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Well, here we are, smack dab in the ides of Summer (or thereabouts), and true to form, it’s been something of a mixed bag.

Even beyond the antics playing out on a world stage (what do you expect when you give the keys to a doddering old fool more used to driving the clown car around a circus ring (or is that “golf cart around the links”?), much less one resoundingly mocked and treated with wariness by his own ostensible “class” and social/business circles for decades?), this has been a strange, very divided month or two.

A long, inexplicable bout with illness, followed by an unplanned semi-return of the Third Eye Podcast.  One of the best holiday breaks the wife and I have had in many a year, followed by the news that two of my last remaining confidants and compatriots are being let go from the job this week.  And other matters this isn’t the forum for discussion of, even more undesirable…but always bookended by an unexpected and undeniable positive of equal or greater worth.  Like I said, it’s been a weird pair of months or so, between the onset of May and mid-July.

And to continue playing out this very theme, here we have a batch of really quite goodies, often from unexpected corners and new or recent sources (thanks to all of you, and welcome!)…appended by a few dire stinkers, dealt with as gently as we’re typically given to (cough) and in due course.  (Seriously, we do try to rein it in a bit and find positives wherever possible – and you can cue Jack Palance here: “believe it…or not!”)

So without wasting everyone’s precious internet surfing and shite television-absorption time further (seriously, what the hell else have you got to do, really?), let us proceed with the festivities, shall we?

To quote the short lived, Omar Khayyam-esque meaningful sounding nonsense-spouting Moonlight Knight of Sailor Moon R: “A-dieu!”

Or is that “A-vaunt!”…

GRAHAM BONNET BAND – Live… Here Comes the Night (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (July 7)

The man, the myth, Graham Bonnett returns with what more or less amounts to a live version of November’s The Book, once again walking through a number of hits from his always too brief stints with Rainbow, MSG, Alcatrazz and Impelliteri (sadly, none from his stint with Anthem…)

Bonnett has always been one of a kind, sporting Don Johnson Miami Vice suits, Risky Business aviators and a punkish Billy Idol crop amidst a scene where long, feathered and heavily styled hair was a badge of honor (and lack thereof open to mockery and derision) – but once he opened that throat and started belting ’em out, people shut up and listened.

In fact, his single album gigs with each of the aforementioned bands (bar his own Alcatrazz) generally stand out as said acts “best of career”, at least so far as I’m concerned, so it’s clearly more than just a casual gig for the man – he brings something with him that simply cannot be replicated, love him or no (and I’ll let you guess where I stand on the matter, if it’s not patently obvious already).

He appears to have lost fellow Alcatrazz alum Jimmy Waldo between The Book and Here Comes The Night, but Fates Warning’s Mark Zonder and new kid Conrado Pesinato are still on hand.  More importantly, Bonnet appears to be in rather good humor throughout, laughing and joking around between songs and seldom fudging more than a note or two, despite his original performances of these songs dating back a good 35-40 years (!) As with the studio version from November, it’s damn impressive.

Now, is Pesinato Chris Impelliteri? Yngwie or Steve Vai? Michael Schenker? Richie Blackmore?

Fuck, no.  You’ve got to be kidding me.

But does he hold up his end well enough, managing not to embarrass himself unduly as their surrogate here…and with world class legendary players like those, that’s more than enough of a compliment to settle on.

And as for Bonnet, while it might be nice to hear some new material out of him, if anyone has the right to rest on some indubitably impressive laurels, he’s the one.

Respect.

TEN – Gothica  (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (July 7)

Smooth British rockers. Apparently they’ve been around since the mid-90’s and with Frontiers throughout the better part of the millenium – this marks their return to the label after a 5 year/2 album hiatus therefrom.

The experience shows in the sweet multi-tracked bridges and choruses, the excellent, anthemic and even a bit emotionally charged key changes (listen to the pre-chorus bridge through chorus and its harmonic repeat during the solo during “the grail”, and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about here), not to mention the assured performances by all concerned.

This one’s a bit more thematically interesting than expected, as they seem to be tapping, however superficially, into the tropes of classic gothic and medieval literature (they touch on Arthurian mythos – albeit by way of the Crusades, Robert Louis Stevenson and Bram Stoker among others.  Sir Thomas More?  Seriously?). The most authentically “gothic” thing about the album, unfortunately, is the cover (which is rather nice, even a touch Decadent), but give ’em props for making the effort.

After all, Ten are no gothic rock or metal act, nor do they work the gothicized/faux-symphonic black metal of their countrymen Cradle of Filth (whose long awaited return to classic form Hammer of the Witches has been in regular rotation of late on this end) – these guys are a polished AOR band.

Where things turn weird is on the incongrous “in my dreams” and “welcome to the freak show”, which feel more like All 4 1 outtakes than songs touching on classic horror, gothic and historical literature.

Of course “La Luna Dra-Cu-La”, while catchy as hell, is a bit too happy happy joy joy for its subject matter as well, so I guess the band’s natural positivity and innate eubellience is just ill-suited to this sort of dark and introspective thematic appropriation…

Either way, if you don’t mind the glaring inauthenticity of a light hearted (if polished and rather good) AOR band talking of the shadowier corners of fiction, you really can’t fault the execution or performance here…and some tracks, like “the grail”, are absolutely stunning in their sheer, unassailable quality.

Weird, yes.  But bad?  Far, far from it.

KRYPTONITE – “Chasing Fire”  (Frontiers Music s.r.l.)

Very, very polished and self-assured. Melodic, well structured songwriting…but the somewhat bland chorus lets them down (“FI-YAH, FI-YAH!”) and the twice modulated (and mostly out of key) solo doesn’t fit in the least.

Did appreciate the swipe from a certain Jake E. Lee-era Ozzy track in the lyrics, though…

Let’s see what the other single tells us, shall we?

KRYPTONITE – “This is the Moment” (Frontiers Music s.r.l.)

Jakob Samuel sounds a bit Yngwie frontman here – very Jeff Scott Soto circa Rising Force and Marching Out.

The pronounced keyboards also add to this impression (though there’s no high speed neoclassical “dueling banjos” ala Jens Johanssen here), but while Michael Palace’s guitars are flash enough, his style comes off more Reb Beach than Malmsteen (though you have to admit, he does actually pick some of those runs). Sadly, the chorus, while not as weak as “FI-YAH, FI-YAH!” is still less than anthemic. Melodic, yes.  Inspiring, no.

Even so, the general feel is very, very classic Yngwie…so I liked this one just fine.

Looking forward to what the full length brings – the band’s strengths definitely outweigh their weaknesses, however it may come off from these two single reviews.

THE NIGHTS – “Juliette” (Frontiers Music s.r.l.)

Interesting – a sort of melodic emo-style riffing that gives way to a Nashvillesque country-pop verse, then comes back around for the chorus.

There’s something about the use of keyboard and guitar at the choruses that brings Final Countdown-era Europe or Slippery When Wet-era Bon Jovi to mind, so it’s pretty catchy and loveable at the choruses – American Angel also works as an analogue here, so you get the general idea.

But then they go back to the country thing in the verses, complete with the sort of “blues riff” that screams “Tammy Wynette”. Very strange and almost schizophrenic…thankfully they more or less just stick to the chorus from the second iteration through the end of the song.

I liked the parts that didn’t stink of country very much.

THE NIGHTS – “Welcome to the Show” (Frontiers Music s.r.l.)

Are they just repurposing the same chord progression from “Juliette” here?

Well, this time around, they add a bit more of a modernist electronic feel, with some chugging modern metal guitar for punctuation during the back end of the verses. Some AOR/pop metal ooh-ing and aah-ing in the bridges and chorus don’t really save this from being a far more forgettable album track than “Juliette”…but the post-chorus bridge leading into the solo (and the solo itself) nearly does.

This band seems to have moments, but all the parts don’t quite gel, at least on the first listen (people tend to adapt to almost anything melodic with repeated listens, after all).

Curious what the full length brings – they may be somewhat flawed in parts, but definitely have potential.

ALL 4 1 – World’s Best Hope (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (July 7)

A decidedly Bon Jovi-esque affair, at least of the post-Slippery When Wet style thereof.

Touring or latter day members of Giant, Sammy Hagar and Ace Frehley’s bands join forces for a very solid, radio-ready melodic rock/AOR affair sure to please the lady of the house (and likely not offend the male therein overmuch either).

Well phrased solos, tight song construction, harmony vocals (shades of Jeff Pilson in Dokken!) and a midtempo, slightly countrified radio pop-rock that occasionally turns a tad darker (in the way you’d say that about mid-80’s Heart or Cher, or even early Michael Bolton, so don’t get too excited, there), as in “cyanide” or “show me the way” – which of course represent the album’s best moments.

As always for this sort of lighter rock, the only misstep is in the inclusion of an actual ballad (“mother don’t cry”) – the rest of the album’s mellow and lighter-friendly enough, guys, you don’t need to cool it down any more! 

Even so, there’s really nothing to complain about here – this is some very solid AOR, and if you dig later Bon Jovi (or perhaps the lighter moments of Autograph, or perhaps even Journey minus the bombast), you should absolutely love All 4 1.

Good stuff, in all objectivity.

RIVERDOGS – California (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (July 7)

Speaking of legendary guitarists, Sweet Savage/Dio/Whitesnake six stringer Vivian Campbell goes all bar band rock, apparently for the fifth time, with California.

Campbell’s leads are, as ever, the real selling point here, and the only times these songs really seem to open up and breathe.

Don’t take my word for it, give a listen to opener “American Dream”, and hang in there until the solo – it’s like two completely different songs.

What drags Riverdogs down is the front and center, over-prominent vocal placement of fair to middling vocalist Rob Lamothe, who gives the distinct impression that he’s falling asleep during the recording sessions.

Perhaps he’s just trying to be “intimate”, and not opening his mouth enough to avoid the corner of the mouth jowliness the yuppie rock/grunge crowd seems to love so much (hello, Dave Matthews)?  Who the hell knows – but he’s certainly no Ray Gillen, Eric Martin or David Coverdale (guys who actually could work this sort of late night beer-soaked bar band blues rock thing right, in their respective heydays).

Look, Viv’s had a serious health scare of late, so it’s just good to hear the man in fine fettle and fighting form – his leads really do soar and captivate throughout.

Just wish he could’ve worked those stellar chops in a more exciting setting, or at least with a more energetic and enthused vocalist backing him up.

  

Kissin’ Dynamite – Dynamite Nights (AFM Records) (July 14)

Geez, these guys have been around for a decade? Seriously?

Well, we reviewed their Megalomania 3 years back and the album’s apparent subtitle…well, overtitle, really – of Generation Goodbye (confusing much?) a year ago almost to the day so I guess it’s possible…but sheesh!

So anyway, fans of their sort of middle of the road retro-glam (with touches of power metal and hints of grunge influence) gathered to this show.

It’s a live concert covering material from all of their albums to date, so there’s no real surprises to report here. Cheesy, overly big choruses (were they tapping their inner Orden Ogan perhaps?), simplistic if melodic guitar lines and Hollywood metallish by way of European power metal riffs and a lot of “yeahs” (repeated, extended, harmonized and melodicized throughout the bridges and choruses of what appears to be every damn song here) and chant-a-long sequences for the audience to sort of faintly get into (they’re not a very excited crowd, to judge by the audio here)…that’s about it.

