Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

You know, the older I get, the wiser bands from my childhood become.

I mean, even my father picked up on the deep existential overtones of Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime”, and I’d always heard a bit more sarcastic social commentary in the lyrics of Devo than most peers would pick up on, but specifically, I’m thinking of Romeo Void: “never say never”.

If you’d asked me for…damn, I’d say nigh on two decades to describe myself, one of the first things out of my mouth was “black metaller”. I mean, I listened to all sorts of stuff, from my past and then-present, but in the end, the magnetic pull of that metaphorical collapsed singularity would draw me back into its event horizon, relegating all else to the sidelines.

But strangely enough, month after month of dealing less with the classics and what few acts are still keeping the torch alive, and more with what has become the contemporary black metal sound, vibe and scene…wore on me.

Month after month, review after review, more and more and more of these “occult” “orthodox” “black/death” Watain Wannabe Pile cum Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards entries tested my patience, ears and spirit, making me question the validity of the entire genre and hardening my ears to even bands and albums I’d held close to my inner being for more years than some readers were likely in existence on this plane.

Suddenly those old favorites dimmed, lost favor, began to be downgraded to a lesser place in the shelves both metaphorical and actual, to the point where I found those cyclical visits back into the worlds of goth, punk, thrash and death metal had expanded to genres I’d long ignored or derided – doom. Traditional. Mainstream “glam” and “hair” metal, even. And now? Power metal.

I shit you not.

Now, alongside the goths, punks, thrashers, black metallers, traditional metallers and gothic symphonic types, I’ve had many a European power metaller on the old podcast – Grave Digger, Helstar, Mob Rules, Orden Ogan, Helker, Gloryhammer, Primal Fear, Helloween, Accept,  Rhapsody (of Fire), Iron Savior, Ring of Fire/Iron Mask, Silent Force and Edenbridge, just to name a few…and that’s not to mention a few concert reviews, one of which involved Sonata Arctica.  So there’s been no shortage of power metal coverage here (as should already be obvious even from these monthly reviews).

But with a few exceptions (namely Accept, Helloween, Rhapsody and Edenbridge), it was more a case of “this album’s pretty decent, there seems to be a history to discuss on either band or musician/band member in question…let’s do it” over any particular affection towards the genre.

Power metal was, like doom, acceptable, generally melodic and well performed listening material…but felt a bit silly, somehow – like getting locked into a stage of musical development and never really moving forward or expanding, if that makes any sense in the context of a genre that builds on, revolves around, celebrates and even resurrects a 1980’s musical idiom…much less one that includes Manowar among its ranks.

I know, it doesn’t make any logical sense…but there it is.

And yet, here we are, hitting the Fall of 2017, and in the course of digging through the more obscure and untrodden corners of metal history, I’ve started discovering and rediscovering bands I’d either heard of but never experienced previously (Jag Panzer, Warrior, Hexx, Rage) or never even heard mention of (Tyrant, Warlord, Heretic, Witchkiller). This led to further reassessment of some dust catchers in the collection – Liege Lord, for one…and another round of plays for bands I’d already had no small affection for, like Omen, Savage Grace, early Running Wild and Nasty Savage…and Deaf Dealer.

Holy shit. What do all of those bands have in common?

That’s right…it’s all been (re)classed as “US power metal”.

So not only have I become a full fledged doom metaller, after years of knocking ’em for never getting past those early Sabbath leanings I and presumably most metal guitarists lean on in their earliest days…but here I am, a power metal fan.*

* well, more “US power metal” than the more common Euro variant thereof, but there you go. Come on, I’m even listening to a bit of Blind Guardian and Ripper Owens-era Iced Earth of late…

Well, all the better – it just keeps expanding the vistas and widening the scope. And it looks like a good month to come to that conclusion, with both Hexx and Jag Panzer (among others) dropping some significant (and in the latter case, long awaited) reunion platters…

So hint to all labels – you’ve listened before (hence the marked increase in doom covered in these pages over the course of this year…) – you know what to do.

Cheers – I raise a fur bedecked, horn-fashioned flagon of mead in your respective honor. Huzzah, let the festivities commence!

KEE OF HEARTS – S/T (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (September 15)

Europe’s Final Countdown-era six stringer Kee Marcello and a fellow named Tommy Heart (from a band named Fair Warning, if that rings any bells for you) join forces for what is, unsurprisingly, a very AOR/melodic “hair metal” band whose sound falls somewhere between Survivor, MSG and Marcello’s period of Europe.

Now, I won’t lie to ya – Europe for me is John Norum and the first two albums (and if you haven’t heard them, trust me, they’re a far more solid, straight up heavy rock/trad metal affair than the more famed material that came thereafter). But would you be as surprised as I am to hear that Kee of Hearts hearkens slightly closer to Wings of Tomorrow, perhaps with a touch of post-Trilogy Yngwie Malmsteen to boot?

It’s yet another Alessandro Del Vecchio production, so you should already know this is going to be a strong release all around, from song construction to musicianship to the final sound mix…but when you tag in players as competent and seasoned as Marcello, and singers as likeably melodic in orientation as Heart?

Yep, kids, this is one of the good ones.

Check it out, AOR and “glam/hair metal” fans. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

HELL IN THE CLUB – See You On The Dark Side (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (September 15)

Members of Italian power metal bands Elvenking (vocals) and Secret Sphere (bass) join forces with DGM’s Simone Mularoni (production) for a very late 80’s radio-oriented “hair metal”/AOR affair.

Think Autograph, Trixter, Firehouse, Danger Danger, that sort of thing, and you get the general idea – syrupy choruses, punchy but non-threatening guitar riffing with a Roxy Blue/Extreme sort of sub-Van Halen flash peeking through every now and again, a bratty sounding, sure to appeal to your girlfriend-style vocal…if you’ve been there and lived through it, you know exactly what I mean, and what to expect.

Nothing wrong with it – in fact, it’s pretty damn solid for what it is.

Another surprisingly retro, weirdly flawless in objective terms release from Frontiers, a label who (for those who haven’t been following us for the last 6 or 7 years) really knows their shit when it comes to this corner of the hard rock/AOR/radio/hair/glam metal universe.

I was good with it.

PHANTOM 5 – “Crossfire” RADIO SINGLE (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (October 13) 

We pretty much loved their self titled debut last May, so the only real shocker here would have been if the loss of Scorpions vet Francis Bucholz somehow messed with their sound in awful and inexplicable ways.

No, of course it didn’t.

Another strong, very catchy single from these guys. Full length likely to follow next month…

WAYWARD SONS – Ghosts of Yet to Come (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (September 15)

hmm. First song “alive” kicks off, you’re hearing a dawn of the 90’s hard rock/post-GNR “metal” sort of thing going down, albeit with a bit of a Chris Cornell vibe to the vocals.

Second track “until the end”, all of a sudden it’s that oh-so-boring 70’s “classic rock” thing, somewhere between The Who and Bad Company.

Third track “ghost”, it starts feeling kind of post-New Jersey Bon Jovi-ish.

Then we’re back to the top for the next few tracks, before going full on Seattle grunge for “killing time” (which comes off like Nirvana meets Soundgarden by way of Screaming Trees).

“Crush” almost pulls things into early millenium alterna-pop territory, “be still” feels extremely Nashville, “something wrong” heads right back into that “classic rock” cesspool.

Gee, think these guys have a bit of an identity crisis?

Yeah, I can see fans of all of those rather disparate variants of the music scene accepting some or all of this album. But it never fits comfortably in any of ’em, and when the only one of those that I can even abide is the GNR hard rock/”metal” thing, you can’t expect much more than a “yeah, whatever…” and toss into the circular file.

Not my thing at all, sorry.

DIRTY THRILLS – Heavy Living (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (September 15)

Hey, they only look trashy…there’s actually a pronounced Rembrandt reference in that cover…

So, gee, think someone’s been listening to Ian Gillan-era Deep Purple and Cream much?

Yep, this is hammond organ-inflected, blues vocalled, crunchy heavy overdriven guitars (hell, it almost has that hollowed out tube amp tone…) in the 1969-72 heavy rock vein.

Promo materials call out more recent acts like the Black Keys, and you could say that, maybe…but nah. This is so utterly late hippie-era heavy blues rock, your grandpa will probably fire one up and sway.

Just pray grandma doesn’t get any ideas, you’ve seen Woodstock.

Good retro rock, if Grand Funk, Blue Cheer and the aforementioned Purple and (especially) Cream are your thing.

STEELHEART – Through Worlds of Stardust (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (September 15)

If you were around and on the scene during its 80’s heyday, you’re sure to remember Steelheart. They came out rather late in the game (the self titled debut streeted in the dark days of 1990, just before the bottom was about to fall out once and for all, Stateside), were part of the big hair “glam”/pop metal thing alongside guys like Slaughter and Extreme, and known for two things: a singer who could hit some really high notes, for using strings and suchlike and being extremely cheesy, even in a time noted for its particular eau du fromage.

Like many bands blindsided by the rise of college rock (“alternative”) and grunge, Steelheart muddled their way through another album…and then there was a nasty accident. When all the dust settled and the years trundled by, there were sort of reunions and even an album or two (one in the late 90’s, one in the late millenium). But here we are, a quarter century on from this band’s more notable days…and frontman Miljenko Matijevic is back with a new backing band (and working both vox and all but lead guitars).

The sound is more grunge-oriented than I recall them being back in the day, there’s a lot less strings and proto-symphonic bombast (though there is a bit still present herein) and Matijevic has more of a rasp to his voice. Time being what it is, you didn’t really expect him to hit those crazy high notes anymore, didja?

Now, I was never a fan – to be quite honest, Steelheart was a band my circles used to laugh about. You mean this is what they call metal these days? Yeah, that’s why I was a thrasher and in the process of turning into a death metaller around 1990. So I can’t really judge or compare, except to long ago memories of overdramatic balladeering and cheesiness.

Nor, I’m glad to admit, a fan of grunge or the alterna/nu/aggro shit that came in its wake as faux-“substitutes” for the metal it spat upon and ground beneath its filthy old combat boots for a decade there.

So to be fair, I’ll point out that this album doing nothing whatsoever for me probably doesn’t mean a whole hell of a lot for those so inclined, much less longtime fans of Steelheart excited over the prospect of their long awaited return.

Just be aware: if memory serves at all, this ain’t the Steelheart you remember. Not by a long shot.

Curtains, I’m off. Have fun – enjoy, fans.

Nocturnal Rites – Phoenix (AFM Records) (October 6)

Yet another Swedish power metal act, this is my first encounter with these guys. Really turned off by the opening detuned aggro riff, which just stunk of everything lunkheaded and neanderthalic about 90’s metal…but then the sorta clean yet gravelly tones of Jonny Lindkvistto kick in, and suddenly there’s a melodic chorus.

Say huh?

Sure enough, the solo’s straight up European power metal, all melody and bombast and a touch of proggy wheedly-whoo. Next track even leans a touch AOR in its general vibe…more like “before we waste away”, and they’ll wind up on Frontiers, mark my words.

(raises eyebrows, shakes head in disbelief)

So…yeah, overall, despite a pretty black metal band name and one guitar that seriously needs to be tuned up spitting out a bad grunge-era riff rearing its ugly head every now and again, these guys are yet another respectable if not pretty damn decent power metal band, with enough melodic orientation to border on AOR at points and hints of prog…and occasional jarring touches of bad
modern/aggro for no apparent reason whatsoever.

Take that guitar out of the picture (or just tune it the fuck up to standard or thereabouts), you have a band that wouldn’t feel out of place opening for the likes of Kamelot.

Not bad, not bad at’all.

Ektomorf – Warpath (AFM Records) (August 25)

Somehow they keep crossing paths with us – we’ve previously covered their Retribution and Aggressor.

This time around, these Hungarian aggro/groove (and arguably nu-)metallers are working a live show at Wacken. As you might expect, they work their way through previously released material in a Korn meets Five Finger Death Punch by way of Pantera-esque manner – you can practically see the crowd pogoing and spilling cups of beer all over themselves as the boingy-sproingy detuned riffs bounce along, track after track.

It should be noted that if this style of music is your thing and you’ve been intrigued by the lyrical stance of the band (vocalist/bandleader Zoltan Farkas is all about anti-discrimination and outsiderhood), Ektomorf comes off a lot better in a live setting than the more generic confines of “studio” production and mixing.

In other words, while it all pretty much sounded like one long track to me, I wasn’t exactly grimacing while listening to Warpath – it’s definitely not my bag, but you can see why someone looking for a less emo freakout Korn would be pretty well chuffed with this, and comparatively label this as “metal” in a more straightforward manner. It’s not, of course, but you can see why fans might argue that.

Look, I didn’t hate this at all – ultimately, it served as background music. Not the kind I’d necessarily choose, mind…but not the kind that leaves me throwing my glass at the jukebox, either.

I’ll call this live release a “best foot forward” for the band, and leave it at that.

  

Gothminister – The Other Side (AFM Records) (October 13)

I found Bjorn Alexander Brem’s last album Utopia strangely catchy and anthemic enough to bring him on the podcast four years back, even heading out to pick up his earlier Happiness in Darkness thereafter – both pretty decent albums in the industrial meets gothic vein of similarly minded (but less interesting and amusing) acts like Rammstein and Megaherz.

I mean, come on…business lawyer by day, horror movie lord of all evils by night…what’s not to love?

Here the Gothminister returns after a longer than usual hiatus, and a few things have changed. While you’ll still recognize the Moonspell-like baritone chest vocals and the militaristic march tempo industrial crossed with a more metallic and catchy to anthemic chorus structure…The Other Side is simply not as strong an album as Utopia or Happiness in Darkness were.

Apparently the concept this time around relates to seances and contact with the spirit world, which comes across not only lyrically (each song appears to tell the story of a different deceased/non-corporeal entity from their own perspective, though it’s not exactly an across the board hard and fast rule) but musically. While still “heavy” and industrial with audience sing-a-long worthy choruses…there’s more of a softer feel, perhaps appropriate to the subject matter and the ectoplasmic forces the album centers upon.

Even the cover seems to reflect the change in focus and style, from the more dramatic, even cheesy “threatening poses” and sinister visages of the aforementioned albums to a more laid back, even casual undertaker giving a sad gaze to a mourner, or perhaps even a dejected spectre offering one last look to the physical world and life he’d left behind. It’s all very eerie and King Diamondesque, but hardly prone to the same bombast and (dare we say it) joie de vivre of Utopia’s zombie invasion or the satanic verses of Happiness in Darkness…

That all being said, it’s Gothminister. You have to know coming in that despite any relative comparisons to the man’s past work, it’s going to be a solid release, with its fair share of likeably gothicized horror gone both industrial and oddly crowd pleasing and radio friendly at the choruses. And two of the lighter tracks are actually my favorites (“aegir” and “all this time”), so keep that in mind if you started to tune out when you heard it wasn’t quite as heavy as usual…

While a more subdued and slightly out of character Gothminister than the one you’re likely expecting, it’s still a pretty damn decent effort, and one that continues to stand head and shoulders above the competition at their best. Moreover, I’ve been here before…this one’s extremely likely to become a sleeper, increasing in estimation over time.

Consider this your eerie October ghost stories for sharing around the campfire, delivered to you straight from Norway.

Emil Bulls – Kill Your Demons (AFM Records) (October 20)

We’d run across these “modern metal”/aggro/nu metal guys before, on Sacrifice to Venus and the oddly mellow XX, and here they’re back to their earlier template, working a growly-shout aggro vocal over detuned lunkhead riffing at the verses, then turning oddly gothic (/vaguely industrial) metal-melodic at the choruses, like Lacuna Coil without a Scabbia to enliven the mix.

As with the Italians, the melodic choruses (and an occasional rather nice solo, as on “the ninth wave”) elevate Emil Bulls wayyyyyyy above the expected Stateside shit like Slipknot or Five Finger Death Punch or Blue Dahlia Murder or whatever atrocious crap hipster tweens think is “metal” these days.

The simple fact is, Emil Bulls are more than listenable – hell, if you’re in the right mood and try to ignore the dumbo music growl’n’scream verses, those choruses, solos and occasional intros are pretty damn sweet.

The trick is…can you tolerate the dentist drill-level squirm inducing bits to get to the good parts?

I’m going to look at this as a glass half full situation. They’re at least halfway there.

I’ll call this one an obvious improvement over the last two, yeah.

(build with speed and intensity from a mumble to a scream:) “Just don’t mind all the SHIIIIIIIIIT!”

“AAAAHHHHHH!!!!!!!”

MONSTER MAGNET – Tab (Re-Issue) (Napalm Records Handels GmbH) (September 1)

MONSTER MAGNET – Spine Of God (Re-Issue) (Napalm Records Handels GmbH) (September 1)

Interesting.

I’ve always been a pretty big Monster Magnet fan – they were one of the few (stoner) metallish bands still producing listenable albums in the early to mid 90’s, outside of and beyond the brief heyday of death metal (which lasted from all of 89/90-92/3, and more the middle of that range than the straggler years that bookend it).  I’d pretty much say it was Monster Magnet and Non Fiction, with a quick side of Kyuss and portions of Badmotorfinger…it was not a good time for metal, particularly on these shores.

Suffice to say, in a complete wasteland of post-metal musical options, when I heard “nod scene” come on the radio for the first time, I was glued – who the fuck was that?  Got a copy of Spine of God in very short order, and played that damn tape till it was practically in tatters.

Superjudge followed, and there was still a lot of love to be had there…but it wasn’t quite the same thing, the songs weren’t so angry and filled to the rafters with so many blatant drug references and metaphors, both “current” and from times long out of date (yeah, like you didn’t notice…) Sure, the Hawkwind love was equally blatant…but Hawkwind was never this biting, this under a pillow, fuck the world, my world’s right here inside my head pissed off. 

Later albums saw the band get more popular and even streamlined in sound…but with much of what made ’em great in the first place stripped away. The shell was there, the substance beneath was diminished (if never truly gone). Yeah, I’ve got the first 5 or so on disc for many a year now…but it’s really just Spine of God and Superjudge that get pulled out (with Powertrip on rare occasions).

So you can imagine, I was surprised and glad to see Napalm reissuing Spine of God…but a little sad to see that there doesn’t seem to have been any sort of remaster. Sounds just like it does on my early 90’s copy, in fact…

In any case, if you ever liked Monster Magnet, stoner rock or space rock with a more druggy, comic book reference filled orientation (yeah, did I mention that? Almost as much of that as the drug references, especially from Superjudge on…), you’d be fucking insane not to have a copy of Spine of God in your collection. It’s the band’s shining hour, and blows even vaguely similar minded stuff like Hawkwind and Kyuss all to shit.

