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Holy crap, this one’s the motherload.

A few weeks back, I gave a heads up to our Facebook followers that releases were dropping across the virtual desk by the metric tonne, and warned with a twinkle of bemusement that if they kept coming in at the rate they had been, this month’s Roundup was going to be a monster.

And sure enough.

At the time of writing these lines, there are over 110 albums, EPs and a handful of singles under review this month, with the potential if not likelihood that we’ll see a few more arrive before we close out and finalize (hell, there are already a handful of October-range releases on schedule for next month’s post…)

In short…yeah, this is the big one, Weezie.

Yeah, there’s been stuff going down – sadly, a lot of which falls somewhere in the range of “bad to awful”, but it wasn’t a hopeless month either. Change isn’t always a good thing…but sometimes it’s exactly what’s called for, and there have certainly been strong intimations and iterations thereof over the past few weeks.

And yeah, when you sit back and reflect, the past two or three years have all been of the “thank God that’s over…please just let the new year be better!” variety (hint: each year’s gotten progressively worse in most respects, both personally and globally – so much for wishes and fishes!) It’s kind of hard to forget all of the bad news and questionable changes, particularly when much of it is in print or “on air” somewhere on the internet.  But even so.

So keeping things on a more guardedly optimistic tone than we’ve seen for much of the year to date, let’s take this veritable mountain of releases as a sign that things are actually going to improve, at least in certain major respects, over the next few months. I’m certainly chuffed at the uptick in volume represented herein – the more, the merrier, as they say.

And with that hopeful thought in mind and heart, let us begin what will doubtless be a long, strange trip through one of the biggest (if not the) biggest Third Eye Roundups to date…

Allons-y. Apres-vous…

QUIET RIOT – Road Rage (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (August 4)

Quiet Riot’s been a band with its ups and downs…and popular success for an album or two aside, sadly more downs than not.

Originally known as the band where Randy Rhoads came from, the band was stuck with a pair of Japan-only releases that to be nice, hardly provided the showcase you’d expect for a player of his talents (a later reworking by the band’s late frontman Kevin DuBrow* made the material far more palatable and guitar-heavy, and he only took undeserved flak for it!)

* released as “the Randy Rhoads years”, and screw the uptight “purists” and naysayers, that version’s quite improved and an essential grab for Rhoads fans.

When Rhoads was scooped up for a similarly brief stint with Ozzy, his (occasional) fellow Osbourne four stringer Rudy Sarzo joined with DuBrow, axeman Carlos Cavazo and drummer Frankie Banali for the better part of the band’s long run, kicking off with their apotheosis of Metal Health.

With label pressure and other concerns driving the band in odd directions, they got glammier and xeroxed the formula to the point where the copies lost focus and drive (on Condition Critical, QR III and the (literally) forgotten QR (an album I had zero recollection of whatsoever…which should really say something, given my scene voraciousness both then and since!)

A typically embarassing VH1 “Behind the Music”* details the band’s decline to tiny club dates and State Fair appearances, eventually culminating in the passing of DuBrow (making Quiet Riot one of the fortunately few bands of its era with more than one deceased member).

* otherwise known as “that fucking show where yuppies and hipsters get to laugh at the metal bands they idolized and feared, and justify their own sorry buttoned down corporate lives thereby…

An odd choice of frontman followed, with Love/Hate’s “Jizzy Pearl” taking the mic for one album (wonder if they did “blackout in the red room” in the live set?) before lone Metal Health-era survivor Banali recruited American Idol contestant James Durbin, Impelliteri/Giuffria four stringer Chuck Wright and (post-millenial era) Bang Tango guitarist Alex Grossi for this album.

So after so much struggle and change, how does Banali’s Mark XXV-version Quiet Riot hold up?

Well, it’s certainly punchy and hard rocking in the sense of walking in to a bar and really, really liking the band onstage. You have no fucking clue who they are, but that drummer’s really upfront and punchy, the way guys like Tommy Lee and AJ Pero used to be, the vocalist, while a bit thin and reedy in tone, certainly fits the post-GNR tattooed junkie hard rock/Hollywood metal scene the guitars most closely adhere to.

In other words, if you really missed Junkyard, Jackyl, Hericane Alice and that ilk, perhaps with a touch of Slaughter* and that thick, punchy drumming…yeah, Banali pulled himself together a relative winner here.

* In fact, if Durbin sounds like anyone, it’s Marc Slaughter – I was hearing All Systems Go-era Vinnie Vincent and Stick It To Ya all over this album.

It sure as hell ain’t Metal Health, these guys definitely ain’t DuBrow, Rhoads and Cavazo, and you won’t recognize this as any Quiet Riot you came up with.

But damn, I miss this kind of assured, upfront, simple yet able to turn on a dime school of drumming – what my own drummer used to say was “John Bonham style”…but never was a Zeppelin fan.  I prefer Pero, Banali and Lee.

Yeah. Frankie, this was not what I expected in the least. But you
certainly done yourself good.

Give the man a salute. Throw me a pair of sticks sometime, huh?

WORLD TRADE – Unify (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (August 4)

A quartet of L.A. studio musicians associated with acts like Yes, Bad Company’s Paul Rodgers, Asia and Toto come together to deliver some rather Yes-like material.  As the promo materials correctly note, think more 80’s Yes than the earlier, more stodgily British prog concept album phase.

It’s (as you’d expect) extremely polished, very melodic and musically precise, with light prog mixed with a radio-ready feel. Personally, I heard a lot of Pete Townshend’s solo material in this as well, if not very late 70’s/early 80’s Who. Not too big a step from there to similarly minded acts like Asia, Alan Parsons Project and Saga, so you get the idea of what to expect here.

Nothing wrong with it – probably better than a lot of the overplayed shit you’ll hear on “classic rock” radio (and seriously – how the hell can you have a specific song playlist for album oriented rock that’s pushing 50 years old?)…but easily recognizable as the sort of “newer” material they’d play just to change things up between the “old faithfuls” (you could really stretch and say “post-Power Windows Rush” as well, in that respect).

I was simultaneously totally fine with this and a bit bored by it therefore.

Good players, well constructed songs, excellent production – certainly nothing to fault here.

You already know if this is going to be your thing or not.

THE NIGHTS – S/T (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (August 4)

We covered “welcome to the show” and “Juliette” last month, so you already sort of know what to expect: an AOR/melodic rock sound with elements that evoke peak Bon Jovi and a touch of Final Countdown-era Europe, but with a bit too much Nashville twang to the vocals for my liking.

The guitars adopt a modern metal detuned/overprocessed crunch in the more “metal” moments, but when they mellow out even a little, those Nashville cum pop sensibilities don’t just come through, they kick in the door and flood the damn room.

It’s like a game: is this phrase chunky and distorted (metallish), or is it clean/overdriven (country)? Even the light neoclassicalism of the solos (nice touch) doesn’t move the meter closer to the metal red zone – these guys are likeably hypermelodic to be sure, but to say The Nights are Middle Of the Road may be giving them extra credit for an aggression they simply don’t have in them.

Now, again – is this catchy as all get-out? Hugh Betcha. Will your girlfriend be bopping and singing along in the car? Damn straight.

But is it metal…or even hard rock AOR?

hmm…maybe, maybe not. Even Winger could kick these guys’ asses handily, in terms of musical heft and hardness…

If you take your java light and sweet, this one’s definitely for you.

KRYPTONITE – S/T (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (August 4)

And again, two singles from this album were covered last month, “chasing fire” and “this is the moment”.

Yngwie, meet post-Dio Rainbow (you know, when they got really poppy and more about straight to the point, radio friendly material?)  Maybe you can tag in Hagar-era Van Halen, very late period Y&T or Extreme as markers as well – there’s that intensely glammy, radio-ready summertime cruising with the top down vibe, mixed with moments that suggest the players may be better than their material.

We’ve all heard this before, more than a few of us lived through it in the latter end of the 80’s – hell, it’s pretty good stuff when done right, which for the most part is the case here.

But you can’t help thinking: don’t players with a certain level of skill deserve more of a showcase, and less constriction to an established songwriting formula?

Definitely has its moments on both ends, and I definitely preferred this to The Nights, particularly as it’s generally strong on songcraft and highly evocative of a certain period of music history – I mean, come on, they even do a song about a friggin’ Van Damme film!

But I have to say, when a six stringer has the obvious chops Michael Palace displays herein…shouldn’t he have more time on the floor, so to speak?

I had the same problem with (Alex) Masi back in the day, so consider this a thumbs up regardless – just a thought for the next album or project. Give the man the spotlight and more room to breathe!

CIRCUS MAXIMUS – Havoc in Oslo (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (August 4)

We’d reviewed their prior studio release Havoc last March, and found them an overly mainstream-oriented if not countrified take on the lighter end of prog metal.

Smooth vocalled to the point of syrup, a flair for the grandiose, but way too light to really fall under the “metal” header, even in a subgenre whose most notable act of late is the Narada Records-esque Dream Theater (who still feel a touch “heavier” than these guys at their most “rough”).

The only revelation this live album provides is the realization that they detune too much, with a basso ostinato and tonic tone on both bass and guitar that gives them something of a grunge vibe between all the airiness.

Nah – can’t and won’t disparage the musicianship or vocals here, but between the overly soft, pop radio feel and the detuned, grunge/aggro/nu metallish 90’s home tone throb thing, you’re walking well outside the parameters of metal per se, and of my tastes entirely.

  

Serious Black – Magic (AFM Records) (August 25)

Former Visions of Atlantis bassist Mario Lochert, former Bloodbound frontman Urban Breed, Edenbridge rhythm player Dominik Sebastian and Firewind ivory tickler Bob Katsionis join forces for this polished, hypermelodic power metal goes AOR affair.

While structurally and in terms of base tropes (typewriter drumming, chugging Helloweenlike guitars, etc.) this is decidedly working within the power metal idiom, there’s too much about the vocals (both lead and harmony), keyboard backing and overall sweetness of the feel to come off as anything but AOR.

It’s a weird mix, really, but works perfectly well in practice, sure to satisfy both the festival circuit fanbase of power metal and the more mainstream-oriented, girlfriend-pleasing lighter melodic crowd that sticks almost exclusively to the classic rock/80’s glam/AOR school of musicianship.

A win-win if you care for either of those general sounds, and sure to catch you with its sheer quality (not to mention prominent hooks and straight up good performance on all parts) on the very first listen.

 

Dirkschneider – LIVE – Back To The Roots – Accepted! (AFM Records) (August 25)

Another month, another Udo Dirkschneider live album. Seriously, it’s starting to feel that way…

As you might expect from the title, this is yet another recent tour document, once again from the ostensible “final time performing any Accept-era material” (hmm, where have we heard assertions like that before…)

Unlike other recent live releases from the man, however, this one’s all Accept classics, and nothing but – not an U.D.O. track in sight. And while I enjoy a lot of U.D.O. stuff, particularly the Accept/Warlock crossover of Animal House, that’s a damn good thing.

Now, some of the material feels a tad rushed, others a bit stiff (“metal heart” in particular)…the feel’s just kind of off, in other words.

But what do you expect? This is hardly the Hoffman/Baltes/Kaufmann lineup, nor is it 1985…and at this point, the man’s been belting these same damn tunes out for 35 years or more (depending on which classic-era Accept album you’re referring to in your calculations).

What is surprising and continues to do so, is the fact that a man of this vintage (as he put it during our chat on the podcast a few years back, “as a grandfather now”) is still belting those tunes out with authority, force and surprising vigor.

He’s probably sick to death of these fucking songs, in all honesty – but you’d be hard pressed to tell that from his performance.

Not a bad album by any means, and the band is more than serviceable working their way through someone else’s hits.

Ever see a tribute band, but with the original band’s singer in tow? I did, once – Dee Snider in the “Widowmaker” era, doing a night of Twisted Sister.

Same exact story. Band pulls it off fairly enough, but you can tell their heart’s not really in it.

But that vocalist is behaving like the real deal is still backing him up after all these years…and that makes all the difference.

Eden’s Curse – Revisited (AFM Records) (August 25)

Somewhere between Slaughter at their most tuneful and post-breakup Dokken comes Eden’s Curse, a likeable melodic metal act out of Scotland…with Germans, Italians and a Serbian (and formerly an American) frontman.

We’d interviewed mainman Paul Logue a few years back for the podcast, which only cemented our affection towards the band and its ongoing membership struggles (though I doubt they see it in quite that light, Logue seems quite a lighthearted, positive minded bloke at core) – this is their third studio release with “new” vocalist Nikola Mijic and their second showcase of what the “new kid” can do with Mike Eden-era material (after 2015’s Live With the Curse).

This time around, the band offers a self-congratulatory salute to their 10 years in existence by re-recording the debut with the current lineup. Now, I have to admit, it’s been a few years since I sat down with the disputed “greatest hits” of the Eden era, Confessions of Fate, but from what I heard here, I have to say I’m not hearing a tremendous amount of difference.

The band always had decent production values and polished songwriting and musicianship backing them up, and when the very first (vocal) track kicked off, my eyebrows raised – for a minute, I thought the “sides” had reconciled, so much does Mijic sound like Eden in both tone and stylistic inflection.

Again, keep in mind, it’s been some time since I heard Eden’s take on these songs (or at least a few of ’em), and I recall him having a slightly higher, thinner tone (even more akin to the aforementioned Marc Slaughter than Mijic) – so the current version may indeed mark some improvement on the originals. But solely working from memory and the album in hand, I stand by my earlier assertion: it’s pretty damn close to even steven, here.

I tend, like most of us, from what I gather in discussions with other likeminded music – and specifically metal aficionados, to treat re-recordings with a big shrug of the shoulders, if not utter dismissiveness. Why not just remaster and re-release the original?   Of course, in the current case, there are other issues involved, so there’s your answer right there.  But as a rule of thumb…

As a bit of a pot sweetener, purchasers of the physical album will get a bonus DVD which the band is calling a “bootleg”, but actually isn’t – a two camera pro-recorded video of the show that became the aforementioned Live With the Curse (apparently if they don’t have 6 cameras and the band’s full awareness, it ain’t the real thing! Sheesh, what a buncha divas…).

As usual, we’re only reviewing the audio end of this equation, which is just fine in and of itself, really…the only questions are whether it marks any major improvement over the original, and why they even bothered.

Or if you prefer, the same questions you ask of any band who goes back and re-records a classic album or selected hits from their catalog.

Cough – Saxon, get a life – cough.

Jack Starr’s Burning Star – Stand Your Ground (High Roller Records) (August 25)

Early Virgin Steele six stringer delivers his 7th self-monikered offering. As you might expect from an 80’s veteran, it’s polished, self-assured and sounds pretty damn retro through and through.

Even the production feels pretty old school and analog, with a “band playing together in the same room” vibe (though this may or may not actually be the case – but sure sounds like it!), muted drums and vocals mixed on about the same register as the (often multitracked) guitars.

Frontman Todd Michael Hall also comes off as pretty vintage, with a high, occasionally soaring light tenor range that evokes the sort of vocalists you really don’t hear much anymore – the kind of guys who’d front Yngwie, Vinnie Vincent or TNT in their traditional/shred/glam/”power” metal stylings (depending on what aspect of their respective sound and image you’re looking at and what subsequent scenes you’re comparing them to). High without being overly piercing, with enough body to give a bit of gravitas on the lower, more dramatic end of his range.

Starr himself eschews the shred school, calling the style “uninteresting and overused”, but that doesn’t mean he’s sticking to a basic blues box approach either. Once again, Starr’s playing comes off quite retro in the European sense, feeling much like post-NWOBHM/pre-“power metal” bands from the US, Germany and all over Europe did right around ’84-’85, just before the shred and glam scenes really kicked in the door and took over mainstream metal for a few glorious years.

I found this one quite comfortable, being extremely evocative of the less celebrated corners of the vintage metal scene back in the day…which is exactly where I tend to gravitate nowadays, eschewing the overplayed “big guns” of any and every genre of metal for those far more rarely aired: the cobwebbed, the overlooked, obscure and previously unreleased of the era.

If you feel the same, this Star(r) is Burning out your name in blazing letters across the sky.

Stallion – From The Dead (High Roller Records) (August 25)

Yet another strong retro-traditional metal act this month. I know these reviews appear out of order, but this is like the fourth or fifth one encountered in the last 24 hours…something’s definitely going around, that’s all I can say.

