At some point (may still be his view) Luc Lemay viewed From Wisdom to Hate as the natural progression from Erosion of Sanity as opposed to appearing after Obscura. What Gorguts' fourth album represents is a mellowing of some of the avant-garde elements that made the previous album more jarring and obtuse to some listener's ears and reverted to some more familiar atavistic death metal that has become pretty much the trademark songwriting of the band. Whereas Obscura was at times untidy amidst the rampant entertainment value of the record, From Wisdom to Hate offered a compositionally more grounded outing that relied on good songwriting as much as it did the challenging aspect of its predecessor.
There had been a three year gap since their previous release and the bulk of that time had been spent on tour as well as (for Luc at least) some intensive study taking up non-road time. The large gap and distractions proved too much for an impatient Steeve Hurdle and he had chosen to leave the band over the inactivity whilst Patrick Robert had vacted the drum seat for the returning Steve MacDonald after the touring life proved too intense for Pat. Having poached Martyr's Dan Mongrain into the Gorguts' camp, Luc set about teaching him the band's back catalogue and quickly found that the guy was pretty much a natural (he learned 4 songs from Obscura in just one evening) and so Mongrain got straight onto the songwriting credits for some three songs of his own and one co-written with Lemay. Despite some pretty significant personnel changes, the band landed on their feet with a familiar face wanting to return and some highly-skilled, new blood to flex their artistry also.
The effect is obvious as the band bridged that gap between the inventive and eccentric nature of their last outing and the more familiar hue of more traditional death metal that charged the still pioneering direction of the band with an energy that most bands struggle to retain beyond their debut. Although arguably for me the album needs a tad more of the Obscura vibe, From Wisdom to Hate was a fine pre-cursor to the next stage of Gorguts where the real clever stuff started to happen and their ability to write structural and deeply textured songs really took off. Hearing what the band are putting out now can have those roots traced back to their fourth outing. As solid as it is, there's a real feel for boundaries still getting pushed, only this time it is more subtle in how it delivers that, abandoning the full-on assault approach for more strategic-based deployment of their forces.
For me there was some danger of this release getting lost in the discography as a lot of my attention has been on the third and fifth releases from the band. I am glad I revisited this (purchasing a CD copy along the way) because From Wisdom to Hate is an essential release in the Gorguts' catalogue. It takes the gold dust of Obscura and blends with the promise of Colored Sands and represents a band at the turning point in their career, fully-matured like some fine wine and ready to provide richness to the already plentiful dinner table.
An injustice has been addressed during the writing of this review. Namely that I had paid so little attention to Paysage d'Hiver that I genuinely thought they only had one release (their brilliant self-titled) and their latest offering in 2020 to their name. A quick look on a wonderful new invention called "The Internet" soon revealed the monstrous levels of my ignorance and has now led me to the discography of one of my emerging favourite artists.
For anyone else existing in ignorance, Paysage d'Hiver is Tobias Möckl from Darkspace (where he is better known as Wroth on vocals and guitar). Paysage d'Hiver is his solo project harking back to prior the existence of Darkspace where he goes by the title of Wintherr, performing all instruments and vocals himself. The concept (literally) of his releases are that all of them form one big story, not always in linear narrative, with whole demos/EP's or sometimes individual songs making up parts of that story. The vastness of aforementioned story should not be underestimated as there are ten demos and (as of this year) one full-length that comprise this tale. And there's more to come.
I am quite partial to a bit of Darkspace and Tobias' influence on that band is never made more obvious than when listening to his solo outings. The sound is a dense and turgid mix of raging black metal, replete with blast beats and tremolos galore; yet also there is often atmospheric and ambient passages (sometimes whole tracks) that balance a very varied and intense offering like Schattengang. Track number two on here goes through various shifts and turns during the twenty-plus minutes that it stretches over, but never once does it get lost or boring. This is especially true when you have the knowledge around the story-telling aspect of what Tobias is trying to achieve here ad the real neat trick is trying to place the events of Schattengang in the bigger picture.
For a second release that is now some twenty-two years old, this is strong stuff. The songwriting prowess is already very well established and the vision to be able to write such expansive and vast narrative whilst holding the listener captivated is nothing short of brilliant. The soothing and bleak ambience of the track that close this release (I have the three track version), Atmosphäre massages my actual brain as I listen to it. With my eyes closed it is almost trance inducing, feeling the rotation of the world type stuff. What a great discovery.
Occasionally, when I'm sitting at my desk at work (and wanting to do anything but work), I'll just zone out for a bit towards the end of a long day. My mind will drift beyond the office walls and debate itself back and forth on some of life's great questions:
What role should the state play in regulating the Wild West of ideas that is the internet? How did ancient celtic pagans coordinate the building of Stonehenge before writing even existed? Is my girlfriend the one I want to spend my life with? Is Piece of Time or Unquestionable Presence the better Atheist album? Hmmm.
It was the last of these eternal debates that occupied my mind this afternoon. You see, the debut was one of my favorite death metal albums in The Formative Years (wink wink) of my metal discovery. Even having had listened to a little Death and maybe Cynic by that time, I had never heard riffs like those. Songs like the title track still hit me with the ferocity they did when I was 14. But then there's this album. By the time I finally got around to Atheist's sophomore effort, several years later, it had a much harder task than its predecessor in terms of impressing me. I was much more of a seasoned (and perhaps jaded) metalhead. I was on insanely technical stuff like Necrophagist and Obscura by that point. Even still, I immediately realized that Unquestionable Presence was superior from a musical and technical performance perspective. These songs took a ridiculous amount of Brains (heh) to compose, let alone play. To this day, I would cite this as THE best example of Jazz Fusion being effectively woven into a metal template. I mean, already on the opening track, you have that jazzy bass transition out of nowhere. Dear Lucifer.
That said, this album took me much longer than the debut to actually love as a listening experience. It was clear that Atheist were trying to take the musical ingredients that gave Piece of Time a unique flavor amongst the death metal horde and amplify them to the nth degree. But ludicrous bass pops, sudden time changes, sophisticated jazz-influenced drumming, and wicked solos don't automatically make for better music. My initial opinion was that, in elevating their prog leanings and technicality, Atheist lost touch with what made great metal songs.
Fortunately... I was wrong! It's true that Unquestionable Presence lacks the youthful aggression of Piece of Time, with less of those thrash and tremolo riffs, but there are plenty of other death metal albums in that vein. There's only one Unquestionable Presence. What's the difference? Well, like many other Extreme Metal albums recognized as masterpieces, what makes this album special is the band's ability to fit genuinely memorable songwriting (dare I say catchiness) into their particular brand of brutality/technicality in a natural way. Atheist's particular brand, of course, revolves around being able to play with mind-bending musicality that most bands simply can't, and this complexity initially obfuscated the effectiveness of the songs to my ears. But when you pull it back, after multiple listens to digest, you start hearing that songs like "The Formative Years", "Unquestionable Presence", and "And the Psychic Saw" have the bones to be great, kickass metal songs even without the extra bells and whistles. I personally know the title track has gotten stuck in my head many times. "Enthralled In Essence", my favorite on the album, deserves extra-special recognition. It physically transports me to those planets on the album cover, accomplishing the rare feat of inducing a certain feeling in me as a listener that is completely unique, unable to be replicated by any other song. The first solo entrance is beautiful and that climax part that enters at 2:56 is downright alien and otherworldly. Enthralled in the essence, indeed! Not every single song manages to be quite as great as some of the ones I've mentioned, which is why this is a Strong 8 instead of a 9 or 10. But there certainly aren't any songs I would consider "weak" and the high points are true landmarks in the history of metal.
...So which do I like better, Piece of Time or Unquestionable Presence? The debut has such a deep place in my heart that I will never be able to proclaim otherwise for sure, but Unquestionable Presence is the album that I find myself coming back to much more often nowadays. All I know for certain is that I'm thankful that I gave it the time build an Unquestionable Presence (grooaaan) in my head. Because once you've digested all the twists and turns in these compositions, this album is so much fun to listen to.
