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Another interesting month…well, pair of months here at the Temple of the Third Eye, to be sure.

Above and beyond anything happening in ye olde privayte lyfe and all the horrors and atrocities being perpetrated and reported on in the daily news from Road to Dictatorship Central (f/k/a the White House), the simple fact that you hold in your hands what has to be, hands down, the largest Third Eye Roundup ever published (lost count as we started approaching 200 reviewables – seriously) is just…bizarre, to be honest.

I mean, we had to leave one label’s quarterly opening of their archives out entirely, and this after deciding to make this a two month double sized summer special, taking a few weeks off from our recordings and editing of the Weird Scenes podcast and pacing the reviews to a certain number per day or less…the hits just keep on coming.  So many folks want a piece of the pie, as it were.

So while intending to run this into next week, given the holiday and the last minute decision to quit while we’re ahead of the game (all caught up with incoming material as of yesterday…and mind, still have a few earmarked for next time around, plus the aforementioned label archive, plus two podcasts in the can awaiting editing with one more to come this weekend…sheesh! Too much work for summertime…), we’re delivering this one all wrapped up in a big ol’ bow for your holiday revels.

So grill up some wings, ribs, sausage & pepper sandwiches or hot dogs, grab a cold one or six, and before the fireworks fill the sky, dig in to our informed takes on a couple hundred or so releases clamoring for your attention and hard earned dollar. Which if any are worth the time?

Kick back, relax, and read on, pilgrim…

TNT – XIII (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (June 8)

You know, I was a pretty big aficionado of TNT back in the day.

I mean, if you could get past the helium squeal highs of Tony Harnell’s range (and the fact that, like Queensryche’s Geoff Tate, he had a prominent propensity towards singing through his front teeth), they were one of the most solid, consistent and melodic acts straddling not only the traditional and glam scenes, but that of the nascent shred scene springing up in the wake of Shrapnel Records discoveries like Yngwie Malmsteen (then of Steeler and Alcatrazz, pre-solo career), Paul Gilbert of Racer X and Tony MacAlpine, among many others (Steve Vai, then of the early 80’s Zappa lineup, Alcatrazz and David Lee Roth fame immediately springs to mind).

Hell, founding member Ronnie LeTekro even touted his own patented “four stepper guitar”, presumably how he worked those surprisingly high speed solos peppering radio friendly girlfriend material and hard driving speed metal tracks like “deadly metal” and “tell no tales” alike. I ask you, what the fuck was not to love about those first three Harnell albums (Knights of the New Thunder, Tell No Tales and Inquisition)? Even when they started to stumble and the songs started to feel slapped together and disjointed (Realized Fantasies), there were a few real gems sprinkled in there (“hard to say goodbye”, “all you need”).

But like most diehards in the decidedly metal-unfriendly decade that ensued, TNT all but disappeared for several years, apparently re-emerging towards the end of the 90’s to no one’s knowledge or particular acclaim, at least domestically in the States (can’t speak for Europe or Japan, many of whose fans kept the flame alive through even the darkest days of nu-, grunge and aggro). So I’m talking from the perspective of TNT’s classic era, circa 1984-9 (or if you want to really push it, ’92).

So.

What the fuck happened to TNT?

There’s the slightest bit of the strong melodic focus the band was known for at play herein, sure…but it’s not the same at all, and I don’t just mean because they changed vocalists.

For his part, new kid Baol Busara can occasionally pull off a Harnell-esque tone (“tears in my eyes”), and he’s respectable enough in prog rock terms, so don’t think I’m placing blame on his head – he does an OK job, for what it’s worth.

But a forgettable fill or two aside (as in “not feeling anything”), where’s the flashy lead work? Where are those hard driving, USPM-style riffs that kept the band from dissolving into pure syrup? And what the fuck is with those bizarre spoken word intros? And most of all…why do these songs kinda suck so hard as they actually do?

Yeah, this is really mellow shit. I mean, seriously mellow, with some vague, almost bluesy pretentions towards bar band rock…but not even to the degree of faux-“hardness” or (God help you) “metal” of grunge-influenced former metal bands in the early to mid 90’s. It’s kind of sad, actually, particularly from a band who used to be quite this good.

I don’t know, maybe those who followed the band through their more recent career may find something of value in this, as in “it’s much harder or more melodic than the one they put out in 2002” or what have you…

…but me?

I found myself severely let down by this questionable effort by what used to be one of the best bands of the trad-to-glam (not to mention out and out driving high speed!) metal, just a few decades ago.

REFUGE – Solitary Men (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (June 8)

You know, some of the bands we get to cover herein benefit from the ongoing
discoveries of a restless listener. I mean, a few years back, I recall mocking one band’s attempt at showing their “obscure trad” love by covering a track from Germany’s Rage. I mean, no idea how well that band was recieved on home turf, but over here? Trust me, nobody ever heard of ’em.

Cue a renaissance (re)discovery and wholehearted embrace of vintage (and yes, quite obscure) US power metal (USPM) and the often inextricably related vintage prog/power scene of the 80’s and early to mid-90’s over the last year or two, and some not incredibly long ago loaded reissues and remasters of the first few Rage albums, the likeable “speed metal” (as they used to call this not incredibly speedy, rather NWOBHM meets thrash USPM variant back in those days – think Exciter, Gravestone or early Grave Digger) of Reign of Fear and the somewhat iffier, but blessed by Warlock’s Rudy Graf followup, Execution Guaranteed. Perhaps not the most thrilling metal albums you’ll ever encounter, no.  But damn solid, and enjoyable if you dig the style.

Well, apparently this is an all-ex Rage member act, featuring frontman Peavy Wagner and two guys who came on board after the aforementioned albums, but who also did time in similarly minded Teutonic “speed metal” acts like Grave Digger and Running Wild (albeit in their less interesting later “historical concept album power metal” and “pirate metal” eras). Bottom line, both guys showed up just a tad too late, but all were in what were at one point decent, even pivotal bands in the German metal scene, particularly if you’re talking early power and/or “speed” metal throughout the late 80’s and running into the early millenium.

So how does this new collaboration between all these former Rage (etc.) members hold up?

Well, look – it’s a recent “comeback album”. You can never really expect the teenaged glory days out of guys now pushing (or past) middle age, so nostalgia aside, all those vintage bands tend to be graded on a curve, no matter who you’re talking to. But that said? This is pretty fucking solid, even surprisingly so.

“Bleeding from inside”, “from the ashes”, “summer’s winter”, even arguably “we owe a life to death” are the sort of songs you might expect from the band that gave us Execution Guaranteed…perhaps even the one responsible for Reign of Fear. The production is much different, the vibe isn’t exactly the same…but for one of these sort of decades on reunion albums? God damn, these guys had at least a handful of killer tracks in ’em yet!

Now, the rest of the album is a bit more poppy feeling, as in “overly melodic” and a tad too major key in feel for my tastes, so don’t expect vintage Rage, here. But all things being equal, and grading on just a bit of a curve?

Solid, Jackson.

SUNSTORM – Road To Hell (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (June 8)

Former Yngwie (and before that, Rainbow) frontman Jeff Scott Soto returns with the follow up to the same band’s Edge of Tomorrow.

Like that earlier effort, Turner’s work with Sunstorm straddles a line between melodic metal and a more workaday (and thus dull) hard rock. Moments falling under the former category shine brightly (“still fighting”, the Alcatrazz-like “road to hell”, to a lesser extent “on the edge”), others bring a vague Rainbow/Deep Purple vibe (“state of the heart”, the intro to “calling”).

The one big positive here is that the guitars are far more prominent this time around, leaving even the more questionable “classic rock” material falling somewhat in the “harder rock” range, and another Frontiers go-to, Simone Mularoni, offers some brief if likeable leads to help spruce up the mix. If you’re just comparing the two Sunstorm albums covered by us here, there’s no question that Road to Hell is the monster of the two, beating the living shit out of the far wimpier Edge of Tomorrow…

…but if you’re comparing to the more pointedly metal work of Turner’s career, you may want to stick to the first two or three tracks mentioned hereinabove – the rest don’t even come close.

Amanda Somerville‘s TRILLIUM – Tectonic (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (June 8)

Another of those names much bandied about in the gothic/symphonic metal scene in whom I’ve never found a whole hell of a lot to appreciate, Amanda Somerville is probably best known for her Kiske/Somerville project with veteran Helloween frontman Michael Kiske as well as (to my understanding) being some sort of “vocal coach” to the stars, offering bit parts and backing vox to classic albums by Kamelot and Epica.

Don’t get me wrong, now, there’s nothing actually wrong with her vox, at times she even sounds pretty decent…there’s just never any moments where she stands out from the crowd like a Liv Kristine, Ji-In Cho, Simone Simons or Melissa Ferlaak would (among many others I could name in this respect). She’s too chamelonlike, too prone to standard “pop vocals” rather than working an operatic soprano or really throwing herself into the material like some frontwomen on the scene are prone to.

Case in point, here she offers what for a pre-autotune pop star might be considered a bravura performance, but for gothic/symphonic metal? I mean, this isn’t that far removed from Cristina Scabbia, love her or hate her. And that’s really not saying much in vocal terms.

The material here is fittingly listenable for the more radio friendly, pop oriented end of the gothic metal scene (think Nemesea, Unsun, Evanescence, Lacuna Coil), but unimpressive in the way Mark Janssen-era After Forever was…or early Epica…or Mother Earth era Within Temptation…or even the recent Floor Janssen-fronted Nightwish can be.

So you want a quick summation? Thats it – very listenable, quite respectable, even likeable to a very moderate degree…

…but you can just ignore it as background music, it’s highly unlikely to grab you by the balls and make you pay any real attention the way a stronger, more persuasive band or frontwoman can.

  

Atrocity – Okkult II (Massacre Records) (July 6)

hmm.

Longtime listeners of the Third Eye Cinema podcast (and regular readers of the monthly music roundup reviews) should be well aware of our affection for Liv Kristine, the former Theatre of Tragedy and Leaves Eyes chanteuse whose impeccable coloratura graced over a dozen albums between the two acts, many of which remain in very regular rotation around the ol’ domicile to this very day (if not spun by yours truly, then by my wife, who’s perhaps an even bigger fan of the lady and her oeuvre since they blew the late Khan-fronted Kamelot off the stage at BB Kings about a decade back).

So without digging overly deeply into gossipy bullshit, let our first interview with Liv herself as contrasted with her tenor in our second serve as testimony to not only that fact, but of some changes in the personal and professional relationship between the lady and Leaves Eyes/Atrocity mainman (and top tier producer) Alex Krull, who we also spoke to on the release of the first installment of Okkult a few years back…changes that for one reason or another, have borne out in more recent days.

Bottom line, Liv’s now slumming with her far less talented sis in a decidedly (if
likeably) Myrkur-sounding Midnattsol (whose original lineup we spoke to in reference to the excellent third Ahab album), and whose recent release, while enlivened greatly by her presence, was marred horribly by the tone deaf “production skills” of prominent mids-and-muffled tones loving current guitarist Stephan Adolph (who, speaking metaphorically, should be shot for muting one of the best voices in the business under a wet blanket in favor of a guitar-drums heavy mix whose tone sounds like someone pissing on cardboard throughout…truly abominable production, in desperate need of a remaster).

For their part, Leaves Eyes limps along somewhat gracelessly under the chilly toned, weirdly self promoting Elina Siirala (yes, you too can take a vocal lesson from her when she comes by your town on tour!), managing to get themselves dropped from labels along the way. While there’s still at least a glimmer of hope on both sides, neither party came out of this one particularly well.

So the untouched production skills of Krull and Mastersound aside, that leaves just one straggler unaddressed in the equation…namely the one project untouched by the former Espeneas/Krull partnership, Alex’ long running death metal gone gothic metal and back to sorta symphonic death metal act, Atrocity.

So here we are, new release in hand…some rather telling promo pix of a much
bedraggled frontman aside, how does this last bastion of the Krull empire hold up after this long and costly siege?

Not badly at all, actually.

The production is still crisp, full and crystalline, with plenty of heft and fat guitars, somewhat muted but powerful drums, early Epica-esque vocal choir bits and vaguely James Murphyesque (if rather simplistic and whammy bar-oriented ala Rick Rozz) leads and old school, if in principle melodeath-ish lead lines throughout.

For his part, Krull sounds more fierce and death metal proper tonally than his comical interjections into Leaves Eyes material over the years…age and the recent rough patch he’s gone through appear to have lent the proper vitriol to his performance. He’s come a long way since Hallucinations, to put it mildly, and a few iffy guest spots (from Morgoth’s Marc Grewe and a particularly unrecognizable Lars Goran Petrov…can you believe this is the same guy who dropped all those Nihilist demos and Left Hand Path? Guess all that “death n’ roll” crap took its toll…) only serve to hammer home just how intense the new Alex Krull is.

So, long story short once again. Whether as a big middle finger to life, the universe and everyone or as part and parcel of all the personal and professional turmoil of late, Krull and company appear to have finally grown into the part, delivering the Atrocity Okkult only hinted at.

Toss the entire back catalog, this is the Atrocity album to start and finish with.

Obscura- Diluvium (Relapse Records) (July 13)

We’d covered these math metaller’s (or tech death, or progressive death, however you choose to classify a band who swipes their name from latter day Gorguts and sounds like a cross between Watchtower and earlier Cynic) Akroasis what felt like only a few months back…but turns out to be over two years ago. Creepy, how time flies, huh?

Anyway, it’s more of the same, though if memory serves, this may be a touch more aggressive, with a relentless speed and a whole shitload of croak vocals (aided and abetted by frequent vocorder doubling ala Cynic circa Focus).

As with Watchtower…and Cynic, for that matter, Obscura delivers a total package that’s a step above the norm. This allows a normally eye rolling recipient of this sort of tech/prog death cum math metal stuff to kick back and appreciate the strong production…some decent playing, despite the propensity towards wheedly-whoo (at least they seem to be picking a lot of those fast arpeggiated runs, instead of just pulling the legato sweep thing 24/7), hell, even a touch of light melody and song construction by comparison to what you usually get with players in this subgenre (or spectrum of related subgenres thereof).

Now, mind, I’m not saying it doesn’t get a touch boring after a few tracks of this, because yeah, it does wear on ya if you’re not a crazy eyed fanboy of this sort of shit (and I decidedly am not such – about as far from it as you can get, in fact.)

But as these sort of releases go, and by comparison to any number of likeminded acts out there? Obscura stands rather high above, rubbing shoulders with a rarified few progenitors of this sort of thing (several of whom were noted hereinabove).

I liked it well enough, the quality and consistency of their releases is undeniable.

Orange Goblin – The Wolf Bites Back (Candlelight/Spinefarm) (June 15)

Yet another of those bands you always hear bandied about in certain circles, but whom I’ve always managed to avoid, here drops into the virtual mailslot for review.

Now, I’d always heard they were yet another stoner rock combo, and frankly, Monster Magnet was the only such band I ever really latched onto back in the day – Kyuss was a single album (Blues for the Red Sun) and bands like Electric Wizard and Sleep wouldn’t come onto the radar for years yet, at least in this house. My tastes were harder and darker and the whole soundalike 70’s retro thing felt pretty damn boring and overdone even by the time Fu Manchu made the scene – let’s leave it at that.

So anyway, here we are, a good 20 years past the UK band’s formation, and this is the first time I’m hearing ’em, at least knowingly (who knows about any brief and disinterested encounters via radio, suffice to say I never knew ’em if I did run across ’em.)

First thing that strikes me is that they’re not really a stoner act…nor are they doom…or traditional metal…or aggro, or any other subgenre you’d assume they’d have gravitated towards or morphed into. If anything, this is more hard rock of a vaguely 90’s bent – gritty, sorta grungy sounding guitars, noisy production (the drums and cymbals overpower the guitars, whose tone and signal are, as just noted, kind of loose and sloppy) and growly-gravel vox of a vague kin to CoC in the Pepper Keenan era.

Yeah, that’s a good analogue – The Wolf Bites Back comes off most like a slightly more pepped up Deliverance.

Now, back in the early to mid 90’s, I was cool with that album. Then again, I actually recall owning a 99c used copy of Alice In Chains’ Dirt, which baffles the memory to recognize (it was short lived and long since dumped). It was a very, very bad era for heavy music, hence my oft recounted forays into all sorts of retro music, from 30’s swing to 60’s jazz and psychedelia to 70’s fusion and British/Celtic folk/rock crossovers like Pentangle and Steeleye Span, and much more besides – sorry, but grunge and aggro did nothing for me (and still don’t).

So do I feel like I missed out on a damn thing, in not running across Orange Goblin for all these years?

If this one’s any indication, sorry, but not in the least.

CoC fans should be happy with this one, that’s about the best I can offer here.

Bullet For My Valentine – Gravity (Spinefarm Records) (June 29)

Welsh act somewhere in the nebulous spectrum of neo-“metal” of the modern sort that encompasses everything from Trivium to Avenged Sevenfold, from metalcore and emo to aggro and Slipknot-style nu metal, Euro-style “modern metal” and the ridiculously misnomered “NWOAHM”.

In other words, there’s no way in hell anyone over the age of 21 considers this “metal”, but it’s angry enough, with enough distorted and (unfortunately) detuned guitars and metalcore/emo-style clean vox interrupted by hilarious screamo/growly ones as a means of expressing emotional turmoil and existential angst to fool the outsider into lumping it in with same.

That said, when you cover so much of the heavy/outsider/cult arena of modern music, you start to get more forgiving. Geez, at least these guys can carry a fucking tune! Damn, there’s an actual harmony or melody in this track! Holy sheep shit, that guy can actually lay down a proper guitar solo! So much better than the last 20-100 acts we just had to wade through…

Mind, in saying that, we’re not being specific to Bullet vs. other stuff covered this month, but you get the idea of what’s being said here. You start to compromise a bit, they can’t all be classics for the ages (and trust me, precious little of this stuff will be.  They’ll still be cranking stuff from the late 60’s-80’s decades from now, because people actually knew how to construct and deliver a fucking song back then.)

Even so, these Welshmen, whom I’ve managed to consciously avoid encountering till now,* certainly have a grasp of radio friendly melodicism, limiting the screamo bits and neanderthal thunka-thunka riffing to a comparative minimum. The overall effect is that of a less whiny emo act with stronger pop sensibilities, or one of those early millenial pop-punk acts with less humor and a bit more gravitas.

* yes, kids, you can shut all sorts of pop cultural bullshit out of your life, with sufficient Will and determination. It’s a choice, and you’d be amazed at the changes in yourself and your dealings with others – how you see the world really shifts dramatically when you walk the path of existential authenticity and start tuning out all the subtle demands to fall in line we’re collectively fed through media and “entertainment”, enforced by clueless peers.

Of course, as fans of metal, punk and goth, you probably already have some early grasp of this. Take it a step further, start by killing the radio and cutting the cable, if you will. You’ll be pleasantly surprised when you find who you actually are, undiluted by “influencers”.

Is this the sort of thing I’d be inclined to latch onto, the sort of band I’d wind up digging up the back catalogue of and wear a shirt to declare my affection for?

Are you fucking kidding me?

But that said, are they more than listenable, even likeable, should girlfriend/friends/radio drop a few cuts into your unintended rotation?

Hell, yeah, they are.

Not my thing as a rule, but it sounded pretty damn good on that metric, definitely.

  

Witchsorrow – Hexenhammer (Candlelight/Spinefarm) (May 25)

Heavy, muted tone doom very much in the Electric Wizard vein, though less stoner than Sabbath in other, less obvious respects.

There’s really no traditional doom acts this sounds like – the stench of the Wizard is all over these folks – but you could argue a slight Trouble feel to the more uptempo “the devil’s throne” and a classic thrash/sludge feel to “eternal” that could mark a listening or two to the Medieval EP (or the subsequent Medieval Kills) somewhere long forgotten in their past.

Regardless, it’s pretty heavy, lumbering and thick toned doom, probably intended as traditional, though in practice decidedly modern in feel – they might as well have swapped our hilariously goofily pseudonymous frontman “Necroskull” (yeah, what are you, 5? Old Skull grew up, I guess…) and cute hipster girl “Emily Witch” for Jus Osborn and Liz Buckingham, added a few drug references and some more vocal processing, and there you go, another Electric Wizard album.

Even so…is that such a bad thing?

I was good with it, overall.

SPACE ELEVATOR – I (Steamhammer / SPV) (June 22)

Seems like just…oh, last month that we covered their cleverly titled II, so here we work in reverse to take on their debut.

Well, the best track by many a mile is the bonus track (and presumable cover) “don’t say a word”, which is working a tried and true blues that shows both six stringer Young and pseudonymous frontwoman “The Duchess” capable of much better material than is their wont.

As that should imply, their actual material is…kind of soft and quirky, more pop than rock, sort of a Divinyls without teeth, except when they attempt a Journey/Foreigner thing on “loneliness in love” or the sort of Midwestern AOR anthemic vibe of “move on” (the only other standout tracks on the album).

I guess there’s nothing wrong with it…

…but why the hell are we covering something not only this bland, but this blatantly mainstream?

  

Subsignal – La Muerta (Gentle Art of Music) (May 25)

Asia for the post millenial generation.

Seriously – this is well produced German prog with clean, multitracked harmony vocals so tight they almost sound robotic, with a light and airy feel sure to please Midwestern types and girlfriends more than the guys in the audience, but proggy and busy enough on the back end to (potentially) satisfy them as well.

Surprised this didn’t come out on Frontiers, this is so vintage AOR (and specifically, the more early 80’s prog end thereof) it’s practically wearing a headband and dayglo short shorts or parachute pants.

Again, this one’s primed and ready for radio airplay and the sort of mass audience bands covered here at Third Eye don’t generally strive for or speak to, so while its quality is blatant throughout (not least in the production and aforementioned vocal approach), I have to warn regulars it’ll probably feel wayyyyyy too light for those of our tastes and predilections.

Appreciated more on a detached intellectual and objective plane than anything more visceral, I found this one impeccable for what they seem to be aiming for…but too soft, too workaday, and ultimately too boring to give more than a “very listenable if someone else is playing it” rating to.

No question on the quality of the playing, production and construction here.

But this might as well have been a Yes album…i.e., a big nah.

   

Kissin’ Dynamite – Ecstasy (Metal Blade Records) (July 6)

You know, it’s always surprised me that Kissin’ Dynamite hails from Germany. There’s a definite L.A. Guns N’ Roses sort of tattooed junkie metal vibe about them…albeit one equally marked by a Sinner meets Firehouse upbeat glam (and in the former case, leaning somewhat Euro power metallish) thing.

They’re a strange band, therefore, devoted as much to hooks as hookers, to polished songwriting and production as much as poppers. They don’t quite fit, though elements of both image and style are easily discernible amidst the mix.

We covered them for MegalomaniaGeneration Goodbye and the live affair Dynamite Nights and remain unshaken in what we’re hearing in their material.

The only thing that may or may not have changed is this: either we’ve softened a bit towards their material, or in tandem with their jumping ship to the (arguably) more high profile Metal Blade, they’ve simply stepped up their game.

“You’re not alone” is easily the best they’ve got to offer here, but “ecstasy” sticks in your craw like something straight out of ’89 (think New Jersey era Bon Jovi crossed with Extreme), “placebo” is rather listenable if somewhat undistinguished (i.e. it really goes nowhere, but you’ll probably find it a pleasant enough ride around the monorail), and the bouncy “one more time” should get the festival crowds a’jumpin’ and cheering along.

The rest of it…yeah, same old Kissin’ Dynamite, whatever. But those few tracks, I don’t know…just felt like they threw a bit more piss and vinegar into the gas tank for this one.

Good on ya, as the Aussies say.

Clearly, someone just farted.

Glass Lungs – Impermanence (June 29)

Pleasant indie act with jangling, ringing guitar tones and a spacey, almost Fauntslike vibe.

Interestingly, another band out of the new, hipster-friendly Brooklyn (see also the estimable Ghostbound, covered last month), which seems to point towards the former rough and tumble Italian ghetto becoming something of a vanguard in the genre.

Darker toned tracks like “impermanence”, “eyes of the abyss” and “from the wayside” work better than the comparatively happy ones like “acquiesce”, “foreign bodies”, “monolith” or “firewalker”, but it’s all more or less of a piece – if you dig what you’re hearing on the stronger material, the lesser end won’t exactly send you scurrying for cover, so to speak.

I liked it well enough, yeah.

Tyrant – The Existential Reversal (June 16)

umm…ok, this sure as fuck isn’t the Tyrant I know.

You know, US power metal act from the mid-80’s, put out one killer album (Legions of the Dead) and one overpraised but rather iffy one (Too Late to Pray)? There were also a few killer bands that started out as “Tyrant” in their demo days – Jag Panzer and St. Vitus.

Well, this is probably the 25th band to bear that somewhat unoriginal moniker, this time out of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, home of the infamous tar sands.

They’re more or less a thrash act, with aspirations towards tech, some Arabian minor orientation that points towards a Nile-style death metal influence and touches that go straight into black metal territory (the latter two both quite obvious in opener “flesh candle”).

Guitars are busy, the sound isn’t exactly unappealing…except for one really big caveat.