Now, Tab, I could never justify the price tag on. I mean, everyone knew it was just 3 tracks long…and yet Caroline or whoever had the balls to charge full album prices (or damn close to it). Yeah, I love the band, but I think I’ll pass. So while I’d heard it in later years (hello, streaming services), this arguably likeminded predecessor to Spine of God never cemented itself in my brain and heart.

In a way, it’s a “new” EP to me, and its notable excesses (the title track runs over a half an hour, the second ran about 13 – only “lord 13” came in a more digestible under 5 minute chunk of listening time) leave it feeling like what it is: a trippy, trancey jam and warmup for the masterstroke to come.

You can certainly hear elements, sound effects and stylistic orientations that would become clearer over the next two or three albums…but here, they’re more freak-out hippie pad background music for your next psychedelic black light trip than songs with a purpose. Even the anger that spoke (and continues to speak) to me so vibrantly is utterly absent…it’s just druggy BGM, filler even.

Even so, these two reissues reflect the band just before and at the pinnacle of their powers, with Superjudge honing all the neo-Indian raga trance business and meandering elements down to a tight, Sabbath-esque machine (and skip up, this was streamlined even further…overly so, in fact…for Powertrip). The rest are decent, but more “for fans only” – those first two full lengths are where you want to point any prospective newbies, stat.

Tab? Like the nasty diet soda of the 70’s its title serves as homonym to, it’s pretty much passable as ever – I’m surprised after all these years that no one took the logical option and appended it as bonus tracks on a 2 disc remaster of Spine of God.

If you haven’t yet indulged…here’s your chance to get high with the pros.

     

JAG PANZER – The Deviant Chord (Steamhammer / SPV) (September 29)

Damn, I’ve been looking forward to this one.

Digging back through the more obscure corners of 80’s metal, I’ve been treated to some pretty nice remasters and reissues of late, on bands like Tyrant, Heretic, Warlord…and Jag Panzer (two of those bands’ back catalogues restored to the masses courtesy of a label who appears in the reviews shortly hereafter – hats off to ya, guys, and keep ’em coming).

I’m sure I’m not the only scene veteran who heard these guys’ name bandied about back when, but never (knowingly) heard a song or actually saw their album and EP floating around record shops…their reputation is more posthumous than a matter of course at the time (likely more due to label and distribution issues than any statement on quality!)  But that only makes their (re)discovery all the sweeter – like Deaf Dealer and Liege Lord, you can only shake your head in wonder how stuff quite this good passed so many of us by at the time.

Now, I love the original EP (these days known as “Tyrants”), complete with its hideous/fascinating cover…but when you’re talking Colorado Springs’ very own Jag Panzer, there’s only one lineup that matters: Harry “The Tyrant” Conklin, diehard mainman Mark Briody, fellow diehard John Tetley…and noted guitar shredder Joey Tafolla.

Now, most people will tell you the sun of what has been posthumously reclassified as “US power metal” (back in the day it was just “metal”, with some bands – though not the one under discussion here – “thrash”) rises and sets on Jag Panzer’s debut full length, Ample Destruction.  And there’s no question, after about a week straight of working my way through every nook and cranny of Tyrants, hearing this one for the first time was a real eye opener.  But for me?  I think (the strangely unreleased till fairly recently and “demo” only) Shadow Thief was their best – because this is where Tafolla steps up to the plate, bringing melody and complexity to the heretofore straightforward sheer force of the Jag Panzer sound.

Everyone knows Tafolla left the band thereafter, to record one of the better Shrapnel shred albums (Out of the Sun) and who knows what thereafter – and until fairly recent days, that’s all I knew the guy for. It was a definite case of “who the fuck is Joey Tafolla? He’s pretty good, though!”

But there was one slight return, for 1997’s Fourth Judgment. That said, it was hardly the best album he (and a similarly returning Conklin) had done with the band – a bit soft where you expect hard, a bit overlong and bloated where you expect a lean, mean fighting machine…and most egregiously, rather late 90’s “modern metal” in much of the riffing and feel.  Even so, it featured the core team of Conklin, Briody, Tetley and Tafolla, had a few killer choruses and solos sprinkled about, and for late 90’s metal?  Yeah, I’m sure it was reasonably noticeable compared to the competition at the time.

So here we are, a full 20 years on from even that de facto reunion album, and the passage of time and many a personnel shift has brought our intrepid quartet back together again. Will they deliver another Ample Destruction or another Fourth Judgment? Hell, will they defy expectations and drop another Shadow Thief?

Well, no…but it’s always a cruel yardstick to level at a reunion effort, particularly at so many years remove. To hold The Deviant Chord up against The Fourth Judgment may be a bit unfair, but against their mid-80’s heyday?  Sure, we all do it, and in a sense, rightly so – this is what the listener hopes for and expects when their favorite bands (much less in their core lineup!) get back together. But to the band? It’s a bit like telling your dad, “damn, pop – you got fat since high school!” May be objective reality, but can come off a bit tactless, especially if the guy’s trying.

So all that said, where do we stand with this album?

Well, if you don’t mind the fact that Tafolla seems to have reined himself in somewhat (or that dreaded guitarist mantra: “gotten more refined”) and that Conklin doesn’t hit the same gravelly highs or bear quite the same overpowering tonality as he did 20 years ago (much less 30 plus!), I can say this in all honesty and good conscience: it’s a much better album than Fourth Judgment.

Where that 10 year class of ’87 reunion effort was bolstered through the mire of its 90’s metal excesses mainly by Tafolla’s solos and a few strong choruses (“future shock”, “recompense”, arguably “call of the wild”), Deviant Chord offers a more steady, even keeled but in many ways stronger performance by Conklin.

You don’t get the beefiness of his low end or quite the same gravelly power to his high notes, but there’s far more consistency to his singing – he actually may be hitting higher notes and staying up there, just with less of that Dickinsonian epic bombast classic Jag Panzer fans are accustomed to from “The Tyrant”.

His lower end may similarly have compressed somewhat into more of a solid midrange, but there’s less unsureness or wobble to the tones he hits. In operatic terms, Conklin’s gone from the in your face gravitas of a Pavarotti to more of a lyric tenor…but a very consistent and assured one where he once was all jagged edges and quirkiness. He’s become more of an AOR frontman, if you will – melody, consistency and solidness of tone trumping power and sheer force at the expense of all else. I guess if you appreciate the sort of thing Sumi Jo is known for, you’ll get what I’m saying here – there are few if any earth shattering highs or speaker rumbling lows, but what’s between is quite sweet and unimpeachable.

The songs are also more laid back, even mellow by comparison to anything this trio has previously essayed on record – they’re distorted and have some nice vocals and leads (loved the more blues-based solo on “long awaited kiss” in particular – shred’s nothing without melodic chops and underpinning, kids), but the overall vibe of the album is a bunch of veteran buddies getting back together for the first time in many years and sharing war stories over a few beers.

It’s a comfortable album, in that respect, where Fourth Judgment was more a case of a damn good band trying to awkwardly insert their (far superior) style into the doofier, more aggro-inflected sound of the latter 90’s metal resurgence (we could mention any number of far less successful efforts by 80’s veterans throughout the ’90s and early millenium whose work during that period fared far, far worse than Jag Panzer ever did!)

The songs, while less pissed off and without that huge chip on the shoulder, are entirely absent of that obnoxious 90’s sound and feel (whether in terms of guitar tone, riffing style or production) and when Tafolla lets loose (“salacious behavior”, the aforementioned “long awaited kiss”, “fire of our spirit”, “dare”), you damn well perk up and pay attention.

I’ve given plenty a spin to this lineup’s all too few prior efforts (and the pre-Tafolla Tyrants, for that matter), and while as you may note from the last paragraph the album only really starts to pick up some serious steam in its latter half, there is no question whatsoever that The Deviant Chord, while not exactly up to the impressive bar set by Shadow Thief and Ample Destruction, easily beats the living shit out of The Fourth Judgment…and for the era from which that originates, that album wasn’t exactly awful either.

You know what? If more of the album was working the comparative intensity shown in its second half?

Yeah, this would be an easily noticeable successor to Shadow Thief after all.  By the time the grooves run out, you’re left with little doubt that this is the same band that crafted that oddly unreleased at the time demo (and trust me, if you haven’t heard its CD remaster/reissue? You’d never believe it was just a demo…)

All things considered, and being an unabashed fan of this lineup of the band…I’m raising the metal fist high in salute.

Four and a half stars, easy.

Hexx – Wrath Of The Reaper (High Roller Records) (September 15)

You know, even after all these years and having both revisited and delved much deeper into the realms of 80’s metal obscurities, you still run across bands here and there with whom I’ve still never crossed paths.

Hexx is one of those bands that if you were there, haunting record shops and seeing flyers or ads in magazines, the name is instantly recognizable…but then you look into their discography, and nope.  Never heard those…

So apparently these guys are thrash in the sense that Meliah Rage, Pariah, Metal Church and Heretic are – back in the day, these guys were thrash bands, period. Posthumous Rain Man-style categorization happy types have reshuffled bands like this under the “US power metal” banner…your call where they best fall. For me, this is good ol’ fashioned NWOBHM-derivation thrash, period.

So anyway, I liked the general sound here enough to give a quick skim of the band’s earlier albums, and you’ll probably be happy to know that between the riffing style the band adopts here and new singer Eddy Vega, Wrath of the Reaper comes off a hell of a lot closer to Dan Bryant and Under the Spell than it does either the more helium-toned No Escape or their odd, failed death metal bid Morbid Reality (whose sticksman John Shafer also appears here).

For those like myself who haven’t come across Hexx previously, you can hear strong parallels to Mike Howe-era Heretic, or even his first album with Metal Church, but with Vega also bearing the more grating tones of Julian Mendez or “impulse” screecher Mike Torres…all good signs, especially if you dig either Heretic or Metal Church.

The band themselves…well, OK, sole surviving founding member Dan Watson keeps things pretty retro, and riffwise, we’re talking more Metal Church than Heretic. Even the band seems a bit confused on whether they’re doing traditional (“power”) metal or thrash, so you get the general idea here. It’s familiar and pretty decent all at the same time, though I could have used a fatter guitar tone, particularly on the more fast paced tracks. Maybe a second guitarist next time around? Or hell, just add an extra guitar track in studio, should do the trick.

Look, the fact that these particular bands are being referenced says we’re talking a tad more insider, obscure and second or even third tier in the annals of classic thrash…er, “power” metal.

But honestly…who’s complaining?

Good stuff, a strong comeback. I’m down with it. Now to grab me some of the Hexx back catalogue…

Update: having since picked up the nice box set of their two Shrapnel-era albums (whose magazine-length liner notes/interview should be a bit of an eye opener for young guns, unaware of just how difficult it was to get signed and recorded, much less make a name for yourself or actual profits, back in the day), I’m glad to say Watson’s riffing does indeed hearken most closely to their Under the Spell prime…though the vocals are no Dan Bryant, by a long shot!  In fact, better yet?  Would be if they kept Nick Manzo on board – 2013’s Up From the Grave demo was pretty fucking sweet!)  A worthy return to form, indeed.

Air Raid – Across The Line (High Roller Records) (September 29)

Old school-style retro traditional metal out of (no, really?) Sweden (gasp! I’d never have guessed! Not like they have any other bands doing the retro trad thing over there…)

That said…this is pretty damn good. I liked the speed/thrash riffing, the melodic, hinting at neoclassical leads, even the raspy vocals just work.  You can tell from the production and even vocal approach that this isn’t actually some long lost obscurity from the mid-80’s, but that’s not intended as a slag – you can hear these guys studied and learned from the classics to the point where it’s in the blood at this point.

So basically, if you take some straightforward metal – Lizzy Borden may be a good touchpoint, or even Obsession – and add hints of Yngwie, moments that feel a touch Lion and some of the more melodic vibe of a Dokken amidst all the Savatage meets Acceptishness of the sound otherwise…then yeah, you might get something along the lines of this.

Want to put a finer point on it? Think self titled/Wings of Tomorrow-era Europe, but even moreso.

I was very, very happy with this album. Good playing, dead on feel, decent production that feels more retro than modern in tonality…and most importantly, good songs.

Yeah, you’ll want to check this one out…in both senses of the phrase.

  

Legend – Midnight Champion (Artoffact Records) (October 13)

Icelandic indie alternative act not named The Sugarcubes.

Production is quite clean and open-feeling, and there’s a mix of industrial, electronic and what we used to call “college rock” aesthetic in play throughout.

Moments are a tad lunkheaded and 90’s aggro-esque (that awful detuned, distorted guitar riff on “captive”), others feel more retro dance club (“time to suffer”, “children of elements”), and then they shift gears and get a touch Depeche Mode (“midnight champion”).

Little of it is especially awful, but none of it really set my gears afire either.

With The Dead – Love From With The Dead (Rise Above Records) (September 22)

Lumbering doom metal, somewhere between Cathedral and Electric Wizard, performed, quite unsurprisingly, by former members of both bands.

Yep, early Napalm Death and Cathedral frontman Lee Dorrian is back once again with a more than worthy follow up to their 2015 self titled.

This one will come as no surprise to fans of the prior album, stylistically, but you can expect even more of an Electric Wizard influence this time around. Maybe it’s down to the forefronted distortion on the guitars and the declamatory to the point of being spat out vocals, but there’s a much stronger whiff of Dopethrone tagged in to all the vintage Sabbathisms (which were always more Carnival Bizarre than St. Vitus with these guys anyway).

Take that as you will, but I think it’s a “best of both worlds” situation – a sign that With the Dead is finally starting to gel as a band proper rather than just a casual one-off studio experiment. You always dance with the one that brought you, to quote an old aphorism, and here we’re getting both ends of the “formerly of” spectrum bringing strong, noticeable elements of their prior outfits and merging them into something new and arguably improved – a genetic offspring that is very obviously “theirs”, yet its own unique entity all the same.

They’ve upped the tracklist by one this time, from a whopping 6 songs to a crushing 7…but come on, this is doom. You know these aren’t exactly whizzing by like an old school hardcore punk song (I think the average here is around 7 minutes, with only a few clocking in much below that and two running more into the 12 minute range…)

It’s dark, it’s lumberingly heavy, it’s fucking angry in the sense of a slumbering giant you just poked in a very uncomfortable place with a stick. The menace is real, and you probably want to get the hell out of there before he fully awakens…

Yeah, this is how it should be done – early Sabbath, Trouble, Pentagram, Vitus…and this right here. There’s a lot of great doom bands out there, particularly once you count the stylistic crossovers like “doom death” or “gothic doom”…but this is the real deal, kids.

Raise the horns in salute to the new masters of the form.

The Living – S/T (self released) (September 22)

Frisco-based depressive indie act.

There are elements that suggest a very 90’s alternative sound (I’m thinking stuff like Afghan Whigs or Catherine Wheel here), though this particular sound could only have come from recent years – there’s more than a hint of Faunts to “delay” (which consequently becomes my favorite track here), but with touches of post black metal to all the despairing wall of sound tremelo.

Then there’s the vocals, which while still classifiable as “clean” bear more than just a trace of emo to their tone and approach. The solo kicks in, and you’re thinking “metal”, at least in orientation…but then we’re all Chris Isaak by way of Mazzy Star on “deceiver”.

Then comes the solo, which sounds vaguely reminiscent of Ulrich Roth or Michael Schenker with the (very) early Scorpions or Rocka Rolla/Sad Wings-era Judas Priest – but only in terms of general vibe, there’s no virtuosity, lyricism or mastery of phrasing in Julian Balestrieri’s playing style. It’s just got that early to mid-70’s European post-psychedelic proto-metal feel going on…

Now we’re back to the 90’s indie mixed with post-black metal thing on “no love gets away”, and things start feeling Fauntslike again.  Hey, if Bioware gets its act together and ever puts together a worthy successor to Mass Effect 2, you guys’d be perfect for the game ending soundtrack…

The further we go in this one, the more I’m liking what I hear…but less in terms of the distorted heavy rock to post-metal nonsense, and more in terms of the clean dual guitar arpeggiated/digital delay and reverbed interplay. In other words, when they sound most akin to Faunts, The Living are actually pretty damn killer…

You know who else the distorted tremelo wall of noise bits remind me of? Sugizo and Luna Sea. I’m hearing that more as we get into tracks like “hot breath” and “corpse pose”…and as an unabashed “Slave” since I first discovered the band around ’98-’99 (damn, I miss Hey! Hey! Music Champ…), that’s a very good thing to hear coming out of my mouth.

Ultimately, these guys have some serious promise, that’s short circuited by an overabundance of diffuseness. In other words, they seem to be drawing influence from too many sources – ill-fitting closer “headless pillow” comes off like a cross between Radiohead and James, for chrissake…

But when they’re “on”, they’re really on…so I have to give ’em props for nearly grabbing the brass ring on their first time out of the gate.

Watch this space. These guys could really be something, if they concentrate on what works and shed the rest like the dried up snakeskins they are.

Well worth a listen.

BOLIDO – Heavy Bombers (Fighter Records) (October 10)

Does it say something that I drifted off through the first 6 songs? I mean, there was nothing wrong with what I was hearing…it just felt rather…generic, I guess.

Luckily, the Thin Lizzylike melodic boogie shuffle of “win lose or draw” got my attention, right quick. Even the solo sounds rather Brian “Robbo” Robertson if not Gary Moore or John Sykeslike…clearly the standout on this album.

Unfortunately, the rest of the album from this Chilean duo is more straight up old school second tier power metal (occasionally veering into more of what they used to consider “speed” – think Exciter – as on “supersonic”). Promo materials mention early Jag Panzer, Malice, Liege Lord and Priest, so you’d think I’d be all over this one…and yet…nah, not really.

Less a fault of performance, production or lack of a clear identity and focus (i.e. the usual bugaboos that make or break a given band or album) than of a sheer…wallpaperiness. “Win lose or draw” aside, Heavy Bombers, while melodic in its solos and competent in musicianship throughout, comes off as seriously generic traditional “US power metal”.

Fit right in to your collection alongside bands like the aforementioned…yeah, arguably, if you’re not overly fussy about it.

Make any real impression, favorable or no?

Can’t knock ’em for trying pretty damn hard, but nah.

Loved the neo-Thin Lizzy track, though. More of those, next time around, guys.

VHÄLDEMAR – Against All Kings (Fighter Records) (November 7)

Solid but extremely template European style power metal. The Accept influence is just as strong (if not stronger) than the Helloween one, and there are the expected touches of Yngwie harmonic structure chordally and modalities on the leads.

