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Well, some of the more astute Third Eye regulars may have predicted it…but it’s always a surprise when you’re the protagonist of the story, living out the script day after day, until the next eye opening revelation hits.

But yeah…from 20 years self identifying as a diehard black metaller, the decidedly sorry state of that scene (as a rule of thumb, there’s always Finland and a handful of faithful old school acts like Marduk to contend with…) led me to a point where I found I’d lost my taste for all the juvenalia and hipsters and oh-so ooga booga occultist poseurdom of the genre and its flag bearers and started to really appreciate, rediscover and delve ever deeper into the most obscure corners of genres previously ignored, more or less mocked or remained generally dismissive of. Doom. Vintage US power metal. The lighter, glammier end of old school 80’s metal (and the hard rock/AOR/70’s rock it so often gets reclassifed as these days).

And now? You guessed it.  Power metal.  And I mean the more popular and au courant European variant.

Now, look, there have been slight leanings in this direction for years. One of the first post-1994/collapse of death metal bands I gravitated to in the earlier 2000s was Hammerfall. I became a big fan of Roy Khan, which meant an early (though since lost) appreciation for Kamelot (these days, I find far more merit in his Conception work).

A shared love alongside my wife for female fronted, operatically inclined gothic/symphonic metal included the likes of Edenbridge, and Tarja era (and later Floor-era) Nightwish (both often displaying the distinct overtones of power metal in their songwriting approach).

An amusement at the D&D fantasy and appreciation of the bombastic operatic tones of Fabio Lione meant a great love for Rhapsody (at least before all the splintering and “Of Fire” nonsense). And many of the bands we’ve had on the podcast (and a few live shows we covered there) were or were closely related to power metal:

Grave DiggerHelstarLeather Leone/Chastain, Mob Rules and Orden Ogan, Bloodbound, Diego Valdez and Helker, Udo Dirkschnieder of Accept and U.D.O., Alestorm/Gloryhammer and Serenity, Mat Sinner and Alex Beyrodt of Sinner, Primal Fear and Silent Force, DC Cooper of Royal Hunt and Silent Force, Shakra, Michael Kiske of Helloween, Rhapsody of Fire, Edenbridge, two of the many frontmen of Yngwie, Ron Keel and Mark Boals, Chris Impelliteri, Liv Kristine of Leaves Eyes and Theatre of Tragedy, Iron SaviorXandria, Amberian Dawn, Hexx and Jag Panzer, among dozens of other death, black, doom, traditional, thrash, gothic/symphonic, AOR and gothic rock/darkwave folks you’d easily recognize…but the sheer number that ties easily and succinctly to power metal, and just how many append more to the European branch thereof, is notable.

But recent coverage of labels like Ulterium and Fighter Records has only heightened what was more of an undertone with all those AFM and Napalm acts (two generally top tier labels that specialize in the traditional and power spectrum) in years prior…namely, that much of the best and most reliable quality material coming in for review month after month had some orientation towards or relation to power metal…these days, generally meaning the European branch (or to those unfamiliar with the earlier, still superior USPM, “power metal” per se.)

Now, look. The stuff is cheesy as hell. Formulaic, often a bit wallpapery, with songs that absolutely kill but albums that tend to flag under the weight of their sheer saminess from track to track (and often album to album, occasionally even from one act to another!)

In other words, I know this will never be “my go to”, or replace my base love of traditional 80’s metal in all its shades, aboveground and underground. I still spin some (mostly old, or at least Finnish) black metal, and old death and thrash metal has never fallen too far out of rotation…hell, a lot of what is considered USPM these days was just plain thrash metal back in the day. I listen to this shit all the time.

And doom (and its many variants and relations, from stoner* to gothic to death, but most especially traditional)? Arguably just as much, at times even moreso. These are my go-tos, when not checking out incoming review materials or working other genres and corners of the collection from years gone by, goth and punk being only the most regular tips of that particular iceberg.

* well…some stoner.  Some of it just blows, and stinks of 90’s grunge.

But the fact that I’ve come around and rekindled a love for a few genres I remained dismissive of and left very much in the cobweb collecting corners of the collection, in the case of bands like Hammerfall literally untouched for more than 15 years (no shit)? I’d consider that a jaw dropper of a revelation.

Those labels who do work bands revolving around the aforementioned genres, you know what to do.

If nothing else, it shows that the course of a man’s life is never predictable…least of all, to himself. As David Bowie once penned, bring on those ch-ch-ch-changes.

GROUNDBREAKER – S/T (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (September 14)

Our pal Robert Sall (of Work of Art and W.E.T.) returns to the fray in conjunction with the frontman from fellow AOR revivalists FM, delivering an album that sounds so much like vintage Journey and Foreigner (among others you could suss out from the same 1976-83 time period) you’ll be shocked it’s in fact a brand spanking new creation…

Pulling regular Frontiers go to Alessandro del Vecchio in for keyboards, production and even a bit of songwriting, this UK/Sweden/Italy conglomerate offer solid, resolutely melodic and decidedly early 80’s earworms suitable for the soundtrack of your favorite slice of cinematic cheese (preferably heard over a training montage, romantic closing or nighttime urban driving sequence).

In other words, it’s just fucking perfect for the type, and what all the best AOR should be.

Normally with these, I tend to gravitate to a handful of tracks, possibly the open or closer (generally the strongest tracks on any good album) and almost always avoiding the ballad (a musical form I’ve never cared for, bar the metallicized “power ballad”…despite an appreciation for AOR and now even power metal, I’ve never been into schmaltz)…but here, there’s simply not a weak track to gloss over.

If you’re stuck in the 80’s even half as much as yours truly (and to judge by the sound of it, a hell of a lot of folks I speak to out there nowadays…), you’d be a fool to pass up on this one.

TREAT – Tunguska (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (September 14)

Third effort from these rather light AOR oriented Swedes. We’d covered their prior Ghost of Graceland and found them…well, surprisingly light in tone, but certainly likeable and melodic enough for all that.

This one doesn’t mess with the formula, delivering overly airy ballads and syrupy (well, OK, there’s a bit more drive than I recall from last time around…) radio oriented material sure to stick in the heads of more mellow listeners, girlfriends and supermarket customers (because it’s the kind of almost Nashville-esque light rock they love to play over the loudspeakers to get you to relax and buy shit).

And hey, there’s nothing wrong with that – for a nation known for two genres of death metal and one of the most virulent and aggressive strains of black metal, most Swedish acts tend to keep things soft, light and sweet, whether they identify as “rock”, “AOR” or “metal” of whatever non-“extreme” variety.

Must be the improved standard of living and non-personal bankruptcy baiting (and not inappropriately and inextricably tied to employment!) healthcare system.

Cough.

Next?

DREAM CHILD – Until Death Do We Meet Again (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (September 14)

So moving on from Treat…

You know, this is the band that should have taken that moniker…because it’s something of a treat to see the roster on this one.

Our pal Diego Valdez (of Helker and tapped for any number of AOR to power metal acts besides) on vocals, Craig Goldy on guitar, Rudy Sarzo on bass…and with those three in attendance, you already know this is going to sound kinda like Intermission/Dream Evil-era Dio.

Tag in AC/DC sticksman Simon Wright (who apparently also gigged with Dio…don’t ask me, I dropped off after Dream Evil closed out the band’s glory days) and a second guitarist/keyboardist who worked with MSG, and you’ve got yourself…well, yeah. It’s kind of a treat for 80’s metal fans.

Now, one bit of business here did make the ol’ nose crinkle in distaste. Apparently, this project came together because Goldy was challenged to come up with an album like (or as good as, or in the vein of) Rainbow Rising.

…okay, that’s not fair to the man. That (and the poorly produced Long Live Rock N Roll) were the pinnacles of the Dio/Blackmore iteration of Rainbow, which blew Deep Purple in all its versions right the fuck off the stage, I dare ya to challenge that. I mean, all of Dio’s Rainbow albums are great stuff…but seriously? Rising?

Well, it’ll come as no surprise whatsoever that Treat sounds nothing like Rainbow Rising, by any stretch of the imagination. It’s too modern, too “soft” in the sense that Goldy brought a lighter, more radio friendly “pop” sensibility to Dio (hey, come on, he was ex-Giuffria, after all…)

But more, as dead on an impressionist (and as powerful a vocalist and likeable a guy) as Valdez is, as good a player as Goldy is…you’re not going to even come close to tapping that bar, it’s too fucking high.

But if you slipped this into whichever Dio box you picked up in place of whatever shitty albums came after Dream Evil (yeah, I picked one up just to fill that particular gap in the “upgrade from cassette” project, as DE’s been out of print for a bit now…and whatever that album or two were after, P-U!!! Thank your lucky stars for Heaven and Hell and his reunion material with Sabbath, that’s all I can say…), chances are, only the hardest core of fans would even notice.

They’d probably recognize it as a distinct improvement over the albums Ronnie and company actually recorded post-’87, which it is.

SNAKES IN PARADISE – Step into the light (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (September 14)

Another light, if more depressively introspective in tone, AOR affair out of Sweden, this time fronted by former Company of Snakes frontman Stefan Berggren (remember that former Whitesnake alumni act?)

Sadly, there’s no Moody/Mardsen/Murray (or even ex-Ozzy man Lee Kerslake!) to breathe that extra bit of blues rock boogie band life into things, but on the positive side, you do get a heapin’ helpin’ of hook-laden melodic melancholy.

Not the sort of thing you’re likely to say, “hey, this is exactly what I was looking for, thanks!”…but it’s pretty damn unlikely you’ll be flipping the dial any time soon, either.

In fact, you’ll probably be saying “hey, that was pretty good…who was that?”

URIAH HEEP – Living The Dream (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (September 14)

We’d previously covered this 70’s rock holdover’s Live at Koko three years ago, and at the time discussed how we’d managed to avoid exposure to these guys for all these years (despite seeing the striking cover to Abominog peppering many a record store sale bin over the intervening decades), and how this may actually have been not all that uncommon among Stateside listeners (see also fellow bargain bin regulars Marillion).

Even so, at least on a purely dispassionate and intellectual basis, we found it a bit of a surprise that a band of this level appeared to be so criminally ignored, and so late into their lengthy career (hell, it’s not like you’re going to hear ’em on the eternal top 40 of “classic rock radio”…)

So here they are again, this time with a brand spanking new album of material. How do they fare, so many years on?

Well, actually? Not bad. Really nice harmonies on the choruses (think mid-70’s Crosby Stills and Nash or Badfinger here), keyboards that occasionally bring the great Jon Lord to mind, and get this – a surprising amount of drive and aggression from these vintage performers.

Seriously – most of the Frontiers roster this month doesn’t have half as much piss and vinegar in ’em as these guys who’ve been kicking around (and recording!) well before most of us were even born.

Damn, that’s how I want to spend my golden years…rocking your fucking socks off.

Expect material much in the vein of Deep Purple’s Perfect Strangers, but with (generally speaking) better songs and not only more progginess, but more of a hard rocking drive and feel…but do, by all means, give this one a listen.

I remain duly impressed.

Salute to the granddads of hard rock, they just kicked the asses of guys half their age or less.

 

Dynazty – Firesign (AFM Records) (September 28)

What is it about Sweden that produces this sort of syrupy, distinctly mellow take on the less “extreme” forms of metal?

I mean, for a country noted for its particularly blasphemous black metal and no less than two major schools of death metal (so much so that they’re identified by the cities and studios they’re so often produced in), it seems inevitable that whether you’re talking Frontiers-style AOR, gothically inclined symphonic, retro-traditional or power metal, if the band originates from Sweden, it’s going to sound like someone just poured a full bag of refined sugar in your cup. Here, dig in!

No exception to the rule, Stockholm’s Dynazty adhere so closely to this recurrent national template as to serve as posterboys for same. Even when frontman Nils Molin tries to get all “fierce” and throw some force and gravel into things like some cut rate Ronnie James Dio (“the grey”), it winds up coming off like Joey Tempest by way of Michael Sweet.

The keyboards are cheesy, the guitars too Evanescence-like in all their simplistic, detuned “glory”, the riffs too pat, with a lot more negative space than you’d ever expect from power metal…it’s like someone found an ABBA cover band at some local bar, played them about 5 power metal albums and threw ’em in the studio. Here, now you know what to do, hit it!

Now, as this may backhandedly imply, there’s plenty of melodicism and radio friendly listenability to be found in Firesign, that’s in no way being questioned here.

But for ears accustomed to metal in all its forms and subgenres, from early 80’s style hard AOR through the nastiest corners of the “extreme” and underground? This is just silly…and wayyyy too much sugar for anyone over the age of 10 to consume without wincing, knowing just how atrocious this candy fluff batch of over-sweetness is for your ongoing health.

  

Gama Bomb – Speed Between The Lines (AFM Records) (October 12)

We’d covered these Irish thrashers twice before, with their involuntary
bowel movement-obsessed Terror Tapes and their much improved Untouchable Glory.  Here they return with an album that shows a few major changes…and yet falls distinctly between the two aforementioned in nearly all possible respects.

Swiping his stylistic cadences and tone mainly from Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth (“faceblaster”), Philly Byrne at least manages to imbue more character to what was just a handful of years back somewhat one note.

To be fair, Byrne rarely reaches for notes or opens up and lets out any real dramatic bellows like Ellsworth was prone to in Overkill’s Gustafson glory days, sticking to more of a Sean Killianesque…er, one note declamatory approach.

So…yeah, things haven’t changed all that much, except that he’s learned how to stylize the hell out of that one note.  Take it as an improvement, and leave it at that.  It feels more Ellsworth than Killian, good enough.

As usual for Gama Bomb, every track pretty much sounds like the last (which in that respect may show a return to Terror Tapes-era form rather than the slightly more diversified approach taken on Untouchable Glory), with multiple tracks devoted to cult cinema, like “we are going to eat you” (Tsui Hark’s early horror pictures kick the living shit out of his more famed wirework ones)* and a tribute to Kurt Russell (love me some early John Carpenter…hell, even Overboard is good for a laugh with the wife)…but what I don’t get is why they’ve toned that aspect down.

* oh, wait…you mean it’s not about the Hong Kong cannibal village film? Damn…

Plus to this is, they’re on the right side of history, offering a few choice bits of social commentary, taking on everything from the very obvious (except to the complete babbling idiot contingent, ahem) onslaught of global warming-driven weather change and frequency of natural disasters to the siloing and radicalization inherent to social media and the disturbing rise of global neo-nazism…suffice to say, all knocks and bits of crude humor they’re prone to aside, these guys aren’t stupid. They get it.

So if you’ve been blowing spare time snickering at Clisare videos and nodding along to Alan Averill columns and are looking for a bit more of an Irish take on what’s up with what’s going down (to quote a 90’s lyric…), you could do worse than hearing it from these Eire thrashers.

Necronomicon – Unleashed Bastards (El Puerto Records GbR) (September 28)

Obscure German speed metal/thrash act that’s been kicking around on and off since the mid-80’s, wisely dropped out for much of the 90’s and back in the trenches since around ’04.

I guess if you took a more aggressive Rage or Warrant (or a less pissed off Darkness) and gave them Assassin’s vocalist (well…slightly less abrasive, but still pretty offputting), you’d have these guys in a nutshell.

Hey, I’m all for bands like Violent Force, early Running Wild, Gravestone, Deathrow and all of the aforementioned, so you know this worked for me.

Just could have done with a bit less of the steel filings being gargled on the vocal end.  But overall?  Yeah, this is pretty tight, fairly vintage…I’d say ’89 style thrash/speed.

Undertow – Reap The Storm (El Puerto Records GbR) (September 21)

o…kayyy…

well, these guys are also from Germany, and have been kicking around since…well, the mid 90’s. I’m guessing they swiped their moniker from the Tool album, which should throw down some red flags right there.

There are bits of this that feel (modern) thrashlike (“zero type x”), others that are more mellow, even gothic doomish (“floating”), and others that bring weird shit like Crematory to mind (“dunning krueger”, “reap the storm”…which also has some breakdowns that are full on metalcore!) They even get sorta folk meets country at one point, which is just fucking bizarre (“11 hours”).

Terrible? No. It’s listenable, if you’re in a very forgiving mood and don’t mind frequent use of the fast forward and/or skip button.

But what the fuck they’re trying to be, other than one seriously genre-confused act of questionable appeal, that’s anyone’s guess.

Nonpoint – X (Spinefarm Records) (August 24)

er…what the hell genre is this, exactly?

I think the fact that it’s produced by some guy who worked with Avenged Sevenfold should give a hint that at best, this could be working that nebulous “NWOAHM” misnomer (which includes everything from nu metal acts to metalcore like the mighty Killswitch Engage). But then…

As usual of late, my experience kicked off with closer “position one”, which was oddly laid back, almost indie space rock filled with layered feedback guitars before going sort of Korn goes emo on the choruses (and then all Slipknot on the brief noise “solo”).

Album opener “empty batteries” sounds a tad metalcore at first, then gets a bit too groove with the riffing (and nu with all the electronic noise nonsense appended thereto for no apparent reason whatsoever).  “Chaos and earthquakes” almost feels Avenged Sevenfoldish on the open, but then gets all hip hoppy and decidedly nu metal thereafter.

Geez, do I have to go on?

Look, the one thing Nonpoint seems to have going for them, by comparison to, say, Limp Bizkit or Rage Against the Machine, is that they seem far more inclined to this sort of laid back to mellow vibe, rather than the all out pimply faced teenage AAAAAAANGST!!!! you usually have to suffer through with this kind of shit.

