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Well, one year on and the tide would seem to finally be turning.  The wheels of progress move too damn slowly, sometimes, but at least they’re back trying to move after far too many months in utter stasis (if not a horrifying, Lovecraftian regress).

Sure, some things stink of reactionary witch hunt (cough “me too!” cough), but for the moment, we’ll let that slide – “those not against us are for us,” as they say.  And so it goes.

In any case, the days are growing short, both in terms of Winter’s inexorable slide into darkness and frosty madness, with precious few hours of sunlight allotted per diem, and in those remaining in the annum 2017, difficult and trying 350 days or so that it has been to date.  Lost some old friends, made a few new ones, even did a few podcasts, both filmic and music based!  The only constant is change.  And so it goes.

So here’s wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Funky-ass Kwanzaa, Blessed Yule or whatever the hell else you’re celebrating (or not) in the coming days…we’ll see you again in the new year, hopefully a much more hopeful one for us both individually and collectively.

Santa, can you bring us a full 3 branch government sweep, perhaps a Presidential impeachment and Congressional/Judiciary removal from office?

Please?

Leave plenty of milk and cookies, who knows.

As Chef once said: “BELIEVE!”

OPERATION: MINDCRIME – The New Reality (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (December 1)

And speaking of hilarity, here we have the once-great Geoff Tate, whose demo cum EP and three subsequent albums with Queensryche more or less kicked off the entire progressive metal subgenre.

With a once estimable vocal range, Tate led (or at least fronted) the Seattle pioneers through a series of SF-oriented, quirky, boundary-pushing albums that culminated in the most celebrated concept album of the 80’s (and possibly through to this very day), Operation Mindcrime.

Unfortunately, subsequent years were not so kind to Queensryche, culminating in a rather tragic concept album about soldiers and a truly abysmal concert experience relating thereto, ranked only with the same year’s Dokken show as the absolute worst show I’ve personally ever attended.

Lost vocal range, dry, abbreviated renditions of a few classics and overemphasis on said album’s mediocrities, pompous lectures from the stage, an omnipresent (and rather large) glass of red wine ever in hand and even a blatant moment of nepotism involving bringing his daughter out for a duet…an absolutely abominable evening all around, so much so that I’ve barely pulled out even the good Queensryche ever since. It was really no surprise Tate and the rest of the band parted ways shortly thereafter.

So here we have the second effort from Tate’s post-Queensryche outfit (which takes its name, somewhat snarkily, from his earlier act’s ostensible defining moment.*) We’d covered their debut Resurrection previously, and found ourselves distinctly unimpressed…so have things improved significantly in the intervening 365 days or thereabouts?

* Though personally, I far prefer the EP and Warning to Mindcrime. Yeah, yeah, I know…

Well…hmm.

It’s less meandering and more recognizably…I guess “rock” than the light and airy Resurrection last year…but it’s still got that “classic rock radio” feel you get from latter day Rush albums or “reunion albums” from 70’s rockers – that weird fence straddling feel that satisfies neither longstanding fans of the musician(s) in question or draws any newcomers to the fold, sort of leaving everyone but the most obsessive diehards kinda flat in the process.

Tate, once such a beloved singer as to inspire dozens of nigh-soundalike Queensryche wannabe acts (Crimson Glory, Lethal, Screamer, Titan Force, Sanctuary, Sacred Warrior, Solar Eagle, Bride, Steel Prophet, the list goes on and on) – many of whom would equal or better what Tate and company themselves produced post-Mindcrime, actually…but even so.

This guy had a voice, one as admired and inspirational to up and comers as Rob Halford or Bruce Dickinson were (and in some corners of Europe, remain to this day). Try finding a US power metal band from back in the day that doesn’t cop at least some awkward attempt at one of those three men’s styles…and more often Tate’s than the others, honestly.

And yet here he is, burying a muted, nigh-sprectgesang performance with no real highs or stretches under layers of guitars, drums and keyboards (seriously, the vocals are the hardest to pick out throughout), often resorting to digital processing for that “phoned in” mono microphone effect (think Bad Brains’ “sacred love”…which was literally phoned in by H.R. from prison, mind) or multitracked to give it the body that once-storied voice now lacks entirely.

Yeah, I’m sorry, but this is just embarrassing.

PRETTY BOY FLOYD – Public Enemies (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (December 1)

Glam metal reunion album.

Yeah, I sort of remember Pretty Boy Floyd, though more for the name than any music they’ve ever done. I do recall the album title “Leather Boyz With Electric Toyz”, and maybe “Bullets and Lipstick”…oh, wait, that was the other Pretty Boy Floyd.

Long story, but the fact that I was unaware before this review that those were two entirely different bands should say about where I stand in terms of Pretty Boy Floyd.

And hey, I make no bones about the fact that I got a kick out of a fair amount of glam acts back in the day, or what my drummer used to call “dirtbag metal” bands – glammed up, tattooed junkie Hollywood rockers in the GNR vein. He was a HUGE fan of the genre, which amused me at the time…and yeah, all that exposure to ’em got this veteran thrasher and proto-death/proto-black underground metaller to appreciate a whole lot of those acts in the process, back around ’87-’91.

But Pretty Boy Floyd? Must’ve missed the boat on these guys.  No real recollection, beyond the band name and those two album titles…

And from what I’m hearing here…maybe I can see why.

I mean, hey, if you just want to hear some vintage-style Hollywood glam metal, no question that’s what these guys deliver. But I’m just not hearing the hooks, and there’s nothing about Steve Summers’ whiny-snark vocals that spells the sleaze of a Phil Lewis, the frantic helium squeaks of a Jason McMaster, even the appeal of Bret Michaels, who he’s so obviously trying to be.

I guess you could equate ’em to Hanoi Rocks, another band that never really appealed to my glam-obsessed drummer (or more to the point, myself – I preferred Michael Monroe’s early solo work by leaps and bounds, actually). People love ’em, some bands cite ’em as an influence, and yeah, I can confirm – Pretty Boy Floyd was definitely out there on the scene back in the day, and weren’t especially obscure, either (this isn’t US power metal, we’re talking).

But to judge solely by Public Enemy (as I have zero recollection of their earlier material), Pretty Boy Floyd comes off as a kind of a pleasant also-ran.

Yeah, that’s a vintage sounding glam band, alright…probably hits the spot if you’re desperate and looking for something you haven’t already played to death over the ears.

Nothing special about ’em, though.

EISELY / GOLDY – Blood, Guts and Games (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (December 1)

Hey, it’s a Giuffria reunion! Why not just call it Giuffria?

Oh, yeah. No Greg Giuffria.  My bad!

Well, anyway, this is David Glen Eisely and Giuffria/Dio alum Craig Goldy working a decidedly Giuffria-esque template here. Maybe with a bit less emphasis on the keyboards. But you get the idea.

So yeah, if you liked Silk & Steel…or more to the point, the self-titled (yeah, I know, Goldy was already with Dio by ’86…) and don’t mind the fact that the years have given a bit of extra rasp and gravel to Eisely’s golden tones?

Dig right in – you’ll feel comfortable enough with what they’re working here.

RAINTIMES – S/T (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (December 1)

Brand spanking new Italian AOR act. As you might expect, they have strong vintage 80’s leanings, with vocalist Michael Shotton bearing touches of Peter Cetera and Mickey Thomas, albeit with more of an oddly countrified twang (don’t ask me where that came from – the guy’s a Brit!)

Raintimes keeps things resolutely to the light and melodic end of the AOR spectrum, at times feeling like a cross between Foreigner and Loverboy, others more akin to 80’s Chicago if not Autograph (particularly the latter, given Ivan Gonzalez and Sven Larsson’s flashy leads).

Like all the best AOR, this one conjures good memories and visions of summer breaks with the top down and a group of old friends cruising down the boulevard, big haired pretty ladies in tow…or for those who weren’t around for all that, think 80’s teen beach comedies like Hardbodies, you’ll get the general idea.

It’s well performed and syrup-smooth, with melodies so buttery you’ll either start to sway, pull out the lighters and pull your girl close…or run like hell. Hey, there’s folks who can’t deal with melody out there, if that wasn’t already obvious from some of the junk we review here, right?

But for my part, as light and cheesy as this stuff is…you’ll probably catch me gazing deep into the wife’s eyes, singing along to this stuff.

Yeah, I’m a real sap sometimes. Sue me.

Good stuff, and I really love the leads.

Recommended for those more romantic, life affirming moments, however infrequently they may come along.

JONO – Life (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (December 1)

Overdramatic and silly, like Supertramp crossed with the worst excesses of Dennis De Young with Styx.

Johann “JoNo” Norrby caterwauls like he’s trying a takeover bid for Broadway, elements of Crimson Glory’s Midnight, The Darkness and the aforementioned De Young and Davies all playing into his vocal tone and approach…but with the camp elements of both Supertramp and The Darkness shoved front and center throughout.

That doofy Kurt Weill-esque stutter march that opens the album (“sailors”) really sets the stage for Phantom of the Opera meets Beauty and the Beast by way of Cats-like (over)acting and decided overemoting, all warbling sustained tones and cheesy (well, lets be honest here – bad) music theater stage “acting” – try “no return” or “down side” for another pure gigglefest, though it’s all wayyyyyy off the charts of taste. Restraint? Pfft. What’s that?

You can practically see him hugging a folder of Andrew Lloyd Webber stage directions, it’s that ridiculous and overblown.

But you know what?

That makes it unique, as well.

Can’t accuse this one of not standing out among the pack, that’s for damn sure!

After the utter shock and laughter subsided, I was quite bemused by this, yes – definitely something to pull out on some drunken evening with friends, so you can all mock/sing along crazily.

Did I mention he actually cites the Supertramp I so clearly heard all over this as an influence? Yeah, and Queen and Sparks as well.

mmm-hmm…

Yeah, if you walk into this one, you know exactly what you’re getting into.

Don’t blame me for this one.  I tried to warn you…

120 on the camp meter – John Waters probably owns five copies.

DOWN ‘N’ OUTZ – My Re-Generation (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (December 1)

DOWN ‘N’ OUTZ – The Further Adventures of / The Further Live Adventures of (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (December 1)

Remember the London Quireboys? “A Bit of What You Fancy”?

Yeah, like Pretty Boy Floyd, they came a bit late to the glam/GNR-style hard rock party, but were a bit different – more akin to, say, the Black Crowes than Kix or Dirty Looks. They used to play them on “classic rock” radio, as I recall, so you’d be forgiven for just referring to them as “British retro-70’s rockers”, which they sort of were, in a way.

Also like Pretty Boy Floyd, they never really tickled my fancy – nothing horrible, but you know. So what, just another faux-hard rock band coming up late in the metal era. Even at the time, it felt pretty dated.

