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So, yeah, it’s been another month, and my foray into the (for yours truly) previously neglected corners of European power metal continues, with the new heavyweights of airplay shifting from long beloved acts like Rhapsody, Sonata Arctica, Alestorm and early Hammerfall to settle in on the unholy triumvirate of Edguy, Elvenking…and Powerwolf.*

* well, since this intro was written, the powerfully vocalled Brainstorm, who also did all their good work after moving to AFM, by the way (hell, I’d venture that not only is Midnight Ghost worthy of being noted as album of the year, but as a career pinnacle) has moved up to make this very much of a foursome…but even so.

That’s right. I said the P word again. But did you notice who just slipped in to the frontrunners?

Yep, last month I’d mentioned a burgeoning affection towards Mandrake/Hellfire Club era Edguy, which has blossomed into…well, their entire career with AFM (Hellfire Club marked their move to Nuclear Blast, and while that album remains unimpeachable, their subsequent career…well, lets be nice and say the highlights are a whole lot more rarified than they were in their heyday.

And yeah, I’m including Space Police, where Sammet sounds less like a younger, more emphatic and fun loving cross between Michael Kiske and Bruce Dickinson, and more like an oversmoked old man, ala Bloodgood’s Les Carlson. Yeesh!

And Powerwolf, I’ve settled in on their last few albums in their double disc incarnations, (though without question, Communio Lupatum blows the living shit out of the actual album it’s bundled with, sorry…) but a few choice cuts aside (mostly covered on that second all-star disc), Preachers of the Night and Blessed and Possessed are their most polished A game high points, don’t believe the hype about the early stuff.

But one I didn’t mention last time around, because it was more of a tentative thing at the time…was another surprise.

Sure, we more or less gave the thumbs up to their last few, inclusive of the live album even (never a go-to around here, “live” tends to mean “inessential” if not “for diehard fans only”), but memories of another questionable third tier Italian power metal band (whose name I ran across a few weeks back, realized my mistake…and promptly forgot again!* Suffice to say, they suck…) left us with a disbelieving eye towards the prospect that they may actually have been halfway decent, once…something their full on emo period (cough Scythe) and the yawn and stretch period that followed (Era, Red Silent Tides) only cemented.

* and a few days later, it came to me.  Spellblast.  “Horns of Silence” was the album in question, many a year ago…

But then I got exposed to Wyrd. Yep, the one “Damna”‘s not even on.

You know, their best album.

And then there’s the spotty (but absolutely killer when it works, like the AFI gone folk/power of “trow’s kind”) Winter’s Wake. And the often excellent Pagan Manifesto. Even Two Tragedy Poets (a certain rather bizarre choice of cover tune aside) and at least the recycled demo tracks off Heathenreel.

Yeah, they’re quite spotty, and we overestimated the worth of their Secrets of the Magick Grimoire, which comes off as rather dull and generically power metal by comparison. But when they really kick in with the neo-Celtic folk bits, and “Damna” starts with his dead on Davey Havok impressions…yeah.

Hell, tracks like you find on Winter’s Wake are AFI through and through, but adapted to a very different palette and medium…excellent example of how a good band can do syncretization and adaptation!

Seriously. When these guys are on, they’re on.  The energy, the good vibes, a sort of anthemic, fight-ready feel you can’t quite get from any of the genres they’re gathering together (but when thrown together, winds up amplified dramatically)…why do you guys have to be so god damned spotty?

Well, here’s hoping Secrets was another unexpected detour ala The Scythe, to be course corrected on the next (Sally) go-round (the roses). Because while I love the young Sammet’s voice, and the cheesy singalong beer hall anthems of Powerwolf are surprisingly compelling? On the tracks where they get it down (i.e. more folky and punky, less generically power metallish), Elvenking may actually be my favorite of the three.

Stick that in your hookah and smoke it.

STEPHEN PEARCY – View to a Thrill (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (November 9)

Well, White Lion vet Greg D’Angelo is no longer part of the proceedings after last February’s Smashbut someone’s apparently tightened the bolts and cracked the whip on Pearcy and company, offering a steadier ship, one more familiar to fans of his Ratt heyday (or at least their direct knockoff Whitecross, around the same era).

Pearcy’s vocals are still on the edge of falling apart, but there’s less uncertainty and obvious warbling failures than we were all unfortunately privy to on the last go ’round.

Oddly, promo materials try to talk up his sideman Erik Ferentinos like he’s some fretboard genius, but there’s simply nothing impressive to report on that front.

In point of fact, you’ve heard more flashy guitar work in bands like Poison and Cinderella than you’ll ever get out of this guy. Passably simplistic, sure…but even C.C. blew this guy right the fuck off the stage, no questions asked.

That said, he and Pearcy obviously work well together, given the generally apropos riffing and decided improvements shown in this album over Smash.

The only thing I really don’t get is all the Bond film title references, which stretch from song titles, album name and cover to actual lyrics (“double shot” in particular). There doesn’t seem to be any purpose to them, and following that thread leads to a brick wall. And why does he keep going on about The Crying Game, you have to wonder? Has the man been “experimenting” in his private life or something? Yeesh…

But all that aside, here’s the bottom line: while it’s hardly up to the glory days of Di Martini, Crosby and company, View to a Thrill is certainly the best we’ve seen from Pearcy in recent years.

Take that as you will, but them’s the facts.

TEN – Illuminati (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (November 9)

We’d covered this UK AOR act’s Gothica last summer, and appreciated their unusual subject matter as much as their smooth, well produced and polished approach to music, despite it’s surprising lightness given the decidedly dark subject matter.

Here things take another odd curve, losing the fascinating subject matter in favor of that cheesy old right wing conspiracy theory about “secret string pullers” that influence world sociopolitic and economics “behind the scenes”. To be fair, they’re also on the side of billionaire “dark money” SuperPAC types, who fund right wing politicians world over to their own selfish ends…so if anyone’s going to believe in a silly theory like this, they’re the ones with the most supporting evidence and fingers in the till to prove it!

But we’re hardly talking the likes of Sheldon Adelson and ALEC here.  No, this is the absurd Eye in the Triangle Masonic conspiracy crap perpetuated by SF authors and loons like Robert Anton Wilson…and a pretty loosely connected collection of songs, all balladeering and happy radio pop rock about…you know, Sir Francis Bacon and the Hellfire Club and all that shit.*

* Not really, that’d be much more interesting. But you get the idea.

Yawn.

Well, the music isn’t far divorced from last time around, still oddly light, soft and happy given the lyrics and concept involved…but a whole hell of a lot less interesting this time around. What’s next, a cover of Ministry’s “new world order”?

Can’t fault the band for remaining polished…but sorry, unless you’re a card carrying member of the tin foil hat crowd (the guv’mint’s a-comin’ after yer military assault weapons!) there’s really nothing to see here, this time around.

NORDIC UNION – Second Coming (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (November 9)

Pretty Maids’ Ronnie Atkins (here sounding a whole hell of a lot more like Shakra’s John Prakesh than himself – I actually had to confirm this wasn’t a Swiss Desi/Swedish Union this time around, so close does Atkins come to Prakesh’s approach and tonality) and W.E.T.’s Erik Martensson come back together for another Nordic Union album.

This time around, they lose the guest lead players (like the guy from Unleashed…still can’t wrap the ol’ noggin around that one…) in
favor of a stripped down Two Men and a Drummer operation.

Other than that, not much has changed – Martensson brings the big hooks and strong production, Atkins bolsters his…well, rather Back On Track-ish vocals with sweet multitracked choruses, the whole thing is catchy and melodic as shit.

You know, just like Back on Track was.

The only problem here? Way too many ballads taking up the running time. The midtempo rockers are all pretty damn sweet, but there simply aren’t enough of ’em.

Good stuff, but they probably should have trimmed all the ballads off and released the rest as an EP…would have been on a lot of folks’ best of show lists, for sure.

HOLTER – Vlad the Impaler (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (November 9)

HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!

Remember Swing of Death?

You know, that comedy “rock opera” concept album thing the always dependably cheesy Jorn Lande and Jorn sideman Trond Holter brought to life…excuse me, “undeath”…

(long sardonic pause for comedic effect)

ahem. …a few years back?

That’s right, this one.

so…yeah.  Once more, with gusto, and without Lande anywhere in sight.

Because, you know, goofy-ass Phantom of the Opera cheesefests about fucking Dracula are always in hot demand, right?

Now, if it was less about Bela Lugosi and the stageplay he made famous and more about the psychopathic Wallachian sadist who tortured folks and made guests eat dinner surrounded by moaning impaled near-corpses, this would have been…pretty damn freaky, to say the least.

…oh, wait. You mean it is?

And it still sounds this cheesy.

Seriously.

(shakes head in disbelief)

(takes long breath, holds it, aborts reflexive response, thinking silence a better option)

um…alrighty, then!

Well, this is…special. And some great riffs, there. You know the kind where you take a riff, climb it up a whole tone, then transpose it down a whole tone, then back up to another? That sort of lazy “songwriting”, famed for bad song endings from Bon Jovi to Skid Row back in the day?

Okay, I’m done. I’ll let the man’s own…er, libretto speak for me.

“You’re just an ugly monster, no grace for what you’ve done!”

Indeed.

RED DRAGON CARTEL – Patina (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (November 9)

You know, back in the day, even as a major Randy Rhoads fan (one of two men who inspired me to take up the guitar in the first damn place, there…), I always liked “bark at the moon” (the song, not the decidedly mediocre album it was part of) and especially The Ultimate Sin.

Unfairly maligned to the point where the associated DVD wound up as a Japan only import (yeah, you know I had to get it), this may have been derided as “Ozzy’s glam period”, but it was the best and most consistent album the guy’s ever recorded outside of the two Blizzard of Ozz albums (or the first three Black Sabbath ones prior to that).

I mean, seriously – Zakk Wylde? Randy with squelch harmonics, barely had a half an album of material in him before going all unforgivable balladeering (the atrocious No More Tears) and Southern groove (Black Label Society). And who the hell even cares what came after that? Ozzy is famous for that first trilogy, maybe four Sabbath records and the two Rhoads/Blizzard ones…and should be, for Ultimate Sin as well. Otherwise, he’s an addlebrained clown who steps in dog food dishes. Nuff said.

But where that classic Ozzy album showed Jake’s melodic tendencies (and some agressive riffing and leads to boot), the first thing I associate with the man (beyond his classic canvas hi top sneakers, anyway) is Badlands.

Occupying some unique netherworld between heavy metal and classic rock, between the post-GNR Hollywood tattooed junkie thing (all Aerosmith and Hanoi Rocks worship, even at its best) and actual traditional metal, Lee’s out of control leads and raw Marshall stack driven guitar tone elevated the first Badlands (and to some extent, its successor Voodoo Highway) well above the competition…and I mean the rather overrated Saul “Slash” Hudson and the similarly oft impressive Tracii Guns in specific.

So it was with quite the eyebrow raise that I noted the complete disappearance of the man from the music scene after the death of frontman Ray Gillen (great singer, but geez, guy, you could’ve tapped Hades/Watchtower/Non-Fiction frontman Alan Tecchio to much the same result…), and even more of one when his out of the blue return to the recording studio came on the part of 2014’s Red Dragon Cartel, whose sound was rather far afield of the man’s earlier work, whether of
the Ozzy era or that of Badlands.

So it is with much relief that I am proud to report that questionable choice of vocalist aside (I’m sorry, but Darren James Smith clearly studied at the feet of grungesters like Layne Staley and Chris Cornell, rather than any actual metal frontman), Patina sounds a whole fuck of a lot closer to Badlands Mark II than anything on display last time around.

The same guitar tone, the same play with its mechanics and what non-fretted sounds and bits of business can be evoked from it with few if any outside effects pedals or processing, the same teetering off the rails vibe…only the solos are more subdued, less wild and showoffish.  And that disappoints the living shit out of me.

But look. Unlike what we saw four years ago? Here Jake is making a statement.

“I may be older, even perhaps a little bit calmer…but make no mistake, I am back.”

And I, for one, can certainly live with that.

A little more piss and vinegar, maybe take that hint about Tecchio or someone of that ilk…and yeah. We may have somewhat of a successor to Badlands at last.

   

SUIDAKRA – Cimbric Yarns (AFM Records) (November 16)

We’d covered this somewhat confused German act’s Eternal Defiance and Realms of Odoric previously, and the main issue with them is that they never really seemed to commit to a particular style or subgenre corner in the ever-more expansive metal landscape.

Were they some sort of “melodeath” (as the band once would have you believe)? Bordering on black metal? Or more of a symphonically oriented folk metal? This was always in question, not merely from one album to the next, but from one track to the next, much to their detriment.

But however glacially, there appears to have been a shift going on.  Eternal Defiance was a whole hell of a lot more iffy and confused than the more symph/folk/pagan leaning Realms of Odoric…which brings us to Cimbric Yarns.

Now, this may well be a deliberate “experiment”, akin to Manegarm’s
excellent Urminnes Havd, Ulver’s Kveldssanger or Elvenking’s Two Tragedy Poets, where the band pointedly tones things down, drops most of the distortion and aggression and lets the songs speak for themselves. While each of those albums were great in their own right, it was generally good to see them return to their more accepted style with subsequent albums (Manegarm, perhaps, aside…that album remains their pinnacle).

But in this case? I’m seriously hoping this is the face of the “new” Suidakra.

All those elements that elevated earlier albums, particularly Odoric, are herein focused on and amplified. Male/female vocals (occasional, but most welcome). Clean vox throughout. Ren Faire-style acoustic instrumentation, but appended by more bombastic choral and symphonic group participation. The whole thing feels quite traditional/pagan in the same sense as each of the aforementioned bands and albums, particularly early Elvenking.

To say this is the best of the Suidakra albums we’ve covered is an understatement.

I’m just hoping they keep things moving more in this direction going forward, and don’t revert to all those ridiculous black and death metal tropes (and silly vox) to make up for this quite essential release.

Your efforts here most assuredly have my blessing.

Go forth, gentlemen, and sin no more.

Brothers Of Metal – Prophecy Of Ragnarök (AFM Records) (November 16)

um…can they really be “brothers”, when the only important voice you’ll hear is that of a female?

This brand new Swedish power metal act brings the cheese and lightness that country is known for in terms of mainstream metal, AOR and power metal, their simplistic, sing-songy melodies and choruses evoking easy (but indirect) comparisons to Sabaton. Sabaton drops the war schtick and goes Viking?

OK, here’s the deal. They have one real vocalist, a certain Ilva Eriksson, who’s left to carry the weight bearing load over co-frontpeople Joakim Eriksson (who drops one of the silliest snarly-growl performances you’re likely to hear outside Gerhard Felix Stass) and Mats Nilsson, who may or may not handle the Joakim Broden raspy howls, but seems to be credited mostly with the ridiculous spoken word bits, which would just be pathetic if that’s all he’s there for.

So yeah, I’m going to give him credit for the howl vox, which are at least genre-appropriate…I don’t know what the fuck the male Eriksson’s deal is…does he think he’s auditioning for Crematory or something?

The rest of this…yeah, I don’t know. It’s pretty limp even for the most template of power metal, not very pagan, Viking or folk despite the image, too soft, too forgettable to really care about.

I mean, if one of their songs came up on random, you’d be unlikely to jump up to skip tracks. But it’s equally unlikely you’ll find yourself asking, “damn, who was that? I really need to get a copy of that album!”

Bottom line, they’re just starting. Better things may come.

But Ilva Eriksson, while ultimately fairly workaday among power/gothic metal femme vocalists, deserves a better showcase than this rather silly, inconsequential act.

Who knows, maybe they’ll be a big hit on the festival stage. Don’t ask me.

(sighs)

…next?

BillyBio – Feed The Fire (AFM Records) (November 30)

Holy crap, now here’s a blast from the past.

Remember Biohazard? NYC hardcore act that had some hip hop crossover? One great album (the debut), some of which got recycled for their major label followup (Urban Discipline)? Wound up on the soundtrack to one of those New Jack gang banger flicks (Judgment Night)?

Yeah, them. I remember playing the shit out of the first album back in the day, for a few months there. “Punishment” and “wrong side of the tracks” got a lot of local airplay, too. Good stuff given what was going on at the time in music.

Well, this is the one that didn’t go into porn afterwards. No, seriously. Not shitting you there.

