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By now, you’ve probably noticed these are coming through a week or two later than usual, as headlines themselves may suggest.

So it happens that all of a sudden, you’re seeing February reviews at the start of March, March ones at the start of April…hey.  Life gets in the way, and for someone who’s ostensibly out of the corporate workforce of late, it’s been at least twice as busy – working on the reboot of a certain podcast only being a small part thereof.

But even more than that, there’s been a welcome increase in folks coming to us, offering up their rosters for our delectation and dissection…or if you prefer, to the vagaries of critical review, in our patented honest, straightforward, incisive and idiosyncratic manner.

Like I always tell my wife, love us or hate us, you sure as hell ain’t gonna find nobody else like us.  Selah.

So, hey, if anyone’s getting antsy wondering where their stuff is lately, just chill – hold yer britches, it’s coming, same monthly basis, same (increasingly) full roster as ever.  Just may be an extra few baited breaths before the bounties are bestowed upon y’all.

Hell, if we can still get Winter weather the day after April Fools…

Now, that apologia of sorts aside, prepare for a bit of a weird one.  In addition to covering a bit more stuff outside the usual purview (think more indie and punk business, which if you consider, really ain’t much outside what we cover in the first damn place!), there’s a surprising number of releases this month that just left us…well, kind of flabbergasted.

Like…I get that they’re trying to be X, and they’re sort of achieving at least (X-Y+Z with a touch of B), but what the fuck is with all this H and J shit they smeared all over the top?

Yeah, I know…this is what the younger acts do nowadays…and to some extent, this is what happens every month.  But that’s with, what, 2 or 3 bands out of the 60-100 plus releases covered each month here?

Not this month, kids.  There’s a lot more than a handful, this time around…

So, with those ominous overtones, shall we proceed?

Onward…

(cue scary music)

BULLETBOYS – From Out of the Skies (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (March 23)

You know, back in the day, I never got it.

When they dropped back in ’88, the media (and more sheeplike members of the metal scene) made this huge ass stink over the Bulletboys, whose main claim to fame was brief Mark Free replacement vocalist Marq Torien and fellow King Kobra alum Mick Sweda.

Like I said, I never got it. When your big thing is former members of a workaday third tier act like King Kobra, and your big song being pushed is “smooth up in ya”…yeah. I’m sorry, never saw what was supposed to be so great here, even by comparison to the cheesefest likes of Warrant (who at least had “cherry pie” to their credit) or Firehouse (who were, if nothing else, a lot more melodic).

Why Warner signed and made such a push for these guys? Who the fuck knows, maybe they had something over on somebody there.

OK, I’m laughing, it’s a joke.  But seriously…never got why anyone thought these guys were a big deal. Hell, their sound was too variant from what was going down in Hollywood metal, be it the more traditional, “glam”/AOR or GNR-style Aerosmith/Hanoi Rocks worship scenes thereof…and it just never worked for me.

So here they are, many a year on, and it turns out that they kept going right through the mid 90’s, then came back again for a reasonably steady slate of releases throughout the millenium. Who knew? Is there a hardline, dedicated Bulletboys fanbase following these guys along for all these years? If so, who and where the hell are these people?

Well, bottom line…I got more than halfway through the album before realizing the song even changed. Torien’s the only surviving member, and as you might expect from a guy with such a bluesy rasp/howl back in ’88, his voice is a little worse for wear – not terribly damaged or anything, but you can tell he’s older and has put those vocal chords through the ringer over the intervening years.

Also…the albums’ filled with mellow material, from acoustic to trip hop jazz to nigh-countrified business to straight up piano based balladeering. It’s hardly a rocker.

So what can I offer here? I never dug the band (to say “smooth up” is their claim to fame isn’t exactly a moment of pride), and this isn’t exactly the same band – not even talking member-wise, but musically – that I last encountered and shook my head at.

Whoever those Bulletboy hardliners are out there, following Torien and whomever else for all these years in relative silence, y’all will probably have a very different take on this one than I ever could.

L.A. GUNS – Made in Milan Deluxe edition (Cd+DVD) (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (March 23)

OK, this one’s a CD/DVD combo, so realize that once again, I’m reviewing at something of a loss (we’re only covering audio here).  It’s Phil Lewis and Tracii Guns, in Italy, playing a selection of their hits.

Lewis doesn’t sound bad at all, particularly given his rather unique pipes and a few intervening decades since their rather excellent debut, and Guns seriously rips through solos (sadly, tending to keep things more in the vein of note for note rather than with added improv and expansion) on tracks like “(Show) No Mercy”, “Electric Gypsy”, “Sex Action” and “One More Reason”, plus a few tracks from their more mainstream follow up Cocked & Loaded.

There’s some other tracks I never heard before, so presumably those hail from later material – these guys were all about the debut, for my money. But in any case, both veterans are in good form and deliver a fairly intense, driving set throughout.

It’s no secret L.A. Guns were one my favorites of this “new school” of Hollywood metal – a strong guitarist and one or two killer tracks like “night train” aside, their rivals for “scene leaders” simply didn’t rate, so far as I’m concerned.

So while live albums tend to be a shrug of the shoulders for me…there was enough classic material performed with energy and on point here to keep this veteran happy.

W.E.T. – Earthrage (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (March 23)

We’ve had W.E.T.’s Robert Sall on the show previously, and both he and Erik Martenson have contributed to any number of bands (and served as producer and songwriter on even more of such) covered in these pages over the years. Need we even mention the legendary Yngwie Malmsteen frontman Jeff Scott Soto?

So it’s really no surprise to hear that the three of them together not only equals, but well surpasses their respective solo work and other bands. These are three men known for hitting all the bases, with a proven track record of solid songwriting…production…and perhaps most importantly, performance.

W.E.T. specializes in the sort of hot and heavy AOR that borders on metal proper, and specifically “modern metal” at that – big, crunchy guitars, powerful production, assured vocals and more melodicism and proper songcraft than you can shake a stick at.

Even those who turn their noses at the whiff of AOR may find themselves inextricably drawn to some of the material herein – it’s got more heft and punch than you’d expect, and if anything, feels more ’86-’87 metal radio than the more Journey meets Boston by way of Styx territory generally associated with the AOR genre.

I mean, hell…even the fucking ballads work, and I’m not skipping through them with due haste.  What’s that saying?

Simply untouchable, these guys.

NO HOT ASHES – S/T (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (March 23)

OK, here’s another weird one for ya. This handful of Irish lads form a band. They do some supporting gigs, most notably for Girlschool, which leads them to sign to that band (and Motorhead’s) then-label, GWR.

Well, everybody knows about the issues with Bronze Records, which soon spilled over to that label’s new owners, GWR…so in the process of all this, the band’s planned album was shelved and the band called it quits.

But as these things seem to go, lately, they got back together for a reunion show, which down the road led to the idea to re-record (or maybe record for the first time, it’s unclear what the status is on that album so long ago) all their old material, hence this album. But of course, there’s always another problem to hurdle – this time, the loss of their longtime bassist (again, whether during or post-recordings is unclear, but he’s on the album). So here’s that album, recorded or re-recorded at last, now released in tribute to their fallen comrade.

So drama and history aside, how does this one hold up?

Well…it’s a mixed bag, really. Some tracks are reasonably punchy (“glow”, “come alive”, “souls”), but others are pretty countrified (“good to look back”, “satisfied”, “boulders”, “running red lights”), with frontman Eamon Nancarrow often coming off like a less Northern Soul take on Simply Red, others with a rather Nashville twang.

So this leaves them rather schizophrenic in the end. Are they shooting for the AOR crowd? The country crowd? Diehard Simply Red fanboys? The pieces simply don’t fit together, or belong in the same sentence, much less the same album.

When they actually have some drive to them (i.e., the first three tracks aforementioned), they’re really not bad at all.

The rest…nah. This is sooooooo not my thing.

   

Dead City Ruins – Never Say Die (AFM Records) (April 13)

Southern groove-inflected 90’s heavy rock out of Melbourne.

I guess if you added vague hints of Black Sabbath to a pinch of dual guitar Southern Rock ala Molly Hatchet to the sort of yeah, sure, whatever almost countrified hard rock cum Southern groove sound you got with bands like Zodiac Mindwarp, Lynch Mob, Black Label Society, Corabi-era Crue and The Scream, then tag in the not entirely out of the same ballpark sound of grunge acts like Soundgarden or Alice in Chains, you might get something like Dead City Ruins.

Look, the promo writeup involves road war stories from a tour with Mastodon, so that should spell it all out for you right there.

As the Molly Hatchet reference should hint at, they have some chops buried beneath it all, and there’s enough of a CoC-lite by way of Ozzy-era Sabbath vibe to keep them more or less melodic if not catchy at the choruses…but all this 90’s-ness is definitely not my thing.

  

Bonfire – Temple Of Lies (AFM Records) (April 13)

OK, this is weird…remember Bonfire?  Showed up out of nowhere in the mid to late 80’s, dropped a few albums you’d occasionally hear tracks from on the radio, sorta glammy mainstream metal leaning towards the lighter, more melodic side of the equation?

Yeah. Apparently they’ve been kicking around since the early 70’s, as long or longer than Priest and the Scorpions. My mouth dropped, too.

The trick is, they were some band nobody ever heard of called “Cacumen”, who didn’t release a thing until the NWOBHM broke things open in ’79…and Bonfire proper (the members, the sound, the image) didn’t actually debut till ’86, just like veterans would remember. Still sort of “out of the blue”, in international terms, but who the hell knew?

Anyway, they apparently kept kicking around even through the death of metal during the grunge decade, dropping fairly steady releases between ’96 and today. Again, who the hell knew this?

So regardless, here they are with their umpteenth singer and lineup change (don’t even ask – apparently Bloodbound/Silent Force frontman Michael Boorman and Bangalore Choir/Accept frontman David Reece both cycled in and out of membership along the way…it gets confusing as shit.) and it’s a reasonably crunchy affair, coming off a whole hell of a lot more metal proper than I recall them being back in their 80’s heyday.

The melodic basis is still present and accounted for, leaving anthemic choruses and bridges (and the occasional lighter-waving power ballad) in their wake. But of more interest are moments that seem to cross trad, glam and US power metal ala classic bands like Lion or Banshee (“stand or fall”, “I’ll never be loved by you”, “I help you hate me”), which show a much stronger, more worthy of attention Bonfire than I remember from so many years past.

Who knows, it’s been a lot of years – maybe those late 80’s efforts were better than we gave ’em credit for at the time.

All I can tell you is that this is a pretty damn solid album, sure to please fans of harder edged AOR and melodic metal and diehard US power metal addicts alike.

Salute, you guys earned it.

Black Foxxes – Reiði (Spinefarm Records) (March 16)

Speaking of indie shoegaze and Britpop, here comes a UK act who very unashamedly works the whole retro-120 Minutes thing, bringing vague memories of the likes of James, Supergrass and even Oasis to mind in all their fuzzed out, bass-driven mopiness (or is that muted depressive cheeriness?) and whining emotive vocals associated with that scene.

Weirdly, frontman Mark Holley chats it up about TMI personal issues like his social anxiety diagnosis and IBS…I shit you not (pun intended). Umm…yay?  That was…er…brave of you, big group clap?

(shakes head in silent disbelief)

…so anyway, if you’re the sort still hanging onto your Radiohead shirts and longing for the return of bands like Blur and Curve, look no further – this Britpop trio brings plenty of melody and decent song construction to their shoegazey, alternately dreamy and groundedly pissed off sound.

Production’s strong, and the whole thing is highly listenable of its type…not exactly our go-to in terms of sound and genre, but no denying it bears a certain, rather pronounced melancholic appeal, bringing memories of the career of Patsy Kensit and suchlike to the fore.

Hopelessly, wonderfully retro, you say?

Why, what makes you say that?

(cough)

Next?

Black Moth – Anatomical Venus (Candlelight/Spinefarm) (February 23)

What would you get if you took the Sabbath gone femme vibe of Blood Ceremony’s first two albums (minus all the light occult rock trappings), tagged in some of the airy dazedness of the Darling Buds (but with a much heavier, more bouncy groove) and a more shoegazey 90’s orientation (but far less dark and mopey in approach) to both guitars and vox?

But that’s only when they’re on point, with tracks like “istra”, “severed grace” and “sisters of the stone”. Stinkers like “moonbow”, “screen queen” and “pig man” just come off like some shite 90’s grunge-inflected Southern groove thing, all countrified, tattooed and just plain bleh. You wonder why they were even included, so far distant in tone and feel are they from what surrounds.

Then you get stuff that leans a bit closer to stoner rock (“a lover’s hate”), albeit by way of St. Vitus (and with a strange hint of Lynrd Skynrd meets the Allmans dual guitar leads to boot), and a few that lean fairly directly towards stoner doom (“tourmaline”, “a thousand arrows”).

As you can see, this is a rather confused affair, unsure whether to stick to a Sabbath-derived stonerish and doomy sound or work more 90’s styles like the detestable Southern groove and grunge or the more likeable Britpop leaning retro-psychedelia and shoegaze.

Fans of either the former or the latter (or both) are left scratching their heads at the bullshit detours into trucker territory, and fans of that probably won’t feel comfortable with the rest – yet another experiment in syncretism hoisted on its own petard of trying to please too many different crowds, all at once.

Even so, the better portion of Anatomical Venus touches on styles that actually work for doom fans, stoner rockers and even those more attuned to more indie sensibilities of a few decades past, so you can call it a relative win.

Just drop that ill fitting Alice in Chains meets Black Label Society bullshit, and you’ll have a decent band on your hands.

Stone Broken – Ain’t Always Easy (Spinefarm Records) (April 13)

Angry, driving but so, so 90’s.

Those goofy detuned, nu metallish groove riffs that give way to melodic choruses? Yeah, even with the laid back clean vocals of frontman Rich Moss, this is so of that era, it hurts.

Once again this month, we find ourselves digging for comparative acts, and falling back on the same few (Alice in Chains, Lynch Mob, Black Label Society, etc.) and flashing on what happened to everyone from Kiss to Skid Row to Vinnie Moore and Metallica during the early to mid 90’s – lame, grungy riffs and a dirtier, grittier, tattooed yet Southern fried countrified vibe, with detuned guitars and derivative, uninspiring riffing with wah pedal filter solos. No, you didn’t just catch me stifling a HUGE yawn…

Well, somebody out there must have liked, or at least had appreciation for this sound beaten into their heads through years of relentless exposure on heavier radio stations and the pre-“reality TV” MTV…and I’m sure they’ll find themselves a lot more enthused about this one than yours truly ever could be.

I will say, the choruses are melodic and slightly uplifting in the sense of most country pop, and the vocals are perfectly acceptable, a ragged yet comparatively “clean toned” rasp that suits both the “heavier” nu metallish riffing and the cleaner melodic bits equally well…so if the general concept doesn’t leave you feeling nauseous or just utterly bored unto death, that’s something to take note of.

But me? I spent the best part of an entire decade seeking out alternatives past and present just to avoid the sound they’re drawing from here.

Did you really think that would change, even a quarter century on?

    

AXEL RUDI PELL – Knights Call (Steamhammer / SPV) (March 23)

We’d covered the German Steeler’s former six stringer twice before, with his Game of Sins and The Ballads V and despite being wholly confused if not nonplussed as to this guy’s reputation against the rather non-shredder, midrange melodic take a backseat to the frontman role he actually plays (see also, but to a far lesser extent, Jack Starr.)

I’ve found (as I did with Starr, though far moreso in the Frenchman’s case since (re)discovering a passion for classic US power metal over the past year) Pell’s material to be surprisingly solid, retro-minded and despite a comparatively quite subdued approach to leads, perfectly acceptable – like a less flash Michael Schenker, these men are more focused on melodicism and impressive songcraft than grabbing the spotlight.

Yeah, I don’t get it – never did, as a player (insert knowing laugh here).  But there’s no denying it works for them…as Knights Call once again proves.

Admittedly, sometimes the lyrics get a bit overly confessional, as in “long live rock” which sports the choice bon mot “hot nights and cold drinks all night long, never too old to rock and roll”. OK, we get it, you’re happy to still be plugging away and tossing a few back with the band after the show…but sheesh! Sounds a bit old folks go out rockin’ to me…

Sticking with ex-Doro Pesch sticksman Bobby Rondinelli and the Eric Martinesque Johnny Gioeli for another round, Pell may actually have delivered a stronger, more classic metal-style effort than he did on Game of Sins…no mean feat, that.

And that’s another thing he seems to share with the aforementioned Jack Starr (and to some extent, the much lauded Michael Schenker) – consistency. Sure, some albums he’s performed on may be stronger than others…but from what I’ve been exposed to, were any much of a letdown? I’ve been fairly well chuffed with Schenker’s Scorpions, UFO and much of his MSG work, and Starr’s Virgin Steele, Phantom Lord and Burning Starr material all hold up to repeated spins.

This is only the third album I’ve covered from Pell, so it’s harder to speak to his back catalogue…but when one of those albums was exclusively comprised of fucking ballads, and I, who all but despise the form, gave it some much surprised high marks…that’s saying quite a lot.

A definite win once again for this German veteran axeman.

  

THE AMORETTES – Born To Break (Steamhammer / SPV ) (April 6)

Scots all femme power trio working a sort of Donnas by way of Runaways crossed with Halestorm sort of punkish hard rock thing.

Unfortunately, it’s not always so straightforward as opener “can you feel the fire”.

“Hello and goodbye” comes off like some crappy 90’s girl power thing ala Meredith Brooks crossed with Joan Osborne by way of Me’Shell N’degeOcello or something. “Everything I learned I learned from rock n’ roll” comes off like the Stones with a few Who-style suspended open chords left ringing for occasional punctuation.

“Born to break” sounds decidedly Jackylesque, they go full on AC/DC on “coming up the middle” and “easy tiger” goes straight up glam (complete with hand clap pedal on the guitars)…though to say they come off a tad too Suzy Quatro there is hardly a devastating knock.

