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Surprise, here’s another burst of activity on the review front…and it’s all about the death metal this time around.  So tune down that guitar, throw on some old 80’s slasher VHS, put on your best Cookie Monster voice and dig in!

ANKHARA – Sinergia (Xtreem Music)

Powerful, driving riffs with clear old school sounding production and clean vocals. It’s very much in the vintage US power metal vein, which means you’re already a passing grade in my book, and there’s enough sincerity and love for the sound coming across to keep it from being yet another barely half sincere retro bid.

These guys have been around the block before, from demos in ’97 through a split around their third album in 2003, but nearly all members are present and accounted for in this revival.

Further, despite adhering very much to the USPM mold, there’s enough positivity and earnest hope for the future in Pacho Brea’s delivery of those soaring choruses to suggest an underlying immersion in the European variant as well. All told, it mixes to near perfection – or as an old ad campaign would have it, “two great tastes that taste great together”.

I dug it, no question.

ECZEMA – Proyecto 3k9 Darwin Reloaded (Xtreem Music)

Awkward attempt to cross the Carcass dual snarl/growl vocal approach once so tied to grindcore with the quirky tech/prog wiggling finger wankery of post-Spiritual Healing Death, post-Considered Dead Gorguts, Atheist and suchlike.

It’s just strange, with the feel of a bunch of free jazz loving Primus and Mr. Bungle fans noodling around in the basement to no apparent end. Hey, let’s throw some death belches in there – instant “song”!

No, Virginia. There is no Santa Claus, it just doesn’t work like that.

Next?

Golgotha – Erasing the Past (Xtreem Music) (October 22)

Another band hailing from the early to mid 90’s, these Spanish doom metallers are represented by the original guitarist (who stuck with hte band through their demise in ’98, only to return with a new group of sidemen for one 2005 album and EP last year) and vocalist (who lasted through ’97’s Way of Confusion EP).

They come off very much like Irreligious-era Moonspell crossed with Dead Again-vintage Type O Negative, perhaps with a tad more piss and vinegar and better drum production (every hit is right up front in the mix, crystal clear yet muted enough to bear simultaneous power and lack of irritating hiss).

As such, you know to expect a bit of overdramatic delivery, pronounced to the point of satire quavering baritone and occasional gargle-growl vox as punctuation with all the midtempo, crunchy but lumbering guitars, again in the Type O/Moonspell school thereof.

I was certainly good with this, yeah – perfect music for this time of year, in fact.

Thrashfire – Into the Armageddon (Xtreem Music) (October 10)

Crunchy, galloping, driving vintage thrash riffs. Interestingly, promo materials lean Teutonic in their sonic parallels, but this is far more Bay Area to these vintage thrasher ears.

Maybe it’s all the aggression, which you had to go to the crazier end of the spectrum for (Exodus, Dark Angel, Slayer), but truth be told, it’s just the modern school of retro-thrash.

After a bit, it all starts to sound more or less alike, pulling from the obvious influences at core, but appending all sorts of Canadian speed, South American blackened thrash and yes, European schools of both speed and thrash to the mix, until all those colors blur into very a similar shade of purple.

Me, I’m standing here saying, “hey, great riffs there…but where’s all that green? The vibrant orange, the sunrise red?” Purple’s OK, sure…but look.

It’s kind of like mashing all the food on your plate together before taking a bite, you lose all that pallette of flavor and vibrancy in the process.

Turkish thrash act, they bring the riffs, they bring the aggression and speed…consider all complaints hereof comparatively minor.

Sorcery – Necessary Excess of Violence (Xtreem Music) (August 20)

We’d covered these Swedish death metallers’ Garden of Bones a few years back as well as their earlier demo collection Unholy Creations, and have long since revisited (and regained no small appreciation for) their lone vintage effort Bloodchilling Tales – an album whose quirky, sinister sounding riffs have in fact led to its becoming something of a favorite among the usual Swedeath suspects.

Having delivered three “reunion” albums now (at three years remove apiece, almost to the day), they may well have restored their comfort level with prior glories to the point where – wait for it – you may well find yourself wondering if this were actually some long lost successor to Bloodchilling Tales, rather than the latest in a string of laudable if typically forgettable reunion efforts from an obscure vintage act.

If anything, Necessary Excess of Violence feels like a cross between vintage Unleashed, pre-Grave act Corpse (of “black dawn” fame) and the Sorcery last encountered in 1991. It’s Swedeath to the core, with quirky riffs that have just the right degree of “evil” feel, simplistic punchiness and aggression.

Hell, given that we’re talking Bloodchilling Tales and the first two Unleashed albums, here, even the shitty, hissy mids n’ treble-heavy production aids the illusion…

Seriously killer stuff, from a band that now has two albums any self respecting death metal aficionado owes it to themselves to grab a copy of.

In Thousand Lakes – Evolution (Xtreem Music) (September 20)

umm…ever imagine vintage Dokken gone death metal?

Yeah. Me either. And yet, that’s exactly what you get here, an apparently straight faced vomit-belch vocalled take on Don’s once smooth tenor delivery of “breaking the chains”. It’s pretty fucking ridiculous, particularly given how dead on the guitars and even the tone thereof are…

But wait! There’s more!

