Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Whew!

Trying to catch up with this voluminous backlog of releases isn’t an easy task, I tell ya.  And all this while still researching, recording and editing Weird Scenes podcasts and having an actual life?  Somebody, put me on salary already, this is getting to be a full time job in itself, no BS…

So yeah, with everything else running more or less status quo (in microcosm and macrocosm, as above, so below), there’s no grand pronouncements of inport, no deep and meaningful life insights to impart, this time around.

Instead, allow me to present one of the largest monthly Roundups we’ve had in a bit (pushing if not beyond a whopping 150 releases covered herein!), with current, recent and soon to release album/EP/single coverage appended by quite a bit of retroactive catchup, as we dig through a still shockingly voluminous, but greatly diminished backlog of releases dating back to the end of last year.

Yeah, there’s more to come, yet…but this should keep y’all nice and frosty for a bit, n’est pas?

Onwards!

 

Bloodbound – Rise Of The Dragon Empire (AFM Records) (March 22)

Sweden’s Bloodbound continues their bid to fill the gap left by far too many dispirited albums from the Rhapsody camp for the second time, following on the heels of 2017’s War of Dragons.

We’d spoken with one of the brothers several years back, and covered a few albums since, including the live One Night of Blood and the aforementioned War of Dragons, but the Michael Boormann-fronted Book of the Dead aside, this recent shift in direction marks the most likely we’ve seen these guys to grab wider audience attention.

Sure, as noted last time around, it’s pretty jarring, if you’d been following Bloodbound since the early days – this is not the same band, beyond a very generic “well, they’re still playing (Euro) power metal…”

But to hear these guys doing their damnedest to step up to the plate only reclaimed by the Italian originators of this sound with last month’s The Eighth Mountain is to hear a band that’s long been working the jobber circuit finally stepping up to the plate and making their bid for a title.

Keep it up, guys – looks like you’re finally going places.

Anthem – Nucleus (Golden Robot Records) (March 29)

You know, back in the 80’s, I was one of the few if not only metalhead in the area who knew and dug the Japanese metal scene. If anything, younger fans would mock me for cranking the likes of Loudness and Earthshaker…or the first Anthem album, which for decades was the only one I owned.

Hell, just tracking down these bands was nigh impossible at the time, bar Loudness’ three American albums (which at least gave them some visibility – friends and acquaintances knew who they were, if restricting themselves to either Thunder in the East or Lightning Strikes as their sole point of reference and purchase).

It was a long and multi-county search before I was able to track down copies of all their earlier, generally much superior Japanese albums, much less the likes of peers such as the aforementioned Earthshaker (and even then, it was only Fugitive and Midnight Flight…the self titled was left to sometime in the past decade to discover), the rather speed/thrash inclined Anthem self titled and lesser acts like Vow Wow (who like Riot always felt too “rock” for my tastes).

So it was again only over the last decade and a half that I discovered two acts that became regular rotation favorites: the moody, all female 80’s heavy rock of Show-Ya (whose first 5 albums or so are priceless…it’s only when they start trying to go glam metal or whatever that things start to fall apart, circa Glamour, Outerlimits and especially Hard Way)…and Anthem.

Now, Anthem actually bears several, very distinct eras. First is the Eizo Sakamoto vocalled trilogy, easily the best among which is the second album, Tightrope, which blends the aggression of the debut with a more melodic, well structured songcraft (Bound to Break would relegate the band to Accept clones under Anvil producer Chris Tsangarides – some great tracks, but it leaves the listener dry, that Teutonic army march sound is not exactly Anthem’s forte).

Then things change radically, when they recruit “Japan’s Graham Bonnet”, Yukio Morikawa for two classics: their defining release Gypsy Ways (if you’re going to try one Anthem album, this is the one) followed by the one two punch of Hunting Time (which feels like outtakes from Gypsy Ways, particularly as it’s split fairly blatantly between excellent tracks and unnecessary filler). But still in all, their greatest successes can be found within these first 5 albums.

The third era comes with a swap of guitarist, which is both a major plus and a major misstep, as they recruit the far more skilled player Akio Shimizu (well, there was a hit and run fill in guy on No Smoke Without Fire, but even so). The pluses are obvious: from here on out, the solos are positively stellar, and the high point of every track.

The minuses…Shimizu is not the riff meister Hiroya Fukuda was. The songs become…boring, as a rule, the albums more generic. I find myself forwarding up to the solo in every track, then skipping to the next one…best of this era was the Graham Bonnet fronted Heavy Metal Anthem, a greatest hits with slightly altered tracks and English lyrics, augmented by both frontman and Shimizu’s killer leads.

After a decade long hiatus in the face of grunge (domestically) and the dawn of visual kei (in Japan), the band got back together, with Sakamoto back on mic. Sadly the music was fairly generic if aggressive modern metal, as noted earlier – great leads, but nothing much of interest between.

Now things have changed once again, with Morikawa back on vocals, and the band has released another re-recorded greatest hits album, much akin to what they’d done with Graham Bonnet, one disc studio and another disc live.

Unfortunately, bar a few tracks on the live side (“victim in your eyes”, “hunting time”, “wild anthem”, “machine made dog”), these greatest hits all hail from the post-hiatus Anthem.

So, pluses? It’s Anthem. If you’ve never heard them before…well, I’d hardly say this was the collection to head for; instead, you’re better off going for the surprisingly comprehensive two disc Best of Nexus Years, or failing that, pinpointing Tightrope and Gypsy Ways (especially the latter) as the best foot forward of the band per se. I’d also highly recommend Heavy Metal Anthem, though given Bonnet’s turn at vocals, it may not serve as the most representative of their works (as excellent as it and the song choices are therein).

But on the positive side, while the song choices are hardly definitive of what Anthem really has or had to offer (hailing from their most generic period as they do), you do get to hear how well Morikawa and Shimizu have held up, both delivering some fairly excellent performances on mic and leads, respectively…and further, if familiar with Sakamoto’s versions, here you get to hear how Morikawa would have handled the same material.

And yeah, I like Sakamoto as well, but it’s like when they got Graham Bonnet on mic for that one album…there’s simply no comparison between the two.

Check it out to hear two top J-metal performers still very much holding their ground, then go out and grab the more representative albums/greatest hits comps I referenced earlier to see how good this band really is or can be.

WEST BOUND – Volume I (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (February 22)

Whitesnakelike vocals, George Lynch style guitars (or at least think copycats like XYZ or Snake Island)…that’s pretty much it, though you may pick up just a hint of Cats N’ Boots’ Takashi O’Hashi as an influence here as well.

Don’t let the generic song titles fool ya – this isn’t an all cover album (it would have been a weird one, with Corey Hart, Deaf Dealer and Rush all having songs…er, well, song titles swiped here), but a solid rockin’ Hollywood metal album through and through.

Polished, well played, excellent vocals and a strong showing on guitars.

Throw this one on the turntable and pretend it’s 1988-91 all over again.

LAST IN LINE – II (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (February 22)

Another of the Dio tribute acts cuts loose as its own free standing act. And they sound nothing whatsoever like Dio, for better or worse.

It’s not clear if he was involved this time around, but Dokken’s Jeff Pilson produces (or had done till now…) and the band is full of metal alumni: Dio’s Vinny Appice and Vivian Campbell (also of Sweet Savage, Whitesnake and Def Leppard) and Ozzy sideman Phil Soussan, plus frontman Andrew Freeman…who oddly doesn’t sound much like Dio at all, actually…

In fact, Freeman sounds more like your typical AOR frontman of the early to mid 80’s, a persistent notion the rather mellow, midtempo songs here will hardly disabuse you of.

Further, the sound the band appears to be going for is more of a tired early 90’s sort of thing, from around the time the Hollywood glam and tattooed heavy rock things were giving way (like pretty much all extant forms of metal) to the grunge onslaught domestically. And like the sort of second and third album affairs you’d see from bands like XYZ, Hurricane, Kix and so forth around that time…there’s simply no way to describe this as anything but “tired”.

Top notch players, to be sure. But they’ve all got much, much better and more relevant work in their resume…this feels like the soundtrack to a dusty Midwestern movie about a down and out barfly trying to regain his self respect but only finding fistfights and shouting matches with the old lady for his efforts.

Selah.

TORA TORA – Bastards of Beale (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (February 22)

I vaguely remember Tora Tora.

Back in the day, it was mostly for providing an annoying obstacle in trying to get my hands on the demo for local glam metallers Torra (of “Angeline” fame, still my favorite single unreleased track of all time), but they had an album or two out, even wound up on the Bill & Ted soundtrack, if you can believe that.

But while respectable enough, there wasn’t really anything “exciting” or different about their sound and what they brought to the table. It was the sort of band that you got into if you were seriously into the new Hollywood hard rock sound GNR popularized almost overnight, and had already cycled your way through all of the “big names”. Oh, you mean there’s another band in this style that doesn’t sound half bad? Cool!

That said, there is something you’ll notice right away about Bastards of Beale: it feels very authentic, as if time stopped between their last album (all the way back in ’92, if you can believe how much time has passed…damn, we’re all gettin’ old fast) and now.

So one huge plus and standout feature you get here that you didn’t have with their earlier bid at glory: they don’t sound any older, more tired or less vibrant than they did 27 years ago. And seriously…how many bands can you honestly say that about?

Raise a glass in salute for those who refuse to give in to the vagaries of time.

FM – The Italian Job (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (February 22)

We’d covered these UK light AOR rockers for their Heroes and Villains, and found that despite featuring no less than 2 former members of Samson in their ranks (yeah, those guys…Bruce Dickinson? Thunderstick?), their sound appended to a far more airy, California dreamin’ style of American radio rock, somewhere in the realm of Kevin Cronin-era REO Speedwagon more than, say, Journey or Giuffria.

Well, don’t expect to have your foundations shaken by this live affair, which takes tracks from the aforementioned album, tags in some from the album prior and a few from earlier in their career. And yeah, it’s very much uniform in sound and style, for better or worse.

The band is certainly solid enough, and this is pretty damn listenable for light radio rock…but the question is, does this sort of thing appeal to readers of Third Eye or no?

Personally, I find them quite competent, even inassailable in terms of musicianship, melodicism and solid song construction, and the vocals are the right mix of pleasant and gritty…but it’s somehow just a bit too far over the line of “soft” for my own tastes.

Your call – they certainly throw themselves into the material, and you simply can’t walk away complaining of a lousy concert experience, regardless of your musical tastes.

FIND ME – Angels in Blue (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (February 22)

Ah, this is more like it. Still ostensibly on the “lighter” side, but think more typical AOR standbys like Survivor, Journey, Giuffria, Autograph, Y&T or the more modern likes of Erik Martensson and Robert Sall (whose various productions and projects are oft covered herein, we even had the latter on the podcast once.)

Plenty of keyboard driven, 80’s style guitar bombast and big, clean vocalled dramatics to celebrate your newfound love or break up with her to, music to show your defiance to the odds or to trumpet your victory against same. You know, just like vintage Journey, Survivor, et al.

This time they even bring in a few guests whose own bands we’ve also given positive reviews to over the years, like two members of State of Salazar and Michael Palace of…well, Palace, among others.

We’d given some major props to their prior release Dark Angel, and this one hardly disappoints as a followup to same.

Good stuff, indeed. Damn good stuff.

Spirits of Fire – S/T (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (February 22)

Wow, what a lineup!

That’s what you’ll say when you see that this new project consists of Tim “Ripper” Owens (from Stained Class to Judas Priest, also briefly of Iced Earth and now Tourniquet), Chris Caffery (of the post-Criss Oliva Savatage), Steve DiGiorgio (Sadus, Death) and Mark Zonder (Warlord, Fates Warning). Damn, right?

(long pause while we listen to the album)

um…well, it’s better than Jugulator, right? Yeah!

…yeah, I know. Jugulator sucked. Sorry, Tim. Liked you on the Iced Earth album…

OK, let’s look at this objectively. The riffs are…somewhere between Painkiller-forward Priest and late Savatage. Good, bad, indifferent, your call…but I know when both of those storied bands jumped the shark, nuff said.

Owens is trying to do something akin to the acting schtick Jon Oliva’s become prone to post-Hall of the Mountain King, mostly falling into shrieks and odd vocalisations that don’t really count as “singing” so much as “playing a role onstage”. Again, not a fan of this, but it’s a deliberate stylistic choice, so whatever.

Zonder, who I loved so much for his rehearsal tapes with Warlord (in particular…some amazing playing there!) and to a lesser extent in studio efforts from both Warlord and Fates Warning…well, he’s still syncopating and playing with meter a bit, but you’ll find him far more controlled and “mainstream” here.

As he puts it in the promo materials, “I try to be very mindful of the song and vocals.” Great for band politics and song cohesiveness, but not necessarily great for the listener, at least not those of us who prefer to hear the musicianship front and center.

Speaking of which…who the hell can tell DiGiorgio’s even here? Not one flashy bass line to be discerned.

So. Is this a great album?

Well…let’s flip that one. Is this a bad album? No. Come on, you’ve got major players on this.

But does it more or less waste three major talents in the service of what amounts to yet another middling post-Criss Oliva Savatage album?

Hugh betcha, sadly enough.

FATAL CURSE – Breaking the Trance (CD, LP, TAPE) (Shadow Kingdom) (April 19)

Thrash/speed leaning US power metal…fascinatingly from a retro minded New York based band of today.

(Very) early Metallica riffs crossed with the vocals and riffing of early Abattoir, possibly Keeper of the Flame era Deaf Dealer or In the Beginning era Malice…it’s all very old school and reasonably under the radar-level authentic in sound and feel.

Personally? I loved it. Felt like the sort of thing I listen to outside of these monthly reviews, on my own initiative…real deal, vintage no bullshit no-pose 80’s metal.

From 2019.

Bang your fucking head.

Twin Temple – Bring You Their Signature Sound…Satanic Doo-Wop (Rise Above Records) (March 1)

umm…yeah, sure.

Well, you know how the Cramps were all goth in image, but actually a very serious record collecting rockabilly revival act with funny lyrics? Ok. So here’s a pair of LaVeyan satanists following their leader (and later Nikolas Shreck’s) love of all things severely retro, eschewing Jazz Age tunes and silent cinema in favor of cheesy 50’s doo wop, saucy tongue in cheek torch songs and lounge.

Can’t claim to be a huge fan of the message, but the music’s amusing enough, and likely to wind up at one of those modern day tatted skank “burlesque” revival shows as some Marilyn Manson ex or other works the pole or what have you…makes perfect background music for that sort of cheesy “but sinful” niche nonsense.

Fair enough.

SUZI QUATRO – No Control (Steamhammer / SPV) (March 29)

Holy shit, Suzy Quatro’s still alive?

Wow, who the hell knew…

Anyway, for all you young’uns, this is the woman that kick started kick ass women in rock n’ roll.

I mean, seriously, before this you had rockabilly starlet Wanda Jackson, who could really belt ’em out…but she was still very of her (50’s) era, and did it in a party dress. You had Grace Slick, who was or could be intimidating as hell, in all her declamatory revolutionary bellowing with the Jefferson Airplane…but she was more known for her good looks, and being “the Acid Queen”…hardly what you think of these days as a tough lady rocker.

But no, Suzy Quatro was all that and more, and did it way back in the dawn of glam rock. Joan Jett, probably her closest analogue in the early days, openly admits to stealing her entire schtick, from the leather jacket and guitar playing to the raspy, take no shit vocals and JD street kid attitude straight from Quatro, and that she brought the Runaways to sounding not all that far removed from what the lady was laying down only a few years prior.

And while not so desperately and blatantly closely tied as Jett and the Runaways were to Quatro’s de facto apron strings, later types like Girlschool or Leather Leone…hell, even Doro Pesch, the Donnas and Lizzy Hale owe this woman the world.

And she had the tunes to back it up, too, or who’d have noticed? And then she picked up an even broader audience as Pinky Tuscadero’s younger, tougher sister Leather (come on, Ms. Leone…now it gets obvious!) on one of the decade’s defining sitcoms, Happy Days. And then? Who the hell knows. Everyone has a time in the spotlight, and I guess hers was timelocked to the 70’s – no shame in that.

But here we are, a good 45 years or more since she was bangin’ out the rockers and inspiring a generation of young women to throw on some leathers, pick up a guitar (or bass) and make some noise just as loud and tough as the boys…how does a woman of her vintage come off doing what she does so well in 2019?

Well, no question the pipes have gotten raspier, more gravelly even than they were in…jeez louise, all the way back in 1974(!)…but not so far removed from template that you’ll do any more than notice and acknowledge the fact.