I’m very much reminded of the relatively obscure Italian power metal act White Skull here – all the pieces are present, accounted for and delivered with confidence and aplomb…but with so many bands doing the same basic thing over so many albums, is there anything truly special about this particular band that makes them stand out?

Otherwise, the only eyebrow raise and snort of derision comes from the seemingly endless (literally 45 seconds worth!) unaccompanied mewling infant that opens the entirely unrelated “the last to die”.  A few more seconds, I was about to pull my damn hair out…hell, my old buddy Santino’s band used that idea as an opener once, too, but it was all of 6 seconds and appended a track inspired by The Omen and Rosemary’s Baby, so at least it fit what followed!

But honestly, there’s nothing much to knock about this album – Vhaldemar is working a solid, festival stageworthy brand of power metal…just one you’ve heard dozens on dozens of times before, over several decades and from many a band.

Within Silence – Return From The Shadows (Ulterium Records) (October 27)

A mix and master by Helloween/Masterplan guitarist cum producer Roland Grapow further sweetens a likeably solid confection out of…Slovakia?

Before even taking a gander at the promo materials, I was hearing some bands they referenced as influences (and in the latter case, with whom they share both thematic concerns and concert stages), namely Sonata Arctica and Theocracy.

I’d have thrown Narnia in there as well, myself, and they also tagged Stratovarius, which yeah, I can hear an argument for…but that’s pretty good. These press releases tend to go pretty far afield (“introducing Pantera – a fantastic new melodic power metal band influenced by Judas Priest and Dokken, for fans of Slayer and Stryper”) – so props to whoever scratched that one up, ya really nailed this one.

Anyway, you get the idea from the bands referenced – this is filled with anthemic choruses and nigh-guitar synth tone on the leads – a well produced, highly melodic, even crowd singalong take on European power metal that moves along at a Sonata Arcticaesque brisk pace.

If you have any affection for the Helloween-derived European school of power metal, you should find it quite difficult to resist albums that sound this damn good – like Narnia, Theocracy or earlier Sonata Arctica, Within Silence hit every single one of their marks and come out winning.

Raise a tear stained, suitably anthemic fist to the heavens and roar a post-battle victory cry in salute to another slice of melodic power metal mastery.

Rekoma – Eadem Errata (Inverse Records) (October 6)

So 90’s it should be wearing cargo pants, a Dr. Seuss hat and a pacifier, this nu metallish aggro act comes complete with detuned, chunky nigh-death metal riffing, shitty aggro vox and Fear Factory or Alice In Chains meets Korn-style clean moan and complain vocals.

You can practically hear them sing the last word on this one: “I’d be too miserable to get up and change the record, if this was my preferred style.”

Maybe we can even add a very 90’s grunge coda: “…don’t trip over any used needles on your way out”*

* (no reflection on the band themselves, mind – but in honor of the grunge/nu-metal/aggro acts whose sound they crib from liberally, and whose habits and predilections are more or less a matter of record.)

Yeah, this was the shit that was supposed to be “hipper” and “more knowing” than metal.  Big middle finger to that decade on the whole…

Rough Grind – Four For The Road (EP) (Inverse Records) (August 30)

Modern metal guitar tone (i.e. distorted and overly detuned) mixes with more of a driving bar band hard rock vibe. Bon Scott AC/DC and Junkyard go all aggro/nu metal?

Well, not quite, or at least not in the sense that always makes me throw my hands up in the air in disgust.

While Sami and Ville really need a guitar tech to tune them up to standard and work on that overly grinding distortion (get it? Coffee jokes, band name…yeah, whatever. The promo materials pulled that too, so I’m not the only one…), the riffs are straight up hard rock, the solos are more traditional to power metal, the raspy vocals suit the sound well enough and the drumming is busy, driving and on point.

In fact, I kinda liked these Finns – the first 2 tracks are pretty damn good, guitar tone aside. The last 2 get a bit more 90’s/modern/nu in feel, and consequently things go a bit downhill past the halfway point…but it’s still never horrible or pointedly adherent to the tropes of the genre(s) I’m picking up an orientation towards there.

Check out “dead end street”. If that works for you as well, go to “coffin to go”. If you’re still good, try closer “the man you used to know”, it’s still got listenability and merit.

Forget the track I didn’t mention, unless your idea of metal involves Mudvayne, Slipknot and Five Finger Death Punch…

Two, maybe 3 tracks out of 4 are pretty damn decent. A full length could go either way, but I’ll give ’em a slightly qualified nod For the Road.

Kaos Krew – Returno (Inverse Records) (September 15)

We’d had mixed feelings about their “Panama” single, and those niggling concerns have sadly enough been borne out on the full length under discussion.

The biggest problem here is that most songs sound pretty much the same – same basic construction, same build, same approach to the choruses – though few if any hit the positive comparative heights of “panama” (which yes, is included on the album proper).

I liked the solo on “end my pride”, which while unspectacular dropped hints of power or progressive metal into what otherwise comes off as more of an electronic/industrial inflected take on modern/nu metal. It’s fairly standard wheedly-whoo, but were you expecting that in the middle of all this? Yeah, me either. Hence…

Shoulda stuck to “panama”. The WWE crowd should love these guys, though – wouldn’t be surprised to see a Returno track used as some wrestler’s entrance theme in the near future.

  

Párodos – Catharsis (Inverse Records) (October 27)

Wow, these guys consider themselves post-black metal?

Even after you make your way through two extremely mellow ambient piano tracks in a row, then you get an Alcestlike airy light progressive track with clean vocals (“black cross”). Then the harsh vocals finally come in for “space omega”…but only for part of the song, before it gets buried in tinkling piano and totally mellows out. PS, those weren’t black metal vox by a long shot, we’re talking more death/doom…

Another ambient piano track, then we’re back to “black cross” territory, but with that tinkling piano becoming even more prominent.

OK…it’s sort of depressive, and doesn’t really fall under the categories of retro grunge, indie, black metal, death metal, doom, emo or even metalcore…though the vocals and approach are more in the general ballpark of the latter two than any of the others. Just more ambient and laid back, which is where Alcest and the more “cascadian” BM thing come into play.

Don’t walk into this expecting blastbeat and tremelo guitar driven atmospherics…though it is claustrophobic and introspective. DSM
(etal)C(ore) instead of DSBM, maybe?

Either way, tracks like “black cross” and “metamorphosis” are actually fairly decent, once you give ’em half a chance…so despite my utter bafflement as to how this should actually be classified, this definitely has its moments.

Just prepare for more aimlessly tinkling high end piano than your baby sister’s first music lessons…

FM2000 – Hubba Bubba Rehab (Inverse) (October 13)

Finnish punk with weird nu-metallish leanings.

They tend to go back to a sort of Blink 182 meets Smashmouthlike pop-alternapunk at the choruses, and then do more of a groove/nu with hints of death or thrash on the verses…and it’s so rapid fire (and the genres mix so poorly) it feels like a drunk driving stick on a tractor trailer. Shift – WRENCH! Your body jerks forward, your head nearly hits the windshield – Shift, Shift through neutral to the higher/lower gear – WRENCH! again. It’s really fucking bizarre.

I did like the obvious comic feel of this – you can tell they aren’t a bit serious about any of it (as if the ode to one of the shittiest fast to lose flavor hunk of plastic “bubble gums” of our times and comment that “the main theme of Hubba Bubba Rehab is femininity” weren’t indicator enough!)…and yes, they can pull off the varying styles quite well.

They just don’t mix well…hell, at all, leaving the listener concussed and carsick from all the hard shifting between ’em.

They have some promise as musicians, I can give ’em that.

  

Power Quest – Sixth Dimension (Inner Wound Recordings) (October 13)

One track features one of the post-Tarja Nightwish vocalists (Anette Olzon), the cover art is by the guy who does covers for Blind Guardian and Rhapsody (of Fire) and the album’s been mastered by a guy who’s worked with Dragonforce and…er...Arch Enemy, so you know pretty much what you’re getting here: prototypical European power metal.

As if the name didn’t spell that out already, in big flashing neon letters…

Anyway, these guys are a UK power metal act, who once boasted vocals from Dragonforce’s ZP Theart (and guitars from that same band’s Sam Totman, so you get how strong the connection) and two members from Triaxis (whose Rage and Retribution was a favorite around the time of release, and who I tried to hustle for the then-brand spanking new podcast, alas to no avail).

Now, few if any of those folks are still part of the band, so don’t get your hopes too high, but what you can expect are clean, smooth vocals (think a more low end Joey Tempest, I guess, though he can and does hit a few rather high notes come “face the raven”), upbeat, crunchy guitar riffs, relatively tasteful keyboard accompaniment and plenty of busy typewriter drumming.

Tag in decent guitar solos, good production (albeit firmly of the modern digital/ProTools school thereof), uplifting choruses…you’ve heard it all before, many a time.

But when it’s done so well and wrapped up in a neat little package, who the hell’s complaining?

Yeah, I liked this one just fine.  Gets pretty cheesy at times, but for Euro power metal? Good stuff to be sure.

Respect where it’s due.  As unabashedly silly as it gets, I could probably use more bands like Power Quest to brighten my day – and so could you, really.

So what’cha gonna do?

I think you know the answer.

  

Metalite – Heroes In Time (Inner Wound Recordings) (October 27)

You know, my wife pointed out that in both promo photos provided, the singer looks photoshopped in, like she couldn’t be bothered to show up for the band photo.

Who the hell knows, but yeah, you can see it – the one we’re using is actually the less obvious one. Did she replace another vocalist last minute or something?

Anyway

What would you get if you crossed Sonata Arctica with Delain?

That’s a question clearly posed at early band meetings by this Swedish quintet, led by Charlotte Wessels soundalike Emma Bensing.

It’s fairly template, which leaves the band open one major negative: namely, that it tends to come off a tad generic, particularly at this point in metal history and for ears long since accustomed to (and appreciative of) female fronted gothic, symphonic and power metal.

On the plus side of the same coin, it’s extremely melodic, uptempo and upbeat, the songs are catchy, and fans of Delain or similarly minded acts (a cheerier Evanescence, a less staid Nemesea, you get the general picture) should be rather pleased.

The second issue is the production, which despite coming from somewhat of a minor “name” in this specific corner of the Eurometal universe actually feels oddly thin, with the sound more or less compressed to an overly busy midrange.

You can hear the detuned guitars, bass and drums were recorded for a fuller, deeper bottom end…and yet it all feels rather squashed and buried beneath an overly cluttered mess of guitar distortion, multi-tracked vocals and oddly, given that no one in the band is credited, overly prominent, over-processed in tone keyboards.

I’m reminded of the hot mess that was Michael W. Smith’s The Big Picture wayyyyy back in the mid-80’s, where it’s like someone just discovered the 64 (or more likely, 128!) track mixer and went hog wild with it. To judge by Heroes in Time, this band seriously needs a Rick Rubin to declutter all of this excess bullshit and flab and strip them down to their base sound…

So overall, depends how quick a fix you’re looking for with your debatably gothic/symphonic cum female-fronted power metal.  Desperately missing Krypteria and And Then She Came not scratching that itch? Pining for the heyday of Unsun and Visions of Atlantis? Or just a diehard Delain fan who can’t wait through that year or two gap between releases? If any of those sound like you, you may be pretty well satisfied by Metalite.

They just deserve a far less cluttered and expansive range production, where highs and lows are allowed to breathe under all these extra tracks, front-mixed keyboards and midrange compression.

  

Angel Nation – Aeon (Inner Wound Recordings) (October 27)

I call dibs on the dark haired one!  She’s kinda smokin’ in an Angelina Jolie/Asia Argento sort of way…

Another gothic metal act, working in the old school, female fronted, nigh-operatic range and inflection soprano modality that marked the genre in its heyday. Think Lightbringer/Hereafter-era Magica, Trinity-era Visions of Atlantis, even a bit of Tarja-era Nightwish or early Epica vocally speaking.

The music is more pointedly radio oriented, falling somewhere between Evanescence/post-Silent Force Within Temptation style gothic metal and the more melodic, to the point variant of European power metal.

While still a tad stiff and deliberate in her inflections, Elina Siirala (Liv Kristine’s replacement in Leaves Eyes) is less Carmen Schaefer/Coronatus here than Melissa Ferlaak/Visions. You can tell she’s hitting those precise tones in a way that could only come from operatic training, but there’s enough smoothing of rough edges and more legato than jagged to her delivery…which is not what comes across in her work to date with Alex Krull’s long running Viking/gothic outfit.

This is actually a surprisingly strong release, and moreover one that feels like the sort of thing the wife and I were very much into in the early millenium…so I’m giving this one deservedly high marks.

Now I’m curious if the next Leaves Eyes full length will actually work or not…the Fires in the North EP had promise, but was ultimately somewhat flawed, particularly by comparison with what had come before.

That one seemed like an emergency fix a flat scenario that didn’t turn out so bad after all…but if she’s the driving force behind what we have with Aeon, that band’s future may actually be brighter than you’d expect.

Watch this space.

And oh, yeah…check this one out, it’s pretty damn good.

 

MARY BY FORCE – Water Music (Hello Human Records)

Not a lot of info out there on this one, all I can tell you with certainty is that they’re Swedish, likely a duo and that the songs were written and produced by a Maria Kraft.

Oddly, particularly given that this is being marketed as “aggressive gothic metal”, she is not the frontwoman/vocalist…while she may be dropping some backing vox and even black metallish snarls in at points, it’s all rather quirky male vocals that sound sort of raspy and clean-snarled. Think your sarcastic, snotty hipster neighbor who always has some snarky comment to make, and you get the general tonality that comes across here.

The vox are far more suited towards (and attuned to) folk, somewhere between, say, Nick Drake and Jakob Dylan, as displayed quite prominently on the acoustic guitar folk number “bloodred”.

The music is all over the place, at times feeling a bit black metal, at others more industrial inflected, then a bit gothic doom, then it goes all carnival music (“down below”).

Kraft does finally make an appearance near the end of the album for “Patrina”…which not only shows her to have a perfectly sweet voice and capability, but is in fact the only track here that actually (IT works, IT), leaving the listener wonder just why the hell she relinquished the vocal chair to that other guy’s weird Two Witches-like nigh-unintentional comedy approach instead.

If you’re buying individual tracks, go for “Patrina” and forget the rest.

 

Starchitect – Shift (self released)

Dark toned prog metal from the Ukraine. It’s heavier than what you usually expect from the genre, even with the earlier, better iterations thereof like Queensryche, Sanctuary and John Arch-era Fates Warning – and about a million and five miles remove from all that John Tesh/Kitaro/Kenny G worship of the Dream Theater crowd.

So what you get for the “heavier” portions of the album is a somewhat detuned, distorted, grinding guitar that lurches between atonality and a sludgelike vibe before moving into more untoward, 90’s-ish riffing and feel, combined with generally crisp drums clearly working a meter-defying prog thing.

On later tracks and at least for portions thereof, the guitar goes clean and feels more true to the genre – but again, in the earlier, more “true” sense of same. These are arpeggiated chords moving in repetitive but meter-shifting patterns, with few if any actual leads (so at least we’re free of all that soulless wheedly-whoo faux-shred legato nonsense players love to affect these days).

The chords themselves, even when affecting dissonance, do appear to be fairly basic, even a tad lunkheaded…though some of the ostinato pivot tones suggest wider, more expansive iterations thereof. The first half of “shift” aside, it isn’t till the clean midsection of “nuovo I” (which is the fourth track, and the third to bear the “nuovo” designation) that the band seems to move into more of a Fauntslike territory, and this is where things became more interesting.

After holding to that sound for another track (“the death of her money”), the band moves vaguely ska in feel (though hardly strictly to form) for “interlocutor”. End of album.

This is all instrumental, lead-free and falling somewhere between prog, indie/alternative and aggro/nu-metal (if not sludge, given the detuned/distorted tone on much of the riffing)…and consequently, feels a bit unsure, like walking on a just-waxed tile floor with dress shoes.

The clean parts of this definitely feel prog, with that sort of indie overtone…and yeah, those work just fine. It’s the distorted parts that come off…I don’t know, just kind of ill-fitting, like members of Pantera dropped in on a rehearsal of The Living (reviewed earlier herein).

Overall, I was good with Shift, and appreciated the more metallized approach to that sort of Faunts-ish indie/space/prog rock, and even the parts that felt overly aggro/atonal/simplistic didn’t exactly throw the rider off the horse, so to speak.

Just hold on tight, ’cause she’s a mean filly, prone to buck and with a rep for throwing riders with a lot more experience than a green young’un like yerself.

Hallatar – No Stars Upon The Bridge (Svart Records) (October 13)

Interesting…members of Amorphis and HIM join Trees of Eternity‘s Juha Raivio for what amounts to a tribute to the other half of that band, the late Aleah Starbridge.

We’d reviewed (and loved) Hour of the Nightingale last year right around this time, so it’s probably no surprise that Juha’s successor project works also, even with the focus shifted from Starbridge’s hauntingly ethereal vocals to more of a pained Tom G. Warrior snot gargle (which both fits the lumberingly, nigh-funeral doom riffing and distances the listener by inducing unsolicited and likely unintentional laughter every now and again).

Perhaps eerily, Starbridge herself makes a cameo or two, reciting (and in one case, singing) lyrics utilized posthumously herein…and it’s not all distorted and heavy doominess throughout. There are plenty of clean acoustic and even tinkling piano sections to be found throughout the course of the album, leaving No Stars Upon the Bridge (get it?) as more of a morbid rumination on loss and pain than your typical Sabbath-derived doom metal affair. If anything, this bears more in common with bands like Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride or My Silent Wake than the more traditional iterations of doom per se.

It definitely works…though sadly, best on “dreams burn down”, where the lady makes her (presumably) final appearance on record. On the one hand, it’s unlikely this album would have had its genesis without her loss…on the other, it shows just how much better it would have been graced with her presence throughout, in place of the off kilter to comical male gargle-growl vocals that necessarily must fill the chair she leaves vacant.

Another depressingly mournful yet quite polished if not classy (occasinal quirks of vox aside) effort from Trees of Eternity, albeit under a different name and with some new members in tow.

Siinai – Sykli (Svart Records) (October 27)

And speaking of Mass Effect soundtracks, here we have the BGM to ME or ME2. It’s all trippy synthesizer ambient space music that turns into chanted drones, occasionally bringing in clean pizzicato guitar lines before pulling in a bass by track 4 and drums by the closing track 5.

All throughout, the sense of composition is extremely cyclical, creating a sense of drift and weightlessness. The cover image of a singularity (black hole) is quite appropriate, as this comes off very much as accompaniment to The Black Hole (aka the greatest and most atypical Disney film ever made) or the aforemntioned Mass Effect space travel sequences.

