Witchrot are a four-piece stoner doom band from Toronto. They released a four-track, self-titled ep back in 2018 then underwent a bit of an upheavel, bassist Peter Turik moved to guitar and he and vocalist Lea Alyssandra Reto were joined by new bassist Cam Alford and drummer Nick Kervin. This lineup are responsible for the band's first full-length, Hollow. The album is a much more focussed affair than the psychedelia-laced ep and is much better for it in my opinion, the former sounding at times more like an extended jam session.
The album kicks of with my favourite track, Million Shattered Swords - the gentle intro with Lea crooning softly soon erupts into a mighty doom riff and we are off on a crushing journey of psychedelic heaviness as the band maximise both volume and distortion to debillitating effect, the vocals soaring majestically over all this sonic devastation. They take the (increasing jaded-sounding) female-fronted stoner doom template and feed it steroids, bringing in some real sludgy heaviness to add to the groove-laden stoner riffage. Lea Alyssandra Reto's vocals are especially powerful, reminding quite a bit of one of my favourite female vocalists, Mia Zapata of punk band The Gits. The engine room of the rhythm section is strong, especially the bass which often has a driving, kinetic quality. The drums, sadly, could be a little better produced, they sound a bit muted and muddy to me and often struggle to make an impression. Still, this is a pretty impressive debut effort from a band who are trying to put a bit more oomph into the stoner doom scene and to which end they have been quite successful.
Well, it's taken 28 years for me to finally get round to Earth's legendary debut. The reason for this tardiness on my part is that my introduction to the band was via 2008's The Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull, an album which I found so extremely boring and tedious that the very name Earth became anathema to me. So here we are in 2021 and buried within September's Fallen playlist was the opening track of Earth 2, Seven Angels, which when I heard it for the first time made me realise that I had made a terrible misjudgement of the band, a mistake which I would have to rectify in very short order.
Earth 2 is an album that is virtually impossible to review without resort to metaphor and hyperbole. As these are my preferred modes of expression usually, I don't intend to depart from this norm. This is an album that is as much a tactile experience as an auditory one. I imagine the absolute best way to experience it is through a huge Marshall stack at bowel-voiding volume. I can't escape the feeling that there is more going on than you can actually hear, in the same way as the majority of what's happening in the universe is undetectable to the human eye: gamma radiation, x-rays, infra-red light and dark matter all being invisible to us humans, I suspect that there are sonic waves produced by this that are too low a frequency to be heard and instead are felt, just like when the hairs on the back of your neck inexplicably stand up due to some undetected and unsuspected stimulus. It's almost like the album is a black hole's event horizon that once breached, inescapably draws you further into itself, crushing with unimaginably immense gravitational force for the heaviest experience in the universe.
It is ironic that a band called Earth produce music that, better than anything else I have heard, replicates how I imagine the majority of the cosmos would sound if it wasn't in vacuum. Within it's grooves I hear the death of stars and the demolition of galaxies, for what I can only describe as a transcendental and meditative experience. I'm not sure that any other album has ever launched my imagination onto a more vivid journey than Earth 2. I am fortunate that I live on a north-west facing hillside and get to see some fantastic sunsets. I am already anticipating sitting in a garden chair playing Like Gold and Faceted as the sun begins it's descent below the horizon, and letting the track become the soundtrack to the dying of the day.
Drone metal is absolutely not for everyone and neither is Earth 2. This is atmospheric music that truly is as much sensation as sound. It is very simple and repetitive, but is particularly affecting to those who "get it". Are there any riffs? Not really - well there are, but they are so slowly realised that they appear only as single chords sustained and built upon to amass into nothing less than a natural force. I'm sure there are plenty of people, including fans of doom metal, who find drone in general and Earth2 in particular boring, but for me this album is one of the most profound musical experiences I have ever had. I'm just cursing myself that it took me so long to submit to it's gravity, but I suppose it's better late than never.
I'm quite selective with thrash metal. I like the genre when it's heavy and technical at best. I don't feel up to exploring more of the Big 4 beyond a few songs at the moment. Yet I'm still up for bands that aren't as big as the big ones but take influence and are closer to my generation. This is where bands like Demolition Hammer come in. So despite the horrific cover artwork that might've inspired the aftermath of the "This is fine" dog, what you're gonna witness is some of the most intense thrash around!
That's the kind of intensity Exodus and Slayer don't have, but the intensity those bands have get more credit. For Demolition Hammer, they've added a lot of catchiness and violence that should reach the top of thrash mountain to avalanche away any naysayers. 30 years before this review, Tortured Existence was quite a metal underground hit album, at a time when most other thrash bands started disbanding or (d)evolving into the dreaded groove/nu metal. Needless to say, Demolition Hammer would fall into both traps a few years later. But before that impending fate, they've released some of the most savage thrash with a few influences from the rising death metal scene.
This headbanging thrash marathon opens with the insane ".44 Caliber Brain Surgery". The more insane "Neanderthal" has killer music that would make you wanna f***ing destroy everything in sight. That song and "Gelid Remains" stomp around with riffing that could cause massive earthquakes if blasted through a thousand loudspeakers. The dueling solos shine as well there.
"Crippling Velocity" is one of the more violent songs here in an effortless blend of fast thrash riff-fury and heavy passages of crushing chaos. So speedy as f***! The entirely memorable "Infectious Hospital Waste" is probably one of the catchiest songs in thrash with a chilling breakdown. Though not as catchy as the more melodic "Hydrophobia".
"Paracidal Epitaph" has thick monstrous bass in presence, performed by frontman Steve Reynolds besides his usual decimating vocals. "Mercenary Aggression" springs through comprehensive aggression harder than a fist in the b*lls, though not in the same heavy weight as those previous couple tracks. For anyone wanting an extra 6 minutes of thrash fury, check out the monstrous bonus track "Cataclysm" that continues of the brilliance of the frontman's vocals and bass.
Tortured Existence has some of the most violent thrash I can stand, enough to be able to come back again for more enjoyment. The more popular thrash albums don't quite top this one, and Demolition Hammer would continue the skull-blowing thrash for one more album. But for now, enjoy the fury!
Favorites: "Neanderthal", "Crippling Velocity", "Infectious Hospital Waste", "Hydrophobia", "Cataclysm" (bonus track)
Some titles of releases that I end up reviewing really fit with my situation at the time, do they? A year ago, I finally started listening to Haken after several failed attempts in the prior 5 years. Then after 6 months, I gave up on this band during my death metal departure. But another 6 months later, here I am! So Haken is not a death metal band in any way other than a couple songs with growls, so why did I end up straining from this band? It's most likely because of their melodic progressive rock/metal sound similar to Dream Theater that I've distanced from when I decided to go extreme. Other good but very remote possibilities might include this EP's nude cover artwork, though that's not really the reason at all. Anyway, I'm glad that there's still hope for me to restore my interest in this band!
See, the problem with melodic progressive rock/metal is, despite planting their forward-thinking roots, they heavily rely on imitating Dream Theater. While Haken shines with their tremendous creativity, there are times when they've fallen into that trap. I've made my initial departure from listening to Haken to, as lead vocalist Ross Jennings sang, "escape the past by embracing the future". That line just so happened to be kind of this EP's concept; 3 demo tracks re-recorded with much more focus on progression than imitation. It's as if this trio of songs went to the gym to change from skinny to muscular, all in a 34-minute seamless workout.
"Darkest Light", based on "Blind", takes some hammer-strikes to the anvil to smith heavy prog riff dissonance and unique keyboard atmosphere, creating one of the band's heaviest metal tunes to foreshadow their recent heaviness. The slower atmospheric "Earthlings", based on "Black Seed", uses a mournful clean rock structure with trance-ish vocal patterns. This almost fits well as the penultimate ballad similar to the band's first two albums. Definitely great as the final epic similar to the band's first two albums is the 19-minute progressive beast "Crystallized", based on "Snow", with every perspective the band has tackled, jamming through soft intermissions, keyboard solos, and guitar duels, all in upbeat positivity that shines in the triumphant chorus and bridges. While the lyrics and atmosphere are their own, the track rivals against the title epic of Visions to surpass the grandeur of Dream Theater's Change of Seasons. Speaking of Dream Theater, their former drummer Mike Portnoy hit the gong at the end. Magnificent!
So that was a wonderful ride through the fantastic progressive gold of Haken. Restoration took the normally unnecessary step of re-recording older songs, but made it more interesting by refreshing them with their unlimited inventive abilities for a spectacular performance. Those 3 songs work as an introduction for newcomers and a throwback to the band's introduction for longtime veteran fans. This was almost a reintroduction for me, and I'm glad I still appreciate high-quality progressive rock/metal!
Favorites: "Darkest Light", "Crystallized"
I ventured back to this old favourite from my youth over the last couple of days & found that it still hits the spot. I was majorly into the more brutal end of death metal at the time & the early rise of Suffocation had made a major impact on me so I was actively seeking out anything that could remotely rival the masters of brutal death metal. I found Cannibal Corpse's 1990 debut album "Eaten Back To Life" to be pretty fun without ever really commanding repeat listens but "Butchered At Birth" saw them upping the ante on the brutality significantly by dropping some of their early thrash influences, removing any semblance of melody & drawing forth the deepest & most imposing death metal vocals we'd heard to the time, not to mention one of the most grisly & iconic album covers & some seriously sickening lyrical content. It all added up to a welcome death metal feast for a rebellious teenager like myself.
"Butchered At Birth" is the first essential Cannibal Corpse album in my opinion. It starts off with one of the first genuine hits of the extreme death metal scene in "Meathook Sodomy" which still tears me a new one every time I sit through the swamp of sickening whammy bar noise that makes up the intro. The rest of the tracklisting is very consistent with no weak tracks although the second half of the album definitely sees the quality dropping off a little. It's pretty obvious that the earlier tracks are made up of the band's newer material as they're generally more sophisticated & you easily see that this was a band that was still developing its sound.
The instrumentation certainly isn't quite the finished product yet. The drumming is very repetitive & basic, the rhythm guitar performances can be pretty sloppy at times & the solos aren't exactly theoretically correct but there's an undeniable atmosphere of pure death about "Butchered At Birth" that just resonated with so many of the true death metal fans of the time. Unlike Suffocation's early works from the same year, this isn't a brutal death metal record per se. It's a classic old school death metal album with some seriously brutal vocals & if I'm being honest I think those vocals will ultimately dictate whether this release is a winner or a loser with you. They're the highlight of the record for me personally as I absolutely love their monstrous tone. Despite their indecipherable nature which was completely devoid of melody, Chris Barnes strangely managed to pull off some really catchy phrasing & the excessive violence & gore still rocks my boat to this day. It's just so extreme which is something that I crave in my life.
Cannibal Corpse would create better albums in the coming years but they'd rarely show this level of youthful exuberance. Over the subsequent decades they've become one of death metal's most recognizable, reliable & marketable forces but if you really want to know what they're about then this is the record you should investigate. "Butchered At Birth" changed many people's perceptions on what extreme metal could be, would massively influence the new brutal death metal movement I was about to become a part of & became a gateway for so many pimple-faced teenagers who are now life-long death metal fanatics.
For fans of Deicide, Cannabis Corpse & Monstrosity.
In the ninth circle of doom metal hell, where no light penetrates, only the most desperate and forsaken of doom metal releases reside. If you were to venture there, like some latterday Dante Alighieri, then you would find within it the likes of Burning Witch's Crippled Lucifer and Hell's III. These abyssal depths now have a new resident and that is Body Void's Bury Me Beneath This Rotting Earth.
This is an album of doom metal at it's absolute bleakest, shriven of any hope or even a ray of positivity. The riffs are tortuously slow, heart-bursting chords piled one upon another into a soul-crushing mountain of volume and feedback that makes every breath an effort and renders all other external stimuli mute, scattered sparingly with outbreaks of higher tempo violence. Willow's vocals have the tortured soul quality of only the most desperate-sounding doom metal vocalists with lyrics that berate the world's politicians for their self-serving betrayal of the remainder of mankind. Whether or not you subscribe to a similar view, this admonishment certainly feels heartfelt and Willow's frustration with the status quo is palpable. Edward Holgerson commits acts of intense battery upon his drum kit, sounding occasionally like he may be attacking it with actual severed human limbs and additional chaos is provided by Entresol who's electronics add another layer of noise to the already powerfully alienating nature of this sonic tsunami.
