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You know, nothing in life ever runs smoothly.

For example. There’s a situation going down for a few years now that’s been intermittently quite serious, involving relatives, splits and all sorts of issues that are really none of anyone’s fucking business…so nuff said on that.

But the reason I bring this up is to illustrate a point – namely, that every time we think “problem solved, time to rest”, there’s another huge caveat, a major “gotcha” that almost implies we’d have been better off leaving things as they were and not even trying to help or get involved (when there was really no option to do otherwise, just as a pair of fellow human beings, much less relatives).  The situation just keeps getting worse, for every apparent victory.

It’s disheartening, and giving everyone (except those at the center of the issue, who could care less about anyone but their respective selves…) literal grey hairs…and more fights, agita and general discomfort than these assholes have any merit to.

So here we are, on the cusp of a midterm election, Stateside, and it already looks like the greater evil is hacking, conniving, getting enormous injections of cash from sinister magnates and corporate types (never mind the infamous “dark money”, this is out in the open!), utilizing a decade plus worth of gerrymandering and redistricting in their unwarranted favor (as their actual numbers in support are ridiculously lower than those who oppose) and disenfranchising and disallowing entire tens of thousands of obvious opposition voting blocs.

Seriously? And we have dim bulb red cap donning Uncle Tom types supporting these modern day Simon LeGrees?

Good GOD, people are dumb.

Let’s just hope there’s enough of an activated resistance…and enough leeway to beat all these Boss Hogg-style dirty tricks, to “drain the swamp” of all the slugs and leeches put into place under the hilariously contrarian co-opting of that very phrase (“let’s put an end to wrongdoing, hatred and evil!,” said Satan…) and clear a certain party en toto from the corridors of power.

I, for one, have serious doubts…but we live in hope, even in this darkest of hours.

But on the plus side, I’ve been digging into all sorts of previously reviewed (and previously unheard back catalogues) Euro-style power metal, to often amusing result (yeah, sure, I’m really enjoying stuff like Hammerfall, Sonata Arctica and Alestorm again, and falling for Mandrake/Hellfire Club-era Edguy was probably inevitable.

But who’d have expected a new appreciation of…wait for it…Powerwolf?  Yeah, knock me over with a feather.  What’s next, Sabaton? 

There’s also been some surprises in re-evaluation. You’ll see one in the reviews below relating to Dynazty…and the latest was hearing a band only yesterday, and thinking “damn, this sounds so much like Battle Beast. They should probably sue…”

Yep, that was the actual words out of my mouth, to the wife.  Want to know who it was?  Burning Point.  You know, the band Nitte Valo fronts post-Steel?  Insert hearty laugh here…

So for those curious…the self titled (her debut with the band) sounds so much like Steel (arguably with elements of Battle Beast’s own self titled), you’d never believe it. Belated huge thumbs up on that one.  Sadly, followup The Blaze doesn’t hold up half so well, being a rather gloomy and dispirited affair* (probably more akin with more recent Battle Beast, who similarly appear to have jumped the shark…suffice to say, the self titled is the last one in the personal collection!)

* except for that inspired choice of cover. Would never have associated Lee Aaron with Nitte, but turned out to be an ideal pairing for her range and tonality.

But that self titled? Fucking killer, and you can go back and append the last paragraph to the original review thereof.  Oh, and same goes for Nightmare’s new femme-fronted iteration, with Dead Sun (interestingly, reviewed during the same month). Hardly disliked either at the time…but in reevaluation, their stock has gone up, so to speak.

And then there’s the curious case of Helion Prime, who seem to be at something of a loss without the pleasant pipes of Heather Michele Smith…or some manner of frontwoman working the mic…

Yeah, a lot of that sort of thing going on.

So enough about the increasingly distasteful world around us, or the ever-amusing personal journey of a music aficionado cum critic…more to be enjoyed scattered throughout the many reviews that follow.

Allow me to extend a crooked arm, for you to latch onto as we sally forth together.

Shall we, then?

IMPELLITTERI – The Nature of the Beast (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (October 12)

Damn!

It’s no secret that I’ve been (and still am) something of a shred-head…and that I have a strong appreciation for the work of Graham Bonnett, particularly in his earlier days.

I mean, the guy worked with Yngwie (like Ron Keel and Mark Boals, both of whom have been on the podcast to talk their work with him as well, Michael Schenker, Ritchie Blackmore, Steve Vai, Japan’s Anthem (on what may be their strongest album outside Tightrope and Gypsy Ways)…and Chris Impelliteri. Twice.

But even apart from Bonnett, Impelliteri has dropped album after album of quality material, even with the oddly entertaining anime theme song meets classic metal riff project Animetal USA…but most often with (of all frontmen!) Christian rocker (and erstwhile Angelica/Project M.A.R.S. frontman) Rob Rock.

From the very first Impelliteri EP to now, excepting the two Bonnett albums (yep, there were two, where have you been?) Rock has delivered his powerful yet melodic Michael Sweet with balls tones to every single release, offering a perfect one two punch of class and grit to the man’s compositions that’s fairly irresistible.

And then, of course, you have Impelliteri’s own impressive shredding skills, committed to video on classic REH instructional VHS Speed Soloing. Say what you will about how closely Stand In Line appends to No Parole for Rock N Roll (and yeah, there are some really strong parallels, probably more down to Bonnett than Impelliteri himself…which you’d know if you followed the rest of his (for many years, Japanese-only) albums and career!), but the man can fucking play. 

I had Chris Impelliteri on the show a few years back to discuss all of these matters and more, and whether you buy some of his demurring on certain matters or no, the guy was quite affable and gave a good career spanning interview (as always with the Third Eye podcast, it’s what we do), so I think at this point, we can say that I’m probably not going to slam an Impelliteri album without damn good reason…and before you brace yourself for a huge slam, just calm your ass down, because there’s less of one here than ever.

The production, while still pushing guitars right up front alongside the vocals and perhaps overemphasizing bass tones (when’s the last time you heard that?), is strong and clear, and both Rock and Impelliteri sound as strong as ever…perhaps, in the latter case, better than in recent albums like Wicked Maiden, or (this one’s a bit trickier) Venom.

Seriously – all the loose ends and untoward bits that infected albums like Crunch (overaggressive and slightly groove oriented) or Wicked Maiden are absent, the guitars are no longer buried in the mix or thin toned (as in earlier albums like Stand in Line or the EP) and there are simply no throwaway songs (like in Eye of the Hurricane, Answer to the Master or System X).

I’m not sure what to think of the unusual Sabbath cover “symptom of the universe”, but he clearly pulls it into a very different direction around the solo section, and yes, “do you think I’m mad” is a lot weaker than the 10 originals that surround it…but even with those two taken into account, this is some seriously solid shit.

Better: Impelliteri comes off like a man with something to prove, blazing away with articulation and speed, building riffs off memorable, catchy and aggressive licks like you haven’t even heard from Yngwie since he went all soft around Odyssey. This guy came to chew bubblegum and kick ass, and he’s definitely all out of bubblegum.

So yeah, I have a lot more respect for the work of Impelliteri (the musician and the band) than a lot of folks I’ve talked to…but that’s down to them, and a likely lack of exposure to anything post-Stand in Line and pre-Frontiers (if that.)

But even walking into this and approaching it like Joe Blow and the New Kids – The Debut, you can’t help but be smacked right across the teeth by the sheer intensity, quality and yes, improvement over what’s come before, even one album back.

Do you need to sit around and think about it?

Get the fuck up off your fat ass and get this one, already!

…yeah, I know, Rob Rock is covering his ears and praying for my immortal soul right now, whatever.  You heard me.  You know what to do.

NAZARETH – Tattooed On My Brain (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (October 12)

Southern rock style “classic rock” band from back in the day, oddly hailing from…er, Scotland (!)

Well, the Bay City Rollers they’re not…this is typical beefy riffed 70’s rock in the vein of Molly Hatchet and Marshall Tucker, but with the vocal/scream approach of Marc Storace and Krokus.

For a band of their vintage (when the hell was “hair of the dog”, anyway, 1981?), they sound surprisingly aggressive and if not “technical”, then certainly “riff and lead-heavy”. Check out the “thunderstruck” style schtick that “state of emergency” is built around, or even “don’t throw your love away”, and tell me these are guys that old…

Of course, there’s a lot of bluesy slide riffing (hardly talking Moody/Mardsen-era Whitesnake, here, but even so…) and even a new wave track (“tattooed on my brain”) to betray their vintage, but who ever complained about that, particularly nowadays, with all the retro-everything going on in music of all stripe?

What I took away from Tattooed on my Brain (the album, not the song) was less the sort of grizzled bar band “classic rock” thing I was expecting, and more of a Krokus gone slide guitar blues-rock.

While far from metal in any respect (so don’t walk in expecting another Headhunter here), it was a lot heavier and dare I say, more youthful sounding than 99% of that particular genre…which if symptomatic of their earlier work, may be why they’ve toiled in relative obscurity, at least Stateside. “Too busy, aggressive and youthful sounding for old drunken plumbers!”, there’s a new tagline for Nazareth…

If you’re looking for something different that falls somewhere between the aforementioned bands and styles, or just a longtime Nazareth fan curious about what they’re up to after all this time…dig right in, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

CITY OF THIEVES – Beast Reality (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (October 12)

So…how’s that Zodiac Mindwarp and the Love Reaction reunion tour going?

Because that’s what you get here, some unholy cross between that forgotten biker trash/psychedelic/neo-grunge act and the similarly minded (but even sleazier) Circus O’ Power.

Hey, I knew folks who were diehard glamsters that turned to this shit overnight back around ’88 or ’89. Didn’t understand it then…like straight edge scene leader Pat Dubar moving on from Unity and Uniform Choice to…Mind Funk.

Yeah, it was a fucking lame time, right there at the end of the 80’s, unless you were deep into the thrash (and as it turned out in very short order, what birthed into death and black) metal underground like yours truly…

Best I can offer is “buzzed out city” sounds very much like something off Blow Up Your Video, for all you Johnson-era AC/DC fans out there.

mmm. I have nothing else to say here.

You already know if you’ll think this one’s the greatest thing since sliced bread, or if you’ll hate it with a fucking vengeance.

SEVENTH WONDER – Tiara  (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (October 12)

Really syrupy prog metal…so it’s no surprise, given the chosen superlative, that they hail from Sweden.

Hey, look. We gave a bit of a knock to Dynazty the other month for their sugary light tone…then it turned into a sleeper hit (yep, that and Brainstorm’s latest have been getting more than the usual share of airplay around our house over the past few weeks…of course, so has (of all bands!) Powerwolf, if you can’t tell from some of the references this month…so take as you will.)

But I’m not sure this is another Dynazty. It’s too much of the Dream Theater school of prog to really sink in, too Euro style and without the quirkiness of even a Helion Prime to mark towards its merit.

Now, don’t get the wrong impression here – this is a reasonably subjective take thus far. Objectively speaking, they’re quite polished (as you’d expect of bands playing in this style, particularly when given half a budget for production and a European provenance to grant a bit less aggro and more than a touch more class than far too many bands Stateside). They tick off many of the expected boxes…

…but honestly. Since when is a comparison to fucking Dream Theater considered a positive here at Third Eye?

That’s right. Never.

So pluses? Decent production, lots of polish, pleasant vocals, solos that are a bit less wheedly-whoo than usual for the type.

Minuses…too soft, too Petrucci/Myung-style prog…and as the latter implies, nowhere near enough catchy melodies, hooks or riffs (ever try sitting through one of their endless John Tesh gone techie snoozefests?)

Fans of this style and approach may shake their heads and praise this one to high heaven.

But you can say that about the gnarliest, most tuneless and derivative corners of the black metal world as well, what the fuck does that mean?

Bottom line, while I can give a nod of respect for the polish and performances, when it comes down to brass tacks, this did nothing for me whatsoever.

Period, end of story.

CREYE – S/T (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (October 12)

Now here’s a guy who accomplished his goal.

Apparently guitarist and mainman Andreas Gullstrand had a “vision to start a Swedish pop/rock sensation (reminiscent of) the eighties.”

Well…yeah, that’s exactly what this is. End of teen comedy/action film feel good credits roll theme songs wall to wall, music for mallrats driving the streets in convertibles on their way to another house party, dayglo outfits with hoop earrings and big hair, the whole deal.

Seriously, if I played this to a few peers not so connected to the world of music (at least the kind we cover here at Third Eye, I’m sure they hear some top 40 shit or whatever), I’m sure I could convince them with very little effort that this was another Survivor/Foreigner/Autograph/Asia style band they’ve somehow managed to overlook for all these years.

It’s light AOR radio rock, make no mistake…but hell if it’s not dead on.

And damn, it’s good!

Now where’s my collection of Michael Dudikoff movies? I’m suddenly inspired to check out a classic training montage or something…

CRAZY LIXX – Loud Minority(Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (October 12)
CRAZY LIXX – New Religion (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (October 12)
CRAZY LIXX – Riot Avenue(Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (October 12)

If you’re of a certain age, even if you were one of those (cough like yours truly cough) who went a whole hell of a lot heavier and more “underground” into the thrash scene (and the very nascence of still-nonexistent genres like death, black, US power and doom metal, all still covered under the surprisingly broad umbrella of “thrash” or “speed”)…you came up on this stuff.

Seriously, stop posing. And this coming from a guy who used to scare the living shit out of “poseurs” just for laughs, Baloff style…because we all still listened to bands like Motley Crue, Twisted Sister, Ratt, Dokken and Quiet Riot too. Hell, even Poison’s first album had some irresistible cuts (and someone very near to your ear right now can be heard throwing down the riff to “talk dirty to me” on an old rehearsal/jam session, right in the middle of all that heavy shit.* It’s all good.)

* and come on, how many times have we shared laughs about my drummer’s fixation on what he termed “dirtbag metal” (Hollywood glam and GNR style tattooed sleaze rockers)? Can’t help but dig some of it, with regular exposure…

So here comes a band out of Sweden, who we’ve actually covered several times previously, for their self titled, concert album Sound of the Live Minority and Ruff Justice, all to some pretty positive reviews. About the worst that could be said is that selling themselves as “sleaze rockers” was a bit of a misnomer – we’re hardly talking L.A. Guns and Cats N’ Boots here, much less Dirty Looks or Spread Eagle!

But that’s also Crazy Lixx’ greatest strength – that they’re actually more from the AOR-leaning mid to late 80’s glam/mainstream metal scene occupied by bands like Black N’ Blue, Cinderella, Giuffria, Roxy Blue, Autograph and especially Def Leppard: all big singalong choruses, wall to wall hooks, polished production and a playing style that’s clearly competent and assured without ever getting flashy enough to distract from the catchy melodies.

Well, OK, they could have benefited from a little of that – every Dokken had a George Lynch, every Ratt had a Warren DiMartini. Even Winger had a secret weapon in Reb Beach…Crazy Lixx clearly missed that boat.

But even so – I dare you to find a weak track on their debut album Loud Minority, here re-released alongside their second and third albums, New Religion and Riot Avenue respectively. All come in expanded editions with bonus tracks: Loud Minority mostly filled with earlier demo and promo versions of tracks better represented on the album itself, New Religion with an otherwise unrepresented track (“lights out!”) and Riot Avenue with…well, two pretty much worthless acoustic versions of tracks off the same album.

That said, if you’re asking me, stick with the nearly flawless debut Loud Minority, which is absolutely killer.

Followup New Religion brings a second guitarist onboard, but waters down both production and style in the process, much akin to judging the Def Leppard of High N’ Dry (a killer album that still holds up from end to end), then jumping straight ahead to Hysteria. Like…what the fuck just happened here?!?

No kidding. While it’s not as syrupy and pop as Leppard’s ’87 jump the shark/rake in the big bucks moment, there’s some obvious similarities in softer approach, more femme-friendly multitrack vocal-augmented choruses and a nigh-utter lack of rockin’ riffs. About the closest you’ll find here are “road to babylon” and “lock up your daughter”, and even those are hardly Pete Willis worthy. Catchy, sure. But soft!

Third album Riot Avenue marks another change, but whether it’s an improvement or not depends on your orientation to this sort of thing. If you grew up on the sort of thing the mainstream/Hollywood glam acts were reduced to doing in the wake of GNR and just before grunge really wiped heavy music off the face of the Earth…or at least the States! for a good decade, you may think ’88-91 or so were just great years for metal (apart from the underground, which was rapidly cycling through the brief heydays of both thrash and death metal at the time).

Big hint: they weren’t.  But don’t let that stop ya – if you like this sort of blues-rock heavy, toned down approach, rest assured Crazy Lixx has recaptured that sound here, leaving Riot Avenue both “heavier” in tone (check out “church of rock” for the best this gets) and more bastardized in sound.

It’s decent for what it is, and that Leppard thing is still present and accounted for in the chorus hooks and Danny Rexon’s Joe Elliottlike vocals, but I’m really not sure which album is better or worse between New Religion and Riot Avenue. Thankfully, better times would lie ahead with the upcoming self titled, leaving these two albums as transitional ones.

Ultimately, how many of these you run out and grab depends on just how much of a Crazy Lixx fan you are…or how much you miss Def Leppard in their later 80’s-early 90’s period.

For my money, Loud Minority is the ringer in the deck, the High N’ Dry or their career, their Under the Blade or Can’t Stop Rock N’ Roll.

You know – when the band was just plain credible, and pretty damn hard rocking, before becoming something of a poseur joke.

Well, OK, I’m talking Leppard and Sister more than Crazy Lixx there. But you get the general idea. In other words, don’t let the other two throw ya…and even if you (like us) enjoyed their later work as well, there’s little question that this first album was the band’s shining moment of glory.

You just set the bar high, fellas. Let’s see if you can beat that, with the upcoming album I hear you’re working on as we speak.

  

Arion – Life Is Not Beautiful (AFM Records) (October 19)

Finnish power metal, but don’t expect flashy traditional-style ala Battle Beast here.

Things get fairly bombastic and sufficiently catchy, particularly on stronger tracks like “the last sacrifice”, “unforgivable” or even the somewhat overaggressive “punish you”, and the solos from six stringer Iivo Kaipainen are accomplished and speedy enough (if a tad generic as is so unfortunately common to the European school of power metal). So far, so good.

Vocals from apparent newcomer Lassi Vääränen are decidedly middle of the road, being too gravelly/raspy for the tastes of those looking for something more refined, operatically soaring and, well, powerful out of their power metal, but they’re not the worst you’ve heard by a long shot. “Acceptable” is about the best I can offer here.

But it really says something that the one truly standout track here is the one that’s blessed by Amaranthe’s Elize Ryd, a woman who’s clearly too good for the band she’s associated with (see also Amaranthe’s excellent cover of Powerwolf’s “army of the night”…she really needs to front better material than we’ve seen from, oh, say, Maximalism.*

* of course, Breaking Point showed hints of promise, so maybe the aforementioned album was just a huge-ass misstep…who the hell knows. The lady deserves better backing and material, regardless.

Bottom line, Arion is a band with definite promise and sufficient symphonic bombast to claw their way up to a higher rung of the European power metal ladder.

They may just need a bit more polish, a touch more originality…and while the guy does an admittedly fair job, I’m calling for a stronger front(wo)man.

Hey, Elize…opportunity knocks! Care to swap bands with Laasi?

Think about it.

Please. You both need it.

Bonfire – Legends (AFM Records) (October 19)

We’d covered their Temple of Lies earlier this year, the second of what now becomes a trilogy of post-Michael Reece (and briefly, Michael Boormann) releases for the band.

