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Holy crap, are the holidaze upon us already?
Seriously…it was just frigging summer, only a few weeks ago everyone was sweating up a storm in near-80 temperatures here…and now it’s only a week till Thanksgiving, and 6 weeks or less till Christmas, Yule, Chanukah or whatever the hell you’re celebrating (or not) this year.
Well, as mentioned last month, things are finally starting to fall into place – not easily or with the perfect precision one might desire, of course. But things are finally moving once again, the tides are shifting at last and here’s hoping for actual positive change in not only my, but your own personal life as well as on a more global basis. The election last week was definitely a step in the right direction…we’ll see how all of this plays out.
In the meantime, we have a very diverse month for you, filled with old reliables as well as boundary pushing oddities that take us a bit outside the ol’ comfort zone…and you know what? Some of ’em really weren’t that bad at all.
Here’s to ya…and to a better world (and year) than the one we’re about to leave behind.
Fuck that one.
Time for a new start.
PRIMAL FEAR – Best of Fear (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (November 10)
Another greatest hits album this month, but less driven by necessity than that of Iron Savior,* here we have Mat Sinner and Alex Beyrodt‘s other (some might say main) project Primal Fear dropping 4 new tracks into a career spanning 2 disc, 27 track/2 hour and 22 minute double album retrospective.
* no, these are not reviewed in the order in which they appear herein.
Why they chose to include an 80’s Heart cover (“if looks could kill”) is beyond me, and it’s worth noting that only disc 1 sticks to the driving European power metal fans have come to expect from the band – disc 2 is more focused on power ballads (like the Simone Simons-featuring “every time it rains”) and heavy but more midtempo tracks (like “we walk without fear”).
Even so, it’s a lot of material, and sure to give fans what they want short of going back and buying multiple catalog albums to get their fix.
JEFF SCOTT SOTO – Retribution (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (November 10)
Former Yngwie frontman Jeff Scott Soto has been pretty busy over the years, working with bands like Trans-Siberian Orchestra, W.E.T., Takara, Axel Rudi Pell and even the Misfits side project Kryst the Conqueror in additon to a good dozen solo albums and several dozen guest appearances on various bands albums.
Here he comes back together with old compatriot Howie Simon (who handles both guitars and bass on this album) for a batch of throaty, radio friendly melodic metal material.
Some tracks have killer riffs (“inside outside”, “last time”), others are more notable for their solos (“rage of the year”, “bullet for my baby”), and the rest is more midrange, even balladeering (“feels like forever”, “song for joey”), but you always know what to expect from Soto, which is a far beefier, throatier take on melodic rock/metal vocals than you’ll find elsewhere. Hell, at times he sounds more like Kane Roberts than your average melodic to power metal frontman, so you get the general picture here.
Has its moments to be sure.
PINK CREAM 69 – Headstrong (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (November 10)
Dennis Ward, David Readman and company return with yet another melodic hard rock/light metal affair very much in the vein of a Nuno Bettencourtless Extreme, or perhaps bands like Firehouse, Trixter or Bangalore Choir that walked the border between radio friendly pop/hard rock and some notable, if more diffuse and “hair metal” leanings.
There’s the bouncy groove thing, the sweet melodic choruses, the thick crunch to the guitars and the overall happy, female-friendly “mainstream metal”/AOR feeling suffusing throughout.
Readman’s vocals are open throated and dramatic despite their inherent raspiness, making him very much kin to David Coverdale and Whitesnake (hence his involvement in the Sykes-era Whitesnake neo-tribute band Voodoo Circle.)
Guitars are punchy and production is crisp – if you were there back in the (very) late 80’s going into the (very) early 90’s, their sound will be instantly familiar and probably leave you turning up the radio to boot.
And hey, “path of destiny” really stands out.
Best part? Comes with a second disc of live “greatest hits”, which is better than the studio album it’s appended to…nice stuff.
BABYLON A.D. – Revelation Highway (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (November 10)
Yeah, if you were around back in the day, chances are you remember Babylon A.D., one of the legion of post-GNR Hollywood metal “sleaze rock” acts. “Bang go the bells” was their biggie, but “hammer swings down” may also trigger a few memories of what the scene had become in the last days of American metal (right before the grunge wave crushed careers, dreams and an entire culture beneath it’s heroin and flannel driven wake).
They had a bit more musicianship and proper metal feel than a lot of similar acts, mostly due to guitarist Dan De La Rosa, who was working more of an American Angel/Dirty Looks/XYZ sort of thing than the more basic likes of Firehouse, Junkyard or Cats in Boots.
I doubt many of us remember anything subsequent to their 1989 self titled debut, but apparently they did pull off one followup (Nothing Sacred), before giving in to the inevitable. There were sporadic “comeback” attempts – live albums in ’99 and just 2 years back, even a third studio album at the dawn of the millenium…but like many such efforts, these appear to have gone more or less unheralded. So far as yours truly knew, this is the first thing they’ve dropped since the dawn of grunge.
I blew a few layers of dust off the self titled and gave it a spin to compare…so how does Revelation Highway hold up against that debut album, nearly 3 decades on?
Well, ya know…not bad at all. And better yet? They’ve got all 5 original members in tow, after all these years.
Derek Davis, like Davy Vain, has barely changed tonally after all these years (though he seems to have adopted a bit of Jay and Michael Ashton-like vocal quaver at the end of phrases), and guitarists John Mathews and Ron Freschi are still working the same sort of heavy, Hollywood metal/blues/sleaze rock they were pulling off on the debut (though tracks like “one million miles” speak to a James Stevenson influence, and “tears” could even suggest a Mission UK one just as much as it does American Angel*).
* which it seriously does, particularly by the time you get to the solo and closer – something similar could be said about the later “rags to riches”. Damn good stuff all around…
I mean, I can’t say there’s another “bang go the bells” on here, or even “hammer swings down”…but tracks like “crash and burn”, and “fool on fire” are right up that same alley, and could have easily fit in on that earlier album, while “don’t tell me tonight” comes off quite Y&T by way of Autograph, and “she likes to give it” could have been a Vain track without very much tweaking.
Babylon A.D. meets Gene Loves Jezebel? Well, don’t be expecting ’em to pull an Addams Family on you, GLJ were never exactly Bauhaus or Siouxsie…but the elements are all certainly in place – Ashtonlike quaver vox, crisp, catchy Stevensonesque riffs and tone…but in the service of a more vintage ’88-91 L.A. hard rock/metal sound.
And for this goth and metalhead, that works on both ends of the equation.
I was both surprised and well chuffed with this one. If you dig the more catchy and melodic bands of that era and sonic palette, you will be too.
Damn good stuff! Salute to the veterans for putting out something quite this strong and vintage in vibe, right here and now in late 2017.
SWEET & LYNCH – Unified (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (November 10)
A more nasal and hoarse Michael Sweet than encountered on recent Stryper albums joins forces with Dokken/Lynch Mob/Xciter six stringer George Lynch and White Lion’s James Lomenzo for this melodic rock project.
Bringing elements obvious and recognizable from both (or perhaps all three) of their other bands, Sweet & Lynch is an odd mix of Christian lyrics (“afterlife”, “walk (with the wise)”, “live to die”, “promised land”, you get the idea here) and occasional Stryperesque backing harmonies with a more grounded, Lynch Moblike bluesy thing, and of course “Mr. Scary’s” orgasmically sputtering-phrased note cluster flash leads.
Moments suggest Queen (“walk”), others more of an Allman Brothers thing crossed with grunge (“afterlife”), and others bear a less defined but very obviously 70’s “classic rock” feel (“tried and true”).
It’s all fairly interesting, and you get moments and riffs here and there that suggest, say, Dokken, but then it goes all “classic rock”, and then pulls into something more generically modern – the latter of which leaves several tracks later in the album feeling overly bland and unworthy of comment (particularly by comparison with the earlier, more fascinatingly syncretist tracks mentioned, or even closer “live to die”).
Even with a hoarser, raspier tone overall, you can still tell it’s Michael Sweet at the helm, which means powerful, throaty tone with (here, occasional) ahem…sweet high notes, and you really can’t fault George Lynch, at least in terms of his leads and fretboard skills (never was the biggest fan of his post-Dokken bands, I must admit – but always check in to hear those solos and occasional killer riffs!).
Whether all this “dad rock” (or more to the point, “grandpa rock”) influence appeals to you or no, I leave to the listener…and totally your call what to do about the album’s comparatively dreary second half.
Suffice to say, worth checking out, at least for the first handful of tracks here.
THE DARK ELEMENT – S/T (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (November 10)
Jani Liimatainen, guitarist on all of the classic Sonata Arctica albums is joined by post-Tarja Nightwish’s Annette Olzon for this new band.
As you might expect, The Dark Element lean gothic-symphonic, with the epic scope both bands leant towards in their respective better days, but a more pared down, less pointedly power metal vibe.
In place of driving tremelo riffs and typewriter double bass kitwork, things are kept very much midtempo, with prominent Delain-style keyboards, multitracked vocals and crunching riffs, with a decided emphasis on melody.
Olzon, for her part, sounds rather Abba-esque, particularly when accompanying herself in vocal harmonies at choruses (as in “my sweet mystery”, which could have been recorded at Polar Studios for all its closeness to that template), and Liimatainen really throws all the epic melodicism of his former band at their very best on the table here.
Together, it works surprisingly well, and brings better days for the gothic/symphonic metal scene to mind, if more specifically Delain than, say, Epica, Krypteria, Visions or Within Temptation. Olzon’s no operatic diva by any means, she’s more of an Agnetha Faltskog…but you won’t see me complaining about that.
Fans of classic Delain who have a bit of a torch for either Sonata Arctica or Abba should be well pleased by this one – it goes down smooth and leaves a good feeling.
Communic – Where Echoes Gather (AFM Records) (October 27)
Proggish but decidedly heavy power metal in the European mold.
Bearing little to nothing in common with the likes of Queensryche, Screamer, Lethal, Crimson Glory, Titan Force, Sanctuary or Fates Warning, Communic sound more like a cross between Brainstorm (for the comparative heaviness of their approach) and latter Death (in terms of their riffing and guitar style).
While nobody’d even dream of calling these guys progressive (or tech) death, in point of fact, were guitarist/vocalist Oddlief Stensland’s vox less Rob Rock and more “Evil Chuck” in orientation, you’d think this was some long lost successor to Sound of Perserverance (or more to the point, the Control Denied demos) more than any more typical progressive metal act.
There’s furthermore a saminess about the material that, when combined with Stensland’s clean midrange vocals and the relentless typewriter double bass drumming, simply screams “Euro power metal” – something that the classic US iterations thereof really can’t be accused of, but which is more or less endemic to the Helloween and Yngwie/Rhapsody clones that populate the Euro festival scene.
The end result, while certainly rather listenable on the vocal side, is rather bleh…I mean, post-Spiritual Healing (or better, post-Leprosy Death, crossed with the genericisms of Euro power metal…and with a hint or two of Rush (check out the first minute or so of the title cut) tagged in just for laughs?
Yeah…can’t slag the musicianship, but it’s really for diehard neckbeard proggers (and prog-death fanboys), not the more casual listeners thereof.
Can’t lie to you…I was bored by this.
Those who think Death “improved” with each album (and if so, I’m sorry for you and those who have to put up with your bad taste), but bear an equal passion for Euro power and prog, may have a very different opinion.
Elvenking – Secrets Of The Magick Grimoire (AFM Records) (November 24)
Did someone mention Rhapsody clones?
We’ve covered their Pagan Manifesto and live album Night of Nights and to be fair, they’ve been around almost as long as Starapoli, Turilli and Leone’s more internationally famed act, offering a more pagan-leaning, comparatively subdued take on hobbits, elves and trolls.
They still get more than a touch symphonic, but it’s hardly the bombastic wall of classical (and specifically Vivaldi by way of Malmsteen) cheese their countrymen are noted for – as mentioned earlier, Elvenking leans more straightforwardly Sonata Arctica, all driving, propulsive riffing and drumming, with a (comparatively) almost down to Earth vibe (if such can be said about a pagan metal act whose lyrics run more Tolkien and D&D than national tradition and heritage).
Even so, when you sit down with Elvenking…and Secrets of the Magick Grimoire in particular, the glaring neon sign flashing at you throughout bears the word “Rhapsody!!!!”, complete with the extra exclamation points.
No question, vocalist “Damna” is hardly the same operatic caliber of vintage Fabio Lione…nor is Elvenking’s more Ren Faire folk and bombast the pointedly classically inspired, Goblin and Malmsteen-inflected thing you get with Rhapsody (particularly in their Emerald Sword Saga heyday).
But it’s close enough to fool the punters, and if you blink twice and click your heels, you may be fooled into thinking this is one of the single member offshoots or revival/recent iterations various Rhapsody alumni have been working of late.
So yeah, of course I was good with this.
Fellow unabashed Rhapsody aficionados, this may sate the ol’ palate after so many comparatively parched releases of late.
Shakra – Snakes & Ladders (AFM Records) (November 24)
We’d spoken with former Shakra vocalist John Prakesh in their Back on Track/Powerplay heyday, and were a bit surprised to hear that they’d parted company, only to reunite with prior (and the band’s second) frontman Mark Fox for High Noon.
Even so, while some of the melodicism and body Prakesh brought to the table was lost in the process, the two vocalists aren’t all that far removed from each other stylistically – while Fox is more nasal and a bit thin toned by comparison, if you had to pick a band with a reasonably smooth transition between singers, Shakra’d be the posterboy for such, hands down.
Snakes and Ladders continues the more hard rock to 80’s style melodic metal/AOR approach of High Noon, but may actually amp up the catchiness at points – if the entire album were like two or three tracks called out herein, this would be Fox’s Back on Track, if you will.
That said, after the rather XYZ-ish “friday nightmares”, things get a bit too bar band hard rock and AOR balladeering oriented for my tastes, with the album going a bit off the rails until the one-two punch of “medicine man” (which is at least Bon Jovi meets Junkyard in terms of feel and acceptability) and the more recognizably metallish “I will rise again” put the band back on course for a few.
But then another ballad, before the driving “fire in my veins”, then closing out on another end of night barroom drunken sing-a-long track. Hmm.
Well, this is a hard one to rate. The four tracks mentioned? Good stuff, to be sure – again, those songs may be Fox’s answer to the Prakesh-led Back on Track, and a full album of similar would have been an easy raised fist in salute.
But unless your tastes run far closer to “classic rock” and local bar bands than mine ever did, this is a Shakra divided – do they want to pursue a heavy rock to metal sort of thing, with a touch of vintage feel? Or do they want to turn into the next generation of Bad Company or Tom Petty?
Until they decide on that, I’ll have to give this one a split decision.
The good news is, when they’re on, they’re definitely on.
Evergrey – The Dark Discovery (AFM Records) (December 1)
Evergrey – Solitude, Dominance, Tragedy (AFM Records) (December 1)
We’d covered their Hymns for the Broken and The Storm Within (their 9th and 10th albums, respectively) and found them competent, polished musicians, but more emo than metal, more CW-prone than a melancholic sort of modern power/symphonic (we’d made comparisons to Vanishing Point, which left Evergrey rather wanting by comparision).
Better than a lot of stuff floating around out there, to be sure…but not exactly our cup of tea either.
Well, this reissue of their first two albums, while hardly shattering our earlier take, does come at a different point in our musical orientation and approach, having more or less come to embrace the more power metallish end of the equation (though granted, there’s still a huge difference between the classic US
power metal being referred to and the more polished, if a tad bland and cheesy Euro take so prominent nowadays)…with the end result that I can appreciate what I’m hearing more this time around.
There’s also the question of just how much things may or may not have changed between these 1998-99 opuses and the 2014-16 ones previously reviewed, vocalist/guitarist Tom Englund being the only common denominator between the two.
That said, here I can understand the band’s appeal to an audience weaned on depressive 90’s music like grunge, Radiohead and the defeatist, self-loathing sentiments of bands like Limp Bizkit and Beck’s “loser”, as well as the newly birthed European symphonic movement (on both the gothic/symphonic and black symphonic metal ends of the spectrum).
Filled with crunchy, forefronted guitars and lush keyboard accompaniment, but all in the service of Englund’s raspy, pained tones, this is Dave Matthews without the laid back stoner hipster ethos, a more angsty take on that sort of Crash Test
Dummies by way of Nickleback or Coldplay nonsense, but pulled more into the symph metal realm by all the bombast and those distorted, angry guitars shoved right up in your face, particularly on the drier, more metallic feeling debut The Dark Discovery.
Solitude, Dominance, Tragedy both ups the ante and dilutes the power and authority of Dark Discovery by going into a more pointedly (Euro) power metal territory, all Dream Theater by way of Sonata Arctica with vague hints of Helloween in the chugging, machine gun tremelo riffing and typewriter double bass.
Female backing vocal choruses are added, more reverb, wheedly-whoo guitar solos and that Wyndham Hill-style keyboard approach Dream Theater (re)built an entire genre out of…it’s more “festival stage ready” and tailored to the ProgPower audience, but loses much of the intimacy and metallic grit that made Dark Discovery a far more listenable, even likeable affair.
Neither is bad on any objective measure, both feature respectable musicianship and polish…but there’s no question the band came in trying to prove themselves and make a mark, then in a surprisingly short period “went soft” and moved into
more lush yet “safe” territories which they’d continue to inhabit 6 albums or so down the line, when last we’d encountered them.
Fans of the band are probably quite excited to have these back in print – like the recent Sinner retrospective from Noise, these are albums that have been out of print for some time (though not with the additional gotcha of the masters
presumed lost in a fire as in Sinner‘s case!), finally back in circulation.
But for my part, while inoffensive, Solitude, Dominance, Tragedy is more of the same as we’d seen last time around, however more acceptable I’m personally finding it at the moment…only The Dark Discovery really stands out as something a bit different from what seems to be the established Evergrey template, and at least more interesting if not more worthwhile, therefore.
Check that one out and see where it leads – no question, it’s the closest to metal proper these guys ever came.
Iron Savior – Reforged – Riding On Fire (AFM Records) (December 8)
Well, OK, nobody told him his masters were lost in a fire, but once again, a certain record label is sitting on some long out of print early albums. Given recent developments in relation to Sinner (and Grave Digger, and Helloween among others), perhaps they’ll add them to their slate of remasters and reissues…but for now, both band and fans are kind of stuck.
So if you can’t remaster and re-release your early material, what do you do?
Come on, we’ve been through this before, a few years back, you should know the answer.
That’s right, re-record your favorites (or fan faves) right here and now! So that’s what Piet and company deliver here: 19 tracks culled from their first 5 albums (and 2 EPs), performed 2017 style.
Now, normally, I find these sort of exercises in self-regurgitation pointless (hello, Saxon), but as with Sinner circa Touch of Sin 2, this is a special case…and as a few of those tracks actually came out better than they proved to be in their original 1980’s incarnations (now that we have those in hand to compare, given the recent reissues), that may well be the case here as well – I leave that to longtime Iron Savior fans to decide.
All I can tell you is Sielck is an amiable chap, a good interview and the sort of guy I’d be prone to hang out with on a personal level, and the hard SF concept of Iron Savior (which unlike the likeminded Scanner, they never actually abandoned) is an appealing change from the usual power metal fantasias.
The songs are well produced, multitracked vocally and driving…yeah, that’s about as much as I can offer here, not having the original versions to compare against.
If you’ve been chomping at the bit to hear some of these likely concert staples in recorded form, here’s your chance.