That’s right, because that track is no anomaly…this is actually this band’s M.O., clean toned melodic metal of the 80’s variety (well, there’s some decidedly Helloweenesque chugging European power metal riffing thrown in as well, but even so), pleasant if unspectacular solos…and frontman “Oscar” belching like Cookie Monster throughout.

umm…wrong rehearsal room, buddy! The death metal band’s a few doors down, just take your Left Hand Path, can’t miss ’em…

So now how much would you pay?

…the fact that I’m doing infomercial quotes should say it all.

Good trad/hair metal band, saddled with the wrong singer and image.

Abythic – Conjuring the Obscure (Xtreem Music) (September 11)

It’s actually a bit surprising to hear these guys hail from Germany, so entrenched is their sound with the darker, noisier end of European death metal of vintage.

The most obvious influences are Gorefest and (tonally more than in terms of tech leanings) Sinister, but with a raw, nasty tone that suggests anything from countrymen Morgoth to the less well produced, more detuned Swedeath (think earlier Grave and Unleashed) and Finnish school death (Abhorrence, Demilich, etc.)

Riffwise, it’s pretty basic, so if you have to hone in, stick with Gorefest and Morgoth…but you get the picture here.

Interestingly, this is more of a project than band affair, with four different vocalists (they’re pretty easy to pick out, their particular styles are quite distinct from one another)…but there’s a base unity of style and approach to the music they front, leaving this more of an interesting (if decidedly front loaded in terms of quality) anomaly than anything more.

As noted, the first half of the album utterly slays…unfortunately, the latter end lays down and submits with barely a whimper.

I’ll go by the promise of the first handful of tracks and say these guys have definite potential, some of which is realized right here.

Desecresy – Towards Nebulae (Xtreem Music) (July 23)

Sloppy, overly detuned and belchy underground black/death metal. They’d have you believe this is in the vein of early Immolation and suchlike, but it’s hardly death/doom, even in the more blasphemous variety of Ledney and company.

No, this is very modern and typical, if less inclined to layer everything in a thick veneer of cavernous reverb if not slap echo…

6 or 7 years back, this stuff seemed new and interesting. About ten thousand soundalike acts and releases later?

(yawns, stretches, farts for good measure)

(rubbing sleep from eyes:)
…next?

Obscure – Darkness Must Prevail (Xtreem Music) (November 5)

Spanish death metal demo act finally gets their act together for a proper full length, bringing three of their (re-recorded) demo tracks along for the ride.

So if you were among those who checked out their previous demo compilation Back to Skull, looks like they brought “blessing of malignancy”, “through self-repulsion” and “sunk in oblivion”. The other tracks appear to be newly minted.

Even so, it’s all pretty basic template death metal, sort of in the vein of acts like Gorefest or even Acheron in that regard, but with swallow the microphone vox ala Frank Mullen of Suffocation.

Nothing particularly exciting about this one, but it’s certainly listenable and vintage enough in terms of its simplicity and straightforwardness.

MORTUARY – “the Sapiens Order” (XENOKORP) (August 12)

Rather aggressive French deaththrash, somewhat in the vein of early Loudblast, but at the same time…not.

Frontman Patrick Germonville pukes his hollow toned aggro-inclined vocals like a death metal Phil Anselmo over riffs that alternate between speedy static tremelo buzzing bee bits and somewhat awkward single note lines that cross the off-prog efforts of countrymen like Agressor with more aimless “tech” types like Cannibal Corpse. It’s strange.

The one thing that unifies the band’s vision is the steamrolling tank aggression that drives tracks like “the sapiens order”, an almost Exoduslike assault on the listener that’s sure to elicit some seriously violent pits at shows across Europe (consider yourselves warned).

There’s a lot about this that I didn’t like (Third Eye regulars have doubtless already picked ’em out from what was said), but somehow as a whole…well, I can’t honestly say “it works”, but it does gel, enough to give Mortuary far more listenability than you’d expect from a band working these particular tropes.

In other words, depending on who’s in the car with ya, you may not run to flick the dial if one of these tracks came over the airwaves.

You’re on your own, if you want more effusive praise than that.

MITHRIDATIC – Tetanos Mystique (XENOKORP) (September 12)

Hey, didn’t we just mention Agressor once or twice?

Boy, speak of the devil…this is Agressor drummer Kevin Paradis (any relation to Vanessa?), a guy who can’t decide whether he wants to be Phil Anselmo or the guy from Fleurety on vox (seriously) and two guys who clearly came up on Grotesque/Liers in Wait with a small side of Morbid Angel on guitars.

If they were the first band to work that whole spastic/buzzing bees riffing style and didn’t have such an annoying frontman, then hey…

…but after a few decades of bands copying the style (Centurian springs to mind as one of the better examples thereof among literal dozens), does anyone really find themselves impressed by or enjoying this approach anymore?

THE DROWNING (UK) – The Radiant Dark (Transcending Obscurity Records) (November 8)

Put this pleasant slab of gothic doom (with doom/death vocals) on your virtual turntable, and it won’t take long at all before you find yourself noting the obvious parallels and signposts along the way.