Now, two albums in one year? That just seems crazy…until you realize that this admittedly massive 33 track collection is nothing more than a bunch of covers.

What’s odd about this is not confined to the sheer number of covers attempted here, but that there are several tracks apiece from a given band. Toto gets two, Rainbow gets three, UFO gets three as well, as does Queensryche. By comparison, Asia, Kiss and Deep Purple get one apiece, as does (of all people) Leonard Cohen (!)

The rest of the tracks here…I’ve never heard of, how about you? I gather the last three are from the same band (as they’re all entitled in Deutsch), but that’s 18 out of 33. Who the fuck are these other bands they’re drawing from, or at least what albums and songs are these?

These are all songs that supposedly “greatly moved” members of the band…nearly half of which are complete bogglers.

Oh, and even funnier? The original idea was to have a big package tour, with the bands’ respective frontmen singing their own songs while Bonfire played backing band…an obviously unwieldy touring proposition that gave way to…yeah, just a simple covers album.  Alrighty, then!

Most covers albums are more or less unnecessary, though some can introduce newbies to some cool acts they’d never heard before. Remember all those vintage Metallica covers of obscure NWOBHM and punk acts, back in the Garage Days days? How about Hammerfall’s Masterpieces, or the Communio Lupatum covers disc with the last Powerwolf album? Trust me, hearing Noora from Battle Beast belt out “resurrection by erection” is something you won’t want to miss…

Problem here is, the songs you know have been beaten into the ground over the decades – stuff even your grandpa can sing along to (and may have been part of a band that covered the same songs!) And the others? Let’s just say there’s no “the wait”, “crash course in brain surgery” or “last caress” here to inspire listeners to find out just who the hell Budgie and the Misfits were. (Killing Joke, well…Metallica did ’em better on that one.)

Inessential, but encyclopedic.

If you can figure out who the other 13 songs or so are even by, that is.

JOSE RUBIO – Forbidden Dreams (Fighter Records) (November 7)

Evil Hunter‘s six stringer and a former member of Warcry (if that name rings any bells) here drops a modern day version of a Shrapnel shred album.

“Land of terror” kicks things off promisingly neoclassical and shredworthy, only to immediately falter into Joe Satriani/Steve Vai solo album territory with the slurring, legato-heavy whammy bar fest “infinity” and the “song before the solo” approach of “lionheart” (which was clearly designed for full band and vocals, rather than as an instrumental).

“Without you” continues the Satch thing, “forbidden dreams” once again beggars a full band with its decided AOR leanings, hell, “mastermind” even goes full on “Satch boogie” with its Surfing With the Alien knockoff approach.

Thankfully, closer “no mercy” pulls us right back into power metal territory, with an aggressive riff reminiscent of more recent Impelliteri and some brief, if appropriately speedy and driving legato riffs somewhat in the vein of Racer X or Jason Becker (though not quite on that level…maybe Tony MacAlpine would be a closer analogue here?)

Look, bottom line, the guy’s a damn good player, he’s got some strong songwriting skills (as noted, several of these could be converted into vocal/full band tracks with very little effort, if any) and he’s clearly capable of the full on shredding I was primed and ready for.

But sadly, that doesn’t seem to be in the man’s blood, or at least to be his M.O. here – he’d rather go for the “melodic instrumental” approach of folks like Satriani, Vai, Greg Howe and suchlike over the jaw dropping likes of early Malmsteen, Gilbert with Racer X, earlier Marty Friedman (at least through Rust in Peace), Jason Becker, Joey Tafolla or Vinnie Moore…or even MacAlpine, to be honest.

This is a man who prefers to pull his punches, and while it’s dead obvious he’s in the upper echelons skillwise and can write a good melodic track, it’s this innate reluctance to just cut loose and let ‘er rip that hurts him more than it ever may help, in the end.

Next time, my friend? Give those songwriting hangups and melodic inhibitions a well deserved bird, and just fucking wail.

Kalidia – The Frozen Throne (Inner Wound Recordings) (November 23)

Symphonic power metal out of Italy. Rather than the expected Rhapsody/Elvenking sort of sound, they’re more akin to a far more generic, straightforward take on Xandria.

Frontwoman Nicoletta Rosellini comes off somewhere between a more properly power metal version of Cristina Scabbia and a completely non-operatic variant of Dianne Van Giersbergen. You get some strings and piano (“to the darkness I belong”), but most of this is uber-basic template power metal in its lighter, more femme-friendly symphonic variant (though without the drama and cinematically orchestral heft associated thereto).

A few tracks here come off rather Delain-esque, like “go beyond” and the obligatory snoozer of a ballad “midnight’s chant”, but Kalidia is by no means as polished or radio friendly as the Dutchmen.

Solos are negligible at best, serving a workmanlike purpose while making zero impression on the listener. They’re there, but you won’t exactly notice.

And that’s the problem with this one. Despite an attractive, Gal Godot-esque frontwoman with a pleasant enough midrange alto, they’re simply too cookie cutter and basic, a program delivered out of the box without any customization.

Yeah, they’ll fit right in the bottom to middle of a bill of similarly minded acts.

But you won’t remember them 5 minutes after they’ve left the stage, and that’s a problem.

InnerWish – Waiting for the Dawn (re-issue) (Ulterium Records) (November 23)
InnerWish – Silent Faces (re-issue) (Ulterium Records) (November 23)
InnerWish – Inner Strength (re-issue) (Ulterium Records) (November 23)

First three of five albums from this Greek power metal act.

Interestingly, Waiting for the Dawn sounds quite USPM (particularly on the bonus track “Nightfall”, which falls somewhere between Crimson Glory and Solar Eagle!) and original frontman Yiannis Papanikolaou only cements that vibe, with a fittingly Midnight meets Dale Thompson tonality and (over)dramatic approach.

It was arguable how to classify this one, in fact – the label refers to the band as “melodic metal”, and my first thought was “traditional metal”…but no, that’s decidedly US power metal bleeding through each and every note. Even the obligatory power ballad “last thing I’ll remember” sounds quite Heir Apparent.

Bottom line, Waiting for the Dawn is a top notch, highly recommended release for fans of classic USPM (originally released in ’98, but there were still a few strong demo acts working the proggier end of US power late into that decade, so it fits.)

The next two releases feature second (but not last!) InnerWish frontman Babis Alexandropoulos, which…let’s not beat around the bush, here…is a definite step down.

I mean, sure, he’s an understandable choice as a replacement and far from being a lousy singer, but his more middle of the road, far less bombastic and dramatic approach loses all the authority and authenticity Papinakolaou brought to the table. It’s subtle, perhaps…but immediately noticeable from the first moments of
“dancer of the storm”. Oh, boy…not the same band at all, is it?

The production on followup Silent Faces is also somewhat more intrusive and overstated, likely having moved from a more traditional analog based recording to the more modern ProTools every instrument right up front fighting with one another sort of thing. It may sound fine coming off your favorite postmillenial European power metal album, but after Waiting for the Dawn? It just sounds cheap, and wrong, somehow.

To make up for these dual (comparative) deficiencies, guitarists Thimios Krikos and Manolis Tsigkos really step up their dual lead game, delivering a Maidenesque harmony that moves into more impressive and neoclassical territory and back again, seamlessly punctuating each other’s solos in a way we haven’t heard since the heyday of Stryper. Nice stuff…too bad about the change in vocalist and production style.

Even so, this is far from being a lousy album…in fact, it’s pretty damn good, by Euro power metal standards. It just ain’t no USPM, that’s for damn sure…and there’s a huuuuge difference between the two in style and quality, even now when I can personally say that I very much enjoy both on their own respective merits.

Case in point…unless you play ’em back to back like we just did for this review (in which case the drop in quality is unavoidable and very much evident).

Inner Strength shows a band more comfortable with their new, far more Euro power metal sound, with a beefed up (if admittedly thinner toned and hissy/prone to signal bleed on the guitars and drums) production and more assured feel all around.

Tracks like “far away” and “lonely lady” borrow openly from scene leaders like Helloween and Iron Savior, immediately evident in the driving yet singsongy lead lines, while others like “bleeding soul” and “eye of the storm” clearly draw from earlier, equally influential acts like Europe and (early) Pretty Maids (with the latter also very much evoking Hammerfall in its melodic vocals paired with crunchy riffing and anthemic Accept-like choruses.

Newcomers to the band will gravitate to the first and/or third albums, depending on whether the listener’s affections lean more towards the darker, more NWOBHM/thrash orientations of USPM or the sweet n’ light, more polished European school of power metal.

Silent Faces shows a band very much in transition, falling comfortably into neither camp, but Euro fans will appreciate its vagaries far more than those (like yours truly) whose eyes widen with excitement for albums like Waiting for the Dawn (however much the likes of Inner Strength may be appreciated or enjoyed).

Even so, it would be remiss not to end with this caveat: all three albums have their merits, without question…and yes, I did very much enjoy each of ’em, however dissimilar one was from those appending.

Your move.

Hangman’s Chair – Banlieue Triste (Spinefarm Records) (September 28)

What would you get if you crossed the depressive, non-standard take on doom of Warning, the shoegaze indie pretensions of Alcest and a hint of grunge?

Apparently, this drug-obsessed French “stoner” doom act, who sound nothing like any stoner rock act you can imagine and barely fall under the header of doom stylistically…and yet, like Warning, simultaneously cannot be pigeonholed as anything but doom, through and through.

Slow, heavy riffs and a miserable feel predominate, as clean toned, reverb and delay-kissed guitars ring and other, detuned guitars, more inflected by heavy overdrive than any typical metal distortion tone, grind away beneath. Clean vocals, generally buried beneath swathes of reverb and delay themselves, warble away painedly.

Yeah, at their best (“sleep juice”, “04 09 16”, even to a lesser extent “tired eyes”), you can hear a whole lot of Warning in this.

No, they’re not as emotionally wrought and oversensitive soul ripped raw and exposed for all to see as Patrick Walker got on Watching From a Distance. That’s a rare achievement, or perhaps more accurately, slip – you’re not going to find many folks brave or stupid enough to let all that hang out in public.

But for a bunch of French junkies (by their own admission, mind – I’m not throwing anything out there they haven’t already worn as a badge of honor)?

Yeah, this one’s amazingly solid, and one of the closest things I’ve heard to Warning this side of Ghostbound.

 

THEM – Manor Of The Se7en Gables (Steamhammer / SPV) (October 26)

You know, usually I don’t look at the promo writeups till I’ve gotten a few songs in and made up my own mind and delivered my own impressions.

But when you get an opener mentioning a cross between US power metal and “songs that focus on lyrics about spooks and horror”, then damn, you’ve got my bemused attention.

It’s hard to say from the way this was written, but it also looks like our old pal Mike LePond (Symphony X, Midnight Eternal, et al) has dropped by as “a guest musician during the studio recordings” (though the listed bassist is…someone else. Go figure.)

So…yeah, whatever. LePond presumably drops some four string action somewhere amidst the 12 tracks here, and they’re singing songs about spooks. OOO-EEEEE-OOO!!!

Now on to what you’ll actually hear.

Okay, so we start off with “punishment by fire” (yeah, it’s the last track, you know the story, regular readers…) which kicks off as by the numbers black metal, all tremelo riffed sinisterness and blastbeats…before it turns sort of thrash, then goes full on King Diamond (complete with helium squeal “storytelling” and multiple voices). There’s even a solo that’s sort of like a half-assed Andy LaRocque…

So now back to the (actual) start with “residuum”, an instrumental build that pulls us back into (Euro) power metal territory…which is where “circuitous” (which intrepid frontman KK Fossor says wrong throughout, as “ser-kit-us” rather than “ser-kew-it-us”. I’ll give the guy a break, as English may or may not be his second language, but it really irks the grammar nazi in me!) leaves us.

In fact, the better part of the album is somewhere between an overblown, overdramatic and overly polished (and curiously riff-deficient) Bay Area thrash and European power metal. Think Blind Guardian covering King Diamond while simultaneously trying to be Xentrix, and you have a pretty good idea of what to expect here.

So now on to the subjective side of this. How do I feel about the King Diamond template taken power metal? Well, that part isn’t so bad, actually.

While as much of a ripoff of Kim Bendix Petersen’s schtick as Portrait and In Solitude were, THEM’s (the name should be a big ass hint, folks…) formula actually works better by pulling things in a slightly different, if admittedly complementary direction. The extra cheese and faux-symphonic bombast worked well enough, even with Fossor pulling in a lot of Hansi Kursch’s Queen obsessiveness on the often hugely vocalled choruses.

What didn’t work here was not only the loss of genuine sinister feel (particularly in the Black Rose/Mercyful Fate/Fatal Portrait-Melissa era) that Petersen always brought to the table, but the fact that we’ve not merely moved from a darkly progressive neoclassical metal to a more blunt Euro power metal approach, but a mediocre, overly clean and dull late period Bay Area thrash one.

Honest advice? Drop the pretensions towards being some sort of cut-rate Metallica, Testament or Forbidden (or hell, Meliah Rage!) entirely, and just go with the almost symphonic power metal King Diamond schtick.

While perhaps a tad ill fitting for the intended spukschloss, that part of what you’re doing works well enough.

Atreyu  – In Our Wake (Spinefarm Records) (October 12)

Curse purveyors Atreyu return after 2015’s Long Live to offer…toy piano, strings and a major key, almost countrified sound.

Seriously.  At least on closer “super hero”, anyway.

For the rest of the album, we’re treated to pop radio-geared tracks like “house of gold” and “anger left behind”, the Fall Out Boy-esque chant-a-longs “the time is now” and “no control” (both of which feel primed and ready for a Riverdale episode) and the dead on Nashville of “terrified”.

Then there’s the nu metal track.

Seriously.

Despite some dead on social commentary in the lyrics (yeah, you should at least read them, folks…) “blind deaf & dumb” is a whiteboy rapper’s delight, somewhere between Kid Rock and Limp Bizkit until the more emo/metalcore clean melodic chorus takes over…

This is a much mellower, less screamo-inclined Atreyu, one who’s left all pretense towards metalcore behind in favor of a more laid back, radio oriented, sing a long chorus driven, even country style take on emo.

Hell, even the one standout track here and not coincidentally the one closest appending to their earlier style (opener “in our wake”) is still more…muted.

I mean, yeah, I can do without all the silly screaming bits myself…but where’s the power, the energy, the inner rage that metalcore taps into so well, for all its At the Gates swipes as a genre?

I guess this is like what happened to AFI after Davey had surgery on his vocal chords, and we got…Decemberunderground.

Yeesh.

Well, OK, In Our Wake is probably a much better album than that radical shift in direction and style…never buy a favorite band’s albums before you hear any of their songs, kids. Made the same mistake with Ghost, after Opus Eponymous…and then the fanboys add insult to injury by pretending that “ghouleh” was some fucking masterpiece instead of the utter piece of shit it (and its album, and the band per se) actually was.

But be warned…this band has traveled a long, long way from the days of The Curse.

Outer Heaven – Realms of Eternal Decay (Relapse Records) (October 12)

Pennsylvanian death metal.

Yeah, I have no idea if that’s a thing now, but that’s where these kids hail from, and they’re first timers. Take that for what it’s worth.

Production is odd, with thick toned bottom end guitars that are either double tracked or somehow filtered to simultaneously bleed high end red zone signal distortion – so they’re good on one hand, and fucking awful at the exact same time. How the hell do you do that?

Similarly, the vox, which are straightforward death belch/vomit vox, but which are tripled via digital manipulation into some weird, noisy mess. It’s like they took a ton of slap echo and reverb, isolated it onto the vocal track, then stripped any room ambience or whatever, so it just fucks with the voice itself, making the guy sound like a live action Grimer or something.

Look out, here comes the human shit monster, on vocals! BURBLEGLUGGBURRRPP!!

And the actual riffs? Pretty damn basic, usually high speed, sometimes feeling like they want to go all “tech” with the single note tremelo riffs, but leaning far more towards the uber-simplicity of grindcore.

Not sure how much of this is the band themselves (though it’s obvious they bear at least a fair portion of the blame) and how much is down to some very iffy production. Seriously…how did you get the guitars AND vocals to simultaneously sound like they could have been OK, and fuck them up totally at the same time? Who is this guy?

Either way…hard to say if the band themselves have any measure of promise, buried beneath some unfortunate studio work, or if it’s better to just call this a loss.

I’m very much inclined towards the latter.

Witch Casket – Punishment (October 15)

Black/death with emphases on “death” and oddly, “Southern groove”.  Did we mention “founded by members of Devildriver”?

Sure enough, all the bounce and Zakk Wylde harmonic squelches are in place, as is the crisp production, wheedly-whoo solos and howl n’ growl vox more associated with more modern day (i.e. yawn inducing) variants of death metal, but with the overriding stench of grim, tremelo riffed black-slash-whatever predominating.

Well, OK, it’s just as much of the groove thing, so maybe these guys should be classified as “blackened groove” or “black/Pantera”?

“Spectres of misery” is pretty damn listenable, no question.

Unfortunately, that’s about the best you’re going to find herein…the rest is all straight downhill from there, with all the factors of increasingly worsening downward momentum that metaphor implies.

Skull Fist – Way of the Road (NoiseArt Records) (October 26)

You know, Jackie Slaughter was one of the very first musicians I went after when shifting the focus of the podcast from cult cinema (a pool of worthy guests of which was dwindling by the day, given the remove of years from their notable work and the time of recording – time waits for no man) to music.

After many years upgrading and dusting the cobwebs off cassettes, vinyl and CDs in the collection since the 80’s and several years spent in black (myself) and gothic/symphonic (myself and the wife), the first real discovery since realizing metal may not have in fact died outside these pathetically aggro, nu-, hip hop and grunge obsessed shores was the burgeoning movement towards retro-traditional metal, mainly centered around the Carolinas (Viper, Widow, the overly slavish Maiden cover act Twisted Tower Dire) and Toronto (Cauldron, Skull Fist).

So naturally, the first thought occurring to me was to grab some of these folks, to see just what brought them back around to real music they hadn’t even come up on (and yes, this was years before just about every genre of music started looking backwards for something other than generic autotuned children’s rhyme gibberish passing as music).

Jackie, taking a bus ride during our first discussion (seriously), was not only the sort of friendly you generally only see in Canadians, but funny as hell…which led to a second round a year or two later, when they actually had something out through one of the labels who regularly drop materials our way for review. Both fun interviews, both really good albums in their own right (as were the fits and starts prior to both, with member changes galore).

So, beyond making the big step of marriage (long belated congrats, by the way!) and dropping some rather different toned solo material, you have to wonder…what changed?

I mean, the core of the group has remained pretty stable over their trio of full length studio efforts, with co-guitarist Johnny (“Exciter”) Nesta and Casey (“Slade”) Guest on bass. There’s still some decent soloing, some moody metal-style riffing that brings old Dokken to mind…

…but the speed is gone, and so is the shred. Worst of all? The infectious, seemingly unflappable joie de vivre of this Canadian skatepunk gone full on 80’s glam/shred maniac appears to have given way to a far darker, more pensive frontman.

The vocal highs aren’t the Nitro meets TNT by way of Vinnie Vincent Invasion/Slaughter helium squeals anymore, the songs don’t rip by like they were running on combustible alcohol…and those jaw dropping high speed harmonic minor shred solos are gone entirely, in favor of a more midtempo, almost pentatonic style with light flash punctuation.