The Exalted Bridge To The Forlorn Mire
When someone starts seriously to dig into listening and discussing music there are always certain albums that occupy a certain place that can never really be replaced or revised. Most of these albums come early in the discovery process, with an arbitrary encounter with something that sounds new and exciting making the person's ears perk up and challenge what they think music is or can be. These sorts of albums cause peoples' tastes in music to manifest and mold around the ideas the music presents, giving them an understanding of what they themselves value and enjoy about music. While Opeth may not be on the same level of revolutionary musical accomplishment as Renaissance composers or Jazz legends, within my own musical bubble they are second to none and Blackwater Park was the album that genuinely sparked my curiosity in all things music, specifically Metal. That being said, if you're looking for an unbiased analysis of Opeth, turn away now since I honestly can't provide that, at least for this album in particular. What I can hopefully provide is some amount of reliable insight on why Blackwater Park has been able to maintain such a high amount of reverence to me for over ten years and in the face of over a thousand other Metal releases.
The world of Death Metal can be a gruesome one, with each iteration of the style seemingly becoming more extreme and guttural than the last in order to prove that the final realms of extremity have not yet been achieved. The deep, growled vocals reached inhuman and demonic levels, the guitar tones and chug rhythms extended to abysmal levels, and the overall performances became absolutely crushing in the most disgusting of ways. For some this seems like the natural progression of the genre, but bands like Opeth decided to veer off this course and do something a bit more dynamic when they released their debut album Orchid in 1995. Opeth's initial songwriting relied on very few traditional Death Metal qualities, with growled vocals, double-bass forward drumming, erratic transitions, and certain guitar tones being the few aspects that made them still technically fall into the realm of Death Metal. Orchid challenged these Death Metal ideals of ever-increasing aggressiveness by adding in many different Progressive Metal, Rock, and Folk influences with their use of acoustic guitar, cleaner vocals, extended track lengths, and more complex songwriting overall. Orchid's release in 1995 alongside Death's Symbolic represented a fork in the road for Death Metal with both of these albums leaning towards a more technical and progressive performance rather than banking on raw aggression. Opeth were still plenty heavy on Orchid, with their dueling, layered guitars that threw down some serious riffing, which would become a staple of their sound for years to come. After going much more progressive on their followup Morningrise in 1996, Opeth settled into a groove with 1998's My Arms, Your Hearse and, more importantly in regards to Blackwater Park, 1999's Still Life. Still Life saw Opeth begin to master the layered and atmospheric sound that's so prevalent on Blackwater Park, fulling committing to their trademark 6/8 versus 4/4 time signatures and smooth but dark Progressive Death Metal style. The making of Still Life is an interesting one, with Mikael Åkerfeldt and the band recording the entire album with little to no preparation or prior songwriting apart from a few riffs over the course of a few weeks. Since the band enjoyed Still Life so much, they decided to try and replicate the magic by putting themselves through similar working conditions for their next album, which they would title Blackwater Park.
In many ways Blackwater Park is a virtuosic continuation of Still Life's formula which, while legendary in the realm of Progressive Death Metal, was admittedly somewhat bland after a while. Still Life's riffs and ideas throughout the album were extremely similar to one another, with each song having only minor differences as the concept album unfolded. Blackwater Park decided to up the ante and take the use of the smooth 6/8 riffing with acoustic flairs and give it more depth, variety, and substance comparatively. Tracks like the opening "The Leper Affinity" and the closer "Blackwater Park" have digging, hefty riffs with more aggressive attacks while "The Drapery Falls" is slower, more repetitive and mesmerizing. "Harvest" and "Patterns In the Ivy" round out and complete the album with their fully acoustic soundscapes to create a varied but still cohesive album thanks to the reoccurring, ever-present themes in the album like the long drones of the lead guitar, the acoustic flourishes, and the constant 6/8 and 4/4 time signature shifts. All of these aspects come together to create Blackwater Park's signature atmosphere, which is a marvelous mix of despondency and pain layered with hints of beauty and reflection. Åkerfeldt's dual-natured vocals also help to solidify this atmosphere, with him swapping between his aggressive but insanely melodic growls and superbly clean singing on almost every song. Growling, harsh vocals in Metal are often used to keep up with the aggressiveness of the rest of the band and while Opeth does utilize them, they are some of the clearest and most pleasing I’ve ever heard. Åkerfeldt shows that he is a competent vocalist on “Harvest” and he is able to carry that over into his growls, performing them with incredible range, diversity, and articulateness.
This atmosphere is augmented and stretched in a variety of ways throughout the album, with each piece contributing its own distinct layer to the whole package. The way that Opeth layers its melodies and instrumentation is unrivaled, with riffs and flourishes coming and going constantly in the background as the main riff pounds away. The verse after the guitar solo in "The Leper Affinity" sets up this use of layering perfectly in the beginning of the album, with acoustic plucking giving way to huge chords with a dual guitar solo which eventually transitions into yet another layered riff with the lead guitar playing those signature hold notes. The entire Blackwater Park package comes together in such a unique and complex way while still keeping the heaviness to an acceptable degree. There are so many different parts and small, distinct melodies to pick out of tracks like "Bleak" and "Blackwater Park" that the album, even after all these years, hasn't gotten stagnant or dull. Each layer that Opeth creates has its place in the mix of this album, with the hammering double bass never overpowering other sections and the bass having an incredible amount of clarity as it takes the lead during the acoustic sections but is never missing during the heavy sections. These two elements have such a full and resonant sound which help to maintain the forlorn atmosphere during the softer parts of "Harvest" and "The Funeral Portrait", especially since the bass melodies are, for the most part, completely separate from the guitar melodies, creating that very progressive feel that just adds another layer of everything else. It peeks out of the mix just enough in parts like the repetitive end of "The Drapery Falls" to create some awesome sounding moments that are just so clean compared to other bands that attempt to use a more prominent bass. The drums follow suit in being written in a very smart and comprehensive way, incorporating all sorts of different 6/8 and 4/4 elements to keep the listener guessing as Opeth moves from one riff or idea to the next. The way the drum is able to accent these two different time signatures in slightly different ways with the use of different snare and cymbal rhythms throughout all the tracks is how Blackwater Park is able to have so many amazingly distinct grooves and riffs that never seem to grow old. "Bleak" and "Blackwater Park" are the only two songs that attempt to have a straight 4/4 time signature for their entire runtime and they only slightly succeed because of the various and offbeat song structures Opeth uses.
What really makes Blackwater Park stand out for me in the face of earlier Opeth releases are the many, many riffs that the album has, with tracks like "The Leper Affinity" and "Blackwater Park" having three or more main riffs that they end up transitioning or building up to. Song length is normally a huge problem with heavier Progressive Metal, with songs becoming tiresome to listen to because of either repetitiveness or detached from themselves, especially when they reach the ten minute mark. Opeth are masters of maintaining the listener's interest on Blackwater Park thanks to its inherent dual nature between progressive acoustic musings and aggressive metal riffing. Although there is quite a bit of repetition throughout the album, especially on tracks like "The Drapery Falls" and "Dirge For November", it's never repetitive enough for the listener to not want to come back for more afterwards. Each section, new idea, or riff hangs around for just long enough for it to run its course, just to transition into the next section. There's always something new happening on Blackwater Park, whether its a brand new riff, an abrupt transition into an acoustic section, a subtle shift into a double bass pedal rhythm like at the end of "The Drapery Falls", or something layered so far behind everything else that you were only able to catch it after years of listening. Packing so many different riffs and concepts into each song allows them to have consistent forward momentum and to spotlight so many different aspects of their performance all in one album. The way Opeth are able to set up each riff or transition feels so natural and complete, nothing feels like it manifests from nothing as they let you get acquainted with each of the ideas they choose to use before blowing you away with how they expand upon that idea.
With as many ideas as Opeth crammed into Blackwater Park, the transitions between them all has to be immaculately tenacious for the tracks to hold up. Thankfully the transitions in here are some of the smoothest and most thought out that I've heard, with each song swapping from riff to riff, from acoustic section to metal section, and from harsh to clean vocals effortlessly. The transitions help to foreshadow and set up what's to come and then they fully deliver on those promises beautifully and sleekly. Waves of emotion and atmosphere swell in and out as solemn acoustic gives way to waves of distortion like on the opening of "The Drapery Falls", with that track being one of the finest examples of Opeth's atmosphere on Blackwater Park. Each transition offers something completely new and memorable while still keeping to the same themes that persist throughout the album. Even though "Blackwater Park" and "The Leper Affinity" have some of the most jarring transitions, Opeth still eases the listener into them with the use of drum fills, slow removal of certain aspects like double bass or lead guitar, or slow but powerful fades.
