AFM records, Agonia records, Agonize the Serpent - "Legacy", Aureole - Alunar, BEASTMAKER - Eye of the Storm, Bhleg - Aril, Drown - Unsleep, Dying Victims Productions, Edged Circle, Effigy - MCMXCII - Darkest Day, Ektro / Ruton Music, Elvenking - Reader Of The Runes – Divination, EXCUSE - Prophets From the Occultic Cosmos, Fog Light - New Element, Galaxy - Lost From the Start, Goatess - Blood and Wine, Inverse Records, Kansakunnan ylpeys, Kingart, Lupus Lounge, Nordvis Produktion, Northern Genocide - Genesis Vol. 666, Ruotomieli - Born In The O.Y.S., Secret Entertainment, Shadow Kingdom, svart records, Tchornobog, Televisio - TV2, third eye cinema podcast, Unknown Decoy - Seeking The Sun, VISCERAL DISGORGE - Slithering Evisceration, VNTER - "Black Roses", VNTER - "Daylight", VNTER - ''The Way You Make Me Feel'', Zephyra - Fall.Rise.Conquer
And another batch of goodies for you all!
…mmm yeah, that’s all you’re getting. Enjoy!
Elvenking – Reader Of The Runes – Divination (AFM Records) (August 30)
Long running Italian “folk metallers” (read: symphonic power metal in a vaguely Rhapsody-esque vein with an equal smattering of folk and AFI-style emo elements) Elvenking continue their journey with this latest effort, which both recaptures a bit of what they’d lost in recent years and continues to pursue this newer, more flaccid yet simultaneously bombastic on the surface approach.
It’s an oddity to be sure, and should both draw and repel fans of both old and newer Elvenking in equal measure.
We’d spoken to their Pagan Manifesto the live Night of Nights and Secrets of the Magick Grimoire, but all or most of these were before really gaining an appreciation of the band and what they were capable of bringing to the table…so while (as ever) we stand behind ’em as an honest take at the time, do take those with an appropriate grain of salt therefore.
Why, you ask? Simple. Having finally “gotten” the whole Euro power metal thing a year or so back in a much truer sense than the long running and far more casual appreciation of a band here or there that had been going on since discovering Hammerfall right around the dawn of the millenium,* I’d since dug back into a few bands’ archives, to find the gems among the dross…and boy, is Elvenking all over the place.
* see this Roundup’s intro for some details…somewhere between that Summer and the start of the new year should fill everyone in on that “aha” moment.
Their debut Heathenreel…a weaker, more disjointed take on their superior To Oak Woods Bestowed demo, minus a few strong tracks (replaced by…well, pretty much junk.)
The strangely maligned Wyrd (where they briefly functioned under a different frontman)? Actually quite good, and one of the most “folk” of their albums, hands down! Winter Wake? Their masterpiece. Nothing they’ve done since comes close. Two Tragedy Poets? Keeps up a strong front in what amounts to a trio of pinnacle albums…almost in a row.
But then malaise sets in. What the hell was with the overly aggro, emo-heavy, folk/power lite The Scythe? And what about the equally weak Era (two albums fans doubtless find themselves drinking a few extra pints to forget…)? Red Silent Tides was…fair, but not exactly up to standards set on the three aforementioned prime era records.
And then they shift styles again.
At first, things seemed tenatively promising. Who doesn’t love their fan appreciation anthem “elvenlegions”? But is the rest of the album really the Elvenking we all knew and loved? Or is their quirky folk and emo suddenly subsumed and diverted by an orientation towards a more template, mainstream (if still symphonic oriented) power metal sound?
Sadly, that’s exactly what the subsequent Secrets of the Magick Grimoire bore out – those who weren’t used to or disliked their earlier quirkiness and individuality likely gravitate to these newer records, as they’re nothing if not “safe”, taking the tack that blending in with an ever increasing crowd of European festival acts is worth losing your soul over, that to be generic is worth giving up a more personal, if perhaps confusing or even offputting identity.