There’s that classic off-kilter but screechy vocal approach you get with bands like Cirith Ungol, Anvil Bitch and Jason McMaster (Watchtower/Dangerous Toys) in particular, crunchy, punchy guitars and straightforward to typewriter double bass drumming, depending on whether they’re working more of an Accept meets AC/DC midtempo sort of thing or leaning heavily towards thrash on certain tracks such as “underground society”, “step aside” or the wonderfully titled “kill fascists”.

All around, this is well produced, confidently performed and extremely retro feeling mid-80’s style metal, working just enough outside the expected tropes thereof to remain interesting. I mean, seriously – Jason McMaster meets Tim Baker vocals and several tracks that make you wonder whether they’re more properly classified as a vintage thrash act? Yeah, that makes ’em a whole hell of a lot more to my taste than any dozen Accept/Helloween wannabes.

Really, really good stuff, and I’d lay odds you fool a few friends that this is some heretofore undiscovered mid-80s gem of an album and band.

Raise that studded gloved fist and bang your fucking head.

  

EXIT EDEN – Rhapsodies in Black (Napalm Records) (August 4)

Clementine Delauney of Serenity and power/symphonic metal regular haunt and perpetual guest spotter Amanda Somerville (probably most notably of Kiske/Somerville) join forces with a pair of comparative unknowns (one from Germany and one from Brazil) for this Three Tenors-esque album of inappropriate covers.

Like the Pavarotti/Domingo/that other schmuck ensemble, Exit Eden mixes the highly scene-visible with the more unknown (or in Carreras case, decidedly lesser talent by comparison) and either is trying to dumb down the more developed genre (opera/metal) or elevate the shite one (in both cases, what passes for pop), depending whether you see the glass as half full or half empty.

Personally, I’d always found it laugh out loud funny to hear the likes of the once-great Luciano trying to compress those powerful golden tones to cover some ridiculous Christmas song or radio ditty in a stilted delivery and thick Italian accent, but thankfully the lines separating the lightest symphonic metal from that sort of crap aren’t quite so pronounced as they are from Verdi, Puccini and Wagner.

So while I found this utterly cheesy to the Nth degree, at least it was less jarring of a discrepancy…

Thankfully, I have no clue who or what is being covered here, aside from Depeche Mode (“question of time”), (gag) Bryan Adams (“heaven”) and (urgh!) Bonnie Tyler (“total eclipse (of the heart”)*, but both Rihanna and Adele were mentioned in the promo materials, so you get the idea.

Hint: if you’re looking for actual music, and the album is by someone going by just their first name? Unless they’re fucking Prince, just run.  Seriously. Run.

* which gave me a brief moment’s hope, when I thought they’d be covering Klaus Nomi…no such luck!

So anyway, back to the original point. We have one or two really nice operatic soprano voices here, one gravelly butch one (don’t ask me which of the two unknowns it is, but it’s kinda scary…and a whoooooooole lot of shit music, given as much of a touch of class as more polished and crunchy symph-metal arrangements and generally rather good vocals can give.

So unless you’re big on turd polishing (however candy coated these ladies and the arrangers and musicians backing them manage to make these pop flushables), this one’s more of a head scratching curiosity than anything else…unless, like the Three Tenors, you can use this to get your utterly tasteless ladyfriends that much closer to listening to real music.

Think about it…from caterwauling catshit like Beyonce to Exit Eden…maybe next Leaves Eyes, Edenbridge or even Rhapsody (of Fire)…and from there, who knows?

It’s a long, long way from Rhapsodies in Black to “extreme metal”…but it could form a bridge to bring the socially and musically clueless closer to our shores.

Hell, I just got a Billy Joel loving popster friend interested in Cradle of Filth the other day, so trust me…anything’s possible.

   

DAWN OF DISEASE – Ascension Gate (Napalm Records) (August 11)

German melodeath, but with elements of doom/death (think something like Paradise Lost or Ceremonium here) serving as underpinning in place of the more typical Gothenburg-esque Swedeath or latter day Carcass.

You could even accuse this of being a tad Finnish (think early Amorphis or even Abhorrence), but either way, you get the general idea – highly likeable melodeath that doesn’t follow the usual rules or tread the more well beaten paths thereof.

Well, there is “leprous thoughts”…At The Gates much? And that bridge on “ascension gate” will make you want to wake up and smell the Carcass…

In any case, this one worked just fine for me, the croak-growl vox felt especially vintage (falling somewhere between Desultory and Baphomet)…

…yeah, I’ll give ’em an easy horns up commendation for their efforts.

 

END OF GREEN – Void Estate (Napalm Records) (August 18)

Depressive Teutonic pop-rock act. They seem to owe a lot to bands like Mazzy Star and Moonspell, albeit with some very German vocal tones (think Bela B, but with light elements of Nick Cave) and a more amped up distortion (well…overdrive, really.)

The lighter parts feel more hipsterish, with elements of grunge and 90’s indie (if you ever lived in or haunted the Village back in the day, think “anything they played at Kim’s Video” – any of the 4 locations will do), but it’s never less than listenable.

If you’re feeling particularly miserable and looking for a change from the usual black and doom metal thing, you may well get your fix out of this one – it’s miserable without losing the melody or all of the heaviness.

 

THE NEW ROSES – One More For The Road (Napalm Records) (August 25)

Didn’t I just mention Junkyard and Jackyl earlier? Yeah, if you throw a bit more smooth AOR feel and body into the vocals, you’ve got The New Roses, who sound like one of those bands as fronted by Eric Martin of Mr. Big.

Same likeable blues-rock solos and raw distortion on the guitars, with the basic boogie shuffle and countrified vibe all over the riffing. If you dug either band’s self titled and the former’s Sixes, Sevens and Nines (or even, at a bit of a stretch, the first Badlands), you should be very comfortable with One More for the Road…there’s really nothing more to be said, so close does this one adhere to said template.

I was down with those albums, myself…so I’m good, thanks.

Shade Empire – Poetry Of The Ill-Minded (Candlelight/Spinefarm) (August 4)

Odd Finnish act.  There’s a lot that’s hipsterish “post-metal” about them, but there’s no mistaking all that aggression, neo-progressiveness and symphonic keyboard business as any genre other than metal…just all mashed together in uncomfortable and awkward if not ill-fitting ways.

The prog feeling stems entirely from the drums, which are busy and working complex (if often stilted and over the top) patterns throughout. The keyboards are so lush, bombastic and in your face as to go beyond either Cradle of Filth gothic-symphonic black metal or Rhapsody (of Fire) symphonic power metal. Even Epica doesn’t throw all their cards on the table and shove your face into them to rub your nose in it like Shade Empire.

The riffing otherwise varies between chunka-chunka lunkhead faux-metal, overly busy “tech death” and gothic metal to melodeath style melodic line/harmonic support at the choruses. The vocals simply aren’t worth discussing, just crappy black metallish snarls (which occasionally, if all too rarely, switch to clean singing for a few bars now and again).

It’s busy, crazed and like a Jackson Pollock, if not a collage thrown together by a certifiable lunatic – busy, angry, pulling from all over the metal spectrum and not giving a damn that none of this should by any rights go together.

Peanut butter steak with ice cream and a side of Sugar Smacks, anyone?

Yeah, it’s that ill-fitting.

Elements certainly work, and in each and every song, at least for a phrase or two, you think this finally is going to make some audial sense.

But while they can clearly play in all of the aforementioned genres and probably pull off something quite credible therein…absolutely none of this belongs together, much less all mashed up like this.

Who knows, you may develop a taste for it, if you’re really young and your gustatory senses are still juvenile and ill-developed.

But you’re going to be sooooo sick in the morning…

Interesting. Some good musicians in there, to be sure.

But fuck, pick a style and stick with it, willya?

  

THE HIRSCH EFFEKT – Eskapist (Long Branch Records / SPV) (August 17)

Damn, is this noisy!

So overly busy and amelodic, you’d never believe it.  This isn’t prog, this is djent or some shit – notes flying every which way, drums hitting at any fucking time, no regard to meter, harmony, melody, it’s just utter chaos.

Oh, and then it suddenly goes all emo/metalcore with a sad, clean and (comparatively) quite melodic chorus.

But you have to get through the 5 year old throwing a temper tantrum and tossing his toys and paint set all over the fucking walls and floor to get to said choruses…and there’s just as much random riffing and note clutter going on during ’em as not.

Nah.

Alpha Tiger – S/T (Steamhammer / SPV) (August 25)

Punchy melodic metal backed by 60’s Hammond organ. Is this The Zombies or Procul Harum or something?

Well, not far from the mark – “aurora” was clearly cribbed heavily from Simon & Garfunkel’s “sound of silence” – take a listen, you’ll hear it in the vocal line right away. It’s obvious these guys loooooove 60’s rock.

That’s pretty much what this is, in the end: a 60’s rock sound and sensibilities married to a more modernist melodic metal. End result is like an alternate reality AOR of sorts.

Didn’t mind this at all, even with the slightly abrasive (if mostly clean) shout-sung vocals…but it’s unusual, and therefore will certainly be an acquired taste for all its melody and ersatz (60’s-ish) traditionalism.

     

CREMATORY – Live Insurrection (Steamhammer / SPV) (September 8)

We’d reviewed their prior platter Monument last April, so you already know what to expect – female vocal-less, non-symphonically or operatically inclined early-school gothic metal.

These guys have apparently been doing this since the early 90’s, so the band’s adherence to the early, stodgier variant of what became more known as a female-led and often bombastically operatic genre trope is entirely understandable and forgivable. But outside of their own specialized circle of fans, does the metal scene at large really want or care about this general sound anymore?

Hell, even the “beauty and beast” thing and Verdi/Puccini aria swipes are a thing more or less put to bed going on a decade or more past…how much moreso, this more basic, male fronted aggro style?  It just feels seriously retro in a way that even pointedly retro-thrash and retro-trad acts don’t.

Pull out any old NiN or Marilyn Manson albums lately? How about Skinny Puppy and Bigod 20? I know…you really dig the Rollins Band, Bikini Kill and Tori Amos, right?

Exactly. It’s that kind of so 90’s it smells of Lolapalooza and Lilith Fair vibe.

Longtime, diehard Crematory fans or younger audiences pining for that particular era of music may find this release of far more intrinsic worth and excitement than I did, that’s for sure.

Personally, I put the 90’s as a whole to bed a good 17 years back.

        

TRAVELIN JACK – Commencing Countdown (Steamhammer / SPV) (September 8)

Blood Ceremony goes more 70’s hard rock.

Despite the hilariously goofy, gender fluid camp of their adoptive glam rock imagery and couteure, these jelly donuts (“ich bin ein Berliner!”) actually come off more like classic Heart crossed with Mountain and arguably a whisper of Thin Lizzy…but with far more of the dark overtones of “occult rock” than the “classic rock” those references evoke.

I’m half inclined to believe vocalist “Alia Spaceface” is Alia O’Brien moonlighting under a pseudo, were it not for all those tat sleeves and suchlike (a downmarket 90’s affectation to which I don’t believe the erstwhile Blood Ceremony frontwoman ascribes). Not only isn’t “Alia” all that common a moniker, but the women share a decided similarity of tone and range. Maybe they’re sisters, who the hell knows – it’s a rather eyebrow raising coincidence, all factors taken into account.

Bottom line, this is a dark, metal-ified take on the more aggressive of 70’s heavy rock, led by a bombastic, occasionally leather voiced alto frontwoman who manages to retain her femininity on record nonetheless (never a common feat, particularly in metal circles).

Yeah, I liked this one just fine, thanks. Light one up in salute.

  

Pagan Altar – The Room of Shadows (Temple of Mystery) (August 24)

One classic British “occult rock” cum doom metal act (depending on who you listen to) I always really enjoyed was Pagan Altar.

They were yet another one of those “demo bands” whose earliest efforts went unreleased back in their heyday, circulating through tape trading and semi-legal bootleg releases for decades, only to reform and resurface with the long-delayed return of metal in the very late 90’s and early millenium.

We’ve all heard this story many times before, from far too many bands of varying subgenre and stylistic orientation – most of their “official” releases hailing from very recent years, while their best work is only belatedly put out in demo compilations or remastered “first proper issue” versions. But dammit, Judgment of the Dead, f/k/a Volume 1, was worth the wait.

Hell, I have a shirt using some of the inner artwork of the album (the “green man” logo, the hooded acolyte in front of an altar) that regularly impresses or scares the shit out of folks, depending on the audience, which gets frequent public airings. Suffice to say, I thought these guys were pretty much the shit.

Pulling elements of Black Widow, 70’s hard rock and NWOBHM together and wrapping it in one neat bow, father and son team of Terry and Alan Jones and their various sidemen crafted an eminently listenable and surprisingly palatable platter of sinister doings and memorable tunes that surpassed many of their peers, arguably approaching the late lamented Devil’s Blood in sheer excellence of form.

Sadly, fighting between band members resulted in their (similarly unreleased) second album’s tapes being destroyed in a fit of pique, leaving what eventually streeted as Lords of Hypocrisy something of a pale shadow of its predecessor.

You could still hear much of the same band in the songs, but the decidedly au courant performances and production just felt out of sorts with the material. Solos were rather good, the musicianship was fine…but something was definitely off, despite the material hailing from the same early 80’s vintage.  In short, the album meandered.

So here we are in 2017, two years after frontman Terry Jones has passed to the great beyond, and we have the band’s final release, mostly recorded around the time of Lords of Hypocrisy.

But unlike that earlier record, which seemed prone to overlong songs, lengthy instrumental breaks and more of a “classic rock” feel than its more sinister and taut “occult rock” predecessor…Temple of Mystery tightens all those loose ends, sucks in all the middle aged flab and delivers an album that hearkens right back to the sound and feel the band was originally known for.

The songs are stronger, the playing is on point, and Jones sounds just as good as he did on Lords of Hypocrisy…but the band, the material are quite simply much better.

Look, no Pagan Altar album is going to touch Volume 1 aka Judgment of the Dead. Just not going to happen.

But this one’s a definite, obvious and yes, huge improvement over Lords of Hypocrisy…and all comparisons of discography aside?  That one wasn’t all that bad either.

A fitting cap on the career of an all too unsung leading light in the British “occult rock” (and/or doom) scene.

Don’t just sit there. You know what to do.

 

LUCIFER’S CHALICE – The Pact (CD, TAPE) (Shadow Kingdom) (September 29)

The former bassist of Horrified (also reviewed this month) and the vocalist/drummer from Uncoffined join forces with two other geezers for this UK “occult doom” affair.

Promo materials make comparisons to Witchfinder General, and you can certainly hear a bit of that (though with less uptempo NWOBHM and far less cheesy lyrics), but there are also hints of vintage Pentagram and even the bass progressions of Iron Maiden playing into the sound here.

It’s doom, so you can expect and shrug your shoulders at the odd, flat vocals and often overlong, repetitive and rather soundalike (well, unchanging in key, at least) songs (mostly running in the 10 minute range), but this is hardly Reverend Bizarre territory – Lucifer’s Chalice is unlikely to make you yawn and switch to another album in your collection after one or two lengthy tracks!

While this one’s unlikely to unseat classic Sabbath, Pentagram, Trouble, St. Vitus or even Witchfinder General themselves from your “essentials of doom” collection, there’s no questioning the appeal and likeability of the whole endeavor, bolstered by a very retro UK feel and a quirkily Maidenesque approach to doom.

Not bad. Odd, to be sure.

But definitely not bad at all.

ICE WAR – S/T (CD, LP, TAPE) (Shadow Kingdom) (September 29)

The guy behind Iron Dogs continues in the much improved vein of the renamed Ice War, whose Battle Zone and Dream Spirit left a much better impression on us than their former iteration.

The focus on Native Americans shown on Dream Catcher is expounded upon further here, though it never quite gets to Ian Astbury or Adam Ant level. Even so, the focus is blatant and followed through on more or less throughout, which is admirable.

Interestingly, while the title tracks of both single/EPs are carried over to this full length, the remainder of the material is all new (so if you have the earlier releases, you’ll probably want to hang onto ’em for those B sides).

As previously, there’s a propensity towards thin, fast single guitar riffing in the vein of (very) early and somewhat obscure 80’s metal bands like Heavy Load or High Power, if not Swedish acts of the era like Jerusalem and Leviticus (!)