The use of acoustic guitar that is ever-present in Blackwater Park is the aspect that, to me, adds the most life and atmosphere to this release. Opeth don't shy away from using it, with each song having some form of it whether there is a folky acoustic break section or, like in "The Funeral Portrait", it is interwoven into the main riff. Although it seems like heresy to have so much acoustic guitar using in a frankly non-metal way in a Progressive Death Metal album, it all works in Blackwater Park's advantage since it helps to build so much of that forlorn, despondent atmosphere that I keep referring to. "Harvest" is the perfect example of this, which is a 6/8 ballad piece with entirely clean vocals placed after "The Leper Affinity" and "Bleak". It offers a respite from the aggression, much like the short "Patterns in the Ivy" does, but it exemplifies why the acoustic approach works so well for the album. The tone is sweet but sad, beautiful but solemn, and I think "Harvest" is why I've grown to love the duality between beauty and aggression in Metal so much. "Harvest" also shows incredible pacing knowledge, with the downward spiral from "The Leper Affinity", to "Bleak", to "Harvest", then back to the heavy but somber groove of "The Drapery Falls". Åkerfeldt's singing voice is on full display in "Harvest", showing he has the perfect voice for the style they've chosen to display. Although Opeth's lyrics can get a bit wordy and overblown, they manage to still feel sophisticated thanks to the longer, more complex words and sentence structure that Åkerfeldt chooses to use. Couple that with the fact that his growling is extremely comprehensible compared to other Death Metal vocalists and you have a formula that ends up working out in their favor. Most lyrics in Death or Progressive Metal can be word salad at times, and even though Opeth does tend to get a little too deep for their own good with their lyrics, they really do sell the emotional side of Blackwater Park. Even though it can be difficult to decipher the strange poetry on tracks like "The Drapery Falls" or "Blackwater Park", it still has a powerful and passionate aura to it that is inescapable for me.
The final piece of the puzzle that is Blackwater Park is the lead guitar, with its persistent, drawn out notes that litter the album in every single track. Even back in Orchid, Opeth had been using two guitars to incredible potential, and that full potential is realized on Blackwater Park. The way the lead guitar sings above the pounding riffs and drums in its dismal and bitter tone is one of my favorite sounds that I've ever heard in music, period. It's the element that is able to tie everything together and create the unparalleled sound and feeling that only Blackwater Park has been able to give me even after all these years. The way Opeth is able to use all of the aforementioned elements allows it to be a flawless culmination of everything I love about Metal and music in general still to this day. The incredible variety of riffs and transitions in "The Leper Affinity", the layered acoustic elements, groove, and clean vocal transition of "Bleak", the dismal allure of "Harvest", the memorizing monotony of "The Drapery Falls", the slow build and use of mellow lead guitar on "Dirge for November", the incredible heavy riff alongside the layered acoustic melodies on "The Funeral Portrait", the short but delicate interlude of "Patterns in the Ivy", and the culmination of "Blackwater Park" just makes this the perfect album for me. Every track has its place, every transition has its place, every note has its place. The variety and uniqueness that its able to achieve is rivaled but not matched by the rest of their discography.
Although my endless analysis of why Blackwater Park will always hold a special place in my musical experience seems to have had many important points, I think the most important is where this album sits in the history of Metal. While there have been countless attempts to make Heavy and Extreme Metal more accessible to the masses while not losing any sort of edge of complexity, not many have been able to achieve that. To me, Blackwater Park constructs the most structurally sound bridge possible between Metal and non-Metal without pandering or selling out to anyone. When I first listened to Blackwater Park I definitely wasn't a Metal fan, I even disliked it at the time because I didn't understand the concept of growled, harsh vocals. I remember going back and given it multiple chances until I finally came around to it, which marked the beginning of my descent into the depths of more disgusting Metal genres. It's combination of complex songwriting, crystal clean production, heavy but not too heavy riffing, use of incredible clean vocals, and addicting atmosphere allows it to incorporate the best of both worlds in a way that is both accessible for the uninitiated and rewarding existing fans. There's so much that this album and its composition choices did and is still doing to my listening habits and music bias to this day and while I could go on and on, there's only so much that can be said. Believe me when I say that I've tried to dethrone Blackwater Park at every turn, constantly challenging myself to think critically about whether I really enjoy it more than any other album I've heard thus far. It's stood the test of time and remains the album that I can sing the most praise about, which is obviously extremely evident. No other album that I've found is able to utilize so many Metal and non-Metal elements in a way that just makes sense and is immediately approachable and intelligible no matter what kind of prior musical experience the listener has, making it a despondent but stunning gateway into the muck and mire. It's just the best.
I'm not super-familiar with these Finns, but of their releases I have heard to date, this is my favourite. A tempestuous, yet melodic, black metal exploration of man's inner turmoil that takes the form of eight well-written and faultlessly executed tracks that revel in their furious savagery. Even so, they never lose their ability to connect with the listener and despite the subject matter of alienation and self-doubt it is a surprisingly accessible album.
These Polish thrashers have been quiet since releasing a couple of EPs back in 2015 and 2016, but four years on and they are here releasing their debut full-length, Behold the Realm of Darkness. There's nothing life-changing here, but what it is is old-school, flat-out Sodom-worship that draws on both punk and black metal to greater or lesser degrees. It's all fired off at 90 miles-an-hour with little time allowed to draw breath, but it is solid, energetic and aggressive thrash metal that doesn't disguise it's influences, but does have an endearing honesty about it.
I just realized that the theme of my Ultimate Metal Family Tree extra-credit assignment is...last albums from a few bands before each one's change in style that is less tolerated than before; for myself, Coroner and Sentenced, and for other metalheads, Asking Alexandria and Machine Head. That's right, I'm reviewing Bloodstone & Diamonds, Machine Head's last groove/thrash metal album before their return to nu/alt-metal in Catharsis!
I probably would've reviewed the album before this, Unto the Locust, because of how epic people think it is, but I chose this album based on how much the band has lived up to since The Blackening ever since climbing the ladder higher album after album, ending their streak here. This would be their last album where the new stuff is tolerable...
First is the monstrously epic "Now We Die". This song has a stable structure never shaken by any repetition. Instrumental variety include the addition of violin harmonies used perfectly as vocalist/guitarist Robb Flynn continues his searing roars. Huge choruses soon lead to an unbelievable breakdown and soloing. All this great metal action and it's only their first song! Then there's the next track "Killers & Kings", which is harder, better, faster, shorter! Drummer Dave McClain blasts through the fast technicality with subtle cymbals to go with the bass. You might think a breakdown would hurt the song's flow, but that's not the case here. A thunderous breakdown is unleashed as a compliment instead of an insult. The music in "Ghosts Will Haunt My Bones" is pretty good where the bass playing of Jared MacEachern shines excellently and is never drowned out. He may be new to the band, but he plays as professionally as their alumni. "Night of Long Knives" greatly grinds through with fast riffs and solos, plus strong lyrical aggression to fuel the fire with the anger needed for their signature attitude.
"Sail Into the Black" is, at 8 and a half minutes, the album's longest song, but it's not as impressive as the first two tracks. The first half is just mesmerizing softness with subtle piano and acoustic guitar for dreamy atmosphere. Then the second half is the usual true Machine Head aggression. Then a couple more problems arrive starting with the repetitive "Eyes of the Dead". The other slightly problematic song "Beneath the Silt" is kinda interesting but could've been slightly shorter and more straight to the point. The war-like feel created "In Comes the Flood" mixed with political lyrics of rebel soldiers raiding the White House nicely help create the war theater in this album.
"Damage Inside" is a darker slower song showing Robb Flynn's soft sad cleans to fit with this short ballad. Then "Game Over" flips off the softness back to the band's true aggression. Samples from the Spontaneous Evolution audiobook can be heard in the otherwise instrumental "Imaginal Cells" brings interesting facts and mysteries to light. The great ending "Take Me Through the Fire" is heavily memorable with brilliant choruses and riffs to close the album in a groove/thrash metal bang.
All in all, this album is unbelievably great, and even though it's different from their prior two albums, it's definitely better in my opinion, and Machine Head did a splendid job there. A nicely recommended diamond in the rough bloodstone!
