I always feel like I'm unnecessarily lenient with progressive metal. I mean, it is my favorite genre, and I like to try and hold it to a high standard as much as I can...but damn, I hear those prog melodies and get those nice time changes and I'm just like "mmmmm...yes".
BUT, sometimes I just have to pull back the veil of mindless enjoyment and look at some of these works critically. This brings me to the debut of German progressive metal act Dreamscape, a band that I've enjoyed songs from here and there in the past, but never got around to actually listening to a full album. And me being me, when I'm really interested in a band I feel the need to go through every album chronologically. In my journeys through many of these discographies, I've found that it actually seems to have been a pretty common thing for 90s prog rock and metal bands that their debuts are one of the weaker efforts in their catalogues. They're trying to set themselves apart and show what they do, but their writing is a bit rough around the edges and they so often seem to start out sounding like so many other bands before or around them.
Dreamscape is no different in this regard. Trance-Like State comes off very much like a hodge-podge of various other acts from the genre. Usually it's reminiscent of contemporary names such as Conception, Threshold, 90s Fates Warning, or the proggier moments of early Kamelot. Other times, though, it sounds as if they've ripped pages straight out of the Queensrÿche/Crimson Glory progressive heavy metal songbook. In fact, vocalist Tobi Zoltan here often sounds very much like a cross-breed of Midnight and Roy Khan. His performance on this album isn't half-bad, but it never goes beyond simply good. He does an adequate job carrying the music and nothing more...although there are times in which he hits his lower registers softly and you can barely hear him buried underneath the instruments.
Speaking of the music, it's honestly the biggest flaw here. Now there are some great moments all throughout just about every track, with "Fateful Silence" being the biggest standout here (although "Streets" comes damn close for the first half), but so many of the songs fall short of their potential. Only a few of the tracks here have actually significantly weak musical ideas in of themselves; the issue lies in the half-baked and sloppy song structures. If a song isn't hopping around between passages that feel rather unrelated, glued together regardless, it's meandering along with a decent idea that gets a lot of the life and interest sucked out of it as it keeps going.
The two things that save it all are 1) the diversity of the music, which goes between solid moments of traditional prog metal, power metal, 80s-influenced progressive heavy metal, and occasional melodic prog rock, and 2) the quality of the musical passages themselves. Most of the music here is really quite good! The band has an ear for great melodies and an eclectic enough style, and can even create great atmospheric material as a lot of the more ballad-y songs show; it's just the sloppy song structuring that mostly brings it down, and the vocal performance that, as stated above, is at its absolute best just adequate.
All-in-all it's a really quality debut effort that just suffers from being largely poorly put together. The musicianship is fantastic and the potential for greatness is there, it's just in need of some serious refining.
I was only a very young chap when I first encountered seminal Brazilian black metal outfit Sarcófago back in the early 1990's. I'd begun tape trading with a South American kid who possessed a comprehensive list of his local product & I subsequently received a long procession of underground stuff from him in the mail over short period. Amongst that lot was a whole bunch of Sarcófago material & I can distinctly remember having my mind blown by just how raw metal music could get. It was very much a novelty for me at the time & it's understandable as to why I felt that way when I return to their debut full-length "I.N.R.I." in more modern times. Sarcófago took influence from several of the most extreme forms of music of the time & ramped them all up to eleven, all while still learning to play their instruments. But any experienced fan of South American extreme metal will tell you that these technical inadequacies & the general naivety of the song-writing are a big part of the attraction with this style of music & that's never been more evident than it is with "I.N.R.I.". It's full of out-of-time blast beats, silly monster noises & incompetent guitar solos but I'll be fucked if these "qualities" do anything to tarnish the album's appeal. It's simply a really fun listen & shouldn't be taken as seriously as many kvlt black metallers seem to.
Thankfully the production is clear enough so that you can easily make out all of the instruments. The snare drum is ridiculously loud but that has always been a common trait of South American releases. The influence of hardcore punk on Sarcófago's sound is obvious & it gives them a formidable energy that borders on being infectious. I do really enjoy the aggressive vocals which give the album a darker feel & helps it to overcome the fact that the instrumentalists are struggling to hold everything together beneath them. You'll often see people tossing around the thrash metal tag with "I.N.R.I." but there's very little legitimate thrash on offer if you look closely. This is pure black metal bordering on the more modern war metal movement that Sarcófago were such an key influence on. Early Sodom & Hellhammer are the most obvious influences in my opinion but the early Brazilian releases from Sepultura & Vulcano are also good points of reference, not to forget the hardcore & early grindcore elements.
This all amounts to a consistently enjoyable listen that never borders on being life-changing but is ultimately fit for purpose when searching for the ultra-kvlt & super-raw release that defines what it meant to be underground in the mid-to-late 1980's. I undoubtedly have a bit of an emotional attachment to Sarcófago given my history with them at a very impressionable time in my life but if I try my best to put those feelings aside I still can't seem to shift the adrenaline rush they give me. There's a purity to the primitive packaging & delivery that seems to transcend the technical deficiencies & this was the flame that the early black metal scene found so attractive. If you're into modern black metal then you owe it to yourself to at least have an understanding of what "I.N.R.I." was about & the impression it left of the metal underground. I can't say it'll ever sit amongst my all-time favourites but I never regret my occasional revisit.
Svalbard are a hardcore band from the U.K. who have been making some very unique sounding punk music throughout the 2010s. The bands defining feature is their incorporation of black metal and shoegaze (blackgaze) elements into their music and has produced some very solid records over that time.
So I got to check out the newest record from the group and wow what an album! I never would have thought that this would be the album that I needed, but here we are. Svalbard are taking the best elements of mathcore, seemingly borrowing from their fellow countrymen, Rolo Tomassi, and the sweet sounds of the new wave of blackgaze from a band such as Astronoid and they are able to create a gorgeous atmosphere. The sound of this album is fantastic; the dual vocal work from Serena Cherry and Liam Phelan is used to help articulate some haunting environments. Meanwhile, the instrumentals are stunning. Guitars are mixed very well from the top down and the tremolo picking melodies are very smooth and precise. The bass and percussion play off each other with high efficiency.
The songwriting is very fluent and immensely captivating. I already mentioned the excellent guitar leads, but the way this album modulates from black metal, to shoegaze, to hardcore punk is exceptional, and when these are elements are all brought together, they create something just as promising. Transitions are top notch on longer tunes like “The Currency of Beauty” and “Listen to Someone”. The only real downside is the content, which is very adolescent. But I can let it slide because a lot of metal songwriting is either remarkably blunt, or in the case of Astronoid, so shrouded in secrecy due to fragmented stanzas. I imagine someone going into this as a metal record might be turned off, but Harakari for the Sky does much of the same thing.
It will be interesting to see how and if the album holds up as strongly in a few months from now. I have listened to a lot of sad hardcore music over the last serveral weeks (Movements and Touché Amoré most recently) so we will have to see what happens. As for right now, this blend of Hardcore/Black Metal/Emo is really intoxicating and I would not be surprised if it made it on my year end list for 2020. And very high no less.
A couple of months ago, I forced myself to listen to Entombed's album Wolverine Blues, an album that defines, for better or worse, the very niche subgenre of death 'n' roll. Needless to say I wasn't much of a fan. So this left me wondering where this crossover was with the Black Metal subgenre? Then I came to the realization that black 'n' roll has existed since the very beginning of black metal. The earliest "black metal" albums by Venom were heavily influenced by Hardcore Punk and had more accessible song structures and melodic songwriting. Black metal did not start with Darkthrone after all.
Now I already knew about Kvelertak as I have recently listened to and enjoyed their 2020 record, Splid. And while not much has changed in the decade since the self titled debut, the band are still pretty good songwriters and know how to put a hook together. Splitting the difference between hardcore punk and the most mainstream accessible metal that you can get. I mean the groove of "Nekrostop" sounds like it could have been taken directly from Metallica's Death Magnetic. The guitar melodies are very nice as if they are borrowed from the more post-hardcore side. The percussion and bass work is not too bad; the low end is booming throughout and while their is not that much independence from the rhythm guitar, it stands out.
One thing that I did make a note of right away before even beginning to listen to this record, was how similar this records album cover looked to that of the band Baroness. I did not think anything of it at first...until I started listening to the record and heard the production. Their is so much blown out distortion in the guitars and the bass drum on this record. It can become pretty infuriating once you hear it. I made the Baroness comparison because many of those records have the same problem. Yet for Baroness, those records are supposed to sound clean. This is a punk record first and foremost, and while I can let the messy production slide because of the almost sloppy nature of this sound, I can only let it go to a certain extent. This production does get muddy, which is never good on any record.
As a result, what could have been a great record is only a pretty good one. Kvelertak's self titled debut was a real eye opener at the time and revitalized a love for this genre's true roots. It has some great changes of pace throughout the record and doesn't let up for the entire album. It's a must listen for those looking to hear the 2010s expansion of this niche subgenre, even if I don't think it's the cream of the crop in the subgenre, let alone in Kvelertak's discography.
Horned Almighty are a Danish black/thrash metal four-piece formed in 2002 from the remains of black metal outfit Mareridt. I have been woefully ignorant of the band until this release (excuse: there's just so much black metal out there!) To Fathom the Master's Grand Design, their sixth album and first for six years, is blistering black metal with searing guitar riffs and throat-tearing, roaring vocals that is as enervating as it is exhilharating in it's nihilistic savagery. Some of the tracks, such as Devouring Armageddon and Swallowed by the Earth, feature slower-paced sections that occasionally hint at doom metal. This easing of the tempo however, only serves to intensify the feeling of impending annihilation that the band seems hell-bent on racing towards and is entirely in keeping with their lyrical theme of armageddon and destruction. At this point, a word must go to bassist Haxen and drummer Harm for their solid and vigorous rhythm section that helps propel the tracks along like NASA rocket fuel, despite the main event being Hellpig's incendiary riffing.
I know it's heresy to say so, but I sometimes struggle to appreciate some of the more technical, avant-garde examples of modern metal, but this kind of vicious, rough-sounding black metal with it's neck-breaking, blood-pumping rhythms and it's calling to the more primal parts of our psyche is right up my proverbial street.
I must confess to having been a bit disappointed by Enslaved's last album E and awaited their new opus with no small amount of trepidation. Luckily my fears have been laid to rest by Utgard. This is more in the vein of my favourite of their proggier (is that even a word?) albums, 2012's RIITIIR. Despite the progressive slant to their music these days, the tracks are actually quite punchy and are shorter than a lot of their black / viking metal classics - only two clocking in at over six minutes. This means there's no excessive prog wankery involved in the tracks, just concise, tightly written and musically varied prog metal.
Whilst Enslaved seem to be on a similar trajectory to that taken by Opeth a few years back and moving further away from their black metal roots, they still maintain enough of a metal edge to their sound to satisfy a large percentage of their original fans. That said, songs like Sequence with it's gently laid-back middle section and the kinetic, Krautrock-influenced Urjotun certainly make for an interesting contrast to the more (black) metal sections and evidence the band branching out ever further. Cato Bekkevold has been replaced by Iver Sandøy behind the drumkit who turns in a solid performance as such (particularly on opener Fires in the Dark) but he crucially adds another dimension to the dynamic of the band with his clean vocals. As always, Enslaved turn in a trademark technically superb performance and must be one of the tightest set of extreme metal performers this side of the aforementioned Opeth.