Souldrinker – War Is Coming (El Puerto Records GbR) (November 24)
A very European take on modern metal, very much informed by melodeath but with more of an anthemic, (European) power metallish festival vibe and bombastic scope.
Promo materials made the comparison to Amon Amarth, and you can hear that in the mix here – or a far less aggro-vocalled, less pointedly death metallish Arch Enemy. It’s that sort of instantly catchy, “safe”, broad appeal European melodic but heavy and driving sound (with memorably flash-melodic solos) that fills festival stages and leaves audiences singing along between bouts of headbanging and suchlike.
As with Arch Enemy, this is distaff vocalled, but unlike that band, you can actually tell this is a woman’s voice – a tough, take no bullshit woman who could probably clear the floor in a barfight, mind, but nonetheless.
Iris Boanta’s vox are raspy and raw, with bulk and body…but think more Leather Leone by way of Veronica Freeman and more generically, “power metal front(wo)man” than frighteningly masculine death growl (Gossow) or annoying Pantera aggro screamo bullshit (White-Gluz).
The riffs are groovy, but more European and heavy (power) metallish than Panteraesque on the whole, particularly when you get to the melodically inclined choruses (which almost lean AOR, as in “promised land”)…and that makes all the difference.
Certainly not my go-to, no. But didn’t mind this at all.
HAMKA – Multiversal (Fighter Records) (December 14)
Slightly symphonic power metal out of France? And with a (Spanish) female vocalist who used to front Dark Moor?
Wait a minute. I used to listen to Dark Moor back in the early millenium – the self titled, Beyond the Sea and Tarot were all in reasonably regular play. That was a guy on vocals (Alfred Romero).
Honestly? I had to look this one up. And sure enough, before I was listening to or cared about that band, they did in fact have a female singer for their first 3 albums (and 2 EPs). I was content with the albums I had, and wasn’t enthused enough about ’em to dig back (or continue thereafter)…so who the hell knew?
Anyway, said original frontwoman went from Dark Moor to this band, whose discography extends to one prior album, a demo and a single (she appears on all of those)…after more than a decade, this is their “comeback album”.
When things get a bit more soft and balladeering to pop radio, you can hear the Spanish accent (“earth’s call” leaves Elisa Martin sounding very much like the Killer Barbies’ Sylvia Superstar, which is not a bad thing to this longtime Barbies (and Jess Franco) fan).
Now, those expecting symphonic in terms of Rhapsody (of Fire) or Epica are doomed to disappointment, as Hamka works more of a lush, synth and keys accompanied take on the Sonata Arctica sound – all relentless double bass drumming and chugging riffs throughout.
The one thing that really makes Hamka stand out is…believe it or not…their balladeering. When they slow things down, they move so particularly pop, you forget they’re even supposed to be a metal band. Big hooks, syrupy keys, it’s melodic pop radio the way it used to sound back in the late 80’s, before the alterna-grunge thing, Disney Kids and “boy bands” or (shudder) auto tune cleared the floor and smeared it with a few decades worth of pungent smelling shit.
Now, is that really something to recommend them by, that they’re really good at doing light, hooky pop ballads? That’s hardly the orientation we lean towards, and generally not something to celebrate…but when it’s what the band does best and what makes them stand out from a rather large crowd of Euro power/light symphonic acts, it’d be nuts not to point out their strong point.
There are some definite odd folkish moments, but not to the extent you conjure up thoughts of folk or pagan metal – more Egyptian and Arabian flourishes peppered throughout their more Sonata Arctica-esque power metal tracks (far less so in their softer, more radio ballad ones).
They’re different enough to raise an eyebrow at, Martin’s got a pleasant enough voice on the lighter tracks, and I have zero complaints.
Yeah, I wouldn’t mind hearing more from these folks.
CyHra – Letters To Myself (Spinefarm Records) (October 20)
Damn, this is catchy…
Sorta melodeathlike (or metalcoreish) in all the prominence given to melodic guitar lead lines, but with smooth, Frontiers-worthy AORish vocals and a vaguely progressive/power vibe in the European manner. Tag in big choruses and hooks, and you’ve got an out of left field surprise winner…
Members of In Flames and Amaranthe take part here, as do members of the Luca Turilli iteration of Rhapsody, so it’s probably no surprise that this sounds like it does…but you’ll be grateful they came together nonentheless.
Picture a vocal approach as smooth and multilayered as Eden’s Curse as informed by Blind Guardian (and perhaps a hint of Nashville countrified pop) crossed with a prog-leaning, melodeathlike but so catchy and non-abrasive as to come off AOR (or at least prog metal proper), tag in a few of those silly electronic-industrial overdubs so beloved of the Euro metal scene, and you’ve got CyHra in a nutshell.
Nothing wrong with an overdose of syrup now and again, particularly when the concoction comes off this sweet and tantalizing to the tongue – this is gourmand level confectionery, tempting (and surprisingly satisfying) even to folks who normally hate sweets.
Very polished, well (if not over-)produced, and so solid in terms of songcraft that I’d be shocked if this one didn’t get its fair share of even mainstream radio airplay (at least in Europe, where they seem to be less obsessed with autotune and talentless rappers, and whose “metal radio”, unlike what little of it exists here in the States, appears far less driven by the aggro and screamo dogshit that passes for same domestically.)
I think I’m going into sugar shock after listening to this one in its entirety – this was actually overly sweet and light for my tastes…but damn, it sounded sweet going down.
Don’t knock it till ya try it, as it were…can’t argue with success, and succeed, they did.
In Search Of Sun – Virgin Funk Mother (Spinefarm Records) (November 3)
British alternative goes pop rock.
While I hear vocal phrasing that smacks of Mother Love Bone and busy riffing that falls somewhere between a positive-toned take on emo and a more Soundgardenish orientation, there’s also a lot of AOR and touches of post-GNR L.A. hard rock/metal to the rawness of the guitar tone and general vibe.
Oh, then tag in a bit of whiteboy funkified schmutters, much akin to the Red Hot Chili Peppers overdosing on uppers.
And they may consider themselves “prog”.
Well, it’s busy, there’s a lot of motion between the guitars and bass (who are yes, actually working different, if complementary lines…how shocking and unique of them!) and they appear to be decent musicians all around, so I was able to listen to this on the level of pure musicianship as much as the more distanced “average listener/taken on the whole” thing most folks stick to.
While I wasn’t entirely enamored of the indie/alterna sound per se (never did get the whole Phish thing, sorry), they were doing enough stuff in every phrase and at enough of a brisk pace to keep me interested and attentive throughout…which gives definite credence to their progressive claims.
Good band. When I can say that I don’t really care for most (or any) of the genre or genres they’re working, and yet walk away sufficiently impressed with their skills and more or less enjoying the ride?
Damn good band.
Whether you like it or not, that’s down to your own personal tastes…but hell if there isn’t some good, tightly rehearsed interplay being thrown down between them.
Entheos – Dark Future (Spinefarm Records) (November 10)
We reviewed their The Infinite Nothing but something must have reaaaaally changed, because what we said last time around? Not much of it applies here.
They’re definitely still working a prog/death thing, emphasis on the former, but with the machine gun stutter riffs so common to the latter – OK. But there’s nothing even vaguely traditional going down here, and it doesn’t feel even remotely connected to death metal proper. Still in all, not the worst thing that could be said about a band, by far.
But those vocals…I don’t recall what they were working last time around, but here all I’m picking up is aggro tonsil rattling and puke bs, with some female-sounding thin snarl vox (say huh?) that occasionally get processed into really weird computer-altered snarl vox (!)
I guess the latter would have sounded rather cool on a Killing Technology/Nothingface-era Voivod album, but here it just feels exceedingly strange and comes off somewhat lost in the shuffle.
Look, it wasn’t until three tracks in (which felt like one long track, and came as a bit of a shock to discover we were knee deep in the album already) that something good happens – about 3 minutes in to “melancholia”, the band goes all Cynic by way of “smooth jazz”. Now that part was fucking killer – much respect there.
If only the whole album, or at least major portions thereof, were comprised of suchlike…
THey’ve pulled in a new guitarist (Travis LeVrier), and it’s his more experimental, jazzy solo sections that are the only portions of Dark Future worth paying attention to – so good move, there.
But how you can move from what we’d seen in The Infinite Nothing to the scream n’ snarl aggro vocal atrocity of Dark Future, I have no idea…and honestly, didn’t care enough about this generally meh (if well played on drums and leads) affair to dig back and compare the two.
Not my idea of prog, not my idea of death.
Would probably sell a whole hell of a lot better without the perfectly horrid vocals, though – no question these guys can play.
Toothgrinder – Phantom Amour (Spinefarm Records) (November 10)
Now, when I think Garden State, I’m thinking stuff like American Angel, the Misfits, Overkill, Monstermagnet, Hades/Non-Fiction, Savage Death, Revenant, even the roots of Mortician and Incantation…not trippy, hipsterish nu-metal-leaning modernist stuff like some older folks I know listen to (“I like Soilwork, Five Finger Death Punch and Porcupine Tree, I’m a metalhead too, right?”).
Nonetheless, that’s exactly what you get here, albeit of the more listenable variety thereof: clean vocals alternating with the constipated Anselmo worship, proggy moments (and I mean 70’s prog, not the Dream Theater school), strong elements of emo mixed with all the downtuned moron riff verses and aggro vox.
It’s a very mixed bag, even within a given track, with the drummer impressing most (throwing in syncopated runs and breaks wherever he can find a bar or two) and a respectable guitar team that when not encumbered by detuned distortion and nu-metal/aggro-groove riffs (which they sadly fall back on at regular intervals) keeps things moving and even slightly busy in the manner of most modern punk/emo acts.
Then there’s hints of laid back, radio-oriented Nashville pop (more in the clean vocalled, acoustic sections, like “Jubilee”, of which you could also throw in Dave Matthews). Yeah, it’s kind of a mess, really.
But again, as with Entheos, it’s clear the guys can play well enough, and clearly relish throwing all this shit up into the air just to see where it lands, Jackson Pollock style – nothing here feels incidental or accidental, it all melds as if by design, which lends a feeling of polish to the album that you simply wouldn’t get from an “avant garde black metal” act or suchlike.
As the band themselves put it, this is “for fans that love the heavy shit, and (yet) something aggressive for fans of lighter music.”
Like a lot of stuff reviewed this month (Onlap, Noydem, Highway and Entheos just to name a few), this is a bit outside the ol’ wheelhouse, and not really “metal” (or for that matter, “punk” or “gothic”) in any major way…
…but objectively speaking, I can hear the appeal to certain audiences, and if they cut the aggro vox and nu-metal riffing sections, a wider, more mainstream radio one at that.
“Alternative progressive aggro/nu-metal?”
And as ever, the first half of that equation is the only part that works, sufficient to save ’em.
Charcoal Tongue – 24 Hours: My Deterioration (Spinefarm Records) (October 20)
Nu metal through and through. Korn crossed with Slipknot, you know the deal. Screaming, weird guitar sound effects, overly detuned, uber-simplistic riffing, electronic noises, whining and snarkiness delivered from the corner of the mouth…
…yeah, this is what we were left with here in the states after the Seattle grunge scene and their pals the Lilith Fair and Lolapalooza crowd wiped metal off the cultural map in the very early 90’s. And we’re only barely beginning to recover, and in small, confused pockets of sub-subculture, at that.
And I not only have friends who love this crap, but even have one acquaintance we jammed with in my drummer’s basement once or twice who’s gone on to international fame in a famous ethnically-oriented nu metal crossover act*…so yeah, as much as I strive to avoid it, I’m familiar with this sound, alright.
* in his defense, they are probably one of the best of these sort of acts – you can almost listen to some of their songs…
Drowning Pool fans, Five Finger Death Punch aficionados, and yes, especially Korn fans, you’ll probably love this shit.
The rest of us diehards hate this crap, and have for decades now.
Anti-Flag – American Fall (Spinefarm Records) (November 3)
A more radio-friendly, pop-punk iteration of veteran underground radicals Anti-Flag marks something of a revitalization after the tired, deflated vibe of American Spring and the subsequent shrug of the shoulders live acoustic album.
Make no mistake, this is no Mobilize, no Die for the Government even…but the old spirit of resistance is back, albeit married to a more laid back, early millenial vibe (the Sublimeish ska-punk of “when the wall falls”, the sub-Offspringisms of “the criminals” or the Blink 182like “American fall”).
So if you can take some rather pointed, sadly all too relevant rallying cries to resistance against a fascist, anti-populace far right governmental regime tied to the sort of top 40 punk your little sister used to dig back in the heyday of Crazy Taxi and Green Day, American Fall is nothing to sneeze at, after so many years of dearth (see our review of the aforementioned American Spring for our own personal history with relation to the band and where our paths diverged).
If nothing else, you have the nonsensical Horatio Alger myth that underlies the entirely imaginary “American Dream” and self-destructive “Puritan work ethic” that drives so many blue collar types to early graves while supporting the very corporatocratic fat cats who ensure they’ll never rise above their “station” concisely eviscerated by the loveable opener “American attraction”…something we’ve heard over and over from the rest of the free world, but continue to ignore to our peril.
Better yet, there’s a sense of hope underlying most of the record, acknowledging that there’s a baby we need to ensure isn’t thrown out with the rest of the filthy bathwater our national discourse…and all three branches of Federal government have become in the post-Trump era.
And only a fascistically inclined, self-centered authoritarian moron could argue with that.
No, it’s not the Anti-Flag I used to champion back in the day, not by a long shot – and the blatant Intersectionalism informing the lyrics of “racists” is a real nose crinkler, I must say. Hey, guys, on that one? Whatever. I guess we’ll have to “agree to disagree” on that…
But even so. It’s a lot closer in spirit to that band than they’ve been in more than a decade.
Electric Wizard – Wizard Bloody Wizard (Spinefarm Records) (November 10)
Small breasts and huge hips.
Sorry, still can’t get over that ridiculous cover…particularly given the rather weird proportions of the cover model.
Anyway, bizarre choice of cover aside (this isn’t “suicidal depressive black metal” or emo, after all…but stoner doom. Why an oddly proportioned girl has the album title ostensibly carved into her like a teenage psycho carving Slayer into their forearms back in the day, your guess is as good as mine…), this is a very different Electric Wizard than I regularly revisit on Dopethrone.
Not only has the band composition changed radically, but here we find Jus Osborn doing his level best to evoke the druggier, mid-70’s iteration of Black Sabbath, arguably with a touch of Cathedral for good measure.
Even so, one thing remains unchanged: the powerful to the point of threatening to drown everything else out distorted bass and vocals (with guitars detuned sufficient to blend in with, if behind, said thundering bassline). It seems to be something of a band trademark, and a welcome one, offering a sort of laid back, yet simmering with anger vibe that so much doom (and especially stoner doom) seems to miss the mark on capturing.
While a mere 6 tracks, Wizard Bloody Wizard makes the most of its running time, with only “The Reaper” falling rather flat by comparison, with its ill fitting, fumble fingered funeral organ and druggy Monster Magnet-like wah/flange/phase guitar. To be quite honest – that track sucks.
But the other four tracks that surround it are quite likely the best I’ve heard the band do since the days of Dopethrone (I’ve kept my Wizard to the level of occasional skims and revisits outside of that early classic – and after this album, that’s about to change, their single album playlist being very much expanded by one…)
Even the obligatory overlong closer (“mourning of the magicians”) plays very much in the same ballpark, so that’s 5 out of 6 tracks, batted straight outta the park.
If they’d dropped that fucking “reaper” track, this would have been an all men on base home run.
As it stands, by far the best this Wizard’s been in 17 years.
Light one up in salute to the gods of stoner doom.
Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown – S/T (Snakefarm/Spinefarm Records) (November 3)
Don’t let the overly fuzz toned, sorta grunge-riffed “heartland” fool ya overmuch…this is a sorta Southern fried bar band blooze, just with grunge-ish undertones and tonal choices.
Apparently, they’ve been touring with the likes of ZZ Topp, Aerosmith, Jeff Beck and AC/DC, and you could make some stretch comparisons to a druggier feeling Black Crowes or a far less obnoxious Buckcherry…so you get the general vibe here.
Very 90’s and more than a touch alternative, but more leaning heavy bar bandish in feel than hardline grunge or the usual quirkiness and offputting obnoxio-geek thing alternative is noted for.
I guess if the White Stripes and Queens of the Stone Age had a major hard on for the Crowes and Jeff Healey, you might get something similar to Tyler Bryant & the Shakedown.
Not my thing at all, but has its moments of catchiness and radio-ready choruses to its credit.
LUCIFER’S HAMMER (Chile) – Victory is Mine (MCD, MLP, TAPE) (Shadow Kingdom) (December 15)
We reviewed these Chileans’ Beyond the Omens and enjoyed their decidedly retro NWOBHM vibe.
This time they amp up the Omen vibe (which you can also read as Maiden on steroids, if you prefer), but retain that mellow, Sean Harris gone “occult rock” vocal approach…which in itself also spells UK metal circa 1979-81.
Diamond Head, Omen, early Maiden, maybe a hint of Witchfinder General, Tygers of Pan Tang or even Praying Mantis (at a stretch), all gone a tad Hour of 13-ish. What’s not to love?
Sure, it’s only four songs…but well worth it nonetheless.
Once again, damn good stuff, and as retro as they come.
Raise the horns!
NUPRAPTOR – The Heresiarch (CD, LP, TAPE) (Shadow Kingdom) (December 15)
Lumbering, molasses-thick riffs and slow to the point of feeling intermittent drum punctuation. Yep, it’s traditional (leaning a bit funeral) doom.
Normally, that’d be great by me.
Problem with this one is, the guy working this project is pretty damn young…which wouldn’t be an issue, if he weren’t also the vocalist.
I mean, if it were your younger brother or even son out there, you’d think hey, great job! But for those without the fraternal or emotional connection, it comes off a tad…I don’t know. It’s listenable, sure. But you’d think someone with a young nasal tenor (and a touch of a lisp) would stick to Green Day covers or something, he just doesn’t have the proper gravitas to deliver the forcefully declamatory vocals this kind of music demands.
Also, the riffs, while definitely “doom” through and through, seem to plod a bit – they never really resolve to anything, with the notable exception of the title cut (which is naturally the best track on the album). It’s overly minimalist to the point of circularity…and this in a genre noted for its fairly basic riffing (Sabbath, Candlemass, etc.).
Again, “the heresiarch” stands out among the batch, as it bears a vaguely Warning-esque harmonic motion, with a sorta-Trouble tempo and riff changeup at the solo. A full album of songs like this, I’d be giving this a fairly strong recommendation, juvie vox and all.
As it stands, there’s definite promise here…just promise only partially fulfilled.
Put a Messiah Marcolin on vocals, do something more harmonically speaking with those riffs (title track aside), you’d have a pretty formidable traditional doom band here.
As is…Marc Almond in his darker moments goes a tad Sabbath pretty much sums this one up.
HAUNT (U.S.) – Luminous Eyes (MCD, MLP, TAPE) (Shadow Kingdom) (December 29)
Son of Montrose’s Bill Church and guitarist/frontman of Beastmaker (whose You Must Sin, Lusus Naturae and Inside the Skull have gained high praise across the board in these pages), is it really any surprise that Trevor William Church delivers yet another slab of retro goodness with his new side project?
Eschewing most of the doom elements (though it’s retro 70’s enough in vibe to pass as kin to the “occult rock” movement, musically speaking), with Haunt Church digs in to a sound that clearly reveres early Maiden, Praying Mantis, Blitzkrieg and related Euro acts like Heavy Load, early Nightmare and High Power.