You guessed it…once again, every bozo on the planet thinks he can hack it as
frontman/vocalist.

Snarl, shriek, growl, scream your way into unintentional comedy territory, get a few drunken fanboys to praise how “hard” or “cool” your lack of vocal talent is, bam. Another crappy band foisted upon the Earth…or as is more often the case, another halfway decent band, ruined by a dogshit “vocalist”.

Case very much in point.

Guys, you know exactly what to do to step up your game.

  

IRON HUNTER – Mankind Resistance (Fighter Records) (July 13)

Now this is a fuck of a lot more like it.

Sure, frontman Emi Ramirez bears an overly high pitched, haltingly forced, almost sputtering tonality and approach to his vocals, sort of like Ron Keel with his balls trapped in a vise – and that’s just damn silly, until you get used to it.

But the music behind it is that strong, catchy, direct, melodic and driving all at once, that any fans of USPM (or its far more generic and cheesy, yet oddly more celebrated European progeny) should drop whatever the fuck they’re doing (slaying medieval dragons, rescuing fair damsels, dancing with a village of trolls, working a forklift, whatever…) right now and run to grab this piece of modern mastery, wholly traditional and with the appropriate eau du NWOBHM, yet beholden to none in particular, and about as far as you can get from your usual classic band copycat act.

Loved the living shit out of this one.

Spain’s Fighter Records is really becoming a force to be reckoned with in power metal, and definitely the only label I can think of whose orientation is more akin to classic 80’s USPM than the Helloween meets Accept school from which we get bands like Iron Savior, Rhapsody, Orden Ogan and so forth (generally to much lesser effect and far more generic a sound).

Keep that flame burning.

  

WITCHFYRE – Grimorium Verum (Fighter Records) (August 8)

Now, that’s more like it, he wrote, coming directly off of that Orange Goblin nonsense…

Apparently this album was recorded and shelved since 2016, which, when starting off on closer “samhain” (don’t ask…player issue), boggles the mind. Do you realize just how much utter shit has been released in the interim? And they left this one on the shelf?  Seriously?

The frontman of Iron Hunter, Emi Ramirez, does double duty with these fellow Spaniards (and labelmates), which should say a lot right there. I mean, yeah, we made a joke about his vox, and that assessment still holds…but once you get used to him, it certainly works for the material, which on its best tracks may be almost as solid as the guy’s main gig: “samhain” and “night hunter” could easily have wound up on Mankind Resistance.

It’s the rest of the album that gets more…dicey, I guess. Too laid back, too ponderous, not really going anywhere. I keep flashing on Dickinson-era Iron Maiden, but too many people would consider that high praise. I’m a Di’Anno man, Dickinson’s Maiden was always too pretentious and stiff necked for my tastes. Yeah, I grew up on ’em, I have all the albums…but do they ever get the dust blown off ’em? Fuck, no – it’s always the self titled, sometimes Killers. Hard stop.

And that’s the difference between Iron Hunter and Witchfyre, really – the material’s stretching too much for its own good, and winds up a bit yawn inducing as a result.

Want to clear a club?  Put on something like the nearly 7 minute “queen of the night”. Not a terrible track, mind…but the mind starts to wander, the attention drifts, you look for something else to occupy your thoughts.

It’s just too laid back, drawn out and boring, ultimately – which is certainly not something that can be said of the two tracks called out earlier (which have actual drive and motion to them, and will grab the listener immediately, so much do they stand out from what surrounds herein).

  

Witchskull – Coven’s Will (Rise Above Records) (June 1)

Aussie (very much stoner) doom act.

They owe less to bands like Sleep, Monster Magnet and St. Vitus than you’d expect, but you can hear that “just picked up the guitar, fake it with a lot of widdling and wah pedal” approach of Dave Chandler and some definite Sabbath by way of Kyuss riffing in there, so read as you will.

The riffing is OK, though the vox leave something to be desired. Even beyond Marcus DiPasquale’s weird warbling and quirky overemoting, he seems to end each phrase processed through an oscilloscope (though hardly as cool as what Ozzy did on “planet caravan” – whatever he’s doing to get that sound here just sounds distractingly stupid.)

Long story short – rein in those bizarro vocals (or get someone else to do ’em), Witchskull would come off a fuck of a lot better than they actually do here.

Taken as is, fair…but be forewarned, that guy’s vox are going to take a whole hell of a lot of conscious and concerted effort to even start to get used to.

  

Axegrinder – Satori (Rise Above Records) (July 13)

You know, right or wrong, fairly or no, I can tell you firsthand as a veteran thrasher that there’s always been something of a bias against UK thrash.

These days, I don’t get it as much as I once did – Xentrix is pretty dead on with the whole Metallica Bay Area style, with Re-Animator, perfectly rubbish production aside, not far behind.

Then you get Onslaught, whose lone album with the great Steve Grimmett, Edge of Sanity, has revealed itself in recent years to be less the “overly commercial sellout” we’d all taken it as (even at the time of our interview with Nige Rockett!) and more of the powerful, somewhat progressive thrash masterwork it actually is.

Even D-A-M and Deathwish had their moments…it’s only Acid Reign that still comes off as something of a joke…far more of one than they intend, that is.

But many of the old accusations still hold some merit – the driness, the stodgy feel, the fact that the energy and rage simply isn’t there in the same sense…UK thrash can (and often does) come off a bit overlong and boring in a way you simply won’t hear with its US, German or South American (specifically Brazilian) peers.

So here we come to Axegrinder, a crusty thrash act who to be quite blunt? I never even heard of before this. Promo materials compare them to Amebix and Sacrilege, names you’d at least seen touted in ads in metal mags back in the day (though I can’t remember ever hearing, or knowing anyone who paid any real attention to, either)…but Axegrinder? No fucking idea.

Apparently they’d dropped one lone album back in ’89, appeared on a few splits…then poof. To be honest, that year was just about the last gasp for the thrash scene…possibly 1990, maybe a straggler or two into ’91. By then, the tides had shifted, and everyone moved on to the more exciting “forbidden” pastures of death metal (which would in turn give way to black metal, with most metalheads finding themselves embarrassed into renouncing their past allegiances and careers into embracing (or at least hiding and trying to still make a soul-selling buck approximating) the whole grunge/alternative/aggro thing that made the 90’s so fucking ugly, musically speaking.

So was it really a surprise these guys never really made a name for themselves?

Anyway, 30 years on, and every forgotten demo to EP-level band has pulled themselves back together in light of a surprising (but much welcomed) revival in interest of even the most obscure of 80’s metal bands of whatever stripe…and Axegrinder have just queued up to the front of the line, asking for their moment in the sun.

So who are these guys, anyway? Well, to read the promo writeup and quick interview, they sound like they’re on the right side of history, at least:

“We have entered an age of hate and intolerance that thrives under a flag of ignorance proudly being waved by politicians,” Trev states. “It’s the old cliché of ‘divide and rule’. Unfortunately, clichés are clichés because they’re true.”

OK, yeah, we’re on speaking terms politicosocially, then. How about musically

Well…depends on your level of preference for Crass crossed with Discharge, really. Thickly accented, shouted vox and signal bleed prone overdistorted guitars (you know that thin, mids heavy tone you get when you jack the pedal beyond its capabilities, and the body and bass just goes right out the window? Bingo.) It’s not all politics, but neither is it really thrash…it’s more of a midtempo, grinding cross between crust punk and a lumbering 90’s “heavy music” vibe.

I can’t say I really enjoyed it, but neither did it make me crinkle the old nose overmuch. I was able to sit through the whole thing, which is good because the best track seems to be closer “too far from home”, which at least bears a slightly more epic scope than the rest of the material here, at times bordering on an old school thrash-style “power ballad”.

Bottom line, they’re probably a right pair o’ geezers, and would probably be entertaining to spend an evening pounding away a few rounds of pints with. But is this any sort of “must hear” as an album?

Nah, not really.

Zombiefication – Below the Grief (Doomentia) (July 15)

OK, now I can’t recall having covered these guys before, but it sounds like they would have gotten a reasonable rating on past efforts. How do I manage this round of dazzling retroactive prestidigitation, you ask? Simply basing it on this line: “the original (band) goal was to pay homage to early Swedeath…Dismember and Entombed.” Yeah, that sounds good, even middling attempts in that direction at least get a nod of respect for the effort.

Problem is…they got tired of it. Happens, when you’re effectively a tribute band.

Problem is…like most tribute bands, they have no worthwhile ideas of their own to offer.

SO YOU GET SOME GUY SHRIEKING HORRRIBBLLYYYYYYY BLEEAAAAHHH!!!!
over substandard post-Panzerfaust Darkthrone sludge/crust that tends to lean towards the blackened (“from death to its son” being one of the more blatant examples).

Absolutely nothing about this says “Swedeath”, “Sunlight Studios” or even “Gothenburg”.

But there’s plenty about it that says “damn, this sucks!

Heads up, over there…incoming!

WHIZZZ!!!

Damn, I love to see those green flames sputter. Nothing like melting plastic to rip that ozone layer even thinner…

Next? Hopefully something much better than this? 

HAUNT (U.S.) – Burst Into Flame (CD, LP, TAPE) (Shadow Kingdom) (August 10)

Second album from Beastmaker frontman/guitarist Trevor William Church, whose prior effort Luminous Eyes was covered here (with links to several further Beastmaker albums also covered by us to be found in that selfsame review)

Overall, I found this one a bit lackluster by comparison to Church’s earlier work with either band, bar a few standout tracks like “reflectors”, “frozen in time” and the Devils Bloodlike “my mirage”.

It’s not a million miles remove from what you’ve heard before, but the production feels more flat and in your face, and the riffing on tracks not mentioned feels…tired?  Repetitive? Of the 6 remaining tracks, only “heroes” merits a listen – the rest are filler at best.

What works, still works just fine. But there’s signs of being rushed, or even a bit tapped out at the well…one of the most blatant being the album’s title cut, which should really say something.

The Doctor prescribes a bit of a rest to recharge those creative energies and fill the tank with classic riffage (and better production!) on the next one.

NACHASH – Phantasmal Trinunity (CD, LP, TAPE) (Shadow Kingdom) (August 10)

Strangely unclassifiable take on the tried and quite untrue black/death thing.

Unlike most material spawned by that detestable miscegenation of two great tastes that taste like shit together, these Norwegians seem to be coming at this from somewhere else altogether – enough familiarity with the tropes of the sort of fodder for the ever-burning Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards to lump them in with that bullshit, but at the same time…not.

It’s rather hard to describe, except to say there’s a Heisenberg uncertainty principle about what they’re doing here…a Schrodinger’s cat, that this is/is not black/death.

To take this from an obtuse angle, think lumberingly deliberate, but well produced…with mediocre at best death gargle-growls and overdramatic riffing ala Behemoth or Belphegor, alternating with relentlessly midtempo double bass/tremelo riff BS like you’d expect…but not.

Notice I said “double bass”, not “blastbeats”. And are those riffs really working the tired Dissectionisms, awkward Dark Funeralisms and atonal ringing open chord Watainisms that comprise what listeners expect from black/death? Well…sometimes. But then again, not really.

Take a listen to “elder night”, which is the best track on here. Now head on over to “apex illuminous”. See what I mean? It gets hard to pin down just who these guys want to be, or just how closely they choose to affiliate themselves with that overplayed scene…and yet, what else could they be? They’re not pagan metal…nor are they death metal in any proper traditional sense. Certainly not any form of trad or power, nor gothic or symphonic in any respect. No, they’re black/death.

But then again…not.

Go figure. But there’s enough quality here, and enough of a curiosity factor (as in “what the fuck is this, exactly?”) to give ’em a nod of guarded respect.

Who knows what they’ll come out with next. Could be something better…could be a whole hell of a lot worse. You never know, when it comes to chaos and quantum reality…or, apparently, this batch of new kids straight outta Norway.

DROID (Canada) – Terrestrial Mutations (LP) (Shadow Kingdom) (August 10)

Picture Nasty Ronnie fronting some weird cross between Voivod and Apocrypha, but with the vibe of the more obscure end of the thrash and speed scene back in the day (anywhere from Infernal Majesty to Atrophy).

Amp up the bizarro end (i.e. the Voivod crossed with the post-debut Nasty Savage), and you have Droid, a Canadian SF-oriented take on quirkily proggy, decidedly tech but unquestionably off center thrash.

So freakishly bizarre and singular of vision and approach as to practically scream “latter 80’s”, it’s kind of surprising this hails from a far more recent vintage…particularly as there are actual snippets of melody, riff and tonality scattered about through all its relentless weirdness.

Again, if you’re big enough on Killing Technology-era Voivod and Indulgence/Abstract Reality-era Nasty Savage to want those two great tastes to taste great together, this is your new manna from heaven.

It makes you feel like you’re stuck in a crappy old commercial. You know the one.

Which do you want, kids, lollipops or bubblegum?
Snotty brat voices in unison: “both!”

That’s Droid.

Now go do what you’re led to.

Cryostasium – The Possessor (Fish Prints) (July 6)

We’d run across Cody Maillet’s unusual project a few times before, for both Starbound and Project:00, and here he returns to the fray with yet another EP, this time likely named after the amusing film within a film from early 90’s horror/slasher Popcorn.

Here things feel a bit more black metal than the syncretist poppy anime meets industrial meets electronic crossed with BM thing we’ve seen from him before…but old fans rest assured, the electronic/ambient/industrial business is still in there, sometimes augmenting the more traditional blackened elements, other times pulling things over into some bizarre corner all Maillet’s own.

In other words, it’s a Cryostasium EP, put a period on that.

5 actual tracks (i.e. guitar/drums/electronic accompaniment) with some odd ambient tracks (electronic tones and wave forms that come off like a horde of crickets at the start of September) dropped between each for a total of 9. As his stuff goes, it’s pretty straightforward and listenable, but if you’ve never experienced the guy before, be warned – it’s a lot weirder than it sounds on paper.

This one’s being released by a small cassette-only label, in an edition of 50 pro-pressed glow-in-the-dark tapes, so all you limited edition collector types, get on it before it’s gone.

Frayle – The White Witch EP (Seeing Red Records / Lay Bare Recordings) (June 15)

What if The Darling Buds went more grunge cum stoner doom than trippy psychedelic shoegaze?

Well, apparently, you’d have something a whole hell of a lot like Cleveland’s Frayle, who combine light and airy singsong vocals with a very 70’s-style thick toned heavy overdrive guitar and lumbering basic drum kit approach ala Kyuss by way of Sleep, Electric Wizard or even (arguably) Conan.

I’m not sure the vocals really go with the music (which speaks to some decided
indie-ness rather than a more traditionally heavy doom metal approach), but it’s far from jarring – in fact, it can be downright hypnotic, if you’re in the right mood or state of sobriety.

Definitely weird, probably not to all tastes, even within aficionados of the doom
subgenre…but overall, yeah, this worked for me.

Wombripper – From the Depths of Flesh (Redefining Darkness Records) (June 29)

At first listen to “shredded corpse remains” (the first track that came up on my player, don’t ask), I was thinking, hey, there’s that Sunlight Studios sound again, that good ol’ Entombed HM-2 chainsaw guitar tone.

But then the vocalist comes in a’croaking, and you flash on Dismember for about a second before realizing those detuned riffs are really more akin to Grave (or their forbears Corpse and Putrefaction) – an impression hammered home by the rather Ola Lindgrenesque vocals on actual album opener “still unborn”. And hell, the entire 9 tracks that make up the original album fall very much under the header of “a faster Grave”.

The good news for you is, this edition includes a trio of extra tracks – two unreleased (like the one I mentioned earlier) and one taken from a split with a band called Torn Apart.  These sound a bit different, though still keeping it very much in that vintage Swedeath ballpark.

Yeah, there are a lot of bands keeping this particular sound alive. But some do it better than others.

Case in point.

Damn straight, I was good with this.

Oxygen Destroyer – Bestial Manifestations of Malevolence and Death (Redefining Darkness Records) (July 20)

You know, we get these little promo writeups from the labels to give a general idea of who these folks are, maybe where they come from and who they think they’re trying to emulate.  

Some sites just repost them unedited, you’ll figure out who they are pretty easy (same wording pops up on several sites in a random google search, the writing is pretty fanboyish and overly positive, etc. etc.)  It’s more for a bit of background and a sense of getting the reviewer’s feet wet before diving in than bible truth, so to speak.

A lot of times, they’re really out there, with clone acts pretending they’re original, black/death acts acting like they’re thrash or straight up death metal, you name it – it gets pretty amusing, and being the bastard I am, they’re often called out in these very pages for their frequent disconnect with reality.

But other times…they can be strangely dead on. Here’s one where the author or rep compared the band (in the same breath, mind) to both Vader and Morbid Saint…then tagged in Sodom and Kreator. Oh, come on. 

And yet, a few tracks in, I’m hearing elements that suggest more than a passing familiarity with The Ultimate Incantation…vox and riffing aggression that could indeed speak to Morbid Saint if not Demolition Hammer…and by the time you get to “onslaught of the precambrian hordes” (yeah, if the band name weren’t enough of a tipoff, these guys love Godzilla flicks) I’m hearing Sodom riffs…”summoning the moth of divinity”, I’m hearing those sloppy, wild Mille Petrozza leads. And between it all, there’s those easily recognizable Toho kaiju shrieks and cries.

Well produced and strangely syncretistic of many a thing I’ve loved for many a year. While the vox are overly nasty and aggro for my tastes (Morbid Saint were never a favorite, let’s put it that way…and Demolition Hammer’s frontman made their material harder to get through than it should have been), how the hell could I not enjoy this one?

Graven Maul – Crushed Skull Moon (Redefining Darkness Records) (July 13)

On the other hand…yeah, after a trio of strong efforts coming our way through the auspices of Redefining Darkness (both the label itself and its offshoots and partners), then we have this

OK, picture some fat bald guy with a neckbeard, drunk off his ass, probably knocked a few holes in the unfinished sheetrock walls of your basement partying too hard…and now he’s straining at stool, Elvis style.

That’s your vocalist.

Now work a very basic, simplistic to the point of approaching grindcore riffing and drumming, very underproduced and prone to random bouts of feedback, ala Necrophagia (particularly in the Phil Anselmo era).  That’s your band.

umm…look, it’s not the worst thing I’ve heard, even this month.

But yeah.  Let fat boy finish taking his dump, hit that shitter with a few cans of Renuzit and a book or two of matches, and let’s move on, shall we?

Ratbreed – Evoke The Blaze (Inverse Records) (July 13)

A female fronted Finnish act that seems to owe more to the late 60’s sound of similar sounding acts like the Shocking Blue than the metal they ostensibly make affectation towards.

Seriously – look past the in your face, slightly overdistorted guitars to the actual melodies and the riffing at the bridges and choruses…is that metal? Hardly – it’s the harder edged, quirkier European end of 60’s pop. Pull out that dusty old cassette or vinyl of the Shocking Blue (or perhaps even the Strawberry Alarm Clock and Cold Blood!) and you’ll hear it immediately – just tag on some early, almost pre-NWOBHM style proto-metal guitars (and occasional driving, Acceptlike chugging tremelo riffing on the verses), and there you have it.

Even so, the oddest thing about Ratbreed isn’t so much their 1966-9 pop band with late 70’s-early 80’s metallic veneer, but the quirkily questionable vocals of frontwoman Jasmin Anglen, which seem pretty strange by any standard, but show themselves as downright weak on one track in particular…because it’s been done before, by a much stronger frontwoman.

Weirdly enough, they include a half credible cover of (of all things) the Niko
Arvanitis/Tommy Bolan-era Warlock’s “I rule the ruins” (after Graf left for a brief run with Rage and Szigeti and Rittel jumped over to the Accept album in all but name, U.D.O.’s Animal House), mainly let down by the warbling, swallowed word vocals of Anglen.

At their most driving, I start thinking this band may be on to something – “blaze from below” in particular, but both “decay of the mind” and “escape from the asylum” certainly have their moments.

And while the slower, more obviously retro-pop ala the British Invasion and early psychedelia just comes off as fucking strange (the bridges and chorus on “escape”, just about every track not mentioned herein), this isn’t a horrible slam – it works in that forum, it’s just open to debate whether that songwriting approach has any place in the more driving power/speed metal milieu they otherwise cop to.

But putting Anglen up against Doro Pesch…even at her most painfully forced and screeching (Triumph and Agony must have set her vocal chords back for a bit, that’s for damn sure…”three minute warning” or “touch of evil”, anyone?)…I’m sorry, but that’s just a joke.

Interesting, at times winning. Worth a listen to see if it grabs ya.

Callidice – Anthem For Resistance (Inverse Records) (May 18)

Odd symphonic death metal that claims to be melodeath.

It’s not, but it is strange and proggy in the sense that it’s some sort of a concept album with clean vocals alternating with gargling deathlike ones, with a whole lot of keyboards, synth and bombast driving matters far more than the guitars ever attempt to.

I can see an argument for this being an offshoot of the gothic doom thing ala My Dying Bride or Paradise Lost, because there’s a lot of similarity in not only vibe, but approach (all those tinkling piano lines, the power metallish use of semi-tremelo guitars and typewriter drums as backing to same, the clear and strong production).

They even go sorta indie meets industrial on “scarred” and tech/prog on “young blood”, but melodeath? No way.

Can’t say I was any more than nonplussed by this one.

Fog Light – 2nd Impression (Inverse Records) (June 15)

Strange, but in a good way.

These guys apparently hail from bands more on the black to death (or at least thrash) metal scale, from the names listed (none were familiar, so it’s all speculation here), but come together to work a sort of early 80’s AOR prog kind of thing, at times coming off like a Styx or even Van Halen record, then all of a sudden bursting into some fusionlike flourish of guitar wankery.

It’s too major key, relaxed and straightforward to truly fall under the fusion header, but there’s no question these guys have some degree of familiarity with the likes of Holdsworth, Clarke and Ship Arriving Too Late-era Zappa from some of the harmonies and lines being dropped along the way. Of course, I’m also picking up some grunge, aggro and nu-metal riffing (as in “kiven moyhennysta”) in the mix, which is just ridiculous…

A lot of modern music, even at its best, comes off like someone lighting a match in front of a fart by comparison to that released in the heyday of the genres and styles (and hell, often enough, directly swiped bands) being tapped, recreated and repurposed.

Like 90’s rap samples compared to the funk tracks they were often pulled from fully formed, they’re like faded replications of better days, better memories, better players, and even the staunchest defenders of new music and the younger generation of players of my acquaintance have admitted without hesitation that while there’s good stuff to be found out there, it seldom holds a candle to the classics that inspired ’em.

But while this is certainly no Williams/Holdsworth Lifetime, Di Meola/Clarke Return to Forever or Inner Mounting Flame/Birds of Fire-era Mahavishnu Orchestra (much less just about any era of Zappa!), I was quite content with what these three Finns were laying down, and it blows away most of what passes for prog of late.

Definitely worth a listen, should appeal to prog types, Shrapnel fans and classic jazz fusion fans alike, at least to some degree.

For all of this album’s quirks and imperfections (and there were many – that irritating riff on “naamion takaa” left me wanting to punch the speaker out of commisson…), I was appreciative that someone was out there attempting to keep the fusion flame alive.

Dyecrest – Are You Not Entertained?  (Inverse Records) (May 25)

Sounds like these guys have had an old school style rough ride thus far.

Apparently back in 2003, Noise/Sanctuary held an unsigned bands contest, which these guys took second place in, giving them a record deal. They dropped an album, toured with big names like Dragonforce and WASP, but Sanctuary more or less went under thereafter. They got another lifeline via parent company Noise, but the second album tanked and they called it quits.

So here they are again, about 13 years on from that last record, and there’s a bunch of drama that went into making this album, nonsense about the material being too “hard edged” for their frontman, getting the guy from Soilwork to record a few tracks, finding another guy off Youtube, who the fuck knows, it got ridiculous after a while. Tuned out, moving on.

So anyway, bottom line, they seem to have recorded this one…or at least redone the damn vocals, at least 3 or 4 times over. Oh, and likeable Piet Sielck of Iron Savior drops some background vocals here too.

But what is this, in the end? Why should anyone give a shit about all of this nonsensically absurd background and this huge “struggle” just to pull together this “comeback album” from a band you probably never heard of?

Well, look – the choruses are strong, melodic and bombastic. Vocals are relatively powerful and clean, in an old school AOR bordering on metal style, the band is verging on power metal, but with more memorable and distinct songs and riffs, and some of those chorus vocals are practically verging on Stryper level (“first born angel”).

In other words, it’s pretty damn good, and very likely to appeal to fans of everything from early European power metal (say, the Fabio Lione-fronted Labyrinth) and Orden Ogan to the more melodic end of USPM (say, Hittman, Axis or Xcel) or even the heavier end of Frontiers records fandom.

So yeah, I guess all that drama about finding the right frontman was worth it, in the end…if an album as consistently strong as this is the result.

I was good with it, to be sure.

Unborn Generation – Vøid (Inverse Records) (June 15)

What do you get if you mix black metal guitars and lo-fi aesthetic with a sludgy grindcore bordering on punk…and a perfectly awful scream n’ shriek “vocalist”?

That’s right…a quick trip to the Pile of Dead Bards, long since set aflame in symbolic good riddance to shit music everywhere!

