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Well, you wait and er…try to move things along in realms unseen one way or another, and sh*t happens, alright.

After quite some time stuck in a holding pattern, any number of affairs that were impinging on yours truly, those I love and those in my social circle have finally been released, the floodgates finally breaking their uncrackable locks and bursting through with a deluge of onrushing water that is the Tao (or at least that’s one way to look at it among many…but you get the general picture).

Now, sure, you can read every situation in a very different light, and a few things that seem to finally be back on track and regaining speed after gathering cobwebs by remaining sidelined and frozen in stasis for so ridiculously long a time could very well be interpreted as negative: for one, the daily sword of Damocles that was the decade-plus long day job has finally dropped that metaphorical scimitar and ended a threat that impacted health and well being on any number of fronts, quite possibly in the best possible manner and in a way that yours truly really can’t see any way but as a change long desired from the depths of the soul.

Johnny Paycheck said it best, all those years ago, but I don’t even bear that level of vehemence – it’s more like fuck you very much, and thanks for all the fish.  Didn’t like where y’all were headed anyway, and thanks, in a way, for keeping the cabinets stocked for so many more years than this schism was expected to ever take to come into the fullness of being.

Yeah, like anyone in this situation, there’s a bit of uncertainty as to longer term next steps – but not in the short term.  Nah, I’m going to pull all this shit together that was getting neglected and starting to fall apart under all that ongoing tension for the last several years, since you marched a damn good man out of his office in one of far too many rounds of endlessly ongoing layoffs, and put me and a whole lot of other folks under far less amenable hands for a few years of full on insecurity, as one after another, so many of us both far and near dropped…or more accurately, were picked off like flies.

Trump’s America has made things far worse and the malfeasants of corporatocracy far bolder in their malevolence towards even their own, but this has been going on for a loooong time, now…and at least this place, for the ever-fewer reasons it left to keep hanging in by bloodied fingernails, has finally gotten around to slaying even the rarified few who’ve managed to evade the executioner’s block thus far. And you know what?  Good riddance.

Time to get back to those long-neglected six and four strings. Time to get back to hitting the weights and putting this increasingly toxic body back into some manner of shape, without a daily dose of moving floors and shifted moorings to leave everyone questioning just where the hell we all stood, and for how much longer, and whether we’d even get the parting gifts Johnny Olsen was there to tell us about on the way off the show, given all the utter horseshit that was being pulled by “those high up”.

There’ll be another day, another place, and hopefully one that fits better than this one has in many a year.

But not now.

This is time to center, regroup and refocus.

And as with all this anti-American bullshit going down on a daily basis from an increasingly corrupt, far right three branches of Trumpian government, it’s time to stop taking the bait – but rather to focus, gather our strength, and clap our swords against our shields, patiently on guard for the next battleground and call to action.

Because one election, one seat at a time, gerrymandering, blatant propaganda and dirty tricks or no, these motherfuckers are going down, make no mistake.

We’re taking our lives back, and each of us has to start right here, with that man in a mirror.

Join me, won’t you?

And on a lighter note…ladeeeeeeeeeeez an’ gennamen!

It’s showtime! 

Arise, avaunt! Let’s get this show on the road…

LIONE – CONTI – S/T (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (January 26)

OK, now this is a weird one.

Just to show there’s no hard feelings, the legendary vocalist behind 20 years and more than two lengthy story cycles worth of albums by the kings of D&D inspired operatic symphonic power metal Rhapsody (of Fire) and his “replacement” frontman in former bandmate and six stringer Luca Turilli’s offshoot variant thereof shake hands and come out…cutting a record together?

Yep, sure enough, the formidable Fabio Lione and Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody frontman Alessandro Conti get together for one of those odd semi-“supergroup” affairs akin to Allen/Lande (whose Great Divide we covered here.)

A lot of this comes down to the third member of our little “supergroup”, six stringer and producer Simone Mularoni of DGM, who brings the ever-elusive combination of solidly flashy leads and melodically oriented songcraft to the table, with enough production knowhow to make sure all the important bits are right where you want ’em in the mix.

It’s no surprise that Lione is the more seasoned and accomplished of the frontmen here, bringing decades of practical experience and chops in tow, but Conti offers a strong contender, delivering some really nice (if comparatively steady-tone and blandly direct signal) harmony vocals and soaring highs to enhance and contrast with Lione’s wide, almost Maria Callas-esque vibrato-inflected bombast and throaty gusto.

The bottom line is, both singers are top notch – it’s just a matter of throwing one’s self into the performance vs. a more blandly, if certainly unimpeachably solid, technique that hits all the right tones in all the right places without actually moving the listener in any real respect.

Saw an old film noir the other night. Something called Ringside, where (to get right to the point) the one brother was a pianist, capable of performing a difficult Chopin piece correctly, but without putting anything of himself into it. His aging teacher told him he was indeed an accurate performer of the written page…but that he may never be ready for the concert stage – and that what he needed to learn was something that simply couldn’t be taught.

This missing piece of what some would perhaps consider an already completed puzzle? That he had to learn to feel, first, and then utilize and imbue those emotions into his performance.

This describes, in one brief scene, exactly what’s wrong with the music (and film, and literary, and televised) scene these days…and exactly why a few far younger generations find themselves looking back 25-40 years for music that, even at its silliest, simply said more and brought more to the table than the ostensibly more technically performed, but all too often utterly soulless works their own generation produces.

Now, in reference to the Lione vs Conti discussion, this is more tangenital than ringing condemnation (trust me, there are subgenres and acts reviewed this very month to whom this applies a thousand times more)…but the same base differences do apply, and the argument still holds true.

Even so, a surprisingly solid addition to your Rhapsody (of Fire) library – think of it as classic Rhapsody gone more pointedly power metal, leaning AOR.

Due respect to all three musicians – a well deserved thumbs up.

MIKE LEPOND’S SILENT ASSASSINS – Pawn and Prophecy (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (January 26)

Symphony X /Midnight Eternal / Heathen’s Rage/ Sleepy Hollow four stringer Mike LePond strikes again, pulling in Hades/Non-Fiction/Watchtower frontman and Steppin’ Out contributor Alan Tecchio as frontman and Benedictum / The V vocalist Veronica Freeman for a guest spot on his very own solo project here.

As on the recent Watchtower reunion album Concepts of Math, Tecchio is sounding a bit worn at the edges, having to really push for a deeper, more ragged gravelly scream than that to which fans of his earlier work are accustomed, but I actually thought he sounded a bit better on Watchtower’s return bout than I’m picking up here (to be fair, he probably wasn’t asked to push quite so hard as he does
here on tracks like “masters of the hall”, and some of those cleaner high notes are still present and accounted for, if a bit more sparse on the ground than they were back in the late 80’s and early to mid 90’s).

There’s a fella named Lance Barnewold (don’t fucking ask me...) who drops some really nice leads on the first few tracks, and LePond himself goes all Talas or Stuart Hamm with his prominent bass-as-lead instrument for “I am the bull” and the somewhat Brocas Helm-like “avengers of eden”, but other players and tracks don’t quite live up to the promise shown by the two men’s performances on those cuts. About the closest would be closer “pawn and prophecy” where his Symphony X pals (sans vocalist) drop by for a few flashy phrases amid a whole lot of downtime (20 plus minutes worth, to be precise).

There’s a lot to like about this one, don’t get me wrong – Barnewold’s solos and Pond’s moments in the spotlight could have been isolated from what surrounds to make one killer instrumental 7″, or could have been extended to fill out the remainder of the songs they inhabit (if not the album as a whole), and the casting of Tecchio, even with his powers somewhat diminished by time and use, was hardly a questionable call – as a fan of his earlier work going way back to when he was cutting the albums referenced earlier, my own eyes lit up to see him listed on the roster.

But for a project you’d be expecting to go straight into Shrapnel territory, Pawn and Prophecy proves strangely subdued, more of a Marty Friedman in Vixen vs. his solo album or Rust in Peace, more of a Jack Starr’s Burning Starr than his incessant lead work on the Phantom Lord albums or Guardians of the Flame.  You can still tell it’s there, in other words…but you’ll have to dig for it, and won’t really get enough to slake the old thirst in the end.

Not bad, not bad at’all.

LABYRINTH – Return to Live (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) 

Italian power metallers return a year on from their Architecture of a God for a typical, if admittedly stirring and somewhat Rhapsody (of Fire)-like live affair, which becomes less surprising when you take into account that this band was where (a then-pseudonymous) Fabio Lione was discovered prior to his long tenure with the latter, more famed symphonic power metal legends.

The same members who made this band a surprising standout last time around are all present and accounted for: the Lionelike Roberto Tiranti, the clever and far from typical power metal drum patterns of TNT’s John Macaluso and founding six stringers Olaf Thorsen and Andrea Cantarelli, here delivering one of those “classic albums live” shows for their 1998 Return to Heaven Denied album.

Apparently, they also featured Yngwie Malmsteen frontman Mark Boals for a few sadly unrecorded years recently, which might have been nice to hear, but this was a Lione-driven, Rhapsody (of Fire) template band, and Taranti and company certainly embody that far better than even a powerhouse like Boals ever could.

Not much else to say about this one that wasn’t said before with Architecture of a God, except that if you’re big on album re-recordings (or in-concert recreations of fan favorite albums en toto), this may appeal to you more than a more studio-inclined sort like yours truly.  Even so, it’s well performed and reasonably well recorded for a live album, and the band is pretty killer for the type.

Just glad they dropped the early Anglicized pseudos. Wouldn’t have worked too well with crowd banter that kicks off “Ciao, ragazzi! Come’va?”

Pretty damn good for what it is.

AMMUNITION – S/T (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (January 26)

Erik Martensson of W.E.T.  (whose One Live in Stockholm was covered here,) Eclipse (whose Armageddonize and Monumentum were previously reviewed herein) and Nordic Union (and producer of several other Frontiers releases, besides) returns with yet another project, this time pulling in Eclipse drummer Magnus Ulfstedt and a few members of a band called Wig Wam (don’t ask me...)

The general sound is like a poppier, more AOR-oriented take on the grittier, post-GNR Hollywood “metal” my drummer used to refer to as “dirtbag metal” – stuff like Dangerous Toys, L.A. Guns, Dirty Looks and Cats N’ Boots…but with just a dash of, say, Firehouse peeking its head through at many a point throughout.

The same sort of ragged vox and scratchy-toned guitars crossed with enough melodic sense to keep this sort of Aerosmith by way of Hanoi Rocks-ish hard rock gone metal topping charts previously occupied by the far smoother and much more polished likes of Dokken, Quiet Riot, Ratt and the Scorpions infuses every phrase of Ammunition, with that extra touch of Frontiers-patented hookiness to push it over the top for fans of late 80’s/very early 90’s radio rock.

Didn’t set me overly alight, but unimpeachable for the basic sound and template they’re working here, and sure to keep fans of that era and style well chuffed, Ammunition comes with a subjectively mild, but objectively respectful nod of the head – given what they were shooting for, they certainly hit the mark with due accuracy and sufficient likeability.

Voodoo Circle – Raised On Rock (AFM Records) (February 9)

OK, let’s get this out of the way right off the bat: Voodoo Circle has lost longstanding Pink Cream 69 frontman David Readman.