As noted the last two times around, the musicianship’s perfectly fine for what they’re shooting for, and they’re more than melodic enough to make the grade for anyone raised on AOR, “hair metal” or power metal for that matter.

But does it excite me in any real way, shape or form?

Nah.

  

OHRENFEINDT – Zwei Fäuste für Rock’n’Roll (AFM Records) (July 7)

Das ist eine faust-fick?

Sorry, that’s the first thing I think of when the German word for “fist(s, in this case)” is utilized…

The quirks of Teutonic erotica aside, what you get here is a very Brian Johnson-era AC/DC soundalike, with all the energy, vibe and approach to riffing and guitar tone that implies.

Interestingly, they also get a bit silly – the album kicks off with the quirky putdown “your mother sings at Lordi (shows)!” – though the remainder of the album appears to be more straightforward in tone.  Ah, that quirky Deutscher sense of humor…must be all that St. Pauli Girl they’re doubtless downing (the band hails from St. Pauli, Hamburg)!

Bottom line is, if your thing is Back in Black and For Those About to Rock, you should be quite chuffed to hear the band back in fighting form after so many years. Just don’t mind the fact that they’re singing in German nowadays.

Schmiermittel verwenden, meine freunden…

Masterplan – PumpKings (AFM Records) (August 11)

Masterplan mainman Roland Grapow, as some may be aware, was formerly part and parcel of Helloween…during one of their strangest periods.

Joining the band after the defection of Kai Hansen and on Michael Kiske’s last pair of albums, he further weathered the untimely passing of Ingo Schwictenberg and stuck with the band throughout their generally troubled 1990’s period. I mean, nobody in the metal scene did all that well during that grunge, aggro and indie obsessed decade, but Helloween seemed particularly cursed.

So it is a bit of an eyebrow raiser to see Grapow, a good 15 years into Masterplan, offering a sort of tribute album to his work with Helloween during those difficult years.

What’s most interesting about this is that much of the material comes across as perfectly acceptable power metal here – perhaps it’s Rick Altzi’s gravel toned approach, maybe it comes down to improved production, perhaps it’s just the passage of time…but while little here is overly exciting, neither does any of it come across as less than acceptable or as subpar as the general take on that particular era of Helloween would imply.

Did Grapow write the better songs of the 90’s iteration of Helloween? Or is this merely a deliberate and accomplished shot at redemption for material otherwise more or less overlooked by comparison to that band’s storied 1980’s heyday?

Either way, fans of both Masterplan and Helloween may want to give this one a listen to see how good this generally uncelebrated material actually comes off here and now, with this band lineup and in this year of 2017.

It may well surprise you.

Did me.

YE BANISHED PRIVATEERS – First Night Back In Port (Napalm Records) (June 30)

There was a period in my life when I was searching for different music.

After the traditonal metal scene was buried under a slew of GNR wannabe tattooed junkie hard rockers, the thrash scene had given way to death metal, which had already peaked and fallen into decline and the grunge and aggro scenes wiped out heavy music en toto, replacing everything good with their pathetic imitations of the real thing…where the hell was a metal fan…an underground metal fan, at that, to go? Gangsta rap? Riot grrls? Please.

So other avenues became open for exploration. Classic jazz and fusion. Modern classical (think Bela Bartok and Steve Reich as a general idea). The more revolutionary-minded 60’s psychedelic rock.  Diving deeper into the Zappa universe. And the rather witchy end of British and Celtic folk rock – Pentangle and the Renbourn Group, Steeleye and Fairport and Mr. Fox and Morris On. Hell, even a bit of the Clancys and The Dubliners.

This is where I spent the early to mid-90’s, somewhere around the time death metal jumped the shark circa ’92-3 until the mid-90’s gothic rock revival scene erupted and I discovered the J-rock scene late in the decade (it wouldn’t be till the dawn of the millenium when I “rediscovered” my metal roots and embraced black metal, gothic/symphonic and the retro-trad scene, most or all of which were just gaining traction at the time.

So suffice to say, I recognized exactly what Ye Banished Privateers are tapping into here…and trappings aside, it ain’t pirates.

Now, lyrically speaking, sure, they’re jumping on the Alestorm bandwagon, an odd offshoot introduced by Running Wild back in ’87 and seldom celebrated or duplicated since (Orden Ogan‘s “we’re pirates” being one of the few salutes thereto). And a generation of kids raised on the foppish antics of Johnny Depp and a whole lot of crappy CG doesn’t exactly hurt the cause, either.

But while you can look at this as “folky sea shanties”, the plain fact is that what Ye Banished Privateers is really tapping into is the classic Irish drinking song and folk ballad. Not the jaunty, raise the roof sing-a-long sort of thing tapped into by the likes of Flogging Molly, Black 47 and the Dropkick Murphys (and so often by the likes of the Clancys, Rovers and Dubliners), mind – but the more pensive, mournful, lost my love to the sea strain you find in the quieter moments of those very same bands and so oft perfected in the hands of Jacqui MacShee and Pentangle or Sandy Denny and Fairport.

So go ahead, guys. Dress up like pirates, fill the stage with dozens of members and pretend you’re working the Christopher Bowes thing.

Some of us know the real deal, and what you’re really working here.

Be warned, this is pretty mellow, low key stuff, and certainly not “metal” in any respect.

And if you dig this (because it’s not bad at all for the type), you now know who to look to for more (and better) of the same.

VINTERSORG – Till Fjälls del II (Napalm Records) (June 30)

We had Andreas “Vintersorg” Hedlund on the show back around the release of Orkan and covered his subsequent Naturbal two years after, so you can probably tell already that we dig the guy and his work.

Unfortunately, not long after the release of the latter opus, he suffered a serious accident while helping a friend move furniture…the sort of everyday incident that could befall any one of us, but taken to a scary extreme in results. As the man himself said at the time: “take care of each other…life can show its ugly face when you least expect it.”

So needless to say, it’s a very welcome surprise to see the man back in full fighting form and delivering yet another quality album, with only an extra year of delay from his usual release cycle.

Even more interestingly, this is a sequel of sorts to Vintersorg’s very first full length (Till Fjalls), appended with a second disc EP of reworked song ideas from the same era.

As such, there’s a bit more of the harsh vocal thing appearing now and again in the verses, but as fans of the man know, his manner of doing so is far from unpalatable…particularly with so much stunning clean singing going on throughout.

The Ulver-esque blackened folk metal thing is once again all over this one, and while you can tell this is something of a look backwards to the early days (both Orkan and Naturbal felt more smooth and clean in production and feel than the rawer, more frenzied variant presented herein), there is no question that this is a Vintersorg album – at its very darkest, there is light.  At its most sinister sounding, this is all about a search for peace and communion with nature amidst the tumult and chaos of the modern world and its innumerable distractions.*

* Those looking for a more pointedly raw black metal Vintersorg are directed to the second disc, whose “koldens borg” and “portalen” should scratch that particular itch admirably.

An excellent followup to both the Orkan/Naturbal diptych and the long ago album to which it appends, this is, as ever, essential listening for the black metal aficionado, particularly those inclined towards the more Ulver/Myrkur-esque end of the spectrum.

High praise, well deserved – and a hearty welcome back, sir.

     

VARG – Götterdämmerung (Napalm Records) (April 14)

We had these guys on the podcast back around the release of Guten Tag and it looks like in the 5 years since, they’ve dropped another album and an EP and shed one if not both guitarists (!)

So how the hell do they go on as a three piece, you ask? Simple – the bass player does double duty as four and six stringer!* hmm…

* depends on the source – bassist “Managarm” may have simply switched to guitars, with a new bass player in tow, and one of said guitarists (“Hati”) may or may not still be part of the band – your call on this one.

Well, the results aren’t half so simplistic and questionable as you might expect from a band run by its bass player (cough Motley Crue), though you can’t seriously walk in to Gotterdammerung expecting guitar heroics.

Even so, there are some melodic lead lines (particularly noticeable all over “hel”) and the band appears to have become a bit more aggressive than last we heard them – sort of a death metallized (if not melodeath-ish at times) take on the more formulaic but still quite likeable later 90’s second wave sound.

As such, I was pretty damn happy with this four song slab of blackened aggression – like a less pompous Belphegor, a less gothic/Decadent Cradle of Filth or a far less boring Behemoth, Varg gets their point across in punchy, melodicized but highly volatile songs that bear the tropes and trappings of that particular era of black metal, but the underlying vibe and feel of melodeath.

Good stuff, and a huge improvement over Guten Tag, if you’ve been hanging in with them that long.

 

RUSSKAJA – Kosmopoliturbo (Napalm Records) (August 4)

We reviewed their last album Peace, Love and Russian Roll two years back and found their Trollfestlike melange of world music, polka, tango, mariachi, ska and God only knows what else a rather amusing slice of party music.* And little has changed since, except possibly more experience, polish and even more solid of an album as a result.

* I could also swear I’d heard, if apparently not reviewed their prior Energia as well, and the assessment was much the same – initially, what the hell is this? and thereafter, hmm, yeah, I don’t exactly mind this...

Essentially, if you’re looking for “serious metal” to crush some skulls to, just turn around right now and seek your sustenance elsewhere – nichevo strashnava, as they say.

But if you’re looking for a goofy good time to do drunken jigs and suchlike to, Russkaja can always be counted on as a consistent and reliable go-to of a solution.

Na zdorov’ye, comrades!

  

THE MIDNIGHT GHOST TRAIN – Cypress Ave. (Napalm Records) (July 28)

We’d reviewed their Cold Was the Ground back in 2015, and found them rather Kyuss-esque, albeit with some…er...questionable vocals.

Well, this time around, I’m picking up a distinctly Dr. John vibe to the vox (which are still therefore quite comical and absurd…it’s actually more “Dr. John meets Tom Waits”, if you can picture how ridiculous that would sound).

The Kyuss thing is still very much present and accounted for on a few tracks earlier in the album, but there’s more of a weird, if not sorta likeably goofy hipster vibe to their sound here than I recall on the last go-’round. Probably doesn’t help their case that the big guy with the horn rim glasses and pipe looks just like the infamous “Texas Twister” (oft mentioned in the course of the At Eye Level podcast)…proto-hipster that he was.

By the time you get to “break my love”, they’re starting to sound all like those clowns who dumped that “hey soul sister” turd on our heads, if not Smashmouth…and if “lemon trees” isn’t straight up Dave Matthews territory, nothing is…

Did I mention there’s a horn-inflected rap track with some clown named “Sonny Cheeba” (ooh, how clever) who, like a lot of today’s hip hop crowd, appears to be entirely unacquainted with the basic concept of rap: to speak in rhyme along to the rhythm of the backing track.  Just meandering your way through some pointless prose composition regardless of all the phrasing and meter you’re missing and stepping all over just makes you look like a fucking idiot, guy…

Bottom line, they seem pretty solid as players (particularly the rather prominent bassist) and the mellower, more sleepy sprechtgesang approach taken for much of the album serves the band’s sound much better than what I’d remembered of the last album, so official word is, no, I didn’t mind this at all – at times, I kinda liked it. Certainly got a kick out of the photo shoot!

If you were approaching Cypress Ave. expecting some fairly standard stoner rock, you’d find yourself pretty damn disappointed – most of the elements are present and accounted for, but The Midnight Ghost Train is working something quite different if not unique here.

Hipster generator party, anyone?

