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And after getting some of the lighter sounds out of the way, as ever, now we head into darker and often more interesting territory.

To my surprise, it wasn’t all death, black, thrash and assorted variants and subgenres thereof, but a surprising dark horse contender for the whole trendy “let’s go retro” thing (which I wholeheartedly support, by the by).  No spoilers, it happens soon enough below…

So gentlemen, rev up those engines…on your mark.

Let’s go!

    

Wormwood – Nattarvet (Black Lodge Records) (July 26)

ooh, this is nice!

Black metal of the more melodic, sweepingly dramatic bent (think more Cascadian to post-black here), these guys may hail from Sweden but sound nothing at all like their black/death, Norsecore or longstanding more or less “orthodox” brethren.

While tracks like “av lie och borda” or “the achromatic road” will throw the casual listener (sounding more akin to Viking or pagan metal, with its sluggish, straightforward rock tempo and low, throbbing riff), others like “i bottenios avja”, “sunnas hadanfard” and especially “the isolationist” showcase a different band entirely, one more likely to build closed eye vistas of sweeping plains and flying eagle-like over mountain ranges than the harmonically motionless nervous tension and eeeevil lyrics black metal (particularly that of the Swedish variety) is best known for.

Like the forest sunset depicted on the cover, this is some seriously bold material, with the sweep of the most grandiose power metal but the bite and atmosphere of black metal.

If shit bands like Dimmu or the much overrated Emperor ever sounded half this good, we’d all be listening to “melodic” and “symphonic” black metal these days.

Hemisferio – Anacronía (Dying Victims Productions) (July 8)

Whoa! Another good one…even better, in fact, as this is vintage to the core US power metal, complete with a rather analog-sounding guitar tone and drum sound.

Frontman Carlos Contador goes flat a few times (a few lines on “tres sombras” will leave keener eared listeners grinding their teeth in sympathetic pain), but the sound, the crunch, the production, the riffing…everything about this falls somewhere between vintage acts like Loudness, (early) Motley Crue, WASP or Ratt, Lizzy Borden, Thor and lesser known lights like Thrust, Commander, Sacred Steel or Wild Dogs.

It’s very midtempo and driving, with basic but powerful riffs appended by some nice melodic solos (and even a rather nice picked bass solo on “las palabras ya no existen”…but never so “catchy” as to be mistaken for “mainstream” or so melodic as to have much appeal to the fairer sex.

No, this is what posthumously became reclassified as USPM – as metal as 1984 was for those of us on the frontlines, all punch and power, with enough of that Manila Road/Heavy Load by way of the NWOBHM sound to keep things from diving straight into more thrashy and barely birthing “extreme” waters, yet still a million miles from the Poison/Cinderella crowd, for whatever merits they may or may not have had in their own right.

Very, very good stuff, as vintage and authentic sounding as they come.

I didn’t just like this one, I fucking loved it.

Rock on, mis amigos!

Spiker – Heavy Metal Macht (Dying Victims Productions) (July 8)

Interesting…here’s another one of like mind. No complaints about it whatsoever (quite the opposite, in fact!), but what’s with Dying Victims and the retro-USPM this month?

That said, while the riffing and general sound of the band is reasonably dead on…it didn’t grab me as much as Hemisferio. Or for that matter, pretty much any vintage USPM album I can pull out of the collection to reference.

So what’s the problem, you ask? Glad you asked! Let’s pull the punch a tad by admitting the issue is a bit twofold.

The lesser one first. While there’s a lot of, say, early Rage, Gravestone, or even as the promo materials note, Saxon to the sound here…there’s also a lot of Gravestone and Saxon to the sound here. Riffs tend to be weaker than you’d expect, go some odd places and long outstay their welcome.

Yeah, both bands had some good songs in ’em, Saxon more than you’d think…but were a whole hell of a lot weaker than the competition, and hence never tasted anywhere near the same degree of success as, say, The Scorpions or even Kreator on the one hand, Maiden, Priest or Def Leppard on the other. Cult bands, to be sure…but they were missing something crucial and history views ’em as also-rans, not leaders.

But that’s not the real issue…and it is one shared to some extent by Saxon: namely that the singer simply isn’t up to the material.

While Biff Byford has his fans (and a lot of enemies, to hear tell…the Kevin DuBrow of England, as it were…), this fellow “Julian” (no last name or pseudos given) doesn’t occasionally go flat…he only rarely manages to get in tune!

In fact, if you listen to something like “rockmanie”, the first thing you’ll flash on should be Theatre of Hate’s Kirk Brandon caterwauling tracks like “original sin”. Then realize Kirk was a whole hell of a lot more competent!

