Tags

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

Well, another couple of months, and another absolutely enormous bag of goodies for your delectation has landed on your virtual doorstep.  Invite us in, we’ll chat over tea, shall we?

In terms of openers, there’s not that much to offer, for a change.  As we begin to move from the global warming-induced blazing heat and wildfires (and Southeast Asian-style quickie monsoons and devastating flooding) of summer to the…well, less particularly muggy and the how dare you venture outside of air conditioned contained environments? sort of thing we’ve been seeing for greater and greater portions of the year of late, it’s been a bit unstable on several fronts.

From a certain sense of security, however sandy the footing at times, to some nagging questions begging for answers and a sense of time impending on us all, we seem to be coming to a crisis point.

Both individually and collectively, as not only a nation and society, but as a global civilization that’s been more or less in situ for over a century now, we’ve gone beyond the sense that all things old are new again to a very imminent danger of “everything com(ing) full circle”, somewhere between a societal unrest and resurgent atavism of our darkest selves we’d all assumed buried for more than 70 years, and a concerted attempt by the rich and right wing to strip more than one nation of a long history of mutual concern and respect for others as part and parcel of what it means to be part of a given nation, background, demographic or human per se, solely in the interest of bringing back the age of the robber baron, or worse, the liege lord, bequeathing temporary land, food and security on de facto slaves out of the presumed munificence of their black hearts (better known as “serfdom”).

And a whole bunch of short sighted, dim witted folks out there elect these people to power over us all, and rabidly support and defend them in altercations that go beyond rational discussion and exchange of thought, to authoritarian handed down scripts and explosions of rage that even turn physical: a self-proclaimed “free people” hellbent on embracing authoritarian rule and a stripping of individual self determination, expression and free will.

Can you say “stupidest motherfuckers on Earth?”

Now, can you say “all such initiatives must be stopped at all costs?”

Because yeah.  That’s what’s on the line.

And a deluded self-proclaimed “opposition” insists on repeating the same mistakes that brought us here, cementing down resentment and losing support by sinking deeper into a self contained, decidedly blinkered mire of “identity politics”…which is exactly what they used to vehemently fight in the darkest, furthest corners of the opposition.

Hoo, boy.  All I can say is, those who have ears to hear, it’s time to get off your ass and make your voices heard, right here and now…because otherwise all of these idiots, victim culture and entitlement “Intersectionalist” hammer & sickle types and behind the crooked cross siloed “me first and fuck all o’ y’all” identitarian types alike, are about to bring us ALL down, tout suite.

Now’s the time…tomorrow is too late to start waking up and bitching about what you lost in the bargain.

So, with that cheery thought…let’s get on with the business of metal (and AOR/hard rock, and indie, and punk, and goth…)

MR. BIG – Live From Milan (Frontiers Music s.r.l. ) (July 13)

This turns out to be a bit of a tough one to review.

You see, I was a Shrapnel shred-head back in the day, working my neoclassical skills to a point that made various listeners and audiences mouths drop and could have let me pull together a Randy-era tribute band (used to wow ’em with covers of “Mr. Crowley” and “S.A.T.O.” in particular), but which I knew in my heart of hearts to still be well beneath those of my heroes of the day: folks like Vinnie Moore, Yngwie Malmsteen, Eat ‘Em and Smile-era Steve Vai, the newly minted Megadeth lead axeman Marty Friedman…and the guys in Racer X.

Now, I was fairly pissed off when Racer X’s Paul Gilbert pulled Talas bass virtuoso Billy Sheehan from David Lee Roth’s band, grabbed Impelliteri’s Pat Torpey and put together not another amazing shred supergroup…but the cheesy melodic to straight up glam Mr. Big.

Hell, I even wrote ’em a letter to complain and convince Gilbert to go back to Racer X, Sheehan or no Sheehan, and Jeff Martin’s surprisingly respectable drumming on the second Badlands album be damned. Those four Racer X albums (two studio and two live, however far apart those installments were released in the end) were simply the shit, and rank among the most (over)played albums in the ol’ collection, for many a year after initial release.

The misleadingly awesome lead single “addicted to that rush” aside, that debut album…well, let’s just say I don’t have a copy in my collection since the cassette days and leave it at that. Sure, Martin’s voice was grittily likeable enough – all due respect to him, even at my most annoyed…but seriously? What the fuck was this syrupy, hide the fretwork shit?

“Green tinted 60’s mind” was supposed to sell the follow up, and while pleasant enough…that said it all about that one. As the band joined far too many of its peers in declining fortunes in the wake of grunge and indie-oriented college rock with the early 90’s, I was actually glad to see ’em go, and hoped for a Racer X reunion after all.

And then it came…and it left everyone underwhelmed, to say the least. Superheroes? Yeah, sure. What the hell happened?

So somewhere along the line…Mr. Big started dropping an album or two once again. I guess it all comes around, given time…problem is, here comes a 2 disc live set from Messrs. Martin, Gilbert, Sheehan and Torpey. And as you’d expect, most of it is unfamiliar, hailing from later albums in their run (I recognized a somewhat quirky take on “daddy, brother, lover, little boy”, the Extremelike singalong acoustic “to be with you”, a Kiss cover and the aforementioned “addicted” and “green tinted”…the rest, I have no fucking idea).

But I feel bad about slamming ’em this time around. Because apparently, Pat Torpey, who was never the most demonstrative or flashy of drummers in the first place, has taken ill. As in seriously ill. And yet, he does drum a few tracks here, singing background vox and so forth, in what amounts to a “final tour” ala what happened with Ken Owen and Carcass…and Torpey has since passed on.

So, look. This ends up being a de facto memorial concert for the guy. There’s a typical Billy Sheehan solo and a pretty disappointing one from Paul Gilbert, and it makes you really wonder just why shred heavyweights like these two stepped down from spotlight roles in prior bands to work something so…blandly generic as the material spotlighted here.

But as a farewell concert and effective last show for a fallen comrade, who like the recently deceased Mark Shelton of Manilla Road (RIP, brother) chose to go down fighting, taking to the stage until the very end?

Seriously. How the fuck could you knock that?

RIP to you, too, Pat – steel winged angels fly you to your rest.

GRAHAM BONNET BAND – Meanwhile, Back In The Garage (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (July 13)

Holy shit! Joey Tafolla (of Jag Panzer and Out of the Sun fame) handles all guitars on this album…

Once again, the legendary Graham Bonnett uses his nearly flawless sniffer to suss out another top tier six stringer, from…well, you could say Blackmore, but he wasn’t exactly working hard on Down to Earth…but from Michael Schenker (Assault Attack) to Yngwie and Steve Vai (Alcatrazz) to Chris Impelliteri (Impelliteri – twice!) and the guys from Japan’s Anthem, plus an interesting track or two (previously released or otherwise) to be found on his recent Anthology…a nearly perfect run matching stellar guitarists to his genius for harmonies and melodic hard rock to heavy metal sensibilities.

For his part, Tafolla seems to be pulling more from the Yngwie/Impelliteri school than what fans of his prior work would recognize as his own, more fluidly melodic approach to shred guitar (the title track, “incest outcest USA”, “America, where have you gone?”, “past lives”, even arguably “the crying chair”).

Even so, the rest of the album does dial back the hardline neoclassicism and vintage Alcatrazz-isms to more of a hard AOR thing, so it’s not like Tafolla is playing copycat here…it’s just less diversified and full in range as his famed Shrapnel solo album or his work with Jag Panzer.

As you can probably tell from a few of the titles above, it’s clear that Bonnett joins a fair portion of the nation (not to mention the world at large) in dismay at the current, decidedly backwards-leaning, openly corrupt and disingenous puppet government here in the States (or should we start calling it a de facto Russian colony, as increasingly disturbing daily revelations keep hammering home?) Just another reason to love the guy (as if we needed another, given his estimable track record), hats off to you, sir, for not being an idiot like some folks around here seem to be…

In fact, the only track that seems a bit…lesser, I guess, is the one Tafolla didn’t take part in. I’ll let you figure out which one, it’s pretty obvious by the time the solo kicks in…

Is it vintage Bonnett, worthy of shelving alongside his MSG and Alcatrazz classics, or his nearly as awesome work with Impelliteri and Anthem? Well…that’s arguable, perhaps – that’s some seriously top tier shit we’re talking, after all.

But is this a surprising return to form for Bonnett, complete with a jaw droppingly skilled guitarist to back up and bolster his unique vision?

You bet your pasty white ass it is, mate.

Profound and well deserved kudos are in order.

GIOELI-CASTRONOVO – Set the World on Fire  (Frontiers Music s.r.l. ) (July 13)

The frontman for Axel Rudi Pell’s band joins…or as apparently the case, rejoins Ozzy/Cacophony/Marty Friedman/Tony MacAlpine drummer Deen Castronovo for this quite regularly bombastic, 80’s style AOR affair.

Gioeli obviously gets the front and center role here, but Castronovo doesn’t limit his contributions to drumming (which is also pushed forward in the mix to leave his work prominent throughout), also dropping some vocal phrases and trading lines with Gioeli on several tracks, even taking the helm for a few tracks per se (“ride of your life”, for one). He’s a respectable enough singer, but pales to nigh-insignificance when put up against a guy with the pipes of Gioeli, so it’s pretty obvious who’s singing what and when.

For some reason, their sidemen have been relegated to anonymity not only in press materials but all over the damn internet, which I found quite annoying – like the fucking guitarist and keyboard players don’t matter in hard rock leaning metal? Please…

You pretty much know what to expect here, though the inclusion of the cheesetastic “need you now” (an annoyingly cloying “drunk and wanna fuck” song you hear more often in public than I’d ever care to have done) and a few too many goofy ballads like “mother” and “walk with me” seem rather ill fitting alongside driving Bon Jovi on octane tracks like “through”, “run for your life” or “set the world on fire”.

When it works, it’s pretty damn decent. When it doesn’t…well, pull out your Hallmark cards and get prepared to sit through a screening of Beaches, because it gets pretty fucking schmaltzy and middle American…

TWO OF A KIND – Rise (Frontiers Music s.r.l. ) (July 13)

Somewhere between Femme Fatale, earlier Lee Aaron and Wilson Phillips (!) falls this interestingly odd Dutch project featuring a Fred Hendrix on songwriting and production as well as taking four string duties, while two girls sing in “unison” (really at a third, but they keep their joint vocals tighter than, say, Abba or Heart – the end result is quite Wilson Phillipslike).

As typical for these lighter AOR affairs, the strongest material is front loaded, so you get the best tracks (“here is the now”, “rock your world”, “rise”, even “wheel of life”) within the first 5, only for the remainder of the album to peter off into Nashvillesque schmaltz.

Sure, the lyrics are pretty damn cheesy (“two of a kind is gonna rock your world!” really doesn’t sit too well…) and the close knit dual vocals are more pop radio gimmicky than AOR (could have gotten the same effect from dual or triple tracking one of the ladies in studio…but this makes it easier to play live!), but trust me, we’ve covered much, much worse.

Four fairly decent, sorta driving tracks with good production, melodic sense and a gimmick? Yeah, that’s not too bad a deal, considering.

CLIF MAGNESS – Lucky Dog (Frontiers Music s.r.l. ) (July 13)

Remember Richard Marx? MOR artist with a few AOR style rock albums in his quiver (like earlier Rick Springfield or…wait for it…Michael Bolton, who also had a more rock leaning self titled album in ’83 than you’d ever expect considering where he went shortly thereafter…). I remember he was pretty strongly involved in the success of Vixen (credited on songwriting and involved in the production, even showed up in one of their earlier videos).

OK, so you see where we’re going here.

If “MOR songwriter/artist with more than a hint of big hair 80’s style AOR” doesn’t ring any bells for ya, how about thinking mid-to-late 80’s Heart, or even the same era of Cher? No? Bryan Adams, maybe?

Yeah. That’s Clif Magness, who was involved in top 40 hits for folks like Wilson Philips and worked the trenches alongside Brill Building types like Carole Bayer Sager crafting cheese for the grating of MOR types like Celine Dion and Amy Grant, here pulling his best Richard Marx with this goofily covered solo effort.

If you have a major jones for the lighter end of 80’s AOR, from many of the aforementioned to former rockers gone MOR like Steve Perry or Peter Cetera, this one should be right up your alley, and easily as solid as any of their solo works.

But is it hard rockin’, much less leaning towards some variant of metal in orientation?

BWA HA HA!!!!!

(composing self, straightening out jacket)

…umm, ok. Next?

(snicker)

DESTINIA – Metal Souls (Frontiers Music s.r.l. ) (July 13)

OK, this is interesting.

For someone who was jonesing on Japanese metal (and rock, and pop) decades before it became acceptable, who used to jam out to songs off Loudness’ Birthday Eve and Disillusion and crank and sing along to Earthshaker, Anthem and Show-Ya to the bewildered amusement of clueless “metalheads” back in the late 80’s…to find another band I never even fucking heard of is strange, to say the least.

I mean, sure, I never cared for a few, like Vow Wow (or Bow Wow, depending on who you’re listening to or what album or version you’re looking at – saw vinyls boasting both name variants back in the day)…but who the fuck was Blizard?

I ask this one, because apparently they were kicking around for a good decade there in the 80’s, with their 20 year plus reunion lineup boasting a new kid by the name of Nozumo Wakai.

So what? Well, that kid has apparently pulled together frontman Ronnie Romero (Lords of Black/CoreLeoni) and the legendary Tommy Aldridge (Ozzy, Whitesnake, Project MARS, Vinnie Moore) for his own project Destina.

While Aldridge’s work seems less easily distinguishable than his 80’s work (some outros and intros aside, like the closing fills on “the end of love”), you can still tell you’re dealing with a world class sticksman, and Romero is an excellent fit to the music.

So if there’s any weak(er) point here, it’s with Wakai himself, whose songwriting and shredding comes off much akin to (but less impressive than) that of Akio Shimizu, replacement guitarist for original Anthem six stringer Hiroya Fukuda…and the problem is the same.

A cursory listen to the excellent Tightrope or Gypsy Ways (as the two most defining albums in their early discography) shows Fukuda to be a muscular guitarist, heavy on the riffs and with a good sense of song construction. Choruses and bridges are melodic and anthemic, and there are builds and ebb and flow. The solos are decent, if perhaps a bit unspectacular, and the band was pretty damn solid throughout their Nexus run with Fukuda more or less running the show.

Now switch over to the latter half of Anthem’s career, with Akio Shimizu taking over guitar duties. The absolutely essential Heavy Metal Anthem aside (which featured flashier reworkings of earlier material, but with the legendary Graham Bonnett on vocals!), what you’ll hear is a “much better” guitarist…in terms of fretboard skills and flash. In other words, the solos are excellent.

But the music?

Yeah. There’s a reason Heavy Metal Anthem is the only one I mention. Can you say “generic”? How about “modern metal”? You get the idea. Nary a song stands out, over a run of 6 albums from ’92’s Domestic Booty through ’08’s Black Empire. Those rare occasions where I pull those albums out? I’ve got a finger on the fast forward button, trying to find the solo. Get wowed by Shimizu’s leads, flip to next track.

Seriously, I shit you not. This is how I listen to modern era Anthem.

Now realize that while very much along the same lines and working with both a strong vocalist and world class drummer, Nozumu Wakai is simply not on the same page as Akio Shimizu, shredwise.

Nuff said.

Not a bad album, certainly worth looking into if you’ve never encountered Japanese metal before.

But in desperate need of a Hiroya Fukuda to write the songs and make ’em pop out at ya…then let Wakai do his shred-lite thing on the leads, just like Shimizu did on all that Fukuda material for Heavy Metal Anthem. “Damn, these songs sound better than they ever did!”

Case in point.

And hey, if all those foreign names confuse you…grow up and join the human race, it’s a big world outside your hometown.

3.2 – The Rules Have Changed (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (August 10)

OK, the more prog rock inclined among readers (and personal friends) may know more here, but I barely remembered ELP existing in the mid to late 80’s. Keith Emerson was busy working Italian film soundtracks like La Chiesa for Michele Soavi, Murderrock for Lucio Fulci and Inferno for Dario Argento…to this day, his early work with The Nice aside, that’s the only Emerson I really give a damn about.

But I do remember that Carl Palmer was swapped out for Cozy Powell for a bit there…just made zero impact on my life, so whatever.

Anyway, Emerson wanted to work with some fella named Robert Berry (don’t ask me) and did in fact put out an album by the name of “3”, featuring the two of them and Palmer, back in ’88. Alrighty, then.

So here we are, 3 full decades on, and Berry gets invited by Frontiers’ head honcho Serafino to put out what was intended as a second album, but never happened due to issues between Emerson and then-label head David Geffen. What makes this tougher than usual is that nothing was actually recorded, just notes and tapes culled from the writing process way back when.

So here we are, Emerson having passed on a year or so back, and Berry pulls all this together and does a one man band job, using Emerson’s ideas and working something that sounds surprisingly accurate to his style.

Consider it more than a tribute band, but less than an unearthed previously unreleased gem. Sounds good, you’ve never heard these songs before, it feels very Emersonesque…but in the end, it’s all just Berry doing his thing.

Interesting oddity. Wasn’t overly excited by this (hell, I never was an ELP fan in the first place). But I didn’t mind it, either, and you’ll find yourself doing a few spit takes when you realize it’s not actually Emerson performing.

PRIMAL FEAR – Apocalypse (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (August 10)

Yet another slab of Euro power metal from these veterans, still with Mat Sinner and Alex Beyrodt bringing what songcraft they can from their respective bands to this more aggressive act, with the ever Painkiller-era Judas Priest vocals of Ralf Scheepers.

It’s no secret that I’ve always preferred the work of Sinner, Silent Force and even to some extent Voodoo Circle (not to mention sundry other projects Sinner and Beyrodt have contributed to or produced across the Euro PM scene) to that of their more “flagship” band, but make no mistake, I was quite impressed by their last two efforts Delivering the Black and Rulebreaker.

So it was, therefore, a bit of a surprise to find this subsequent release somewhat…dispirited? Lacking in vim, vigor and excitement?

I mean, look. It’s not terrible or anything – you still get tracks like “supernova”, “new rise” and “hail to the fear”, and Beyrodt and Naumann still deliver some wild solos, so aggressively at points that it feels like they’ve got something to prove.

But overall…I don’t know. Something’s missing, this time around, that made those last two albums so damn good.

Longtime fans won’t hear anything to worry about, I’m sure. But those more on the fence, convinced by the undeniable quality of Delivering the Black and Rulebreaker may well find themselves questioning just what the hell didn’t click when they pulled this one together.

ENUFF Z’NUFF – Diamond Boy (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (August 10)

We’d covered Enuff Z’Nuff’s Clowns Lounge two years back, and yet it feels like they’ve been putting albums out by the week. What is that saying?

Yeah, I know, the road to a friend’s house is never too long, as an old motto hanging in the family homestead used to say, so I gather the inverse also applies.

And never moreso than with respect to Enuff Z’Nuff, a mediocre, glammy/psychedelic act that couldn’t figure out whether they wanted to be The Beatles or Poison more back in the day, and somehow always wound up on Howard Stern’s radio show (who either really loved ’em or was getting some serious kickback from their then-label, given how often he played ’em and brought them on air…) Didn’t much care for them then, though admittedly they were never horrible, just…not my thing by any stretch of the imagination.

Same applies here, so many years on. They’re still kicking around (or at least Chip is) and they sound just as youthful and psychedelic Beatles obsessed as ever.

Look, the Beatles to me were like the early Yardbirds: all about exciting rockabilly meets skiffle “rave ups”. Once you get past Revolver and Rubber Soul, I’m outta there – the “solo projects on the same album” studio bound psychedelic bullshit never flew with me, and still doesn’t.

So when it comes to a band like Enuff Z’Nuff, they’re stepping up to the plate at the bottom of the ninth, down by more runs than they could ever hope to catch up to, but refusing to concede the game.

Part of me wants to salute ’em for sticking to their guns and refusing to throw in the towel.

But if you’re asking me to sit through another of their albums…all I can do is sigh and try to figure out how to be nice about it. Sorry, Chip.

If you dig the White Album or any of Enuff Z’Nuff’s earlier material, this one comes off just as good and accomplished, if not better to these ears.

Just don’t ask me to offer much more than that, because I really can’t.

AIRRACE – Untold Stories  (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (August 10)

Somewhere between REO Speedwagon (the Kevin Cronin AM radio top 40 era, not the earlier boogie band one), Toto and Styx comes Airrace, a super polished UK AOR act who further bring elements of Ian Thomas (remember him?), the Dino Elefante iteration of Kansas and 38 Special to mind at points (hell, “running out of time” alone covers every one of those bases, or swipes tricks and tips from each…)

For some reason, I also flashed on Todd Rundgren in the Utopia days, but that just feels like a stretch. Even so, you get the idea: very, very polished, very radio friendly, multitracked guitars, smooth vocal harmonies and subtle but welcome keyboard accompaniment, basic but crisply recorded drumming that positively screams 1978-82.

I can’t tell you much about ’em (other than that Jason Bonham started off in their ranks), but speaking for myself, I grew up on this music (part of why all this amelodic, pointlessly atonal bullshit rankles the ol’ nostrils so badly…when you know how it’s supposed to be done, the shit from a deliberately unflushed public toilet smells all the worse)…so damn straight, I liked this.

Hell, I straight up loved it. More, please.

KING COMPANY – Queen of Hearts (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (August 10)

Finnish melodic metal act from a touring member of Children of Bodom.

Frontman Leonard Guillan offers the expected solid AOR/melodic metal high tenor with a rasp vocal thing, six stringer Antti Wirman keeps things punchy and crunchy and Bodom expat Mirka Lantanen drives the band far more aggressively than you’d ever think you’d hear out of a band working this general style.

Appropriately enough, the drums are fairly up front and center in the mix, which is a good thing – he’s not necessarily flashy (though there are some nice syncopated rolls and kitwork thrown in every now and again), the leads are flashy and the guitars on most tracks bear far too much crunch and drive to really classify these guys as AOR or “rock” – it’s more straight up heavy metal with melodic to AOR leanings.

Then again, you have tracks like “never say goodbye”, “under the spell”, “living the dream” and “king for tonight” that feel pretty light and inclined to balladeering, while “berlin” mixes that with a Zakk Wyldelike groove (complete with a Wyldian solo to match)…so you can take some of the album one way, the rest another. It’s a touch schizophrenic, I guess…

As such, you get a very schizophrenic verdict. To get straight to the point, when they go more for the throat with straight up metal, I liked this one quite a bit.