Personally, I prefer her actual rockers like “no soul no control” and “macho man” to the Bonnie Raittlike blues cuts she seems to prefer to make her new home (“going home”, “dont do me wrong” and “going down blues” are just the tip of the iceberg), much less the cheesy “stretch” tracks like “strings” or “love isn’t fair”…but that was always the case with Quatro’s albums, and Joan Jett’s for that matter. A few irresistible killer tracks…and a bit too much filler. Ah, well, you can’t have it all.

But just to hear the lady belt out convincing ZZ Topp with extra balls tracks like “no soul” and “macho man” is almost worth the ticket, right there.

Who knows, maybe sometime she’ll drop a record that sticks to the rock and ditches the blues and oddball stuff…but till then, she remains what she was back in the day: a tough, hard rockin’ inspiration with a few positive bangers in her repertoire. And two more of ’em can be found right here, a lifetime removed from her heyday.

No mean feat, that.

While She Sleeps – So What? (Sleep Brothers/Spinefarm Records/Search and Destroy) (March 1)

Aggro/screamo vox over a weirdly over-electronically processed and noise effect-filled modern metal. Oh, and then it goes all emo/metalcore in that the choruses are clean sung and melodic…hell, even quite catchy.

It’s like someone took Herman Li’s obsession with making weird videogame noises on guitar and transposed it to a NiN style, music by Mac aesthetic. Then tagged in annoying aggro vox on the verses, offset by winning clean choruses.

Damn, does Sheffield have a Flint problem, with lead in the water or something? Because who the fuck would come up with something so bizarre as this?

Well, look, I know “chiptune” is a thing, so perhaps a generation raised on the videogame may appreciate the weird noise effects more than metal vets ever would, so fair enough on that end of the equation.

But take that away, and the only saving grace here is those choruses.

Thankfully, they’re surprisingly strong ones.

I’d be inclined to call this one a potential sleeper, once you adapt to the strangeness of what they’re throwing together here.

Mark Morton  – Anesthetic (WPP Records / Spinefarm Records) (March 1)

oy.  Lamb of God side project, featuring it’s guitarist, producer and even vocalist working with fellow aggro/groove/nu metal types like the late guy from Linkin Park, two guys from Trivium, our pal Alyssa White-Gluz (rolls eyes) and members of such luminaries of music for the ages as Papa Roach, Alter Bridge, Clutch, Korn, Buckcherry and Screaming Trees.

Lots of screaming and detuned guitars working the standard lunkhead riffs of these scenes ensue…

um…yay?

(shakes head, tries to pop some recently coagulated ear wax, likely formed in response to this masterwork of great music, from the ears)

hmm? Still here? Well, what the fuck did you expect me to say, did you see the bands these folks hail from?

yeah. nuff said.

Take it with you on your way past the Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards, you know what to do with this.

 

Pendulum Of Fortune – Return To Eden (El Puerto Records GbR) (March 22)

Mid-80’s MSG drummer Bodo Schopf and Voodoo Circle/Pink Cream 69 frontman David Readman join forces for this cross-genre AOR effort.

You get a strange mix of uptempo boogie band (“diamond in the rough”), ponderous gothic doom (“bitter end”), straightforward AC/DC rock (“lucky man”) and stoned 70’s “classic rock” balladeering (“skin and bones”)…it’s kind of all over the place, really.

Some tracks work better than others, but it doesn’t feel as tailored to Readman’s rather David Coverdale-esque tones as Voodoo Circle was.

It’s listenable enough, but that’s about all I can say for this one.

The Royal – Deathwatch (Long Branch Records) (March 8)

Okay, be warned, because just mentioning this genre seems to trigger a lot of folks out there: this one’s straight up Metalcore.

Survive that? Fine, now let’s talk.

First off…no clean vocals. Oy.

Second…few if any solos. Seriously? A metal band…hell, any band with guitars, and no leads? Come on, get with the program, guys.

Third…a lot of saminess from track to track. That’s a problem with most modern forms of metal, actually, but that doesn’t make it any more acceptable or winning a formula. You don’t need to shoot yourself in the foot and join the caravan of stupid, just because all your pals are dumb enough to eat Tide Pods…

Now, the pluses. It’s melodic. Very much so, to the point where it’s almost pronounced.

Further, it’s dramatic in tone, to the level where the metalcore is starting to show its emo roots, though without spilling over into bitch and whine over your girlfriend dumping you territory. It’s also pretty well produced, and comes off pretty bombastic.

In metalcore terms, I’d say this was arguably on par with Devil You Know, before they cut the bullshit and upped their game considerably as Light the Torch. Nothing to run out for…but listenable, even kinda decent, if you’re in the right mood.

Bring some clean vocals in next time…the more frequent, the better.  Add a few leads, too…maybe tune the guitars differently or try to keep all the songs from sounding exactly the same, and you may be on to something.

You’ve certainly heard much worse in the genre…just hoping these guys can take some glimmers of definite promise here and power up to actual contender territory next time around.

Pagan Altar – Judgement of the Dead (Temple of Mystery) (April 17)
Pagan Altar – Lords of Hypocrisy (Temple of Mystery) (April 17)

Okay, in case it wasn’t obvious to the latecomers in the back row: I love Pagan Altar. I’ve had Judgement of the Dead (aka the album formerly known as “Volume 1”), The Time Lord and Lords of Hypocrisy in the collection for years, even have the apparently fairly rare band shirt, which I wear to nods of approval and looks of confusion on a regular basis. This is occult rock/doom done right, on a level shared only by Relentless-era Pentagram, Witchfinder General, early St. Vitus and The Devils’ Blood, screw the rest.

The story behind the band was strange, and fraught with self-created legend, but suffice to say that band fights led to a loss of some original master tapes, deals were botched and while most of the band’s output was actually written and recorded between 1978 and 1982, only portions of same actually survived to eventual release.

It appears that it took till the late 90’s if not the early millenium for an official release of the Judgment of the Dead album (formerly out in less official versions as “Vol. 1”), with a few further tracks appearing on The Time Lord EP, with more vintage material reworked for the latter and their “comeback record” Lords of Hypocrisy.

There was one more album (Mythical & Magical), then another long break, during which one last album was partially recorded, and frontman Terry Jones passed away. This was only recently completed and released as the excellent Room of Shadows.

Now two albums of their all too brief four album/one EP/one split career have been reissued, this time on current label Temple of Mystery. For what it’s worth, there appear to have been no bonus tracks or further remastering from their earlier Shadow Kingdom incarnations, so these are solely of interest to those who haven’t already indulged…

…but if you haven’t, what in hell are you waiting for?

Top notch NWOBHM-style traditional doom/occult rock, to be missed at your peril. It simply doesn’t come much better than this.

ALTAR OF OBLIVION – The Seven Spirits (CD, LP, TAPE)  (Shadow Kingdom) (April 26)

We’d covered this unusual alternative doom act’s Barren Grounds about two years back, and found it…unusual at best, and not very affecting.

Here, the band seems to have stepped up their game considerably, pulling up their collective bootstraps and delivering something far more akin to a trad metal doom, albeit with some pretty bizarre, just barely in key multitracked warbling vocals.

While it’s not as dark or deliberate as I’d prefer from a doom act (much less one with such a pointedly vintage orientation as the one on display here), it’s not only a huge step up from Barren Grounds, but I’d hazard to say once you get accustomed to “Mik Mentor”‘s wierd-ass tone deaf Catholic priest-style vocals, you may find yourself kinda liking these guys this time around.

Is it some masterwork of the genre? Pfft. Please.

But is it at least interestingly off kilter, even somewhat fascinating, after it sinks in a bit and you get your sea legs, so to speak?

Yeah, I’ll give ’em that.

SINS OF THE DAMNED – Striking the Bell of Death (CD, LP, TAPE) (Shadow Kingdom) (May 3)

Chilean thrash act very much in the vein of Colombia’s excellent Witchtrap, but with less of a blackened thrash/Teutonic “big three” feel.

Promo materials note comparisons to Deathrow, and you can hear that for sure…it’s very vintage 80’s, with a more nasal declamatory vocal than the usual snarling and growling thing and plenty of fast, powerful riffing and drumming without ever really falling into the speed trap.

I guess vague comparitors would also have to include Darkness, possibly even Germany’s Warrant, leaving Sins of the Damned once again quite indebted to vintage Teutonic thrash, albeit never in the expected Kreator/Destruction/Sodom school thereof.

They dig a bit deeper, and come out sounding quite different than Witchtrap, while still easily recognizable as kin thereto. And given just how much yours truly has always loved that band (since first discovering them around No Anaesthesia), that’s a definite compliment.

Indestructible Noise Command – Terrible Things (March 8)

You know, for someone who was the most well versed and deep in the underground metallers in the area back in the day, there sure were enough obscure acts floating around out there beneath the radar…

Case in point, Indestructible Noise Command, some Connecticut thrash act that nobody ever heard of, but who managed to release two albums on of all labels, Giant Records (remember them? Major label attempt to grab a bit of underground glory, released a Morbid Angel album or two, alongside…uh…Bangalore Choir and…er, Color Me Badd

…yeah, never mind. Needless to say, Giant didn’t make much of an impact, and didn’t last very long. No wonder nobody ever heard of these fucking guys…)

Could also be due to the fact that Giant didn’t even start dropping albums till around ’90, already well past thrash’s sell by date and deep into the equally brief heyday of death metal.* Wonder if these guys sported Bermuda shorts…and what’s with those Red Hot Chili Peppers gone screamo vocals (“identifier” sounds so much like “give it away” on the verses, you’ll have no choice but to laugh…)?

* turns out they were on another, even more obscure Giant Records, one that dropped a few straight edge acts like Insted and Uniform Choice. Even smaller scale, and less distribution…about the best you can say is they briefly shared a label with Dag Nasty. Whoop-de-shit.

So all that history aside, what do you get here?

Terrible, nasty snarl-scream vox in the vein of Pantera crossed with Demolition Hammer, over mosh-heavy crossover thrash riffs prone to frequent breakdowns between the more chugging, uptempo tremelo riffage. There’s even some good solos (“bone saw ballet” for one…)

Too bad about the vocals. I was actually starting to wonder how these guys slipped under the radar back in the day, but that, combined with the label situation, explains so much.

This band’s actually pretty driving, if a bit overly crazed and busy…just needs a real frontman.

Any takers?

VIUDA NEGRA – Al Final / In the End (Fighter Records) (April 2)

Spanish demo act from the mid-80s, here releasing their first “official” album (beyond a compilation of said demos, apparently released by another label last year).

You can learn Spanish (or aprende la Ingles, si tu preferes) by comparing the two discs here…because you guessed it, they’re identical, except for one being recorded with English vocals and the other in Spanish.

I guess if you crossed Steve “Zetro” Souza and Udo Dirkschnieder, you’d have a frontman who sounds a hell of a lot like Damian Chicano Ruiz (also of the similarly top notch Evil Hunter), and the material he embellishes is similarly retro, all hooks and classy guitar solos, under some rather solid production that even allows the occasional audible bass lick to be picked out in the mix.

At their best, you’ll catch an anthemic feel punctuated by harmonies playing against each other (“in the end”) that crosses the likes of vintage Iron Maiden with the sort of thing you used to only get out of Japan – think pre-America Loudness in particular.

Other tracks seem to be pulling equally from Dokken and Accept (“princess of the dark”, “I will live”), Thin Lizzy and Hollywood glam (“keep it up”) or Van Halen and either Y&T or Autograph (“we want to feel”, “always on the run”).

In other words, it’s all over the place, but remains very much of the 80’s traditional metal scene…not least due to the obvious skills of Javier Gomez, whose leads mix flash and phrasing, technicality and melodicism in a way younger bands simply don’t seem to understand (some very welcome convincingly retro-minded acts aside).

If you’re looking for something hyperagressive and pissed off to sweat out some teenaged hormones to, these guys are probably not going to be your cup of tea…but then, you probably wouldn’t have developed the discernment and taste to appreciate ’em yet, anyway.

Good stuff, very impressed by the leads here in particular.

  

Darkwater – Human (Ulterium Records) (March 1)

Very typically Swedish symphonic prog metal act, with all the lightness of feel, soft, almost AORlike tenor vocals and Dream Theaterish yet melodic approach that implies.

Apparently these guys are somewhat less than prolific, having dropped two albums around a decade back (at a less than standard 3 years apart, even then), then going on hiatus until this.

The keyboards can come off a tad too lush, suggesting yet another tired Euro symph act along the lines of, say, Within Tempatation, while the riffs always seem to start off overly detuned and somewhat generic ala…let’s say Lacuna Coil, here. Neither is exactly impressive, to say the least.

Thankfully, that’s not the entirety of the story, as from these rather weak and overdone beginnings Darkwater always seem to manage to build something much stronger than the sum of these rather workaday parts.  Yeah, they’re prog, alright.

You don’t even have to wait for those sweet choruses to shift from rolling your eyes at yet another identical sounding modern Euro metal intro to tuning in and nodding your head to some suddenly engaging teamwork and pensive atmosphere, and those vocals suddenly seem quite front and center, guiding along what you thought was going to be a trainwreck but suddenly morphed into the sort of train ride you’d consider recommending to likeminded travellers.

Did we mention the tracks seldom run less than 8 minutes, occasionally more in the 12m range?  Yeah.  Build and progression from a pile of discarded rubbish into an impressive construction.

If more modern prog bands of the Dream Theater school came off closer to what Darkwater is laying down here and far less like their tired Narada Records snooze inducing wankery prone “scene leaders”, I could more comfortably cop to being a prog fan, period…rather than more of an “early, Queensryche school prog metal” or “prog/power” aficionado.

Do check this one out, you will not regret the time invested.

MONARCH! – Sabbat Noir (Zanjeer Zani Productions)

You know, when I got this one in the queue, I figured “single”, possibly “pre-release promo single to an upcoming album”. Because, you know, it’s one song. And the promo writeup’s talking about this being a reissue of a full length album.

Well, apparently, the definition of “full length album” has changed over the years, because I’d hesitate to call this an EP. Yep, it’s literally one track, and that’s all it’s supposed to be.

Now, to be fair, it is a 29 minute track, so considering this one akin to Monster Magnet’s TAB EP or something along those lines, yeah, I can certainly see that one. But “full length album”? I’m sorry, but that’s stretching it…

Anyway, this is funeral (or at least funereal) doom, very much akin to Winter or even, to a lesser extent, Sorrow. No vocals, it takes ’em about 12 minutes before they finish a phrase…this is some seriously slow detuned drone business.

Yeah, if you like this style of super heavy, molasses thick, uber slow doom as much as yours truly, you really can’t go wrong with this one.

Just do me a favor, don’t go around calling it a “full length album”, willya? It’s one fucking song, at EP length timewise.

FARULN – The Black Hole Of The Soul (Battlesk’rs Productions) (March 1)

Swedish one man black metal project.

Tracks like “recreator of the great silence” or the title track start off reasonably strong, working the usual illusion of motion/rhythmic speed against sluggish to nonexistent harmonic movement thing the genre is built upon, but eventually manage to devolve into noise passages and simplistic, Dark Funeralesque transpositions up and down by a tone or so.

As such, this doesn’t actually work in the end…but it seemed like it could’ve, for a minute or two there.

  

NIGHTRAGE – Wolf to Man (Despotz Records) (March 29)

hmm…melodeath act out of Greece…well, now Sweden, apparently, with an appropriately half Greek and half Swede membership.

The band themselves sound fine, particularly on more listener friendly tracks like “desensitized”, all Gothenburg grind n’ melodicism, mashed up together. The problem? You guessed it…the vocals.

Some fella named Ronnie Nyman waggles his tonsils to the point where you’re mentally checking off the date for his polyp surgery appointment, all WAAAAHHH YAAAHH GUWAHHHH throughout, without a hint of surcease. Ugh.

So, yeah, we come to an all too typical conundrum with modern metal bands: it really doesn’t matter how good the musicianship is, the production, even how melodic and consonant the songs are…when the frontman shits all over it like a fat kid overdosing on Ex Lax.

I’m sorry, I just don’t get it.

Learn to sing, kids.

Next?

FENRIR – Legends of the Grail (January 18)

Folk metal, eh?

I’m not disinclined towards this subgenre, appreciating at least the first album of forbears Skyclad and very much enjoying several (mostly earlier) albums from their Italian disciples Elvenking…not to mention the many black, pagan and Viking metal bands who utilize traditional melodies and instrumentation and/or lean heavily in that direction.