I guess if you wish to be negative, you could say that if you listened to this expecting to hear Vikingligr veldi or Frost II then you would be sorely disappointed, but those albums were over 25 years ago and the band have matured and branched out but, crucially, not sold out. I am not a massive follower of prog metal I must admit, bands like Dream Theater throwing out album after album of technical circle jerking just seems pointless to me, but when a band like Enslaved move into the area from a more focussed tradition, then I am on board because the songs seem so much more than just technical exercises (excesses?). In fact some of this is actually quite catchy even (Homebound, Distant Seasons) and Ivar Bjørnson can still write some thunderous riffs when he feels the need (Jettegryta, Storms of Utgard). So, despite lasting only 44 minutes, the variety in the tracks and their ability to grab the attention make for a seemingly much more substantial-feeling album that certainly had me reaching for the replay button.
Empire of the Moon formed in 1996 as a duo comprising guitarist/bassist/vocalist Ravenlord Wampyri Draconium and vocalist Ouroboros, releasing a two-track, dungeon synth / dark folk demo in 1997. With the addition of keyboard player S.V. Mantus in 1998 they expanded to a three-piece, then promptly disappeared from the world of recorded music until the release of their debut album in 2014. Fast forward another six years and we are presented with the band's follow-up full-length, Εκλειψις (Eclipse).
The album is a typical example of hellenic black metal with it's generally mid-paced tempo, memorable and melodic guitar riffs and epic and atmospheric style, provided in the main by Mantus' sterling keyboard work. The vocals are savage and ragged-sounding, but still work exceedingly well in concert with the old-school riffing. The bulk of the album's seven tracks form a four-part concept piece, Per aspera ad lunae, which tells the story of the narrator's seeking of and encounter with a couple of dreadful, dark goddesses and is where the album's mystical and occult narrative heart lies.
Εκλειψις doesn't break any new ground it's true and it certainly isn't a difficult album to "get into", but it is a terrific example of greek black metal that stands up well against any in the genre and when a black metal album sounds this damn good then it is definitely worthy of your time.
Arguably one of the most developed and expansive acts in metal at this stage of their career, Enslaved have continued their penchant for delivering thought-provoking and intelligent metal into their fifteenth full-length release. Utgard has a real assured sound to it, despite its title suggesting we may have expected otherwise (Utgard in Norse mythology is a landscape full of danger and chaos). Yes it has all the progressive leanings you would expect with time-changes dropping in from out of nowhere and a near constant sense of build throughout the record, but its success is more subtle than that.
There's a freedom to the flow of the songwriting, never better exemplified than on catchy riffing tracks like Sequence , a solid chug with excellent stabs of atmospheric keys and strings to add depth behind the apparent simplicity of the main driving riff. The lead work here flutters in like butterflies at first before becoming a maelstrom of hellish fire that scorches the middle section of the track for a few seconds before a calming ambience seeps into play. It is rare for such an array of ideas and styles to all be so comfortable alongside each other, but they pull it off brilliantly and hold the listeners interest well throughout a varied and memorable experience.
On this record Ivar relinquished most of the work he normally tried to always get through himself and delegated the labour out across the band. The outcome is an album that feels like it has had a high level of involvement. Even in its busiest moments it sounds cohesive and unified, no matter where a track goes to it is obvious that all band members go with it. The clarity of roles within the band has unlocked textures in the Enslaved sound that feel tightly woven together. At the same time they also feel like they are covering new ground and exploring new territory and structures.
Checkout the 80's pop vibe to the opening of Urjoturn that presents a dark, new-romanticism to the ears. As unexpected as it maybe, it works brilliantly structuring a haunting and yet catchy vibe that sits on the shoulder for long after the album is finished. Grutle's blackened vocals combine with cleaner passages that add further to the depth of the track, maintaining the bm threat of years gone by but tempering this perfectly with a musical edge to challenge their presence at the same time.
After nearly two decades Enslaved maintain an innovative edge to their music that shows little sign of abating. Utgard is bound to be a tough listen for some, but anyone who has been following the band's output over the last fifteen years will welcome the continued maturity and progression of their sound here. It isn't boundary-pushing as such, but it is a fresh sounding record which continues to slowly expand the sound of one of metal's longest-serving bands.
Whilst there are undoubtedly some great one-man atmospheric black metal outfits (early Burzum, Saor, Panopticon etc) it's great to hear a genuine full band playing the music and the dynamic that creates that sometimes feels a little stilted with solo projects. Ukrainians Drudkh have had a stable four-piece lineup since 2006 and Estrangement was their first metal full-length since that lineup's establishment, following on from the acoustic folk music of 2006's Songs of Grief and Solitude and the somewhat divisive reaction it received.
The album takes the format of three 10 minute tracks and a short final instrumental outro and represents a fine return to form if you believe that Songs of Grief and Solitude was a misstep. Though not quite as brilliant as the band's previous metal album, the classic Blood in Our Wells, this doesn't fall that far short. The longer tracks are sweeping and majestic as you would expect and all four tracks feature terrific guitar solos from Roman Saenko along with some really nice melodies contained in amongst the riffs and blastbeats. Sure the repetitive nature of atmospheric black metal, particularly on longer tracks, isn't everyone's cup of tea and if that is the case for you then Estrangement won't change your mind, but for afficianados the repetition of Drudkh's music doesn't equate to boring, it is the building of layers of sound that contribute to the epic and sweeping nature of the music so effectively that is their real strength. Conceptually the lyrics are based around the words of poet Oleh Olzhych who's poetry was centred on the struggle for Ukrainian independence and who was arrested by the Gestapo for his activities and died in Sachsenhausen concentration camp in June of 1944. Of course this association with Ukrainian nationalism has led the band to being accused of extreme right-wing sympathies, a charge the band have always denied.
That aside, from a purely music-centric point of view, then this album is a really fine example of classic atmospheric black metal and Drudkh are rightfully accepted as one of the prime movers in the genre. I would hold this up with any of the best that atmo-black has to offer and despite three of the four tracks hitting the ten minute mark, at only 35 minutes the album as a whole leaves you wanting more and so heading for the replay button.
Anyone having even a passing familiarity with Darkthrone's output for the past twenty years will immediately recognize where these Canadians got their crusty black metal influence. The great thing about black metal is that it is home to bands that like to push the boundaries and create complex, dense or dissonant albums that challenge the listener, but also bands that just prefer to crank out some good old-fashioned metal tunes. Nocturnal Departure most definitely fall into the latter category and more power to them because some times you just need to let rip with some cathartic and blasphemous black rituals!
I think Drudkh are a fantastic atmospheric black metal band, one of the best the genre has to offer. I'm also quite partial to a bit of folk music, so I thought that this would be right up my street and some of it is very nice indeed. At it's best it is earthy yet fragile-sounding at the same time, but in all honesty a number of the tracks are a bit repetitive and while this is fine in the context of atmospheric black metal when laid bare, as here, it becomes just a little tedious. Still, kudos to the band for trying a different approach and not at all surprising from them really as they are obviously steeped in Ukrainian folklore and proud of their folk roots.
A couple of weeks ago when I reviewed Napalm Death’s newest album, I briefly talked about my limited experience with grindcore as a subgenre and how I have very little interest in exploring the genre further, even after Napalm Death’s new album was much better than I anticipated. Now we have the newest record from Anaal Nathrakh and it’s all coming back to me again.
The production of this album sounds like shit. The vocals are over-compressed and are peaking in the mix, the bass presence is non-existent and the percussion sounds like it’s only about a few clicks away from falling entirely out of sync with the rest of the band! The guitars are heavily over-mixed as well and are jammed right to the front of the mix, where even the vocals are drowned out.
This album is not subtle. Because of the mixing in the guitars, the compositions have very little in the way of diversity. And I mean that from the perspective individual songs because the album does take risks at points. My favourite tunes on the album are the ones that carry some melodic weight, like on “The Age of Starlight Ends”. But the unique songs are very simplistic; with no dynamic swell or melodic growth, even these songs get repetitive very quickly. And you can only imagine what happens on the more grindcore leaning songs.
What it all boils down to is another grindcore album. I do like the attempts from Anaal Nathrakh to incorporate black metal elements into the mix, which does cause it to stand out among the rest. But at the same time, horrendous production is what has always driven me away from grindcore in the first place, not the compositions. And going back and listening to other records from this band, it is clear they have no intentions on changing anytime soon.
As with most kinds of drone music, they leave me with very little to talk about. They claim to be long, elaborated stories, but all I hear is monotonous garbage. With Earth 2, fhis group seems like they took that to heart and tried to create something that was, if not thought out, had meaning to it. This three track affair that clocks in well over an hour, is more of a single, extended jam session. And I can't help but feel that this feeling is to the album's benefit. As one of the few people on this planet who can tolerate and respect a free jazz jam session on occasion, I totally appreciate where this album comes from: the feedback from the guitar that persists throughout the record as Carlson modulates between light guitar riffing and develops them for an extended period of time, before transitioning into the next idea.
Now this being a Drone album means that these ideas do not feel like they are fully developed or elaborated by the time a section ends and the next one begins. In fact, some ideas are elongated beyond the point of repetitiveness, especially on "Like Gold and Faceted". And again, I understand this apart of the appeal of Drone music, and I can appreciate it, but it would never appeal to me outside of some very specific circumstances.
Of all of the Drone Metal albums I have listened to that have been heralded as legendary feats within this subgenre, this is the one that I feel the most comfortable with. Probably not my favourite, but certainly among the higher echelon. As artists like Boris (and more recently Neptunian Maximalism) have taken the Drone Metal tag and transformed it into new and exciting ways, my necessity for "traditional" Drone music has faded. And this record represents the pinnacle of what Drone music is all about.
Insomnium threw me for a wild ride in 2016 with their fantastic single track album, Winter's Gate, one of my favourite albums of the year and dare I say it, among the best metal albums of the entire decade. Needless to say, I have had a lot of time for Insomnium over the last four years.
Which leads us to 2006 and the bands other critically acclaimed record, Above the Weeping World. And I feel like this album should have been so much more than it is. Not to say that this album is bad by any stretch. But I believe that my heightened expectations for this record given the high praise it and Winter's Gate have both received highly tainted my experience. When you break it all down, Above the Weeping World feels like the band in a very comfortable place, towing the line between death metal and progressive metal.
Now when we talk about Progressive Death Metal, a few names come to mind almost instantly. Let's quell that suspicion right away: this is nothing like an Opeth record. They both have their moments, specifically in the expanded songwriting, dynamic flare and great guitar work, but these rhythms are far less expansive than an Opeth record. This album feels colder and more brooding. You could almost say that this album has more in common with Death Doom Metal. Perhaps all of these labels on this record force me into the unfortunate realization that Insomnium were never a really good band at sticking to one location, drilling into it, and acquiring an audience. With this, while the constant changing of death metal styles is truly special, it does not grab me in the same way as other Insomnium records have.
As a result, the compositions can feel all over the place at times. "Mortal Shore" and "Change of Heart" seem the most simplistic of the bunch, and "The Killjoy" is the one most likely to appeal to the true death metal crowd, but "Drawn to Black" and "At the Gates of Sleep" are elongated songs with some interesting ideas, but nothing fully explored. I was hoping for a traditional death metal groove somewhere on this album to connect it all back together: a chugging riff, blast beats, but they never reared their head. Instead, I felt myself really enjoying this album, but feeling like their was a lot more left to be delivered.
