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And so another year comes to an end, and by the time your eyes peruse these lines, things will probably have changed more than once again on the personal listening front.

But since we last sat down to chat, the estimable “blue collar” power metal of Brainstorm – a band seldom so celebrated among certain circles as they should be, presumably due to their pointedly darker USPM orientation (and apparent disinclination to tour outside of Europe, if not, to judge by a recent announcement, Central Europe in particular!) has moved easily into my top spot as “go to” power metal these days (a role previously filled, for decades, mind, by Rhapsody).

There are certainly albums that stand above others – I’d say Liquid Monster was the best of the Metal Blade lot, with the All Highs, No Lows collection grabbing pretty much all of the high points of their time with said label…and as noted previously, Midnight Ghost and Firesoul as the undisputed pinnacles of their AFM era to date.  Generally speaking, they remain on an upward climb…not something you can often attribute to a band with a long discography!  So due respect to Herr Franck and company for that, and hoping for more and even better in the future.

But there’s also been a lot of digging and revisitation going on.  Not only has this encompassed multiple repeat performances of previously mentioned albums like Burning Point’s pair of Nitte Valo efforts (both top notch, though the self titled is unquestionably more varied and likeable) and Nightmare’s Dead Sun (really can’t wait to see how they follow that up)…but older albums, like Mob Rules’ Cannibal Nation have really stood the test of time, often sitting head and shoulders over the rest of the lot (both in terms of their own discography and what I’ve been hearing in Euro-school power metal per se).

Perhaps most wonderful have been the “discoveries”, like a post-review reassessment of Dynazty’s Firesign (where I discovered a burgeoning taste for all that hypermelodic Swedish cheese)…or a dig into the basement CD archives which unearthed some forgotten gems: namely, Thunderstone’s Apocalypse Again (which among other merits boasts a very similar vocal approach to Mob Rules’ Cannibal Nation, but with greater polish and melodicism) and a 2 disc box from Voice,* whose Prediction is something of an unsung (if not entirely forgotten!) gem, much akin to Mandrake-era Edguy, but with actual riffs…

* yeah, there’s an unspoken pattern here.  While there are a few other labels who’ve dipped (and continue to dip) their toes into the pool, there’s no question, AFM really is the label to hit up when it comes to European power metal.

But all this points to one thing – a huge disparity between good music and…not so good music.  There’s always a degree to which these things are subjective, of course.  Some folks hate foods that others practically can’t live without, and vice versa.  But there’s also a very objective one.

Folks scream and growl because they can’t sing – it’s right there from the horses’ mouths, in hundreds, if not thousands of interviews with bands over the decades. Some genres practically demand that sort of stylized approach – it’d be strange to hear clean vocals over classic death or black metal, without question.  But there are so many bands who don’t even try, who think that literally shrieking and screaming their tonsils out is some sort of statement, a cathartic middle finger to the world that they mistakenly believe simply can’t be expressed otherwise.

Or more likely, they just can’t fucking sing.

The problem with listening to good music, with strong, accomplished performances? Is that it often gets harder to give the questionable to bad stuff a pass.*

* see our coverage of Der Rote Milan for more on this matter…

So mild apologies to a few of the more polished, clean vocalled acts last review cycle, who while certainly addressed with the usual mix of objective appraisal, subjective reaction and honesty to the point of bluntness** may have gotten a touch more of a slam than usual.

** or as Pontius Pilate once said, “what I have writ, I have writ.”  Selah.

Because when you’re immersed in music that’s not only well done, but that you actually love?

I’m sorry, but “meh” really doesn’t cut it.

MAGIC DANCE – New Eyes (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (December 7)

The lighter end of early to mid-80’s radio-ready AOR is amply recaptured by this (surprisingly!) New York City act.

You’ll hear hints of vintage Asia (“never go back”), a slightly harder edged Toto (“you’re holding back”), the Alan Parsons Project (“looking for love”), even moments that evoke oddball pop-rock acts of the era like Naked Eyes (“please wake me”) or Mike and the Mechanics (“please wake me”, “new eyes”, before going full on Nashville (“cut beneath the skin”).

But the act that Magic Dance most brings to mind?

Wait for this one…The Outfield.

Seriously.

Just sit back with tracks like “better things”, and use that new lens to revisit earlier ones like “you’re holding back” and “please wake me”…hell, the better part of the album appends best to Tony Lewis and company’s pleasant mix of light and airy pop with more typically AOR-based guitar crunch.

At the time, the band was viewed as likeable if a tad generic…but that was the mid-80’s. To hear something this smooth and polished, but with enough Casio synthpop keyboard and crunchily overdriven rock guitars in 2018…much less not hailing from the new AOR strongholds of Sweden and Italy?

I’d say they stand out, yeah.

Very likeable stuff, brought me right back to what, for all their flaws and dated tech, were inarguably much better times.

ALCATRAZZ – Parole Denied – Tokyo 2017 (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (December 7)

One of the more enjoyable revisitations and reevaluations of this past year or two was that of a certain Graham Bonnett.

Previously seen (at least by yours truly) as a strangely recurrent figure appearing in, then immediately parting ways with, any number of neoclassical shred-based bands, it was something of a revelation to suddenly reach that “aha!” moment, where most if not all of these players and band’s best work (or at least right up there with the best of their respective discographies) turned out to be when this man was fronting them. Hmm…

Well, thankfully, there’s been a recent reissue/remaster campaign going on with Bonnett, where much of his past work (inclusive of some stuff I wasn’t even aware he’d done, namely Forcefield and the Electric Zoo demo) has been brought back into print and up to snuff. And now the missing puzzle piece that was there in front of my face the whole time comes into view.

Now, those expecting the same excitement the man was able to generate with greats like Blackmore and Schenker, Alcatrazz sidemen Malmsteen and Vai or even later compatriots Impelliteri and Shimizu-era Anthem…I’m sorry, but you’ll have to rein in the expectations somewhat.

While this is an all-Alcatrazz based concert (held, quite naturally, for the Japanese diehard faithful who’ve been the main audience of shred uninterruptedly through the decades), the presence of fellow Alcatrazz sidemen Jimmy Waldo (keys) and Gary Shea (bass) only represents half the picture.

The crucial role of covering both Malmsteen and Vai’s pronounced, showy and quite lead-based performances? No, sadly, it’s not Meanwhile, Back in the Garage/Jag Panzer/Shrapnel Records vet Joey Tafolla.

Instead, it’s been entrusted to Graham Bonnett Band six stringer Conrado Pesinato, who is more of the “tries hard and sort of pulls it off if you’re going by rote” level than the world class player working sideman to Bonnett (much less covering the very songs and leads laid down by both Malmsteen and Vai!) demands. You won’t cringe, in other words, but you certainly won’t be wowed either.

Thankfully, Bonnett remains in fine form, and Waldo and Shea bring the required veritas, Shea keeping things busy and double bass-inflected and Waldo very much up front Jon Lord style throughout.

If they’d pulled in a stronger six stringer (hell, you’re in Japan, tap Akio Shimizu, or even Marty Friedman!), this could have been amazing.  But hey, it is what it is, and that’s a respectable live “reunion” album from a classic 80’s metal band.

As an added incentive to Alcatrazz completists, Bonnett includes a number of studio demos from 1985, of which I believe only “blue boar” and “ohayo Tokyo” made it to their third album (about which most everyone agrees the less said, the better).

Nice surprise: one of these (the ballad “emotion”) is actually a Steve Vai leftover, a ballad with a typical stunner of a solo that (much like his work of this period) evokes his Zappa-era style more than what followed. I won’t say it’s worth getting just for this one track, but hey. You won’t hear this one anywhere else, so far as I’m aware.

Not bad, it’s nice to hear much of the old gang back together and in good form, and that one bonus track offers a bit of a ringer to boot.

DEVIL’S HAND ft. SLAMER – FREEMAN – S/T (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (December 7)

And as is Frontiers’ wont, here we have another “meeting of the minds”, gathering the mainmen behind AOR based rock bands both vintage and new.

It’s kind of a thing with the label, sort of like a more melodic radio rock version of Mike Varney’s Shrapnel records (where you’d find the likes of Ron Keel put together with a young Yngwie Malmsteen, shredder Tony MacAlpine working with Ozzy vets Tommy Aldridge and Rudy Sarzo behind Christian rocker and Impelliteri frontman Rob Rock and suchlike), and can result in some amazing material (Racer X being a prime example thereof).

So here you get the frontman of original Dio sidemen Last in Line, Andrew Freeman, together with Streets six stringer Mike Slamer, dropping what comes off like a particularly guitar-heavy take on Loverboy or a grittier, more metallized version of Survivor.

Many of the solos lean towards an almost Van Halenesque style, bringing echoes of both the David Lee Roth band and Roxy Blue to mind, while pursuing an odd sideline in Nashville-style balladeering (“justified”, “unified”) and a nigh-Southern rock bar band thing (“one more time”, “devil’s hand”).

I guess you could excuse it by referencing post-New Jersey Bon Jovi or suchlike, but yeah. It’s not exactly AOR, much less that “corporate rock” (remember that one?) meets Van Halen thing they’ve got going on otherwise.

You’ve got a more than respectable vocalist and a player who obviously knows his shit, here. What else did you need to know?

It works.

PALACE – Binary Music (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (December 7)

Another album from Michael Palace’s post-First Signal act. We’d covered their Master of the Universe two years back, and appreciated their prominent keyboard work and the man’s own Lou Gramm meets Joey Tempest tones.

Here he seems a tad more raspy than I recall from our last dance, but make no mistake, this is still quite smooth and retro minded material, with those omnipresent keyboards, clean toned guitars that go into a crunchier (but still lightly distorted) overdrive in more uptempo moments…hell, “love songs” practically sounds like something the California Dreams would have played down at Sharkey’s!

Aside from the rather John Schneideresque tone seen on “who’s counting time”, this is more of the light and poppy end of AOR, but as polished, catchy and smoothly melodic as you could ever ask for.

Good enough for me.

Tell Sam I’ll meet her at Sharkey’s in time for the show. Love those Dreams.

STATE OF SALAZAR – Superhero (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (December 7)

We’d covered these Swedish classic/prog oriented rockers’ All the Way four years back, and most of that assessment remains dead on to what you’ll hear herein: most pointedly, this is Kansas crossed with a bit of Styx, but with elements of Toto and Kevin Cronin-era REO Speedwagon serving as audial garnish.