Integrity – Howling, For The Nightmare Shall Consume (Relapse Records) (July 14)

hmm.

Apparently, these guys have been poking around since 1988. They seem to be some sorta thrash, sorta crossover affair. And everywhere you look, they talk about how wild their lyrical themes and focus are, with everything from philosophical to religious and occult matters being referenced. Sounds like something I’d be quite interested in, from that.

And then you put on Howling.

First, there’s the vocals, if you can call them that – aggro screamo nonsense somewhere along the lines of Madball, I guess. The guy’s been gargling sheet metal, apparently – it’s not very pleasant to listen to, and good luck making out any lyrics. So much for that end of things.

Then you get the music. Well, it’s definitely thrashlike, and doesn’t feel overly “modern” in production or style…but there’s something sort of bland and generic about it. Five tracks in, I wasn’t even aware we’d switched to the next song. Then they slow things down for the next 3 or 4 songs. Then back up to the same sound and tempo of the first 5 to close out the album.

There’s nothing wrong with the playing here…it’s just…boring. There’s nothing to hook you in, nothing special about it to induce repeated plays or to excitedly vet out to likeminded friends. It’s background music at best…saddled with perfectly awful aggro vocals.

At least the solos are sort of old school and melodic.

I was expecting a lot more than what this actually turned out to be.  Color me profoundly disappointed.

Fans of the apparently long running band, your experience may well differ.

   

INVIDIA – As The Sun Sleeps (Steamhammer / Oblivion / SPV) (March 31)

You know, this one surprised me.

When I saw that there were members of Five Finger Death Punch and Skinlab present and accounted for in this band, I have to admit I was expecting the worst. I have an old friend (cough At Eye Level‘s Matt G.) who’s really into the former act, so I know whereof I speak…and all I can say is, no thanks.

But you know…it’s not quite the aggro cum nu-metallish, uber-teenage Hot Topic T-shirt thing I was expecting…at least, not consistently throughout.

Sure, there’s an overly prominent, clean and thin toned bass.  There’s the sad grungy bits (the bridge and chorus of “feed the fire”), the Anselmo-worship aggro crap (“making my amends”), even the pseudo-rap (the white boy rhythm of “I can’t de-NY!” or the egregiously Juggalo-esque “step up”) and Jonathan Davisisms (that annoying crow noise they keep making in “marching dead”). Oh, and then as you get deeper into the album, you start to notice just how much Invidia sounds like Five Finger Death Punch, particularly at the choruses (“smell the kill” being a pretty direct example of this).

So, yeah, when you look at all that…it is pretty much what I was expecting.

But for whatever reason (who knows, maybe it’s just early and I’m tired enough for this not to bother me as much as it would when fully caffeinated), there was less of the growly screamy crap on the vocal end than usual, the detuned neanderthal riffs were less groove-centric, the hip hop and Korn-isms were present but not overly prominent.

Bottom line, I didn’t find it too offensive…which for this general quarter of the heavy music spectrum is high praise indeed.

Your call on whether this sort of thing appeals to you or not – I’m just saying I was able to let most of this one play through without ripping out the earbuds and throwing it at the wall.

  

Dayseeker – Dreaming Is Sinking /// Waking Is Rising (Spinefarm Records) (July 14)

Emo screamo in both vox and approach. The band leans a bit more towards metalcore than you’d expect for emo proper, though concomitantly there’s a bit less of a tendency towards the catchy or melodic than usually found in the genre (you certainly won’t find any hook in a track like “vultures”!)

There’s also a bit of a more modernist, indie cum Nashville-style pop influence bleeding through at points (most pointedly la-ay-ay-ate in “abandon” – ahem*)

* yes, Virginia, that’s what they call a hint...

Apparently this is a concept album based on an acquaintance having gone through a coma, among other, more pop culture sourced materials.  Suffice to say, it’s a dark subject, with ugly and undeserved consequences for the victim – in other words, quite emo at heart.

As you might expect, the vocals veer from clean shouts to screamo, and there’s enough of the expected oddball guitar lines, contemplative pauses betwixt and between all the rage and chaos surrounding them, and some (if less than usual) drama and melodic business at the choruses, so if you’re just looking for another emo band with metalcoreish leanings, you should be happy enough with Dayseeker.

But in all honesty, we’ve heard much better from both ends of the emo/metalcore spectrum – maybe a concept album was a bridge too far to really ring out with the usual gusto.

Not bad. But not great either.

Limbonic Art – Spectre Abysm (Candlelight/Spinefarm) (July 7)

Straightforward late-90’s style Norwegian black metal.

Falling somewhere between Norsecore (Marduk, Tsjuder, etc.) and other well familiar if somewhat bland popular acts of the time (Satyricon, Dark Funeral, Ancient, etc.), this will fall right into most veteran black metallers’ comfort zone.

But will it hit the spot and earn praise therefore? Ay, there’s the rub.

Now, there’s no real surprise to the band adopting a sonic template now two decades behind us (can you fucking believe it? Time does fly…), as Limbonic Art’s heyday was in fact from 1996 through about 2002 (with very sporadic output and a breakup marking the better part of the 15 years hence). So of course they’re going to sound like a band of said era…

Speaking as an only slightly belated veteran of that era (having discovered the post-Bathory “second wave” black metal scene around ’99-2000), Spectre Abysm did in fact feel so familiar as to become comfortable, at least by the time the endless “demonic resurrection” finally fucking ended already and we got to “ethereal traveler”.

That said, it suffers from the Dark Funeralesque, somewhat Norsecoreish failing of simply moving chord patterns up and down by a tone, which comes off slightly atonal and if not entirely offputting, ultimately kinda boring.

There are moments of definite interest – the Viking backing chants of “triumph of sacrilege”, the Mortuary Drapelike sinister organ of “disciplina arcani” – but it’s ultimately down to how much you’re sold on the particular style and tropes of that era of black metal, when the danger and wildness of the early 90’s pioneers had begun to give way to a more formalized and “commercial” feel (remember how many unassuming suburban kids were running around in either Cradle, Dimmu or Emperor shirts circa ’99-2002 or so?)

Inoffensive, acceptable, even sorta likeable in a way…but very much of its era.

THE INTERBEING – Among The Amorphous (Long Branch Records) (June 23)

Danish electronic-industrial with terrible shout-screamo vox.

I guess if you took, say, Gothminister, sucked out all the horror imagery and most of the catchy hooks and put the world’s most constipated aggro asshole on vox (I always thought the guy from Madball looked like he was squatting to take a shit onstage, so that’s who I’m picturing here), you’d have The Interbeing.

Guitars are detuned and simplistic feeling (for all the stutter stops and fitful starts) to the point where every song sounds more or less alike…yeah, I’m just not seeing why anyone would make much of a fuss over this aside from the electro/industrial elements (which still feels kind of “new” in metal as a whole).

Even without the horrible vocals, this would probably be somewhat of a shrug of the shoulders…as a whole package, it’s more of a disbelieving shake of the head.

    

RPWLA – New Dawn (Gentle Art Of Music) (July 14)

These guys appear to self-identify as “art rock”. Now, when I hear that, I’m thinking prog in the sense of early Genesis, Yes, Gentle Giant, ELP, that sort of thing. But is RPWL that, really?

What I’m hearing here is more of a mellow 70’s radio rock wedded to “high concept” – in this case, a play and stage show including a good 50 people in costume. The plus for fans is that this has been recorded for Blu/DVD (though once again, we’re reviewing audio only, which may reflect a very different experience of the material).

Apparently they’ve taken their Wanted album (something about a homeopathic remedy to “tiredness of the mind” under assault by the establishment) and wedded it to elements of their Beyond Man and Time album (about Nietzche’s Also Sprach Zarathustra). Who the hell knows, may play out interestingly in the stage show.

But here on the audio side, what you get is…pretty damn mellow, and not incredibly proggy in feel (unless you consider Procul Harum “prog”). I guess you could make an argument for the most laid back moments of Yes, but even that feels a bit of a stretch for what I’m hearing here.

Given what I’m seeing in the promo writeup and what’s suggested by the album cover, I don’t think it’s entirely fair to judge this one solely by the audio, so those interested in the concept may well want to look for video clips thereof to see whether it piques their interest or no.

But audio wise…this is just way too sleepy and drawn out of a proposition for my tastes.

Seven Spires – Solveig (SAOL) (August 4)

American gothic symphonic act. Female fronted (duh), bombastic (double duh), simplistic, chugging guitars and power metallish typewriter drums (triple duh).  Yeah, it’s pretty much true to the template…except there’s precious little about it that leans “gothic” even in the usual sense of the genre.

There’s something very American about this, much of it stemming from Adrienne Cowan’s unusual lead presence – she’s far less of the usual Liv Kristine/ Sharon Den Adel / Ji-In Cho / Tarja Turunen / Ana Mladivinoci / Melissa Ferlaak / Simone Simons operatically oriented type than a rather weird mix of the more radio friendly end of the genre (Nemesea, Unsun, Evanescence, etc.) and some decidedly domestic emo/aggro nonsense (think the earliest days of The Agonist, when Alyssa White-Gluz actually did some sweet soprano singing between all that laughably lame growly shit she’s stuck to ever since).

So in sum, Seven Spires come off a bit like a slightly too upbeat if not positive toned not-gothic Euro-style symphonic metal band with a vocalist more attuned to screamo/metalcore (think pre-Blood In This Moment, but with a lot more soprano moments and less of the shrieky shit) than Verdi and Puccini.

So how else can you sum this up but a split decision? Parts work…parts don’t (with many of those virulent shrieks, growls and screams being downright laughable).

It’s not a million miles away from template…but when it drifts, it drifts pretty goddamn far from the shoreline, to the point where you wonder if it’s going to turn into a Swept Away situation.

Fair, but definitely a nurture vs. nature situation. If nobody else, then Cowan should’ve been raised in Europe or something…and far away from all that screamo/aggro/metalcore influence she keeps insisting on throwing into the mix.

Because her clean vocals, while hardly operatic or what have you, are certainly pleasant enough.

Morbid Evils – Deceases (Svart Records) (August 25)

What the hell is that?  What a stupid cover!

That’s a direct quote from the wife, upon seeing the lovely Silent Hill monster adorning Morbid Evils’ oddly titled “Deceases”.

Did you mean “Deceased“, perhaps?  What the fuck is the plural of “decease”, anyway, is there even such a thing in the English language?  I don’t think so…

Hell, is “decease” even a word to require a plural of?  Quick, check the “urban dictionary”, they probably already added “deceases” to their lexicon of useless dated slang, “ebonics”, “leet speak” and gibberish…

Beautiful cover art aside (don’t choke on your sandwich, there), Morbid Evils is a Finnish fella going by the oddly Japanese-sounding name of Keijo Niinimaa.

He goes in for an aggro goes slightly death metal vocal thing (oy) and some pretty sluggish, almost sludgy guitar tone and riffing style. What makes it weird is that it’s nothing like, say, Goatlord, Autopsy or Anatomia…well, sort of, but not really…but more of an experimental if not atonal leaning kind of thing.

So yeah, it’s slow, sort of doomy in tempo and definitely noisy and raw enough to qualify as sludge…but what’s with all the noise and atonal business? It’s just weird, and doesn’t sit well with the rest…

Well, I’ve very much come back around to loving death metal, doom and variants and crossovers thereof (sludge, stoner, death/doom, gothic doom, you name it), so I was more or less OK with this one either way…but between the ill fitting aggro vox and the even more outside the box atonal/noise nonsense, Deceases is really pushing the limits of what is and isn’t acceptable for the general ballpark of genres Morbid Evils more or less announces themselves as inhabiting.