Is it acceptable old school-minded metal? Definitely.

Is it Skull Fist?

Well…no.

Not sure where Jackie is at these days, emotionally and existentially speaking…but if you (like yours truly) gravitate towards what he was putting forth on the last two albums (and the prior demo and EP), then consider this fair warning: that spirit has left the building.

A decidedly dispirited, far darker Skull Fist awaits.

Consider this their Realized Fantasies, but realize it goes much darker than that could ever imply.

  

Striker – Play to Win (Record Breaking Records) (October 26)

We’ve been on top of Striker more or less since day one, even having Dan on the podcast to discuss Eyes in the Night and Armed to the Teeth, then reviewing every subsequent release, from the more aggressive City of Gold to their first venture into self-publishing, the likeable Stand in the Fire, and their self titled, which came off as a mix of the last two.

Here the Edmonton natives navigate those tar sands to deliver an album that’s oddly more akin to the lighter end of traditional metal, even pushing AOR at times. “Hands of time”, “standing alone” and “head first” feel like Final Countdown-era Europe castoffs, while the crunchier riffing on “heard of lies” and “position of power” bring them closer to early Pretty Maids. It’s been a lot of years since I’ve heard them, but “the front” even brought Tyketto to mind, with “summoner” and “heavy is the heart” coming off rather Y&T.

As you can tell from all those comparitives, this is some seriously competent, melodic and polished material with a bit of crunch to beef things up a bit…but that beggars a flipside question.

To wit: are Striker still the thrash act they once (and perhaps still do) marketed themselves as?

Because I’m not hearing that, in the least…and you won’t either.

These guys get more traditional and later 80’s sounding by the album.  Which if you’re not trying to market ’em as thrashers, is definitely a good thing.

Unmaker – Firmament (October 19)

Wait, whoa, what?

You’re telling me this was recorded this year, and not even in the UK, but fucking Richmond, Virginia?

Sure enough, the bass-driven, 16th note hi-hat bedecked, moaning and (faux) British accented vocals of vintage 80’s gothic rock/”positive punk”/postpunk are all present and accounted for, as is the experimental guitar of everyone from Bauhaus, Gang of Four, Echo and the Bunnymen and early Simple Minds to The Pop Group.

Yeah, I may have mixed the bass even further upfront and given it a thicker tone; perhaps pushed the guitars back somewhat and slathered them in era-appropriate reverb.

But if you’re looking for something falling anywhere between Wire, earlier Joy Division and Red Lorry, Yellow Lorry, you seriously can’t go wrong here.

Damn, it took forever for this sound to make a comeback.

But I’m so, so glad it finally has.

Henry Derek Elis – The Devil is My Friend (October 26)

When you think Southern traditional folk, I’m sure you immediately flash on a guy who at one point or another did at least demo work with folks like former Jag Panzer six stringer Chris Broderick’s Act of Defiance, the Swans’ Jarboe and members from Gorgoroth and Anthrax (!?!)

Right?

uh…yeah, OK, me either.

Well, he covers creepy old kid’s tune “have you seen the ghost of john” (no shit, “no skin”) and brings a Sono Morti sensibility to this semi-Prophecy Productions “gothic Americana” affair, all acoustic guitars and drums with light electric guitar backup.

There are hints of everyone from Tom Waits to John Cougar Mellencamp and Bruce Cockburn to be found herein, but the quality is more akin to Cockburn (particularly circa his amazing Christmas album) and the tone far darker than you’d expect. This may be classifiable as neofolk, but it’s of a particularly bleak and grim bent, to be sure.

There are a few tracks where the electric guitar actually predominates and Elis goes more…well, it’s not really “metal”, but it’s certainly darker and more propulsive than what most folks consider “rock” these days (“corpse carver”, the instrumental “graveyard country blues” – the latter of which is practically worthy of The Devil’s Blood, with all that awful/beautiful ghostly female wailing).

I was sold with the latter track and his covering “the ghost of John”, the rest is just icing on the cake.

Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats – Wasteland (Rise Above Records) (October 12)

We’d covered their reissue of early material cleverly entitled Vol. 1 last year, and here they are again, this time with a full album of all new material.

As ever, it’s something of a mixed bag genre blender, drawing from 70’s heavy rock and 60’s radio pop, “occult rock” and bordering on a proto stoner doom.

Just to go by the best tracks, “blood runner” pulls in elements of Todd Rundgren, George Harrisonesque vocals and a decidedly Devils Bloodlike riff and drum pattern (something that also comes to the fore on “stranger tonight”), while “shockwave” swipes and simplifies the main riff from Focus’ “hocus pocus” and adapts it to new, even more depressively melodic ends.

Other tracks don’t fare quite so well as those standouts, but suffice to say if you appreciate the influences and sound being evoked thereby, the rest o’ them apples don’t fall far from the tree, so to speak.

While hardly a standardbearer of the type, given their tendency to rely on noise overlays and nigh-phoned in processed vocals and with a nearly bubblegum pop sensibility burbling just beneath the surface throughout, there’s plenty to appreciate here if you aren’t put off by the sheer 70’s AM radioness of it all.

If this were an EP containing just the tracks aforementioned, this would be a profound bit of praise. As is, not bad, if you’re in that vintage mood.

Pale Divine – S/T (CD, LP, TAPE) (Shadow Kingdom) (November 23)

The more doom and stoner rock I get exposed to, the more I’m seeing a strange disparity.

I mean, bands that clearly stick to an early 70’s heavy rock template ala Budgie, Grand Funk and Blue Cheer…that’s proto-metal, to be sure. Stoner…well, you can certainly argue that. But some particularly Sabbath-indebted Budgie tracks aside…does anybody seriously consider the Welsh rockers “doom”?

Now, to be fair, Pale Divine does feel a lot closer to template, at least on tracks like “bleeding soul”, “so low” or “curse the shadows”. But when the rest of the album feels more akin to stoner (if not a slightly darker toned Southern groove), complete with Life of Agonyesque semi-howled vocals?

Nah, this may be close kin at points…but doom, it ain’t.

As such, you’ve got 8 tracks to contend with here. I mentioned the 3 you’ll actually want to hear, all of which were pretty damn good indeed.

The rest sound OK, if you’re in the mood for a decidedly 90’s style Southern fried take on stoner rock…but won’t even come close to filling the bill if you’re craving some quality doom.

BLACKRAT – Dread Reverence (CD, LP, TAPE) (Shadow Kingdom) (November 23)

Noisy, poorly produced, edge of your seat and about to go off the rails.  Are you sure this isn’t some Hells Headbangers blackthrash act, either Midwestern born or of South American extraction?

Nope, these guys are some seriously drunk and rowdy Canadians, with vicious dog snarled “vocals” (think somewhere between Desaster, Japan’s Abigail and the rawer end of German speed, possibly Darkness) and simplistic but driving blackthrash riffing.

This is seriously basic stuff, half retro (check the reverb all over the snarly vox) and half modern (nobody got away with releasing stuff that sounded quite this bad back in the day…even demo acts had better production!) It works, with little hints of Hellhammer (“thrall to the gallows”), early Bathory (the vox, some of the riffs) and the entire Brazilian blackthrash scene (the rest of the riffs, the rawness and naive feel).

If you came up on this stuff (back in the day, the few bands you could lay hands on the EPs and cassettes of out of Germany and Brazil sounded like literally nothing else out there, despite their blatant indebtedness to both Slayer and Venom…both decidedly slower and more sedate acts by far!), it’ll feel like old home week, shit production aside.

Rare are the times you’ll catch me knocking bands working this sound, so if you’re looking for negatives, I’ve already said as much as I ever will.

Big shocker: those points having been made, I was good with it.

BLACK INK RIVER – Headstrong (GMR Music) (October 5)

Swedish “classic rock” act. They’re marketing this one like a retro-70’s thing, but you won’t hear much different from what you would with, say, the latest Snakecharmer or your local bar band.

Vocals are pretty quirky (if not intentionally camped up, with all that warbling tone), the riffing is strictly forgettable bar band blues rock somewhere in the Jeff Healey/Robert Cray/Black Crowes school of playing. Perhaps even Stevie Ray Vaughn (you can hear hints of Hendrix stylings buried in there too), but at a far more pedestrian level skillset.

Solos are competent and melodic, but unlikely to wow anyone in the audience (except perhaps for the very, very drunk woman dancing crazily at center stage, but she’d think anything was great at this level of inebriation…)

Yeah…nothing wrong with it if they wind up as the house band sans cover charge at your local watering hole. But nothing to write home about, either.

  

Oberon – Aeon Chaser (Prophecy Productions) (October 26)

We covered Bard Oberon and company’s Dream Awakening four years ago, but to look at what we saw in that album and what’s on display here, there must have been some profound changes…

Somewhere between the sort of introspective darkwave that Sam Rosenthal made a hallmark of the Projekt Records roster (if not, in some ways, Black Tape for a Blue Girl itself) and the dead serious occultism of The Devils Blood and Saturnian Mist (I’d say King Satan as well, but there’s too much Crowleyan piss-taking involved in the latter to qualify as po-faced), here Oberon returns with a frankly bizarre album that melds that darkwave sound with something more driving (even beyond postpunk, but not really gothic rock per se) and in certain respects (get this) metallic (“walk in twilight”, “surrender”, to some extent both “omega” and “the secret fire”).

There’s keyboard and electronic elements playing against syrupy traditional instrumentation (the violin swells of “lost souls”, for example) and straight up neofolk (“laniakea”)…but then tag in all that aggression and dark drive, the distorted guitars and moments that border on industrial (“surrender” again)…and those lyrics.

So…was this intended as a devotional? Seriously, is this another Sabbath Assembly sort of thing? Because it’s certainly above not only the mainstream, but speaks to concepts and points well beyond the level of adept. I’ll close the topic by saying it’s hardly suitable as a beginners manual, and I’ll leave it at that.

With a cocked eyebrow and pensive hum, I sit back and deliberate on the matter. What to say, what to seal under the sign of Harpocrates, as it were…

Yeah, I don’t recall being struck by the sheer blatancy of this matter on Dream Awakening…hell, we spoke of him coming off as a bit hippie at the time.

Interesting.

Let’s leave it at that.

Nochnoy Dozor – S/T EP (Prophecy Productions) (October 26) 

You know, Prophecy is certainly expanding its roster of late.

Now, I don’t mean that in terms of “signing new musicians to the label”, but in terms of “breaking out of label orientation and strict adherence to genre conventions”.

This is a label known mostly for a dark, almost gothic take on neofolk and traditionalist musics, with excellent (even crystalline) production and, it must be said, nearly impeccable taste. Few indeed are the Prophecy releases we’d covered in these pages that I don’t recall as being fairly exemplary – certainly for the form, if not per se.

But here, while adhering to the more important aspects of the preceding paragraph, we stretch well beyond anything traditionalist to – get this – pop music.

Okay, so it’s gothically oriented, dark and depressive pop, once again featuring excellent production…and displaying the good taste of the label’s head(s) in digging up an act so ostensibly far removed from their usual sound, yet so oddly complementary thereto at the same time.

Two dark female alto voices (a “Lina” serves as frontwoman, while “Revekka” serves as keyboard/synth and offers backing vocals at choruses and various points of emphasis throughout) drive the enterprise with an oddly pop radio tonality, while laid back guitar, bass and electronic tones provide lush, swirling atmospherics.

Drums punctuate at a glacial, stoner rock tempo, which serves them well when matters suddenly shift to more pronounced doom phrases (or entire songs, such as “ben-hur”), but the best parts here are actually when everyone steps back and mellows out to a dark, late evening evocativeness (most of “black hand”, “stains”, “home sick home”, to some extent even “closer”).

In the end, what exactly are Nochnoy Dozor? A particularly lush, radio friendly gothic doom act? An especially gloomy electronic synthpop/darkwave act? Who the hell knows, they’re straddling several horses here.

But the important thing to take away from here is, they’re damn good…particularly if you appreciate gothic darkwave, female fronted gothic/symphonic metal and/or gothic doom (much less all of the above, like yours truly).

A real find, and it looks like they’re offering this dirt cheap on their bandcamp (sadly, digital only).

Well worth seeking out, no question.

   

Eye of Nix – Black Somnia (Prophecy Productions) (October 26)

Weird, almost ritualistic sounding act out of grunge central, Seattle, Washington.

Overall, this one’s just really strange. Think somewhere between Siouxsie at her most strident and Diamanda Galas in her Baudelaire days,(*and**) over brooding drone bass and atonal to experimental guitar (at its best, sounding like David J and Daniel Ash working vintage Bauhaus (“a curse”), at its worst, pushing straight into pointless noise territory (“fear’s ascent”, “wound and scar”.)

* until she decides to devolve into shrieking like a mental patient, on “a hideous visage” and “wound and scar”. Yeah, we can all do without that, thank you very much…

** oh, and occasionally, she brings it down to straight up chanting, or damn close to it – thus bringing the aforementioned ritualistic feel to the table.

Again, there’s a lot about this that dances around the outer edges of the gothic scene…but then you have the atonal bits and the shrieking screamo nonsense to deal with as well.

When they were more controlled and gloomy, with clean to chanted vocals, it wasn’t too bad…but the other stuff leaves a decidedly awful taste in the mouth.

Vanishing Kids – S/T (Svart Records) (November 30)

Trippy psychedelia with a heavy prog rock bent. Once again, they’re being mismarketed as “doom”…

Lots of organ and synth work, at times pointedly Jon Lord style (“creation”, “heavy dreamer”), at others, far more space rock or krautrock (“magnetic magenta”, “reaper”, “without a sun”, “mockingbird”, “eyes of a secret”).

Vox are clean, but light and trippy in a decidely indie rock manner, and riffs veer from clean and almost Chris Isaakesque (“eyes of secrets”) to throatily distorted in a more stoner rock manner, but there’s precious little linking this listenably odd melange to doom, rather than a drugged out space rock with stoner, prog and indie leanings.

Make no mistake, it’s pleasantly listenable and even emotional at times (“rainbows”)…but to call bands like Pale Divine and Vanishing Kids “doom” is reeeeeally stretching said genre qualifier to its very limits.

Bottom line: about as doom as a Killers album. But pretty decent, for all that.

Trees – S/T (Svart Records) (December 7)

Finnish “classic rock” in a more (very) late 60’s/(very) early 70’s vein than usual.

Frontman Santeri Vanttinen sounds quite Neil Young on tracks like “lovers”, while six stringer Joose Keskitalo provides a more sophisticated, even jazzy chordal structure to the contrapuntal interplay between his guitar and Teemu Muikku’s ever-throbbing walking basslines.

This would have been a lot more well constructed and again, sophisticated than most of what we cover herein, were it not coming from Svart Records, who seem to be in a race with Prophecy Productions as to who can gather more interesting darkly inclined yet folkishly oriented acts to their respective rosters. As such, it’s no anomaly, but fairly typical of what to expect from the label…

Now, again, this is effectively hippie music, given the sound, orientation and musicians it’s crafted in the style of, so the darker, more cultish regulars might as well move right along – this one is most assuredly well outside of your comfort zone.

But if, like yours truly, the long death of metal (and good music per se) what was the 1990s led you to older, more interesting genres and styles of music than the sort of aggro, grunge and proto-hipster shit the majority gravitated towards like a horde of lemmings, you may well find this one pleasantly reminiscent of a time when the youth of the world actually believed in something…and was able to get generations of older folks, however reluctantly, to sit up and pay attention for a decade or so.

Selah.

SHIBALBA – Stars Al-Med Hum (Agonia Records) (November 23)

Absolutely pointless dark ambient from two members of Acherontas, whose Amenti and MaIoN left very little impression on us.

We’d covered this side project’s Psychostasis early last year and the same warnings apply.

Oogity boogity to you, too.

(suppresses a well deserved yawn, casually flicks CD into the Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards)

Next?

Anachronist – Self-Titled Album (Ruton Music / Ektro) (November 23)

Lazerpunk-style 80’s movie soundtrack-style synthpop. You ever wanted to score your own cult film, be it Italian exploitation or low budget Stateside sci fi? It’d probably sound a whole hell of a lot like this.

Very much in the vein of bands like Nightsatan (but without the silly masks and costumes), this is more of the Kraftwerk/Rheingold school of composition, but as informed by the dancier likes of earlier Depeche Mode, Yaz, Real Life, Cetu Javu and suchlike.

You get the general idea – this stuff was huge on the dancefloors of the era, and perhaps even moreso in the late 90’s (at least to go by a longtime neo-DJ friend’s ever expanding collection of deep club 12″ and mix tapes to which I was regularly exposed at the time). Even big names like Erasure and Pet Shop Boys had minor radio hits remixed and transmorgified into this sort of thing on a regular basis, improving their material dramatically thereby…

Brought me right back to some of my wildest and edgiest years, which is a good thing (particularly after too many years spent “settling down” and into real-world dictated corporate bullshit work).

So yeah, I was good with this, definitely.

Angertea – sidetrack (an acoustic act to eradicate torture) (Inverse Records) (October 8) 

Weird acoustic folk thing, with thick accented vocals that while still clean throughout, keep veering towards growling. Maybe the guy thinks he’s being “bluesy”, who the hell knows.

There’s enough of a quirky edge to this to suggest the band is, as the promo materials claim, actually some sort of prog act…but it still feels like we all just walked in on a hipster coffeehouse on open mic night.

The only track that really stood out here was “cell”, which feels rather…Jefferson Airplane. There’s a definite 60’s heavy/psychedelic rock vibe to it, with an interesting bass riff and Richie Havensesque aggressively strummed guitars, that just felt right where the rest of the album comes off rather bland by comparison.

No idea how these guys sound “plugged in”, but one can only hope they lean more in the direction of “cell” going forward…that one track is definitely worth your time to check out.

Diamond Head – “Bones” (September 24)

Well, this track didn’t download well!  So trying to ignore the fact that what I’m listening to sounds like it was recorded underwater, all digital swish and swirl noise throughout…

Brian Tatler is at it again. This attempt to replace the great Sean Harris features a more Hollywood sleaze rock style frontman, one Rasmus Bom Andersen. He can howl those fermata notes, alright, just expect a whole lot of rasp and thin tone by comparison. Then again…who the fuck could replace Sean Harris?

Now, again…can you seriously expect another Lightning to the Nations, after all this time? Hardly.

But that being something of a given, “bones” is probably the most promising track I’ve heard out of the Diamond Head camp in many a year, leaving more hope for their impending full length than you’d ever have expected.

Time will tell.

Ottone Pesante – APOCALIPS (November 2)

We’d previously reviewed this amusing Italian gimmick band’s Brassphemy (Set in Stone) early last year and got a hearty laugh out of their good natured screwing with genre expectations.

Hey, look, here comes the “metal” band! Get it? Brass? Horn section?

So yeah, you get Zappaesque transliterations of rock and metal tunes and tropes to more classical instrumentation, lending a far more orchestral and jazzy feel to what were previously some fairly simplistic and workaday rock band riffs and arrangements.

About the only part that feels ‘off’ here is the very one that ensures Ottone Pesante is accepted among metal audiences, namely, the blastbeat drumming. Sure, even that is performed in a manner far more off kilter and traditional in approach…but it cheapens the arrangements just as much as it grants them access to the further reaches of the “extreme metal” umbrella. Less annoying than usual, and not incessant, but still an aspect we could do without (here or anywhere).