In other words, it’s heavily keyboard driven (think more piano tone and 70’s prog rock grandiose than the more typical 80’s sound AOR bands gravitate towards nowadays), with backing rhythm guitars that bear enough crunch to sound appropriate (think Survivor or Foreigner) and a smooth, if deeper toned than usual tenor vocal over the top.

Some tracks are absolutely killer (“if you wait for me”, the decidedly Kansaslike “masquerade” and “someone I know”), others are acceptable but much lighter, more akin to Peter Cetera’s solo work than classic Chicago (“love witll find a way”) or vintage Toto (“Joanne”).

Bottom line, it’s smooth, its full of hooks. If you dig vintage AOR and American/Canadian based prog rock of the late 70’s and very early 80’s, you really can’t go wrong with these guys, despite all the lightness of tone those comparatives imply.

JOHNNY GIOELI – One Voice (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (December 7)

Axel Rudi Pell and Gioeli/Castronovo frontman strikes out on his own, and for a good cause to boot.

Even above and beyond the likeability of the material (of which there is a’plenty) and the confident Bon Joviesque tones of Gioeli himself, “a big portion of the album’s crowdfunding” goes to a newly paralyzed fella’s medical bills. You can look up the details, but it’s a nice gesture, and something of a bonus incentive to those who enjoy the man’s work.

Do we really need to say more about this? You know the man’s voice and previous work, this is in the same ballpark (if not more smooth and 80’s AOR…Bon Jovi regains their debut/7800 Fahrenheit edge, perhaps?), and while the money’s already been collected and donated from the crowdfund crowd, it’s still effectively “sold to help someone out”, if you think about it.

Sure, I liked this well enough. But even so.

If nothing else, it’s nice to hear there are still people who give a damn out there in an increasingly cold world, so yeah. Hats off to ya, brother.

STEELHEART – Rock’n Milan (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (December 7)

Live album from this early 90’s glam to light metal act.

We’d covered them before, for their Through Worlds of Stardust, and this doesn’t exactly disabuse the impressions given last time around.

If you dig, say, post-Girls Girls Girls Motley Crue (especially the John Corabi album), Jackyl or that Van Halen album Gary Cherone did, you’ll probably love these guys…and the leads are pretty tasty, I have to admit that.

But yeah…while it’s far from “bad”, there’s simply too much of that post-GNR/trying to sound “hard” and grunge thing that far too many metal bands moved to in the early to mid 90’s for my tastes.

Kiss circa Revenge and Psycho Circus, anyone?

Evergrey – The Atlantic (AFM Records) (January 25)

We’ve covered these Swedes several times, for Hymns For The Broken, The Storm Within and both The Dark Discovery and Solitude, Dominance, Tragedy, to much the same assessment and result.

A depressively inclined, dark toned cross between the miserable introspection of emo, the overly detuned nu metallish thing you get with doofy bands like Five Finger Death Punch and a more European gothic metal polish, you’d think comparisons to the (in the first and third respects) similarly inclined Vanishing Point would be in order…but no, we weren’t really hearing that.

Just to make things even weirder? They consider themselves prog metal. Say huh? Nope, not hearing that at all...

Well, here, Evergrey may have taken a baby step forward in that general direction, with an almost AOR to Nashville inclination towards radio ready choruses, arguably cleaner toned vocals from frontman Tom Englund and more use of keyboards.

About the only thing that could be considered “prog” here is the use of somewhat generic stutter rhythms, forcing the drummer to syncopate his timing and phrasing on a semi-regular basis…but the usual trappings of the genre, from soaring vocals to wheedly-whoo solos to almost jazzy riffing and rhythms simply aren’t there.

There’s no link to acts like Queensryche, Crimson Glory or Fates Warning on one hand, or the Dream Theater school on the other. Hell, this doesn’t even connect with “classic prog rock” (think anything from ELP to Rush, from Cherry Red/Goblin to Styx and Saga here)…this is just dark, Prozac-baiting modern metal with overly detuned guitars that never get particularly flashy.

But taken in and of itself, as if Evergrey’s Currents were an island disconnected from the entirety of the musical ocean and biosphere they naturally inhabit, what you get is listenability.

Even with the detuned guitars chugging about rather aimlessly, even with Englund’s so depressed I can barely get out of bed vocal inflections…it’s far smoother than any of the emo or nu metal nonsense the band seems to draw so much from, spiritually. While it’s hardly what I’d consider “prog”, it’s not a million miles removed from gothic metal, occupying some odd one man variant thereof all its own.

In the end, Evergrey is what you choose to make of ’em, and what you choose to take from ’em. I’m seeing a bit more smoothness, a bit more melodicism creeping into the equation…so while I’d hardly put these guys on a list of must hear acts, they’re certainly melodic, acceptably competent players, and bear the appropriate degree of studio polish.

And that’s a lot more than you can say about any number of releases that come across the virtual desk, so take that as a plus.

 

Flotsam And Jetsam – The End Of Chaos (AFM Records) (January 18)

We’d covered these Arizona thrashers’ self titled comeback albumfew years back, and found them a very different beast than where yours truly left off with them, around their Newsted-less No Place for Disgrace (itself a bit of a step down from Doomsday for the Deciever, still a regular go-to when I’m looking to air out the thrash).

The pluses about that album, to sum up in brief, were that Eric A.K. and Mike Gilbert were back in tow, alongside Sentinel Beast alum Mike Spencer, with good riffing and even better leads. And while hardly the high flying, soaring vocalist he was in his prime, Eric could still throw down an acceptable performance on the mic. In other words, it wasn’t bad at all.

So what happens when you take the same trio and tag in notable session drummer Ken Mary (Impelliteri, Chastain, Fifth Angel)…and then light an actual fire under their ass?

Holy shit, the riffs on this one!

Seriously…if the self titled was a respectable comeback attempt by some veteran thrashers…this one is their attempt (and to a certain extent, success) at recapturing their Doomsday/Disgrace heyday.

I mean…it’s like pulling out Unleashed circa As Yggdrasil Trembles and Odalheim. Sure, this may not be Where No Life Dwells or Shadows in the Deep…but are you gonna file it alongside ’em and play it pretty damn regularly? You bet.

Seriously…the riffs!

Showing the new kids how thrash is done, right here in 2018.

Profound hails to the veterans…you’ve more than earned it.

 

COLD SWEAT – Break Out (20th Century Music) (October 26)

Remember Marc Ferrari? Longtime sideman for Ron Keel in his eponymous hair metal act Keel?

Then you sort of know what to expect here: respectable if not exactly world shaking leads and riffs. Production feels a bit raw, pointing to either a vinyl source for the mastering or a bit too much of that early Ratt thin n’ gritty tone on the guitars.

It’s certainly acceptable and familiar to vets and fans of the era this hails from (the man went right from the ’87 self titled to this one-off), but may sound a bit overly hollow, mids-friendly and prone to scratchiness and signal bleed on the higher register for those more accustomed to today’s often more crystalline and polished production style (particularly when it comes to the likes of power metal or prog).

As for the music itself…think to yourself, “gee, what if Mr. Big had actual riffs?” Yep, it’s that sort of big chorused, gritty/”bluesy” vocal driven act, but with far more attention to the riff and even leads than that all star act seemed willing to deliver (which was and remains the single most irritating thing about that band, particularly in its debut, when we all expected Racer X meets David Lee Roth, not Kings X Jr…)

In fact, you could draw a fairly even line between The Final Frontier and Cold Sweat (the ’87 album was too bombastic and glammy by comparison)…so it’s clear this is Ferrari’s baby. Even so, it’s pretty typical of the type, not really standing out from the crowd despite all its merits and intrinsic likeability.

Bottom line, if you like where mainstream metal (or as they rebrand a lot of these acts nowadays, “hard rock/AOR”) was going circa ’89-’90 right before the precipitous fall that grunge represented, you should be pretty happy to see this relative obscurity unearthed – and viewed in terms of “unexpected catalogue finds”, this one’s pretty damn solid.

MAGNUM – Live At The Symphony Hall (Steamhammer / SPV) (January 18)

Live album from this long running AOR act.

We’d covered their Sacred Blood “Divine” Lies a few years back, and Lost on the Road to Eternity last year, so you already know more or less what to expect here.

This is a very light, melodic prog rock, somewhere between Supertramp and Asia, with moments that lean a bit Styx…that’s about as hard n’ heavy as things get. Nothing wrong with it if you’re in the mood for something theatrically dramatic, but it’s hardly Queen either, nor is it as cosmic consciousness trippy as Yes, King Crimson or as willfully deep as Kansas.

In other words, these guys sound like a typical ProgPower mid-card act, polished and melodic enough to win over the sort of crowd that grooves on this stuff but not driving, busy or distinct enough to really stand out among the big guns.

Nothing to complain about here…but it’s on you to find something more effusive in material so respectably middle of the road.

Emigrate – A Million Miles (Spinefarm Records) (November 30)

hmm.

Richard Z. Kruspe, guitarist for the much famed industrial act Rammstein, steps out for this far more diverse and unusual side project.

Now, to be fair, there are elements of electronic/industrial at play herein as well…but is it Rammstein, Jr.? Not even close.

Particularly interesting are the tracks where he uses other singers, like the pop-punk of “1234” and the gothic pop of “lead you on”, but Kruspe takes things to weird places, like the CW tween drama friendly neo-Nashville cum emo of “you are so beautiful”, the early millenial punkish stomp of “hide and seek” or the ersatz synthpop of “let’s go”, which pulls in his Rammstein compatriot Till Lindemann on vocals.

Clearly a very different animal than what you’ll hear from his main gig, Emigrate shows another, more youthfully eclectic side of the industrial six stringer.

Whether you find it charming or a shrug of the shoulders is pretty much down to how much sentimental attachment you have to Crazy Taxi and the early days of bands like Blink 182, Good Charlotte and Green Day, really.

Venom – Storm the Gates (Spinefarm Records) (December 14)

My introduction to Venom came with the all too brief American Assault, and boy, did they have the right number with that one.

I mean, it was unfortunate to leave the second side exclusively live, but for “rip ride”, “bursting out” and “Countess Bathory” alone, that was one hell of an introduction…honestly, one that the albums themselves couldn’t live up to. Hell, “bursting out” was, and in many versions of the original trilogy floating around out there, still is, exclusive to some obscure single/EP otherwise!

But over the decades, it became apparent that this was a band more informed by hype and image than substance, who had a surprising number of catchy, punkish tracks buried in the mud of detuned bass and a whole lot of…lesser tracks.

