Tags

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

If this last few weeks has taught me anything, it’s simply to reaffirm a long held apprehension that the sentiments of Sartre were dead on: “hell is other people.”

Yes, that oft-repeated (at least when you’re in the presence of yours truly) aphorism that provided the central conceit of his brief, cynically amusing 1944 play has been cemented from the realm of “black humor” and dark witticism to simple objective reality over and over throughout the course of a lifetime.

But once again, I find its old familiar strains wafting through the old noggin as I reflect on just what a different headspace, emotional state and even the beginnings of a physical return from what were becoming some rather dire straits over the past few years under the old Sword of Damocles.  Friends knew it.  The wife knew it.  I sure as hell knew it.  Coworkers lived it themselves, to one degree of extremity or another.

The bottom line, as Trump’s America serves indisputable evidence of, is that business management is a soulless, number crunching realm of enforced phoniness, scheming and power plays, where even the most diehard of “I’m just going to sit this one out and do my job, thanks” types find themselves dragged in and impacted by the abject stupidity and, let’s be honest, callous evil of those on top.

They try to push this line among the MBA crowd, that “cream rises to the top”. This has never once been the case in my experience and observation.  The reality of the situation, in fact, is quite the inverse: “shit floats.”

So being removed at last from said environment, and for the nonce comfortably enough not to be sent into a panicking tailspin to find another sinking corporate ship to tether oneself to, * I’m at last in a position to step back, re-evaluate and attempt to get myself together once more…and while nothing happens overnight, I can feel a major shift in who I am and how I handle things already…maybe even the beginnings of a positive turn physically to boot.

* it’s been a sad recurrence that I’ve inevitably signed on to major companies with good to excellent reputations among their workers right before or during a major shift in policies towards automation, outsourcing, number crunching and marked devaluation of the working populace they’re comprised of…happened several times, already.

In other words: work sucks.

Worse – it’s not necessarily what you do to get by…it’s the little sadisms, daily conniving and pointlessly recurrent job justification you have to offer just to retain the right to continue doing what you already were.  Somewhere in the 80’s, we shifted from “you get crap for messing up” to “you get crap because today’s totals aren’t twice as big as yesterday’s, oh, and this guy from the last merger wants your job.”

It’s an unworkable, obnoxious, overly and unnecessarily tense scenario that leaves even decades-long employees all over the corporate ladder alternating between quaking in their boots, wildly jockeying for position (don’t mind my boot in your face, I’m just trying to reach the next rung…) and bitterly stewing over the ugliness of the whole situation.

Is this the great “American dream” we fought for?

I think not.

There’s a better way, alright…just about half of us Stateside are inexplicably unwilling to admit and embrace it.  Big hint: it’s pretty much the opposite of Trumpian evisceration of New Deal/Square Deal/Great Society reforms, and we had a good shot at seeing things finally going down the right track a year and a half back…blame on both ostensible “sides” for that one getting derailed.

But that’s just spilled milk at this point.  Going forward, election by election, we have to pull a hard stop on the brakes and reroute this out of control train back in that direction, by dumping “those in power” and putting in folks who can actually get with the program…so people don’t have to look at the kind of bullshit I’ve been describing above (and last month, and many a time prior) as some sorry “gold standard” of American employment.

Because at best, it’s Fool’s Gold…more realistically, it’s a bunch of old turds, dehydrated and molded into form, painted with the chintziest Hollywood tinsel you could ever possibly imagine.  You’d have to be pretty fucking drunk to think that’s actual gold, kids.

Anyway…enough about all that.  Let’s pull up our bootstraps, lace up our hi-top canvas Jake E. Lee sneakers and get this show on the road, shall we?

SHIRAZ LANE – Carnival Days (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (February 23)

Jani Laine (not to be confused with pop-eyed late Warrant frontman Jani Lane) and company return after the much lauded (by us, at least) debut For Crying Out Loud with another slice of…this time, more particularly Slaughter-esque riffage and soulful yet helium-toned vocals (which also bring Eden’s Curse ex-frontman Mark Eden to mind).

Things start off a bit weird with the current events/apocalyptic title track, which feels more goofy and Peggy Lee “torch song” like than anything we’d cover in these pages, but don’t let that fool ya. Besides, the lyrics are pretty much dead on, in the age of Trump and Brexit…

“Harder to breathe” is one of the two kickoff singles, and it’s easy to see why – the riffs are darker, the song construction more solid, the choruses memorable and the vibe more emotional and resonant.

Things peter off after that, with the quirky “tidal wave” (a more driving take on the title track’s weird approach), the hick-style country ballad “gotta be real” and the slightly baffling second single choice “people like us”, which only works at the choruses in true retro-90’s style.  Stupid wah filter grunge/groove licks at the verses really mar this one’s potential otherwise…the choruses are nearly as strong as “harder to breathe”, and the solo is just flash enough to be uplifting. You just have to sit through that sub-Alice In Chains bullshit to get to them…

Even so, after the second wind much of that track provides, we fall back into (this time, glam) ballad territory, with “shangri-la” coming off somewhere between Winger, Warrant, Firehouse, Poison and Bon Jovi at their most “one for the girlfriend” prom dance lighter baiting.  Listenable and catchy enough, but that kind of middle-American pickup and beer schmaltz never was this underground metaller’s style. Even so, no denying the songcraft – that makes 2 1/2 really well done songs out of…wait, we’re up to track 8 already?

Well, “war of mine” isn’t doing the band any favors, being instantly forgettable in its typically generic “modern metal heaviness”-leaning approach. Again, chorus almost saves it…but that’s again quite 90’s, where bleh songs came with catchy choruses (or on occasion, the reverse). “Shot of life” still feels overly countrified for my tastes, but gets back to the more pointedly Slaughter vibe the band seems to be going for this time around.

Whoops, there’s another yee-ha beat up truck down a dusty road/flannel shirt and dirty white tee ballad, with “hope”. “Reincarnation” is another weirdo track, part ballad, part the same sort of oddness we saw on the title track and “tidal wave”.

I’d ask “what the hell happened?” here, but for the assured strength and palatabilty of “harder to breathe”, the choruses and solo to “people like us” and, while not exactly my idea of (nothin’ but) a good time, “shangri-la” amply display that this is in fact the same band we’d enjoyed so much last time around.

The rest of the album, yeah, you can pretty much stuff…forgettable music performed by players (and a vocalist) who can do much better. They proved it before, they even prove it on the 2 1/2 tracks aforementioned.

Your call why the rest of the album is so far out on a limb by comparison.

REVERTIGO – S/T (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (February 23)

Erstwhile Candlemass frontman du jour Mats Leven and the guitarist from Treat join forces for a wierdly dark and depressing take on the same school of late 80’s/early 90’s glam metal as Shiraz Lane draws from.

Essentially, picture a lower toned, more gravelly Marc Slaughter over the sort of nonsense former metal bands were putting out circa 1993-6, trying to be all dark and grunge/aggro while still retaining the same band name (and often, members) – remember the crap Kiss, Crue and Van Halen were putting out around that time? Or Stryper around Against the Law? Yeah, that doomed to fail crossover attempt vibe, only this time with more melody and a bit less of the detuned guitar bullshit.

Done in a more major key, with standard tuned guitars and a whole lot less quaaludes and hand wringing depression, this would be a fairly standard glam metal affair…as is, it seems doomed to fall between two very different audiences, and if history’s anything to go by (hint – it almost always is, that means both intended markets will walk away dissatisfied…or pass it over completely.

Leven fans who want to hear him try to go a bit glam may find more value here. 

UNRULY CHILD – Unhinged Live from Milan (CD/ DVD and BluRay) (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (February 23)

King Kobra’s Marc (now Marcie) Free and hir band of MOR touring band veterans (think acts like the Doobie Brothers, Pablo Cruise and Asia, among others), previously reviewed for Cant Go Home here, bring their earlier material to the Italian stage for this rather mellow set, filled to the brim with balladeering and midtempo or slower AOR.

If you liked what you heard last time around, you should be content enough with this one – as noted in the prior review, this is just a bit too easy listening for my tastes.

CORELEONI – The Greatest Hits Part 1 (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (February 23)

OK, this may resonate more with our central European audiences than it did here – the guitarist from long running Swiss band (to whom we’ve really still yet to be exposed Stateside) Gotthard has apparently dug into that band’s back catalogue and re-recorded songs they don’t play live anymore. As a new act/project.

umm…well, the songs seem decent enough, a bit heavy on the AOR scale, but lighter than metal proper, melodic with a groove and (over)distorted edge and raspy vox for the more sub-Badlands moments (“get it while you can”).

The really weird part here (and the part most likely to embarrass listeners in front of their girlfriends or mixed audiences) are the spoken word intros, which run the gamut from bad kids’ singing to absurd stereotype caricatures (like the one that kicks off “in the name”).

The more detuned tracks don’t work (do they ever? Tune up your fucking guitars, people) and I can’t say I was overly impressed by anything here, but it’s driving at points (“here comes the heat”), Jackyl-esque at others (“ride on”) and vaguely reminiscent of the second XYZ album on “downtown”, so don’t take this as a slag.

Just not sure whether this really works or not, in and of itself…and having zero experience of these songs in their original Gotthard iterations, can’t comment on whether the Coreleoni takes serve as any real improvement or no.

 

ANIMAL DRIVE – Bite! (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (February 23)

Weirdest take on the riff from “south of heaven”? Check – the intro to “tower of lies”.

Lame detuned groove metal riffing? Check. All over the fucking place, in fact.

Tag in gravelly vox and some decided Alice In Chains swipes (“hands of time”), and you’ll see why I’m a bit surprised at the Frontiers offerings this month…only the ballad-leaning “fade away” actually works here.

I’d be willing to bet Allessandro Del Vecchio had zero input on anything reviewed herein, with only Shiraz Lane even attempting the sort of quality songcraft and performance we’ve become accustomed to from the label’s generally impeccably high standard.

Everybody’s entitled to an off day…er, month, I guess…

 

DUKES OF THE ORIENT – S/T (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (February 23)

A former Asia touring (and/or late career) vocalist and a California keyboard player join forces with former Hurricane (and current Unruly Child) drummer Jay Schellen and Racer X veteran Bruce Bouillet for this rather Asia-esque offering.

It’s perhaps unsurprising that this was originally intended as an Asia album, before some defections, reunions and deaths in the Asia camp (some of which have been covered herein previously, like Live in Bulgaria and Axis XXX Live in San Francisco) put this on hold, resulting in multiple lineup changes all its own.

Bottom line: Asia without any original Asia members, complete with the punchy choruses, light AOR vibe, mellow vocals and prominent keyboards.

If you like Asia and aren’t hung up on the original starfucker “supergroup” aspect thereof, Dukes of the Orient should fill the bill quite nicely…most consistently solid Frontiers release this month, without contest.

Best track: “fourth of July”

Ektomorf – Fury (AFM Records) (February 16)

Hmm. Fourth time we’ve crossed paths with these Hungarian aggro/groove (and arguably nu-) metallers, but surprise – while still bearing the core elements that turn more discriminating metalheads off, they’ve delivered what is certainly their least annoying effort to date.

And I mean that as a compliment.

Yeah, still with the croaky shout vox, like Anselmo gargling a mix of glass and Yoo Hoo on mic. Those bouncing detuned riffs haven’t gone anywhere, either. Hell, in point of fact, the entire midsection of the album is just business as usual. Blech.

But guess what. Drop this one in the player, and what greets you is a punchy, bullet train paced thrash metal number (“prophet of doom”) that practically redeems the rest of the album all by its lonesome.

Then there’s the not entirely dissimilar, if more slowed down and just this side of respectable thrash drive meets nu metal bounce of “AK-47”. And bookending things all the way at the end of the album, theres another thrasher, “skin them alive”.

You know what, if they drop the Pantera wannabe bullshit that clutters the bulk of the running time here? I’d give them high marks for their hyperaggressive take on modern thrash.

Is this down to a nigh-clean sweep internally (frontman Zoltan Farkas is the sole original member at this point)?

Or is he just starting to realize aggro/groove was long since played out by the mid-90’s?

Who the hell knows.

Three decent tracks. First one is actually damn good, period.

I’m calling it a real improvement.


Armored Dawn – Barbarians In Black (AFM Records) (February 23)

Orden Ogan’s Seeb Levermann continues his foray into production of bands outside his own to give some of that Oganian bombast, epic scope and dramatic vocal chorus backing to this Brazilian act.

While frontman Eduardo Parras keeps it clean throughout, he works an unexpectedly conversational tone of voice sprechtgesang throughout,
barely breaking into song proper even for the choruses, and at points even going a tad flat (“beware the dragon”, “chance to live”, “eyes behind the world”). Guitars are acceptable if not particularly standout or flash in any way, and honestly, nobody here manages to stand out in any way, for good or ill.

In fact, the closer you tune in, the more you get the impression that the band themselves are only some minor, almost dispensable portion of what makes this album work…it comes more down to Levermann’s typically lush, chest thumpingly grandiose production and studio flourishes than anything the players, individually or in tandem, seem to be bringing to the table here.

And that’s what really bothers me here – I certainly liked Barbarians as a sum total product, it’s a tad generic for the type, but works well with regards to the buttons it manages to successfully push.

But you really come away with the feeling that this may be down far more to a good production job and studiocraft than the band’s own, intrinsic merits (you’d find this a lot with death metal bands back in the day – oh, it was Scott Burns that made that one album of that band special, the others kinda suck!)

Only time, and work with other production teams (perhaps an EP or live affair) will really settle this one.

Again, respectable, even likeable album – your call whether it leads anywhere or remains a lucky one off.

  

Borealis – The Offering (AFM Records) (March 23)

We covered their do-over of debut World of Silence a year ago (almost on the button), and while fundamentally shrugging the shoulders at the very practice of re-recordings of past albums and Matt Marinelli’s vocals somewhat over-indebted to the late Chris Cornell, found the band’s musicianship unimpeachable and the material likeably melodic enough.

The Offering brings that hoariest of “prog” cliches, the conceit of the “concept album” off on a rathe bizarre tangent – some nonsense about a cult into human sacrifice (specifically, if that adds some perversion to the matter for you, that of children). Whatever.

Anyway, the only thing that matters here is that despite an 8 year remove, the material re-recorded last year and this latest offering aren’t all that much removed, with a very similar prognosis: decent performances, melodic enough to bear bridges, choruses (however sideways and “proggy” on occasion) and hooks, and respectable mix and production (though being handled by the drummer, you get a bit more of a wet dish drum tone right up front than typical for the genre).

Stupid “concept” aside, I certainly liked it overall.

  

J.B.O. – Deutsche Vita (AFM Records) (March 30)

These Deutsche-only goofballs have come our way a few times previously (for 11 and Nur die Besten Erden Alt) though the language barrier (I have a bit, but meinem Deutsch ist wir schlect) always prevents them from getting the higher score my gut is inclined to offer such good humored beer hall ballbusters.

Here they go even more insider by doing a full album of goofed-up covers of German pop songs.* Probably a rip if you grew up on said songs (or at least mildly amusing, like Weird Al)…but kind of lost on the rest of us.

* the fact that the first track was also part of Heino’s repertoire should say it all…

To be fair, they apparently started their career doing nothing but this sort of thing, so for longtime fans, it’s probably a return to earlier form or something.

But to these ears?

Yeah, I’m a bit lost here.

