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Hey, it’s just about month end, and here we are again, our monthly gathering of the sacred and profane in celebration of the plethora of releases passed down to we the listening audience from…er…other parts of the same audience, given just how many of us are musicians ourselves.

The weather is all over the damn place – Winter jackets and snow boots keep making reappearances, in between T-shirt and sneaker days, and hell, the Midwest even got a few feet of snow just a week back.

Right around the second month of Spring.

Well, look, if nothing else, these freakishly sudden, global warming-derived shifts in weather, like the failings of society, workplace, economic systems and government, teaches us to stay on our toes and expect the unexpected.

Because you just never know when the fucking rug is going to get pulled out from under ya…or when you’ll suddenly find yourself on top of the world.

All stupid theories they try to shove in our faces about “planning for success” or whatever aside…life’s like that.  It’s nice to try to stay positive, but in the real scheme of things, you have a lot less control over your own life and destiny than you think.

The only thing you do have control over, is how you approach and deal with that fact…and just how well you can think on your feet.

Or as I used to say on a fairly regular basis: “life is jazz”.

So let’s take those twinkle toes and use ’em to twirl right ’round, so we can get into the heart of this month’s matter, shall we?

FM – Atomic Generation (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (March 30)

We’ve covered these ex-Samson alumni previously, for their Heroes and Villains and Indiscreet 30 and walked away with some fairly different impressions of the two.

Oddly, Atomic Generation walks some weird tightrope of a middle ground between the two, with two tracks definitely offering more of the sugar sweet 80’s AOR melodicism and polish you’d expect from the likes of Journey, Def Leppard or Foreigner (or for that matter, from what we’d heard on Indiscreet 30) than the more Nashville-derivation blandness of the former, with the ridiculously likeable “too much of a good thing” being the centerpiece, and the Aldo Novalike “follow your heart” being an excellent bolster thereto. Sounds good, right?

Well, brace yourself for the rest of the album, which while maintaining the same production team, musicians and vocal style, comes off far more Heroes and Villains than Indiscreet 30, with that strange Nashville meets later Mr. Big sorta countrified Midwestern bar band feel taking over for all that loveable retro 80’s stuff the band is so obviously capable of replicating (and perfecting) when they actually want to.

My take? Go for those two tracks as individual singles, unless you really dig the hayseed and beer, pickup truck through the Dust Bowl sort of thing they’re working otherwise.

ISSA – Run With The Pack (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (April 20)

We covered Issa’s Crossfire 3 years back, and enjoyed her sorta Lee Aaron-ish AOR/glam metal crossover sound and approach.

If anything, it sounds like she’s gone a bit harder this time around…for about two tracks.  Opening on the one two combination punch of “am I losing you” and the title track, I was prepared to be totally wowed by this one…until it went right back off the rails into lighter AOR territory.

Admittedly, things almost get back on the rails with “closer to you” towards the end of the album…but then it closes out on a pop track and a ballad! Oh, well…

Still not a bad album all ’round, if you don’t mind ’em light.

But too bad, I really thought we were talking metal for a few tracks, there…and that title track is absolutely, positively killer.

JAMES CHRISTIAN – Craving (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (April 20)

House of Lords frontman works some solo material.

On his own, Christian keeps things lighter and radio friendlier than even his House of Lords contributions, coming off somewhere between Foreigner and Richard Marx (or hell, even a less strident Michael Bolton!) in 80’s radio rock terms. With his oversmoked gravel tones, you could almost hear him singing Naked Eyes’ “I just died in your arms tonight”…only that’d come off a bit more hard rocking!

Nothing wrong with it, if you like that lighter end of AOR and radio rock. Just don’t expect anything to grab you by the balls, here.

It just ain’t that kind of album.

PERFECT PLAN – All Rise (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (April 20)

A bit of Survivor, a touch of Foreigner, a hint of Loverboy…add a couple of Swedish meatballs for good measure. Stir well over medium heat, bring to a boil and you’ve got a Perfect Plan for your listening pleasure.

So yeah, they’re a new band out of Sweden, working that vintage (early) 80’s sorta hard rock cum AOR sound your girlfriends swore by (and you probably got caught humming along to or squirreling away a copy of somewhere along the line).

Once or twice, a riff will pop up that’ll even surprise ya – “stone cold lover” kicks off with a straight up metal riff before going back into more expected AOR territory – same idea on “1985” and a few others (though to somewhat of a less shockingly noticeable degree).

The playing is solid, the production is on point, the whole thing goes down smooth.

I was good with ’em.

Ross The Boss – By Blood Sworn (AFM Records) (April 20)

Former Manowar (and if you care to go back that far, The Dictators) six stringer Ross “the Boss” Friedman is something of a metal legend. Like the temperamental Bobby Gustafson to Overkill, his departure from the “metal gods” marks a clear delineation between the band’s indisputable classic era and their ongoing jump the shark period, with “more technical” and “flashy” but utterly generic and interchangeable players (and material) marking their works ever since.

Hmm, could it be…that their guitarists left? Yeah, that might have something to do with it…

Anyway, in the years since, Ross hasn’t done a whole hell of a lot, bar the entertaining semi-Dictators reunion of Manitoba’s Wild Kingdom back in 1990. It seems that in very recent years (comparatively speaking), he’s returned with this self titled act, dropping two albums in ’08 and ’10 before disappearing once again (apparently he did a couple of albums with a USPM act swiping Deaf Dealer’s* original moniker – no idea about that one.)

* excellent Canadian “USPM” act whose recently unearthed second effort Journey Into Fear is a stone cold classic.

Well, he’s back, with an entirely new lineup once again – this time featuring Jersey boy of all trades Mike LePond (who seems to be popping up just about everywhere possible these days) and a guy who apparently took part in a post-Mike Munro Meliah Rage (if you can even picture such a thing). And the latter is where the problem lies.

For his part, Friedman holds matters up pretty damn well. The riffing is reasonably Manowaresque (with touches of old school post-NWOBHM trad metal ala Iron Maiden or Priest – check out “devil’s day” to see what I mean) and even a touch punky in all the clipped tones and punchiness throughout, and the leads are that old school cross between the anthemic and the blues-derivation hard rock vibe, amped up to more metallic extremes – like a less melodic and florid take on the young Michael Schenker, I guess. You get the general idea, particularly if you’re familiar with classic Manowar and the Manitoba’s project.

Le Pond can always be counted on to keep things solid, throwing in little phrases and flourishes here and there to let you know he’s present and accounted for, and the drumming (from a Steve Bolognese) is both solid and lively – no bloodless Euro power metal triggering and incessant typewriter-style footwork nonsense here, this guy’s drumming is alive and bleeds like a real drummer should, all bouncy snare/cymbal/footwork interplay with some nice tom rolls and fills as punctuation. Again, like Le Pond, he knows how to blend in while simultaneously making sure you notice he’s there – an art form all too often lost in the bluster of modern metal.

But our ex-Meliah Rage frontman Marc Lopes…it’s complicated. Sometimes he’ll throw out a clean scream that positively spells US power metal, the definition of. Sometimes he almost comes off as nearly “normal” for the type, particularly if you dig deep enough into the more obscure ends of the vintage thrash and US power metal scene and can accept some of the more bizarre vocalists that kept their respective acts from greater acclaim. But there’s wayyyy too many phrases, moments, even entire songs where you can’t help but laugh, so over the top are his quirky snarls, growled low notes and weird high end shrieks.

You have to give the guy one thing – he’s sure not boring!

In point of fact, he’s pretty much throwing himself into these songs so hard, you’re picturing him pulling a Dick Van Dyke with the sofa, over and over again. You can’t help but laugh…

So, bottom line – not a bad album at all, and while it’s hardly the sort of thing to set even the most diehard classic Manowar fans afire, all three musicians involved are on point and it’s totally retro-loveable…

…if you can stuff tongue firmly in cheek and pretend you don’t notice everyone else in the car or room’s shocked looks and outright laughter at Lopes’ unapologetic weirdo vocals.

 

Lordi – Sexorcism (AFM Records) (May 25)

Speaking of generic Euro power metal, we have…

Yes, the European GWAR is back again, with their patented blend of sorta catchy, arguably symphonic ditties of “horror” and weirdness. While nowhere nearly so crass and low end in appeal as GWAR ever was, these rubber masked, foam rubber suited Finnish “monsters”

We’ve covered the intrinsic absurdity of a gimmick band like this in our reviews of Scare Force One and Monstereophonic, but want to make sure one thing comes across:

Despite all the sheer stupidity of a bunch of fools running around pretending to be monsters for a quick festival stage buck, what Lordi has all over GWAR is their songs actually make musical sense, and like the Finns they are, are positively awash with melodicism, catchiness and (like it or not) sing-a-long likeability.

Just don’t come complaining to me if you find yourself humming along or bobbing your head to songs so absurd as “your tongue’s got the cat”…

A guilty pleasure of sorts, and that’s probably how they manage to keep pumping out this stuff album after album.

Millennial Reign – The Great Divide (Ulterium Records) (May 25)

Texan power metal act with a Christian bent.

Since getting into (or more accurately, rediscovering and rekindling a love of) the genre (which I never recognized under that catch-all umbrella till recently, compartmentalizing into “traditional metal”, “prog metal”, “thrash” and “old Christian metal”, respectively) a year or so back, I’ve been surprised to see just how many bands I (in many cases) hadn’t listened to in many a year fall under this genre, and further, just how many bands falling under some variant of “prog” or “power” actually were or are further essentially “Christian metal” in lyrics and approach.

After two decades immersed more on the black metal side of the equation, this was a real surprise, and in fact, a bit liberating to realize not everyone out there is locked into the dark side and (like Kamelot, who I recently gave another airing to) the overwhelming despair and obsession with death and afterlife in an uncaring universe and world without a God (it was actually odd to note said band’s entire multi-album focus as such – no wonder Khan had a crisis of faith and left! Conception, on the other hand…much better band, highly enjoyed revisiting those four classics of prog/power.)

So here we are with one of those Swedish labels who give us such high quality melodic power and prog/power acts as Narnia and Theocracy, dropping yet another (to yours truly) new name of note on us – this time a quartet of Texans which includes a former Solitude Aeturnus drummer.

This is apparently a lineup expansion and revamp, where earlier albums seem to have been one and two man jobs – probably a good idea, given that they’ve been touring in support of big name acts like Stryper, Leaves Eyes, Sonata Arctica and the aforementioned Theocracy.

Strangely for a band who doesn’t list a keyboardist, there’s a hell of a lot of symphonic feel to The Great Divide, with lush, often Arabian feeling synth and keyboard work supplementing the Euro-style power metal riffing and drumming (they’re US power metal only by geolocation, not by stylistic approach – same thing could be said about Theocracy, for that matter).

There are plenty of actual, somewhat old school riffs discernible here (their one argument towards placement as USPM proper), but the most notable element these guys have going for them is the excellent Tony Harnell-style vox of Travis Wills. Yeah, sure, it’s the sort of high pitched, slightly nasal approach more appealing to USPM and progressive metal fans than more “mainstream” metallers…but damn, those are some sweet tones.

I was quite well chuffed with this one, no question about it.

Shadowkeep – Pure Steel Records (March 30)

Here’s an odd one – a UK power metal band with Helstar’s James Rivera on vocals.

The plus is, these guys are a lot more “power metal” than Helstar’s been since their earliest albums (pre-Nosferatu), which appears to have led Rivera to a far less gravelly and scream-inflected approach than his more recent output. Hell, he’s almost “clean” by his standards, complete with the sort of high note stretches you seldom hear outside of classic power and prog metal – nice stuff, particularly by comparison.

Songs lean more retro-trad (think Twisted Tower Dire, I guess) as crossed with vintage US progressive/power (think Crimson Glory, Queensryche or more accurately their ilk – Lethal, Screamer, Titan Force, possibly even a touch of earlier Virgin Steele or Enchanter to tracks like “horse of war”) than the usual Euro power metal generica, which definitely works in their favor as well. Even so, “angels and omens” does come off a tad “fall from grace” (Kamelot), so it’s hardly as clearcut as you may at first believe.

Winterfylleth – The Hallowing Of Heirdom (Candlelight/Spinefarm) (April 6)

We’d enjoyed the hell out of their prior The Dark Hereafter but this one’s a whole different ballgame.

In effect, The Hallowing of Heirdom amounts to a less interesting (and far less chant with harmonies-inflected) take on Ulver’s Kveldssanger, this is Winterfylleth’s all-acoustic album, but without the curious touches and archaic instrumentation (not to mention the vocals) that made that earlier effort such a fascinating (and likeable) curiosity.

It’s well produced, there are a chamber group’s worth of strings appended to the mournful acoustic guitars, and the vocals are somewhat chantlike, albeit more in the vein of, say, Traffic’s take on “John Barleycorn is dead” or The John Renbourn Group than Ulver’s early masterstroke.

In effect, it’s all been done before, and arguably better (I’m also thinking of Manegarm’s Urminnes Havd here)…but that’s hardly saying this isn’t a damn good album, or that it doesn’t succeed admirably at setting a certain mood.

Bottom line? Came too late to be original in any respect, or any sort of a surprise…but if you dig the aforementioned albums by the aforementioned bands, no question you should have a bit of a thing for this one as well.

There’s no denying its quality.

Kalmah – Palo (Spinefarm Records) (April 6) 

Finnish act that crosses a sort of nigh-symphonic vibe (“blood ran cold”) with the folkish bounciness of pagan or Viking metal and (somewhat oddly) moments that come off melodeath proper, but ties it all up in a very European power metal base (“the evil kin”).

They’re Finnish, so expect melodic song construction and a catchy feel, despite all the snarling black metal vox. Filled with tinkling keyboards, big bombastic detuned riffs driven by prominent lead lines and that festival crowd pleasing pagan/Viking bounce, this is like early Amorphis crossed with Taake with touches that speak as much of a Sirenia influence as a Manegarm one, but with the Amott brothers dropping by for the solos (particuarly on the more retro-trad minded ones, like that of “take me away”).