Think Circle, but a moodier, darker, more space rock/sci-fi variant thereof.

Yeah, I was pretty happy with this one.

JoDöden – Sittandes i sjön med vatten över huvudet (Nordvis Produktion) (September 29)

Acoustic folk instrumental business gives way to a poorly recorded, overcompressed, all-mids cross between black metal and indie rock.

It’s clearly a deliberate stylistic choice, as subsequent acoustic tracks are reasonably full and lush (at least by comparison), and mind, we’re talking far more towards the indie rock end of the spectrum than the black metal one – a track like “vemod fylide tronsalen” comes off more like a cross between Sonic Youth and Echo & the Bunnymen – but there’s no mistaking those snarled vox and black (or post-black) flourishes all over tracks like “bottenlos” and “offordrojilg evighet”.

Inoffensive, but a bit odd – too much of the album is weighted towards acoustic guitar tracks and an indie/alternative vibe for my tastes.

You already know whether you’re intrigued enough to give it a spin or not.

Saiva – Markerna bortom (Nordvis Produktion) (October 13)

We’d previously covered their split with Grift and found that to be a pretty strong showing, filled with atmosphere and melancholy and very much in the “Cascadian” vein.

Here Saiva returns with members of fellow Swedish black metal acts of like mind in tow, namely Erik Gardefors (of the aforementioned Grift), J. Kaarna (Tervahaat) and even Austin Lunn (of US black metallers Panopticon), all of whom have recieved mostly positive reviews in these very pages.

As you might expect, the tendencies towards a sort of Ulver by way of Vintersorg crossed with the more acoustic folk moments of Manegarm have become even more pronounced, with Makerna Bortom bearing a distinct feel of Ren Faire, wiccan folk, medieval Yule carols and suchlike. Even Native American rain dance comes into play towards the end…

The vocals are not the standard single voice neo-Gregorian chant, but more of a madrigalesque descant, with two, even three voices moving from unison sung (at a diminished third or thereabouts) to free movement, commentary and counterpoint. Think less Bach than The Clancy Brothers here, but you get the general idea…

If there’s any downside to this album at all, it’s that things never escalate into any sort of motion – no epic “power ballad”-like build to something more dramatic and driving, it’s all in that mellow, almost acoustic modality throughout (even on closer “nordan”, which was clearly meant to represent the “aggressive side” of what’s being laid down here).

But the bottom line is, if you dig Ulver when they still mattered (or for that matter, “Garm”s much derided disciple Myrkur!), any of the bands whose members play a part in this album or hanging out at the local Rennaissance Faire just to hear the buskers, you should be quite pleased with this one.

I certainly was.

Very good stuff for its type.

Eneferens – In The Hours Beneath (Nordvis Produktion / Bindrune Recordings) (October 27)

Strange post-black metal one man band.

Half of it is clean sung and falls somewhere between emo and doom (in the lushly depressive and “gothic” Paradise Lost/Anathema school, not the more trad or death variants thereof), other parts feel closer to death/doom (check out the death barked vocal approach on “through the white” or “ascension”), still others feel more particularly black metallish (“refuge”).

Oh, and then there’s two long, boring ambient piano pieces (“morning” and “upon the black mountain”). Go figure.

Well, those two tracks aside, this is right up my alley – introspective, doomy, contemplative, mournful, grim. What’s harder to classify is exactly what genre sole member Jori Apedaile’s efforts belong under. Is it gothic doom? Death/doom? Post-black metal of a decidedly “Cascadian” and inward-gazing bent?

Honestly, when nearly every track brings a different vocal approach if not musical orientation, it’s quite difficult to say.

But if that spectrum of influences and stylistic leanings is your thing as well…you should definitely find something to your tastes here.

ANTARKTIS – Ildlaante (Agonia Records) (October 6)

Lumbering blackened-feeling…what is this? Not death/doom, exactly…bears a hell of a lot of Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards-style Swe-black/death vibe to the guitars, but with lousy aggro-esque belch vox…

6 in one, half a dozen in the other. Whether you think this is more akin to death/doom, death, black/death or who the fuck knows what…I don’t know, it just doesn’t work.

Nothing wrong with slow, ponderous riffage (far from it, in fact!), but the production style (thin, reedy, hissy), the perfectly shit vocal approach (BLURRGGGH AAAARRRGGH GAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!) and the Watain Wannabe ringing open chord overtones totally fuck the works for what could have been more of a straightforward funeral or death/doom affair.

Nah.

Next?

  

MEAT TRAIN – RANDOM ACTS OF CARNAGE (CONTAGION RECORDS) (September 29)

In the same vein of distasteful “torture porn” aesthetic as the otherwise fairly interesting Basement Torture Killings, this grindcore/”brutal”/”tech” death metal act picks the name of a gruesome serial killer film with a twist (itself derived from a Clive Barker short story), but there the similarities between the two similar in aesthetic and nation of origin bands end.

Where Basement Torture Killings worked an unusual and strangely listenable take on Carcass-esque dual vocalled grindcore, Meat Train is more Cannibal Corpse – single, generically male death belch vocals (and buried somewhat beneath the guitars, yet!) over aimlessly atonal, vaguely tech death riffs that pass in one ear and out the other without making any real impression.

Occasional tracks appear to be based on horror films (“redneck zombies” being one dead giveaway, but I think Motel Hell and one or two others may be referenced herein as well…), but the overall approach is so bland as to feel especially disappointing after the surprise sleeper of There’s Something About Beryl – I for one was hoping for something in the same general ballpark.

Promo materials reference Autopsy, Grave and even the Chris Barnes-led groove/death project Six Feet Under, but nah – I like the first two bands, and Haunted wasn’t exactly the worst Scott Burns production. Hell, it was better than fucking Cannibal Corpse!

So bottom line – this one’s for the diehards who find some measure of merit in Cannibal Corpse’s gruesome, violent yet completely amelodic and nontraditional take on death metal.

People call them “tech death” these days, and while I’m not sure that designation truly applies in their case (or the case of Meat Train, for that matter), the fact is that I can’t stand that particular variant of death metal (which sadly enough is where most bands in that genre gravitated towards post-1993, and likely why that scene petered off into comparative obscurity till recently).

Autopsy? Grave?

I only wish…

Pluses – well, it’s certainly raw and noisy both in style and production, and riffs fly by, if you don’t drift off and start yawning…

Yeah, definitely for fans of Cannibal Corpse and/or the less Napalm/Carcass/Repulsion/Terrorizer-inspired school of grindcore…and perhaps unsurprisingly, equally not for me.

NIHIL EYES – BLACK PATH (October 13)

A surprisingly full, lush production marks this British death (or perhaps more accurately, black/death) metal act.

With a production worthy of bands like Belphegor or countrymen Cradle of Filth (courtesy of none other than Dan Swano, whose original mix and remaster of Secrets of the Black Arts and In the Sign were so good as to leave me reassessing at least the Blackmoon era of the band), these folks come rumbling in like a tank battalion with 8 tracks of Marduk-esque blackened death metal.

The vocals are similarly overpowering, multitracked snarl-rasps more akin with black than death metal, and the blastbeats seldom let up.  In slower moments, a more deathlike double bass attack takes over, but the overall feel is relentless, grinding, powerful to the point of overwhelming.

I’m sure a fair portion of this is down to the crisp yet quite intense production (and yes, you can hear guitar, drums and vocals quite clearly throughout even the busiest moments – this is how it’s done, kids…), but the simple fact is, you can’t polish a turd – so credit where it’s due. You have to have at least a decent band to wind up with an end product quite this polished, professional and worthy of note…

Given what we have in hand (and the mere fact that someone ponied up the budget to have Swano work his magic on this one), the biggest surprise about Black Path is that this is the product of a brand new band, without any real prior experience (so no “superstar ex-es” to be found here).

The closest analogue I can think of would be early Malevolent Creation, around the time Ten Commandments and Retribution first streeted – who the hell expected something quite so pissed off, violent and in your face? And yet…the feel and approach are very much of the Marduk school, or some unholy marriage of the two.

Yeah, I was good with this…and quite impressed at what Swano was able to bring out of these young guns, right out of the gate.

FROZEN OCEAN – TRANSIENCE (September 19)

We’d reviewed Frozen Ocean’s Prowess of Dormition and A Faded Missive Therefrom and this is far closer to the latter than the former.

Once again, sole member “Vaarwel” is working the dark ambient thing, with the first four tracks serving as one long suite of sorts in the manner of a Tangerine Dream gone very, very dark and oppressive.

But then gears are switched back to Process of Dormition territory, with a driving yet lead line driven and mournfully melodic straight up “Cascadian” style black metal number (“tredje vind”), which may be the highlight of the album.

Then things slow to a more traditional second wave black metal vibe for “lurker”, which felt sort of like very early Ancient, until the John Carpenteresque “lazerpunk” keyboard programming line kicks in for a few bars as punctuation. Doesn’t sound like it would work…but damn if it doesn’t. This one’s also very, very good as a result.

Then back to a more ambient-to-industrial leaning tonality for “the dyson swarm”, and a sort of blackened gothic doom on “to drown in hoary grass”. The space rock gets rather prominent with “mare imbrium”, then…wait, “prowess of dormition”?

That’s right, this isn’t a “new” album per se, it’s a free sampler of tracks culled from all of his prior works…and unlike most samplers, you won’t really find a dud track in the bunch.

If you’re curious, from here on out, it’s back to the oppressively dark, surprisingly lush ambient keyboard business for the rest of the album, so you know exactly what to expect here.

It’s free, and pretty much another five star review.

Get out there and hit the man up, while he’s still crazy enough to offer something this good gratis.

Buried Realm – The Ichor Carcinoma (self released) (September 29)

One man band, with members of Firewind, Arch Enemy, Wintersun and Cannabis Corpse (among others) throwing some “special guest star” weight his way.

The vocals are pretty nasty black metal snarls alternating with deep death metal belches, which is kind of weird given the more straightforward tech/prog metal that they’re fronting.

The album’s got “heavy riffs” and feels very ‘modern metal’, but isn’t “tech death” by any means – the Jens Johanssenlike keyboard solo and guitar synthlike lead on the title cut should disabuse you of any such notions right quick. So why the vox?

Making things weirder are the clean emo/metalcore vox on “apeiron I” and “apeiron II”, which improve matters considerably on that front…but where the hell did those come from all of a sudden? I guess it was one of the guest spots…

The guy’s quite proficient on guitar and the drums are certainly more than serviceable in at least European power metal terms (though I’d hardly rate them up there with, say, Mark Zonder’s work with Warlord, to say the very least!), so prog heads should be quite content with this one…as long as they don’t mind the weirdly over-aggressive and fairly inappropriate black metal meets grindcore vox they’re married to.

As what seems to be a self-issued indie project and one man band thing, The Ichor Carcinoma is well produced, well played (especially on the guitar front) and, at least on the two related tracks aforementioned, even gets more appropriate clean vocals…so take this more as a positive reception overall.

Didn’t quite work, but a hell of a lot of promise shown here, all things considered.

Less discriminating tastes with prog or prog death inclinations should absolutely love this one.

Warcall – Invaders (Plan B Music) (October 13)

The worst vocalist you’ve heard since the heyday of Accuser gargle-growl-shouts his way through some high speed if a bit generic thrash metal riffing.

I was a pretty hardcore thrasher back in the day, before the scene kind of petered off into overly “complicated” but boring and very, very tamed albums with replacement singers and – strange to say given the generally anarcho-leftism of the thrash scene throughout the 80’s overall – ever-increasing focus on doofy SJW-style social issues*…and the bottom line is that before the entire scene went to shit, one thing it was known for was it’s juicy riffs.

* (Dark Angel, Toxik, Metal Church, Anthrax, Heathen, Apocrypha, even Annihilator and Sacrifice were among the many to lose focus and fans with their unfortunate shift away from intensity and towards the incoming 90’s mainstream that would neuter and spit in the face of metal as a whole – and let’s not even discuss what happened to Metallica and Megadeth post-1987, shall we?)

So how is it that so few bands on the modern thrash scene care to approximate either the social stance or, most importantly, attention to the art of the riff that marked the thrash scene as a whole?

I mean, sure, the Teutonic scene and the Brazilian blackthrash scene were marked just as much by their sheer youthful fuck society aggression as the US and UK variants were by their escalation of NWOBHM riffs and aesthetic to a new, more punkified level of speed and politicosocial defiance…but even there, the first thing you notice is the riffing.

Unfortunately, all Warcall seems to have for listeners is a general adherence to the form: fast yet precise drumming, crunchy guitars that vacillate between relentless speed and a more Metallicalike midtempo…but nothing really catches the ear, there’s no particularly memorable riff or section that just makes you want to jack the volume and beat the living shit out of some poseur…er, bang your head and start a pit. About the most you can say is that the bassist is audible and clearly pulling a Steve Harris or Joey De Maio throughout, and there’s the occasional melodic lead section (I can’t say I really noticed any actual solos, though that may speak more to how generic this felt than not).

Bottom line…do you dig Gama Bomb? OK, you’re halfway there. Now forget the doofy anal explosive comic sense, and bring in a terrible aggro vocalist, say the guy from Madball (or hell, dig up the guy from Accuser!).

Still down with that?

If so, yeah, check out Warcall. They’ll probably work for you a whole hell of a lot better than they did for this veteran thrasher.

Decatur – Badder Than Brooklyn (self released) (October 6)

Look, I’m a lifelong New Yorker, and grew up with bands like the Cro-Mags, Agnostic Front and Bio-Hazard. And it must be said, whatever you may feel about their music (and yeah, I dig certain albums from every one of ’em, it should be said – Age of Quarrel is a stone cold crossover classic)…you really didn’t want to be fucking with these guys.

That’s what I think of when you say you’re “Brooklyn” or “Bronx”…you don’t even need to append that you’re “bad” or “rough” or “from the streets”, it was more or less a given.

Well, if nothing else, Decatur and that promo photo are proof positive that Rudy Giuliani and his pal Bloomberg’s gentrification initiatives (I won’t even get into that bullshit, we’ll be here for hours and go wayyyy off topic) worked.

Because putting that album cover and title together with these guys actually made me laugh out loud. Glad I wasn’t drinking at the time, I’d have spit it out all over the screen…even the wife shook her head in disbelief.

So anyway, what you get here is sort of a lunkheaded aggro groove thing, but with far less tonsil shaking growly-shouted vox. I hate the guy, but Phil Anselmo this is not.

And promo materials tried to compare ’em to Killswitch? And Slayer? 

wow.

I don’t know, some of these homeschooled, sensitivity training intersectionalist, text to your face when we could talk instead, virtual life is the only real one tweens nowadays may buy into this being credible, or even “hard”.

What’s next, the Pillsbury Doughboy does the best of Suicidal Tendencies? “Ey, vato! (gets poked in tummy:) HEE HEE!”

(shakes head, eyebrow cocked in utter disbelief)

(sighing)

Okay, next?

THE WAKE – Earth’s Necropolis (Loud Rage Music) (September 23)

Wait…The Wake? I used to really like them – “sideshow”, “Christine”, “control”…even “locomotive age” was pretty decent, in the Sisters wannabe school of second wave mid-90’s goth.

Hold on…what the hell is this?

O-kayyy…looks like some black metal band confusing everyone by taking the same name. Deep breath…reset focus…

This is reasonably common black metal, with a vaguely Norsecoreish Norwegian or Swedish vibe – I guess at a stretch you could compare ’em to Taake or Dark Funeral, but with weird hints and riffs that bring bands as far afield as Cradle of Filth, Inquisition and Tsjuder to mind. Don’t ask me.

Believe me…with all the Pile (Flaming Pyre) of Dead Bards Watain Wannabe types cluttering the black metal shelves these days, even something this shrug of the shoulders can sound like a relative breath of fresh air.

But does that make them particularly interesting, or stand out from the crowd? An earlier crowd, mind, but nonetheless…

Not bad, really…but you really can’t expect me…or anyone who’s been through this school of black metal when it happened, mind…to get overly excited about this, either.

SOMBRE CROISADE – BALANCIER DES ÂMES (Pest Records) (September 29)

Alors, pense-que ca c’est un bande Francais?

And hey, in the third row – that’s “croisade”, not “croissant”…smart ass.

Anyway, these guys are only on their second full length (with a pair of splits to their credit between), but one of ’em is or has been a member of Ysengrin, whose Liber Hermetis and splits with Sartegos and Black Grail we’d previously reviewed.

It’s another fairly straightforward black metal album, seldom if ever really standing out, but neither does it fall flat on its metaphorical ass like one of the seeming hundreds of PoDB acts.

Again, something about this feels of a slightly earlier vintage, owing more to a late 90’s or early millenial school of BM than far too many acts have been of late…but it’s hard to peg exactly who they sound like. Maybe it’s the increasing distance between black metal and yours truly over the past several months, but with some notable exceptions, more and more of this is starting to sound alike.

At least Sombre Croissant…excuse me, Croisade is listenably inoffensive for fans and devotees (or former aficonados) of the genre – I certainly had zero complaints about what I heard here, with the title cut and the rather Clandestine Blazelike “souffles d’ailleurs”…NO, IT’S NOT ABOUT SOUFFLE…oh, wait, sorry…maybe it is! – being the best tracks by no small margin.

Not bad at all.

Wakboth – Endless Graves (Breath of Pestilence)

Two former members of a Finnish black metal band named Azazel (if the name means anything to y’all) get their own four piece band together. It’s sort of underground blackthrash feeling, like a Hells Headbangers or Iron Bonehead act, but gone more…I don’t know, Hellhammer/early Celtic Frost as done by Mikko Apsa, or something along those lines.

The underpinning of doomier, more Frostlike elements of Clandestine Blaze are certainly present and accounted for (despite the fairly consistent speed at which this EP travels throughout, which further calls Satanic Warmaster to mind on the first track or two)…but then again, there’s a simplistic and aggressive vibe that comes off more South American blackthrash.

The vocals also veer into Attilla Csihar territory (think more Tormentor/De Mysteriis-era, but even so) somewhat, which keeps things more interesting than they would be otherwise.

Either way, it’s quite listenable, even “catchy” in the sense of having well defined riffs and a more thrashlike, less atonal or experimental feel throughout. There’s even a GG Allin cover, which obviously pulls the whole thing straight into punk territory…

I liked this one just fine, thanks. Definitely looking forward to a full length.

Raise the horns wayyyyy up in salute. Hails to Finland once again!

