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This one may surprise you.

You know, every month we cover material spanning numerous styles and genres of the (generally “outside the mainstream”, “independent” and “cult”) music scene…and one of the nice things about it is that you get a good mix of both the new and the old.

Now, by “old”, I don’t just mean remasters and reissues (which are something I absolutely adore – polish up those old recordings, dig up those studio and demo obscurities, pack ’em with liner notes – it’s a rediscovery that often changes a longstanding opinion of a band or album entirely, depending on how much things get cleaned up or how comprehensive a package it winds up being)…but veteran bands, often seriously obscure, regional, even basement acts getting back together for a long-delayed chance at glory, or one last moment in the sun.

And, of course, all the young guns, still honing their craft and polishing their skills, often providing some respectable xeroxes of classic scenes, subgenres, bands and albums, other times syncretizing their influences into something new (and however abjectly rare it seems to be, even “original” on occasion).

Sure, there’s a lot to slam (aggro vox…black metal infecting genres to which it should never be adhered…). But there’s also a hell of a lot to celebrate, and many a vote of much needed confidence or constructive criticism to offer those just starting on their journey.

But being a veteran of several scenes over the years (in turn, and often returning to such with resurgences thereof, as with the mid-90’s US gothic rock revival, the return of actual punk in the late 90’s* or the retro-traditional metal movement of the early millenium), it’s perhaps only natural that the point of comparison here will revolve around those who pioneered these sounds and scenes, the originals, those who established this stuff first time around, upon whose rubble more recent iterations inevitably build.

* as opposed to the fake indie/grunge thing posing as such earlier in the decade.

And so I find it interesting that this month in particular, what comes to us from more veteran acts…is weaker, often far weaker, than some much newer material from much younger bands.  Read on, you’ll see what I mean.

And you know what? This is a good thing.

To be metaphorical about it, we’ll always have Sinatra, and a plethora of still-appearing, previously unreleased (or long lost) recordings to appreciate thereof.

But to say we have an Elvis…a Beatles…a Jimi Hendrix…or whoever you see as a defining yet worthy touchpoint for more recent decades and generations of music (which are far more arguable and contestable as to relative value and more open to personal taste…will history books speak to the 80’s in terms of shit like Whitney Houston, the 90’s and early millenium by prefab Disney Kids like Britney Spears or lame boy bands like N’Sync and One Direction, with more recent years defined by the detestable no-talent duo of Beyonce and Jay-Z? I pray I never live to see that day, if so…)

…this is more important, ultimately.

It’s great to have, say, the Iron Maidens of the world still with us, and even better to have new generations recognizing them as touchpoints to draw both musical palette and stylistic tips from.

But without the younger, more au courant iteration of same?  Just what the fuck do we have to look forward to, in ten years time?

Keep the metal (and punk, and goth) flame(s) burning, kids.

Respect where and when it’s due.

And now, on with the festivities…

DOKKEN – Return to The East Live 2016 (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (April 20)

You know, when I was in my teens, I won’t lie – while those first two Ozzy albums (and that posthumous mashup album Kevin DuBrow made of his Quiet Riot recordings) with Randy Rhoads were my #1 go to (alongside albums by Chastain, Loudness and King Diamond, before discovering thrash and the metal underground that would shortly birth the death and black metal genres)…I’d have told you my favorite band was Dokken.

Now, this was back in the Under Lock & Key days – the newest thing they had to offer was a killer single for Nightmare on Elm Street Part III (which gave us theaters packed to the gills with longhairs and their ladyfriends, just to sit through those end credits where the title track played) and its B-side, the driving “back for the attack”.

The fact that said song never made it to the album named after it said it all – I never liked that album or the subsequent live album Beast from the East (though “walk away” served as an excellent parting of the ways for the band, as well as being stronger than anything found on the boring, overly pop Back for the Attack album). Dokken for me was everything from the pre-Lynch era (there’s a nice German release out there…) and the days with Ratt’s Juan Croucier (love that Rockpalast VHS) through the aforementioned two track single, period. Fuck Back for the Attack and the live album that followed it.

So here’s yet another of those every 5 or 10 year cash grab full band reunions, where George and Don (and for that matter, Jeff and Mick) patch shit up long enough to bank another paycheck, give each other the bird and part ways once again. This round comes to you courtesy of the Japanese, always a diehard fanbase for metal and flash guitar players like Michael Schenker, Yngwie Malmsteen and yes, George Lynch, who paid the guys what I understand to be an enormous sum of money to come drop a show or three at the famous Loud Park. This is the result.

Like Beast from the East, you get one new studio track, “it’s another day”, but it’s a weak one, more akin to the sort of thing they were doing on Dysfunctional than “walk away” or anything from their classic era.

On the plus side, that track is at least listenable, and I’m surprised Don could even hold a note given that perfectly atrocious concert the wife and I caught him at a few years back (which led to a lengthy kiss off to the man and his music on my personal page at the time, so enraged was I at this execrable experience and Don’s abominable behavior towards the audience, not to mention his lengthy rants eviscerating the female population of Earth per se).

Instead of a gargling, overweight coke fiend rasping his way through about 3 notes of sprecthgesang while forcing his band of young nobodies to pull all the vocal duties in his place, you get more standard “cheats” of waning vocalists past their prime like dropping phrases an octave or two and descending a scale they used to ascend. He sucks, but it sounds more like a washed up old man trying to recapture old glories than…whatever the fuck that was, at that perfectly horrific show (which was in fact the worst I’d ever attended. Ever. From any band, any genre. Don, I want my fucking money back.)

For their part, Lynch keeps things on point, and while his style has changed for the worse over the years since the days when he won “guitar solo of the year” and wowed both players and air guitar proles alike on a regular basis, he’s perfectly capable of keeping things moving, dropping little fills and copping to the better part of what he’d put on record all those years ago.  You won’t find any orgasmic explosions of wild frenzy and flash (his version of “felony” remains my favorite guitar solo of all time for that very reason)…but he’s still a master class player.

Pilson’s bass is mixed louder than usual, so you can hear him plugging away, occasionally offering some walking lines the classic material simply didn’t show (whether due to vagaries of production at the time or simply the band’s choice of balance in the final mix and master), and Brown is…well, the simple, straightforward Bonhamesque drummer he always was, no flash, no frills.

The fact that Don’s voice didn’t break, there were no harsh rasps and that he could more or less pull off a careful, if hesitant sprechtgesang was impressive enough, considering.

If you’re expecting classic Dokken, you’re sadly mistaken and heading for a major crash of disappointment. But compared to the shit show Don offered when he came around town last?  This was fucking awesome.

Which really isn’t saying much, considering it’s an improvement from absolute rock bottom.  But yeah, if this were the show we saw?  It’d have just been a shrug of the shoulders, musing that no one stays young forever.

PRAYING MANTIS – Gravity (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (May 11)

Wow, Praying Mantis? The multi-vocalist, guitar driven step above NWOBHM act who gave us the priceless Time Tells No Lies (in and of itself, quite possibly the greatest single album in the entirety of NWOBHM)?

Well, yeah…or at least portions thereof. The Troy Brothers are still present and
accounted for…everyone else is new. They’ve apparently dropped a handful of albums over the decades (yeah, I know, we all figured they vanished off the face of the earth after Time Will Tell…) and this is the latest.

And it’s certainly no Time Tells No Lies.

Those expecting the complex riffing and sweet vocal harmonies of yore need not apply – while perhaps not a million miles removed stylistically (you can still make an argument that this is a similarly minded band, if not the same one), the years have brought some serious softness to their sound.

Listenable, but sleepy – like walking into a theater expecting an action film, then winding up watching a soapy romantic dramedy.

VEGA – Only Human (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (May 11)

We’d covered these UK melodic rockers’ Who We Are 2 years back, and once again, Harem Scarem’s Harry Hess is working the mix and mastering.

What appears to have changed is that the band seems to have picked themselves up and dusted off the more countrified pop and balladeering…for exactly half of the album.

So in place of that sort of snooze inducing Middle America pickup truck with the shirt off headin’ down to the local gin mill bullshit they always put in videos for the lame music they accompany, you get pleasantly harder rocking 80’s style AOR with good production, decent (if mixed a bit too high above the rest of the band) vox and some strong, emotive solos on tracks like “go to war”, “lets have fun tonight”, “worth dying for” and even “mess you made” and “fade away”. Even the straight up ballad “standing still” has enough of that 80’s beach movie feel to work, something you really couldn’t say about the softer Who We Are.

Of course, you still have six songs to contend with, all of which stick more to the polished soft rock sound we heard last time around…so consider this a work in progress for a band still evolving from schmaltz to something quite winning.

Keep it up, mates. Another album or two, you may have an all killer, no filler record in you yet.

JIZZY PEARL of LOVE / HATE – All You Need Is Soul  (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (May 11)

“Jizzy Pearl”?  Seriously?  This is what this guy went by?

Damn, and I thought Pearl Jam was a hopelessly sophomoric reference to sperm…was he sitting there listening to Ivor Biggun records when it came time to choose a pseudo?

(rolls eyes, sighs)

Anyway, you probably…at least if you’re of a certain age and were paying any attention to the Hollywood glam/post-GNR era that was sort of killing metal before grunge came around and finished the job definitively, heard of Love/Hate and their one album of note, Blackout in the Red Room.

For some reason, critics of the time just loved this one, and for the life of me I could never figure out just why.  One song of note (the title track), one video, one childishly scrawled cover (which even my drummer, who loved this genre of music and did in fact own the cassette, used to mock regularly and vociferously)…that’s all she wrote.

Not sure if they trudged along through the wasteland of the 90’s before throwing in the towel, but their impact was pretty damn minor – hell, D-A-D had a positive string of hits Stateside by comparison.  Even Circus O Power was more significant…but dammit, nobody got that praise in print like Love/Hate and Blackout in the Red Room.  Go figure what kind of shit the “music (un)intelligentsia” was smoking.

So here we are, 28 years later (and some pretty damn inconsequential years they were, historically, filmically and musically…did the entire world stop sometime in the 90’s, or did everyone just run out of new ideas?), and what does our man…er, “Jizzy Pearl” (again – seriously?) have in store for us?

Well…yeah, that’s the same raspy/whiny vocals I remember screeching out “blackout in the reeeed roooooom!” back at the dawn of the 90’s, so little has changed on that front.

The music…well, closer “mr. Jimmy” is straight up grunge. Opener “you’re gonna miss me…” is the sort of driving Aerosmith gone Hanoi Rocks hard rock/GNR sort of thing Love/Hate was ostensibly part of back when (though I don’t recall them being as good as the Junkyards or even the Cats N’ Boots of the scene, which this one is more akin to stylistically). “Frustrated” is probably the best track on here, almost like Dirty Looks and early L.A. Guns joined forces with Ratt. Seriously, this track is killer.

Unfortunately, after those three tracks…the rest is laid back, sorta bluesy bar band rock in that sort of Hollywood…well, these days people just say “glam” or “hard rock”, but back when, my drummer dubbed this whole tattooed scene and sound “dirtbag metal”, and honestly? It’s still the best fit.

So yeah, it’s a mediocre album full of “dirtbag metal”, with one must hear track, a good opener and a listenably odd, rather out of character closer.

LORDS OF BLACK – Icons Of The New Days (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (May 11)

Up and coming frontman Ronnie Romero of CoreLeoni and The Ferrymen is once again tapped for another power metal project, whose previous, rather cleverly titled II (cough) received a generally quite positive reception in these very pages.

In fact, looking back, our main gripe was the crappy in-house production by members of the band themselves, which was decidedly corrected here, with their latest and greatest actually being coproduced and mastered by Helloween veteran Roland Grapow.  So props for listening, guys – this is one hell of an improvement on that end!

As with their last go ’round, Lords of Black bring something uniquely their own to the table, a winning mix of dramatic, almost old school vibe traditional metal with the more likeable pre-Dream Theater variant of prog (think stuff like Queensryche, Crimson Glory and Sanctuary) and a strong base of power metal that in this mix and combination manages to set them apart from the legions of European power metal soundalikes.

Rather than the fifteen thousandth Helloween clone, these Spaniards actually sound like a distinct band with their own sound that happens to fall under the general header of prog/power…the sort of thing that’s been all but lost in the recent metal revival, but something entirely intrinsic to what made all those 80’s metal pioneers so fucking epic and much (over)copied legends to this day.