Even so, they’ve certainly got the right idea per se – girls in leather with loud guitars and driving drums is always a good thing.

Too bad they missed out on the punchy forward thrust and punk aggression and devil may care attitude that their image and opening salvo suggested they were going to deliver throughout…rather than just for one track, then drop it entirely.

Give ’em a year or two. If they drop all the poppiness and suchlike and just dig in to the Runaways by way of Girlschool thing ala a less oversexed Donnas, The Amorettes may just improve into a band worth watching.

  

Screaming Beast – Our New Narrative of Hate (self released) (March 23)

Surprisingly decent metalcore effort out of the UK, complete with all the drippings.

The guitars are crunchy, with that vintage Akira Takasaki Rockman/emphasized harmonics tone, leads are respectable, vocals are clean and emo-inflected on the (melodic, catchy) choruses.

But most interestingly, rather than the usual aggro growly shit on the verses, the likely pseudonymous frontman Anton War instead opts for a declamatory, puking tongued delivery with phoned in-style punctuation, very much in the Howard Jones-era Killswitch mode, but without the tonsil-rattling roars.

Given that, it must be said that the songs themselves aren’t exactly Killswitch worthy, but did you really expect that? Certainly on par with lesser metalcore highlights like the first Agonist and In This Moment albums or the Adam D-produced efforts from All That Remains or As I Lay Dying (no, it’s not on that level of quality production either, though it’s competent enough and really nothing to sneeze at).

My only complaint here is that songs start coming off a tad samey as you progress, with a noticeable Tool influence peeking through at points as much as the Jones-fronted Killswitch one.

Will it stand as a classic of the genre for the ages? Nah, not even close.

But is it a more than respectable, even likeable time filler between Killswitch albums (or Adam D. projects)?

Yeah, I’d be willing to go out on a limb with that one.

Valhalla Lights – My Gracious Highway (April 6)

Weird, sorta stoner rockish, sorta grunge, sorta indie rock affair out of Australia.

Pretty much a stoner rock band (“Fort”, if that name means anything to any of you out there), but with a Canadian frontwoman and 90’s-style melodic choruses.

The riffing is so, so 90’s, all stutter repetitions and simplistic as they come, drawing much more from the Nirvana meets Screaming Trees by way of Mudhoney sharing a dirty needle with Pearl Jam school than that of Kyuss or Monster Magnet (much less Sabbath!), and the melodic bits feel so, so UK shoegazey (frontwoman Ange Saul is all sleepy moaning, somewhere between Curve, Lush and…who the hell knows, Elastica? Magnapop?

In fact, it’s Saul’s delivery that’s the most “stoner” thing about Valhalla Lights…otherwise, expect a total 90’s indie rock, grunge to post-grunge retro thing.

If you lived through it, you’ll recognize it right away.

Your call whether that makes you click your heels with joy like the horn rimmed glasses wearing aging hipster you probably are, or if you’re rolling your eyes and sighing that this sound appears to be making a comeback like I am right now.

Definitely works for the crowd they’re shooting to appeal to.

Octopus – Supernatural Alliance (Rise Above Records) (March 30)

Far more realistically stoner rock (with a decided Sabbathy retro-early 70’s edge) comes Detroit’s Octopus, who appear to be working a Monster Magnet if they debuted in 1971 sort of thing.

Very druggy feeling, with fuzzed out guitars, Hammond organ accompaniment (and occasional tinkling Bowie/Elton-style boogie woogie piano) and vocals that feel decidedly “occult rock” minus the diabolical trappings.

As you may already be gleaning from that description, Octopus comes off like a more Grand Funk gone Woodstock/Isle of Wight/Monterey Pop take on Blood Ceremony at their best (cough Eldritch Dark cough), with a more…is eubellient the right word for this? almost glammy sound that aims to please crowds more than charm and spook them into trancelike submission.

In other words, it’s distinctly retro-early 70’s in more ways than one. And while there’s negatives to go with the overall positives that statement carries, on the balance, it’s definitely got more weight and checkmarks in the “win” column than not.

I was good with this overall, sure.

ROBESPIERRE – Garden Of Hell (CD, LP) (Shadow Kingdom) (April 20)

hmm. 


Well, these guys were apparently a demo-only NWOBHM act back in the day (think 
Hell, or any number of power and prog metal bands only now seeing proper release on a trio of interesting Greek labels), here getting their first actual album (again, think Hell, minus the essential second disc of the original demo material).

So what you get here, much like the newly recorded material from Hell, is a very believably retro album from aging rockers who still have enough piss and vinegar in the tank to drop something you could easily mistake for a Hells Headbangers release, all biker bandish, sorta Motorhead meets Venom (albeit minus the usual corrollary of Bathory this time around).

Grinding yet thin toned guitars, possible analog production from the sound of it, strident vocals very much of their era…I guess you could pull in comparisons to Pagan Altar or even Witchfinder General at their least doomy and most hard rock meets NWOBHM, but even that’s not quite it.Interesting listen…just needs to be repackaged with the original demos as comparison.

As is, not bad, particularly for a band of this vintage (and so pronounced a remove since last we heard of them…if anyone even heard of them in the first place, back when!) – dark and vaguely doomy without actually falling under the header of doom proper.

  

SPEEDCLAW – Beast in the Mist (MCD, MLP, TAPE) (Shadow Kingdom) (April 20)

We’d covered these NWOBHM wannabes somewhat misleadingly titled debut Iron Speed here and this is more of the same, somewhere between Exciter and straight up NWOBHM in style.

Last time around, we called Sweet Savage, Blitzkrieg and Tygers of Pan Tang up as analogues, and that’s pretty dead on, at least if you stick to each band’s more aggressive, proto-thrashy numbers. It’s not even at the level of “speed metal” you get with acts like Rage, but you get the general idea here – more aggressive and thrashlike than you’d generally associate with NWOBHM per se, but not even as far removed from same as the early Metallica demos.

Even so, if you have any affection for any of the bands and periods aforementioned, you should find something to appreciated here with Speedclaw…and it’s even got a more striking cover than last time around, so what’s stopping ya?

EVIL HUNTER – S/T (Fighter Records) (April 10)

Melodic power metal, complete with the singalong choruses, typewriter double bass and terrible screech vox so endemic to the Euro school thereof, but with a more likeable, proper riffing-oriented USPM approach to the guitars.

And honestly? The sort of melodicism their choruses bring (not to mention the well phrased soloing) is far more domestic to us here Stateside than the frankly boring and overly simplistic tremelo riff business that defines Euro power metal from its progenitor.

If it weren’t for all the screechy-growliness of Damian Chicano (who seems to come off a bit cleaner on the choruses, thankfully), this would be a hands down five star job, no questions asked.

As is, look, if you can dig the likes of Hexx’ current frontman, the shrieky Painkiller-era (and subsequent Tim “Ripper” Owens run) of Priest and the worst excesses of Udo Dirkschnieder, you’ll simply have nothing to grouse about here.

Very good stuff indeed.

Palace Of The King – Get Right With Your Maker (Golden Robot Records) (March 23)

Aussie bar band rock with weird, whiny vocals that put bands like Junkyard, Jackyl and Dirty Looks to shame in their sheer nasal bizarreness.

My main gripe with this (beyond those vox hitting all the wrong notes and leaving the ol’ brows furrowed and nose crinkling at least once or twice a bar*) is that…well, it succeeds too well.

* as in “measure of musical notation”, not as in “place to go get drunk in hopes of hooking up with someone even drunker”.

Seriously – and I don’t mean this as a compliment, really – this is the sort of thing you expect to hear working the “classic rock” bar band circuit. Not even the sort of “blooze metal” of the aforementioned acts, which at least had some good guitar playing and a light riff heavy edge to separate it from the stuff your folks and their friends were spending their nights shaking drunken asses to…but that very same rubbish, albeit with bizarre and overly abrasive vocals.

Yeah, if you’re one of those old fart “classic rock” fanboys and fangirls mourning over the loss of bands like the Black Crowes, you’ll probably think this is fucking fantastic.

Me, this does nothing whatsoever for, and it’s actually kind of the butt of a long running series of jokes.

POMPEII – The Secret Sessions (Rogue Records) (April 21)

You know, I’ve never been a “classic rock” guy. Sabbath and Santana aside, I’ve gotten over all those bands decades ago (well, yeah, there’s always an album or two that still resonates, at least with the harder edged acts – Purple under Coverdale, all those “lost” Hendrix sessions that keep getting periodic releases of late, pre-self titled Heart, Pat Benatar, maybe Rush – you get the idea). And Bowie, well, he’s a special case – though the androgynous spaceman schtick everyone obsessed over never did anything for me…his funk and Thin White Duke/Berlin era is where my love of the guy lies, almost exclusively.

But there’s a special place in hell for those boring, “tell a story” style bands like Bad Company, Supertramp…and Mott the Hoople. I mean, yeah, Bowie wrote the damn song for ’em, but if I never hear “all the young dudes” again, I’d be quite content. Absolutely despise both song and the boogie woogie piano with drunken bar band accompaniment schtick they (and wayyyyy too many likeminded acts of the era) seem to have adopted as a go-to.

It’s number one on the list of reasons I laugh at old folks who hang around dive bars, still listening to this shit from the early to mid 70’s as if it were ever relevant. That decade was about so much more, particularly in terms of music choices. There’s a reason the Who felt it necessary to pen “long live rock”, even noting “rock is dead” prominently therein…

But I will say this, while that inexplicable payola playlist of “the top 40 of 40 plus years ago” that serves as “classic rock radio” has made Mott the posterboys of exactly why the genre sucks…I have a friend who absolutely adores the band, having a longstanding (probably dating back to their release, actually) collection of all their albums on vinyl…and who will argue their merit fiercely.

Would mean nothing, really, other than giving more than a second chance to the band (you have to test it in these situations, just to see which of you is crazy)…

…except for his knowing yours truly, and pointing me towards their 1971 Brain Capers album, knowing full well that the punkish sloppiness of their Faces meets Iggy and the Stooges vibe therein would appeal to this veteran punk rocker’s sensibilities. So thanks, Lou – now I can’t even unilaterally slag Mott the Hoople anymore! Sheesh…

Why is all of this relevant to the review at hand, you ask? Well, actually, it’s extremely relevant, as Pompeii is a long lost, unreleased starfucker jam project (so common to the era) driven by Mott’s drummer Corky Laing, and featuring Mott’s Ian Hunter on most of the (original) tracks.

Where the starfucking comes in is in all the guest stars: Mountain’s Felix Pappalardi and Leslie West, Utopia’s Todd Rundgren, Yardbirds/Blind Faith/Cream expat Eric Clapton, Lovin’ Spoonful’s John Sebastian, Bowie’s Mick Ronson, the infamous Muscle Shoals horn section and the Allmans’ Dickie Betts.

Now, so far as I’m concerned, despite the presence of several guitar heavyweights, you could still call this something of a shrug of the shoulders excepting two tracks: the campy, Supertrampish “easy money”, which at least feels mildly driven, and the dark, distorted guitar in your face intro to “the outsider” (and, to a lesser extent, its solo.)

Even those tracks are wayyyyy too Gram Parsons countrified and guilty of exactly what I dislike about “classic rock” in the first place, but at least they show signs of life, which is not something you can say about the rest of this material.

The fact that the numerous 2017 re-recordings of the material (by Laing and a couple of unknowns) sound very much the same can be seen as the old fella still having it, sure…but I’m seeing it as evidence of just how tired this material (and the “classic rock” sound in general) was in the first damn place, to be equally well essayed by noted players in their arguable prime and the retiree crowd 40 plus years on.

So bottom line: how excited are you to hear some very typical Mott the Hoople cum Gram Parsons by way of…I don’t know, let’s say Bad Company for sake of argument? I imagine Hoople fans would be pretty damn thrilled to hear these long lost sessions at last (or at least in better quality than any bootleg format they may have heard portions of the material in over the decades since).

But for me?

Yeah, whatever. Pass the sugar? Thanks.

Next?


Malditos – II (Svart Records) (February 23)

umm…er…well…

OK, look, no big secret, I used to love Stereolab back in the day.  You know, surrealist cum anarchist lyrics, partially in French, from Laetitia Sadlier and company, all sort of trippy and dancey but very surreal and bizarre? Emperor Tomato Ketchup, great album, look it up if you’re curious.

So here’s a band that similarly splits the vox between French and English.  No problem.  They’re also kind of trippy and psychedelicized. Sure, why not?  They also believe in sampling and a Burroughsian cut and paste aesthetic, in many respects. Okay, I’m with ya so far.

But when you lose the propulsion and melodicism, to the point where it no longer feels like a song, but more of an avant garde gothic rock sound collage?  Alright, you lost me…

Vaguely Arabic in tone throughout, with hints of India (tabla make an appearance or two) and a vocal (and musical) approach that comes off quite Siouxsie Sioux meets The Shroud, early Cocteau Twins (think Garlands) or perhaps even a hint of Mephisto Walz, but all at their most experimental and diffuse.

It feels “religious”, if you will, very dark and deliberate in dragging the listener into altered states of receptiveness…and I don’t mean to “higher” things by that, either.

It’s therefore somewhat questionable in intent, surprisingly dark, overly trippy in the sense of “who exactly is the audience for this, anyway?” and, given the utter lack of proper songwriting or even the more diffuse propulsiveness of dance music, otherwise completely pointless.

Familiar enough that I didn’t hate this at all.

But questionable and (presumably) quite pointless. 

Weathered Statues – Borderlands (Svart Records) (April 27)

Speaking of gothic rock…is there some Third Wave revival going on in 2018 all of a sudden?

Because this album could easily have been some hidden gem buried for years in my goth collection (though more oriented to the UK-based First Wave of the late 70’s/early 80’s than the US-driven revival of the mid-90’s).

Skeletal Family with hints of Siouxsie and a light leaning towards a more mainstream synthpop with guitars (think very early All About Eve crossed with Altered Images, if you can picture such a thing).

Frontwoman Jennie Mather, guitar/keyboard tickler Jason Heller and even the rhythm section of Bryan Flanagan (bass) and Andrew Warner (drums) clearly did their research, and all that immersion in the classics has resulted in a surprisingly classic sound, with guitars appropriately clean with effects (reverb, phase wobble, the works), bass hollow yet prominent and driving the compositions and drums busy and quite Kevin Haskinsesque.

As the songs played, hints of bands flit by, everything from Ghost Dance to Danse Society to early Gene Loves Jezebel, but with Skeletal Family ultimately the prime source and go-to.

And that’s a very, very good thing.

I’m sorry, were you still asking for a score or something?

Please.

Warms this old goth’s black heart to hear the possibility of another wave of the real deal at last.

More bands like this, PLEASE.

   

Rivette – In Harmony (Ektro) (April 13)

We’d covered this indie rock outfit’s In Vertigo about a year back, and once again, here’s another slice of all-too-brief upbeat Urge Overkill indie rock/power pop worship from this Finnish trio.

See? Finland’s not just all about quality black and death metal! Even their indie rock can excel in melodicism, catchiness and just plain good songcraft and performance…

Two songs, over and you’ll have them running on repeat before you know it.

 

Pharaoh Overlord – Zero (Ektro / Hydra Head) (April 27)

You know, from track 1, before I even took a look over at the promo materials, I was about to write something about another Circle, at long last, and how a bit of Circle (or bands who can accurately cop that style of trancey neo-Krautrock propulsiveness) is always a good thing.

Well, surprise, surprise, it’s “members of Circle”…”augmented by” Hans Joachim Irmler.  You know, of Faust.

I’m so good.

Anyway, pats on one’s own back aside, if you’ve heard (and enjoyed) Six Day Run and had any exposure to Faust (or for that matter, Can, or Kraftwerk, or perhaps even Tangerine Dream, Neu! or Amon Duul)…you’ll know exactly what to expect here.

Quality avant-garde improv, vamping on hooks in a trance-inducing yet propulsive manner.

Simply the way this stuff is supposed to be done, period.

Professor Black – You Bastard! (Ektro) (May 4)

The guy behind Aktor (of I am the Psychic Wars and Paranoia fame) and the wonderful High Spirits (of self titled EPYou Are Here and Motivator fame) who apparently also appeared on (of all things) a Nachtmystium effort back in 2004 (!) is back again, this time pursuing a solo heavy metal thing somewhat along the lines of vintage Swedish acts like Heavy Load and Leviticus, all epic scope and hollow toned, thin yet driving distorted guitars under his clean, somewhat declamatory vocals.

As you might imagine from his resume with High Spirits and the reference to classic Swedish metal acts like the aforementioned, this is actually quite good, stupid title aside…I mean, I walked in expecting some Seth Putman bullshit.

Instead, I found something much, much better…well worth your time to check out.

  

VARATHRON – Patriarchs Of Evil (Agonia Records) (April 27)

Gee, think these guys are Greek?

Yeah, sure enough, this is of the quirky if admittedly somewhat winning traditional cum melodic metal-leaning black metal variant spearheaded by Rotting Christ so many years back, and a damn sight better than their last effort four long years back, Untrodden Corridors of Hades.

In fact, so much closer to the Sakis and Themis Tolis template is this, that it could easily be confused for a classic era Rotting Christ album, arguably somewhere around Non Serviam. And that’s high praise, indeed.

Now, admittedly, not all parts are equal to the whole, so to speak, and the cheesy oh, so po-faced Luciferian bullshit simply embarrasses, but there’s enough bombast, drama and melodic build contained in most of the material here to almost forgive the stupidity of the lyrical focus and imagery (even with track 7 going full on Watain Wannabe).

When sole surviving member Stefan boldly states “the time of rejuvenation has come!” in relation to his band, he ain’t just whistling dixie – this feels like a completely different animal from Untrodden Corridors, as if they took that one worthwhile track and expanded it into…well, 6, maybe 7 at a stretch, here.

Which is one hell of an improvement.

Grow up a bit and tone down the doofy imagery, and yeah, I think he could be on to something here.