Yeah, it’s easy to say “stick to Welcome to Hell, Black Metal and At War with Satan”, but even there, there’s quite a bit of fat to be trimmed…and more than a few killer tracks in absentia that need to be added on as bonus tracks (depending on which label or version you managed to grab). Any way you slice it, the one thing nearly everyone agrees on is that come ’87, their run of worth was good and over, kill the heat, they are done.

So band members came and went, there were solo albums and Inc.’s and all sorts of happy horseshit, with Cronos and company celebrated more for their early 80’s material and greeted with eye rolls and snickers for anything and everything since. Oh, yeah, those guys. Great stuff, back in ’83! Still play the hell out of Black Metal, eh?

All that to skip over a lot (a lot!) of years and albums really not worth discussing, to bring us a whopping 38 years on from their storied debut (if you can believe that!)…and you know what? This album’s fairly respectable.

Is it classic Venom? Pfft. Seriously?

But is it recognizable as some ersatz variant of where they might have gone after Possessed, back around ’86 or 7?

Interestingly? Yes…

Will you catch me making some major stink out of this album? No, come on. Seriously. It’s surprisingly good, but not an amazing work for the ages or anything.

But will I give it a due nod of respect as an album filled with crusty production, vintage riffs, a mix of thrash and patented Venom sonic mush with gargled vocals about dark things?

You bet. Don’t call it a comeback…but it might as well be.

Plague Years – Unholy Infestation (Seeing Red Records) (January 4)

Crunchy, chugging Slayer meets Exodus by way of Vio-Lence-like riffs that clearly spell thrash in big neon letters…but with enough aggression and Morrisoundesque feel to leave you wondering if this wasn’t bordering on death metal.

Even the whammy bar-waggling solos and use of reverb thereon are successful in recreating that vintage sound…

…too bad about that ridiculous Sludgelord Records-style fat flannel wearing guy bellowing and spitting crumbs of his Manwich all over the front row vocalist!

Drop that dope and find a proper thrash frontman, these guys would be a five star proposition. So yeah. The rest of ya in the band? You know exactly what to do.

Someone needs to invent a personal mixer for iPods and portable devices. Just wipe that vocal track entirely and enjoy an otherwise totally killer band.

Beyond Creation – Algorythm (Season of Mist) (October 12)

French-Canadian progressive death metal. Bears some degree of lineage to Agressor, whose Rebirth was recently re-recorded and reissued.

The main difference is that Agressor was trying, at least at that point in their career, to move into something more symphonic and orchestral (in a way)…and there’s simply none of that at play herein.

Instead, what you get is a pointedly proggy, overly busy legato lead line wending its way through each and every track, more often than not serving as the de facto “riff”. The production’s clean, the vocals are standard (if overly generic and unimpressive), the drumming is busy and syncopated.

There’s really nothing bad to say about these guys – if you dig the style, you should be well chuffed by such a polished presentation thereof.

My own tastes in death metal are more traditionalist and hail from a few years prior to this particular sound’s invention.

Crippled Black Phoenix – Great Escape (Season of Mist) (September 14)

Justin Greaves, briefly sticksman for Electric Wizard (he appeared on We Live) brings his (literal) major depression to this long running, member grist mill-churning project.

Be warned, most of this album is glacially paced, with minimally instrumented half song length ambient to darkwave “intros” that eventually give way to more of a midtempo full band…well, is it really still darkwave at that point?

Picture your typical black ambient album with strong overtones of Lycia, turning into a cross between Ian MacCulloch and Nick Drake, vocally speaking, tag in occasional guitars, and you’ll get the general idea. I guess you could call them the bastard sons of Lycia as shorthand, but that implies something far more lush and engagingly expansive than Crippled Black Phoenix appears to have in their musical armory. That general ballpark, though.

Best track by leaps and bounds: “times, they are a’raging”, which is the closest to an actual song as you’ll get here. The rest, you have to have the patience of a saint to sit through, much less appreciate.

Unless you’re morbidly depressed, perhaps…in which case, this may resonate with your inner despair far more than it ever could to folks on more of an unimpaired emotional spectrum.

  

Hate Eternal – Upon Desolate Sands (Season of Mist) (October 26)

Erik Rutan, the guy I remember for Ripping Corpse and the rest of ya know for a brief run with post-Covenant (and hence post- any real interest) Morbid Angel, brings those crunchy Disincarnate-meets-Morbid Angel riffs to the table alongside some believable but passable death metal vox (also provided by the man himself) for what is apparently the seventh album from his “new” act Hate Eternal.

There’s not much else to say about this one, really – Morbid Angel riffs (or if you’re an old diehard, Ripping Corpse riffs with a bit of Morbid and a bit more of Disincarnate mashed together for extra spice) with throaty gargle-growls and half Phil Sandoval, half blastbeat bullshit drums.

When the blasts go away, sticksman Hannes Grossman sounds pretty damn accomplished for someone who sounds about to go off the rails throughout…but damn, you have to drop that ridiculous nod to black metal, guy. Eschew the blastbeat, you have the footwork down and a whole kit to play with! Use ’em!

Yeah, it’s a bit too busy and pissed off for my tastes – this is that buzzing bees “technical/brutal” sound that seems to have taken over (proper, non-blackened) death metal in recent years – but it’s certainly listenable, sounds pretty difficult to play and at core, feels “true”. So consider any complaints here comparatively minor.

But if this is your thing, if you’re still jonesing on Dreaming With the Dead and Dreams of the Carrion Kind, with more than just a hint of Morbid Angel tagged in to boot?

Yeah, you should be pretty happy with this one.

THE INTERSPHERE – The Grand Delusion (Long Branch Records) (November 30)

Emo/prog indie act out of Germany.

When they’re on point (“think twice”, “antitype”, the title cut, arguably even “shipwreck”), bears all the oddball guitar structures and interplay, depressive CW tween drama vibe and youthfully whiny vocals mixed with earworm hooks and melodic choruses you’d expect.

Oddly, though, the band chooses to break with traditional form more often than not, leaning closer to a less engaging, more standard rock as parsed through an indie filter – all major keys and quirk without much to draw the listener in (about the best things get for the listener is the oddly over-technical “mind over matter”, which practically leans into Unexpect territory.)

It seems strange to encourage a band to “go more emo!”, but here it seems appropriate. Because “think twice” and “antitype” stand so head and shoulders above the rest of the material here as to feel practically anomalous.

Trapped Under Ice Vol. 1: The New Face of Canadian Heavy Metal (Temple of Mystery) (January 25)

Odd compilation of Canadian metal acts.

What’s odd about it is that while everything here is pretty damn listenable (hell, even quite likeable!), this all feels like vintage 1983, somewhere between the just fading spectre of the NWOBHM and the newly rising “speed metal” (some bands of which would soon fall under the umbrella of thrash, others later absorbed into the larger, often more divisive label of US power metal).

Sure, great stuff, if you like your metal vintage and a bit off the beaten track…but in 2018? This feels oddly out of place, some long lost archaism dredged up from earlier days, rather than a sampling of up and comers (and it is, being marketed as exclusively “new young bands” you’ve likely never heard of.)

Hey, you won’t catch me complaining.

Hails to our brothers up North!

TYTUS – Rain After Drought (Fighter Records) (January 8)

Speaking of which, here’s an Italian band who similarly draws inspiration, riffs and stylistic cues exclusively from vintage traditional metal, NWOBHM and early thrash.

Definitely the sort of act you’d expect to hear on a Greek label (there are at least three working nigh exclusively in the realm of long lost and obscure power, trad and NWOBHM reissues…a true stronghold of classic metal, that nation), these new kids (vintage 2017, if you can believe that) drop some quirky cross between classic Maiden, Heavy Load…and as noted in the promo writeup, Slough Feg, but with a definite thrash base informing every riff.

Same assessment as the Trapped Under Ice comp…it’s actually hard to believe all this is coming from a young act.

Due nod of respect, and another one this month well worth looking into.

EXCALIBUR – Generación Maldita (Fighter Records) (December 12)

Reissue of an oddly rare debut from these Spanish rockers, whose Humo Negro we’d reviewed a few years back, and again, they deliver the same vintage 80’s AOR/hair metal, complete with high vocal screams, big hair photos and keyboards.

Being a Spanish act with (presumably, at the time) little funding or support, it’s not really surprising that the album is a bit rough around the edges, sounding closer to an old WSOU Street Patrol demo (Torra, Cleavage or American Angel, anyone?) than the more polished likes of, say, Cinderella, Bon Jovi or Hurricane they so obviously emulate.

Interestingly, the band tags on two extra tracks intended for the original release but left off due to budget (shades of The Final Sign of Evil!), and these only stand out from the original album by dint of a stronger, bolder production style. The playing and vocals aren’t all that far removed from the rest of the material, even at a full 30 years remove…which says a lot. Hats off, amigos.

There’s also a welcome second disc of mostly demo material, filled out by a 1990 2 track EP and some 1991 vintage live tracks. Rougher sound, but good stuff, and many tracks not represented on the album proper.

This sort of lighter, big hair-sporting Hollywood style, AOR-bordering metal may not be everyone’s cup of tea, particularly in today’s more dark and aggressive milieu…and sure, even those who love the stuff may balk at the lack of polish of most of the material presented herein.

But if you like the stuff and are open to and forgiving of the financial and recording limitations that are so often part and parcel of the international metal scene? You could do a whole hell of a lot worse than these vintage rockers.

LORD DIVINE – Facing Chaos (Fighter Records) (February 5)

Argentinian prog act, with a frontman who crosses the clean vocals of the European prog/power metal scene with Dio-esque growls ala Helker’s Diego Valdez.

Oh, wait…it is Diego Valdez! No wonder…*

* Yes, we read those promo materials after indulging in a few tracks, just to bolster already formed impressions and comparisons…

Want more vocal heft? Sure, why not? How about Yngwie/Ring of Fire/Iron Mask frontman Mark Boals, who duets with Valdez on one memorable track herein?

So strong vocals, check.
Good production, check.
Top tier playing, check.
Wheedly-whoo guitar synth driven Dream Theater solos…sadly, check.  Can’t win ’em all, I guess…

But overall? Damn good stuff.

Looking forward to hearing more from these guys. Just try to hold on to Valdez, he’s your real ace in the hole and the icing on an already fairly impressive cake.

Oh, yeah, this one’s staying on the iPod, no question.