It’s definitely “heavy metal”, but very much in the pre-polish, pre-genrefication era of same – i.e., 70’s heavy rock given a punk inspired tempo and thrust. Or to bring it back full circle, NWOBHM through and through.
Four track EP (or as the label refers to it, MCD/MLP), but so, so good.
Church seems to spin gold wherever he plugs in his guitar.
So? What the hell are you waiting for?
Raise the metal fist high.
Obsession – Marshall Law [re-issue] (Inner Wound Recordings) (December 1)
Obsession – Scarred for Life [re-issue] (Inner Wound Recordings) (December 1)
Obsession – Methods of Madness [re-issue] (Inner Wound Recordings) (December 1)
Throughout the years, one of my steadfast favorite metal bands has been Obsession. Their three classic albums have stood the test of time, no matter what phase of life or musical genre I’ve cycled through – they’ve made the transition from overplayed cassette to overplayed CD to digital without a hitch, and like only a few others (like Chastain and Loudness) have never really fallen out of favor in this house.
I tried to get Mike Vescera on the podcast a few years back, to discuss Obsession, his stints with Loudness and Yngwie and even Animetal USA, among other things, but despite a promising initial contact, he dropped off and went incommunicado. Still have that interview ready and waiting, it you’re reading this, Mike…
With the rights likely scattered to the winds (as I recall, the EP was on Metal Blade, while the two full lengths were on the late lamented Enigma, later (thankfully!) reissued with bonus tracks on the likely Vescera-run “Metal Mayhem” label out of Connecticut), it’s nice to see all three together again, reissued and sharing the same label for the first time ever, complete with the aforementioned bonus tracks (and even one extra demo track appended to the EP).
So let’s talk about each in turn, shall we?
Not the strongest and most defining of debuts, the brief Marshall Law EP shows an Obsession still in search of an identity.
Starting off on its weakest track, then building as it goes, even the composition of the record is askew from its purposes. It’s only with third track “execution” that you start to hear a more recognizable Obsession, with a riff and melody that would be very obviously adapted and reused for the later “bang ’em till they bleed”.
Even so, it remains the EP’s strongest track, followed by the more straightforward, even repetitive title track with its insistent, relentless riff. This version of the EP features a previously unreleased demo version of the same track, which features a more forefronted, rather Dokkenesque vocal track and more muted guitars.
In point of fact, that’s part of what’s so “off” about Marshall Law – while still a rather superlative US power metal release of its day, Vescera seems quite unformed, very much drawing from the Don Dokken school of smooth melodic vocals, but with a penchant towards drama school-style (over)acting, declaiming
each line with an odd, uncalled for gusto bordering on camp as if he were delivering a Shakespeare monologue on some college theatrical circuit.
When I finally discovered the existence of and later got my hands on the (then long out of print) Marshall Law, I was a bit taken aback – there was enough about this that said it was indeed Obsession (the trademark guitar tone and dual guitar interplay, mainly), but it was really quite different at the same time. Sure, it grew on me pretty damn fast…but by no means should they be judged solely on the basis of this decidedly formative EP.
Scarred for Life:
With a cover that bears no small similarities to (and in fact improves upon) that of fellow USPM’ers Liege Lord’s second album*, Obsession follows that band’s lead in producing their career pinnacle midway through a three album (or in Obsession’s case, release) cycle of classics.
* no surprise, as artist Ioannis Vassilopoulos was responsible for both, as well as Fates Warning’s Spectre Within and Awaken the Guardian and Hallows Eve’s Monument.
Like Burn to My Touch, the production, the riffs, the soaring, powerful vocals, hell, the sheer piss and vinegar of the band members makes this one stand out as not only their personal best, but as one of the best US power metal albums, period – both at the time of release and through to this day.
By this time, Vescera had found his mature voice, and was in fact at his career pinnacle – without the bite and rasp that would come later, but well past the formative Dokkenisms and high school theatrical elements of Marshall Law, this is the man his his unstoppable prime, soaring when called for, melodic and working the entirety of his range for the first time.
Tag in the Maco/Vitale guitar team working together and finding their voice (and signature wah set at the halfway point to bring out maximum harmonics and hollow-toned crunch guitar tone) and songs strong enough to stand out even to this day, and damn, have you got a winner on your hands.
Without a weak track and with their strongest power ballad (the anthemic “tomorrow hides no lies”), there’s really nothing further to say here – the sheer excellence of the album speaks for itself. Nuff said.
The only issue here is this release (only, among the three on offer) appears to have been mastered from a vinyl source, I was hearing crackles and distortion throughout that were thankfully not present in my prior Metal Mayhem CD version – so fellow audiophiles, be aware of that fact before jumping in.
Methods of Madness:
Methods is somewhat of a tricky one to tackle, as it contains some of Obsession’s most polished, catchy, anthemic and yet driving songs…and yet remains, perhaps contrarily, its most glammy, overly polished, mainstream-oriented release despite that.
This was actually the album I discovered the band through, back in that storied Summer of ’87 (see my discussion of Chastain’s 7th of Never, in both the Leather Leone interviews and our review of Surrender to No One, as the local metal radio station would play the rather boring and glammy “for the love of money” and the far more interesting and driving “always on the run” on a regular basis…the latter drove me to pick up the album and give ’em a try.
And make no mistake, there are some great tracks here – “hard to the core”, “high treason”, “desperate to survive”, the title track and “panic in the streets” are all very good, and despite the too-clean production and perhaps overly multitracked and reverbed vocals, most or all could well have been appended to
Scarred for Life.
But even “always on the run” feels less representative – it’s more radio friendly, more glam in approach. “Too wild to tame” takes those tendencies and makes them blatant, “killer elite” is bland by comparison to what came before and “for the love of money” is just fucking annoying, I’m sorry – if that were the only track played back in those halcyon days of 1987, I’d have blown these guys off entirely and consequently missed out on what quickly became one of my favorite (and enduringly so!) classic metal bands both then and ever since.
The two bonus tracks (also present on the Metal Mayhem release) further display this tendency towards a more Bon Jovi-esque glam feel. Now, to be fair, even the heaviest of traditional and power metal bands were leaning that way at the time – Priest, Maiden, Ozzy, Scorpions, Lizzy Borden, you name it – big poofy hair, glittery costumes and a lighter feel to accomodate more of a female-friendly audience. But even so, it’s always noticeable, and generally unwelcome, particularly to modern ears.
That said, “missing you” has baffled me since first hearing it on the Metal Mayhem release – this is clearly one of the catchiest, if not best songs on the album, and yet it was left off.
In favor of “for the love of money”, “killer elite” and “too wild to tame”.
Yeah. Makes no fucking sense, I know.
The other bonus track (“waiting for your call”) is passable, and still better than the aforementioned trio of mediocrities, but I can see this one being left in the can…”missing you”, go figure.
Even so, Methods of Madness, for all its comparative weaknesses to Scarred for Life, is and was still a very strong album, and compares quite favorably to most of what was being released in that same year…come on, even Lizzy Borden had dropped the ball after Love You to Pieces and given us the questionable Menace to Society, the patently ridiculous mostly-covers Terror Rising and the downright laughable Visual Lies over the year prior (yes, that all happened in ’86 and ’87 – quantity seldom if ever equates with quality, kids). By comparison to that parade of shit, Methods was a flawless example of traditional to US power metal of its day, no backtalk.
Amazingly, both Art Maco and Bruce Vitale would hang up their axes for good after this, leaving Vescera free to work a lengthy career with the aforementioned likes of a post-Minoru Nihara Loudness, Yngwie Malmsteen, Animetal USA and his own, more Christian progressive rock-oriented MVP and solo efforts (much like fellow Animetal shredder Chris Impelliteri, who similarly spent many years working in those circles on a long cycle of Japan-only albums).
He eventually formed a new Obsession about a decade back, and brought bassist Jay Mezias along for a few of these, but while a lot of quality material has been produced under his aegis since, there’s really no comparison to his work with the original five man Obsession, and this trilogy of offerings.
If you haven’t already indulged in any or all of these…you’re in for a real treat. Scarred for Life remains one of the very best US power metal albums ever recorded, with Methods of Madness not all that far behind, and Marshall Law a decent, if rather different feeling debut that still stands above many of its peers.
Hard Action – Hot Wired Beat (Svart Records) (December 1)
We covered these Finns’ split with Forced Kill and The Black Mass a few years back as well as their full length followup Sinister Vibes and loved their driving punk leaning metallic hard rock almost to a fault.
This time around, this beast seems to have mellowed somewhat, the early Angus Young/Fast Eddie Clarke/Cheetah Chrome-isms giving way to more of a Thin Lizzy by way of Iggy and the Stooges thing, but without the anger and chaos the latter implies, if you can picture such a thing.
In other words, while it’s clearly still the same band…it feels overly polished, if not a touch neutered.
Now, promo materials offer comparisons to Hanoi Rocks, and yeah, that’s definitely very much in there…but that’s a hell of a remove from the driving bikerish/self destructive/hard living vibe of vintage Dead Boys, Motorhead or Bon Scott AC/DC.
It’s like they went all classic rock or something, while still retaining some aspects of their punkified heavy rock persona…so yeah, it’s still very listenable, but no fucking way is this the same band that delivered the last two releases covered herein.
Hell, I’m even hearing the lighter end of Heavy Load in this…and while I like all the bands mentioned hereinabove, that’s one hell of a switch from where they were just 2 and 3 years ago.
They got old and fat, bottom line. Just can’t believe it happened so fast.
Listenable, sure. But another 5 star review?
No fucking way.
Lucky if it’s a 3.
KO:MI – Songs of Them (Svart Records) (November 3)
Solo album from a “multi-instrumentalist” going by the name of Sanna Komi (if that rings any bells or means anything to you).
As the cover might suggest, this is uber-mellow, generally piano based folk cum singer songwriter schmutters, not all that far removed from Tori Amos at her most mellow, or better yet, Carly Simon, Carole King or Laura Nyro without the chart topping hooks.
Remember in the 90’s, when all that Lilith Fair business brought a shit-tonne of female musicians? You had all those riot grrrl types on the “heavy” end, sure…but there were sooooo many mellow singer songwriter types, all acoustic guitars and pianos. Sarah McLachlan, Tracy Chapman, Lisa Loeb, Meredith Brooks, Joan Osborne, Me’Shell N’degeocello, the list goes on…and on…and on into mediocrity and forgettability.
I’ve been so glad the 90’s have been nothing but a bad memory for the last 20 years or so.
Just hope they’re not making some sort of a comeback…
So yeah, if that sounds wonderful and right up your alley to you, you know what to do.
Me, I’m forgetting I even heard this…too many bad memories of a dogshit music scene (and the “political correctness” and paranoia it came as part and parcel of) all across the board for pretty much an entire decade there.
Eero Koivistoinen Quartet – Illusion (Svart Records) (November 3)
Straight up trad jazz quartet, nightclub style.
We’ve covered their Hati Hati a few years back, and as this is where I more or less spent the 90’s, I was pretty happy to hear this one.
Well, there were actually a lot of places I went to avoid an absolutely atrocious contemporary music scene throughout that decade, inclusive of the US 2nd wave gothic rock scene, 60’s psychedelia and traditional Celtic/British Isles folk and folk/rock ala Pentangle and Fairport Convention.
But I actually studied jazz for a bit, and remain a huge fan of the Miles Davis quintets (both of ’em, if more the later Herbie Hancock iteration) and the more “expansive” periods of John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy and Roland Kirk, not to mention all sorts of fusion (I won’t reiterate ’em all here, but these influences have come up many a time in these monthly reviews, and I’m sure will again – that’s my preferred music orientation outside the metal/gothic/punk axis we tend to cover most here) – kind of an open secret that the Third Eye podcast theme was more or less based on “so what”,* so yeah, trad jazz and fusion are definitely “my thing”, or a significant one of ’em.
* and yeah, I heard that quick nod/swipe in “straight up”…
And I can tell you, knowing one or two guys who both perform and teach the stuff professionally as a side thing – jazz is a very hard thing to make a living at…and perhaps even harder to make a name for yourself in. Case in point.
Because honestly? It’s a crime that Eero Koivistoinen isn’t more of a “name” internationally – I’m hearing moments that spell Wayne Shorter, touches of Coltrane, moments that say the second Miles Quintet even – a track like “catalonia” wouldn’t feel all that out of place on Sorcerer or Miles Smiles, for example.
Pianist Alexi Tuomarila offers some just dissonant enough to be interesting stride piano and accompaniment, coming off somewhere between Hancock, Corea and possibly even Oscar Peterson at times.
Drumer Jussi Lehtonen works the kit like a more laid back Tony Williams (I mean, he’s not driving the compositions and laying into the kit ahead of the beat like Williams would, but he bears many of the same stylistic flourishes in the way he works the toms and cymbals, and is certainly working off in his own contrapuntal world rather than just laying back and following the rest of the combo – I guess you could say Billy Cobham, but again, at somewhat of a stretch. Regardless, I like what he’s doing here, and like the others input and interplay, it reinforces the Miles (second) quintet vibe very much in play throughout.
There’s never much to say about the bass, unless you’re talking funk, R&B or reggae, but it’s safe to say Jori Huhtala pulls his standup beyond the expected walking lines to more of a descant and counterpoint, which you could argue somewhat parallels what Ron Carter was doing…but again, with less aggression (one gets the distinct impression that Williams and Carter were just fucking pissed during all those recordings, so intense was the drive and thrust…)
I guess the best comparison for Eero himself on the sax would be a cross between Shorter and Coltrane at his most traditional and laid back. There’s more in play here, but I couldn’t quite peg where he’s drawing from – the blues of Cannonball Adderley is certainly not a factor, nor is the nigh-free jazz experimentation of a Roland Kirk (forget about the wild stretches of an Eric Dolphy or Ornette Coleman!)…so in the end, Shorter is probably the best parallel, in his studied, measured mix of laid back traditionalism and strong hints of more free, dissonant experimentation (but without ever really tripping the line into uncontrolled chaos like a Coltrane or some of the others mentioned here of late).
It may have been a few years, but I think Illusion is a decided step up from Hati Hati, bearing more of a Davis-like melancholy and intimacy alongside a pointedly second quintet lean towards experimentation (in what has become a traditional sense, given much of what came in the decade subsequent…but not so commercial and bastardized as the “smooth jazz” crap heralded by the likes of Najee, Kenny G, Weather Report and Spiro Gyra).
I seriously, seriously appreciated this one dropping my way…don’t think this will be leaving the iPod for some time.
Hats off to a truly excellent combo, highly deserving of far more acclaim.
Jussi Lehtonen – Move On (Svart Records) (November 3)
And here, Eero’s drummer Jussi steps out on his own, bringing bassist Jori Huhtala with him. It’s a very different combo (this time a quintet), so as you might expect, you get a very different vibe in play.
As with any project led by its drummer, it’s clear who the focus is – think Tony Williams Lifetime, Billy Cobham’s early solo material or Alphonse Mouzon, but without the fusion elements – this is strictly trad jazz.
As such, Jussi gets to flex his kitwork muscles a tad more herein (though he seemed to be working ’em pretty damn well on Illusion this month!), seldom keeping to any base rhythmic line or patterns, working his way frantically, almost spastically across various cymbals and toms while dropping snare hits and footwork at nigh-random intervals…yet never really losing the rhythm or falling out of meter thereby.
If the Tony Williams influences were notable with Eero on Illusion, here Jussi lets himself stretch, while never actually copycatting the man and his work – while the drums are frantic, busy to the point of crazed and more or less front and center throughout, he’s seldom playing ahead of the beat, instead sticking to the more traditional behind the beat (with occasional phrases landing right on meter, usually to pick up tempo and drive the band more than offer punctuation thereto.)
If anything, this reminds me of Williams’ work on the live Four and More than anything else…
…and if you know that album and the circumstances behind it, you’ll realize that’s far from any sort of complaint.
In fact, it’s a decided compliment.
Yeah, of the two albums, Illusion is more my choice – the perfect blend of melancholy and dissonant experimentation.
But while far less introspective and (let’s be honest) angry at core, Move On is an excellent follow up and companion to that, without question.
Kaukolampi – I (Svart Records) (December 1)
We previously reviewed Timo Kaukolampi’s K-X-P twice, both for their History of Techno and for their III Part I, and this is more of the same, really: weird 70’s electronic/space rock ambient experimentation that occasionally develops a pulse and leans “lazerpunk”/retro-80’s postapocalyptic film soundtrack/John Carpenteresque, but with somewhat of a Depeche Modelike/Cabaret Voltaire-style synthpop vibe (“3 legged giant centipede”, “bottomless well of the forgotten secrets”).
I was OK with all of this, having been through the 90’s and a regular at various of the Kims Videos (those who were there, know what I’m getting at), but it’s pretty trippy and seems a tad aimless overall, unless you’re a DJ and big on trancey but obscure white label club music 12 inches (yeah, I had one friend who lived for the stuff, and spent a lot of time digging through record bins and hanging with DJs back in the day).
Depends on whether synth experimentation and drum machine beats really get you fired up with excitement or not, really.
Anguis Dei – Ad Portas Serpentium (Svart Records) (November 24)
A nice faux-orchestral intro with power metallish ever-rising toned clean singing gives way to more of a symphonic black/death affair.
Prominent keyboards (and faux-string sections, and faux-organ) as bombastic as Cradle of Filth at their best, weird dual vocals ala Carcass gone black, busy, well mixed drums and tech/prog death metallish machine gun stutter riffing on the guitars.
As with Cradle, the best moments are actually when the guitars shut the fuck up and let the orchestration (or the otherwise unaccompanied guitar solo) take center stage, but at Anguis Dei’s best (as in “maythorns over urobouros”), there’s so much kinship between Hammer of the Witches and Ad Portas Serpentium, it’s actually surprising, particularly in today’s increasingly sorry black metal scene.
Sadly, while many of these elements do recur in the subsequent “angela krudeliis ambitiosa nokturniis”, the atonality and doofiness of the opening riff fall right back into the Watain/Dark Funeral school of Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards bullshit. There’s enough of Dani Filth and company to save ’em (particularly evident in those piercing shriek/screams all over the track and the sirenlike female vocal punctuation halfway through), but it was like a smack in the face, given where they seemed to be going. “I thought you fuckers were different, dammit! You’re all the same!”
One pointless piano instrumental, then it’s back to full-on Filth for “the lionel”.
Never let it be said that I condemned an otherwise primo band on the basis of a few misguided riff choices, particularly when it’s on only portions of one out of three otherwise dead on tracks.
I’ve never made a secret of the fact that I love the first few Cradle albums, and give them spins on a somewhat regular rotation…and Hammer of the Witches was an excellent, if short lived, return to form (the less said about its back to mediocrity successor Cryptoriana, the better).
So you give me a band that captures that band at their best, but throws in their own special slant?
Raise the horns.
Islaja – Tarrantulla (Svart Records) (December 1)
Weird experimental music. Light and airy female vocals…sort of reminiscent of Suzanne Vega, if not quite so waiflike and little girlish, over a decidedly minimalist backing of synths and quirky, almost random folkish instrument accompaniment.
And then you get the really weird synthpop moments, like on “tactile material”, which comes off like Lene Lovich crossed with Bjork…but there’s not much of that going on here, or we could say it’s just a bizarre 80’s postpunk throwback sort of affair.
