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And another crazy month has passed.  With all the loose ends caught up on, we’ve made a concerted effort to get everything up to date, and essentially succeeded…if you don’t count the deluge of incoming materials by the day (generally with release dates for next month’s coverage, but not always…) and how long it takes to cover so much material every month.

A week or two back, we’d have everything done…but now?  There’s already a bunch of material earmarked for next month’s reviews, and even in Summer, there’ll be a lot more incoming.

And man, I’m seriously considering slowing the pace of these – either smaller, less comprehensive monthly reviews or larger ones that can’t possibly stay as up to date as we have been, as ready – maybe month and a half, maybe longer apart.

Or maybe you’ll see more supplements, covering a dozen or so releases within a given genre or simply based on what’s been covered to that point…which may mean more frequent reviews, but much, much smaller ones.

This isn’t the 80’s, with a few dozen bands signed and promoted and the demo thing more local and as found via tape trading…now things are global, bands release straight to the internet (whether via their own bandcamp or under a label’s distribution) and there’s astronomically more material out there…not all that much of it top quality, as you can see…but nonetheless.  It’s simply impossible to devote this much time to covering it all.

So yeah…some changes are coming, and we’ll be slowing down output one way or another – by volume or by time, we’ll see.

Even so, this should be pretty damn up to the minute, and what little isn’t tackled below will, or should, be around next time.

Keep the faith.

 

NECRONOMIDOL – Voidhymn (Specific Recordings) (April 24)

Damn, this was a surprise!

Every once in a while, something drops in the virtual queue that yours truly was personally hoping to hear, but either hadn’t ponied up the cash yet or hesitated for some reason or other: dicey reviews, lineup changes, too much other good stuff coming out at the time, the reasons are legion.  And for those who know me personally, the only surprise here is that I demurred on picking this up right out of the gate.

Yep, among many other genres and styles of music indulged in around the domicile, the ever-fascinating, impeccably produced and inevitably catchy music of Japan is among the foremost.  Artists may cop to a given style of rock, punk or metal, only to drop surprisingly dead on spit takes of dance, industrial, “adult contemporary” style balladeering on the same damn album, EP or single…and shockingly primo retro stylings rub shoulders with more modern equipment, techniques and affectations, without missing a beat.

Put quite bluntly, no other nation on this fucking planet seems to possess such a slippery, chameleonlike ability to syncretize and slip between the borders and cracks of style and genre, and yet actually succeed in crafting something earworm catchy, memorable and bottom line? Just plain worth hearing.  Don’t ask me how they do it, just accept it.  If the Japanese excel at one thing, it’s the crafting of good music with a broad range of appeal.

So somewhere in the upper echelons of a rather long list of Japanese metal, J-pop, J-rock, visual kei, punk, vintage and alternative idol and adult jazz/funk/dance (don’t even get me started on the likes of Shizuka Kudo, Tomoko “Tommy February/Heavenly6” Kawase, Luna Sea or early L’Arc en Ciel, here…) getting an inordinate amount of airplay around here comes Necronomidol (“Necroma” among aficionados), a particularly dark and atmospherically eerie “alternative idol” act known for their Lovecraftian lyric and pointedly (if faux-) occultic focus.

But what’s most important about them has (as usual) precious little to do with the imagery and trappings, but centers on what appears to be entirely unique among supposedly “similar” acts like the overrated and cheesy Babymetal, the middling JuJu and darker emo (or emo meets EDM) acts like Deep Girl or Pass*Code: a regular dive into the realms of out and out black metal.

Not “post-black”, we’re hardly talking hipsters or shoegaze here…but fucking black metal, just with eerie female harmonies and zero growly-snarl bullshit.  Which, of course, can shift on a dime next track to a dark toned dance track or what have you…just so long as it’s catchy and bears that patentedly unique creepy feel.

Now, given that I’ve more or less jumped on every EP or album since discovering these ladies upon the (then just pre-) release of their second full length Deathless (I maintain their EPs are superior, if you’re looking to dive in…stick to From Chaos Born, DawnSlayer and Strange Aeons before going the Nemesis/Deathless route), you might wonder…why not with the recent release of VoidHymn?

The reasons are twofold: first, not that they haven’t indulged in self-covers previously (every release contains at least one or two reworkings of older material, showcasing ostensible improvements, new arrangements and the current lineup of the band.  Yeah, did I mention it’s an idol singer act, however “alternative” and black metallish?), but this one is about 2/3 repeat material.  Umm…yeah, I already have these songs, thanks…

Secondly, this is the last release with founding member Sari (the witchy, spidery one with the rather geisha-esque take on corpsepaint, or “shironuri”) and longtime member Hina Yotsuyu (the one with the pigtails)*…which means at the very least, from here on out, the band’s sound and image will change.  Radically, even – Sari and surviving founder Risaki Kakizaki (the yanki, or as they bowlderize it, “ninja”. Bullshit, she’s Japan’s idea of a female gang banger, right down to the long skirt) have always been the frontwomen here, and define what has long been the Necroma sound.

*  note neither appears in the promo photo, which features the current lineup.  You’ll have to dig around online, kids…

So why bother digging into a mostly-covers release that doesn’t even represent where the band will be going from here on out? It just seems pointless. And thus, here we are, hearing this newest release for the very first time. You all ask, with baited breath: so? How does it hold up?

Well…in terms of the self covers, not so well, actually. This iteration of Necroma features the admittedly welcome throaty tones of (then) newest recruit Himari Tsukishiro and the far less essential girlish squeaks of Rei Imaizumi, alongside the two founders and longstanding member Sari…and both vocals and guitars have been more forefronted and focused upon.

And somehow, it all comes off sounding far less credible than earlier versions of the exact same songs. The moodiness, the eerie atmosphere? Simply not there on the same level at all.

It’s as if they dropped the black metal approach and went full on Euro power metal on “dawnslayer”, the dark dance of “skulls in the stars” has given way to a questionably front and center modern metal guitar crunch and power metal keyboards, the music box gone post-black metal of “psychopomp” is now entirely an acoustic guitar gone slightly visual kei thing ala Buck-Tick, and even weirder? The forefronted punk-style guitars of “strange aeons” have been altered, pulled back and made more modern metallish, with some seriously annoying power metal accompaniment style keyboards forefronted.

And worst of all, the vocals, always one of the primary sources of eerieness, vibe and appeal about Necroma? While there’s a clear pattern of improvement in some respects (earlier material does show some uncertainty in the vocals, which is something of an idol thing), here they seem strident, overly pushed to the front of the mix and come off like a band who’s simply sick of (over)performing the same damn songs. Hell, it sounds like a different band forced into covering tracks they really don’t like, which is really saying something.

Okay, so covering so much old material with an over-rehearsed act and pushing some would be guitar heroes more front and center while dropping all pretense at a ghostly Japanese-style atmosphere or proper black metal per se was a seriously bad idea. How about the new songs?

Well…how about “kadath”? What the hell is this? The only point it starts sounding like Necroma is around the 4 minute mark (in a 4 and a half minute song, mind), when that backing vocal descant kicks in. But again…too in your face, too much of an attempt to go ‘mainstream’ with all this power metal vibe. Were Necroma shooting for an opening gig with Sabaton, or something? Because that’s what this album sounds like.

Then you have “les tenebres sans visage”, which sounds perfectly acceptable…for your average dance-oriented J-pop act. From another idol act (“alternative” or no), this one would be just fine, and it’s really not a bad track at all…but is it really representative of Necroma? Perhaps, given some of their dancier tracks along the way…but it’s arguable.

“Thanatogenesis” sounds a lot closer to expected template…but something’s still off. The song seldom actually gels, being held together more by the vocals than any of the effective gibberish the band’s spitting out. Avant-prog? No idea. They really should have worked this one out better before recording.

“In black”…what the hell is that? Some half assed EDM take on classic Devo, given that weird synth tone? I get the attempt to pull in a gothic/funereal bit of Bach-style horror soundtrack on the faux-organ line, but it’s too peppy, too happy, too ultimately silly to deliver the sort of frissons we’re used to from the band that gave us the likes of “ithaqua” or “end of days” only a few years earlier.

“Samhain”…well, it’s sort of pop-punk and overly bright and happy on the riffs, like some rejected Glay or Siam Shade track that someone dropped the girls onto vocally. It’s not bad, except for seeming overly cheery…and again, the vox and guitars are quite in your face, which completely misses the sort of sinister feel (and far superior mix!) the band used to be known for.

“Innsmouth” sounds right vocally (only the second time on this album!) but what’s with all this ambient trance synth business that goes overly spastic and dancey? It sounded like a second rate piss take on ostensible “rivals” Pass*Code, minus diminutive Yuna’s death vox inserts.

Bottom line, it’s Necroma. If you like ’em, you’ll probably appreciate this one regardless – for all the gripes here, they’re still a damn sight better than the competition.

But you’ll have to face the fact that this is Necroma gone full on Babymetal.  First album Babymetal, yes (thank all your starry gods for that much…!) But still.

And for newcomers? Don’t believe the hype you’ll run across on some other sites, who either never heard of the band before or were listening to a very different album.

Because this is not the album to start with…consider it the last stop on your Necroma journey to date, with a very real possibility that things will be dramatically different next time around.

Whether this is their jump the shark moment or a poignant warning that the surprising changes in membership were perhaps overdue, only their next release will tell.

They can do so much better, and in fact already have.

WHITESNAKE – Flesh & Blood (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (May 10)


It’s always bittersweet having to deal with modern day Whitesnake.

I mean, look, back in the day, the US version of Slide it In, with all those John Sykes leads? Damn, that was the soundtrack to my life. The self titled? Yeah, one or two lesser tracks got overhyped and overplayed thanks to cheesy videos and such, but how can you fault an album that solid?

And “bad boys” alone is worth the price of admission…you should have seen the eyebrows raise when I made that part of a comp back in the heyday of metal hating mid-90’s…the punk/goth (and proto-hipster, as it turned out) types we were hanging with were positively slack jawed that I’d dare celebrate something so “uncool” in their presence. Until some friends of friends chimed in with appreciation, anyway…

Saw ’em live, too, but that was a sad case, coming on the Steve Vai Show tour that was Slip of the Tongue. Suffice to say, for all the spinning guitars dropping to the stage from the rafters and such, all of us who went spent most of the show watching a trio of big haired bimbos shaking their perky little asses in unison to every song in front of us. There really wasn’t much worth seeing onstage…

And as followers of Third Eye should know well, I’ve always been a huge fan of the Moody/Mardsen era, not “as well”, but more in terms of “this is the real band, kids”. Their bluesy, jazzy boogie band thing is a slightly drier, lower energy version of exactly what AC/DC was doing in the Bon Scott era…and y’all know just how much those albums mean to me.

So yeah, I can and do say, without a hint of irony (and only excepting a few dicey, more boring albums like Saints and Sinners and Slip of the Tongue) that I absolutely love old Whitesnake.

Hell, even when Good to Be Bad dropped, I gave ’em the benefit of the doubt. It had been a long time since the band recorded a thing, and here they were with a new guitar team (Winger’s underratedly flashy Reb Beach and Doug Aldrich of Lion, famed these days more for their cover of the Transformers theme than the excellent Dangerous Attraction). It was one of the better “dormant” AOR to metal act comebacks, to be sure.

But subsequent work? We’d covered Made in Britain/the World Album, which pretty much sums up the conflicted feelings here.

No, this is not classic Whitesnake…either the post-Deep Purple boogie band or the glam polished anthems of the Sykes albums. But do we really have the right to expect that, at this point in history?

I mean, the guy’s pushing 70, here. The fact that he can pull off something even this credible is simply amazing, much less with a band that seems to believe in his vision, standing behind him with solid enough material like you’ll hear herein.

It’s very much akin to Good to Be Bad, in fact…just realize that the good stuff is very much “front loaded”.

Pay attention here: those first five tracks? Damn solid stuff. Hell, you may even fool old ‘Snake fans that you’d uncovered some long lost bonus tracks or studio recordings…just so long as they aren’t paying close attention to the occasional warble in the voice, the lack of Sykesian bombast in the guitars.

But once you get past the fifth track (“always forever”), the album suddenly trades places with another band entirely. Lame balladeering, countrified bar band material. You could picture this stuff being played at your local supermarket, to be honest.

So bottom line, it depends how much of a Whitesnake fan you are or were. Can you forgive an old fella for not achieving the impossible and sounding as good as he did more than 3 decades prior? I mean, he comes close, and a lot more often than you’d expect. Kudos to the man for pulling this off, in all seriousness.

But even if you’re still with us so far…recognize you’ve got yourself a fairly killer EP of material here, overstuffed with fluff and nonsense that should have been left on the cutting room floor.

At least the good tracks are all together, and placed front and center. Give someone credit for that much.

Those first five tracks? Golden.

FIRST SIGNAL – Line Of Fire (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (May 17)

Harem Scarem’s frontman Harry Hess and six stringer Michael Palace (of…well, Palace), alongside sticksman and producer Daniel Flores (of Murder of My Sweet fame) return with a new opus.

We’d covered their One Step Over the Line, a rather First Signalesque effort whose vagaries are repeated herein.

When they take the dive into full on AOR territory, the songs are simultaneously driving enough to satisfy the rockers and melodic enough to keep things palatable to a wide audience.

“End of the world”, “born to be a rebel”, the excellent (and very 80’s action film soundtrack) “never look back”, “line of fire”, “falling”, even the more pop oriented sentimentality of “need you now”…these all fall somewhere between Survivor, Foreigner and Journey, stylistically, while still maintaining what is very much a unique identity. It’s very good stuff.

The only gotcha here? You guessed it…the maudlin sentimentality and Hallmark sensibilities of the sensitive balladeer, which take up the remainder of the album. The ladies should be happy, your schmaltzier friends will gravitate towards ’em…but yeesh.

But if you’re into AOR, you’re used to this by now – even the most driving of rock acts seems compulsively driven to fill anywhere from a third to 3/4 of each release with this sort of easy listening snooze material. They do it with polish, accomplished playing and good production…but who needs ’em?

Who knows, maybe it’s just me…those who travel with me know better than to expect to sit through the ballads on any given album, of any given genre. Just ain’t gonna happen, unless it’s the patented build of the “power ballad” or delivered by Shizuka Kudo (the fact that I often let hers play actually shocks fellow travellers).

Bottom line? You’ve got half an album or more of great songcraft, and better, the sort of feel good yet moody material that’ll bring you right back to the 80’s.

Damn good stuff, once again.

CRAZY LIXX – Forever Wild (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (May 17)

We’ve covered these Swedes many times before, for Loud Minority, New Religion and Riot Avenue, Sound of the Live Minoritythe self titled and Ruff Justice but is it me, or have they just hit their stride at last?

I mean, most if not all of those albums were surprisingly solid throwbacks to the heyday of glam metal…but here they kick off delivering a note perfect take on XYZ (the title track), Def Leppard (“break out”), a more aggressive Autograph (“silent thunder”), later Y&T (“(she’s wearing) yesterday’s face”), an arguable Bon Jovi (“terminal velocity”) and what feels like a cross between 80’s KISS and a metallized take on Don Henley’s melancholic “boys of summer” (“never die (forever wild)”).

It’s all really good stuff. Not as in a mere objective “yeah, this sounds right”…subjectively speaking, some of this (“wicked”, “break out”, “never die”) is absolutely killer. The gang choruses are straight out of Leppard’s playbook, but the riffing is more driving, the delivery more direct, even pissed off. When they’re “on”, rest assured, they are on. 

Yeah, the rest of the album veers between merely decent to just a bit of the usual meh balladeering. But when they hit those highs, they pulled this old school metalhead right back into the zone.

RESTLESS SPIRITS (Tony Hernando) – S/T (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (May 17)

Lords of Black, whose II we covered heregives up their ace in the hole for this AOR project, with neoclassically inclined six stringer Tony Hernando joining forces with the likes of Axel Rudi Pell’s Johnny Gioeli, Allesandro del Vecchio and Helker’s Diego Valdez, plus sticksman Deen Castronovo.

Interestingly? The best vocal turn here actually comes from Animal Drive frontman Dino Jelusic (“cause I know you’re the one”), which given Bite! says just how much a decent musician needs others of similar talent backing ’em up…

But even so…he’s hardly the only one who delivers here. Perfect Plan, whose All Rise we covered last April, lends frontman Kent Hilli for a likeably Lou Gramm-esque turn (“I remember your name”), Valdez drops a surprisingly non-Dio inflected offering (“in the realm of the black rose”), even Castronovo takes to the mic for a raspy yet melodic bit of business that brought Steve Perry vaguely to mind (“unbreakable”).

Sadly, many of these guys are in and out, one and done. Jelusic gives one more solid performance on “lost time”, Castronovo does two more (“calling you” and “live to win”), but that’s really it.