But has replacing him with Avantsia frontman Herbie Langhans pulled the band very far from their Coverdale worshipping, Whitesnake meets Deep Purple sound?  Nah, not really.

“Running away from love” is clearly derived (and fairly directly at that!) from Whitesnake’s 1987 self titled opus, and specifically yours truly’s longstanding personal favorite track thereof, “bad boys”. From the slightly altered and inverted riff(s) to quotes from the solo to the dramatically wide open, almost guitar synthlike singing tone of the rather John Sykes/Adrian Vandenberg lead lines, it’s flashback central…

The rest of the album leans a bit more Slide It In, with hints of Slip of the Tongue here, a (very) vague hint of later Moody/Mardsen-era boogie band Whitesnake there…but while Langhans doesn’t cop to the oversmoked yet syrup-smooth tones of Coverdale half so well as his predecessor, there’s no question he was a perfect choice to take on the vacated mantle.

Where the natural tone fails, Langhans appears (if anything) to be a more devoted study of Coverdale’s phrasing and (vocal) mannerisms, leaving this sounding like a more strident, raspier Whitesnake…or as if the Coverdale of more recent years were fronting the Sykes-era Whitesnake of the middle eighties.

Yeah, you could tag in elements of other “classic rock” acts (or at least songs) every now and again, but Voodoo Circle has always been an effective Whitesnake tribute act…and Raised on Rock is no exception to the rule, with a few more ’87-era nods and elements than prior, more ’81-’84 based albums would suggest.

Was I floored? No.

Was it another perfectly acceptable, entirely likeable Voodoo Circle album, showcasing the lead skills of Silent Force/Primal Fear veteran Alex Beyrodt and the melodic songcraft of Sinner (and pretty much every other Beyrodt act) vet Mat Sinner?

Hugh Betcha.

Asenblut – Legenden (AFM Records) (February 16)

Is this more Viking/Pagan metal or straight up melodeath? Not an easy question when you get something this polished and driving. I guess if you’re using Amon Amarth as a marker, that should give you a general idea of what to expect…

No surprise this is both crystal clear and bombastic yet crunchy, given its
production by Orden Ogan mainman Seeb Levermann, and the five song brevity brings the conciseness and punch you want from this sort of material (which can really drag out and bore the shit out of you over the course of a full length).

I was definitely good with this – just not sure how things would pan out over the course of twice as many tracks, or with a lesser producer at the helm.

As for Legenden? Yeah, I’m down with this.

VOJD – The Outer Ocean (High Roller Records) (February 23)

Black Trip, whose
Shadowline we praised here, has changed their name.

Nothing’s really changed except the drummer, but they wanted a new start and direction, so here you go. But has anything really changed from their retro-70’s Kiss meets Thin Lizzy take on heavy rock?

Well…no, not really. If anything, they’ve gone even more retro in vibe, with a band production that feels more appropriately muted and thin toned…only the modern, overly prominent vocals betray this move (though the harmony choruses bring things back to a more Devils Bloodlike true 70’s hard rock feel).

A rose by any other name…

Typically strong Swedish retro rock. If you liked Black Trip, you’ll like Vojd, and vice versa.


ANVIL – Pounding The Pavement (Steamhammer / SPV) (January 19)

Everyone’s favorite hard luck Canucks return with yet another exercise in
likeable futility.

Kicking around since the days of the NWOBHM, Steve “Lips” Kudrow, sticksman Robb Reiner and assorted sidemen have been delivering a steady run of grinding Canadian metal that has at points been described as “speed”, “thrash”, “traditional” and even “glam” (“mad dog”, anyone?)…but in fact, never really altering very far from template throughout. It’s an exercise in public perspective.

The band’s weird sense of humor is all over this one, from the anti-GPS “bitch in a box” (“…tells me where to go!”) through “rock that shit” and the obviously absurd “Nanook of the North”, but if you just want some crunchy heavy metal riffing and straight ahead, punchy drumming in the most basic, silly sense thereof, Anvil has always been one of the “old reliables”…and with Manowar claiming to be on their last tour and Motorhead a thing of the past, we don’t have too many of these kind of unsinkable veteran warhorses left kicking around.

Cheesy as shit? Damn straight.

But sheer persistence in the face of adversity is to be saluted, however
quixotic the goal may be in the end.


MAGNUM – Lost On The Road To Eternity (Steamhammer / SPV) (January 19)

We’d covered these veteran Britons’ Sacred Blood, “Divine” Lies two years back, and while still recognizably following the same base template, they seem to have slowed and toned down the cheesy symphonic bits somewhat in favor of a more direct rock approach.

I mean, don’t get me wrong – it’s still somewhere between Queen, Styx and ELO…just with less of the odd diversions skipping off into fairyland before getting to the meat of the matter.

About the closest you get to what we were cringing about last time around is a track like “forbidden masquerade”, but even then, it feels more straightforward – there’s a clear melodic and/or harmonic line leading straight into (or from) the body of the actual song rather than feeling dropped in the middle of some cheesy Supertramp stage revival all of a sudden.

Nice cover, too – rather Rousseaulike.

I’d call it an improvement, yeah.

Sainted Sinners – Back With A Vengeance (El Puerto Records GbR) (February 16)

A mere year on from the self titled debut from former Bangalore Choir frontman David Reece and current Bonfire six stringer Frank Pane, and they’ve already dropped another disc of Bangalore Choir meets Rainbow by way of Whitesnakeisms.

As you might expect from that sentence, there’s plently of soulfully, oversmoked warblingly throaty vocals ala Coverdale, a hell of a lot of Jon Lordlike organ and some nicely flash guitarwork to pull it all together. Tag in the melodicism you’d expect from any or all of the aforementioned, and there you have it, sheer radio rock gold, early to mid 80’s style.

Granted, opener “rise like a phoenix” is by far the album’s strongest track, with even the most likeable of album fillers thereafter running more shrug of the shoulders. “Back with a vengeance” is the only other standout oddity, coming off more akin to Roxy Blue, but the bulk of this should please your average Coverdale fan, particularly those who gravitate towards his Deep Purple era.

More than passable, even when it drags most – and when it hits those high points, watch out.

Templeton Pek – Watching The World Come Undone (Drakkar Entertainment GmbH) (February 23)

“Political melodic hardcore” is how the promo materials describe these guys, and there’s no question about the melodic end – this has all the catchiness of the best emo or metalcore, but without the elements that drag either down.

While it’s not quite hardcore in the sense that yours truly came up on, there is some definite kinship to the likes of AFI or even sXe’rs Turning Point in play here, alongside no sall indebtedness to the “pop punk” movement of the early millenium.

I guess if you took Crazy Taxi-era Offspring and Bad Religion, crossed ’em with AFI and then amped up the complaining a few notches, you’d have something not far removed from Templeton Pek – the frenetically skittering drum patterns are certainly right out of the Adam Carson playbook.

The politics are a bit more subdued than you’d expect…at least if you came up on the straightforward, in your face likes of Reagan Youth, The Exploited and Anti-Flag.

But take a look at the interview provided with the promo materials, and it becomes quite apparent what they’re pissed off about – the same things we’re all pissed off about. Reactionary politics. Brexit. Trump. Anti-individualism. The sense that none of us matters anymore, unless we’re one of the super rich, the movers and shakers in the corridors of corporate and political power.  Oh, doddering dotard, thou Orange Goblin…look down on thy works and despair.

And anyone who’s all for storming the palace with pitchforks and torches, to take this planet back for you and me?

I’m with ya all the way.

Bring it.

Raise a fist in salute.

Strongest track: opener “nowhere to hide”.


Malady – Toinen toista (Svart Records) (March 16)

We covered their self titled debut a few years back, and this is more of the same – 70’s prog with a more pointedly ponderous English bent.

There’s enough Gentle Giant in here to keep things workable as well as familiar, even when they go tripping the daisies off in the fields of flute and sighs, and I’m not seeing much of a change for better or worse than last time around…

…but I liked ’em well enough then, so you can take that as a compliment.

Smooth and easy.


Bhleg – Solarmegin (Nordvis Produktion) (February 23)

These Swedes bill themselves as “folk metal”, but expect more of a Hades (Norway) Viking/black sort of thing than the Skycladdish one that nomenclature would suggest.

We’ve covered them once before, for 2014’s Draumr Ast, which must have come with a far lesser production, given the writeup.  This time around, things are perfectly status quo, with a perhaps overly clean and empty-feeling sound which nonetheless allows vocals, guitars, drums and even bass to be easily discerned throughout.

It’s entirely acceptable, even crisp in its own blunted way – just absent any real atmosphere or sharpness, which leaves Solarmegin sounding about the same as its cover: a tad dull and earthen toned.

Even so, musically speaking, you get the same sort of mournful pagan/black vibe we picked up last time around, thankfully more in the general vein of Alone Walkyng and Again Shall Be…than that same band’s far less impactful later material.

Did I mention it’s a double disc, running more than an hour and a half? Or that they’ve more or less eliminated the pointless ambient bits?

…well, OK, there’s 3 of them here, but two come with a bit of nylon string acoustic at least, and amidst 13 tracks? Not too shabby a ratio of actual music to pointless intro, you have to admit.

A definite step in the right direction compared to Draumr Ast, we have zero compunctions about giving this one a raised horn of ale in salute.

Pretty damn good stuff – if material on this level is the kickoff to 2018, we may be in for a very good year indeed.


Panphage – Jord (Nordvis Produktion) (January 12)

We’ve covered this one man pagan force twice before, for 2016’s Drengskapr and last year’s double dose of Storm and the Ginnheilagr split with Thul.

Like Bhleg, he continues to show improvement with each release, the split coming off better than the poorly produced Drengskapr and Storm evoking a Viking-era Bathory cum Graveland comparison or two – nothing to sneeze at, really.

This time around, our man Fjallbrandt appears to be more driven, working a speedier, more aggressively Viking/pagan black metal vibe than prior reviews would suggest. Apparently this is to be his final release (at least under the Panphage moniker), intended at least in part as an homage to Swedish folk songs (or so promo materials would have us believe)…not that you’d ever really pick that up from the furious, if melancholic din to be found herein.

Another typically strong offering from Nordvis to kick off the year a’borning.


Nevicate – “Shattered” (Inverse Records) (December 11)

WHOA, that’s uh…definitely a modern ProTools production, there.

Flipping from the more organic pagan black sound of Panphage to this was quite a kick in the teeth…rather metalcorish in production/aggression terms, with those guitar riffs grinding away and typewriter drums pounding right up in your face. But then there’s a poppy female alto vocal and some tinkling keyboards to modulate some of that testosterone a bit…

Well, it’s aggressive as hell, yet melodic…not really gothic metal, but somewhere between that and prog (particularly with all the wheedly-whoo guitar and synth unison lines at the solo).

I guess if Delain got really juiced up and pissed off, with someone like Adam and Joel from Killswitch on guitars, you might get something along the lines of “shattered”.

Yeah, I was good with this. 

Red Raven Down – Phantoms (Inverse Records) (December 15)

Finnish metalcore.

As expected from the genre, it’s well produced in a modern sense, the riffs are chugging and driving, there’s a lot of melody and a cross between emo/pop punk and At The Gates-style melodeath butting up against each other.