Weird as a mix, but it works, and it’s a hard, grim man indeed who could even muster the effort to resist the jig pit cum troll metallish infectiousness contained herein.

It’s a strangely happy, even good natured album that it’s simply impossible not to react and find yourself moving and bouncing along to. What’s to complain about?

  

Spiders – Killer Machine (Spinefarm Records) (April 6)

Good time 70’s style hard rock, somewhat akin to Roky Erickson and the Aliens crossed with The Devil’s Blood, but minus the occultism and insanity those bands and individuals bring to the table alongside this driving, nigh proto-punk sound.

You can hear vague echoes of likeminded acts of the era like Cheap Trick and the Runaways, but with the aggression and punkishness amped up several notches, and the melodic end placed front and center throughout.

Frontwoman Ann-Sofie Hoyles and her famed Witchcraft (UK) veteran hubby John pull together the sort of assured, vintage sound that bands like Imperial State Electric and Sammal do so well, so 70’s it practically reeks of barbituates, elephant bells, earth shoes and tube amps.

Really no surprise from the man behind Witchcraft, but all this (much) harder driving aggression and punkish feel? Where the hell did that come from, all of a sudden?

Well, you’ll get zero complaints on my part.

Damn good stuff, and a fetching (if taken) frontwoman to boot. I’d call that a done deal, wouldn’t you?

     

CREMATORY – Oblivion (Steamhammer / SPV) (April 13)

German “gothic metal” act, in the old sense of the word (when it implied less of the “beauty and the beast” operatic or pop staresque chanteuse fronted thing and more of the goofy male growler-driven approach ala earlier Therion or Tristania).

We’d previously covered their Monument and Live Insurrection, and since then, they’ve made minor headlines for blaming fans for being “too lazy to buy tickets” or somesuch nonsense, and this is pretty much more of the same old, same old from these guys. If you dig ’em, you’ll be happy to hear there’s been no change. If not…well…

At least they believe in clean, somewhat catchy choruses…but did anyone ever really want to hear this sort of thing almost exclusively performed by the guys from Rammstein (or worse, Cookie Monster?)*

* I kept expecting him to yell “COO-KIEE!!! OM NOM NOM!!!” on tracks like “revenge is mine”…

I always found this stuff pretty fucking silly, with only those soaring operatic soprano vocals giving any measure of gravitas (and even then, sort of gritted my teeth and tried not to snicker when the “growler” took more than a quick call and response line every now and again).

Melodic as it is at times…very much case in point.

Be prepared to clean up a big mess of cookie crumbs off the counter and floor if you choose to indulge in this one.

Valis Ablaze – Boundless (Long Branch Records) (April 6)

Weirdly millenial variant on progressive metal (or perhaps even progressive postpunk) from the UK.

Like some strange marriage of Porcupine Tree, Cynic and Oceans, these geezers keep it clean and mellow throughout, leaving the impression of a relaxed, youthful take on shoegaze and Britpop as crossed with the sort of proggy, yet more indie/emo to postpunk inclined sound hinted at earlier.

Strange, but not unpalatable. Wasn’t wowed by it in any appreciable respect…

…but on the flipside, yeah – I was certainly OK with it.

Unprocessed – Covenant (Long Branch Records) (April 13)

More of the sort of very modern take on progressive…metal? we were talking about with Valis Ablaze, but this time comes with a metalcore/emo frontman (and concomitant aggression and approach).

The leads are still crazy and busy, more inclined to great swooping wafts of notes that don’t necessarily follow or belong with the harmonies bubbling beneath…and yet aren’t wrong, either – just appearing in strange combinations and odd modal shifts, somewhat akin to an Allan Holdsworth record.

And yet, despite the progginess that and the busy, stuttering start/stop drumming would imply, it’s not straight prog metal, but very much in the ballpark of metalcore (and arguably some of the more aggressive emo), with vox that switch from clean at the (melodic, dreamy) choruses to Anselmo puke out your tongue aggro bullshit on the verses.

The riffs also bear a hell of a lot of aggression and drive, not necessarily something you associate with either emo or prog (even prog metal), but for the most part, this is all to the good of the end result.

Aggro vox bits aside, it’s like someone took a Faunts that suddenly became weirdly enamored of Unexpect and injected some All That Remains for good measure. Many of the parts would work in isolation…a few would never do so. But together…it sort of gels, however oddly, into an off kilter sort of cohesive whole.

The cover gives a fair sense of what lies within, particularly in its quieter, more introspective moments (which appear in the strangest of places, but with regularity and consistency throughout).

And yeah…I was good with that, all sub-djenty Holdsworth/Unexpectisms and shitty aggro vox phrases aside.

Shields – Life In Exile (Long Branch Records) (April 20)

OK, well…to be fair, this is not the rather juvenile Texan act going by the same name…

Unfortunately…that doesn’t really work in this UK act’s favor. Why, you ask? Because except for the choruses, it’s a sadly typical aggro act with touches of nu metal and a shitload of Slipknot wankery throughout.

BLEAHHH BURRPP GAAHHH YEEEEAAAHHHH!!!
(detuned so low the strings rattle against the fretboard, simplistic guitar riffs and weird Kornlike squeaks and squeals ensue)

…and then you get the clean emo/metalcore choruses, which seem dialed in from not merely completely different songs, but an entirely different album, if not a wholly distinct band.

And what’s with the girl on the cover? I’ve known several ladies over the years, some who kept a rather clean and “girlish” room, other, rather wilder (if not crazier) ones were, shall we say, considerably less fastidious. But who the fuck would live in a garbage heap like that? And would you seriously want to be with someone whose personal hygiene was quite so lax?

geez, at the best, you’d catch a nasty case of scabies from the bitch…forget the bedbugs and ant and roach infestations, not to mention the likely “social disease” as a bonus…

Anyway, as ever, the clean bits (generally limited to choruses, occasionally extended to a bridge or two) are just fine.

It’s all the other shit they’re doing that brings that prominent eau du open dumpster to the room.

Somebody air this place out, willya? Phew!

ANGEL OF MERCY (U.S.) – The Avatar + bonus (2CD) (Shadow Kingdom) (June 1)

OK, this is much akin to that trio of interesting Greek labels I mentioned last month*, in that this was an obscure release from an obscure band back in the early 80’s, remastered, reissued and filled with previously unheard bonus recording sessions.

* one of whom focuses almost exclusively on demo-only US prog and power metal acts from the 80’s, while the others tend to deal with long out of print, low exposure bands of one or two album’s provenance, generally trad or USPM (and oddly, with a strong sideline in 80’s French metal, of all things).

As usual for this sort of thing, the emphasis seems less on the fascinating discovery unearthed and its appeal to the intended audience (where you’d think it should be), but bizarrely more focused on the original album’s value on the collector’s market.

Sure, it helps us get our hands on these older obscurities regardless (and seriously…are you guys on crack, trying to charge these prices for a fucking album, book or DVD?)…but the motivation seems pretty damn skewed, from my perspective. Nice to see something out of reach back in circulation, so kudos on that end…but is that seriously the motivation, here?

And this is an appropriate point to circle to this 2 disc release, as it falls more towards the “well, it’s a rarity…” end than “damn, someone dug up a forgotten gem!” side of the above argument.

Anyone old enough to remember American hard rock in the days before actual heavy metal hit, that sort of super heavy, simplistic 70’s sound that could encompass everything from Rick Derringer and Foghat to Kiss, should be a lot more happy with Angel of Mercy than any fan of metal in any of its more accepted variants.

In other words, it’s a heavy, lightly prog influenced (think Rush lite), vaguely Philadelphia (of Tell the Truth fame)-esque (very) hard rock album with almost sprechtgesang near-baritone vocals of a very workaday bar band sort, with overly lengthy, searching mellow intros that resolve (usually at the halfway mark of a given track!) into a more punchy, Kisslike rocking with a very, very vague feel of NWOBHM…though again, think less Iron Maiden, Praying Mantis or Blitzkrieg than American hard rock vintage 1976-9.

Also, the much vaunted lost sessions included here are quite disappointing in that they offer neither new, previously unreleased tracks (though the album closes with a spoken word intro eventually left off the original edit) or fresh, perhaps more aggressive takes on the material…instead, these sessions appear to have been abandoned more for their sloppy performances and poor production, with the same songs done far better on Avatar as released.

Now, don’t take away the mistaken idea that this one sucks, or anything, because that’s not really what I’m trying to say here. There are merits to the oddity this release represents, particuarly if you’re more inclined to weird, “stretching” takes on 70’s hard rock.

But it is, in many respects, a disappointment – hardly the exciting unearthing of obscurity you expected, far from the usual quality of vintage Christian metal (which often crosses over into 80’s and early to mid-90’s US power metal and progressive, with concomitantly superlative performances and listenability) and neither a Manila Road/Brocas Helm/Heavy Load-esque successful 70’s rock/80’s metal crossover or a strongly NWOBHM influenced trad affair…

…but a bizarro riff on early Rush crossed with the electrified likes of Derringer and the most stultified corners of the Christian hard rock/metal scene…like Philadelphia (whose Tell the Truth left yours truly not only cold, but somewhat dismayed at its failings even upon release).

Sure, it’s more…well, heavy rocking than Rick Derringer tended to go, and nowhere nearly so inept as Philadelphia…but does that make it good?

That all depends on how inclined you are to mid to late 70’s proto-metal, really.

Listenably strange. Just don’t get too excited by the hype.

Giuda – Rock ‘n’ Roll Music (Rise Above Records) (March 30)

Ah, Gloria Guida, the Italian blonde sexpot from the late 70’s and early 80’s.  Used to love her, yeah.

Oh, wait…you mean this isn’t an airing of To Be Twenty?

hmmm…hey, who put on the old Kiss album?

Yep, right down to the lisp, frontman “Ntenda” (not sure if this is an actual surname or a pseudo…) sounds just like old Paul Stanley back in the early Casablanca era, which fits just fine with the band’s vintage Kiss meets early UK punk by way of glam rock vibe.

Filled with the sort of muted distortion players used to get out of a tube amp setup and 1972-6 style handclaps, “Lorenzo” and “Michele” (OK, those are obviously real first names, anyway), you can pick out the likes of Slade, T Rex, Alvin Stardust, Ronson-era Bowie…and most pointedly, Kiss in their infectiously good time 70’s rock sound.

And this from an Italian act?

Two tracks simply isn’t enough.

Piu, per favore!

    

Septic Tank – Rotting Civilisation (Rise Above Records) (April 13)

Supergroup of sorts, with Napalm Death/Cathedral frontman Lee Dorrian, Acid Reign/Cathedral guitarist Gaz Jennings and Repulsion/Death Breath four stringer Scott Carlson.

Surprisingly, what they come together for is neither doom, thrash or grindcore, but a sludgified punk sort of thing that bears definite kinship with the sort of thing two of these guys were working in their earliest gigs (particularly Carlson) while pulling matters considerably towards the hardcore side of the equation…not least due to Dorrian’s Exploited meets GBHlike politicized social commentary herein (which was quite refreshing to hear from the man after so long a diversion into other areas of lyrical focus).

Dorrian’s never sounded this bratty and punk (though moments of Carnival Bizarre may bear some hints hereof), and while Jennings does have Acid Reign under his belt, the sound and riffing style here is Carlson all the way.

Repulsion goes anarcho-punk? Medieval meets Napalm?

Either way, I was good with this, in all its over-distorted, crusty UK82 glory.

Keep it up, guys.

  

Leather – II (Divebomb Records) (April 13)

Leather and I go back a long way.

Not personally, I mean – we’re on different coasts and never met face to face.  But we did interview the lady twice, first to discuss her time in Malibu Barbi, her solo album Shock Waves and her return to music and then-current collaboration with Barbi bandmate Sandy Sledge (with whom we also chatted, mostly about the early days of women in rock and metal, the Runaways and suchlike.)

Then we got together again to talk Chastain, after her long awaited reunion with the “Southern Gentleman” and their longtime cohort Mike Skimmerhorn (also of Chastain acts Spike and CJSS)…and that’s not to mention a very personal reminiscence about the status Chastain holds in my own metal history in relation to that very comeback album.

Needless to say, the lady and her band(s) have been part of my musical life for decades, and more directly in recent years (at least inasmuch as you get from a couple of pleasant, comprehensive chats about life and music history – not like we get together for beers monthly or something, here.)

So here we have what is (surprisingly…at least if you didn’t listen to the aforementioned interviews to see why and what happened in the interim) only the lady’s second album in all these years. And the question on everyone’s lips naturally is…how does it compare, not only to her work with Chastain and Malibu Barbi, but with its direct predecessor, 1989’s Shock Waves?

Actually? Surprisingly well, in fact.

Not saying there aren’t some definite missteps – the sluggish, boringly Zeppelin goes generic metal of “black smoke” is a particular stinker, and “sleep deep”, while more listenable, simply doesn’t work, with all that inappropriately busy double bass footwork against a boring knuckle dragger of a midtempo riff. But if you take into account that we’re not talking 1983-90 anymore (and thus losing much of the influences, atmosphere and recording approaches that went into albums of that period)?

Six stringers “Daemon” Ross (how original…) and Vinnie “Tex” (ditto, there, pardner…) bring with them a surprisingly retro minded interplay, with many phrases, approaches to dual guitar interplay, chord choices and especially the leads coming off reasonably vintage. I mean, it’s still too polished and flash to fool anyone who was there – you’re not going to stick this album in front of a veteran and trick them into thinking this were some long lost shelved followup to Shock Waves from a year later, so deal with it.

But given the way people play nowadays, with all that soullessness and direct signal click track attention to “perfection” (that comes out sounding entirely inferior to the loosest and sloppiest players back in the day, I’m sorry, kids…)? Yeah, these guys do more or less “get it”, and bring an entirely appropriate feel and playing style to the lady’s de facto “comeback (solo)” album.