CANDLE (Sweden) – The Keeper’s Curse (Fighter Records) (February 21)

We covered their Demo 2016 last year, and found them quite reminiscent of a few NWOBHM favorites.

So what is it that got lost in the translation to the better production, budget and studio time that come with being signed for a proper full length?

While still bearing much of the doomy occultism you’d associate with the likes of Mercyful Fate and Pentragram, the vibe here is very different. Think Portrait, In Solitude, maybe a touch of Hour of 13…with a hint of early death metal to some of the riffing.

Yeah, sure, two of those bands reeeeally wish they were Fate, the other Sabbath..but are any of them proper NWOBHM?

If you’re just looking for a (pretty decent) copy of a copy of the classic sound, Hugh Betcha this one will fill your bill of sale.

But while the vibe is pretty cool and the dual lead breaks are very Satan-esque, this really ain’t the same band I was hearing last year.

Close, but no cigar.

   

CHRIS BAY – Chasing The Sun (Steamhammer / SPV) (February 23)

Side project for the Freedom Call frontman.

Aside from the usual lighter, let’s go all pop radio/AOR thing you generally find with this sort of thing, there’s a fundamental issue here – and it may surprise fans of this more famed power metal outfit.

That’s right…its Bay’s voice.

Surprisingly, what comes across in that more bombastic, multitracked setting as vaguely akin to vintage Geoff Tate just sounds overly nasal (think more recent Geddy Lee) and punctuated by odd quavering shrieks (bringing The Darkness to mind) on certain tracks.  There’s also a sardonic, almost Iggy Pop-like delivery on the nigh-spoken bits…not what you’d expect at all coming off of, say, Beyond.

Easily passed on, unless you really dig the Geddy Lee solo album(s).

  

Legend of The Seagullmen – S/T (Dine Alone Records) (February 9)

Hmm. Members of Tool, Mastodon and…er…”Dethlok” get together for this strange, sort of atmospheric affair that mixes weird horror story-style lyrics with sorta-metal and neo-Residents music, perhaps just a tad Danzig/Samhain-ish in feel.

It was dark and spooky enough for my tastes, so I didn’t mind it much…but those growly sprechtgesang vox were just too Residential for me. I kept expecting him to break into “picnic in the jungle” or something…

Not bad, particularly if you’re in the mood for it.

   

Cabal – Mark Of Rot (Long Branch Records) (February 23)

BURRRRP COUGH COUGH BLEEEAAGGHHH!

Hey, can somebody come help this drunk outside? And bring something to clean all that vomit up?

Yeah, it’s another shit aggro belch n’ vomiter. Band follows suit by detuning guitars to bass level and bass to where the strings rattle the fretboard, complete with lunkhead riffs (not for nothing does the Pantera fanbase bear a certain reputation) and grunge-like 3 part unison between guitar, drums and bass.

Juvenile. You can practically smell the Clearasil.

WHIZZZZZZ! One more for the Pyre!

Spider Rockets – Along Came A Spider (P-Dog Records) (January 26)

Laudable Midnight Eternal drummer (and winner of the 2005 NAMM Worlds Fastest Drummer (Footwork) competition) Dan Prestup’s other project, apparently already on their third album at this point.

That duly noted, Spider Rockets offers no forum whatsoever for Prestup to strut his stuff.

A sadly all too typical bar band boogie, equal parts post-GNR Hollywood tattooed junkie hard rock/metal and straight up Southern Rock/blues, is paired somewhat awkwardly with 70’s glam handclaps and 90’s riot grrl whiny/hyper aggro little girl with knives vocals from frontwoman Helena Cos.

Nah, didn’t work in the least.

But your pissed off girlfriend may really get off on it.

 

Little Caesar – Eight (Golden Robot Records) (February 5)

I vaguely remember these guys.

Latecomers to the Hollywood “metal” scene post-GNR (so much easier to cop my drummer’s more apt term, “dirtbag metal”), they showed up on the big money but generally (GNR aside) inconsequential Geffen label (whose other big act around that time was The Nymphs, whose main claim to fame was Inger Lorre pissing on the mogul’s desk) a day late and a dollar short. No worse than a dozen other 2nd or 3rd tier contenders, really…but certainly didn’t make much of an impression.

So here they are again, working what feel like much the same template I dimly recall from their 1990-91 heyday and the self titled…but with more seasoned vocals and a whole hell of a lot more of a straight up country music feel than remembered (“mama tried”, ballad cum single “time enough for that” and “morning” in particular, but it’s all over the material).

Not unsurprisingly, there are multiple odes to youth, better times and – wait for it – Hollywood: “21 again”, “Vegas”, “crushed velvet”, “good times”, and if you wanted a more countrified, Southern fried take on Junkyard by way of Circus O’Power, Eight may be just what you were waiting for.

For me…nothing wrong with it, it certainly works given what they’re shooting for.

But it simply sounds too much like old folks music, which is funny when we’re talking music from 30 and 40 years ago on a regular basis, and praising its merits over more modern strains thereof. But I mean like where your folks would go, getting loaded at the local gin joint while some crap cover band plays Skynrd and Aerosmith for the ladies to shake their drunken asses to.

Yeah, give me a proper metal or punk crowd anytime.  That bar band “classic rock” shit just feels desperate and old.

 

PRELUDIO ANCESTRAL – Oblivion (Fighter Records) (March 21)

Surprisingly solid, even accomplished sounding Euro-strain power metal out of Argentina.

Frontman Alessio Perardi has a solid, meaty tone that’s pleasantly free of gravel, but deep and throaty enough not to come off too light and airy (as tenors are wont to do) – somewhat akin to Brainstorm without the rasp in that respect.

There’s a lot of melody to the choruses, and the man hits the occasional high notes with ease and zero uncomfortable leaps or stretches, if not panache…but I’m wondering if this album was either recorded at various times and studios or features a few guest singers – there are several tracks that sound tonally different in production and vocals.

Either way, while the album per se may not exactly stand out among your collection of European power metal albums…how about among Argentinian ones? Think about it…

Personally, I’m unsurprised they were chosen as openers for the likes of Rhapsody (of Fire).

Decent album overall, and Perardi duly impresses.

TROLL (Portland) – S/T (CD, TAPE) (Shadow Kingdom) (March 16)

Crusty old traditional doom in a manner that does the likes of Sabbath and St. Vitus proud. Just enough crunch balanced with a more clean (or at least overdriven) tone, a sufficient measure of late 60’s/early 70’s psychedelia mixed in with all the sludgy, stoneresque riffage…yeah. It works just fine, thanks.

While you can pull other doom heavyweights like Trouble, Cathedral and even a touch of Warning into the mix at points as well, the bottom line is that this is far closer to a modern take on Vitus…and thus, Sabbath themselves, than any less pointedly “vintage” vibe doom outfits…and I don’t mean faux-retro acts (who completely miss the boat in the attempt) like Witchcraft or Count Raven by that, either.

No, Troll would easily fit right in alongside your classic doom collection alongside the Pentagrams and Pagan Altars, marking a far more direct line to the original source material than most acts working some variant of the doom flow chart these days…however good many of those may in fact be in and of themselves.

Yeah, the last three tracks fall far short of opening one-two punch “the summoning” and “the witch”, no question. But even “infinite death” is at least a decent stoner rock nod to Kyuss, however ill fitting it seems paired with the more trad doom elements preceding, so while there’s no question they’d have been better served by a single (cue Jack Webb: “just the first two tracks, ma’am…”) there’s nothing to really give ’em a kick in the pants for here.

Very good, and more to the point, believably faux-vintage stuff.

  

Northwind Wolves – Dark… Cold… Grim… (Black Lion Records) (March 31)

oh, geez. Another Dissection wannabe, without Jon Nodtveidt’s notable guitar chops to bolster the yawn-inducing Swe-black/death material above its intrinsic limitations of form.

Better yet: did I mention they’re California surfer dudes? WHOA, bro…gnarly wave! Like…totally hail satan, y’know?

Well, OK, it’s not totally a Dissection copycat act…because then they start overdoing it with the spastically goofy keyboards. That’s right, they also wannabe Dimmu, if not Emperor. Yeah, NOW we’re talking names to conjure with…

(rolls eyes)

You realize all of those bands blow, right? Well, Dissection had the guitars – still used to like them back when he was still alive and incarcerated, anyway (though I haven’t had the urge to spin either album in a good 15 years, which says a lot).

Never could stand the others, even in my earliest days of black metal allegiance. Two decades on, I still think they both suck major ass…so are their fanboys destined to any better a review than their avowed masters?

Fuck, no.

DUCK AND COVER! INCOMING!

Geez, those sparks are really flying…to quote the late Frank Zappa, hope you didn’t get any on ya…Next?

Sammal – Suuliekki (Svart Records) (March 9)

Covered these retro-psychedelic rockers several times in the past, from their self titled through No. 2 all the way to Myrskyvaroitus and found them likeably faithful to the source material and an appropriately vintage feel throughout.

While we found their more recent material a bit less vibrant and more early 70’s-like than their first two, more late 60’s style efforts, album number four finds the Finns trying to find something of a happy medium between the two.

While still a touch more dispirited (and hence akin to the darker, more dank smoke-haze likes of Long John Silver-era Jefferson Airplane, Grand Funk, Sandy Denny’s post-Fairport albums and suchlike), “ylistys ja kumarrus” and “vitutuksen valtameri” seem a little more vibrant, and could arguably have fit onto either the debut or No. 2 with ease.

Even so, it’s a more contemplative, saddened vibe, akin to the aforementioned albums and periods or Tapestry-era Carole King that informs the album throughout – trippy, sure. Vintage, definitely. But joyous and celebratory? Not in the least.

Still one of the most consistently believable retro-psychedelia acts out there, Sammal at their worst is as good or better than a host of likeminded bands at their best.

So if you’ve already tried the first two records and are still looking for more? Go for it.

For my part, I’m always happy to see another Sammal album on the review list.

Ulvesang – The Hunt (Nordvis Produktion) (March 16)

Moody, often grim, atmospheric acoustic folk with a decided pagan bent.

Chanted drone vocals fill out and provide pedal tone to chiming dual acoustic guitars, all ringing arpeggiated chords that fall into strumming only to back up pleasantly introspective lead lines.

There’s really not much more to say here, other than that the production complements the material by proving appropriately lush and crystalline – think “vintage gothic rock album” and you’ll get the general picture.

I really liked this one, no question.

Best tracks to try: “the dance”, “the hunt”, “the break”.

USURPRESS – Interregnum (Agonia Records) (February 23)

Whoa! What the hell? Is this the same band who gave us the atonal
black/death nonsense of The Regal Tribe?

Because this one’s nothing like that mess…

Seriously, I’d be inclined to think we were talking about two completely
different bands.

This time around, Usurpress works a more traditional-minded, even
doomy death metal in a vaguely Incantationesque manner…though not
precisely that, either. You’ll hear it right away, from the first strains of
“interregnum” (opener “a place in the pantheon” is aimless indie rock
junk, so just skip it).

There’s bits of prog in there, too, and yeah, you can hear a bit of the
black metal approach trying to poke its unwelcome nose through the
door every now and again…but bar some ridiculously long and
pointless spoken word sections, this is more “death metal”, or at least
“somewhat traditional minded, yet prog-oriented” death than “fodder
for the Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards” that is black/death.

Not perfect, not exactly my go to ideal in terms of death metal…but no
question it’s a major improvement, and there are few songs here I’d
run to flip the dial on if they came on the radio.

I was OK with this, and compared to last time around, they’ve really
taken a step forward.

VOIDHANGER – Dark Days Of The Soul (Agonia Records) (March 2)

Polish “blackthrash”…or so they self-identify.

I’d probably call this more “black/death with an aggressive thrash vibe”, somewhat akin to Grotesque, Necrophobic or Centurian.

The death metal riffs are certainly there…but so is the black metal vibe, and the aggression of thrash, but never once did I think “oh, look, a thrash metal act (modern or traditional)” or “ah, another Teutonic/Brazilian/US/whatever blackened thrash band”. This is black/death, period…with the aggression, speed and occasional winding riffing of thrash thrown in for good measure. Again, back to the three earlier bands mentioned…exactly zero of which are “blackthrash” by any stretch of the imagination.

That aside…I have some affection towards each of those bands, particularly the short lived Grotesque…so this is no slag on Voidhanger. In fact, I kinda liked ’em.

I’m no fan of cross-genre mashups and “it all goes in the same stomach” mud pie musical miscegenation, but if you’re going to fuck the works, at least do it like these guys.

Not bad, not bad at’all…

SUSPERIA – The Lyricist (Agonia Records) (March 16)

Former Dimmu Borgir drummer and ex-Satyricon (presumably live) sideman get together to work a strange offshoot of black metal that bears as much in common vocally with Alice in Chains and metalcore-style “melodic” choruses as it does the sort of ho hum black and symphonic black metal of their prior bands.

There’s a bit too much of that sort of almost black/death styled late 90’s/early millenial Norwegian school neo-“third wave” black metal for my tastes, but the new bits, all the melodic parts, the clean (if yowling corner of the mouth) vocals and the metalcorelike choruses worked just fine for me.

Mixed bag, but certainly of a lot more interest than a lot of what passes for black metal nowadays…has promise, at least.

DEMONICAL – Chaos Manifesto (Agonia Records) (March 23)

More HM-2 Sunlight studios worship. These guys sound like when Orvar from Nirvana 2002 briefly stepped into the vocal chair for Entombed, or their vocorder-like experimentation on “premature autopsy”.We’d covered their Black Flesh Redemption a few years back and thought they were pretty damn dead on, bar some iffy production by the band’s then-frontman.

Here, they take a step up with better production and arguably better vocals, this time from ex-Centinex man Alexander Hogbom (bassist, drummer and former vocalist were all former Centinex members).  They even come right out and admit what we called them out on last time around:

“We have tapped an award-winning Swedish producer and we are confident that the album…(heralds) an improved quality-related chapter for Demonical.”

Nice. I’m all about personal responsibility and existential authenticity – manning up to your mistakes like that, and then having the considerably improved product to prove you’ve made a change?

I’ll go whole hog and give ’em an unreserved five star horns up.

Looking forward to what this new chapter brings going forward.  I was sure as hell chuffed by this one.

 

Wyrmwoods – Earth Made Flesh (Inverse Records) (January 15)

hmm.

Well, to judge by opener “abominations”, I’d have thought these guys were pulling from the Fullmoon, or perhaps earlier Graveland playbook of straightforward, sort of crusty black metal tremelo riffed goodness.   But don’t let that fool you.

Because that absurd, meandering atonal solo near the end?  Yeah.  That’s the rest of the album.

Tag in a whole hell of a lot of weird ambient sequences…arguably more time spent on those than actual playing, mind…and you have Wyrmwoods.

I seriously have no idea what the fuck this guy (yep, it’s another bedroom act one man black metal spectrum “band”…) was thinking.

“Room for one more, ho-neyyyy!”

WHIZZZ!!!

(sputter, crackle, embers flying everywhere)

Next?

Hautajaisyö – Matkalla Kohti Hautaa (Inverse Records) (February 2)

Death metal vocals. Weird riffing that falls somewhere between death, black and thrash metal, with emphases on “death” and “thrash”.

Aaaaand…that’s about it. Halfway through the album, it gets a bit…slower? More introspective? Not goth or doom, but not so consistently in your face and surface as the earlier tracks.

