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You know, it’s been a really unusual month.

Right at the start of a much anticipated holiday weekend, we were hit by a nasty bug. This unjustifiably catarrhic malefactor behaved quite differently from the expected and typical, doggedly hanging in there through what felt like several slowly shifting gears towards improvement and spanning a much longer time period than usual.

Early on in the course of this nonsense, things were even pushing the border of being a touch scary, putting yours truly in a zen state where nothing matters or really impacts you but the struggle to get through the moment and rise above to where you were previously.  It’s odd, and hard to describe, but there’s some strange comfort in attaining this singlemindedness of focus – and it leaves you with a changed perspective in many ways, even after things return to relative normality.

Also during this period (right near the end of this malaise’s unwelcome grip, in fact), a somewhat out of the blue reconnection with one of the Third Eye Cinema podcast’s very first guests led to a discussion and interview aired recently that brought things completely full circle.  This after 6 plus years, 4 podcasts running between 200 and 50 episodes apiece (At Eye Level, Third Eye Cinema and Weird Scenes, respectively...those who know about the fourth, know) and thousands of reviews of film, music, audio drama and literary reviews in these very pages.

Some things…well, podcasts were lost early this year, and the return, however temporary, of Third Eye to the airwaves came as something of a surprise to even yours truly…but was this truly a return to square one of sorts, or just an unexpected revisitation to our earliest, pre-website days?

Either way, some of the oldest followers of the podcast(s) and site seemed quite chuffed at the “slight return” of the podcast after so long a remove (not to mention an increasingly exclusive focus on music interviews during the latter half of the Third Eye podcast’s run), despite my still gravel-toned post-affliction voice during same.  But again, it gave some pause for perspective and metacognition.

All of this to say that it’s been a damn strange month, and one that burned away much longstanding, unwelcome chaff, altering perspective and bringing some much needed focus on what really does and doesn’t matter in life.  Little of this means a damn thing to readers here or to the ongoing reviews of film and music you peruse on a regular basis…except to perhaps explain a more mellow, even a bit forgiving tone this month.

Nothing’s changed, and I’m sure any releases well deserving of the incisive art of the slag will get their due comeuppance as usual…but I noticed more of a conciliatory, “eh, it’s not so bad, I guess” vibe playing out this time around.

Perspective can do that to ya.

So prepare for a comparatively “happy trees” landscape this month – and don’t worry, we haven’t suddenly gone all Mr. Rogers or Bob Ross on your ass.  The respective labels either dropped a much better batch of releases on us this time around, or like I said, we may just be in a more forgiving mood at the moment.

So with that, let us gird our collective loins and forge onwards…avaunt!

RADIATION ROMEOS – S/T (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (June 2)

80’s Hollywood metal with a strong Ratt-like feel on the riffs and fills, but with a more anthemic Teutonic power metal style vocal and choral approach appended thereto.

Apparently, this isn’t an accident, either, as gravel-toned frontman Parramore McCarty started off his career working with Robbin Crosby in some respect or other (it’s vague)…though curiously, the Warren DiMartini school of songwriting and fretboard wizardry stems far more from six stringer Dag Heyne, whose style is closer to the aforementioned than even noted flash metal copycat Rex Carroll. So who the hell knows.

Where things slide a bit off the rails is when tracks get slower and more Nashville ballad – “like an arrow”, “promised land”, “ghost town”, “till the end of time” – these are the sort of songs that just scream “old folks singalong at the local bar” (or “classic rock fan”, if you prefer).

But where they stick to the Ratt goes a tad power metal thing?

Yeah, those songs are pretty damn decent.

PRIMAL FEAR – Angels of Mercy – Live in Germany (Frontiers Music
s.r.l.) (June 2)

Primal Fear returns with a middling set leaning heavily on their recent Rulebreaker and fairly contemporaneous material like Delivering the Black. Like most of the Frontiers summer lineup of live releases, Angels of Mercy is a combination CD and DVD set, which may influence prospective buyers more than the audio-only end under discussion here.

I admit, I was never the biggest fan of Primal Fear, though the polish, songcraft and assured performances of folks like Mat Sinner and Alex Beyrodt always manages to elevate their brand of straightforward German power metal well above expectations.

Sadly, outside of the usual layers of studio polish and anthemic backing vocals, some of that veneer and sheen gets lost in translation – the playing is still more than solid and Ralf Scheepers sounds less gravel-snarly than he’s oft prone to, but the oddly generic, quite template power metalness of the band shines through more in a live setting.

No complaints here – perfectly acceptable and certainly should appeal to the seasoned Primal Fear aficionado…but missing that extra special j’n’sais quoi that always seems to save their studio output from…well, yawn and stretch territory.

Nice call and response/dual leads from Beyrodt and Naumann, though.

DGM – Passing Stages: Live in Milan and Atlanta (Frontiers Music
s.r.l.) (June 2)

Jam packed 2 disc set showcasing the Italian prog rockers across continents with two completely different setlists – I didn’t notice a duplicated track among them.

Leaning heavily on their last three studio albums, you get 22 solidly lengthy tracks filled with (for the most part) a distinctly power metallish aggression and drive, but with the syncopation, rapid fire modulation and sweetly melodic choruses of the prog metal scene.

What few ballads intrude are kept to a welcome minimum, leaving plenty of space for six stringer and producer Simone Mularoni to work his fretboard magic. Marco Basile, while prone to a somewhat midrange power metallish gravelliness in tone, often moves straight into the clean, soaring epic phrasing we all hope for and expect from this style of music, with sticksman Fabio Costantino pushing things towards the aggressive (which vaguely calls Tony Williams to mind, though there’s no real comparison in style otherwise) and Emanuele Casali adding some lushness and body with his lightly inobtrusive but omnipresent keyboards.

To the extent I dig into the overly Dream Theater-ized waters of modern prog metal, DGM works most or all of the tropes I look for, while falling into few of its traps (no guitar synth wheedly-whoo bullshit here).

Damn good band. Saluti, paisan.

THE FERRYMEN – S/T (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (June 2)

Primal Fear guitarist Magnus Karlsson, Ronnie Romero of Lords of Black and one of Axel Rudi Pell’s drummers (Mike Terrana) join forces for this melodic power metal affair.

Romero’s vocals are raspy and thin but capable of long fermata holds and a touch of soaring, which has led some folks to trot out the now-tired Ronnie James Dio comparisons, but I’m hearing more Stephen Pearcy by way of Scott Wenzel. Either way, you get the general idea of what to expect here.

Karlsson, who’s worked on any number of projects (Kiske/Somerville, Allen/Lande, Place Vendome, Magnus Karlsson’s Free Fall) brings his solid melodic sensibilities and well structured playing to the fore once again (gasp – you mean he actually picks his note runs?  Shocking!), and DGM’s Simone Mularoni polishes things up nicely on the production end.

Probably won’t set anyone on fire who’s not already inclined to melodic power metal or the harder end of AOR, but this is more than solid and likeably anthemic enough for repeated plays on your next summer trip.

I was good with it.

SECRET SPHERE – The Nature of Time (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (June 2)

Another batch of Italian power metallers with symphonic/prog leanings.

We’d reviewed their One Night in Tokyo a few months back, and found ourselves quite impressed with this new-to-us act (though they’ve been around for a good 20 years, go figure). So how does their latest (and our first taste of their) studio effort(s) pan out?

Well, after the all around goodness of DGM and strong efforts from Magnus Karlsson’s Ferrymen and Radiation Romeos (plus an objectively solid enough live from Primal Fear), I’m not sure Secret Sphere stands out quite so much as expected.

Now, mind, this is no slag on the band or the quality of The Nature of Time, but more of a plethora of goodness. There’s just too much strong material hailing from Frontiers this month to give one a thumbs down and another an emphatically raised lighter. It’s a big bag of palatable comestibles, do you prefer the pizza, the ice cream or the cake? And does one really stand out as “better” or “worse” than the others, or is it all what mood you’re in and which one you’re digging into at the time?