The remaining 2 pairs of tracks come from Allesandro Del Vecchio (you mean he doesn’t just do keyboards and backing vox?), who comes off respectably enough, and Gioeli, who while far from awful, strangely fares quite poorly by comparison to everyone else herein. His delivery is all rasp and constricted throat throughout, even when hitting some soaring high notes on “nothing I could give to you”. You’ll find yourself cringing at some of the resulting tones, which ain’t exactly a good thing.

It probably doesn’t help that he gets the embarassing “get off my lawn” grumpy old man diatribe “stop livin’ to live online” to kick off both album and his own contributions with…

All told, it’s one of the better “all star” projects you’re likely to come across in the AOR field, with Hernando dropping decent if midtempo songs and riffs and some really nice, oft neoclassically inclined solos to boot.

THE BRINK – Nowhere To Run (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (May 10)

Now this is quite nice…

The UK (of all places!) puts its best foot forward with this hard driving 80’s hard rock/metal act (in the mainstream sense, posthumoustly redubbed some variant of “hair”, “glam”, “Hollywood” or “AOR”, as if Styx and Foreigner fans were really into Lizzy Borden and Dokken back when…)

The vocals are clear and only a touch raspy, and never really go for those soaring highs, and the riffs, while quite aggressive, tend to append more to “if Survivor and Journey decided to do a tour with Ratt and Quiet Riot”…so in the end, it’s just a harder than usual, more summertime beach party, feel good, final scene where the guy gets the girl in some cheesy 80’s movie take on the AOR template.

But isn’t that a damn good thing?

The leads are both melodic and busy enough to keep the punters heads a-boppin’ (and the ladies arses a-shakin’), and at times more modern influences do rear their heads, however slightly – an angry spitting of words into the mic that suggests more au courant iterations of punk, a propensity towards the overdramatic (and a touch of whininess to more stridently delivered vocal turns) that says they’ve listened to their share of emo.

But on the whole, this is just good time hard rock of the sort that borders and blends with the metal of its era, harder than Autograph or Giuffria (or later Y&T, even), but still hearkening in major ways to the hardest edge of AOR.

They’re not super flashy, they’re not incredibly pissed off. They’re not here to show off, just deliver some surprisingly solid heavy rock in the more vintage vein, albeit with a sound that speaks more to modern audiences and origins. In other words, it feels fresh, despite it all.

Yeah, this was quite good. And given that this is hailing from the generally musically quite dry climes of the UK?

Colour me impressed.

ALAN PARSONS – The Secret (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (April 26)

Ah, Alan Parsons, sans his “Project” moniker for once.

I remember hearing tracks he’d worked on and produced for other bands, wondering why these certain tracks stood out from the rest of the formulaic pap on AM radio of their era, the oft similarly minded Todd Rundgren aside. Al Stewart’s “year of the cat”. Pilot’s “magic” (as in “you’re the one who can put out the fire.”) He even did some work with the similarly inclined Ambrosia.

By the 80’s, he was dropping stuff like the inescapable “eye in the sky”, and intentionally or no, a few moody tracks off Tales of Mystery and Imagination wound up attached to a likeably goofy (if quite atmospheric!) Spanish horror film starring none other than Alice Cooper (who also dropped a few decent if lyrically silly tracks there).

While more aligned with the sort of coked up yet oddly laid back ring modulated organ/synth-driven sound of the prior decade (think anything from 10cc and Fleetwood Mac to Joni Mitchell’s “woodstock” and Alex’s Handle With Care here), he’d remained one of those names those of taste would give a nod of respect to. Oh, Alan Parsons was involved? Good craftsman, solid stuff.

So it’s 2019, many a year since the material we’re discussing, and Parsons is back with a new album. Who’d’a thunk?

Unsurprisingly, this is a very 70’s feeling album, particularly when Jason Mraz drops a Phil Keaggy meets America-style vocal on “miracle” or when someone named Mark Mikel steps to the mic for “fly to me”, sounding for all the world like Double Fantasy-era John Lennon. Seriously, it’s almost creepy, particularly with Parsons’
arrangements and harmonies behind him…and then he drops a very George Harrisonesque solo on the track just to seal the deal!

He brings in Foreigner’s Lou Gramm and Zappa alum Vinnie Colaiuta as well, but that’s all you’re likely to recognize beyond the more modern day Mraz. And in some ways, yes, it’s a tad less synth-driven than his older material was wont to be.

But if you’re looking for the sort of old school, laid back, smooth and yet oddly grandiose arrangements and production you remember from Parsons’ heyday…look no further, because the man can still bring it.

FORTUNE – II (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (April 26)

And believe it or not, there are two guys in the band with the name “Fortune”. Seriously.

So that fortuitous happenstance of moniker readiness having been provided for them at birth, what else were said guitarist and drummer to do but form a band?

Apparently these guys have been gigging around since the 70’s, touring with big names of the day like Spirit, Booker T and the MGs and Buddy Miles, before dropping albums with two separate lineups in ’78 and ’85. Don’t ask me, I must have missed the memo back in the day.

But here they are again, reformed after many a year due to some hype/acclaim that’s apparently grown around said albums, as such things are wont to do in the obscure archivalism of the internet age.  Seriously, if we had access to so much music history, however global or regional and down to the level of limited to demo or tiny label issues back in the 80’s? We’d all have been flat broke and buried under tons of vinyl!

So how does this sound? Well, to judge by stronger tracks like opener “don’t say you love me” (not to be confused with Night Ranger’s driving sine qua non, “don’t tell me you love me”), pretty well, actually.

Larry Greene’s vocals are midrange solid – you could picture him fronting Survivor without much imagination. “Shelter of the night” keeps the vibe going, while “freedom road” pushes things into the more aggressive “hair metal” range of bands like Autograph or Guiffria.

“A little drop of poison” leans a touch Foreigner, but with a more fluid vibe that suggests some post-Dio Rainbow influence. “What a fool I’ve been” and the later “New Orleans” lean almost MSG in some respects…just don’t expect a Schenkeresque command of the guitar here – this is more good AOR rock than anywhere approaching that level of melodic flash. “Overload” feels vaguely Loverboy-ish.  But in the end, Survivor is the template to which Fortune closest appends (look no further than “the night” to hear that message loud and clear).

So are they “the greatest AOR (album) ever recorded”, as the promo materials suggest some overly excitable internet hyperbole has posthumously dubbed their mid-80’s self titled?  Please.

But dial your expectations back to normal blood sugar levels (geez, the internet clearly needs a tractor trailer worth of insulin or something…) and some measure of sane assessment and comparison to likeminded peers, and you should find Fortune does indeed favor the bold.

So are you gonna be bold enough to check this one out?

Because, yeah, you definitely should.

JIM PETERIK WORLD STAGE – Winds of Change (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (April 26)

And speaking of Survivor, here comes the man behind the band himself.

Here he’s doing the ‘project’ thing, with big names like Dennis DeYoung of Styx, Kevin Cronin of REO Speedwagon and Mike Reno of Loverboy (!), plus more au courant AOR leading lights like Robert Sall of Work of Art and Toby Hitchcock.

Presumably the Mike Aquino handling guitars alongside Peterik here is not the soup bowl haircut-sporting head of the Temple of Set…but even beyond the aforementioned, there are other late career and touring members of bands like Night Ranger, Tyketto and Chicago, so it’s like a classic rock/AOR old home week of sorts.

Some tracks are pretty propulsive, like “without a bullet being fired”, others more dramatic and dour in a patently Survivoresque mold (“winds of change”, “the hand I was dealt”).

“Proof of heaven” comes off more proggy, somewhere between Styx (appropriate, given DeYoung’s vocals on the track) and the goofiness of Supertramp, while “you’re always there” sounds practically Richard Marx. “I will what I want” is more bluesy in the Deep Purple mode (particularly in the organ/keyboard break), but driving enough to suit what have to be Mike Reno’s vocals thereon. And of course, Cronin gets his turn at the balladeering with “just for you”.

Bottom line, this isn’t Survivor…but you’ll clearly recognize it’s the same mind at work here. Every big name guest gets their moment in the sun, and Peterik is nice enough to provide them with a track that sounds most akin to their own bands’ past work, leaving this album like a faux-comp of AOR “names”, delivering exclusive tracks not available on their own albums.

Is it great? Well, that’d be a bit of a stretch…but come on. You get some very believable takes on Survivor, hits era Styx, Cronin-era REO Speedwagon and at a bit of a stretch, Loverboy. How lousy could this possibly be?

That’s right, it couldn’t be.

Well worth a listen, if only to hear just what a compositional chameleon Peterik can be…and to hear all these names delivering material that suits them to a T, all in one convenient package.

MICHAEL THOMPSON BAND – Love And Beyond (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (April 26)

If you ever needed proof (beyond Carlos Santana and Frank Zappa, that is) that you don’t have to play metal or jazz to be a top notch player, here ’tis.

Choosing a midtempo to mellow AOR somewhat akin to early Michael W. Smith crossed with your average bar band as his pallette, Thompson is a session player who’s accompanied a wide range of top tier acts that your mother, girlfriend and even that grumpy old guy down the street would recognize instantly. I mean huge pop stars, adult contemporary types, jazz masters, Latin leading lights, Broadway types, R&B folks.

He seldom gives in to flash, but his compositions are all solid, and his tone clear. You can tell the man knows his shit…but chooses to restrain himself. At times it feels almost Eric Johnsonlike (particularly on the many instrumental interludes), but without ever erupting into flurries of notes and grandiosity.

And I’m sorry, but that frustrates the shit out of me.

Now, if you’re a big guitar fan and love folks like Richard Thompson or Steve Lukather, awesome. I love them, too – same with “generally more restrained than metal” types like Michael Schenker.  But all of those guys do eventually have to uncork the bottle and just let ‘er rip, to the collective sound of dropped jaws hitting the front of the stage.

This level of restraint? Hey, I can tell the guy knows how to play and is very much in control of his instrument, so to speak.

But that’s just not enough for me.

Your call, but I just keep waiting for the guy to think the recording is off and blast out a killer 16 bar lead already.

HARDLINE – Life (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (April 26)

We covered this early Bon Jovi-esque act’s Human Nature a few years back, and were pleased enough with what we heard. Overall? This apple didn’t fall very far from the metaphorical tree, and if anything occasionally ups the ante with a more Dokken meets Ratt-like riff aggression (“out of time”, “handful of sand”).

But more often, they’re still working that debut to 7800 Fahrenheit-era Bon Jovi sound (look no further than “story of my life”), with a touch too much balladeering and countrified bluesy feel (which speaks more to a New Jersey to present Bon Jovi influence).

You already know whether this appeals to you or not.

LEVERAGE – DeterminUs (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (April 26)

Now here’s a strange one for ya.

Clearly symphonic power metal, with all those keyboards and chunky guitars, right? Well…no. The riffs tend to come off too square, there’s no tremelo picking, not enough drive. The drums aren’t pushing the land speed record with typewriter-style double bass rhythms.

And what about the vocals? I mean, European power metal vox can be all over the place, from clean to growly, from soaring to raspy, right? Well, how about nasal and pinched?

yeah, I know. And what’s weirdest about that? The guy can still hold a note and deliver a dramatic phrase, despite squeezing his throat tight and choking his way to a gargle at the most intentionally moving moments.

And if we’re to take them as more of a modern AOR sort of thing, how do you describe the very power metallish bombast of “red moon over Sonora” or the rather metallish leads of “mephistocrate”?

So what the hell are they? AOR? Nah, too power metal. Power metal? Nah, too rock or traditional metal. And this is even by comparison to the sugary sweet Swedish scene, which gives us the likes of Dynazty (whose Firesign took us several listens to really get into…note the original review and our re-evaluation a month later.*

* see the review for Seventh Wonder.

But they are clearly working the tropes of symphonic power metal…while retaining a base allegiance to those of AOR and, to some extent, a very European take on modern metal.

May sound strange on paper…but it works, and that’s all that counts, in the end.

Schattenmann – Epidemie (AFM Records) (July 5)

Yet another Deutscher band working the industrial/pop/sorta Euro-metallish schtick popularized by Rammstein, Gothminister and Megaherzthis is exactly what you expect: keyboard driven, heavily processed guitars, semi-growled, semi-sung (all in German, of course) and melodic enough to leave choruses in your head long after the record’s stopped spinning.

The singalong quality is front and center throughout, even on such (apparently) in your face tracks as “f.u.c.k.y.o.u.”, so there’s no question you’ll find this one palatable, even quite likeable, particularly if you have a soft spot for any of the aforementioned or 90’s forbears like NiN and (early) Marilyn Manson.

It’s like a bowl of kids’ sugar cereal. You know you’ve got a weak spot for ’em, even though you probably shouldn’t…’cause not only did you grow up on ’em, but damn – who can resist those multicolored marshmallows and glazed oats?

Probably terrible for you. Stuff that goes down this smooth generally is.

Kryptos – Afterburner (AFM Records) (July 5)

It’s weird. When we spoke with then up and coming buzzworthy Desi act Kryptosthey were a hard edged thrash act with underlying melodic tendencies and some definite talent on the guitar end.

But ever since Burn Up the Night, the band has mellowed significantly, into more of a straight up traditional metal act with slight USPM tendencies…and a whole hell of a lot more straight up melodic NWOBHM leanings.

Here they come off a bit stronger than last time around, with stronger and more memorable riffs, a tad more polish (natural for a band with their ongoing tenure and road-tested experience) and even better songcraft.

Some of the riffs (as on the title track) certainly feel quite Bay Area vintage thrash, but they no longer come off as a thrash band proper, but more of a particularly NWOBHM-concentrated US power metal act circa 1985-6.

With the vocal rasp of their Apollyon era giving way to more of a Lee Dorrian circa Carnival Bizarre-esque declamatory gravel-whine, this could be early Nasty Savage crossed with Meliah Rage and the top tier songcraft and musicianship of a Hittman or perhaps even Xcel or Redd Barron.

There’s a definite Maidenesque vibe to the dual harmony leads, but far less of the pomposity and far more of a USPM drive (or if you prefer, that of a more Point of Entry-era Priest on steroids). Bottom line, this is some seriously solid stuff.

If you don’t like this, you probably hate most of the aforementioned acts, as well as similarly minded ones like Burning Starr…in which case, you’d better consider turning in your membership card to the metal community, ya fuckin’ poseur.

Countless shitty aggro, nu and screamo acts are more your style. This one’s for the diehards who know their metal from the legions of pimple-faced and angry fakes.

Top notch. Maza aa gaya!

 

J.B.O. – Wer lässt die Sau raus?! (AFM Records) (June 28)

“Where we let the pigs rest?” Ist meine Deutsch wir schlect hier?

Look, it’s J.B.O., anything’s possible. They close the album out on a po-faced beer hall anthem (“hello beer”, literally) and do not only an ersatz cover of Rick James’ hoary “superfreak” (beat further into the ground by MC Hammer a decade later with “can’t touch this”), here as “weil’s Quatsch ist” (are they referring to Sasquatch here?), but fucking “happy birthday”. Gee, I gather they’re not being entirely serious…

Yeah, if you’ve heard any J.B.O. or read any of our reviews of prior releases from these Deutscher pranksters, you know exactly what to expect…just this time, with a bit more of a metal edge to the guitars (and a faint touch of Brian May and Queen to some of the leads).

Not much else to say here, really – they’re definitely a love ’em or hate ’em proposition (and for non-German speakers, something of a complete shrug of the shoulders).

Ich spreche kaum Deutsch, so I pick up a reasonable portion of the silliness – just enough to remain pleasantly bemused by ’em, but no further.

More fluent speakers’ experience may vary.

Tanzwut – Seemannsgarn (AFM Records) (June 14)

Okay, take the Rammstein sound and match it to bagpipes.

Now, I love bagpipes, I don’t care what our crusty “Scottish correspondent” used to say on At Eye Level during its final months. They have an eerie, haunting feel that stirs the heart while bringing enough of a mournful feel to satisfy the inner black metaller inside.

So why doesn’t this work very well?

I mean, it’s not terrible, or anything…but what comes off here is a particularly aggressive Ren Faire act. Next to the tents where they do tarot readings, across the way from the guy who sells chainmail and homemade armory and the funnel cake folks, you hear the strains of Tanzwut…huzzah!

I mean, if you just want something dramatic to play when they announce the black knight’s team at the joust, sure, this should work fine.

But are they breaking any real ground here, like you’d think from seeing such a bizarre blend of genre and instrumentation on paper?

Sorry, but no.

A shrug of the shoulders, but the thought was interesting and appreciated.

 

D-A-D – A Prayer For The Loud (AFM Records) (May 31)

When we had D-A-D’s Jesper Binzer on the podcast, it was with fond memories of their sole US effort No Fuel Left for the Pilgrims and their cowpunk/Hollywood metal crossover sound (“sleeping my day away”, “jihad” and “point of view” were all respectable hits back in the day.)