Do I need to spell out that this mindset is entirely mistaken?
So what do we have here, with the new album? Have Elvenking thrown in the towel, continuing to water down their core persona to become just another set of faces in the summer festival crowd? Or have they shifted gears once again, turning a ship that’s gone way off course back into choppier, but ultimately more worthy and loveable waters?
Strangely…a bit more of the latter than not. It’s still not prime Elvenking, no. But there is enough of a return to the folk roots to keep longtime fans (or fans of the older, more vibrant Elvenking) much happier than the last album or two.
There’s still a hell of a lot more bombast than you’d expect – they’re clearly trying their damnedest to fill the thrones since vacated by Rhapsody and Leaves Eyes (long predating if certainly exacerbated by the loss of their respective vocalists in both cases), with an overblown, overly loud/compressed mix and production that really doesn’t suit.
The end result? Tracks like “maelifica doctrine” come off particularly obnoxious and unlikeable, while others like “warden of the bane”, “under the sign of a black star”, “diamonds in the night” and “eternal Eleanor” never quite work, coming off like pallid regurgitations of the sort of thing they were working on Secrets (the first two) or earlier, folkier work like Two Tragedy Poets, without the soul (the latter pair)
But then, of course, there’s the flipside. And boy, does the folk come back en force herein. Bouncy, lilting rhythms. Acoustic traditional instrumentation, often utilized for entire tracks. Anthemic electric guitar-driven symphonic/folk/power metal manifestos, with that patented “elvenlegions” tint.
Yeah, “Damna” isn’t straining and rasp-yelling like vintage Davey Havok these days, and that’s a bit disappointing, and leaves even the most aggressive tracks feeling a tad dispirited by comparison. But Havok gave up the young man’s Irish tenor take on Glenn Danzig’s howls with the throat polyp surgery pre-Decemberunderground…so hey, at least the guy’s doing a damn sight better at carrying on in a reasonable facsimile of their classic sound than AFI did from there on out!
It’s still new, and I can’t claim to have played this one back to back with the classics in their back catalogue yet. But there’s enough that’s instantly familiar (and appealing) about Reader of the Runes to give ’em the nod.
At least they seem to be steering, somewhat tangenitally, back in the right direction.
BEASTMAKER – Eye of the Storm (CD, 12″ MLP, TAPE) (Shadow Kingdom) (July 26)
Another fave act this month, sadly signalling their final release.
We’d covered their You Must Sin single, the subsequent Lusus Naturae and Inside the Skull as well as Trevor William Church’s Haunt, who started out really promisingly with Luminous Eyes but gave a bit of a misstep with Burst into Flame before pulling up the ol’ bootstraps for the one two punch of If Icarus Could Fly and Mosaic Vision (both covered here).
Here we find a fatter guitar tone and (stoner) doomier feel, vaguely akin to early Blood Ceremony minus the keys and flute, clearly indebted to a Sabbath inflected sonic template without ever actually feeling much like anything that band ever released. I guess there’s too much NWOBHM at play herein, though you’d still be stretching to compare this to Witchfinder General (or for that matter, Angel Witch).
Really good stuff, and a lot heavier and darker than anything he’s done with Haunt…shame he’s giving this band up for that, however strong the latter’s merits have generally proved to be.
EXCUSE – Prophets From the Occultic Cosmos (CD, LP) (Shadow Kingdom) (August 2)
We’d covered these Finnish speed metallers’ Goddess Injustice and found the three track likeable enough in a Genocide (Bobby Ebz’ sloppy, abrasive old punk band) sort of way.
Here they return with an occasionally much improved album that opens strong (with the unexpectedly nuanced “black crystal visions”) and culminates in a surprisingly epic NWOBHM style track that crosses the feel of Iron Maiden, Heavy Load and 80’s thrash metal to surprising effect (“watchtower of the trans-dimension”).