(rolls eyes)

(big ol’ sigh ensues…)

So! Anyway!

This is the other one, whose name probably sums up his own feelings on that whole situation. “There but for the grace of God”.*

* seriously, go ask an Italian.

Well, a lot of years have passed since I last heard Biohazard, and while it’s not the same dynamic (for all his other quirks, the porn star and Graziadei served as good counterpoint to one another) and the hip hop elements are, perhaps gratefully, more or less lost to time, you can at least tell its coming from the same place.

I’d peg this one somewhere between the post-John Joseph Cro Mags (Graziadei sounds like a rabid dog here…or a cut rate Harley Flanagan, take your pick) and the faux-punk revival crap Rancid more or less cornered the market on (looks right, the political stance is more or less there, but the sound is way the fuck off target…) – “generation Z” being a prime example of the latter.

Now, to be fair, Biohazard was never straight up hardcore, at least not in the sense the old guard considers such. They hailed more from the crossover thing that included the likes of DRI, MOD, Agnostic Front and the Cro-Mags on one hand, and the post-MacKaye/Rollins/Dubar sXe scene, with bands like Bold, Judge and In My Eyes.

It’s unmistakeably punk at core, but there’s a fuck of a lot of metal in there, and in some cases (like Biohazard’s) a little hip hop here, a little 90’s grunge there (hell, Turning Point pretty much invented emo, for better or worse).

So if you’re good with that and/or love vintage Biohazard, tracks like “sodality”, “STFU” and “untruth” should bring back (hopefully good) memories of those strange interim years between mainstream, thrash and death metal and a long, embarrassing death (and much mockery) at the hands of all things grunge, aggro and nu.

Yeah, the 90’s kinda sucked. There’s no two ways about it.

But right at the beginning, for a year or two, things were still happening here and there…Graziadei’s former act being one of ’em.

Ashes Of Ares – Well Of Souls (Rock Of Angels Records) (November 9)

OK, this one kicked off (for yours truly, you know the story, regular readers) with “you know my name”, which introduced a guy who sounded like a drunken, overly raspy Richard Marx before actually opening his throat to sound like…a drunken Paul Stanley, without the lisp.

Next track, the opener “consuming the mana”…and he’s Rob Halford all of a sudden, at least for that first high note. Then it’s back to the Paul Stanley after a hard night at the ol’ boozer…

…oof! What the fuck was THAT?

Yeah, partway through the song, he starts trying to be Phil Anselmo all of a sudden…yeesh!

The man in question? Matt Barlow, former frontman of Iced Earth and, however briefly, Pyramaze. Well, that figures. The only listenable Iced Earth album I’ve come across featured Tim “Ripper” Owens on vox…

That said, don’t expect all the howlin’ an’ a-growlin’ bullshit that keeps Iced Earth all but unlistenable. There’s a whole lotta ersatz Paul Stanley going down here.

The band themselves? Not far removed from either of his past acts, somewhat proggy, if a bit too thrashy and aggressive metal of a decidedly modernist bent.

Guitars are decent if overly busy, production’s good, and Barlow himself sounds good, keeping those Anselmo bits to a comparative minimum and sticking more to the Stanley by way of Tom Waits thing…which to a guy who knows Paul was the closest thing to talent Kiss ever had (bar a few fill in guitarists in the 80’s) is hardly a bad thing to be saying.

Is this some great vocalist for the ages, a band to be held in the highest renown?

Are you fucking kidding me? No.

But is Barlow a decent enough singer, with plenty of force and confidence on the mic to carry even a generic sounding band like this, despite a weird insistence on trying to revert to growly aggro tropes at random intervals?

Definitely, yes. And I didn’t mind him at all, that aside.

Here’s hoping he whips that band into shape to deliver something more worthy of his apparent talents.

Ginger Red – Donuts And Coffee (El Puerto Records GbR) (November 9)

German hard rock band in the modern style (i.e. much like Shakra or The New Black, crossing the border between AOR and downtuned modern metal).

They have a frontwoman who goes by “The Mad” (presumably a Madeline of some sort) and their songs are catchy enough, but the tone seems a bit confused.

The general impression is that they’re trying to be a goofy, good humored party band, but somewhere between the guitar tone and a few of the song lyrics (such as the police state-related “get down”) that’s lost entirely to a more gritty, po-faced feel. It’s never quite downbeat, but hardly the sort of thing you’ll throw on for an after work pick me up either.

I guess if you dig what The New Black is throwing down and don’t mind more of a femme fronted Nashville feel, you may well appreciate Ginger Red a whole lot more than I did.

Color me nonplussed.

Flight – A Leap Through Matter (High Roller Records) (November 30)

You know, promo materials note these Norwegian’s sonic indebtedness to Saxon, and that’s obvious. But so is a bit of Heavy Load, Budgie, Sweet Savage and especially early Praying Mantis.

Yep, these guys are more NWOBHM than any twenty modern acts claiming to work that vintage sound…and that’s a good thing. Oddly, something about the production here also spells “vinyl rip”. There’s that oddly thin, distorted sound that leaves the listener practically hearing the hiss and crackles of the needle hitting the grooves.

Vinyl obsessives should absolutely love that about them…I found it their lone failing.

Questionable production (or rip/transfer, who knows if that was deliberate on the part of High Roller, to send out a rip from the vinyl rather than the actual studio master?) aside, these guys are seriously dead on, and the closest approximation I’ve yet encountered to the oddly NWOBHM yet not, highly melodic yet gritty and powerful sound of Sweden’s Heavy Load or France’s High Power.

And that’s a really, really good thing, given how much yours truly loves the High Power debut and the classic diptych of Death or Glory and Stronger than Evil.

So why are you still sitting here, again?

Go! Get this damn thing, already!

Steve Kilbey – Sydney Rococo (Golden Robot Records) (November 23)

Okay, is there a self respecting goth…or 80’s music fan, or indie rocker on Earth who doesn’t know and love The Church? I mean, at the very least for their signature album Starfish, with its defining hit “under the milky way”?

So here’s a solo album (apparently one among dozens he’s released over the years) that finds Kilbey in fine voice and respectable form musically, despite the sheer weight of years separating this album from Starfish.

You have to pause and wonder, sometimes, given just how much time has passed since so many of our musical heroes’ heyday – is this how Sinatra fans felt in the 70’s and 80’s? How Elvis fans must have felt at the end of his Vegas career? How Beatles fans felt about The Traveling Wilburys and McFartney’s increasingly irrelevant solo career in the 80’s and 90’s?

Okay, now we’re going too far. The former Beatles really toppled precipitously come the 80’s, there’s simply no excuse for their work of that period and beyond…of course, that can (and should) also be said of their psychedelic period, so hey. Anyway...

So…yeah, if you’ve never heard The Church outside of Starfish, this is sort of like a more trippy, lighthearted Nick Cave or a less depressive Robert Smith, if you can picture some odd conflation of the two. Some strings, some piano, some full band stuff, it’s vaguely similar to Enuff Z’Nuff in a strange way, but much more listenable and likeable…or perhaps somewhat akin to The Mission (UK) with a lot less of the gothic sheen and veneer.

A few tracks like “the lonely city”, “when I love her she sings” and “sydney rococo” are even (surprisingly or no) quite Churchlike, with Kilbey sounding…much the same as he did all those years ago. Go figure.

It’s like the sort of “used to be in a good band solo album” things my former hippie pal Barry used to drop on people all the time (he was a huge record collector, with rather widespread and bizarre tastes). You’d always be surprised by a track or three, amidst the dross.

Take that sort of thing, and make the entire album more listenable (if a tad more mellow) than you’d expect…BAM, you’ve got this album.

Mixed take due to all the mellowness…but it is nice to hear the man in fine form, as if it were still the mid to late 80’s.

Amaranthe – HELIX (Spinefarm Records) (October 19)

Like a more melodically inclined, far less detuned and self consciously “gothic” Lacuna Coil, Amaranthe is one of those silly “beauty and beast” acts, overly electronic and simplistic in a bid for radio airplay but aggressive and melodic enough to serve the metal crowd as well.

Their appeal is, like Lacuna Coil, centered entirely on femme frontwoman Elize Ryd, whose pop oriented alto serves the band as well as their oft bombastic choruses.

The downsides are, like Lacuna Coil, having to put up with the half assed Slipknotisms of Henrik Wilhelmsson, growling and belching away like he should be wearing one of those garbageman jumpsuits and a goofy mask, the overly simplistic child’s mobile-style keyboard riffs and electronic noises and the overly detuned, lunkheadedly nu metallish guitars at the verses.

You’ve heard it all before, the only exception to the template here being third co-frontman Nils Molin, who delivers pleasant enough if forgettable clean vocals at points. Sadly, it’s Wilhelmsson who predominates when Ryd isn’t center stage…which should be all of the time, particularly to judge by their rather excellent showing on Powerwolf’s Comunio Lupatum.

I’m not calling for a Ryd solo career – she just needs to be fronting the band either solo or with Molin. Tuning up the guitars a few steps and dropping all the silly electronic/synth business would help, too.

Bottom line? Ryd’s just fine to these eyes and ears, and Molin delivers a perfectly acceptable performance as vocal counterpoint.

It’s the rest of this that remains in question, and will most assuredly test the patience of all but the most devoted of listeners.

Shining – Animal (Spinefarm Records) (October 19)

Look, he’s “Cool As Ice”!

Seriously.  Vanilla Ice?  Come on, guy…

Yep, it’s the other Shining once again, back with their odd “blackjazz” thing…

…oh, wait. You mean they’re not working that nonsense anymore?

Whoa, hold up. They’re trying to be Amaranthe? While dropping vintage Vanilla Ice visuals?

OK, just who’s been smoking what, here?

Sure enough, lots of pop radio-style synthpop keyboards, big, simple detuned riffs that fall somewhere between “modern metal” and “indie rock”, raspy vox that go screamo at random intervals…yeesh.

Yeah, I’m sure they’ll play the shit out of this on a certain college radio station of questionable “metal” status.

That don’t make this metal, or worth your time, assuming you’ve graduated from the pimply faced, testosterone explosive teenaged demographic, where anything angry seems to find acceptance, if not outright undeserved praise.

look, someone’s a Trekkie…nice makeup! Frank Gorshin, much?

The Browning – Geist (Spinefarm Records) (October 26)

Well, we covered these Kansas City screamo types’ Isolation a few years back, and, well, the fact that there’s a song about our frontman’s favorite anime, which is (of all unfunny, ostensibly “ironic”, one note joke dogshit modern anime) One Punch Man should say it all.

This one feels a lot more electronic/industrial than we remember the last one being…but trust me, we do put the crappy ones out of our heads as soon and permanently as humanly possible, just for the sake of maintaining relative sanity.

Holy fuck, I really, really hated One Note Joke…er, One Punch Man.

Extrapolate the obvious parallel here, if you will.

Then toss the damn thing in the Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards for me, willya? I’m moving on and forgetting this one even existed.

SHVPES – Greater Than (Spinefarm Records) (November 9)

Ah, Sh-vippees! We had a good laugh on this pretentiously sub-ancient Roman monikered act’s last album reviewed here and found it melodic and oddly listenable, despite all its hipster aggro affectations.

Oddly, this one comes off as a weird copy of (get this) Rage Against the Machine, with (of all people) Bruce Dickinson’s son Griffin pulling off a dead on Zack de la Rocha on “counterfeit”…and “calloused hands”…and “someone else”…and “rain”, and so on, and so on.  There’s even a weird, very Cockney rap track (“two wrongs, no rights”).

Um…is this even the same band? Seriously…

Well, no idea what happened here, or what we were hearing last time around, because the best you can say about Greater Than is that it’s Equal To vintage Rage Against the Machine…whatever the fuck that means to you.

Look, I appreciated Rocha’s nigh-anarchist stance of resistance to a society that (at the time, was just beginning to) run away from us, a trickle up economy dead set on a slow but steady stripping of freedoms and protections against the malfeasance of rich politicians and the corporatocrats that own them, lock, stock and barrel.  But musically?  That band was just shit.

So…here’s a Rage Against the Machine cover band, from England.

With Bruce Dickinson’s son playing Rocha.

(raises eyebrows, shakes head in disbelief)

…your move, I guess.

(sighs)

…next?

SODOM – Partisan EP (Steamhammer / SPV) (November 23)

It’s amazing how some of these bands just keep soldiering on.

I mean, not just the “big names” like Priest and Maiden and AC/DC and Sabbath, each of whom has appeared to be on the verge of calling it quits several times over the years, only to mysteriously reunite for yet another “comeback tour” and album…but the third tier ones, who bear a more specialized audience than even the likes of, say, Saxon.

Onslaught is one of these, always having occupied a niche somewhere between mocked and ignored, before being grudgingly accepted…but only for their earliest efforts. Hell, it even took me forever to come around and appreciate In Search of Sanity for the rather excellent one-off melodic power metal/thrash affair it actually is. Another? Look no further than Sodom.

Now, I remember back in the day, even the smallest and most obscure of fanzines looked at Sodom as a big joke. Kreator was raw and violent. Destruction was quirky and progressive for a Teutonic blackthrash act. But Sodom? This went beyond posthumous designations as being more “blue collar” than their peers. They were sloppy, noisy, regressive…and laughed at by most even within the furthest reaches of the metal community.

But then came the second wave of black metal, and suddenly all these new, hardline acts became the focus of global attention (arguably more for their transgressions and terroristic aspects than their actual music, at least at the time). Where the hell did all this come from, people asked.

And folks like “Euronymous” were happy to explain.  Those very atavistic acts everyone mocked, marginalized and all but ignored just a few years prior. Venom. Early Sepultura, Sarcofago and Vulcano. Kreator. Destruction.  And especially…Sodom.

And a lot of us went back to those dusty tapes in the collection, or took another look at a band we all used to knock…and saw merit, perhaps for the first time. Damn, In the Sign of Evil and Persecution Mania actually had some strong material…and hell if that sloppiness and nasty vocals didn’t come off sounding obscure, sinister, bizarre…and kinda evil!

So here we are, many years on from that (and way too many spins of those classic discs to recount), and Sodom’s still kicking around. They’ve come a long way (too far, in fact) from those early classics and their sound…but on the other hand, they haven’t moved all that far at all.

Look at the Final Sign of Evil, where the entire original lineup went back in studio to rerecord (and in most cases, record for the first time!) all the material originally intended to appear on the full length album that time and funding reduced to an EP. No, it’s not as powerful as the original…but it sounds pretty damn close, given the remove of time between recordings!

That said, however, most recent Sodom has been…well, not as far removed from template as Onslaught, but definitely more modernized, almost polished, without even the Bay Area-leaning thrash melodicism of Agent Orange to their credit. The only thing holding ’em together is Tom Angelripper’s nasty blackened vocals, and that only goes so far.

But here we have a three track EP (well, two new studio tracks and a live version of a vintage Sodom classic)…and you know, for something a good 33 years removed from the band’s heyday? This don’t sound half bad, kid!

Don’t walk in expecting miracles – Expurse of Sodomy Mk II this ain’t. But yeah, this is pretty solid stuff for a modern era Sodom, with at least the title track bearing one of those vintage style riffs that just won’t quit or leave your head.

VIRGIN STEELE – Seven Devils Moonshine (Steamhammer / SPV) (November 23)

Wow, Virgin Steele, huh? Damn.

I’ll make no bones about it, I love the Jack Starr era.

The debut and Guardians of the Flame (and subsequent Wait for the Night EP)? Great stuff, particularly Guardians (and Starr’s numerous projects and acts thereafter, throughout the 80’s and even with his recent Burning Starr comeback album, Stand Your Ground.

Of course, that was only the earliest work of these Long Island (say it as one word, accent on the “gi”) USPM pioneers.

Would-be Eric Adams and ivory tinkler Dave DeFeis continued on for a few decent albums (Age of Consent in particular, but Noble Savage also) and a few…overly ambitious ones (The Marriage of Heaven & Hell Pts. 1-2), before going over the edge into pretentious pomposity and losing the hooks and melodic underpinnings entirely (sorry, you lost me at that neverending, growly vox and long talky intros-bedecked House of Atreus thing).  You can grab all the post-Starr stuff worth having* in one convenient box set, which is nice.

* plus Love Among the Ruins, which there’s really no excuse for.