Insurrection – Extraction (Galy Records) (October 6)

Quebecois tech death affair.

Production is unusually clean, to the point where you don’t notice it – something about this is overly flat sounding and free of reverb, studio ambience (however artificial and processed) or additional effects. It’s odd, but you can make out all the instruments with ease, so can’t complain too much, however strange a taste it leaves in the mouth…

This is apparently their fourth album, so the sense of polish and assuredness you’re picking up isn’t a mistake – at this point, they’d have to be battle hardened and road experienced, which is exactly the impression you get from the playing herein.

While pretty damn aggressive and generally fast paced throughout, there’s enough of a feeling of reining things in and occasional phrases that almost feel melodic or traditionally riffed death metal…but those are pretty damn few and far between, so don’t get your hopes up too much.

Wasn’t exactly my idea of death metal, but when a band drops something this polished and accomplished on the virtual desk, it’d be kind of disingenous to kick it around the room just for laughs – they earned themselves better than that.

Fans of more modern and technical iterations of death metal, take a listen, you may really love it.

Cassels – Epithet (Big Scary Monsters) (October 6)

LOL…damn, wasn’t expecting this!

Social criticism in the classic British tradition – think anything from The Jam/early Style Council and The Fall to John Cooper Clarke, Gang of Four and The Alarm (though more the former trio than the latter two)…and somewhere between postpunk and Britpop (think James or the less suicidal moments of Radiohead) musically.

Interesting to hear stuff like this is still being made – I thought intelligent contemplation and social critique went the way of Two-Tone and Live Aid (however ponderously self-important and ineffectual that one turned out in the end).

Yeah, hearing stuff like this made me want to pull out that lone, excellent DVD set of The Tube for another go…it’s that kind of out of place in today’s far more superficial, yet strangely even more hopeless world.

Yeah, it lacks Clarke’s humor or Mark E. Smith’s absurdism, but this was definitely something of a blast from the past…and well worth hearing to those who miss the days when we took our musical and stylistic cues from England, for a good 20 plus years there (and for a few minutes of Britpop and shoegaze, a full decade thereafter, and to whose musical orientation Cassels more truly appends).

Memnon Sa – Lemurian Dawn (Aurora Borealis) (September 29)

Weird ambient affair, with drones, whispers and wheezes mixed in with Buddhist chant/throat singing and prayer bells. Then the marching drums, guitar and 80’s postapocalyptic soundtrack synth kicks in…

What was nice about this one was that rather than the usual black metal/avant-garde ambient affair that winds up coming our way for discussion, these Britons have an actual “band” and musical direction to pursue.

This is no “guy mumbling and gargling in his mother’s basement while smacking at pie tins randomly” affair like those so oft mocked herein, but more of a…and I hate to use the analogy here, because it’s too broad and distant a marker, but Goblinesque matter, where the dark 80’s SF/horror film synthesizer score ala Carpenter or Simonetti is both multilayered and accompanied by quirky, nigh-progressive drumming that’s slow and basic feeling, yet plays with meter and shifts with the music, complementing more than driving each composition or section which it joins.

There’s still more (ahem) still movements and sections where no drums appear, and these tend to bring back the wind chimes, prayer bells, chants and whispers…but they’re seldom pointless time wasters, often building to or layered over actual keyboard/synth phrases as part of a progression towards the more “bandlike” and (comparatively) “driving” moments.

Throughout, a feel of “space rock” and drifting through some unexplored outer cosmos predominates…

Very interesting, and quite good.

I dug it.

  

Stillborn – Nocturnals (Black Lodge Records) (October 27) 

OK, this is kind of strange…

We covered their advance single “lorelei” back in July and liked it well enough…but while an interesting teaser, that lone track didn’t exactly prepare us for the full length.

With a throaty, quavering and very very nasal vocal approach (which turns whisper-growl on occasion) that comes off like Nosferatu’s Dominic LaVey or the guy from Secession with a bad head cold, Stillborn affects a simplistic, rather 90’s march tempo riffing style mixed with sorta catchy and occasionally even militaristic choruses (check out the guitar line during “oblivion reloaded”) and a horror punk lyrical focus.

I guess you could draw some lineage to what Chris Barnes was doing with Six Feet Under (particularly around Warpath), but with more of a stoner doom vibe and grungelike feel.

It’s extremely odd, particularly when the vocals are given quite this much prominence (as clear and loud as the guitar and especially drums are in the mix, the vocals tend to be right up front and very much in your face throughout…particularly when he’s doing the neo-death metal whisper-bark/growl thing.)

I actually liked this, it was so off kilter yet straightforward that it felt somewhat “new” somehow, despite bringing Moonspell, Six Feet Under and Beastmilk to mind in alternating moments.

I also dug the production approach – the instruments are very crisp and clear, despite what I mentioned about the vocals being close mic’ed and mixed up front – I guess it’s like a Rick Rubin production of early Danzig as fronted by Julie London…and yeah, you can add the first 3 or 4 Danzig albums to what I’m picking up hints of herein as well.

Weird as shit.

But you’ll like it.

Mother of Millions – Sigma (VICISOLUM PRODUCTIONS) (November 3)

Greek post-prog act.

There’s a heaping helping of indie and even grunge in George Prokopiou’s rather Chris Cornelllike gargle-shouts, but the band’s better than any shit grunge band you could name, with a subtly syncopating, hi-hat happy Fates Warningesque performance on the drum chair.

They start doing the early U2 by way of Faunts digital delay thing on the guitar during “collision”, and you get some Bauhaus, Southern Death Cult or Skeletal Familylike tribal drumming on “spiral”, but overall, they’re far more indie/alternative than they are prog or metal, and far more sleepy and depressive than you’d expect even from saying that.

They definitely have some potential in there, and I’m happy to report I never crinkled my nose at ’em even once…just not sure what the hell to make of this album.

I guess if Tool and Soundgarden tried to put out a Darkness in a Different Light-era Fates Warning tribute band, they might have come off something like Mother of Millions.

Take as you will.

   

Dead Express – Bloodsucking Queen (September 22)

Swedish band who come off like some unholy cross between D-A-D, Junkyard, Zodiac Mindwarp and The Runaways.

The pace never really lets up, there’s more high energy bar band boogie than you can handle, and as you can imagine, I dug ’em just fine.

Just do yourself a favor and don’t visit their Facebook page, unless you’re into a huge photo of some guy’s hairy ass in a Walmart pleather studded belt…

Seriously, guys?  What the fuck?

(rolls eyes, laughs…)

(exasperatedly, but still laughing:) NEXT?!?

DEFEATED SANITY – Prelude to the Tragedy (XENOKORP) (September 22)

Overly busy, tech/”brutal” death metal very much in the vein of Suffocation. This is apparently a remaster and reissue of their 2004 debut…no idea how the original sounded, so can’t compare in that respect.

Production’s not awful, but overly thin, “wet” and digitized in feel – you hear the signal bleed hiss and thinness before you get to the meaty midrange buried beneath. Can be worked with, to be sure, you’ll just have to mess with your favored settings and EQ to make it sound like it should.

Look, I have all the (important) Suffocation albums, too, so I get it. But do we really need dozens of almost-soundalikes building their entire career off one lone band and their 3 album/one EP heyday?

Nothing wrong with these guys beyond that – they have both the chops and intensity to pull it off properly and the production is reasonably retro and true to their role models, above noted caveats aside.

SAVAGE ANNIHILATION – Quand s’abaisse la croix du blasphème (Xenokorp / Season of Mist / MVD) (October 13)

Speedy, detuned, noisy French take on death metal.

Don’t expect another Massacra (it’s not that violent and speedy) or Loudblast (it’s so far from that polished a delivery, it’s ridiculous)…but if you don’t mind the chaos, there’s enough kinship to classic death metal to at least tolerate what they’re throwing down.

Not “like”, mind…but tolerate, yeah, I guess.

I guess if you crossed Autopsy (for the sludgy tone and noisy guitar production) with Immolation (for the meandering, not quite in key feel of the riffing on tracks like “par-dela les dunes des cadavres”), but with more of an orientation towards, say, later Gorguts (also in terms of the overly busy if not quite tech riffing and busy, somewhat atonal bass), you might get what Savage Annihilation is laying down here.

I don’t know, this was too noisy (despite being able to actually hear the bass at more than a few points and the in your face clarity of the drum production) and wayyyy too busy/atonal/nigh-tech death for my tastes.

To quote an old aphorism and the band who adopted it as both moniker and motto:

Keep it simple, stupid.

Mason – Impervious (self released) (October 6)

Demolition Hammer has officially reincarnated Down Under.

Tag in a snotty, slightly less snarling (or “clean sneered”) vocal that falls somewhere between Steve Reynolds, D.R.I.’s Kurt Brecht and early Dave Mustaine and a bit more room to breathe on the riffing end (moments come off almost Bay Area or U.K. thrash in place of Demolition Hammer’s relentlessly driving death metal/thrash crossover) and some rather old school-feeling if still overly legato/sweep arpeggiated leads and there you have it.

Honestly, these guys came a hell of a lot closer to 80’s thrash than most bands essaying that revived retro-trad subgenre these days – emo moniker aside (seriously? you’re going to use a hipsterish first name?) you could easily hear Mason sharing a stage with bands like Evildead, Solstice, D-A-M and Pariah or (arguable in the former case) crossover acts like Nuclear Assault and D.R.I. Maybe even Vio-Lence, at a slight stretch…

All of that should give you the idea that these guys are reasonably retro-thrash in a more noticeable way than far too many bands working the faux-“thrash” thing of late…when those who were there consider the genre dead as of the dawn of the 90’s (if not sooner!)

A beloved, oft revisited thing of the past, to be sure. But a thing of the past.

Then again…we have this album.

So maybe there is hope that the new generation will actually “get it” and bring thrash back.

Time will tell.

Meanwhile, check this fucker out. You’ll probably find yourself pleasantly surprised at what you’re hearing, right here and now.

ORMYST – Arcane Dreams (M&O Music) (March 31)

Remember when Simone Simons actually tried to sing operatic mezzo-soprano, wayyyyy back in the days of The Phantom Agony (and arguably Consign to Oblivion as well)?

Okay, now picture she never walked back from that and tried to go more pop or whatever the hell. That’s what you’re hearing with the lovely Sophia Lawford, perhaps mixed with a hint of Tarja Turunen’s more stilted delivery.

Now marry that to a progressive power metal, like Oceanborn-era Nightwish or a certain period of Stratovarius, but less pointedly template in the former case (i.e. no incessant tremelo riffing or typewriter double bass drumming) and less unutterably boring than the latter.

I was very comfortable with this one, though admittedly the light, very operatic inflections of Lawford’s pleasant mezzo and the more laid back, prog/power orientation of the band per se may not be to all tastes.

If you’re the least bit intrigued, give Ormyst a shot – while hardly overwhelmed myself, I was certainly happy with it and it does hearken back to the days when this sort of female fronted gothic/symphonic metal-spectrum sound actually existed and mattered as a genre.

  

CLOUDS OF DEMENTIA – Seventh Seal (December 8, 2016)

Sorta doom, but something about the vocal approach, guitar tone and production suggests something very different entirely…

With thin toned, almost teenaged-sounding vocals and the tonality of aggro/groove metal, the simplistic riffing feels less Sabbath or Pentagram than the band intends.

That said, you can dig beneath the untoward trappings to hear the old school doom underneath: closer “love song” is working a Carnival Bizarre-era Cathedral bounce before going a bit Trouble around the solo, and on the title track they even sound rather Liebling/Griffin on the verses.*

* the chorus goes more melodic leaning grunge, so they’re a weird hybrid of a beast even at their best.

Even so, it’s hard to peg Clouds of Dementia, for all their insistence on staying true to the roots of doom metal.

While there’s a hell of a lot about them that does in fact hearken back to the bands and albums that kicked off the scene that arose in their wake, there’s also a pronounced “offness” about them that speaks to other influences at play…ones much further afield than referencing Reverend Bizarre as an outside marker would suggest.

Who knows – maybe a more appropriately muted production and tone may bring out the trad doom band they so clearly strive to be, next time around.

TIME LURKER – S/T (Les Acteurs de L’Ombre) (June 2)

One man band black metal. The production’s sort of muted and given that, the over-reverbed “cavernous” shrieked vocals and the general feel being evoked, the whole affair comes off rather “underground BM”.

They’re calling themselves “atmospheric black metal”, but don’t expect anything “Cascadian” or akin to the more introspective strains of black metal like Grift, Vardan or various members of the Quebecois scene…this is more straightforward, almost “traditional” (but not really…) black metal with that weird static feel of the aforementioned “underground” (whose prime traits are further noted hereinabove).

Didn’t exactly offend my nostrils with its foul stench like far too many of what passes for a black metal spectrum release nowadays, but didn’t do much for me either.

  

AU-DESSUS – End Of Chapter (Les Acteurs de L’Ombre) (May 19)

Lithuanian post-black metal. It’s weird, a bit spastic and bears too much kinship with the Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards template (albeit all cracked out and jumping all over the damn place at random intervals) to get anything but consigned to the flames.

Watch out for flying embers.

crackle, spit, spark.

Crejuvent – Time EP (July 1)

One man spastic aggro project with vague prog undertones. Think Prong gone all Pro-Pain if not Pissing Razors or whatever.

Yeah, the opening track says it all:

“fuck this shit.”

  

Devourer – Across the Empty Plains (Iron Blood And Death) (September 15)

Swedish black metal, more of the Norsecore style than the Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards variant…and thus a lot more listenable, at least…

That said, it’s Norsecore, and falling somewhere between (early) Dark Funeral, Watain and likeminded acts like Tsjuder. There’s nothing amazingly exciting about this, it just scratches a certain itch when you’re in the mood.

Not going to slam it…but even so:

Next?

Menin – Lord of Pain (Doom Stew Records) (September 15)

Don’t let the black/death style cover with the stupid looking devil fool ya: this is stoner doom.

Chantlike vox that shift to hilariously doofy gargle-shouted ones, slow, basso ostinato/pedal tone riffs on over-distorted, detuned to the point of hitting bass tone guitars and basic, John Bonhamesque drumming.

Very listenable, but Kyuss and Electric Wizard (among many others, but those two play the most noticeable influence in Menin’s sound) have done this all before.

Not bad at all, I’m not complaining.

Henry Metal – So It Hath Begun (April 27)

I know they have entire geek subgenres out there – Ren Faire/comic con/Gen Con-oriented stuff like Professor Elemental, for instance, or Speck’s hilarious “conventional lover”.

Well, looks like they’ve brought that tongue in cheek, Klingon-fluent roll for initiative vibe to metal…and I don’t mean Blind Guardian, Alestorm or Rhapsody (of Fire), either.

“You’d better recognize my Taekwondo moves are quite select,” anyone?

How about songs like “terrible driver”, “God, you’re so hot” or “the boss of me” (which includes the immortal line, “you will never get us to take part in your brain farts anymore”)?

Well, it’s goofy, and I suppose you might find it amusing enough if you’re so inclined…

I don’t know. I’d find it hard to slag a project so obviously self-mocking and absurdist, however much it left me stone faced with one raised eyebrow, Belushi-style…

Next?

Superbeast – A New Future (June 30)

Swallow the mic “brutal” death metal. Damn, I wish we were Suffocation…

Instead, you’ll have to settle for occasional vague melodeath moments, and…wait, now the vox went all sub-aggro, and the music has gone nearly heavy rock (“hidden truth”, where both vox and drums can actually be heard falling out of meter and rushing to catch up at points!)…whoops, now it’s all aggro/nu metal (the title cut)…holy shit, now we’re back to the swallow the mic “brutal” thing. None of it performed particularly well, mind…

If this was your neighbor kid’s high school band banging ’em out in the garage, you’d encourage them to keep it up, you’re sounding pretty good – someday, you may actually be a real band.

Unfortunately, in today’s more direct to source market, those same kids probably already have 2 full lengths, an EP and a handful of splits out there on the internet by the time you say that…

Case in point.

Astrarot – We Can’t Win (Straight From the Heart Records) (June 30)

Oy. This feels rather 90’s, no? Possibly early millenial US “modern metal” with an aggro meets metalcore orientation…

I bet they’d play the shit out of these kids on the local college “metal” station.

Which is why I stick almost exclusively to my CD collection in the car, and try to make damn sure I’m never caught without.

Next?

Smoke Mountain – S/T (May 1)

Female fronted stoner doom with “occult rock” overtones.

Looks like it’s a family affair – not sure whether they’re 2 brothers and a sister or husband/wife and brother, though. Either way, they all have the same last name.

I liked it just fine, actually.

Sure, it’s overly Sabbathesque…but in today’s copycat-heavy scene?

They deserve a full length, or at least a proper label contract.

Here’s hoping.

ZEIT – Konvergenz (June 2)

More black/death. The vocals are particularly nasty gargle-snarls…this guy needs to cut the chocolate milk and take something for all that phlegm.

Music is pretty simplistic – a few songs sound almost identical to each other, and neither tempo or tone seem to shift very much throughout. Sure, you can say that about a lot of the lesser black metal albums…

…just not about the good ones.

Fair, production’s not bad…but nothing special.

Nothing to see here, folks, move along…

Nuclear Warfare – Empowered By Hate (MDD Records) (August 4)

Punkified blackthrash. Vocals are seriously fucking annoying, to the point where the guy from Assassin starts to sound like Enrico Caruso by comparison.

Seriously, this guy shrieks in a weird, quavering manner, sort of like Witchtrap meets Schmier by the way of that guy from the only good Have Mercy demo getting goosed every other second.

WHOOP whoop WHOOP!

Band themselves are fair enough, production’s not bad at all.

But that vocalist…

Brace yourself with a fresh case of Advil before boarding this ride.

Anubi’s Servants – Duat (April 28)

Italian death/thrash act. The riffing is sort of complex and they consider themselves more thrash proper…but nah, not really.

The vox are more aggro than not, the vibe is nothing like classic thrash in any of its regional or global variants…end result, while more (modern) thrash leaning than death, comes off just wrong and kind of disposable.

I did appreciate the Egyptology angle, though.

Next?

DIKTATUR – La Voie Du Sang (Melancholia Records) (August 15)

Oy, more black/death, this time from France, though the sound is so Swedish, you’d never know it if not for the album and song titles.

This vocalist likes to alternate his sub-“Legion” snarls with open mouthed AAAAAAAAAAHHHHs, like he’s just had a cold drink on a hot day or something.

The production here is kind of weird – it leaves the guitars overly raw and signal bleedish, and they sort of bury the drums (once again, whose cymbal hiss is the most prominent aspect)…and yet there’s a sort of clean underpinning beneath all this HISSSSSS CHHHHH SHHHHH bullshit. Half-produced? Who knows.