Yuppie corporate shits would refer to this as “challenging”.

Anyone ever stuck working in corporate settings will recognize that as an eye rolling euphemism for “hard to deal with” “difficult” or “come on, I really don’t need to deal with this shit...”

And while I’d hardly put Deceases in that category – it’s a lot more acceptable than the businesspeak “challenging” label implies, trust me – it is a bit “difficult” and “colors outside the lines” more than most of us might like.

Kimi Kärki – Eye for an Eye (Svart Records) (August 18)

We’d reviewed Karki’s Bone of my Bones a good four years back and liked it very much for all its melancholic mellowness.

Like that album, Karki once again taps some perfectly gorgeous pre-Raphaelite artwork for the cover (in this case, Edward Coley Burne-Jones’ Tree of Forgiveness) and works that semi-Nick Drake, vaguely Nick Cave-esque dark tenor leaning baritone with a 12 string neofolk thing for all it’s worth.

Fans of Led Zeppelin III or the aforementioned musicians should be pretty happy with this one, and Karki even goes slightly Patrick Walker on “Beyond Distance” (which could easily have been a bonus track on Watching From a Distance, given the doom metal distortion treatment).

Just like last time – I’m more than good with it.

Nice stuff for the type.

Sons of Crom – The Black Tower (Nordvis Produktion / Bindrune Recordings) (August 18)

Mostly group-chanted pagan/Viking metal with strong elements of melodic power metal (particularly at the choruses and solos). The only real surprise is that they’re obsessed with Robert E. Howard lyrically and thematically this time around.

Personally, I’ve always been a huge Howard fan: I had a pretty full set of the paperbacks (later upgraded to more expansive and complete softcover editions).  The Conan movie (the only real one)’s firm Nietzchean/Hobbesianism confirmed what I’d thus far experienced of life in the (rather prison yardlike and unbelievable by subsequent decades’ social standards – bad enough that fellow classmates still admit to being traumatized to this day) schoolyard and the Basil Pouledoris soundtrack to same was such a regular play that I wore through two cassettes and a CD of same.

These days it’s become almost de rigeur – look no further than “Era 1” Mortiis and Graveland for examples of said soundtrack and film’s influence in the (black) metal subculture – but surprisingly, you don’t catch it bandied about so much in the pagan/Viking arena.

Now, the solo vox are frequently off-key and devolve into some rather comical screams at the end of phrases (as in “fall of pandemonium”) and the black metal portions of “in fire reborn” are so template as to elicit eye rolls, but when the group chants kick in and the melodic leads start up, you finally catch this band’s worthiness if not uniqueness. Tag in some nice Manegarmish acoustic portions (as in “legacy”), and you’ve got a rather pleasant listen for fans of the genre.

Fellow Howard aficionados may find added value in this over the workaday pagan/Viking metal fan, but both should be fairly well pleased with The Black Tower, aforementioned quirks and occasional solo vocal gaffes aside.

I’ll certainly give ’em the nod – a rather quality affair overall.

VANUM – Burning Arrow (Eisenwald) (August 25)

One of the guys from Ash Borer and Predatory Light (whose MMXIV and self-titled were reviewed in these pages previously) joins forces with another fella whose bands I’ve never heard of to deliver something vaguely along the symphonic black lines of Ash Borer, but with more of a likeably epic, “Cascadian” cum Sepulchral feel.

As you might expect, there’s a lot of build and measured pace, but it’s not as contemplative or introspective in orientation as the prior comparisons should imply…in fact, it’s almost bombastic in a Viking/pagan metal manner (think more Graveland or the strongest moments of post-Blood Fire Death Bathory than Manegarm, Tyr or Primordial)…but with more than a hint of Rotting Christ to tracks like “immortal will”.

Just to hammer that point home?  Even the promo materials note “the furious Slavic sound” and “significant influence of classic Hellenic black metal” on the band.  Exactly.

As such, and given that there are only three relatively lengthy tracks to work with here (allowing less room for experimental missteps or needless filler), Burning Arrow comes highly recommended – questionable sub-Martin Van Drunen vocals aside, this is exactly the sort of epic, bombastic, thoughtfully resigned yet warfare-ready sound I gravitate towards in this vaguely black/pagan/Viking metal arena.

Horns way the fuck up – keep those Eastern fires burning.

More, please.

Steel Mammoth – Atomic Oblivion (Ektro) 

Was anyone aware there’s some sort of a Finnish variant on the NWOBHM?

Well, not really – there’s little to no audio relation between stuff like Witchfinder General, Praying Mantis, Witchfynde and Iron Maiden and a band like Steel Mammoth…but if they can come up with the equally silly “NWOAHM” to refer to metalcore bands like Killswitch and All That Remains, I guess the art of genre classification has truly gone to the dogs. Call it any fucking thing, nobody will question the validity thereof, right?

Anyway, what you’re getting here is a slightly punkified take on a raw, undergroundish metal vaguely akin to your average Hell’s Headbangers release, albeit without the satanic or biker trappings generally found therein. Maybe that’s why they thought this somehow tied to the classic British scene? Who the hell knows – the connection there is tenuous at best.

So anyway, what Steel Mammoth is working is much akin to classic Carnivore – a postapocalyptic thing that runs through all of their releases to date (which include such titles as Nuclear Barbarians, Atomic Mountain, Nuclear Ritual, Radiation Funeral, Nuclear Rebirth and now Atomic Oblivion). Tag that to the Hells Headbangersish sound the band works and its concomitant rough and ready, overly raw production, and you have a pretty good idea of what to expect here.

Not bad at all, really.

  

Godhead Machinery- Ouroboros (Inverse Records) (September 29)

Quirky take on black metal…sorta, kinda-like.

These guys feel vaguely industrial, with snarly yet machinelike vox, an often template black metal riffing approach…but with proper guitar solos and something indefinable about it that just feels…mechanical. Electronicized.

Now, I can understand the listener who gives a superficial quickie listen and says “I dunno…sure sounds black metal to me!”, but there’s something else going on, something…off about the proceedings that goes well beyond the band name and general lyrical approach/album concept.

It’s not bad at all, don’t walk away with that impression from the above…but neither is it as typical a black metal offering as it may or may not appear at first cursory listen.

Interesting. Can’t say I’m a fan, exactly – certainly not going to slam ’em either…but consider my curiosity piqued.

Let’s see what the next album or EP brings.

Funeralglade – May The Funeral Begin EP (Inverse Records) (August 18)

Finnish death metal. It’s a bit weirder than that would imply, with grindcorish dual (or “switch”) vocals, nu-metal noise effects and “groove” riffing fucking the works like a monkey wrench thrown into the gears. Did I mention occasional blackened touches?

When they play it most straightforward and stick to a more melodic death orientation is the only time this mess actually starts to work (“hollow”, parts of “shadow of misery”).

If nothing else, reinforces the rule that more than a pinch or two of genre-blending is a definite no-no.

Wren – Auburn Rule (Holy Roar Records) (July 14)

Conan (of Blood Eagle fame), but without the Robert E. Howard trappings.

No, it’s not the same band…but it’s pretty much the same deal. There appear to be vocals, at least occasionally…but they’re buried so deep in the mix that they don’t seem to be there even when they are. 

Bottom line: while the lyrics may not be so sparse as to be written on a cocktail napkin and the “vocalist” may not be out on lunch break throughout the entirety of the recording time…it’s the same difference as if he were. 

The riffs are thick and sludgy in a stonerish sort of way, so there’s nothing to complain about on that end…but I played the whole damn thing through and still thought it was an aimlessly plodding stoner doom instrumental affair,* so don’t expect any actual praise or recommendations on this one.

* in fact, it completely blurred into innocuous, if wholly inoffensive and mood setting background music. Took a second listen to even pick out that a “vocalist” (well, really hard to hear if perpetually whining groan and growler, actually) was in fact present…

Certainly not horrible, and should give a laid back, depressive background to your next trip.

That’s about the best I can offer here, kids…

Protosequence – Biophagous (self released) (August 18)

Tech death if not djent. Very speedy tremelo riffs, weird off-time playing, dual lead fills that lean far more quirky than in any way melodic…it’s like Atheist on crack.

But then there’s the really nice production (which is crystalline in quieter moments, and leaves this feeling like a proper prog metal affair ala Fates Warning…at those specific points, mind). And those very moments, where acoustic guitars predominate.

The musicianship is unassailable – despite being overly oriented towards technical wankery for fellow musicos to spurt to (while turning the general public off entirely), the guitar work is quite excellent and the drumming, when not falling into blastbeats and fast two-beats (alternating snare and bass drum patterns that more or less come off the same as the blastbeat, and equally annoying and childish), is pretty complex and syncopates as much as possible when trying to follow all the stops, starts and weird rhythmic perambulations of the guitars.

The vocals are goofy aggro bullshit bordering on a pseudo-death metal with all the barks and belches, but the often crisp production and ever-fluctuating twin guitar lines and busy drumming help you overlook all the metalcore screamo-ness of them.

Best moments by far are the quieter ones, where intertwining lead lines or acoustic guitars are matched with busy but well fitting tom roll and double bass runs…so maybe they should down a few drinks and take a chill pill before recording the next one – I’ll bet these guys would be absolutely killer with more normal/clean vocals and less spastic aggro-death to the proceedings overall.

Because even as is, not only didn’t this one bother me much…

…I actually kinda liked a lot about it.

Korea – Abiogenesis (VICISOLUM PRODUCTIONS) (August 25)

Third album from these Swedish (very) hard alt-rockers.

What’s interesting about these guys (beyond their odd choice of moniker, given it’s four Swedes we’re talking about here) is that they aren’t shooting for something like The White Stripes or some grungified affair…this is fairly recognizable 90’s-style heavy music (or what the metal-starved masses Stateside pretended was “metal” – i.e. anything vaguely heavy and distorted).

It’s more “modern metal” than aggro, grunge or indie, but has that sort of Tool meets Pronglike 90’s guitar tone and riffing style…so familiar, and yet not fitting into any of the standard boxes.

Add a heaping helping of nigh-Frontierslike melodicism and AOR sensibilities – the vocals are very relaxed to the point of sounding a bit jowly, and clean throughout, with strong melodic lines on the guitars and harmonic construction overall – and you have a surprisingly good concoction that leaves the listener feeling right at home, and yet comes off a tad “original” for its sheer lack of adherence to genre rules.

Seriously, you could make a list of subgenres of AOR, rock and metal and check off quite a few of ’em as playing into what you hear…and yet check off none of them as quite matching the Korea sound. I kinda liked that about these guys, particularly given how sweet and utterly, irresistably palatable the end result turned out.

Too heavy for AOR, too indie and 90’s for metal, too melodic for any number of genres thereof…and yet, darkly, somewhat melancholically uplifting at the same time.

Very, very good stuff. I’m totally down with this.

Dzö-nga – The Sachem’s Tales (Avantgarde Music) (July 17)

Adorned with a gorgeous old school fantasy art cover (is that Vallejo, perhaps? Not Frazetta, to be sure, but definitely in that general ballpark…), this is a quirky black metal cum folk affair.