Again, there’s plenty of production and riffing giveaways that betray any such inclination, but you could easily say the same of Chastain’s own Surrender to No One…much less Sledge/Leather’s Imagine Me Alive. But the simple fact that so much of this album feels more…US power metal of a far more 80’s type, and that so much of it is consistently well written and performed by all members of the band (not least the veteran herself) says a hell of a lot.

And for the 9 of 11 tracks that do work? The sheer percentage of full throttle Priest meets Motorhead by way of Dokken (or is that Grim Reaper I’m hearing?) barnstormers is not only admirable, it’s downright enviable.

Two questionable tracks aside, this gets my vote for metal album of the year, to date…a true US power metal classic, nearly 30 years after the fact.

Profound hails, four and a half stars easy.

AIRBORN – Lizard Secrets (Fighter Records) (May 15)

Italian power metal. Apparently this is their fifth album, though the first I’ve been exposed to.

It’s European power metal, so it gets a bit samey – a few special albums and bands aside (Rhapsody (of Fire) in particular, or the Fabio Lione-fronted debut of Labyrinth come immediately to mind), that’s par for the genre.

But the flipside is that, hey, it’s European power metal – you keep the singer from growling too much and keep the melodicism high with feel good anthemic choruses, and just chug those guitars and leave the drums running on automatic like an electric typewriter ala Helloween, presto – instant (Euro, modern style) power metal.

The entire genre is more or less interchangeable and a bit cookie cutter, but sometimes you just want something predictable to put a smile on your face and get you through the day, so hey.

Case in point.

Generic as hell, but perfectly acceptable, occasionally catchy and the playing is up to Euro PM standards.

 

Frequency Drift – Letters to Maro (Gentle Art of Music) (April 13)

Weirdly mellow yet pleasant Teutonic cross between 90’s UK indie shoegaze, the spacier end of 70’s krautrock and a more modern indie/ambient thing ala Faunts.

The vocals are light and thin, bringing a far less strident and declamatorily intense Stereolab to mind, as crossed with a less dreamy, more introspectively miserable Darling Buds.

Frontwoman Irini Alexia is the only thing keeping this from being a fairly inconsequential ambient trance project, taking this sort of background late night dance club fare with smooth jazz elements and elevating it to a more listenable indie pop akin to the likes of Tori Amos (minus the insanity and sublimated sexual stridency) or Aimee Mann (minus the bubbling undercurrent of feminist rage) – all of this in a deceptively laid back, often sweet (yet intrinsically miserable) radio pop confection.

Light, airy, sweet, yet haunting, depressive and dark – this could be one of Sam Rosenthal’s more recent Projekt signings, somewhere between the likes of a Mira and a Mercury’s Antennae, but with more drive and propulsiveness at times.

Production’s excellent, and the mix simply works.

Personally, I thought the Buds’ Erotica one of the best albums of its day (not to mention the untouchable pinnacle of their own career.)

And while this only piggybacks on that album in vague and tangenital ways, it does offer some further explanation as to just why I liked this one quite so much as I did.


Witch Casket – Hatred Index (April 27)

More or less?  Symphonic black metal pretending to be death metal.

The one real plus here is, it’s got pretty good production and busy, snaking (often harmonized) dual lead guitar lines and a strong melodic feel.

Vocals are absolute shit, the rhythm guitars don’t feel very “death metal” at all…but if you can tune ’em out somehow (where’s the original masters when you need ’em? Somebody kill that track, fast!) the deadly duo of Colin Cameron and Neal Teimann really do bring it.

If it was just down to lead lines and solos, this would have sounded a whole hell of a lot more like Heartwork…and a lot less like the drudgery that is so typically symphonic black metal and the sort of “death metal” that so clearly derives therefrom and crosses over therewith.

Two good players, but even beyond getting a real frontman, I’d advise spending more time with the classics and squeegie-ing all that black metal shit right out of your heads before dropping the next album or release.

I think you have a real death metal album in you, yet – and a good one, at that.

  

Deny – Parasite Paradise (Cramada) (April 27)

Another crusty UK82-style punk act this month, but they’re no Septic Tank…

Apparently these Swedes were kicking around in the mid-90’s to mid-millenium, before hanging it up for a decade. This is their comeback album, and it ain’t bad – picture if you can the rawer end of the Sunlight crowd (Nihilist by way of Carnage), but more fast paced and shortened to GBH/Dischargelike punk standards.

I didn’t like the glass gargling aggro vox one fucking bit, but the riffing was right, the drums were propulsive and aggressive and you have to assume the lousy production (all distortion and overly pounding snare in your face, with treble and screaming and hiss right up in your face) was deliberate.

Get a real producer, swap out for a cleaner, more stridently gang-vocal type frontman, these guys would be right up this old punk’s alley.

As is, not bad at all – by the time we got to “victims”, I was jonesing to jump in the pit.

QFT – Live In Space (Despotz Records) (May 4)

Okay, the promo materials talk up frontwoman Linnea Vikstrom like we’re supposed to know who the hell she is.

Let’s see the CV…OK, she guested on a few Therion albums…looks like she did some touring background vox for the post-Khan (i.e. who really cares) Kamelot…yeah, that’s it. Never heard of her.

So anyway, here this occasional Therion guest part singer (you know how Therion is, I don’t have to explain how they utilize singers) has sat down with an ex-Abba engineer (seriously!) to record a bunch of songs about…well, I’d like to say “science”, but she keeps talking about fucking aliens, so I’m sorry, I can’t take her very seriously.

BIDI-BIDI! We have come for your planet with a message of disarmament…let us experiment on you with our anal probe!

So all that ooga booga X-Files Whitley Streiber bullshit aside, we get little treatises on the Big Bang Theory (Barenaked Ladies did that already, and with more humor…), black holes, the nature of time (wonder if Stephen Hawking still needs a vocorder in hell?), quasars and so forth. Cute concept, were it not for the intrusion of pseudoscientific gibberish like fucking aliens

So aside from that…I guess it’s sort of a heavy AOR, or a power metal lite, musically. I wasn’t all that impressed with the lady’s range – she seemed too raspy/growly and speaking voice for my tastes – and the music, while vaguely “metallic”, was kind of yawn inducing.

So what is there to say about this? Honestly…I’m not quite sure. It’s certainly not “bad”, being listenable, cleanly produced and competently performed – this would never get a dismissive slag and consignment to the ever-growing, ever hotter burning Pile cum Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards. But is it good?

Nah, not really.

Fans of the lady (I guess from her Therion work?) may find more to recommend here.

Steal The City – The Time We Needed

Crunchy, well produced, punchy modern punk riffing from this UK quartet.

It’s not metalcore or emo, nor is it metal proper…but you get the idea of the sound they’re drawing from here, somewhere between the pop-punk thing of early millenial big names like The Offspring, Rancid, Lagwagon and (that period of) Bad Religion and a midtempo classic crossover thrash/punk, but as informed by the melodic, somewhat downbeat vibe of emo and metalcore (a ballpark sound and vibe that bleeds through especially at the choruses).

Gang choruses, clean, declamatory vox and chunky riffs. Things slow down a tad too much at the midsection (“so the thing is…” and “intoxicated” nearly derail the good vibes and drive of songs both preceding and subsequent), but the rest of this kicks a respectable degree of arse, so Bob’s yer uncle in the end.

Six song EP, but catchy, likeable and given the seldom-seen combination of vintage crossover with the punk of a decade and a half back and its more recent offshoots and variants, somewhat “original” of a concoction to boot.

And right at this moment? I’m sure hearing this lyric (from the excellent “beating heart”):

“Money isn’t everything it claims to be,
I just wanna be free from everything that’s bringing me down.”

Yep, I was good with this, for sure.

  

The Sperm – 50th Erection (Svart Records) (April 13)

Remember all those early synthesizer experiments? You know, even beyond early Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk and Amon Duul, but the sort of one off recordings from those guys who invested thousands in room sized cabinets of machinery to produce the sort of sounds you hear on the Forbidden Planet soundtrack (but with far less melody or point)?

OK, so take that and combine it with free jazz. And apparently a degree of sociopolitical protest (we’re given to understand that members of this project were jailed, presumably over the sort of performance art and discussion that informed Genesis P-Orridge and Cosey Fanni Tutti’s pre-Throbbing Gristle “prostitution” art project.) And a whole lot of hippie era spoken word protest cum slam poetry.

It’s weird and sort of pointless, except as a historical artifact and footnote – presumably Finnish ethnographers and cultural historians will want to grab this as fodder for next semester’s thesis on Beatnik culture evolving into the Yippies or somesuch.

For everyone else, this is just weird and kind of pointless.

Maailmanloppu – Tuhon koodi (Svart Records) (April 13)

Another European hardcore affair, this time sounding more traditionally hardcore (in the US sense).

Fast and hard, with stridently shouted vox and driving high speed riffs propelled by sub-Lucky Lehrer drumming. It’s all very Minor Threat by way of Verbal Abuse, as crossed with a touch of, say, SSD.

No idea what the fuck they’re going on about lyrically (it’s all in Finnish, of course), but musically speaking, these guys are more or less right up my alley.

Go in swinging and watch out for the Doc Martens.

Various Artists – Veritahroja / Bloodstains – Rare Finnish Punk 1979-1983 (Svart Records) (March 30)

What’s weird about this compilation is that the Finnish punk sound is far more akin to the indie rock “punk” we only started seeing here in the States during the early 90’s…or the more “college rock” end of the later 80’s punk scene (think acts like Husker Du, Dinosaur Jr., the Minutemen and the Descendents).

There’s a joyful eubellience to these bands that speaks more to the garage rock of the 60’s than either the dark, drugged out nihilism of 70’s punk (in both its New York origins and its more widely feted UK take on same) or the pissed off youth of 80’s hardcore scene (in either its political or straight edge variants).

In other words, by comparison to just about any classic punk band you can name from 1975-1990 (bar perhaps Aussie expats The Saints), these energetic, apparently clean living (to go by all that happy energy they give off here) bands bear far more in common with, say, The Seeds, The Music Machine or even the Amboy Dukes than they ever do, say, Johnny Thunders, Richard Hell or Darby Crash.

But is that by any means a bad thing? Well, maybe…but certainly not when the energy runs quite this high, the sound is just this raw and the overall quality of the bands (or at least the selected tracks thereof) presented herein is this consistently high.

Think of it as a less jokey, more uptempo (and more “punk”) take on the show Cheech and Chong take part in late in Up in Smoke, and you’ll get the general idea.

I was good with this, definitely.

Pohjonen Alanko – Northern Lowland (Svart Records) (April 20))

ummm…yeah.  You know the kind of shit they play in television ads marketed towards yuppies and millenials?

Or maybe you’ve sat for an hour or so in your local Starbucks or Barnes & Noble, and found yourself distracted by the perfectly horrible “world music” or whatever the fuck it is they play to chase folks out and keep them from spending the entire day there milking a coffee while plugged into their laptops)?

Yeah.

Next? 

    

Various Artists – Satan in Love (Svart Records) (April 27)

Weird collection of Eurodisco, covering the point from which Giorgio Moroder transformed the previously string section and funk/R&B band based disco sound into something more impersonal with his single source synthesizer and drum machine nonsense straight through to 80’s synthpop ala bands like Depeche Mode, Human League, Berlin and Real Life (who made far better and more creatively diverse use of the electronic keyboard/synth milieu than Moroder and the related subsequent Eurodisco variant ever did).

Some tracks work better than others, and the shift between each can prove rather jarring (moving from the 80’s Real Lifelike sound of Cairo C to the Alex meets Abba 70’s disco of Emilia and back to the 80’s Kraftwerk meets Devoisms of Argon leaves the listener positively reeling), but as with Svart’s punk collection, the quality here is uniformly strong throughout, particularly for fans of the aforementioned genres of yore (or even freestyle, which pops up once or twice herein).

Had a longtime friend who was deep into 80’s-90’s club music, so yeah, I was definitely good with this. If you dig old school dance, you should be too.

ACHERONTAS – Faustian Ethos (Agonia Records) (May 18)

Greek Watain wannabes. About the only thing they bring to the table is a few Inquisition-style tremelo picked string bends.

I will say this: they’re well produced, with a big and dramatic sound far closer to their (ridiculously obvious) source of “inspiration” (cough) than most.

So if Danielsson and company are your thing, have at it – new Watain album for ya, under another band’s aegis – probably better than their last two, at that.

At least it’s better than Wild Hunt, nobody can deny that much.

Whatever. Next?

ATLAS (FIN) – “Birthright”  (Inverse Records) (March 21)

One lone track.  It’s airy, light and dreamy, like floating through water more than space, even when they throw in the emo guitars and silly “I’m in so much paaaaaaiiiiin!!!  How could you stand me up for our daaaaaaaaate?  You BIIIIIITCH, I think I’ll go hang myself in a clooooooset noooooow!!” screamo vox.

There’s some pleasant female vocals that wend their way through the background behind the guy who can’t get through three words without devolving into a ridiculous screaming match, and eventually take the final chorus – they should make her the frontwoman, no question.

Overall, despite the inherent absurdities of emo as a genre, this track worked quite well.  Hell, I’ll go on record saying I kinda liked it.

Red Eleven – Fueled By Fire (Secret Entertainment) (March 23)

Well produced Finnish act that’s kind of all over the map, musically…

Pulling the dramatically depressive heavy guitars of gothic metal (or “dark metal”) into an occasionally weirdly electronic effect-bedecked cross between a Dave Matthews sort of thing (particularly in the raspy/whisper/countrified whine vocals) and something reasonably akin to metalcore, we get moments where the drumming is so busy and syncopated as to suggest a progressive influence against others that feel positively grungy ala Alice in Chains and still others that go full on yuppie (if “last call” doesn’t scream that sort of Matthewsesque shit at you, nothing will…)

It’s pretty fucking bizarre, but sure to wind up in rotation on European pop radio somewhere – there’s simply too much polish and self assuredness for this not to.

But is it metal? Metalcore? Grunge? Laid back countrified yuppie shit? And why is all of that even being vetted in the same sentence?