Interestingly enough? This whole mashup mess sorta works

Again this month, a band goes the Voidhanger route and breaks the unofficial rules about “no mixing the batters”, and still manages to come out with a concoction that’s tasty enough to pass, if not get a definite nod of respect for a job well done.

Dangerous territory to try your luck with…but yeah, I’ll give Hautajaisyo another win at this particularly treacherous gamble.

To quote Jim Morrison, “pretty good, pretty good…not bad, not bad.”

Dark Archive – Cultivate Our Blood in Aeon (Inverse Records) (January 31)

umm…yeah, sure.

After a perfectly ridiculous opener, we go straight into Crimson Moonlight territory.

And that about sums it up: a non-bible thumping version of Veil of Remembrance or a less-accomplished Covenant Progress.

Whatever.

That Pyre of Dead Bards is seriously singing the treetops, this month…too much fodder for the flames!

Heads up, incoming – one more for ya!

Next?

Obscure – Zero Dawn (Inverse) (February 18)

Stoner rockers with hints of, say, Medieval thrown in for good measure.

Not bad for the type, but I’m more of a doom fan than I ever was stoner rock per se (Monster Magnet and earlier Kyuss aside).

If you’re deep into the dank smoke and generator party scene and just need one more filler for the collection, you could certainly do worse.

Just didn’t do a hell of a lot for me, sorry.

WISHING WELL – RAT RACE (Inverse) (March 2)

Okay, someone really wants to be Deep Purple, right down to an Ian Gillan wannabe on vocals, a Jon Lord fanboy on keys (or is that Hammond Organ?) and a Ritchie Blackmore copycat on guitars.

Yeah, there are moments that are a bit more “heavy metal” in the 80’s vein (promo materials mention “power metal” and “doom”, but a bit of fast pace aside, sorry, I’m not hearing it…and those are my go to genres of late, so I think of all people, I’d be among the first to notice), but seriously.

Straight up Purple worship, and not even the Coverdale era.

And hey, I’m sure that statement excites the hell out of some readers, but I got over non-Coverdale Purple decades ago.

Next?

MIND ENEMIES – REVENGE (January 2)

One man band Giuseppe Caruso. Production is a bit sparse and demo-feeling, but not bad.

Drums are simplistic, as are the guitars, vocals are a bit subpar.  Not a deal breaker on any of those ends, and hey, the guy did the whole thing by his lonesome, so a nod for that much.  But reminds me of a far less accomplished Paul Chain, by comparison to which…yeah.  This simply doesn’t register a blip on the radar.

While nothing’s really wrong with the album, there’s also no area here that actually stands out, performance wise: it’s all very basic and straightforward.

Acceptable, sure. But kind of forgettable.

Strangle Wire – The Dark Triad (GRINDSCENE RECORDS) (March 23)

Battle-torn Belfast (is it still, now that the IRA has morphed into the Parliamentary faction Sinn Fein? I leave that one to our Irish readers to answer…) delivers this rather basic death metal act…as the label would suggest, grindcore in orientation (though I always found grindcore to be a far simpler, more abrasive beast than what I’m hearing herein.)

Decent production, a beefy (if obviously overly detuned on single note riffs) guitar tone, reasonably thick, snappy drum tone and a perfectly acceptable death metal vomit/belch vocal enliven simplistic, but busy riffing that goes full on modern death metal for tracks “psychopathic blue” and “through a black lens”.

I can’t say this was really “my thing” with respect to death metal (or even grindcore, which still to me means Carcass, Terrorizer, Repulsion and Napalm Death. Okay, maybe Hatebeak, too.) But there was nothing particularly wrong with it, either…and the production, vocals and instrument tone were all quite nice, and served the material well.

Krepuskul – Hybrid (MORNING STAR HEATHENS MUSIC GROUP) (February 15)

Kick out your worst Bela Lugosi impression, because BLAH! BLAH!  These guys hail from Transylvania. I vant to trink your blood! BLAH!

Terrible aggro vox (which occasionally trip the light fantastic into nu metal…I heard that Jonathan Davis “ACK ACK ACK!” at the end of “OCD let’s start a war”) over detuned riffs that move between sluggish and wannabe doomy, more windingly pseudo death (or even faux-tech/djent, as on “as long as you see the sky”) and metalcore (as in “the disciples”).

I don’t know what to make of this one, honestly. All I can tell you is that it didn’t work for me – not metalcore enough to work in that arena, not what I look for in terms of death metal, and the aggro, nu- and tech death stuff is totally outside the realm of acceptabiliy so far as we’re concerned.

If all that sounds like it’s up your alley, have at it, then.

I’m moving on to the next in the lineup, thank you very much…

  

Foul Body Autopsy – This Machine Kills Zombies (March 24)

One man band death/thrash in the general vein of Demolition Hammer (arguably with a side of Malevolent Creation and a sprig of Morbid Saint).

I loved the earlier, Scott Burns helmed Malevolent albums and the first two Demolition Hammers (the first of which was also under his aegis), so this was fine by me, even with the dicey Steve Reynolds-esque tonsil quavering shout-vomit vox.

I certainly dug the driving, precise guitar riffs. All he needs (bar a proper thrash or death vocalist) is a James Murphy to drop some leads here. Riffs were absolutely killer, but don’t think I didn’t notice there were few if any attempts at a proper solo here…

Good stuff. I’m down with this.

Defecto – Nemesis (Black Lodge Records) (February 16)

Danish prog/power act. Some of the riffing is a bit lunkheaded and overly detuned, but there’s no question where their base allegiances lie, and Fleming Rasmussen’s production certainly hits a sweet spot.

Vocals (by one Nicklas Sonne) are a bit iffy, more gravelly and nigh-sprechtgesang than this genre of music deserves (or typically gets), but nothing overly horrific, and there are enough moments where Sonne is clearly shooting for a more standard power/prog note stylization, at least.

Frederik Duus Moller’s guitar work is pretty nice on the leads, which show some technical accomplishment without succuming as much as usual for the genre post-Dream Theater to the old wheedly-whoo legato unpicked sweep arpeggio bullshit (Paul Gilbert, all of you clowns aren’t), which is refreshing. Too bad about the dumbo riffs – and tune up those fucking guitars, willya?

Overall, not bad, and has some hooks amidst all the faux-grunginess of the detuned lunkhead riffing and all too often growly-spoken conversational vocals.

Decent leads and hooks won’t carry ya forever, guys – this wasn’t bad by any means, but in need of a definite tune up to achieve your true potential.

   

NALE – DEATH. SKULLS. SATAN (Black Lodge Records) (March 23) 

Oh, crap, yet another aggro scream n’ growler. Do they churn these motherfuckers out on an assembly line somewhere, or what?

Anyway, that…er, swell fellow* aside (no, I don’t have any beef with the guy…just enough of this shit already, everyone! Learn to fucking sing, or stick to death and black metal, where your utter lack of vocal talent is stylized into something of an art form…), this is more bordering on US blackthrash or modern schools of punk than aggro in terms of a nigh-melodicism (and occasionally, straight up, as on the rather punkish title cut or the Motorheadlike “no escape”).

* yes, I had a far more blunt euphemism originally…but I’m sure the poor guy really doesn’t deserve it solely due to some long-mounting frustration at a dogshit trend in metal spectrum cough “vocals” cough. Probably a nice guy, actually.  Pay no mind whatsoever to the album title.

There’s even a nod to Entombed and the Sunlight Studios crowd (“hell’s wrath”), so it’s worth skipping ahead past the first three tracks (which are pretty abominable and do in fact lean more aggro/groove than most of what follows thereafter) to get to the more punkish/blackthrash vibe of most of what follows.

What the hell possessed you guys to use aggro vox?

Worse, why put your three worst songs as the kickoff to the album?  Do you realize how many people will just walk away before getting to your actual, far superior sound on the better part of the material thereafter?

Dumb decisions, that’s all I can say.

Another vocalist, drop tracks like “the black” and the opening triple shot of shit that are “slither”, “the filth” and “dead man’s song”, and you’ve actually got a surprisingly interesting album on your hands.

As is…meh. Has potential, underneath it all.

 

Jumalhämärä – The Black Coming (December 21)
Jumalhämärä – La Strada (December 21)

“The black coming” – one 22 minute long ambient excursion to nowhere.

La Strada – two 15 minute spacey organ drone ambient pieces.  A bit pointless, but listenably so.

If you’re going to pick one, go for La Strada.

MISSILES OF OCTOBER – BETTER DAYS

Straight outta Belgium comes…

Punchy, uptempo, sort of driving indie punk leaning somewhat towards the Motorhead/Venom/Bathory-oriented US blackthrash school, particularly on tracks like “state of crisis”. Other tracks are more quirky, mixing elements of The Residents, post-Damaged Black Flag or even arguably Sonic Youth into the equation…but never too much, and always with an eye towards the aforementioned punkish straightforward motion and aggression.

At last call, the band was offering the whole thing up gratis, so head on over their way and give it a download, you won’t be disappointed.

https://missilesofoctober.bandcamp.com/album/better-days-2016
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Missiles-Of-October/342925235719273

North Hammer – Stormcaller (March 16)

Viking metal.  More catchy than usual, with plenty of that festival crowd-pleasing lilt and bounce, a likeable melodic bent and strong (if very modern and ProTools-school) production.

Claiming inspiration from Amon Amarth (obvious) and Blind Guardian (only in terms of the strong melodic focus herein…completely invisible otherwise), Edmonton, Ontario one man band Andrew James treads the same borderline as most Viking/Pagan acts, namechecking “folk metal” with quick acoustic guitar bits, paying homage to black metal (or black cum Viking acts like Hades and early Enslaved) vocally and dancing around a melodeath cum “modern metal” in the riffing style.

Worst thing you could possibly say about this is that it may come off a tad generic…but the overall quality and pointedly melodic approach nearly nix that, too – James is simply better than a lot of bands flying this particular flag out there.

Curious what happens when and if he pulls together a proper touring ensemble, and how their sticking around impacts the next album.

Really good for the type, I dug it alright.

SKARLETT RIOT – Regenerate (Despotz Records)

Smoking hot bit o’ crumpet “Skarlett” and friends drop their second album, and while no Triaxis or Battle Beast, serves as yet another reminder why I insisted on a female frontwoman for the band back in the day (which was one of two major factors that kept us in rehearsals and out of the studio – the other was a funky bassist. Good luck on recruiting decent ones of either, much less both back in the late 80’s/dawn of the 90’s…)

Clean but expressive, far from operatic but pleasantly solid, our pseudonymous Briton leaves no question or doubt as to just who and what the driving force (and visual appeal) of this band is. Her first name only sidemen keep things solid in a typical gothic metal/Euro power metal/modern metal fashion, all generic machine gun riffing and typewriter drumming. Solid, but cut and paste to the bone.

Choruses are strong and anthemic, and the lady’s expressive vocals lean somewhere between emo and the less detritus end of radio pop, which should equate to easy airplay and crossover to the less extreme/metal-invested corners of the listening audience, or your girlfriend, take your pick.

Either way, if you’re not a diehard kvlt black metaller and grindcore’s not your go-to, you’ll probably like this one, and so will she, and probably a few of your less genre-inclined friends as well.

And even if nothing else resonates with you in particular (if so, I’m sorry for ya), if you’re a red blooded male, you can’t deny they’ve got themselves a killer visual for videos and album photoshoots…

Up for some fish & chips with vinegar, perhaps? I’m all in…

Damn good stuff.  More, please.

ICE AGE – Breaking the Ice (GMR Music) (October 20, 2017)

OK, here’s a weird one for ya. Lately, I’ve been, as a veteran from metal’s glory days, exploring more and more “forgotten” corners of the metal world, going beyond even dimly remembered acts of local or greater renown into realms heretofore unexplored.

First it was a batch of never got past the demo stage death metal acts. Then some thrash acts I’d heard mention of back in the day, but never actually heard. Then, after a re-evaluation and return to an even fuller appreciation of the doom metal subgenre, I started diving headfirst into the world of 1980’s-early 90’s US power metal (and its oft-mixed frequent companion, progressive metal,*) with more recent discoveries falling under the “never got past a demo or three” header.

* meant in the true sense of Queensryche/Fates Warning and even Watchtower schools, rather than the cheesy lightness and wheedly-whoo of the Dream Theater crowd that came thereafter. To say acts like Screamer, Lethal and Crimson Glory should give a fair idea of what I’m talking here, if a fair degree deeper into the obscurity stakes.

Suffice to say, I’ve been digging pretty damn deep, and finding more surprising gems than detritus along the way.

Well, here’s a band I’d heard mentioned once or twice, at one point an all-female outfit (pretty rare in those days – Vixen, Leather Leone and Sandy Sledge’s Malibu Barbi, Meanstreak and Phantom Blue are among the all too few that come to mind…namely Gothenburg thrashers Ice Age.

Dropping a series of demos between 1986 and 1989, they dropped off the face of the Earth…until now.

With original frontwoman Sabrina Kihlstrand and original four stringer Viktoria Larsson the only survivors from those days and even a guy in tow to work the sticks, the veteran duo crack out reworked takes on a handful of their demo tracks (“instant justice”, “general alert”, “a case of cerebral death”, “fleet street” and “mental disorder”), appending those with an equal number of new tracks.

While they do an admirable job of trying to keep things seamless as possible (not having the original demo versions to compare and contrast with, this is solely speaking in terms of “old material” vs. “new material”), there is a clear stylistic disparity for those paying closer attention. Where the older material comes off rather Meanstreak-esque in terms of bluntness and a more basic, simplistic approach, the new tracks seem to be working a sort of Built To Perform-era Phantom Blue approach…though thankfully more towards the musical end than the lyrical one!

In all, not bad stuff, though it’s a bit…well, off in terms of what I expect when it comes to thrash (in any of its classic or even modern iterations). Some of the riffing is there, but there’s a more basic, US power metallish vibe to their sound, complete with more melodically oriented, anthemic choruses and a base midtempo feel throughout.

Sure, the crunchy fast bits are present and accounted for and the leads are pretty nice (the title cut stands out in particular, in this respect), but whether you’re expecting Bay Area or Bayreuth, Brazilian or Canadian new school, Ice Age doesn’t fit well into any of the above or any other thrash scene you can think of, bar perhaps the aforementioned strong kinship to Meanstreak.

I always loved Meanstreak – they were more or less a “local (tri-state area) band” back in the day, and my tape of Roadkill got more than its share of use and abuse before a recent upgrade to CD. But you have to admit, they were pretty basic, and kind of overdramatic vocally.

Ice Age, being an effective Meanstreak Take II, holds to the former end almost directly, while leaning far more Leather Leone vocally. Less cheesy, certainly less theatrical…but is this an improvement? Personal taste will have to decide that.

I can’t claim any major excitement, here – I’d have much preferred a remastered collection of their four demos.

But it certainly worked for me on the level aforementioned, and props to the two vets for finally getting this stuff ‘on record’ after all these years.

F.K.U. – 1981 (Despotz Records) (November 3, 2017)

Ah, time for another airing of Freddy Krueger’s Underwear (yes, that’s actually what F.K.U. stands for…)

Hard to believe, but it’s been half a decade since they dropped their last album Rise of the Mosh Mongers on us, and perhaps thankfully, not a lot has changed.

Frontman “Larry Lethal” comes off a touch more Udo Dirkschneider with occasional hints of earlier Chuck Billy than Don Doty this time around, but that same sense of crazed urgency that Doty (and for that matter, Paul Baloff) brought to the mic is still present and accounted for.