All pianos, flutes, fiddles, acoustic guitar and light orchestration, the mellow pagan/Viking metal-style folkiness is later joined by light female vocals and finally hissing snarls, busy typewriter double bass and blastbeat drumming, lush keyboards and muted tremelo riff accompaniment.

It’s as far from Ulver, Skyclad or Manegarm as you can get, and yet instantly recognizable as true to the same general zeitgeist each of those bands was tapping into during their best and most famed periods. And while I’d hardly put The Sachem’s Tales in the same league as Bergtatt and Kveldssanger, Wayward Sons of Mother Earth or Urminnes Havd (not even close), there’s no questioning the general quality of this endeavor, or its likely value to the intrigued listener.

I was quite happy with this one, yes.

If Dzo-nga’s material is regularly of this degree of achievement, do keep ’em coming…I’m all ears.

Vindkast – Archaic Collapse (Avantgarde Music) (July 17)

Slow, contemplative, almost ambient take on black metal.

I liked the semi-abstract cover, at first glance implying science fiction and riding gunner in some spacecraft or other…until you realize you’re looking down a very unlikely cosmic event of multiple planetary alignment (which implies a whole other area of study and focus). Nice touch.

There is a tranciness and feeling of being lost in space to Vindkast’s sound here – Tangerine Dream gone sinister, if you will, or Voivod without the quirky punkified guitar – so while it’d be a bit disingenous to overly praise this Archaic Collapse, it certainly does set a mood and brings enough polish to the table to satisfy those looking for a more introspective, transcendental approach to the genre.

Not bad, not bad at all.

Dark Sanctuary – Metal (Avantgarde Music) (July 16)

French “dark metal”. Remember Eike Freese and Dark Age?  Yeah, that kind of hard to classify, almost gothic metal but not quite, H-I-M sort of sound.

What I’m hearing here is more traditionally gothic metal than not, with ethereal gothic/symphonic-style female soprano vocals over crunchy, generally tremelo riffed but simplistic guitars and plenty of dark, almost gothic rock-leaning atmosphere.

You’ve heard this all before, from Theatre of Tragedy to early Epica, from Therion to Krypteria…but chances are, you haven’t heard it in many years (the heyday of that scene more or less capping off around 2006)…and certainly not done quite this well.

Apparently the band doesn’t normally go in for this sound, classifying themselves as “atmospheric dark” and referring to what you hear here as “metal remixes” recorded during breaks and off time for a lark.

J’n’sais quoi, c’est vrai ou non.

Mais ca c’est bon.

Vraiment, tres, tres bonne.

I liked this one very, very much.

Whatever the truth of their assertions, whatever they’re best known for, the band should drop everything and record more like this, without question.

FALAISE – My Endless Immensity (A Sad Sadness Song) (September 8)

Italian black metallers of a rather odd sort.

There’s definitely some strong hints of emo here, particularly on tracks like “crimson clouds” or “the abyss”, which could easily have been blackened covers of some Senses Fail song or other, but the mix comes off rather strange: ringing, emo-style guitars that shift into aggressive blackened tremelo (and continue ringing, but at an annoyingly higher pitch than usual for same, and with too much modern punk/emo style delay and reverb carrying over to the “black metal” parts), and with squealy-hiss vox over the top.

You walk away with the distinct impression that Falaise either was, wants to be, or should be a very good emo band.

They just need to drop the black metal affectations, which don’t mix all that well with the emo tropes and overtones.

Interesting experiment, though.

Has its moments.

Uerberos – Tormented by Faith (self released) (February 10)

Polish death metal, more or less of the old school variety.

The fact that there’s more than a touch of earlier Vader to their sound is therefore perhaps unsurprising, but I’d hardly call that a bad thing – I still pull The Ultimate Incantation out on a semi-regular basis.

The vocals are deep throated growls, but more in the vein of “generally human sounding” ala Malevolent Creation or, again, Vader than usual for the genre. Even so, they work quite well and suit the band’s sound perfectly.

Interestingly, this is one of those rare setups where you can more or less make out the bass throughout – doubling the guitars somewhat slavishly, perhaps, but that oddly thin and clunky bass tone lays as a consistent overtone to the similarly hollow toned guitars. One wonders if Bartek Kaczoworski was running his gear through a Mesa Boogie amp, it has that sort of fat bottom/hollow midsection/crisp treble feel to it. All of this brings Massacre’s The Second Coming to mind, though there’s precious little of the bouncy, nigh-funk feel of that release to be found here.

No, once again, the closest analogues one can find, outside of the more obscure Swiss, Austrian and Eastern European death metal releases of the early to mid 90s (think Krabathor for one example thereof) is, once again, early Vader.

Make no mistake about it – while elements of the production, the often relentless speed the band opts for and the quirky tone of the guitar/bass duo come off as rather modern, the general feel of Uerberos’ approach is decidedly old school – there’s no “prog” “math” or “blackened” feel here, nor do they rub heads with aggro vox or come too close to (modern) thrash.

That said, this is no deliberate “retro” act, determined to precisely ape elements of the classic Swedeath, UK or Morrisound schools of death metal.  While they sound very much like a modern day Vader (warped direct from their Ultimate Incantation days to this very year, more or less intact and unadulterated), one gets the distinct impression they weren’t actually trying to be retro…more of some welcome classic influences bleeding through naturally.

Yeah, this was a pretty damn good one.

I dug it just fine.

Stillborn – Lorelei (Black Lodge Records) (June 30)

Swedish sorta-gothic metal, in the sense that Moonspell falls under that header.

In fact, that’s most applicable to describe the sound here: Moonspell as fronted by Rammstein (and with some of the guitar sound associated thereto).

Hey, I liked Irreligious back in the day…and Rammstein’s had a few killer tracks along the way as well, so I’m not exactly complaining here.

“Feuer Frei!”

er…“Lorelei!” 

Yeah, that’s the ticket…

Ars Magna Umbrae – Through Lunar Gateways (HELLTHRASHER PRODUCTIONS) (June 23)

Polish act working the underground black metal thing.

They lean a bit more atmospheric/ambient than what you’d usually associate with the aforementioned subset of the genre, but this is hardly Vardan, Grimoire or that sort of Sepulchral Recordslike introspective/contemplative/expansive sound so often praised herein.

Instead, Ars Magna Umbrae lean more atonal and avant garde, with random soprano vocals thrown in ala Charles Ives amidst a disjointed atonal sound pallette, with even the most drawn out and expansive feeling moments coming off far too jarring and amelodic to appeal.

Yawn and stretch.

Next?

LJOSAZABOJSTWA (BELARUS) – SYCHODŽANNIE EP (HELLTHRASHER PRODUCTIONS) (June 30)

Some nice eerie church organ kicks this one off, carrying over from the intro track to accompany the molasses-thick sludge/doom guitars in the next one.

Later the band kicks in as a whole, and you get more of a blackened death vocal with dramatic, non-tremelo black metal riffing.

Next track, there’s more of a chugging death metal riff going down, and the vox, while still buried under tons of reverb and delay, go more particularly death vomit.

The following track goes a bit more early Death/Autopsy riffwise, with the vocals sticking to the same template as the track prior. And so it goes, each track offering a slightly different and often more interesting variation on what came before.

While this clearly is a band working the much-detested “black/death” style, their particular approach is very different from the usual Flaming Pile of Dead Bards all the Watain/Gorgoroth/Dissection/Dark Funeral wannabes find themselves consigned to on a regular basis – they actually are doing death metal proper, with touches of doom and an overlay veneer of black metal aesthetics and recording tropes.

In other words, they’re about as far from a PoDB consignee as you can get…hell, it almost sounds original, so far from template do they deviate.

And if that didn’t surprise me, then this’ll surprise you: 

I’m giving ’em a horns up.

Good stuff.

HANDS OF THIEVES (USA) – FEASTING ON DARK INTENTIONS EP (HELLTHRASHER PRODUCTIONS) (July 7)

Oregonian avant-garde black metallers…or perhaps just overly detuned, fairly atonal black metallers. Either way, same result.

Four songs, hiss-to-vomit vox, the bass is so low and out of tune with the guitars (or coming off as such due to the over-detuned open string throb and buzz) as to stand out as the same tonal center for every single track, while the guitars work a neo-Korn gone black metal atonal noise-effect punctuation. Doesn’t leave the drums much to do but stumble around aimlessly in a nigh-Soundgarden fashion.

sigh.

Next?

Tele.S.Therion – Luzifers Abschied (MINOTAURO RECORDS) (August 4)

Veterans of the early second wave of black metal may remember a weirdo act/side project going by the name of Abruptum.

Featuring “the evil dwarf” “It” (the late Tony Sarkka) and Morgan “Evil” Hakansson of Marduk fame, they recorded some truly aimless experimental/ambient shite like the appropriately monikered Obscuritatem Advoco Amplectere Me (basically, “obscurity, embrace me!”) – an overly long two track recording of two children trying to sound “evil” by aimlessly throbbing at detuned guitar and/or bass while gargling and shrieking. The claims were that “It” was actually being tortured during the recording! Subsequent listeners subjected to the album sure were…

Anyway, here we are, a good 25 years on, and surprise! Another, wholly unrelated black metal-ish act treads on the exact same territory.

These folks are a bit more high minded, referencing Karlheinz Stockhausen and Diamanda Galas (alongside, surprise surprise, Abruptum) and speaking of free jazz (nowhere evident herein). They even use nontraditional instrumentation – soprano and tenor sax, “waterphone”, synthesizer, drums and two basses.

The real problem is, the instruments are rarely utilized…or utilized as sparing drones at rarified points herein.

For the better part of 5 tracks (ranging from 6 to 18 minutes per), eeeevil sounding voices gargle, croak and snarl gibberish (or practice Tibetan throat singing, take your pick) with occasional lazy “let’s throw a beat in here” between naps by the drummer or one of the other players.

Seriously.

That’s it.

Well, somebody must dig this sort of thing – it’s not the first album or EP of a similarly aimless bent reviewed in these pages, and somehow Abruptum kept releasing albums for several years (who the hell actually bought them, is beyond me.)

But there’s literally nothing to review here.

The sound of someone going crazy, I guess.

“The voices! They growl gibberish at me!”

Next?

  

FORMICARIUS – BLACK MASS RITUAL (SCHWARZDORN PRODUCTION) (July 21)

Gloomy Grim, the UK version.

Seriously, the vocals sound so much like “Agathon” as to approach plagiarism, with all the snarling declamatoriness and odd feel that implies; the keyboards are quite prominent and far more of the upfront and obvious school of Gehenna, Dimmu and Gloomy Grim than the more gothicized dramatic accompaniment and enhancement of countrymen Cradle of Filth. Hell, even the melodies bear much of that “creepy nursery rhyme” children’s dark fairy tale feel that the Finns are best known for.

Now, is this saying these guys aren’t any good? Hardly – if you (like myself) ever held affection for Blood, Monsters, Death (or their lesser subsequent material) or perhaps even First Spell (albeit a far more forceful and active take thereon), Formicarius may well hit all the right buttons for you.

If you also liked Cradle or (God help you) Dimmu (gah!) and aren’t expecting all the gothic Decadence and full sound Dani and company are noted for bringing to the table,* this may appeal even more – but again, this is far more of a Gloomy Grim with elements (to greater or lesser degree) of the others than any evenhanded mix of influences.