And trust me, that’s a definite plus…enabled me to sit through a few songs before getting the itch to start skipping around through the rest.

But is it really “metal”? Hell, is it even “hard rock”, or the sort of cult subculture punk/goth/metal spectrum acts we cover here?

Nah, not really.

Not awful, by comparison to others of its presumed ilk…but nah.

Steve ‘n’ Seagulls – Grainsville (Spinefarm Records) (August 31)

We’d covered these Finnish faux-rednecks’ Brothers in Farms previously, when that whole ‘thunderstruck’ video thing was still comparatively fresh in memory. Stupid, definitely…but mildly amusing if you’re in the right (rather inebriated) mindset.

Here they hearken back to said video (whose unexpected success with bored viewers led to their dropping actual records thereafter) with an album that’s almost entirely weird covers: Hendrix, Kiss, Van Halen, ZZ Topp, Sabbath, even total shit like Pearl Jam and Lenny Kravitz get some rather…Euro-folksy schlager meets hillbilly zydeco treatment.

One problem: unlike the utterly out of left field take on “thunderstruck” (which admittedly was aided greatly by the camped up visuals)?

Nothing here is actually funny. And that, I’m sorry to say, is something of a kiss of death.

If you can’t make a good joke out of Kiss’ 1979 disco bid, then yeah – your sense of humor needs some serious tweaking.

Next?

Simon Pegg wants you.

THE UNITY – Rise (Steamhammer / SPV) (September 14)

A few members of Gamma Ray step out for their own rather Battle Beast-like midtempo Euro power metal moment in the sun.

Frontman Gianbattista Manenti is able to work the necessary soaring diaphragmatic bellows, but tends to lean towards the raspier end thereof, somewhat like Michael Boormann crossed with Dave DeFeis, possibly with a smidge of John Prakesh slathered over for good measure.

Myself, I like my power metal (US or Euro) with crystal clear, full bodied vocals, hold the gravel gargling, please…so I’m not exactly lining up as a member of the fanclub here.

But the songs are non-template (you’ll be hard pressed to find more than a pinch of typewriter double bass drumming or those annoyingly incessant tremelo riffed chords so endemic to the European school of power) and come with memorably melodic choruses…so much divergent from the same old, same old, in fact, that at times you wonder if you’re even still listening to “a power metal act”, or if they’ve fallen into a more AOR school of musical thought.

How Battle Beast of them…perhaps even akin to the quirkier more recent work from Sonata Arctica.

Wasn’t excited by this…but it’s listenable and pleasant enough, no question.

ONKEL TOM – Bier Ernst (Steamhammer / SPV) (September 28)

Sodom mainman Tom “Angelripper”‘s Tankard-inspired joke band is back, and going full on Bard’s Tale with a rousing rendition of “Bier, Bier, Bier” – the Lord bless Charlie Mops indeed!

As you might expect, there’s plenty of drunken foolishness to be found herein, as songs like “prost!” and “I’m standing at the bar and have no money” would further indicate, but there’s a second disc that taps more into the “ernst” than the “bier”, taking on more serious topics, like what shitheads cops are (“polizisten”).

What’s weird about this is you get the unmistakable voice of one of the original Teutonic Trio of blackthrash cum “mainstream” thrash acts, working material that often feels way too soft and light for Tankard or likeminded party acts like Trollfest.

At times, this entire project feels more like the “bar closing” acoustic tracks of bands like Flogging Molly than it ever does thrash…then you get tracks like “auf dun” that bear that unmistakable crunch and bite you’d anticipate. Hell, he even goes full on Sodom vocals in the latter end of “das bla” for a phrase or two.

It’s a strange beast. But Tankard, it’s not.

Walking Dead On Broadway – Dead Era (Long Branch Records) (September 28)

“Deathcore”.

I’d heard this word bandied about in curses and putdowns, but managed to keep the ol’ ears pretty clear of anything falling under this general header…or if I did encounter any such via radio or as a track on some comp, it was immediately flipped off, literally and metaphorically, and with a hearty laugh. I mean, seriously. Are you fucking kidding me?

So…yeah, here’s what may be the first or second of these (I remember writing something along these lines a Roundup or two back…) ever crossing the virtual desk…and the comedy, needless to say, continues.

Somewhere between aggro, nu and what sadly appears to pass as “hardcore” these days, this is all overly detuned guitars dropping soundalike riffs that fall somewhere between lunkheaded and neanderthalic (aggro/nu) and pointlessly spastic (“tech death”)…

…a veritable shit sandwich topped off with some guy curling his tongue into a U, eyes popping out of his head and veins straining to free themselves from his neck, as he shrieks, belches and belches his sheer RAAAAAAGE at…well, realizing just how much of a loser you have to be to work vocals like that, thinking “damn, I’m cool!

Whew.

And this came out of Germany, of all places?

Shit, that’s one of the diehard nations, one you could always count on for some quality metal.

Biggie Smalls was right, apparently.

Motherfuckin’ shit done changed!

Express mail delivery to the Pile of Dead Bards, $22.80. Don’t worry your little heads about it, I’ll send you guys the bill.

WHOOSH! Up went another stinker…

…next?

Pig Destroyer – Head Cage (Relapse Records) (September 7)

Weird. I’d always avoided checking out this band, partly because, well, they’re just another grindcore act.

It’s one of those subgenres like “war metal”, where if you’ve heard one, you’ve pretty much heard ’em all – not much distinguishes the Carcass wannabes from the Repulsion ones or the Terrorizer ones, even if they bring in birds (Hatebeak) or dogs (Caninus) as “vocalists” for a gag.

But also for the name. Really? Another one of those vegan acts? Or just trying to be crass and juvenile, like yeah, I really dig animal abuse (or I’m so black metal eeeeevil, I mean “long pig” by that – Eviscerating Humans? Nah, let’s try Pig Destroyer!)

Well, when this one came in, I took a look around and discovered a much more acceptable origin to the name (though they’ve since backed off from that more punk take on the armed serial abusers in uniform)…and am hearing something that bears precious little in common with grindcore.

Yeah, the guitars are overdistorted and the production is noisy. Sure, the drums occasionally pick up to expected speed (as in portions of “the torture fields” or “terminal itch”). But what you really hear here? Is tonsil waggling “hardcore” screamo vox and a whole lot of atonal noise effects atop generally midtempo aggro guitars (you could even say “groove”, but said groove is a decidedly awkward and mutant one…) Not exactly a plus…but hey, it’s far from what you expect to hear when someone markets themselves as a grindcore act!

Noise, nu metal, aggro, groove or what strangely passes as “hardcore” these days? Your take, Pig Destroyer covers all of those bases to one extent or another – and regular Third Eye readers already know my take on all of those unfortunate subgenres.

I admit, like the bit about their name, I was pleasantly surprised by the more midtempo approach to riffing, given what I was expecting to hear.  But grindcore?

Nah, I’m just not hearing any in this.

ASYLUM (Maryland) – 3-3-88 (CD) (Shadow Kingdom) (September 28)

80’s doom metal out of Maryland?  Interesting.

I know places like Pittsburgh and Vegas had a skewed take on doom, from the Celtic Frost gone more quirkily thrashlike Dream Death and their subsequent morph into Penance to the sludgy sinister thing Goatlord was throwing around…and both subsequently reclassified as doom (which is hardly what any of us were thinking at the time).

But while still bearing elements more akin to thrash (the quirky, almost proggy instrumental riff fest “unorthodox” and its weird cousins “time bomb” and “road to ruin”, the driving NWOBHM of “world in trouble”), there’s no mistaking that Witchfinder General meets Pentagram (or if you prefer, Count Raven meets Witchcraft) clean vocal under reverb and grinding, relatively lo-fi Victor Griffinesque midtempo riffing of tracks like “mystified” and “nowhere”, or the 60’s proto-metal heavy rock throwback of “psyche world”.

Yeah, no question this is doom, however particular and individual a take as it may be.

If you’re looking for the missing link between Witchfinder General and Pentagram, look no further.

I dug it, no question.

VANIK – II Dark Season (CD) (Shadow Kingdom) (October 26)

Live six stringer for Midnight gets his own self titled band.

As you might expect, the straightforward NWOBHM feel and speed are present and accounted for, but the Bathory/Venom/Motorhead influences are appended here by an equal Misfits/almost Vladimirs orientation.

That’s right, this is horrorpunk-inflected metal, black-ish and biker-like in true USBM fashion, but more clean vocalled, even early thrash in approach – think something like early Nasty Savage crossed with early Abattoir, but with that Motorhead drive and Venom simplicity.

Oh, and since he’s a guitarist given free reign, there’s a lot of soloing. Old school soloing, very blues rock in origin, but as filtered through the earlier, more straightforward 80’s metal (think earlier Twisted Sister or Quiet Riot here). And going on about horror films and related topics.

If you grew up on and appreciate all these early to mid-80’s acts in their heyday (i.e. before the money really started rolling in, they got overly glammy and everything went right to shit), you’ll find plenty to appreciate here.

I sure did.

Professor Black – I Am The Rock (High Roller Records) (October 5)
Professor Black – LVPVS (High Roller Records) (October 5)
Professor Black – Sunrise (High Roller Records) (October 5)

The frontman for loveable positive-toned punk / hard rock crossover act High Spirits drops three albums simultaneously, grouped by stylistic affectation.

I am the Rock is the most straightforward and closest (in a way) to what he’s doing with High Spirits, with the cover a dead giveaway as to what’s inside: a collection of 70’s style hard rock tracks given a blatantly Motorheadesque makeover.

No, they’re not likely to be confused with Lemmy and company’s own post-Hawkwind through Rock N’ Roll era classics (sorry, I refuse to acknowledge any of the questionable, tired sounding material that came thereafter), being more light toned and classic rock-ified in feel.

But yes, there are riffs and affectations clearly and very obviously swiped from the Lemmy/Fast Eddie/Philthy Animal/Robbo/Wallis & Fox/Wurzel & Campbell back catalogue, so there’s that. Not like he’s hiding it with that cover, kids.

Lvpvs is a bit more surprising, given the cover – you’d assume both of the remaining albums leaned black metal of some sort. Instead, what you get here is more of a synthesizer heavy genre blender affair, which occasionally drifts into black metallish drone sequences (“habeas corpus”), stoner rock (“every second”) or jangly indie pop (“too soon”).  It’s pretty weird, not least for his strange affectation of making every track end at exactly 11:06 (?!?) umm…sure, whatever.

Well, he throws you again, with the album with the Bathory cover.  Sunrise, despite the font and (rather nice) cover photo actually drops a pretty workaday collection of classic rock songs on ya, appended with one veer into Bad Religion territory (check out those background vox, repetitive lead line and major key business) as crossed with festival-friendly pagan metal (all that bombast, the rowing a boat rhythm of the riffing), namely “you and I” (which is therefore the best track on this one by a mile).

For a guy whose main gig has proved so absolutely killer, it’s strange that his solo material is…I don’t know. Let’s be nice and say “all over the place”. Vocals and slight punk elements bleeding in here and there bring the only real cohesiveness, the rest being a sort of catch as catch can with an overly prominent classic rock orientation…

…which amounts to a serious letdown when you’re expecting a Motorhead tribute act, a Bathory tribute act, and who knows, maybe an Ulver one from those covers.

Instead, you get this.

May be of interest to High Spirits fans who lean more 70’s “rock” than they ever do punk (much less metal!)

  

Trash Deity – Cross & Divide (Metropolis) (September 7)

Wowza…I wasn’t expecting Thrill Kill Kult’s “Groovie Mann” to drop across the virtual desk, particularly under another band’s aegis…been listening to this guy from way back (as in I See Good Spirits, an album that still gets regular rotation alongside the later career highpoint 13 Above the Night).

Well, lyrically, he hasn’t changed a bit (though the loveably pointed film and documentary sound bytes seem to have taken a powder for the most part)…perhaps, like King Diamond, he’s become just a bit less blatant than his former act at their best. The nihilism and sleaze are present and accounted for, let’s put it that way.

While there’s no question that “finger on a trigger”, particularly in its remix version, remains the high point of this release (and as you might expect, nothing here reaches quite the same delirious occultic/sexually Decadent highs of his more famed act), if you (like yours truly) always held that band in some measure of dark esteem, the man himself hasn’t changed a bit…and this one may well offer more than just a bit of filler to bide the time.

CHUGGABOOM – TRINITY (October 31)

Oddball crossover act that appropriates elements of both Slipknot-style nu metal and Lacuna Coil, but somehow misidentifies as metalcore.

The unnecessary electronic squeaks and bleeps are all over the damn place, verse riffs are all simplistic detuned bounce covered by rather random leads that never actually follow a melody line or make sense.

The vox are trying to be “scary” by switching from grindcorelike Carcass-ian dual shriek/belch vox to snarly neo-black metal ones, from “manly” to effeminate, all over the fucking place, done rapid fire in the patented Jonathan Davis meets Corey Taylor fashion.

But then they drop choruses that go all clean and melodic, like an emo band…or yeah, a metalcore one.  Except for the fact that they generally sound like female alto vox, and a whole hell of a lot more like Cristina Scabbia dropping by for a few seconds to try to straighten out this utter shitstorm and grant most songs a moment or two of proper listenability.

Doesn’t work, given how perfectly horrid what surrounds these brief moments actually is…but nice attempt.  If it was a female singing those choruses, that is…scares me to see none listed on the member list!

Then they actually have the chutzpah to refer to their fans as “Chuggalos” (oh, good GOD…) Hey, Murgatroyd, where’s the local meth lab? Got any Faygo?

Yeah, it’s dogshit nu metal to the core – you even get this choice lyric:

“I bet you couldn’t survive two seconds in a mosh pit, bitch.

umm…yeah.  Right-o, there, chap.*

* they’re British. You know, fish & chips with vinegar down at Brighton, bowler hats, Austin Powers teeth, Benny Hill running around in drag, Ivor Biggun and all that.**  Who knows, may explain this one’s existence…

**okay, okay, I know. Apologies to the other 99.9% of Brits out there, that was pretty cheesy.***

***except for Brexit supporters. And this band, just for writing lyrics like that and recording music this (to be nice about it) questionable.  You guys can take the goofy stereotypes personally if you like, no charge.

I’d schizophrenically switch between 5 or 6 “scary” sounding voices to send this one to its just reward, but, you know, that would be pretty fucking lame and 90’s Midwestern.

Yeah, sorry, can’t do that, it’s just too unutterably lame.  I mean, seriously, what are we, fucking Juggalos or Slipknot fans or something?

NEXT!

SIR REG – The Underdogs (Despotz) (September 21)

Ah, a Celtic folk/punk act. Yeah, I’m always down for some Flogging Molly, or even a bit of Dropkick Murphys or Pogues…

…wait. What the fuck?!?

umm…ignore the photo shoot, guys. These jig pit-beckoning citizens of Eire? They’re from fucking Sweden.

er…so…YEAH! Irishmen from Sweden. And a sweet Colleen that probably goes by Inga. Never mind the bollocks, here comes Sir Reg…

Promo materials note that even the great Flogging Molly were Americans, save mainman Dave King…so yeah, there’s one pureblood from the Counties in the mix, namely frontman Brendan Sheehy.

I guess that makes this just a tad less insane…? (sighs)

Well, anyway, if (like yours truly) you’ve ever sported a clover pin or several, cranked a copy of Swagger or Drunken Lullabies or kicked up yuir heels in a jig pit, then you’ll be treading some very familiar territory here…it’s almost like Sheehy picked up where King dropped the ball so many years back, bringing enough boisterous barroom-based sublimated fight energy.

If you’re asking me, as absurd as it looks on paper (and as much as I walked in prepared to shove this seemingly misguided poseur act to the wall – Italian Huguenots unite!), within a song or two, I was eyebrow raisedly down with this – consider this very much Flogging Molly Jr., the Swedish version.

They’ve even got that patented sense o’ humor (“stereotypical drunken feckin’ Irish song”, “giving it up (the drink)”).

If Sheehy wants to declare Sweden one of the Counties, fuck it…pour me another, I’ll play along for the nonce.

  

TERMINAL FUNCTION – The Great Liberator (Stupid Dream Records) (September 21)

hmm…well, we’re told this is tech death. I might have said djent, with terrible aggro vox…but OK, if that’s how you want to have it…

Either way. Disjointed, high speed riffs that never connect, all crammed together nonsensically while some idiot gargle-shouts over the top. Don’t any of these guys realize how stupid they sound?

I just keep seeing muppets freaking out, heads and bodies thrown back, mouths wide open, screaming and waving their wiggly little arms…

Direct flight to the Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards, one way, no stopovers, boarding now…

WHIZZZ!!!!

Ouch! That flame just blazed really high and hard on contact with this one…what a POS that was!

Next?

S.K.o.R. – Rubus Tellus (GMR Music) (September 14)

This one kicked off with (fake) dogs barking (“armageddon”). The last time I heard that was from noted loveable loon Nina Hagen (“wau wau”, off her wonderful second album Unbehagen)…just what the hell am I listening to, that brings her to mind?

Wow, now it’s all The Darkness crossed with Zakk Wyldeian Southern fried riffs (“rhythm n’ blues”) and weird Slade swipes (“bubbleman”).

I mean, this is clearly intended as tongue in cheek comedy, with a frontman who shriek-sings in the goofiest muppet falsetto this side of Elmo about “when it’s time for sex…” (“cuckold and the hotwife”) and “blue collar girls” and “karate girls”.