Solos are massive, vocals are raspy but soaringly powerful, and the album’s longest (and closing) track is actually its best…something that simply never happens with the more modern metal crowd.

Yeah, I liked these guys last time around…with the much improved production and a more assured, even more solid batch of material?

What the hell did you expect, a disgustedly dismissive toss into the Pile of Dead Bards?

Hardly. Horns raised high in salute – I really liked this one.

DOOMSDAY OUTLAW – Hard Times (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (May 11)

zzzzzzzz…huh? wha? oh, sorry. I thought we were back in 1993/4 all over again for a minute, there…so boring.

Oh, wait, it was just this so, so mid-90’s countrified semi-grunge bar band blues thing running through the headphones.  Wait, what year is it again?

For this sort of thing, it’s listenable enough…but who the fuck wants to go see Jackyl and Kid Rock playing shows off the back of a pickup at the local state fair anymore?

Next?

Gus G. – Fearless (AFM Records) (April 20)

We’d previously covered Firewind’s Immortals, which was actually yours truly’s first exposure to long past who cares era-Ozzy and that relatively long running European power metal band itself, and while it hardly knocked our socks off here, it definitely showed some promise and merit (not to mention potential as a “sleeper”, growing on the listener with time).

So here’s the same dude, without the addlebrained foot in the dog food dish Old Man Osbourne or even his own backing band to provide cover, and the operative question is…so? Why the solo album, when you’re the mainman of your own band (and a sideman in a high exposure one to boot)? And more, is it any good?

First off, like most such enterprises, it’s not exactly “solo”, as he’s working with one of the guys from Pink Cream 69 (the bassist, not the frontman…but he does take vocal duties here) and an Evanescence drummer. The end result? Sort of AOR-ish in a Frontiers way (mostly from the Rob Rock swallows hot gravel vox), with a very 90’s “metal” vibe (think something between Southern Groove and grunge, all melodic but very basic, detuned and self consciously “heavy” riffing). Then you get a flashy solo if you’re patient enough to sit through several minutes apiece, ten tracks full of that nonsense.

The more melodic/AOR moments (as in “nothing to say”) work better than the supposedly “heavy” ones, but ten minute or less long solos aside, it’s all one big shrug of the shoulders in the end.

 

BULLET – Dust To Gold (Steamhammer / SPV) (April 20)

Why in God’s name would you want to copy the hilariously shrieky tones of 3 Inches of Blood’s “Cam Pipes”…or for that matter, Tim “RIpper” Owens’ silly approximation of Rob Halford’s perfectly awful performance on the misguided Priest goes thrash misstep that was Painkiller?

Taking all of that and mixing it with a tad of Ron Keel at his most harridan housewife shrieking and Udo Dirkschneider at his most strained and gargling, the hilariously pseudonymous “Hell Hofer” works the silliest tropes of cliche “metal vocalist”.

It’s pretty funny, and really pulls the listener out of the spell being woven by the rest of the band – you have to work reeeeeeeally hard to get past him and just enjoy what’s being laid down here otherwise.

And that’s a shame, because those goofy-ass Midwestern truck stop waitress who just got goosed in her stretch pants vocals come over the top of some rather solid Accept gone American metal (Twisted Sister, early W.A.S.P., vintage Lizzy Borden) or even early 80’s Priest – all simple, punchy riffs with some really nice dual lead guitar over the top and prominent gang backing vocals of the German metal scene during the same era (Warlock, Accept, Rage, etc.).

No question six string team Alexander Lyrbo and Hampus (Krampus?) Klang live and breathe that era of metal (and to be blunt, Accept per se), and it really comes across in the quality riffing, leads and crunchy, yet wide open and negative space-prone production herein.

Overall, this is one hell of an album and one hell of a band.

If you can stop snickering at those “Hellishly” hilarious vocals, that is.

After 5 or 6 tracks (and a slug or two of the hard stuff), I certainly dug these guys.

Looking forward to the next one, to be sure.

   

SPACE ELEVATOR – II (Steamhammer / SPV) (May 25)

Another modern semi-hard rock act, this time a British act who appear to be somewhat obsessed with Doctor Who fandom.

Fronted by a woman who goes by the amusingly full of herself pseudo of “The Duchess”, these Old Blighty-ites boast longtime Whitesnake four stringer Neil Murray among their company, and apparently have some deal going with a Canadian company whose schtick is…you guessed it…the “space elevator” you see the band messing around on in the promo photos.

Music is pretty middle of the road, coming off somewhere between 80’s Heart, the Divinyls and Halestorm, but with more laid back, almost gothic metallish vocals that go a bit country on full on softsoap tracks like “the one that got away” (which could have been a Melissa Manchester castoff back when) or “all this time” (which sounds like a Rita Coolidge number).

Never less than listenable, but unlikely to light a fire under anyone’s ass any time soon.

You’d be glad to run across these folks working the stage during a local pub crawl, but what’s that saying, really?

FARGO – Constellation (Steamhammer / SPV) (May 25)

Remember Victory?  Sort of faceless German hard rock leaning metal act that was trying their damnedest (and succeeding) to sound like a typical late 80’s Hollywood glam act?  Herman Frank was briefly a member, post-Accept?) If the name doesn’t ring any bells, their one big hit probably will: “check’s in the mail.”

OK. That band? They were formed by most of the members of Fargo, a prior straight up blues rock band (who apparently boasted a pre-Lady, pre-Scorpions Mathias Jabs among their members.) Obscure enough for ya?

Well, anyway, Knorn and his fellow Fargo veteran Peter Ladwig have gotten back together to relive the glory days (alongside Mob Rules) drummer Nikolas Fritz), and that’s pretty much what you get here – bar band blues rock.

Well produced, probably great accompaniment to downing a few at your local country bar or what have you between all the George Thorogood, John Cougar and Tom Petty on the jukebox…but what the hell’s that saying?

This stuff certainly has its fans, and no denying these guys do it well.

But “classic rock” of this sort really never meant anything to me.

KLAUS SCHULZE – Silhouettes (Oblivion / SPV) (May 25)

Folks who really dig on the more ambient/trancey space rock end of the Krautrock spectrum are sure to be familiar with the name Klaus Schulze.

An early member of Tangerine Dream, he departed their ranks in the early 70’s to drop a ridiculous number of marginal albums exploring the more dreamy/drugged out end of the electronic music scene, occasionally traipsing into soundtrack waters (perhaps most notably, for Harry and Bill Kerwin’s entertaining Barracuda) but more often winding up as BGM for yoga classes and meditation sessions alongside folks like John Tesh, Enya and Kitaro.

Here he’s definitely working the space rock end of the spectrum, coming off like the soundtrack to a Mass Effect entry across four 15-22m tracks.

Inconsequential, to be sure – but sets a mood and should work quite well for the Tangerine Dream crowd.

 

Voices – Frightened  (Candlelight/Spinefarm) (April 27)

Ackercocke drummer David Gray and and recent vintage (former) bassist Peter Benjamin join forces, using Benjamin as frontman. Oh, and current iterations of that earlier act share guitarist Sam Loynes (who works keys in the new Ackercocke). Got all that?

Oddly, while the vocal approach and tonality is much the same, what’s lost in translation between the two bands is that relatively winning sense of (arguably) straightforward death metal meets post-black/progressive melodicism.

Now, you can’t possibly argue that tracks like “leviathan” or “words that go unspoken” are really stretching the limits of “progressive death” or what have you – compared to, say, more recent Gorguts or something like Meshuggah, they’re just hummable tracks with a feeling of solidity to them.

But Voices, on the other hand…while you can certainly hear strong ties to Ackercocke stylistically, this is more pointedly indie/post-black metal in orientation, and many tracks (like “dead feelings”, “home movies” or “sequences”) just break form at some point or other to veer off into quirky atonalism and multi-phrase diversions into screaming (or shrieking) aggro if not nu metallish nonsense (“dead feelings” more into that silly howling and yodeling thing you hear with really bad “black metal” acts of late, but same crappy idea) before pulling back into a weird cross between the early Cure and prog metal.

It’s hardly unlistenable overall – you don’t just lose your musical footing overnight to become one of those shitty bands we consign to the Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards each month, that takes an utter lack of talent and sheer uncomprehension of what makes proper music of any sort. Rest assured, Voices is not one of those acts, nor are they in any danger of becoming one any time soon.

But it’s more “off” than my experience of Ackercocke, less winning and decidedly more indie/experimental in focus.

Polished and assured, but a bit too uncertain in direction for my tastes.

Ihsahn – ‘Amr  (Candlelight/Spinefarm) (May 4)

The former Emperor frontman ups his game after last year’s surprisingly decent Arktis by adding old school synths to one or two of its tracks.

By far the strongest of these kicks the album off (“lend me the eyes of the millenia”), but don’t let that one fool ya…from there on out, it’s back to a more spare guitar/drums black metal riffing crossed with the more prog to avant garde leanings of his solo work (if thankfully more the former than the latter this time around).

Clean sung choruses and bridges vaguely akin to a less bombastic or winning Vintersorg alternate with a more typical blackened croak and plenty of tremelo riffing…but while clearly operating inside the black metal spectrum per se, there’s plenty of “post-” and “indie” to all the quirkiness, negative space and outside influences at play herein.

Even so, despite all the mellow moments (“samr”) and more normative-crowd appealing sections that fill a fair portion of the running time, there’s more than enough of the expected business to keep the punters and longtime fanboys happy. It’s really not bad all around, and that’s all there is to it.

I just wish he’d stuck to the dark synth take on black metal presented on the very misleading opening track. There’s simply nothing else on the album that even comes close to it stylistically or in terms of quality and appeal.

  

BLACK ORCHID EMPIRE – Yugen (Long Branch Records) (May 25)

Well, this one comes with raves from Skunk Anansie’s “Skin”, so you know…well, what the hell do you know from that?  Used to like that band, two good albums back in the day…then poof! Vanished like a puff of smoke. Who the hell knows, it was a 90’s thing.

Anyway, I guess somebody dug her up, wherever the hell she’s been hiding for 20 plus years…and she gives these guys props, for what that’s worth.

UK three piece, there’s definitely a 90’s grungelike vibe going on – sort of Bush, sort of Foo Fighters, a hint of Clutch or Sponge, that kind of thing. Guitars very overdriven and mixed right up in your face, with breathy, incessantly sighing vocals that rip into more angry shouts and suchlike, without ever approaching that stupid aggro thing everyone seems to fall back on nowadays.

Geez, that gives me pause. If you’d have told me I’d be (comparatively) praising 90’s grunge and indie rock two decades on, I’d have laughed heartily in your face and poured a beer on your head…

Anyway, you get the general idea of where these geezers are at.

Didn’t do a hell of a lot for me, but honestly? Nothing wrong with it, and after a day filled with growlers and screamers, it was almost refreshing.

(shaking head here, laughing in disbelief at having typed that…)

And hey, if Skunk Anansie’s “Skin” gives it the thumbs up, you know it’s got to be…er…

…I don’t know what that’s saying, actually.

Yeah. Whatever. They aren’t bad at all, given what they’re shooting for.

Monument – Hellhound (Rock Of Angels Records) (May 25)

UK power metal. I was pretty sure they were Running Wild wannabes from opener “William Kidd”, but they also pull the King Arthur schtick (“the chalice”) and the Grave Digger historical thing (“Atilla”) before going full on metal cheese (“nightrider”, “wheels of steel”, “creatures of the night”, etc.) for the remainder of the album.

They really seem to have a thing for swiping famous metal song and album titles from back in the day to sell their own, completely different material…which is just strange. I mean, beyond the three just noted, you’ve got “straight through the heart”… and their last album was entitled Hair of the Dog. Seriously?

Even so, the dual guitar work from Dan Baune and Lewis Stephens is winningly catchy, the production is pretty decent (some annoyingly trebly hiss on the cymbals aside) and allows the riffs space to breathe, and there’s a very NWOBHM feel to both riffing and Peter Ellis’ thickly accented, almost spat out (but clean and compared to most of what serves as a “frontman” nowadays, downright melodic if not Dickinsonian) vocals (particularly evident in their cover of Maiden’s “deja vu” and choice of recent Maiden knob twirler and fader pusher Tony Newton on the production end.)