Even when things advance to a chugging gallop, the overall sound feels rather light and skinny, as if sole member “Jo Capitalicide” relied merely on guitar, vocals and some rather thinly recorded drums, with little of the fat/dual guitar tone or more modern production of even the late 80’s/early 90’s to bolster the signal to more expected levels.

This is retro minded and obscure if not rather Swedish-tinged independent work all the way, and you either accept and appreciate it, or you don’t.

And while the sound being evoked here definitely takes a bit of getting used to, I find myself more in the former camp than not.

Not bad, really. Not bad at’all.

HORRIFIED (UK) – Allure of the Fallen (CD, LP, TAPE) (Shadow Kingdom) (September 29)

British take on melodeath. There’s much of the stilted feel of UK thrash and black metal, the latter of which seems to inform the band’s sound a bit too much for my liking.

Even so, the tremelo riffing is busy to the edge of leaning a tad progressive and the solos, while a tad rough around the edges, are likeable enough.

The often relentless focus on speed, blastbeats and in your face tremelo riffing really seems to override the band’s base melodeath tendencies, though – you’d be forgiven for thinking Horrified a rather quirky melodic black metal band rather than anything approaching death metal proper.

Think more Necrophobic than Carcass or At the Gates, more Gorgoroth than Ceremonium.

If that doesn’t crinkle your nose and you don’t mind some stiffness to the playing and quirky roughness to the leads, you may still get a kick out of Horrified – they’re far from slag territory.

Just realize they’re equally far from getting the nod.

LYZZÄRD – Savage (Fighter) (September 27)

Portugese traditional metal act with a femme bassist. They often approach that vintage NWOBHM gallop, but married to a mid-80’s American third tier/more obscure regional vocal style and approach to choruses.

Now, I love those state-centric obscurities, bands that were signed to labels like Metal Blade, New Renaissance and Enigma back in the day (if not even smaller labels, long since fallen by the wayside) – everything from bands like Obsession, Omen, Malice, Ravage and Wild Dogs to stuff like Cerberus and Anvil Bitch…so you know I was good with this.

There’s plenty of nigh-thrash chugging riffed aggression mixed in with the older school gallop riffs, some brief but melodically tinged leads and attitude-filled nasal dark tenor vocals and a punchy, Motorheadlike approach to drumming.

At times, things feel a tad too Swedish retro scene (think Enforcer), but this is far more lively and motivated, which may well be due to the more vivacious Mediterranean temperament…and consequently, Lyzzard feels a hell of a lot less slavishly soulless copycat act and a lot more fresh and invigorating of a prospect for those so inclined.

I liked ’em quite a bit, actually.

Keep on keepin’ on, amigos.

  

Vulture – The Guillotine (High Roller Records) (August 25)

German “speed metal” act. Their sound very much borders thrash, especially of the more raw and ragged sort – think earlier Teutonic acts like Deathrow or Protector, but with vocals that come off somewhere between Paul Baloff and Schmier.

Even so, the feel’s not quite thrash…or it is to the extent that, say, Anvil Bitch, Abattoir and Agent Steel are. It gets confusing and a bit nebulous trying to lock some of these “borderline” bands down into a stylistic cage.

The riffs are more focused on speed, coming by fast and furious but as something of a muddy blur – this isn’t, say, Toxik or early Megadeth we’re talking, this is nearly blackthrash in approach. It works, and quite well at that – but when it comes down to it, these guys are very much a matter of you say to-MAY-to, I say to-MAH-to.

There’s once again a rather retro-mindedness about these guys (check out that cheesy vintage thrash-style cover!), and if you don’t mind more than a bit of tedium setting in after a few tracks (one sounds more or less the same as the last, and the tempo remains unchanging), their more especially NWOBHM-derivation thrash/speed comes off a hell of a lot better than the arguably similarly minded Desaster, even back in their Tyrants of the Netherworld heyday…so there’s plenty to recommend ’em to those so inclined.

Bottom line, I liked this just fine. Didn’t surprise or excite me like Coven (Japan)…but definitely on par with Jack Starr’s Burning Star. It’s been a pretty good month for retro-80’s metal.

I’ll give ’em the nod of due respect, yeah.

Iris Divine – The Static And The Noise (self released) (October 6)

Prog metal. More aggressive and “right” in many respects than the light n’airy New Agey Dream Theater crowd and their many wannabes, but the vocals are a sort of sleepy, gravel-toned whine – a sprechtgesang more prone to screamo moments than any semblance of the clean soaring aficionados of the genre expect.

The riffs often go a bit too modern metal, as well, with a thick, detuned tone and a propensity towards atonal lead lines that crinkles the nose somewhat, even for fans of the less “mainstream palatable” acts like Watchtower.

Promo materials mention Dream Theater, Kings X and Alice in Chains all in the same sentence, so you get the idea something’s a bit “off” right away, but the sound is darker and indebted to more modern scenes like gothic metal and emo than that implies.

Moments certainly work – generally bridges or verses, where the vocalist keeps things more clean toned and the chunky riffing is kept to a dull roar – but make no mistake, this is not what anyone’s thinking when the phrase “progressive metal” is evoked.

Because while there are certain pronounced tendencies towards prog in play throughout, whatever measure you’re gauging by, the likes of Fates Warning, Queensryche, Sanctuary, Crimson Glory, Watchtower, Cynic, et al this is decidedly not.

One final, major caveat: the title track is quite excellent!  The strong, smoothly sung chorus made me perk up to attention after several mediocre tracks that left me drifting off…”like glass” has nearly as strong a chorus, but nothing much surrounding to back it up.

Probably would have worked a whole hell of a lot better as a single, with those two as the flip sides…now I’m curious to see where they go from this.

So guys? Do yourselves a favor. Listen to a whole shitload of Fates Warning, from the earliest John Arch stuff to the most recent Ray Alder. Let it sink in. That’s what I’m hearing that works about those two tracks…an album of similar would be a straight thumbs up, no gotchas.

Nemecic – The Deathcantation (Inverse Records) (September 1)

Lousy gargle-shouted aggro vox mar an otherwise industrial-meets-modern thrash affair.

The guitars keep themselves busy and somewhat melodically inclined despite the otherwise chugging, modernist deathrash sound the band appropriates throughout.

It’s busy, it’s really, really fucking angry, it feels extremely generic (cough Gama Bomb cough), it didn’t do all that much for me.

Probably good background to drive home from work with, it’s that level of pissed off.

Skein – Deadweight (Inverse Records) (September 22)

Geez, somebody really wants to be Tool…

Well, at least on the quieter, clean sung moments, which are quite depressing and emo. Then come the constipated grunts…

Seriously. This guy either is straining at stool like Elvis in his final glorious moments on the can, or about to burst a blood vessel in his neck. You don’t hear people grunt-screaming like this otherwise.

I guess if you’re really into the sad sack emo of Tool and don’t mind some guy yelling and panting in the stall next to you.

Give this guy a Fleet enema, quick!

Dimman – Guide My Fury (Inverse Records)  (August 25)

Finnish metalcore with oddly strong symphonic elements and a nigh-death metal belch vocalist (who goes clean on rare occasions).

I didn’t mind this one bit, it’s well produced and works on its own rather bizarre measures and plane of existence.

But what kind of magic markers were these guys huffing when they said, “hey, let’s combine symphonic metal, metalcore, and do it with a sorta death metal vocal style? Yeah, that’ll be a big hit with the metal crowd!”

(shakes head, laughs bemusedly).

Well, look, I had no issues with this one other than the fucked up collage of unrelated stylistic tropes it consists of, so count this one as a thumbs up…but geez…

(insert belly laugh here)

 

Urarv – Aurum (Svart Records) (September 22)

The guy behind The Deathtrip goes all Isengard, complete with comically declamatory Fenrizlike vocals that devolve into crying and moans when not going flat for no reason whatsoever.

We’ve heard this before.

If you want a better produced, more aggressively second wave black metal-riffed Isengard, this is pretty much what you were waiting for all these years.

Oh, and the guy either claims or admits to being nuts.

“the ideas…started during a stay at the local mental institution where I live.”

uh...alrighty, then!

Next?

Plastic Tones – Wash Me With Love (Svart Records) (September 8)

Remember early “new wave” act The Flying Lizards?  Did a really quirky, stiff cover of The Beatles’ “money”?

OK, cross that with the tones of Siouxsie Sioux and the goofy eubellience of The Go-Gos, tag in some of the depressed but determined to sound happy happy joy joy vibe of the late 80’s/early 90’s alternative (then “college rock”) scene (the sort of thing documented in the C86-89 collections that just streeted recently), and you know exactly what to expect from Plastic Tones.

It’s bouncy, sweet and sounds “happy”, but with an undertone of utter misery, much akin to the Darling Buds, REM or the Cardigans – the sort of “joyfulness” where you can feel the audible sighing beneath rattling through your bones.

There’s a lot to be said for this sound being revived – personally, The Darling Buds’ Erotica was and remains one of my favorite albums outside the usual gothic rock/punk/metal spectrum – but it’s very much designed with the college crowd in mind.

Take that as you will.

I liked it just fine, thanks – very much so, in fact.

Good stuff for the type.

  

Coven (Japan) – The Advent (Svart Records) (September 29)

Speaking of retro-80’s…here we have a brand spanking new duo out of
Japan working very much in the spirit and sound of their own vintage
scene.

Elements of Earthshaker, Anthem, Loudness, even Show-Ya shine through most brightly, while more domestic acts like Obsession, Omen, Ravage, Wild Dogs or even early Lizzy Borden spruce things up as undertones.

It’s a really nice mix, and given just how enamored I was of the aforementioned bands back in the day, hearing what sounds a hell of a lot like earlier Earthshaker (in particular) given an even more aggressive, flashy guitar approach (as if they’d swiped technique and riffs from several of the US bands aforementioned, but with one eye on the legendary Akira Takasaki as well) while keeping that mids-heavy, hollow sounding Earthshaker/Obsession crybaby wah pedal at midrange position tone throughout.

You simply can’t make it sound more fucking 1985 Japanese metal scene than that.

This is an all too brief four song EP…bring on the full length album, tomodachi.

Kuudes Silmä – Pelko (Svart Records) (September 22)

Damn, a reasonably proper gothic rock band in 2017? Nice.  Who’d’a thunk?

Now, don’t get your Siouxsie Sioux coiffe all in a bunch, this isn’t exactly In the Flat Field-era Bauhaus or First Last and Always-era Sisters we’re talking here, but the more postpunk-style first wave variant.

I guess you could trot out names like Play Dead, Ausgang and UK Decay
as vague stylistic analogues, but none of those are quite right either…just expect more of a dark, propulsive, highly aggressive approach to gothic rock, and less of the especially sinister and still type oft referenced as the linchpins of the genre.

You could toss out other UK based first wavers like Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, Danse Society, March Violets or Specimen as further “hmm…sorta…” signposts, but that moves even further away from what I’m trying to get at here, while simultaneously circling the wagons closer to the riffing and vocal approach Kuudes Silma adopts as their own.

If anything, the (male) vocalist is a bit too strident and screamo-inclined for the band to qualify as gothic rock…but the female (occasional backing and co-) vocalist is pretty dead on with the Skeletal Family/Siouxsie Sioux/Garlands-era Cocteau Twins/EP-era All About Eve harsh declamatory shout thing she works.

Basically, if you’re a goth newbie or approach(ed) the genre more superficially, you’ll have to dig to find those Mission riffs (as in portions of “sivastakatsojat”) and the connection to the ’79-85 and mid-90’s scenes may come off kind of spurious.

But for those who were there, and especially those who pay close attention to the (unjustifiably) less traveled corners of the first wave UK scene…these Finns definitely “get it”.

Roll out the crushed velvet and sway.

  

Grift – Arvet (Nordvis Produktion) (September 8)

It’s no secret that we like Grift.

From Fyra Elegier to the splits with Saiva and Drudkh and their own debut full length Syner, Erik Gardefors (with or without early drummer Johan Hallback) has always cast his lonely, melancholic black metal spell over similarly attuned listeners with the same quality and gravitas…and while the vocals seem a bit more harsh and upfront than usual, Arvet is no real exception to that rule.

Now, I will say that a few tracks take a bit too long to “kick in”, as it were, with “flyktfast” and “nattyxne” only picking up in their final third and three of the other four tracks remaining unusually quiet and mellow past the halfway mark.

Worst of all, “morgon pa stromsholm” is a total waste, with little but mumbled speech and a few notes sawed away on what sounds like a homemade stringed “instrument” all you get for the entire 4 minutes thereof. It’s quite uncharacteristic.

But for all that, when the man finally wakes up and puts this vehicle in gear, it works just as powerfully as ever…and even the overly long, boring intros are suffused in the sort of chilly, wet atmosphere evoked by the album cover photo.

While probably not the one to start your exploration of Grift on, Arvet should easily scratch the itch of the already converted, despite the increasing sleepiness apparent herein.

Here’s to more quality material from Gardefors in the future.

Ovakner – Ar/Lume (Eihwaz Recordings) (August 31)

6 song EP (apparently two bonus tracks more than a prior release earlier this year) of moody punkified Spanish death metal.

It’s pretty raw and ugly sounding, sort of justifying the “crust” designation promo materials give it, but there’s more to the sound here than just an early Entombed/Dismemberish grind – there’s a lot of expansive, fairly depressive business popping up at unexpected intervals that makes Ovakner stand out from the pack.

I guess if you took the dirty, crunchy feel of “left hand path” (the song), added more of that unexpected outro (to pretty much every song, in fact, and not always just at the end of the song proper) and tagged in more than a hint of the sad overtones of a Killswitch Engage (but with forward driving Motorhead-style drumming), you may come up with something working the general ballpark these guys make their home turf.

They don’t really sound like anyone else out there nowadays, despite the mediocre to lousy declamatory ragged throat shout vox (which would never have flown back in the day, but are completely fucking ubiquitous nowadays) trying to bring the band down.

Despite the rather glaring quality vacuum on the vocal end, these guys are very much worth the time it takes to give ‘er a spin.

I certainly dug this one.

You’ll probably love it.

Sándor Vály – Young Dionysos (Ektro) (September 15)

Extremely spare and simplistic ambient sound experimentation.

Can’t speak for anyone else, but I used to do shit like this when I first picked up the guitar and got an amp with multiple built in effects – just mess with everything and marvel at what to a naive teenager are some pretty cool sounds.

There’s also some silly playing of cans on a few tracks. We have a nature conservatory in the area with something like this in the middle of the woods, I should bring my Olympus recorder – you can sign me playing the cans with a spoon, too!

(sighs, rolls eyes, shakes head).

(pleadingly:) Next?

    

CARDINALS FOLLY – Deranged Pagan Sons (Nine Records (CD) / Topillo Records (LP) (September 4)

Finnish doom band with rather strong “occult rock” tendencies. They’ve been poking around for a good decade now, but despite ready familiarity with the name, this is the first time I’m hearing ’em.

First thing’s first: don’t walk into this one expecting lumberingly slow, crushingly heavy riffs. No, this is more of the Pentagram by way of Hour of 13 school of doom, where the riffs are thick but busy and the 70’s hard rock feel suffuses every pore.

In other words, if you took The Devil’s Blood, put Victor Griffin on guitar and gave them Phil Swanson as a vocalist, possibly tagging in a whiff of Reverend Bizarre…you might get something vaguely similar to Cardinal’s Folly.

There’s more than a hint of Red Sun-era Kyuss to the sound here as well – the title cut and “island where time stands still” each bear riffs that wouldn’t seem out of place at a desert generator party back in the day.

In other words, they’re kind of touching all the bases of doom, stoner and “occult rock” without really locking in and swearing undying allegiance to any of ’em.

I like all of the bands aforementioned (though a bit less so for the “when the hell is this song going to end, already” propensities of Reverend Bizarre), so this one worked just fine for me.

Hour of 13 fans, if you haven’t found these guys already, what the hell are you waiting for?

FORGED IN BLACK – SINNER SANCTORUM (INDEPENDENT) (September 2)

Speaking of bombastic! Here we have a very Metal Massacre-ish retro-trad metal vocalist (complete with clean, declamatory vocals and soaring tones) fronting an expansive if not epic minded band who feel quite (traditional) doom as crossed with a very mid-80’s post-NWOBHM trad metal leaning slightly thrash sound.