Instead, we get more of an indie take on the world music-y filler material taking up much of Bowie’s Lodger…again, Bjork is the closest touchpoint here, but with far less pop sensibilities or traditionalist song structure, and a lot more modern crap like autotune bleeding through.
Strange, but if you like the bands mentioned, you may find this of vaguely similar bent.
Personally, I didn’t see a purpose to all of this.
Lapin Helvetti – S/T (Svart Records) (December 8)
From the ashes of Finnish hardcore punks Terveet Kadet (whose last LP was titled…wait for it…Lapin Helvetti*, we get this more metallized crossover act.
* which we covered here.
With the crunch and drive of metal (think Motorhead), the mosh-baiting bounce of crossover (think vintage Anthrax, D.R.I. or Agnostic Front) and even hints of black metal (or at least black death) (“sankarijuhlat”) and a sort of Obituaryesque groove-driven death metal (“mikaan hyva ei kesta kauan”), this is definitely a step up from what these guys were working in their former incarnation.
Not quite vintage crossover, but with enough elements of metal appended to definite touches of the 80’s punk-metal the term represents to leave this self titled reasonably essential listening in these decidedly punk-starved days.*
* no, the screamo noise shit that passes for “hardcore” these days, emo and metalcore don’t really count – I mean honest to combat boots punk, which simply doesn’t exist anymore.
Good stuff, I was down with it.
Over the Voids… – S/T (Nordvis Produktion) (November 17)
Some guy going by “The Fall” (hey, you mean Mark E. Smith gave up the barstool and postpunk poetics for black metal?) who apparently works live bass for Poland’s Mgla goes one man band for this vaguely retro-inspired black metal affair.
Now, don’t get your hopes up – this doesn’t exactly sound vintage Norwegian, Polish, French or even Swedish…nor does it sound particularly Greek, Italian, UK or US style BM.
In fact, it doesn’t sound all that retro after all, excepting the prominent, deep growled vocals and a few dissonant tremelo lead lines. So it’s more of a vague retro-ish approach, far removed from the mediocrity of modern PoDB/”occult black metal” bullshit, yet not exactly reminiscent of any band in the old collection in particular.
Maybe you could say early Mgla crossed with…who? Demo-era Manes? Not really, though you may be able to hear what I’m getting at here. It’s more of a “pointing towards” than a “sounds like” or “in the same ballpark as”.
Either way, it’s certainly listenable enough.
Can’t say it lit me on fire in any major way…but I liked it well enough, and as vague an approximation as it is, was glad for the more or less retro approach taken.
Probably better than a lot of the shit other sources will serve the usual avalanche of hype on this month, yeah.
Evilfeast – Elegies of the Stellar Wind (Eisenwald) (December 15)
You know, when I think symphonic black metal, there are certain bands and a certain sound that come to mind, the best of whom is Cradle of Filth (we won’t mention the other usual suspects, I can’t stand either of ’em, and never could).
And on another hand entirely, when you say “Polish black metal with epic keyboard arrangements”, I’m thinking the Graveland/Infernum school of Casio tomfoolery, perhaps with more of a Mortiis Era I by way of Elffor orientation and scope.
But what you get here is more pointedly Norwegian in feel, from the driving double bass drumming to the vocal style to the very tone and prominence of the keyboards – lush, wide and full to the point of gothic/symphonic…more noticeable as there are actual hooks and a strangely major key melodic thing going on – say huh?
Far to well produced on the keyboard and drums to fall into any of the aforementioned camps, and more melodically oriented and “professional” feeling than any black metal band you’d likely think of, Evilfeast belies their ostensible origins and influences to the point where if you removed the Norwegian second wave-style vocal snarls and the ridiculously overdriven guitars (think Electric Wizard circa Dopethrone more than black metal in tone and approach there), the keyboards would suggest more of a synthpop act…or at the very least, a rather inoffensive radio-oriented gothic symphonic act. Closest this comes to black metal proper would be earlier Crimson Moonlight.
So it’s rather bizarre, expansive in feel and overly happy and clean for black metal (though admittedly, the mid to late 90’s symphonic black metal scene was oft noted for its overly clean and crisp production, comparatively speaking). Is it any good, though?
Well, actually…yes. Once you get used to the severely off-kilter to the point of seeming almost individual (at least at this point in music history), our man “Grim Spirit” (seriously) delivers some oddly atmospheric, generally well produced (if you ignore the hissy, overly thin stoner doom guitar tone) material that should bring veterans way on back to the weirdly expansionist era of mid to late 90’s black metal, where things started getting “popular” to the point of pulling in a nigh-mainstream listener base, albeit while losing most of what made the first and early second wave actually work in the process.
And that’s one improvement over that era that you’ll get with Evilfeast…because that sense of emptiness and hollowness that leaves much of that Norsecore, symphonic, “progressive” and other meh variants of black metal arising during those odd desert years sounding flat?
Plenty of atmosphere to be had, a pleasantly vintage feel, but a bit more substantiveness and weight (not to mention a decidedly wintry feel) than much of that era’s material had to offer.
I liked it well enough, yeah.
THAW – Grains (Agonia Records) (December 8)
Polish “experimental black metal” act.
So yeah, what you get is a lot of dissonant noise and some scream-growling, a nigh-silent ambient track followed by some guy tuning up his bass, almost (early) Abruptum-style, then electronic radio tuning frequency noise, then a sorta doomy track to close it out.
Well, the final (doom-ish) track was…at least trying to be music…
(shakes head, pinches forehead in utter disbelief)
Asylum 8 – Repressed (Inverse Records) (November 10)
Futuristic toned industrial metal.
As with most Euro metal acts these days, there are arguable links to gothic, symphonic and power metal (the drumming style, the machine gun riffing at the verses, the synth/keyboard thing, the clean sung, melodic choruses), and this is exactly what saves them from the mediocrity they could easily have been, were aggro croaker/puke-growler Henry Hamalainen not inclined to the smooth vocalled bridges and chorus sections.
Oh, and promo materials play up the electronic business as an inclination towards EDM. No, that would make them PassCode or something…this is a more particularly Euro (and honestly? Quite pointedly Teutonic) take on gothic industrial.
The end result is therefore generally quite listenable…excepting those aggro verses, which are just as laughable as they ever are.
When will up and comers drop the Anselmo schtick already? The guy’s a nazi and an asshole, not to mention an utter no-talent…enough already. Learn to fucking sing.
The only other gotcha here is that songs tend to bleed into one another – caught myself a few times thinking we were still on the same track, when two or more had gone by. Not a deal closer like the shitty aggro vox, just something to attend to in future if you want any career longevity.
Wasn’t excited by this or anything, but Hamalainen’s chronic constipation concerns aside (Sunsweet makes a great prune juice, you might want to try it!), it wasn’t all that bad. Choruses were certainly catchy enough.
Cardiant – Mirrors (Inverse Records) (November 24)
The absolute lightest end of European power metal.
Two vocalists, one male (Erik Karhatsu), one female (Outi Jokinen), they seem to alternate between tracks so mellow they sound more like the airier end of Frontiers AOR (think Robin Beck or the Yes alumni, that sort of thing) and a more typical Helloween-style melodic power metal approach.
Guess which tracks work, and which kind of flounder.
It’s not quite an even split between the two styles, so don’t walk in expecting 6 decent power metal tracks…it’s more like 4, maybe 5, buried between balladeering and mellow to midtempo schmaltz.
When they’re actually trucking along with the power metal proper, they’re more than acceptable, and the clean male/female vox offer a bit of a change from the same old, same old.
It’s just all that non-metal stuff they fill the album with that bothers the shit out of me…so mellow, I was thinking 2nd Chapter of Acts (if anyone remembers those schmaltzateers!)
60/40, but sadly weighted towards the bleh end, just by sheer weight of tracks and time spent therein.
Wolfhorde – The Great Old Ones (Inverse Records) (December 1)
An all covers/tribute EP, with tracks by Finntroll, Amorphis and Moonsorrow all covered reasonably aptly.
Not much else to offer here, except that Wolfhorde may bring thicker tone to the guitars and a bit more of a keyboard-driven symphonic feel to the covers…which you probably already have the originals of somewhere in your collection.
Not bad at all. Would have liked at least one original/exclusive track to balance things out, though.
Billy Momo – Umbrellas, wings and magic things (Mo Better Music) (November 3)
Here they offer a brief 3 song EP, but you’ll definitely want to check this one out if only for opener “we need another shovel”, which if not a TV theme song, certainly sounds like it should be. Alternating between haunting, hipster-goofy and retro-Americana in all its Chris Isaak/Mazzy Starness, this one definitely gets my nod for their best song to date.
“Love weighs a ton” similarly feels rather vintage 90’s, like it should have been on the soundtrack to a film like Ghost World or something, all Matthew Sweet meets Beck laid back quirkiness; closer “right there in our eyes” mixes a druggier, more indie pop vibe with decided Todd Rundgren/Beatles vocal harmonies.
There really isn’t a slacker on this terse, honestly all too brief slice of retro-alternative goodness.
Normally, to say something felt rather 90’s comes with a slag – aggro, groove, nu-metal, grunge – all still among, if not topping, the most hated genres of music as a whole not only for yours truly, but for a good portion of the metal community at large, from what can be gleaned from social media and the online world as well as those few diehards in personal proximity.
As one rather surprising source said to me last Saturday, “I think in the 90’s, they really dumbed down music – everything turned very basic and oversimplified, there was all this depressing crap by and about heroin junkies, most of it just doesn’t hold up.”
But this is more in line with the less-noted, admittedly rather more rarified indie/alternative based music of that era that actually didn’t suck some serious ass…some of which was pretty damn good, in fact.
Case in point.
Yeah, you’ll want to check this one out, no question.
LION’S SHARE – “The Lion’s Trial”
You know, from that promo photo, frontman Lars Christmansson looks a hell of a lot like Grim Reaper’s Steve Grimmett. And to judge by new single “The Lion’s Trial”, that’s rather apropos.
Crossing a bit of Grimmett with a sort of corner of the mouth take on Ronnie James Dio, Christmansson gives a gravel toned trad to power metallish bellow over the uber-simplistic and straightforward (but catchy and hypnotically repetitive) riff by guitarist Nils Patrik Johansson.
There are a few harmony lead lines tagged in at the verses for extra punctuation, and the rhythm guitars are doubled at points for a touch of punch, but it’s all very to the point and early to mid 80s-ish in metal terms.
If you came up on this stuff, you’ll instantly feel comfortable and even like this quite a bit…but it’s as basic as a vintage Twisted Sister or Quiet Riot track, married to the march tempo plod of Grim Reaper or Accept, so it’s more “heavy” than “uplifting”, more “grinding” than “driving”…
…and while a damn good song, I question its long term replay value somewhat.
All told, definitely very much worth a listen, and I’m quite looking forward to a full length…consider my interest piqued.
ONLAP – Running (Deluxe) (October 16)
This is an interesting one.
Modern punk-oriented, but not quite emo and certainly not aggro, metalcore or any other -core. Melodic and sort of hard rock, but more youthful in spirit and too driving for the “dad rock” “classic rock” bar band crowd.
Sorta pop and Nashville in vibe (particularly on tracks like “running”), but again, too young, too noisy and “heavy” with all that guitar distortion, too uptempo for those crowds…and yet, clearly written and recorded with pop radio airplay both in sight and very much in mind.
It’s not my kind of music, in the least…but it’s professional, crafted to a factory sheen, and not a million miles removed from what passes for punk and related scenes these days – I guess if bands like Good Charlotte and Sum 41 were still active and viable concerns, they might well have mutated into something much akin to Onlap.
Your kid sister is probably already bouncing around the room to their songs…or should be.
New Kids on the Seine?
Who knows. But you can’t deny this one has “mainstream fanbase hit” all over it.
DISCO-NECTED – VISION / DIVISION EP (October 16)
Another French alterna/pop-punk sort of band, very much in the same vein as Onlap, but with an (arguably) slightly harder, more 90’s heavy music edge.
They still bring the melodic, anthemic choruses, but there’s a definite undercurrent of melancholy that links them a bit closer to the emo scene than the aforementioned Onlap (who come off rather Nashville pop by comparison).
Even so, while not as polished and a touch darker (not to mention more 90’s and while certainly pop, less particularly pop-punkish…they feel a bit grungelike, or whatever you classify that crap that followed like Tool, Sponge and suchlike as), Disco-Nected equally focus on big, sing-a-long choruses and polished (though not quite as polished as the far more syrupy Onlap) production.
Again, this is outside my wheelhouse, as it were, but there’s enough of the familiar to offer this up to a slightly more teenage, not quite emo but thinking about it audience who thinks 90’s music was the be all, end all that they missed out on.
Because that kid? Yeah, they’ll probably love this one.
NOYDEM – A Time Will Come EP (December 5)
Another Parisian act, this one’s more au courant than either Onlap or Disco-Nected in feel, though you can certainly see the three of them sharing a bill.
I guess if you gave heavily distorted guitar-based but still “indie” oriented bands like The Vines and the White Stripes a lot more polish and handed them to a pop radio song doctor for big choruses and sound layering, then factor in a trendily retro synthpop punctuation in the form of occasional 80’s New Wave-ish keyboard/synth lines, you’d have Noydem.
Again, outside my personal go-tos…but you can’t deny the pop radio appeal of bands that can put together a smooth sounding yet youthfully semi-aggressive, polished, big sing-a-long hook driven sound like any of these three acts poking their heads out of the shadow of Marianne.
HighWay – IV
Bar band hard rock with a blues rock orientation.
Basically, if you were there for the whole “sleaze rock” Hollywood scene that came up in the wake of Guns N’ Roses and L.A. Guns in the last few years of the 80’s (and into the first year or two of the 90’s), you’ve heard a million bands like this – more Junkyard, post-Girls, Girls, Girls Motley Crue or Jackyl than the more metallized likes of Vain, Spread Eagle or Dirty Looks, but same idea – all Aerosmith by way of Hanoi Rocks, with a bit of the hookiness of the glam/hair scene in tow.
There are, as was often the case with this hybrid hard rock/blues/metal scene, hints of Southern Rock if not Nashville in play here, and the choruses feel sort of Wingeresque in polish and bombast, but this is just grungy-toned distortion and heavy rock riffing in the hard rock/bar band blues vein.
Good guitar solos, too – really hammers home that these guys have been spending some time in that sector of the record collection.
A bit overly smooth and countrified, but taken on the whole I was good with it…and Jeff Scott Soto (of Yngwie fame) even drops by for a guest spot.
STONE OF A BITCH – S/T
Gothic rock and 90’s alternative punk crossover, heavier on the latter end.
Again, brings back memories of haunting the basement of Generation Records or Venus Records on St. Marks, back in my more nihilistic punk and 2nd wave gothic rock daze.
I’m hearing Concrete Blonde and Bloodletting all over this, particularly evident in tracks like “killing summer”, but there’s also strong hints of Nina Hagen, Danzig and the riot grrrl movement of the era in play – you can catch moments that come off as a more blues rock-based L7 or even 4 Non Blondes, with just a touch of the declamatory delivery of Siouxsie Sioux (“carribean dive”, for example).
Cannes-based male/female duo, from what can be gleaned online.
Works well enough for the type, certainly brought back vivid memories of an era.
STOLEN MEMORIES – Paradox
Lyon, France “prog metal” act…but that’s pretty debatable, given the band’s insistent on detuned aggro/groove riffing throughout.
The vocalist is all clean singing throughout, but with an odd Roland Orzabal meets Joey Tempest back of the throat whine/howling vibe that leaves him sounding not only sort of declamatory, but as if he’s whining and complaining throughout. It’s not bad, really, just odd and definitely takes some getting used to.
It takes until track 3 “obedience” before you actually hear anything that suggests “progressive”, with a greater concentration on clean lead lines, arpeggiated and false harmonic filled solos and stuttering drums that keep working turnarounds on the meter and beat…OK, now that track, they’re prog metal…though the detuned aggro riffs are still there at points.
“Hidden hurt” and “a second chance” are the only other tracks that come off properly progressive (metal or otherwise). “No cure for this” sounds more emo than prog and the rest are just too forefronted by an overly busy, noisy aggro groove riffing from some guy who never learned to tune his guitar.
Weird, that’s the only way to rate this one.
“Everybody wants to rule” the “seven doors hotel”…so “walk” through the “cemetery gates”?
Yeah, I’m confused by these guys too.
GORGEOUS – S/T EP
Sort of a rock n’ rollish biker metal take on early Nightmare, I guess…
Picture a heavily accented French power metal vocalist somewhere between Nightmare’s Christophe Houpert and High Power’s Patrick Malbos, over the top of a band who leans more Motorhead or early AC/DC in vibe (and groove metal in guitar tone) than power metal in either the US or European senses thereof.
That said, there are moments, generally later in the track, where the band leaves the detuned, grungy guitar riffs and fighting man’s barroom hard rock thing behind and goes more traditional to NWOBHM-derived US power metal – the last few minutes of “this is gonna be our kingdom”, the solo section of “fighting an invasion”, almost the entirety of “let metal play”. So the picture is less clear and straightforward than it may at first seem…
Look, the closer they got to USPM, the happier I was with these guys…and comparisons to early Nightmare and High Power, however localized to the vocals rather than the music per se, are definite pluses in my book.
Has definite potential.
LAST AVENUE – Identity (November 3)
French electronic/industrial metal, in the vaguely Euro-gothic/industrial radio hook oriented vein you hear with bands working this sound of late.
Nothing wrong with it, except for being overly noisy – there are simply too many tracks in the mix, leaving their sound too busy, crowded and in the end prone to trebly crackle and signal bleed. A more pared down production and stripped down approach would have served them a whole hell of a lot better.
There’s also nothing “gothic” about this – no sweet female vocals, nothing overly dark and spooky ala Gothminister or Megaherz, nothing boundary pushing ala Rammstein. It’s younger, clean voiced and a bit whiny and even screamo at times, leaving them feeling overly bratty and (modern) punk/emo like a Hot Topic band with a whole lot less pimply angst.
On the whole, it’s listenable (if you don’t mind the overload of sound) and you wouldn’t scream and run for the eject button if your teenaged pals or kids stuck this one in the player, but is it art?
Perfectly acceptable, despite the aforementioned gotchas and concerns…just nothing special about it, which leaves it coming off rather generic.
ANTIGONE PROJECT – FROM ITS ROOM #1 (November 30)
Taking more than a few leaves from Last Avenue’s book, but adding a touch more of an epic, space rocklike feel come the fellow Frenchmen of the Antigone Project, who offer a far more indie rock take on the same overly electronic/synthesizer/nigh-industrial thing.
Think of this comparatively as Last Avenue gone coffeeshop, losing nearly all traces of metal rage and embracing their inner hipsterness unashamedly.
While there’s still distortion (at times) and some moments of emo screamo-ness with passages that build from quiet introspection to louder, more enraged angstiness, there’s nothing overly “masculine”, blue collar or…well, metal about this – it’s more of a Hives and Vines sort of thing, or Blur doing “song 2” than anything bearing the vaguest kinship to Sabbath or the NWOBHM. Hell, they even get sorta proggy towards the end of “the black widow”…but in a decidedly indie/alterna- manner.
I guess you could say if Ian MacCulloch were reincarnated as a 97 pound millenial with a huge beard and working at Starbucks or Trader Joes as a day job, he might be producing something like “trismus”…or “moonsphere”…or what the Antigone Project is doing on the whole.
Weird, but sorta interesting nonetheless, and definitely has its moments.
