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Well, believe it or not, we’re still playing catchup with a number of labels and releases, all these months on…there’s just too much stuff coming in for one man to handle, much less one with an active podcast to research, record and run, other interests and a life to lead.  The good news?  We’re getting closer and closer every time.

This one was intended as the monthly Roundup cycle, but after getting through a few of the majors and usuals, there was a concerted effort to put a few patiently waiting sources’ materials to rest.  And with any artist, there’s a point where you know that’s enough – you’ve worked this material out sufficiently to put a pin in it.

So yeah, a few labels won’t see their most current and/or soon upcoming materials represented herein.  Next time around, no worries.

A few other folks, you’re welcome, and apologies for all the backlog the dawning of 2019 managed to cause…

Avaunt!

Protector – Summon The Hordes (High Roller Records) (April 26)

Vintage German (black)thrash act throws another belated hat in the ring. We’d covered their 2013 Reanimated Homonculus and this one shows a band very much stripping their gears, grinding away in the same rut after so many years.

To be sure, it’s a long way from the likes of Urm the Mad or Golem…but its your call whether it’s to the band’s credit or detriment that they’re still delivering very similar product 3 decades or more down the road.

For my money, Protector is the same as they ever were: a second tier German (black)thrash act with a propensity towards strong, violent sounding riffs…but held back by an overly snarly-rasp vocal approach and a tendency to keep underlying rhythms so simple as to leave the likes of Darkthrone sounding progressive by comparison.

Depends on your mood, really…but the riffs are definitely pretty sweet.

Onslaught – A Perfect Day To Die (New Song) (AFM Records) (March 8)

We had Nige Rockett on the podcast way back in 2013, when the whole retro/comeback thing was still a fairly recent phenomenon.

While they’d changed quite a bit from the days of Power From Hell and The Force, it was still pretty cool to see Rockett and Force-era frontman Sy Keeler back together and delivering some pummeling, if decidedly modernistic (read: a tad generic, but well produced and aggressive) thrash.

Well, it’s been enough years since to leave yours truly with a decidedly changed opinion on the great Steve Grimmett’s work with the band than that expressed during the interview (In Search of Sanity, like his earlier work with both Chateaux and Medusa, is actually a decided improvement on his more famed Grim Reaper work…and I never stopped liking those guys’ trio of classic albums, mind!)…

…and perhaps, to come back around to appreciating what the more “modern day” Onslaught can bring to the table.

Make no mistake, this lone track would never be confused for a long lost entry from the heyday of UK thrash…well, maybe Acid Reign, but they weren’t exactly a high water mark!

But as compared to, say, very early 90’s Metallica, Megadeth or Testament, after each of those bands (and the thrash genre per se, it must be said) had already jumped the shark, but still hadn’t exactly threw the whole machine into high gear and gunned it out of the realm of casual listenability yet? This one definitely fits right in.

If you’re still the sort who gets off on Megadeth circa the Bill and Ted soundtrack, Justice-era Metallica and whatever the hell Testament was doing post-The Legacy, Onslaught just dropped a big slab of 1991 on your ass.

Steel Prophet – The God Machine (Rock Of Angels Records) (April 26)

Damn, wasn’t expecting to see a new release from a classic USPM/prog act!

I mean, seriously…I’ve been known to run their Genesis (essentially the Inner Ascendance demo with bonus tracks) several times in a row, with the subsequent Goddess Principle getting its share of airings. You mean they’re still kicking around?

Well, here’s what’s interesting. Original guitar team of Jon Paget and Steve Kachinsky Blakmoor are back together again (the loss of Paget may be why Goddess Principle didn’t quite live up to Genesis/Inner Ascendance’s career high). The back end is still present and accounted for, with both Vince (Du Juan) Dennis and John Tarascio holding up the bass and drums respectively. And hey, the lyrics are still as thoughtfully proggy as ever.

But…where’s the dramatically inclined, Crimson Glory meets Watchtower helium vocals of Rick Mythiasin?

Word appears to be more or less mum from the Prophet camp, though I understand he’s headed off to potentially join forces with yet another USPM act from back in the day, Mystic-Force (and just when is someone going to reissue their career pinnacle Shipwrecked with the Wicked/Take Command EP, anyway?) So…maybe good news on that front…but at the expense of another, perhaps more important act in the genre.

So, how’s the new guy, you ask. Well…it’s a change, to be sure.  Thankfully, it’s not necessarily a bad one, decided shift in tone though it may be.

He’s got a bit of Dickinsonian bombast when he keeps things more to the bottom of his range (“crucify”), but it’s a bit too raspy and in your face (promo materials refer to it as “bluesy”, and there’s some truth to that) on tracks like the title track, and he’s practically Frontiers AOR on midtempo near-ballads like “dark mask (between love and hate)” or the measured chug of “damnation calling”.

It’s a power metal vocal, to be sure…but more Joe Comeau than Andy Michaud. Yeah, I already hear the poseurs saying “yeah, but that’s good, right?” In Liege Lord terms, with Comeau’s snoozeworthy sub-Maiden swipes?  Please.

That said…is this R.D. Liapakis a real step down from Rick Mythiasin*?

* keeping in mind the last time I heard these guys…which was about a month or two back, actually…was in relation to material they recorded in ’89 and ’95, respectively. No idea how time may or may not have altered the man’s voice or approach since.

And I’m going to tell you in all objectivity: no. The guy’s quite competent, though his style seems far more suited to 80’s retro hard rock/AOR than progressive tinged USPM.

Even so…coming off a Randy Rampage/Tony Harnell meets Midnight/Geoff Tate approach? This doesn’t just slip into gear smoothly, without some serious jerks, knocks and pings.

All things considered, not a bad replacement…but brings a definite change to the band, and not just on the microphone. At points you’ll wonder if you didn’t stumble into a heavier AOR album or something…

RPWL – Tales From Outer Space (Gentle Art of Music) (March 22)

We covered these super-mellow British style progsters (from Germany, no less!) for their A New Dawn a few years back, and heard very much the same thing we’re hearing here on this latest album: the mellowest, airiest, semi-psychedelicized end of Yes, Pink Floyd, even ELP without the keyboard bombast and emphasizing the softer Greg Lake material instead.

This is a concept album about aliens…okay, whatever, they dig their Whitley Strieber and Van Daniken. But there’s not a lot to find beneath the most surface elements and aspects of that (admittedly rather silly) postulate. Hell, Rush seemed more profound yelling about By-Tor and the Snow Dog or the big suicidal rebellion against the temples of Syrinx…

Bottom line, if you’re big on light stuff like Floyd and Yes, you may well think RPWL is the greatest thing since sliced cucumber sandwiches.

Me, this stuff is wayyyyyyy too mellow for my tastes.

From Sorrow To Serenity – Reclaim (Long Branch Records) (March 22)

Wow, someone called these guys “metalcore”? Seriously…a band with less in common with the likes of Killswitch Engage, early In This Moment or All That Remains cannot be imagined.

With weirdly mids-heavy throbbing bass (or more precisely, overly detuned guitar working in bass range!) quavering like the trembling lip of a paranoiac on uppers and some doofus shout-growling into his own chest (DOY-FOY-DOY-OYYYY! DOH-OH-HO-HO-NOOOOOO!), this felt so nu-metal/aggro as to demand a rap interlude or Jonathan Davis gibbering freakout.

Yeah, you know where this one’s headed.  They just keep stokin’ those flames, every month…

NEXT !?!

  

Disparager – Existential Dread (May 3)

er…

well, it’s definitely modern metal. There’s a sort of (post) black metal vibe to the whole thing, it’s got some dreampop bits (“promise”), touches of emo (all over the damn album, actually) and the usual annoying screamo business that mars everything from the aforementioned genres to that shit passing for “hardcore” these days.

The one thing that almost saves this band is their overarching melancholic introspective feel. It’s depressing as shit, but if you’ve heard even two metalcore or emo acts in your lifetime, you know exactly what to expect and where it’s coming from, all overdramatic teenage angst as if the world were about to end because your girlfriend dumped you or you had a falling out with the bass player.

Eventually, you’ll learn to laugh at that shit…but right now, just like all those zits on your face, it seems so IMPORTANT!!!! GAAAAHHHH!!!