Even so, and trying to be more objective about this (as if we were reviewing this album in isolation from the rest), this is by no means a disappointment, even coming on the heels of what struck us as an especially excellent live album a few months back.

While the album comes off a bit lighter in tone than anticipated, Michele Luppi’s vox are still capable of some nice clean held tones, and at times feel rather Michael Sweetlike. Aldo Lonobile’s guitars, while a bit thin and low in the mix, still manage to bring something of an appropriate crunch, while Marco Lazzarini keeps things busy and quite syncopated on the drum end. Finally, Gabriele Ciaccia wraps it all up in a bow, pulling things towards the dramatically symphonic on the keyboards.

It’s a bit more Dream Theaterish than One Night in Tokyo led us to believe, and a thicker guitar tone (or dual guitars, even) may help give the band some much needed heft…but it’s pretty smooth and melodic, the musicianship is likeable and busy enough to hold your attention and the production isn’t half bad either.

But does it hold its own against the DGM live?

That’s another story…

JORN – Life on Death Road (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (June 2)

Frontiers heavyweights Mat Sinner, Alex Beyrodt, Alessandro Del Vecchio and Francesco Iovino provide stalwart regular reviewee Jorn Lande with much stronger support than usual in this likeablely anthemic, often quite 80’s Hollywood metal feeling affair.

Hearing the title track even before being made aware of the personnel on this already left my jaw dropping in amazement – after several fair to middling releases, Jorn finally drops something pretty damn killer?!? So yes, the band you choose matters. Just ask David Lee Roth…

Some of the tracks feel a bit less inspired than others, or at least less retro in feel…but the musicianship and production (also from Del Vecchio) are solid across the board. Whether you think Jorn’s gravelly tones are absolutely fantastic or more of a shrug of the shoulders, you simply can’t fault the song construction and playing here – this is something of a master class in melodic power metal.

And for someone else to express the bittersweet sentiments on display in “man of the 80’s” was a nice surprise – a touch of kinship goes a long way.

Damn strong stuff, quite probably the best thing you’ve heard from Jorn Lande in years (if not ever).

Harem Scarem- United (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (May 12)

One we managed to overlook last month, long running Canadian AOR act Harem Scarem follows up their Mood Swings IIThirteen and Live at the Phoenix with yet another solid effort.

Harry Hess continues to offer his raspy yet melodic vocals (arguably, think Jon Bon Jovi as a general comparison) and Pete Lesperance his wonderfully shred-tastic take on melodic metal (think Reb Beach with Winger, I guess), there are sweet backing vocals at the choruses, catchy riffs…and tracks like “bite the bullet”, “things I know” and “here today, gone tomorrow”, which kind of sums it all up nicely right there.

I like these guys a lot, even moreso now that I hear their earlier efforts were much used in 80’s cheese classic DeGrassi Junior High.  Damn, I’ll have to go watch some of those again, now…who the hell knew?

It’s more to the lighter, melodic AOR end of 80’s-style hard rock than most of the bands reviewed this month on the Frontiers roster…but it’s also one of the most solid and unimpeachable efforts among an already impressively strong release schedule.

So what the hell are you waiting for, eh?

    

ALESTORM – No Grave But The Sea (Napalm Records) (May 26)

We’d spoken with the scurvy cap’n of this misfit crew, Mr. Christopher Bowes, a few years back, and then found ourselves shanghaied into reviewing one of their live shows, alongside the amusing TrollFest and 70’s retro-rockers Gypsyhawk.

Suffice to say, even moreso than similar leanings or experiments from the likes of Running Wild or Orden Ogan whose “we’re pirates!” is the highpoint of their video oeuvre), we always found Alestorm’s efforts to be the pinnacle of this sub-subgenre of metal: both amusing and anthemic.  And as listeners to that podcast and longtime readers of these pages already know, we have oft hoisted the old jolly roger in their honor accordingly.

But as much as we’d loved their earlier efforts (particularly their arguable career highpoint Back Through Time), we’d found their subsequent Sunset on the Golden Age a bit tired and shipworn, with the old schooner listing to the side and showing a bit of shiprot. Was the whole pirate metal thing over with?

So here we have their latest, 3 years on from that somewhat iffy affair (and a full 6 years since Back in Time). With a gulp of trepidation, we climb the gangplank and board the schooner for one more journey…

Well, if piracy on the festival circuit seas has flown its last jolly roger, you wouldn’t know it from the title track, which brings the same old “stupid songs about getting drunk and stealing treasure” (yes, that’s a direct quote from Bowes, as anyone who’s ever met or spoken to the man should be quite unsurprised to hear). Jaunty, pagan-style drunken crowd sing-a-long style choruses and bouncy, troll metallish jig pit-worthy riffs.

The abject foolishness of all this extends so far as the 8-bit intro to “Mexico” and the silly shock rocker “fucked with an anchor” (whose lyrics basically tell everyone to go fuck themselves while excusing it as some voodoo curse stunting the vocabulary(!), but those longing for an older, more (cough) “serious” version of Alestorm (seriously, what have you been smoking?) should find themselves well chuffed by the more typical “to the end of the world” or “alestorm” and the tavern ballad “bar und imbiss”.

Is it another Back Through Time? Well, maybe not.

But does No Grave But the Sea show a rejuvenated Alestorm in fine fetters?

Aye, matey, that it does. And if you disagree, ye can walk the plank straight to Davey Jones’ locker.

Arrrgghh!

Dying Fetus – Wrong One To Fuck With (Relapse Records) (June 23)

Dying Fetus. One of those names you’d hear bandied about, but if like myself, never actually experienced, given their debut several years after the demise of the death metal scene (1996, to be precise).

Original drummer/vocalist John Gallagher is still on hand and plugging away, but with more recent joinees Sean Beasley (2003) and Trey Williams (2009).

Sonically speaking, the band is working a decidedly Suffocationesque vibe, crossing high speed tech with blastbeat heavy, bowel-deep vomit vocalled “brutal” death metal very much in the vein of that band (perhaps appropriately, Gallagher served time in the live trenches with Suffocation as well).

Production is solid and in your face, with just enough applied reverb and distance to let those false harmonic squeals ring out while keeping kitwork front and center alongside the meaty stutter riffs and high speed tremelo runs. There’s plenty of arpeggiation and business, and everything can be heard without coming off annoying, so hats off for a solid production approach for the style.

There’s really nothing else to say about this one – if you dig classic Scott Burns-era Suffocation (and who doesn’t?), you can’t really go wrong with Dying Fetus – they don’t stray very far from template.

Originality: zero.

Quality: eight to ten, depending on your orientation to this sound and style.

I certainly dug it well enough.

Stahlmann – Bastard (AFM Records) (July 7)

We’d reviewed these Germans’ CO2 two years back, and found them rather more pop than their closest analogue, Rammstein.  Little has changed here, with a radio friendly Gothminister meets Megaherz-like “gothic industrial” approach to the Rammstein template cementing itself as the Stahlmann house style.

Nothing wrong with this, it’s certainly catchy and hits all the (over)dramatic marks you associate with Rammstein, but with more of a “people friendly” if not apolitical vibe. They’re not deliberately setting out to push anyone’s buttons, let’s put it that way…

Didn’t really set me on fire so much as CO2 did, though.

Rhapsody Of Fire – Legendary Years (AFM Records) (June 23)

Founding member Alex Starapoli forges ahead, enlisting fellow disciple of bombast Seeb Levermann (Orden Ogan) on the production end as he showcases Fabio Lione replacement Giacomo Voli with a set of covers from the band’s best days…when they were simply Rhapsody.

Personally, I’d have extended this through 2004’s The Dark Secret (which featured the priceless Christopher Lee vocalled-“magic of the wizard’s dream” as an alternate mix single), but the title ain’t lying to ya, kids – when I had Alex on the show, this batch of albums (from Legendary Tales through the Dark Secret) is why and much of what we focused on. Bottom line: if you ever had a soft spot for Rhapsody, this era was the reason why.