As it stands, I still do like this album. The production is quite fine and the instrumentals are very pretty, most notably on the songs "Devoid of Caring" and "The Killjoy". The song compositions are constructed well, including the ten minute closer "In the Groves of Death". But as a fan who came on to this band late, knowing what they were able to do in the following decade leaves this album in an awkward position. Furthermore, having gone back and listened to their previous record Since the Day it All Came Down, it became quite obvious that this band liked their sound during the 2000s and were contempt on progressing forward with it with some stylistic improvements. I don't know, I did not find this album as legendary as so many people have claimed it to be.
It is ambitious, to say the least, when any artist decides to record a single, elongated song and release it as an album. Now these sorts of albums can end up in one of two places: the first is being so pretentious that it stuck up its own ass, and cannot bother to write anything decent to connect themes together, or perhaps they don't have any themes at all. The other is that the album is heralded as one of the genre's crowning achievements. Take a look at Edge of Sanity's Crimson, Sleep's Dopesmoker or Insomnium's Winter's Gate.
In each of those cases however, it was much later into the band's career. People do not remember that Crimson was Edge of Sanity's fifth studio album. Enter Green Carnation, who decided to give it a go on their second album! And what an album it is! This band placed themselves among elite company with this record, and will go down as one of the 2000s best heavy metal albums.
And to start, we have to talk about compositions. As I have discussed across many reviews, a long song can only work if it feels connected together by some kind of melodic hook or idea, and that transitions need to be fluent and not feel like a rapid change of pace. Green Carnation pull this off remarkably well with the exception of a couple of places. The riff that occurs around minute seventeen is a little choppy with it's change it tempo and pulse. Fortunately the transition back to the first riff is executed with more efficiency. There are other transitions that do not resonate as well with me, specifically at minute twenty-eight and thirty-one. As a side note, I feel like that whole section at minute twenty-eight is probably the weakest on the record, mostly in part because the strings and synths are mixed very poorly without a rhythm guitar. But outside of those brief moments, I think Light of Day, Day of Darkness has some spectacular transitions and melodic ideas that modulate between a number of different locations. Its brightest moment is in minute thirty-eight, where the acoustic guitar and saxophone play off each other from the previous section, before coming together for the electric guitar to take over, allowing the saxophone to rest.
Speaking of which, let's talk about them. While the term Progressive Metal may be the best way to describe an album like this, I do not think that is completely true. This album was released in the same year as Opeth's Blackwater Park and while their are certainly elements of that album on display here, most of this record feels quite comfortable in a doom/gothic metal groove. The tempos are slow, the grooves are deliberate, and the booming, low end of Kijetil Nordhus' vocals reminds me a lot of Peter Steele of Type O Negative. But when the album gets progressive, it has some truly stunning moments. The first is in minute thirty-two, when the vocals of Synne Soprana come in and play off the saxophone. The harmonies outlined in that section are downright gorgeous. I am also a big fan of the Middle Eastern touches that show up in minute fifty-two. I'm not sure this section would have worked nearly as well if it wasn't for minute thirty-two.
As for the production of this record, I do have some quibbles. The first and most blaring and occurrent is the electric guitars that sound a little too tinny for my taste. I wish the mixing of the guitars were a bit more resonant and authentic, rather than being held back to allow for other elements to be heard. At least it allows for some pretty cool bass grooves. The percussion is not all that impressive, but it never had to be. The vocals are very well done, especially Synne Soprana's vocals in minute thirty-two. The saxophone does sound a bit muffled in my opinion. Other than that, the only other real issue I had was in minute fifteen, when a high pitched chime persisted for about a minute or so and it was really off-putting.
But these are minors nitpicks on a truly marvelous record. Green Carnation took a major risk going for broke this early in their careers, and even though the production is questionable at times, there is no denying that these guys were master craftsmen when it came to songwriting. The record is very subtle but gets it's point across with precision. It's always darkest before the dawn and Light of Day, Day of Darkness represents that dawn to me.
LA's The Crooked Whispers have delivered a debut album of occult-laced doom metal with a vocalist who will undoubtedly divide opinion. The music is Electric Wizard-influenced devil-worshipping doom metal with fat, heavy riffs that is a staple of the doom metal scene. Vocalist Anthony Gaglia (of Portland's LáGoon) however is a different proposition. His singing style is more that of a black metal singer and when his voice kicks in after nearly two minutes of second track Sacrifice's plodding main riff it comes as a bit of an initial surprise. I must say though, by the end of Sacrifice I had become used to it and found it quite an interesting variation to the occult doom template. The lyrics are all hokey, seventies horror movie influenced nonsense as is par for the course, but good fun all the same. All in all a damn solid slab of doom metal with a bit of a twist and at only thirty minutes for it's six tracks (well, four with an intro and outro) it doesn't outstay it's welcome.
I've been a big fan of technical/progressive metal for almost 6 years now, but never really the old 80s thrash metal. Of course, sometimes exceptions are made because the progressive elements I really enjoy spice up the thrash. That's certainly the case for Coroner! In my previous Coroner reviews, I've mentioned that this band is never really my favorite because of the experimentation weighing heavily against the heaviness it should've had, especially in Mental Vortex, but now I can reconsider that initial thought and finally see that they're one of the most influential Swiss extreme metal bands besides Celtic Frost. Lots of heaviness and Ron Royce's harsh vocals can be found in R.I.P.!
What I like about this band is how it stands out against the typical standard thrash metal bands, such as its unique style. Their instrumental ability helps them become superior compared to other bands in the 80s thrash scene and would give them greater impact in their later albums, all starting in 1987 with this album R.I.P. There's quite a lot of awesome material in here; 13 tracks (including 5 instrumentals) in 45 minutes!
Unusual for a thrash album, the "Intro" is a piano instrumental that kicks off the album which is enjoyable and their own original work. It really has a sinister mood before the raw darkness... The metal action begins with the classic "Reborn Through Hate", still played live since their recent reformation. This song shows how incredibly talented this band is in true aggressive technical thrash metal. I love it! This is followed by another favorite "When Angels Die" with great riffs and chorus both catchy as f***. The choirs are unexpected but bring a unique aspect. It's awesome how the band focuses on inspiration instead of the brutality of other thrash bands. There's another classically-influenced "Intro", followed by... "Nosferatu", an instrumental piece of technical thrash violence, showing the band what a blast they're having without ever f***ing around.
"Suicide Command" stands out in heavy thrash pleasure with prominent bass. "Spiral Dream" has absolutely furious tempo. The album's title track has another classically-influenced intro with a depressive mood before switching an intense f***ing heavy with nice guitar riffs and melodic bass groove. You can hear more of the bass that's high in the mix in the next track "Coma". Same with "Fried Alive" where the bass flawlessly follows the guitar melodies in a smooth pattern. More of the killer technical thrash is there to please me more than Metallica!
Then the next thing present is another little synth "Intro"... And finally, "Totentanz" is another song of technical thrash violence to end the aggression in a powerful bang. And the album ends with an "Outro" that is another thrashy instrumental, this time with sinister keyboards.
Overall, "R.I.P." is a h*ll of a killer album and probably my favorite one of the 80s thrash metal scene, with a primitive feeling that's never bad. Of course, they would become more progressive in subsequent albums which I didn't approve of at first but now I possibly might! I would later have to review the remaining Coroner albums; Punishment for Decadence and the (gulp) mechanical-groove-infused Grin to confirm the band's "favorite" status for myself. But for now, enjoy this early tech-thrash recommendation!
Favorites: Reborn Through Hate, When Angels Die, Suicide Command, R.I.P., Fried Alive, Totentanz
A Vile Amalgamation
When it comes to Death Metal, I've come to the realization that the common, modern style just doesn't do it for me most of the time. "Meat and potatoes" Death Metal certainly has an ample amount of gut wrenching, vile riffage and aggression to keep me satiated for a bit, but there needs to be a bit more pizzazz to really capture my attention. I looked to bands like Blood Incantation and Tomb Mold last year to give me that shot of amped up Death Metal adrenaline without skimping out on the depth and complexity that amazing Death Metal can have. As for this year, Ulcerate and VoidCeremony have been holding down the Progressive and Technical Death Metal sides of things, but Draghkar has come along and shaken up my Death Metal listening with a debut album that manages to touch on so many different influences that it becomes difficult to nail it down to anything. Fast and furious old school Death Metal blended with old school Black Metal riff leanings with a ton of melody and a bit of creative modern flair really wasn't something I was expecting to hear, but I've certainly come around to it in the past few weeks.
Debuts that pull from a multitude of different influences and subgenres have always been the most exciting to me since it lets new blood fully flex their creative muscles in a way that doesn't necessarily have to appeal to a certain subgenre or criteria. At the Crossroads of Infinity takes full advantage of this, cramming elements and ideas from Death, Black, and even a bit of Doom metal into a succinct 35 minute package that, while rocky at places, separates itself from other, more straightforward Death Metal acts from this year. Draghkar have a unique and winning formula with their instrumentals and production, even though their songwriting and transitions do occasionally slip them up. The layered guitar solos and leads allow for a ton of melody to shine through the general riffing, the bass is wicked when it needs to be but isn't as overbearing and prevalent as something like VoidCeremony, and the vocals are just the right amount of extreme and coherent for what they're playing. There's a ton of swapping back and forth between Death Metal chug and Black Metal riffing and soloing, which creates the chaotic theme that At the Crossroads of Infinity attempts to have. This, coupled with the dirty and old-school extreme metal production, gives the album a unique identity that I wish that more bands would take advantage of.
The two opening and shorter tracks "The First Death" and "Beyond Despair, the Dawn of Rebirth" showcase the blended extreme metal themes in a way that really shows how much room for exploration there is with Death and Black Metal. Most of the riffing and solos in the first two tracks harken back to early 90's Black Metal with their colder and pushed back production, but the Death Metal style vocals, bass, and erratic drumming give it a vile and aggressive punch that works out extremely well. The riffs are well thought out, more complex than your average Black and Death blend, and just have more substance to them overall. "Pursued by Black Forms" gives another rendition of this formula while "Seeking Oblivion" slows things down with a Gothic or Doom-like intro followed up with some seriously crunchy chugs flourished with some tremolo here and there and an obligatorily nasty vocal performance. The two 8-minute tracks are where the meat is on At the Crossroads of Infinity though, with the title track especially showcasing Draghkar's extreme metal fusion endeavor. The slower, almost Doom Metal-like sustains being integrated with the crushing Death Metal chugs really livens up the progression of each of these tracks as the crazy soloing and surprisingly audible bass licks steal the show. Even though both of these songs have pretty similar ideas "At the Crossroad of Infinity" is tighter and makes much better use of that killer bass that Draghkar has. They also let the vocalist flex his extreme metal chops which sit right in the pocket of being aggressive enough to let the Death Metal influence pop, but not necessarily being so overbearing that it drones the rest of the band out.