But when they went all soft and squishy, I thought it blew.

Be prepared to hit the skip button a lot, and you’ll find some real gems on this album.

Helion Prime – Terror Of The Cybernetic Space Monster (AFM Records) (August 31)

Well, things seem to have changed quite a bit since last year’s self titled

This time around, the Euro power metal wannabes from Sacramento
drop the female fronted schtick entirely, opting for a thin toned male
frontman who can’t seem to decide whether he wants to be a cut rate
Roy Khan (the title track) or erstwhile Eden’s Curse frontman Mark
Eden (“a king is born”).

It’s fitting for the band, though, who similarly can’t figure out whether they
want to be Iron Savior or Kamelot, though this time around the
latter seems to predominate.

Well, at least in their Khan-fronted heyday, you could pick worse models
to base your entire sound on…but as mentioned a few months back, a
recent revisitation of those very albums left yours truly with a renewed
appreciation for Khan’s earlier work with Conception, and realizing that
Youngblood and company were, even at best, something of a…well, not
one note joke, exactly, but certainly a one trick pony. One track sounds
pretty much like the last, one album more or less like the next, with lousy
production the only common factor (hint: never let the band self produce,
unless production is their day job ala Alex Krull and Leaves Eyes.)

That said, the production here isn’t too bad, if you don’t mind too much
trebly hiss, watery sounding drums and signal bleed on the high end. At
least the vocal harmonies sound pretty damn sweet, and the guitars,
while too much on the thin, single coil pickup side of the equation, don’t
sound all that terrible by comparison.

Issues of who this band actually want to be aside, the vox are decent, the
songs are reasonably well constructed and bear catchy choruses, and for
European power metal…particularly Euro power metal hailing from the
States (what ever happened to good old fashioned USPM, anyway?), it’s
actually quite good taken on the whole.

Yeah, I liked this one, definitely.

U.D.O. – Steelfactory (AFM Records) (August 31)

What the hell is up with Udo Dirkschneider, lately, huh?

I mean, seriously…Accept put out, what, an album a year between ’79
and ’86, bar one exception? Sure, that’s a pretty good pace, but
seriously. Between his U.D.O. and Dirkschneider incarnations (which
quite honestly amount to the same band and material…), the guy has
been dropping nearly twice that over the past 5 years, between live and
studio releases…sheesh, talk about a German work ethic!

I guess it helps that longtime four stringer Fitty Weinhold remains in tow
throughout, with his own son Sven now well ensconced in the drum chair
and Steelhammer new kid Andrey Smirnov holding fast as six stringer.

What’s different about Steelfactory over Steelhammer, Decadent or the many live iterations and releases during that period is that there are a few tracks here that bring the man right the fuck back where he belongs, with some shockingly Accept/Animal House-era U.D.O. style tracks like “make the move”, “in the heat of the night”, “one heart, one soul”, even “rose in the desert” and “a bite of evil”.

The closest to a stretch track here is the ballad “the way”, and while the
remainder of the tracks tend to lean a bit more speed metallish if not
modern metal in tone, who the hell was expecting the man to actually take
inspiration from all that Accept touring, and drop at least half an album
that sounds like he should have been sounding all along?

Seriously…the best tracks here hearken right back to Metal Heart, arguably even Balls to the Wall.

Age be damned. Throw on “make the move” to an old school headbanger, and don’t say a word…just watch the reactions.

A full album like that? This would be a 5 star review.

As is, 4 stars and a salute of encouragement to keep moving down that
track…give the people what they want!

  

Manimal – Purgatorio (AFM Records) (September 7)

Wait, you mean these guys are from Gothenburg and aren’t melodeath?

Sure enough, this is the third album from these Swedes, and it’s template Euro power metal, complete with soaring vocals, chugging tremelo guitars, huge singalong anthemic choruses and typewriter double bass drumming.

The real star here is frontman Sam Nyman, who brings a thin toned but powerful open throat vocal style to the table, elevating Manimal somewhat above the same old, same old of the ever growing European power metal scene (and scattered global acts trying to co-opt the style for themselves, like this month’s US-based Helion Prime)…and well the fuck above the hilariously stupid looking faux-black metal photo shoot (which really needs to be seen en toto to be believed).

Geez, and I thought Bloodbound and Powerwolf were ridiculous for sending such mixed messages…

So let’s clear it up for the new kids:

1. They’re Swedes, not Italians.

2. They’re power metal of the modern European variant, not black metallers.

3. They’re actually quite good, despite the joke band their promo photo shoot would suggest…

Bottom line, close your eyes and listen, forget you ever saw those hilariously awful pictures (and who, pray tell, was responsible for same? There should be a list, somewhere…)

Chances are, you’ll love it.

Brainstorm – Midnight Ghost (AFM Records) (September 28)

We generally tend to enjoy Brainstorm here at Third Eye, from Firesoul to Scary Creatures to Memorial Roots (Re-Rooted), and this one’s not really an exception.

It’s produced by ever more prolific Orden Ogan mainman Seeb Leevermann and powerful throated frontman Andy B. Franck is still front and center, the songs are melodic and catchy enough and the guitars are very much up front as well. The album breezed by as I listened, which happens with a lot of these better AOR and Euro power metal releases.

Of course, that can also be seen as the problem with it: it wafts by, comfortably setting a mood, but coming off rather inconsequential and more or less ignorable by the conscious mind – very good background music, so to speak.

Even so, that’s also a plus, as there’s nothing off base, atonal or annoying to pull the listener out of the mood or distract. Solos work, vocals work, songs are well constructed, performances are good, production is top tier. And by the time you get to the solo section and close of tracks like “four blessings”, you start to realize just how good this actually is, like those difficult endeavors that look really easy to accomplish to outside viewers.

I think I can let the argument rest right there.

  

Ethernity – The Human Race Extinction (AFM Records) (September 14)

Second album from these femme-fronted Belgian prog/goth/symph-sters.

DGM’s Simone Mularoni handles the production, which is overly modern
for my tastes, but is certainly powerful, crisp and very much in your face,
with some rather nice vocal harmonies bolstering frontwoman Julie
Colin’s oversmoked mezzo leaning alto.

The band unfortunately tends to keep to the overly detuned rhythms and
guitar synth wheedly-whoo noodling of the Dream Theater school on
leads, so despite a base melodic approach to the choruses, the entire
project rests its hopes and laurels on Colin, who thankfully brings her “A”
game to the table and propels a decidedly mediocre (if not
sub-mediocre!) Lacuna Coil meets Dream Theateresque band to more
of a world class level.

With a better band (with much better musical ideas!) behind her, Colin
could easily share stages with the likes of Xandria, Delain, Epica or
Krypteria (now a far less symphonic act going by And Then She Came).

Hell, even now, these guys could pull off a credible opening act. But it
doesn’t change the fact that this overly detuned, tapped out at the idea
well act is damn lucky to have someone of her level (and a producer like
Mularone) propping them up like a good friend helping a bunch of nearly
unconscious drunks out the door at closing time.

Because that’s exactly what this is, a one woman enterprise with decent
choruses and production, but precious little else to recommend it.

  

Ultra-Violence – Operation Misdirection (Candlelight/Spinefarm) (July 27)

You know, I never really know what to make of the modern thrash scene.

I mean, seriously: they tend to get the look right, the garishly colored,
tacky apocalyptic album covers, even tracks that abbreviate to keep
something wholly inconsequential as an “inside joke”.

But the riffing…I don’t know, it’s too fast, too off, somehow. The
solos are fast and flashy, but seldom bear the studied phrasing and
NWOBHM by way of USPM melodic elegance of a Skolnick, a Mustaine,
a Hammett, the guys in Heathen or Forbidden…the list goes on, but try
finding anyone copping even the vaguest approximation thereof
nowadays!

Worst, the vocals…unless you go into the more obscure death/thrash
crossovers (or a few of the punk/thrash ones) like Demolition Hammer,
Solstice, later Dr. Shrinker or Morbid Saint, who the fuck growled glass
and shrieked? Nobody. Bands tried to sing, even if they had a raspy,
declamatory tone like early Hetfield, Souza or Chuck Billy. More
common were the likes of David White, Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth or Eric
AK, with whom absolutely zero of the current crop share even the
barest hint of musical or stylistic DNA.

So here we have yet another of these rootless modern thrash acts, who
have a riffing style that cribs a touch of Exodus’ crunch and bits of
a Testament meets Forbidden snakiness, but who lose the plot entirely
when it comes to the leads (which hold up better than some we’ve
covered, but really don’t stand out in any appreciable manner)…and who
are appended by aggro growl-shriek vox that simply do not belong.

I’m sure that the European festival crowd will lap these guys up, and hail
them as some unheralded saviors of thrash, given the surface similarities
of the riffing with a more studied classic sound.

But as is all too frequent nowadays (with music, film or people in
general), dig just a smidge beneath the surface, and you’ll find nothing
but hot air.

I’ll give ’em props for trying with the riffs.

The Temperance Movement – A Deeper Cut (Spinefarm Records) (August 3)  

Wait, Phil Campbell’s in this band? Half of the Fast Eddie Clarke
replacement guitar team from Motorhead?

Nah, this is some other Phil Campbell. Canadian singer, apparently has
some proclivities that make the band name somewhat ironic, and which
led to two band members quitting. Nice story. Whatever. Look, I wasn’t
there, but we all have our own problems in life, and this one sounds a bit
whitebread to me. But hey, if it’s some big “redemption tale”, then good
for you, bro.

And speaking of whitebread, we have this band’s music, which is sort of
like a cut rate Eric Martin or the guy from Mountain raspingly intoning over
The Spin Doctors crossed with the Black Crowes or perhaps even
Hootie and the Blowfish on uppers.

Yeah, there’s an audience for this stuff, alright. Had to deal with ’em all
through the 90’s.

I’m not part of it.

Next?

  

MAD MAX – 35 (Steamhammer / SPV) (August 10)

We’d covered these Germans’ re-recorded greatest hits Thunder Storm and Passion a few years back, and found them likeably melodic, if rather AOR in orientation.

Kicking things off with an uncredited swipe of Judas Priest’s “the hellion”,
things quickly turn syrupy (“running to paradise”), here they celebrate 35
years (on and off) as a band, with tracks like “beat of the heart” feeling
sort of like Bon Jovi meets Firehouse and “D.A.M.N.” coming off like
Winger trying to be XYZ.

Given their obvious indebtedness towards the band musically, they finally
cap things off with a truly half assed version of Dokken’s killer “paris is
burning”, which makes you sit back and wonder…what the fuck were they
thinking? Shark Island would probably have done a better job on this
one…and yet, they got Don’s nod of approval on their version, which just
shows where that guy’s at these days (check out our take on that band’s
Return to the East for some more pointed discussion on that matter.)

But as for Mad Max, look. The production isn’t bad (if again, a bit trebly
and hissy on the cymbals), vocals, while thin, are more than acceptable,
and the music, while often swiped from or very obviously expounding off
of classic metal band riffage, is solid enough if tending towards the
lighter end of the equation throughout.

Is it some great capping off of a lengthy career? Hardly.

But is it acceptable, even likeable melodic AOR-oriented metal lite with a
vintage vibe?

Hugh betcha. All things being equal, I was good with this.

MOB RULES – Beast Reborn (Steamhammer / SPV) (August 24)

Back in late 2012, I had an interview with likeable Markus Brinkmann of
Mob Rules.

Really nice guy, not sure I got a lot out of him other than an amusing
outtake we used on another podcast (his English was a bit limited, and ne
of the more “difficult” in depth questions resulted in a flatly horrified “oh,
no.” Edited out of the aired piece, but eminiently useful as an all
purpose, wholly out of context punchline elsewhere).

That’s about all there is to say about Mob Rules, other than to note they
are and have been a steady, reliable middle tier German power metal
band with (at least at times, as on the album we spoke of, 2012’s
Cannibal Nation) a more than usual degree of attention to the
politicosocial.

Here we are, almost 6 years on, and they’ve only released one album
between said podcast and the current Beast Reborn, with one member
change in the interim: Matthias Mineur has been replaced by new kid
Sönke Janssen, apparently Sven Ludke’s longtime guitar student –
shades of Racer X and Bruce Bouillet!

Like the Bouillet/Racer X reference, the young blood has brought some
extra piss and vinegar to the band, who seem to have amped up both the
energy and anthemic melodicism tenfold. Hell, even frontman Klaus
Dirks is dropping more soaring, wide vibrato inflected vocals than usual.

Sure, I liked Cannibal Nation well enough, but did it have songs like this?
And was there even half so much guitar (I’m talking flashy leads, here)
last time around? I’d think I’d have noticed if so. Hats off to ya, kid – not
only did you bring your A game, you lit a fire under Sven’s ass in the
bargain!

Now, don’t walk into this expecting something as bombastic as Orden Ogan, despite Seeb Leevermann‘s work on backing choirs here, nor anything as flash as Yngwie and his many disciples in the genre…but that’s never been what this particular band was about.

Very good stuff. Good spot for newbies to jump in, and if you thought
you knew the band before this, Markus has two words for you:

“oh, no.”

This is the time to put all that aside and give ’em another try.

Integrity/Krieg Split EP (Relapse Records)  (August 3)

Krieg digs up their contribution to an old Satanic Warmaster split plus another presumed oldie, tags in one new song (which sucks some serious ass by comparison) and is outta there.

Want more of a breakdown? “Sick winds” sounds pretty much the same
as it ever did, just live this time around. “This time I’ll leave you to drown”
isn’t on the same level, but isn’t bad…and then you get the new one,
“circle of guilt”, which just fucking blows until you get close to the 4
minute mark (in a 5 minute and change track, mind), when they finally
wake up and start playing an actual riff and song.

A full track like that last minute and a half? It’d be as good as “sick
winds”, maybe better.

Integrity is more of a punk/noise crossover thing, more akin to what
people seem to be mislabeling as “hardcore” these days than actual
punk of any sort – weird riffs that owe as much to black metal as they do
punk rock (especially on “scorched earth” and “flames of the immortal”),
abominable aggro/screamo vox and a whole lot of feedback and noise
kicking off every track.

When they try to sound more punk crossover, it works better, so
“document one” and “sons of satan” are more palatable at least on the
riff end than the other two aforementioned…but there’s always those
fucking vox to contend with.

Krieg is the clear and obvious winner here, but given just how bad 3/4 of
their only new contribution actually is, that’s not exactly high praise.

Look, you’ve heard much worse…I know we’ve reviewed stuff here that
leaves both bands smelling like a rose. But do we always have to dig
down among the absolute dregs of material covered over the years just
to find some measure of (comparative) praise and palatability for
questionable entries like this?

Next?

  

The Five Hundred – Bleed Red (Long Branch Records) (August 17)

Emo to metalcore spectrum act.

Production’s pretty decent, clean vocal sections (generally at the bridges
and choruses) are catchy and likeable enough, the band keeps things
busy enough with the lead lines and often syncopated drumming at the
verses.

The bass is really working that distortion pedal and downtuned besides,
serving as a de facto nu metal guitar…or is that actually a really thin toned
overly detuned rhythm guitar? Either way, it’s kinda cheesy and I
could’ve done without that…but not a deal breaker.

The screamo sections are as ridiculous as ever, but no worse than any
dozen suchlike. Apparently they are “renowned for overcoming
adversities”, which apparently include “OCD, gambling, drug addiction
and”…wait for it…”TOURETTES”.

Seriously. snort FUCK YOU snort.

Hmm? What? No, I didn’t say anything SHITHEAD, why do you ask?

Damn, now that’s funny. I did know a girl with Tourettes, worked briefly at
the same dead end job I had for a year or two of my early 20’s. She did
that, often. Problem is, she did it to the boss once. So long, wacky
girl…last seen haunting the park benches of the area. True story.

Tourettes…seriously LMAO

Well, anyway…I guess “congratulations for overcoming your
struggle with random outbursts of obscenity”, then!

Had to look it up, and apparently they’ve broadened the definition to
include tics. Same job, had a good friend (still to this day, in fact) who
has this weird head jerk, eye blink and sputter he puts on the end of
random sentences. Light, but noticeable. No big deal, nobody ever
made a stink about it that I can recall.

So yeah, I knew a crazy girl who had tourettes, and by this new, broader
definition, I still know a guy who has obvious tics on a regular basis.
Neither went out and formed an emo band (though one may have
become a bag lady, who knows!)

Well, the comedy of picturing a guy with OCD and tourettes trying to tour
(hope the bus has a good sink for all that compulsive hand washing, and
a door they can check repeatedly to make sure it’s locked!) aside, these
guys are at least par for the course musically, and growly screamy shit
aside, I was good with this one overall.

You can FUCK YOU take that to the bank YOU DIRTY COCKSUCKER!

Yeah, I’m still laughing, sorry.

Thunder Horse – S/T  (August 3)

Interesting project out of Texas, mixing a low, slow and oddly quite
mellow sorta-doomy, sorta-sludgy vibe with elements that sound more
akin to, say, Ministry.

The guitars are thickly distorted, the mix is kinda lo-fi (you can catch the
telltale crackle around the edges that says they were playing too damn
loud and the recording was allowed to run well into the red zone
throughout), the vox are declamatory shouts with electronic processing,
ala the aforementioned Ministry (or pushing it, arguably even Meat Beat
Manifesto)…but then it’s got a light Southern/Western feel (which the
Texan drawl that opens “blood ritual” only confirms), with a speed and
dark overtone that says at least Electric Wizard-style stoner doom.

And there’s more to it than that…it’s hardly Sono Morti, but
something about this feels half desert desolation and half citified hipster
(from all the industrial bits).

How the hell do you describe something that throws all these very
disparate elements together…and yet makes it sound like they belong?
Come on, you read these monthly (or lately, bi-monthly) Roundups. That
never fucking happens…

This appeals on too many levels not to love…but I guess you could stick
it under a vague “doom” header (much in the sense that you could
Danzig, but meaning everything from the self titled through the electronic
experimentation of 4 thereby!)

Whatever. No bullshit, it works.

I liked this a whole hell of a lot.

  

Chuggernaut – Kodiak (August 24)

Now this one tries to be almost as syncretist as Thunder Horse, but
drawing from more 90’s elements…and thus falls flat on its metaphorical
ass thereby.

Strong grunge elements mix with Southern groove and stoner rock, then
there are phrases in tracks like “control burn” that suggest a hint of prog,
riffs like those found in “aftermath” that call from a modern/post-thrash
orientation, and lunkheaded chug-chug-chug riffage in “disposable
monuments” and “black lung” that feel more aggro/nu.

Yeah, they pull from a number of influences and styles…problem is, most
of ’em suck.

Don’t blame it on the band…blame it on being brought up on shit, and
taught to consider it great stuff, worthy of absorption and emulation.

  

Crosson – Invincible (Metalapolis Records) (May 4)

oh, look, someone just discovered visual kei about 20 years too late, and wants to be the American Hide (RIP).

Yep, this a band of Aussies that apparently (and admittedly, we’re judging
from the visuals and the promo materials here) can’t seem to decide
whether they want to be seriously old school AOR/hard rock types or pull
one of those obnoxious “ironic” schticks like that fucking Darkness and
Steel Panther.

Oh, ha ha, isn’t it funny to pretend to have long hair and spandex and play
metal like our fathers and grandfathers did back in the 80’s? Weren’t
they just so lame/cool (or is that cool/lame)?

Fuck you, brat. Let me smack you upside the head, go pout in the corner
before I send you to bed without supper. Goddamn millenials,
everything’s snark…

The only actual funny part here, beyond a bunch of presumed outback
roughneck types dressing up like Japanese no talent types about 15 or
20 years ago (admit it, the only “visual kei” types who could actually write
a song or play their damn instruments were Luna Sea and X…and mind,
this is coming from a diehard Luna Sea “Slave”. There simply weren’t
any others of merit…), is the guy learning to play My First Keyboard and
shitting all over tracks like “rock warriors” and “livin the life” thereby.
Hilarious!

The frontman seems to be spitting out his vocals through his nose,
there’s a weird I’ve got a cold crossed with Paul Stanley thing he’s got
going on that’s kind of ridiculous. But hey, if they’re really trying to ape
joke bands like The Darkness and Steel Panther, it’s probably
deliberately goofy! Nudge nudge, wink wink…

(rolls eyes in disgust)

Well, the music’s stupidly catchy enough, I guess. It’s not really metal by
any stretch, and its provenance…or shall we say tone remains
somewhat dubious, to say the least…but those young’uns who can’t
commit to actually liking something one of their asshole buddies may
knock them for digging, so they have to keep it all at arms distance and
“ironic” should absolutely love this…because it feels very, very tongue in
cheek.

Which is, of course, open invitation to diehards to deliver a well aimed punch, hoping they’ll involuntarily bite down.

Your call on this one, I’ve said my piece.

Parasite INC. – Dead and Alive (Reaper Entertainment) (August 17)

Hmm. Not sure how to take this one.

German act, being sold as melodeath. The riffs come off more European power metal than death, though, and there’s a prominent use of upbeat keyboards throughout many of the tracks that almost drags things gothic/symphonic (“cold silent hell”, “once and for all”).

Once in a while they lean more modern thrash (“headfuck rollercoaster”) or come off even more, crossing that with a quirky modern metal vibe that pulls in elements of aggro and even an indefinable country feel (listen to that riff around the minute mark of “flesh decadence”, you’ll pick it up.) Bottom line, it’s pretty fucking strange, even before you contend with the lousy aggro growly-snarly vox.

And this is melodeath…how?

More like bizarro cross between modern thrash, aggro/nu and power/gothic-symphonic…which is to say, it’s kind of all over the place.

But melodeath? No way.

Yeah, didn’t find much merit in this one, sorry.

Solitary – Nothing Changes 20th Anniversary Edition (DOC RECORDS) (August 20)

You know, when we covered The Diseased Heart of Society a year and a half back, we spent an awful lot of time comparing Solitary to a johnny come too lately version of Xentrix.

Well, dagnabbit, if this time around, we aren’t hearing about how frontman
Rich Sherrington was hellbent on following in the footsteps of his heroes,
despite thrash being dead by the mid-90s (and his own debut not
appearing ’til 1998). Those heroes? No prize for guessing Xentrix…

So, yeah, if you hold half so much affection as yours truly for Shattered
Existence and For Whose Advantage?…or for that matter, the Ride the
Lightning and Master of Puppets-era Metallica Xentrix themselves (like
Paradox, particularly circa Heresy) cribbed so liberally from the playbook
of…you should be well chuffed with Solitary, whose debut full length is
now remastered and reissued with demo versions of three of its tracks
(and two non-album tracks) appended thereto.