Now as to how things hold up.

Well, I think Rhapsody (of Fire) will continue on, and respectably so – Voli isn’t too shabby of a vocalist. But as you might expect from such a risky maneuver as a “self-covers” album, while it gives the fans a chance to hear how well the new kid handles the classics, it also brings direct comparisons to the table in an unavoidable fashion – you can’t not measure Voli against Lione’s efforts on the very same material.

And listeners to that interview or regular readers of these monthly reviews, for that matter, should be well aware of the regard in which I hold the bombastically operatic Fabio Lione of old.

Further, the songs feel more stripped down – extracted from the albums and ongoing storyline from which they hail, you lose all those cute sound effects of medieval villages and all that pseudo-hobbit D&D feel that made those albums so amusingly cheesy (but utterly loveable).  Even with Levermann’s penchant towards huge backing choirs and bombast, Legendary Years feels like a very good Rhapsody cover band more than it ever does Rhapsody themselves, looking back.

No issues with the playing, the material has obviously more than stood the test of time, and yes, it looks like Voli was a good choice to fill that steel throne of a vocal chair.

But is this the Rhapsody of old, with Lione, Turulli and Starapoli together in full fighting form?

Of course not.

Worth checking out, if only to settle those niggling doubts as to where things may go from here.

Orden Ogan – Gunmen (AFM Records) (July 7)

And speaking of Seeb Levermann and bombast, here comes the latest from his own band Orden Ogan.

While perhaps not up to the arguably career defining standard of To The End, Gunmen represents a welcome return to form after the far more stripped down Ravenhead. Sure, that album had its merits (not least its excellent cover)…but this is more of the Orden Ogan fans know and love.

Melodic, aggressive, filled with memorable sing-a-long choruses and huge vocal choirs, equally indebted to the Helloween and Rhapsody (of Fire) schools of power and symphonic power metal…you even get an appearance from Leaves Eyes/Theatre of Tragedy chanteuse Liv Kristine. To quote a shitty old syndicated TV ad of years gone by, now how much would you pay?

I wasn’t sure what to expect, after the odd right turn of Ravenhead, and the Liv guest spot is all too abbreviated (and later somewhat buried in the huge choral mix). Plus the old West theme? Cheesy and overdone, unless you’re going full on Sono Morti.

And yet…and yet.

There is no question this is the strongest thing Orden Ogan’s delivered since To The End…and in some ways, it even equals (or let’s really push things – betters) elements thereof.

I understand this is available in a few versions, some of which include a live concert DVD from Wacken last year, others which include (and this is the one I want, hint hint, Mr. H) an Alister Vale figure (seriously!) – as usual, we’re only reviewing the album audio per se.

But when the end result is quite this good?

Yeah.

What in hell are you waiting for, man?

Michael Monroe – The Best (Spinefarm Records) (July 7)

A greatest hits album from the erstwhile former Hanoi Rocks frontman.

Now, when we reviewed Blackout States, I mentioned how despite loving Not Fakin’ It (whose defining track “dead jail or rock n’ roll” appropriately kicks things off here, followed by the same album’s “man with no eyes”), that I was surprised to discover he’d kept releasing albums in the years since.

So far as I knew, his career ran from the Hanoi albums to that one last blaze of glory – goes to show how sheltered we are or have been to hard rock and metal here in the States since the early 90’s grunge and aggro invasions.

So most of this is new to me, comprising tracks from several of his 9 (!) solo albums, generally running 2 songs from each.  What was a nice surprise is that more than a handful of tracks here were quite punk or damn close to it: “nothin’s alright”, “hammersmith palais”, “trick of the wrist”, “ballad of the lower east side”, “fist fulla dynamite”, even the high energy 50’s rock of “get on”.

Also of interest to those who’ve kept closer track of Monroe’s career are a number of previously unreleased and brand new tracks, which include the aforementioned “fist fulla dynamite” and a guest lead from Slash on Steppenwolf’s “magic carpet ride”.

Good stuff overall, though I’d have stuck to the more high energy punk material throughout, personally – there are a few too many contemplative midtempo late night bar band tracks (think along the lines of Junkyard) for my taste offsetting the essentials.

The fact that Monroe’s newer material seems stronger than much of the older stuff is all the more credit to the seemingly ageless veteran.

Looking forward to the next album.

M.O.D. – Busted, Broke & American (Megaforce Records) (July 7)

“You people don’t know your history, you’re doomed to repeat it!”

So begins what you’d expect to be yet another politically incorrect (but oft incisive) assessment of the state of the nation in 2017 from the infamous Billy Milano (S.O.D./M.O.D.). Had a female friend who met the guy back in the day – apparently he rammed his head right through somebody’s wall, just for the fuck of it, at some party they were at. You get the idea of where he’s at.

But here’s where things turn a tad strange. After a particularly apropos quote from Dwight D. Eisenhower about the danger of allowing the military-industrial complex to have any influence over political policymaking and expenditure (ahem!)*, we get what appears to be a…not mellowed, but certainly less pointedly sociopoliticized Milano than we saw back in the USA for M.O.D. days.

* the album also closes on a similarly minded quote from John F. Kennedy, showing just how far the American government has declined towards authoritarianism and the tactics of dictatorship over the years. Nice stuff.

There’s also a lot less comedy and taking the piss out of the everyday (where’s the “ode to Harry”, “dont’ feed the bears”, “milk” or “cap’n crunch”?), but look, this is 30 years on, and apparently written during the last days of a beloved family member (OK, it was his dog, but fellow pet owners will understand). So in point of fact, it’s a bit surprising that the album is quite so aggressive and crossover hardcore/thrash as it is…

Musically, yeah, this holds up pretty well against later fare from fellow acts like DRI or Agnostic Front…but that’s part of what’s odd. It doesn’t really feel M.O.D.

The sound is fast, aggressive and grinding, sure to start some especially violent pits anywhere the band plays. But Milano’s adopted more of a raspy shout/snarl over the years, losing the deliberately comic declamatory satirical thing he was known for back when. How can you bemusedly knock society’s foibles when you’re this fucking angry sounding?

And yes, there’s a bit of political resistance (“they”, “go go revolution”, maybe the title cut) – just not all that much, considering. It’s pretty light stuff for Milano.

I guess if you’ve been following M.O.D. all through their career (rather than dropping off around the time they left Megaforce in the early 90’s), you may see this one differently, but for my part, this is some very solid old school crossover with a touch of a more modern punk feel (think something like MXPX), but not enough political heft or social satire for my tastes…certainly not in the same league (for better or worse) as the early S.O.D. and M.O.D. material.

Props to Milano for still crafting and performing music quite this aggressive and real at a comparatively advanced age…I was just expecting USA for M.O.D. (or at least Surfing M.O.D.) 2017, which simply is not the case here.

But if you’re just looking for some decent crossover to bust some heads to, Busted, Broke & American should fill your bill nicely enough.

    

42 DECIBEL – Overloaded (Steamhammer / SPV) (June 23)

We reviewed these guys’ Rolling In Town here and pretty much loved their Bon Scott-era AC/DC meets Moody/Mardsen-era Whitesnake boogie band revival sound.

So is it just a year and a half’s remove, or does this album work even better? I admit to not pulling the last one out of the archives to compare this time around, but damn if this ain’t an even more solid, nigh-tribute band riff on AC/DC when they were most assuredly Aussie and nobody ever (mistakenly or no) tried to (mis)classify them as a “heavy metal band”.

Junior Figueroa pulls off Bon better than anyone since the man himself (last time around we mentioned Dirty Looks’ late Henrik Ostergaard, who was certainly in the right ballpark…but Figueroa’s much closer to template – by a Missouri mile, in fact) and the band’s working a bit less of the pre-Sykes Whitesnake this time around.