Bury Me Beneath This Rotting Earth seems to be very heavily influenced by Stephen O'Malley's previously mentioned Burning Witch project and if you are familiar with Crippled Lucifer then you will have a good idea what to expect here. This is true doom metal for the serial cynic and disillusioned soul who sees no reason to hope or believe and if this is you, then you are in for a treat.
Even prior to the release of So Long Suckers, Reverend Bizarre had announced their intention to split, so it seems that they decided to go out with an album that could be viewed as the last word in traditional doom metal. Everything about the album is exaggerated and drawn out to a point (or more accurately beyond a point) at the edge of comfort. Intro riffs are played over and over way beyond where you would expect the vocals to kick in (They Used Dark Forces), chords are held for an interminable amount of time (Sorrow) and there are passages of bass-led noodling that act as more of a buffer than an intro or outro that seem at odds with the track they are attached to (Anywhere Out of This World). Then of course there is the extended track lengths. For trad doom some of these tracks are historically long, three of the seven tracks are over 25 minutes long and the album as a whole weighs in at a hefty 130 minutes.
And you know what, I love every minute of it. Reverend Bizarre are one of my absolute favourite traditional doom acts and, for me, very few can hold a candle to the Finnish trio. So Long Suckers isn't a perfect album by any means, look to the debut In the Rectory of the Bizarre Reverend for that level of doom metal nirvana, but it is a great example of an album pushing a genre to the absolute limits of extremity whilst remaining wholly within it's confines, so no harsh vocals, blastbeats or synths are to be found within this two hours plus of no frills, fuck-you-if -you-don't-like-it doom metal.
The riffs are memorable and gargantuan, courtesy of Lord Peter Vicar (Kimi Kärki), subsequent founder of the excellent Lord Vicar and the drumming of Earl of Void (Jari Pohjonen) is on point and, despite the extended repetition of the tracks, he does plenty to keep it interesting. For me though, despite his vocal shortcomings, the bass playing of Albert Witchfinder is fantastic and the instrument's presence is stamped all over So Long Suckers in a way that is reminiscent of how Lemmy's bass would often dominate Motörhead's sound (and even more so, Hawkwind's), adding a real depth and heft to the material that takes it to a different level of doom-laden substance.
This really isn't an album for the doom metal newbie and deliberately so I guess. Reverend Bizarre have wilfully gone about testing the limits of Traditional Doom and the mettle of it's adherents with their swansong, in an attempt to go out with the last word in the genre. To this end, I would suggest, they have been singularly successful and have produced an album that may alienate some but will heavily reward those willing to go along with it.
You might be surprised to see a Full Of Hell album review coming from me considering how well Weeping Choir went during my 2019 catchup. But since discovering the bands collaborations with The Body, as well as appearing on HEALTH’s 2020 album DISCO4, I was at the very least, intrigued to see if Full Of Hell could take some of those experiences and incorporate them into a full grindcore album.
And, while that unfortunately did not happen, I can see signs of improvement. For one, the obtrusive production and continued use of power electronics make these tunes unbearable, but in a good way. The relentless percussion work is well layered in the mix and the guitar riffs are filthy. The vocals are shredded beyond recognition most of the time, but contribute well to the cacophonous mess. And the electronics take center stage as the real discomforting factor in how they blow through everything else. I do wish it was a little more balanced however.
Which is weird for me to say because the album has two “cleaner” songs near the conclusion in “Reeking Tunnels” and “Celestial Hierarch”. And I would consider them to be lesser cuts as they sound more refined and don’t contribute very much overall, especially the former. Grindcore is a genre that I will never fully understand, but where Full Of Hell got it right on Garden of Burning Apparitions is the sheer brutality of it all. I just wish I could appreciate it more through all of the compression.
The newest album from Sleep Token is not worth the large amounts of attention that it has received, but I understand why it is as popular as it has become. For starters, this is an anonymous group with a lot of secrecy surrounding not only its members, but also the overarching concept of devoted worship to the god of their fantasy world. For the mainstream, this is quite uncommon, but for someone who listens to lots of extreme metal (let alone Ghost) knows that this concept has been toyed around with many times before.
The major difference here is that Sleep Token are doing it in a quasi-pop template with enough heavily distorted guitars and djent breakdowns to classify this as metal. And I wish I liked it more. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy the blending of these genres together to create something that can be seen not only as a branching point for fans of pop music to try and understand heavy metal music, but also metal fans stepping outside of their comfort zone. The heavier sections feel sparse, and are supposed to make you feel like jumping out of your seat when you hear them.
This unfortunately does not happen because the synth choices on songs like “The Love You Want” make it sound like the groove is about to fall apart at any moment, while the cleaner keyboard of “Distraction” are really block-y and do not fit well at all. They give off the feeling of the worst of Between The Buried And Me’s worst keys/synth choices over their career.
Speaking of BTBAM, the vocalist does bear a closer resemblance to Tommy Rogers than you might expect. And “Fall For Me” serves as one of the albums better tracks as a mostly a cappella, including vocoder effects making it remarkably similar to Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek”. Beyond this, most of the limited guitar work is passable, but the tunes do lose most of their edge when the down tuned guitars provide most of the bass lines during the djent passages.
I rarely consider an album’s lore as culturally significant when rating in order to determine its value. It’s the main reason why most of Coheed and Cambria’s material following The Color Before The Sun has flown over my head. For Sleep Token, the lore surrounding the group and This Place Will Become Your Tomb feels very pedestrian and has been explored many times before in various ways by other metal acts. And while the balance of pop and metal does feel quite fortified, this does not feel that far removed from the worst of the bands consumed by the “Imagine Dragon” like Bullet For My Valentine or Bring Me The Horizon.
Violence Was The Only Option
It isn’t often that I choose violence. A quick peruse through my ratings at this point shows that I can be exceedingly picky when it comes to the more extreme corners of Metal. At the end of the day a relentless onslaught of aggression is only so interesting to me and I struggle to truly be invested in most of it at the end of the day. Obviously, there are exceptions with bands like Serpent Column, Ulcerate, and Imperial Triumphant having managed to crack into the top 20 of my previous year-end lists, and Frontierer is absolutely going to be the exception this year. Mathcore isn’t normally something I bother with considering most of the classic releases have bounced off me. However, after thoroughly enjoying Botch’s We Are The Romans, I figured I was in the mood for more relentless aggression, but nothing could have prepared me for the crushing weight of Oxidized.
This album is loud. It’s extremely, extremely loud. Despite that, though, I think it’s incredibly balanced considering the myriad of guitar and electronic effects and how far they push the distortion. After a few listens I’ve been able to find some serious depth in what sounds like an undistinguishable wall of sound. Frontierer’s production is all-encompassing; not a single inch of empty space is present when the album kicks into high gear, which admittedly makes up 90% of the album. Normally this would be off-putting for me but Oxidized turns the bombardment of sound into an integral feature of the experience that has kept me gripped for many, many listens. The guitar tone is thick, deep, and bursting at the seams during the multitude of breakdowns and chug riffs and contrasts perfectly with the cutting, electronic bleeps and bloops that Frontierer utilizes to really push their sound over the edge. Tracks like “Disintegrative”, “Stereopticon”, and “Southern Hemorrhage” introduce some hilariously over the top guitar effects that feel oddly cohesive with the album’s overall theme of merciless aggression. The vocals are nothing to scoff at either, with the harshes sitting just right in the mix to create some seriously memorable moments amidst the chaos. The tracks that manage to cram all of these elements together are a bewildering, erratic whirlwind of violence that becomes utterly impressive at times, especially with “Glacial Plasma” being the most crushing track I’ve heard in a very long time.
As overpowering as Oxidized is, it knows exactly how to vary its approach so it doesn’t feel overwhelming. Most of the album is more rhythmic in nature with most of the riffs consisting of dropped chugging and the occasional screech, but there are just enough melodic sections in tracks like “Opaque Horizon”, “This Magnetic Drift”, and “Daydark” to keep the album from feeling flat. The short hints of melody and electronic showcases help to make the violent breakdowns really pop and stand out amongst the admittedly similar structures of the songs. Conversely, the short moments of reprieve and silence are haunting and strange sounding since they stand opposed to the rest of the album. “SVVANS” is the perfect example of this, as the silence and spacey electronics after “Southern Hemorrhage” are honestly unsettling after 22 minutes of white-knuckled Mathcore, making it one of the best interludes I’ve heard in a while. These short sessions of melodic comfort aren’t just filler though, since they serve as memorable anchors through the chaos. The blasting vocal melodies in “Corrosive Wash”, the vocal intro to “Death/” and “Southern Hemorrhage”, and the repeated vocal lines in “LK WX” are just a few portions that satiate my need for something to latch onto in extremely heavy music. The melodic versus the extreme elements in Oxidized are constantly battling for attention but the songwriting feels incredibly smooth after the initial shock factor wears off, apart from the one transition from “Motherboard” into “Daydark” being noticeably weaker than the rest.
Although I’d consider Oxidized to be approachable on a surface level to seasoned extreme music listeners just due to the sheer insanity of it, there’s an incredible amount of balance and structure going on beneath the chaos. Frontierer are able to take some of the most erratic songwriting I’ve heard and shape it into a product that is extremely cohesive and interesting front to back. This erratic theme is instantly set up with “Heirloom” being an opener that gives an overview of what’s to come, complete with the crushing riffs, wild guitar screeching, heavy breakdowns, and commanding vocals. Nothing lingers on Oxidized and if it does, it’s only for long enough to get its point across and make way for the next idea, creating a weird sense of structure from all the chaos. For me, I knew this structure had really resonated with me when I thought more about the closing track “/Hope” and how compelling and thought provoking it is. “/Hope” has one of the heaviest openers on the album, but transitions into the nicest sounding portions in all of Oxidized, complete with an actual drum beat and melody that lasts for more than ten seconds. That peaceful ending gets cut off jarringly and immediately to cap off the album.
Most extreme metal, especially Mathcore, has failed to interest me in the past due to me not connecting with the material in any meaningful way. There are plenty of albums that I adore without having intense emotional attachment, but this genre and others like it seem to thrive off of conveying and pulling out certain feelings. I think that’s why I end up bored out of my skull when listening to most extremely heavy music; it all seems so pointless and contrived to the point where it fails to resonate with me. Oxidized came in and instantly hooked me with its overarching style and theme of merciless and unrelenting force. It feels universal in a way that doesn’t alienate me like other Mathcore releases seem to; it manages to be very familiar and impactful despite not feeling as personal as other, similar albums. Despite this being one of the loudest and most aggressive albums I’ve heard, I’ve been constantly wanting more ever since my first listen. The conclusion of “/Hope” is easily the best way this album could have ended, since Frontierer don’t give you any resolution or satisfying ending. There’s only violence.
I think it's fair to say that "Kentucky" was never going to be something that I'd claim to be right up my alley but that's not to say that it's a bad record by any measure. I actually quite liked it in the end but there are a few things that hold me back from getting too excited about this coal-mining themed one-man black metal experiment. It's not a very dark black metal record with some of the more melodic sections possessing an atmosphere that glistens with a positivity that wouldn't feel out of place on a blackgaze release while the mining themes don't really seem to fit all that well within the context of such a cold, primitive & raw style of extreme music if you ask me. The other major obstacle I discovered is that the first few tracks do very little for me so the album doesn't really get going until track four in my opinion. That poor start meant that my first listen was a bit of a write-off as I was already pretty disappointed by track four & subsequently didn't allow the remainder of the record a decent chance of recovery. A couple of revisits have since seen me overcoming that issue & I've found that I actually get a fair bit of enjoyment out of tracks 4 through 9, particularly "Black Soot & Red Blood", "Killing the Giants As They Sleep" & "Black Waters" which are all very solid pieces of work in their own right.