Pyramaze – Legend of the Bone Carver (re-issue) (Inner Wound Recordings) (February 15)

We’d covered these Danes’ recent Contingent and more importantly to the album under the spotlight tonight, Melancholy Beast, which featured original vocalist Lance King.

Now, I’m given to understand there were internal issues leading to King’s ousting from the band…which is two bad for several reasons, one of which is the first two albums (namely Melancholy Beast and this very album, Legend of the Bone Carver) falling out of print, as they were released under King’s own label.  So at least that issue is now rectified courtesy of Inner Wound, who have brought these two back into circulation under their umbrella.

Sadly, what remains lost is King himself, who delivers a far more appropriate prog metal vocal, somewhere along the lines of Michael Kiske crossed with Michael Eden, with just a hint of the dramatic delivery of Roy Khan (mind, we’re talking phrasing here, nothing more).

It’s too bad that this more suitably fronted Pyramaze remains a thing of the past (nothing against the new guy, but Chris Cornell stylings and progressive power metal do not mesh especially well…), but at least we have these albums in print again, with all their polish, production and power to move the listener.

Hats off to what once was.

BROWSING COLLECTION – Don’t Want to Dance (Icons Creating Evil Art) (December 14)

Sorta pop-punk, but with a much stronger inclination towards the former than the latter.

Overall, it’s a pretty straightforward if not simplistic affair, as if someone crossed The Donnas with Paramore or something.

Six stringer Moa Lenngren seems to have a thing for steel slide, a strange affectation which appears more often than you’d ever expect on an album of this sort…did she think she was auditioning for a Badlands reunion or something?

Look, it’s listenable enough and will probably appeal to a certain sector of the youth market (you know, the kind that gravitates to bands like Good Charlotte or Halestorm), but when the best track on display is “thank God it’s Friday”, you have to set the bar a bit lower than you’d initially planned…

Not exactly hard on the eyes, and probably won’t hurt your ears much either.

DIAMORTE – The Red Opera (Dark Star Records) (December 21)

sigh…

Well, it’s another one of those overly pretentious prog metal affairs, where they decide to push beyond the usual “concept album” thing to the overly theatrical (faux) opera bit. Remember that Dracula thing Jorn Lande did? Yeah.

So here’s the twist. These guys don’t just do that or pull in the expected “guests you’ll recognize” (in this case, the big gun being Mike LePond of Symphony X, who seems to get around quite a bit, alongside bandmate Michael Romeo), but actually consist of two “female opera vocalists” and a “male opera vocalist”…and none of them are the lead singer.

Now, before we get to that, we should mention that there’s not a whole lot of operatic singing going on…and we’re being suitably generous and including the sort of “operatic” that you expect from gothic/symphonic metal here, as in Liv Kristine, Floor Janssen, early Simone Simons, that sort of thing. Some on the ladies’ end, for sure…but there’s more midrange singing and sprechtgesang of “the libretto” going down than actual hitting of ye olde high notes, so to speak.

But the guy? No excuses, he’s just pulling a Fernando Ribiero (or hell, even a Pete Steele). Nothing wrong with an overdramatic baritone prone to speaking lyrically and only occasionally breaking into song…but never once does he do anything bombastic, operatic or requiring him to raise his voice much above Prozac-driven smacking of the contact mic with his lips. Sure, it’ll pass for “male fronted gothic metal” or even “gothic doom” of a certain variety…but operatic? Please.

So OK, you ask…if none of those folks are being considered as “the vocalist”…where the hell is that person?

oy.

yeah, you guessed it. He’s the growler.

(long, stony visaged pause for dramatic effect)

…yeah.

So…what do we have here? Another overdramatic symphonic/prog act, going beyond the bounds of “concept album” to a self described “opera”, without any real operatic vocals (and precious few gothic/symphonic “operatically inclined” ones, either!) and a guy growling and belching at you as the frontman.

Even conceptually, it’s a bit of a mess…

Next?

THE HEARD – The Island (Despotz) (December 14)

HAHAHAHA!!!

…well, you have to laugh when the promo writeup describes these ladies (and one rather Marilyn Manson-looking gent) as “a trio of former Crucified Barbara members, Skinny Disco from Deathstars and, well, a burlesque performer named Pepper.”

No idea if any of that means a thing to the rest of ya, but the last line alone…shaking my head and still laughing, here…

Well, the sound is very much a stripped down, doomy “occult rock” sort of thing, somewhat akin to a female fronted Hour of 13, but with more poppy hooks to their credit.

Oh, and that “burlesque performer”? She’s the frontwoman.

Be warned, calling this “doom” or even “occult rock inclined” is much akin to calling Concrete Blonde a goth act, just because they had a few dark Anne Rice-inspired tracks on Bloodletting.

But hey, I like that album, too.

Iterum Nata – The Course of Empire (Inverse Records) (January 18)

Mostly ambient affair (only “all is mind” and “sacrificial light” have any
vocals), with crackling fire effects, bongos, acoustic instruments, synth,
bells, chimes, etc. etc.

The only track that really seemed to go anywhere was the dramatic,
organ-driven first half of “the new aeon”…before it too petered off into
airy ambience.

Were we talking about something? Must have flitted away, like leaves
in the breeze…and just as inconsequential.

  

Men in Metal – Let the Soul Spread Its Wings (Inverse Records) (November 30)

Now this was an interesting surprise…certainly not what you’d expect from photos of what looks like a bunch of grease monkey types in bowling shirts (well, two of ’em, anyway…the other guy looks like Phil Anselmo and seems to dig bootleg Motorhead shirts or some shit)!

No, instead, you get some pretty dead on European power metal with an almost AOR-level catchy chorus. It’s like the more memorable 70’s glam and early 80’s radio rock, just sung in Russian and prone to give way to some killer riffage (check out “moonlight night”) or straight up power metal at the drop of a hat. Maybe with a little funk, and a disturbing degree of inappropriate acoustic instrumentation…think along the lines of ukeleles and banjos here.

Personally, I’d prefer they kept things closer to the straight up power metal template, as they do on the title cut, “only the wind”, “the time has come” and the aforementioned ringer, “moonlight night”. Hell, if they all sounded like that track, they’d have gotten a five star review here!

Sadly, that’s not the case, but proves the exception to the rule set by this album…one which, it must be said, bears a whole hell of a lot of promise between its covers.

Thick Russian accents, goofy dress sense and all.

VVORSE – Ajatus vapaudesta (Inverse Records) (December 5)

We’d covered this supposed “hardcore”/crust act once before, for Nakyja Helvetista, and were bemused at how straight up aggro managed to get itself rebranded as “hardcore” (as if this had anything whatsoever in common with the likes of Minor Threat and the Bad Brains…).

Not that anyone was really expecting it, but there’s been no appreciable change. All screamo bullshit on the vocal end, all dark, brooding, almost black/death drone riffing on the guitars, drums that alternate between sounding like they have nothing to do with the rest of the band and the sort of thing you used to hear with early South American blackthrash.

I don’t know, maybe so much of this shit comes across the virtual desk, you start getting inured to it, but this one sounded strangely more listenable if not palatable than they did last time around.

Go figure.

I wouldn’t take it as a ringing endorsement, though.

Laid Back Townies – II (Inverse Records) (December 14)

What would you get if you took some of the feel of stoner rock, crossed it with a slightly bluesy Southern rock vibe, then hired the Spin Doctors to record the thing?

You guessed it, Laid Back Townies, an occasionally sub Hendrix-funky, vaguely blues rock take on a 90’s style, indie-ish Southern rock act out of Finland.

The influences here are pretty clear, and it boggles the mind how they’re being marketed as “progressive” roots rock, when it’s far more of what we’re alluding to and describing herein. Prog? Where the hell is anyone hearing that?

I guess if you always wanted to hear Robert Cray and Jeff Healey going full on CoC to Black Label Society, but with a bit of the Spin Doctors thrown in for good measure, you may well get pretty damn excited about this one.

To these ears, at the very best it’s acceptably workaday.

Wolfhorde – Hounds of Perdition (Inverse Records) (January 11)

And here’s a band marketing themselves as “folk metal”, but bearing
precious little in common with the likes of Skyclad or Elvenstorm. Hell,
they’re not even pagan/Viking metal…at first.

What you’ll actually hear is a surprisingly well produced, crisp sounding
symphonic black metal (or symphonic black/death) that takes a ridiculous four songs in to a seven song album before it finally breaks into more clean singing and pronouncedly power metallish phrases that lilt and bounce, with the expected traditional/acoustic instrumentation.

So yeah, half of this album is actually folk metal. But you’ll have to sit through all the belching, gargling and symphonic black style sonic template of “hounds of perdition”, “chimera” and “doctor of the plague” before you even get there!

When they finally hit their groove and develop their own sound, it’s not
too bad…and the production’s pretty damn skippy all the way through.

But when you say “folk metal”, I’m not expecting to hear fucking Behemoth.

Blood Region – Tales Of The Backwoods (Secret Entertainment) (December 18)

Now here’s a band that can’t seem to decide who they are.

Are they thrash with a Panteralike aggro orientation (“korpi metal riders”)? Glam to AOR (the title cut)? Pagan/folk (“kaiho”)? Power metal (“phantom lands”, “phoenix daimonion”)? A cross between the last two, ala Elvenking (“the oaken passage”)?

Who the hell knows…the band themselves obviously don’t.

At least the guitar tone is crunchy, the sound is lush, the production’s
decent…and when a given track works, it works pretty damn well.

Just don’t expect consistency, or even a proper genre to file this
under.

The Sabbathian – Latum Alterum (Svart Records) (January 25)

Curious but quite likeable affair that comes off much akin to the
doomier, more trancelike end of black metal. “Evig hvile – libera me”
felt somewhere between a Burzum track and Clandestine Blaze…but
with the sirenlike soprano vocals of a Midnattsol or Myrkur.

Just to make the Midnattsol parallels more pronounced, Liv Kristine
herself is tapped for one track, which would appear to be “liti
kjersti” (though “head of a traitor” works a very similar territory, vocally
speaking…your call which).

As Chad Davis from Hour of 13 is half of this project, you may think
you know what to expect, but this actually comes off both darker and
more hypnotic thanks to Annette Guldbrandsen’s heavily toned
soprano leading the way through thick foggy marsh into dark mysteries.

Very straightforward and simplistic on one hand…but very, very good.