Favorites: "Now We Die", "Killers & Kings", "Night of Long Knives", "In Comes the Flood", "Game Over", "Take Me Through the Fire"
So the gothic metal releases by Sentenced weren't the best albums I've reviewed, but maybe a little trip back to their earlier era might help me think better of this band, and it absolutely did! Their style was way different back then, starting with furious European standard death metal with their debut Shadows of the Past, before having a melodic black-ish sound in their second album North From Here, which really paid off.
North From Here contains highly developed compositions as frantic guitars course through melodic ice and harmonic fire. Insanely intricate rhythms are supported in complex patterns alongside parallel currents of melody with hyper drum-frame in precision and speed. Bassist Taneli Jarva takes over lead vocals with higher black metal screaming with furious tone in distinct expression. His vocal delivery brings stronger identity than other bands' death growls, probably the growls performed by guitarist Miika Tenkula in their debut. The soundscape fits well with the transition out of the band's original sound of hatred and death to a violent tundra battlefield.
Those kind of lyrics are proven in the opening track "My Sky Is Darker Than Thine" ("The goals I've set to myself are far beyond mortality, to dominate, desolate everything weak that cannot stand alone"). The song itself begins with melodic leads of mastery later transitioning to complex melodies, dramatized by the black-ish vocals and fast riffs to kick up the intensity. More stunning lyrical revelations can be found on "Wings" with some initial extreme doom followed by the more furious full-throttle macabre of stylistic riffs while keeping the mid-pace of that eerie melodic tune. "Fields of Blood, Harvester of Hate" starts with tons of riff intricacy before more aggression strikes, showing the band's decisive technical side, and we can't forget the addictive bass and progressive build-ups that turns that song into an impressive multi-layered piece.
"Capture of Fire" starts with memorable epic extreme doom that might've been inspired by the viking metal era of Bathory, then more of the complex melodic shredding dominates the overall soundscape, slowing down to mid-tempo boundaries in some parts before returning to the earlier doom motif. "Awaiting the Winter Frost" starts with pompous atmosphere before it gets torn apart by brutal blast beats that can never hide the eccentric technicality but can show some of their most enchanting melodies. "OFF WITH THEIR F***ING HEADS!!"
"Beyond the Wall of Sleep" is just furious melodic death metal delight, with alternating tempos, awesome passages, and great leads. "Northern Lights" pours out intriguing riffs right away that become more fierce over time to turn the ether into the nether, until it halts for a pacifying lyrical section, followed by seamlessly dazzling leads flowing into a speedy ending. The great ending track "Epic" greatly concludes this killer melodic black/death adventurous war. The spectral cold hatred flows through the emotional atmosphere and extensive melodies of black metal alongside elongated guitar patterns and lyrics telling epic tales of wars and quests ("In the Aeons of Frost ‑ In league with the North!"). "Epic" is indeed epic!!
There aren't really a lot of individually innovative albums like North From Here, and very few bands have ever tried that imaginative approach nor that same overall feel of raging icy translucence. The shores of Finnish metal are often drenched in blood and snow, but sadly, Sentenced would never visit that sound ever again, instead shape-shifting into a more conventional display of gothic metal. North From Here is rare in terms of sublime potential and artistic vision. That's the sound they should've kept!
Favorites: "Fields of Blood, Harvester of Hate", "Capture of Fire", "Beyond the Wall of Sleep", "Epic"
Killing Joke are one of my favorite bands. “Hosannas from the Basement of Hell” is their 12th studio LP and features the band over a quarter century into their career. While Killing Joke started off as being comparable to a post punk band, they beefed up their sound on 1990’s “Extremeties, Dirt, and Various Repressed Emotions,” and have been on the heavier end of the spectrum ever since. They’re still absolutely the same band as on their first LP. However, Killing Joke’s music is based on repeating rhythms. They are not the type of band that has dozens of changes in a song. The approach taken by vocalist Jaz Coleman and guitarist Geordie hasn’t really changed, it’s just that the sonic foundation they play over has become more, well..., Metal. The point is, if you enjoy this record, you would probably enjoy the early records as well. It’s not the same contrast as dealing with early vs. later Ministry records.
So onto this specific slab. “Hosannas” is not a bad place for the uninitiated to start delving into Killing Joke’s music. There are two caveats though: the songs are LONG, averaging at about 7 minutes. Again, this wouldn’t be excessive for a band that has several changes in their songs, but you pretty much know everything you’re getting into within the first 30 seconds. So technically, most of these tracks could be functional at half the length. That said, this is the sort of music you sink into. I like where these songs take me and I don’t mind staying there. The other is the track “Invocation”, which I HATED the first time I heard it. While it doesn’t bother me that much anymore, it’s not so much it grew on me as I just got used to it. It has a grandiose vibe similar to Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir, although a bit more Arabic sounding. There are a couple of similar tracks on their 1994 Pandemonium LP, and I like those, but this sounds like they were trying to create a movie soundtrack, and I just don’t like it. It probably has to with the guitar being too minimal and the vocals being too sparse, and those are the essential ingredients to Killing Joke’s sound. Plus the main part/riff just sucks. The reason I’m spending so much time talking about the one dud instead of the eight gems is because that song repelled me from this record for YEARS. So it was a pleasure to revisit this later and realize the rest of the album kills.
While it’s not my favorite KJ album (that honor goes to “Fire Dances”), Hosannas has all the elements that I love about the band. Geordie is a one of a kind guitarist: melodic and chiming but abrasive, armored in sharp distortion and reverb. His style isn’t far off from post-punk guitarists like Public Image Ltd’s Keith Levine, but it’s much more brutal. Jaz Coleman is a great frontman, a true weirdo. His voice ranges from smooth and spooky to gruff and aggressive. Despite the longer song lengths this one of the band’s faster records. Previously mentioned dud notwithstanding, this album charges from start to finish. The rhythms may be repetitive, but they are pummeling and awesome. My favorite track is probably “Implosion.” While the record warrants many words, I’m not sure what else to add. Just listen to the damn thing! And avoid the 1988 LP “Outside the Gate” unless and until you become a completist.
Change can be jarring, and the only way to feel comfortable with the change is to be able to understand the band's ideal vision. Throughout most of Asking Alexandria's career they've had singer Danny Worsnop by their side, but in 2015, Worsnop took a one-year break right before they were ready to record another album. Fortunately, the band found an easy one-off replacement, Denis Stoff, known for covering many of the band's songs. This was a different era for the band...
If you're one of those metal elitists who think Asking Alexandria is not "real" metal, then I suggest not proceeding to this review. The open-minded can read on. Whether you like the band or not, they've raised the flag for the larger younger metal audience.
Track #1 "Let It Sleep" blasts right in with pummeling riffs and high-gear drums, all head together by dense production. The title track continues the killer components while having a brilliantly catchy chorus which has vocals by guitarist Ben Bruce while still displaying Stoff's vocals nonetheless. The dark ages of the band's career are translated into "I Won’t Give In" with defiant choruses. The unorthodox "Sometimes It Ends" has sampled extracts from Ben Bruce's interview about Worsnop's temporary departure.
The symphonic "The Lost Souls" has perfectly delicate reflections of the band's past. The notably Attila-esque "Just a Slave to Rock n' Roll" doesn't sit very well. Symphonic anthem "Send Me Home" can please the crowd with chants that should work well live. "We'll Be OK" has charging riffs to the delight of long-time fans of their earlier material.
"Here I Am" sees the band trying a less heavy power ballad where the chorus is hook-laden even at its most distorted. Another ballad "Gone" is a solo song by Ben Bruce with only his vocals and synthesizers. The growling and aggression continues its triumphant quest in the vicious "Undivided". The closing "Circled by the Wolves" continues the breath-taking energy once more as a final farewell to the band's metalcore that they would drop for the most part in the next album.
A band's members departure can be difficult to get used to. With temporary singer Denis Stoff, The Black is a quite different album staring into adversity. The Black may be bleak from the band's cathartic period, but it reminds of anything that can go wrong, kinda like Murphy's Law. The songs are well-written enough to keep fans hooked and allow the band to keep rising. Stoff has pleased over thousands of fans in his first concert with the band, and this album would please many more. Asking Alexandria might not be for everyone, but their undeniable passion is still put into their catchy songs. The Black is a fresh album and, to me, a better destiny than From Death to Destiny!