At the Crossroads of Infinity may feel underdeveloped to some, but it was the breath of fresh air that I personally needed in the Death Metal landscape this year. This album shows an incredible amount of potential in harnessing different extreme metal influences without necessarily sounding contrived or stale. The influences are obviously there, but they're used in such a way that feels forward-thinking and new in a few ways. The downside is that Draghkar sometimes sound like they overstepped their boundaries as performers a bit during certain sections, especially in "An Erosion of the Eternal Soul" with some riffs sounding a little off at times. The song structure in the shorter tracks also leaves them feeling unfinished as they sometimes end seemingly out of nowhere like on "Beyond Despair, the Dawn of Rebirth", but I found the 8-minute ones to be very well structured for what they were going for. I think Draghkar are onto something here and the follies that they have aren't enough to keep me from enjoying this short but sweet extreme metal trek and I sincerely hope to see them evolve from here.
“Streetcleaner” is probably Godflesh’s most praised release but personally, I don’t consider it one of their best. It’s definitely their most brutal LP, and was certainly groundbreaking in 1989, so I understand why it’s held in such high regard. It also starts off VERY strong with “Like Rats” and “Christbait Rising,” the latter of which is one of Godflesh’s all time best tracks. But the rest of the songs just aren’t as good. Everything sounds awesome -the guitar break joining “Devastator” and “Mighty Trust Krusher” is creepy as hell-but most of the album just sounds like a sequence of really cool parts, but no standout songs. Also, one of my favorite elements of Godflesh is how Justin Broadrick switches from a tough, barking vocal style to a more somber melodic one. On “Streetcleaner,” he only uses the melodic vocal as a harmony for the shouts. Again, it does sound good, but I wish it wasn’t the only time it was used. My theory is the clean vocals sounded so bad on the first LP ( which I still like) that he avoided doing them again. For me, Godflesh really hit their stride with their next three albums (and concurrent eps) . This album is undeniably powerful, but I rarely revisit it other than for “Christbait Rising,” which is worth it by itself.
In a recent interview, Selbst multi-instrumentalist and mainman N, spoke of the myth that all South American black metal should sound bestial and primitive. This mindset is certainly obvious in the music of the band with Relatos de Angustia exhibiting a very expansive and varied take on the more melodic yet still chaotically busy style of black metal. It is a sound immediately recognisable to fans of Mgla, full and lush in the depth of its richness yet at the same time there is an aggression and rawness present that reminds me of a more Icelandic sound also.
I listened to Uada's latest offering before getting to this and by comparison the American's new opus sounds cumbersome and clunky. Pace changes on Relatos de Angustia happen with an organic sense to them and tracks build into cleverly detailed soundscapes that walk the thin line between accessible and authentic. Tracks like Let The Pain Run Through balance the searching and enquiring development of the band's style with an inherent darkness that makes the way forward suitably murky enough for the traditionalist black metal fan. The track in question drops one of the more melodic pieces of lead work heard by me on a BM opus for some time, blossoming the track (and album) into a cleaner, more clear finish from the tumult of the overall forty minutes that precede it.
The band proudly sit on the Debemur Morti label, that bastion of dark and forward-thinking black metal and death metal that boasts the likes of Akhlys, BAN, In The Woods and Ulcerate amongst its ranks. Selbst are a perfect addition to that roster with their thoughtful delivery, natural chemistry for songwriting and cold yet welcoming darkness that offers many discoveries should you dare to explore.
Ever since their 2014 album Massive Addictive, Amaranthe have been in perpetual experimental motion. Some consider this Swedish band to be part of Europe's symphonic metal scene. Well other than a few grand symphonic pieces, and one of the singers, Elize Ryd stepping in as a guest vocalist for Nightwish in place of that band's freshly departed vocalist Anette Olzon for a show, I don't quite get that association. This band is basically metalcore/power metal mixed with euphoric electro-dance-pop.
That divisive mix is what caused the band's sound to slowly drop in quality with the lowest point being Helix. However, while Manifest picks up where that previous album left off, the metal quality seems to skyrocket a bit! Maybe it's all these familiar stars in the metal world guest appearing in this album. Let's see for ourselves...
The first 4 tracks are some of the most killer songs by Amaranthe I've heard since Massive Addictive, starting with "Fearless" where the band fearlessly slays through their trance-metalcore sound like a sci-fi dystopian battle. Then "Make It Better" makes their sound better and more killer than ever before. "Scream My Name" is filled with pyrotechnical synth-guitar duels. "Viral" is a little off because of the gigantic hooks being cheesy, but they're swept away by the triple-vocal attack and crushing metal.
"Adrenaline" leans more towards the Europop side with a cheesy chorus that could've been written/performed by Graham Norton, but the metal sparks are still there. The emotive "Strong" is a strong brilliant duel between Elize and Battle Beast's Noora Louhimo. "The Game" isn't as lightning-fast as DragonForce's song "The Game" but it does have some DragonForce vibes (from their recent synths and motivational lyrics, all it's lacking is the faster speed and the guitar solo being longer). The symphonic cello-infused seductive ballad "Crystalline" dedicated to loved ones passed away or locked away due to the virus. Guest appearing there is Apocalyptica’s Perttu Kivilaakso on cello and Dragonland's Elias Holmlid on keyboard orchestration. This crystalline ballad stands out with its peaceful spacious arrangement. Beautiful!
"Archangel" continues the sinister hooks that flash all over and serves as a bridge between the softest and the heaviest. The heaviest and most innovative song in the album is "BOOM!" which is more of a djentstep rap-filled track similar to Hacktivist with spoken vocals by Butcher Babies vocalist Heidi Shepherd. Harsh vocalist Henrik Englund Wilhelmsson does high-speed Eminem-inspired growl-rapping, which normally I'm not a fan of, but here brings wild technical force. "Die and Wake Up" is my least favorite song here, sounding closer to the cheesy pop metal from the previous two albums in some parts. However, "Do or Die" definitely makes up for that, both the male version and the female version, the latter being limited edition bonus track and an excellent collab with Angela Gossow, returning from the void since her departure from Arch Enemy. The song itself reminds me of Amaranthe's earlier era with radiant riffs and laser synths. There's also a bonus cover of Sabaton's "82nd All The Way" which is pretty cool too.
Amaranthe might not be able to hook all their listeners, new and longtime, but it is more likely with this album Manifest. This is their strongest effort in 5 years, putting much of their sound in glory and honor, thanks to half of the songs being solid, plus a few amazing guests. One of Sweden's most diverse non-progressive bands is still rising!
Favorites: "Fearless", "Make It Better", "Strong", "Crystalline", "BOOM!", "Do or Die" (both the male and female versions)
Nu-Metal gets a bad reputation from metalheads and music critics alike. And rightfully so; it's the kind of music that would have been an easy sell for the prototypical angsty teenager who hated their parents during the 1990s and especially into the 2000s. System of a Down was one of the few nu-metal bands (along with Deftones) that were cool to like. Partially because their music was unlike that of so many replaceable bands of the time.
And when the band released there 2001 album, Toxicity, it was received with almost universal praise, some going on to say that it would survive the annals of history to become a heavy metal classic. Let's just say that, if we're talking about it in 2020, then I guess the critics were right.
Let's get to it. From a sonic perspective, Toxicity is a fruitful album with some very cool ideas not explored on the bands self titled debut. For starters, the vocals of Serj Tankian are more balanced overall. There is a lot more sung melodies here, which do compensate for some less than stellar instrumentals. The few moments of unfiltered aggression that we get are controlled and fit in wonderfully into the songs themselves. The band is also incorporating more oriental sounds in their music, which is partly based on the groups Armenian heritage.
The production is solid, if a little wonky. Rick Rubin has a tendency to blow out mixes with overproduced guitars, and tunes like "Prison Song", "Bounce" and "X" are not safe from this. They make for a very jarring listen, while songs such as "Chop Suey!" "Forest" and "Aerials" are more controlled. The percussion is not overpowering and this allows for the softer sections of these songs to give the listener a sense of reprieve before the heavier grooves kick in again. And the bass is super impressive as well.
As for the vocals, Serj Tankian is a vocal powerhouse and his virtuosity is on full display here. Daron does have the occasional lead part and shows up for some background vocals on the singles "Chop Suey!" and "Aerials", but his presence is not as prominent on later records from the group; records which I enjoy a little bit more than this.
I think what makes Toxicity stand out is how different it sounds in comparison to many other nu-metal records of a similar time. It is still clearly nu-metal with its fast vocal delivery, chugging riffage and very simple song structures, but it feels so far removed from the "scene" of the time with its vocal timbre and lyrical themes. In summary, I do really enjoy this record and I'm glad that it is remembered so fondly by metal fans. I will not call it their best, but this group made a landmark statement that is still relevant today as it was nearly twenty years ago.
So the Deftones are back with a new record in 2020 and while I was excited about what we were going to get, I was also a bit nervous. For one, the band has fallen into the “same but different” category of music for the better part of the 2010s, with not that much distinguishing Koi no yokan from Diamond Eyes. The last decade also was not helped by an album in Gore that was atrociously produced.
So with Ohms, it is nice to see that Deftones have quickly gotten whatever that was out of their system as this record returns back to the cleaner production quality of White Pony et al. But it also might be the Deftones most straightforward and uninteresting project they have ever released.
Nothing really stands out on Ohms in comparison to records like Saturday Night Wrist. The shoegaze elements are aplenty here and mixed well amidst Chino’s vocals and very safe, but effective rhythm section in the bass and percussion. Perhaps this albums standout moments are when it starts to incorporate hardcore/djent breakdowns on “Urantia” and “Radiant City”, which I don’t think are the best look for Deftones. They feel out of place on an album that generally feels lush and subdued. Whereas these breakdown riffs are aggressive and “pummelling” for lack of a better word.
As it is though, it’s serviceable, but hardly standouts. It will satisfy longtime Deftones fans looking for that little bit of nostalgia circa White Pony twenty years ago. But will anything here grab my attention as “Digital Bath” and “Knife Prty” did on White Pony? I will be surprised if it does.
Black Lodge was a short-lived Norwegian doom outfit formed in 1993 who split shortly after releasing this, their one and only full-length album. Although this is chiefly a death doom album, it is so much more and is one of the great under-appreciated doom metal releases. Featuring clean female and growled male vocals, you would be forgiven for assuming this leans toward gothic death doom, but it certainly doesn't - Vegar Hoel's male vocals remind me a little of Max Cavalera and as a consequence the album sounds more aggressive than any gothic elements would allow. The tempo slows occasionally to such an extent that it tips over into funeral doom territory such as on Tower Inertial, but the atmosphere is more desperate and angst-ridden than merely despondent and melancholy. I get the sense of a certain defiance from the music and whereas a lot of extreme doom has a feeling of acceptance, this seems to rail against whatever misfortune has bought them to this place. A genuinely cult doom metal album that any fan of the genre should ensure they hear.
I don't have much to say about Hopesfall and their second official record, No Wings to Speak Of, a short four song EP from 2001. What I will say is that if you go into this album expecting the same metalcore experience you got from Converge and their album, Jane Doe, from the same year, boy are you in for a surprise. These songs feature a much cleaner production quality and some very pretty songwriting, both during the albums soft and loud passages. The loud portions are anchored by some very sweet octave melodies in the guitar. The vocals are solid from Jay Forest during his screams, but his clean singing does lag a little bit. Not that it's bad, I rather enjoyed "Open Hands To The Wind" and "The End Of An Era", but they do sound pitchy at times. A bit of a shame since they typically appear overtop of tighter instrumentals.