So here we are in 2018…and surprise! Here comes another Virgin Steele box set, and it’s a big one.

Now, normally, when someone says “box set”, you’re figuring on repackaged albums, or perhaps a multi disc “greatest hits” with a few unreleased demos or B-sides as a selling point. Nope.

Well…sorta. But not really.

You do get both greatest hits albums (Hymns to Victory and Book of Burning) repackaged…sadly, we did not, which only becomes annoying in the case of the latter, which featured 5 new and exclusive songs alongside a number of re-recordings. Come on, you could have at least included that, guys…

But what we can all agree on and speak to (ahem) is the first three discs, two of which are entirely new and a third which is mostly orchestral reworkings of older Steele tracks. Nice stuff to be sure, but why not send the entire set out for review?

Anyway, this is, like a lot of De Feis’ work after the split with Starr, a bombastic yet decidedly uneven affair.

Moments work a whole hell of a lot better than the tuneless Atreus, with winning (if oddly over-intimate) moments like “psychic slaughter” and “hearts on fire”, but you’re going to have to deal with the fact that there’s a hell of a lot of piano solo business taking up the bulk of the collection.

Interestingly, it’s this very fact and minimalist setting which gives a head scratching questioning of just where the hell the man’s head is at, when you hear lyrics like “all of my girlfriends are dead…” on “Justine” or the entirely spoken “murder in high gloss relief”…

There’s also a lot of covers here, mainly of bluesy “classic rock”. We’re talking everything from a cover of Hendrix’ “little wing”, Zeppelin’s “no quarter” and a Doors suite that moves from “soul kitchen” to “when the music’s over” to “crawling king snake” and an all but unrecognizable take on Cream’s “spoonful”.

Hell, he even covers the intro (only) to Whitesnake’s “slow n’ easy” and Mother Love Bone’s “chloe dancer” and “gentle groove”, if you can believe that...

You’ll also note (and have to forgive, if you’re going to continue plowing through so much material from the man) some really strange performances from De Feis, who you may (and probably will) find, within the course of a single song, jumping from overused yowling gravelly howls (several times in a row at wholly inappropriate moments, mind!) to weirdly intimate? mocking? it’s hard to say…falsetto and general overemoting to an oddly threatening spoken word. Bottom line? If the photo shoot doesn’t make ya wonder if something’s a bit off, a lot of his vocals here will.

At least his piano skills remain undiminished, as shown on the solo bits of his seriously weird self-cover of “evil in her eyes”. He also continues to draw from unusual sources, well outside the realm of US power metal – what is “sister moon” if not early to mid 70’s Brill Building schmaltz/pop? And the old Porgy & Bess number “summertime”? Can’t say he’s being overly single minded.

Sometimes parts really work nicely, like the vocal harmonies that kick off “wake the dead”, while what follows will inevitably go off the rails. It’s not always about the full song (or fragment thereof – several of these are more vignettes, a minute long or thereabouts)…and while there is guitar work showing up here and there, understand this is 99% De Feis’ show world, and anyone and everyone else is just living in it.

Well, actually, if it were Show World, it might be more entertainingly sleazy. But that’s another story, and another decade or three back in time. But anyway.

So, will this box set appeal to old Virgin Steele fans, from the days when they were a far more straightforward US power metal act? No.

Is this is a great place to check out the band, for newcomers? HELL, NO.

But if you’re a Virgin Steele diehard, and were at least able to stick with the band up to Atreus (whether or not you made it through that one, we’ll count as irrelevant for the nonce), you may well appreciate hearing all these bizarre piano-based and strangely over-vocalized covers and intimate moments of sharing…what I really hope isn’t going on in the man’s head, some of this shit is disturbing.  But hey.

While it’s huge and astronomically more listenable than House of Atreus Parts 1-36 (or so it felt…) and a lot less pretentious than Marriage of Heaven and Hell Parts 1-15, this is ultimately a strange and oddly personal batch of works, more well suited to the dedicated Virgin Steele fan than any more casual aficionado or newbie, both of who are advised to stay away, or at least count themselves warned in advance.

Sigh – Heir to Despair (Candlelight/Spinefarm) (November 16)

Boy, you haven’t heard a Sigh album this straightforwardly metal since Infidel Art!

Seriously…after the exploratory, almost Zappaesque syncretism that marked In Somniphobia (and to some extent, its far angrier predecessor Scenes From Hell)*, Heir to Despair finds a very 70’s, almost “occult rock” meets krautrock Sigh, all flutes and vocorders side by side with koto and shamisen, while very direct metal riffs (on “homo homini lupus”, almost power metal, before turning thrash) pound away.

* I simply can’t comment on Graveward, as it was never sent my way for coverage and managed to entirely slip under the radar therefore.

Mirai’s vocals alternate between clean, vocorded and raspy, so if Gallow’s Gallery was your thing, think of this as its more aggressive, somewhat psychedelicized cousin. Interestingly, Mika “Dr. Mikannibal”‘s also stay clean more or less throughout, with a three or four person high pitched vocal chorus approach predominating.  And then there’s that pointedly traditional Japanese feel beneath, again hearkening back to Sigh’s earliest days…good stuff.

Where things go wrong is with the trilogy of “heresy” tracks, which are one part 70’s bubblegum top 40 and two parts early Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, Can or Faust…and by that, I mean the earliest works of each, all fritzing tubes and tone experimentation off those wall-sized synthesizers and Moogs. I guess the best of these is “heresy III”, but it goes beyond the usual degree of Sigh strangeness straight into inconsequentiality and weirdness.

Thankfully, “hands of the string puller” and the title cut are there to right this sinking ship, particularly the latter, which is easily the strongest track on the album.

The cover art is suitably pretty/bizarre, and overall this is another worthy effort in the Sigh canon…but you know something’s off when you’re sitting there saying, “where the fuck is Mika and her sax?”

But overall? Yeah, you’re pretty safe chalking another one up to the win column for these outre black metal cum psychedelic rock gone Zappa jazz/classical/prog pioneers.

Great interview, by the way, cheers to both of you.

 

Witherfall – A Prelude to Sorrow (Century Media) (November 12)

We covered their Nocturnes and Requiems last February and…well, things aren’t looking so great, at least in terms of how we’re taking what they’re dishing out.

Despite hailing from retro-traditonal metal act White Wizzard (and OK, Iced Earth, which may be part of the problem), the feel here is far more depressive than the more uplifting, Sweet-style work we saw last time around.

Instead, this is practically Prophecy Productions baiting, vocally, with grim, almost dissonant multi-vocalled mourning and moaning predominating over sad acoustic and arpeggiated chord tracks that occasionally burst into miserable, emo-esque full band distorted affairs. I was vaguely reminded at times of Non-Fiction, but never with that peculiar mixture of melodicism and likeability that otherwise quite sorrowful act brought to the table.

To judge solely by this album? Witherfall just sucks, like the final album or two from the Devil’s Blood serving more as music to slit your wrists to than anything to actually enjoy.

And this is supposed to be power metal, or anything equivalent?

Yeah, you may want to go back and check out Nocturnes and Requiems and make your opinion of the band from there. This one’s got more reek than an open dumpster full of limburger and bleu cheese rotting under the hot summer sun.

NEXT?!?

Circuitry – Untouched By Human Hands (November 16)

Djent. Unexpect with some actual melodic moments and hooks strewn about and more of a punk/emo/metalcore vibe and approach informing the whole thing.

And that’s actually what saves Circuitry from the expected toss into the Pile of Dead Bards…because they’re not the expected aggro screamo married to Mike Pattonesque utter atonality you’d expect.

Instead…you get plenty of glimmers of what could have been a really strong, melodically inclined, hook-infected modern punk to metalcore spectrum act…whose works were fucked entirely by some misguided devotion to atonal runs and lead lines that only occasionally work like they should.

Somebody give these kids a ‘lude or something…they need to calm the fuck down!

Maybe then we’ll get the band they clearly could be, rather than the jumbled conflation of excellent and shitty elements they actually are.

Life is all about choices. And to make a music to life metaphor, Circuitry are quite obviously good kids who got…er, mixed up with a very wrong crowd.

Drop the annoying djent affectations, you’d have a worthy support act to the mighty Killswitch in the making.

Unearth – Extinction(s) (Century Media) (November 23)

Okay. On one hand, promo materials push these guys as “NWOAHM” pioneers. Sure, that label implies shit like Avenged Sevenfold as well, but so does it appear to include the likes of Killswitch Engage and the better end of the metalcore crowd. May be same shit, different day to a lot of ya, but I’m seeing no comparison there…

And on the other hand, we’re treated to this classic line: “Like Pantera and the other greats who’ve inspired them.”

Let that one sink in.

Fucking Pantera, and “other greats.”

So. Are we talking metalcore standardbearers? Or dogshit aggro/groove, which is about a half step removed from all things nu-?

oh, it won’t take more than a few seconds to figure out the answer to that Sphinxian riddle. Just let the needle drop anywhere on Extinction(s). Then fight the urge to rip the needle perpendicular-wise across the grooves, and drop it onto another track. Go ahead, give it one more just for the hell of it, I fucking dare ya.

DUCK AND COVER!!!

…holy SHIT, that one just EXPLODED on contact with the fire…

I keep warning you guys, management takes zero responsibility for those who choose to stand within shrapnel distance of the Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards. We simply recieve too many subpar to utter dogshit bands in the course of our monthly reviews to offer any insurance against fire damage or being pelted with sharp vinyl
chunks…

Fuck this. NEXT?

  

The Wizards – Rise Of The Serpent (High Roller Records) (November 9)

Spanish “occult rockers” are back with another album full of semi-swiped Danzig riffs, 70’s rock Thin Lizzy dual leads and Hour of 13 gone stoner rock vibe.

We’d covered their Full Moon in Scorpio last March, and are glad to report the production has improved dramatically since that earlier album, as has the band’s confidence.

Leads in particular are quite assured, and while only a few bands can really carry the torch of “occult rock” for more than an album or two (Paul Chain, Blood Ceremony and the Devil’s Blood, take your bows), The Wizards are clearly staking a claim for themselves here.

I liked it well enough, and chances are if your interest is piqued by the aforementioned, you will too.

ANGEL OF DAMNATION – Heathen Witchcraft (CD, LP, TAPE) (Shadow Kingdom) (October 26)

Members of Front Beast and Cross Vault join forces for this traditional doom affair.

Vocals are dead on for the style, guitars are simplistic but work (though that’s also the problem – the tone isn’t fat enough, they’d be better served by either doubling the guitars in studio or getting a second guitarist in the band, period), and the vibe is somewhere between Hour of 13, Crypt Sermon and Reagers era Saint Vitus, arguably with a touch of Count Raven or Johan Langvist era Candlemass for good measure.

Unfortunately, the guitar tone and minimalist vibe leave the band far closer to House of 13 with arguable hints of early Danzig than any of the other bands mentioned, which relate more to Gerrit Mutz’ vocals than anything the rest of the band is doing. It’s pretty damn basic, even for trad doom…as you might expect from the guy behind the oft laughable Front Beast.

At least this time, nobody’s laughing – this actually works quite well, if you don’t mind a lot less bombast and scope than usual for the genre.

All caveats aside, I liked this one very much indeed.

  

Cold Night For Alligators – Fervor (Long Branch Records) (November 9)

Quirky prog act that leans more aggro/nu dumbo neanderthalic riffing in the verses before going all Dream Theater in the chorus.

In better moments, the verses lean more emo/metalcore, but this also brings all that screamo bullshit on the vocal end (as in “canaille”).

Ultimately, prog/power fans and those who lean more -core/emo/aggro should walk away equally disappointed, as these Danes never quite settle into one camp or the other (though if I had to play umpire and call this game, I’d say they’re far more of and inclined towards the latter’s juvenalia than the former’s overly polished hoity-toityness).

Are they the sort of band you run to flip the dial over? No, not at all.

But I certainly couldn’t see anyone getting excited about this rather jumbled affair, either.

Jonestown – Dyatlov (Long Branch Records) (November 16)

Oy, another screamo act, with detuned riffing and weird djenty atonal lead lines.

Hey, look, Metal Hammer named thse guys in their top 50 albums of 2016, and no less than 3 of their editorial staff called it “debut album of the year”, or so promo materials inform us.

Which is why the only metal mag or site yours truly will even give a nod of respect to is the UK’s Zero Tolerance, who we at least occasionally agree with…

Seriously, these people don’t seem to know their ass from their elbow…it’s like having a hundred modern day Circus magazines floating around, for chrissake! Look, who’s on the cover this week? Motley Crue, Bon Jovi, Motley Crue, Poison or Motley Crue? Yay, metal!

(shakes head in complete dejection and disbelief at what people take as gospel)

So yeah, these guys suck some serious ass, nuff said.

WHIZZ!!! Straight to the Pile of Dead Bards, let that eternal Flame keep on consigning shitty albums like this to the ashes from whence they came.

Next?

22 – You Are Creating (Long Branch Records) (November 23)

Very strange indie act that fancy themselves prog rockers.

This is a double album, which gives them the latitude to really fuck with the listener, at times working a likeably straightforward, melodic indie rock thing that almost feels Killers-like (“inspec”, “call me trimtab”, the Queen fetishism of “sum of parts”, “autumn stream”, “chroma key”)…at others, losing the thread entirely and drifting off into somnambulistically unstructured balladeering (“akira”, “ectypes”).

Still again, others fall into pointless ambient electronica (“node 1”, “node 2”), lazy James meets Radioheadlike Britpop (the title track, “a mutation of thrushes”, “dillemann’s clarity”) and a final few lapse into busy atonality, riffs flying all over but never gelling or making any real melodic or harmonic sense (“adam kadmon”, “staying embodied”, “V”).

As a result, the album per se comes off at best jumbled, but more pointedly, aimless, when that first batch of tracks mentioned actually bore some real promise.

This is the sort of album I’d actually recommend getting digitally, so you can grab the 4 or 5…er, Killer(s) songs, and skip the detritus that makes up the bulk of this emptied warehouse full of seemingly unrelated (or at least, extremely disparate) recordings.

Take that as you will, it’s impossible to review something quite this all over the damn place.

  

De-Arrow  – S/T (20th Century Music) (November 16)

Aussie demo-only AOR act finally compiles and restores all their 80’s work for this much welcomed compilation.

Managed by none other than Runaways impresario Kim Fowley (which in itself bears a number of associations, both good and bad…), these guys are the epitome of 80’s training montage/end credits upbeat feel good hard rock/hair metal.

The mere fact that I’d never heard of these guys back in the day amazes, but then again, who says all Aussie acts crossed over Stateside…particularly without a record deal to give ’em the boost?

Even so, why they weren’t at least utilized in some cult/drive in flick or teen sex comedy of the era is absolutely baffling – a mere listen to “angel” alone should bear up just how good an act these guys actually were.

Granted, not every song is up to the challenge that defining track lays down…but neither is any of these simple filler. It’s one of those rare albums…well, gatherings of demos that really has no weak spots. Even the ballad is passable, and that says a lot.

You dig all that retro stuff, the sort you simply can’t find in today’s more jingle-oriented depressive dumbo pop and rock music?

Yeah, me too. So what the fuck’s keeping you from picking this one up, already?

WICKED GARDEN – “Already Gone” (Shock Records / Vanity Music Group)

Savage Garden? Yeah, I remember those losers.

Couldn’t name a song if you paid me, but some record store counter or other granted me a Savage Garden bumpersticker, which I wound up sneaking over to my drummer’s (then) place where he lived with his horrid new wife (who’d singlehandedly kiboshed any chances of our ever reforming the band or even jamming out every now and again by cutting him off from every friend he ever had) and plastering that fucker right across his car bumper.

Oh, yeah, I got a call about that. “I had to scrape that shit off, man!” uh, yeah, that’s the whole point of the joke, ya dope.  I still wonder how long he drove around with everyone thinking he was a huge Savage Garden fan…ah, fun times.

…oh, wait, this isn’t Savage Garden?

(stunned pause)

…SO! Um…yeah! this is…Wicked Garden. As opposed to Savage, they’re Wicked, see?