About the only thing to add here is expect more Ghost Busters EP to
Shattered Existence era Xentrix than the more polished sound that would
follow…but that’s no slam.

Despite its late entry in the ‘dex, Solitary’s Nothing Changes deserves a
place alongside acts like D.A.M. and Re-Animator in the “best of UK
thrash: only slightly second tier” stakes.

In case it’s not already apparent: I liked this one quite a bit, actually.

MERRYWEATHER STARK – Carved in Rock (GMR Music) (March 30)

Neil Merryweather, which is not anything even close to his actual name, by the way (don’t ask me…) who I last encountered as the bassist on Lita Ford’s post-Runaways guitar extravaganza Out for Blood, here takes vocals as well as bass duties and final production (after bringing in a few outside folks for the actual mix).

With him is guitarist Janne Stark. No idea who he is, but apparently both
have been working around the classic rock scene (though what that
means beyond playing local bars nowadays, your guess is as good as
mine).

Together, they deliver a polished, heavy toned hard rock album with
plenty of Southern groove inflections and blues rock riffing, which leaves
them much akin to what diehard metal bands were relegated to delivering
during the initial backlash against the genre in the early to mid 90’s.
Remember the post-Asylum Kiss, the second XYZ album or the
post-Blow Your Fuse Kix? Yeah, that sound.

Well, the performances are assured, the production’s pretty good and
Stark’s leads are more winning than you’d expect for this sort of material,
leaving the overall effect vaguely akin to a less dynamic or neoclassically
inspired Jack Starr circa the first two Virgin Steele albums (or even the
first two Burning Starr ones, at a stretch). Nowhere near as good,
mind…but this isn’t USPM, it’s a harder than usual take on classic rock, so
take that for what it’s worth.

I liked it a lot more for Stark’s pseudo-Jack Starrisms than anything
Merryweather had to offer (production aside). He’s certainly acceptable
as a frontman, and if it weren’t for the outside mixers helping out, I’d feel
safe in saying he’s a pretty good producer as well…but neither really
wowed me.

I’d be curious to hear more from Stark…especially in a context more
closely aligned to a Burning Starr-ish metal than the heavy rock meets
grunge or stoner sound of Merryweather Stark.

In some ways, this certainly excels…particularly given the low bar this sort
of thing usually winds up being. You can suss out exactly what works
from the above.

GRAND DESIGN – Viva La Paradise (GMR Music) (April 20)

Swedish AOR act. Something about frontman Pelle Saether’s toothy,
high pitched vox reminds me of the current Journey frontman (Filipino
kid, can’t remember his name) as crossed with Mark Eden (formerly of
Eden’s Curse).

Janne Stark of the aforementioned Merryweather Stark is half of the
guitar team here, but oddly seems a bit more restrained, even muted with
the leads than he was with Merryweather, and the songs he is credited as
bringing to the album are actually somewhat lighter and weaker than
those of fellow guitarist Dennis Vestman or the ones contributed by
Saether himself…not what I was expecting.

So maybe the mix and production Merryweather and company brought to
the table contributed more than initially assumed, as Grand Design opts
for a thin toned, reedy, even a tad hissy Invasion of Your Privacy to
Realized Fantasies (if not Winger!) approach. The choruses are big and
likeable, the leads are nice, there’s plenty of melody and 80’s melodic
metal “bigness” to the album…but it simply sounds too goddamned thin to work half so well as it should.

Half of me liked Grand Design quite a bit – and in the right mood, perhaps
with a few drinks in me, I’d have given this a better review than appears to
be coming off here.

But while they’re definitely hitting all the right marks, I was expecting more
from Stark in a more “metal” context (and really, is this sound a million
miles removed from where Burning Starr was going circa Blaze of Glory,
much less the recent Stand Your Ground?)

…and goddamn it, as much as I love the shit out of Ratt’s Invasion of
Your Privacy, that production always sucked some serious ass.

Remix and remaster is definitely called for, here. Sure, it’s a good album
of its type. But with a bassier, more lead-friendly mix, this’d probably be
a four star plus review.

Stone Leaders – S/T (Vanity Music) (October 19)

Somewhat nonstandard prog metal act with a former drummer with Labyrinth, Masi, TNT, Yngwie and Powermad and a bunch of Croatian unknowns (one of whom has taken part in the ever revolving door that is the Trans Siberian Orchestra).

The frontman sounds a bit like Mr. Big’s Eric Martin and the overall sound
here, while very obviously prog, feels a bit…off, somehow. It’s hardly
Fates Warning, let’s put it that way.

One thing I did like about Stone Leaders right off was the drum
production and mix, which places sticksman John Macaluso front and
center, leaving the band like a ProgPower distaff take on Tony Williams’
Lifetime (though don’t take that one wrong – while a rather good drummer
in the vein of Mark Zonder’s work with Warlord, Macaluso ain’t a pimple
on Tony’s late ass, no slag implied thereby. Seriously – who the fuck is?)

Lifetime’s Believe It remains my all time favorite fusion album, and gets
more regular rotation than any dozen metal albums namechecked here
on a recurrent basis, so the fact that the comparison’s even being
bandied about is a major, major nod of respect.

We need more drummer led bands, methinks…at least if they can play
half so well as Macaluso does here.

The rest? Whatever. Icing on the cake.

Get it and jack the bass. Hell, can we remaster this one and pull the
drums more up front than they already are?

  

WILD – Sin Piedad (Fighter Records) (August 22)

And the winner for the most USPM-sounding album of the year to date goes to…a European metal band, straight outta Spain, singing exclusively in their native tongue.

And the earlier reviewed Helion Prime, an ostensibly US power metal
band, plays exclusively European style power metal. The whole fucking
world’s gone topsy turvy, go figure.

But seriously, throw on “luna de sangre”, listen to all those thrashy riffs
and that bellowing clean vocal, and tell me this ain’t USPM to the core…

Crunchy, chugging guitars, with a powerful mix that still manages to feel a
touch analog in (guitar) tone, vox that come off like a cross between Harry
Conklin-lite and what Dave DeFeis was probably trying to sound like amidst all that gravel-gargling sub-Eric Adams nonsense he pulls, throw in riffs that land somewhere between Accept, Hexx and Bay Area thrash, and fuck if you don’t have Sin Piedad summed up in a tighly compacted nutshell.

Giving this a full on, five star metal fist raised in salute feels inadequate,
somehow.

Somebody’s gotta keep the classic USPM sound alive…if it’s gonna be
Spain that does it, God bless ’em for it.

VALKYRIA – Tierra Hostil (Fighter Records) (October 10)

A label that’s rapidly becoming one of my favorites, Spain’s Fighter
Records pretty much bats two out of the park in the same month. And all
I can say is, damn!

Another power metal act that crosses the Euro and USPM elements,
Valkyria is (naturally) strongest on tracks more closely approximating the
classic 80’s NWOBHM/thrash/trad feel of the latter over the more
melodic, by the numbers Helloween/Yngwie/Acceptisms of the
former…but both work just fine, thank you.

As such, my initial jaw dropping reaction came courtesy of the one two
punch of closer “tuareg” followed by opener “codigo de honor”, which
alongside “identitad perdida” and “vida eterna” represent the albums
strongest tracks by far…particularly the very USPMlike “tuareg” (likely
inspired by that cheap-ass Italian postapocalyptic flick of the same name,
not exactly a high point in the career of action specialist Enzo Castellari).

What’s different between those two (or even all four) tracks from the rest,
you ask? Simple: driving, memorable riffs and a thrashy aggression
married to the nice harmony vocals and typewriter drums found
elsewhere on the album.

The rest? Well, it’s pretty solid, melodically inclined (but not overly
sappy, wimpy or overproduced) Euro power metal, and proves these
guys sure to work on any festival ticket. Some solos are actually quite
good (“rencor” being an excellent example of what they’re capable of in
that respect).

The production’s a bit rough and ready for power metal in the modern
European sense, but this actually works in their favor, granting more of an
edge and vitality to the proceedings than they may have had with a lush
Orden Ogan style backing choir and the sort of production you’d
get on a Rhapsody or Blind Guardian album, for example.

They get the exact mix of polished and demo-rough to keep ’em
interesting…and that makes Tierra Hostil another…well, not exactly surprise, given just how damn good Fighter Records’ releases have been of late, but still.

One or two things aside (and my concerted wish they pursue more
material along the lines of “tuareg” in future), it’s another easy home run.

Dark Sarah – The Golden Moth (Inner Wound Recordings) (September 21)

We covered this Finnish act’s The Puzzle about 2 years back, featuring ex-Amberian Dawn frontwoman Heidi Parviainen and working the same sort of sub-Nightwishy gothic symphonic metal sound, revolving around a goofy concept much akin to Siouxsie and the Banshee’s “eve white/eve black” built out to comic prog/power proportions ala Dave DeFeis and that damn neverending House of Atreus thing.

So here we are on album 3 of this story, and Sarah’s still crazy as fuck
(unless we’re meant to buy that she’s actually 2 identical people, ala
Coraline or something). Still talking to “gods”, still talking to herself, yada,
yada, whatever.

This time around, Parviainen finds herself somewhat overburdened by
the addition of some often rather silly (if still thankfully clean)
overdramatic and pointedly “gothic metallish” male vox ala Fernando
Ribiero or Peter Steele in full on Type O mode, courtesy of a JP
Leppäluoto (your guess is as good as mine on this one) who’s been
granted “official band member” status as a result. Oy. Well, could be
much, much worse, so let’s count our blessings, shall we?

For her part, Parviainen sounds more accomplished this time around, or
is it just me? Either way, I found I actually liked rather than
“tolerated and gave fair appraisal to” her performance on The Golden
Moth (which was not the case on the earlier The Puzzle). So, hey, good
on ya, Heidi. Either you’ve improved dramatically, you’ve found your
niche and range here, or you’ve grown on me…any way you slice it, count
it in the “win” column.

There’s the usual silly “rock opera” gothic/power/prog metal “guest
performances”, this time the notables among ’em are Diabulus in
Musica’s Zuberoa Aznarez and Nightwish’s Marco Hietala. As usual, they
don’t make a lot of impact, but hey, there’s a lot of starfuckers out there
who practically cream their jeans at these stunt casting jobs, so if that
describes you, have at it, you strange-ass fuckers: “big names drop by
the studio during coffee break!”

The album itself…well, it feels a lot more upbeat and bombastic than The
Puzzle ever did, probably intentional as mirroring the “theme” and
ongoing “story”. As mentioned, Parviainen acquits herself admirably
here, still on the lighter end of the whole gothic/symphonic faux-operatic
femme vocal thing, perhaps less Sarah Brightman this time, but still more
akin to Mother Earth-era Sharon den Adel crossed with the mellowest,
most elegiac moments of Liv Kristine.

Hey, look. If you dig this general style of music, you pretty much know
what to expect, and already like it, so long as the music moves, is
consonant and the vocals sound sweet.

And you can check off every one of those boxes, so goth/symph fans
who haven’t bent an ear Dark Sarah’s way may want to choose this point
to dip their toes in the water – it’s a pretty good starting point, let’s put it
that way.

Leah – The Quest (Inner Wound Recordings) (October 5)

I’m honestly not sure why or how it happened – possibly due to some
purchase or other of a female fronted gothic/symphonic album along the
way – I wound up on the mailing list for a “celtic metal songstress” by the
name of Leah.

I took a quick listen to one or two of the samples provided in one of the
earlier emails, and while not exactly overwhelmed, she had a pleasant
enough voice and the sound was right, if you’re looking for Euro-style
gothic symphonic light bombast.

But the reason I stuck on this mailing list, besides the fact that it doesn’t
exactly cost anything to give a quick skim to an email every day or two (or
so it seemed at one point, the frequency eventually slowed and may
even have stopped sometime in the recent past) was the sheer
cheesiness of it.

Like a true self starter, the lady would work little D&D style gimmicks into
these approximately daily mailings, trying to directly engage the reader
(and putative “fan club member” or what have you) with a sort of
faux-“quest” (read: vaguely Tolkienesque chatter amounting to very little),
often with some sort of a cliffhanger hook to leave you waiting for the
next mailing.

This would just continue on, with teasers and solicitations of feedback
alternating with crowdfunding requests, recording progress…and perhaps
most amusingly, the sale of tchotchkes, like celtic braid rings and – if
memory serves – genre-appropriate articles of clothing (get your mind out
of the gutter, we’re talking crushed velvet dresses and so forth).

All very ren faire, to be sure…but a tad, well, unusual for a metal
marketing campaign. Hey, whatever sells records, I guess. I found it
oddly endearing enough not to hit the “unsubscribe” button, if you count
that as a success…

So it was with a hearty laugh and concomitant nod of respect that I saw
this one come across the virtual desk – apparently, all these albums I
understood to be crowdfunded and self released were apparently picked
up and reissued by what is now her current label, Sweden’s Inner
Wound. You know, a real label, who specializes in this sort of music and
style…and one I cover regularly. Well, knock me over with a fucking
feather…who the hell knew?

Now here we are, and it’s time to give more than just a quick and cursory
“run a youtube video or streamed mp3 off an iPad” sort of a listen…and
you know what? The kid’s got some talent.

Probably doesn’t hurt that she has sidemen from such scene leaders as
Delain, Nightwish and even Blind Guardian on hand here, and not just the
usual Euro power/symph scene starfucker thing, either (you see it all the
time – “I saw Piet Sielck at the local pub and dragged him over to sing
backing vocals for 5 minutes during coffee break! Get excited over the
“guest musicians”, fanboys!”)

But nope, she’s actually dragged Delain’s Timo Somers over to handle
guitars, Troy Donockley from Nightwish to work the pipe and flute
business…and well, a touring bassist from Blind Guardian. Can’t
have it all, I guess.

Anyway, Leah’s sound is somewhere between Charlotte Wessels (for
base tone and range) and Sharon Den Adel (for the softer, sweeter
approach thereto). It’s a pleasant, mezzo leaning alto sound, and she
does come off quite accomplished and self assured – this is not the
green recruit startup you’d expect from the mailing campaign.

Backing vocals and lighter, airier moments almost suggest an Enya vibe,
but no, it’s more Floor Janssen in Nightwishlike, minus the power and
angry thrust. More to the point, perhaps, Leah herself is working
the Wessels/Den Adel thing (though moments like “Oblivion” suggest
she’s been studying her Liv Kristine as well) while the band and music surrounding her is more pointedly sticking to the modern Nightwish by way of Mother Earth-era Within Temptation thing.  As a longtime fan of these bands (at least within certain periods of each), the end result is pretty damn nice.

What’s missing here? Well, honestly? The Celticness. Where the hell
is the Loreena McKennittness, the Enya (well, a little in some of the
background vocal arrangements), the Pentangle, the Steeleye Span or
Fairport with Sandy Denny? Even the damn Celtic Women, if we really
have to go there (and trust me, I’d rather not)?

One track. Exactly one. “The water is wide”, which I believe is a
traditional (if not, it sounds verrry authentic, speaking as someone who
turned to this stuff during metal’s long death cum hibernation in the 90’s).

So, cheesy mailing campaigns and questions of authentic Celtic pride
aside, (no, don’t have a drop of Irish in me, but I spent a lot of time in the
music and culture, so let’s pretend for the moment, eh?*) how does The
Quest stand up, not as a surprisingly strong album given the
rather…grassroots method which brought the lady and her work to my
attention, but as a Euro-style not quite gothic but rather symphonic album
per se?

* she’s Canadian, eh.

Honestly? Pretty damn well, actually. It’s listenable through and through,
the production and musicianship are excellent, her vocals are syrup
sweet and assured, with some really quite top tier vocal harmonies and
(vocal) arrangements…

…and the fact that I’m honestly comparing this to the Floor Janssen
Nightwish, and Delain, and even Within Temptation circa Mother Earth,
should say it all right there.

Hats off to ya, lady. Keep those cheesy mailers coming, you’ve got my
ear now.

Duncan Evans – Prayers For An Absentee (Auerbach Tonträger / Prophecy Productions) (August 24)

Former Forest of Stars six stringer Henry Hyde Bronson continues his solo career, of which we’d previously essayed his Bird of Prey and Lodestone.

Here he continues the Nick Drake schtick as admirably well as ever, but
appending some overdriven electric guitar, keyboard and drum moments
that push things more into the ballpark of a far less flash-inclined Richard
Thompson.

It’s an interesting shift, not as dramatic as the controversial Bringin’ It All
Back Home era of Dylan, but a surprising change nonetheless. Even so,
Evans retains the depressive gothic postpunk snide vocal whine and vibe
he’s become known for, leaving Prayers for an Absentee a good starting
point for an aging and mellowing emo crowd, looking for something a bit
mellower and more substantive to scratch that particular itch.

I was good with his earlier work, I was basically good with A Forest of
Stars.

Did you really expect I wouldn’t appreciate this as well?

  

Khôrada – Salt (Prophecy Productions) (July 20)

Quirky black metallers Agalloch have all but reformed for this unclassifiably odd gothic to post-whatever metal act, only losing frontman John Haugham in the process.

The end result is something more akin to Moonspell crossed with
Wolves in the Throne Room, if you can even picture something so
bizarre: a melancholic, almost gothic doom take on Cascadian if not
post-black metal, shedding almost all of the blackened elements along
the way.

It’s listenable, sadly melodic and most broadly fits under the huge
umbrella of “gothic in orientation”…meaning that fits well on the Prophecy
roster, which a good 6 years worth of reviews should speak to admirably
in terms of what to expect (and if you’re feeling a bit lazy today, then trust
me, it’s mostly to the good).

Am I chomping at the bit with excitement over this? No, not really.

But is it pretty damn solid?  Yeah, I’d be willing to venture that much.

Helrunar – Vanitas Vanitatvm (Prophecy Productions) (September 28)

You know, if this album had come out circa 1998, these guys would have been one of the “name” bands kids practically conjure with these days.

I mean, yeah, it’s fairly workaday for an album so amazingly well produced, solidly constructed and on a certain level, engaging – to say that it falls more or less into the same ballpark as Norsecore acts like Marduk and Tsjuder (though far more the former than the latter, being willing to stretch well beyond the particular limitations of the style) wouldn’t be a million miles off the mark.

You’ve got that crisp yet chilly production style and guitar tone, the deep and throaty vox, the nigh-total absence of annoying Watain-derived ringing open chord bits, atonality or “occult black metal” schmutters…and yeah, that strong Teutonic attention to well produced crispness aside, this feels a hell of a lot like a (very good) Marduk album, probably one of more recent vintage.

But there’s more to it than that. The vintage Norwegian/Swedish feel is all over this one (production and moments of clean Deutsche sprechtgesang aside, nothing about Vanitas Vanitatum says “German”), but there’s a gloominess, a decidedly paced tempo that predominates somehow, even when they kick into the speedier sections, that pushes Helrunar beyond the Marduk thing, well beyond the Norsecore one…

…and puts it up there somewhere around the first few Hades albums, in terms of “albums you should hear if you’re interested in black metal”.

Yeah, it’s very familiar, and in that respect, feels kind of workaday…in the same way Desert Northern Hell or a Marduk album (take your pick, my favorites from their catalogue shift on a semi-regular basis) do. So sure, by comparison with the scene’s 1990s heyday? This fits right in and doesn’t exactly stand out in any appreciable way.

But compared to the absolute shitstorm that is the black metal scene circa 2018?

This one stands out like a sore thumb…and should have been one of those hoary “go to” albums for any fans of the genre.

Hell, maybe it still is.

Hails are certainly called for…sehr gut, mein herren.

Farsot/ColdWorld – Toteninsel (Prophecy Productions) (September 28)

4 track split between two Teutonic black metal acts, both operating in the
depressive/contemplative mode of the Cascadian sound, but with the
crystalline production common to their nation of origin and the acoustic
folkishness of early Ulver for good measure.

Of the two acts, Farsot comes off by far the more accomplished, with
their pair of “earth” tracks standing leagues ahead of ColdWorld’s “water”
ones. While a complementary pairing on a base level, it’s apples and
oranges in the end: once the acoustic bits end, ColdWorld falls very
much into the Watain/Behemoth/Belphegor school of black metal
bombast and pretentiousness, despite the nigh-total lack of vocals from
either party.*

* there are some, but they’re pretty few and far between.

On the other hand, Farsot barely hits the distortion pedal on either of their
tracks, preferring to keep things clean and even a touch progressive
throughout. While neither band falls very far into the usual pitfalls of
modern day black metal, it’s blatantly evident which of the bands is the
superior.

I won’t even say “get it for the Farsot tracks”, because it’s all of a
surprisingly high quality, if nothing else, then for the production and mood
alone.

But yeah, definitely get it for the Farsot tracks.

Yeah, yeah, so I lied. But you get the picture.

Looking forward to a full length from these guys.

A Forest of Stars – Grave Mounds And Grave Mistakes (Prophecy Productions) (September 28)

We’d covered these eccentric British black metallers’ Beware The Sword You Cannot See three years back, and found them questionably working in a similar ballpark to countrymen Cradle of Filth, albeit mellower and far quirkier in approach and feel.

Here they ramp up the more folk leaning (think Northern Oak), almost Cascadian oriented end of the spectrum, whilst still remaining in a generally symphonic black classification, stylistically speaking.

In other words, they seem to have evolved somewhat, no longer coming off as kin to the likes of Cradle, but more a blackened (if singular to downright bizarre) take on post-Wayward Sons Skyclad.

It’s somewhat appropriate, therefore, to hear Dan “Mister Curse” Eyre shrieking away madly like some cut rate Martin Walkyrier in a straitjacket, howling an insane defiance at the Lovecraftian inevitabilities at the center of his personal lunatic reality. Yeah, it gets a bit weird, even for these guys.

And you know what? That makes these guys fascinating. Listenable, which is the most important part of the equation…but a curiosity piece to be sure.

Can’t speak for any of you out there, but this sort of weird stimulates the old imagination and piques the interest…which is a whole lot more than you can say for most of the more workaday, by the numbers material we cover here every month or so.

Shriek away, madman. I’m listening.

Paths – In Lands Thought Lost (Bindrune Recordings) (September 28)

Austin Lunn (Panopticon, covered here and here, and Waldgefluster, covered here and hereis back once again, this time as a session man for a black metal act out of the Great White North (specifically the Western beachfront climes of Victoria, BC).

The sound is pretty old school and clearly working off some combination of early symphonic Norwegian school BM and the more melodic Cascadian (or even, at an extreme remove, Finnish) ones of far more recent vintage.