Lack of originality in subject matter and/or song and album titles aside? These guys are pretty damn good, actually…

Yeah, I’ll give ’em an easy win. Raise the metal fist in salute.

Age of Taurus – The Colony Slain (Rise Above Records) (May 18)

Former Cathedral four stringer Leo Smee offers rhythmic support to this rather Trouble meets Candlemass affair.

Frontman Toby Wright handles both vocal and six string duties here, and despite an odd lack of assurance in reaching for higher notes, still manages to come off somewhat better than most Candlemass singers whose surname does not equate to “Marcolin”: declamatory enough for doom but a touch more melodic on choruses.

In fact, like Trouble (and to an extent, earlier Candlemass), Age of Taurus mixes the Sabbath/Vitus/Pentagram “trad doom” thing with a heaping if not equal helping of trad metal in the NWOBHM spectrum (thus touching, however daintily, on the borders of similarly indebted subgenres such as USPM and vintage thrash.) You can pick up some very obvious if not blatant touches of both Maiden and Satan herein, with some rather NWOBHM-inspired leads (often doubling himself for that patented dual lead thing for which that scene was so noted).

Bottom line, give it a quick listen. If you’re good with the vocals and dig the bands aforementioned (and who the hell wouldn’t?), you should be fairly well chuffed by this one.

Stronger than at may at first appear, this is a Colony well worth investigating further.

IRON VOID – Excalibur (CD, LP, TAPE) (Shadow Kingdom) (May 25) (Europe, vinyl – rest TBA)

Totally retro minded doom metal very much in the vein of classic Trouble.

There’s a bit of other influence bleeding through – some of the meandering solos spell Cathedral, the relaxed vocals come off somewhere between Witchfinder General and Pagan Altar, the heavily distorted, yet muted and somewhat sludgy guitar tone falling somewhere between Trouble and St. Vitus with riffs that at times feel a tad Pentagramish or even Sabbathlike. But overall, this is quite Trouble-esque, or would be if Trouble had been more of a stoner act than they ever truly were.

Chugging rhythms give way to gallops, there’s always a nice melodic bridge leading into the chorus, vocals are clean and a bit sad (not exactly Warning-level, but certainly on par with most vintage NWOBHM in their stridency).

After awhile, it gets a touch samey from track to track…but it’s got the right feel, tone, vocal approach and production style to leave these guys on par with the very best bands in the traditional doom genre. So what’s to complain about? This is damn good stuff.

Turn it up to 11 and watch your speakers melt.

ALMS – Act One (CD, LP, TAPE) (Shadow Kingdom) (May 25) (Europe, vinyl – rest TBA)

I have to laugh.

Promo materials touted these guys as the logical successor to both Deep Purple and Uriah Heep…and you know what? I can see it. They were pretty much right! Such a crazy combination…who’d’a thunk it?

So if you love droning church organ in the Hammond style appended to throbbing, loud and in your face 70’s style guitar with that sort of momentously declamatory Blackmore style, all in the service of something far more doom-centric…yeah. You just found it.

Hell, there’s even male/female vocals going on. All in unison, mind – unison vox, guitars and organ playing the same notes and patterns together in time. Don’t expect complicated harmonies and busy structure, here.

But if you like your doom particularly bombastic and 70’s hard rock in feel? You probably won’t find much closer to, say, a Jethro Tull/Deep Purple mashup than this.

POUNDER – Faster Than Fire 7″ (Shadow Kingdom) (May 25) (Europe, vinyl – rest TBA)

Wow! And the only band I may have liked more than Iron Void this month is…

Of all people, the guy behind the excellent retro-Death revival act Gruesome, Matt Harvey takes the lead on this decidedly mid-80’s US power metal act, complete with killer riffs, excellent (and I mean excellent) melodic leads very much in the style of the day…and quirky, faltering (if clean) vox. Which in their very shakiness just make Pounder even more pointedly USPM (have you ever really explored the genre, beyond a few “big names”?)

As usual with vintage (or retro-) USPM, the slower, more midtempo to anthemic power balladesque tracks work soooo much better than the faster, thrash/speed ones (which tend to fall apart under their own weight).

Opener “come alive” is the decided gem of the trio of tracks on offer herein, with “last stand” holding up pretty well aside from the off-key (well, different mode, really) verses…the title track comes off more like a Deathrow castoff (or perhaps an unreleased bonus track on the first Rage album), and really isn’t worth naming the whole EP over.

Even so, this is so much closer to the much-ignored if not seemingly forgotten 80’s US power metal sound than anything we’ve heard of late (returning salvos from bands like Hexx and Jag Panzer aside), there’s simply no way I could give this one anything less than a raised metal fist in salute.

Bang those fucking heads, it’s time to make the front row bleed!

VHÄLDEMAR – Shadows of Combat (Fighter Records) (June 12)

Geez, it’s only been a few months since these Spaniards’ Against All Kings, a solid if decidedly template European power metal affair that was as listenable (and festival worthy) as it was undistinguished from a very large playing field of very similar bands in the genre.

Here Fighter Records digs deeper into the band’s back catalogue, to reissue their very first album from 5 years ago (yes, that makes their track record one album per year, folks…) and tagging on a bonus track left off of the aforementioned Against All Kings to boot.

Well, I’m not sure if it’s due to today’s mood, a year’s distance or simple objective fact, but while the overall assessment of Vhaldemar as a band remains the same, I found this earlier effort far more driven, high energy and yes, likeable than their more recent work.  This is definitely music to race down the highway with, to celebrate some personal victory or to beat the crap out of some asshole in a fistfight to, take your pick.

Solos are melodic and well phrased, the playing is solid throughout, the vocal tone is quite reminiscent of Jon Oliva circa Hall of the Mountain King (the raspy shouting end of same more than the declamatory bellowing thing, but still…) and it takes more than three tracks before they even think about slowing down to a more midtempo chug.  You can also pick out touches reminiscent of both Accept and Grave Digger, but with more melodically inclined, well phrased and at times, oddly mainstream rocklike solos (as in the appropriately named “metal & roll”).

Then the bonus track kicks in, and despite a far more gargling tone to the vocals (geez, guy, blow your nose or something…you just sound snotty here) and some sappy keyboard accompaniment smoothing things out too much…it almost fits. The riff is good, the bassline is strong if extremely basic, but it comes off quite 80’s Teutonic power/speed, were it not for the cheesy keys (and backing vox) pulling things a bit too far towards a Crematory-ish gothic/power metal for their own good.

Probably exemplifies just why the rest of this record worked so much better than I recall (and reviews show) Against All Kings as doing, actually…but drop all the overproduction and goofy cross-genre flourishes, and you have a pretty damn solid Euro power metal band on your hands.

Again, liked this one so much better than Against All Kings.

 

Urarv – Argentum (Svart Records) (June 1)

We’d covered these Norwegians’ Aurum last summer, and once again, they return from “mental institutions” (something claimed last time around as well). Who knows, listening to the weird, clearly emotionally unbalanced vocals here, we could be talking an even more unhinged Roky Erickson or Ol’ Dirty Bastard…I mean, seriously?

Of course, it could just be some weirdo who has a serious jones for Isengard and Fenriz’ “vocal contributions” to the old death metal era Darkthrone material on Goatlord (the album, not the band.)

Either way, the music is annoyingly “experimental” and “avant garde” black metal, and the vocals are just…insane, unhinged, screwed up, take your pick of derogatory superlative here.

I will say that Argentum does feel more aggressive and pissed off than Aurum did, so there’s something of…well, not an improvement, but it makes it move faster and come off more acceptable, I guess.

Judging on a very skewed curve, of course.

Pointless. But definitely better than Aurum, for what little that’s worth.

Shitty Person – Judgement (Svart Records) (June 1)

Boy, somebody really likes Lycia…not to mention Audra.

Another release that surprises me for not being part of the Projekt Records or Prophecy Produktions roster, this is yet another member of what appears to be a third wave gothic movement making its way around review circles of late, best exemplified by acts like Weathered Statues, though more directly indebted to the dreamier, more depressive (if not hazily psychedelicized) Projekt-style mid-90’s darkwave.

It’s all dark and dreamy, with a mix of clean guitars and old fashioned fuzztone distortion (so light and tinny it sounds like they recorded it through a portable Tom Scholz Rockman unit), all heavily reverbed, chorused and delay-bedecked pedal tones and ringing arpeggiation under somewhat rarified deep baritone (male) vox and cooing background (female) vox.

Interestingly, there seems to be some underlying business about PTSD in relation to leaving a background in fundamentalist religion…which is a real thing, folks. Any merits of belief in something higher and better aside, as with any cult (secular, sacred or infernal), there’s no question some of these clowns can really fuck with your head and life, if you’re weak enough at whatever point to let ’em.  Selah.

At their best (read: darkest), they sound like they could have wound up on one of those Cleopatra Gothic Rock comps of the era…though more often, they just come off like Audra decided to cut a Lycia tribute album.

Which is still a compliment, in case you’re not among the faithful.

  

Pelagos – Revolve (Svart Records) (June 8)

Trippy indie affair from former members of Circle.

Sort of shoegaze meets the likes of Mazzy Star (“island of pelicans”) or even The Smiths (that “how soon is now”-like riff on “river”), this is what you might get if Echo & the Bunnymen were less depressed and more inclined to drop a tab or two of E before hitting the local club circuit some late evening…

…just don’t quite expect Circle from this.*

* well, except with respect to all the trancey repetition, anyway.

I was quite comfortable with this, yeah.

Various Artists – Dance for Your Life – Rare Finnish Disco & Funk 1976-1986 (Svart Records) (May 25)

Eurodisco comp. The promo writeup tells us that disco was never quite as big (or at least “critically accepted”) in Finland as it was in hotbeds like the US and Italy, but those who were alive at the time know it was a global phenomenon…and even the most resistant of nooks and crannies still made way in the face of its unstoppable onrushing wave, like it or not.

While there’s little on here to match the greats of the scene (no Alex Naumiks or France Jolis, much less Alec Constandinoses or Sylvesters) and not even the more “mainstream” faces of the (fake) “disco explosion” like Tavares, the much maligned Bee Gees or the supposed “queen of disco” Donna Summer (few if any of whom were ever actually accepted by those in the culture, all of whom became the overplayed radio and filmic faces thereof for decades to come), you still get some Love Unlimited Orchestra soundalikes (Dance), an ersatz Odyssey (Kaikki Kaunis) and even some Giorgio Moroder wannabes (Ota).

Some tracks are very mixed in impact – Peak Funktion’s “freakin’ at the disco” is dead on during the verses, but gets oddly P-Funkicized (or possibly Midnight Starr-ized) for the ridiculous choruses, 17 Caron’s “dancing in the night” is a very good take on Loose Ends…who were an influential British R&B act from the mid to late 80’s, long after disco was declared “dead”.

I remember hearing the very last disco song to chart, Patrick Naughton’s “makin’ it”, on my little transistor radio circa 1980. After that? Dance clubs moved to freestyle (following the success of two extremely popular tracks by Shannon) and it was all about urban US R&B on one hand and urbane UK synthpop on the other…there was no such thing as “disco in the 80’s”, anyone who claims such simply wasn’t there.

Even so, less than 1/3 of the tracks on here fall under that umbrella – the first 12 or so are all some variant of disco (even the ones that cop from Moroder’s soulless yet strangely influential electronic take thereof).

Are they good disco? Hmm…well, it’s debatable, particularly with such a diverse batch of performers and a 10 year range in play. But face it, if you dig old school disco and start jonesing for the likes of Shalamar, Skyy, Evelyn “Champagne” King or Divine (yep, he was a “disco diva” too…), you should find yourself right at home here.

I, for one, was glad to hear this one (and its more synth/electro driven companion piece last month, Satan In Love) in the review queue.

Now where’s that dollar store Radio Free Europe stamped vinyl of Handle With Care, again? Think I’m prepared to “feel a love” right now…

Witch Mountain – S/T (Svart Records) (May 25)

Okay, let’s get the big question out of the way right off the bat.

New girl Kayla Dixon is a better singer than departing frontwoman Ula Plotkin.