MOONSHINE OVERSIGHT – Vanishing Lines (December 8)
OK, now I’ve heard it all with the hipster post- whatever stuff…these guys consider themselves “post-progressive” (!)
What I’m actually hearing here is bar band blues/”dad rock”, but with phrases that get all clean (slow) arpeggiated – at times you even get a touch of power metallish chugging riff and typewriter double bass (as on “beyond the stars”)…but that’s pretty rare.
It’s a definite spin on the same old, same old…but how is this “progressive”, much less “post-progressive” (and where the hell do you go beyond progress, pray tell? Isn’t that the whole point, to “progress” beyond the existing, and to be a bit ahead of the curve, or “avant garde”, if you prefer?).
I did like the lead guitarist – the solos were a mix of pentatonic “classic rock” (which appears to be his preferred home base) and something more modern and experimental (which when mixed with or alternating against the former, came off quite well).
But overall…listenable for the type, but not nearly as boundary pushing or ‘progressive’ as they likely imagine themselves to be…much less “post-” really anything at all.
ALCEST – Souvenir d’un Autre Monde (10 years collector)
Can you believe it’s only been 10 years since Alcest first made waves, with this, their debut full length (with only the “Le Secret” EP predating)?
On the downside, mainman Stephane “Niege” Paut was quite directly responsible for a veritable deluge of hipster post-black metal (and post- every god damn thing, for that matter), but especially listening back, it’s fascinating to hear just how he came to the stage with concept fully formed and fleshed out – few if any of the current crop feel quite this self-assured, or manage to integrate (light) black metal elements into a decidedly “outside” indie/alternative genre.
Oft described as “black shoegaze”, in point of fact Alcest bears far less commonality with the likes of Lush, My Bloody Valentine or even Echo and the Bunnymen as it does to lighter, if arguably related acts like the Darling Buds, post-Garlands Cocteau Twins or even Britpop acts like James and Radiohead…but with far more lush, crisp and vibrant production, not to mention more accomplished musicianship across the board.
Now, I have a copy of their next effort, Ecalles de Lune in the collection (gotten on the cheap many a year agone), and while spins these days are somewhat infrequent, I recall it being a slightly more…well, aggressive is not the word, but more Cascadian-oriented, introspectively black metallish affair than much of what I’m hearing herein…with some exceptions.
We’d also reviewed their more recent Shelter, in which any pretense towards black-anything was cast aside in favor of his more prominent inclinations towards the aforementioned 90′ Britpop…or perhaps more apropos, dreampop – and thus, in a way, it doesn’t really apply by way of comparison.
That said, while tracks like “printemps emeraude”, “tir nan og” and “ciel errant” are straight up indie rock/Britpop/dreampop/light and airy shoegaze without apologies, there are a few that feel like a more direct and present variant of the dark dreaminess of Ecalles – “sur l’autre rive je t’attendrai”, “les iris”, the title track. And it’s those tracks that save the album, and make it interesting.
Finally restored to its original (LP) artwork, the latter end of what Alcest once had to offer is emphasized – a dark Romanticism ala Theophile Gautier, rather than the blunt “college rock” bullshit implied by some kid sucking on a straw reed. Sheesh! About fucking time they fixed that cover…
Alcest has always been somewhat of an enigma by relation to the black metal scene – falling just outside, while sharing some of the sound, and in a way, a touch of the aesthetic – not in the more blunt sense of corpsepaint and satanism (however aimless, unformed or outright fake among its ostensible constituency), but in the deeper sense of otherworldliness and the search for something more – the key to the unconscious and dream states, wherever they may lead (or however dark they may or may not be).
While I’d more likely point the curious new listener in the direction of Ecalles de Lune, exactly half of this album is just as essential, or nearly so.
And while a decade on, Souvenir D’Un Autre Monde seems less a welcome shock to the system than a precursor and harbinger of hipsters to come, there’s no denying its importance to the history of black metal as a whole, if nothing else than as a dividing line of sorts, daring listeners to step over and give something very, very different…and yet, strangely all too familiar a try.
Even at its most divergent, there’s no questioning this album’s worth…and for those three tracks, it’s practically unimpeachable.
PERIHELION – Örvény (November 10)
Hungary gives us this odd post-whatever act, sort of proggy, sort of indie dreampop, slightly emo (in spirit more than execution or stylistic tropes – check out the pained vocals on “bolyongo” to see what I mean here)…but still kind of angry and at least midtempo throughout.
I’d put these guys closer to pop-punk gone indie rock (i.e. apolitical and slowed down to a walking pace – I guess you can think Bad Religion circa Recipe for Hate, musically speaking) than any variation on metal, but lines get kind of blurred with this post- stuff.
Certainly listenable enough, well produced and dreamy with all those clean digital delayed guitars, like someone jacked the repeats on early U2’s Edge, then threw him into a more 90’s “punk” take on Alcest or something…
I was OK with it, yeah.
BLINDING SPARKS – Brutal Awakening (December 8)
Well, the band themselves seem catchy enough…if a bit odd.
They feel sort of indie, with elements of modern metal and weird hints of nu metal…but the vocals are all over the place, and the choruses are melodic and catchy as hell.
Production is decent if a bit overly cluttered in that ProTools-style digital fileshare manner, and while it’s a bit sonic overload-ish and prone towards distortion when several voices and instruments are going at full throttle simultaneously, there’s no question it’s full bodied and you can easily make out all instruments…you just have to pick your way through all of the conflicting sonic material to pick ’em out!
Vocals as mentioned are kind of dicey and all over the map, from aggro-esque screaming, raspy 90’s-style hipster croak/yelling, clean female backing vox, occasional (brief) clean male vox leaning towards the baritone range (which quaver overdramatically in the native language, as in “a trois”). At times, the vox (and even the guitars) go totally death metal (as on the joke track “I fuck it”). There are a few joke tracks, in fact – my favorite being the wonderfully titled “my dog will piss on you”. Yeah, seriously.
The opening track features French comedian/chanteuse Laurent Ban, which may explain why the vocals go way the hell out of meter on the verses. As a first track, I was wondering if the singer was just completely inept…but I’m assuming it was a deliberate joke, given Ban’s comedic background. Even with that, it may be the catchiest song on the album – that chorus is simply irresistible…
Wait, now Ban has returned for “the straight line”, and he appears to be giving clean vox, while both male and female band members start growling and shrieking like they were in fucking Arch Enemy or something. Don’t ask me, I’m lost on this.
If they stopped the croaking, rasping and screaming and stuck to the more melodic yet heavy end of their sound, I would say Blinding Sparks are really worth checking out.
But even as utterly fucked up as they are, with all the screamo, death, grunge and 90’s indie rock elements bleeding together in one huge mess…those guitars are crystalline, those choruses are catchy, those clean male/female vocals are irresistible.
How can something this screwed still work?
Don’t ask me. But it does.
Yeah, it’s a really weird one…but has that distinct “sleeper” vibe, and parts are quite excellent.
I can’t lie, I kinda liked it.
LETHVM – This Fall Shall Cease (Deadlight Entertainment) (November 24)
Belgian…oh, good LORD.
I was going to say “doomy, melancholic, detuned and a bit sludgy modern metal act, leaning a bit more nu- than I’d like”, before those AAAAAAAHHHHHH!!! GAAAAHHHH! BLEEEAHHHHHH AAARRRR GYUAAAAAAHAAAAAAAA! Anselmo aggro screamo vox kicked in.
What the fuck were you thinking?
Boy, the Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards is getting more than just black/death this month, for a change…this is at least the second act outside that detestable sub-subgenre to find itself consigned to melt and sputter in the flames this month…
(sweetly, having composed oneself duly)
CHABIFONK – Mission (November 24)
Oddly proggy electro-pop act. I could see this being oddly dance club friendly, at least in the more experimental, druggy “specialty” rooms…and yet, there’s enough of a prominent if somewhat noodling electric guitar and busy syncopated drumming to qualify as some modernist variant of prog/tech metal, at least when stripped of some of this crazy electronic veneer and overdub.
But then you get the sort of trip-hop oddity “delicate sex machine” and “droid” represent…
Is this some new crossover bid by the (progressive, yet indie leaning) rock/metal scene to the EDM crowd? Would either crowd truly embrace this weird miscegenation?
If the concept interests you, don’t waste your time hesitating, check these Frenchmen out – they’re more credible players than you’d ever expect for a band trying to reach out to the dance scene for whatever ungodly reason.
FABULAE DRAMATIS – Solar Time’s Fable (September 30)
Weird, weird, weird Belgian act.
Death metal growls and belches give way to clean power metal howls, then to a more gothic/symphonic clean soprano vocal…which goes all Enya. All of this within a few minutes and a couple of phrases of the same track.
Next track, robotically unison dual male/female vox give way to GWARlike comedy growls, then operatic soprano. The riffs keep chugging away, changing every so often into some odd time signature or unexpected direction. It reminded me, in that respect, of Melissa Ferlaak’s pre-Visions of Atlantis gig Aesma Daeva.
The straight up death metal sections worked fine…the operatic soprano sections worked even better (oft paired with the same, ongoing death metal riffs, as in “Sati”). The non-growled male vocals…well, they were comical, for sure…definitely got a laugh out of ’em.
But seriously quirky, and the rapid fire changes, while hardly as egregious as, say, Centripetal Force, are pretty fucking bizarre.
As a more straightforward death metal band with male death growls and Isabel Restrepo’s lovely soprano, Fabulae Dramatis would have been pretty damn good and worthy of praise…
As things stand, they have elements that are really quite nice, in service of a confusedly jumbled whole that really doesn’t deserve ’em.
Split decision, bottom line.
Lord Shades – The Uprising of Namwell (Dooweet Agency) (September 8)
French black/death act. They’re almost entirely unindebted to the usual Swedish sources, and bear some melancholic folk in tow, so this is no instant consignee to the Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards, no sir.
In fact, “nightly visions” even incorporates that odd folk harmonium that made Hannah Queen of the Vampires (Crypt of the Living Dead) so eerie and atmospheric, so that already got my attention…then they hauled out the mariachi horn section (!)
Now, don’t get me wrong – I still think the sort of themes and outside the norm instrumentation augmentation Lord Shades is working would be far better served by a less bland and straightforward chugging, almost power metal gone death riffing/drumming approach, and clean, soaring power/symphonic vocals ala Fabio Lione or even Tony Kakko would have suited this subject matter much more than the generic death growls herein.
But was this the usual black/death circular file pyre fodder?
Overly generic, to be sure – “nightly visions” appears to be the anomaly, not the template.
Magick Touch – Blades, Chains, Whips & Fire (Edged Circle Productions) (January 5)
Norwegian 70’s heavy rock act and “power trio”.
Powerful riffs, but very, very catchy choruses and some clever harmonic choices thrown in there at the bridges and to change things up when you least expect it.
Tt’s clear their musical knowledge goes beyond the often rather straightforward if not basic heavy metal approach and digs back to earlier, more subtly complex rock songwriting, while retaining the power, speed and aggressive thrust metal is known for.
If anything, Magick Touch comes off like a more 80’s-vibe, metallic take on Thin Lizzy than even the most retro-minded of contemporary rockers and metallers, complete with all the melodicism, irresistible hooks and surprising chordal choices and movement that implies.
While as the album progresses, there are a few too many moments that feel a tad too reminiscent of the worst of the early 90’s blues-rock and grunge scenes (“midnite sadusa”, “polonium blues”), you can’t take away the Lynott/Robertson/Moore/Sykesness of tracks like “under the gun”, “the great escape” or “lost with all hands”…
…and if nothing else works but those three tracks, they’ve already got a winner on their hands on their merits alone.
More tracks like those next time, we’d be a whole hell of a lot more enthusiastic about ya. As it is, surprisingly good at times.
Walter Fornication – On A Journey Through Time And Space (September 17)
Weird one man band cross between traditional death metal, black metal tremelo riffing and lead line-driven, bouncy Viking or pagan metal.
Did I mention the oddball electronic punctuation and effects that pop up every now and again? How about the more or less ambient tracks with chatter from the television or spoken word nonsense?
Well, it’s different, that’s for sure…
When the market was far less saturated, back in the 1980’s heyday of metal (or some of its darker and more “extreme” subgenres in the late 80’s/very early 90’s), being individualist and unique was pretty much a good thing, a selling point that made you stand out from the crowd and would likely wind up with an entire subgenre built copying your sound in the more recent, post-millenial scene.
These days, when so much experimentation has already been tried, examined, copied and replicated?
It doesn’t seem like such a great thing, anymore.
Case in point – interesting, but would you really play this more than once, or point likeminded aficionados towards this?
Shadowpath – Rumours of a Coming Dawn (October 6)
Typically weird Swiss gothic metal act. As my father once said, in reference to some rather odd neighbors of ours, “the Swiss…are strange.” Case in point.
The drumming is pretty busy, and they have this thing for dropping chugging riffed meter play in every so often, giving just a hint of prog to the equation…but they’re clearly not prog.
And while they clearly fall under the usual radio-ready variant of gothic metal (think Delain), they’re less gothic or dark than usual – in fact, they’re pretty light and airy, all pianos, strings and clean acoustic passages…but seldom if ever do they even attempt to achieve the epicness of scope and bombast of symphonic metal (about the closest they get is on “another inquisitor”).
Oh, then they have occasional brief death growl sections. Go figure.
Did I mention the first half of the album is all sleepy and mellow…before the second half goes all Tarja-era Nightwishlike, at least musically speaking? Wait…I thought you were trying to be all Carpenters here…where the hell did that come from, and why so deep into the album?
Bottom line, the less discriminating gothic (or gothic/symphonic) metal fan should appreciate this sufficiently – they definitely qualify as par for the course, despite all the weird quirks aforementioned.
But will anyone be overly excited by this, particularly at this point in history, with so many excellent bands having run their course and leaving so many lesser, far more questionable acts in their wake?
Well, all I can say is, they’re listenable enough, and Gisselle Rousseau offers an unusual performance, crossing a quirkily dramatic alto sprechtgesang delivery with moments of hesitant soprano.
It’s like the album as a whole – while Shadowpath definitely fits the overall gothic metal (or even gothic/symphonic) pattern and classification without much of a struggle, the final assessment is rather simple and to the point.
BEASTCRAFT – Occult Ceremonial Rites / BLACK ALTAR – Winds ov
Decay (split) (Odium Records) (November 30)
Black Altar? If any band exemplifies the ethos of Swedish-derivation black/death “occult black metal” Watain Wannabe and Worship that keeps the Pile of Dead Bards an ever-Flaming Pyre month after month?
This is it.
(flames rise, embers spit and crackle)
Beastcraft is slightly more interesting, working a bit more of a doomy, grinding take on the overall sound (you can see why they were paired with Black Altar on this split, anyway).
With their first three tracks (after the pointless intro) offering sinister, brooding vocals and guitars that manage to work arpeggiated open string riffs without falling into atonality and Watain clone territory, you could have knocked me over with a feather.
Well, until “resurrection through desecration”, anyway…that one almost fucked the works, and closer “in thy glory” was pretty questionable.
But those other three tracks? Hell, they even tuned their fucking guitars properly for a change!
Shock! Horror! You mean you can make black metal, or even black/death, without sucking some serious ass and getting consigned to the Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards?
Yep, apparently so.
Beastcraft, yeah, they may be worth checking out – I certainly didn’t mind their side of this split, that one perfectly awful track aside.
Black Altar, they’re practically reduced to ashes at this point.
Watch ’em burn.
Harmdaud – Blinda Dödens Barn (September 1)
I’m guessing I just got a really low quality download here, because this is hissing and swirling like the entire production was underwater throughout.
At least I’m hoping that’s the problem…if it sounds this bad, our old pal Vintersorg has a lot to answer for, production wise!
Anyway, as you can tell, the big selling point here is that it was produced by Andreas Hedlund (not to be confused with sole band member Andreas Stenlund), and that’s not really going to factor into this review in any positive way, for reasons that I’m hoping and assuming have zero to do with their actual combined efforts.
In any case, you can still tell the production is fairly clean and thick toned, with guitars, drums and vox all pretty prominent throughout, and there’s plenty of mournful melodicism to the riffing, keyboard lines and lead lines on guitar to cover for the silly vomit vox Stenlund chooses to adopt as a mode of expression.
There’s not much else to say here – assuming this is just a bad download, what I’m picking up beneath seems pretty lush and powerful, if a bit overly Swe-black/death, though more in the Marduk school thereof than the more typical Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards Watain/Dark Funeral/Dissection sense, and with a lot more dark melodic feel to its credit – this one would never get flicked disgustedly to the flames like just about every band that comes this way adhering to the latter school of amusical thought.
Giving the benefit of the doubt to this – it seems like it’s really not bad.
Me, I’m off to attempt another download, maybe that’ll give a clearer picture…but yeah, seems fairly decent, especially for the type.
Postscript: I’ve gone back and re-downloaded this one, and took a listen…nope. It’s the production. Suffused in so much hiss, the sound swirls like a bad download, particularly when the blastbeats, tremelo riffing and snotty gargling vox are going at full throttle. There’s a fullness and clarity underneath, but all this treble and bleed ruins what could otherwise have been a rather decent production job.
Maybe it’s time for someone (cough Vintersorg) to invest in a hearing aid – two downloads a few days apart show the same questionable picture.
Catapult the Dead – A Universal Emptiness (Doom Stew Records) (November 15)
Somewhere between the growly, trudge through molasses stoner doom of bands like Conan and the melodic depressive gothic doom of bands like Paradise Lost come Californians Catapult the Dead.
Merging the mournful piano and guitar with mournful clean vocals of the latter with the crusty, sludgy and off-key growling nonsense of the former (or bands of that school, anyway), this is like Red Fang gone dark, Mastodon gone doom, The Sword without any pretensions towards RPG fantasy or traditional metal…
…and with a beer bellied, falling out of the barstool lush growling and vomiting perpetually out of key over the whole thing, like someone saw the guy fall to the floor and start blowing chunks all over his sloppy self, and decided to hand him the microphone for a joke.
Given that the band musically tends to come off as one note throughout (there’s precious little variation between the EP’s four tracks), those ridiculous vocals just mark this one as a novelty act, to be filed with your comedy section next to old Vanilla Ice records and suchlike, to be pulled out only for laughs during parties (or to chase everyone out the door at the end of the night, so you can clean up and get some sleep!)
File under: humor.
Exarsis – New War Order (MDD Records) (October 20)
You know…that cover just bothers me.
I mean, when you get to the point where someone as laissez-faire and Social Libertarian as yours truly has to start moving past the more casual blurring out of something overly prurient therein to wondering if I should just publish a review sans cover, I don’t care what your intent was, you’ve crossed one hell of a line.
Now, to be fair, while the band is Greek in origin (and we all know just how much trouble they’re having with the Golden Dawn over there), and they did offer an apologia of sorts after getting hit with some major backlash by the fanbase (I’ll include portions thereof here, but you can head over to their Facebook for the whole statement)…look, you’ve got that cover.
While they are saying it’s just a general statement against all religions in general as tools of oppression (and to be fair, there’s quite a bit of that lately, particularly from more radical branches of same)…there’s no representatives of other religions (where’s the expected Catholic priest, or the radical Islamist? How about the Hindu guru, or, hey, here’s a real switch: the satanic high priest or Wiccan coven head/high priestess?
All there is is one religion represented, rather pointedly (concerns of caricature, I’ll give ’em the benefit of the doubt – they say it’s their mascot as seen in various roles on prior albums, and you can make an argument for that, yeah)…and the first track on the album? Get ready for this: “Zionism (the Reaping)”.