I’m sighing, mouth agape, eyebrows permanently raised, literally too stunned to type, while listening to this…

Well, yes, you can trace some elements of this back to 70’s glam – not like Slade, Queen, T Rex, Alvin Stardust or Gary Glitter were exactly straight (cough) faced (see what we did there? eh?).

But this is much more of The Darkness/Steel Panther school of rock mockery than that more affectionately lighthearted proto-punk attempt to take rock back to its simpler, more direct 50’s roots during a decade of big show prog pomposity…and as such, I found myself far more annoyed by its troll-like overtones than laughing along with ’em.

Save this one for the 4chan crowd and go discover some real 70’s glam, you probably won’t be disappointed.

Rapheumets Well – The Elder’s Anthology (Test Your Metal Records) (October 26)

We’d covered their Enders Door about a year and a half back, and found them an unutterably strange act, taking a rather Cradle of Filthlike approach to symphonic black metal, but removing all the “black”, leaving the listener with an odd pairing of light female vocals, belching death metal ones, lush and prominent keyboards and overly busy “progressive death metal” riffing with almost nonstop blastbeats.

Well, you’ll probably be unsurprised to find that…nothing’s changed, whatsoever!

Particularly true, as this actually serves as a self-selected “greatest hits” from their past three albums, remixed to include some member changes, which means new players working guitar and drumlines on a Frankenstein’s monster of patchworked old/new recordings.

So that aside, nothing’s changed here…

Less blastbeat-driven moments with the light soprano vox tend to be the most listenable and likeable (duh!), but like CoF, there are several melodic yet drivingly “extreme” moments to be found throughout tracks like “the betrayer” or “ghost walker exodus”.

As usual, the major issue here is a juvenile need to push the (over)aggression and make every album “even heavier!” or what have you. Eventually you find that a heavy (too heavy for most folks you’ll ever meet or deal with in life!) but well crafted and performed song is a whole hell of a lot more important than “out-scaring” the neighbors or winning against pimply faced peers in a pissing contest (“no, I’M more evil! I’m so bad, I should be in detention! I’m the man!”)…which just kind of leaves you nowhere.

…or as an act with a lot of potential, that still hasn’t beaten down that ugly lump of, er, metal and refined it in fire enough times to burn away all those impurities, and deliver a sword worth wielding.

Selah.

Ghost World – Spin (Svart Records) (August 31)

We’d previously reviewed these Finns’ self titled last April, and appreciated the more than usually authentic 90’s indie rock vibe, signalled by their choice of moniker (I won’t say watch the film, but…er…watch the film).

This one offers no real surprises, unless you count a move more towards
a jangly Britpop feel (or at a slight stretch, even a touch Matthew Sweet)
as a major progression and stylistic shift.

It’s still extremely 90’s, a touch depressive and melancholic beneath all
that major key (apparent) happiness on the surface…and while a bit less
engaging thanks to all this mellowing and increased subtlety, it still works
quite well, thank you very much.

Best tracks if you want to sample before indulging: “nice sunglasses”,
“leave no trace” and “vegetable state” (which bears the most
Quine/Lloydesque Matthew Sweet solo you’ve heard since back when).

Keep ’em coming, kids.

The Exploding Eyes – II (Svart Records) (October 5)

We’d covered this Jess and the Ancient Ones offshoot (essentially four
members of same, or nearly the entire band) back in 2015 for their debut and found them…well, look, we really liked the occult rock of “the smoke”.  The rest…yeah, well…go read the review.

So here they are with a second and if their assertions are to be taken as gospel, final release, but the closest they get to a saving track like that is “belladonna”…which is barely a pimple on the ass of “the smoke” before it.

There’s a 70’s feel to most or all of the album here, alright…but it’s more the sort of schmaltzy singer songwriter stuff they used to play in five and dimes like Kresges and Woolworths than any actual “rock”. You know, Carole King, Carole Bayer Sager, Anne Murray, Rita Coolidge, that sort of thing, but more on the depressive side of the equation than their occasional “more upbeat, radio friendly” material. Bleh.

Yeah, it’s probably good riddance. Let’s hope the new Jess material fares better than the Eyes ever did (I’s “smoke” aside).

Skepticism – Stormcrowfleet (Svart Records) (October 26)

And here it is, funeral doom fans – fully remixed from the original masters, a reissue of Finland’s Skepticism’s debut album.

Expect plenty of gloomy church organ, slow, lumbering guitars and simplistic drums, plus some low mixed and deep death growl vox as a topper.

It’s melodic, decidedly more uptempo than, say, Ahab and treads some weird middle ground tying the decidedly disparate likes of Italy’s Jacula, Autopsy and the gothic doomster likes of My Dying Bride together.

Is it some unforgotten masterpiece of the style? Well, that’s arguable – the more of this stuff I hear, the more amazing The Giant comes off by comparison. But that’s certainly no slag…just sets the bar of expectations unreasonably high, perhaps.

It’s certainly good stuff, and if you dig the lower, slower end of doom with more than a touch of gothic doom’s slickly produced and melodically inclined veneer, there’s no question you’ll be happy with this one.

I sure was.

Radux – Disaster Imminent (Svart Records) (September 14)

Fast, aggressive, crunchy guitars marching away at a breakneck pace.  Shrieky vocals that punctuate random phrases with Exciter meets early Slayeresque “who goosed me” yelps. A goofy yet loveable cover and songs about thermonuclear war and postapocalyptic survival…yep, it’s yet another retro-minded thrash act.

Maybe it’s just the cover that swings me, or perhaps the more retro-’88 vibe than typical for modern thrash (think somewhere between acts like early Nasty Savage, Abattoir, Atrophy and the dustier corners of the Teutonic school like Darkness and Violent Force), but I liked this one more than usual for these modern-era thrash jobs – they’ve definitely got a lot of the right parts down pat, and even throw most of ’em together in the right places.

Yeah, this is only a four track EP…so a full length may swing things one way or another. But from what I’m hearing here?

Shrieky one note vox aside, this one’s far more of a keeper than most.

Dark Buddha Rising – The Black Trilogy (Svart Records) (October 26)

Another reissue from Svart this month, this time of the three albums this odd Finnish ambient/black/doom/stoner-sludge act self released on their own label between 2008-2011. Best part for those so inclined? It’s all in one (vinyl) box set, complete with their 2007 Demo I.

What all four releases involved (yes, I’m counting the demo) you get the exact same thing: a whole lotta ambient business – long silences, whispering, sound effects. Eventually, many of the tracks (almost inevitably running between 15 and 25 minutes apiece) resolve into a thick toned, sludgy guitar and drum thing that evokes the general vibe of, say, early Electric Wizard with the atonal nonsense “experimentalism” of early Abruptum…a lost link nobody ever wanted to search for, bar these guys.

It’s perfectly obvious from all the temple chimes and bells and chanting that these guys are ooga booga occultists. What isn’t so obvious is their connection to the doom genre in any of its permutations.

Sure, some of it’s there (we did give a nod to the Wizard and mention the sludginess of the guitars when actual riffs appear amidst all of this empty space and aimless experimentation)…but this is more akin to ambient experimental black metal than it ever is doom, pretentions towards the more stoner/sludge end of the latter with respect to guitar tone and approach being duly noted.

Honestly? I thought the best tracks here were on the demo, where they felt a bit more Monster Magnet or even Kyuss influenced than the later, less stoner doom (and more black slash whatever material…of which, across three full albums, there are few if any instances of change, growth or stylistic expansion.

If you’re interested in hearing these guys, it’s a great collector’s package – three full albums and the demo, all in one box.

The only question that remains is…why would you be interested in this pointless exercise in time wastage?

New Light Choir – Torchlight (Svart Records) (November 23)

Weird two man studio project that pulls elements of indie rock (the quirky vocals, “queen of winter”), a somewhat first wavelike punkified black metal (check out those riffs on “stardust and torchlight”, “grand architect” and “firebird” and tell me you aren’t thinking Darkthrone and Aura Noir…”psalm 6″ practically swings Mayhem) and the 70’s vibe proto-metal of bands like Heavy Load to the same table.

It’s highly listenable, a lot more aggressive than their self-proclaimed “dark, heavy guitar based” rock designation would indicate and weird enough to appeal to fans of standardbearers for strangeness like the aforementioned, Brocas Helm or even Manilla Road (though precious little of either of the latter acts’ distinct “epic metal” style bleeds through to New Light Choir’s sound – it’s more about the sheer weirdness of their approach than any similarities of style).

Interesting stuff, likely to become a sleeper.

  

Witchthroat Serpent – Swallow The Venom (Svart Records) (November 23)

Sludgy French stoner doom that seems to borrow equally from the likes of Electric Wizard and the snotty whiny vocals and overdistorted grungelike guitars of Smashing Pumpkins.

There’s never any question that these guys are walking the path of doom…just in a decidedly 90’s sense, as informed mainly by stoner rock spectrum acts like CoC, Kyuss and the aforementioned rather than the more traditional Sabbath/Pentagram/Vitus school or the European bombast ranging from Candlemass to the lushly appointed gothic doom acts that started appearing during the earlier part of that decade.

Hey, I’m down for another round of Dopethrone, at least…can’t say much for Corgan’s crew, but so long as things come off as crustily doomish as they do here, I’m good.

Pretty damn respectable for the type, no question.

ARSIS – Visitant (Agonia Records) (November 2)

OK, this guy is supposed to have earned a degree in music composition and be a violinist by trade. You know, Vinnie Moore used to practice to violin studies (albeit transposing said sheet music to guitar), and Sugizo from Luna Sea was/is primarily a violinist…you can get some good stuff out of violin oriented players and material crossing over to guitar.

So why does frontman/guitarist James Malone wind up delivering…this?

Seriously. It’s like some huge At the Gates fanboy spazzed out trying to work covers of old Watchtower material. There are moments where solos or lead lines get kinda melodic, but like vintage King Diamond as reworked by a crackhead, such moments fall few and far between all the chaos and why is this stupid ass riff even part of the same song nonsense.

Sure, it’s very “tech death”, even “math metal”-esque or djenty…albeit as heavily informed by black metal, with those awful snarly vox and blastbeats all over the place. But are those few moments that work worth sitting through all the rest of this for? And is this horrible patchwork everything but the kitchen sink catch as catch can-ism even actually music?

The King Diamond allusion holds up better than you may expect, given several rather Andy LaRocquelike solos, but this feels taped and Elmers glued together like a grade school collage, with pieces that work (well, minus those vox and blastbeats, anyway) just slapped together haphazardly with unrelated filler and detritus. So tell me, where’s those much-touted composition skills? Because they’re clearly not in evidence here…

All that cellophane tape losing what little stickiness it had? Perfect metaphor for this one.

THE ORDER OF APOLLYON – Moriah (Agonia Records) (October 26)

Members of French black metal acts like Aosoth, Temple of Baal and Merrimack (all covered at one point or another in these very pages) get together for this annoyingly death belch vocalled affair (the frontman was/is also part of Aborted and the classily monikered “Genital Grinder”, and apparently forgot to switch his approach when crossing the genre border…)

So if all that didn’t lead you to the obvious conclusion, that’s right, this is yet another (…sigh…) black/death outfit.

Expect plenty of relentlessly chugging stutter-tremelo guitars that fall into ringing open chord nonsense at random intervals, neverending blastbeats that occasionally slip into typewriter double bass footwork…and those ill fitting Atrocity-like death belch vox.

You’ve heard this stuff about 17 billion times already, by 2018…which is many a year past its sell-by date.

Are these guys the worst band to take this approach? No, not even close. Occasional moments actually work (check out circa 2m in to “trident of flesh”, for one).

But come on. Enough already.

At this point, I’m seriously starting to wonder if up and coming acts are ever going to give this miscegenation of a genre blender “style” a rest.

LUCIFER’S CHILD – The Order (Agonia Records) (November 9)

A guitarist who briefly worked with Rotting Christ and some local pals get together for this rather Watainish take on “occult black metal”.

All the expected stylistic and lyric tropes are present and accounted for, as are those silly Inquisition slow string bend lead lines.

About the only thing that stood out here was that they tend to slow things down to a crawl as often as the usual speedy tremelo to open chord ringing string bits…but rather than thinking, “hey, I like when they do that, at least,” I actually just found it even more boring…there was just nothing going on there to keep the attention, nor did it ever feel particularly dark, atmospheric* or doomy.

* well, in the sense that Watain, Inquisition or Dissection can be called “dark and atmospheric”, sure…but bleh. Some corners of the collection continue to gather more profound layers of dust than others. Selah.

Yeah, there’s simply nothing to recommend here, unless those bands are your thing…in which case, have at it, this’ll be right up your decidedly narrow little alley.

Begravningsentreprenörerna – Jämna Plågor (Ektro) (November 9)

Driving, strangely upbeat 70’s rock inspired Finnish indie/punk. Sung entirely in Swedish.

It’s got the sort of true to the era proto-punk hard rock feel that Nicke Andersson brings to his Imperial State Electric, pulling in acts as disparate as Todd Rundgren, The Knack, The Voidoids and NWOBHM standbys like Sweet Savage or Tygers of Pan Tang and throwing ’em all in the same blender, served up ice cold.

Don’t ask – it works.

Really good stuff…don’t let the unpronounceable name and all that Svenska throw ya.

These guys are positively killer.

Noekk – Carol Stones and Elder Rock (Prophecy Productions) (September 28)

You know, 9 times out of 10, you can hear a Prophecy band, zero knowledge aforethought, and just know instantly: “this sounds like a Prophecy band.”

Such was the case with Noekk, who cross the label’s noted propensity towards melancholic, even gothic takes on folk (and to a lesser extent, indie) with moments that go unmistakeably proggy.

I mean, sure, everyone from Cherry Red to Yes to ELP had tracks filled with acoustic guitar and relaxed, even somewhat depressive clean singing…but never quite so pointedly “gothic” or “folk” as you’ll hear with Noekk, whose crystalline production and precise approach to performance point to their provenance.

That’s right, Noekk consists of the two minds central to the storied Empyrium, whose Into the Pantheon and Turn of the Tides we’d previously essayed in these very pages.

And honestly, that’s the perfect place to put a period on this assessment…because if you know just how perfectionist a package Empyrium tends to put together, it should be no surprise that Noekk is no outlier, but part and parcel of their particular approach and provenance.

Bottom line, simplified ad absurdam?

It’s good. It’s damn good.

Just like you’d expect from the guys behind Empyrium, and as a pretty hard and fast rule of thumb, the Prophecy label itself.

Bald Anders – Spiel (Trollmusic) (September 23)

OK, this is weird. After starting on closer “der onkel” (due to vagaries of review oft mentioned of late), a weird little lounge synth comic ditty, we kick in to “das achte haus”, a 90’s indie track that turns all Aura Noir meets Darkthronelike mix of punk and (black) metal at the chorus.

Oh, did I mention that the track also incorporates clean (if somewhat declamatory) vocals and prominent backing keyboards? Or that its aggressive blackened punk feel is nowhere else to be found on this release?

Well, “fantasma” goes rather Nina Hagen at the chorus, in that sort of joking swallow your words sprechtgesang warble, before going a bit more aggressive for a minute there…and OK, “le fuet” digs its feet into that particular trench of Norwegian black/crustish punk for the duration, you have to admit that much.

But those two tracks (we’ll ignore the Hagen bit for the moment) are the exception rather than the rule, with most of this coming off as a strange mix of quirky, almost comic indie and…well, not exactly synthpop, but synth bedecked oddness.

Well…it’s interesting, to be sure.

I liked “achte haus” and “le fuet”, no question…just wish the rest stuck to that general approach, quirks and all.

SKÁLD – Vikings Chant (Decca Records / Universal Music Publishing France) (NOVEMBER 9)

We’d just covered their self titled EP, and as you might expect after such a short interim, there’s been little to no change in these Viking obsessed Frenchmen’s sound and approach.  Somewhere between new agey world music chants, indigenous folk music and the Van Canto acapella thing, with little to no apparent electronic instrumentation.

I guess if you’re dating a wiccan or looking for something just a little different for BGM at your trendy kundalini yoga and meditation coffee klatch, you may find a lot more value in these guys than I did.

Listenably moody, that’s about the best I can offer here.

Where’s My Bible – M ‘N’ R (Inverse Records) (September 21)

What would happen if Trollfest suddenly demanded to be taken seriously?

Now, what if Trollfest weren’t such a bunch of amusingly goofy world music aficionados, but leaned more quirkily metalcore in orientation?

Simple: you’ve have the absurdly monikered Where’s My Bible, a Finnish act that incorporates elements of black metal and Gothenburgian melodeath (“meatholder”) to more trad metal riffage and aggro bounce, with terrible scream n’ shriek to death belch vox.

Shoulda stayed comic relief, something you get the distinct vibe of throughout M N’ R (“mosh n’ roll”).

You certainly won’t be able to take these guys seriously.

Forgettably strange.

ATLAS (FIN) – Primitive (Inverse Records) (November 16)

Lacking almost entirely the airy feel (and femme vox) of “birthright”,* Finland’s Atlas fills their debut full length with far more of the obnoxious nu metal of “the catalyst”, and thereby achieves the expected result…I’m sure you can guess what that is.

* well, there’s some small portions of “skinwalker” and “kaamos”, but it’s more of the “low salt version”, with our unnamed distaff contributor barely appearing at the choruses.

OK, for those two or three noobs who weren’t aware of exactly what Atlas have won themselves, here’s Johnny Olsen to tell them their prize for the day!