The only real thing that I can critique this album for is how similar it sounds to so many other post-hardcore/metalcore albums that would precede in the years following. Given that Hopesfall is mostly remembered as a mediocre band at best by most critics, I doubt this EP could possibly be "legendary". But for a brief moment, Hopesfall had the sound that defined an entire decade of post-hardcore/metalcore music. And it just so happens to be the kind of metalcore that I immediately fall for. It's short and sweet, does not overstay its welcome, the worst elements are not held on to for an extended period of time, and in some cases are even lifted up by other strong elements, and is just a lot of fun.
My good graces for The Ocean Collective have been running thin in the last couple of years, specifically with the release of their Phanerozic series, starting with Palaeozoic in 2018. The Ocean seemed very okay with the idea that they were going to create an album that was as drawn out and expansive as the real Palaeozoic era in the Earth's history!
Now, perhaps thankfully, The Ocean decided to cram the remaining two eras together on Phanerozic II in hopes of something a little more memorable. And, to my surprise, I think that The Ocean delivered. It's significantly better than act one, but I still do not think it lives up to the best moments from The Ocean's history.
This hybrid collage of Cult of Luna meets Leprous can only work if the music is itself enjoyable and for the most part it is. But the "Mesozoic" time here is more of the same drawn out, poorly constructed song structures that we saw on act one. I think "Triassic" is the better of the first two tracks, but even then, the production feels wonky, the vocals are very monochromatic and the main melodic idea is scarcely developed. The next track "Triassic | Cretaceous" is over thirteen minutes and is better produced, but the drawn out form feels about as long as it took for Pangea to split into two separate continents!
Then we reach the "Cenozoic" era and notice a change in song structure and form. They become more direct, the instrumentals are more developed and the main melodic ideas are elaborated upon. I heard someone say that "Eocene" is inexcusable, but I rather enjoyed it. The change of vocal timbre and the roughness in their delivery is matched well by the warmer, clean guitars, and simple bass and percussion.
As the album gets closer to the modern day, the songs extend again, but they seem more refined than previously mentioned. They almost take shape of older songs from The Ocean circa records like Precambrian or Pelagial. Which begs the question: why would The Ocean go on a journey through history, creating some of their least memorable tunes ever, only to return back to where they started before? It's a question we will never find out the answer to, but if this little escapade has taught the band anything, it's that a good humming tune will become timeless.
Not really a huge, crushing behemoth of tectonic riffs this one as you would probably expect from a Finnish funeral doom band. It has a kind of lo-fi asthetic that removes a fair amount of the heft from the riffs. What it does have though are some great softer parts that have a real contemplative feel to them and make the album as a whole feel a more inward-looking, reflective piece. When viewed in this light, the lighter aspect of the slow riffing then makes a lot more sense. As the product of just a couple of guys (and a third, the lyricist) this is very impressive. The track compositions are ambitious and I found the atmosphere quite affecting as an inner monologue on melancholy and futility. One of those albums you wish more people would give a chance to (but know they probably won't).
I was very spoiled growing up when I discovered industrial music. Nine Inch Nails were my introduction and nothing has sounded the same ever since. If you are not already aware, I love Nine Inch Nails and I believe that Trent Reznor is one of the greatest minds in music. This may seem very unusual coming from me, but Nine Inch Nails is one of only a select few artists, across any genre, that is able to make the industrial elements work and actively contribute to the music itself, rather than being obtrusive, or just being incredibly cheesy.
That being said, I have always been much more of a fan of Trent Reznor's electronic music rather than his more rock/metal side; the one that is generally more favoured by critics. Do not take that the wrong way, I still enjoy it, and the Broken EP is still really damn good, but does not live up to the highs presented on the debut record.
I think what makes this album so good is the songwriting. The abrasive industrial elements that persist throughout "Happiness In Slavery" and "Physical (You're So)" are balanced well by Reznor's chopped and screwed vocals, and a lot of the manipulating of timbre in the guitar. The album also has an excellent bass element that is one of Reznor's most important selling points on any record. And the compositions are pretty good, if a little redundant at times. "Wish" and "Last" start the album with very similar formula's before the album transforms into a nihilistic trip of slow burners, highlighted by the stellar closing song "Suck".
Production wise, as with any industrial album, most of the abrasiveness comes in the percussion. And here, there are some shining moments on "Wish" and "Physical (You're So)", but there is also "Happiness In Slavery" which can be grating on the ears over a short period of time, before you remember it's over five minutes! Reznor does a lot of vocal modulation on this record as mentioned previously. His vocals are so angry and harsh that you might have a hard time adjusting if you were coming to this from any other Nine Inch Nails record, minus Pretty Hate Machine.
Outside of a couple of pretty solid hooks, there really isn't all that much else to say about the Broken EP by Nine Inch Nails. I still enjoy the heck out of this little aside from Reznor, and while he would continue to experiment with heavier tones on The Downward Spiral two years later, it was clear that this was not were the band wanted to stay. At the very least, this EP gave an outlet for the band to explore more gothic themes, and it would work remarkably well later in the career of Trent Reznor.
It's not easy to immediately identify what exactly makes Bolt Thrower such a special band. On paper, they play your standard meat-and-potatoes Death Metal. Mostly mid-paced, not particularly "brutal", not technical at all. Standard growls. Standard song structures. Yet, from very early on in my metal journey, they were a band that managed to capture my attention and imagination without fail. Still today, their music holds up better to continued relistening than 95% of other Death Metal trying to be either more extreme or more intricate.
Like a master carver who can forge the most impressive of compositions with just one rudimentary tool, Bolt Thrower don't need all the bells and whistles for their craft. The magic of Bolt Thrower lies in their ability to take an admittedly orthodox template and turn it into something completely unique. Distilled through their inspiration from the human triumphs and tragedies of warfare, what would've otherwise been Death Metal-by-the-Numbers becomes something unique and alive.
The IVth Crusade, alongside ...For Victory, is perhaps the strongest example of this in Bolt Thrower's distinguished discography. The title track immediately sets the tone, with an ominous ode-like melody infused into the lead guitars at a crushingly deliberate tempo. It's strange to call Death Metal atmospheric, but that's exactly what this is. These relatively simple riffs invoke such a strong feeling in the listener... and such a precise feeling. The feeling a soldier or ancient crusader would feel, just before charging into battle. Standing atop a hill, looking down upon the lines of the enemy, knowing you will soon be locked in deadly, bloody struggle with men much like you. Kill or be killed. Unlike many Death Metal bands who revel in the gore or the combat of battle itself, Bolt Thrower instead focus on musically conveying the sheer gravity of warfare from a human perspective. It's a heavy thing - and this heaviness, and humanity, is matched in the music.
Bolt Thrower accomplish this in different ways. They accomplish it through their lyrics, for one. In addition to being "mortified by the lack of conscience" of those who "vanquish in the name of your God" on the title track, Bolt Thrower also spite mankind's constant thirst for domination throughout the ages in "Where Next To Conquer", bemoan the mutually-assured self-destruction human civilization seems doomed for on "As The World Burns", and explore other effects of warfare -- on the human psyche, technology, and on spirituality/religion. On this album especially, vocalist Karl Willetts has a huge knack for great opening lines, delivered with extremely memorably rhythm and conviction. You are a stronger man/woman than I if you can resist headbanging furiously when Willetts jumps on top off the heaviest riff on the album on "Icon", bellowing NO ESCAPE! THERE IS NO WAY OUT! ... YOU CANNOT FIND THE REAL YOOOOOUUUUU. Other examples are "Where Next To Conquer" (LOST!!! ON A VOYAGE, NO DESTINYYY!) and "Celestial Sanctuary" (As the sky turns BLACK!). These powerful Death Metal hooks, so to speak, are insanely fun and immediately reel the listener in and ensure they can't skip the track or stop the album before the end.
They also accomplish it in different ways musically. Although Bolt Thrower aren't "melodic" in the traditional sense, they do an excellent job of utilizing brooding clean guitar harmonies/disharmonies to create that foreboding pre- or post-battle atmosphere, as touched upon with the title track. This allows the pummeling death metal riffs, representing the destruction of battle itself, to have so much more impact when they do take control. In this way, Bolt Thrower are excellent musical storytellers, weaving together scenes of "action" and scenes of dialogue or reflection. But can we talk a little bit more about those riffs? None of this works if Gavin Ward and Barry Thomson can't write appropriately monstrous and memorable riffs. As with any Death Metal album, the there is some variance there, with some songs offering superior riffs to others, but overall the quality is extremely high. There are 4-5 songs on this album with main riffs that pulverize what most of Bolt Thrower's peers are ever able to write in their whole careers.
When you tie together the excellent construction of theme (outro "Through the Ages" underscoring that this inescapable violent nature of humanity that Bolt Thrower depict exists past, present and future), the memorable lyrics, the tasteful simplicity and effectiveness of song structure, and the massive-sounding guitar, drums AND vocal performances, you have a truly winning experience of pure Death Metal. Although there are no unusual eye-catching ingredients on paper, as usual, Bolt Thrower are a band that comes together to create something much greater than the sum of their parts.
Favorite Tracks: The IVth Crusade, Icon, Embers, Where Next to Conquer, Celestial Sanctuary
The 1987 debut album from Los Angeles five-piece Holy Terror (entitled "Terror & Submission") offers a raw brand of distinctly 1980's metal that skates along the edges of several different subgenres & kinda summarizes the sound of that decade in many ways. To my ears the major influence here is Iron Maiden & much of this material sounds like Holy Terror have simply upped the tempo on the NWOBHM legend's trademark melodic gallop but I also pick up a bit of Manilla Road & Venom in the mix too. It's interesting that I haven't mentioned any thrash bands there & that's significant because, although "Terror & Submission" is generally regarded as a thrash release, I actually don't think that's an entirely accurate description because more than half of the tracklisting sits more comfortably under the speed metal banner in my opinion with another one & a half tracks taking a more traditional heavy metal direction. Even some of the thrashier tracks include elements of classic metal like melodic guitar harmonies that you wouldn't normally expect from a thrash band. There are even a couple of choruses that remind me very much of power metal which was something I wasn't expecting. Keith Deen's vocals kinda remind me of the gruffer moments of Manilla Road's Mark Shelton crossed with Megadeth's Dave Mustaine.
The production is pretty raw & dirty which provides further weight for my case for the speed metal tag while about a third of the material sounds a bit half-baked to me. I get the distinct feeling that Holy Terror weren't quite the finished product at this stage but when they get things right they can be an exciting prospect, particularly during the extended dual guitar solo sections which are a real highlight. This isn't a bad debut by any means but I don't think it stands out from the pack as much as the popular consensus would seem to indicate. Perhaps I'm simply not as much of a speed metal fan as I am a thrash one & my opinions on the individual tracks would seem to indicate that this is true with the thrashier tracks like "Tomorrow's End" & the title track being the highlights for me. Speed metal aficionados should definitely give "Terror & Submission" a few spins though.
For fans of Agent Steel, Hallows Eve & early Living Death.
I initially struggled with this album. I think the main reason for that is the production. I don't know whether it's just my copy, but the sound is muddy and lacks the clarity that this album could really have done with. But I pushed on, as the music seemed decent. Well, Mind Wars has grown on me to the point where the production issues don't bother me too much. This is thrash / speed metal from LA, and these guys can certainly play. Every track contains ripping riffs and memorable song writing and there's a level of excitement and intensity throughout.