No shit, I just spent the last few weeks digging back into the first 9 Metal Massacre comps and similarly minded acts like Detroit’s Halloween, Malice, Omen, Ravage, Savage Grace, Wild Dogs and suchlike…and damn if Forged in Black doesn’t fit right in with all of ’em, just like a glove.

Chris “Stoz” Storozynski takes the mic like a bull by the horns, and wrestles that sonofabitch to the ground like a boss. Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth and Erik A.K. come immediately to mind, but there’s less camp and more bottom end approaching baritone gravitas to his approach. In short, he’s one hell of a metal singer, particularly if you’re talking trad, doom or classic thrash.

The band behind him are no slouches, either, with the team of Songhurst and Bone offering some truly delicious riff-tastic numbers that boast more twists, turns and time changes than any number of half-assed modern day acts you can name…and yet keep things far, far distant of prog, tech, math or djent. This is classic metal, period – elements of doominess and thrashiness only accent the base flavor. And yeah, the drummer’s no slouch, either – I heard ya syncopating up a storm in there, buddy.

I didn’t just like this all too brief four song EP.

I fucking loved it.

More, please.

Hypochristmutreefuzz – Hypopotomonstrosesquipedaiophobia (August 11)

You know, before I even saw the promo materials, I cocked an eyebrow, smirked bemusedly and thought – “what the fuck is this, some Residents wannabe?”

Sure enough, there’s reference to Captain Beefheart (ugh!), Pere Ubu (well, that one’s a bit of a stretch…), Mr. Bungle (gah!) and (wait for it…) The Residents. So you get the general idea here (though I’d throw in Barnes & Barnes for good measure).

Bottom line, if The Residents were still an active entity…wait, you mean they still are? er…anyway, if they really latched onto the industrial scene and incorporated a bit of hip hop alongside all the Snakefinger business and trademark quirky song pastiche, you might get something like this unpronouncable Belgian entity and their similarly word salad-esque album here.

Unfortunately, while the general approach sounds very much akin to the top hatted, cane sporting eyeballs (and their relatively “new” pal Mr. Skull), these folks missed the memo about “clever deconstruction of popular singers and trends”.

No thoughtfully skewed takes on James Brown, Hank Williams and Elvis to be found here, therefore…just a bizarre nigh-sound collage of oddly toned, quirkily sung tracks that nevertheless are enough wedded to traditional and proper song structure to remain listenable to the more avant garde oriented (which is a lot more than you can say for much of Beefheart’s output, or any of Mr. Bungle’s whatsoever) – which may be where the Pere Ubu reference came from (though this is a whole hell of a lot further out on the edge than the Ohio oddballs of postpunk ever really ventured).

Look, I make no bones about it – that old hippie friend of mine ran the area chapter of the Residents fanclub back in the day, so hanging with him for many years, you had to learn to appreciate them – and to a certain extent, yeah, I did.

So this doesn’t bother me at all – it’s weird, it’s way out there…but at core, these guys are traditionalists and understand music in a way all these fly by night “dissonance” touting “tech/prog/avant-black-death” types clearly never learned or experienced.

Bottom line – probably wayyyyyy too far out and bizarre for most folks.

But it’s defintely not pointless dogshit audial torture like djent or all of the recently mentioned “we don’t have to write a song or have melody, we’re just too advanced for anyone to appreciate” losers are.

Residents fans, you’ll probably want to check these guys out, if you haven’t already.

Crafteon – Cosmic Reawakening (self released) (August 25)

Lovecraftian black metal.

Very much in the Inquisition meets Flaming PoDB school of black metal musically, they enliven matters by throwing in some recognizably traditional metal riffing and sticking to the Abbath meets Dagon vocal croak.

Tag in the obvious and direct focus on Lovecraft’s eldritch tales on each and every song and the fact that you can look at this as more Inquisition gone retro-trad than Watainish “occult BM” fodder for the Pyre, and you know what? This ain’t half bad, wot?

Yeah, the stench of Swe-black/death is all over this one – but I’m wondering, considering the many positives about Cosmic Reawakening, whether this can’t just be heavily Febrezed, powdered in baking soda and stored in the freezer for a week to kill off all that unwelcome odour (out of space?) 

Probably come out smelling like a rose.

Kudos for the trad riffing orientation, the perfectly acceptable vox and the fact that you’re fellow lovers of Lore and Lovecraftiana.

When it comes down to brass tacks, I was perfectly fine with this one…even liked a lot about it, beneath all the Swedish schmutters stinking it up.

Planet Eater – Blackness From The Stars (self released) (August 4)

Ah, finally a band out of Regina (pronounced like “vagina”), Saskatoon. Or is that Saskatchewan?  Same province, anyway…and “Saskatoon” just sounds sillier, like “cartoon”.

Don’t mind me. Always wanted to get a chance to roll that one out.

Waiting for the hate mail to start flooding in from north of the border – hey, my wife’s one of you, and I’m a Tim’s addict as well…double double, dammit!

Ahem. Now, on to the non-Canadians in the audience…

OK, so what you have here is some weird aggro goes semi-tech death affair with awful screamo vox and occasional Morbid Angel riffs and flourishes married to something more atonal, amelodic and busily annoying.

Fans of tech death, the busier, less Cynic-ized end of progressive death, “math metal” and djent will probably find a hell of a lot more to like about Planet Eater than I did…best I can say is every so often, I hear a riff or quirky time change/progression that reminds me of Trey and company back in the first few letters of the alphabetical naming convention (before they went all to shit somewhere in the D’s and E’s).

Not the worst I’ve heard, by leagues.

But definitely not my thing either.

Centuries of Decay – S/T (self released) (August 4)

Here’s an interesting one: a Canadian band out of Toronto doing the dreaded black/death thing…but rather than the Flaming Pile of Dead Bards Watain Wannabe shit that implies in 99.9% of the cases you come across (and quickly toss into the flames for purging), they’re working a strangely unique variant.

Instead of Swe-black/death like Dissection, Watain, Dark Funeral and about 5 billion “occult black metal” phonies following slavishly in their overrated wake, Centuries of Decay are working a rather progressive death meets Cascadian/atmospheric and expansive black metal crossover.

So like countrymen by vocalist Echoes of Eternity, you can expect latter years Death-style machine gun stutter riffs and busy propulsive double bass drumming with occasional syncopation crossed with something you’d never expect it to be mixed with – this time not gothic metal, but this particularly introspective and evocative school of black metal.

It’s definitely a “say huh?” moment – how can you stir atmosphere and inwardly focused contemplativeness with a particularly busy, in your face and rationalist branch of death metal?

And yet…it sort of works.

Strange, to be sure. All the busyness and drive does detract from the Cascadian/Sepulchral-ness of the black end of this equation, without question.

But yet and still…hmm. I’m still listening to this, scratching at the ol’ goatee and pondering why I haven’t had some sort of visceral reaction to this one way or another.

That in itself says “potential sleeper”, which like our increasingly approving take on Mors Principium Est over the years (and three albums therein) may well result in these guys rising in estimation with time and ongoing releases.

Interesting, and far from run of the mill.

PUTRID OFFAL – Anatomy EP (XENOKORP) (August 4)

French grindcore act. They did a demo, a few splits and a few songs on various comps back in the very early 90’s before going all weird and changing both style and band name not long thereafter.

One big plus is the band got Loudblast frontman Stephane Buriez to do vox on a few tracks here – nice touch. Too bad Massacra’s “Fred Death” is no longer with us, they could have scored him for the two “brand new” tracks and had both of France’s premier thrash/death acts on the same album…even so, good score.

All four tracks (well, there’s two live tracks as well, but those tend to be useless so far as I’m concerned) are strong and reasonably well produced for the genre (think Carcass level), but there’s no question that the ones with Stephane on vox come off much better – even the production sounds clearer and less muddy, never mind the improvement in vocals themselves!

Either way, Putrid Offal sounds pretty good for grindcore, and should easily appeal to fans of Carcass, if not their copycats General Surgery.

I dug it, definitely (just be sure to bring Stephane back again next time!)

 

Raptore – Rage n’ Fever (Witches Brew) (July 21)

Yet another retro-minded traditional metal act this month, must be something good going around in the water or something…

So these guys hail from Argentina, apparently this is a reissue from last year with a pair of NWOBHM covers as bonus tracks tacked on for good measure.

Promo materials mention Exciter, and that’s actually a very good reference point – you can hear the sorta thrash, sorta speed but very traditional mid-80’s post-NWOBHM sound of Heavy Metal Maniac and Violence and Force bleeding through every pore of Rage n’ Fever.

Riffs are both punchy and crunchy, vocals are thin, squeaky and heavily reverbed, songs are upbeat and uptempo throughout…yeah, this is more Exciter than that band’s been since 1986.

Good stuff overall, if a bit samey after a few tracks (again, quite Exciterlike of them).

  

Zornheym – Where Hatred Dwells And Darkness Reigns (Non Serviam Records) (September 15)

Shades of Dimman, here we have a very symphonic…what the hell is this, black/death?

O…kayyy…so now we’re talking somewhere between Therion and Dimmu, but with more of a cheesy Swe-black/death feel. I guess we shouldn’t be all that surprised, as Tomas “Zornheym” Nilsson worked the four string for Dark Funeral during a few years where they didn’t record a note…and at least this is much more melodic and bears proper chord progressions!

Again, the song construction’s fine, the music actually bears some intrinsic sense (unlike much of what passes for “black metal” nowadays) and at its best, it feels just a tad Cradle of Filth-esque – thankfully, Zornheym is never the doofy cheesefest Dimmu is and always has been.

In point of fact, the further we get into this one, the more I sorta like it.

Now, don’t take that any further than intended – this won’t be replacing any classics in the collection any time soon. But if you’re just looking for a more aggro and particularly Swedish blackened death metal take on Therion (or if you prefer, a less cornball Dimmu goes all Epica on your ass), Zornheym should more than suffice.

I’ll give the man a nod of earned respect.

Paroxsihzem – Abyss of Excruciating Vexes (EP) (May 26) (Krucyator Productions (France)

Oy, black/death…with a very atonal “progness” about it besides.

Essentially, if you took Craig Pillard’s vox and Mortician’s drum machine and married ’em to an atonal “experimental/avant garde” black metal guitarist…yeah. You hear what you’re getting into with this one.

Supposedly there is an actual drummer, and despite 2/3 of the equation coming off as death metal, they all have those cheesy black metal pseudos: “Impugnor!” “Abyss!” and…er…”Krang”, straight from Dimension X! Where are the Turtles when you really need them?

OK, so there’s no “N” in the last name, but whatever. He’s actually the only good thing about this album, as you can tell from the Pillard comparison…silly pseudos aside.

The only other positive I can offer is that the riffing isn’t totally avant/atonal/whatsis, because there are occasional bars here and there where they almost sound like a proper death metal band of the rawer, more doom/sludge variety for a few seconds.

Unfortunately, it all returns to the noise business thereafter, leaving Paroxsihzem some odd cross between a sludgy death metal, the more atonal and unlistenable variations of black metal and the simplicity of war metal (particularly with all that Mortician drum machine business going down).

Krang needs a new android body. Maybe he can front Disma on off nights, or go back to Incantation after all these years.

Mitochondrion – Antinumerology (EP) (July 26) (Krucyator Productions (France)

Holy crap, it’s the same band!

Well, not quite. These guys have much worse production than Paroxsihzem and the vocals aren’t exactly up to Craig Pillard soundalike standards to say the least (think more typical grindcore/Bill Steer in Carcass).

The tradeoff is that while still overly blackened and atonal on the riffing end, the songs are a bit more normal sounding for the type, and while the drummer’s still clearly worshipping at the altar of D.D. Crazy, you can at least tell it’s not a drum machine this time around!

Even so, this is pretty war metallish, for black/death with atonal and sludge/doom leanings…and I’m still not seeing the appeal.

Next?

Mordenial – The Plague (Black Lion Records) (July 31)

I’m quite inclined to call this one thrash metal, with weird, croaky death metal vocals. The band seems to be self-identifying as melodic death metal. Either way, you get the general idea.

There is indeed a lot of traditional, thrash-style riffing and vibe to this, and therefore a lot more melody than you get from modern variants of either thrash or death (much less black) metal of late, and while the vox aren’t exactly going to win these guys any awards (not even the duffer award), they’re not all that bad, especially compared to all the aggro-wankers out there lately!), the band has a fairly winning, catchy sound that should get the festival crowds banging their heads in unison.

Fans of traditional, US style if not Bay Area thrash who don’t mind a bit of detuned guitar and frog croak death metallish vocals should definitely find something to love here.

I was good with ’em.

     

Shepherd / Death By Fungi (SPLIT) Inspirus Records (August 15)

Split representing two related variants of the rising Indian heavy music scene.

Shepherd out of Bangalore works more of a 90’s grunge sound with strong hints of post-Damaged Black Flag and that sort of more indie/alternative rock variant of post-punk. You could have said they were on Sub Pop or SST back in the early to mid-90’s and nobody’d bat an eye.

Death By Fungi is more of that oddball screamo/aggro thing the Hot Topic crowd considers “hardcore” (not to be confused with actual hardcore punk ala the Bad Brains, Germs, Minor Threat or Black Flag up through Damaged).

There’s a fuck of a lot of extraneous noise and pedal effect play, hints of grindcore riffing that flips to a more Flipper meets grunge annoying atonal thing immediately thereafter, and a whole hell of a lot of angry teenage boy high tenor screaming overdriving the microphone.  It’s sure as fuck not punk in any recognizable sense…but the kids seem to think it is.  The rest of us just call it “noise rock, Hot Topic style.”

So what is there to say about this one? Both bands are certainly trying hard, they’re both pretty angry…and both play in styles I just don’t give two shits about, to be honest.

If I had to pick one for greater listenability, obviously I’ll go with the grungier thing Shepherd’s doing – I may not like bands like Alice in Chains and Soundgarden much (or at all), but living through the 90’s, you couldn’t avoid that crap, so you get sort of used to it as background music.

What passes for “hardcore” these days is a whole ‘nother story.

Have at it, tweens.

From the Hellmouth / Mutilatred – Split EP (Redefining Darkness / Seeing Red Records) (August 4)

Cleveland, Ohio gives us a surprisingly angry, in your face and “brutal” band for one named after Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Where’s Xander and Willow? Is that Spike poking at a caged Oz with a stick over there? Should have called themselves The Scoobies, that would have had some hipster cachet, anyway…

Anyway, our Hellmouth spew consists of Suffocationlike moments under grindcore meets aggro barf-growl vox (often doubled with snarls as expected for grind) and grind blastbeat breakdowns…but then the rest is more typewriter drummed modern death metal. It’s weird, but (overly) recognizable all at once. Production is strong throughout.

Then we have some guys, also from Ohio, who failed the local spelling bee. “Mutilated. M-U-T-I-L-A-T…uh..R?” BZZZZT! On to Amelia Banksworth, spell “mutilated”…

Anyway, these guys have apparently been compared to Mortician, so you get the general idea of how sludge-grind level we’re talking on the band end.

But guitars and drum machine…er, drums aside, I’m really not hearing it, at least not on the important points: there are absolutely zero 70’s and 80’s horror film quotes, and worse, this dude’s vocals are definitely no Will Rahmer, let’s leave it at that.

Eminently passable, unless you’re really into the well produced but kinda generic Buffy…er, From the Hellmouth…they’re fairly listenable, at least for hardcore DM fans.

Mist Of Misery – Shackles of Life (Black Lion Records) 

Symphonic black metal with sorrowful, depressive overtones.

Unusually, the emphasis here is very much on the “symphonic metal”, with actual band input kept to a relative minimum. Seriously, more time is taken up on the keyboard instrumental bits (with or without drums) than the 20% or so of the running time featuring guitar and vocals. Very strange…

Well, it’s extremely well produced, with a lush, bombastic feel that just leaves you filled with sighs of melancholy or whatever…so if you start crying in your beer, don’t say I didn’t warn ya.

I definitely liked the bits where the band was actually up and running on all cylinders – reminded me a lot of Zornheym, but a bit less boring (i.e. there’s not much Swedish black/death vibe going on here)…but there was way too much time spent on the keyboard instrumental bits. If I want to get depressed listening to some guy play the fucking piano, I’ll listen to Chopin, thanks…

I’ll reluctantly have to mark this one as a split decision therefore.