Vox aside, it was certainly listenable and contemplative enough, and I’ll give them that in the plus column.

The Phantom Of Phobos – From a Dead Channel / The Uninvited (2CD reissue) (Concorde Music Company) (April 5)

We’d covered these listenable but somewhat snooze inducing Finns’ From a Dead Channel only a few months back, finding them…well, about as lackadaisical as a Snorlax, for all you Pokemon trainers out there.

Here you get a physical release, bolstered into a 2 CD set by adding a brand spanking new 3 track EP (The Uninvited) as a bonus.

Not much to add here beyond that – if you heard Dead Channel, you know exactly what to expect. Not like 3 months has altered their approach in any appreciable manner, and while EPs often “test the waters” with lower budgets, different studios and occasional musical experimentation, the production and feel here is much the same, as if these were more bonus tracks held back for one of those annoying “special editions” some bands love to do a few months after initial release.

At least here (as I understand it), this is the first physical CD issuance of this material, and you get the extra tracks as incentive, rather than double and triple milking the same damn cow (hello, Killswitch).

Next?

 

Kaleidobolt – Bitter (Svart Records) (May 31)

Geez, this is a fucked up album.

Seriously…at first, you hear a track like “hydra” and think yeah! Here’s another groove-heavy stoner rock act falling somewhere between vintage CoC and the drugged out psychedelia of Monstermagnet, with moments that get more dreamy and indie rock. Strong stuff, or could have been, were it more properly refined…

But then you step into the increasingly confused realm of tracks like “another toothpick”, which starts off with an aggressive rock riff ala Focus before shifting into weird keyboard dramatics, then turning somewhat Grand Funk in the vocal sections…but nothing ever gels.

Then “big sky land” pulls out that Silvertone thing ala Chris Isaak, only to flip to the Focus schtick, then mixing the two to the point of dissonance before switching back and forth between the two styles like children on a see saw. Who’s up this measure? Who cares?

The rest follows suit, until we get to “coyote”, which comes off like Budgie on crack, if you can picture such a thing…then it’s all over.

Parts work. Moments sound decent. None of this belongs together, and like orange juice poured into a glass of milk, don’t even think about it mixing.

(shakes head in disbelief)

…next?

 

War Curse – Eradication (Svart Records) (May 10)

Initial thoughts, somewhat influenced by promo materials, left me thinking Testament worship through and through, though moments evoke Justice-era Metallica (“asylum”) or Forbidden (“sands of fate”).

Strangely, they dig up the latter’s Glen Alvelais for the Metallica track, leaving him scratching his head and dropping a meandering solo that clearly shows just how lost he was at being tapped for something so outside his usual purview…

The band themselves are respectable retro-Bay Area thrashers, minus any noticeable solos (they’re there, just kind of…easily missed).

The biggest gotcha, if you want to consider it such, is that frontman Blaine Gordon works a closed throated shouty-rasp that’s an extremely generic approximation of the likes of Hetfield or Billy at their worst…or to put a finer point on it, the UK thrash scene.

Definitely, I can see him fronting the likes of Deathwish, Xentrix, Re-Animator or D.A.M. (hell, Acid Reign!) quite easily…but what’s that saying?

And you know what? With a track like “iron veil” playing as this is being written? That’s exactly who these guys sound like. Xentrix crossed with Re-Animator, with an arguable garnish of D.A.M.

Personally, I’ve come to appreciate several of those acts. But back in the day? Nobody cared about the UK thrash scene, even in the UK, apparently…so be forewarned.

Some good riffs, definitely recaptures that sound…but I’m pretty sure that’s not what they were aiming for, and when you boil it down to brass tacks, the end product comes off as “likeably generic”.

Didn’t mind this one bit, however it sounds.

Death Hawks – Psychic Harmony (Svart Records) (June 7)

We’ve covered these Finns a few times previously, for Sun Future Moon and the self titled and tended to appreciate their idiosyncratic approach.

This time around, they’re tapping into everything from 80’s R&B and “blue eyed soul” synthpop ala Level 42 crossed with Simply Red (“secret isle”) or even Spandau Ballet (“like lovers do”) and a more synth heavy Style Council (“whisper”).

The album tends to lean very much towards the softer end of the spectrum, to the point where it practically sounds 70’s (tell me “play for rewind” doesn’t bring 10cc and Todd Rundgren to mind)…but there’s enough pushing the borders of Loose Ends or Rene and Angela to be quite interesting, especially 3 and a half decades on from this particular sound.

A tad darker and harder, this would have gotten some truly effusive praise in these pages.

As it is? Pretty damn decent, interesting and worthy of note, both for the attempt itself and the degree to which it does successfully recapture a long lost sound, much missed in the intervening, rather bland decades since.

Tasteful Turmoil – The Phantom Fear (Inverse Records) (April 12)Finnish thrash act, but very much in the modern vein, with influences of black metal and a dreamy, aimless wandering feel in between eruptions of the expected chugging guitars and off time drumming (which at least keeps things old school enough to eschew the blastbeat).

It’s all pretty listenable, if certainly quite forgettable, not least for the overly abrasive Living Death meets Massacra croak vox (which lend more of a blackened feel to the proceedings than they might have otherwise).

meh. Didn’t hate it.

next?

Godhead Machinery – Aligned to the Grid (Digital/Vinyl/Cassette) (Inverse Records) (April 5)

wait…is this the same fucking frontman from Tasteful Turmoil?

Seriously, the only thing separating the two is that this guy affects more of an ‘O’ sound. Same croaking rasp bullshit, just with more of a fellate the mic thing going on…

Of course, these guys are more pointedly black metal, albeit wth a decided post-black vibe to tracks like “the existential strive” or the title track…and sadly, being a Swedish act nowadays, “black metal” indubitably translates to “black/death”.

um…it’s well produced?

(long pause)

(brightly: ) okay! Next?


De Lirium’s Order – Singularity (Inverse Records) (April 26)

Tech death with light blackened sensibilities (at least in all that deep throated sprechtgesang, if nothing else).

You know the drill. If you’re one of those folks with no music in you, who get off on rote atonal riffing and flashy if non-harmonic shredding cum wankery ala later Death, Gorguts and Atheist, you’re already slavering for a copy of this one.

Anyone who believes in the primary importance of the tonic, the tonal, the melodic and a sound that feels right to the ear, let’s just move along, shall we?

Hootenanny Freaks – Freakshow (Secret Entertainment) (March 26)

Well, it’s a Finnish act trying to work the old Hollywood post-GNR sound, ultimately falling somewhere in the glammier, more polished realm of Hericane Alice, Hungry-era XYZ or Slave to the Thrill-era Hurricane more than the more pointedly gritty and countrified blues-derived likes of, say, L.A. Guns or Junkyard.

There are a few oddball tracks like “two down” that come off more like an ersatz Elvenking or Trollfest track (though they were more probably shooting for Flogging Molly in intent), but they’re more the exception than the rule. Generally, think Hericane Alice with more balls and aggressive riffing, and you’ve got the picture.

I don’t know, it’s been a strange month ’round these parts, but even yours truly has noticed: while we admittedly haven’t hit much utter trash (yet…), nothing so far this month has really resonated.

Chalk it up to early summer doldrums in the industry, I guess.

Next?

Countless Goodbyes – Cycles (Inverse Records) (April 19)

New emo/metalcore act out of Finland. There’s enough of the expected underlying despair, melodic choruses and/or bridges and ringing open chords under delay, though the usual lead lines are limited to absent.

Also, while the screamo bits are thankfully kept in a respectable ratio to the clean sung ones, the guitars are tuned or recorded in such a way that the entire album sounds like it’s stuck on the same cardboard thin and flat mids-heavy tone, overly detuned and as unappealing as a nu metal or aggro album.

It’s exclusively down to tone and/or the recording setup, so I won’t hang ’em for it – most of what they’re doing here musically works and fits well with the expected tropes of the genre. But it is noticeable, and annoying. If you’re going to run track after track hitting that same pedal tone throughout, at least fatten it up (and tune it up a few whole tones)!

In the end, it’s a debut album, so we can say they did respectably well.

Just so long as they’re aware this also means they have some definite room to improve next time around.