So here you get a band that feels a bit more Ren Faire-appropriate than usual, particularly given its forefronting of vocalist/violinist Elsa Thouvenot and this album’s not unwelcome focus on the Arthurian mythos (always a soft spot in my heart for those…some folks who know me and the band back in the day are nodding and laughing knowingly at that statement).

Fenrir’s music is nowhere nearly as jaunty as that of Elvenking – you won’t find yourself wanting to get up and dance around the maypole or join in on some pagan faerie celebration from anything here. But it’s certainly solid, the riffing is believable and the violin is at least street busker level, so I have no complaints.

My only advice here? Sounds like acoustic violin, and therefore drowned out by the electronically amplified guitars and drums. Perhaps invest in an electric violin, so the tones are routed straight into the mixer, and you’ll get more of an even spread between the two?

Because about the best you’ll hear on this album in terms of such is on “la dame du lac”…yeah. It needs work on the mixing end, to be sure.

Even so…I was definitely good with this one, and wouldn’t mind hearing more from these lads and lass in future.

We Are The Catalyst – EPHEMERAL (February 13)

We’d covered an advance single off this album, “the code”and what you hear there pretty much sums up what you’re going to hear on the rest of the album:

A pleasant, slightly melancholic and somewhat light toned variant of the Lacuna Coil template of detuned guitar, female vocalled, vaguely gothicized, slightly industrialized Euro metal.

There’s more of a futurist feel to this, with tarcks like “alone against the world” feeling almost dance music inspired, as if they could be plugged into the latest crappy Hollywood SF film’s end credit roll or the next Mass Effect game, but there’s not a lot else to be found herein – you either appreciate the general sound, or not, there’s no real in betweens.

I was fine with it, but then I don’t have an issue with Scabbia and company, either.

 

HAUMEA – Unborn (December 21)

Somewhere between modern metal, indie/grunge and avantgarde come this band out of Normandy, who append crunchy, driving guitars with atonal open chord phrases and clean, nasal yet throaty vocals.  Picture Bush gone at least metalcore if not metal per se, but with elements of, say, Catherine Wheel tossed in just to confuse everyone.

Interestingly, given how often these four tracks slide into blatant metal riffing and the tropes thereof, they consider themselves “a rock band”.  Go figure…

Either way, the fact that you’ll likely find yourselves able to get through a hilariously named track like “Dad is fool!” without collapsing into paroxysms of derisive laughter should say a lot right there.

Yeah, I actually liked this one for what it was.

PROJET KO – S/T (February 22)

Zach Rocha, much?

Seriously, that’s exactly what this is: the French Rage Against the Machine, right down to the brass tacks.

I guess if you miss the days when Rocha and company were relevant or trying their damnedest to be, then hey, these guys have that schtick down pat.

BRAINSQUEEZED – Scarred (March 29)

Here’s a nice bit of irony for ya. Apparently this is a second release from this effective one man band (“with studio musicians”), and much is made of there now being male vocals.

Because I’d have sworn these were hard edged, bar band bluesy female vocals.

Seriously, the tonality is so light and when he gets all emotive, the notes are so high, it’s like Chris Cornell as performed by your favorite femme rock star. You actually have to listen fairly hard, knowing the situation here, to get that yeah, this is actually a guy singing.*

* well, when he’s more mellow, like the opening to “judgment day”, it’s more obvious. But such moments are rare.

The songs themselves are sorta early 90’s hard rock, veering somewhere between the GNR school of Hollywood tattooed junkie rock and the more countrified, less jagged end of grunge and suchlike (think anything from later Soundgarden to Blues Traveler or Alanis Morissette, here – that era’s idea of “heavy music”.)

Yeah, it’s inoffensive (except for the unuterrably stupid “her cat”, whose lyrics have to be heard to be believed) and listenable if you’re into early 90’s music…but didn’t make much of an impression either.

Except for that baffling bit about “male vocals” that really do sound like a female rocker. Go figure…

Next?

INHEPSIE – Onirique (March 29)

Gothic/symphonic metal out of France. The vocals are pleasant, the music somewhere between heavily emotional and somber. Guitars and leads are respectable, production is pretty decent for an indie job.

It’s not exactly bombastic or symphonic in the operatic sense, adhering to the more personal end of this genre – think more Autumn, Evanescence or Mortal Love than early Epica here – but that doesn’t diminish its intrinsic quality in any way, much akin to the lighter end of early Leaves Eyes.

You may not find yourself moved to run out to grab this one, given just how long it’s been since this subgenre’s been “a thing” (face it, there are few bands still standing from its heyday, and absolutely zero of them are releasing anything of note nowadays)…

…but if you miss the days when bands like After Forever, Epica, Within Temptation, Leaves Eyes, Magica and suchlike were among the best bands out there? You really can not go wrong with Inhepsie, this album’s actually quite good.

Drottnar – Monolith (Endtime Productions) (February 8)

Norwegian oddity that more or less apprehends to the black metal spectrum, but utilizes those annoying over the phone processed vocal gargle-shrieks you get with Waxen.

While the band tries to get all weird, somewhere between proggy and avant garde in all this atonality and stop/start stutter beat nonsense.

Whew. Right to the hopper…I mean, the ritualistically set aflame Pile (Pyre) of Dead Bards.

NEXT?

SOFY MAJOR – Total Dump (Deadlight Records) (January 25)

Talking of bands that sound like they were dragged kicking and screaming straight out of the early 90’s, we have these Frenchmen, whose idea of taking a “total dump” is to jack the bass distortion, crank the fuzz box pedal on the guitar and work something that falls between the cracks joining stoner, grunge and indie rock.

It’s sludgy but very much of the grunge/early 90’s sound, so don’t expect stoner doom or what have you…this is likeable enough (mostly for the crunchy forefronted bass tone), but a different animal entirely.

I guess if you sucked the weirdo jagged bits out of Soundgarden, slowed CoC down a tad and got Alice in Chains the fuck off heroin, you might get something vaguely similar to what you’ll hear here.

Hear, hear.

You had me at the forefronted earworm bass tone, mes amis.

Worth a listen.

THE LUMBERJACK FEEDBACK – Mere Mortals (Deadlight Entertainment) (April 26)

Billing themselves as instrumental doom, these guys feature two drummers, two guitarists and no vocalist.

Interesting idea, and they do tend to make actual use of the double drumkit at points – I liked the thunderous, unending drumroll cascades of “kill kill die die” and the gothic tribal drumming of “new order (of the ages) part 1”, which momentarily brought bands like Bauhaus and Southern Death Cult to mind.

That said, while these certainly are long, droning instrumentals with busier drumming than usual, I’d hesitate to classify this as “doom” per se. Related? Sure, it’s hard to say where exactly this sound actually falls on the subgenre spectrum.

But doom? Nah, “a white horse called death” aside, I’m just not feeling it.

Interesting experiment, they probably make a good opener on a show ticket…but is anyone going to run out to grab and sit through one or more albums’ worth of this?

Didn’t mind it for what it was, but do yourself a favor and don’t expect doom when you give in to a curiosity listen.

The Aviators – Flowers and Moonshine (May 4)

Raw toned, straight through the Marshall stack 70’s rock with likeably emotive blues rock, almost Thin Lizzy-style solos (check out the double leads on “blind” or “destroyer”) and vocals that seem to be trying to reach for a Ray Gillen or Eric Martin, but falling short to more of an Argent level in the end.

You’ve probably been reading enough of these monthly Roundups to know exactly how we feel about “classic rock”, but here’s a definite exception to the rule: this is the sort of bar band I could picture sitting through a few beers worth of gig for.

It’s punchy, rough edged, the vocals are strong and emotive and the solos are good.

I’m in.

AFTERMATH – There Is Something Wrong (ZOID Entertainment)

Another band that was supposedly kicking around back in the day that nobody’s ever heard of.

I tell ya, kids, you have no idea how much stuff you’re privy to at the click of a button that we had to scour international fanzines for, work tape trades over, special order at stupid (read: approaching current “normal”) prices, etc. etc. over…

I knew and loved more underground acts than any metalhead I ever met, and still labels keep digging up these obscure acts out of the dustiest corners of history. And then y’all act as if “oh, yeah, everybody knows about these guys!” Well…no. Nobody did.

It’s like a fucking gold rush of reissues out there nowadays, if you know where and when to look…

So anyway, here’s another one, and while I’d hardly put them high on anyone’s wish list, you can tell by listening that they were and are working the vintage crossover thing, with punk shout vox and punchy Anthrax/Nuclear Assault/MOD/DRI style guitar and drum flurries.

Bottom line, this is a take it or leave it affair, where it’s comfortable enough to listen to but unlikely to wind up at the top of your personal “to grab ASAP” shopping list.

Serviceable, sounds good enough for the type, hell, even likeable within certain parameters…just not overly exciting.

Check it out, see what you think. They’re worth that much, at least.

As Within, So Without – Into Oblivion (March 5)

Metalcore act out of New York state. Very typical of the type, some choruses are pretty damn good.

Sadly, others…not so much, and the throaty growl/belches that issue straight from the bottom of the guy’s bowels are as silly as ever, there’s a lot more neanderthalic nu metallish riffs than you’ll generally find in the genre and if there’s any attempt made at laying down leads, it wasn’t noticeable. My impression is that it’s entirely bereft of such.

Didn’t hate it, but not exactly up to snuff either, a few really good clean sung choruses aside.

Another Day Dawns – A Different Life (February 26)

Really weird, quavering corner of the mouth-style vocals over a vaguely modern metal to nu metal sound.

Just look at the sort of acts they’ve opened for, and decide for yourself: Fuel, Godsmack, Puddle of Mudd, Breaking Ben, Daughtry, BuckCherry, Five Finger Death Punch.

mmm-hmm. We’ve got your number, alright.

Well, if (God help you) that sort of thing is your bag…go read some mainstream “metal” magazine or something, this ain’t the site for you and your Pantera fanboy ass.

Next?

Them Guns – From the Shadows (TLK & InGrooves) (February 22)

Priscilla Presley’s son Navarone and friends deliver this dark toned indie rock oddity, complete with mushmouthed, depressive Jakob Dylan by way of John Mayer vocals over electronic effect-bedecked modern rock riffing.

(yawns, stretches)

…hmm? Oh, yeah, them.

Whatever. Probably a future Taylor Swift ex or something.

Not my bag. Next?

Hexvessel – All Tree (Prophecy Productions / Century Media / Secret Trees) (February 15)

Beastmilk/Grave Pleasures frontman Mat McNerney returns to his other main act for another round of witchy 70’s style British folk.

While “blessing” implies something far more traditionally pagan and fascinating than anything that ensues,* tracks like “changeling” and “son of the sky” bring enough “occult rock” feel, complete with flute and jangling acoustic guitars, deliberate rhythms and quirky vocals.

* bar the Elvenking-worthy “wilderness spirit”, anyway.

Nothing here is as dark or catchy as the best Sandy Denny work (with or without Fairport Convention), much less the hauntingly drifting jazz excursions of Pentangle, the medievalist folk of the John Renbourn Group or the jauntiness of Steeleye Span.  But even so, there’s at least a feel of, say, Mr. Fox about All Tree that aligns it to its forbears rather comfortably.  Just add a light psychedelicism and the depression of a Nick Drake, remove too much of the witchiness associated with those earlier acts and bam, Hexvessel in a nutshell.

Taken in a vacuum, this is a pretty good throwback of an album.

Taken as part of a tradition, it’s at least retro minded, moody and competently performed…but misses the mark where you’d expect it to hit a bullseye, every time.

That said, while falling well short of any of the bands mentioned (and several not), by today’s far diminished musical standards?

This is pure gold.

Demon Head – Hellfire Ocean Void (Svart Records) (February 22)

Quirky Danish postpunk gone doom affair.

Produced by Fleming Rasmussen, who hasn’t done a hell of a lot since his three album run with Metallica (hey, nice bass mix on And Justice For All, there, Flem!) and his powerful mix on Morbid Angel’s Covenant (he’s also done Artillery’s sole actual thrash album By Inheritance and a few Blind Guardian albums, if that’s your thing.)

What you get here sounds much akin to Wire meets Joy Division by way of Beastmilk, all thin guitars with jagged edges and depressive baritone-leaning vocals with occasional Glenn Danzig inflections…but with a gloomy, rather doomlike vibe at play throughout.

The weirdest part here is that there are almost as many instrumentals as there are actual complete songs, some dominated by piano, all of which take untoward twists and turns that give a slightly atonal, decidedly confused feel to the album as a whole.

It’s as if they entered the studio, hit the record button, then couldn’t decide where the hell they wanted to go with these song fragments they had prepared. Fuck it, just throw ’em together, who cares if they fit?

Make no mistake, major parts here do work, and well at that…the issue is that little of this actually gels, or manages to create and sustain a unified mood or feel like a complete composition.

Worth keeping an eye on, in case they pull together all these loose threads and actually make something of it next time around.

Cleaning Women – Intersubjectivity (Svart Records) (February 15)

Einsturzende Neubaten member mixes this quirky ode to early 80’s krautrock synthpop, all dance rhythms and oddball electronic tones often (but not always) matched with fey, Erasuresque vocals.

It’s not as futurist or “forward thinking” (assuming we’ve somehow travelled back to the late 70’s and early 80’s here, for their idea of a proper soundtrack for the dawning “future is now” of the new decade) as bands like Kraftwerk were, much less early Human League, Cabaret Voltaire, John Foxx era Ultravox or Sons and Fascination era Simple Minds…so all we’re left with is a quirky homage to better bands with better ideas, heralding and carrying us through better days.

There’s certainly something to be said for this sort of nostalgia…and sure, I enjoyed hearing this kind of sound again. But is it saying anything to the youth of today?

You tell me. Sounds a whole hell of a lot like what yours truly came up on, back in the day, so I’m guessing no.

Vuono – White Dots (Svart Records) (February 8)

Female fronted Finnish act that feels a whole hell of a lot like some ersatz Pentangle or Darling Buds crossed with Circle at their best.

At their most mellow, it’s still quirky and almost avant garde, pushing those comforting, relaxed alto tones against something akin to trip hop gone trance; at their more propulsive (say, “trees”), they feel quite retro 80’s, somewhat postpunk, somewhat no wave (tell me you don’t hear Sonic Youth in that same track). Then they go all Cherry Red, Gentle Giant or Zappa on the title track…

So are we talking more 70’s UK folk/prog rock, 80’s postpunk, or trippy 90’s business akin to the likes of Stereolab, The/Vanessa Daou or the aforementioned Darling Buds? Well…a bit of all of that, really.

And considering just how much I love or loved all of the aforementioned?

Three guesses just how much I liked this one.

Truly excellent. Miss this at your peril.

Katu Kaiku – Luna (Svart Records) (March 29)

Jazz, somewhat fusionesque trio out of Finland.

There’s a very familiar, classical modern feel to what they’re doing here, somewhere between Coltrane’s period with Eric Dolphy, Miles in the 70’s and the more freeform instrumental experimentation of the Zappa band circa the grand and petit wazoo incarnations thereof.

Apparently they used to work more of a free jazz thing, and you can sort of extrapolate that from the references above…but we’re hardly talking Ornette or Sun Ra, here.

The melodies may run a tad random, the improv is obvious and there’s something of a freeform approach to the compositions per se, but at core, there’s a consonance. Think Allan Holdsworth with Tony Williams’ Lifetime, not his impenetrable solo meanderings…and there’s the vital difference that while acknowledging their attempts to stretch the boundaries of form, still keeps Katu Kaiku this side of listenable, harmonically stable, consonant, and worthwhile…

…something a whole shitload of black, “tech” and even some “prog” metal, “hardcore” and other “extreme” bands nowadays could really stand to learn.

My own jazz and fusion tastes run a bit more tightly structured and most importantly, vibrant and uptempo than what they’re throwing down herein.

But I had no problems with this whatsoever, and tip the ol’ hat to the strong showing represented here.

Waste of Space Orchestra – Syntheosis (Svart Records) (April 8)

Weird, trippy black metal meets doom affair as (not very) composed by a crackhead.

Some guy gargle-vomits vocals at you like Carnival Bizarre era Cathedral performed after an all night kegger, while strangely inappropriate keyboards offer added menace over riffs that veer between Watainish black metal riffing and more straightforward Celtic Frost meets Troublelike power chord riffs.

Oh, and then there’s all the spacey keyboard bits.  And the phased and flanged guitar lines. And…well, it’s just kind of a mess of bits and bobs, strewn together almost at random from various unrelated music genres.