But by all means, take the positives about the band proper to heart – when they’re actually going at it full steam, Mist of Misery is quite good indeed.

HOSTILIAN (India) – Monolith (self released) (September 15)

Clearly heavily inspired by death metal…but the end result is something else entirely.

Look, promo materials reference Cattle Decapitation, so you get the general picture: inappropriate aggro vox (quite similar to the aforementioned act, actually, though minus the low end neo-death bits!) bring a grindcoreish feel to what otherwise might be more of a Malevolent Creation meets Vader sort of angry, driving take on deaththrash in the riffing. There’s three guitars, Leatherwolf style…but you wouldn’t know that from the mix.

Drums are upfront and typewriterish in tone, but think more And Justice For All drum production with a propensity towards neo-prog syncopation than power metal here. Could have said Mark Zonder was on the drums during the slower sections and I might have believed you.

Bottom line, the vocals are what throws things way off here. The production overall is a bit thin and hissy, and mixing that particular drum production style with death metal seems sort of odd (more thrash than death, reinforcing the general deaththrash vibe I’m picking up here otherwise)…but hey, I like a lot of classic death metal bands that leaned more thrash than death in many respects (including the two aforementioned).

But throwing those hollow sounding, highly aggro, sorta Cattle Decapitationlike vocals over the top just leaves Hostilian sounding kinda weird.

Maybe a fuller production might help, shove the guitars more upfront…but then again, I kind of liked hearing that old late 80’s/early 90’s tapatap drum production and those hints of progginess from our sticksman Rajiv, and wouldn’t want so see that buried beneath a wall of guitars either.

I still think they’ve got promise, vox aside – there’s a definite place for what most of the parts here have on display, however odd a taste the overall concoction leaves in the mouth.

Bludy Gyres – Echoes of a Distant Scream (SoMan Records) (February 1, 2017)

Interesting…from that rather precious moniker, I was positive this was some UK folk metal act. Martin Walkyrier anywhere around? “Bludy Gyres”, my ass. And then you hear they’re tagging “early English prog influences” in to their overall doom sound, and that they’d done some take on the old traditional (made most famous by Traffic) “John Barleycorn”. Yeah, very precious and decidedly British.

So how the hell is it these guys hail from Atlanta, Georgia?

Well, oddly enough, this is yet another project from ex-Hallows Eve mainman Tommy Stewart (whose Dyerwulf was reviewed last month), this time bringing along fellow Hallows Eve vet Chris Abbamonte on guitars.

I’m not sure this one works as well as Dyerwulf, to be honest…though it does arguably come off a touch heavier and more trad metal (probably due to half of the old gang coming back together here, sort of.*)

*Abbamonte is a fairly recent transplant to the Hallows Eve camp, not one of the Tales of Terror through Monument era guys most of us are thinking.

At times, this almost feels more like a Hallows Eve album than not (the second half of “defy the lie” in particular could pass, as could “O.O.D.”), so there’s no real complaints – but there’s something a bit off about Bludy Gyres that keeps ’em from succeeding to the extent that Hallows Eve or Dyerwulf did.

Interesting, but can’t help feeling like half measures – “let’s do something that falls right between Hallows Eve and Dyerwulf”.

And you know what they say about jacks of all trades.

Suns Of Sorath – Flowers of the Lily (April 30)

An absolutely stunning cover belies an odd prog metal/black metal crossover out of Colorado.

The atonality is overly strong with this one – think more Atheist gone Swe-black/death than any more palatable reference points – but there’s still enough conventional structure and at least harmonic motion to keep ’em out of the scrap pile…and even a tad interesting, in a way.

Lyrically, they’re pushing Buddhist/Hindu concepts as they bridge into more Western esoteric tradition, but whatever – didn’t impress me, so take as you will.

Nothing more to say about this one, really. A definite curiosity, both musically and in approach/orientation…but did nothing whatsoever for me.

Fleshpress – Hulluuden Muuri LP (July 14)

Wait…what?

Online sources claim these guys are supposed to be stoner and/or sludge and/or doom metal. OK, fine, I like all that stuff.

So why the fuck am I hearing pointlessly atonal noise with overdriven screamo vox, and a pair of even more pointless ambient pieces taking up dead space in the middle of the album/EP (it’s only 5 tracks, so your call on classification. They call it a full length album, for what it’s worth).

(screamed at the top of my lungs over construction noise:)

WHAT THE HELL IS THIS CRAP? NEXT!!!!

Madlife – Precision in the Face of Chaos (May 5) 

L.A. “industrial metal”. Far less in common with late period Theatre of Tragedy, Rammstein or Gothminister than that label implies.

Personally, I’d call this emo-pop with strong nu metal leanings more than “industrial”, but you get the idea from the latter – weird Korn-style electronic noises and detuned guitars. Just remove the hip hop tendencies and add clean, plaintive emo vox and a strong inclination towards melodic choruses, and you’ve got “Precision in the Face of Chaos”.

They appear to have been kicking around since the dawn of the George W. Bush administration, but this is only their second album in all that time (with two EPs between). Not sure what that implies, but it’s not a lot of output for 17 years…

Look, you get clean vocals and a melodic orientation, at least at the choruses…that’s fair enough, and grants ’em more or less of a pass right there, particularly in today’s atonal noise-happy and often nigh-structureless music scene.

But whether you’ll actually like Madlife or not, I can’t honestly say.

Passably mediocre.

An Assfull Of Love – Monkey Madness (Boersma Records) (August 25)

O-kay…this one’s waving huge red flags right off the bat, saying “look at me, I’m really, quite deliberately weird!”

If the band name doesn’t put you off and you survive that band photo without laughing and shaking your head, how about their self-classification as “glampunk”?

Seriously, they think they’re crossing glam metal (which they call “glam rock”, even though they’re referencing nothing but Hollywood metal bands) with the early millenium pop-punk of bands like Green Day, Blink 182, Good Charlotte, the Offspring, et al.

Well, you could certainly argue there’s a bit of each in there – the riffing certainly says Britny Fox cum Jackyl on the first track or two (particulary “bang bang boom”).

But after that, it’s pretty straightforwardly post-millenial pop punk on the rest (“neverending springbreak” being a particularly strong example thereof), while the sheer doofiness certainly smells of “Dookie”.

Who knows, if you lend more weight to the start of the album than the majority thereafter, maybe you can argue that they weren’t that far off after all, as stupid a crossover attempt as it sounds on paper…but trust me, it’s far, far more the latter than it ever goes after the former.

But where does all the weird off color humor come from? I mean, seriously…”lumberjack lesbians”? “Orgasm Joe”? “Luchador El Culo”? How about a visit to “Hipsterland”? “No Pants, No Problem…”

They may claim to have an “Allergy to Stupidity”, but I don’t see how you can come up with songs like that otherwise…

Well, if you have a really odd, sophomoric sense of humor and really miss the early millenium and rounds of Crazy Taxi on the Dreamcast, these guys should fill your bill quite admirably.

It’s definitely catchy enough…but jeez!

LMAO indeed…though probably as much at them as with them.

Ignominious – The Throne and the Altar (Hidden Marly Productions) (April 7)

Hungarian black metal act. The vocals leave a bit to be desired, even by the questionable standards of black metal, but the band brings an unusually melancholic/depressive feel that hints more at some unusual cross between melodeath and doom/death.

It’s still unmistakeably black metal at core…just with more of a machinelike precision, sorrowful melodicism and drive than that scene tends to offer, and eschewing the usual black/death Watain Wannabe Flaming Pile of Dead Bards bullshit that’s claimed many a smouldering ash pile…er, “band adopting that style” over the past few years.

Think Inquisition is listenable and a bit retro-trad? Ignominious makes ’em sound like fucking Dark Funeral in the “Emperor Magus Caligula” era.

I’ve moved more away from my nigh 20 year allegiance to the black metal scene than not since coming to my utterly fed up breaking point with the aforementioned army of Wannabes earlier this year, but this, I can listen to without a crinkle of the brow or sneering curl of the lip.

In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say these guys are pretty damn good, particularly given and contrasting with the rather sorry state of black metal today.

Darkenhöld – Memoria Sylvarum (May 17)

A nicely evocative cover that practically reeks of Polish black metal*…and some moaning pagan metal chants that bring latter day Graveland to mind. So of course, they would have to hail from…wait, France?

* if not a certain infamous German black metal band from back in the day who shall remain unnamed…

Well, this is neither the more modern experimental/atonal Deathspell Omega/Merrimack school or the classic Les Legions Noires one, that’s for damn sure! Nor is it the pensive Quebecois cum Cascadian
variant…

What it is adheres more to a marching tempo to speedily tremelo riffed sound much akin to later second wave black metal (not specifically Norwegian, but that sort of “polished” sound) crossed with strong elements evoking the likes of pagan/Viking-era Graveland, all chanting, bombast and nigh-epic feel.  There’s even a bit of a Finnish feel to more melodically inclined tracks like “sous la voute des chenes”.

Tag in some particularly good production and occasional, brief yet melodically melancholic solos, and you know exactly what to expect here.

I liked these guys even more than Ignominious. More bands like these, who knows – my severing of ties with black metal as a whole may be shorter lived than anticipated!

Raise the horns.

LEIDER – Alloys (June 5)

Brother-led Mexican trad/power metal band. Sergio Trejo holds down half of the guitars, Diego delivers the powerful but gravelly vocals.

You’ve heard this sort of sound many times before, anywhere from Helstar to Helker to (at a bit more of a stretch) Deaf Dealer and even Exhorder (more in terms of the thick toned, near-“groove” modern metal riffing, but even so).

“Phoenix” really hammers home the Deaf Dealer to Iron Maiden connection, and consqeuntly is by far the best track on here – Diego’s vox lose just about all the gravel and he gets to open his throat up wide and let ‘er rip throughout. Very impressive vocal turn, if only for one track.*

* yeah, I noticed, but we can forgive a few notes that go just a bit flat…Erik A.K. and Bobby Blitz did that often enough. Overall, it’s a very noteworthy performance.

Likely to please Texas/New Mexico metalfest regulars to no end. Nothing wrong with it, probably wouldn’t switch the dial when this came on the radio…but a bit unexciting and outside the more particulary retro/vintage tastes of yours truly.

NOVAE MILITIAE – Gash’khalah (Goathorned) (July 1)

French “occult black metal” act. They hide their identities (not even pseudos provided) and clearly affect a “seriousness” to their esoterica.

Sorry if that’s a bit of a yawn and stretch moment…but yeah. It is.

Musically, they’re pretty noisy, crossing the open chord/ringing string atonality of the Watain Wannabe with nigh-death metal growly-snarl vox and lapses into war metallish blastbeat and mush speed.

Yeah, this is the sort of thing that’s been pushing me away from BM this year. Can’t speak for the rest of ya, but personally? I’m completely fed up with all this Flaming Pile of Dead Bards “occult/black/death” bullshit.

Gimme some atmosphere, gimme some song construction, give me something to latch onto for a change.

Sadly, there’s been less and less of that in the ever-more overcrowded black metal scene of late.

One more for the pyre.

Whoosh, crackle. Watch the sparks fly, lighting up the night.

OMINOUS SHRINE – Ο Δρόμος Της Αποθεώσεως  (Goathorned) (July 1)

French black/death again, this time with some more sinister death metal riffing and long stretches of proper double bass drumming enlivening the mix somewhat.

Well, they at least give pseudos this time, which range from comic book derivation (one guy clearly loved Starfire and the Teen Titans back in the day – his nom du guerre is pretty much “X’hal!”) to aah, who gives a shit (the drummer is simply “Tom”).

Once again, they’re doing the “occult black metal” thing, with an album title that appears to be Greek, a Crowleyan reference (“Ain Soph Aur”) and some oft-used song and album titles from the scene (how many fucking times are bands going to use or mention the acronym “V.I.T.R.I.O.L.” or the word “katabasis”, anyway?)*

* yeah, yeah, I know the derivations and what they refer to.  Cute.  Overused.  Next subject?

They still do the atonal ringing open string thing (o, Watain, what hast thou wrought?), but the drumming is generally more above par than standard for this sort of thing, and as further noted previously, you get some proper “evil” death metal riffing, at least on portions of the two tracks aforementioned.

Still too damn close to Flaming PoDB template for my liking…but those bits elevate Ominous Shrine a few hairs above the soundalike army they choose to compete with.

Bloody Times – Destructive Singles (July 21)

Four track EP from one man power metal band (think more Manowar than Helloween there).

Deutscher Simon Pfundstein handles vox, guitar and bass (who knows, possibly drums as well) on this, apparently 3 of the 4 tracks all appeared on his prior Fire of Immortality last year, but here two of them are fronted by Iced Earth’s John Greely (and another is just an instrumental version of one of those very tracks).

Bottom line, if you’re itching to hear a few of Pfundstein’s songs fronted by a member of Iced Earth (and want an extra, CD-only bonus track), here’s your chance.

Personally, I found this stuff inoffensive but wholly unimpressive – sort of like Iron Dogs, but without the extra helping of cheese on top.

Devil Creations – Hell’s Exit (May 19)

Finnish act.  They consider themselves thrash metal, but very little about this actually feels thrash – neither the quirky, thin toned riffs or the nigh-Viking metal beer hall growl vox sound even the least bit akin to anything Teutonic, Brazilian or Bay Area.

Hell, even the quirkier UK scene (which boasted such oddball acts as Deathwish, Acid Reign and later Re-Animator among their ranks) would find themselves hard pressed to accept Devil Creations as one of their own, so far removed is what they’re doing from thrash of any variety.

Now, if you said this was some off kilter take on power metal or even a Pantera-kissed take on trad by an intrinsically modern metal band, then sure – you can hear a bit of Dimebag in some of the more standardized and crunchy moments here, and the growly vox, while sounding more like The Mighty Mighty Bosstones than anything metal, could be seen as a sort of blown out tonsils take on Anselmo.

But Pantera’s not fucking thrash, guys. Never were. They’re aggro or “Southern groove”…or pretty much everything I hated (bar grunge) about where America went with heavy music since the dawn of the 90’s.

Hmm…a decade or two where metal were officially dead and mocked by all comers, and a band that those same mockers loved and praised…yeah, that fits, right? So no, Pantera is not thrash, they’re not even metal, unless you consider Slipknot, Korn, Soundgarden and Alice In Chains such (in which case, you’re an idiot). Heavy, yes. Metal? No.

Devil Creations has a bit more metal (and hence some measure of listenability) in them than Pantera ever did…but they’re hardly Exhorder, even.

Thrash?

I think not.

Xanthochroid – Of Erthe and Axen Act I (August 22)

Hmm.

Well, this is kind of odd and hipsterish. Apparently these guys decided to marry the sort of cinematic-scope symphonic metal Epica made their stock in trade to…well, I’m hearing more light folk than anything else here, though there was at least one Dani Filth worthy shriek (halfway through “the sound of hunger rises”, if you’re looking for it).

That’s pretty much it: clean, reasonably full bodied male tenor vox and occasional light and airy female soprano (mostly backing) vox over sleepy acoustic folk that turns all bombastic symphonic metal.

Oddly, though, they appear to be self-identifying as “epic/cinematic black metal”…and that one shriek aside, I’m just not hearing it.

Excellent production, tight playing, an inoffensive, sorta Oscar Herrera (of Black Tape for a Blue Girl) male vocal, even a few bars of Ulveresque multi-tracked chant (again, “the sound of hunger rises”…pretty much the strongest track on this album) – so if you’re expecting a brutal slam, forget it.

But it’s far from what’s advertised, that’s for damn sure.

For fans of Epica and Black Tape (and I mean both, combined) only.

As it so happens, that used to describe me as well (both bands seem to have gone afield to lesser pastures in more recent years, sadly enough.) So despite serious reservations about the mix and odd pretensions towards a black metal nowhere in evidence, we’re good.

Northern Plague – Scorn the Idle (July 28)

Black/death, strangely for a Polish band coming off more or less of the Swe-black/death Flaming PoDB variety.

While the slavish attachment to the Watain/Dissection/Dark Funeral template is far less in evidence than usual for bands aping this style of BM, you still get the yawn inducing open string atonal bits and some equally wearying Behemoth influence making up the difference in the mix.

So while it’s not quite the sort of thing I rail about regularly when it comes to black/death…it’s not exactly an improvement, either – just an alteration in the mix.

