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Extermination Dismemberment - Dehumanization Protocol (2023)
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I've always enjoyed the more classic King Diamond & Mercyful Fate releases but recently realized that I'd never actually heard King Diamond's highly regarded debut album & decided to fill that gap post haste. Unlike most people, I've always slightly favored the King's solo material over Mercyful Fate & "Fatal Portrait" again showcases the reasons why with guitarists Andy LaRocque & Michael Denner contributing dazzling performances that steal the show from their theatrical front man. The lead guitar tone is nothing short of wonderful & the solos are pushed way forward in the mix for obvious reasons which is a major drawcard for this old shredder. The rhythm section of Timi Hansen & Mikkey Dee are pretty sensational too as they effortlessly pull off some pretty classy instrumental nuances so efficiently that a lot of the more technically impressive touches probably go unnoticed by most listeners. I can generally take or leave the King's operatic vocal style to be honest though. He can be pretty amazing on the super-elite classics but doesn't really do much to draw me in on the rest of the material & I kinda feel that I've heard it all before from him at this point in my life.
Despite a few flashy flourishes here & there, I'd suggest that "Fatal Portrait" is probably a little less progressive than some of the King's other albums & thankfully isn't as neoclassically influenced either. The highlight tracks like "The Candle", "The Portrait", "Charon" & "Haunted" are all very strong heavy metal anthems in their own right but I'm not sure I can say that any of them are genuine classics for me personally & I think the King is the limiting factor there as I really do need to be able to connect with the vocal hooks in your more traditional heavy metal space. There are plenty of outstanding riffs but I think they've been done a minor disservice by not being afforded a more prominent position in the mix to be honest. I would have liked to see them being more of a highlight alongside the solos.
At the end of the day "Fatal Portrait" is a pretty good King Diamond record that ticks all of the boxes that diehard fans could want. I'm not particularly interested in the lyrical themes & I think that's to my own detriment when it comes to the King as it seems to be a large part of his appeal. There's only the one weak track in the disappointing "Dressed In White" but it was just enough to see me dropping my score a touch. That being said, I'd suggest that this record might still just slip into my top five King Diamond-related releases & I'd actually take it over more highly regarded albums like "Don't Break The Oath", "Them" & "The Eye" so it's definitely worth a few listens, particularly for fans of occult-themed heavy metal bands like Mercyful Fate, Ghost & Death SS.
I've had a lengthy relationship with German black metallers Lunar Aurora after first discovering their first two studio albums through the tape trading scene in the mid-1990's, both of which I quite liked without ever being tempted to claim them as essential. I wouldn't return to Lunar Aurora for more than a decade after that, finally catching up with them again with 2007's "Andacht" around 2009 & being suitably impressed with the improvements Lunar Aurora had made to their sound over the years. "Andacht" sees Lunar Aurora reaching somewhat of a peak in their quest to create a more atmospheric soundscape than I remember from their early works with the use of keyboards being prominent but not overused. The use of drum programming is noticeable but fairly well executed & certainly not intrusive. The more aggressive moments are the most enjoyable for me personally which is hardly surprising. There are a few sections where the band move in a direction that kinda resembles folk metal without actually using those cheesy folk melodies & they represent the weak points of the album. Some of the more keyboard-heavy sections can sound a touch overblown too & (as is often the case with me) the most popular song on the record "Findling" is also the one that I find the least appeal in. Regardless of that, the majority of the six tracks are very strong examples of the atmospheric black metal subgenre in what is a very consistent album that will no doubt offer strong appeal for fans of Paysage d'Hiver, Nagelfar or The Ruins of Beverast.
I hated New York avant-garde black metaller Liturgy's sophomore album back at the time of release. I simply wasn't ready for my black metal to reach this far or to draw upon more positive sounds at times. Given time & experience though, I've found that there's a deep artistic credibility to Liturgy's music that I can really relate to & the experiments with many disparate outside influences are generally well received. Admittedly the two best tracks have nothing to do with black metal whatsoever in the crushing sludge metal anthem "Veins of God" & the djenty progressive metal of "Generation" but it's really only the dull post-minimal electronics of "Helix Skull" that falls flat across the twelve tracks included. "Aesthethica" is really a pretty great album & one that I regard more highly than Liturgy's highly praised 2019 fourth full-length "H.A.Q.Q." these days but it does require a level of open-mindedness towards your black metal so if you can't stand the positivity of Deafheaven, the post-rock experimentation of Altar of Plagues or the chaotic mathcore infusion of Serpent Column because they take you too far from the original intent of the black metal model then you likely won't be open to this release which is unfairly lumped with the "hipster black metal" tag in my opinion.
