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Another month almost to the day, and we’re still digging our way out from under a truckload or two of reviewables.

Reality is, the backlog will continue to take time to sort out, and time, as we all know, is a precious commodity, shared with so many other life activities, inclusive of, if well beyond, research, recording and editing of the Weird Scenes podcast. There’s many a label and act out there waiting on tenterhooks for a good, honest appraisal, and there’s no point in giving a half hearted rush job…so patience is the watchword of the hour.

So, even as the tin plated fuhrer wannabe with a cheap bottle tan declares his little fake “emergency” in a tacky bid to get his way twice over (and just how soon are we to be relieved of his presence? Can we impeach or jail the man yet?) and the weather veers wildly between Antarctic freeze and inappropriately unseasonal warmth, the world continues to turn, defying a plethora of predictions presaging its imminent collapse.

And so it is here, where we offer…pretty much what we were able to get to since the last review cycle.

So without further ado…avaunt!

Rhapsody Of Fire – The Eighth Mountain (AFM Records) (February 22)

Rhapsody‘s back, and this time they’re really giving it the ol’ college try.

We’d covered several of their recent efforts, such as Into the Legend and Dark Wings of Steel alongside our career spanning interview with the band themselves), but most pointedly to the album under discussion, their post-Lione self-covers affair Legendary Years.

So it is with some surprise that we come to The Eighth Mountain, an album that, were the recently departed Fabio Lione still helming the mic, would feel like a definite turning back of the clock to the days of Dawn of Victory and the respective Symphonies of Enchanted Lands.

No shit, for real.

I mean, you’ve got the return to the epic, multi album spanning fantasy storyline…the bombastic choirs and orchestration (courtesy of the Bulgarian National Symphony Orchestra)…the flashy guitars, even the epic feel.

It’s fucking amazing, particularly after at least 13 years of far iffier work (and that’s if you accept Triumph or Agony as one of the classic era. Some more casual aficionados than yours truly might move the bar an album or two further back…) that a far more fragmented band (long sans Turilli, now without the golden tones of Lione to boot) could actually turn back the clock and deliver an album this powerful and reminiscent of their salad days. Color me quite impressed, signore Starapoli.

That said, it’s not Lione. Starapoli finds new guy Giacomo Voli to have a “broader, more expressive range” than Lione, and I’ll give him that more recent Lione has failed to impress in the same manner than his more famed work. But come on.

Particularly early in the album*, when Voli resorts to faux-black/death snarling and growling (which almost made me shut the damn thing off right then and there, no joke) and not long after delivers a track where he keeps pushing beyond his range into a painful falsetto…several times over, mind!

…just…yeesh!

* actually track 12 – my player did it again, last track first. But the slight reordering changes nothing about the point here.

Look, I can see why Starapoli picked the guy. He doesn’t have the bottom end, body or gravitas Lione brought to the table, but there’s a lot of his lighter tenor tone, and he’s got definite range. But pushing him beyond it for effect (much less forcing those stupid growly bits!) is not the way to impress the doubters that he can not only hack, but by Starapoli’s reckoning, “surpass” one of the great frontmen of European power metal. In fact, it leaves the guy sounding much weaker in the role than he otherwise comes off.

But let’s leave that stuff aside. The bottom line is this: Voli is not Lione, by any stretch of the imagination…but he’s a very acceptable, even well chosen replacement. Further, somehow, Starapoli has managed to craft an album that beats the living shit out of more than a decade’s worth of so-so to questionable efforts, actually motivating at least this longtime fan to exclaim they’ve finally gotten back on track. And of course, the full, crisp and bombastic production by Orden Ogan’s Seeb Levermann doesn’t exactly hurt…

If it took losing the entire friggin’ band to come back to square one and recapture what made this band so damn great in the first place…then so be it.

Again. Color me impressed.

Herman Frank – Fight The Fear (AFM Records) (February 8)

We’d covered former Accept six stringer Herman Frank’s ostensible solo act for The Devil Rides Out a few years back, where he dragged in gravel and glass-gargling frontman Rick Altzi (Masterplan, Thunderstone) and Sinner/Silent Force drummer Andre Hilgers for a fairly standard if driving modern Eurometal affair. And nothing’s really changed, as fans might have hoped and the world at large likely expected.

There are definite connections with the European school of power metal, as you might assume from the pedigree of the various contributors herein, but much of this is in a slow to midtempo vein, speaking more to the traditonal metal crunch of Frank’s former outfit or acts that border more on heavy rock ala Sinner than the more Helloween school of driving speed and melodicism that has come to define Europe’s idea of what power metal is per se.

You’ll find plenty of detuned, grinding tone riffs and raspy vox herein, and it should certainly keep fans of, say, Shakra quite happy.

  

Stahlmann – Kinder Der Sehnsucht (AFM Records) (March 22)

We’d covered these Rammstein wannabes twice before, for CO2 and Bastard, and little has changed.

I’ve made the apparent faux pas of referring to Rammstein as industrial, to much the indignation of diehards…but if you’re not of the mind that we have to be talking Throbbing Gristle and early Cabaret Voltaire (or perhaps even Skinny Puppy and Nitzer Ebb), then yes, Stahlmann is very obviously industrial, with all the trappings of electronic machine noises and overly processed vocals crossed with deliberate dance music rhythms.

You know, much like Rammstein, but even more pop radio oriented, even crossed with a sort of gothic metal (think Lacuna Coil by way of Moonspell)…particularly evident when they pair up with a female vocalist for “wenn du gehst”.

No, not the Connie Francis song. Yeah, yeah, I know.

Personally, I prefer Utopia-era Gothminister, but there’s nothing wrong with a very listenable industrialized pop record…particularly when they have tracks that work as well as “sinnlich” and…er, their version of “wenn du gehst” amidst the rest of this Moonspellish business.

Yep, if you aren’t down with the likes of Rammstein, Gothminister or Megaherz, Stahlmann’s certainly not going to set your house afire. But personally, I’ve always tended to enjoy this sort of danceable bombast and industrialized sturm und drang, like BiGod 20 and Front 242, but transplanted to more of a gothic metallized, guitar oriented milieu.

No exception here.

JETBOY – Born To Fly (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (January 25)

hmm.

Remember Jetboy?

Yeah, they first showed up around the time mainstream metal all but disappeared, dropping even the weird circa ’86 shift to glittery costumes, bigger hair and glam aesthetic in favor of a proto-grungelike, Aerosmith, Zeppelin and Hanoi Rocks worshipping tattooed junkie rock inspired by the major push Geffen gave to the previously flailing Guns N’ Roses.

Cue an entire “Hollywood scene”, and even the biggest bands suddenly trying to sound like street kids with porn star girlfriends and a habit. Wasn’t quite a death knell (we’d see that when everyone tried to “go grunge” only two or three years later), but it was kind of embarrassing. At least the new bands coming out of this musical sea change had some degree of listenability, even likeability at first – think anything from LA Guns and Dirty Looks to Junkyard.

Jetboy…they were from San Francisco. Like we discussed with Davy Vain in our two part interview, there was a very different thing going on up North…namely the Bay Area thrash scene. It gave Frisco bands a unique flair, of which Vain is both an excellent example and a unique ringer. Much harder to classify, and in their case, far more traditionally metal than GNR wannabes.

Jetboy…they were just…odd. “Feel the shake” came off like some weird hybrid of Zodiac Mindwarp and Circus O’ Power, but with a bit more soulful groove, and a frontman who sported a punk rock hairstyle. Say huh?

Let’s make things a bit more strange. They haven’t recorded a lick since…what, 1990? Yeah, they have a handful of compilation albums out there of demos and unreleased material that ran right through that dark decade, but in terms of “new recordings”, that’s it – two albums and done.

So here they are, many a year later, with three of the original members in place…and it’s the important ones (the frontman and both guitarists).  Oh, and Eric Stacy from Faster Pussycat, just for the hell of it.

Now, is there anything much akin to “feel the shake” on here, whether the album or its famed title track? Nope.

But it opens and closes on two likeable midtempo rockers (“beating the odds” and “party time!”), with the meat of the sandwich being sorta bluesy rock with a bit of an AOR feel – think somewhere between latter day Bon Jovi and Ace Frehley, you’ll get the general idea, here.