If anything, the slide/”blooze” bits come off more Junkyardlike, arguably with the spirit of the 70’s Stones wafting through like a ghost every now and again…but this is pretty damn High Voltage through Powerage Young Brothers through and through.

What’s not to love here? The pervy photo shoot only adds to the amusement factor, so go ahead…dig in.

Another one batted right out of the park from these Argentinians (I’d have ’em pegged for died in the wool Outback-haunting Aussies, all things considered…).

Ray Suhy – Fulmination (EP) (Cessation Engine Records) (June 16)

We’d reviewed Ray Suhy’s last effort, Suhy, Silvergold & Alvarado’s Tessellations a year and a half back and really enjoyed his (and the band per se’s) work there.

So here we are, and Suhy’s released another instrumental solo album…well, EP. How does it compare? Well…think apples and oranges.

Tessellations was a likeable nigh-jazz fusion affair showcasing not only Suhy but his rather young and up and coming drummer, Alex Silvergold. We noted a propensity towards a Tony MacAlpinelike approach to his fretwork, but essentially, it was a clean, fusionesque affair through and through, albeit one oriented towards the “star guitarist” rather than the combo as an organic whole.

This one is an entirely different animal, drawing once more from the Shrapnel school of playing, but far more typically so – think anything from Marty Friedman’s Dragon’s Kiss or Jason Becker’s Perpetual Burn to the first Apocrypha album or Joey Tafolla’s Out of the Sun.

Tracks like “cess pool” lean more Forgotten Scroll, others like “subjugation” lean more Dragon’s Kiss, “cerulean” feels rather Cacophonyesque, and it’s arguable that the title track comes off closest to Edge of Insanity or even M.A.R.S. Project Driver…but the bottom line is, there’s a lot less MacAlpine this time around, and a lot more of the aggressively prog/thrash of the Friedman/Becker team or Tony Friedanelli’s earlier Apocrypha work.

All of which is just fine to this shred veteran‘s ears, mind…just expect something more abrasive, busy and thrashlike than what you’d heard last time around…though he still seems to have a thing for young drummers (at least Fulmination’s Victor Montonaro is out of high school!)

  

VENOMOUS MAXIMUS – No Warning (CD, LP, TAPE) (Shadow Kingdom) (July 28)

We’d spoken with Venomous Maximus frontman Gregg Higgins several years back, on the release of Beg Upon the Light, and while their esoteric cred was…er…somewhat suspect, we found Higgins to be a likeable, laid back sort, with an album that bordered biker band-style Motorhead-inspired hard rock, the then-burgeoning “occult rock” scene and strong elements of classic NWOBHM. In sum effect, nothing to crinkle the nose up over (though many at the time seem to have nonetheless).

So here we are, a good half a decade on, and here comes the latest and greatest from these Texan shitkickers.  Let’s see how it holds up, shall we?

Well, the “occult rock” elements are still present and accounted for.  If anything, Venomous Maximus come off like a more melodically inclined, NWOBHM-influenced Hour of 13, albeit one more riff oriented than doom-centric.

But listening to No Warning brings me right back to the heyday of bands like Portrait and In Solitude, not to mention the aforementioned Hour of 13 – i.e. the heyday of the “occult rock” revival.

Now, is No Warning as strong an album as Beg Upon the Light?  No, probably not.  It’s much of the same formula, but feeling a bit more tired from time and (over)use. What seemed fresh years ago now seems a bit trite, or at the very least an inferior repetition of what the same band had already brought to the table before.

Think Monstermagnet circa God Says No if not Monolithic Baby and you’ll get the idea of what’s being said here. Higgins and company just come off tired, like they want to try to branch out and expand their sound but just can’t really figure out how.

Even so, songs like the title track or even “spellbound” enliven the mix somewhat, leaving No Warning at least worthy of a casual listen to see whether this grabs you or no.

        

TEMPLE OF VOID – Lords of Death (CD, LP, TAPE) (Shadow Kingdom / Hells Headbangers) (July 28)

Death with strong doom/death leanings.

The music is simplistic and pummelling, somewhere along the lines of Autopsy but without the propensity to song fragments and scat.  Unfortunately, they also seem to have forgotten to bring the memorable riffs…

Vocals are buried in the mix, making them sound more like harsh whispers than growls, belches or snarls, and the production leaves the guitar tone sounding awfully thin and trebly, which is not the sound you associate with death metal (thick, grinding) or doom/death (overpowering, perhaps a bit muddy and signal distorting in their sheer force). Drums are similarly simplistic feeling, though you can catch little fills and syncopated bits if you pay close attention.

While not mentioned directly in the album title, there were some hints in promo materials that this may have been some sort of a live recording (perhaps a soundcheck or live rehearsal?) – and this may account for the oddly thin, washed out tone on all instruments.

Either way, Temple of Void come off like a band with a lot more potential and promise than we actually see delivered here.

Ewigkeit – Cosmic Man (Svart Records) (July 14)

Well, this is a strange one. Prog doom?

There’s a strong element of saminess that runs throughout all of the tracks here, where they blur and blend into one another so seamlessly you’ll barely notice the track’s changed.  Mix that with the declamatory baritone-style vocals and the repetitive sluggish to midtempo riffing, and it feels rather doomlike.

But then there’s the busy drumming, some stutter riffs and keyboards that hail more from the prog metal arena. Tag in lyrics that fall somewhere between drug culture and science fiction love, and you again find yourself wondering…is this stoner doom? Or is it prog?

Then realize that some earlier tracks like “cold souls” and “neon ghoul ride” bear choruses that lean a touch melodeath, with shrieked aggro vox that fall anywhere between screamo and black metal…while both “death is the portal” and “neon ghoul ride” come with Hammond organ stings around the chorus that hearken more towards “occult rock” and early 70’s psychedelic.

Elements work, and quite well at that…others fall decidedly flat.  It’s pretty fucking strange, all told.

Best bet, try out the trilogy of “cold souls”, “death is the portal” and “neon ghoul ride”. If those choruses don’t work for you, forget the rest.

But if, like myself, you find those to be the album’s saving grace…you may well want to dig in deeper, to see what else of value can be mined out of this rather unusual project.

Sapata – Satanibator (Inverse) (June 2)

Somewhat bluesy female vocals, vaguely esoteric subject matter/lyrics, retro feel…yep, it’s another late to the bandwagon “occult rock” affair.

Likely recognizing that wave has passed, the band swaps name for album title (yep, they used to be called Satanibator…) and markets
themselves more as a doom band. Well, sure, so was Jex Thoth and
Blood Ceremony before Eldritch Dark…not to mention Hour of 13. And your call where Electric Wizard falls on that spectrum…

So swapping names and labels amounts to 6 in one hand, half a dozen in the other…it’s the same old same old, any way you slice it. But how does this particular quartet hold up?

Well, they’re OK. The vocals fall somewhere between the aforementioned ladies Alia O’Brien and Jex Thoth, but with a bit more of an Alannah Myles feel. I bet these guys do a killer “black velvet”…

The band proper are…fair. Unspectacular in any real respect, but they pull a somewhat indie feel to the doom template, occasionally veering briefly into unrelated styles such as black metal (towards the end of “I the messenger” for example).

Look, anyone who can feature a female vocalist doing a song about “sex magick” and make it kind of boring has some special gift. King midas in reverse, if you will…

You’ve heard worse.

But The Devil’s Blood, this most assuredly ain’t.

MUTANK – W.H.A.T.S.T.H.A.T (Boonsdale Records) (June 16)

Another example of that trademark Canadian humor, Monreal’s Mutank pokes fun at the longstanding thrash tradition of acronymic song titles – the album title stands for “We Have Alotta Thrash Songs That Have Abbreviated Titles”, which they proceed to prove by offering five generally minute and a half tracks worth of same.

It’s all for a cheap laugh, really. Does the fact that they’ve opened for Jackie Slaughter and Skull Fist hammer that home for ya?