Amusingly enough, they actually drag in extra comedy along the same lines by pulling in the guy from grindcore staples Cattle Decapitation to gargle snot and towards the end, even sing like a girl! Seriously…check out around the 4:30 mark of his lovely contribution to the album (“the fifth trumpet”). Again, gives the band more “metal cachet”, but just leaves those expecting more quality in their music (metal or otherwise) snort derisively.

Like last time, I’m totally down with their Zappa/jazzed up takes on material that if performed on electric guitars would certainly have qualified as metal proper (and more to the thrash/prog death/djent end at that).

Bottom line, it’s amusing and clever…just could do with less of the blastbeats and near-free jazz djenty note clusters in place of riffs, chords and harmonies, much less the comedy guest stars.

LION’S SHARE – S/T EP (Noterious Music)

Swedish duo we covered for their “lion’s trial” single late last year returns with a half studio, half live EP.

Lars Christmansson, who looks like a slightly younger Steve Grimmett and bears the corner of the mouth toothy yowled rasp of the late David Wayne (or perhaps even Bloodgood frontman Les Carlson), delivers the appropriate force and bombast over…well, that same track we covered last year, plus a new ‘A’ side (the driving US power metal-style “another desire”), a re-recording of a track off their 1995 debut (“sins of a father”) and two live Dio tribute show tracks (not included among the reviewable materials).

“Lion’s trial”, with its deliberate Acceptlike march tempo, probably showcases his voice best, leaving him plenty of room to really belt out those notes, but I did really enjoy the almost Thundersteel vibe of “another desire”.

“Sins of a father” is pretty wasted, an overly proggy and wayyyy too busy track that sounds nothing whatsoever like the other two tracks here – it’s a damn good thing that they’ve dropped that unfortunate approach, and not just because the man can barely squeeze a held note in edgewise betwixt all those random shifting single note patterns. It’s pretty bad, actually – whether it represents any improvement over its original incarnation is for longtime fans of the band to say.

If you haven’t already grabbed “the lion’s trial” based on last year’s praises, here’s your chance – “another desire” is a seriously killer addition, and who knows, the live Dio covers may not be bad either.

Too bad they weren’t included in the promo package.

Two excellent tracks out of 3, I’m calling that a definite win. So where’s that full length already?

Estrons – You Say I’m Too Much, I Say You’re Not Enough (The Orchard / Sony) (October 5)

Interesting 90’s style indie “punk”/noise act out of Wales. Fronted by a Nordic single mother. Yeah, it’s kind of fucked up.

But if you can dig equal parts Bikini Kill, Elastica, Veruca Salt and Sonic Youth, complete with aggressively pushy and in your face feminist lyric and attitude, you know just how strangely catchy (if jaw clenching) this sort of thing can be.

Yeah, Elastica’s a pretty good analogue for what I’m hearing here.

If you’re in the mood for the more indie rock end of that generally rather questionable era of music and sociopolitic, you can do a whole hell of a lot worse than this.

Hell, you may even like it. I kinda did.

 

OVERDRIVERS – She’s on her Period (SEPTEMBER 28)

And the award for tackiest album of the month goes to…

Seriously?  And with song titles like “THE BEST BLOWJOB IN HISTORY” and “SHOW YOUR BOOBIES” appended to the title track.

Yeeeeeahhhh, classy.  I’ll bet you guys are in hot demand with all the chicks…

(sighs profoundly, rolls eyes, shakes head)

You know what, I’m not even sharing the cover of this masterpiece of taste and decorum.  Nothing to get excited about and chase down, mind…just crass and low class.

And it’s really too bad, because these Aussies bring the Dirty Looks/Spread Eagle gone AC/DC ‘A’ game to tracks like “ride the rockinghorse”, the aforementioned “best blowjob in history” and “King Arthur”, complete with fight-baiting, high speed highway driving top of the world attitude and killer pentatonic-driven high energy solos.

How can something this good come with such crass titles? And mind, this is a longtime fan of the double entendre saying this – Bon Scott and early Whitesnake are well in the blood, with the former being a personal teenaged hero of sorts…you can’t exactly say tracks like “the jack” or “big balls” were staples of high society decorum. Yet and still…yeesh!

If you aren’t shaking your head in disgust and/or disbelief at the album title and really dig the sort of quality material you find with old Dirty Looks and Bon Scott AC/DC, rest assured:

Overdrivers are keeping the high energy, old school boogie band hard rock flag raised high.

DXVXDXD SXLF (Divided Self) – OF WOLVES & MEN EP (November 20)

DVD Self?  What the hell does that mean?  Hey, Blu-Ray Self!

So what Cassingle Self actually offers is a sort of overly raspy vocalled (bordering at times on “extreme metal” croaking and aggro screamo) take on emo, but with annoyingly over-prominent, mixed right up front lead lines and solos.

Not since The Cult’s Electric has a guitar tone been so overpowering yet thin and piercing, nor has one been shoved so far in front of the rest of the band…maybe Guns N’ Roses at their most irritating, but not even that. Far from a positive, the way it’s mixed here is downright distracting and annoying.

That aside, there’s a lot in common between 8-Track Self and bands like My Chemical Romance in overall tone and approach…far more than it ever comes off “metal”, much less any form of “gothic”.

Fair enough, if you’re really into Gerard Way and company…but absolute crap if you were expecting “gothic metal” or suchlike, which Minidisc Self appear to be marketing themselves as.

Four songs, Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge.

ROZE – Q&A (QUESTIONS & ANSWERS) (September 21)

Okay, when you go looking around for info on this band, all you’ll find is some Japanese idol group…which this is decidedly not.

So the only “answers” I can offer to your “questions” are that these guys have a pronounced accent (which combined with the source who provided ’em for review suggests “they’re probably French”), that they’re quite melodic in inclination, and that between opener “fulfilling prophecy” and closer “agoraphobia”, you’ll hear elements of everything from semi-indie rock types like Lenny Kravitz and the Foo Fighters to prog rockers like Gentle Giant…if you can believe that juxtaposition!

When they’re in high gear, they’re busy enough (with palm muted tremelo riffing on the verses and plenty of shifts in modality and riff) and accomplished enough (did you read the part where we mentioned “prog”?  How about the Gentle Giant comparison? Hmm?) to keep the more easily bored listener (cough no comment cough) paying attention…and enough melodicism (not to mention pleasant vocal
harmonies…Gentle Giant comes to mind again) to make ’em stand out from the crowd.

Now, it’s not all top notch. There’s plenty of filler here, which brings a more countrified pop rock to mind as comparatives (think shit like Hootie and the Blowfish, Counting Crows or even Dave Matthews in this respect). You could see your hipster friends or even (ugh) your parents listening to some of the lighter tracks here (“just a matter of time”, “tenants of my head”, etc.), while others simply stink of ’90s (“aftermath of the euphoria”, for example).

May be listenable…but leaves Q&A a decidedly mixed bag, in the end.

Best tracks: “fulfilling prophecy”, “princess outdated”, “agoraphobia”.  Hell, I’ll even give “tenants of my head” a nod, it’s catchy enough in its own rather Dave Matthewsesque way.

But be warned…the rest of the album is a big step down from there, and if you’re not expecting that precipitous drop in quality (well…OK, likeability and compatabilty for the Third Eye audience), it’s quite a doozy.

NORD – And Now There’s Only A River Left Behind (November 28)

Quirky post-black act out of France. There’s a lot of indie feel and inclinations towards both airy shoegaze and overly busy prog here, which is no surprise from the nation that gave us Alcest.

What may be a surprise is just how openly and aggressively emo a lot of this leans, particularly on tracks like “near death experience” or “ghost”, where they might as well be covering “Mr. Brightside”…or when they go almost djent (well…at least Unexpect!) on weird-ass tracks like “holy mountain”.

It’s really strange, but likely to appeal to some unforseen crossover audience between the post-black crowd and the indie prog audience.

Me? I was amused by Unexpect’s live show, when we caught them opening for Epica and Visions about a decade back…but their “music” remains all noise to me.

Sure, Nord’s definitely more melodic and straightforward than their French-Canadian forbears ever were.

But does that make them good?

Gramma Vedetta – Proof of Concept (October 29)

We’d covered their Address Unknown and enjoyed their doomy retro-rock approach.

Here the band seems to have evolved somewhat. “Oxygen” starts off as a sort of Matthew Sweet gone Nirvana, before turning all space rock in its final moments.

“Behind the blinds” takes more of a CoC approach, “the glitch” is quite biker band, arguably with a touch of ZZ Top, “Taranto train to Toronto town” goes full on stoner doom, “the other side” is what would happen if you took early Danzig and crossed ’em with Urge Overkill.

“She has a plan” goes back into Matthew Sweet territory, and “address unknown” goes back into a rather Obsessed-like take on stoner doom, before going space rock at the end.

So yeah, it’s a bit all over the place, particularly for a band that most closely appends to stoner rock. But just like last time?

It’s pretty good.

Deathkings – Ex Nihilo (December 7)

Oy, here’s another one of these supposed “blackened doom” acts.

Do they sound Hellhammerish, or Frost as filtered through black metal acts like Darkthrone or Clandestine Blaze? Nope. Do they sound even vaguely akin to the sludgy blackened doom of Goatlord? Nope.

Do those ridiculous bellow/belch vox (with grindcore style snarl backup) make me laugh?

You bet.

DUCK AND COVER!

WHIZZZZZZ!!!

I keep telling you people, management not responsible for injuries sustained from spitting embers and random flareups caused by bad music being consigned to the oblivion of the Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards…go put some toothpaste on that, it’ll help with the burns.

Next?

  

Negative Wall – Gammagelu (Black Doomba Records) (February 8)

Stoner doom out of Georgia, from Hallows Eve/Dyerwulf mainman Tommy Stewart.

Clean, almost howling vocals (“torquemada 71”), strong leanings towards solo-driven 70’s heavy rock (“hybrid genus serpentis”), equally strong ones towards grunge and 90’s style Southern groove (“mater saeva Kp22”, the aforementioned “hybrid genus serpentis”).

I liked the forefronting of the lead guitar (i.e. the solos taking as much prominence and importance as they do), the vox work, and while I preferred the doomier tracks to the more grunge leaning ones, it all just works.

Good stuff for the type – just expect a bit more Alice in Chains and Foghat in there, and a whole lot less Kyuss and Electric Wizard.

Swilson – S/T (Vanishing Point Records) (October 26)

Jersey City, of all places, delivers this Americanized Killers of an indie rock act.

Now, you could dig further back to the glam era and compare Swilson to the New York Dolls (particularly evident on openers “I like love” and “witchtrial modern day”, the latter of which is presumably about the disturbingly Cruciblelike #metoo thing, or should be), but even though those vintage tinkling one note piano bits pop up in “rats with wings”, the more of this album you hear, the less retro-70’s it actually sounds.

Very strong influences to be sure. But there’s too much of that faux-new wave modern day indie thing playing into this to even classify Swilson as the new Junkyard (which a few tracks here may further suggest).

It works well enough, and they’re probably real barnstormers at the local pub when everyone’s bombed out of their minds at 2am…but this sort of thing has inbuilt limitations (cough Buckcherry cough Black Crowes).

In other words, they do this sound right…but the sound itself doesn’t fly very far these days.

Again, if you are one of those old barflies who seriously groove on this sort of thing, Swilson’s pretty damn good at recreating such.

Crawling for Carrion – Rake and Roads (Giganto Records) (November 9)

A bit grunge, a bit depressively doom in inclination, but very much stoner.

Droning, almost chantlike clean male vox (think along the general lines of a Layne Staley, without the corner of the mouth shit or gravelly tones and as done by two guys in unison) mark “rake”, while throaty, almost gospel-style female vocals take over for “roads”.

Apparently both are covers, the latter being by UK misery mongers Portishead. No idea who the hell the other guy is, and really don’t care.

It’s a project rather than a band proper, from Chris West of Landskap, so apparently vocalists and drummers will remain “guest spots” throughout.

Not much else to say here, other than that it was very listenable…if a bit odd to hear what sounds like Paul Weller ex and Wham/Style Council vet Dee C. Lee belting out a stoner take on some obscure Portishead track!

Night Machine – Themes of the Dead (November 1)

Another one of these lazerpunk synthpop jobs, this time self-identifying as “synthwave”. Sure, whatever you want to call it. Same shit, different day.

This one man Casio band differs from the likes of Nightsatan or Anachronist by delivering some unusually spare, generally not incredibly catchy slasher film soundtrack style takes on the nascent genre.

About the closest things to memorable and propulsive you’ll find here are “dead party” and “hookhand”.

The rest, while quite similar to what you may hear (and more or less ignore) in a low end slasher film, don’t make enough of an impression to demand seeking out the soundtrack…even the wholly imaginary one being conjured out of the air here.

Not the worst thing you’ll ever hear, but misses the intended boat by a wide margin.

Night Vapor – 1,000 Miles of Mud (Corpse Flower Records) (December 14)

Okay, there’s something really fucking weird going on in Pennsylvania. First Outer Heaven, now this?

I guess if you cross The Residents with Mr. Bungle and tag in bits of both Sykotik Synfoney and GWAR (for the clearly tongue in cheek “sung by a garbageman for a laugh” vox), you might get something maybe half as fucked up and unlistenably “experimental” as this…

…then again, I like some Residents stuff. Even beyond freakout fests like “picnic in the jungle”, their Elvis, Hank Williams and James Brown reinterpretations are often quite priceless…

This, however, bears no such merits.

a well deserved WHIZZ!!! right into the Pile of Dead Bards, ever Flaming Pyre that it is.

Jeez, will they shut up?

Even burning to a crisp is too good for this one, apparently…

NEXT?!?

Kurokuma – Dope Rider (October 26)

Super fat guitar tones…I’d be willing to bet they were rocking Mesa Boogie amps here, it’s that powerful and thick toned. Opens on some thundering drones and sustain, with a deliberate syncopated drumbeat pounding away ominously, like the approaching hoofbeats of a hostile army. Yeah, this really sounds good…

…too bad about the Sludgelord Records-style “vocals” which once again consist of some archetypal beefy trucker type with a huge beard bellowing out to his favorite truck stop waitress for another refill of coffee and pork roll. Are all these stoner/sludge guys serious, with this apparently ubiquitous new “style” on the mic?

Well, that stupidity aside (and trust me, that’s one hell of a hurdle to get over, particularly when it gets more pointed and aggro on “pt. 2”), I certainly liked what they were doing with the guitar and drums, both in approach and in terms of tone, on “pt. 1”.

“Pt. 2” is them trying to go all faux-black metal, it just doesn’t work, period.

More like what we’re hearing in “pt. 1” and a new frontman, then yeah, this’d be a band to watch.

As is…hilariously stupid “vox” aside, check out “pt. 1” and forget the flipside.

Awaiting Sacrifice – Uprise (October 26)

Oh, look, it’s another Slipknot clone. I’m happy, aren’t you happy?

(shakes head in sad disbelief, sighs profoundly)

Yep, the fast gibberish is there (actually worsened by appending grindcore-style pig noises to same), the grumpy old man detuned nu metal riffs*…yeah, this is pretty fucking dumb. 

* seriously, have you ever seen anyone not of a certain age who actually still listens to or respects bands like Disturbed, Slipknot and Korn? It’s the oldster brigade, and not in a cool way, either…more like those sorry parents who went around saying they had “Bieber fever” or how much they love Taylor Swift and “Queen Bey” while misappropriating outdated hip hop slang. Jesus, people, you’re not 8 years old, give it up already!

So yeah, these guys have silly Hannibal the Cannibal masks, filthy dreadlocks and prison jumpsuits, work dumbo stutter riffs (appended by winding but atonal single note lines) and there’s a guy sucking in all his words and sounding like a pig.

As noted, he goes full on Korn (or “gets down with the sickness”) on “YOU” (yep, they put it all in caps), where he actually throws out the phrase “this is the way we roll” in an overdramatic fashion as the music stops to emphasize this important point.

Nooo, this is the way you roll.

EXPRESS DELIVERY!

…holy shit, I think that one actually exploded on contact with the flames of the Pyre of Dead Bards…

Nu metal. Seriously. In this day and age.

(raises eyebrows, purses cheeks, lets out a profound “whew!”)

…okay, next?

  

Dissentience – Mask of Pretense (October 26)

Riffing style somewhere between thrash and death metal, with decent solos to boot.

Problem is, as all too typical with young bands nowadays…they’re in dire need of an actual vocalist.

Fellas, fellas, gather ’round. You know that band meeting where you decide “eh, the hell with it…I can pull it off fair enough!”?

Yeah.

You can’t.

Get a real frontman, and you’ve got a fairly polished death/thrash band with decent production and even some believable leads.

Vulturic Eye – Crucifixion of Hope (Howling Invocations)

Quirky stoner doom (in tone and feel) crossed with prog rock (in approach and song structure).

Weirdly declamatory, almost spoken word style vocals over mids-heavy distorted guitars (with plenty of artificial harmonics pinched and squealing away) and prominent, punchy heavy rock-style drumming…yeah, everything points stoner, if not downright stoner doom here.

But nope…they’re hellbent on working some weird-ass variant of prog rock, which at times sounds a bit like a spastic, Hour of 13 take on Saga, at others more Mike Pattonesque, and with some very vague hints suggesting the likes of Rush buried beneath, only to emerge at long, unexpected intervals.

If these guys were working straight up doom or stoner doom? They’d sound pretty damn good, with that tone, those vocals and all that in your face drumming (not to mention the almost demo-level but well suited and clear production of all this).

And yeah, they can certainly hack the screwed up Faith No More meets Mr. Bungle gone prog business…

…but what the hell is it doing here, married to the rest of their sound?

Doesn’t work, but could go one of two very distinct (and unmarriagable) directions and work equally well.

Your choice which parent you want to go with, guys. But that divorce has got to happen, ASAP.

As is, you’ve got some serious irreconcilable differences, and it’s creating a hostile listening environment.

Runescarred – “Moonchild” (October 31)

Former members of Texas groove act Dead Earth Politics band together for a new venture.

This is only a single, and a cover at that, so who knows what to expect from these guys going forward (presuming the change in name and the usual membership shuffles that take place in these situations actually bodes some manner of alteration in style, anyway).

It’s apparently a Maiden cover.  I don’t know, I stopped listening to them after Somewhere in Time, and only picked up on their brief comeback attempt Fear of the Dark a few years later (which had its merits, but doesn’t exactly hold up with their classic era)…that band, like far too many vintage acts, had seen its best days and just keeps soldiering on to diminishing effect. So anyone’s guess on what album Dickinson and company decided to tackle Uncle Al’s novel as subject matter – I could personally care less.

So…yeah, this is a bunch of guys formerly of Dead Earth Politics, covering an Iron Maiden long past their glory days.

Yay?

Svarta Stugen – Islands / Öar (WOOAAARGH) (December 14)

Laid back, spacey indie rock…like Faunts without a beat, or if they suddenly discovered Mazzy Star, Chris Isaak at his most melancholic and the Prophecy Productions roster, and said, “hey…now there’s an idea…”

No vocals, precious little propulsion, it’s all just trippy and mellow, stuff to kick back and relax to (whether you prefer red wine or to light up is down to personal preference).

Sure, I liked this well enough for instrumental/ambient with a strong indie overtone.

External – The Blurry Horizon (July 28) 

If you really want to get a good idea what these Finnish progsters are all about (or should be), set yourself down for the next 7 minutes and listen to “the beautiful void”.