Favorites: "Let It Sleep", "The Black", "The Lost Souls", "Send Me Home", "We'll Be OK", "Circled by the Wolves"
Welcome to my Ultimate Metal Family Tree extra-credit assignment to bring a few bands' average ratings up to 4 stars! Coroner is a good band to start because this is my chance to redeem myself after my harrowing Mental Vortex review. One of the tracks that I didn't like from that album is actually considered one of the best progressive thrash metal songs! Maybe in this album, No More Color, I can find a classic that I actually like, we'll see...
Oh. My. Greatness! This is higher up to the top of the Coroner mountain for me. Oh all these d*mn monstrous riffs! I personally think this is f***ing greater than the letdown that was Mental Vortex, and possibly Punishment for Decadence which I haven't listened to yet. So why do I think No More Color is greater than its two surrounding albums? One word: diversity! That's what makes this album a better part of the band, when they actually mix speed/thrash metal with elements of avant-garde/progressive metal, without having too much of those two kinds. The mid-transition albums are the ones that works best for me. Riffs and screams equalized with experimentation!
The opener "Die By My Hand" has buff riffs in the verses that scream pure progressive thrash. However, the main riff in "No Need to Be Human" is more technical and also slower. In fact, that song itself is slow, before having faster rage worth killer moshing inspired by Slayer and Exodus. That's definitely a psychotically great song that would make you fear the following song to be filler. Fortunately, "Read My Scars" is more killer than filler. It starts with a war-march-like beginning before having an excellent verse filled with incredible riffing, especially when the bass and guitar mix. Then it breaks into speedy thrash metal with a scaling solo bridge, while still sneaking some progressive ideas. Once again, that's how progressive thrash should be done!
"D.O.A." starts with f***ing creepily incarnated guitar thrusts carrying on into the verse. It makes you feel the fear of an awake surgery patient lying on the table staring at the sharp hooks on the wall hanging sharper knives and the surgeon examining you with his bloodshot eyes. My favorite song in this album is "Mistress of Deception", which after the first minute, the frantic fills make you feel the pain (in a good way) of the patient when the surgeon slides his scalpel into one of the patient's eye sockets over the eye to remove a cancerous part of the cranium. The rhythms and leads are highly notable, especially in the bridge. That might wet your pants more than a wet dream...
The more strategic "Tunnel of Pain" has a hammering bass intro before a neoclassical spiral that would make Beethoven look down from heaven in awe. I love the bridge where the bass shines in tranquility before an incredible breakdown, followed by arching leads. "Why It Hurts" is the climax where the aforesaid surgery is at the most painfully hurting stage (I don't know what that would be, but best not to know). It's more superior, compared to "Last Entertainment" which seems too stretched out.
No More Color is the ultimate Coroner album in my opinion. It is one of the greatest achievements in technical thrash, though Celtic Frost and Megadeth might beg to differ. I feel a little shame that I think this album tops Mental Vortex, but I'm still proud of this band for what they've accomplished. A comparison that has surprised even me!
Favorites: No Need To Be Human, Read My Scars, Mistress of Deception, Why It Hurts
Parabellum are considered to be the first extreme metal band from Colombia. They sound exactly as you would expect based on that statement alone. This two track EP is poorly produced, badly played and lacks any semblence of structure. Now then, let's not skip the fact that this was 1988 and Colombia was hardly a hotbed of metal releases at this time. I can't begin to imagine the challenges this band had setting up and trying to record and distribute material. That withstanding though, beyond the underground appeal to this there is little in the way of anything else going for it.
The vocals are the only discernable sound that come through what sounds like a thick blanket being laid over all instruments. The occasional drum hit can be heard and the riffing when it does come through is very punky with the odd squeal of a guitar to add metal credentials where felt necessary to do so. The chaotic playing is too much when coupled with the primitive recording equipment and the lack of production, you just can't digest anything. Their EP from 1987 Sacrilegio is even worse by the way.
I would hazard a guess that live, these guys would have slayed. Their sheer attitude carrying them through a live set no doubt. There's nothing to carry them through on a recorded format though.
Incantation's debut album is probably one of my more under-appreciated death metal albums when looking at the real "classics" of the genre. As Ben alluded to in his review, there's some elements of inaccessibility to contend with at first but once you get a few spins under your belt things really start to embed in the old memory banks. It is an album that crawls and races in equal portions is how I best describe the experience. The pace is varied but the sound is always heavy and unrelenting.
For a band just three years into their existence, Incantation manged a debut in 1992 that was the embodiment of death metal. Oppressive, dark, unapologetic and extreme in every sense of the word, the liner notes on the CD booklet took the opportunity in the "Thank You" section to say "Thank you all. Disciples of Blasphemy, together we forever reign in darkness, as our souls roam horizons lost, we indulge in spiritual Desire!" If you're a death metal fan, those words invoke sufficient levels of nefarious excitement in you to be forever an advocate of Incantation from the off, lost in the allure of the darkness they conjure over the course of Onward to Golgotha.
It's straight into a frenzied pace from the second the album begins and as I say it will take some degree of concentration to follow the record over the 11 tracks. Along the way you will get to the death/doom blend that many subsequent bands have replicated over the years (I mean Incantation must be the most copied band in the history of music) as Pillard and McEntee riff the very flesh from your bones. The drums of Jim Roe and the bass of Ronny Deo the perfect backdrop to the soundtrack to the sound of the apocalypse.
As a foundation stone, the debut record sets out Incantation's stall perfectly. What has followed since on subsequent releases has been consistent with the promise that the first offering showed in piles. Incantation have always been death metal and after twelve full-lengths, numerous EP's and live releases the band have never once strayed away from their relentless style.
First, let me put this album into some kind of context. In 1979 I finally got my first motorcycle, a Suzuki T250 Hustler which, with a top speed in excess of 100mph was a bit of a beast for a 17-year-old kid. Now this new-found freedom just happened to coincide with one of the most exciting things to happen so far (after the acquisition of said motorbike) in the life of that 17-year-old heavy metal fan - the onset of what later became known as the NWOBHM (we didn't call it anything, it was just our lives!) Anyway, I'd regularly hop onto that bike and, with a few mates, take the 15 mile trip to the nearest hall that allowed metal and rock bands to play, to see the bands I was familiar with - Sabbath, Priest, Motorhead, UFO, Whitesnake, Thin Lizzy and the likes. It was around this time that these big(ger) names started being supported by bands not much older than ourselves that were actually pretty exciting, bands like Angel Witch, Girlschool, Marseille, Samson and (to finally get to the point) Saxon. These young bands were generating some real energy and doing an absolutely brilliant job as warm-up acts, pushing the headliners all the way. The problem was that after witnessing them live and in their element, when you got hold of these new band's records they actually seemed a bit flat and sadly disappointing, with a very few exceptions - Angel Witch's debut, the first two Maidens and this underrated gem.
The first Saxon album is, in all honesty, a bit crap and I know the majority of fans prefer Strong Arm of the Law but, along with the other three albums I mentioned, this is the absolute essence of what the NWOBHM meant to me as someone who was there. I mean, how can a budding biker not be taken by the opener, Motorcycle Man and the entire album has a feeling of freedom that really resonated with me at the time and I still have a strong emotional attachment to. Where it scores over the other Saxon albums is that it manages to capture the energy that I remember from when they used to open for Motorhead (they were one of the new bands Lemmy took under his wing) in a way their others didn't.
There's some great riffs on display here (Wheels of Steel is absolutely killer), Biff Byford never sounded better, Pete Gill and Steve Dawson propel the songs like a supercharged V8 and Paul Quinn and Graham Oliver are devastating. There are some genuine classics, the title track, Machine Gun, Motorcycle Man and, of course, one of the first heavy metal singles to get airplay on daytime Radio One in England, the superb 747 (Strangers in the Night) with it's searing intro and oddly affecting tale of a plane about to crash. Seriously, if you're a metal fan and have never heard this album, do yourself a favour and remedy that as soon as possible. Anyway, thanks for indulging an old metalhead and his reminiscences and really, check this out.
It's tough to describe the actual main sound of Wretched, but the greatest genre to describe them is...technical deathcore. Basically in the group as bands like Beneath the Massacre or Brain Drill yet they sound nothing like them. Technical/progressive riffs are still around to stabilize the song structure, but they add blast beats and shreds that bring them closer to bands like The Black Dahlia Murder, while the riffs never interrupt the experience. That style is proven in their second album Beyond the Gate!