Progeny of Sun – S/T EP (Inverse Records) (March 22)

They label themselves as a Finnish melodeath act, and they certainly are melodically inclined…but to the point where they tend to come off more like a gothic doom/death concern more than the sort of thing most associate with melodeath (particularly if you take it back to the genre’s roots in Heartwork-era Carcass and Slaughter of the Soul-era At the Gates!)

This is more akin to Paradise Lost exploring more of an (occasionally) aggressive death metal bent than any melodeath you’re likely to encounter otherwise.

If that sounds appealing to you, jump right in.

 

Terrific Verdict – Wheel Of Fortune (Inverse Records) (March 29)

Right from the first few bars of “the mystery of phantom”, you can tell this is a real thrash act for a change.

None of that compromised modern bullshit, all black metal and who cares what else bleeding in to fuck the works into unrecognizability…just crunchy, punishing, mosh pit inducing riffs, in and out inside of a minute and a half. That’s the way you do it, kids.

“Too late to love or hate” heads in more of a Kreator direction, which is where things stay for “sleep paralysis” and “lazy jack”, while tracks like “wheel of fortune”, “mr. cleaner” or even “carolina reaper” seem to jump the border into vintage Teutonic “speed” territory ala Rage or Warrant. Any way you slice it, it’s all quite retro, and authentic feeling at that.

It’s no surprise that this is actually an unheralded Finnish thrash act from back in the heyday of same, circa ’87-91.

Yeah, this one won’t exactly shake the world loose of its moorings or anything…but all you young’un thrashers would do well to pay close attention.

Because this is how you do it, kids.

Concrete Funeral – Ultimum Judicium (May 31)

hmm…

well, this Calgary act lays claim to working death/thrash. So here I am, thinking anything from Demolition Hammer to Malevolent Creation, from Fatal to Ripping Corpse or Solstice, right?

Well…not really. I mean, it’s conceivable you could make a link between these guys and Morbid Saint, but it’s somewhat spurious…the vox are too snarly-blackened, and while the riffs do tend to say thrash…something’s off.

When you hear the guy belching out “twinkle twinkle little star” on “mattress stains”, you know this one’s wayyyyy off template.

Nah. I don’t know what they’re on about…but nah.

Give ‘er a toss, willya? Just watch out for flying embers.

Tryglav – Night of Whispering Souls (Extreme Metal Music / Rockshots Records) (May 31)

Croatia gives us this one man bedroom black metal act, and it’s pretty standard stuff…for the most part.

But then you get an oddball track like “deadline” or “beyond the limit”, which slow things down and eschew all the expected tropes of genre, and suddenly things get interesting.

Now, you could say that there are moments of dark melodicism even in the same ol’ same ol’ material here (like “evil dead”, “creature of the night” or “werewolf”), but there’s simply no comparison to the dark dynamicism of the more standard tempo, atypical vibe of those two earlier mentioned tracks…

If we were covering a single containing nothing but “deadline” and “beyond the limit”, this would get 5 stars.

As it is…interesting and has a lot of potential, somewhat squandered by the desire to fit in with a genre that’s clearly seen its best days and continues to flounder its way through a surprisingly long decline and fall.

The Flaying – Angry, Undead (PRC Music) (March 22)

I dunno, maybe it’s because they’re Quebecois?

Because I can’t put on “angry, undead” without hearing (and gleefully singing along with) “every bull dyke! every bull DYYYYYYYKE!” I mean, I know French Canadians tend to be sort of incomprehensible even to native French speakers, but I have no clue why they’re singing about a trip to the local femme-oriented gay bar…go figure.

They’ve also got that Unexpect thing, where the bass gives sudden weird sweep arpeggio flourishes and starts going weird places beneath the more typical “extreme metal” tremelo guitars…you could say Suffocation, too, but it seems more of a Quebecois tendency than not (hello, Gorguts…) Hell, if we’re going to say “avant garde weirdness”, there’s no better example than Voivod…

So in the end…yeah, it’s really about how much you appreciate the music and culture of the region. And personally? I find this end of it interesting but too weird for my own tastes.

But dammit, I dare you not to start bouncing around giddily, growling along with The Flaying on “every bull dyke!”

Or whatever they named it. Good laughs, thanks for that much, mes amis.

PROTOSEQUENCE – “A Blunt Description of Something Obscene”

Edmonton, Ontario, home of the tar sands, brings something appropriately filled with snarls and belches…and a few pig squeals just for laughs.

Yeah, this is Cryptopsy/later Gorguts worship, and again playing into that same Unexpect template we were talking with The Flaying, but far more obviously and openly so. This is “tech/prog” death through and through, no detours, no concessions to anything but…well, grindcore on the vocal end.

So…why exactly do we get the sub-Carcass blackened snarls against death belches that give way to the more modern grindcore affectation of Deliverance-style pig squeals? Is this a new thing for tech death? Will Atheist suddenly start making goofy faces, bendin’ over and “squeal(in’) like a pig, boy!”?

Whatever. You know where this one goes.

WHIZZZ!!!

Whoa, hope everyone ducked! Plastic shrapnel all over the damn place, that one just exploded on contact with the flames…

…next?

Slomatics – Canyons (Black Bow Records) (June 14)

Did someone mention Conan? Because the last time we encountered these Irishmen, it was on a split with that very band.

Of course, we’d also covered them a mere month prior, for their split with Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, which while not showing the band in as fine a fettle as their Conan split, still got some praise for their meritorious efforts therein.

In short, we kinda like these guys, buy ’em a pint, willya?

Sure, the album could have done without the more aimless major key meanderings of “seven echoes”, “arms of the sun” and the annoying “mind fortresses on theia” (each an instant skipper, don’t even waste your time).

But the remaining five tracks are all strong, moody stoner doom in the Dopethrone-era Electric Wizard mold, instantly recognizable and still affecting in what differences of influence and stylistic flourish the band bring to this admittedly overused template, and as such, well worth your time if you dig the genre.

So yeah, I’d say this one’s pretty good on the whole.

Just make sure you program your playlist, you don’t want to get stuck with one of those three stinkers fucking up your buzz.

Blind Monarch – What Is Imposed Must Be Endured (Black Bow Records) (April 5)

Another UK doom act, this time more of a sludgy doom/death affair.  No surprise the nation that so embraced Autopsy seems to be such a hotbed for doom in all its permutations…

These guys seem to be pulling more from the Sorrow/Winter side of the equation, with tracks running anywhere from 10 to 18 minutes apiece, all lumbering, crunchy distorted guitars and deliberate, heavy footed drumming. Musically, given the simplistic nature and limitations of the genre, these guys are dead on.

The only problem? You guessed it…the vocals don’t fit.

And I mean, seriously. We’re talking doom/death, here, not symphonic power metal. Nobody’s asking you to bellow out an aria with a multi-octave range…all you have to do is belch and growl like a proper death metal frontman.

So why is this guy gargle-snarling like a particularly snotty black metaller throughout? You know they have over the counter remedies for allergies, right?

Yeah. Change his approach or just straight up can the vocalist, and you guys have something damn good on your hands.

Witchfinder – Hazy Rites (Black Bow Records) (April 1)

Trippy, almost psychedelic shoegaze act with a straight up sludge/stoner doom guitarist.

Seriously, it’s all clean, reverb-suffused vocals and hypnotically swirling effects over fat toned, overdistorted guitars that sound lifted from Carnival Bizarre-era Cathedral or earlier Electric Wizard. It’s doom enough for doomsters, stoner enough for tokers and yet may appeal to a crossover indie audience as well…

After a few minutes of surprise, the ears acclimate themselves to what would on paper sound like a weird fit of vocals to guitars, and it starts to sound entirely natural, as if everyone was doing it just like these Frenchmen all along.

I dug it, no question.

Avgrund – “…And Triumph For the Short-Lived” (May 10)

Swedish melodeath act, one track, no waiting.

It’s pretty damn effective, with a very old school death metal feel on one hand, but with enough catchiness and memorability to say “melodic” on the flipside.

Worked quite well, looking forward to what a full length may bring.