(long pause)

So it looks like these guys hail from Vegas, and they’re doing some indie thing…according to the promo materials. It’s actually more of a loud blues rock, but leaning more towards 90’s grunge than 70’s “classic rock”. “I-15 South” is really forgettable, “already gone is probably their catchiest, and the classily titled “hey bitch” sounds like a far less catchy song by my buddy’s rival band circa the early to mid 90’s. Actually, he had a song called “bitch” that used to piss off all the ladies in the audience whenever it was trotted out at shows, but it was so much better than this one here.

And…that’s it! Pretty standard stuff, nothing all that noteworthy. Sorta listenable for the type, but honestly? Who cares? Nobody’s going to get excited about this one, which at best counts as an also ran that you won’t flip the dial over.

Who knows, maybe Savage Garden was a better act, after all…

At the very least, I’m sure they didn’t have lyrics like “if you wanna be a whore, go ahead and give yourself away, cause I don’t love you anymore!”

Tombtoker – Coffin Texts (Seeing Red Records / Metal Swarm) (December 7)

Stoner doom, with gnarly dual vocals.  The one guy is gargle-screaming, the other is deep throat belching, like some ersatz take on very early Carcass over Autopsy gone stoner rock riffs (which at times go full on Kyuss, “blood freak” being a perfect example).

What’s too bad is that the guitar tone is so throaty and overdistorted on the more doomy moments, it had me thinking Winter…but no, this is waaaaayyyy too fast, the vox too silly, the stoner moments too frequent and prominent.

It’s not bad at all, really…just feels like it could use a lot of tweaking to get it right.

Bedlem – Back to Bedlem (October 31)

Former live member of Trivium starts his own act.

As he’s a drummer, the drums are front and center in the mix, here, which is always a nice change, but while a solid player, the guy’s no standout (or at least doesn’t really take the chance to show off), sticking more to tight adherence to and light syncopation around the fairly basic detuned riffing.

You can tell he’s accomplished, and I always appreciate hearing the drums more prominently on albums (Metal Church’s debut is fucking amazing, simply for the drum track!).

I just never heard anything that said “standout” either.

The band themselves? Meh.

But I’d like to hear this guy really going for it, Tony Williams style.

I’ll bet he could pull something like that off, if only he’d try.

Stew – HOT (June 1)

Old fashioned blues rock, sorta in the vein of Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jeff Healey and Robert Cray, but with more piss and vinegar than the latter pair.

Apparently they pick their noses a whole hell of a lot (“dig for gold”), but aside from that, if you dig Hendrix’ more clean and bluesy moments (like a lot of those posthumous studio releases we’re seeing in recent years) and the heyday of Budgie, you’ll be in familiar territory here.

Personally, I liked “if this will be”, which after a fairly standard Hendrix cum Stevie Ray intro turns (however briefly) into a sweet jazzy sorta vintage R&B thing that should remind ya a bit of the Third Eye and Weird Scenes podcast themes.

Similar territory, at least, and while it doesn’t last half long enough even within the track itself (which devolves back to safer territory after the solo), represents a HUGE step up from the far more straightforward blues rock of the other three tracks.

Good playing, quite listenable…especially that golden midsection (it’s a lot more than a middle eight, give ’em that much) on “if this will be”.

Pursue that direction more, and these guys could be one to watch.

City Of Tyrants – Revelations (November 16)

90’s grunge (“reflections”) meets stutter riffed deathcore and touches of overly keyboard/electronicized Dream Theateresque prog on the slow bits.

The clean vocalled, more mellow parts were listenable enough. It’s the rest of this shit that makes these guys laughable.

It’s apparent they choose to suck, rather than being forced there by lack of taste and ability.

So I guess that’s something…the hope that maybe someday, they’ll grow the fuck up and start making actual music.

…next?

VIZA – The Unorthodox Revival: Volume I & II (Architects Of Melody) (October 21)

L.A. indie act.  As you can probably tell from the title, they lean well into the pretentious range, an impression hardly mollified by their use of mandolin (“aphrodite” in particular), 90’s Britpop affectations (“dancing twig” stands out in that respect), faux-ska/world music ones (“diabolic angel”, which brings head up their own ass types like David Byrne and Sting to mind, only to be safed by a more distorted and catchy chorus than either of those clowns ever stumbled across in their highfalutin’ solo work) or the cloyingly “clever” “Tom Waits for her” (which comes complete with silly Waits vocal impression and singsong child’s toy-style instrumentation).

Even so, you could make an argument that “dancing twig” was attempting (and failing) to evoke the pagan folk vibe of Elvenking in their better days, and “diabolic angel” is by far the catchiest track here, for all its teeth gritting faux-ska affectations…so all is not lost, even in the darker moments herein.

If you’ve paid any attention to the “college rock/alternative” scene in the 80’s and 90’s, suffice to say we’ve all heard much worse. These guys have potential, moments that work quite well and a few actual hooks under their belts.

It’s not an actual crime that precious little of it gels or hits the intended target.

Again, has its moments.

Katie Knipp – Take It With You (November 7)

Quirkily vocalled take on the Bonnie Raitt school of blues cum torch song.

Quieter moments (“last man out”, “metro in Paris”) can get pretty artsy-fartsy, evoking everything from PJ Harvey and the oversexed Liz Phair to Peggy Lee and Julie Delpy’s self titled album (remember her song to Ethan Hawke in Before Sunset? Yeah. She did an album.)

One thing this is (quite thankfully) not is one of those irritatingly abrasive 90’s Lilith Fair affairs. I won’t name names, but if it was a female or band thereof in the 90’s attacking the male population Xena-style while pretending to be “sensitive” and have actual feelings (beyond rage and “me first”-ism, that is), chances are you’re hitting the target nadir under discussion here.

And praise be to whatever gods or goddesses you worship that Knipp doesn’t need to hang her hat on those tired and unwelcome tropes to show her inner strength and worth as a musician.

So if you’re asking for a bottom line, is this the sort of thing I listen to?  Well, no.

But was this a damn good album, with likeably sassy (and often sexy) lyrics and a quirky yet engaging performance from the lady in question, bearing more in common spiritually with the torch song and old fashioned Southern blues (and yes, I’m thinking the female artists primarily…but that ain’t no putdown) than the more arty hipster affectations you’d expect?

Hell, yeah!

I liked this lady, make no bones about it.

If you’re looking for something very different from what we tend to cover here, but well worth your time, and likely to demand repeat listens, even well down the road?

Here’s your cue.

Splendidula – Post Mortem (Inverse Records) (December 14)

OK, my play of this one kicked off with “mortem”, which sounds for all the world like the sort of then-recent band you’d discover on Cleopatra comps like the Goth Box back in the mid 90’s.

Arguably, you could even cross this one over to Projekt territory, with all the violin, acoustic tribal drumming and unaccompanied female vocals…hell, it’s practically playing in Mors Syphilitica territory.  All well and good, to be sure…but aren’t they marketing themselves as “metal”?

Oh, wait, here comes “nami”, which is closer to a gothic doom sort of thing, far more aggressive and sloppy sounding. Still good, but very different from “mortem”…

This odd uncertainty about where Splendidula actually stand continues, with the Mephisto Walz-like “too close to me”, where Kristien Cools is so blatantly trying to be Christianna, it’s practically actionable. Good by me, definitely…but shouldn’t those guitars be cleaner, more processed and washed in chorus and reverb?

And so it goes, with “aturienoto” being the other real standout on the more gothic rock leaning side and “stream of consciousness” bearing more of a metallic heritage, at least riffwise…while Cools leans somewhere between The Shroud’s Lydia Fortner, Switchblade Symphony’s Tina Root and the aforementioned Christianna throughout.

If you’re asking, folks, I’d tone the metal elements wayyyy the fuck down and settle for something much closer to gothic rock proper.

It’s not like Christian Death, Mephisto Walz, Nosferatu and The Wake were exactly soft selling the guitar work…the overemphasis on distortion and sloppy grungelike noise tone only serves to distract from the band you really are and should be.

Still works…but far too “metal” for the goth crowd (at least the ones I came up with, no accounting for rainbow haired “cybergoth” types!) and probably too authentically gothic rock for the metal crowd.

Forest of Shadows – Among the Dormant Watchers (Inverse Records) (December 7)

Dark, funereally gloomy doom/death out of Sweden.

It’s very underproduced in the sense that you can tell it’s a one man bedroom thing, and those distorted guitar bits are so loud and crackling that they go well beyond a bit of signal bleed to drown out both growly vox and drums (tinny Casio keyboards are wheedling toned enough to be heard amidst the din, but even so).

If you can get past the low quality demo sound and feel of this, it definitely bears an oppressively grim yet contemplative feel well suited to late Fall/early Winter solo walks in the woods.

So that brings us to what may be a surprising conclusion. Because all objective gripes aside, I did very much like this…even when it goes a tad too Prophecy to Projekt on tracks like “lullaby”.

The Psycho Season – Grunge River (Inverse) (November 23)

Yep, the title is right. This is grunge, alright, albeit with some more aggressive stoner rock piss and vinegar (almost to the point where it borders on metal).

Same noisy guitar tone, same lousy bent note riffs, same moan n’ whine vocals…at least this guy doesn’t yowl out of the corner of his mouth (all of ’em) or make weird goose noises (hello, Eddie Vedder)…

They even cover Alice in Chains’ “we die young”, and you can barely tell it apart from the rest of this. Yep, grunge.

If you were too young to live through that shit (and therefore find some value in it) or are weirdly nostalgic for wimpy guys, overly butch women, heroin and flannel, you may find a lot more value here than the rest of us do.

Mudhoney, Tool, AiC, Screaming Trees and Pearl Jam fans, look, new meat!

…next?

Neonderthal Death – Neonderthal (Nightmare Begins) 7″ (Ektro) (January 4)

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

…um, okay. Hold on, a sec.

PFFFTT!!! HAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHA

sorry, couldn’t help that reaction.

Two losers going by the pseudos of “Morbid” and “Angel” pulled together this half-super awkward synthpop, half detuned lunkhead riffs and Cookie Monster vomit vox abomination, and it’s simply too hilariously stupid to even attempt to take seriously.

Not kidding, you deserve to hear this one. Just don’t have a drink in your hand or whatever, because you’re going to spew it all over anyone standing within a 10 foot radius from spontaneous laughter.

Yeah, there’s no way I could consign this to the Pyre. Too much comedic value, however unintentional on their part.

(stifles another snicker)

…Next?

Musta Risti – Svart Records (November 16)

Stoner doom, sort of in the same ballpark as Witchfinder General, 70’s Pentagram or post-Vol. 4 Ozzy-era Sabbath.

Goes nowhere, but the guitar tone and feel are right, as is the paper thin, muted production.

Just look at the bands referenced as comparatives, and you tell me whether this is worth looking into.

Twilight – S/T (reissue) (Lupus Lounge / Prophecy Productions) (November 30)

Twilight – Monument to Time End (reissue) (Lupus Lounge / Prophecy Productions) (November 30)

Both albums reissued here feature members of Krieg, Leviathan and the infamous Blake Judd of Nachmysticum and internet ripoff fame (shades of that Threatin kid!).

Want more?  The guy from Xasthur was on the debut (only), and their third album (not reissued here) tagged in Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, if you remember that surprise announcement.

Their sound is a weird mix of experimental drone, almost doom in a way – probably why Moore showed interest in the first place – and that abominably stupid new school black metal where frontmen howl like a Ricola pitchman.* Hey, where’s your lederhosen and alpine horn, assholes?

It’s pretty obvious which elements work here, and which deserve to be tossed into the nearest grain thresher.

* on the first album, they’re more raw and nasty sounding, and there’s more of an aggressively straightforward black metal feel…thus it’s second album Monument to Times End that holds more interest.**

** except in terms of bass lines, which are more prominent and doomily melodic on the self titled. Couldn’t they mix all the good elements and dump the crap on one of these albums?

Monument to Time End comes with a few extra live tracks, most or all of which append to the better half of the Twilight equation. Too bad they didn’t secure the rights to the third album, I’d have liked to have heard what, if anything, Moore brought to the table.

As is, a bit of a mix. Love the bass work on the first album…prefer the doomier, more droning tracks on the second.

Your move.

Nachtmystium – Assassins: Black Meddle, Part I (10th Anniversary Edition) (Lupus Lounge / Prophecy Productions) (November 30)

Nachtmystium – Resilient (Lupus Lounge / Prophecy Productions) (November 30)

Speak of the devil…

So here’s the infamous Blake Judd himself, working his own long running act Nachmysticum. First up, we have a reissue of 2008’s Assassins, which crosses a postpunk/gothic rock aesthetic (particularly evident on the three part “seasick”, which comes off vaguely Virgin Prunes or Theatre of Hate at points), straight up traditional metal (check out that gallop riff halfway through “one of these nights”) and black metal…arguably with touches of singalong power metal (the title cut) (!)

It’s actually surprisingly good, which is not something you want to say about a notorious conman, actually arrested and charged for his malfeasance towards fans…nonetheless, there it is. This is a very good album by any standard of black or black leaning metal.

Not quite so consistent overall, but still bizarrely likeable enough to merit at least a listen if not an outright leap of faith purchase comes their most recent work, the four track EP Resilient (apparently there’ll be a 2 disc “digibook” with one extra track and a batch of live ones, but these were not sent out for review).

Of these four tracks, one’s just one of those pointless intros (“conversion”), another is a curious attempt at American gothic roots rock (sort of like Sono Morti, but as far removed from that cowpunk aesthetic as it is from black metal) (“desert illumination”).

Things pick up a bit for the title track, which is a moody, synth-heavy bit of depressive black metal, and the highlight, “silver lanterns”, which is far more straightforward and melodic. Either way, this whole EP is pretty damn contemplative and grim, so it works quite well despite its brevity and the oddness of its closing track.

Hell, I’ll even give it…and both albums, in fact…an unabashed raise of the horns in salute.

I’d just suggest you get ’em from the label or a trustworthy distro/retail outlet, rather than soliciting from Judd and the band directly.

Cough.

“…Yeah, man, I promise! You’ll get ’em soon! (snicker)”

Twilight Fauna – Where Birds Sing My Name (Flowing Downward)

Whoa, hold up. Is that banjo I’m hearing? Fiddle too?

Now, I’m going to tell ya, we’ve been binging on The Dukes of Hazzard for a few months, now. Got the box set for the wife a few years back (when everyone was flipping out trying to censor innocuous business like the box top to this set) and we blow through an episode a day over breakfast – sadly this puts us near the end of Season 6 already (yep, we had to skip over some of them Coy & Vance ones in the notorious Season 5…phew! The scabs were pretty bad…*)

* there were actually several temporary cast replacements in the course of the show when various members went on strike or tried to start their own series, but most were acceptable…except for these two clowns. How ripped off did those cartoon folks feel having to use them for The Dukes spinoff? Particularly when the showrunners realized this just wasn’t working and brought Schneider and Wopat back before the season even ended?

But anyway, everyone knows the Waylon Jennings theme song and related show soundtrack, full of chicken pickin’, pedal steel guitars, fiddles and banjo. So I’m well used to this sound by now, almost feels like home after a few months straight of exposure…and therefore, it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise to say, hey, this is pretty neofolk/traditional country (almost bluegrass, even) on “the path home”, “as Autumn turns to Spring” and “crying shame”.

At this point, however strange it may sound in the context of what we usually cover here, I was very comfrotable with those three tracks, and was curious to see how exactly this Paul Ravenwood fella was going to mix that sound and approach with that of black metal.

After all, Austin Lunn did something similar with Panopticon, and we kinda liked that in our reviews of Revisions of the Past, the Panopticon/Waldgefluster split and even Kentucky, where you’ll see just how much exposure to the sound has mellowed and shifted our take thereon.

Who knows, a few months away from the Dukes, we may be knocking the banjo thing again…but right at this point in time, we’re OK with it.

Strangely, the problem here is the reverse of what we said with Lunn when we covered Kentucky. Because unlike his efforts to blend two extremely disparate genres, Ravenwood makes zero attempt whatsoever. So one track will be banjos and fiddles a’pickin’ and a fiddlin’ away, then BAM! It’s a raw, abrasive black metal track. Then back again.

Like jello and pizza or french fries and caviar, this is a case of two entirely unrelated sounds (not even “genres” within a larger common soundspace…we’re talking two very distant musical idioms, here) being put on the same plate.