In saying that though, I'm definitely not onboard with the few sections that see an instrument that sounds very much like a pan-flute or a recorder being poorly amalgamated within an extreme metal framework. That shit just doesn't sit all that well with this old metalhead but thankfully those parts are generally short-lived & are often followed by some of the better sections of the album. There's a strong post-rock influence scattered across the tracklisting too & those sections clearly sit amongst the most impressive parts of the record for me as I'm quite partial to an introspective interlude or two in my extreme metal. The vocal shrieks aren't amazing & some of the instrumentation isn't as polished as some but there's a good energy to a lot of the more brutal sections & the solemn bluegrass pieces are well executed & generally offer a depth, authenticity & integrity that allows them to feel more substantial than anything you'd find on your run-of-the-mill folk metal release. In fact, the consistent inclusion of folk music on this album initially left me confused as to why "Kentucky" is rarely labelled as Pagan Black Metal but I've since realized that it's the subject matter that's the roadblock there.
I think it's fair to say that I found "Kentucky" to be an intriguing if not all that enticing prospect on paper but hindsight has seen me admitting that it's over-achieved on its promise in practice. I'm not sure it's the type of thing that I'll be returning to all that regularly which mostly comes down to taste but it certainly has some artistic merit & deserves points for effort & ambition as much as anything else.
For fans of Saor, Wolves In The Throne Room & Skagos.
With their 2005 sophomore breakthrough Ascendancy and since 2008's Shogun, Trivium has marked their spot as one of the greatest discography-expanding bands of modern times, despite the flaws of albums #1 and #3. The slightly underrated 2011 masterpiece In Waves began their venture to show great concepts and executions that would carry on in subsequent albums, except in 2015's Silence in the Snow when vocalist Matt Heafy temporarily lost his growling ability. So where does it all lead?
Into the Court of the Dragon! In 2020 after the previous album What the Dead Men Say, when Trivium was in lockdown during the virus and couldn't do any live performances, they decided to not waste any time. They spent the rest of that year writing an album that would later be recorded as almost a sequel to the epic thrash-metalcore of Shogun with greater hints of its surrounding albums' sounds. While staying stellar as ever, their performance is probably the most powerful since Ascendancy. The guitars have more fire and crunch than the spiciest crunchiest KFC meal. The drumming is more brutal as well, and the vocals add a greater blend of mature cleans and convincing screams.
In the Court of the Dragon begins our descent with the anticipation-building intro "X", but unlike the previous album's heavy intro, this one is an ominous orchestral intro composed by Ihsahn. Then the furious title track erupts with Matt Heafy's f***ing beastly growling vocals. The blast-beat onslaught carries on into the cleanly-sung chorus, occurring before a brutal breakdown. The shredding soloing makes you visualize a bad-a** battle with the dragon in the pit, with your weapon being that guitar soloing. A tune of heavy brilliance! "Like a Sword Over Damocles" showcase the band's Nevermore influences in a prog-thrasher where Matt adds aggression to his singing then rises to the usual growling. The d*mn epic clean chorus should definitely get fists pumping in future live festivals. The title fits well with the perilously powerful pandemic and how our leaders are trying to prevent it from spreading further. Some more epic guitar fire in the dueling solo trade! After those first two real songs starting the album heavy, the radio anthem "Feast of Fire" has a different riff that spawned from an unknown demo. There's killer strength and maturity that levels this song up more than the similar mid-tempo songs from The Crusade. The balance between heaviness and melody continues to suit the album and makes sure it's not just a sequel to the one from last year.
Ascendancy-style heavy throwback "A Crisis of Revelation" still manages to fit well with the other high-quality tracks. The different brooding "The Shadow of the Abattoir" is the first of not one, not two, but THREE 7+ minute epics!!! This one might just have Heafy's best vocals EVER!! The verses go slow like a power ballad from Blind Guardian or Slough Feg with deep baritone vocals before rising to higher power in the chorus in a depressive journey ("Don't go searching for the battle, you won't find any beasts to slay, you'll rip yourself to pieces, you'll drive yourself insane, in the shadow of the abattoir...") The heavier bridge is more complex with key-switching breakdowns and extensive soloing that ends by perfectly replicating the chorus vocal harmony, before the final chorus itself where the background vocal harmony of bassist Paolo Gregoletto puts more emphasis in the harmony than before. EPIC!! "No Way Back Just Through" continues the heavy rage, while having a great chorus ready for future gigs.
While it's tough to pick highlights for perfect albums like this one because of how strong the songs are that make the album as cohesive as true heavy metal classics from the 80s, "Fall Into Your Hands" comes close, a headbanging epic that is the longest song by the band to not be an album's title track or a cover song. It has vocally the best chorus of the album with all 3 vocalists (one lead + two background) uniting. You get to hear killer thrashy riffing along with lots of soloing and instrumentation good for air-guitar. Besides the album's intro, Ihsahn has performed strings that are buried in the background, but this song is where those strings really shine, especially in their own glorious outro. Next up, "From Dawn to Decadence" really combines blasting thrash in the verses with hard rock in the chorus worth humming to. The triumphant closer "The Phalanx" starts with grand intro riffing before a mid-tempo verse that starts building up speed when Heafy starts his usual screaming. Strings return to prominence again in the pre-chorus before the chorus of heroic glory. This epic pretty much summarizes everything they've had in the album, with sublime soloing by Corey Beaulieu. Drummer Alex Bent really keeps his pace with the riffs and elevating them. The song's lyrical theme of fighting demons fit the song's music video like a glove, and that video is a collaboration with Bethesda Game Studios based on the Elder Scrolls Online. And to cap it all off beautifully is an ultra-epic two-minute outro as Matt's vocals lead the band and the one-man orchestra to victory, until next time...
So going out on a whim here, In the Court of the Dragon marks the band's best and strongest album since In Waves. I would recommend this to anyone who has followed the band far through their over two-decade career. The band's later greatness continues in power and glory. An amazing masterpiece that's probably, for me, the best of the year!
Favorites: "In the Court of the Dragon", "Like a Sword of Damocles", "The Shadow of the Abattoir", "Fall Into Your Hands", "The Phalanx"
This debut is long overdue. Considering how many friends I have in metalcore spaces who have been singing the praises of Spiritbox seemingly since the self-titled EP from 2017, it was only going to be a matter of time before I would have to get to them properly. And they’re a Canadian band too! What has taken me this long to get on board?
Anyways, I recently checked out the debut EP in preparation for this review and…what I ended up discovering was a band that was trying to share its appeal among multiple styles and formats of metalcore. The debut LP, Eternal Blue, is slightly more focused, but still suffers a lot from tonal whiplash as they try to be alternative metal, then metalcore, then djent, then deathcore of all things. Add the fact that the opener “Sun Killer” sounds unfinished, it makes for an unfufilling listen overall.
Where this band's roots are is in alternative metal. It’s clear to me that the clean vocals of Courtney LaPlante are expected to give a heightened sense of accessibility, in the same way that Cristina Scabbia and Maria Brink did for Lacuna Coil and In This Moment respectfully. For Spiritbox, the vocals are the standout as they provide most of this album's melodic flare. In addition, LaPlante’s vocals alternating between clean singing and hardcore screams/death metal howls are both pulled off very well. Not only do the screams feel relevant to the rest of the songs, but also provide their own melodic drives, which I found impressive.
That is where the melodic drive stops however. While the hooks are impressive and sticky, the instrumentals do nothing to complement it with the exception of the melo-hardcore tracks such as “The Summit” and “Eternal Blue”, and even those are limited. Instead, the instrumentals play into a very formulaic djent formula of staccato riffage with the percussion during the breakdowns, and Periphery style pinching during the choruses. I wish that Spiritbox would attempt to merge these ideas together, because the breakdown sections feel like musical nothingness; a consistent problem that I have with metalcore/djent.
The production is solid as it works its way through some softer, electronic focused verses such as “Eternal Blue” and “Constance”, while the heavier sections are given lots of gravitas thanks to a prominent bass line and LaPlante’s vocals. The percussion is not forced or overly technical, and the only thing that really keeps this album from sounding any better is the compression, probably to better prepare it for accessibility through radio and streaming playlists.
Eternal Blue by Spiritbox is the kind of debut album that may seem like it's breaking boundaries, but ends up feeling very surface level in comparison to other djent and alternative metalcore bands. I think if the band could refine more and focus on giving us the Spiritbox sound instead of giving us a grab bag of popular metalcore trends, we could be in line for something special.
Aussie funeral doom merchants The Slow Death have finally returned with their first album in six years. To my ears this is an improvement on 2015's Ark, it's four heaving slabs of funereal death doom being just what the doctor ordered (well he didn't, but he damn well should have!) Weighing in at over an hour this is no album for the impatient metal fan, but being funeral doom you knew that already, right? It's an hour of massive riffs, clean female and gravel-throated growling male vocals heaved along by a great, solid rhythm section with well-placed keyboards and piano to add layers to the atmosphere and is one of the better doom releases this year. It's not always super-slow, but it IS always heavy as hell, so give it a listen if deathly funeral doom is something you're even remotely interested in.
The mornings are getting colder, there's an early autumn chill in the air most days and the atmospheric black metal rotation appears to just grow and grow in October in the Vinny cave. Wait a minute though? Andy Marshall of Falloch and Saor fame has a sophomore album out under the banner of his Fuath project (I have never heard the debut) so this would be a perfect fit for this time of year to tag onto the queue of atmospheric bm, right?
In truth, whilst atmospherics do play a key part in Fuath's sound, this album has a lot more to do with conventional black metal. It is full of blast beats and ghastly shrieking vocals, whist also having a mining tremolo to the riffs (check out album opener Prophecies as evidence of such), all hallmarks of the cold and harsh fury of the authentic black metal genre. This isn't to say that the keyboards are redundant here. They are audible and effective still, albeit in a more supporting role than you would initially perhaps expect from a man responsible for the melodic exuberance of Saor. Into the Forest of Shadows is the track on here that best showcases the atmospherics at play. Here the keyboards take more of a central role and drive a lot of what is going on around them to great effect. It is still an up-tempo and aggressive though and the album as whole maintains this consistency.
The fact is though that after repeated listens the album gets more than a bit blurry, morphing into stages of a similar sound as opposed to developing on a theme over five tracks. In a way it misses out on utilising the atmospherics better, even if only to provide some variety. It is memorable, but for the wrong reasons really as it just feels like Saor have toned down one aspect of their sound and gone a little harsher in another and all balance is somehow lost in the mix.
The short format makes this "samey" aspect more tolerable than if we had eight to ten tracks of this to contend with but I would suggest that Fuath's longevity is not the lengthiest prospect in my music library.
I let hype bring me to Sanguisugabogg in all honesty. There definitely seemed to be a sense of outrage amongst some of the death metal community around either the amount of merch the band put out or the perceived deathcore/beatdown influences being far to obvious to allow the vast mindset of such fans to open up to their sound. Having heard none of their output until a few months ago, I have to say they are not remarkable really by way of comparison to most other death metal I have heard over the years but that's not say that Tortured Whole is not a fucking blast.
Revulsion from some over their lyrical content is fucking laughable in a genre of extreme metal like death metal. Shame really that the focus is on these when there are some chunky as hell death/doom riffs in here. Yes, it doesn't all work (those fucking electronic/ambient tracks are just excess for excess sake), but even if you hate all the squealy riffage that is littered throughout the album there is still enough nods to the likes of Mortician for the fan of brutal death metal as well as equal reference to more modern revivalists such as 200 Stab Wounds to appease the retro crowd also.
I can listen to Dead As Shit all day if I am honest. The title track rumbles along like it is the nineties all over again and the perversely titled Dick Fillet sounds every bit as hellish as the title intimates it should be. Accept it for what it is and Tortured Whole is a fun 30 minute blast most days of the week.
In a week that has saw me spend many pleasurable hours with the latest Panopticon album it seemed logical to stay on my atmo-black theme (albeit Panopticon has strayed from that path somewhat) and pick up the latest offering from WITTR. Straight away though this album sounds and feels very different and I guess in a way, having spent time with a clear runner for AOTY Primordial Arcana has a lot to live up to. This review is not written with the intent for it to be a comparison of those two records, however I cannot deny that hearing ...And Again Into the Light has certainly influenced my listening experience of this record.
Known for their expansive and atmospheric soundscapes, WITTR have taken a more direct approach this time. It sounds like there is an effort to be more accessible this time and a lot of the riffs play like straight up metal riffs at times. The textures are still there, just hidden a more forward sounding metal front to add grit to the WITTR sound. I will go on record as saying this works. Primordial Arcana is an enjoyable record for sure, but that is as excited as I can get with it. The adoption of a more robust edge whilst retaining the more familiar aspects of the bands established sound sort of leaves them in a bit of a no-mans land.