Ian Blurton – Signals Through The Flame (Pajama Party) (June 7)

Apparently a longstanding Canadian indie musician and producer (he helmed the self titled from Blood Ceremony, and has gigged with Television alum Richard Lloyd and quirky folkster Buffy Sainte-Marie), this solo affair taps into the “occult rock” vibe of Blood Ceremony, Devils Blood and the like without actually “going there”, so to speak.

The album’s best tracks, “into dust” and “seven bells” clearly work that general sound, all moody, sinister sounding seventies rock in a way that few if any bands actually dared go at the time (well, Black Widow and early Coven aside, anyway)…and if those two were all we were covering here, he’d get a set of horns raised high for his efforts.

As it is, those two are more of an anomaly than the status quo, with “days will remain” coming off quite Thin Lizzy (not a bad thing to strive for, but fairly far removed from “occult rock”, that’s for damn sure!), with “nothing left to lose” very much akin to Badfinger. “ICQ” comes off rather 90’s rock, “kick out the lights” feels like a harder edged Todd Rundgren circa Utopia, and “night of the black goat” somewhere between Foo Fighters and Queens of the Stone Age.

Now, come on. Lizzy and Rundgren aside…seriously? 90’s rock?  That’s one hell of a drop from the heights being broached on those two tracks earlier mentioned…

It’s all quite well produced, as you might expect, and Blurton’s guitar skills (and vocal harmonies with himself) are dead on…just wish he were more inclined to keep things in the vein of “into dust” and “seven bells”, which show a far superior musical taste to that shown otherwise herein.

hell bent – Apocalyptic Lamentations (Horror Pain Gore Death/Armageddon Label/Atomic Action!/Metal Swarm) (June 14)

A screechy old housewife fronts this quirky thrash to blackthrash spectrum act out of Rhode Island.

One track after another, I keep expecting to look over my shoulder and see some old bat in curlers and a babushka, waving a straw broom over her head as she runs down the street to chase away the paperboy or mailman in her fuzzy slippers and apron/’housedress’…

…he’s “bent” alright, but it has nothing to do with hell!*

* appropriately enough, the guy’s named “badger”! Yep, some loony old housewife badgering accidental passerby and those forced to enter into her domain however briefly…

I’m sorry, it’s actually impossible to tune this virago and her howling harridan tones out enough to properly assess the speedy thrash riffing beneath.

For comedy purposes only. Put it on, watch the party clear out laughing…

…next?

Gates To The Morning – Return To Earth (July 19)

um…I don’t believe I’ve ever heard Art Blakey connected to the term “black metal” before…

(shakes head, raises eyebrows, sighs)

So apparently a Montclair State University (ah, it was just a College when my drummer went there back in the day…) jazz performance major named Sean Myers decided to do a post black metal album. Don’t ask me why.

Well, being a drummer, it certainly helps keep things more or less shy of the blastbeat, or at least he syncopates the shit out of ’em and works other kitwork into the equation when utilized. The drumming is pretty fucking stellar here, no question…and appropriately front and center in the mix, as it should be when it drives the music to this degree.

Blakey…nah, not hearing it. I did catch some Tony Williams flourishes in a few tracks, caught ya, there…so Lifetime may be a more appropriate marker for the drum end and its primacy to what’s going down here.

This stuff seems more instrumental than not, with clean vocals predominating when vox are present per se (which ain’t all that often). There’s an airiness of feel, despite the occasionally oppressive guitars, and a few snarly shout vox and blastbeat moments aside, it simply doesn’t feel all that black metal, period.

The guitar tone is fatter, the tremelo business more thrashlike, or better: metalcoresque (a subgenre whose tropes come into play on several tracks). There’s a further wheedly-whoo thing to the (often overly busily riffed) snaking guitar lines and solos that suggests the guy’s been listening to too much Dream Theater for his own damn good. It’s weird.

But it’s pretty well produced, and you can tell the musicians tend to be of a better caliber than usual, particularly for the genre…and those drums are impressive, no question.

Hey, Sean? You’re much better than your chosen genre.

Next time around, just go straight up Believe It-era Lifetime, and hang the rest of this bullshit. You’ve got this one.

Burial Party – Please, Electric Move Slow (July 12)

Sort of a noisy, emo-ish punk that pulls in equal elements of Flipper (noise, sloppiness of playing), Agnostic Front (rage, force, tempo) and emo (screamo vox, depressive, overly emotional feel).

It sounds very much like the sort of thing you hear if you step inside your local Hot Topic: sorta punk, sorta something else, but nothing you’re going to run to the bronies at the counter to ask “hey, what are you playing? That sounds great!” like you might have at a Tower or Kim’s Video back in the day.

It’s not bad…just nothing to get overly excited over.

And yeah, the vocals suck, what else is new?

(sighs at the state of the modern music scene)

…next?

Avandra – Descender (Blood Music) (April 26)

Puerto Rican prog metal. Sadly, the first thing that came to mind was how did they get the electric to record this?  Gotta love Trump…duck, paper towels incoming! (rolls eyes, shakes head in disgust)

Well, hopefully they’re finally starting to recover down there, and however he pulled this one off (promo materials even note how he “wrote this one alone in the dark”!), it’s a pretty solid affair.

The production tends to be surprisingly decent (moments come off a bit fuzzy/distorted, but others are quite crystalline…I’m wondering if this is a download issue rather than intrinsic to the album itself) and with the clean vocals, lush piano and keyboard bits and mellow guitars, this one’s sure to appeal to fans of more recent Fates Warning, John Arch or diehard Virgin Steele fans able to get through De Feis’ more recent outbursts of mental instability…er, albums.

Personally, I still find far more catchiness and power in albums like Darkness in a Different Light than what I’m catching here (which even approaches Dave Matthews on the more mellow moments of tracks like “derelict minds”)…but it’s unquestionably emotionally moving, well recorded stuff, not least due to the diminished circumstances in which it’s likely to have been recorded (assuming they did in fact cut this one on home turf, which seems likely).

Well worth a listen, particularly if you’re a fan of the bands and periods listed above.

I Am The Law – Dance of the Southern Witch (May 31)

Oy. Aggro out of Texas. Can you say Pantera? How about crossing that with the likes of Avenged Sevenfold?

BLURRGHH AAAGGGH ooooOOOOOWAAAAAAHHH!!!!

SWHISH!

gee, wonder where this is getting consigned to?

…oh, I already tossed it into the flames? Damn. Autonomic motor response faster than I could get the words out, I guess.

Must have been some seriously nasty shit, to elicit such reflexive revulsion…

…next?

Doombanomicon – S/T (Black Doomba Records) (May 17)

Tommy Stewart, late of Hallows Eve (and more recent work like Dyerwulf, Negative Wall and Bludy Gyres) pulls together a comp of bands on his label for ya. Just remember, he’s not selling a comp, he’s curating from his collection d’arte.

cough

…so anyway, all three of his modern day acts are present and accounted for, as are bands like Dead Register and the interesting Doomstress, plus a few more stoner-inclined acts like Order of the Owl (pretty good), DayGlo Mourning (decent) and Stoneman (not so good).

Effectively, unless you haven’t already heard Dead Register or Tommy’s bands (which as you might expect, stand out from most of the others here), allthis one has to offer are Doomstress and Order of the Owl, both of whom I’d love to hear more from.

The rest…I think we’ll just “curate” this to the bins out back, shall we?

Black Sites – Exile (Hoove Child) (April 19)

Hard to peg act out of Chicago.

While clearly tapping into a Sabbathesque stoner doom base, they further reach back to the likes of Billy Idol (“dream long dead”), bad 90’s rock (“prolonging”), Non-Fiction (“to the fire”) and the anthemic feel of later 80’s USPM (“feral child”), slipping back and forth between genres (or more accurately, bits and bobs cribbed from the various genres mentioned, and more besides) like a kid in a candy store.

“I want this…no, this…and this too. And this one over here.”

Overall, you can take this like a sort of Venomous Maximus crossed with CoC, but with a whole lot of extraneous business tacked on, not merely as garnish, but to enough of a degree to leave listeners scratching their heads throughout, wondering just what the hell these guys were trying to accomplish…

…and why, if they wanted to go for a more accomplished sound (USPM, a Mercyful Fatelike neo-prog, vintage 80’s rock), they chose the flat, mids-heavy guitar tone they did (which just screams 90’s throughout).