Lazer Angel – Soul Exchange 7″  (Ektro / Full Contact) (February 1)

Jussi Lehtisalo of the frequently reviewed Circle (and solo efforts Spectrum
and the now misleadingly titled Complete Solo Works is back again, this time as the silent partner of a “synthwave” duo with someone named Bruce Duff (who handles vocals).

The sound here is quite reminiscent of the more “outside” and slightly avant-garde end of the early to mid 80’s synthpop scene – think earlier OMD, Ultravox or Human League, before they became top 40 hitmakers…or perhaps more to the point, Cabaret Voltaire.

Even so, there’s a clear bridge between experimental synthesizer work and catchy (if often vapid) pop tunes built therefrom ala Depeche Mode and the like…and that’s exactly what Lazer Angel is doing their damnedest to replicate herein.

If, like myself, your idea of Berlin is Pleasure Victim, your ideal Simple Minds Sons and Fascination, the true Spandau Ballet that of Journeys to Glory…then you should also find this all too brief single right up your alley.

Spektator – 1 (Ruton Music / Ektro) (January 18)

And here Lehtisalo joins forces with another partner, Tomi Leppänen, this time losing all affectations towards melody and retro-pop tuneage in favor of quirky electronic experimentation for its own sake.

Pretty pointless, unless you’re looking to reopen Kim’s Video or something, and need yourself a suitably weird-ass soundtrack for grumpy hipster goth types to act all surly and disaffected to.

Janne Westerlund – Bell (Ektro) (February 8)

Another Circle vet, whose There’s a Passage brought Bruce Cockburn to mind, to some definite appreciation.

Here Westerlund sounds more particularly depressed, a raspy, warbling voiced figure more reminiscent of Tom Waits crossed with latter day Bob Dylan in all its lived-in defeated tiredness.

Expect a whole hell of a lot of mandolin and a very…almost zydeco or bluegrass feel, but without all the joie de vivre.  This comes off almost bluesy, and very, very spare.

I can’t say I really liked this one…but it certainly sets a mood, and bears a reasonably authentic feel that an earlier generation looked to aging bluesmen to express and vicariously experience.

Aavikko – Monopoly (Ektro) (February 15)

Holy shit, the promo materials on this one kick off discussing the dialectics of spiritualism or some such bullshit.  Wow…hats off for really going for the gusto, there!

So, anyway, here we have a Finnish synthpop act who has nothing whatsoever to do with the aforementioned.

In fact, this is less “synthpop” proper, with all its implications of retro 80’s postpunk and neo-goth, baritone vocalled dark synthesizer worship…and far more the sort of krautrock 70’s/very early 80’s electronic that the early rap scene picked up on and used in crafting their art naif…Afrika Bambaataa being one of the first and most prominent to bring this distinctly European sound to breakdancing B-boys in the streets.

At points, there’s even a line crossed where all this propulsive retro synth and drum machine begins to morph into what served as the post-disco “dance music” scene of the era, from the polyrhythms of Shannon to the extended 12″ club mixes of everything from Real Life and Erasure to Madonna.

It’s all very familar, and all very much of the same era…but always skirting the outside of the circle generally thought of as synthpop.

This music was intended for one thing, and one thing only…so get your back up off the wall, get out on the lighted floor and dance.

Steel Mammoth – “Armageddon Time All the Time” (Ektro) (January 9)
Steel Mammoth – “Machine of Constant Sorrow” (Ektro) (December 14)

Two digital singles from this Finnish synthpop duo.

The vocals and something about their quirky approach to dark, vague sociopolitical commentary speak to a very obvious Residents influence (if you can believe that!), but “machine of constant sorrow” has far more of a danceable groove, modulations and changes and a general palatabilty that “armageddon time” simply lacks, both completely and utterly.

Well worth checking out “machine”, no question.

I’d think long and hard before dropping a dime on the other one, though.

Hell, you could take that 99c and buy a Jolly Rancher or something, and walk away feeling “money well spent.”

Can’t say the same about “armageddon time”.

OGRE & Dallas Campbell – All Hallows’ II (January 25)

You know, for all the seriously fucked up shit going on in the
world…you know, Trump, Brexit, global warming and an increase in
weather related major disasters, Trump, Putin and the return of global
fascism AND communism as two heads of the same hydra serpent,
Trump

…there are a few unexpectedly good things about being around for the
dark days of 2018. One of ’em is the apparent rapid rise of synthpop,
postpunk/darkwave and synthwave, a revisitation to aspects of the 80’s
seldom touched on since the latter end of that very decade (the all too
brief mid-to-late 90’s US based gothic rock second wave aside).

I mean, seriously, who ever expected bands trying to sound like
Depeche Mode, Flock of Seagulls and Gary Numan again…much less
John Carpenter and latter career Goblin and their Italian horror score
ilk?

So we come to one of the…well, certainly latest, but further
more likeably dark entries in the latter subgenre, sounding for all the
world like another score to Zombie 5: Killing Birds, The Rat Man or
some late Fulci epic.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I spent the late 90’s and early
millenium digging into the world of the Italian genre film soundtrack, so
this is decidedly right up my personal musical alley.

There are others we’ve covered, both in prior months and even herein
that play in a very similar ballpark, but this is certainly one of the higher
quality and more “authentic sounding” entries, particularly if the whole
Casio driven Italian horror (or hell, even to some extent, American
SOV!) soundtrack thing is your go to.

I was certainly good with this one.

100 Watt Vipers – Holy Water (June 15)

With a mission statement like this, you get a pretty good idea what 100 Watt Vipers are going to sound like:

“…about the struggles of the working class man. It’s about working hard, trying to live with honor, feeding the family, and getting beaten down again and again, but always getting up. No matter how weary and tired he becomes, he always gets back up.”

As you might expect from that, this is some raw, rough and ready hard rock n’ roll, all Marshall stack with the distortion jacked up and gravelly, whiskey soaked bar band style vox.  It’s like someone crossed Bon Scott era AC/DC, Thin Lizzy and Molly Hatchet, then soaked ’em good and dry with rotgut gin, stuck ’em in front of a mic and hit record.

About the mellowest they get is when they start working slide guitar
and dobro, and that just makes ’em sound like a more blue collar take
on Moody/Mardsen era Whitesnake or Badlands.

Your “classic rock” station is for pussies.  This is how rock n’ roll’s supposed to be played.

Damn straight, I dug this.

Devils Gun – “Lights Out” (December 7)

We’d covered these Swedes’ Dirty n Damned a few years back, and seriously loved it despite reservations about Joakim Hermansson’s Dizzy Dean Davidson vocal impressions.

Well, here you could argue he’s trying for Udo Dirkschneider, given the very Acceptlike riffing, leads and gang backing choruses…but he still comes off somewhere between Dirty Looks’ Henrik Ostergard and Jason McMaster circa Dangerous Toys…and Cinderella wannabes Britny Fox.

If you can get past the comical shrieking that implies, you’ll find, much as with the aforementioned acts, a very strong band strangely complemented by, and simultaneously held back by, those very same weird-ass vocals.

You already know I like these guys…a lot.

Just an advance single, looking forward to the full album.

ASMODÉE – Aequilanx (Battlesk’rs Productions) (December 6)

Mysterious French black metal four piece, who only released one demo before going their separate ways to little or no acclaim.

This lone demo has been resurrected as a rather aggressive relic of
the late 90’s French black metal scene…at least that which existed
apart from the more celebrated Les Legions Noires.

As that statement hints at, Asmodee is unusual in a few respects, not
least in its rather non-French feel. There’s zero avant garde or
experimental leanings to be found herein, nor do they bear the general
sonic template of their more famed and contemporaneous Legions –
the likes of Vlad Tepes and Mutiilation operate in a very different
manner, and tap into far more obsure corners of the subsceptible
psyche.

Instead, Asmodee comes off more like a Norwegian band, arguably
leaning towards Norsecore…the later work of Judas Iscariot, while far
more polished, similarly carries the sort of attention to speed and
aggression while maintaining a sufficient degree of sinister
atmosphere. Being a more raw, unpolished demo affair, Asmodee
may actually come off better than Iscariot, oddly enough married to the
sort of weirdly hollow yet prominent drum sound of Gorgoroth’s Under
the Sign of Hell.

Is this a long forgotten, unearthed gem of 90’s French black metal?
Well, admittedly, that’s a bit of a stretch.

But I’d hazard a tentative “yes, perhaps so.”

Certainly sounded right to these ears, and will be staying on the iPod
for a bit.

Hellnite – “Midnight Terrors” (Sliptrick Records) (September 25)

An old school drumroll and march tempo guitar intro, and already the ol’ jaw dropped in appreciation. Yeah, I can tell we’re in better hands than usual, here.

Sure enough, Mexico City (transplanted to Edmonton, Ontario) frontman and six stringer Paolo Belmar displays an equal appreciation for multiple bands and scenes of the vintage underground sound, mixing Celtic Frost grunt vox with riffs that owe more to vintage thrash/USPM acts like (early) Nasty Savage or (arguably) Meliah Rage than, say, Destruction or Kreator.

Zero polish, decidedly idiosyncratic, strangely catchy and leagues more melodic and solid than the shit that passes for “thrash” nowadays…early thrash underground to the core.

One song, if you’re not panting for a full length after this, I have a one word descriptor for ya.

Poseur.

And hey, Paolo? Bring it on, brother!

Aces.

Malamorte – Hell For All (Rockshots Records) (January 25)

Alex Nunziati, formerly frontman of Theatres Des Vampires brings this lyrically blackened, otherwise rather polished and melodically inclined thrash act to your door this month.

There’s more than a dash of power metal to be found in tracks like “warriors of hell” or “holy or unholy”, while others feed more on Bay Area-style thrash and a Helloween inspired “speed metal” (“antichrist”, the title cut), but always with an “evil” vibe that falls somewhere between, say, Desaster and Satan’s Host (“the worshipers of evil”, for example).

Is it truly blackthrash?  Well…no, not really.  At least not as the style is generally defined, or the bands of various hotspot nations (Germany, Brazil, the US and Central America) that tend to gravitate to and be defined thereby.

But is it a strangely blackened, almost idiosyncratic approach to thrash and “speed” (with a dash of European power metal for good measure)?

Yeah.  Didn’t exactly love this one…but it has its moments if you’re so inclined.

Of Hatred Spawn – S/T (Boonsdale Records) (December 21)

Former members of Annihilator and Skull Fist join forces with a guy who walks around with the nickname “Coldcuts”.