AAAAAHHHH think AAAAAAAHHHH will pass, despite some measure of competence and potential listenability from these guys (if you don’t mind the weird to sorta shite production, that is!)

AAAAAAAHHHH!

Terrible Old Man – Fungi From Yuggoth (MDD Records) (August 25)

Power metal Lovecraft?

Yep, that’s more or less what you get here, though there are some light prog elements (“the key”).

Production’s a bit odd, being simultaneously lush on occasion (nice backing vocal faux-chorus on “recognition”, for example) and overly dry – guitars and drums seem to have zero reverb, substance or room ambience, vocals dominate the mix to the point where they sound dialed in over a loudspeaker (with the band playing a few streets down.

If the vox were more soaring and dramatic, if there were noticeable (or “more noticeable”) solos, if the tone on the guitar and drums felt more full and bombastic, if the vox actually felt part of the band recording and not dialed in after (and jacked right up front, overpoweringly so)…this might have lived up to the eyebrow raising concept of Lovecraftian power metal.

As it is…sorry, I was pretty disappointed on the whole, and Lovecraft is one of my favorite authors.

RabbitPunch – First Round Knock Out (August 15)

Well, it’s sorta Green Day meets Good Charlotte, with somewhat of a Dickies or Dictators comedy-punk vibe.

But is it just me, or do these guys all look kind of old to be doing this sort of teen pop-punk thing? I mean, that promo photo…I’d peg ’em for pushing their fifties…

Nothing wrong with 3 out of 4 songs being about comic books (seriously)…but the Killer Barbies did this whole schtick a fuck of a lot better, a good 20 years ago.

Thin, whiny vocals and questions of being a bit old to pull a Blink 182 aside, it’s silly and amusing enough…though think more Dickies or Ramones when we say they’re a “punk” band, the tempo and vibe are pretty laid back and midtempo at best.

And you should have mentioned Pirate Kitty and the plush Bamf!

…Amanda Sefton and Margali, then?

Whatever. We’re losing people. Next?

Breaking Samsara – Light Of A New Beginning (September 29) 

The general feel of 80’s hard rock/AOR with vague hints of “glam”/”hair metal” and others closer to modern Nashville, with annoyingly raspy Steven Tyleresque vocals.

There was too much of the latter end of the aforementioned equation for my taste, though I can see redneck Kid Rock fans enjoying these guys as openers for a Toby Kieth concert or something…

Next?

TarantisT – Not A Crime (June 1)

Iranian indie rock cum metal act.

It’s pretty weird hearing those Persian tones (picture the more hock a loogie tones of Hebrew and you’ll get a ballpark approximation hereof) over music like this…and I know they were trying to rub it in the faces of the uptight and religious with that cover, but yeesh! What an image…

They go a bit more industrial with “your dance” and later even move aggro…but while I appreciate hearing heavy to “extreme” music and fuck authority sentiment from all over the globe, this just didn’t work for me.

Who knows, give it a try – you may really be intrigued.

INK – Loom (January 1, 2016)

Grungy moan and complain vocals that mix Eddie Vedder’s quaver with Layne Staley’s corner of the mouth junkie delivery. Put it over the oddly Arabian-toned “desert son”, and you’re thinking “rooster” crossed with “jeremy”.

Later tracks go a bit more “metal” in the 90’s sense, but it’s wayyyyyyyyy too grunge-indebted to do anything but give the finger to.

Next?

Vice – The First Chapter (May 6)

Manchester, England, England…

Sorry, flashbacks to Hair there. You’re lucky another track didn’t get referenced (cough hello, Hud cough).

Anyway…modern metal through and through. Vocals are clean sprechtgesang, the production is very direct signal/ProTools, the drums are up in your face but power metallish in their straightforwardness and the riffs fall somewhere between aggro and “modern thrash”.

In other words…sorry, guys. I’m actually yawning writing this.

Oh, and it’s a sort of concept album about the “7 deadly sins” or whatever.

Next?

Killing Suzy – Everybody dies, Darling! (August 15)

This band is working some sort of industrial/electronic metal, like a far less dramatic Gothminister without the horror schtick, or possibly Dark Age with a bar band hard rock femme vocalist.

It’s not all that terrible, really…but I can’t say it particularly tickled my fancy, either.

Give it a quick listen, see if you care.

Next?

Heterochrome – Melancholia (July 7)

Male/female dual vox, though like the “beauty and the beast” thing that once burdened gothic symphonic metal, you get the impression it’s supposed to be the distaff end as star of the show.

That said, she’s a bit nasal and not overly impressive as a vocalist, leaving them feeling sort of indie rock along with their cleanly played, fairly well produced prog orientation…though they have moments where they go full on “modern metal”, with loud distorted guitars and double bass if not blastbeat accompaniment.

It’s weird, particularly when you have a thin-toned, nasal frontwoman who comes off like a cross between the ladies from Mira and Kore (both gothic darkwave cum indie rock acts, mind!)…

Some potential here, but the combination is kind of weird.

Next?

Bullet-Proof – Forsaken One (Sleaszy Rider Records) (April 24)

Italian/Slovakian (modern) thrash act with a father/son dynamic (shades of Steve “Zetro” Souza and Hatriot!)

When the riffing really picks up speed (as in the halfway point of “might makes right”), they sound more properly thrash in the traditional sense…but otherwise, yeah, it’s that more questionable modern style, mostly midtempo and fronted by clean shouted vocals.

Not bad production, though it’s a bit too in your face and cluttered in feel…has its moments, though (the mid-song lead break and later solo in “I was wrong”, or the somewhat Xentrixlike “abandon”.)

If there were more of the sort of thing I’m calling out hereinabove, these guys would be pretty damn good, actually.

Try “I was wrong”, you’ll probably like it as much as I did.

But realize before jumping in with both feet that it’s the best and most melodic/NWOBHM/traditional thrash-leaning track on the album by a longshot.

  

Shahyd Legacy – Gateways (June 26)

Old school Shrapnel-style guitar instrumental cum shred album, from the Maldives, of all places.

While no Vinnie Moore, Racer X, Tony MacAlpine, Joey Tafolla, Jason Becker, Marty Friedman, Phantom Blue or Apocrypha, there’s enough quality, melodic shred and accomplished playing on display here to satisfy fellow aficionados of Mike Varney and Prairie Sun Studios.

Could have come out in Shrapnel’s mid-80’s-very early 90’s heyday, and nobody would have batted an eyelash.

In effect, another Joey Tafolla Out of the Sun situation. “Hey, who’s the Indian guy? No idea, but he’s pretty damn good, check this album out!”

Love, love, love this one.

Raise your pick hand in salute to one of the few newcomers who gets that fleet-fingered shred and melodic song construction go hand in hand.

Send me the hard copy CD, huh? I’m serious, if you’re listening. This one’s getting filed with my classic shred collection for sure.

Charming Timur – Focused Rage (August 31)

Remember the sonic overkill of nigh-shoegaze acts like My Bloody Valentine, Lush, even Smashing Pumpkins at times?

Well, here it is again, back to you straight from the mid-90’s, free of any apparent sense of irony and with a bit more of a quirky, Pixies sort of vibe to it.

One man band outta Finland. If you miss the 90’s for whatever ungodly reason, you may be happy to hear someone’s trying to revive that sound once again.

Eshtadur – Mother Gray (September 8)

Deathcore, more or less. There’s a lot of melodeath (even symphonic bits!) to this, but the aggro vox that turn all death growly for punctuation just screams metalcore…

They’re coming out of Colombia, so the fact that they’re getting a sound and production this rich and full (however ProTools-derived) is impressive in and of itself.

I’d like to say if you’re into the more modern, ever so slightly blackened (“cornered at the Earth”) variants of melodeath, you should enjoy this one…but those vocals are so pointedly ill-fitting to that genre (and so common for metalcore/deathcore!) as to make their true lineage patently obvious.

Band’s OK, if a tad unspectacular. Just dump that frontman, willya?

Repaid In Blood – Terra Mourning EP (June 2)

“Repaid in Pepa”? As in “push it”?

Seriously, they have a song going by that title…

Anyway, speaking of deathcore, here we have Repaid in Blood, a San Jose act who takes a very template approach to the much-maligned subgenre/offshoot of the already (possibly over-)hated metalcore but tags in a lyrical orientation towards geek culture.

At least they got the last part right…can always get a few good, knowing laughs out of geekdom (as in “ha ha, aren’t those guys silly like we don’t enjoy a lot of the same stuff…”). As such, their deathcore reworking of “push it” is the only real notable track on this one…as perfectly awful as it is!

“Let’s talk about deathcore, bay-bee” sure to be on their next release…

Next?

Nemeziz – Gerechter Zorn (September 8)

German nu metal band.

At least at first, their sound appears to lean more generically “modern metal” with a light industrial feel than the usual hip hop and/or Korn freakout with atonal squawks and squeaks nonsense associated with the genre…but that said, they fool you by putting their very best foot forward (“unikat”).

From there on, these guys are all over the fucking place. There’s more than a little Biohazard about tracks like “home in a basket”, they go all Good Charlotte or something on “runde nr.2”, “ketzer” is aggro as done by a drunken mushmouth (think Darby Crash at his most fucked up on the mic and you get the picture).

After a few tracks, you start to wonder if these guys even know who the hell they are, or what audience they want to reach…

Yeah, “unikat” had me fooled into thinking these guys were at least mildly listenable. Following that, Gerechter Zorn just goes all over the map of musical crap.

Hey, that rhymed. Next?

REC/ALL – S/T (April 12)

More of an AOR/hard rock leaning metal affair than I was expecting after the last few bands, these Brazilians self-identify as trad/power metal for some reason.

Well, no, but it does have that very late 80’s vibe, right around when (mainstream, radio-oriented) metal had moved into two camps: the Hollywood “dirtbag” retro hard rock thing spearheaded by Guns N Roses and L.A. Guns, or the hyper-glam thing spearheaded by bands like Poison and Cinderella (though more as followed up by acts like Trixter, Winger, Extreme and Firehouse).

The image is different, from the one photoshopped “photo” I’ve seen of ’em online, so don’t expect skinny, dirty looking guys covered in ink or lipstick wearing, teased hair toting overly femme-looking types here. But musically? Yeah, it’s that sort of Extreme II/In the Heart of the Young/New Jersey sound, with hints of Princess Pang or whatever to foul it up and make it feel a bit more bar band-ish.

Highly listenable, pretty well produced.

Didn’t do much for me beyond that, but don’t take it as a knock – if this is your scene, you’ll probably enjoy ’em.

Deadcase – For The Violent (May 21)

Weird. Sorta crazed, screamy/shrieky black metallish (or blackthrashlike) vox over…what is this? Somewhat death-inspired “modern metal?”

I guess it has the production values and approach of deathcore, but this isn’t that exactly…and those vocals? Turn more aggro on later tracks (like the title cut)…and sorta Martin Van Drunen on parts of “silent sorrow”. Say what the fuck?

Yeah, this one is one big whatever.

Next?

Odium – As The World Turns Black (July 14)

German (modern) thrash metal. You can tell they sort of want to lean technical, because you can make out the bass being picked at furiously at various points.

The vocals are sort of clean-shouted and surprisingly inoffensive, the guitars are thick and crunchy, the riffs feel reasonably classic thrash in a Bay Area (or more specifically, somewhat Exodus by way of Xentrix) way and the production’s thick, if perhaps overly so in that modern filesharing sort of way.

Drums are pretty straightforward and can be made out, but are sort of buried beneath the guitars, which are very much upfront and center throughout. Leads are reasonably melodic and occasionally doubled, and there’s a palpable sense of confidence to their sound that only comes with experience…and sure enough, they’ve been kicking around since ’97.

The problem with modern thrash (and a lot of modern metal per se) is that there’s usually nothing that truly stands out and catches the attention enough to make (and keep) a given band on the shelves as “one of the greats” or at least “unique and interesting” like so many bands were back in the day.

So that’s my only gotcha here – these guys bring the polish, the assurance, the skills and the riffs.

But will they ever wind up on the shelf next to a Vio-Lence, a Forbidden, a Dark Angel?

That said, if you dig the more current sound of thrash…yeah, you really can’t go wrong with this one.

Project Renegade – Cerebra (March 26)

Greek, female fronted metal band. Given the simplistically riffed, detuned guitar backing and clean alto distaff vocals, you can more or less consider this gothic metal, though I’m sure it can be argued that this more properly falls under some meaningless term of more recent coinage like “dark metal” or what have you…

Either way, vocals are pleasant enough and there’s a rather Lacuna Coil-esque sensibility in play throughout (even those annoying nu metal swipes, which appear here in closer “one of the crowd” – did you really need those irritating electronic punctuation tones?)

Overall, I liked it…but then, I never really minded Lacuna Coil either.

User experience may vary based on how you feel about Scabbia and company.

Modern Day Outlaw – Day Of Reckoning (January 7 2017)

Aggro-groove, meet Southern-fried hard rock.

Seriously, if you married Madball, Pissing Razors or Pantera to some heavy Nashville-esque but still sort of post-GNR “metal” affair like Jackyl or Junkyard and amped up the nigh-AOR melodicism at the choruses, you’d have something much akin to Modern Day Outlaw.

The aggro/groove nonsense would have me slagging the living shit out of these guys…if it weren’t for those sweet choruses and that Jackyl/Junkyard-esque underpinning (yeah, newcomers, I always had a bit of a soft spot for those guys, particularly the latter).

As it is…a strangely listenable melange that mixes shit hated with a vengeance (think peanut butter, for those who know me personally) with stuff that’s a whole hell of a lot more palatable (think at least pizza or nachos-level here)…and like Thai peanut sauce, suddenly that poison (peanuts) becomes pretty damn tasty when prepared in this way.

Just don’t push it…this is definitely that rare, Thai peanut sauce exception to a very hard and fast, wide ranging red zone.

You just can’t fight good, melodic singalong choruses, folks.

RON CORONA – Fun Burst (July 11)

Wow, this one’s odd – some guy who’s a computer tech (technically an analyst, for those with more of that background) for his day job, producing some rather Ramones/Dickies by way of Pursuit of Happiness/Urge Overkill goofy happy punk cum power pop.

The good vibes and positivity are positively infectious, particularly when he pens about rising above your crappy day job in “bust out of your cage”…something both Ron and I (and I’m sure most of you as well!) know all too intimately.

The production is really rather low, but clear and more than acceptable given the spare, early 80’s new wave/rock approach to music on display here. Both fashion sense and musical style further suggest bands like The Knack and The Cars in their early days, so it all ties together neatly…

I liked this very much, thank you – if you dig any or all of the aforementioned bands, possibly with an undertone of glam (think Suzy Quatro, the Runaways or at least the simplicity of form you get with T. Rex), you should feel much the same.

Good stuff, and sure to elevate your mood in the bargain.

 

Darkfall – At The End Of Times (Black Sunset / MDD) (September 8)

Sort of melodeath, but with weird, “premature autopsy”-style multitracked gargle vox. I always wondered why Nihilist/Entombed never recorded any further tracks with that vocal approach, so discovering a band peppering this throughout the entire album was interesting.*

* that said, the appeal falters considerably when the multitracking goes away and you’re stuck with a less polished-feeling vocal production – tracks like “deathcult debauchery” are not on the same level as ones closer to the aforementioned template like “ride through the sky”.

As you might expect, the album’s relatively well produced and both leads and lead lines are…well, melodic, but there’s a tad more (modern) thrashiness to the proceedings than your typical At the Gates/Heartwork-era Carcass wannabe act.

Doesn’t change things a whole hell of a lot, but gives it a little something extra, a swig of the ol’ piss n’ vinegar to bolster the credibility somewhat.

Not too awful…though it does get a bit samey and veer into less palatable territory as the album goes on, almost going aggro on tracks like “your god is dead”.

Tossed up on this one. If you dig melodeath and are intrigued by any of this, give ’em a spin and make up your own damn mind about ’em.

    

We Came From Wolves -Haunt Me EP (Heart Out Records) (September 22)

Scotch emo/screamo act.

As usual for the genre, when they move more clean vocalled and melodic in that neo-punk Hot Topic airplay mode, it’s more than listenable and certainly sets a (depressive, rather emotionally teenage) mood.

Also as standard for the genre, when the “screamo” bits kick in, it gets pretty silly and juvenile.

“I’m so MAAAAAAAAAD because you (build in speed and intensity as you recite the next few words:) dumped me for another GUUUUUUUUUYYYYYYY!”

Even so, I’m going to focus on the more palatable end of that spectrum, and note that tracks that stick closer to that vein (like “the peak beneath the sea” or the more particularly pop-punk oriented “places”) are pretty damn sweet for this sort of emo/punk act.

Nothing wrong with ’em at all…hell, they’re a lot more likeable than much feted, but far more screamo-oriented acts like Atreyu!

I was good with these Scots lads, an’ you ken take that to yuir heart, y’wee dobber!

Terror Empire – Obscurity Rising (Mosher Records) (September 23)

Portugese aggro with more of a thrash base. Think Exhorder circa The Law, maybe.

Never did like that album – they’re only on my good list for the far thrashier (and far less aggro/groove-leaning) Slaughter in the Vatican.

For Pantera fans who wish they went a bit more thrash than groove, or guys who think Solstice (Florida) was the last word in thrash.

Next?

Solitary Ritual – S/T (August 20)

Greek one man band.

It’s more indie than any sort of metal, with the main issue being that the guitar tone is oddly thin and compressed (like he was using a digital phaser or octoplus pedal tuned to double the source tone an octave higher, but as run through a Rockman portable).

Worse, the droning, nigh-sprecthgesang vocals often go flat, leaving the entire affair feeling sort of alien if not a bit spastic (the riffs are so staccato and bizarre as to feel 8-bit, or even done on an old Casio set to approximate “guitar” tones).

I don’t know the guy or what he was aiming for with this one…but this is just kind of fucked up, I’m sorry.

To quote They Call Me Bruce, “Ah don’ geeeet it…”

Eastern High – Garden Of Heathens (July 28)

The sort of “progressive metal” where they rely almost entirely on detuned machine gun riffing and power metallish typewriter double bass, crossed with clean but limited range, almost chantlike vocals.

Production is oriented towards clarity, but feels extremely ProTools and direct line/fileshare and mix artificial. You get used to this sort of thing, but it’s nothing like analog (one main reason most modern metal just sounds sort of wrong and inferior to the classic 80’s style, whatever the genre).