       

Mors Subita – Into the Pitch Black (Inverse Records) (April 6)

well…they claim to be melodeath, but that’s not what I’m hearing here.

“Modern metal” with dogshit aggro vox that go all whispery and nu metallish if not emo thereby, weird and unnecessary industrial/electronic punctuation and choruses that, did the band bother to hire an actual vocalist of whatever sort, would have come off as reasonably melodic, at least in the ho hum sense of the ridiculously overrated Children of Bodom.

Oh, and production is pretty bad, in the sense that while overly loud and full, not only emphasizes their weakest link (the “vokills” or whatever bullshit term no-talent hipster types are using to cover their utter lack of talent this weak…er, week*) but leaves the entire album coming off well into signal bleed range, all scratchy edges and red zone. Might as well have recorded this on a fucking boom box in your mom’s garage…

* sorry, Freudian slip, there…

That’s about it, there’s really nothing else to say here.

Total waste of time. Next?

Black Dreams – “Kiss The Gun” (lnverse Records) (February 22) 

Grungified stoner metal with whiny vocals.

I could see an argument for calling this some weird offshoot of doom, simply by virtue of the loud, sludgy guitars and clean, moaning vox, but nah, it’s really not.

Hardly the worst thing I’ve heard. Maybe a full length will provide some welcome surprises, I’m staying open and hopeful.

Hiidenhauta – 1695 (Inverse Records) (March 16) 

Now THIS is more like it! Fast paced black metal tremelo riffing, quirky, sorta melodic, sorta traditional metal influences…a Finnish answer to the Greek style, perhaps?

I’m not always fond of the vox, even when frontman Tuomas Keskimaki brings his…sister? Wife? Emma in for clean female ones. Nothing wrong with her style per se, but the singsongy speaking voice doesn’t work half so well as, say, the much maligned Myrkur on her debut EP (or even the subsequent full length). And what’s with those lame piano tracks?

But face it – when Hiidenhauta’s on point (“hallan valta”, “kuolimaan tytar”, “aarella”), this is some of the best material to be found in an increasingly questionable black metal genre of late.

Not even close to perfect – those damn piano tracks put paid to that idea tout suite.

But definitely on the right track, otherwise.

Dead End Finland – “Lifelong Tragedy”  (Inverse Records) (March 9) 

Overly keyboard driven modern metal of the lighter, more melodic variety, with ridiculously bombastic production (just how many tracks did you guys use to pull that overly lush, even crowded sound?) and a theatrical vibe.

Is it “symphonic AOR”? Who knows, there’s clean vox, a very Frontiers-esque vibe and wayyyyy too much drama and staginess for my tastes…

…but again, not bad on any objective measure, and a full length may swing opinion towards the better. Who knows – time will tell.

Mustan Kuun Lapset – “Ikaros” (Inverse Records) (March 15)

Finnish act we’d offered high praise for previously, on both their Saato and Kuolemanvirtahere the uber-melodically inclined black metal-spectrum act continues their winning streak with a single track (no B-side, nothing…)

Good stuff, as ever. Just wish it was part of an EP, if not a full album, rather than just one stinking track to dig in and enjoy profusely.

Serpico – Rock Tattoo (Secret Entertainment)  (March 9)

Oh, yeah, Frank Serpico. He uncovered some internal affairs-style corruption in the NYPD back in the 70’s, getting a lot of shit (and then a decent film and some measure of fame) for his whistleblowing and crossing of the dreaded “thin blue line”. Good man, probably took major balls to do that.

So…what the fuck does that have to do with a cheesy, glammy Finnish band?

Apparently nothing. This is the sort of AOR cum glam rock by way of hard rock thing you might get with a lighter edged act like Autograph, or something even lighter and less “metal” per se than that – Bon Jovi, maybe? Y&T at their Contagious-era glammiest? Firehouse?

Vocals are overly theatrical and cheesy, like a 70’s prog or glam band (think anything from The Darkness to Supertramp or even Styx and Saga here), the music more or less follows suit, somewhere between “rock opera” and bubblegum, but with a distorted guitar edge and solos that suggest a heavier dispensation. The whole thing feels quite UK, somehow…that music hall panto tradition speaks to this sort of goofy theatricality.

Well, it’s not terrible, by any means…just more likely to appeal to a certain corner of the Frontiers AOR crowd than any traditional metal or heavier audience.

Campy as shit, without question, and overly 70’s bubblegum in vibe. But fair enough for what it is.

  

MY SECRET SAFE – Storytelling (April 13)

“You fucking moron!

Instantly endearing themselves to yours truly with that choice bon mot and ever apropos turn of phrase, these Frenchmen work an admittedly successful but safe metalcore template, complete with clean, melancholically melodic choruses, bombastic (if a touch too hissy and trebly) production, big guitars with downtuned Killswitchlike open chord arpeggiation alternating with the chunky riffing, a few (though not as many as you might expect) lead lines and respectable solos.

I’m sighing right now as I try to speak to the vocals, which are fine (and bear an amusingly noticeable accent Francais) when clean for the choruses and occasional bridges, but which…well, look. You know the template, they sort of “have to” (cough) go all aggro screamo growly on the verses…and at least Benjamin Dusserre-Telmont’s screamy tones aren’t as abrasive as many you have to suffer through when delving into the genre.

That said, when he tries to get all scary and throaty…I’m sorry, I keep laughing out loud.  Nothing personal to Ben himself, but all these asshole screamo types do that to me – the “scarier” and more “threatening” the Anselmo wannabes try to get, the louder and more uncontrollably I laugh. It’s reflex, and shows that on even a visceral level, je suis pas impressione.

But again, grading on a curve of “your typical metalcore frontman (or frontwoman)”, much less “your average aggro screamo type”…he’s acceptable enough that you can overlook it.  And the band per se, while kind of in need of a second guitar to work the lead lines and make the riffing more intricate sounding, worked just fine for me, yeah.

Not bad at all, if you don’t mind metalcore as a genre (and I know a whole hell of a lot of ya out there simply despise it).  Being a Killswitch fan (and enjoying the better, more melodic and well produced instances of this oddly controversial subgenre out there more than your average “extreme metal” lover), I was good with this.

Would not mind hearing more from these guys, yeah.

BORN FROM LIE – The New World Order Part 1 (April 13)

What would you get if you crossed vintage Nightmare (think Waiting for the Twilight era) with more of a mildly theatrical 70’s hard rock vibe, somewhat akin to Heavy Load, Manilla Road in their heyday or the NWOBHM, but lighter and less metallic in orientation?

Sure enough, Born From Lie work a concept album (that storied if generally incredibly cheesy fallback of the prog rock community) relating to a successful migration of hopeful foreigners to an ostensible ‘promised land’ that turns out to be a euthanasia-driven lie of kleptocratic meritocratic serfdom (death to the unfit, effective slavery and drudgery for those capable).

Or in other words, Trump’s America, hiding behind the Horatio Alger myth of the “American Dream”. Clever, that. Topical, even.

That aside, how does it hold up? Well, depends how you like your harder edged 70’s prog rock concept albums…or at least that sort of 70’s hard rock-vibe proto-metal that would morph into metal proper not long thereafter. The playing is just fine, the story is wholly apropos…it’s just a tad too turned down to work in metal terms (and possibly a tad “heavy” for the prog rock/”classic rock” crowd, at that).

But hey, look – they had me thinking Manilla Road, early Nightmare and Heavy Load. Did you really think that was a bad thing?

Not bad, not bad at’all.

When Reasons Collapse – Omen of the Banshee (May 25)

Nice cover, interesting band name, cool album title.

I was hoping for so much more.

Djenty “deathcore”, with crazy, awkward song construction and notes all over the damn place, none of which make any sense or even seem to belong in the same sentence, much less musical phrase.

Tag in those positively abysmal, hittin’ the crack pipe-crazed shrieky screamo vox freaking out and puking all over the top of this at random intervals, nu metallish noise effects…

Look, I’m done here.

You know EXACTLY where this one’s headed. Just watch out for the sudden flare up.

I suggest backing away from the Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards ASAP, you’ll definitely get yourself burned.

That cover would have been so sweet on a good band’s release.

What a fucking waste.

  

VARSOVIE – Coups et Blessures (Sundust Records) (May 11)

Driving postpunk, dark but not actually gothic rock in any respect. I guess you could liken them – at least for the first half of the album – to The Birthday Party, with occasional hints of such acts as Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, Echo and the Bunnymen, the (happy, quirky) Cure…and even weird indie acts like Catherine Wheel and Shudder to Think.

“Killing Anna” even brought Gang of Four or Wire to mind, if you can picture that…but then the second half of the album goes all major key and mainstream rockish. How the hell do you go from tracks like the title track or “va dire a Sparte” (or even the instrumental “chevaux echappes”) to the goofy happy shit you get with tracks like “feux”, “discipline” or even the fence straddling “intersections” (which tries to play it both ways, and therefore fails to please either camp entirely, despite moments that do in fact work?)

As you can imagine from references that jumbled and disparate, what we’re dealing with here is far from straightforward, but with the propulsive, prominent basslines of…well, presumably guitarist and frontman Gregory Catherina (though they admit to a live touring bassist) and the dark toned yet ringing guitars of the same personage, the first four tracks (and possibly moments scattered throughout others) are sure to appeal to goths and fans of darker indie rock alike.

Strangely, they’ve attempted to make a single out of what’s probably the least appealing track here, “le lac”…don’t ask me what that questionable judgment call is all about.  There’s a few bars in the midsection that actually feel dark, but most of it is just kind of goofy and bouncy…not what I’m talking about with these guys in the least.

So in the end, what started out looking like a grand slam turned fairly questionable by credit roll.

Too bad – some of this was very, very good.

Drop the happy bullshit moments, and Varsovie would definitely be one to watch.

Ungfell – Mythen, Mären, Pestilenz (Eisenwald) (March 23)

Somewhere between Ulver (for inspiration and the folk/black metal crossover), Fleurety and Manes (for the ridiculous shrieky vox) and, well, the Finnish scene per se (for the strong emphasis on melodicism throughout) falls Ungfell, a Swiss act that has its good points (mostly as noted above)…

…offset by its perfectly shite ones (also as noted above, namely the vox…and the rather minimalist folk cum ambient filler tracks that take up a good half of the tracklist herein).

You could put up with the folkish bits, as aimless and unimpressive as they tend to be, if it weren’t for the one real problem with this…you guessed it, those utterly horrid “vocals”.

Somebody, strip the vocal track off this one, and re-release it. Might be a decent listen with all the detritus removed.

Appropriate choice of pseudo, there, “Menetekel”.

Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin.

“You have been judged, and found wanting.”

Next?

Spielbergs – Distant Star EP (By The Time It Gets Dark) (April 27)

Swedish indie act grabs the 90’s indie sound by the balls and dives right in. Hazel meets Inspiral Carpets by way of Camper Van Beethoven? Maybe, yeah…

Best track: the rather space rock-ish, Faunts-reminiscent “ghost boy”.

These guys are shooting for the sound of bands that never cracked the charts back in the day, familiar only to fans of college radio (or as they used to refer to “alternative” and “indie”, “college rock”) and devotees of vintage 120 Minutes.

But is that a bad thing?

The 90’s were a weird time, with a shitload of perfectly terrible music. In dark times, even stuff well far afield of home can seem a touch reassuring, that all is not utterly lost.

So while I don’t own a single album or single in this style (bar more postpunk shoegaze stuff like The Church or ragingly emotional indie rockers the Afghan Whigs), this was one of the areas I kept a regular ear towards, occasionally discovering a killer song or two among an album (or discography) completely unlike and unworthy of that one interesting outlier.

Yes, indie rock was like that back in the 90’s – The Pursuit of Happiness? “cigarette dangles”. Magnapop? “slowly slowly”. That Dog? “never say never” (and maybe “gagged and tied”) Camper Van Beethoven? “take the skinheads bowling”. You get the idea – one killer song more or less defining an otherwise unappealing band. The Sonic Youths and Stereolabs of the bunch were few and far between, to say the least.

These guys are at least consistent, and that’s something I’m noticing to greater or lesser degree with many bands working the indie thing that pass across the virtual desk for review lately – there really aren’t many bands with that one song, and nothing else on the album even sounding like it was produced by the same damn band.

I’d say that’s one thing the post-millenial indie rock revivalists got right over their single hit forbears.

No, this is far from my go-to sound. But it’s familiar enough to be comfortable, and internally consistent enough to deserve a nod of respect.

FLESH HOARDER – HOMICIDAL NECROPHILE (COMATOSE MUSIC) (MAY 11)

A guy who handled guitars for infamous non-PC comedy crossover act M.O.D. (albeit during a more recent period where they didn’t record anything) takes that crunchy thrash/punk guitar style a bit more towards some of the less exciting variants of later 90’s death metal for this partially instrumental (“between life and death”, “abuse of a corpse”), but otherwise grindcore gone “tech” or even “brutal/tech” affair.

Frontman Nick Moreno sort of crosses the sickeningly wet but deep feel of Buffalo veterans Baphomet with the less appealing stylistic flourishes of Disincarnate‘s Bryan Cegon, being sure to move beyond death metal proper or a more tech meets “brutal” Disincarnate/Cannibal Corpse/Suffocation vibe to the obnoxious pig noises of modern grindcore.

“Squeal like a pig, boy!”
“OI-YOYIII-YOIIIII!”

It’s patently ridiculous, but they all feel the need to do it nowadays…

Anyway, M.O.D. sideman Mike DiLeon brings his brother in on bass and works something that, surprise surprise, comes off somewhere between Suffocation and Baphomet, betwixt Cannibal Corpse and your average grindcore act.

If it weren’t for the obvious Tom Frost/Baphomet influence and some of that chunky M.O.D. meets Suffocation (with further hints of Goatlord and Devastation circa Idolatry) guitar tone, this would be more forgettable than it actually is.

As it stands, heavy enough to be more than listenable, with a guitar tone (and occasional vocal tone) to die for…despite its multitude of little flaws and pointed retread of ground already well worn by many a band to come before.

ABORTED FETUS – THE ANCIENT SPIRITS OF DECAY (COMATOSE MUSIC) (MAY 11)


And here’s where you really notice and come to appreciate just how much DiLeon’s guitar tone brought to the table for Flesh Hoarder.

Russia’s Aborted Fetus works much the same territory as the Texans, but without all the aforementioned syncretism of prior, more interesting acts, a far more thin (and at best, generic) vocal tone and an equally unspectacular, reedy guitar tone that only seems to come alive during overdubbed lead fills and solos.

It’s somewhat akin to listening to one of James Murphy’s old gigs – all of a sudden, things sound pretty sweet for a bar or two, then right back to a far less enticing territory. This is by no means to suggest that Alexander “meatgrinder” Andreev has even a pimple on the arse of Murphy skillwise – but if you know the sudden, much needed body his overdubbed leads brought to otherwise middling albums by bands as far afield as Death, Cancer and his own Disincarnate, you understand what I’m trying to get at, here.

That said, it’s no stinker by any means, particularly if you enjoyed classic material by bands like Sinister, Vader and even Desultory – “beheaded on the guillotine” in particular comes off much akin to the earlier work of those bands.

And that’s one area where they do have one over on Flesh Hoarder – they’re far less pointedly working the “brutal death”, “tech death” or grindcore thing. It’s there, sure…but you could almost consider them just as a retro-minded death metal act who doesn’t quite get what made the glory days of that scene work (and more importantly, what separates that classic 1989-91 and change period from the uninspired dreck that all too quickly succeeded it come ’93 or so, effectively hammering the nails on death metal’s popularity and relevance for decades to come.

A far less melodic, more grind-oriented take on Into Eternity? Well, that’s kind of a stretch. But at its best, you can hear some vague kinship thereto…and that’s not a bad thing.

Let’s put it this way – neither band is coming off the iPod for a bit.

Karkaos – Children of The Void (May 26, 2017)

Modern metal, with that sort of European feel that touches on power metal, gothic symphonic and melodeath without ever really ascribing to any of those.

I’m slightly reminded of more loveable bands like the excellent Seven Kingdoms, early Battle Beast and Triaxis, but with those pleasant clean alto femme vocals switching into a more silly aggro-death metal howl/growl (thus marking closer kinship to the more questionable likes of The Agonist and Arch Enemy thereby…not to mention establishing a further link, this time with the similarly minded metalcore scene – “tyrants” in particular offering strong credence to this).

There’s a lot of keyboard overlay and bombast, which brings a sort of dark symphonic vibe to the table (whether it comes off more gothic metal or symphonic black thereby is your call), and I question just how much of that was necessary…but it doesn’t exactly fuck the works, either.

Speaking of symphonic black metal, current Sarah Jezebel Deva of the Filth Lindsay Schoolcraft drops by for a guest spot somewhere herein, though I have to admit, I didn’t notice where…

Frontwoman Viky Boyer (presumably no relation to infamous 80’s XXX starlet Erica) offers a youthful snark much akin to what the increasingly questionable Alyssa White Gluz brought to the first Agonist album (when she still made pretense of singing clean for more than a half a bar), and her aggro roars, while still as, let’s be honest, downright silly as the style tends to be, are far less claw your face off annoying and grating than most – and I don’t just mean “most females working the style” here, either, but “if I have to put up with this bullshit, then I guess hers aren’t going to piss me off as consistently as usual.”

Taken as a metalcore album, it comes off more gothicized and metallized than usual, with some pretty strong hints of symphonic to boot.

While you can swap out whether you prefer to view it through the lens of any of the aforementioned styles of (modern) metal spectrum genre, the end result is the same – pretty damn listenable, reasonably competent, and while nothing to jump up and click your heels with excitement over (don’t laugh, some asshole of local acquaintance actually did that a few weeks back right in front of me…), more than serves if you’re in the mood for this sort of thing.

I was good with it, overall.