Yeah. Not too much of a stretch to presume they’re a half step away from yelling about “ZOG”…but in all fairness, that seems to be the only track relating to the at least unwisely considered cover, and – get this – there’s an anti-fascist track on the album as well…and skip up to the latter end of their statement, I think they make it clear that they have no truck with Greece’s Golden Dawn or any other fascist movement.
Yeah, it’s pretty bizarre, especially if it’s just “coincidence”. I leave it to you to decide – here’s the band themselves:
” Hello, everyone. Since we received some negativity by a number of people concerning the front cover of our upcoming record “NEW WAR ORDER”, we have to set the record straight here.
First of all, here comes an explanation of what the controversial part of the artwork depicts. What we see is a rabbi, a priest that preaches the Jewish religion. He holds a Talmud, the central text of Rabbinic Judaism, which drips blood. This record talks about religion and holy wars (hence the blood). How organized religion has led to the demise of zillions of human beings since the dawn of time and continues to this day. Deaths in the name of dieties and political power.
Our biggest influence on that are the conflicts on Palestinian soil. Hence the Jewish figure, hence the intro track called “Zionism (The Reaping)” – it’s NOT against the people of Israel, but IT IS against any type of religion and religious manipulation. And we definitely NOT support zionism.
…There’s a simple explanation on the face of the figure: that’s our mascot. 3 albums before he has appeared as a general, a politician or a mad surgeon…For us, all organised religions are the same. We are in NO FUCKIN’ WAY antisemitic and we definitely do NOT hate any nation and its people. We do not judge people by the colour of their skin or the place of their origin. We have friends from Israel and they know our intentions. We are all brothers. We totally support unity between every human being and we hate politicians, war, ?rganised religion, fascists and the New World Order.
That’s what our lyrics are about and whoever knows our band is aware of that. Exarsis is openly 101% ideologically AGAINST any form of fascism and we are not interested at all in any neo-nazi fans supporting our band. On the said album, there’s an anti-nazi song called “JUST BURIED” which is about the nazi parties’ empowerment through mass media – unfortunately not just a Greek phenomenon. Nazi metalheads FUCK OFF.
We will not respond to any “your artwork is nazi-friendly” accusations furthermore. Our above statement is clear…FUCK ALL FASCISTS. FUCK ALL POLITICIANS. FUCK ANY FORM OF RELIGION. Exarsis, 2017″
That aside…let’s speak to the band’s music, shall we?
Well, if you can get past the opening track and cover (sorry, but those still bug the shit out of me, and I’m not even Jewish...), the band is a pretty intense thrash band in the modern vein, sort of like Municipal Waste crossed with a more aggro Mortillery by way of Gama Bomb.
The riffing is more interesting and traditional (thus the Mortillery connection), the vocals are high pitched to the point of US power metal (think stuff like Screamer, Riot circa Thundersteel or San Antonio Slayer) and everything is delivered at a relentless hyperspeed.
Like most modern thrash, it’s a bit too one note for my tastes, but there’s enough that at least gives a noticeable nod towards the traditional Bay Area and US power/thrash scenes that I can say they’re definitely in the upper echelons of the modern scene musically.
But guys…what the hell.
That cover…and that song to reinforce the impression, however variant from your intentions it may or may not have been…questionable, at best.
Mask Of Satan – Silent Servants – Chants of Lovecraftian Horror (September 22)
Finnish death metal, but don’t expect anything even vaguely along the lines of Abhorrence, Amorphis, Deathchain, Convulse or Demilich here.
If anything, some obvious chugging midtempo riffs and double bass reliance aside, Mask of Satan seems to lean closer to black/death than classic death metal, with a quirky approach and atonality infusing much of the non-midtempo groove riffing and a snarling blackened vocal approach taking over at those points to finalize the impression.
Still in all, they’re hardly template black/death…more like a band who grew up on Obituary…or as the promo materials note, Six Feet Under and Necrophagia, then spent way too much time listening to black metal not to lose the plot.
Tag in some Lovecraft love (“horror at red hook” and “lurker at the threshold” are directly intoned, and their mentions of “nameless aeons”, the (goat with a) “thousand young” “Mr. (Herbert) West” and “azathoth” quite obviously deriving from the Providence author’s writings.
In the end, it’s still death metal…but far more akin to the oddball blackened atonal thing Necrophagia does than any more proper death metal act, famed studio production or movement you can name.
Inoffensive, but didn’t blow my mind…which considering this is supposed to be both “Lovecraftian” and “death metal” is a real letdown.
Kabexnuv – Dzyan (November 13)
Canadian black metal, straight from B.C.
While they seem to be buying straight into the whole “occult/religious/orthodox black metal” nonsense that so often feeds the flames of the Pyre of Dead Bards, what makes Kabexnuv different is their lo-fi, rather traditionalist second wave aesthetic.
While they seem to be shooting for a bit of the Les Legions Noires self-imposed “obscurity” (with a cassette release of only 19 hand numbered copies. Seriously.), there’s more of a (very) early Norwegian black metal vibe to this, an affectation only ruined by the prominent, groove metal-toned bass running throughout.
I was good with this one, even with the oddball, ill fitting bass and the ooga booga L.P.W.O’s schmutters (to paraphrase the late Prince – I’ll let you figure out what the O’s stands for in that equation.)
HETMAN – Sewn From The Ashes Book (Svarga Music) (December 1)
Somewhat symphonic pagan metal from the Ukraine.
Keyboards are lush and prominent at points, production is crisp and bold, with all instruments shoved right up front in the (therefore rather overcrowded!) mix, ProTools style.
Vocals are typical for metal of the region, all grunts and shouts in a decidedly chest thumping Eastern European manner – you like, da?
Guitars are crunchy and polished, drums are only slightly pushed beneath them, but the tom rolls, snare and foot pedal hits are really nicely recorded and mastered – honestly, I’d love this one for the drum tone alone.
There’s a definite folkish pagan metal in play as you might expect, but the confusion as to how to really classify this is it only goes full on pagan/Viking with the pleasant Urminnes Havd-like acoustic moments of “remember who we are”…and even that goes back to the heavy shit sooner than I’d have liked. Even so…European festival metal, and best classified as pagan, despite elements that lean more symphonic or even black.
Whoever recorded and mixed those drums, though…can you teach about 10,000 other producers and sound engineers how to get that crisp, thick but pleasant to the ear pop (i.e. not that irritating 80’s metal remaster POUND! POUND! BLURBLURBLURBLUR POUND! shit, nor the hissy snappy crap you hear all too often these days) and tone?
Grate – You Should Be (Social Blasphemy Records) (June 6)
At no point do I consider “industrial metal” or the likes of Prong and Tool.
And yet…that’s the most obvious influence here, with Grate. Maybe add a touch of (very) early Napalm Death in its sheer downtuned noisiness, and some decided grunge input to the depressed, atonal riffing and corner of the mouth whining of the cleaner moments of vocal phrasing (the constipated forced grunting is straight up Tommy Victor, the belch/vomit deathlike moments are solidly Lee Dorrian in Napalm).
Yeah…this is pulling from all the wrong stuff, almost across the board.
90’s slacker/millenial oriented indie/alternative industrialized junk, with all the noisiness and overdriven/blow all the meters nonsense of 90’s music (think over-distorted yet shoegazey stuff like My Bloody Valentine, Curve or Swans, but without any of what made those bands worthwhile).
The fact that they appear to be proud of sharing the stage with Crowbar should say it all.
You could do a lot worse…a whole lot worse.
But that doesn’t mean this is any damn good, nor is it thrash, doom or what I think of when it comes to “sludge” either.
Hoofmark – Stoic Winds (Ultraje) (December 8)
Portugese black metal of a rather weird syncretist sort.
The tinny, all mids, recorded through a Tom Scholz portable Rockman guitar tone suggests the likes of Satanic Warmaster or earlier Darkthrone, but there’s a definite major key orientation and post-black metal vibe running through this that totally upends any pretensions towards “true”.
A lot darker than the usual clean to ambient, more obviously indie hipster thing you get with post-black metal…but this just doesn’t feel right, either, particularly when you have “patience” style tracks like “dust trails” and its equally goofy happy happy joy joy sequel “dust trails blazing” as part and parcel of the proceedings.
When he tries to sound more trad (“amongst a sea of darkness”, “horror maximus”, to some extent “an arrow long due”), this really ain’t bad, despite that undeniable undercurrent of artificiality and lack of commitment to the cause or scene in any appreciable way…
…but when he goes full on fake, it’s just awful.
Sar Isatum – Shurpu (self released) (November 17)
I don’t know if this is a good thing, but I’ve completely zoned out for the first 17 minutes or so and three full tracks of this album.
Seriously, it almost instantly turned into background music.
Now, on the one hand, you can say that it didn’t piss me off, offend my eardrums or bear the stench of kindling that marks the Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards consignee month after month…so all that’s positive, right?
But on the flipside…I actually forgot this was playing, and just zoned out doing other shit. Not as in “attentively listening while multitasking”…literally, completely forgot it was there, to the point of almost ignoring it as it played.
So I guess there you have it in a nutshell – it’s typical enough of an older, maybe later 90’s, not quite Norsecore but of similar sensibilities black metal sound to be both instantly recognizable and forgivably listenable – it won’t piss you off and instantly mark itself as utter shite (like so many other bands reviewed here month after month, particularly those falling under the “black/death” designation thereof).
But unless you’re really missing the likes of, say, Tsjuder and Urgehal (or even the obnoxiously overhyped 1349), is it anything to get particularly excited about?
Not bad, mind – I’ll be quick to make that point, they’re certainly OK and pass muster.
But nothing special, either.
ECCENTRIC PENDULUM (India) – Tellurian Concepts (self released) (October 22)
Two tracks and one pointless intro where pick scrapes and such evoke visions of swamps and the sounds of frogs croaking.
There’s saxophone fills here…overly detuned, atonal guitars…shitty aggro vox…hints of “progressive death metal” in the form of machine gun riffing and nigh-random descant bass lines (often so far afield of the guitar you wonder if the 4 stringer was playing to a different song entirely), and weird Dream Theaterish solo sections where drums actually syncopate too much and guitars get all off kilter and wankery.
I guess a lot of it suggests a prog…or at least a “prog death” orientation, but why the Anselmo wannabe vox? And why the uber-detuned “underground black metal” guitar riffs?
Disparate elements that simply do not fit, gel or make any musical sense whatsoever…Ornette Coleman and Sun Ra sound practically Bach by comparison to this.
Yeah, sorry, guys…another pass.
Total Inferno – Return of Evil Chaos (Re-issue) (Morbid Skull Records (El Salvador) (August 25)
Salvadorian blackthrash. Unlike a lot of acts working this sound nowadays, there’s actually a strong focus on riffs – some feel almost trad metal, while (unfortunately, as it turns out), others are far more obviously black metal.
Now, from that, you’d think Rotting Christ and the better end of the Greek black metal scene, right? Well…no.
See, Total Inferno’s just not that traditional, and while you can appreciate some of the South American blackthrash injected speed and aggression, too much of the harmonic motion smacks of the overplayed and quite honestly boring as shit Swedish black/death sound that feeds the Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards every month.
Not saying Total Inferno does anything more than spit into the fire and cause sparks and flareups every now and again – Return of Evil Chaos is not so close to that ridicule-worthy template as to find itself doomed to that fate. But it’s a lot less traditional…or for that matter, typically South American blackthrash, than it leans into Dark Funeralish climes, with all that atonal shifting up and down by a whole tone bullshit and overused black/death riff choices.
Yeah, you can pick up some Slayer (“bloodshed”), the occasional Schmier-esque “who goosed me” vocal flourish and some lead lines that feel a touch Maidenish…but the Swe-black/death vibe comes through louder than the rest, possibly by dint of its sheer detestability.
Shrug of the shoulders, in the end…though this is better produced and more punchy than typical for blackthrash, and there’s a whole lot more emphasis on the riff than you’d expect.
H2SO4 – British Bangla Testament EP (God’s Eye Production) (October 28)
Really aggressive, high speed and punishingly driving thrash metal of the modern school.
Vocals are pretty bad (as appears to be all too common for young thrashers nowadays), but at least they’re distinctive, and for all the abrasiveness and phlegmy tonsil-shaking pukiness our man “Shuvo” brings to the table, his vox tend to grow on you a bit over time – unlike the usual aggro screamo shit, they’re just odd, and therefore can be adjusted to if you’re determined enough and hang in there for a song or two.
The dual guitar team of Rahul and Ravi are more riff-centric than usual for modern strains of thrash, and leads are flash enough to show some obvious attention to the old school and how this genre’s really supposed to be done. With less thick toned, ProTools-ish production and a more traditional (thrash) vocalist, H2SO4 (gasp! Sulfuric acid?!?) could almost pass as the real deal, at least on cuts like the title track or “the bengal holocaust”.
Either way, it works pretty well, and left H2SO4 feeling more traditional leaning than is typical for modern thrashers on the whole, particularly given the straightforward drumming of Meethu, who keeps things blastbeat free and often manages to work without triggered double bass (there were a few phrases here and there, but at least it wasn’t incessant!)
If you couldn’t already tell, this quintet of young guns hails from Bangladesh, and to hear that they bore some measure of intentional influence from classic Bay Area thrash was no surprise – like I said earlier, with a touch more traditionalism (production, vox), they could pass.
Very good stuff, particularly given the oft-DIY and somewhat impoverished conditions under which more global/south of the Equator metal tends to be produced.
If there were budgetary constraints or issues relating to equipment, tone, et al…you’d never know it from this one.
Kya bat hai!
RIMFROST – “A Clash Under The Northern Wind” (Non Serviam
Records) (November 11)
Swedish black metal, albeit very much pagan if not Viking leaning (think somewhere between Hades (Almighty) and Taake, I guess.) Never heard of ’em, but they’ve apparently got 3 albums out in addition to this rather lengthy single.
It’s not bad, and as the pagan/Hades mentions imply, leans more epic and bombastic than not. Big riffs that simply scream “Euro festival stage”, moments of folk instrumentation, a vague post-Blizzard Beasts Immortal vibe at times, even moments that come off a tad symphonic…perhaps this all sums up to mark Rimfrost as a tad generic, but not bad by any means.
There are too many twists, turns and changes in style, tempo and riff here to ever get overly bored, and if you like black metal, particularly the mid to late 90’s Norwegian variant thereof, you’re sure to find parts that are comfortably familiar.
Smacks of being a tad desperate to please with all this catch-all nonsense, but not bad at all, in the end.
I was certainly OK with this, and curious to see how they hold up over the course of a full length.
Dehydrated – Resurrection (October 1)
Slovakian death metal band, came too late to the party back in the day (dropped a pair of demos in ’92, but barely got to releasing splits until the scene collapsed, with their lone full length coming all the way in 1997).
That said, they do play a more traditional oriented variant of death metal than you’d expect from their vintage, even including a cover of Massacre’s “dawn of eternity” here. Mediocre modern production and a more aggressive drumming approach fails to deliver the same punch as the original, but it’s a nice nod to the glory days…
Even so, trained ears can suss out their delayed arrival in their overly busy riffing style and not so rare fallback on blastbeat drumming…yeah, this was not how vintage death metal sounded at all, kids.
Listenable, not bad, and bears more than the usual degree of proper DM orientation for a band who last made its mark circa ’97…they may not be Pestilence, Morbid Angel or Massacre, but they’re sure as hell not Nile, so count your blessings here.
Retrace My Fragments – Tidal Lock (September 22)
Another swirly sounding probable bad download this month, Retrace my Fragments are working what appears to be an otherwise well produced metalcore meets melodeath sound, complete with good leads and fills, busy riffing and clusters of dissonance that quickly resolve into more familiar waters.
What’s weird about these guys is they’ve apparently parted ways with their frontman, so this entire trio of tracks is instrumental.
But don’t panic yet – while hardly on the level of jazz fusion or the classics of Shrapnel shred, this is a very busy yet structured, melodic yet somewhat progressive leaning metalcore/melodeath affair.
And honestly? Considering what often happens in the former genre of that equation, who knows – maybe losing a vocalist was actually a benefit to the band (I’ve never heard them before, so no reflection on the guy in question…but how many lousy screamo/aggro types have ruined an otherwise perfectly acceptable metalcore band with their tonsil rattling ineptitude?)
Either way, while it shares much in common with metalcore aesthetics and tropes, this is heavier than your typical Killswitch wannabe, with a clearly audible bass and some decidedly deathlike moments (“laserbrain” in particular leans more death- than -core).
On the whole, pretty damn good – if only the overriding hiss of the drummer’s cymbal ride weren’t shoving the swirly lo-fi download in my face throughout.
Probably sounds great on physical media.
Postscript: re-downloaded, no real change. Something’s up with this distributor’s DL’s this month – I count three questionable ones so far.
Crystal Gates – “Shadowborn” (single) (September 29)
Gothic-symphonic out of Uruguay, of all places (!)
Cute Carolina Perez actually has the right voice for this stuff…for a change! I think the last operatic voice debuting in this genre was Xandria’s Dianne Van Giersbergen, and even the veterans of the scene had given up on doing more than a bland radio voice many years and albums since*…so very pleased to report this one.
* sadly, I understand even Dianne has followed the Liv Kristine example and exited from the band on more or less irreconcilable terms…so Perez may be one of the few left holding the torch!
These guys only have one prior EP to their name, and this is a two track single, with “shadowborn” being the more driving track and “dreamers” the more power ballad-oriented, but both sound pretty damn good in terms of both production and the vocal end…and as veterans of this sound know, the band is more or less an accessory, giving heft and epic weight to the vocals, rather than the other way around – there’s seldom if ever anything much to report on the guitar/drums end, much like European power metal, for that matter!
It works, and pretty well at that.
Give ’em a hearty welcome. They may have come rather late to the party, but there aren’t many folks left to keep things going at this point…so come on in, take center stage…the scene is in desperatel need of an infusion of new blood at this point, and these pals n’ gals are just what the doctor ordered.
TORSO MURDER – S/T (October 1)
Hmm. Well, promo materials classify this one not only as death metal, but both “deathcore” and “djent”, so you know you’re in for a bit of a problem from the outset.
Sure enough, there’s those lousy screamo-aggro vox, alternating with more “accepted” death belches (the latter serving as punctuation rather than the norm).
The guitars, while detuned and over-distorted, are more hollow sounding and distorted bass-like, ala later Unleashed, than the thick and beefy tone generally associated with death metal proper, but you can deal with that part – comparisons to Unleashed are hardly the kiss of death, after all.
There’s also a death metallish focus on murder – in this case, a Macabrelike “concept album” about a serial killer (think Dahmer without the black humor). This is digging back into the archives a bit, for a Black Dahliaesque Ohio killer from the 30’s of the titular coined moniker.
But those are the “good points”. In point of fact, the music here is fairly straightforward and boring, with an intense feeling of sameness from track to track, not helped by the guitar tone and perfectly shite aggro vox, which simultaneously annoy the shit out of the listener and make it impossible to
understand much of the lyrical storyline.
A typical track goes pretty much like this: BLEEEAAHH BLURRGGH BLYAAAAAHH YOUUULLL BE RUNNIN’ SCAAAARED BLAAAAHHH BURRRPP BURRP YAAAAHH YOU’RE GOING BAAACK BLAAAAHHH. You’re lucky if you pick
out every 5th word or portions of every 3rd phrase with all this asinine Anselmolike tonsil rattling throat damage screaming.