What’s a bit odd about Red Raven Down is that their sound is more mellow melodic than metalcore/melodeath melodic, by which I mean there’s a lot more negative space and trad-style riffing than the usual no room to breathe thing kids go for nowadays. It’s almost to the point where you could misclassify them as gothic- or straight up modern- metal in some ways rather than metalcore proper…but that’s mainly down to the aforementioned (over)emphasis on open space riffing and melody over metal aggression and punk speed and drive.

Despite that, I was good with what I heard for the most part…except for the fact that frontman Jani Korpela just croaks and growls in sub-aggro mode throughout, never once even attempting a clean voice (even at the expected bridges and choruses!)

It’s only when you get to closer “rotten” that you can finally sit back and say yeah, that’s a recognizably metalcore song, through and through (lack of clean vox aside)…so be warned, this is hardly template for the genre.

Even so, worked well enough – didn’t mind it at all, particularly once “rotten” kicked things into gear at last.


Vinide – Reveal (Inverse Records) (January 26)

Finnish symphonic metal, or so they claim. 
Well, there’s certainly elements thereof – clean, high tenorish vocals, tinkling keyboard and orchestral samples and a proggish to power metal feel.

There’s even some extremely awkward, overly trilled soprano female vox at points, most amusingly on “the beginning”.

Yeah, they’re pretty bad…think 1930’s movies, when they’d pull out a Deanna Durbin wannabe and compliment her on her horrid “birdlike” tones. So yeah, you can hear why they classified themselves as symphonic metal – most of the elements are there, in one awkward form or another.  But to put this in the same category as Edenbridge, Rhapsody (of Fire) or early Epica is simply a joke.

It’s as boring as your average American movie soundtrack, with occasional moments where the guitarist flips out and tries to get all (overly) fast and aggressive on the leads, which just come off comical.

Honestly, nothing whatsoever stood out about this one, at least in any positive sense…diehard Euro-symphonic fans desperate for something au courant to grasp onto may view this one through a very different lens.

Me? I’m sticking to the classics.


Verikalpa – Taistelutahto (Inverse Records) (February 16)

Promo materials first call these guys a “Folk/Troll metal” act, then a
“Troll/Beer-metal” one, inside of a single sentence…so you get the idea.

Finntroll’s gotten too self serious since the days of Trollhammeren, but as
great as they are, do we really need another Trollfest?

Well, if you think there’s always room for one more at the bar, sidle over and give these Finnish trolls some room – the pace never lets up, and their stuff is as catchy, jig-able and drunken sing-a-long as all the best troll metal is supposed to be.

In fact, given their lack of world music chops and slightly more abrasive vibe, Verikalpa may well fill the hole that Finntroll seems content to have left for all these years. And hell, they are Finnish…

All hail the new Finntroll!

Khiral – Chained (Inverse Records) (January 12)

Black/death with pronounced thrash elements.

Did nothing whatsoever for me.


Hear those flames crackle…first Pyre of Dead Bards fodder of the month!

Xael – Singles – Apathy of The Immortal, The Last Arbiter, Watchers of Xan (Test Your Metal Records) (December 5)

Exactly what it says it is: three songs, one of which is a rather punklike minute 52 in duration.

Acoustic, folkish intros give way to crazed high speed blastbeats and triggered double bass drumming, while the guitars and keyboards suggest more of a pagan black metal crossed with a prog/tech death riffing and wheedly-whoo guitars.

Oh, and the sheer bombast of the guitars and keyboards during the height of their intermittent flurries of crazed activity suggests a black/death sort of thing in the vein of Behemoth.

Say huh?

Well…it’s different, I guess…

Then again, you’ve heard it all sooooo many times before, if perhaps not all smooshed together in one messy, melted ice cream sandwich like this.

Watch out for all that shit dripping out the sides, you’ll stain your pants.

Yeah, not the worst thing I’ve heard by a longshot, but “mud pies” where you mash all the vegetables, meat, potatoes and gravy together and consume as one big mess of blunted flavor was something that my father used to do…not me.

Speaking personally, the concept of losing all those unique flavors and contrasts by so doing absolutely horrifies and repels me.

(D)juret – Sök din sekt (EP) (Cramada) (January 12)

Folk/ska-inspired punk out of Sweden, produced by none other than Tomas Skogsberg at Sunlight Studios.

Even so, don’t expect Entombed/Nihilist/Dismember-style HM-2 chainsaw guitars and suchlike…this is more of a muddy, raw production with a lot of signal bleed on the shouted vox and really raw, rough edged guitar tone.

The band’s prone to some really nice dual harmony leads with bass fills you can actually make out, and there’s more than just a hint of melodicism bleeding through, so I’m good right there.

Promo materials claim they’re “able to perform both with or without
electricity”, which is just hilarious, unless you can picture these guys pulling a hipster MTV unplugged sort of thing…

They come off a whole hell of a lot more folky than ska, so don’t expect Two-Tone here…but it’s definitely punk, albeit a decidedly weird, regional variant thereof.

No idea how this would work across a full length…but I liked this trio of
songs well enough, yeah.


Blaspherion – Restus Corpus (April 15, 2017)

Promo materials promised “four tracks of old school death metal venom!” and that’s not far from the truth.

While I was expecting more of the traditional blackthrash sound from a band straight out of Brazil, these guys rest right in there with early Autopsy, Incantation or Anatomia, with just a touch of Deicide in the “evil” snarl vocal accompaniment on some tracks.

That said, while they’re certainly basic and crusty enough, the production’s a lot clearer (if seriously thin toned and prone to hiss and signal bleed on the cymbals) than any of those comparisons would imply – it’s like there’s zero bottom end, and vox, guitars, drums and occasionally audible bass are all coming down from the upstairs apartment…but even then, you’d more likely hear the bass throb first. On Restus Corpus, there simply is no bass to throb with…

Even so, for a poorly produced demo, this don’t sound bad at all…trust me, there’ve been much, much worse floating around out there.

We’ll call it DIY and working against lack of funds, and just give these guys the horns up salute they deserve.

Because they certainly have that vintage DM sound down.


Eleine – Until The End (Black Lodge Records) (February 23)

We’d covered their self titled just last summer, and more or less appreciated their less-than-template approach to symphonic metal as filtered through a decidedly Lacuna Coilesque take on the more basic gothic/industrial thing – you could also take Evanescence or more recent Within Temptation as a marker on that end.

Suicide Girl wannabe Madeleine Liljestam isn’t exactly hard on the eyes, despite all the preponderance of ink, and bears a light, pleasant soprano nonetheless capable of force and sustain when called for.

The keyboards once again swing back and forth between backing support and more of a lead/tone coloring sort of approach, and as such are just noticeable enough not to be boring, while not up in your face enough to get annoying.

Guitars are the usual simplistic and chunky machine gun thing, but mix in well enough with the rest as to be forceful without becoming annoying or overly neanderthalic.

It’s hard to say, but one definitely gets the impression that there’s been a conscious progression from the self titled to this album, as if the band figured out some of their problem areas and tightened up all the loose screws. It’s very much the same band…just…I don’t know, better, somehow.

One thing’s for sure – this one’s more driving and propulsive, if not downright aggressive than its predecessor.

If the earlier review had you intrigued, this may be the right time to dip your toes in…if you’re going to get into these guys, Until the End will definitely be the one to do it.

I liked it well enough, yeah.



Weird, decidedly individualistic take on melodic black metal.

With crude and juvenline grindcore song titles (G.G. Allin has nothing on these guys…and surprise, surprise, they even cover the nutcase herein) and a more blatantly black metal sound, it’s like this two man band couldn’t quite decide who to be or how to express themselves.

Comparisons are made to Urgehal and Nattefrost, both of which are
understandable, even a bit apt…but Urgehal never really felt this crude, even at their most provocative, and Nattefrost was always too juvenile and untalented to deliver something this listenable (bar the very earliest Carpathian Forest demos and EP, anyway).

You have to be in a very weird place to celebrate a band and album like this.  My suggestion is try to ignore the song titles and subject matter, forget the band’s name and give it a listen – you’ll come away with a far more favorable impression than you ever would taking it as a whole.

Unless the late Seth Putnam was your thing, in which case, have at it.


Man Daitõrgul – Gulkenha (self released)

“Epic/Atmospheric black metal” out of Spain.

Vox are very much like a more hoarse and direct take on the croaks of Abbath (Immortal) and Dagon (Inquisition), music is more akin to the volkisch sound of Eastern Europe, somewhere between a Kroda, more recent Graveland or…I was thinking Taake, but promo materials mention Goatmoon (as well as – wait for it – Kroda and Graveland. Nice catches on the writeup, guys), and that may be closer to what I’m hearing here. Definitely playing in that sonic ballpark.

Apparently this one’s free at the band’s Bandcamp, but there’s going to be a physical release “with a few surprises”, so your call on how to handle that if you dig it.

Don’t let the uglier associations of the band’s sonic forbears get you down, though – lyrics are all based on some made up homebrew fantasy D&D campaign, with things like “the land of the Silent Legion and Shadowspitters” and “the enemies of Baladhia” being referenced along the way.

I was certainly good with this one – at its worst, it was better than any ten Pyre of Dead Bards-beckoning black metal releases that come across the desk on any given month, so you’re pretty safe giving it a shot.

Hell, you can’t beat the price.

Vantablack Warship – Abrasive Pulmonic Speak (self released) (January 26)

Quebecois…well, I guess it’s metal, despite the weird shrieky Animal-meets-Telly like vocals. Seriously, the only time I heard vocals more ridiculous than this was on Carnival Bizarre…and even those were more tongue in cheek (or so I always assumed!)

Then again, this may be some weird crossover thing, between metal of the more modern if not aggro/groove variety and the sort of shrieky nonsense we keep covering that bills itself as modern hardcore…maybe that’s the problem, who knows.

Apparently these guys are into sports (there’s a track making fun of a certain football team’s fans, and another about Rhonda Rousey and the women of the UFC…don’t ask me that the fuck that’s all about…) Yay?

Cue 7 Seconds “I hate sports”…

As much as the music itself is passably unspectacular…those vocals are just deadly.


Heads up! Duck and cover, incoming!

Just missed ya with that one. Watch those flames sputter and spit.

Second one for the Pyre this month… 

GREBER – Cemetery Preston (Pink Lemonade Records (CD), Hibernation Release (Cassette) Ancient Temple Recordings (Vinyl), D7i Records (Vinyl), No Why Records (Vinyl) (January 2)

OK, here’s a weird one – “hardcore grind sludge doom” featuring bass/vocalist Marc Bourgon of the wonderfully named Fuck the Facts (aka the Fox News Motto).

So here’s this primitive, doomy, sort of lumbering act that feels like Electric Wizard by way of Conan, minus any of the stoner or retro elements attendant thereto…with lousy mouth in an O belch/screamo vox and a very up front bass serving as de facto guitars (it’s just him and a drummer).

Did I mention they’ve obviously taken a few poppers before recording this? Yeah. Fast doom/sludge. Go figure.

Once again, I was OK with the bass/drums setup and the general sound they were laying down…but it’s the shit vox that nearly sink ’em.

Not as horrific an audial experience as Vantablack Warship, by any means. But P-U.

Better vox…much better vox, and they’d make a worthy addition to the ol’ doom/sludge/stoner collection.

As is…OK, here’s the bottom line, this’ll make up your mind whether to pursue this any further or no. One simple question to ask yourself.