I heard that their debut album The Exodus of Autonomy has more of a heavier deathcore sound similar to Through the Eyes of the Dead. If that's the case, the "core" is toned down by plenty of searing guitar solos. Those solos would incinerate your face like the blast furnace in this album's cover art.
First song "Birthing Sloth" immediately sets the tone with prog/tech riffs, again similar to The Black Dahlia Murder. Then it ends with a sample from "Chan Chan" by Buena Vista Social Club, a Spanish tune to add creepy atmosphere similar to Bioshock. Next track "The Deed Of Elturiel" is an interesting one with many different genre influences, including blackened death metal. It continues the technical guitar work that seem almost impossible to do. What's frustrating is the riffs repeating themselves tediously. But the superb solos make up for the repetitive riffing. Third track "In the Marrow" is a short track with a solo inspired by The Red Chord. It transitions into "A Still Mantra" which is great, though the sequencing with its "intro" could be better. "Cimmerian Shamballa" has a groove-ish riff, and the song itself reminds me of early Between the Buried and Me.
Then begins a 3-part instrumental suite, starting with "On the Horizon", the suite's symphonic orchestral prologue. The first part, "Aberration" starts as instrumental tech-death before adding Indian themes. The second part, the title track has melodic Spanish flamenco acoustics before carrying on heavy technical instrumentation.
For some actual skull-crushing death metal, check out the brutal "My Carrion", which has a killer breakdown and agonizing growls. "The Guardians of Uraitahn" continues the melodic deathcore that reminds me of a more technical mix of The Crimson Armada and Nightrage. "The Talisman" has progressive time signature variations and interesting riddling ideas, all leading up to a harmonic guitar/viola outro. "Eternal Translucence" is the closing outro that's almost a slower take on a softer song by The Chariot. An environment of helpless dread is created to end the album in shrouding darkness.
Despite a few very minor flaws, Beyond the Gate is a much improved demonstration of concrete songwriting. The vocals keep staying in almost the same range in some songs, but the good aggressive instrumentation gives it more power. While everything may be all over the place, it's all executed well in the tech-death umbrella, all in a hard work of rich technical diversity!
Favorites: "The Deed Of Elturiel", "A Still Mantra", "Cimmerian Shamballa", "Part II: Beyond the Gate", "My Carrion", "The Guardians of Uraitahn"
One of the greater things to prove that metal is still alive is when younger fellas begin raising the metal torch higher than ever. The sounds of metal keep pumping into young bloodlines and hopefully it can keep it up for many future generations. With metal in good long-lasting hands, I can be able to have good metal dreams when I sleep at night, not that I ever remember my dreams. Alien Weaponry is a young teenage metal band, and by "young teenage" I mean, when their debut album Tū came out two years ago, they were between ages 15 and 17! Wow...and I, a 21-years-old, still don't have enough metal talent, and my YouTube buddy Danny Ultrawiz isn't that famous yet.
With their debut Tū, Alien Weaponry blend their powerful heavy metal sound and vocal melodies with the sound of their culture. This unique intriguing feature has opened a whole new world in heavy/groove metal. The band has unleashed Māori history and language into the metal world! It's a fresh new perspective sharing dark tales from the tribe among other themes in strong tribal elements infused into metal.
The opening intro "Whaikōrero" (Speech) is basically Maori flute in ambient rainfall as a speech is presented in the Maori language. A nice intro to set the spirit of the album! Then in "Rū Ana Te Whenua" (The Earthquake), whoever's doing the Maori speech leads a group chant as if that intro was a pre-battle speech. Then they charge to battle in a thundering breakdown that erupts into Soulfly-like thrash energy. The song has simple yet huge vitality. The guitar riffs aren't technical, but deliver a perfectly fitting tone. The chorus in the song "Holding My Breath" is where the vocals of Lewis de Jong really shines. He has exemplary vocal delivery, in which his cleans and yells aren't too deep but nicely fit his young teenage vocal range, more than mine has ever. The most aggressively crushing song here is "Raupatu" (Confiscation) with opens with a Cannibal Corpse-like riff that evolves into headbanging thrash. The bass and guitar riff sounds so clean while ripping the ambiance apart.
"Kai Tangata" (Human Food) continues the heavy aggression while having another shining melodic chorus. "Rage - It Takes Over Again" once again balances heavy rage with powerful melodies. "The Things That You Know" is one of two bonus tracks (the other bonus track at the end of the album) and it has some of the most amazing metal I've heard from a teenage band. I don't know if I should be proud of them or jealous. "Whispers" is a greatly significant song in both the production and defending their culture, with mighty powerful melodies inspired by Stone Sour, specifically Corey Taylor. The aggressive "PC Bro" has lyrics that rage against machines that have allowed social media to take over our lives.
"Urutaa" (Plague) begins with soft piano before a cool drum beat. The word "Urutaa" is shouted throughout the captivated chorus over a melodic guitar chord. The highly political "Nobody Here" continues the lyrics of how social media is corrupting the world, as the vocal range goes beyond emotional. "Te Ara" (The Way) begins with tribal percussion and native speaking with guitar buzzing seguing into an instrumental inspired by one of Gojira's long instrumentals. It smoothly transitions until a powerful Maori chant concludes the album...the standard edition, anyway. The other bonus track "Hypocrite" is a killer melodeath-ish groove track.
A great fusion of Māori culture and metal, Alien Weaponry has added something new and special in the world of metal. Telling Māori historical stories and often speaking their native language, the band has their own unique league. The album cover artwork is an incredible depiction of a Māori warrior (helmet included). Tū is a unique album, and its title represent the album's strength and pride in the name of the Māori god of war....
Favorites: "Rū Ana Te Whenua", "Raupatu", "The Things That You Know", "Whispers", "Te Ara", "Hypocrite"
The Fury of Our Maker’s Hand was released in 2005, back in the time the dreaded nu metal was reigning with bands such as Korn and Slipknot. Upon listening to the second album by DevilDriver, it sounds much heavier than your average groove metal band, despite vocalist Dez Fafara forming this band fresh out of Coal Chamber still having some "Gateway" elements from that band. I've never really listened to this album until today, but now I see how much more extreme this album than any nu metal band...
Here's one thing I found out; This album was a big step up from their tame uninspired nu metal debut. It's as if they completely changed their sound, now taking parts of groove metal, metalcore, thrash metal, and melodeath, all in an exciting modern mix.
"End of the Line" is a great example of how much they've improved since their debut. However, some nu metal elements still appear on "Driving Down the Darkness". Then we have the more complex black-grind-ish "Grinf***ed" (yeah I censored the title) in pure progression. "Hold Back the Day" has modern melody to scream along and leads heavy enough to consider this band metal, hence why it's on this site!
"Sin & Sacrifice" is more ambitious but not truly incredible, sounding much less than the 5-minute epics made by other bands and slightly more towards bands that can be found in The Gateway clan. That song does foreshadow the band's later works though. Rolling with mighty punches is "Ripped Apart" ripping through melodeath especially during the last third of the song. "Pale Horse Apocalypse" is filled with sharp groove-thrash that can turn you into a mining knight with weapons such as sledgehammer and pickax. "Just Run" is just awful. Same with the impending disaster that is "Impending Disaster".
"Bear Witness Unto" is a genuine golden groove song where pleasant melodic leads sprinkle into the dry heavy riffs. "Before the Hangman’s Noose" is catchy in contrast to the aggression of earlier songs. The title track is a great finale that makes a good attempt to resurrect melodeath, a genre that starting fading out after the 90s. The lead melody creeps me nicer than a "peeping tomato" in the girls' shower room.
The Fury of Our Maker’s Hand is one of the heaviest and most technical modern metal albums, despite coming from a nu metal background, and the mix of brutal and catchy can rip your b*lls off like what the girls in the shower room would do to said "peeping tomato". This album might not be a keeper, but it has a lot of fun and fury!