 

CODERED – DOMINIONS OF OUR DECEITFUL BELIEFS (Loud Rage Music) (February 26)

Okay, so you’ve got a drummer who used to be part of Autokrator (covered this month), Spectral (also covered this month) and the most recent iteration of abrasive Dutch death metal legends Pestilence (who arrogance aside, dropped at least two of the great albums of the genre back in the day…and some decent demos to boot) backing up these quirky Romanian tech death metallers.

I’m not quite sure what to make of it, to be honest – despite some decent footwork and tom rolls, said drummer tends to stick to off time blastbeats (zzzzzzzzz) and the riffing is kind of stop/start and all over the place. I can sort of see a kinship to more recent Pestilence, in that…but they’re nowhere near as accomplished of players as Mameli and company.

This was apparently a remaster of their 2013 debut (and still to this day, sole album), and the production really brings out a crisp, meaty guitar tone and drums that snap. If nothing else, I was good with that part.

Look, if you dig the more techy end of death metal, you’ll probably find a lot more of value in this one. I appreciated little riffs and flourishes and elements of tone, but this was never my idea of classic death metal…and realize, when that style went away, so did the rest of us here in the States, at least.

That should say something, in and of itself.

MORMÂNT DE SNAGOV – Depths Below Space and Existence (Pest Records) (February 16)

Weird Finnish take on black metal, which comes off more tech death gone thrash, with snarly vocals. Think Malevolent Creation, or more to the point, Demolition Hammer and Morbid Saint.

Sure, it’s more black/death-ified than that would suggest…but these guys definitely come off more thrash or (tech) death than they ever do black metal.

Hell, Incantation was always going on about satan and blasphemy, as were Deicide, Morbid Angel, Acheron, even early Nocturnus…and they were hardly the only ones. Does anyone seriously consider even one of them “black metal”?

So, again, it’s a bit weird. Not terrible, certainly listenable if you’re looking for a weird, riff-fest of a crossover like the aforementioned would suggest…

…but seriously. “Black metal”?

No way.

PARAGON COLLAPSE – THE DAWNING (Loud Rage Music) (January 20)

Remember Loreena McKennit?

That sort of sweet, airy, almost sylphlike soprano, kind of like a more straightforward, less lush and new agey Enya, but with more of a Celtic thing going on.

Well, here you go, it’s like Loreena McKennit (or Mr. Fox, or Maddy Prior and Steeleye Span) gone gothic doom.

I could also make comparisons to acts who once filled the Projekt Records roster, all those light and haunting darkwave chanteuses, complete with the violins and traditional string instruments bands like Mors Syphilitica, Black Tape for a Blue Girl and suchlike went for, but as paired with, say, My Dying Bride or Paradise Lost. It’s still kind of wave and sway depressive, but as the gothic doom metal references indicate, Paragon Collapse can also get pretty heavy when they want to.

Fair enough, but like far too many Projekt bands, it doesn’t really go anywhere or surprise you, and thus wears thin after a few interesting tracks.

 
 

FUNERAL BAPTISM – THE VENOM OF GOD (Loud Rage Music) (October 27, 2017)

We’d covered these guys several times previously, including Gate and…oh, wait…this very album.

Well, OK, we’ve come this far before catching on, so let’s play along…

A fresh listen offers no new insights here: somewhere between Dissection and Watain, this is classic Pile (now Flaming Pyre) of Dead Bards black/death fodder.

INCOMING!!

WHIZZZ!!!!

Ouch, even 4 or 5 months later, that still spits off some nasty sparks and embers…

NEXT?!?

SPECTRAL – NEURAL CORRELATES OF HATE (Loud Rage Music) (March 12)

Vocalist/guitarist from CodeRed (also reviewed this month) works a different sound and approach here, serving only as vox this time (which probably makes all the difference).

Production is more impressive, as are the fretboard skills of six stringer Ciprian Martin, who brings some of that James Murphy vibe to his “pay attention to me!” overdubbed solos, which beef up and stand out as the high points of each track, despite having a far more generic tech death approach to his playing than the more neoclassical cum melodicism Murphy always brought to the table.

It’s overly busy, but if you’re into modern Pestilence, Cynic, Atheist and more annoyingly djenty iterations of the “progressive/tech death” genre of more recent vintage, it’s still very well played and bears strong (if admittedly imperfect) production. To put this side by side with CodeRed is almost laughable, so far removed are the two from one another in terms of skill and overall quality, dig the style or not.

Again, too busy for me – to keep the Murphy metaphor going, this is the Disincarnate after all those sweet Obituary/Cancer/Gorguts and likeminded R/C label guest spots.

But there’s no denying the raise an eyebrow at just how flash this kid is factor, and the riffing is quite aggressive and high speed throughout (Jeff Waters is eating his heart out right now, trust me).

ILLUSION OF CONTROL – GRIM NEW WORLD EP (Loud Rage Music) (February 27)

Boy, with that cheap ass generic cover, I had the impression we were looking at a certain interesting Greek power/prog metal demo act-oriented label’s offerings for a second…

Well, contents wise, we aren’t a million miles removed from said label’s signings and remasterings of classic bands that fell through the cracks either…because it’s pretty much progressive metal through and through, with elements that cross the more early to mid-90’s vintage US-style power metal with vox that flip from clean baritone to death metal growls every now and again…

Even so, “the words unspoken” aside, this could easily be taken as straight up US power/prog from, let’s say, 1995 – clean, reverb-inflected guitars that seldom if ever feel overly distorted (again, the aforementioned track aside), artificial harmonic-driven, brief, melody line style solos ala Queensryche, ever shifting meter play, particularly on the drums.

Yeah, I was good with this one, definitely. 

Jangle Town – “A Love so True” (Cramada) (March 9)

Indie rock with a cheery feel, somewhat REM-esque, but with less underlying depression to deal with. I guess comparisons to The Lonely Island wouldn’t be a million miles off the mark, albeit possibly with hints of Billy Momo and more of an early 90’s indie power pop vibe to the pleasantly summery pentatonic guitar solo, singalong moments and hand claps.

Quick, but leaves you wanting more. I could do with a full length, if the rest is anything like this.

   

Abramis Brama – Tusen År (Black Lodge Records) (April 20)

Well…they’re billing thnemselves as Sweden’s answer to stoner rock, but there’s something about the uber-simplistic riffing and vibe that says Pantera gone mellow…

Yeah, this may be more Pepper Keenan-era CoC than it could ever be Kyuss or Monster Magnet, with all elements of Sabbathy doom left well behind in favor of a far lamer, more workaday 90’s Southern groove-ish sound and feel.

You already know what I think of this one, therefore…

At least there are a few quirkier tracks that suggest a retro-psych sort of thing (“hav av logner” and “slutet av tunnein” both feel somewhat more early 70’s heavy rock than the rest of this one would suggest), so it may not be a total waste of time, if you’re desperate for kicks.

Sorry, that’s about the best I can say for this one.

Next?

Mörk Gryning – Live at Kraken (Black Lodge Records) (April 27)

Well, if you really needed to hear what black metal sounds like live without the occasionally striking visuals of a Black Mass Krakow or even the small club portion of Tsjuder’s Norwegian Apocalypse (the one without all the dogshit camera shakes and weird color overlays – great direction, there…), here you go.

In other words, straightforward, no bullshit, but kind of a huge shoulder shrug. Tremelo picking, relentless double bass work and blastbeats, uber-thin tone and some guy gargling into the microphone. How dramatic!

Apparently, this is some reunion of original members, a brief one off show “as is” without overdubs or tweaking. OK, fine. But is it anything to write home about?

Next?

El Camino – Cursed Congregation (Night Tripper Records) (July 2)  

hmm.  These guys bill themselves as “heavy doom metal darkness”, which is kind of a strange name for what you actually hear.

I guess if you took the “occult rock” vibe of Hour of 13 and tagged in more of a straight up black metal feel (particularly with the perfectly awful gargle-shriek vox)…

…well, it still wouldn’t be doom by any measure you care to go by, but inasmuch as “occult rock” and “doom metal” bear some vague kinship, maybe…

My take? These guys are doing black metal, but trying to pull back from the overplayed black/death Pile (now Flaming Pyre) of Dead Bards bullshit. Unfortunately, they don’t really understand what doom metal is all about, and retain too much of the blackened approach (you’d even hear it with a real, clean vocalist, so it’s not just down to that guy…) to actually work in any sense.

At least they’re trying something different from the same old, same old.

Too bad they didn’t leave much to get behind in its place.

Time for some “penance upon the Pyre…”*

* seriously, they were asking for it beforehand!

WHIZZ!

oof, sorry about that. Warned ya about standing too close to the flames…these stinkers tend to sputter and flare pretty badly…

next?

Blutvial – Mysteries of Earth (Heidens Hart Records) (March 20)

Some of the worst production I’ve heard in black metal for many a year marks this UK act.

Oddly, they claim allegiance to the likes of Thorns, Gorgoroth and Burzum, absolutely zero of whom come across in their admittedly hard to discern sound (seriously, the guitars might as well be a hissing blender or crackling of a busted speaker, with snarl vox adding to the noise).

The only band member to acquit themselves admirably here is the drummer, whose non-blastbeat kitwork and floorwork manage to sound properly recorded and driving, beneath the wall of hiss and sputter noise they’re buried beneath. If only he’d eschew the blastbeat, all would be well on the back end…

At least there are moments (as in “existential rite”) that actually bear some traditional early second wave-style riffing and vibe, which would have earned this one a much better score…

…if it weren’t one of the most poorly produced black metal albums outside Nattens Madrigal.

Look, there was definitely some promise in here. The bottom line is, Mysteries of Earth was (not very) “produced” by the band themselves…and the results sure do bear witness to that, in the worst possible sense.

Next time, invest a few bucks in a proper producer, you may be on to something.

The Insane Slave – S/T (Raising Legends) (February 10)

Okay, here’s another weird one.

Portugese act, this time. Seem to be working a very early 90’s vibe, sorta grungified and depressive, with overly simple riffs, a pseudo-indie vibe more than a metal one, and weird moan and whine vocals that bring bands like Tool to mind.

Not terrible for the type, not in the least…but you already know this ain’t my thing.

ILDRA – Eðelland (Heidens Hart Records) (March 20)

British pagan metal act.

Lean heavily on the traditional instrumentation, almost coming off folk metal on tracks like “sweorda ecgum”, “esa blaed” or “earendel” (yeah, you read that right…they’re working some weird Celticized variant of Ye Olde Englishe) before going full on black metal, then backing up to a more festival-dramatic midtempo punchiness on tracks like “rice aefter oorum”.

Later tracks like “ofer hwaelweg we comon” and “nu is se daeg cumen” go full on Viking-era Bathory if not straight into post-Celtic Winter Graveland territory, which is far from a bad thing (particularly with regards to the latter).

Is it essential? Probably not, you’ve heard all this done many a time before – Hades, anyone?

But given the company referenced, can you really misinterpret this as a complaint or implication of any putative lack of quality?

Good stuff, yeah.

     

Toxikull – The Nightraiser (Mosher / Firecum Records) (March 23)

Damn, that’s more like it!

Anyone who knows me personally (or who’s stuck with the monthly Roundups over the years) is probably quite aware of my longstanding affection towards Colombia’s Witchtrap, a quite pointedly retro-minded thrash act par excellence. So far as I’m concerned, ain’t a fucking band out there can touch ’em, in terms of “true” feel and thrash as a whole, at least since the late 80’s/early 90’s heyday of that very scene, to hell with all your Gama Bombs and Toxic Holocausts or whoever.

Well, imagine my surprise when I heard very much the same guitar tone and full on “we’re doing this, we’re going all in” vibe from these Portugesas, who exchange the Kreator-favoring Teutonic blackthrash meets NWOBHM approach of the Colombians for more of a US power metallish thrash attack (complete with soaring high pitched clean vox).

Is one better than the other? Well, I’m still pretty preferential to Witchtrap, so that’s not a fair question…but how’s this one: did I think Toxikull the next best thing, and working enough of a different approach to keep from any accusations of copycatting?

Damn straight.

You want non-vintage thrash with a proper vintage thrash vibe?

You bet your ass, you’ve come to the right place. Dead on, fellas.

Raise those horns in salute.

Bong – THOUGHT AND EXISTENCE (Ritual Productions) (May 4)

And here we go, this is how you do doom…at least trancey, sorta stonerish, sorta sludgy, but pretty much funeral doom in pace if not approach.Hear this, El Camino? Yeah. Doom.

Stoner doom, maybe…or maybe some more bizarre, even unique variant thereof. But unlike your “occult rock” goes black metal nonsense, this actually qualifies as doom. Hint, hint.

Crazy enough to put two tracks pushing 20 minutes out as…what? An EP? Could hardly call this a “single”…or an album, for that matter…

Droning, hypnotic, trancey…funeral doom by way of Monster Magnet at their early Spine of God-era trippiest, but tagging in droning, almost Tibetan Buddhist monk-style chant vox over the top.

Damn straight, I dug this one – we used to work effects-driven drones like this often, back in the band rehearsal days.

Tune in, turn on, drop out.

Soom – Djebars (Robustfellow Productions / Addicted Label / Voron NEST / KVLT OV I) (April 20)

Really sludgy, surprisingly poorly produced.

At best, it comes off sorta molasses-slow sludge recorded so ineptly the speakers rattle and shake, like some drunk kid trying to bootleg an Electric Wizard show while passed out in front of the speakers with a 1980’s vintage boom box…but then you get the weird industrial/electronic bits and spoken word with electronic drones (sort of like the Forbidden Planet soundtrack, as done by a crackhead).

Yeah, I have no fucking idea what they were trying to get at here, but it sure failed, and miserably at that.

The Sloths – Dwarves Meet The Sloths (Eternal Sound Records) (May 4)

Talk about your old hippies…these guys actually predate the whole Vietnam protesting, drugs and free love-espousing hippie movement, hailing from the early to mid 60’s era of garage rock.

Seriously, this is your grandparents rocking out. And they do pretty well, at that.

Apparently, the story involves these guys being contemporaries to the Beatles and Stones, working the whole garage rock thing over here on the L.A. Sunset Strip back around 1965 (!) They recorded one single that didn’t get airplay, and broke up by the time the Summer of Love came around.

As usual for these sort of obscurities, the very rarity of this single made it an internet cause celebre, eventually leading to a hunt for surviving band members and a reunion show or three…and supposedly, either this album or another one just prior is comprised of the same set list they used to work back in the day.

You can hear the vintage Nuggets meets The Cramps garage rock sound as crossed with the early British Invasion (before cheesebags like Gerry and The Pacemakers and Herman’s Hermits bowlderized the lot) all over this, with the sort of Chuck Berry meets 50’s rockabilly vibe the Yardbirds and early Stones (and to an extent, the earlier Beatles) so excelled in being worked comfortably and competently enough by these Stateside contemporaries.

I guess if you’re really into The Seeds and the Music Machine, but with more pointedly the blues-rock vibe of the aforementioned holy trinity of British Invasion luminaries, this one should work pretty well for ya.

Personally, I find it a bit more of a novelty – if you saw a bunch of old guys getting up on stage at your local VFW and working a set like this, hey, they’re pretty damn good!

But is it something worth chasing down in and of itself? That’s a bit more in question, depending on how hardcore you are for recreating this era.

Older veterans may well find this one a lot more special than yours truly did.

Stormzone – Lucifer’s Factory (Metal Nation Records) (April 23)

Ireland isn’t exactly known as a haven for metal, Primordial aside. So at the very least, it’s interesting to hear this (Euro-style) power metallish act, with high clean vocals and doubled melodic leads of the old school heavy metal variety.

Apparently no less than George Lynch was impressed enough by these guys to pull them into double duty as a de facto European tour “backing band”, which may say something, or not, depending on how you feel about his post-Back for the Attack output. But even so.

I can’t say I was overly wowed by this one – it’s not raw and unique enough to qualify as vintage USPM, and I’ve heard, reviewed and interviewed more than my fair share of modern Euro power metal acts to find most of it somewhat old hat (though I do have some favorites you can probably suss out with ease – currently really digging on that first Labyrinth album with Rhapsody‘s Fabio Lione on vocals)…and this is nothing if not “more of the same”.

But the vox are perfectly suitable, the guitar work is good throughout, and no, there really isn’t anything to complain about here, overly hissy, insufficiently beefy production aside.

I guess if your idea of metal falls somewhere between Styx and Alestorm, Stormzone may really float your boat.

Divine Era – Scripture Codes Summon Suicidal Thoughts (January 25)

You know, just that cover let me know what I was up against. The stupid DSBM album title and promo photo (which simply screams Gathering of the Juggalos) almost sealed it, entirely unheard.

But then I pop this in, and there’s the Anselmo vox, the doofy Slipknot meets Pantera riffing…oy.

Well, the guy (yes, this is a “one man bedroom band”, black metal style) has an odd approach to leads that at least comes off different from usual…not sure I “like it”, but at least it’s outside of the mainstream.

But am I really supposed to sit through this dogshit just to hear a few quirky leads that aren’t even necessarily winning?

(pause, actual audible sigh emitted here)

You know what, fuck it.

ONE MORE FOR THE PILE, INCOMING!

WHIZZZZ!!!!

Damn, that disc went off like a bomb…sorry about that!

Stop, drop and roll, everyone!

Next?

L’Homme Absurde – Sleepless (Soundage Productions) (March 26)

Okay, what the hell is this?

Seriously, is this supposed to be some kind of hipsterish “post black metal” (from the gargle snarl vox, some semi-tremelo riffed bits like “moments in coma” and a few slow blastbeat phrases)? Some overly stiff, tight-assed take on aggro, without the “southern” or “groove”? Leaning (very) slightly prog (“moments in coma” again)?

BLEEAHHH I DON’T KNOW OR CAAAAAAAARE!!!

THIS BLOWS, WOULDN’T RECCOMMEND IT ON A DAAAAAAAARE!!!

HEY, OVER BY THE PYRE, HERE COMES ANOTHER, BEWAAAAAARE!!!