In other words, there’s keyboards present to punctuate the proceedings
and offer that wintry symph feel, but they’re a whole hell of a lot subtler
than you’d expect, more of an undercurrent to bolster the tremelo guitars
that serve as rhythm to the melodic lead lines that predominate.

Things move along at a brisk pace, almost bringing a Norsecoreish vibe
to the album in that respect, but never does the sound become stale and
lifeless like that subgenre is known (and in some quarters, reviled) for –
the melodic orientation is always front and center and drives the album’s
stylistic approach throughout.

Of course I was good with this – it’s the main reason the Finnish scene is
one of the few variants of black metal still worth hearing in the modern
era.

Good stuff, indeed.

Teksti-TV 666 – Aidattu tulevaisuus (Svart Records) (September 7)

We’d previously given a favorable review to their somewhat Husker Du-like 1-2-3and this particular apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree.

“Katko” crosses the Husker sound with the trancy repetitiveness of Circle, “turbo-mondeo” mixes in a touch of Britpop and a dollop of shoegaze (think Catherine Wheel crossed with Sonic Youth, but as filtered through My Bloody Valentine), “rauhankone” comes off rather Frank Black-like, you get the general picture.

It’s all very mid to late 90’s indie…and all rather catchy at that.

CAST THE STONE – Empyrean Atrophy (Agonia Records) (August 31)

We’re supposed to take these guys as some sort of modern death metal supergroup, I gather. Of course, nobody’s ever heard of any of the bands these guys hail from (the crassly monikered Cattle Decapitation aside), so there’s that…

Well, they got Dan Swano to produce ’em, which doesn’t say as much as it would’ve if he’d stuck to working with notable black and death metal bands rather than more or less taking all comers (check out a list of albums he’s been involved with, there’s a whole lotta “HUH? WHO?!?” moments…) I guess that’s a plus, and explains the clarity of the guitar, drums and vocals…but it still seems a bit hissier on the treble distortion and cymbal end than you’d expect.

Wait…this fucking thing ended already? Wow, talk about inconsequential…

Seriously, no bullshit. This one went in one ear and out the other, while
typing out these thoughts and assessments. It’s that generic.

umm…well, I guess you can say it’s listenable, since I wasn’t gritting my
teeth or skipping through tracks…

I think I forgot I even heard this one already.

Let’s move on, shall we?

Skyglow – Thousand Years Of Terror (Inverse Records & Grotesque Sounds) (June 30)

OK, let’s get this out of the way first. I cannot say I actually liked this album in any way.

Now, more objectively speaking, the production isn’t too bad, particularly in terms of guitar tone. The guitars themselves are busy little tremelo riff fests, and it’s obvious the level of musicianship is respectable enough to be classified as ‘progressive’ or ‘technical’ death metal.

And yeah, the vox suck, all croaking and glass gargling, yet again for the fifty-seven thousandth time. zzzzz. Wake me when someone learns to sing a fucking song in today’s metal scene, willya?

But that aside, you’ve already seen the rub here.

I’ll give you a minute to think about it.

(coffee break while you ponder)

OK, time’s up. That’s right! It’s “tech death” (or “progressive death”), ala
Atheist…or later Gorguts…or all these djenty bands that followed in their
wake. You know the type, wouldn’t recognize a melody or proper song
construction if it bit ’em hard on the ass.

But…they’re so busy, fingers flying everywhere, riffs all over the place! It
must be good!

(sits back, has a good sip of coffee waiting for you to wake up. Plays
classic USPM as ironic counterpoint to your misguided assertion)

Boy, it’ll sure be nice when all these bands grow up and learn to rein in
their chops in service to an actual song, won’t it? We all knew this, back
in the day…even the thrashiest, blackest and death-iest of us.

No idea how this got lost for so many kids in the intervening years. Let’s
just appreciate the ones who’re figuring it out, and coming around.

We can ignore the ones stuck in preadolescence like this. They’ll grow
up and come around in time.

  

Rough Grind – Trouble or Nothing (Inverse Records) (July 13)

Okay, what we have here is a decent guitarist (a few good riffs, some high speed flash solos) who has a few unfortunate inclinations:

1. towards downtuned, grunge/groove/nu base riffing beneath those lead lines and more consonant counterpoint.

2. towards a mellow, midtempo or less, light feeling “rock” vibe

3. to “sing”, by which we mean he spits out words like a depressed autistic kid spewing his cereal all over the kitchen table during a fit.

Seriously, it’s like a chubby cheeked lithium user whining and sputtering like a child throughout.  And this is a vocal approach?

Well, if he’d shut the hell up, tune up those rhythm guitars and take some
more effective mood enhancers to perk things up a little, we could say
“hey, this guy’s a pretty decent guitarist!” and not have to shake our
heads in disbelief at the rest of what we’re hearing here.

Seriously. It’s like listening to a major depressive, fat cheeked Charlie
Brown, singing “awwww, SHUCKS! Didn’t wanna kick that darn ball,
anyway!” for about 20 minutes straight…

Event Relentless – S/T (Inverse Records)

Another act with questionable vocals fucking the works more than they might otherwise have merited.

This time, it’s a sub-Vile Valo thing our guitarist cum “vocalist” is shooting for, so it’s not as ridiculous as Rough Grind…but does anyone really want to hear this raspy, corner of the mouth 90’s grunge-evoking style of frontman anymore?

The band themselves are more generic this time, with the guitars limited
to a chugging detuned “modern metal” thing that comes off sorta
metalcoreish (especially when our erstwhile frontman starts screaming
like someone stuck a mat of thumbtacks on his favorite chair for a few
bars every now and again) and lunkhead riffed, no real winning choruses,
no nice leads or fancy drumming…just kinda bland and middle of the road
for the style.

Did I hate it? No.

Did I give two shits about it? No.

Is it worth your time?

Do I really have to answer that?

Wrestling – Ride On Freaks (Inverse Records) (September 14)

Really, really weird attempt at recapturing an earlier 80’s traditional to US power metal sound. Vocals at times are straight up sprechtgesang, almost sounding like RuPaul telling the listener “you better work!”, before going helium pitched ala early Portrait or In Solitude. Occasionally, he shoots for an Udo Dirkschneider gargle for a line or two.

The music comes off like Accept crossed with early Rage, possibly with a breath of Heavy Load for good measure. Not quite “speed”, not Euro power metal or NWOBHM, exactly…but sort of a strange mix of American metal circa 1984-6 and the USPM that branched off therefrom as the scene went either thrash (and its offshoots death and black) or followed the more mainstream glam to GNR Hollywood tattooed hard rock before finally coming apart at the seams under the grunge assault of the early 90’s.

You can tell this is another of those tongue in cheek Darkness/Steel
Panther jobs by some of the song titles alone: “kitsch in America”,
“Wrestlemania VI”, even “drunk and alone”. Did I mention the frontman
is a big fat bald guy in a Dracula cape and top hat? Well, OK, I was
amused at that part – I really wanted to like ’em just for going so far
off template there. But even so, tag in the band name with all of that, and
you get the picture that they may not be entirely serious about this.

Some of the riffing is OK…but does it really work?

Nah.

But I was amused, if you want to take that as a win of sorts.

Dark Archive – Morningstar (Inverse Records) (July 20)

Same guys who gave us Cultivate Our Blood in Aeon a few months back have returned with another single, presaging a full length soon to follow.

Nothing’s changed, they still sound like a cut rate Crimson Moonlight circa
Veil of Remembrance.

Next?

Samuli Federley – Lifestream (Inverse Records) (July 20)

Instrumental EP from guitar shredder. For some reason, the mix and production on the best track “waves of sound” is all fucked up, with a sort of plucked sitar and pipa being prominent in the mix, while the guitar and band are buried wayyyy in the back. I’m assuming something went wrong with the label and he sent them the wrong master on this one.

The other track worth hearing, “guitar kungfu” is exactly the opposite, being super loud and in your face. Federley is clearly from the Satriani/Vai school of over-layered guitars with lots of effects processing, but like them, he’s also a decent player, so it’s forgiveable.

“Red horizon” is a pointless ambient track that sounds most akin to a bad
movie trailer, “lifestream” is Enya crossed with electronic nonsense (the
digital stutter thing and pitta-patta drum machine are particularly
egregious)…leaving us with far and away the best track being “waves of
sound”.

Which, as mentioned earlier, is all fucked up in the mix (again, I assume
unintentionally).

(raises eyebrows, shakes head and sighs)

Well, you know which tracks to give a listen to. He’s clearly got talent and
potential.

Just not sure this EP provides the showcase for it.

Bighate – “Hybrid” (Inverse Records) (July 27)

er…

You know, this single kicked off, and that chugging riff and drumbeat got
me all perked up. Okay, it’s another metalcore sort of thing, I’m good
with that, particularly coming off something as mellow-dark as The Eternal
for contrast.

And yeah, the music itself, as in the guitar and drums? Good stuff, I liked
what I was hearing just fine.

So.

Where the fuck did they pick up the crazy witch, and why the hell did they
say, “hey, just for laughs…let’s stick a microphone in Baba Yaga’s face,
and see what happens when we play?”

So.

What you get here is just that – a catchy, melodically inclined, punchy take
on metalcore (or as they’d have it, “melodeath”, which it certainly is not…with some homeless woman puking and emoting weirdly over
the top of it.

umm…yeah. sure.

Well, mi amici, here’s my advice. Huddle closer, shh. Over here, while
she’s busy.

Dump the frontwoman.

Good stuff, if you can stifle your laughter at the bag lady wandering
onstage and grabbing the live mic during the show, Cramps live at Napa
State Mental Institution style.

Revolutio – Vagrant (November 9) (Inverse Records)

Italian modern thrash act, by which we actually mean gargle-growly Euro power metal vox, power metal typewriter drumming, simple chords, short melodic leads, keyboard accompaniment and bombastic choruses.

…um…are you sure this isn’t better referred to as yet another
European power metal act?

oh, and then the entire second half of the album goes all acoustic and
mellow (though some of the tracks do pick up to the usual sound at the
halfway mark).

Yeah, it’s a power metal band with a less than stellar vocalist and
occasional thrashier than the norm riffs amidst all the stock template
genre material.

Fair, unspectacular, stifle a big yawn, what’s next?

Tyrant Disciple – Weight Of Oblivion (Inverse Records) (September 7)

Finnish thrash act.

Silly, but not as bad as usual given the shit I’m hearing nowadays vox; sounds like the guy’s been gargling Yoo-Hoo or something. Here, have some crackers, suck up all that phlegm, make you feel a lot better.

The riffing is punchy and crunchy, owing more to the South American/Teutonic blackthrash end of the spectrum than the more polished Bay Area/UK one, but that’s not a bad thing.

I guess if you’re in the right mood, this’d sound pretty decent, bar the amusing vocals…clearly I wasn’t in that mood today.

Shrug of the shoulders overall, but the guitar tone and some of the riffs are pretty damn decent.

Rylos – Solarworks Pt. 1 (Secret Entertainment) (September 7) 

Holy shit, this is good!

I mean, not even one track finished, and I’m like…man, I really fucking dig
this! Seriously…

Well, things never stay that good for long, and true to form, as soon as the anime/videogame theme song-worthy “unnamed suns” ends,* we’re dropped into the far more mundane territory of “leaving Earth”, which is just sort of…there.

* once again, the last track tends to play first, the way these are being
reviewed in recent months.

Then it’s on to “super duper”, which is a bit more Girlschoolish in drive
and propulsiveness, but still doesn’t come anywhere near that first track.
Afterwards, we’re stuck in the obligatory throwaway midtempo ballad
“celestial”, the moody “meltdown”…”interstellar” comes off somewhere
between Halestorm and The Donnas, but with Matthew Sweet on uppers
working the vocals. “Last days” is sort of AC/DC circa “thunderstruck”
crossed with Euro power metal, another ballad in “place to call home”,
one more middling track and we’re done.

So what happened here? Is this the old 90’s college rock thing, where
you’d have bands with one killer track, and nothing else to back it up?

Here, I’ll give a few concrete examples, which I may have used before –
all involving songs I love to this very day, but which resulted in an album
purchase that can only be rated as “ripoff” (and long since sold off).
Magnavox with “slowly, slowly”, That Dog with “never say never”, The
Pursuit of Happiness with “cigarette dangles”, Urge Overkill with “sister
Havana”…and Rylos with “unnamed suns”. All bands that rate a sum total
of “meh”, but with one track that stands out so far above and beyond the
rest in sheer audio perfection as to boggle the mind how they seemed
wholly incapable of replicating its affect, construction or approach…not to
mention its radio earworm centrality of being.

Guys, honestly. Hats way the fuck off for “unnamed suns”, that track is
absolutely amazing. Seriously, try getting it as a theme song for a
cartoon or something, it’s positively deadly (in a very good sense).

The rest…well, it’s not like they lost the vocalist or changed band
members between that track and the rest, so anything from track 1
through 9 are pretty much even in quality, and that’s at least “listenable
and melodic rock with an indie orientation”.

But that last track…that’s something special.

The Eternal – Waiting for the Endless Dawn (Inverse Records) (August 17) 

Aussie gothic doom act with symphonic elements. They bring in
Midian/Bitter Suites/Nymphetamine-era Cradle of Filth keyboardist Martin
Powell just to show they mean business.

This is the lightest possible end of the gothic/symphonic doom
spectrum, with vocals that go so clean and multitracked at points as to
sound modern Nashville (“I lie in wait”) and an overall approach that
aligns the band far closer to gothic metal acts like Delain or Nemesea
than it ever does, say, My Dying Bride or My Silent Wake.

It’s entirely listenable, generally depressive and lumberingly slow, but is it
really that dark, even compared to something like Warning, much less the
more traditional or death/doom likes of Candlemass or Ahab?

Not bad at all, will certainly stick in your head after it ends. But is it really
doom, even at the more syncretistically gothic/symph end of that
spectrum?

Well…no, probably not.

But did I like it well enough?

Oh, yeah. Definitely.

Cronaxia – Collapsing The Outer Structure (Lusitanian Music) (September 7)

Yet another modern death metal attempting to be Morbid Angel, and only making plain thereby just how unique an entity the Floridians actually were back in the double “A”s through “C”.

Now, if you were to ask me, hey, would you rather ten thousand shitty up and coming hopefuls slavishly copycat Suffocation, the post-Spiritual Healing Death or Morbid Angel, you’d get a really fast and easy answer: fuck the “brutal death” and “tech death”, and give me those Morbid wannabes.

But does that make these guys in any way special, original, unique or with something to offer that makes one track sound in any way different from the one prior and the one subsequent?

Nah, sorry.

About the best I can offer is that “the core condition” (and to a lesser extent, “dimension radio”) offers just a vague hint of Voivod influence as well.

Listenable, definitely. But much like hotel wallpaper is to the eyes, it’s yawn inducingly so.

Night Club – Scary World (August 24)

Well, here’s something I wasn’t expecting to come across the virtual desk…but I’m glad it did, actually.

I’ve never heard of this L.A. duo, but picture a pointedly feminist Aqua (check out the lyrics to the title track) gone all gothicized-dark EDM…or maybe vaguely industrialized electro-lazerpunk of some sort. Who the hell knows, these days.

Now, there wasn’t any real background info dropped in the promo materials, so I took a quick look around, and discovered something else: saucy little girl-voiced frontwoman Emily Kavanaugh is the wannabe Stateside version of Tomoko “Tommy Heavenly6” Hayase.

Yeah, good luck, there. Somehow I doubt you’ll catch the musical versatility (cough Brilliant Green cough Tommy February6 cough) or that you’re in Mensa too. No offense, but I seriously doubt the latter, from what I’m seeing and hearing here…

That said.  What this means to you:

Do you like dance music? Specifically the more industrial/electronic end of the equation? OK. Now are you more inclined to the darker, more gothic spectrum look and approach to life? You’re almost there.

Now do you like the weird Japanese take on gothic? You know, everything from that silly maid “gothic lolita” thing to Hayase’s Tim Burton-derivation take on tough goth girl, all skulls with bows and bright colored Coraline doll stripe stockings, etc., etc.?

Then you’re the perfect audience for Night Club.

I’m biased. Even beyond my own personal affiliation with both the original UK (as much as you can be as a young ‘un Stateside) and the later mid-90’s mostly US based revival gothic rock scenes, my wife and I have further been fans of Hayase and her hubby (who often co-writes and handles guitar duties on her various bands and projects) since the first Brilliant Green album dropped back around ’98…and the gothic/punk of the later arising Tommy Heavenly6 in particular.

Now, this doesn’t sound anything like her work (well, possibly a darker variant of her candy floss 80’s synthpop project Tommy February6), but the videos I skimmed seemed to be pulling from a surprisingly similar aesthetic ballpark…and honestly, “barbie girl” and possibly Garbage aside, there’s nothing else I’ve paid any attention to whatsoever that sounds very much like the dark yet chipper, sing-songy “cute little girl with a knife” electronic pop Night Club is working.

So again. I may be biased. And make no mistake, this goes pretty far afield of the sort of thing we generally cover here.

But I liked this one quite a bit, actually.

FACTION SENESTRE – Civilization EP (July 14)

One of the guys from Sektarism takes part in this side project, one 25 minute track of “ritualistic” tranciness somewhere between Tibetan prayer bells and singing bowls and the Blue Man Group. “Your civilization is in peril, I predict you will run away” seems to be the big mantra being thrown down and repeated ad nausaeum. In French.

Pointless, but as these bad trip trance meditation ambient jobs go, we’ve covered much, much worse…at least this one holds vague pretentions of being artsy fartsy and not just the usual ooga booga bullshit.

  

SKÁLD – S/T EP (Decca Records / Universal Music Publishing France) (JULY 20)

This is a French Skald, not the Swedish one. As such, there’s no substantive info floating around about them, other than that there are three tracks and three members, presumably from Normandy,* obsessed with Viking history (yep, French Vikings…)
 

*I’ve since been informed that’s not the case…

It’s more of a Van Canto-esque vocal harmony thing than a proper “band”, but there are some traditional instruments and some electronic ones backing up the vox (two guys, one girl).

It’d be great background music for a Renaissance Faire, or maybe to break up all that Enya and Kitaro at some hipster yoga class.

That’s about all I can say about it, other than that it’s trancey and listenable.


DIRTY RAVEN – Rust For Blue EP (September 28)

Stoner rock with Britpop to grunge influences.  It’s like Red Fang, Kyuss, Bush and Supergrass (possibly with a hint of early Weezer to boot) all had a circle jerk, and poof!  Out came their bizarro lovechild Dirty Raven.

I mean, hell, I write this and go looking for some background, and here’s straight from their Facebook page:

“Artists we like: Foo Fighters…Queens of the stone age…Red Fang, Fu Manchu…Nirvana…Mastodon”

So yeah, you kind of know what to expect.  Riffs are heavy, vox are somewhere between the light and high (Rivers Cuomo) to the raspy and grungy (Gavin Rossdale, Dave Grohl), you can interpret the playing style either way, with those basic barre chords and sludgy, punkish but midtempo to slow sound running throughout.

It’s melodic, heavy and works well enough, particularly if you like some or all of the aforementioned…just not sure how much it’ll appeal to the more hardcore stoner crowd, with all that grunge and 90’s vibe predominating.

Me?  I was good with this, yeah.

DROP DEAD – Mayhem Inc. (August 31)

Somewhere between Lies-era Guns & Roses and a throatier, more countrified take on Jackyl or Junkyard, but with corner of the mouth yowling and drawling vox more common to 90’s “alternative” bands like Hootie & the Blowfish or the whisper-drawl of Dave Matthews.

Most interesting thing here is that they hail from France – not a nation
you’d associate with this sort of crotch-grabbing Aerosmith/Hanoi Rocks
derived retro-“dirtbag metal” cock rock.

Playing is solid enough, the sound is very in your face (picture Circus
O’Power with Slash or Tracii Guns on guitar, trying to cover Bon Scott-era
AC/DC, and you’ll get the general vibe) and it’s definitely listenable, even
worthy of cranking on those long summer drives with the top down.

But it’s kind of fucking weird, when you think about all this shit
mashed together like that…

oh, well. It works, let’s leave it at that.

ENEMY OF THE ENEMY – Vultures EP (October 12)

Okay, actual reactions. The quirky riff and tribal savage chants that open
“unit 731” already had me with one eyebrow raised, Belushi-style,
crinkling my nose and sneering…then Cookie Monster got on the mic,
and I burst out in a torrent of actual, out loud laughter.

And I don’t mean the usual outsider assessment of death metal as
having Cookie Monster style vocals…this fucking guy sounds just like
Frank Oz or whoever has done the voice of Cookie Monster for many a
decade now.

Then comes “clock you”, and it’s all Anselmo-derivation aggro scream
and puke your tonsils out bullshit over a sort-of thrash riff, tribal drumming
and hip hop chanting, which breaks down into a decidedly Kornlike
middle eight. At this point, I’m shaking my head in disbelief, particularly
with lyrics like “time to fuck your motherfucking…” I think he’s saying
“clock”, but it comes off sounding like “daughter”, which makes this even
funnier…

OK, same shit on “renegade”, complete with multiple uses of the word
“fuck” inside of the first verse. I’m done here.

I’m actually still shaking my head and laughing with a disbelieving grin on
my face, writing this…too ridiculous and unintentionally hilarious to add to
the Pile of Dead Bards.

Next?

SUMMER STORM – First (September 28)

Prog rockers (in the traditional “classic rock” sense) out of France. Axe slinger Patrice Vigier is apparently a professional class luthier, with customers ranging from the likes of Sabbath and Deep Purple to the more meticulous and impressive likes of Stanley Jordan.

Of course, the fact that you can build a quality instrument doesn’t necessarily translate to playing skills, and this more or less seems to be the case here, with the most impressive tracks being the Angus Young “thunderstruck” like “introduction” and the vaguely Hendrix/Stevie Ray Vaughn toned “free days”…the rest barely seems prog, much less the sort of top tier playing ability listeners expect when you start slinging the prog label around.

That said, they’re above your average bar band blues rockers in skill and sound, for whatever that’s worth…but you also lose the fieriness that even some Tom Petty and Journey covering act may deliver on a good night. It’s pretty dry.

Nah, I wasn’t very impressed, though I admit, I’m not sure how much of this sort of thing is big around France…this may be the best they have to offer at the moment in terms of “classic” or traditional “prog rock”, who the hell knows.

Whatever. Next?

Lelahell – ALIF (Metal Age Productions) (June 15)

Algerian death metal.

I’ll pause so you can let that sink in.