To the flames, we consign thee! Begone!

WHIZZZ!!!

mmm, listen to those flames crackle and sputter…watch those green melting plastic sparks fly!

First one of the month, alright! Next?

  

The Hirvi – Old School Killspree (Inverse Records) (June 1)

Okay, apparently this was a vintage Finnish thrash band, of Bay Area style. The frontman and bottom end (bass and drums) have gotten back together…but you’d be hard pressed to hear more than a few bars and riffs that sound anything remotely like classic thrash here.

Instead, you get a guy pushing middle age shrieking and gargling over quirky, high speed riffing that falls somewhere between grindcore mush and the sort of overly fast, ultimately quite generic (modern) thrash sound of a Gama Bomb.

Didn’t work in the least…if this was the best Finland had to offer back in the day, I feel sorry for you guys…thrash was so much more vital over here…and in Germany…and Brazil…hell, even the UK…

The best you can compare them to are the equally irritating Living Death. Outside of them, you’re on your own here.

Not what I’d call thrash, sorry.

Lost Division – Wish You Were Dead (Inverse Records) (May 29)

Now at least these guys admit they’re a rock band leaning metal…as opposed to Ratbreed, who cop to something they’re really not quite.

This time frontwoman Teija Lampsa brings a stronger, more declamatory approach to the material than the weakly faltering Jasmin Anglem did to her act, and the band is free to work something that feels more emo-pop inspired in all that bubbling lead line driven guitar work over simpler, almost stoner rock distorted rhythms.

The choruses are catchy enough, though strangely more in the case of B-side “in memoriam”, which blows the title track right the fuck out of the water on all counts.

I’m definitely curious to hear more from these folks, though I’m seriously hoping they have more like “in memoriam” in store, and less like the comparatively weak “wish you were dead”.

Check it out for the B-side.

ATLAS (FIN) – The Catalyst (Inverse Records) (May 30)

Metalcore? Nah.  

Nu metal riffing, with electronic/industrial touches (which could easily say “Korn” or “Slipknot” right there) and screamo vox.

One track, no B-side, total shit.

Not even worth tossing into the Pyre, it’s that bad.

Dead Shape Figure – Cacoëthes (Inverse)

Okay, the promo materials are sure to mention, no less than twice within two short paragraphs, that “this is the best Dead Shape Figure ever.”

uh…yeah. Sure. Whatevs.

sooo…what the fuck is that supposed to mean, anyway?

(insert actual audible sigh here)

(insert a second.  And a few head shakes in disbelief.)

So, what is a Dead Shape Figure anyway? I mean, beyond a FInnish act somewhere in the metal spectrum?

From what I’m hearing, they’re sort of pagan/Viking metal in feel, that sort of bombastically overblown modern metal that gets big crowd reactions at festivals, with shitty aggro-growly vox and generic, if busy riffs in a very general “death-derived” style and blessed with at least acceptable production.

Oh, and tag in a few wheedly-whoo leads from 6 stringer Juhani Flinck. You know the type, you’ve been hearing players like this for years – flashy, but generic, supposed to be impressive but ultimately kind of soulless and (dare we say it?) boring in practice.

Not sure what it is about modern players, but flash without articulation…or most importantly, soul? Worthless. Take notes, kids.

Anyway, bottom line, stupid growl n’ shout spittle all over the beard vox aside, this is more than passable, and should keep the drunks sweating themselves red faced out on the festival lawn jumping and cheering along.

Wasn’t excited by this in the least. But vox aside, it’s definitely more than listenable.

The Hypothesis – “Welcome the Darkness” (Inverse)

Another Finnish act copping to the melodeath thing, and once again…nah, they’re really not.

There’s a strange overtone of indie rock to this one, with verses and chorus dropping into a Fauntslike feel, all tinkling, reverb and delayed guitars with more spoken tone (if still goofily growly) vox that occasionally drop clean for a syllable or two, just to show they can.

Oh, then you get a pseudo-James Murphy solo just to make sure you’re looking forward to a full length.

Strange, definitely nothing to do with Gothenburg, melodeath or its bastard son
metalcore…but likeably so.

Imperial Domain – The Deluge ( Inverse Records) (August 10)

Melodeath of a very dry, workaday sort. Listeners could be easily excused for thinking this more of an iffy symphonic power metal act, or a second tier gothic metal troupe, so much akin do the tropes run.

Starting with the female choruses (possibly sampled via keyboard) on tracks like “ever since that day” and continuing through the tinkling harpsichordlike bits, strings and electronic business on the title track and the bombastic faux-Arabian business on “conspiracy”, these guys bear a whole hell of a lot more in common with symph and/or gothic-slash-power metal than they ever do to death, ridiculous shouty-belching sprechtgesang vox aside (and mind, they bear zero in common with death metal either…just don’t fit no matter what genre or genres you want to drop this one under).

Apparently this guy’s a replacement for a recently deceased former frontman, about whom I can’t comment – this is the first time I’m hearing ’em. But either way, the new guy kinda blows.

So, how hard up are you for a gothic symphonic act leaning closer to power metal than not, but with stupid shouty-belched vocals? Line up on the right, all those still interested…

Yeah, whatever. (toss)

Hey, don’t let those embers from the Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards pop and burn a hole in your pants on the way out.

Foredoomed – Ordeal (August 18)

Okay, at least these guys admit they’re screwing with ya: they “combine progressive metal and melodic death metal from the early 2000. (sic)”

Melodeath? Again, no way. But proggy with elements derived from death metal? Definitely.

Of course, when someone’s idea of a “melodeath” go-to is Children of Bodom, you know things are kind of skewed…

Clean, very British new wave/synthpop style vocals that flip at the verses to go all gargle-growly (unfortunately, some songs eschew the clean vox entirely…), keyboard phrases offering a vague suggestion that they want this to sound more epic than it actually does, riffs that come off somewhere between the machine gun stutter of tech-era Death or Echoes of Eternity, the relentless tremelo and rhythmic approach of European power metal and straight up prog metal…it should come off a whole lot better than it actually does in practice.

Again, listenable if you’re in the right mood…but really didn’t do much for me, sorry.

Throat – Bareback (Svart Records) (August 31)

Well, this one’s interesting.

I was a huge Sonic Youth fan back in the 90’s – school acquaintance (and former thrasher, the guy whose band won the “make Metallica laugh” contest) introduced me to ’em right around the release of Goo as the sort of “college rock” I may dig (he was big on stuff like Inspiral Carpets and Camper Van Beethoven, you get the idea).

And he was dead on – opened up a whole new world of music for me that helped yours truly get through a very dark time in the world, my personal life and music as a whole, at least here Stateside. Grabbed the entire back catalogue and continued to follow ’em for a few subsequent albums (they lost me around Experimental Jet Set and No Star. Never a more accurate album title was dreamed up…)

Anyway, here’s a band nearly 3 decades on (really? Has time slipped that far away in what seems like a heartbeat ago?) who works a decidedly experimental take on the 90’s indie/”college rock” sound, but very much leaning towards the end of industrialized noise. So far, so whatever.

But if you can stick past the oft questionable vocals (not awful like many covered herein, but certainly not “good” by any stretch of the imagination), you’ll often enough uncover material that actually has drive and thrust, and even gets kinda catchy between all those pointless sonic total collapses and unnecessarily weird atonal diversions.

In other words, when they actually try for a proper song for a few bars or minutes of several tracks herein, what they achieve is something very much along the lines of Sonic Youth crossed with Dinosaur Jr., with a touch of sinister that comes off quite postpunk in the sense of UK gothic rock acts like Ritual (or non-gothic but still arguably “postpunk” acts like Gang of Four). There’s even a touch of overdistorted, sloppy shoegaze in the mix.

Seriously – when they get to the latter end of “maritime”? Or “born old” and “rat domain”? Hell, even “no hard shoulder”? Yeah. You’ll hear it right away.

And that just makes you wish they finished screwing around, noodling with effects pedals and chaotic feedback while tuning up to get to the actual song bits all the faster.

Because trimmed of all that bullshit? This can be kinda killer, albeit in intermittent, sadly all too measured doses.

Go for “maritime” and stick with it to the end. Trust me, if you dig the bands aforementioned? You won’t regret it in the least.

Abhorrence – Megalohydrothalassophobic (Svart Records) (September 14)

We’d covered these pre-and post-Amorphis Finnish death metallers’
Totally Vulgar – Live at Tuska Open Air 2013 about a year and a half back, and the material was worthy enough to send yours truly in search of their actual demos (also available on CD). Not as essential as they’d briefly become on the subsequent Karelian Isthmus, but a damn sight better than all that Thousand Lakes bullshit and ever since.

So here the old gang, or at least 4/5 of same, is back together and making actual Finnish-style death metal once again.

Yep, doesn’t take much of a grading curve to say that it’s pretty much on the same level as their earlier material…not bad for guys their age, pulling the old act and sound out of a dusty old closet nearly 3 decades on from the last time around.

Good to hear stuff like this is still possible and presumably relevant in this day and age.

Superfjord – All Will Be Golden (Svart) (September 21)

Weird Finnish indie act that feels rather Britpop to shoegaze (“cut and paste”, “master architect”) but with a strange propensity towards flitting off into Santanaesque jams at the midway point (“rainbow”), some hints of stodgy 70’s prog (bizarrely mixed with a reggae vibe, even, on “no rest for the wicked”), an out of left field affection towards the Strawberry Alarm Clock (“parvati valley”) and even a horns-inflected quickie nod to Zappa (in the middle of “rainha da floresta”).

So are they retro 60’s psychedelic rock types? 70’s “classic rock” prog fans? 90’s UK music scene fanboys? Honestly, what the hell are they trying to do, throwing all this unrelated shit into a pot and stirring every now and again?

No fucking idea, really. Elements certainly work. Just not quite convinced many of them actually work together.

Can’t say it’s not interesting, and as noted, parts and phrases of nearly every song are worth hearing…if not necessarily as a whole, even within a given track.

  

HALCYON WAY – Bloody But Unbowed (Agonia Records) (August 3)

Progressive thrash. Not the sort of speed meets prog you get with acts like Realm, or the tech nonsense of bands like Atheist, but more of a post-Dream Theater take on USPM, overly Euro in feel for my tastes, but still quite polished.

Nice performance from frontman Steve Braun in particular (at least when he’s not doing cheesy death growls or half assed black metal snarls, which thankfully is kept to a comparative minimum), but building to choruses in tracks like “desolate” is an artform, and there’s no question these guys are up to the task.

In fact, the dramatic feel, prominent, lead line-prone guitars and clean vocals with strong choruses only held back by some ridiculous growly bits on (some) verses speaks to a decided metalcore orientation here – you don’t get tracks like “bloody but unbowed” without a strong devotion to and background in acts like Killswitch.

But all that proggy feel, the (modern day) US power metallish vibe? That pulls Halcyon Way somewhere else entirely, and gives them an entirely different audience.

Odd, but for the most part, works pretty damn well, yeah.

DECLINE OF THE I – Escape (Agonia Records) (July 27)

We previously reviewed their Rebellion, and found ourselves mightily ticked off by the dope trying to incite suicidal tendencies in listeners. Gee, thanks, buddy! Go fuck yourself sideways with a foot long double dong…

This time around, he’s still up to no good, but at least it’s more standard, deliberate black metal with slightly avant-garde doom overtones.

Black metal fans used to the sort of horseshit bands pull nowadays in that overcrowded yet dying genre should have no problem plowing through this one, but is it art? Hell, is there even any reason for this to exist?

Listenable, but questionable.

SEKTARISM – Hosanna Sathana (Zanjeer Zani Productions / Necrocosm Productions)

One track demo (which song was later rerecorded and reused on a subsequent album release) from an obscure French act whose La Mort De L’Infidele we’d reviewed a year or so back.

Well…it’s doomy, and being a rehearsal demo/garage recording, it’s sludgy – all drone guitar/funereally slow riffage and feedback over midtempo to sluggish drumming. Some guy belches out drunken gibberish over the top.

Umm…yeah. Okay?

The crappy basement recording actually helps their case, as I didn’t mind this as much as the earlier (er…later) release, for what that’s worth…but take that with a shit ton of salt.

Yeah, there’s absolutely zero else to say about this one.

Abhorrent Deformity – Slaughter Monolith (COMATOSE MUSIC) (AUGUST 3)

The second coming of Malevolent Creation, apparently.

Fluttering, chunky, busy riffs fly by over obviously triggered double bass fills and high speed triplet flourishes while some guy spit-vomits growly vox over the top.

Bass is occasionally audible in the mix, the whole thing is pretty punchy and high end trebly (which works for hearing the intricacies of the bass and drums, not so much for the vox and guitars).

I always had a soft spot for the Ten Commandments (and to a slightly lesser extent, Retribution), and these guys are less repetitive and prone to that bullshit where you move a riff up and down by a whole tone (“multiple stab wounds”, anyone?)…so yeah, childishly pre-sophomoric lyrics and song titles aside (don’t ask, it’s obvious if you’re that damn curious), I was good with this, definitely.

Kill Everything – Scorched Earth (COMATOSE MUSIC) (AUGUST 17)

Well, that sure pissed me off.*

* this review immediately followed that of The Riot Grrl Sessions.

(composing self)

So!

Here we have a band that, while nothing to really write home about, certainly did not piss me off, being a “brutal death metal” act very much in the vein of Suffocation (no, really?)

Seriously, same old, same old: stomach acid-churning, mic swallowing deep
urp-urrr-burrggh-urrrrrrp vox, lumberingly slow riffing on overly detuned guitars that pick up to blur tempo and blastbeats, sorta “tech” in the sense that Cannibal Corpse and Suffocation are considered such, the whole schlemiel.

The only thing missing is good production, which seems to have been applied solely to the vocals here – the rest is prone to watery drum sound, overly dirty, sputtering guitar distortion and hissy signal bleed.

Look, if you grew up on and still like a given band, and there’s about 10,000 lesser acts copping their style and approach almost like little clones, you’re not going to hate them for it.

You probably won’t find many of them impressive, and even those you do, it’ll be in terms of “wow, that almost sounds like a new album from (Suffocation, in this case)”…but you’re certainly not going to sit there saying, “damn, that sucked!”

Case in point.

Consecration – Remembrance (June 29)

British doom/death, often heavily leaning towards funeral doom.

What’s nice is that it’s one of those comprehensive career compilations, ala the late lamented Necroharmonic label, so no need to track down several obscurities to fill in the gaps. As the old spaghetti sauce commercial used to go, “it’s in there!”

So yeah, you get the 8 track Ephemerality, the 6 track Gut the Priest EP and a four track demo that was likely intended as a third release. What’s interesting about that is that the sound quality never really falters. I mean, if you’re paying attention, you can pick out tonal shifts between each, but even the demo never really sounds…demo quality, for lack of a better blanket terminology. It’s all pretty beefy and comes across strong, hardly Teutonic level production, but enough to serve the material without letting things get too raw and grungy sounding at any point.

A few too many filler tracks for my taste, and whether due to the mix or the band’s own tonal choices on guitar, it never really feels fat and doomy enough, or at least half as much as you might expect from material of this sort, working the tropes and genre that they are.

But it’s pretty decent, overall, the sound quality is more than commendable and it’s a comprehensive one stop shopping package of everything the band did to this point…so what the hell are you pondering? Go take a listen, already!

TAD MOROSE – Chapter X (GMR Music) (June 15)

One of those names you hear bandied about a lot in metal forums (particularly when the conversation leans towards prog or the more modern iterations of US power metal), this is our first encounter with Sweden’s Tad Morose, who despite sounding like a bastard son of Lethal, Screamer and Haven claim to be “traditional metal”.

Suuuure you are. Not prog, you are not!

By the time you get to “masque”, you start hearing an obvious nod to the late Ronnie James Dio in the vocals and moments that push more Crimson Glory if not Alder-era Fates Warning (or Mindcrime/Empire-era Queensryche, even), but this is more second tier USPM power/prog (trust me, there was an entire cottage industry going down just below everyone’s radar…discovering so many bands working this style of late, it’s absurd. Geoff Tate may be the most influential frontman in metal history, it seems…)

So yeah, I love bands like this – hell, there are a few labels, mostly Greek in origin, all but devoted to releasing nothing but late 80’s-mid 90’s obscurities working this sound.

I walked in expecting another bloated cheesefest like Symphony X or (God help us) Dream Theater, and found a much better band than that shit could ever aspire to being.

Tip of the hat is appropriate, therefore.

VELVET VIPER – Respice Finem  (GMR Music) (June 15)

Hmm. Think frontwoman Jutta Weinhold is any relation to longtime U.D.O. sideman Fitty Weinhold?

Either way, this is another band whose name you hear bandied about on occasion, apparently not having performed together for a quarter century (sounds a lot longer than it actually is, kids, trust me…) So for whatever reason, the Divine Ms. W decided to pull the old band back together, and as fast as you can say “The World’s End”, here you have it.

I don’t know what to really say about this one. For a gravel voiced frontwoman of a certain age, she comes off well enough here – it’s unlikely anyone out there will be finding any real fault with her performance or drive on this album.

That said, with all this talk of “dramatic metal” and lyrics based on poetry and literature or what have you…I don’t know, I was expecting something more like the first half a dozen Manilla Road albums? Maybe even a less working class Brocas Helm? And whatever else you may consider Velvet Viper, that is definitely not what they’re shooting for or achieving herein.

I found myself, particularly during more bombastic moments like “eternally onwards”, hearing a lot of Nina Hagen in Weinhold’s performance…probably unintentional, but there you have it. Maybe you should cover Nunsexmonkrock next time around…or the amusing “I am Nina” from the later self titled?

Regardless, I was reasonably well chuffed with this one, however you choose to classify it.

GRIMNER – Vanadrottning (Despotz) (February 9)

Viking/pagan metal, with all the folk traditional instrumentation, growly pseudo-death metal vox and festival-ready bombast you’d expect.

They seem to take themselves less seriously than a Tyr or a Manegarm, but aren’t as absurd as a Turisas, much less weird comedic offshoots like Alestorm or the troll metal thing…and there’s a strong attention to melodicism and building to powerfully catchy choruses than usual.

With the band keeping things heavy and huge sounding throughout, Grimner never get overly cheesy, which prevents their propensity towards extreme catchiness and memorable ditties from getting the best of them – this isn’t the sort of album that grabs you immediately, but wears thin after one or two further listens, but the kind that’s built to last.

Damn good stuff, I dug it.

RIOT GRRRLS – The Riot Grrrl Sessions (GMR Music) (June 15)

Anyone remember the riot grrrl movement? Yeah, it was this short lived radical feminist thing with strong LGBT connections back in the early 90’s, more or less what Lilith Fair consisted of, outside of a few singer songwriter types. L7, 4 Non Blondes, Bikini Kill and more justifiably forgotten acts like Babes In Toyland, Sleater Kinney and Bratmobile, that sort of thing.

Of the bunch, only Bikini Kill had some worthwhile material in ’em (and given some of Kathleen Hanna’s interviews and writings over the years, may have been one of the few with any actual intellectual heft to back up their “who needs men” end of the girl power thing that was such a big deal back then (sorry, but the others nearly without fail came off like half assed grunge-punk takes on the Spice Girls, minus the sex and amped up on the aggro) – stick to The Singles, arguably augmented by the EPs (collected on “the CD version of the First Two Records”), and you’ve heard all you need to hear of the entire genre.

Well, for obvious reasons (cough Trump) some portions of the female musician
community of today have made the decision to step beyond the tough girls with guitars thing of more justly celebrated if not downright estimable acts like The Runaways, Girlschool and The Donnas to revive at least the genre label of this fairly unlamented 90’s niche movement.

This is a Swedish concern, so you get bands that lean more towards the abovementioned (Heavy Tiger) alongside bands you probably never heard of (everyone else here), brainstorming over riffs, lyrics and passing the baton on performances that run the gamut from more politically in your face, musically iffy tracks like “what I want” or “I was the only hell my mother raised” to new wave synthpoplike throwbacks like “goodbye” or the ode to wanking that is “I love to love myself”, to the downright silly (“unicorn”).

Luckily, you get a few tracks that are at least more straightforwardly punkified, if not a bit catchy such as “terror girls” or “sad and weak”, but it’s a strange, bristly mix, particularly for those not belonging to the distaff end of the equation (or even more pointedly, the LGBT members thereof).

It’s hard to imagine a track like “I eat boys like you for breakfast”, much less “terror girls” or Dandy Don’s favorite song, “grab ’em by the (I’ll be nice, “expletive deleted”)” gaining any traction or airplay among anyone but the angriest, most bristly end of the women’s movement, but hey, what do I know, I’m just one of those evil males they’re bitching about.

Yo-kay, then. Suffice to say, while a fair percentage of this at least qualifies as music (not something you can say about far too many riot grrl acts from back in the day, in all honesty…) and there’s certainly a lot of punk aggression to be found herein…this one’s for the girls only, and the angriest, pushiest, most abrasive end thereof at that.

Thought we put this bullshit to rest decades ago…here we go again.

Thanks, Trump and fanboys thereof. You sure made America great again.

Fuck you.

Hatred Reigns – Realm: I – Affliction (May 25)

Crazily tech death act out of Ottawa. Production is decent (if a bit thin toned), the band is hyperactively busy, vox pull the usual Carcass/Napalm Death grindcore thing, with snarls alternating with beefier toned growls.

Say huh? Grindcore? That’s about the furthest thing you can find from this Gorguts meets Atheist on crack tech death nonsense…and yet, yeah, that’s the vocal approach, classic Deicide. Don’t ask.

Not my thing in the least, but those who dig the genre may find some value in this, who knows.

Centauro – Daño Colateral (June 30)

A very modern take on thrash metal, straight outta Mexico.

As you might expect, it’s all sung in Spanish (gasp! Don’t tell Der Trumpster!), but for my money the only issue here is that, like most modern thrash acts, it’s kind of one note and boring, despite all the riffing and a vague attempt to recapture what made the thrash scene work in its late lamented heyday.

Hey, I was a thrasher by early ’86, which was definitely ahead of the curve by East Coast standards, and only dropped out as we all moved on to newer, if related pastures – death metal, black metal, and much later in the subsequent decade, gothic/symphonic and a touch of Euro power…so thrash is really my home base, and why it was so easy to fall hard for all this vintage USPM (as both share the same base of NWOBHM, one a heavier, darker take as mixed with trad, the other a faster, angrier version thereof, as filtered through Bay Area, Sao Paolo and Dusseldorf sensibilities).

So when you get a nice instrumental like “en Decadencia” or even the subsequent title cut, yeah, I’m right there with these fellas.

But when other tracks just come off sort of…Havoc by way of Municipal Waste as crossed with Gama Bomb, I guess…yeah, sorry, I appreciate the effort intellectually, but I’m falling asleep here waiting for the Vio-Lence to kick in.

For devotees of the modern thrash scene only – they’ll probably love it and appreciate the more old schoolish riffing than usual.

Not My Master – Disobey (Rockshots Records / Extreme Metal Music) (July 6)

Oy, “Southern groove”. Admittedly, a heavier, thrashier take thereon…but yeah, it’s more of that whole Pantera meets Pissing Razors bullshit.

Talked to one act in this genre for the podcast several years back (long story, it was a sort of favor), and the guy was pretty cool…but make no mistake, this is not what I consider metal by any stretch of the imagination.

ugh. Who’s on next at this Gathering of the Juggalos, Kid fucking Rock?

(sigh)

Next?

A Scar For The Wicked – The Unholy (EP) (June 29)

Well…look, these guys get compared to a few bands whose names I’ve heard…er…OK, have to be blunt here. Mocked roundly, in metal circles.

Doubt me? Try Whitechapel. Suicide Silence. Black Dahlia Murder. If you hang with folks who think those bands are the epitome of “metal”, you probably also hang with Hot Topic mall “goths” who think gothic rock begins and ends with Black Veil Brides. Or that cinema begins and ends with Star Wars and the works of Steven Spielberg.

You know, poseurs.

So, anyway, that already level sets things with a bias, so in any sort of effort to remain objective (having managed to at least knowingly avoid any contact with any of the aforementioned bands…sadly, not the case with the filmmakers…), I’m going to pause, take a deep breath, and forget everything we just discussed.

Pardon me.

(deep breath)

Okay, sorry about that. So here we are, and let’s take this as tabula rasa.

Well…it’s very metalcoreish, at least productionwise, and in terms of the riffing style.  Perhaps metalcore with a touch too much “tech death” and a little too little, a little too late (to quote the once-esteemed Pat Benatar) on the melodeath base that underpins the entire genre.

Even so…fair enough. This generally sounded OK to these ears in terms of production and to a certain extent, musically (still not a fan of the “tech” and “djent”, so saying that is decidedly qualified by the fact that we’re grading on a serious curve here). Nothing special, not as good as a dozen other bands you could probably rattle off in this general area…but fair enough.

I also wasn’t enamored of the strange grindcore-derived vocal approach (they actually have two vocalists, one does the Jeff Walker snarls, the other the Bill Steer belches) – like the tech shit, how the hell does this fit in to metalcore? And where are all those melodic, emo-style choruses with clean vocals? The oft memorable solos? Nada.