Was I floored by this? Nah. Didn’t care much one way or the other for these guys even in their heyday.

But I didn’t exactly hate ’em either…they were just kinda weird.

Case in point.

If you liked ’em and are big on nostalgia…I guess you can say welcome back.

KANE ROBERTS – The New Normal (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (January 25)

Ah, Kane Roberts.  I remember seeing him with Alice Cooper back on the Nightmare Never Ends tour, with Kip Winger on bass (yep, Cooper launched two careers off that period…)

As (at the time) an amateur bodybuilder and running in those circles locally, I was always impressed by the build on this guy…I mean, you see metal dudes, especially back in the mid to late 80s.  And here’s this fucking monster, with this big ol’ machine gun guitar looking tiny in his hands, trying to look like The Austrian Oak plays Rambo (headband and all), while Alice did his usual freakshow/spookshow schtick and Winger’s standing there smiling at the girls like a prettyboy.

It was a really odd juxtaposition, and those two albums Cooper and Roberts worked on together were some of Cooper’s best music since the days of Glen Buxton and The Alice Cooper Band. Hell, I even followed the guy over to his solo album (infamously cheesy photoshop cover and all), laughing along to macho “ballads” like “triple X” and “a strong arm needs a stronger heart”…still one of my favorite albums of the era, if not necessarily for reasons the guy would be happy about.  It’s campy as shit.

But after that…something happened. Kane went soft, tried to follow Kip in what he was doing over with Reb Beach on his own solo material…and as a result, Saints and Sinners was reasonably forgettable by comparison. Only the Cher cover and “twisted” stand out in any way whatsoever, the rest is pretty generic. He recorded two more albums almost a decade later, then reappeared in 2012 for one more. Despite the passage of over 30 years, this is only his 6th solo album, you get the idea.

So here we are all these years later, and Kane’s back and making…modern metal?!?

Seriously. And he calls in old favors, with Cooper and Winger guesting on two tracks, the former in tandem with an unusually more gothic metal chanteuse inclined Alyssa White-Gluz than you’ll ever hear over with Arch Enemy (you know, the same inclinations that almost saved the first Agonist album…too bad about all that fucking screaming!) Impelliteri/Chastain/Fifth Angel drummer
Ken Mary also appears…hell, he even digs up one of the backing musicians from Babymetal, that’s really stretching things…

Essentially, if you preferred Saints and Sinners to the self titled and don’t mind a fair portion of industrialized/electronic effect bedecked modern metal tagged in for more of an au courant flair, you should dig this one as well. Kane’s in good vocal form, the songs are melodic and reasonably well constructed, and he even does some nice acoustic guitar on “forever out of place”. Who knew he had it in him, back in the days of “out for blood”?

But the real point of interest here is “beginning of the end”, with its Alice and Alyssa “duet” with Kane…despite the fact that she has to throw in the usual comedy growly bit, just to remind you who she is.

Too bad. She has a nice voice, when she actually bothers to use it…case in point herein.

I don’t know. I have too much affection for the guy’s first three albums (the two with Cooper and his own self titled) to give him any less than a nod of due respect.

QUIET RIOT – One Night In Milan (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (January 25)

Ah, Quiet Riot. The band that had Randy Rhoads for two whole albums, but never bothered to release ’em outside of Japan…and you could barely tell he was on there even then. Did he even take a solo?  Thank God the late Kevin DuBrow had the sense to work up the patchwork monster that was The Randy Rhoads Years.

No, it ain’t quite the man’s work with Ozzy, but it’s no album to sneeze at. And he took a lot of flak for doing it, so fuck all o’ y’all who knocked the guy. It’s a damn good album and a true labor of love…and the second best thing Quiet Riot ever released.

The best, of course, was the monster that is Metal Health. Filled to the brim with classic head bangers, it’s the band’s shining moment, certainly the best thing they ever released in the Carlos Cavazo era. Essentially, the best tracks here, the ones everyone knows and everyone sings along to? Metal Health.

Unfortunately, after that, the band…made some really bad moves.  Ignoring DuBrow’s boasting and picking fights with just about every other metal band in existence (most of whom could blow the more basic, Twisted Sister-lite QR off the stage, skills-wise), just in terms of the albums that followed…like Ratt post-Invasion of Your Privacy, it was a race to see just how much glammier and inessential they could get with each successive release. Oh, look, another Slade cover…cue a huge eye roll and sigh.

Nonetheless, Condition Cricical and QR III had their fans, and every album had at least one or two salvageable ditties to enjoy amidst the dross…and most of us like to remember the band for their Metal Health (and/or Rhoads Years) heyday.

You can tell what I’m saying here by looking at the tracklist to this Frankie Banali-led band of newcomers, whose frontman is apparently some American Idol contestant (God help us, they’re everywhere!) At least he sounds reasonably similar to DuBrow…

…but, yeah. It’s a very Metal Health-heavy set, with a few tracks apiece from II and III, done, we’re outta here. The audience seems fairly subdued, if appreciative, particularly at the end when they finally roll out “bang your head” for their delectation.

It ain’t DuBrow, it ain’t Cavazo or Rhoads…but for a live show with only one original member, it’s about as close as you’ll ever get to hearing QR like they were back in their salad days.

INGLORIOUS – Ride To Nowhere (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (January 25)

UK rockers with a heavy Zeppelin influence, as filtered through a more synth-heavy modern approach and with a touch of Hendrixian blues guitar tone just to pull things a bit sideways.

Well produced and tight performances all around.

Nothing wrong with this, if you’re into the whole “classic rock” thing.  I’m really not, never was.

If this sounds like it’s up your alley, it probably is.

TOBY HITCHCOCK – Reckoning  (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (January 25)

Frontman of the post-Foreigner Jim Peterik’s new project, Pride of Lions.

We’d reviewed their Fearless, and found it enjoyable, uplifting AOR fairly evidently in the Survivor mold, but bringing a wider ranging 80’s melodic rock sound to the table than that implies.

Here the frontman takes advantage of a little downtime to deliver…well, it sounds like a Pride of Lions album again, but is that a bad thing?

Michael Palace, whose Palace we’d covered twice (Master of the Universe and Binary Music) and Daniel Flores of First Signal and Murder of My Sweet provide backup here, but it’s very much another Pride of Lions album in feel and approach, somewhere between a Toto album, 80’s Chicago, Survivor and the lighter, more melodic end of your average Frontiers act.

The guy’s voice is deeper than usual for the genre and while smooth, bears a lot of emotion, even soul. The tone is nice and the guy throws a lot into it, while making it all sound pretty effortless…not an easy thing to do. Really nice voice for this sort of music, no question.

The sound is resolutely 80’s – think “training montage” and you’re on the right track – and there’s really not much more to say here, or that actually needs to be said.

If you don’t at least give a listen to tracks like “promise me”, you’re a fool…and you’ll be missing out on something better than it has any right to be here in 2019.

STARBREAKER – Dysphoria (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (January 25)

You know, I was wondering what the hell Tony Harnell was up to. This guy was one of the jaw dropping helium-toned frontmen of 80’s metal, fronting the surprisingly schizophrenic TNT.

I mean, seriously – were they balladeering for the ladies in the audience? Were they speed metal maniacs with Ronnie LeTekro going for the Vinnie Vincent Invasion/Michael Angelo Batio Nitro crowd, with his own “patented four-stepper guitar”? Both sides sounded pretty sweet for a few albums there, arguably even into portions of Realized Fantasies…but you know where my own sentiments lie, and it ain’t the ballads.

Well, it seems that Harnell has lost some of that golden tone, but not as much as you might expect…there’s still some good strong high notes left in there, and plenty of toothy head voice to tracks like “pure evil”.

He (perhaps appropriately) covers the Priest song that they cribbed the band name from, and pulls in Primal Fear’s Magnus Karlsson for some propulsive, driving riffs and leads.

It’s not exactly vintage TNT, but there’s the same mix of ballads and driving rockers (though we’re hardly talking speed metal these days, be warned), and Harnell sounds pretty good overall. At points you may find yourself thinking “damn…that sounds like 1986 Harnell”, only to be brought back to the present day by a darker toned, more careful phrase or hint of a burgeoning warble thereafter.