There, it’s been said. She’s got a fuller tone, a bluesier howl, a more dynamic range and a hell of a lot more force and drive than anything we’ve heard to date from Ms. Plotkin.  Period.

So how does this self titled EP stand up to prior work? Well, beyond the obvious and aformentioned personnel swap, the production is a hell of a lot better – it’s clean and crisp so you get a good showcase for those (much) improved vocals, while still managing to be muddy enough on the distorted guitars.

And yet…the drums sound comparatively clear, as well.  Not enough to be annoying and offer a lot of unnecessary cymbal driven signal bleed, mind…but there’s clarity there, leaving only the guitars sounding like a drugged out haze of mush.

It’s slow and doomy, crunchy and Sabbathy when needed (“burn you down”), and they even throw in an acoustic track with a multi tracked chorus of backing vocals just to showcase Dixon’s powerhouse performance (“hellfire”).

Suffice to say, like her or no, a certain someone is not missed.

Good stuff, no question.

Uada – Cult Of A Dying Sun (Eisenwald) (May 25)

Two years back, we covered these Oregonians’ Devoid of Light and found it fascinatingly off kilter, like some off in left field reinterpretation of black metal, neither adhering to any accepted template or falling into the oft-derided indie/hipster territory of “post-black”. It simply felt original, which is quite a rarity in these days of often slavish copycatting of both the classic and the recently successful (cough numberless legions of Watain Wannabes cough).

Well, I’m glad to report that Cult of a Dying Sun neither repeats or deviates overmuch from what they were laying down last time around. It’s a very different album, much more lush and anthemic in its folkish melodicism and bombast, and the production is excellent, offering a fullness to the point where it sounds like there are three guitars both doubling tones and harmonizing with each other throughout (there are only two six stringers involved, but no accounting for studio craft and effects).

In fact, there’s so much of an anthemic yet melodic vibe to all of this that it’s somewhat surprising Uada weren’t a Finnish band, that nation seeming to have a lock on this sort of instantly winning, even stirring form of an otherwise rather moribund black metal scene these days.

We gave the last album an easy horns up.

This one’s ten times better.

THE KONSORTIUM – Rogaland (Agonia Records) (June 1)

OK, quiz time!

What would you get if you crossed post-Grom Behemoth with Tsjuder?

Yeah, I know, who’d actually give a shit, that’s my choice, too.  But if you had to say something more positive.

That’s right! Norway’s The Konsortium, who mixes the speed and aggression (and crisp production quality) of Norsecore with the snooze inducing “black/death” bombast of Behemoth to…well, about as little effect as you’d expect from that, really.

“Yay! Aren’t we happy!” – a dismayed agent Danny Reed, trying to put a brave face on a bad situation in Holiday Inn (1942)

umm…well, the band contains some “notables” from black metal of yore, drummer “Dirge Rep” (Enslaved, Aura Noir) and bassist “Teloch” (Gorgoroth, 1349, The Fake Mayhem post-“Euronymous”). It’s busy, fast and crisply produced…I guess it’s sorta listenable for its type…

yeah, sorry, I’m out of positives.

Next?

  

Circenses – Tightrope Walk on the Ground (Inverse Records) (May 8)

Metalcoreish/melodeathlike one man affair with lousy aggro vox throughout.

A few wheedly-whoo sweep arpeggio bits and some offtime phrases are supposed to convince the listener that this is somehow progressive metal, but nope…it’s somewhere between metalcore and melodeath (or perhaps this “deathcore” shit the tweeny crowd seems to go for, and which I’ve been blessed enough to either utterly avoid or tune out without knowing).

BLUUHHH BURRRP GAAAHHH GRRUUUGGGHHH WUAHHHH!!!

Yeah, whatever.

A few melodic metalcoreish phrases on the guitar can’t save this one from the inevitable.

WHIZZZ!!!

(snap, crackle, pop)

Ladies and gentlemen, the Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards has claimed its first victim this month. Let’s hope we can keep the fire department away for a change…fingers crossed.

Next?

Jack 13’s Panzercrow – Nightmare Returns (82 Records) (April 20)

Swallow your tonsils and gargle!

That’s the vocal style of one “Jack 13”, whose Mighty Mighty Bosstones approach to…er, “singing” we mocked previously with his main band Scarecrow.

This is a solo/side project, which means that the whole reason you suffered through his questionable vox with Scarecrow – i.e. the catchy AFI / Vladimirs / Misfits-esque “horror punk” – is more or less entirely missing from the proceedings this time around.

Not to say this isn’t at least grinding midtempo hard rock with a few melodic punk-style moments scattered throughout (“nightslashers”, “return of the living dead”)…but to call this album “horror punk” or punk of any stripe would be a serious stretch, if not an outright misnomer (those two ill-fitting, more Scarecrow-esque tracks aside).

So the operative question here is, do you really get off on guys who sound like they’re gargling Drano instead of mouthwash?

If so, have at it.

If not, forget it.

SENDWOOD – Fist Leaf (May 18)

Well, the first track leaves you thinking they’re some weird hipster take on heavy music (that whole Blues Traveler harmonica bit is so far out of left field, you’d never believe it…), but then they go all Clutch with the simplistic stop/start riffing, Primusesque with the self consciously goofy corner of the mouth mumbled vocals (“needle”) and a touch Sponge in overall tone (“demon”, “leash”).

There’s even some goofy screamo phrases just to make the mid to late 90’s feel complete…

If that’s the sound you’re looking for, have at it.

Me? I’m bored.

Next?

OVERDRIVERS – Rockin’Hell (June 1)

Somewhere between Junkyard, Jackyl, Dirty Looks and Bon Scott-era AC/DC, you get Aussie rockers Overdrivers, who come a hell of a lot closer to recapturing the spirit of the latter than any dozen bands you could name in the decades since.

Really basic stuff with vox that are just this side of too whiny/raspy for my taste…but enough of that hard rockin’ boogie band feel (and not a million miles from some weird cross between Brian Johnson and Bon, emphasis on the former) to work.

Especially when you tag in those tasty, well phrased Angus Young lite solos…

Again, we’ve heard similar stuff before, Dirty Looks being almost as close an analogue to what these fellas are working as the pre-international fame Young brothers and company…and they certainly lack Bon’s flair for lived-in authenticity and ribald storytelling.  But come on…who the hell’s filled those shoes, in the 38 years since he passed?

That’s right, nobody.

So yeah, I’ll take this. Close enough to hit the sweet spot.

Lords Of Acid – Pretty In Kink (Metropolis) (May 18)

Does DJ culture still live?

Way on back in the early to mid-90s (seems like half a lifetime ago, seems like just last week), one of the many stops many of us made during the Stateside decade plus long exodus from all things metal (voluntary or no) was to the deeper reaches of the danceclub.

Now, I certainly have a few vintage 12″ mixes that still are near and dear to my heart – Cetu Javu, Secession, the Erasure’s “I love saturdays” remixes, BiGod 20, you get the idea. But as a general rule? There’s only two acts from those days that have remained in fairly regular rotation for all these years – My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult (I See Spirits and 13 Above the Night), certainly.

But the other, though admittedly less often pulled out and dusted off for another airing…is the Lords of Acid’s classic debut, Lust.

I mean, come on – “take control”, “I must increase my bust” and especially “I sit on acid”?  These were club staples back in the day, and as dated as much of the album sounds more than a quarter century on, you simply can’t deny the sinuous sensuality and sheer sleaze of that last track…there’s a damn good reason it appeared in both “original” and “remix” versions (and I understand, yet a third iteration in later pressings thereof) – this was both the band’s opening salvo and defining statement.

Unfortunately, the catchy Ludo remix of “the crablouse” aside, followup Voodoo-U was something of a major disappointment and shift in style from dark whimsy and deep club music to more of a mainstream industrial gimmick sound, complete with far less appealing vocals from new (if apparently short lived) member Ruth McArdle (later replaced by a Deborah Ostrega to even lesser effect). The change seems to have gained them more radio play and presumably sales (their albums seemed to be unavoidable in stores like Tower for at least the remainder of the 90’s), but left fans of their earlier material like yours truly feeling left out in the cold.

So here we are, many a year on, 6 albums and two long hiatuses later the band…or what remains of such, both Oliver Adams and “Jade 4U” having gone their separate ways since – having gone quiet for a good 12 years between 2000 and 2012, then again for half that till now), and what drops into my unsuspecting lap but another blast from the far reaches of my past. So how does the loveably titled Pretty In Kink hold up to their glory days of 12 inch mixes (and the subsequent, almost all inclusive Lust)?

Well, mainman Praga Khan has brought in yet another frontwoman, this time a Marieke Bresseleers (replacing 2012’s Mea Fisher, who replaced Ostrega, who replaced McArdle, etc. etc…), and while it’s certainly no Lust (not even close...), all the usual suspects are here and accounted for: filthy talk, cussing, kink and a nigh-all consuming obsession with sex.

Weirdly, the sound is quite retro, as if Lords of Acid were put to bed right around Voodoo-U, only to awaken, Rip Van Winkle style, here in 2018. The same thin toned, overprocessed guitar (or is that overdistorted keyboard guitar sample?) tones and busy drum machine bits, the same sort of vox McArdle and Ostrega were dropping…and the same late night danceclub phone sex-style female dirty talk.

The trick is…back in the early 90’s? Nobody’d really heard stuff like this, apart from transgressive No Wavers like Lydia Lunch, and a few brazen New Wave synthpop acts like Berlin (Pleasure Victim-era) or hell, even the cheesy Animotion (“obsession”). In those pre-2 Live Crew days? It was new, kinda exciting, even groundbreaking in a weird way. Women just didn’t talk like this, certainly not in public.

In 2018? It’s so old hat as to just come off a bit crude, if not a touch passe.

Even so. If you dug Lords of Acid back in the day, you’ll find yourself in some very familiar territory here…and while it may all come down to nostalgia in the end, there’s certainly nothing wrong with that.

POSTHUMAN ABOMINATION – TRANSCENDING EMBODIMENT (COMATOSE MUSIC) (JUNE 8)

“Brutal death metal”, arguably “tech death”. Yep, it’s yet another conclave of Suffocation fanboys, doing their damnedest to…well, simply repeat what the Suffolk County veterans had already done, and better, on a series of Scott Burns-produced albums and EPs throughout the early to mid-90’s.

As ever, hey, I like the template they’re stealing from – you can say the same thing about Bathory and Death (or Possessed, depending on who you believe) and their many copycats over the years (particularly in recent years, where swiping from the masters has become something of a rite of passage, if not an art form in and of itself).

But is there anything you can say about Posthuman Abomination that you didn’t already say about Suffocation?  Apart from not having that crisp Morrisound production or any real distinctiveness from one track to the next?

Ay, there’s the rub…

If you just want to fill your shelves with Suffocation xeroxes, these guys are no better or worse than any dozen or so previously reviewed in these very pages – that’s about the best I can offer.

Supreme Carnage – Morbid Ways to Die (Redefining Darkness Records / Raw Skull Records) (May 25)

Thick toned, punchy and well produced German take on a rather modern feeling, yet (comparatively) classic approach to death metal.

Riffs are decent if a tad unspectacular, as are the solos – “the world is lost” is about as standout and classic as this gets, with “you die alone” feeling a touch (early) Amorphis.  Even so, you can clearly tell they were shooting for vintage 1992-5, second tier mittel-European death metal here…and for the most part, they succeeded.

Vox are fine for the type, but not overly distinguished – think something along the lines of earlier Gorefest crossed with Benediction and a touch of the aforementioned Amorphis, but with modern production and a more recent vintage vibe, and you’ll get the whole picture.

While it didn’t feel as truly vintage and classic death metal as I’d have preferred, top marks for a strong effort at replicating the sound (undone more by the crisp modern production than any failings in the performance, it must be said)…a worthy effort overall.

I liked this one just fine, thank you very much.

   

Thundermother – S/T (Despotz Records) (February 23)

Speaking of the aforementioned Fargo, here’s the all-femme version of same. Production’s a lot dicier than Fargo, with plenty of warbling hiss from the cymbals and a thinner tone overall…but you know exactly where these gals are coming from within the first few bars of “revival”.

Gritty vocals somewhat akin to Bonnie Raitt gone hard rock over ringing open chords that fall somewhere between Angus Young and The Who (though far more towards the former), later getting more driving and heavy overdrive-bedecked ala The Donnas with more of an AC/DC fetish (and far less of a Runaways/Ramones one).