With the acknowledgment that they have not made a bad record by any means, what the record really lacks is any sense of dynamics. Overall it just comes across as really flat sounding like we are not really sure which element is taking precedent on the album and so both the harder edge metal and the atmospherics both sit back a little in the hope that the other one will take the lead, resulting in neither really establishing themselves and taking ownership of the album.
As a result most of Primordial Arcana just passes me by, leaving me with little to grasp hold of and explore as it goes. I get snippets of hope. The resonating plucked string on Spirit of Lightning or the ambience of Eostre but nothing to really snap me into me giving the album my full-blown attention if I am honest. Whilst not a bad record I still feel disappointed and very underwhelmed. The best track for me is the bonus track (on the bonus track version, fittingly enough). Skyclad Passage has a commanding presence from the off and takes hold of a direction and stick with it. Have it on loud enough and the atmospheric thud and rumble has the windows vibrating in their frames as the track grows and grows with each passing minute. More of this next time around please guys.
"Extreme Aggression" was the release that introduced me to Kreator shortly after release & I frankly fell in love it right from the offset. To be more accurate, it was really the video clip for "Betrayer" that first brought them to my attention & it's still one of the greatest thrash metal tracks ever recorded in my opinion. I gave the album a right royal thrashing during the subsequent years & it held the prestigious position of my favourite Kreator record for an extended period there too. That being said though, it's been many years since I revisited it & after reacquainting myself with its wonderful follow-up record "Coma Of Souls" recently I thought it was time to see where "Extreme Aggression" sits in grand scheme of classic period Kreator after all these years.
"Extreme Aggression" is a very similar record to "Coma Of Souls" in many respects. It's an absolute riff-fest & a total thrash-a-thon! In fact, you'll rarely hear a record that better defines what late 80's European thrash was all about in my opinion as there's an nasty edge to the vocals, guitar tone & riff structures that makes Kreator infinitely cooler than the vast majority of their competition. The band had gotten significantly tighter by this stage too, particularly in the rhythm guitar & drumming departments. The guitar solos still spend a bit of time in off-key territory however it all sounds very cool indeed, even more so to an early teenage me.
The musical evolution that Kreator had started with 1987's "Terrible Certainty" has been further developed here with the band showing an increasing maturity in the song-writing department. Mille's newly acquired real-life lyrical approach would branch further away from the death-laden horror of Kreator's early works & I have mixed feelings on that. It's not a major concern but I do think his voice in best suited to sheer violence & blasphemy but he certainly makes a pretty good fist of the vocal hooks on offer here. The band show a great pedigree in not only thrash but also traditional heavy metal at times with an increased focus on guitar harmonies that reminds me just as much of Iron Maiden as it does of Metallica. Drummer Ventor can be seen to show a little more restraint than we were used to from his mid-80's efforts. Here we see him placing a lot more emphasis on the song-writing by picking his moments more selectively. He'd further refine that technique (not to mention his technical skills) before the recording of "Coma Of Souls".
There are no weak songs included. "Don't Trust" is clearly the weakest link however it's still quite enjoyable thanks to the previously-mentioned quality of the riffs. The rest of the album is absolutely top notch though with four of the nine tracks reaching genuine classic status for me. The one-two punch of "No Reason To Exist" & "Love Us Or Hate Us" pretty much rewrites the manual on how to write a great thrash riff while the two-track run of "Some Pain Will Last" into "Betrayer" is as devastating as any in the band's discography. "Some Pain Will Last" is the slowest inclusion of the nine & features an atmosphere that reminds me a lot of the down-tempo pieces from Slayer's "South of Heaven" & "Seasons In The Abyss" albums while the light-speed electricity of "Betrayer" is bursting at the seams with vitriol & spite.
"Extreme Aggression" isn't a perfect record but it was a noticeable step back up into the big league after the solid "Terrible Certainty" & is an undeniable classic that made a huge impact on my life from a very young age. It may not sound as extreme as it did back in the day but it's certainly lost none of its appeal. Interestingly though, after 30 years of listening to these two records I think that "Coma Of Souls" may have just pipped "Extreme Aggression" in my esteem for the very first time. I'm not sure how I feel about the fact that I now rate this record behind three other Kreator releases (i.e. "Pleasure To Kill", "Flag Of Hate" & Coma Of Souls") because I can't escape the feeling that it deserves more respect than that given the important role it played in my both my childhood & my musical development. Perhaps it's just a clear sign that Kreator were miles ahead of the rest of the Teutonic pack during their hey day.
For fans of Sodom, Slayer & Destruction.
As we get into October, I have already mentioned that I am in an unusual “mop up” phase of picking up on some key releases I have either missed or am yet to get around to listening to. One of the glaring holes in my year thus far is the latest release from Austin Lunn under his Panopticon banner. It is worth mentioning that I am still several albums light from Austin’s back catalogue and so I don’t have the luxury of being able to judge his latest offering in comparison to other more recent ones. There are most definitely some differences and enhancements to the sound on …And Again Into the Light, the majority of these being positives. As Sonny alludes to, if you have found a lusher and richer sounding album this year then you have done very well indeed.
Panopticon has managed on this latest offering to pose an incredible balance of the melodic and accessible sounds we know is within his repertoire already with some of the heaviest and alienating black, death and doom metal at the same time. It plays as a single entity still though, despite all these nuances that I mention it is not an album of two halves or individual thirds even. The tapestry that gets displayed over the eight tracks is vast but incredibly visual as well; unafraid to show his wares to all and sundry, Austin Lunn really does expel every drop of his creative and artistic ability on his tenth full-length.
I will drop in an early criticism which may iron itself out with yet further repeated listens, but the vocal mix here is not right on a few tracks where the harsher and scathing black metal attack is raging. I am used to vocals sitting behind other instruments in extreme music, but these fall into the category of being buried by everything else at times. Not that I am here listening to the album looking to follow the lyrics word for word, but there are times when I must check if they are the vocals are their or not. Their haughty breathiness is a great fit for the aesthetic, but the delivery is ever so slightly off for me.
Now we have the one negative out of the way let’s get back to the brilliance of …And Again Into the Light. There is no doubt that this album remains an absolute triumph both as a standalone release in 2021 and as an addition to an already great discography. The balls required to open any album with an acoustic number are owned by someone with real confidence in their own ability and that there will be a connection with the audience instantly. The album itself does not drop one heavy note until around a third of the way through the second track and goes from a four-and-a-half-minute opener into a near eleven-and-a-half-minute epic before we have even gotten to unlocking the remaining six tracks to come.
The heightened since of frenzy and tension that A Snowless Winter builds into in the centre of the track-listing gives the album a real spur at the midway point as it then dives into the cavernous death metal style of Moth Eaten Soul which is perhaps the heaviest thing I have heard Lunn perform to date. Yet even during the albums heaviest and inaccessible tracks there remains a real sense of melody and rhythmic structure to hold the attention superbly. There are parts to the aforementioned Moth Eaten Soul that make me feel it might be the best death metal track of 2021.
Although not as abundant as in other releases, elements of folk and bluegrass do still flourish on the album. This time around the emotion that drives the song writing has seen a much more aggressive sound with a doom-like density applied to the whole album but the snippets of the more roots-laden music act as palate cleansers (or appetiser in the case of the opening track). I think the direction of Panopticon in 2021 is just superb though and if Lunn can continue to write such challenging and frankly raging extreme metal then long may it continue. Equally, the exuberance of tracks like The Embers at Dawn are so absorbing in their ethereal beauty that some of the most soothing music of 2021 for me also exists within these eight tracks. Again, the build on this track in particular before it becomes a blasting bm piece is excellent and heightens the sense of tracks always developing and flourishing.
Despite closing with two twelve minutes plus tracks, I sit right to the end of the album. I find I am just as eager to get to the next track as I am to uncover the detail of the current one playing at the time and there are very few albums nowadays that can hold that excitement for me. This has shook up my end of year list quite substantially.
I’m not sure if the current political climate has anything to do with this, but something about the new Unreqvited album, Beautiful Ghosts is so hauntingly relatable, which may seem odd since Unreqvited don’t have any lyrics to their music at all! For those unaware, Unreqvited are an Ottawa based blackgaze band and have been steadily releasing music for the last five years. In fact, I quickly reviewed one of the group's 2020 albums, entitled Empathica and I found it quite enjoyable. But to say that this new record is a significant change in the sound would be a stretch.
In fact, I do not think that this album has all that much that distinguishes it from the last album. Beautiful Ghosts has a simple timbre with heavy tremolo rhythm guitar, a warm bass tone and the occasional black metal howl. The percussion on this record is impressive when it has to be, however most of the fundamentals are quite straightforward, allowing the string arrangements to take center stage. I will say that the symphonic elements are implemented more effectively this time around; the string arrangements on “Autumn & Everley” and “Funeral Pyre” are breathtaking, and the way this album ends with “All is Found”, with its gradual swelling, but never fully realizing its black metal timbre is really special.
For an artist that treats the vocals as an instrument rather than as a type of musical expression, it will become difficult for one to find objective meaning within the music. But for those who are willing to take the journey and find their own meaning, it can be a rewarding experience. I mentioned off the top that the current political climate influenced my journey, as this album sounds absolutely gorgeous! It is almost as if Unreqvited knows how our world is almost constantly at a point of disaster, and uses these sounds to remind us of the sheer beauty that still exists, however fading that may seem. And their music serves as a temporary escape from the everyday routine. And the black metal howls serve as the subtle reminders of that less than perfect world we have to return to once the album has finished. It’s an album that wants to take on the next challenge without hesitation, but the screams tell us something completely different.
This album review does feel a little bit more personal than many others, but it becomes almost necessary to create meaning out of something when it is not explained to you at the start. And Unreqvited brought that out of me in a big way with Beautiful Ghosts. It probably will not maintain its staying power, but it is a marvelous record and one worth exploring yourself.
Rivers of Nihil is back! And I guess I am too, temporarily, after my departure from death metal that occurred earlier this year. Based on what I've heard about this album, far more progressive while staying tech-death, this might just be the listening return to this band I've truly wanted! Well, maybe not completely, but this is still very cool. Fans of their heavier tech-death sound might be p*ssed off, but I guess you can't please everyone...
This band has the rights to be different from all the other prog/tech-death bands like Alarum, Anata, Arsis, Atheist, and other bands that start with A. Here they go the Cynic Focus route and far more progressive metal tools in the box while staying tech-death. Would they keep the tech-death elements or start discarding them? Who knows...
First song "The Tower" you might expect to be an extreme opener, but NO. Instead there's a weird soft tone I f***ing hate. It starts the album with a numb boring waltz that is unlike the progressive metal that's more extreme than Dream Theater. Only the heavier growling part adds promise. What a relief when "Dreaming Black Clockwork" starts! This is the extreme tech-death riff-wrath to enjoy! However, after only over a minute of that, the soft instrumentation returns to unfairly steal the spotlight. But hold on to your seats, because there's still more extreme to the prog to continue, while switching back and forth. A killer highlight! "Wait" is a twist in the prog-death script, close to that radio pop sh*t I'm trying to get over. Here we have melodic singing, straight rhythm, classic soloing, and a sobering vibe. The stylistic journey has been taken slightly too far, while making sure nothing is sacrificed. "Focus" shows a bit of influence from Cynic and that band's similarly titled debut, albeit with slight industrial.
"Clean" can be described as anything but the title, with the vibe and riffing pounding like a jackhammer, especially that monolithic djent-death section around the two-minute mark. The next song, "The Void From Which No Sound Escapes" adds some sweet melody and jazz that only naysayers would hate and not understand. Fortunately, the djent-death drives again for a minute surrounding the two-minute point, yet still doesn't add hope to those haters. Now do you want "More?" More?! MORE?!? There's heavy riffing in the beginning that persists in later sections for a greater prog-djent-tech-deathcore mix than that of Within the Ruins. How better can that genre mix be?
"Tower 2" is a reprise of that boring intro, with slightly more Pink Floyd influence in the acoustic strumming, still not getting any better... "Episode" starts soft, then catchy, then chaotic. Not much else to say there... As if colliding a bunch of genres into one could be done more, "Maybe One Day" is unlike anything Rivers of Nihil has done before, an uplifting ballad that would be more appropriate in a recent Opeth album, but those previous few somewhat poor tracks... "Terrestria IV: Work", holy f***, now this is a closing epic!! It's the longest track by the band at 11 and a half minutes (as much as the title track of Trivium's Shogun) and not only concludes this offering but also keeps up the "Terrestria" song suite from all their albums. Probably more epic than Cult of Luna's "Cygnus"! This is too astonishing for words. Hope you have a rewarded listen!