But come on, listen to tracks like “pure evil” or “how many more goodbyes”, and then try to criticize the guy. It’s hardly a case of, say, Don Dokken, or Geoff Tate, or even Stephen Pearcy – nobody out there can say the guy’s past it, or lost everything that made his voice what it was back in the day.

Far from it, in fact. I was pleasantly surprised by this one, on the whole…you should be, as well.

Iron Savior – Kill Or Get Killed (AFM Records) (March 8)

We had the likeably garrolous Piet Sielck on the podcast a few years back, and enjoyed his insights into the early days of the band, his work with Helloween‘s Kai Hansen and chats about (domestically) obscure sci fi novels.

This is more of the same, if a bit darker in tone; still grounded firmly in the SF concepts and lyrical approach the band is noted for, but more akin to the likes of Scanner or power metal-era Riot (which is the only one worth discussing, thank you very much) in its more typically dystopian focus.

But hey, if you weren’t too involved in all this giant robot from space trying to save the universe business that ran across so many albums, you won’t notice all that much of a difference here…the music is still the same well produced, pedal to the floor straightforward Helloween template power metal, even with all the James Bond themes tossed into the title track (nudge, wink).

Same as it ever was, same as it ever was.

Trollfest – Norwegian Fairytales (NoiseArt) (January 18)

And like Troll, here’s another band who we held in fairly high esteem back in the days of Kvest for den Hellige Gral, Brumlebassen and Kaptein Kaos.

Hell, even the more recent Heluva worked pretty damn well, with its more throwback to Hellige Gral-era sound. All’s looking pretty solid in this trollish camp, right?

Well…look, there’s enough here stylistically that you’ll recognize them as the same band, or at least “a band inspired by”. There’s that omnipresent accordion and some folk elements, Jostein’s freakout vox, even a bit of the comedic tone we’ve all become accustomed to.

But something’s very different, here. The world music syncretism? Almost negligible. The comedy? Toned down, subdued, even. The overall sense of fun? Slight, to be sure.

I’m not sure what exactly happened here, beyond a desire to put their own piss take on some homegrown legendary tales…but this really does not feel like the good natured, drink-obsessed party band we’d seen for so many albums now.

It’s like comparing later Finntroll to Trollhammeren and Nattfod…hey, where’d the party go?  Damn, this blows…

No, unlike their likely inspiration, Trollfest has not thrown in the towel entirely and “gone serious” on everyone’s disbelieving ass.

But it’s like we all moved to a dry town, and while they’re still trying to halfheartedly convince everyone they can throw a real shindig…without the liquor flowing and the laughing good vibes?

This “party” kinda sucks.

Rotting Christ – The Heretics (Season Of Mist) (February 15)

Regulars here at Third Eye and our more or less monthly Roundup Reviews should be well aware that yours truly is a longtime aficionado of Rotting Christ.

Bringing a uniquely first wave approach to their proto-black metal, the Greeks concentrated on traditional metal and thrash as much as anything blackened, with melodicism and a likeably understated anthemic feel marking the most sinister sounding of affairs.

From Passage to Arcturo through Non Serviam, those early classics have remained in rotation in perpetuity, where much feted “scene leaders” have seen their reputations rise and fall, and more to the point, their “great contributions” to black metal fall into more of a shrug of the shoulders, even the occasional “what the fuck were we all thinking? This kinda blows, actually…”

The fact that the Tolis brothers are still standing where so many others have fallen says a lot right there…and that’s not even reckoning with their tremendous influence on the Greek scene that came up in their wake, building into a congregation of bands that at times rivals that of Finland for sheer listenability, while other bastions of the black collapse into atonal experimentation and post-whatever the fuck, to their ultimate detriment.

Now, I’ll shock ya. I’ve never grabbed a single Rotting Christ album since that point. Not that I haven’t heard some interesting, even killer tracks along the way…but yeah. Too many interesting acts, reissues and rediscoveries of obscurities from back in the day emerge every year to blow time and money on newer, generally lesser work from anybody, save those albums that cross the virtual desk month after month.

In the off time? I’m spinning the classics, kids…or new discoveries (and reappraisals) of stuff previously released back when all this stuff was new and fresh. Too many Piece of Minds to waste precious time on yet another Final Frontier, so to speak…and life’s simply too short to spend all your time focused on a single genre of music.

So now, perhaps, you begin to apprehend the idea of just how much is out there to discover, rediscover and revisit, while completely ignoring the last two or three decades worth of mediocrities and attempts to recapture 80’s and early 90’s glories (or occasionally even earlier ones…not like the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s were exactly barren of good music, n’est pas?)

But these guys…honestly, I’ve always been tempted to dig into the large portion of the back catalogue I’ve missed along the way. Here’s hoping some label on the roster gets ambitious enough to remaster and reissue some of these classics and send this way for coverage…

So it’s with no real surprise, but merely affirmation of the aforementioned impulse to regard Rotting Christ as the exception to a hard and fast rule that we come to appraise the latest in a 17 album/EP career from the Tolis brothers.

As you might expect, it’s pretty far removed from their early work, whose production was quite rough and ready and varied in quality from track to track, and whose sheer delight was in the very naivete on display. This is an older, much more polished band, with an actual recording budget. The sound is clean and clear, the playing solid, the musicianship tight.

One definite plus is the loss of most “blackened” elements to the vocals, which tend more towards clean chants and early Sepulturalike gargling barks than snarls and shrieks…but then again, they never were so typical as bands working this genre would all too quickly become.

If anything, most of the tracks here feel almost gothic metal, that sort of polished bombast and dramatic vibe you get with more modern, power metal-derived acts ranging from as far afield as Therion and Moonspell. One could be forgiven for describing the “new” Rotting Christ as “dark metal” or even “modern metal”, albeit with a deliberate, sub-symphonic and quite gothicized feel.

While in most ways far removed from the band that gave us Non Serviam, this is very much the same act in question…because its quality and unusual approach still sets them apart from an astronomically expanding flock of ostensible peers, imitators and sycophants. You will know them by their self assurance, if you will.

Again, I was totally content with this one, and rest in hope that some of these will be reissued by one of “our” labels for future review.

And hey, if not, we’ll always have Paris…or is that Athens?

Very good stuff…as you might expect.

RAVEN – Screaming Murder Death From Above: Live In Aalborg (Steamhammer / SPV) (January 18)

Back in the 80’s, a lot of bands were considered the forefathers and leading lights of metal…bands that few if anyone would consider such, or even pay much attention to, had they debuted only a few years later.

In particular, I remember much ado being made about Canada’s Exciter (who were quite iffy, but had occasional moments for about three albums there)…and Britain’s Raven, both of whom were considered “the fathers of speed (or thrash, or underground) metal” alongside the far more dependable Motorhead.

Suffice to say, as you can probably tell from the tone thus far…I never got it.

I mean, sure, Raven were high energy, and I’d much rather sit through a Stay Hard than similar works from other names tossed around like Anvil (seriously?) and Riot (not until Thundersteel, and never again thereafter). But you know how Samson, despite the presence of a pre-Maiden Bruce Dickinson and some measure of promise, always came off as quite awkward?  Yeah. That’s Raven for ya, in a nutshell.

And seriously…football gear?  What the fuck kind of image is that for metal? Jock culture?  Screw those assholes, let ’em jerk off to Van Halen and stay off in their own corner.  And seriously…mates, you’re British.  Wouldn’t actual “football” (read: soccer) togs, or even rugby gear make better sense? Hell, you could’ve come out with a cricket bat and scared the shit out of the little pimple faces in the front row…

Well, anyway, here they are again, one of the early NWOBHM acts still kicking around in some form or other, with the Gallagher brothers and…well, some new kid on drums, but hey. As Meatloaf once bellowed, “two outta three ain’t bad”.

Now, to be honest, for a live show from a pair of guys of their vintage, this is pretty damn high energy, and does indeed feel much akin to at least vintage Girlschool if not Fast Eddie Clarke-era Motorhead…so that’s a definite plus. And maybe it’s just the live setting, but a lot of the songs sound pretty damn good here…

Who knows, maybe it’s time to give those old Raven albums a reappraisal after so many years. Or not, and just appreciate how good a live album forty years on makes ’em sound.