How’s your tolerance for clowns who can’t fucking sing?



Two parts of a planned “tetraology” of singles to be called the “deep blue sessions”.

“Cowboys” is obviously intended as some tribute to the late “Dimebag Darrell” of Pantera, though it’s nowhere as annoying or lunkheaded as that band’s material – think Pantera gone power metal. As in Euro power metal, not as in their long-disowned fourth album.

“Deep blue” is another odd tribute, this time for the chess playing IBM computer who proved itself “better than a human” at the internationals back in ’97. Creepy shit, and probably intended as such.

Nothing special in either case, but this is very obviously French in origin from the clean, accented vocals and quirky approach.

Fair enough, but nothing to get overly excited about.


ORION DUST – Duality (re-release) (January 19)

French progressive rock, complete with Hammond-style organ, acoustic guitars that go electric and pleasantly midrange, almost folky female vocals.

The only problem with Orion Dust is that they’re a tad too laid back, to the point where they’re almost bordering 90’s dreampop, but without the lush musical base to shore them up.

In fact, when things slowed to a crawl and it got all instrumental, I was expecting some flashy fusionesque leads, thinking anything from Zappa to Gentle Giant to Steve Howe, Goblin and 80’s King Crimson…and yet, nothing. Uber-basic pentatonic blues box patterns, that’s about it.

Nothing wrong with them otherwise, and the more laid back among you…or more likely your disinterested popster/hipster girlfriends…may absolutely love this approach.

For me, I was looking for some flash, some style, some oomph…

…that just wasn’t there to find in the first place.

ROOM ME – Anaon (February 8)

“Room Me”, “Remy”, get it? Huh? No?

Yeah, me either. It’s kind of a stretch.

But regardless, that was the thinking here, where Anne-Sophie Remy chose her rather odd demand of a stage name (is that supposed to imply something sexual, like “I’ll house you?” Or is she just looking for free room and board, figuring listeners will be generous?).

Musically, this is sort of “occult rock”like in the droning alto female vocals combined with a sort of low-end distortion on the guitars and a general psychedelic feel. The whole thing comes off very 90’s, trying to be very late 60’s/early 70’s, but you’d be forgiven for making vague comparisons to, say, more recent Blood Ceremony, minus the witchy flute and organ bits.

No, this is more of a garage rock gone riot grrrl sort of thing that I haven’t often heard since the mid-90’s, so band names elude me at the moment…closest I’m picking up whose name come to mind would be Luscious Jackson, albeit with far less of a hip hop infusion, as crossed with PJ Harvey.

In fact, there’s a lot of Harvey about Room Me, particularly on a track like “happy ending”, or even the minimalist set, seething with anger “love and hate”. Well, nothing wrong with that, I guess – she was a damn sight better than most of her Lilith Fair-era peers, for what that’s worth.

Not sure how to call this one – I guess if you were really hoping for a new PJ Harvey album 25 years on, this is your chance.

As with, say, Dry or Rid of Me, I neither loved nor hated it…it was just passably enjoyable background music.

NIGHTSHADE – 1426 (Marked Man Records) (February 16)

The fact that bands like Black Dahlia Murder and Fleshgod Apocalypse are mentioned in the promo materials as “prestigious” tourmates should say it all, really.

Elements of more competent genres like black and death metal sit uncomfortably hand in glove with lunkheadedly simplistic, bouncy nu-metal and groove riffing and gargled glass aggro vox. And of course, one of the first things they grab from black metal? You guessed it – incessant blastbeats.


There’s enough here to say that these guys could kick the “singer” to the curb, forget they ever heard Pantera, Slipknot or Korn and just morph into a proper…well, black/death act, which isn’t saying a hell of a lot in itself.

But compared to aggro/groove and nu-metal affectations?

Damn straight, that’d represent a huge improvement.


SEEP AWAY – “Shimmy Shimmy Ya”
                      The Blackened Carnival Of Societal Ineptitude (Mini-LP)

OK, so here’s a weird one. Freakout screamo vocals, as if the guy was recruited from an insane asylum, over simplistic detuned nu metal riffs, covering Wu Tang Clan’s ODB’s “shimmy shimmy ya” for all of a minute and a half.

Later they pull something similar to the hilariously camp Minnie Ripperton 70’s disasterpiece “loving you”, with the guy acting all Alice Cooper crossed with Schmier over the top of this.

The rest of the EP (or as the band would have it, “mini LP”) doesn’t fall far from that template, with a hip hop inflected, very nu metallish bounce, uber-detuned guitars and this guy freaking out in front of it, as if Les Claypool and Primus suddenly started huffing paint thinner and went on a rampage.


Far cry from the hardcore I came up on, that’s for damn sure…a lot closer to Korn, Mr. Bungle and Limp Bizkit gone all Killer Klowns from Outer Space or Psykotik Synfoney on ya.


Days of Confusion – Yin & Out (Universal Music Romania) (March 1)

Djent act. All that proggy wheedly whoo and disregard of meter crossed with detuned lunkhead riffing and screamo/aggro vox that go all emo/metalcore clean and melodic on the choruses.Personally, I don’t get this genre as a whole, but as with emo, metalcore and a lot of what passes for punk these days, the sorta depressing melodic parts resonate just fine, so it’s not like there’s zero value to be found here.

Another interesting thing about Days of Confusion: they seem to get more clean, even chant-feeling vocalled as the album progresses, and the music starts to feel a bit more straightforward, albeit strongly peppered throughout with those oddball Primus meets Dream Theater by way of latter day Gorguts spaz out phrases.

The melodic stuff, I can do with just fine.

It’s the other stuff that does a Freedom Williams on me.

You remember.

“Things that make you go hmmm…”

RoadkillSoda – Mephobia (Universal Music Romania) (November 14)

Quirky take on stoner rock, much closer to a Pepper Keenan-era C.O.C. or Alice in Chains than a Kyuss, Monster Magnet or Fu Manchu.While the vocals are low and growly and riffs are basic and distorted, there’s little of the expected retro 70’s vibe, nor do they bear that sort of druggy haze about them like Electric Wizard. Instead, it feels more grungelike, but with more pep (presumably no heroin to slow them down) and catchier chorus hooks.

I could picture Southern trucker types really getting into this – it’s got that feel of dust bowl, pickup truck and red cap farmland about it, like Kriadiaz with a lot more melody and without all the aggro.

Nothing wrong with this at all – wasn’t what I was expecting by a long shot, but hey, I had a well worn cassette of Deliverance back in the day, too…and this one is easily peggable somewhere between that and Dirt.

Southern stoner grunge?

Hey, it’s catchy enough.


Fameless – Dreams Without A Past (Universal Music Romania) (January 27)

Romania seems to be really digging on the early to middle 90’s, if we’re to judge by Roadkill Soda and Fameless…Sort of an indie power pop thing, with Matthew Sweet-style punk guitar solos, a lot of melody and a vibe somewhere between D-A-D, Urge Overkill and Johnny Thunders, but with this weird overtone of Screaming Trees, if you can picture such a thing.

They’re pretty uptempo and raw sounding, which begs at least a partial Iggy/Heartbreakers/Saints/Voidoids influence (even if, as hinted at earlier, bleeding through more of a Matthew Sweet…whose sound was augmented by former Voidoid guitarist Robert Quine and former Television six stringer Richard Lloyd, of course).

But then where do you pigeonhole a track like “for the love of God” or “stationary star”? Pure pop radio, albeit still of a decidedly 90’s bent, starts to rear its head more and more as the album progresses – “dash of blue”, the countrified “falling in love”…it’s almost as if there were two bands here, the sort of punkified power pop act of the first half of the album, then the more straight up pop radio band on the second.

It’s weird. Usually, a band starts to grow on you as you progress through the album and get used to their style and particular eccentricities. You start to pick out more interesting material, quirks and phrasings you start to appreciate by the time the needle runs out of groove. Fameless, somehow, managed to accomplish the reverse: from a great first impression to a ho-hum, am I really listening to the same band? by the time the album ends.

Well, there’s certainly plenty of melody and you’d be unlikely to run to shut this off if it came on the radio during a long drive, so there’s a lot to be said for that.

But I heard some real retro-minded punkified promise in the first few tracks that just vanished in a puff of smoke thereafter, so I’m a bit disappointed here.

Miffed, even.

Your call how well these two very different sounds and approaches reconcile, or don’t, to your ears.

Shields – Use Protection (November 17)

Well, this one opens with “my roommate sucks” and compares the guy to a fart, so how can you not at least be amused?

Two Texan brothers and a longtime buddy, doing silly ditties over riffs that feel sorta Southern rock gone metal – i.e. somewhere between a C.O.C. and a Jackyl, but with more of a weird millenial college humor lyrical approach.

As you can imagine, this is all dorm room jokes about pitching tents with morning wood, banging chicks and partying too hard with beer goggles…a sort of rocked out 2 Live Crew for the new millenium.

This kind of thing is definitely a one note joke, and unlikely to get a lot of repeat listens (unless you’re really drunk or really, really miss The Mentors), but there’s nothing to knock about the music itself, which is competently performed and consistent throughout, with reasonable production given the uber-compressed mono speaker guitar tone and overly loud whisper-conversational vocals (i.e. it still sounds beefy and drum tone is excellent.)

Sure to be a hit on the collegiate circuit.




Trigger – Cryogenesis (Hellfire Records) (January 5)

Modern thrash metal, with an (overly) thick and in your face guitar tone and ProToolslike production.

The riffs are solid, there’s some nice guitar lead lines and a decided impression that they were really, really trying to be Testament, Jr.

Even the sorta growly shout vocals, easily the weakest element here, seem very pointedly Chuck Billyesque…the guitars, particularly with all those melodic leads and lines running throughout go well beyond any more recent and expected emo/metalcore influence to sound very much akin to Alex Skolnick…particularly when you get Eric Petersenlike rhythms and those vox on top.

Apparently they’re Aussies and trying to work some SF concept here, and admittedly, the Testament vibe is most blatant on opener “the forge of hepaestus” – later tracks settle more into a metalcore/emo ballpark, complete with a busier, more fluid dual guitar lead line and younger sounding, whinier vocals.

But all this does is confirm them as a sort of more progressive thrash metal take on Senses Fail, or a smoother, more proggy version of All That Remains…which is still OK in my book, honestly.

Yeah, I might not run out to grab this, but I sure as hell ain’t gonna turn it off.

More likely, I’ll crank the fucker up.

Give the kids due respect, they earned a bit here.

BLIGHT – The Teachings/Death Reborn (Black Market Metal) (December 22)

Quebecois…what do you call this? Is something like Sabbath Assembly really “black metal”? How about if you throw in more shout-gargle vox and work a really poorly recorded blackened noise sort of thing on the band side?

There’s a reason beyond musical unclassifiability that I bring the Process proselytizing Sabbath Assembly to the table here. Namely, as the promo materials inform us, “Vocalist/Lyricist G. McCaughry is also the founder of (a Luciferian) Occult publishing house…who upon investigation carries all of four books.

Well, if all of that didn’t already make up your mind to stay well away from this one, there’s always the music itself, which was quite painful to sit through…

Oh, is this one ever begging for the Pyre.


Damn, that one really spat green flames all over the damn place…


Heyoka’s Mirror – Loss of Contact With Reality (December 4)

Kind of out there, even for progressive metal. I mean, seriously…where the hell did they get this vocalist?