WHIZZZ!

(crackle, sputter, spit)

Next?

  

Nytt Land – Odal (Cold Spring) (March 26)

Uber-weird Siberian folk metal act.

Quirky throat singing, traditional instruments, even the son of front-couple Anatoly and Natalya Pakhalenko takes part in all the weird chanting and vintage horror movie music that ensues, which manages to veer from the unusual traditional music of that corner of the world (think more Tibetan sherpa than Russia, and you’ll get the general idea) to nigh-atonality, despite an almost entirely traditional instrumented setup throughout.

It’s weird, but somewhat evocative of a long trek through the frozen wastelands, for what that’s worth.

Alternate soundtrack for The Night of the Howling Beast/Werewolf vs. the Yeti? Perhaps.

Hammerstroke – Satan’s Claw (DocRock Music Records) (February 15)

Well, the guitars, occasionally audible bass (!) and drums certainly scream “old school thrash!”, so that’s a definite plus.

Unfortunately, they pair that nigh-Bay Area melodic thrash sound with even shittier vocals than Accuser or Living Death…

Well, OK, maybe not Living Death, that guy was just the pits. But Accuser, for sure.

So, bottom line: can you tune out some of the most inept attempts at Teutonic gargly-growl vox you’ve likely ever encountered, to get to some very solid vintage-style thrash guitar, busy bass and era/genre appropriate drums?

My take, wipe the vocal track entirely and reissue as an instrumental album…or better yet, recruit an actual singer and re-release this one.

Without Telly from Sesame Street as frontman, this time.

Wormlight – Wrath of the Wilds (Black Lion Records) (April 25)

Swedish black metal.  Sounds very much of the more formalized (read: generic) early third wave sound coming out of Sweden and Norway come ’95-’99, where black metal became more about “a formula” and “a sound” than the more quirkily individualistic thing you got with first wave and the earlier Norwegian second wave a few years prior.

There’s a bounciness that brings Taake to mind, but without the folk song elements that implies. Promo materials classify it as “melodic black metal”, but that’s hardly what I’d call it.  Again, a bit of a bounce, some light “catchiness” to bridges and some choruses, and all the bombast and iciness of the era it so clearly wishes it were of.

Nothing wrong with that era and sound not already spoken to or implied hereinabove…but did you really need to hear a less abrasive Urgehal, or a less interesting Tsjuder or Immortal?

If so, steer those ears this way, you’ll probably love it.

Autokrator – Hammer of Heretics (Krucyator Productions) (April 10)

Another oddball act we’d covered a few years back for their self titled,

Here they’ve toned down the vocal reverb somewhat and beefed up the guitars, toms and bass drum over the tinnier, more obnoxiously echoing debut…so you can definitely say “well, at least it’s an improvement!”

Even so, it’s pretty grindcorish in the sense that every track (bar the pointless
ambient/sound effects driven “interlude”) sounds the same, the blastbeats are in your face, obnoxious and tinny, the guitars are hissy, the vox are deep and gargly and everything is uber simplistic throughout.

Black metallish grindcore out of France?

Yeah, I guess you could say that. At least it’s dark.

I’m shrugging my shoulders right now. Whatever…

Next?

Nitish Pires – Am I Evil (February 18)

Quirky mix of Indian traditional music and modern (hard) rock.

Pires sings with a particularly thick accent marked by a shakiness that seems right on the verge of falling into a traditional microtone quaver, which may be a tad offputting to non-East Asian listeners (but which should be comfortably familiar to those more familar with Indian music in general).

“You fake” is probably the best track on here, and perhaps not unexpectedly, it’s one of those where Pires most pointedly dives right in to a more traditional Indian pop music approach (right down to singing in Hindi come the midsection – and yes, that’s the part that works best).

There’s enough kinship to European gothic metal (particularly the more poppy, radio friendly end of the spectrum) that this album may bear some appeal to, say, Teutonic or Netherlands audiences accustomed to a similar sensibility.  Hell, power ballad “need you” could almost serve as a Shakra track, back when John Prakesh was on vocals.

I’ve just seen too many attempted crossover albums fall flat on their respective asses (Show-Ya, Dreams Come True or Utada Hikaru, anyone?) to hold out more than a smidgen of hope that this will happen for M. Pires, as decent as a few of these tracks are.

Definitely worth giving a quick skim, see if any of it beyond the aforementioned grabs ya.

If not, there’s always “you fake”…good track, there.

DRAWN AND QUARTERED – Hail Infernal Darkness (Krucyator Productions) (April 3)

Clearly inspired by Morbid Angel (or at least Immortal’s take on same with Blizzard Beasts…), these Seattle grunge fans (well, you have to assume…) work a pretty gnarly variant on template, coming off sloppier and far more raw than either of their putative forbears while still very obviously working that sound for all it’s worth.

Morbid Angel with sloppy solos and a Necroharmonic Records aesthetic?

Maybe so, yeah. But I was certainly good with it.

Let the retro-old school death metal flag fly, guys.

  

Defiatory – Hades Rising (Black Lion Records) (May 11)

After a weird intro crossing prog wheedly-whoo leads with a black metal chord progression and blastbeats, these guys turn out to be a aggro gone thrash crossover act, leaning heavily towards the latter on guitars (and generally speaking, drums) and entirely towards the former on vox.

Ever wonder what Anselmo would sound like fronting Forbidden, Vio-Lence or Abattoir?

Me, either.

Here’s your chance, if you’re morbidly curious.

Yet another band with some promise, undermined by an overly blackened orientation peeking through every so often, and far worse, by the poor decision to take on an aggro frontman in place of a proper genre-appropriate vocalist.

Grá – Väsen (Carnal Records) (April 27)

Once again, we encounter Sweden’s Grá, whose split with Gnosis of the Witch left us with an eerie and sinister if positive impression, and since that time mainman “Heljarmadr” has provided the necessary kick to reboot Dark Funeral from a decades-long slump (since the Dan Swano-produced iterations of In the Sign and Secrets of the Black Arts, in fact) into their strongest album since the dawn of the millenium.

So with two decided “wins” checked off in the balance column, you can bet I was looking forward to hearing what the guy came up with this time around…and it’s a bit of both, actually.

Yes, Grá fans should be happy with this – there’s sufficient rank atmosphere and grimness to remain familiar to fans of the band’s past work. But interestingly, there’s a hell of a lot of Where Shadows Forever Reign to Vasen – the epic bombast, the slowly ringing guitars, even some light keyboard symphonic elements to tracks like “krig”, “dead old eyes” and “the devil’s tribe” (or more egregiously, “gjallarhorn”, which leaves the listener expecting some cheesy gothic symphonic affair with its long, singsongy keyboard driven intro).

What separates Vasen from his work revamping a long-negligible Dark Funeral into fighting trim is a more aggressive, almost Gorgorothesque drive matched with more of the ooky spooky feel associated with Grá to date.

Matching strength to strength doesn’t exactly produce weakness, so you already know what to do here.

Raise the horns high.

SKINNED – Shadow Syndicate (XENOKORP) (May 4)

A very modern take on death metal. Production comes off extremely fake and paper thin (as ProTools/direct signal recordings are wont to do), with wet sounding drums and guitars that could equally come off as “modern death” or “black metal” (particularly in the detestable black/death crossover variant).

Occasionally you can make out busy, still wet and tinny sounding bass (as in the intro to “as their bodies fall”), and the vocals are gargling and snotty, but appropriate to genre.

This is perfectly median and utterly typical of what passes for death metal nowadays – vox that could be interpreted somewhere between your average black metal snarl and a Grave-like death metal belch, fronting overly busy, “tech-y” nonsense that evokes the likes of Cannibal Corpse.

There’s probably 5 dozen other bands you could name that fit this yawn inducing style better, but honestly? I don’t care. This sound that the band works is a semi-listenable, several generations removed from the master, cheap imitation of what death metal was and is in its heyday…you know, the very bands and albums fans still revere and push as “go tos” of the genre a quarter century later.

Does anyone really sit there and say, “death metal sucked, until it hit its stride in the late 90’s”?

And honestly, was anyone out there actually listening to death metal at that point?

Yeah. Well, this is very much of that post-black metal era of utter scene irrelevance. And while they do this sound quite well…honestly, what the fuck is that saying?

Kosmogyr – Eviternity (Flowing Downward) (March 30)

One Yank, one Chinese. Met in Shanghai, the former now hailing from the Czech Republic.  They record and fileshare long distance, which is relatively common these days…but what isn’t is that these two pull off a very convincing vintage ’94 Swedish or Norwegian style, Norsecore leaning black metal.

What’s really interesting about this is that what Norsecore often loses in translation to all that relentless speed is exactly what Kosmogyr captures so well – that dark and sinister atmosphere underlying.

Quite frankly, I was surprised to hear a band so closely approximating vintage Tsjuder and the best days of Urgehal, but with all the grimness so often lost in their material. By a Chinese kid and a Yank gone Czech.

Hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Not bad, not bad at’all.

Sojourner – The Shadowed Road (Avantgarde Music) (March 15)

Gothic symphonic black metal?

Seriously, this is so bombastic and melodic, with lead lines, folk instrumentation, light and airy female soprano vox and in the classic “beauty and the beast” setup of gothic metal, male growl/snarl vox trading off with them.

Produced by a team of Borknagar vet Oystein Brun and the legendary Dan Swano, this sounds incredibly lush, syrup sweet, catchy and sure to pull in the female fans in crushed velvet to sway along.

So aside from the male vox…how is this black metal, again?

Oh, yeah…it ain’t.

But it is quite good…and with the right push, could (and should) get some broader based attention.

AD HOMINEM – Napalm For All (Osmose Productions) (April 13)

Have to insert a sigh here.

Without digging too deep into things, suffice to say that these guys kicked off their career with albums entitled “Planet ZOG – The End”, “A New Race for a New World” and a split entitled “Purification”. Hell, as recently as 10 years ago, they dropped “Dictator – A Monument of Glory” (which had tracks like “chambers of hate” and “ZOG is dead” to its contents).

Yeah.

Selah, if you will.

Moving on…

Well, there are few if any nods to that sort of nonsense this time around, with the Frenchmen opting for a more nebulous, Marduk-like nihilism and Trump-ian call for the collapse of modern civilization (“bomb the earth”, the title cut, “imperial massacre”). But what still beggars questioning is, is there any real point to all of this?

The music is incredibly generic, whether lumberingly sluggish or Norsecore-level driving, with iffy vocals and an absurdly dry production that leaves the guitars feeling like wallpaper, all mids with no bottom end or body whatsoever. It’s hardly the worst I’ve ever heard, by any measure…but it’s nothing particularly interesting or exciting, either.

Musically, passable, with a poor choice in production and mastering approach.

Your take on the band’s rather dicey history, and where it leaves them standing today.

     

TOTALSELFHATRED – Solitude (Osmose Productions) (April 27)

Mournfully gothic, depressively contemplative.

To be quite honest, I walked into this one expecting to hate it – just look at the band name.  Oy, another DSBM act ala Forgotten Tomb or what have you…ugh.

But instead, this one was more Forgotten Woods than Forgotten Tomb, more gothic doom than black metal, more introspective than suicidal. It’s dark music for dark people, but hardly over the top…and quite listenable at that.

Guitars, piano, well recorded drums, excellent production, vocals suit the music…I’m good.

Very good stuff.

Nigredo (Greece) – Flesh Torn – Spirit Pierced (Silver-embossed Box Set / Digipak CD / Merch / Digital) (Transcending Obscurity Records) (April 15)

huuuuuuge sigh.

Greek black spectrum metal, all atonality and ringing open strings ala Watain and their thousands of inferior Wannabes that keep that Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards well stoked and burning brightly month after month.

The only thing to recommend them on any level is that they seem to be shooting for something a tad closer to their obvious obsession than most – in other words, there’s a busy, almost thrashlike thing bleeding in from beneath all the usual black/death nonsense.  You know, just like Watain in their earlier material.

Except it’s been done before…and regurgitated to lesser effect by band after band after band ad nausaeum for over a decade now. So who really cares, in 2018?

Yeah, “closer to Watain than usual” from a Watain Wannabe does not mean an excemption from consignment to the ever-flaming Pile.

FORE!

WHIZZZZZ!

(yawns, stretches. rubs the sleep out of the eyes.)

Next?

Depravity (Australia) – Evil Upheaval (Autographed Gold-embossed Box Set / CD / Merch / Digital) (Transcending Obscurity Records) (April 30)

Aussie band.

Promo materials opine “this is what Morbid Angel should have sounded like today”, and you can hear why, though they aren’t that close to Trey and company – this is hardly Blizzard Beasts 2018, more like Cannibal Corpse with light but noticeable Morbid obsessions.

It’s certainly in your face and busy, but there’s an unfortunate black/death crossover playing out in tracks like “the great divide” and, to a lesser extent, “vile defloration” that piss all over their pretensions at being some putative “great white hope” of death metal (not that they ever were in the first place – this is way too “modern” and late 90’s plus to even qualify).

It’s listenable, less discriminating fans may love it…but nah, they’re on the wrong track in the end.

Against Evil (India) – All Hail The King (April 6)

Traditionally minded, almost USPM style metal out of India.

Guitars are thick and crunchy with a really nice distortion tone that brings Akira Takasaki and that Rockman sound to mind, vocals are clean and pleasant enough, sort of like Shakra’s John Prakesh minus the gravel and drums, while appropriately straightforward and basic, bear a subdued yet clearly audible tone that pops on the snare and toms and keeps the cymbals to a proper midrange – no real hiss and signal bleed to be found, here (nice production job, guys). Oh, and you can tell he’s holding back, too, slipping in little syncopated fills and flourishes throughout. Nice.

It’s really too heavy to consider retro-traditional, but too melodic and catchy to qualify as (most) modern metal (the first two Battle Beast albums, Triaxis and a number of Spanish acts out on Fighter Records being similar exceptions to that rule), with a driving, thrashy vibe that brings that US power metal tag to the table…but it’s not really that, either.

In the end, like the aforementioned exceptions to an otherwise bland rule of form, Against Evil gets enough of what’s good about traditional metal and vintage USPM (and the NWOBHM and early thrash it shares both bands and lineage with) to tread a very fine tightrope and deliver one of the strongest proper metal albums you’re likely to hear this month (and only somewhat arguably, thus far this year.)

Really, really fucking good, particularly “Shashank” (well, it’s not a pseudo, but they go by first names only) and “Noble John” (ah, there’s a nickname, does that count?) on guitars and drums, respectively.

These guys should have a much bigger profile than they do.

Here’s doing my part to help that along.

Easy five stars.

Jeete raho!

  

De Profundis (UK) – The Blinding Light Of Faith (Transcending Obscurity Records) (May 10)

We’d covered these guys twice before, for their Kingdom of the Blind and the sort-of greatest hits album Decayed: 2007-2017 and here the UK death metallers go oddly hyperaggressive and blasphemous, which together with the high speed riffing and blastbeats makes this feel more like some questionable black/death affair than anything we’ve encountered from them previously.

It’s well produced and sounds self assured (as you might expect of a band who’s been kicking around for over a decade), but I’m really not sure what to think of this relatively sharp change of direction.

The anti-religious thing is sort of a shrug of the shoulders, if rather played out at this point – and do we really need another Profanatica? But speeding up to tech death speeds and beyond just makes the once mighty De Profundis come off like another ho hum black/death act, whatever the minor differences you can still nitpick out in that argument.

Some odd, occasionally interesting riffing, a good solo or two (“godforsaken,” anyone?), good production and self confidence is about all I can offer on this one.

I’m just concerned that they’ve settled in to a “new direction” and the De Profundis of old is one for the history books…because this new one really didn’t wow me.

Sadistik Forest (Finland) – Morbid Majesties (Autographed Metallic Green-embossed Box Set / CD / Merch / Digital) (Transcending Obscurity Records) (May 25, 2018)

Well, I liked the cover! Nice color scheme, too…

Gargling, almost stomach acid-churning vox that veer between black metallish snarls and deep, well below throaty snotty sounding death metal ones (often tracked to interact with and comment on one another)…yeah, you’ve heard that many times before.

Riffs are fine, if unspectacular…but the POUND POUND POUND POUND slow blastbeat drums (or the standard blastbeat ones) that appear on certain tracks are always a huge letdown, dragging even the cleverest of fretwork down into the gutter with ’em.

Thankfully much of this is midtempo, allowing for a more standard kitwork and double bass footwork setup, and while unquestionedly unspectacular and workaday by classic death metal standards, they’re pretty good by the sorry state of death metal nowadays.

Again, didn’t wow me at all (cover aside), but listenable and may get some newbies digging back to earlier, far better bands of Finnish death metal vintage whom these guys arguably crib from.

Down Among The Dead Men – …And You Will Obey Me (Transcending Obscurity Records (India) (March 15)

Benediction/Ursinne frontman Dave Ingram and Paganizer/Ribspreader six stringer Rogga Johansson join forces with a few session men for yet another solid retro-style death metal project.

Naturally, it can’t help but sound a tad Benediction, with some of the clipped delivery one associates with Bolt Thrower, but it’s a rawer affair than either of those acts would suggest, with more Autopsy, early Death and Swedeath elements coming to the table (the latter certainly hailing from Johansson, the former duo somewhat surprising, if welcome to note the presence of herein).

It’s not quite Gruesome, but bears a similarly potent draught of vintage death metal seeping through its every pore…and with absolutely zero downsides to report, that makes this one yet another winner for both men involved.

Weird side note – seems like someone among them is a huge Doctor Who fan, with titles like “the end of time”, “omega”, “house of blue fire”, “eye of harmony” and “panopticon” all present herein…

Beneath Oblivion (US) – The Wayward and the Lost (Weird Truth Productions) (Japan) (March 27)

When you see the label Weird Truth, you know we’re talking doom of some sort, often enough of the death/doom variety.