I mean, seriously…these guys are in their sixties and making music that sounds this aggressive, loud and speedy, when teenagers can barely seem to muster the testosterone to rock out properly.

What the fuck is that saying?

Hats off to the Gallagher brothers…and color me impressed.

   

JOHN DIVA & THE ROCKETS OF LOVE – Mama Said Rock Is Dead (Steamhammer / SPV) (February 8)

wait, whoa…this isn’t on Frontiers?

So, yeah, you get the idea of what you’ll hear here – the sort of AOR meets the lighter end of glam metal you get with Poison-era Alice Cooper, post-New Jersey Bon Jovi or even Michael Monroe’s solo career.

It’s very melodic…perhaps a bit too much so, given its sugary, girlfriend-friendly feel, and certainly catchy and likeable enough. But all this Girls Girls Girls-style bounce and Midwestern countrified strip bar feel leaves the listener wondering if they’ve just stepped into an episode of Lorenzo Lamas’ early 90’s cheesefest Renegade or something…it’s positively jarring, in fact.

If you like the really light end of glam metal – tag in acts like Danger Danger and Firehouse to the aforementioned – you should be very happy with this one.

Personally…as much as I prefer tonality and proper songcraft? This is the sort of thing this vintage thrasher cum early death metaller used to mock roundly back in the day, and its fans as “poseurs”.

Take that as you will. The stuff’s solid and certainly has its merits.

   

ROSY VISTA – Unbelievable (Steamhammer / SPV) (February 8)

German all female rock band. Apparently they’re a comeback act, having dropped an EP back in the mid 80’s.

I find this a bit of a mixed bag. At their best (“master of control”), they sound a hell of a lot like one of my longstanding favorite acts, Japan’s similarly all-femme Show-Ya.

But other tracks…I’d say somewhere between Bonnie Raitt and the cheesier, more hard rock (as opposed to synthesizer-driven metal leaning) material Show-Ya was devolving towards circa Hard Way. It’s still very listenable, it still has its moments…but it ain’t the same band, not in the ways that count (hence their effective breakup after that very album.)*

* well, technically, they tried again with Steffanie (Borges), but the album wasn’t half so good as her own pair of solo efforts…and again with some random punkette, to even less avail. Let’s just say they broke up after Hard Way.

I give these ladies the nod out of both recognition for their managing to get back together and drop something of this high a general quality after so many years, and for managing to sound so much akin to one of my favorite acts, even if their sound leans more towards said band’s less engaging later work than their astronomically superior earlier material.

If you like this one (and why wouldn’t you?), don’t walk, run to grab a copy of Queendom…and then pretty much everything from Masquerade Show through Glamour.

Those last two albums they did, hey. You’re on your own, there.

Within Temptation – Resist (Spinefarm Records) (February 1)

wow, who knew Within Temptation were still kicking around?

Yeah, they were one of the earlier bands the wife and I got into when yours truly found himself drawn back into the folds of first the metal I’d come up on, virulently disparaged and disgraced from both without and within by all comers for an entire decade prior (anyone who says good things about the early to mid 90’s clearly wasn’t there, or old enough to know the difference).

Not long after digging back into (and rebuilding, from lost and tangled cassettes to those newfangled CDs) the albums I’d already owned in one form or another and discovering (for better or worse) what I’d missed out in with the black metal scene (death metal’s rise and fall were the end of it for me, from circa ’93-’99) and discovering that Europe and Japan never actually threw in the towel and pissed all over it with all things Pantera, grunge and nu like we did here in the States (thank you, Hammerfall!), the next port of call was a fascinating new scene with clean, often operatic and mainly female vocals: the gothic/symphonic metal scene.

And you guessed it, one of the earlier names of note in said scene? Within Temptation.

This was early enough that the band was still a Westerholt family affair – Martijn had only just gotten ill and dropped out of touring, with Delain several years off yet. Mother Earth was (and remains) the go-to album, with Silent Force a likeable but unusually “earthy” and comparatively subdued affair, as if they let all the magic out and tried to “get grounded” in the modern.

At least they had that nice Kate Bush cover under their belts…but you could tell things were already changing in the Dutchmen’s camp. A decidedly questionable Heart of Everything was the final nail in that particular coffin, and we walked in favor of greener pastures and newer bands – After Forever had birthed Epica, Theatre of Tragedy gave way to Leaves Eyes, Nightwish lost Tarja and their own way for several years (until they hooked up with a long ex-After Forever Floor Janssen, that is!) and other corners of Europe were offering bands of interest (Magica, Krypteria, Trinity-era Visions of Atlantis and eventually Unsun were particular highlights of the period.) The genre had run its course, we moved on.

So 12 years on from the last time either of us even dabbled in this particular band (and a good 15 since they were reckoned any good…) here we are again, and WT is marked by a core trio of the two remaining Westerholts (Sharon and Robert) and longstanding bassist Jeroen van Veen. Guitarist Ruud Jolie and replacement keyboardist Martijn Spierenburg have been around since the aforementioned Silent Force, and they’ve tagged in a pair of new kids on third guitar and drums.

Wait…third guitar?  Are they Leatherwolf all of a sudden, or something?

Nope, not that you can tell. It’s pretty much Heart of Everything with a bit more gumption and futurist feel, but with a timely message warning of our opinions and beliefs being manipulated all too easily and readily by those in charge of even social media, to some very untoward ends.

One valuable life lesson that growing up when I did instilled in me is that it’s always a good thing to question and challenge authority…and then take it a step further, and question yourself and your own motivations, as well. So they’ve already got my vote on subject matter, here.

Sharon sounds more or less the same as ever…if you aren’t expecting any operatic soprano high notes, anyway. This is more of the workaday pop radio vocal range she’s been working since (most of) the Silent Force album, and there’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself…I just remember when she offered something much, much better (something we can say about several survivors of this particular scene…hello, Simone!)

The music is…very pop. It’s listenable, and not exactly a stretch from the latter day Within Temptation sound (or at least what it’s been since around 2006 or so…) but won’t exactly wow folks who were waiting for another Mother Earth…or even another Silent Force.

cough

So, yeah, that’s all I have to offer here. Nothing wrong with it, the sound is decent and the message is apropos and au courant…but it’s clearly not the same band that wowed the wife and I so many years ago.

  

A PALE HORSE NAMED DEATH – When The World Becomes Undone (Long Branch Records) (January 18)

The drummer from Type O Negative and Life of Agony switches to effective one man band, working vox, guitars and drums (well, not the latter this time around) for the third time under this moniker.

Perhaps appropriately given his provenance, what you’ll encounter herein is some nebulous crossover between doom, gothic metal and stoner rock, with vocals and guitars that lean further across the stoner fence towards grunge (think Alice in Chains more than anyone else in that respect).

That said, it’s a strangely listenable melange, that bears enough depressive feel and thick toned, slow moving guitar progressions to appeal to those who appreciate doom, goth and a bit of stoner but really despise grunge with a vengeance (cough)…I wasn’t exactly annoyed by this one, let’s put it that way.

Like drowning in a whirlpool of molasses. If that appeals to you as well, take a deep breath and jump right in – the quicksand’s just fine.

Ghost Iris – Apple Of Discord (Long Branch Records) (February 22)

Well…look. Promo materials describe these guys as “progressive metalcore” out of Denmark. Already the “-core” suffix is going to turn a lot of folks away, sound unheard, but hey, you know we have a definite soft spot for Killswitch. That’s not the problem here, at least not entirely.

But what is…is what’s passing for “progressive” here, crossed with only the worst, most mockable elements of metalcore: the nu metallish/groovelike overly detuned guitars, simplistic riffs that make one song sound exactly like the one before and the ones to follow (at least change a damn key every now and again, willya?) and tonsil waggling shout-belches that turn to Janovian primal screams…but without the clean sung melodic choruses* and leads that save metalcore from its own worst excesses.