I guess you could sit through this and pretend it’s a far more standard blackened doom affair if you were stoned out of your mind and working your way through some Castenada experience…but what a bad trip that’d be!

Yeah, this one’s begging for that one way ticket to the Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards.

Hey, conductor, stamp that ticket…and give this fucker a good toss into the flames!

Next?

Kings Destroy – Fantasma Nera (Svart Records) (March 8)

Total CoC worship. It’s all slow moving, molasses thick, dusty Southern groove-ish stoner metal with raspy vox and riffs just this side of grunge.

Yeah, you’ve heard this all before…personally, I’d just pull out Deliverance and give it another spin, but hey, to each his own.

Dekathlon – The Thin Road 7″ (Ektro / Full Contact) (February 1)

Ubiquitous Circle mainman Jussi Lehtisalo and Circle alum Janne Peltomaki join forces with the winning vocals of Mammifer’s Faith Coloccia and some fella you’ve never heard of for a quirky, hypnotic pair of synthpop tracks much akin to Cetu Javu (if you can believe that!

There’s no question that “blood rise” is the stronger of the two, coming off like a more modern day riff on “situations”, while “the thin road” is barely a B side with its overly minimalist structure and sluggish, sub-Berlin harmonic motion…but it’s a 7″ single. How often do you get the effective “double A side”?

By all means, run out and grab this for “blood rise”, which is pretty fucking amazing.

Steel Mammoth – Poison Abyss digital single (Ektro) (January 21)

The strangely ubiquitous Steel Mammoth, whose last two singles we’d covered a month or so back returns with yet another attempt at crossing The Residents with Nitzer Ebb (or at a stretch, BiGod 20).

I don’t know. It’s too disjointed, too aimless and sudden in its shifts in tempo and tone to actually work, or feel like less than a drunken castoff of a jam session that someone had the chutzpah to hit the record button for…and then release!

Sándor Vály / Júlia Heéger – Sacred Songs – Hildegard Von Bingen Variations (Ektro) (March 29)

Bizarre, overthought and undercomposed Hungarian revival of the works of Hildegard von Bingen, which essentially consist of vinyl crackle-bedecked single note pedal tone drone backing some contemplatively quiet soprano chant vocals.

It feels vaguely churchlike (somewhere between Catholic, Jewish and Muslim traditions thereof), but simultaneously quite “off”, which is likely what attracted these folks to the piece and set them on some decidedly vain philosophic perambulations which ultimately signify nothing.

Seriously, you have to hear the schtick Valy drops in conjunction with these three drone tracks, all psychobabble about gnosticism and the separation of the physical and spiritual as related to liturgical dance. Whatever, keep eating those colorful mushrooms, buddy!

That all aside, and intent of having this as some avant garde sub-Philip Glass, sub-Diamanda Galas “performance art” backing tracks to some occulticized variant of liturgical dance at some sparsely attended arthouse event somewhere or other, what you get is 3 tracks of sampled/altered single note drones with aimless, mournful soprano vocals that never actually reach the heights of medieval church music or Gregorian chant…that each go on for close to 20 minutes.

Well…could work to put you to sleep, or set up a trance state, or accompany a weird drug trip, for sure…and musically speaking, it’s at least atmospheric and inoffensive.

But if your head isn’t so far up your own ass that you find all this ooga booga bullshit starts to make sense and give you some ersatz new age “AHA!” moment of clarity, that’s about all you can say for it.

If you, like myself, dig some Steve Reich or Philip Glass, this poisoned apple doesn’t fall too far from that minimalist tree.

Just don’t mind the gibberish that accompanies and underpins it.

Hebosagil – Fortuna/Kevät (Ektro / Full Contact) (April 5)

We’d covered their Lahto way back in 2013 and encountered a far more aggressive, shouty, nu-leaning death metal act than the decidedly laid back indie act on display herein.

Sure, “oi fortuna” and “auta” both feature a few phrases where the guy goes back to being all shouty and emotive, but it’s more like the Jpop scene, where they get some old guy to join in on a track with a much younger act, and he starts gargle-shouting like a drunk at karaoke night. Everyone claps, isn’t it great grandpa’s having a good time making a fool of himself? Next song, back to the new kids. It’s temporary, you can ignore and forgive it.

The real standout track here is closer “joki”, but trust me, even on the other tracks mentioned? This is not the same confusedly crappy act we’d spoken to 6 years ago…they could never have produced a song like that.

 

Kehro – Urdiala (Ektro) (April 5)

These guys are being touted as “acoustic lounge psychedelia”, but all I’m hearing is “1970’s soft rock act” screaming in huge flashing neon letters.

There’s enough bounce and likeability to the mellow leads (accompanied by some mild samba rhythms and suchlike) and occasionally even what would pass for “rockers” among the work of MOR standbys like James Taylor, Kris Kristofferson or Billy Joel (“ristolli”, possibly “laikka”), but yeah, this is instantly recognizable to those who survived the terrible non-funk/disco/punk music of that decade or have been forced to listen to this sort of crap by some musical taste-challenged family member or other…”yep, that’s 70’s soft rock, alright!”

The musicianship and production are excellent, and you can’t argue with the more uptempo, sambalike moments.

Jussi Lehtisalo – Dead (Ruton Music / Ektro) (March 1)

More bizarre than usual, even for him.

Yep, this is yet another experimental synthwave release from the mainman behind both Circle and Ektro Records, and at this point you have to wonder whether the guy just spends his nights in the basement messing with tone pots and plug in effects, recording every castoff for eventual release…

The man’s had at least as many bullseye hits as utter, missed by a mile duds, but with the sheer volume of albums, splits and collaborations he’s dropping of late, you have to expect to see more head scratchers than quality wins.

Case in point.

Utterly bizarre, I can’t see who the audience for this would even be. And I was a Kim’s Video regular, so I’m used to seriously weird, trancey, even abrasive electronic shit.

PRIMAL AGE – The Light to Purify (Deadlight Records) (March 1)

Reissue of the debut EP from this French metalcore act.

Before you turn your noses up immediately, realize this isn’t exactly “metalcore” in the sense you’re used to, but something that’s partly kin to the left wing activist spirit of (particuarly early) Napalm Death in their lyrical bent, and equally working a sound that falls somewhere between 80’s thrash and death metal (“blinded by cruelty” in particular sounds like the lost link between Defiance circa Product of Society and Leprosy era Death).

Seriously, the riffing simply doesn’t stop, and the in your face guitar crunch is pronounced enough to come off like a Scott Burns (or Jeff Waters, given the early Defiance vibe here) production.

The only thing that doesn’t fit at all are the nonstop screamo vocals, which are pretty laughable…but hey, heard Solstice or Nuclear Assault, lately? Justifies nothing, but they’re pretty close to unlistenable on the vocal end as well…

Seriously, wipe the vocal track, I’d be behind this one 100% – it’s polished yet raw feeling thrash in the vein of Devastation, Defiance or even, at a big stretch, a more mellowed out, midtempo Malevolent Creation…but as crossed with Death or their faithful recreators Gruesome.

Try to tune out all the throat polyp-baiting screaming and you’ll be throwing yourself into full body headbanging, stagedives and flailing around in a particularly violent pit.

Terrible vocals aside? This was surprisingly excellent stuff!

DREAMS OF THE DROWNED – S/T (CULT OF NINE RECORDS) (June 15) 

Got this interesting one from a session player on Urarv’s Aurum and
Argentum (reviewed here and here, respectively), here working his own off kilter take on black metal. Apparently the frontman of Urarv guests on one track here as well…

I’m also given to understand the man behind this effective one man band has participated in Nuisible, whose Inter Feces et Urinam Nascimur and Slaves and Snakes were also covered in these pages…so yeah, he’s got a history of working some pretty strange variants of both black and death metal.

That all being said, what you get on tracks like “real and sound” appends more to…well, let’s say the general paradigm of the more experimental postpunk acts. He mentioned Killing Joke as a touchpoint, and you can certainly pick that up here; I’d probably add Gang of Four and The Pop Group just to pull things out a bit more into left field and show just how “off” and “outside” things tend to get here.

“Danced” takes that vague sonic ballpark, already known for pushing at boundaries and taking the listener on odd excursions into the limits of what constitutes a proper song and palatability, and gives it a full on body check, shoving things almost into Pere Ubu territory, complete with saxophone line. I shit you not.

And yet…those lush, reverb, delay and chorused guitars keep some sort of paper thin sausage skin worth of solidity and base, keeping all this insanity and…well, not atonality, exactly…but certainly well outside established and accepted form and limits, from spilling all over the place in one big mess of sloppy shit.

As it stands, it’s more just “experimental”, “quirky” and yes, “avant garde”…bizarre to be sure, but oddly mesmerizing, as if it maintains the internal consistency of the madman. In his world and through his eyes, as you may say of Roky Erikson’s wonderful work with The Aliens circa 1980-1, all this insanity makes perfect sense.

As you might expect, the two tracks that really fascinated were “real and sound” and “danced”…but while others bleed a bit more into avant-black metal territory, it’s all more or less on the same page of musical weirdness.

At the very least, credit the guy with a quirky internal consistency and some listenably hypnotic moments, of which there are more than just a smattering herein.

 

Vanquisher – “Priests of Set”

Swedish power metal, as if you couldn’t tell from the first seconds of this one…it’s so power metal, it bleeds through every pore.

But note something interesting…I didn’t say Euro power metal.

Nope, this one’s far more akin to the likes of Attacker, possibly early Heir Apparent or even Deaf Dealer, but with the D&D/Conan schtick of Attacker or Axehammer. That’s right…this sounds like vintage USPM!

I liked this one so much, I played it a few times in a row…bombast, thrash/speed sections, clean but beefy baritone vocals (I guess you could also throw Thrust in here, if you wanted, or even Jack Starr-era Virgin Steele) and ridiculously Basil Pouledorisesque Conan soundtrack recreations at points, with an Arabian minor thing going on in the synth backing, in particular…

More, please!

The Mammuthus – Forever Tree (Gothenburg Noise Works) (April 12)

Riff oriented, catchy and well structured early 70’s-style stoner rock.

More Grand Funk than Jethro Tull, much less Kyuss, more Rick Derringer than Fu Manchu or Sleep, these Swedes come off more like Sammal with balls or the grittier end of 70’s AM radio than what most folks consider stoner rock these days.

Hard to believe this is only their third album, the band sounds surprisingly seasoned and comfortable in their own shoes (or settled in their sound, for the more literal minded among us).

Good stuff.

Lustre – Another Time, Another Place (Chapter One) (Morrowless Music) (March 29)
Lustre – Another Time, Another Place (Chapter Two) (Morrowless Music) (March 29)

We’d covered this one man band a few times before, for “neath rock & stone”Blossom and pre-Lustre project The Burning, and generally found them fairly good at this whole atmospheric/ambient black metal thing.

These two releases consist of first a reissue of the Welcome Winter EP (which is pretty damn sweet, especially the Burzumesque “part 2”) and an unreleased EP from 2013 called the Ardour of Autumn.

That one’s more Projekt Records-style darkwave, and while respectable and certainly sets a mood, pales by comparison to the far more icy dungeon synth gone all Frozen Ocean of Welcome Winter’s second half.

The second “Chapter” here is more akin to The Burning gone more Mortiis, intended to show “the darker side” of early Lustre (or pre-Lustre, as the case may be…hence, its really a Burning EP under a different name). Even so, it’s still pretty dungeon synthy, particularly on opener “the light of eternity”, which sans vocals would have fit well on the Welcome Winter EP. “Waves of the worm” is more space rock ambient, as if he were composing for a Mass Effect game, “a spark of times of old” more pointedly of the Frozen Ocean school.

Bottom line, both are quite worthy of joining your collection of this sort of synth-based, pensive, atmospherically frigid black metal…but the real standout among the 7 tracks remains the only one previously released, namely part 2 of the Welcome Winter EP.

I was certainly good with all of this, and absolutely loved that track in particular.

MURG – Strävan (NORDVIS) (April 26)

Swedish black metal, but with the grim, pensive, strangely still vibe of bands like MGLA.

Seriously…put on “stjarnan” and try to picture the frontman not standing stock still, only occasionally moving like a puppet the way Farida Lemouchi did with The Devil’s Blood.

The band buzzes away like a swarm of busy bees, barely moving off the pedal tone chord throughout. It’s strangely hypnotic, swirling, like bullet time with the listener and frontman stuck motionless amidst all the chaos surrounding.

You know, like much of the best black metal tends to be, or strive for.

There’s a message in there. You just may not like what it’s saying, or the implications thereof.

Sadly, few tracks here actually work half so well as “stjarnan”, though it’s clearly the same band working more or less the same formula. Some doors open, others remain closed, no matter how stubbornly they’re pounded at.

Even so. Moments do work.

Due hails.

Armagedda – The Final War Approaching (Nordvis Produktion) (March 29)

Reissue of a 2002 album from this (at the time) three man Swedish black metal band.

While it’s hardly first wave, there is a certain feel to this that you simply don’t hear from today’s plethora of often questionable acts of the genre…it feels authentically early second wave, with enough vintage blackthrash and mid to late 80’s underground feel to sustain its compositional limitations.

Without this crucial element operating at core beneath all the trappings of its era, all you get is noise, atonality and a whole lot of ooga booga posing…selah.

It’s hard to pin down who’d be a good comparison here…perhaps very early Immortal crossed with the first Bulldozer album or two and just a hint of the classic Polish scene, but pushed back to more of a demo level quality and tone. Regardless, it works, and works quite well at that.

No bones about this one – raise the horns high in salute.

THE MOTH GATHERER – Esoteric Oppression (Agonia Records) (February 22)

Bellowing oddball Finnish stoner doomsters The Moth Gatherer, whose The Earth is the Sky and The Comfortable Low both got good marks for atmosphere, solid production and setting a mood…as well as their strangely futurist, almost Fauntslike indie overtones.

Look, they scored twice in a row, did you really think, barring any major stylistic change or shift in membership, they’d suddenly wind up getting slammed this time around?

Forget it. Damn good stuff, doomy, deliberate, quirky and dark. Best track is the longest, namely closer “phosphorescent blight”.

I like these guys. Cheers, mates!

Vistery – Death Is Dead

A death metal band from Belarus dropped us a line a month or two back, asking us to give a listen to their latest…so here ’tis.

Well, they certainly have that quirky feel of Eastern European death metal bands like Miasma (well, OK, they’re Austrian, but that still spells “strange” in my book), Krabathor and Mordicus (yeah, yeah, they’re Finnish…)

…but with surprisingly solid production that delivers a crunchy, fat sounding guitar tone and punchy double bass and cymbal tone with a snare that’s just a bit too annoyingly thin dish punk style (and hence louder than almost anything else in the mix).

Vocals, which are strange in the way Gorefest or Antropomorphia come off, are subdued and odd enough to work quite well, particularly mixed at about the same level as the guitar and drums…and holy shit, did I just hear a bass fill in “rotting earth”?

You know, these days, when someone passes me a new band or album and says “it’s death metal!”, I internally sigh and roll my eyes a bit. Oh, another HM-2 Swedeath copycat act, or another wish I was Suffocation “brutal” one? Or is one of those stupid Nile/Atheist/who cares era Death “tech/progressive death” throwaways? Oh, wait, I know…it’s another black metal band pretending they’re really death metal for no good reason. Yawn…

So it is with much surprise that I am pleased to report the existence of a death metal album that actually deserves a place in the ol’ collection alongside at least the quirkier, slightly more “obscure” but still quite
worthy acts of the genre’s all too brief early 90’s heyday.

Seriously…you’re missing out on a good one here.

Hats off to one of the few standing “true” death metal bands out there,
and best of all? Not one with an obvious template they’re swiping from!

Na zdorov’ye!

Gorgonchrist – The Blood of Endangered Species (Clobber Records) (February 22)

Bizarre cross between black metal, industrial and nu/groove rhythms (the latter quite evident on “banged in the face”).

Effectively, these guys come off like Fear Factory as fronted by a crazed black metal crackhead, shrieking, gargling and tonsil waggling like he’s just taken a hit of bath salts and is trying to eat the face off of the microphone in lieu of an audience member (most blatant in “little bo satan”, “shitfaced nasty” and the aforementioned “face”.)

Did I mention the two ambient drone instrumentals (which feature Beethoven’s moonlight sonata and Chopin’s funeral march beneath some UK preacher/propaganda mongering?)

No idea what these guys were thinking, but…yeah.

I’m just turning around slowly and walking away, let’s pretend this one never happened.

P-U!