Yep, that Algeria, sandwiched between Morocco and Libya on the
North African coast. Like Elvis in Harem Scarem: desert sands,
bedouins, the whole schtick.*

* yeah, I have no fucking clue if that’s even true to life anymore, I’ve never
been there, have you?  Sounds good, though…

And sure enough, the two members that hide behind pseudos cull those
from the same playbook I’m throwing at ya: “Ramzi Curse” and “Slave
Blaster” are your drum & bass (in reverse order just for the hell of it). So
if nothing else, you know they’ve got the same weird sense of humor…

It’s tech death, complete with a guest performance from
Obscura/Necrophagist drummer Hannes Grosmann…so you know it’s not
my idea of death metal (sorry, you know I’m from the old school, before
all this shit got xeroxed and put in all these little boxes)…therefore I’ll try
to keep this one a bit more objective than usual (sigh).

Beyond all the high speed tremelo riffing and blastbeats, one thing you’ll
notice is the production, which is quite well done. The vox suit the sound,
no complaints there, and while it’s not my idea of good playing (being
essentially soulless and one note: “I’m so ANGRY!!!!!!” it screams…), it’s
clear the guy is technical and precise, so good on ya.

Apparently the band is working some ongoing concept with their albums,
about the birth and childhood of “Abderrahmane”. Had to look that one
up, and guess what? Yeah, it means nothing whatsoever, it’s just an
Arabic first name. Might as well have called it “Pete, Part II”.

Not sure what else to offer here. Tech death fans may find this
absolutely amazing…or just plain typical of the type. Not being a fan of
the subgenre, I can’t really say.

But what I can say is that the production’s very good, the vox didn’t piss
me off and suited the sound, and the playing, while chilly, was fast and
precise.

Support the guy if you want to see a Pete, Part III.

Ominous Eclipse – Sinister (September 14)

Right-minded tech death (with elements of melodeath) act out of Ottawa.

Lyrics aren’t everything, but when a band comes out with a dead on
statement like this, you have to raise an eyebrow and nod with
appreciation:

“(the album) addresses the ignorance and selfishness of (modern
humanity)…It has a strong “United We Stand, Divided We Fall” theme in
regards to how people can turn their backs on those in need in order to
save their own skin, which ironically will lead to our (mutually assured
destruction) as it causes people to turn on each other.”

Holy shit, they just explained exactly what this maelstrom of interrelated
events marking the collapse of modern/Western civilization across the
globe is all about, at core…who knew they’d wind up being so profound,
intentionally or no?

That aside, the band didn’t make that much of an impression. I did like
“eye of the raven”, which bore a more straightforward, consonant,
melodeath-ish vibe, but most of the album leans more aggressive tech,
all speedy stuttering riffs that go nowhere and dual belch/shriek-snarl vox.

Only the lead breaks and a few scattered acoustic intros make any real
musical sense – closest they come to anything I’d consider proper death
metal of any sort (beyond the aforementioned track) is “breaking the
chains” (no, not the Dokken song).

Are they a lousy band? No, I’m sure if this sort of crazily busy, aimlessly
circular nonsense is your thing, you’ll find this just as good as other of
your favorites. They can play, as the solo sections attest, and the
production, while not exactly top notch, is more than acceptably clean
and powerful.

But did I like this?

Sorry to say, but despite the earlier business about the lyrics (which yes,
I did appreciate)?

Not in the least.

Tornado – Commitment To Excellence (Extreme Metal Music / Rockshots Records) (August 31)

OK, as readers of recent Roundups probably know, the way I’m reviewing these albums of late tends to drop the last track before the first

Gives an interesting perspective on a band, starting on the closer…often turns out to be the best track on the album, to leave the listener wanting more (and thus either a replay or to dig deeper into the band’s catalogue).

Well, not sure about that here, but it was interesting to hear the line “just can’t live in a world full of hate, where the color of your skin, your sexual orientation, where your very being, your very existence could get you killed? No, thank you.”

wowza.

And then you hear the lyrics to “global pandemic”, which I won’t reprint
here…but suffice to say, they need to be heard now more than ever.

Like I said…damn.

Well, these guys do appear to be a modern thrash act, and the US
version of same, however some may wish it rebranded otherwise, was
always about social involvement and a nigh-anarchist well to the Left
leaning orientation. And let’s just sum it up by saying, the riffing isn’t the
only thing that feels “true” about Tornado…about time we heard
something like this again.

The band throws down riffs that often sound cribbed from Vio-Lence or
Exodus, but there’s also a broader focus to tracks like “thorugh
difficulties to victory” that suggests a similar immersion in the likes of
Forbidden, earlier Testament and Atrophy. While they still come off
feeling too...modern for my taste, they’ve got a hell of a lot of the
classic thrash template right, and certainly a lot more than most bands of
their ilk these days. Nod of respect for even getting that close to
grabbing yourselves a cigar.

Interestingly, they cover (of all backwards-leaning if hilarious acts) S.O.D.
here…but it makes more sense when you see it’s “united forces”, not,
say, “speak English or die” (much less the even more hilariously over the
top material that comprises Milano’s subsequent USA for M.O.D.)

Yeah, I liked what I was hearing here.

It’s high time to put an end to this “global pandemic” already. Maybe
bands like this turning up marks something of a turn back towards the
right direction.

 

TYMO – Purge & Reset (August 19)

Overdramatic vocals with a lot of rasp. Reminds me a hell of a lot of Dave DeFeis, who’s coming up surprisingly often this month for some reason…don’t ask me, I just respond to what I get sent to review. Must be a lot of Virgin Steele fanboys among the current batch…

The band themselves are more punchy thrash with throatily toned guitars and a drum sound that comes off like And Justice For All era Metallica.

Yeah, that was their jump the shark album, only had a pair of B-side covers and “blackened” worth a damn to its credit…but could do worse, I guess. And no, I can’t hear the bass here either, but how often do you in rock and metal?

That’s probably the bottom line here – a less blowhard, far less heads so far up their own asses they can see daylight Metallica circa Justice.

Like the original album this seems to be aping (and to a far lesser extent,
post-Jack Starr Virgin Steele), I was OK with it, yeah.

You could do a lot worse, that’s for damn sure.

Weed Demon – Astrological Passages (Electric Valley Records) (July 27)

Fairly template stoner doom, with elements of Sleep, Electric Wizard and even Conan rubbing shoulders between bong hits.

The bass is throatier than usual (check out “jettisoned”), which makes
those riffs even fatter and pyramid block-heavier than any dozen similarly
minded acts you could name, to the point where you don’t mind the
saminess from track to track (which at times makes you wonder if this
weren’t just one long jam in the same tempo and key, artificially divided
into four ala Dopesmoker/”Jerusalem”.)

This was just plain heavy, bro. As a lifelong devotee of the heavy
riff (I was a Celtic Frost fan back when being one was decidedly not the cool thing to do…), you already know I was good with this.

 

Degrave – S/T (July 27)

Oy, this is more of what I’ve come to expect from the modern thrash
scene. Riffs that sorta do and sorta don’t get it, mediocre to hissy-poor
production and of course, shrieky vocals that would never have passed
muster back in the day.

Well, OK, there were a handful of shitty bands like Living Death, but that’s why nobody ever heard of or cared about them, kids…

Yeah, this simply didn’t work for me on any level. Maybe with another
frontman and better production, but nah.

Crucible of Hate – Dark Metamorphis  (September 15)

Weirdly inclined death/aggro act.

Riffs come off sort of death metallish, but there’s just as much of a Pantera aggro/groove thing going on, which just comes off…pointlessly bizarre, particularly given the nigh-total absence of hooks of any sort.

Drumming is very four on the snare, almost like a super slow blastbeat, and just as annoying given its prominence in the mix. Vox are horrible, all snotty sounding snarls and gargling of phlegm.

Yeah, sorry, this just sucks.

Void Ritual – Death Is Peace (Ipos Music) (August 3)

Bedroom black metal out of Albuquerque, NM.

Has definite moments of worth, like the mournful lead lines of “loss (pt. 1)” which is interesting since there is no fucking “(pt. 2)”, and it’s nice to see that all revenue generated by this album goes to a sort of Shelter Our Sisters for Native American women. Nice touch, unexpected.

I guess you could compare this to a folkier Norwegian act, given the bounciness of the lead lines…”given unto the water” comes off like a cross between Taake and Gorgoroth, with “death is peace” leaning closer to the former as processed through vintage Hades.

“The howling darkness” feels a touch Dark Funerallike, but as if they’d swapped members with Tsjuder. “A sunless dawn” almost feels Finnish, with its lighter tone and more melodic, less folkish lead lines.

Was it some new savior, hearkening to a sharp reversal of the long decline of black metal per se? No way.

But is it a pretty damn decent release, reminiscent of some decent bands and going towards a good cause?

Yep.

Due respect.

Stormland – Songs of Future Wars (August 3)


OK, we all know that one man can make passable to good black metal, right out of his own house, all by his lonesome.

Death metal? Not so much.

And that’s the core problem with Stormland, a BC-based one man band who’s apparently releaed 3 albums over the last 15 years.

Damn. Averaged out, that makes 5 years apiece.

5 whole years, wasted like that.

Lousy shout/puked vocals, overly distorted (crunchy yet thin sounding) guitars, blastbeat drumming…I think he wants to be Disincarnate, but it’s just not working.

Granted, the vox are a real millstone around the project’s neck.

But it still just kinda blows.

Next?

Krakow – minus (Karisma Records) (August 31)

er…what is this supposed to be, exactly?

Some sort of post-something or other, that’s about all you can say with
assurance.

Swedish act, very hipsterish with all the clean ambient bits and Mazzy
Star gone modern indie rock vibe, but then they throw in a bit of a spacey
feel, a bit more of a grunge-sludge one, a few phrases of aggro screamo
vox, and somehow landed Motorhead’s Phil Campbell to throw down a
wholly inappropriate rock solo in the middle of it.

say huh?

…yeah, I don’t get it.

There’s got to be an audience for this…but I’m not it.

Tongue Eating Louse – Voidwalker (Sludgelord Records)

More like tongue swallowing atonal screamo act.

Put about 45 minutes worth of BLEEAAAHHHH WAAAHHH
GYEEEAAAAAAAAAHH! vox over the top of irritating dissonance “riffs”
that fall somewhere between the worst corners of the black metal world,
the grungiest corners of the sludge scene and the doofiest end of
Korn-style nu metal, chop it into 3 12-18 minute tracks, and bam, you’ve
got yourself a hit*.

* orry, forgot a letter. What wa it? Oh, yeah. An “S”.

WHIZZZ!!!!

Watch that Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards flare. Treetops are practically
bursting into flame here…

Next?

Hessian – Mercenary Retrograde (Urtod Void) (September 14)

Quirky 70’s/early 80’s heavy rock/proto-metal with weird vocals.

I guess you could see some inspiration from the NWOBHM and sort of
related “outsider” acts like Heavy Load or even (at a stretch) early Manilla
Road in the never less than interesting but not quite right riffing, but how
the fuck do you explain those vocals?

I mean, seriously – even listening to a lot of old USPM and the sort of
“epic metal” vocal oddness of bands like Brocas Helm and the
aforementioned, this guy Angus McFarland sounds like he’s fucking with
you. If this were in the early to mid 80’s, you could suss him out as being
a punk rock holdover – hell, if they’d covered The Dickies’ “manny, moe
and jack”, no one would be any the wiser…

Come on, he’s even got a song saying “I am the leg puller”. Seriously.

Weird, weird band. I kind of enjoyed the strangeness of it and the retro
vibe of the riffing…but those sub-David Johansen vocals have got to go,
man…

No Gods – Paradise (July 13)

You know, not looking at the promo photo, you could easily picture some goober in a hat to da back red MAGA cap, still dressed in greasy gas station mechanic togs, screaming and gargle-shouting at you over these hyper-aggro “modern thrash” riffs. That’s exactly what frontman and rhythm guitarist Joey Torelli sounds lke here…

Well, they’re from Bethlehem, PA, so you can picture them being both a
bit backwoods and seriously pissed off at being stuck in a declining Steel
Town, USA…it’s kind of like how Buffalo, NY spawned so many pissed
off to the point of psychotic death metal bands back in the day. Nurture
and environment over nature, as they say…

Well, the music’s too aggro for my taste, but it’s the “vokills” that really
sink (or perhaps more to the point, “kill” this one…even when they
go full on Nuclear Assault for a track like “baptism”.

Not the worst you’ve heard, were we to judge them solely on the
instrumental portions of the mix.

Spacetrucker – Smooth Orbit (August 17)

Stoner meets Mushroomhead/Kriadiaz-style act out of Missouri.

There’s a lot of overdistorted Southern-style groove to this, all simplistic,
grunge to sludgelike riffs doubled by the bass and half followed, half
complemented by the thundering Bonhamlike drums.

Vox are sort of bluesy, but gravelly, very much befitting the grungelike
approach the band takes.

Never cared for grunge, myself. Badmotorfinger was about as far as I
ever ventured into that territory, actually spent the 90’s discovering and
exploring in depth all sorts of odd music from ’round the world, across
genres and from the early part of the century through the (then) present
just to avoid grunge, aggro and all that Lilith Fair and gangsta rap
bullshit that was the order of the day.

So no, this wasn’t horrible for the type…but no, it didn’t do a damn thing
for me, either.

Anisoptera – Spawn of Odonata (September 14)

um…yeah.

This is billed as “progressive death metal”. Well, at points, you can hear
the proggy elements, so they’re right about that much.

But the atonality, dual vocalled scream-puking and focus on sheer
atonality seems more atonal black metal inspired with the addition of
aggro vox.

A few phrases that almost sound death metallish appear every now and
again (“aerial predator” seemed hopeful for a few bars, before going all
to shit once again), but bottom line? It’s just a jumble of unrelated riffs
and noise effects with occasional clean prog breaks…

…or to cut right to the heart of the matter, it’s just one big atonal, amelodic
mess.

INCOMING! DUCK AND COVER!

SWHISH!!!!

Damn, that Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards is never going to run out of fuel,
I tell ya…

Next?

Hypnos – Set Fire to the Sky (The Sign Records) (September 28)

Damn. This one kicked off (for me) with closer “slutet”, a Sad Wings-era
Priest or Lonesome Crow-era Scorpions style mellow psychedelic rocker
with a sting in the tail that recharged the ol’ batteries after reviewing a
whopping seven abject stinkers in a row (must be a new record…)

Better? That was no anomaly. One track after the next, filled with “occult
rock”-style retro-70’s acid rock, sounding like it came straight out of 1974
or thereabouts. It’s done so right, you practically have to pinch
yourself to remind that it’s a brand spanking new band and release.

Perfect vocals for the style, solos even more dead on than those of
noted retro-perfectionist Nicke Andersson, riffs and drumming on point,
even the production bears that “dry” analog feel.

No two ways about this one, mon decision est i-re-vo-cable, to quote
Mme. Bardot.

Loved it, loved it, loved it.

More, please.

Skraeckoedlan – Äppelträdet (The Sign Records)

Billed as “science fiction fuzz rockers”, this is a reissue of a strangely grungified Swedish take on the Kyuss school of stoner rock, all super fat riffs with guitars that sound like bass on the throaty single note runs and barely awake, corner of the mouth vocals that turn into depressive Thurston Moorelike declamations (punctuated by a call and response with Telly the muppet from Sesame Street on tracks like “soluppgang” for no apparent reason whatsoever).

Wasn’t bad at all. A bit odd, and I don’t get the “SF fuzz rock” designation – one or two track titles aside, nothing about this said “space” or “sci fi”. Maybe if you speak Swedish, that part may make more sense…who the fuck knows.

Stoner rock that goes more grunge than usual, but this one’s still good by me.

Bast – Nanoångström (Black Bow Records) (November 23)

Something’s very wrong when a band starts off sounding kinda doomy,
then goes all black metal for no apparent reason whatsoever.

Now, before I just dump this one in the metaphorical circular file that is
the Pile (Flaming Pyre) of Dead Bards, I should note that at least the
black metal riffage is prone to Finnish-school melodic lead lines
(particularly on the album’s best track, “far horizons”) and that the actual
doom elements here…well, aren’t as pronounced as you’d expect
(though moments of “a red line through black” go funeral doom enough
to recall the earliest efforts of Ahab.)

But the aggro screamo vox that go all gargle throated trucker trash, depending on what verse or bridge you’re listening to? Yeah, those just plain suck, regardless.

You can’t say they don’t have moments of definite promise scattered throughout. But as with black-slash-whatever or blackened-fill in the blank as a whole (classic blackened thrash aside), it’s another case of entirely disparate elements being mixed together and fucking the works, like pouring sesame oil all over a pizza.

Or perhaps more pointedly, like someone shitting on an expensive steak and serving it to dinner guests. “Ain’t it a taste sensation?” they ask, and all the fanboys nod in an all too typical sycophancy.

No thanks, I’ll pass.

Maybe next time, just without the “special sauce”.

Flummox – Intellectual Hooliganism (Wood and Stone Productions) (September 7)

Are you a big fan of Mike Patton? You know, Faith No More, Mr. Bungle, the whole deal. Maybe throw in a dash of Unexpect, Tourniquet and the crazy world music syncretism of Trollfest for good measure?

If so, then you’ll probably not find yourself very flummoxed by…er, Flummox, a weird Tennessee act that likes to play dressup (check out that promo collage) and includes a distaff stunner (Parker Lampley) who handles such unorthodox instrumentation as “flutes, theremin and kazoo”.

Yeah, at its most aggressive (the surgical Trump evisceration that is
“rape culture”, for example), they sound just like Psycho Surgery-era
Tourniquet, while more middle of the road (for them!) material evokes
more of a Patton feel.

Normally, when confronted with something Pattonesque, I’d give it a
quick toss into the Pile of Dead Bards. But notice something – who came
up as comparisons here?

That’s right…Trollfest, who the wife and I fell for after a hilarious show with Alestorm and enjoyed enough to bring on the podcast thereafter. And Tourniquet…well, I can’t say I’m exactly a fan, but I did have a cassette of Psycho Surgery that got a reasonable amount of play back around release, so again…this is a lot more familar, not to mention consonant, than anything Patton’s ever been involved with.

Make no mistake – this is too weird and indie-feeling for my tastes.

But I honestly didn’t hate this one, like both you and yours truly would expect to have done.

Bizarre, “outsider art”…but OK. I accept this. Hell, they’d probably be a
fun live act to catch next time they come to town.

Lydia Laska – Ego Death (Edged Circle Productions) (October 5)

Norwegian act that cops equal measures Todd Rundgren and 90’s indie, all stoned, vaguely Beatlesesque harmonies and overly busy multitrack production matched with sloppily punkified guitar solos.

It ain’t Matthew Sweet by a longshot, but if you think somewhere between that, Dinosaur Jr. and Britpop, you may get a general idea of what to expect here.

Wasn’t exactly set afire by this, but it’s quirky and likeable enough to become a bit of a sleeper album.

Traitors Gate – Fallen (No Remorse Records) (May 25)

British one EP NWOBHM act reunites and delivers something more akin to (US style) power metal.

Amazingly, three of the original members are still present and accounted for, despite their sole prior three track release hailing from wayyyyy the hell back in 1985.

The only newcomer is frontman Sy Davies, who delivers an appropriately
Rob Halfordesque tonality to their midtempo vintage-style heavy rockers.
The riffs feel a tad lifeless, but the sound is certainly right (which the
overly dry production likely helps) and for gents of their age
demographic, this is more aggressive than you’d have any right to
expect.

If you’re hankering for something falling in some heretofore unexplored
no man’s land between Sin After Sin through Point of Entry-era Priest and
the more melodic likes of Axis, Traitor’s Gate should fill the bill
admirably.

Inner Axis – We Live By The Steel (Fastball Music) (September 22)

European power metal straight outta Kiel, Germany.

Once again, there’s a bit of a noticeable Halford influence on frontman Kai Hagemann, while the band crosses the likes of, say, Brainstorm with the earlier, crunchier riffing style of countrymen like Rage, Gravestone or even Warrant (no, not the Jani Lane glamsters).

It was a bit too modern and Helloween-school to work for me
100%, but there are enough killer vintage Teutonic speed metal
influences to be found in tracks like “all is one”, “blades of death” and
even “red dead” to keep this old schooler in high spirits.

Promising debut…well, sophomore album, if you count a debut already
seven whole years old now…from these, er, “newcomers”.

A bit generic? Perhaps.

But I liked ’em, definitely.

HANZEL UND GRETYL – SATANIK GERMANIK (Metropolis Records) (July 6)

Okay, I get a good laugh out of Grimm’s fairy tales.

You know, not the bowlderized bullshit Disney types pander to their safe space kids with happy endings and sugar plums and gumdrops at every turn, but the real deal, when the brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm set out to preserve the fading oral tradition of children’s tales passed down through the ages.

Now, most people know of the actual, far darker endings and more adult
themes many of these tales have in their unreconstructed versions, but
the ones I always found most hilarious were the likes of “the owl”, “clever
Else” and “clever Hans”, where lazy stupid asses and morons fuck things
up royally, causing surprising retaliation and comeuppance to themselves
(or in the case of The Owl, the sheer superstitious stupidity of the mob
causing loss of property and the death of an innocent animal for no
reason whatsoever!)

These stories aren’t sweet little bedtime tales to give tots pleasant
dreams…they’re absurdist fables designed to keep children in fear and in
line, and to toe the line and obey their elders, lest the big scary world
jump up and sic ’em. BOO!

And yeah, that’s the whole fun of it – the childishly obvious fascism that
lies beneath, the small town bigotry and fear of not only “the other”, but
everything outside their ridiculously tiny sphere of “accepted truth” and
often quite arbitrary mores. One suspects the Brothers Grimm were
making a comment on superstition and paganism, and the sheer amusing
absurdism thereof, so dumb (and yet funny!) are the great majority of
these tales.

So when I see a German industrial act running around in goofy masks
and talking half-assed satanism while calling themselves Hanzel Und
Gretyl, yeah, I’m suspecting some weirdly tongue in cheek affair.

“Evil, menacing and fun” the promo materials would have it…but sadly, I
didn’t actually hear anything fun about this one, the band name
(and evocation of the ridiculous Grimm tales) aside.

Too bad – I was expecting the high camp of a Clever Else and her lazy
ass sleeping in the cornfield until she winds up homeless, or Clever Hans
fucking up getting beer from the wine cellar…not to mention the mass
idiocy on display in “the owl” (which might as well describe the world in
2018, with the whole Trump support base and Brexiteers only the most
glaring examples thereof).