I’ve spent the better part of the past year listening to little besides 80’s US power metal, with bands like Have Mercy, Halloween, Bride and Solar Angels really pushing the boundaries of what sorta works and what’s just hilariously awful…

…and even after that, Andrew Balboa’s weird-ass vox and phrasing leaves the listener looking at the speaker in disbelief. Did someone really commit those noises to vinyl?

Well, he also handles keyboards and rhythm guitars here, so if you care for what the band’s offering otherwise, you’re kind of stuck with him…

Three long tracks, all of which come off like the worst excesses of Dennis DeYoung-era Styx and the camp bombast of Supertramp and Queen at their most absurd. This isn’t just power/prog…this is power/prog at the next level, demanding a degree of cheese acceptance that’s simply beyond yours truly.

Maybe fellow BM’er turned (in his case, Euro) power metaller Manuel may have kinder words for this one – shout out to ya, brother! – but I couldn’t find it in me, I’m sorry.



THE PARASITE PARADISE – His Only Begotten Son (A.D. MMXVII) (The Cursed Order) (October 31)

Sort of a half-assed black metal Danzig, this one man Finnish act delivers nasty snarl/shriek vox ala Satanic Warmaster, but without the melodicism and drive that makes that act of any appeal or value.

Instead, put those wet, snot-gargling snarly-shouts over an ass-dragging
simplistic blues rock sort of thing, but again, without the dark Elvis meets Jim Morrisonisms or catchiness Danzig brought to the table for 3 or 4 albums there, before moving out West and losing his head and direction completely.

Only two songs, but it feels like forever before they finally end.

Another one for the Pyre…

Busy month…hope we don’t have to call the fire department!


Rasgo – ECOS DA SELVA URBANA (Rastilho Records) (October 27)

Portugese crossover act (in the old sense of punk/metal hybrid, not as in the quirky likes of Kontrust).

Apparently they’re supposed to be some sort of “supergroup” consisting of
members of other Portuguesa acts you’ve never heard of, but which may or may not ring bells to locals.

Not much to say about it, sounds very modern and angry, with lousy aggro vox.  Pantera without the bounce and more of a modern metal vibe? Perhaps.

And come on, it’s all in Portugese, and no cover of the “xe do caixao” theme song?

Come on, guys…

Minneriket – Anima Sola (Akslen Black Art Records) (January 2)

 When is Norwegian black metal not Norwegian black metal?I mean, the guy’s from Norway, and he’s doing black metal…but any actual ties with the sound and bands you’ve already got flashing before your eyes are absolutely nil.

Maybe Emperor in the utterly shite hissy-snarl vox (“when life gets sick…”), but seriously…this sounds nothing whatsoever like classic Mayhem, Burzum, Darkthrone, Ulver, Manes, Fleurety, Urgehal, Tsjuder, Enslaved, Ancient…you name it, this sounds nothing like it.

Not impressed, and in fact kind of bored by it.

Feed the flames!



CONVICTION – “Outworn”

Members of Temple of Baal, whose Mysterium and Verses of Fire we’d covered previously, come together for more of a stoner/doom/sludge affair here. As you might expect, it’s molasses slow, downtuned and features warbly but clean vocals.

What you might not expect is that while a hell of a lot more appealing a
prospect than their former black/death outfit ever was, there’s a fair degree of what the B-side of this single is named after: namely “tedium”.

You know that it’s possible to get the basic style down, and still miss the
boat, right? Moreover, that it’s possible to fit right in to a given genre and
sound, but still not stand out in any major way, and leave a crowd of listeners stifling yawns and waiting for the real show to start?


A step in the right direction, to be sure…but I sure hope this ain’t the

Corbian – Supremacy of Fire (November 25)

Growly-scream aggro vox, thankfully buried somewhat in the mix, provide the shit frosting for this iffily produced German death metallish act.

Typewriter double bass and kitwork are shoved more upfront, but somehow still sound thin and tippa-tap throughout, while detuned guitars grind out aggro-ish modern metal riffs and keyboard accompaniment throws the mix even more off kilter.

Connections to actual death metal are sort of spurious, chord progressions often feel off-key or random, it’s just kind of ho-hum all around.

At the very least, I thought the Germans were obsessively particular about top-tier production…

oh, well.


Crimson Devils – A Taste For Blood (November 21)

Texan “generator party”-style Southern meets stoner rock affair – again,
bringing C.O.C. to mind, but this time with a measure of Kyuss as well,
particularly in the Mesa Boogie-tone hard overdrive/approaching bass fat guitar tone they adopt.

Apparently they’ve opened for both St. Vitus and the Obsessed, and while they’re by no measure “doom”, you can sort of see why Wino and company would gravitate towards these guys – there’s a retro-minded kinship to what they’re doing that you can see appealing to the “born too late” Sabbath-meets-Grand Funk and Blue Cheer worshippers they are.

Again, not something I’d exactly run out to grab or see live, but I’m sure
they’d provide one hell of an opening act, possibly even stealing the show from the headliner du jour.

I was down with it, alright.

Crossbones – WWIII (Nadir Music) (January 13)

90’s “metal” act from Albania and the Balkans. And yeah, you can tell, from the detuned neanderthal riffing and scratchy throated growly vox.

I used to laugh at all those grunge/aggro/industrial “metal”/alterna/nu-metal acts back in the day…

…and nothing’s changed, sorry.

If you’re into stuff like Pissing Razors or Korn or whatever, then have at it.
Best you could offer as a positive comparison would be Prong, but honestly,
they’re not even at that level of likeability.


Fallen Utopia – Disequilibrium (Cursed Records) (January 22)

First (modern) death metal act this month that even sounded like death metal. Way too modern and busy for my tastes, mind…but at least it’s recognizably what it claims to be.

Overly thin and hollow production, machine gun stutter riffs, blastbeats (huh?) and Baphomet-like deep throat mouth in an O vox (occasionally punctuated by nasty sounding black metal vox, as on “said the mute deaf”), you barely even notice any solos (though I think there were a few rather nondescript ones scattered about in there somewhere).

I guess if you’re desperate to find some new (and new school) death metal every month, these guys may tickle your fancy…can’t say I was overly impressed, though.



Buck Tow Truck – Death Wields A Six String (December 26)

OK, this is really strange.  You’ve got the cover and photo shoot, which suggest something along the lines of a Sono Morti retro-gothic Western thing, or maybe even a Webb Wilder roots rock one.

Then you hear guitar that sounds very much George Lynch/Warren Di Martini in tone and riffing style (though hardly in terms of lead skills, unfortunately).

Then you get weird, sort of tongue in cheek warbling vocals that suggest this is all one big hipster joke…an impression bolstered by the fact that this hails from Canada (where they’re known for having a prominent, somewhat unusual sense of humor) and the promo materials explaining the bizarre one man band name as being from a George Carlin routine.

I honestly don’t know how to take this one.

If this Andrew Dona fellow found himself a trio of likeminded retro-80’s metal pals and put out a retro-trad thing along the lines of Skull Fist, you might have gotten something pretty interesting out of these guitar tracks.

But with the goofy, declamatory vocals? And what about that oddly inappropriate imagery? Last, but not least, the name and its oddball derivation?

Well, he’s got at least the rhythm guitar tone of Dokken and Ratt down pretty damn well, so you can’t knock the guy for that…

…it’s the rest of this that leaves ya shaking your head and walking away,
eyebrows raised and sighing.

My Silent Wake – There Was Death (Minotauro Records) (February 16)

We’d covered these British doomsters several times prior, with Damnatio Memoriae the likeable career retrospective An Unbroken Threnody and the weird, mostly ambient affair Invitation To Imperfection.

Here Arkley returns to the basic template he was working prior to the latter, at the very least sounding much akin to 2015’s Damnatio Memoriae (whose title he swipes for a track herein), but with less of the odd psychedelic meanderings, and more of a straight ahead gothic doom sort of approach, not far removed from peers like My Dying Bride or Paradise Lost, really.

While not as essential as Threnody (which to be fair, had the advantage of
hindsight and cherry picking to its benefit), There Was Death is certainly of
more value than the oddly quiet, minimally vocalled Imperfection and probably a step closer to fighting form than Damnatio Memoriae as well.

I was OK with this, yeah.


TOWARDS ATLANTIS LIGHTS (International) – Dust of Aeons (Special Gold-embossed Maroon Box Set / Digipak CD with 16-page booklet / T-shirt with Poster / Digital with PDF booklet) (Transcending Obscurity)

Somewhere between Frozen Ocean, My Dying Bride and Ahab comes this Czech gothic “atmospheric” doom act, all lumbering, running through molasses slow riffing with generally clean, bright guitars and vocals that flit back and forth between death metal belches and clean toned chants like a far less lame version of Fear Factory.

It should be quite familiar to the more gothic doom end of doom metal fandom, with funereally melodic lead lines and keyboard punctuation, all overdramatic and despairing…and in fact, it’s pretty good, as at least the earlier comparisons should indicate.

Four songs, two around the 5 minute mark, one thrice that, and the last running twice that again, for a full half hour – trust me, they’re in no rush to get to the point. So enjoy the journey…

Well produced, well played, relaxing and moving – what’s not to love?

Did you expect a thumbs down?

ANTIGAMA (Poland) – Depressant (Selfmadegod Records (Poland) (November 10)

OK, so apparently these guys are a Polish grindcore act.

Not that you’d know it – they don’t sound like any grindcore I’ve ever been exposed to, from the early days of Napalm Death, Carcass, Terrorizer, Repulsion and Mortician to more recent pig squeal “vocalled” nonsense, “goregrind” and suchlike (couldn’t name you a band in the latter camp if I tried, though we’ve covered many in these monthly reviews – it’s mostly pure crap).

This is more of a shouty-belchy scream into a processed microphone “vocalled” bit of blastbeat-heavy blackened deathrash, if that makes any sense on paper – I guess like a psycho take on Morbid Saint, Protector or Demolition Hammer, but with less actual riffs, a lot more blastbeats and even worse vox than usual.

There are a few soundbytes, but nothing special, and nothing to suggest the usual grindcore concerns with horror films or left-leaning politicosocial stances (vegetarianism, environmentalism, structural corruption, etc.), or even those of more recent acts weird takes on scat and such…it’s just kind of noisy, atonal and irritating.

Anyone remember when all those R/C and possibly Earache death metal acts were bearing some silly logo about being against harmony and melody? That was kind of tongue in cheek, as most classic death metal acts were pretty well established in and based around traditional thrash and metal riffing and tropes, just amped up and pulled off to the side for their own base sound.

Stuff like this?

Yeah, that logo should come back, it fits this time.

ET MORIEMUR (Czech Republic) – Epigrammata (Transcending Obscurity Records (India)) (March 20)

More Czech doom, but of a much weirder sort.

Combining Latin church chants, booming Celtic Frostlike brass sections, weird, pained asthmatic gasps somewhere between Frantisek Storm and Martin Van Drunen, lighter strings and keyboards and the same basic school of Paradise Lost/My Dying Bride gothic doom as Towards Atlantis Lights, Et Moriemur lose the established feel and polish of Lights in favor of a more traditionally Eastern European oddity.