Here we get a funereally inclined, sludgy take on doom that pulls a bit of Winter, a touch of Autopsy and hints of Mythic, Sorrow and Derketa to the table, but with really abrasive shriek, gargle and snarl vox that more properly belong to some crappy avant-black metal act.

Tracks run an average of 15m apiece, so you get the idea, here – if it weren’t for the utterly rubbish vocals, I’d have been all over this one.

As is, needs somebody to go in and wipe the vocal tracks. Hell, leave it instrumental, it’d still be pretty great.

But oy…those vox!

THE GROTESQUERY – The Lupine Anathema (Xtreem Music) (April 6)

Ever-busy Rogga Johanssen this time pairs up with the great Kam Lee (the pre-Death Mantas, Massacre) for another slab of retro-minded but still oddly modern feeling death metal – apparently some concept album about werewolves. Okay, sounds cool…

As you might expect, this one’s a lot more straightforward, aggressive and in your face than what he’s doing with Dave Ingram and Down Among the Dead Men, as appropriate for the voice of early Death and Massacre, two bands who defined and drove the genre’s very existence back in the mid 80’s demo era (and in the latter case, again circa 1991 with the belated release of From Beyond).

It’s therefore very heavy, crunchy and violent by comparison, which both evokes the Rick Rozz tone and style and has its own particular merits to be sure…but simultaneously leaves it feeling a touch too modern for my tastes.

Kam sounds great, the production is strong, guitars are easily twice as potent as the Ingram project, and it just works, make no mistake about that.

But it’s also not staying on the ol’ iPod…where Down Among the Dead Men is.

LJÁIN – Endasálmar og klofnar tungur (Signal Rex) (April 20)

Weird, obscure sounding black metal. There’s that oddly sinister fogbound vibe you get with the early Manes demos (or arguably those of Carpathian Forest), with vocals that are so buried and distorted you wonder if this was even recorded in a fucking studio. So far, so good.

But then it just gets all weird, atonal and experimental, with all those Inquisitionlike chordal bends and strange fretboard sound effects, and you realize there’s no actual melody (and precious little harmonic structure)…it’s like he was just playing random shit on the fly.

It’s Icelandic in origin, which given the head scratching obscurities of that scene may answer all questions about why it’s so strange…and why it simply fails to work, despite some definite atmosphere in its favor.

Satanic Surfers – Back From Hell CD/LP (Mondo Macabre) (April 13)

Swedish skatepunk! And good skatepunk, at that…

Seriously, promo materials call out sXe vets like 7 Seconds and Insted alongside more 90’s vintage punk revivalists like Bad Religion and Pennywise, but that’s all good by me…

…as are these ten positively ripping punk/hard rock crossover tracks, bringing proper soloing and a heavy rock, even NWOBHM feel to tracks like “back from hell” (check out that outro!) and a sound that does indeed feel very much like Bad Religion, or the Offspring, or Lagwagon for that matter.

Fast, crunchy guitars working simple two and three finger barre patterns with the aforementioned melodic, old school feeling and often dual leads (!), clean shouted vocals and more catchy, get your ass out of that seat and start moshing (or hit that skate park!) raw and punchy melodicism with just the right mix of anger at society and the world around with an underlying positive feel (they suck, but we can beat ’em by holding true to our principles!) It’s really, really good, and right up my alley.

Nothing much else to say about this one…can’t sit here anymore, have to go bust some heads.  Into the pit!

Adzalaan – Into Vermilion Mirrors (Invictus / Vrasubatlat) (April 20)

Weird variant of black/death.

A few actual death metal riffs (“paralysis euphoria”), some more recent Gorgoroth influence (“vermillion in absentia”), a few worthless ambient intros and interludes. The rest is pretty much noise.

Yeah, whatever. Not even worth a vigorous fling into the Pile, more of a lazy toss over the shoulder.

Here, catch.

Or not. Just let it shatter and lay there in a puddle.

Next?

Serum Dreg – Lustful Vengeance (Invictus / Vrasubatlat) (April 20)

HAHHAHAHA…damn, I love that hilariously goofy face on the cover! That guy’s got some great teeth, I tell ya…

While I’d really love to see this wind up in a toothpaste ad, bottom line is that this is a band that should stick to the slower, sludgier end of the spectrum (“holy disease”, “lustful vengeance”, the midsection of “edifice of hatred”), which suits them a whole hell of a lot better than the midtempo speed with subpar blastbeats that takes up the majority of the album.

I mean, these guys could have been a sort of black metal take on Goatlord or something, grinding away hypnotically (and somewhat effectively) like they do in their rare lumberingly slow moments…yet they choose to descend into pointless cacophony over and over to little result.

Take a chill pill, guys.  Slow the fuck down.

Then you may have something worth discussing.

 

Dagger Lust – Siege Bondage Adverse to the Godhead (Invictus / Vrasubatlat) (April 20)

Speaking of lo-fi cacophony, here we have an act with overly detuned guitars that barely register as motion (much less songs), just a bunch of random strings rattling on the fretboard banging while two or three “voices” work some duelling vomiting.

Player 1: BLEEEAARRGGHHH!
Player 2: YEAAHHRRCCCGHHH!
Player 3: BURRRPPP!

And that’s pretty much all you get, for seven interminable tracks.

Whew…that Pyre’s really getting fed well, this month!

Here comes another…

WHIZZZZ!!!

(sputter, crackle, spit)

Dreamfire – Atlantean Symphony (Minotauro Records) (April 27)

er…

well, ever wish that Nightwish expanded those already overlong symphonic intro bits, sans guitars, drums or vocals of any kind, into full length album versions?

I don’t mean Midnight in the Labyrinth-style full on symphonic orchestral reinterpretations of symph metal classics, but entirely instrumental, typically generic modern movie score schmutters ala John Williams, Danny Elfman or James Horner?

yeah, there must be an audience for this out there, somewhere…somebody’s buying all those Titanic scores and what have you…

My idea of soundtrack music is John Carpenter, the Basil Pouledoris Conan score and the many heavy hitters of 70’s Italian cult cinema (Morricone, Umiliani, the De Angelis brothers, etc. etc.) – this generic lush business has always been the aural wallpaper it was intended as, to add a bit of drama and emotional impact to the visual image they were meant to accompany and accentuate.

Soooo…nothing wrong with it, but I really can’t see the point.

Next?

Scarificare – Tilasm (Helldprod Records) (April 20)

Watain Wannabes from Portugal. You’ll hear it inside of the first minute, which is pretty sad.

Again, this shit sells, to some corner of the black metal (or as they’d have it, “black/death”) market, so if it’s your thing, have at it.

But the light injection of clean baritone vox, somewhat akin to Ricardo Ribiera of Moonspell (and a weird hint of King Diamond falsetto about 2/3 through opener “crystal skull”) didn’t really save this one from its primary failing of orientation and style.

Another one for the Pile of Dead Bards…at this rate, we’ll be keeping those flames fed for weeks!

   

Extreme Metal Attack Festival – ANNO XV 2018 (Helldprod) (March 16)

A group of obscure (mostly) Portugese black metal acts, presumably all on the bill of this yearly event (which kicked off back in 2003).Irae is more midtempo, almost black/deathlike, but similarly could be seen as a bad mid-90’s Norwegian or UK style affair. Passably mediocre.

Chotza is a Swiss act, and they’re more punkish and raw, kind of like Aura Noir goes war metal or something. Nothing great, but not awful.

Lux Ferre comes off slightly more South American blackthrash at the opening, with a fast thrash style riff, but then drops the ball entirely and goes full on, poorly produced generic blender on high black metal thereafter.

Ruach Raah we’ve dealt with several times previously, and compared to the other bands here, they’re almost accomplished with their punkified Motorhead gone first wave black metal approach.  Not bad at all, particularly in the more dicey company they find themselves here.

Ordem Satanica is extremely underground black metal, and about the rawest, most underproduced band rehearsal cum demo you’ve ever heard.  Vocals sound pretty “evil” and vintage second wave black metal, but it’s hard to get past the kids in a basement vibe of this.

Spectrum Mortis is a Spanish act, and they’re also rather underground, but pretty damn forgettable at that. I guess you could call this one “black/death”, from some of the riffing and the deeper vocal approach, though it’s more akin to actual death metal in those two respects than simply bad black metal like Dissection, Watain and “Emperor Magus Caligula”-era Dark Funeral could ever be, so there’s that…

Surge Assault is…well, the Italian Aura Noir.

Wasteland Riders are…well, the bad Spanish Maax.

Scum Liquor is…well, the bad Portugese Abigail, arguably slowed down to Maax speed.

Your call whether any of that piques your interest or no. I’d call it a typical, forgettable comp, much like those that come (or came) with mags like the apparently late lamented Terrorizer and the generally more on point Zero Tolerance every month.  And you know how those are: you may find a track or two worth saving for the playlist…the other 18 to 20 tracks, though, are all crap.

Case in point.

Abolishment of Flesh – The Inhuman Condition (Unholy Anarchy) (April 20)

Well…

OK, if you were to take a black metal aesthetic and apply it to a more tech/”brutal” death metal riffing style (hailing from blatant Suffocation worship)…but with a doofy Mortician-derived throaty belch vox and positively annoying drum machine-style fast blastbeat thing throughout.

And mind, I like Suffocation, and am good with at least early Mortician (and
Rahmer’s brief recorded stint with Incantation before that). But this, did not impress me.

Tag in the lame template modern/”occult”/black/death-style black metal artwork and aesthetic, and it’s another shrug of the shoulders.

At best.

(sigh)

Next?

Begat The Nephilim – Begat the Nephilim I: The Surreptitious Prophecy / Mother of the Blasphemy (Unholy Anarchy) (June 15)

Somewhere between the questionable to detestable poles of “symphonic black metal”* and “black/death” falls Begat the Nephilim, a New Hampshire act that can’t seem to decide whether they want to be Behemoth or…I don’t know, Nile or something.**

* Cradle excepted – I’m talking overhyped yet abjectly worthless shit like Emperor and Dimmu, here.

** Don’t ask me, I don’t listen to what passed for death metal circa ’95-2012 or so. All pretty much sounds like shit to me…

So, yeah, there’s a bit of the melodicism of the former, the blackened boredom and snarly vox of the latter and some Suffocation harmonic squeaks, overly crunchy stop/start guitars and abrasive belch vox keeping it more of a death affair…but by no means does this imply either death metal proper or melodeath.

So it’s more melodic than the worst “extreme metal” has to offer, OK.

But as Steve Taylor once opined,

“So they love Jerry Lewis in France.  Does that make him funny?” 

Great cover, though!

Tarasque – Innen Aussen (WOOAAARGH/Dedication Records) (April 13)

This is yet another weird one for ya this month…seems to be a month for this sort of WTF moment release.

Billing themselves as “sludge monsters” and “neck-snappers”, this is a slow, doomy paced affair that moves from clean detuned quiet bits of business to midtempo crunchy stuff with perfectly awful slow blastbeats and (get this) aggro vox.

So what is this, really? Certainly not doom, nor death, sludge, stoner, “modern metal”, death, black, metalcore, trad, power, symphonic, gothic…it’s kind of nothing, stuck in some no man’s land between an ersatz stoner rock pseudo-doom that’s too cleanly recorded and precise (not to mention too fast) to come off “sludge”, and with absolutely zero of the laid back, grim and retro vibe you get from doom…or stoner…or sludge.

Yeah, dump the shite “vocals”, that would help, certainly…but would it fit those categories any better, even were it a clean, moaning or Kyuss/CoC-like vocalist in front of the mic?  Would this come off any more kin to, say, Electric Wizard or Medieval or St. Vitus and Pentagram were one of their respective frontmen stepping in to take over duties from this vein-popping aggro clown?

Nope.

Next?

Ewig.Endlich. – Auf Grund (WOOAAARGH/Dedication Records) (April 13)

And yet another weirdie beardie for ya, this time out of Dortmund, Germany. The band is sort of working a laid back “post-black metal” introspective tremelo riffed thing, which is fine, except for the fact that they lean far too noisy and aggressive to properly work that style, a mismatch of styles only shoved into the red zone of failure by tagging on a screamo aggro vocalist who sounds a whole hell of a lot like the growly screamer from Tarasque.

Unlike the former band, however, Ewig.Endlich could pull off the intended sound, were they to rein in the open chord business, detuned bass (or overly detuned rhythm guitar, maybe) and trebly noise…

…and once again, dump that fucking vocalist ASAP.

Does anyone actually enjoy talentless guys screaming like this rather than any variant of singing (however “proper” or stylized)?

Me, I was done with that shit even before Anselmo made it popular with Cowboys from Hell, all those years ago.

Twingiant – Mass Driver (Sludgelord Records) (March 16)

Stoner rock for the most part – the tube amplike but throaty guitar tone bears the distinct feel of generator party acts like Kyuss and the more heady Hawkwindlike psychedelic space rock of Monster Magnet…but then they get all angry. And I don’t mean Electric Wizard angry…more like, I don’t know, The Sword or something. It breaks the mood.

Did I mention the ridiculous fat guy with a crumb-filled beard vocals?

Yeah, you could tell me this was the guy from Conan (the bleh band, not the amazing movie or the excellent books that inspired it) and I wouldn’t bat an eye.

Anyway, this is supposedly some tongue in cheek “concept album” about (and I quote:) “a drunken space hobo who passes out in a garbage barge when he is jettisoned out into deep space. The songs detail his hangover nightmare as he attempts to return to a dumpster on planet Earth.”

umm…yeah, I have to laugh along with the band there, that’s pretty damn funny. I actually liked that one, laughing right now.

Well…the guitars are right. And the “concept” of this one’s pretty funny, to the extent that makes much difference to ya.

Just breaks stride with the genre too much to work for me more than tangenitally.

Demon Head – Rivers of Mars (The Sign Records) (April 27)

7″ single from this Denmark retro-70’s rock act.  They manage to sound a hell of a lot like Jim Morrison on one of the Doors’ more arty excursions, minus the carnivalesque Farifsa organ nonsense and pretentious vibe Manzarek built around the guy.

Also, we have this (again, I quote:) “(B-side) the Resistance is the timeless narrative of the struggles and nightmares of an underground, partisan movement in the face of totalitarian power: our homage to those who defy tyranny.”

And in the days of Trump and Brexit, and a rise in Far Right (and the equally egregious “Intersectionalist” Far Left) extremism? You bet your ass that message needs to be heard, and a resistance to both ends of the crackpot spectrum to be built.

Svartanatt – Starry Eagle Eye (The Sign Records) (March 2)

Another retro-early 70’s rock act, these guys bring slight dual (or triple) guitar harmonies ala the Allmans, Hammond organ backup, overdriven guitars, clean prog rock-style vocals and a vibe that evokes everything from Ten Years After to Jethro Tull to Mountain at different points (and on different tracks).

So early to mid-70’s it practically comes with elephant bells. Hell, “hit him down” even feels a touch Montrose…and is it me, or does “black heart” come off more than a bit Black Oak Arkansas? You get the idea.

Accomplished, confident, appropriate tone and production style for the era being evoked…

Like this sound or no, you can’t deny Svartanatt’s got it down pat.

Nest – Metempsychosis (Sludgelord Records) (March 2)

Kentucky band that pulls in heavy, stoner doom riffing ala Electric Wizard, then mixes it with…stuff that doesn’t work, like snarling black metal vox (which come off kind of like the late Killjoy from Necrophagia and Haxxan) and weird avant garde moments like the midpoint of “gallows of forever” or the second half of “heretic”.

Syncretism and miscegenation of musical styles seldom works, kids, unless done subtly and with nuance and taste.

And that’s something that appears to be completely lost on today’s generation of musicians, apparently…

Coulda been another Winter or something, with those monster riffs.

Too bad.

Oceans – Far From Composure (March 16)

Weird but quite likeable progressive jazz of a sort masquerading as some variant of indie or “post-hardcore”.

Moments do feel vaguely akin to grungesters like Bush, Soundgarden or Nirvana (like the first minute or so of “surrender”), but then the clean dual guitar arpeggiated dueling banjos thing Conor Hyde and Tom Hollands are working kicks in again…

…and even on the more distorted guitar, straightforward choruses, they’re throwing in jazz chord harmonies and quirky bits of business that elevate Oceans wayyyyyyy the fuck above far too many musicians covered herein monthly…

Is it necessarily to the taste of a more traditional or “extreme metal” aficionado? Probably not.

But is it melodic, catchy, emotionally nuanced, lush, busy and quite engaging throughout?

Damn straight, it is.

Just found a new favorite “indie” band, if you want to call them such.

Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard/Slomatics – Totems (Black Bow Records) (March 29)

The more ungainly monikered half of this split are the more interesting.

Welsh stoner doom act with odd shoegazey female sylphlike vocals (think My Bloody Valentine, Lush or Curve crossed with Electric Wizard, but as fronted by the light and airy likes of Andrea Lewis Jarvis of the Darling Buds, Juliana Hatfield or even Suzanne Vega).

Works quite well, thank you very much.

Slomatics aren’t exactly slouches by comparison, the Irish trio pulling off a similarly (though far less) heavy riffing stoner doom trancelike throb on two of their three tracks herein, with vocals (such as they are) limited to more of an occasional effect and affectation than the more front and center thing you’ve come to expect.

Works pretty well, actually…though not half so well as their splitmates, and a whole hell of a lot more depressing and mellow.

Let’s just forget about “silver ships into the future”, a pointless piano piece with light organ drones…

Get it for MWWB, you won’t regret it…and you’ll probably give two of the three Slomatics tunes a spin every once in a while, besides.

Bison – Earthbound (No List Records) (April 20)

A really nice, punchy drum production…when the band’s on instrumental mode. You can really hear the crisp snap of the snare, the pleasing muffled thud of the floor tom.  Guitars are distinctly overpowered, but it works well enough for the riffing, particularly given that they’re working a sort of sludgy stoner doom sound.