One of the reviewers below mentioned Iron Maiden, which may sound strange when we're discussing a rather up-tempo thrash album. But I can hear some galloping Maiden riffs in Holy Terror's music, even if they are played at twice the speed (check out The Immoral Wasteland for pure Maiden). I can also hear Sabbat (the thrash metal band, not the Japanese black metal outfit) on a couple of tracks, but then they released their albums around the same time as this, so can hardly be considered an influence. Thankfully, the vocalist for Holy Terror doesn't sound all that much like the massively overrated Walkyier from Sabbat. In fact, Holy Terror's Aaron Redbird is quite an amazing vocalist and his hardcore like rambling and high-pitched melodies take these already solid shred fests to great heights. Highlight tracks for me are Judas Reward, Debt of Pain and No Resurrection but this is a consistent album that I'm glad I checked out.
Enter: a completely different beast from what everyone knows Within Temptation for today.
Within Temptation has made quite the name for themselves with their very accessible, alternative-tinged brand of symphonic metal. Most fans going back to this first release of theirs would be shocked by its drastic stylistic difference, however. Enter showcases a sound that is very similar to that of 90s beauty-and-the-beast metal pioneers Theatre of Tragedy: a melodic yet very melancholy blend of death and gothic doom metal. Heavy riffs and dark melodic leads abound on this album, along with symphonic keywork that is significantly more haunting than anything they would have on subsequent releases of theirs. Another big difference here, that I mentioned just earlier, is the inclusion of prominent growled vocals by guitar player (and future husband of lead vocalist Sharon) Robert Westerholt. His vocals sometimes even take the forefront over Sharon, with the track "Deep Within" not featuring Sharon whatsoever. Sharon is mostly the lead voice on here, regardless, and Robert's harsh vocals compliment Sharon's beautiful timbre very well.
All in all, this is what was a very different band from the one we would come to know by the name Within Temptation. Performances of songs off of this album during the band's live shows are exceedingly rare these days as they've moved past this style completely, forging their own identity for good. Still, this is a very good album in the same vein as early Theatre of Tragedy, and though it's not their most inventive and catchy, it's certainly one of their best anyway.
I have been inexcusably ignorant of Ultha until this release, but this is seriously epic, with two lengthy tracks of intense and atmospheric black metal that speak to something deep and darkly mysterious in us all. Seemingly without even trying, they have tapped into the spine-tingling, menacing atmosphere of the Cthulhu Mythos far more successfully than any number of bands that have intentionally tried to have managed.
After the opening blister of Ritual Impurity (Seven of the Sky Is One), although I cannot deny that it gets the blood pumping, I feared this would be one of those breakneck death metal albums where the emphasis on battering everything into submission renders it all a blur of indistinguishable, fever-fuelled noise. Luckily after that initial onslaught, the band slow the tempo a bit and the tracks come more into focus and is a far more enjoyable prospect as a result. Second track Propitiation has an extended build-up that reminds me a bit of the intro to Seasons in the Abyss, before exploding into a cracking, throbbing chunk of malevolent death doom. The album then continues with a trade-off between those manic, pummelling, fast-tempo bursts of energy and the hulking menace of the slower-paced doomy sections. John McEntee's vocals are undimmed by time and he still produces an archetypal death growl, despite his fifty years, that many try and fail to replicate.
So, in closing I've got to say that this is a pretty impressive album for a death metal band edging thirty years in the game, showing no dimming of the fire in their belly and a damn sight better than most of their peers have managed for many a long year!
I do not have a problem with Arjen Lucassen breaking away from the “Forever” plotline. His 2013 album, The Theory of Everything, was everything that it needed to be; having the distinctive timbre of an Ayreon album, a fully loaded list of guest features, and a remarkable story connecting it all together. And, most importantly, it was the essential jumping on point for people like myself who wanted to discover the world of Ayreon, without having to go through a university course in understanding the lore (I’m looking at you Coheed and Cambria)!
So I was mostly excited to hear the band break off once again to tell a story all its own and it is certainly a good album, but I have a difficult time calling anything better than that. This does not even live up to the expectations of the bands worst albums.
Story is of course important in a rock opera and I feel like Arjen dropped the ball here. Transitus is, if we are being completely honest, a modified version of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet; two star crossed lovers whose relationship is destined to fail and will bring down everyone else with it. The album’s setting is in the years of 1883 and 1884, and (minor spoiler) Arjen’s selection of Oceans of Slumber’s Cammie Gilbert as Abby is intentional, and the song “Dumb Piece of Rock” pretty much assures it. It is not a bad thing by any stretch, but perhaps these ideas could have been developed further, rather than “hey this is here!”. There are also major issues with Amanda Sommerville’s character, Lavinia, in the second half that I will not go into further.
Outside of that, the cast of characters is impressive: I already mentioned Cammie Gilbert and Amanda Sommerville, but you also have Tommy Karevik of Kamelot, Simone Simons of Epica, Dee Snider from Twisted Sister, and guitar solo features from Joe Satriani and Marty Friedman. And the production of this record is stellar, as you would expect. The vocal harmonies of the Angel of Death’s furries are excellent and mixed wonderfully, the wide array of instrumentation from flutes, violins, horns and even a hurdy gurdy are all given ample amounts of space to breathe during their features.
However, Transitus is nowhere near as concise as previous albums like The Theory of Everything. Almost two thirds of the record is short interlude songs that don’t fully develop or deliver much of a decisive punch as “Listen to My Story” or “Message from Beyond” do. Some themes do return throughout the record, such as the reprise of “This Human Equation” on the song “Your Story is Over!”, or how “Daniel’s Vision” borrows explicitly from “Seven Days, Seven Nights”. But they serve as simple callbacks, rather than as development of those themes.
I think the part that pissed me off the most is that this record is accompanied by a short comic book. I should not need prerequisite material in order to enjoy your album! Thankfully, Tom Baker begins every song with a preamble in order to understand what is going on, but Ayreon never needed that! The Human Equation, The Theory of Everything, The Source did not need narration. This feels like a step down for Arjen. I will recommend it based on quality and firepower alone, but do not be surprised if this album gets designated to musical purgatory (pun intended).
I haven't really listened to Finntroll for about ten years, apart from the occasional blast of the Trollhammaren EP, after being very disappointed by their Nifelvind album, so appproached this album with no great enthusiasm. The fanfare overture opening track didn't reassure me much and my heart started to sink, but more fool me because it's actually a pretty damn good album after that, I would go as far as to say their best since Nattfödd. Finntroll's humppaa-influenced folk metal has a real fun quality to it, one of the few black metal albums you can actually imagine people jigging along to. It's easy to picture the band in a nighttime forest clearing, pissed as farts, dancing around a bonfire to this album. There a symphonic element to it provided by the keyboards and the odd blast or two, but mainly this is just good-time, fun, folk-heavy, black metal and as such is a return to what originally stoked my fondness for the band.
This undying (sub)genre of epic heavy metal continues to offer up a handful of bands that seem to further the longevity of a style of metal that has been around now for 40 years plus. Whether it is the flamboyant gestures of Visigoth or the more stoic delivery of Atlantean Kodex, the style keeps cropping up and the nerdiness just continues to maintain momentum somehow. It's a niche corner of the metal market nowadays and as such one that is so very easy to fall into the cracks between exponent of a "lost" art form and a mere tribute act.
What turns out to be Atlantean Kodex's third full-length (my first experience of them) sounds to me to be an album full of the necessary passion for true, epic heavy metal. The outliers are all here. Lengthy songs, chronicles in fact of heroism and monumental historic events in some far away land or world. At its core the album sound is big! There's enough elements of doom to fill the air with the density of the guitar tone, enough meat in the drums to pound a weighty and substantial rhythm throughout and carry that sense of majesty, pomp and circumstance that underlies most of the album. And then there's the vocals...
I think it is fair to say that the vocalist isn't a bad as such, but it is clear to me that his voice seems to pale in significance to the rest of the instruments being deployed around it. The fact is that whilst Markus Becker can hold a tune, he is not strong enough in the vocal chords department to hold his own alongside such huge riffs and thunderous drums. Even when layered and/or backed, the vocals just don't cut it. There are times when the lyrics are delivered in a very clunky (and definitely not cult-cool) manner which makes some tracks seem quite amateur if I am honest.
Still though the music does make up for it and some of the songwriting (accepting it does get bloated) is bang on in some places. Whilst the pacing gets a little cumbersome on occasion it never ruins any track, but it does make you wish for some shorter tracks everynow and again that aren't interludes or outros. So there's definitely work to be done still after class for these German metallers, but they certainly have the heart for it even if aspects of the delivery don't quite come off that well.
Manilla Road's sixth full-length continues their golden run of records that stretch back from a full seven years before this release. Launching straight into a romping and glorious opening track full of haunting lead work that leaves notes hanging in the very air around you it is obvious that the band are here to pick up where they left of with The Deluge. Not only does opening track Haunted Palace announce the arrival of the album it also sets the tone for what is to come over the next forty minutes.
Mystification literally has me spellbound from the get go, it is instant without being mainstream and varied without ever getting tied in knots. Tracks are well paced and the tightness of the band is superb throughout. Shelton's trademark vocals sound a little more hoarse than on previous outings and this adds depth to the vocal's sound, giving them an almost cool edge that is oddly soothing for such a unique sounding vocalist. His guitar work is excellent also. Whether it is the speed metal-like riffing of Valley of Unrest or Up From the Crypt or even the classy lead work he deploys across virtually the whole album, his work is front and centre at all times. His fret work feels emotive and full of passion for the subject matter it accompanies; it feels dark and mysterious as well as insanely vast in scope.
Mention has to be made of the superb drum work of Randy Foxe. He is the real engine room on the record with his galloping rhythms and studious fills matching the pace of the record perfectly throughout. They feel like a genuine accompaniment to the vocals and guitars adding to the suspenseful atmosphere of the record on the title track (for example) and although I think they are a tad too buried in the mix overall they still maintain a healthy presence throughout. When combined with the rumbling bass of Scott Park they make quite a fearsome duo.
It's an album that makes me want to play it again as soon as it is finished (I think I am on my third play of it today at least). Whilst not essentially full of hooks, it retains memorability for its relentless charge and urgent sounding narrative. It combines rampant heavy metal with atmosphere and a goofy nerdiness to boot and continues a fine line of albums. It's metal that makes you want to seek more like it, creating lust for similar sounds as I hit countless "similar artist" and "you might also like..." playlists in search of more, more, more. It's mania is infectious and it's lack of polish is utterly endearing. It is an absolute triumph.
It's hard to review Overkill's debut as being a thrash metal album. Rumour has it some of this stuff was written as far back as 1981 (more the likely 1983 though) and so it falls more in the category of speed metal crossed with the more obvious heavy metal influences of the band at the time. With no money and no record deal at the time of writing most of this, by the time Feel The Fire came out it was doomed it seems to be just a collection of songs released late and therefore paling in compariosn to the releases of their peers at the time.