Well, apparently, Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott got invited to a short lived Mott the Hoople reunion event, and hooked up with the London Quireboys (apparently having long since dropped the “London” prefix…but hell, I still call ’em Wham UK and Mission UK, so fuck it.) as a backing band to do covers of Hoople/Ian Hunter solo material, I guess as an opening act or something.

So the guys enjoyed this enough to record an album full of said material…here it is, under the title of My Re-Generation.

The band stuck around to work a second album, The Further Adventures Of…, still working the Hoople/Hunter covers thing throughout.

And finally, you get a live album, under a very similar title, which captures the band live in both audio and video format (it’s a CD/DVD set).

Objectively speaking, the studio albums come off much better than the live material (speaking solely in terms of audio, mind – did not review the DVD end), unless you really need some audience cheering and appreciation at the end of each song, in which case, have at it.

But look. I know two people who were really into Mott the Hoople and Ian Hunter – my old pal the former hippie (oft mentioned in these pages, and a regional head of the Residents fan club back in the 70’s and 80’s…yeah, his tastes were wonderfully eclectic) and former Weird Scenes cohost Louis Paul (who’s probably attending some other geriatric to moribund 60’s/70’s rock star’s concert locally as we speak…yeah, that was his thing).

Me? I never understood how they got popular.

I guess it’s a 70’s glam rock thing or something, but all those tinkling keyboards and kind of meh “classic rock” songs never did much of anything for me.

If you’re into that sort of thing, and Hunter and Hoople in particular…suffice to say, you’ll have a very different take on these three album reissues than I ever would.

  

Leaves’ Eyes – Sign Of The Dragonhead (AFM Records) (January 12)

You know, this record really hammers home the fact that, as the Romans so succinctly put it, tempus fugit.

I mean, it’s been more than a decade now since that fateful 2007 show at the B.B. Kings here in New York City, where relative newcomer openers Leaves Eyes blew a Kamelot then on its last legs (of its Roy Khan-led glory days, at least) right off the stage, and made instant fans out of the wife and I on the spot.

At the time, they’d only had the Theatre of Tragedy-gone-Pagan/Viking full length Lovelorn and the more quintessentially Leaves Eyes EP Legend Land to their credit…oh, yeah, there was the overhyped Vinland Saga in the middle, but that was more of a spotty, airy affair on the whole (“farewell proud men”, “elegy”, “solemn sea” and “new found land” were all duly presented on that fateful evening, as the peerless album highlights they remain). Suffice to say, it was the band in its heyday and prime.

But subsequent years were a bit less kind to the band, with the middling My Destiny EP (mainly bolstered by its excellent title track) followed by the far more questionable likes of Njord and Meredead. While still huge fans of the earlier material, we shrugged our collective shoulders and assumed they’d gone the way of the rest of the gothic/symphonic metal scene as a whole…i.e., more or less past their sell by date.

Thus is was quite a pleasant surprise when the rather gothicized, Theatre of Tragedy-esque Symphonies of the Night dropped in 2013 – a very likeable album that joins their original trilogy as a surprise (late) career highlight. For a moment, there, Leaves Eyes was back, with a vengeance.

The subsequent King of Kings moved a bit more to the tried and true Legend Land/Vinland Saga sound, which was hardly a step down – in fact, it’s right up there with Symphonies as another defining moment. It seemed the band had overcome their mid-period speed bump and returned to full fighting form.

But nothing in life lasts forever, even when it comes to cute romantic tales like the one behind the band’s formation (and the domestic partnership of its two main members).   Things change, people move on. And rather than lie down and die, this is when the tough get going, or at least give it the old college try.  And thus, enter Elina Siirala, Elis’ Pete Streit and the Fires in the North EP.

And in a certain sense, Sign of the Dragonhead fulfills much of the potential of that EP, and Leaves Eyes Mark II per se. It’s bombastic as hell, extremely melodic and to the point. And given the rather sorry state of the gothic/symphonic metal scene nowadays, you can still keep Leaves Eyes right up at the top of the pack, bumping shoulders with (if not consistently besting) Delain.

But the same problem noted last time around also remains, and necessarily comes even more to the forefront: namely, that for whatever her merits as measured in a vacuum and in isolation, Elena Siirala is no Liv Kristine.

Sure, you can see exactly why Alex and Thorsten chose her – she’s got a vaguely similar light soprano, and is capable of bridging the more lyric passages alongside the more bombastic siren of the battlesea moments that have always defined the band.

But she’s cold.

And man, I mean fucking chilly.

In point of fact, there’s not a hint of Liv’s warmth and body to her – it’s a performance that’s technically dead on, but soulless and wan at core. It’s not something you can work on or develop – it’s a matter of personality and approach, if not intrinsic to who you are as a human being (no aspersions intended here, I’ve never even met the woman – just speaking as a general rule of thumb).

It’s what separates a Carlos Santana from an Yngwie Malmsteen.  Yeah, Yngwie’s great. But he’s never said a thing in a hundred icy exotic scale 32nd notes that Carlos didn’t shake your soul with in one to five sustained pentatonic bends.

Case in point.

For his part, Alex Krull brings to the table exactly what he always has, but with the conciseness and extra melodic approach Streit brought to his own late lamented Elis: bombast, excellent production, smooth flow and memorably anthemic yet melodic-toned songs.  You can tell he knew this was a make or break moment, and while very different from the Leaves Eyes we know and love, it’s similar enough – and bold enough – to keep the punters happy.

But while there’s a definite festival circuit vibe to all of this, that’s also the problem.  While this may be “a” Leaves Eyes, very gothic/symphonic with strong Viking/pagan elements and no real throwaway tracks for a change (even the obligatory ballad “fairer than the sun” and the utterly weird Slade meets Big Country melange “riders on the wind” hold up alongside the more typical bombast surrounding)…it’s not “the” Leaves Eyes.

And with this icy, thinner toned siren at the helm, whatever her merits…there’s really no way it could be.

Newcomers, festivalgoers and the less discriminating should, quite deservedly, love this one.

Longtime Leaves Eyes fans…you’ll hear exactly what I’m saying here.

Regardless…a very strong effort, and well worth a listen – it’s still head and shoulders above the competition.

Just don’t expect it to be Leaves Eyes.

Tankard – Hymns For The Drunk (AFM Records) (January 12)

You know, among the rarified few of classic thrash acts who managed to keep plugging away without cease straight from their mid-to-late 80’s heyday to this very year…and if you think about it, there really aren’t that many who managed to pull that off without huge breaks or 20-30 years on “reunion” efforts…

…about the last band that comes to mind would be Tankard.

Let’s get this one out of the way first: I love Zombie Attack.  Somewhere between goofy gimmick album and straightforward German thrash, it remains the most solid album in their oeuvre, all these years later.  But think about this.

I mean, seriously – a punkified crossover thrash act who never really fit in, either with likeminded acts (Gang Green, Murphy’s Law, M.O.D.) or with the Teutonic (generally blackened-origin, always crazed and hyperaggressive) thrash scene their national origin uncomfortably lumps them in with.

It’s always hilarious when some millenial tries to refer to them as part of the nonexistent “big four” of German thrash…hmm, Kreator, Destruction and Sodom…and Tankard, which one’s the square peg here?

Exumer, maybe – Darkness, Deathrow, early Rage, hell, even the Bay Area-cum-UK style Paradox have all been vetted as expansions to the storied Teutonic Trio, and you could make somewhat iffy arguments supporting each (or even stretch for bands like Protector, Accuser, Living Death, Assassin…the list goes on). But Tankard?  Post-Zombie Attack?

Well, regardless of their sort of “beloved outsider” status among just about any apparently compatible corner of the thrash scene, there’s one thing you can count on with Tankard – crunchy, driving, crossover-style thrash with vintage riffing and snarky, barked vocals…and a whole shitload of goofy songs about booze, drunken escapades, hangovers, wanting to track down and kill people over empties and stolen beers, cheap horror movies, UFOs…yeah, it gets pretty damn silly.

What the hell did you expect from a bunch of self-admitted (hell, proud) drunks?

Anyway, with the recent reissues and compilations from the band’s vintage Noise era, why do we need another “greatest hits”, you ask? Simple – this one focuses more on the AFM years, specifically 2002’s B-Day through 2011’s Vol(l)ume 14.  Now, there’s still a few of the classics here, like “zombie attack”, “(empty) tankard” and “the morning after”, but the bulk of this one’s pulled from the 5 albums and an EP they dropped during their last go-round with the label.

And for those who haven’t heard Tankard since the days of Alien or thereabouts…well, you probably won’t hear much of a difference, beyond better production and even tighter playing than you remember.  Surprisingly enough, for material produced during the millenium? This stuff is all pretty damn good, and holds up well against their more celebrated and remembered work from two decades prior.

Diehards “Gerre” Johannes and Frank Thorwarth may be older and fatter, but these good time herren are still kicking it out with the best of ’em, together with long running late 90’s replacement members Andy Gutjahr and Olaf Zissel, so there should be no real surprises here…unless, like yours truly, you haven’t the luxury of hitting the Euro festival circuit of which they are long running regulars, and haven’t really thought about ’em since the days of Zombie Attack.

In which case…try it. You’ll like it.

I sure did.

Raise a flagon and start shouting along! Prost!

Deadheads – This One Goes To 11 (High Roller Records) (January 26)

Driving, high energy, punkified hard rock with equal indebtedness to 70’s glamsters like The Sweet and Mick Ronson-era Bowie and the likes of Motorhead and Iggy and the Stooges.

There’s plenty of 70’s vibe to the overdriven, almost tube amp guitar tone, heavily reverbed vocals and tinkling piano stings, but even the most punchy of glam/early punk acts like Suzy Quatro and the Runaways were seldom if ever quite this forceful and aggressive. In fact, I’d pull Guitar Wolf into the discussion right about now, but as more pointedly informed by the Pop/Williamson and Bowie/Ronson ethos (particularly the former – I kept thinking Raw Power in particular).

We’d covered them previously, for 2015’s Loaded, and oh, there it is, I’m seeing a reference to the band themselves namechecking Iggy and Williamson. Yep, same stuff I’m hearing this time around…and same end result.

Hard rock done the way I like it, with all those sleepy old man moments your “classic rock” loving folks are so prone to venerate completely excised from the mix.

Just as strong as last time around, if not stronger.

Keep on rockin’, guys.

DEATH KEEPERS – Rock This World (Fighter Records) (January 22)

Opening on a “thunderstruck”-style AC/DC riff, the first track or two here come off as an unusual mix of punchy hard rock and a more AOR gone power metal underpinning.

But as you get a little further into the album, the gravitic pull bends things more particularly towards a pointedly melodic, and yes, AOR-ish take on European power metal proper (there’s even an Yngwie-esque neoclassical solo on the Rhapsody (of Fire) meets Helloween-style “haven’s heaven”).