Honestly, even if the four tracks sandwiched between fell flat on their collective asses, this one would still be worthwhile just for those two tracks…but to be quite blunt, that just ain’t gonna happen here.
No, the quality tends to remain high throughout, even despite frontman/guitarist Oskar Lindstrom’s sub-Jeff Becerra straining at stool vocals – “prophets from tne occultic cosmos” even tags in a Voivodlike space rock/SF feel, and “goddess injustice” (named after but never appearing on their last opus) pulls no punches in its almost US power metal blend of NWOBHM and melodic thrash sensibilities.
Yeah, chalk this one up as a definite win.
VISCERAL DISGORGE – Slithering Evisceration (Agonia Records) (September 13)
Ah, “brutal death metal”. That rather awkward (if admittedly occasionally listenable) subgenre built entirely around a fanboy-level obsession with a single death metal band.
And if you can’t peg said band as “Suffocation” inside of four bars, your metal membership card is officially being revoked…
Problem is…Suffocation was a bit one note. And without that patented Scott Burns Morrisound production? Yeah, there’s a reason Breeding the Spawn was mocked and forgotten for so many years (before a comparatively recent remaster salvage effort that left everyone re-evaluating it as a sort of lost classic).
So here you get…about 3 dozen bands aping Suffocation’s style, without the polish or imagination. Yeah, we see the same going down with the Sunlight HM-2 aficionados…but there were a LOT of bands working that general style even back in the day, so there’s more subtle variations to draw from.
“Brutal death” is the Suffocation channel, all Suffocation, all the time. Like ’em or not (and hey, I was always OK with their earlier and Burns-produced work), it gets real boring, real fast.
Case in point, this more poorly produced, thin sounding and more modern-grindcore vocalled (seriously, “architects of warping flesh” practically leaves the guy making those ridiculous Deliverance pig squeals) attempt at recapturing vintage Mullen/Hobbs/Smith/Cerrito sound.
If you’re hardcore on this stuff, yeah, this may well past muster.
But for the rest of us…it’s a definite yawn, stretch and walk on by moment.
Televisio – TV2 (Ektro) (August 30)
Last time around, these Finnish synthsters were working a sound that remimded more of Vince Clarke-era Depeche Mode, Meco and Giorgio Moroder…this time, at least at points, they go full on Kraftwerk (look no further than “painajainen” for a rather direct quote…)
Even so, there are definite moments that say 80’s post-disco danceclub business, like a far less derivative Information Society or the 12″ club remixes on just about any mainstream synthpop act you can think of (think anything from Wang Chung to Real Life) – “volttoarpa” fits this category to a T.
But there’s also something very 90’s about some of this stuff. Dance club remixes, to be sure…but listen to the trance and trip hop business of “lumisade” or the quirky post-Electronica that fills the bulk of the album not already noted.
Not close enough to any of the very audible source material to fit comfortably alongside any of it in the collection, mind…but close enough to keep those missing those dark and wild days (at least if you were at a certain age and living more “on the edge” than most allow themselves to) swimming in the waters of nostalgia for a bit.
Kansakunnan ylpeys – S/T (Ektro / Ruton Music) (September 13)
Holy shit, Flipper is alive and well and speaking fluent Finnish…
seriously. Check out “sillat ja suisto”. Then head back to the top for “tuhlaan paivani”, “taala taas”, “hyonetisten kansaa”…a few overly fast and aggressive moments aside, this is all slow, pointedly antagonistic to the audience, noise and feedback worshipping punk sporting a big middle finger to all comers.
You could tag in post-Damaged Black Flag as well (another very obvious source for the approach here), but yeah…this is one big fuck you, in sonic form.
Hock a few loogies their way, in that ridiculous old school (UK sourced) punk rock tradition.
Just don’t blame us if you lose a few teeth, shit happens.