Like I said, all over the damn map.

But your girlfriend (or mom!) will probably be talking about these guys very soon, if she’s not already.

Kebu – Kring havet – Meren ympärillä (Secret Entertainment / ZYX music) (April 6)

You know how churches put on these things around the holidays, where they get a bunch of locals to come in off hours and sing pseudo-operatic choral music and suchlike?  We’ve got a few around here, I’m sure your town does too.  They’re free, kills a weekend afternoon and puts you a little more in the holiday spirit, if nothing else.

Well, this guy, who’s apparently some fucking “Youtube star” (now there’s a status to laugh at heartily) for his solo synth work just got tapped by his local town hall to write some 6 movement, 17 minute piece for chorus and piano (with a soprano lead) to kick off some parade or what have you. And someone recorded and released it.

Yay?

(long pause, stunned and stumped for absolutely anything else to say)

(pulls jaw up off the floor, shakes head disbelievingly)

…next?

Bloody Falls – Thanatos (Inverse Records) (April 27) 

OK, positives first.

The guitarists are fairly decent, with quirky solos that aren’t the usual “modern metal” cookie cutter soundalike faux-shred wheedly-whoo bullshit – already a huge plus.

Further, they drag a bit of this off kilter vibe into the songs themselves, with lead lines and interplay that give them more of a wide open feel and amping up the listenability factor by keeping you on your toes long enough to hear everything that’s going on above and beyond the riffs proper. So yeah, all told, props to the two guitarists (one of whom is from Greece, notable as this is a Finnish band otherwise).

The issue here? Well, hell, you knew what it would be.

Apparently their frontman hails from Thailand.  Beautiful women there. Gorgeous architecture in all those old pagodas and such.

I guess they don’t value the art of vocal instruction, though.

BLEEAAHH BUURRPP GHAAAAHH WUHAAAA!

Every. Fucking. Song.

(sighs audibly)*

* again, seriously. I just let out a big sigh, that’s why it’s in there. Hell, they just got another big sigh out of me while typing this.

Why?

That’s all I have to ask. Why?

People. Learn to fucking sing before you sign on as frontman for a band.

Again, the guitars were interesting, even impressively likeable by comparison to soooo many cookie cutter players nowadays.

Just find a way to kill the vocal track, and this one’d be pretty damn decent.

Vile Caliber – Willpower (Inverse Records) (April 16) 

One 5 minute track from these Finns.

Melodic metal in a more or less 1988-89 Hollywood metal vein (think more XYZ meets Winger by way of Bangalore Choir than the GNR school thereof). As you might expect from that assessment, it’s catchy, punchy, the playing is on point, the solos are sweet (think ’87 Whitesnake) and the riffs are memorably unusual.

The vocals remind me of Shark Island (or Contraband – same guy). Not my top choice, but not bad at all, certainly fits the music.

I could do with a full length from these guys, no question.

Damn good.

SHOW ANIKI – The Deep Blue Sessions EP 

Covered half of this release previously, and yeah, that still holds – another listen didn’t change my mind in the least on those two tracks.

I am, however, happy to report that there’s been some definite improvement in the newer material.

“Big mother” comes off far more driving than the earlier reviewed tracks, with a nigh-tech death machine gun stutter tremelo riff running throughout and some weird phase guitar at the bridge for a few seconds.

The solo* is simplistic, but interesting in that it’s both well phrased and uses sparing note choices in repetition – open string, double stops, an inversion or two, we’re outta here.  The sort of sparse approach that stands out nowadays, to be sure – I liked that.

* there’s actually two of them, but what’s being said about the first one applies to the only slightly busier second as well – the phrasing, the note repetitions, etc.

“The thing” is nowhere near so appealing, but is clearly the B-side to “big mother” given some strong similarities in approach – again, a chugging fast picked guitar riff, which this time starts and stops in tandem with the drums for a second or two of silence before kicking off again. Old trick, both my old band and our biggest “rivals” liked to throw that in for effect every now and again just to show how in sync the drummer and guitarist are and how well you read each other’s cues.

The solo’s more annoying this time, using a pick to effectively pull the high string off the side of the guitar (more likely, pushing down enough to get the same effect between fretboard and pickups) for that patented nu metal sound. Even so, it’s in the same ballpark as its likely A-side, and both are a huge improvement over “cowboys/deep blue”.

MHÖNOS – LXXXVII (Zanjeer Zani Productions) (MARCH 16)

Nonsensical live gothic rock style dirge for 40 minutes.  Not unlistenable or formless…just think “Bauhaus live” or something similar thereto, with sporadic black metal cum industrial style screams and dragged out to absurd lengths.

Again, due to a certain familiarity and base of structure beneath it all, it’s not total shit…but why bother?

Next?

Urze de Lume – As Árvores Estão Secas E Não Têm Folhas (Equilibrium Music) (March 10)

Laid back, but melancholy acoustic guitar (and occasional violin/fiddle). Rarely (very rarely) you get mumbled French vocals ala Serge Gainsbourg as well.

It’s very well produced, and I’m surprised it didn’t hail from the Prophecy label, given the darkwave-cum-folk vibe at play herein.

Very nice for what it is, definitely sets a mood.

  

Devil’s Hound – Left in Dissociation (March 16)

Sort of like Voltaire (the Cuban goth, not the sarcastic author) but without the humor, this is a warbling baritone vocal over spare acoustic guitar arrangement for 5 tracks.

I guess if Projekt Records is unfamiliar to you, Nick Cave may be a ballpark
comparison, but trust me – this is far more Voltaire, or perhaps former labelmates Audra in their most sparing moments.

Again, familiar, sets a mood, nothing wrong with it…but I’ll take Urze de Lume any day of the week over this, if you’re asking.

SpellBlast – Of Gold and Guns (March 29)

This is a weird one to see in the review queue. I remember getting a copy of Horns of Silence around release a decade or so back, upon (somewhat disingenuous)
recommendation based on my love of Rhapsody (of Fire)…and really, the only thing they shared in common was a D&D-style lyrical focus (“sign of the unicorns”, “goblins’ song” and “legend of the ice wolf” should have been a dead giveaway, there) and Italian heritage.

Well, OK, they’re both some form of (Euro) power metal, but hey.

Anyway, the album got played once or twice then consigned to the dust pile (I still have it somewhere buried deep in the collection, though far less accessible than anything kept in even occasional rotation), so that should say it all, really. Not bad, but pretty damn generic and a huge shrug of the shoulders that left me pretty disappointed in the end.

So here we are, a good 10 or 11 years on, and here comes the very same…well, third of the original sextet (only the band’s guitarist and bass player survived the intervening decade), with a new frontman.

And you know what? That makes one hell of a difference.

So, to compare Of Gold and Guns to Horns of Silence, the band has dropped all the
Tolkienesque fantasy elements (boo! hiss!), but the rest is surprisingly positive.

While new frontman “Dest Ring” (seriously? Nice pseudo…not) is certainly no Fabio Lione, he bears a certain (very vague) measure of similarity in both accent (duh) and approach to the more midlevel stretch notes. That’s exactly where the similarities end, though, with “Ring” more of a rasper who can hold his notes more nicely than you’d expect (think the guy from Brainstorm, if less impressively so) – but even so, he’s a much better frontman than they had back in the day.

Better, all pretense at bing “folky” has been dropped, with more of a direct power metal approach this time around, complete with crunchy guitars, punchy riffs and plenty of hooks. As Euro power metal goes, the new SpellBlast is more than just an also-ran…they’re vying for the upper echelons here, make no doubt about that.

Sure, it’s more of a surprise at sudden competence (and this, despite a checkered background and a theme I despise – seriously, the fucking Old West?  Yee-ha, cue Bon Jovi’s “dead or alive”…

…but no bullshit, this pared down iteration of the decade plus old Italian power metallers are putting their best foot forward and shooting for the moon this time.

I was duly impressed. Saluti!

Gain Eleven (SWE) – “Freaking You Out” (March 30)

Weirdly lyriced, uptempo and high energy indie rock, somewhat in the Hives/Vines/White Stripes vein musically speaking.

Let’s put it this way, you won’t be holding your ears, rolling your eyes and running to flip the dial when your girlfriend turns this one up.

That’s about the best I can offer, here – who knows how a full length would play out.

Wail – Wisdom Through Agony into Illumination and Lunacy vol. II (Triumphant Transgressions) (March 18) 

Oy, more of this pointless, aimless “occult black metal” nonsense. I took a quick skim of the promo writeup and laughed out loud (seriously).

Two long, meandering tracks, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

First one for the Pile, I believe…guess it’s been a good month, so far!

INCOMING!

WHIZZZZZZ!

(sputter, crackle, spit)

geez, even the rush of flames was subdued and low key on this one…just dull and utterly without purpose.

Next?

  

Masada – When the Lights Go Out (Wulverine Records) (March 2)

Obscure Chicago thrashers reunite for their second EP.

Looks like these guys were kicking around back in the day (circa ’87-’89, the heyday of thrash all us veterans knew and loved so much), and to some extent it shows in the performances here – no way you could confuse some of these riffs for the sort of mixed genre shit newer acts are working.

That said, the vocals…well, if they were a bit more of a crossover band, maybe. The guy sounds like Mike “Judge” Ferraro (of Judge) or maybe the guy from Slapshot…all gargle growls, with a decided punkified style (inclusive of gang chant vocals ala Biohazard!)

Even so, while the ol’ nose crinkles in distaste at that gargly-raspy Mighty Mighty Bosstones bullshit, at least it has some history and sort of “fits” the band’s somewhat crossover thrash/punk vibe. That said, we’re hardly talking DRI or MOD here – this is more thrashy, with punkish breakdowns and those lousy Judgelike vox pushing their sound further towards crossover than they would seem otherwise.

I liked the guitar tone, the riffs were crunchy and thrashy (or crossover thrashy, at least) and the production was reasonably good…

…I’d just have buried those vox beneath the guitars and drums, like they pulled on that SOD remaster (what the fuck was up with that, by the way? You enjoy Billy Milano for the obnoxious lyrics…those should be right up front, assholes!).

Decent band, despite the vox.

The Outsider – S/T (July 14, 2016)
The Outsider – Ancient Beast of the Apocalypse (March 16)

Mexican symphonic black (they claim “death”) metal act, with a guest appearance from Therion’s Thomas Vikstrom (among other less notables).

Cookie monster vocals, but aside from beefier guitars than usual, absolutely nothing here says “death metal”…maybe the Nile-esque “the invocation” made them think they were death metal? Who the hell knows, people call Behemoth, Watain and Dissection “death metal” these days, so it’s apparent that nobody knows how the fuck to classify subgenres anymore…

Overly clean, yet overly busy production with wayyy too much keyboard and faux-string section accompaniment…the whole thing sounds like bad video game music, in the end.

Ancient Beast lends a touch more veritas to their death claims, with “the profane feast” almost seeming to bear that modern DM feel, but it all gets fucked over by the snarly vox and open string atonal phrases that simply scream “black/death of the Watainish variety”, much less the eerie choral section chanting that marks “polaris”, the weird harpsichord piece “total dementia for lucidity” or yet another edit/take of that same Nile wannabe track from the debut.

Bottom line: symphonic black metal, with unfortunate “black/death” leanings.

Duck and cover, here comes another pair!

SWHISH!

Let’s hope this isn’t a trend, the flames are already burning the treetops after last month…

Beyond Deth – The Age Of Darkness (February 3) 

Thrash/death crossover, but not as straightforward as vintage acts like Demolition Hammer, Malevolent Creation or even the slightly punkified Solstice (USA).

Vox are questionable, somewhere between snarl-inclined death belches and black metal in feel (think Bitterness-era Desultory, or post-First Spell Gehenna), and just about every track has to open up with a forgettable acoustic bit…but not the worst I’ve heard, even this month.

meh, whatever.

(shrugs shoulders, moves on…)

Richthammer – Ascheland (Studio Hundert Records) (March 31)

Overly busy semi-tech death act (who occasionally slow things down, but make zero impression either way).

It’s listenable, but boring – I get the distinct impression they wish they were Sinister, but just can’t pull it off.

Yeah, this one really depends on just how undiscriminating a death metal fan you are. If you simply have to have every release in the genre on a monthly basis, this may well be “one of the ones you get”…

…but it’ll certainly be one you’ll forget, and fairly quickly, at that.

Demonic Obedience – Fatalistic Uprisal of Abhorrent Creation (Satanath Records/Sevared Records) (April 17)

Black/death, but in the bombastically dramatic vein of Necrophobic more than the usual Watain Zombie bullshit that lines the bottom of the Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards every month.

In other words, very listenable for its type, with extremely crunchy guitars, James Murphy-esque solos and a more death- than black- approach to metal, all sinister vibes, blastbeat moments and gargling throaty vox aside.

I liked it just fine, thanks. Hails!

The Sloths – BACK FROM THE GRAVE (Eternal Sound Records) (May 4) 

OK, this one’s a bit of a step up from last month’s Dwarves Meet the Sloths, and there’s a very good reason for that – because this is the 1965-vintage act’s setlist of that very era! Admittedly, being performed so many years on, you get a touch of “cover band/nostalgia act” to the whole affair – these are guys in their 60’s making this recording, after all.

But vocals aside? You’d never know it. Beatles-style suspended chords, Yardbirds-like “rave ups”, early Stones-ish blues rockers and 50’s rock jams ala Chuck Berry meets mid-60’s American garage rock (and yes, again I say The Music Machine – check out “haunted”)…this is so mid-60’s, it stinks of it. But in a very good way…

Look, this is early British invasion era, at the very end of the Beatnik coffeehouse thing…or I’d say “smell the patchouli”. Who knows, that whole Bell, Book and Candle crowd may well have been working some of the same tropes of the subsequent hippie era…

If you (like myself) have any real affection for the early British Invasion (when those bands still had teeth, before the drugs kicked in and everyone went goofy-ass psychedelic) or the whole Nuggets garage rock thing, forget last month’s somewhat bar bandish effort and head right for this one.