Well, to be fair, they don’t claim to be metalcore.* Not that many bands will man up and admit to that of late anyway. You see, the label appears to carry a stigma, one far less deserved than in the case of other entire genres which seem to get a pass among the listening public, yet merit far worse.

Now, this ain’t one of those, exactly – I’d rather sit through this than the likes of Slipknot, Korn, Pantera and the nu metal and aggro/groove scenes, or the black/anything “crossover” post- whatever the hell scenes…or anything with a vocalist who can’t do anything but scream his or her little tonsils out, and think they deserve a round of applause for pissing everyone off and shitting all over everyone’s stereo systems like that.

But is it art?

More importantly…is this anything worth wasting your time and hard earned dollars on?

Ultimately, that’s always your call…but for my part? The answer’s pretty fucking obvious.

Next?

 

* in fact, they somewhat hilariously claim to be doing “death metal”…and while there’s some lines of stylistic derivation as described herein, they sure as fuck ain’t that, no way, no how. Seriously – put this up against any classic DM act, then come back and start flapping your lips. Not even close.

The Chapter – Angels and Demons

Sorta gothic doom, but with annoying aggro vox. Even the clean voice is raspy and pissed off, then he goes all BLEEAHHH BURRPP GUAAAAHHH!!!! on your ass.

It’s really too bad about the vocals, because there’s enough relaxed, well produced melancholia here to suggest a much better band in this genre than I’m hearing here.

Rest assured, while a tad quirky and against, or at least atypical of, type, the fault does not lie in the actual musicians.

“This. world. is not. for. me!” our intrepid frontman spits out in one track. Yeah, I’ll second that, with a slight revision.

“This. one. is not. for. me!!!!”

I won’t even say dump the vocalist – the growly bits aren’t a million miles removed from other bands working this same basic sound. Just modulate, and cut the off key warbling “clean” stuff, which just feels snide and wayyyy too groove/aggro in tone.

No question, they have potential, underneath a few glaring gotchas.

Creatures – II (Old Haunt Records) (July 20)

Have a FB friend who spends an inordinate amount of time cursing about “deathcore”.

Few if any bands he mentions in one of his spews of venom thereto were familiar (though the name Carnifex was pointedly given the caveat “not the Finnish death metal band” who many of us vets are more familiar with), so this meant little to me.

My only reference point is the ‘-core” suffix. Hardcore? Yeah, I came up on the DC scene, some of the sXe scene, even the L.A. scene – a lot of huge names like Minor Threat, Bad Brains, Black Flag, etc. No idea what the fuck they’re doing these days, with all that aggro meets noise shit, but real hardcore, yeah, I’m down with it.

Did he mean metalcore? I like some of those bands, Killswitch is pretty much
untouchable, and Adam D.’s productions are the ones to watch in other, lesser bands discographies. But “deathcore”? WTF is that?

Apparently…my friend is right. Vaguely djenty, with elements of that “tech death” wheedly-whoo and vox that veer between pimply teenager trying to sound scary gargle-growl “death” vox that actually sound more aggro, and
YAAH-WAAH-WAAH-MEE-YAAAAHH! faux-black metallish snarls (or were they trying to do Jeff Walker, or possibly even Mick Harris?

Either way, both fail at actually sounding like their likely progenitors or intended genre approach…unless they really wanted to do the aggro thing, which they succeed at.

Musically, it’s a cross between straight up aggro, complete with chunka chunka
neanderthal machine gun-to-bounce riffing and those stupid vox as mentioned, mixed with a midtempo almost black/death thing, with long drawn out passages and symphonic black style keyboards coming in and out of the picture. Aggro over any tech death or black elements, to be sure…but it’s all in there, stirred around into one big smelly pot of unappetizing swampwater gumbo.

Yum! Dig in, said the cackling old crone…

No way.

Fuel for the Pyre! Duck and cover, you over there!

WHIZZ!!!!

(sigh)

…next?

SINSID – Mission From Hell (Pitch Black Records) (June 8)

Okay, you know there’s a problem right from the get go, when the promo writeup begins with this choice bon mot:

“Fronted by former pro wrestler Terje S. Sidhu.”

Now, I have no fucking clue who this guy is. Could be a loser like Roman Reigns, could be a fun classic type like George “the animal” Steele for all I know.

But “former pro wrestler” as frontman? Come on, Nasty Savage aside, when the hell has that ever worked to anyone’s advantage?

So Norway’s version of ICP drops props to Murgatroyd, Faygo and hatchet-heavy ultraviolence…oh, wait, it’s not a Juggalo thing? Well, it sure as fuck sounds Dictators-ish on tracks like “hellhammer”…

I guess if you want to sum this up as to what to expect if you’re still morbidly curious, expect that sort of proto-thrash early and obscure tinged metal vibe you got on the first Nasty Savage album, but not half so appealing as that.

Listenable, but nothing to write home about, except as a curiosity piece. “Name three bands fronted by a pro wrestler.”

“…and try to stop laughing while you do so.”

Next?

TORN THE FUCK APART – A Genetic Predisposition to Violence (Gore House Productions) (June 29)

oh, joy, about the 10,000th “brutal death metal” act to cross the virtual desk. Gee, think they’ll sound like a bad copy of Suffocation?

ah, great. Would you believe, they do? Yeah, I was shocked, too!

(cough)

yeah, goregrind lyrics over a mediocre take on vintage Suffocation. um…yay?

oh, look, here’s one for the ages. Everyone gather ’round, it’s time to sing along to “dad’s head for dinner.”

(shakes head in disbelief)

next?

Nancybreathing – Awake (Boersma Records) (May 25)

German nu metal act, very much in the mold of Slipknot, but with more attention to clean vocals and tinkling, clean toned guitar sections.

I was good with the latter end of the equation, which felt more indie in vibe…but the aggro bits, the bouncy neanderthal riffing and the major depressive rapping bits were as typically absurd as a Korn album, albeit without the spastic gibbering and shrieking.

Drop all that shit, you have a passable indie rock act (with decent production, besides!) on your hands.

Far less offensive than the nu metal tag would ever suggest…but be warned, portions of this definitely warrant same.

  

Pentarium – Zwischenwelt (Boersma Records) (May 11)

German act who consider themselves “melodic death”. Personally, I found the vocals far too shrieky and the music too noisy and disjointed…not really symphonic tech, not really aggro, but certainly not melodeath in any appreciable respect…for palatability.

Except.

These guys threw a serious wrench into the works with one absolutely killer gothic doom track, sung completely clean toned, at the end of the album.

If Pentarium ever gets their shit together, drops all the growly and overly busy bullshit that takes up the bulk of the running time here and starts dropping albums full of material like “vor dem sturm”? I’m there, man.

One killer track, 11 tracks that are barely listenable filler.

Hornwood Fell – Inferus (EP) (April 29)

Italian “avant garde” black metal act.

In other words, three tracks of sheer noise, all atonality and earsplitting drones, with drums working a completely different tempo from the guitars and occasional screamed off time interjections from the “vocalist”.

Really bad.

You know, I’m not even taking the effort to toss this into the Pile of Dead Bards. I’m just throwing this on the ground and stomping on it till it smashes into little shards of broken CD.

Fuck this shit.

Next?

Dallian – Automata (May 25)

Portugese act trying to jump on the long since petering off steampunk craze. You know, like Unsun did on their second and last album. “Cli-nic…fo-o-or do-o-olls!”

So yeah, mixing symphonic death and steampunk “gothic” tropes, these guys come off like The Vision Bleak gone Behemoth, with the visuals of…well, hell, 2nd album Unsun, they were definitely shooting for that in tone, artwork, photo shoot and video(s)…

My wife likes some of that steampunk shit…she’d probably dance for joy if I started wearing goggles on my head.

But me? Nah. I don’t hold much truck in it.

toRyse – Erased EP (Boersma Records) (May 18)

oh so scary vox ala Fear Factory or something along those lines alternate with clean but snotty punk ones and traditionally hardcore/crust punk gang vocal choruses. It’s weird, but their very uniqueness works in the band’s favor – you aren’t expecting that approach in the genre they choose to work within.

The feel of the song structure and approach is decidedly metalcore, but with a
pronouncedly melodic edge, and with less of the emo-ish thing going down – choruses are more flat in affect and declamatory statements of intent than pained cries of defiance and survival to victory against the odds.

Bottom line, the music’s fine, even a bit catchy, and the unusual vox do actually work, but there’s zero actual emotion being put into this – it’s obvious the band feels nothing about what’s being expressed, it’s all surface and pose.

Still well worth a listen – dispassionate approach aside, I did quite like the sound of this overall.

Hell Night / Sweat Shoppe – Split 7″ (Encapsulated Records) (July 3)

Former frontman for Shadows Fall’s new punk band joins forces with another Missouri punk act for a few tracks apiece on this split, and both appear again on a compilation to be discussed shortly.

So yeah, Brian Fair brings a scream into the processed mic schtick to Hell Night, who otherwise seem the more accomplished of the two bands – fatter toned guitars, better production, more aggression overall…just have to deal with his screaming blowing the mic out through the whole thing.

Sweat Shoppe is more traditional punk, somewhere between the early UK scene (think Sex Pistols school thereof) and the anarcho/crust scene (Chumbawamba, Crass, etc.)  Vocals are far cleaner and comprehensible, unlike whatever Fair’s howling and shrieking about, the guitars are thin and tinny, songs are shorter (about a minute apiece) and there’s a decidedly UK-leaning feel to their trio of offerings here.

Even so, which band works better for you personally comes down to a matter of taste – while I preferred the more trad vibe and clean vox of Sweat Shoppe, I have to admit to leaning a bit more towards the fat tone and better production of Hell Night…but then you have to deal with Fair rattling his tonsils at you all night.

I’m calling it more or less even, if you can compare apples and oranges like this.

Quarter Hour of Power (various artists) (Encapsulated Records) (July 3)

So here’s the comp we mentioned – another track apiece from Hell Night and Sweat Shoppe, plus another 12 punk bands out of Missouri. The gimmick, if this can even be considered such in the hardcore scene, is to have every band keep it to a minute or less.

(long dramatic pause)

Yeah, I know. How many punk songs…especially hardcore punk ones, can you name that go much over a minute or two in the first place? But anyway…

Best tracks on here come courtesy of the very Bad Religionlike (but lyrically quite horrorpunk) Horror Section, the 80’s hardcore-inspired Suicide Dive (who feel like some long lost bridge between Minor Threat and Lagwagon) and the late 90’s/early millenial pop-punk of Braddock (who could practically be another Offspring crossed with a bit of NOFX).

As with most splits, the crap outweighs the gems by 10-1, but it’s not all exactly abysmal, just not anywhere near the trio of high points aforementioned.

Check out those three tracks and see what you think.

Garden of Hesperides – Forest Journey Pt.III -Final Moments (Bloody Mountain Records) (April 29)

Weird ambient, almost entirely instrumental post black metal one man band thing. Some low “underground death metal” belches show up for a few tracks (“the still silence”, “into the high meadow”), but they’re pretty sparse and comparatively low and subdued in the mix.

Obviously, something low key throughout, where the guitars drone and you can barely tell when one track changes to the next, is going to be atmospheric and set a mood…which are the very things I love about black metal in the first place.

But how essential or important this one is…particularly given there’s no physical product involved (no CD or vinyl, just some digital download…)?

I know where I stand on that issue.

I leave the choice to you.

  

Satori Junk – The Golden Dwarf (Endless Winter) (May 10)

Oddball Italian act that comes off as mostly psychedelic stoner doom, but with elements of Hawkwind/Monster Magnet space rock thrown in for good measure.

Really weird cover of the Doors’ “light my fire” closes the album.

It’s heavy, it’s sludgy, it’s half doom and half 70’s hard drug trip…and thus a very mixed bag in the end.

Totally loved the guitar tone and doom moments…

…it’s the space rock business and psychedelia that didn’t sit so well in tandem.

Check it out, you may love it.

 

Urskog – Evig vinter (Ididit Records) (April 30)

Weird syncretist affair that mixes black metal riffing and overtones with Viking/pagan aesthetic and an almost pop-punk major key approach to vocals and choruses.

Totally did not get what the hell these guys were trying to go for here…it’s like someone tried to mix country and funk, or melancholic yet syrupy schmaltz like the Carpenters with death metal.

Does. Not. Fucking. Work.

Next?

COLDBOUND – THE GALE (June 10)

Well, according to the promo writeup, at least these guys are trying to do their bit for suicide prevention. Because they’re right, living and fighting through shit is an act of courage…or as Lemmy put what became a personal motto back in ’88, “fuck ’em…just run it up the flagpole and see who salutes!”

Apparently they used to be some sort of black metal act, now they’re doing what they call “melodic death metal” (cough melodeath) and what’s actually an oddly over-aggressive (on some tracks, anyway) take on straight up gothic doom/death in the Paradise Lost tradition.

When they stick closer to template, as on “the eminent light”, this works just fine, though they could use a better producer from the sound of it – seemed a bit thin and mixed lower than you’d expect. But when they get more aggro and pseudo-death, like on “the gale”, things fall apart, and the listener just tunes the fuck out.

Thankfully, there’s a lot more of the former than the latter on The Gale…which makes this at least eminently listenable, if not kinda decent when you’re in the right mood.

GWYDION – Thirteen (Ultraje) (July 6)

Okay, brace yourselves. Seriously, put down the beer, stop eating, and try not to laugh, I don’t want you fritzing whatever electronic device you’re reading this on by spitting shit all over it in disbelieving cackles.

Ready?

“Portugese Vikings.”

(pause for effect)

Gotcha!

No, I’m not kidding. That’s what this is supposed to be, Viking/folk metal straight outta the mean streets of…Portugal.

(another long pause)

(brightly, as if nothing happened:)

Okay, then!

So. What you get here is a melodic, somewhat anthemic, very deliberately paced and typically festival-oriented Viking metal, which manages to keep the folk lilt and traditional instrumentation…well, not exactly “to a minimum”, but to make use of it in such a way that the songs aren’t always driven by and built around them.

Hell, the best track on here (“balverk warfare”) only just acknowledges and incorporates the folk lilt and harmonium business, and even that only around the midsection.

Overall, it’s a bit slow and too measured a pace to really work, bearing a bit too much in common with lesser Alestorm efforts like Black Sails at Midnight and not enough with superlative acts like Manegarm to really work…

…but then again, what did you expect from a bunch of Irish Huguenots…I mean, Italian Cossacks…er, Portugese Vikings?

Hallig – A Distant Reflection of the Void (Talheim Records) (June 10)

Symphonic-style black metal without keyboards, with busy, omnipresent lead lines taking the place of same.

There’s also a bombast and majesty about the material that suggests a strong pagan/folk orientation, something also bolstered by the shout-screamed vocals, which are far more Viking/pagan than they ever lean black metal. But we come full circle when forced to acknowledge that the dark melodicism of those lead lines is all BM…

Strangely hard to classify, though the above should give some idea of what we’re dealing with here.  Iffy vox aside, it’s pretty damn listenable, sets a mood and may even stick in the head for a bit after the album ends.

Wouldn’t put this on heavy rotation, necessarily. But definitely a strong release for the genre/s being covered or approximated, particularly in the wasteland for such musics that is 2018.

Antisoph – S/T (Geisterasche Organisation)

Pointlessly busy, off kilter and if not pointedly atonal, then certainly dismissive of traditional harmonic structure and proper songcraft.

They’re another of those post-black metal acts, but to hear them you’d be more inclined to say “overly tech/prog if not djentish post-death metal, with clean vocals”.

Single note guitar lines walk slowly up the steps of broken arpeggios, climbing stairs that always seem to half-resolve into chugging rhythmic deathlike sections. Everything’s disjointed and disconnected from each other, riffs and lines slapped together almost at random, with even what amounts to a straight up indie track (“distant scream”) thrown in for good measure.

At the last day job, there was a hipster girl who heard our old material (through another fella who loved and championed our stuff after I shared some with him), and was making noises about wanting to gig with and possibly make something more serious out of a revived band, assuming I could pull one back together.

In the end, nothing came of it (primarily because she transferred out to the West Coast), but she kept going on about the one “metal” band she really loved was Porcupine Tree.  I took a quick listen to see what the hell she was talking about, and walked off distinctly unimpressed at their hipster/indie take on prog…

…and that’s what and who Antisoph reminds me of.

Never did care for the post-Lifetime Allan Holdsworth, moving patterns around in an almost random patchwork of amelodic, questionably harmonic pointlessness…so why would I care for far lesser takes on the same disjointed to the point of atonal playing and songwriting style?

Yeah, whatever. Next?

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

Now this is a lot more familiar.

Anyone out there remember the college rock scene of the late 80’s and early 90’s (when it became more mainstream, yet strangely recodified as “alternative”…as if stuff that was all over the radio, television and popular culture could ever be “alternative” to…what, itself?)

Yeah, take that vague mix of postpunk/gothic aesthetic, a nascent resurgence of psychedelia (remember?) and just plain old nerdcore outsider weirdness, and that more or less summed it up.

So take that whole melange and era of indie/alternative/college rock, amp up the propulsive bassline and vaguely Steve Shelley-esque drumming (though far less crazed and accomplished, it must be said – Shelley was one of, if not the best of the genre) and you have Sweden’s Quantum Leap (hopefully not related to the awful Scott Bakula TV show).

Sonic Youth, Nick Cave, grunge and Britpop all play into various tracks on this album, which at times feels more like a scene/style compilation than the cohesive vision of a single band.

Hell, on “blind”, you get vocals that cross the Psychedelic Furs’ Richard Butler and Dinosaur Jr.’s J. Mascis over Soundgardenish grunge…which moves into the 90’s Iggy Pop by way of Oasis of “fiction in the daily life”. But jump back a few tracks to “that’s the reason”, and we’re talking straight up Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, with elements of early Cure, with “in between worlds” feeling quite Blur gone darker and more postpunk.

Say huh?

Bottom line is, it works, it’s familiar, it has an enviro-friendly message.

Oh, did I mention it was produced by, of all people, famed death metal fader pusher Tomas Skogsberg at the long running scene mecca of Sunlight Studios?

Like everything else with this one, go figure…

Good stuff, any way you slice it.

DECAYED – Of Fire And Evil (Lusitanian Music) (June 1)

Yet another Portugese black metal band, but this time they manage to get it right for a change.

Old school vibe – think late first wave or early second wave, just minus the grim atmospheric element. This one’s very much up in your grill throughout its running time, and comes off almost blackthrash in its utter lack of the sort of silly pretensions that came up in the scene as the 90’s progressed.

If any direct parallels are to be made, you can hear definite elements of early Sigh (particularly on tracks like “the scythe of death”), but without the quirkiness or classical elements playing into things. No, this is a lot more straightforward, somewhere between, say, Mortuary Drape, early Azazel and the first Immortal album, before they went all “Norsecore” on everyone’s ass.

And therefore, while somewhat inessential in and of itself…of course it works, and stands out from the rather sorry crowd that makes up the current black metal scene.

  

Homerik – The Room (October 31, 2017)

Oddly demo-quality release from this self described “symphonic progressive death metal” act. While the band members all cop to their true identities, they also pull war metallish silly pseudos (as with drummer Ken Candelas, “The Mad Composer of Pestilence”) and affect titles like “composer”, “musical director” and “lyricist(s)”

Apparently this came together in and around New York City, with various friends dropping in for contributions, some of whom are no longer with us, according to promo materials.  Interesting, though the only time that really seems to come into play is with the pleasant gothic/symphonic soprano contributions to the otherwise rather noisy and chaotic “an angel of darkness”…the rest of this is…just odd, more than a bit disjointed, and as noted earlier, wayyy too chaotic for its own good.

Yeah, some of that old goth/symph stuff went out on a limb – Therion and Aesma Daeva were kind of known for that. But this one’s just too much of a mess to really catch fire, even were it still, say, 2004, when anyone but a few diehards still actually cared about the genre.

man, it’s time to cut back on the cruciferous vegetables…

Cosmic Church – Täyttymys (Kuunpalvelus) (June 1)

Ah, a band that chooses to remain more or less anonymous, skipping any background, explanation or promo fluff. Always annoying, and more than a bit pretentious, like those assholes who say “the work speaks for itself”, when it never really merits such.

Bottom line, Finnish black metal with a more or less Cascadian bent, like a Sepulchral act who’s been listening to too much Frozen Ocean, perhaps with a touch of Graveland as extra spice and influence on both vocals and approach.

Obnoxious pretentions towards being artsy-fartsy about what ultimately amounts to fairly workaday (if likeable) black metal aside, I was certainly good with it, therefore.

But next time? Hold the bullshit, please.

We can do without the snooty sauce, thank you very much.

Catalina Shortwave – Reel To Real (May 1)

Urge Overkill with Frank Black on vox.

Seriously, that’s about what you can expect from this “New England” rock/indie/alternative act – heavily overdriven guitars with the amp volume jacked, throaty, in your face basic drumming ala John Bonham or Phil Rudd, an almost punky feel to the simplistically straight ahead riffing, and enough catchiness and likeability to carry them with both a hard rock/blues band audience and a more hipsterish indie crowd.

Some songs are a bit too cheesy – the 70’s glam tinkling one chord piano accompaniment of “four fingered lady”, the druggy 90’s indie rock sound of “highway crosses”, the Poison/countrified ballad “believe” (which might as well be retitled “every rose has its thorn part II”).

There’s a bit too much of a mix in the material here for most folks’ tastes – bands never seem to learn that listeners reach for a given band or album because they’re in a certain mood (or to set one), not to go from hard driving metal or good time hard rock to some syrupy ballad or a doofy country style track (much less dropping some rapping or what have you in there – definite no no).

Of course, all “musicians” pat themselves on the back for such “diversity”.

Save it for the side project, the solo album, or dedicate an entire album or EP to “the new style”, nobody wants half or a third of an album that’s cool (with a lot of shit and filler fluffing up the contents).

Not exactly case in point, here – there are enough tracks that are dead on to make this one worth a peek. But switching styles and approaches so much as these guys do in the course of a single album just leaves the listener confused as to who the hell you are, or exactly who or what you’re trying to be.

BARKASTH – Decaying (Svarga Music) (June 24)

hmm…

Here we have a Ukranian act working what is more or less black metal, arguably in the Swedish black/death/”occult black metal” area kicked off and championed mainly by Gaahl-era Gorgoroth and Watain (with Emperor Magus Caligula-era Dark Funeral and Dissection kicking around not far behind). So far, so boring.

Where things get complicated…well, it goes two ways.

For the good, you have the majestic expansiveness that Dark Funeral brings to their more recent (and to some extent, earliest) work, or a lesser variant of the melodic lead lines and dramatic builds of Gorgoroth (though mostly in the non-Gaahl eras, when they were a better band).

For the bad, you have those sprechtge-scream vox, which seem more appropriate to a hipster aggro band or the screamo parts of a metalcore song than they ever do black metal.

But that aside, the more you dig into this one…the more of the good seems to come to the fore, and the boring and bad bits seem less obnoxious and in your face, allowing the listener to overlook them and just enjoy a vaguely Gorgorothesque, sort of Where the Shadows Forever Reign-ish Dark Funeral style album from behind the former Iron Curtain.

Trust me…it grows on ya.

By the time the album ends, chances are, you’ll actually dig it.

Sanctrum – Walk With Vermin (Big Balls Productions) (June 8)

At first, I heard this one and thought, oh, another metalcore act. But then I realized something was off – oh, wait…it’s the band Killswitch swiped their entire sound from, and therefore the band that de facto started metalcore (as lesser bands swiped from Killswitch in turn…): namely, At the Gates.

So yeah, it’s not metalcore, but Gothenburg style melodeath, complete with shrieky vox, strong production and busy, lead line driven, yet melodic oriented death metal (of a sort).

Now, you can’t expect a hell of a lot out of me on that end – At the Gates had exactly one good album in ’em (Slaughter of the Soul), and while I grabbed it back around its release on the strength of “cold”, I was pretty damn disappointed that Andy LaRocque’s killer soloing was nowhere else in evidence on the record.

A few more kick ass songs, to be sure – it was much played on cassette and got the upgrade to CD down the road eventually – but that was their one moment of glory, and the very strength of that lone track made it perfectly evident that they were in dire need of a real fucking lead guitarist, not mention better production – too thin and trebly – and hey, let’s be honest here: a less ridiculous vocalist.

It was, for all intents and purposes, an isolated last gasp for death metal, coming several months after all the leading lights of the genre had fallen on hard times, mediocre albums and breakups.  I mean, seriously, beyond listing any number of questionable releases from previously top tier acts, the tech thing had taken hold, the Sunlight crowd had grown a bit too large to maintain any sense of quality, and even the mighty Scott Burns had fallen out of public favor. What was left to look forward after this album, Swansong? Please…

So anyway, circle back to At The Gates Jr.: The Wannabes. The vocals are even sillier and shriekier than those of everyone’s favorite Swedish schoolteacher, with more of a youthful metalcoreish flawedness, and the band, while certainly working the proper tropes here, simply doesn’t have the memorable songcraft and chops of their one glaringly obvious influence.

Bottom line? If the guys they’re copying are at best a mixed bag, how well, exactly, did you expect their less talented fanboys to come out of this?