* though once you get to later tracks like “may the rats eat your eyes” and “under darkness”, you start hearing more of the nigh-power metal anthemic melodicism that bolsters Cradle a few heads above the competition – so they were clearly listening to “what makes these bands work” before recording this album!

Not bad at all…just may come off a tad too strange and offputting at times for those expecting more standard black metal tropes or something more akin to the majesty Cradle is capable of delivering at their best.

De Profundis – Decayed: 2007 – 2017 (RELEASED EXCLUSIVELY WITH NEWSSTAND COPIES OF ZERO TOLERANCE MAGAZINE ISSUE 79)

Looks like subscribers are shit outta luck!  Apparently, this disc is only being released with the latest issue of the UK’s Zero Tolerance (print mag)…but only on newsstand copies!  Geez, talk about a burn…not like fans or loyal subscribers might want a copy of this one, right?

Questionable business decisions aside,* what you get here (if you can get your hands on it!) is 9 tracks, fully remastered, from their four album/one EP career to date.

* Okay, it’s subsequently come to light that subscribers do in fact get a download link to the album. No physical CD like the newsstand folks get on a regular basis, though – your call whether that matters or no.

We’d reviewed their last album, Kingdom of the Blind, back in 2015 and appreciated their more melodeath goes prog than tech death proper orientation (though elements of both were easily apparent in their style and approach), but of course, some of the earlier material doesn’t necessarily adhere to that assessment, or at least as closely as we’d prefer to report.

Even so, even tracks like “delirium” aren’t a million miles removed from the two tracks off the aforementioned Kingdom (which do stand out right away as superior to the remainder of the compilation). It takes “a strange awakening” to jump the shark straight into post-Spiritual Healing Death territory…not that a lot of you out there will even see that as a detriment, but bleh.

What’s interesting here is that while some of the earliest tracks (“nihilism vortex”, for example) work nearly as well as the Kingdom-era material, the worst “tech death” excesses occur closer to the present day – the two off the Frequencies EP drift rather far afield from the De Profundis sound as established by Kingdom and the other, older tracks herein. A somewhat misguided experiment, perhaps?

As a bonus, the band offers one brand spanking new track, “an orgy of grotesqueries”, which while feeling somewhat underproduced by comparison to the rest of the material here, still manages to stick mostly to the side of the positive. It’s a bit more techie than I’d prefer, but not overly so, and there’s plenty of melodeath-like feel predominating, even despite the more aggro and raspy vocal approach.

Who knows, may come down to the iffy production once again – the older tracks show the vocals more in line with if not slightly buried beneath the guitars, where they’re more separated if not up front here. We’ll see what a full length brings, but despite those quirks and caveats, I’m hardly expecting much less of a quality affair than Kingdom of the Blind turned out to be.

So overall, if you can get your hands on this, physical copy or download, it’s well worth your time to see just how constant a band De Profundis has been over the past decade – even at their most “off” (cough Frequencies cough), the band is still pretty primo.

Raise another set of horns in salute to one of England’s finest.

The Father of Serpents (Serbia) – Age of Damnation (Satanath Records (Russia) & United By Chaos (Finland)  (June 19)

Quirky Serbian gothic doom act. There’s a lot of Moonspell to their sound (particularly in the clean vocal sections), but you can certainly catch more of an affinity to the bombastic, melodic lead line-driven sound of acts like My Dying Bride or My Silent Wake as well.

While not as full and bombastic as I’d prefer (or as you might expect for a band working the latter variant of gothicized death/doom), the production isn’t bad at all, with guitars right up front and overtaking the vocals and drums, but simultaneously without becoming overbearing. It’s clear the guitarists were sitting right there during the final mixdown, making sure they remained the ultimate focus…but it’s not as obnoxious as you’d assume in hearing that.

Hey, it’s doomy, it’s melodic, it works for me.

Well worth giving a spin to, to see if it grabs you as well.

ZURVAN (Iran) – Gorge of Blood (Satanath Records (Russia) (June 28)

Now this is black metal.

Feels quite first wave if not Italian or Greek in orientation, with a lot of thrashiness (and more than a hint of death) coming across, but whatever you do, do NOT lump this in with the detestable “black/death” sub-subgenre cluttering the scene of late.

Much closer in feel to bands like Mortuary Drape, Bulldozer or Rotting Christ than Dissection and Watain, you can tell your friends these guys are some long lost, previously undiscovered band from the Mediterranean region circa 1991…and then lay odds they’ll never even think to question that assertion.

Perhaps just as interesting, this is a two piece hailing from Iran, of all places…then again, maybe their geographical/scene disconnection is the very reason they were able to craft something this unapologetically retro and appealing.

Now, at 13 tracks, things do tend to feel a bit samey after a bit…but if that were a crime, we’d have to slam a whole hell of a lot more bands and albums than we do, so just file that minor factoid somewhere in the back of your mind. Otherwise?

Horns wayyyyy the fuck up.

Purgatorium – Still In Search (Discouraged Records) (May 29)

Overlooked swedish death metal band from back in the day – I don’t believe even Daniel Elkeroth mentioned ’em, I’ve certainly never run across them in all my explorations of obscurities of that era.

In any case, this is a reissue compilation of the band’s two demos from ’92 and ’94,* so you know they should be good…and they are indeed.

* or so we’re led to believe. Sources conflict – the only thing we’re sure of is that the track “still in search” hails from a contemporaneous compilation album, and that the better part of the Travels demo (from 1994) is present. No clue where track 3 comes from, or why “miklagard” is a different version from the one on Travels…and where is the Enter the Gate demo?

Not overly fond of the vocals, which are growly/snarly in an oddly offputting manner (doesn’t quite feel death metal in the usual sense, certainly not for Swedeath of the period, which may explain their apparent obscurity), but the band themselves are melodeath to the Nth degree, most particularly evident on the first two tracks herein.

While this one will shake no one’s faith in the Swedeath gods, those inclined towards the more obscure yet worthy acts from the heyday of death metal just got another bit of goodness – however baffling its claims may be as opposed to its contents.

Look, you know you’re getting the better part of one of their two demos and the rare compilation track…plus an apparent re-recording (or at least later recording) of the missing demo track and one mystery bonus song to boot.

May not be as complete as we’d all prefer…but considering few of us knew who these guys even were prior to this release, let’s cheer on Discouraged for unearthing this one in the first place.

Well worth investigating.

 

Burning Hatred – Carnage (Tape) (Morbid Skull Records (El Salvador) (June 30)

Dutch death metal. And it’s not Pestilence, Asphyx, Sinister or even Gorefest.

If noting that didn’t scare you off, then you may just find yourself with some small measure of appreciation for this latter-90’s sounding death metal act – somewhat “old school” in tone and production (at least by comparison with some of the more particularly “modern” acts floating around out there nowadays), but hardly of the scene’s heyday either.

Comparisons with Sinister are probably most apropos, but don’t expect another Cross the Styx or Diabolical Summoning here – the music is slower and simpler than that, if still a bit overly busy feeling for my tastes.

Bottom line, it’s not all that bad and certainly listenable enough for death metal diehards, but won’t be converting anyone to the cause either.

Granada – Sincronizado (Symbol of Domination) (June 23)

At times coming off like the more modern-era Exodus (long past the days of Baloff and Souza, or at least the latter’s glory days with the band), at times coming off more like some unholy cross between Ill Nino and Testament (the vocalist sounds a bit like Chuck Billy at times), this is a weird mix of thrash and the more groove/aggro thing old thrash diehards declined into during the 90’s.

Promo materials reference Pantera, Machine Head, Sepultura (they mean from Roots onward, mind) and Soulfly…so you should get a fair idea that the first paragraph was dead on here.

Look, it’s thrash enough that if you’re in a forgiving mood, you probably won’t knock over your beer in running to shut the damn thing off or change the station.

But it ain’t exactly my idea of classic thrash, either.

Your move.

     

SinnerAngel – Sinister Decálogo (GrimmDistribution) (June 25)

Colombian act that brings thrashy gallop riffs, black metal tremelo riffs and snarl-shriek vox and anthemic, melodic power metallish moments (usually somewhere in the vicinity of the chorus or guitar solo) all to the same table somehow.

As you might imagine, most of this works together quite well, the melodicism and anthemicism grafting to the thrashiness and even to some of the tremelo riffing like glue.

As you might also imagine, one element sticks out like a sore thumb…the black metal vocals.

A clean vocal approach should work wonders for these guys – a soaring, declamatory frontman along the lines of late 80’s Eric A.K., Bobby Blitz or even the at the time much mocked Russ Anderson would give them the precise makeover they need – they really have a lot of promise buried behind all that obnoxiously ill-fitting snarling and spitting.

Damn good band, absent the vocalist. Really liked the guitars here, and he gets a good tone out of his rig to boot.

BEREFT OF LIGHT – HOINAR (Loud Rage) (June 26)

Black metal of the contemplative, introspective, “Cascadian” variety.

There’s really nothing revelatory about Bereft of Light over any other band working this general feel you could name (many on the Sepulchral roster, Vardan, that sort of thing), except to say that it’s another one man band, this time hailing from Romania.

I always enjoy this variant of black metal, and Hoinar represents no exception to the rule…just don’t expect anything especially “new” or groundbreaking about this one over the rest.

MINDKULT (US) – Lucifer’s Dream (Box Set / CD / Merch / Digital) (Transcending Obscurity) (September 20)

Did we mention Electric Wizard somewhere earlier? Because that’s where we’re going here – the sludgier end of stoner doom, with some decidedly dramatic/melodic elements bleeding through to make things that much sweeter.

The classic Sabbathisms are present and accounted for, as are the druggy feel and light “occult rock” trappings lyrically…but it’s far from slavish, pulling in elements that bring Blues for the Red Sun-era Kyuss and even touches of 90’s indie rock to mind.

Melodic as all get-out, with good song construction (!) and catchy hooks amidst all the doomy stoner business…yeah, I don’t need much convincing to give Mindkult a definite raise of the horns in salute.

Damn good, particularly though not exclusively limited to those inclined towards the stoner doom scene.

I dug it something fierce.

THE MINERVA CONDUCT (India) – S/T (Box Set / CD / Merch /
Digital) (Transcending Obscurity India) (September 20)

Members of Demonic Resurrection and other Indian metal bands join forces for this oddly progressive-feeling affair.

Yes, there are riffs and phrases that lean decidedly tech death, and others that feel a bit…I don’t know, brutal groove? – but overall, this can best be considered prog metal with strong death metal leanings.

Wholly instrumental, so you can pay full attention to all the meter-play and stutter stop fretwork and drumming.

Personally, I’ll stick to Fates Warning and Watchtower for this sort of thing…but there’s no question The Minerva Conduct has chops and a whole lot more quality and listenability than you may expect.

Yet another band showing that the Indian scene is both growing and one to watch.

ARALLU (Israel) – Six (Transcending Obscurity Records (India) (September 22)

One thing that tends to hold true about “extreme” metal from what corporate types refer to as “emerging markets” is that the vocals tend to really, really suck.

I mean, I get that things are harder in parts of the world that haven’t entirely taken part in the “economic miracle” (cough spit laugh uncontrollably) the West has been somewhat disingenously credited with (except for uber-rich fuck Trump types, who bleed the rest of us dry and laugh about how dumb we are for cheering their parasitism on) – so the anger and frustration makes sense.