I hadn't revisited Metal Church's sophomore album in many years & have found that my passion for it has "Wayne"ed a little bit since back in the day (see what I did there?). Much like their self-titled debut, you can expect a mix of classic heavy metal, speed metal & thrash metal tracks with a chunkier & more aggressive tone than the NWOBHM was generally known for which pretty much makes "The Dark" the very definition of what the US power metal scene was all about. The best comparison I can come up with is a combination of the heavy metal of early Savatage & the more classic metal inspired thrash bands like Flotsam & Jetsam & Overkill. Also like the debut, "The Dark" is a little inconsistent in it's execution with a couple of obvious fillers included in simple heavy number "Start The Fire" & unintelligent speed metal tune "Psycho". Admittedly, I don't think these dips are as bad as what we saw in the middle of the tracklisting on "Metal Church" but "The Dark" is lacking the clear highlights that it's older sibling built its reputation on which sees me positioning it slightly behind "Metal Church" overall but not by much. Both are a bit overrated in all honesty & I don't regard either as being essential. David Wayne's vocals are a big improvement on his previous effort here though. I really enjoy his blend of soaring Rob Halford classic metal & Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth snarl. The guitar solos of Kurdt Vanderhoof & Craig Wells are the highlight of the record for me though as they absolutely slay. Overall, I'd suggest that "The Dark" is worth a listen if you enjoy the chunkier end of heavy metal but don't expect it to rock your world as much as some would have you believe.
I first chanced upon Hexer's debut, Cosmic Doom Ritual, during a random browse through Bandcamp's new metal releases not long after it's release in spring of 2017. I was instantly smitten with the band and their almost ritualistic-sounding sludge-filled doom metal and they have been a firm favourite of mine ever since. Unbelievably, to me at least, all three of their albums to date have less than 60 ratings on RYM, which is criminal for a band this good.
Cosmic Doom Ritual is perhaps a little rougher around the edges than it's successors, but I believe that emphasises the dirty sludginess of their sound more than a crisper and cleaner sound would. The album consists of three tracks each of 11 or 12 minutes duration, long enough for them to develop each track's ideas but not so long as to become self-indulgent and bloated. Each features an atmospheric sludge / post-metal building of tension and atmosphere through their runtime, arriving at a cathartic crescendo as it resolves itself, but each of the tracks has a very different character and all three have their own diverse atmosphere. They are also marvellously evocative and I always find myself conjuring amazing mental pictures to accompany the soundtrack that the album provides. Opener Merkaba, for example, begins serenely enough but soon builds into a dark and ominous sound, that brings to mind the gathering of huge, black thunderhead clouds suddenly erupting in a storm of blackened fury. My favourite track of the three is the middle one, Pearl Snake, which combines the band's sludgey doom with mystical eastern sounds, evoking the ritual chanting of some long-forgotten Indian death cult. I am always a bit of a sucker for eastern folk sounds being used on metal records and Hexer do make excellent use of the eastern theme here. Album closer, Black Lava Flow, is a throbbing, pulsing slab of sludginess with some black metal hints that really brings to mind the flowing of dark magma from deep in the bowels of some hellish underground volcano. It culminates in a great psychedelic section, complete with analogue keyboards, that feels organic and natural and not at all like it's forced into the song in an attempt to do something unexpected, but seems entirely the way the track should complete it's journey.
I think on this debut Hexer come across as aiming for a sound similar to Ufomammut but with less of a stoner influence and more sludgey, with even a hint of a black metal flavour. Oh, and did I mention that it is heavy as fuck?! Personally I love the thick, crawling riffs and the pounding rhythms that combine to produce an atmosphere dripping with naturalistic and mystical significance and if there is any justice in the world then these guys will become held in much greater esteem in future.