – there’s a bit of melodic lead line business, a great album cover and a sensibility vaguely akin to that of Vardan to its credit – but we’ve heard this sort of thing too many times, from too many bands, over too many years…and always more memorably.

If you can get past the intentionally awful production and don’t mind sitting down for yet another dinner of meatloaf leftovers (when that’s one of the only 3 dishes your significant other knows how to cook), there’s nothing overly wrong with Pure.

Me, I’m looking for something different, already – to the point where I’m ready to find another mate to cook for me, here.

Fuck meatloaf.

Disharmony – The Abyss Noir (GrimmDistribution) (April 20)

Greek melodically inclined power metal band. Think less Helloween, Orden Ogan or Rhapsody (of Fire) and more Iron Maiden (or their many copycats like Deaf Dealer or Twisted Tower Dire).

Christos Kounelis works a nasal nigh-baritone sort of thing on the vocal end, amping up the dramatics over the twin guitar assault of John Karousiotis and Stefanos Georgitsopoulos (say those names three times fast, I dare ya), who keep things somewhere between thrash and power metal throughout.

Thanos Pappas’ typewriter double bass and muted tom rolls cement the power metal designation, while occasional syncopated fills point towards a more progressive orientation borne out by their opening for Sanctuary during tour stops in Greece and Cyprus (Kounelis even lets out the rare high pitched shriek in homage to Darrell Wane, so there ya go).

There is some definite 90’s corner of the mouth/false harmonic squealing Alice in Chains bullshit infecting the proceedings here (particularly noticeable on tracks like “vain messiah”), but others like “this caravan” seem to point to post-Empire Queensryche, so go figure.

Definite possibilities for these guys – good production, strong presence and a quirky yet well defined sense of personality pervade this release.

My own feelings about the album are more mixed, but objectively speaking, if any band this month says “these guys may be destined for bigger things”, Disharmony is the one.

Ungraved Apparition – PULSE_0 (GrimmDistribution) (April 23)

Strangely experimental take on “dark metal”.

The vox are very gargle-snarly in the black metal meets a certain corner of the death metal scene sense, but the guitars run clean to detuned in a more gothic doom sense and the album is quite well produced in the same vein.

So are they some ersatz gothicized/somewhat death/doom act, vaguely in the same ballpark as My Silent Wake, Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride and suchlike?

Well…not really, but…yeah, sorta. I guess if you lean a bit more death, but a strange sort where the distorted guitars are thin and hollow toned, the vocals lean more black metal and then everything goes all clean and gothic doom at regular intervals.

Not bad at all – just throws the listener of any background by refusing to provide solid ground.

Just when you think you’re getting one thing and try to settle in and enjoy, these fuckers throw ya a curve ball and bean you in the head…

Yet and still, should hold definite appeal to the gothic doom crowd and may even grab the more open minded death/doomsters by the short hairs.

Given that I enjoy most or all variants thereof to one degree or another, yeah, I was good with it.

Nagaarum – Homo Maleficus (GrimmDistribution / NGC Productions) (April
23)

hmm…well, this is another one man band, this time hailing from Hungary.

But unlike the usual “bedroom black metal act”, this fella leans more instrumental – there are few “vocals” on this per se, and what few instances thereof exist appear to be John Tardy-esque black metal ululations and gibberish.

Further, this isn’t really black metal at all, but another one of those hipster “post-fill in the blank” affairs that combines electronic noises, drum programming (the drums sound rather Atari Teenage Riotlike) and lengthy ambient postpunk meets darkwave clean guitar/multi-track overdubbed sequences.

You could arguably draw some lineage or kinship to the likes of Crystoasium (reviewed last month), but drop the cleverness, the anime influences or to be honest, the overriding “black metalness” of said one man band – this one’s more like some refugee of the 90’s goth-industrial scene just discovered both “lazerpunk” and “dark metal”, then tried to inject occasional tremelo riffs and black metal-like autistic gibberish snarls for good measure.

Nah. Not at all.

Next?

  

Freiheit – Безумие. Ненависть. Смерть (GrimmDistribution) (May 5)

Snarly black metal vocals over clean to overdriven guitars. The riffs feel somewhat akin to the unfortunate and ever-expanding Pile of Dead Bards school of Watain Wannabes, but not enough to qualify as “template” thereof.

Expect gothic to “dark metal”-style clean guitars (which are also fairly well produced and nearly drown out both vocals and drums) working tremelo riffed but yawn-inducing chord progressions (again, it feels quite Swe-black/death in sum).

Decent production on the guitars, to be sure, and the clean feel was oddly unexpected for this general approach and style. If the drums were mixed louder and given more body (they feel like all the bass was sucked out and all you get is mids), they’d also have a decent sound – they are appropriately muted to the point where there’s little to no signal bleed and you can hear every strike.

Even so, it’s hard to say “good production” when parts work, others could work with some work, and the mix is all over the damn place (guitars drown drums and vox are buried somewhere beneath both – but each has some positives to how they were recorded and mixed in isolation from one another).

The band itself…well, the drummer’s decent enough, and the guitarist is at least trying to distinguish himself from the usual, despite his overriding tendency to ape “what’s popular in black metal today”, so I’m inclined to give ’em a pass (rather than the expected fail and toss into ye Flaming Pile).

Work on that mix, guys. You’re a band, not a six string solo act.

Lucifer’s Dungeon – The Dark Army Raises (GrimmDistribution) (May 7)

OK, these guys claim to be a Russian band…but were formed in Thailand?

I don’t know, I give up…

Anyway, this is another mostly instrumental affair, this time working deliberate and obvious ambient and black metal tropes in alternation.

There are few if any vocals to be found on tracks of either style*, but on the rare occasions they do appear, it’s pretty template black metal snarling, leaning towards the decidedly abrasive (as on “destruction”).

* though there’s a batch of full band, vocal-inclusive tracks mid-album that’ll fool you into thinking otherwise for a bit…

Both full band “black metal” and “ambient” tracks are fairly well produced, with a clean and crisp sound to be found on the guitars (distorted or no) and a “wet” sounding if clear drum recording.

Can’t say I was overly impressed or taken with these guys, but I did like the overall sonic palette here, hats off to whoever did production and mastering.

Macabre Demise – Dead Eyes Stench of Death

Standard death metal in the modern sense of the term.

In other words, very ProTools/direct instrument to mixing board sounding, overly “technical” and Nile/latter Gorguts-esque, blastbeat-inclusive…and kinda dull.

The magic days for black and death metal were several decades ago.  While there are a million decent bands working their very best attempts at recreating that retro sound (and finding themselves praised concomitantly for same in these very pages), there are nearly as many acts either going overly syncretist and genre-miscegenation happy…

…or delivering ho-hum, overly modern “evolutions of the style” like this.

Yawn and stretch.

Now where’d I put that copy of Considered Dead, or maybe Consuming Impulse? I feel like hearing some actual death metal.

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