As usual, things fall apart with the vox, which aren’t exactly the sadly all too common (at least among acts covered this month!) aggro screamo shit, but more of a hardcore punk raspy shout thing with occasional gargle-scream “Southern groove” nonsense pushing things past the bounds of acceptability (as on the ridiculous “the curse”).

Otherwise, thankfully, vox are kept to a reasonably dull roar and if not a bare minimum, then less accentuated than you’d expect…which definitely helps, given their lack of a proper frontman to carry the riffs along.

When he’s there, he’s annoying…but “curse” aside, it’s more of a sigh and shake of the head than an instant flip of the dial thing.

Lose the vox (or just go instrumental, you’re halfway there already…) and you’ve got a damn strong stoner/doom/sludge band on your hands.

Old Man Wizard – Blame It All On Sorcery (May 11)

Weird, proggy “occult rock” affair that falls somewhere between Ghost (back around Opus Eponymous, when anyone whatsoever gave a shit about them), Sono Morti and the Alan Parsons Project (don’t believe me? Check out “innocent hands”…)

As you can imagine, it’s pretty damn weird, and certainly not to all tastes…but hey, I like Opus Eponymous…and all three Sono Morti releases.  Hell, Tales of Mystery and Imagination is pretty cool, in itself (hence its use in Claudio Fragasso’s Monster Dog).

Strange, not something I’d go to on a regular basis…but yeah, I’m good with it.

The Fallen Prodigy – Relive//Regret//Repeat (April 6)

Local boys do the metalcore thing.

They’ve got the formula down pat, from the crunchy guitars and melodic lead lines to the goofy “scary” screamo verses that give way to catchy, clean sung (if a little depressing) choruses.

Frontman Jay Jimenez throws down a deeper, throatier death metal style growly-scream than usual (except when he decides to do this hilarious high speed witch voice at the end of opener “extinct”, which practically made me spit out my coffee laughing), and his clean chorus voice is pretty juvenile and teenaged in tone (which just reinforces metalcore’s joint origins in At the Gates melodeath and late 90’s/early millenium pop punk/emo – both are quite apparent in Jimenez’ vocals, never mind the band!)

Even so, it all works quite well, and if you don’t mind hearing a bit of, say, Sum 41 with your metalcore (seriously, the clean vox choruses sound that gum snapping, female-friendly radio oriented pop-punk), you can just kick back and appreciate exactly how well these New Yawk boys work the idiom.

If you dig metalcore and aren’t necessarily expecting Killswitch-level apotheosis from every release in the genre, you should find yourself quite chuffed with The Fallen Prodigy.

I was good with ’em, without question.

Fuzz Lord – S/T (Fuzzdoom Records) (March 23)

Muted production, totally fuzzed out guitars working doomish riffs, muffled drums that still pop (but as if recorded under a pillow) and (thankfully) almost no vocals…this is stoner metal to the core.

But then there’s little sections that betray more of a desire to stretch somewhat, driven by tinkling, decidedly non-stoner leads (which occasionally feel more biker metal, as on “the lord of the underground”).

The worst you can say is that when those thankfully quite sparing vocals are brought into service, they’re patently ridiculous, all growly pseudo-Hells Headbangers act vibe, but without the US black metal biker band music to back ’em up.

Not as annoying as aggro vox, not as goofy as those stupid fat guy with beard growly vox…but still pretty stupid arrr, I’m a pirate, mate style vox.  Like I said, thankfully, they’re used sparingly…

Not a bad band at all. They should consider going all instrumental, or getting a proper stoner/doom frontman.

Kolossor – Crown of Horns (Sludgelord Records) (April 6)

Heavy and pummelling stoner doom with a few “occult rock” style riffs (“wall of sleep”) for good measure.

Vox are the all too common fat guy with food and shit stuck in his beard bellow/growl thing the scene seems sadly inclined towards of late, but at least they’re less doofy sounding than usual…I guess. After awhile, it all becomes relative, like “well, they’re not as ridiculous as (fill in a band)…”

Naturally, the heavy riffing, despite not quite following accepted template for the subgenre, works just fine for these ears…

…and at least at the moment and grading on a scale, I’m just sighing at the vocals, not laughing out loud or running to change the dial.

Deconstructing Sequence – Cosmic Progression: An Agonizing Journey Through Oddities of Space (Via Nocturna) (March 16)

Weirdly over-busy UK act that falls somewhere between djent, prog and symphonic metal, if you can even picture such a thing.

Seriously – symphonic metal keyboards, vox that incline towards death metal, spastic, atonal, practically utterly random riffing punctuated by nu metallish noises and squeaks, then they slow to a quieter, cleaner, proggy space rocklike thing before spastic drum machine high speed stutters ala Atari Teenage Riot kick in…it’s just one big mess, really.

I remember seeing Unexpect open for Epica and Visions of Atlantis about a decade back…while the technical musicianship was enviable and the femme vocalist was both attractive and had a nice soprano voice, we were just stunned at the sheer abrasiveness and amusicality of it all. What the fuck were they shooting for, Karlheinz Stockhausen gone twelve tone, the metal version?

Unexpect were catchy melodic rockers compared to this shite.

One more for the Pile…duck and cover!

WHIZZZZ!

(spurt sputter crackle)

geez, even the Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards doesn’t know what the fuck these lads are on about…more of a simmering melt than the usual explosive burst…

Next?

Owl Maker – Paths Of The Slain (March 16)

Here’s something you don’t hear often: “Connecticut hard rock/metal band”.  I mean, yeah, Obsession, obviously, but who the hell else ever came out of that state?

Anyway, these guys work a sort of hard 70’s rockish vibe, but as filtered through the clean production and more driving riffing and drumming of modern metal.  It’s hard to describe just how different this is from either of those, and yet how precisely it adheres to both, without just sitting the reader down and playing a track or two. Suffice to say, you hear it, you’ll understand what we’re saying here immediately.

Solos are laid back and 70’s bluesy, vox are clean and sung in harmony, and yet the riffing and drumming are very much of the modern day…you can tell one of the members here hails from an “occult rock” band (one nobody ever heard of, but hey…) by the strong whiff of 70’s that permeates throughout, but it’s still pretty far removed from that genre in most other respects. Again, very difficult to explain on paper, music unheard.

Nothing spectacular, but the drummer is pretty damn good and both guitar solos and vox are rather likeable in the way most retro (and actual) 70’s rock so often is.

Throneless – Cycles (Black Bow Records) (March 23)

Sort of a more laid back, throatier sounding take on Electric Wizard, these Swedish doomsters drop an uber-heavy guitar tone, sluggish but thick toned, deep dish snare-style drumming on the unsuspecting listener, then add those processed, almost “lost in space” Jus Osbornish vox on top…or more to the point, buried beneath. 

It’s all pretty fucking sweet, and definitely my idea of stoner doom – there’s really nothing more to add to it.

Four tracks, no waiting.

Recommended.

Into the Storm/Smooth Sailing split (March 23)

Boy, the Seattle sound has really improved since the days of junkie needle freaks in flannel moaning and whining about what weird misfits they were…

So, yeah, these are two bands out of grunge central who eschew the expected for more of an aggro sludge, almost stonerish sort of thing.

Into the Storm has lousy, almost industrial gargle-shout vox somewhere along the spectrum between Killing Joke and Ministry (at times) and the fat slob with food stuck in his beard bellow so beloved of would be stoner rockers (and occasional doomsters) nowadays.  Guitars are a lot louder than the other instruments, as you’d expect for this subgenre, but that’s about all you can say for ’em.

Smooth Sailing works more of a busy, emo/modern punkish thing with guitars that veer between quirky lead lines and fills and odd clean riffs that flirt with jazzier, more outre chords between all the chugging heavy stuff. It’s far from prog or jazz, but somewhat more akin to, say, Black Sails through Sing the Sorrow era AFI, but angrier and more metal crossover in orientation.

The only problem here, as usual, is the shit vox, which are entirely of the belch-shout aggro school of talentless frontman-dom. I mean, there must be a school for this, how the fuck else do you explain how many of these boneheads get churned out and given a mic nowadays?

Nothing overly thrilling here, but there’s no denying that one band is self assured and accomplished (cough Smooth Sailing) and bears potential, were they inclined to replace their doofus screamer with an actual vocalist of some sort.

The other band…well, the instruments are louder than the vox, I guess…

Next?

 

MaidaVale – Madness Is Too Pure (The Sign Records) (March 23)

At what point does retro-minded, 60’s style, trippy psychedelic rock cross paths with gothic rock and new wave…not to mention the trancelike krautrock sensibilities of Circle?

Well, these Swedes are determined to find out, bringing together equal parts Sammal, Six Day Run, Spring Session M and the trancier end of classic first wave UK gothic rock (harder to pin down in specific, though there is a certain tonal sensibility vocally to both Siouxsie Sioux and Dale Bozzio playing into the last two).

If you want to simplify this, picture either a young Siouxsie or Missing Persons diva Bozzio in her quirky prime fronting Circle, but with a huuuuge fan of…what, live material from People? The later Electric Prunes? Again, it’s hard to pin down specifics here, but there’s a decided 60’s psychedelic drug haze hanging over the proceedings, particularly in evidence with the guitar.

So if you always wanted to hear the most doped up hippie act going all Hawkwind on your ass, but as part of a Can or Circle show and with one of the aforementioned goth/new wave declamatorily inclined frontwomen on the mic…here’s your chance.

It’s fucking bizarre, OK?

But yeah, I liked it. You may as well.

Ommadon – End Times (Dry Cough Records / At War With False Noise / DGRecords / Medusa Crush Recordings) (May 1)

43 minutes of molasses slow lumbering guitars, so distorted and in your face it’s as if you went to a generator party in Arizona circa 1992 and passed out loaded with your head up against a rack of Mesa Boogie amps.

Sounds great, until you realize there’s no actual motion or song that results…even split into two soundalike 20 minute plus parts.

Well…it’s heavy…and slow…and pretty damn long, given that this is either one endless track or two long takes on the exact same material…oh, and the guitar tone is great, for what they’re trying to achieve here.

(shakes head)

next?

CIST – The Frozen Casket (Extended version) (Redefining Darkness Records /  Reaper Metal Productions)

Okay, you know how Matt Harvey and Gruesome do this killer take on early Death? Yeah.

So you know those hyper abrasive vox he works, which were pretty much the way “Evil Chuck” used to sound back in the glory days of post-Kam Lee Mantas and Death?  Right.

Exact same thing, here…just without the vintage Death riffing and leads by the likes of Rick Rozz, James Murphy and Andy LaRocque. Not that the riffing is bad, or anything – in fact, it feels quite retro minded when compared to lesser, more modern iterations of death metal.

If anything, CIST comes off like Pestilence (riffing) crossed with earlier Death (vox, some of the riffing) and some would-be flash, but really kind of acceptably workaday lead breaks tossed in over the top (whose brevity suggests a failed attempt at recapturing the Murphy style).

Even so…if any of this sounds like a slag, you’re reading things very, very wrong. Sure, compared to these classic bands and players, these Russian death metallers fall a bit short. Cue in on that sentence.

Very, very good, with a nicely quirky retro vibe, and yet not quite Gruesome Mark II – there’s enough individuality and strangeness about this mix to keep them from being either a Death or Pestilence tribute act of any measure.

You bet your sweet ass, I was good with this. More, please.

Na zdorov’ye!

Nomad – Feral (APF Records)

Manchester act who works more of a throaty, almost “Southern groove” style take on stoner rock.

It’s not really “stoner doom”, being faster, busier and more aggro in orientation than you’d expect, right down to the lousy aggro shout/puke vox that sound like he’s swallowing his fucking tongue every other word (until he goes whole hog with the tonsil rattling YEEEAAAHHHHHHGGGHHHH!!!! screamo shit).

It’s as embarassing as you’d expect, and would be a really weird fit for a stoner act (much less any sort of doom one)…but these guys are more downtuned, sludgy aggro than anything else, sort of a Pissing Razors trying to cover the hits of Corrosion of Conformity. That’s stoner doom, right?

Yeah…no. Not in the least.

(another audible sigh here)

(seriously, I’m not kidding. When I say insert sigh, eyebrow raise, eye roll, audible laugh…I’m fucking doing it as I type.)

WHIZZZZZ!!!

Yeah, yeah, I didn’t give you guys fair warning. Sorry, this one just pissed me off.

Just bat those embers off your pants, don’t want y’all getting hurt from all this dicey music this month…

(composing self, sighs again, forces a smile)

…next?

 

Isgalder – To The Hall Of The Stars (Hellthrasher) (March 9)

German black metal act with definite symphonic elements, i.e. prominent keyboard flourishes.

It’s moodier than you’d expect, and not as dark lullaby singsongy as, say, Gloomy Grim, nor is it as complex and gothic horror cum Decadent as Cradle of Filth…but at least it’s far from the sort of shit usually associated with the words “symphonic black metal”.

There’s somewhat of a retro vibe here, and I guess you could make some vague comparisons to earlier Ancient, but less annoying and eye rolling than that. There’s a bit of folkishness to this, suggesting some element of pagan metal, but again…nothing about them really says “folk metal” or “pagan metal” – it’s more “traditionalist minded, sorta late 90’s Norwegian, symphonic overtone black metal with light folk elements”.

Only three songs, which are repeated in their entirety in alternate versions. There are differences to be heard, but it’s not all that dramatic as to be necessary to include both takes of each track…so I don’t get that part. But hey, at least they won’t be milking those as bonus tracks on some later “special edition” or “greatest hits”…

I guess there’s a slight feel of Hades (the Norwegian Viking/black metallers, not the NJ power/prog thrashers) to be found herein, and maybe that’s what I picked up on and liked about ’em right off. Who the hell knows.

In any case, it works, and rather well, at that – by the time you get to the close of the alternate version of “soaring mountains”, if you’re not at least somewhat hooked, I simply don’t know what to say for ya.

  

DEADLY CARNAGE – Through the Void, Above The Suns (A Sad Sadness Song) (March 30)

A space rock cum trancey ambient opener gives way to…what is this, actually?

Post-black metal, with clean/shouted emo vox and lumbering, almost doom/deathlike riffing that still manages to feel…I don’t know, black/death is the closest thing that comes to mind.

It’s detuned, heavy and not directly black metal, but doesn’t fit well into doom, death, stoner or crust (all of which it could arguably stretch gnarly tendrils towards, without ever truly touching). Then again, there’s the tremelo lead lines and overly reverbed ringing open chord business and vox…which suddenly go all Cynic at the midpoint of “hyle” (and again on “ilene”) just to fuck the works with yet another monkey wrench in the gears. You get the impression these guys don’t know exactly who or what they want to be.

Amusingly, the promo materials are absolutely zero help in pinning this one down, getting all tangenital and “cosmic” with a bunch of wacky schmutters about space, existentialism and Buddhist enlightenment or what have you. Yeah, yeah, bibbity bobbity boo to you, too.

Well…it’s interesting by dint of the very fact that you can’t pin this down very well…I guess in the end I’d call it “indie post-whatever the fuck”, throw up my hands and walk away.

But did it annoy me? No. Was it unlistenable? Nah.

Didn’t agree with some passages and phrases, for sure – but things always resolved back to this sort of mellow druggy vibe with the clean vox or some variant of space rock, shoegaze or pseudo-black metallish tranciness eventually…or at least by the next track.

Hell, by “divide” they’re going all modern day Alcest, doing the full on indie shoegaze thing, like Faunts for kids or something, so you get the general idea – not “trve” or “kvlt” or “extreme” in any real way…but odd and listenable enough to pass muster in the end.

The Negative Bias / Golden Dawn – Temple of Cruel Empathy / Lunar Serpent split (Seance Records) (April 6)

One track apiece on this 7″ split.

We’ve dealt with The Negative Bias previously, for their Lamentation of the Chaos Omega, and little has changed, with the band still dancing perilously close to straight up Watain Wannabe “occult black metal”/Swedish black/death Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards fodder, but with enough quirks and unique touches (not to mention occasional hints of proper harmonic motion, as found circa the 6 minute mark or thereabouts herein) to keep them just this side of acceptability. It’s overly dark, it’s definitely pushing it…but in the end, the call is “safe”.

Golden Dawn is a new one to us, though the guy’s apparently been floating around since the early 90’s on and off. Austrian one man band, so presumably more aligned with the UK esoteric society and/or its general aesthetic than the more recent Greek “alt right” (cough bullshit euphemism there cough) movement of the same name – so keep your pants on, there, kids.

His track is weird, almost kids record at times (with all those weird doofy Luigi’s Mansion cum Scooby Doo synth tones), droning and doomy black metal at others…but if you chop the first 8 minutes or so off of this and skip to the last few (which adhere more to the latter style than the former), it’s pretty trancey and decent, even tossing in some Dunkelheit/Daudi Baldrs-era Burzum Casio samples as punctuation.

Overall…some merit to be sure, despite some moments that really leave you giving this split the stinkeye.

  

Living Altar – Scythes Towards Psyche (Inferna Profundus Records) (February 12)

There was an old Woody Allen joke, from the amusingly overdubbed spy spoof What’s Up, Tiger Lily, where the baddie’s threat was to stuff a henchman into a barrel filled with fat Lithuanian midgets and sink him to the bottom of the ocean.No idea what the fuck that meant, but it sounded bizarre enough to stick in the memory for all these years…and make it the first thing to come to mind when you say “Lithuania” (which admittedly doesn’t happen often).

So what does that have to do with the price of fish, you ask? Simply this: this is a “bestial black metal” act out of Lithuania.

Now on to the pluses: you can make out actual riffs, and the general vibe is more midtempo than breakneck speed throughout.

Vox are still swathed in too much reverb, but while these guys never even approach classic Beherit, they’re hardly bottom of the barrel (pun not intended…but it works!) workaday “bestial black”/”war metal” (the two always having been pretty much interchangeable terms for the same grindcorelike wall of black metallish sound. With everyone wearing gas masks for no good reason.

Only six tracks, so even when things get a bit too fast, samey and closer to template (“altered states”, “nektrokatarsis”) this one never quite wears out its welcome. Close…but not quite.