“Rock this world” returns more towards the earlier hard rock thing, but as filtered through post-millenial Obsession (or pretty much any Mike Vescera project of recent vintage).  Instrumental “thriving forecast” comes off a tad prog, “love’s within” feels rather Warlock gone Sonata Arctica, “metallia” is back to the Vescera thing, but leans less hard rock than it does trad metal this time around.

Bottom line, interesting change from the same old, same old, likely to appeal to fans of Vescera’s post- Obsession/Loudness/Yngwie work. Frontman Dey Rus bears a surprisingly soundalike tonality to the man, so even on the less Vesceralike tracks, fans of the veteran vocalist should be well chuffed by these guys…and good playing and production provide the icing on an already quite palatable cake.

They swing a bit too much in contrasting directions (hard rock, AOR, Euro power metal, recent vintage US traditional metal) to really sit comfortably in any subgenre, and that may well put off the more diehard fans of one or the other – you know how us metal fans can be.

But you can clearly see where these guys lie on the sonic spectrum, and the less rigid among us should be quite pleasantly surprised by the band’s sound and versatility.

I liked ’em.

Diablo Swing Orchestra – Pacifisticuffs (Candlelight/Spinefarm) (December 8)

I remember these guys for “a tap dancer’s dillemma”, an oddly Big Bad Voodoo Daddylike mix of big band swing, camp and (in this band’s case) heavy metal. It was pretty good, and definitely fun.

I seem to recall another track as well, leaning into mariachi territory…but a quick scan of song titles isn’t jogging the memory. Suffice to say, these guys delivered a bit of an enjoyable novelty track (or two), but dropped right off the radar thereafter, as such things are wont to do.

Well, the mariachi is here again (“the age of vulture culture”), as is the swing, camp and metal (“knucklehugs”). There’s even an invitation to tango (“lady clandestine chainbreaker”) and an almost direct swipe of the aforementioned Big Bad Voodoo Daddy’s house style (“karma bonfire”.)

…but then they get kinda weird.

Ambient (“vision of the purblind”, “pulse of the incipient”)?
Disco (“jigsaw hustle”)?
Avant-chamber music classical (“ode to the innocent”)?
Yiddish theater music (“cul de sac semantics”)???

Well, you can’t accuse them of following trends…this is some seriously weird shit, designed for the hipster circuit and prone to produce raised eyebrows and spontaneous laughter in the unsuspecting listener.

I certainly applaud them for their pioneering spirit, and am sure they’ve been steadily building an audience (the material is oddly entertaining and well produced)…but enjoying a few of their more pointedly swing/mariachi/metal hybrid tracks are about as far as this goes for me.

 

Olavi Louhivuori – Immediate Music (Svart Records) (December 8)

umm…

yeah.

next?

 

 

 

OK, I guess I have to say something about this.  So here goes:

Picture a restless drummer with nothing to do on a Friday night.  He drops by the studio to see if anything’s going on, but there’s nobody around but some stoner kid tripping on mushrooms, screwing around with a cheap Casio synthesizer while laughing to himself and knocking things over trying to maintain some form of balance from one second to the next.

Oh, well, he figures…any port in a storm. So he gets behind the kit and every so often, drops some frenetic drum patterns into the otherwise aimless, neverending drones of pseudo-“space music” so inelegantly “performed” by said inebriated dope fiend.

That’s it.  Someone recorded this session, for whatever ungodly reason…maybe just for a laugh, who knows.

That’s it, in a nutshell.

next?

Teemu and the Deathblows – Keep It In The Dark (Svart Records) (December 8)

Well, for better or worse, I guess we’re seeing the start of a 90’s revival now.

There have been a few acts passing our way of late paying homage to those generally rather dark days of the musical scene, albeit with less utter despair, flannel and heroin abuse (at least we hope!).

As such, what we’ve seen thus far has been the more hopeful, quirky, indie side of the 90’s music landscape, which had its own off-center charm…case in point.

Sleepy vocals that bring Black Francis very much to mind, but which could also trigger memories of J. Mascis and Bob Mould.  Promo materials mention Lou Reed, and yeah, I can sort of hear that as well, just lighter toned, more exhausted to stoned and shoegazey…and far, far less dark at core.

The music wanders through territories as disparate yet vaguely related as Blind Melon, Lemonheads and Darling Buds, all jangly guitars and a relaxed sense of laying around in a park under a tree with your favorite girl, just letting the breeze tickle your arm hairs and lull you to slumberland.

It’s weird, it’s very, very 90’s…but for that sort of thing, yeah, I didn’t mind it at all.

Heikki Hautala & Hyvät veljet – Rauha ja harmonia (Ektro / Future Lunch) (January 19)

Opener “paljona maksaa” kicks things off on a very good foot.  Deliberate, doomy, Chris Isaaklike, vaguely reminiscent of Sono Morti, it leaves you anticipating a full album of suchlike.

But followup “sekavaa ja epaselvaa” goes rather Wallflowersish, and the album sticks to a Jakob Dylan by way of Nick Drake going forward, all the way till “laivueet” and the almost black metal-like build and release of “voimaat” bring things back to the promise of the opener.

If this were a three track EP or if the rest of the album had stuck to the formula and resonance of the opening (and two closing) track(s), I’d have pretty much loved this one for the sort of dark, introspective neofolk cum roots music being tapped here.

As it is, not bad at all…just expect interest to flag a bit around the midsection.

      

Scars Of Solitude – Deformation (Inverse Records) (December 1)

Template metalcore, but in the good sense – think the Killswitch school thereof, more melody, clean singing and crunching guitars than annoying screamo.

Production’s pretty damn good as well, though I’d probably have buried the (sadly all too often a tad flat) vocals more behind the crunchy, nicely full toned guitars and busy, throaty drums, instead of allowing them to go front and center, overpowering the rest of the band. That works if you’re Ronnie James Dio…not if you’re a thickly accented fella with a tendency to miss hitting higher notes by a semitone or thereabouts.

There’s actually too little of the growly/screamo business for the genre, which surprised me to note – Scars of Solitude play it a touch too clean and safe to satisfy the average sweaty teen metalcore fanboy, despite their more or less dead on approach otherwise.

That said, when Mikko Ruuska does attempt to act all “fierce” and “raging”, it comes off a bit silly and…well, off.  So you can see why they go with the clean vox more than not…just feels like they missed hitting those Killswitch-inspired highs the genre is capable of at its best.

I also should note that despite some dead on rhythm, fantastic guitar tone and very nice lead lines, I really didn’t notice any solos here…which is not to say that they didn’t exist, but rather that they made zero impression.  Stroetzel and Dutkiewicz these guys are not, however admirable their efforts to emulate the scene legends otherwise.

But let’s take a step back, here. Just who are we comparing Scars of Solitude to? And what exactly does that say about this album, and their potential?

Yeah.

Damn good album, all caveats and areas for improvement aside.

Bottom line, I enjoyed the hell out of this one.

 

IAMSIN – Kings & Queens (Inverse Records) (December 15)

oof.  On the other hand, we have Iamsin, a fellow Finnish metalcore act whose overall sound is quite recognizable, but who lean far more aggro.

Like some ersatz Atreyu, you’re lucky if the Korn-like noise fills, nu metallish “groove” bounce riffs and overly busy, if still clearly At the Gates inspired metalcore ones slow down enough to properly breathe and get melodic in the first damn place.

It’s really only at the choruses that you can tell they bear the vaguest kinship to scene leaders like Killswitch, All That Remains, As I Lay Dying or even the first In This Moment album.   The rest of the time, it’s more workaday, overly screamo, poorly produced and over-busy machine gun riffing and drumming…more akin to the all too many bands that comprise the larger, detritus end of the genre (name your favorites here – I don’t find ’em worthy of more than a song or two on the damn radio, to be honest).

At the choruses, frontman Petter Lof goes clean and melodic, the lead lines kick in and the riffs and drums slow to a more manageable tempo…and they suddenly become listenable.

I mean, yeah, the production still sucks ass. But nothing wrong with those choruses.

It’s the rest of it that just doesn’t fucking work.

Look, I’ve got a soft spot for metalcore per se – Slaughter of the Soul was the last death metal album I bought back in ’94 (after the scene had already imploded and even the strongest DM bands had fallen on hard musical times), and when I encountered Killswitch swiping the best elements thereof a full decade later (with 2004’s The End of Heartache, to be precise), I was sold…at least on them.*

* Other bands have been surprisingly more spotty in quality, but I do have a few favorites you’ve probably noticed over the years of monthly Roundup reviews, and an Adam D production always helps pull ’em back in line, no backtalk.

But when the production is this thin and hissy to the point where you can barely make out a guitar tone vs. the drums, the vocals stick more to screamo than clean and the riffing leans far too close to aggro/”groove” for comfort…you’re pushing it, kid.

I’ll be nice and give ’em a passing verdict, because for the more workaday, who cares end of the genre, they certainly slot right in…

…let’s just leave it as “I wasn’t overly impressed.”

Imperial State Electric – Anywhere Loud (Psychout Records) (February 16)

We’d spoken to Nicke Andersson’s non-Entombed/Death Breath project several times over the years, from All Over My Head to Honk Machine (with its advance single “read me wrong” a month earlier) through All Through the Night. 

We’d even covered the (really, really far in advance single cum title cut to the latter back in January of last year – don’t ask me what that delay was all about…

So to put a pin in things, suffice to say we always liked ’em, and here we have a live album from Nicke Andersson’s vintage hard rock act.

It’s pretty workaday to shrug of the shoulders (as most live albums tend to be post-1985 or so, once you get past noted classics like Live at Budokan, Frampton Comes Alive, Unleashed in the East, Live After Death, No Sleep Till Hammersmith and Worldwide Live), unless you really needed to hear them cover a pair of punk tracks (by the Dead Boys and Belgium’s The Kids, respectively).

As you might expect, the sound’s a bit thin – but that almost always happens with live recordings. However teeth-rattling and bone shaking the sound when you’re there, the albums and recordings always sound thin and flat…it’s a weird quirk of sonics, but very typical of live albums.

The audience sounds punched in during tracks and a tad listless between – sure, they’re appreciative enough, but it just doesn’t feel right somehow. Something’s off, there.

I usually really enjoy Andersson’s surprisingly accurate homages to the less travelled corners of 70’s rock, but this one left me a bit flat for a change.

And honestly, what did you expect? It’s just a live album, after all.

Gloria Story – DOES YOUR HEART FEEL AT HOME (Wild Kingdom) (December 1)

We’d covered their Greetings from Electric Wastelands and its advance single “beast of a northern light“, and while a tad less pointedly vintage Kiss this time around, the solo still speaks to a decided Ace Frehley influence, the jangling snare-with-attached-tambourine to a Peter Criss by way of 60’s British Invasion, the harmony vocals and thin “dead tone” production positively screaming 70’s hard rock…

…so yeah, when it comes right down to brass tacks, they still sound a whole hell of a lot like vintage Kiss, albeit in a slightly less direct sense than last time around.