This would be a good double bill with Australia’s Overdrivers (covered earlier in this month’s reviews), though I suspect that these ladies would make more of an impact. Sure, the other band’s closer in feel…but Thundermother sure does pack a punch, and they’re not pulling it one iota.

On the obligatory ballad, they come off rather Vixenesque (“fire in the rain”), and there’s a weirdly countrified midtempo number thereafter that just feels out of step with the rest of the album (“hanging at my door”), but when these four get this muscle car into gear and give ‘er all she’s got, you’ll know it.

They certainly don’t fuck around, and I like that.

Give ’em due props. Better yet, give ’em a spin, they deserve it.

Beyond The Katakomb – S/T (Black Lodge Records) (June 29)

From the weird, sorta black metallish photo shoot, I certainly wasn’t expecting progressive power metal.

And yet, here it is, in all its pseudo symphonic glory, (mostly) clean vocals, odd time signature diversions, keyboards, anthemic solos, the works.

Unfortunately, the expected template is marred somewhat by a regular reliance on inappropriate key changes and modal shifts…like someone was trying to channel Edenbridge but got some ersatz take on latter Allan Holdsworth instead. Just doesn’t work, guys. Check out “the exegesis” for a perfect example of what I’m talking about here.

Now, the vocals…hmm. Well, on the plus side, a lot of it is indeed clean sung. Frontman LG Persson has an odd tonality that mixes a Paul Stanleyesque delivery (complete with the prominent lisp – even moreso than Paul!) with a more melodic, dual tracked harmony thing on the high notes, sort of like Michael Eden or a far lower ranged take on Tony Harnell. Odd, to be sure…but interesting, and more than listenable.

But then he throws in some choke-throated yelps (before the first solo in “the killing”, for example) and even…wait for it…black/death metal growls and snarls. Say what the fuck?  At least it’s a relatively rare punctuation and merely used for occasional effect…

Bottom line? Too weird to be comfortable, and that blackened element is not only bizarre, it feels rather inappropriate for the genre. Does the spectre of black metal really need to infect every corner of the metal universe? What’s next, all mids/no bass production and prog metal filled with blastbeat frenzies?

OK, that’s it. I’m starting an official campaign:

Keep satan in black metal…and out of the rest of the metal scene!

Otherwise, caveats aside, has merits and may appeal to the more…er…adventurous prog/power metal fan.

Rat The Magnificent – The Body As Pleasure (TTWD Records) (June 22)

Whining, moaning, almost feminine vocals that bring both Ian Astbury and Robert Smith to mind over angular riffing that comes off like some cross between Gang of Four, Wire and The Fall before descending into sheer “death valley 69”-era Sonic Youth meets Reeves Gabrels-style experimental guitar noise…that pretty much describes “in the middle touch”.

Now take about half of that sensibility or less and mix that with the Afghan Whigs…now you’ve got “where you been” and “up the street”.  Veer off into In Utero-era Nirvana territory, and you have “the for”.  Pull it off to the side for some Tom Waits-ishness on “the parlour”, tag in some James for “olon”, cross PJ Harvey with Danzig for “ilsfiat”.   Oh, and there’s some Radiohead running throughout the entire album as a sort of undercurrent.  Go figure.

I was a real sucker for “in the middle touch”.  Full album like that?  Damn.

Of course, that didn’t happen.

The rest is interesting, I’ll give it that much.

Wow, the promo materials (which I just took a skim of, posthumous to this review) mention The Birthday Party.  Not really, but I can definitely hear why they’re saying that.

Props just for mentioning ’em.

MALEKHAMOVES – S/T (Battlesk’rs Production)

French black/death metal band with members of Sektarism (whose La Mort de l’Infidele we were wholly unimpressed by).  Certainly ups the ante from that unlamented act, anyway…

These guys work a very raw and busy form of death metal, with lyrics shouted, more or less clean toned, in French. There’s the sadly all too common black metal/death metal crossover in both stylistic trappings (the riffing and drumming go towards the BM side more often than they should) and in lyrics and photo shoot (which tries to cross “chains and leather”, “filthy city/subway” aesthetics with those of black metal (black and white photos, everyone facing away, pentagrams and pseudo-occultic graffiti), but to the extent this stays more resolutely “death” than “black”, it’s at least listenable.

The only question is, with a proper producer and studio time on their upcoming full length…will they slow the fuck down and work a more classic death metal style (even leaving the vocals exactly as is, which is something they appear to be self conscious about for whatever reason)? Or will it still come off as raw, sloppy and overly indebted to newer, more inferior blackened musical trends?

Les temps nous dira…

Drug Cult – S/T (Ritual Productions) (June 21)

Like some long lost link between Mythic, Blood Ceremony and Electric Wizard, these Aussies combine declamatory female vocals (from an Aasha Tozer) with full on fuzzed out, molasses thick stoner doom in the classic Master of Reality meets Dopethrone manner (courtesy of Wolfmother veteran Vin Steele).

Thick and nasty. Surprised they didn’t include a cover of “barbarian”, it would have fit right in.

Absolutely killer, and right up my alley. Sludge, stoner and doom fans, here’s one to wake up and pay attention to.

No question, this is one of the must hears of its type.

Euphoreon – Ends of the Earth (April 20)

Weird Kiwi take on…power metal gone symphonic black metal?

Sure enough, those gargle-snarl black metal vox and prominent, ghostly keyboards are both relentless and right up there in your face throughout. And yet…isn’t much of this leaning major key? Aren’t those guitar riffs, flashy, uplifting solos and drums more pointedly Euro power metal than symphonic black?

Well, a certain ho hum sameness to European strains of power metal aside, there’s really nothing to fault in the players or songs here…it all comes down to the sheer inappropriateness of those black metal snarls over the top.

I mean, seriously? This is music for clean toned, soaring voices, be they male or female, operatically inclined or more gravelly with phrases that reach for something better.

Again, this month’s new campaign slogan comes to mind:

“keep satan in black metal…and the fuck out of every other genre, form or variant thereof”.

Listenable as is.

With a real singer? They’d probably be quite good..

Ancient Lights – S/T (Ritual Productions) (July 6)

Interesting…

OK, this is about the tranciest thing we’ve covered thus far this month. Heavy, droning, almost psychedelic in its sludgy stoner doom vibe, this is a British trio who really don’t have a “frontman”.

That’s right, despite bassist/second guitarist Adam Richardson being credited as “vocalist and lyricist”, there are actually no discernible lyrics or vocals to be found herein, save a slow, almost mumbled into his own chest trancelike droning.

Sure, this sort of preverbal ululation “uses the vocal chords”, but by no means can this be considered “singing”, and there were no words being said that anyone can pick out…

The music is similarly quite deliberate, slow to mid-paced, almost zombie shuffle
marching tempo, with phase effects and heavy distortion. On several tracks, it takes about half the running time before the band even wakes up and starts playing anything – it’s that sort of drugged out “jam band” vibe.

Definitely sets a mood, and comes off as pretty relaxing in a dark toned way…but is this the sort of thing you tout to friends and fellow listeners as some sort of “must hear” moment?

Hardly. If anything, you use it to chill out, preferably when lighting up a bowl.

Lethargic music for lethargic people – and in that sense, it works quite well.

  

Ackeron – Polarity (Melancholia Records) (May 10)

Sort of a cross between metalcore and aggro, with music that leans traditionally melodeath (like all the best metalcore) while incorporating odd elements like 80’s style “sexy sax” (hello, Candy Dulfer and Glenn Frey…some Miami Vice episode awaits you), neanderthalic aggro phrases and doofy screamo vox throughout – no clean for the choruses,* no big dramatic build, nothing.

It’s as if these guys never heard of Killswitch, Light the Torch (and what an improvement that was over the questionable at best Devil You Know!), All That Remains or the first albums from In This Moment or even The Agonist…they only got the memo to swipe from At The Gates, and missed the rest of what defines the genre.

* it takes until “eye of the storm” before they even attempt clean phrases, and even there it’s overly skimpy by comparison…

Even so, it’s metalcore at heart, and while the vox stuck to the “oops, I just swallowed a bottle of Drano” thing almost exclusively…lets just say as sad and sorry a statement as it is, we’ve covered much, much worse month after month here (just look at how well fed the Pile…er, Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards remains throughout the years!)

I still recommend either a change of frontman or a bit of vocal training so he can at least deliver clean choruses…and while they’re not overly pronounced, drop the aggro bits while you’re at it.

Definitely has potential beneath a few “gotchas”.

  

Immortal Sÿnn – Machine Men (August 4, 2017)

Gee, Libertarian leaning thrashers from Colorado? Who’d’a ever thunk?

But seriously, folks…that’s exactly what you get from these Midwestern thrashers, who take the social engagement and revolutionary if not anarchist politics that so informed the classic scene (the Bay Area and US scene in particular, though hardly exclusively – the UK certainly had their fair share of politically minded thrashers back in the day) and twists them somewhat to the right of center, leaving us with tracks like “liberty rising” (which has to be heard to be believed) and a stance more appropriate to Exodus frontman Steve “Zetro” Souza‘s Hatriot rather than a “peace sells” or an outlook that gave us bands like Anthrax, Atrophy, Xentrix, etc. etc.

The solos are nicely recorded and come off feeling overly polished, to the point where they feel a bit “technical” – a bit of an odd fit for the more simple riffs the band lays down, but nice to hear nonetheless.

Their sound is clearly indebted to more vintage strains of thrash, but is by no means retro in feel or approach – whether due to production or just miscomprehension of what made all those bands sound like they did back when, Immortal Synn just sounds like a modern thrash act who cast more than the usual nod and a wink over towards the men who paved the way and inspired them.

It’s loud, in your face and not badly produced for one of these modern direct signal recording jobs – you can make out every instrument…well, except the bass, of course…and the sound is crisp without any level overages or signal bleed, so while not what I’d consider top of the line, it certainly sounded more than respectable if not downright good to these ears overall.

So I guess it all depends on whether you expect your thrash to stick to template or no…because the greatest Synn here is in a deviation both musical and political.

Not bad, aside from all that.

Leviathan – Can’t be Seen by Looking: Blurring the Lines, Clouding the Truth (Stonefellowship Recordings) (March 26) 

Wait, whoa – Warlord/Fates Warning veteran sticksman Mark Zonder is part of this group?  Damn, I loved those old Warlord rehearsals on the recent reissues…particularly with that “basement recording” ambience, reminded me of a flashier, more accomplished version of my own drummer, back in the day…

Anyway, this is another Colorado prog metal act, like former Fates Warning alum John Arch or Jag Panzer frontman Harry Conklin’s Titan Force, and apparently the first time Zonder’s worked with these fellas. Those who may be familiar with their older output should also be aware they’ve got a new vocalist in tow, and while I have nothing to compare him against, he’s certainly respectable, with clean tones and no issues with holding longer notes (though I’m not hearing much room for him to really let loose and soar…)

This is another very political album, but they seem to be more on the right page than Immortal Synn did (though to be honest, anyone who stands against our current corporatocratic kleptocracy and Russia’s favorite son Donald is already at least halfway to the proper side of the socioculture wars). Like they say, “lies are the new normal…(there is) no lesser of (two) evil(s)”, and there’s some seriously skewed (il)logic on both ostensible sides these days…

Being a prog album, there’s no respite from the concept here, so while those whose nose crinkled a bit at Immortal Synn’s pointed Libertarianism could always drop into the less obvious tracks and just enjoy the music, you really don’t get that option with Leviathan…and I’m sure guitarist/keyboardist John Lutzow and company wouldn’t have it any other way.

In your face and proud of it, you simply can’t help but face up to and deal with the message here – and what I’m picking up is pretty much dead on (hello again, the aforementioned track…)

Vocals are decent, the message is at the very least timely and the music is acceptably of its genre. Better yet? As is to be expected, Zonder keeps up the back end with admirable flair and elan.

Good stuff, and thought provoking to boot.

I’d say “should stimulate good conversation and debate”, but people seem to have lost the art of debate in favor of shouting over one another and trolling these days…which is how we got in this mess to start with, and the very reason why we may never pull ourselves out.