I liked hearing actual riffs for a change, and the generally slower tempos worked surprisingly well. For this style of black metal? Pretty damn strong stuff, indeed.

Fat midgets in a barrel or no.

Altar of Perversion – Intra Naos (The Ajna Offensive / Norma Evangelium Diaboli) (April 15)

6 ridiculously long tracks, running somewhere between 13 and 26 minutes apiece. As you can imagine, it’s slow moving and builds to a crescendo, which is always something of a plus when it comes to setting atmosphere and building a trancelike feel…both something endemic to and reasonably specialized as pillars of black metal.

The promo writeup gets into all kinds of oogity boogity bullshit, you can take or leave that with yesterday’s trash…but while the general M.O. is the sadly typical “occult black metal” cum Watain Worship all the good little black metal kvltists seem to think is de rigeur these days, the sheer length of these tracks allows them to breathe, draws them out into something bigger than, say, your typical Inquisition album or what have you.

Bottom line – can’t quite pin down why it worked beyond the aforementioned…but it did.

Ooga booga bullshit aside…yeah, it works.

Cardiac Arrest (U.S.) – A Parallel Dimension of Despair (Memento Mori) (April 23)

Ah, a modern death metal band not pointedly aping the Sunlight Studios thing or working some variant of Suffocation worship or “tech death”, while avoiding the “blackened” bullshit that so bastardized the scene and blurred the lines between two very different subgenres of “extreme” metal.

Yeah, I know – it’s pretty fucking rare.  So much more to celebrate, then!

About the worst you can say here is that every song sounds more or less like the ones surrounding…which is something you can say about just about every death metal album ever released, for better or worse.

At least they slow things down a bit for a few tracks “when murder is justified”, “this dark domain”, and those naturally stand out from the rest, coming off somewhat like early Grave.  But even the busier material that fills the remainder of the album is more or less midtempo plus, which works and still sounds pretty retro without being overly copycattish…again, a rare feat nowadays, regardless of genre.

Yeah, I was definitely good with this one overall.

Shrine of the Serpent – Entropic Disillusion (Memento Mori) (April 23)

Thick and grinding, molasses slow guitars. Not quite funeral doom, but pushing in that direction – Sorrow and Winter aren’t all that far removed in tempo.

Then tag in a more Incantation by way of Autopsy vomit-belch vocal approach and sludgy lo-fi feel, despite the rather clear production on the guitar and drums. It’s interesting, and sure to appeal to fans of, say, Anatomia.

Doom/death in its best form, adhering fairly closely to accepted template.

Yep, I was good with it.

VOMITOR – Pestilent Death (CD, LP, TAPE) (Hells Headbangers) (April 20)

Blackthrash from down under. Their style is stiffer than the South American variant thereof, and far less Venom/Motorhead/Bathory indebted or bikerish than the US version…but far more thrashy and riff-centric, which is one hell of a plus.

They further aren’t as retro minded and Teutonic blackthrash indebted as Colombia’s untouchable Witchtrap…but damn, is this good stuff, and very much in the classic sense.

Generally, Aussie black metal (or death metal, or thrash) acts don’t work all that well for me – about the best thing I’ve heard from down under post-Bon Scott era AC/DC was Vanishing Point, which is a whole different genre and ballgame entirely.

But to that extremely brief list, I’ve just added an act with a pretty goofy name…and some fairly intense retro thrash riffing.

Profound hails!

 

Summon (Portugal) – Parazv Il Zilittv LP/CD (Iron Bonehead) (April 20)

We’d covered their Aesthetics of Demise less than a year back, and to make a long story short, weren’t incredibly impressed. So did anything major change here, to alter that assessment?

well…no, not really.

Same shit, different album – cavernous reverb on the vox, grinding, detuned, almost grindcore-esque (or more to the genre, “bestial black”/”war metallish”) guitars that turn into one deep blender chop cycle and juvenile POUND POUND POUND POUND slow four on the floor blastbeats, intercut with ambient bits with tolling bells and such.

Does it help to say I liked the bells? Edit out the band, just leave the bells ringing. That’ll work.

Next?

Death. Void. Terror. – To the Great Monolith I LP/CD (Iron Bonehead) (May 4)

Two long tracks. I’ll let snippets of the promo materials speak for us all.

“The recordings contained on To The Great Monolith I are not songs. This is not music.”

“The recordings presented…”transcend the conventions” of “composition” and
“performance”.

“…captured directly as they were conducted by (those) involved. These are sounds completely hostile to man.”

WHIZZ!!!!

Oh, shit! That went off like a fucking bomb!

Hope we’re getting close to the end of this month’s reviews, I’m sure someone’s gonna call the cops on us after that stinker…

P-U!!!

sheesh…next?

Adversvm – Aion Sitra Ahra LP/CD (Iron Bonehead) (May 4)

Teutonic funeral doom act. Strangely, they don’t seem to realize that funeral doom is a variant of death metal, not black metal.As always, this is a problem.

Had they stuck to the funeral doom thing, like, say, earlier, less proggy Ahab, this would have been a much better affair than it was – the riffs are certainly heavy as lead and slow as glue.

But there’s simply wayyyy too much black metal in this for it to ever work.

Black metal is a specialized genre, that has in and of itself numerous subgenres, periods and types, many of which work, a few of which don’t acquit themselves quite so well…but it’s only when it’s mixed with other, incompatible genres (death, indie, what have you*) that it simply falls apart, taking down anything it’s attached to with it, regardless of said other genre’s merits in the absence of the blackened infection.

Case in point.

* thrash tends to be the only admixture that works with black metal on a fairly regular basis.  No idea what that’s all about, but hey.

Grave Upheaval – (untitled) DLP/CD (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (April 15)

You know, when this one started off with that slow intro, I was expecting funeral doom.

And while it didn’t veer ten thousand miles away from that apparent course, you have to sadly scratch your head and shrug your shoulders when they take an immediate dive into underground black metal waters (or is that “black/death”?) within a few bars thereafter, succumbing to a seesawing riffing punctuated by fast blastbeats (which later calm down into double bass footwork).

And all that cavernous reverb on the vox…which are just there for effect, no audible words or lyrics (though he starts chanting midway through track 4 – ooga booga.)

And a very black metallish vibe throughout, right down to not bothering to title the songs (beyond silly generic roman numeral conventions).

Well, look. If they’d have stuck to the funeral doom and kept all that deep, sinister growling on the side of death metal, I’d say, hey, this is pretty heavy – just lose the blastbeats.

But you know, every time some non-black metaller “goes black”, or some ersatz black metal ‘wolves’ decide to pose as death metal (or doom, or what have you metal) ‘sheep’, my radar starts dinging fit to beat the band…and no, I don’t fucking like it one bit.

As the Offspring once sagely offered, in the single most annoying track of their entire career:

“you’ve gotta keep ’em separated!”

WHIZZZ!!!!

Yeah, that one didn’t flare up much.  It was almost perfectly acceptable death metal of the funereal variety.

Too bad it got shit on by all that blackened bullshit.

Saltas – Currents TAPE (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (March 1)

Speaking of which…more underground black metal posing as death metal.

Throbbing, trancelike, slow moving, barely vocalized, much less lyriced, to the point where every track sounds exactly like the one that came before (particularly “fractals from the lower flesh” and “nerves decay”, which are quite literally identical, boasting absolutely zero change in riff, key, tempo or anything else…)

Yeah, it’s “heavy”, but absolutely pointless.

Another one for the Pile…

Here, my throwing arm’s getting tired after all of these this month, you wanna carry it back and flip it on the Pyre? Thanks.

How the hell does so much of this crap get produced?

(sigh)

(composes self with a raised eyebrow and disbelieving shake of the head)

…next?

Inisans – Transition CD/LP/TAPE (Blood Harvest) (April 6)

Weird, overly noisy, overly “morbid” take on death metal.

It’s like these guys never heard of a studio, much less a producer, with all this vocal reverb and crappily recorded guitar work coming off distinctly in the “blackened” column more than it ever does “death”.

Even so, we’ve all heard death metal bands that sound somewhat along these lines, at least on the guitar end – the really obscure ones that nobody really cared about back in the day, that intrepid fanboys discovered during the advent of the internet, elevating them to a level of faux “importance” they never actually had back when.

Strangest of all, they’re Swedish!  No Sunlight Studios, no Gothenburg sound, not even the black metal sound of a Dan Swano…I don’t know, who the hell were they trying to cop the sound of here?  Some crappy demo act only found in the pages of Danny Ekeroth’s absurdly comprehensive tome on the subject?

Either way, it exists, and isn’t unlistenable, despite the horrid production, the lousy guitar tone, the pathetic blastbeat-only drumming or the absurd swathes of reverb all over the vocals.

Nothing you’ll want to cherish and elevate among your collection of the classics of death metal, by any means. But you can sorta sit through more than a track or two, if you’re a death metal diehard.

OK, next?

Taphos – Demo MMXVI & 7″ EP MMXVII CD (Blood Harvest) (April 6)

geez, can we bring Inisans back?

I get that this is a demo, but the quality of the first four tracks is absolutely abominable – all hiss, thinner than rice paper and hard to make out more than an incessant buzzing grind throughout.

Things do improve a lot sonically for the EP’s pair of tracks, but while there’s actual heft and volume to the guitars (and to some extent, vocals) this time, the drums still sound sloppy and shitty – how much of this is poor recording and how much is lack of ability is open to debate (though given his propensity towards the blastbeat, I know where I stand on that issue.)

So a lot of the issue here is poor production and sound quality – while I’d hardly call the final two tracks a quality death metal studio recording, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with ’em beyond production concerns…hell, I even kinda liked those two, to be honest.

The demo tracks, you’re on your own, kid.

You know, I tend to like when bands put things chronologically, it just makes sense, particularly when there’s material spanning several releases compiled together.

But in this case, given the production issues? It’s like putting their worst foot forward, and leaving what anyone would actually care to hear and judge them by for last.

Skip up to “sensory deprivation” and “purging pyres” and pretend the rest doesn’t even exist.

Black Mass Pervertor – Life Beyond the Walls of Flesh CD/12″ MLP/TAPE (Blood Harvest) (April 13)

When you say Finnish black metal, these days I’m expecting something pretty damn good.

I mean, just to touch the tip of the iceberg, this is a scene containing the likes of Gloomy Grim, Satanic Warmaster (1 2 3 4 5), Clandestine Blaze, Horna, Sargeist (1 2), Saturnian Mist and even newcomers and folks I’d only recently been exposed to, like Alghazanth, Azazel, Goatmoon and Aegrus.

It’s a scene known for its focus on melodicism, as well as an almost thrashlike driving riff-centric feel, alternating with a doomier, more Celtic Frostlike ponderousness.  There’s even a fairly good book out there covering a number of these folks, which while perhaps a tad too forgiving and “safe” with respect to certain scene members’ politicosocial orientation, does allow those interviewed to spill their guts on (and therefore stick their foot in their mouth on) any number of matters, even dropping a few profundities every now and again.

Suffice to say, of the ridiculously few currently active black metal scenes of any note whatsoever, the Finnish is by far my personal favorite, and equally proves the most consistent in terms of quality.

And guess what, I’m pleased to report that despite a profoundly idiotic (and arguably misspelled) choice of moniker, Black Mass Pervertor offers no exception to this rule.

In their more aggressive moments (“the golden spears”, “behind all his atrocious deeds”), the band comes off much akin to the riff focused thrust of Sargeist, with the more midtempo offerings that fill much of the release (“unorthodox methods of magick”, “chains of guilt”) feeling somewhat akin to the work of Satanic Warmaster. Their slowest and most deliberate tracks (“suffering, our everlasting bliss”, “imbibing the seas of darkness”) lie somewhere between Azazel and Clandestine Blaze.

With the possible exception of “chains” (which plods and just feels pointlessly repetitive and unresolved throughout), this is some seriously strong material…or would be, were it not from a scene known for equal and better. Even so, is it so terrible to be a credible contributing member of a scene that stands head and shoulders above its contemporaries?

Hardly.

Damn good stuff, as you’d expect from a Finnish black metal act.

 

Vahrzaw – Husk CD (Blood Harvest) (April 23)

hmm…let me get this straight.

These 3 Aussies are one of those demo only (and a single!) acts back around ’95-6, realize death metal is well past its sell by date by then and wander off to do other things with their lives.

A full decade later, they get nostalgic and get back together to cut a reunion EP or two and a couple of splits. This turns into even more EPs and even the occasional full length…between 2006 and 2011. And one more in 2014. And now one more in 2018, at which point they say we’re tired of this, good night. So long, and thanks for all the fish.

o-kayyy…umm…so! Did I mention the drummer used to tour with Hobbs’ Angel of Death, Australia’s blackthrash answer to Slayer? Yeah, great demos, and a more tired reworking of same on the subsequent debut album. Can’t speak to their much later reunion work, but again – love those demos.

The fact that we’re musing over the quirkiness of the band’s intermittent history and one of its members’ other acts should say it all.

But if you need it spelled out…yeah, there’s a reason they debuted circa ’95-6…this is the “tech” cum “brutal”(-ish) crap that tried to pass itself as death metal proper, long after Morrisound, Scott Burns, Sunlight, Tomas Skogsberg and Colin Richardson had more or less hung it up, R/C Records was no more and the entire death metal thing had been long supplanted by the second wave of black metal coming out of Norway (and to a lesser extent, Sweden and the UK).

It’s like talking about thrash metal after ’91 or so, there’s really nothing of value to find.

Case in point: high speed, abrasive, blastbeat filled, over-busy, aharmonic, blackened in feel, utterly pointless.

They’re “sick of this shit” according to the promo materials?

Yeah.  So are we.  Take this shit you’re pretending is “death metal” and there’s the door, here’s your hat, don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. See ya.

They’re hanging things up?  Good riddance.

Next?

Abythic – Beneath Ancient Portals CD/LP/TAPE (Blood Harvest) (May 11)

Well, I guess if Grave lacked any real musical sense and had never mutated out of the thrash sensibilities of Corpse, arguably taking some inspiration from IVth Crusade-era Bolt Thrower (but minus any real sense of melody or proper harmonic structure), you might wind up with something vaguely akin to what Abythic’s working here.

It’s crunchy, doomy and a bit sludgy, very pointedly death metal of a certain, rawer and decidedly unpolished variety and comes off rather “morbid” in a Swedish sense – though far more Unleashed to Grave than the more typical Nihilist/Carnage to Entombed/Dismember.

It’s listenable enough if you’re seriously jonesing for more classic Grave, but lacks much of what made that band work, leaving only the doomy, lumbering, bottom of the bowel vocalled trappings to play with.

I guess you could throw Autopsy or even Incantation into this, at a stretch, mostly in terms of the deliberate tempo and underproduced rawness (not to mention the deeper than deep vox, if we’re talking more Pillard and the Autopsy demos than what came after) – and as all these classic death metal bands being referenced and used as comparative touchstones may suggest, I actually kind of liked this, all told.

But there’s something intrinsic missing here, that only peers out on rare occasions (“redemption through soul transfusion”, possibly “beneath ancient portals” come far closer to the Grave/Unleashed/Bolt Thrower template than the other tracks here ever could)…and that’s what gives me pause.

As such, yeah, I did quite like this and can recommend it to diehard fans of the early work of the aforementioned bands, period, end of story.

Just don’t expect it to work half so well as those vintage albums in your collection ever did and do to this day.

Transcendence (Los Angeles) – Hour of the Summoning TAPE (Blood Harvest) (April 20)

Until a month or so back, I used to work with this older fella who had very interesting, broad tastes in music, film and literature.

As you can imagine, he was sort of an old school, post-hippie intellectual (though he admitted to being a bit too “straight” to ever have been part of that movement) – hell, he dug the shit out of my old band’s rehearsal recordings, and used to blast them with his speaker system across a lake his Southern home abutted, just to soak in the fullness of sound. Fascinating guy, if a tad flaky (think a younger and slightly less dotty Dr. Magnus Pyke and you’ll get the idea).

Anyway, when we’d be having these lengthy discussions about philosophy, religion, politics, music, classic literature and cinema to kill the drudgery and pointless futility of the corporate workday, he had a propensity to refer to absurd characters, situations and ideas as being “comic”. “Something about Scientology always struck me as comic”, “Donald Trump, for all his evisceration of everything our nation ever stood for, strikes me as a comic figure”. You get the idea.

So why am I telling you about my old pal Paul, you ask?

Because that’s the exact word that came to mind when I heard Tom Patmore’s vocals: “comical”.  He’s a “comic figure”.

Somehow I doubt this is the effect he had in mind.

Anyway, “comic” vocals aside, Transcendence is very much of a split decision on this four track EP. Two tracks are pretty damn good (laughable vox aside…and hey, at least he’s trying to do proper death metal vox and failing…more than you can say about a lot of acts these days!)…the other two blow.

Want the good stuff? Skip up to “mutilating accursed souls”, then if you want something passable if a touch too close to black metal (check out that slow midsection before the solo…), go back to “the nocturnal dwelling”.

That one track is pretty damn good, vox aside. The other, iffy, but listenable (though the vox really try too hard and go straight off the rails in that “dwelling”…).

Forget the other two entirely.

Desekryptor / Draghkar – Split TAPE/7″ EP (Blood Harvest) (April 20)

We’d covered both of these bands previously, the former with Chasm of Rot and the latter with World Unraveled.

Desekryptor impresses slightly more here than they had last time around, but it’s still fairly typical and yawn inducing for the type.  Nothing really wrong with it…but certainly nothing to get all hot and bothered about.

Draghkar seem to have made a better impression last time than they ever do here. This is sludgy, uber-underground style (read: sloppy, noisy, cavernous reverb on the vox, guitars and drums buried deep in the mix) and never actually gels.

So the tables have turned somewhat.  Nothing much else to recommend this, save to wonder what the next releases from each band will bring…

Yawn and a shrug.  Next?