More maltodextrin and fructose, less sucralose and HFCS…but still pretty dour as a choice of comestible.

Me?  I’m looking for the real, grass-fed stuff, with additives kept to a bare minimum if not eschewed entirely.

Next?

Oracle – Beyond Omega (July 28)

Weird prog death affair. They appropriate a bit of Lovecraft on at least the opening track’s lyrics, which was nice, but the production is overly “wet”, with the bass and guitars sounding particularly metallic and resonant while the drums are all splotchy and thin, as if the guy were playing a bunch of used pie tins in a rainstorm.  Both are mixed very up front and in your face throughout.

Tag in a hint of Norsecoreish black metal in some of the higher speed, more “evil” sounding tremelo sections and vocals that lean more gargle-aggro than either death growls or black snarls and you have Oracle in a nutshell.

Not the worst thing I’ve heard in modern death metal by a long, long ways, but even beyond the questionable vox, the production is very offputting and cheap sounding – no question this was done in a home studio ProTools/GarageBand-style setup.

Fair enough, but nothing to get overly excited about.

Sable Beldam – Cryptic Void EP (June 16)

umm…what genre is this again? I don’t even necessarily mean “(sub)genre of metal”…

An actual funk bass riff appears, then vanishes. And I don’t mean that fake Red Hot Chili Peppers/Mind Funk style “funk riff”…I mean the real deal, as in one you might hear in an old Cameo or Lakeside record.

A modern death metallish but still sorta neanderthalic aggro thunka-thunka riffing takes over. But there’s some prog death-style play with meter…actually, quite a bit of it, both in riffing and the drums (where this tendency is most visible throughout).

Then these weirdly annoying black metallish snarls kick in (though you could argue a kinship to Morbid Saint or Demolition Hammer as well). Things get slightly grindcore on the vocal end when those are alternated with throaty death growls. Then they throw in a few trad metal riffs just to totally fuck the works and throw everyone off.

Well, the playing is good and there’s certainly elements of 4 or 5 different, mostly but not exclusively metal, musical genres being essayed herein.

But mashing them all together like this? Pleases fans of none of the above.

“Bedlam” is more than just a moniker here. Members of this band would probably find greater acclaim appended to bands more faithful to the style and tropes of any one of the genres they pull from here.

   

Bewitcher – S/T (August 18)

Hells Headbangers-ish trio of blackthrash/biker band types. It’s all there: bullet belts, bearded guys in denim and leather, Motorhead meets Venom with a hint of Bathory sound and aesthetic…and pretty much the sort of thing you’d be likely to hear at a biker rally or bar.

I’m almost always down with this very US/Midwestern school of metal, and while the drumming is more simplistic and less double bass-centric than usual and the guitars feel a bit too low in the mix (could stand to beef up the tone for the proper “fatness” as well), I liked the dual/triple tracked Thin Lizzy-esque solos (“speed till you bleed”, for one) and find Bewitcher no exception to the rule.

Rev up those engines and wear your colors with pride.

From North – S/T (Plastic Head) (September 1)

Swedish act who would seem, from album art, choice of moniker and even song titles to be straight up Viking metal. There are even traditional volkische instruments coming into play throughout.

So why do they adopt a weirdly punchy modern/power metal sound and shitty aggro/screamo vocals?

Yeah, they may think they’re doing the Pagan/Viking thing, and all signs do in fact point in that direction…but god damn, did Erik the Red ever miss the longboat here!

Amon Amarth may be “controversial” for their fame and comparative “poppiness”, if you will…but I never doubted their cred as a Viking metal act.

From North, on the other hand…very mixed proposition.

Who knows, you may love it for its catchy moments and pummelling riffage.

Just don’t call it Viking metal.

  

Bool – Fly With Me (Boersma Records) (August 25) 

Odd, sorta growly but sad old man vocals over a contrastingly youthful alternative/punk meets punchy AOR-worthy melodic musical backing.

I guess if you crossed Patrick Walker with Nick Cave, Peter Steele (only in the more throaty sprechtgesang moments), the guy from Bush and Dave Matthews, then tagged in your father or grandfather’s quaveringly uncomfortable vocal tones over the top of that, you’d have Bool in a nutshell.

The band is pretty damn good, the songs are catchy…the production’s a bit too in your face, with an overdriven signal that stays in the red zone throughout.

This whole thing feels quite 90’s, but in the best sense of that, falling somewhere between Afghan Whigs, Urge Overkill, Catherine Wheel, the aforementioned Bush and (arguably) Garbage in general feel and approach.

The vocals (from a Karsten Dittberner) are just fucking weird, but the music’s good enough…and honestly, they’re just quirky enough in and of themselves, that you get used to ’em after a few tracks and start to appreciate them for their very strangeness.

By the time I got halfway through the record, I was really kind of enjoying this (a few balladesque tracks aside), and as noted, Dittberner’s unorthodox approach to the vocal chair had really grown on me.

Don’t know about you, but I think that says a lot.

Yeah, this one gets a definite raised fist in salute…or whatever the fuck they do at weird 90’s indie/alterna-punk shows to show they dig the band.

When all’s told, consider this Seventeen Stone or Even Further Saturation.  You already know what to do.

Cognizance – “The Foreboding Impasse” (August 4)

Cognizance – Illusory (August 26,  2016)

UK tech death act. For an unsigned/indie act, they pull off a fairly decent (if a bit “wet” sounding and prone to hiss on the treble end) production and mix. Vox are perfectly acceptable and suit the material well and naturally (given their chosen subgenre) the musicianship is unassailable.

“The Foreboding Impasse” is a single (in the modern sense – no B-side here), Illusory is an EP from last year sent alongside it to show the band’s progression.

Personally, I much preferred the production and riffing approach on Illusory, which felt more vintage DM in its dryness and thicker guitar tone (not to mention the more upfront drum mix, which really showcases “Double D” Diepold’s (love that nickname LMAO) rather complicated kitwork. Hell, you can even hear the bass, which leaves things sorta Breeding The Spawnlike in that respect (only).

If anything, Illusory feels more “classic death metal”, despite all the tech/prog business – the song construction feels more right, the production and tone are dead on…yeah, I was pretty damn comfortable, particularly for tech death, with Illusory on the whole. Good stuff.

By contrast, going back to the new single…well, it’s not a million miles away, but the production feels overly modern, “wet” and just wrong by comparison. Worse, while still operating in a generally classic song structure, there’s more of a pushing at the boundaries there.

Look, tech/prog/math/djent aficionados may well have the exact reverse reaction.

I’m not one of those. I like my death metal straight.

Last year’s Illusory is pretty killer. In terms of the new one…let’s just say we’ll see what happens on the next EP or full length.

Paratra – Genesis (January 1, 2017)

Hmm…this is interesting.

You’ve got a two man Desi band combining electric rock guitar and sitar (thus already taking the concept a few steps further than John McLaughlin and Shakti back when) – already pretty cool.

Then they record the same album twice, once with more of a dance/electronic vibe, then again with more of a modern metal (with hard/blues-rock soloing) approach.

Weirdest part of all this? The electronic takes may actually be preferable as a rule!

Samron Jude delivers a nicely emotive blues-rock soloing style on the leads, and Akshat Deora is clearly at home on the sitar (which by the way is, at least at times, given what may be the best, most authentic production I’ve heard on any non-“world music” record thereof – it’s like he’s right in the room with you, performing live on tracks like “inferno”).

If anything, I found I’d have preferred the riffing toned down more, leaving the guitar leads and sitar up front throughout – those are the moments in each song where these two really stand up and shine.

Next round? I suggest a trick I’ve begun using of late – keep the riffing more on the clean/overdriven spectrum…then put the distortion on the lead guitar and let ‘er rip (and have the sitar carry the lead lines otherwise). Trust me, it really gives the sound extra separation, clarity and punch over the usual metal on metal grind.

Good stuff, would love to hear more of this.

Maza aa gaya – jeete raho!

Slice of Sorrow – Execution (Metal Carnival Records) (June 30)

Ah, death metal. Some awkward blastbeat phrases and an overly modern
approach to the genre aside, it was good to cleanse the palate with this after several “occult black metal” and odd “outside the metal arena” reviews just prior.

There’s a bit too much “black” mixed in with the “death” here, but that seems to be a problem afflicting all but the reunited and deliberately retro acts in the DM scene of late – so I’ll give ’em a pass as being “more recognizably death metal than not”.

They add unusual elements like church organ (which at points during “altar of pleasure” and to a lesser extent “last tear” gets enough airtime and upfront exposure/lead lines as to feel like the “metal carnival” their label would suggest!), harpsichord (“only whisper”), flute (“beast”) and Maidenesque dual lead guitar (“slowly”), which further helps enliven matters and raise the bar a bit above the competition.

The former Eastern Bloc nations have been delivering a lot of quality metal of late, and while my tastes in death metal run a bit more classic if not orthodox, there’s no denying Slice of Sorrow is more than worthy of attention in the current scene.

Horns up – na zdrov’ye!

Various Artists – Death (Against PR) (July 31)

Oddly credible sounding comp of bands from all over the metal spectrum, not to mention the globe.  With such a range covered and a fairly consistent quality of production and performance throughout, I figure they’re worth speaking to one on one for a change.  Weird side note: unlike most comps, it actually improves greatly towards the end.  Go figure.

Once Awake – oy, did someone mention Pantera?  Constipated aggro bullshit with lunkhead neanderthal riffing.  UGH! ME HATE! (swings rock club over band’s head, Flintstones style).  To quote Jack Nicholson, this band needs an enema!

Noituma – Finnish folk metal, complete with fiddles.  As catchy yet silly as the genre gets, though all the resin up your bow fiddle scratching reminded me a lot of Kenny (Klein) & Tzipora.  Good stuff.

Rites to Sedition – Charlotte, NC, one of the hotbeds of the early millenium’s retro-trad scene, offers up this odd black metal/melodeath crossover act.  Nothing really wrong with it, just sounds a lot more the latter than the former and something of an ill fit for either genre.  Shrug of the shoulders.

Bloodphemy – death metal of an odd sort.  Vocally, they’re doing the “brutal” Suffocation swallow the mic/mouth in an “O” thing, but they play a lot slower (sort of a zombie march tempo).  Not bad.

Crossbones – Albanian nu metal, or at least that style of modern “metal” whose peers include the likes of Korn and Five Finger Death Punch (cough).  So ’90’s it smells of Dr. Seuss hats, pacifiers and spongiform brain disease…er, ecstasy.  Listenable in its own odd way, but nah.

Martillo Austral – Chilean black metal.  Between the vocals and the typically shitty “underground” production, this one sounds particularly “evil”…and therefore, dead on.  More black metal acts should follow their model, fuck Watain and the Pile.  Too many bands jumping that train already, we’re all gagging from the smoke.

Sovvalniks – Latvian “gothic metal” more or less in the Crematory sense (i.e. not a female or operatic affectation in sight).  All growly vox, so not all that appealing even to fans of this earlier style of goth metal.  Not awful, but another ho hum.

Siege – Italian death metal.  As with far too many bands working that subgenre, they choose to stick to the “modern” variant thereof (i.e. post-scene collapse circa ’93).  Hey, guys, nothing wrong with your playing per se (though the drumming is a bit spastic), but there’s a reason everyone walked away from death metal back then, you know…and it’s mainly the late to the party bands you obviously came up on and look to for inspiration. Nah.

FS Projekt – Muscovite…what is this, really?  They self-identify as power metal, and you can hear that in the drumming, the more or less clean vocals and melodically oriented choruses…but this isn’t exactly what you expect from European power metal either.  A lot of folk business here, though they’re not folk metal…who the hell knows.  I liked the ethnic/folk bits and didn’t exactly crinkle a brow at the rest, so I’ll give ’em a qualified win.  Strange, but interesting to be sure.

Stone Angels – UK one man…er, project.  Mostly ambient noise, then it gets vaguely hipsterish “post-black metal” at the end, with constipated snarl-screaming and atonal…well, noise and bashing.  You know when the Jehovahs and encyclopedia salesmen used to come to the door back in the 80’s and early 90’s?  No, not in the least bit interested.  (Slams the door in their face.)

Animamortua – Maltese groove/power metal.  I guess it falls somewhere between The Law-era Exhorder, Helstar and Liege Lord, though it’s noisier than any of them, for all the intended melodicism, dual lead guitar solos and Juan Xerri’s more baritone-leaning take on Bruce Dickinson.  I liked Xerri’s soaring toned phrases and elements of the band better than what this song finally amounts to – it’s a fail, but you can tell they’re definitely capable of much better.  I’ll give ’em a nod of encouragement – you’re on the right track.

Phoenix Rebell – Belgian trad/power metal band.  They have a hilarious promo photo floating around out there where they’re done up like fucking Jack Sparrow and crew, which is worth seeking out for a laugh.  Did not like the growly power metal vox, but the band themselves wouldn’t seem too out of place on one of the first 9 Metal Massacres – though more likely 8 or 9 than the earlier, more essential instances.  Not bad.

Risingfall – Japanese traditional/speed metal band.  Not bad at all – sound like a New Renaissance act as fronted by Minoru Nihara…but the production is totally for shit, which is a damn shame – this was by far the best track on the comp otherwise.  I would absolutely love to hear more from these guys, hopefully with proper production next time around.  Killer.

PYRRHON – WHAT PASSES FOR SURVIVAL (THROATRUINER RECORDS (LP) / WILLOWTIP (CD)  (AUGUST 8)

Going beyond even djent to nigh-incomprehensibility, Brooklynites Pyrrhon take random phrases of recognizable death, black and prog metal riffing and/or soloing and smash ’em all up together like one of those spastic shooter games from Japan where there’s so much random shit on the screen at any second you can’t even process what the fuck is going on, who’s who or what’s what.

Audio Jackson Pollock, but without the underlying existential statement, this isn’t sheer noise like some of the “avant garde/experimental” bands that pass across the virtual desk (usually adhering more to the black metal end of the spectrum, it should be noted)…but it’s pretty damn close.

They may not be making inept noise due to lack of ability to play their instruments like the aforementioned…but this spastic, internally disconnected and incoherent to the point of certifiable insanity riff collage is equally nonsensical, inessential, perhaps even harmful to one’s mental and emotional state.

Inane crap to commit homicides to, effectively – no rational person needs this kind and degree of uncontrolled chaos and vehement rage in their life.

NEXT?!?

CANKER (Spain) – Earthquake (Xtreem Music) (September 18)

Spanish tech death act. They’ve apparently got a bit of history running back through the 90’s, during which time they played with Cradle of Filth – and while that seems pretty bizarre of a pairing, when you hear “hand of god”, you’ll understand why.

Other than that rather gothicized black/death experiment, though, these guys affect a seriously quirky, speedy and poorly produced take on death metal. The high speed, off kilter riffing, quirky breakdowns and general vibe say tech death, the band apparently considers themselves deaththrash (which isn’t something you’ll hear at all with this album), the vox feel more grindcore.

Any way you slice it, this is decidedly not classic death metal of any sort – best you can say is that they follow later 90’s post-scene collapse acts like Roots-era Sepultura (“leyla island”), tech-era Gorguts, that sort of Once-ler nonsense (as in “we were once an actual death metal band…but now we’re better than that.” Cough. Spit.)

This album is a previously unreleased effort from 2005…maybe their earlier, 90’s-vintage albums will have something more to go with. But insofar as what I’m hearing here on Earthquake?

Yeah, I didn’t like this one one bit.

 

PURTENANCE – Paradox of Existence (Xtreem Music) (September 12)

Now this is more familiar. Death metal at the point where “sludge” meets “brutal”, you may want to file this somewhere around your Incantation…or perhaps Privilege of Evil-era Amorphis.

The latter comes to mind not only due to certain similarities in sound, but the fact that both bands hail from Finland…and both were kicking around in the scene heyday back in the early 90’s.

This one’s a post-reformation work, four recently recorded tracks that apart from the shitty all treble and mids production feels very much vintage 1991-2. There’s some noticeable kinship with the punkified, lightly detuned tremelo riffing of the Swedish/Sunlight Studios scene, but the simple fact is we’re working much closer to the earliest Amorphis and Abhorrence musically, and early Incantation in terms of production and noisy, sludgy feel.

Personally, I love Abhorrence (and jump ahead to Karelian Isthmus, Amorphis perhaps even moreso), and enjoy Rahmer and Pillard-era Incantation…so this sounded really quite good to me, lack of fullness and bottom end aside.