Band is the same (bar a new drummer, which you really won’t notice with this sort of modern thrash bordering on the heavier moments of Euro power metal…or maybe it’s just the production and mittel-European attitude that gives that vibe. Either way, that’s the feel you pick up) and so is the focus on old horror films.

This time around, there’s absolutely zero guesswork about which fun flicks from the cinematic gutter they’re addressing – mostly US slasher films (Hell Night, Friday the 13th and Halloween – both part II, mind – the Prowler, Night School, The Burning, the Funhouse), but also a few Fulcis (House by the Cemetery, The Beyond), a pair of Italian horrors (Nightmare, Burial Ground) and even Shaw Brothers Hong Kong horror Corpse Mania.  Not a bad year for cult horror, 1981…

As with last time, the one major “gotcha” with F.K.U. is one they share with many modern thrash revivalist acts, namely that every track more or less sounds exactly the same as the three or four that came before, and the three or four that follow it. And even the best riff in the world can get a touch tedious after hearing it 15 times in a row.*

* yeah, I said 15 – certain versions come with a bonus cover of Death’s hoary “evil dead”.

Even so, I liked these guys last time around, I dig the same genre and films they do, and their full, Euro power metallish production doesn’t exactly hurt their case either.

Wouldn’t mind seeing their first three albums reissued for review, I’ll say that much…wholly inoffensive, even fun stuff.

Coilguns – Millennials (Hummus Records) (March 23)

umm…

If I’m getting this right, it looks like this is a German prog metal band called The Ocean, but gone all…well, they’d probably say “hardcore”, but it’s really just noise, with strong hints of experimental black metal in all the atonality, screaming and nigh-tribal drumming. And this from a former prog act?

I’m not sure what the deal is with this sort of thing appearing so often of late, generally marketed as “hardcore” (as if this bears any kinship whatsoever to acts like the Bad Brains, Black Flag, Minor Threat, Youth Brigade or even later crossover-ish acts like DRI, the Cro-Mags and Agnostic Front).

And mind, I like some of what was once considered noise – Sonic Youth and Guitar Wolf were and are longstanding favorites and regular rotations from the collection. But neither ever gave me a headache just from listening…

Yeah, this one gets a free nonstop flight to the Pile of Dead Bards…

Next?

 

[B.ABUSE] – Memories Of Better Days Are Gone (WOOAAARGH) (February 23)

OK, this one’s pretty fucking weird.

First track “a promise empty” is hypnotically doomy, with droned chantlike vox (which unfortunately go all aggro screamo at the bridge) and stoner/shoegaze-like riffing. Overall, a great opener.

But then, a pointless ambient track. Followed by a weird experimental, occasionally downright atonal one, like all the bad parts of “a promise empty” were inverted to take up the bulk of its running time, and its good parts minimized to cameo status.

Thankfully, “days gone bye (sic)”, while instrumental, takes us back to the droning stoner doom/shoegaze vibe of the first track. Gears shift immediately thereafter, though, for an uptempo but atonality-skirting “nothing will remain” and another ambient-leaning instrumental (“we were like ants”)…but at least the band is actually playing instruments on this one.

Back to the “nothing will remain” thing for “zerfall”, and close on another, somewhat Mazzy Starlike ambient instrumental (again, with the band at least playing on this track – only track 2 serves as a complete waste of running time.

I have no idea what the hell they were shooting for here, but the opener and closer, plus perhaps “days gone by”, at least point to a better band than the bulk of this release represents.

Try “a promise empty”, see if it works for you…then be sure to skim the others to make sure you actually want to dive in, or if you wouldn’t be better served just grabbing that track as a single.

High Priests – Spinning (Triple Eye Industries) (March 23)

You know, I came up in the punk scene.

Yeah, from its earliest US roots in the glam scene and acts like the Ramones, Heartbreakers, Voidoids, Iggy and the Dead Boys, who in turn inspired the UK crowd, who fed right back to us Stateside before we all went hardcore, crossover, sXe and other variants thereof, I was a young fan of all this stuff, before (and again after) shifting over to the nascent gothic rock scene and later in the 80’s, metal. Then round to punk and goth again in the mid to late 90’s and early millenium, during their respective revivals…then back to metal come Y2K (if not sooner).

So bottom line, I’ve been there, I know the bands, I have the records, I played ’em to death and pogoed, moshed and slammed to ’em many a time over the years.

So I ask again, probably for the umpteenth time in these pages…what the fuck is this shit the kids these days are calling “hardcore”? And pray tell, precisely what relations does it bear to acts like, say, the Germs, Dead Kennedys, Circle Jerks, earlier Black Flag, Bad Brains, Minor Threat, et al…or the vintage hardcore faithfulness of much of the straight edge scene (from Minor Threat and Uniform Choice to later bands like Bold, Up Front, In My Eyes, Insted or even the transitional proto-AFI sound of Turning Point?

Because all I’m seeing coming my way for review under the ostensible “hardcore” umbrella of late are atonal noise rock outfits – generally unlistenable, screamo-vocalled and painful to experience.

Now, let me clarify slightly – High Priests, while checking off most of those descriptors, aren’t entirely unlistenable. They actually bear Sonic Youthlike moments of forward motion and audial comprehensibility (“talking to a cop” is practically a straight up punk track, minus the shout/screamed monotone vocals and some atonal screeches on the riff end)…so as examples of this bullshit rebranding go, they serve as a somewhat poor one to single out.

But even so.

I guess if Flipper were still kicking around, they may well have mutated into something like this, just to fuck with everyone and make audiences angry enough to throw shit at them onstage. They were like that.

Which is why “ha ha ha” is pretty much the only song of theirs I like.

Next?

The Lead – Again (Roxx Records) (February 23)

Geez, even when you take part in a scene to one extent or another, you don’t realize just how much more was out there that you missed.

Be it the vagaries of promotion, distribution or variances in what were then rather strongly boundaried and pocketed local scenes, the simple fact is that as deep as yours truly was in various scenes back in the day (and as timely – I was there in the metal underground for the very birth of what became the death and black metal scenes, and listening to the bands that birthed both the European power metal and the global progressive metal scenes, for example), it’s only now, in subsequent decades and a generation or two removed from the glory days that a lot of truly decent – even a handful of legitimately great – bands are coming to my attention.

Sure, a lot of them are pretty obscure demo bands of varying subgenre (see the discussion on Ice Age above), but even so. Who the fuck knew?

Well, with my recent embrace of the US power (and related prog) metal scene of the 80’s and early 90’s has come yet another corollary, which has popped up now and again in prior reviews (generally relating to Stryper’s recent releases) – that for a brief period of my halcyon youth, I was also digging on Christian rock and metal.

US power metal fans will get it – many of these bands work those same themes, and lists of such bands inevitably include acts from that scene like early Bride and Sacred Warrior, as do death and thrash metal fans with regards to Believer, Deliverance and Tourniquet.

Others will curse, roll their eyes and start hailing satan…and hey, I’ve been there too (probably deeper than most, and like a lot of us, still vacillate between varying states and signposts on the spiritual quest – regardless of preferred philosophic, spiritual or “religious” stance, we’re all moving towards light, in the end – like it or not). I can’t speak for anyone else out there, but I think of all audiences, metal fans tend to be bigger than that, and accepting of quite varying extremes of stance…so long as the music works.

And in the end, it was a short stretch during my teens that left me exposed to more good music than other, more closed-eared folks who preferred to stick to bands I loved as well – Slayer, Celtic Frost, Possessed, Bathory and Mercyful Fate/King Diamond come to mind from somewhere around that time period.

But back to the point of all this – even during my time in that scene, I never heard of a Christian punk act called The Lead. Undercover, definitely – Branded remains a classic. Youth Choir (subsequently The Choir), sure. Altar Boys, oh, yeah, they had a few killer albums under their belt. There were even borderline acts that leaned more New Wave than punk, like the 77s, Daniel Amos, The Call and Steve Taylor – all worth a spin every now and again. Hell, don’t even mind a bit of Mad at the World on occasion. But The Lead? Nope, rings zero bells.

Stranger still? They were apparently on R.E.X., same label as Believer and Crimson Thorn – both bands I dug to one extent or another (the former far, far more than the latter, but hey). The only guess I have is that their lone R.E.X. release appears to have been a few years after I was out of that whole scene (so far as I’m concerned, its brief heyday ran from circa ’84-’89…wasn’t much of value thereafter, however much you can connect that to the decline and fall of the metal scene per se come the 90’s or no.  And even during that time, I was only intermittently curious as to any new releases of note – good thing, as there were one or two gems (Angelica, Sacred Warrior, Bride) that dropped during the last few years of that range).

Anyway, what we have here is a female vocalist (bringing to mind Barnabas, because…well, those guys and uber-cheesebags Ransom were pretty much it for frontwomen in that small scene back in the day) and a band whose sound leans more aggressively postpunk, hence almost pushing the outside limits of gothic rock, than punk proper.

That said, the sound is still more aggressive and distorted than arguable analogues like early Cocteau Twins, despite all the mournful keyboards, jangling clean guitar sections and moments that even evoke Switchblade Symphony (“dressed in a robe” sums all that up in one neat package and wraps it with a bow, thank you very much)…putting them somewhat in the Choir/Mad At the World camp, but not quite.

Then “the world tomorrow” brings in weird Steve Tayloresque mariachi band horn samples (on keyboard, but still) alongside fat, signal bleed industrial-style detuned guitars and whining male vocals, sort of evoking Black Francis and the Pixies if not Dinosaur Jr. or even (vocally speaking only) Thurston Moore and Sonic Youth. Weird, but OK…not punk, once again, but still sort of on the indie rock/postpunk spectrum.

They stick to this sound on “every fear forgiven”, distorting the vocals more and coming off like the soundtrack to Scott Pilgrim vs. the World…maybe they’re the Christian Sex Bob-Bomb? Close your eyes, and you’ll see Michael Cera singing this one…

Then back to the Cocteau Twins gone Switchblade Symphony thing, arguably with hints of Christianna of Mephisto Walz’ patented sardonic delivery.

Naturally, while all four tracks work in their own way, it’s the first and last that really do the trick here.

Not what I consider “punk”, and bears precious little in common even with the Christian punk scene they apparently hail from back in the day – but certainly interesting, unashamed of their provenance (this is hardly the bowlderized bullshit of a Dakoda Motor Company, here) and worth checking out for fans of the aforementioned Pixies, Dinosaur Jr. or Scott Pilgrim soundtrack (on the male fronted tracks) and early, gothic Cocteau Twins, Switchblade Symphony and at least vocally, Mephisto Walz (on the female fronted ones).

 

Tommy Stewart’s Dyerwulf – “Shadow In The Well” (January 29)

Another killer traditional doom track from former Hallows Eve six stringer Tommy Stewart.

We liked his debut full length last year and there’s no real change here – sort of Candlemass meets Pagan Altar with touches of both Pentagram and St. Vitus to the grinding guitar and bass riffs.

This is my idea of doom, for sure.

Hails, can’t wait for the second full length.

Plastic – Here There Is No Gravity (Sweet Low Records) (March 9)

Vintage grunge out of the UK, from a modern day act.

Their sound falls somewhere between Bush, Nirvana and arguably Sponge, just with better production and a less druggy vibe…which helps, as it brings a more driving, indie rock leaning punk drive to the table.

Normally, I’d be the first to slam any 90’s grunge influences bleeding into metal or punk…but taken as its own discrete subgenre, and shorn of the needle popping, unwashed junkies in flannel whining (well, to some extent, at least…), then “pepped up” a bit? It seemed comfortably familiar.

I don’t know, maybe there are just more audially offensive subgenres nowadays, or perhaps Plastic just manages to hit some heretofore unexplored sweet spot of acceptability…but while I’m the last guy to ask for praise on a grunge record, I really didn’t mind this one – at least, not half so much as anyone might expect, yours truly inclusive.

And those who follow Third Eye and its related trio cough of podcasts are already wide eyed, recognizing this as surprisingly high praise indeed.

Consider this Sixteen Stone part II, I guess.

 

HELEL – A Sigil Burnt Deep Into The Flesh

“Industrial black metal”. Oh, joy…this should be fun.

So yeah, there’s the expected black metal back of the throat croaks. The atonal noise riffing. And the eeeeevil more satanic than you’ll ever be pose. Whatever.

And industrial? Well, there’s a march beat going down even when they’re working (programmed) double bass, and some of that annoying Atari Teenage Riot fast CD skipping noise nonsense as “percussion”. It gets kind of self-mocking (probably not intentionally…) when they up the speed on those double bass fills to ultra high speed on “this is helel”.

Yeah, I’ll stick to King Satan or old Thrill Kill Kult if I’m looking for occult industrial.

This one’s just crap.

Next?

PERFECT LINE – Seeds

Take a pinch of Urge Overkill, add a heaping helping of CoC, tag in more than a little Seattle grunge (not to mention the related Alice in Chains), add a sprig of stoner rock, and poof: you have a “Perfect Line”.

Some tracks are gloomier and more introspective, others are more driving, but that’s all there is to it.

Not my thing, but if that recipe appeals to you, have at it.

  

WILD MIGHTY FREAKS – Guns’N Cookies (February 24)

Nu metal, or as they’d have it, “hip hop metal”.  I liked the rapper’s accent. Apparently the keyboard player was a “former professional hip hop dancer”, so maybe you’ll get to see them bouncing around like The Fly Girls on In Living Color or break into some headspins, popping and locking and doing the robot onstage.

Production is very well done and in your face, and the rapper switches styles enough to serve as the highlight here. The riffs are more gothic metallish than Korn or Five Finger Deathpunchlike, so this is a whole hell of a lot more listenable than you’d expect for something this intrinsically cheesy and ridiculous.

Not gonna slag this any more than I already have, because the guitar and drums end were perfectly acceptable within a certain basic radio friendly gothic-leaning stylistic parameter, and moreso because I found the rapper amusing as shit – on one track he pulls a Das EFX/Fu Schnickens sort of thing, then comes back later in the same song doing full on Yellowman Jamaican toast…all with a French accent. Personally, I found it hilarious and a bit endearing.

Definitely not for the typical Third Eye follower, make no mistake…but if you’re looking for something silly and different (while still remaining quite listenable throughout), you could do a whole hell of a lot worse than these guys.

In its own weird way, yeah. I kinda liked this.

By’ce Project – Abyss Of the Mind (February 23)

Guitarist for an act named Sammsara goes the solo route.

This is no one man bedroom affair, though, as he actually recruited a new band here…which probably helps, as it feels more organic and natural in performance and musicianship than the usual “multi-instrumentalist” job.

I guess you could think of this as Paul Chain after leaving Death SS – he always brought in a nigh-army of ex-bandmates and other players to help out on each album, EP or even changing from track to track…but everybody thinks of him as “solo”. Yeah, in the old sense, like “Keith Richards solo album”, not as in “let’s pretend we’re Burzum”…

Now make no mistake – By’ce is no Paul Chain, by a longshot. But you can hear some parallels there, particularly in the reluctant, half swallowed vocals and rather nice, often punchy guitar solos…and the willingness to experiment with stylistic change from track to track.

A surprisingly solid album, at times feeling almost bluesy, others Curelike (the Arabic appropriations of “the great dance” being extremely reminiscent of “the blood”, for example) and still others being pointedly metal spectrum. Loved the driving bass, especially on tracks like “hidden in my dreams”, and By’ce’s riffing is always on point, switching from mellow, almost Alcestlike indie ruminations of “you must hang on” to the scratch riff drive of “run” and the early 90’s chunky roots rock vibe you can pick up on the verses of “deep inside”…which gets a whole lot busier and more metallic on the choruses.