* there are a few, they don’t exactly salvage the “songs” that contain them…but strangely, they all sound sung by a woman. Which is just bizarre, as no female vocalist appears to be credited…

But the worst part here has nothing to do with the “-core” half…it’s all down to the “prog” half, which reduces any possible musicality of the endeavor to the level of neanderthalic CLUNG-THUNG THUNG-harmonic SQUEAL / CLUNG-THUNG THUNG Korn meets Pantera riffs, delivered in the most atonal, non-harmonic fashion possible.

To say these guys pretty much suck is an understatement.

ONE MORE, INCOMING!

…please, step away from the Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards, the management is not responsible for any damage to onlookers from sudden flareups or flying embers…

(sigh) some folks never learn…

NEXT?!?

Puppy – The Goat (Spinefarm Records) (January 25)

OK, when you hear Weezer name checked in the same sentence as Black Sabbath and grunge, you have to stop and scratch your head.

I mean, seriously…what the fuck do the first two have in common beyond a heavy riff, and either of ’em with the heroin haze whining and complaining of the latter? Nothing.

But Weezer is indeed a band you can hear as influential on these Brits, with their weird vocal harmonies and catchy choruses sprinkled at odd intervals throughout some early millenial pop-punk riffing, but one crossed with the jarring time signatures and atonal juxtapositions of a Prong, if not hints of a nu metal influence (think Korn without all the Arthur Janov business). It’s strange.

What’s stranger is that it’s not offensive, really…maybe it’s the precise mix of Weezer, Good Charlotte/the Offspring and Prong that saves this wayward Puppy from consignment to the local pound and fast tracking to being euthanized (yeah, they do this…adopt a shelter pet, the pounds are bad news), but in the end, while hardly an A list act, Puppy holds up as a quirkily interesting act that may add up to more than the sum of its parts.

Wasn’t overly thrilled by ’em…but yeah, they weren’t half bad, either.

OPPROBRIUM –The Fallen Entities (High Roller Records) (February 22)

The band formerly known as Incubus returns for their fifth album per se (though you’ll note much confusion online regarding the various reissues of both Incubus albums under the original and new monikers…yeah, they only recorded two new albums under the Opprobrium name before now).

Yeesh, confusing, much?

So yeah, this is two brothers from Brazil…or is that Louisiana? Don’t get me started again here…who work the death/thrash crossover sound. As you might expect, the guitars are crunchy and the sound reasonably vintage 90’s, despite the so-so Fear Factory meets later Death growl vocals.

Personally, I prefer the original Incubus vocalist (as heard on recent reissues of Serpent Temptation)…but if you’ve heard Death or wannabes like Morgoth, you know what to expect on that front.

No solos (or they weren’t very memorable if any were actually present), and the riffs are very much along the lines of what they’ve been doing since Beyond the Unknown, so there’s no surprises here.

A bit unspectacular, perhaps, but I was certainly OK with it.

BEWITCHER –Too Fast for the Flames 7″ EP (Shadow Kingdom) (March 8)

If Bathory were less averse towards US power metal, they might have recorded something very much akin to this 7″ – one original, one very well chosen (if perhaps a bit surprising) cover.

We’d covered these Oregonians’ self titled, and appreciated their stripped down blackthrash to USBM approach to Quorthon worship, and their likeable take on WASP’s “show no mercy” only cements that feeling of goodwill.

Honestly, the original is fine, but didn’t make much of an impact…it was the WASP cover that floored me, being both respectful of the original and bringing something new and different to the table at the same time.

Always did love those first two albums (and the legendary “fuck like a beast” EP). Blackie should be proud.

SEAX – Fallout Rituals (CD, LP, TAPE) (Shadow Kingdom) (April 5)

Weird Massachusettes take on that awkward old Canadian style speed metal (arguably with a hint of the less successful end of the Teutonic scene – think Angel Dust, that sort of thing).

Inappropriately timed helium squeals that fall all over the measure rather than as punctuation, the distinct feel of the guy being goosed throughout, it’s just funny, in the end.

The band’s pretty straightforward high speed thrash riffing, there’s solos that bear enough 80’s underground feel to work, the drumming never lapses into anachronistic modern missteps like the blastbeat…they’re actually pretty good,  were it not for the sub-Solar Angels/Have Mercy comedy squeals of the drag queen Julia Child on the mic.

“FIRst you STIR the SU-GAAAAAAAAAR, then gentLY FOOOOOLD the dough INto a pAAAAstrYYYY!!”

I liked these guys, well enough. But you have to really plant that tongue deep in cheek, and prepare to leave it there for 3/4 of an hour…this guy’s fucking ridiculous.

TROLL – Legend Master (CD, LP, TAPE) (Shadow Kingdom) (April 12)

We’d covered these Oregonians (hmm…this apears to be becoming something of a trend this month, eh?) self titled about a year back, and much appreciated their decidedly vintage sound, so close to template as to beggar inclusion on the same shelf as the originators of the doom scene. No mean praise, that.

Here, though, the band takes an unusual right turn, moving away from the traditional doom displayed previously to more of an overdramatic, heavily stoner/psychedelic sound that bears more in common with the likes of 90’s acts like CoC than it ever does bands like Sabbath, Candlemass or Vitus. And that’s a big step down in quality.

There are attempts to touch on various corners of the modern doom scene, with “three evil words” leaning funeral doom, “the door” falling very much under the header of major key “indie”, “flight of the dragonship” practically coming off as the doomier end of Alice In Chains and “proverbs of hell” some ersatz take on Ahab…but in the end, it’s too jumbled and phony sounding to ever work even as five individual tracks very stylistically distinct from one another, much less gel as a cohesive whole.

It doesn’t exactly stink, but by comparison to what we’ve seen this band deliver before?

Holy shit, what a letdown!

Here’s hoping they come to their senses for the next round…because this one sure as hell ain’t their best foot forward.

FORGED IN BLACK – Descent of the Serpent (Fighter Records) (March 5)

We’d covered this (let’s cut to the chase, here) fairly amazing UK band’s Sinner Sanctorum EP as well as their earlier Fear Reflecting Fear EP and tended to find them at the very least admirably vocalled and interesting in approach, at best…well, simply fucking awesome.

Here they return with only their second full length in the last 6 years (hey, they dropped a trio of EPs between, not like they passed out at the pub and pulled a Rip Van Winkle all this time…) and little has changed to lower their unusually lofty estimation.

If anything, I’d prefer they lean a tad more towards traditional doom (Candlemass being the closest analogue to the sort Forged in Black deliver) than the busy, In Search of Sanity-era Onslaught they incline to…but there’s an equally noticeable Mercyful Fate influence at play in their sound.

Effectively, pair a bombastic, clean and quite impressive doom vocalist with a 1uirky, busy, sorta prog inclined in the vein of that era of Onslaught, sorta neoclassical in the vein of Fate guitarist and some subtly busy, syncopated drumming that’s not quite Mark Zonder with Warlord, but seems to be cribbing from that particular playbook. Shake up, add a few too many untoward Painkiller-era Priest shrill falsetto vocal shrieks (why, man? why?) and you know exactly what to expect.

Yes, I still consider Sinner Sanctorum to be their defining moment to date – the longer form album appears to have allowed FiB too much space to experiment and veer a tad off the beaten track every now and again.

But this album is unlikely to disappoint anyone who was waiting for them to finally get scooped up by a label with any real measure of reach and push during all those years toiling away in indie fields.

Spielbergs – This Is Not The End (By The Time It Gets Dark) (February 1)

We’d covered two advance singles for this album, “4am” and “distant star” and were picking up that vintage 90’s indie rock sound, begging comparisons to the likes of Inspiral Carpets, Hazel, Matthew Sweet…hell, I’m even hearing some of the sleepy, drugged out vibe of Dinosaur Jr. (“not for long”, “five on it”) and Frank Black at points (“forevermore”).

For one of these notoriously spotty indie records, the album is surprisingly quite uniformly solid, and retains a quite retro feel throughout. Besides, you really can’t help but laugh at a title like “McDonalds (please don’t fuck up my order)”.

Recommended.

Pedro The Lion – Phoenix (Big Scary Monsters / Polyvinyl Records) (January 18)

What might you get if you pulled all the fire and vigor out from under Urge Overkill like a cheap rug in a bad magic trick?