You may be hungry enough to eat both, rather than devouring one and feeding the other en toto to the family dog sniffing around for scraps under the table. But you probably already know they don’t mix, and won’t eat them together…and if you actually do have both, even sequentially, you just know you’re going to pay for it later.

I’ll leave a bottle of kaopectate by the toilet for ya, in case you decide to indulge.

It’s gonna be a loooooong night if you do…

Abstract Void – Back To Reality (Flowing Downward)

Damn, this is nice!

Some enterprising young bedroom act noted the recent rise of synthwave (and lazerpunk, and all sorts of related synthpop genres) and decided to pull that sound and…er, “instrumentation” into a darker, more contemplative direction.

That’s right, it’s “Cascadian black metal” of the most introspective variety, done entirely on synthesizer. There are occasional shrieked/processed vox, but they’re mixed low enough that you can either ignore ’em or appreciate how well they blend in with those keyboard tones and drum machine “blastbeat” blurps.

This is the first time I’ve run across a musician who remains true to his style and orientation, while still paying an easily recognizable and dead on tribute to a very different, even inimical genre of music, but (and here’s the key) without betraying either.

Seriously – you can ignore the last two paragraphs and just call this a dark synthwave affair…or you can say “hey, that’s weird…a synthwave attempt at black metal”, and be equally right, and leave with both parties (assuming the black metaller is not so rigid as to dismiss the very thought out of hand) reasonably satisfied that “they got it right”.

Really, surprisingly quite good.

Selvans – Faunalia (Avantgarde Music) (November 2)

We’d covered this Italian (post-) black metal act’s split with Downfall of Nur early last year and much preferred their half of the split to their compatriots for all the (comparative) innovation and pushing at the borders and limitations just enough to please the more orthodox as well as those looking for something a bit out of the ordinary.

Here they continue to play with elements suggesting both native folk and prog, while still remaining fairly standardized, darkly melodic black metal at core…no mean feat, that.

Some tracks, like opener “ad malum finem” or “anna perenna”, push a bit too hard at the borders, offering a mix of sub-Cradle of Filth organ/symphonic dramatics and folk music with a vaguely (spaghetti) western feel.

Others, like “requiem aprutti” or “magna mater major mons” are far closer to template, while still other tracks drag in some very obvious regional influence (like “notturno peregrinar”, which practically feels like a black metal tarantella).

I don’t know what the fuck we’re supposed to make of the noisy mess that is “phersu”, though…

So does it deliver on the promise shown on the earlier split? Well, yes and no. There’s certainly enough of the positives shown last time around, plus a few light curveballs thrown just to keep listener interest (the aforementioned “notturno”).

But then we have to deal with “phersu”, and the score drops faster than Trump’s approval rating after he started whipping out all those illegal “executive orders” within weeks of taking office…

In the end, a split decision. Interesting enough to keep an eye on, maybe next time around will continue to trend upwards.

Who the hell knows.

Gravkväde – Grav|aska (Avantgarde Music) (November 2)

“It is likely that you have never heard of Gravkväde.”

So begins the promo writeup on this rather Fleurety-esque Swedish duo, who bring all the unwelcome experimentation of that band and marry it to the likes of early Abruptum and the depressive weirdness of Bethlehem.

Tracks like “sorgeakt” and “kottets plaga” are slow, spare and full of annoying shriek vocals, with ringing atonal arpeggiations over a very deliberate, underproduced base chordal structure. It’s almost like a pair of teenagers just picking up their instruments recorded a session fiddling around aimlessly in their basement “studio”…

The other two tracks are more straightforwardly black metal, but still sound like crap (the production and vox again) and are quite generic…I’m thinking stuff like Ancient here, but just pull the most snooze inducing, did I just listen to something? in one ear and out the other bullshit black metal you’ve ever heard, and use that as a direct comparison…you’ll probably find it’s quite close to the low bar set herein.

Is this among the worst we’ve covered, or even worthy of a toss into the Pile of Dead Bards? Nah. It’s listenable, particulary on the weirder, more spare tracks.

But is it good?

(stifled an actual snort of derision, there. No, seriously, real life reaction.)

…next?

Velvet Dream – Darkened Mysteria (Into Endless Chaos) (September 24)

Weird, admittedly eerie ambient nonsense with one of those relaxation tapes of running water playing almost incessantly throughout.

I guess it sets a mood…but be warned, you’ll find yourself getting up to piss constantly, particularly if you fall asleep on this, which is very likely.

Goat Explosion – Rumors of Man (Into Endless Chaos) (July 16)

Stoner rock leaning stoner doom, straight outta Leipzig. Hey, didn’t they hold a famous concert there?

While it’s ultimately more Kyuss than Sabbath, this one works just fine, given all the thick, doomy riffs and moaning/droning clean vocals.

Yep, I’m good with this – if you dig stoner doom, you should dig it as well.

(The True) Veiled – In Blinding Presence (Into Endless Chaos) (January 7)

Another Leipzig outfit, this time ones who can’t play.

Yep, it’s sorta like “war metal” or “bestial black”, just without the consistency, tone or stylistic tropes.

Instead of gas masks and satanic business under muddy production and relentlessly driving, grindcore style riffs, you get…open space, ringing guitars and a lot of noise.

Did I mention this one sucks?

OK, because it sucks.

Next?

Marsh Dweller – Wanderer (Eihwaz Recordings) (October 19)

We’d covered their The Weight of Sunlight a few years back and much appreciated all the Viking-style bombast, marveling that a one man band could hack such an expansive sound.

So…what happened?

All is not lost, there are two tracks that at least pass muster. But the fact that one of them is a vocal-free ambient closer (“wander IV”) and the other track transcends a questionable two minutes of ennui to become something far more dramatic and far reaching (“fall”) doesn’t exactly bode well.

The rest of this…well, there are moments in most tracks, but it’s a bit of a struggle to get past all the belch vox and almost groove-style dumbo riffs to get to the good parts. “Wander I”, for example, doesn’t get listenable until you’re over 4 minutes in to the damn track…and who’s going to hang around that long?

A misstep that still shows promise, but which similarly demands a major rework if they’re…well, OK, he’s to make the grade next time around.

Carnal Forge – Gun to Mouth Salvation (Vicisolum Productions)

You know, with a moniker like “carnal forge”, you’d think they’d be working some sort of melodeath. You know, like their obvious inspiration in late period Carcass?

Nope.

Overly pissed off, snarly-growly vocalled modern thrash on the point of collapse but without any of the fun, authentic vintage feel of acts like Exumer or Blood Feast.

Instead, this is one seriously overproduced modern thrash affair…and as typical for this sort of thing, kinda yawn inducing for all it’s screaming in your face and beating the listener over the head with would-be Exodus by way of Vio-Lence (but all bowlderized and modernized in tone) riffs.

Yeah, like those supposedly “big exciting crowdpleaser” fight scenes in all those crappy superhero films, this is literally putting me to sleep.

Don’t believe me? Ask the wife.

Character business, smaller scale acting? At full attention. Explosions, screaming, fireballs and armies filling the screen? Snoring loudly and jarred awake by an elbow to the ribs. I’m sorry, that shit just bores the living fuck out of me.

Case in point.

(yawn, stretch)

Someone, throw this one on one of those white noise relaxation tapes, willya? It’s really doing the job right now. More reviews tomorrow.

Nope. Not kidding in the least.

Yeah, I know it’s still light out. Night…

Slovenians – Al dente (Pogo Records)

Straightforward, tried and true hardcore punk of the real variety (not the atonal screamo shit that seems to have misappropriated the genre of late) out of Belgium, of all places.

It’s fast, punchy, more than a bit melodic and pulls in the expected gang choruses, and more than just a little indebted to Bad Religion, which becomes even more obvious when they slow things down to more of a 90’s rock vibe for a few tracks.

At their best, I guess you could say there’s some Motorhead at play as well – they certainly tick off all those “crossover” boxes that you’ll remember from the mid to late 80’s thrash/punk genre blender, albeit with far more of a 90’s Bad Religion to indie/grunge spectrum stylistically.

The faster, more directly punk tracks (like the first three) are the real winners here…the rest is acceptable enough.

They’re giving it away for free at their bandcamp, so nothing ventured, nothing gained.

ABSTRACT RAPTURE – Hollow Motion (December 15)

Okay, at this point, it must be asked. Do you kids out there, the up and comers just starting your musical careers…do you really think you need to “sound hard”?

You know, all the dogshit you grew up with, the sugar substitutes that you were fed in place of the real deal, all that aggro, groove, grunge and nu- shit? Growly/screamo vox, chugging, overly detuned, knuckle dragging riffing where you can barely tell the guitars from the bass, tonally?

Because honestly? Most of us in the world of metal (much less the goths and the punks) could do without ever hearing this shit again. There’s more than enough Five Finger Death Punch, Pantera and Slipknot albums out there for that crowd…we certainly don’t need you to add to the canon of crap that represents.

Case in point. There are moments (like around 4 minutes into “a promise from the ghouls”) where things slow down to a vaguely indie/prog vibe…but the rest? Yeah.

Case in point.

Fuck it, not even going to waste energy tossing this one into the Pyre.  I’m gonna torch this son of a bitch right up here.

Hand me that blowtorch.

ORION DUST – Legacy (November 9)

We’d covered their Duality earlier this year, and the French dreampop progsters are back again, with an album that’s…well, even more laid back, mellow, almost world music in feel.

As noted last time around, this is some seriously strange stuff, hard to pigeonhole or describe…but this one feels even more off than the last one. Very sparse acoustics, occasional electronic noises, rarified light female vocals, sometimes (but far from “usually”) building to a light, My Bloody Valentine as filtered through The Darling Buds sort of indie shoegaze/dreampop.

Always light in tone, always soft and airy, never even close to depressive or dark. Could be a plus, depending on what you’re looking for…

Yeah, I was accepting of what I was hearing, but kind of lost in a territory I seldom if ever tread within the borders of.

WE ARE THE CATALYST – “The Code” (November 6)

Generic but pleasant enough Lacuna Coil knockoff, with more of an electronic basis to their sound.

One track, catchy enough for the type.

Spielbergs – “4AM” (By The Time It Gets Dark) (November 2)

We covered, and very much enjoyed, these Swedish indie rockers’ Distant Star back in April…here’s a new single in advance of a full length album.

It’s pretty strong, and very 80’s/early 90’s in vibe, somewhere between the achingly open but positive toned feel of Matthew Sweet and the lush, driving feel of bands like Inspiral Carpets or even, at a stretch, earlier REM.

I like this one quite a bit…here’s hoping the album lives up to the promise of all they’ve delivered so far.

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

Generic but listenable (and reasonably well produced!) grindcore in the Terrorizer/Repulsion vein – at least for the first 9 or 10 tracks.

The bass is surprisingly audible, the drums sound good when not working the tirelessly drab blastbeat thing, there’s even a few audible riffs in there every so often – thus the Repulsion nod.

Thereafter, the production style changes, the guitar tone gets fatter, the bass disappears, the vox get deeper and throatier. It’s not as deep or film obsessed as Mortician, but it gets pretty damn boring…particularly when the pig noise shit kicks in around “blood sperm shit” (yeah, you see where this is going…)

Later tracks like “zombie grinder” get the worst production of all, all mids and hollowness. You feel like you’re getting flushed down a toilet, listening to this.

Too bad they didn’t stick with whatever studio or producer they had for “tiamat” through “meatcleaver”…if they had, this one would get a nod for standing above the usual grindcore crowd by a step or two.

But the better part of this is taken up by the sort of noisy, pig noise-afflicted blur that the grind scene seems to be gravitating towards more and more of late…and that’s not a good thing.

Sectorial – VYR (Noizr Productions) (November 9) 

Ukranian black/death act.  Pretty inconsequential except for their Kroda-like use of traditional instrumentation, which normally would elevate this sort of thing beyond the workaday.

Unfortunately, their actual music (i.e. their black/death compositions) are pretty…meh. So you get this sort of Kroda/Hunok thing going on with the winds, mouth harp and string instruments, which sounds pretty cool…but all this annoying BLEEAHH BUUAAAHH GYAAHHH! shit over generic, pounding chords and blastbeats distracting and pissing the listener off beneath it.

Advice? Give up the “black metal” affectations and go full on acoustic Manegarm, you’d be a great Ren Faire act or something.

Too bad. I did really like the trad bits.

The Mound Builders – S/T (Failure Records and Tapes) (January 18)

Thick and heavy stoner/sludge guitars, almost leaning doom at points. The problem? You’ve got it, Sludgelord Records-style fat guy belching his “man-sized” sandwich up all over his unkempt beard “vocals”.

Goddamn, man…what the fuck?!?

Did you really think fucking Pantera would sound good over a Kyuss meets CoC (with vague hints of Sabbath) base? Because it sure as fuck doesn’t. Not even in your wildest dreams does this work.

Another band that shoots itself in the foot solely due to a stubborn reluctance to got out and hire an actual vocalist.

Next?

Ichor – Hadal Ascending (Unholy Conspiracy Deathwork / WOOAAARGH) (December 7)

Oy. Black/death out of Germany.

Nuff said, you know how we feel about pretty much the entire black/death genre. “Gotta keep ’em separated!”

Next?

Space Coke – L’appel Du Vide (Mystery School Records) (December 7)

Sabbath gone stoner sludge, with more than a touch of “occult rock” to boot.

South Carolina act, they’re hippie-trippy enough to cover the Velvet Underground and Stevie Wonder (of all people) between all their fuzzed out sludge/stoner doom riffing.

Good stuff, definitely liked this one.

Cloudburst – S/T (Samstrong Records) (December 21)

(stunned silence)

Picture the most abrasive vocals you’ve ever heard in black metal.  Maybe some periods of Horna? Waxen perhaps? Okay.

Now tag that on to a wholly inappropriate groove gone atonal/experimental riffing, with light stoner rock elements thrown in just for a laugh.

(sigh)

Well, it’s from Indonesia, and it seems that a lot of acts from that area tend to favor incredibly harsh vox and raw, violent riffing.

Whatever. Doesn’t work, no point to it.

Next?

Bane – Esoteric Formulae (Black Market Metal Label) (November 30)

Oh, joy. Black/death again, this time out of Montreal. But they’re actually Serbians. Go figure.

I like how Rotting Christ is named as a comparative act in the promo writeup. Um…no. No, not at all.

(long pause, a few more tracks spin)

Okay, now I see what they’re saying, there. Some of the riffing around the middle of the album does have a more traditional heavy metal vibe to it. “Beneath the black Earth”, “bringer of pandimensional disorder”, “reign in chaos”…yeah, that’s it. Those three tracks do bear relation to Rotting Christ, for the reasons noted above.

But overall? Typically irritating and atonal black/death.

Gets a reprieve from the usual sentence due to those three tracks.

RIFFLORD – 7 Cremation Ground / Meditation (STB Records) (December 1)

South Dakota gives us this weird act. The album kicks off with dobro-driven roots rock ala Badlands (“seven”), drifts into some weird cross between Marilyn Manson and grunge that suddenly turns Motorheadlike punk before dropping into a doomy Sabbath riff (“dead flower child”).

The next three tracks go nowhere (there’s a lot of laid back Americana-style acoustic folk, let’s put it that way), then “BB gun” goes all stoner rock ala The Obsessed, “trancendental (sic) medicaton” leans rather Fu Manchu/Sleep, “poison mother” is more CoC, “the riffman cometh” swings quite Kyuss, and “hou dou vou dou” is “tush” era ZZ Top.

Say huh?

Well…some tracks sorta worked, yeah…but what the fliying fuck were these guys even shooting for, here?

(shakes head in disbelief and dismay)

(sighing)…whatever. Next?

Pterodactyl Problems – Esoteric Hobbies (February 22)

Talk about quirky indie shit…

Yeah, these guys are all over the place. Sometimes indie/alternative/college rock, other times more pop-punk, others more Sublime-style ska to Dave Matthews-like hipster faux-funk…

And weirdest of all? A lot of this is so mellow, your grandma might even like it. Nick Drake without the darkness? Barenaked Ladies without the weird Canadian humour?

I Do. Not. Get it.

The punk sections, in whichever songs they appear (because it’s never for an entire track, of course!), work just fine.

It’s the rest of this that just doesn’t work.

I don’t know, maybe you have to be a hipster to get this, much less think it’s great.

Again, punk sections aside, this did less than zero for me.