Rifftera – Across The Acheron (Inverse Records) (January 18)

We covered these Finn’s self titled a few years back, and liked ’em a lot…except for the aggro vox, which is sadly something of a common caveat with bands nowadays.

This time around, well, I hear a lot more clean vocals (if still a bit too rare for my own taste), which is definitely a plus…and those sound just fine, and mesh well with the bombastic, emotional passages they tend to accompany.

The band works a sound that feels a tad Amorphis, but still with more balls than that implies post Karelian Isthmus…and there’s a strong feeling of straight up symphonic power metal to certain phrases and movements scattered throughout.

There’s so much drama going on, you could almost be forgiven for equating it with the gothic doom of bands like Paradise Lost, but while depressive, it never goes that dark…and with those clean chant style vocals? Yeah, it’s more the bombast and grandeur of European symphonic power metal than anything else.

Is this an improvement? Oh, yes it is.

Would I prefer more of a clean to gargle/growl vocals? Of course.

But could I live with this as is, given just how strong an experience these guys are delivering this time around?

You know what? Yeah. I could.

Damn good stuff, give ’em props.

Fearrage – Songs From The Sorrow (Inverse Records) (December 28)

You know, I’m sitting there listening to “those who do not remember the past”, which is a very deliberate, emotionally charged piece not far removed from a power ballad, and wondering…what the hell are they talking about, “thrash/death/groove”?

Oh, there it is – a very thrashy metalcore riff on “the day when the sun fell down”. A more groove feel to “your demise”, and back to the metalcore gone thrash (or is that vice versa?) on “only affliction”.

Plus those awful Judge meets Mighty Mighty Bosstones meets Pantera aggro/screamo vocals throughout, lending an unfortunate air of the “bro metal” nu bullshit of Five Finger Death Punch to a band that in reality is much tighter than those clowns could ever dream of being…oh, well.

As usual, this’d sound a whole hell of a lot better if they had a frontman who could fucking sing.

But look. You’ve heard a lot worse…and some of these tracks aren’t half bad, vox aside.

I don’t know, guess I’m in a good mood tonight, you guys get a pass this time. Hell, I even sorta liked some of this, minus vocals…

Inferitvm – The Grimoires (Inverse Records) (January 25)

Spanish black metal act.

Between the all but hissing croaked vocals, driving tremelo riffing and creepy old organ, they’re clearly drawing a lot from both first (Italian, easy one being Mortuary Drape, but it’s more than just them) and second (early Immortal, Gloomy Grim, Ancient) wave acts before them.

The feel is pretty dark and sinister, they hit a lot of the right beats, but I don’t know…something feels a bit off, something essential appears to be missing.

If you always wanted to hear a bit of pre-Norsecore Immortal crossed with the faintest touch of Thorns (if not Mayhem) and a few strummed arpeggio open chords ala Watain (“goetia of shadows”) as filtered through Italian first wavers like Mortuary Drape or later acts like Abhor or even black metal era Theatres des Vampires

…well, I guess this is your chance.

Personally, it felt like a big jigsaw puzzle. Most of the pieces are in place…but there’s something very central missing, and I’m not sure I care to push to finish it.

It left me feeling kinda meh about the entire affair.

Mastord – Trail Of Consequence (Inverse Records) (February 14)

Oddball aggro/prog crossover.

The guitarist/composer found his growl-happy frontman (who switches between recent Gorgoroth-style croaks* and sand-gargling overemoting, as if he were Roy Khan belting this out during an Egyptian sandstorm) in the local supermarket…nuff said.

* Apparently the croaker(s) were different people called in just to add that faint eau du clogged toilet, the listed frontman is solely responsible for that whole gravel-throated Khan wannabe schtick.

Vocals aside, this one sounds very much like that typically boring school of modern prog/power that fanboys of such gush over, i.e. I kept hearing fucking Angra in this…but that’s meant as an insult, not some backhanded compliment. Have you listened to that 5-disc Angra box set recently? What the fuck are you people hearing in that of any value whatsoever?

You’ve heard much, much worse, to be sure. But while I’ll admit to having no real issue sitting through this one, I wasn’t impressed in the least.

2 Wolves – …Our Fault (Inverse Records) (April 12)

HAHAHAHAHA…seriously, have you heard those vocals?

George “Corpsegrinder” Fischer, meet Cookie Monster. OM…NOM NOM NOM burrrrp NOM!!!

Then the “harsh death vocals” finally give way to a snarky, corner of the mouth take on Projekt Records alum Voltaire…and back again. Sometimes, as on “strange patterns”, the gargles go all thin and black metally, and sound even stupider, if you can believe that…

Well, it’s pretty obvious they’re doing a gothic doom/death thing in the general vein of Paradise Lost, My Silent Wake, My Dying Bride, et al. That noted, the music’s missing a lot of what makes those bands work (when they do), i.e. the highly emotive, mournful melodies, the molasses slow, funereal doom riffing, even the top tier production.

This is more like a depressive modern to gothic metal affair, sort of akin to the less effective moments of Moonspell, but which moves into faster, almost thrashy phrases for no good reason (as in “strange patterns”). Worse, sometimes they come off almost aggro/groove (“dreaming beneath”). How is this supposed to be doom/death, much less gothic doom/death?

Whatever.  Next?

Kaamos Warriors – Ikuisen Talven Sarastus (Inverse Records) (February 15)

Two man Finnish…what the hell is this they’re doing, exactly? I’d have said “melodic black metal” on the title cut…but “kaamos warriors” is more typically melodic Finnish death metal with some keyboard sampled Viking-style chants and bombast. And “talventuoja” is dumbed down aggro, albeit with breakdowns featuring those same sampled chants!

I guess in the end, it’s somewhere between Amorphisesque Finnish death metal crossed with a Bathorylike Viking thing…listenable, sad in feel, but a bit all over the place, particularly with those annoying blastbeats up in your face at the most inappropriate times. Doing a quiet acoustic section in halftime? POUND POUND POUND POUND!!! Yes, the drummer is a moron.

Has some potential…but lose the drummer, drop the aggro, and take some extra time to hammer down a sound that’s all your own, hopefully one which appends better to a given genre rather than pulling in from ill fitting, inapproprate and unrelated ones just because “hey, why not, sounds alright on paper, right?”

No. It doesn’t. And it sounds worse in practice.

Someday, bands will figure this simple formula out, and we’ll have a much stronger music scene as fruit thereof.

As it stands…band has promise and can set some atmosphere, give ’em a listen and see how it strikes you.

Mustan Kuun Lapset – Valo (Inverse Records) (March 8) 

Finnish act who we’d covered twice before, for Kuolemanvirta and Saatto.

They work a very catchy, melodic and uptempo variant of black metal, with strong folk elements and traditional instrumentation, but don’t expect, say, Ulver here.

They appear to be self-misclassifying as “dark metal” these days, a meaningless term that’s usually used to refer to more gothically inclined modern metal acts like Dark Age, but this is far too blackened, far too traditional folk to append to anything even near that far less interesting, even easily dismissable non-genre.

Even so, it’s quite catchy, as if they were more interested in crafting earworm radio pop tunes (albeit ones with tremelo guitars, snarling vocals and Viking/folk style folk bits) than trying to go the usual anti-harmonic/screw with basic rules of song construction thing you get with most or all forms of black metal proper.

It’s hard to say whether these guys keep getting better, or if the wait between their releases is just too damn long, and every new instance thereof comes like a breath of fresh air…either way, chalk up three wins in a row to these guys.

Hedonihil – I (Inverse Records) (April 14) 

umm…these guys are clearly smoking something fierce.

Because they claim to be working “death metal anti-poetry” and “a direct sonic insult towards existence”, when they’re clearly a piss poor black metal act of the most juvenile and simplistic school…Nifelheim laugh at these guys lack of technical proficiency.

Stamp that boarding pass, they just earned themselves a one way ticket to the flames of the Pyre of Dead Bards.

INCOMING!

whoops, sorry about that! Stop, drop and roll!

…yeah, that was some explosive shit…what utter trash!

next?

   

Marianas Rest – Ruins (Inverse Records) (April 26)

Dark and gloomy gothic death metal, somewhere in the general ballpark of death/doom but far more “gothic, somewhat blackened death” than it ever is doom. The guitar tones and single note melodic lines ring out with reverb and delay like some ersatz postpunk act, but then they move to all deliberate tempo harmonies and speedy tremelo guitars.

There’s a definite feeling of vastness imparted by all of this, and the vocals, while the expected hollow death belches, seem to append well enough to the music, which is atmospheric and gloomy.

It may not set the world afire, but it certainly works well enough to pique the interest of those so inclined.

 

Lucidity – Oceanum (Inverse Records) (February 22)

What would you get if Moonspell still sounded sort of like they did in their Irreligious heyday, dropped the catchy tunes in favor of a quirky prog orientation and tagged in left field shit like jazz saxophone (“what if it hurts”)?

If you said “kind of a mess”, you’re right.

You’ve also described Lucidity, which about says it all right there.

 

Freedom Fuel – DANCE! (Secret Entertainment) (February 15)

Weird ass, sorta indie rock band who can’t seem to decide on an actual style. Grim piano ballads, nigh noise rock, quirky pop, 90’s music, who the hell knows, it’s all over the place.

Yeah, I didn’t get this one at all.

Death Is Death – Death Wears Suit (Concorde Music Company) (March 1)

Beyond an obvious unfamiliarity with the English language, what the hell is “death is death, death wears suit” supposed to mean?

Well, apparently the derivation is that three of these guys used to be part of a four piece known as Death is Liberty. O-kayyy, I guess that makes a vague sort of…well, not sense, exactly…and why the fuck does every single song have to include the word “death” (blank death, blank of death, blank is death or vice versa)?

So anyway, these guys do a very basic, very shouty form of thrash. Songs are super short, solos are weak and unmemorable, vocals are just some guy screaming at the mic incessantly.

Some of the riffs are OK, but there’s not a lot to latch onto here that hasn’t been done much better, with better production, multilayered, engaging phrased solos and catchier riffing by dozens of thrash acts back in the heyday of the scene back in the late 80’s to very early 90’s.

A very easy pass.

Next?

Destroyers Of All – The Vile Manifesto (Mosher Records) (February 2)

Portuguese deathrash act, leaning heavier on the thrash end than the death one. Could be a plus or minus, but there’s also an unfortunate propensity of the drummer to fall back on that most tired and absurd of black metal-derived “techniques”, the blastbeat.

On the death side, yeah, there are Arabian minor bits on more than a few tracks, but honestly? That could suggest By Inheritance era Artillery as much as Nile. And what about the funk break on “destination unknown”? How about the flashy leads, some chugging riffs like “the elephant’s foot” and gang shout vocals on choruses, which together scream pure thrash? Yeah, these guys are more thrash than not, all told.

I wasn’t too fond of the vocalist’s tendency to fall into straight up screaming over the more thrash shout and death growl business he’s working otherwise, and y’all already know exactly how I feel about the use of blastbeats…but those aside?

Not a bad thrash album. A bit too “modern” and au courant for this vintage warhorse’s tastes…but not every up and comer works their entire career out of trying to recreate the sound and feel of 1987-1991, however much many of us may appreciate it when they do.

The guitarists certainly have some skills…and blastbeat phrases aside, the drummer’s no slouch either. Due props.

Totalitarian (Italy) – Bloodlands (Barren Void / Lavadome) (April 12)

hmm…not sure what to think about these guys.  Are they just WWII obsessed, noisy sub-Norsecore black metallers trying to be eeeevillll by hanging on the coattails of some of the worst atrocities of modern history?  Or does their unfortunate choice of moniker and topic imply something more prevalent of late and insidious?

Well, having just about zero information about these guys other than that they hail from Italy doesn’t help…but for the nonce, let’s take the neutral stance and assume they’re just trying to be Marduk, Jr.

So taken on that level, what you get is a less robust, more noisy/hissy production and a bunch of those stupid ringing open chord things so beloved of the Watain Wannabe school of BM (not to mention the equally irritating pattern sliding up and down the neck schtick Dark Funeral spent the better part of their questionable career on), plus nonstop blastbeat steamroller drumming with nonstop hissy cymbals and lyrics all about wartime atrocities.  Uh…yay?

Again, assuming this is all more or less “aboveboard”, the best you can say here is that they’re a failed attempt at aping a schtick best left to Marduk, who are at least polished and accomplished at this, and come with the requisite crystal clear production as a rule.

Not impressed, though have to admit, the moniker starts the bar off in the negative zone, notes still unheard.  Historical subjects are one thing, but you might consider a name change to prevent operating at a built in disadvantage…

…unless you actually mean what would seem to be the obvious implication here, in which case, fuck you too.

 

Drawn Into Descent – The Endless Endeavour (Avantgarde Music) (March 1)

Ah, contemplative, moody, atmospheric, depressively introspective…sometimes you hear this stuff referred to as “DSBM”, though it bears little in common with the sort of crap bands that go with that label willingly.  Other times, it comes with the “post-” or “Cascadian” tag.  But it’s always the same basic sound: expansive, pensive, almost doomy in a way, but very much black metal at core.

I tend to really enjoy this stuff, and find it particularly excellent for long lonely walks through the woods and suchlike, preferably in fogbound or darker sunrise/sunset conditions.

While I can’t honestly say Drawn Into Descent stands out more or less than many similar bands given props in these pages over the years…I can certainly say this is quite solid, well produced…and quite good.

This one’s staying on the iPod for the forseeable future, which is something you can only say about a very small portion of what gets covered here every month.

Phobonoid – La Caduta Di Phobos (Avantgarde Music) (February 15)

You know, you’d really think I’d like this one, especially if you’ve known me personally for any period of time.

I mean, seriously…a metal based “SF concept album about spacetime travel through planets and asteroids, starting from the destruction of the main character’s world in the title track, with each song dedicated to one of these celestial bodies, symbolizing a different leg in the quest from the methane fog of Titan to the perennial lava of CoRot-7B to the absolute zero on MOA-192b?”  Damn, that sounds awesome!

…right?

Well…no.  In concept, definitely.  In execution…how does a boring industrial black metal album where every song, despite attempting to evoke some very different imagery, comes off sounding very much the same?

Look, the guy (yep, it’s another one man bedroom black metal band…) came up with an interesting idea, to be sure.  But given the extreme limitations of the black metal genre (for all its pretensions of being so “avant garde” and spanning everything from “experimental” and “post-” to “troo kvlt” and “war metal”)?

This project was severely handicapped from the get go.

Martelo Negro – Parthenogenesis (Helldprod Records) (April 17)

Oh, look, I knew someone would try to cop the Brujeria sound eventually!

Yeah, that’s what this is: early Brujeria vomit vox and severely detuned, grinding guitars, given more pep and tempo so this crosses over with more of a South American if not a present day Teutonic/Norwegian blackthrash sound.

Ever want to hear “padre nuestro” as done by Desaster or Aura Noir?  If so, here’s your chance.

More than listenable, hell, it’s actually pretty likeable, if you dig the sound.  You may even hear some Warhammer in tracks like the title cut, if you’re digging deep enough.

I was good with this, yeah.

Sadness – Rain (Flowing Downward) (March 10)

We’d covered this post-black metaller’s Leave last September, and here he is again with the followup, yet another depressive, contemplative Cascadian style black metal affair with the vibe of Frozen Ocean crossed with early Alcest and a bit of Vardan, just to give you a general idea of where this falls on the scale thereof.

When he’s “on”, he’s dead on: “teal” is pretty damn amazing, and even the almost Lycia-esque crushing riffs of “pure dream” are quite oppressively grim and lush for all their detuned miserableness.

That said, the problem here is an inherent lack of consistency.  The title track doesn’t start to work until the final minute thereof, “river”, “lay” and “absolution” never really work at all.  That’s two strong tracks and four weak ones, on a six track album.  Ouch!

But that being duly noted, a quick revisitation of the earlier Leave shows a definite change between the two releases.  Rain is MUCH heavier and darker, with the two tracks aforementioned feeling like the difference between Devastation’s Signs of Life and Idolatry: someone took those tones, that feeling, and jacked the shit out of ’em, to the point where they’re right up in your face…and you won’t forget them.

Consider this a particularly good 7″ with some inessential, even throwaway bonus tracks tacked on just for the hell of it, and you’ll be well pleased.

Dwarrowdelf – Of Dying Lights (Flowing Downward) (March 20)

Empyrium is name checked herein, as is Tolkien, who apparently inspired their lyrical bent.  So you get the general idea: cheesy, Blind Guardianesque Hobbit-obsessed D&D schmutters, appended to light, melodic and symphonic “black metal” so far removed from what that label generally encompasses as to suggest more of a symphonic darkwave/gothic rock orientation.