I can hear what they’re saying here, yeah.
Unknown Decoy – Seeking The Sun (Inverse Records) (June 28)
These guys are all over the fucking place, really. “Flash” is probably their best foot forward, with a couple of thick and bouncy Sabbath-style riffs driving the thing until a few utterly bizarre diversions: some Eastern European tavern waltz bits, some screamo nonsense…then back to the good stuff.
No, I don’t know what kind of drugs or industrial solvents they’ve been huffing.
“The Men” is more Euro power metal (again, between diversions into British holiday tour package hell), as is the Lordi-like “test animal”, while “praise the sun” is more Witchfinder General in tone with its more immediate but still stoner doomish riffs and “davaji” crosses the barrier separating this sort of doom with modern day Euro school power metal.
I’m not sure if they should be advised to drop all the weird shit and stick to the stoner doom Sabbath/Witchfinder General school of riffage…I mean, that’s what I’d tell ’em, but in today’s oversaturated market, the weirdness is probably the only thing that leaves them standing out from the crowd!
But in terms of listenability and coherence? Yeah. Drop the weird shit and stick to what you obviously do best.
Fog Light – New Element (Inverse Records) (July 12)
Instrumental prog rock/metal act. They self identify as fusion, but this isn’t fusion like you know from bands like vintage Mahavishnu Orchestra, Tony Williams Lifetime, Di Meola era Return to Forever, et al…more of a “prog metal emphasis on the metal for a change” than “jazz gone funk/rock”.
Even so, the spirit’s there, and the intent is both obvious and welcome…so who’s complaining?
“Uusi aalto” is probably the favorite here, though later tracks show a bit more “wish I was Al DiMeola”* flash/shred guitar (“zen” and “hellou” in particular) and all three members contribute equal shares of impressive interplay.
* and if you’re wondering: no, he’s not bad at all…but he sure as hell ain’t.
Yes, the bass is prominent throughout, and bears some obvious Lenny White if not a bit of Stanley Clarke influence, while drums are mixed reasonably upfront and work enough syncopation with punch to sound a tad Tony Williams…at least in the more aggressive and driving moments, where it’s obvious in the cymbal and snare work. That said, I strongly doubt Tony would have resorted to the lameness of the blastbeat, which does rear its ugly head on a few rare occasions herein!
But don’t let the comparisons to the legends of the genre throw you…this is some very good stuff, and I’ll be leaving it on the iPod for a bit, no question.
Hats off to ya, guys.
Northern Genocide – Genesis Vol. 666 (Inverse Records) (August 30)
Dark toned modern metal with strong electronic elements. They consider themselves “industrial metal”, but it’s hardly on the same playing field as acts like Rammstein, NiN, Ministry or earlier Marilyn Manson, much less more “proper” industrial acts like Skinny Puppy or Throbbing Gristle!
Personally, if I’m gonna mess with “industrial”/metal crossovers, I’ll be heading for something like Gothminister or Megaherz…not this quirky but empty feeling (and horribly aggro/scream your tonsils into the surgery vocals, which are just ridiculous) middle of the road pop nonsense.
Not horrible as in “get this shit off ASAP, before I smash your goddamn radio!”, but nothing worth wasting your time on, either.
Ruotomieli – Born In The O.Y.S. (Secret Entertainment) (June 7)
An interesting promo writeup that mentions The Replacements, Iggy and the Stooges and Jack Kerouac in the same paragraph left me wondering what the hell to expect here.
Well…you can hear the Replacements in there. I guess cross that with a hint of Dinosaur Jr. and a whole hell of a lot of Urge Overkill, and you’ll have these Finnish college rockers…er, “alternative pop/indie rockers with a punk sensibility”.
Or some shit like that.
I guess if you’re jonesing after the Replacements after all these years, you deserve this album for all your watchful waiting.
It may well fill the bill.