“Well, first we have an all expenses paid trip to the Pile of Dead Bards!

Set aflame in sympathetic ritual years back, the now ever-Flaming Pyre burns up shitty releases one after another in its all consuming flames, absorbing more bad music than you’d ever imagine existed, so you don’t have to!

Thanks for joining us here, at the monthly Roundups!”

(escorts band offstage)

Next?

Black Lotus – Sons of Saturn (Inverse Records) (October 19)

These guys consider themselves “epic doom”, but are really far more closely aligned to stoner rock and (at a slight remove) even grunge.

Thick, heavily distorted and downtuned but still rock-oriented riffs, hints of delay-inflected psychedelia and deep, throaty but somewhat gargly clean vocals are their stock in trade. It’s slow and heavy, but at no point will you be thinking “doom”, much less in any traditional or “epic” sense.

For fans of Alice in Chains (“the swamp”, “sons of saturn”) and Red Fang (“kings”), no question. It’s pretty damn listenable.

But doom?

Not in the least.

Silver Grime – Healed by the Dark (Inverse Records) (October 26)

And here’s the second band in the same month, from the same label, misrepresented as “epic doom”, when its sheer 90’s grunge provenance is unmistakeable.

Once again, the spectre of Alice In Chains raises its misshapen head, this time conjoined with more than a bit of Tool. The biggest difference between Silver Grime and Black Lotus is that the stoner rock elements are lessened severely, while the grunge sound comes to rather blatantly predominate.

Yeesh. Sluggish and heavy, check. Stonerish riffs that even lean a touch funereal at points (“eclipse of tomorrow”), OK, I’ll give ’em that.  Depressive AiC-style vocal harmonies and twang, all over the damn place.

But doom? Not hardly.

Kraanium – Slamchosis (COMATOSE MUSIC) (October 26)

OINK OINK SQUEEAL OINK!

That’s right, it’s what far too many idiots consider “grindcore” these days.  Where’s Buddy from Slaughterhouse? Or should we call in Ned Beatty from Deliverance?

“Squeal like a pig, boy!”

Oh, and then it goes beyond the usual Carcassian medical textbook of diseases and violations against the human body or the ever so rare politicosocial commentary of bands like Napalm and Terrorizer, to instead go full on Chris Barnes.

That’s right, you get clever tracks like “larva infested cum sluts”, “midget fucker” and “face fucked with a brick”. I feel like I need a shower even pointing these titles out, and some of you are running to check this out, thinking “yeah! That sounds awesome!“*

* which explains the increase in kids who never leave home. Even into their 40s. Not like they’re ever gonna get laid!

Musically…well, think Mortician, pretty much. With pig squeals.

Except Mortician is a lot more listenable and entertaining…

NEXT?!?

A CANOROUS QUINTET – THE ONLY PURE HATE -MMXVIII- (Nov. 30)

please be better than the last few please be better than the last few please be…

oh, excuse me. Caught me off guard, there.

umm…SO!

…boy, it’s really been a month, eh? Some real winners in the haul…

Anyway, here we have something much better than Kraanium,
Chuggaboom, Terminal Function, Atlas, Where’s My Bible, Dark Buddha
Rising…do we have to go on? I’d rather forget…

This is a re-recording of a 20 year old starfucker project involving members of Amon Amarth and Mork Gryning. Apparently it’s one of those “the sound quality really sucked” jobs, so they went back in and hit the same beat points all over again.

Personally, I’ve never heard of this one, so all I can do is comment on how the album in hand sounds…and it sounds pretty damn good, actually.

Somewhere between black metal (the gargle-snarly, almost Dani Filth minus the girly ear piercing shrieks vox) and melodeath, there’s actually a lot about Only Pure Hate (MMXVIII) that sounds vintage Filth (“embryo of lies”, for example)…but then you get moments that are very clearly Slaughter of the Soul, and it’s these that tend to predominate.

Oh, then there’s just enough festival stage power meets Viking metal bombast to tracks like “the void” or “realm of rain”, a hint of the more folkish end of that spectrum (“everbleed”)…what’s it all amount to? I mean, seriously – listen to this. How would you describe it, symphonic/gothic black metal gone Viking melodeath?

Important part is, it works, and unless the original bears some special irrecreatable atmosphere (which happens, and quite often at that), it’s very likely that this represents an improvement, with more seasoned players and beefed up production.

Those more familiar with the album’s original iteration may have a different take, and yeah, coming off of quite so many abysmal releases so far this month, anything consonant with a bit of oomph would sound absolutely fucking fantastic by comparison…so there’s that.

But in all objectivity, all I can say is this sounded pretty damn decent to these ears.

SADDAYAH – APOPHENY OF LIFE (Loud Rage Music) (September 7)

With vocals somewhere between Gorefest and Bolt Thrower and riffs that mix the approach of the former with…can you picture a half-speed, mellowed out Sinister?

…you know these guys are playing death metal.

It’s a strange hybrid, though. Vocals that feel pretty old school, but something about their style is just…off. There’s a bit of black/death, a few hints of the Arabic/Egyptian thing you get with acts like Nile or Absu, a light tendency towards tech and over-busyness on the lead lines (hence the Sinister thing)…but slow, steady and simplistic on the riffing (which just doubles down on the Bolt Thrower/Gorefest thing already established by the vocals).

I was OK with this, probably because it wasn’t racing along at top speed 24/7, so the wangly bits come off more as a vaguely inappropriate garnish to the more harmonically sound riffs and vintage death metal vox, rather than the raison d’etre of the whole affair.

Is this an album I’ll run to next time I’m heading for the death metal section of the ol’ collection (which usually means whenever I decide to hit the exercise bike)? Maybe, maybe not.

But is it a lot closer to death metal proper than…well, nearly anything released lately not involving our pal Rogga Johanssen?

Damn straight.

A promising debut from these Romanians.

ORDINUL NEGRU – FAUSTIAN NIGHTS (Loud Rage Music) (July 30)

You know, when I heard the words “occult black metal” ascribed to this one, the ol’ nose began to crinkle up in distaste.

But then I drop into this one (starting as usual lately from final track “faustian nights”), and hey, this sounds like a better produced (i.e. far less hissy and trebly) Watain…or Gaahl era Gorgoroth, or maybe even Dissection. Names (or in the one case, eras of a band) generally slung about as a curse and putdown, to be sure. And yet.

The blastbeats are few(er) and far (well, further) between. There are shifts in tempo, the guitars are not nonstop tremelo riffing. Best of all? No ringing open string atonal bullshit.

And bombast! I don’t mean the bullshit you get from the likes of Behemoth, here…but actual non-Gaahl Gorgorothian bombast, with lead line melodies and throaty growls. And nicely muted, yet powerful production!  No mids heavy, crackling, hiss inclined signal bleed crap, but actual beefy guitars and drums you can (and when not working blastbeats, actually want to) hear!

Damn.

Still roll the eyes at the oogity boogity I heart satan bullshit, no question.

But this was the most listenable album of its type since the last Gorgoroth dropped.

Respect…and if so inclined, well worth a listen.

TRAGACANTH – THE JOURNEY OF A MAN (Pest Records) (July 15)

Really weird black/death. Production’s decent, at least…but way too much bounce to this, terrible vox and a ridiculous degree of gothic metallish electronic sound effects appended for no good reason.

Did I mention they attempt to throw prog into the mix? Most blatant on “nightmare the vision”, but you hear it all over the place – next most obvious track would probably be “acceptance my destiny awaits”. Fine if you’re doing just about any other form of metal (well, maybe not death metal…), but with black/death? It just sounds fucking weird.

Well, blastbeats aside, no question they can all play well.

I just can’t say I liked what they were producing from their collective skillsets, which would probably be put to better use elsewhere, and in more appropriate genres of metal or rock.

BLUTRINA – DISCOBALLZ EP (Loud Rage Music) (April 28)

“oh my God…they killed Kenny!”

So begins the most ridiculous grindcore release you’re ever likely to hear, filled with amusingly stupid (generally mostly instrumental) covers of Wham! UK, M.C. Hammer, Salt n’ Pepa, Wacko Jacko and…er, The Trashmen (“surfin’ bird”). No idea who “voodoo” was supposed to be, though…

The only problem with this one, missing vocals aside (come on, you know you wanted to hear this thick Attilla Csihar-style Romanian accent intoning George Fucking Michael…) is that precious little of it actually sounds grindcore. Yeah, a lot of the tracks speed up at the end, but only “kenny” actually sounded or felt grindcore proper…

Think of it as a sorta grindcore, sorta just oddball metal version of Me First and the Gimme Gimmes.

Amusing enough for a quick listen, definitely.

Pillars – Onward to Nothingness (Seeing Red Records) (September 28)

What do you get if you put a French Lee Dorrian (in his full Carnival Bizarre-era quirkiness) on vox over a stoner doom take on Conan (the band)?

Loud, dark, overly detuned but definitely stoner guitars and simplistic drum patterns lurch along, all wide wave form distortion from those loose strings, while Lee talks cheesy vintage horror films. Wait…that’s not Lee Dorrian, and this certainly ain’t Cathedral…

Well, it’s stoner doom and it’s damn heavy, so I have no complaints here, weird stylistic juxtapositions aside.

Domnitor – Duhul Belicos (Redefining Darkness Records) (September 21)

An odd sort of black metal, somewhat akin to first wave in all its Eastern European strangeness, and yet…not.

In many ways, it’s more indebted to the sloppiness and biker/thrash vibe of USBM than anything more European…and yet, it’s a Romanian act going on about wars in Wallachia and suchlike. And there’s that odd Tormentor/Masters Hammer/Maniac Butcher thing going on…

The drummer can’t stay in time to save his life, those beats fall all over the meter and switch at random intervals…but in its own odd way and at only a handful of tracks, it’s strangely endearing.

Khandra – There is No Division Outside Existence (Redefining Darkness Records / Possession Productions) (October 12)

Russian “occult black metal”, as you can tell from the off kilter track and album titles.

They only fall headfirst into Watain/Inquisition territory by closer “progressing in desolation”, but with the first track little more than another pointless ambient intro, that only leaves two tracks to redeem themselves…and while there were a few phrases (about 1:40 into the title track, circa 1m into “decaying into the ascended”) that felt a bit magisterial in the Finnish sense, these moods and sense of melodic epicism never last more than a few bars, arguably a minute further before falling back into ho hum territory.

Listenable overall…but.

If those moments were more central to what Khandra wanted to deliver here, this EP would have earned a much better rating than I’m inclined to give here.

A missed opportunity, which fails far more often than its few moments of surprising worth would ever suggest.

Antiverse – Under the Regolith (Seeing Red Records) (October 19)

Driving, generally quite well produced thrash with riffs and elements cribbed from black and death metal.

Overall, the attack is crisp and the playing is on point…other than an overabundance of hiss on the cymbal end, the only questionable element here lies in the BLEAH BLEAH bad Lugosi impression faux-death vocals (which are just ridiculous, and without which this well played, interesting and well produced album would have gotten a much higher rating).

Sadly, one of the band members has been hit with a terminal illness, throughout which he continues to write, record and play out with the band – a real trouper. Being good eggs, the label is pitching in and giving a cut of every download of the album towards his treatments.

So look.  Silly vox aside, this is a damn good album…and you can help a brother out in his hour of need.

You know what to do.

Sadness – Leave (Flowing Downward) (September 3)

Promo materials liken this one man project out of Illiniois to France’s Alcest, and while you can certainly see why, that only rings true if you live in a world where “Neige” hung up his hat around the time of Ecailles de Lune.

As it stands, Sadness tends to lean more towards the darkly contemplative likes of Frozen Ocean and even the depressive blackness of Vardan, just with that extra layer of overdistorted/jangly guitarred shoegaze to give extra flavor to the mix.

Too good for the “post-black” label, but fitting under it too well to consider this anything other, the aptly monikered Sadness is well worth your attention to boost the mood on cold, rainy nights like the one in which I scribe these lines tonight.

Damn good stuff, particularly centered around the 23 minute closer “encontramos”, which will pull you down into the waves before you even realize there’s an undertow.

Synodic – Omnibus (Flowing Downward) (September 3)

Now here’s something amusing – a symphonic-vibe black metal act much akin to earlier Emperor (particularly in the noxiously abrasive vox, but also in terms of guitar tone and heavy use of synths to fill the soundscape) who “hails Sagan rather than Satan”.

Another one man band (this time out of Oklahoma), this one self identifies as “atmospheric” (rather than symphonic) black metal, but you’ll suss out the real deal right away.

Personally, I really liked the conceit – fuck devil worship, the vastness of outer space is some serious, light up the imagination-style darkness – and for someone who’s always considered Emperor a bunch of overrated, nigh-unlistenable putzes to say they kinda dug a band that…well, sounds a fuck of a lot like ’em in a certain period, says a lot about how a few tweaks in style, production and approach can turn out to be real game changers.

There are a few ambient tracks here as well…but hey, it’s supposed to be about space exploration, right? Can’t do it without a little Mass Effect meets Tangerine Dream style “drifting through space” business…

Interesting stuff, though admittedly just as much for concept as objective musical end result.

Windfaerer – Alma (Avantgarde Music) (September 14)

The promo writeup (and brief quote from frontman Mike Goncalves) make a big deal about this album being all about some deep latent but inevitable tug of heritage (a Joisey Boy drawn to his European Spanish roots), but all you really need to know is this.

It’s black metal…arguably post-black metal, given all the clean indie rock riffing and mellow violin and synth going on in tracks like “skybound” or “awakening”, with strong folk (think more Viking/Pagan/Celtic than “folk metal” proper) elements.

Didn’t care for the vox (which felt too Behemoth/Watain to me, particularly in more aggressive moments like “under the sign of sol”), but it’s well produced and bombastic, and I found it listenable enough, even melodic at many points.

Not bad, not bad at’all…particularly for a bunch of Joisey kids.

Barren Canyon – World Of Wounds (Avantgarde Music) (September 17)

Canadian post-black metal act who lean far heavier on weird electronic elements (seriously, the tones at the midpoint of “taiga blooms” practically feel EDM if not indie synthpop, while the opening of “congress of oak” practically leans Information Society…albeit as performed by Elffor) than they ever do black metal proper.

Sure, you get tremelo guitars and blastbeat drums…but only at points, almost as an afterthought.

Lazerpunk synthpop blackened EDM, anyone?

Actually sorta works, in its own utterly bizarre, rather hipsterish way.

I’m utterly disinclined to slam this any more than the aforescribed light jabs may imply, therefore.

Över – Facing Transcendence (Avantgarde Music) (September 17)

I tend to avoid referring to any acts, however atmospheric, darkly moody or melancholically simplistic, as DSBM.

The label tends to imply complete and utter shit like Forgotten Tomb, Shining, Bethlehem or Lifelover more than it ever does consistently decent stuff like Vardan or Forgotten Woods, so as not to confuse readers of the necessity to desperately shun the former group of audial detritus while giving hearty horns raised to the latter pairing (or similarly minded atmospheric, shoegazey acts like Frozen Ocean or this month’s Sadness), I just avoid use of that label like the plague.

Even so, there come times when it’s pretty much unavoidable. The
expansive feel, the Cascadian openness, the wide ranging dramatics are
sometimes absent, the pointed black metal feel lessened somewhat.

How left to describe, say, early Strid or Mgla…or more to the point, this UK/Ecuadorian duo, who lumber along miserably, dropping
darkness, atmosphere and that ever present feeling of frantic stasis and
running in a hamster wheel that is black metal, without ever coming off as
expansive…particularly contemplative…symphonically wide ranging or
indie crossover post-BM shoegazey?

Opener “philosophy” and closer “end of the oppressive” are the decided
high points to check out here, to see if this resonates with you at all.

Mostly due to those two tracks, I was OK with this one…but things
definitely sag between.

Guerrilla Ghost – Perpetually Sad Motion Machine (Triple Eye Industries) (November 23)

umm…

Okay. I’ve just heard “the N word” dropped more times than you’d likely hear same at a fucking Klan rally. That’s right, it’s modern day “hip hop”…

whew.

Look, back in the day, that whole urban scene was a very different animal.

You know, way back, when it was all about Bronx vs. Brooklyn, and there was no West Coast or Atlanta scene…and the only “gangstas” were Schooly D (who was universally mocked from both within and outside the community) and Slick Rick (whose faux-“urbane” swipe of Dana Dane’s style was eviscerated by none other than a teenaged Salt N’ Pepa (look up “the show stoppa” by Super Nature)…and better, by Symbolic Three’s “no show”, a 12″ that’s since vanished from histories of the medium due to its political incorrectness – Orwell, much?

Bottom line, though – if you were into this stuff back when Whodini and Jeckyll & Hyde were the shit, chances are you won’t even recognize what the fuck happened in the days since the block parties, rap battles and occasional instances of social concern of yore (from Grandmaster Flash and BDP to Arrested Development and more controversial acts like Public Enemy and X Clan) gave way to the depressing no hope stupidity and stereotypes of “gangsta”. And it’s been a lot of years since that all went down, with the stuff only getting more brainless and arhythmic as the years progress.

Personally, I despise what’s considered rap and hip hop today, with a fucking vengeance, and it’s not merely because I prefer other forms and genres of music…I did back then, as well. But this stuff is pure shit, and drags those who listen to it down – you can actually feel brain cells dying every time you have to sit through a track or two of the stuff.