Where you’d expect the usual “grim and frostbitten kingdoms” of tremelo picked, blastbeat-driven, snarl-bedecked nonsense, instead you get catchy, even upbeat bits of consonant, clearly discernible chordal movement and more mainstream, folk rocklike riffing and clean vocals with chant backing…yeah, the more you try to describe what’s going on here, the further and further away we get from the very definition of black metal in any of its myriad stylistic permutations or forms.

You may well fear to start pulling out the Gorgoroth at your next tabletop session…but Dwarrowdelf would fit right in, and have a few geeks asking where they can get themselves a copy.

Didn’t excite me overmuch, but competent, melodic and well crafted, so zero complaints about this one whatsoever.

Uhtceare – El Genocidio Primordial Llevará El Nombre Infinito De La Empatía (Flowing Downward) (March 10)

One man depressive black metal act.  The sound leans wayyyyyy too far into straight up ambient (with electronic/synth overtones) for this seasoned ex-black metaller’s taste.

Yeah, not sure who this one’d appeal to.  It’s miserable, alright…but somehow, you get the impression this is hardly the sort of grimness most of us would care to indulge in.

EXTREME METAL ATTACK – ANNO XVI 2019 // Porto – Portugal (Helldprod Records) (March 22)

What appears to be a comp of bands playing the similarly titled festival in Portugal.

Some are pretty interesting (“7 Goat Eyes” comes pretty close to arly Beherit, Infernus comes off fairly early second wave, almost blackthrash but with the more sinister feel of black metal proper), others pretty bleh, but it’s a comp, what do you expect?  One or two good tracks is kind of the average for these.

The most interesting thing is “7 goat eyes” doesn’t even appear to be on the bandcamp of this (replaced by the far more generic Necromutilator)…don’t ask me.

Next?

THE WANDERING ASCETIC – Crimson (Transcending Obscurity Asia) (February 12)

Rudra, Singaporean act whose Duality we spoke to a few years back returns without the traditional instrumentation and losing much of the black/death schtick in favor of…what is this, really?

It’s very midtempo metal throughout, and a bit dark and downbeat, but hardly doom. The vox are all snotty gargles, but this isn’t black metal,
nor is it gothic. It feels sort of trad, but in the way that the first two or three Danzig albums do.

I guess in a way, whatever you choose to classify those as, throw in a
few more thrash riffs with occasional open string black/death flourishes and forget the bluesy howl vocals (this gargling thing is pretty fucking ridiculous, but at least it’s just stupid sounding, not a deal breaker), and you’ve got The Wandering Ascetic.

Again, despite the vox, this was very listenable, which is not something you can say about a lot of acts that come through to the virtual desk…so give ’em that. And the midtempo dark feel? Very comfortable.

Won’t pretend this was a world shaker or revelatory in any way…but you may well enjoy this one as a more than acceptable filler between stronger albums in your personal rotation, it’s really not bad at all.

EREMIT – Carrier of Weight (Transcending Obscurity Records) (February 25)

Sludgelike recording, with thick distorted riffs pushing well past the red zone of signal bleed throughout…but recorded at an almost funeral doom pace.

This is only three tracks, and the band must be obsessed with Armistice Day, because the shortest runs about 11 minutes, with the others increasing by almost exactly that amount (i.e. they run circa 22 and 33 minutes, respectively).

I remember some half assed goth band on a comp had back in the 90’s had this song “11:11″…and it must have licensed dirt cheap, because out of a dozen or more comps in the genre, it turned up on most of ’em. Guess these guys are similarly fixated. Whatever.

Nothing wrong with this, nothing overly special about it, either. It’s good, solid, relaxing/forgettable doom of its type, all low and slow and distorted for stoner types to chill to.

I dug it.

0N0 – Cloaked Climax Concealed (Transcending Obscurity Records) (March 3)

Aimless drone with a slight industrial overtone – occasionally there’s a guy hammering sheet metal sound or a flourish of double bass, every so often some guy croaks like some half assed version of Martin Van Drunen. It’s vaguely akin to Fear Factory tripping on mushrooms or something.

At least it was low and slow, but is this really doom?

ILLIMITABLE DOLOR – Leaden Light (Transcending Obscurity) (March 20)

Aussie gothic death/doom, whose self titled we reviewed two years back, and gave some rather high marks to.

Not much has changed herein, I’m glad to report. It’s lush and melodic, with organ and guitar lines in the general Paradise Lost school of composition, but with deep belching funeral doom vox and a funereal vibe (particularly on “armed he brings the dawn”). Eventually the album starts to mellow out and move more towards ambient space rock (somewhere around track 4 and certainly by the time we get into the closing track).

If there’s any problem here at all, it’s that the organ seems to be sitting on the same pedal tone for every single track, as if the guy only knew one key (or more to the point, a handful of notes). Otherwise? Pretty solid, certainly right up their intended alley.

“Armed” is by far the strongest arrow in their quiver…but decent for the type, no question.

CHALICE OF SUFFERING – Lost Eternally (Transcending Obscurity Records) (April 19)

Another act whose previous For You I Die we’d covered a few years back, and like Illimitable Dolor, if you read the prior review or heard the previous album, you very much know what to expect: sparsely doled out vocals over droning, sluggish (if very in your face, mix-wise) guitar riffs. No question it’s doom, that’s for sure!

But there has been one definite change since last time around: while still comparatively sparse, the vox are more frequently present than they were on For You I Die, and you’ll find them split far more evenly this time between the clean spoken/declamatory and death belches frontman John McGovern chooses to adopt.

Whether this is an improvement or not is down to the listener, but it makes this album a bit more normative than what we heard last time around…so I’d consider it a plus overall.

Again, like Illimitable Dolor, I liked ’em last time, I liked ’em this time. Keep on rockin’ in the free world.

GOREGANG – Neon Graves (Transcending Obscurity Records) (May 20)

Two former members of Wombbath (who had a very solid death metal album in 1993’s Internal Caustic Torments (and 92’s Several Shapes EP, for that matter)* deliver this rather middling, simplistic modern death act.

* neither of which either of these men were part of…which may explain why it falls so far short of their former act’s heyday glories!

Well, it’s crusty, and somewhat in the general school of Swedeath in that it’s raw and noisy sounding, with a bit of a punk influence that underpins most or all of the classic acts out of Sunlight Studios, but don’t expect the usual HM-2 buzzsaw guitar tone here, or the solid, catchy sound that marked everyone from Carnage, Unleashed, Grave, Nihilist/Entombed and Dismember to Nirvana 2002 and Cemetary.

Certainly listenable, even has a few moments now and again, should you be in the mood…but nothing to turn the heads of either those who were there back in the day or younger fans digging their way through an increasingly oversaturated market of copycats and wannabes of that same sound.

Grave Violator – Back To The Cult (Reaper Metal Productions) (March 22)

Finnish blackthrash/speed outfit. They’re pretty stripped down, with a thin sounding, single guitar setup, tinny sounding drums that pop in ways they shouldn’t and some gargle-snarl black metal vocals.

It sounds even cheaper and more half-assed than Ice War/Iron Dogs, if you can believe that…and yet that’s exactly what makes this chintz operation sorta endearing.

Some really basic playing here, to be sure…but it’s angry and captures some of that fresh feel of vintage blackthrash acts like early Sepultura or (at more of a stretch) Kreator thereby.

Silly, but can’t claim I didn’t enjoy it in a post-Panzerfaust tongue in cheek Darkthrone sort of way.

Triumvir Foul – Urine of Abomination (Vrasubatlat / Invictus Productions / 20 Buck Spin) (March 29)

They’re baaaaack…

Yep, that same Triumvir Foul who delivered such pillars of the black/death scene as the self titled and Spiritual Bloodshed have returned with this lovely ode to pissing themselves in an alley in the name of saaaatan ooo-eee-ooo!!! 

I have to say, given just how impressive (cough) their past work was, at least this one’s pretty consistent and listenable in a hold your nose for a few minutes, it’ll fade sort of way.

At least the grinding guitars are speedy and bear some of that sludgy Swedeath feel, which is a plus…

“IV” and “II” (yes, they’re great at titling compositions, too!) are the ones to check out, if you’re morbidly curious.

Seriously, found this one much more listenable than their prior work. Maybe they’re finally improving…

UNDEATH – Demo ’19 (Caligari Records) (March 29)

Anyone out there remember Necroharmonic Records?

Used to put out nicely comprehensive collections of more obscure, sludgy death metal bands from back in the day, all demos, splits and EPs together with actual albums (if the bands even got to that stage)? Liked that guy a lot, good customer service besides.

I bring ol’ Roy and his label up because Undeath sounds like nothing if not one of the sort of bands he’d have on the roster. There’s a sort of line where Autopsy meets Incantation and butts heads with, say, Uncanny, Messiah or Sorcery – one end all sludgy, detuned and doomy, the other comparatively “polished”, but still quirky and raw variants of the vaguely Swedeath school of vintage Euro death metal…and Undeath is right there in the pocket with ’em.

It’s a demo, so there’s a strong feel of everything being overly squashed, all mids and guitar, drums and vox shoved straight down the center that I could’ve done without – a fuller, more stereo and bass driven mix could do wonders with this. But who knows…maybe that’s what gives ’em that raw, sludgy sound you’re hearing.

Either way, this works, and reasonably well at that. Looking forward to a full length.

Filtheater – Blight of Sempiternal Putrefaction (Memento Mori) (April 22)

Whoa, talk about lousy sound…that is some seriously crap sound on the recording and production here!

I’ll be generous and say the band themselves don’t sound too horrible, appending to a sort of death metal leaning towards grind if not
“war metal” in its sloppy basicness and speedy aggression…but what the fuck is this recorded from the back of a football field with tupperware drums and all mids, nothing but mids sound they’ve got going on here?

I couldn’t even listen to more than half of this, the sound was so terrible.

Maybe next time they’ll find an actual studio, engineer, mixer and/or producer, and we can properly evaluate whatever they have to offer…but this here?

Just about unlistenable.

Anybody got a tylenol?

Spiral Skies – Cult (AOP Records) (March 15)

Interesting retro 70’s rock act with all the right influences…hell, they name check both The Devil’s Blood and the Jefferson Airplane, stop right there!

If they’d said H.P. Lovecraft and The Pentangle as well, maybe tag in the first 3 Blood Ceremony albums to boot, they’d be perfect. But right there, they’ve announced to the general public “we’re on the right path, unlike so many ostensible peers…come check us out!”

“Cult” is occult rock with a psychedelic bent, female vocals and a vibe that suggests Sandy Denny as much as the Lemouchis, while “the final set” clearly pulls from the Slick/Balin playbook (dual) vocally, the band even doing the Kakuonen/Casady/Kantner thing behind ’em. It may not be “house on pooneil corners” dramatic, but there’s no question they’ve been listening to their Airplane, and that says a lot.

Very, very, very good stuff, simply can not wait to hear a full length if they’re going to stick to the style and deliver material as good or better than this.

Killer…and absolutely dead on.

ULTRA SILVAM – The Spearwound Salvation (Shadow Records) (March 22)

Uptempo, surprisingly melodic black metal in its rawer, faster, almost Norsecore form…but the sound is more punk derivative than that genre qualifier would ever imply.

There are plenty of little melodies scattered throughout the tremelo lines herein, to the point where it’s a bit of a surprise that this is actually a Swedish band, not a Finnish one. But given this general sound or mix of sounds…what’s with those stupid vocals?

All over-reverbed open throat roars and belch-growls, the vocals are more suited to some crappy atonal underground black/death sludge affair than to music this…is catchy an appropriate term when you’re talking about fast, raw but melodic line driven, even tuneful black metal?

It’s all self contradictory and impossible to explain without hearing…so go check it out already.

Terrible, even subpar for the genre vox aside (which is saying quite a bit right there…)?

It’s pretty good.

Ysbryd – Kraft (Purity Through Fire) (February 11)

One man German black metal bedroom affair.

The acoustic guitars are surprisingly good (“duw” in particular), “im kriege” bears a strangely medieval feel, and the first few minutes of “geist uber fliesch” are appropriately haunting…

…it’s the rest of this that falters and ultimately falls rather flat.

Crummy guitar production on the distorted tone doesn’t help – it’s all mids and as flat as an unassembled cardboard box.

You know how folks used to say Darken was only good for his keyboard intros? Same principle applies, but far more accurately herein.

The incidental tracks (“duw”, “im kriege”) are miles ahead of what this guy’s shooting for otherwise.

Drastus – La Croix de Sang (NoEvDia) (March 1)

Oh, good lord.

Black/death very much of the Watain school, but with moments that get all fast and pointlessly noisy like whatever the fuck happened to Mayhem after all the important players were dead or incarcerated post-De Mysteriis, and they just turned into a laughably unlistenable shitfest.

Is there really a point to this?

One more, incoming!

WHIZZZZ!!!!

Yeah, just a few minor sputters and spitting embers. Even the Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards recognizes just how minor and workaday an affair this one is, failing to excel even at being shitty.

PERNICION – Seek What They Sought (Osmose Productions) (February 22)

Noisy black/death affair. Riffs lean more sloppy and loose death in the vein of Incantation or early Autopsy, but without any actual appeal those bands bring, and the general vibe (both musical and lyrical) is very much blackened, in place of classic/well delineated death metal.

Separation of powers, people. Enough of this genre blending bullshit, you all start to sound alike when you pull this card, and all of it sounds pretty shit to boot.

ABYSSIC – High The Memory (Osmose Productions) (February 22)

We’d covered these Norwegians’ A Winter’s Tale a few years back, and found them somewhat reminiscent of Bolt Thrower or (very) early Amorphis, but with more of an orchestral bombast…too much, perhaps.

This time around, what we’re hearing is very much funeral doom…yes, a tad overly keyboard bedecked and symphonic, but the only really strange bit that sticks out are the rare excursions into a more obvious black metal territory (as on “dreams become flesh”).

Even so, it’s not all that obnoxious, particularly given how small a percentage of the running time is dedicated thereto. Most of this one is funeral doom with the bombast of gothic, or hell, even leaning a tad symphonic with all that unnecessary chutzpah.

Taken on the whole, I didn’t mind this one. Didn’t stand out or excite in any real way…but a perfectly listenable and acceptable effort of its general type.

AKROTHEISM – The Law Of Seven Deaths (Osmose Productions) (March 29)

Still more atonal underground black metal with over-reverbed vocals to
the point of becoming slap echo.

We covered ’em for their split with Septugaint a few years back, and
they really haven’t changed a thing since then…so the verdict is
identical.

More for the Pile…looks like those flames will be burning forever, at
this rate!

Give it a careful toss. It’s starting to look precarious, the heap’s
getting so high this month…

NORDJEVEL – Necrogenesis (Osmose Productions) (March 29)

Former members of Marduk, Dark Funeral and Abbath come together
to write music that sounds like…Dark Funeral, but with vague touches
both vocal and in spastic atonally “proggy” explosions of notes that
suggest more than a bit of Attilla Csihar influence, or even (at a
stretch) Isahn.

But make no mistake, this isn’t ‘progressive’ black metal by any
stretch, despite some of those ‘off’ elements bleeding in at
unexpected times. This is straightforward, generally over-speedy and
uber basic Emperor Magus Caligula (or even Secrets of the Black
Arts)-era Dark Funeral worship with a bit of Norsecore mixed in,
period.

You’ve heard much, much worse. But does that make it good?

If the above writeup got you all hot and bothered, you’re probably the
audience they’re looking for with this one.

Pterodactyl Problems – Esoteric Hobbies (March 8)

Hmm. “pictures” would suggest a hipster pop act ala Dave Matthews minus the whiteboy funk bit, while “heavy” screams Red Hot Chili Peppers…with Matthews on vocals.

“Alone in the cold” would say they’re an indie take on millenial pop punk (picture a foulmouthed Weezer covering Good Charlotte, The Offspring or even All American Rejects), other tracks like “protest” or “crazy” are just sloppy, awkward attempts at recapturing that loud but aimless sound of 90’s post-grunge indie rock.

It’s hard to say what to make of a band like this, so clearly working from the influences aforementioned (and worse – you may pick out moments that say Smashmouth or Sublime as well…)

Personally, first Weezer album and a few Crazy Taxi tracks aside, I hated all that shit and still do.

You may want to ask a 90’s kid or grunge fanboy for their take.
I’m giving this one big shrug of the shoulders and toss into the circular file.