This is a guitarist who simply bleeds well roundedness and invention, who lets his superior command of the instrument slip more often than not amidst what at first listen would appear to be far more standard, even basic songs…but like Randy Rhoads (again, no comparison, but in principle), he slips in a flourish, a quick note run, a little fill or punched in trick that reminds the more savvy listener that he knows exactly what the fuck he’s doing.

It’s not often I hear a guy whose playing doesn’t bore me (on one hand) or wow me with flash (on the other), but hits that sweet spot that moves me to say – damn, I’d love to play with this guy. There’s just something about his style and apparent breadth of influence that says “compatible with my own”.

No, he’s certainly not Paul Chain.

But the fact that I have to drag the man into the conversation says a lot right there.

Very, very good.

   

STÖMB – Duality (September 8)

Instrumental ambient affair with overly detuned guitars and faux-metaphysical whispering (and on the last track, some guy reciting poetry in French).

Somehow, they claim to be progressive metal.

It’s atmospheric, relaxing and there is some low grade band playing throughout, which only gets annoying when they try to get noisier and more aggressive…and it all turns detuned, lunkheaded and decidedly “nu”.

The more relaxed light to midtempo moments (like the excellent opener, “the dark admirer”, or the better part of closer “the other me”) are quite nice and right up my alley – they sound particularly Fauntslike, and anything that says Mass Effect (well, pre-Andromeda, anyway) is very good by me.

Too bad about the detuned guitar and aggro/nu affectations…they not only don’t belong (and in fact are quite jarring following all the delay and reverb/chorus strewn space rock ambient surrounding), but betray a seriously declasse undercurrent to the otherwise quite likeable chillout composition they affect.

PAVILLON ROUGE – Dynasteia Klub (March 30)

Well, we’ve certainly heard of gothic industrial…even gothic metal industrial (Liv Kristine’s old act Theatre of TragedyGothminister)…but gothic dance metal?

Sure enough, here’s a weirdo act out of France that appropriates grinding gothic metallish riffs and spooky lush keyboards alongside programmed drumbeats, Atari Teenage Riot fast CD skipping bullshit and – of all things – underground black metallish growl/shrieks.

So…vocals suck.

The skipping CD and drum machine thing sucks.

And the actual metal portion of all this, the guitar riffing? Acceptable, but pretty basic.

Remind me, why am I listening to this one again?

NEXT?!?

HAMPERED – Asylum (March 16)

Well…this one claims to be metalcore. I know a lot of ya absolutely despise the stuff, and y’all know I defend the better elements of that scene – mostly Killswitch and Adam D productions, but a few others as well (the first and third In This Moment albums, the first Agonist album even). I’m usually good with it, so long as they keep the screamo vox to more of a punctuation than as the main course.

But this…I’m hearing too much Korn influence in there, with all the jagged riffs, hip hop bounce and weird sound effects, for this one to be classified as bearing any kinship whatsoever to metalcore (which derives most pointedly from the Gothenburg melodeath sound kicked off by At The Gates, crossed with elements of the emo punk scene).

Now, taken as yet another nu metal act…I can’t honestly say, I hate that shit with a vengeance.

But I can say with assurance…this sure as fuck ain’t metalcore!

Still another one for the Pile of Dead Bards…I’m not even calling ’em all out this month, I’m sure you’ll figure out which discs flew into the flames.

NEXT ON LINE?!?

 

THE DAWN RAZOR – Renaissances (March 9)

Black/death cum thrash act out of France.

Promo materials mentioned Children of Bodom, and that’s actually fairly apt of a comparison – fast death metallish riffing (think the busier, more tech end like Pestilence), throaty shout/puke vox vaguely drawing from the Tom G. Warrior school of vocal training and flashy Laiholike leads.

Also like the aforementioned Children of Bodom, every fucking song sounds exactly the same.

I guess if you don’t mind detuned guitars playing the same exact riff at the same exact tempo in the same exact key over and over, with bad vocals and (Euro) power metallish typewriter double bass that alternates with eye rolling blastbeats, yeah, you might like these guys just fine.

But if, like me, you think Bodom a ridiculously overrated act that needs to pack it in already, there’s really nothing to separate Laiho from his clone cum fanboys in The Dawn Razor to save them.

Whatever. Next?

  

Death on Arrival – Death is Coming (August 15, 2017)

Czech modern thrash act.

Some decent riffs and a few unexpected changes along the way, marred only by their power trio leanness (when frontman/six stringer Zbynek Zemanek takes a lead, despite a tracked in rhythm, the sound seems to drop out to acoustic levels…not something you want to hear in thrash).

Even so, that’s just a call for a second guitar and fatter tone to beef things up, not a knock on the band or their EP.

The vocals suck pretty hard, though.

New frontman, second guitar, these guys could be a force to contend with.

Didn’t mind it in the least, vox aside.

Escaping Amenti – Awakening (Big Balls Productions) (December 22)

Whew, is this a month for nu metal, or something? Wild Mighty Freaks, Hampered, now Escaping Amenti…come on, seriously?

So anyway, yeah, these guys bill themselves as “the Swedish Slipknot”. You know what to expect – clean vocalled, melodic choruses ruined by detuned lunkhead aggro/nu riffing, weird noises and atonal ringing guitar bits, and a heaping helping of aggro/screamo Anselmo belches and barks.

Shit, guys, can’t you come up with anything better than that?

positive, positive…hmm…AH! Here you go. The clean vocalled choruses were nice enough – nothing to write home about, but sorta Lacuna Coil-esque there.

It’s the other 90% of this that consigns it to oblivion.

HEADS UP! INCOMING!

holy shit, those flames just surged pretty wildly…hope nobody got burned by that one!

Next?

Blood and Brutality – Decor Macabre (Blood and Brutality Records) (December 30)

When is a death metal band not a death metal band?

When their sound is quite this thin, the riffs run more…what is that? Hard rock? Modern metal? You tell me what the hell they’re doing on “erosion of time”, it sure as fuck ain’t extreme metal of any sort…and those weird electronic noises…sheesh!

Well, the first two tracks run more recognizably death metal, despite the aforementioned thinness and something hard to peg lacking in the croaked vocals. The last two…again, not sure what that is, but it ain’t death metal. Doomy modern metal with a weird folk lilt and moments of melodeath at the choruses, maybe?

The middle one, you’re on your own.

Yeah, if they did more like “reduced to ash”, I’d be holding this one up a whole hell of a lot higher than I intend here.

As it is…confused at best.

 

Painted Black – Raging Light (WormHole Death) (November 24)

Sort of Nick Cave meets Moonspell, the latter act’s Portugese countrymen adopt a similar deep throated gothic vocal punctuated by subpar death growls during more “aggressive” moments.

There’s a lot more of a modern indie vibe to this band, though – while you could arguably lump it in as an ersatz gothic metal like Moonspell, there’s something more derived from the emo and metalcore sound taking precedence with Painted Black. Metal in some senses, to be sure…but not metal in the purist sense.

They were much, much better in their quieter, more indie gothic moments – “the raging light”, “the living reciever” – than they were when striving for something more aggressive.

Looking to improve? Cut the angrier, growlier/more distorted parts to light punctuation, and stick to the sort of proggy/gothic rock/indie thing with clean vox you so excel at.

Overall, a pretty damn good effort, and worthy of an opening slot for their esteemed countrymen.

Dawn Of 7th Sky – Cut You Out (December 12)
Dawn Of 7th Sky – Island in the Sky (July 31, 2017)
Dawn Of 7th Sky – New Horizon (October 16, 2016)

Is it just me, or does anyone else out there find frontwoman Marika kinda cute? Used to go for that type back in the 90’s – a bit streetworn, but still with that indefinable j’ne sais quoi of sex appeal. If you prefer, a typical NYC girl (or at least the way they were before the place got all gentrified and generic suburban strip mall-ified).

Anyway, this is a French act who self identifies as “post hardcore”, though you’d be hard pressed to call them anything other than the radio-friendly branch of gothic metal: light, almost speaking tone soprano vocals, crunchy guitars and pounding drums, working uber-simplistic riffs with occasional electronic/keyboard accompaniment.

On “cut you out”, the guitars are overly detuned and almost lean aggro thereby, but B-side “snow”, with its fatter, more distorted (and arguably
better tuned) guitar tone brings the band right back into the same territory you’d expect from acts like Nemesea or Evanescence. I’d have flipped the A and B sides here, no problem…but both work in their own way.

“Island in the sky” almost pulls a PassCode, bringing a rather pronounced EDM crossover to the table, while actually amping up the aggression, with fat toned distorted riffing and higher speed double bass drumming that borders on a sort of overly detuned (and therefore rather sloppy sounding) take on thrash metal. Again, PassCode at their best work a very similar terrain, so I was good with this as well.

B-side “persecuted” goes full on Lacuna Coil, with some particularly lunkheaded aggro riffing on the verses almost ruining it, but then that relaxed, sweet chorus comes in to save the day. No question about which side should be the single here…they got it right, this time (at least if you don’t mind the flipside being somewhat of a stinker, comparatively speaking).

“New Horizon” is working a depressive, sorta grungy, Slipknot-esque thing throughout, with only Marizka’s sad, worn out-sounding voice keeping it from an instant toss into the Pile of Dead Bards. Definitely a huge step down from the other two singles. “Frozen” doesn’t do them any major favors, either, being a more consistent variant of “persecuted” crossed with elements of “snow”. Listenable, definitely, but at best what they used to call an “album cut”, rather than a single…and once again, the A and B side should have been flipped.

Marika’s vox are pretty much the star of the show here, but even on that front they’re a tad compromised. While sweet and relaxing (think a more gothic metal take on The Darling Buds), there’s a pronounced nasality to her tone, and a sleepy depressive edge that occasionally skirts the edge of falling out of key. Just this side of it, yes – but frighteningly close at points. Even so, I liked it overall.

The band is competent enough, if unspectacular (as you might expect from the genre they actually adhere closest to – “post-hardcore”? Please. This is as gothic metal as they come…), but really need to learn to tune up the guitars…even on the thrashy “island in the sky” or their best track, “snow”, it just sounds flawed to ears attuned to…well, proper tuning. Even so, no complaints otherwise.

Make no mistake – I did actually like Dawn of 7th Sky, and Marika in particular (I’m talking about her vocals, calm down…), but there are
some minor instances of questionable judgment showing here, whether on the part of band or management behind the scenes – 2 out of 3 B sides that should be A sides and vice versa being the most glaring one.

If you dig female fronted metal, and the less operatic/symphonic end of gothic metal in particular, you should enjoy these folks as well…just be sure to give the B-sides a listen before passing judgment.

I’d be happy to cover a full length from ’em, no question.

VersOver – Hell’s Inc. (Hell’s Inc. Records) (October 4th 2017)

Well, I was only somewhat surprised to discover these guys have actually been kicking around since the mid to late 90’s…because they have that shit 90’s post-grunge “metal” sound and vibe all over ’em.

Now, sure, you could say they’re a bit more ’92-4 than ’97, and thus draw more from the sort of junk bands like Kiss and Van Halen were reduced to during the grunge decade (where all forms of metal save the fake ones like aggro and nu metal were mocked roundly by all comers, and everything had to be pissed off, grungy sounding, detuned and depressed, with gravelly vox and screams)…

…but like all forms of “heavy music” outside of the Japanese and European
late-decade revivals of the classic style (or the birth of power and gothic/symphonic variants thereof), it was all still abject shit. The sheer number of 90’s albums in my collection is flea-sized, percentage wise…and there’s a reason for that.

So here you go, with a Brazilian act who at times come off a bit prog, but mostly fall under the aforementioned school of “desperate metal acts trying to kiss up to indie haters by sacrificing the very elements that made them popular in the first place”. Well, I guess somebody had to be buying all those bargain bin albums back when…just hardly expected anyone to actually draw influence from that garbage…

So can’t knock the playing – Gustavo Carmo throws down some rather impressive, proggy leads on tracks like “human condition”. But the overall sound they’re working?

Yeah, I won’t consign ’em to the Pyre…but let’s just shake our heads and move on, shall we?

Silent Kingdom – Where Secrets Meet (Darknagar Records) (January 15) 

Sort of like a depressive take on Yes by way of the Alan Parsons Project (possibly with a touch of Asia for good measure), these Bosnians are working a tinkling arpeggiated dual guitar and keyboard-inflected take on old prog rock.

Every song sounds more or less in the same modality, if not key, which is a bit offputting, though you could argue “it sets a mood, and doesn’t break it” which has some merit.

Nothing wrong with it – I liked what they were doing overall…just felt very samey, and without any real drive or distortion behind it, it left me a tad
dry by comparison to a cracking punk, gothic rock or metal album.

You know, just like old prog rock.

And just like old prog rock…and arguably moreso than a tired old warhorse like Yes or ELP (or God help you, the detestably overrated Pink Floyd), Silent Kingdom have their decided merits.

Not bad, if this stuff doesn’t bore you to death. It’s certainly dark enough, and I liked the vox/guitars/keyboard interplay.

Spice Breather – Crawling Planetary Being (Bloody Mountain Records)  (January 20)

Pointless ambient music with light space rock and dance elements.

At its best, it’s like Tangerine Dream crossed with the trancier end of 90’s electronica…but it’s far more aimlessly drifting than that would imply.

Nothing wrong with it as BGM audial wallpaper…but why?

Next?

Devourer – “Throne of Agony” (January 30)

I wannabe Watain.

I wannabe Watain.

I wannabe…WHIZZZZZ!

Damn, watch those flames sputter and flare…

Next?

Ode In Black – Seeds of Chaos (January 9)

Here’s another weird one. They self identify as “Gothic rock/metal”, but are actually neither.

Certainly Ode In Black bear zero kinship with gothic rock in either of its heydays, or any of the dozens of UK (early to mid 80’s first wave) or US based (mid-90’s second wave) acts you could name. But it’s not gothic metal, either.

Possibly a sort of semi-upbeat “dark metal”, drawing from elements of “modern metal”, “emo/metalcore” and to go by some of Juhani Saarinen’s rather palatable solos, “prog metal”…but not a lot here suggests gothic anything – the darker, more depressive vibe of metalcore (or even the related emo), sure. Maybe you could squeeze in “gothic industrial metal”, as “the sea in which we drown” bears vague kinship to, say, Gothminister…but that’s an exception, not the rule.

Even so, what you get here, beyond the aforementioned rather tasty lead guitar work, are some interestingly quirky deep toned vox from Pasi Maenpaa, solid, radio friendly and darkly melodic song construction and fairly top notch ProTools/modern-style production.

All songs have fairly memorable verses, strong bridges and catchy choruses, despite an overarching gloominess that suggests “playing to the CW tweeny drama crowd”…but then you get some more uptempo, almost upbeat riffing on some tracks, and those really nice, flashy leads to wash all the gloom away. If you’re looking for relentless darkness, look elsewhere, because those elements just wash all the clouds away every time they appear…

All told, I’m amazed they don’t appear to have been picked up by a label yet…this is some of the strongest material I’ve encountered from a self released “indie” act in quite some time.

Seriously, this is really quite good – fans of HIM circa Love Metal should pay particular attention to this one.

Looking forward to hearing more from these Finns, no question.