There’s an anecdote I relate every once in a blue moon, where I was in a supermarket (probably circa 1988-90) and two brothers were walking down the same aisle, bright eyed and smiling.  The older one was bent over close to the (much) younger one’s ear, pointing out items on the shelf and improvising impromptu rhymes about whatever he encountered along the way.  As he walked, on the spot, to the wide eyed admiration of his younger brother.

Think what you want about rap in those days – you had to be quick on your feet to drop rhymes that rapid fire, with no preparation.

Another supermarket, only a year or two back. Those guys who get stuck bringing in the carts from the parking lot, because they aren’t considered intelligent or trustworthy enough to handle stock or registers? Yeah.

Walking along, head down, muttering what I know for a fact were rote recitations of more modern rap “lyrics” (if the insider gangbanger gibberish of morons like Lil Wayne can be considered an actual intelligible “lyric” with any point or bearing relation to any actual language whatsoever).

By contrast to our earlier protagonists, he was miserable looking and angry, staring at his feet rather than watching even where he was walking, mumbling slow and stupid gibberish whose memorization would never help him pass any test or get anywhere in life.

Rather than actively engaging with his environment (much less putting a running interactive commentary into rhyme on the spot!), he shut the world off, shut his brain off, and escaped into a depressingly nihilistic world of drug dealin’ and murders in the “mean streets” (of which few were in close proximity), one which he probably never even encountered, much less inhabits.

So yeah, I fucking hate modern rap and hip hop, with a vengeance.

Guess what this is.

Well, OK, there’s an electronic element (it’s all synthesized sound effects and dark BGM behind those raps).  And the lyrics often lean towards light social commentary (though hardly something like Thievery Corporation’s “culture of fear”, a rare exception to the rule a friend and former coworker introduced me to several years back)…when not reverting to the usual insecure reassurance of one’s own masculinity and “I’m so rough and dangerous” BS so sadly evident otherwise (see the start of this review).

It reminds me of the old HBO show Hardcore TV, with the hilarious “Fly Fishing Jam”, where two Run DMC style rappers would take a boat out on the East River to fish and rap. One episode, the DMC wannabe dropped the usual opening lyric relating to fishing and the subject of that week’s show, instead going off on some absurd rant about how potent he was and how he was going after the listener’s daughter or somesuch nonsense (to the utter disbelief and horror of his compatriot).* Apparently, you can’t get that bullshit out of rappers, even if they want to talk “serious issues” for a change…

* “real world” parallel? Ice Cube’s appearance on Public Enemy’s “burn Hollywood burn”, where he drops the song’s subject matter entirely to rant instead about gunning down cops, a typical NWA trope.  O-kay, thanks for coming by!  Yeesh…

So yeah. It’s a rap album, with electronic accompaniment.

I don’t have to toss this to the Pile of Dead Bards…it’s been fermenting as compost beneath the ashes since it crossed the virtual desk.

Let’s get back to the actual music genres, shall we?

Next?

I am the Law – Hymn of the Vulture (Junecrow Media) (October 5)

As soon as I saw the words “Nashville metal band”, instantly I cringed.  Oy…is this going to be yet another Pantera/The Law-era Exhorder/Nashville Pussy by way of Black Label Society thing?

Sure enough, it’s aggro/Southern groove, with throat-rending gargle shouts and tonsil waggling yells and bouncy detuned riffs, with busy but pointless lead lines fluttering about like some sub-tech death act. Snore.

There’s a lot more guitar going on than your average Pantera album…but so what?

SOBAKI TABAKA – XX​-​XXIV (WOOAAARGH) (November 16)

Utterly pointless tribute album to a Russian industrial act you probably didn’t even know existed.

From the writeup, you’d think this were the former Iron Curtain’s version of KMFDM or Ministry, but what you hear on this rather lengthy release are track after track of spitting and fritzing e-waste and overly fuzzed out electronic noise, like an instrumental castoff from NiN circa 1993.

Did I mention this was a bunch of covers by various acts (both hipster – Khost, Gnaw Their Tongues – and unknown)? Did I mention there’s precious little variation from one track and act’s cover to the next, defying all odds (and the unwritten rule of the tribute comp)?

SPRTZZ FZZZ KZZZT!!!

…repeat and record that mantra 26 times, trying not to start a fire with all the tubes and wiring you’re overloading and fritzing out.

next?

Dead Register – Captive (AVR Records) (November 2)

Somewhere between Bono at his most cheesily emotive and Ian McCulloch at his most self absorbed comes M. Chavasta’s quirkily vocalled take on gothic rock gone all metal on the guitar end.

While the band claims to be playing nothing but bass and keyboards (which becomes pretty obvious on tracks like “ender”), there are regular distortion bedecked open string bits and lines appearing throughout that simply can’t be attained on bass (at least not without some serious digital manipulation!)

The sound therefore comes off doomy and mournful, but neither truly doom metal (too goth and indie) or gothic rock (too overdistorted, aggressive and “metal” in feel), not exactly shoegaze, but some bizarre amalgamation of all three.

They’ve pulled in the drummer from fellow Atlantans Magnapop (hey, “slowly, slowly”!), who really bolsters the end product by delivering a real “pop” in the meaty, almost forefronted but well recorded (i.e. somewhat muted and never overly hissy, even in cymbal heavy sequences) drum tone.

It’s not like he’s playing for a different band, but varies in style enough to pull the band somewhere they’d never have achieved without his presence. Nice work, and the sort of performance you want to pay attention to, much like (a far less busy) Steve Shelley was to Sonic Youth in their heyday.

End result simply works, and while the vocals seem pretty damn campy and nasal for the first track or three, eventually you get used to ’em and note just how much he sounds like McCulloch at his most stuffed up (yet energized and overemotive, with all that warbling and quavering tone!)

Yeah, I liked this one a lot, all told.

Ambassador – Belly of the Whale (September 28)

Another band that appends most closely to the darker end of postpunk (but which bears moments too aggressively guitar and distortion pedal reliant to fall under the header comfortably), Louisiana’s Ambassador nonetheless dials it well back from Dead Register’s more excessive inclinations, delivering less of the “outside” moments and to a far lesser degree (their distortion and aggression, even when it does rear its head, feels more punk in origin than metal).

In fact, were it not for openers “empress” and “ledges” plus closer “shadows and seams”, you could be forgiven for scratching your head, wondering just what the hell I’m going on about here.

The midsection of the album is pretty damn mellow, and while not exactly gothic rock or even leaning towards arguably related acts like The Cure, The Church or Echo and the Bunnymen, still falls somewhere between that vein of postpunk, modern day indie and spacier stuff like Faunts…all good touchpoints to bring to mind, however distant Ambassador’s efforts may in fact be to any of them.

Again, far from the aggression and neo-gothicism of Dead Register…but still quite good in their own way. Something good is brewing, down South…

Dayglo Mourning/Bludy Gyres – Rope Enough For Two (Black Doomba Records) (December 7)

We’ve encountered Tommy Stewart’s post-Hallows Eve projects before (both Dyerwulf, whose self titled and subsequent “shadow in the well” single and Bludy Gyres, whose Echoes of a Distant Scream we’d covered here). They don’t come off half so well as either of Stewart’s other acts, but if you dig stuff like Hour of 13 and Cathedral, much less Dyerwulf, you should be OK with their lone, 17 1/2 minute track here.

Even so, Dayglo Mourning actually provides the more interesting half of this (admittedly well paired) split. Dark, crusty, rather Sabbathian doom metal, almost entirely instrumental but as heavy and thick toned as they come.

Neither act really lets their end of the split down, as much as I preferred
DayGlo Mourning’s more punchy and aggressive take…so what the fuck
are you sitting there screwing around for?

Wills Dissolve – The Heavens Are Not On Fire (October 26)

“Extreme progressive metal”. Say huh?

But yeah, these Houston good ol’ boys try to cross a pronounced orientation towards black metal, growly death metal vox, and clean, Ahab-style vocals over more mellow, clean toned acoustic (and low and slow distorted) passages…again, very much like some black/death act suddenly woke up and heard good music for a change…in this case, Ahab’s The Giant.  And it changed their world and concomitantly, their sound for the better.

Now, if we had a whole lot more of the Ahab with prog/power leads and syncopated drumming (probably best and most frequently apprehended on “on this cold november night”), I’d probably run out and grab a CD copy of this one myself…but there’s the rub.

As seems to be sadly usual…at least at this point with bands that mix junk with something more worthwhile, the latter is still just something of an afterthought, a garnish that gradually becomes more than just the accents on the dish proper, but hasn’t developed to the point where it’s become the main ingredient or spice yet.

So I’ll give ’em a nod of respect for starting down the right road.

Give me a heads up when you’ve grown out of the black/death bullshit, you’ll probably turn into a real band to watch.

Gnaw Their Tongues & Crowhurst – Burning Ad Infinitum: A Collaboration (Crown and Throne Ltd.) (August 31)

FRITZZZ SPUTTER SPATZZ!!!

Yep, it’s another one of these noise/industrial things, this time pulling in occasional bits of bleh sounding black metal in conjunction.

Much like that Sobaki Tebaka thing covered earlier…which oh, by the way, they took part in, this is a pointless modern take on the sort of sonic experimentation being done by the likes of Bebe and Louis Barron, Klaus Schulze and the early 70’s electronic pioneers with their expensive (literal) walls of synthesizer.

At least then, they were coming from a standpoint and background of actual music, and experimenting with something new...

Next?

Malphas – The 39th Spirit (Via Nocturna) (October 23)

Well…we’d covered their Incantation around this time last year, and found them listenable for a modern black metal act, but somewhat wanting. Has anything changed?

Well, the production’s pretty strong and the music is more melodic and symphonically inclined than I recall from last time around, if that helps.

Vox still suck, but comparatively speaking…lets just say we’ve covered much, much worse of late. There’s even some semi-flash guitar solos (“you will lead my armies”, “visions of the burning darkness”) and bits where piano or strings carry the melodies rather than the guitars (“invoking the 39th spirit”, “red constellations”), not to mention light use of a small choral group every now and again and an almost gothic/symphonic bent (albeit as appended to and generally subsumed by a Norsecoreish to Viking/Pagan take on black metal).

You know…I’m not sure what happened between the earlier EP and this debut full length, but I have to admit, I was both surprised and impressed by the apparent changes in style and approach.

Could still do without the oogity boogity bullshit and the vox are questionable at best, but this is one hell of a different band than we covered last time around.

Oh.

NOW I see what happened. See, there are different Malphas running around out there. EIGHT of them, seven of which are currently active and releasing shit at the same time. You know how this one’s called The 39th Spirit? That’s the same title as an EP from one of the French Malphas, from a few years back.

From a different Malphas.

Worse? These guys consider themselves melodeath. While clearly working a black metal template, or at least a symphonically inclined, melodic take on black/death – in no way is this “death metal” proper.

Whew. Confused much?

Anyway…

…yeah, this Malphas is a whole hell of a lot better than the other Malphas we covered. Can’t speak for the other 6.

But a bit more tweaking and a vocalist who can actually sing instead of gargle, choke and snarl, and these guys could pull off a pretty decent gothic/symphonic or somewhat “extreme” symphonic power metal album, no question.

And you know I’m good with that.

Druglord – New Day Dying (Sludgelord Records) (September 14)

Thick, crunchy, seriously overdistorted riffs that lumber and ooze their way into your skull, occasionally peppered with painful sounding asphyxiated near-screams that turn grungelike at points (the midpoint of “buried demons”, for one).

Tracks like “new day dying” feel vaguely Goatlordesque, others like “blood and body” feel a touch Electric Wizard, others fall a bit too far into an almost Southern groove/90’s realm (the unutterably strange “the flesh is weak”, which similarly manages to sound like Anselmo-era Necrophagia around the solo)…but it’s all sludgy, molasses-thick and pretty damn listenable for fans of stoner doom and the messier, crustier end of generator party-oriented stoner rock per se.

Not bad, not bad at’all.

Static Tension – Ashes to Animation (Buried By Sky Records) (January 11)

Heavily 90’s oriented act that draws equally from that era of indie rockand the depressive slacker flannel heroin haze of grunge.

The only real saving grace here is when they shift gears somewhat and give in to a more modernistic prog influence (“no return”) or choose to take in more of an Urge Overkill/Dinosaur Jr. indie melodic approach (“where’s the air”).

The drummer’s pretty busy throughout…but overly so, particularly in conjunction with the droning, sleepy music from bandmates he’s apparently doing his damnedest, yet failing, to wake up. The end result comes off less like a Tony Williams or Steve Shelley and more just…spastic, more the fault of the sheer incompatibility of his style to that of the rest of the band than any deficiency in skills. It’s just strange, and simply doesn’t fit 90% of the time.

Well…can’t say it wasn’t interesting in all its oddness, I’ll give ’em that much.

Cortez – No More Conqueror (WOOAAARGH) (November 9)

These Swiss bill themselves as “metallic hardcore”, which apparently means overdistorted guitars that continually give way to atonal ringing open strings and a vocalist who yells through a bad telephone connection at you, but with more clarity and less faux-death, black or aggro stylization than usual.

It’s still pretty annoying, though.

Yeah, this kind of thing is not in any way what I consider hardcore, or punk per se. Just some really bad variant of aggro, itself an irritating offshoot of metal…no punk anywhere to be found.

Once again, my father’s old aphorism* comes to mind.

“The Swiss…are strange.”

* for the whole story, see our review of Fräkmündt here.

Piah Mater – The Wandering Daughter (code666)

Wow, talk about bizarre…this is a prog metal act out of Brazil. Clean vocals, stutter stop off time riffing, wildly syncopated drumming, clear production, nigh-ambient acoustic tracks, the whole deal.

Then at points frontman Luiz Felipe Netto flips over to a death metal gargle-bark and the riffing gets more aggressive (sometimes it feels a bit modern death metal, others more modern black metal, but never overly so in either direction). But before you get to the point where you’re frustrated and need to flip to the next track…poof, they’re right back into prog territory. Say what the fuck?

Well, look. I just recently picked up a cheapie box set of early Angra, and Angels Cry aside, found it surprisingly soft and unimpressive – how the hell do these guys inspire so much reverence, they’re like the powder puffs of power metal (or as someone once aptly referred to Sammy Hagar, “the Cheez Wiz of heavy metal!”)? But anyway…

Point being, if something as light and mellow as what those guys were throwing down can inspire such blind adoration in the fanboy contingent, then a band who moves from a similarly pleasant but overly light prog thing to something…well, more to the “extreme” end of the equation, but without ever going too overboard? They should do just as well, if not better.

Don’t ask me, I found both acts listenable, but something of a shrug of the shoulders, all told.

Carpe Noctem – Vitrun (code666) (October 5)

Ah, there’s a phrase I’ve been using for decades. Fuck “carpe diem”.  Not a fan of sunlight past early morning, in the first place…daytime is sleep time, if I can help it. Carpe Noctem, my friends!

Well, that apparently shared sentiment aside, who the hell are these guys stealing one of my old catchphrases, anyway?

WHOOF! Yeah, not what I was expecting, at all

Icelandic black metal. You know, noisy, off kilter, atonal, sloppy, really hard to form any sort of appreciation of. We’ve run across some Icelandic acts over the last few years, their budding scene is similar to (but lesser than) that of Portugal, another current hotbed of questionable black metal of late…

Well, like Portugal, not all Icelandic BM bands blow…there’ve been a few sore thumbs of positivity sticking up along the way.

Sadly, Vitrun’s not one of ’em.

Next?

Sumeru – Summon Destroyer (Medusa Crush Recordings) (October 26)

A decidedly more aggro take on doom-ish stoner rock, these Aussies inject way too much modern-era black metal and pissed off gargling aggro/”hardcore” vox into their take on a genre that draws more from the likes of Kyuss, Sleep, Electric Wizard and (arguably) Monster Magnet than…what the hell are these guys listening to, Behemoth? Certainly none of the classics that kicked off the first and second waves…

Yeah, there’s probably a reason you’ve never heard of “blackened stoner(/doom)” before.

These guys are here to demonstrate why.

Sheesh. And here I was hoping to crack a Fosters with ’em…

Death On Fire/Corpse Paint and Dayglo – Hope (October 19)

Now here’s something interesting – a split between a melodically inclined but guitar driven indie pop act (who consider themselves “the greatest dance band for the Dark Lord”) and…well, Death on Fire.

Corpse Paint and Dayglo are the more fun of the two, dropping an almost gothic baritone vocalled, very likeable original (“what the night wants”) and two unrecognizable black metal covers (Darkthrone’s career pinnacle “transilvanian hunger” and Immortal’s post-glory days “tyrants”) done in much the same style. If you can picture that Jonas Brother’s new act DNCE covering Mayhem, that’s about what you get here…absurd, but great stuff on a few levels (not least the camp comedy value!)

Death on Fire…yeah.

(pauses)

Okay, shrieking aggro/”hardcore” vocals and noisy production, with a drummer that clearly isn’t paying attention to what the guitars are playing and vice versa, veering regularly into atonality and nigh-circus music “lead lines” (“not alone”)…it’s like Phil Anselmo on a crack binge, hooking up with a few fellow denizens of the local shooting gallery and trying to “make music”.

You can imagine the result…or you can listen to Death on Fire, your choice.

These clowns also unrecognizably cover 80’s acts like Duran Duran, INXS, Prince and Tom Petty (did they go mainly for bands whose frontmen recently died?), but suffice to say, unlike Corpse Paint and Dayglo, the end results just plain suck.

Boy, am I glad for this recent review glitch, where I hear the last track first…because the three Dayglo have to offer are all you’ll want to hear, here.