Unavoidable “oldsters recapturing the glory days” feel to the vocal end aside, this should be right up your alley.

I dug it well enough, yeah.

Sense of Fear – As The Ages Passing By… (Rockshots Records) (April 20)

Greek thrash metal.  Very modern production, mixed with fairly vintage riffs.  Solos are a bit too much towards the wheedly-whoo thing everyone gravitates towards nowadays, but if you think more Forbidden or later Skolnick-era Testament and are very, very drunk, it may fool ya.

Vocals are interesting, in that they’re clean and declamatory, but more of a whisper that builds to sprechtgesang…they must have been listening to a fuck of a lot of Dave De Feis and Virgin Steele, that’s all I can say (why exactly does everyone love that guy, anyway? Band’s OK, but he’s not much of a singer…whisper to a growl doesn’t quite cut it.) Skipping the growliness (and pretentiousness!) makes this guy a lot more listenable than De Feis, though…

Despite being overly modern in feel (and far too beefy and direct signal to come off as properly vintage thrash), the production is crystal clear and intense, which makes sense as it was produced in Germany (and just how often have we praised that Teutonic meticulousness in that area?), albeit by a fellow Greek alongside the expected local fella.  This also makes this much akin to European power metal (a German specialty) in feel, whether intentionally or no – but that’s not really a bad thing, is it?

All bullshit aside, I liked this one.

  

Widow’s Peak – Graceless (EP) (April 20)

Tech death to the point of djentish insanity, mixed with ridiculous grindcore vocals that cross Suffocationlike bowel movement noises with those hilariously stupid pig noises every fucking grindcore band on Earth right now seems to think is necessary to define them as such.

OINK OINK SQUEEEEAL!

You know, sometimes I seriously wonder, are these guys fucking kidding? They can’t possibly be serious, releasing something like this.

(pause for reflection.)

I’d say I’m sorry, I just can’t get past these perfectly shite vocals, but the music beneath is just annoying and unimpressively over-busy and aharmonic (or is that unharmonic?) to even give that end a pass.

One more for the flames!

(toss)

WHIZZZ!!

(crackle, sputter, spit)

(sighs, composes self)

…okay, next?

Hallux – S/T (February 23)

hmm.

Well, they self identify as blackthrash, and there are some riffs that almost suggest such…but the drums are too typewriter and power metallish, the riffs too much of a cross between thrash and death. Moreover? The vox are too snarly/raspy, the production too powerful and clean.

So what is this, exactly? Sorta thrashlike, for sure…bits of death metal creep in there, definitely hearing strong touches of power metal, and I guess you can argue those perfectly awful vox indicate “black metal”…

…but it’s too polished, the bass is too prominent and busy…vocals aside, this is more death with thrash elements (or if you prefer, vice versa) than any variant of blackened thrash.

Seriously, this bears absolutely nothing in common with the likes of early Sepultura, Sarcofago or the Brazilian/South American school…early Kreator, Destruction, Sodom or even early Desaster from the Teutonic school…or just about anything released by either Hells Headbangers or Iron Bonehead of the US blackthrash movement.

If you want your power metal with a heavier dose of thrash and hints of death (plus some atrocious growly/snarl “vocals”), Hallux may be right up your alley – if nothing else, it’s certainly well (if over)produced.

Me? I didn’t get it.

Accursed Spawn – “Bhopal ’84” (PRC Music) (March 29)

Probably related to the download, but there was all this swirling hissiness wrecking this single from an Ottawa, Canada based death metal act.

They’re busy and high speed, at times going a touch too “tech death” for this veteran’s tastes…but for the most part, they seem to be keeping it real here, so I was OK with it.

Sorta like Gorefest trying to go a touch Sinister, with the guy from Baphomet on vocals.

Not bad, curious to see what a full length brings.

Ominous Eclipse – “Sinister” (March 30)

Another Ottawa act, this time aiming more towards the Exhorder end of thrash/aggro/death crossover (with Ominous Eclipse injecting more “death” vocally – Exhorder, as the obvious cough “inspiration” cough for Anselmo-era Pantera more towards aggro).

There are also a few annoying phrases where the band speeds up to blastbeats and djenty atonal wheedly-whoo for no good reason…and that’s the only thing that leaves me trepidatious about how a full length would play out.

Those moments aside, these guys were fairly good.

 

Traced By Enemies – Where The Sun Turns Gray (Dedication Records) (April 27)

BLURRGHH BURRPP GUHHHRRRR DERRR BLURRRRP!

I think…mind you, think, there’s choruses under there where these guys start working the emo/metalcore style lead lines and try to get all melodic. The rest of the riffing is pretty stutter beat, start/stop simplistic…

…and never, not even for a second, do we get a reprieve from those fucking aggro growly scream “vocals”.

Sorry, guys. Get a real singer.

WHIZZZZ!!!

You know, that disc split right in half when it hit the flames, as if there were something of merit buried beneath all that shit screaming and growling somewhere…

Either way, it melts together in the end.

More green flame to blow holes in the atmosphere…

Next?

20 Watt Tombstone – Death Blues vs. The Dirty Spliff (May 18)

Kyuss-esque stoner rock with a CoC-like groove.

Promo materials name check the likes of Red Fang and Clutch, and those are pretty fair analogues to what you get here – at times sludgy and overdistorted, at times blues rocklike, with processed mic vocals and a feel that, again, falls somewhere between Blues for the Red Sun and Deliverance.

Nothing wrong with it, just feels hopelessly retro-early 90’s.

Which may be a good thing, depending on your age and musical orientation – who knows.

Shrug of the shoulders, but certainly listenable and competent enough.

Enhailer – Dumb Enough To Care (Vinyl) (Burnout Records) (June 14)

One track. 18 minutes, yeah. But one track, no vocals.

Plus side: good, throaty stoner doom, in the vein of all those Kyuss instrumentals circa Blues for the Red Sun (though not quite as bouncy and catchy, admittedly).

I liked it alright…but just one track?

Well, here’s hoping for more from these guys.  Definitely dug what I heard here.

Body Void – I Live Inside A Burning House (Crown And Throne Ltd / Dry Cough Records / Seeing Red Records) (May 11)

Sludgy doom to the point where you question

1. if they bothered to tune their guitars and

2. if they actually composed songs here, or if it was just one long droning jam session.

The “vocals”, such as they are, are hideous, like someone pulling the tailfeathers on a crow or parakeet.

If we’re going solely by guitar tone (I used to have an ad hanging on the wall back in ’86/’87 for Into the Pandemonium that claimed Frost’s riffs were “heavier than steel!”), then yeah, it’s pretty damn heavy…and as slow as the likes of Winter, Sleep and Mythic.

But I’m not sure if there’s anything much to these tracks, in the end – is it really that hard to downtune your guitars all the way and drop a buzzing note or chord every whole note or two, and call it “an album”?

And let’s not even discuss Birdy the Not-So-Mighty, our erstwhile “frontman”…

(shakes head, raises eyebrows, shakes head again in utter disbelief)

Look. I liked the slow, sludgy, buzzing guitar tone.

That’s about all I can offer, here.

Apocrophex – AEternalis (May 18)

Weird vox that at times scream aggro bullshit, then shift to bowel-deep death metallish belches, then go semi-clean and declamatory, Life of Agony style.

Beneath that is a bunch of formless, oddly generic tech death favoring noisy open chord atonality alternating with chugging high speed tremelo riffs.

Really nothing I can say about this otherwise…at least in attempting to find any sort of positives to offset the obvious.

WHIZZ!!!

Oh, geez, that looks like a bad one. Stop, drop and roll!

Sorry about that…see, I always tell you people crowding around the fire, you have to watch out for the embers and flareups when these albums get tossed your way…

…next?

H E X – S/T  (Hummus Records) (May 25)

Swiss industrial/synthesizer act, almost krautrock in orientation. Circle goes Faunts, with touches of the deliberate march tempo of Laibach, maybe?

Four tracks, all instrumental, well produced and trancelike…but apart from serving as a soundtrack to some movie that doesn’t even exist, is there any real point to this?

Zarraza – Necroshiva (May 11)

Speedy modern thrash out of Kazakhstan. Vocals are (Russian?) bear-growly and pretty annoying, while the band is overly tech oriented and too often falls right into the pit of atonality.

Not my thing at all.

Here, someone walk this over to the Pyre, willya? The ol’ pitching arm’s getting tired, already.

Trevor’s Head – Soma Holiday (APF Records) (April 30)

Somewhat (tonally) Sabbathesque stoner doom out of the UK, albeit far busier and more quirky-speedy than need be.

I guess if St. Vitus took a shitload of uppers or snorted some crystal meth, you might wind up with something like this – promo writeup calls it a “steamy fondue of stoner rock, punk and grunge”, which is just silly, but in a way…sorta fits. It’s a really weird melange of sounds they’re pulling together, but the lo-fi nature of it all makes it work, against all odds.

Being quite so disjointed as this is, you may find you love one track, then hate the next, then love the track that follows. Or you may think a track is great, then they’ll throw you for a loop halfway through…but then pull it back from the verge of collapse before song’s end. Like I said, it’s weird.

But if you’re asking, was this listenable, and even at points kinda likeable?

Yeah, I’ll give it that.

Unusual as fuck. But not bad at all, really.

Nekrokraft – Servants (The Sign Records) (May 4)

Behemoth and Belphegor fans, rejoice – here’s a soundalike act for ya.

These Swedes claim to be “blackened thrash”, but for the second time this month, that’s a serious misnomer – there’s nothing whatsoever about this album that says “thrash” by any stretch of the imagination.

Black metal, obviously. Swedish “black/death”? Definitely, though more well produced and Teutonic in feel, at least in that respect. But thrash? Are you fucking kidding me?

Given the strong production and more of a Germanic (or Behemoth-Polish, which is not what I think of when it comes to Polish black metal…) vibe than the usual Watain Wannabe bullshit, I won’t slam this too hard – it’s not as likeable as Demonic Obedience, but more or less working the same school of musical thought.

But this is more for fans of that style than an old school black metaller (first and earlier second wave) like yours truly, so it’s down to personal preference in the end.

Earth’s Yellow Sun – “Entertain Me” (April 19)

Modern style prog metal.

This is apparently a cover of some avant-jazz piano trio piece, which means it’s all instrumental, with too much keyboard and free jazzlike atonality for my taste – and mind, I love me some Roland Kirk, Coltrane in the Eric Dolphy era and even a bit of Sun Ra every now and again.

Even so, listenable enough, and I’d be curious to see what they sound like as a full band with vocals – it’s hardly trash, by any measure.

Archelon – Tribe of Suns (Sludgelord Records) (May 4)

Weird mix of sludge/stoner doom and proggy post-metal, with clean vocals (which go all fat guy belching up his lunch thereafter), slightly off time and syncopated drumming and odd breaks for piano.

The throbbing guitar/bass unison tones are what really saves this one, leaving a relaxed pedal tone for all the other foolishness to play against (drums aside, though if you’re gonna go syncopated and proggy, you should go whole hog – the kitwork here is very safe and middle of the road in that respect).

Even so, it’s heavy and doomlike, so overall we’re good here, absurd growly vocal moments aside.

HERON – A Low Winter’s Sun (Sludgelord Records) (April 13)

Another sludgy stoner doom affair, this time out of Vancouver, BC, but bringing (mostly) death metallish belch vox to the table this time (there was more than one instance of black metallish snarling and shrieking – at one point with blastbeats! – over the course of matters herein, but hey…)

These guys keep it more straightforward, vocals aside, with a slow, steady grind throughout that sets the right mood.

If not for the wierd vocal flips (shoulda just stuck to the death growls…), this would be a pretty decent stoner doom/death crossover. As is…your call.

Seems like a good frontman’s in rare demand these days…

Crone -Godspeed (Prophecy Productions) (April 13)

More gothic darkwave-ish than most previously reviewed Prophecy acts, Crone comes complete with the sort of snarky, quavering post-Peter Murphy by way of Audra-esque vocals you’d expect from male-fronted gothic rock proper.

That said, this is far from gothic rock, bearing more in common with indie rock (“mother crone”) what passed for pop fare in the 90’s (“demmin”) and even Midnight Oil (“godspeed”) than not, albeit married to a more expansive, reverb-inflected Teutonic vibe and crystalline production and that depressive gothic feel.

Fascinating mix of styles, sure to appeal to the Projekt crowd as much as the
Prophecy one (not that there wasn’t always a fair measure of crossover with their dark, introspective folk of reviews prior).

Grim, sets a mood, but not half so dark as gothic veterans might expect.

Yeah, I was good with this.

Tengil – Shouldhavebeens (Prophecy Productions) (April 13)

Bizarre indie act that combines organ with blastbeats over spare, Radioheadlike arrangements and depressed, singsongy vocals that burst into Thom Yorkelike shrieks of pained emotiveness.

The band self-identifies as “post hardcore”, by which they likely mean “post-emo”, though it’s more apparent in the aforementioned than in the expected stylistic template associated therewith. In other words, no singing guitars with busy melodic lead lines resolving into clean sung choruses, no screamo bits, and totally non-aggressive (unless a Radioheadlike depression is your idea of “aggro”).

The studio was heavily overutilized here, with plenty of what sound like tape edits, delay, reverb and effects, so who knows what the hell this will sound like live (particularly when the backing tapes go on the fritz)…but here, it’s kind of overly busy, noisy and prone to signal bleed.

Fans of the aforementioned UK act should find a whole hell of a lot more to like here than I ever could.

Hostia – S/T (Via Nocturna)

Polish “brutal” death metal. It’s pretty pounding, with grindcorelike simplistic riffing and slow four on the floor-style blastbeats (or straight up midtempo double bass) appended to overly loud in the mix deep shout/growl and gargle-snarl vox.

Good back up for a Fight Club scenario or as a particularly lunkheaded “scary” themed wrestler’s walk on music, but I can’t picture any other appeal to something this…basic and soundalike, track after track, I guess.