Looking forward to the full length.

Pile of Priests – Tenebrous Labyrinth (EP) (self released) (November 24)

We reviewed their single “Redemptionem Per Cruciatu” back in October, and this doesn’t really change our opinion any – it’s pretty much death metal done by a spastic, with the bouncy, nu metal-tone bass and guitars kind of going all over the fucking place, never really “death metal” proper, but not exactly “groove” or “nu metal” either, despite definite leanings in that direction.

In fact, things fall all over the meter and scale, to the point where it feels like this train’s rattling itself right off the rails. Disjointed riffing, tempo and key changes, stylistic shifts…it’s just kind of a mess. “Interglacial departure” is about the best it gets in terms of any measure of internal consistency…the rest is leaning precariously close to random noise.

As if to prove where they got their bad inclinations, they do covers by Coroner (always a band that pushed the line, the Death Cult EP and “masked jackal” aside) and Sadus (about whom the less said the better). There’s a Kreator cover, but don’t get your hopes up…it’s post-Coma of Souls.

Yeah, I know. I was thinking the same thing about that.

Just for laughs, here’s the band’s take:

“We are very proud of our upcoming EP ‘Tenebrous Labyrinth’. Our sound has evolved on every release and we have agreed that this EP to come is the pinnacle of our sound thus far.”

Wow.

(shakes head in disbelief)

Al-righty, then!

Next?

Grimtone – Memento Mori (Extreme Metal Music) (December 8)

You know, for a band with a ridiculously ironic and on the nose name like “Grim Tone”, this was actually not bad at all…

If you take a nasty, almost Hat-like vocal performance (all snarling Ace Still-esque witchy declamatoriness throughout) and append it to a more straightforward, later second wave (think circa ’96) Norwegian black metal guitar tone, with incessant tremelo riffing and perfectly atrocious drum machine-ish…yet super sloppy on tom rolls! – performance on the kit, to the point where Abbath’s attempts at same on Battles in the North sound like genius!

Interestingly, I also found some kinship and comparison to later Judas Iscariot as well – as in when they actually got good, from Heaven In flames through Moonlight Butchery.

Yeah, surprisingly enough, particularly from a pair of Swedes – Norsecore or black/death this is not.

Even the perfectly shit drums brings you back to the days when black metal still mattered, rather than being some oddly accepted deviant sector of mainstream culture.

Authentic black metal band? No fucking way.

But did they get the sound right, and even a vague hint of the vibe?

Surprisingly?

Yes.

I dug it well enough. You may as well.

ALEX DAWSON – Always Rock (December 8)

Holy shit, I was not expecting this!

Picture a Frenchman, with a very un-French sounding name…who plays just like Rick Derringer.

Just singing in French.

Promo materials note Hendrix…no, not really, except as filtered through Stevie Ray Vaughn…Johnny Winter (well, duh!) and ZZ Topp’s Billy Gibbons. I’m only hearing Derringer, with hints of Vaughn or even Bon Scott-era AC/DC…but who’s complaining?

So if you dig some grinding, dirty toned, heavy overdrive tube amp-style hard rock riffing with thick toned humbucking rock leads just this side of sloppy, they’re so aggressive that puts more modern standardbearers like Webb Wilder to shame…

…yeah, don’t just sit there, dammit!

This is one hell of an album. I love this guy’s style…in some ways (the grit, the violence, the nigh-proto punkness of those riffs…) it reminds me of my own.

If you dig higher energy, busy boogie rock with a definite fistfight-baiting edge…

…yeah.

Fucking loved this one, no bones about it.

  

BLACK MAMBA – Heritage (December 14)

Sorta indie-ish, vaguely 90’s style (but as filtered towards more modern sensibilities) oddball female-fronted rock act out of Viterbo, Italy.

There’s a lot of pop hookiness to this, but it’s more “rock” than “pop”…and yet by no means could you consider this “hard rock” either.

It’s very radio friendly and likely to appeal to your girlfriend, but not really hard enough to excite your average metalhead or veteran hard rocker, nor is it the sort of “melodic rock” that the Frontiers AOR crowd gravitates towards.

Black Mamba occupies a strange no-man’s land (get it? Unintentional pun, I assure you…but it works nonetheless!) somewhere between sorta countrified, vaguely Lilith Fair-style 90’s femme-origin indie rock and pop…but with arguably a bit more guitar driven business, at least on a portion of the tracks herein.

There’s a touch of emo/metalcore influence underlying Irma Mirtilla’s emotive yet tough alto and delivery, but it’s sort of like Meredith Brooks, Me’Shell N’degeOcello and 4 Non Blondes go emoish pop rock, if you can picture such a thing.

Very, very strange, and yet it’s melodic and smooth enough in delivery, with a propensity towards hooks and likeable melody-driven leads (with occasional funkified bass runs and busy Dave Grohl-esque drum fills) not to offend just about anybody. It may not be your cup of tea, but you won’t be holding your ears and running to turn it off by any stretch of the imagination.

In fact, you may well kinda like it, at least for certain phrases, on certain tracks, at certain times.

I was OK with this, yeah. Not bad at all, and definitely has promise.

 

BEBLY – Deconne (December 24)

Jangly guitarred late 90’s Britpop with a more aggressive, even punkish vibe, straight outta France.

To say they sound a lot like Oasis with balls (and without the flat, tired vocals or cheesy “psychedelic” Beatles worship) or a more pepped up and speedy Bush (without the Nirvana fanboyism) should give you a pretty good idea of what to expect here.

It’s hard rocking, punky, punchy, jangly and really quite engaging in its more vital moments – it’s hard to picture someone turning up their nose or expressing boredom in the face of the one two punch of “deconne” and “devalise” that opens this EP.

Sadly, things devolve into more expected “damn, I’m baked, bro” stoner/late night after close/cleanup after the party crap you’d expect from a band where we had to reference not one, but TWO 90’s acts.

Respectable enough ones, sure. But you get the idea.

If this were a single, with tracks 1 and 2 representing the flip sides? I’d praise this one to high heaven. Those two tracks are fucking killer.

It’s the rest of this that drags ’em down.

Get it for those first two tracks, you won’t regret that much.


KAMERA OBSCURA – The Final Cut (January 23)

OK, apparently these pals n’ gals are attempting to cross 80’s synth driven horror film scores (think Goblin, John Carpenter, Simon Boswell, Keith Emerson, et al) and a (modern) metal guitar-based crunch.

Vox also cross clean female vocals with In This Moment-like metalcore screamo vox (yeah, she even sounds like Maria Brink when choke-screaming), so there’s at least 3 disparate musical styles and genres shoved all together somewhat uncomfortably here.

The (Francais) promo materials here mention that this album in specific is shooting for, no surprise, the cinema of the 70’s and 80’s, but specifically noting American films of that era, inclusive of Russ Meyer (and Roger Ebert!)’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Kenneth Anger’s Lucifer Rising and The Howling…umm, yeah, not exactly three films I think of when talking cult cinema of that era (maybe the Howling, but the others?)

They do also work Bill Lustig’s Maniac in there, which is where the cover picture hails from, and yeah, the album proper features many slasher films and suchlike of the era – Tobe Hooper’s most famed effort, the Phantasm films, Evil Dead, I Spit On Your Grave and I gather The Omen (which is technically an Italian film, or at least co-production) also are granted songs herein.

But does it really succeed at all of this genre mixing and vintage cult film celebration? That’s a trickier question, by far…

I guess what comes through most is the simplified, detuned “modern metal” sound that came in the wake of aggro/groove and nu metal – you barely note the keyboard/synth accompaniment, and the metalcore business only pops up on a track or two here and there…and for me, that’s exactly the problem.

If you’re going to market yourself as paying tribute to vintage cult film and their electronic/progressive/synthesizer soundtracks, don’t go all lunkhead “metal” on everyone. If you’re going to throw metalcore into the mix…well, come on, it’s a very contentious subgenre, and even fans of that aggro type shit don’t necessarily like hearing that (not sure if that’s a two way street or not).

There’s such a thing as being too diverse, mixing too many genres together that may seem sort of related, but which really don’t belong in the same bucket. And that’s not even necessarily what I’m picking up here…

…more just boring detuned neanderthal “metal”, with female vocals and a few accoutrements tossed in in an attempt to spice up an otherwise rather generic, yawn inducing recipe.

geez, pasta again? 

whatever…wanna order out?  I could do with some Tandoori…


MORTIS MUTILATI – The Stench Of Death (self released) (January 1)

A relaxing, well produced, Prophecy Produktions-esque opening track of acoustic guitars (steel string and tinny to the point of sounding a touch harpsichordish in tone) and light female soprano vox gives way to a croaking vocalled, rather Teutonic-feeling midtempo black metal thing thereafter.

I guess if you crossed Belphegor with Bethlehem, but cut off the excesses of overproduced Norsecore on one end and weird avant gardeness on the other, you might get something vaguely akin to Mortis Mutilati…but probably still not as deliberate and depressive in nature.

The crucial takeaway here is that Frenchman “Macabre” (seriously, that’s his nom du guerre) keeps things resolutely melodic yet grim throughout, never veering into the failing waters of what far too many of his peers in the contemporary black metal scene seem to swear by.  The overplayed tropes, the go-to riffs and phrasing, the quirks of atonality and style…all deftly avoided with the precision of a surgeon, wending his way through all the possible gotcha points to get right to the heart of the matter, delivering a sound that simply works.

The surprisingly rich, Teutonic-style production comes courtesy of none other than Marduk’s Magnus “Devo” Andersson…which makes perfect sense. A Norsecore sonic pallette without the Norsecore, this brings out the best elements of that subgenre, while eschewing the tropes so overdone and roundly mocked therefore. It’s really nice work, and everything just clicks into place.

Yeah, it may not be one of the classics and standbys of the genre…but did you really expect more of those, at this stage in black metal history? Suffice to say, it’s quite good – let that be an end to it.

I’ll throw the horns in salute.

Beyond Forgiveness – The Great Wall (November 3)

Gothic/symphonic metal from Colorado Springs, of all places (hello, Matt G!).

Frontwoman Talia Hoit (who apparently also handles the arrangements on the symphonic end) has a fair enough voice, though her high range is a bit over-thin and often more akin to a male falsetto than the Liv Kristine-like coloratura she’s likely shooting for.

It’s nothing you haven’t heard before from dozens of Projekt Records darkwave acts…but those sirens aren’t held to the same classical/operatic standards as the would-be divas of the symphonic scene.

Add in one stumbling, off key solo in the middle of opening track (!) “end of time” (and there’s another one in second track “the great wall”, so it’s no accident, apparently…someone’s just not working quality control here), and even the most forgiving of goth/symph fans is starting to question what they’re hearing here.

To be fair, it’s a strong attempt, with good production and a shot at sharing stages with lower end acts like Coronatus…but what’s that saying, really?