That sort of indie minded power pop, but with a depressive, mopey feel and a really mellow vibe throughout. You’ll never find a “sister Havana” here, that’s for sure…at best, it’s like Afghan Whigs without the tormented inner rage and self destructive hypermasculinity (“black canyon”).

Is this listenable? If you dig 90’s indie rock, definitely.

But it’s pretty downbeat, and never really picks up the pace beyond a mopey crawl.

There was a lot of this sort of thing floating around back then…so yeah, I didn’t mind it, despite caveats.

CORRODED – Bitter (Despotz Records) (January 25)

Odd Swedish act that calls themselves “hard rock” but more accurately falls under “modern metal”. And even at that, their sound is pretty scattershot.

Elements that evoke nu metal acts like Ill Nino, melodic (if dark) baritone choruses that feel rather Iron Savior, the decided feel of European power metal…but in the darker, earthier tones of a Brainstorm, rather than the expected cheery Yngwie/Helloween neoclassicism.

Tag in some elements of grunge (think Alice in Chains), whatever the fuck you want to classify Black Label Society as, and metalcore (squealing pinch harmonics, bellow/growls on many of the verses, nigh-death metal tempos and chugging guitar/drum interplay), and you have Corroded, a band that’s both all of the genres noted and none of them simultaneously.

I wasn’t overly fond of ’em until the choruses to some of these tracks landed – “breathing” in particular is just begging for “hit single”, it gets really strong come the chorus. Again, there’s a strong feel of Brainstorm here, one I wish had remained this pronounced throughout the rest of the album.

Sadly, most of the material here leans further into the grunge/Black Label thing, with strong metalcore to nu metal elements. While it’s not exactly opposite sides of the planet from lesser moments even within the aforementioned standout track…it left yours truly far less impressed than that early kick in the ass would have suggested.

If this were a digital single for “breathing”, they’d have gotten a four star review, easy. As a whole album…hmm.

Passable, for sure…just not sure how good any of this actually is (or perhaps more to the point, the inverse).

KEITH REID PROJECT – In My Head (Rockville Music) (December 21)

Interesting…the reclusive cofounder and lyricist of Procul Harum has gathered together a new batch of musicians to perform his works.  I guess it’d be like Leonard Cohen or Andrew Lloyd Webber forming a “band” that they never actually showed up to or contributed anything further than lyrics to (but which then wound up named after them!)

umm…well, I guess you can say 80’s MOR staple John Waite (“missing you”) is part of this…

…yeah, I don’t get it.

(shakes head, puzzled)

…um, next?

  

PAVLOV’S DOG – Prodigal Dreamer (Rockville Music) (December 21)

Apparently there’s a bit of a story behind this one.

A 70’s prog rock band that originated in the US rather than the UK (already a shocker, that…), who dropped two albums and toured with the expected “name players” of that particular scene, they’d disappeared quickly thereafter and fell prey to the pre-internet rumor mill.  Seriously, some pretty weird shit was flying around out there about these guys.

Anyway, it was all the expected bullshit, and all you’ll see these days is a round of complaints about the vocals…which is comical, given some of the quirks of 70’s Bowie, much less acts like Supertramp or Saga…hell, even Jon Anderson’s helium squeak or Dennis DeYoung’s theatrical excesses can give you pause, if you’re not accustomed to ’em.

But despite sounding like a nasal version of Ian Hunter with some Bowie accents, David Surkamp remains a “love or hate ’em” proposition. Again, I don’t get it – he doesn’t sound so far removed from many much beloved “rock gods” of the era to these ears.  I mean, my wife can’t stomach Geddy Lee’s nasal shrieking, so it’s all relative.

For some reason, I keep flashing on UK folk rock acts of the era as well, like Fotheringay…and this is such a light and mellow take on 70’s prog, you could be forgiven for considering it such…or just plain “classic rock”, with all the demerits and failings that label should bring (but so seldom seems to, to a mass populace inured to the limitations of a decade whose idea of “rock” was so bloated and pained as to elicit a massive pushback and revolt on several sides.

“Rock is dead,” an entire generation cried, and if it wasn’t quite mouldering in its grave by the end of that decade, punk, funk, reggae and disco (and their later permutations of goth, synthpop, metal and dance music) were determined to put it there, stripping things back to brass tacks and expanding in some very different (and very angular, and to the point) directions therefrom.

While many of these genres have been restored to their proper place in recent years, it still pains to hear this dogshit being feted as if it were the sine qua non of modern music, when it had so very little to say or offer to its audience even at the time of release. Forty or more years later? “Classic” rock is simply geriatric, and long overdue for a good deep burial.

And while I can assure you that Pavlov’s Dog is really no worse or more difficult to listen to than, say, ELP, pre-Belew/Fripp King Crimson, Yes, Mott the Hoople or Supertramp…it’s certainly no better, or more fulfiling.

If you honestly still dig this stuff, then yes, by all means, dig in here as well, it’s very much par for the course.

Matt Pless – Tumbleweed (Wembleway Music)

Is there any place for folk music in 2019?

There was a day, before most or all of us were even born, when folk music both traditional and new meant something. Those old Woody Guthrie tunes, those new Pete Seeger and Richie Havens ones…and damn, if those pre-accident Bob Dylan albums don’t still pack a bit of a punch, even all these years later.

The wry humor, the erudite wordplay, the lofty intentions…in a way, it’s no surprise the man himself decided to walk away from being the voice of a generation, particularly when so many of his pronouncements were so Old Testament judgmental, even apocalyptic in tone.

Like Anti-Flag with a literary education and a broader focus, the erstwhile Mr. Zimmerman set a formidable trail that few were able to follow – “broad appeal” covers by the likes of The Byrds and Peter Paul and Mary fell decidedly flat even while spreading his words to a far wider audience.

If he really had a single heir, it came from an unexpected source: the revolutionary apocalypticism of the Jefferson Airplane, whose “house at pooneil corners” and “we can be together” alone demonstrate the direct lineage and increased power their trippy electric steamroller brought to the same table.

But the turbulence and fire of those years quickly faded into fears of Mansonite extremism, the grim realism of Altamont, the druggy haze that took so many leading lights of the scene. We got the “me generation” of navel gazing, say nothing “singer songwriters”.

Joni Mitchell?  Please. After “woodstock” and “little yellow taxi”, her lyrics became so personal, they were practically labyrinthine.  James Taylor and Carly Simon? “You’re so vain” said it all – the Fleetwood Mac of the faux-folk scene.

A few punk attempts at reclaiming the acoustic guitar aside, folk has remained a long dead niche: Johnny Thunders, New Model Army, even Justin Sane threw their hats in the ring at some point, to little avail or interest.

Well, here comes some guy named Matt Pless, who brings the whiny nerd comedy of 90’s indie acts like Ween, Camper Van Beethoven and the Dead Milkmen to the stripped down folk of Dylan, to mixed result. Is there much of a point? Probably not. But you may get a laugh or two along the way.

His most deft swipes at post millenial social malaise come in tracks like “ashtray”, “piggy bank” and the decided Dylan swipe “talkin’ information blues”, but even here, there’s a sense of defeatism and whiny complaint where Dylan brought fiery prophetic warnings to the malfeasants in question and deft digs at those “masters of war” who genuinely believed their imperialist takeovers were done “with God on their side”.

Pless?  He whines that “I like the vegans”.

Yeah, I get that he’s trying to dig up a long dead musical form (or at least one that bears a very limited appeal to an aging audience of geriatric former hippies, perhaps lamenting their decades old sellout to becoming the yuppie scum that built the collapsing society we fight our way through today). And some of his lines are clever, in the sense of “yeah, that was an amusing one liner, it got a smirk and nod of affirmation out of me”.

But does anyone care about a kid with an acoustic guitar, trying to cross the outsider comedy of a Ween (or Dead Milkmen…) with the aesthetic and milieu of angry prophets of doom like Dylan, Seeger and Havens, each of whom threw their heart and soul into their lyrical invective (or cries of determined survival in the face of strong odds, as was Havens’ wont at his best?)