Definitely giving this one some well-deserved hails.

More, please.

PRAISE THE FLAME – Manifest Rebellion (Caverna Abismal) (September 4)

We’d covered these Chilean deathsters’ Profane Cult back in 2013 and seemed to really enjoy it at the time.

Can’t say how it holds up, as it’s buried somewhere deep in the virtual collection – these things tend to come and go like a rushing river nowadays. It’s hardly like the old days when you got that new Slayer or Kreator or Possessed record and played it to death…there’s just too many bands now, and it’s definitely a case of quantity over quality as a rule.

But dig in a track or two, and you can already hear some reasonably retro-minded quality and moments of merit, particularly for modern day blackthrash (which seldom hits the same tone and marks that made those first couple of Sepultura, Sodom, Kreator and Destruction releases so special).

Fact is, put these guys up against one of the third tier belated discoveries like Sextrash or Holocausto, and Praise the Flame more than holds their own…in fact, they may well be significantly better. They’re certainly more assured and competent on their instruments…

So you know what? That gushing of praise nearly half a decade back may have been on point after all.

Because I really liked this one too.

LASCAR – Saudade (A Sad Sadness Song) (September 15)

We reviewed their prior Absence last November and found them very typical of what can arguably considered the “post black metal” style* – depressively introspective, nigh-ambient bouts of near silence alternating with sudden downpours of tremelo, blastbeat and harsh shrieks.

* you could also call it “Cascadian” or Sepulchral-like, but you get the general picture of what’s being referred to here.

Little or nothing has changed, except perhaps the mood you catch me in when exposed to the release in question…where last time I found ’em inoffensive but somewhat unexciting, this time around, I find them typical of a sound and style I continue to enjoy and appreciate on a regular basis.

Great backing for a lonely walk through the woods or any travels through snow and fog (the heavier and thicker, the better).

Atlases – “Medusa” (Pest Records)

Finnish act that walks the all-too well trodden road of modern metal.

Whether it more borders a Kornlike nu metal (which the choruses’ clean depressed moaning and off-kilter detuned guitar arpeggiation suggests) or a more hipsterish “oh, we transcend genres” barely-classifiable blender thing is open to listener interpretation, but you get the aforementioned crossed with death metal belches and throbbing bass-register nu metal/aggro/groove lunkhead riffing…and those Kornlike choruses.

Snore.

Shrug of the shoulders, let’s move on, shall we?

KULTIKA – Pursuance (Digital EP) (July)

The Romanian Tool, really.  Depressive, alterna-grunge take on heavy music in the decidedly 90’s manner.  Vocalist sounds kind of like Nick Drake.

Well produced and lush sounding, and no, I didn’t mind hearing this at all.

But you have to have far more of a taste for stuff like Alice In Chains, Sponge, Tool and Catherine Wheel than I ever had to really get into this…it’s about as “metal” as fucking Beyonce.

Or perhaps more apropos – Dave Matthews.

Sure, you could say at a stretch that there’s some kinship to Patrick Walker and Warning, but that’s more down to the slow, depressive vibe suffusing the entire affair than any predilections towards doom or what have you.  This is much, much closer to mainstream hipster faves, particularly those evoking or dating back to the 90’s, than it ever approaches the sort of underground, cult metal, punk, goth or what have you that we normally cover.

Works quite well for the market it’s suited towards.

But while I didn’t mind this two track single one bit…when it comes down to brass tacks, where they seem to be heading with all this is really not my bag.

Who knows, a full length may prove me wrong.  We’ll see.

   

Nocturnes Mist – Diabolical Baptism (Seance Records) (September 15)

Fairly simplistic, thin toned black metal.

There’s not enough atmosphere for my taste, the drums are uber-basic, incessant D.D. Crazy-style blastbeats throughout entire tracks here, and there’s more of the harshness and processed “over the phone”-style vox ala Waxen, Satanic Warmaster or Clandestine Blaze than any more traditional black metal vocal approach.

It’s pretty angry and driving, but much about this feels “underground” in the wrong sense (overdriven noise vox, all mids-production and tone on the guitars), while still bearing some of that annoying Flaming PoDB vibe (or “occult/Swe-Black/Death”, if you prefer). The band says they’re trying to work more of a 90’s first/second wave thing, but that’s not what comes across at all – they’re a lot more contemporary in approach than they seem to think.

Yeah, didn’t really work for me…which seems to be the case with a lot of Aussie black metal spectrum bands, actually.

Don’t ask me, must be something in the vegemite.

Now, if only one of these bands would cover that old comedy routine ditty “kill the wabbit”…

Mascharat – S/T (Seance Records) (September 15)

What starts off as an uber-simplistic, even boring Milanese Dark Funeralesque thing suddenly slows down and turns grandiose, with just as many if not more changes than a classic Bay Area thrash track.

Damn, surprised the hell out of me…talk about starting something good off on the wrong foot!

While little of what follows matches the power (not to mention the surprise factor) of the aforementioned album opener “bauta”, most of this self titled release remains resolutely midtempo and bombastic, bolstered by regular changes and harmonic movement (however sluggish and locked in to each gear being shifted to for several phrases at a time). “Mora” was another relative high point for the curious to attend to, and while more straight ahead and driving throughout, “simulacri” was the third comparative standout here.

In the end, you can easily suss out that this is Italian black metal, even over generally likeminded Mediterranean neighbors like the Greek scene, by its resolute first wave vibe. While some elements are evocative of later scene tropes, there’s an oddly sinister, “old” feel that brings acts like Mortuary Drape to mind.

It’s fairly rare, in fact, to find an Italian act who doesn’t bear this somewhat indefinably strong eau du ancienne (or more aproppriately, acqua antiqua)…

…and Mascharat, being based on the yearly Venetian Carnival (where masked Pierrot in Renaissance Faire finery roam the streets), is certainly no exception.

Saluti, paisan.

Necrophile (Japan) – Awakening Those Oppressed (Unholy Prophecies) (September 16)

Drummer/vocalist from Anatomia shares both chairs with the other two thirds of this death metal power trio…well, actually, it’s more confusing than that. Suffice to say, everyone in the band has swapped instruments and/or the vocal position at least once…

This is pretty straightforward old school DM bordering on grindcore, given all the speed and blastbeats they appropriate. But then they slow things down to a more typical midtempo approach, and all is forgiven.

Vocals, as you might expect given Anatomia, are pretty deep and traditional, though more reminiscent here of Desultory than Incantation or Mortician. The band’s style is fairly basic, whatever the tempo being worked at any given moment, but the slower sections necessarily clean the floor with the fast ones – I’d like to hear them downshift gears more consistently next time around.

I was good with ’em…but no question it’s mostly due to how good they sound chugging along at more of a vintage death metal tempo than when they’re leaning more grindcore speed.

SUMMON (U.S.) – Dark Descent of Fallen Souls (LP)  (Werewolf) (September 8)

Closest vocals to early Bathory I’ve heard since Quorthon himself.

Music otherwise is wayyyyy too simplistic, all blastbeats and mush.  To call this sludge or crust would be overstating the matter, but it’s pretty much mud, vocals aside, until they slow things down to a more Slayer-esque riffing style and pace. Even much of the midtempo material comes off low in the mix and murky, with those D.D. Crazy machinelike blastbeats and those evil sounding Bathorylike vox predominating throughout.

Apparently this is a reissue (originally streeting back in ’97), which may account for its less “trendy” affectations – while it doesn’t exactly feel “retro” or even necessarily of the era in which it was produced, Summon more or less create their own niche and dig their feet in, unwilling to be moved.

Something to be said for that – and I did like the vox and Slayer-ish riffing throughout.

I’ll give ’em a nod in salute.

Asagraum – Potestas Magicum Diaboli (KVLT) (September 29)

Two woman black metal act. And no, you wouldn’t be able to tell that if I didn’t say so (or you didn’t see the band photo).

It’s pretty dark and self assured, with a lot of reverb on the vocals and somewhat evident on the more open string guitar phrases. The blastbeats are overly prominent and nearly incessant, though they do alternate with long, straight typewriter double bass runs, power metal style. But when the blastbeats kick in and the tremelo riffing goes into high gear, it all just turns to mush (albeit with plenty of treble signal bleed over the top).

Another band that seems to think they’re working a 90’s second wave black metal sound, but is actually more aligned to contemporary Flaming PoDB black/death tropes (ringing open string dissonance and the whole “occult black metal” feel is a dead giveaway, peeps…)

Again, they’re rather self-assured and confident sounding, and it’s not slavish to that much maligned, overutilized sound, so they’ll get a pass from consignment to the Flaming Pyre…but that’s not saying I found much else to really recommend to y’all here, either.

Worth a spin, see if it grabs you.

KHAZAD-DUM – Garmadh (Wrath of the Tyrant Records) (September 1) 

Interesting take on black metal.

Now these guys felt rather more retro than several other BM acts this month operating under that delusion (but who actually turned out to be resolutely modern in style and approach) – I was hearing early Ancient in here, promo materials compared ’em to early Summoning…and yeah, both are valid signposts.

Brazilian act (hailing from Uberlandia, to be precise), though you’d never know that from all the symphonic/folk/raw black metal of European bent on display herein.

Pretty decent production on most tracks as well (for some reason, “dark skies of black times” sounded so thin and bereft of bass tone, I thought it was a bonus demo track).

Damn good. An easy raise of the horns.

Oraculum (Chile) – Always Higher (Invictus Productions) (September 15)

We reviewed their Sorcery of the Damned back in October of 2014 and felt pretty much the same about these guys as we do now: a nicely old school death metal sound, albeit rather too “messy” sounding in terms of production.

There’s way too much rawness and signal bleed all over the place, and no real engineering and production to rein the band in. Good death metal – at least of the mainline variety – should come off like a polished machine, an engine of unstoppable brutality. This is far too messy and wild, as if the studio never heard or recorded a death metal band before…which is pretty much the same assessment we offered last time around.

Concerns of production and tone aside, however, Oraculum continues to deliver quality old school-style, neo-Sunlight branded Swedeath. Think of them as Death Breath, but with zero noise gate, compression, or normalization.

Rather good stuff.

Needs a real producer to whip it into ship shape.

Antiversum – Cosmos Comedenti (Invictus Productions) (September 29)

Underground style black/death. You know the score: tons of reverb, “sepulchral” death vocals, “grim” tremelo riffing (which sadly enough alternates with the usual Watain Wannabe ringing open string dissonant BS), blastbeat driven drumming and cavernous underground atmosphere, every track sounds pretty much alike.

When I first discovered bands working in this style, it seemed a whole hell of a lot cooler than it does about 175 instances thereof down the road.

It definitely works if you’re into this variant, or if you’ve never encountered bands like, say, Zom before.

But yeah…with a sigh, bottom line is same old, same old.

Oculus – The Apostate of Light CD/LP/TAPE (Blood Harvest) (September 29)

Weird, sorta declamatory growl vox that bring Cronos of Venom to mind over a lot of tunelessly atonal “occult black metal” noise. This is more underground-variant than the more standard Flaming PoDB style, but yeah.

Yawn and stretch and try to come to life, as the song lyrics go…

Next?

Taphos Nomos / Urðun – R.I.P. (CD) (Blood Harvest) (September 29)

Taphos Nomos is yet another domestic black/death act, who seem to really like the idea of long, pointlessly nigh-silent intros where nothing whatsoever happens. Just skip up a minute or so on each of their 3 tracks, they’ll start playing eventually…

The riffing suggests they’re trying for more of a vaguely Grotesque sort of thing than anything else, the vocals are deep and vomit-style, but somehow the mix – particularly given the noisy, uncontrolled and quite trebly production – says “black metal” more than “death”, some pointedly DM riffs and moments of non-blastbeat drumming aside.

Uruon we’d reviewed before, with their Horror & Gore.  Thankfully, this time around they come off far less spastic than they had there, though they seem to be mixed at a much lower volume than their splitmates. It’s OK, though – the overall sound is much clearer and less noise-bleed driven, so I’ll take having to jack the volume a few notches.

They seem to be working a slightly doomy take on death metal, mostly midtempo and reasonably old school in approach and feel throughout. I guess you can say they’re rather Autopsy-esque without going too far afield of their actual sound. Hell, to go by our review of their last effort, these guys have seriously improved – talk about upping your game!

Yeah, in light of both that and their clear superiority to their rather meh splitmates, I’m giving Uroun a horns up. Their tracks here are actually pretty damn decent.

Get it for Uroun and forget the other side, unless you’re really desperate.

Cosmic Void Ritual – The Excreted Remains of the Sabatier System TAPE (Blood Harvest) (October 6)

LOL…well, I like the vague sci-fi orientation these guys appropriate. In place of the usual devils, death and domestic destruction thing, their song titles (and if I could understand a fucking word the guy’s belching, I’d presumably say lyrics) all have to do with dying stars, galactic catastrophe and alien life!

Musically…it’s pretty much just underground black/death noise – “sepulchral” death vox, buried in reverb and so sludgy, you can barely tell there are black metal-style tremelo riffs going on amidst all the mud.

But yeah…I was much bemused by the apparent focus on space and suchlike, for what it’s worth.

Draghkar – World Unraveled TAPE (Blood Harvest) (October 6)

Another underground black death sort of thing, though more death than black in feel and approach.

The vox are really open mouthed, bottom of the belly belch declamatory, which is just kind of funny rather than intimidating or impressive…but just pretend it’s some cheap zombie movie, and this is one of the swamp-encrusted dead trying to speak to his victims or something.

Riffs and drums are pretty damn simplistic, though not as darkly hypnotic as something like Goatlord…besides, they play too damn fast most of the time.

Again, you can draw a line towards Autopsy here, but I don’t know…something vital’s missing.

Listenable, kind of doomy and definitely sludgy as hell…all things considered, I didn’t mind this three track at all.

Ensepulcher – No Sanctity in Death TAPE (Blood Harvest) (October 6)

Noisy as hell take on Dismember. If “no sanctity in death” doesn’t sound like a piss-poor, vocalless live recording of “I wish you hell” to you, you’re just not listening.

The bass is also weirdly produced, that tinny up front tone you get on Massacre’s Second Coming or Suffocation’s Breeding the Spawn…but the HM-2 guitar tone comes so loud and in your face, it buries the deep death vomit vox. Drums are also right up in front, though more the snare and cymbals than the rest of the kit, which again just leaves this one sounding like a pretty bad bootleg of some local gig or soundcheck as recorded by a drunk.

Same deal as Oraculum – I liked the band and their retro-minded sound a whole hell of a lot more than the dogshit production and final result put me off.

Get a real producer, guys. You’re good enough to deserve that.

Runespell – Unhallowed Blood Oath CD/LP (Iron Bonehead) (September 29)

Aussie black metal that doesn’t sound Aussie in the least.

In fact, this is more old school, very early second wave Norwegian or Finnish (or perhaps even Italian!) black metal, complete with distant, cavernous recording quality, heavily reverbed, snarling vocals, double bass drumming (not those fucking lazy-ass blastbeats for a change!) and a hell of a lot of Ulveresque/Gorgorothlike lead line melodicism.

Interestingly, the promo writeup hears Scandinavia per se, but also France and Poland…nah, Infernumlike cover photo aside,* I’m not hearing either of those.

* I’m guessing the vaguely Darkenesque vox are what sealed that impression, but again, nah – this one’s not very Polish scene at all.

But between what I’m hearing and what they did, you get the idea of just how good this is, and how evocative of the earliest, indisputably best days of the black metal scene. This goes beyond deliberate, cynical “retro” to actually feeling authentically of that time and those places.

What everyone agrees on here is that this is really good stuff, particularly given the notable decline and state of black metal these days, when Wannabes, fodder for the Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards and hipster “post-” whatevers clutter more shelf space than the real deal’s entire recorded output back in the day, combined (a statement that can be applied equally to the modern metal scene per se, to be honest…we had so much less to work with back when, but everyone still remembers and celebrates nearly every one of those bands and albums. Who’ll remember 90% of the current avalanche of recorded material in even 10 years time?)

Dark, grim and very much of an earlier time in feel, vibe and heart.  Just don’t even think about calling it retro.

Light a torch and raise it high in the nightsky.