They’re certainly not bad if this is your thing…just felt overly generic and a tad yawn inducing to these ears.

Try “ghost of the sea”. If it grabs ya, realize that’s by far the best track on the album…if not, shrug of the shoulders and move on.

Planepacked – Critical Mass (August 1)

o…kayyyy…

Overly busy keyboard and drum machine nonsense, to the point where it feels kind of 8-bit or something.

In looking for any info on the (one man bedroom) “band”, I discovered that “planepacked” is “the most epic artifact ever created by dwarvenkind”, so it’s not only video game geeky, it’s tabletop RPG geeky.

Yeah, yeah, pot calls the kettle and all that. But still…I wouldn’t exactly name my band Uruk-Hai…or Gorgoroth…or Cirith Ungol or anything…

uh, yeah, forget I said anything. Metal’s filled to the rafters with these sort of Tolkien by way of Gary Gygaxisms…

Anyway, you’ve probably guessed by now that there’s not much to say about this. This guy’s making weird video game (and platformer fighting game, at that) music in his closet (great promo photo, there, eh?) and appending Atari Teenage Riotlike high speed drum machine blastbeats to it.

I guess if this is your thing…just don’t expect anything catchy or overly retro here. It’s kind of meh.

Pando – (in)human(e) (April 8)

Okay, this is something weird. They claim to be black metal, though that’s nowhere in evidence.

Instead, you get a weirdly experimental sound collage that leans avant-industrial, “centering on the mistreatment of people…with mental illness and…slavery in the south and the Massachusetts state (special ed) schools”.

Um…not sure the two are really that comparable, however mean spirited and callous the actions of the ostensible “caregivers” may have been, but whatever…

NEXT?!?

Paisley West – Energy Exploded (June 15)

Supposedly a psychedelic band out of St. Louis.

You only catch fragments that suggest this – mellow, almost Fifth Dimensionlike female vocals with chorus, occasional use of strong phase (bouncing from speaker to speaker and fading tones in and out of audibility rapid fire) and a space rock jam band solo section or two (as on “ricochet”).

Nothing wrong with it…if you consider stuff like the Fifth Dimension, The Association, Sylvia & Mickey and Paul & Paula particularly “psychedelic”.

I mean, it’s not even Strawberry Alarm Clock-level trippy, and so smooth and mellow you’d never believe it hailed from any time but the very late ’60’s…but then again, that’s probably exactly why they’re identifying as such (and as out of the accepted borders as most of those before referenced actually were, the fact is that they all were trying to be “hip” and “trippy” with the hippie movement of their day.)

So yeah, in that sense? They really are a “psychedelic band”, and not bad at all, at that!

Just don’t expect The Peanut Butter Conspiracy, much less H.P. Lovecraft or the Airplane here.

Xanthochroid – Of Erthe and Axen Act II (October 17)

When Act I came out last month, we were led to believe that it was an uncharacteristically mellow toned lead in to what would return to the ostensible aggression and black metal-ness of Act II.

Just wait for October, we were told…all will be revealed.

Well, here we are, Act II in hand…and while a bit less laid back than the first half of the presumed double album in question, this is still pretty damn mellow, overly symphonic (in the sense of heavy use of keyboards and at least sampled string and brass sections) and pretty damn…what? “Post-black symphonic with pronounced folk elements?”

Yeah, it’s pretty laid back and not very black metal at all. Symphonic, sure. Folkish, OK.

But black metal?

Nope. Not even close.

OK if you’re into very sub-Therionistic symphonic metal…but didn’t do a damn thing for me.

Turbocharged (Sweden) – Apocalyptic (Go Fuck Yourself Productions) (September 8)

OK, this is like Entombed (or more precisely, Carnage) gone more crossover punk. When things “slow down” to a typical Sunlight Studios-esque grinding pace, they’re pretty dead on – the HM-2 “chainsaw guitar tone”, the croaked, Desultorylike vocals, the punishing riffs that know when to stop on a dime and when to throw things into high gear, you name it.

It’s on faster tracks like the first half of “angelcripple” or “halo of thorns” where at least portions feel…not right. Overly fast, overly busy, like they’re not working the magic tone for all it’s worth and dragging in outside influences that don’t quite belong.

But overall?

Yeah. They got it.

MALPHAS – Incantation (Triton’s Orbit) (October 6) 

Black metal of a more recent bent, not quite Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards Watain Wannabes, not quite Norsecore, but still a bit dull musically and laden with perfectly shite vocals.

I guess without those vox, it’d be listenable but boring.

As is…

NEXT?

Luciferian Insectus – Godless (Apollyon Entertainment)

You know, when I saw the promotional line “highly inspired by the Polish extreme metal scene”, I was pretty well chuffed.

Musically speaking, I was expecting something drawing from the Graveland/Fullmoon circle, which despite some unfortunate socipolitical business remains one of the most solid and listenable of black metal scenes (yes, you can appreciate music even if you totally disagree with the folks who make it, what a shocker).

So you can imagine my surprise when I heard…what is this, black/death era Behemoth, maybe? I don’t know, I stopped listening to them after Grom…

Even so, it’s a sort of overdramatic one man band variant of black/death that bears slight elements of a more traditional metal riffing (the slower breakdown section of “deliver me…”) and others that approach the perhaps overproduced bombast of a Belphegor, but with less production values (and perhaps hence, more of an “underground” “occult black metal” feel).

There are some decidedly Deicide-esque dual growl/snarl vocals throughout and an almost relentless blastbeat to double bass drumming, but the guitars veer from held power chords to tremelo riffing to aimless arpeggiation at the drop of a hat (when not leaning more traditional as noted earlier).

Tag in chants and a “look, I’m serious or want to convince you I am!” “occult BM” vibe and production that generally comes off as polished, in spite of the more underground sound being intentionally evoked herein, and there it is, all wrapped in a sulfuric-stinking package.

Whatever.

If I want to hear something along these lines, I’ll pull out Blood Magick Necromance…it’s done better.

More modern era Behemoth fans will probably think a whole hell of a lot more of this than I did, that’s for damn sure.

 

Neck Deep In Filth (S/T EP) (September 9)

Wow, who the hell knew Nepal, Himalayan outpost bordering on Tibet and all its sherpas, Buddhist monks and temples and suchlike, had an extreme music scene?

Well, apparently Neck Deep in Filth are only one among several hardcore punk, death metal and likeminded bands rising up in reaction to an apparent institutionalized oppression of minority groups and those not adherent to the “officially sanctioned religion” and mores thereof. To quote their vocalist, “we’re living in a society filled with racists, misogynists and hate filled ultranationalists. We’re surrounded by scum…hence, Neck Deep in Filth.”

Unlike some other bands being marketed as “hardcore” of late, these Nepali punks are actually working tropes very much akin to and familiar to veterans of the real deal hardcore punk scene back in the day, particularly the mid-to-late 80’s crossover scene.

Guitars are thick and crunchy and the band is unafraid to slow things down to a mosh breakdown amidst all the raging speed…and more often than not, the riffs and guitar tone are far more suggestive of thrash metal than punk. Think classic D.R.I., Agnostic Front, Cro-Mags, even stretch a tad for Among the Living-era Anthrax, SOD/MOD and Nuclear Assault…

I was expecting another noisefest with irritating screamo/aggro vox, and got…well, let’s be honest, a honest to whatever gods you worship (or don’t) crossover band. Sure, the vocals are a bit overly raw and scream/shouted for my taste…but the production is really strong and clean for what’s likely a very low budget DIY operation, the guitars and drums are appropriately thick and in your face and the riffing is fucking sweet.

Tag in some equally appropriate classic punk/thrash leftie sociopolitics and giving the finger to those damn “powers that be”, and you get a surprise home run from the new kids on the block.

“Rāmrō kāma, mānchē!”
(or in case it doesn’t translate properly…”good work, guys!”)

(Now that one, I had to look up – Nepali ain’t one of my languages, folks…)

  

Nekrohowl – Epitome of Morbid (Diabolicurst Productions/Slaughter House Records) (September 30)

Wow, the picked and distortion-inflected bass is so thin and weirdly upfront in the mix, I was under the impression that was some utterly bizarre take on vocals!

Seriously, the first minute or so of “blasphemy unnamed” (the first actual track after a pointless ambient opener), I was trying to figure out what the fuck this guy was trying to do with his voice and why…

But no, it’s just a sub-Joey DeMaio thing, with terrible tone and showing some hesitant, almost spastic bass lines by comparison with the more deliberate and smooth, almost lush and gothic doomlike layered guitars. I guess you could think James Murphy’s later work, like the Disincarnate album, albeit with much more robust production…why he didn’t just go with his pal Scott Burns remains beyond me, even all these years later…what a shit production that album had!

“Worship thy malevolence” pushes things even further into Disincarnate territory, only this time the guitars are too busy to allow for the atmospherics and lush feel – there’s just many lead lines and a few very busy rhythm ones layered over each other, ala Murphy…and again, with that thin, oddball bass tone omnipresent.

The last two tracks go even faster, which loses all sense of melody or construction and takes them full throttle into “tech death” territory, so I quickly lost interest. But those two tracks were interesting, and worthy of note, for those inclined to check ’em out…

Should also be noted, vocal production is so full and upfront as to be overpowering, and his tone is thick…so a big improvement over Disincarnate in that sense, anyway!

For a Bangladeshi death metal band, this is really well produced and extremely competent…but even if we’re not grading on a comparative scale, Nekrohowl are certainly playing in Disincarnate’s league, for whatever that’s worth.

 

Corpsehammer – Posesión EP (Morbid Skull Records)

Joining the sinister forces of Chile and Sweden comes this blackened thrash act whose orientation leans far more to the former than the latter – thankfully!

Somewhat declamatory gargle-shouted vox set these guys apart from the crowd, and the production, while not “good” on any concrete level, nonetheless comes off as loud, with the guitars very much predominating and with distortion kept to a surprising minimum – it’s almost an extra raw overdrive more than the usual signal bleed and squeal-happy distortion associated with this style of metal.

Promo materials were reasonably accurate here (I know…shocking in its rarity!) noting comparability of style to bands like Sadistik Exekution, Sarcofago and Vulcano…and the further mentioned Hellhammer and (post-Panzerfaust) Darkthrone aren’t too far off either, particularly when “Midnight Horror” starts doing the Tom G. OOFs and UGHs on “carnicero humano”. But the bottom line is South American blackthrash, with a side of classic Aussie.

As you might expect from bands working this general style, the songs tend to sound alike after a bit, but this is a sound I always dug, going way back to the mid-80’s when Sepultura was brand new and had just barely dropped their classic blackthrash sound to turn more death/thrash…so who’s complaining?

The vocals will either elevate these guys or ruin ’em, depending on how well they sit with you – personally, I was happy for the change from the usual.

Well worth a listen, see if it grabs ya.

BLOODHUNTER – The End of Faith (Xtreem Music) (October 14)

The Spanish Arch Enemy, more or less. Production isn’t bad, at least when there’s no blastbeats or vocals cluttering up the mix…but while there’s some body and clarity, it’s overly hissy and prone to signal bleed.

The band’s sound is very polished, at least on the guitar end – melodeath with a bit of shred and that sort of annoyingly proggy wheedly-whoo guitar synth tone on the leads…but the drums are too noisy and overly prominent in the mix, particularly given the overly wet if not thin and hissy feel of the production.

The vocals…well, look, they suck less than Alyssa’s, but they aren’t as beefy and full toned as Gossow’s. Either way, it’s yet another femme vocalist doing throaty death growls, which is always intrinsically absurd – Gossow aside, you can always tell it’s a woman just by the lightness of tone and shrieks.

And honestly…why? Who the hell wants a guy sounding like this, why the hell would you want a female to?

Even so, given just how many frontwomen seem to be pulling this shit of late, Ms. Vady…er, “Diva Satanica” (rolls eyes, laughs) is less painful than many to sit through. Gossow is the best of an unfortunate bunch, and to date, nobody’s even approached her level of credibility…but I wasn’t ripping out my earbuds in utter disgust here, so I guess you can call that a relative “win”, if you’re desperate.

Poor life choices of metal-spectrum frontwomen aside, The End of Faith has impressive enough guitars and guitar production to its credit.

Needs better overall production to integrate drums and this sort of “vocals” without just sounding like hissy overkill, though.

DEVANGELIC (Italy) – Phlegethon (Comatose Music (US) (October 27)

Oh, do I ever wish I was Suffocation. Maybe with a touch of Demilich on the vocal end.

Listenable, but overly busy and noisy – the drums overpower the guitars, which absolutely bury the bowel-shaking vox.

Next?

AFFLIKTOR (US) – S/T  Box Set / CD / T-shirt / Digital  (Transcending Obscurity Records (India) (October 20)

Waxen’s Toby Knapp is back again, with his “black metal shred” thing.

As with Waxen, there are only two issues with that idea: first, that black metal is sort of intrinsically opposed to the idea of the guitar solo (individualism, liberation), instead focusing on lead lines and tremelo riffing, with a dark and oppressive “whole” subsuming all under its grip. OK, whatever – just leaves his approach a bit out of the norm.

The other is a bit more obnoxious: that he’s pulling these hyper-raw, over-processed snarl vox that you hear with bands like Satanic Warmaster (and more particularly, a few bands he’s shared splits with). It’s more of a mic setting and “over the phone”-style compression than a natural vocal technique, but it’s annoying and distracting regardless of how it’s generated.

Tag in some uber-thin production, and there you have it…though Affliktor leans more blackthrash (with elements of Yngwie and Testament-era James Murphy) than black metal proper.

As ever, I like his solos and guitar shred orientation, and detest the vox. Also as ever, this is a one man band affair, so direct all praise or derision straight at Knapp.

Maybe that’s what’s needed: another vocalist, an outside producer.

I’ll bet that’d really let his playing abilities shine.

GUTSLIT (India) – Amputheatre (Transcending Obscurity India) (October 15)

The brutality of a Suffocation without the finesse, and with more aggro-esque vomit vox. Then those stupid-ass pig squeals kick in, and you know we’re talking (modern era) grindcore all of a sudden.

If it weren’t for the high speed drumming and occasional violent thrash riffs (like the Vio-Lence by way of Exodus riffing of “blood eagle”), any pretense towards “technicality” here would be all on the hyperspeed blastbeat and double bass syncopated trill drumming, though occasional solos feel just a tad Terrance Hobbslike (“brodequin”).

There are a lot of bands working this particular sound nowadays, which is strange – Suffocation was something of an anomaly back in the day, a quirky aside among the whole Morrisound crowd, and hardly what I’d pick to start an entire wave of copycat acts!

Even so, if you dig the style of one, a band has to be pretty damn off template or inept not to be at least listenable as “oh, yeah, another Suffocation wannabe”.

And whatever else you can say about the album (or the fact that this onth’s own Devangelic does it better), Gutslit is neither incredibly off template or inept.

Depends just how many albums you want from, or sounding very much akin to, Suffocation in your collection.

FRAGARAK (India) – A Spectral Oblivion CD / T-shirt / Digital (Transcending Obscurity India) (October 30th, 2017)

Melodic, bombastic, pagan or even Viking metallish.

There are chanted vocals with mellow lead lines that bring both Manegarm and Vintersorg to mind, but there’s a strong orientation towards melodeath as well. And those “harsh vocals” (from nominal frontman Supratim Sen) are very much black metal…so is this some variant of symphonic black metal instead?

Well, you can make arguments for all of those, but the bottom line is, this is big Euro outdoor festival fare. Given all the disparate yet interrelated elements coming into play, the safest bet is to call this pagan metal, though realize we’re leaning more towards the aforementione pair of bands than, say, Primordial or Turisas – and there’s precious little folk playing into the equation here.

It’s surprisingly well produced (seriously, for an Indian band?  This is fucking slick, my friend…), dramatic in tone and powerfully moving when guitarists Arpit Pradhan and Ruben Franklin get those slow, emotional lead lines going and the former and bassist/fellow clean vocalist Kartikeya Sinha start doing those clean chant vocals…you start to wonder why they added Sen for those rasps and snarls, they could have done the album without those entirely…

Even so, it all fits together like a finely cut puzzle, and even fans of acts like Ulver, Myrkur and Vintersorg have come to expect the harsh black metal snarls and shrieks alongside the smooth chant vocals…so there you have it. They certainly won’t have you crinkling your nose, and every member plays an important part in the totality here (a rarity in and of itself!)

Promo materials make comparisons to bands like Amorphis and Edge of Sanity as well, and you can hear some generic kinship to the earlier, even Karelian Isthmus-era of the former band…but trust me, you’ll be thinking Ulver, Vintersorg and Manegarm.

And all of that is a very, very good thing.

May be the best Indian-origin release we’ve covered to date, actually…and that’s not meant as a knock on anyone else, it’s just that polished, professional sounding and good.

JUPITERIAN (Brazil) – Terraforming LP / Box Set / Digipak /
Merch / Digital (Transcending Obscurity Records (India) (November 15)

Strange experimental black metal with doomlike tempos.

Overly detuned guitars trudge along through molasses before going full on atonal ringing open string, while mouth in an O death vox belch all over the mess…and yet, the entire thing falls firmly into the uglier reaches of underground/avant-garde black metal, right down to the goofy costumes and vague “occultic” feel.

More listenable than a lot of crap of this general type, but it’s hardly what any sane person would consider doom or sludge metal, despite a few elements vaguely related thereto (pace, sloppy feel).

Yeah, whatever.

Promo pix are better than the “music” they hail from, honestly.

PROFETUS (Finland) – Coronation of the Black Sun (Weird Truth Productions) (September 27)

We’d reviewed their prior As All Seasons Die, and this one gets both the same (or damn similar!) promo photos and a similar verdict:

Slower than a tectonic shift, uber-lengthy tracks, sorta eerie organ music accompaniment for punctuation, death growls buried way low in the mix and suffused in reverb, even some gothic doom-style mournful leads and a weird ambient track or two. Yeah, it’s funeral doom.

I was good with it last time around before I rediscovered doom; I’m certainly good with it now.

CAÏNAN DAWN – F.O.H.A.T (Osmose Productions) (October 27)

Oy. More “occult black metal”, all ringing open tones and drones and atonality with occasional blackened snarl vox as punctuation. Something about it felt a tad Marduk…I think the vox suggested “Legion”, though Cainan Dawn is hardly “Norsecore” in orientation.

Not unlistenable, not exactly fodder for the Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards…but nah.

AEGRUS (FI)  – Thy Numinous Darkness (Saturnal Records) (October 20)

Hyper melodic yet still “true” black metal in the time-tested Finnish mode thereof. Think less crap like Dimmu and more Satanic Warmaster (particularly circa Fimbulwinter), and you have the general idea.