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

SO!  Anyway…

It’s death metal, though not exactly as “old school” as the band intends. The music’s too busy, the drumming’s too often marred by blastbeats, the vocals too often raw and snarly…about the best you could say is that they were listening to too much Suffocation and Cannibal Corpse and not enough of the remainder of the R/C (and to a lesser extent, Earache) Records roster.

That noted, it’s more listenable…and therefore more “old school” in orientation than much of what passes for death metal of late, with plenty of midtempo breaks and Obituary-esque “groove” sections (what we used to call the “mosh break” back in the day).

But that’s about all that can really be said here.  It’s listenable, and more inclined to the older, far superior form(s) of the genre than all too many acts nowadays…

…but to quote Paul Stanley’s solo album, “it ain’t quite right.”

Archangel A.D. – Warband (January 11)

Hmm. Well, on the plus side, these guys really studied their vintage Metallica guitar solos.

I mean, the title track actually kicks off with a phrase or two with the pick being hammered against the fretboard, Zappa-style…when’s the last time you’ve heard that particular technique? Then there’s those Arabian minor runs that bring early Exodus or later Testament to mind…but it’s 99% vintage Hammett, all killer, no filler.

Sadly, the vox leave something to be desired – like that asshole from Sadus without all the girly-man shrieking (seriously, what was he, some tween little sister shrieking delightedly at a pajama party over boy band videos? Fucking band was unlistenable, entirely down to the shit vocals…). So no, this guy doesn’t shriek at all (thank God!) but has the same sort of high, whiny tone. Not unlistenable, but pretty bad.

Now on to the riffs. Geez, were there any? Hmm…sort of, and they’re at least trying for more of a vintage tone and vibe, I’ll give ’em that much. But generic, forgettable…and while certainly in the right ballpark, ultimately kinda boring. Hellnite this is not.

So what are we left with? A band with really good, old school Kirk Hammett style solos (with elements of other primo thrash players’ styles tacked on for good measure)…and not much else to back that up.

Damn shame…these guys should join forces with Paolo Belmar and make one killer supergroup.

His riffs and their leads, with the more passable Tom G. Warrior swipe vox he further brings to the table?

Now THAT I’d pay to hear.

Make no mistake, has a lot of promise despite the aforementioned flaws…and I seriously loved all those leads.

Goblinsmoker – Toad King (Sludgelord Records) (December 14)

Electric Wizard-school stoner doom, with sludge elements.

Strangely, vocals are heavily reverbed black metal shrieks, which was just…bizarre, but don’t let that hold you back. Someone had the good sense to bury them well beneath the riffs and drums, and to keep ’em to a bare minimum to boot.

So yeah, to the extent we can ignore that bit (and trust me, it’s pretty easy to, the way this was recorded and mixed)? This one’s right up the ol’ stoner doom alley.

Good stuff. Just never change your producer or engineer…making those silly vox more audible or prominent would result in a very different verdict.

Unendlich – Misanthropic Sedition (December 14)

Oy, a Dissection cover? Yawn…and it’s a pretty bad one, besides!

Okay, let’s just forget that track ever existed. What we have here is a poorly vocalled one man black metal band (with drummer)…

…whoops, what’s that?

Sure enough, the guy throws us a curveball, dropping clean, sorta smarmy lounge club gothicized vocals on ya in the middle of “already dead”. But as weirdly amusing as that track therefore becomes, the rest holds to the same pattern described earlier.

Sub-Mark Janssen Chocomel/Yoo Hoo-gargling snarl vox (yeah, you read that right. Worse “black metal” vocals than fucking Epica.) over really light “symphonic black metal” keyboard-inflected nonsense.

There’s an almost unrecognizable Cure cover as well, but in the end, the only thing worthy of attention here is the spotlight grabbing “look at me!” approach of drum for hire Anthony Rouse, who goes all Under the Sign of Hell with his weirdly overly prominent, somewhat off kilter performance on the skins.

It’s not “wow, this is good!” so much as “hmm…this guy’s oddly mugging for the cameras and trying to steal the scene from the ostensible star…”, but fair enough. You’ll definitely notice him, one way or the other.

And that’s more than you can say for our one man band, with his subpar snarly-vox, oddly subdued keyboard tone and lousy covers…

…next?

Unendlich – Thanatophobia (Horror Pain Gore Death) (February 1)

Oh, good GOD, two from these guys in the same month?  Did I do something really, really horrible in a past life or something?  I mean, seriously…

(listens to a few tracks)

wait…wha?

OK, the black metal snarls still suck some serious ass, but something’s clearly changed here.  Now, apparently, there are 5 whole years separating these two albums (despite their being issued and reissued in the same month), so it makes sense that there’s been time to grow and tighten up some seriously loose ends.  But this is quite a change.

For one thing, the smarmy sounding clean vocals have morphed into more of a depressive chant sort of thing, which suits the music much better. Hell, if the entire album was comprised of tracks like “my own misery”, I’d be amazedly saluting the guy for puling himself up by the bootstraps and turning dogshit into a surprisingly palatable sort of gothic doom!

Sadly, this is not the case, as the rest of the album consists of a bombastic black/death, oddly offset/bolstered by Rouse’s ongoing, deliberately off kilter and attention-mugging “session drumming”.  But still in all…it’s a much more mature affair, and far more listenable.  Even the production’s better, if subtly so.

So, bottom line…I really wish this guy went the route of “my own misery”, so I could give him the nod after slamming his first album so deservedly hard for all its failings.

But as is…if you’re curious enough to check ’em out?  You know exactly which one’s worthy of your time and attention, and which to avoid like the plague.

Mo’ynoq – Dreaming in a Dead Language (January 11)

Oy…Raleigh, NC, home to retro-traditional metal bands like Widow, Viper and Twisted Tower Dire, apparently also holds a questionable black/death act.

It’s all in there, the depressing but somehow annoying vibe to the riffing, the neverending blastbeats, the singsongy tremelo lead riffing and aimlessly atonal “progressive/avant garde” bits, the yodel-howling and shrieking vox…to sum this up into one quick, easy to digest phrase, this feels quite oppressive.

I don’t mean that as any sort of compliment.

NEXT?!?

Der Rote Milan – Moritat (Unholy Conspiracy Deathwork) (February 1)

Is modern black metal all the same?

I mean, seriously. There have been a few labels who’ve come on board of late that have impressed the shit out of me, like Wolfspell or Sun & Moon, and others like Saturnal, Sepulchral and Moribund have at the very least had their moments (particularly Saturnal, who tend to err on the side of killer far more than that of filler), sure.

But there are entire county-wide landfills and dumpster fires comprised of nothing but execrable, utterly worthless attempts at being “sinister”, “evil”, “occult” and “tr00”. Our own Pile of Dead Bards was ritualistically set ablaze in an act of Will a year or two back, with the aim of thinning the herd of this sort of pointlessly ear-grating cheese, some of the worst being not even the trendy hipster types, but those misguided souls trying to convince the world and themselves that they’re “the real deal”, ooga booga fuck you-ga.  Whatever.  Burn, baby, burn.

So the question of where these Germans lie on the scale of trendy to tr00 kvlt, I could care less. What I care about is the atmosphere, the vibe, the sinister feel, the light up the chakras fire the real deal always manages to ignite in the listener so inclined. And so ridiculously few acts marching under the black metal banner these days even understand what the hell that means, much less apprehend or achieve some measure of same.

So yeah. There are some melodic moments here (like “gnosis der verganglichkeit”, which therefore winds up as the only listenable track on the album), and they’re no worse than a legion of equally boring to downright inexcusably shitty acts peddling their wares in the name of satan, nihilism, politically incorrect sociopolitic or sheer D&D-derivative geekdom.

But the fact that they’re no better is becoming enough for me.

Straight to the flames, baby. To everything, burn, burn, burn.

Maestus – Deliquesce (code666) (February 8)

Well…look, the promo writeup had the balls to compare these guys to Ahab, so you know hopes were set unreasonably high…and no, they’re nothing whatsoever like those…er, Giants of progressive funeral doom.

Hell, there’s nothing at all progressive or clean sung about this one…it’s all blackened, snarling vocalled, distorted guitar aggression.  About the closest you can offer are some moments of droning synthesizer and cleaner, more overdrive-based guitar, whose long fermata-bedecked phrases at least confirm that they are, in fact, a funeral doom act…albeit an inappropriately “blackened” version thereof.

So was I OK with this?  Well…vocals aside, definitely.

But Ahab?  Seriously?

And here’s hoping they find themselves a frontman who can actually sing, or at least who goes in for deep death metallish belches.  This black metal snarl shit simply does not belong here.

Slow – IV – Mythologiae (code666) (January 25)

Another glacial if not funereal doom act, this time out of Belgium.
Which means there’s a cute French (speaking) girl in tow (“Lore B.”,
who handles “bass, lyrics and concepts”). So far, so good.*

* Hey, I’m shallow sometimes. A pretty face goes a long way.

That aside, what we have here is a reasonably similar case to that of
Maestus. It’s far less “blackened” in feel, and therefore works a whole
hell of a lot better overall…but the vocals still leave a lot to be desired.
There’s also a lot of drone, what sounds like a synthesized tone that
rings throughout on the surface but simply proves annoying over the
course of 6 circa 12 minute long tracks.

Look, I’m not part of their band, so I know what I’d do (or be pushing
for the others to do, if in more of an ancillary role than bandleader).
And that almost always means clean up those fucking vocals, make
sure there’s some modulation and a melodic base to the material, and
try to get some good, crisp production that leans towards bottom end
thickness over treble rawness (and eschews the dreaded mids almost
entirely!) while focusing on atmosphere, improvisation and feel above
all else.

These guys check off several of those boxes, and the end result is
pretty damn solid for slow, depressively inclined funeral doom.

So yeah, I’m good with this, all shit vocals and annoying single tone
synth drones aside.

Leach – Hymns For the Hollow (January 18)

Another case of serious disconnect between what’s promised and the
actual end product delivered, this one’s promo writeup mentions
melodicism, riffs and being fun loving. Hey, sounds good, right?

So why am I hearing some guy gargle-shout aggro vox over an annoying generic “modern metal” informed by the more tuneless end of both thrash and aggro/groove (or if you really want to push your luck, the lesser end of metalcore)?

Yeah, this is crap. Our local college “metal” station plays shit like this
all the time, which leaves their “metal” credentials seriously in
question…much like their sponsorship by those SJW ninnies* at a site which claims in its very title its disdain for Metal (think “Metal Blows”, you’ll figure it out), which should hammer the final nails in that particular coffin
for the curious.