Skulk, the Hulking – Afterbirth Of A Nation (December 14)

Oh, this month keeps getting better and better!  Look, it’s nu metal!

Seriously, I shit you not.

Fucking rapping over the top of sorta funky/sorta awkward basslines and riffs that alternate between weird Primus/Red Hot Chili Peppers atonal “funk” comping and noisy distorted nonsense.

Got any pimply faced teenage boys in the house? They’ll love this one.

NEXT?!?!

Runescarred – “Being God” (December 6)

Well, that was fast.

After last month’s rather nonplussed review of their cover of apparent Iron Maiden track “moonchild” (which falls well beyond our cutoff date for Maiden, and thus lacks any muster as a comparative), we gave the nod to their EP in a special addendum, exploring the differences between many members’ earlier act Dead Earth Politics and the new band that bears the moniker of one of their better tracks.

Here, again, frontman Ven Scott continues along the general vein of a Ralf Scheepers crossed with Masterplan’s Rick Altzi (perhaps with a hint of Lonewolf’s over-dramatics to boot), while the band offers a quirky but likeable prog/power oriented sound that really kicks in at the solo (which feels vaguely akin to the Yngwie school as filtered through the likes of Hammerfall, Rhapsody or Helloween).

Seriously, the song was pretty decent, but only really caught my attention when that solo section kicked in.

Holy shit, neoclassical Euro metal? And this from a vaguely melodeath lead line-driven verse, in a band (or at least members thereof) who used to be known more for their aggro tendencies?

Yeah, these guys keep getting better.

Really looking forward to the full length, if this is the direction they’re very obviously gravitating towards.

 

SHELTON/CHASTAIN – The Edge Of Sanity 88 Demo Session (Pure Steel Records) (October 26)

Every once in a while, a release drops across the virtual desk that yours truly was actually chomping at the bit for.

As a hardcore fan of both early Manilla Road and Chastain, the rumors that David T. and the late Mark Shelton were finally going to release some demos they’d done together around the time of Courts of Chaos was a jaw dropper…and something I couldn’t wait to dig my teeth into.

So here we are. Sadly, it’s only three songs worth of material (you know, an actual demo…), but with the longest and best track appearing in its abbreviated 12 minute (yep, you read that right) and extended 20 plus minute versions. Still more of a much welcome EP than an album, but who’s complaining?

Now, to the actual material herein.  And that’s where I’m suddenly of two minds.

As you can probably tell from the opener, I absolutely love Chastain’s classic work. As discussed in an earlier writeup, it was the just released 7th of Never album (and specifically “feel his magic”) that was the final push that turned me from curious and interested to full blown metalhead back in the day.

There’s a lot of memories and attachments to that album, Ruler of the Wasteland which preceded it (an album my main rival/buddy guitarist back then (his band and mine were always in competition, not least for sharing the same drummer on occasion) loved, though oddly it was the only Chastain in his collection!) and to a lesser extent, those which followed: Voice of the Cult, Leather’s Shock Waves (whose title cut was cowritten by Shelton, in fact) and For Those Who Dare. Mystery of Illusion was a late favorite, but didn’t even know that one existed until it was reissued around 1990 or 91.

Manilla Road, I only discovered fairly recently, in my (re)discovery of the dusty, rather obscure corners of the US power metal world a year or two back…but damn, were they a find!

Admittedly, I never cared for Shelton’s thrash phase or that replacement singer who took over come the 90’s – however oddly nasal his vocals, they were part and parcel of what made those prime albums so special and outsider. I’m talking Crystal Logic and Mystification in particular, but Open the Gates and The Deluge are more than solid, and all four get very regular play (Courts of Chaos, occasionally, but just to hear “book of skelos” and the title track.)

So imagine: an old favorite shredder and bandleader/songwriter gets together with a new favorite guitarist/frontman (himself a bandleader/songwriter to boot). Should be awesome, right?

Well…yes and no.

Unfortunately, we only have four tracks to work with here, one being a repeat, albeit in a superior extended version. Plenty of flashy Chastain style leads and mysterioso Manilla Road riffs to be found in this (pair of) track(s) – and no question “orpheus descending” is the real draw here. It’s a killer track, and would have fit well on Courts of Chaos or even, raspier vocals aside, Mystification. I’m sold.

That said, “edge of sanity” is a brief, quite forgettably overaggressive thrash number (which bafflingly went reused by one of Chastain’s own projects of the era, apparently! Really? The most forgettable track?  Why?, and “fields of sorrow”, while certainly an improvement thereon…just feels middling to inconsequential sandwiched between the 12 and 21 minute rounds of this…er, demo’s centerpiece and selling point.

A lot of folks are apologizing for the drum machine, but it’s really unnoticeable…and makes me wonder now if Fred Coury’s rather basic drumming on Mystery of Illusion was actually courtesy of a drum machine as well!

At a more standard price point, this one would definitely be worth it just for the extended “orpheus descending”, with “fields of sorrow” as an interesting, if overly thrashy appendix (the title track, again, baffles as to its being given such prominence and reworking – it’s by far the worst track on here, and not worthy of either man’s work).

At the $17 I’m seeing it list for across the board, though? Seems a bit steep for a two track demo, however excellent one of those tracks may be.

Now, back for another listen.

It is Chastain crossed with Manilla Road, after all.

  

FlowerLeaf – Stronger (November 9)

The quite attractive Vivian (“Vivs”) Takahashi is the centerpiece of this symphonic power metal duo, offering a pleasantly accented light soprano with just enough body to keep them from being another, say, Sarah Brightman.

There are a pair of femme guest vocalists here as well, and both women harmonize well with Takahashi on the tracks where they appear, though “we will stand” (with Exit Eden’s Marina La Torraca) comes off far more synergistic and dynamic than the stodgy if more faux-operatic “not my fault” (with a growly Mylena Monaco, of a band called Sinaya. Don’t ask me.) Of course, through the magic of multitracking, the lady harmonizes with herself well enough on the rest of the album. It’s all pretty pleasant on that front.

The issue is that the music itself is, while perfectly acceptable, totally generic chugging power metal guitars with only the sparsest of synth backing, and therefore highly unlikely to stand out in any real way from classic albums of the genre like Within Temptation’s Mother Earth, Visions of Atlantis’ Trinity, Magica’s Lightseeker or Krypteria’s Bloodangel’s Cry…never mind the likes of Nightwish, Leaves Eyes or the first two Epica albums.

Hell, even the Dianne Van Giersbergen albums with Xandria or the first few Ailyn Giminez Sirenia records are way beyond Flowerleaf’s reach, at least at this stage in their development.

And that’s a damn shame, because especially on tracks like “we will stand” or “girl in pearls”, Takahashi clearly displays the talent, range and pleasantness to really turn heads.

No, the real problem here is the rather basic, dull riffing and compositions behind her, presumably courtesy of Marcelo Kaczorowsky (listed as “bass”…if so, who’s writing the riffs?  Session players?

Bad? No…just snooze inducing and very, very common. You’ve heard stuff this basic so many times by now, you’ll be bored inside of a few bars.

So the fact that I’ll give ’em the nod despite that says a lot for Takahashi, who at least is pleasant and competent enough and bears the sort of endearing accent that made Ana Mladinovici’s Magica or Ana Stefanowicz’s Unsun so likeable…the sort of cute that just makes you want to give ’em a big ol’ hug. That was great, c’mere. Nice job.

Seriously. The girl’s got some talent, there.

Too bad about the meh material she’s given to work with.

 

Heretic Legion – The Purge (September 15)

New Swedish band copping to an old school death metal approach that feels somewhat Finnish, with a touch of the Dutch school. You know, as if you crossed Abhorrence with Gorefest, happens every day.

(long pause for dramatic effect)

whoops! Okay, what the fuck is this?  There’s some aggro screamer that shows up about 2 minutes in to “walls of retribution” and throws the whole damn thing out of whack…

Kick him in the ass and shove him right out of the room. Slam the door, here’s your coat, here’s your hat, what’s your hurry?  Oh, sorry, still have your coat and hat. Fuck it, burn ’em. You snooze, you lose(r)…

Seriously?  He’s back again on the next track?

Sure enough, this glutton for punishment who wandered into a very wrong recording session by mistake sticks with ’em for every. single. track.

You know, you didn’t have to leave this asshole on the recording, guys.  Just wipe that track, and point him to the whatever-core session 3 doors down, they’re sitting there wondering when the hell their screamer is going to show up.

Yeah, I don’t get this. The deep gargle growl vox are fitting enough (if a bit wet sounding and rather Finnish in feel), the simplistic, dark riffing that leaves them sounding so vintage Netherlands fits just fine…so why the pimply faced, hat to da back, baggy pants wearing, grab your dick to make sure you actually have one screamo/aggro/-core kid doing on this old school style death metal album?

The fact that both vox are done by the same guy just shows how wrongheaded someone involved with cough fronting this band actually is.

Dump the wannabe Anselmo bits, you’ve got a pretty decent sounding recreation of old school Euro-death metal on your hands.

 

Infernal Cult – All The Lights Faded (July 29)

One man bedroom black metal out of the Czech Republic.

Thankfully it’s more along the lines of the Cascadian school, expansive, pensive, essentially melodic in orientation and wide ranging in feel than you’d expect, particularly in tracks like “all the lights faded” or “distant from living”.

There’s a throbbing darkness to tracks like “embrace of shadows” or “triangle of horns” that suggests certain Norwegian acts (think mid to late 90’s, and more also ran than leading names here), with hints of the Finnish sound topping things off.

Then you get a track like “post living existence” which combines elements of the two for more of a depressive, Vardanesque sort of feel. None of the three approaches are less than likeable, none of this fails to work on several levels, and quite well at that.

Good stuff. I’m surprised to find a handful of black metal acts still worth hearing in recent months…particularly after a long and wide ranging apparent death of the genre, all wannabes and copycats and poseurs covering themselves in pseudos, atonality and more than just a little mumbo jumbo to throw everyone off the scent of the fact that they just plain suck.

That’s certainly not the case here. Well worth a listen.

  
Look, it’s Rachel Bloom from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend!

Fatum Aeternum – Mass Suicide of Human Race (Royal Arch Production) (June 1) 

Israel provides a truly bizarre attempt at crossing gothic rock with something more oddly experimental – think The Residents.

There’s bits that lean ska, others that feel vaguely 80’s pop (amusingly, the grimly lyriced title cut!) and a general weirdness that keeps this Israeli duo from ever achieving classification as, say, a quirkier than usual Projekt darkwave act.

Is it listenable in a late 90’s Kim’s Video NYC sort of way?  Oh, yeah, sure. This is the kind of thing the snotty hipster/punk reject clerks would try to scare off the listeners with all the time in their multiple Village to Alphabet City locations (there were four, if memory serves, the East Bleecker store and St. Mark’s being more or less tied as the best of ’em).

But is it goth? Not really.

Will it appeal to a general audience…even one inclined towards more cult and niche genre music? Nope.

But if you’re weird enough to dig stuff like The Residents and don’t mind hearing that general aesthetic transliterated to a second wave 90’s goth sort of milieu?

Yeah, they ain’t half bad.

Look, I can sit through and appreciate the occasional track from both Theatre of Hate and the Virgin Prunes, so this was nothing.

Hell, comparatively speaking? It was quite melodic and catchy!

Demetrio “Dimitry” Scopelliti – The Silent Watcher (November 4)

When did shred albums become unimpressive?

I mean, I can (and do) still sit through my old Shrapnel collection, shaking my head with appreciation at just how good some of these guys and gals actually were. Yngwie, Becker, Friedman, Chastain, Apocrypha, Racer X, Phantom Blue, Project MARS, Tony MacAlpine, even stuff like Eat ‘Em and Smile and Alcatrazz can still wow me with their impressive skills on the fretboard, as well as their darkly reverb suffused, very late night drive style metal compositions.

But these days, a few welcome surprises aside…so much of this is just…why? Why did you even bother to record this? Was anyone really impressed by this?

Case in point, we have some guy who does a bunch of awkward Dream Theater-style prog with more of a pissed off, detuned aggro guitar bent.* I guess if Joe Satriani were more of a grumpy neckbeard n’ tats type raised on aggro and nu metal, he’d put out something as yawn inducing and pointless as this.

* promo materials did mention crap like Devin Townsend – who at least has that weird sense of humor with the coffee-loving puppet – and Meshuggah, so you get the picture.

Me? I was bored off my ass, the more aimless transpositions and stutter riffs alternating between wheedly-whoo solos the guy laid down.

Yeah, whatever. So not impressed.

Next?

Madog – Raven (October 26)

oh, how clever! They’ve stolen the Warlord logo and inverted it.  And that opening to “raven”…”child of the damned”, anyone?

Quirky vocals that suggest early 80’s “outsider” metal (think stuff like Manilla Road, Heavy Load or Brocas Helm, but with more of a light Hammerfall sort of feel to ’em) and riffs that feel so close to Warlord or Hammerfall (hmm…the Joachim Cans connection, perhaps?) as to invite the designation of “copycat wannabe”…and yet, for whatever it’s worth, they were kicking around since the very early 90’s (this is a long-delayed “comeback album”), so go figure.

Bottom line, if you’ve never heard Warlord or Hammerfall before, you may well enjoy this one as a light diversion between much better bands of their ilk.

But if you know either of those bands…you’d be better served giving their early albums another spin, and forget all about this cheap imitation, however unintentional of one it may be.

One Last Legacy – II (October 12)

You know…sometimes you can tell you’re in trouble right from the promo writeup.

Let’s just summarize and say that Five Finger Death Punch was prominently mentioned. As was Machine Head.

Well, it was recorded in the same studio Powerwolf uses, I guess that’s a plus? Oh, wait, Crematory uses the same studio, forget it…

Yeah, semi melodic choruses afflicted by thin, young sounding clean vocals crossed with Anselmolike aggro belch croaks and howls. More balladic moments are afflicted with the curse of corner of the mouth yowled grunge (at least vocally), the whole thing is depressive and “modern metal” with riffs that, even at their most active, barely feel metalcore…

…yeah, it’s a lot better and more listenable than FFDP ever could be (or Crematory, for that matter). No question, there.

But seriously.

What the hell is that saying?

ASHES REBORN – Contamination (Firecum Records) (October 29)

Portuguese deathrash act. Sound more thrash than death, vox aside…but while occasional moments sound vaguely Vio-Lence, Destruction or Exodus, the riffing is too basic, too simplistic for either genre.

I guess if they were more blackthrash, you’d expect and forgive the basic approach, particularly if you’re thinking “South American blackthrash”. Out of Portugal.

But as death metal? Too thrashy, not sinister or dark enough.

As thrash metal? Yeah, you can hear bits and pieces and a bit of vintage speed that mark it as such, particularly given the sociopolitical lyrics.

But it’s hardly the technical riff fest you’d expect from the genre, and while that’s not a deal breaker by any means, we’d be remiss not to put a flashing red light on this one.

Yep, it’s very listenable, and hardly a million miles off the mark – can’t say I didn’t like this one at all (because I kinda did, actually). But it ain’t quite right, either.

Buyer beware.

Open Surgery – After Birth Abortion (BVR Records) (December 17)

Whoa, wait a minute. Hold your cotton pickin’ horses, there, pal.

A quote from the promo materials: “an established Death Metal act who delivers solid Florida style Death Metal.”

umm…no.

Established? Yeah, right, if you consider 2014 “established”. Who are you trying to kid?

But seriously, who cares about a little hyperbole – how many places have you seen that claim “established in” some year about 50 years before they ever thought about opening a damn store or restaurant? People are full of shit, that’s just how it is.

But there’s a real gotcha in that sentence.

Ready for the zinger? “delivers Florida style death metal.”

Nope. Not even fucking close. 

Hell, these Swedes can’t even get that “technical/brutal death metal” thing all the Suffocation wannabes are copping to right. How in hell is this supposed to sound like Death, Massacre, Morbid Angel, Obituary, Deicide, etc. etc.?

That’s right. It isn’t. It doesn’t. It’s kind of sorry, actually.

Well, they got one thing right, anyway. Because if there ever was an audio equivalent to an “after birth abortion”, this fucker’s it…

Next?

Season Of Tears – Dark Card (October 19)

Amusing attempt at doing full on, female fronted, operatically vocalled gothic/symphonic metal crossed with death metal.