Some may find that appealing (I’m often one of those, having enjoyed the likes of Master’s Hammer, Tormentor, Krabathor and suchlike), others may find it equally offputting – but you can’t say it’s wholly unfamiliar, nor that it’s “more of the same old”…

…and while I’m not exactly excited by Epigrammata, it was certainly interesting and engaging enough to warrant the time invested in hearing it through.

So just how screwed up do you like your gothic doom, anyway?


DOMINANT (Norway) – The Summoning (Lacerated Enemy Records (Czech Republic) (January 1)

OK, Cannibal Corpse is referenced right up front in promo materials, so you know what to expect: busy, high speed but not very memorable riffing, noisy but typewriter double bass-driven drumming and decidedly George “Corpsegrinder” Fischerlike open throat bark/growls.

Swedish act, but really seems to love that “tech/brutal death” thing that more or less brought an end to the brief heyday of classic death metal, come ’94 or thereabouts.

If you’re one of those grossout imagery and violent misogyny-loving kids who still thinks Cannibal Corpse is one of the great bands in death metal, you’ll probably think Dominant is the shit as well.

Personally, I always took ’em as a joke band, a bunch of clowns pushing things to extremes to make fun of the scene proper rather than a relevant part and parcel thereof.

…so while far from the worst thing I’ve heard even this month, this one really didn’t do much for me, no.

ANIALATOR – Rise to Supremacy (Xtreem Music) (February 7)

Ah, Anialator, there’s a name I thought only old thrashers would remember.

Amusing misspelling of “annihilator” aside (“anialator” makes ’em sound kinda like a butt plug or something), they were fairly obscure Texas thrashers, who put out what I still think is a great demo back in ’87, followed by two EPs marred somewhat by strangely increasingly worse production and ever more snarly-“sinister” vox (so they actually become more typical and less likeable as you progress from demo to the 2nd EP). None of it’s bad, but the EPs aren’t a pimple on the ass of the more straightforward, even classic demo that preceded ’em.

So here we are at the quarter century mark, and bassist Alex Dominguez gathers together an entirely new band – to be fair, original frontman Marc Arispe passed on in a motorcycle accident 7 years back, so there had to be some changes no matter what. But with one exception (drummer O.J. Landa), all of these guys played together in post-Anialator act Sufferance, so in a way, you could just call this the Sufferance reunion album.

Frontman Angel Gonzalez goes for the aggro thing, all gargled glass puke-barks of the Anselmo school, the band keeps things firmly (over) aggressive and (modern) thrash, which is for better or worse reasonably typical of a lot of what passes for thrash nowadays…but what the hell does any of this have to do with the more melodically inclined (and later more Slayer/Sacrifice inspired) Anialator of yore?

Not much, Dominguez aside.

Rename the band to Sufferance, that may give you a better idea of what and who to expect from this.

Dakota Westbrook – Worthless (Apollyon Entertainment) (October 31)

Native American one man black metal act out of Georgia.

While the vox are typical to substandard aggro scream bullshit and the production is pretty obviously home studio level (if admittedly pretty damn good for that), on a few tracks here, the riffs and atmosphere produced are pretty dark and melodic, giving at least those portions of Worthless more the feel of a blackened doom act or a home-grown, far less lush take on the depressive atmospheric “Cascadian” black metal sound.

In many ways, you could lump those moments in with the more depressive strains of emo or gothic doom, but that doesn’t tell the whole story – there’s a definite blackened vibe to the affair that works in contrast to the melodeath-like melodic lead line driven guitars and crap aggro/deathcore vox.

Then again, you have more lunkheaded, clearly aggro/nu metallish tracks like “no blood loss”…

Is this a funereal gothic doom (as with “void of life” or “emotional suicide”)?

A deathcore take on melodeath (as on “death stroll”)?

Emo gone suicidal black metal (“this world is cruel”)?

Straight up death metal (the title track)?

Who the fuck knows.  All I can tell you is, when the guy’s on point (“emotional suicide”, “void of life”, even “mistreat me”), he’s pretty damn good.

It’s the other stuff I’m worried about.

Well, not really. I could care less, actually…but if you’re shooting for, and so successful at capturing, the sort of sound those three tracks so admirably display…why fuck it up with all that other substandard crap between?

Very mixed, but no question it has serious promise.

Just needs some major refining.

Snøgg – Abeloth

When you see the phrase “Slovenian Bizarre Experimental Duo” attached to a
release, you have to stifle a shake of the head and a sigh, it’s unavoidable.

And yet, there’s the 7 minute first half of “the servant, the mother” to contend
with…which quite simply, works.

All mournful acoustic…well, clean toned guitar and multitracked gypsy fiddle
over the sound of cascading water, it reminded me a hell of a lot of something
you’d hear from Kroda, for example. For a reasonable stretch of time, I was
thinking I was in for something good, like Bela Bartok gone ambient black metal
or something.

But then it goes more traditionally black metal, and pretty noisy at that…not
the worst, but comes off like the more experimental tracks on Tormentor’s Anno
Domini. You know, sorta iffy, but still vaguely within the boundaries of

Unfortunately, the other two tracks? Sheer noise for the sake of it.

Some promise in that first track, particularly the first half. Too bad they
chose to flush it down the hole of atonality and utter chaos thereafter.

GONE BY SUNDOWN – “Will you Remember”

Gothic/symphonic metal. Frontwoman Frida Gradin has a pleasant voice, somewhere between Dianne Van Giersbergen, Liv Kristine’s little sister Carmen Espenaes of Midnattsol and Carmen Schaefer of  Coronatus, but much less stiff than the latter. The only real gotcha is the mic catching her hard gasps for air between each phrase.

(sweet toned soprano) “would you even care?” (asthmatic smokers gasp) “I will follow you anywhere!” (even harder gasp) “But now, you are gone!” (another hard  gasp).

Yeah, he’s probably gone because you had to stop halfway and pant for air…

But if you can manage to ignore these super-obvious involuntary vacuums of desperation between every half a line (sometimes even in the middle of a held note, she’ll stop for a big-ass draw of air!), the band’s pretty solid, the song is quite good and Gradin’s voice is rather nice.

Overall, the schadenfreude humor of the lady’s breath control issues aside, this was a damn good single and offers no small bit of promise towards a full length.

I’d just suggest hitting that nebulizer or something before recording, next time!


Luciferian Insectus – Zal van Beherit (Apollyon Entertainment)
Luciferian Insectus – Godless (Apollyon Entertainment)

We (and rather recently, at that) covered this one man band’s second album Godless and were feeling a bit bait and switched by promotion as some sort of revival of the Polish black metal scene. Hint: they meant Behemoth. As in black/death era Behemoth.

Well, now that we’ve gotten past that one, do things look any different?

Hmm…OK, I will say that another spin of Godless left it…I don’t know, sort of listenable. Not my thing, nothing I’d go after, but I wouldn’t necessarily run to flip the station either.

Why mention an album we already reviewed? Well, beyond its apparent reissue here (there’s a lot of nonsense in the promo materials about it being banned from some streaming service or what have you…gotta love Bible Belt Bozos), its because it saves me from having to try to say something nice about its similarly reissued (and supposedly remastered, if you can believe that from the hissy, toneless mess on hand here) predecessor Zal van Beherit, which is just…shite, through and through, I’m sorry.

Yeah, I may posthumously grant Godless a commuted life sentence over its original death row verdict, but Zal van Beherit is just begging for consignment to the flames.


Damn! Look at those flames spark and kindle…and the stink of sulfur is unbearable! Who farted?

Oh, yeah, it was our man Darren P…


Lechery – We Are All Born Evil (Bleeding Music Records) (January 19)

Wow, somebody really wants to be Don Dokken…and his band wants to be at least Rage, if not Accept

Former Arch Enemy bassist (of all bands and roles!) Martin Bengtsson takes the
frontman role here as both vocalist and lead guitarist, delivering vintage
Accept riffs and Warlock/Accept style gang chants with Dokken-inflected
vocals and a general vibe that falls somewhere between early 80’s L.A. and early
to mid-80’s Dusseldorf.

I heard hints of Gravestone, even Sinner in there alongside the Wolf
Hoffmanisms and George Lynch/Warren Di Martini/Vivian Campbell swipes (on riffs only, sadly not in terms of flashy leads – though he does have pretty respectable phrasing and an inclination towards melodicism, so it’s not really a knock).

Bottom line is, this is totally retro,* extremely catchy and just fucking good traditional metal of the sort you seldom hear anymore, vintage 1982-1985.

*  though fans of more recent European power metal may also pick up more than a  hint of Iron Savior to the sound and vox here as well…

How the hell this came from a guy who worked the four string for Arch Enemy, I have no clue.

But if you’re hungering for some real metal in the old school sense of trad bordering US power metal to get your motor running, I simply can’t recommend this one highly enough – Bengtsson has the sound and vibe down pat. 

Bang your head.

DEFENESTRATION – Gutter Perdition (XENOKORP [Militia Series]) (February 9)

Ross Dolanlike vox bring early Immolation to mind, busy tremelo riffs are achingly familiar (does that feel a touch Desultory? Just a whiff Sinister?  Perhaps even a hint Acheron?) and despite a weird, hollow all-mids production, sound is pretty clear and solid throughout.

Too bad about the obnoxious blastbeat-prone drums…when he stopped that shit for a phrase here and there and just worked the feet and kit, they sounded pretty good.

This is very likeably old school, but without that vibe of “kids trying too hard” you get with so much HM-2 Swedeath worship nowadays…this feels very American, and very early 90’s throughout, minus that ridiculous propensity towards blastbeats by (former) drummer “Petite Frappe” (seriously, that’s what the guy went by…there’s also an “Apocalyptic Lawnmower” on guitar and vox). At least they showed the good sense to dump his ass.

Bad drumming (at least during those far too many phrases so inclined) aside?

This one’s pretty damn good, yeah.

FUNERARY BELL (FI) – Undead Revelations (Saturnal Records) (February 23)

Decidedly first wave black metal oriented act gets the full Saturnal treatment (complete with mix by the amusingly pseudonymous “John Oscar Dee” (cough) and our old pal “Frater Zetekh” (Saturnian Mist, King Satan) on the mastering end (which is interesting, because while clean and bright, the guitar tone and overall mix is a lot more hollow and less full than you’d expect).

You’re not going to hear many bands calling themselves black metal adopting a sound similar to this – opener “birth – come undone” feels rather doomy in the traditional sense, “the word became flesh” seems to be pulling from the Mortuary Drape playbook, “anima eterna” is only slightly blackened death metal (with little flourishes that suggest more of a Teutonic blackthrash orientation), while “tree on the planet grave” is practically NWOBHM.

The USBM bent towards a more primitive and straightforward (early) Bathory/Venom/Motorhead style blackthrash comes across on both “spectral moonchild” and the slightly more modern, almost emo/metalcore-vibe “goat of mendes”, while “hermetica” crosses trad metal with moments that feel
Pagan/Viking or even (European) power metal. It’s only with “mantra” that they
even come close to the sadly overutilized Watain template.

If you’re looking for something different, something to catch the ear for a change that bears more in common with the earliest (and honestly, best) days of black metal if not related genres outside of same, you probably won’t find something more to your liking than Undead Revelations.

In a scene flooded with cheap imitations and soulless soundalikes, it’s always a pleasant surprise to find something different, much less something that doesn’t piss all over the very concept of melody, harmony and proper riffing.