Yeah, not terrible, but I didn’t get it, and further didn’t really care for it.

Plastic – Drink Sensibly (May 24)

Speaking of 90’s, these guys really want to evoke the grunge sound, but can’t help from lapsing into a more modern screamo/”hardcore” thing vocally every now and again (only occasionally on “munchies”, a bit more on “spit”, and not at all on “lovesick”).

It’s reasonably punchy, but comes off pretty retro and played out…unless you were really waiting for a de-politicized male take on Bikini Kill, which this comes off most like.

Tides of Sulfur – Paralysis of Reason (Sludgelord Records/APF Records /Astral Noize Records) (March 29)

Welsh act who refer to themselves as “blackened sludge”, whatever that means. You mean like Goatlord? No way.

There are a few death metal riffs (“paralysis of reason” in the breakdown section, ditto on “pariah”), but the strongest elements at play here are those of grindcore. You know, the real deal, without the pig squeals…

I didn’t quite get the Maggie Thatcher sound byte on “paralysis of reason”, but hey. Any well deserved dig we can toss at that crowd, I’m all for it. Who knows, maybe it was Theresa May. Same shit, different day…

Too noisy, afflicted with occasional screamo vox and poorly produced for my tastes, but may well appeal to grindcore aficionados – at least there’s some actual riffing going on here.

The Glorious Rebellion – Scholars of War (Sludgelord Records) (March 29)

Speaking of screamo vox…

Yeah, it’s an overly pissed off take on Helmet or Tool, essentially…but without the quality either of those bands can bring to the table.

Or as they chant incessantly over squealing random feedback, “I am the fucking problem!”

Indeed.

WHIZZZ!!!! Right into the Pyre.

So much for that ‘fucking problem’…may all such turn so quickly to nothing but wisps of black smoke.

(sweetly)

…next?

Black Anvil – Miles (STB Records) (March 4)

Two covers, from two personal favorite bands (Mercyful Fate, The Devil’s Blood).

While the Fate track is typically marred by the attempt to replicate King’s helium squeal vocals (a problem that occured with noted Fate fanboys Portrait and In Solitude as well), the latter cover is interestingly done in that it proves simultaneously dead on and approaching the material from a xanax-lidded indie angle vocally.

The title track to this all too brief EP is pretty damn killer, a driving heavy rocker with fat guitars and hauntingly clean vocals that fits well with the Devil’s Blood cover…

…so what the fuck is with that terrible black metal track (“iron sharpens iron”, which deserves immediate consignment to the flames)?

So depends how you want to look at this. You either have 3 successes with one blatant failure, or it’s a split verdict simply on the virtue of the impossiblity of doing vox in helium falsetto without sounding utterly ridiculous. It’s dead on, musically and otherwise…but sounds pretty silly coming from anyone but the King.

I’m giving ’em the benefit of the doubt and calling it a 3/4 killer EP, too bad about that shitty black metal track.

False Gods – The Serpent and the Ladder (April 19)

New York act that pulls together a strangely noisy cross between blackened doom and melodic sludge, if you can picture such pairings (much less all thrown together!)

Opener “the ladder” works well enough at setting a mood, given its instrumental nature…”the serpent”, while working much the same sonic landscape as its mate, is marred by the usual screamo vox, processed to a subtle doubling at points.

Oy, can none of the younger crowd figure out just how ridiculous all this screaming sounds?

Next you’ll be trying to convince people that screaming and howling long, flat notes like an air raid siren is “great singing”…oh, wait.

(shakes head in disbelief and despair for the future of music)

…next?

Scabby Ghouls – S/T (Out-O-Tune Records) (March 15)

Femme-fronted horror punk act out of Nebraska (of all places). I like how they self describe as “Scooby Doo Punk”!

The sound is fine, with some of that punk meets rockabilly vibe you get with The Cramps, but there’s more of a dispirited vibe, possibly relating to frontwoman Denise Hazard’s almost sprechtgesang alto vox (which remind very much of a cross between the Bush Tetras and The Waitresses, if you remember those 80’s acts).

The guitars and drums follow suit, keeping things very much in the right ballpark while entirely missing the energy and highs you get with Lux and Ivy, much less Danzig-era Misfits or the late, lamented Vladimirs. If they were local, I’d certainly head out on a Tuesday night to catch the show…but again, it’s a bit too laid back for their own good.

Overall, I liked the underlying sense of humor about themselves and found their sound pretty decent…just don’t expect to be diving into a mosh pit over this one, it’s more aligned to what they retroactively dubbed “art punk” than any sort of high energy hardcore or driving horror-infused pop-punk ala The Killer Barbies.

Ancient Altar – Cosmic Purge/Foie Gras (Black Voodoo Records) (April 19)

L.A. based doom act. Mostly clean vox (though sadly, he does start screaming like a lunatic towards the end of both tracks on this single/EP), but otherwise it’s pretty standard stuff.

Didn’t set me on fire, but until the screaming starts, it’s decent enough.

Blind Scryer – S/T

Pretty mellow stoner rock act.

Vox are clean and very back of the throat (the guy sounds like he’s never heard of anything but an “O” sound in terms of vocals), riffs are simple and relentless, but production and mix are a bit weak: vox are way in front of guitars, which despite being pretty light sounding overdrive with heavy mids, still bury the drums.

Nothing wrong with it…just consider it fairly workaday, as in “hmm…looking for another stoner rock album to listen to, and sick of all the ones on my shelf/iPod. Anything else out there worth hearing?”

Yeah, this’ll fill the bill if you’re just looking to get a particular itch scratched.

Forever Autumn – Howls In the Forest at Dusk (March 29)

Frontwoman Autumn Ni Dubhghaill appears to be the Buffy Sainte-Marie of modern times.

Tapping only an acoustic guitar (and apparently using a cello for extra bottom end in place of a bass or second guitar), she offers quirkily vocalled, raspy takes on, say, Broken English-era Marianne Faithfull, but “augmented” by hilariously bizarre literal croaks and cracked-voice shrieks ala black metal (but as performed by some shopping cart-pushing bag lady).

Yeah, I warned ya. It’s pretty bizarre.

Well, the plus about all this is, this is some really dark neofolk, often entirely instrumental, and tapping into not only her own Celtic background, but from a more Eastern European traditional folk base.

It all comes off quite eerie and, to crib from the black metal playbook, “ancient” feeling, which her frankly freakish vocal indulgences actually lend a strange power to, as if hearing Faithfull’s weary, lifestyle-ravaged vocals married to not only the near atonality of Sainte-Marie’s own weird take on folk, but the sheer insanity of your average homeless woman. “Git away from my cart, you fucker! Them empty cans and plastic bags are real treasures, you can’t touch ’em!”

Yeah, in the end, this is like Myrkur, the 65 year old, drug ravaged version…or Faithfull crossed with Nico, but having totally flipped their/her lid along the way. Senile dementia, perhaps? Who knows.

Now, I know nothing about the lady, much less her actual background, age, or what have you…but that’s exactly what this comes off like. And the end result is pretty fucking freaky.

Which you know what? Makes it kinda cool.

Well worth checking out, if you’re into the gothic, the dark, the atmospheric, outsider art, the outre…and the utterly bizarre, all of which this certainly is.

I liked it.

TEL – Lowlife (Aural Music) (March 29)

Another sludgy doom act, this time out of Richmond, Virginia.

When the vocals are clean, this feels much akin to Tool…then more death metallish vox kick in and the tempo picks up for a few bars, and it’s pushing the borders of doom/death. Occasionally, they go full on multitracked psychedelic on the solo section.

I don’t know. I think I preferred the doom/death sections to the rest, but it’s all within the right ballpark.

Even so, wasn’t overly enthused about it…it’s acceptably workaday.

Prison – Come, Annihilation (March 29)

holy shit, an actual hardcore punk band! No screamo bullshit, no noise affectations…just straight up old school hardcore. And it’s out of the
old grunge stronghold of Seattle, yet!