Yeah, it winds up as just a weirdly aggressive, overly busy for no good reason take on the standard “beauty and the beast” thing the genre is known for.

But as noted, the riffs outside the chorus and bridges are overly chugga-chugga tech death, and they have poor frontwoman “Juliette” (no last name given) go from her usual pleasantly full mezzo and clearly operatically trained high range to a painful sounding, tonsil ripping scream at least twice. Way to ruin those golden tones, lady…

And as you might well expect, the male death growls are as comical as ever, particularly when they kick the damn song off exchanging words within a given line of verse…hilarious juxtaposition between the utterly talentless (“Matt”, credited with “male vocals & growls”, all in caps) and the clearly too good for the band she’s saddled with (our pal “Juliette” again).

Now, look, they clearly know which side their bread is buttered on, and therefore stick far more closely to the usual gothic/symphonic sound than they do to the tropes of death metal. But it’s still enough to feel a bit awkward, and even evoke some laughs out loud from yours truly. Thanks, “Matt”!

All told, it’s just one single with two rather pointless instrumental acoustic and orchestral versions, so I am left curious to see how they handle a full length album.

Despite all this, some definite possibilities here, mostly down to “Juliette” (stop screaming, dammit! You need to preserve that golden throat!) and the band’s overall deference to the expectations of their (true) chosen genre (fuck the death affectations, which are simply pointless and distracting).

More positive elements than not, despite how it may come off here.

Piledriver – Rockwall (ROCKWALL Records) (October 12)

Bar band.

Seriously, that’s all I have to say, and you’ll get the whole picture.

To be nice and fill out the picture a little, they’re a blues rock/boogie band with a decidedly 70’s “classic rock” feel, and the band feels “lived in”, like they’ve been playing this sort of thing in boozers and rented halls for decades, bumming ciggies and blowing more on the bar tab than they earn in an evening.

Weird tidbit? Accept/U.D.O. alumnus Stefan Kaufmann is part of the band. Don’t ask me how you go from straightforward Teutonic metal to this.

Sounds good and accomplished for what it is. You know, a bar band.

Next?

Silver Dust – House 21 (Fastball Music / Escudero Records) (October 5)

what…the…

(stunned silence)

BWA-HA-HA!!!

Seriously…is this a joke?

I mean, did you hear the fucking vocal that opens “it’s time”? Oh, and look, now they’re all drugged out droning like some half assed Alice in Chains?

Come on, let’s flip to another track. This has to be a one off or something.

(head shaking in disbelief)

Seriously? They’re going to do this on every track? And what’s with that whispering thing (“the unknown soldier”)?

Overdramatic, overly bombastic keyboard/symphonic bits that only serve to enhance just how ridiculous and over the top this is, then those absurd vocals. Either approach, because you get both in just about every track…but moreso the aggro/death ones, which are just…oy.

Oh, look, now they’ve dragged in “Mr. Lordi” to duet on Kim Carnes’ “bette davis eyes”. Umm…yeah.

The most listenable thing here…and it’s still pretty bizarre…is “the witches dance”, which sounds quite retro-90’s danceclub, all gothicized/grim electronica.  I actually liked this track, brought back some memories. Very much of that period, nice job.

But the rest…I guess it’s like a far less likeable Fatum Aeturnum, where it’s so fucking strange and out of some crackhead’s fever dream that it may actually hold some bizarre appeal. “Here, check this out!  You’ll never believe this one…”

Yeah, I have no words. I like that one song a lot, that’s all I can offer here.

OMEGAVORTEX – Promo 2018 (July 13)

uh, yeah. Black/death.  All the atonality, ringing open string bullshit and bad shout/gargled vox you’d expect from that, with half-assed Morbid Angel swipes for the song titles.

Utterly pointless, they probably think they’ve crafted a work of genius here.

You know, like our clueless Narcissistic Personality Disorder in Chief Don Trump.

“I give myself an A+. Can I go higher than that?”

FIEND – SEERESS (Deadlight Entertainment) (November 9)

Generic to subpar stoner doom act. Apparently the guitarist is a veteran of much better, if rather noticeably industrial/dance acts like KMFDM and Ministry.

Yeah, the riffs are there, but it doesn’t feel right at all – things lumber along at an (overly) fast pace, but there’s no feeling behind it, and the vox are terrible, and ill suited to the genre in all their screaming and shouting throughout.

You have to wonder if our vet wanted to recreate the industrial sound in a more stoner style format, and failed both audiences’ fanbases in the attempt.

Give this one a wide berth. No buts about it, this doesn’t work in the least.

The Cascades – Phoenix (Echozone) (October 19)

Okay, these guys bill themselves as gothic rock…but they’re not.

More like goth expats, or something borderline like Concrete Blonde’s excellent Bloodletting…but ultimately not gothic rock at all, however related it may seem in the big picture.

“Fur F.” sounds like Iggy Pop fronting a more synthpoppy Moonspell, if you can even picture such a thing.

Other tracks feel too mainstream indie rock, like “avalanche” (which comes off much like Peter Murphy’s decidedly un-gothic solo career), or “blood is thicker than blonds”, which is like a far less gothicized take on The Mission.

“Dark daughter’s diary” comes much closer to the real deal, being somewhat reminiscent of “haunting” era Nosferatu, but then we’re out of range again, with the late period Fields of the Nephilim cowpunk meets The Cult psychedelia of “phase 4”.

And so it goes, with some tracks teetering closer to actual goth only to miss the mark, while subsequent tracks manage to fall somewhere just outside the genre (or to sound like genre expats in their more mainstream later work).

Even tracks like “this world is yours”, clearly intended as a Sisters of Mercy homage of sorts, doesn’t bear the necessary darkness, cavernous reverb or sinister nervous agitation that marks the genre from its very core.

Bottom line, they’re familiar with the bands and their subsequent careers, and are clearly trying hard to emulate and recreate the sound…but don’t understand what makes the genre work, haven’t touched, felt and been consumed by the green toned flame that burns at the heart and soul of its listeners and practicioners, when it’s real.

Not saying they’re poseurs, here – I leave that question to those who know them personally, if not posterity.

But I am saying that however well they apprehend the superficials, they don’t get the essentials. You know, what actually makes a goth a goth, what makes the music work the way it does and touches those deep, hidden places within, igniting the inner flame and drawing like unto like…swaying like a community of dark spirits, burning to cinders with a white hot pyre that must be experienced to be understood.

Selah.

or perhaps more to the point?

“Aha.”

Good attempt, worth hearing for what it is.

Just don’t expect it to be goth in any real sense of the word.

PORN – The Ogre Inside (Remixed) (Echozone / Les disques Rubicon) (September 29)

Now this felt more authentically gothic…at least in the sense of “gothic/industrial”. Check out the “heartlay remix” of the title cut or “close the window”, and tell me that don’t feel like something off 13 Above the Night, or perhaps a Spahn Ranch cut…

Hell, you could even say the “heartlay remix” of “she holds my will” crosses London After Midnight with Suspiria…and that’s as directly second wave gothic (albeit the segment that comes with industrial leanings) as you can get.

The only “gotcha” here is taht it’s the same 6 songs, with a few coming in multiple (as in up to 4 apiece!) mixes. Generally the “heartlay remixes” work best, with the “erotic end of times remixes” coming a distant second, and the “aura shred” and “THOT” ones feeling utterly pointless. Gee, we can tell which of the four is a goth, can’t we?

But overall? This could have a release date of 1996 stamped on it, and nobody’d bat an eye.

Hails to my dark brethren, it’s about time y’all came back out of the shadows for another round.

Ecthirion – Psalms of the Risen Dead (Soundmass) (December 7)

Another gothic/symphonic metal act, albeit one so pretentious as to self-identify as “orchestral metal” with death metal influences.

Well…yeah, there’s some pointless Nile-esque vibe to “march of the risen dead” and a definite prog/tech death riffing overly cluttering a few tracks, but it’s the ones where they stick closer to genre…or even go full on Enya (“home”) that actually work, so they’d do well to forget the death metal genre ever existed and just do what they do best.

It’s nothing to write home about – Flowerleaf features more pleasant and endearing vocals, Season of Tears more impressive ones.

All you can say about Ecthirion in the end is that it’s sorta listenable, and nice to see a husband and wife (or is that brother and sister?) cooperating in a band together, for however long that lasts.

Alexandra Zerner – Opus 1880 (September 23)

What was I saying about the state of ostensible shred albums nowadays?

I refer the reader to our earlier discussion of the curious case of Demetrio “Dimitry” Scopelliti, and point your attention to the fact that much of this rather lengthy effort is actually vocalled (mostly by an “Angel Wolf-Black”, whoever that is).

But again, it’s overly Dream Theater-proggy, all pointless stutter stopping and weird key changes with no apparent motivation, with songs that sound strangely soft, yet appear to go nowhere in the end.

Strangely, Zerner seldom takes center stage for the usual wheedly-whoo bits or at least seems reluctant to do so, burying her tone under guitar synth even when she does.

Again, like Scopoletti, she quite consciously evokes the likes of Joe Satriani and post-Zappa/Alcatrazz/Roth/Whitesnake Steve Vai (you know, when he stopped making music worth hearing) while appending far more to the Dream Theater school of John Tesh with legato playing, sweep picked runs and general snooze inducing flibberty-gibberty nonsense.

Someone, somewhere in the world is very impressed by this album as we speak.

I am not that person, and I doubt you will be either.

Unless, you know, you jack off to Dream Theater every night.  In which case, have at it, I don’t wanna know.

Lutharo – Unleash the Beast (November 16)

Another Canadian power metal act crossing the Euro sound of modern iterations of the genre with the more thrash roots of the vintage USPM sound.

Much like their earlier countrymen 3 Inches of Blood, they bring good production, polished performances and powerful riffs to the table. But where the worst you could say about Blood was the oddly shrieky vox of Cam Pipes, Lutharo presupposes you’re a fan of The Agonist, if not modern day Arch Enemy.

Yep, frontwoman Krista Shipperbottom, despite like her obvious heroine possessing a perfectly acceptable clean alto (“temple”, the midsections of “unleash the beast” and “black scorpion”)…is yet another aggro screamo gone deep and “scary death metallish” in the Alyssa White-Gluz manner.

We saw the lady in question many years back, as a surprise opener for Epica and Visions of Atlantis (during their peak Melissa Ferlaak/Wolfgang Koch Trinity tour). And while she was undeniably cute visually…laughter and disbelief, if not outright derision was the only sane reaction.  And then the band van broke down outside the venue…all that negative energy comes around, I guess.

The problem with both women is not that they can’t sing clean, and well at that. Because both can. It’s that they choose not to.

Nobody’s impressed by all this sub-Angela Gossow business, ladies. You’ll never sound as scary and manly as she does, and you really wouldn’t want to.

So bottom line? I liked the band, I liked when she sang clean. Those parts were actually quite good…

…which was exactly what I said about the first Agonist album, when she still sang about half the time. You know, just like Krista does here.

Who knows, maybe Arch Enemy will vacate the frontwoman chair, and this’ll be needed by someone…at least if anyone still cares or listens to Arch Enemy, even now!

Otherwise? Drop the BLUURRGH BOOOWWLL OHHHH bullshit and just sing like a human being. You’ve got the voice for it.

Beneath the Hollow – Nihilist (October 26)

More aggro nonsense.

“Fuck you! mumble mumble fuckin’ something or other YOU SPREAD YOUR DISEASE! mumble grumble AAAAAHHHHH!!!” – actual quoted lyrics from “killing floor”.

Well, at least all the words that were intelligible among all the screaming. Did we mention the weird off key warbling falsetto? How about the swallow the mic snottily nasal Jonathan Davis meets Layne Staley vocal approach when the guy’s not screaming and cursing up a storm to no apparent end?

(actual sigh of dismay ensues)

…look, I don’t have time for crap like this, and neither do you.

next?

Dust Prophet  – “The Big Lie”

Okay, these New Hampshirites describe themselves as a “stoner/progressive/psychedelic rock band”, as if that made any sense to anyone whatsoever.

The riffs are overly busy and aggressive, if spastic, suggesting a heavy grunge orientation ala Alice in Chains or Soundgarden. Then at about 2 minutes 50 seconds, the distorted bass takes over and they go all Monster Magnet.

Combined with random keyboard riffs, overlaid multi guitar tracks and Heather Lynn’s “occult rock” ready alto vocals, nearly pushes this into All About Eve territory (particularly the early gothic rock leaning material, when they were still worth listening to – see also Cocteau Twins circa Garlands). The second half of the track comes off so much better than its rather awkward, even untoward first half.

Next time, lop off all that bullshit you were doing in the first 2 1/2 minutes of the track plus, and just deliver the dark psychedelia.  Because that end of “the big lie” was a “big win” for you.

Dusk – Epoka

um…

okay, what we have here is a failure to communicate.

(long pause)

several tracks of aimless electronic noise-based “ambient” mixed together with a smaller proportion of noisy “industrial” material, with the usual overprocessed screaming and those seriously annoying Atari Teenage Riot high speed drum machine runs.

For the bulk of this album, nothing whatsoever actually happens, which is just…strange. Long builds that lead to nowhere, like taking one stairwell after another in an unfinished castle. Every presumed egress only leads to another stone wall, in effect.

And even when you do get the expected “industrial”, don’t sit there expecting, say, Ministry, or Skinny Puppy, or BiGod 20, or KMFDM, or Meat Beat Manifesto, or Rammstein, even. It’s pretty iffy, though admittedly more for those stupid drum machine patterns than the rest of it…

Yeah, this one did not work at all. Next?

ONSET – Unstructured Dissemination (Weird Truth Productions) (November 28)

Instrumental doom, arguably stoner in tone and with some odd but not completely offputting electronic elements as background.

Most of what you’ll hear is those thick, droning guitars and pounding drums…just with this oddly swirling and buzzing electro/synth nonsense behind and above.

Apparently Sigh’s Mirai Kawashima did the intro and outro of the two track EP (which are the same exact piece repeated in two spots, a bit of a cheat, that…), and you can sort of tell it’s him by what you’re hearing. It’s the eerie stuff that actually sounds like it belongs, not the silly fritzing and fizzling stuff that stays throughout. A bit Sigh, a bit Necrophagia, but very obviously Kawashima.

Has too much going for it to dislike, but I could do without this “Microchip Terror” guy and his stupid sound effects, myself.

Aempyrean – Fireborn (Cyclopean Eye Productions) (December 1)

Poorly produced (such a thin sound! The hissing cymbals actually sound fuller and more lush than the guitars or the rest of the drumkit!) Indian deathtrash outfit.

They’ve clearly spent a lot of time listening to South American blackthrash (particularly Sarcofago) and Necrophobic, as that’s what comes across very loud and clear in their sound. They also cover Morbid Angel’s “chapel of ghouls”, but sound like Necrophobic with Mike Browning on vocals doing it, for whatever that’s worth.

Meh. Not bad in objective terms, just did nothing for me.

Dethgod – Disease Called Humans (October 25)

Wow. Not since Manilla Road have I encountered a drummer with a weirder sense of time and how to fill space than this…and at least Randy Foxe was just a weird timing sort of guy, like Mick Fleetwood or Ringo Starr.

This guy? He wouldn’t know meter if a metronome came to life and savagely bit him on the ass till he bled out.

I shit you not, this guy is that bad. Don’t believe me? Check out “created to conquer”, or even “ceremonial decadence” for starters.  He needs to turn in his drummer card.  Learn basic rhythm, guy!

Aside from that, they’re working Karl Willetts-style throaty death belches on the mic and overly detuned, Unleashed-thin and mids-heavy guitars that fall somewhere between lumbering chugging and overly fast tremelo with weird harmonic pick squeals, as if they were trying to be Suffocation and failed so miserably they wound up as Asphyx gone “brutal”.

Yeah, normally I’d be down with The Tribes (they’re Alberta Native Americans), but I think the Great Spirit may have turned his face from these guys…vox aside, they’re pretty weak.

Especially that damn drummer, holy shit! Did you scoop him up from Front Beast or something?

…next?

Siniestro – Arctic Blood (Black Lion Records) (December 10)

Swedish power trio who see themselves as blackthrash innovators (“we brought some punk to the table!”) Umm…yeah, sure.