You tell me. But I’m not seeing a revival of beatnik coffeehouse-a-go-gos around these parts…so I sincerely doubt the kids in Iowa or Dallas, Texas are seeing such, either.

Iron Age Mystics – Pride Before the Fall 4 Peace Digital Release Part 1 (February 19)

90’s style, grungified take on “classic rock”. You’d be forgiven for hearing a sort of Southern roots rock in this.

yawn, stretch.

…next?

My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult – In The House of Strange Affairs (Sleazebox Records) (February 14)

Groovie Mann and Buzz McCoy, albeit long sans Thomas Thorn (whose own Electric Hellfire Club never managed to reach the delirious oversexed occult trash glories of the Kult) return for their 12th album. Who the hell knew they were even still around?

Seriously…since discovering these guys way back around the quite uniquely dangerous and sinister industrial dance of I See Good Spirits (oh, those well chosen film quotes…) and sticking around for their discofied repurposing of John Barry Bond themes (Sexplosion!) and most particularly the perfect mix of the two aforementioned that was 13 Above the Night (the fall of the club kids generation, the dawn of a new aeon…)

Yeah. The only other band to apprehend the gauntlet these guys were throwing down and toss it back almost as loaded a gun was King Satan, all these years later…and even then, you lose much of the danceability and Decadence. The inescapable humor of chaos magick was there, but the dark undercurrent of fun in the face of inevitable doom? Nah. Nobody does it like these guys did, particularly in their Good Spirits/13 Above the Night heyday.

So it is much to my surprise that this one drops, so many years on, no longer on the industrial minded Wax Trax or the mainstream reach of Interscope, but on their own SleazeBox Records. Okay…but who knew they’d recapture, at least at points (“gold to grey”, “forbidden saints”, even to a lesser extent “royal skull”), much of what made (in particular) their 1993 magnum opus so…illuminating?

Yeah, it’s all a campy joke. Never mind the spirits, or what so many of those cut and paste quote collages and appropriations are being repurposed to tell ya.

Food for the ajna, appetizers for the final blowout. This is a sinful party where the rules are strictly fight club.

It may not reach the lofty heights (or is that forbidden depths?) achieved by their pair…arguably trio of early 90’s classics.

But the fact that this even comes close enough to count, says more than a simple review ever could.

A nod of due respect in your direction, gentlemen.

FANGE – PUNIR (Throatruiner Records (LP / CD / digital) (March 1) 

We’d covered this French act’s Pourissoir two years back, and found them a bit of a mixed bag. But this time around…I don’t know what happened, but they’ve seriously upped their game, to the point where they’ve actually become a contendah…no could’a been’s about it.

You’d be forgiven for thinking this another welcome entry into the ever increasing annals of doomy death metal…because on tracks lke “second soleil”, that’s exactly what they are.

But then, you have to contend with the overly processed vocals and electronic drumbeats and machine noises that mark the industrial scene. Well…not my thing, but it’s been a lot of years since Fear Factory wound up on an At Death’s Door label sampler for the late lamented R/C Records, so fair dinkum, as they say Down Under.

Hell, speaking of those comps, you can trace an awkward lineage between Fange and other bands celebrated therein like (wait for this one) Brujeria…but in the end, this is more like Fear Factory with the industrial leanings pushed more to the background, and an almost Autopsy by way of Entombed gone doom approach at the fore.

Yeah, I was good with this one, no question.

SORDIDE – HIER DÉJÀ MORT (Throatruiner Records (LP / CD / digital), WV Sorcerer Productions (LP / CD / tape), La Harelle (CD) (February 15) 

“Built for moisty basement shows,” our promo materials inform us. Yeah, I like my ladies to be all “moisty”, too.

Not sure what that has to do with this trancey experimental-tinged post-black metal act out of Normandy, who use harmonic pick sweeps and Inquisitionesque lower string bends in repetitive drones before throwing in a Tom G. Warrior “ugh!” and doubling the speed to more of a sub-Norsecore tempo.

The end result is surprisingly listenable and strange, far less the typically obnoxious atonality of the French experimental black metal scene and more of a trippy, off kilter take on more vintage (and therefore listenable and atmospherically inclined) strains of largely Norwegian black metal, as filtered through a quirky prog sensibility.

Of course, it’s 2019. One thing you never get nowadays, no matter how hard you look? Is consistency. So what we’re talking about hereinabove applies mostly to “la peur du noir” (fear of the night) and the title track (the corpse offering). You could tag in “carapace” as well, but the “experimental” lead guitar line is just too damn annoying…

The rest of the tracks are more harsh and speedy, as if Vlad Tepes did some unwished for collaboration with Merrimack or somesuch…I can sort of sit through ’em, but nah.

If you’re interested in this at all, it’s probably for “la peur du noir”, which works quite well, thank you.

Fredrik Klingwall & Julia Black – Sentience (February 22)

An almost Prophecy-style release, which tends to mean darkly inclined, falling somewhere in the gothic/darkwave/neofolk spectrum and very likely the most mellow and relaxed material you’re ever caught giving a spin to.

Where things go a bit awry is in the presence of the busier, more pop radio inclined likes of “collapse” and the oddly more major key vibe of “into the dark heart” or the sung portions of “memoir”. At best, the rest of the album feels (very vaguely) akin to early Theatre of Tragedy, or perhaps something of a more recent Projekt vintage, not even Mors Syphilitica or Angels of Venice so much as…well, who the hell knows, their more recent output has hardly been up to snuff comparative to their mid to late 90’s heyday, after all.

It’s fairly deliberate, and clearly meant to be gloomy if not depressive, but there’s something too Tim Burton, too deliberately Hot Topic “goth” about all this to appeal to eldergoths, who’ve immersed themselves in the real deal for more years than some of these baby bats have been on this plane of existence. Don’t want to plaster it as “fake” or even “totally missing the bus”, but suffice to say…this ain’t exactly Mephisto Walz or Switchblade Symphony, or even the more intense moments of Siouxsie and Bauhaus we’re talking…

In the end, while acceptable, this one comes off much akin to what Tomoko “Tommy Heavenly6” Hayase is pulling off and calling “goth”, all Burton-style kid friendly carnival spookshow, mixing the aesthetic of Willy Wonka with skeletons, tombstones and ghosts while bedecked in frilly black lace dresses and skirts.

You’re in the right ballpark, kid…but playing a very different game than the rest of us.

WACHENFELDT – THE INTERPRETER (THREEMAN RECORDING) (February 22)

Overly busy modern death metal, much akin in all its quirky, off the rails speed, buzzing bee guitar riffs and vaguely Arabic keyboard bits to the likes of Nile, but with less aggression and more of a blackened symphonic feel overall.

While I was more comfortable with the symphonic bits and the more deliberate vibe, I can’t claim to have been wowed by this in any respect. Didn’t offend the ear, which is a big plus these days…but very much a yawn and stretch, ho-hum affair overall.

Best thing on here by miles was the Slayer cover (which had major portions totally screwed up by inappropriate keyboard, mind!).

That should say something.

ROULETTE – NOW! (BLACK LODGE RECORDS)

90’s AOR act out of Sweden. As you might expect, the sound falls somewhere between the softer end of Damn Yankees, Firehouse, post-New Jersey Bon Jovi, latter day Foreigner…you get the general picture.

The riffing is straight out of the Survivor playbook, the keyboards are more front and center than a Giuffria or Autograph album, the solos short but sweet and packed with enough feel good vibe to populate a Journey record, and the vocals are gritty but appropriate, as if someone crossed Sammy Hagar with Lou Gramm in the same lab where they came up with Muesli.

It’s textbook AOR, but punchy, well performed and likeably melodic throughout, cementing the idea that these guys were put together in a lab…it’s just too dead on, too perfect to be the product of chance and the whims of fate.

So if you can can your gorge reflex sufficient to swallow a whole ten tracks worth of super addictive Swedish Cheez Wiz, then don’t even think about delaying – some extra sweet empty calories await.

You won’t even remember you heard it a half an hour later, but it’ll sound so  ridiculously good while you indulge.

 

CREA – DWARVES & PENGUINS (STUDIO CONNECT)  (March 29)

Swedish prog rock act. And we do mean “rock”, as in “70’s style ‘classic rock’ prog”.