At the time, they had just released the likeably similar Dic-Nii-Lan-Daft-Erd-Ark, a homonym for their (true and original) name that saw them returning to and expanding on that sound after many a year of local popularity but global obscurity. Good album, glad to hear ’em back in fine fettle.

But it’s been several years since that album dropped, the better part of a decade, in fact…and things change.

Here they return with a far mellower album, more akin to the countrified bluesiness of…hell, I don’t know, I was going to offer Dave Matthews, but that’s more hipsterish and almost jazzy…you could say Junkyard, but that’s too direct and far more aggressive…what is this, really? John Cougar Mellencamp turns up the guitars a few notches?

Seriously, only “no doubt about it” has any real fire to it. “Time is a train” jacks the distortion, but staggers its way back into a drunken heap in whatever alley it crawled out of. “Happy days in hell” does sound like it could have been an outtake from No Fuel, so there’s another contender…but two tracks, however good they in fact are, does not a solid album make.

Look, it’s been several years, and there’s no question they can (as in “have the demonstrated capability to”) still bring it.

But seriously…all you’ll want to hear more than once off this album are “no doubt about it” and “happy days in hell”, both of which are very much worth a listen and/or download.

Emil Bulls – Mix Tape (AFM Records) (May 24)

That cover should clue you in to the fact that there’s something much akin to that surprisingly killer soundtrack to the first Guardians of the Galaxy film.

Yep, this is German alternative rockers Emil Bulls doing a bunch of covers. Unfortunately, they’re modern pop music, so yours truly is honestly lost as to who the fuck they’re supposed to be covering or what the originals even sound like. And from the sound of it, I’m damn proud to be able to say that.

Yeah, there’s a few familiar (if generally disliked) 80’s and 90’s tracks in there, from the estimable Billy Idol’s “rebel yell” and the Pixies’ “where is my mind” to dogshit like Starship’s “we built this city” and Taylor Dayne’s “tell it to my heart”. I did recognize The Killers’ “Mr. Brightside”, but as with the other tracks here, the aggressively overly detuned nu metallish guitar makeover seemed entirely unnecessary.

The rest of this, you readers will probably be a whole hell of a lot more familiar with than I hopefully ever will be: Destiny’s Child (ugh!), Ed Sheeran, Bruno Mars, Billie Elish, The Weeknd (must be a rapper, he can’t even spell his own fucking name…) I mean, no kidding: WHO?!?

Seriously, no idea, and from what I’m hearing here? Don’t WANT to know.

Modern music really blows.

By their choice of covers, the generally likeable Emil Bulls just hammered that point home, dramatically.

Whatever’s next in queue, I just hope it washes all trace of these songs from my mind…

…NEXT?!?

 

THE RODS – Brotherhood Of Metal (Steamhammer / SPV) (June 7)

Ronnie James Dio’s first band Elf (whose self titled debut rivals classic Moody/Mardsen Whitesnake as one of the best boogie band records out there…too bad about the albums that followed!) alum David “Rock” Feinstein and thrash metal producer Carl Canedy (of vintage Exciter, Possessed, Overkill and Anthrax fame, among others) join forces for this heavy rock/metal borderline act.

They dropped about a half dozen albums throughout the early to mid-80’s before calling it quits, only to get back together for a pair of albums in the last decade. Can’t speak for their 2011 opus, but this one features one of the original lineups, including the two gents aforementioned.

Accordingly, this sounds like a sort of Deep Purple-derived American hard rock/metal act of their era – very early 80’s in its basic power trio feel, simple Marshall stack setup, throaty midrange vocals and silly “yay, metal!” vocals. I guess similar acts could include the likes of Raven or Razor, but tone things down even more when it comes to the aggression and speed, tag in Jon Lord-style organ and up the rock quality dramatically.

Nothing wrong with it, expecially if you dig this style…but it’s a definite shrug of the shoulders for me.

Fans of the days before the NWOBHM really took off here in the States and launched what we’d come to know as heavy metal (as opposed to the more blunt, rock-derived 70’s variant heard here) or acts like Triumph and Zebra should really dig this comeback – the performances are solid and the sound and recording are just as retro as you’d imagine.

 

AXEL RUDI PELL – XXX Anniversary Live (Steamhammer / SPV) (June 7)

The long running former Steeler (Germany, not the Yngwie/Ron Keel act) six stringer hits the stage with current frontman Johnny Gioeli and former Rainbow/Doro Pesch sticksman Bobby Rondinelli for a selection of past favorites.

As ever, it’s solid, and despite Pell’s reluctance to ever really let ‘er rip on the leads, there’s often a vague feel of the neoclassical (at least in a Blackmore in Rainbow sense) about the proceedings beneath all the melodicism and Jon Lord-ish organ/keyboard work. You can tell it’s European and at least borders on classic metal, nuff said.

We covered Pell a few times previously (for Game of Sins, the Ballads V and Knights Call) and always walked away fairly satisfied if not reasonably impressed, so suffice to say, if you like the man’s work, you’ll be happy with this two disc live representation thereof.

 

Ringworm – Death Becomes My Voice (Relapse Records) (May 3)

Oh, joy, here comes a return engagement with our pals at Ringworm, whose Snake Church we’d had the displeasure of hearing a few years back.

Because, you know, Pantera wannabe tonsil waggling screamo types are our very favorite acts here, right?

Holy fuck, you’d think somebody’d learn by now.

WHIZZZ!!!

Hey, no urinating on the disc, you’re liable to make the Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards flare up even higher than it already is. Already burning the leaves off the trees with this one…

…next?

  

Arch / Matheos – Winter Ethereal  (Metal Blade Records) (May 10)

Those who’ve been sort of keeping an eye on John Arch and his work with former bandmate Jim Matheos already know the man’s still in rather good voice…but a whole fuck of a lot more mellow if not navel gazingly depressed than it seemed back in the heyday of Fates Warning.

Back in ’03 he made a surprise comeback from decades of obscurity (working, if memory serves, in carpentry, much like Dean “drum machine” Roberts of Leatherwolf, who we effectively interviewed onsite (pardon all the hammering and sawing noises in the background!) with the standalone single “relentless”, followed by the two song EP A Twist of Fate (half of which was a triple length version of the aforementioned single).

Nearly a decade later, Arch and Matheos rejoined forces, this time with pretty much the entire Fates Warning in tow (at least the iteration that includes former Armored Saint bassman Joey Vera) for the far superior 6 track mini-album Sympathetic Resonance…listed as Arch/Matheos to mollify any fears Ray Alder was entertaining about being bumped from Fates Warning proper.

But don’t let the name fool ya – we just had two Fates Warnings running around at the same time, and were all the richer for it (this wasn’t long before the excellent return to form Darkness in a Different Light, remember).

Well, this time around, I guess Alder wasn’t having any of that, because we’re back to the two man juggling act of the single and EP released under the John Arch name 16 years ago.

That said, while as gloomy and lyrically depressive as the Arch “solo” works, Winter Ethereal bears more of the “upbeat, aggressive” (speaking in very comparative terms, mind) vibe of Sympathetic Resonance, even one upping it at points in that respect.

Now, saying this is solely down to Messrs. Arch and Matheos is slightly disingenous…it’s actually something of a “project” with respect to the bass and drum chairs. Both early Alder era sticksman Mark Zonder and recent Fates Warning one Bobby Jarzombek are on hand for various tracks, and about 12 million four stringers: Vera, Sean Malone of Cynic, Steve DiGiorgio of Sadus and Death and even original Fates Warning bassist Joe DiBiase sign the register at one point or another.

As such, it may be little surprise that the album does at points feel just a bit more tonally varied than Sympathetic Resonance. Not enough to make any major stink over, mind…but a bit less one note, for all the lyrical misery and navel gazing tone overarching the proceedings.

As you’d expect, production is one of the strong points here, the musicianship is as top tier as you’d think from the folks in Fates Warning (of whatever era) and while the man can’t possibly sound the same as he did back in the flush of youth, Arch is one of those guys whose powerful voice has held up surprisingly well over the intervening decades.

No, it’s no Awaken the Guardian or Spectre Within.

But once you temper those lofty expecations, seriously. What’s not to love here?

Silver Snakes – Death and the Moon (Evil Ink Records) (May 3)

Wait, Erik Estrada? You mean Ponch has a band?

…oh, sorry, that was Alex Estrada. Whatever.

Promo materials give a nod to Garbage, and you can indeed hear that band’s bizarre crossover between indie rock and electro-gibberish in Silver Snakes’ sound here.

Like the lovely but wacky Scotch Red and her post-Angelfish act, this is dark and grinding enough in feel to come off as what passed for “punk” in some circles during the 90’s (the decade where punk ceased to exist, and “alternative” types co-opted the moniker for their own bizarre efforts…)

But much worse than Ms. Manson and her “little copper friend”, everyone’s favorite disco dancin’ TV motorcycle cop pushes matters wayyyyy too far into a faux-industrial electronic noise thing, at points almost losing even the Mac-processed guitar riffs (however simple) beneath walls of sub-dance club beats and whining industrial style feedback, like Louis and Bebe Barron gone Trent Reznor or some
shit.

To the extent he manages to keep these inclinations more or less under control and they just provide an unnecessary garnish to the riffage, this should appeal to fans of darker 90’s music.

Just watch out for how ridiculously often all the noise and weird effects go from blatantly obtrusive to subsuming anything of value beneath their blanket of fritzing, sparking wires.

Like a house going up like a torch from a frayed wire, this is the sound of an electrical fire in progress.

Borders – Purify (Long Branch Records) (May 10)

Screamo/aggro crossover out of the UK.

You know the type. Detuned, depressive guitars with sorta melodic choruses and a whole lot of that ridiculous throat polyp-developing GUWAAAAAAAHHHH BLEEEAAAHH GAAAAAHH!!!! bullshit that seems to bear so much appeal to pimply faced, sweaty teenage boys bursting to the rim with underutilized testosterone.

Look. I’m generally good with the base metalcore/emo thing, unlike a lot of metallers I know or bump into in various forums online.

I can appreciate the general structure, enjoy the clean melodic parts (wholly absent herein, by the way) and simply love ones that actually sound like some ersatz form of melodeath (Killswitch is a regular play around these parts, in both the Howard and Jesse-fronted iterations…though admittedly, Howard’s booming clean vox are much preferred). Also tend to really enjoy Adam D’s other productions…and not the albums he didn’t work on, which should say something.

Don’t delve into emo very much, but I don’t exactly run to change the dial when it comes over the airwaves and get the underlying vibe of despair that informs it (pre-throat polyps AFI is probably the closest I get to the genre otherwise). So again, both of these are at least listenable in their less aggro, more melodically informed variants.  That’s a lot more than you’ll get with most metallers.

But this…come on, man. Do you really have to belch-shriek EVERY FUCKING WORD?

Guess what happens next.

Here, I’ll do you one better than usual. I’ll “sing” just like you while I toss this one into the Pyre.

WHIZZZ!! GAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!

(shakes head, with raised eyebrows and a hearty sigh)

…next?

Employed to Serve – Eternal Forward Motion (Spinefarm Records) (May 1)

Okay, you fellas in Borders? I take it back!

Seriously…at least their music behind all that screaming was listenable enough.

I don’t know what the fuck’s wrong with these Londoners, who shriek away with high pitched whines like some lunatic pulling a stop drop and roll through hot coals, naked…while the band makes weird atonal noises and lunkheaded nu metal meets aggro detuned “riffs” (if single note pedal tone bits can even be counted as such) behind ’em.

Whatever drugs these chaps are doing, I’ll pass, thanks…

Did you even need to ask?

Watch out for the sparks, people. This one’s gonna explode when it hits the flames.

OOF! Yeah, that was a real shit bomb…

…next?

RENDEZVOUS POINT – Universal Chaos (Long Branch Records) (May 24)

Okay, now take Silver Snakes and cross them with a very British-style Yes by way of Genesis style prog act out of Norway.

It actually galls that these guys are listed by multiple sources as “prog metal”…this is prog, alright, but as mixed with wayyyyy too much electronic overlay nonsense (maybe they think this makes them sound “futuristic”?) to give a very pop veneer. I won’t even grace them with a Faunts analogy, because they never get to that level…but you get the idea here.

“Metal” never comes into the picture. Prog, yeah. Indie electronic, definitely.

And under those headers…it’s just too annoyingly skewed towards the side of “indie electronic” for my tastes.

I guess if you dig hipsterish “prog” acts like Porcupine Tree, these guys should be right up your alley.

Not trash, no. But not what I was expecting or looking for, by an absurdly long stretch.

EXCUSE – Prophets From the Occultic Cosmos (CD, LP) (Shadow Kingdom) (August 2)

Straddling the borderline between dual harmony lead driven USPM and classic thrash (both of which derive closely from NWOBHM roots), this unusual Finnish act brings Jeff Becerra-esque declamatory gravel vox (or as one pundit put it back in the day, “the sound of gargling glass”) and a somewhat sinister feel to the proceedings, all in the service of a very retro minded underground metal approach.

We’d covered their Goddess Injustice a few years back, and found them a much more straightforward, if still quite likeable “speed metal” than they’ve become with this release, with vox that came off far more Bobby Ebz of Genocide than this far more Possessed-like iteration. There’s no question that, whatever their merits previously, the band has clearly stepped up their game.

Interestingly, like all the best vintage thrash, Excuse manages to keep listener attention despite tracks that run in the 7-10 minute range on average. No vintage Metallica beat the same increasingly boring riff into your head until you want to puke here, they actually carry a given phrase to the point of sustainability before switching up to another that fits smoothly, then on to a dual lead bit, then another riff, then a dramatically melodic solo, perhaps one more phrase and out.

Good stuff, particularly if you have a taste for vintage underground metal circa 1987.

Aphrodite – Lust and War (Fighter Records) (July 9)

The guy from Iron Dogs and Ice War, whose career on the fringes we’ve covered pretty much from day 1, continues his more or less upward trajectory with this collaboration with Demona and Outline’s frontwoman “Tanza Speed”, who relinquishes her usual guitar chair to “Jo Steel” with interesting results.

What you get is a more “speed metal” sound falling between the usual Hells Headbangers act and that vintage Exciter gone Teutonic vibe so often expressed in Ice War’s more aggressive tracks. There’s none of the pseudo-satanic schtick or South American blackthrash flair of the lady’s other work, but neither is it recognizably Ice War, falling somewhere between the two bands’ styles.

The guitars chug along rapid fire, while the vocals come off like a more naive, less nuanced or self consciously overdramatic Silvia (Killer Barbies) Superstar…even on Dressed to Kiss, the lady didn’t sound as po-faced and struggling to keep up with the relentless pace as Tanza does here.

But it’s endearing, particularly with the nearly monotone vocal lines matched with that thick, heavy lipped Spanish accent (you’d be just as much in the ballpark calling this the Castillian lisp as boisterously Brazilian…she’s Chilean, but you’ll hear the mix of tonality and twang right away).

The guitars and (rather simplistic, almost slow blastbeat) drums seem on the edge of going off the rails, with her heavily lidded, pointedly youthful naive vox working hard to keep up, so this is some seriously retro style underground metal – all the winning juvenalia of early Kreator or Sepultura, where what could be viewed by stiffer listeners as flaws become part and parcel of exactly what makes this work quite so well as it does.

This is not for fans of US school vintage thrash, USPM, speed or what have you…but fans of quirkier, more aggressive thrash/speed oriented acts back in the day from the German and South American (particularly Brazilian) scenes should instantly connect with this, not “despite” its weirdness and ostensible failings, but because of them.

Fast, aggressive, right on the edge of total collapse.

Just like this stuff’s supposed to be.

Diviner – Realms of Time (Ulterium Records) (June 7)

Greek power metal act, apparently the core members hail from an earlier band called InnerWish. Don’t ask me. But after this one, my interest is admittedly somewhat piqued.

They’re a fair sight darker and more aggressive than many bigger names in the European power metal scene, but once you start thinking along the lines of the estimable Brainstorm crossed with the Dio-swipe vocals of Diego Valdez, it all falls right into place neatly.

The chugging feel here is less Helloween and more thrashlike, more angry. One thing’s for sure, these fuckers ain’t Edenbridge, much less Freedom Call!

Personally, I’ve come to the opinion that Brainstorm is one of the greatest of all modern day Euro-style power metal acts, taking the seat long since vacated by earlier, more bombastic symphonic ones like Rhapsody (of Fire) with their earthier, more realistically grounded approach. I mean, no question their AFM work beats the Century Media and Metal Blade stuff all to shit, but even then they could really deliver when they wanted to.

So to say that these Greeks are working something quite similar to Franck and company is no small compliment.

Yasou!

Winterwolf – Lycanthropic Metal of Death (Svart Records) (June 14)

Okay, somebody’s been spending a bit too much time in the Dismembered back catalogue…

Seriously, the thin toned, overdistorted “chainsaw guitar” HM-2 sound is present and accounted for, as are the appropriately throaty growl vox…they even give a nod to fellow Sunlight Studios alumni Darkthrone, who abandoned their early Entombed worship in favor of the more primitive end of the emergent black metal scene, by referencing a (kathaarian) “life code” in one track…)

Turns out this is actually a Finnish act, led by the guys behind Demilich and both Deathchain and Jess and the Ancient Ones…doesn’t sound very Finnish, though.