The production is a bit thin, which combined with the prominence of the bass in the mix and Stephen Reynolds’ hardcore crossover-style vocals leave Mutank feeling more akin to D.R.I., Nuclear Assault or even Agnostic Front and the Cro-Mags than any classic thrash band proper. Even so…does that really qualify as a complaint?

Look at it for what it is – a Gang Green for the post-millenium.

May be worth a few laughs, certainly more than listenable and you wouldn’t be sad to see them on the bill at a local thrash gig.

Good enough for me.

OPRICH (Russia) – All Sails To The Wind (Casus Belli Musica) (May 26)

Russian Viking/folk metal. It’s a lot stranger than you’d expect.

Now, chances are you’ve heard Russia’s Arkona and Kroda, much less the dozens of bands on the festival circuit doing some measure of Viking, folk and pagan metal. There’s a commonality to all of them that both comforts and bores a bit – you pretty much know what you’re going to get before you even unwrap the package.

This is not the case with Oprich.

If anything, these guys are more folk than metal of any sort…except for the bizarre vocals which slip back and forth between quavering, declamatory and very, very Russian clean tones and a death metal growl/snarl sort of thing.

If the drums weren’t quite so prominent and the guitars didn’t have distortion on them (and it’s kind of light and low in the mix, don’t expect “metal guitars” here), this would be more of a semi-traditionalist neofolk sort of thing…as it is, Oprich is pretty damn hard to classify.

Look, the flute (and sundry other “folk instruments”, as credited) is actually the main instrumentation and focus here – the guitar and drums merely back things up and propel the music forward. There’s two vocals, which feels rather busker-like, and the one guy (who also handles flautist duties) actually credits himself as “Pan”.

Yeah. This is a strange one, to be sure.

Love the cover…and you can’t say this one wasn’t unique and different.

But the novelty record kind of disappeared by the mid-80s at best.

And this is nothing if not some ersatz Napoleon XIV for the post-millenium.

ZARAZA (Canada/Ecuador) – Spasms of Rebirth (Independent) (July 17)

Another South American/Canadian pairing? I remember one of these last month – the band was OK, but the vocalist was that awful aggro shit. Can’t even recall who they were a month on, which says something.

Well, at least these guys aren’t so ill-matched. Not sure of the story behind the band or who hails from which country, but what you get here is an odd, electronic effect-laden take on a mournfully indie sort of doom. Swans and Godflesh were mentioned as references in the promo materials, so you get the general idea – this ain’t exactly Trouble, Sabbath, Pentagram and Candlemass we’re talking here.

Even so, it’s listenable enough as a diversion – nothing exciting to run out and grab, really, but you’d be unlikely to start cussing it out and run to change discs if someone threw it on.

Sorta sluggish and molasses-sludgy, you can trace vague kinship to the likes of Sleep and earlier Electric Wizard, while still remaining firmly in the more Swans-ish realm of indie depressive drone (rather than “doom” per se).

The electronic sound effects leave it feeling like you’re on a construction site or at a lumberyard (“blood of psychiatrists” has to be sampling a table saw cutting plywood sheets to size), which is just fucking wierd and jarring…but yeah, you can listen to this without grousing overmuch.

DEPHOSPHORUS (Greece) – Impossible Orbits (Astrogrind) (Selfmadegod) (Poland) (June 15)

You know, sometimes you wish you could review a band’s intentions apart from their actual product.

When I saw the promo materials on these Grecian philosophers, I thought, damn, this should be good. I mean, they’re talking about deeper meaning to our existence in this plane than what most people consider the components that make up “a life”.

Sure, maybe they could disappoint as usual, winding up just blathering on about faux-esoteric nonsense ala Inquisition, with “dark doings in the singularity and void across the cosmic aethyrs” and all that just cracked open a Buckland’s or Llewellyn at the local Barnes & Noble while listening to Watain bullshit…and who knows: if we’re judging solely from the song titles, that may be where things went in the end.

But there’s promise there in the general concept, the idea that people recognize there’s more than the workaday and material, and that all of this physical stuff really doesn’t fucking matter in the end, or at least not to the same degree as higher aspirations and connections do.

And then…you get an album that sounds like this.

I guess I can give a nod of respect to drummer John Vostis, who keeps that kit a’workin’ and those foot pedals trilling and galloping like Pete Gill on Motorhead’s “Locomotive”.

The rest? Random shrieks, atonal riffs, a whole lot of relentless, aimless noise.

Hey, who knows, maybe they were trying to do an aural equivalent to the pointlessness of life under the corporatocracy, where anything and everything free and natural has become monetized, copyrighted and forced even the most reluctant among us into consumerist slavery. If that’s what all this chaotic noise is supposed to represent, then yes, they hit it.

But personally, I want to hear that transcended, smashed and overcome with triumph and bombastic melodic anthemicism – a victory dance over things that just don’t fucking matter, but which we’re told every day are all that matters, even all that is.

I don’t respect their music, or what passes for same.

But to the extent Dephosphorus may or may not be tapping into that degree of insight, I hear ya, guys.

EL CAMINO (Sweden) – Cursed Congregation LP / CD / Cassette (To The Death / Night Tripper Records (Sweden) (July 2)

An oddly doomy, rather first wave feeling “black metal” act.  In point of fact, they once again sound most like Hour of 13, but with more snarling, blackened-style vocals.

I didn’t care much for said vox, but the band, movie soundbites and feel more than compensate for any deficiencies of their erstwhile frontman. I mean, seriously – how can you complain about something quite this Sabbathy?

Bottom line, if you’re looking for more “occult” doom or something to scratch that Hour of 13 itch, El Camino should fill your prescription quite nicely.

Vox aside, I was certainly good with it.

VERTHEBRAL (Paraguay) – Regeneration (Satanath Records (Russia) (June 29)

Paraguayan death metal. With none too shabby production, even.  Who’d’a thunk?

Promo materials reference Massacra and Vader, among others, which I found interesting. How can you juxtapose the raw, crazed aggression of the Frenchmen with the more controlled, meaty (yet tremelo riff-driven) sound of the Poles?

Well, if anyone could pull that off, Verthebral may have come surprisingly close. Yeah, you can hear a bit of South American blackthrash in the vocals, and maybe the sound is a bit more Loudblast meets Vader than Massacra, but it’s still right in that pocket, and it’s something of an unexpected sweet spot.

You could call in similarly minded Teutonic acts (Protector, early Darkness, Living Death) and still not stray very far from the target sound here…but again, is that a complaint? I was pretty happy with Regeneration, even when they went all stiff arm blastbeat on “spirit in solitude”.

If you’re into any of the bands aforementioned and are curious to see how they’d sound swapping members and with a touch of South American blackthrash influence playing into things, you really can’t go wrong with this one.

I dug it.

     

TOTENGOTT – Doppelgänger (Xtreem Music / Burning World) (July 11)

Punkified Spanish take on classic Tom G. Warrior. Whether Totengott leans more Frost or Hellhammer is open to debate, but I’m feeling more of the former here.

Either way, works pretty well for me, and despite an obvious effort to ape Herr Fischer’s guitar and vocal tones, there’s enough punk and doom influence to keep them from becoming another Apokalyptic Raids or Warhammer-style slavish tribute band.

Only three tracks of Frostified doom, but when “satan beside you” comes off as some ersatz take on Dream Death, you know it’s both heavily indebted to and yet more original than most imitators of the Warrior/Ain/Priestly-St. Mark oeuvre. Hell, even Winter sounded more pointedly imitative…

Good stuff.

GRAVESITE – Neverending Trail of Skulls (Xtreem Music) (August 1)

Italian death metal. Has something of an old school feel despite the quirky riffs and dearth of…substance, I guess?

There’s something about their sound and the production here that leaves Gravesite feeling hopelessly modern and “new school”, and it’s not just “lack of catchy riffs”. They certainly try to keep up the overly busy blackened death style of bands like Grotesque, Liers in Wait, Necrophobic and Centurian, but mixed with slower, almost Autopsian riffs in the manner of the classic (and true) death metal scene.