What we got in 1985 was under-developed and incredibly simplistic in comparison to what was to come in subsequent years. You'd almost forgive the band for not releasing this and going straight to Taking Over, with the session that made the debut being released some years later as a demo collection for die hard fans only. However, since they obviously had little control over their own destiny Feel The Fire was the international metal community's introduction to Overkill. The opening salvo from the band is a poorly produced and clumsily performed record that just had to rely on the superb vocals of Blitz to lead the energetic and promising charge, trying to stifle the thin guitar sound and cumbersome drumming as best he could with his demonic range.
Fact is Ellesworth saves this record in the main, his vocals and Verni's bass are perhaps the most consistent aspects to this album. As mentioned they act as more of a distraction from what's wrong everywhere else on most tracks but still they deserve merit in their own right. Rat Skate on the drums often has little (if any) control of the double bass at times and it is only when the band are in full swing that he appears settled and cohesive with his surroundings. Otherwise his timing sends tracks off into catch-up mode all too soon when trying to build momentum.
Gustafson's guitar isn't exactly on fire either and I sense this isn't entirely due to production or mix issues (I have read that his amp blew and he had to "innovate"). As I said earlier though, when the band are hitting their stride it really works well and tracks like Hammerhead remain in your head for life after a couple of spins. Similarily tracks like Kill At Command show real promise of the true potential of the band. Sadly though there's no amount of glitter that can cover some turds sufficiently and for all the energy and sheer tenacity to try and record something the lack of ability and maturity at the time shows all too clearly.
Whilst Feel The Fire isn't a disaster, it enters the thrash metal arena and immediately finds itself chasing the competition with confused and slightly dated ideas that hinder the bands ability to stay in touch with the lead pack. In so many ways they have never been able to make up that ground despite their long and significant career.
I must preface this review by admitting that I am no huge fan of Overkill, their longevity withstanding, I have always been underwhelmed by their recorded output. Having never seen them live, I am surmising that their live shows are the real source of their popularity. Anyway, the New Jersey thrasher's 1985 debut is a disappointing record in so many ways. The production isn't great and there's a muddiness to the sound that doesn't lend anything to thrash metal in general and this in particular. Secondly and more importantly, the band don't sound committed to the thrash ethos, large portions of the album sounding like Iron Maiden or Mercyful Fate demos. Now there's nothing wrong in sounding like either of those metal titans, but Overkill were always pushed as a THRASH band. When they do cut loose such as with Hammerhead, then they are pretty effective, despite the poor production. Thirdly, why end with a piss-poor cover of Dead Boys' Sonic Reducer, a classic US punk track? Sure they have stuck around for a long time, but weren't helped by this lacklustre debut, which is why they were never held in as high regard as some of their peers, being released as it was around the same time or after albums like Ride the Lighting, Spreading the Disease, Hell Awaits, Bonded by Blood, To Mega Therion and Seven Churches, against any of which it is a poor substitute.
In hindsight, if the big four had been expanded, you could make a legitimate claim that Overkill would be the group most deserving of a potential fifth spot. Their legacy is well established over forty years and have been releasing some high quality, old school thrashers on a relatively consistent basis over that time. And let's not forget this bands 1989 album The Years of Decay, which is a true classic in the genre in all senses of that word.
I say all of this in preface because I don't really care for the bands debut album, Feel the Fire. And when I some time to think about why that is, the answer is quite simple. The quality of what's inside is very rugged. In all honesty, it's many of the same issues that I had with Metallica's debut album Kill 'Em All from 1983. But even by that comparison, Metallica's album did feel well performed. With this album...I don't know; there are plenty of instances on songs like "Raise The Dead", "Rotten To The Core", "Second Son" and "Kill At Command" in which the band sounds like they are just about to fall apart with the tempo changes. And I don't mean that in a positive, progressive usage. These tempo changes sound like mistakes that were stapled together in post-production instead of getting the group to play it again and pray the drummer is using a click track. "Overkill" manages the transitions with a bit more fluidity, but those moments are sparse on this record.
The album also suffers from some really cheap sounding production. I know this is early 80s thrash: "iT's nOt sUppOsEd tO bE pOlIsHeD!" I hear you say. But the guitars are consistently peaking in the mix on side B, the bass presence is painfully absent outside a handful of small bursts, and the bass drum is mixed way too close to the front, which does drown out even the guitar riffage when heading into a double kick passage. When the riffs are audible, they sound fine, and I did not mind the band doing their own version of "Hit The Lights" on "Blood And Iron". The vocals are quite spectacular from a pure performance standpoint. The quasi sung/scream vocals of Blitz are very cool, even if his nasally vocal timbre can be an acquired taste. And he balances it out with some vicious howls like the outro of "Raise The Dead". As for the hooks themselves, there are some solid standouts, most notably "Hammerhead" and "There's No Tomorrow".
Here's the thing about Feel the Fire: many of my criticism's about this album are based off the fact that I have heard better, including from Overkill, thrash metal records in the years after 1985. And as I have said before, judging a bands debut LP to later albums is unfair. So if you are in the mood for some good old fashion thrashing, then Feel the Fire will probably be just the burn you're looking for. However, even by those standards, this does not even stand up favorably to the debut records from Metallica or Slayer from a couple years earlier. For as messy as those albums are, at least Show No Mercy and Kill 'Em All were produced better, and the hooks were more pronounced.
The second & final album from this New York crossover thrash outfit is generally regarded as one of the pinnacles of the subgenre but I have to admit that I've always struggled to find much appeal in Carnivore's music. It's certainly true that I've never been one to be particularly interested in the concept of humour being integrated into my metal (particularly when it borders of being racist at times for pure shock value) but (with the obvious exception of an intro track that's essentially the sound of someone vomiting) that's not the reason I don't dig a record like "Retaliation". It's more around the constant changing of styles (even throughout the individual tracks) which sees the album lacking in cohesion. I'm also not such a big fan of future Type O Negative front man Peter Steel's angry yet spasmatic vocal delivery here. He sounds like he's trying too hard to sound unhinged & psychotic to me.
Musically, it's quite hard to pin down Carnivore's sound. For example, I never regarded their self-titled debut as a crossover release as it actually included very little that I'd actually class as crossover. "Retaliation", on the other hand, has much stronger credentials as it's much faster & thrashier with a significantly stronger hardcore component so I'm comfortable that it's the senior subgenre here with New York hardcore, traditional heavy metal & stoner metal (think Black Sabbath's "Vol 4") all playing a strong role at various points. The instrumental track "Five Billion Dead" even seems to draw on Rush! There are some decent tracks included & you can hear the obvious influence that the album had on a diverse array of bands from Crowbar to Morbid Angel but it's the lack of consistency that gets to me in the end & this is the deciding factor in me never really feeling the urge to pull out a Carnivore record when I feel like thrashing around my car or loungeroom. I agree that "Retaliation" is Carnivore's best work but unfortunately it's still not really for me.
For fans of S.O.D., Cro-Mags & D.R.I.
This is the shit. Bleak and moody Industrial Metal for the Post-Apocalypse. Not much is danceable here (except maybe the first song “AEP”), this is more the sort of thing you listen to on headphones with your eyes closed than while driving. From what I understand, Red Harvest started as more of a generic thrash band (I listened to a little of their first LP and wasn’t impressed) but they evolved into something unique at this point. I definitely hear some Godflesh and even some Voivod in the guitar, and the overall vibe remains me a little of Neurosis. I don’t think those examples really give Red Harvest justice though. It’s NOT droney, or even sludgey. But a lot of it is slower and very melancholy. The setup is vocals, guitar, bass and (real) drums, with the synths playing a slightly more subordinate role, but coming to the forefront from time to time. The synth actually takes over completely on “Desolation,” and it’s awesome. The performance is great across the board, but I think I’m most impressed with bassist Thomas Brandt. I’ve been listening to this fairly regularly for the past few weeks and I’m still noticing things he plays that I hadn’t noticed before. They do a cover of “Dead Men Don’t Rape” by straight-up Industrial act G.G.F.H., which took a few spins to grow on me (despite the weirdness of the original, I think it’s the most straightforward track), but I think it would have made for a great single, if such things mattered in this arena. The reason “Sick Transit Gloria Mundi” gets a 5/5 is because I really can’t really find any flaws or weak points, and hell, I just like it. Why hasn’t this ever been released on vinyl?
It’s time to have the discussion on grindcore. For the longest time, grindcore was a genre that I was vehemently opposed to, as my limited exposure to the genre was more than enough to turn me away. Pig Destroyer, Cattle Decapitation, Dying Fetus, and a sprinkling of early Napalm Death was all I needed to hear; drawing on the worst elements of technical death metal, noise rock and metalcore that was not only unpleasant to listen to, but left with very little that was memorable beyond being loud and obnoxious.
But I told myself at the start of 2020 to listen to more types of metal, and to give older genres another chance. So here is Napalm Death’s newest album and...well this certainly is not the Napalm Death that I remember. They seem to be using a little more connectivity in their songwriting (they are thinking outside the mosh pit) and are incorporating hints of melodic phrasing in the music, which compliments the environment well.
That being said, they are still sprinkles on a grindcore doughnut. And this amalgamation of trans-fats are still ruthless in aggression. Songs like “Fuck The Factoid” and the title track are straight up mosh fests with blistering tempos, riffage and blast beats. Thankfully, the instruments actually sound pretty decent on this one. The production on this album is splendid and requires the music itself to create the uncomfortable atmosphere presented, instead of using blown out, messy presentation.
The vocals are good. Barney’s timbre is in the death metal vein (low guttural growls) and plays to the instrumentals very well. However, there are a handful of clean singing parts that just resort to monochromatic chanting on “Contagion” and “Invigorating Clutch”. I guess they are okay for what they are trying to do, but they feel really cheap and most people who listen to this will hate them anyway!
Overall, I didn’t hate this. Throes Of Joy In The Jaws Of Defeatism is handily the best grindcore album I’ve heard in quite some time (for whatever that’s worth). But it still doesn’t sell me on the genre as a whole. I mean, for a genre called “grindcore”, melodic development was never going to be a selling point. This is music for the mosh pits and for what it’s worth, this is good moshing music. I cannot deny fans that joy.
Ursus Americanus is arguably where Shone truly hits his stride in his niche of industrial, droning horror and gazy and reflective electronic music. On his 2012 release the drones become brooding in sound and somehow no less impactful. They rise like gargantuan beasts from deepest and darkest depths, full of looming threat and menace. At the same time though there's tinges of emotion to proceedings that bring some personal feel to the album also. It's like a harsh assault with a prospect of a warmish hug when you least exepct it.
When in full-on mode the record is almost unstoppable as a force. Overwhelming the listener with a barrage of thumping rhythms and a smothering wall of sound is a risky venture (and certainly not for all listeners) but the skill here is maintaining interest in what you pitch up with, not easing people in gently to a safe place. For all the relentlessness of his sound, Tristan is still able to maintain entertainment at the same time to the point where I find myself welcoming each wave of abrasive and punishing (pun intended) industrial madness. Sustaining this level of intensity serves to give the albums more subtle moments a stronger impact, allowing them to fill the void of potential silence a sudden drop in drones or clatters can create with something varied yet never unexpected.
This doesn't feel like a juggling act either, in fact the whole album feels cohesive and planned to good effect. The downside for me is more due to my own personal tastes as opposed to anything Shone does wrong; I am not often a visitor to his style of music and find myself stumbling across it as opposed to actively seeking it. As such I don't consider myself a "fan" of this music in that I don't actually go out and seek it so repeat plays of Ursus Americanus are limited in frequency I suspect. Still, whenever I do get round to ot again I am sure it will still please me sufficiently.