* Yeah, my politicosocial orientation should be painfully obvious to
anyone with eyes, particularly if you read the openers most
months…but that pandering victim culture identity politik-driven
Intersectionalist bullshit? You can take that steaming load and shove
it, right alongside the tiki torch crowd who adopted identitarianism
before ya…hint, fucking hint.

One big question to ask yourselves, if you disagree, or recognize
yourself as part of that particular problem: just how long have you
found yourself gazing into the abyss?  Selah…

So back to this particular album. Is there anything good to say here?

searching…searching…(cursor blinks repeatedly)

…nah.

Next?

Tourniquet – GAZING AT MEDUSA (PATHOGENIC RECORDS) (October 16)

Oh, geez, Tourniquet?

I remember picking up the cassette of Psycho Surgery way back in ’91. Was never sure quite what to make of ’em, the band was too technical, too quirky, too intrinsically weird to really fit in the thrash scene of the day, much less the Christian (thrash) metal scene they hailed from. Let’s just say for the record, Deliverance or Vengeance (Rising) they weren’t

Well, we’re quite a ways from 1991, now, but despite losing oddball frontman Guy Ritter and his weird Jani Lane pop eyed gaze (what the hell was that all about, anyway?), they’re back and sounding much the same…almost identical, in fact, albeit with the only remaining band member from those days being drummer Ted Kirkpatrick.

And the drums are pretty damn solid, here, as you may expect…plus he brings those oddly sideways attempts at lyrical prosyletization the band was known for.

But what makes this really interesting? Somehow Ted managed to pull
in some real heavyweights here, namely former Iced Earth frontman
Tim “Ripper” Owens (I’m sorry, he’ll always be the shrieking
Painkiller-era frontman of Priest cover band Stained Class to me…and
no, they weren’t going by “British Steel” when they played locally, so
there!) and ex-Megadeth six stringer Chris Poland.  Seriously. Oh, and
famed AOR/metal drummer Deen Castronovo dropped by as well, but
just to do vocals on the title track. Damn, Ted!

Well, to level set somewhat, while Poland does get some interesting solos in amidst all the winding riffage on display, Owens isn’t exactly soaring vocalled here, but rather copping strangely close to the snarky oddball
sprechtgesang delivery Ritter was prone to. Why, man? You get an
internationally respected vocallist, and make him do that?

But hey, if you were looking for a 2018 clone of 1991’s Psycho
Surgery featuring better musicians, no question this was achieved
here.

But while that’s certainly admirable enough, that’s my final question for
ya, Ted. You got a six stringer on the level of Chris Poland. You got a
frontman on the level of Tim Owens.

Shouldn’t you have made better use of them, Owens in particular?

I’m very divided, here.  This is both exactly what I expected, and totally
unlike what I expected…and hey, if you liked the earlier material, you’ll love this, no question.

I’m just shaking my head at the sheer waste of resources on display
here.

Vanha – Melancholia (Black Lion Records) (December 30)

Damn, a lot of funeral-leaning doom this month! Good by me…

Anyway, this is a Swedish act that self-identifies as doom/death (or vice versa), noting the likes of gothic doomsters Anathema and My Dying Bride as influences and stylistic markers.

It all starts to blend after a while with these sub-subgenre classifications, but you get the idea from all of that: slow, zombie lurch and shuffle tempo, funeral march doom, well produced and grim. In this case, it comes with death metallish growl vox that while not exactly my idea of a go to for this sound, do actually fit well enough not to stand out in any negative way.

As with the bands referenced, there’s plenty of melody and even more
melancholy to be found herein, complete with violin parts for that extra
touch of misery. Sure to make those prone to do so well up with tears at the injustices of life (and the loss thereof).

Very good stuff, no question. I dug it.

WAN – Gammal är äldst (Carnal Records) (December 21)

oh, nice!

Old school, first wave style black metal (or perhaps more accurately, blackthrash) in the vein of early Bathory and later attempts at recapturing same like post-Panzerfaust Darkthrone, Aura Noir, Desaster, you get the picture.

Of course, you can also hear a bit of Tsjuder in tracks like “till maskama slangd” or “out of your league”, and they toss the occasional “oof!” in just to remind everyone how important early Celtic Frost (and the even more primitive Hellhammer before ’em) were to establishing the black metal sound per se…

It’s got the grinding, crunchy midtempo riffs and never really loses its head even on the speedier tracks (only “strong as a bear” pushes the line into full on generic black metal), so this worked just fine to these ears.

Keep it low and slow, guys. The faster you go, the more passable it becomes in this style.

4/5 tracks work really, really well.

MÜTIILATION – The Lost Tapes (Osmose Productions) (December 24)

Now this is interesting…

This is Mutiilation, one of the two pillars of France’s estimable Les Legions Noires, and this time, we’re not talking about another middling comeback attempt. No, this sounds right from the get go…

Turns out, no surprise why, because it’s some rehearsal tapes from 10 years back where the man re-records several tracks from his two album heyday in a form that’s…well, pretty much the same degree of raw, buzzing and compressed in tone as the originals.

Even so. You get 3 tracks apiece from Vampires of Black Imperial Blood and Remains of a Ruined, Dead, Cursed Soul. Good stuff then, good stuff now.

The real question is, is there any real purpose to hearing the same songs again, albeit recorded at different times or with slight alterations? Or is this yet another Mayhem Life Eternal/Judas Iscariot Ancient Starry Sky situation, where there’s little if any change to be heard?

Well, honestly…I incline towards the latter. You can hear differences, particularly if you’re already (very) familiar with the material, but if you have ’em, is this something to run out and grab?  Only if you’re a completist, really.

But if you’ve never heard those storied albums before, or just want to see what they’d sound like with less of a full sound (if you can believe that!), there is nothing whatsoever to fault about this one.

Classic material, in slightly rawer form. What’s not to like?

GORGON – The Veil of Darkness (Osmose Productions) (January 25)

French black metal act, apparently with four albums and an EP under their belts. Cycled through quite a roster of members both male and female, now listed as a one man operation. No, I never heard of ’em either.

What you’ll hear is a fairly standard black/death, albeit one more inclined to melodicism and less prone to bombast than usual. The vox are the only really annoying/abrasive part, outside of the occasional use of blastbeats, and more tracks than you’d think lean midtempo, with almost thrashy first wavelike riffing tossed in to the mix.

I can’t say I was overly thrilled by this one, but shave a few of the speedier, more typically “black metallish” tracks, either bury the vox in the mix or find a new frontman…

…then yeah, this wouldn’t be bad at all.

DØDSFALL – Døden Skal Ikke Vente (Osmose Productions) (January 25)

Norwegian black metal. And it sounds it.

While all the grim, mysterious atmosphere that marked the nation’s output (and the genre per se) in its heyday is entirely absent, the melodic lead lines and speedy tremelo runs are present and accounted for, never really falling into the Norsecore trap despite the speed, never slumming as black/death even with the bombast.

Even so, there’s much about this that feels as familiar as an old shoe…it’s hard to pin down exactly what elements are in play here, but suffice to say, it’s very much Norwegian black metal, with elements that marked the scene during various developments and stages throughout the 90’s…just with fuller, cleaner production and bombast, more melodicism than usual and just about zero atmosphere.

Yeah, it’s kind of hard to pin down just what makes it work as well as it does. But in the end, all you really need to know is that it’s pretty damn solid.

INFERNARIUM – Kadotuksen Harmonia (Helter Skelter) (January 21)

We’d covered these Finns’ debut EP Pimean Hotho a few months back, and here they are again with a full length.

The pluses I can hear, at least this time around (cough) are a decidedly Hornaesque approach to melodicism crossed with some of the ugliest, nastiest gargling drain cleaner vocals you’re likely to hear.

I mean, you could drag Gorgoroth in somewhat spuriously, given all the melodies and attention to lead lines as driver of the sound, but this is more particularly Finnish in feel – the sort of kveldssanger singsong thing you’ll catch in everyone from Azazel to Satanic Warmaster to Sargeist.

There’s a nice bit of Catholic church organ and chanting thrown into the mix (and yeah, it is, there’s nothing eeeeevil about it) that opens “heikkoutensa orja” (and hence the album), before falling into more of a Clandestine Blazelike midtempo crunch, complete with Tom G. Warrior grunts.

Later tracks pick up to more of a Warmaster tempo (and sound), and always the sound is that of dark descent, but with more grim melodicism than you’ll ever find outside of the Finnish strain of the scene.

Trust me, you’ll never believe this is even the same band that recorded that piece of shit Pimean Hotho. I had to go back and check, and
cross check, so far removed are the two releases from each other in sound, overall quality and approach.

To say this is very, very good would be an understatement.

Create A Kill – Summoned to Rise (Redefining Darkness Records / Raw Skull Records) (December 21)

Two former Malevolent Creation drummers (one of whom further hails from Florida’s Solstice, the other from top notch Death tribute act Gruesome) join forces with the guitarist of Gruesome…and on the best track, the vocalist of Gruesome, Matt Harvey.

Sounds like a Gruesome side project, especially when you realize this is essentially a Malevolent Creation tribute album, much like what Gruesome is doing: building albums of brand new material, in very much the same style as what the band being saluted was doing (in Gruesome’s case, on a given Death album…if you can say that here, it’s a tossup as to whether we’re talking Ten Commandments or Retribution. I’d bet on the latter.)

All good so far…though be warned, Harvey’s only on “flesh blood and stone”, the rest is essayed by…wait for it…one of the two drummers aforementioned (Alex Marquez, also sticksman of Solstice).

It’s funny to see this being simultaneously acknowledged and deflected in the promo writeup, where it shifts to comparisons of early thrash heavy hitters like Slayer, Dark Angel, the Teutonic trio of Sodom/Kreator/Destruction and Possessed. Yeah, we get that those bands were dark enough to inadvertantly birth the later death and black
metal scenes…but that’s not what we’ve got here.

No, Create a Kill is all about the Malevolent Creation worship, arguably with a side of Demolition Hammer. Death/thrash at its rawest and most aggressive…yet, like Malevolent, strangely catchy, even sort of melodic in a way.

You know, what today’s thrash and death metal acts entirely miss about the heyday of underground metal…the fact that this shit stuck in your head and wasn’t solely about the aggression. Selah.

Look, I was down with this as soon as I heard “Malevolent Creation tribute ala/by the members of Gruesome”…fucking love those guys.