When it starts off, it’s pretty damn inconsequential. A sorta indie acoustic-oriented pop music with overly close mic’ed vocals (as in the guy’s falling asleep and resting his chubby cheeks directly on the contact mic). Listenable enough for this sort of crap, but unless you’re really into Dave Matthews, fuck this.

But then.

About halfway in, the dim bulb depressive pop shit ends, fading into some ambient space rocklike pedal tone swells and faux-strings. OK, whatever.

Then the guitars and drums kick back in, joined by what increasingly turns into a symphonic string section, building to a crescendo…at which point, the solo starts.

Mellow, powerfully emotional, dramatic, bombastic…this last 3 and a half minutes or so (well, a bit less, as it fades back into what becomes a single acoustic guitar) is just fucking amazing stuff. No, not in any technical sense…but the feeling imbued into this section and passed on to the unsuspecting listener is absolutely pronounced.

“The escapist” follows a similar pattern of light and mellow building to electrified/symphonic dramatics, but more in the vein of classy acts like
Empyrium than any dogshit pop radio crap you can come up with as a parallel. Never hits the highs of the second half of “the beautiful void”, but utterly demolishes that track’s opening.

Then we go into a straightforwardly proggy thrash with perfectly horrid aggro vox (“I through eyes can see”), back to straight up prog metal on “parasight”, a weird mix of the two (“rusting out”), and back to the prog thrash again for the closer.

Bottom line, forget the thrash bits – only the riffing on “I through eyes can see” is worth hearing, and you have those horrifically hilarious vox to contend with.

But the symphonic prog elements…particularly as shown on “the beautiful void” and “the escapist”? Yeah. That’s all you really need to pay attention to here.

For those moments, consider this one recommended.

Witching – “False Martyr”

“Blackened doom?” What the fuck is that supposed to encompass? Early Celtic Frost? Goatlord, maybe?

Well, apparently…nothing that welcome, to judge by this Philly based act.  Now, on the plus side, the guitars are heavy (if strangely mids-prominent…don’t they get the memo that doom is thick toned, even lo-fi and sludgy?) and the sole clean toned vocal phrase by frontwoman Jacqui Powell sounds appropriately “occult rock” crossover (think Blood Ceremony or Devil’s Blood, for example). So far, so good.

The problem comes when Powell decides to shit all over the whole affair by shrieking her tonsils out like an alleycat scuffling with a rival.

YEEEAHHHHHWUUAAAAHHHHHBLUUUYAAAAHHHH!!!

OMG, like…what is wrong with her, for reals? It’s like…she’s insane or something (valley girl-style airhead giggle fest ensues…picture Daria’s little sister and her fashion ‘friends’ here)

Seriously. Why the fuck would you do that? Why the fuck would the rest of you allow her to do that to your song?

wow.

(shaking head incessantly as the last few sentences are being typed)

yeah, uh…let’s move on, shall we?

(rolls eyes, casually tosses this one into the Pile of Dead Bards, not even turning to watch it being engulfed in flames)

Fauna Timbre – Altering Echoes (Red Orchard Records) (October 31)

Thurston Moore-style vocals (occasionally appended by backing harmony vox) over molasses-thick, slow and decidedly overdistorted guitars. Drums are punchy, thick toned and veering off meter in a semi-syncopated fashion, though never getting too busy and excitable like a Steve Shelley would.

The only weird bits are when they slip too far into noise/electronic territory, with all these fritzing, crackling circuit noises and red zone signal bleed baiting bits that frankly add nothing whatsoever to the mix.

It’s sadly deliberate…but I’d advise Red Orchard to remove all that crap and put out a remixed and remastered version for doom/shoegaze fans to really dig into.

Even as is, this was pretty decent…but seriously, guys. Drop the pointless noise elements.

Owl Maker – Sky Road (November 2)

We covered their Paths Of The Slain just this past April, and already they’ve got another one out.

And boy, is it an improvement!

While A-side “sky road” adheres fairly closely to the 70’s heavy rock vibe of Paths of the Slain, what really is worthy of attention here is the unheralded B-side “owl city”, an early Scorpions-style Arabian epic that picks up into an Ulrich Roth/Heavy Load/Manilla Road style ever-higher energy solo section that practically results in the track becoming a suite, given all the shifts in tempo and tone on display.

It’s darker, heavier and far more epic than anything we’ve seen out of this band otherwise…and my pointed recommendation as to where Owl Maker needs to go from here on out.

Seriously…this one track, relegated to the ignominious status of B-side on a standalone single for some ungodly reason, is that damn good!

You know what to do…and this time, I mean “the band” with that “you”.

Shallow Grave – Threshold Between Two Worlds (Sludgelord Records/Black Voodoo Records/Cursed Monk Records/minoRobscuR) (October 31)

Members of Prisoner of War and House of Capricorn come together for this uber-thick toned exercise in sludgy, oddly experimental stoner doom.

Oddly, this four track EP comes with a mere two tracks that are actually songs (“the horrendous abyss” and “garden of blood”) – the other two are aimless ambient exercises in noise and drone, leaving nothing to discuss beyond those opening tracks.

Consider it a long single, I guess?

On the two actual tracks, all’s well bar an unfortunate emphasis on noise and feedback during “horrendous abyss” and the (thankfully occasional and rare) vox, which are all snarls and snotty screams. As Frank Zappa once said, “shut up and play yer guitar”.

Middling, but has some moments.

Ophidian Forest – votlVe (code666) (October 26)

Okay, is something really weird going around in the water lately? Becuase this is the second time this month I heard a band trying to ape some aspect or other of atonally inclined German post-black/DSBM weirdos Bethlehem…

Most evident in closer “hella” (complete with schizo freakout vox and weird inflections), but all over the place in terms of bizarre non-traditionalism, this could be Bethlehem crossed with Abruptum (particularly noticeable on “baduhenna”) mixed with – of all bands – London After Midnight (check out those synth tones and progressions on “sandraudiga”, or even to an extent “vadgavercustis”).

Yup. It’s that fucked up.

If they want to play at being LaM or Suspiria (see also “viradectis”), I’d advise dropping the black metal affectations and weird Mr. Bungleish elements entirely, and just go full on second wave 90’s gothic revival.

I’d like ’em a whole hell of a lot better then, wouldn’t you?

Ernia – S/T (December 7)

Weird-ass Spanish grindcore act with a goofy absurdist sense of humor and some sadly unfortunate expansionist tendencies.

“The confirmation of the absurd” is just that – one second of guitar drone. “Dionea muscipula” is a slow, dramatic intro with a grungelike feel. “The limits of purity” is…well, the exact same track and riff, sped up and made grindcore, with terrible screamo vox.

They go full on Terrorizer gone noise for “sabbath for the zionist” (don’t ask me, I really don’t want to know…) and then get progressively weirder and more annoying as the album goes on, more shrieky and screamo on the vox end, more atonal and bizarre on the guitar side.

You know, those first couple of tracks, I had some hopes for a weirdly Zappa-fied/Residents-like act with a strange sense of humor…

…too bad it all went to shit as soon as they tried to be more “extreme” and “grindcore-esque”.

Goddess – Raped Into Being (Medusa Crush Recordings) (November 7)

Former drummer for erstwhile Cradle of Filth femme fatale Sarah Jezebel Deva works a shrieky, often rather snoozeworthy one man bedroom black metal thing.

I’m hearing questionable Polish acts like early MGLA or Strid in this, but that may be down to the nigh-DSBM feel and vibe of iffy, mids heavy and hard to stomach-vocalled demo recording quality more than actual stylistic comparatives, so take that into account here.

Four tracks, every one feels slightly different from the ones that came before it (which may be a plus…or not, depending on how you view black metal orthodoxy).

Did not work for me, and you can insert a period after each of those 5 words if you wish.

Roadkiller – S/T (November 16)

Butch-sounding Aussie who found…well, a punkified stoner rock in Philadelphia.

Seriously. This would be Lita Ford from the land down under apparently went from a Motorhead cover act to “discovering punk”. And then delivers this album that’s somewhere between Motorhead and Corrosion of Conformity, calling it punk.

(shakes head, laughs)

I mean, there’s some hints of thrash here (the opening riff on “up and let’s go”, for example)…but this ain’t even Girlschool, much less “punk”.

Half the time, she’s shouting through her teeth (which leaves her sounding like a female Glenn Danzig with a bad lisp), but in quieter, more “conversational” moments like those opening “system hits”…yeah, the swaggering masculine tones of L7 have nothing on her. It’s practically Veronica Freemanesque, I tell ya…

Nothing wrong with it if you’re looking for a more driving bar band cum stoner rock.

Just do the world a favor and don’t go around pretending this has anything to do with punk rock, huh?

Henry Metal – The Essential Henry Metal, Vol. 1 (December 14, 2017)

We covered their So It Hath Begun and were amused by their geeky, self effacingly tongue in cheek take on…well, just about any subject you can think of, however absurd.

Here we get a de facto “greatest hits”, with plenty of that sort of outsider indie rock feel of oddballs like Webb Wilder and the Beat Farmers married to more distorted riffing and some strange, cuss-filled lyrics.

But make no mistake, despite the moniker and some riffs that may suggest a band raised on power, death and thrash metal, this far more kin to the likes of Matthew Sweet and Wilder.

Moreover, despite some loaded song titles like “thought police (song for America)”, “thank God for the government” and “where the dumbasses reign” (all of which suggest some much needed and decidedly pointed anti-Trump diatribes), Henry Metal is no politically charged batch of savvy satirists ala Devo (whose “freedom of choice” was never more apropos…), but more just a bunch of weird hipster jokesters, having a big laugh on the audience to no practical end whatsoever.

“Just because it’s funny,” you can hear them saying somehwere beneath all the hidden backward masking that doubtless lurks within…

Definitely a band that’ll leave listeners nonplussed, whatever their sociopolitical orientation or musical leanings. But hey, they’ve got a very obvious and decidedly weird sense of humor, so whatever.

(shrugs shoulders)

Next?

The Phantom of Phobos – From a Dead Channel (Stop the Building / The Phantom of Phobos) (August 17)

Four er…person female fronted prog metal out of Finland.

Oddly, while they tick off many of the right boxes (from off time riffs to interesting drum patterns to throaty alto femme vox and even keyboard accompaniment), something about Phantom of Phobos just doesn’t ring true.

It’s “indie rock” where it should be “prog metal”, it’s overly soft when you expect at least moments to swing bombastic and aggressive…and it’s overly straightforward where it should be complicated.

Perhaps most damning, there are no actual solos (!) If there were any hiding in there, they were completely unnoticeable…a really, really strange thing to be saying about a progressive band of any stripe (rock, metal, even indie, to be honest).

And while…er, “I”‘s vocals were listenably smooth enough, there were absolutely zero standout moments that make the listener sit up and pay attention, like hey, there’s some real talent on hand here! Instead, it’s more blase, almost pop music in approach.

Everyone seems to have just showed up to the recording, and left any vim, vigor and excitement at home. It’s workmanlike at best.

I give this one a big, heartfelt yawn and a stretch.

If the Slakoth is your spirit animal, you may be more chuffed by this rather lackadaisical effort than I ever was, that’s for damn sure.

Pain City – WHEN LIFE GETS YOU (Pain City Records) (September 14)

Another questionable swishy-toned digital download marks this stylistically mixed proposition out of Norway.

To judge by “we’re taking over your town”, you’d think this were a rather UK-style thrash act, whose three steps removed indebtedness to Ride/Master era Metallica (as filtered through Xentrix, D-A-M, Deathwish and Re-Animator) is fairly blatant.

But then the album moves far more towards bar band blues rock, with moments that feel Thin Lizzy (“ride on fly high”), ZZ Topp by way of L.A. post-GNR hard rock/”metal” (“how can it be bad”, “somebody to fight”), even a touch George Lynch or Warren DiMartini in terms of riffing (“the devil knows your name”).

The general vibe here is of that Hericane Alice by way of Junkyard crossed with Dangerous Toys late 80’s/early 90’s Hollywood “blooze” band scene, with riffs that are too distorted and aggressive for the “classic rock” crowd, but too bar band 70’s rock to be metal proper…and then there are those strange outliers, like the misleading “we’re taking over your town”, which shows where Pain City could (and should) have gone with this.

Don’t ask me. The guitar work is good, the drumming is driving in a Motorheadlike sense…your call on whether the rest is right up your alley or misses the mark by a wide margin.

My take? Particularly in a day and age where musicians can email files to each other and collaborate from all over the globe, lack of direction and purpose doesn’t show “diversity” and “reach”, but implies a lack of inner fortitude. Rather than start one band or project to work a given style, and another to work a different one, it all just gets mashed up together like a mud pie.

And unless you have no fucking taste buds, that blending of uncomplementary styles and flavors just pleases no one in the end.

As the Offspring once penned,

“you gotta keep ’em separated!”

Riven – Hail to the King (April 12)

Oy. So you have this dark and doomy one man band thing. Church organs, light female choirs (possibly sampled into a keyboard synthesizer), overdistorted, thin and droning guitars and tambourine…it sounds grim and folkish, like some ersatz doom take on Graveland or something.

Also, this is pretty slow stuff, so it’s safe to refer to it as “funeral doom”, particularly given the off kilter “churchiness” of the aforementioned.

The only problem here, if there is one, are the vox. Apparently this is the first time he’s tried using the gargle-grunts, and it shows. This is definitely no Ahab in that respect and even they made vast improvements by going more towards clean vocals on The Giant and Boats of Glen Carrig.

I’d be willing to bet the title track of this brief three song EP (well, the tracks are a good 15m apiece, but even so) was the first one recorded, as the iffy lumbering snot monster being roused from his cave depths sleep vox become more tolerable in the other two tracks…this is definitely a case of “most obnoxious attempt first”,
vocally speaking.

In the end, you can deal with the vox (as is the case with most funeral doom, honestly) for the sake of the grim, deliberate compositions that surround them.

So my advice? Even if those first strains of…well, strained tonsils and vocal chords leave you crinkling your nose in bemusement and/or distaste…hang in there for a track or two.

You’ll thank me for it in the morning.

Overall? Good stuff.

Seventh Dimension – The Corrupted Lullaby (November 1)

You know, I’ve been running this for a bit, now, and haven’t really latched onto anything meriting any serious attention, until we hit the half hour mark, and the unwieldily entitled “Oct. 5, 1974: past remorse.”  Then comes “invitation”, and much later “the dreamer’s escape” and “leaves of fall”.  Probably the strongest of the four are the first and last mentioned.  End of objectivity.

So what you get here is decidedly Dream Theater-school modern prog metal, sleepy, overly soft, with light AOR style vocals, too many (and too prominent!) keyboards and a whole lot of wheedly-whoo on the guitar side. It’s fine as background music or effective aural wallpaper…but that’s about all you can say for it.

Probably no surprise they hail from Sweden, where all rock and metal not falling under “black” or “death” equals “sweet n’ light” and beggars the superlative “airy”, across the board.

If overly-radio oriented Queensryche (from Empire onward) is your thing, you may dig this…otherwise, strictly for the Dream Theater crowd (or as I like to call ’em, the Kenny G crossover audience, all middle aged guys balding with a ponytail filling the venue…*)

* a nod to Joe Queenan and his hilarious Red Lobster, White Trash and The Blue Lagoon, there…

Alright, enough of this mediocre album already. Next?

Martyr Lucifer – Gazing at the Flocks (Seahorse Recordings) (June 22)

Well, this one’s definitely leaning towards some manner of gothic, but actually pigeonholing the band is another story.

On tracks like “halkyone’s legacy”, these oddballs (picture a band featuring a former member of At the Gates, alongside a member of DGM and Frontiers Records regular, doing something like this) work a very Projekt Records style darkwave.

On others, like “veins of sand pt. 1”, they sound more gothic rocklike, while “veins of sand pt. 2” sounds like a lost Moonspell track, and “bloodwaters” at least kicks off like something you’d hear off Prophecy Productions (something that can also be said about “feeders” in its entirety). Then “leda and the swan” crosses the Projekt sound with that of Prophecy, while forefronting some quirky, lazerpunklike keyboards…

Yeah, this one’s all over the damn place.

And that’s precisely the problem with it. It’s a mess, genre wise…which means it only appeals to major swathes of fandom in part, but never en toto.

Next time around, choose a given style, and at least let it predominate.  There’s at least two notable labels who may snap you up, if you move a few steps further towards one direction or another.

Acolytes of Moros – The Wellspring (September 24)

Stoner doom with oddly pronounced grunge influences. Hell, that riff on “venerate the dead” is practically a swipe from Alice in Chains’ “rooster”…and what about “a yen to relinquish and evanesce” or even “forbearance”?

Now, the declamatory chant vocals are fine, the minimalist approach is fair enough…but the guitar tone is too thin and biting for doom, the drum production too hissy and thin. Hell, is this entire album stuck in the same key, trying to drive while locked in neutral the whole time?

Yeah…tries, has elements that could work…but nah.

I’ve got all sorts of previously reviewed doom butting up against power metal of both the US and Euro variety these days…but it’s a sure bet I won’t need to be making any space for this one.

Supremate – UNITING FLAW (June 21)

“Hello, fellow music enthusiastic!”

So begins the promo writeup on this Finnish thrash band. Once again, the overriding influences here are British thrash circa 1986-91, drawing as much from Acid Reign and D-A-M as they do Metallica…and most specifically And Justice For All era, Fleming Rasmussen produced Metallica.

Bad (but not unlistenable) gargle shout vocals are the only real “gotcha” here, with plenty of crunchy, punchily produced and crisp toned gallop riffs and deliberate single note runs very much in the Hetfield/Hammett vein.*

* Well, mostly. There are a few weird veers into classic/blues rock territory that make zero sense and simply don’t fit, but overall, the Metallica thing predominates.

Weirdly, what appears to be missing here are the solos, which appear to be entirely absent from the entire first half of the album. There’s a squelched note sort of ambient noise thing in “despite the scars”, but it takes a good 6 tracks before there’s anything approaching an actual solo (“the crown don’t make a king”).

And that’s doubly bizarre, because while unlikely to set shred-heads afire, frontman Teemu Leskinen’s leads (on the few occasions he actually lays one down, namely the aforementioned “crown”, “rebels of majority” and “falling outside the normal moral constraints”) are well phrased and make sense. While nothing awe inspiring, they’re perfectly respectable…so why do they appear to be so difficult to pull out of the guy?

Given the lower tier status (unfairly or no) of the British thrash scene back in the day, it’s improbable to suggest that Supremate’s take on same will get modern day thrash fans all set afire…but who knows.

Fans of the aforementioned (and of course, Metallica circa Justice) should be fairly content with ’em.

\

Thundercrow – Heavy Metal Space Cowboy (July 27)

Geez, another swishy download? What the fuck, guys? Anyway…

This is a German thrash/power act in the classic manner…i.e. what used to be referred to as “speed metal” back in the day. Early Rage, Warrant, Angel Dust, Vendetta…that sort of thing. Questionable gargle-shout vox appended to thick toned, aggressive riffing that’s a bit too heavy and fast to really call “traditional metal”, but not crazed and precise enough to say “thrash” either. Think US power metal of the period, or German “speed metal” (as described hereinabove).

I like enough of this stuff, at least when the mood strikes, to begrudge the swirling hiss on the download (and yes, I tried twice at many days’ remove). There’s enough negative space here to suggest Killing Machine through Point of Entry-era Priest or Bon Scott era AC/DC (hell, you could even say a Rick Rubin production)…a punchy, crisp delivery to the guitars and drums ruined by another lousy download.