Would probably work better as one track on a comp than with a full album to reveal its glaring sameness and weaknesses.

Hekate – Totentanz (Prophecy Productions) (May 18)

Ah, now this is more of what we’ve come to expect from Prophecy – darkwave-ish, folky, well produced and introspectively sombre.

With vocals somewhat akin to Bela B. crossed with Rheingold, here the crossover with vintage 90’s Projekt once more becomes apparent, to the benefit of both. The folk vibe is bolstered by a nigh-Empyriumesque if not Erben Der Schopfrung (pre-Elis)-like bombast and somewhat orchestral ebb and flow, with a spare sprecthgesang and guitar or violin approach building to something far more fully instrumented and sung in the manner of the artists aforementioned.

It’s melodic and likeable enough to work for the festival crowd, at least in quieter moments (or if nothing else, prime fodder for Wave Gotik-Treffen), and these are actual, properly constructed songs, with build and flow…not something you can say about a few too many acts floating around out there these days.

As precise, well produced and deliberately dark as you’d expect from a German
production…and more to the point, from this label.

Good stuff. Ja, einmal, bitte.

The Dark Red Seed – Becomes Awake (Prophecy Productions) (May 18)

Fuzz toned stonerish rock with some serious psychedelic overtones. Think something crossing the horn section thing of acts like Cold Blood and Electric Flag with the trippiness of mid-period Jefferson Airplane, as performed by Hawkwind or Monster Magnet.

As noted, it’s not just the standard guitar/bass/drums setup, but pulls in sitar, horns, flute, violin (played in an Arabic meets gypsy style) and other atypical instrumentation for something more trippy and late 60s/early 70’s in feel than usual.

While the general vibe is trippy and necessarily mellow, like the Airplane, the Dark Red Seed pull things into far darker, more intense territory than you’d expect, and stranger, with tracks like “the void” even pulling into Zappa’s Grand Wazoo period, if you can believe that.

Oh, it works, alright.

Nice mix of Eastern and Western, psychedelic and stoner, with the usual polished production and attention to quality Prophecy is notable for.

Goddess of Fate – Spiral Orchard Part 1

Indonesian act of uncertain provenance – they self identify as progressive death, which is only partly correct.

What starts off sounding oddly folkish and somewhat akin to the Prophecy releases covered hereinabove suddenly morphs into something wholly other: a very mid-to-late period Death-like progressive death affair (complete with death growl vox) which continually breaks for more clean tone, uber quirky prog and/or Ulveresque folk moments and weird, if clean toned indie rock vox (or chant vox during the Ulverish moments).

In other words, it’s all over the fucking place.

Moments certainly work – they’ve definitely got the folk end down, and the death metal sections are perfectly acceptable given the style and period they’re attempting to evoke…it’s the atonality and sheer bizarreness of both the prog moments and the freakishness of mixing all this shit together in one odd tasting bouillabaise that makes this one difficult and hard to like en toto.

Again, those Ulverlike folk moments are pretty sweet, and I was good with many of the prog death parts as well…just never really gels, and their metaphorical train hangs way too far off the rails, far too often to ever pull this one into the station unscathed.

Axia – Pulverizer (Selfmadegod Records)

Portugese black metal act. They fall somewhere between a blackened grindcore

and…what, really? This isn’t what I’d call “bestial black metal” or “war metal”,
either…certainly not blackthrash, black/death, symphonic black or even black metal proper…it sort of falls between the cracks.

21 tracks ranging from less than a minute to just around 2 minutes (tops), blastbeat filled, simplistic riffs, no solos, snarly-growl vomit vox. If it didn’t sound so goddamn blackened, there’d be no mistaking this for anything but grindcore.

As is? Forgettable blackened grindcore, I guess…

Moloch – The Other Side (Via Nocturna) (April 30)

A long, boring organ intro and outro bookend this “lazerpunk”-ish affair, which one man band Fabian “Moloch” Filiks considers “dark synthwave”.

Any way you care to describe it, once things actually start moving, it’s very 80’s
dystopia/postapocalyptic film score, the sort of cheap but loveably dark and inviting things John Carpenter was famous for composing and using in his own works.

I always loved this shit (and in fact own many of Carpenter’s soundtracks, among numerous others from Italy and suchlike – one of my favorite being the “Copkiller” and “Hardware”-scoring Public Image Ltd. album “the order of death”), so how could I not love this one as well?

There’s a claim that he’s utilizing black metal guitar riff samples, but that’s fairly well bollocks – the only guitar you’ll notice is on the track “FEAR”, and even then it’s in fairly short supply. This is all about the synthesizer and keyboard sampling and manipulation, nothing more, nothing less.

And it’s all the better for it.

Or to misattribute what M’sieu Lydon was getting at,

“this is what you want…this is what you get.”

Dunnock – Little Stories Told by Ghosts (Acephale Winter) (May 18)

umm…

Well, when the band is working the out of tune acoustic guitar…or the synth parts…or the organ sections, this is fine.

Unfortunately, those are intros and interludes.

The rest of this? A pointless wall of black metallish noise, filled to the rafters with overprocessed screeching and signal bleed.

Heads up, one more incoming!

SWISH!

ooh, slam dunk, there…watch those flames sputter and spit!

Next?

 

Raven Throne – I Miortvym Snicca Zolak (Non Serviam Records) (May 27)

Damn, that production on the opening acoustic part!  Surprised this wasn’t a Prophecy release as well…except it’s louder and more in your face, if anything.

Oh, wait, there’s why. All of a sudden, they flip to loud, overdistorted and screeching and hissing into a processed mic. The guitars and drums are bleeding into the red, alright, but still stay just this side of listenability…the problem is the Waxenlike vox (which would probably be passable enough, were they not further processed into compressed hiss and shoved right up front above all the instruments).

Biggest plus here is, they keep dropping back into the acoustic stuff throughout the course of a given track, so it never stays too painful for too long – it’s more like passing through tunnels and under bridges during a long highway drive, and losing your radio signal to hiss and squeal every time you’re blocked from the open sky.

Also on the plus side: as the album goes on, you start catching more of a dark
melodicism, a bombastically dramatic feel underpinning and informing all of this…and are the instruments getting a tad less obnoxious signalwise, or is it just trying to adjust to how rough and nasty the vocal production is, bringing out the differences between their sheer noise and the more deliberate production and approach on the instruments? Who the hell knows.

Next time around, drop the vocal processing, maybe even shunt the guy to the rear of the mix and let the instruments take front and center.

Then drop the whole thing a few decibels, and yeah, I’d call these Belarus black metallers one to watch.

PROFANE ORDER – Tightened Noose of Sanctimony EP / Marked by Malice
(KRUCYATOR PRODUCTIONS)

“Bestial black” (or is that “war metal”? The two are so close stylistically, bar the whole gas mask schtick…) out of Canada (home of so many formative “war metal” acts…pretty much every band and band member exchange that kicked off the genre per se, bar Beherit).

These guys apparently released both of these on cassette a year or two back, appearing here together on CD for the first time. So if you dig ’em, this is your chance to get the whole back catalog…

The EP is more “well produced” and in your face, but with a sound this raw and noisily repetitive, I found I actually preferred the more muted take on the earlier Marked By Malice album, which seemed to suit the band better (think the difference between Death Worship and Conqueror or Revenge by way of comparison). Either way, it works well enough for the type.

Not as instantly grab you by the throat and draw you in as Blasphemy or any of the aforementioned, but works just fine if you dig this subgenre…and generally speaking, I do.

Corpsehammer – Perversión (Morbid Skull Records) (April 13)

We’d covered (and liked) these transplanted Chileans (now residing in Sweden, of all places) for their prior Posesion, and here they are again with their third EP.

Some tracks are particularly, wonderfully first wave in orientation (“rito magia”), and the general feel is more South American blackthrash meets Italian or Greek first wave this time around (so there’s actually been an improvement!)

Only 3 tracks with one pointless ambient outro, but “rito magio” (and to a slightly lesser extent, “sexo muerte”) is well worth the price of admission.

Yeah, there are other subgenres and variants of merit…but for my money, this is how black metal should sound.

Hails!

The Human Race Is Filth – Liberate (April 6)

Western PA sure likes its grind and sludge…

So yeah. Last time around, we gave props for their slower, sludgier moments (on prior release Human Exposed)…something which is sadly in short supply this time around.

I mean, yeah, you do get “chain game”, but even there, the production is so trebly and buried in the sheer weight of profound signal bleed, it’s nearly unlistenable.

If you like your grind severely underproduced and hissy rather than thick and brutally pounding in tone, then sure, have at it.

Svederna – Svedjeland (Carnal Records) (April 20)

Oddly, a whole hell of a lot closer to the raw melodicism and punkish drive of Finnish black metal than the Swedish sound you’d expect from bands hailing from said nation.

And this is exactly what leaves Svederna surprisingly listenable, even notable, where so many Watain/pre-“Heljarmadr” Dark Funeral/Dissection fanboys, zombies and wannabes simply get flung into the ever-Flaming Pyre that is the Pile of Dead Bards.

Simply put? They’re following more of a Satanic Warmasterlike lead, with a sound equal parts melodic, anthemic and jauntily folkish, while never losing that sort of punk rawness and thrust Sweden simply hasn’t seen since the days of the Sunlight death metal crowd.

Yeah, the production leaves a hell of a lot to be desired, no question.

But the songs themselves, the riffs, the melodies, will draw you in sufficient that you’ll barely notice.

Another raised set of horns is due.

Stortregn – Emptiness Fills The Void (Non Serviam Records) (May 25)

OK, so when did “blackened death metal” stop meaning that lame Watain/Behemothlike bullshit and start encompassing something more akin to melodeath meets progressive death, with folk moments, killer riffs and interesting song construction?

All I can say is, it’s about fucking time!

Now, whether other bands have finally woken up and started to get off that ridiculously overdone bandwagon, or if Stortregn are making the move entirely independently and on their own initiative, only time will tell. But what I can say is, like Svederna’s aping of far superior Finnish stylistic tropes over that shit, this is a much needed breath of fresh air in an all but moribund black metal scene of recent years.

Anthemic, powerful, melodic…it’s practically pagan metal or European power metal in sheer bombast and likeability, but in all real respects, this is very melodeath gone prog…with snarling black metal vox over the top.

Production is powerful and clean, despite the gargle-snarling frontman, and the guitars are surprisingly busy, flashy and accomplished, while maintaining a strong melodic dual guitar feel across the board, occasionally dropping into pleasant acoustic phrases, filled with flashy but never less than melodic (and never really falling into that wheedly-whoo post-Dream Theater proggy shit) solos.

Take away the vocals, and you’d take this for a particularly interesting and likeable take on modern (melo)death metal…but this material is strong enough to survive a questionable vocalist.

Another easy win and raise of the horns in salute.

 

The Black Sorcery – And The Beast Spake Death From Above (Krucyator Productions) (May 29)


Another one of these odd “blackened grindcore” affairs (see also this month’s Axia), but 
with more interesting elements helping to save it.

Tolling church bells and gloomy organ append the midsection of the otherwise shrug of the shoulders war/bestial black metallish “ancient dialects of wind”, you hear a more midtempo, riff-centric death metal (or at least Repulsion-like) approach to “circling the drain”, there’s even a quirky lead line/snaking single note riff driving closer “helgeist”…you get the idea.

The biggest gotcha here is the vocals, which are the sadly all too typical modern grindcore cross between Regurgitation-esque wet bowel vomit vox and ridiculous pig noises…I just don’t get it, or why this would sound “cool” to anyone out there over the age of, say, 9.

The unusual bits mentioned in the second paragraph give these guys more credit and value than a band with their approach to vocals deserves.

But no denying there’s some hints of promise herein.

 

GOAT WORSHIP (Brazil) – Shore of the Dead (Xtreem Music) (April 26)

That classic blackened thrash sound, so perfectly encapsulated in the modern era by Colombia’s estimable Witchtrap, is again well replicated by this Brazilian one man band.

Pulling the speedy riffs of early Destruction and Kreator together with the grim feel of early Sodom and countrymen like Sepultura, Vulcano, Sarcofago and Holocausto, this mix of early Bathory-style black metal (itself indebted equally to Venom and Motorhead), Hellhammer and the earlier, darker and quite Slayer-indebted end of thrash (which would itself splinter into first wave black and death metal in turn) has always been a particular favorite of yours truly, dating way back to when these bands and albums were first hitting the stores (and more often than not, only independent specialty record shops and time block radio shows catering to a crowd hungry for obscure global metal).

While this isn’t quite as essential as most of Witchtrap’s discography has proven to be over the years, there’s no question this one’s right up there among the highlights of what blackthrash was and should be.

Absolutely killer.

CARNIFEX (Finland) – Pathological Rites (Xtreem Music) (May 23)

Some vintage death metal, here, from a semi-famed demo only act out of Finland.

The earliest of their three demos (hailing from 1991) is, as you might expect, the rawest, with an odd propensity for short running times – the first actual track is under a minute, others run less than 3 and 4 minutes. Works well enough, but not common in death metal.

Their approach is overly busy, like an underproduced Disincarnate with tremelo picked single note riffs flying all over the damn place and blastbeats that alternate with stuttering double bass trills.

On the two tracks from the second (split) demo, the production obviously improves, with more of a Death-like vocal and thicker tone, but it’s clearly the same band, working the same approach as the earlier demo.

Finally, their last demo (from 1993) betrays something of a shift in approach, with slower, more deliberate riffs alternating with a more pointedly Suffocationish “brutal tech” grind. The production actually worsens here, simultaneously less muffled than the first demo and far more hissy and under a pillow than the second. The stylistic changes are for the positive…the production shift is not.

The release closes out on a 1993 rehearsal track with a much thicker and superior sound to the demo of the same year (!), but one which is entirely instrumental and shows a further stretch towards a very different sound…one which would probably just have come off confused and something of a misstep had they continued thereafter.