The Troggs said it best.

I’ll let you look it up.

Definitely worth checking this one out, not least for the top tier drumming.

Matalobos – Until Time Has Lost All Meaning (Concreto Records) (November 2, 2017)

What would happen if you took the vocal approach of Bolt Thrower circa the IVth Crusade (or Cancer circa Death Shall Rise) and tagged that on to a more pointedly (mostly) well produced gothic doom scenario ala Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride or My Silent Wake?

Well, that’s exactly what you get here, at least on opener “of ghosts and yearning”.  For “in flesh engraved”, they shift first to a more aggressive Gothenburgish melodeath approach, then to a grinding, almost Autopsy-esque death/doom.

Then on closer “la luz del dia muere”, it’s back to the gothic doom, but all lush
instrumental, so laid back as to come off a tad smooth jazz at points (!) – check out that semi-acoustic solo around the midsection, and tell me it wouldn’t fit in between George Benson, Najee and Spyro Gyra…

So what do we have here? A very good, likeable band who doesn’t seem sure of their own identity.

Sure, everything they try works, and that’s impressive in and of itself. But are they the polished gothic doom act of the first track? If so, even excusing the death vox (which are fine for the type), why the shitty drum production (which gives lie to the otherwise decent to lush production on the guitars)?

Or are they a stodgy, sort of crusty, slightly doom leaning death metal band, as it would appear from the second track? And if so, where the hell did that laid back, nigh ambient smooth jazz instrumental track at the end come from?

Now again, make no mistake – all three tracks are decent – I liked tracks one and two equally, if for very different reasons, and the third works just fine for what it is. But the three just don’t fit together, certainly not as “the same band” projecting “the same image”.  It becomes a real head scratcher.

That aside, I did really like these guys, and think this brief EP shows a hell of a lot of promise.

Even if they never find themselves and establish a solid identity, there’s a lot to appreciate here…so yeah, I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what a full length will bring.

QUANTUM LEAP – NO REASON (Viskningar och vrål) (June 1)

Some real gobbledygook in the promo writeup aside (you have to read this to believe it – if nothing else, then for the mangled English alone!), this is a Swedish indie act who are working the late 80’s/early 90’s college rock sound for all it’s worth.

Gothic rocklike postpunk vocals (think something between Catherine Wheel, Red Lorry Yellow Lorry and Ritual) with music that strays much further afield from the postpunk sound than most veterans may prefer (think Ritual gone Inspiral Carpets, with touches of Blur, Supergrass and, at least on tracks like “yeah” and “trust”, Bush).

It’s a somewhat darker, occasionally heavier Britpop, in effect, just arriving about 20 years too late. I guess, given a few other bands reviewed recently, this is heralding a resurgence of that sound…which, while never really my thing, is OK by me.

Better that than some of the shit people are recording nowadays…you get to the point where there’s no rapping, autotune or air raid siren “vocals” and there are actual verses, bridges and choruses, and it’s like “yeah, thank God!”

No, it’s not my go-to, never was. But we could do much, much worse (and have in fact done so for decades).

Not a bad thing to hear stuff like this coming back.

High Council – Held In Contempt (Via Nocturna Records) (April 30)

Damn, that’s one hilarious promo photo…and look, it’s another band hailing from…or at least “with one foot in” HELL!

Kind of strange, given their laid back, rather mellow and proggy take on metal…

That alone, combined with some nice dual harmony vocals on all the choruses and often the same thing with respect to guitar leads, brings classic Praying Mantis to mind…and that’s hardly a bad thing.

I found myself thinking vintage USPM, particularly things like Slauter Xstroyes, earlier Have Mercy and Exxplorer while this thing played…that sort of mix of prog and power metal, with clean, light toned vocals and bombast. And again, that’s not merely hardly a bad thing…it’s a very good one.

Tag in some nice acoustic bits and, yet again this month, the longest and closing track being the album’s best hello, Lords of Black, not to mention the fact that this felt so late 80’s/early 90’s USPM/prog it was shocking to hear it’s a new band…

…and another wholehearted set of raised horns in salute to these young guns.

Damn good stuff.

Sons of Alpha Centauri – Continuum (H42 Records / Cobraside Records) (June 1)

UK act mixing stoner rock with ambient electronic space rock (minus the “rock” end of the latter equation).

All instrumental, a lot of this is pretty quiet and takes forever to build, and it actually leans more towards the ambient end than the stoner rock one (“solar storm” is about the closest to the real deal as these guys ever get).

Sure, it’s listenable…but so what?

Inconsequential at best.

RavenSkül – At the Gates of the Gods (January 7)
RavenSkül – “In the Air Tonight” (January 1)

Umm…OK, look. I started off with the cover of Phil Collins’ estimable “in the air tonight”, so I am sooooo fucking nonplussed.

Random tribal drumbeats beat offtime while some guy trying to do a spoken word postapocalyptic 80’s cheese flick voiceover recites the lyrics emotionlessly.

Wow, way to fuck up a classic!

I guess you can say “he made it sinister”, probably after watching John Carpenter’s underrated Prince of Darkness a few too many times…

So on to the full length. Wait, the drums are still entirely random? They don’t even try to match the guitar riffs? And this guy’s just going to do monster truck rally/WWE voiceovers for the entire thing?

Seriously, dude…are you fucking kidding?

OK, tabletop gamers…round up your favorite obese graybeard DM, and have him bring everyone up to date on where you are in the campaign in his best dramatic voice. Record this, and mash up entirely unrelated, off time guitar riffs from one source and your kid brother working his first drumset.

Now release this, and expect people to buy it and praise it for how “cool” it is.

Seriously, dude.

Are you fucking kidding me, here?

The comedy factor almost saves it. But never a pair of releases more deserving…

WHIZZZ!!!

Burn, baby, burn.

Ostura – The Room (Universal Music MENA) (February 23)

Middle Eastern gothic metal with elements of prog.

Thick accented female vocals, while overall typical for the genre, too often lean towards the surprisingly shrill (particularly when in unison with the male vox), while said male ones are thin and pretty laid back throughout, except at the choruses, where he’s reaching too hard for notes he can’t naturally reach, much akin to what they did to poor Britta Phillips on the old Jem cartoon (yes, my wife’s a huge fan, and more than once confused my love of The Misfits for the similarly named cartoon iterations therein).

But hey.  At least they’re both singing clean toned…

The music is…kind of generic, actually. They’re trying hard to be bombastic, but it ends up coming off like a low rent take on Jorn Lande’s various projects (remember that ridiculous Dracula thing?) or more recent Sirenia, minus Ailyn Jimenez’ winning vocals (at least on the first couple of albums…)

Let’s cut this short and get to the point – not horrible, but I was not impressed.

In Vain – IV (September 29, 2017)

er…well, it’s clear that frontman Daniel Cordon spent just a little too much time trying to copy Virgin Steele’s rather self-absorbed frontman Dave DeFeis (if the tuneless multi-part House of Atreus didn’t prove just how far a man’s head can go up his own ass, nothing will…), working a very similar tonality and approach over what turn out to be some pretty generic (if aggressive) Euro power metal tracks, all chugging high speed tremelo riffs and typewriter double bass.

About the only thing saving In Vain from complete and utter generica are the likeably uplifting and anthemic guitar solos, which are deserving of a much better showcase than the material the band is showcasing here…

Now, you might get the picture from the above that this is some atrocious horror of European power metal, and trust me, that’s quite far from being the case.

The problem isn’t that the vocals suck (they don’t), it’s that they’re overly copycattish. The problem with IV isn’t that the band is awful (they’re not), it’s that their songs are extremely…and I do mean extremely generic, to the point where bands like Hammerfall and 3 Inches of Blood start to sound original, even appealing.

And hey, I have albums from both in the old collection, so it’s not a horrible slam…

…but how often do those albums get pulled out and dusted off for another airing? I mean, since the early millenium, anyway?

Yeah. There’s what I’m trying to get at, here.

If you’re still jonesing for that early, overplayed Euro power metal sound…you’ll probably love these guys to death.

Xael – The Last Arbiter (Test Your Metal Records) (May 18)

hmm. When I saw this was an attempt to combine SF and progginess with “extreme metal”, I was curious and hopeful. Of course, in the real world, hopes are meant to be dashed, to one degree or another…

For one thing, forget your thoughts of an Iron Savior gone Queensryche sort of thing…or even Screamer and early Scanner, for that matter. While there are elements that suggest prog metal (mostly in the guitar solos), there’s precious little of that sort of thing going down here.

Instead, what you get is more of a symphonic…well, death metal, if you can picture such a thing. Throaty growl vox and fat sounding riffs with tremelo bits and lead lines ala some melodeath affair, but afflicted with piss poor production. It sounds like someone actually may have tried, but any attempt at a clear sound was crushed under a mix that simply incorporates too many tracks blasting at high volume.

End result, hissy signal bleed on the guitars, drums that sound like they’re hiss-swishing under a rainstorm, even vocals that feel hyper overcompressed. It’s a lousy job that very likely fell apart under its sheer weight and volume as much as any limitations of budget – much like the last Sirenia album with Ailyn, it’s just too much going on crammed into too small a dynamic range all at once.

The band then tries to tag in some Pagan/Viking folk elements after all that overly prominent singsongy keyboard nonsense and obnoxious drum machine style high speed blastbeats. Any time they try to get the slightest bit aggressive, the whole thing just falls apart – “I am pestilence” is a perfect example of everything wrong about Xael’s sound, with Ulveresque touches smashed up against gothic symphonic metal female vox and overly prominent keyboards, but buried beneath those sample-sounding blastbeats and generic riffing.

Then they get all weird with Mr. Bungle-like sections that drop any sense of harmony or direction (much less melody, God help you there’d be any of that in here…), then it slows down to an overly busy, noises coming from all angles attempt at folk infused Pagan metal lushness in the final minute or two. And yeah, this is all in one lone track.

Has occasional moments that hint at unrealized potential…but there’s no effort at making those gel into anything worthy of note.

Pretty much a mess.

Infrared – Saviours (self released) (May 25)

Canadian single demo thrashers from back in the day. 
 
They reunited recently for last year’s No Peaceand this one’s a bit harder and more aggressive…but with worse production. Seriously, it’s all in your face and marked by signal bleed and red zone levels throughout, leaving guitars and drums emblazoned with splattery hiss across the board.
 
Even so, they’re still working that sort of thick toned guitar sound, somewhere between S.O.D. and Devastation (whose Idolatry this more closely appends stylistically – not a bad thing if you’re just looking for ultra-fat, loud tone and don’t mind all the mess and failings of production that come with it.)
 
They’re so much better suited to hard midtempo tracks like “the demagogue” or “all in favour” than all out thrashers like “project karma” or quirky, almost atonal experimental ones like “saviour”. Strangely, they still seem to gravitate towards slow, almost mellow material like “they kill for gods”, “father of lies” or “the fallen”, and this apparent lack of stylistic focus ultimately works to their detriment.

My take? Cut the bullshit and lock down on what works best.More material like “the demagogue” and “all in favour”, even with the questionable production, and Infrared would be a new standby in thrash circles.

Dying Awkward Angel – Absence of Light (Rockshots Records) (May 25)

“Dying Awkward Angel”? Boy, that’s some choice moniker, there. Are they big fans of Skip Beat, when Sho did that video shoot with Kyoko where they’re both playing angels and she throws him off the tower? That was pretty awkward, especially in the Taiwanese live action, with all that cheap CSO/green screen…

But no, I doubt these guys are anime/manga fans, just a bunch of Italian death metallers whose sound falls somewhere between Gothenburg-style melodeath and a more depressingly overutilized blackened inflection thereof. You’ve heard it all before, and long since lost interest in the sound as more and more mediocre bands chose to walk that route.

Now, vocals aside (we’ll get to those in a moment), the guitars at least have their moments. While riffs are status quo at their best (the somewhat At the Gateslike “death coach”, “blood of your blood”) and downright lousy at their worst (“shade”, “dolls”), the leads aren’t bad at all, with enough melancholic melodicism to shore things up a bit.

Which they really need, given the generic BLURRGHH BELCH BLEYAAAAHH modern death vox (so boring and overly typical) and all that perfectly shite blastbeat drumming. Why, man? You show you can work the kit respectably…why fall back on that juvenalia? And speaking of childish shit to fall back on…why the nu metal harmonic squeak bits on the guitars in “Isaiah 53:7”? How Korn of you.