Aside from that, it does sound quite vintage, and if you dig the rawer, sloppier end of classic Euro (mostly Swedish, but you could conceivably argue Abhorrence here) death metal – and I mean to the point where it almost borders “war metal” or grindcore, mind! – you should be reasonably comfortable with this.

Various Artists – Pölyä – Experimental New Wave and Art Punk from Finland 1979-1984 (Svart Records) (May 10)

You know, for a nation that delivers so much quality melodically driven black metal (and a few primo death metal acts to boot), Finland’s other music scenes…don’t seem to have fared quite so well.

Case in point, this bizarre collection of oddities marketed as apprehending to the tropes of punk (in the classic pre-hardcore “art punk” style) and new wave…and yet.

What you actually get rarely sounds very punk – a guitar tone here, a surprisingly rare vocal there – and never anything close to the postpunk/new romantic/new wave thing that came nipping at its heels around 1980-83 (and which was, at least here in the States, driven mainly by exposure on the fledgling MTV and as filler between movie airings on early pay cable networks like HBO.)

Instead, this is more the sort of oddball electronic experimentation screwing around in the basement with my first guitar, the world’s cheapest sub-Casio keyboard and a Toys R Us drumset. Vocals are oddly sparse, drive and song structure almost entirely absent from the proceedings.

I’m not sure why this one was even released, or what extremely limited pool of prospective listeners would find this one of any value. Maybe that’s why the misnomers of punk and new wave were tagged on, in the hopes of catching a few unsuspecting punters, who’ll inevitably feel completely ripped off, but hey…it’s a sale, right?

Toss this one into the flames for me, I’m too disgusted to exert the energy.

Jess By The Lake – Under The Red Light Shine (Svart Records) (June 7)

Never was that huge a fan of Jess and the Ancient Ones (whose Castenada, Second Psychedelic Coming and Horse and Other Weird Tales were previously covered herein) or their non-Jess spinoff Exploding Eyes Orchestra (whose debut and II we covered previously.)

Generally lumped in with the all too brief “occult rock” thing of the prior decade (alongside far more worthy acts like The Devil’s Blood, Blood Ceremony, Pagan Altar, Hell and so forth), they bore little in common with the retro psychedelic hard rock vibe the scene was known for (even in its classic practicioners like Coven, Black Widow and early Death SS/Paul Chain, mind!). While they did certainly handle the psychedelia side fairly well, even Jex Thoth felt more “true”, not to mention heavier in tone. And this from the guys behind Deathchain?

So what you need to know here: this is essentially just a case of what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. If the rest of the guys can splinter off to do Exploding Eyes, then Jess can go off with other musicians and…be by the lake, I guess.

Otherwise, it’s a Jess and the Ancient Ones album. There’s a bit more blues and 70’s singer songwriter-style pop, with the music coming off like an overly depressed (and hook deprived) Carole King by way of a lyrically bereft Joni Mitchell.

It never gets very heavy, nothing really stands out…I guess if you’re into light fare with sorta bluesy female vox, you may well love it, but it’ll do nothing for the average “occult rock” fan, much less those looking for something “extreme”.

“Nightmare” is about the heaviest things ever get here, which should tell you all you need to know.

I’ll give this caveat out of fairness. Diehard fans of Jess and the Ancient Ones’ experience may vary.

Dark Heresy – Abstract Principles Taken To Their Logical Extremes (Svart Records) (April 26)

Promo materials get one thing dead on here: mention is made of a similar verbosity to Martin (Skyclad) Walkyrier. Must be a British thing.

Otherwise, this is a semi-obscurity from the 90’s, a single album blackened-fill in the blank act who find themselves (apparently) remastered and reissued here.

We’re led to understand this is (black/)death metal, but it doesn’t sound very death metal, at least not of any school or era thereof you could ever pin down.

There are elements that suggest an Eastern European oddball take thereon – somewhat akin to the likes of Krabathor, Miasma or Root, but still stranger.  Expect lots of acoustic sections, sometimes with keyboard organ accompaniment…and riffs and connections that are way the hell off kilter, to say the least.

So how about the sound? I mean, this is a rescue and remastering, right? Well…

Expect to hear thin, overdistorted guitar tones, drumming that sounds like the guy’s playing used coffee tins, underwater gargle snarl vox, the entire mix swishing and swirling at the edges like a bad download (which I’ll give the benefit of the doubt and offer as a possibility here), which gives rise to the question: if this was a remaster, how fucking awful did this sound previously?

You’ve heard demo tapes that sound at least this good…and probably better. At least there’s enough treble to keep it from the expected thick and muddy sound of the vintage demo…

Is it bad? Nah. It’s got that weirdness factor that marks the early black metal scene or screwed up bands like the aforementioned, so there’s definitely some interest and appeal to this one.

Just don’t expect it to sound very good.

 

BEHEADED – Only Death Can Save You (Agonia Records) (June 14)

The Maltese Falcon…er, death metal band drops a new album.

It has a very modern feel, but with actual riffs to save it. It’s not overly “tech”, “brutal”, “blackened” or what have you…so while hardly one to file with the classics, this is a rather strong entry in the modern death metal stakes.

If you had to compare it to a vintage scene leader, I’d say there’s a lot of early Vader to their sound, in all the in your face aggression and punishing tremelo-driven riffage, matched by slowed down, almost majestic sounding chordal phrases.

On the downside, the vox are a bit over-aggro, the blastbeats too often fallen back on to fill verses…but there’s enough pounding double bass and proper death metal feel here to keep true death metaller heads a-bangin’.

The production is a bit over-wet for my tastes, but you can see why, given the clarity it brings to the Deicide-lite dual vox and the incredibly huge sounding riffs. Reminds me of early Benediction EPs like Dark is the Season or The Grotesque in that respect.

Overall? Have to admit, I really liked this one, and it sounds more retro minded the deeper you get into it.

Damn good stuff.

Bhleg & Nechochwen – Sorlande sky / Majestic Translucence (Split EP) (Nordvis Produktion) (May 31)

You know, when it comes to metal these days, I have to admit to a slight bias towards the European variants.

Not like there isn’t some strong (if oddly Euro-style) power metal and a very crusty, raw Venom meets early Bathory at a Motorhead gig USBM going on…but we’ve long since relinquished the crown to the rest of the world, with most folks having confused the sort of aggro, nu, grunge and industrial crap that passed as a faux-“metal” throughout the metal-shaming 90’s and early millenium with the real thing.

And I hear a collective poseur gasp: you mean Pantera, Slipknot and Black Label Society aren’t metal?

So it’s a bit of a surprise when something like this split comes along, offering a side by side comparison of, in this case, two “folk metal” (or perhaps more accurately, Cascadian style introspective (arguably post-)black metal) acts. And much to my surprise, the European one loses, badly.

Seriously – while both sides are certainly listenable and compatible enough to share a split without any raised eyebrows…what the hell, man? West Virginia offers an amazing (and well produced!) track from a band called Nechochwen that must be heard to be believed.

Bhleg prove themselves no slouches, mind, offering a far more straight up (if melodic and still introspectively moody) black metal…but the production is under a bowl of wet oatmeal, particularly by comparison with Nechochwen’s chilly crispness.

Turns out we’d covered both bands previously, Nechochwen to much the same amazement with their Heard of Akamon and Bhleg twice, for Draumr Ast and the much improved Solarmegin, which got a rather good review itself.

All things taken as equal, you really can’t go wrong here, or with two of the three albums mentioned herein – I refer the interested listener to their respective review links above.

Prag 83 – Énouement (Nordvis Produktion) (May 17)

Another offering from the German Nick Drake and friends.

We’d covered this dark neofolk act’s Metamorphoses a few years back, and here they are again with this two track single.

Personally, I prefer the more Al Stewartlike title track, but if you’ve ever heard the late cult folkie Drake, you know exactly what you’re getting into here – they certainly deliver a spit take that’s dead on.

Enough to fool a diehard Drake fan? Perhaps.

Obsidian Tongue – Volume III (Bindrune Recordings) (September 30)

Raw, nasty vocalled black metal peppered with Ulver meets Vintersorglike clean chanting and a really crystalline drum sound that leaves the snare actually popping (translation: it sounds rather good).

Speaking in more general terms, this one can get moody…and in the clean vocalled sections, works pretty well.

Oddly, the album comes to a long and grinding halt around the midsection, for a piano instrumental and an overlong, atonal leaning bit of abject nonsense that really should have been excised from the release (“empath”).

Otherwise, not bad, though it must be said: with the sound being pursued here?

The gargle-snarled bits and blastbeats don’t really seem to belong.

The Glorious Dead – Imperator of the Desiccated 7″ (Eihwaz/Bindrune Recordings) (August 31)

The heads of both labels this one hails from take part in this somewhat vintage sounding death metal act: think somewhere between Gorefest, Fischer-era Benediction (for the throaty growls and more deliberate, midtempo riffs on both tracks) and a bit of Sinister (for the speedy riffs on “mangled cerebration”).

One track is studio (the aforementioned), the other is live, both sound pretty good and leave the death metal fan wanting more.

So how about it already? Bring on Into Lifeless Shrines!

  

INFINITY – AWAKENING (MACHINE MAN RECORDS)

And here we have a relatively young act out of Philly, clearly raised on the pop/punk of the early millenium, with touches of the subsequent emo scene informing both vocal approach and occasional bridges and diversions…but doing what is otherwise very much a vintage Bay Area style thrash in the Metallica vein.

There are occasional riffs and phrases that bring acts like Forbidden to mind, a guitar tone that feels a touch early Heathen…but then they flip straight into a Bad Religion meets screamo thing (“calling my name” being a particularly egregious example of such).

But aside from these flourishes, grace notes and garnish, expect something very much in the Bay Area vein, with enough of a pre-sellout Metallica feel to the crunchy, deliberate thrash riffing (and even to some extent the raspy, declamatory shout vox) to shelve them alongside more modern takes on acts like Xentrix or D-A-M (themselves UK near-clones of the Metallica when anyone gave a shit sound.)

Honestly, this is one of the better all around thrash albums to come across the virtual desk, period…because despite certain very obvious markers of their age and influences, these guys get it far closer to right than most of their ostensible peers.

Steel Mammoth – “Friendly Aliens” (Ektro) (May 24)
Steel Mammoth – “Amplituhedron Baby” (Ektro) (May 31)

Two more (literal) singles (no B-sides, these are very much one and done) from Ektro’s new favorite experimental synth/dance combo cum full fledged “band” (in other words, our two man operation has expanded to include a duo of female vocalists and one male one).

As you might expect from the cover art, “amplituhedron baby” is the more dance club friendly and exuberant, while “friendly aliens” is the more oddball and basement lab sort of thing (think early Cabaret Voltaire with the synth tones of Pleasure Victim-era Berlin, but more atonal leaning and static).

As you might expect therefore, “amplituhedron baby” is the only one of these to pay any attention to whatsoever, unless you’ve become a diehard fan of Steel Mammoth over the last few months’ worth of singles.

Dekathlon – “Taskuni kutsu” (Ektro) (April 29)

Speaking of Ektro house bands, here comes label head Jussi Lehtisalo’s latest and greatest project Dekathlon with another (yes, literal) single.

Whether in sync with Steel Mammoth or just as a one off, Jussi and fellow Circle alum Janne Peltomaki have also expanded to include a (guest) vocalist here, whose contributions fit the track well enough objectively speaking, but which ultimately come off too distracting with their being mixed very much front and center.

Bottom line, when these guys are “on”, they’re on, so whether you find the vocals unnecessary or complementary, they should have been buried lo-fi style, subsumed into and as part of the synth-driven mix rather than “fronting” and overpowering same.

Seriously, this one would be pretty powerful modern wave synthpop without the vox…should have gone full on 80’s style and included a vocal-free B side, I’d certainly have left that on the iPod in perpetuity.

Great instrumental track…very wrong time to tag in a “frontman”.

SATAN TAKES A HOLIDAY – A New Sensation (Despotz Records) (April 19)

“Blow” kicks off the listening experience here (for yours truly, anyway – you know the deal), and it’s looking very Styx from the vocal intro…before the band kicks in and it gets very garage indie ‘punk’ in the 90’s mode. Think Urge Overkill with Frank Black on guitar and you’ve got it nailed.

Oh, then they throw in a Brian May-style harmony lead bit at the end of the solo just to keep you off balance…

Yeah, nothing I’ve heard since has really thrown that general assessment. Not much more of the Styx, only vague hints of the Queen…but a 70’s rock informed take on the Urge Overkill meets Pixies/Frank Black 90’s sound, very in your face and raw, but melodic enough to keep ya listening.

PER WIBERG – Head Without Eyes (Despotz Records) (May 10)

Okay, I’ve never heard of the guy, but apparently he cut his teeth on Opeth records and Bill Steer’s post-Carcass pseudo-hippie act Spiritual Beggars…meaning I’ve never heard of the guy or anything he’s been involved with.

So what you hear here: opener “let the water take me home” and closer “fader” are all mellow if dark keyboard/piano driven singer songwriter shit. Depressive, but probably eliciting yawns from the public at large.

The other four tracks are again very 90’s in feel, sorta dark and sinister sounding, a bit “off”…but nothing spectacular. I guess think somewhere between Catherine Wheel, Shudder to Think and…hell, I dunno. There’s a bit of a countrified vibe to “get your boots on”, while “pass on the fear” and “pile of nothing” are more aimlessly drifting, with sparse piano or guitar punctuating as you drift along wondering if there’s any point to all this.

Well…it’s dark, definitely.

Yeah, can’t say I got much out of this one.

Next?

STONE LEADERS – S/T (Vanity Music) (March 8)

A former drummer from former Fabio Lione act Labyrinth and sideman shredder Yngwie Malmsteen kicks off his own…what the hell is this?

You’d think a guy with impeccable Euro power metal credits would keep somewhere in that vein, right? But noo…

Well, you can say there’s some very strong UK-style (read: stiff, boring, light and airy) prog elements to this, and that he’s certainly showing off his kitwork throughout with busy, syncopated runs full of turnarounds and flash that bring the likes of Tony WIlliams and Billy Cobham to mind.

I really liked the drum track, and would love to have extracted that and put it to a real band…

Instead, what you get is some retro ass cheese at core (think Yes school, but not even that fancy) mixed with the overly modern (the guitars often attempt to be “crunchy” and “metallish” without ever sounding very prog metal or power metal, the vox are raspy but pretty unimpressive, and overall? The whole thing sounds pretty fucking mellow and snoozeworthy.

I mean, hey, if you’re a huge Dream Theater fan but wish they’d dump all the drama, keyboards and bombast (much less the flashy guitar school graduate wheedly whoo sweep arpeggiated leads) and just leave the girly New Age bits and prog-lite thing they’re known for?  Then yeah, Stone Leaders will rock your world.

But that ain’t my idea of prog, much less prog metal, and never was.

Great drumming. Deserves a much better forum to showcase ’em.

You know, one that won’t put you to sleep.

  

WICKED GARDEN – Post Dystopian Leisure Music (Shock Records / Vanity Music Group)

You know, I was about to make a Savage Garden joke, and relate the anecdote about spamming a Tower Records freebie bumpersticker onto my drummer’s car, much to his consternation…but it looks like we’ve covered this one before, listed under advance single “already gone”…but it’s actually this entire album, don’t ask me what communication gap went down there.

So I refer y’all to the earlier review for details…

…next?

Cold Kingdom – Into the Black Sky (May 24)

Femme-fronted Minnesota act. Apparently they made something of a name for themselves locally but ran into a snafu of frontwoman member swaps. Hey, shit happens in bands.

Being our first exposure, all we can go by is what we have in hand, with new girl Elissa Pearson offering a rather Amy Lee style and range, and giving the self proclaimed “hard rock” act a rather pop-gothic metallish vibe ala Evanescence, Nemesea or Lacuna Coil.

The detuned, distorted guitars drop a very modern metal feel as well, and there’s even hints of that quirky nu metallish thing to all the squeaking and chugging in place of an actual lead in tracks like “ammunition” (don’t worry, other tracks do in fact feature credible, rather metallesque leads…gee, think they mis-identified themselves as to genre?)

So yeah, this is a modern, almost gothic metal act that borders on the likes of Lacuna Coil more than it ever does, say, Halestorm. They’ve got a decent frontwoman and their sound is polished enough to take them places…at least well above the “local favorites” bar band level they seem to have been working to date.

I was good with this one…you should be as well.

Hell and Hollar – 442 (July 13)

Here’s a band that came with zero info attached. Turns out they’re a Florida hard rock act with an obvious blues base…sort of a more aggressive, less quirky and no fun (well, comparatively speaking…good luck matching “hoodoo witch” or “human cannonball” here!) take on Webb Wilder.