All told, not exactly an essential release, but speaking for myself, these “obscure” (well, not really – I’d heard a Carnifex track or two back in the day, and they’ve gotten mention once or twice in reference to the classic scene in various sources) demo only acts, be they death, thrash, black or USPM/prog, tend to feel like an untapped strain of gold after decades of listening to the same bands and albums, however expansive and enjoyable those may have been (and/or still are).

So for my part, while Carnifex may not be the find of the century, even for fans of “untapped”, never released an album classic death metal…

…I say, keep ’em coming.

Apparition – The Ravenous Dusk (Dark Adversary Productions) (April 11)

More of this sort of “lazerpunk”-ish postapocalyptic film soundtrack-style synthesizer/Casio keyboard business, but unlike this month’s estimable Moloch, this is oddly…subtle and subdued.

In fact, the moments where something happens – by which we mean an actual keyboard sample, riff or propulsive, trancelike melody, mind, are few and far between, with most of the running time being taken up by silence, white noise, foley sound effects and the sort of background noise ambience you usually see on death metal album intros.

On paper, it seemed like a cool idea – this guy makes up his own imaginary horror movie script and scores it.

Problem is, there’s barely any “score” to speak of…it’s more sound effects and mood setting than any degree of “music” that we wind up with here, leaving this one pointless except to the “composer” himself (who’s probably excitedly working that theater of the mind with every long phrase where nothing whatsoever happens…”this is where the monster walks into the room, and then…!!”).

Nice idea, but didn’t work at all as planned.

DEATH ENGINE – PLACE NOIRE (Throatruiner Records / Apocaplexy Records) (April 13) 

Signal bleed city, with Guitar Wolf-esque screaming into the mic and jangling uber-loud guitars…but entirely absent the rockabilly cum punk likeablity Guitar Wolf specialized in.

This is more emo/screamo (vocally) gone industrial-noise (musically), with deliberate, repetitive tempos, squealing feedback and moments of rhythmic standstill, where the drummer just sits it out as the jangling noise and my girlfriend just dumped me and I just wanna dieeeeeee screaming continue randomly.

Yeah, whatever.

One more for the Pile!

(frisbee toss)

ooh, nice hook on that one, whipped off to the side, then curved right back for a perfect landing and explosion of flame!

(composing self)

…next?

WHORESNATION – MEPHITISM (Throatruiner Records / Deaf Death Husky Records) (April 13) 

Crunchier guitar tone and more riffs than you expect from grindcore, with vox that are more Pestilence-esque than Carcasslike or pig squeal prone.

Still not a fan of death metal that goes so fast the riffs blur together and without guitar solos, much less the blastbeats this drummer tends to fall back on more often than not…but as grindcore goes, particularly modern iterations thereof, it was more listenable than many.

The Armed – Only Love (Throatruiner Records)

Weird indie take on…what is this, really? Not punk, exactly, nor metalcore/emo and certainly not metal of any stripe…

Bizarre electronic video game noises ala Dragonforce (but not done on guitar this time) drop in all over messy, angry, screamo “vocalled” musical gibberish that seems to have no point, much less tonal center to fall back on.

Did we mention all the weird synthesized electronic effects and noises, or how much of this comes off in a sort of drunken, slightly bent tremelo, as if the band themselves were making fun of their own…er…for lack of a better word here, “compositions”?

It’s only on the quieter moments that some degree of sanity prevails, however briefly – “nowhere to be found”, “luxury themes”. But even those are rudely interrupted by screwed up Shudder to Think atonality and where the fuck did that come from, and why? moments, slathered in those weird electronic noise effects and those drunken tremelo bend bits?

Yeah, this is another easy consignment to the flames.

Hier kommt noch eine anderer belastung von scheisse!

DOKUGA / SYSTEMIK VIØLENCE – MAKE PUNK RAW AGAIN // SPLIT 7” EP 2017 (Raw ‘N’ Roll Rex) (November 15)

We’d covered Systemik Violence quite recently for their Anarquia Violencia, and here they share a split with fellow Portuguesas Dokuga, whose brand of hard driving blackthrash comes with a throaty fat guy punk vocal (sort of akin to the one guy in Biohazard with too many beers in him, or maybe the constipated dude who fronts Madball).

The guitars are thick and just as throaty as the vocals, and it all just works, once you stop snickering at the vox.

I found I actually preferred Dokuga’s three tracks here to Systemik Violence’s, despite enjoying their prior effort as previously noted. Nothing wrong with what they’re throwing down (and the sound bytes are pretty damn amusing – was that from Heavy Metal Parking Lot?)…but yeah, Dokuga wins this one, no question.

Well worth your time if you’re into the rawer, more punkish end of blackthrash.

Wendess – MMXXIII (Archaic Sound) (April 20)

Quebecois act working the whole “Cascadian black metal” thing established by the likes of Wolves in the Throne Room and Winterfylleth.

I tend to like acts in this subgenre – the melancholic, dramatic yet introspective feel (which you could read as “despairing” if so inclined) just works, even with iffy scream and shriek vox (Vardan, Wendess, etc.) trying their damnedest to ruin the mood.

So as noted, the vox are questionable, but acceptable enough in all their gargled glass straining at stool shriekiness, given the strange propensity of bands working this sound toward something similar.

In other words, you’ve heard this all before…and if you like what the band’s laying down, the vox, as crummy as they are, aren’t especially offensive by comparison to the rest of their ilk.

While Wendess tends to feel a bit more “busy” and in your face (that weird solo on “sommell profond”, for example) than they should be for music that inclines the listener towards pensivity and introspection, the bottom line is that they fit well enough within the expected confines of the “Cascadian” sound to neither offend or overly excite anyone. It’s decent, more than passable…but kind of right down the middle, and pointedly average in the final summation.

Again, I tend to like this subgenre and style as a whole, so I was good with this, make no mistake.

Just don’t expect something on the level of Winterfylleth, and you’ll be OK.

Bestial Invasion – Contra Omnes (Shellfire Attack) (December 22)

Overly tech thrash.

You’ve heard this sort of thing many times before in the tech/prog/”math” metal circles, particularly if you go back to the days of bands like Realm, Atheist and Watchtower. But despite some strong two handed skills from Denis Shvarts and Alex Klaptsov and more impressively, a rather Lethal-esque vocal from frontman Vakhtang Zadiev (hats off to you, sir!), I wouldn’t exactly put Bestial Invasion on the level of Watchtower or Lethal. Your call on the other two, I wasn’t much of a fan of either…

Even so, I’ve spent the last year really digging deep into the more obscure corners of classic US power metal, which borders closely on prog, thrash and yes, to some extent, tech metal…so I’m a lot more comfortable with this sound than if you’d called me on this one a year or so back.

Besides, when you’ve got a frontman that comes off somewhere between vintage Alan Tecchio, the guy from Lethal and Harry “Tyrant” Conklin’s work with Lethal Force…I’m with ya halfway already.

Sounds more akin to vintage bands like the aforementioned than the sort of questionable crap that came in their wake in more recent years.

To hell with reservations. I’m calling this a win.

Domedag – Nu Nalkas Domedagen (Archaic Sound) (April 20)

Weirdly black metallish take on the whole Viking schtick…and yet, comes off nothing whatsoever like Enslaved, Hades or Isengard.

…well, maybe Isengard, somewhat.

Lots of moaning, chanting and sorta death metallish growling and grunting over simplistic, sloppily blastbeat bedecked riffage. This is a compilation of two EPs, and the first one is the more interesting of the pair – the second falls into a strangely soundalike tempo and riffing for four of its eight tracks, with two of the others being a quick acoustic intro and outro.

Odd, but if you’re going to indulge, you’re doing it for the first four track EP. “Frost rost dod” aside, the rest is pretty much worthless.

Die Sonne Satans – Metaphora (AnnapurnA) (May 4)

Weird ambient electronic/synth business, apparently a reissue of a 1993 tape only release.

There’s absolutely nothing going on here other than BGM for a slasher flick, occasionally just droning single tone builds, sometimes with a tolling church bell, a few times with the sound of a cascading waterfall. Once or twice near the end, there’s even a church organ drone run with the tape reversed.

oooh, so much happening!

yeah, OK, whatever. When’s the slasher show up? Better yet, when do the nubile victims get their obligatory strip/nude scene?

Fair enough, but pointless.

Reverorum ib Malacht – Im Ra Distare Summum Soveris Seris Vas innoble (AnnapurnA) (May 11)

We’d previously reviewed their De Mysteriis Dom Christii and Ter Agios Numini, each of which resulted in some curiosity of intent, at the very least. They seemed to be shooting for something different, and that in itself was a plus, however light of one.

But this one goes off on weird tangents the band previously avoided.  Vox get really gargly and incomprehensibly noisy, as if the guy just downed a gallon of lye. They don’t bother even trying to pretend they have a drummer, just run those perfectly horrid Atari Teenage Riot 1000bpm high speed drum machine patterns.

Even in those moments where they slow down to a more midtempo pace, it’s just kind of bizarrely pointless, with coughing fits and angry growls (not the affected “growl vocals”, actual human growls) appearing in the strangest places. And did I mention the questionable production, that goes totally underwater in the more “bandlike” moments of tremelo guitar? Swish-ish-shwish like your download came in via the East River…

Yeah, if this is the same folks behind De Mysteriis Dom Christi, it doesn’t show much.

Trash.

Not even worth tossing in the Pyre, it’d probably just fill the area with toxic smoke, Koffing-style.

Borgne – [8] (Avantgarde Music) (April 8)

One man bedroom band…plus one female on keys.

Yep, this guy brought his “plus one” to the party…

Sort of akin to what we just saw with Reverorum ib Malacht, but with more normalcy and structure. A whole fuck of a lot of noise and atonality of background electronic effects and off-key drones and white noise, but there’s actual drumming, black metallish vox and some keyboard bits in there more or less keeping things grounded in spite of all that pointless schmutters appending…something the aforementioned act cannot, by any means or on any scale of measure, lay claim to.

But does that mean this is any good? 

Well…I liked the organ bits and female vocal parts on “un temps perit”…and if you’re big on that overused Watain Wannabe “black/death” bullshit, there’s the two part “I tear apart my blackened wings” for ya…

The very fact that we have to note the latter as some sort of a positive says a fuck of a lot more than going on about this further ever could.

Oy.

Next?

Unreqvited – Stars Wept to the Sea (Avantgarde Music)

Bombastic, almost epic take on gothic/symphonic metal, transplanted to a darker Cascadian black metal milieu.

Huge builds of keyboards and female choral vocals (possibly sampled), clean toned electric guitar that turns thickly distorted with fat, ringing chords and darkly melodic lead lines, drums that just as often play it straight or utilize a midtempo double bass approach as the tired childishness of the blastbeat…

This is all about the layering of sound, from quieter, pensive, even relaxed moments (even, at times, with foley nature sounds, as on “namida”) to a sub-Wagnerian build of drama and sorrow, an epic swoon of emotion that boasts crystalline production, excellent comprehension of song structure and how to utilize same and respectable playing ability.

Simply put, in a world becoming packed with the likes of Reverorum ib Malacht and Borgne (or worse, Dunnock, THRIF, Apocrophex, Subduer or Widow’s Peak!), we could use a fuck of a lot more guys like Unreqvited to set the record straight about what is and isn’t music, per se, and how to succeed at same, rather than falling flat on your face and expecting clueless fanboys to bolster your ego about how great you hallucinate yourself as being.

Sadly instrumental (could have used some female vox proper, rather than just that pleasant atmospheric “voice as an instrument” choral business we get herein)…but too strong not to get a raised set of horns in salute.

Neige Et Noirceur – Vent Fantôme (Avantgarde Music)


Another former Sepulchral Records Quebecois “Cascadian” style act gone to seed, we’d 
loved their Gouffre Onirique et Abîmes Cosmiques but fell precipitously with their subsequent Les Ténèbres Modernes.

Here the duo take things several steps further, releasing a two track, 44 minute bit of aimless mood music, where the flimsiest of “structures” (a thin, turned down distorted guitar drone, for example) gets the occasional Gravelandlike vocal, mumbling away about who the fuck cares what and trying their best to sound all sinister doing so.

Even actual electronic soundtrack acts made sure to put actual structure, tunes and forward thrust into their film-accompaniment compositions…this sort of aimless pseudo-ambient nonsense with zero purpose completely baffles and eludes me.
Who exactly is the audience for this stuff? And what do you find you get out of it, pray tell?
Yeah, whatever.

They used to be a decent Canadian black metal band, about 4 years ago.

Sorry, but that’s about all I can offer in their defense.

Next?

  

FILII NIGRANTIUM INFERNALIUM – Pornokrates: Deo Gratias (Osmose Productions) (May 25)
FILII NIGRANTIUM INFERNALIUM – Fellatrix (Osmose Productions) (May 25)
FILII NIGRANTIUM INFERNALIUM – Hostia (Osmose Productions) (May 25)

The first, second and third albums from this Portuguese blackthrash act…or is that, as the promo materials would have it, “black heavy metal” (whatever the fuck that means)?

To be fair, there is a definite distinction between what Filii Nigrantium Infernalium is working here and what you’d typically think of as blackthrash of any national stripe.

There’s a somewhat Udo Dirkschneiderlike gargle-shriek to our pseudonymous frontman “Belathauzer” (which I’m sorry, just makes me think of “Bowser” from Sha-Na-Na…not the most impressive of nom du plumes, there, amigo…) and while what the band is playing is clearly “blackened”, it’s less “thrash” than sort of NWOBHM to USPM overall. Not that there aren’t some easily discernible thrash riffs to chew on here…but yes, you can see why they wanted to separate themselves from the blackthrash crowd somewhat.

Of the three albums, it’s the second (techincally, the band’s third full length) effort Fellatrix which is clearly the best and most directly exemplifies what we’re discussing hereinabove.

This one is actually a re-recording of material previously released on their 2005 Fellatrix Discordia Pantokrator, here shorn of its unweildily lengthy moniker and (presumably) polished up to fighting form. Never heard the original version, but this one sounds pretty damn good, and when I say I dig these guys, this is the album I’m referring to.