Sadly, what we get here is just another half assed industrial act, trying to
be all satanic and black metallish.

Snore.

Next?

   

Quintessente – Songs From Celestial Spheres (May 5th)

Wow, apparently this Brazilian act really have a hard time getting their shit together…we’re told that they have “a history that goes all the way back to 1994”, and yet they haven’t released a debut album until last year.

At its most laid back and proggy (“matronae gaia”), they come off practically The Giant-era Ahab, which is a damn good compliment to be paying…but then they get all techy and snarly-aggro on vox with tracks like “belief of the mind slaves”, and flip between burping “death metal”, snarling “black metal” and pleasant, feminine clean vocals at the more metalcorelike bridge section on “delirium” and the bulk of the more Euro-symphonic “a sort of reverie”.

So what are Quintessente really trying to be? A European symphonically inclined power metal act with prog inclinations? The more gothic doom (if still somewhat proggy) feel of “matronae gaia” and “essente”? Or the snarling and belching faux-black metal to tech death of tracks like “eyes of forgiveness” or “mind slaves”?

The fact that they can’t seem to decide who they want to be, contrary to apparent popular belief, actually limits their appeal and future potential reach.

I’d stick to what works (the clean singing, both male and female; the
gothic doominess and/or symphonic power approach) and dump the shit
that doesn’t (the more blackened, techy parts, the hilariously bad growly
and snarly vox).

Looks like 20 plus years weren’t enough time to bring the band sufficient focus.

A cleaner, more finely honed Quintessente could work wonders.

 

Don’t Disturb My Circles – Lower Canopy EP (Ring Leader / Regulator Records) (September 29)

Portugese aggro cum “modern metal” act.

The fact that they name check Dillinger Escape Plan should say a lot right
off the bat.

Always with the no-talent tonsil rattling screaming and pointless atonal
riffing…doesn’t anyone know how to make fucking music anymore,
metal or otherwise?

Right to the Pile of Dead Bards, eternally flaming Pyre that it is. A
neverending stream of releases like this is why it’ll never burn itself out…

Next?

Hexenklad – Spirit of the Stone (CDN Records) (July 28)

At points, this feels very contemplative, traditionalist/folk oriented and Cascadian, which is nice…

…and then the screamo howls start, and the bombastic Behemoth-school black/death kicks in.

oy.

Whatever. I don’t have time for this, and neither do you. Next?

FLESH HUNTER AND THE ANALASSAULTERS – The Plague (Hammer Of Damnation) (April 21)

Chile has always been known for a particularly nasty, overaggressive take on blackened thrash, ever since the days of Pentagram (not the Bobby Liebling doom act).

So it’s not exactly a surprise to hear yet another speedy, gnarly voiced,
absurdly monikered act working this sort of…Aura Noir with issues? I
guess that’s a way to put it…

There are a few things to like here – the Tom G. Warrior swiped “UGH!”
and relentless double bass intro to “born to be rat”, for example,
particularly when they make sure to throw in an early Tom Araya reach for
that note really hard scream about a minute later.

It still manages to feel a bit one note, though, and not necessarily in an
endearing Sepultura/Vulcano/Sodom/Kreator/Destruction South
American blackthrash manner – for example, “the warrior’s prophecy”
goes straight into Watain territory, which just says snooze time.

Even so, band name aside (seriously? What are you, 12, there,
Beavis?), if you dig the South American sound (and particularly the
nastier Chilean variant thereof), this is more than acceptable, at times
even sounding pretty damn good for the type.

Somali Yacht Club – The Sun +1 (August 17)

We’d covered these mellow Ukranian rockers’ The Sea a little more than half a year back and found it passably stonerish with a dreamily introspective to depressed vibe somewhere between Mazzy Star and Chris Isaak.

The only real change here is that the tracks that do feature actual vocals remind somewhat of a desert rock take on more recent Ahab, all clean, droning, dreamy (or stoned) vocals over droning, semi-psychedelic but more pointedly stonerish riffing and drumming. It’s all pretty damn laid back, but with that Kyuss to CoC spectrum “bite”.

Most tracks run 8-10 minutes, so you get the general idea.

I liked the last one. I think I liked this one even more.

Sepulcher – Panoptic Horror (Edged Circle Productions) (September 14)

We’d covered these Norwegians’ Mausoleum Tapestry about 3 years back and found the riffing enjoyably traditionalist for death metal, but the vocals inappropriate and just barely tolerable in combination thereto.

Here, it sounds like they mixed those vox right up front and center, pushing all riffing and drumming decidedly behind. Tag in some inappropriate blastbeat sections with stuttering double bass (the close of “corporeal vessels”) and even occasional straight up Slayer riffs (“towards an earthly rapture”) can’t quite save ’em.

The usual verdict with situations like this. Namely? Guys, time for a band
meeting…time to dump the “vocalist”, so you can climb the ladder of
success (well, OK, let’s be honest, here…scene acclaim.

Geez, I know there’s a lot of bands out there…but you have to audition these guys before putting ’em in front of a mic…

Frust – Elements (June 2)

Black metal bedroom act/one man band.

At times he throws down “riffs” that sound like a kid just learning the
damn guitar (check out around the 2 minute mark of “earth”), at others he
goes full on modern school black metal (i.e. boring) as on “fire”.

Lots of shrieking and snarling, alternating moments cribbed from a “relax
with nature” tape with that sort of overly busy noise and questionable
riffing.

Yeah, hardly the worst the genre has to offer, but I didn’t care for this one
at all.

Tangled Thoughts of Leaving – No Tether (July 6)

Weird (modern) movie soundtrack ambient with piano and spacey feeling drone bits, appended by a lot of foley work and inappropriately busy prog drumming.

No idea what they were thinking here, particularly when things collapse to
the point of sounding psychedelic Beatlesesque (the midsection of the
appropriately titled “binary collapse”)

Weird.

Next?

DEPHOSPHORUS – Impossible Orbits (7 Degrees Records) (September 21)

We’d previously covered these Greeks’ Impossible Orbits a year back, and found their discussion and conceptual approach fascinating, even laudable…but their sound abominable.

I believe I’d phrased it “random shrieks, atonal riffs, a whole lot of relentless, aimless noise.”

Yeah. Nothing’s changed.

Next?

  

Destroyer Attack – Solve Et Coagula (Morbid Skull Records) (July 13)

Now these Ecuadorians do blackthrash right.

No fucked up, inappropriate vocals, no weird shit mixed in as if oil and water belonged together…just straight up death metallish vox of the Max Cavalera variety over evil sounding, sorta Slayer inspired Teutonic to Brazilian blackthrash with hints of first wave black metal riffing.

Drumming is speedy and basic, and yes, there’s a whole lotta blastbeatin’
going on, but the way this is recorded and mixed, it’s far less annoying
than usual, winding up blending into the mix as a sort of neverending
blender making a smoothie white noise that only distinguishes itself with
occasional, welcome ride cymbal work and straight up double bass
footwork.

Damn good. You bet your sweet ass I was on board with this particular
train of destruction.

 

Witchgöat – Umbra Regit (Morbid Skull Records) (July 31)

OK, ready?  Go, Mike Tramp!

“Can you hear me cryin’ out…for the blackthrashers in El Salvador?”

Sure enough, White Lion must have been psychic all those years ago, because this band hails from that very…well, at the time, wartorn Central American nation.

I gather things must have calmed down over the intervening decades, though the sheer vitriol clearly hasn’t, to judge by this blackthrash leaning first wave black metal act, whose virulently snarling and vomit spewing vocalist actually runs one of the better labels of its concentration, namely Morbid Skull Records.

Just a 3 song demo, and it’s pretty raw in style, but there’s enough echo and reverb on here to suggest a deliberate attempt at recapturing that vintage 80’s underground sound…so it really doesn’t sound bad at all, for its type.

Hey, you’d expect the head of a label that seems to know its shit to, well, know his shit, and judging by this brief excursion into the sound of the past, there’s really no surprises to be had in that department.

Blood of Serpents – Sulphur Sovereign (Non Serviam Records) (September 25)

Swedish Norsecore act who really, really wants to be Legion-era Marduk. Or maybe even Tsjuder. Or even Urgehal.

The flurry of blastbeats never slows, much less stops, the riffs are all tremelo and hissy to the point of annoying (the production sucks some serious ass, here) and the vox are snarling and croaking to the point of blurring and blending into this mess of noisy riffing and noisy high speed snare hits.

Once or twice, they slow down to less than breakneck speed for a few bars, and the listener throws up their hands, thanking whatever gods or spirits they prefer that they finally sound like less than ice in a cheap blender…but PSYCH! Right back to it. You didn’t think they bothered to write an actual song or riff progression, did you?

Yeah, whatever. We’ve heard this shit a million times before since the early to mid 90’s, and done (and produced!) far better than this.

The Projectionist – Visits from the NightHag Part 1 (Appalachian Noise Records) (September 30)

Canucklehead black metal.  Less because they’re Canada based, and more because they’re a bunch of knuckleheads…

Amusing photo shoot and cover aside, this strangely monikered act (The Best Boy / Head Grip are having a discount on their split, if anyone’s interested…) feature some seriously snotty gargle snarls on the vocal end.

We could pretty much stop with that, as guitars and drums (bar some hissing, up front cymbals) are buried quite low in the mix…it’s obvious this was the “vocalist”s band and production, because he’s pretty much all you’re going to hear…

Yeah, there’s a few black metal acts out there that try to be extra weird and spooky, from more “established” acts like Gloomy Grim to bizarro up and comers like Cultes des Ghoules, so it’s not like you haven’t trod this ground before…

…it just sounded a whole hell of a lot better than this does.

Not awful, by any stretch, given the increasingly obvious limitations of the black metal genre…but while listenably strange, it’s nothing to write home about, that’s for sure.

Kvlt Of Eblis – Templo de la Serpiente Negra (Morbid Skull Records) (August 31)

Colombian black metal act. The vox are reeeeeally nasty sounding, as in snarly-“evil”. I’m betting there’s a woman on the mic, it has that thin, piercing sort of tonality that you only really get with femme snarl and growlers.

The music is pretty damn basic, which leaves it sounding somewhat first wave, but mostly South American blackthrash inspired, like a less thrash-oriented Bestial Holocaust (note: another female on the mic, there).

While there’s something to be said for “basic and naive”, the one annoying part of the equation is…you guessed it, the drumming. D.D. Crazy has nothing on this guy, POUNDPOUNDPOUNDPOUND 16 snare hits to the bar, all stiff necked slow blastbeats throughout.  Geez, just handcuff the guy to the drum stool, already…stick to the footwork, buddy, you’re more than respectable at that

Him aside, yeah, this was old school and primitive enough to bring back teenage memories of the days when bands like Bathory, Venom, Possessed and Death were still considered “thrash”, before entire subgenres of the likeminded (and eventually sorry copycats) rose up in their wake…

Shitty drumming aside, I liked this one quite a bit, for the type.

Kapil Seshasayee – A Sacred Bore (Loner Noise) (September 14)

You know, if The Residents’ regular pal Snakefinger were more of a mellow dude and tended to lean more dobro to folk, you’d have heard something a whole fuck of a lot like Kapil Seshasayee decades ago.

Weird, experimental atonal playing with the instrument and jagged, half finished riffs accompanied by ambient bits, random electronic noises and some folky business, only somewhat alleviated by a few more…well, “traditional” is not the word, but more “classically composed” songs with vocals, that just come off laid back and indie.

Apparently this one’s all about the Indian caste system (yes, it still exists – couldn’t believe how the darker Pakistani would never seem to associate with the lighter Northerners, or how the Hindi wouldn’t hang with the Muslim or Catholic members of the large Desi contingent on the old job. It’s sadly real…).

So hey, if saying this is worth a listen will help a nation to get with the program and grow the fuck up already (something that almost sounds ironic in the age of Trump and Brexit…), then sure, check him out.

At the very least, it’s interestingly strange.

Ennui – End of the Circle (Non Serviam Records) (September 5)

Funeral doom out of Georgia.  As in Eastern Europe, not as in Duke boys territory (cue Waylon Jennings!).

Three tracks running 20m to over a half hour apiece, with nary a single sepulchral vocal until the midpoint of each.

Again, early Ahab comes to mind, though less deliberate and
accomplished to proggy.

I liked it, alright.

   

Tyranno – Skulls, Horns & Lust (PRC Music) (June 22)

Yeah, someone’s been living their Hellhammer and Morbid Tales/Dethroned Emperor-era Celtic Frost…

Pretty damn dead on, without being slavish like Germany’s Warhammer,
these Brazilians manage to recapture a whole hell of a lot of what made
the early Frost so vital…even if you lose the experimental edge by the
very virtue of copying the style so pointedly.

I was into Frost when that was something of a mark of shame and
derision in the metal community (“they can barely play their
instruments!”)…so you know I was on board with this.

Another easy hats off to South America this month.

Vomitile – Pure Eternal Hate (Satanath Records / Hecatombe Records) (April 18)

Surprisingly raw old school death metal, with nasty but wholly appropriate gasping croak vocals.

Sounding like some weird cross between the vocals on Entombed’s “premature autopsy” and the inverted breath swallowing funereality of Martin Van Drunen (or for that matter, Frantisek Storm), frontman Khatch Yildizian (whose brother George is half of the guitar team here…and I feel like Liberace just writing that…wonder if George plays the violin, too?) perfectly appends the overly crunchy, chugging like an incoming tank guitar riffs and wet sounding double bass drums.

This all leaves the band sounding like some odd cross between the
aforementioned and more basic early death metal acts like Vader circa
the Ultimate Incantation, Gorefest and Acheron, but with a mildly thrashy
feel that calls Demolition Hammer or Malevolent Creation to mind (and
surprisingly, most of these bands were in fact name checked in the
label’s promo writeup – hats off to ya for an all too unusual accuracy!)

Is it first tier essential listening for newcomers to the death metal scene?
Well, no, you’re about 27 years too late, nothing recent is.

But for old schoolers and more advanced level fans, looking desperately
for a worthwhile fix among a crowd of black metal-bastardized crap
pretending to be “death metal”?

Yeah, I advise you jump on this one ASAP. These Greeks (well, sorta…technically, they’re Cypriot)  really know their shit, and deliver the goods tout suite.

 

Tatanhammer – The Art Of Human Sacrifice (Abandon Tapes (FIN) (October 31)

Decidedly underground black/death out of Finland.There’s so much atonality in play here, you’d never believe it – it’s almost like the vocals are operating on a completely different wavelength to the noise beneath it, with random drumming that’s all over the damn place and seldom even working a proper beat or staying in meter and Abruptumlike detuned guitar drones vying with electronic noise effects over the top of it all.

I have no fucking idea what they were thinking of here, or why someone would bother to record something like this.

Sorry, but this was absolutely pointless noise for noise’s sake.

Vardan – Unholy Lightness Summer (Moribund Records) (August 10)

And it’s been a few months, so time again for our old paisano Vardan to drop yet another slab of lumbering melancholic gloom.

Unfortunately, he seems to be continuing with the slap echo vocal yowling thing more or less begun with the recent Nostalgia series (particularly Part 4), and crossing this with an atypically laid back, country/folk sort of clean guitar and keyboard thing that practically comes off major key.

The darkest things get is the midway point of the 22 minute “2”, where the synth tones go all Gary Numan/Tubeway Army for a bit…at least it’s appropriately minor key for a change!

Strange release from a man who generally comes off quite dependable…but hey, he’s had a few real weird turns along the way, and come back swinging.

Don’t count him out, yet…and who knows, some of you may actually like this odd “artistic development”, for all its atypicality.

Profezia – Dodekaprofeton (Moribund Records) (August 10)

Members of Abhor and a guest spot from a Mortuary Drape alum enliven this Italian black metal act, who included the recently deceased Marco De Rosa (here delivering his final performance on record).

True to the Mediterranean scene on the whole, this comes off more first wave oddity than the expected by the numbers black metal nonsense we’ve all become sadly accustomed to in recent…well, let’s be honest, here: decades.

It’s no Mortuary Drape or Bulldozer, much less the likes of Black Hole, Paul Chain and the early Death SS, but it’s odd and outside of the mainstream enough to remain listenable.

Closest thing you’ll find to a cross between Horna and Mortuary Drape, if that strikes your fancy.


Waxen – Terror Decree + Bonus (Moribund Records) (September 28)

The Disincarnate of black metal returns, with yet another mix of James Murphyesque leads and lo-fi, treble and mids heavy riffing and snarling vocals.

This time, the vox are buried more in the mix, with one man band Toby Knapp either dropping that “over the phone recording” processed thing or leaving it sufficiently covered by the (quite noisy themselves!) guitar and drums to make this one somewhat more palatable than Weihung Auf Satan or Agios Holokauston.

Even so, realize you’re working at best in Horna territory, or Satanic Warmaster without the melodic orientation and masterfully dark music, just the nasty ass vocals…

But if you can get past all the industrial construction worksite hiss and noise of the guitar tone, vocals and iffy production, there’s some nice riffing to be found every now and again (“tyrant of armageddon”, for example) and some flash solos more appropriate for death metal (or power metal, or thrash) than black metal to draw the attention for a few bars of every track.

The album also includes 4 songs from another Knapp project, Affliktor, who ramp up the guitar focus and come off a lot thrashier, despite the nasty black metal vox and tremelo lead lines.

And as you might expect, the guitars are also better recorded on these tracks, making them the real reason to pay attention to this particular release…

The real takeaway from all of this? With a proper production to smooth off all the rough edges (something both bands desperately need…) and a proper vocalist, Knapp, at least in terms of his Affliktor project, could seriously go places.

Blackened nonsense aside, there’s some decent stuff to be found in there, and he’s a decent enough player to be not so much “a big fish in a very small pond” as an actual contender in a wider sense.I continue to nod with respect to his leads, and am surprised to hear some good riffs here as well. While the vox are less in your face (and thus a bit less abrasive) than previously, I think there’s a lot more that could be done to get this guy on a higher level of exposure and (album/band) performance quality – he deserves a proper shot at glory that fucking around in the black metal ghetto simply cannot afford him.

Hacavitz – NEX NIHIL (Moribund Records) (September 28)

Mexican black/death. Production seems pretty polished for a band of this sort, with big sounding, fat toned (if a tad muted and lo-fi rather than crisp) guitars and drums…at least when the guy’s not on yet another sadly expected blastbeat kick.

The more midtempo tracks tend to have actual riffs, too, which is nice…blastbeats and a bit too much indebtedness to the Watain model aside, the only real problem here is the vocals, which sound like somebody just stepped on a rusty nail, howling and shouting imprecations under slap echo in response.

Didn’t do much for me, but the production and presence of actual riffs made ’em stand out more than the same old, same old.

Wölfblood – Nightriders (Reaper Metal Productions | Seeing Red Records) (July 20)

Biker-style USBM straight outta…Denmark?

The guy’s a screamer/howler, somewhere between the guy from Judge and your average aggro/screamo act, but with that guy trying to sound like Lemmy. The riffs are NWOBHMish to proto-metal sludgy, the drums are vintage Philthy Animal Taylor style, solos are somewhere between Circus O’ Power and Phil Campbell.

Yeah, it’s obvious someone’s trying and failing to put on their best Motorhead…but coming off far more blackened with an aggro/”hardcore” vocalist.

Not good enough to be on the Hells Headbangers or Iron Bonehead roster, despite the involvement of a HH honcho. Even so, you get the general idea of the sound, here…just keep your expectations a lot lower than usual.

  

Pyre – Human Hecatomb (Redefining Darkness Records) (August 3)

Russian death metal act. Riffs sound pretty vintage, at times Floridian/Buffalo school, others somewhat Sunlight Studios to Finnish HM-2 in orientation.

Production is pretty much pure gold, seeming both powerful and wholly appropriate for the style, with guitar mixed up front and not a lot of modern feel at all.

Actually a re-release, this one comes with a pretty good, if naturally more poorly mastered 4 track demo plus a cover of a Slaughter track (the Canadian thrash act, not the hair metal band).

Yeah, this one’s definitely a goodie. Grab yourself a slice while it lasts.

Descent – Towers of Grandiosity (Redefining Darkness Records) (August 31)

Still death metal, still somewhere between Swedish and Finnish in feel (though more of the former)…but there’s something wrong here. It’s overly noisy, overly aggro. Hell, it feels sorta blackened.

The vox are shrieky rather than the usual throaty death growl. Blastbeats are all over the goddamn place, rather than (or more to the point, overpowering) the traditional footwork and tom rolls. Production leans to the hissy and overly thin rather than the thick and steamrollering.

And yet, there’s a lot of crusty Swedeath style riffs amidst all the chaos…like a Liers In Wait with a reeeeally shitty production and the worst frontman they could possibly find.

Yeah, it’s death metal, alright…but there’s precious little that’s “alright” about it.

Mutilated by Zombies – Scripts of Anguish (Redefining Darkness Records) (October 5)

Now that’s more like it, productionwise.  Thick, gloomy, throaty…perhaps less cavernous and 80’s reverb bedecked than you’d have gotten with the real deal back in the day, but they’ve got the right idea.

It’s overly technical, which was making me search for an apt comparison, then bang, there it is in the promo materials: Monstrosity. Yep, that’s about right, all stutter beats and speedy runs that start and stop with crispness.

No, this sort of overly techy sound (Cannibal Corpse is also mentioned, and you can hear that as well…at least from around the time Barnes left and Fischer came on board) isn’t my idea of death metal…but they get this style down pretty pat, and the production, vox and guitars are all on point.

If you dig the sort of tech death you get with bands like the aforementioned, you should find something to appreciate here, no question.

Subtype Zero – The Astral Awakening (Seeing Red Records) (August 24)

“The ‘artist’ formerly known as Cringe”, apparently. If that means anything to you, that is.

Screaming aggro/”hardcore” vox ruin what would otherwise have been a pretty crunchy crossover trash act somewhere in the Slayer meets DRI, Agnostic Front or MOD vein.

Riffing is fat and crunchy, songs are short, drumming is relatively subdued and to the point…a whole lot of the guitar and drumming here is drawing surprisingly heavily from Slayer, and I mean prime era Slayer, somewhere between Haunting the Chapel and Reign in Blood stylistically (with the production not far behind).

But then things get more crunchy and punk meets thrash (i.e. what we used to call “crossover”) on other tracks, and it works just as well.

With a guy who could actually sing or stylize (even in the manner of bands like DRI or Slayer), this would have been one hell of an album.