Cute concept. If they used proper death metal aesthetics and kicked out their teenaged drinking buddy the “singer”, they might have had something here.
Whoosh! Right into the Pyre, and it’s not even a black metal title.
Svarthart – Emptiness Filling the Void (October 1)
Clearly recorded in someone’s basement, this smacks of “one man band” through and through…and yes, it’s yet another bad download, all swirliness and hiss throughout all but the most quiet and cymbal-free portions hereof.
Irrespective of that, the very Cookie Monsterish vocals were obviously recorded at a later date than the rest of the band (if there was more than one guy involved here), overpowering the all but buried guitar and drums by orders of magnitude. Add in the quavering and swirl of the download, and this just sounds like one big gag entry.
Too bad, as if this were more properly recorded and mixed (and there weren’t so many questionable downloads from one distributor this month – what’s the deal?) it could have been a passably decent, if admittedly quite amateurish, one man doom/death act.
As silly as they come off, I didn’t exactly hate the vox, and as buried, swishy and unprofessional as it comes off, the riffs often suit what they’re obviously shooting for here.
Think of it as more of an aspirational “not bad” than in terms of objective quality, where it fails rather miserably.
I get where they’re coming from, and what they’re trying to accomplish, and am good with that much, at least.
Dreadful Fate – The Sin of Sodom (Edged Circle Productions) (December 20)
OK, it looks like this is a Swedish act with a serious hard-on for vintage Teutonic (blackened) thrash.
Out of three tracks, it looks like 2 are covers – a sped up, abbreviated take on early Sodom track (only finally released on The Final Sign of Evil 7 years back) “the sin of sodom” and Kreator’s “tormentor” (which originally hailed from their demos as…wait for it…Tormentor.)
The only definite original here is “unholy lust”, which shows Dreadful Fate to be as dead set on authentically recreating that era and sound as Colombia’s excellent Witchtrap…which is something you knew already from the other two.
Definitely dug this one, looking forward to more from these guys.
NESSERIA – CETTE ÉROSION DE NOUS-MÊMES LP/CD (THROATRUINER / ITAWAK)
What would you get if you crossed post-black metal with a decided emo/modern punk base orientation, then added perfectly shit screamo vox just to turn off any potential listeners to the actual band beneath?
I found a lot of the actual riffs and the unashamedly blatant mix of the Hot Topic/CW soundtrack emo punkish sound with some tropes of black metal (tremelo guitars, strong use of atmospherics and cavernous reverb, even the not so welcome PoDB open string atonal business) somewhat intriguing – not sure I’d have thought “damn, this is great!” even if they had a real frontman, but yeah, it’s interesting and has promise – the idea has legs, so to speak.
But god DAMN, those vocals have to go!
MERCYLESS – Coloured Funeral [remastered reissue] (XENOKORP) (October 27)
You know, I’ve always confused these guys with Sweden’s relentless Merciless. I mean, the Awakening is one of the most driving, aggressive Teutonic thrash albums out there…despite its nation of origin (France’s Massacra also falls into this category, for its first two platters of utterly crazed sonic abuse).
And it’s totally understandable, given that the bands are only separated by a misspelling…and to make it worse, Mercyless actually used to go by Merciless, before discovering the existence of another band with the same moniker! Confused much?
Well, this is another French band, and despite all that name mixup nonsense, one up there with fine folks like the aforementioned Massacra, Loudblast, Nightmare and High Power on the internationally recognized level.
Rather than Teutonic-style, high speed nigh-blackened thrash, this Mercyless works a decidedly old school death metal sound, complete with nigh-Patrick Mameli clone grunt-gargle vox and a far less complex, but still very much in the general ballpark of post-Van Drunen Pestilence (think Testimony of the Ancients, mainly…the later stuff is far more questionable).
I guess if you took the excellent phrasing and melodically oriented leads away, you could easily mistake Coloured Funeral for some ersatz sequel to Testimony – there’s enough of a quirky, progressive-leaning feel to the riffing and style here to give the guys that much.
Either way, it’s very well produced (thanks to the deft hand of Colin Richardson (Carcass, Massacre) and totally vintage – which makes sense, as it’s a long awaited reissue of their second album from 1993…which shockingly has remained out of print since then!
How an album of this quality could sit unreleased for nearly a quarter century, particularly in today’s dig up every obscurity and demo-only band from the heyday of metal scene, is simply baffling…but thankfully, those intrepid aliens at Xenokorp are on hand to rectify that error, post haste.
Now if they can only get their hands on the rights to reissue Abject Offerings on CD…
So, were you listening? I said it’s pretty much what should have been the successor to Testimony of the Ancients.
Do you seriously need to ask?
All hail the outer space overlords, long may they reissue the forgotten classics!
MASTER and DEHUMAN – Decay into Inferior Conditions (XENOKORP) (December 8)
Prolific death metal anarchist at large Paul Speckmann (currently residing in Czechoslovakia, of all places) returns with yet another Master release, here working a split release with Belgian upstarts Dehuman (who have two priors on record).
Master has always been super straightforward, if not downright basic in death metal terms. I’d tried out And On the Seventh Day…solely due to the presence of Cynic’s Paul Maisvdal, and still found it a bit wanting. But objectively, there’s nothing wrong with the band, and you have to appreciate his individualist, iconocalstic and decidedly anti-corporate lyrical stance.
No, the issue here has nothing to do with Master as a studio band (and it should be noted, one with one hell of a published rap sheet – this guy prints CDs like the government prints money). It’s that all four of their contributions here are live “bootleg” soundboard recordings from a recent show in Finland.
As such, the vocals are overly raw and not especially articulate (it sounds like Speckmann has mixed a few too many drinks prior to the show and has the affliction of thick tongue that tends to bring), the songs feel a bit overly sped up and the overall guitar/drum tone is thin and trebly. Not a shining moment, except as a document of that particular show for those who were present.
Dehuman offers a “live in studio” recording that, oddly enough, doesn’t sound all that much better – the guitar tone is still overly thin and biting, there’s hiss and signal bleed all over the place, drums are barely audible except for the cymbals and, oddly enough, bass drum hits, and the whole thing comes off more black/death than death metal proper.
I’m sure fans of either band should find more to celebrate here, but this one felt rather inessential and for diehards only to these ears.
In-Defilade – Elude (November 20)
A guy who handled bass and vocals on a pair of mid-90’s Nile albums offers some raspy-snarled vox and high speed, almost drum machine/Atari Teenage Riotlike drumming (with pointless hi-speed riffing to match).
It’s so raspy and annoying (not to mention overly fast and noisy) as to fall more under the “brutal/tech death” umbrella than any sort of thrash…which makes sense, given that both the bassist/vocalist and guitarist (well, he offers “guest guitar solos”, anyway) hail from the aforementioned Nile.
No Egyptian schtick, no Arabian minor business…well, OK, there’s some, but not enough to make it interesting…just ridiculously high speed modern death metal that slows down to an Autopsy crawl for punctuation, with those nasty snarled vox.
With capital letters, NO.
Nile fans and those who actually believe there was an actual, thriving death metal scene post-1993, you may be a whole lot more chuffed by this one than this distinctly traditional death metal fan could ever be.
Curse The Fall – Symbiosis (FINAL LEGION RECORDS) (November 21)
Nice opening riff! Already I’m getting a metalcore vibe off this one, and I mean that in a good way – “race” was a good choice as opener for this one.
Sadly, the next few tracks pull the reins in, nearly pulling this train to a halt before it gets much outside city limits. “Seasons” actually comes off Five Finger Death Punchlike, “over time” lets the Tool worship show without a hint of shame. Then “dirt road” goes all countrified depression, aaaand…well, that’s it. A pointless nigh-silent opener and closer pad out the running time.
So, do you relish the thought of one track that could have come as a bonus track on one of the more recent Jesse Leach-fronted Killswitch albums, appended by…er, a Tool track, a Five Finger Death Punch one and a sort of neofolkish return to roots music, ala a far less gothic and interesting Sono Morti?
Well, I was good with the first and last tracks. The real ones, I mean, not the filler tracks.
What comes between, that’s all on you, kid.
Definite promise on “race”. They just need to make up their minds exactly who they want to be.
Beyond Visions – Catch 22 (Bleeding Music Records) (October 27)
Some reeeeeally thick accented head voice (if not downright nasal) female vocals that sound dialed in over a phone, they’re so compressed, over simple, crunchy riffs and electronic/industrial bits. Yeah, we’re talking very much in the Euro-gothic metallish footsteps of bands like Lacuna Coil, but with more of a melodic focus and a lot less nu metal vibe.
Think Cristina Scabbia with a clothespin over her nose and less command of the English language, fronting Nemesea or Evanescence, that should give you the right idea.
Sometimes they get a bit power metallish on the guitar end, even pushing into Children of Bodom territory somewhat (“sacrifice”), but the general vibe, particularly at the choruses, is all hyper melodic pop radio schmutters.
If they were a bit heavier and had more appeal, you could draw a decent parallel with Poland’s late lamented Unsun, particularly given the thick accented delivery and chunky, more properly metal riffing…but as it stands, the earlier comparisons hold up far more precisely.
Not bad, though I can’t see getting overly excited about it, even had this dropped during my wife and my gothic/symphonic period circa the early to mid millenium.
Listenable for the type, but second tier at best.
Cobra – Sin dominio del tiempo (Morbid Skull Records)
Colombian blackthrash…though they apparently consider themselves “speed metal”. Sounds like a less retro-minded take on their own countrymen Witchtrap, but with more abrasive gargle-snarling witch vocals.
Seriously, sounds like an old witch yelling at the neighborhood kids to stop leaving flaming bags of poo on her doorstep.
But Third Eye regulars know I have more than a soft spot for South American blackthrash (or Teutonic thrash, or retro thrash, or blackened thrash in general), and how can you be mad at a band who says this?
“We are sure that our third work “sin dominio del tiempo” will meet your complete satisfaction.”
Damn, delivered just like a hotel manager or appliance salesman. Nice.
That aside, if you can get past the silly (but honestly, particularly for the blackened iterations of thrash, and especially South American blackthrash? Perfectly acceptable) old witch throwing a tantrum vocals, the band is pretty good, and like the aforementioned Witchtrap keeps things from ever getting one note – tracks like “hacia el silencio eterno” slow things down to a more traditional/US power metal tempo, with good solos to match, while others are more relentless and speedy (like the subsequent “alfa y omega” or opener “unidos para la guerra”).
I’m not sure they really understood the connotations of the phrase “sangre y honor”, though – excellent track, but they really don’t seem like that sort of band or the type who’d adhere to that philosophy.
There’s a lot more Accept than Sodom to Cobra than you’d expect, though there’s no question they hold equal reverence towards the Witchtrap school of direct retro influences…and this makes the album uniquely pleasing to fans of both camps and stylistic bents (particularly those who bear no small measure of love towards both, like yours truly.)
So you know?
That sales manager speech was pretty dead on, after all.
Raise the metal fist.
EXALTER (Bangladesh) – Persecution Automated CD / T-shirt / Digital (Transcending Obscurity Asia) (December 28)
You know, when I see modern thrash band, particularly one coming from somewhere in Asia or India, there’s one thing I always dread – the likelihood that however good the band themselves may be, I’ll have to deal with some perfectly horrid vocals, usually in the shrieky/snarly end of the spectrum.
So you can imagine just how thrilled I was to hear Tanjim Rahman Tanim’s Tom G. Warrior-esque delivery here.
(breathes audible sigh of relief)
So here we have a band…or duo, more like, as Tanim handles vox, guitar and bass, while his pal Afif Sarker works the kit and offers (presumably backing) vocals.
And the riffs are very much Bay Areaesque…at least as filtered through UK thrash (think Xentrix, D-A-M, Re-Animator, that school of musical thought and approach to thick and heavy riffage).
So if you, like myself, thought Coroner’s shining moment was their Tom G.-blessed Death Cult demo and have a soft spot for bands in that classic Metallicalike midtempo crunch riffing vein of thrash metal…
Then, damn straight you’ll dig this one.
Raise those fucking horns, then stagedive into the pit. These guys can thrash.
Jeete raho – kya bat hai!
NEOCAESAR – 11:11 (Xtreem Music) (December 5)
Dutch death metal. You know, like Pestilence, Asphyx, Sinister, God Dethroned and Gorefest.
Except Neocaesar don’t sound much like any of those bands. Well, maybe Gorefest.
Oh, and definitely early Sinister.
Which makes sense. Because vocalist Mike van Mastrigt (Cross the Styx, et al) and guitarist Bart van Wallenberg (Diabolical Summoning) are present and accounted for, as are two guys who joined Sinister after those two classics (and well after most of us stopped paying attention to death metal as a genre, sometime in the late 90s).
sooo…shouldn’t they just call themselves Sinister? Yeah, yeah, I know, band politics, other members are still working that band, yada yada. But come on…the vocalist, one of the vintage era guitarists, and every member actually was a Sinister member prior to this?
Anyway, if, like yours truly, you thought Sinister should have packed it in after Diabolical Summoning (and that even that album felt a touch too technical and busy by comparison to Cross the Styx)…you should find yourself pleasantly surprised with this one.
Ignore the likely settlement-enforced name change: this is fucking Sinister, the way they used to sound…and while production techniques have changed (cough declined cough), not much removed from exactly how they used to sound, back in their heyday.
The true sequel to Diabolical Summoning?
Yeah, I’d hazard to say that.
You’ll want to check this one out for sure.
CENTRIPETAL FORCE – Eidetic (Xtreem Music) (December 20)
Debut three song EP from Italian tech thrash act.
Musically, they bear a hell of a lot in common with Watchtower, but as informed by both Atheist and…hard to say, really.
Promo materials also note Toxik, which is accurate…but don’t think good Toxik (as in Mike Sanders and World Circus), but shitty, overly proggy, hard to listen to Toxik (as in Charles Sabin and Think This). And what a disappointing followup that was…
There’s something more traditonally prog about John Knight’s vocals that just doesn’t spell “thrash”, and while the band can get a decent, if quirky groove going for a bit, they have this disturbing tendency to stop short and go off on weird tangents for no apparent reason – thus Think This era Toxik, and yes, much as I enjoy ’em, you can say that of Watchtower as well.
But what’s just off about this one, beyond the vocals that are just too… nice? to be saddled with music this bizarre, is that the herky-jerkiness of it goes beyond a late Toxik/post-Randy Rampage Annihilator/Watchtowerness into
territory that leaves the band sounding a bit…lost at times, I guess.
It’s like, you know they can play, and pretty well at that…but somehow, the stop start freeze sputter of all this leaves Centripetal Force sounding somehow, perhaps paradoxically amateurish.
The Classical Moderns had it right – you can push boundaries and strut your stuff to your heart’s content…
…but you have to ensorcel the audience by couching it in a somewhat familiar framework. Put them at ease, then pull them out of their comfort zone, then settle them back again.
Being young, these paisan haven’t learned that lesson yet…and I think they’ve got too much potential to let them become yet another atonal “experimental” act, with all moorings cut loose and venturing into the realms of pure, irritating noise.
Black metal, in particular, is full of dogshit bands like that.
Don’t be one of ’em, you’re much better than that.
Keep the singer, just rein things in a bit – think more classic prog than “math” – Ron Jarzombek you’re not.
LIMBSPLITTER (US) – Chloroform Cocktail (Unmatched Brutality Records (US) (November 14)
Goregrind-oriented, but more of a pounding “brutal/tech” death metal than that implies…think Cannibal Corpse. Very much so, in fact, though with arguably better production and vocals.
It’s a bit of an “all-star band”, as the drummer used to be in Regurgitation and the bass player was in Nunslaughter. Most of the band has side gigs with bands you’ve probably never heard of, so I guess this is the “let’s play Barnes-era Cannibal Corpse, but with more intelligible vocals” project.
As you might expect from that, riffs are very busy, drums are hyperspeed footwork to the point where it sounds like a drum machine with blastbeats and…well, pretty much every song sounds exactly like the one that precedes or follows it.
You know, just like Cannibal Corpse.
If that’s your thing…here you go, complete with disgusting, misogynistic to the point where even I’m getting upset cover art.
I’m moving on…
ATLASES – PENUMBRA EP (Pest Records) (October 27)
We reviewed their “medusa” and found them somewhat unclassifiably “modern”, if vaguely nu metallish.
This time around, they retain the “modern metal” vibe, but seem to lean more gothic doom-ish, with a depressive, detuned and very deliberate plodding march pace under jangling tremelo lead lines on the first two tracks, before giving way to a more alterna-, post-black metal hipsterish sort of thing on the final trio thereof.*
* of the three, “shards of broken light” turns back to the gothic doomish thing halfway through the track, but you get the idea here.
It’s certainly sad, and if you dig either gothic doom or post-black metal, you’ll certainly find yourself in reasonably familiar waters herein…but why the radical split between the earlier tracks and the later, more clean toned “indie/alternative” oriented second half, I really couldn’t tell you…except that it’s strange to the point of being a tad jarring.
Didn’t hate it – first two tracks even work, in their own weird way.
But certainly strange.
FUNERAL BAPTISM – THE VENOM OF GOD (Loud Rage Music) (October 27)
We reviewed their Gate and this is another of the same from these Romanians – very template black/death, very template PoDB.
So shall we do the honors?
Ah, Watain, what hath thou wrought? So many soundalikes, copycats and abject wannabes…so much plastic for the flames.
Watch for sputters and sparks, don’t want embers to settle on you. Might burn a hole in your favorite black/death band shirt.
And wouldn’t that be a shame.
Funeral Chant – S/T (Caverna Abismal Records) (November 30)
US based black/death outfit. This is a CD/vinyl reissue of their demo, now given status as an EP proper.
The sound is rather muddy, particularly given the busy Grotesque-like cacophony they tend to produce. There’s a whole lot of riffing going on, so it’s well outside the usual Watain Wannabe thing the black/death scene tends to revolve around, but honestly? I’m sick and tired of this sound, and have been for some time now.
Of more interest for the silly pseudonyms (“Cruel Force!” “Doom of Old!” “Vomitor!” “Voidbringer!” – sounds like a perfectly crap supervillain team, actually…) than for their music, this may appeal to those looking for more of a busy Blackmoon-style approach to black/death (think Necrophobic especially).
Me, I’m bored.
DROPZONE – Rape Killing Murder (Osmose Productions) (December 29)
Grinding “D-beat” with slightly subpar snarly-growl vox (and Biohazardlike backing gang-howl chants).
They claim to have gotten the band name from those shitty 80’s straight to video action movies I love so much (like Cynthia Rothrock films, for example) and they clearly don’t take this seriously (the promo writeup spends an inordinate amount of time talking about beer and getting wasted)…so that’s a pair of definite pluses in my book.
I tend to enjoy this sort of Discharge meets Venomlike straightforward riff-fests (not to mention the Swedish death metal scene that evolved from same), and while kinda shitty, the vocals aren’t as annoying as 90% of the other bands we call out for such in these pages…
…so yeah, these Finnish boozers get an easy nod from me.
THY SEPULCHRAL MOON – Indignant Force of Great Malevolence (Signal Rex) (December 22)
hmm. What do you get when you cross a Horna vocalist with a particularly trebly, signal bleed-inclined grindcore cum “bestial”/war metal act?
That’s right, this band featuring members from South Korea and (surprise, surprise) the war metal capital of the Earth, Canada.