Predecessor Pornokrates (a reissue of their second album from 2013) leans more first wave black metal, in the sense of, say, Italy’s Bulldozer…but more in their iffy transitional period, circa IX than their Day of Wrath/Final Separation heyday.

It’s more thrashy this time, but also more indebted to that black metal feel, with weird production that leaves the crunchier guitar bits sounding dry and up front, while slathering both vox and drums in a gargling, swishy reverb that leaves cymbal-driven signal bleed and a general vibe of overcompression hanging over the entire affair.

Not horrible, not a million miles removed, stylistically…but compared to the reworked Fellatrix, nah.

The final and most recent of the trio (and the band’s fourth full length release) features a very weird vocal from our pal “Belathauzer”, where half the time he sounds like he’s squealing in pain as if someone stuck his balls in a vise, then suddenly he tries for a clean (if warblingly awkward) power metallish vocal approach, flipping back and forth between the two at random.

The guitars are more pointedly thrash than ever, with sloppy Slayerlike solos and a similarly confused vibe to the vocals, in that they combine all that vintage thrashing with weird climbing riffs, some black metal feel and the attempts at trad or NWOBHM that worked so well on Fellatrix, ultimately leaving this album feeling like something of a mess.

Bottom line, there’s really no question here – grab yourself a copy of Fellatrix, tout suite.

If you’re really digging on it and hard up for more of the same, grit your teeth, take a deep breath and give Pornokrates a shot – it may or may not fill the bill for ya, in all its quirks and differences from the sound that worked so well on the aforementioned re-recorded album.

Don’t even think about Hostia, honestly. Even in its strongest moments, much like its ridiculous/hideous cover, it just doesn’t work.

More like Fellatrix, guys. The further you stray from that template, the more the albums (and listeners) suffer.

Pact – Enigmata (Moribund Records) (April 27)

Oy, “occult, black/death” metal.

Regulars already know where this one’s going.

Best we can say here? Watain goes a bit more thrash than usual. Lots of double bass in the midtempo sections.

WHIZZZ!!!

(sputter, spit, crackle)

Next?

  

NortherN (formerly Cold Northern Vengeance) – Desolate Ways to Ultima Thule (Moribund Records) (April 27)

We’d covered Cold Northern Vengeance’s Maelstrom 3 years back, and were pretty happy with it – droning, chanting gothic rock vocals over Viking metal in a manner that (in certain respects) brought Enslaved’s classic Frost to mind.

Well, the band name has changed, but not all that much else – this is still expansive, wintry sounding, mournfully (and probably ritually) chanted Viking metal.

The one thing that has changed is the vocals, which when not working the
aforementioned are more rasping shouts than gothicized deeper than deep baritone with a quaver. The guitars and drumming are still on point, the occasional keyboards still offer a more dramatic sub-symphonic feel at points, and the songs tend to be at least somewhat anthemic and motivating to action, if not the sort of festival fare you tend to expect from this subgenre.

Not bad, not bad at’all.

Raise them horns.

Subduer – Death Monolith (Dunkelheit Produktionen) (May 1)

ummm…was this a really poorly recorded demo?

I mean...really poorly recorded?

As in…sub-Guitar Wolf, signal wayyyy beyond “into the red” throughout, all scratching and shaking the speakers to the point where you know if you turn it up above conversational tone, you’ll ruin your fucking sound system, much less lose your hearing?

And why?  To hear some guy whine like Jerry Lewis half the time, before dropping a few death belches over weird industrialized electronic sound effect nonsense with some of the worst recorded garage grindcore any drunken teenager ever hit the record button to misguidedly attempt to capture?

Must be a joke.

Straight to the Pile of Dead Bards, consign this one to the tongues of its ceaselessly Flaming Pyre!

(elaborate ritual toss)

swish, baby!  That’s a motherfuckin’ slam dunk, I tell ya…

Next?

Djevelkult – Når Avgrunnen Åpnes (Saturnal) (May 25)

You know, one of those labels I always figure I can trust is Saturnal.

I mean, not like they haven’t dropped the occasional WTF on our heads (cough Barathrum cough), but even those have had at least one shining moment of merit, and possibly some history to justify their presence (well, you know, they were a “name” many years back, so…)

So thus it is that we come to what could arguably be yet another Watainish black/death act without giving said effort a nigh-instantaneous consignment to the oblivion of the Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards for purging and due penance. I mean, it’s on Saturnal, a label more “true” than most, run by a guy who actually knows his shit.

So a deeper investigation is due – there must be something more to this than easily apparent surface veneer.

Well, look. “Condemned to the Eternal Void” sounds rather like a more strongly produced early Graveland effort, just without the awkward don’t mind me, I’m just learning the drums accompaniment/detriment of Darken’s pal “Capricornus” gumming up the works. OK, something to be said for that.

They’re a Norwegian act, so you could also argue some influence of Tsjuder to tracks like “en ny tid” or “vredeskvad”, which isn’t exactly a terrible thing (especially if you’re thinking circa Desert Northern Hell). And there’s definitely a strong taste of dark melodicism to the titular closing track…which is very likely the album’s most standout moment (thus its choice as album title).

But while that’s enough to save ’em from the usual fate of bands working this general sound…I’m not sure it’s enough to praise them in any real respect, either.

Try the four tracks aforementioned, which are the pillars this one stands upon, and really aren’t that bad. The rest…meh.

Just don’t blame me if it collapses on your head.

Krolok – When the Moon Sang Our Songs (Inferna Profundus Records) (April 13)

Members from Slovakia’s Malokarpatan (whose Stridžie dni and Nordkarpatenland we covered and truly enjoyed) come together for this side project and demo.

Apparently either they or their distributor decided to pull a Les Legions Noires and only release 24 copies of the demo at the time (four years back), so this is your chance to hear this one in wider release.

Like their other act, Krolok are working that odd yet hypnotically appealing Eastern European first wave black metal vibe of acts like Masters Hammer, early Root and Tormentor, with a touch of the more standard song construction and dark post-thrash feel of Italy’s Mortuary Drape to round things off to a more perfect goulash of sinister, archaic atmosphere.

In other words, like Malokarpatan (and all of the acts aforementioned, at least in their earlier days)…I loved it.

You will too, unless you’re too much of a poseur and need Watain to tell you how to xerox yourself an image and sound.

In which case, fuck off, we’re sick of you.  That schtick was played out by the time they took up the mantle from the Gaahl-fronted Gorgoroth, much less all these years later.

Raise the horns once again, and raise them high.

Abhor (Italy) – Occulta religiO LP/CD/TAPE (Iron Bonehead) (May 25)

We’d previously covered their Rituale Stramonium back in 2015, and the oddness of it kept that album on the ol’ iPod for the better part of the 3 years since.

Interestingly, it seems like nothing whatsoever has changed in the interim – still with the church organ accompaniment (somewhat ala Gloomy Grim, but without the comic Tim Burton Jack Skellington vibe to push tongue firmly into cheek), the gargling, snarling vox and the sinister first wave black metal vibe.

Good with it then, good with it now.

If you dig the older school BM, this one (and even more especially, Krolok!) are for you.

Melan Selas – Reon LP (Iron Bonehead) (May 25)

Wow. You know how Rotting Christ, particularly in the early days, always brought strong elements of traditional and thrash metal to the table in what was otherwise more of a black metal milieu?

They were kind of unique for that, though (thankfully) some of their countrymen followed suit stylistically, making that somewhat of a Greek house style in terms of how to approach this subgenre of metal.

Case in point.

Two new tracks (the first of which is absolutely killer) appended to their self titled four track EP.

I’m always good with this whole Sakis and Themis Tolis-originated school of musical thought, and Melan Selas’ efforts here prove no exception.

Chairetismós!

Pseudogod – Sepulchral Chants DLP (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (May 15)

“Bestial black metal” (or “war metal” if you prefer…6 in one, half a dozen in the other) act out of Russia.

Even for this subgenre, the production is absolutely atrocious – it felt like someone had a blender on, or like there was a house being built next door, with the mechanical whine of construction tools appended by some slurring drunk trying to get your attention while vomiting all over the place. That’s the demo.

Then things get more subdued and buried in some nonexistent mix, but it still sounds pretty crummy, all mids and treble, you can barely tell there were drums. The vox sound more like death metal of the “underground” variety at this point. That’s the first split.

They sound a bit more dry and mids heavy, but certainly their first actual attempt at recording in an actual studio with some very minor production, on the second split and subsequent MLP (apparently recorded at the same time and place, to judge by the sonic tone and quality here.)

By the tenth track (from a split with Morobosidad), they almost sound like a proper death metal act. Of course, this can’t last for long, and by the thirteenth track, we’re back to nigh-incomprehensible rehearsal recordings.

Honestly, nothing else to say about this one. I mean, I have some Beherit recordings that are pretty damn raw for certain tracks, depending on the sourcing…but that’s Beherit, there’s a special vibe and appeal on offer there you simply won’t get with something as middle of the road generic as Pseudogod.

If this were solely tracks 10-12…or even 6-12, maybe it’d be a different discussion we’re having. And yeah, I’ll be the first one to vouch for getting the complete package, even with some questionable sound quality on the rarer tracks.

But sheesh…

Knelt Rote – Alterity LP/CD (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (May 15)

Noisy “underground” black metal bordering on grindcore, complete with some weird Suffocation/Immolationesque speed up and stutter phrases and guitar harmonic squeaks…until they throw in the ringing open chord Watain Wannabe shit over the top (“rumination”, for example) and try to make it “black/death” besides.

Certainly not template anything, but touches on several subgenres that, for the most part, don’t even fucking work in the first place.

Another one incoming…

Watch those flames roar in response.

Oksennus – Kolme Toista LP/CD (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (May 15)

Frank Zappa used to have these moments onstage, that would sometimes be edited into de facto “pieces” that fans could refer to going forward, where he jumped the shark straight out of rock, jazz and fusion territory into spastic, often intentionally amusing freeform atonality.

Squawks and squeals and skronks from various instruments, accomplishing little other than some inside jokes among the band and laughs from stoned audiences who liked the little dances and silly outfits that would accompany these strange interludes, before Frank got on with it and threw down an actual song or sleazy blues vamp to frantically solo over.

Problem is, the fans tend to see things like Uncle Meat as actual “pieces”, as if these were worthy in and of themselves.  And who knows, Frank may have intended a lot of this – we know he ran a tight ship, and like James Brown tended to have instrumental cues, which demanded immediate spontaneous improvisation from a given band member, or perhaps a particular phrase or musical style they were being cued to switch to on the spot.  In a way, it’s less “free jazz improvisation” than “erratic, spontaneously ordered composition”, which is a fascinating art in itself. Didn’t help the spastic nature of many of these “pieces”, though…

Why are we discussing Zappa in this context, you ask?

Well, it’s certainly got nothing to do with quality or musicianship, that’s for damn sure…

But much like those awkward on the spot improvisations, but without the humor (musical or visual), that’s exactly the sort of spastic atonal amusical gibberish you get with Oksennus…but with weird chanting and throat singing.

If I didn’t care for this sort of thing with Zappa, who was and remains one of my all time favorites (hell, I used to regularly refer to the man as “my second father”!)…how the hell do you think Oksennus is going to fare, doing the same sort of thing, but without the talent?

WHIZZZ!!!

snap, crackle, pop…

Sect Pig – Crooked Backs MLP (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (May 15)

Audio clips about subnormal IQ and enforced sterilization (which trip the line straight into far right theory before you know it) append this weirdly whispered (possibly intended as some backhanded Beherit swipe), then hock a loogie and belch pig noises-vocalled bit of nonsense.

At least there’s a really tinny single note guitar and messy drums attempting some form of a song behind it…so it’s probably an actual improvement over Self Reversed!

Pneuma Hagion – Trinity LP (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (May 31)

And the comedy continues. We covered this likely one man band’s Trinity I and found it wanting. Even so, he/they continued on for two further demos, a pair of splits and an EP.

This is a reissue of most of that material – all three Trinity demos and the EP, in one convenient frisbee.

I mean discus.

er…disc. 

Come on, you knew it was coming.

WHIZZZ!!!!

(sputter, spit)

Hey, look, don’t blame me for your pants getting set afire, I didn’t record this…

…next?

Flame Acausal – Contra Mundum in Aeternum CD (Blood Harvest) (May 18)

Swedish act.

Promo materials claim they’re shooting for black/death (nope, this is at best “blackened grindcore”, or some really crummy “bestial black/war metal” affair) and mention blackthrash bands like Slaughtbbath (who we covered no less than four times), but they’re really nothing like either Slaughtbbath or the now well established “black/death” subgenre.

Noisy as a bunch of nails tossed in a woodchipper, or a plastic cup ground up in a kitchen blender.

Nothing else to recommend about it, if you want to be so brave as to consider that a positive…

Next?

Ordeals / Daethorn – Split TAPE (Blood Harvest)

Two long mp3s that equal to sides of a tape (so each track runs four apiece, if you get the idea).

Side one is Ordeals, and they’re working death metal, more or less. You see, while it’s not grindcore or antyhing, it’s still not quite death metal proper, being kind of grinding and simplistic. Think early Malevolent Creation, with the same riff shifted up and down a semitone serving as “song structure”, but without the solos or production polish of a Scott Burns to make it into something worthwhile.

Side two is from French one man band Daethorn, and he’s working pretty much the usual black/death bullshit that keeps the Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards fed so well each month, though closer “inevitable demise” swipes a page or two from Van Drunen era Pestilence just to throw you off guard.

No idea what they thought they were getting at here. Ordeals isn’t quite death enough to be death metal, Daethorn is too strange and jumbled to make the Watain Zombie crowd happy…the whole split is just kind of bizarre in the end.

I’ll give this one a kind of sideways kick into the Pile, rather than a hearty windup and throw – I wasn’t exactly squirming in distaste listening to the Ordeals side, as iffy as it tended to be.

 

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