As it is, this is a really cool band who knows their vintage ’86-7 underground sound, in desperate need of a new frontman.

Him aside, I really liked these guys.

Here’s hoping they make the right move before the next album.

HOLOCAUSTO EM CHAMAS – לָשׁוֹן הַקֹּדֶשׁ (Harvest Of Death) (October 5)

Portugese black metal.

For the most part, I really don’t get the appeal of this particular scene – with a precious few exceptions, it’s raw, noisy, underdeveloped and tends to come off as a sloppier, less enjoyable (but more “occult black”) take on bestial or “war” metal.

This album, entitled in Hebrew for extra ooga booga-ness (ooh, those chained angels at the Tigris and Euphrates are straining at the bit with all this Middle Eastern black and black/death bullshit lately, that’s for sure) is zero exception to the rule.

Whatever. Right to the Pile with ye!

FORE!

Weird. Barely a sputter, even the Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards seems tired of this sort of crap…

Next?

KOMMANDANT – Blood Eel (ATMF) (September 14)

Noisy black metal, all blastbeats (but for the third or fourth time this month, with excellent footwork buried beneath and alternating with the childishness thereof. Don’t ask me…) and snarling, with sinister sounding Watainish riffs but a lot of the driness and pointless feeling of Norsecore.

Production’s not good enough to really go into full on Norsecore territory (be it mid period Immortal, Marduk or early Tsjuder in orientation), and there’s a bit too much open string fiddling about, but again…that basic, core lack the genre is known for predominates.

Not much to celebrate here, that’s for sure.

Malepeste / Dysylumn – Ce qui fut, ce qui est, ce qui sera (Goathorned Productions) (October 15)

Oh, yay, another pair of “occult black metal” acts, this time both hailing from France.

Malapeste favors groaning chants beneath their droning, open string ringing Watain zombie guitars and growl/howl vox, Dysylumn does more Thor’s Hammerlike death vomits on the mic and tends to skip the chanting.

Snore…look, willya give this one a good, hard toss into the Pyre?

I’m too fucking bored after hearing this one to even have the energy for that…

HEADS FOR THE DEAD – Serpent’s Curse (Transcending Obscurity Records) (September 24)

Jonny Pettersson and Hakan Stuvemark of Wombbath both take part in this somewhat old school-leaning death metal act, though Petterson (who also handles production) brings a strangely modernist feel to the recording that the (more or less) classic riff assault really did not ask for.

Even so, the vox are appropriate (despite occasional weird touches like 
the Fleuretyesque girly shriek in “heads for the dead”…why, man, why? and while it’s hardly Wombbath all over again (if only!) and we are stuck with a session drummer prone to drop into blastbeat tomfoolery every now and again, it’s sure to satisfy that almost (but not quite) vintage death metal itch.A bit too modern, a tad too second tier to really hit the mark…but for a 2018 release, yeah, it’s pretty good.

IMPERIALIST (US) – Cipher (Transcending Obscurity Records) (August 20)

umm…sci-fi themed black metal?

Well, Nocturnus was a sort of blackened death metal with strong sci-fi
leanings, but that’s still quite a ways from straight up black metal that
goes all outer space and futurist…isn’t that an oxymoron, “futurist
nihilism?”

Anyway, what it winds up coming off like is a less crazed Necrophobic or
a less stately Satyricon (in the earlier days) gone more than a bit Voivod
for no apparent reason whatsoever. It’s pretty fucking strange.

Well, I guess it’s a change from all the “satan, satan, satan” and ooga booga bullshit, anyway…hear them snarling away sinisterly about sailing across the galaxy, binary stars and travel through wormholes!  Damn, that’s evil!

I didn’t mind it – the production was decent and I’m highly amused at the decidedly incongrous conflation of two wholly unrelated streams of thought and philosophical standpoints on display herein.

GRISLY – The Spectral Wars (Xtreem Music) (September 12)


And after Paganizer, Ribspreader, Down Among the Dead Men and a
plethora of side projects and guest appearances, our death metal go-to guy Rogga Johansson returns with yet another project band, this time with another (now former) Paganizer member in tow.A death metal “power trio”, what’s interesting is that Johansson still manages to keep each of his various bands and projects sounding somewhat distinct from each other, even when he’s handling both guitar and vocals.

This is a more straightforward, stripped down and crunchy affair, less polished and full sounding than the other acts he’s been associated with, which just means it comes off a tad more 1988-89 than ’90-92, with more of a sludgy, crusty feel to the guitars that’s wholly appropriate and reminiscent of many a pioneering band of that (generally pre-Morrisound/Scott Burns, or European based) vintage.

As good as ever. The man’s nothing if not consistent.

OSSUARY ANEX – Holy Blasphemition (Xtreem Music) (September 26)

Russian act. Bouncy bass, thick walls of chugging, spastic riffs…it’s not just another Suffocation-xeroxing “brutal death metal” act, they’ve copped hints of Retribution-era Malevolent Creation and The Second Coming-era Massacre to boot…

Vox are deep and belchy, but seem to hail more from the Bret Hoffman school than the Frank Mullins one, so again…it is what it is, but not quite so slavish as usual. Plus they’ve actually entitled a track “werewolves in cassocks”, so points for weird humor…

Felt true enough to the vintage sound to pass muster, sure.

Ruin (U.S.) – Human Annihilation (Memento Mori) (October 22)

And the hilarity continues.

Quoted from the promo writeup:

“Due to various members of the band being incarcerated and institutionalized…Rumors have also swirled that the band members
were/are part of some sort of cult.”

umm…yeah. Sure.

Anyway, what you actually get is a sort of snotty-vocalled take on a
grindcoreish attempt at covering Autopsy…or maybe a slightly retarded
version of Abhorrence.

It’s listenable, if overly detuned and a bit too underground for the
everyday death metaller.

Didn’t hate it…but that promo writeup!

(shakes head)

…next?

EMPTY (Spain) – Vacio (Osmose Productions) (September 28)

The easy answer? Spanish black metal, sorta symphonic, a bit too polished, bombastic and modern for my tastes.

The better answer? Realize that whether they’re working full band or
ambient tracks, there’s a lot of gothic doom influence at play here. While
the expected blastbeat bullshit and gargle snarling is certainly on the
table, you’re also going to hear bits and pieces that sound much akin to
Paradise Lost…Moonspell…My Dying Bride, and so on.

It’s a strange mix, and I for one really wish they’d drop the faux-satanic
schmutters and just follow their bliss into becoming a straight up gothic
doom concern…they clearly have the tendencies, interest and ability to
do so.

As is…to say “menza menza” would be overstating my affection (or more
precisely, lack thereof) for this one.

But has definite potential, should they take a good hard look in the mirror
and make a change that they’re already halfway down the road to
embracing.

BINAH – Phobiate (Osmose Productions) (September 28)

Here’s another one with some great promo: apparently their prior works “encountered wide, possession-like acclaim.”

uh-huh.

SO!  Where were we?

oh, yeah. 3 man UK death metal band, though the sound is overly
sloppy, with wet sounding, overdistorted and raw production and vox that
don’t really sound like anyone this veteran death metaller ever cared to
spin (much less own an album of to be repeatedly revisted over the
decades). They’re overly deep and gargle-throaty, and the Brit accent
comes through loud and clear…but who the hell does this sound like?
Benediction? Not really.

…yeah, there’s nobody of merit that sounds like this guy. And while you
may choose to take that as a plus, it wasn’t meant as a compliment.
While not exactly offensive or a deal breaker, the vox here are more of a
“huh? What the fuck is he trying to do, and why?”

So is it death metal? Yep.

Is it listenable? Well, it’ll take some getting used to, but I’d hazard that
much, yeah.

Does it sound well produced, chugging, have interesting vox, or killer
solos, or great atmosphere? You know, all the things that made death
metal into an important scene that overtook and subsumed the thrash
scene back in the day?

Nope.

“Possession-like acclaim?”

What the fuck is that even supposed to mean?  Fanboys who get
cast out into a bunch of pigs?  Here, Jody, Jody…

The brain aches at this one…

Next?

SJUKDOM – Stridshymner Og Dodssalmer (Osmose Productions) (October 26)

Old school-ish Norwegian black metal…but there’s something a bit too…is that Dark Funeralish? Watainish? Tsjuderish, even? about it (and think about it – two of those bands are Swedish!)

So yeah, it’s definitely solidly performed and decidedly backwards looking, reaching back to a time and style before all the black/death, “occult black”, “post-“, Cascadian and/or “depressive” stuff, which is a definite plus.

But on the flipside, you have to ask yourself: how many times can you hear the same exact sound – as in the same exact vocal style, the same exact riffing, the same exact drumming, nothing changing whatsoever…and have it still be effective?

So yes, it’s solid enough that you could put this on your shelf next to any of those bands (the more I hear, the more I’m thinking Tsjuder…) without shame. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to tell ’em apart.

But if you hear what’s being said here, you know why that’s not exactly a ringing bout of praise, either.

Burial Shrine – Labyrinth of Bridges (Saturnal) (September 23)

Did you ever sit up nights wondering, with all these “black/death” poseurs (and worse, bands that actually claim to be “death metal”, period, while borrowing wholesale from the sound, image, lyrics and approach of black metal)…what would happen if a real death metal band tried to go all black metal?

As in, what if, say…Martin Van Drunen left Pestilence and Asphyx, to front a really sloppy, noisy, grindcore-bordering “bestial black metal” band?

Well, then you’d have Vancouver Canucks Burial Shrine, who sound like some lunatic crackhead got the bright idea to cross Asphyx and Black Witchery…it’s bizarre, to say the least.

Well, I guess you can’t say it’s not an attempt to do something different…

Next?

All My Sins – Pra Sila – Vukov Totem (Saturnal) (September 23)

Fascinating Serbian act who cross a Krodaesque, very much “of the land” take on black metal with a lush, gothic to gothic doom sound ala Moonspell.

The best part of this is, while there are definite moments of straight ahead blastbeat and tremelo riffed fury (quite a few, in fact), the latter, bolder elements almost seem to predominate for a change, making this less “black metal peppered and garnished with outside elements” and more “black metal expanding outside its borders to something far more affecting and affective.”

Yes, there are other bands in Eastern Europe doing interesting things…have been since the first wave to very early second wave likes of Masters Hammer and Tormentor. But seldom have you heard a band so self assured, well produced, consonant and making good use of backing vocal choir as this.

If every track were like “konacna ravnodnevica (cin drugi)”, “zov iz magle” or the last few minutes of “veltrovo kolo”, this would be a full on, five star raise of the horns in salute…but stronger, more perfect moments like these are by definition hard won.

Even so, these guys are so on the right track, they can almost taste victory.

If only more “black metal” acts these days were this good, whatever their particular choice of sound and style…

If you dig the darker end of heavy (well, OK, “extreme”) music and don’t at least give this one a spin, you’re pretty much an idiot…all silly tribal masks and costumes aside.

Rodent Epoch – Rodentlord (Saturnal) (October 12)

Finnish black metal of the more punkified, crusty spectrum. I’m hearing early Azazel mixed with early Bathory and a bit of Clandestine Blaze for good measure.

It’s also likely they’ve been listening to a lot of Darkthrone, maybe a little Slayer, then threw in a few sped up Mayhem riffs (classic, not the dogshit they put out after all the creative parties were deceased) for good measure. He even throws in some Tom G. Warrior “OOFs” and “UGHs”…nice touch.

It feels old school…it’s noisy and sloppy enough that it sounds like a live recording (at Leipzig, perhaps?), it draws from the right influences and taps into the proper zeitgeist for this sort of thing to actually work.

Not for everybody – the crowd who thinks black metal today is just awesome (or “better than it’s ever been!”) won’t find much to work with here, bar the anomalously lousy Watain ripoff “red heavens”.

But a breath of fresh…er, foetid air if you’re as bored, disappointed, even disgusted with 85% of what’s supposed to pass as “the real deal” nowadays as I am.

MORKETIDA – Panphage Mysticism (CD, LP) (Werewolf Records) (August 17)

Weird Finnish act. Production is pretty minimal and lo-fi (in the sense of being all trebly hiss and a few mids), with some guy gargling vomit under a ridiculous amount of reverb.

As such, it feels old, like a demo from the early second wave from someone who never put out a damn thing of worth thereafter like Carpathian Forest, Ancient, Manes or Fleurety. You know those evil sounds they suddenly lost when they got a few bucks worth of budget and a proper studio? Yeah. This feels like those kind of bands, only still in the demo days, when anyone cared about ’em.

It’s basic, simplistic and hopelessly retro…but that’s where the atmosphere comes from, and why, for the most part, it succeeds. These guys have managed to recapture that early mystery, that sense of undergroundness, of discovery, even, that still hangs around those demos (and in the case of both Carpathian Forest and Ancient, first EP as well).

Let’s hope Morketida learns from those earlier forbears’ mistakes, and doesn’t lose exactly what makes this one worth hearing.

THE TRUE WEREWOLF / DRUADAN FOREST – split CD (Werewolf Records) (August 17)

Speaking of second wave black metal pioneers who were on to something in their earliest days, then lost the narrative entirely, remember Mortiis?

That’s right, the evil forest gnome who contributed to the only listenable Emperor release before jumping ship with his Casio to create naive but quite atmospheric accompaniment to many a session of D&D throughout a good 4 CDs worth of “Era I”, who was the clear and obvious inspiration to lesser clone Elffor, has been tapped once again for this two track, 45 minute long split between “one of Satanic Warmaster’s other pseudos” and another Finnish one man project entitled Druadan Forest.

While perhaps far less affecting than Mortiis’ Conanesque Casio dungeon crawls, Druadan Forest’s track comes off far more lush and expansive in tone, while Pentilla’s side is decidedly lo-fi and thin.

Both sides will set a mood and keep you there, but the latter is more sub-John Carpenteresque, while the former is more akin to its obvious Norske source of inspiration.

In plainer terms? Both have their merits…but as much as I love most of his other work, Pentilla could stand to learn something from both The Forest and The Troll who makes it his home.

Definitely worth a listen – this is a lot closer to what I consider good ambient than most of the aimless, pointless shit they shovel our collective way under said designation.

Cinzas – Demo I (Purodium Rekords) (July 31)

Reissue of Portuguese black metal act’s first demo. Ridiculously lo fi, all treble and a few mids, sounds seriously bad, as in well beyond Transilvanian Hunger and pushing Nattens Madrigal level bad.

When it’s more midtempo and lumbering (as in “I”, and to some lesser extent, “V”), it sets a certain mood; unfortunately, most of the demo is faster and more prone to ear grating atonal noise.

Unless you’re really hard up on “collectors item limited releases”, in this case “limited to 66 copies”, forget this exists.

Adverso – Ex Inanis (Purodium Rekords) (October 15)

Somewhat snooze inducing demo-level black metal act out of Portugal.

There’s a definite mood set by opener “adventus” that promised more
than the increasingly slowing, sloppy, muddily recorded trio of faceless
tracks that follow.

If this were dropped as a digital single for “adventus”, you could say this
was a fairly decent attempt at recapturing the more hypnotic end of the
old school second wave (largely Norwegian) vibe – not exactly Burzum,
but droning and sure to set a particular dark atmosphere.

Too bad he went and recorded three utterly worthless tracks further, to
pad this out to a more standard demo length.

Morte Incandescente – Somos o Fogo do teu Inferno (War Arts Productions) (September 28)

We’d covered these Portuguese uber-primitive black metallers twice before, for their disappointing split with Illum Adora and their own quirky but decidedly more interesting full length…o mundo morreu!

With what amounts to a fairly split verdict (one not bad and drawing from some good first wave inspirations, the other…just pure shit, really), it was with some trepidation that I dove into this most recent shot at the gold ring. What horrors could lie within this Pandora’s box, I grimaced…

Well, you know what? That split may have been something of a one off misstep. Because while this four song EP is pretty damn raw and quirky to downright fucking weird, it also bears once again those first wave/early second wave influences on its sleeve.

Sarcofago, maybe…Mortuary Drape, probably. Early Bulldozer at a stretch…Tormentor, Master’s Hammer, maybe Root, even must play some small part in this. The sound is too…off the beam, well off the beaten path, and yet clearly of the “blackened” variety, and of the “old school” sort.

Is it an easy listen?  No.  Will these guys ever be some sort of ersatz “go to” when I’m in the mood for strange, retro styled, vaguely Mediterranean to Eastern European black metal?  No, probably not.

But is it interestingly odd, and probably worth giving a quick listen to for the more adventurous, older school of black metaller?

I think we already answered that one for ya.

Goat Sperm – Voice in the Womb (Inferna Profundus Records) (September 10)

That cavernous reverb, those intestines-originating belch vocals, those
annoying blastbeats, those overly detuned guitars buzzing away at sloppy
sounding tremelo riffs…yep, it’s yet another “underground” black/death
act.

I’ve always been more…”partial” is not the operative term, here…more
like “accepting” of this style over the ringing guitar “occult” Watain school
thereof, but it’s probably a really huge shocker to spell this one out after
so many years: I don’t dig black/death as a subgenre.

Sure, I own the first few Watain albums (even their ripoff of Gorgoroth’s
Black Mass Krakow of a DVD)…but they lost it (cough Wild Hunt,
anyone?) and the style is sooooo played out. Hell, they should have
buried and hammered the final nails in it when Nodtveidt got out of prison
and started releasing shit like “kali yuga” and Reinkaos.

And are these albums ever pulled out for a spin, anymore, like, well, just
about everything else, in any of the darker, heavier and more
cultish genres covered herein (plus more than a few outside it, like jazz,
fusion, early 20th century swing and 80’s new wave), gets a regular
rotation? Nope. Dust catchers.

So if you’re looking for anything more than a casual “meh…it’ll pass, for
what it is,” you’re sadly mistaken, here.

But, yeah…”meh, it’ll pass, for what it is.”

Malthusian – Across Deaths (Invictus Productions / Dark Descent) (September 7)

We’d covered these Irish “underground” black/deathsters a few times previously, for their MMXIII and Below the Hengiform, and nope, nothing’s changed. Same overly detuned, noisy guitars, same asthmatic to belch vox, same pointlessly atonal approach to “songwriting” (if you can call it that).

My only question is, what the fuck does this have to do with fears of
population growth?

I mean, I guess if you play this in front of a woman, she’s likely to dump
you faster than you can say “lost shot at fertilization”…who knows, maybe
listening to piss poor attempts at “music” sterilizes the listener over
time…

…sheesh!

Straight to the purifying fires of the Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards with ye,
boyo! An’ take your stale ale with ye!

Next?

Lucifericon – Al-Khem-Me (Invictus) (October 5)

(sigh)

Yeah, we convered these “occult black metallers” twice before, for
Brimstone Altar and The Occult Waters and it seems the more we hear of ’em, the less we like ’em.

Do I really need to go on, here?

Here, if you’re passing by the Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards, give this one
a proper disposal.

Next?

DIABOLIC FORCE (Brazil) – Praise of Satan (Hells Headbangers) (September 14)

Brazilian blackthrashers.  Haven’t done a thing in 8 years, here they are
after a really fucking long hiatus…and it’s not even some obscure 80’s
metal act jumping on the reunion tour bandwagon!

What is interesting here is their approach, which comes off as a
“more evil sounding” Venom with the reverb and occasional bursts of
speed of early Bathory. It’s so first wave and raw (yet midtempo and
generally consonant) as to invite comparisons to the aforementioned and
even early Bulldozer, rather than more crazed countrymen like early
Sepultura, Vulcano or Sarcofago (much less Holocausto or Sextrash!)

The constant Cronoslike snarls never actually change their tone either
within a track or from song to song. In fact, it’s like they recorded the guy
yowling one phrase and just cut and pasted it over and over, not only to
fill out a given song, but from one track to the next, until the album is
nothing but this one phrase, same notes, repeated ad nauseaum!

Even so, everything else about this felt first wave blackthrash and very
much in the mold of the three earlier mentioned European acts…so yes, I
liked this one quite a bit, despite its limitations on the microphone end.

Hell, even a guy who can only do one line like Cronos, repeated so many
times it’s ridiculous, sounds a whole hell of a lot better than 85% of what
we hear standing in front of a microphone nowadays.

Again…I liked this one quite a bit, given that one inescapable caveat.

BONEHUNTER – Children of the Atom (CD, LP, TAPE) (Hells Headbangers) (September 28)

We’d previously covered these Finns’ Evil Triumphs Again and Sexual Panic Human Machine and very much appreciated their early Bathoryesque approach to raw, grinding blackthrash.

This time around, they’ve fucked with the sound somewhat, which still leaves them very much in the “Okkulto” era of Desaster, sonically…but which loses a lot of what made them stand out from the blackthrash pack.

Now, we’re not saying this album doesn’t have a few tracks that are still pretty decent – one listen to “devil signal burst” will put that assertion to bed, tout suite. But is there really that much separating “demonic nuclear armament” from similar efforts of bands like Midnight, or “spiders grave” from Abigail? And what’s with all the slower, more workaday black metallish material that takes up the bulk of the release?

So again, is there much separating it from numerous similarly minded Stateside USBM and blackthrash acts, many hailing from this very label?

Nope.

Still well worth a listen…but this one marks a definite shift in the band’s approach.

Your call whether that’s a positive one, or their jump the shark moment.

I know how I see it.

DEATHHAMMER – Chained to Hell (CD, LP, TAPE) (Hells Headbangers) (October 5)

Case in point – yet another vintage blackthrash outfit (this time out of Norway) cribbing from the vintage Destruction/Sodom/very early Kreator to Bathory playbook, and more specifically that of earlier Desaster and Colombia’s Witchtrap.

We’d covered their Evil Power a few years back and enjoyed the shit out of it, all Schmier goosed me shrieks and high speed Brazilian/Teutonic style blackthrash speed and crunchy riffs.

It’s as vintage underground metal as they come, and to compare something as dead on as this to something as…lost in experimentation? as Bonehunter’s latest would be a disservice to just how good this is.

Yeah, side by side, my opinion becomes even more forceful about that jump the shark comment earlier.

Deathhammer never got the memo to sell out, I guess. More power to ’em.

No changes necessary. Keep on burning those letters when they come in, because it’s still ’87 in this camp.

Invocation (Chile) – The Mastery of the Unseen 7″ EP (Iron Bonehead) (September 17)

Moody, detuned, reverb suffused underground black metal with a doomy vibe.

Only two tracks, but I dug it…particularly “the spirit trumpet”, with its evil and hypnotically descending riff.

Curious to hear if the next one sounds half as good as these two tracks did. For now, an easy horns raised in salute.