Clean chant/spoken vox, sarcastic lyrics, even the crap production speak to their more “true” take on the genre, sadly putting them in the minority of late…

It’s pretty downbeat and dark, if you don’t realize they’re taking the piss out of everyone, much like The Cure’s “I want to be old”, Scream-era Siouxsie (think “nicotine stain” for one) or without a doubt, Fear and The Dictators/Manitoba’s Wild Kingdom, who celebrated their disdain for their own living conditions and everyone around them to a degree only G.G. Allin could out-nihilist…

Not bad, not bad at’all.

Slush – Lizard Skin (March 29)

Bits of stoner rock, doom, country and even Danzig slip in and out of this one, altering only by degree and the change of the track…

Weirder still? Comes out of the former rough Italian neighborhood (and current international home of the hipster) Brooklyn.  o-kayyyy…alrighty, then!

Not sure what else to say about this one. A lot of this does tend to circle around the locus of doom, one way or another…but as you can see, it’s all over the place in other respects.

meh. Not awful…but nothing to really write home about, either.

Stellar Master Elite – “Hologram Temple” (Unholy Conspiracy Deathwork) (May 3)

Weird-ass black/death affair whose focus is not the expected satanic schmutters or celebration of nature, the forest and atavistic traditional folk, but SF and the creeping realization that technology and innovation are no longer humanity’s friend, much less worthy of our aspirations and hopes.

Accuracy of that sentiment aside (hello, consumers! Awaken from your corporatocratically induced slumber, and take back the world, before it’s too late…) there’s not a lot to celebrate, here. A few odd electronic/industrial bits, but otherwise fairly standard fare for the type.

(shrugs shoulders, turns away)

…next?

Cold Black River – Tales of Death and the Devil (June 14)

Groove-inflected stoner rock with a weirdly geeky bent (“oh, my goddess”, “android’s embrace”, with its refrain of “these are not the droids you’re looking for”).

Even so…what geek is going to cheer to hear music so perilously close to Pantera? Seriously, all that Southern groove business is all over the riffing here, clean snarky vox aside…

You know, with that cover, I was almost expecting Coroner here. As it is…yeah, just another weird stoner act, albeit one who treads far too close to Texan territory for their own good. At least they skipped the aggro and bellow/screaming…

The Wolf Howls When I Scream Your Name – To Be Where There Is Pale Light (April 19)

Manchester act working a depressive cross between a James-style Britpop, Nirvana/Bushlike grunge (the mellow sort, most noticeably on “migraine”) and trying really hard to sound like acoustic Bowie (“endless sky”).

The whole thing is apparently about death, how cheery. And it’s not even goth, where that could have been sinister and truly dark…just mopey and depressive, emo style (but without the energy to stick all that pained teenage hormonal emotion into the songs!)

Yeah, probably has some appeal to fans of post-Warning Patrick Walker, but realize it misses entirely what made his best work so important: the very human, very raw and personal emotion.

This comes off very much like a cucumber sandwich.

…next?

 

The Necrosexual – Gory Hole

Something about these Philly oddballs is very reminiscent of early Nasty Savage, perhaps mixed with a hint of Infernal Majesty…and of course, the corpsepaint and costumerie of King Diamond. This really comes out on thrasher “orgy on your burial”, which further includes nods to Slayer and Destruction vocally…

And yet, there’s some black metal tremelo guitar and blastbeat nonsense going on, and a hint of straight up death metal (‘the lair where no light enters”). Then they cover Black Widow’s “in ancient daze”, if you can believe that...

Well, no question this is a really tongue in cheek affair…but for my money, they should drop the rest and stick to that vintage underground thrash propensity so well displayed in “orgy”.

Chemical City Rebels – A New Plague (April 19)

Louisiana act that self identifies as “stoner pop punk”.

Well, what you’ll actually hear is more of a grunge with pop elements, sort of crossing Foo Fighters with Urge Overkill, if you can picture that.

yeah…it exists.

…you can tell this did nothing for me.

If that’s your thing, have at it – it’s more a case of disinterest if not distaste for what they’re shooting for than any objective inability or lack on their part.

DunkelNacht – Empires of Mediocracy (Non Serviam Records) (February 28)

French act (with one Dutch member) working what on occasion turns into a strangely classical music-inspired (check out about 2/3 in to “non canimus surdis” or the solo section towards the end of “empires of mediocracy”) and melodic take on the usually snoozeworthy and oft atonal black/death template (the oddly catchy “eerie horrendous obsession”).

Even in more subgenre-traditional moments, these guys still manage to excel well beyond expectations, with actual shifts in tone and a feeling of melodic and harmonic motion (“verses and allegations”). The most Tsjuderesque of their work (say, “the necessary evil”) still evokes that band’s very best work, rather than the lesser, more workaday material that followed…

…all of which says this knocked us for a real loop.

Damn good stuff. If more black/death bands worked a sound like this, we’d be praising the stuff instead of knocking it every month.

Due hails!

Black Therapy – Echoes Of Dying Memories (Black Lion Records) (March 15)

Interestingly, this not entirely dissimilar act (try listening to Black Therapy right after DunkelNacht, you’ll almost think it’s the same band…) out of Italy identifies as a particularly melancholic sort of melodeath.

And yeah, you can hear that…there’s certainly a lot less of any sort of blackened feel here, outside the croaking vocals (which only really cross over into the realm of death metal when compared to Desultory…otherwise, they’re quite black metal in approach).

What is present is a lot of sad minor key melodicism, an almost gothic doom degree thereof that puts acts like Moonspell to shame.

Once again, there’s a feeling that the band never really changes key, with a pedal tone tonic that carries through most if not the entirety of the album…but which leaves tracks like “ruins”, “phoenix rising”, “ideal”, “burning abyss” and “scars” quite even in quality and mood. If you like any of these tracks, you’ll be sure to like all the others just as much, and probably the entire remainder of the album nearly as well.

So is that really a failing, if this uniformity of tone and feel holds true enough to erase the potential for garbage tracks (and particular standout tracks as a flipside, but hey…)? Hard to say objectively, but subjectively, I’m calling this in the band’s favor.

I liked what I was hearing, let’s leave it at that.

  


Split/Cross – Rise of Discontent (January 31)

Somewhere between Repulsion, Autopsy and early Napalm Death lies this crusty, sorta doomy grindcore act.

They prefer noise-style feedback squeals that lead into long, drawn out (and hence somewhat Autopsy-doomy) intros complete with Morticianesque sound byte filmic/televised spoken word accompaniment, before finally erupting into something more measuredly grindcorelike (hence Repulsion) in the final moments of (nearly) each track.

As they never really blast off into sheer bashing away for the sake of it, nor are their tracks so yawn inducingly generic as is typical for the genre per se, this one came as a bit of a surprise.

You mean a band can affect a grindcore affectation (if not orientation) and still sound somewhat…listenable? Didn’t that aspect go away around the time of Horrified and World Downfall?

Apparently not, if Split/Cross is anything to judge by.

I was pleasantly surprised overall, given both genre and the expectations it brings with it, which they managed to either avoid, shatter or deftly sidestep throughout.

Meadows End – The Grand Antiquation (Black Lion Records) (March 8)

OK, everyone knows symphonic metal, particularly in its popular European gothic/power metal variant (think acts like Epica, Edenbridge and Rhapsody (of Fire). Some even dig its more questionable ties to black metal, which could cover anything from the Decadent Cradle of Filth to the eyeroll-baiting incomprehensibly popular Emperor.

But symphonic death metal?

I’ve heard this once before, and it didn’t work there, at all: namely, France’s Agressor (whose Rebirth seemed entirely pointless and barely listenable).

So it’s rather thankful that these Swedes bear far more in common with the likes of, say, Floor Janssen-era Nightwish than they ever do the amazingly overrated Isahn and company or the comical Dimmu Borgir, much less Agressor’s recorded and re-recorded misstep in this direction.

No, this is pretty much symphonic power metal, with all the lushness and bombast that implies: (sampled) choirs, powerful production, hummable melodies, crunchy guitars with memorably emotive leads, likeable but inobtrusive keyboards, the whole deal.

The only thing tying Meadows End to death metal are the growly vocals, and they’re pretty standard for the genre – think Viking metal or even Leaves Eyes/Atrocity mainman Alex Krull here.

Another pleasant surprise in a row, after a pretty rough to (at best) shoulder shrug of a month thus far. Definitely one to watch.