Thrash, death metal, even black metal tend to be more aggressive, speedy, in your face and relentless once you start heading towards and below Equatorial climes, and it’s completely understandable.

But come on, guys. You can at least try on the vocal end…

So here we have what otherwise comprises a fairly interesting Israeli black metal band (picture the oppression and unfavorability of playing this kind of music there!), who unashamedly bring in their native musical influences and a sort of desert caravan vibe, with traditional instrumentation and female vocal chanting. You can practically see the heat waves rising from the sands and guys banging their heads at the Wailing Wall.

There’s definitely a lot of death/thrash vibe to Arallu’s brand of black metal – this is hardly what you’d expect or think of when it comes to the genre proper – but musically, it works just fine. With the unusual traditional touches? It’s pretty damn interesting, if not kinda cool even.

But those vocals…

As my old Weird Scenes cohost used to say, YEESH!

Worth hearing, just tune him out if you can.

Anyone got a mixing board handy, so we can kill the vocal track whenever this plays?

BATTLE RAIDER – S/T (Fighter Records) (August 21)

Old school traditional metal with shred affectations, hailing from Mexico City.

Something about this (particularly on opener “flying fingers”) comes off very much in the Shrapnel school of thought and operation…but with a lot less of the guitar virtuoso thing bolstering the affair. In fact, they’re about as far from fretboard wizardry as you can get…but the vibe is palpable.

With the sort of overdramatic, soaring toned vocalist you’d only find in the second tier Metal Blade acts of the day (or for that matter, Shrapnel bands – think Omen, Malice, Liege Lord, Lizzy Borden, Sanctuary, Apocrypha, the vocal tracks from Cacophony, et al), this is all driving, double bass-inflected drumming and sorta NWOBHM-style trad metal riffing, spruced up with some speedy note rhythm runs and occasional and all too brief sweep picked arpeggio fills.

But while the general zeitgeist comes pretty damn close to a vintage Shrapnel act, the skill level just isn’t there – it’s more like Vicious Rumors sans Vinnie Moore or a more standard (if perfectly acceptable and in fact rather loveable) traditional metal act like any of the aforementioned bar Apocrypha and Cacophony – so you could just as accurately say these guys just looooove classic Metal Blade.

At points, they further come off a bit Cirith Ungol (particularly with the multi-tracked and admittedly quirky vocals – at times they even come off rather John Cyriis-esque), but with a lot less of that 70’s stoner feel and Hawkwindlike Moorcock fascination.

All of this is some really high praise indeed, as this sort of second tier classic metal and shred holds up a hell of a lot better than the more mainstream likes of, say, Dokken, Ratt, Priest, Motley Crue and the oddly much beloved Iron Maiden (yeah, they were great up through Somewhere in Time…but the only albums I ever pull out from the dustcatcher pile have Paul Di’Anno on ’em. Fact.)

So if, like yours truly, your tastes run to the less celebrated (but far more interesting and beautiful for all their flaws) of vintage 80’s metal acts, I can only advise you to run, don’t even think about walking, to grab Battle Raider ASAP.

Best and most authentically retro trad metal band I’ve heard in some time. Raise a studded-gloved fist and bang that head in salute.

TALES OF GAIA – Hypernova (Fighter Records) (September 4)

Decidedly upbeat power metal, working the Iron Savior hard SF end of the thematic spectrum.

There’s something about Nestor Catala’s rather thin and light (almost feminine – you thought Michael Sweet was kinda girlish? Just wait…) vocals and the relentlessly positive, even good natured eubellience which suffuses Hypernova as a whole that feels rather early 80’s in a way, but it’s clear they’re operating very much within the Helloween/Iron Savior modality.

While the unusual vocals (which could also be charitably compared to Jason McMaster circa Dangerous Toys – which is making me laugh picturing Catala belting out “sportin’ a woody”!) may keep them from the upper echelons of the power metal scene, there’s no question these guys could hold their own opening for the very biggest guns out there – there’s a solidity and self-assuredness about the playing, a confidence to the song construction that says “pay attention”.  And if you’re into power metal, they’re right – you should.

For whatever reason – the quirkiness of it, the inexplicable retro feel or just good, solid composition and performance, I found myself really liking Tales of Gaia here.

Now it needs to be said: there wasn’t enough of a lead guitar front and center impressive/emotive soloing thing going on for my taste, and things do slow down a bit too much around the midsection.

But those quibbles aside, if you want my idea of an ideal power metal album, here it is.

Dead on, guys. Can’t wait for the next one.

Siniestra (Colombia) – La inmortalidad de la muerte (Misanthropy Elite Productions / Iron Goat Commando) (October 2016)

Colombian black metal. At least at first, comes off just as crazed and high speed aggressive as you’d expect.

In slower moments, they feel a bit more “occult black metal”, but in a weird enough way that it feels less tired than usual. I guess you could draw a line connecting Siniestra (when not going all out, as in opener “angustia eterna”) with Inquisition, but that’s not the worst slag you can throw at a band, really…

The band sounds much better when moving along at least a walking pace (as in “siniestro”), but they have enough of sinister feel and South American vibe to satisfy fans of the region’s black (and blackened thrash) metal scene.

Not bad.

BLOODLUST (Australia) – At the Devil’s Left Hand (Caverna Abismal) (August 24)

Aussie blackened thrash. Figure something along the lines of the Hells Headbangers crowd, but with a bit more aggro and satan thrown in just for laughs.

It was punky and Motorheadish enough for my tastes, and the riffing leaned somewhat old school Brazilian (think more Sarcofago or Pentagram than Vulcano or Sepultura, but even so) – so I’m good.

Well worth looking into.

Horns raised.

Reverorum ib Malacht – Ter Agios Numini (:AJNA:) (August 18)

Two rather pointless ambient tracks, two with a band, but which still come off decidedly experimental.

We’d reviewed their De Mysteriis Dom Christii three years back and found their “Roman Catholic black metal” a fascinating idea in concept, but one that, like the apparent lyrical focus of this month’s Integrity, gets a bit lost among all their (in Reverorum’s case) avant-garde artsy-fartsiness and atonality.

In short – great (or at least weird and interesting) concept…poor execution.

Well, nothing much has changed here.

There are moments that feel rather black metallish, albeit with a weird avant garde bent (was Attilla involved in this project, perhaps?)…and others that just feel like dead air masquerading as “ambience”.

Yeah, you get the sense they were intending for this to go somewhere “deeper” and maybe even “say something”.

Didn’t work, though.

OSCULUM INFAME – The Axis Of Blood (Battlesk’rs) (June 30)

Well, this is quite unexpected – despite their last full length album dating all the way back to 1997, here we have the second album from France’s Osculum Infame.

Now, admittedly, there have been occasional rumblings in the distance from their general direction, namely EPs in 2000, 2010 and 2012…but it’s been fairly spread out as you can plainly tell. To be fair, the members have been involved in other bands, a few of which you may recognize, such as Arkhon Infaustus, Merrimack and…er…Kristallnacht, about which ‘nuff said.

Osculum Infame operate in some arguable netherworld between the overworked Flaming Pile of Dead Bards that is the Swe-black/death and “occult black metal” scene(s) (Watain, Dissection, mid-period Dark Funeral, Gaahl-era Gorgoroth and Inquisition, all of whom have been dissected, examined, copied and regurgitated to the point of aural ipecac when encountered) and the more interesting, if equally dark Finnish black metal scene (Satanic Warmaster, Clandestine Blaze, Horna, Saturnian Mist, etc.) who at least have an innate inclination towards melody offsetting the rest of the overbaked schmutters.

In other words, while there are elements here that fall under the usual eye roll and reject header of the former designation…there’s enough of the latter to brand the band as interesting, if not well worth a listen to see if it grabs ya.

I guess if you crossed Saturnian Mist, Hat and Pest-era Gorgoroth and Clandestine Blaze, you may well have something much akin to this one…though when it comes down to brass tacks, this “Axis of Blood” may in fact bear a bit more melodicism than that would imply!

Apparently this was a limited pressing back in 2015, given a (presumably wider ranging) reissue now, so if you’re interested, you may want to jump on it before it disappears into collector market hell again.

You all know I’m sick and tired to the point of utter disgust of the seemingly endless flood of wannabes, copycats and gibberish spouters that make up the better part of the current black metal scene, and yet I had zero problems with this one – in fact, it was pretty damn decent.

That should say it all, right there.

Tommy Stewart’s Dyerwulf – S/T (Soman Records) (June 15)

A two man doom act utilizing heavily distorted bass in place of guitars, led by the mainman behind 80’s metallers Hallows Eve.

There’s a strong Black Sabbath feel, as you might expect, and it’s hard-coded to early 70’s psychedelic hard if not space rock enough to feel a touch stoner/sludge, but the closest analogue I can offer is the slower, more jam-like excursions of Paul Chain, which Tommy Stewart’s Dyerwulf does strongly resemble (though minus the excellent church organ and guitar solos, if you can picture such a thing).

You’re looking at a HUGE Paul Chain fan, here, so to say this one worked quite well would be a nonstarter, if not a given.

The only songs that feel completely out of place (and therefore just doesn’t work) are Carole King’s “porpoise song” (formerly essayed by the Monkees, of all acts) and closer “with darkened eye”, which seems too energetic and typically “rock” to be an original (though apparently, it is...)

Otherwise?

Jump on the planet caravan, take a seat next to the electric wizard and dig into some Italian style doom…from Atlanta, Georgia, of all places.

DEAD SEASON – Prophecies (Dissonances Records) (May 5)

Quirky, miscegenated melange of French modern metal.

The band utilizes Rammstein-like, arguably black/death inflected vocals that turn clean on the choruses and death metallish machine gun stutter riffs that go melodeath at the appropriate times (or on the flipside, wheedly-whoo tech death just to annoy everyone, as in “homogenetic” and “guidestones”)…but the band inclines at least one eye towards a black metal feel as well.

So are they death metal (traditional, melo- or tech)? Industrial? Black metal? Well…no, not really.

Kind of all over the place in terms of style and genre, but oddly cohesive in feel at the same time, these guys are pretty hard to describe in print.

I liked the clean-vocalled choruses and melodeath sections, and appreciated the machine gun riffing bits well enough…the rest did nothing for me whatsoever.

SINLUST – Sea Black (Rue Stendhal) (April 28)

Learned something about geography and culture with this one.

Described as hailing from both France and “Brittany” – which I only knew as an old Roman-era designation for the UK – they made me look up why a region that’s ostensibly part and parcel of France proper would be isolated and given its own nod here.

And I guess it mostly comes down to regional dialect, truth be told…so go figure. I leave it to the locals to give a better explanation!

So these guys are black metal in the sense of a far less gothic or vampirically inclined Cradle of Filth, or perhaps, as they offer, that of post-Demonaz Immortal (you know, the boring, overlong stuff from At the Heart of Winter onward). Frontman “Firefrost” even essays the trademark Abbath frog croak at points.

And if you mash the two bands together, you’ll get a fair idea of what to expect from Sinlust – bombastic, late 90’s/early millenium-ish black metal with more of a flair for the dramatic and lengthy track than the more punkish, nature obsessed, isolationist or occultic aspirations and sound generally associated with the scene.

Instead of telling the tale of Elizabeth Bathory, Gilles de Rais or the history of Blashrykh, Sinlust is working an ongoing multi-album story ala Rhapsody (of Fire) relating to medieval kings, alliances, betrayals and skullduggery. In the old days, you’d say they were big fans of Moorcock’s Elric and suchlike…nowadays, it’s more like they binge watch too much crap television (cough Game of Thrones cough proud to say I never saw an episode cough).