Goatess – Blood and Wine (Svart Records) (September 27)
Damn, do these guys stick to a 3 year schedule, or what?
Seriously, we covered their self titled wayyyyy back in 2013, when we were just moving from podcast interview coverage only to these ever expanding site print reviews. It’s accordingly brief, but fairly middle of the road. Yeah, it was a sleeper, that album’s been in and out of rotation more than a few times over the years since.
We next spoke to them for Purgatory Under New Management, by which time a much greater appreciation for the post-Sabbath/Pentagram/Trouble/Witchfinder General/Kyuss stoner doom scene had begun to foment…and the review’s accordingly a lot more effusive.
So here we are again, for Blood and Wine…and damn if I don’t love this fucking thing. That title cut alone…14 minutes of dramatic, bombastic, overwhelmingly heavy riffed goodness.
Yeah, they’re working something a lot closer to Vol. 4 by way of Red Sun era Kyuss than Master of Reality or anything St. Vitus or any of the aforementioned acts ever conjured up to drop their molten leaden ten tonne weight on an unsuspecting world…but who’s complaining? Want more highlights? Try “dead city”.
Those two tracks all by their lonesome should more than justify your rapt attention.
Killer stuff. I guess we’ll have to wait till 2022 for the next hit from this particularly potent bong…so take deep drags and enjoy the experience.
Tchornobog – S/T (Lupus Lounge) (August 16)
Bizarre one man underground black/death outfit.
Lots of reverb-happy but whispery belches and shrieks, more atonal wankery than you could ever wish on your worst enemies, a whole lot of aimless meandering punctuated by occasional bursts of blastbeat and tremelo driven black metal insanity.
The only operative question here is, why?
Aureole – Alunar (Lupus Lounge) (August 16)
Same guy behind Tchornobog delivers a more pointedly black metal/ambient project.
As such, it’s a whole hell of a lot more palatable by comparison, having sections involving actual mournful melodies and comprehensible music (as in harmonic and melodic movement and interplay, at least on the guitar and drum end of the equation).
Vox are all screeches dialed in over the phone or whatever the hell everyone seems to be doing in certain corners of that scene nowadays (hint: it’s fucking annoying), but whatever…if that’s the worst complaint you can bring to an otherwise acceptable track like “citadel alunar”, so be it.
The problem lies more with the ambient material, where he appears to lose all track of rhythm, playing toy piano lead lines that lag weirdly behind the tremelo riffed harmonies and melodic guitar lead lines (as in “the voice of nebular flame”.
You may be able to argue this builds a horror filmlike effect, with tension deriving from the fact that “whoever’s playing this line is a bit ‘off’ in the head”, but that’s something of a reach here.
Other ambient tracks simply go nowhere, and still bear this almost Charles Iveslike lack of connection between one instrument’s line, tempo and progression and the childlike, sloppy and way the fuck out of meter ones he overlays on the keyboard thereafter (“the senility of the hourglass”)…or just seem like wasted studio time (“alunar, decrepit”).
Best you get here? “Citadel alunar”, to be sure…arguably “crusade of NGC 5128″…yeah, that’s about it. I guess if he was able to keep time with himself, you’d have two more passable BGM tracks to discuss…oh, well!
Yeah, I don’t get it, and chances are, neither will you.
Drown – Unsleep (Lupus Lounge) (August 16)
Same problem bedevils this third project of one man band Markov Soroka (Tchornobog, Aureole)…the man simply can’t keep time with his own recordings.
You know, sometimes you try out a band member, or sit in with a group, and someone just doesn’t mesh well. Maybe they don’t dig the style, maybe they’re just that unfamiliar with the material…and you get a lot of blue notes and clashing. Those folks don’t usually get invited back.
…how do you have issues playing in time with yourself?
Seriously. Inquiring minds wanna know.
…well, he’s trying to work some sort of overly detuned funeral doom this time, if it really matters.