Drums are overly busy, vocals are overly noisy and in your face (and often dual tracked, especially at the choruses) and the general sound and feel is too fast and crazed to adhere to the vintage style we all fell for (and left the fading thrash scene for) back in the day – there’s an obvious indebtedness to post-collapse of the scene acts like Nile, Cryptopsy or Absu in all the nigh-tech, mildly blackened business going down here.

Not bad for a modern band – shows some degree of reverence for the forefathers and classics of the style.

But as a band ostensibly trying to emulate and replicate the sound of the very late 80’s-early 90’s?

A few riffs and phrases here and there aside, misses the mark by a disturbingly wide margin. Come on, even the drab black and white cover speaks to a more black metal aesthetic than the colorfully grotesque Dan Seagrave and Ed Repka masterworks of old.

You want old school in the post-millenium? Stick to Gruesome and Death Breath – at least there’s no “tech” or “prog” and no hints of “blackened” bleeding through there.

DESESCRESY – The Mortal Horizon (Xtreem Music) (August 14)

Over the past few months, I’ve been digging into some fairly “obscure” corners of the classic death metal world – a lot of bands who never got beyond the demo stage, or perhaps only dropped one album and an EP before fading back into the fog of oblivion.

Many of these bands fell into more of a death/doom arena, with sludgy riffs and bottom of the bowels “sepulchral” vocals – among the most prominent and celebrated of the bands I visited or revisited were Autopsy, Incantation and Funebrarum, with dozens of less well known but similar minded acts working the same general sound and vibe.

And Desecresy fits right in with those.

Perhaps they’re fated to be another Rottrevore, Burial, Interment, Depravity or Wombbath – decent if short lived bands few are aware of and even less celebrate or even think of nowadays.

But for me, that’s no complaint – the quality of a band’s work is hardly commensurate with their popularity and fame (unless you really think Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift and Beyonce are fucking geniuses of the musical idiom, in which case, quite simply, I’m sorry for you).

Then take into account the odd fact that this is a black metal style one man band (a certain Tommi Gronqvist flying solo here), and you have a pretty impressively retro-style funereally vocalled doomified death metal album.

Yep, this one worked just fine for me.

NUCLEUS /MACABRA – Fragmented Self (Morbid Visions Music) (May 26)

Didn’t we just mention Dan Seagrave? Yep, someone dug him up from his watery tomb to craft a cover for this one…

A split between Chicago death metallers Nucleus and Belgian/US combo Macabra (which features Fetid Zombie’s Mark Riddick). Neither band has been around forever, one dropping a few EPs and one full length before this and the other working two full lengths and a few splits, all within the span of the last 5 or 6 years.

Nucleus is my pick for this split, with more of an old school-inspired doom/death vibe. They seldom kick the meter past midtempo and tend to lean a lot slower and more hesitant than that. It’s decent, very listenable stuff.

Macabra, for their part, are working a much busier riffing and drumming thing, though you could hardly label them as “tech” or “prog” in any appreciable respect. The muffled recording actually helps them quite a bit, taking the edge off all the overly busy riffing and giving them something of a Baphomet (of Dead Shall Inherit fame) feel in the few more sedate phrases.

Both bands come off pretty well here, so it’s hardly the usual “half killer, half barely qualifying as filler” thing we see with splits nowadays, but since you asked, my own preference is for the more traditionalist and doomy Nucleus.

But Macabra? Yeah, they ain’t half bad themselves – I certainly wasn’t running for the fast forward button here, to say the least.

A very solid split, definitely one to check out.

 

Lvx Hæresis – Descensŭs Spīrĭtŭs (Atavism Records (France) (April 15)

Swiss black metal. As expected from a Swiss band of any genre, it’s a bit odd and off-template.

The general approach is Pile of Dead Bards-worthy Watain meets Gaahl-era Gorgoroth by way of “Emperor Magus Caligula” Dark Funeral, but the production is oddly strong despite all the reverb and there’s more of a fat toned, sluggish, almost doomy feel to the riffing.

As typical for this style, just about every song sounds the same (do they ever even change key?), and it’s far too close to, if not template, then the modern black metal school of thought than I care for.

Yet and still, I’ll spare them the usual consignment to the flaming Pile, for the strong focus towards atypical doom and production elements.

No, it’s not my thing, but I’m not exactly running for the fast forward button, either.

Your move.

Requiem For Oblivion – Burning Nation (June 9)

Tech death with a quirky feel.

Production (particularly on opener “fuckisil”) is pretty questionable, with guitars very much up in your face and dominating the mix to the point where you wonder why they bothered punching in vox and drums at all. I don’t think I’ve heard a recording this skewed and off, though some earlier Morbid Angel may have skirted the general ballpark. But seriously, this is one screwed up mix…

Later tracks may emphasize other instruments more (“shards of glass” shoves the bass right up front for a minute or two early on, “death legion” pushes the weird, ever changing and oft processed vocals higher up in the mix), but it feels like a desktop mixing job – for this 4 bars, let’s push the bass up front! OK, now the vox need an airing for a few bars…wait, have to make sure the guitars still dominate the mix to the point where the rest is pummelled into oblivion…

What’s strangest about this is that as you progress towards the latter end of the album, tracks get more…mainstream? Sort of melodic and acceptable to a more general listening audience? It’s all on a relative scale, mind, but even so. You go from full on tech wankery to something a bit more passable, musically speaking. Still not sure it’s any better, but it’s mellower and more traditional, I guess.

Look, the guy’s apparently been out there with Mushroomhead and Kriadiaz, so you get the idea of what “mellow and traditional” means here…but it’s a weird product overall, arguably best falling under technical death metal without truly syncing up with the tropes and standards thereof.

Nah. I’m feeling kinda mellow and forgiving this month, but this is still really not my thing.

Sierpes (Ecuador / Colombia) – Visiones Caóticas (Morbid Skull Records (El Salvador) (June 9)

More South American blackthrash, this time out of wartorn El Salvador (OK, may be showing my age there, it’s probably a lot calmer these days).

Chaotic visions, indeed! This is much akin to Colombia’s Witchtrap in feel, but without the open and obvious Kreator/Destruction influences.

What you get here is straightforward, simplistic, hyperaggressive high speed tremelo picked riffing, harsh Bestial Holocaust-like vox and drums that veer between fast two beats with occasional gallops on the double bass and stiff armed blastbeats. He’s using one of those inverted china cymbals that comes off rather oddly in the recording – the tinniness of it practically stops things short every time it’s struck.

I guess the overall closest analogue would be less Sarcofago than Witchtrap (in terms of riffing) crossed with Bestial Holocaust (in terms of vocals and aggression). The mix is raw, but clean and fairly well produced overall, particularly given the likelihood of limited funding behind it.

I liked it…but then I liked Exterminacion Final and No Anaesthesia a hell of a lot too.

Good stuff for the type.

  

Moribundo – Raíz Amarga (Satanath Records (Rus) & More Hate Productions (Rus) (June 18) 

Another somewhat gothicized death/doom affair, this time out of Spain.

The title translates to “bitter root”, so you get the general idea here…but their sound is oddly schizophrenic. Some of this sounds like a classy gothic doom sort of thing…others go nigh industrialized melodeath, if you can picture such a thing.

Moments felt like Disintegration-era Cure, others were very thick, distorted and in your face like early Fear Factory. Still others were positively Paradise Lostlike, with funereal guitar lines propelling the riffs and booming, open mouthed growl vox. It still works, even mashed all together haphazardly like this…but it’s odd, and manages to rankle somewhat.

A little less in your face aggression and more emphasis on the doomier, more melodic elements, Moribundo would be more than worthy of a global stage.

As is, they’re certainly promising and definitely worth lending an ear to…but uncomfortably flawed and disjointed where you’re expecting them to be assured and cohesive.