The band’s own rather basic and info-deprived site offers that they cross the borders of bluesy hard rock and stoner, and yeah, I’ll second that.

They’re certainly solid enough, and if you’re the sort who lives on a steady diet of “classic rock” from the 70’s and hangs around in bars hoping for a good band to check out, then you’re definitely in luck here.

Not really my thing, but they have a lot of energy and sound pretty decent for the style.

Autopilot – Afterglow (October 19)

Surprised these indie rockers hail from Saskatoon, Canada…there’s a definite UK feel about them.

I guess if you took elements of James and tagged them into a sound more informed by the likes of The Killers and Radiohead, you’d wind up with something much akin to Autopilot.

A decade or so back, they could have wound up on the soundtracks to Scott Pilgrim or Ghost World…respectable, if a tad light and airy indie/alternative/college rock with some seriously nasal vocals and often clean/overdriven guitars (which occasionally get more driven and near-tremelo ala Faunts).

Yeah, I can see them becoming something in their genre. Definitely listenable and credible enough, and could easily see this growing on me further over time.

Am I Dead Yet? – S/T (Wire-Sound) (April 26)

Speaking of Radiohead…depressive, mellow British indie (self described as “electro-rock”) from a former member of the infamous Gay Bykers on Acid and apparently a member of Magazine.

Hold up…you mean Howard DeVoto’s late lamented act, which gave John McGeoch to Siouxsie and the Banshees!?!

Well, yeah…but in a serious letdown here, it’s from an unheralded brief reunion of the band circa 2009-10. As my pal the former hippie once said, “Yeah, sure, the Yardbirds are in town: Keith Relf and a bunch of kids. mmm-hmm.”

Even so, both of these guys have subsequent credits you’ll likely have at least heard mention of: Pop Will Eat Itself and Apollo 440 (admittedly more the former than the latter, but be that as it may.  You’ve probably heard of if not appreciated all four bands concerned).

So this one…well, like we said at the outset, it’s mellow and sorta depressive. The sound is sparse, almost like Chris Isaak with the ol’ Silvertone taking more of a backseat and a Mazzy Star meets PJ Harvey at her most mellow and balladeering thing taking forefront.

It’s certainly retro-90’s.

Wild Planes – Singin ‘N’ Slingin (May 30)

This one’s very au courant…

“We don’t know this” reminds me very much of (believe it or not) Joe Jonas’ oddly credible pop-funk act DNCE, which while a bizarre reference on the surface, is hardly a slag in pop music terms.

“Drunk,” while lyrically blunt, does little to disabuse this notion, and it’s only with the other three tracks that the band falls into a far more generic bar band blues/”classic” rock thing.

Laugh all you want about the comparison to a fucking Jonas Brother, but at least those two tracks had my attention…the rest of this was a yawn and a stretch. Best you have is “the hunter” which starts to insidiously grow on ya with the repetition of its chorus ad nauseaum…but that’s not saying much.

Apparently they’ve been on Good Morning America, which means a bunch of silver haired old ladies are probably already queuing up to grab a copy of this EP…

Two interesting tracks, three snooze inducers.

 

Dust Prophet – “Shadow Army”

We’d covered these New Hampshirites’ “the big lie” late last year, and found them rather quirkily messing with stuff like grunge, the airier end of postpunk/gothic and psychedelia.

Here they work something closer akin to the early Cocteau Twins/All About Eve gothic rock schtick they were touching on previously, with just a hint of doom and stoner psych in the overtones and guitar solo, respectively. Needless to say, it’s a HUGE improvement, and leaves this particular listener wanting more…

Stick to the gothic rock stuff, guys – it looks good on you.

The rest, shake that dust off your feet and move on.

Crush the Altar – Abhorrent Oblation (Redefining Darkness Records) (June 21)

hmm. Promo materials liken this West Jersey/Eastern PA act to Hells Headbangers USBM acts like Bat, Midnight and Speedwolf, but an allegiance to the crustier end of first wave black metal (Venom, Bathory) aside, you’ll be hard pressed to hear any such thing.

Vomit vox that fall somewhere around the sloppier end of death (think Autopsy school) don’t help the generally slo-mo riffing, and one track with some obvious thrash riffs (“see mortality”) does not a blackthrash band make.

Nothing horrible, mind…just goes nowhere and fails to impress in any respect.

Deorc Absis – The Nothingness Transfiguration (Redefining Darkness Records) (May 31)

Weird-ass experimental black metal with some black/death elements.

Seriously…there’s nothing to hear here. Just move along.

Gravefields – Embrace the Void (Redefining Darkness Records) (June 7)

Big, fat, overly bombastic guitar tone and production with ooky-spooky singsong lead line overlays. Riffs often feel more death than black metal, but it’s straddling the border enough to mollify both camps.

Vox generally append to a dual tracked snarl black metal thing, but switch to doubling the snarls with belch-growls thereafter.

I wish I were Behemoth…I wish I were Behemoth…

…next?

MOLLO RILLA – S/T (Seeing Red Records) (May 3)

Oddly vocalled heavy rock in a sorta retro 70s modality.

I guess if you think stuff like Grand Funk or Molly Hatchet crossed with the likes of Heavy Load or High Power, but with nasal stoner vocals delivered by some Ray-Ban sporting hipster type…you’ll know exactly what to expect here.

Oh, and then there are obvious stoner rock moments crossed with ones that come off more Hour of 13 “occult rock” bordering, albeit without any of the sinister mumbo jumbo associations.

Might sound pretty weird…but it works well enough, with enough of an off kilter feel to keep things interesting throughout the 14 tracks presented here.

Found it a bit of a shrug of the shoulders overall…but objectively speaking, this is well worth a listen for fans of any of the aforementioned bands or genres.

Who knows, you may find your new favorite band of the week.

Sanity Control – Demo 2019 (Seeing Red Records) (June 21)

Crossover thrash, eh? Well…yeah, I guess you can hear that.

Frontman sounds like Tom Araya making puke noises throughout, without any of the verbosity, sinister feel or screams.  Decent riffs.  Band sounds a whole hell of a lot like post-Abattoir Latino thrashers Evildead, honestly.

It was certainly OK, if you’re into vintage thrash or crossover…just don’t expect DRI, MOD or any of the scene defining acts to play much of a part in this, and the vox may wind up becoming a bit of a liability across a full length, where they’re more of a curiosity here.

  

Stille Volk – Milharis (Prophecy) (June 28)

French “pagan folk” act. Essentially, think a Prophecy-style take on folk metal acts like Skyclad or Elvenking, without the aggression or pointedly melodic bounce.

The trade off, as you’d expect from the label, is very good production, a focus on a slower, melancholic feel and a touch of “maturity” and class that you really don’t get with most forms of underground music (vintage gothic rock aside).

There’s a very deliberate feel to much of this, with a slow nigh-march tempo that suggests Conan getting whipped while working the giant grist wheel in the desert (most pointed in “incantation mystique”), while other moments come off more akin to Projekt Records-style darkwave.

Not much else to say here – you should already know whether or not this appeals to your own musical tastes and orientation.

Moon Far Away – Athanor Eurasia (Prophecy) (June 28)

Far more along the lines of your average Ren Faire performers come Russian neofolk act Moon Far Away, who could easily have hailed from the mid to late 90’s Projekt roster but for their utter lack of darkness and gloom. Hell, they actually sound sorta cheery…

Male and female vocals trade off from one track to the next, but it’s all rather laid back and mellow…and as noted, often fairly upbeat, at the very least by comparison to the sort of gloom and gothicism such bands (and the label they hail from) tend to specialize in.

mmm…yeah, whatever. Not my thing.

Dool – Love Like Blood (Prophecy) (May 17)

Female fronted darkwave act. Title track is a studio-recorded Killing Joke cover, the other two are more representative (and darker!) live tracks.

Sounds fairly good to this eldergoth…bring on a full length, let’s see how it plays out!

Valborg – Zentrum (Lupus Lounge / Prophecy) (May 17)

You know, it’s hard to even classify this band. I’d have said industrial leaning “dark metal” (a genre and disposition that seems to be isolated to Germany as a rule), but some folks claim “progressive doom”, whatever the fuck that’s supposed to mean. Trust me, Ahab it ain’t… 

Vocally, you know what to expect – throaty growls pushing towards aggro screaming in the (modern) industrial style…it’s the rest of it that’s kind of indefinable.

Guitars can be clean and ringing…or riff based and grinding. Drum patterns, like said riffs, are super basic, as in call and response two-beat to slow blastbeat driven. And then there’s an overtone or underlay of electronic tone/keyboard to darken the mix further.

I guess the best things get is a track like “nahtod”, which feels like a gloomier Rammstein moment.

Interesting, has definite moments…just not sure I’m sold on it in any real way.

 

Bethlehem – Lebe dich leer (Prophecy) (May 17)

Yep, everyone’s favorite DSBM weirdos are back…

We’d covered their Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia about 5 years back, and found ourselves much confused by their bizarrely ever-shifting stylistic choices.

Sometimes they were working a Peter Murphy/darkwave sort of thing, others felt more Ulveresque…and then they’d start going all puke vox and just sounded ridiculous.

Sadly, this one sticks to laughably Fleuretylike shriek vox throughout, with a midtempo first waveish black metal beneath. No issues with the actual music portion of this album, therefore…

…but seriously. Are you kidding with those vocals?

GOO-ROO-HOO-HOO…YODEL-A-HEE-HOOOO!!

(stifles snicker that bursts into spit take laughter)

umm…yeah. So, it’s Bethlehem, still as weird as ever.

Next?

Chronoform – From the Void (Inverse Records) (May 29)

Actual reactions: first strains of “subatomic” drift through the earphones. Okay, sounds fine so fa…

(vocals kick in)
(nose crinkles, eyes widen, lips purse in disgust and disbelief)

(jazz break pops up out of nowhere)
(eyebrows raise)

(aggro vox, nu metal returns)
(headache begins to develop)

(shakes head, sighs deeply)

WHIZZ!!! right into a well deserved fate in the ever-renewed Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards.

crackle, sputter

…next?

Alase – Vastaus (Inverse Records) (June 7)

All over the damn place, with the only constant being its unusually extreme mellowness.

Sometimes they’re shooting for post-black. Sometimes they’re full on indie rock. At points, they feel sorta “modern metal”, with all the neutered pop, emo and metalcore influences that implies.

Hell, they even go full on aggro on one track…but it never feels particularly aggressive, more like he’s screaming at you from his hospital bed. “THEY WOOONT BRING ME JELLO and it’s hundreds of bucks per day for a few channels of TeeVEEEEEEEE!!!”

Yeah, more fodder for the flames.

Duck and cover.

Blackwater Commotion – Strike One (Concorde Music Company) (May 10)

What would you get if you took AC/DC and removed all the energy?

Now cross that with Dangerous Toys, keep the vocals but remove the humor.

Then tag in one of those Swedish or Finnish retro-glam rock acts like Heavy Lixx or Kissin’ Dynamite, but remove the flashiness.

Yep, that’s what you get here.

(yawn, stretch)

(wiping sleep from eyes, realizes you’re still waiting there)

…next?

DEATH’S-HEAD AND THE SPACE ALLUSION – The Counterbalance (Inverse Records) (May 3)

Light and airy prog rock act with guitar solos that suggest a vague prog metal orientation.

But be warned…this is super light, like modern day Bon Jovi crossed with Journey, without any of the latter’s drama or bombast (but tagging in guitar solos that sound Satriani school of wheedly-whoo).

Calling this metal is something of a misnomer, it’s barely hard AOR (with some very indie rock meets corner of the mouth snark vocals to boot!)

Even so, it’s listenable enough and has its moments scattered about, if you’re not too particular.

Next?

Maniac Abductor – Casualties Of Causality (Inverse Records) (May 10)

Very one note Finnish thrash act. Riffs are chugging and potent enough, until you go to the next song, and the one after, and the four after that and nothing ever changes…

If they weren’t so samey, you could say the guitar style was pretty retro…vox are terrible speaking voice gone all drunken and pukey, but it’s not like you’ve never heard that in thrash (come on, just look at Sacred Reich or Evildead!).

While the vocals are certainly off-putting, the real issue here is a lack of variety or any feeling of one song being any different from the ones prior or subsequent…while not as bad as Gama Bomb in that respect, it’s like one long thrash suite.

A lousy cover of Sepultura’s “troops of doom” does nothing to help their case. Diehard thrashers, particularly those who appreciate the far more generic modern school thereof, may feel differently about these guys.

Again, not saying they’re terrible, just very much a one note concern.

Scythe For Sore Eyes – Nothing (Inverse Records) (May 3)

Weird rock act that pulls in a few thrashy riffs and others that feel more early power metal (almost Acceptlike on tracks like “black monday”) to what’s otherwise a straight up modern rock concern…a bit too punchy to be metal, far too often indie feeling to work variants like power or thrash.

Again, listenably odd, which seems to be what Inverse is working this month with its more worthy entries.

Midnight Bullet – Into the Fire (Inverse Records) (May 3)

Weird thing here is the band self identifies as punk!

Well, that’s one genre you won’t here in Into the Fire, as the Finns work more of a modern metal thing with light touches of countrified rock. Hell, you could almost call them a modern rock take on Johnson-era AC/DC…but punk? Nope. Not hearing it.

Hell, they even throw in Jake E. Lee in Ozzy-style near-shred solos in tracks like “break me first”…maybe they’re thinking Good Charlotte and Blink 182, with all that country-pop vibe? But even they sounded more Offspring school pop-punk than these guys ever do…

…yeah, whatever. For the tween girls and early millenium-loving ladies in your life, exclusively.

Next?

Temple of the Stars – Nightspirit (Inverse Records) (May 10)

Mellow traditional folk with some heavy-ish (as in lightly distorted) guitars. Lots of flute, mandolin and suchlike to keep things closer to 10,000 Maniacs or Hootie and the Blowfish than any folk metal act you can think of.

For the Enya and Celtic Women fan in your life.

…next?

Enchantya – On Light And Wrath (Inverse Records) (May 24)

Gothic/symphonic metal with a lot of weirdness that they consider progginess tagged in.

Frontwoman Rute Fevereiro does do the expected coloratura to mezzo soprano vocals, but strangely pulls a sub-Alyssa White-Gluz scary growl gone straight up throat ripping schtick in both between and alongside same…it’s just fucking weird and unnecessary. Gonna lose that sweet voice like that, hon. Nobody’s impressed by the growly-scream shit.

What makes this even sadder is that the band, while somewhat generic, does attempt to pull things in atypical directions, and when she’s singing straight up, you’ll hear the likes of early Epica, After Forever or Trinity-era Visions of Atlantis (or hell, Xandria’s Dianne Van Giersbergen) to her tones.

The lady can actually sing, and sing well…which isn’t going to be the case for long if she keeps ripping her throat out trying to “out guy the guys”.

Yeah, there’s too much oddness, “concept album storytelling” and injections of shit like the blastbeat to suggest that had she stuck to the operatic leaning soprano vocals, these guys would have gotten a four star review…but it certainly would have helped their case!

As is, an oddity, with definite moments and generally unfulfilled potential.

Who knows, maybe next album, they’ll work out the kinks and do this gothic/symphonic thing right.

 

Motive – Fight The World (Metal Devastation Records) (July 12)

Phoenix, Arizona thrashers.  Hey, isn’t that where Atrophy hails from?

Well, don’t expect that level of technical thrash here. These guys marry an unfortunate Anselmo-worship aggro vocalist to a very straightforward and simplistic riffing and uber-basic drumming. I was thinking Rigor Mortis, here…and that may be stretching it in terms of complexity.

Yeah, I don’t know. The production is really bad and this one was dead in the water by dint of the Anselmo-lite vox alone.

EXTREMA – Headbanging Forever (Rockshots Records / Universal) (May 10)

Speaking of Anselmo and Pantera, here comes a “groove/thrash” act out of Italy.

The vox aren’t so closely indebted to ol’ seig heilin’ Phil as Motive’s clearly are, but they’re still very much aggro tonsil waggling BLEEAAHHH!!!! scream your throat out and some sweaty, pimply faced teenager will think you’re AWESOME, DUDE!

The rest of us think you’re kind of an asshole for it, but hey. Follow your bliss, if that’s good by you…

Whatever. Some trends are like a horrible fart, that just won’t float out of the room or be waved away. Or as a great uncle once advised, “ah, just take a few deep breaths, it’ll all be gone.”

Oh, if only.

Next?

FireWalkWithMe – The Eternal Black Rainbow (August 16)

Drummer from the wonderfully monikered …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead joins another oddball Austin, TX alternative act.

Sometimes they come off as straight ahead (indie) rock, as in “song about death”, others, they go full on noise, like “a tired god looks on”. It’s never quite punk, certainly not metal, but not exactly what you associate with indie these days, either. It’s more aggressive than that, and far more bar band rock when not pushing the post- and neo-no wave schtick.