Tommy Concrete – Unrelaxed (Howling Invocations) (October 19)

A very recent member of The Exploited (we’re talking circa 2012, people…hardly the band’s noted heyday) drops by with…well, let’s break paragraphs and for now, just say “a solo album.”

OK, now here’s the meat of the matter.  This some truly bizarre homebrew material that veers without any warning or turn signal from drum machine-driven electronic nonsense (“not ready for society”) to crunchy guitar-based metal, from stoner to NWOBHM style material (“simulating your own demise”) to busy European power metal (“satanic encouragement”) and back again to the stoner thing (“witness to samsara”, “guarded by my familiars”), making a stop at blackened grindcore along the way (“liger master”).

As you can probably tell from the titles, he’s also into the whole ooga booga thing* (rolls eyes, sighs)…yeah, fine, go rent Boleskine for a few months and let me know how your Augoeides goes…but there’s not a lot to dig into here otherwise.

* better, he then does a turnaround and claims it has something to do with his recent diagnosis as a high functioning autistic! Umm…sure, working your way through the qliphoth’ll do that to ya…

Bizarre and pretty much pointless.

Crosby Morgan – Rain Games for the Natural Born Pariah (Dark Martha Records) (November 2) 

Depressive folk somewhat in the vein of early Nico, crossed with Nick Drake style (acoustic) guitar and a lot of self-harmonizing.

It’s very coffeehouse, though she’d probably drive the customers away with all this deep moroseness, like the Limp Lizards opening for Jem and the Holograms…

Being grimly gothic myself, I liked this…but be warned, this ain’t your grandparents’ socially active happy hippie folk, or even the self absorbed “me generation” variant that evolved thereafter. It’s pretty miserable, and will at best bring the listener to a dark inner stillness.

If darkness is your friend, and you’re looking for something a bit softer to bring you to a contemplative introspection…look no further.

Ølten – Ambiance (Hummus Records) (November 2)

Geez, do we have to trot out the Swiss anecdote again? Second weird-ass act out of Switzerland this month…

“Power trio” setup, no vocals, several tracks take a while to build…then get really noisy/sloppy with distorted, sorta grungelike tone.

Don’t let the album cover and promo shots fool ya – these guys are seriously pissed off, however they may be sublimating it. But is it much more than a strange take on BGM?

(shakes head, raises an eyebrow)

…yeah, I don’t know.

(exhales those words as a sigh)

Nothing wrong with it, just…what’s the point of this, again?

…next?

  

Martyr Art – FearFaith Machines (ZineScene Records) (November 22)

One man band.

The promo materials name check everything you need to know about this one: influenced by and for fans of Fear Factory, Slipknot, Pantera.  One song kicks off with the ingenious lyric “I am I and you are you and we! are! we!

Do I really need to go on? You already know exactly where this one’s headed.

Let’s do a fast catch, run a macro or hit the shortcut key.

Burn, baby, burn.

Next?

Aesthetics of a loss – l’Égoïsme (March 23)

Here’s an interesting crossover act: ever want mournfully introspective gothic doom to ooze its way over into the realm of death metal (or as lone member “Jonas” would have it, melodeath)?

Yeah, yeah, we’ve heard this sort of thing before, with bands like Ceremonium…but was it ever as pointed as it is here, on tracks like “tomhetens lyrik”?

Nicely gloomy and depressive. If the entire album were as good as that track (and featured less of that “trying to be driving and aggressive to fit the death metal label” between all the good stuff), this would be a five star review.

As is, this is still pretty damn good, particularly for a one man band.

You’ll want to give this a listen, no question.

Rithiya Henry Khiev – Eviscerated Realm (September 1)

As a Shrapnel shred-head back in the day, I used to listen to a lot of instrumental (metal) guitar albums.

But even when the rather more aggressive (if full band and vocalled) likes of Apocrypha began to crop up, never did I expect to encounter non-shred, “extreme metal” instrumental albums…

So yeah, that’s what you get here. Some guy playing prog/tech death metal to a backing track of blastbeat drums and in the best moments, grandiose symphonic power metal synthesizer. It’s possible he played those instruments as well for this recording, but apparently he’s been an opening act to a lot of live touring bands, so, yeah…expect to see some guy standing there looking silly, playing guitar all by his lonesome to backing tracks.

“Blackened heart” is closer to what I’d have preferred this one gravitated towards…the rest is too workaday and tech death for my tastes, nor did I walk away thinking “damn, what a great player”.

Typical for the style, to be sure. But didn’t stand out in any real way, either.

NUISIBLE – Slaves and Snakes (Deadlight Entertainment / Terrain Vague) (September 21)

Heavy, HM-2 derived chainsaw guitar tones, appended to weird electronic synth sequences and vox that lean more annoyingly aggro/”hardcore” than they ever do death metal.

I can see an argument that these Frenchmen are just trying to recreate the Sunlight Studios thing (and going for a failed take on Nicke’s fill in vox on Clandestine), but you’re missing a few things, most importantly the punkified aggression.

It’s like they sapped all that drive and bounce out of the band and the riffing, and threw it tenfold into the vox (where it never should have gone!)

If you’re looking for a weird “hardcore”/aggro vocalled, rather flaccid, empty locust shell attempt at vintage Swedeath to fill every last corner of your collection of modern day pretenders to that particular throne, look no further.

The rest of us may want to call in sick for this one.

DungeönHammer – Infernal Moon (Me Saco Un Ojo) (October 10)

Another weird attempt at retro “underground” metal out of France, this one appends a really strange take on early Tom G. Warrior (as filtered through Germany’s slavish Warhammer) vocals, appended to Aura Noir or post-Panzerfaust Darkthrone versions of old Frost/Hellhammer riffs.

I mean, it’s pretty damn obvious who they’re trying to be, just as it was with Nuisible, and no question DungeonHammer does a much better job of achieving a recognizable (if more than twice removed) approximation of same than their countrymen ever do.

But did it set me on fire like the originals (and some far more recent and clever imitators!) still do?

Ay, there’s the rub.

Even so, it’s just as listenable as Darkthrone’s attempts at recapturing the classic Hellhammer/Frost sound, and with no interruptions from Ted.

All things being equal, while it’s too far variant from its source to sell as a copy…yeah, I was good with this.

Sad Theory – Entropia Humana Final (December 27, 2017)

Overly busy tech/prog death with some serious snot gargling on the vocal end. I mean, this is pretty damn offputting, guys…

The only plus here, beyond some surprisingly good production (and this is a self released project out of Brazil, mind!) is that they pull a bit of late Carcass melodeath in to the mix, which leaves this more tolerable than it should ever have been otherwise.

I did like the brief moments where frontman Claudio Rovel drops some actual clean power metal style vox…not bad, for a guy in desperate need of some Zyrtec!

And guess what…they even went well with the music.

Food for thought, eh?

#DontHaveToShriekSnarlandGrowlToBeMetal

Next?

Psyclon Nine – Icon of the Adversary (August 24)

Okay, apparently Mysticum isn’t the only act trying to bring black metal and industrial together. More’s the pity.

So here we get a guy who sounds like a girl doing “extreme metal” vocals (though if you see his photo on some sites out there, he does seem to favor the androgynous look…) hissing and snarling over Atari Teenage Riot spazzed out ultra high speed drum machine nonsense and what sounds like the same Spahn Ranch track repeated over and over and over again.

(sighs, shakes head)

…uh, yeah. Sure.

Next?

Deep Memories – Rebuilding the Future (Heavy Metal Rock / Misanthropic Record /  Invasion of Solitude Records / GS Productions) (September 21)

One man band from some Brazilan black/death act’s former frontman/guitarist. Don’t ask me, never heard of ’em.

The general feel is gothic metal, somewhat leaning towards gothic doom.  Lots of lush keyboards, midtempo to sluggish riffing, a propensity towards bombast. Problem is, he tends to do nasty Satanic Warmaster-like black metal snarls just as much as he does those clean, depressive Ian Curtis style vocals.

Quick, pop quiz! Guess which piece of this puzzle doesn’t fit!

If he’d just drop the black metal affectations and sing/moan/chant his way through this, you’d have a pretty damn decent gothic spectrum metal album on your hands here.

As is…there’ll be a lot of crinkling of the nose and/or fast forwarding to get to the parts where he either sings or shuts the fuck up.

Drop that one irritating affectation and you’ve got a winner on your hands, amigo.

The Alive – We are Rock and Roll (Eternal Sound Records) (September 7)

Wow, what dogshit production!  When the drums and guitars are going in “this is rock and roll”, there’s so much hissing and swirling, you’ll think you’ve been shoved into a washing machine with last Tuesday’s underwear. SWISH WHOOSH WHISSSH!

That notable failing aside, these Arkansas farmers’ sons (I don’t know, what else do they do out there in the Dust Bowl? Watch reality TV?) lay down some surprisingly good indie rock – reminded me of punk/60’s mod crossover stuff like The Hives and The Vines, but with more of a Marshall stack driven classic rock tone in play beneath.

Of course, you do get saddled with a 90’s style ballad or two, and all those sleepy Counting Crows meets the Black Crowes tracks that fill the second half of the album like “all the way to babylon” just don’t work (unless you’re really into that shit, no accounting for taste.)

But whoever put this one together was smart, and front loaded all the killer material: the title track, “where are my animals”, “mad world”, even “if I could save you” all fall under what we were talking about earlier, rather than the dispirited nonsense it took us the better part of a decade to get over (please, if you’re going to revisit or emulate anything from the 90’s, let’s at least pretend ’92-6 never fucking happened…*)

* unless you’re talking black metal, in which case, by all means keep it within that range. They always have to do shit in reverse.

So end result, a decidedly mixed bag. I mean, come on, they even close on a fucking Aerosmith cover…a band I’ve absolutely detested since childhood (seriously).

But that first 5 tracks (skip the ballad)? Damn good stuff.

Erasy – Under The Moonlight (Doom Stew Records) (August 31)

Two slow and grinding tracks out of Brazil. First track leans more stoner doom/sludge, second is more straight up stoner with strangely far more pronounced aggro vox than the A side!

Either way, the band was fair enough for the type…but good Lord, enough with those fucking dogshit screamo “vocals”!

yeesh…

…next?

Gods of the Fallen – Fallen (December 21)

Hungarian modern metal act. Overemphasize the “modern”, and pull in words like “NWOAHM”, “metalcore/emo” and “gargle shout vox that go full on screamo”.

Not the worst thing covered this month…but no, I won’t be pulling this one out again.

Next?

 

Prophets Of The Apocalypse – War Metal (June 26)

WHOA, that’s sub-black metal, sub-demo, sub-basement rehearsal recorded off some teenager’s boom box production quality, there…

Holy shit, does this sound bad!

umm…yeah, it’s sorta busy and (modern) thrashlike, but with perfectly shite black metal snarls, tonsil waggling and gargling.

But in all honesty, I could barely even sit through this one without a whole shitload of skimming.

Quite possibly the worst “unremastered demo bootleg label album” you’ll ever hear…and I’ve run across several that were positively abominable!

I don’t even think an A list producer could fix this one, it sounds that bad.

Next?

The Moor – Jupiter’s Immigrants (August 30)

This one feels a whole lot more indie than it ever does metal…but try playing it to an indie rock fan, and they’ll be frowning at you for playing something so “metal”!

Seriously…the most hipster of post-whatever bands you’re ever likely to run across, but with tech death riffs and a lot of distortion, plus occasional bursts of (guest) death growls and snarl vox.

The pluses here are the clean, neo-goth/dark synthpop style vocals and the mournfully melodic lead lines that appear on a regular basis.

Not sure how well the hyperaggressively distorted, overly tremeloed/Children of Bodomesque lead lines work with that…my gut feeling is “they don’t”, but I’ll hear informed arguments on this one, it wasn’t exactly offensively mismatched, just…off, and not right.

The growls and snarls, yeah, those just sounded fucking stupid. But they’re pretty damn rare, so let’s leave it at that.

Overall…I don’t know. It was too strange a mix to really settle in with.

May or may not become a sleeper with repeated exposure, who knows.

But has its moments.

Deschain – Grit Pt. 2: Drift (July 4)

Strange but admirable attempt to bring the pagan/traditional elements of European black metal Stateside, offering a mythos based on the Old West rather than, say, Vikings, Normans and Franks.

They actually pull in some down home acoustic guitars, banjos (or more likely, dobro and/or chicken pickin’), whistles and triangles, plus old timey Western style “folk” melodies and flourishes to the otherwise black (or perhaps “post-black”) metal template, which was both pretty fucking weird…and kinda nice to hear, for a change.

If there’s any problem with this all too brief four track EP, it’s that there wasn’t quite enough of that in evidence. It’s played more as an overtone if not undercurrent than as an M.O., so don’t expect something like, oh, Finntroll, Taake, the Russian Arkona or even the shanties first approach of Alestorm here.

But did I get a kick out of this? Definitely.

Wouldn’t mind hearing more of this sort of thing, particularly with those elements of countrified 1800s Western Expansion traditional “folk” brought more to the fore.

C Average – III (Adult Fantasy/K Records) (September 28)

Hey, look, it’s Bean from Disenchantment! Can’t mistake that dental work…

Anyway,* what you get here is what you’d expect if the recent “occult rock” thing dropped all pretense at being ooky-spooky and mystical and took that early to mid-70’s heavy rock vibe and went sorta proggy with it. Not that Dream Theater bullshit, mind…but more akin to the territory being explored by Rush in the mid-70’s or Voivod throughout their entire career.

* personally, Luci’s always been my man on that show. But hey, to each his own…

So yeah, if you took, say, Blood Ceremony or even Beastmaker/Haunt and made ’em go all sci fi like that – and mind, the Blood Ceremony thing holds really well, as frontwoman Olivia Love has the same commanding alto and tone as Alia O’Brien, just without all the witchiness, Celtic folk-rock instrumentation and vibe or the doomy Sabbath worship…

…then yeah, you might figure out just how good this one sounds.

Not doom, not “occult rock”, not even retro-rock…but something else entirely, which goes beyond its obvious touchpoints (Blood Ceremony, Rush, The Alice Cooper Band…and yes, Voivod, however obliquely) to create something of an essential listen.

Personally, I’d have left a lot more room for Love to strut her stuff – wayyyy too much of this is instrumental, to its ultimate detriment. I mean, it’s not “By-Tor and the Snow Dog”-level aimless and boring by any means. But it sure could use some tightening and more of a feminine touch to spruce it up nice.

Yeah, we take the giggles where we can find ’em, but there’s no question that as good as the band is all by their lonesome, there’s a star attraction here, and three guesses who we’re referring to.

Keep on rockin’, “Bean”. Looking forward to more of a presence from ya next time around.

Black Paisley – Perennials (September 27)

You know, we try to keep likeminded labels together here at Third Eye.

You’ll notice a very deliberate construction to these Roundups, where we start ya off easy with the more “mainstream”/mass appeal AOR stuff, gradually ease in to trad and power metal, get a bit deeper with the doom, stoner, gothic and punk (or folk, or electronic, or indie…) inclined material…then start diving in to the death and black metal, until we close out on the most underground and niche subgenres thereof, i.e. “bestial”, “war” and suchlike.

It’s never 100% straightforward like that, but that’s the general flow chart, I’m sure a lot of you’ve noticed this ages ago.

So it comes as a bit of a surprise, this far in to the Roundup, to find this resolutely classic rock cum AOR affair out of Sweden, with tracks that range from straight up Deep Purple/Bad Company (“mother”, “trying”) to Nashville (“day by day”) to cheesy balladeering somewhere between Procul Harum and Bon Jovi (“sometimes”, “alone”) to a more driving Foreigner/Survivor thing (“I want your soul”, “out of my life”), before going full on pop (“miss me”). Then they jump right back to bar band blues rock (“step back”) and actually drop their best and most driving track right around the close (“think”).

As you can see, this one’s really all over the damn place, stylistically…but it’s always well produced, melodic and filled with top tier songcraft and performances, not least from frontman vocalist/co-guitarist Stefan Blomqvist, whose gravelly yet powerful tones bring 80’s Ian Gillan very much to mind.

Yeah, a lot of this wasn’t to my tastes (as regulars should easily be able to suss out from some of the stuff mentioned hereinabove), but what worked really worked, and unlike the overly soft and light toned material we usually hear hailing from Swedish climes, Blomqvist and company have the gritty tone to go with that polish…enough that you’d be excused for assuming they were domestic Stateside in origin.

Really quite good, and the best tracks (“think”, “out of my life”, “I want your soul”) are worth the price of admission all by their lonesome.

Pulverized – Monuments of Misanthropy (Krucyator Productions) (October 13)

Oh, yeah. This is some in your face old school style death metal, here.

I mean, there’s a South American bent to it that brings really lousy slow and stiff blastbeats to the table (hello, Sarcofago!), but the riffing is pure vintage, the vox deep and disgusting in true death metal style.

The leads are mixed wayyyy too far to the front, almost drowning out everything else…which is particularly egregious when you’ve got players as basic and (let’s be honest, Tom G. Warrior-esque loveable or not…) bad as this. Couldn’t you shove those yes, quite traditional…see also early Kreator, Sodom etc. leads to the back and throw a lot of reverb on ’em?

But that’s the most minor of quibbles, and we both know that.

Really quite good, and iffy mix aside (I mean, everything’s too much up front and in your face…), the production is rather good for a band hailing from and recording in Chile, no question.

I liked this one a lot.