Cosmic Void Ritual – Grotesque Infections Of Interplanetary Divide 12″ MLP/MCD  (Iron Bonehead) (September 21)

We’d covered their prior The Excreted Remains of the Sabatier System last summer, and found ourselves much bemused by their faux-SF orientation
(Nocturnus this ain’t, kids).

Same as ever, that gnarly underground black/death thing with the heavy
reverb, ultra-deep vomit vox and detuned riffs that just sound sloppy.
Best track here is “charred asteroid fields”, funniest title is “intestinal rituals”, you know all you need to know right there.

Dakhma (Switzerland) – Hamkar Atonement LP/CD (Iron Bonehead) (September 28)

Weird “occult black/death metal” job with delusions of working rituals for Persian devas and “deities” (if you will). You get one or two tracks where
a band is actually playing, the rest is chanting and noise filler, akin to an early Abruptum album gone horribly wrong.

(audible sigh and shake of the head)

…yeah, whatever. WHIZZ!!!

You know, I’d ask you to stop pissing into the fire over there, but some of these deserve that roundly…this is definitely one of such.  Have fun, buddy! Christen it well!

Next?

Black Funeral (U.S.) – The Dust and Darkness 12″ MLP/MCD (Iron Bonehead) (September 28)

We’d covered their Ankou and the Death Fire and appreciated the more Finnish feel of this USBM act.

That much welcomed feel seems a bit more muted on this brief EP, though “chemosh of the dust and darkness” still could pass as such, and from the halfway mark on of “alanni goddess of the underworld” definitely smacks of something halfway between Satanic Warmaster and Azazel…but it’s not as pronounced, and thus, not even half so essential.

Still worth a listen. Presumably the next full length will be back on point.

Eosphoros – S/T LP/CD (Iron Bonehead) (October 12)

Somewhere in the vast expanse separating Cascadian black metal and doom, these fellas hazard the Oregon Trail in search of a sound.

Tracks like “sylvan apotheosis” show some promise, with the punchy stoner rock riffing more closely aligned to the latter camp really kicking in and taking over around the halfway point; others fall into the trap of sounding…too workaday black metal, if often slowed to a Clandestine Blaze doing the Celtic Frost thing speed and feel.

More of the former and less noisy, typical black metal in the mix, these guys might really have been onto something.

Pa Vesh En – Church of Bones LP/CD (Iron Bonehead) (October 12)

We covered Pa Vesh En’s A Ghost EP and their split with Temple Moon
here, and were not incredibly impressed, to say the least.

This time around, the man gets more room to strut his stuff.  So what does he do with it?  An ambient track and a lot of slow, aimless drones…even when the tremelo riffing is going at full speed and the noisiness of the piss poor production and mix are at their abject pinnacle, it feels like slogging your way through a swamp, boots getting sucked in and cemented by the river mud.

Now, by comparison to those earlier efforts, this sounds positively heavenly (cough). But is it anything you’d really need to run to check out?

Unless you’re really looking for uber lo-fi drones to put you to sleep, probably not.

House of Atreus – From the Madness of Ixion LP/CD (Iron Bonehead) (October 12)

Ah, the Minneapolis sound.  You know, all those bands who tried to be Prince, dressed like New Romantics and copped the guy’s sound for their own selves, often with the man himself pseudonymously involved or tossing them songs and guidance?  It was an 80’s thing, but probably the funkiest shit to come out of that decade.

Well, we’ve come a long way since that, apparently.

These Minneapolis residents are working more of a sub-Rotting Christ vibe, but without the weirdness and “foreigner trying to fit in at the local school” loveability. “I speaking to you, am, not?”

So speed up those quirky NWOBHM and trad metal riffs, make the vox more snooze inducing and standardized black/death snarl/vomits, and keep some of the general style (i.e. mixing a simplistic thrash, in this case, with black metal tropes), while sucking out all of the vivacity and interest in the process.

To be fair, this is what happens with a lot of the younger crowd trying to
replicate the old school vibe – while the attention to detail is much appreciated, they’re coming from a different place, and so the very soul of the sound is not only missing, but its absence leaves a very noticeable, distracting hole at core, disrupting the intent and leaving most of it feeling very empty, cold and lifeless.

Case in point: the 2018 American take on Rotting Christ.

I’d bet younger crowds may well just appreciate the attempt, and leave it
at that.

Witches Hammer – Stretching Into Infinity LP (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (October 15)

Witches Hammer – Canadian Speed Metal LP (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (October 15)

Reissue of some long forgotten material from one of the first BC area thrash acts.  Canadian Speed Metal contains both of the band’s demos, while Stretching into Infinity collects their sole officially released 12″ and tracks intended for a never released album thereafter.

Comparatively, the first demo sounds a whole lot better, with a sort of Anialator gone Teutonic thrash feel that gets lost on subsequent recordings.

The second demo isn’t bad at all, but sound quality worsens considerably, as if it were recorded off a warped 45 of the era (in the latter days of the medium circa ’85-88, the quality of vinyl records dropped considerably, and the thinner discs were far more prone to warping and skipping on standard turntables than earlier releases from decades prior (which still held up well, despite their vintage).

The 12″ still hasn’t entirely left the Anialator ballpark, but here that sound
is more that of their EP than the more enjoyable demos that preceded it,
and mixed with less of the Euro blackthrash thing and more of a Nasty
Savage (with occasional elements of Infernal Majesty, as in the title track
(!) sort of thing going on.

The sound quality on all of the material collected on Stretching into
Infinity pales by comparison to the first demo, with every gain in clarity
matched by a greater degree of trebly hiss and warble, and loss in bass
and depth.

And did we mention they start sounding more and more like Nasty
Savage, to the point where they finish their career sounding much like the
Floridians did at the end of their own run? Yeah. There’s that.

Those interested in digging through every possible neglected corner of
obscure 80’s thrash should be quite happy with both of these…but those
with more of an ear for this sort of thing should stick to Canadian Speed
Metal and not worry too much about losing what amounts to the same
tracks repeated twice over again in ever worsening (or who knows,
depends on your orientation…some may find the increased clarity and
paper thinness “better”!) recording conditions, and with more and more
of a US prog/thrash thing bleeding in and eventually taking over what was
at first a far more likeable sound.

But even at their “worst”, these guys are fairly decent and worth hearing
at least once, just to say you did.

Witch King – Voice of the Ossuary CD/LP  (Blood Harvest) (September 14)

Underground, sorta “bestial” black/death from Rhode Island, of all places.  You know, rich seaport area where they hold the Newport Jazz Festival?

Incongruity of that image and backdrop with the sort of gnarly-ass vomit vox, sinister detuned blur of messy riffing and blastbeat drums with zero recording and production quality aside…well, hell, you simply can’t separate the two, it’s too fucking bizarre and out of place.

Poor little rich girls, hailing satan at the historic Methodist church? Maybe so.

“No hope, no fun,” the promo writeup opines.  Ummm…yeah, sure.  I’ll be sure to run to that one!

Bottom line, it’s louder and more crisp sounding than you’d expect for a mess of detuned sound like this…but is there any point?  And what do their folks, friends and neighbors think of all this, anyway?

(See a bunch of rich yuppies with sweaters tied around their necks and sporting pleated dockers, bopping their heads to Branford Marsalis while sipping expensive red wine and snacking on brie, planning their summer in the Hamptons or Martha’s Vineyard…)

Yep. Nothing says pure fucking evil like that!

Maligner – Attraction to Annihilation CD/LP (Blood Harvest) (August 31)

We covered these Swedes’ Demon a few years back and appreciated their Grotesquelike black/death meets thrash assault.

Here the blastbeat drumming comes across as quite annoying (likely due
to clearer production), but the riffing is just as crazed as ever, the vox just
as declamatory and spittle-spewing, like some bizarre cross between
later Chuck Schuldiner and Demolition Hammer.

The bass is bouncy and audible, bringing things like Suffocation, Second
Coming-era Massacre and Steve DiGiorgio’s hard to listen to thrash cum
death metal act Sadus (those shrieky vocals!) to mind, but it’s more
straightforward and thrashy than any of those signifiers imply.

You hear a lot of Death (or for that matter, Gruesome) in tracks like “reign
of fear”, but the overall riffing style and approach of the band is a heavy,
deathlike thrash rather than death metal proper…and that’s actually part of
what gives ’em their own special appeal.

We liked ’em before, we like ’em just as much now.

More octane in that engine than some of you can handle, no question.

Valdrin – Two Carrion Talismans CD/LP (Blood Harvest) (September 28)

Ohio black/death outfit who pull in cheesy symphonic black metal style synths, nasty black metal snarl vox, stuttering sub-Morbid Angel/sub-Suffocation riffing, sadly incessant blastbeats and a whole shitload of stinking gruyere to their bizarre attempt at syncretizing world mythos into their own creation and timeline.

Who the hell knows, it sounds pretty stupid from the writeup…but it’s just lyrics, so hey, ignore ’em if you will.

Yeah, every track sounded pretty much the same, and no, I didn’t see much to celebrate about this one.

Skjult – Progenies Ov Light (Satanath Records / Black Metal Propaganda Deutschland) (February 21)

Cuban black metal. Vox are of the frog croak variety, leaving the sound somewhere between Tsjuder, Inquisition and Immortal, with a bombastic Norwegian sound on the band end of the equation.

It’s not exactly vintage, even for the more mainstream leaning, overly codified latter end of the 90’s, but it sounds more “true” than most of what claims to be “black metal” these days (bar Finland, who seems to have their own surprisingly strong thing going on of late…)

Bottom line, I wasn’t super excited over this one…but it was wholly listenable, felt closer to “right” than usual and I could easily see it coming along as accompaniment for long drives.

All things being equal, and black metal per se being as iffy as it is
nowadays? Take it as a definite recommendation.

Yeah, I wouldn’t be stretching to say I liked this one.

Cavus – The New Era (Satanath Records / Final Gate Records) (April 11)

You know what I just said about Finnish black metal?

Well, here’s an object lesson for life in general: always remember, rules
of thumb don’t necessarily encompass all comers.

Case in point: Cavus, a Finnish act who rely on piss poor production,
mindlessly off time (check out the “choruses” of “killtech”) blastbeat
drumming and “vokills” that consist of some guy going BLEEAH WAAAH
YEAAAHHH GUAHHH BOO-YAAAHHH!! all jumbled together in a
vomitlike snarling baby talk.

P-U!

All you warming yourselves by the fire, heads up – INCOMING!

ooh, sorry about that. Stop, drop and roll!

Yeah, the management can’t be held responsible for injury or damage to
property caused by standing too close to the Flaming Pyre of Dead
Bards…particularly with complete and utter dogshit like this coming in on
such a regular basis.

Next?

Horrorgraphy – Season Of Grief (Satanath Records / United By Chaos) (April 14)

Greek “symphonic doom” act. They cover Therion, so you kind of know
what to expect: female soprano vocals, grand piano bits, silly growly
“beauty and the beast” style male vox, mids-heavy distorted guitars that
drop in and out of the mix.

What really predominates, though, is a sub-Cradle of Filth, rather Tim
Burtonesque exaggeratedly goofy “gothic horror” feel that’s trying to be
more large scale symphonic than budget and band size allows.

You could say it’s a cross between the aforementioned bands’ gothic
symphonic black metal and straight up gothic symphonic metal per se,
but doom? An obsession with death, ghosts and cemeteries lyrically
doesn’t change a leopard’s spots.

Doom? No, not in the least.

If you like what’s being described, then yeah, they pull off an interesting
enough variant of the Therion/CoF school of symphonic black metal, with
more soprano vox and a lot less blastbeat nonsense than usual.

Didn’t exactly hate it, no.

Utburd – The Horrors Untold (Satanath Records) (April 15)

Russian black metal act. There are keyboards and a more expansive,
somber feel than usual, leaving the band feeling vague kin to
Horrorgraphy in many ways, but no distaff presence this time around and
more instances of tremelo guitar showing up every now and again amidst
the more deliberate riffing and symph-like feel that predominates.

I guess you could call them similar to early Samael in some respects, but
there’s more of this sort of symphonic…well, if you buy into their
self-misclassification, “doom” feel of Horrorgraphy than you’d expect
from a black metal act of any sort.

And also, it’s more small scale than usual, despite the heavy echoing of
the recording and mix and all that keyboard…so you could even debate
whether this is truly ‘symphonic’, despite an obvious orientation towards
same.

Listenable, but a shrug of the shoulders…makes Horrorgraphy sound all
that much better by comparison.

Fervent Hate – Tales Of Hate, Lust And Chaos (Satanath Records / More Hate Productions) (April 16)

Peruvian death metal. Doesn’t sound very vintage at all, more of a
modernist vibe that pulls from 90’s sounds like groove, aggro/nu and
black metal blastbeats as much as it does death metal.

At times they almost feel Gothenburgish, as in the At the Gateslike
“death is written by itself” or certain phrases of “last night of pleasure”
(which naturally represent the album’s standout moments), but the rest of
the time they seem to be leaning far more heavily on Pantera-ish to Black
Label Societylike groove and aggro than they ever do (melo)death.

I’d say drop the rest of this bullshit and just go for the Gothenburg gusto,
which they’re clearly capable of…but just listen to this album. How much
of it leans in that direction, exactly?

No, their inclinations are far more grounded and strewn with the dust of
Southwestern American soil. Bleh.

Aside from the few moments of potential mentioned earlier, forget this
one ever existed.

Excommunicated – Death Devout (Satanath Records / Metallic Media) (April 20)

Louisiana death metal act who manage to cover all sorts of classic bands
and easily recognizable to beloved tracks of the death metal canon…and
make them all sound the same with a generic sound and lousy vocals.

Seriously, they cover everything from Deicide, Morbid Angel and
Obituary (they even get James Murphy to guest solo) to Grave,
Morgoth and Pungent Stench…hell, they even did a Cemetary cover!…

…and yet, as awesome as this sounds on paper (with no real exceptions,
it’s an “all covers” affair), the execution, while technically “competent
enough”, leaves all these disparate, still regularly played bands
sounding…the same, and kinda boring.

HOW DO YOU MANAGE TO DO THAT?

(shakes head in utter disbelief)

Well, props for good taste in covers – even a lot of the songs chosen
were excellent picks.

Too bad the execution thereof sapped everything special and exciting
straight out of ’em all.

Striborg – Spiritual Catharsis [re-release] (Satanath Records / Death Portal Studio) (April 21)
Striborg – Mysterious Semblance [re-release] (Satanath Records / Death Portal Studio) (April 22)

Aussie black ambient affair gets two earlier albums reissued.

Listenably strange, this one man band tends to lean heavier on the
keyboard and synth ambient than the black metal proper, a tendency
most pronounced on the earlier Spiritual Catharsis, where even the
“band” portions seem buried well beneath the droning, spacey keys and
electronic effects.

The subsequent Mysterious Semblance tones that down quite a bit,
leaving that entirely ambient business to two tracks, leaving the still rather
buried deep in the background and compressed to a 1976 vintage
handheld transistor radio speaker’s worth of sound quality (though
thinking about it, those sounded better than this does!) band to hiss
(guitars and bass) and snarl (vox) “their” way through the rest of the
album.

Piss poor sound quality aside, this definitely sets a sinister,
contemplative mood, and while I preferred the greater “band” presence
of Mysterious Semblance, I didn’t really mind either of these reissues.

Wasn’t excited by ’em, no. But didn’t mind ’em either.

Wrathrone – Reflections Of Torment (Satanath Records / The Void Records) (April 23)

We’d previously covered their Born Beneath and shall we say, weren’t exactly happy with the production and overly busy approach.

Well, I still question the production somewhat, but I’m happy to report
that these Finns have toned it down and reined it in quite a bit, working far
more of a straightforward death metal sound* this time around.

* though admittedly one still too often peppered with black metallish
blastbeats and tremelo riffing for their own good…even so, it’s a huge
improvement.

Even the grindcoreish vox have been tightened up, sounding less
expansive and sloppy than usual, with dual vox only showing up as
punctuation at choruses and suchlike.

I can’t tell you how much better these guys have gotten, or at least how
much they’ve marshalled their inner death metaller fortitude against the
pernicious influences of more modern and blackened nonsense, except
to recommend you go give this one a listen and see for yourself.

Huge improvement, guys. I liked a whole hell of a lot of what you’re
throwing down here.

For newbies, ignore the comparison to their last album, and take it as
yeah, it’s pretty good.

Internal Suffering – Chaotic Matrix [re-release] (Satanath Records / Rotten Roll Rex) (April 24)
Internal Suffering – Choronzonic Force Domination [re-release] (Satanath Records / Rotten Roll Rex) (April 25)

Colombian “brutal tech” death act…and sure enough, they’re working the
Suffocation vox and speedy blastbeat and stutter riffing thing.

Production is absolutely terrible, with Chaotic Matrix sounding like it was
recorded under a big pile of wet towels and blankets, but that sounds just
ducky if not fantastic compared to the hissy, still uber-lo fi bonus
tracks from various MCDs and splits. Bring back the wet blankets!

Choronzonic Force Domination sounds much better in that respect, but
still recorded well into the red, all signal bleed and crackle on the outside
edges of distortion and such. Drums, or at least the bass drums and
footwork, sound fantastic, though…

They also seem to have improved in terms of riffing and “technicality”
between the two albums, leaving them sounding more Morbid Angel
inspired than Suffocation this time around. It’s subtle, but
there…probably due to the influence of Ripping Corpse/Morbid Angel 6
stringer Erik Rutan as producer…hey, that’s actually what they sound
most like here, Ripping Corpse with Frank Mullins vocals. And hey, who
doesn’t like a bit of Jersey death/thrash?

So the lesson learned here is, get yourself a good producer to clean up
your sound and throw some much needed influence your way, and you
too can go from a demo-quality bottom tier act to…well, one that sounds a lot better and could be taken a lot more seriously, anyway.

So, uh…good job, Erik?

Either way, band or producer, you know which of these albums to go for,
and which is quite skippable…

I dug the Rutan album, definitely.

Panchrysia – Dogma (April 30)

Belgian black metallers. They have an unusual sound, mixing a sub-Tom
G. Warrior croak vocal with a midtempo, almost post-black approach that
reminds somewhat of weird acts like Miasma or, as the promo materials
would have it, more recent Satyricon (which in some ways, yes, you can
hear).

Keep in mind, in saying “black metal”, we’re not talking anything expected
– most of this album is almost “black n’ roll”, so low and slow is the riffing
and drumming. When they do go nuts with the tremelo riffing, sure, the
blastbeats kick in, but it just ain’t that kind of album…more of a “dark
metal” sort of post-black something or other that doesn’t grate so hard on
the ears or demand so much of its listening audience.

It’s strange, sure. But overall, I’d call that a positive thing.

Akhenaten – Golden Serpent God (Satanath Records / Cimmerian Shade Recordings / Murdher Records) (May 31)

OK, had to copy this one over. The promo materials describe this odd,
sorta Nile-esque act as “US blackened mesopotamian folk/death metal”.

Say huh? 

Well, they’re (modern) death metal, they throw in a lot of speedy bursts
and strong Arabian/Middle Eastern traditional bits, you know, kind of
like…well, Nile.

Not bad, has some curiosity appeal…but “blackened mesopotamian
folk/death metal”?

(pause for long laugh of disbelief)

Damn, these bands and labels really have to stretch to find some way to
distinguish themselves from each other and the bands they’re copying so
slavishly nowadays…”nautik doom metal“, anyone?

Aetranok – Kingdoms Of The Black Sepulcher (Symbol Of Domination / Death Portal Studio) (April 26)

Eminently forgettable “occult black metal” act out of New Mexico.

Some Dimmuesque keyboard bits, but I’d hardly call this “symphonic
black”. Hell, there’s some black/death sub-Morbid Angel nonsense in
“signum elos barathrum”, don’t ask me what the hell these guys were
thinking.

WHIZZ!

And the flames are fed yet again this month…

Next?

Pánico Al Miedo – Formador (Symbol Of Domination / United By Chaos) (April 27)

Spanish modern thrash act with very light hints of death metal (they also
tapped James Murphy for a solo to that end.)

I give ’em props for keeping the riffs more distinct and less boring than
usual for modern day thrashers, but those horrid aggro vocals have got to
go.

Godless Enthropia – Tetracyclic Dominion (Symbol Of Domination / Hecatombe Records) (April 28)

Italian tech/brutal death metal act with hilarious Cookie Monsterlike vocals
and a whole lot of aimless riffing and annoying blastbeat drumming.

This Third Eye ain’t “cauterized”, so we can see this is just another piece
of shit for the Pyre.

Another one incoming!

Geez, these folks are crazy, standing that close to the fire…

Next?

Aornos – The Great Scorn (Symbol Of Domination / Ira Aeterna / The True Plague / Black Metal Records) (April 29)

We previously reviewed these Hungarians’ Mors Sola, and found them a bit of a workaday yawn, all too typical and ticking off a few too many of the expected tropes of late 90’s, somewhat symphonic leaning black metal to actually stand out in any real respect.

Yeah, nothing’s changed. It’s acceptable, I guess…but I say this with a
stifled yawn.

Grimorium Verum – Revenant (Symbol Of Domination / Cimmerian Shade Recordings / The True Plague / Black Metal Records) (May 5)

Russian symphonic black metal band. It’s quirky, and has more appeal
when the sinister keyboards are working a Gloomy Grim/early Gehenna
thing than when they get all Euro-symphonic and expansive…but sadly,
the latter is most often the case here.

Even so, riffing seems more important, even central to their sound than
one tends to encounter in post-Euronymous, non-Gorgoroth black metal,
and that’s a definite plus. Even the weird croaking vox are strange
enough (once again, in a Gloomy Grimlike manner) to offer more appeal
than usual…

Yeah, I’d call these guys one to watch. Not bad at all.

Autumnwind – Endless Fear (Symbol Of Domination / More Hate Productions) (May 20)

Almost exclusively ivory-tinkling ambient, though subdued “band”
moments do make an appearance towards the end of several of the
tracks herein.

Syrian one man bedroom ambient cum “black metal” act, but seems kind
of pointless to yours truly (like most ambient releases tend to).

Nice cover, though.

In Tenebriz – Winternight Poetry (Symbol Of Domination / More Hate Productions) (May 25)

Russian act that seems to have ported the guy from Autumnwind over to
do the same very basic, never changing tinkling keyboard riff over and
introducing every damn song.

The band themselves keep things sorta low and slow, almost gothic
doomy, which has some appeal…as does yet another nice album cover.

Even so…those keyboard bits have to go.

Advertisements