The Work is indeed a pretty great work of art. Not quite the best of the year, but needs respect and focus for a deserving experience. Excellent writing and nearly perfect arrangement should convince people to go with this album. They were more deathly earlier on, but now look how mature and progressive they've become. Just try it!
Favorites: "Dreaming Black Clockwork", "Focus", "Clean", "More?", "Terrestria IV: Work"
OK, it isn't very often when I give a debut album this much of an expectation before I've even heard it. And in this circumstance, I had no understanding of what kind of music they played. Only a name: Ne Obliviscaris. That sounds fucking brutal! And oh my god is it an experience! Portal of I might be one of the best debut's of any genre within the last decade and laid down the path in solid gold in terms of potential.
For starters, let's talk about what this album's appeal is, because even I was taken aback at first. The opening connection that I got was a heavier version of Opeth with the remarkable sense of pace and flow. The spacing is brilliant and this band makes excellent use of its instrumentals; lead guitars, harsh and clean vocals, and violin solos. The counterpoint between the violin and lead guitar during the third act of "Tapestry of the Starless Abstract" is breathtaking. Furthermore, I am in love with the atmospheric tremolo picking of the rhythm guitar that is reminiscent of epic sounding black metal like Panopticon that I am a mark for. This makes it familiar to the Opeth sound of the 2000s, but varied enough to not sound like a blatant copy.
I think for an album that is as bold as Portal of I is that we ask whether or not the progressive elements serve as wanking material instead of telling a thoughtful story through the music. And I will admit, throughout the years and in the playthroughs for writing this review, I pondered this very question. Was I more interested in the sound instead of the tunes themselves? Because my issues with modern progressive metal are not completely missing from this album; whiplash transitions on the opener as well as "And Plague Flowers the Kaleidoscope", in addition to passages that feel elongated for their own sake. Ne Obliviscaris also have a problem with the transitions that they pull off well; and that issue is that they all follow the same pattern. I am not opposed to this by any stretch since having recurring ideas or motifs make your sound distinctive. I just wish that this band had more than just two or three. In addition, nearly every song seems to fall into the same tempo range, which can be a detriment to most, but is saved by drastic key flips and extremely memorable leads and rhythmic passages.
It's also helped by the fantastic production. Again, this album is incredibly influenced by Opeth and you can tell through the mixing. The bass lines are among some of the best that you may hear in this brand of progressive metal, the rhythm guitar is loud and forceful, but always steps back and serves as accompaniment to the leads provided by the violin, lead guitar and vocals. The percussion is spectacular. For an album where the bass is drum is performing at a blistering pace for basically the entire record, the fact that it never interferes with the melodic passages is remarkable. It's the kind of precision that I wish more extreme metal bands would follow, even more so when it comes to the brutal side.
When it comes to debut albums, there is Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, and Pretty Hate Machine. I think it is safe to say that we can include Portal of I in that mix of groundbreaking opening remarks. The way in which Ne Obliviscaris build their world and bring us for the tour is refreshing and straight up awesome. They struck gold with this album and almost no one has been able to keep up. Or to put it another way: Portal of I is the spiritual successor to Watershed if Opeth had not reverted to progressive rock. I hope that alone is enough of an incentive to travel this unprecedented world.
I'm not sure if it is my exit from heavy metal for a handful of years during the 2010s, but I remember vividly not enjoying Linkin Park's The Hunting Party back in 2014. And over the years since, I have developed myself a fond memory of the bands far more contentious 2010 album, A Thousand Suns more often. Now, you may feel free to take away my metal pass for this heinous cold take, but as a piece of music, that album had some really great Linkin Park songs, including "The Catalyst", and most importantly, it still sounded like a Linkin Park album, despite the drastic tonal flip.
Meanwhile, The Hunting Party is an album that is supposed to invoke a sense of nostalgia as the band brings back a heavier sound from their past, most notably on albums like Hybrid Theory and Meteora. But where The Hunting Party falls short is that it does not sound like a Linkin Park album. For god sake's, Daron Malakian appears as a guest on "Rebellion", which sounds like a rejected System of a Down song! This isn't so much a nostalgia album and more so a superstar mash up.
Giving this album a few listens there is more to appreciate than just being a heavier project: I really enjoyed the punk edge on "War" and songs like "Until It's Gone" and "Mark the Graves" are catchy as hell grooves, which also include some sweet grooves that at least sound like they belong in the Linkin Park discography. But far too often, I found the tracks "Wastelands", "Final Masquerades" and "Guilty All the Same" to just sound formulaic. If anything, these songs may be the closest thing that metal has ever experienced to butt rock.
LP grooves are supposed to be lush and warm, while these ones feel far more cold and detached. I don't necessarily think that this on its own makes The Hunting Party a bad album, as Linkin Park do know there way around a very solid hook. But it's the Death Magnetic trap all over again; a band wants to experiment with new sounds that may sound alien to longtime fans (St. Anger and A Thousand Suns respectfully), the fans hate it, and then the band ret-con the experimental phase. But for Linkin Park specifically, we know that they didn't make The Hunting Party for the fans because their next album, One More Light, is an electropop album.
I know who Linkin Park were trying to appeal to with this album and according to aggregate RYM scores, it worked. The Hunting Party is LP's highest rated album since Meteora. And if an adrenaline filled project is what you want, then this album will serve its purpose. But it is not a Linkin Park album and the band knew it too.
A forum acquaintance elsewhere on the internet put me onto Martwa Aura during one of the aforementioned forumite's lengthy playlist recommendations for straight up black metal. In his list of circa twenty albums from various bands I picked out this Polish crew's sophomore full-length from last year as one the standouts. I would argue that Martwa Aura stray from the conventional bm tag quite often on Morbus Animus. Yes, the core of the sound is blasting black metal done to a very high standard but these guys have a very melodic edge to their leads especially and are simply great at delivering rhythms full of pace and power to boot.
At the heart of the machine are the vocals of Grzegorz Puszkarek. His ghastly rasps fill most tracks on the album with a demonic presence that permeates as opposed to dominates. In the cleaner vocal moments his voice takes on a pagan/folk vibe that works really well also when balanced against that acute melody I mentioned earlier. Guitarist Cadaveris and Sadogoat are able to take up equal space on the album with a mixture of harsh riffing and soaring melodies that make some parts of the album positively shine. Even with these more warm sounding moments taken into consideration, the album still leaves a scathing sense of cold in its wake. Across the five tracks on show here the majority are over the six minute mark so a barrage of blastbeats and tremolos was never going to cut it with such lengthy passages, and Martwa Aura fill the album full of variety without losing any momentum.
The strong rhythm section of O. on the drums and Saathar on the bass are the perfect backdrop to level, balance and support the raging inferno to more melodious movements and thus they are probably best credited for the consistency of the power across Morbus Animus. Hints of Behemoth creep in with some spoken word passages and the melodies do bring to mind Mgla, but there is no worship of these acts more a respectful nod in their direction before focusing on doing their own thing. All in all a fine discovery.
Skepticism's fifth album has been some time in the making - it has been thirteen years since the release of Alloy and there has been a lot of water under the bridge in the metal world since then (and also in the real world for that matter). It seems that Skepticism too have been changed by the past decade or so as Companion is a more multi-faceted release than we have come to expect from most funeral doom acts in general and Skepticism specifically. There is quite a variation in pacing, from the lethargic and seismic slowness of true funeral doom, through quicker, but still fairly slow death doom, to the medium-paced almost-death metal of Passage. It doesn't sound like much to the uninitiated, but it's a spectrum shift for a band whose previous work has focussed very much on glacial pacing. Each of the album's six tracks has a unique atmosphere and character like never before heard on a Skepticism album.
The keyboards and especially organ, in typical Skepticism fashion, play a key role in generating the album's atmosphere. It's there, full-on in your face straight out of the gate with opener Calla where it weaves an atmosphere that I would weirdly have to compare to a Saor track in it's sweepingly panoramic scope. The track sounds initially like it should accompany open-skied vistas of the Old West or the Caledonian Highlands - how un-funeral doom can you get? This is a great intro to the album however and gives a nice taster of the band's current direction. Second track, The Intertwined, has a gothic death doom feel to it that is quite reminiscent of classic era My Dying Bride and although I sometimes have my issues with gothic elements they aren't laid on with a trowel here and are subtlely enough applied to enhance the track rather than detract from it. The album's longest track, the ten minutes of The March of the Four, is probably the nearest to a traditional Skepticism track, but even this is delivered with a bit more "bite" than we have come to expect. The organ on this one, particularly during the intro, really does sound as if it was recorded as the mourners file into an actual funeral.
At the mid-point of the album Skepticism change up a gear to a previously unimagined tempo with Passage, a track that feels like it wants to explode into full-on death doom territory in the style of Winter or Autopsy. It also contains a breakdown with a swirling organ sound that feels like it should be the soundtrack to a descent into a psychotic episode from an Alfred Hitchcock movie like Vertigo. The Inevitable, like The March of the Four is more akin to previous Skepticism work and is, for me, the least remarkable track here. The Swan and the Raven however, begins in menacing fashion with a string intro that says "something evil this way comes" and once more has a kind of cimematic feel to it, which seems to be a recurring theme. This closer may actually be my favourite track - it is definitely the one where the guitar work shines through best and the synths feel alternately menacing and expansive.
Overall this is a terrific album that cements Skepticism's reputation as one of the premier funeral doom outfits who have decided to strike out in a new direction, not with a quantum leap but with an incremental change that shouldn't alienate their fan base.
Chalking up a score on my weirdshitometer this year is the full-length debut from the UK's progressive/technical death metallers Atvm. This record has been ringing around my lair since I first picked it up on a playlist here at MA one month. Sporting some obscure and colourful artwork the band deploy a lot of colour in their seven iterations of death metal giving a real sense of vibrancy and expansion along the way. The obscurity of the artwork does not really come across in the sound of the band though. Whilst the album is most definitely progressive it falls short of being avant-garde and somehow manages to stay away from being always obviously death metal at its heart. With the staccato riffing of album opener Sanguinary Floating Orb being a great benchmark for the rest of the album.
Just where Atvm do start to tread a more traditional death metal path there is always something very proggy not too far away to warp the linear narrative. The busy stabbing riffs of Ⲁⲛⲋ-ⲟⲩ Ⲙⲁⲧⲟⲩ are matched by some rock sounding cuts early on in the track to put a real sense of restraint on the raging beast; the ambient picked section taking things into a much more atmospheric lull before that raging intensity is allowed much more leash to run with. As with most of these types of albums I am drawn to the bass work and Luke Abbott does not disappoint as his strings polarise tracks nicely giving a distinct yet entertaining segregation between the more rampant rhythms and his climbing and plonking runs done seemingly on another soundscape altogether.
It is hard to put references on all of Atvm's influences but they are most definitely latter day Death than they are Scream Bloody Gore, more Martyr than Atheist and a lot less Gorguts in comparison to being more like The Chasm in their death metal credentials. Regardless of how they got here, Atvm have made Famine, Putrid and Fucking Endless sound intriguing and challenging without being bonkers. For an album title that sounds so dark and morbid there is a lot of positive energy spewing forth here and I cannot help but think that the album title was put in place with a wry smile on the faces of the band as they did so. There is little in the way of music here that makes you stop and look at the speakers in horror. Think more Critters than Chucky and you are in the right ball park of a band that is not afraid to ham it up a little whilst still retaining some authenticity to the darker side of metal at the same time.
My criticism in the main is largely the track lengths. I mean there are times when I am ready for a track to end long before it actually does and this is despite acknowledging that the band do everything in their power to keep things interesting on nearly every track. My brain just cannot process all of what they try to do at times and that may be my neurology being stretched beyond it's puny means all too easily for Atvm's liking as opposed to any genuine issue that they may have stylistically. Whereas with Ænigmatum I am onboard for the whole album, I just cannot match that enthusiasm for Atvm over the ten minutes more that it runs for, it just seems to try and cram far too much in by comparison. Still, a great find for me this year and another great opportunity for me to delve further into the realm of progressive death metal as I continue to find my feet in the modern output of the sub-genre.