So it’s hard to rate this one objectively. I was glad to hear another band trying to work some variant of vintage USPM (with a strong orientation towards what they used to call “speed metal” ala Exciter, Rage, the German Warrant, etc.), and in many ways the band gets that part down.

But there’s a core weakness to their sound (hello, Saxon again), amplified far more than it ever would have been with a better vocalist/frontman.

This guy could be a lot of fun to hang with at the beer hall, who knows.  But a singer of any sort, he’s not.

Temptress – The Orb (Dying Victims Productions) (July 8)

Third vintage USPM style act this month from Dying Victims.  Nice, guys, keep ’em coming!

This time, we haul off to sunny Italy for this 7″, which is so retro in its NWOBHM indebtedness that the B side (“woman”) utterly crushes the still pretty killer A side (“the orb”). As in, yeah, that’s great, too…but seriously. No fucking comparison.

Retro production and tone, driving dual guitar riffing and harmony leads, and a frontman that comes off like some cross between Commander and Have Mercy, with a sound that evokes Praying Mantis more than Maiden.

Heavy, melodic, driving, powerful, anthemic…and you could definitely fool someone that this hailed from the same vintage as those Heavy Load reissues or any of the aforementioned acts.

This one and Hemisferio really hit all the right buttons, to the point where I’m going full on Abba to say “thank you for the music”.

It’s that good.

The Night Eternal – S/T (Dying Victims Productions) (July 8)

And another one! Well, sort of.

These Germans are still working the vintage NWOBHM to USPM spectrum sound, complete with a very Marshall stack analog style sound, melody, good song construction with plenty of heavy rock punch and heavy metal crunch and a frontman who actually tries to sing, and sing clean…but.

There’s a difference of approach here that separates them from the aforementioned trio, who play things far closer to template.

There’s a pensive darkness about the three originals here that suggests (believe it or not) The Devil’s Blood or something of that ilk – an innate gothicism, a brooding sensibility suggesting far more inner darkness, or at least a Romantic affectation ala Byron or Wilde (as filtered through 80’s goth and postpunk, then amped up and polished off by a touch of 70’s heavy rock and some early 80’s metal).

And then they cover a classic Priest song, one that isn’t oft chosen, and given that nobody else can really do justice to pre-shriek bullshit Halford (fuck Painkiller), they seriously nail it.

Good stuff all around this month, loving the new Dying Victims slate!

Vigilance – Enter the Endless Abyss (Dying Victims Productions) (April 23)

And now we head over to Slovenia of all places, where Vigilance beggars your kind attention to their attempts at not letting the team down.

Unfortunately, while they also shoot for the vintage metal guitar tone and a bit of “speed metal” meets NWOBHM riffing (not really USPM at all, but it’s all more or less related), they bear some of the same failings as Spiker:

A crummy frontman (in this case, he sort of sticks his tongue out and snottily pukes his vox at you vintage punk rock style, when not outright growling like that guy who did “berserker” in Clerks) and riffs that…well, they aren’t as aimless and dull as Spiker. But think Rage, Warrant, early Grave Digger, possibly even (at a stretch) pre-piracy Running Wild, that sort of very Teutonic, very “speed metal” chugging approach.

It works well enough, but doesn’t always set ya on fire the way classic USPM does, or vintage thrash either. I guess if you know what you’re getting going into this, you’ll have a better experience…so you’re welcome.

The solos are simple, but can be pretty nice and multilayeredly melodic, with a bit of busy, almost Maidenesque bass to boot (check out ‘return of the savage’ for a good example of everything we’re talking about here…or for some full on Maiden worship, try “knights of valor”), and the 60’s style Farifsa church organ that opens “dvoglava kaca” is a nice touch.

Bottom line, the band is pretty damn good, if you understand they’re more of a German “speed metal” act than they ever are retro-USPM or NWOBHM…and allow for a whole lot of that front of the quickie mart “berserker” thing on the mic.

“It will hit you like a truck, BERSERKER! Tell me, would you like to fuck? BERSERKER!”

Yeah, all things considered, another damn good find from Dying Victims in a month filled to the brim with ’em.

BARBARIAN – To No God Shall I Kneel (CD, LP, TAPE) (Hells Headbangers) (June 7)

We’d covered this Italian power metal power trio for their power self titled EP and their power Cult of the Empty Grave, and power…OK, enough of the gag. We liked the EP a lot more than the earlier full length.

So perhaps they’re one of those bands that excels on their shorter bursts of creative energy (singles, EPs, splits) while faltering a bit when faced with the prospect of packing an entire album with suchlike.