Meadows End – Sojourn (Black Lion Records) (June 27)

They’re calling themselves “symphonic melodeath”, but it’s more of the older school, pre-female vocalled gothic/symphonic thing. Borders on pagan, borders on (Euro) power metal…but yeah, this is like a punchier, more festival ready take on that basic sound.

So if you still dig the likes of earlier Tristania, Sirenia and Therion, arguably crossed with the sound of, say, Manegarm or Leaves Eyes, you’ll find a lot to like in this well produced, lush, keyboard filled, typewriter drumming bedecked symphonic pagan/gothic metal act with gargly death metallish vox.

It actually sounds a whole hell of a lot better than it ever could on paper, goofy-ass vox aside.

Xalpen – Wowk Otrr (Morbid Skull Records) (September 13)

Live bassist with Watain joins forces with a fellow Chilean guitarist. Both share “vocal” duties. Unsurprisingly, it follows the Watain Wannabe template almost to the letter.

I got sick of this shit around the time of Lawless Darkness.

Next?

Exxxekutioner – Death Sentence (Ulthar) (October 19)

High speed british blackthrash with a decidedly vintage feel.

It’s hardly Witchtrap, but hey…you don’t find bands who get it quite this close to the real deal very often.

If you were missing “Okkulto” era Desaster, early Bulldozer and vintage Vulcano, then look no further.

Bang your fucking head.

DEFECAL OF GERBE – Discolocauste: 2005-2018 – The Full Sh*t So Far (XENOKORP) (August 27)

Well, the big plus here is this is available free to download from the band and Xenokorp.

The less appealing part…well, it’s grindcore, of the queasiest variety.  You can already tell from the song titles they’re…shall we say a bit fecally obsessed, with the rest of the material falling under the more typical header of “grossout territory”.

You can tell this is very much tongue in cheek (check out the goofy muppet vocals on “leffe for dead”, for example), but you know…how many times can you listen to some guy squealing like a pig or making circular repetitive vomit noises in place of an actual lyric? Particularly when the riffs are as simplistic and blastbeat-bedecked as grindcore?

About the most entertaining part was the soundbytes, which seem to involve Herve Villacheze insulting people.

Well, OK, it probably wasn’t the late Fantasy Island-famed midget (also of Oliver Stone’s amusingly bizarre Seizure and the weird homegrown hippie drive in effort Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood)…but that little squeaky-ass voice sure as fuck sounds like him!

WHOA WHOA WuWuWuWu OINK! OINK!  wuuuuAAHHHOOOOWWWWWWW! WEE WEE WEE!

Yeah, this stuff’ll make you crazy if you waste more than 2 minutes on it.

Whatever. It’s free for the taking if you want it, go look ’em up.

Sacrificium Carmen – Hermetica (Saturnal) (November 16)

What would you get if you crossed primo Gorgoroth (i.e. mainly material not driven by Gaahl and King) with the hyper-abrasive hissing and snarling vox of earlier Horna?

That’s right, our pals Sacrificium Carmen, who return to our pages after
wowing everyone with their debut Ikuisen Tulen Kammiossa.

If anything, Hermetica showcases an even stronger, more focused iteration of what we heard previously, on some tracks more aligned to the Gorgorothian template, others more to the pinnacle years of Horna (i.e. the Corvus era), albeit with those overly harsh, shriek hoarsely into the telephone-style vox, which are at best an acquired…can’t even say “taste”, it’s more like “you have to bear with ’em and maybe you’ll start to tolerate ’em”.

That aside, this is an incredibly potent brew of Finnish black metal, as ever hailing from and vetted by one of the more “serious” and reliable of labels working in the genre today. And wherever you stand on the subject of esotericism, this is one of the few out there today that with rare exceptions, simply does not fuck around.

Yet another round of raised horns earned, keep the good stuff coming.

Vuohi – Witchcraft Warfare (Saturnal) (November 9)

Now, what would you get if you took that same label and genre, dumbed down the lyrics and tagged in a significant measure of punkified thrash/death metal?

Mika Luttinen, yeah, we know. Not a fan.

But if you removed…well, a fair portion of the crude shock tactics and made the music a lot more melodic at core? You might get something vaguely akin to what you’ll hear with Vuohi.

Was not overly thrilled by this one and would never classify ’em as “a Saturnal act” by any measure…but can’t deny it has its moments scattered throughout. Hell, at times, it’s almost catchy for this base sound and approach.

Your call.

Outre-Tombe – Nécrovortex (Temple of Mystery) (October 17)

Quebecois death metal that desperately wants to be vintage Swedeath…or at a stretch, Finnish.

So you know right there what you’re getting: nasty sounding, sorta old school Carnage/Abhorrence style vox, grinding HM-2 guitars (albeit more on the trebly, sloppy end of the equation, hence the Finnish death metal reference), the whole schlemiel.

In French, or what passes for same in Canada (trust me, two different animals, there…)

Wasn’t bad, but there are wayyy too many bands working this basic sound and approach nowadays to get overly excited about all but the very best of ’em.

Again, not bad at all, if you’re just looking for yet another band working this style to fill your shelves with the stuff.

KYPRIAN’S CIRCLE – Noitatulen vartija (MCD, 12″ MLP) (Werewolf Records) (October 19)

Reissue of the 1999 debut EP from this Finnish act.

There’s a heavy emphasis on keyboard, though if you want to call it “symphonic black”, realize we’re talking a very low rent version of same.  It’s occasionally magesterial thanks to the keyboards, but in the sense of Elffor or (at a real stretch) Era 1 Mortiis.

It’s not even Gloomy Grim level, but more a (probable) one man bedroom act from a guy who should probably stick to the keyboards, as the guitars here are not only rudimentary, but feel bland and uninspired – lifeless, even.

The only time you’ll even notice the guitars here is when he goes acoustic (“kun puhui myrskyn henki”, “ikiyon lieki”), and drums are…acceptably basic, and again, uninspired.

You’ll find a lot of atmosphere here, so it’s definitely worth a listen…but realize that the only parts moving these tracks along or giving them any actual value are the keyboards and, when present, the folkish acoustic guitars.

Really liked portions of this, just not sure the entirety of the end result was what the guy intended.

ARCHGOAT – The Luciferian Crown (Debemur Morti Productions) (September 14)

We covered Archgoat for their split of re-recordings with Satanic Warmaster a couple of years back, and weren’t overly chuffed…though we did quite accurately note that they were pretty damn good by the standards of “bands who share splits with Satanic Warmaster”, for what that’s worth.

Bottom line, death metal belches, “bestial black”/”war metal” assaults of nigh-grindcore mush (blastbeats, overdistorted detuned riffing, you know the score).

Thankfully, the better portion of the material hear does pull back to a more midtempo pace, which leaves ’em sounding more like a particularly satanically obsessed primitive black/death act, almost like someone married Black Witchery to Incantation for some ungodly reason.

Except when they decide to pick up the pace, it’s surprisingly listenable, if rather overly blasphemous for no good reason (you know, the point where it gets positively yawn inducing, like Profanatica). Can’t say I was overly thrilled by it, though.

Yeah…whatever. Go invert a cross, enjoy yourself if that’s how you get your kicks.

(stifles huge yawn)

Next?

ELEGIAC – Pagan Storm (De Tenebrarum Principio) (September 28)

hmm, here’s an oddity for ya.

Take Judas Iscariot, more particularly his earlier, more boring material (yeah, yeah, everybody loves that shit, whatever. He doesn’t start mattering till Heaven in Flames.)

Now cross that with a more Nordic approach, complete with off key chanting and bouncing folklike moments. At points late in the album, there’s a distinct feeling of Clandestine Blaze bleeding through as well.

All that being said, the question of whether this actually works depends on just how much you dig (or don’t) early Iscariot and the idea of mixing in Euro-pagan elements and suchlike.

Sure, it feels early second wave, or more akin to the more underground and old school leaning black metal scenes of Poland, Finland, even France (not the mainstream shit like Behemoth or Merrimack, the somewhat questionable but far more musically effective stuff those nations have been traditionally noted for)…but even given that, I’m not sure I had much of a reaction to this one.

Give ’em half a nod for the attempt to work something different, and leave it at that.

Ygfan – Hamvakból… (Sun & Moon) (May 28)

We’d reviewed their Kod a few years back and found ’em surprisingly postpunk for what was essentially yet another one of those hipsterish post-black metal acts.

Here they retain the best elements of that approach, but rein their more outside impulses in somewhat, ultimately leaving Ygfan leaning closer to some odd mutated variant of black metal proper than most bands classified as “post-black”…and this despite generally featuring clean vocals and a more shoegazey, depressively folkish feel musically.

So have the band changed style and gone full on black metal? Not at all.

But compare this to something like, say, Alcest, and you’ll hear the chasm that separates the two immediately.

It’s not black metal, no. But it’s darker and more…ancient sounding, I guess, than anything “post-black” or crossover indie you’re likely to encounter in this particular corner of the genre.

Once again…I dug ’em.

Selbst – Secular Compendium (Sun & Moon) (May 28)

Compilation of this Venezuelan/Chilean act’s demo and the tracks they contributed to a pair of successive splits a few years back.

Amounts to a mere 5 track EP en toto…but what a batch of songs!

Dark, moody, grim, introspective…you’ve heard bands playing in the same general ballpark (think along the lines of earlier Strid, but far more melodic and better produced)

Yeah, when they pick up the tempo, they get a bit ooga booga “occult black metal” and somewhat Watainish or Gaahl-era Gorgorothlike in tone…but never enough to sink ’em or merit anything close to a disgusted sling into the Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards.

In fact, even during such moments…they’re both majestic, depressive and listenable, with vox that while gargle-snarled and definitely black metal, are also not the sort you want to claw your ears off just so you never have to hear that shit again…hell, they’re even perfectly comprehensible, if you can believe that.

Yeah, there’s more than just a hint of Sworn to the Dark or Lawless Darkness floating around in the DNA here…but only the best elements thereof seem to have come to the fore in their South American bastard child here. And more, there’s some of that obscurity and darkness of mid to late 90’s Polish acts like Arkona, Strid and Mgla to pull things off in a different direction entirely.

End result? It works, and quite well at that.

Nice. Curious to hear where they go from here.

Anomalie – Integra (AOP Records) (November 9)

What would you get if you crossed Watain with Moonspell, perhaps with a few acoustic phrases that bring, let’s say Ulver or Manegarm to mind?

That’s right, this Austrian act, whose prior Visions and Refugium both got pretty good reviews, particularly the less “post-” and more properly “black metal” of Visions.

Here things seem to revert back to earlier inclinations, a rubberband effect that leaves Integra somewhere between the two stylistic camps (if still a bit more towards Visions than Refugium, all told).

Did it deliver the same whammy that left us praising last February’s full length? Nah.

But is it competent, well performed and listenable enough for the type to at least give a nod of respect?

You bet.

Sektarism – Fils de Dieu (EAL Productions) (September 10)

Boy, some of these fuckers are nothing if not consistent…

We’d been utterly nonplussed (if not outright amused) by the pointlessly ambient waste of time that occasionally drifted in and out of moments of noise drone and aimless drumming that was La Mort de l’Infidèle, and this one’s even worse, if you can even fucking believe that.

Seriously…one track runs over a half an hour and barely contains 5 minutes worth of disconnected guitar and drum…er, aimless fiddling and noise. The other? 10 minutes without a lick of it…it’s just silence and whispering.

Abruptum sounded positively cohesive, and “It” and “Evil” accredited music school graduates by comparison to this shit.

Yeah, sorry, not sorry, fuck this crap.

Seriously – you’re crazy if you invest any time or money into this one.

ONE MORE INCOMING!

WHIZZZ!!! right into the flames…watch that fucker burn.

…next?

Höstblod – Mörkrets Intåg (Wolfspell Records) (September 23)

Swedish act that brings a pronounced pagan folk orientation to the fore, only drifting into more blackened territory deep into the longest tracks herein.

Much akin to a Prophecy act in its (many) quieter, acoustically instrumented moments (violin, chimes, piano, guitar, banjo), somewhat akin to the likes of (earlier) Vardan or the Cascadian scene in its more black metal ones.

Not bad at all.

Graveborne – 1918 (Wolfspell Records) (September 23)

Finnish act that unfortunately goes for the Horna vocal approach (all hissing and snarling like “Hat” or “Pest” from Gorgoroth, but shoved to the front of the mix and fed a whole rack of uppers just to see what happens).

Thankfully, being a Finnish act, they also pull in that nation’s propensity towards a dramatic and melodic approach to the dark and melancholic, resulting in black metal that sounds like…well, Horna in many ways. And saying that implies something far more palatable than comparing those overly raw and abrasive snarl vox does, that’s for damn sure!

Best track, hands down: “punakaarti”. There’s simply nothing else here that comes close.

Definitely one of those bands that sounds better when going at highway speed…more like that next time, and you may get yourselves a slam dunk.

Mourning by Morning – S/T (Wolfspell Records) (September 23)

Ohio gives us this one man band, where a Caden Francovich (now there’s a name that’ll drive you to sinister impulses against society if there ever was one!) drops some of the most surprisingly lush and melodic “extreme” music this side of acts like Ceremonium (if not moreso!).

Seriously…this is harsh snarl vocalled black metal, alright, but as paired with and blending surprisingly well with lush symphonic keyboards, tinkling piano, harp and other (likely sampled) traditional acoustic instrumentation. And featuring excellent, melodic dual harmony leads. I mean, this is practically symphonic power metal, except for some blastbeat nonsense, some clearly blackened tremelo riffage and those nasty-ass vox…

Pretty fucking amazing stuff to be finding in the black metal arena. Swap the nasty snarl, shriek and howl vox out for proper clean vocals? This one’d be on repeat play for the next few weeks.

You bet your sweet ass, I liked this one.

Daagh – S/T (Wolfspell Records) (September 23)

And another one, from Wolfspell. Damn, who are these guys, anyway?

So yeah, as that opening should imply, this is yet another fairly killer black metal release, leaning towards the introspective, mournful and vaguely Cascadian/Sepulchral with deliberate, expansively open feeling guitars and…well, I’m trying to forget the stupid yodel-howl vox that seem to have become a thing lately.

YODEL-AY-HEE-HOOOO! Ricola calling!

Well, pluses in that department are, there’s really no vox to speak of till you get towards the end of the EP…and as stupid as the imagery of black metal types putting on lederhosen and Happy Wanderer hats to blow alpine horns and yodel across the mountains is, at least it’s not as abrasive as a lot of black metal vox are these days.

Stupid, definitely. Funny, no question. But listenable, once you get used to ’em and try to tune ’em out.

Vox aside, this is another killer release, in a general style and approach we’ve appreciated and championed from the very earliest of Roundups published.

Yeah, I’m liking this Wolfspell label.

Runeshard – Dreaming Spire (Wolfspell Records) (September 23)

hahahaha…damn, wasn’t expecting this! 

After several quite excellent black metal releases in a row from labels like Saturnal, Sun & Moon and more to the point, Wolfspell, here comes a…well, black metal vocalled act out of Hungary that sounds more like Alestorm than anything even vaguely sinister…

Moments like “crimson gates” also lean a tad Elvenking, but that’s hardly a bad thing…but the low rent vibe of the pompous-toned keyboards, the bouncy riffs that speed up into jig-baiting frenzies of chugging guitar and drumming…and in a way, even the stupid, inappropriate vocals, which come off pretty damn close to Chris Bowes’ tongue in cheek pirate vox.

Yeah, those aside, this is very much the same low budget anthemic D&D happy power metal thing as Alestorm has going, and for all its roughness and lack of proper…well, not production so much as lacking a fuller instrumentation and expansiveness, is just about as amusing as Gloryhammer…or the bands being venerated/mocked thereby, namely Rhapsody, Hammerfall, Elvenking and their ilk.

So yeah, it sounds a bit bargain basement for something intended to feel epic…and the vox just sound silly, like someone tried to record a power metal album on Talk Like A Pirate Day, rather than getting a proper (or more sober) frontman in studio.

But given all that? Yeah, it’s kinda fun.

Ahoy, matey! YARRR!

Hermóðr – Rovdjur & Northern Might (Wolfspell Records) (September 23)

umm…o-kay…

This is a two track EP. Problem number one? This is supposed to be a compilation of two EPs (hence the ampersand in the title).

Who the fuck releases one track and says, hey, that’s not a single, it’s an EP?

Yeah, I knew some assholes like that when I was younger. Oh, my name’s not Bucket, it’s “Bouquet”. Oh, that’s not light red, it’s “champagne.” Just the snootiness of it begs a corollary response of a two handed “fuck you.”

Well, that bullshit aside, it’s two singles, buddy, get over yourself what you have here are two 15 minute plus tracks that despite some piss poor recording and production (seriously, these are so thin, low and mids-heavy reedy, you won’t believe it) are actually quite good.

Opener “rovdjur” is the more typically depressive/Cascadian of the two, with some Burzumlike keyboard tones appended to raw, meandering guitars and (occasional) shrieks. It’s also the shittier recording of the pair.

But while that’s perfectly acceptable, even likeable enough for the type (recording quality aside!), the real selling point here is B-side “northern might”, which is far more melodic and brings a dual harmony lead line and drive to the table that almost pulls the sound out of black metal per se and into a more…melodeath? Pensive traditional/US power metal, perhaps even? vein than you’d ever have expected otherwise.

Better, it’s almost entirely instrumental, with some clean baritone backing vox (almost chanted, but not quite) towards the conclusion. Not only is this track (comparatively speaking) better recorded than the A side, but it’s a much better song and experience all around.