Interesting and full of vim and vigor…just not sure it appeals to yours truly at all.

Ghost:Hello – Sound of Color in Space (September 20)

Odd husband and wife (and their cousin) act that’s mainly trippy stoner rock, but with some outsider elements like synth and noise (not to mention jokey falsetto and cold, almost robotic voices) making their way in at points.

Will this upend your love of Kyuss, Sleep, Fu Manchu, Acid King? Pfft. Hardly.

But if you love the genre, will you find something worth hearing at least once out of these Ohio weirdos?

Yeah, I’d venture that much.

Black Passage – The Veil (July 26)

Alternative bleeding over into and mixing with various genres of metal has been, til fairly recently, limited mainly to the post-black thing. But as you can probably already tell from some of the bands reviewed this month, now they’re going after death metal, aggro and straight up modern metal as well…

Case in point, this is a fairly generic modern metal act (itself something of a catch all for bands working a dark, heavy guitar based sound that doesn’t really fit into any of the dozens of sub labels of doom, black, death or trad/power/prog metal)…but one that’s clearly jumped the shark into indie territory.

Croak/belched “death” (think more “aggro by way of metalcore”) vox, heavy riffs (somewhere between “experimental/atonal”, metalcore and the more generic modern metal in approach and feel)…and clean, nearly whispered alternative/indie rock vox, plus the clean ringing guitars that so often append and inform the indie sound.

It’s too angry for the average indie fan, too light and nerdy for the pissed off metaller who just wants their aggro, metalcore or modern death straight up, and too experimental and quirky for anyone who just wants a proper song to groove, mosh or pummel someone to…so who’s really the audience for this?

Strange shit.

…next?

Concilivm – The Veiled Engima (Dawning Septic Productions) (May 31)

Atonal, experimental black/death out of Chile. Bears that oddball, nigh-unlistenable feel of the more “occult black metal” variant thereof.

yeah, whatever. Next?

Maharaja – Kali Yuga

Stoner/sludge out of Ohio with a slightly doomy feel.

The detuned guitars seem to leave every track starting on the exact same pedal tone note, which leaves this album sounding pretty samey…but stick with the songs and they’ll take you different places eventually.

I guess if Medieval were on a downer binge and chased it with a pack of some shitty beer like Bud Lite, they might have come out sounding like Maharaja instead.

Personally, I dig doom in most of its variants, so this wasn’t exactly outside my alley…just not sure how much intrinsic value it has in a world where you can just go straight to Electric Wizard, Red Fang…or hell, Medieval Kills for your fix.

Turkey Vulture – Boxer (June 28)

A truly bizarre, strangely inessential sludge piss take on Dolly Parton’s signature “Jolene” is appended by the title track of this debut single from a new Connecticut duo.

Frontwoman Jessie May (of Owl Maker, whose Paths of the Slain and Sky Road we’d previously reviewed here and here) reminds a hell of a lot of last month’s Scabby Ghouls with her sardonic, depressedly sprechtgesang intonations of what have to be some seriously tongue in cheek lyrics, while her hubby to be handles the drums.

Not a million miles from her main band…just campier and sludgier, if that’s even possible.

Sarinvomit / Eggs of Gomorrh – Encomium of Depraved Instincts (Krucyator Productions / Atavism Records) (July 11)

Inessential split between Turkish act Sarinvomit and Switzerland’s Eggs of Gomorrh, whose Rot Prophet and Outpregnate we’d previously covered to some mixture of bemusement and shrug of the shoulders dismissiveness.

Eggs are the weirder, noisier and more atonal of the two, Sarinvomit the more typically underground black/death…but neither exactly shines. Both bands drop a pair of studio tracks and a pair of live ones, for those so inclined.

Next?

XT – Revived – Standing for Jesus Christ (Talking Music) (April 26)

It’s no secret that there was a period in the late 80’s where I was really into the surprisingly darker than the metal mainstream USPM / prog sound of the (then rather small) Christian metal scene.  Bands like early Bloodgood, Sacred Warrior, Saint, early Bride, Barren Cross and Angelica rubbed shoulders with more mainstream to rock acts like Stryper, Rez Band and early Jerusalem and Leviticus.

Compared to acts like Ratt and Dokken, they were much heavier and darker…up against more USPM leaning ones like Lizzy Borden, Queensryche, Savatage, Priest or Rhoads-era Ozzy, they were very much head to head, with good playing and often decent vocals to boot (Parra and Carlsen come immediately to mind in that respect).

Hell, I dare you to find a USPM/prog-power act that sounds like Show No Mercy/Live to Die era Bride…good shit, regardless of your personal beliefs or lack thereof.

One band I heard existed but either never heard or never gave a damn about was XT. Heard the name, saw one or two of their albums in one store or another at the time…never indulged.

So it’s a bit of a surprise to discover it’s actually a side project of Leviticus’ Bjorn Stigsson (whose The Strongest Power reissue we covered here as well).  Sure, I liked I Shall Conquer, and Strongest Power had its moments…

So apparently here Stigsson cedes the vocal chair and sticks to guitars, giving it to a more traditional high and soaring type (a Sonny Larsson, whose thin tone reminds more of Dennis DeYoung than it ever does any metaller you can name) and tones the hardline Old Testament biblical lyricisim down to more of the sort of thing you’ll hear from unearthed prog/power acts like Batallion, Emerald or Beyond Reason – metal with a social conscience and some Christian underpinnings that peer out every now and again and inform the empathy on display.

As such, it’s more AOR based than 70’s heavy rock to early power metal like Stigsson’s main act, while still retaining his likeably melodic, well structured songcraft, keyboard and leads.

Sure to appeal to a much wider base than its comparatively blunt title and goofy cover might suggest, this one’s good enough to make me wonder why I missed XT the first time around…this is pretty damn solid stuff, especially if you’re a fan of the sort of AOR bordering on 80’s mainstream metal Frontiers Records specializes in.

And this is a 25 years after comeback album?  Damn…

Definitely deserving of respect and yeah, we’re giving ’em the nod.

DOG BLESS YOU – BANKSTERS  (May 31)

Grunge from the French Riviera!

As such, it’s no surprise they don’t come off like a bunch of miserable, navel gazing depressive heroin junkies in sloppy flannel and filthy hair…in fact, they sound downright happy and joyously upbeat (complete with vocal harmonies!), as you’d expect from someone residing in such a sunny coastal resort area…

Consider them the Freedom Call of retro-grunge.

Hell, I actually kinda liked this, that should say it all!


THE MORGANATICS – Love Riot Squad vs The F-World
Dual male/female vocals and some interesting musical turnarounds inform this French “alternative love rock” act.

They actually sound more like modern metal with a very happy and melodic take on the base emo/punk template, all charged energy and punchy distorted guitars with some odd editing and/or electronic schmutters, strong verse/chorus interplay…well, that’s what I got in my initial download, for the lead single “done with the wings”.

Which was so goddamned good, I had to go back and see if I missed getting the entire album somehow. And sure enough…

Over the course of a full album, things do play out differently. Now they sound more electronically driven and Euro, like the more pop radio iterations of gothic metal on tracks like “cant rise to your expectations”, the Delainish “Gloria”, and even the vaguely Halestormish “Hannah”…and nothing really comes close to approaching the glories of “done with the wings”.

But while losing the propulsiveness and darker vibe does hurt the band, you can still tell it’s the same folks working those other tracks…they just haven’t quite woken up to their potential, yet. Some come respectably close, many are very listenable, even likeable if you can get past their intrinsic quirkiness…

…but a band that can deliver like they do on that one track clearly has much better things in ’em, and I’m looking forward to see where they take it from here.

ABRAHMA – In Time for the Last Rays of Light (Deadlight Records) (May 24)

Bizarre Parisian take on what we’re told is supposed to be doom metal. There are some Buddhist/Hindu elements informing the lyrics and the music is so far from what you’d expect from any variant of doom, you’d never believe it.

Think more heavy guitars that often slow down, but tend to be driven by melodic lead lines and off kilter post-black style tremelo riffing as much as they are by experimentalism, odd guitar-derived sound effects ala Larry LaLonde’s Primus days and depressive grunge vocal turns…but never actually any form of “doom”.

…yeah, I didn’t get this one, and I love doom as a rule.

Egonaut – ”Omens” (Kingart)

Two singles from Kingart Music, first Swedish dark metallers Egonaut, who deliver a very keyboard inflected, faux-Dio vocal growled “omens”.

The solo reminded me a bit of Michael Denner (of Mercyful Fate fame), the track is pretty deliberate and midtempo, with a quirky gallop beat and eerie organ throughout.

Not a stunner, but interesting for sure…I’d sum it up as “yeah, not bad.”

In Silence – ”The Worst Liar” (Kingart)

Second comes femme-fronted modern/melodic metal act In Silence, also hailing from Sweden. They drop a two sided single, with lead “the worst liar” being a tad more mournful on the choruses and with no solo to speak of.

B-side “open your eyes” is more driving and metalcorelike (picture a mostly aggro vox-free early Agonist, and you’ll hear it right away)…and frontwoman Erika Jonsson delivering a particularly impassioned vocal performance. Not like the A side was bad at all, but this one is so much better…truly killer, and of course not promoted.

(rolls eyes, sighs)

Well, fuck that. Here’s your promotion. Both tracks are good…but get it for “open your eyes”, which blows its companion all to shit.

Damn good stuff, would not mind hearing a full length from these folks.

 

ORDINUL NEGRU – NOSTALGIA OF THE FULLMOON NIGHTS (reissue) (Loud Rage Music) (May 15)

ORDINUL NEGRU – LIFELESS (Loud Rage Music) (May 1)

A pair of reissues from these Romanian black metallers. We’d covered their Faustian Nights a few months back, and found them surprisingly quite good for a band attempting to work the “occult black metal” schtick.

Here we get their fourth and sixth albums, in appropriately reversed order, and it’s yet again a different story.

So let’s talk the good one first…namely Nostalgia of the Fullmoon Nights.

In place of the (oddly enough, and for a decided change) rather listenable and powerful take on the whole Watain wannabe thing so beloved of shitty corpsepainted arseholes all over the globe, here we get a very different band.

In place of the full lineup shown on their latest, both of these are one man bedroom black metal…and as such, bear a completely different sound. While promo materials claim allegiance to the famed Norwegian second wave, this is far more akin to similarly minded one man acts like Finland’s Satanic Warmaster and most especially the Midwest’s Judas Iscariot.

Lots of dark melodicism, an absurd degree of trancelike repetition and a relentless tremelo driven speed, with the poor recording and lo-fi vibe familiar to aficionados of the underground one man scene…with exactly one track slowed down to a more midtempo feel.

If this could be any more post-Heaven Shall Burn Judas Iscariot (albeit with the melodicism and lead lines of the Finnish scene), it’d be by ol’ “Akhenaten” his own self…

His earlier effort Lifeless is…well, just that. It’s all slow and seems to go nowhere, with a lot more early Graveland-style keyboard accompaniment but absolutely zero drive, atmosphere or appeal.  It’s just…dull.  Dry.  Boring.  You know…lifeless.

Wondering how album #5 stands…was this a period of sudden if quite notable improvement? Or was Nostalgia an isolated lightning bolt out of the blue, followed by a very different, if still worthy full band affair not long thereafter?

Only ongoing reissues will tell.

By all means, whether you liked Faustian Nights or not, you owe it to yourself to check out Nostalgia of the Fullmoon Nights…it’s really, really good.

And unless you’re a masochist with money to burn?  Do yourself another favour…pretend the other one never existed.

MERCY’S DIRGE – LIVE, RAW AND RELENTLESS (Loud Rage Music) (April 22)

Noted in promo materials as one of the first Romanian black metal acts, these guys dropped two demos back in the heyday of the second wave, then disappeared, only to return this past year with a brief EP and this “live” (in studio) album.

I can’t speak to how they used to sound, but like a lot of bands from behind the former Iron Curtain, they come off quite first wave in feel, with all the quirkiness and underground (black)thrash vibe of bands like Root, Tormentor or Italian first wavers like early Bulldozer or Mortuary Drape.

The vox are goofy (hello, Root), with this Telly meets Cookie Monster shout-growl that gives way to a Witchtrap-style gargle snarl for a few tracks mid-album. The music is midtempo and basic, bearing much more in common with darker forms of traditional metal and early (low speed) forms of Euro-thrash than it ever does black or blackened anything…it’s just strange.

Can’t say I hated it…but can’t pretend to have liked it any, either.

WARCRAB – Damned In Endless Night (Transcending Obscurity Records) (August 30)

We covered this sludge-doom/death/almost grindcore simple act for their Scars of Aeons a few years back, and found ourselves a bit confused if not nonplussed by their odd genre blender approach.

Too death to be doom (or even, for that matter, doom/death), too slow and sludgy to be death (even if we’re talking Autopsy school), vox too snarly and black metallish for either. And yeah, that still applies for the most part.

But inappropriate vocals aside…I dunno. Maybe they grew on yours truly over time, maybe I’m just a bit closer to the doom thing these days…but Damned in Endless Night seems to work better, somehow.  It’s more recognizably akin to, if not falling into lockstep with, the tropes of doom/death.

I mean, it’s hardly Winter, or Sorrow, or Autopsy, or Anatomia, for that matter…and I’d hardly see this one getting released on a label like Rise Above or Weird Truth, let’s put it that way.

But even so…when you get these long sections without vocals, or when he stops the black metal snarl shit and slips into a more casual death growl? Yeah, you can hear it. And it’s actually pretty good…

Won’t even call for a change of frontman, here…he can clearly do a more appropriate vocal when he bothers to try (listen to him bellow “swords!” from the depths of his belly and tell me that ain’t death metal).

So come on. Bother to try more often.

Yeah, this one worked the right dark, depressive, doomy magic, no question.

TRENCH WARFARE – Hatred Prayer (Transcending Obscurity Records) (August 9)

Black/death out of the US. Production stinks, it’s all hiss and thin, trebly noise.

Vox are sort of guttural if not John Tardyesque, but without any depth or power…though who knows, maybe it just got lost with the rest of the bottom end in this dogshit production!

The music, such as human ears are capable of making out in this whining, hissing construction site of a recording, seems to fall somewhere between the overly detuned simplicity of Incantation and the relentlessly downward progressions of Immolation (albeit without the quirkiness that marks that band’s earlier and better work)…

…but the simpleness of it, combined the frantic blastbeat and cymbal drumming and awful production, comes off more grindcore than the more blackened end of old school death metal like those bands were.

With a real producer or a proper remastering, maybe this one’d come out as an album and band with a real appeal to fans of Incantation (at the very least)…but it sounds so crappy, you’d be hard pressed to hear that…or much of anything, really!

Wait for a major overhaul, re-recording or remaster, unless you really enjoy the sound of blenders on high, rip saws, jigsaws, nail guns and jackhammers blaring at top volume…

HEX  – God Has No Name (Transcending Obscurity Records) (July 5)

Doom/death out of Spain. Promo materials toss Bolt Thrower and Unleashed out as comparators…yeah, you can hear it, if you listen close enough.

Production’s more like the UK veterans, the simple riffing’s more akin to Hedlund and company…but there’s more than a hint of IVth Crusade to tracks like the amusingly mis-transliterated “all those lies that dwells (sic)”.

What really throws a wrench into things is the up front and rather nu metallish bass, whose tone and lines can only be linked to death metal by oddities like Suffocation’s Breeding the Spawn or Massacre’s the Second Coming. At best, you could call it “groove metal” playing…

And yeah, whether due to the bass or some overarching element intrinsic to the band’s style, there is definitely more than a hint of groove to this album…so if that’s a deal breaker for you, consider yourselves forewarned.

But overall, they hit many of the right buttons, with respectably powerful and clear production adding the right layer of polish and veneer…I was definitely good with this one, yeah.

BURIAL REMAINS – Trinity of Death (Transcending Obscurity Records) (July 12)

Well…didn’t see the reason for a brutal death metal cover of Kreator’s “tormentor”, but can’t say hearing a newer band cover an old favorite wasn’t a welcome bonus…

There are tracks here that sound like a noisier, more aggro take on vintage Swedeath (albeit quite noticeably minus the top notch Sunlight Studios production), others that are noisy and sloppy enough to lean more Finnish, or even vaguely Autopsyesque…it’s clear they were trying to recapture the vintage European death metal sound.

But the plus or minus of this endeavor, depending on your own enjoyment of this or no, is that Burial Remains is by no means another retro act showing off their HM-2 “chainsaw guitar” sound and familiarity with the classics.

This is a much sloppier, noisier, more pissed off band than even the darkest of ’em back in the day…or who knows, maybe it’s just the production here, which is in your face, but overly so and far too noisy and messy.

You’re talking to someone who plays those classic albums fairly regularly, here…and while the familiarity of base sound and approach is present and accounted for?