Favorites: "End of the Line", "Hold Back the Day", "Ripped Apart", "Pale Horse Apocalypse", "Bear Witness Unto", "The Fury of Our Maker's Hand"
Pure Holocaust might be the most "Black Metal" Black Metal album I've ever heard, in both the best and not so great ways. The early and mid 1900's saw the Black Metal genre explode with so many albums that are now considered classics, with their prominent features ranging from chilling and raw lo-fi riffing to epic and symphonic endeavors. Immortal doesn't dare journey down the symphonic route, but Pure Holocaust rises above the average lo-fi affair that was so common during that time by just doing all of the Black Metal stuff right. Everything you could ever want out of an early 90's chilling and occult album is here with substantial density, whether its the faded and bone chilling guitar tone, the frantically impressive drumming, or the ravaged sounding vocals. The layering and use of these elements is phenomenal, with the lead and rhythm guitar being most prominent above the insane drumming and slightly pushed back vocals, but Immortal's sound is impressively crystal clear and large sounding as they shred through riff after riff. There are a ton of impressive melodies in Pure Holocaust that shine through thanks to their layered guitar approach, with one guitar shredding away with tremolo in the background as the other carries a chord progression or melody. While melody may be a sacrilegious term for early Black Metal fans, the amazing riffs in "Unsilent Storms in the North Abyss" and "The Sun No Longer Rises" don't lie. Behind all these riffs the drums pound away, with Abbath, one half of the duo that made up Immortal at the time, delivering a truly blistering performance through the entire album. The slower melodies played by the lead guitar get drug along by the chaos of the drumming, giving the album a heavy and sinister Black Metal atmosphere. A few of the tracks pump the breaks on the drumming enough to offer some variety, like the hefty, double bass filled 4/4 rhythms in "Frozen By Icewinds" and the second half of "As The Eternity Opens". The vocals are extremely accessible too, especially for Black Metal this heavy. They have a nice erratic and unhinged quality to them that feels right at home among the blast beats from the drums and the constant tremolo from the guitar. They're also a bit more clear and less vile than other Black Metal vocalists, which I for one appreciate as a nice change of pace.
Overall, Pure Holocaust exhibits all the things that make Black Metal a great genre in a raw but clear form. On the other side of the coin, it takes almost zero risks and can be pretty run of the mill when directly comparing it to the competition since it lacks some of the energy and pure chaos that other albums released at the time have. There are so many qualities that are so well done about it, but nothing is particularly earth-shattering or stunning to me. It's just a really, really good Black Metal album in all the ways I expect a Black Metal album to be. Hell, it's even memorably catchy at some points, with the finale of "The Sun No Longer Rises" and the insanely killer riff of "Pure Holocaust" getting stuck in my head for the entire time I've been writing this review. Pure Holocaust does the best job I've heard of encapsulating a genre, with all of the elements represented in clear and interesting, but safe, ways. If anyone ever wants to know what old Black Metal sounded like, I'll be pointing them straight to Immortal.
With me, it can be extremely difficult to hit that fine line between technical wankery found in death metal, and the elongated song structures that do not coalesce very well in progressive metal. Of course there are always outliers: Opeth obviously, but more recently the band An Abstract Illusion and their 2016 debut record Illuminate the Path.
Now it’s up to Rannoch, the U.K. based ensemble to try and pick up the weight. And man do they deliver. Reflections Upon Darkness is a great find in the underground of progressive death metal and does a very good job splitting the difference between those two spectrums outlined earlier, while still doing enough to keep them original.
First of all, the production on this record is really top notch. The bass lines are very well enhanced in the overall mix, even when the guitars are down-tuned near their absolute lowest. The percussion work is excellent; it does have its fill moments, but the overall notion as a timekeeper does not allow it to become overwhelming. The vocals start off very heavy, but the album feels like it becomes more melodic later on, showing that the group can invent melodic hooks and phrases with harsh vocals is essential.
Composition wise, the album again starts off really heavy and should please any progressive death metal fan. The band's overall timbre does remind me a lot of An Abstract Illusion. But songs like “The Hanged Man” and “The Dream” have extended djent breakdowns, and while the former is very well implemented, the latter is a little bit too pronounced and doesn’t evolve very much over the tracks duration. Then the album slows down into something more death/doom like and it shows much of this band's versatility.
I really enjoyed this new record from Rannoch. The band shows an incredible knack for creating hard hitting death metal tracks that are also melodically memorable. While I personally do not care for the djent influence, it doesn’t hinder the album too much. And further beyond that, the band show off a wide range of versatility in the different genres of metal explored on this album. Toss on to that some excellent production and this is one of 2020s underappreciated gems.
The modern groove metal part of my Ultimate Metal Family Tree band challenge might help me gain some appeal to modern groove metal...or maybe not. Machine Head has two sides of the metal coin that can be flipped over at any given moment. It might be the groove/thrash metal heads or the nu metal tails. Most of their albums are in the heads, while flipping to the tails in the turn of the new millennium and in their recent album Catharsis. The Blackening is often considered the most thrashy of the band!
That sounds about right, and it might be their most progressive album too. The album has long epics, which I love, and it's way better than almost every nu metal album, so that's a bit promising. The Blackening is a good album, but it left me disappointed by not being the masterpiece people thought it was.
"Clenching the Fists of Dissent" starts the album with a promising intro for about a minute, then it starts building up until a riff bursts in. Then just like Murphy's Law, anything that can go wrong...goes wrong. The riff and vocals are too mediocre. Then the song evolves with an incredible solo, and I mean the top-notch shredding I absolutely love! Then the song continues with the mediocre riff and vocals. Then that awesome-mediocre pattern repeats again. I can't decide whether that 10-minute epic is bad or good! I'll just say that it's not quite the promising epic I really wanted. The second song "Beautiful Mourning" is quite the same; mediocre riffs and vocals mixed with a cool solo. "Aesthetics of Hate" is a top-notch thrasher that is a tribute to Dimebag Darrell and a "f*** you" to a guy named William Grim who wrote an article disrespecting Dimebag.
"Now I Lay Thee Down" also helps the album become more interesting. The vocals are riffs are much better and worth listening to. Not the best home-run but a great step up. Unfortunately, things become bad again in "Slanderous". It's quite a horrible song with vulgar lyrics and an emo chorus, "I LOVE YOU!! why do I hate my father?! I HATE YOU!! why do I hate myself?!" Do things get worse from there?...
Nope, luckily a good trio of 9+ minute songs starting with "Halo". That song has a long intro and extended soloing that can go with no problem. Same with "Wolves" which is the best song here with excellent riffs and solos. Without this song, this album would've had a much lower rating, like under 2.5 stars. The epic finale "A Farewell to Arms" has lyrics dealing with the war in Iraq which is quite different from other subjects. The soft parts have an attitude of "All's fair in love and war", while the heavy parts have the "don't f*** with us" attitude borrowed from bands like Pantera and Lamb of God. A much better 10-minute epic than that first track!
All in all, The Blackened is a good release that I have mixed feelings for. The vocals and riffs are good sometimes, but on most occasions they sound a bit mediocre. I gave the album 3.5 stars thanks to the nice flowing vibe and a few great songs. It's nice listening to the great solos that make up for some of the bad parts. Seeing how long the album gap was, it must've taken a long while for the band to mature and compose the songs just to be themselves. There's just isn't a lot I would consider mind-blowing....
Favorites: "Aesthetics of Hate", "Now I Lay Thee Down", "Wolves", "A Farewell to Arms"
I often think that Gorguts grew almost too quickly for their own good. I mean an album of the ilk of Obscura getting dropped by a band just three records into their career is mind-boggling, even with a five year gap between it's predecessor. Already by the time the band got around to their sophomore record you could pracitcally hear the cogs whirring around in the heads of most DM fans wondering how a band could develop and mature so quickly in just two years. The Erosion of Sanity was a real beast to have to contend with as a standalone record, let alone a follow up to an already solid and very capable debut that had heads looking at the band already. When a band hones its art that quickly and that deftly you have to forgive those that get left behind in the fan base. If you got stranded at The Erosion of Sanity by Obscura I kind of understand it. I mean the second album from Gorguts is superb. Varied, dense and technical are just some of the words you could throw in its direction but overall it is still a solid, consistent and pummeling experience for the die-hards of the scene to lap up.