You’ll definitely want to hear “northern might”…consider “rovdjur” a surprisingly welcome (if horribly recorded!) bonus, but realize you’ll be spending most of your repeat plays on the second track.

All that aside, another win from Wolfspell.

Realize that’s a clean sweep for the label. You don’t see that very often in these pages, especially over the course of six releases in the same month!

Hats off, color me impressed.

LIFELOST (Spain) – Dialogues From Beyond (Transcending Obscurity Records) (October 28)

It’s a strange month, eh? So much black metal, so many new labels specializing in such, so much of it actually quite good

So here’s another one well worth looking into, for those so inclined, hailing from Spain of all places. There’s a lot about this that reminds of Inquisition in their best moments, a bit of early Tribulation, definitely a touch too much of the atonality and dissonance of the “occult black metal” scene…but then there’s a lot of dark melodicism and a sense of impending doom to tracks like “sepulchral vault” or “incorporeal gate” that again speaks to a strong Inquisition influence.

Sure, some aspects of this I could do without. But there’s enough about it that works, and does so consistently enough to consider it worthy of repeat listens should the mood strike…which is a fuck of a lot more than I can say about most black/blackened spectrum material covered here.

Really quite good and there’s no question it sets, rather than enhances an existing mood.

When it comes to black metal, Transcending Obscurity as a label tends to lean a bit too far towards the experimental, atonal, dissonant and amelodically avant-garde for palatability’s sake (their death metal, by contrast, tends to be killer, and generally quite old school in orientation).

But this is one of those notable exceptions to the rule, and they should be congratulated for breaking out of the aforementioned ghetto to latch onto something far more substantive like this.

So yeah, it’s another set of raised horns among many this month, and that’s just in terms of black metal, which seems to be making some sort of unexpected comeback out of the blue. Who knew?

Chalk it up to the advent of Samhain, just lurking ’round the corner.

MASTER – Vindictive Miscreant (Transcending Obscurity Records (India) (November 28)

Well, we’d covered Paul Speckmann’s recent Master & Dehuman split a year back and found it passable, noting just how simplistic an affair the band has always been (some Scott Burns production and Paul Maisvidal guitar work raising On the Seventh Day well above the rest of the man’s back catalogue, but even so).

Well, that hasn’t changed, but this may actually be the best thing the man’s done since then.

Seriously – the vox sound somewhere right between Chuck Schuldiner and Chris Riefert, the production is surprisingly good, with the drums are right up there with (and even slightly in front of!) the guitars, blazing away in true double bass-driven old school death metal style…even the solos are trying to lean rather Rick Rozz with just a touch extra flash, all wild whammy bar action and a few nice harmony phrases to close ’em out, running throughout the course of the album.

No, it’s not On the Seventh Day…but it’s damn close, and brings ya right back to the days when Death, Obituary and Autopsy were not only still worth hearing, but actually leading the charge.

Damn straight I liked this one. It’s as vintage as they come, you can take that to the bank.

Morbid Messiah – Demoniac Paroxysm (Memento Mori) (October 22)

Sludgy, doomy old school Autopsy meets Incantation-style death metal out of Mexico.

This is seriously foul sounding and raw…which works perfectly for what they’re laying down. It’s low and slow, and even when they pick up the pace later in the album for tracks like “charred devastation” or “devoured by darkness” it’s still Anatomia-level simplistic and gritty sounding.

Also really liked when the drummer stopped with the blastbeats and off time snare hits and concentrates on his footwork and tom rolls on tracks like “howling from the grave” – shows hints of more potential to these guys than is at first apparent.

Will this be the first thing you reach for when someone says “hey, let’s throw on some death metal!” (yeah, I know, when does that ever happen…?) Not by a long shot.

But is it a good companion to better known acts like Incantation, Autopsy, Anatomia, Disma, etc.?

No question.

Barús – Drowned (Memento Mori) (October 22)

It should come as no surprise to anyone listening that this one hails from France.

I mean, seriously – Les Legions Noires aside, French metal is known for its outre elements and avant-garde nature…generally to its detriment, truth be told. But even so. And this slab of quirky-ass death metal, filled with atonality and weird outside influences that in no way say “death metal” fits that definition to a T.

Really…they can’t even let quieter, proggier moments like “engorge” work, they have to pull things off in weird, untoward atonal/blackened/just plain fucking screwed up directions.

They probably think they’re creating something new and special, here, rather than just a mess of batter that will never rise, an unproven, flawed concoction that will be tossed out as soon as it comes out of the oven.

One way ticket to the Pile of Dead Bards, eternally flaming Pyre that it is…

sniff sniff…anyone else smell croissants and foie gras?

NEXT!?!

Black Mold – Atavism (Helldprod Records) (October 8)

Raw, bikerish, first wave to (very) early second wave-feeling USBM.

No telling how this would play out with better production and/or a longer running time, but for 5 tracks where 3/5 of ’em barely break the minute and a half mark? It didn’t seem too bad, and had a bit of atmosphere to it.

We’ll see how this one plays out, but for now, they get a passing grade.

CULTES DES GHOULES – Sinister (CD, LP) (Hells Headbangers) (October 31)

We’d previously covered this obscure Polish act’s Henbane and Coven, generally appreciative of their sheer weirdness and fascinatingly eerie vibe.

This is another 5 track affair, where nearly every track pushes the 12 minute mark…strange, given just how punkishly raw and driving tracks like “where the rainbow ends” actually are.

As ever, expect quirky Eastern European vox that cackle, snarl and freak out in bizarre and depending on your mood and the time and place you spin this in, even a bit frightening ways, like someone took large samples of Frantisek Storm and Attilla Csihar’s blood and created a homonculus from that. This obscure Polish tribe has always been pretty “out there” and freaky like that…which is exactly their appeal.

Some tracks definitely adhere to the more hit and miss declamatory storytelling approach of Coven (“children of the moon”), but others like the aforementioned album closer, “the woods of power” or “day of joy” are as driving and quirky as vintage thrash/death influenced acts like Mortuary Drape and Bulldozer, but again as filtered through the sensibilities of Masters Hammer or Tormentor.

Even if the slower, more deliberate tracks don’t work for ya…3/5 of this one will kick your ass and weird you out all at once.

I’m calling that a definite win, once again.

Tezcatlipoca (Mexico) – Tlayohualtlapelani LP/CD (Iron Bonehead) (October 19)

Second act out of Mexico covered this month, but unlike Morbid Messiah, these guys just don’t work.

Figure something along the lines of those Black Twilight Circle acts reviewed a few times in past Roundups (remember those Mexican/California based acts trying to work some half-assed variant of Les Legions Noires domestically?), complete with some traditional whistles and instrumentation…which is the only part that actually works.

meh, to be nice about it.

More of the traditional stuff, less of the half assed underground black metal…or at least try to copy from BM bands that actually work next time!

(sighs, shrugs shoulders)

…whatever. Next?

Eadem – Luguber 12″ MLP/MCD (Iron Bonehead) (October 19)

Portuguese black metal.  Occasional female chants/vox help, there’s a hint of atmosphere to tracks like “restrained by an old rite”, but the production is abysmal (be prepared to jack your volume to even hear this fucking thing) and too much atonality…not to mention the fact that little of this even actually works by any appreciable standards.

yeah…not the worst crappy underground black metal act, particularly among those hailing from the more questionable (yet strangely much feted) scenes like Portugal or Iceland (which is an automatic cue to lower your usual standards right off, then appraise based off that…)

But even at that, nah.

Next?

Abyssous – Mesa 12″ MLP/MCD (Iron Bonehead) (November 1)

We’d covered their last album …Smouldering wayyyy back in 2013 and interestingly enough, found them reminiscent of old school death metal (admittedly, name checking the likes of Repulsion, so you know we’re leaning on the outer, sloppier and rougher edges thereof).

I have no fucking idea what was being heard at that time, unless they’ve changed that much in the interim.

I mean, sure, for underground black/death, riff and drum assaults like the one that opens “impelled” certainly lean a hell of a lot closer to death metal proper than you’d expect. But I mean, this isn’t even Grotesque or Necrophobic sort of blackened death metal of the classic variety.

Every other track is a pointless ambient intro, so you’re really getting 5 tracks here…all tremelo driven, buzzing hive of angry bees nonsense with blastbeats all over the place and over-reverbed belch vox…but it’s so, so underground black/death, something we’ve heard and covered far too many times to count over the years here.

I’m chalking that (much) earlier review up to a fresh faced discovery of newer, fouler corners of the metal arena than those to which this veteran metalhead had yet been exposed (it still makes me laugh to look back on those early praises for acts like Zom…)

A lot of this is where you are at the time, and only the passage of same and looking back gives a greater perspective. Just look at how many genres and subgenres I’m just beginning to reevaluate and suddenly appreciate to a far greater degree just over the past 8 months or so.

I certainly never thought I’d be turning my nose up at a large proportion of black metal and gravitating to USPM, doom and European power metal – much less in such a profound way – back around 2013, that’s for damn sure!

I barely even found this one listenable, to be honest.

Temple Nightside – Recondemnation LP/CD (Iron Bonehead) (November 1)

Aussie black/death. We’d essayed their The Hecatomb a few years back and found it…middling at best.

It should say something that the “best” track here is a cover of vintage Mayhem (“life eternal”)…next best is the doomy “exhumation/miseries upon imprecation”.

Outside of that? Every single track fades in on the same tone of feedback, after which they either speed up to a lumbering midtempo plus to little real effect or meander aimlessly in a nigh-ambience that isn’t even atmospheric.

Like last time, it’s not the sort of thing where you want to rip your headphones off and throw them or start giving the band a double bird for making you sit through that shit…it’s passably meh.

But that’s hardly a ringing endorsement.

Necroholocaust (Canada) – Laudem Antichristus 7″ EP (Iron Bonehead) (November 1)

We’d covered these Canadian war/”bestial black” metallers’ Holocaustic Goat Metal about 4 years back and noted their indebtedness towards the more simplistic to grindcore end of the death metal spectrum, which still holds true.

In place of the expected sourcing of the usual suspects (Blasphemy, Beherit, Conqueror/Revenge, Black Witchery), there’s a definite Repulsionlike attention to lumbering riffage during moments that aren’t going full on warlike noise, some double bass drumming amidst (and appended to) all the blastbeats, and those patented grindcore bottom of the bowels vomit vox over the top.

I mean, sure, you can file these guys right alongside Blasphemy without breaking a sweat…but there’s a lot more death (and specifically, grindcore) playing into the sound here.

Which makes them pretty damn listenable for the type…at least in the slower, less generic moments.

Not bad.

Xibalba Itzaes – Ah Tza Xibalba Itzaes LP/CD/TAPE (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (October 31 (CD) 15 December 2018 (LP)

Not to be confused with their release (as Xibalba) of the identically named Ah Tza! EP two years back, this time around the Mexican black metallers drop a 12 track album (four of which in fact are rerecorded versions of previously released material.)

Expect shitty, mids-heavy production with gargle-snarl vox that bring Rob Darken to mind…but without the expansively epic music to back it up.

About the best you get here is “all hail Chaac”, which still doesn’t quite work, but at least “has a beat and you can dance to it,” metaphorically speaking.

The rest…yeah, you’re on your own. Did nothing for me.

Blasphemy – Blood Upon the Altar LP (Nuclear War Now! Productions / Ross Bay Cult) (September 10)

Always (strangely enough) bearing the best recording quality in Blasphemy’s career, this demo (a handful of whose tracks were repeated for the debut Fallen Angel of Doom) and that debut are almost universally recognized as their best work…which doesn’t say much for the album this demo has traditionally been released as part of, namely Gods of War.

Those who don’t already have that release in hand or who wish to divest themselves of that material (can’t really blame ya…it was a big letdown, comparatively) can now have the demo all by its lonesome, slightly volume boosted and trimmed of excess break time between tracks.

I’ll admit, it sounds better than the Gods of War appended version we’ve all had in our collections for many a year. The question is, is that enough reason for an upgrade?

Newbies, grab this release first…then Fallen Angel. Feel free to skip the rest, except perhaps for the following:

Blasphemy – Blood Upon the Soundspace LP (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (September 15)

You know, NWN has been really going off on these Blasphemy releases of late. For a band who only released two albums and a demo, we’ve got more live and rehearsal recordings than you’d ever believe existed all of a sudden…

So yeah, here’s another one, a seriously overdistorted recording of one of the band’s private rehearsals (check out the red zone about to blow your speakers Guitar Wolf style crackle on “darkness prevails!”).

It’s as you might expect geared towards the hardcore Blasphemy connoisseur, but there’s a lot more distortion and aggression on display here than you get on any of the band’s studio, demo or even live recordings to date…and that’s a definite plus in and of itself.

This is the sound of a band about to go off the rails, with a rawness and vitality that’ll rip your fucking head off and slam dunk it before you even get halfway through the all too brief running time.

Is it essential? No.

But like a certain Live in Nuremburg ’85 bootleg of Slayer I’ve had in the collection for decades, it gives a much, much more violent and vital take on tracks you’ve known for many a year…so if you’re a fan, this one’s a no-brainer.

Sex Messiah – Eastern Cult of Sodomy LP/CD (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (October 15)

Somewhere between Japan’s Sabbat and Abigail and the European “bestial black metal” movement, comes this noise-loving Japanese act.

Disgusted, tongue-waggling and snottily spat vox, seriously overdistorted and mids-heavy guitars and barely audible drums…it’s like Guitar Wolf suddenly discovered early Beherit or something. Watch those speakers, kids!

There’s even a touch of early Sigh to tracks like “secret initiation” or “killed by Judas”, in all that darkly malevolent riffing…but the bulk of this release is much, much more indebted to noise, or a punkified black metal bordering on same.

It was OK. Didn’t light me afire, or anything. But far from a slag, either.

Cemetery Lights – Lemuralia TAPE (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (September 21)

Wait…you mean these guys hail from Rhode Island, of all places?

Whispery, quirkily eerie vocals, strangely prominent bass (nice touch, that) and a grim, off kilter atmosphere…I’d have sworn this was Italian first wave black metal ala Mortuary Drape.

Promo materials also mention the early Greek scene and oddballs like Switzerland’s Samael, whose Medieval Prophecy-era material may also bear some influence and kinship hereto…but Rhode Island, and in 2018? Seriously?

Color me impressed once again.

Curious to hear their other demo Church on the Island now…hint, hint.

You’ll definitely want to check this one out. Seriously, you won’t believe its provenance.

Raise the horns.

Death Worship – Extermination Mass – Demo TAPE (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (September 28)

With similar intent to, but light years’ less success than the earlier reviewed Blood on the Soundspace or Mayhem’s Life Eternal EP, this one’s something of a nonessential.

Comprising the exact same material released on the identically titled debut from this Conqueror/Revenge/Blasphemy-circle affair, previously reviewed a year and a half back, this is little more than what the title indicates: the pre-production working demos for the same material.

Same order, pretty much identical in most respects…just sounds even shittier, productionwise.

There’s really no reason to go for this one over the officially released end result (whose raw and aggressive “war metal”-style production was questionable enough!)

For serious diehard fans only.

Putrisect – Cascading Inferno CD/LP (Blood Harvest) (October 26)

The more likeable half of a previously reviewed split with Scorched, these Baltimore death metallers deliver the same reasonably solid if decidedly unspectacular modern take on the death metal paradigm as we saw last time around, arguably to a slightly lesser effect (maybe it was the contrast with their splitmates, who knows).

What does hold true regardless is that like last time, there’s simply nothing here to set the old school death metal fan afire.

It’s competent enough, some of the boxes are ticked, you may even catch a whiff of this band or that (I heard just a whisper of Morbid Angel at one point, for instance)…but yeah.

Passable, but a bit of a shoulder shrug, all told.

Zealot Cult – Spiritual Sickness CD/LP/TAPE (Blood Harvest) (November 9)

You know, you have to give these Irishmen credit…it’s hard to decide whether those vocals sound more John Tardy or Patrick Mameli. And I mean, damn close to either or both…

We’d covered their Karmenian Crypt two years back, and gave ’em a pretty strong thumbs up, despite a few minor reservations along the way.

Again here, the guitar and drums tend towards working something a tad too modernistic and tech death for my taste, but you can say the same thing about post-James Murphy Death as well, so take that into account.

The leads have definitely improved – I certainly heard some Murphy moments in there (the title cut, “sea of suffering”) and even the aforementioned riffing leans more than a touch Testimony of the Ancients-era Pestilence on tracks like “repent in flames”, which similarly represents a big improvement. Over an album we liked in the first place, do take note of that.

The production appears to have been beefed up as well, so in many ways, you can say these guys are being pretty damn true to the Pestilence/Obituary/Death template (and the Floridian Scott Burns/Morrisound Studios school per se), Pestilence circa Testimony in particular.

But there are still a few…well, I hate to say “gotchas” with an album I enjoyed this much, but you get the idea – and all of those have to do with an overly strong orientation towards more modern strains of tech death. Then again, those raised on that shit will probably be scratching their heads and complaining how traditional they sound!

So let’s just ignore the little bits of dross and slight impurities that haven’t been burned off yet.

A band this decent, showing this degree of improvement from one album to the next? I’m thinking they’ll be fully retro in no time, particularly if they actually want to hit that high bar standard, rather than wandering off to “find their own sound” like some have so foolishly done (insert laugh here…but yeah.)

Damn good.

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