  

Evil Spirit – The Imageless Mirror (January 4)

umm…well…

OK, at points, this is fairly template doom metal, with the expected
slight stoner crossover bleeding through at times. The vocals are
weird and declamatory, but doom fans have seen, and accepted, this
before.

But then they start getting all weird and atonally experimental for no
conceivable reason…and then off key saxophones hop on board,
Romeo Void style.

There’s an absolutely terrible cover of Death SS’ “horrible eyes”
(compare to either the earlier Paul Chain-driven version or the later
Black Mass retake thereof) and a nigh-black metallish faux-hippie
acoustic folk track to close things out…yeah, I don’t know what to say
here.

The fact that the mere act of listening and attempting to review this
leaves me somewhat exasperated should say it all.

Forget it. Next?

RacheEngel – Ascheregen (November 24)

You know, for a one man band, you don’t expect such a strong, confident sound, generally top notch production (well, OK, this is a German act, after all)* and oft-catchy, melodic material.

* albeit far moreso on the quieter portions – the distorted, drum and cymbals inflected ones come off less strong, with less of a full and
polished tone and slight signal bleed from the cymbal crashes. Still in all, pretty damn good for a one man band!

Patrick Gajda’s vocals are a bit weak and flawed in many respects, but he can hold notes (however shakily and off key) and does choose to work clean vox more often than not. When he goes full on death metal growls (as on portions of “uber dunnes els”, it’s believable enough)…it’s really only the Vikingesque growly vox that come off as patently ridiculous.

But the guitars? The keyboards? Even the drums? Not bad at all…in fact, better than most of his bedroom solo act peers.

Clean up the production a bit (so the busier, louder parts are on par with the quieter, cleaner ones) and get a bit of vocal coaching (at least keep things more confidently on key!), this one would be absolutely killer.

Even as is, this is pretty damn good, and well worth giving a spin to see if it grabs ya.

The Black Swamp – Witches (February 1)

Oy. Brings to mind acts like Pantera, CoC and bands I’ve heard and promptly filed to the recycling bin like Mastodon, Black Label Society, The Sword and Red Fang – all crap Anselmolike growl n’ howl vox, detuned, sorta Southern “groove” guitars and riffs, all feeling kinda stonerish without actually adhering to any of the positive elements thereof…

Yeah.

You know that fat guy with the scraggly beard who hangs around tailgate parties, howling and beating his chest over some dumb ass sports team while downing a case of cheap beer and burning shit on a portable Coleman grill?

Yeah. Picture that guy and his pals forming a band.

So 90’s it reeks of heroin.

There’s an audience for this shit. I’m not it.

Next?

  

DESOLATION ANGELS – King (February 23) (Dissonance Productions)

Classic, if somewhat late to the party, NWOBHM act (they dropped exactly one album back in either ’84 or ’86, depending on your source), before making the mistake of moving Stateside and not releasing a followup till the transitional year 1990 (when metal had already long since passed the torch to the GNR crowd, and was just about to give up the ghost before the grunge onslaught and the whole aggro thing thereafter).

So here they are, back again after many a year…and likeably enough, they’re sticking to their guns with a decidedly retro heavy rock cum NWOBHM vibe. While no Praying Mantis or Satan by a long shot, the band works a two guitar setup, with frontman Paul Taylor sounding like a less obnoxious take on Saxon’s Biff Byford and the band’s material coming off somewhere between Saxon and…well, Saxon, really.

Thankfully, that’s not a bad thing at all, particularly after several decades of putting up with Byford’s insistence on redoing and re-releasing the same material over and over…so if you’re jonesing for the best of classic Saxon (and really, who wouldn’t be?) with arguably better guitar work and a more consistently aggressive vibe, you should queue right up British style and plop down your hard earned funds for a copy of King ASAP.

Produced by Anvil’s go to guy Chris Tsangarides, if that swings things for ya.

Good stuff from some veteran Brits.

Myrkraverk – Naer Døden (Blut & Eisen Productions) (March 13)

Nice!

Vintage sounding second wave black metal straight outta Norway.
March tempos, thin toned guitars and overcompressed production, but
all’s clear and consistent with the style and era they’re clearly drawing
from and shooting for replication of.

Fittingly, they pull in the respective frontmen of Darkthrone, Taake and
Enslaved for guest vox…and it all works quite well, bar a few tracks that
are more ambient or acoustic folk oriented (the latter aren’t exactly
terrible, either, but kill the momentum of the far stronger and more
driving full on black metal material they break up).

Very good stuff from a genre that’s been sadly far less worthy of
attention of late. Maybe this is a harbinger of better trends to come
within the genre.

Soul Dissolution – Stardust (Black Lion Records) (March 25)

Ignore the patently ridiculous, pointedly misspelled pseudos (“Jabawock”, “Acharan” and “Forge Stone”), and dive in to a pleasantly immersive, melancholically introspective black metal (or perhaps more accurately, post-black metal, given the undercurrent of emo-esque comparatively major key positivity on tracks like “circle of torment” or “stardust”…it’s catchy as shit, but that ain’t black metal, son…) experience.

Ignore the two wasted ambient tracks, you have two more black metal-leaning tracks that are quite good (the two aforementioned), one that’s very obviously emo with blackened elements (“the last farewell”) and one that…well, just doesn’t work, so far afield is it of anything in the black metal spectrum (“far above the boiling sea of life”). Towards the end of this final track, the emo undercurrent bubbling under the first two (real) tracks and “last farewell” just explodes out of the birthday cake in all its naked glory, smelling of clove smoke, skinny jeans and eyeliner.

So essentially, this is black metal done by emo kid graduates, or an emo kid’s idea of what black metal is…but you know what? I really liked the first two tracks mentioned, and even the worst of ’em (“boiling sea”) has its moments (tellingly, it’s exactly when they give up on pretending to be black metal and go full on emo that the track stops failing miserably and starts to gel. Existential authenticity, kids. Shows through when you’re faking it, every time.)

All told, I liked this 4 song EP masquerading as a longer release (cough).

Just approach it with an open mind, if you’re among the more kvlt and traditionalist of black metallers.

Rites to Sedition – Ancestral Blood (March 21)

umm…yeah.

Well, they did say they were trying to ape “symphonic black metal”, so I should have gone into this one forewarned…

They’re from South Carolina, have only been together for 4 years, and go on about alien visitation alongside the usual faux-occultic schmutters you get with black metal acts nowadays.

If you’re into seesawing lilt in your melodies (think Dissection or Taake at their most annoying) combined with the sheer irritation factor of acts like Dimmu and the highly overrated Emperor and don’t mind listening while the band searches desperately for a tune to lock into several times per track, this may be for you.

For me?

INCOMING!

Ouch! That one even sent burning embers all the way back here…

NEXT?!?

Sâmbata Mortilor – II (Sepulchral Silence) (October 15, 2017)

Romanian black metal, feels sort of first wave in its sheer Eastern European quirkiness and individualist vibe. Even so, it’s melodic and “modernist”, giving it a sort of ersatz power metal gone black veneer…like I said, strange.

The only real downer here is the (rather obvious) reliance on a drum machine, which is always cheesy and distracting. Without that, you could make vague comparisons with the likes of Tormentor, Master’s Hammer, Mortuary Drape or even early Bulldozer (at a stretch) – that sort of oddball first wave approach bleeds through their pores, without question.

And as regular Third Eye followers can imagine, that’s good by me.

Find a drummer and some permanent guitarists (both of ’em are session men this time around), you could make something of this going forward, for sure.

Peosphoros – Pink Metal (SGW Productions) (March 30)

Sorry if this is a big shocker (yeah, right), but if you’ve been reading the monthly Roundups, listening to the various podcasts or just perusing
the breadth and depth of Third Eye’s coverage of the literary, audio drama and filmic arenas over the past 6 years plus, you should already know where I stand on this.

Now, if you’d have said, here’s a proudly “out” band making a foray into the metal world, hey, welcome aboard. And yeah, we’ve covered more than a few bands fronted by or including not only gay and lesbian, but trans members (and encountering more such of late, in fact).

And our attitude is the same as ever: to quote the late John Lennon, hey, whatever gets you through the night – it’s alright.  Just don’t be hurting anybody else, and we’re cool…hell, I’ll even stand up there in the frontlines for your right to be who you want to be and say what you want to say. That’s the meaning of an open playing field and Constitutionally protected freedom of speech and expression.

So the fact that we’re talking about what may or may not be the world’s
first all-trans metal band, hey, you raise an eyebrow, but whatever – not
my thing, but go for it, if it’s yours.

But right off the bat…these, er, “gurls”, I guess (what is the proper term
to use here, beyond the individual “hir”?) set out to piss me off by their
(possibly, hopefully tongue in cheek?) “mission statement”:

“Peosphoros is a strictly politically correct Trans LGBTQMN Pink Metal band and multimedia art collective who are against black metal”…apparently, this album “explores problems of Black Metal culture, modern genocide of minorities, sexual liberation, power structures, sex worker artists…All the funds created from the album go to Syrian refugees and freedom of Palestine.”

Now, your call on the Syria/Palestine issue, and while they intend it somewhat differently, there’s nothing wrong with sexual liberation. Being against black metal per se?  Nah, sorry, not having it.

But what I’m talking about here, where any Third Eye faithful (or aficionado of any of our related podcasts) should know right off the bat that I’m going to slam this one down hard?

Yeah.

“strictly politically correct…modern “genocide” of minorities… “power structures”.

I have an issue with their mention of “sex worker “artists”, too, but that’s more of a subtle distinction relating to giving legitimacy to something fundamentally illegitimate and transgressive – read as you will, but that’s the meat of it, and not a major concern regardless.

But the rest of that statement (or more specifically, those elements extracted hereinabove)?

DING DING! You win the prize!

Yep, it’s more of that old Intersectionalist bullshit, taking HRC’s detestable “political correctness” (which so screwed up 90’s culture and interpersonal relations) and ramping it up to a new level of “identity politics”, where everyone’s a victim (and seriously…”genocide”?) except for…wait for it…(straight) white males.

Yeah, great philosophy, guys.  Way to unify and gain support for your position – alienate a major global demographic.  Maybe if you push hard enough, they just might react, align with and go to the exact extremes you’re pushing them towards. Fucking ingenious of you.

Seriously, what the fuck are you assholes thinking?

So, yeah, I could stop right here, never even listen to the damn album, and tell these guys to go fuck themselves, just from their mission statement.

Two things stop me: First, I know that crowd, and they’re also all about pushing buttons just to fuck with “the norms”…in that, we share some obvious kinship.

Second, I’m not like that – I believe in giving everyone a fair shake, regardless of where they stand personally.  They’ve succeeded admirably in setting up a decided negative bias with all their Intersectionalist alignment…but I’m going to take a deep breath, forget all the writeup and background, and just listen to the damn thing, trying to give the usual degree of objective assessment thereto.

So here goes.

(deep breath, sits in lotus position, centers and composes self)

umm…screech vox, weird spoken interludes, dual vocals that are somewhere between sprechtgesang and just plain whiny (and sound more than a bit like Sacha Baron Cohen’s Bruno)…

…oh, wait, now they’re attempting a sort of desperate, whiny toned black metal growl…do they ever bother to put distortion on those damn guitars? This is so indie rock lame…geez, can they even play their damn instruments, or is this all some weird arthouse performance art thing?

Yeah, even coming back to this half a day after writing the intro and in an entirely different headspace, I can attest with firm assurance that Pink Metal sucks some serious ass, just on a purely musical level.

It’s not black metal, it’s not metal of any sort…it’s just some bizarro indie gag, trying to take the piss out of metalheads – specifically straight metalheads, and most pointedly those into black metal.

It’s like a test – how will you react to this prodding?  And honestly…do you even want to give them the satisfaction of response, pro or con?

Fuck ’em.  And fuck this piece of shit album.

You already know where this one’s headed.

Just duck and cover, because the flames are going to flare like you’ve never seen before.

NEXT?!?!? 

  

Aynsophar – Abysmal Secrets of Unknown (Neverheard Distro) (September 22, 2017)

A “one woman prog metal” project. Sounds rather disjointed, to the point of falling apart completely even within the first minute.

Seriously.

She claims to be “inspired by Chuck Schuldiner’s charismatic riffs”…presumably she means the shit he was putting out towards the end of his life, because zero percent of this sounds like anything he was doing when anyone cared, back with Mantas and on the first three albums with players like Chris Riefert, Rick Rozz and James Murphy.

Noise rock for the death metal fan?

Whatever. One more to fuel the Pyre, that’s all that matters.

Makes me pine for the days of record contracts and A&R men, who while missing a lot of respectable acts in the rather difficult process to signing, recording, release and widespread distribution, similarly served to weed out crap like this.

Next?

NYDVIND – Seas of Oblivion (MALPERMESITA Records) (January 19)

Viking metal, with all the bombast, attention to melodicism and crystalline production that so oft implies.

Nydvind lean closer to a death-ified melodic power metal than the more typical black/Viking sort of thing you get with not only bands like Bathory, Enslaved and Hades, but with more recent ones like Tyr or (earlier) Manegarm as well.

If anything, Nydvind comes off as a sort of melodeath-drenched take on Vintersorg, albeit with far less expressive, multitracked vocals as the centerpiece (and necessarily, a more aggressive feel musically).
Even so, it’s surprisingly lush, beautifully, inobtrusively produced and impeccably performed, and does in fact merge multitracked clean chant vocals with more typical Viking/black metal snarls.

In its own way, just as good as, or at least a worthy contender to, the Manegarm throne for best Viking metal act out there today.

Very good stuff for its type.

MITHRIDATIC – He Who Lies Underneath (XENOKORP) (February 9)

Some Morbid Angelesque stutter and stop bits enliven this otherwise overagressive (and strangely somewhat generic) take on modern death metal.

Some good riffs mixed in there, but the band seldom fixes on any of them and just locks in for a good death metal “groove” – it’s more spastic “tech death” crossed with a sort of “brutal death metal” speed and aggression, where all the riffage blurs into one big off-brand mess of speedy forgettableness.

The fact that they toured with Nile should say it all. Did I mention this is a live album?

Pestilence, Considered Dead-era Gorguts, early Nocturnus, Morbid Angel (both A’s through C) and Suffocation are about as “tech” and “brutal” as I go…this isn’t unlistenable, but doesn’t do a whole hell of a lot for me, either.

Next?

AVSLUT – Deceptis (Osmose Productions) (February 23)

If you’re looking to form a black metal band…even a typically copycattish black/death affair like these guys…do you decide “hey, let’s name ourselves after a slag on Japanese porn starlets”?

Sure enough, AV Slut are nothing but another bunch of Watain Wannabe/Zombies, with nothing to offer the world but regurgitated riffage and slavishly xeroxed style…and a patently ridiculous name.

I don’t even have to toss this one into the Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards with any force, it’s practically walking there on its own steam.

Let’s move on, shall we?

MOURNFUL CONGREGATION – The Incubus of Karma (Osmose Productions) (March 23)

Funeral doom from down under…more or less. That is, when they have their distortion pedals set to the ‘on’ position…with or without the bottom of the bowels resonant vomit belch vox.

Opener “the indwelling ascent” is definitely the nicest (and most interesting) track on here, all lumbering through the quicksand/struggle
through molasses tempo guitars punctuated and contrasted with crystal clear toned multitracked (or at least heavily delayed and reverbed) leads…instrumental, but really good stuff. Opening the album on this one, they really set the bar high, and I was expecting rather good things from this album.