Originally intended as a split album where each band covered the others tracks, Stygian Bough has become a much different (and undoubtedly more interesting) proposal. As everyone is aware I'm sure, Erik Moggridge, aka Aerial Ruin, provided some of the vocals for Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper. On this collaboration he has become an even more integral part of the set up and if ever a collaboration was meant to be then this is it. The two outfit's styles, though seemingly very different, actually combine perfectly to produce a truly unique atmosphere of wistful melancholy. The fact that Bell Witch generate their atmosphere without guitars, relying instead on Dylan Desmond's bass and haunting organ and piano from Jesse Shreibman, gives a different dynamic to their sound than some of the glacial, ultra-heavy riffs employed by other leaders in the funeral doom field. Their's is less a soul-crushing, hopeless despondency than a reflective, soul-searching acknowledgement of an inner melancholy and a cathartic coming-to-terms with it. Combining this with Erik Moggridge's gentle acoustic strumming and ethereally serene vocal style gives their music an even more beautifully heart-rending and emotional centre.
The album is basically three sections, spread over five tracks and little in excess of an hour of runtime, with the opening epic, The Bastard Wind, forming the first movement, the two-part Heaven Torn Low forming the second and the short Prelude and concluding track The Unbodied Air forming the third and final movement. The concept of the album is apparently expanded from the song Rows (Of Endless Waves) from Bell Witch's 2012 album Longing and deals with the tale of the ghost of a long-dead king, trapped in the ocean's endless waves, who longs to reach the land where he believes he will be reborn to rule again.
The Bastard Wind opens it's almost twenty minutes with an introspective first four minutes featuring Moggeridge's gentle acoustic guitar and sorrowful vocals before Dylan and Jesse dive in with their heaving waves of bass and drum crashing over the listener and leaving them lying submerged as if suspended in some giant sensory deprivation tank with only their own inner emotions for company. Part one of Heaven Torn Low, subtitled The Passage, is a lengthier example of Aerial Ruins particular style of melancholy neofolk featured in The Bastard Wind's opening that really is as gorgeous as it is haunting, it's thirteen minutes being one of the most exceptional examples of this style of folk I have encountered to date. Part two, subtitled The Toll, is the Yang to part one's Yin as the Bell Witch boys heave in once more, the pace slows, the atmosphere thickens and Erik's ephemeral vocals soar over the boiling morass they create. After the short instrumental Prelude, the album's closer The Unbodied Air begins it's epic twenty minutes and features the album's heaviest moments before calming towards the track's midpoint, then once more soaring to the album's final moments.
In many ways Bell Witch, particularly with this collaboration, have taken their cue from the likes of Patrick Walker's Warning and delivered a more vulnerable and consequently more affecting and personal take on extreme doom and for that I salute them and congratulate them on some of the most gorgeous extreme metal music to date.
The debut release (demo?) from Paysage D'hiver captures the harsh and scathing attack of their sound superbly whilst managing to express the familiar amount of atmospheric and ambient moments also. With Winterherr in the driving seat for everything on all three tracks, the release follows the same unpredictable format as the rest of his discography. Tracks don't necessarily conform to any standardised structure and the degree of predictability is low with passages moving from ambient to blistering intensity in a mere second.
This sounds off-putting to some reading this review I am sure but the fact is that this all works brilliantly as despite the sudden and caustic changes in delivery everything still sits under this thin veneer of cold and dank atmosphere throughout. This could be down to the kvlt production values more than anything else but regardless of how you sense this it means Paysage D'hiver have their own feeling. I sense any release of theirs beyond just an auditory experience and Steineiche which is the very start of the discography exemplifies this capability superbly right from the very start of the project itself.
I do get caught in seasonal metal listening trends (although I never describe this as consciously determined) with black metal often occupying my listening space from October through to March usually, but I find Steineiche transcends this binary system of listening patterns and is able to effectively make the warmest of summer mornings seem a few degrees lower than the thermometer would have me believe. It's murky sounds infect the very air around me as a listener and even when the odd riff breaks through that wall of noise or muffled vocal front it only acts to further dispell the warmer tones in the air, spreading farther the icy notes of tracks like Der Baummann.
At this point in Wintherr's career he was already producing thoughtful and vast soundscapes before he ever set foot in Darkspace (as Wroth). Anyone familiar with the astral projections of the Swiss black metallers would enjoy discovering the start of the darkness that Wintherr was delivering some four years before Darkspace was even a thing.
A worthy homage to Wintersun, but does not captivate on its own
Have you ever thought to yourself "damn, it would be great if Eternal Darkness (Autumn) from The Forest Seasons, was 50 minutes long instead of 15?" If so, this is the album for you! "Dawn of the Frozen Age" even has the same neoclassical guitar shred break.
Matt Sippola does his best to impersonate Jari Mäenpää's recent stylings at every turn, right down to the intonation of his clean and harsh vocals, and actually does a solid job. Casual Wintersun listeners would probably believe you if you told them this was the Finns' next fundraiser album delivered from the future. Sonically, this has everything fans of the epic wintry symphonic melodeath sound, such as myself, would want.
Unfortunately, Atavistia's ability to craft memorable melodies, or weave them together in complex and surprising ways throughout a song, isn't on the same level of Wintersun, which leaves The Winter Way sounding like a slightly pale - albeit convincing - imitation. If they can diversify and tighten the songwriting (there isn't justification for any of these meandering 8-10 minute songs to be more than five or six), their execution of their chosen sound is good enough to create a really delightful album. This just isn't quite it yet.
Sweden has this penchant for spitting out authentic and well-constructed heavy metal. Looking at the likes of Screamer and Enforcer as well as the likes of Mystik, it is a country of many pairs of tight trousers and leather fingerless gloves it seems. Despite having a dodgy band name, Ambush deliver an excellent bash down memory lane for anyone wanting to revisit the metal heyday of the eighties. Big shiny band logo? Check. Galloping rhythms? Check. Lot's of "horns up" band photos? Check. The list of reference points is virtually infinite.
Clearly raised on a healthy diet of Priest and Accept the band reinvent few wheels on their 2014 debut. It never gets dull or repetitive though and there's more to this than just flogging a dead horse or paying tribute to days gone by. They provide a high-energy and driven performance over nine tracks and structure an album full of anthemic and genuine heavy metal that sticks in the brain.
Opting for a consistently high-tempo to most tracks the album flows nicely and the lack of any ballads ensures the album never feels like it is straying into the hard rock territory I occasionally fear it is treading close to. The lead work on the guitar feels measured and if honest I would like a bit more of it as although the power in the engine is the riffs there's a few licks missing for me to spice things up enough to make the album a truly standout release. Overall though the instrumentation is solid and strong sounding giving a real sense of unison to the band's performance.
For a debut album it shows lots of promise and I am looking forward to seeing how the rest of their discography pans out as I explore it over the coming months.
The Confused Screech Of The Avant-Garde
As Black Metal of all shapes and sizes was resurging in the mid-1990's a few bands with a taste for the strange, progressive, and avant-garde would step up to the plate in creating Black Metal that was miles away from where the genre started. Fleurety was one of them, with their take on Black Metal being one of the strangest and most difficult albums to decide what my opinion on it was. While Min tid skall komme certainly has aspects that I like and still sound fresh and unique, there was always something about it that rubbed me the wrong way after thinking about the album as a whole. While the overall theme and sound of the album is interesting, it always caused me to lose my patience about halfway through no matter how many times I revisited it. Its diversity and weirdness feels like it should keep me hooked, but it always ends up turning into a boring slog with admittedly great riff progressions that somehow miss the mark for me. This album has honestly beaten me down to the point where my opinion on it feels considerably conflicted, so let's try to get to the core of this atypical Black Metal release.
Overall Min tid skal komme is divided into two distinct parts, the atmospheric and drawn out first half, and the more uneasy and just flat out weird second half. While the first half revolves around a repeated acoustic chord theme with Black Metal influences coming and going as they please, the second half gets straight to the point with grimy riffs offset with bizarre sound effects, pterodactyl screeching, and pretty silly spoken word. These two halves certainly add some variety and some sort of progression through the album, but I was never really compelled by it with something never quite adding up with how it progresses. It starts off strong enough, with the riff progressions being extremely strong and the first dive into full-on Black Metal being set up nicely by the drums. One of the only aspects that ties Fleurety to Black Metal at first is the vocals, with much of the first half being more akin to Progressive Metal than anything. The first track "Fragmenter Av En Fortid" showcases pretty much everything Fleurety has to offer in the first half of the album, with slow, clean guitar and acoustic sections eventually building up into slow but aggressive Black Metal tremolo with either a harsh male or clean female vocalist. Some of the Black Metal riffs are better than others but the whole affair always feels thin to me, like there's a layer missing. The second track sounds like a complete rehash of the first since it starts out with the exact same acoustic riff and progression, which is a strange choice that was probably made to give a sense of cohesiveness, but it falls flat for me. The rest of the first half is Fleurety abruptly transitioning in and out of Progressive Metal bits that eventually give way to Black Metal climaxes. Even though I like what it's doing it just feels so drawn out that by the time I reach "Engler Piler Har Ingen Brodd" I find myself wholly unimpressed by the heavier riff structure accompanied by Gothic synths. Even though there are so many ideas being thrown around in these extended tracks none of them make a serious impression on me due to how strangely slow and plodding everything becomes.
Once the second half kicks in Min tid skal komme takes a dramatic turn into more focused compositions that highlight the bass even more than the first half. "Fragmenter Av En Fremtid" is beautiful, pulling influences from the very beginning of the album and using the female vocals very well. This is the calm before the storm though, with the rest of the album being much more raw and crazy than anything in the first half beginning with "Absence" and its extremely silly spoken word. Although it creates a strange and creepy atmosphere there was never any chance that I was going to take them seriously, especially towards the end. The rest of the album is filled with blistering Black Metal that follows the same sort of progressive structure, but with less downtime and more bird shrieks. While the harsh vocals in the first half of the album were serviceable to get the Black Metal feel across, the vocals in the final three tracks drift into a realm I've never heard before as they attempt to imitate a prehistoric bird or a car's squeaky brakes. This is one of the cases for me where unique doesn't necessarily equal good, because I personally can't stand them.
Although this album never decided to click for me, Min tid skal komme is still an essential landmark in Black Metal history solely because of its strangeness. The persisting acoustic and clean guitar themes wrapped around the admittedly thin Black Metal sections accompanied by haunting female vocals and bird screeches are definitely something that not a lot of people have experienced. For me, though, a lot of it ends up feeling pointless or annoying after a while, with similar sounding progressive sections being overused and many of the interludes being insignificant. The bass lines, however, are the one aspect that I always enjoyed hearing from this album since it has such a warm and dominant tone through the avant-garde, atmospheric sections as it carries the melody along. It's also always important to remember that the definition of avant-garde is constantly shifting, so it's very difficult for me to look at this album as cutting edge nowadays. I'm sure that this broke down a lot of Black Metal barriers alongside Ved Buens Ende....., but considering Written In Waters didn't do much for me either, I think this strain of strangely unsettling Black Metal simply doesn't work for me.