Try it if you’re really hard up for more At the Gates…which would have borne a whole hell of a lot more weight before the long awaited reunion an album or two back.

  

Hoth – Astral Necromancy (Epicurus Records) (June 15)

Two man black metal act out of Seattle, of all places. The Dissection influence is obvious, but there’s a definite feel of traditional metal to the solos on tracks like “vengeance” or the decidedly Maidenesque harmony lead intro to “living dreams of a dead god”.

That aside, this might as well be the unearthed zombified remains of Nodtveidt, with all the midtempo to speedy tremelo riffage and melody lines. The only thing missing is the folky lilt…which shows up in the otherwise Bathoryesque “citadel of the necromancer”.

Vox fall somewhere between Abbath of Immortal and Quorthon, but the rest of this feels very, very Storm of the Light’s Bane, just with some trad injected for some extra vim and vigor.

I was good with it, though I don’t know how well it’ll stand up to repeated plays…Dissection certainly hasn’t lasted the years, dropping out of favor (not to mention sitting unplayed entirely) within 2-4 years after I discovered the guy (back in the days when he was still alive and doing time), where most other BM acts and albums in the collection (and there are many…) have remained in constant rotation till I (re)discovered doom and classic USPM a year and change back.

Agathos – Nihil Est (May 18)

Black metal out of Valencia, Spain. It’s more bombastic and epic in scope than usual, unless you’re as into the Finnish scene as I remain (in which case it’ll sound awful familiar, in a good way).

Opener “thanatos” comes off like a croakier, drier take on Satanic Warmaster, “void” and “nihil” feel more than a touch Azazel, and closer “revelations”, while a bit outside template, definitely has moments that circle back to at least Sargeist and Corvus era Horna, if not Pentilla’s work.

In other words…this is some very, very good black metal, marred only in the slightest degree by the croaked/declamatory vocals (which aren’t awful by any means, but do come off kinda weird).

Due hails, well deserved.

  

Agregator – Semmibol, a semmin át (GarageLive Records) (July 2)

Damn, what’s with this PR company and their “A” bands this month?

Right on the heels of the estimable Agathos come Hungarians Agregator, who work a seriously catchy, well constructed take on melodeath that owes more than a little to straight up power metal, and the sort that’s good and traditionally minded enough to suggest vintage USPM more than the blander Euro variant thereof.

I mean, talk about good song construction…nice, almost understated melodic soloing, catchy verses with good riffs and Killswitchlike dual lead line interplay, memorable if not anthemic choruses that shift all over the damn place, constantly in motion yet always making perfect sense, like the best of traditional 80’s metal songcraft mixed with a very modern, metalcore meets power metal production and feel.

Seriously…I can’t say enough about this one, these guys just kick the doors in and take over like nobody’s business, dead set on a mission to fucking impress, and boy, do they ever succeed, admirably.

Yeah, they’re singing in Hungarian. I have no fucking clue what they’re on about, lyrically.

But with music this busy, well constructed, harmonically sound and so pointedly
melodically inclined, well played and with rather good production?*

* the only flaw there being in shoving the vocals so far in front of the band, with all that belching into an empty beer stein nonsense making things come off more noisy and signal bleed-prone than is otherwise the case. But kill the vox? Some watery, over-triggered drum sounds aside, this sounds pretty damn good for a small label with a name like “GarageLive Records” (don’t ask me, I’ve never heard of ’em either…)

Yeah, no hesitation about this one – a real five star beauty awaits the curious.

MORTUARY DRAPE – NECROMANTIC DOOM RETURNS (IRON TYRANT RECORDS) (June 30)

Those familiar with the Iron Tyrant label (or for that matter, Spain’s Xtreem or Germany’s Iron Pegasus) with respect to the sort of material being compiled will probably know what to expect here: classic, long lost demos from death metal, thrash and first wave black metal bands, gathered together in more or less unrestored, unremastered versions.

It’s great to have ’em, but in an age where even the most obscure of demo acts can get remasters with liner notes and interviews, occasionally even DVD footage from back in the day appended? It feels like a bit of a letdown, like yeah! They’re finally putting Anialator on disc*…oh, their first and best demo sounds like crap here, I have a version from years ago that sounds twice as good. Damn.

* that was under the auspices of Xtreem, but a good example of what we’re talking about here.

So here comes one of my favorite first wave black metal acts, Italy’s Mortuary Drape, and Iron Tyrant has gathered together both the “necromancy” and “doom return” demos for easy access.

Doom Return sounds pretty damn good, considering that it’s pretty much a live in studio rehearsal recording (listen to those vocals and drums, they tell the tale…), but Necromancy is positively abysmal, all mud and hiss, with riffs, vocals and drums buried beneath a wall of crackling distortion and poor recording (what were they working, a cheap dime store boom box cassette recorder?), and if anything, the live recording is almost worse, with louder, clearer vocals and double bass, but with any further kitwork and guitar buried beneath an even thinner toned, more annoying wall of crackle and hiss.  Did I mention he’s swallowing the mic while rasp-screaming throughout?  Yeah, it’s a hard listen.

Now, I”m really torn here. I positively love Mortuary Drape, particularly in the early days of Into the Drape and All the Witches Dance, and was very excited to see this come across the virtual desk…so kudos to Iron Tyrant for getting these long lost demos out there for the ages.

That said…you’re pretty much just here for Doom Return, unless you’ve stocked up on Advil and are really into self abuse.

And don’t even try to hand me that line about “only so much you can do with a tape master”, because there are labels out there (cough try Greece, for one) pulling miracles out of a hat with this sort of thing, with masters long lost to time.

This release, while certainly a welcome one, just deserved more effort.

Liholesie – Fables (April 27)

Folk music from Russia, all drones, foley work and traditional instrumentation.

It’s quite listenable and very relaxing, but you could say the same about a Gaiam yoga disc or a Wyndham Hill offering…or hell, even Enya and the Celtic Women when they go without vocals.

Certainly no issues with this otherwise, but while perfectly listenable and atmospheric, it’s hardly, say, Kroda – nothing’s really being done with it, it’s just foley-happy trad folk with some tribal leanings.

I was more than fine with it, caveats aside, and this one will remain on the iPod for a bit, to give some much needed perspective on more stressful days.

Deathcall – Eternal Darkness (June 20)

OK, when you see that cover, with a girl…well, at least dressed sexy*, sitting in the middle of a graveyard, what are you expecting to hear in the album contents? Gothic rock? Horrorpunk? Possibly even some questionable emo act?

oh, wait, you mean you would never in a million years expect to hear old school death metal?

Yeah, me either. But that’s what you get here, a very blunt and basic form of classic death metal in the Baphomet/Acheron/Gorefest/Obituary mold thereof. Nothing wrong with that in the least, and these guys certainly work all the expected beat points in save the solos. In fact, I can’t recall hearing a single solo on the entire album…

That glaring omission aside, this one was right up my alley and certainly managed to hit the ol’ comfort zone sweet spot.

Too bad about not having a lead guitarist to make it complete…this one’s pretty damn crispy all the way ’round, and while completely incongrous for what they’re laying down, that cover doesn’t exactly hurt either.

* come on, she looks just like my Aunt Edith, who thankfully never even tried to dress like that…(shudder)

Kalaallit Nunaat / Au Revoir (split) – Memories From Desolate Battlefields (This Winter Will Last Forever) (April 20)

Split between two Italian black metal acts working a more ambient to Cascadian approach thereto.

Au Revoir is the more palatable of the two, sticking more to a straight instrumental thing, with rare vocals limited to a sinister scream or two spread out across a nigh 20 minute track.

Kalaalit Nunaat, even beyond having an unpronounceable faux-Southeast Asian moniker, stick to those goofy processed shriek vox so beloved of certain corners of the modern black metal scene, where it sounds like they’re yelling into a telephone or whatever. The band also has this thing about going from a strange sort of video game noise-based ambient (seriously, it’s like Pac Man bleeps and bloops) straight into an uber-raw Les Legions Noires cum Polish black metal sort of thing, which doesn’t exactly mix well, much less in the course of a single track. And they pull this shit twice!

Drop the sub-Dragonforce goes ambient shit and just show up on one of those
questionable comps (I won’t name ’em, but fans of that sort of sound probably know which 3 part series I’m referring to here), and be done with it.

Not bad…but more than a little flawed, to be nice about it.

Exlibris – Innertia (June 29)

Polish act, not the Dianne Van Giersbergen gothic metal one.

It’s still very much working the melodic metal to AOR end of the spectrum, with dual male/female vocals (though I’m only seeing guys listed here, which is a bit disturbing…check out “ascension” or “gravity” and tell me there isn’t a girl singing along throughout…)

They claim to be (European) power metal, and you can certainly hear elements thereof, but it’s hardly typical of the style…this is far more light and radio friendly than your standard power metal festival act could ever aspire to.

When they come off more radio pop meets gothic metal, they seem to deliver better and catchier songs. That said, much of the album is trying for that power metal approach, however sugar sweetened it actually proves to be in practice, so there’s a balance between a more riff oriented neo-power AOR thing and a more male/female gothic metal radio ready one, fighting for dominance throughout the course of the album.

Strange, didn’t exactly warm to it overmuch because of this confusion of genre and approach…but has its moments, and the less demanding listener should find themselves bobbing along fairly easily.

Not bad at all, they just need to decide who they really want to be, throw themselves into that approach whole hog and toss the rest.

Black Vatican – S/T  (February 16, 2018)

Well, they’re definitely gothic/symphonic metal…

Problem here, amidst all this rather Theatre of Tragedy meets early Gehenna
business otherwise, is in the vocal department. While there’s clearly a light and airy (if overly hesitant) female voice in use all over the album, none are credited. Instead, you get an Erick Ramos touted as bassist/vocalist…which if he’s responsible for the female vox, is kind of freakish and bizarre.

What he ostensibly is responsible for is pretty messed up as well – some croaked at whisper level death belches that alternate with a weirdly light and feminine black metal snarling and gargling.  Neither works particularly well, the one’s so thin and light in tone as to question the gender of the user, and what the fuck are they doing in an otherwise pointedly gothic metal act?

The keyboards tend towards the tinkling and basic, as well, and it’s hard to tell which of the obvious female (clean) vocal and keyboard lines is causing those regular clashes in tone that leave the listener gritting their teeth in sympathetic pain. Ouch, that phrase dropped awkwardly off key…Oof! there’s another…

Overall, listenable to more than fair. For a band coming to the genre quite this late after its rise, heyday and ignominious fall many a year ago, much less from Stateside climes?  Seriously, this really wasn’t all that bad.

Advice? Drop the black metal snarls, they’re too high and thin for any sense of
credibility…and possibly after a few singing lessons to get her past all that hesitancy and off key quavering, draft the girl as a properly credited member of the band, already.

Worked wonders for Theatre of Tragedy, and the rotating chair lack thereof remains one of Therion’s biggest undoings.

Espionage – Digital Dystopia (June 1)

Seriously top notch USPM out of Australia, all classic NWOBHM leaning thrash riffage, vox and styling, but with Euro power metal style production and upbeat, bombastic feel.

The closest analogues I can think of to this are the regularly superlative releases Fighter Records have been dropping over the last several months, and the recent Jag Panzer. It feels quite modern, yet the clear indebtedness to vintage US power metal, with all that NWOBHM derivation and thrash leanings is so blatant, even a newbie should be able to suss it out.

And this is self released?

All I can say is, damn.

Pass me one of those Fosters and a vegemite sandwich while we try to keep the rabbit population under control, because these Aussies are very likely the best thing we’ve heard this month.

Brass Owl – S/T (June 22)

Arguably stoner rock, but with far, far more of a bar band blues thing than usual.

Promo writeup even (more or less correctly) notes parallels to the likes of (Pepper Keenan-era) CoC and (get this) ZZ Top. Well, OK, the latter’s a bit of a stretch, but you can hear it – there’s a definite vibe of “dusty Texas blues” to “land shark”. Never mind that they’re from a bit further north – Ohio, to be specific.

Where things get a bit weird is when they go all psychedelic rock/jam band, as on the live “mushroom sally”, or even more bluesy – “spirit song” positively feels Robert Cray.

Suffice to say, it all fits in for your local bar band aficionado, despite some rather divergent approaches from track to track – do they want to be part of the Stevie Ray Vaughan band? The Jeff Healey band? Ten Years After? Who the hell knows.

Bottom line, it’s got the right energy to those bluesy pentatonic solos, the vox fit, the bass throbs mutedly but noticeably…yeah, I’m not big on this sort of thing as a rule, but no question these guys and a gal are a damn good band at what they do.

I’d pay that $5 cover charge and 1 drink minimum to see ’em, definitely.

Gramma Vedetta – Address Unknown (June 15)

More Sabbathy than usual stoner rock act, one song, no frills, no B-side, nothing.

Somewhere between Volume 4 and Master of Reality, with a bit more of a ‘Wino’ Weinrich vocal than an Ozzy one. Chorus and bridge do not fit, leaning more grunge than not (think Screaming Trees butting heads with Mudhoney, and you’ll see what that part’s all about).

Overall, though? Really good, this St. Vitus and vintage Sabbath fan was well pleased.

Cokegoat/Barren Heir Split (June 29)

oy…

Cokegoat is a noise act with an aggro screamer on vox. They like throwing in heavy, stuttering riffs beneath it all to fool the listener into thinking they bear any vague kinship to a Sabbath derived genre like doom or stoner rock, but trust me, it’s not only bullshit, it’s a trap.

BLEEEAAHHH! TIIIIME SLIPS AWAAAAAAAAY!!

Yeah, way too much of it, wasted listening to these clowns…

Barren Heir doesn’t acquit themselves much more admirably, mostly getting by on the fact that they tend to eschew vocals for long portions of both tracks offered.

Still avant-noise, still masquerading by slow, sludgy tempo their true provenance…and holy shit, here come those aggro screamo vox.

You know what?

WHIZZZ!!

Right to the Pile of Dead Bards with this shit.  Are you guys kidding me?

Next?

Witchkiss – The Austere Curtains Of Our Eyes (Argonauta Records) (July 13)

“From the antedil(l)uvian shores of the murky Hudson arises…”

Had to share that opener from the promo writeup, made me laugh. You have to be a New Yorker to get it, probably – remember when that dope tried to swim the Hudson, in a full body wetsuit, mind, and wound up covered in weird rashes and lesions? Yeah. A waterway to be proud of!

So from the mighty Hudson, home of sewage runoff, garbage scows, dead bodies and abandoned vehicles, comes a band to be equally proud of, working some weird mix of sludgy stoner doom, but as fronted by Natalie Merchant and some guy doing the sadly increasing trend of fat guy bellowing crumbs out of his ratty old beard as “vocals”.

Give us more of Nat, please!

Whew.

Well, if you don’t mind a really, really simplistic take on stoner doom with the former 10,000 Maniacs frontwoman dropping her snide vox on top, those portions work well enough, I guess.

It’s the other guy that leaves you shaking your head in disbelief and walking away. Is it really that tough to learn to sing…or find someone who can at least carry a tune?

(literally shaking head)

Next?

 

Her Despair – Mournography (July 20)

You know how teenage emo kids…mostly female, to be sure, but even so…seem to gravitate towards self destructive types, who come off all soft and flawed (ooh, how cuddly, my imaginary emo boy toy is!) but then get all aggro and nasty to make up for it?

You know the deal, everything from Nine Inch Nails to H-I-M to My Chemical Romance, and all the dozens of pseudo-goth and emo acts that fall somewhere between. For some reason, a certain type of high school girl really goes for this mix of weak but pissed off.

So here comes a UK act that at least tries to work more of a Suspiria meets London After Midnight by way of The Wake or Rosetta Stone second wave gothic rock proper sound, but with drums that lean a tad more aggressive, almost metal in a certain respect.  Essentially, the vox are goth, the vibe is goth…but there’s something else at play there.  Either way, close enough to the real deal to warm the cockles of this eldergoth’s black heart.

But there’s something else going down…and here we circle back to the self destructive emo sort of thing. It’s there in the promo shot, and in songs like “in the arms of a sadist” and “blaspheme with me”…ooh, how romantic! Don’t you tweens just want to cuddle him?

Eye rolling absurdity of that whole thing aside, yeah, I was part of this primarily US based scene in the mid 90’s (and loved the earlier 80’s UK based one just as much, albeit from afar)…and this could more or less pass.

Taken on a purely musical level, I was good with this, for sure.

VRSA – Cvlt of Machina (June 29)

Now this is a seriously weird one.

From the quirky riff that opens “circling the square”, you’d think, hey, it’s a proggy metal outfit, straight up. Then the chunkier, noisily distorted rhythm guitars bleeding their signal all over the damn place kick in, and it goes all stoner rock. Then it all goes from wierd to right down the shitter, when those fucking aggro screamo vox kick in. Seriously? Again?

And mind, the other two tracks aren’t half as good as this one.

Well, look. I don’t think the stoner stuff – which shows itself in dire need of a proper producer to clean up that signal, mind – belongs in the same breath as the prog business, they’re two completely different animals from very different parts of the metal spectrum, and don’t fit together in the least. But for argument’s sake, let’s give ’em that one. So they’re experimenting.

But really? This is all any of you kids can do, scream your tonsils out and pop the veins out of your necks? It’s just asinine, and sounds like shit to boot.

Just how many bands per month do we cover, where the band themselves sound totally promising…only to have some utterly talentless loser shit all over their collective efforts by pulling this bullshit on the mic?

Case in point.

Damn, maybe y’all should look into Elina Siirala’s vocal lesson huckstering next time Leaves Eyes comes to town.  Seriously, you guys really need to figure something out. Because this sure as fuck ain’t hacking it.

Next?

Kite – The All Penetrating Silence (Sludgelord Records) (June 8)

Grunge from Norway! They claim to be sludge crossed with “post-metal”, whatever the fuck that’s supposed to mean.

Yeah, it’s grunge with more screamo-oriented vox.

Whatever. Hated this shit in the 90’s, haven’t exactly warmed to it since.

So much questionable material. Maybe we should start calling numbers, like your local deli or the DMV…

Next?

 

Kielkropf – Ignorance Is Bliss (Sludgelord Records) (July 6)

You know, that slo-mo, uber heavy riff that kicks off “soon I’ll be gone” started blasting through the speakers, and I’m thinking yeah, that’s more like it.

Nope, it’s our pals at Sludgelord Records again, so guess what happens when the vox kick in.

That’s right, kids!  Fat guy gargling and growl-belching up the four jumbo sized hamburgers he stuffed down his craw for lunch like a cut rate Tom G. Warrior gone all Super Size Me on your ass. Seems to be a thing with this label, for some reason…

Yeah, sorry, can’t take this seriously with this guy’s hilarious sub-Cookie Monster “vocals”.

Too bad, those thick grilled riffs were pretty choice.

Cavern – Eater (Grimoire Records) (June 22)

All guitar and drums, occasionally a hint of keyboard drone for fullness. Nothing else.

It’s quite indie and spacey, with busy, digitally delayed or sampled loops of guitars layered on top of each other. At times the rhythm guitar bottom end gets really heavy and doomlike, but it’s mostly jangling, trippily delayed and very indie to the point where it almost meets prog (but not quite)…and no vocals to fuck things up, which, considering how often that happens lately, was a major plus.

Don’t know how often anyone will be hitting this one up – it’s more of a really interesting basement rehearsal tape than the sort of album you’ll be jamming with friends and lovers on your way to wherever the day takes you.

But props to these guys overall – it’s pretty decent stuff for two guys, no vocals, no bass, nothing.

Finnr’s Cane – Elegy (Prophecy Productions) (July 20)

Wouldja believe it’s been 5 whole years since we last encountered Finnr’s Cane?

Seriously, it was way back in 2013 that we covered their Portrait Painted by the Sun, and found it likeably interesting, figuring it’d grow on us over time. And yeah, it did stick on the ol’ iPod for several months, as I recall.

Since then, we’ve covered thousands on thousands of acts across the metal, punk and goth scene, not to mention genres even further afield like neofolk, synthpop, “lazerpunk”, AOR, on and on from there. And here, after all this time, we come back to this band after so long a remove. How do they hold up?

Surprisingly well, actually. This is still the same sort of expansive, contemplative, Cascadian approach to black metal they were working back then, but perhaps slightly improved over the interim, with moments that evoke Ulveresque clean chant vox (“elegy”) and arguably even more of a bombastic, wide open scope than I recall from back when.

To be fair, there are definite negatives to be had in the bargain – the discordant Dark Funeralesque “moving chord shape” atonality of certain portions of “strange sun” just rankle and piss the listener off by dint of their sheer inappropriateness.

There’s also a strong feeling of sameness from track to track, not necessarily in a contiguous sense (you can very much tell when one track ends and the next begins, for example), but in the broader sense of the same vibe, themes and key (or related keys) being tapped for song after song. On the positive side, it sets a trancelike, introspective atmosphere…but it is quite noticeable.

But these amount to minor concerns, a slight niggling more than a “holy shit, another fucking band saddled with aggro vox?” sort of make it or break it moment…

…and trust me, Finnr’s Cane comes out well on the winning side of the equation, taken all in sum.

Not bad, not bad at’all…

Aseethe/Snow Burial – Split (Hand of Death Records) (June 29)

Oh. My. God.

We’re back at it, again.

First track of this split comes from Aseethe, who work a repetitive to simplistic riffing structure (that feels rather Arabic, by the way) that sort of mixes stoner doom, grunge and Circle-like use of pattern repetition with alternating verses that go more jangling single note indie rock in their either delayed or two guitar interplay. So far, so good…until those fucking screamo bellows and shrieks kick in.

Seriously? Again?

Next up, Snow Burial, who work more of a doom/death thing, vaguely akin to Autopsy, before going all atonal noise in the second half. Oh, and again, those stupid ass growl n’ shriek aggro vox (there’s an attempt to go sort of death, thus there’s more of a growling tone for the first half of this wonderful microphone “performance”…but then, yeh, it goes right into aggro screamo territory.)

I’m starting to think we should make a virtual rubber stamp, at this point. Parentheticals added in light of the rather questionable latter half of Snow Burial’s offering herein.

“Music (more or less) works, we were cool with the band end (for the most part)...but aggro vox shit all over their efforts.  Until they wake the fuck up and get a real frontman/leading lady, already…strongly advise passing on this one.”

Next?

1968 – Ballads of the Godless (HeviSike) (July 6)

Really thick toned, heavy guitars ala Sabbath on Master of Reality or Blue Cheer. Solos are more psychedelic to space rock than many a band working the trad doom or stoner sound otherwise, which gives them the right hint of vintage.

Unfortunately, the vocal approach, or at least the production on same, leaves 1968 feeling more 1994 than they likely intend, strongly evoking the Soundgarden some of the riffing betrays a deeper orientation towards.

Even so, solos are very vintage – think early 70’s blues rock gone psychedelic, anywhere between Cream, Grand Funk, Iron Butterfly and Hawkwind, not to mention the two bands referenced earlier, whose trappings, drum patterns and riffs they either swipe or pay due homage to, depending on how you view the world.

And those molasses thick riffs…damn, if we could dump the grunge bits entirely, this would be sitting in the collection between Sabbath, St. Vitus and early Trouble.

Even taken as is, a pretty damn strong effort from these Britons.

I was fairly well chuffed, ta.

Wheel In The Sky – Beyond The Pale (The Sign Records) (August 31)

Overly classic rock-oriented act out of Sweden. The rather Blue Oyster Cultlike title cut is as good as it gets, here, with other tracks coming off somewhere between the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd (albeit minus the Southern fried feel), and a few even leaning somewhat Nick Lowe (!)

Not awful by any means, just not my thing. Those more into the whole 70’s-early 80’s classic rock scene may find more of value herein.

Parius – The Eldritch Realm (July 20)

geez, coming off of the musical high that was Espionage’s Digital Dystopia…then this?

Seriously…WTF?

Bizarrely overly quirky, almost djentish approach to what they claim is “melodic death metal” (yeah, in a pig’s eye it is!), this is like some fucked up cross between Mr. Bungle, Unexpect and whatever other shitty band you can think of who wouldn’t know a proper riff or melody if it bit ’em on the ass.

It’s busy, alright, with plenty of prominent bass and meaninglessly atonal clashing notes flying all over the damn place, but you can’t even excuse this by calling it progressive or avantgarde…it’s just like the second coming of fucking Mr. Bungle.

If you think that’s a compliment, that says more about not only these guys, but you than I ever could.

Case closed, lock the trunk, chain it, weigh it down with rocks and toss it to the bottom of the deepest oceanic crevasse, never to be seen or heard of again.

As one of my podcast cohosts would say…Yeesh!

At least the cover is cool…

Lord – Desperation Finds Hunger In All Men (Heavy Hound Records) (August 24)

Angry, almost industrializedly angular riffs that switch to more traditional groove/aggro (“no sunrise on the third”) or collapse into outright avant-noise (“nature knows no kings”). Sometimes they even go a bit black metallish for a few bars (“have a look for yourself”).