It’s their first album. I’m betting round 2 shows them shaking off the baby fat and coming out swinging.

Evil Nerfal (Colombia)

South American blackthrash leaning more particularly black metal per se.

The vocals are abrasive and shriek-prone and you still get the speedy, aggressive tremelo riffing and stiff-armed blastbeat business established by Sarcofago’s “D.D. Crazy” circa INRI, but the vocals and sinister feel join with an indefinable aura of European style black metal. Perhaps a tad more Greek or Italian in feel than Swedish or Norwegian…but you get the idea.

Production is odd, as the sound seems to shift from track to track: “immesurable antimony” is thin and hollow, almost tube amp style on the guitars – think Ulver’s Nattens Madrigal or Darkthrone’s Transilvanian Hunger as a general analogue – while “empire of fucking blackness” feels a bit fuller on the rhythm guitar and drums, while emphasizing more of a trebly hiss on the leads and cymbals.

Other tracks vary back and forth on a scale between the two sounds, making it questionable as to whether this was recorded at different times and different studios. Maybe someone was just passed out drunk and screwed with the levels and faders on the mixing board?

When not doing the stiff arm thing, the drumming’s not bad (check out portions of “la voz de mi odio”) and there’s certainly an “evil” feel throughout, most recently best associated with the Portugese scene if not something like Ormgard, but either way, there’s enough of something there not to dismiss ’em out of hand.

While I can’t say this is likely to sit on the top tier of black metal classics for the ages, Evil Nerfal certainly makes the best of what limited resources they’re likely to have scared up, transcending any barriers of finance and obscurity to deliver a solid, very South American style black metal album.

Fans of the likes of Pentagram (Chile) should be quite chuffed with this one.

  

DESCEND INTO DESPAIR – SYNAPTIC VEIL (Loud Rage Music)

Somewhere between Warning and My Silent Wake comes Descend Into Despair, a Romanian act with a rather British feel.

There’s a lot of melodicism and augmentation by lead line, keyboard stings and even piano and (sampled) strings. Vocals are clean and mournfully chant-like and the music is lumbering but not quite funereal – this is more My Dying Bride than Winter or Mythic, more Ceremonium than Ahab.  But is that a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination?

As with all doom/death (or gothic doom, for that matter), this is contemplative, atmospheric stuff, sure to carry the listener to lonely faraway ocean shores…

…and yeah, I pretty much loved it.

Progenie Terrestre Pura – oltreLuna (Avantgarde Music) (June 9)

hmm, here’s an odd one.

Italian act who essentially identifies as black metal…but with a science fiction concept and orientation and quirky, singsongy riffing that leaves them feeling…not prog, exactly, but certainly…experimental?

I actually quite liked this – wasn’t sure what to expect going in, but the vague Queensrycheisms and hints of an Iron Savior meets Voivod aesthetic were certainly not among the list of possibilities and potentialities here.

Seems like this whole project is the brainchild of a Davide Colladon, who brings in new members Emanuele Prandoni (vox) and Fabrizio Sanna (bass) to back him up and fill out the vision. No idea what the prior album sounded like without them, but this one’s certainly interesting.

That said, the vocals are overprocessed and harsh, falling somewhere between black metal and old school industrial, and as usual for these sort of rock/metal affairs, you seldom if ever hear the bass at any point…so in the end, it all comes right back down to Colladon.

The riffing is really hard to describe – it’s melodic in a certain sense, proggy and stutter-prone in another…and yet falls properly under neither camp.

Like modern pop music with its propensity to all-chorus, preverbal ululations and nursery rhyme singsong, Colladon’s lead lines move from a sort of spastic tech death stutter stop thing harmonically speaking to this weirdly likeable but very, very strange and unique children’s melody thing.

Tag in the 80’s postapocalyptic soundtrack cum industrial dance-style keyboard and electronic bits, and you have a weirdly proggish, death metal oriented or at least fairly harsh sound prone to Zappa meets The Residents-ish spastic “melodic” thing at the choruses.

So in the end, how the hell do you classify Progenie Terrestre Pura?

Well, they’re certainly not black metal in any respect. But are they really prog, or tech death, or melodeath, or some ersatz variant of pop melodic either?

Honestly, there are a few times where you just throw your hands up in the air and shake your head. Generally, those are in disgust and frustration, over “music” so poor and ill-deserving of the classification thereof that it leaves the unfortunate listener in utter disbelief and disdain that anyone would waste their time producing such a thing, much less release it on an unsuspecting public to suffer over.

This is not such a case.

In fact, it’s pretty damn likeable…if you can sit through it without any real pre-judgements or attempts at proper classification. It’s dark and moody, but melodic and consonant just as much as it is busy and progressive…and damn near impossible to pin down as whatever the fuck musical category it truly falls under.

And yeah. I liked it just fine.

Final Coil – Persistence Of Memory (WORM HOLE DEATH) (June 23)

Strangely, this is the second time this month Warning comes to mind.  Sure, they’re a UK band, so the accent probably plays into this on some subliminal level…but that’d be pretty damn superficial of a comparison: “just because they’re both British, they must be the same, right?” No.

What’s really prodding at me here is the word “emotional”. When you think Watching From a Distance, do you think “standard doom metal”?  Or do you put it aside as something unique and all of its own, yes, doom, but something else entirely?  Pained, emotive, struggling in a way that hundreds of crappy teenage emo bands only wish they had the depth and life experience to be able to express.

Now, is Final Coil the depressing, even harrowingly dark experience that Warning is? Hell, no. But it’s dark, alright, and far more introspective, shoegazey and yes, depressive than you’d expect.

Interesting, therefore, that the band considers themselves more of a prog or post-metal concern. References are made to both Kings X and grunge acts like Alice in Chains and Tool…and you can hear all of that in there. Hell, in the latter two cases, may even explain all that Warning-esque dark emo feel. But is this truly a prog band in any real respect?

Well, phrases here and there betray some orientation thereto. Gentle Giant comes to mind late in “dying”, the aforementioned Kings X in portions of “corruption”, a touch of Voivod in “spider feet”. But no, this isn’t prog at all.

I guess if you take Watching From a Distance-era Patrick Walker and tag in Jerry Cantrell on guitar and have Maynard Keenan helping craft the phrasing and tone, you’d have Final Coil in a nutshell.

A bit too “outside” and grungelike for my more doom-oriented tastes, but not a million miles removed, either, I found Persistence of Memory acceptable but inessential.

Those more inclined towards the 90’s indie/grunge sound may find themselves a lot more pleased with the end result.

Wolvenguard – Elemental Reclamation (Independent) (June 30)

Three track EP of arguable pagan metal, with strong death leanings.

It’s not melodeath by any stretch, but bears the anthemic, chest thumping feel of the better Viking and pagan metal acts…albeit without the sing-a-long drunken party vibe or folkiness generally associated with those styles. Shall we coin the phrase Paga-death?

There’s plenty of melodicism to the solos, the riffs walk some odd tightrope between Graveland, Primordial and Manegarm, but with a driven, typewriter double bass death metal vibe and gargle-growl vocals (which occasionally go clean tenor, then Moonspell-ish baritone – go figure). It works and meshes a whole hell of a lot better than it sounds on paper.

Promo materials reference Ex Deo, Amon Amarth and (presumably post-Hammerheart) Bathory, so you get a general idea of the lay of the land here, but it’s more quirky and imprecise than any of those markers would suggest.

The production is pretty decent as well, which certainly helps when you’re shooting for something this full bodied and barrel-chested – no point in a puny, thin, treble-afflicted Viking warrior heading out to battle at sea, right?

Strangely, they seem to be co-opting the made up genre of “archaic blackened” metal for themselves, but there’s nothing blackened or “ancient” about this – it’s all quite modern European metal, somewhere in the festival circuit power meets symphonic by way of pagan/Viking with elements of death spectrum (and leaning more towards the latter end than the former). Who knows, you have to ignore most of that shit anyway, it’s nearly always wrong…

Bottom line, I liked it just fine. It’s powerful, anthemic, melodic, bombastic and both familiar and strange all at once.