“How many hours did you listen to bullshit?” the band asks in “welcome to the show”.

Quite a few, meinem freunden.  Quite a few…as far too many of these reviews will attest.

Thankfully, shit download aside, you’re not one of ’em.

Worth checking out…at least a physical copy of, where you probably won’t be hearing all this swishing and swirling from the hi-hats!

Rise to Fall – Into Zero (September 30)

hmm.  Wasn’t expecting this...

So what we have here is a Spanish metalcore act. Given how the genre is looked at by more mainstream and old school metalheads these days, they adopt the usual cover story of being “melodeath” and pointing out how they’re heavily influenced by the Gothenburg sound.

You know, as if the entire metalcore sound, much less its strongest practitioners and scene leaders Killswitch Engage, aren’t…cough directly swiping from cough At the Gates circa Slaughter of the Soul.

Which, you know, is why I immediately latched on to Killswitch when Howard Jones joined for End of Heartache, and haven’t exactly balked about my love for ’em ever since. Fuck you if you don’t like it, by the way.

So anyway, this is a Spanish metalcore act…and as with all the best metalcore, despite the usual screamo/aggro verse vocals (which inevitably switch over to clean vox at the melodic choruses) and machine gun riffing, this goes down super smooth. I mean, you’d practically think Adam D worked production on this – it’s not only well crafted and crisply performed, but the end product comes off as surprisingly polished (!)

Moody, dark, emotive, angry, but hits all the sweet spots.

Really fucking good. Looking forward to more from these guys, no question.

  

Carry The Weight – Low Points (October 30)

And here’s another metalcore band, this time out of Finland. Once again, they pull the bait and switch – oh, we’re not metalcore, we’re “melodic hardcore”. Sure, whatever you say.

cough

(rolls eyes subtly, hoping you notice and they don’t)

Now, this came right on the heels of Rise to Fall, which is a bit unfair, as those guys were…really damn good!…so it’s kind of hard to follow that.

So consider these guys as the drunken headliner, trying to keep up with the young barnstormer of an opening act who just blew them right the fuck off the stage at their own game. You have to feel sorry for ’em…look, they tried, right?

The one thing that leaves Carry the Weight standing out slightly from the crowd is the obvious Ian MacKaye/straight edge scene-style torn throat gang vocals.

Hey, that’s good by me, no complaints on that end…and serves to separate ’em from the usual aggro/screamo growls that go clean on the choruses by drawing quite purposefully from the (true) hardcore punk scene (as opposed to this screamo/noise shit that seems to pass for same of late.  Don’t know what the fuck that crap is…ain’t hardcore, that’s for damn sure!)

So I guess this could be seen as Judge, In My Eyes or Up Front (hell, at a real stretch? Biohazard) gone metalcore (or a more truly punk take on emo, even).*

* why not, Turning Point was there first…

Again, I was good with this…but coming as it did directly on the heels of Rise to Fall, it didn’t exactly floor me either.

Give ’em a listen, they weren’t bad at all.

In fact, they may have been the closest I’ve heard to Turning Point having a legacy worth exploring.

Divine Ascension: The Uncovering (VICISOLUM PRODUCTIONS) (November 16)

Aussie take on the excellent US (but Euro-style) power metal act Seven Kingdoms, just with more progginess.

Pretty much, just take Sabrina Valentine’s tone, darken it just a touch, then make the guitars a bit more wheedly-whoo and Dream Theateresque.

Tag in some unnecessary if inoffensive keyboard bits, orient the lyrics more sci-fi than horror and fantasy literature, lose some of the pointed drive of the Floridians, and BAM! You have Divine Ascension.

Seriously, it’s that fucking close, on so many levels.

Take that as a big compliment, because Decennium and the preceding Rats in the Walls EP didn’t just get a 5 star review in these very pages, but furthermore, were and are some serious top notch shit, still in regular rotation around this house.

This one’ll tide you over till Seven Kingdoms pulls another rabbit out of their metaphorical hat to amaze and astound us all.

Dirge – Ah Puch (October 19)

OK, you know how we’re hearing these last track first lately? Well, it’s telling.

I don’t know if bands decide more often to put their “stretch” track last, or best foot forward to close out on, but almost inevitably, these things close out on a very different feel (if not style!) as what precedes them under normal circumstances.

So what do we hear, kicking off the album with “corpse of cortez” instead? After an overlong intro/build, the band finally erupts into death metal riffing with a vaguely blackened feel, sadly slathered over with ridiculous high pitched shriek vox. Finally, about 6 minutes in to this 9 1/2 minute opus minorum, they slow to a dirge, and bring the atmosphere in spades.

And the listener is left thinking…damn, you know what? If they’d only dump that shitty vocalist, this would be pretty decent.

Sadly, that one’s either the band’s “stretch track”, their best foot forward, or both.

The rest of this is pretty slow and sludgy, with a dicily thin, overly prominent mids-driven guitar tone. So much so, actually, that it sounds more a 90’s grunge thing (or at best, Non-Fiction) than it ever says “doom”, or arguably even “stoner”.

And good Lord, those fucking “vokills”…

I liked where they were going with “corpse of cortez”, instrumentally speaking. The rest did nothing whatsoever for me.

  

Gathering Darkness – The Inexorable End (October 12)

Overaggressive, noise inclined and vaguely Cannibal Corpselike yet somehow still blackened “death metal”.

Let’s be honest. This and death metal proper have quite little in common.

For those who got into “death metal” at best circa ’96 or thereabouts, several years after the scene had splintered and died off, with everyone moving on to black metal, Euro power metal or aggro (or just plain breaking up and leaving this stuff behind). Or as Bill Zebub once put it, “death metal, are we watching you die?”

To judge by this, the answer is definitely in past tense.

Anyone expecting the real deal shall be massively disappointed.

Night Crowned – Humanity Will Echo Out (Black Lion Records) (November 30)

A live guitarist for The Haunted (ooh, now there’s a band name to…er, bury deep in the resume and forget we ever heard…) and a drummer who currently seems to be working with Dark Funeral (as of this year...) join with three other guys you’ve never heard of to work what sounds like a cut rate, far less melodic or atmospheric take on recent Dark Funeral (“all life ends”, “nocturnal pulse”).

Weirdest bit? This three track comes with a cheesy happy toned symphonic track in the middle* entitled “no room for hope”, which screechy “Heljarmdr” style vox aside, is full of major key solos, light hearted keyboards and dramatic bombast that isn’t all that melancholic…say what the all-fired fuck? 

* worse? It’s actually the opener! But the vagaries of how we’re reviewing these of late actually helped the band by stuffing this slice of steaming gruyere right in the middle, like the stuffing in a proper cheese sandwich…

The star track here is “all life ends”. Your call how you feel about its lesser cousin “nocturnal pulse”, much less the shiny happy people bullshit of the weirdly mistitled “no room for happy black metal”.

Sorry, that was the actual  title. They misprinted it on the sleeve.

If you like where Dark Funeral is suddenly going after years of being justifiably laughed at (and honestly, who wouldn’t? Killer turnaround, there…), you may well enjoy their lesser soundalikes here.

Just watch that middle…er, first step. It’s a doozy.

Calamity – “The Truth” (Single) (October 4)

Modern style but very likeable Puerto Rican thrash act.

The only “gotcha” here is the vocals, which are overly gravelly and over-delivered (when he’s not going nigh-screamo, the guy’s practically vomiting out every word. It’s kind of absurd, really…)

But the band themselves? Guitar lines are accomplished and complement each other (in counterpoint as well as in harmony, nice touch there!), riffs are crunchy and strong, bringing an Exodus feel to a sound that’s more Heathen or Forbidden in tone…despite never actually sounding retro in any real respect.

This was a very strong single, only let down by the vocals…and honestly, it was decent enough to consider those more of a shoulder shrug than a deal breaker.

We’ll see what a full length brings.

The Art of Conjuring – Hibernation (June 16)

Oy. Aggro/groove.

WHIZZZ!!!

Burn, baby, burn.

…for those who don’t know, just go back and read the last 7 years or so of Roundups, concert reviews and listen to our (music-centered)
podcasts.

If you don’t know “Anselmo” is a cuss word ’round these parts, y’all just ain’t been listening.

next?

Moonfrost – III (September 11)

Okay, now I’ve officially heard it all.

Stoner doom crossed with black metal. I shit you not.

WHIZZZ!!

Big month for the Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards, we may have to call in the fire department to keep the blaze under control, if this keeps up…

Sinnrs – Profound (July 20)

An unusually clean sounding, well produced and symphonic metal inclined take on black/death out of Poland.

From the writeup, I was hoping for full on opera vocals and a lot more orchestral bombast, but it’s quite subtle, actually.

Well, not for black metal, where Satyricon’s Live at the Opera is probably the furthest anyone’s gone in this particular direction…but by comparison to symphonic power metal acts like Rhapsody and Epica? This is pretty damn light and subtle, at least till you get to portions of “renowned praetorians” and “no promise to mankind” halfway through the album…and even then, it never lingers for very long.

By comparison to, say, Behemoth, yeah, this was pretty decent. But you already know what I think about them.

Let’s be nice and call this an overly tentative step in a very right direction.

  

SÖNAMBULA – Bicéfalo (Xtreem Music) (December 18)

What would you get if Baphomet (of Dead Shall Inherit fame) really wanted to be Autopsy instead of…I don’t know, a more death metal Acheron, or a less technical Death?

Well, I’d bet your mom’s stack of bibles they’d sound a whole hell of a lot like Spain’s Sonambula, an act also compared in promo materials to Winter (yeah, I can hear that one).

Low and slow, uber-simplistic, with single note lines and really raw, overdistorted and sludgy sounding guitars and drums. Even the bass is pushing the distortion knobs way too far to the right…Anatomia goes a touch…well, who was this simple? Asphyx, possibly, certainly Acheron, Autopsy…yeah, that’s about it. With Baphomet’s vocalist.

Yep, it’s old school and filthy, like something you’d find over at Necroharmonic a few years back.

I’m good with this one, definitely.

NATTRAVNEN (US/UK) – Kult of the Raven (Transcending Obscurity Records) (December 7)

Wombbath’s Jonny Petterson and Death (well, Mantas) and Massacre‘s Kam Lee join forces. Sounds awesome, right?

Well…no.

See, this is debatable as to whether it’s proper death metal or some weird-ass take on “dark metal” with death growl vox.

Some of the riffs feel death metallish, but with these keyboards all over the place? All that reverb and delay filling the mix?

Yeah, this is the Kam Lee that gave us Promise.

This one’s all about atmosphere and mood (right down to those nice crow foley bits that kick off the album)…which says “gothic rock” or “black metal” more than it ever could imply “death metal”.

And don’t even get me started on those perfectly shite, incessantly stiff “slow blastbeat” drums…makes DD Crazy sound like a virtuoso!

Make no mistake, the concept was kinda cool and parts of this do work…but all together, it just blurs into a weird mess of blackened “dark metal” moodiness with inappropriate death vox (and a few death riffs), buried beneath the worst drumming you’re ever likely to hear on record.

These two guys should have been able to deliver something a whole lot better than this turned out.

DØDSFERD – Diseased Remnants Of A Dying World (Transcending
Obscurity Records (India) (December 14)

When you listen to a lot of global metal, you encounter some amusing misspellings and pidgin English.

And hey, to be fair? Have you tried singing or naming your albums in an unfamiliar foreign language, lately? “Ich bin ein Berliner,” indeed.  You cut ’em some slack, you get used to it.

But when the opening track of an otherwise entirely comprehensible release is entitled, “my father, my Wath!” you simply have to wonder.  Is this some obscure geek reference to Star Wars or something? Are they speaking Klingon? You never know, these days…

Thankfully, the track that rather absurd title is appended to is actually pretty good, all gloomily depressive post-black what have you, with a clean vocal that sounds oddly like Matthew Sweet (take my word for it, just listened to Tomorrow’s Daughter this morning. Not a bad album at all, so many years on from Girlfriend and 100% Fun…)

Things pick up to a more pagan metallish pace for “an existence without purpose”, complete with some tremelo riffing and snotty gargle-vox. Catchy, sorta Dissection meets Taake-esque “diseased remains of a dying world” takes a bit of each and mixes ’em all together to excellent result, while de facto closer “loyal to the black” slows things down again, only breaking into a very stiff whiteboy-style gallop about halfway through. Seriously, it’s almost country, with that drumbeat playing against all that stiff armed faux-“bounce”…

There’s actually a pointless ambient track with endlessly looped fiddles, but face it – four tracks and done. Even so? Some really good tracks in there, particularly around the middle of the EP…er, album.

Yeah, bemused spit-takes aside, I have zero complaints with this one.

Good stuff, go check ’em out.

Weltschmerz – Illustra Nos (Redefining Darkness Records) (October 26)

Weird, overly mids-heavy, ridiculously atonal Dutch black metal.

The better part of “threnody for those who wander under the sun” is so intrinsically off, it reminds distinctly of more recent work from Bethlehem, just with an even greater orientation towards…well, noise.

Later tracks, well, you can argue amongst yourselves about just how much Merrimack is playing against how much Behemoth, and how much of the Watain school of neverending zombie hordes plays into the sound on top of all that.

They’re more aggressive and driving, at least…but with all those mids up in your face, and all that tremelo-driven atonality, that’s not to say it gets any less painful to hear.

Yeah, I’m not sure what they were really going for here – I doubt “a shatteringly awkward and irritatingly noisy DSBM” was in the prospectus.

The only weltschmerz you’ll feel will be from sitting through this record.

1914 – The Blind Leading the Blind (Redefining Darkness Records) / Archaic Sound (November 11)

Well, you have to give them credit for the photo shoot. And those great turn of the century 78s that bookend the record…nice touch.

Sandwiched between those two, it’s Marduk redux, the Ukranian chapter. Thankfully, it’s more akin to recent, Daniel “Mortuus” Rosten-era Marduk, so this isn’t 100% rushing freight train metalcore, but mixed with black/death and even doom elements (“A7V mephisto”).

That said, there’s not a lot separating 1914 and, say, Frontschwein.

Now, me, I’ve got all those albums in the library, so no issue about that particular band comparison here – for me, this sound works well enough, if a bit workaday by comparison to earlier, darker and more atmospheric/mysterious forms of first and early second wave black metal.

But if you’re really trying to find a way to distinguish these guys from their oh so very obvious template and forbears?

Forget it.

If you also dig more recent Marduk, these guys do it pretty well, sure.

Disrule – Sleep In Your Honour (Seeing Red Records) (November 16)

Thick toned, signal bleed-baiting overdistorted guitars and some really awful edits (just check out how the album opens with the listener just jumping into the middle of an already running song!

Who was the asshole who came up with that?  And more to the point…how fucking stoned was he at the time?

That aside, that’s actually by far the best track here. Even songs you’d expect to retain the same sense of darkness, if not motion (like “occult razor” or “enter the void”) are far too laid back, happy toned and almost Southern groove-“bluesy” to really work.

I mean, promo materials reference Fu Manchu (yeah, I can hear that…), Down and Clutch (oy to both…), so you get the idea here. Emphases on the latter pairing.

Not bad, speaking in wholly dispassionate and objective terms…but “sleep in your honour” aside, this is not what I look for in stoner rock and/or stoner doom.

INHUME – Exhume: 25 Years of Decomposition (XENOKORP) (December 7)

All we know about this one is that it’s a collection of tracks from this Dutch grindcore act. A single 47 second track was sent for review, but it sounded good to these ears.

To judge by that one brief burst of activity, this is proper grindcore, in the Carcass/Repulsion/Terrorizer vein.

Works for me. Now how about the full album, eh?

NIRNAETH – From Shadow to Flesh (MALPERMESITA) (September 7)

Black/death out of France. At least they don’t pretend to be death metal proper for a change…

Given how distasteful we generally find black/death as a (pseudo, ill-fitting blend of) genre, this comes out surprisingly well, with plenty of grim atmosphere, dark melodicism and consonance.

It definitely leans more black metal than black/death…which helps their case tremendously.

Surprisingly listenable for the type.


CRYSTALMOORS / HORDAK – Árguma / Ophiusa (Casus Belli Musica / Beverina) (October 15)

Hordak delivers a fairly epic slice of darkly melodic black metal, more of a suite than a song (or grouping of songs) proper, running a whopping 20 minutes.

A few cheesy bits of Kroda-esque foley work and ambient “nature sounds” alternate with pointed “conclusions” and fades, only to kick back in with material that is so closely related (and not just in terms of key and progression/connection to what precedes and follows) as to most closely adhere to the single epic song hypothesis…and yet, no, not really. “Suite Judy Blue Eyes” felt more of a “single song in three distinct movements” than this one ever does. It’s strange.

And yet? It works, and quite well, at that.

Normally, I tend to look at these sort of splits as “more is better”, with the single (often much longer) track act at least feeling like a bit of a comparative ripoff…but then again, quite often it’s that band who has much more to offer and deliver. Sometimes less truly is more – case in point.

Crystalmoors is working more of a pagan melodeath crossover, somewhat akin to a more blackened Manegarm or perhaps even Tyr, but with more of a lush, generally quite well produced (and yes, memorably melodic) flair.

Acoustic guitars come off just as strongly (if not moreso) than their electric counterparts here, with violin and acoustic percussion first making their presence known in the opening moments and solo section of “hijos del sol”, reappearing briefly during “with the eyes towards the moon”, then taking center stage in their best track, the almost jazzy, pointedly Spanish take on Pentangle that is “llaranza” (note the fretless bass, even…clearly someone was taking notes from Renbourn and Jansch…)

Were this more central to their sound than the harsher, more aggressive material they’re more greatly inclined towards, they’d have won top honors on this split.

Both bands come off surprisingly well here, with Crystalmoors particularly excelling in their more pensive and folkish moments and Hordak keeping their lone contribution at an unexpectedly superlative degree of quality throughout both harsh/blackened and acoustic/mellower phrases…

…but “llaranza” aside, it’s clear who won this battle, one and done.

You really can’t go wrong here. Quite good stuff from both bands.

Scald (Russia) – Will of the Gods is a Great Power (Ordo MCM) (November 30)

I’d seen this album referred to in print more than once by Russian and/or Eastern European bands (likely black and/or pagan in orientation) as quite influential, so it was with some appreciation and surprise that I saw this come across the virtual desk for review this month.

The lone release from these pagan/Viking doomsters (seriously…is that the only time you’ve ever heard those two styles mixed together?  But hey, it works!), the 6 tracks of the original release are present and accounted for, as are the three rehearsal and demo tracks often appended in part or whole on previous reissues from more hard to find, fly by night labels native to the region.

You even get one of the live tracks off the obscure 2 disc edition from half a decade back, making this a de facto “complete Scald” (said edition also appended material from the band that eventually became Scald, so in very literal terms, the Ordo MCM release contains everything Scald ever recorded).

This is some pretty grandiose and bombastic stuff, more deliberate and far less cheesy than, say, Hammerheart-era Bathory (you can definitely hear “one rode to Asa Bay” in this, just without the over the top comedy factor or the terrible singing)…and particularly given its one night only status (frontman Maxim Andrianov died a mere year after recording), it’s pretty obvious why bands of that region, particularly those playing in similar styles, hold the album in such high regard.