Ellende – Lebensnehmer (AOP Records) (March 29)

Boy, these guys don’t exactly fuck around, do they? We just covered their Rückzug in die Innerlichkeit around the start of December, and already they’re back with another one.

Good news is…this is still solid, melodic, melancholically moody and pensive. There may be a touch more post- to the black metal this time around, and comparisons to the likes of Alcest or the Cascadian crowd are more apropos than, say, Burzum to describe what you’ll hear herein…but it’s still going to set a mood and remain tonal if blackened throughout.

Still good with ’em, no issues whatsoever with this sort of mutatis mutandis approach to black metal.

Lucifera (Colombia) – La Caceria De Brujas (Dunkelheit Produktionen) (February 25)

We’d covered (and enjoyed) this Colombian duo’s Preludio Del Mar a few years back, and enjoyed their somewhat throwback if femme-fronted take on South American blackthrash.

Here things feel a bit more…it’s strange, is it “overly raw”, or “overly studio polished”? The vocals are slathered in a bit too much reverb and doubled (or delayed, or both) at the choruses, which given that we’re talking Bestial Holocaust/Demona style screaming as a vocal technique leaves this sounding a lot more…noisy? Overly nasty? Too raw, I guess, by comparison to what we’ve heard before.

The riffing is also a bit more one note and “evil” sounding, all tremelo descents that come off sort of an overly aggressive take on first wave black metal more than the Slayer meets Possessed by way of Sepulturaisms of vintage South American blackthrash. It’s not bad, just doesn’t feel as “right”.

If you liked their earlier works, you should be fine here…just may not be the right album to start your fixation with.

Wretched Fate – Demoed In Flesh (Redefining Darkness Records) (December 17)

Damn…one of these tracks is fucking amazing. Raw, buzzsaw guitar driven HM-2 Sunlight Studios Swedeath worship through and through.

The sound is dead on, the aggression is right, the tuning is correct, it’s pretty damn good stuff and should fit surprisingly well alongside the big names of the genre, given its rather au courant provenance.

“Ways to the grave” is by far the one to pay attention to of the two tracks here…the rather workaday and forgettable “embedded in flesh” provides no competition whatsoever.

Sunset Forsaken – Chameleon Waters (Redefining Darkness Records) (December 17)

Oddly propulsive, overaggressive take on gothic doom. It’s as if someone took, say, Paradise Lost and gave ’em a medicine cabinet worth of uppers, then had ’em pound back a few beers as a chaser and hit record.

The music’s extremely melodic line driven, the vocals annoyingly snotty and gargle-croak. The tempo is unrelentingly midtempo to fast and overly upbeat for music of this type, never once slowing to the expected funereal crawl or doomy lurch (about the closest they get is “last revelation”, which is still pretty busy and speedy).

Even more maddeningly, the production is questionable at best, with guitars mixed way the hell up front and overdistorted like they were being played through a crappy practice amp with the mids turned up too high, and those snotty gargles are mixed right up with ’em. Drums are all wet and hissy in an attempt to squeeze ’em in with all the rest of this blaring noisiness…just a crappy production job all around. But it’s loud and in your face, so you’ll hear everything, I guess…

If you don’t mind your gothic doom sounding like it was performed by J. Mascis on guitar, Steve Albini on production and Emperor Magus Caligula on vocals, these guys are great.

The problem is less the band or the music than it is the ill fit with their chosen genre (all that speed, bombast and in your faceness? IT Seriously? IT) and the ridiculously inappropriate production.

Get past all of that, you have a good band and very interesting album on your hands.

A radical remix and remaster is demanded, here, stat!

Angel Morgue – S/T EP (Redefining Darkness Records) (December 17)

oy, it’s that “underground” black/death thing like Zom and their ilk.

Can you believe promo materials try to sell this as if it were akin to Immolation or even Incantation?

Because no.

Barely 8 minutes, and you’ll already be reaching for the fast forward button with one hand, and the Advil with the other.

Next?

Zohamah – Spreading My Ashes (Redefining Darkness Records) (February 1)

Very little info provided about these guys other than that they hail from Israel, of all places.

It’s a doomy, deliberate sort of black metal, almost first wave in feel in its idosyncratic tone, but clearly of far more recent vintage in the bored overtones being delivered.

The one big plus these guys have going for them is that they seldom really break free of the midtempo sludgy crawl feel, which gives them more personality than far too many acts operating under the black metal umbrella nowadays.

Can’t say I was overly enthused by it, but give ’em that much.

Meka – Ending My Life to Destroy Yours (Redefining Darkness Records) (February 8)

Black/death nonsense out of Ohio. They have this Inquisitionlike propensity to tune the guitars in mid chord (“war”, “foresaken (sic)”), with busy, almost Steve Shelleylike drums and a lot of insane shrieking over the top.

Only three tracks, you’ll be bored off your ass long before that.

Caustic Vomit – Festering Odes to Deformity (Redefining Darkness Records) (February 15)

Now here’s a band that sounds a bit more like Incantation or Immolation (well, vocally, anyway), while pulling the ever descending, sludgy riffing and noisy, rehearsal session drumming into a more pointedly grindcore scheme of things.

Someone mentioned Goatlord or even Asphyx as comparitors, and there certainly is a bit of that, particularly the former…just as wedded to the vocal style and grindcore feel aforementioned.

I was fine with this.

Another one this month that sounds quite like a Necroharmonic act, which is a good thing.

Athanasia – The Order of the Silver Compass (Seeing Red Records (N. America) & Rock of Angels Records (Europe) (March 15)

Okay, let’s keep this one short.

“former members of Five Finger Death Punch, Sebastian Bach and Murderdolls.”

…next?

Heretical Sect – S/T (Redefining Darkness Records | Caligari Records | Vendetta Records) (March 1)

New Mexico act, again not much info on these guys other than that they’re trying to be ooky spooky (“hooded and anonymous”, as if that worked for lame acts like Ghost).

The sound veers from blackthrash to straight up black/death (“swar wreathed flames”) to more of a stoner doomlike thing vaguely akin to a black metallized Carnival Bizarre-era Cathedral (“visceral divination”, “plateau of stars”.)

When they keep it more low and slow and doomy, they sound OK despite the stupid over-reverbed snarl and belch vox…but when they speed up, it just sounds kind of silly, even derivative.

Yeah, yeah, whatever.  Not impressed.  Next?

Aseptic – Senses Decay (Redefining Darkness Records) (March 8)

Nicely energetic and vibrant raw blackthrash to death metal act out of San Jose.  I guess you could call them deathrash, just don’t expect, say, Solstice or Demolition Hammer here.

It’s raw enough yet bears enough crunch and heft on the (overly mids heavy) guitars and a reasonable degree of pop and muting on the drums, and the riffing is likeably…full of teenaged piss and vinegar, I guess.  It feels right, where so many acts we cover barely seem to apprehend what makes this sort of sound even work…these kids are latching onto it intuitively somehow.

I liked this one quite a bit, reminded me of the band Fatal as performed by the guys in Nihilist or something.

One to watch, no question.

Nocturnal Hollow – A Whisper of a Horrendous Soul (Redefining Darkness Records ( N. America) | Raw Skull Recordz (Europe) | BlackStorm Productions (S. America) (March 29)

Venezuelan (black/)death metal act, they’ve dropped several albums and EPs over the past 8 years.

The sound is overly raw and aggressive enough to qualify as blackthrash, but the riffs are more blackened death.  Interestingly, though, the lyrics remain resolutely in traditional death metal territory, so the unwanted outside influences only play into the riffs here.

I guess I can hear a little of Deathchain in this, but with less force and beefy bombast to it.  Who knows, maybe with a more polished production these guys could sound as good as the Finns next time around.

Hardly my idea of proper old school death metal, but certainly well within the realm of listenability, and they’re confident and assured enough throughout.

Six of Swords – Regime Decay / Polar Vortex (Redefining Darkness Records ( N. America) | Raw Skull Recordz (Europe) (March 29)

Compilation of this Canadian act’s two EPs.

You won’t need any notes or hints to tell when the album shifts to the superior Polar Vortex material.  The production ratchets up several notches, the riffs and drums go from thin sounding to fat(ter) and crunchy (despite an unfortunate tendency to emphasize the mids again), the vocals get deeper and more properly “deathlike”, and the band has finally gotten their sea legs where the earlier material felt like they just signed on as cabin boy to their first voyage.

Grab it for completeness’ sake, but just ignore all the Regime Decay material and put Polar Vortex on repeat, it’s all you’ll want to hear off of this.

Now let’s see what a full length brings…signs point to the positive, given the trajectory on display herein.

Temple of the Fuzz Witch – S/T (Seeing Red Records) (March 8)

Straight up Dopethrone-era Electric Wizard worship.

Nothing whatsoever original to be found here, but who’s going to argue with success?

Hey, works for me.  Light one up and chill.

Body Void – You Will Know The Fear You Forced Upon Us (Seeing Red Records, Crown & Throne Ltd, Dry Cough Records) (March 15)

Extremely slow, almost Winter-tempo riffing, but with guitars that are overly distorted and in your face and a lot of scream till your stomach bleeds shriekiness on the mic.

I guess if you mix this to sound a lot more muted than it does now and wipe the “vocal” track, this would be pretty killer.

As is…they seem to be trying to go what passes for “hardcore” these days over the sludge/stoner doom you’d otherwise expect.

YERÛŠELEM – The Sublime (Debemur Morti Productions) (February 8)

What strikes the listener as interesting immediately with this one is the
incredibly fat, booming gothic rock style bass tone. I mean, this isn’t
just a fat tone, this has to have been heavily processed and mixed well
up there, so you’re getting something like Lycia was reaching for with
“cold”, it’s that thick.

Now, unfortunately, a grim throwback 90’s darkwave gothic sound ala
Projekt Records is not what these guys are after, so it’s solely down to that bass sound when we’re talking what works here.

The rest? Well, remember how Possessed’s flashy Larry LaLonde gave up all his teenage underground guitar hero affectations to make stupid effects with pedals behind noted studio engineer Les Claypool’s goofy whiteboy bass lines and Ernest Goes to Lolapalooza vocals in the embarrasing Primus? Take away the Alfred E. Neumann factor, and you’ve got it…that’s what Yeruselem is all about.

I guess you could call this some ersatz industrial take on shoegaze, or a very drugged out, very 90’s impression of an indie rocker what “metal must sound like, because it’s heavy, right?” But it’s just…bizarre, to say the least.

Loved the bass tone.

Too bad there was nothing there to back it up.

ÖRMAGNA – S/T (Signal Rex) (February 1)

Icelandic black metal. If you’ve ever heard any, you probably already know just how strange this shit gets.

The plus here is the trance vocals and deliberate, hypnotic guitars with slow moving melody lines that appear at least at points during long tracks like “dansar saurs og surlifis” or “haskinn i seljunum”, which leave them feeling vaguely Burzum indebted.

It’s still pretty out there. But as Icelandic BM goes? These guys are probably your strongest contender, by a long shot.

SE LUSIFERIN KANNEL – Valtakunta (Signal Rex) (February 1)

Overlong, incredibly noisy black metal with a dramatic symphonic bent and way too much keyboard (working theremin tones, mind!), reverb and feedback.

Kept thinking weird acts like Kylesa and Thy Catafalque here, but this may be even more bizarre and annoying…

Right to the Pyre, with ye! Consigned to the flames, so mote it be!

WHIZZZZ!!!

Sorry about that big puff of caustic black smoke, there. I guess from hell it came, and to hell it returns…

NEXT?!?

SAMMAS’ EQUINOX – Pilgrimage / Boahjenásti (Signal Rex) (February 1)

Compilation of both demos from this Finnish black metal act.

Tracks like “hyperborean pilgrimage” bear that raw demo feel but anthemic vibe you only seem to get from top tier Finnish acts like Satanic Warmaster, but sadly they aren’t always as strong an act as that would imply.

Worse, they tend to rely on a strange atonal drone throughout the entirety of the second demo, which just grates.

“Favdna’s arrow” is the strongest track off the second demo, where “hyperborean” was that to the first…but you’ll likely steer fairly clear of the second demo, given that annoying keyboard/sampled choral drone throughout.

Toxik Attack – Assassinos em Série (Helldprod Records) (January 31)

Portuguese blackthrash cum speed metal, more or less in the vein of Colombia’s Witchtrap, though hardly as strong as those mighty scene leaders.

Frontman “Nico666” draws bits and bobs from legends like Schmier and Paul Baloff while keeping to a more or less clean and punk vocal tone, occasionally warbling his words in a mocking manner between the Destructionlike goosing shrieks, Baloff screams and occasional Vulcanoesque gargle shouts.

It’s kind of weird, actually, but endearing at the same time. You can tell these guys are seriously into just banging out this fast, angry retro music like their heroes from the glory days of the 80’s underground, and that counts for a lot.

On the guitar end, the riffs are thin and discrete, with the sort of odd catchiness thrash bands (and death metal bands after them) used to rely on as stock in trade (and which more modern thrash and death acts eschew or seem to miss the importance of entirely), drums are simplistic but appropriate and the whole feeling is just right in evoking that period…weird if hardly unlikeable vocals aside.

I liked these guys quite a bit, yeah.

Raise those fucking horns and buy ’em a well deserved beer if they play your town by any chance.

Seer – Vol. 6 (Artofact) (February 8)

Weird-ass Canadian act.

We’d reviewed their Vol. 1 & 2 a few years back, and found ourselves nonplussed by their ill fitting mix of stoner rock, doom, black metal vocals that turn into Life of Agony baritone howls and sheer atonality.

Here they seem a bit more comfortable in their own shoes, so to speak, delivering a more straightforward sludge/stonerish doom with those baritone howl vox more often than the more bizarre, atonal and noise elements that really set the ol’ nose a’crinkling last time around.

It’s still far from perfect, and we’re hardly signing on to run the Seer fanclub or work the merch tables here…but a larger percentage of this is listenable than freakish (don’t worry, fans of the latter…there’s plenty of it to be found scattered throughout the six lengthy tracks here).

As such…yeah, I’ll give ’em a pass for increased confidence, which more or less equates to improvement.

GOLD – Why Aren’t You Laughing? (Artoffact) (April 5)

Indie more than gothic rock, but clearly trying to work their way into
those outer circles. As Mira is to darkwave or Mazzy Star is to vintage
goth, so is Gold to…well, any form of goth you care to make a link to,
really.

Mira’s a pretty good example, as is post-Garlands Cocteau Twins or
post-early singles and EPs All About Eve. You know, as in female
fronted “goth” bands that were no longer goth after a brief flirtation with
same.

There’s enough about this to appeal to seasoned goths like yours
truly, but it’s not even on the level of Concrete Blonde circa
Bloodletting or post-Tinderbox Siouxsie…it’s more like The
Cranberries discovered Garlands, played it five or six times, then
decided “let’s go goth next album!”

Personally, I appreciate the effort…just expect more Chris Isaak/Mazzy
Star guitars and Dolores O’Riordan meets Suzanne Vega vocals than
any actual goth (or postpunk, or “positive punk”) act you care to name.

That all being said.

I liked this one for the odd hybrid and genre gap-strider it actually is,
yeah.

Sólveig Matthildur – Constantly In Love (Artoffact) (April 19)

Moody synthwave with vocals that fall somewhere between Mephisto
Walz’ Christianna and Gitane Demone, if ultimately much softer and
lighter in tone than either.

I guess if Berlin took the moody, oversexed tone that made Pleasure
Victim such a great album, removed all the sex and amped up the
depressive female vocals? You’d have something not far removed
from Solveig Matthildur.

Again, they’re pushing this as if it were goth (or at least
darkwave) per se, which it’s really not, or represents a newer, lighter
toned yet more depressive iteration thereof than what veterans of the
UK early to mid 80’s first wave and US based mid-90’s second wave
would ever recognize as such.

But as with Gold, and perhaps even moreso?

It warmed the cockles of this black heart to hear.

Good stuff.

The Foreign Resort – Outnumbered (Artoffact) (April 5)

Damn! What is this, the second coming of The Cure?

Seriously, a few seconds in to that opening bassline of
“outnumbered”, and I’m hearing vintage Robert Smith and company all
over this one…then the vocals and guitars kick in. Fuck, yeah!

Well, these guys are from Copenhagen (wonder if they’ll cover “do the
Hansa”?) and other tracks pull in more dancefloor-oriented synthpop
directions, despite the vocals (“in gloom”, for example).

But there are far too many Cure ties to this to ever fall short of
shockingly familiar (and surprisingly good!), and often of several
periods (“she is lost” could be seen as half Three Imaginary Boys and
half Disintegration, “send your heart to the riot” falls somewhere
between Head on the Door and Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me and where
exactly would you place “hot summers”? circa Wild Mood Swings?)