Same here.

In Shadows and Dust – Enlightened by Darkness (Redefining Darkness Records) (December 21)

Grinding HM-2 Swedeath…sometimes. Problem is, that occasional throwback tone and buzzsaw guitar sound tends to be heard at song intros and breakdown sections only.

The rest of this is a far more standard to boring black/death, albeit one marked by occasional melodic high points (“dawn of a new day”, the intros to “looking into the void” and “black sword”). If those were more the order of the day, these guys would be getting a much different review.

As it stands…consider this promise duly squelched under the merciless jackboot of black metal’s generic, all consuming influence (the genre that literally destroys everything it touches, and only works in its truest, purest forms).

As this is yet another black-slash-fill in the blank, it’s only suitable for a
quick trip to the Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards.

Too bad, there were moments that showed ’em capable of so much more…and I really liked “dawn of a new day”.

Here, you take it over and toss it in the flames, will ya? I mourn the loss of what could have been a much better band.

RANCORUM – THE VERMIN SHRINE (Loud Rage Music) (November 29)

Romanian death metal, sadly of the more modern school thereof.

Even beyond the weird tech breaks and atonality, I’m hearing a whole lot of Inquisition-style lower string bends as part of the riffing. Why, man, why? 

Nah.

DECAY – BRAND NEW NAILS EP (Loud Rage Music) (October 26)

Another Romanian act, this time more of a dark thrash with terrible production. Seriously, this sounds like it was recorded under 5 pillows and a mattress, it’s that soft and muddy. Think (at best) cassette demo quality…probably a few generations down in tape trading circles.

I guess I’m hearing a vague comparison to Root here, though their production was much better…but that sort of “is it traditional metal? thrash? death? blackened? Somehow all of the above, done in that weirdly “wrong” style of bands behind the former Iron Curtain?” vibe.

Yeah, I guess we’ll go with that. A sort of Root, with some seriously crappy production. At least it’s not all hiss and crackle…quite the opposite, in fact.

It’s all throbbing bass tones, as if you were listening while stone drunk,
drowning in a pool or laying in a pool of your own blood after a fight that
went sideways!

CEREBRUM – Iridium (Transcending Obscurity Records (India) (December 21)

Greek tech death act, but one that (for a change) doesn’t instantly piss
the listener off.

In fact, there’s some good playing, quirkily interesting riffing and a strange sort of…well, “melodicism” or “catchiness” isn’t exactly the word I’m reaching for here, but you get the idea.

Just put on a track like “escape to bliss” and you’ll see what I mean: the kind of riffing that makes you want to grab the guitar and play along, rather than the aimless atonality that leaves you holding your ears and
leaving the room in disbelief and disgust.

Yeah, the vocals suck some serious ass.

But that aside? This is probably the best tech death album you’re likely to run across in the modern era, and certainly the standard bearer for what could and should be done with the style.

VEILBURNER – A Sire To The Ghouls Of Lunacy (Transcending
Obscurity Records) (December 28)

oy. Mike Patton, what hast thou wrought?

Seriously, ever since the guy started dropping the weird with Faith No More and Mr. Bungle, it seems like some pandora’s box was exposed to the light, loosing dozens on dozens of shitty atonal, aimlessly “experimental” acts of varying genre with zero relation to melody, harmony or structure.

We’re not talking “progressive” or “jazzy”, where one plays with the accepted boundaries of musical decorum like a scientist in his workshop, pushing and searching for expansion of the idiom and as the Moody Blues once put it, “the search for the lost chord”. That stuff is justly celebrated for its ebb and flow, stretching outwards like a rubber band before snapping back into comfortable familiarity, and back again.

It’s a game, almost: just how “free” and far away can we take this from classical harmony, melody, chordal structure and song composition before it fails to resonate with the listener, to become abject noise?

For many years, the likes of Sun Ra and Ornette Coleman were the visionary/lunatics working the most contested fringes of what did and didn’t work musically. Or on the classical side, the likes of Schoenberg, Stockhausen, Varese and Cage (among many others).

There was a popular question across the creative arena, from music to painting and sculpture to literature and film during the heyday of all this experimentation in the beatnik and hippie era, “but is it art?”

Some can debate the likes of Warhol, Rothko, Klee and Pollock, while others accept their never changing works as some sort of philosophical statement on or against art per se.

Warhol in particular was the posterboy for all of this, with his “everything is art”, going so far as to have others work his campy screen prints (which he’d then sign!) and tongue in cheek “event” works like stacking boxes of Brillo and then managing to get that into a museum.

And the answer is, no, it’s not art…but we get the joke, and the nihilistic “fuck you” behind your work.

Sadly, the same cannot be said of all these conveyor belt regurgitations of what once was. You can celebrate, pay tribute to, copy slavishly things, bands, albums you love…some make a career out of it, and do a damn good job about it (we’d only recently discussed Gruesome this month).

But to slavishly repeat a Warholian “art statement” 20 or 30 years on, one band after another? Is beyond pointless.

You’re not making proper music, we get that. But that means the only value in this is the statement you’re making philosophically.

And that’s been made far too many times, over far too many years to bear the slightest bit of resonance or impact here in 2019.

Time to put a pin in this “experimental avant garde” shit. Y’all are done.

Next?

FERAL – Flesh For Funerals Eternal (Transcending Obscurity
Records) (December 30)

Third album from these retro minded Swedeathers.

Like many Rogga Johanssen projects (no, this isn’t one of his…), the sound is pretty dead on Sunlight Studios HM-2 Entombed/Dismember/Carnage school buzzsaw guitar, sorta crusty and punkish Swedish death metal.

It ain’t exactly Left Hand Path or Pieces, but it works just fine for yet
another in the legion of modern day acts looking to add a footnote to
the appendix of the classics.

Yeah, there’s way too many bands working this sound of late.

But when it sounds this good, who the hell’s complaining?

Satan’s Host – Midnight Wind (Moribund Records) (November 23)

We covered this classic USPM act’s Metal From Hell reissue two Roundups back, wondering just why Moribund hadn’t included this EP alongside it…and here it is.

Recorded right after the band’s sole 80’s release, this was, like far too many bands of the era (not least Harry “Tyrant” Conklin’s main gig Jag Panzer) a victim of small local labels with big plans and little funding to realize same.  The label in question went belly up, the EP was never released, Conklin moved on to the excellent Titan Force, then back to Jag Panzer, eventually finding his way back to these guys very recently in the span of things.

Another victim of much bootlegging over the years, this is touted as the first official release of this album ever.  And like Metal From Hell, the remastering is noticeable…at least for those familiar with earlier “unofficial” releases of the same material.

Now, those walking in off the metaphorical street so to speak, the first timers to this unusual mix of proto-black and the NWOBHM to thrash leanings of vintage US power metal?  They’re shaking their heads right now.  Can material that sounds this…demo-like (a much more colorful descriptor came to mind, but we’ll refrain for the nonce) possibly have been given a proper remaster?  Well, yeah.  You have to hear earlier releases of this one…

Also keep in mind: as variable in sound quality as Metal from Hell is from track to track, this one’s definitely worse, and always was.  It’s an EP, and an unreleased one at that, from the days when EPs were considered throwaways and experiments for stylistic stretches (not that some EPs weren’t better than the albums they append – Emperor’s Return, Mad Butcher and Eyes of Horror come immediately to mind here).  Bottom line, nobody threw a bunch of money into this one, or even took good care of the tapes.  It’s a miracle Midnight Wind sounds as good as it does.

There’s also the fact that, well, it’s an EP. That means cover songs (The Animals, anyone?), castoffs (Jag Panzer’s “black sunday”) and songs that, while very much in the same vein, aren’t necessarily as strong as those appearing on the prior album.

But all that said…it’s Harry Conklin.  Jag Panzer.  Titan Force.  And he’s fronting some very unusual material, far more aggressive, raw and lyrically satanic than anything else you’ll hear the guy doing.  And where the hell else will you find material this…strange?  Blackened power metal…seriously?

So yeah, I’m glad to have this one in my hands, at least digitally speaking…making another small corner of the USPM collection complete.

If you like what you heard on Metal From Hell…don’t fuck around, just grab this one already.

Ferrett – In Though the Out Door (Moribund Rockers!) (November 30)
Ferrett – Snow on Ferrett Mountain (Moribund Rockers!) (December 7)

Weirdly catchy, dead on piss take on the late 80’s Los Angeles metal
scene.

While coming off very much like Zodiac Mindwarp or Manitoba’s Wild
Kingdom, with the growly vocalled mugging of some guy going by
“King of the Night Time World” (seriously…), the band themselves are
surprisingly po-faced, making the contradiction between vocals,
deliberately comic lyrics and seriously good vintage dual guitar metal
utterly bizarre, even jarring.

While this guy goes on about being “thirsty for your box”, “Canadian
hookers”, taking a “boy’s night out on gay street” and singing touching
ballads to the ladyfriend about taking it “in through the out door” in his
goofy gravel voice, you’ve got the equivalent of Ratt, Dokken or Quiet
Riot chugging away behind him with killer riffs, impressive leads and
good production (those drums sound great, the guitars bear the mix of
fat and raw the aforementioned bands were marked by).

I mean, they actually pulled in Ted “Million Dollar Man” DiBiase for
“jobber” (though it sounds recorded off VHS, so it may be “with
permission” rather than a new bit of business), so you get the idea of
just how seriously to take these guys.

And yet…listen to those fucking riffs and solos! They could dump the
chain yanking bit, grab a proper singer and make a go of it as a straight
up retro Hollywood hair metal act…amazing recreation, to be sure.

Snow on Ferrett Mountain is a far more forgettable affair, being a four track “Christmas album”…er, EP. There’s an acoustic version of the
aforementioned “thirsty” and a weird cover of Wham! UK’s “last
Christmas” (remember when that’s how they were marketed in stores?)
that we’re supposed to find funny, but it’s just like your drunken uncle
singing the song straight and without much alteration*, albeit in the
band’s usual mocking vocal tone. Oh, and two more tracks that weren’t
good enough to make the album proper about one night stands and
such.

* well, he keeps naming off bars he’s “pounding off beers” at.
umm…ha ha?

Bottom line? Stick to In Through the Out Door, and try to tune the
frontman out.

Can we have this remastered to remove/replace the vocals? This
band could really be killer, if played straight…another fucking Darkness
we don’t need.

Your dinner lady arms are showing, guys.

 

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