Yeah, some pieces of the puzzle work, but not a lot of ’em, and certainly not enough of ’em that fit together to give this rather drab affair any real merit.

 

Serene Dark (formerly Endemise) – “Dualitatem” (self released)

About a year and a half back, we covered Endemise’s Anathemaa quirky melodeath act out of Canada who pulled in elements of tech and symphonic (as well as grindcore-esque dual growl/snarl vox) to make a weird sort of mud pie of extreme metal.

Well, it’s hard to judge by a literal single (as in one track, no B-side), but it doesn’t seem that anything’s changed here but the band name…yep, presumably in reaction to millions of young Canuck Pokemon players referring to them as Illumise, the band has used their “struggle bug” attack to evolve a new, somewhat misleading moniker…as there’s absolutely nothing “serene” about this overly busy mix of genres.

Listenable, but I’m not hearing any changes that would call for a shift in band name, here.

Majesty of Silence – Zu Dunkel Für Das Licht (Rockshots Records/ Extreme Metal Music) (May 25)

Symphonic black metal out of Switzerland.

Likely drum machine is fucking annoying, with all those programmable high speed blastbeats, vocals are nasty sounding gargle-snarls. Riffs tend to be overly quirky to the point of leaning atonal/avantgarde, but certainly have their more standard moments (which feel somewhat akin to the last Dark Funeral album).

These sort of oddball symph efforts always come off a tad Gloomy Grim to these ears, but there’s certainly enough of Emperor, Dimmu and even a hint of Cradle of Filth peeking through on tracks like “unerwarteter besuch”.

Occasional female vocals – at times snarkily spoken, at others more traditionally operatic, cement the Sarah Jezebel Deva correlations of the latter, more storied UK act, so it’s not entirely uncharted territory.

It didn’t really move me overmuch, either to detestation or love…it was sort of in the middle of the road, neither overly shitty or praiseworthy enough to note.

The very definition of a shrug of the shoulders, but I may leave it on if someone was playing a track or two.

Slomatics/Conan – Split (Black Bow Records) (June 1)

We’d covered the UK’s Conan for their Blood Eagle four years back, and there’s been no appreciable change in style or approach. Midtempo stoner doom/sludge riffs chug along while some dude makes like the guy in lederhosen in the Ricola commercial.

hmm…seem to remember saying something like that last time around…

Three tracks, only two are even songs (“obsidian sword” is purely electronic noise, possibly with somebody mumbling into an oscilloscope…it’s incomprehensible, there’s no music, who cares.)

Want more weirdness? Both of the actual songs sound exactly the same. Go to about the 2 minute mark in “retaliator”, then skip over to about the 7 minute mark in “older than earth”. Original, huh? Slowing the riff down slightly was a real stretch, particularly with the exact same vocals doing the exact same tones!

sigh…

Anyway, at least Slomatics are working a more Electric Wizardlike take on the same general sludge/stoner doom template (so yes, these two splitmates fit together quite well, thanks), so there’s actually some discernible riffs chugging along, with apparent build and flow and where one track sounds different from the other two. Still kind of thin on the ground vocally speaking (so yes, these two splitmates fit together quite well, thanks), but more to dig into and even commend here than we’ve ever heard out of what came our way in relation to Conan…

Never for the life of me will I understand why some bands are “popular” and known in a given scene, while other, easily more talented and interesting ones are left by the wayside amidst a growing crowd of also-rans.

Even with regards to splitmates.

Nuff said.

Casket Feeder – Scalps (Hibernacula Records) (June 1)

The riffs? Classic death metal.The vocals? Hilariously juvenile dogshit aggro/screamo.

The band? Casket Feeder, a UK act apparently trying to merge vintage death metal (with some melodeathlike moments, as in the dual leads halfway through opener “supremacy of idiocracy”) with what supposedly passes as “hardcore” these days…i.e., juvenile aggro/screamo shit evolving out of the metalcore, “deathcore” and emo scenes, but without any hint of melodicism or palatability.

Now, you can’t say that about Casket Feeder – as noted, they keep their riffing fairly old school throughout, if leaning somewhat “brutal” at times (and as noted, lightly melodeath at others).

So once again with a young band, we have a situation where the band is passable or even pretty damn decent…if only they’d dump their ridiculously red faced, vein popping, laryngal polyp-baiting tonsil waggler of a frontman.

Someday, they’ll all start to figure it out…

Next?

Human Cull – Revenant (WOOAAARGH) (June 1)

UK grindcore.  Less of the usual Carcass/Repulsion/Terrorizer school than something rawer and more crusty, with what appear to be Benediction-esque death belches on the vocal end.

Drums are mixed wayyyy too high (well above both guitars and vox), so you can be annoyed by every endless phrase of nothing but blastbeats.

Riffs aren’t incredibly distinguishable (a failing of most grindcore acts not bearing the monikers of the aforementioned) and songs are all in the sub-1m time frame (as you might expect).

You’ll blow through 6-10 tracks before you realize it’s not just one long song. 

QOHELETH – Black Kites Broadcasts (Bad Cake Records) (April 27)

Fascinating concept that almost works in execution.  Almost.

Apparently this is to be taken as the rogue pirate broadcast from some postapocalyptic alternate timeline or possible future.

Between weird, even a tad eerie (if strangely blase and chipper in delivery) bits from the “DJ” (there’s even a PSA or two) about not seeing another living soul for ridiculous lengths of time, radiation levels and some black humor “tips” on getting by after a nuclear holocaust, you get hilariously titled songs by amusingly named (imaginary) indie bands.

Great stuff. Love these interstitials, not only sets an otherworldly atmosphere (very tongue in cheek, but even so – it’s fun any way you take it) but provide the main attraction to this album.

The problem is…there are no such bands. There aren’t even real bands attempting to portray each of the bands and bringing their own unique sounds to populate these silly band names and song titles so cleverly set up by the aforementioned DJ between song banter.

Worst of all? You don’t even get a single band, say, Qoheleth, attempting to play chameleon and shift styles of vocal and music genre from track to track. Instead, it’s the same exact band, playing the same sort of splatty very sub-Sonic Youth noise as art schtick, over and over. We’re just supposed to use our imaginations to pretend they sound different.

Again, I really loved the idea here – the setup was brilliant, and even with the sort of laid back mocking tone of delivery, it simply worked…right up till the band played the same song (or very similar sounding songs) over and over in place of all these amusingly interesting sounding bands on the Top 40 radio of the future (or parallel timeline, or alternate universe, or…)

I’m still giving this one props for the effort – all it needed was to be reworked as a “various artists” sort of thing, possibly of likeminded bands in their circle and scene (whomever such may be).

Plus I love that band photo…an angry flaming roll of toilet paper? Looks more
“threatening” (and is far more fitting) than most promo pix we get sent, that’s for sure…

Eye of the Destroyer – Violent By Design EP (June 8)

ummm…yeah.

Jersey boys working some weird cross between death metal and aggro. Vox veer between sub-Mortician shout belches and shout-snarl spit out your tonsils ones, but neither ever feels “death” or “black” in any true respect.

Guitars are thunderingly loud and thick toned, but don’t expect death metal riffing here…it’s all simplistic stop/start neanderthal nonsense with harmonic squeaks, like Pantera fucked Korn up Jonathan Davis’ cornhole.

Considering just how much we love both aggro and nu metal here at Third Eye, you just know this one’s about to get the warm reception it deserves.

WHIZZZZ!!

Right into the Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards, where this belongs. Damn, look at those flames roar in response…

Get it? Warm?

No?

Whatever. Next?

   
 

Orgullo Nativo – Entre el campo de batalla (Morbid Skull Records) (May 5)

Surprisingly well produced Colombian blackthrash.

It’s no big secret to Third Eye regulars that I’ve been a huge fan of Colombia’s Witchtrap since the release of No Anaesthesia a good 12 years back, but while we’ve seen plenty of good blackthrash acts from all across South and occasionally even Central America, few have sounded as solid, or at least as well produced as this.

Those mids-heavy Marshall amps sound like they’re damn close to the recording
microphone, so every pick and scrape are right there in your face…but zero hissiness or signal bleed to be found, even on the drums (despite the ride cymbal being shoved right up there in the left channel, and a very dry if not muted snare and bass drum on the right one).

Vox are often slathered in reverb, but it never gets out of control, and while quite audible throughout, the guitars come first (and drums are at least on equal footing therewith).

It’s a dry mix, to be sure, with less bass and way more midrange than I’d ever settle for…but it sounds really good and quite professional. Hell, you can even hear the bass once in a blue moon (at least in quieter phrases, as in that break about 4m into “salario meserable legal vigente”).

About the only things bringing this one down are the apparent dearth of solos
(seriously…they didn’t even try for a Tom G. Warrior noise solo) and those weird spoken word “sesions” between each song (which just sound like the soundtrack to some shitty women in prison film or snuff movie).

Those aside…I liked this one quite a bit, actually.

   
 

Woorms / A Hanging 7″ Split (June 6)

A Hanging are a likeable sort of punk meets crust “crossover” act, with thick toned guitars and driving riffing that only slows down for occasional mosh breaks before charging right in again.

The sound is crunchy, the vox are bellowing but more in the sense of, say, early Biohazard than the fat guy belching up lunch crumbs out of his beard thing we keep hearing from, oh, let’s just say Sludgelord Records acts of late (cough), so it’s more acceptable than silly (particularly to veterans of the late 80’s/early 90’s hardcore, sXe and crossover scenes)…I was good with ’em and wouldn’t mind hearing more of the band in the future.

Of course, there’s also a splitmate, and A Hanging’s trio of minute long tracks give way to one long 5 minute effort from Louisiana’s Woorms, who spend about half that time on a long, long build that promises a whole fuck of a lot more than the mediocre grunge cum noise they finally manage to blurt out in the latter end of the track.  Fans of Mudhoney should be well chuffed…the rest of us should probably pass.

Get it for A Hanging, or hope they put out a comp of all their splits and such a few years down the road, and save yourself from having to sit through the pointless mediocrity that is Woorms.

RIBSPREADER – The Van Murders – Part 2 (Xtreem Music) (June 6)

Yep, it’s our old pal Rogga Johansson again, back with another in his Ribspreader line of products (as opposed to his Echelon with Benediction’s Dave Ingram, Stench Price with Ingram and Anthrax/Nuclear Assault’s Dan LilkerGrotesquery with early Death and Massacre‘s Kam Lee or Paganizer (covered here and here.)

That’s right, this guy keeps himself busy.

We covered their Suicide Gate two years back, but this time the band seems more than just a bit more pissed off.

Kicking off with a belched “Fuuuck!”, this is a rawly produced (think sub-EP quality and quickly dashed off) affair where the guitars bleed all over the fucking place, noisily burying both drums (where every tom or snare hit sounds like a cymbal festooned with rivets and footwork sounds like a kid splashing his feet around in a wading pool).

The expected death metal belches and vomits are buried beneath both, and even the bass is overdistorted and detuned, vibrating all over the damn range at the start of “departure LA”. While there’s a lot of body and meat to the tone (a must for the genre), it’s seriously fucking messy.

But hey, look. It’s Rogga Johansson, and those who know the guy’s body of work realize that if nothing else, the guy’s seriously retro-minded. This ain’t no pussy “modern” death metal, this is the real deal, just performed and released 27 years or so too late. So even with the production being kind of questionable (at best, you could compare it to the shit production on Asphyx’ questionable followup to the essential The Rack, Last One on Earth)…it still sounds right where so many others sound so…fake.

Johansson even cops the vocal approach of Grotesquery bandmate Kam Lee
(particularly evident on “back on frostbitten shores”), and despite the lame torture porn serial killer cover (and presumed theme), this is yet another example of why the guy is so revered in the death metal scene of today.

Because he gets the job done, and because he does it right.

Salute. 

BLOOD RITES – Demo 1 (Caverna Abismal Records) (June 9)

OK, I loved this line: “Formed in 2016 BLOOD RITES hails from Hell, and releases here their first effort.”

That’s right, they “hail from Hell.