It’s like the old story – play something heavy in front of a pop fan, it all sounds alike to them…be it emo, power metal, death, AC/DC style hard rock, aggro, or black metal. “Loud guitars and growly vox, how do you listen to that shit?”

So if you’ve never really listened to, cared for or been a fan of the gothic/symphonic scene, Beyond Forgiveness will probably sound just like Krypteria, Edenbridge, Magica, Epica, Elis, Within Temptation, etc. etc.

But to those of us who actually liked the gothic/symphonic metal scene, bought the albums, attended the concerts, sang along to the songs?

This is at best a demo act, the unbilled opener on a multi-act show.

Give ’em a bit of encouragement, they may well improve into a major player.

But The Great Wall?

This sure as hell ain’t it.


Throaat – Reflections in Darkness (November 24)

We covered their Black Speed EP a few years back and enjoyed their fairly typical blackthrash assault.

so what the fuck happened?

No longer with the same members (I’m guessing the vocalist was one of the casualties there), this time around they’re working at best an Aura Noir sort of thing rather than the usual Bathory/Venom/Motorhead worship you encounter in the American blackened thrash scene…and even that’s a bit of a stretch.

Not quite Watain Wannabes, but this is definitely moving a whole hell of a lot closer to that lame, played out Swedish black/death vibe…think of it as “neo-Swedish black metal with light thrash elements”.

Not the worst thing I’ve heard of late…not by a long shot.

But from a US blackthrash act to this?

Yeah, whatever.

Wake me up when they go back to the original template, willya?

Next?

Wolf Counsel – Age Of Madness/Reign Of Chaos (Czar Of Crickets Productions / Plastic Head Distribution) (November 17)

Stoner doom done wrong.

The vocals and downtuned riffing style remind me wayyyyy too much of that grunge/groove thing that replaced metal proper during the 90’s to like in any way. I guess the best comparative act would be CoC, but Wolf Counsel is more like Sponge meets Tool by way of Life of Agony, maybe with a touch of Soundgarden.

And exactly how the fuck is this doom, again?

At least it’s sluggish (though it really only gets slow with the title track)…production’s fine, vocals are deep and overly reminiscent of 90’s acts, but otherwise wholly inoffensive…

Yeah, it’s more for 90’s “heavy music” fans than doom metal fans – don’t be fooled.

Asphodelos – The Five Rivers Of Erebos (Black Sunset / MDD) (November 24)

Out of Germany’s myth-haunted Schwarzwald come Asphodelos, all gargling wet toned guitars (seriously, it sounds like they’ve just risen from a pool of mud or quicksand), muted drums and deep, gargle-snot death metal vox.

The riffs are recognizably death metal in a more or less classic sense, even if the production and tone is not (very much of the modern school, thank you very much). The fact that promo materials, not inaccurately, reference both Dismember and At the Gates in the same breath should say just how odd the band’s mix of styles and tone both classic and modern actually is.

Not bad at all. In fact, it’s highly listenable for modern death metal…but will you remember this one 6 months from now?

Visions Of The Night – Supreme Act of War (November 18)

OK. Canadian pro-military? That’s like saying pro-war Japanese…

And worse…Canadian black/death, with avant/experimental/atonal elements and phrases. Toss in some grindcore dual growl/snarl vox, a few proper death
metal riffs and a whole lot of atonal noise leads, and you’ve got an unclassifiable, unexplainable, unjustifiable mess…

Oh, and somewhere on this platter is a guest appearance by Mirai Kawashima of Sigh. Don’t ask me.

Next?

THE CLEARING PATH – Watershed Between Firmament And The Realm Of Hyperborea (I, Voidhanger) (December 8)

Well, it’s been a bit since I’ve covered any “underground black metal” – you know the type, with the cavernous reverb, awful, overwrought vocals and decided atonal if not “avant garde” tendencies.

Well, here one is again, just with less reverb than usual (though those strained and pained oddball vox are still present, accounted for, and buried beneath the can’t keep to the meter, can’t hold a melody guitars and incessant off-time blastbeat drums.

One man band, some guy named Gabriele Gramaglia. Guess he’s paisan. So here, I’ll say it in Italian.

Not even strunzu. Pure merde. E una scherzo, paisan, non a te, but in general terms? Va f’an’culo, with this one…


Henry Metal – Henry Metal V (December 1)

We previously covered So It Hath Begun, and here we get more of their nerdcore goes hard rock, with tracks like “where the dumbasses roam” and “rock like a bard” now modulated somewhat by less obvious tracks like “turbo stang” and “bad mother”.

Sadly, like Weezer when they toned down the geek goes Nirvana thing of their debut, the further they drift from their core eccentricities, the less appeal they bear. I mean, think about it – does anyone actually care about Hurley or Make Believe?

Get back to the uber-geekiness and outsider take on modern culture, guys. Serves you better, brings in more of the curious and bemused.

Guillotine – S/T (October 7)

Poorly produced black/death outta Athens, Georgia, home of REM and the B-52s!

wait…say wha?

Well, anyway, hissy, watery sounding tones on the gargle vox and cymbals, guitars buried beneath vox, drums beneath guitars. Did I mention the guitarist uses wah and goes a bit groove meets Rage Against the Machine on “black emperor”?

At least the drumming’s midtempo double bass throughout and some of the riffing (like on “prepare the drill”) leans a bit thrashlike. Overall, Guillotine comes closer in general tone to typical US blackthrash than PoDB-baiting black/death, which is something.

But did I actually enjoy any of this or find much to excite the prospective listener?

mmm…I don’t know about that one…

May be your cup of tea if any of that tickles your fancy.

Corrosive – Lucifer Gave The Faith (Black Sunset / MDD) (December 8)

Teutonic death metal. As you might expect, production is pretty full and powerful (if a bit overly busy and prone to hiss and signal bleed for a German affair).

The band comes off like Belphegor gone more “death” than “black”, bottom line…though they do pull that fucking annoying Watainish atonal open string bullshit during moments of tracks like “take the pain”.

The deep belch/growl vox are pretty declamatory, the guitars are pretty beefy…but combined with the chunka chunka grrrrrrrrzzzzzz riffing and speedy blastbeat and double bass (simultaneously!) drumming, they feel like a slightly blackened take on “brutal” death metal ala Suffocation (though by no means anywhere near so complex).

Production could have been a lot cleaner…more blackened elements should have been excised…band could have been better.

Did I mention promo materials refer to these guys as “old school death metal”? Seriously.

Yeah, if “old school” to you means late 90’s/early millenium…

Not the worst I’ve heard, but did nothing for me, really.

Somali Yacht Club – The Sea (Robustfellow Productions) (January 22) 

Super mellow Ukranian (mostly) instrumental act.

Moments come off rather Mazzy Starlike, with vague undertones of Chris Isaak in all that hypnotic, desertlike sparseness and echo, but it’s really nothing like either…more of a quirky instrumental jam band whose tracks routinely run in excess of 12 minutes.

When more distorted guitars kick in, it’s quite stoner rock – the solo section on “hydrophobia” falls somewhere between Blues for the Red Sun-era Kyuss and Monster Magnet, with touches of classic Black Sabbath. Oh, then out of nowhere? Vocals kick in, and it goes all Electric Wizard for a bit.

There are actually a few tracks here with vocals, but it’s more for punctuation and something of a beef surprise (“if you find any beef, you yell SURPRISE!”) – the bulk of this is instrumental and alternates between the Mazzy Star thing and the stoner rock one.

I didn’t mind this at all – perfect accompaniment to long boring workdays, walks in the woods, any time you’re looking to drop the blood pressure and get lost in thought for a bit.

  

Eternal Torment – Blind to Reality (December 22)

Aussie brutal death metal.  Iffy production, with some body to it but prone to treble end hiss, particularly on the drum side.  Has a few good riffs (like the one halfway through “our ignorance”…but why wait that long to drop the only good riff in the song?)

Not much else to say about it – it’s perfectly acceptable for the genre they’re working…if just as workaday and unexciting to non-fanboys thereof.

Didn’t mind it…just didn’t care much for it either.

Antiquus Scriptum – Antologia (This Winter Will Last Forever) (November 10)

OK, you know you’ve got a problem when a band can’t figure out what genre they belong to.

Seriously, these guys are billed as “genre: Pagan Black / Viking Metal. With Thrash, Folk & Ambiental influences…”

And what do you actually get? Weird, choked snotty young guy vox that come off like Nuclear Assault gone avant-black metal, noisy blastbeat drums, fat keyboard riffs and death metal riffing, all buried under an absolutely dogshit production that’s nothing but hiss and signal bleed throughout.

And best yet?  This is a “greatest hits” compilation of previously released demo and album tracks!  Seriously?  This is the best you’ve got?

Whew…not touching that one, I think this speaks for itself.

Next?

 

Oracle – Into the Unknown (December 11)

OK, this is interesting…an actual father/son duo. And not in the world of “classic rock”, or some retro-minded genre like doom (I’m thinking Pagan Altar there) or even thrash (as in Steve “Zetro” Souza’s Hatriot)…but in death metal.

So this Alabama filial duo works an almost melodeath style, complete with triggered double bass drumming, flashy arpeggiated leads with Paradise Lostlike doomy lead lines and good, layered production…it’s like Decomposed or Ceremonium crossed with some Teutonic or Norsecore act.

Are they more properly some form of busy doom/death? Melodeath proper? Or does the crazed drumming push them somewhere else entirely? Hard to say, really.

But it was doomy and melodic enough for my tastes, the vox were appropriate and the riffs and vibe were death metal proper enough to blend with all of these strands and offer an ultimately quite appealing package.

Yeah, I’d have calmed that drummer (or drum machine, given all the high speed triggered passages) wayyyy the fuck down and had them emphasize midtempo footwork and tom roll kitwork instead.

But did I like this one?

Hell, yeah!

Salute to the Ozinga family and fellow band members.

AZZIARD – Metempsychose (MALPERMESITA) (December 8)

Watain Wannabes to the bone, albeit with a few speedier Teutonic black metal/Behemoth moments.

The Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards beckons!

(toss)

Damn, watch those flames kindle and spark…

watch out for flying embers.

Next?

Lucifer’s Dungeon – Music of Lost Spirits (August 12)

We’d reviewed their The Dark Army Raises back in May, and weren’t overly taken by the mostly instrumental, often ambient leaning project, production aside.

This time around, they retain a reasonably strong production while turning into more of a proper “band” (it’s a one man project excepting a rotating drum chair, even within the course of this particular release).

The music is darker, somewhat reminiscent of later Judas Iscariot but moodier – you could say there’s a bit of Les Legions Noires or even a touch of the Finnish scene (think more Clandestine Blaze in that respect) in the bloodstream here as well, with mainman “Cain Black” resolutely looking Westward despite the band’s Russian origins.