Ah, there’s some Paradise Lost. Yeah, that there? My Dying Bride. Oh, that’s definitely My Silent Wake! You get the idea.

So is that a bad thing?

Production is oddly dry and flat, which leaves the whole thing sounding more than a tad Non-Fictionesque, or perhaps somewhat Danzig III. It’s not as horrible as the latter and throws the tinny pat-a-pat-a-pan Tupperware drums into bold relief, but the question remains: was it the right choice?

That aside, there’s sufficient (yet comparatively tasteful, at the very least not overdone reverb and chorusing appended to the vox and guitars, and the whole thing feels reasonably dramatic and bombastic.

As a definite aficionado of doom in nearly all of its variants, I was good here to be sure. If you dig the trio of bands aforementioned, chances are you should be as well.

NOX IRAE (France) – Here The Dead Live (Transcending Obscurity Records) (November 15)

Two French death metal bands cross swords and wind up joining forces. Personally, I’ve never heard of either Catacomb or Affliction Gate, but you get the guitarist and drummer from the former with the frontman of the latter, and the end result is…hmm.

Well, it’s reasonably basic, not what I’d consider template death metal, but certainly not of the more modern, noodling and blackened varieties…so consider that a plus. Moments felt a tad Unleashed (a phrase here and there, as in “knife under throat”), others just a bit Grotesque (“cold wind”)…but parallels are thin on the ground here.

If anything, there’s something about this that reminds of Abythic and Obscure, both reviewed in this Roundup. I guess that leaves Gorefest as a common factor, and you can certainly pick ’em up in “supposed dead”…

As with most French acts, there’s a restlessness that leaves the band jumping around from riff to riff, tonally shifting from one vibe to another, rather ill fitting one and back again at the drop of a hat. It’s strange, and probably why most folks describe French metal acts as some degree of “experimental”…but it’s more jarring to the listener and any attempt at setting mood or aesthetic than I care to hear in music (or film, or literature) I indulge in.

If you’ve got ants in your pants and they wanna dance, squirming this way and that with no concern as to narrative thrust or melodic/harmonic line connecting and threading through it all, then your appraisal may well differ.

All that said, they’re a lot more straightforward than, say, Agressor.

PAGANIZER (Sweden) – The Tower of the Morbid (Transcending Obscurity Records) (November 1)

Rogga Johansson and company return with another of his many bands and collaborations.

We’d covered Paganizer in specific a few times previously, for Land of Weeping Souls and On the Outskirts of Hades, and here they are back again, complete with a spiffy Dan Seagrave cover. Hey, no offense to Ed Repka, but his art, like seeing the R/C logo and Scott Burns or Tomas Skogsberg on production, was an instant “this one’s worth checking out” back in the heyday of death metal…

This one’s got the HM-2 buzzsaw guitar sound so endemic to the Swedish school of death metal, but Johansson tweaks the production so the sound is simultaneously paper thin and more mids-heavy than usual, yet incredibly lumbering and heavy in the slower, more Entombed-style sections. It feels both appropriately old school and somehow oddly new, a strange disparity of feel which carries over to the songs themselves.

Interestingly, promo materials point – rather accurately, I might add – towards rawer, more aggressive acts adhering to this general sound, like Carnage, Dismember and Wombbath. This isn’t Nihilist school, or the doomier, more sinister feel of Unleashed or Grave, but a more driving, angry, speedier and yes, noisier variant. Dismember is probably the closest analogue to what I’m hearing here.

Is it the greatest thing since sliced bread, an unparalleled homage if not return to the days when Sunlight Studios ruled Europe and Morrisound ruled the States? Well, no – we’ve heard just as good, arguably better from Johansson himself, somewhere across the many projects, bands and collaborations we’ve covered in these very pages.

But is it consistent, likeable, more than listenable, evocative of better days in underground (and “extreme”) metal, right down to the cover?

You betcha. Damn good stuff, all too easily recommended.

Grond / Graceless – Endless Spiral of Terror (Raw Skull Records) (October 31)

Interesting split between two death metal acts.

The Netherlands give us the amazing Graceless, a death metal act with both doom and melodic elements. Interestingly, what they most remind me of is early Death if they had more of a melodic (“revenge”) to Swedeath (“ruins of desolation”) feel, or the depressive doom undercurrents of Cursed-era Morgoth (“in thy honour”).

Sure, if you want to nitpick, “honour” and “revenge” were the two that really hit the sweet spot…but when it all sounds this good, who’s counting?

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of their Russian splitmates, Grond, who come off more like a slowed down, far less tech take on Nile or Artillery, all Arabian minor style flourishes, but at a decidedly midtempo pace. About the most exciting this gets is when the riffs graduate to a palm muted tremelo partway through “glacial maelstrom”…well produced, listenable, but very meh overall.

Again, neither band is terrible, and you can sort of see why Raw Skull would pair these two acts off their roster, they’re not entirely uncomplementary to each other.

But I’m waiting with baited breath for more Graceless. Can’t quite recall if there was anybody else on this one…