These guys still managed to miss the point by far too wide a margin.

Oh, and like Maax and Haxxan before you, nice Uncle Al wax recording snippet to close out the album proper. Ta…

ROGGA JOHANSSON – Entrance to the Otherwhere (Transcending Obscurity Records) (July 19)

The ubiquitous and loveably retro-devoted Rogga Johansson drops another slab of vintage styled death metal goodness.

“In the grip of garpedans” comes off sorta Disincarnate-like, “the re-emergers” extremely Desultory-esque. “Giants walking at night” feels more Entombed circa Clandestine (if leaning slightly Wolverine Blues), “a journey into fear” bears elements of Bolt Thrower.

Now, the rest of the tracks fall somewhere between a vague Entombed vibe and something far more modern and melodeath (not even necessarily Gothenburg style, mind)…but as usual for Johansson, it’s all pretty well structured, reasonably melodic at core and bears a decent production.

Not seeing much of his stuff that isn’t at least listenable, more often leaning towards the range of “good to pretty damn respectable, actually…”

This one’s no exception to the rule.

 

MORDOR – ¿Evolución?… (Xtreem Music) (May 28)

Ah, now here’s a proper crossover thrash act.

Chunky, punchy riffs that sound thicker than a Doc Marten’s boot heel to the head, enough mosh breaks and slowed down sections to start a killer pit, decent production that lets you hear the fat guitar tone and the popping double bass and snare action…good stuff.

Yeah, the vox are just some guy chewing up a glass bottle full of sand and shouting at you…but it’s crossover, that was part of the punk scene at the time (think stuff like Judge – and this isn’t half that nasty vocally). It’s acceptable and typical for the scene.

Interestingly, the 1993 demo included on ¿Evolucion? lean far more sinister, even blackthrash. The ’92 demo was practically clean sung, and neither album sounds like that…so where the hell did this come from? That vocal approach worked better than what they actually used…

Good album, well worth looking into, particularly as you get the superior of their two demos here as well.

MORDOR – Hogar, Dulce Hogar (Xtreem Music) (May 28)

Strangely, this is almost an entirely different case. The ’92 demo is weaker than ’93’s, and the sound on this album is funkier, softer, more mainstream feeling. A lot of the difference does come in the production, which was much improved for ¿Evolucion?…but that’s not all of it.

The bass is far more prominent here, and brings that whiteboy funk feel with it to the point where it starts feeling like Mind Funk or Primus at times. The riffing style isn’t a million miles removed from what came later, but somehow it feels more like a beer drinkin’ toga party sound here, like they were having a good time and really didn’t give a shit how it sounded on record.

It’s not bad, but consider it like Believer’s Extraction from Mortality or Devastation’s Signs of Life. As a standalone thrash effort, it’s fair to middling, with some elements that work pretty well (in this case the leads, which are rather nice).

But you know something so much better is coming up next, that will sound so little like this one that you’ll forget it even existed.

DEFIXION – Tabella Defixionis (Xtreem Music) (June 18)

Weird-ass take on black/death, where the death metal is pretty straight up (if decidedly modern in feel and approach)…but the lyrics are straight up “occult black metal” ooga booga bullshit.

The production is both powerful (as in “guitars are very loud and in your face”) and piss poor (as in “it’s all hiss and signal bleed, with zero clarity and a lot of white noise”).

That’s about all there is to say here.

Time to shrug the shoulders and walk on, shaking the dust from my feet at this one.

DISOWNING – Human Cattle (XENOKORP) (July 12)

French/Canadian (as opposed to French Canadian…how’s that for a brain twister?) “brutal death metal” act with some modern death elements (i.e. it doesn’t stick to that squashed feel with the guitar squeaks, but actually has some progressions amidst all the machine gun burst gallop riffing and relentless blastbeat drumming).

Well…it’ll fill the bill if you’re desperately looking for new death metal.

Can’t say I entirely disliked it, can’t say I cared for it overmuch. It’s very middle of the road and equivocal for (or because it is) modern death metal.

Haze of Summer – Stuzha

We’d covered these Russian black metallers before, for Znoi, and here they are again with their latest and greatest, Stuzha.

Last time around we mentioned comparisons to both Kroda and (the Russian) Arkona, and this time, mainman Nikita Druzhinin actually brings in a member of the latter band on drums…

…and actually has the chutzpah to self identify on his bandcamp as “hipster black metal”(!) Gotta love a guy who just doesn’t give two shits what y’all think…

The syncretism and odd electronic/industrial elements crossed with folk and post-black business we noted last time around are further amplified by a bizarrely Russkaja-style horns and accordion style polka section, very prominently utilized in “October” (yes, every track is named after a Fall or Winter month) and a decidedly upbeat electronic/industrial dance synthesizer in “December”.

Even the more ostensibly straight up folk of “January” seems far cheesier and happier than anything Kroda’d ever release…

Yeah, this is obviously the same band as we covered last time around, in many respects. But somehow bands like Kontrust, Trollfest and Russkaja have taken prominence in Nikita’s personal playlist, resulting in a much sillier, happier, more lighthearted Haze of Summer than the one we’d encountered a few years back.

Your call whether that’s a plus or minus.

Sadness – Circle Of Veins (Flowing Downward) (May 20)

We covered this depressive post black metaller twice previously, for the rather good Leave and the somewhat spottier Rain, but always appreciated his mix of airy (early) Alcestian post-black leaning shoegaze and their darker, more contemplative approach (which we’d likened to Frozen Ocean, among others).

Here he works more of the latter day, if still more shoegazey than MOR oriented Alcest (the first half of “I follow rivers”, “cerrien”, “eye of prima (alternate version)”…but like “Neige” here manages to lose the black metal entirely, with weird-ass pop music style clean group vocals and a major scale, upbeat feel (“eye of prima”…which is very much not the same song as the “alternate version”, mind), “the spring sun on winter rain”, the midsection of “I follow rivers”). Frankly,
it’s bizarre.

No idea what Ojeda was shooting for here, particularly with shifts in volume and production within the same track – “I follow rivers”, for one, comes in at least three distinct sections, which get progressively noisier and wind up jacked into signal bleed range by the end of the track. It’s downright amateurish.

Not sure if this is a one off experiment or an ill omen of where he intends on taking Sadness from here on out…but if it does in fact indicate the latter?

Consider his musical shark officially jumped.

Nyss – Dépayser (Avantgarde Music) (May 14)

We covered these oddball French black metallers’ Princesse Terre a few years back, and more or less appreciated their cross between old school Norwegian style black metal and a more modern, Alcestlike dreamy post-black/shoegaze.

Here, as with Sadness, things seem to have changed.

Now, it’s not quite the same issue. Nyss certainly cannot be accused of having gone pop, or at least major key. But shoegazey and dreamy? Not a bit of it. Old school black metal feel? Nope, none to be found.

Instead, what you get is a relentless two beat “blasting” drum machine sound that seldom if ever lets up, annoying electronic squalls and noise effects and a whole lot of experimental atonality. Only during the latter half – as in around the 10 minute mark! – of “bitter tears and grave dirt” does this start to sound anything like the Nyss we remember.

Something applies here which everyone learns with time and experience, and inevitably much to their chagrin.

Change is not always a good thing.

Selah.

Black Dreams – “under my skin” (May 16)

Okay, I know, these guys are Finnish…but can I help finding it hilarious that the frontman’s name is “Kraapo”?*

* for the dense: sound it out.

What they seem to be working here is some odd middle ground between old Alice Cooper shock lyrics (“we love dead people”, which comes complete with spooky organ) and a dark melodic metal ala H-I-M.

Expect thickly accented but midrange and clean vocals over comparativley clean overdriven guitars and depressive lead lines, particularly on the superior title track (hey, they got it right for a change – the good one got the lead spot!)

Very catchy stuff, and pretty grim and gothic in the Euro metal style…Vile Valo and company are your best bet for a close comparative.

Ornamentos del Miedo – Este no es tu hogar (Funere / Solitude Productions) (May 10)

Spanish funeral doom act. Very heavy on the keyboards, it should be noted…at points their choral sampling and up front presence in the mix were quite distracting.

Vox are unusual if not downright odd, as if this were a chained up black metal frontman deprived of food for a week and gone rabid…then stick a mic in front of him and see what comes out.

Seriously, the guy’s snarl-gargling like his mouth’s full of foam and froth…you’ve never heard someone sound like this unless you’ve been present for the hospital bed death rattle of a friend or relative.  It’s not pleasant.

Aside from these two odd elements, this is fairly typical for the style, all ponderous, lengthy compositions (hell, the drums and tempo are even a bit too animated and fast, so far as I’m concerned!), with pretty clean and clear production on all sides.

Look, it ain’t Ahab…nor is it Winter, and those will always be the high standards to which I hold funeral doom (however unfair that may be to other practicioners of the art).

But if you dig lumberingly slow doom with a crisper production and cleaner guitar sound than generally found in the genre and don’t mind both infrequent if bizarre death rattle gargle vox and omnipresent, very up front and center vocal sample keyboards? You’re in like Flynn here.

Daemoni – Black Tyrant (Goathorned Productions) (June 6)

Colombian black metal. Bombastic, grim and powerful – I found myself thinking Tsjuder minus most of the Norsecore aspect. Taken on the whole, this is the more deliberate, resolutely midtempo end of that band’s Desert Northern Hell-era sound.

Best track and riff: “thirsty underworld”, which brought a bit of Sworn to the Dark to mind as well – and in this aspect, I don’t mean that as a slag at all.

Does get a bit samey after a few tracks…but moments like this are worth slogging through for.

Abysmal Grief – Mors Eleison (Sun & Moon) (June 25)

A particularly sinister, occultic take on doom. You’ll already be thinking early Death SS, even before you hit their cover of Paul Chain’s “occultism”.

The title track is the standout here, all Chain meets Mortuary Drape style church organ keyboards, throaty roaring doom riffs and a heavily accented, Irreligious-era Moonspell-like vocal.

Sadly, the other tracks don’t exactly live up to its high standards, with the cover being an inessential throwaway, “the shroud” being nothing more than pointless ambient sound bytes and “mysterium umbraum” too late to start, interrupted by faux-ritual business midway through, only to return to what they’d barely started towards the end.

Cut out all the bullshit at the start and center, they might have an actual B side here…as it stands, one killer track, three total throwaways.

Undoer – Survival is a Myth (Sun & Moon) (June 25)

Turkish black metal. Very driving and fairly well produced, if a bit aimless and samey between its three tracks.

Certainly listenable if your tastes lean more towards the modern schools of black/death bordering black metal.

More old school and orthodox types like yours truly? Yeah. Don’t bother.

CONCRETE WINDS – Primitive Force (Sepulchral Voice) (July 12)

Noisy, buzzing bee-style underground black/death.

Terrible production (your average demo drowned in a tank of bleach before playing sounds better than this one…), fast, pointless, overly raw and just plain annoying.

Seriously – put on the Nicolas Cage Wicker Man, pause on “the bees!” scene, and hit play on “sulphuric upheaval” for a new stereophonic sound shitfest and virtual reality experience.

You too can stick your head in a nest of angry bees, courtesy of the fine folks at Sepulchral Voice…

…next?!?

VORTEX OF END – Ardens Fvror (Osmose Productions) (May 31)

French black/death, both bombastic and over-aggressive.

It’s far less avant-garde than you expect from mainstream French blackened anything, but while the overall feel is much akin to acts like Behemoth or Belphegor, there’s more rawness and nastiness at play here.

Some of this is from the vocals and some to the overly pissed off, high speed riffing and blastbeat drumming, which again are mixed very loud and in your face, while all the trebly white noise and signal bleed are left in to make it sound loud…but shitty at the exact same time. It’s like a decent producer who’s started to go deaf handled this one…

Yeah, whatever. Not worth further discussion. Next?

Açoite – S/T (Helldprod) (June 14)

Here we have a band out of Brazil that self identifies as deaththrash.  Just don’t expect to hear anything that sounds remotely death metal here, much less the classic blackthrash sound of bands like early Sepultura, Vulcano, Sarcofago…or hell, even more black metal proper-leaning oddballs like Mystifier.

Instead, this is a nastier, darker and more sinister take on USBM, a Bestial Holocaust without the first wave or thrash influences. It’s all speed and nastiness, and…well, they try, but it’s ultimately still a bit forgettable.

Depends how hardcore you are on South American blackthrash, with a much nastier, rawer, more Hells Headbangersish sound.

No, it wasn’t terrible, or anything. Just kinda…meh.

Vectis – The Executioner (Helldprod) (June 27)

Now this one’s interesting!

A trio of Portuguese teenagers (ages 16-18) drop one of the most convincingly mid to late 80’s speed metal demos we’ve heard in a glacial movement worth of time.

This doesn’t even really qualify as blackthrash…this is more a faster, more aggressive traditional metal than the sort of thing that was coming out of Brazil or Germany back in the day. I could almost see these guys winding up on New Renaissance Records with a tad more polish and a toned down vocal…

“Warriors of hell” is the real killer, here, but all of this just simply works, right down to the chiming funeral bell and crowing ravens of the intro.

You’re damn right I want to hear more from these kids.

Black Mold – Tales of Degradation (Helldprod) (May 25)

We’d covered their Atavism about a year back, but this one sounds precious little like the band we’d described at the time.

Here they’ve gone rather boring, delivering a very dry variant of black metal that goes nowhere while feeling more depressing than the most limpid gothic rock support act. Promo materials note the change as well, so we have to assume this was deliberate.

No thanks. Bring back the band that gave us Atavism.

Kapala – Termination Apex (Dunkelheit Produktionen) (June 25)

A very Gravelandlike intro (and outro) of battle site campfires and incoming horses gives way to what may be the noisiest, most grindcorelike “war metal” EP you’ve ever had the misfortune to sit through.

They hail from India, though you’d never know it apart from the obvious lack of funds for production and recording.

We’d given them a slightly more equivocal review for their Infest Cesspool, but this one seems to be something of a step down from even those rather questionable climes.

…next?

Shades of Deep Water – Death’s Threshold (Dunkelheit Produktionen) (July 25)

Finnish funeral doom. No vocals, guitars lean more towards the clean overdrive sound, the four tracks blend into one long “suite” (or more properly, one 40 minute recording split somewhat arbitrarily into four parts).

It’s probably not fair to a lot of these funeral doom guys that my measuring stick for the genre has always been the mighty Ahab…a lofty goal that bands like this can’t help but fall far short of, whatever their individual and particular merits otherwise.

THE NEGATIVE BIAS – Narcissus Rising (A Metamorphosis In three acts) (ATMF)

We’d covered these black metallers’ Lamentation of the Chaos Omega a few years back and found them just passing muster on the basis of their more individual quirks than so many bands working too close to template for the sound being evoked.

This time around, they’ve got a two track single…and it comes off a bit overly experimental/avant garde for our tastes.

Another shrug of the shoulders. Next?

BLOOD OF KINGU – De Occulta Philosophia (ATMF) (June 16)

Black metal from the Ukraine, from the guy behind Hate Forest and Drudkh.

This is a reissue of their 2007 debut, which features some instantly fascinating Turkish/Moroccan style desert calls and bouzouku on the intro and proceeds to pull in some Buddhist chants, Indian tabla and other traditional global ritual instrumentation and touches to what are already some fairly melodic and straightforwardly driving black metal tracks.

Again, I’m hearing some latter day Judas Iscariot to this in the latter respect, but married to the more fascinating (in the original sense of the word) aspects aforementioned.

No question these guys were at least dabbling in some more serious shit, unlike so many preening poseurs out there…you can always tell.

Buyer beware in that sense…but for those who know what they’re getting into, this is pretty sweet musically speaking.

DEVOID OF THOUGHT – Cosmic Apoptosis (Caligari Records) (April 19)

As the first strains of “stargrave” ran through the headphones, I was expecting a rather more interesting shade of blackened death metal than what eventually ensued.

From the sinister riff and evil snarling of the first half a minute or so, the song quickly moves into a strangely atonally inclined piss take on Necrophobic. But don’t get your hopes up, it’s never that technical or complex…just speedy and noisy.

Vox tend to the underground black/death thing of deep and throatily wet, buried under a skyscraper’s worth of reverb, you know the scoop, you’ve heard some variant of this hundreds of times by now.

…next?

TRISTENGRAV – II – Nychavge (Caligari Records) (June 22)

I don’t know if it’s some vagary of the download, but there’s an oddly wet sounding chorus effect on the guitars that makes them feel strangely gothic rock/postpunk beneath all the black metal blasting.

The band, who hail from Greece, also bear some of the first wave’s directness, exchanging the usual trad metal/thrash vibe for the more punk/thrash feel of USBM’s Motorhead/Venom/early Bathory sourcing…and yet, hardly qualify as a Hells Headbangers style act, particularly with that nice clean guitar intro and outro.

There’s enough of a classier, gothic rock proper overtone to the band and what makes them stand out form the hoi polloi to throw their more typical blackened end into bold relief, and that end comes out decidedly wanting.