Either way, you get the idea – it’s big, it’s bold, it’s telling an ongoing story. I like the concept just fine, mind.

It’s the middling, rather latter-Immortal-ish feel that leaves me with a shrug of the shoulders.

Meh…it’s OK, I guess.

Ossuary Insane – Demonize the Flesh LP (Blood Harvest) (September 1)

We reviewed their Possession of the Flesh last summer, noting it was the first in an intended series of reissues of an overlooked Minnesota blackened-orientation death metal band (think more Acheron, Grotesque or Incantation than the crap that passes for “black/death” nowadays). This is the second of such, actually comprising their first and only previously released album from back in 1998.

Generally speaking, my take is much the same as previously, though perhaps a bit more softened – a few tracks (like “olde ragged cross”) aside, the production and midtempo feel worked fairly well for me, nasty-ass blackened snarly-growl vox and “must follow the guitar…must follow the guitar” spastic drumming aside.

Who knows, maybe it was a cross between the improved production and the fact that they tuned up their guitars on this one (there’s an amusing reminiscence in the liner notes about the circumstances of recording the album), but this time around, there’s really no caveats – I liked this one just fine.

Well worth giving a spin to see if it floats your boat or no.

Dr. Shrinker – Archive I & II DLP (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (August 15)

Ah, now here’s an interesting one.  You’ve probably heard of these guys somewhere along the line.  Apparently there was something of a mutual admiration society going on between Dr. Shrinker and Autopsy, which may account in part for their reputation – many a death metal fan has expressed some degree of reverence for the obscure, demo-only band over the years.

And to be fair, there’s a hell of a lot more to like in their straightforward approach than analogues like, say, Morbid Saint (who are kind of painful to sit through for more than a track or two). The vocals may be bad, but the riffs are meaty and sweet and you can nod along to each VHS-era horror/slasher/Euro-gore flick reference…just like all the best death metal.

With three of their demos reviously released by Necroharmonic on one CD as Grotesque Wedlock, these appropriately horror film-obsessed Wisconsin death metal pioneers are here given a more expansive treatment, appending a pair of live and rehearsal demos (and one abandoned studio recording track) to the previously released Wedding the Grotesque, Eponym and Recognition demos.

The live demo (1988) that opens Archive I is pretty low-fi and hissy, but more or less on par with bootleg “extreme” metal shows of the period (I have a Slayer live in Nuremburg ’85 show that’s only a bit cleaner than this one, so tape traders and live bootleg fans know the score).

By comparison, even the rather rough Recognition demo from the same year sounds frigging fantastic – at least it was recorded in studio and there’s some reverb on the vocals, so you can hear every shrill shriek and scream.

Things get a bit rough again with the 1990 rehearsal demo, but unlike the live show, this one’s thick toned and raw, more akin to the likeable chunkiness of the Autopsy demos than the thin reediness and over-compressed signal of the live recording. It’s lo-fi to be sure, but works just fine for me…

Archive II kicks off with a rather rough sounding, hard right signal-dominated Wedding the Grotesque (1989), which to be honest seemed to sound better on my Necroharmonic CD…but that may be just my car’s stereo system vs. iPod and CD audio vs. mp3 compression talking, who knows. It’s far from even the quality shown on Archive I’s Recognition demo, though the bottom end may be filled out more here.

So again, there’s a likeably thick tone playing into the sound, but the front end is less pronounced and loses a lot of comparative clarity. Remember, we’re talking 30 year old cassette demo quality, here, and comparing “middling to poor” to “poor to middling” throughout.  I guess if there were no vocals involved, some of these tracks would sound pretty damn good…but mind, all this is speaking in Autopsy demo terms – most “war metal” sounds crystalline by comparison.

You get some perspective on all this when the brief Eponym demo (1990) kicks off, as the band finally gets some degree of proper production (comparatively speaking)…and you sort of miss the muddier, thicker tone. Shades of Autopsy!

Finally, the single track “our necropsy” (1990) closes things out, and as it is the sole surviving recording from an intended full length album that never materialized, you get to hear the band as they might have sounded.

It’s another step up from Eponym, but whether due to the more dispirited nature of the song itself or just the subjective effect described with the shift from lo-fi to middle-fi between the earlier material and The Eponym demo, you’re left wishing the bottom end was fatter…the guitars more distorted and dominating of the mix…the vocals buried a bit further back.  This guy’s never happy, I tell ya...

There’s no question that Dr. Shrinker is a classic death metal band who, like many of their peers of that era (particularly though far from exclusively in the Swedeath arena) deserved more exposure and a proper recording and label release…and if you missed the Necroharmonic disc, have a thing for vinyl or just want to add the live, rehearsal and “our necropsy” material to same, this is unquestionably a pair of releases you’ll want to get your hands on.



Expander – Endless Computer LP/CD (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (September 15)

umm…

OK, the problem here isn’t necessarily with the band themselves (though there was really nothing that set yours truly afire about the album in question, it must be admitted)…but with the exceedingly bizarre factoid that they consider themselves a thrash act.

Take a listen.

Black metal, right? Unexciting black metal, to be sure…weird focus on technology, thematically speaking…but straight up black metal more or less of the “dirtier” US variety, from the vocals down to the riffs and drumming. Maybe you could stretch a bit and say “black/death”, though it’s not quite aligned with the usual tropes thereof.

But how the hell they got “thrash” out of this is quite beyond me…

Either way, it’s an easy pass.

Next?

Evil (Japan)- Rites of Evil LP (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (August 15)

Japanese blackthrash. Like Abigail, they have some speed leanings underneath all the dirty, thrashy rawness, but think more along the lines of bands like Abigail than, say, Toxik or Agent Steel, who they bear absolutely nothing in common with.

No, this is the same sort of band that gets the nod here regularly, generally hailing from either Hells Headbangers, NWN or Iron Bonehead – this sort of nasty, raw, old school, somewhat biker bandish, vaguely satanic, often obsessed with sex in a high school sophomore level of development, and very, very influenced by Bathory, Venom, Motorhead and the early Teutonic and Brazilian blackened thrash scenes.

Nothing much to note separating Evil from, say, Shitfucker or Abigail beyond less scat or sex, respectively. Promo materials namecheck early Bulldozer and Sarcofago, and yeah, you can pick both of ’em up here in the sound these guys are belting out – but you kind of knew that already from what we described above.

I always enjoy this sort of thing, and they hail from a country whose uniqueness and quirks of culture have fascinated me since childhood – so of course, they’ll get the nod as well.

DEATH YELL – Descent Into Hell (Hells Headbangers) (August 15)

We’d previously reviewed their split with Atomic Aggressor here, and it looks like these Chileans have been fairly quiet since (only releasing one further split last year with Morbosatan). Despite having done an EP and split back in the early 90’s, this is actually their first full length release.

Interestingly, they’ve managed to pull together the entire band from back in the day, only swapping out drummers twice along the way (this is the current sticksman’s first appearance on record with the band).

They work a sinister blackthrash that at times seriously evokes Slayer (“descent into hell”, for example)…just like all the best Teutonic and Brazilian blackthrash bands back in the day. The album cover is pretty gnarly, but certainly brings Incantation to mind, and overall, I was pretty happy with this one.

More Slayer-esque than Slayer’s been in decades, and quite unashamedly old school blackened thrash overall.

What’s not to love?

HORRIFIC – Your Worst Nightmare (CD, LP) (Hells Headbangers) (August 18)

Wow, could that swipe of “live wire” be blatant enough? And unlike the original, it just doesn’t fucking work...

Anyway, this is a weird mix of straightforward heavy metal and grindcore dual vox (puke and gargle, trading off). The music works for the most part, the vocals just sound stupid when joined to them – this guy belongs in a Carcass tribute band or something, not fronting these guys.

Apparently the guy behind Acid Witch (who we liked) and a guy from Surgikill (who were passable) got together and tried to do a horror punk meets metal thing. They got it half right…

A reissue from 2009. If you can get past the wholly inappropriate and ill-fitting vocals, you’ll probably like it well enough.

KROSSFYRE – Burning Torches (CD, 12″ MLP) (Hells Headbangers) (September 15)

Spanish act featuring the guitarists from Graveyard and Korgull the Exterminator, whom you may or may not have heard of, but whose names have been bandied about in metal circles over the years (particularly the Voivod-swiping Korgull).

This one’s a lot more black metal than I expected from a Hells Headbangers act – while there’s certainly some of the usual blackthrash and raw earlier underground feel to the proceedings, there’s something about Burning Torches that feels more inflected with the tropes of what came long thereafter than the more pointedly Brazilian/Teutonic blackthrash (or Venom/Bathory/Motorhead) stance the label tends to specialize in.

Even so, once you get past some of the aforementioned trappings and noticeable influences, the general approach is still more or less blackened thrash – the dumbo POUND POUND POUND POUND four on the floor slow blastbeat drumming ala Sarcofago (which alternates with a more proper double bass style on a regular basis), the raw toned guitars and sorta speedy, rough and ready riffing ala classic Desaster (when not picking up on the more modern Swe-black/death riffs and lines, as in the close of the hilariously entitled “the great masturbator”), even the too raw and nasty for death but too aggro and deathlike for black metal vox.

So it’s certainly listenable enough, and fans of old school blackened thrash like yours truly can definitely find enough to dig in to here…but nobody’s operating under the delusion that these guys are hailing from, or even overly indebted to, the mid to late 80’s underground scene.

There’s just wayyyy too much recently defecated BM scene fecal matter stinking up this blackened tomb to keep that particular pretense up.

Has its moments.

Proscrito – El Calvario (MCD/MLP) (Iron Bonehead) (August 18)

Can you say “sludge”? I mean oozing, molasses-thick, Pokemon Muk-level wading through quicksand-level sludge.

Tag in some nasty, phlegm-driven growls that border death and that over-reverbed underground school of black metal stylistically, and you pretty much have it: less funeral doom/Warning-degree slow than boots stuck to the floor glacial progress ala the slower moments of Goatlord.

Detuned to the point of being amusing, distorted to the point where you start to relax amidst the wall of noise, but still moves along at its own zombie rising from the swamp pace.

I was both comfortable with and sorta enjoyed this one. It’s not the sort of thing you put on in mixed company, but diehard doomsters of the decidedly sludgier end of the spectrum should get a definite kick out of this one…and maybe learn a few choice phrases in Spanish along the way.

Puteado, indeed.

Lisa Cuthbert – Hextapes LP (Iron Bonehead) (August 25)

Apparently, Lisa Cuthbert is some sort of a known commodity among the music community – it’s said that names as far afield as Tom G. Warrior and Andrew Eldritch (the latter of whom she seems to have worked with, which may play into that assessment) both dig her stuff.

Now, who knows what her usual output sounds like – this is apparently more of an experimental and personal release, done in her own home studio.

As such…it’s hard to say much about this. I guess if you’re into more avant garde corners of the ambient spectrum, with sampled voices and sound mixed with piano loops, acoustic guitar and suchlike…and you like your background music very, very quiet and still, this rather unassuming bit of aural wallpaper may well appeal.

Everyone not so inclined will likely find this as aimless, tuneless and ultimately disposable as I did.

 

 

 

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