As such, the closest analogues I’m hearing to this are Gentle Giant (at their most crowd-friendly), King Crimson (in the early 80’s Fripp/Belew era)…and at a huge, huge stretch, you can pick up tonal similarities to Berlin-era Bowie or Vai-era Zappa…but forget you heard that, don’t want anyone making wild and wholly unwarranted comparisons to either of those two stylistically.

No, this is semi-melodic, laid back but intrinsically quirky keyboard and ringing clean guitar-driven prog rock of that early/middle period, just showing up several decades late to the party.

Personally, I always preferred that late 70’s/early 80’s prog sound to the more pretentious UK-origin variety that made such lasting waves earlier in the decade, much less the snoozeworthy Dream Theater school that’s marked the genre since the turn of the millenium…so I was very much good with this.

Hell, “march of the dwarves” even pulls in a very Allan Holdsworthlike solo…so there.

My kinda (non-metal) prog, to be sure.

  

Mother of Millions – Artifacts (ViciSolum Productions) (March 22)

Fan of incredibly long, slow builds of keyboard and (high) vocalled background chorus? You know, the kind that take forever to build into what ultimately comes off like Disintegration/Bloodflowers Cure, but with some Fauntslike fast digital delay on the (clean) guitars and very modern indie style falsetto vocals?

Yeah, because that’s what you’ll get here. Whether the song is 3 minutes or pushing 10, there’s always that glacial “cinematic” build, that cold, emotionless vibe throughout.

For a band bieng classified as “progressive metal”, the only thing that really speaks to prog are the drums and stutter beats on “anchor”…seriously, that’s it. The rest of this? Well, it’s mellow, chilly, dramatic…and pretty damn nice, actually. But it’s more indie to gothic spectrum than it ever says “prog”.

If that sounds good to you, by all means, check this one out – it ain’t prog by a long shot, but I certainly enjoyed the hell out of it.

  

Devils Gun – Sing For The Chaos (BLACK LODGE RECORDS) (April 12)

Swedish glam/hard rock act.  We’d covered their Dirty n Damned and “lights out” single, and little has changed.

It’s the same ridiculous on paper mix of Britny Fox to Udo Dirkschneider vocals with Bon Scott-era AC/DC (or at least Dirty Looks) that actually manages to work despite itself…and as they’ve neither improved or declined as a band, there’s not a hell of a lot to report here that hasn’t been discussed previously.

If you dug the earlier album or the single (which also appears herein, by the way), you’ll dig this without question.

Good hard rockin’ high speed highway action here.

Just watch out for the red lights on your tail, and let ‘er rip.

Lönndom – Hågkomster Från Nordliga Nejder & Norrskensritual (Nordvis Produktion) (March 1)

A really strange affair out of Sweden.

About half of the tracks here (“andilg…” and “intro”) come off as mature black ambient to folk, very much in the Prophecy vein. So far, so good.

But then.

“Norrskensritual” is a pointlessly endless Casio keyboard ambient piece, which goes nowhere and barely serves as background music.  And why the hell is it 15 minutes long, when the entirety of its harmonic motion could have been stated in about 8 bars? (or less!)

Then come two oddball black metal tracks, so amateurishly performed and in your face with their nearly nonexistent demo level production as to clearly evoke early Beherit…but without bearing the eerie, dark appeal thereof. It’s just amateur hour, particularly on “omhuld…”

So what the hell do you make of something like this? “11 minutes or so of the album works quite well…just don’t mind the other 37?”

Clearly, they have promise, some of which is in fact fulfilled herein. I’ll even give the pass to “smell…”, which has a definite bizarre feel and approach going on, hinting at some sort of mental disorder on the part of the performer(s)…but let’s be clear, that’s a very qualified grade on a curve.

It’s really all about a minute and a half “intro” and the 10 minutes of “andilg”, forget the rest.

Memorably weird, I’ll give ’em that much.

  

WALDGEFLÜSTER – Mondscheinsonaten (Nordvis Produktion) (April 12)

Gloomy German folk/post-black metal act, much akin to the sort of thing you’ll get out of a Prophecy signing, albeit minus some of the necessary polish.

We’d covered their excellent half of the split with Panopticon and the far more questionable of provenance Ruinen, which practically came off as some ersatz attempt at an emo album…pretty much the same misstep Elvenking made back around The Scythe.

Thankfully, this one appends more to the former release than the latter, being a surprisingly strong affair that leans heavier on the contemplative bombast and drive of the black metal end, albeit with touches of traditional instrumentation and the droning chanting vocals oft associated with folk and Viking metal.

Only on the title track (and arguably “staub in der lunge” which follows it) do they fall back into the emo trap…the rest of the album appears to be playing in a very different ballpark.

It’s a pretty damn good album all by its lonesome, but compared to the Scythelike Ruinen? It’s a decided move in the right direction.

Saiva – Finnmarkens folk (Re-issue 2019) (Nordvis Produktion) (January 18)

We’d covered these Swedes twice before, on their split with Grift and their own Makerna Bortomand while actually predating both, this is more of the same.

Arguably, you could say the band hadn’t quite moved on to its decidedly Ulveresque future, here apprehending more to a generically Norwegian second wave black metal approach, one a tad harder to pin down.

Is that a bit of Ancient, crossed with a touch of Tsjuder (“host”)?  Perhaps a slice of Carpathian Forest (strofer ur ett fjarran skogsland)? Well, there’s still a bit of Ulver in there, as crossed with some early Hades, and a touch of Finland’s Clandestine Blaze for good measure (“en forliden tid”)…and how exactly do you classify the repetitive folk accordion under digital delay and looping that is “rusakko”?

Any way you slice it, Saiva continues to maintain a consistency of quality in a subgenre no longer known for such (if it ever truly was, a handful of classic albums aside)…and that in itself is impressive.

Due hails.

Örnatorpet – Hymner från snökulla (Nordvis Produktion) (December 11)

Somewhere between Burzum’s diptych of prison albums and the ouevre of Mannheim Steamroller lies Ornatorpet, a Swedish one man band who uses a chilly toned, but very singsongy layering of keyboards to build a wintry atmosphere.

Honestly, if it were more minimalist (like Vikernes, vintage Mortiis or even the many acts who pay homage to the soundtrack work of John Carpenter nowadays), this would be pretty damn nice…but it’s too busy, too silly sounding and safe.

Ultimately this comes off more as a holiday album than something more introspective and expectedly black metal spectrum…which I’m positive is not what the man intended.

File next to your Tony Bennett and Bing Crosby for next Christmas…or Yule, Chanukkah, Kwanzaa, whatever the hell you celebrate.

Shoulda come with a Santa hat.

Fedrespor – Fra en Vugge i Fjellet (Nordvis Produktion) (February 22)

Ambient folk instrumental affair. Sounds like the sort of thing Narada or Wyndam Hill used to put out, albeit crossed somewhat with the global indigenous folk sounds you’d find in the “world music” section.

Again, it’s contemplative and atmospheric, and certainly less cheesy 
than Ornatorpet…but new agey ambient world music is something you add to a metal record to widen its scope and set mood, not something that stands up very well in and of itself, left all by its lonesome.It feels wintry, alright.And yep, it certainly sets a mood.

Didn’t mind it in the least, in fact, it was pretty nice. 

Just surprised David Byrne or Sting weren’t involved, all things considered. 

Bergraven – Det framlidna minnet (Nordvis Produktion) (March 8)

Ah, one of these guys is from Stilla.  I remember liking Til Stilla Falla a lot, though not quite so much some later work from the same band.

This one…yeesh!

So…I guess Stilla meets Unexpect, with a side of experimental/avant garde French black metal and a shot of grunge just for laughs?

As unuterrably terrible as that sounds.

Seriously…this one’s fucking painful.

What the holy hell were you thinking?

DUCK AND COVER, INCOMING!

WHIZZZZ!!!!

Ouch! Dammit, that motherfucker just exploded on impact with the Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards…it’s never spit embers quite this far. I think an eyebrow got singed!

su-hu-hu-huuuuuuucks some serious ass…

NEXT?!?

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