Drop the jackbooted bluntness of black metal, and go with your instincts to just become a straight up gothic rock act…you’ve got it in you, and it suits you better.

HEXENEBRETT – Erste Beschwörung (Caligari Records) (May 30)

There’s a strange feel to this German act that at times suggests hints of darker occult rock (think more Hour of 13 here) or even a simplified take on Mercyful Fate (“hexen”), at others more of a first wave Italian style black metal or even a slowed down Brazilian blackthrash (“toter schrei”)…but enough removed from any of that to feel somewhat unclassifiable.

It’s definitely blackened, a touch doomy and ultimately NWOBHM influenced…but when you start hearing Gravelandish vocal sample keyboards (that give way to ones that sound like they came off a Possessed album, mind!) on “sie fliegen” as well?  What the hell?

Very strange stuff…but certainly worth hearing therefore.

By george, I think I liked it…

Overt Enemy – Possession (Confused Records) (August 9)

This Texas combo apparently has a sideline as a Slayer tribute band, and it comes across in everything they do, from Leo Ortiz’ extremely Tom Araya-esque vocal screams to song titles to their sinister riffing style and the Hanneman/King tradeoffs of sloppy note clusters and whammy bar mayhem (well, these guys do polish up the mess a tad, but you get the picture).

Hell, they even close on a cover of “at dawn they sleep” that’s so dead on, they could have a sideline pulling a Gruesome – make their own close enough to be covers songs in the dead on, album by album Slayer style. Matt Harvey does it, and quite well…these guys clearly could do the same for vintage Slayer (and really should!)

But even as is, they’re hardly miles away from doing exactly that.  Honestly, this one might as well be a Slayer album, it’s close enough in style and approach.

Promo materials actually refer to them as “the best Slayer tribute in North America”…and hearing this? I’d be willing to second that bit of overly bombastic hyperbole.

This time, you can believe the hype, apparently.

  

K.F.R – Demonologue (Purity Through Fire) (May 31)
K.F.R – L’enfer à sa source (Purity Through Fire) (May 31)

Weird, typically atonal French black metal with a decidedly underground bent. A lot more ambient nonsense than you’d expect, the rest is super raw and filled with “occult black metal” bullshit touches.

The only difference between these two simultaneously released albums is that one has a creepy ass cover. Use it to scare your little sister or your mom some night.

Beats using these as coasters or targets for trap shooting, which is their only value otherwise…

Meuchelmord – Waffenträger (Purity Through Fire) (May 31)

German one man bedroom black metal, here focused on WWII.

You can clearly see he’s trying to broach latter day Marduk territory with a touch of Finnish melodicism, but “ostfront” is the closest he ever comes to success. The rest are very much of the hmm…sorta close, but definitely no cigar variety.

Not bad at all…just doesn’t hit its intended marks.

Vananidr – Road North (Purity Through Fire) (May 31)

We’d only recently covered the debut album from this beleaguered Swede (who’d been trying to get something together since the late 90’s, apparently!) and found it…fair, with a really good drum track for whatever reason.

Here the great drum production is lost entirely, and the album tries (and fails) at upping the bombasticness of the riffs to compensate.

As with their prior release, the sound is too flat and lifeless, mids heavy and without any real aim, drive, melody, song construction…really anything. It’s like listening to Nargaroth on Herbstleyd…whatever you thought about Black Metal ist Krieg, there’s simply no comparison – this earlier stuff is kinda bleh.

So yeah. You lose the drum production, and all you’re left with is the kinda bleh.

Malum – Legion (Purity Through Fire) (May 31)

We’d covered these Finns’ split with Lathspell a year or two back, and found them rather confused as to tone. Were they trying to be a particularly doomy variant of black metal? A happy horror punk one?  What?

So this time around, they drop all of that, and just deliver a really generic, poorly produced slab of black metal. About the best you get is when they slow things down to a more midtempo speed for “days of slaughter and destruction”, or to a far lesser extent, the Gaahl-era Gorgorothlike “luciferian legion”.

Even on those tracks, they’re hardly pushing towards doom…and the rest of this? Yeah, it’s kind of a yawn and a stretch moment.

All 37m59s worth of one.

Maybe black metal is really dying one long, slow death after all, a few surprise breaths of apparent life over the past year or so be damned.

Nattfog – Pohjan Porteilta (Purity Through Fire) (May 31)

Finnish black metal with traditional folk moments.

Opener “night of the ancient rites” and the rather Era 1 Mortiis meets Graveland drums and keyboard outro “ikiroudan laaksossa” are the only real standouts here.

Well, one amendment to that statement. While lacking entirely in the sort of folk/black metal crossover sound of the aforementioned tracks, “yoni usvassa” is a damn good black metal track somewhat in the vein of Clandestine Blaze or the more midtempo moments of Gorgoroth, Satanic Warmaster or arguably even Corvus-era Horna.

7 tracks, 2 being very good, one being a more than respectable ambient outro.

By modern black metal standards, that’s practically a glowing recommendation…

Kroda – The Prodigy Tribute – Fvkk ’em and THEIR LAW (Purity Through Fire) (April 16)

hmm.  Well, it’s no secret that I enjoy the folk/black metal of Kroda, oft mentioned as a comparator to likeminded acts in these pages.

So here the man drops a digital single in tribute to the recent suicide of colourful Prodigy frontman Keith Flint…and a less Krodalike track, you simply cannot imagine.

Essentially, it’s a guitar driven, vocal sample-heavy “suite” that allows for the man to drop in recognizable lyrical bits (and vague nods to the music as well) of “breathe”, “voodoo people”, “firestarter” and other notable Prodigy hits from back in the day.

Sounds cool on paper…but in practice, it’s a bit flat, the various songs a bit too subsumed into the drone of the main rhythm and beat he lays down to carry them all.

Not sure if this is supposed to benefit anyone (or if Flint even left anyone behind to drop some support towards), but I’d imagine not, given the silence around that end.

As such, unless you really wanted to hear Kroda step well outside his usual sound and comfort zone, it’s probably quite skippable.

Mettadone – Rotten Flattery (Archaic Sound) (May 10)

Ukranian death metal act. Given that it was formed by a drummer and the drums are very much given front and center prominence herein, you’d think that tells the tale succinctly…but strangely, said bandleader has switched to guitar and vox, leaving someone else to handle the drums in his place!

Go figure…

I liked the drum track being front and center, despite its relatively straightforward nature…the rest, however, was somewhat workaday despite a pronounced depressive, almost gothic doom vibe to the guitars and lead lines.

Ars Moriendi – La solitude du pieux scélérat (Archaic Sound) (May 10)

Somewhat avant garde French act who moves from a more piano and acoustic guitar based sond (on “interlude” and “jusqu’a la 13e generation”, and at least in the first half of “l’anachorete”) to a post-death, hipsterish sort of thing (“rien qu’un songe”) to a noisy, almost underground black/death sort of thing on “venefica part II” and “la solitude du pieux scelerat”…which then gets all melodic for the solo section, totally out of the blue, and remains so through the end of the rather lengthy track.

So yeah, I liked the better part of that one track (only)…but seriously.  Say huh?

Another band with no clue who they want to be, what sound they want to align with or what audience they want to appeal to.

…next?

 

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

One man blackened death metal act out of Mississippi, expanded to a four piece. Recorded under several pillows and a half ton of mud.

Vocals are super deep belches and snarls, guitar riffs are atonal and noisy ala the worst possible black metal at points, then go all sub-Suffocation for deliberate lurching pivot tones with harmonic note squeals.

Meantime, the drumming is completely out of control, and going far too fast for the guy’s physical ability to keep up…and he speeds up the riffs to try (and fail) to match, which makes it entirely comical. It’s not very appealing.

My grandfather had one of those old Playboy jokes about how to spell Mississippi if you’re Italian on his basement bar wall. I’ll spare you from repetition of same…but this one kind of begs for a joke about its home state, just by virtue of its sheer ridiculousness.

…next?

Obscura Qalma – From The Sheol To The Apeiron (First of All)

EP from what amounts to an Italian take on the Behemoth/Belphegor sound, all thick, meaty riffs, occasional choral samples and keyboard and big, if imperfect production.

The vox are pretty snarly and brought Slipknot to mind more than anything more properly blackened, and the entire band is shoved too far to the front of the mix all at once to build any sense of majesty or proper dynamics…something they should definitely correct before dropping a full length.

But it’s still powerful sounding and bears the appropriate bombast for this sort of black/death.

Like its obvious progenitors, this really didn’t do much for yours truly…but they certainly aren’t miles away from their intended sound, here, have to give ’em that.

Fans of Behemoth who don’t mind some unusually off kilter vocals for the genre should be happy enough with this one.

Délétère – Theovorator : Babelis Testamentum (Sepulchral Productions) (May 18)

We’d covered these Quebecois black metallers several times already, for De Ritibus Morbiferis and Les Heures de la Peste, Per Aspera Ad Pestilentiam and De Horae Leprae and tended to really dig their dark melodic take on the genre, with a passion and fire to rival that of the only other stronghold worth discussing nowadays, the mighty Finnish scene.

Nothing has appreciably changed here – this is still some very solid, melodic black metal with some hypnotic lead lines and enough polish and power to draw the listener in.

If you don’t like this, you probably don’t dig black metal, at least not in any of its post millenial iterations.

Intothecrypt – Vakor (Ordo MCM) (June 21)

We’d praised Scald’s Will of the Gods is a Great Power and to a lesser extent, Ross’ Sing, Guslar!…and here we have yet again the same band (or major portions thereof), in still another iteration.

Here they work more of a deliberate, almost pagan/Viking metal thing, with traditional folk elements (never more Ren Faire than when guest vocalist Marina Sokolova takes the mic with her sweet tones). When she’s singing, this becomes a very different band than the more lumbering metal festival behemoth they come off as otherwise.

The only subjective question here is, does this make them more appealing across the course of the album, or does it leave them feeling somewhat schizophrenic?

For our part, when you get a track as good as “into the crypt”, the answer is decidedly closer to the former.

The Scald legacy lives on.

Tar Pit – Tomb of Doom (Ordo MCM) (June 28)

Oregonian stoner doom, emphasis on the stoner.

It’s quite sludgy and bears comparison to the likes of Sleep, Electric Wizard or even Conan at points, but those are some very vague whiffs of smoke out of a particularly dank bong.

Very run of the mill. If you dig this sort of detuned, slowed down and molasses driven stoner rock bordering on doom, you should have zero problem with this.

Äsping – The Lion of Piraeus (AnnapurnA) (June 14)

Two Swedes screwing around in the basement making “sound collages” (i.e. random noise).

Here they hit up the guitarist of Greece’s Serpent Noir, and he drops a few lines of black metal guitar on a track or two, and randomly fiddles or makes a plugged in noise or two here and there on the others. Occasionally you’ll hear female operatic vocals.

Nothing gels, there is no composition or either melodic or harmonic progression.

Find a pal, pick up a cheap my first guitar and keyboard, and bash around in your basement.  Who knows, maybe some label will pick you up and release your clueless beginner wanking as well.

Verwüstung – Gospel ov Fury (Handful of Hate) (May 1)

Belarus thrash act. Vox say blackened, riffs and drums are more old school thrash with light Grotesque touches (which could also be interpreted as slightly spastic Slayer riffs).

Drop the snarly vox, this could be a killer retro thrash act.

As is…great riffs, lousy vox.

Electric Hydra – The Last Of Us (Moondawn Records) (May 31)

Femme-fronted stoner rock out of Sweden. Has a stronger than usual appeal and catchiness, which is probably how they scored a gig opening for Lucifer.

As usual, the B side blows the title track all to shit, but neither exactly sucks.

Get it for “retribution” (which is really quite excellent) and enjoy a decent B side mischaracterized as an A side herein.

Would love to hear more from these folks, definitely.

Zachary Lucky – The Ballad of Losing You (NORDVIS) (June 28)

Canadian folk singer.

Now, by this, we mean straight up traditional folk, as in Richard Shindell or something…not European folk music integrated into a metal format, not social protest ala Dylan, Seeger or Guthrie, not even unshakeable hippie idealism ala Richie Havens…just straight up guy with an acoustic guitar writing prose poems to sing to a small audience who appreciates such.

I guess the closest parallel otherwise would be the singer songwriter thing of the 70’s…but even folks like Carole King and James Taylor threw big hooks into their work, even electric guitars to bolster a hit or two.

This is a very different genre and style, here…and no, despite the misleading cover, he’s not a country singer, even of the more traditional type that gave us folks like Hank Sr. and Johnny Cash.

Those who really get into their Joni Mitchell and more modern day types like Shindell should be very comfortable with this one…all others, this mellow meditation on a breakup with your girlfriend (not kidding, that’s what every song is about here) is probably not your cup of tea.

Deathspell Omega – The Furnaces of Palingenesia (NoEvDia) (May 24)

Mikko from Clandestine Blaze’s bizarre French side project.

While he may bring a bit of the doominess you’ll hear alongside his growling death vocals, the band is more infamous for its typically French avant garde experimentalism and atonality…which while present and accounted for herein, comes off far less egregious than most of its peers.

You mean there’s some avant/experimental/atonal black metal act out there that’s almost half listenable beneath all the nonsense elements?

Well, let’s not get crazy here…but if ever there were an “almost” to answer that hypothetical question, the slower, more deliberate tracks on this album may be it.

The other tracks, yeah, well. What did you expect, a miracle?

Misþyrming – Algleymi (NoEvDia) (May 24)

Icelandic black metal is not generally a good thing to put on your resume. The stuff is just fucking bizarre to the point of head scratching unlistenability, without even the darkly cavernous underground thing the Portuguese scene has saving it.

So where the hell does this come from?

Granted, this band does bear strong elements of Icelandic oddity in its sound…but a lot of it is closer to a lightly symphonic Norwegian-origin black metal sound than you’d ever have the right to expect hailing from Reykjavik’s climes…

Like Deathspell Omega in that respect, these guys may have found a way to transcend the limitations of their chosen style and genre (or at least that of their closest peers, stylistically and/or nationally) to come to a near-respectability and nigh-listenability that others of like mind and type simply cannot grasp or attain.

Yeah, ultimately, it still amounts to “damn close but still no cigar, here’s the door prize, thanks for playing”. But by comparison to other Icelandic acts (or in both band’s case, other experimental/avant garde leaning ones)? This is high praise indeed…

And I will offer this much: the deeper you get into the album, the more it weaves its spell over you.

Worth a listen, see if it works its magic on ya.

Ares Kingdom – By the Light of Their Destruction LP/CD (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (May 15)

We’d reviewed these Kansas City modern death metallers’ The Unburiable Dead back in 2015, and liked their comparatively old school(ish) sound to the more modernist stuff that was representing death metal around that time (at least so far as what was being submitted for review).

Here they return after dropping four EPs over the last two out of four years absence from these pages (if you can believe that!) with their fourth full length, and as Biggie Smalls once intoned, damn, motherfuckin’ shit done changed!

While there’s still enough of a classic vibe underpinning their efforts to keep things listenable and reasonably well constructed, they’ve taken a headfirst dive into the blackened, with a sound that’s much, much darker, with snarly-gargle black metal vox as much if not moreso than proper death bellows and growls (both are present, depends on the track and verse) and a more occultish orientation
lyrically.

So if last time around they seemed like a breath of fresh air in the face of modern death metal’s failings…here they practically dive in and embrace one of the biggest problems of more current bands claiming allegiance to death: the unwanted crossover and syncretic miscegenation with black metal.

Again, there’s enough of, lets just say an Obituary vibe to major swathes of what you’ll hear within to view this as more of an eyebrow raising curiosity than a betrayal of who and what they seemed to be previously – they haven’t fully jumped the shark and dove into the deep end to drown with the rest, they’re just wading and testing the waters at this point.

But the question remains. Why?

Still has enough merit to recommend a listen…but be warned, this is not the Ares Kingdom we spoke of last time around.

Archaic Tomb / Cryptworm – Split 7″ EP/TAPE (Blood Harvest) (April 19)

Cryptworm hails from the UK and offers a crusty, almost doomy in its simplicity track of grinding death metal with Regurgitation-level bottom of the bowels vocals. It’s not quite grindcore, but a lot of its flourishes hail from and append to such. Not bad at all, actually.

Archaic Tomb…are another story. Portuguese act, which may explain why so little money was invested in a proper recording…the drums sound like rain falling on empty pie tins, the guitars are oddly hollow and mids-heavy…and the vox are barely discernible beneath so many layers of echo and reverb.

It’s underground black/death, and far from the worst you’ll hear in that subgenre…but did we really need this style continually replenished and perpetuated?

Neither side is terrible, but if you’re looking for positives, then get it for Cryptworm and don’t bother flipping it over until good and plastered…Archaic Tomb may sound better when you’re stoned out of your mind and passing out in the chair, who knows.

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