Unfortunately, the titular followup, while sticking to the instrumental thing and bearing the same lead setup, veers straight into folk metal cum prog, practically major key, it’s so damn light and happy. Nothing whatsoever to do with doom, more like…light shoegaze, perhaps? Not awful, but jarring in its ill fittingness.

With “whispering spiritscapes”, the band lurches into full on template funeral doom, and while it’s perfectly fine, I’m really missing the sound they had to offer on “indwelling ascent”…this is more par for the course, where the former track…hell, tracks were surprising and different.

No changes from here on out – they stick to the rather typical funeral doom throughout, even on the closing instrumental.

Bottom line, if you really dig the funeral doom sub-subgenre, you should love this just as much as any other iteration thereof.

But if you’re looking for something a bit different, more exciting, arguably somewhat prog-leaning while retaining a funereal, doomy core…you’ll have to settle for the opening track, then flip on over to one of the last two Ahab albums for your fix.

Alghazanth – Eight Coffin Nails (Woodcut Records) (March 31)

Sometimes I’m surprised to find just how many black metal bands are floating around out there.

I don’t even mean all the mediocre acts that popped up in recent years, all the Pile of Dead Bards Watain Wannabe “occult black metal” fodder or the hipster poseur “post-black” bullshit, but bands who’ve been together since some point in the 90’s, who despite being a diehard black metaller since the end of that very decade (arguably, until becoming disillusioned with the long running decline and fall of the genre about a year ago) I’d never actually heard of, or heard speak of, but never experienced on a proper “let’s hear the damn music” level.

Now, admittedly, it seems a lot of these hail from more obscure and unusual corners of Europe, which had traditionally been less feted than the usual Norwegian/Swedish (and later and to less broad appeal, Polish/French/US/UK/Quebecois) linchpins of the second wave and beyond – the Italians, the Greeks, newer scenes like Portugal and India…and one of my still-standing favorites, Finland.

Sure, when your exposure to the Finnish scene consisted mainly of the questionable Impaled Nazarene and a few death metal acts, it’s understandable that the old nose would turn up in distaste at the mere
mention of any presumably small and similarly minded scene of the same provenance…but discovering just how good, melodically driven and individual so many of these acts are simply leaves yours truly shaking his veteran head in disbelief.

How the fuck did I miss out on so many superior bands, for so many years? Blame the metal press, I guess…

Anyway, this act fascinates me not so much for their long history (dating all the way back to ’95, in fact), but for the fact that they ostensibly adhere to one of my most detested subgenres of black metal: “symphonic black metal”.

Sure, I love old Cradle of Filth (see, I admit these things, without a hint of shame…and Hammer of the Witches was an all too brief return to their pre-Midian heyday, so there!)…but seriously, Dimmu? Emperor? This stuff is just dogshit, as a rule.

So why does Eight Coffin Nails work so well as it does? Is it the subdued keyboards? The less than crystalline production, with vocals relegated to, at best, the same level as the guitars and drums? The sort of vintage Gloomy Grim tonality to the vox, while the drums feel more prone to well-mixed double bass than annoyingly childish blastbeats? The guitars that feel lush in a similar sense (but not slavishly so) to those of classic Cradle, rather than the sadly all too typical atonal open string bullshit of the Swedish black/death scene and its far too many copycat acts?

Honestly, for once, I can’t really say. I’m actually too surprised that this works so well as it does, given the ostensible orientation towards a subgenre I tend to despise with the heat of a thousand suns…and yet, not only was this “listenable” or “acceptable”…I really liked it.

Must be the Finnish coming out in their sound…because I’m simply not encountering many Finnish black metal acts (Barathrum and perhaps
IC Rex aside) that aren’t working for me…even now, when so much of the black metal scene has fallen by the wayside, collapsing on its own girth and initiative.

Very, very good stuff, particularly for the detestable “symphonic black metal” sound they ostensibly adhere to.

LORD OF PAGATHORN – Daimono Philia (January 31) (WOODCUT RECORDS)

Well, just to prove there’s exceptions to every rule…

After just getting done praising the Finnish scene above, I then flip over to…this.

Yeah, I don’t know. They seem to be pulling from several styles, from the more modern (the decidedly Watainish “evil to destroy evil”) to older, but not especially laudable iterations of almost childish blackthrash (“ghosts among us”) to a rather generic older school Swedish vibe, vaguely akin to the very earliest Marduk releases (“prayer of desecration”) to a half-assed blackened take on death metal proper (as opposed to the “black/death” misnomer) with “rise of the celestial scythe”. None of it works.

About the best you can say for it is that the relentless downward drive of the riffing brings something of an earlier Gaahl-era Gorgoroth feel to the table (my least favorite period of said band, but even so) and the vox definitely provide something of an “evil” sound to the proceedings.

Not the level of “toss into the Flaming Pyre”, really…but far, far from what I was just praising about the Finnish scene.

Nah, didn’t work for me in the least. Next?

  

Infernal Legion – Under The Cloven Hoof (Moribund Records) (February 23)

Suffocation wannabe vocals over a sort of oddly melodic black/death schtick.

The mix doesn’t work at all, but you can offer a nod of respect for their (for the genre) melodic-oriented riffing and lead lines, and even to some extent song construction – these tracks actually ebb and flow, and display a measure of proper harmonic motion (at least, once again, by comparison to the overly static, aimless vibe of Swedish-derivation black/death per se).

Don’t be fooled, this is by no means proper death metal in the classic Morrisound/Sunlight sense, but neither is it the instant toss to the Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards that black/death inevitably implies…an odd hybrid, to be sure.

Why “brutal/tech death” vocals over black/death (which is really just a particularly lousy variant of black metal having little or nothing to do with actual death metal, let’s be honest)? Why the melodic bits, actual riffs, multiple time and at least mode changes appended to, and thereby almost salvaging, such a trash can fodder subgenre of black metal?

Who the fuck knows. And no, it didn’t work. But it’s different enough that you’d be advised to give a listen before writing ’em off entirely.

 

Provocator – Satan, Chaos, Blood and Terror (Moribund Records) (February 23)

Straight up “bestial black metal”.

You know, that sub-subgenre that often borders and mixes with the related “war metal”, kicked off by Finland’s Beherit and continued by the likes of Black Witchery? Yep.

Well, I personally get a kick out of Beherit – though a 1992 purchase of The Oath of Black Blood tape solely on the merits of its cover and title left me disappointed and confused (what is this blur of messy noise? I was expecting Bathory circa Under the Sign of the Black Mark…), as did a late 90’s/early millenium attempt at Drawing Down the Moon (what the hell…is this even the same band?), they’ve grown on me significantly over the years, having become a staple in regular rotation ever since – even sport the Black Blood shirt on a regular basis, so yeah, I’d say I’ve been hooked for many a year.

As with “war metal”, there’s often little variation (allowed?) in “bestial black metal”, so if you like the progenitor of the style (Beherit), you’re probably going to have at least tolerance, if not love, towards those who keep the sound going.

I’d say Provocator falls somewhere on the low middle of that spectrum, with the vox tending towards being overly goofy (the title track), the guitars too childishly played (especially the “leads”) and the drums practically a tinkertoy drum machine (a silly affectation which they likely stole from early Bathory).

Even so, I was more or less good with this (as is so often the case with the nearly indistinguishable “bestial” and “war” metal subgenres), and enjoyed the appropriation of classic Tom Araya screams and the occasional Tom G. Warrior grunt amidst the all too silly vocal shenanigans otherwise.

If you like the subgenre(s), you’ll probably enjoy the extra hints of aggression and slight variations from template this one has to offer.

More standard black metal fans will hear this, shake their heads and laugh.

Systemik Viølence – Anarquia-Violência (Raw ‘N’ Roll Rex) (March 31)

With many of its tracks kicking off with bizarre soundbytes – what sounds like a Tony Robbins self help seminar, some Intersectionalist asshole spouting off their delusions (hey, wonder if it was the guys from Peosphorus?), this one’s a straight up anarcho-blackthrash stormer, blazing through one track after another of (mainly Spanish language) old school punk-style revolution.

What’s really weird here is, they’re by no means punk…and despite hailing from Portugal (and speaking mainly in Portuguese), they’re actually an all-Japanese quartet. Go figure.

Well, I can only hope they weren’t serious with that Intersectionalist crap (hard to tell, when the track it kicks off is called “male dumbinance”) and just trying to push buttons…because otherwise, a lot of what I’m picking up here is more “right on, brother!” than “oh, please, with that bullshit…”

The possible misguidedness of that one track aside, this one’s pretty solid blackthrash, with a…well, I can’t really say “positive”, but a definite social message, rather than the usual “yay, satan” bullshit.

I definitely dug this, yeah.

DEAD RIVER RUNS DRY (Australia) – Hierophants of the Storm (Hardcover Digipak CD) (Static Tension Records (US) (January 26)

Maybe it was the download, but this one was swirling and swishing all
over the place. Bad drumming or cymbal signal bleed, maybe? Who
knows. The guitars certainly sounded fat…

So this is sort of death metal (the massive guitar tone, some of the riffing, the death growl vox) with elements of black metal (some blastbeat bullshit on tracks like “skull of the wind”, some Abbath-like croak vox that appear every now and again).

With a little work, this could pass for post-glory days Immortal (think anything from At the Heart of Winter forward)…but there’s a bit too much quirkiness to the package to qualify (the weird, indie metal break midway through “revenge upon fate”, for example, or the opening of “hyperic vortex”.)

I’m going to re-download this one, and if I have a different experience, I’ll report back…otherwise, while an interesting variation on what is usually referred to as “black/death” (this is no Watain Wannabe, that’s for sure…more of a proper (modern) death metal act gone somewhat black metal), I can’t say I found this an enjoyable listen, with all that digital swish and swirl throughout.

KILLIBRIUM (India) – Purge (self released) (March 5)

Yes! Actual death metal, for a change!

Not a retro copycat of some other, more successful act, not one of tens of thousands of faux-“death metal” acts that are actually black metal bands in disguise, not some djent wannabe “tech death” job…but a recognizably, if clearly modern, death metal act.

That in and of itself is something of a relief, nowadays…

Promo materials note an affinity towards second tier vintage acts like
Vader (definitely), Monstrosity (yeah, I can hear it) and Malevolent Creation (nah, but I can see why they said that…think post-Retribution), just so you get the general vibe they’re drawing from…but there’s nothing slavish about these Desi.

Plus, you’ve gotta love a guy who goes by the name of “Bunty” (bass)…

At times, a bit too “tech” for my tastes (“denominator”, “vigilante”), but there’s enough of the more Vader meets Sinister feel to what they’re doing here to keep old school death metallers like yours truly fairly well chuffed.

Strong (if obviously in your face and ProTools-ish) production, powerful guitars, no weak members to single out…it just works.  Possibly moreso after so much iffy material covered this month, but even so.

Maza aa gaya, guys!

STARK DENIAL (India) – Covenant of Black (Transcending Obscurity India (sub-label) (March 25)

Basic but believable enough “third wave” black metal (think late 90’s), with a touch of Hat or Pest-era Gorgoroth to the vocals, stronger production (despite the deliberate mids and treble-heavy guitar tone) and the general vibe of…well, promo materials note Nargaroth and Satyricon, and yeah, you can hear elements of each to the overall approach here.

There are even some definite riffs at points – “dormant I lie” being a good example thereof – and not every damn song sounds just like the one before it.

For just one example, “unknown world” slows things down quite a bit, before returning to a more typical black metal tempo, then slowing to a gallop…finally more of a lurching tiptoe. Very Nargaroth in that respect. Then “carnage angel” works the vibe of Gaahl era Gorgoroth, but manages to avoid the nigh-Watain crossover that implies. The tempo is deliberate, the feel overdramatic…but it still remains somewhat individual, before again switching to a completely different pace for a few bars. Then back to the top…

Is this my idea of great black metal? Well…not really. But then again, in all fairness, I’ve moved away from the scene somewhat of late, adhering mostly to first wave material and bits of the very early second wave, plus a few Legions Noires, Polish and especially Finnish acts. It’s been a hell of a downgrade from the far more comprehensive and regular rotation folks who knew me were accustomed to.

So let’s rephrase the question somewhat. Is this decent, believable, competently performed, listenable black metal that may very well excite fans of the more “populist” mid-to-late 90’s post-second wave BM scene?

Yeah, no question. Hands down, this is good stuff…and mind, it’s brand new, and hailing from Indian shores.

Take those caveats into consideration for a bit of a curve, and this is a rather solid effort, well worth giving a listen to.

And for what it’s worth, I didn’t mind this one bit.

HARFANG – Slice of Life (Legion of Death (France) (September 20, 2017) 

You know, I’ve long been aware of (and enjoyed) the High Power self titled, and have had Lust’s We’ll Never Die in the collection for occasional spins for some time. More recently, I’ve discovered the first Nightmare album Waiting for the Twilight (come on, one of you guys, reissue this one to CD already!) and a few Greek retro reissue labels’ unearthings like Excess and (the French) Steel Angel…so to hear that France had an actual, somewhat thriving metal scene back in the 80’s no longer bears any measure of surprise.

As typical for the French sound of that era, Harfang comes complete with almost speaking tone male vocals, thin but distorted, almost 70’s hard rock guitars with dual leads and a general NWOBHM feel. Yeah, if you dig NWOBHM, traditional and US power metal, you should be right at home in the classic French scene…and this one’s no exception.

The only issue, which does come up often enough with this particular scene, is the sound quality on some of the earlier, more demo derived material – even remastered, it’s decidedly less than stellar, to be nice about it – even on their compilation appearance!

Some sites I’ve seen have absolutely eviscerated reissues with similar recording quality (which I found acceptable enough, given the distance of time, presumed rarity and likely tape masters on the material…hell, at least it
wasn’t remastered from vinyl, the greatest audio sin a label can commit!) – so be forewarned.

But if you’re looking for good, melodic heavy metal with Thin Lizzy by way of NWOBHM influence, you really can’t go wrong with any of the aforementioned…or more to the point, this 2 disc collection of the band’s trio of demos, a compilation appearance, a pair of rehearsal tracks and a whole lot of live material (yeah, I know, live material is seldom if ever my thing either…but at least it’s comprehensive and covers material otherwise unrecorded).

Spawned From Hatred (UK) – Promo 2018 (January 10)

Thick toned guitars, bowel-deep belch vox and a paradoxically high degree of hiss and signal bleed to offset what otherwise seems to be a fairly full production tonality.

Two tracks, they’re sort of trying to be Suffocation crossed with Gorefest…but for God’s sake, do something about all that oddly thin toned treble end distortion and cymbal-driven red zone signal bleed!

Generic, but listenable death metal in that sort of “brutal”/proto-tech manner.

 

KILLING ADDICTION – Omega Factor reissue (Xtreem Music) (March 9)

Okay, a Florida death metal act from back in the day nobody’s ever heard of. Sounds good, I’ve been checking out more and more of these demo (or EP)-only bands of late…

Anyway, these guys apparently dropped an album nobody ever heard of…maybe it was a thing locally?…right around the scene’s collapse in ’93, and that’s included here, alongside their prior 3 track EP and 4 track demo.

Their overall sound is pretty good – promo materials mention Rottrevore and Napalm Death in the same sentence, which if you can wrap your head around that and recognize they’re talking “death metal Napalm” circa Harmony Corruption, then yeah, that’s a pretty good summation of what the band is working here.