Andrianov’s voice is larger than life, a bit depressive but bombastic and clean enough to front a top tier symphonic power metal band. The production is really quite good, suffused with enough studio ambience and reverb to make it feel vintage without being buried by it or ever coming off like a faux-retro gimmick (like far too many underground metal bands these days).

It’s dark, deliberate and doomy, but somehow manages to feel proggy enough (particularly on tracks like “a tumulus” or “in the open sea”) to share the stage with the likes of Fates Warning or Queensryche…and the demo and rehearsal tracks, far from feeling redundant, show just how good the band comes off even without the studio work (particularly true on the demo version of “sepulchral bonfire”, which is a completely different animal to the album version).

This is a band that coulda, shoulda, almost did, at least in certain circles.

It was probably a wise move to pack it in rather than try (and fail) to replace a frontman of such central importance to their sound and success (cough hello, Kamelot, hello, Rhapsody! cough), but on the other hand…the world could use more albums like Will of the Gods is a Great Power.

I know I sure could.

An easy five stars and a hearty sounding of the ram’s horn in salute.  Hails and well met; na zdorov’ye!

  

Letheria – Death – Principle (Saturnal) (November 23)

Geez, Saturnal’s generally been one of the all too rare dependable go-tos in terms of black metal. Honestly, there have been few missteps in the releases covered in these pages…and even those bore some degree of merit (Barathrum, for example).

So…what the fuck? Why this questionable hardcore cum grind act with blackened lyrics and a strangely sluggish, simplistic riffing style?

I mean, when they pick up the speed below a spastic march, it’s all blastbeats, there’s certainly a “sinister” feel that at times feels South American blackthrash (“call the horns”) and others grind (“one spit of a thousand swears”) or even leaning “bestial black” (“swinelord…”).

But it’s not really black metal, blackthrash, blackened grind (aka “war metal” or “bestial black”)…it’s more like a fucked up old school hardcore without the fire and fury, and a whole lot of juvenalia (“with tears of urine?” Seriously?)

Yeah…a few melodic moments scattered throughout aside, this one is very passable, to be nice about it.

Oh, well. The label’s got a very good batting average.

They’re entitled to throw a game and taste an ignominious defeat every now and again.

Hrizg – Soterion (Moribund Records) (November 2)

Despite some oddly off-key nigh-spoken vocals (vaguely akin to Triumph, Genus in that respect) that turn into snarls (which brings their sound closer to vintage Tormentor, or at a stretch even Master’s Hammer), this felt quite Finnish.

There’s a strong attention to melody and dramatics, with a very Satanic Warmaster meets Azazel feel to tracks like “sword of vlendios” or “the mystery of the dead stars”.

But then there’s a Norwegian Norsecore vibe to the rather Tsjuderesque “bleeding sacred signs” or “psalms for the repudiated”, while “riddle of doom” pulls things into an almost metalcore-ish song structure.

And then there’s that Taake-esque lilt to others, like “misanthropic apotheosis”…before they pull in a riff much akin to Anselmo-era
Necrophagia a ound the 4 minute mark (!) Maybe they thought they
were pulling a Watain or something?

Very strange cross (sub)genre-blend of styles here, but it’s all reasonably listenable, with competent enough production (the guitar tone is still overly mids-heavy and hollow, but hey).

Way back in 2014, we dug their Individualism as well, so no surprise that this one also gets a nod of respect.

Satan’s Host – Metal From Hell (Moribund Records) (November 23)

Featuring the frontman of US power metal standbys Jag Panzer and power/progsters Titan Force, Satan’s Host were an odd side project for the powerfully toned Harry (“Tyrant”) Conklin, with those golden, soaring pipes shunted into a very different milieu.

Now, the question of whether or not Satan’s Host is actually working USPM or something closer to the quirkier, more stylistically open first wave of black metal is down to the listener, but I guess if Mercyful Fate can be considered prog these days (and hey, there’s always Manowar’s Hail to England and Running Wild’s Gates of Purgatory, with those “satanic” tracks…), then sure, you can still call this an admittedly quite ersatz take on classic (pre-Euro school) power metal.

For his part, Conklin is fairly recognizable, though this is more Tyrants/Ample Destruction-era Conklin than the more melodic and accomplished vocalist he’d quickly become from Shadow Thief onward. Even so, this isn’t the kind of vocal you’re expecting to be singing in praise of satan or what have you, any more than Eric Adams’ tones were just a few years prior.

There are some nice, if so understated as not to be immediately noticeable eerie chants backing the likes of “metal from hell”, and enough Anthrax meets Accept-style gang chants to mark this as at least somewhat influenced by or bordering what was then a just emergent thrash scene (this was 1986, after all, when Metallica toured with Ozzy and finally broke a very small underground movement into a wider scale, international notice).

It’s a whole hell of a lot rawer and sloppier than what Conklin was doing with Jag Panzer, much less the polished power/prog of Titan Force (that first, self titled album is fucking amazing, if you’ve never indulged…), but well worth hearing for all that, much akin to Jack Starr’s quickie work with Phantom Lord (which birthed more than a few future Burning Starr tracks, and bore more crazed Starr solos than Guardian of the Flame and Blaze of Glory combined).

In fact, Phantom Lord is a very good comparison, given the off kilter vibe, quickie dashed off feel, hissy, cheap sounding production and plethora of likeable riffs and unhinged soloing. Conklin sounds like he’s struggling to keep up, much less elevate all this messy energy into something more worthy of his caliber and class of vocalist…

The only downer here is that the later Midnight Wind EP is not appended hereto. Given the brevity and comparative difficulty in tracking down a copy of that abortive release (or lack thereof!), this is a bit of a letdown…quite likely one soon to be rectified, as promo materials cover both Metal From Hell AND a remastered Midnight
Wind, despite only the former being sent out for review (hopefully we can say “at this time”, and provide an update next month…hint, hint).

Yeah, I was quite glad to hear this one as part of the review queue…and without question this sounded so much better than what I’d heard on a certain online streaming service in the past (which was pretty bad, actually…what a difference a remaster can make!)

Now if only Moribund will drop that Midnight Wind remaster, as they seem to have promised…

Groza – Unified in Void (AOP Records) (November 30)

German black metal. Oddly enough, it feels quite Finnish, with the dark melodicism and epic scope of bands like Satanic Warmaster, Horna and the stronger releases from Clandestine Blaze.

There is a further pagan metallish nigh-power metal crossover to moments like those found in the title track, which approaches the hoary heights of Gorgoroth without ever coming off slavish or overly close to template.

Production, while favoring far too much reverb on the vocals and leaning too heavily on the mids with the guitars, is also pretty good, and there’s a feel of Inquisition to certain parts of tracks like “ouroboros” or even “amongst the worms”. Unfortunately, those are also the two weakest tracks on the release by far.

But there are sufficient elements and moments in tracks like “thanatos”, “unworthy” and “unified in void” to leave Groza as a more than worthy new entry into the annals of black metal.

Who knows, beneath the ridiculously expansive mountains of horseshit being shoveled onto an unsuspecting public from that genre in recent years, there may be something of a minor revival happening in scattered quarters (see last month’s reviews for a few labels whose entire roster of releases were more than noteworthy…)

Yeah, they ain’t perfect. But I’ve got my eye on these guys.

Good things brewing all of a sudden, on what has been a very dead front.

 

Flageladör – Predileção Pelo Macabro (Helldprod Records) (November 2) 

Brazilian blackthrash. Production is absolute dogshit, but the vibe is surprisingly old school (“M.A.F.”, “maxima voltagem”) and the leads (by frontman “Armando Exekutor”) are so oddly major key and anthemic/melodic as to betray a strong upbringing in/aspirations towards European power metal (!)

Strange mix, but good. Think Witchtrap (Colombia) crossed with early Vulcano and you’ll get a general idea…then throw in Iron Savior-worthy leads, just for a laugh. And it works!

Saudacao, amigos. Bom trabalho.*

* Yeah, I had to look up the Portuguese variant for what I originally wrote in Spanish. Can’t speak every damn language in the world, give me a break…

Grog – Macabre Requiems (Helldprod Records) (December 1)

Filthy sounding, almost Finnish approach to death metal.

Apparently a reissue of a ’96 album out of Portugal (who knew they even had a scene back then?), this one has a pleasantly vintage feel…just don’t expect a sound appending to any of the usual hotbeds of classic death metal.

Of course, that being said…it’s from 1996. Death metal wasn’t exactly an ongoing concern, having lasted between either Possessed or Death’s debut albums (sorry, I go with the latter. Possessed was more blackthrash with a busy, almost technical edge) and the oversaturation and collapse of the Scott Burns/Morrisound and Tomas Skogsberg/Sunlight schools.

Or if you prefer, when everyone got tired and ran out of ideas, and the audience all shifted to black metal, dropped out of metal in favor of stoner, grunge or indie, or started building the nascent power and gothic/symphonic scenes. Either way, ’94 was an easy cutoff (a bit late, in fact), with Disincarnate and Slaughter of the Soul being the last important outliers in an already dead scene.

So it’s always with a bit of a raised eyebrow that we greet these minor, often unheralded acts and their releases that went very much under anyone’s radar upon initial release. Are they just a bit too late arriving to the table? Or were they of a later, far lesser sound that few outside of a handful of diehard Cannibal Corpse or Nile fans actually gave a flying fuck about (whether at the time or now)?

Well, in Grog’s case…it’s a bit of neither, actually.

Sure, there are elements that bring, say, Abhorrence to mind…but there’s also light hints of Grave, or even the likes of Rottrevore. And then there’s that simplistic, relelentless riffing to tracks like “dawn of the living dead” or “cannibal feast” that almost suggests a Mortician-style grindcore.

It’s weird…but in many ways, feels more traditional than the sort of dogshit that was still being released (and largely failing to sell to any appreciable numbers) at the time.

Bottom line, this one seems to lean more simplistic and filthy sounding, meaning its greatest appeal will be to fans of classic grindcore…but there’s enough kinship to the other bands mentioned hereinabove to give ’em a pass to more “mainline” death metal fans as well.

LASCAR – Wildlife (A Sad Sadness Song) (October 25)

We reviewed these Chileans’ Absence two years back and found them listenable background music, more or less.

One year after that, we covered their Saudade, and noted a major improvement in style…or perhaps a greatly heightened appreciation of what they were already doing.  There was little question that we dug what they were laying down on that platter.

So here we are again, another year, another Lascar album…and you ask, what do we have here?

Well, it’s dark, mournful to downright depressive, Cascadian to post-black in style. About the worst thing you have to worry about here are the shrieked vocals…which are conveniently buried in the mix at the same level as the guitars, making them somewhat ignorable if you try.

Now, not pulling out the prior albums from the archives for comparison, it’s a bit hard to say with assurance, but it sure as hell seems like they’ve improved their game once again…or at least keep ‘er steady as she goes, right on course with what we were hearing of merit in last year’s Saudade.

Once again, these Chileans deliver some seriously gloomy, introspective, melodic, yes, even moving black metal (or post-black, or even DSBM, depending how you look at these things)…

…and for the second time (or perhaps even third, if you take the Absence review as at least a mild appreciation and acceptance), they get a raise of the horns in salute.

Well worth your time to give a listen.

FALGAR – La Dama Del Alba (ATMF) (November 16)

Why is it that bands that try to ape Burzum…or for that matter, Mortiis, always seem to miss the mark by a Missouri mile?

So yeah, here’s another one trying to work the formula, complete with slow, droning guitars working simple, intentionally hypnotic riffs and muffled but punchy drums.

Sometimes the melodies are likeably predominant (“laberintos”), others, they’re conspicuously absent (the title cut, “seguire”, “fango y frio”). He even attempts the whole “tomhet”/Daudi Baldrs end of Vikernes’ limited but effective toolkit with the pointlessly annoying Casio tones of “artemisa”.

There’s even an Aske-era “overaggressive” track (“whispers of Diana”), which only reveals a likeable open string melodicism after the halfway mark. Before that, it’s just shit. But once you get past that 4 minute plus mark, BAM – suddenly, it’s great. I guess he’s also subconsciously drawing from Nargaroth, then!

So bottom line, yes, there’s no question this Puerto Rican one man band is working the Burzum template.

That being said, it only works one and one half tracks out of nine…not exactly an impeccable track record.

Just goes to show, however you feel about the man himself (and we’ll just let that smoking gun lie in state, thank you very much), Kristian “Varg” Vikernes has or once had a serious naive talent, one that served to make him one of the most important pillars of the troubled second wave of black metal.

Semi-talented amateurs may try to recreate the formula, just like you can always get a cheap overseas knockoff of just about any product you can imagine.

To the same result.

Spearhead – Pacifism is Cowardice (Invictus Productions) (November 23)

Noisy, grindcore leaning and somewhat blackened death metal (it’s positively blastbeat central, here…) Oh, and they clearly want to be (early) Bolt Thrower, from the album title on down, but miss the mark by a very broad margin.

Yeah, there’s a reason nobody talks about death metal anymore. This is not, by any stretch of the imagination, what the scene was when anyone actually cared about it, back in the heyday of Morrisound and Sunlight, when Earache and R/C were king.

Too many years of blackened influence, too many derivative subgenres built off the backs of specific bands, too many half assed imitators (cough Nile) keeping the scene “alive” for those without eyes to see there was simply nothing left but bones, post ’93.

Are these guys terrible for a 2018 act trying to do an aggressive blackened grindcore and co-opt Bolt Thrower’s Warmaster schtick?  No, not really.

But honestly – who the fuck actually needs this, when the real deal is so astronomically superior?

A time killer for the desperate, I guess.

Next?

Baneful Storm – Invocations (Invictus Productions) (November 30)

An overly blackened take on…Morbid Angel? Yep. And decidedly the Mike Browning-fronted Morbid Angel, too.

So if you dig Abominations of Desolation to the exclusion of everything else the band since recorded, this is almost slavishly indebted to that early template.

Hell, half of the four actual tracks on this 4 track/2 pointless intros EP are so damn close to songs off that earlier Browning-vocalled demo/limited release in both music and lyric, you’d think it was a covers album.

You know, everyone’s bitching about all the HM-2 Entombed wannabes, or all the At the Gates worship that defines the entire genre of metalcore…but I’ve never heard something so ridiculously close a copycat as you’re getting here.

Hey, I always liked that release a hell of a lot better than Altars (it was only with Blessed and to a lesser extent Covenant that the band really came into their due and topped the Browning material), so fine by me…but sheesh! Trey may want to give this one a listening to, you
know what I’m saying?

That being said, it works just fine by me.

Thulsa Doom – Realms of Hatred (Invictus Productions) (December 7)

Old school death metal out of Italy. Expect something rather basic and simplistic, but raw and with the right vibe…like Morta Skuld injected with a strong dose of Torment in Fire (if not The Exorcism!)-era Sacrifice.

Those quick single note trills, some clunky transitions, awkward edits, very old school raspy vox and just enough reverb without going into the usual overkill we see wayyyyy too much of nowadays…

…yeah, the demo and the first album of Sacrifice are a pretty good marker, you could tag in Morbid Visions-era Sepultura as well.

I liked this one quite a bit, as you might imagine.

Human Agony -Goring Christ (Invictus Productions) (December 7)

BC, Canada drops yet another questionable “bestial black” outfit.

It’s hardly Blasphemy, much less Revenge/Conqueror. Hell, it’s not even Black Witchery in quality.

Yeah, whatever. You know exactly what this sounds like, and whether you like it or not.

Me? I’m getting tired of hearing the same thing over and over, to exponentially diminishing quality by the copycat.

A xerox of a xerox of a xerox, a VHS dupe of the 8th generation, in EP speed…you know exactly what to expect, and what it’s getting like with these little sub-subgenres that don’t have an original thought to share between ’em…

Next?

Unreqvited – Mosaic I: l’amour et l’ardeur (Northern Silence) (November 23)

Sweeping, wide ranging, even strangely major key throughout.

This is post-black with DSBM and/or Cascadian tendencies, but as appended to a particularly Euro-symphonic power metal approach (“radiant”, “dreamscape”) with touches of prog (“balance”) and far less dreamy and airy than peers like Alcest.

As such, it didn’t bear that same weight, that melancholic, introspective mood that is generally brought by acts working in this general vein…and it felt overly indie oriented.

Still quite well done, give ’em credit.

But too uplifting and hipster baiting for my tastes (you watch, they’ll draw crowds of skinny jeans wearing guys with huge beards and poofy mushroom-head haircuts, probably with horn rimmed glasses to boot).

Sunrunner – Ancient Art of Survival (Minotauro Records) (October 26)

hmm. I’m not really sure who these guys are trying to be.

For instance. Opener “dawnland” is a rather accomplished sounding dual acoustic guitar with flute piece, suitable for a good folk record or more appropriately, a good Ren Faire.

Then “tracking the great spirit” starts to rock a bit in an early Slough Feg manner, only to drop that entirely for the laid back, almost psychedelic 70’s rock of “inner vision” (a mood only disturbed by some weird sorta-growly Alice Cooperesque vocals).

Later, they go back to this sort of hippie folk vibe on “distorted reflection”…but the vox are too angry, almost grungelike to fit. The Slough Feg thing somes back a bit in “palaver”, but nothing ever really sticks long enough, they never actually dig in once they hit a given stylistic groove. They’re too busy dancing around, a sprig of this, a taste of that, a pinch of that over there…nothing ever predominates, nothing ever gels.

There’s a lot of stoner rock vibe to this…but then there’s some far too pissed off…what? I mean, there’s progginess to it, and some riffs that are more hard rock to metallish, but it’s not really much of either genre…

In the end, these guys aren’t really possible to classify, and that’s not meant in a good way.

You know, every band out there wants you to believe (and often talk  themselves into believing) that the particular syncretization of influences that play into their individual and collective playing history (and therefore “style”) somehow leaves them “unique”, as if “their sound” were birthed tabula rasa from the aethyr, fait accompli and deus ex machina.

It’s a line of bullshit that savvier listeners (and bands, and media observers, insiders and critics for that matter) learn to see through very easily.

No, you’re copying this guy, and you took this from band A and pick two from band C, with six you get eggroll.  Bands have a sound, but only a few actually have that particular sound that comes off as defining, that others point to as their main source (and these days, build entire genres out of, aping fairly precisely).

But “original”?  Nah, not even the best of ’em…which middling acts like Sunrunner just don’t measure up to, whatever their particular merits.

Are they listenable, even decent players, at least when it comes to all those trippy acoustic guitar bits? Sure.

But in the end, what it all boils down to is this.

Some folks believe the hype.

And you know what that crackhead Flavor said about that.

DEGREDO – A Noite dos Tempos (Harvest Of Death) (November 30)

Portuguese black metal. And you know how fucked up and weird that can get.

So yeah, this is a lot of people hitting tin pans, yelping like those little
yappy dogs girls seem to like, while drone and noise effects much akin to early Abruptum and massively over-tracked mumbles, belches and shrieks fill the place. It’s like being in an airport hangar when the plane comes in, but without the ear protection.

I actually found this so completely inept as to be hilarious, so I won’t even throw it into the Pile of Dead Bards.

Comedy album of the year, here’s our nomination!

ABYSMAL LORD / CRURIFRAGIUM – Split 7″ EP (Hells Headbangers) (September 28)

Split between two “bestial black” acts. We’d covered both of them
twice before, Abysmal Lord for Storms of the Unholy Black Mass and Disciples of the Inferno, Crurifagium for Beasts of the Temple of Satan and Black Seed of Bestiality.