That said, there’s a strong feeling of Corvus-era Horna to Thy Numinous Darkness as well, which may be down more to the expected harsh vocals than musically (Horna was never the most tuneful and melodic of the Finnish acts, even in their aforementioned heyday).

This is a Saturnal release, complete with our old pal “Frater Zetekh” (Saturnian Mist, King Satan) serving as executive producer, which should tell you two things right off:

First, that the production’s going to be pretty damn solid (for black metal in particular, this album sounds rather sweet – drums, guitars and vox are all easily audible and distinct even during the most furious moments),

and Second, that these guys are at the very least bound to be pretty serious about their stance (the label’s also home to bands like Sacrificium Carmen, Barathrum and the aforementioned Horna, so you get the idea) – no poseurs likely to be found in these ranks, given the provenance of the guy running the show at Saturnal (whose works we’ve given no small consideration to and examination of in these pages previously).

As listenable and “catchy” as a Gorgoroth album (particularly in the Hat and Pest iterations thereof), Thy Numinous Darkness just works, and would do so musically and productionwise even if they were singing “bibbity bobbity boo” – any (presumed) lyrical meat and potatoes only serves as icing on the cake, as it were.

Another one batted straight out of the park from Saturnal, he penned with a disbelieving head shake of admiration…due hails.

Nyss – Princesse Terre (Three Studies of Silence and Death) (Avantgarde Music) (August 28)

Strange but fascinating French take on black metal.  When the band finally kicks in (after an appropriate little speech from who I’m guessing is George Orwell, given what’s being said), things become decidedly old school and traditional, feeling somehow second wave Norwegian, but with the overwhelming focus on melody more associated with the Finnish scene.

And then there’s that clean arpeggiated guitar phrase during closer “ii” (there are 3 tracks…which appear out of order, 1-3-2. Go figure, it has to be deliberate), that brings just a hint of countrymen Alcest to the table…

You know, given the label, I was anticipating something truly bizarre and…well, avant-garde, but this felt more comfortable and right, somehow.

Sure, there are some seriously off-kilter moments in the second half of “ii”…but “i” felt rather traditional, and “iii” falls somewhere between the two.

I dug it well enough.

Throw ’em the horns.

Botanist – Collective: The Shape of He to Come (Avantgarde Music) (September 1)

Weird black metal variant performed with hammered dulcimer in place of guitars, where the titular character is supposed to be some post-apocalyptic figure who tends the plant life that remains.

We’d previously reviewed their split with Oskoreien and found both concept and approach quite amusing, if not a bit Decadent to boot – all pluses in my book.

Apparently this time around “Otrebor” (“the Botanist”) splits some of the writing and performing credits, not only bringing in a different drummer and bassist, but another dulcimer player (an R. Chiang) who also writes the tracks (or parts thereof, it’s not exactly clear who did what) he performs on.

Two uncharacteristic asides throw things off: the goofy ditty-like female vocalled folk of “and the world throws off its oppressors” and the gloomier, nigh-Celtic folk of “to join the continuum”. The latter at least still works, however out of place it seems with the rest of the album – no excuses for the former.

That aside, the remainder of the album stays true to both concept and style (come on, “praise azalea, the adversary”? Got to love that…) and “continuum” is at least a grim and mournful closer to what came before, however far afield it may come off.

5 fairly strong tracks out of 6 – yeah, if you already get a kick out of The Botanist, there’s no reason you won’t enjoy this just as much, if not moreso.

Too bad about that one goofy ass track, though…dulcimer accompaniment aside, should’a saved that one for the Ren Faire cosplay.

On the balance, a damn good album.

Battle Dagorath – II – Frozen Light of Eternal Darkness (Avantgarde Music) (October 3)

Dark, contemplative and atmospheric black metal.

Pop this one in, and it’s an eye opener at first: “death ov aeons” bears that expansive yet introspective feel that marks much of the black metal that still works from the current scene, but still feels more epically inclined and propulsive, bringing more of a Norwegian second wave vibe to the table – think Vardan doing Battles in the North, and you’ll have an idea of what I’m hearing here.

Now, admittedly, “death ov aeons” is the real selling point here, and is far closer than anything that follows to what’s being talked about here. The further you progress, the more the album loses focus, scope, introspection and power, to the point where “cast your ashes”, “evoking the mirrors” and at least the first half of “fire born from the seers light” sound like one long, boring Dark Funeral song.

Thankfully, “supernal remains” brings more of a drifting, space rock ambience that morphs into a more “Cascadian” sort of thing when the band joins in, but that’s it, really – ostensible closer “ignus fatuus” is a pointlessly nigh-silent ambient time waster.

If this were an EP, and all they gave you was “death ov aeons” and “supernal remains” (possibly with “asteres planetal” as a bonus track), Frozen Light of Eternal Darkness would be getting a horns way up, 5 star review.

But all that aimlessness that clutters up the midsection (and worse: winds up comprising the bulk of the album) is at best pointless, at worst…well, it’s not quite fodder for the Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards, but it’s close enough to get a few hairs singed by the heat and hit with a spitting ember or two.

Very, very mixed verdict in the end. But those two tracks (and perhaps the latter half of “fire born…” and “asteres planetal”) are definitely worthy of your attention.

MEGALITH GRAVE – From Effigies Past (Signal Rex) (October 13)

Wow, someone’s been listening to some really old second wave black metal demos…possibly of Norwegian origin, though I’m thinking more French Les Legions Noires.

Apparently this is a collection of demos, but they hail from 2011-13, not 1991-6, which is strange. The vibe here is more Manes or Fleurety or even Moonblood, though you can hear the most poorly produced and “obscure” demo releases of Vlad Tepes, Black Murder, Torgeist or even Brenoritvrezorkre all over this one.

In both sound quality (which varies wildly, generally from really, really bad – “the retribution of life and death” – to completely fucking unlistenable – “epoch of obscurity”, “decrepit and forgotten”) and stylistic tropes and flourishes, Megalith Grave clearly spent a hell of a lot of time and energy digging into these early, formative yet very outside the mainstream even of black metal demo acts to replicate their harsh, unforgiving yet fascinating style two full decades on.

Yeah, this was at the very least fascinating…and you know I appreciated his efforts.

Raise high the horns.

ÓREIÐA / HOLOCAUSTO EM CHAMAS – Split 10″MLP  (Harvest Of Death / Signal Rex) (October 27)

Ore-Ida?  You mean like the lousy french fries they sell in the frozen aisle?   You know you’re in trouble when the best they can come up with to sell it is “it’s al-right-a”. Not good.  Just “alright-a.

Well, I might give these Icelandic black metallers a verdict of more than just “al-right-a”, as I actually enjoyed their lengthy, if quite repetitive track “blindur”…atmospheric, dark, evocative, old school second wave underground in general approach. Reasonably good stuff, for the type.

Portugal’s Holocauto Em Chamas drops 3 unnamed (well, unless you count “I” “II” and “III” as actual names) tracks, and they’re on this split because they also try to keep things more or less “orthodox” and old school.

Unfortunately, the best you can say is that it’s familiar and almost listenable in that respect…the vocals kinda suck, and nothing they do actually impresses or stands out in any way beyond an apparent devotion to the scene’s earlier days.

Overall, not a bad split…but trust me, you’ll be spending all your time with the Icelandically frozen french fries, there.

VOËMMR – Nox Maledictvs (Harvest Of Death / Signal Rex) (October 31)

Oy, there come those Fleurety-esque howls under reverb again. Gee, think this is another one of those modern trying to be retro black metal bands again?

These Portugese black metallers seem a bit more stilted and inept than usual, with a gargling, warbling tape sound running throughout and some rather stiff, uncomfortably unsure drumming taking center stage behind those silly falsetto yodel howls.

I keep thinking Oktoberfest and German oom-pah bands in lederhosen, trying to get drunks to do The Chicken.  OOOH YOO-HOO-HOOOOOO!!

The only part that works here is the faux-symphonic keyboard, which is seriously dark and twisted sounding, and so buried in the mix as to sound like they recorded the guy in a fucking cave a few blocks down from the studio.

Those damn keyboards are thicker and more powerful than the tinny, quirky little sub-Larry LaLonde jerking himself off in Primus guitars and the stilted ohmygod am I still in meter drums, and are honestly the only thing that saves Nox Maledictus from being a laughable toss into the Flaming Pyre…one of the few that doesn’t follow the usual Swedish black/death Watain Wannabe/”occult black metal” template, in fact!

So yeah, whoever composed for, played and recorded those keyboards, kudos.

You saved these guys from a fiery doom…

(cue satan:) …for nowMWOO-HA-HAAAAA!

Sacroscum – Drugs & Death (Unholy Prophecies) (October 28)

Wait…I’ve been sitting through this whole middling at best blackened thrash to straight up Watain Wannabe black/death release…and suddenly they’re going all classic US power metal/thrash?

Seriously, that was my exact reaction when I got to the 7th track (!) here, “skin canvas”. Out of the blue and all these grey tones, comes a swath of color, catchy riffing, even an upbeat feeling. It doesn’t exactly remain consistent through even that track, but where the hell did that come from?

Well, all I can tell you about this one is to relate that anecdote.  The rest is muddled, overly typical and boring – likely fodder for the Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards, until they went all Jag Panzer for a few minutes.

Holy shit, talk about a last minute save!

Don’t ask me, I have no idea what they were shooting for here.

That track is worth hearing, though.

Next?

Hive – Fights the Reds (April 20)

Well! Here we have a self described “problematic band”, indeed!

When you think sludge, you tend to think laid back stoner types, a certain mentality bordering on classic death metal and doom. Kinda scruffy, maybe a bit aromatic, but that’s about the size of it.

So how do you take a Canadian band that knocks the obnoxious Intersectionalist “New Left” openly, to the point where you start to question just how far to the other side of the politicosocial spectrum they actually swing…particularly given EP titles like “Vocal Haram” and “Fights the Reds” (LOL…you hope!)

And yet…dig into their bandcamp (which appears to be their sole online presence at this point), and you find demos and song titles that go nowhere near “touchy” subjects on either end of the political spectrum, and weirdly tongue in cheek mottos like “Trashy drunk satanism from the arse hole of Canada” and “Forever dedicated to Marvin Heemeyer” (the weirdo who made his own “killdozer” to wreck local businesses and folks who he had private beefs with).  Off color, sure. “Inappropriate”, yeah, probably, if you care about shit like that. But are we really talking hard right nutters, or are they just trolling everyone for laughs?

Well, if the chorus to the title cut is any indication…they’re at least Trump supporters! “Get a job!” they yell to protestors, Ed Koch style…and there’s certainly a lot of vehemence directed towards “educators with an agenda”…”You’re not a teacher!”, they yell in the second track. It’s rather “politically incorrect”, if you’re one of those types…but hey, welcome to the real world, folks! Differences of opinion and all that…

Bottom line, there’s really no excusing Hive…and honestly? They wouldn’t fucking want you to.  Rude, crude and tattooed, these Canuckleheads work the filthiest reaches of the Hells Headbangers biker band/blackened thrash paradigm, but with an even more simplified, slowed down and ultimately goofy sound.

They’re really kind of hard to take seriously, no matter what scale you’re judging ’em on: lyrically, socially, musically…it’s all kind of laughable.

And I’m guessing that’s the entire point.

If you dig bands like Nekro Drunkz and Shitfucker, you’re probably already on board with Hive…and that’s about the size of it.



Vassafor – Malediction LP/TAPE (Iron Bonehead) (October 13)

We’ve covered these Kiwis before, on both their split with Temple Nightside and their split with Sinistrous Diabolous, and little has changed.

Malediction carries over the clearer production of the Temple Nightside split, and they’re still doing the underground black/death thing with sort of whisper-snarled vox. At least it’s not of the Swedish Wannabe PoDB school, I guess…

The doomier moments (“servitude” in particular, but also portions of “illumination of the sinister”) work best. The rest is listenable but a bit yawn inducing, unless you’re really into the style.

Next?

Rope Sect – Proselytes 7″ EP (Iron Bonehead) (October 20)

We’d previously covered their Personae Ingratae, and if anything, the 80’s postpunk Ian Curtislike vocal thing and somewhat jangly clean/overdriven guitars are used to better effect.

“Proselytes” is sort of Echo & the Bunnymen as covered by the Afghan Whigs, and “quietus” is even better, with a driving, sinister deathrock/horror punkish feel much akin to the darker moments of The Vladimirs.

This one deserves at least a four star review, possibly more.

Only two tracks, but beats their last one, whatever its own merits, all to shit.

Sacrocurse – Gnostic Holocaust LP (Iron Bonehead) (October 27)

We’ve dealt with these guys several times in the past: their Sulphur Blessing, Unholier Master and Destroying Chapels were all covered in these pages.

And yet again, these relentless Mexicans deliver exactly what you’d expect: a particularly raw, crusty take on underground black/death, albeit more in the vein of a Necrophobic than that of a Watain, Dissection or Dark Funeral.

Slower, more grinding tracks worked better than the noisier, busier ones, but that applies to vox as well (that sound collage of vocal gargles on “gnostic holocaust” combined with the POUND POUND POUND uber-stiff “D.D. Crazy” style “blastbeat” drumming is just as noisy and annoying as the band at their fastest).

But when things are more midtempo and the drummer’s sticking to actual kitwork and footwork over that stiff snare abuse, this is actually pretty damn listenable, at least by comparison with some of the other BM reviewed this month…

Didn’t hate it, but elements require some immediate attention.

MEDIC!?!

HADES ARCHER – Temple of the Impure (CD, LP, TAPE) (Hells Headbangers) (October 13)

We’d run across these guys before, on their split with Slaughtbbath, and were somewhat unimpressed by their particularly blackened take on South American blackthrash.

We’d compared them vaguely to the Chilean Pentagram, and you can certainly hear a bit of that in here…but it was only on the slower tracks like “hecate undressed” and “apollyon’s brightness” that I perked up even a little.

The faster stuff they make their meat and potatoes?

Meh.

CADAVERIC INCUBATOR – Sermons of the Devouring Dead (CD, LP) (Hells Headbangers) (October 13)

That riff kicks off, and you’re thinking yeeeaaaahh, this is gonna be some good old school death metal. And many of the riffs here (and some of the drumming) would suggest that.

But the high speed blastbeat bits go beyond distracting into fucking annoying territory, and the vocals are overly deep and wet in a way that doesn’t exactly appeal…I was thinking Funebre or Demilich gone grindcore, particularly when he starts going pig noises on “hideous premonition”. I was thinking Phlegm, but not even that “likeable.” Blech.

With vox a little more buried or traditionalist and the drummer sticking to a more appropriately death metal foot-and-kitwork style, this would be pretty fucking awesome – those riffs and a lot of the drumming certainly felt old school.

Halfway there, definitely…but also halfway down the shitter.

Your call.

CURSED MOON – Rite of Darkness (CD, LP) (Hells Headbangers) (October 27)

Now this is probably the weirdest thing I’ve heard all month.

Musically? This is straight up gothic rock, and more particularly of the mid-90’s second wave I took a greater part in (being more of age at the time…I was pretty damn young, if more tuned in than most folks my age, when the first wave was a thing).

Problem is, you’re getting something along the lines of The Wake, Rosetta Stone, Nosferatu or London After Midnight…as fronted by some mushmouthed, puke-shouting blackthrash frontman, or King Fowley of Deceased.

Seriously.

So split verdict. The gothic rock music? Dead on overall – love what I’m hearing here.

But god DAMN, man…get yourself a proper Andrew Eldritch by way of Peter Murphy vocalist, just like every other damn gothic rock band!

Sounds like a belligerent drunk about to get kicked out of the local club goth night for singing along at the top of his lungs…

BWUEELA LUGWOHWSI’S DYEEAD! UN-DYEEAHHD!

(proceeds to fall out of his barstool)

Great stuff, if we can just peel off that vocal track and replace with the real deal…

War Possession- Doomed to Chaos (Memento Mori) (October 23)

Greek blackthrash. Extremely underground, overly blackened and not all that well produced, Doomed to Chaos appears to be doomed to a thin toned, overly hissy sound, where it sounds like the drummer is hitting wet plastic wrap and the wall of noise guitars sound like the drone of construction equipment or yuppies making a smoothie in the blender.

The vocals are buried beneath those, and kind of hard to make out, but they seem to be sort of a deeper, more deathlike Martin Van Drunen as crossed with Sakis Tolis.

Again, in slower moments, they almost seem to have something going…but 9 times out of 10, it’s high speed wall of sound and blastbeats and you can’t even make much out over all the ZZZZZZZZ CCCHHHHH KKKSSSSSTTTT!

Pile of Excrements – Escatology (Memento Mori) (October 23)

Greek uber-simplistic death metal heavily leaning grindcore, with some serious anal-explosive issues.

I mean, “bowel rampage”? The drummer chooses “Shit Eater” as his nom du guerre? Or how about this, from the promo writeup: “…the aural equivalent of the nauseating stench of one hundred drains clogged with foul-smelling turds and urine.”

Well, musically, you can draw a line to a less riff-centric Repulsion, sure…but geez. All they needed was a sample from At Eye Level’s Matt G. and his “pretty shitty situation” routine…

Again, I was good with the music.

The conceit, though…geez, what are you guys, five?

Don’t forget to flush.

NECROFULGURATE – Putrid Veil (Caverna Abismal) (October 10)

Crusty, demo-era Autopsyesque death metal. It’s seriously “underground” in feel, with bottom of the belly “vocals” and a lot of sludgy noise on the band end.

The drums seem to be the only part of this that’s even semi-produced, as you can hear a slight crispness to the blastbeats and some of the cymbal work…otherwise, everything’s deeply reverbed and so detuned and sloppily played, it’s like one big wall of mud.

If you dig some of the stuff Necroharmonic was releasing, this will seem quite familiar…if less accomplished and oversimplistic to the point of practically being grindcore in its sheer ineptitude.

I liked the vocal approach…the rest, while sort of on the right track for an Autopsy/Incantation kind of thing, is just too ill-defined and messy to actually care about.

Gloam – Death is the Beginning CD/12″ MLP  (Blood Harvest) (October 13)

3 tracks, the first is more or less just ambient nonsense (though the band joins in towards the end for a few), the second is mostly instrumental (not many vocals here, and it’s more vomits and ululations than lyrics for the better part thereof).

It leans too far into Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards territory for my tastes.

I’m thinking about it…hmm…

Yeah, fuck it.

WHIZZZ!

Hear the flames spit and crackle from the fresh kindling.

Advertisements