I have spent a totally unplanned large amount of time this year actively keeping up with new releases. Whilst I won't pretend that in a normal year I do not bother with any new releases, it is unusual for me to be able to put together a top ten of in year releases, let alone a top twenty-five like I am currently able to. As I have said before, keeping up with new releases can be a thankless task and I have historically found myself just consuming music because it is new and this so often leads to disappointment on a large scale. However, 2021 has been a strong year so far and as we get into October I have started to look at washing up some of the albums I had previously missed during this busy year.
Malakhim's debut full-length has had a few spins here and there throughout the course of the year, never quite impressing me enough to warrant a regular rotational spin whilst also not completely alienating me either. It is obvious that there is real bite here that is not blunted by the simple use of melodies or black 'n' roll rhythms; the Watain comparisons although inevitable are not entirely accurate in terms of the overall album sound. Simply put though, having already digested the excellent release by Mork this year before I even got to Theion and similarly having had copious helpings of Spectral Wound's A Diabolic Thirst (both of which came out after Malakhim's effort), the itch that the Swedes debut scratches was already more than satiated.
In reality, Theion is just as strong as Katedralen though. In terms of authentic and accessible bm, Malakhim have this near melodic yet still frantic black metal sound nailed on. Reminding me of a much colder latter-day Varathron in the vocal department, whoever the fuck sings on here clearly knows their stuff. Haughty and breathy rasps accompany the tremolo picked riffs really well and a solid backdrop of thumping drums and thunderous bass complete the sound nicely. It just lacks a slight edge of "oomph" as I alluded to earlier and this is what pegs it behind the other two albums that I mention here. Check out though the furious opening to Hammer of Satan and tell me you are not moved in some way shape or form (and if not then please check your pulse). It is more of this elixir that the band need to consume in order to make Theion that bit more special and be able to slug it out with the other two giant releases of the year in the same genre.
Vouna is the funeral doom alter-ego of Yianna Bekris, guitarist of atmospheric black metallers Eigenlicht. Atropos is the follow-up to her 2018 self-titled debut and is a much more substantial affair with it's four tracks (and short interlude) clocking in at almost an hour. The debut, whilst showing promise, felt underdeveloped for a funeral doom release. I feel funeral doom is a genre that needs to be luxuriated in, where the music allows the listener to be overwhelmed and smothered and duration does play a part in that experience, so the debut's half an hour featuring five tracks, whilst presenting some nice ideas, didn't allow them the development they deserved.
However, Atropos is by no means your stereotypical funeral doom release, it's generally a little bit pacier than normally expected and Vouna does a nice job of incorporating several different elements into the mixture. It's apparent from early on that she has a background in atmospheric black metal as it's influence features prominently at various points, particularly during the fifteen minutes of the album's best track Vanish where she even at one point resorts to a harsh black metal vocal and once more illustrates my view that there is much common ground between funeral doom and atmospheric black metal. The connection to atmospheric black metal is further strengthened by the addition of guest vocals by Wolves in the Throne Room's Nathan Weaver.
There is an emphasis on synths and piano within the album's doom context along with guest contributions on violin and harp that add layering to the tracks and introduces a pronounced darkwave influence, as if Vouna has taken the doom aspect of Chelsea Wolfe's Hiss Spun album to it's logical conclusion. By weaving in elements of atmospheric black metal, darkwave, dark ambient and gothic metal she has produced an album that feels mournful and yet warm, as if the artist provides solace to the listener through the shared experience of the music, the ethereal and soaring vocals in particular lending a calmness to the recording, despite it's melancholy nature, as if to say "we are all one and everything will be OK in the end". I say this despite even a cursory glance at the lyrics revealing a deeply sorrowful and painful undercurrent to the album. "Existence is anguish, Suffering and torment, How will I go on with the pain of what now is" from What Once Was doesn't exactly convey a hopeful message, but I still feel a sense of comfort is to be gleaned from the music itself and that ultimately there is a ray of light shining into proceedings, even if that is only provided by the release of death itself.
No matter what, I will always have time for monolithic and unrelentingly bleak funeral doom, but the variation in Atropos' tracks and the incorporation of other genres, in much the same way as Skepticism's new album Companion, seem to be helping to take funeral doom in a new and less predictable direction.
So, a new Iron Maiden album. Every new Maiden album now feels as though it may be the last so is met with a certain sadness as well as anticipation (unless you are one of those cynics who believe Maiden haven't produced anything of worth since the 1980s). Now at this stage it's unrealistic to expect another Killers, Powerslave, Number of the Beast or Seventh Son (depending on whichever Maiden's classic is your personal favourite) so it's important to keep an open mind and not just shit on it because it isn't one of those. It's equally important too however, to not get all dewey-eyed and laud it as the next coming just because it's a Steve Harris & co production. So attempting to keep perspective as a massive fan of the band since that marvellous debut way back in 1980 here's some thoughts on Senjutsu:
Well, the opening title track is just about one of the flattest openers Maiden have come up with to my ears - Aces High or Prowler this ain't, in fact it's not even Different World. The production is horrible and the track as a whole is uninspiringly bland. Oh dear, not a good start at all. Second track Stratego, however is a much more inspired affair with a bit more of a spark and therein lies the problem for me with Senjutsu - the songs just feel so inconsistent. Just as you think it's coming together and the band are getting into their stride, such as during The Writing on the Wall, they follow it with another flat-sounding track, in this case Lost in a Lost World. Don't misunderstand, Senjutsu isn't awful by any stretch and is probably better than an album by a hugely successful band who are into their fifth decade has any right to be, but as there is the very real possibility that this may be the last Maiden release I so badly wanted them to ignite that spark that I remember with such fondness. In truth, the songs may have had to be tailored to suit Bruce's declining vocal powers, although the band have handled that aspect admirably and Bruce has still come out with his reputation intact. That said, a massive plus and one aspect I really did enjoy was the soloing which was both vibrant and exhilharating and much praise must go to the guitarists, but especially Janick Gers whose contribution is outstanding and goes a long way to raising the kudos of the album.
A large number of fans seem to be shitting on the Steve Harris-penned epics of disc two, but for me it is a couple of these that truly save the album from relative mediocrity (we are STILL talking Iron Maiden here after all). I have always been a huge fan of Maiden's epics from Hallowed Be Thy Name and Rime of the Ancient Mariner to Alexander the Great and Paschendale and Death of the Celts and especially The Parchment lend Senjutsu that defining sense of true epicness that manages to raise the whole album above the so-so and make it a worthwhile listen. I purchased the really nice digibook double disc version but, in all honesty, it is probably only disc two and it's four epic tracks that will get much airtime in my house.
If this sounds like a bit of a schizophrenic review, it is because if it was a terrible album or if I didn't care about the band it would be easy to hold a strong view on it, but it is far from terrible, although equally it is no classic, so consequently my opinion is a bit ambivalent. There are aspects of it that I really enjoyed and there were also parts that I felt were a little lacking and I apologise for not being able to sound more damning or enthusiastic (delete as you prefer) but I really can't be any more partisan with my review than this - it's a credible release that, despite the odd stumble, plays to it's strengths and if you accept it for no more than that then you'll get along with it fine.
I wasn’t what you’d call an early adopter of Ukrainian atmospheric black metal exponents Drudkh as I didn't become aware of them until my return to metal in 2009 & by that stage they’d already released six or seven full-length albums. I seem to remember 2004’s “Autumn Aurora” being the first of their releases to grace my ears but it wouldn’t be long before I’d venture forward to their highly celebrated 2006 record “Blood In Our Wells”. I remember it leaving me quite impressed at the time & it subsequently got a fair few revisits over the coming weeks however I don’t think I’ve returned to it since so its finer details are a little bit hazy now to be honest. Hence this overdue revisit I guess so let’s see how it’s faired more than a decade later, shall we?
A well-executed ambient piece opens proceedings before the first waves of lush, sweeping black metal hit your ears & “Furrow Of Gods” begins very strongly, ably assisted by a clear, immersive wall-of-sound production job. Some well-placed keyboards provide further emphasis to a dreamy atmosphere that relies much more heavily on melody than it does on intimidation & blasphemy. Unusually for black metal, dualling guitar solos enter the fray & show the musicians responsible to be more than capable in that area. Unfortunately, the closing stages of the nine minute piece take a direction that I’m not terribly comfortable with as we see Drudkh experimenting with folk melodies within the context of their metal framework. I immediately put my guard up but thankfully the damage had already been done earlier in the piece & that kinda sums up my feelings on the album to an extent. There are definitely flaws here that I find a little off-putting but the overall package is impressive enough to overcome them. “When The Flame Turns To Ashes” is another example of this as it once again starts out very strongly but loses momentum towards the end of its eleven minute run time through the use of some melodic guitar work that could have shown more attention to detail given that the top strings are slightly out of tune. It’s by no means a bad track. It just doesn’t quite live up to its potential.
On the positive side though, “Blood In Our Wells” finishes very confidently indeed, firstly with the most surprising inclusion on the tracklisting in “Eternity” which sports a rockier first few minutes that seem to have been inspired by gothic rock artists like Sisters Of Mercy before returning to more serious territory in the back end. I found that opening section to be a little off-putting on first listen however subsequent revisits have found me giving in to its infectious & more up-beat nature. As is not unusual for me though, it’s the least popular of the metal tunes that has made the biggest impact on me with closing instrumental “Ukrainian Insurgent Army” dishing up some truly spine-chilling guitar arpeggios that owe a great deal of debt to Burzum. It was a great way to finish a very consistent tracklisting that offered no genuinely weak inclusions.
The blackened vocals of Thurios aren’t the most compelling you’ll find in the subgenre. They’re more serviceable than they are gripping but they get the job done well enough. I often find myself reaching for Rotting Christ as a point of reference across the course of the album & I think it might be Thurios’ vocal style that’s the main similarity. Vlad takes a restrained approach behind the kit so as to give the melodic guitar work as much room to breathe as possible & it works pretty well. I do enjoy his ride cymbal work but I don’t think it’ll surprise too many of you to read that I prefer a more exciting brand of extreme metal drumming than this. I guess I’m just taken outside of my comfort zone on a number of fronts really but Drudkh have still managed to win me over through sheer focus & quality of execution. I mean the folkier moments certainly detract from the overall experience for me a touch but they’re really not all that prominent or regular so the Pagan black metal tag is bit of a stretch. I've never been much of an advocate of flashy solos in my black metal either but they seem far more tolerable within the context of Drudkh's less aggressive & abrasive tone.
There's little doubt that I prefer a darker atmosphere than the one Drudkh are pushing here which almost hints at a dreamy positivity I’d usually associate with the blackgaze movement but somehow it all seems to hit close enough to the spot to still command a very solid 4/5 rating. At the end of the day I just think “Blood In Our Wells” is a quality extreme metal record. I don’t subscribe to the claims that it’s any sort of classic. It’s clearly a couple of steps down from the best work of the Burzums & Wolves In The Throne Rooms but it’s still a damn enjoyable experience that has a reasonable amount of success in creating a distinctly Ukrainian black metal sound built around melody & atmosphere.
For fans of Ygg, Winterfylleth & Wodensthrone.
I remember quite vividly the night when one of my college roommates introduced me to Panopticon in November of 2015. As I was still quite a noob to extreme/black metal at the time, I recall listening to Autumn Eternal a good three times consecutively as I was sucked in to the impeccable pacing, songwriting and production. I almost instantly went back and checked out their back catalog; most notably, 2014's Roads to the North and 2012's Kentucky.
What I was so impressed by was Austin Lunn's pacing. While this is certainly in the mold of atmospheric black metal, and technically that genre tag incorporates at least half of this album, Kentucky is far more elaborate than other black metal albums. The album has numerous interludes and full tracks of bluegrass inspired tones that would be very familiar to someone living in the state of Kentucky. Songs like "Come All Ye Coal Miners" and "Which Side Are You On" are interpolated from American folk/protest songs and serve as beautiful changes of pace and refrains before the blast beats, tremolo picking guitars and howling vocals return. Furthermore, the black metal tracks each have their own unique Americana interludes on "Bodies Under the Falls" and "Black Soot and Red Blood". And while they do sound gorgeous on their own, they do feel more like asides rather than a continuation of an idea.