Invest in a metronome, man. Some time spent with one may work wonders for you.
Bhleg – Äril (Nordvis Produktion) (September 27)
Here the two man Swedish “folk metal” (really more Cascadian black metal to these ears) act drops an all too brief three track EP (though the first track does clock in at 14m all by its lonesome!) that builds off a Burzumic trancelike black ambient to post-black approach into something far more grimly bombastic and introspective than their self-chosen “folk” label could ever encompass.
About the weakest this gets is “fran eld till aska”, which is a bit too strident and noisy (not to mention leaning a bit too major key for my own tastes)…but the other two tracks? Pure gold.
With that single track caveat? Consider this one absolutely essential.
Agonize the Serpent – “Legacy” (Kingart)
Punchy, fairly well produced metalcore single from Sweden. The only measure they really fall flat on is a complete lack of clean vocals – where they should kick in at the bridge and chorus, the frontman simply slows the screaming down to a gargling shout. Nah, that doesn’t get a pass, sorry…
Otherwise? Exactly what you’d expect, moody, dark, decent guitars, very reminiscent of the Gothenburg melodeath sound metalcore derives from in the first place.
Yeah, I wouldn’t mind hearing more from these guys.
Just find a clean vocalist for those parts, huh?
VNTER – ”The Way You Make Me Feel” (Kingart)
VNTER – “Daylight” (Kingart)
VNTER – “Black Roses” (Kingart)
Three singles from these Gothenburg indie rockers.
“The way you make me feel” is by far the standout, bearing more of the drive and poppy thrust of 90’s rockers like the oft referenced Urge Overkill (hey, I liked ’em…would you prefer I reference “cigarette dangles” by The Pursuit of Happiness, which however anomalous in their catalog, worked much the same sound and feel?). It’s quirky, it has a bit of punk to it, it’s upbeat and makes ya feel good, nuff said.
Unfortunately, “daylight” drops the ball entirely, with its laid back balladeering. It’s not as mopey to dead as, say, The Gin Blossoms or Crash Test Dummies, but you get the idea. It doesn’t work unless you’re really depressed and looking down the bottom of a bottle.
“Black roses” doesn’t help their case much, coming off as a Pearl Jam castoff or something, until it gets a bit weird and Jameslike around the minute and a half mark (which constitutes the song briefly “picking up”). But it never gets much better than that…leaving the comparatively excellent “way you make me feel” their only worthwhile moment among the three.
Who knows what a full length will bring, honestly…2 strikes, one home run isn’t exactly a clear track record to predict baseline from.
Zephyra – Fall.Rise.Conquer (Kingart)
There’s certainly a sort of base gothic/modern metal vibe about ’em, as if they were trying to be a more melodic take on Lacuna Coil musically, but with a frontwoman who tends to really snarl, rasp and bark her lines on a regular basis.
Thankfully, it’s not incessant ala Arch Enemy, but drops back into a more Crystal Viperesque raspy femme vocal on choruses and occasional verses, leaving tracks like “dreams denied” far more listenable and even somewhat enjoyable…when she’s not trying to scare the shit out of every male in the room.
Seriously, can you picture waking up next to your ladyfriend, only to have her start snarling and barking Exorcist-style at you? Damn, where the fuck’d I put my pants? Walk of shame, hell, this is a 100 yard dash!
But again…the band is trying to work a melodic thing. And again…our intrepid frontwoman (Asa Netterbrandt, whose hubby or brother (don’t ask me which) is working guitars) does revert to far more palatable if raspy vocals on a very regular basis…so this isn’t an instant toss into the Pile situation.
More of a caution, wild woman with steak knives one…
Have to say, if it weren’t for the snarls and barks and all that Captain Howdy shit, this album went down a whole lot smoother than I was expecting it to.
Good work, all.
(shakes head, sighs before continuing)
Just might want to reconsider all the vocal aggro, there…it’s kinda weird and offputting.