Well, yeah, I used to refer to my old home town as Hell on a fairly regular basis, but since this is (presumably) supposed to be taken straight faced, it’s simply pure comic gold…

So, these…er…residents OF HELL are supposed to be “experienced musicians” and “based in Germany”, but you’d never be able to tell either – this is sloppy, underproduced (though not as noisy and irritating as that normally implies…just know that little work was done on this) and when they finally shut the fuck up with the pointless ambient intros and actually start playing, raw and nasty in the vein of more recent South American blackthrash or perhaps more pointedly that of Australia.

Or is that…HELL?!?

Vox are yelled gargling belch-snarls…that’s right, the guy actually yells them at you, over noisy sloppy blastbeat drumming and raw sorta first wave black metal, sorta blackthrashy riffing with sloppy noise solos.

Three tracks, the only waiting is for the guys to wake the fuck up and start playing…which takes a minute or more on every. fucking. track.

Must be tough to motivate musicians to actually play something, in HELL…

Not the worst I’ve heard by a longshot…but kind of a “yeah, so?”

GHOSTBOUND – All is Phantom (A Sad Sadness Song) (June 1)

You know, when I heard this very English, sort of prissy mid 80’s-style alternative rock (I hesitate to call this postpunk, it’s a lighter, more Smiths meets Echo and the Bunnymen sort of thing than the darker, more gothicized likes of, say, Gang of Four, Danse Society or Red Lorry, Yellow Lorry), there’s no way in hell Brooklyn came to mind.

But hey, with Giuliani (and later Bloomberg) gentrifying the city at the end of a blue shirt mafia baton (a sickening sight to behold in person, back when it was going down), Brooklyn turned from a rough and tumble Italian ghetto into some lame hipster heaven…so if you picture a bunch of fey types with bluetooths and Google Glass, Dockers with Crocs and a cup of Starbucks in hand wandering around between power lunches or whatever, then yeah, suddenly it starts to gel that hey, maybe this did in fact hail from “the New Brooklyn”.

As Biggie Smalls once intoned, damn, motherfuckin’ shit done changed.

So anyway, what we have here is a very accomplished sounding, quite likeable, slightly overemotive take on that sort of 80’s indie/alternative/college rock sound. Vox are nice, and as the guy apparently moonlights as an actor or somesuch nonsense, he throws a lot into his delivery, sort of like Dave Bower from Hell.

You get the impression he was shooting for Patrick Walker and Warning, but there’s absolutely zero of that sense of honest despair and existentially authentic expression of personal demons being put on the page (and onto vinyl)…this is all emotionally distant and deliberate, if quite appealing in a more surface level and remote way.

Thinking about comparisons…how about Roy Khan? I don’t mean that range or power in any respect…but that sort of emoting on mic, painting a song with more than just the usual flat delivery. He’s definitely putting something in there, however far removed it is from the likes of Walker…again, think Bower, possibly crossed with Khan’s work with Conception and Kamelot, as a general marker of what comes across here.

The band themselves are quite solid and handle their parts with assuredness, so there’s no question this album not only sounds good in terms of production, but sets a relaxed, slightly melancholic and introspective mood.

I was not only good with this one, but can assure you it’s staying on the iPod for a bit.

Just because I’m shocked this hails from Brooklyn and the fact that it’s no Watching from a Distance in no way negates its quality…of which it bears plenty.

Damn good stuff, hoping to hear more from this band.

Wømb – Taciturn (Purodium Rekords) (June 6)

Portugese black metal, so you know what that means, more often than not.

That’s right, overly raw, screamed/shrieked vox into an industrial-style processed microphone (so it comes out as pure overdistorted noise, like Waxen gone all NiN or Skinny Puppy), sloppy playing on the level of a “war metal”/”brutal black metal” act, but with an ethos and vibe that falls more in the heretofore unplumbed expanse between Clandestine Blaze and all that detestable Swedish “black/death” “occult black metal” nonsense…but with a lot more atonality and awkwardness bleeding through.

About the best you can say for Womb is that they feel more akin to Mikko Aspa’s little venture than, say, Watain as performed by members of Conqueror or Von.

Doesn’t mean it’s any good, though.

At least the tracks are really short.

Next?

Jyotisavedanga – Thermogravimetry Warp Continuum LP (Larval Productions) (June 6)

“War metal” gone all “underground black metal”.

In other words, take the lo-fi, grindcore-esque simplistic approach of bands like Black Witchery and throw in a Zom-like over-reverbed/digitally delayed/slap echo belch vocal, ululating nonsense syllables. The band changes tempo at random, drums veer between standard playing ability to downright sloppy, detuned guitars just grind away in one big blur of mush. It’s pretty awful.

Oh, and then tag in a crackling distortion that goes down even when the band’s not attempting to play. In fact, there’s an entire track full of nothing but (“distress signal source unknown”).

Yeah, this is pretty bottom of the barrel stuff, though it does set a weirdly cavernous/lost in deep space sort of atmosphere, if that’s all that you need to justify your existence (or horror, shock, an actual purchase).

Again, like Womb, it’s pretty bad…but not detestable enough to toss into the Pyre.

I was able to sit through both, for whatever that’s worth.

Caveman Cult – Supremacia Primordial 10″ EP (Larval Productions) (June 6)

On the other hand…this one was tough to get through.

Ultra-raw, incredibly shitty (lack of) production, all hiss and mids with no bottom end in sight. Every track sounds exactly the same as the two that came before it (or follow after it), the playing is sub-grindcore (and even sub-“war metal”, though that’s certainly what it is).

On the (comparative) plus side, their devotion to early Beherit (and Blasphemy, and Conqueror/Revenge) is obvious, but so is some background in South American blackthrash – song titles evoke not only the Finnish and Canadian acts, but Brazil’s Holocausto as well…and maybe you can pick up hints of the messier end of that scene as well (tag in Sextrash, possibly).

Better production would have helped…some semblance of atmosphere or actual
discernible riffs (even on the level of a Repulsion) might have led to a better end result.

But hey…it’s “war metal”. Fans sort of know what they’re getting into, and on that scale of measure, only the overly nasty production leaves them any less than “par for the course”.

Bottom line? It is exactly what it advertises itself to be, so there’s that.

Just a fuck of a lot noisier and sloppier.

Crurifragium (U.S.) – Black Seed of Bestiality LP (Larval Productions) (June 6)

We previously reviewed their Beasts of the Temple of Satan, not to mention the same band/different name’s Barbaric Triumph of Evil (as Warpvomit) and while it’s less of a sheer wall of noise than Caveman Cult, there’s that same issue we saw with Jyotisavedanga.

The pluses that help ’em out (comparatively) are the more muted and muffled production (which saves us from a hell of a lot of irritating signal noise throughout) and actual (sloppy, off key) solos. So there’s that.

Vox are that same “underground black metal” nonsense ala Zom and a legion of others reviewed a few years back (when this sort of thing was weirdly huge for some reason), with slap echo vox that are all vomit noises and barks. I doubt there’s a single spoken word or written lyric here.

At least they didn’t slather on the reverb and digital delay, it’s just a shot of slap echo at the end of every preverbal utterance…and like the muted production, this helps their case somewhat by comparison.

But go back and take a look at the aforementioned reviews. And sure, we enjoy a lot of this “war/brutal black metal” stuff.

But come on, did you really expect us to praise this one?

That said…again, it was listenable for its type.

Just with a big shit eatin’ smirk at how absurd it is for grown men to be running around recording something like this.

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Deathwards – Towards Death (Invictus Productions) (June 8)

Chilean blackthrash act, but one that leans a tad more towards at least a Teutonic thrash than is typical for the South American school thereof.

There’s a bit of a Pestilence vibe to “in death I become”, a Slayer if not Dark Angel-like feel to both “the hierarchist” and “epitaph from the underworld” (if you want to split hairs, the former’s more Hell Awaits, the latter more Darkness Descends in tonality – something that also applies to “impending prophecies”).

They even dig a little deeper than usual for their choice of cover tune, pulling Infernal Majesty’s “overlord” out of the mothballs. It’s a good choice, and still keeping things in a very Slayerish meets Doty-era Dark Angellike (and seriously…who the fuck cares about any album they did without him?) milieu.

Yeah, I liked this one just fine – the overindebtedness to that Slayer sound felt very retro, given just how many bands from Sacrifice to Exumer cribbed wildly from that playbook back in the day.

Hails!

Ruach Raah – Under the Insignia of Baphomet (War Arts Productions) (May 4)

Now here’s a Portugese black metal act we always enjoy seeing in the list of reviewables.

We’d covered their Hate Fanaticism and splits with Ordem Satanica and Womb (a band whose recent output was also covered this month, see above) and never seem to fail to give them high marks.

Is it the punkish vibe they bring, ala early Bathory?  Maybe…and maybe that’s what’s up with this one.

While at times you can pick up that same feel…a lot of this is rawer sounding, slower (at its best, think an Obituary-style midtempo groove, and you’ll get a vague picture of what we’re talking about here) and feels…I don’t know, very different, somehow.

Sure, you still get a few tracks that feel like the band we always enjoy hearing from (“a ira do lucifer” and “hang humanity upside down”)…but even those seem a bit…compromised. About the best of the “new style’ tracks on offer here is the simply lovely titled “hammering down their faces”, but the rest comes off as just…confused.

Clearly a transitional work.

Not sure what they were going for with this one, to be honest.

But it didn’t work.

Taphos – Come Ethereal Somberness CD/LP (Blood Harvest) (June 8)

We’d previously reviewed their Demo MMXVI and EP MMXVII and found ourselves rather put off by the decided underproduction of the demo (while finding the all too brief EP far more listenable in that respect).

So it’s with a huge sigh of relief that I can report to the curious reader: yes, they did retain the improved production of the EP on this, their debut full length.

There’s still way too much reliance on sloppy blastbeats, but as with the EP (and perhaps moreso), it’s clearly black/death performed as if the “death” end of the equation were, for a radical change, the more important part of that equation. Gasp! How positively Grotesque of them!

So yeah, it’s still too informed by black metal for me (gotta keep ’em separated, as the Offspring once intoned, quite annoyingly)…but this is a lot more palatable than the demo sonically, and a bit more “death metallish” than the EP somehow (though it’s certainly not a major stretch of distance between that and what they’re working here).

More tracks like “livores” (or even “impending peril”), and these guys may even start to remind you of Messiah circa Choir of Horrors.

And that would be a very good thing, indeed.

Not bad, not bad at’all.

Ossuary Insane – Decimation of the Flesh LP (Blood Harvest) (June 8)

We’d previously reviewed this obscure Minnesota act’s Possession of the Flesh and Demonize the Flesh (hmm…anyone else seeing a pattern here?).

This is the final release in their back catalog, with their Fallen to the Pits demo and final promo Bottom Feeder contained herein (and effectively serving as bookends to the two prior releases, hailing from the dawn and end of the band’s career).

As you might expect, the earlier release is less polished, bearing more of a rehearsal room sound and being far less indicative of the band’s sound than those of Bottom Feeder…which trio of tracks are pretty damn good, actually.

I was thinking of Disincarnate’s Soul Erosion demo (which being produced by Scott Burns, sounded about a thousand times better than the actual album that followed) when listening to these tracks…so yeah, it seemed like they were really on to something by the time they folded a good 10-12 years back.

Get it for those last 3 tracks and forget the demo, it’s like hearing two entirely different bands.

Cavurn – Rehearsal TAPE (Blood Harvest) (June 1)

Geez, I guess “underground black metal” is trying to make a comeback or something.

Here we have yet another such black/death affair, once again buried beneath (cough) cavernous (ahem) reverb and delay, all belch/vomit vox, detuned, overdistorted guitars with tons of signal bleed and crackling of the speakers therefrom, blackened shrieks, the whole schlemiel.

The only plus here is, once again, the band leans far closer to “death” than “black”, so beneath all that distortion and echo lies a sludgy funeral doom band that may be worth hearing.

A little less attention to “established tropes of the subgenre” and a little more original feel (or closer adherence to a doom/death sort of thing), and I’d give this one a horns up.

As it stands, has actual promise beneath a decidedly overused, highly generic template that I thought was dead and gone for at least 2 or 3 years now.

Let’s see an actual producer drag that out of these guys. While not atrocious even “as is”, they could easily be so much more than what you’re hearing here.

 

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