And this has been one of Austin Lunn's biggest issues as a musician since I discovered them. At first it never bothered me, but as time passed, and I was introduced to Saor, I found that the folk elements were far less developed. Not only is the folk instrumentation of the lap steel guitar not incorporated into a black metal framework, but from a songwriting point of view, the way in which songs will drastically change tempo's and styles without preparation make the track "Killing the Giants as They Sleep" feel less rewarding of its extended runtime. I would have loved to hear Austin Lunn create a soundscape that uses both and have them take place simultaneously. And this is still something that I would love to hear to this day.
The production of this album is splendid. Can we all take the time to appreciate how full the bass lines are here? "Black Soot and Red Blood" is such a driving track where the tremolo guitars are not doubling as bass notes, giving it more gravitas. Carrying off of that, the lead guitars are where this album does most of its heavy lifting as they provide most of melodic leads, which can be quite sticky in the case of "Bodies Under the Falls". I am not the biggest fan of the out of tunes flutes that appear on some of the black metal tracks. The vocals are some of Austin Lunn's most pronounced in all of Panopticon's discography...and yet they still feel muted. Of course, this is really that big of a deal as this album contains a number of spoken word interludes that help tell its tale. Even without the words, you can tell this severity of the content just by how aggressive the music sounds. As for that content, I'm not going to go into too much detail, but while me and Austin Lunn have very, VERY different opinions on the topics of unions, I commend Panopticon for standing up for a group of people who have been disproportionately affected by poor wages, especially given their unsafe work environment...kind of like nurses in hospitals right now.
What a treat this record is! It is so dense on multiple levels that me trying to explain it all will take a few hours. I can only hope that this short little diatribe is enough of a recommendation to check out Kentucky. It is a marvelous album that feels progressive, but still firmly in its roots. It sounds amazing, and the content is superb. In hindsight, I would still hold this album back from the great Saor albums like Aura and Guardians, but among Austin Lunn's work, it is some of the best.
This was one of the biggest surprises in my course of listening to Metal evolve chronologically, for a few reasons. First of all, I hadn’t been a fan of Sludge Metal or Neurosis so far, so my expectations were something very different. Second of all wow, it’s breathtaking, especially considering absolutely nothing sounded like this in 1992, not even close. The layering, atmosphere, and building crescendos here are what would become the genre of Post-Metal, as well as Atmospheric Sludge.
Despite that terminology, this album has much more in common with Doom than any prior Sludge, and that’s why I love it! It’s all pessimistic melancholy and gloomy angst here, built on anxious, depressive but often melodic and sometimes beautiful melodies. The slow, plodding tempo is accented nicely by interesting rhythm work. The vocals are the only trait really reminiscent of Sludge, being a hardcore punk-esque strained yell that works wonders against the grim soundscapes. The desperation and angst in the vocals is ferociously convincing.
The core band creates some amazing instrumental soundscapes, the guitars especially doing some very interesting things I couldn’t begin to describe to add to the wall of punishment. It sounds dissonant, but never chaotic; very well constructed and orchestrated to add unique layers to the sound. However, possibly the most interesting factor to this album are the samples and other instruments/keys used quite liberally. The samples effectively convey some hopeless situation or another, and add to that overall anxiety purveying every moment. The other editions are endless… piano, violin, big band hits, horns, and more. Some are obviously synthed, so it might all be the work of keys, but it adds so much to the already very strong arrangements.
Something I noticed were a lot of moments that reminded me of one of my favorite bands, Mar de Grises (before now I hadn’t heard anything that really did). I think that shows the clear Doom sound here as well as the Post-Metal influence on the later band. Anyway, this thing is very nearly a masterpiece, huge variety and immense quality. A few fillers hold it down, but the heights are vast.
One of the best Thrash bands who continuously saw production issues finally gets a release that does them justice. Epidemic of Violence has all the unbridled aggression, insane riffage and manic rhythm that has been prominent since their Necrology demo, but at last we get crisp audio that allows their full potential to blast through.
Demolition Hammer are all the way on the “almost Death Metal” spectrum of Thrash, not only in terms of heaviness, but stylistically as well. Near Tech-Thrash levels of precision and abrupt changes are abound, and the rhythm is a constant pummel of hyper-energized force. Lyrically, the songs focus on violence and death, but are well-written with a very impressive vocabulary, and impeccable delivery.
The artist and album names tell you exactly what to expect here, and god damn do they deliver. Classic Death tinged Thrash, played with vigorous precision and executed flawlessly. You as the listener are their victim as they beat you senseless track after track, the only reprieve being a short instrumental “Orgy of Destruction” before they’re back to smashing your bones and skinning you alive. Also gonna shout out that album closer, “Aborticide”… phenomenal showcase of dark aggression.
Bolt Thrower has been putting out Death Metal since the very early days of the genre, and though the debut was a bit rough, all of their releases have had a very consistent level of quality without doing anything too dangerous. Insanely heavy, crunchy guitars and classic OSDM riffage is the name of their game and they win every time.
The IVth Crusade is to Bolt Thrower as South of Heaven was to Slayer. The band slows down a bit, even including a few tracks that could qualify as Death Doom (except it just sounds like slow Death Metal), and focus a bit more on melody. That’s not to say this album isn’t packed with energy though, as many of the tracks are still loaded with double bass drumming and tremolo riffs.
There’s very martial feel to this album. Bolt Thrower has always written about war and battle, but the mid-tempo pace and march-like rhythm section really seals the atmosphere here. Again, this album isn’t doing anything new, it’s just executing OSDM incredibly well, and makes for an awesome listen front to back. Couldn’t ask for more from this legendary band.
Images and Words is kind of the first Progressive Metal album of the blue collar, semi-symphonic ballad heavy variant. While Dream Theater’s debut was a pretty generic slice of first wave Prog Metal, here Dream Theater take a cue from the likes of Queensryche and Fates Warning, adding strong, anthemic choruses and near-Pop commercial sensibilities, though retaining the later band’s complex songwriting and musicianship. More interestingly, they borrow Savatage’s melodramatic balladry, and bring a strong ensemble of keys, strings, sax, and probably a bunch of other instruments to the mix.
New (and now long-time) Vocalist James LaBrie adds a signature charisma to the vocal delivery, with an impressive range and strong lyrical chops. Instrumentally, it’s not in the overtly technical territory of prog wankery, and rather the band does a great job of servicing the song as needed, and showing off when appropriate. There’s also a huge variety to the songs here, and they pull off just about everything they try their hand at. There’s epic songs, somber songs, sappy songs, serious songs… and tons of different styles, all wrapped in that signature Prog Metal package. The band is so instrumentally entertaining that they actually make a cheerfully cheesy wankfest in “Take the Time” that manages to be a total delight from start to finish.
There really isn’t a wasted minute here, and the penultimate track “Wait for Sleep” is proof of that. Normally, 2 minute non-metal interludes on Metal albums are terrible wastes of space that just slow things down, but this one is a beautiful piano-vocal duet that not only sets the mood perfectly for the last track, but is a memorable piece of beauty in it’s own right. And that last track, “Learning how to Live,” is definitely the band’s greatest achievement as of release. Perfect closer that goes through a total range of moods and styles in it’s 11 minute runtime, never overstaying it’s welcome.
This underground French Speed Metal band really shocked me here. Cites Interdites is a fantastic combo of aggressive Speed Metal, melodic Heavy Metal and a huge emphasis on soaring, dual guitar leads and solos.
I have to say outright, the solos on this album are some of the best I’ve ever heard, and the amazing thing is every song features at least one insanely good and memorable solo without any of them feeling like they’re treading the same ground. I’m actually reminded of Japanese band Anthem, who have a knack for writing (in my opinion) the best guitar solos in metal. This French band has a very melodic style quite reminiscent of Japanese Metal, but a unique aggressive edge to it, most prominent in the vocals and drumming.
The drumming is really insane here, and I actually thought it might be a drum machine because it’s so precise. Not that it’s blowing Tech Death away or anything, but there’s a nice depth and fluidity that accompany the usual machinegunning speed. The bass is a bit buried, but if you’ve got good equipment you can get a great taste of basswork going on underneath all those guitar leads.
One weakness here – a few songs have verses and choruses that aren’t so strong. No Man’s Land is an obvious offender here, having a very basic and dare I say boring structure with weak riffs and a poor chorus. However, it is definitely saved by an amazing guitar solo halfway through that goes on quite a while… all of the weaker songs share this trait. If you like guitar solos, there’s really not a track you can hate because they all have such amazing soloing thrown in somewhere. Unfortunately the B-side is slightly weaker which is a pet peeve for me, but the opening track (after the Intro) is about as flawless as Speed Metal gets.
What is often hailed as one of if not the best W.A.S.P. albums is ironically more so a solo effort by bandleader Blackie that eventually got the W.A.S.P. label slapped on it so it could sell. Sometimes, an album can be a better package if it really is done entirely by one person. Especially in the case of a concept album.
Blackie had a story, he had a few main motifs and he rolled with it all the way through. The result is a strong album that feels heavily cohesive and has no moments of weakness. The music is very catchy, and adds just enough keys and other musical influences to up the “epic rocking” factor without truly dipping into cheese territory, and is actually quite serious musically. The album is surprisingly vulnerable for someone of Blackie’s reputation, as “desiring the love and acceptance of your parents” was not exactly a common theme in heavy music (though it was likely an undertone in a lot of the rebellious themes, no one would flat out admit it).
Aside from that, the story is another tale of a fictional rocker’s rise and fall, which had already been done to death by ’92. The album is consistently very strong, but if the main motifs aren’t working for you, it will get very samey and repetitive. Great listen to follow along the story, flows incredibly well, but the replay factor is quite low.
Skyclad’s sophomore album is Folk Metal’s first, utilizing violins, acoustic guitars and medieval-esque riffs to create the unique feel of the genre. Skyclad’s debut was very Thrashy, but this one eschews most of that in favor of highly melodic, slower paced (comparatively) tracks. The vocals remain pretty gruff, however; nothing like the smooth flavor usually associated with these fantasy albums. My favorite tracks are where the faster ones where Thrash roots take stage, like “Salt on the Earth.”
This thing really relies mostly on the gimmick of the violin mirroring the lead guitar in every track. Not that it’s a bad thing; at the time it was pretty much the only band to do this. It definitely creates a more epic, fantasy filled atmosphere than their prior album. Uniqueness aside, I myself prefer the more straightforward Thrash of the debut. Even though most tracks are fantastic quality, there is a liberal use of interludes and weaker tracks in between. Still, this is definitely a must hear for anyone interested in Folk Metal. Respect is always given to the creators.
An interesting release if nothing else. Starkweather’s debut seems to be labeled Metalcore mostly because it just doesn’t fit anywhere else, and in fact the album sounds like the band really had no idea what they were going for. It’s not bad, and definitely has an interest factor to it, but sounds unabashedly like an amateur band finding themselves.
The musicianship is very simple, and most of the time simple chords backed by basic beats carry the screaming vocalist in an anxious, occasionally depressive or angry atmosphere. The songs are way too long for what they have to offer. There are a few changes here and there, and the album is definitely hard to pin down. There’s Alt Metal, Heavy Metal, Trad Doom, Sludge, maybe even some Post-Punk in places, straight up Hardcore… and for lack of a better term we go with Metalcore.
I feel like these guys have a lot of potential, they just don’t find it here. However, it’s still a decent album with an interesting and unique palette to offer. Bonus track "Above the Rafters" is awesome.
One of the reasons I don’t like Trad Doom is because it is not inherently dark and melancholic like the rest of Doom. It’s not carried by gloomy atmospheres but rather slow riffage that sounds more akin to lethargic Heavy Metal. For me personally, if I’m gonna be listening to repetitive and lethargic music, it absolutely has to be emotionally or atmospherically evocative. In those instances, the plodding tempo works wonders to elevate the foreboding sense of despair or tragic melancholy. Otherwise, slow, lethargic music to me is just boring.