These guys lean a lot closer to grindcore proper than any war or “bestial black metal” act you can name, though – dual vomit and shriek vox, detuned grinding guitars in the sub-death metal style, even double bass-forefronted drumming. If it wasn’t so poorly produced and blackened feeling, you could just call them grindcore straight up…
There’s two demo-quality at best EPs and a few unreleased tracks, with two covers (one from Beherit, as you might expect).
Wayyyy too noisy and silly to work, being neither “war/bestial” proper or grindcore per se, but some unholy cross between the two – and the production is pure shite throughout.
If Black Witchery were putting on “a night of Terrorizer” tribute show, it might sound something like this…
…but a whole hell of a lot better!
TRONO ALEM MORTE – O Olhar Atento da Escuridão (Harvest of Death / Signal Rex) (December 21)
Noisy rehearsal space recording of an underground black metal act who alternate between dissonant, declamatory tranciness and more of an experimental take on a vaguely French black metal sound.
I guess if you crossed Vardan with Mutiilation, but added in both the tortured shrieks of pain of Abruptum and the weird atonality and boundary pushing of a Blut Aus Nord or Deathspell Omega, you might get the general picture here.
Very, very strange.
Atmospheric, sure. But is there really a point?
Mz.412 / Trepaneringsritualen – X Post Industriale / Rituals 2015 e.v. (AnnapurnA / Old Europe Cafe) (December 15)
Well…Mz. 412 is pure dark ambient, nothing but industrial noise drones and sampled chant drone notes on the keyboard/synthesizer – pretty much pointless, as you might expect.
Splitmates Trepaneringsritualen are a bit more performance art, with droning industrial…well, not really beats, but fairly sparse if not random throb/pounding, as some lunatic hermit gibbers and shrieks about “she comes as a spectre” or some shit.
And this is the best track of the four on this split, by leaps and bounds.
Last track goes straight back into Mz.412 territory, we lose the hermit and get a hobo snapping at passerby from his flaming trashcan on a cold winter night. “Flesh is flesh!” Yeah, sure, buddy. Here’s a couple of quarters, go buy yourself a cup of coffee.
Well…at least those guys were weirdly amusing, in all their random doofiness. No excuse for Ms.412.
(shakes head, raises eyebrows, sighs)
IGNIS HAERETICUM – Autocognition Of Light (Goathorned Productions) (December 1)
Yeah, more underground black metal, with a bit of a black/death vibe, a lot of open string dissonance, growl-vomit vox and wayyyy too much reverb.
I get it, they’re trying to put you in a trance, ooga-booga. But all that dual guitar key clashing atonality and feedback really doesn’t do the job – far closer to usefulness in regards to that aim is the evil dark ambient chant thing they do for the better part of “extasis”.
The fact that Deathspell Omega is referenced in the promo writeup should give you a heads up – whether that’s a flashing neon warning sign to “STAY THE HELL AWAY !!!” or actually appeals to you for some ungodly reason, that’s all on you.
Obscure Burial – S/T (Invictus Productions) (December 15)
We reviewed their Epiphany and found ourselves baffled by their mix of old school blackthrash and even death metal riffs and more modern (and decidedly tired) PoDB black/death tropes.
Here again, they throw in occasional moments that say 90’s death metal (think Sinister…I mean Neocaesar) or even Slayeresque 80’s thrash amidst the din of “occult black/death” that otherwise predominates.
Like we said last time around…if you can actually play, and you’ve proved that with some of these side notes that pepper the album…
…why the fuck would you want to waste your time playing shit like you are for the better part of the running time here?
Too bad, so sad, coulda been a contender.
Maybe members will wise up and join a proper death or thrash metal band – they’ll probably be a pretty damn good one, at that.
This stuff…why bother sifting through a dustbin just to find a few throwaway reminders of better days (and better music)?
Beastiality – Worshippers of Unearthly Perversions (Invictus Productions) (December 15)
Swedish blackthrash, but with an untoward emphasis on the “black” end and not quite enough on the vintage South American/Teutonic thrash end.
Normally, I love this stuff – everything from Witchtrap (Colombia) and Bestial Holocaust to Okkulto-era Desaster, not to mention the more standard Brazilian and German pioneers of the form – it’s usually a quick win, hands down, yeah, you got the nod, if not some fervent hails in salute.
But Beastiality, while certainly listenable and acceptably close enough to the template…is more of a cloud of influence distant relation than part and parcel of the blackthrash sound and scene proper. They’ve only deciphered part of the formula, and spend the rest of it on straight up, modern (and hence rather eye-rolling and yawn inducing) black metal.
A little more to the left, they’d work their way right into the Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards along with so many other modern BM acts. A little more to the right, they’d become a more recognizably traditional blackened thrash act, and would be enjoyed and appreciated accordingly.
What’s that verse about the Laodicean church?
“I would that thou wert cold or hot…because thou art lukewarm, I will spew thee out of my mouth!”
Next up to the batting cages?
Lihhamon – Doctrine LP (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (November 15)
German “bestial” leaning war metal act. As such, it’s comfortable enough to ears accustomed to the strain, particularly given the better than usual production (for the subgenre) which offers a greater clarity and solidity to the muddy detuned riffing than you get with the hissier, more treble-toned likes of Conqueror, Revenge and Death Worship.
At the very least, it sounds akin to Fallen Angel of Doom in terms of clarity, though the sound leans a bit speedier and more chaotic. I guess you can consider Lihhamon the lost link between Blasphemy and the other Foster/Read acts aforementioned, though the deep death metallish vomit vox (which come paired with higher pitched, snarling vox) clearly suggest a grindcore, if not directly Carcass/Napalm Death influence as well.
I liked it well enough, yeah.
Anatomia – Carnal Obsession DLP (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (November 30)
Damn, Anatomia’s still around!
I mean, yeah, we just reviewed drummer/vocalist Takashi Tanaka’s Necrophile a few months back for Awakening Those Oppressed, but the last I heard of ’em was Dissected Humanity, which is now over a decade old (though just pulled out for a spin about a month back…as usual, right around the same time as Autopsy gets an airing. Gee, wonder why?).
Apparently, they’ve been sticking mostly to splits ever since, with only one other album to their credit about 5 years back…so you can see why this was a bit of a surprise, to see this one land on the virtual desk.
So, let’s be obnoxious (us? never!) and compare this to what I know, namely, against their very first album, the aforementioned Dissected Humanity!
I know, I know, I see a few people rolling their eyes, but you knew it was coming, so shut up and enjoy it, dammit!
Anyway, perhaps not unsurprisingly, Carnal Obsession doesn’t appear all that far removed from Dissected Humanity – still with the grindcore-style mix of bile-gargling bottom of the bowels wet sounding death belches and higher, more black metallish snarls as occasional punctuation, still with the uber-simplistic, grinding, crust/sludge-leaning death metal riffs.
It’s total Autopsy worship, but with even deeper, nastier sounding vocals and far less of the really short song and bluesy nonsense coming in and fucking the works. In fact, the best song on Dissected Humanity was their cover of Autopsy’s “stillborn”, so it’s not like this is some big unspoken secret – the band wears their one major influence* on their sleeves.
* to be fair, you could say the vocals and crustiness also point to a strong Incantation influence, though in terms of imagery, riffing and lyrical focus, it’s apparent they’re more of a side thing – it’s Riefert and Cutler all the way with these guys.
In fact, other than a slightly less bold and powerful production this time around, the only real change I’m seeing is in the band’s adoption of the rather un-Autopsylike extra long track. While three of ’em stick to what you’ve come to expect, no less than 5 tracks here push the 10 minute mark, with two of ’em hitting 12 and 15 minutes, respectively.
It’s not all that common for death metal proper, much less a band who make clear their utter devotion to classic Autopsy…but hey, if you dig this sort of entry level death metal with the lowest, nastiest possible vocals, you’ll hardly notice.
While I’m more from the riff-centric Morrisound and Sunlight schools of vintage death metal, there’s nothing wrong with the more basic, arguably doomy and crustier variant – come on, I’ve always loved Goatlord, so you know these guys (and Autopsy, and early Incantation for that matter) are good by me. Dissected Humanity is part of my physical CD collection, and comes out every so often for a spin – nuff said.
Hails to this relentlessly faithful Japanese trio, for helping to keep this classic sound alive – well worth checking out if Riefert’s quirkier, more simplistic take on early Death is your thing.
Cryptic Fog – Staring Through the Veil (CD/LP/TAPE) (Blood Harvest) (October 27)
Midwestern death metal act. There’s a strong vibe of vintage Sunlight Studios Swedeath here, but the sound they evoke is far removed from the usual slavish HM-2 crusty chainsaw riffed grind that suggests.
Dual vox (or at least vocal styles), which keeps you on your toes and gives a feeling of scope and busyness if not speed – it’s almost like tape edits of different vocalists trading off one after the other at times.
The riffs also bear a more…not standard tuning, but not as dropped tone as typical for Swedeath, and a touch more clarity in quieter, vocal-free and less blastbeat afflicted passages, suggesting a more traditional US death metal influence also in play. Then again, there’s that quirky insistence on quick falser harmonic arpeggios, which speaks to a post-metalcore feel, and an off kilter vibe that speaks to less famed corners of the Euro death metal map – the Netherlands, in particular.
The drumming is fair enough, except for his frequent (and worse, long-lasting) excursions into black metal blastbeat bullshit – he’s certainly decent when they’re playing straight up death metal, all double bass and kitwork.
Then the final track “cleansed by the black flame of absolution” goes straight into an almost symphonic black/death territory, which was just bizarre and ill-fitting…don’t ask me why they chose to go there, of all places.
That track aside (please, let’s just forget that one even exists…), they’re an odd but interesting modern death metal act with a strange melange of influences…all of which (save the black/death ones) are perfectly valid sourcing.
Can’t say I was jumping for joy over this by any stretch of the imagination…but wasn’t bad at’all, last track aside.
That one was utter garbage.
MIDNIGHT – Sweet Death and Ecstasy (CD, LP, TAPE) (Hells Headbangers) (December 15)
Now here’s a band…er, guy who knows blackthrash, or a slowed down, more traditional variant thereof, depending on the song or mood.
We’ve covered the Shox of Violence comp, the split with Shitfucker, and No Mercy for Mayhem, and across the board, offered high praise for the retro blackened thrash stylings the man brings to the table.
While his vocals leave a bit to be desired (think of Midnight as a younger, less doped up and obese take on El Duce of the Mentors…in more ways than one, actually), they’re certainly suitable for the music they accompany, which is more or less more of the same as we’ve seen previously.
The only real change I’m picking up is that more of the running time is taken up by midtempo, almost hard rock-style bangers in the tried and true satanic-trappings biker band style Hells Headbangers acts are oft known for.
In other words, just as awesome as ever.
Raise the horns for a consistently reliable purveyor of blackened metal mayhem.
ACID WITCH – Evil Sound Screamers (CD, LP) (Hells Headbangers) (October 31)
We loved their split with Nunslaughter a few years back, where they stole the show from their more experienced and famed splitmates.
We’d enjoyed the shit out of these guys’ Midnight Movies, albeit less for the execution than the concept and spirit behind that King Fowleyesque salute to 80’s “heavy metal horror” cinema.
This time around…well, I certainly enjoyed all the sound clips from industrial films, horror pictures and news clips relating thereto.
But when you kick off with the Korn meets Marilyn Manson by way of Sykotik Synfoney, Tim Burton soundtrack carnival music horror and Mr. Bungle vocals of “Mr. Biestel” and more or less keep that up throughout…well, unless you’re as cute and catchy as Tommy Heavenly6, you’re shit outta luck, son.
Thankfully, they do make some attempts to bring things back to a more doomy, rather Necrophagiaesque sound on the guitar end as the album progresses…but those goofy ass Danny Elfman does the films of Tim Burton keyboards are always there, fucking the works.
About the best you get is “hardrock halloween”, which is more straightforward than anything else on the album…and hence, while rather unspectacular in and of itself, comes off as the band’s sole saving moment here.
When you find yourself wishing the band sat this one out and just left all the audio clips?
Particularly after enjoying the band’s efforts during both prior experiences thereof?
Houston, we have a problem.
Solfernus (Czech Republic) – Neoantichrist (Satanath Records)
Czech black/death. Perhaps of more interest than the present album are its prior members, which include the drummer from Cult of Fire, whose Ctvrtá Symfonie Ohne and indecipherably Sanskrit titled prior album were covered herein, and the guitarist from Root, whose Kärgeräs – Return From Oblivion was also reviewed here.
I guess if you always wanted to hear the quirky vocal approach of Root married to the overplayed Watain-inspired Swe-black/death cum “occult black metal” BS that’s all but sunk the black metal genre in recent years, that may be a reason to check this out…I guess…
More fodder for the Flames…to the Pyre of Dead Bards with ye!
Burn, baby, burn.
Tyakrah (Germany) – Wintergedanken (Satanath Records)
More palatable by far comes Germany’s Tyakrah, who cross the more contemplative and introspective yet expansive feel of the “cascadian” and French Canadian movements with a more direct, very German black metal feel.
Think Belphegor gone epic and nature-focused and far less pointedly blasphemous, or a more aggressive and melodic, less depressive Empyrium), and you may get the general idea.
As the comparisons may imply, this isn’t what I’d consider exciting or top shelf black metal…but compared to the monthly truckloads of utter shit that get dumped on listeners of late under that overall banner, you can see how Tyakrah really stands out in the crowd, and in a positive way.
Take it for what it’s worth – may well be worth a spin to see if it grabs ya, if you’re sick of the subpar bullshit passing for black metal these days as well.
Satanath (Russia) – Your Personal Copy (Grimm Distribution / Craneo Negro Records) (September 14)
Ambient electronic project from Satanath Records mainman Aleksey Korolyov. Instead of the expected 5 or 6 long, trancey tracks, he delivers a good 20 short bursts of creativity.
I would say these brief offerings were further “to the point”, but it’s ambient and therefore tends to be a bit aimless by definition…even so, they’re out of your hair before you get too bored, and on to the next one.
The flipside of that equation is that Your Personal Copy’s generic title belies the fact that this is anything but generic ambient, black- or otherwise. If anything, this is more properly “electronic music”, as in the experimentation of earlier Tangerine Dream or Kraftwerk, but without the propulsive undercurrent of the latter or the tranciness of either (or ambient music per se).
No “ritualistic” or introspective ambient project here…this is more odd noodling labratory experimentation with synth that could (arguably) find itself best compared with early Cabaret Voltaire or OMD (particularly the former).
We Hate You Too (France) – Howling Scars (Grimm Distribution)
Tom Waits as peformed by Telly from the muppets.
Now make the drunken, gargling Tom (so aptly skewered by Porn Orchard in their novelty record “this holiday season”) more of a jazz chanteuse, perhaps with Charles Ives on the piano (“the ghosts are here” in particular brings Ives’ dissonant textures to mind).
File under: comedy, no question…I sure got some belly laughs out of this one!
Cryostasium (USA) – Starbound EP (Grimm Distribution)
Another one from the prolific Cody Maillet, whose Project:00 we reviewed here previously.
This time, he’s working more of a black metal crossed with experimental electronic music thing than the oddly likeable j-pop crossover of Project:00, so it’s both more familiar (“starbound”, “adventurine”) and more bizarre (the other tracks) than our last encounter.
Strange, or to quote the promo materials, “peculiar”.
Yeah, I like that, describes this one quite well.
Cortex Impulse (Russia) – Once In A Lifetime EP (Grimm Distribution)
Russian prog metal. It’s pretty template – though a lot heavier in tone than the Dream Theater crowd, it does share most of their aesthetic, and precious little of the earlier and more worthwhile Queensryche/Fates Warning school thereof (Titan Force, Sanctuary, Crimson Glory, Lethal, Screamer, etc.)
Still in all, you can pick out the wide open, dissonant-leaning chordal structures favored by bands of said earlier, US-origin prog, albeit married to more midrange, almost sprechtgesang vocals and post-Petrucci/Myung wheedly-whoo legato arpeggio leads.
Not bad at all, particularly if you like the modern prog metal sound and were looking for a band who does it with a touch more classic heaviness.
I was OK with ’em.
Dirty Grave (Brazil) – Evil Desire (Grimm Distribution)
What would you get if you crossed early Trouble and classic-era Pentagram with a more modern doom vibe?
The riffs are totally Wartell and Franklin by way of Victor Griffin, infused with more than a touch of Dave Chandler (St. Vitus) guitar tone…all of which can also be easily traced back to Tony Iommi and Sabbath, especially circa Master of Reality. Doom metal, through and through.
Even so, there’s something about the proudly off-key, quavering to stoned vocal delivery that says bands like Witchcraft, Count Raven or even Reverend Bizarre…and a few riffs that bring 90’s bands like Corrosion of Conformity to mind (“until the day I die”, “evil desire”).
That said, you can also track the chain of influences to Carnival Bizarre-era Cathedral or The Obsessed on “evil desire”, so the apple never falls all that far from the tree, so to speak.
Yeah, they’re best when working the faster, more directly Psalm 9/Relentless riffing. But I love all the older bands mentioned herein, and don’t exactly mind the newer ones noted either.
Did you expect anything less than a well earned nod of respect to these Brazilian traditional doomsters?
Темнолесье (Russia) – Сказания (Grimm Distribution)
Russian pagan/folk metal act, melding the rather Linda Hayden as Angel Blakelike Diana Smirnova’s pleasant nigh-operatic soprano with Mikhail Shtapura’s gargling black metal rasps.
Promo materials mention Cradle of Filth and Amorphis, but I’m not hearing that – more of the folky bounce of Taake married to the party aesthetic of Trollhammeren-era Finntroll, Arkona (Russia) or Turisas, but with the sinister funereal keyboard accompaniment of First Spell-era Gehenna (or at a slight stretch, Gloomy Grim) appended to all the folk bounce.
I liked this one just fine, though admittedly more when the grim keyboard or Smirnova’s vocals were in play…but even without both, this would be a likeable enough blackened folk metal or especially dark pagan metal affair, so there’s really no area of fault to pick at for a change.
Decent (if overly thin for the sound they’re going for) production, no issues with musicianship or construction, everything just sort of fits.
Руины вечности (Russia) – Шёпот забытых холмов (Grimm Distribution)
Thick, death metallike vocals, guitars and riffs, but in service of more somber, almost doomlike overtones. There’s a weird melodicism in play at times, even a light experimentalism to the brief traditional instrumented or female vocalled accents, but overall, it’s a fairly in your face, almost brutal modern death metal affair throughout…
…just one that’s clearly striving to be, or at least informed at core by, more of a Paradise Lost/Anathema/My Dying Bridelike doom/death sensibility.
Too aggressive and in your face to achieve that goal, the band comes off as something of an anomaly, neither fully modern death metal nor doom/death, far from melodeath but with melodic and doomish, or at least depressive and funereal elements.
Too far off the mark for my tastes, but well produced and competently played. Less demanding ears may think this one’s absolutely killer – give it a listen and see where you stand.
Cтахановцы (Russia) – Ништяк (self released)
Industrial-leaning metal with surprisingly strong melodeath elements. Lead lines, melodic, even anthemic bridges and choruses…but in the service of a more Rammstein-ish sensibility overall – they would not have seemed out of place on the XXX soundtrack, alongside “feuer frei”.
The harsh, gargle-growl Russian vocals suit the music to a T, and I really did like those aforementioned melodic moments peppered throughout – there were even some interestingly off kilter semi-melodic guitar solos.
Not your typical industrial metal act, that’s for damn sure.
I liked ’em just fine.