It’s been too many years since Bloodflowers…and what little Smith
released since hasn’t exactly set the fanbase on fire. Why not indulge
in this semi-tribute band in their absence?

Again…really liked this one!

Toby Knapp – Blizzard Archer (Moribund Rockers!) (February 8)

Waxen’s Toby Knapp puts on his Yngwie and drops the equivalent of a Shrapnel shred record, all instrumental guitar and band work.

The vibe is very much akin to Yngwie meets Chastain with a bit of Project M.A.R.S. thrown in for good measure. Moments come off practically Iron Maidenesque (“all hands planted”) in their dual guitar harmonies, and the entire affair is both firmly planted in traditional melodic/power metal roots and filled with shredding.

The important thing to take away here is that while Knapp is working a more aggressive, grounded take on the Yngwie school of playing, the album never suffers from what shredheads are well familiar with – the awkward song structures for the sake of incorporating some untoward, ill fitting experimental phrase or lick, the sense of boredom that creeps in over the course of a given album sans vocals.

A few managed to escape this (Vinnie Moore on Time Odyssey, perhaps Jason Becker on Perpetual Burn or even Joey Tafolla on Out of the Sun), but most of the ones we remember and revisit on a regular basis were full band setups: Racer X, Steeler and Alcatrazz, Phantom Blue, Project M.A.R.S., Eat ‘Em and Smile era David Lee Roth…and Yngwie’s first three solo albums, the better part of which were full band with vocals.

The solo instrumental albums? Some amazing players, occasional killer tracks…but they tend to gather dust (seriously…when’s the last time you ran to give Joe Satriani or Steve Vai a spin? It’s been multiples of decades for yours truly…)

But Knapp grounds himself in the right influences, putting his best foot forward by emphasizing melody, song structure and enough modulation, discrete phrasing and implied key change to retain listener attention…and then tagging on the flash leads, rather than building some half-assed tinkertoy structure to support whatever new lead trick he cares to throw down at the moment. Selah.

The only tragedy is that it’s taken this long to dig through the backlog sufficient to finally get to covering this album…because like Tafolla or Becker,* Knapp actually bothered to craft an album full of hummable ditties amidst all the driving metal aggression, well polished productionwise and covered with some nice leads to boot.

* sorry, not Moore. Time Odyssey remains something of the inspirational pinnacle for these ears, little comes close.

If you’re into good playing, Malmsteen, Shrapnel or any of the bands and players aforementioned (and a few not, like Marty Friedman), you’d be a goddamned fool to pass this one up, no bones about it.

Throw me a pick, willya? Killer stuff, it’s actually inspirational if you’re a player with even a modicum of taste.

Oltretomba – THE HORROR – Figure del Terrore (Moribund Records) (April 5)

Raw Italian underground style black/death act. What saves ’em from a quick consignment to the flames is the guitar production, which is thin and more upfront than the usual over-reverbed growl vox, and the riffs which tend to lean more first wave black metal than not.

Still not very exciting, but I can see fans of the rawer, more black metal-bordering end of what passes for death metal post-1994 considering this one of their own almost as much as I’m hearing a middling quality early Italian black metal in this.

Next?

Abduction (UK) – All Pain As Penance (Inferna Profundus Records) (March 29)

One man bedroom black metal act out of the UK.

There’s enough uniformity of tempo and droning riff to classify this as “hypnotic” at points, but this same quality also leaves it a bit yawn inducing: not crisply produced or aggressive enough to be Norsecore, not introspective and trancelike enough to work in the more Burzumesque/DSBM/Cascadian school, but some droning variant of post-millenial Norwegian or even a strange offshoot of Swedish black/death.

It’s not terrible, but on the flipside of the same coin…nothing to write home about here, either.

Next?

MEPHORASH – Shem Ha Mephorash (Shadow Records) (April 18)

Whoops, time to get your ooga booga bullshit filters out, it’s time for some Swedish “occult black metal”.

I wannabe Watain…I wannabe Watain…

zzzzzz

(starts awake, foot jerks out by reflex)

whoops! Did I just kick something? Oh, it was just that Mephorash CD. Looks like it got kicked over to the Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards…

oh, well. No loss.

…next?

WOLFSBLOOD – Vomit & Lice (Troglodyte Records (Record Heaven) (March 8)

Driving, punchy femme-fronted, fat guitar sound-driven Motorhead/Venom/early Bathory derived “D-beat” blackthrash out of Sweden.

Wasn’t a big fan of the one note gargle-shout vocal approach, and it does feel a bit samey from track to track…probably would have served better as an EP than a full length therefore.

But nothing wrong with this style and sound overall, and it certainly makes good driving music.

If you dig this general sound, you should be comfortable here, no question.

AIHOS – Hävityksen Maa (Helter Skelter) (March 29)

Typical Finnish act, all melodic line driven, tremelo riffed, throat ripping snarl vox fronted, anthemic feeling black metal.

We’d covered their Ikuisuuden Suojaan and gave ’em a raise of the horns…and here’s another slab of proof as to why.

You’ve heard this thing a million times before from bands like Horna, Azazel, Satanic Warmaster, etc. etc…but when the sound is this moving, the end result this hypnotically dark and bombastically listenable amidst and despite all the rawness on the vocal end?

Who the hell’s complaining?

FUNEREAL PRESENCE – Achatius (:AJNA:) (February 15)

We covered The Archer Takes Aim back in 2014, and here’s another platter of quirky, vaguely retro minded one man black metal hailing from right here locally. Who the hell knew?

This time around, he brings in a lot of Possessed-style bell sampled keyboards for a more gothic feel, and tags in a lot of clean spoken vocals, declaimed as if by some sinister preacher at a funeral service – both nice touches.

It’s still as strange as shit…but that’s what made the first wave of black metal work in the first place…and this fella’s major saving grace.

New visions in a scene that’s seen much better days? Perhaps.

Niezgal – Stogn z Niebyccia (Handful of Hate) (December 30)

Belarus act whose frontman/guitarist killed himself a few years back. Apparently he left demos of new material behind, so the guitars here are his, with the band posthumously finishing the songs by adding in the drums and vocals.

It’s probably a bit telling that the final track is in fact entitled “suicide” (or “suicyd” if you prefer the original language), but otherwise, you’d be hard pressed to distinguish this from a million other grim toned black/death albums in a vaguely Norwegian style.

There is a slight anthemic feel to the midsection of first track “uzychodzic…”, around the 4 minute mark…but the stronger moments never last, and a lot of this is devoted to a darker, more atonal drone throughout.

Well, it’s the last recording you’re likely to hear from this band, and it’s always interesting in a morbid way to see just what people leave behind…but in this case, it doesn’t seem that special or worthy of attention, unless you were already a fan of the band.

Inculter – Fatal Visions (Edged Circle Productions) (April 12)

We covered these Norwegian’s Sepulturaesque Persisting Devotion a few years back and absolutely loved their throwback Brazilian blackthrash feel.

No real change here, except perhaps that you’ll find even more old school style memorable riffs and vintage Max Cavalera/Francis M. Howard type vocals than the last time around.

Due respect!

Teleport – The Expansion (Edged Circle Productions) (April 5)

Slovenian underground black/death act, with all the sloppiness, atonality and cavernous reverb that implies.

Geez, I notice quite a few of these popping up this month…is this shit making a comeback bid, or something?

oy.

I don’t have to tell you how to dispense with this one. The flames are burning hot enough to singe the hairs off your neck as it is, not like you can miss that monster of a Pyre this month!

…next?

PUTREFIED CORPSE – Left to Rot (Xtreem Music) (March 19)

Even the early Obituary cover is rendered almost unrecognizable beneath the oddly toned guitars and those ridiculous multi-tracked belch/snarl/bottom of the belly and/or pitch shifted vocals…and then you get the pig noises and grindcore business (“bloodbath” for one)…

And mind, this is supposed to be Dutch death metal “the old school way”! According to whom?

If like yours truly, you were actually there back in the day, I dare ya to corroborate that blatant falsehood…

Yeah, let’s forget this one ever happened. Next?

ONIROPHAGUS – Endarkenment (Xtreem Music) (February 19)

Bizarre Spanish take on doom/death, with a decided emphasis on black/death over any measure of doom.

Tracks do bear moments that slow down to a more doomy pace, but the closest to any degree of “a doomy track” is “book of the half men”, which at least manages to keep things sluggish until the solo section, then return to a snail’s pace thereafter.

The other three tracks here err on the side of black metal (or more properly, black/death) speed and tremelo drive, with some minor doom elements scattered throughout for balance. So does that make Onirophagus “doom” (or even “doom/death”)?

Not in our estimation.

They earn themselves a big shrug of the shoulders in response.
Next?

MORTAL SCEPTER – Where Light Suffocates (Xtreem Music) (January 22)

First of two Mortal Scepter offerings this month, this one features the French death metallers dropping an odd yet certainly retro minded full length that evokes the quirky “progressive” vibe of Agressor loud and clear (“the scepter reigns”, “a ray of despair”, “swallow your tongue”)…

…but with some of the more likeably pointed, thrashy aggression of (very) early Loudblast and Massacra to tracks like “where light suffocates”, “perish with the flesh” and “murder the dawn”. Guess which tracks work, and which don’t.

Sorry, Alex…but Agressor was the one letdown of the classic French death metal scene (which also included the likeable Mercyless, not name checked earlier). Symposium of Nonsense…

Bottom line, where Mortal Scepter keeps things simple and thrashy ala most of their countryman forbears, this is pretty killer.

It’s when they try to stretch that, much like Agressor, they start to fall a bit flat and short of the mark.

Pretty damn good, overall – well worth your time.

  

AD PATRES – “Symbiosick” (XENOKORP) (November 23)

Another French death metal act this month, these gents lean more towards the punchy, in your face sound of Idolatry-era Devastation, Evildead and Slaughter in the Vatican-era Exhorder (if not Demolition Hammer and Malevolent Creation!) than the more domestically minded Mortal Scepter or the Teutonic thrash orientation of Deathroned…and you’ll get zero complaints from this quarter.

Yeah, there’s a feel of two-beat back and forth between guitars and drums that leaves the listener feeling a bit like a ping pong ball between the walls of speedy yet crushing guitar on one end and the pummelling drums on the other…but this is exactly what worked so well about the aforementioned (and it’s not much of a stretch to try to connect something like “symbiosick” to vintage Suffocation, either…though this is hardly “brutal death metal” we’re talking here.)

Surprisingly good and with an odd whiff of retro for the type.

DEFECAL OF GERBE – Mothershit (XENOKORP) (January 18)

Well…we covered these scat obsessed Greek grindcore comedy clowns’ Discolocauste: the Full Shit So Far last September, and…well, seriously, did you expect anything to change with guys working something so pointedly juvenile?

Still scat obsessive and anal explosive, still with the pig noises and other messy sounding vocal processing, still with the simplistic riffing and drumming (though the production is stronger, so both sound better than last time around on a very discrete “comparing instrument tone” level), still with the ridiculous lyrics.

Though I have to give them credit for “abbath loves Friskies”, that did certainly elicit a smirk.

ATARAXIE – Résignés (XENOKORP, DEADLIGHT, WEIRD TRUTH) (March 8)

Aw, yeah…now here’s some doom/death worth paying attention to.

Slower than Autopsy but faster than Winter and far rawer than Ahab, the only time things turn a bit too conventional (as in “underground black/death”) is on the eminently skippable “coronation of the leeches”.

The other three tracks? Well, you could argue that “resignes” goes a bit too far towards the experimental, even atonal end of the more funereally inclined doom/death spectrum…but nah, they’re all pretty dead on.

One bad apple don’t spoil the whole bunch, girl.

DEATH AGONY – Desiderata (a Devastating Revelation) (March 1)

hmm. Well, it’s death metal of the modern variety, overly raw guitar tones, messy sounding, filled with blastbeats and noise all over the place, grindcore style multiple-voice vox that get damn close to the pig noise thing with the sub-Grave ones…you get the idea that this one isn’t going to work in any respect.

But there’s a plus here, a sort of deliberate, not quite doomy but certainly more akin to classic death metal than not underpinning that keeps popping up betwixt and between all the blastbeaty nonsense and questionably produced business that keeps even a single track from being consistently listenable through and through.

It’s not enough to make this work, no. But it’s something to grasp onto amidst all this howling chaos of void the band offers otherwise.

Gjendød – Krigsdøger (Hellthrasher Productions) (March 9)

We’ve covered these Norwegian black metallers twice before, for their self titled demo and debut full length Nedstigning and found them…well, it was kind of split, but to make a long story short, the demo showed promise which the album more than fulfilled. Fair enough, right?

So here they are with the followup, and it’s more moody, strangely anthemic, even movingly melodic black metal that falls somewhere between the Finnish and Norwegian schools thereof.

Some moments lean a bit Norsecore (“krigsdoger”), others pull recognizable Burzum riffs and stylistic flourishes (“livet ditt”), but if anything, these guys seem to have toned down some of the more blatantly aggressive feel they displayed last time around and upped the more expansive, atmospheric side.

That said, I’m not sure one album actually represents a clear “improvement” over the other…more like different aspects of the same band. The only thing I’ll give is that the production sounded much cleaner and crisper last time around, something very much missed in this softer, noisier followup.

Still well worth your time, up to you whether Nedstigning or Krigsdoger is the superior of the two.

Both certainly work well, albeit for different reasons.

Lumnos – The Heliosphere Singularity (Flowing Downward)

We covered this Brazilian one man bedroom black metal band for their
Ancient Shadows of Saturn last year, and this one isn’t far removed from that almost Tangerine Dreamlike space rock/ambient meets black metal affair…except perhaps with more annoying hissy over the phone style vox.

They’re not everywhere, thankfully…and for the long instrumental stretches, this one works as well as last time around – ditto on the clean chanting of “a hell of a thousand suns.”

Not for everyone, but if that sounds good to you, it’ll probably sound all the sweeter pounding through your headphones.

Súl Ad Astral – Oasis (Flowing Downward)

Ponderous “blackgaze” act marred somewhat by questionable vox.

Apparently this was kicked off in New Zealand by half the band…i.e.
the important instrumental end. Enter someone Stateside, who
dropped sad lyrics (OK, they fit well enough…) and unfortunately, also
those same cheesy croaking snarl vox that nearly every act circling the
black metal drain these days seems to want to apprehend for their
very own.

Because, you know, if a style sucks, we should copy and paste ad
nauseaum, right?

Vocals aside, nothing awful about this one.

Mortal Scepter / Deathroned (Dying Victims Productions) (December
23)

Here Mortal Scepter (whose Where Light Suffocates is also reviewed this month) drop a pair of sloppier sounding, far less produced rehearsal-style castoffs, plus a Leprosy-era Death cover. Typical EP material, likeable enough but underproduced and inessential unless you’re a diehard fan or completist.

Deathroned, by contrast, delivers more of a pointedly Teutonic feeling blackthrash than their splitmates more typically vintage French deathtrash. As such, much as we loved Mortal Scepter on their recent album (see the aforementioned review hereinabove), these guys are even more up our alley – damn good stuff.

Nothing here is less than retro or less than listenable…but Deathroned and their even nastier take on Violent Force’s “sign of evil” take the win easily.

NOCTAMBULIST – Atmospheres Of Desolation (Blood Harvest) (January 21)

Weird Colorado based underground black/death act with techie
aspirations.

They really emphasize the atonal (if you can get through all the random
ringing open tones of “habitual falsehood”, I positively dare ya to sit
through “abnegation” without feeling like you just stuck your head in a
cheese shredder…or a blender set on high, for that matter!)

Yeah, there’s some high speed double bass drumming amidst all the
blastbeats…but that’s about all you can say for this noise factory.

ooh, over the shoulder and he scores!

Right into the Pile of Dead Bards, eternally fed flaming pyre that bands
like this make of it…

ECTOVOID – Inner Death 7″EP/Tape (Blood Harvest) (January 18)

We’d previously covered these Alabama death metallers’ Dark Abstraction and noted their somewhat Immolationesque vocals (and to a lesser extent, riffing), and that’s still discernible beneath all this underground black/death schmutters…but far more on the part of the vocals, which could stand a lot less cavernous reverb.

It’d be nice if the riffs still managed to come off half so Bob Vigna-esque as the vocals say Ross Dolan, but sorry…just not hearing it this time around.

If you liked what they had to offer last time, give it a listen and see if you feel differently.

Advertisements