Witchgöat – Egregors of the Black Faith (Morbid Skull Records / Hell Productions) (February 13)

“Can’t you hear them cry-in’ out…for the pe-ople of El Salvador?”

Sorry for the Mike Tramp, there, but what else comes to mind when you hear a band hails from this war torn Central American nation?

Well, I bet it’s not some driving South American-style speed/blackthrash! And that’s what these guys deliver, no bullshit, all retro, right down to the riffs and production style. Seriously, if this ain’t analog, they’re getting pretty good at faking that guitar tone and drum sound…

So yeah, props for capturing the sound and feel of ’85-87, when just about every thrash act coming from outside the Bay Area/UK axis seemed to draw inspiration and riffs from Slayer, Slayer and nothing but Slayer…

…which seems strange to say in connection with Witchgoat, as they’re about a step and a half removed from same. Just enough to make it a little less obvious, like Witchtrap and their Kreator swipes…hell, these guys do sound more than a little akin to Colombia’s finest, don’t they?

Yeah, you’re damn tootin’ I liked this one.

Viva la raza!

Various Artists – Sacred Spells (Psychic Eye Records) (January 22)

Interesting if intermittent collection of darkwave synthpop and experimental electronic/industrial dance, put together to benefit (get this) “legal advocacy and support for, created and led by formerly incarcerated trans women of color.”

um…weirdly specific enough, for ya?

(pause)

…so, this compilation benefiting red fire ants who used to be carpenter ants and only nest in houses built from Brazilian origin wood built in the years 1965-1983 and on the West Coast excluding San Diego and its environs is pretty much like a late period Cleopatra comp or box set.

You remember those ones with a few too many throwaways and gothic industrial dance tracks where they used to concentrate on straight up second wave gothic (or to pull the metaphor back in the direction of Sacred Spells, darkwave synthpop)…but dammit, when they do have those dark synth tracks scattered among the dross, they’re dark and familiar enough to work pretty well.

Start with something lke “blood debts”, “tower of glass” or “montrose”, and see if they resonate.

The rest…yeah, well…

I’m going to have a cup of coffee, where the cup is actually a mug and hand crafted about 8 years ago sold mass market and discounted to about the $5 range, with coffee sold mainly in Canada whose Arabica bean blend originates from the Jivaro tribe deep within the jungles of South America, because that’s the only folks this was designed for or benefits.

(cough)

…next?

Three Dead Fingers – Breed Of The Devil (Bleeding Music Records) (April 5)

I guess the gimmick here is that this power trio of Swedes are all teenagers…as in just out of grade school and hitting puberty.

Well, you’d never know it from the assured riffing and fairly on point drumming here. And continuing on the plus side, some fairly old school-style thrash riffing punctuates the album’s strongest tracks “black rainbow” and “into the bloodbath” (which further offers a vintage-reminiscent gang chant chorus).

Sadly, the rest of the album doesn’t even come close to holding up to the standard set by those two tracks, though “nocturnal gates” evokes a pleasantly familiar classic death metal sound.

Things get strange after that. “Celestial blasphemy” attempts to cross a decided metalcore verse with an oddly AOR-ish chorus, “breed of the devil” chugs along aimlessly in a sub-At the Gates fashion until its clean sung chorus, which at best comes off like a generic modern Euro metal track…and we mean “trad style”.

Then you get the 90’s grunge of “Eveline” (which incorporates a thrash riff about halfway through for no apparent reason or relation to the rest of the song) and a few tracks that feel almost aggro/groove (“pighead”, “goodbye”). It’s kind of a mess.

This is a very young band, one who’s apparently absorbed any number of influences from before their time and managed to build a semi-coherent sound out of this junkyard of jigsaw puzzle pieces, few of which relate to each other in any meaningful way…so in that respect, kudos to these kids, they’ve done quite well for folks just starting out at an age where most of us were just starting to pick up an instrument or barely even considering such.

But that’s the rub as well: because it’s only semi-coherent.

If these guys want to make a mark as a strong, retro minded thrash act, they can certainly pull it off – those two tracks and a few riffs scattered all around the rest of the album prove as much.

Time to start trimming all the fat and boiling it down to what matters, guys.

I’m rooting for ya.

Heathen Beast – 2 Singles (Fuck All Religions Equally / Bloody Sabarimala) (January 17)

We’d reviewed this intense Indian act’s Rise of the Saffron Empire and $cam and…well, appreciated their sociopolitical stance far more than what
approximated “music” that accompanied same.

This one changes little in that formula, particularly when it comes to blunt statement of intent “fuck all religions equally”, which while becoming more of a mission statement by the day thanks to conservative sociopolitical orientation and terrorism taking over for any actual spiritual message, much less immanence in same* still fails to elevate the track above the level of Atari Teenage Riot gone screamcore unlistenability.

*(the older I get, the more I reject it personally…isn’t that suppposed to work in reverse? Says a lot about you fucking Trumpsters and Brexiteers, much less all you ISIS crazies and suchlike…nobody can tolerate your asses, to the point where we reject anything and everything you stand for – or perhaps more accurately, claim to stand for…)

B side “bloody sabarimala” is far more palatable in that sense, coming off as a sort of ersatz take on Sabbath-ish stoner rock…but the subject matter is kind of…blech!

So, yeah…nothing’s really changed.

Salute to you fellas for standing up for your beliefs in that highly religious (and quite divided in even that sense!) corner of the world…just wish you were making actual music to convey those sentiments through!

Ötzi – Part Time Punks Sessions (Psychic Eye / Near Dark) (February 28)

Wow! How to describe this?

Postpunk to be sure, with the driving, throbbing, relentlessly dark back end of first wave gothic rock, but with a much lighter, often major key feel to the guitars more typical of mid to late 80’s college rock (as they used to call indie in those days)…that’s “drought”.

Then “ballad of oiwa” kicks in, and it’s very Seventeen Seconds / Faith-era cure, but with the dry, wry vocals of Siouxsie Sioux over the top…something that comes more to the fore with “winter”, which draws even closer to the Banshees template (think Join Hands or Kaleidoscope here).

Finally, “charms” closes out this all too brief EP, and it’s all double time nigh-punk proper aggression, which in the quirkier, more fragile tinkertoy construction of postpunk/gothic leaves the entire framework very much in danger of collapse. It feels like a teetering heavy load balanced precipitously on a rail car or trailer far too small for its girth, as the driver races around curves at a daunting speed.

You keep expecting the thing to collapse, its matchstick frame spilling into its awkward components all over the highway or rails. And that’s part of its -cough- charm.

Did I mention I absolutely loved this one?

Because I did. Five stars plus.

More, please.

  

Cultic – High Command (Eleventh Key) (April 5)

Oddly sludgy basement rehearsal quality cross between the likes of Conan (the band) and early Celtic Frost/Hellhammer (which comes across more in the “UGH!” vocals than the far more generic crust meets doom riffing, inappropriate overuse of reverb or general propensity towards feedback squealing noise (“false idols”).

I mean, Fischer and company were primitive, but once you got past Death Fiend (or at least once “Steve Warrior” got the boot), even Hellhammer was far more cohesive and consonant than anything you’ll hear on this one.

It’s not horrible enough to consign to the flames or anything, and may fill the bill if you’re actually looking for a rather Conanesque (read: noisy, crusty, sludgy, aimless feeling) garage rehearsal take on doom…

…but that’s digging pretty low, and implying that just about anything heavy does the job for you.

Eggs of Gomorrh – Outpregnate (Krucyator Productions) (March 18)

HAHAHAHAHA!!!!

Damn, man…(wipes tears away)

I swear, only the Swiss could come up with something as weirdly monikered as this.

Time to fry up some eggs! How do you like ’em, over easy? Scrambled? Soft boiled?

So these sinister breakfast staples…from HELL! are actually working a very standard black metal, or as they put it, black/death…arguable, though there’s so much of that shit out there at this point in history, it’s more or less become black metal per se for all intents and purposes.

What they’re delivering here is not fast and icily clean produced enough to qualify as Norsecore (or black/death, for that matter…), nor thrashy and sloppy enough to stand as blackthrash. Hell, it’s too inclined to atonality to serve as “bestial black” and certainly isn’t “war metal” either. It’s just…black metal, in its most generic form.