The recordings…well, if you’re used to similar death metal retrospective releases from Necroharmonic and similarly minded labels, you know what to expect – the material from the CD is fair, but a bit thin toned and trebly, the EP material sounds like absolute shit (could have been recorded live on a boom box, it’s that bad) and the demo material, while a step up from that, comes off like a lot of death metal demos – not as noisy as the Autopsy demos, but on par with the likes of the Gorguts or Pestilence demos or even some of the noisier Mantas (nee Death) ones.

Sound quality may be the best you’re going to get without some major restoration, but these guys are pretty damn obscure (take it from a veteran death metaller – never even heard of these guys…) don’t expect miracles here.

Still in all, I’m always glad to get these sort of “career discographies” on long forgotten outliers and obscurities of the metal scene, particularly when they’re as decent as Killing Addiction are.

Well worth your time, if the dustier corners of vintage death metal’s your thing.

PS, great photoshop job on the promo photo, there.

To quote my Weird Scenes cohost Louis, Yeesh...

Coldawn – …In The Dawn (Flowing Downward) (February 26)

Really nice, lush production on the quieter moments…overly noisy and
mids-heavy on the more distorted, black metallish ones.

This is an all (or mainly) instrumental affair, mixing the contemplativity
of earlier Alcest with the dejected despair of emo punk, while
appending strings, piano, dual acoustic guitars and even spacey synth
before bringing in the loud guitars, typewriter drumming and possibly
pre-vocal ululation black metallish processed shrieks.

It’s all fairly thoughtful, introspective and mournful, and would get a
much higher rating were the production issues noted above resolved,
rather than being pulled out of the mood on a regular basis by the
irritatingly overly mids-oriented noisiness of the guitars and Waxen-ish
“rigged microphone” shrieks.

Bottom line: I like the band, I’m good with the music (quite a bit,
actually…), but the production clashes and lets them down badly.

Lumnos – Ancient Shadows Of Saturn (Flowing Downward) (February 26)

Arguably of similar mind and bent to Colddawn comes the one man Brazilian bedroom band Lumnos, who messes with the formula by exchanging the Alcestlike strings and piano bits (for the most part) with space rock ambient keyboards and synth.

It’s still pretty “Cascadian” and introspective…but at times (like “no soul is near”, the middle eight of “existentialism” or “I am born from a star”) it gets more Tangerine Dream gone black metal than not.

Interesting pair of releases from this new Avantgarde sublabel…definitely looking forward to hearing where both of these guys (and the new label) go from here.

THY FEEBLE SAVIOUR – And Darkness Fell (CD, LP) (Hells Headbangers) (March 23)

Sort of a more thrashy take on old Incantation, minus the doominess and with lighter toned, more black metallish vocals.

As you might expect, this is darker and crustier than your typical US blackthrash, but not as sinister and blackened doom as Goatlord…and yet still falls into a sort of nether region betwixt and between vintage Incantation and early, perhaps even demo-era Autopsy.

If that sort of dark, underground, very late 80’s/early 90’s sonic mush appeals to you as much as it does yours truly, just ignore the stupid band name…and then you know what to do.

GRANDIOSE MALICE – The Eternal Infernal (CD, LP) (Hells Headbangers) (March 30)

Late Black Witchery six stringer Steve Childers recorded guitar and bass demos for a proposed solo project, luckily enough sending them out to fellow friends for their thoughts before kicking that big metaphorical bucket two years back. With posthumously appended vox and drums and artwork, those demos were remastered and released, and it’s a whole lot fatter sounding, wide open and expansive than anything he was doing with his main gig.

It’s still black metal at core, with a strong blackthrash bent…but “bestial black” or “war metal”? Nope. This is more traditional in that respect, with actual riffage and discernible time changes, solos, a base more attuned to midtempo than high speed…you know, the works.

As such, Childers’ final work, however close it may or may not adhere to his intent, stands head and shoulders above his more famed body of work, being simultaneously more driving, sinister sounding and palatable to a more mainstream audience than anything the decidedly “kvlt” Black Witchery ever produced.

Think of this as his Danzig self titled, in a way – in pulling back and leaving more room to breathe, he’s produced what may well be his defining, if sadly final, moment.

Recommended.

   

Veiled – Black Celestial Orbs LP/CD (Iron Bonehead) (March 16)

The former Gnosis of the Witch, whose split with Gra and Dauor Buror Prysvar step up their game a bit with a new drummer and moniker.

Vocals still kind of blow, but the production is much better this time around, and when they’re not getting lost on some weird atonal tangent (as in “portal”), they at least find a formula and stick to it, all driving tremelo guitars and at least muted blastbeat drumming (which come off a bit more acceptable than usual by being shoved down almost to double bass levels in the mix).

It’s the sort of black metal that, while not pointedly introspective or “Cascadian”/”blackgaze” school, still sets a mood and leaves the listener drifting into a more meditative state…and as such, unlike their last two efforts under the old band naming convention, I actually liked this.

The new drummer (perhaps not coincidentally, from the aforementioned splitmates Gra) also seems to have helped – check out the proggy fills at the halfway mark of “black celestial orbs”, he’s clearly a better player than the usual blastbeat and nothing else bullshit you get from black metal these days. If he stuck to the more jazzy/proggy kitwork and syncopation throughout? This would have been absolutely killer.

And did I mention the Gra connection? Yeah, well that band’s frontman, currently working vox for the new and improved Dark Funeral, also handles production duties here…and as noted hereinabove, his efforts were not insubstantial in shaping a much improved Gnosis of the…er…”Veiled” this time around.

Fortuitous meeting, indeed, that split with Gra…

Definitely worth checking out.

Ascension – Under Ether (W.T.C. Productions) (March 30)

Oddly, overly thick toned yet flat production marks this otherwise all too typical black/death affair, this time out of Germany.

Other than the weirdly dry, hollow toned production, the only other thing that leaves Ascension somewhat outside of proscribed template for this shit subgenre is their propensity towards stopping songs at the midway point for some quiet, almost ambient business for a few bars.

Yeah, did nothing for me, that’s for damn sure.

Not as fiercely emotive a toss into the Pyre this time around. But did you really have any doubts where this one was headed?

Rites of Thy Degringolade – The Blade Philosophical LP/CD (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (March 15)

Weirdly experimentalist black/death affair out of Canada. You know, the country that gave us Unexpect?

Yeah. You get the general picture here.

Not as crazy as Unexpect, but don’t walk in looking for your standard Watain/Dissection template “song structure”…though it’s clearly drawing from that sound more than any other.

Pointless.

Next?

Morbosidad – Corona de Epidemia LP/CD (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (March 15)

We covered (and loved) their Tortura a few years back, and while this one doesn’t come off quite so well as that release, it does continue in the same base vein of decidedly underground, more or less “bestial black metal”.

There’s too much reverb on the vocals, the guitars are (for the genre) appropriately raw and in your face, and once again they get a guest appearance from a metal “legend” – this time, Beherit drummer Jari “Sodomatic Slaughter” Pirinen, on one track (don’t think it was mentioned in the earlier review, but Death/Autopsy drummer/vocalist Chris Riefert was the sacrificial lamb last time around).

If you dig this subgenre of black metal, and especially if Tortura rang your church bell four years back, you’ll probably get a kick out of this one as well.

Enoquian – Llamas De Gloria Primera (Satanath Records / Morbid Skull Records) (November 25)

Argentinian black metal, more or less working the traditional South American blackthrash sound you’d expect.

Vox are a little more “evil”, as are some of the riffs (particularly on tracks like “destructores del ser”). Others are more thrashy (“control trapezoidal” is practically Vio-Lence worthy), but mostly it’s right up the usual alley of Sarcofago/Vulcano/Holocausto school blackthrash.

Even so? Didn’t do much for me, to be honest.

Hak-Ed Damm – Holocaust Over Dresden (Satanath Records / Death Portal Studio) (November 26)

Apparently these Quebecois are history obsessed, or so available sources all claim.

Good thing, as much like Marduk, they flirt with WWII imagery to an uncomfortably large extent here (promo materials make a point of playing up the fact that this is intended as a concept album and emphasizing the evils and horrors of the period under consideration, so it seems unlikely that this is some hardline Resistance Records sort of affair – so you can, albeit guardedly, put down the torches, all you folks in the back of the room).

Looks like this is the vocalist’s last album with them (they recruited a new one, post-release), which is just as well – it’s black metal, so you expect harsh vox, but these were a bit too shrieky and screamy for my tastes.

Hard to make out the band beneath those vox, to be honest – not only are they hard to take, but they’re mixed and mastered right up front and center, with the band buried well behind…

Yeah, again – didn’t work for me.

  

Garhelenth – About Pessimistic Elements & Rebirth Of Tragedy (Satanath Records / The Eastern Front) (December 14)

Armenian act (though it appears the members may be of Iranian and Georgian descent, respectively).

Straightforward, driving black metal of the later 90’s school. Production’s not bad, though the mix is kind of screwy: guitars are a bit loud, nearly met by the vox, with drums buried way in the back. Not horrible by any means…but not right, either.

Again…did nothing for me.

  

Inhibitions – La Danse Macabre (Satanath Records / Ira Aeterna) (January 13)

Greek symphonic metal band. At times, they bear that winning first wave-ish quirkiness of countrymen Rotting Christ…until the tinkling keyboards kick in, and they go all Virgin Steele for no apparent reason.

Paging Dave DeFeis…Dave DeFeis to the recording studio, you’re requested for some black metal album…

Oh, did I mention there are some traditional instruments like the bouzouki that come into play at points? Felt like I was at a sunny outdoor taverna, drinking ouzo and smashing plates for a few minutes, there…

When they’re not trying to be all “symphonic”, these guys seemed fine to me. A bit unhinged and off kilter even at their best moments, but yeah, those parts were good enough.

It’s when DeFeis shows up and goes all House of Atreus on their asses that things really fall apart.

Neter – Inferus (Satanath Records / Cimmerian Shade Recordings / Murdher Records / Black Plague Records) (January 15)

Spanish death metal act.

Extremely in your face, fat toned guitars (they literally sound like those huge pillars from the cover art, surrounding and subsuming everything else beneath and between), machine gun riffing and concomitantly spastic drum patterns.

Yep, they’re all tech death-ified in the vein of, say, Nile, but with the throaty “manly” vocal approach of a Vader and some lead lines that come off more than a tad black metallish.

I guess if Sinister (or the renamed Neocaesar Sinister recently morphed into) lapsed into a lesser production and lost some of that veteran musician polish, you might get something a bit along the lines of Neter.

Not bad, though I’ll stick to the original acts they’re drawing from (or reminding us of) for now.

Better production, more polish, a more defined feel, and these guys could have something more than a flash in the pan here.

  

Taiga – Cosmos (Symbol Of Domination / Final Gate Records) (December 15)

Russian black metal of a strange bent. At least the keyboards were decent…(nudge, wink)

Picture the “blackgazey”, sort of “Cascadian” contemplative end of BM (you could also bring Vardan into the equation here…and don’t forget the emo-esque post-black vibe of track 3!), but with the stupid little girl screaming and whining of Fleurety, and you’ve got Taiga nailed right up to the cross.

To quote my ancient countryman Pontius Pilate:

What I have writ, I have writ.

I wash my hands of this band’s blood!

Next?

Bastardos – S/T [re-release] (GrimmDistribution / Morbid Skull Records) (November 24)

Argentinian thrash. Aggressive to the point of falling off the rails.

Production’s a bit odd, with a thin toned, snappy drum sound (obviously thin dish snare, but the whole kit sounds rather “wet”) and guitars that sound almost bass string crisp. I guess closest analogues would be Massacre’s The Second Coming or Suffocation’s Breeding the Spawn…

Vocals are a bit unusual, in that they come off somewhere between Tom Araya, a young Max Cavalera and the guy from Devastation circa Idolatry – the only common denominators there being “Latin heritage” and “thrash acts”. Who the hell knows. Still works for ’em, so good enough.

I was reasonably happy with this one, yeah – not exactly a thrash classic for the ages, but definitely stronger than a lot of bands in the genre releasing material nowadays.

Who knows, it may wind up another killer sleeper like Idolatry, given time and exposure.

Nadir – The Sixth Extinction (GrimmDistribution / NGC Productions) (December 4)

Hungarian doom/death…or so they say. Production’s wayyyy too thin and abrasive for the relaxed/contemplative/depressive vibe you expect from the genre…and those glass gargling aggro vox? No way.

Even the guitars don’t sound right – they’re too detuned and groove/aggro bouncy for either death or doom, despite some definite doomishness to bits like the midsection of “fragmented”. It’s like Pantera decided to cut their idea of a doom album, or something…

oh, wait, promo materials are telling…mentions they opened for (check this out) Crowbar, Pro-Pain and (presumably post-“death n’roll”) Entombed…yeah. Even other bands heard and picked up on it.

Nah. Didn’t work at all, particularly given the sound and subgenre(s) they set out to achieve.

Enoid – Livssyklus & Dodssyklus [compilation] (GrimmDistribution / Final Gate Records) (December 16)

Extremely raw, poorly produced, hissy, snarl-fronted Swiss black metal act. Triggered drums (so fast on the foot pedal they sound like one of those Atari Teenage Riot drum machine/CD skip noise things), not much to latch onto here.

Best track: “elduretni”.

Why? Because it’s nothing but start/end of vinyl record crackling…

Yeah, pass…

Next?

Manipulation – The Future Of Immortality [re-release] (GrimmDistribution) (December 24)

Polish death metal…or more precisely, black/death metal.

What the hell is it with all these black metal acts calling themselves death metal, when they use what are obviously black metal vocals, occult or at least philosophical/metaphysical lyrics, blastbeat drumming and “sinister” tremelo riffing alternating with open string riffing? Do a few crunchy, meaty death riffs peppered throughout suddenly negate your black metal bonafides?

I don’t think so.

Yeah, they’re not exactly Behemoth, here…but this ain’t even in the same ballpark as acts like Deicide, Pestilence, Morbid Angel, Bolt Thrower, Carcass, Death, et al…

Next?

Evil Nerfal – Bellum Est Pater Omnium (GrimmDistribution / Morbid Skull Records) (January 9)

We covered (and liked) their self titled debut last summer, so how does the follow up fare?

Well, after an odd opera-style orchestral overture (don’t ask me…), we find a strangely laid back, even subdued and far more midtempo oriented act than last time around.

It’s got much better production, though it’s a bit “dry” for my tastes, with nearly zero room ambience – it’s like there were pillows shoved right up against the instruments and speakers, and microphones stuck right up in front of them at less than a body length distance.

But yeah…the sound and feel have changed dramatically, and I don’t think it’s solely down to the vocals being more controlled and less wild and rabid dog snarling in tone. In fact, the entire feel of the band has changed to the point where taken side by side, I barely recognize them as the same band.

So the question is…what the fuck happened?

Honestly, I don’t have a clue – not seeing much in the promo materials about changes between the two releases, so you’re on your own.

Suffice to say, what I loved about last year’s self titled does not apply here in any way…it’s not horrible taken in isolation, but really did nothing for me whatsoever.

And worse, it was a serious letdown, after a promising debut.

Kaak – Litanies Of Pain [ep] (self released)

Almost black industrial on the first track…then nu metallish on the second, with those detuned, rubbery sounding guitars and bass getting all spastic on your ass.

Yeah, by track 3, we’re talking the black metal Mr. Bungle.

Needless to say…I don’t get it.

And thus the verdict…

Forget it.

 

 

Advertisements