They’re overdistorted and raw, which lets them market this one to sludge/stoner rock fans, but it’s not that, unless you factor in those Sludgelord Records-preferred fat clown spitting crumbs at you while bellowing and belching up the meal you interrupted his fat ass from finishing, all sticky fingered with sauce dripping all over his flannel shirt. Hang in there for a few tracks, he’ll probably drop a particularly aromatic belch in your face.

And this is becoming some sort of a thing, like “yeah, to do sludge and stoner doom, we need to get someone who can sound just like that on vox!”? Seriously?

Yeah, this one’s all over the map sonically, and they seem to tap everything that doesn’t work, rather than anything that actually does, and throws all that stuff into the mix.

Insert the contents of your garbage can, add extra salt, blend and saute – you may wind up with your very own home ec version of Lord…

(sighs, shakes head)

…next?

Dygora – Chambers of Reflections EP (July 13)

UK act that claims to belong to the death/doom subgenre. What you actually get are some pretty ridiculous metalcore meets aggro/screamo vox. If you can sit through this guy’s performance on “black man” without shaking your head in disbelief, you probably make a monthly “must purchase” checklist out of every band we toss into the Pile of Dead Bards…

The music is pretty messed up too, with “aurora” coming off somewhere between nu metal and black/death, “chambers of reflection” seeming like some bastardized death-thrash riff, “lucy” falling somewhere between “brutal death metal” and Korn, and “black man” winding up decidedly “underground black/death” in all the slow, stop start riffing and weirdly atonal bits crossed with, of all things, a vaguely Exodus style chugging riff in the earlier portion thereof. Never once did I say, oh, look, some more doom/death for the collection.

This is very much “something other”, and whatever it is, it ain’t lookin’ very good…

Somebody light a match. Maybe turn on the gas jet with this album in the room, toss that match at it and run like hell…

…next?

Al Ard – S/T (code666) (June 22)

geez, is “industrial black metal”, filled with random, crisscrossing samples and a propensity towards chaotic noise some sort of a thing, now?

You know, I always felt Mysticum was a one off, with only the post-black metal eras of Ulver and Manes (about whom nobody really gives a shit) and perhaps a brief flirtation with same by Beherit to follow in their tread.

Apparently, there’s at least one other band floating around out there, trying to work the same sample-happy, undanceable and quite un-black metal (hell, quite un-metal of any sort!) nonsense.

Look, I’ve heard much, much worse…some of it this month!

But as Steve Taylor once put it:

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

Saint Karloff – All Heed The Black God (Twin Earth Records) (July 27)

FINALLY, an actual dyed in the wool doom band (perhaps more accurately stoner/doom, but even so!)

So, yeah, Sabbathy riffs with a very Master of Reality derivation, heavily echoing reverbed, high pitched yowling vocals in the vintage Ozzy manner, occasionally accented by vocorder effects or a brief “orchid”-style acoustic instrumental break.

You already know I’m there, Sabbath was the band I came up on and emulating in my earliest playing days (remember when there was a big division and argument over “who really started heavy metal, and where do you draw influence from?” Yeah. I always hated Zeppelin (well, one or two odd tracks aside, like “immigrant song” and especially “the wanton song”, whose jazzy breaks are the first riff I hear when their name is mentioned), but Sabbath was the shit, before moving on to more musically complex pastures for longer than some readers have been on this planet.)

A different route to Sabbath worship than St. Vitus trod…but no less legitimate and obvious therefore.

I was good with it, without question.

Backwoods Payback – Future Slum (August 3)

Positively crushing stoner rock, with riffs so thick and heavy you’ll think it’s doom.

Vague whiffs of Trouble and Wino-era St. Vitus come to the fore, but the rather Dave Wyndorflike vocal delivery of frontman/guitarist Mike Cummings pulls this in a more blatantly Monster Magnet gone Red Sun-era Kyuss direction.

Opener “pirate smile” feels a bit Sabbathy in all that driving propulsiveness, and it’s nice to actually hear the basslines in all their muted, throbbing glory.

Things turn more 90’s grungelike with the Nirvana riffing meets NiN vocalled “lines” and the Bush-esque “whatever”, even going a bit Rage Against the Machine in portions of “generals”, but my money’s on speaker-rattling generator party rave-ups like “alone” and “lucky”, which in and of themselves make the album.

You bet your candy-ass I was good with this one, son.

Hate Diplomacy – Rant (June 29)

oy! This one claims to be working the usual Suffocation wannabe “brutal death metal” thing, but with their propensity towards slow, stuttering neanderthalic riffs, it comes off more aggro, even nu metallish just as often (if not moreso) than it ever does death metal.

And what’s with the drum sound? I remember my drummer’s original deep dish snare went on him, so he “upgraded” to a thin(ner) dish one that I absolutely hated…as he’d be the first to admit, it brought an unwanted punk feel to even the most unrelated material.  And even then, it didn’t sound so…drunks playing empty trash cans in an alley in tone than this.  Every snare hit stands out in the most irritating, distracting way.  Annoying as shit.

And those fucking “vokills” (so lame, the shit people come up with lately…) don’t exactly help – seldom a more aggro frontman ever there was. Might as well have recruited the guy from Madball…

Yeah, save your time and money. This is a reeeeeeal easy pass.

Next?

Paragnosis – Clarity In Three (Redux) (August 31)

A very slow…well, midtempo at best, deliberate take on prog metal. All
instrumental.

Not much else to say, here, other than that you can hear the bass throughout and that they need a lead guitarist – solos are so unmemorable I forgot they were there. When I went back to confirm, I found some sub-Kirk Hammett/Dave Chandler widdling around aimlessly with the wah pedal, as if that will add some interest to some very basic playing. Effectively, no solos, they need a lead guitarist.

The fact that the promo materials mention Primus in the same breath as “prog” should say everything you need to know, here.

Jerry wasn’t a racecar driver, he was an asshole.

But back to Paragnosis…yeah, there’s nothing else to say, here.

While it has definite elements and tropes thereof, this is nobody’s idea of prog.

Devil’s Teeth – Suki Yaki Hot! (Triple Eye Industries) (August 24)

“Like a thousand bored, out of shape dudes before them, (Devil’s Teeth) became a band.”

So kicks off the promo writeup for this would be Stateside Guitar Wolf, a sub-Cramps gone Crowbar, with a decided surf rock feel and tonality on both guitar and drums crossed with a semi-ironic vocal delivery barely above spoken word (see also The Pixies, Agent Orange, Webb Wilder, Pere Ubu).

As the Guitar Wolf and Cramps references should make clear (given that we’re talking what’s essentially a surf rock act), they also turn out to be aficionados of weird pop culture – Bruce Lee trivia, Godzilla Films, Herschell Gordon Lewis, the whole Something Weird schlemiel and beyond. I mean, come on, they even mention a “Shaq attack” at one point…”Kazaam to you too, motherfucker!”

Look, the Cramps were/are still one of my favorite bands, period, and regular readers (and longtime listeners of the podcast, or our sister podcast Weird Scenes) should be well aware of our lifelong love of cult cinema and television from the silents to the mid-90’s…so were you really expecting a slag on this one?

Nice to hear this sort of thing is getting passed down to a younger generation, and not fading away as so many pivotal figures both in and waving the flag for this sort of fascinating cultural detritus pass on.

Iron Lamb – Blue Haze (The Sign Records) (October 26)

Swedish act that appropriates a very grunge guitar tone and vibe and marries it to a proto-metallic, almost NWOBHM heavy rock style, as if Heavy Load and High Power got together to fuck the shit out of Nirvana and the Screaming Trees.

As such, it’s very reminiscent of a certain time period (right around the dawn of the 80’s), while coming off more aggressive and “modern” (well, at least a decade later than that!) than it should.

Even so, think one of those Hells Headbangers style blackthrash acts who seem to draw exclusively from Motorhead, Venom and Bathory, then drop the last two entirely…and you’ll get the general idea, here.

I liked it, and if any of the above sounds good to you, you will too.

Lizzies – On Thin Ice (The Sign Records) (October 5)

Spanish (almost) all femme hard rock act with a punk feel. Think the sort of hard rock they were dropping right around the dawn of the 80’s, like Pat Benatar, the Runaways (well, OK, that was a few years prior, but damn close), Billy Idol and suchlike.

It’s appropriately polished and midtempo, while still being quite driving. Weirdly, they consider themselves “heavy metal”, but only if you consider Blue Oyster Cult as such…this is more of that particular era of hard rock where it remained more or less “clean cut” (comparatively) while appropriating the simplistic approach and punchy drive of punk, with spare, almost Rick Rubinesque production and attention to keeping things short and to the point, right down to the phrasing on solos (look no further than Neil Giraldo and Randy Rhoads in that respect…but you could also tag in The Knack, The Vapors, Split Enz, Greg Kihn, etc. etc.)

It’s damn good stuff, even with such classy songs as “talk shit and get hit”. Yeah, raised well and bred at charm school, there, young lady! Sheesh…

Look, it’s no Killer Barbies…but aside from some of these Fighter Records acts we’ve been encountering of late, this may be one of the better acts to hail from Spanish shores to date. I liked it a lot.

Runescarred – We Are (June 29)

Quirky modern USPM act straight outta Austin, Texas.

Opener “this is mine” establishes ’em as a decidedly thrash leaning affair, but with those standard bombastic yet over-gravelly Euro power metal vocals and a whole lotta NWOBHM vibe at play beneath. So far, so good.

But then how do you explain the weird right turn of the frankly boring ballad “a darker man”? Or how closer “ghost ocean” doesn’t redeem the band by pulling it back full circle, but heads off into a plethora of way too busy neo-prog noodling with moments that approach aggro (complete with goofy growling on the vocal front and over-aggressive modern metal riffing)?

Well, no question they can play, no question they have definite potential, given “this is mine”…

…but no idea where the fuck their heads are at, with the other two tracks here.

Next?

Isdal – Demo (July 13)

Glacially lumbering sludgelike affair with shit aggro vox a’ screamin’ and a’ spittin’ through the whole damn thing.

“Weight in my spine” is a lot more listenable than their attempt at a “fast” track, but both kinda suck.

Notice that a lot of these aren’t even worth bothering to toss into the Flaming PoDB this last month or two?

Yeah.

Next?

Tuscoma – Arkhitecturenominus (Antena Krzyku Records) (August 3)

A particularly choked screamo gargling “vocal” over a sort of noisy, atonal, half assed take on black metal, or post-black metal, or whatever the fuck you want to call it.  I really could care less.

It sucks.

Next?

Radiant Knife – Science Fiction (August 8)

Okay, not sure who these guys are trying to be or what they hope to accomplish, but right from that incredibly annoying guitar and synth dual tone in opener “stereo lords”, this one just turned me off completely.

Weird, angular riffs that would suggest Prong if they didn’t blow so badly (and hey, unlike these guys, Prong had a few killer tracks in ’em!), this is all chunkity-chunkity-chunka lines that go all over the damn place without ever really resolving, much less saying a damn thing.

It’s vaguely stonerish, but wants to be prog, and winds up feeling like a…well, equally annoying Primus or something. Oh, then they drop some (very) occasional clean vocals in and slow it down for a sort of indie feel (“swarming lights surround you”), but for the most part? Straight instrumental, purely irritating.

Next?

Allfather – And All Will Be Desolation (Rotting Throne Records) (September 7)

UK act that’s sorta on the border of thrash, but leaning far more towards aggro in both simplistic to neanderthalic repetitive riffing and irritating sub-Anselmo screamo vox.

Yeah, I like Exhorder’s Slaughter in the Vatican, but that was a very pointedly thrash affair, just with questionable vocals.

This?

WHIZZZ!!!

Damn, watch that Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards flare up with each new hunk of
fodder…hope someone’s called the fire department, because much more of this, and we may wind up burning down a few states!

Next?

Raven Throne – Biaskoncy snieh Casu / Niazhasnaje (Possession Productions) (February 22)

For a band who stylize themselves as “atmospheric”, they sure get overly aggressive…

Seriously, I usually love this subgenre, as it sets a contemplative, introspective, woodsy mood and mindset…but with the exception of acoustic/foley work ambient opener “viartannie…” and possibly the rather Finnish-style “I”, things get pretty loud toned and in your face thereafter.

Hell, the title track is positively raging, somewhere between black/death and Norsecore in sheer violence, if hardly so fast and blunt…and thus far, far from what anyone would consider “atmospheric”.

Now we’d covered their I Miortvym Snicca Zolak last month, and had a very different take, so while referring the curious back to that review, I’ll also say this: while still overly aggressive for the style, I Miortvym Snicca Zolak is far closer to what you’d expect, and while it may not actually be the better of the two albums, it’s certainly less jarring and unexpected.

So bottom line, stick to I Miortvym if you’re looking to tune out, relax and set the proper mood to get through your workday…but if you’re looking for their best track, you’ll have to hit up Biaskoncy for “I”.

Délétère – De Horae Leprae (Sepulchral Productions) (June 15)

We’ve touched on Deletere and their unique take on black metal several times before, on Les Heures de la Peste, De Ritibus Morbiferis and Per Aspera Ad Pestilentiam, and apart from production concerns, always found them at least interesting, if not downright decent. Here we have what may actually be something of an improvement, with greatly upgraded production and the expected church organ-inflected black metal working in a somewhat melodic, dramatic vein – think Sargeist with a budget, I guess.

“Sagina caedendis” is easily the standout track here, despite all that ridiculous
yodel-howling (is that still a thing? Thought that was buried about a year back…) and after awhile it starts to feel a bit too standard Norsecoreish for my tastes. But hey, nothing wrong with earlier Immortal, Marduk and Tsjuder, they still come out of the cobwebs every now and again for rotation…

Yeah, this is definitely one to put on your “to listen” list. Who knows, it may well grab ya where it counts.

Flood Peak – Plagued by Sufferers (February 1)

Low and slow, lo-fi sludginess with a bit too much of an atonal orientation, black metallish shrieks and not enough of the standard stoner and/or doom vibe to really work.

Musical miscegenation of genres seldom actually works. Back in the day, some of us (yours truly in the vanguard of such, in fact) actually believed in pushing the boundaries and working something new and different…but we also came up on some hard and fast, well established rules of style, form and influence. To borrow from the art world, think of it as a “classical modern” approach.

But when folks are growing up on bad music…decades of it, in fact, and effectively the equivalent of the most extreme and ridiculous corners of “modern art” are seen as “mainstream”…honestly, the only “breaking the rules” you should be thinking of is to pull an Alex P. Keaton and go straight up traditional, lock yourself into a classic rulebook and take it from there.

Because you can’t rebel when your parents are already rebels, you’ll just wind up looking stupid with all that egg on your face.

The quieter, slower bits without vox worked just fine. The “blackened” atonal shit was just that, and simply does not fit.

  

Falcun – Kingdom Come (Eat Metal Records) (June 11)

Ah, Greece’s Eat Metal Records, they put out a relatively recent reissue of Brocas Helm’s Into Battle.  I’ve been seriously digging on a few Greek labels since (re)discovering a serious affection for vintage US power metal about a year and a half back, and trust me, that nation knows its stuff when it comes to obscure, even demo-only trad and power metal.

Rather unbelievably, this is no US origin act, nor a Spanish one…not UK based, Swedish or even Greek or Italian! No, this is a straight up Desi act, one not falling under what we’ve found to be a more typical thrash to death (and even occasional black) metal orientation…but full on NWOBHM-influenced 80’s style USPM all the way.

Maiden meets Accept guitars all Marshall stack filtered through wah pedal for tone and harmonics, a light thrash leaning, a very Maiden way of Barren Cross cum Joe Comeau-era Liege Lord (or hell, even Deaf Dealer!) vocalist…damn. Twisted Tower Dire only wishes they could sound this good, or half as dead on.

Yeah, this one’s pretty fucking killer, and the fact that it hails from both 2018 and the surprise country of origin that is India?

All I can say is, damn.

What the fuck are you waiting for, huh? Get out there and grab this one, already!

Drawn and Quartered – The One Who Lurks (Krucyator Productions) (July 27)

Arguably better production than April’s Hail Infernal Darknessbut clearly working in the same ballpark and staying fairly consistent in style, this is the second album in the same damn year from these Seattle death metallers. Are we to expect one next quarter as well?

There’s a touch less of the Morbid Angel/Blizzard Beasts-era Immortal this time around, but you’ll hear bits and pieces of same as you go along through the album, which is still speedy, throaty toned, reasonably template death metal with enough wild solos and deep belch vox to keep the true death metal fan or veteran happy.

Wasn’t overly excited about what I’m hearing this time around, but this worked well enough, yeah.

Tunjum – Deidades del inframundo (Dunkelheit Produktionen) (July 23)

Peruvian death metal, but overly raw and blackened in feel…almost demands
classification as black/death, but remains just this side of same. Chile’s Pentagram and Brazil’s Mystifier had similar issues, so you can see why it sounds this way…but definitely skirting the borders of genre comfort zone, here.

They have comedy pseudos, like “Kultarr – drums and ancestral voices”, “Saj – lead guitar and ritualistic bass” and “Evil Avatar – guitar of sacrifice”. One of ’em’s female, and a bit beefy, as photos indicate…but you’d be hard pressed to tell that from her vocals, which are deep and throaty enough to come off as male (something you can’t say of any other female growler aside from Angela Gossow). So if that’s your barometer, rest assured, you’ll never know the difference.

Used to love that cartoon, you know. Kultarr the Barbarian. “Ride, Ookla! Ride!” Some wild Jack Kirby/Steve Gerber postapocalyptic shit, not far removed from the Killraven comic series.

Anyway.

Yeah, once you accept this odd sorta black/death hybrid of death, blackthrash and black metal (which really isn’t any of the above, and doesn’t quite qualify as any accepted crossover blend thereof either), it works just fine for what we’ll broadly refer to as “the type” (being South American…”extreme metal” (a meaningless term I continue to despise…but what the fuck else can we call this one?)

I was good with it, overall.

Zero Down – Larger Than Death (Minotauro Records) (August 10)

These guys claim to be Seattle punk and metal veterans…which is odd, as the only guy with any resume of note is guitarist Matt Fox (who’d apparently been part of Holy Terror in the mid-00’s, well past their Terror and Submission/Mind Wars heyday.)

Anyway, this is strangely enough more of a blues rock bar band sort of affair, with a hint of punk in the shouted rasping vocals. At times there’s a light NWOBHM influence, but the speed and vintage riffing seldom lasts (exceptions to that rule being the few actual standout tracks here – “western movies”, “high priestess”, possibly even “preacher killer”.)

On the main, this is rather laid back and 90’s blues-rock/grunge in vibe (best you could compare ’em to is the new Orange Goblin, covered hereinabove), which does not impress me.

I don’t know, try the three good tracks and see if it does anything for ya…just be forewarned that the rest of this is likely to let you down, even if you find those tracks kinda killer.

Progenie Terrestre Pura – starCross (Avantgarde Music) (June 11)

We’d covered these Italians’ oltreLuna almost a year to the day ago and found it interesting in the sense of a sort of Voivod gone somewhat (Euro) power metal.

This EP’s a bit of an odd one, essentially consisting of two worthwhile tracks (“toward a distant moon” and on the acceptably familar side, but far lesser, “the greatest loss”), which continue along similar lines, appended to an equally interesting ambient space music/lazerpunk sort of thing (“chant of rosha”) and two tracks that probably should have been left on the cutting room floor (the utterly worthless “invocat” and the boring “twisted silhouette”).

Even so, that riff on “toward a distant moon” is sure to dig its way into your head and stay there…intense, quirky, winding, insidious.

Check it out for that track alone, and hope they pull together an album full of
suchlike…that’d be absolutely killer, should they pull it off.

Hell, bring “chant of rosha” along for the ride. It certainly worked, and reminded me of Mass Effect…always a good thing.

Void Of Silence – The Sky Over (Avantgarde Music) (June 11)

Clean vocalled, quite slow, ethereally airy and practically ambient variant of the gothic doom template.

It’s almost like Naked Eyes or those one hit wonders When in Rome (of “the promise” fame) decided to sing a few lines over a Kitaro or John Tesh album…seriously.

Well, it’s certainly dreamy…lighter than the most mellow Projekt Records darkwave album, in fact.

Not really my thing, though I had no issue with the clean 80’s style vox, and generally enjoy doom and goth of all sorts…it was just too light, too “daytime” for this eldergoth’s dead of night tastes.

Mesarthim – The Density Parameter (Avantgarde Music) (June 11)

Quirky synthpop affair, oddly appended to (very) occasional black metal snarl vox.

Depeche Mode minus the catchiness or depressive vibe records a few minutes of, say, that clown from Dimmu, spreads that out across the course of an album, and calls it “atmospheric black metal”.

umm…no.

Yeah, didn’t get what they were shooting for here, at all. At least Void of Silence was eminently listenable, if overly light…this one’s just silly.

A.H.P. – Forakt Hat Og Død (Avantgarde Music) (June 28)

Polish one man bedroom band straight outta…well, Bergen, Norway.

After an overlong ambient intro, this turns into a snoozeworthy black/death sort of thing, with hyperspeed Norsecore drumming appended to vox and riffs that are very much of the Watain school (or perhaps, given his nation of origin, post-Grom Behemoth).  Whatever.

(rolls back over and falls asleep out of sheer boredom)

Rather weirdly, he further decides to reinterpret Burzum’s hypnotic “tomhet” into more of a space music ambient soundtrack sort of thing. Doesn’t work, with all the odd swirly descending tone effects they decide to bombard the damn thing with, and is hardly even a pimple on the ass of the original.

Yeah, sorry, completely unimpressed with this one.

…next?

Sorrow Plagues / De La Nostalgie / Elderwind / Dreams Of Nature – Mater Natura Excelsa (Avantgarde Music / Flowing Downward) (June 26)

4 band split. I remember Sepulchral dropped one of these a few years back, most of ’em on it were quite good.

The UK’s Sorrow Plagues is working a sadly anthemic, rather gothic metallish sort of thing that brings the saddest Leaves Eyes material to mind, with that cross between sheer bombast and epic scope and an inescapable melancholy if not sensation of doomed inevitability. Vox suck major ass, but the music is so damn good otherwise, you’ll be able to ignore his sorry efforts tout suite. Bottom line, I liked these guys a whole hell of a lot, period.

Venezuela’s De La Nostalgie goes for the evil snarly rasp black metal vocal, which seems pretty damn out of place with the sort of sweeping scope and Cascadian to symphonic melancholy they adopt. Not half so moving as Sorrow Plagues, but certainly working in the same ballpark, stylistically. An appropriate splitmate, though you won’t like ’em the way you should Sorrow Plagues.

Russia’s Elderwind turns out to be another fitting splitmate, with a more directly gothic metal feel, crossed with a silly gargle-shout vocal. It’s less expansive and epic in sound, and a tad more traditional folkish, leaving them coming off more like a Kroda than a Paradise Lost. But again, acceptable, listenable, and another good choice to pair with Sorrow Plagues, if a further step distant stylistically.

Colombia’s Dreams of Nature pulls things back to De La Nostalgie territory, with more tinkling symphonic keyboard work and uber-nasty black metal snarl-shouts, but their biggest undoing (beyond the sheer abrasiveness of those vox…they’re a step down from either Sorrow Plagues or De La Nostalgie, to be sure) is their dogshit drummer, who seems to think incessantly working 2-beat blastbeats throughout is the “cool” thing to do. It’s fucking embarrassing just how awful this guy is. BASS SNARE BASS SNARE in 16-32 note full measure phrases throughout the entire. fucking. song.

Seriously.

There used to be this legend about Poison’s Rikki Rocket, that he’d never even tried to play drums until they locked him in a closet and forced him to drum against the door with his feet or some shit (LOL…but considering, may have had some truth to it!) I gather Dreams of Nature pulled the same trick on this guy, to even less of a result…

Bottom line, well worth checking out for Sorrow Plagues alone…you may also like either De La Nostalgie or Elderwind, depending on your personal taste.

And I hear every purchase goes towards paying for drum lessons for the loser in Dreams of Nature, so it’s a win-win.



ARCHAIC TOMB – Congregations for Ancient Rituals (Caverna Abismal Records) (June 9)

Portugese death metal act.
Some surprisingly memorable riffs on “self immolation”, but don’t get your hopes up too much…that’s far and away the best track on the album.The others, unfortunately are twice as long, half as memorable and feel quite different in style, to the point where they don’t even come close.I had some hopes from the opening of “bloody proclamation”, but the ball was dropped within the first minute, and the band went right back to the dragged out atonality and overly blackened overtones that mar the remainder of the album.Too bad, seriously.

Four more tracks like “self immolation”, I’d be praising this one to high heaven.

As is? One killer track, just forget the rest even exist.

Funeral Mist – Hekatomb (NoEvDia) (June 15)

Third or fourth (and current) Marduk frontman Hans “Mortuus” Rosten’s long running pet project, now entirely divested of members apart from his own self.

It’s reasonably straightforward, if decidedly Norsecore, and if you’ve been listening to his real band…er, his more popular band…um, his more famous band for the past decade or so, you know what to expect vocally…and honestly? Musically as well.

Seriously – was this so damn far removed from Frontschwein, a few weird Inquisition-style bent chord bits aside?

Not really. And folks call this “experimental”?

If all “experimental” or “avant garde” black metal sounded this traditional, I’d have no beef with either.