“Obtuse metal” kicks things off on the right foot, with a rather Celtic Frost as filtered through post-Panzerfaust Darkthrone sound and approach. But there aren’t any real signs of life thereafter.

Instead, you get a sleep inducing midtempo straightforward traditional heavy metal sound with nonstop early Motorhead kick drum double bass. Normally that’d qualify as a good thing, especially when said drums are so prominently mixed…but there’s a strong feeling of ennui about the whole enterprise that suffuses every moment therein.

In other words, while objectively there’s nothing wrong with it…it’s kinda boring, and hard to get worked up about in any real respect (for positive or for negative).

“Obtuse metal” is worth giving a listen to. I wouldn’t bother with the rest.

Wait for the next EP, they’ll probably really deliver once again.

SCUMRIPPER – All Veins Blazing (CD, LP, TAPE) (Hells Headbangers) (June 28)

We’d covered their self titled EP, where we called them a cross between Midnight and Shitfucker, with a crappy vocalist offset by decent riffs popping up on a semi-regular basis…and that still pretty much sums ’em up.

This one’s pretty damn raw, with the abrasive feel of death metal, the vocals of what passes for “hardcore” these days (or at a slight stretch, the most annoyingly obnoxious of black metal vox) and the riffing of South American blackthrash (with elements of Grotesque just to keep things off kilter).

As such, it’s hardly the sort of thing you recommend to a newbie or someone of more mainstreamed metal tastes (even those who appreciate the usual suspects in “extreme metal”)…but you could make the same argument about the far catchier and more melodic blackthrash of Midnight, much less the deliberate shock rock of Shitfucker, so hey.

I didn’t enjoy this one overmuch, but it certainly has some moments (mostly down to the unusual but likeable riffs.)

DENIAL OF GOD – The Shapeless Mass (Osmose Productions / Hells Headbangers) (June 28)

Well, I have to give these guys credit for interesting taste in musical obscurities…recognized “mama loi, papa loi” within a few bars of lyrics, sight unseen.  Wait…no way. Someone else digs Exuma?

Now, if they did “thirteenth Sunday,” I’d have been ecstatic…but still.  Damn fools, married the goddess…

So while that batch of references probably go way over everyone’s heads, just realize this is two originals and two covers, neither of which sounds much like their source (the other being Bathory’s “call from the grave”, which sounds more sinister vocally but loses much of the grim funereal doom on the band end (and what’s with the drummer working double time tempo here, anyway?)

The originals are more straightforward black metal, with vox and guitar tone more appropriate to blackthrash. It’s like Aura Noir in that respect, but picture them leaning even further towards black metal proper before nodding your head in agreement. Wasn’t overly impressed by either track.

But again…covering, then reimagining the sound to the point of nigh-unrecognizability on fucking Exuma, of all people, is pretty damn awesome in and of itself.

I was turned on to the man by my old hippie pal, who’d always had a taste for the weird, and referred to his work as one of the few musicians whose material was capable of bugging him out somewhat…see also the Dr. John, the Night Tripper album for a slightly watered down companion piece to Exuma’s cleverly self titled debut and II…and the later Snake, from which his scariest recorded moment hails. And quite honestly, I’ve met very few people who acknowledge having ever heard of the guy…so again, due props.

Not a great band or EP per se…but well worth it for that unusual and well executed reimagining of a cover.

  

EVIL ANGEL – Unholy Evil Metal (CD, LP, TAPE) (Hells Headbangers) (May 31)

11 years after its last release, this Finnish black metal act with blackthrash tendencies re-emerges with something that, much like Scumripper’s latest, should fill the bill for diehards while never really distinguishing itself from similarly inclined peers.

Again, same verdict – nothing particularly wrong with it, save a strong sense of yawn inducing ennui, never really alleviated by any single standout tracks or interesting moments.

NEKROFILTH – Love Me Like a Reptile (7″ EP) (Hells Headbangers) (July 12)

We’d covered these Ohio blackthrashers several times, for Worm RitualFilling my Blood with Poison and Devil’s Breath, generally to quite positive result.

This time around, they nail a Motorhead cover (which sounds as if it were covered by Venom in more than just the vocal respect), a few crust punk covers (a Rudimentary Peni track, another from a Mob 47) and even take on some grindcore, with Mortician’s Zombie Apocalypse (which sounds far more raw and nasty this way than it does with Will Rahmer’s deep and throaty growl/belch vox).

Pretty raw and abrasive stuff, but that Mortician cover is amazing, and the Motorhead one’s pretty decent and distinctive from the original (which is supposed to be how you do a cover, kids…perfectly aping the original to lesser effect is just plagiarism) as well.

50% killer…the other two are short enough they barely feel like filler.

 

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