About the closest he gets to Russian black metal proper are the four “lost spirit” tracks, which evoke Kroda (particularly in the 2nd and 4th iterations thereof)…that’s pretty much it.

Melodic, driven by tremelo lead lines, contemplative and introspective, with typically “grim” black metal vocals. The drumming is unspectacular but remains inoffensive throughout, regardless of who’s working the skins on a given track.

I liked this one, yeah. Throw the guy some hails.

False Flag – S/T EP (December 25)

Yet another Indian-region political punk act (think previously reviewed acts like Neck Deep in Filth, Death By Fungi or Heathen Beast, just to name a few), these guys lean oddly black metal in riffing/blastbeat drumming, while retaining what the current scene considers “hardcore” vocals (i.e. unintelligible shout/screaming) and aesthetic (squat-appropriate dirty T shirts, noise-leaning elements).

Interestingly, they manage to keep things just this side of sanity by retaining decent production on the guitars (drums and vox bleed red all over and beyond the treble range) and often settling in on a more acceptable death metallish (parts of “sisyphus lament”) to emo (“unbroken”) riffing in slower to midtempo moments.

Didn’t hate it, and they’re anti-bigotry (in a nation sadly known for its caste system and “untouchables” based on skin tone, region and religious orientation), so I’ll give ’em a nod of respect.

Deathmarch – Dismember (Black Lion Records) (December 15)

Dutch death metal. Can you say “Gorefest”? Good, because that’s pretty close to what I’m hearing here.

Thick, crunchy, wet sounding riffs, mouth in an ‘O’ Frank Mullen-goes-Gorefest vox, and a ridiculously simplistic, decidedly straightforward riffing and drum pattern approach.

Must be something in the water over that way – Asphyx, Gorefest, now Deathmarch, all working the so basic its almost funny, Obituary/Grave/Autopsy-ish “death groove” approach to death metal.

Hey, I’ll take it over “tech” and “prog” death any fucking day.

I was good with this, yeah.

Mist of Misery – Fields of Isolation (Black Lion Records) (December 15)

We covered their Shackles of Life a few months back, and there really hasn’t been much of a change here – a few vocal-bedecked midtempo black metal tracks with light symphonic BM leanings and the all too typical shrieky vox, padded out by way too many instrumental piano/symphonic ambient tracks.

You can pretty much tell by the track lengths that you only get 3 actual band performances – the rest of this is all instrumental filler.

Good production, the guy’s a respectable piano player…but if I wanted to hear the black metal Billy Joel or Bruce Hornsby, I’d be a yuppie or hipster, not a metalhead, goth and former punk.

Fair enough, you may well like it…just be forewarned.

The Human Race Is Filth – Human Exposed (EP) (January 1)

Ah, Western PA. I experienced the area firsthand when I was interviewing infamous SOV auteur Mark Polonia several years back…and while some folks are really rather nice out that way (like the Polonias and their associates), there’s some seriously scary ass backwoods confederate flag and gun rack Goober cap to da back cracker types straight out of a hicksploitation slasher film running around the area too.  There’s a reason the area’s colloquially referred to as “PennsylTuckey”, folks.

So here we get a two man aggro/grindcore/crust affair straight outta York, PA, heavy on the grind, please. What’s interesting here is that they don’t just stick to the high speed, messy excesses of grind, but alternate with doomier, sludgier tracks (and moments within faster tracks).

It’s all detuned and messy, but I liked the slower sludge bits.

But would I drive out that way to catch ’em live?

noooooo, sir. Once was enough, thank you very much…

Bestialord – Law of the Burning (Symbol of Domination and Cimmerian Shade Recordings) (January 1)

OK, one of the selling points being pushed here is that this band features a member of Manilla Road.

Hey, I love Manilla Road – Crystal Logic and Mystification in particular. Shelton, Park, Fisher and later the crazy off-meter percussion patterns of Foxe…some really good, quirky “outsider metal” there.

Oh, wait, he came well after the classics, circa the early 2000s. Yeah, know nothing about that era – Shelton lost me by Courts of Chaos (the older-styled “book of skelos” aside).

So anyway…how to describe this one? It’s sort of pre-Covenant Morbid Angel by way of early Nocturnus vocals (yeah, Anderson sounds a lot like Mike Browning here, with just a touch of earlier David Vincent) appended to a quirky/simplistic riffing style falling somewhere between the uber-basicness of Acheron and the off-kilterness of Shelton and Manilla Road…but as pressed very pointedly into the service of first wave black metal or a late 80’s-ish, very Americanized take on blackened thrash.

I guess if you take the Nocturnus demos and bring them down more to an Acheron-ish level of fretboard skill, you’d get Bestialord. It’s certainly “blackened” enough on the lyrical end.

I was good with this, it felt extremely retro 1988-1990, with a far less tech-inclined Morbid Angel/Nocturnus vibe.

BURIAL CHAMBER (Australia) – Ripping the Dead (July 29)

Damn, that’s a meaty riff!

Suffocation with older George “Corpsegrinder” Fischer vocals (think Monstrosity and the first few Cannibal Corpse albums he did, when there was real body to his tone), but with the microphones shoved right up against the speaker.

End result, the guitars come off so loud and powerful with some serious distortion, but without sacrificing bass and tone, you’d never believe it. Between the vox and the riffs, the sound goes deep.

Closest I’ve heard to this guitar tone was the original mix on S.O.D.’s classic debut (before they “remastered” it to hide Billy Milano’s politically incorrect vocals…I mean, seriously, guys?) This is some really heavy shit.

Bass is a bit too audible, so you get all that silly clicking tone (like on Suffocation’s Breeding the Spawn, or Massacre’s The Second Coming) competing with the drums, but guitars, vox and drums are still more powerful overall, so it’s a minor complaint.

Tag in the fact that this feels pretty damn old school, and yeah, I’m sold.

Start a pit.

RAPTURE (Greece) – Paroxysm of Hatred (Memento Mori) (January 22)

Old school death/thrash, somewhat in the vein of acts like Demolition Hammer, Solstice or Malevolent Creation, but less abrasive and annoying than any of those bands when it comes down to brass tacks.

Double bass drum triplets, thrashy riffs (that still come off far more death metal than Bay Area or Teutonic blackthrash), crazed vocals…yeah, I’m sold.

Two rather retro minded acts in a row, either distributed or promoted through the auspices of India’s ever-expanding Transcending Obscurity (who’s been known to work in tandem with Spain’s Memento Mori on a fairly regular basis).

Not as happy with the vocals or the overly off the rails high speed thrash bits (think Living Death or Protector crossed with Desaster or Massacra), but the more midtempo stuff works quite well, and coming right after Burial Chamber, it’s already
looking like a damn good start to the year for old school death and thrash metal.

Make that pit even more violent, the ghost of Baloff demands a little blood on the stage.

 

DJINN AND MISKATONIC (India) – Even Gods Must Die (Transcending Obscurity India) (January 10)

“I, Zombie”, huh?  Yeah, I used to like that show, at least in the first season. She was kinda hot, once she went all goth chick…some good laughs too. Too bad they went all “serious” thereafter (and lost at least 2 viewers thereby)…

So yeah, these Indian doomsters have penned a tribute to that unusual CW horror/comedy/televised tween nonsense as an opener, before moving on to more expected territory.

What’s interesting is they seem to draw less from traditional doom (Trouble, Sabbath, Candlemass, Pentagram), doom/death (Paradise Lost and pals) or stoner rock (Electric Wizard and far too many modern doom bands to mention here)…and take their inspiration rather more directly from…Dream Death?!?

That’s right, if you crossed Journey Into Mystery with Master of Reality and tossed in just a hint of retro-70’s heavy psychedelia (well, mostly on “doombringer” for that bit), you’d probably come out with something vaguely akin to Djinn and Miskatonic.

As the album goes on, more of the Sabbathness comes out, particularly in the Geezer Butler-esque basslines of Jayaprakash Satanmurthy (seriously, his last name starts with “satan”, not a joke), and there’s something a bit odd about all the clean
chanted vocal sections, but Dream Death gone more particularly doom is a damn good comparison.

Some great interior artwork, too – a few favorites reproduced here.

Yep, another home run from Transcending Obscurity this month…that’s three in a row! Geez…

ARKHETH (Australia) – 12 Winter Moons Comes The Witches Brew (Transcending Obscurity Records (India) (February 20)

Whoops, there always has to be a ringer, doesn’t there?

More of the weird avant-noise thing we were seeing from the label come mid-year 2017, these Aussies aren’t quite as unhinged and offputting as other likeminded acts covered through the past year under their aegis, as there’s at least a base of melody and harmony in operation…one they of course proceed to violate relentlessly and mercilessly throughout.

Look, there’s saxophone in the mix. On a black metal album. Isn’t that warning enough to stay away?

3 home runs and a first base strikeout…guess which one this is.

CHRONIC XORN (India) – For These Sins Who Must Die (self released) (December 18)

Another Indian act being promoted under the aegis of Transcending Obscurity, these guys bring a solid production and punchy thrash (or more precisely death/thrash/groove) riffing and lousy aggro vox, alternately punishing (in a relatively positive sense) and irritating the listener thereby.

Without the sub-Anselmo aggro vocals, this would have been pretty decent for an indie self-release: not only the production and busy but seldom overly annoying riffing, but some nice prog-style leads, often done (or at least tracked) in harmony.  Yeah, I prefer a more straightforward riffing than what these guys gravitate towards, but you can’t deny it sounds pretty good when you’re pissed off…but those vocals…sheesh!

They also have what’s becoming something of a regular thing among Indian acts, namely a quite political stance of rage against the machine – so I’m with ya there.

Bottom line, you’ll never believe this was DIY/self released.

Shit vocals aside, it’s pretty strong stuff.

  

CRUENTATOR – Ain’t War Hell? (Xtreem Music) (January 10)

Italian thrash act. It’s funny that promo materials mention their opening for Necrodeath, as that was exactly who I thought of, hearing this.

Awful off-key declamatory nasal snarl vox matched with good production, busy (modern) thrash riffing (think death/thrashers Malevolent Creation and you’ll get the general idea) and crazed drumming. Promo writeup also mentions Demolition Hammer and Morbid Saint, names I was also tossing around by comparison…though I think Necrodeath and Malevolent Creation fit a touch better overall. Still in all, you get the picture here.

Vocals aside, this is not all that far removed from Chronic Xorn, perhaps with a more traditional thrash to death/thrash riffing style.

But like Chronic Xorn (if a touch less so), it’s the shit vocals that do ’em in.

That doofus aside, they have definite promise – I didn’t mind the rest of the band one bit.

Ectoplasma – Cavern of Foul Unbeings (Memento Mori) (January 22)

Old school-leaning death metal, just not as memorable.