Of course I’m giving this one a horns up. Due hails.

Vardan – Nostalgia – Archive Of Failures – Part 4
              Nostalgia – Archive Of Failures – Part 5
              Nostalgia – Archive Of Failures – Part 6

                        (Moribund Records) (January 26)

Old reliable Vardan returns with yet another trilogy of releases.

Part 4 is a bit strange, as it rather pointedly draws from the Burzum playbook, right down to some keyboard and guitar tones, but that’s obviously far from a bad thing to note.

What is a bit offputting is his insistence on adding random Animal the muppet glossolalia over the top of this. “IY-YIII-YII! UUHHHYIII!” It’s only towards the end of the second of three typically long meditations on solitude and isolation that he actually seems to be attempting some snarled lyrics proper…and even then, you have to question it, as the over-reverbed “I-YI-YI!” crap pops up again in track 3.

This one would have worked better without vox entirely, or perhaps the occasional menacing snarl…as is, it’s just kind of silly – not something I’ve found it necessary to say about his huge body of work previously.

Part 5 reins things in a bit, with a bit more of a forward drive, some oddly forefronted acoustic guitar and while still pulling the same nigh-slap echo reverbed ululations vocally, it seems a bit less Muppetlike, and a bit more like he’s actually attempting (occasional) proper words and phrases.

Still seems a bit “off” from what we’re accustomed to from the man, and musically, I actually preferred the more trancelike vibe on Part 4…but there’s definitely some contrast in approach here, despite such similarities in the weird vocalizations.

Part 6 gets darker and angrier, with more of a traditional metallish riffing, but still bearing the grim, lonely and depressive vibe Vardan is known for. The second track is more epic and expansive, complete with build from quieter, more acoustic sections to far more bombastic ones…but again, the overuse of reverb on the vocals (which again, do seem to be attempts at actual phrases now) mars the end result somewhat.

To be fair, he’s been working some measure of this odd vocalization template throughout the Archive series, and perhaps it’s just a reflection on how busy and angry the accompanying music is on certain volumes thereof that it’s more or less noticeable: it really stood out on the uber-slow, contemplative Burzumic trance approach of Part 4, less so on prior and later installments in this series.

But if you know Vardan, you know exactly what to expect, and the general quality thereof, with the aforementioned Part 4 coming off as the strongest of the three despite the vox, and (arguably) the most aggressive part (6) trailing somewhat behind. While still good, Part 5 pales a bit by comparison to those surrounding.

You’re really not going to catch me knocking Vardan, at least not very hard – it’s rare that even his (relative) missteps knock him off the ladder, so to speak. But next time, maybe someone should rein in the vocal reverb, and make sure he sticks to something approaching proper lyrics, however sparse.

The Animal thing is just silly.


Demonomancy (Italy) – Poisoned Atonement (Invictus Productions) (February 23)

We’d covered these “bestial black/war metal” Italians previously, on their split with Witchcraft and found them the better of the two bands, but were a bit nonplussed by their less-sinister cover of Goatlord’s “underground church”.

Here, they go full on Blasphemy by way of Black Witchery, which puts them in a bit of a limbo: neither good or memorable enough to really stand out among practicioners of the style or lousy enough to warrant a well deserved slag.  They’re kind of lukewarm, overall.

The only thing I’ll offer is that they’re more prone to a sort of traditionalist (if blackened) death metal riffing than typical for their chosen genre…so it’s your call.

I remain somewhat nonplussed by this.

FORGOTTEN WOODS – The Curse of Mankind (ATMF) (January 8)

You know, I was wondering why this sounded pretty damn good.

A sort of vague cross between the Manes demos, early Burzum and Chasm, Caves era Carpathian Forest, this sounds rather earlier to mid-90s through and through, the sort of black metal that maybe didn’t get you into the genre in the first place, but which certainly kept you there and engaged early on.

And there’s a very good reason for that…it’s a reissue of their 1996 album.

Now, I’ve never indulged in Forgotten Woods previously, having been given the (presumably mistaken!) impression that they were another unlistenable oddball DSBM act ala Bethlehem, Shining or Forgotten Tomb (whose rather similar moniker may have been part of the issue)…but this ain’t half bad, wot?

If you’re big on the earlier named bands in the eras that made their reputations or even something you wouldn’t expect to be coming from the same page like Hades (before they went all “Almighty” on everyone’s ass), chances are you’ll find at least an old, familiar listenability and vibe emanating from this platter of classic Norwegian darkness.

I sure did, and thanks to ATMF for reissuing this (and clearing up my misgivings and avoidance of the band for all these years…)

Not bad, not bad at’all.

Funeral Winds – Sinister Creed (Avantgarde Music) (January 29)

Dutch black metal with a blackthrash orientation. Outside of an EP three years back, they haven’t been active since 2007(!)If they were a bit less precise (I’m thinking of the double bass drumming on “cursed is the pantheon of flesh” here) and a bit more poorly funded on the recording end, comparisons to acts like Sadistik Exekution wouldn’t be entirely out of hand…then again, you can hear the more Rabid Death’s Curse aggro speed end of Watain in this as well, so it’s not like they’re playing some retro card.

I didn’t care for the tracks that reminded me of either band, but found that alternating, more evenly paced tracks offered a bit more palatability (“sinister creed” being the other, with the midsection of “black moon over saturn” also being a bit less obnoxious than the rest of the track or those unmentioned herein).

Yeah, overall?  Did nothing for me, really.

Abigor – Höllenzwang (Chronicles of Perdition) (Avantgarde Music) (January 29)

Long running and prolific Austrian modern black metallers.

Think a less polished Belphegor or Behemoth, with hints of the Swedish black/death scene bleeding in.

They’re also a bit full of it – while they admirably “avoided…all hocus pocus and theological pondering” lyrically, they also claim to have recorded “without a single blastbeat” (while comparatively downplayed, there are plenty herein – just listen to “all hail darkness and evil”, “sword of silence” and “cold breath of satan”, you’ll hear blasts galore) and without “(downtuned) disharmonic riffing” (plenty of ringing open string, non-standard chord atonality here, folks…). Even so, they did make an attempt, so give ’em some credit for trying.

They’ve also dug up late 90’s frontman “Silenius”, pointedly credited here as “session member”, so that may or may not be of interest to longstanding aficionados of the band.

Again, like Funeral Winds, it didn’t exactly piss me off, but really didn’t set me on fire either.

Whatever. Next?


Chaos Invocation – Reaping Season, Bloodshed Beyond (W.T.C. Productions) (March 10)

The fact that we were halfway through “men skin drums of doom” before I heard anything worth paying attention to says a lot.For a few minutes there building up to and through the solo, they actually turned into a proper metal band, a sort of doomy take on black metal, but stripped of all the usual overused bullshit tropes of blastbeats, atonality and pointless blinding speed. That was really nice, I dug that track…at least for so long as that unforseen idyll into proper musical territory lasted.

There was another weird tangent on “blackmoon prayer”, where they tried to go sort of gothic rock, all quavering clean vox and straightforward, more clean toned guitar and drums, but that didn’t really work – different from what surrounded, but unsuccessful.

Despite all the blastbeat and atonal crap surrounding, there are a few nods towards musical sanity on the contrarily titled “chaos invocation” and the likeable (mostly) instrumental “bloodshed beyond”, but those few moments of relative peace aside, it’s all the usual Watain Wannabe Pile cum Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards fodder.

Listening to so many crappy modern “black metal” bands in a row is making me tired, did someone else want to feed the flames with this one?



HAMMR – Unholy Destruction (CD, LP, TAPE) (Hells Headbangers) (February 23)

Typically loveable USBM with the expected blackthrash biker trash elements: a steady diet of Venom, early Bathory and Motorhead, perhaps with a side of Teutonic blackthrash hot sauce just to spice things up extra.

Sounds like mainman J. Hammer has pulled in the guy from Midnight on lead guitar and mix (whose Sweet Death and Ecstasy we covered only recently, with reviews of several of their earlier works linked to therein), plus Yellowgoat Project/Tiger Junkies‘ Joel Grind on final mastering, so you know you’re in for a good one here.

A bit one note (speed, speed, and more speed!), yeah. But it sure hits the spot.

Not much you can say about Hammr that hasn’t been said a thousand times before about similarly minded Hells Headbangers acts, except that this one may be slightly more on point than many of its ostensible peers.

Raise your empties in salute.

WHIPSTRIKER – Merciless Artillery (CD, LP, TAPE) (Hells Headbangers) (March 9)

And speaking of likeminded peers, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were still listening to Hammr here…were it not for the more Tom G. Warrior/Ron Royce vocal croaks and the superior melodic leads all over the place.

Trust me, nobody out there is expecting decent playing on an album like this…yet there it is.

Straight outta Brazil (one of only two notable and justly celebrated ancestral homes of vintage blackthrash), these guys sound surprisingly US-style, bearing much more in common with the likes of Hammr, Intoxicated, Maax and Midnight than early Sepultura, Vulcano or Holocausto…and then again, there’s those trad metal/US power metal style leads, which elevate the whole thing several steps up the ladder of quality.

This time, they’ve roped in Sadistik Exekution’s mainman for the cover art, Apokalyptic Raids (whose Only Death is Real and The Third Storm we covered previously) and once again, Joel Grind on the mastering.

Sounds like Hells Headbangers is trying to build some sort of scene unity all of a sudden…good by me, particularly when the results are as strong as their two offerings this month.

Really, really loved that lead guitar. This guy’s practically the James Murphy of blackthrash,* so far apart does his work here stand against any dozen similarly minded acts.

* Yeah, OK, I’m really exaggerating there…but listen to this guy.  When’s the last time you heard somebody play like that on a blackthrash album?  Yeah, I thought so.

Raise the horns in salute – for the guitar alone, this one’s a must hear.

Disembowel (Chile) – Plagues and Ancient Rites LP (Iron Bonehead) (March 2)

Black/death in the only true sense: clearly classic death metal through and through, but with the blackened overtones of a Grotesque (or at a stretch, early Necrophobic).

These Chileans appear to have a thing for Lovecraft as well (or at least the oft-referenced Cthulhu mythos that made up a fair percentage of his work), the playing and production are surprisingly on point given both the “underground” nature of the material and the typically impoverished budget of South American productions. In other words, not only is this more “right” than any dozen “black/death” hybridizations you could name, but it sounds better than it probably should.

Sure, it gets a bit samey after a bit and the drumming starts to go a bit out of control, but somehow they manage to keep from going off the rails and remain just this side of sanity and listenability, like a South American black/death Exumer.

Another surprisingly good release this month from the fine folks at Iron Bonehead.


Antichrist (Peru) – Pax Moriendi LP/CD (Iron Bonehead) (March 9)

And here’s one from the Autopsy (or more particularly, Anatomia) by way of Incantation school of death metal – all uber-deep bottom of the bowels vocals and crusty, sludgy over-distorted guitars and drums playing as slowly as (in)humanly possible without tripping the light fantastic straight into funeral doom territory. The fact that promo materials reference Winter should provide a hint or two in that direction – as the bands referenced should clearly indicate, we’re talking some molasses-deep death/doom.

The fact that with one exception, the short tracks here run about 8 minutes, with the others running a good 12, should say a hell of a lot right there.