Sleep’s style of “Stoner Doom” is everything I dislike about Trad Doom multiplied and expanded upon. Slow, groovy, repetitive riffs that do nothing and go nowhere. No atmosphere, no emotion, the riffs even sound “happy” a good portion of the time. I don’t hate happy music (my J-Pop ratings can attest to that) but as far as slow, heavy music goes, happy is the last thing I want to hear. There is absolutely nothing “Doom” about this record, it’s just slow. Sections of improvisation are common, though they never stray from the formulaic riffs. The guitar solos in these sections are usually very poor as well.
The lyrics are almost interesting. A line or two will paint an intriguing picture of some fantasy desert land… but then it trails off into something completely unrelated, probably trying to evoke hallucinatory drug experiences. It ruins any sort of worldbuilding or narrative I think they could have otherwise succeeded in.
I’m going to throw out a wild claim, but I think if some people stopped listening to these sorts of albums while on drugs, they might realize how mundane they are without… outside influence. Not to say people can’t enjoy the grooviness of this sort of thing in total earnest, but I do believe it’s probably overrated due to that sort of influence.
Yes! Finally! A band takes the potential of Grindcore and uses it right!
Brutal Truth’s debut is full of extreme high-energy tracks stock full of insane riffage! There is a huge Death/Thrash influence to this thing, and the riffs are super evil sounding despite the wholly political nature of the album. And thank goodness, for once a Grindcore vocalist enunciates, those politically charged lyrics are easy to follow. The vocals aren’t really special in themselves but they get credit for doing what 95% of Grindcore can’t by being god damn intelligible.
The real sauce here is the musicianship, and holy hell these guys can play. I mentioned the riffage earlier, and it is air-tight. Guitar and bass shred along at insane speeds, ripping off the best riffs I’ve heard in the genre yet. The drumming is inhuman, the blast-beats are probably the fastest I’ve heard yet, and actually manage to be on-time (if not incredibly precise). However, the drums are usually not so much sonic aggression as to drown out the tasty riffs, and the guy knows when to play extreme and when to serve the music. Huge plus!
Incredibly awesome Deathgrind and my personal favorite Grindcore album as of its release.
The legendary Vulgar Display of Power. The TRUE original tough guy metal album, and the bottom line set for all of Groove Metal. Does it live up to the hype? Well, yes and no.
Vulgar Display of Power is actually one of the first metal albums I’d heard, thanks directly to three of its songs inspiring music in Doom. Back then, Phil’s harsh vocals bulging with testosterone were too tough for middle school me. I couldn’t handle the masculine aggression in that creature, but the riffs were awesome enough to get me to stay until my ears were able to withstand the full-on assault of his drug infused gorilla arms. The music was practically seeping with bull semen and stale alcohol, the guitar tone a disgusting buzzsaw drawl, and the drums hitting like concrete. The cover represents the music well.
The album jumps between aggressive Thrash beats and sharp riffs to plodding, sludgy groove sections; this pretty much set the standard for Groove Metal to follow as Thrash’s slower brother. For me, the Thrash bits are the best part. Songs like “Rise” are perfect example of unrelenting aggression. The pure Groove tracks like “Walk” do very little for me, and it’s that aspect of the album that makes it weaker than Cowboys from Hell to me. However, slower numbers “This Love” and the devastating “Hollow” are super unique and very well-done examples of Pantera’s slower side.
So why do I say “yes and no” as to whether this album lives up to the hype? Well, because across the span of many websites and circles, Vulgar Display of Power is actually not rated insanely high, usually sitting around the “great album, but no masterpiece” numbers. And that’s exactly what it is, simply an unprecedented, flawed, off-center punch in the face like no other. It is unabashedly itself; no masterpiece, but a very vulgar display of power that you can’t look away from, and will certainly never forget.
Another one of those “did it first” albums that in my opinion doesn’t live up to the hype its legacy implies. Aside from Anthrax’s “I’m the Man” and a couple Faith No More songs (if we’re being generous), there really wasn’t much Rap Metal prior to RATM, and certainly not a full album of it. The band certainly took a unique approach and recreated Hip-Hop using entirely real Rock instrumentation and original music, even using some guitar effects to mimic sound effects you might hear in traditional Hip Hop. It’s innovative, but a lot of those “guitar sound effects” end up sounding really annoying, like the siren whine on “Fistful of Steel” or the bass drops on “Township Rebellion.”
Zack sounds angry, and his delivery is good, but man some of the lyrics are weak. Oftentimes he’ll repeat a phrase over and over, and the chorus to the first song gives you a sense of that, where he just says “burn, burn, yes you’re gonna burn” a whopping 8 times. The guitars and the drums suffer the same problem. Sometimes Tom comes up with a decent riff, but after hearing it repeated 16 times over a very boring, monotonous drumbeat, I’m sick of it. The riffs don’t match Zack’s mood, either; they’re far more groovy than angry, and the slow, simple drumming gives no sense of urgency or energy to what /should/ be an angry, energetic album. The music songs like something to chill out to, not exactly what you want for a revolution. The songs are also way longer than necessary, none under 4 minutes and repeating the same simple ideas over and over again. They’d be much better in short chunks, but they wear themselves out before they’re over.
One huge plus to this album is the bass. Timmy does a phenomenal job with his rhythmic groove, doing way more than backing the band and adding super spicy melodies to the mix. This one the one instrument I didn’t find repetitive at all; he’s definitely got a “lead bassist” thing going on.
Overall, not a bad album at all, but one of the most overrated in my opinion. Rap Metal is a genre that might not have too much room to succeed, but I’d love to see later bands take it in a different direction.
One of the more interesting Death Metal albums I’ve heard. Messiah actually have a knack for sounding quite different on each album, while still sounding very “them”, and that’s no different here. After coming off of the amazing “Choir of Horrors,” this album is a bit of a disappointment for anyone thirsting for more of those amazing aggressive riffs. I think that expectation hurts the perception of this one, and I’ll admit on first listen I was quite let down. However, this one’s a grower with some great depth.
Speaking to the musical “issues” first, this one is very rhythm focused. Gone are the multitude of sharp lead riffs from the prior album. The guitarwork here is almost all rhythm, with simple but speedy chords acting as a crushing weight to the atmosphere. There’s a subtle complexity to the rhythm, structures and songwriting that help fill the space left by less lead work. It’s a different approach than most Death Metal bands at the time, for sure.
Where does this thing really grab me? Well, it’s actually a concept album about mental illness, told through the stories of a few scenarios, and it’s very gripping and well done. The language itself is pretty dated at this point (and it was written by non-native English speakers) but it was a time where mental illness was still quite stigmatized and unknown, so there’s no blaming that. The topics and actual messages of these songs are phenomenal. Raped Bodies is my favorite, as it details the psychological impact of a parent’s addiction, spousal abuse and divorce on a child, followed by social alienation and eventually culminating in acting out in sexual violence. It’s incredibly accurate to how adverse child experiences effect someone, and with no real internet at this time, it’s clear they went out of their way to do actual literature research. It absolutely talks about mental illness in a dark and graphic way, but it also explores the flaws in society's thinking and perceptions of the mentally ill. The writing truly captivated me on this one.
Apparently, most people don’t listen to metal for the lyrics. I will just say, you may be missing out on more than you know…
An interesting transition from their previous attempts at mainstream universal appeal, but an appropriate reinvention for a self-titled album. “Loudness” is, in my opinion, their best release since the legendary underground masterpiece “Disillusion.” This album returns to their riff and solo driven Heavy Metal of old, mostly forgoing catchy anthems in favor of more aggressive edge and musical substance.
There’s a great variety of midtempo groove and speedy aggression. The plodding “Love Kills” has a riff heavier than concrete, and album closer “Firestorm” is easily the fastest thing they’ve ever done. The flow of the album usually has faster numbers complimenting the slower ones and works very well.
The lineup changes here have to be addressed because they bring some great changes. Filling in for bass is Taiji – THE Taiji – of X Japan fame, and yeah, it’s noticeable. As long as you’ve got decent listening equipment, you can hear that bass throwing out groovy melodies the whole time, and it’s wonderful. New vocalist Masaki Yamada has what may be considered an “acquired taste” vocal style, which is an aggressive, strained, and accented style. However, it fits the more aggressive musical style here, and he is very good at English, not only speaking, but writing. The lyrics to this one are far darker than anything Loudness have done before, and very well written, with some interesting topics such as the cruelty of animal testing on “Slaughter House.”
Possibly their best album yet, a real recapturing of their Japanese identity after their mixed attempts to sounds western.
A lot of really good ideas and unique aspects to this album that were groundbreaking at the time. Probably most later Industrial Metal bands used this thing as a blueprint. The speedy, riff-focused parts of this are great, like Tv 2 and Hero, which rip along at chainsaw shredding speed. Al usually sounds good, which a very gruff yet nasally yell that is no doubt processed with some distortion.
What really ruins this album for me is the insane repetitiveness, especially in the annoying samples. Most of the songs here have parts where some vocal sample is repeated about 16 times, and it’s abundant with random shout or spoken samples that are thrown in at the rate of a snare drum. On the same note, even when the guitar riffs and rhythm section are good, it quickly goes stale after the same measure has been repeated about 32 times. There’s very little variety to each track, making each one more or less based around one repetitive section.
The title track is an example that almost uses samples well, specifically the choir vocals that add an epic touch to it, but then the rest of the track falls into the same habit of throwing in voices and what not so much that it just becomes annoying. Despite the abundance of interesting and unique ideas here, it’s something I have no desire to revisit because of how annoying it can be.
It grooves, it jams, and it sounds like the dudes are having a lot of fun. Tracks bounce back and forth between halfway energetic rockers to total lethargic chill tunes, probably dependent on whether the band members were drunk or high at the time. The songs kinda do their thing for anywhere between 1 and 7 minutes, and eventually the whole thing is over.
For me, quite boring. Riffs and vocals are generic, and rhythm section may as well not be there, just doing the basic minimum to back the tracks most of the time. There’s no mood or passion to it, they just jam in a rather repetitive way until they get bored and start a new track. The more conventional songs are just a step away from Grunge, which isn’t a good thing to my ears.
I can see people enjoying this the same way one would rock out to some butt rock, but unfortunately I’m not one of those people.
It’s not really Drone Metal, it’s more like Sludge Metal and Drone for the most part kept separate. Anyway, aside from adding 10 minute feedback sections to their album, it sounds like what Melvins have been doing for a while now; monotonous, generic Sludge Metal. I will say there are times where the guitars die down and the bass provides some nice undertones, but most of it is quite boring. The 10 minute drone section is also entirely a chore, with nothing interesting going on at any time.
Melvins continue to make abrasive, experimental albums that are simply not for me.
An interesting development in the discography of the mad maniac John Zorn. While the previous Naked City albums were pure Avant-Garde Jazz and Grindcore, this one has a healthy dose of Classical and Ambient sensibilities. Of course, these are all created with the same ensemble of instruments as far as I can tell, so it’s usually a dissonant hum, but certainly interesting to hear this group cover composers such as Debussy.
The rest is classic Naked City, and I’m not sure giving this the Avant-Garde Metal title is truly deserved. It’s a bizarre affair, that’s for sure, but as most tracks are short, different elements are usually kept separate as opposed to woven together, making this a very eclectic collection of songs rather than a unique genre that ties them all together.
If you like John Zorn’s mad rambling music, you’ll surely like this. If not, you might appreciate some of the Classical stuff, so it’s worth a shot.
I can’t tell if this is a transitional album yet cause I haven’t heard anything they released after, but on Somewhere Far Beyond, Blind Guardian really start to lean into more modern sounding cheesy melodic Power Metal. They’ve still got their thrashy Speed Metal edge, but a much larger focus is put on keyboards/synths and the general epic atmosphere. There’s also quite a variety of styles present, even in individual songs.
Most of the tracks here are magnificent; catchy yet fierce, energetic yet anthemic. I really like the vocals too, having a rough edge of aggression most of the time, but easily hitting smooth melodic notes when he needs to. Guitars, bass, drums, keys; all splendid, adding great flavor to the mix.
My huge complaint with this album is the amount of useless filler. Out of the ten tracks, two are pointless interludes that add nothing to the album, and the first Bard Song is an acoustic song that just isn’t up to par. Acoustic ballads can be beautiful, but this one is missing that special something and just ends up breaking the flow of the album. The bonus tracks, which are actually usually included in main releases, are great tracks that definitely add to the album in my opinion.
Unfortunately not as consistent as previous releases, but many of the tracks here are absolute top-notch Power Metal.