Yep, it’s pretty damn decent, and I was certainly good with it.

Glad to see this one hit the review queue, and was not disappointed.

Dis Orcus – Somnambulistic Visions (Forever Plagued) (July 27)

Ukranian black metal.  Reasonably traditional in style, though perhaps a bit sludgy given the muted roar of the guitars, which remain low and slow throughout.

There’s even a touch of Gloomy Grimlike sinister fairytale about a lead line that appears during “somnambulistic visions”, and the vox, while acceptably within genre, are strange enough in their gargling whisper approach to come off sort of eerie.

“Descending into Tartarus” even goes sorta stoner doom/sludge, which sounds bizarre on paper, but actually works.

I was quite impressed with this one, overall. Good stuff, well worth looking into.

  

Manticora – To Kill to Live to Kill (VICISOLUM PRODUCTIONS) (August 3)

OK, here’s what you need to know about these guys.

They’re from Denmark.

Their lead singer apparently wrote some crappy slasher novel, on which this album is based.

They call themselves thrash/power metal, but are actually more of a (modern, too angry and detuned for their own good) thrash/prog act, from the “concept album” through the wheedly-whoo keyboard and guitar bits to the frequently shifting riffs and tempos.

The vocalist isn’t too bad, bearing much in common with the high and soaring but a bit flat thing you find in a lot of power metal (both USPM and Euro derivation)…but he’s pretty much the only thing of value to be found herein.

Manticora earns a well deserved yawn and stretch (with a subsequent shrug of the shoulders) more than an angry dismissal.

DISOWNING – Battle of Neverness (Xenokorp) (May 23)

OK, this act comes touted as hailng from “France/Canada”. Not sure if that means members actually hail from the two countries, or if they’re just “French Canadian”, i.e. Quebecois…

Bottom line, these guys attempt to cross the Suffocation Wannabe-ism that is “brutal death metal” with the wheedly-whoo of prog. It’s not really Death-like (or Pestilence-esque, or Gorguts-ian, for that matter), but you could safely drop the whole crossover schtick and just call ’em “tech death”.

I basically detested the latter half of their 2015 demo, which is appended hereto, and most closely approximates that descriptor.

But new track “battle of neverness” sounded OK, and the slower, more deliberate, almost straightforwardly death metal proper demo opener “another piece in my collection” and the midtempo “inner emptiness” were actually quite good for the type.

They should have dropped “storm before the storm” and “human cattle”, it’d be a much better release without that tech/prog trash.

Try the first 3 tracks…or hell, just do “another piece” and “inner emptiness”. You’ll probably love ’em.

FADING BLISS – Journeys in Solitude (MALPERMESITA Records) (May 4)

Gothic doom with a particularly slowed down, almost funeral doom bent.

The male vocals are pretty funny, falling somewhere between Alex Krull’s questionable bellows in Leaves Eyes and Cookie Monster before he started going for carrots or whatever the hell, but the female vocals (presumably from distaff member Melanie) work very well with what the band’s laying down.

The issue, if there is one to be found, is that they slow things down a bit too much – an unrecognizable cover of The Cure’s “A Forest” runs about 11 minutes and slows that track’s speedy percussive hypnosis to a lumbering crawl that even diehard longtime fans of the band (cough yours truly) will really have to stretch to recognize it as the same damn song.

But even so, like their other 9-17 minute tracks, it sets a darkly pensive mood that works quite well…particularly with those soprano pushing coloratura range vocals at the fore.

Oh, yes – I liked this very much, indeed.

VANHELGA – Fredagsmys (Osmose Productions) (June 29)

We’d covered their Langtan a good 4 years back, and found it rather strange and questionably produced to boot.

So how the hell did that band deliver a darkly atmospheric 4 minute trek through foggy mists and marshy wastes of solitude like the title track here?

Maybe it was because the frontman shut the fuck up…only a few tracks even try to come close to that frankly excellent instrumental: “varde morker”, possibly “RIP”, the first 3 minutes of “you are temporary”.

You see, while fairly typical for black metal snarls and gargling shouts, that sort of mixed up front and in your face abrasiveness plays entirely against the mood otherwise being set…and far worse, the songs themselves never stick to said mood, but shift into atonality, major keys and other such jarring nonsense somewhere around the midpoint, track after track.

It Doesn’t. Fucking. Work.

So until these Swedes learn to pick a mood and stick to it…like they did on the title track, and for the most part on the two and a half tracks mentioned thereafter…they will remain an inconsequential and bizarre offshoot of the black metal genre, only patronized and remembered by those determined to check out the more outre and avantgarde corners thereof.

Download the title track and forget you ever heard of ’em thereafter.

THE EVIL – Evil (Osmose Productions) (June 29)

Wait, this isn’t Evil from Brazil, the incongrously NSBM act, right?

Nope, it’s THE Evil, a femme-fronted doom metal act out of…wait, Brazil?

Geez, way to make things clear for everyone…

Anyway, frontwoman “Miss Aileen” bears a throaty, sub-alto range tonality that pulls the band from their raw Sabbath by way of Electric Wizard-ian doom towards a more psychedelic/”occult rock” feel – think anything from Coven and the early female-fronted iteration of Black Widow to Devil’s Blood, early Blood Ceremony and Jex Thoth…the latter in particular, with all this low and slow doominess going on behind her.

It’s sludgy, detuned, overdistorted, and quite doomy (you could even say somewhat stoner doom), but with a decided “occult rock” feel.

Did you really expect a slag, here?

Another strong doom-spectrum entry this month, to be sure…moniker confusion aside.

MANES – Slow Motion Death Sequence (Debemur Morti Productions) (August 24)

You know, there were a few bands back around the dawn of the second wave of black metal that never emerged from their demo cocoon.

Thorns, to be sure – nothing they released “officially” ever sounded like “the sound that kicked off a genre”, the direct inspiration for Euronymous’ guitar style in Mayhem. The screeching young duo of Fleurety, for another…and for all intents and purposes, Carpathian Forest might as well have broken up after repeating their demo work for Through Chasm Caves and Titan Woods.

But by far, the most notable of such acts? Was Manes.

The grim, murky, extremely evil sounding tones of Maanens Natt, the slightly more…er, “progressive” ones of Ned I Stillheten, the comparatively quite “symphonic” (and hence far less engaging) sound of Til Kongens Grav de Dode Vandrer. They tried to cut a more “official” version of a few of their demo era tracks half a decade later, but it was too late, too much of the feel and atmosphere was lost. 1999 was a very different time and scene than 1993-5 were. All told, like post “trilogy” Ulver, nobody talks or cares about anything past those original three demos.

So today, this one dropped in the virtual queue. Wow, Manes? Wasn’t expecting to hear that name spoken outside of chats with fellow genre historians…

Look. I’ve managed to avoid their post-demo work for decades, due to complete lack of interest in black metal bands gone dance/electronic, so this is another tabula rasa moment.  Is everyone right about them?  Just how does “hipster era” Manes hold up?

Well, if you forget they were ever one of the seminal Norwegian black metal bands (and one of the nastier sounding, more unforgettable ones, at that) and just take them as a very 90’s grunge meets shoegaze crossed with electronic/industrial act…to judge by this album, they’re really not bad at all.

Opener “endetitstegn” is probably the catchiest of their melancholic yet melodically inclined efforts here, but if you’re looking for a less one note, more lush sounding (i.e. not all mids and harsh tone) NiN gone slightly darkwave, “scion” and “therapism” should fill your bill admirably.

“Chemical heritage” comes off a tad Catherine Wheel (perhaps as sung by Greg Dulli of the Afghan Whigs). “Last resort” and “building the ship of Theseus” fall somewhere between those now somewhat vintage touchpoints, while still remaining resolutely mid to late 90’s in feel and approach.

The remaining tracks don’t fair half so well, but even so. If you’ve lived through that decade and managed to get by on a subsistence diet of such fare as described herein like yours truly (though my own palate drove me to many other, rather far flung reaches of the music historial spectrum as much if not moreso than any available “new music” of vague interest), Slow Motion Death Sequence should bring you right back.

It ain’t metal by any stretch. It sure as fuck ain’t black metal, much less of the
unforgettable sort delivered by the legendary demo act Manes.

But is it fairly decent for a retro 90’s act, somewhere in the general “heavier music” spectrum?

Damn straight, it is.

   

NASTY SURGEONS – Infectious Stench (Xtreem Music) (July 5)

Spanish grindcore. Like most grindcore acts, they’re positively obsessed with Carcass, this time it even shows in the song titles (“smell the carcass”, “subdural haematoma”, etc.)

It’s clear from many of same that they’ve never actually cracked open a medical book to come up with their own jargon for diseases and what have you, so they fall back on more typical death metal and faux-satanic business like “impaled crucified and beheaded”, “infernal bacterial infection” and the ever so subtle and classy “mouth to anus” thereafter, but hey, they tried.

The plus here is that, like General Surgery, they really carry the Carcass Wannabe thing as far as they’re able to, leaving much of Infectious Stench feeling like a Symphonies of Sickness redux…just minus any of the winning proto-melodeath solos Steer brought to the table (admittedly, that was more evident on the far superior Necroticism and Heartwork albums than their earlier straight up grindcore work, but even so.)

Much more than just listenable…if you can take the comedy factor of the above, it’s actually pretty damn good for the subgenre, being a whole hell of a lot closer to template than usual.

RAVENS CREED – Get Killed or Try Dying (Xtreem Music) (August 2)

UK attempt at death metal, subverted by both an overly simplistic and raw, crust punkish riffing (think Discharge meets GBH, but perhaps a touch more grindcore in approach) and some truly ridiculous vocals that sound like they recruited the skankiest drunk out of the nearest alleyway in desperation.

Makes ya wonder…do they set up a burning trash can on stage, and let his fingerless gloved, rattily clothed street person brethren emerge from their cardboard box homes to warm themselves while he “performs” between hits of the ol’ hundred proof sauce?

Pure comedy in audio form. One can only hope they were half so amusing in their stage show as imagined hereinabove.

P-U. Here, I’ll hand you this one with two fingers, I really don’t want to be getting this all over me.

Next?

Gaerea (Portugal) – Unsettling Whispers (Transcending Obscurity Records) (June 22)

Blackened something or other.

The vocals are terrible, all wide open mouthed aggro BLEEAHHH BURRP
GUAAAHHH!!!!, while the riffs flip from the standard sinister tremelo riffing with some melody lines to carry the listener through all the blastbeaty nonsense appended thereto, but what else is at play here is open to debate.

At times it feels pagan metallish (“lifeless immortality”), others, more…honestly, I”m not sure what the fuck they’re shooting for, here.

If they gave the frontman a well earned boot, the music’s almost respectable, if somewhat vague and indefinable as to what beyond black metal’s really at play therein.

With him, pure comedy once again.

When will bands start to relearn the basics? As in, “frontman must be able to sing, or at least stylize, in a dynamic fashion that grabs listener attention”?

Whatever, they had a fair shot, here, and blew it.

Next?

SATHANAS (US) – Necrohymns (Transcending Obscurity Records) (July 10)

Bathory meets Desaster, and winds up sounding rather Nunslaughterish in the end.

Yep, you guessed it – USBM, all blackthrashy and raw, with that biker aesthetic lurking not far in the background.

Exciting, no…but if you like the style (and as a rule, I do), it certainly works well enough.

SAHON (South Korea) – Chanting For The Fallen (Transcending Obscurity Asia) (July 15)

Well, in the middle of all this nuclear threat and Trump/Rodman/whats his fat face back and forth nonsense, we’ve managed to have a rather decent olympics (well, at least if you weren’t rooting for the home crowd…), a sort of meeting of North and South after decades of division and Cold War BS…and now a South Korean thrash band.

Vocals are a bit silly with all that screaming and growling, but there’s no denying the strong guitar and drum production (though the former practically drowns out the latter in the mix), or the hard driving aggression on offer here. Decent, busy drumming, too.

Not what I’d consider thrash, as it’s too new school/modern for this veteran’s tastes…but taking that into account, the only real issues are the overall paucity of flashy solos (there are a few that aren’t bad at all, but they seem to be at a premium) and the questionable (but not unlistenable) vox.

Not bad at all, I was fairly comfortable with these guys overall.

Just so long as we don’t have to go out for kimchi together.  That shit’s harsh, and totally fart city post-consumption…

Anhyoseo!

LURK (Finland) – Fringe (Transcending Obscurity Records) (August 5)

Finnish doom act with an overly raw guitar tone and propensity towards atonality in riffing.

Overly noisy and the vocals suck some serious ass.

I guess if it came on amidst a good mix of doom, stoner and sludge and you were a few sheets to the wind, it might sound better than it does taken in isolation.

(actual yawn)

Next?

CRAWL (Sweden) – Rituals (Transcending Obscurity Records) (August 20)

Holy crap, is that Clandestine playing? Maybe some early Dismember?

That was my actual thought when “coven of servants” kicked off this one (yeah, I’ve said it many times already – player issue). So far, so very good.

Vocals blow, somewhere between the fat guy bellowing and spitting food all over himself thing that Sludgelord Records seems to gravitate towards in frontmen and a silly aggro belching growl. At no time whatsoever does it sound even remotely Swedeath, which is simply ridiculous given how faithful to the sound and era the band is otherwise.

The usual advice and warnings apply. Dump the fucking “vocalist”, get one that fits your sound.

As we have to say so damn often lately: you’ve got something worth hearing, if you fix that one glaring gotcha.

P.H.O.B.O.S. (France) – Phlogiston Catharsis (Transcending Obscurity Records) (September 10)

Anyone familar with the French black metal scene…apart from the late lamented Les Legions Noires, that is…is aware of the nation’s fondness for bizarre experimentalism in music.

Now, I don’t mean more or less mainstream stuff, like the ye ye girls or Serge
Gainsbourg, or even the indie stuff we’ve been covering more of recently. But when you say “French black metal”, chances are, it’s filled with an overabundance of atonality, lack of (or decidedly skewed) structure, a preference for noise over melody or harmony…you get the idea.

So it was really no surprise to run across this one in the virtual queue. The lone saving grace here is that I’ve had a seldom revisited copy of Abruptum’s Obscuritatem Advoco Amplectere Me gathering dust in the collection since the (very) late 90’s, so I’ve heard this exact “sound” done before…and worse.

Detuned to the point where the strings rattle against the frets, suffused in reverb and delay and midtempo to sluggish, what passes for single note “riffs” are occasionally covered by weird electronic noises and snarling black metal vox (at least it wasn’t just silly shrieks from “It”!)

Like I said, you’ve heard early Abruptum, you’ve heard this before…and you’ll think this one’s a definite improvement (it is.)

All others are advised to steer clear of this weird ass sub-Blue Man Group “sound experiment”, unless you’re a bar or club looking for that end of the evening “clear the house” record (hell, Kim’s Video and Tower Records used to pull the same shit, come closing time…)

  

PYREFICATIVM – संसार का पथ (Living Temple Records) (August 11)

Questionable one man bedroom band black metal act working the ooga booga bullshit “occult black metal” schtick.

Yeah, abu rabu simbu too to you, too, buddy. Tell ’em King Tut said so.  You know, before that convenient book drops on his head and he goes back to being a mild mannered if blustery professor.

(cue music: “BAT-MAAAAAAAN!!!”)

Yeah, I know, tangents.  Better than trying to delve into this oogity-boogity horseshit.

Oh, wait, did I hear a temple bell? WHIZZZ!!!

Nah, that was just the flames roaring in response to this shit cake.

…next?

Kuilu – Monumentti (Deviant Records) (GER) (May 5)

Oddly experimental take on black metal, or something in the black metal spectrum, out of Finland.

At times, it sounds pensive and contemplative, like the digitally delayed, more or less overdriven “acoustic” section around the early midsection of “madot” or the vaguely Cascadian stylings of “rauniot”, and you can tell it’s working in the Finnish style in the mournfully melodic lead lines driving “monumentti”.

But it’s not all cut and dried, or half so easy to peg in terms of genre and what to expect as that might imply. There’s a real randomness and almost atonality to the experimentation of tracks like “sisyfos”, the quirky, not exactly harmonious lead guitar notes and lines of which pepper each of the four tracks herein at one juncture or another.

The vocals are somewhere between a croak and a shriek, but thankfully are both kept to a minimum and somewhat suffused within the mix – not buried, exactly, but not as in your face as some bands are wont to, which is a definite plus.

Overall, I was good with this one, and if you had me up against the wall to pinpoint just what they’re working here, I’d side with the introspective, almost Sepulchral Records end of black metal – not quite Cascadian, not as expansive and atmospheric as usual…but hardly in your face, traditional, “orthodox”, “occult”, black/death, post-whatever, Norsecore or symphonic in approach.

Just keep in mind, these guys like to paint outside the lines, and those silly yodel howls show up late in “rauniot”, just for bad measure…so it’s far from cut and dried.

On the whole, I can say that I did like this one, yeah.

Curse Upon a Prayer – The Three Woes (Saturnal) (June 21)

We’d covered these Finns’ Rotten Prayers a few years back, and for whatever reason, it feels like the band’s either stepped up their game considerably, or we’re just in the right mood to receive their frequency this time around.

The drumming, while clearly Norsecoreish and totally overreliant on fucking blastbeats, comes off reasonably well (that tom roll that opens “let thy kingdom come”, the blastbeat-free double bass sections in both that track and “thou shalt be cursed”), taking center stage in the same sense as on Tsjuder’s Desert Northern Hell. I was reasonably taken with it, except when the guy fell back on blastbeats (which are always unimpressively childish comedy, wherever they appear.)

Riffing was appropriately sinister, vocals suitably eerily croaked, snarled and
gargled…yeah, this is a different matter entirely than Rotten Prayers.

Don’t ask me. I’m sticking with “the band really stepped up to the plate this time around”, and going with that.

Due hails.

    

Firtan – Okeanos (AOP Records) (July 13)

Symphonic black/death out of Germany.

Promo materials try to paint these guys as unclassifiable, but that’s become something of a trope these days. “We’re so original, we can’t be categorized.”  Bullshit.  Categorized and filed, one sentence, done.

Mixed and mastered by Empyrium‘s Markus Stock, so you at least know the
production’s well done…but even this applies more to the quieter, more ambient and violin-sporting moments than the noisier full band black/death wannabe Behemoth stuff they gravitate towards.

Shrug of the shoulders. You’ve heard this all before, and probably with more bombast and anthemic feel…like Empyrium, while often quite considered in approach (again, the quieter moments), this one feels a bit cold.

BLACK HOWLING – Return of Primordial Stillness (Signal Rex) (July 27)

Portugese…well, they say “black metal”, but to judge by “iberia”, it’s “noise” that turns lumberingly demo-level blackened doom.  The two “celestial” tracks get much sloppier in turn, and bring the noise bits more into the midsection than right up front like in “iberia”…”cosmic oblivion” saves the eardrum punishment to the end.

And…why, exactly?

I mean, the more gothic doom elements could have worked just fine, with a real producer to clean ’em up. But why blast all that irritating noise at the listener? Are you actively trying to chase potential fans away?

Well, regardless.

You succeeded.

WHIZZ!!!

If you’d all lower your heads with a light pang of regret for the potential this band had, but squandered for no good reason whatsoever.

OK, moment of silence over. Next?

ALBIONIC HERMETICISM – Ancient Hermetic Purity (Signal Rex) (July 27)

British black metal act…though both certain song titles and their label of choice point to their being Portugese by heritage. Surprisingly sinister vox of a sort you simply won’t be expecting from its nation of origin (though the Portuguese black metal thing would explain that, lickety split.)

Production is absolute shite, they must have stuck a fucking 1980’s boom box in the corner of the garage where they rehearsed and released the resulting tape to the general public. Seriously, try a recording studio next time.

The music itself is interestingly grandiose in feel, veering between pretty traditional second wave Norwegian school black metal circa ’93-’95 (“consulting the hermetic”) and something more modernistic in terms of the noisiness, inclusion of pointless ambient tracks and occasionally almost Finnish feel (“aa moete hermes”)

I did like parts of this very much (mostly the aforementioned), so I’m curious what a more polished production might pull out of these guys.

Satan My Master – The King Of Hell Arrives (Helldprod Records) (June 27)

USBM out of Portugal, pretty much. The whole “D-beat” thing, with Bathory rubbing shoulders with Motorhead and Venom, you know the deal. All that may be missing is the outlaw biker connection, and even that may or may not be up in the air.

Driving, high speed, old school-oriented, only let down by a sub-Maax feel and some pretty juvenile lyrics (“you are a slut, you are a fucking slut”? And we’re supposed to take this seriously?)

The material’s pretty samey from track to track, but tha’ts not really a problem…it’s just the vox (which come off more spoken and raspy than the sort of thing you’d anticipate) and the stupid-ass lyrics that hold this one back from a more profound salute.

Even so, good shit overall. Definitely enjoyed hearing this one in the queue.

Abigail – Far East Black Metal Onslaught (Helldprod Records) (August 7)

We’ve covered Abigail (and other Yasayuki projects) several times, for Intercourse and Lust, The Final Damnation and the split with Shitfucker, among others, and always found them both straightforward and entertaining, in their broken English filthiness and forthright “true” blackthrash approach.

If anything, the first track here is even more dead on than usual, with “unholy bestial fire” sounding like someone did indeed light an (infernal) fire under their collective ass.  It’s far and away the best thing on the release, and one of their better tracks to date.

“Black satan of war” is more typical, “nuclear hammer” is a bit subpar (reminded me a bit of Thor’s Hammer, in feel – not the usual Abigail touchpoint, to be sure!) and “we need beer and whisky” is the usual “wannabe Motorhead” track more typical of USBM acts like the aforementioned Shitfucker than Abigail themselves.

Get it for “unholy bestial fire”, which will literally rock your socks off – Abigail’s seldom been quite this intense and old school.

Atavisma – The Chthonic Rituals (Memento Mori) (July 23)

To go by closer “a subterranean life”, you’d say crusty old death metal, vaguely in the Incantation arena. Deep vomit vox that sound like you just woke up a very large, very pissed off monster inside a seldom explored cavern, lumbering, almost doomy riffs somewhat in the Autopsy vein, yeah, it’s typical of the sort, but enjoyable enough.

But then go back to the earlier tracks (still having this player issue, makes reviews interesting), and it’s more of an “underground death metal” leaning black/death, all speedy tremelo riffing and drumming on the verge of collapse, at times slowing to an almost Dismember HM-2 vintage Swedeath feel (“extraneous abysmal knowledge”), but more often feeling overly blackened and snooze inducing (“sacrifice unto babalon”, “ashen ascetic”).

Classic case of inappropriate genre miscegenation. If they’d moved a bit closer to the doom/death thing of “subterranean life”, the listener could appreciate them for that style…if more true to the Sunlight Studios sound, veterans and fans of that sound could file ’em alongside the dozens of modern day acts trying their damnedest to appropriate and recreate that vibe.

As is? Too blackened to work as death metal, too death metallish for the “troo kvlt” type, too messy and noisy for the rest of the audience.

Potential, definitely. But an actual direction needs to be decided upon, tout suite.

MEDIEVAL DEMON – Medieval Necromancy (Hells Headbangers) (June 22)

Raw, evil sounding Greek black metal of the first wave variety. Church organs, orgasmic female chanting, Gloomy Grimlike snarl vox, just enough reverb to set the atmosphere, sinister sounding riffs with more than a touch of melodicism to get the listener through…they even have their distaff member moan and quiver her way through Baudelaire on one track.

I guess if Gloomy Grim, Rotting Christ and Mortuary Drape got together to make a jam session, it wouldn’t sound far distant to what these guys are dropping here.

A bit too quirky for regular rotation, but definitely one you’ll want to look into, to see if it grabs ya.

THRONEUM – The Tight Deathrope Act Over Rubicon (CD, LP, TAPE) (Hells Headbangers) (June 29)

Covered these noisy Polish underground black metallers twice before, for their split with Destruktor and Morbid Death Tales.

Just as with this new entry in their catalogue, we’d always found ourselves unimpressed, if not directly averse to their offerings. Sloppy, ho-hum to downright boring, an even less polished and professional Aura Noir, perhaps…but regulars already know, we’ve collectively encountered much, much worse over the years.

Not exactly a ringing recommendation, there.

Next?

FAITHXTRACTOR – Proverbial Lambs to the Ultimate Slaughter (CD, LP) (Hells Headbangers) (July 27)

One of two post-Vladimirs projects from drummer Ash Thomas we’re covering this month, these guys are straight up death metal, but in an overly raw variant thereof.

Apparently, this project used to include Vladimirs/Sono Morti frontman Marquis Thomas, which I’d love to have heard…but the guy seems to have retired from music in recent years, leaving Brian Day and Ash Thomas to front various acts of their own, to differing degrees of success.

As Thomas’ end of the post-Vlads material goes, I’d put this one higher than most of his work. Sort of a less sloppy, less atonally inclined Necrophagia that eschews proper production in favor of an overly noisy and raw, almost black metal leaning take on death metal.

Drumming’s pretty good (note the footwork), vox (also handled by Ash these days) are Autopsyesque, riffs tend to be crunchy, leads again lean towards the Eric Cutler school thereof. It works, just could seriously use some real production to clean up all the mess, noise and signal bleed.