Once again, despite hailing from the not exactly rico suave climes of Peru, the production is better than you’d expect, in fact fuller and more powerful than just about any classic Autopsy or Incantation release you could name…and while there’s certainly a case for “the Autopsy demos sound better than Severed Survival did!”, this turns out to be a good thing in the end.

Damn, that’s three killer Iron Bonehead releases in the same month. What the fuck, guys?

All I can say is, keep it up.


Goatkraft – Angel Slaughter 12″ MLP/MCD (Iron Bonehead) (March 9)

One of the more driving and aggressive war metal releases we’ve encountered of late, this heads straight back to the Blasphemy/Conqueror/Revenge template and just maybe injects a bit of early Slayer meets classic Brazilian blackthrash speed and venom to boot.

It’s all very much of a piece, though “the temple of eternal fire” stands out in its sheer aggressive vehemence.

Best damn war/”bestial black” metal release we’ve covered to date, or damn close to it.

Seriously good, nasty stuff.


Byyrth – Echoes from the Seven Caves of Blood LP/CD (Iron Bonehead) (March 9)

umm…”vampiric black metal”? As in Ancient and Mutiilation? Or a bit more credibly (well, far more listenably, anyway), as in Cradle of Filth and Theatres des Vampires?  okayyy…

well, Meyhna’ach himself drops by for guest vox on two tracks, which are suitably enough their most dirgelike performances, so I guess they’re leaning towards the former camp…but don’t walk in expecting Vampyres of Black Imperial Blood, that’s for damn sure.

In addition to some seriously crap vocals (which sound like a 5 year old at the end of a temper tantrum, just at the point where it devolves into a fake crying jag and whining), this wonderful release comes complete with the single worst drumming I’ve heard on record (seriously, this guy’s got a thin dish punk rock snare, which he proceeds to shove down your throat with an incessant salvo of slow four on the floor to double time 8th note blastbeats: POUND POUND POUND POUND POUNDPOUNDPOUNDPOUND throughout track after track.

Yeah, you ain’t walking out of this one without a headache.

Whew, well I guess nobody could have a perfect record, even within a given month. Three surprisingly good records from Iron Bonehead balanced by (so far) one complete piece of shit…

Let’s see what their last offering has for us, shall we?


Horn (Germany) – Retrograd 12″ MLP/MCD (Iron Bonehead) (March 9)

Some Graveland meets Kroda by way of Manegarmish Slavic pagan folk instrumental business sets the scene for what becomes a more keyboard sampled horns and bombastic, bouncy, somewhat Taake-esque, vaguely Goatmoonlike pagan metal.As the bands referenced should hint at, it’s a lot less “drunken party/festival stage crowd pleaser” than “serious” and “meditative”, and there’s at least one further (mainly) instrumental, (mostly) acoustic folk oriented track (and several likeminded breaks and phrases within otherwise driving, semi-blackened band tracks) to be found herein.

Vocals alternate between the usual pagan/Viking pseudo-death growl and bark and a more Moonspell-like gothic baritone warble (on “de einder” in particular), the production is as excellent and meticulous as you’d expect from a Teutonic act,

We’d covered their prior Turm Am Hang a year back, and found it likeable enough (if mis- self classified as “black metal” rather than as the pagan/Viking metal it actually is), and honestly, Retrograd may surpass the prior release in tightness and sheer listenability.

Not as exciting and surprising as this month’s Goatkraft, Disembowel or Antichrist, no.  But not bad at all, and a worthy contender in its own right.

Chaos Echoes – Mouvement LP/CD (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (February 15)

we covered several items in their discography here and their prior Transient here and while arguably tighter than anything we’ve seen from these experimental Abruptum wannabes previously (there are actual riffs and some drive to be found on some tracks here), it’s basically more of the same “blackened jam band” improv nonsense, with at least two straight up ambient tracks to boot.

In other words, more of the same old, same old.

Take a look at the older reviews, if you need more detail on these guys and their M.O. While slightly more concise and coherent this time around, they really haven’t changed their spots…and thus, the verdict is the same as ever.


Lurker of Chalice  – S/T DLP (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (February 15)

Another one man band by Jeff “Wrest” Whitehead, of Leviathan fame.Several tracks here are more or less straight up ambient (“untitled”, “spectre..”, “paramnesia”, “this blood…”, “vortex chalice”), others are more pointedly doom (“minions”) or at least death/doom (“fastened to the five points”) and still others are a particularly plodding take on black metal (“piercing where they might”).

Only one track combines the ambient with the plodding (“granite”, which sadly enough remains the second best track after “minions”), but those two tracks aside, there’s really nothing to get excited about here.

You know, there are names tossed around in metal…particularly in black metal, where you can never quite figure out why or how they built a fanbase, at least one quite so vocal as they have.

Never thought much of Leviathan, honestly…and if this is anything to go by, I don’t think a whole hell of a lot of Lurker of Chalice either.

VoidCeremony – Foul Origins of Humanity CD/12″ MLP (Blood Harvest) (February 16)

It’s been a few years since we’ve heard from SoCal’s VoidCeremony, whose Dystheism and Cyclical Descent of Causality we’d covered back in 2015.

Once again, they’re kind of the poor man’s Immolation, working a very similar sound and approach to their early 90’s forbears, but sloppier and less engaging than Ross Dolan and company ever were back in their Dawn of Possession heyday.

Sure, they’ve polished themselves up and given a bit of a spit shine over the earlier demo and EP, so this is certainly the closest VoidCeremony has thus far gotten to template, and as stated back when, hey, I love that 1991 classic as much as the next guy (well, maybe not the guy who got the cover tattooed on his arm, but even so – worthy of upgrade from well worn cassette to CD many years agone, and still proudly and publically sport the shirt when the mood strikes)…so I’m actually OK with this, and these guys on the whole.

But bear in mind, it’s overly busy, a bit noisy and right at the edge of being totally out of control…

…which is not something, for all its quirks of style and fretboard approach, you could ever say about Dawn of Possession.

Not bad, given the band’s own particular oddities and limitations.


Shambles (Thailand) – Primitive Death Trance CD/12″ MLP (Blood Harvest) (February 16)

Straight up Incantation worship outta Thailand.

Think the early demos and EPs more than the subsequent albums, and you’ll get a better idea of just how muddy, sludgy and crusty a concoction to expect from these uber-simplistic, deeper than deep vocalled death metallers.

Hey, I love all those Necroharmonic releases, with stuff like Incantation, Autopsy, Anatomia and so forth being the order of the day…and basic ain’t necessarily bad at all – think early Acheron, Baphomet, the first few Obituary albums and the Xecutioner demos, hell, even Mantas/earlier Death.

I was definitely good with this, for all the detuned, over-distorted muddiness and saminess of the affair.

This variant of death metal seems to work best in smaller doses…and the four tracks here never really outstay their welcome.

Not bad, not bad at’all.

Ziggurat (Israel) – Ritual Miasma CD (Blood Harvest) (March 2) 

Oy, vey!Seriously, did we really need an Israeli Behemoth?

Yep, “black/death” in the Pile cum Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards sense, all Watain worship/Dark Funeral meets Behemoth by way of Belphegor or a touch of Marduk but with far less intrinsic value and amusement of the latter two acts.

Matchmaker, matchmaker, give me a match…to light the Pyre once again, that is!

Here, dance the horah straight to the flames with this meshugginah tchotchke.

OK, ready? Everybody shout “Shalom!” like you’re in a high school production of Fiddler on the Roof….now!

Perfect timing, that set off a big ass fireball…watch out for cinders!


Ossuarium – Calcified Trophies of Violence TAPE (Blood Harvest) (February 16)

Portland Oregon is into “underground blackened death”?

sigh…apparently so…

More of the sort of thing we first encountered back in the earliest days of the monthly reviews, with bands like Zom. Seemed different and unusual, then.

About 4000 likeminded, quite similar sounding reverb-heavy, overly detuned, sloppy blastbeat and poorly recorded signal bleed cymbal-driven acts and releases later, it’s just kind of fucking redundant.

Best thing you can say is there’s a vague bit of Finland’s Necropsy (or at a huge stretch, Abhorrence) that comes across strongest in closer “abhorrent travesty…” that saves them from the usual full on slag this basic approach to pseudo-death metal tends to merit.

Mixed bag, then – half derivative modern crap, half showing some retro-minded promise.

Less of the former and more of the latter, these guys may be one to watch.

Obscene (U.S.) – Sermon to the Snake TAPE (Blood Harvest) (February 16)

Well, there’s no question these Indiana boys have some affection for old school death metal – particularly the Dutch scene back in the day.

With the strong but mids-heavy and hollow guitar tone of Asphyx and the vocals of Pestilence/Asphyx/Comecon’s Martin Van Drunen (albiet gone all shrieky more than gaspy) and the workaday basic riffing and sound of both Asphyx and Gorefest, these guys sound as Netherlands as you can get without subsisting on a diet of Muesli and donning a pair of wooden shoes.

So yeah, their odd take on Van Drunen’s infamous vocal approach may take a bit of getting used to, even for veterans and fans of the man, and being pretty damn basic, it’s not going to win over tech and prog obsessed hit every fucking note on the fretboard and pretend there’s melody and harmony resulting
somehow types.

But for my part?

Yeah, this was pretty decent overall. I like the bands they’re aping, so did you really think I’d hate ’em?

Cryptivore – Unseen Divinity TAPE (Blood Harvest) (February 16)

Hmm. Well, promo materials mentioned both Regurgitate and Terrorizer, and I guess if you crossed the bowel-shaking vomit vox of the former with the more riff-centric, nigh-proper death metal approach of the latter, you may very well wind up with something much akin to what these Aussies have to offer.

Pretty long for a demo nowadays, running a full 7 tracks, and while there’s nary a solo to be found (thus confirming its grindcore orientation, over death metal per se), there’s enough lead lines, proper riffing and actual vocal phrasing going on that it becomes apparent that this is only “grindcore” in the sense of earlier, more listenable acts like Terrorizer, Repulsion and Carcass – a simplified, more basic take on death metal, rather than the dumbo gorehound noisefest it’s degenerated into over the intervening years.

Again, I liked it overall – another comparative winner.

Not a bad month for Blood Harvest, I’ve got to say.

HAR – Visitation CD/12″ MLP (Blood Harvest) (March 2)

Another Israeli black/death act from Blood Harvest, Har fares no better than Ziggurat did.  In fact, they may well fare far worseOnly 3 tracks, but they feel utterly interminable.

Noisy, murky, sloppy sounding, atonal, over-reverbed…how many more descriptors do I have to come up with to tell you this one sucks ass?

Another one incoming!


Oh, geez, sorry about that. Wasn’t expecting the Pyre to flare up that wildly in response to this stinker…

uh…alrighty, then! Next?

Mortiferum – Altar of Decay CD (Blood Harvest) (March 23)

Detuned, sloppy as shit and very “underground” black/death out of Washington state.

Vox are deep and vomited, recording is crap (leaving the tinny, iffily played drums sounding off in another room from the rest of the band…and you’re stuck in the same room as the drums!), uber-generic and snooze inducing.

Apparently they’ve played out with likeminded acts, the list of luminaries including such (cough) “favorites” as Triumvir Foul and Qrixkour.  Nuff said.

Damn, we may have to call in the fire department, that Pyre’s blaze is growing completely out of control this month, with all this crap being fed to it…