Baphomet, Demigod and Morta Skuld are among the influences mentioned in promo materials here, and I’m certainly hearing the latter…which doesn’t help the case in terms of being memorable (quick, name one Morta Skuld song! Better yet, “sing” a few lines of one!

…yeah, didn’t think you could.  Because they’re boring.)

Even so, you can half buy this one’s retro-vibe – the belch vox are kind of early Gorguts, the riffs are midtempo and sinister, the drums resolutely double bass and kitwork (not a blastbeat to be found!) and the production, while decent, feels a tad muted, which results in the whole band chugging along like a machine, as a unified whole…exactly what you got with classic death metal at its finest.

Look, I dig obscure death metal bands from back in the day like Wombbath, Epitaph and Depravity…which this band in many ways reminds me of – definitely not the top tier acts you’d think of off the top of your head, but somewhere in there with the Burials, Uncannys and Deteriorots of the world…which is a slot they fit into admirably.

So yeah, it’s the sort of classic vibe, second or third tier death metal act you’ll enjoy vastly while playing, then forget every note of immediately thereafter.

But is that such a bad thing?

I dug it, no question about that.

If you’re into the more obscure end of early to mid 90s death metal, you probably will too.

Rotheads – Sewer Fiends (Memento Mori) (January 22)

Another retro-fied death metal act, this time out of Romania.  Again, we’re playing in the general ballpark as acts like Krabathor, Uncanny, Epitaph and Wombbath, though oddly it feels like they de-emphasize the vocals, Morta Skuld style.

There’s also a middling drum performance here – only rarely do you hear any real kitwork or double bass, instead focusing on awkward yet prominent snare patterns and fills. It’s not quite blastbeaty, but stiff and unappealing throughout – even the occasional footwork feels strangely floppy footed, Tommy Lee style. You won’t be impressed.

Even so, there’s plenty of evil-sounding, crunchy death metal riffing going on, the atmosphere is dead on and the vocals are perfect for what they’re shooting for.

Again, I liked this one a lot, though perhaps just a tad less than Ectoplasma. If you’re into death metal obscurities, you probably want to check both of these albums out, stat.

PERPETRATÖR – Altered Beast (Caverna Abismal) (January 31)

Portugesa thrash metal.

Vocals are a bit snarly/declamatory in the vein of crossover thrash acts like DRI or Nuclear Assault, but not hard to adjust to for all their goofiness.  Riffs are crunchy and busy in the modern thrash metal vein, solos are basic but fit.

Drums are…forgettable and simplistic. POUND POUND POUND POUND four on the floor snare patterns predominate, which is just kind of embarrassing in this day and age.

But if all you’re looking for is modern thrash with fast, pummelling riffage…look no further, these guys dish that shit out for breakfast.

Best track: the harmony and single note lead line driven “lethal manhunt”.  Absolutely killer.

May not be perfect, no.  But certainly has its merits.

 

PERDITION WINDS (FINLAND) – TRANSCENDENT EMPTINESS  (HELLTHRASHER) (DECEMBER 8)

Fairly new kids on the black metal block, featuring Roni “Gruft” Sahari (who just joined Sargeist) on drums and most of his pals from Finnish death metallers Lie in Ruins (if that name rings any bells for ya…can’t say it does for me).

The sound is full and oppressive, falling somewhere between Gaahl-era Gorgoroth and Watain in their prime, but thankfully eschewing the open string atonal tropes that took over the entire black metal (and especially the detestable “black/death”) scene as the legions of copycats came crawling out of the woodwork.

There’s also some surprisingly good production, reining in the usual excesses of cymbal-happy signal bleed and treble-range nonsense while delivering a full bodied midrange and bass (again, not the norm for mids to treble-obsessed, bass-negative black metal).

You could call this black/death, but like Watain, it’s clearly and blatantly black metal with precious little (if anything whatsoever) to belie any sort of predilections towards death metal.

So it’s listenable, dark and well produced.

Can’t say much more for it, but given the touchpoints referenced herein and the fact that I’m not calling for the Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards should say plenty in and of itself.

The Howling Void – The Darkness at the Edge of Dawn (Avantgarde Music) (December 18)

How exactly do you classify this? Post-black metallish in the sense that it’s dark, introspective and clearly quite hipsterish in origin…but not really “black” in any sense. In fact, it’s more symphonic doom with molasses slow, almost funereal yet Frozen Ocean-ish epicness…and it probably could have come out on Projekt Records.

So is it “post-symphonic funeral doom/death with weird indie shoegaze to gothic darkwave moments and an overly light, almost feminine vibe in its quieter phrases? I mean, compared to some of this, Alcest sound like a bunch of raging thrashers in search of violence and blood…

Weird. Listenable, certainly dramatic, introspective and dark…but more indie kid depressive than black or doom metal existential despair and horror.

Not bad by any means, don’t take that impression.

But not what I’d be doing, or the sort of sound I generally gravitate towards (though it certainly has its winning moments).

Circle Of Salt – Suffer The Cold (Avantgarde Music) (December 18)

Two very long tracks. The faster, more violent moments are where the good stuff lies, but the production on those parts is pretty damn awful (the cleaner, quieter portions sound just fine, mind).

“Beneath the frozen moon of Imbolc” is the clear winner here – opener “suffer the cold” is aimless, noisy and leans atonal…in fact, that one seriously sucks ass.

I’d have dropped that stinker of a track entirely and issued this as a one song digital single for the spring solstice.

Check it out or get it for the rather epic B-side, iffy production aside.

Ofdrykkja – Irrfärd (Avantgarde Music) (December 18)

O-kayyy…looks like the backstory here is more interesting than the album.

Apparently the guitarist spent several years in a nuthouse. The vocalist came from a band where his handle was the chemical formula for meth…which his partner in said band died of an OD from. And the band name translation here? “Excessive drinking.”

Yeah, it’s just happy, happy, joy, joy all around, eh?

As you just have to expect after all that, this one’s depressing, gloomy, dark and hopelessly miserable. In fact, if it weren’t for the weird gargly vox (which turn all shrieky in later tracks), it’d be a pretty damn listenable variant somewhere between gothic doom and black metal, but with a more midtempo grind. Think the more Celtic Frost-ish moments of Clandestine Blaze as fronted by the guy from Bethlehem and you’ll get the idea.

They say misery loves company…so these two sad sack hard luck types crafted this album, just to put a little rain cloud over your head today.

Vox aside? Didn’t mind this one bit.

Nortt – Endeligt (Avantgarde Music) (December 29)

Extremely dark ambient, for the most part. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, there were only vox on two tracks here (out of nine.)

During those rather rare moments where there actually is something going on, the pace is funereally slow, the instrumentation decidedly minimal, the vox deep and snot-befouled.

If there was more of a band presence, this would have been a decent funeral doom or death/doom sort of affair.

NOVA – Soli Contro Il Mondo (ATMF Aeternitas Tenebrarum Musicae Fondamentum) (December 18)

Didn’t Lizzy Borden already write this one? “Me Against the World!”

Yeah. Fucking frizzy-‘fro’ed Lizzy all painted in silver glitter, climbing out of a cheap cathode ray TV set.  Good luck getting that image out of your head.

Anyway, this is marching pace black metal with folk elements (as in the traditional bounce and quirky paganish melodic lines, not as in “folk instrumentation”).

At their best (as in the title track or “ad Apollo”), they come off sounding rather like a more pagan-vocalled Satanic Warmaster, but it’d be fair to say there’s a lot of Taake in the mix as well.

Driving, bombastic Italian soundtrack to war – the drums seldom let up that Phil Taylor/Pete Gill double bass-driven pace, and the riffing is deliberate, relentless and epic.

One of those all too rare bands that gives some hope for a future in a scene filled with irredeemable detritus and half-assed copycats, I’m giving these paisan an unqualified horns up in salute.

ELEGIAC – Black Clouds of War (De Tenebrarum Principio) (January 12)

Interesting that the promo materials note so many Finnish acts…because that sort of traditional, serious yet melodic approach to black metal is exactly what I was picking up right from the first (title) track here.

Moments even go more first wave, when the “black” was heavily informed by if not just a mantle thrown atop a pointedly thrash base – the first few minutes of “beyond the physical realm”, for instance. Then others go a bit more Vardan-esque (“the hanging head of death”). It gets to be a bit of a mishmash of swiped styles…but at least one man band Zane Young is swiping from all the right sources.

Yeah, I dug this one…and if you like bands like Satanic Warmaster, Vardan, Judas Iscariot and Mutiilation, you probably will too.

Spite (US) – Antimoshiach (Invictus Productions) (February 2)

We’d previously covered their Trapped in the Pentagram single, and enjoyed their decidedly retro blackthrash to first wave black metal vibe.

This time around, I’m hearing more of the latter (particularly the Italian school thereof, arguably falling somewhere between early Bulldozer and Mortuary Drape), though there are moments that speak to more recent, overplayed influences (“false magic” has one of those damned Watain chord progressions to its demerit).

I can’t say I’m overly excited by it this time around – something like Nova scratches the old BM itch far better than these Brooklynites seem to be capable of at the moment.

But that’s not to say this one’s entirely without merit, either…just doesn’t live up to the promise we were hearing in Trapped in the Pentagram.

  

 

UNTERVOID – S/T (Osmose Productions) (January 26)

Debut EP from this two man project (really a one man project with a drummer…but the drummer is definitely solid).

It’s grim, well produced and falls somewhere between Behemoth, Watain and Belphegor stylistically…but without managing to piss me off too much (if at all) in the process. Go figure.

Can’t say I was especially thrilled, but the fact that I didn’t crinkle my nose in distaste should already say a lot.

Curious what a full length will bring.

VARGRAV – Netherstorm (CD, LP) (Werewolf Records) (January 26)

Finnish symphonic black act – they even cover Emperor (“ancient queen”). Surprise, surprise, they sound like earlier Dimmu, possibly with a touch of Emperor to boot.

zzzzz

huh? oh, sorry. dozed off there.

Well, I guess if that stuff’s your thing…it sure as hell never was mine.

Big hint? I always thought Emperor blew.

GASP! The shock! The horror! Blasphemy, I tell you!

Whatever.

Next?

SATANIC WARMASTER – We Are The Worms That Crawl On The Broken Wings Of An Angel (CD, LP) (Werewolf) (December 29)

Well, you can’t say the man doesn’t have balls…sure enough, he kicks this one off with “satan’s race”.

If you know the song, nuff said. If not…yeah. Be prepared.

Yep, this is something a lot of non-vinyl devoted Satanic Warmaster fans have been waiting for many a year: a collection of all his contributions to splits.

So unless you were really hard up to hear rather pointed bands like Krieg, Akitsa, the True Frost, Stutthof, Evil, Totenburg and…er…the band he shared the Chant of the Barbarian Wolves split with, now you can finally get all those “missing” tracks in hand without cringing too much over the misguided sociopolitics. Not that there aren’t some statements being made on one or two tracks here. Six million coughs.