Some tracks work well enough – the punchily riffed “arctic blood”, the odd punk meets groove of “pesten’s” second half – but it’s a decidedly middling affair, mostly marred by the mediocre death metal vox of some guy going by “Commander” (cough) and their overly blackened leanings which wind up screwing up every song of the four here at some point or another.

But there are also elements that make you wonder if they could do something better, as with at least portions of the two aforementioned tracks.

Forbidden Rites – Pantheon Arcanum (GrimmDistribution) (November 7)

Occasional melodic tremelo riffs in the vein of Gorgoroth enliven what is otherwise a fairly ho-hum affair.

I guess if you had to offer strong points about this, you could say the production is decent, at least if you removed the vocal track (those vocals aren’t just annoying, they’re mixed way too far up front, to the point where they all but bury the guitars and drums.

At times where “Vlad Marin” shuts the fuck up finally, guitars sound full and clear, with a nice tone for black metal, and drums are muted but work well alongside and behind them.

You could also say that the riffs were more deathlike and likeable than usual, but the real problem here? Those fucking vocals.

And again, if mixed to a proper level below the guitars (hell, put ’em behind the drums, too, works for me!), the vox are appropriate enough for the genre, if annoying, so it’s not like we’re talking something ridiculous like, say, Waxen here.

But when that’s the centerpiece and focus of the band? Yeah, I’d say we have a problem.

With never ending vocals, mixed up front and never stopping for even half a damn phrase burying every riff, and with drums that feel more power metallish than not (those bass drums never stop pounding away – thankfully not blastbeats, but are you excited by typewriter-style power metal drummers?)…yeah, this is pretty workaday if not downright boring.

Find a real engineer or producer to remix this thing, bury Marin as deeply as you possibly can and you may have a black metal-spectrum riff-fest on your hands.

Comatose Vigil A.K. – Evangelium Nihil (Non Serviam Records) (December 14)

Oh, you know you’re in for a band that’s pure evil when they steal a song title from a mediocre Brigitte Bardot film!

Seriously – “The night heaven fell”? Oh, excuse me, you changed the time of day. So different, I was fooled by that.

Couldn’t you at least have done Come Dance With Me or Please Not Now? Hell, I’d settle for Contempt…much better BB films, all.

As you can probably guess, there’s not much to say here. It’s funeral doom, and pretty good funeral doom at that, somewhere between Winter and early Ahab, but leaning much, much closer to the former.

I liked this quite a bit…odd choice of favorite Bardot film aside!

Inoculated Life – Exist to Decay (Redefining Darkness Records) (November 30)

Grinding, messy sounding death metal. Should appeal to the crowd that thinks Autopsy and Master are the sine qua non of the classic scene (when actually both were considered outliers, and marginalized if not completely ignored Stateside…)

Seriously, that’s all that need be said here.  Take the grinding aggression and blurred, indistinguishable “riffs” of Master and tag in a lot of sloppy, overdistorted, almost Sunlight Studios sounding but far more akin to an Autopsian ethos guitar tone and noise-belch vox, and you know exactly what these guys sound like: almost retro death metal, but too pointless, sloppy, un-atmospheric (they just don’t sound sinister in the least…) and riff-less to actually qualify.

I guess if you’re desperate to fill another slot on the death metal shelf, they may pass muster, however by the skin of their collective teeth…but that’s about the best that can be said for ’em.

Lucifer’s Fall – Tales From The Crypt (Sun & Moon) (December 17)

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!

Holy shit, Telly from the Sesame Street muppets gets his own band!

Seriously. The band themselves are sorta “occult rock”, sorta traditional/NWOBHM in riffing, but with a doomlike guitar tone and jam packed with the sort of solos and fills that’ll be sure to grab your attention. Good stuff, albeit a bit more in line with the USBM/biker band blackthrash Hell’s Headbangers seems to specialize in than
“doom” proper (in any of its variants)…

…but then you have to try, and fail miserably at, not bursting into involuntary gales of laughter at Telly’s overexcited gargle-shout vocals.

This appears to be a comp of some sort, with a few studio recordings, some rehearsal material and a few live tracks, which includes an awful take on Angel Witch’s…well, “angel witch”. It’s those vocals, man…and then he talks to the crowd, and sounds like a cross between John Lennon and Crocodile Dundee, which only makes it funnier.

Muppets yelling about satan or some shit, I tell ya…hilarious!

Where’s Oscar and Grover, I ask? I want these guys to cover the classic “I like trash”, or maybe even the unintentionally perverted “doin’ the pigeon”…

…next?

Svoid – Spiral Dance (Sun & Moon) (December 17)

Hungarian act that comes off like The Killers gone goth, or The Hives and Vines after discovering The Cure and Depeche Mode perhaps.

It’s all very polished and appealing, busy postpunk with strong gothic leanings that sounds decidedly modern indie rock, but with the sort of “almost there” feel of Unknown Pleasures-era Joy Division.*

* Hell, even the promo materials picked that up, asking “will you dance/dance/dance to this radio?”

Four tracks, but the only ones you’ll really want to hear are the stunning, oddly Devils Bloodlike “the velvet cell” (astute listeners will recognize that verse melody right away…) and, if you enjoyed that one as much as the rest of us did, perhaps “stand in awe” as well.

As for the other tracks, “the very hours” doesn’t feel very dark at all, and “long I’ve gone” is piano-based and uninteresting…so in the end, this is a very 50/50 proposition.

But when “the velvet cell” is as good as it is, and “stand in awe” isn’t exactly a million miles removed?  I’m calling these guys one to watch.

WULKANAZ – S/T (Helter Skelter) (November 26)

Oddball, almost Bethlehem-esque blackened punk.

Now, to say someone’s combining black metal and punk is nothing new – hell, it’s part and parcel of the very roots of the genre, with Venom and early Bathory.

But when the end result is this bizarre and off kilter, short, generally atonal and sloppy as this? Yeah, this is some seriously strange shit.

Often blowing out the recording equipment like some ersatz variant of Guitar Wolf, this is just…not right, there’s no other way to put it.

At least the songs are appropriately short. Hell, even with most of them running around the 2 minute mark, they feel too damn long.

FACELESS BURIAL – Multiversal Abattoir EP (BLOOD HARVEST) (December 7)

More death metal from Australia, and sadly of the “underground” variety, all cavernous incomprehensible vocals, massively detuned and heavily overdistorted guitars that shove the meters way the hell into the red zone. Only thing missing is the slap echo style mega-reverb…

End result is sorta like Incantation crossed with Suffocation, if you can even picture such an abomination.

Not the worst I’ve heard, by a long shot. But did nothing for me.

  

Ellende – Rückzug in die Innerlichkeit (AOP Records) (November 30)

As you can probably tell from the pastoral scene of lonely countryside on the cover, this is yet another band attempting to be Burzum, working that sort of slow, pensive and deliberate vibe you get with the Cascadian and (more listenable end of) DSBM, complete with shriek vox, haunting melodies and an overriding feeling of introspection and sorrow.

You already knew I liked this one.

BLOOD FEAST – Chopped, Diced and Sliced (CD, 12″ MLP, TAPE) (Hells Headbangers) (December 21)

Ah, Blood Feast, the East Coast Slayer. Or so they used to call ’em. They always sounded more death metallish to me.

We had original Blood Feast drummer Kevin Kuzma on the podcast wayyyyy back, as one of the earliest metal interviews (alongside fellow New Renaissance act Dream Death and fellow thrashers Exumer and Whiplash).

That’s just the underground scene yours truly came up on, and at the time we contacted ’em, none of these guys had even hit the comeback trail (or had done so extremely recently – most were dropping advance singles or even making on-air surprise reunion announcements for our use at the time).

That said, it wasn’t long before Kuzma and the other remaining veterans (save guitarist Adam Tranquilli) began to drop off and leave the new recruits to take over the helm, to relatively promising results – we covered their eventual “debut” album The Future State of Wicked when it finally dropped early last year, and found it fairly worthy of the band’s brief but important late 80’s legacy.

Interestingly, the new EP seems to pull Blood Feast Mark III even closer to their vintage forbears than last go-’round, offering a more consistent, speedy, well produced yet raw feeling thrash attack that comes off like…well, an East Coast Slayer gone a bit death metal.

I guess the feel here is much akin to what we last heard circa Face Fate, with a fatter guitar and double bass tone, but complemented by raw, hissy cymbal action and a tinny punk snare…and Chris Natalini’s throat wrenching vocals, which are far less crazed than Gary Markovich’s were (big tipoff – you can actually understand the lyrics to their cover of “darkside”!), but arguably even more abrasive and nasty sounding. And I mean that in a good way.

But somewhere between the unexpectedly high energy yet decidedly vintage approach to thrash metal and the (much) improved production, you’ll notice just how killer some of these vintage riffs were…especially on their second cover, of Mark II’s “chopping block blues” (an album I’d never held in particularly high esteem, being too polished and…tame for my tastes. In fact, I always found it a tad boring, by Blood Feast standards…)

By contrast? The “new” Blood Feast’s version sounds very much of a piece to “darkside”. Better? So do the new tracks.

And in case you’re having any lingering doubts about how worthwhile it would be to check these guys out live, there’s even a surprisingly decent “live in Japan” bonus track on here.

6 songs, well worth your time.

Last time around, I gave ’em props more for continuing the legacy without pissing all over what came before. You know, hey, wasn’t sure what to expect here, but this really wasn’t bad at all – in fact, I kinda liked it. That sort of take.

This time? I think this one belongs right alongside Kill For Pleasure and Face Fate. Don’t even worry about the other stuff.

Truly, surprisingly vintage in feel.  By George, I think they’ve got it!

DECEASED – Ghostly White (CD, LP, TAPE) (Hells Headbangers) (November 16)

We’d covered the reissue of Fearless Undead Machines two years back, and addressed therein our mixed feelings about King Fowley’s long running Deceased.

I’m still waiting for that reissue of Luck of the Corpse, the album I first recall discovering them through, but these 2018 vintage ears have been far more kind to Deceased than they were back in the early 90’s (or around the millenium, when that Supernatural Addiction/Behind the Mourner’s Veil box dropped).

In other words…I have to say, I actually liked Ghostly White, which is far more of a straightforward traditional metal album, or even an arguable USPM outlier, than it ever tries to be a death metal one (which was the main issue with the band in the early days. “Wait…wha? This ain’t death metal!”)

Fowley is still horror movie obsessed (Mrs. Allardyce is about the weird Oliver Reed/Dan Curtis TV movie Burnt Offerings, for example) and still works those odd growling yet declamatory and almost Carnivore-like vocals, but time may have given him more gravitas and grit than I recall of earlier Deceased.

Still ain’t death metal. And it’s still weird to hear someone trying to cross Chuck Schuldiner with Venom’s Conrad “Cronos” Lant, vocally…especially over trad metal leaning vintage USPM!

But yeah, assuming we just haven’t grown into each other’s comfort zone somehow over the years, this may be their best album yet.

MORBOSIDAD / KILL – Santuario del Diablo – split 7″ EP (Hells Headbangers) (November 30)

Ah, Morbosidad, the real life Spinal Tap.  First drummer exploded (not kidding), next drummer fell several stories to his death…tragic but bizarre. Who wants to sign up for the drum stool next? Any takers?

So here they are, four years on from their Tortura and only a few months on from Corona de Epidimia and already they’re back at it, cutting two more tracks of hyperaggressive South American-style blackthrash. Same as it ever was, same as it…ever was.

Sweden’s Kill doesn’t fare half so well, with their poorly recorded 7 minutes of mush, despite a far more sinister vibe set mainly by their vocalist. Who knows, maybe better production would give them more of a fighting chance.

Morobosidad wins, for whatever that’s worth. You’ll probably see these two tracks again, someday on some comp of splits or what have you.  Always happens…

SKELETHAL / CADAVERIC FUMES – Heirs of Hideous Secrecies – split 7″ EP (Hells Headbangers) (November 30)

And another bunch of regulars, this time France’s Skelethal, whose Deathmanicvs RevelationInterstellar Knowledge of the Purple Entity and Of the Depths… represented a continually improving take on vintage Sunlight Studios Swedeath.

Here, they up their game a bit by tagging in some decidedly Deathlike early “Evil Chuck” style vocals, then giving ’em the Carcass “dual vocal/shriek and deep growl” treatment. Nothing spectacular, but certainly likeable enough.

We’d also covered fellow Frenchmen Cadaveric Fumes for their Dimensions Obscure, but weren’t half so impressed, given all their blackened tendencies on display therein.

Here they fare much better, at least managing to sound authentically death metal on their two tracks, despite an overly raw (if still Sunlight-oriented) production style and wet sounding vomit vox.

Not a bad split for the type. Won’t shatter any records or do much more than send you back to spin the original bands and albums they’re swiping from here…but there’s something to be said for that.

WITCHING HOUR – …And Silent Grief Shadows the Passing Moon (CD, LP, TAPE) (Hells Headbangers) (December 21)

You know, from that cover and song titles, I was really, really expecting something akin to Judas Iscariot, here.

Nope.

Overly dry, mids-heavy production, awful scream/shout vox, and a lot of trad metal/NWOBHM riffing. So how is this black metal, or even blackthrash, again?

Well, to be fair, you could trace a fairly indistinct line to Desaster from a lot of what I’m hearing here on the guitar side…but still. It’s more like an overly busy, too sloppy NWOBHM tribute with a seriously shit guitar tone.

Not sure what their intention was, but color me extremely disappointed.

Best track by a mile: “behold those distant skies”. Now take a listen to that track. Oh, how blackened, right?

Nah, I’m not buying that line either.

…next?

Ysengrin / Stargazer – D.A.V.V.N. 12″ MLP (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (December 15)

And yet another regular joins us, this time France’s Ysengrin, whose Liber Hermetissplit with Black Grail and split with Sartegos were all covered in these pages.

At their best, Ysengrin is notable for a somewhat Rotting Christlike attention to trad metal melodicism amidst all the blackened nonsense, but here that’s nowhere in sight.

Instead, one track is entirely ambient, with spoken word/chanting, while the other is lumbering and so basic as to be pointless…why did they even bother to commit this to vinyl?

Australia’s Stargazer fares little better, with an overly repetitive riff that after about 6 minutes disappears in favor of aimless acoustic strumming and fiddling about.

umm…yeah. I think we’ve all got better things to do with our time, you as bands, the recording engineers and producers, the label, the listeners…to be wasting time on pointless experimental shit like this.

…next?

Devathorn / Inferno – Zos Vel Thagirion (W.T.C. Productions) (December 11)

Speaking of pointless experimental nonsense, here comes the mainman of Acherontas with an utterly pointless ambient track and another that only occasionally erupts into even the most basic of riffing and drumming, with long, long nigh-silences between. It only gets acceptable around the 12 minute mark. In a 15 minute track.

Devathorn tries the same trick on one track, using Tibetan throat singing as filler before finally doing…something, at least; the other track is boring black/death of the most template variety (“I wannabe Watain. I really WANNA be Watain.”)

zzzz…

Right to the flames. So much iffy material this month, ya get tired of consigning everything to the oblivion they so deserve…but some are “special” enough to get the full monte.

WHIZZZ!!!

oof! Sorry about that. Someone just got their eyebrows singed clean off from that stinker…

…next?

Valkyrja – Throne Ablaze (W.T.C. Productions) (November 26)

We covered The Antagonists Fire a good five years back, and had a good laugh about their template Watain zombie/wannabe status.

Well, guess what? They haven’t changed a bit!

WHIZZZ!!!!

Holy shit! That was an explosion to reckon with…

Good thing we’re near the end of the Roundup. I keep expecting the cops to show up or something, the flames are just getting way too high this month!

Adaestuo – Krew Za Krew (W.T.C. Productions) (December 11)

We covered their Tacent Semitae a few years back, only to find ourselves calling for the check, practically before we sat down.  Now that was unusually (A)brupt…

and…yeah. Let’s just say that Abruptum had nothing on these guys when it came to pointlessness.

If you spit out your first bite of rancid food, is it considered a “dine n’ dash”? Because I’m hardly inclined to stick around after this stinker.

Send this back to the chef, tell him to stick it in the incinerator, with my compliments.

Now back to the Brainstorm back catalogue.  I need something that’s
actually good to wash my ears out after all this…

 

 

 

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