Good enough for me.

Looking forward to the full length.

PERISHED – Kark (ATMF) (June 26)

Reissue of the 1996 album from these Norwegians. Apparently the goal was to replicate the more folk/Viking oriented acts among the younger second wave black metal scene: Enslaved, Satyricon.

And while I was never all that big a fan of either band mentioned, I have to admit that judged by those standards, this ain’t all that bad.  In fact, it’s fairly decent for the type.

Production’s a bit thin, but drumming is straight ahead and relentlessly solid, there’s plenty of tremelo riffing and snarled vocals as appropriate to the period, nation and style this hailed from. There’s really nothing to complain about – if you like this school of Norwegian black metal, you should probably run out to grab this one (assuming you don’t have a copy already.)

Expect more Vikinglgr Veldi than Frost,* more Shadowthrone than Dark Medieval Times or Nemesis Divina, and you’ll be all set.

* this reverses on the self titled EP tracks, appended here as bonus tracks – “kald som aldri foer” feels quite “loke”.

Barbaric Horde – Tainted Impurity (War Arts Productions) (August 4)

War metal. Promo materials compare ’em to Black Witchery and Archgoat, which are certainly closer to what these Portuguesos are working than the more typical touchpoints of Beherit, Blasphemy and Conqueror/Revenge – Black Witchery in particular bears some kinship to the sound here.

Pretty standard for the genre – with war metal, you either like the stuff or you hate it. I tend to appreciate it more often than not, and while this isn’t exactly up to the level of, say, Death Worship, there’s nothing especially off or wrong about Barbaric Horde to call ’em out on the carpet about.

They know the bludgeoning basics expected, and fulfill ’em as required – nuff said.

BONEHUNTER – Sexual Panic Human Machine (CD, LP, TAPE) (Hells Headbangers) (August 4)

Finnish blackened thrash, very much in the early Bathory meets Motorhead school but with some of those trademark Finnish melodic lead lines over the riffs and Philthy Animal Taylor-style double bass kitwork.

I guess if Satanic Warmaster lent his vocals and a few musical touches to a punkier, more biker metal act, you might get something along the lines of what Bonehunter’s laying down here – the vocals are overly raw and a bit processed, the general vibe is quite Motorheadlike but with all the melodicism of Finnish black metal (or for that matter, Finnish death metal – must be something in the water over there).

You already knew I was 100% on board with this one, right?

  

NEXUL – Paradigm of Chaos (CD, LP, TAPE) (Hells Headbangers) (July 28)

Black/death with over-reverbed “bestial” vocals, silly blastbeat and four on the floor drumming and guitars so overly distorted and subjected to so signal bleed prone of a mix as to be indistinguishable if not inaudible entirely.

Bottom line, every track sounds exactly the same, and it’s the same old, same old “underground” black/death bullshit in a new package.

Hey, look, somebody must be buying into this nonsense, so if this gets ’em a few sales, more power to ’em.

Personally, I’m pretty sick of this miscegenated sub-subgenre.  Give me black metal, give me death metal…but never the twain should meet.

Next?

Or is that Next-ul?

INVOCATION SPELLS – The Flame of Hate (CD, LP, TAPE) (Hells Headbangers) (July 7)

We covered these Chileans’ Descendent the Black Throne a year and a half back and enjoyed their midtempo take on classic South American blackened thrash. So has anything really changed here?

Well…no!

The band sounds much the same as ever and the influences are all there: early Sepultura, Sarcofago, Vulcano, maybe a touch of Pentagram or Holocausto, albeit slowed down to a more midtempo thrash pace, allowing the “evilness” of the riffs to settle in better.

This is one of those albums that you feel could easily have hailed from the 1986-8 period, unheralded and undiscovered till now, were it not for a few open chord dissonances that speak to a Watain inspired background.

Minus those, this is pretty true to the old school Equatorial blackthrash vibe. I was good with ’em once again.

Atavisma – On the Ruins of a Fallen Empire 7″ EP (Blood Harvest) (June 9)

French death metal, mostly adherent to the funereally-vocalled, doomish variety, but with some decided blackened touches to the riffing and feel as well.

Only two tracks, so hard to pin down exactly where these guys stand, but I was good with what I heard here.

Vehementer (Serbia) – Replenishment Circle (The Black Spectumfest) 7″  EP/TAPE (Blood Harvest) (June 9)

Serbian blackened thrash…more or less.

It’s relentlessly high speed throughout, only slowing down for a bit during final track “crush the oathbreaker”, and while there are a few trill riffs that feel vintage enough, much of it comes off as overly modernized and a bit too black metallish to still qualify as any variant of thrash.

Vocals are overly raw and snarly, production is kind of dicey and prone to hollowness and trebly signal bleed…even at their best, more midtempo moments, the sound is thin and brittle.

Overall, not the worst I’ve heard, but nothing to write home about either – I certainly wasn’t particularly enthused by this one.

Best tracks to check out for the curious: the title track and “oathbreaker”.

Urn (Finland) – The Burning CD/LP (Iron Bonehead) (July 28)

Finnish blackened thrash? hmm…who the hell knew?

Sure enough, a former member of Barathrum delivers a cross between South American blackthrash (think Sarcofago, Holocausto, Sextrash) and the Teutonic iteration thereof (think Desaster, particularly in the Oliver “Okkulto” Martin era, Sodom or the classic German blackthrash worship of Colombia’s Witchtrap).

This is pretty damn solid stuff, drawing as much from Motorhead and Venom (“hail the king”) as the aforementioned acts, and despite obvious kinship of influence, bears little relation to the US-based biker band blackened thrash scene so often encountered in these reviews – you can tell these guys are, if not European, then certainly “other”. There’s something different in the core feel and approach.

There are folks who can’t stand deliberately retro-minded acts like Warhammer, Aura Noir or post-Panzerfaust Darkthrone…and if you’re one of those, you probably won’t like Urn either.

But if like myself this is your home base and something of a personal wheelhouse, you probably want to bring some marshmallows to roast at The Burning.

Just be warned – it’s a pretty strong blaze. No promises about any seared eyebrows and charred arm hairs that may result.

Rope Sect – Personae Ingratae 12″ MLP (Iron Bonehead) (August 4)

Damn, did Ian Curtis just come back from the grave?

On their better tracks (“fallen nation”, “tarantist”) this German trio comes off much akin to a Joy Division gone more particularly gothic darkwave than the dark electronic synthpop they actually were, with the same general vibe as Beastmilk but far more of a Nick Cave influence.

On other tracks, the Bad Seeds-era Cave gains more prominence, with slower, more depressive material you could arguably compare to a Closer-era Curtis and company (which I always found far lesser than their Unknown Pleasures/Ideal for Living material, not to mention the non-album “love will tear us apart”).

When they pick up the tempo and get a bit more on the right track, Rope Sect is fairly impressive.

Unfortunately, the bulk of this release leans more towards the mopey Cave/Closer end of the equation – listenable enough, but not something to cream your jeans over.

Not a bad debut, all told – just hoping things lean more in the right direction next time around.

Blooming Carrions – Sparkling Rotten Dreams TAPE (Iron Bonehead) (August 4)

Another Finnish band, this time a brand spanking new one releasing their very first demo.

It’s a three track, decidedly muddy and muffled sort of speedy blackened death metal – all fast, quirky tremelo riffs in the general ballpark of Grotesque or Necrophobic, but with barely audible “sepulchral” death vocals ala Incantation.

Doesn’t really feel all that death metal to me, at least not in the proper, old school sense…and yeah, it’s a demo, but the recording’s kinda shite.

With any microphones muffled beneath an industrial-size pile of blankets and pillows, it’s hard to give this one more than a tired shrug of the shoulders.

Next?

 

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