In any case, this is something of a “missing link” if not an (un)holy graal for fans more accustomed to his full lengths and EPs, gathering together most of his less readily accessible work in one fell swoop (there are a few splits unrepresented here, but suffice to say, this is the bulk of ’em.)

Certain things aside (cough), I’ve always held up Satanic Warmaster as one of the prime examples of what can be done with black metal, in a genre that’s well past its sell-by date.

Seriously, what’s the most memorable, lasting, praiseworthy band or album you can come up with dating past 1999? A few Finnish acts, arguably a couple of Italian or Greek ones…but the contenders are few on the ground and fairly sparse. It’s long since become the realm of the copycat, the domain of the post-whatever hipster.

More crap abounds than works of merit, and while you can say that to one extent or another about most music genres, metal subgenres inclusive, black metal seems particularly subsceptible to this shit – every concert is suddenly a “ritual”, every poseur suddenly a Thelemite or what have you. It’s pretty fucking silly, and all you can do is appreciate the nods and homages to better music, more jarring statements, more memorable albums from 20 years back or more.

But there are a few exceptions, a few bands that have bucked the odds and eschewed the trends to deliver material that’s retro in spirit without being cynically and deliberately created to market as such, music that simply works and holds true to older tropes of forbidding atmosphere, awe of the natural world, a sinister vibe and enough melody and harmonic structure to support this, without going all oogity-boogity “more occult than you” or whatever the fuck.

And with this missing brick in the fortress, those who similarly appreciate Pentilla and his body of work can either revisit…or discover for the first time, as the case may be…just how damn good he is, and exactly why he’s one of the most important musicians in the black metal scene today…like the guy or not.

You’ll hear some of his very best…and a few of his most controversial as well…herein.

Profound hails. 

OUTLINE – Demo 1: Fire Whiplash (TAPE) (Hells Headbangers) (November 30)

Noisy, poorly produced demo from the gal behind Demona, whose 2015 self titled we’d covered here.

With a new drummer in tow (replacing Desaster’s “Tormentor” with Hammr’s “J. Hammer”), here “Tanza Speed” goes less blackthrash than old school “speed metal” in the vein of Exciter crossed with Motorhead, but with arguably a touch more vintage US power metal.

That’s right – there’s melodies, a trad metal vibe and clean singing to go with all that high speed, but traditional, Phil Taylor-esque kitwork.

If something that sounds this bad (in terms of the recording, which comes off like your kid brother’s garage and basement rehearsal tapes) can sound this good (in terms of what you can make out of the music and songs themselves)…

…I seriously can’t wait for the full length.

  

DRUID LORD – Grotesque Offerings (CD, LP, TAPE) (Hells Headbangers) (January 19)

Really sludgy sounding, messy, sloppily recorded take on death metal. Seriously, Autopsy’s demos may have sounded better, and bore less signal bleed and the sense of totally blowing out all microphones and speakers you get from this grungy mess of detuned, buzzing guitars.

Slow, doomy tempos, disgusting sounding vomit vox, lumbering riffs…yeah, it’s no shock to see the band referring to doom/death, doomy thrash and trad doom acts like Winter, Cirith Ungol, Candlemass and…wait for it…Autopsy as influences.

Nothing wrong with that…and as overpowered and all-encompassing as the guitar tone is, it kind of works for what they’re shooting for here.

Cross Celtic Frost…I mean Winter with early Autopsy and maybe a touch of Sorrow, and you’ve got a pretty good idea of what to expect here.

And yeah, as much of a shock it was to hear those guitars scratching, crackling and growling at the very limits of modern recording technology?

I liked this one, quite a bit actually.

All hail the new Winter, they have arrived at last.

COMMUNION (Chile) – At the Announcement (CD, LP, TAPE) (The Sinister Flame / Hells Headbangers) (January 26)

COMMUNION (Chile) – The Communion (CD, LP, TAPE) (Hells Headbangers) (January 26)

OK, this is strange. Same band, two different labels working distribution…two fairly divergent sounds between one album and the next.

At the Announcement is the Chilean’s debut, working a decided South American blackthrash thing – crazed, busy riffing, sloppy, uber-basic blastbeaty drumming, Morbid Visions by way of Wicca crossed with INRI as paired with Bloody Vengeance-style reverb/slap echoed whisper-snarl vocals. Good stuff for what it is, no question.

All of a sudden, they change style radically.

I mean, yeah, you can still call it blackened, and it’s certainly thrashy…but the production is 180 degrees to the (over)polished end. The vocals have become more shout-barked, and all that sweet reverb/delay is gone. The guitars are more up front and meaty. The drums still suck.

But the end result is…I guess compare Rotting to INRI and you’ll get the idea. While still the same band…one is a classic. The other kind of sucks.

Now, don’t drag that comparison out too far – The Communion doesn’t suck at all. (cough Rotting does though) But it’s a very different animal.

If anything, where At the Announcement was dyed in the wool South American blackthrash…The Communion is almost death metal, at least a thrashier, slightly blackened variant thereof.  The guitar tone is too thick, the sound too in your face and powerful. While the songs are just as good (arguably), you lose all the vintage vibe.

Bottom line, this is all pretty much down to the production, in the end. Neither is bad in any objective sense, at least for the genres being tapped here, but one feels right, and the other is…weirdly off.

But with time, that very different production sound starts to grow on the ear, until you find it works just fine in its own right. Or to put it more bluntly, after the initial shock of change between the two albums? Just hang in there, you’ll get used to it pretty quick.

Like Witchtrap, if you dig one of Communion’s albums, you’re definitely going to enjoy the other, so if you like what you’re hearing, dive in with both feet and grab ’em both.

Vhorthax – Nether Darkness 12″ MLP/MCD (Iron Bonehead) (January 5)

Wow. You remember what we were talking about in the Satanic Warmaster writeup?

Check this out.

“Vhorthax was formed…during a night of black candle mass meditations in their rehearsal bunker. There’s no other goal but the channeling of primitive and cavernous chants of the devil…echoing with the sounds of the altars of worship.”

Creative license and arguable tongue in cheek of the crafter of said phraseology aside, is this another textbook ooga booga faux-occultic bullshit act, or what?  Sheesh…

And yes, the rather “underground” sound the band offers more or less justifies said flights of scripted fancy right down the rabbit hole. Detuned, throbbing guitars and bass (yep, you can make out a second single note ostinato over the top of the guitars at points), croaked and snarled vomit vox and witch cackles buried under absurdly cavernous reverb, it’s all very typical of the type.

Only the much better than usual, double bass-driven (and well mic’ed for a change!) drumming saves these guys from a quick trip to the Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards.

This drummer deserves a much better forum for his obvious talents.

Hint, hint, guy.

Next?

Malakhim – Demo I 12″ MLP/MCD (Iron Bonehead) (December 1)

Swedish black/death, but just as much in the “underground” vein of Vhorthax as the expected Watain/Dissection/Dark Funeral worship the scene is almost entirely comprised of.

Drumming on the first two tracks is busy, but not as good or well-mixed and mastered as the guy from Vhorthax…third track gets a bit too blastbeaty for my tastes.

Either way.

Here come the flames again…

WHOOSH!

Next?

Bunkur / Mordor – Split LP/CD (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (December 15)

Two of the most fucked up covers you’ll ever hear.

What you get: a Carnivore demo-era song you’ve probably never heard of and a Venom song you’ve heard to death already…done by a seriously screwed up pair of avant-garde black metal acts.

Bunkur slows “the subhuman” to a glacial pace, making funeral doom acts seem peppy by comparison, Mordor turns “in league with satan” into this bizarro folky chants and whistles thing with some hilariously over-rolled “R’s” and military march nonsense (complete with synthesized trumpet fanfare).

Oh, and somehow these guys are supposed to be considered experimental doom acts, not avant-garde black metal.

Whatever.

Next?

Grave Spirit – The Beast Unburdened By Flesh 7″ EP (Iron Bonehead) (February 9)

First track is reaaaalllly straightforward, but almost feels like a hypnotic early second wave-ish black metal track as it progresses. Nothing to write home about, but OK.

Flip side…nah. They’re trying to be a bit slower and more deliberately sinister, but it doesn’t really work, or at least not so well as they intend.

Not the worst you’ve heard, to be sure…but kinda acceptably meh in the end.

Kuoleman Galleria – Pimeys Saapuu Pohjoiseen (Inverse) (December 8)

We previously covered their Karsimys Kunniaan a year or two back, and…well…this one’s just as strange.

Black metal snarly-gargle snot vox with weird folky melodies poking through…what? What the fuck is this, anyway?

Not really black metal, not really pagan, or Viking, much less power, trad, modern, gothic, symphonic or any other subgenre you could name…I guess we have to circle back to some weird alternate universe variant of black metal.

Not post-black metal, either…just occupying some fucked up corner all its own.

Well, the bounce of pagan metal (or especially bouncy folkish black metal acts like Taake or Finntroll) is certainly prominent throughout…but yeah. These guys are pretty indescribable, for better or worse.

Dunno. Can’t exactly say I liked it much…didn’t exactly hate it either.

One big shrug of the shoulders, well-earned.

  

Anarchos – Invocation of Moribund Spirits CD/LP (Blood Harvest) (January 19)

More HM-2 vintage Swedeath worship (look, they even aped the logo font and demo cover format!), this time more like a sloppier take on Dismember with mushmouthed vocals.

Frontman Frederik Bonke sounds like he’s trying to talk between mouthfuls of hot oatmeal throughout, leaving Carnage/Nihilist/Dismember fanboys Ardy de Jong and Martin Brakert to pick up the slack and try to maintain tempo over Vincent Drenthen’s sloppy blastbeats and clearly inebriated kitwork (Too slow! Race to catch up! Oops, missed my cue! Throw the beat down here, then!)  It gets pretty fluid and off time, as you may imagine.

Depends how much you love…or conversely, are tired of the whole Sunlight Studios revival movement.

I always loved the sound and its original adherents, so new bands aping same is usually if not always good to my ears…but there’s nothing special about Anarchos to make them any better or worse than any other in an ever-expanding crowd of johnny come latelies.

Faceless Burial – Grotesque Miscreation CD (Blood Harvest) (January 19)

Aussie death metal. The production style leans more retro than modern, but no one but the most clueless newbie would be likely to confuse ’em with even the most obscure of early 90’s death metal bands. It’s hard to describe, but too much about their sound is just…off.

Title cut comes closest to a proper old school death metal riff…the rest are more “vintage wannabe” with all the quirks of modernity. Did I mention the blown out guitar sound, all signal bleed and crackle, too loud and thick for the recording equipment?

Again, like Anarchos but much less pointedly so, this is more than listenable enough, and at least they’re shooting for that retro sound, give ’em props for that much.

Just won’t be joining the classics on your shelving system any time soon, or even be much remembered in 6 months time.

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