Worm (USA) – Evocation of the Black Marsh LP/TAPE (Iron Bonehead) (September 29)

The strongest impression you get from this one is on the vocal end – somehow he manages to remain resolutely black metal while simultaneously going deep and swampily “sepulchral” in a very death metallish sense.

The music is a bit more questionable, with the whole thing sounding like it was recorded in an unfinished garage (you can practically see the sheetrock and joint compound/spackle surrounding them, so crisp and raw are the drums, so crappily Tom Scholz Rockman-compressed and signal bleed-prone distorted are the guitars).

Utter lack of production aside, they have a swampy, nigh-death metal vibe that brings the far crustier and doomier Goatlord very much to mind. In fact, if you’d told me Worm was some Goatlord tribute band, I’d be inclined to believe ya…there’s a hell of a lot of kinship between the two.

Yeah, I liked this, and for the most part, even just the way it is.  Sure, it could have used some thickening of tone and flattening of all that trebly signal bleed – no question that would have left us with a far more listenable final result.

But with this much weird, ghoulishly swampy atmosphere, why change a single note or tweak more than a knob or fader here and there?

Damn good stuff for the type.

  

Necromante – The Magickal Presence of Occult Forces CD/LP (Iron Bonehead) (October 6)

Brazilian blackthrash. Think more black than thrash, so it’s more along the lines of stuff like Impurity, Mystifier or the Chilean Pentagram than the bands most folks think of when you throw that scene name out there.

Even so, there’s more listenability if not thrash-style “catchiness” to tracks like “secret eye” than any of the aforementioned trio had in their entire discographies…so in that respect, maybe Necromante has more in common with the likes of early Sepultura, Vulcano and Holocausto than at first becomes apparent…

Yeah, doofy POUND POUND POUND POUND four on the floor blastbeat drumming sections aside (he actually does a lot of straight up double bass runs and some nice syncopated things on the ride cymbal between that shit, so don’t write the guy off yet…), I was good with this one all ’round – the vox, the riffing and vibe, major portions of the drumming.

Production leaves something to be desired, but the signal is pretty thick despite all the high end distortion and red zone bleed, so it’s far from awful – you can certainly live with it, let’s put it that way.

Oh, and they’re appropriating bits of “occult black metal” schmutters, which is always pretty damn silly (and again hearkens back to the more “black” than “thrash” acts like Mystifier, et al), but come on…”SECRET! EYE!” You’ve gotta love it.

3 out of 3, a particularly strong month of releases for the fine fellows at Iron Bonehead. Keep the good stuff coming, guys.

SLAUGHTBBATH – Contempt, War and Damnation (CD) (Hells Headbangers) (September 8)

Chile’s Slaughtbbath are regulars here at Third Eye. We’ve covered
at the least their split with Hades Archer, the split with Grave Desecrator, another split with Ill Omen (gee, think it’s a trend?), and most of the band was involved with Temple Below, so it’s safe to say they’re old hands at this by now.

And guess what – this is actually a compilation of most of their contributions to those very same splits – tracks 2-3 from the Grave Desecrator one, track 4 from the Ill Omen one, track 7 one of the three tracks they offered to the Hades Archer one.

The others? Track 6 hails from one we didn’t cover (with a band called Kill), track 5 from a prior Slaughtbbath compilation (!) and track 1 is brand new. So that’s effectively 3 new tracks, if you’ve been picking ’em up based on our reviews over the last few years…

Now, you could say that last line was a tad tongue in cheek, as looking back, we found the band’s efforts acceptably middle of the road if not template for South American blackthrash with reasonable enough production for the type…and consequently, sort of unexciting.

But to hear them all together like this, while I can certainly nod my head in agreement to that assessment…I don’t know, maybe I’m in a good mood after all those killer Iron Bonehead releases this month, but I think they work a bit better than earlier reviews may seem to imply.

Still nothing overly exciting, really – just workmanlike, but totally listenable, middle of the road blackthrash from South of the Equator.

But is that such a bad thing?

Think of this as “one more possibility to grab when you’re in the mood” for this scene and sound, and yeah, we’re on the same page about ’em.

Blood Tyrant / Departure Chandelier – split 7″ EP (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (September 15)

One track apiece (the middle track is just one of those pointless tinkling toy piano intros) from two black metal acts of extremely varying quality.

Opening up on the power drill noise of Blood Tyrant (which is entirely unlistenable therefore, and dumbed down even further by some very prominent early Bathory-esque slow POUND POUND POUND four to a bar blastbeat drumming), the flip side from “new” Quebecois act Departure Chandelier (whose sole prior output was a demo 6 years ago, and one of whose members hails from Akitsa) is contrarily dead on.

Despite too much reliance on mids and signal bleed distortion blowing out the recording equipment (which you could excuse by saying was something of a black metal affectation in earlier days), their “a supernatural being arose from” is both driving and dramatic, with vaguely melodic tremelo riffs giving way to powerful keyboard-sampled vocal chants ala latter day Graveland.

There’s a very wintry feel about all of this, and all of it works quite well in all senses atmospheric, melancholic, emotional and anthemic (at least insofar as black metal is capable of being evocative of the latter pair of qualifiers), and a full EP or even complete album is definitely called for, if this track’s anything to
go by.

Just forget the A side even exists, unless you really used to (or still do) get off on your mom vacuuming the place.

Maybe they should change their name to “Blood Hoover” or “Electrolux Tyrant”…

  

Bombarder – Speed Kill LP (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (September 1)
Bombarder – Bez Milosti LP (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (September 1)

Remember Evil Blood? Croatian (very) early black/thrash band, first wave, kinda wild and sloppy and quirky.

Yeah. That’s Bombarder for ya. Bosnian/Serbian (depending how you look at it) Evil Blood redux. Probably even shared a stage or two back in the day, late in the latter’s career and early in the former’s.

I could mention even sloppier, cheesier and more black metal leaning acts like Maniac Butcher, but that’s going too far afield – Bombarder and Evil Blood both have more of a NWOBHM underpinning and heavy rock/early metal vibe driving beneath their more sinister sorta-thrash affectations.

Bez Milosti has slightly better production and the band is more polished and aggressive – the drumming’s certainly upped a few notches between the two albums. But about the best you can say is that they almost feel a touch Bulldozer, particularly on Bez Milosti.

More for the metal historian or those curious about the less trodden corners of global metal back in the day.  Didn’t do much for me.

Dig Me No Grave – Immemorial Curse (Satanath Records) (June 15)

Heavy, meaty, chunky death metal. Modern in feel, but retro in vibe, I’m thinking bands like Ceremonium and Krabathor, possibly God Macabre or Depravity even – that sort of thick tone and strong if a bit too much in the red zone production, those sort of deep, throaty belch-vomit vox…that general vibe overall.

There are hints of doominess and a definite catchiness to all the riffing and suchlike, though they never trip the lines into doom/death or melodeath, and solos appear to be entirely absent – this is more of a Morta Skuldesque “riffs are all!” affair.

I was very comfortable and content with this one – some damn good death metal, particularly given its recent vintage.

Get the fuck out there and pick up a copy, already.

Humanity Zero – Withered In Isolation (Satanath Records) (June 27)

Speaking of Ceremonium…and for that matter, the untouchable Decomposed, here we have some proper doom/death out of Greece.  The guys even pick silly pseudos, like “Giannis Grim” and “Dimon’s Night”, if you can believe that…but in a way, it fits with all the doominess of the affair.

Did I mention there’s someone sawing away at a violin like some cut rate Yiddish street fiddler at points? It’s actually kind of weird, as we’re hardly talking Voltaire or Kenny Klein here, much less Papa John Creach or Sugarcane Harris – this is literally like your friend’s daughter being trotted out to show what she learned at Suzuki method this week. SQUEEEAK SAW SAW SCREECH SQUAAAW…it’s pretty silly, really. At least it’s used sparingly.

Right idea overall, though it never really kicks you in the gut like the best releases in this subgenre…and those fiddle bits really just come off wrong, and leave a bad aftertaste in the mouth (if you don’t literally bust out laughing every time they trot the guy back onstage! “Come on, Moishe, we’re ready for you – here’s your solo spot!”)

That one glaring hole in the fabric aside, not bad at all, if a bit less notable than usual. Listenable, to be sure.

Mouldered – Chronology Of A Rotten Mind (Satanath Records) (July 13)

Hmm.  You know, with that awesome cover, I was expecting a bit more.

What you get here is standard…if that…“brutal” death metal out of Colombia, though hardly of the Suffocation school. Yeah, frontman Mauricio de la Rosa certainly tries his best at pulling a Frank Mullen every now and again, but the band just isn’t there, with few stutter stops or “tech” speed on display herein.

In fact, they tend to stick to a more midtempo crunch and chug throughout, combined with fast, occasionally blastbeaty but ultimately quite straightforward sections alternating with chunkier Anthrax/MOD/SOD-style ‘mosh breakdowns’ of a sort.

Tag in a weirdly inappropriate dual-vocal Glen Benton goes grindcore approach on the vox (which is utilized far more than any Mullen-style phrasings or mic swallowing technique), and you have a very strange beast that is neither fish (death metal proper) nor fo(u)l (the Suffocationesque “brutal/tech” variant).

Great cover. Not sure it goes with this band, or that they’ll appeal to the “brutal” crowd so much as they presume.

Necroheresy – Asylum (Symbol of Domination) (June 16)

A batch of amusing pseudos (inclusive of such overused gems as “witcher!” “agressor!” and “sadist!”) mark what may be the most notable element of this sorta death/thrash affair. Not exactly what I think of when it comes to either genre, much less combined, but you can hear the thrash in some of the riffing here.

Of course, you could equally call a track like “blind monk” or their questionable cover of Bathory’s “satan my master” black/death in the tried and wanting PoDB vein, so it’s all up in the air.

Nah.

Astarium – Drum-Ghoul (Symbol of Domination) (June 17)

Symphonic black metal. Lots of ghoulish (nudge nudge, wink wink) pseudo-church/funereal organ accompaniment (though it’s a bit thin toned and more keyboardish than not) and some nicely deliberate black metal riffing with snarling ululations to remind you there’s a vocalist during those long instrumental sections.

If anything, the keyboards get overly prominent and even clash in the mix (as on “dread asylum”, where the guy adopts those low end Dani Filth stomach acid belch-vox just for further annoyance, but when you have a stronger than Gloomy Grim opener like “hill of scape-gallows”, you tend to want to forgive the EP’s later excesses.

Tone down the keys a bit (or at least record ’em with a fatter signal) and work more tracks like that, you’ve got yourself a winner next time around.

This time, consider it one killer track with 3 questionable B-sides of arguably similar bent, but dramatically less success in execution.

Agonia Black Vomit – Cosmosatanic Wisdom (Symbol of Domination) (June 20)

Weird Italian black metal band. As usual for the Italian scene, it’s far from template of any sort and hearkens back to first wave aesthetics* in its very uniqueness if not outright strangeness, which is a definite plus.

* well, as it turns out, more latter-90’s second wave…but you get the general idea.

I’d have liked to have heard a split promo materials note the mainman behind this generally one man band (there are two different bass players involved, otherwise…) was involved with called Operazione Paura, supposedly inspired by one of my favorite modern era Italian horrors, House With the Laughing Windows…

In any case, the release in hand marries late 90’s/Norsecore-level crisp production and Gloomy Grimlike vocals (again – second one after Astarium this month!) and occasional keyboards to an Ancient-style approach to black metal (and “the peaceful solitude” actually feels more than a touch Cradle of Filth, so you see what general ballpark he’s playing in here.)

It’s far from my ideal or one of my stylistic go-tos when it comes to black metal, but as noted at the start, it’s quirky and quite Italian in that respect, while hitting a few recognizable and respectable scene/band markers along the way.

More than listenable, all told…and a few tracks like “alone” and the aforementioned “peaceful solitude” actually push the bar closer to “damn good stuff”.

If only it were that consistent throughout.

  

Kashgar – S/T [re-release] (Symbol of Domination) (June 21)

Weird, sorta proggy take on black/death.

As usual with these sort of “unclassifiables”, the miscegenation of mixing styles that were never meant to be mashed together kind of fucks the works – moments could work as prog death, but why the hell throw the blackened business in there? And it’s actually not what you expect from prog death, either…it’s more straight prog metal, but with a more death/slowed down thrash vibe to the riffing.

Say wha?

Yeah, I don’t get it either.

Look, they’re trying to be proggy, so you know the musicianship’s not at fault.

It’s simply a matter of taste, or lack thereof.

Need I trot out the story about my late father and his “mud pie” approach to the dinner plate?

No? OK. Dig back in prior months’ reviews, curious ones – you’ll find it.

Next?

Darkflight – The Hereafter (Symbol of Domination) (June 22)

OK, this is kind of new – blackened doom?

Yeah, yeah, I know, you could trot out the slower moments of Clandestine Blaze or the more obvious Celtic Frost tracks from Darkthrone…but even so. This is far more pointedly death/doom (check out the clean howled…well, you can’t exactly call that off key nigh-yodel “singing“…about 3m into “crushed”), but with some very black metal vocals over the top.

In fact, that’s probably the best way to look at Darkflight – death/doom in the Paradise Lost/Anathema vein, but with gnarly black metal vox.

Once again, the mix doesn’t work – but take away those ill fitting vocals, and you’ve got yourself a pretty damn decent doom/death (or death/doom, whatever…) album on your hands.

Bottom line? Loved the band, songs are pretty damn good.

Tape up the vocalist’s mouth with due force and somebody haul Nick Holmes or Ian Arkley in for guest vox.  Now that’d be a killer album.

Gloomy Grim – Fuck The World, War Is War! [compilation] (Symbol of Domination) (June 24)

Perhaps long overdue compilation of the Finnish symphonic pioneers’ early pair of demos.  As you might expect, most of these tracks would appear on their subsequent (and quite recommended) debut, Blood, Monsters, Death, but there are a few that never made it to “official release” status.

As you might expect, the best tracks on said debut are almost all represented herein (ain’t that always the way?), but these are necessarily in a more stripped down, less effective form…unless you didn’t think the keyboards were in your face enough in the mix on the full length, in which case, here you go!

Bottom line here, this is Gloomy Grim in their best days…but not quite in peak form (the fuller guitars, vocal backing and production the debut demanded served the band, and those songs they carried over from here, quite well.)

If you need to hear a trio of “missing” tracks left off of Blood, Monsters, Death or really want to hear that keyboard work right up front in the mix, don’t even hesitate…more casual listeners, stick to the debut.

I was happy to see this as part of the rotation this month.

Cult Of The Horns – Chapter I. Domination (Symbol of Domination) (June 26)

French black/death. Full bodied production, thick, meaty guitar tone – feels more Belphegor or Behemoth than any French BM or black/death act I could name.

Production’s excellent (if very ProTools and in your face, modern metal style), vocals are totally death metal rather than black metal, drumming is busy, fast and crisp (lots of double bass, tom rolls and cymbal work between all that blastbeat bullshit) and there are actually classic death metal-style guitar solos to boot.

If they didn’t have that moniker and show up in corpsepaint, you could have just taken Cult of the Horns as a more satanically inclined death metal band ala Deicide or Morbid Angel (in that sense only, not in any way related to respective playing styles)…so I was surprised to really find myself enjoying this one.

Yeah, it’s more suprise factor than anything else (you walk in expecting yet another FPoDB job, and get Blood Magick Necromance redux, you’re stunned and quite appreciative thereof!), but I was well chuffed with this one.

Ram-Page – The Grave Of Seven Billion (Grimm Distribution) (June 30)

Finally, a “death/thrash” act that actually sounds like thrash!

Yeah, if you didn’t have the vocals here (and a few riffs that say more Pestilence, Suffocation, Carcass or Deicide than Bay Area, Teutonic or Brazilian thrash), you’d be forgiven for just calling Ram-Page a particularly aggressive thrash band of the modern era.

Tag on the very death metal vox (which sound sort of George “Corpsegrinder” Fischerlike, though more in his Monstrosity/Vile era than the more eviscerated tonsils sound of today)* and the forefronted Massacre Second Coming/Suffocation Breeding the Spawn-style bass, and you have something that could be taken as either modern thrash or death metal. What a nice change!

* you could also say Chuck Billy in the “dog faced gods” era.

Yeah, I was good with this. Give ’em a spin, you’ll probably like ’em.

Just don’t get me started on that ridiculous, poorly drawn “band painting”/promo “photo”.

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