As with prior releases from each, these are very much “by the numbers”, check in, check out, you know exactly what you’re getting here, move along.

Abysmal Lord has better production, Crurifagium seems to have the better material, at least this time around, and that’s all there is to say about it.

Works if you’re desperate for a fix, but neither is exactly breaking new ground.

PROFANATICA – Altar of the Virgin Whore (MCD, 12″ MLP, TAPE) (Hells Headbangers) (November 2)

Another regular from the label, we’d covered Profanatica many a time,
at least (though I’m sure there are more…) for Thy Kingdom ComeThe Curling Flame of Blasphemy and The Enemy of Virtue.

Again, it’s always the same exact deal: former Incantation sideman Paul Ledney doing his best to scare the overly religious and pound out incredibly simplistic drum patterns while overly distorted, poorly produced uber-basic and nigh-indistinguishable riffs blur beneath.

He’s like an overgrown Catholic schoolboy, still in blazer and short pants, trying to be “cool” by scaring the faculty with his eeeeevil sophomoric satanicness. Only problem is, nobody’s impressed by this, and he’s a little too old to be acting like an uptight 14 year old with a rebellious streak.

It’s not the worst (or most childish) thing you’re likely to hear in the grim and petty world of black and/or blackened and/or “black slash whatever”, no.

But is there really any fucking point to all this?

Here, I’ll help you out.

No.

Next?

GOATHAMMER – Ceremony of Morbid Destruction (CD, LP, TAPE) (Hells Headbangers) (December 7)

A less bombastic than usual black/death, at times feeling slightly blackthrashlike, others feeling…rather USBM, if you know what I’m getting at: that whole raspy/snarly biker thing, with all the dirt and unpolished vibe that implies.

Interesting, some parts definitely work…can’t say I was overly excited by it, but has promise and doesn’t quite fit comfortably inside of the usual boxes.

MORGAL – S/T (MCD, 12″ MLP) (Werewolf) (November 30)

Finnish teens attempt a more mature, second wave black metal sound.

It’s punchy enough, but seems unsure of direction: “mistress of blood” is working a sort of South American blackthrash (arguably with a touch of early Necrophobic), “the black goddess” comes off somewhat Taake-esque with all that bounce, “warcry of the vampire” is part Norwegian second wave, part folk (with all that acoustic business) and part traditiona metall (with those bent note rock riffs ala vintage Ozzy).

In the end, only showstopper “blood for atazoth” comes off as truly “black metal” in the proper sense, for all its over-speediness*, and it’s the only one that is hard to pigeonhole, actually. Is it Finnish in style? Norwegian? Or is it closer to something like Merciless, only a variant of such far more black metal in orientation?

* a failing of youth that appears at many points throughout the four songs herein – the drums will suddenly launch into something too quick for the guitars, dragging things in and out of tempo in that naive mid-80s Teutonic blackthrash manner. There’s also some error in playing that leaves the guitars sounding like this was recorded on tape, started running on the wrong speed, then corrects up a half tone.  Happens several times in “blood for atazoth”, at least…

Overall, this is quite good, in spite of the failings and lack of definite direction aforementioned.

With a bit more time and experience, they should become more sure footed and deliberate.

It remains to be seen whether the raw naivete of this debut will prove to be their defining moment, or a blip on the radar compared to better things to come.

Omnipotence – Praecipitium LP/CD (Iron Bonehead) (December 7)

Black metal with extra bombast.

They’re clearly swiping a few tricks from the pagan/power metal playbook, with those dramatic, very un-black riffs and solos, and it’s this that makes them refreshing.

For some reason, they call themselves “black/death”, but no way – there’s none of the utter turgidness and pathetic nature of that miscegenated abomination of a stylistic hybrid to be found here.

There’s a touch of Finnish feel in the melodicism, some top tier Norwegian (or even Swedish), almost Norsecore vibe to the grandiose assuredness, even light hints of the less essential, more modern Polish scene in all the chest thumping…but it’s very pagan/power at core, done with black metal style tremelo riffs and snarling dog vocals.

Hell, even the drumming is more inclined to syncopation, footwork and kitwork than blastbeatiness (though that shit is still overly present, sadly enough), and production is pretty strong for a black metal spectrum recording.

Pretty good stuff – certainly interesting, somewhat unusual and worth a listen.

Order of the Nameless Ones – Utter to Me the Word of Wrath (Iron Bonehead) (December 7)

Terrible, incredibly poorly produced underground black/death.

You know the schtick by heart: cavernous, overly reverbed belch vox, indistinguishably blurring, overly detuned tremelo guitar and incessant blastbeats. Every track same as the three that preceded it, and those that follow.

This time, it sounds ten times worse, like it was an old circulation fan recorded down a subway wind tunnel or some shit…it’s that thin, noisy and horrific sounding. Sure this wasn’t a demo, with the boom box tape recorder mic stuffed up a band member’s ass?

Yeah, there’s nothing more to say here.

Next?

Evil – The Gate of Hell TAPE (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (October 21)

You know, it really says a lot when your best, most accomplished and well written song is a Sarcofago cover.

And I mean, leagues above the original material here.

So yeah, four tracks, none even hit the two minute mark, the only one worth hearing is Sarcofago’s “desecration of virgin”.

Makes fucking Profanatica sound like an ongoing work of genius…

Next?

Holocausto – Guerra Total TAPE (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (October 5)

The Brazilian blackthrashers best known for Campo de Exterminio (and last year’s surprise return to form and that same lineup, War Metal Massacre) is back with yet another vintage-sounding (but recent!) demo.

Recorded live in studio, four tracks, sounds like fucking ’87 all over
again.

Hails are most certainly due!

Necrosleezer – Pope Kill 12″ MLP/CD (Nuclear War Now! Productions)

The guy who did vocals on Blasphemy’s rather unspectacular (and inessential) Gods of War and Blasphemy’s longtime drummer worked one demo and one EP back in the mid-90’s…and here it is, remastered into a more listener friendly form.

Surprisingly, this sounds very little like Blasphemy (or “war metal” per se), coming off more akin to a very template “bestial black” (as in Beherit, period) crossed with a sort of Brazilian blackthrash (as in INRI-era Sarcofago, but with a more Beherit/Bathory/Goatlord snotty gargle-snarl vocal approach.

So…why did Gods of War sound so…bland? Because ol’ “Necrosleezer” sounds pretty damn ferocious and sinister here

Oh, yeah, I liked this just fine.

After the lackluster Gods of War, who the hell knew the guy had it in him?

Damn good, particularly if you hold any affection towards the bands aforementioned.

Trollheims Grott – Aligned with the True Death (W.T.C.Productions) (October 31)

Finnish black metal, but with a Norwegian feel. They market themselves as “industrial black metal”, but it’s hardly the sort of thing Beherit was doing when they went all electronic, and nowhere near as obvious as Mysticum.

Even so, you can hear electronic bits and elements every so often, leaving this feeling like a quirky Norwegian black metal act (almost pushing Norsecore, even) with too many electronic elements bleeding through, like a sort of black metal Lacuna Coil or even (gah!) Slipknot (force back gag reflex, try not to vomit at the thought).

Oh, and then there are oddly proggy moments, like the solo and ending to the title cut…

So it depends. Are you viewing this as some weird electronic/industrial black metal crossover act? Or are you looking at them as a fairly typical Norsecore-leaning Nordic black metal band?

Because that’ll make all the difference.

If the former, they’re probably a lot more listenable than you were expecting.

If the latter…yeah, they kinda suck.

It’s all a matter of perspective, and where you stand in relation to what’s being offered here.

I know exactly where I stand.  How about you?

Sargeist – Unbound (W.T.C.Productions) (October 11)

Now that’s more like it.

It’s no secret that I walked into Third Eye a Horna fan from way back, with mainman Shatraug’s side project Sargeist getting some very good reviews from way back.

We’d tackled their excellent splits compilation Rebirth of a Cursed Existence and followup Feeding the Crawling Shadows in short order…then nothing.

Well, surprise, surprise, because they’re back, and in finer fettle than the last time we took the devil by the horns four and a half years ago.

Where former frontman seemed to be losing his grip somewhat on the latter release (see that earlier review for details), new frontman (and former Urn and True Black Dawn drummer!) Markus “Profundus” Tuonenjoki brings the goods, snarling away with assuredness in the manner of many a past Horna, Sargeist or Gorgoroth vocalist of yore. He even breaks into pained screams ala vintage Entombed on tracks like “to wander the night’s eternal path”, and it’s all surprisingly solid.

But of course, nothing would work without the nearly inimitable guitar tones and busy yet dramatic lead line driven tremelo of our man Pystynen himself, who alongside Roger “Infernus” Tiegs is the closest black metal will ever get to a guitar hero. *

* sorry, Toby Knapp…you’re a good player, but what you do is better suited to death metal. Just ask the man you cribbed the style from.

No weak points to be found here.

Raise the horns in salute.

Voodus – Into the Wild CD/LP/TAPE (Shadow) (November 26)

More black metal.  Vox are pretty crummy, but you’ve heard much worse in the genre.

At least the band knows to cool it and slow down enough to make a dramatic and/or melodic point…and it’s those moments that actually work.

There’s an overly prominent orientation towards really, really long intros where nothing happens, and when they start blasting and blastbeating away, it’s kind of pointless and blurred.

But those moments in between, of which there still are (thankfully) aplenty, are something special.

In the end, Voodus reminds the listener far more of Viking/black crossover acts like early Enslaved or Hades than any black metal proper. But is that such a bad thing?

Strongest tracks: “into the wild”, “dreams from an ancient mind pt. II”, “the terrain of moloch” (second half only).

AIHOS – Ikuisuuden Suojaan (Helter Skelter / Regain Records) (October 26)

Weird that this is Finnish…because they sound a hell of a lot like Gorgoroth. Maybe (just maybe) you could make a case for Sargeist (and therefore tag in Horna as well)…but it’s definitely more pointedly and obviously Gorgoroth.

The bombast, the drama, the atmosphere, the driving tremelo riffing and pronouncedly melodic lead lines…even the drumming is good when not falling back on the yawn inducing stupidity that is the blastbeat.

Vocals suit the music quite well, sounding “evil” and “inhuman” enough to work the proper magic(k), while never falling into the all-too usual over the top impossible to listen to thing that marks far too many a recent offering of this type. Hell, even the production is pretty damn good for the genre.

But when it comes down to brass tacks and coffin nails, as with Tiegs and Pystynen, the important thing is in the guitars (thus the massive flop that was God Seed…and a few latter day albums released under their tenure in Gorgoroth itself).

The riffs, the lead lines, the tone…this is what makes these bands special, even standing well above the competition (or great swathes thereof). This is what drives the atmosphere, what brings the larger than life feel…what makes ’em work.

And yeah…if there’s a worthy successor to either (or all three) of those bands among the up and comers, this pretty much proves Aihos may be it.

Raise the horns.

MALUM / LATHSPELL – Luciferian Nightfall (split) (Helter Skelter / Regain Records) (September 14)

Now here’s a more equivocal release.

It’s not quite clear what Malum is trying to be. “Void” is an extra long, droning doom-style track that picks up to a more expected gallop/running tempo at about the halfway point. So far, so good, though the doom bits were a hell of a lot more impressive than the full on total band experience.

Then comes “I am the vessel…” which is…er…the exact same riff, key and tempo as the faster portions of “void”.  Uh…yeah. Way to be creative, guys.

Finally, they go straight into indie post-black territory with the absurd “lucifer forever”. Seriously…not sure what the hell they were shooting for here, but it’s too goofy/happy and almost Misfitslike in vibe (at points) to take with any po-faced “credibility”. Sure, it can still fall under the header of “black metal”…but it’s reeeeeally pushing it at times.

Interestingly off kilter, and has its moments…but can’t say I was overly impressed, either. I’d call these guys right down the middle, if you’re looking for scoring.

Next comes Lathspell, who’s apparently been kicking around since ’98 to…well, no real acclaim.  Come on, have you ever heard of ’em?  I sure as hell haven’t, and I spent two full decades as a diehard black metaller…

And yeah, you can see why. The riffing feels uninspired and directionless (think “Emperor Magus Caligula” era Dark Funeral, then drop it a few notches to boot), there’s growly death metal vocals instead of black metal snarls, not a whole hell of a lot of atmosphere, the blastbeats never fucking stop…

Yeah, I guess you could throw it in a huge mix of black metal and nobody’d notice one way or the other, but that’s about the best you can say for ’em. Blackened wallpaper.

You may or may not like Malum, all caveats aside – they do seem to bear some watching, even hints of promise.

But coming on the heels of Aihos? Lathspell, and this split per se, are simply unacceptable.

Check out the Malum half and see where it takes ya.

INFERNARIUM – Pimeän Hotho (Helter Skelter / Regain Records) (September 28)

You probably guessed it from the band moniker and album title. Yep, it’s another Finnish black metal act. And they’re no Malus, much less an Aihos.

After being introduced by the (very distorted) bass at the intro, it takes the band a full two minutes in to the title track to lay down a killer riff…and they promptly drop the ball and go somewhere else entirely, never to revisit said riff again. Not good…

“Kadotuksen orja” is almost entirely out of key, atonal noise riffing, something you’ll encounter again in “saastaisesta valosta”. “Pimean hohto” is acoustic folk until well past the halfway mark.

Yeah…I can’t say this elicited much more than a dispirited yawn.

Too bad.  They had at least one great riff in them.

NECROBLOOD / PSYCHOMORPHIS – The Lurking Horror / Amorphous Chaos (Helter Skelter / Regain Records) (September 28)

France’s Necroblood work a doomy, sludgy take on death metal that’s one part Autopsy, two parts grindcore. It’s dark, slow (at least when not working a deliberately paced, uber-simplistic speed, as on “the lurking horror”) and filthy sounding. If you’re getting this split, they’re the reason.

Denmark’s Psychomorphis, on the other hand…well, it’s somewhere between “war metal” and “bestial black”, sounds like someone recorded ’em from a half mile down the road (it’s that bad, folks)…and yeah. It’s pretty awful.

Three tracks of Autopsyesque grind and about a dozen of your kid brother’s first band jamming out, as recorded by a friend from his open window, four houses down.

If you’re getting this split, Necroblood’s the reason.

ITERU – Ars Moriendi (Helter Skelter) (November 2)

Expansive feeling, oppressive, overly blackened take on doom/death.

Sounds good at least in part, right? Problem here lies in the hilariously on the nose Cookie Monster vocals (seriously…does he think he’s being cool doing that? I keep expecting him to make a mess of a bag of Chips Ahoy, crumbs flying everywhere…) and the thin, overly mids-prominent tone (and excess of reverb) on both guitar and vox.

It’s like they had something huge and gothic doom-introspective going on with “to the gravewarden” and to a lesser extent “through the duat”, but then made this huge misstep into more blackened territory, with a production style more suited to underground black/death ala Zom.

No, you need fatter tones, thicker and more oppressive ones…and beef up those droning neo-orchestral bits as well. I don’t know what the fuck this is…

Has promise, but needs some serious work to iron out the impurities.

KRYPTAMOK – Profaani (Helter Skelter) (November 26)

umm…did I hear anything after Morgal?

Yeah, apparently I’ve played this entire album through, and it didn’t even register, it’s that generic.

Okay, let’s try another skim through, maybe I was just distracted.

no…that’s not it. This really sounds that…wallpapery.

um…I liked the opening drum patterns on “kirous”? Some of the all too brief and comparatively underused keyboard and choral accompaniment reminded of Gloomy Grim and Tulus, respectively…

But, yeah, don’t take those to the bank, I’m not complimenting these guys in any way, shape or form.

(stifles yawn)

(rubs sleep out of eyes)

So! Were we talking about anything?

oh, yeah, these guys.

mmm…yeah, forget you ever heard ’em.

Even if you get the album, you will within 5 seconds after it ends, anyway.

Next?

Mz.412 – In Nomine Dei Nostri Satanas Luciferi Excelsi (AnnapurnA) (December 21)

Oy, another one. Not sure how these will settle out in the published version, but this one came directly on the heels of the likeminded Shibalba.

Now, from nearly soundless emptiness with a smattering of mumbled chanting and ringing bowl-style bullshit to sputtering tubes and diodes done Throbbing Gristle style may seem like a further stretch than it actually is, but the core intent is the same…and the utter pointlessness (and ugly, wrong vibes being given off) are exactly the same.

More shit for the Pyre, long may it burn.

Goats of Doom – Rukous (Primitive Reaction) (December 7)

Wow, those are some seriously terrible vocals!

Honestly, I can’t decide whether the shriek-snarls or the vomit-fart belches are worse…

What’s weirdest about this act is that they append The Worlds Worst Black Metal Vocals (TM) to some seriously strange music that crosses the borders of moody gothic rock (in the slower, more clean vocalled sections of tracks like “tuhkasta valettu” or “rukous”), classic rock (the solo sections on “veressa on perustani juuret”) or even traditional folk (the intro and portions of “law ov liberty”).

And did I mention there’s a lot of melodicism poking its head through all this shrieking and puking and half driving black metal (that keeps veering into bizarrely mismatched outside-genre corridors)?

Remember the old Western trope, “shoot the piano player”?

Yeah. “Shoot the frontman,” metaphorically speaking.

Then find a proper producer, to take all the rest of this noisy, hissy, mids heavy chaos and make it sound listenable…because there’s good moments buried beneath some really bad sound, and The Worlds Worst Black Metal Vocals (TM).

Sheesh!

Next?

Disciples of the Void – S/T (Primitive Reaction) (December 7)

Weirdly hoarse rasps and snarls over some ridiculously overbearing “symphonic” keyboards and generic black metal riffing.

Strangely enough, this is a Finnish duo. Strange because there’s precious little of the melodicism and fire the nation’s become known for in terms of black metal…this is a rather tepid throwback to the days when Dimmu, Cradle and the highly overrated Emperor held sway, but without the “norm”-baiting “catchiness” of Dimmu, the darkly gothic and Decadent vibe of Cradle or the – let’s be honest – sheer unlistenability of Emperor (why they’re so universally venerated is completely beyond me, I’m sorry, they just plain suck and always did.)

Disciples of the Void is as unlikely to offend the putative listener as it is to engage the curiosity and imagination thereof, as middle of the road and yawn inducing as it is retro for all the wrong things.

If you can stifle a yawn long enough to give it a listen, you’re probably the intended audience for such.

The rest of us already know to steer clear of blowfly swarm-infested cowpats like this.

Blood Chalice (Finland) – S/T CD + DVD/10″ EP (Blood Harvest) (October 26)

We covered their Demo 2016 and found it, much like Profanatica’s body of work, to be rather pointlessly doofy and of questionable merit (other than as a tool to piss off the neighbors and make them question your sanity/musical tastes).

Here, you may be able to argue they’ve been granted slightly better production, but it’s more of the same overly stiff and goofy sounding take on “bestial black metal”.

Hey, look. I still love early Beherit, a whole hell of a lot more than Blasphemy and their peers, in fact. It’s got a weird, sinister atmosphere and feel to it that touches very different areas of the mind and spirit, and just plain works.

This, however…decidedly ain’t Beherit.

Is it the worst thing you’ve ever heard? No. Is it particularly bad among “bestial black” acts? No.

Is it worth your time and money?

That depends on just how hard up you are for this stuff, and exactly how far you can stick your tongue into your own cheek while listening to same.

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