SHED THE SKIN – We of Scorn (CD, LP, TAPE) (Hells Headbangers) (July 27)

One of the more regular Thomas projects in the ol’ review queue, this is the third time we’ve covered Shed the Skin, first for Rebirth Through Brimstone and then for Harrowing Faith, each of which left us with a very different impression.

This time around, Thomas switches over to guitar and vox, ceding the drum chair to Incantation’s Kyle Severn.  The result is generally less drum intensive (though Severn certainly has his moments – neither is exactly a slouch on the kit) and results in some quirky, winding riffs, where Faithxtractor was more straightforward and crunchy throughout.

Interestingly, the production seems even worse, here, retaining much of the noisiness of Faithxtractor, while leaving those same vocals and the guitars sounding much, much thinner in tone. Don’t ask me.

I guess if you’re more into odd riffing…not “technical” or “progressive” by a longshot, but not as straight for the gut and basic as Faithxtractor, either…this is the band to go for of the two. But if you want things straight ahead? The exact reverse applies.

Better yet? You have the inclination and the cash to blow? Try both.

I was good with ’em.

MONGREL’S CROSS – Psalter of the Royal Dragon Court (CD, LP) (Hells Headbangers) (August 3)

Rotting Christ worship from the land down under.

Seriously – Aussie duo who maintain the classic thrash plus bombast thing Sakis and Themis do so well, unfortunately combined with a bit more of the ooga booga bullshit than some of us might prefer.

(rolls eyes)

Well, lyrics and song titles aside, it’s pretty good, at least if you further ignore the silly gargling vox (which still retain a bit of that patented Paul Hogan accent, mind!)

Let’s just pretend it’s purely about the music, and say it was quite good in terms of that end of things. Because it was.

  

INVOCATION SPELLS – Spread Cruelty In The Abyss (CD, LP, TAPE) (Hells Headbangers) (July 27)

Chilean act, working the ol’ South American blackthrash thing.

It’s driving, it’s straightforward, if you dig Brazilian blackened thrash from back in the day and the numberless likeminded acts that have sprung up all over Latino nations across the Southern Hemisphere in years since, you should dig this one as well.

I did.

OUTLINE – Fire Whiplash (CD, LP, TAPE) (Hells Headbangers) (July 27)

We’ve covered Ms. “Tanza Speed’s” releases both as Outline and as Demona before that and always come out with a favorable impression. The lady delivers a solid, unimpeachable take on vintage blackthrash cum “speed metal”, without ever falling into the over the top comedy and atonality of the only direct analogue that springs to mind, the notorious “Great Kat”.

Apparently she’s been gathering USBM types to her side, first joining forces with the guy behind Hammr (who is an official co-member of Outline), and now getting production help from both the guy behind Midnight and Joel Grind, each of whom has recieved similarly positive takes across the numerous projects and releases that have passed our way for review over the years. Good sign, that.

Another thing working in her favor? She never sits on her laurels. Not content to simply replicate past successes, the lady’s steadily improved both production and the sheer catchiness of her material with each release.

Can this possibly continue? Who the fuck knows.

But suffice to say, if you dug Demona and found Outline a decided improvement thereupon…consider this the next rung of the ladder, one step upwards at a time.

CEMETERY LUST – Rotting in Piss (CD, LP) (Hells Headbangers) (July 20)

Blackthrash out of Portland, Oregon. There’s a definite Brazilian to Teutonic approach at play, here, though the band doesn’t really quite “sound like” anyone of the pillars of the scene in particular. Maybe a more direct, less nastily vocalled Living Death, crossed with a bit of Infernal Majesty, some of Sarcofago’s rawness and rage and strong hints of Nasty Savage (at least vocally)?

Some of the titles are pretty juvenile: “piss on your grave”, “bowels of blasphemy” and “i am trash”, anyone? How about that line about “you will taste the devil’s stool?”

(rolls eyes)

…but you probably already picked that up from the album title, so it’s likely if you’ve gotten this far, you’re already all in with this one…

What it has going for it is that this does feel very much like the sort of nasty underground oddity fellow thrashers and aficionados of the metal underground were so excited about back around ’86-89, before emerging scenes like death and black metal ever got codified (not to mention their various sub-scenes like “brutal”, “war” or “grindcore”).

Just realize that alongside all the Slayerish riffing and Nasty Ronnie meets Chris Bailey vox come some seriously sophomoric, anal explosive lyrics, barely fit for a drunken giggle at a high school kegger.

Liked the band otherwise, definitely.

CEMETERY URN – Barbaric Retribution (CD, LP) (Hells Headbangers) (August 17)

When does death metal start blurring the lines towards not grindcore, but “war metal”?

Seriously. I know, I know, the two have zero to do with each other, the one being a Canadian/Finnish origin variant (alongside the closely related “bestial” style) of the most primitive form of black metal.

“Brutal death metal”, sure. Grindcore, naturally. But what about an Aussie act who use clearly audible death metal riffs and double bass drumming at numerous points…but tend, just as often if not moreso, to work a more tired speedy, thin tremelo riffing with blastbeats, and snarly but meaty toned vox that could swing either way?

You see the problem, here. It’s sorta death metal proper…but then again, it’s “war” to “bestial” black metal.

(throws hands in the air in disgust)

…whatever. When they slow it down enough to sound like a raw death metal band, I’m good with ’em. When they speed it up, they’re generic at best…you’ve heard much better in the war/bestial genre (and for that matter, in the grindcore and “brutal” death ones).

(cracks open a Fosters, hands it to the band)

Slow the fuck down and play to your strength, mates. Death metal is your forte, not this other shit you’re working in to the mix.

Matterhorn (Switzerland) – Crass Cleansing CD (Iron Bonehead) (June 15)

Celtic Frost worship, given an odd, perhaps Coroner-esque twist. Are you that fucking surprised they’re a Swiss act?

Well, hey, if you were looking for early Frost…not Hellhammer, exactly, but certainly pre-Pandemonium, with the twisting, busy riffing of earlier Coroner…I mean, hey, not only Swiss, but Frost roadies who wangled Tom G. for vox on their only essential release, Death Cult…

…then yeah, this is probably pretty damn close to what you were expecting.

You already knew I was good with this.

Embrace of Thorns – Scorn Aesthetics LP/CD (Iron Bonehead) (June 22)

We’d covered these Greeks’ Darkness Impenetrable a trio of years back, and found it at least amusing, with all the juvenile sex humor and suchlike. The music…passable, if nothing special. So has anything changed?

Yeah, I’d say so. The sex jokes? Gone entirely. The ooga booga bullshit? Pared back to a minimum. The music? Sorta grandiose black/death, leaning (relatively) heavily on the “death” end of that equation for a change.

I mean, I was definitely good with opener “the wanderer and his shadow”, and closer “wolf uncaged” followed suit – so far, so pretty damn good.

The rest…well, about the best you can say is that both “reduct(i)o ad absurd(a)m” and “scorn aesthetics” sound like late Judas Iscariot…which is the exact period of that band I prefer. So even when they lean more heavily black metal, so long as they keep the tempo up, it still worked fairly well.

The other 3 tracks, you’re kind of on your own.

But hey, two damn good tracks and two more than likeable ones out of 7? I’d say that was a pretty worthy effort.

Due props for the major improvement.

Ancient Moon / Prosternatur – Secretum Secretorum – split LP/CD (Iron Bonehead) (June 22)

Well, it’s obvious who the better of the two bands is here…

Ancient Moon might as well have called themselves poorly produced sinister grind, first lumbering along at a snail’s pace and sounding for all the world like a lumber mill in operation, before picking up to grindcore speed and getting all mumbly spell bullshit at the end.  WHIZZZ!!! I know where this one’s headed…

Prosternatur doesn’t exactly save the split (far from it, in fact), but if you’re into loose, noisy sounding underground black metal with wayyyy too much reverb and atonality, they’re at least trying to drop 3…well, not “proper songs” in any real sense, but you get the idea. Still doesn’t fucking work.

Yeah, let’s pick up where we left off with Ancient Moon, and give more fodder fuel to the fire.

Flare ever higher, thou Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards, till all shite bands are consumed in thy wake, or refined into purest gold, all impurities burned away.

So mote it be!

Axeslaughter / Cadaveric Incubator – Split 7″ EP (Iron Bonehead) (June 22)

Remember a few reviews back when we were talking Matterhorn, and how they were trying to be early Celtic Frost (with more than a hint of Coroner)?

Yeah. So here comes Axeslaughter, a Finnish act who’s trying very hard to be Celtic Frost circa Into the Pandemonium, just without the artsy classical pretentions. I kinda liked ’em, though not as much as Matterhorn, if you’re keeping notes.

Cadaveric Incubator…sorta noisy grindcore, but not exactly early Carcass in style. There are definite elements that suggest same, but in a genre this slavishly devoted to the Carcass template (with elements of early Napalm, Terrorizer and occasionally Repulsion to round things out)?

No dual vocals, no tasty Bill Steer (and for a bit, Mike Amott) leads, no medical textbook cribbing, no proto-melodeath riffing…at best, it’s sorta Reek of Putrefactionesque, but not as close a copy as usual. Even so, if you pay attention, you’ll hear the basic derivation.

Much, much better (so much better) than that crappy Ancient Moon split, this one’s well worth looking into.

Good stuff on both sides of the split.

Musmahhu – Formulas of Rotten Death 7″ EP (Iron Bonehead) (June 22)

Extremely raw death metal from a guy apparently better known for his black metal projects (none of which are you likely to have heard of).

Worked well enough over a 2 track single. Title track is better than the B-side.

Nuff said.

Atomicide – Furious and Untamed 7″ EP (Iron Bonehead) (June 22)

We covered these Chileans’ Chaos Abomination a few years back, and this is more of the same: noisy, almost “bestial black” leaning black/death that gets pretty monotonous and samey even in the course of a single track.

Luckily, there are only two to contend with here, but you’ll struggle to keep your eyes open…you’ve heard this sort of thing too many times before to really give a damn.

Mutilate – Tormentium LP/CD (Iron Bonehead) (June 29)

OK, these guys are clearly trying to work the underground lo-fi black/death thing.

You could almost say “blackthrash”, given the clearly discernible riffs before and between verses, but they always turn to mush when the “evil” stuttering belch vox kick in, and it’s too slow, too deliberate to really come off blackthrash (much less thrash per se).

Promo materials mention rather basic black/death leaning acts like Acheron, Gravewurm and Sathanas, so you pretty much get the ballpark they’re playing in. Totally bizarre, therefore, that they seem to hail from NYC…say wha?

Definitely listenable, and a lot of those riffs weren’t bad…but the end result is, at best, at or sub-Gravewurm, which while acceptable if you’re in a certain mood, isn’t saying a fuck of a lot.

Or to quote the weirdly “ironic” promo materials, “if you are a false, do not entry MUTILATE’s Tormentium!”

Yep. Not “if you are false”, like a Manowar line. “If you are a false,” as if they were some South American blackthrash act with halting command of the language.

Hilarious, right?

(crickets)

Yeah, I know. I thought it was pretty lame, too. At least the band’s listenable if you want something really, really simple and underdeveloped.

Next?

Malsanctum – S/T LP/CD (Iron Bonehead) (July 13)

We’d covered their Metamorbid Fetishization three years back, and weren’t overly impressed by their underproduced admixture of black metal and funeral doom.

This time, they’ve dropped 3 soundalike tracks of droning, overly detuned throbbing guitar and a drummer falling asleep at the kit waiting for something to happen. Still incredibly lo-fi to underproduced, still cavernous reverb on the vomit vox…still pretty snooze inducing.

I’ll take my funeral doom straight, please…pass on the black metal.

Runespell – Order of Vengeance LP/CD (Iron Bonehead) (July 6)

We covered this Aussie one man band’s (??) Unhallowed Blood Oath last summer and really dug what we were hearing.

So here the man returns with yet another melodic to anthemic slab of deliberate, old school early second wave black metal with a Finnish to Mediterranean vibe (is that more of a Greek or Italian classicism being picked up at play herein?), and while (not having the last one in front of me to compare/contrast production and mix) I can’t necessarily say whether this one comes off better or worse than last time around, I can tell you that it’s only let down somewhat by the ridiculously muddy, lo-fi mix.

Otherwise? Totally killer, absolutely loved this one.

Raise the horns once again in salute.

Tujarot – Existencialista LP (Iron Bonehead) (July 6)

Weirdly doomy, occasionally death/doomlike Slovakian black metal act.

You could simplify things a bit and classify this as very reminiscent of first wave black metal, when bands all over Europe were creating an odd mix of the thrash and traditional to NWOBHM schools of metal then prevalent and something new and more sinister – early Bulldozer, Tormentor, Mortuary Drape, Rotting Christ, Master’s Hammer, you get the general idea.

These guys lean more to the doom end of the metal spectrum than anything else (“uranos” and the first half of “hesperidske nymfy”), but oddly appended to a surprisingly riff centric, more open spaced approach than generally seen in black metal from the second wave forward.

It makes them interesting, and a lot more listenable than most of what passes for the black metal scene these days (which Finland, a few traditionally minded stragglers and the more Cascadian/Sepulchral schools aside, tends to just plain suck major ass. There, it’s been said.)

If you want to hear something closer to the sort of foundations the Norwegians and their Swedish rivals built the entire second wave scene and all associated stylistic tropes on the backs of, you could do a lot worse than Tujarot.

Overall, yeah…lots of riffing and space makes Tujarot a reasonably good boy.

Finis – Visions of Doom 12″ MLP/MCD (Iron Bonehead) (July 6)

Black/death of the (arguably) more underground variety, mixing yawn inducing Watainisms with the reverb-happy, poorly produced raw nastiness of the underground black/death sound.

They’re out of Germany, so I’d at least have expected pristine production on this. No such luck.

zzzzzz….

OH! sorry. nodded off, there.

(stifled yawn)

um…what were we talking about? Who?

Yeah, I don’t know. Nothing memorable about those guys to discuss. Put me out like a light, so unless you’re looking for a new soporific in place of Valerian or sleeping pills…

Temple Desecration – Whirlwinds of Fathomless Chaos LP/CD (Iron Bonehead) (July 13)

You know, we’d covered these Poles’ Communion Perished MLP four years back, and that writeup is so dead on to what I’m hearing here, I’m just going to refer you to it.

Don’t worry, I’ll wait. Go, read.

OK, you’re back? Yeah. Same thing applies, four years later.

That’s kind of sad, really.

next?

Pa Vesh En – A Ghost 7″ EP (Iron Bonehead) (July 13)

Talk about underground black metal.  I mean, demo level recording quality, atonal as shit, overly detuned, feedback squealing all over the place, signal bleed crackling around the edges, and some guy just snarling and howling like some caged feral animal throughout.

Damn, that description sounds so much better than what I’m actually hearing here.

Can you say “amateur hour”?

Pa Vesh En / Temple Moon – Split LP (Iron Bonehead) (August 17)

The split with Temple Moon does Pa Vesh En no favors, though the mix is much louder and strangely, even more muffled and lo-fi, as if someone dumped coffee all over a cassette tape reel and left it to bake in the summer sun for a day or two before playing.

That said, once we get him out of the way, UK based Temple Moon kicks in with four far more likeable traditional/orthodox/old school (take your pick, kids!) second wave black metal blasts of atmospheric, if trebly and overly reverbed on the screams and shrieks that pass for “vocals”, aggression.

“Forgotten spectres” is some forgotten cross between late period Judas Iscariot and Satanic Warmaster, with “maze of decrepit trees” not far behind in quality or stylistic tonality. “IV” heads more pointedly into the final Iscariot releases, with only “ceremonial decay” letting the British end slip a tad.

End result: Pa Vesh En gets his ass handed to him, royally. Hands down decision in this title bout goes to the estimable Temple Moon.

Looking forward to hearing more from him, at least.

Aparthiva Raktadhara – Agyat Ishvar 7″ EP (Iron Bonehead) (July 21)

Amateurish noise. Drummer can barely keep it together, he must have started playing the night before this was recorded. Guitarist not much better. Zero production, all hiss and crackle, like some fanboy snuck a mini recorder into their rehearsal space.

A well deserved WHIZZZ!!!

Right into the Pile of Dead Bards, an eternally Flaming Pyre that never gets the chance to burn itself down even to a controllable blaze, with so many bad releases out there month after month…

Divine Ecstasy – Strange Passions 12″ MLP/MCD (Iron Bonehead) (August 10)

USBM out of Detroit, but a slightly more prominent attention to riffing aside, doesn’t feel like it.

Possibly there’s a bit of early Bulldozer in there, but with the vocals of Death SS’s Steve Sylvester or Attilla Csihar in his Tormentor days. It’s odd and overly atonal, but not really first wave European in feel, either…

Familiar in many ways, but not necessarily to their benefit.

Wasn’t exactly enamored of this one. Not in the least.

Ill Omen – The Grande Usurper 12″ MLP/MCD (Iron Bonehead) (August 10)

We’d previously covered Ill Omen herehere and here, and once again find this Aussie one man band a bit hard to pin down.

The dark atmosphere, throbbing bass and early second wave approach to guitars are all dead on…but the vox, the moaning/chanting business and “occult black metal” oogity boogity “ritualistic” nonsense are totally out of place and speak to a far lesser modern origination.

Half very right, half dead wrong…pretty much the ongoing assessment of Ill Omen.

Sending out an S.O.S…because this is the S(ame).O(ld).S(hit).

Blasphemy – Live Ritual: Friday the 13th LP/CD/TAPE (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (July 11)
Blasphemy – Victory (Son of the Damned) DLP/CD/TAPE (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (July 11)

OK, apparently NWN’s label head is a huuuuge Blasphemy fan.

I know, shock, right?  They only focus on “war” and “bestial black” metal above all else, I’d never have had a clue, would you?

But more interestingly, it appears that among the label’s very first handful of
releases…was an officially sanctioned bootleg of this very show, back in 2001. More interestingly? That bootleg was made by none other than the label founder, off a mini disc recorder.

Then, to make things even weirder…he mails said recorder to the band, so they can record a basement rehearsal, complete with the recorder sitting on a washing machine throughout (which thankfully was not in use at the time). I shit you not, this is typical basement band stuff, we did this too, and so did thousands of other up and comers back in the day.

So these two effective bootleg home recordings are now reissued for your delectation.

The live album actually sounds pretty good, particularly by the iffy standards set by Blasphemy’s two official albums and a demo (which is often considered superior in sound to the subsequent album!) The rehearsal is…really hissy, noisy and raw. On a few tracks, the cymbals start off the song, and sound pretty good…until the guitars kick in and the whole thing goes kitchen blender on your ass. Hmm…maybe we should rethink that bit about the washing machine being off at the time of recording?

So bottom line, it all depends on how diehard of a Blasphemy fan you are. If you’re like myself and could do without the Gods of War album entirely, you may want to stick with the live album or pass on these altogether – between Fallen Angel and the Blood Upon the Altar demo, you have all the material that matters.

Up to you how badly you want a fairly well recorded live show (personally, I appreciated hearing it, but found it nonessential like most live albums).

But the rehearsal is easily skippable – Beherit’s Worxxx this ain’t.

Sissy Spacek – Ways of Confusion LP/CD (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (August 1)

Uber-abrasive noisecore act melding the ear-punishing electronic bullshit of Atari Teenage Riot with the short, fast, uber-simplified death metal vibe of grindcore.

The fact that they name themselves after one of the most annoying actresses of the 1970’s says it all.

BURRP BURRRRRRP GYAAAHH GAAAAAAHHH!!!

(fart noises and feedback squeals from probable guitar, some lunatic working a jackhammer on an empty garbage can)

That’s literally it.

Move along, people, nothing to see, here…

Someone give this a well deserved fling into the Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards, willya? I’m working crowd control. Thanks…

Siege Column – Inferno Deathpassion LP/CD (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (August 1)

oh, thank God! Coming off of that absurd Sissy Spacek abomination to an actual Obituary-style riff (namely that of “trapped in the sarcophagus”) was like getting out of a particularly detestable job once and for all. “So glad we made it”, as Barry Manilow once crooned…

So these guys do drop some old school style death metal riffs, but in a raw, sloppy blackthrash manner. The drumming gets pretty noisy and childish, with a dyspeptic 5 year old beating on discarded Jiffy Pop tins (check out “blasting the moongate”) and some fat guy vomiting out noises like he’s just been forced to swallow an emetic…but it’s not really grindcore or blackthrash, in the end.

Sadly, they seldom approach the more likeable midtempo grind and Obituarylike “groove” of “trapped” across the rest of this album, which leaves Siege Column coming off as rather forgettable, one track aside. So guys, here’s your official heads up – what you were doing on that lone song? That’s definitely the route to take next time around.

A full album full of tracks like that? Would have been pretty killer.

As is? At best, meh.

Moenen of Xezbeth – Ancient Spells of Darkness… LP/CD (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (August 1)

Belgian act with a weird name. I guess they were really into Clark Ashton Smith or something, reminds me of something lame he’d come up with…

That aside, it’s lo-fi and raw, and reminds somewhat of an earlier second wave black metal demo act, both sonically and in approach. All witchy puke-yells and slow moving, grinding and unpolished riffing. “Obscured by lunar rites” and “oath of malignancy” are the standouts here.

Only the instrumental “interlude” shows any further promise. Other tracks tend to come off sub-Gloomy Grim (“ancient spells of darkness”, “pandemonial curse”), all tinkling children’s xylophone tone keyboards and sub-Celtic Frost riffing (“into the black mist”).

Mixed bag, to be sure…but when they’re on, they’re defintely on, and bring that vintage second wave demo act feel back up out of the cavernous mists of time.

Blasphamagoatachrist – Black Metal Warfare TAPE (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (June 14)

Apparently tired of pairing up members of Blasphemy, Conqueror/Revenge and Black Witchery, this time the Canadian “war metal” scene gives us another “mixed heritage” concoction, with members of Blasphemy joining forces with fellow Canadians Antichrist and…er…Brazilians “Goatpenis” (whom we’ve covered for their An(a)esthetic Vapor) for a far less essential or dark affair than Death Worship,  but arguably with a better recording thereof (geez, investing in a little production wouldn’t exactly soften ya up, you know…)

It’s pretty raw and noisy, all treble and hiss you have to force your way past to hear the fast tremelo riffing and goofy blastbeat drumming. Even the groan-shouted vocals are buried beneath a wall of sheer blender on high hiss that goes well beyond signal bleed…

But as “war metal” goes? Yeah, nothing wrong with this, it was OK.

If you can get past all that sonic abuse to actually hear the band, that is.

Faustcoven – In the Shadow of Doom LP/CD/TAPE (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (August 31)

Norwegian blackened doom affair, or so they’d have you believe.

The reality of the situation? Don’t walk into this expecting the sort of funereal pace and foetid atmosphere you get from Goatlord, much less early Ahab, Winter or any other death, blackened or funeral doom act you find yourself gravitating towards.

Instead, this is a far more standard underground black/death vocal, all belching and gargling like he’s throwing punches with each word: “OOH! OUCH! BURP! WOW!” under a light echo or reverb is exactly what this sounds like, throughout.

The riffing tends to grind along, in the vein of earlier black/death efforts like Rabid Death’s Curse, if a bit slower and more deliberate, which allows for a “doom” designation that otherwise only barely applies. Closest to the real deal would be “yet he walks” or “quis est iste qui venit”, but even those are too open string and indebted to the Swedish black/death sound to even remotely approximate doom of any accepted variation.

Yeah, it’s OK…for black/death moving at a deliberate pace.

But doom?

Went and got me all excited, for nothing.

Doom, my ass.

Goat Disciple – Wolfcult Domination CD/LP/TAPE (Blood Harvest) (June 15)

War metal out of Mormon country. Seriously, these guys hail from Salt Lake City, Utah.

Maybe all that clean cut “good living” with multiple wives and multiple scriptures rubbed off on ’em, because as the genre goes? This is really well produced! And the riffs have room to breathe, being easily discernible even when they’re going at it full tilt!

Hell, they almost sound like USBM, with all that black metal and blackthrash vibe crossed with a stronger than usual death metal vocal and, often enough to raise an eyebrow, riffing.

Best track is once again the last, “mammon”…but with this much muted clarity, even listeners who despise the whole “war” and “bestial black” subgenres may want to give this a listen to see what those scenes are all about, sans the coffee grinder running throughout.

Save your ears, newcomers – take a quick listen to these guys first. If you like what you hear, head straight over to early Beherit and Blasphemy, who aren’t just “superior”, but pillars of the entire subgenre(s) for a reason. After that, we can debate.

Good entry level tool to convert the unconverted.

Gloam / Obscure Evil – Split 10″ EP (Blood Harvest) (August 10)

We’d covered Gloam’s Death is the Beginning last year, and found it to be more of a dead end than a start to anything. This time around, they drop a rather black metallish track on your ass, which is unmemorable, but trust me, you’ve heard much, much worse.

Splitmates Obscure Evil are of far more interest, with their quirky, almost old school Teutonic feeling blackthrash approach. At the very least, you’ll hear “Okkulto” era Desaster in this…and that’s not a bad thing, at all.

Yeah, this is a pretty decent split overall.

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