It’s fast, it’s angry, it’s…kind of boring.

You’ve heard much better. You’ve also heard much, much worse.

Next?

The Black Sorcery – Wolven Degrade (Krucyator Productions) (March 28)

Blackened grindcore!

Pig noises galore, fast repetitive riffing, terrible production, some really childish snare blastbeats…and that Ned Beatty scene from Deliverance over…and over…and over again on the microphone.

Squeal like a pig, boy!

…and The Black Sorcery does so. Here’s the recording.

WHIZZZ!!!!!

sniff sniff…anybody smell bacon?

NEXT?!?

Heresiarch – Incursion (Krucyator Productions) (April 23)

Wait, what the fuck? Seriously?

Okay, what you have here is some seriously sloppy, noisy black metal, leaning more towards the “bestial black”/war metal end of the spectrum, but not quite fitting the pattern. The closest analogue I can think of here? Sadistik Exekution.

Are you really surprised it hails from New Zealand?

So…yeah, once again, the Kiwis and the Aussies deliver another raw, crazed, nearly unclassifiably disgusting slab of black or blackened…something. Noise. It’s pretty typical of the scene down in that corner of the world, for whatever reason.

I guess rabbits will do that do ya…

yeah, again, you’ve heard much worse, but this forgettable bit of business did absolutely zero, zip, zilch, nada, nut n’ honey, not a thing for me.

Kull – Exile (Black Lion Records) (April 30)

The entirety of Bal-Sagoth (minus the frontman) return with a new moniker.

Well, one thing I noticed right off by comparison with that band’s last effort the Chthonic Chronicles is that a measure of the bombast and majesty is missing. I’d say the production is a bit lesser, but I don’t think that’s the real issue…there’s less of a dramatic keyboard thing going on, though it is still present.

The spoken word bits are still present and accounted for, the general riffing and approach are much the same…but it doesn’t really feel Bal-Sagoth until “an ensign consigned”. Then you start noticing: “by lucifer’s crown” and “aeolian supremacy” also hearken back to Chthonic Chronicles stylistically, though the vocals are slightly weaker in their new iteration. Nothing to get up in arms about, mind…but you will notice.

Bottom line, there are probably a lot of folks chomping at the bit for this one, given how long it’s been since the last Bal-Sagoth dropped (almost a decade and a half, now!), so there’s no reasoning with a starving man – no point in putting out the forks and finery, he’s just going to go at it like an animal.

But if your enthusiasm is a bit more measured and you’re truly curious how Kull holds up by comparison to where their former monikered iteration left off…well, you can tell it’s them, but it’s hardly the same band at the same strength.

Maybe next time around, they’ll be back to fighting trim, but this one’s more of a place holder and statement of intent.

Bleeding Utopia – Where the Light Comes to Die (Black Lion Records, Spiritual Beast) (March 22)

Swedish melodeath act. Some really nice solos, and a vibe that falls somewhere between Desultory’s Into Eternity and your average metalcore act.

There’s really not much to say about this one, except that it does bring the emo, in a good sense – you’ll feel the dark melodies taking you places, and again, those solos really do stand out, marking at least the lead guitarist/s (it’s a duo, so maybe they switch leads) as real standouts in the genre.

I definitely appreciated this one, no question. Throw ’em the horns in salute.

Bloodphemy – In Cold Blood (Black Lion Records) (April 12)

Dutch death metal, but think more Gorefest than Pestilence, Sinister or Asphyx.

It’s quirky (check out those weird harmony leads on “spree killing” or “chamber of horrors”) but definitely keeps things old school, which is a definite plus.

That said, like Gorefest, it may come off a tad more generic than aficionados of the gory glory days of death metal may prefer…but even so. Give ’em due props for getting the sound and feel down right, with no untoward modern or cross genre influences bleeding in and fucking up the mix.

Another well deserved raise of the horns, good stuff.

Mist of Misery – Unalterable (Black Lion Records) (April 12)

Weirdly classical-feeling take on…symphonic DSBM?!?

Sure enough, though, that’s what this is…a very lush keyboard driven, classically symphonic sounding variant of Shining or one of those crappy Italian bands with girls in running mascara and guns on the cover telling listeners to go kill themselves (yeah, now there’s a good marketing angle!)…what a stupid ass genre it is…

But I did very much appreciate the…well, technically, it’s Romantic, as in Chopin and Beethoven, but to outsiders and the genpop, it’s all just “classical”…that feel that drives and suffuses all the keyboards throughout the album.

Your call otherwise.

Gloson – Mara (Black Lion Records) (April 5)

More of the sort of sludge/doom crossover you get from a band like Conan, this time hailing from Sweden. That’s “equinox”, the superior side of this two track single/EP.

Unfortunately, the A side (“usurper”) leans more black/death, coming off like the long, boring intro section on some Behemoth album or what have you, without ever resolving into the expected flurry of tremelo guitars and blastbeats it prefaces. And then you get the Conanesque fat guy bellowing crumbs from his Manwich all over his flannel shirt vox…yeesh!

If both sides came off more like “equinox”, this may have gotten more of a pass. As it is…bleh.

Nihility – Thus Spoke The Antichrist (Black Lion Records) (May 24)

Portugese black/death…and strangely, tech death at that.

And you know what? That’s actually what saves these guys from the usual consignment to a well deserved oblivion that awaits purveyors of that overused genre miscegenation.

Promo materials offer Belphegor as a likely analogue, and you know, they’re actually right on point with that one.

As such, while I wasn’t exactly a huge fan…I did find this one listenable and quirkily interesting, with busy, oddball riffs flying every which way, veering off in some new and unforseen direction when least expected.

Nod of due respect.

Murdryck – Födelsen (Leviaphonic Records & Growls From The Underground) (May 1)

Swedish black metal, top tier in confidence and production.

It’s unclear whether they’re trying to become another Marduk here, as their sound is a touch more varied, with the moody “sea spirit of the night” and “black plague eclipse” and especially midtempo rocker “blood sacrifice” blowing away all the straight up black metal cum black/death nonsense that comprises most of the material surrounding.

So how you take this one is all about what tracks you choose to start and end on. Focus in on some of these, and they’re just another (competent, well produced) Swe-black/death act, listenable but as generic as those tend to be.

But then you get the second half of the album, where tracks like the aforementioned predominate…and you’ve got a band that breaks the mold to deliver something else entirely.And that band, I can get behind.

 

Crownaside – From Mud To Ashes (April 24)

Spanish “groove/death” act with mulitiple, quite noticeable prog bits thrown in for good measure.

I don’t know, the end result comes off like some shitty nu metal band, voiced by a growler, who heard a bit too much Primus back in the ’90s.  It’s weird stuff, if a bit more metal proper than that makes ’em sound.

Yeah, there’s nothing I can do with this one.

Do me a favor, when you pass by the Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards? Yeah. Give this one a toss.

Calamity – Kairos (May 10)

Puerto Rican modern thrash act.

As you might expect from a modern day thrash act, the vox are way too raspy and abrasive, the riffs are overly generic and very much secondary (when classic thrash demands primacy and forefronting of same).

Worse, the production is extremely awkward, emphasizing the terrible vox above all else, with overlaid guitar fills close behind and some very thin sounding, tinny drums pish-pish-pishing away like a kid splashing away in a puddle behind that.  At the very bottom of the mix, barely audible except for the aforementioned overlaid fill and solo tracks? Are the guitars, chip-chip-chippa-chipping away.

Holy shit, think about the achievement here! The mix was actually done in complete reverse of how it should have been! Good job, guys!

(rolls eyes, shakes head)

…next?

Snøgg – Chhinnamasta (June 6)

oy, I know this one’s trouble before a single note’s been played.

“Slovenian experimental black metal.” 

(gets through the EP)

…you know what? I’m surprised. In place of the expected atonal noise and weird, jarring detours into awkward and inappropriate soundscapes…this one was pretty unified in tone, deliberate in approach, almost doomy in its atmosphere, all coming to a head in the best track, “phantom mountain”.

I’ll tell you this. If more bands did “experimental” like Snogg? I’d be totally down with the genre.

Surprisingly and with cocked eyebrow, a tip of the hat and nod of respect.

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