Reading Ben's review earlier, he's absolutely right on the Suffocation comparison, as the influence of that band is painted all over the walls of this record. As a result the album has a constant weight to it no matter what the frequency of the tempo being played is. This density provides atmosphere for virtually the whole record, even on the acoustic strings that introduce the closing track Dormant Misery there is a sense of impending peril in the air. Yet at the same time the whole record has a rabid and urgent style to it that instills a sense of nervous anxiety in the listener as they track the intense and unrelenting delivery of some fine death metal.
The technical aspect to the sound goes slightly unnoticed at the first couple of listens making this an album that rewards frequent visits to it as you start peel back the initial layer of acute brutality that you think is the sole purpose of the album to find further layers of textures beneath for you to assess and understand. Tracks like Orphans of Sickness are what true technical death metal is all about, shifting and surging like some turgid river in the midst of monsoon season. The song feels vile and putrid yet there's no doubt that fiendish and devilish hands were present in its construction to provide a masterful and unsettling edge at the same time.
I am slowly getting to owning all physical copies of Gorguts' discography because they are a band who have yet to put a foot wrong across a career that has seen them take a well-known genre with a distinct sound and direction and push the boundaries of it into the outer-stratosphere. The Erosion of Sanity is when the rocket boosters kicked in and took them clear of most of the competition at the time.
This is the debut album from Brazilian Caio Lemos, by way of his one-man atmo-black outfit Kaatayra, the first of a couple of albums released under that moniker in 2019. I've got to say, I'm already a big fan, the material is varied and effectively atmospheric, influenced by tribal rhythms I presume are Brazilian in origin, with manic drumming, particularly on Valhacouto de lírios, when I thought he'd brought Animal from the Muppets in to guest! The only real downer for me was the first half of the final track which, for reasons known only to Kaatayra himself, takes the form of some crappy electronic house track.
Continuing the gothic metal part of my Ultimate Metal Family Tree band challenge, I've encountered another album by Swedish gothic metallers Lake of Tears. For this album, Forever Autumn, it's as great as the other Lake of Tears album I've reviewed Moons and Mushrooms, but I will probably take a few percentage points off because while Forever Autumn has the band's usual melancholy, it's more rock-ish.
The atmospheric cover artwork and title is a promising element of this album because...well who doesn't like Autumn? I like Winter a little more. Sadly, my country doesn't have those two good seasons. Anyway, as for the music, Forever Autumn has as much metal as Metallica at that time but as much rock as Pink Floyd.
The kick-A opening track "So Fell Autumn Rain" starts the album with excellent driving heaviness. "Hold On Tight" is more mellow with riffs beneath flutes as the lyrics sail through dreamy imagination. The bridge might've been taken from a song from their previous album A Crimson Cosmos. A simple synthesizer shines through a bluesy guitar solo. The title track is just symphonic progressive folk...rock, not metal (sorry if I psyched out Turisas fans), sounding similar to the later Pink Floyd.
Breaking out of the acoustics is "Pagan Wish" with heavy guitars. "Otherwheres" is an instrumental intermission. It starts with ambient piano and acoustic guitar in dark rain before the sun shines in a synth-orchestral ending. "The Homecoming" has beautiful laid back tempo which is actually pretty good.
"Come Night I Reign" builds some gothic metal momentum through storming chords and piano, paying off really well. "Demon You/Lily Anne" is heavy but in a psychedelic kinda way that feels out of place in this album. "To Blossom Blue" is just a boring song that goes on for an unnecessary 8 minutes, an intolerable lament that relies on self-referential lyrics and more of those Pink Floyd-like vocals. "A Pocket Size Sun", that song is not...
Despite those last 8 draggy minutes, I enjoy Forever Autumn, and it's one of the few non-extreme gothic rock/metal albums I like in the same level as HIM. It's an enjoyable album with a few jarringly flawed songs. Listen to this album for an enchanting autumn!
If I were to give this album a precise genre description, I would settle with "symphonic gothic black metal" because that's really what this album is. Yet with all this debating over Cradle of Filth's genre, the band has been labeled "extreme metal" by many people including former guitarist Paul Allender. I'm one of those people who believe extreme metal is an umbrella term that shouldn't be labeled as an excuse for a genre. If I ever use the term "extreme metal" to describe bands from genres I like such as thrash metal, melodeath, metalcore, people might think I listen to bands like Cradle of Filth, which I don't. See, it's tough having to handpick extreme genres that you're comfortable with...
Dusk and Her Embrace is actually pretty good, except one thing; the awful production! The cloudy muffled mix separates the distance between instruments. Thin guitars, soft bass, drums that sound like they're trying to pound their way out of a quicksand swamp. That's another thing I can't stand about black metal, intentional lo-fi production sh*t. Then again, it's only their second album, and I'm sure they've improved on their production since then.
"Humana Inspired to Nightmare" is the typical keyboard-symphonic intro that ends with the sound of a burning pyre. The first real song "Heaven Torn Asunder" sounds a bit like Iron Maiden in the intro riff and verse, except with a horror vibe and tortured shrieks. Then it speeds up to speed metal before moving into kick-A black metal blast beats. That's probably their most Maiden-ish song here. Classic "Funeral In Carpathia" opens by violently ripping your a** open and f***ing through with high-speed relentless drumming. Over the top, but great for the extreme fans!
"A Gothic Romance" is a gothic black metal song with a few small jump-scares including the spoken narration "Portrait of the dead countess..." followed by maniacal witch laughter. One of my favorite tracks here! "Malice Through the Looking Glass" is definitely NOT one of my favorites, being too light on the riffs. Another favorite, the title track has intense blast beats that slice through your neck then put your head back in place repeatedly.
"The Graveyard by Moonlight" is another beautiful instrumental. "Beauty Slept in Sodom" is a wonderful epic track that is gothic black metal at its best. "Haunted Shores" has an inspirational war speech by Venom's Cronos after a lethal war through blazing riffs and fast thrashy drums that blast like a b***h.
Dusk and Her Embrace has some masterful potential despite the production being weak and the gothic black metal sound being too much for me. I would recommend it to new Cradle of Filth fans starting their journey with the debut album and debut EP. I'm sure heavier listeners wouldn't mind some Filth....
Favorites: "Funeral In Carpathia", "A Gothic Romance", "Dusk and Her Embrace", "Beauty Slept in Sodom"
My review for the final Sentenced release, The Funeral Album, resulted in me saying one word to this album... "Meh." But when I came across Sentenced for another review as part of my Ultimate Metal Family Tree band challenge, you might think I would have the same reaction to this album The Cold White Light... Well this one is better, but still not enough to make me fully interested in Sentenced.
Yes, I said it, I'm never a big Sentenced fan. I've barely heard any of their albums, whether it's their late gothic metal era, or their earlier melodeath past. But now I know that The Funeral Album is a step back from The Cold White Light, which I'm gonna review now.
The intro, "Konevitsan Kirkonkellot" (The Church Bells of Konevets) is a cover of a Finnish traditional song, best known for the version performed by Piirpauke. It suggests the sorrowful majesty of deep emotion to come in this album. The suicidal-ish "Cross My Heart and Hope to Die" is one of those songs you would understand better by reading the lyrics. That song along with "Brief is the Light" shows the theme of depressing romance the band had recently picked up. My favorite song is the heavy "Neverlasting".
The sh*tty mellow abundance of "Aika Multaa Muistot (Everything Is Nothing)" is enough to make me a bit sleepy. A nice catchy chorus can be found in "Excuse Me While I Kill Myself". That song has some dark humor you might find in this band and Type O Negative. One of the best songs of this album! Next one "Blood & Tears" has a similar tempo and style, another solid memorable rocker with catchy choruses and driving bass. The upbeat melodies and turned sinister by the growling bass and dark subject matter of a hopeless death by suicide. "You are the One" is a polar opposite being a love song of hope similar to HIM. The catchy hooks and groove make it a highlight.
Cure-like gothic rock influences can be found in "Guilt and Regret". Next song "The Luxury of a Grave" is another good song that is slightly more aggressive than the other songs. "No One There" is a 6-minute epic ending the album as a very powerful tune of despair. The keyboards helps draw you into the atmosphere and make this song another one of my favorite in this album, though I could do without that strange outro.
The Cold White Light continues the gothic era of albums like Crimson. I might not dig this as much as other gothic metal albums out there, but there are excellent songs. If only I had the interest to listen to their earlier releases, maybe even their death metal ones....
Favorites: Brief is the Light, Neverlasting, Excuse Me While I Kill Myself, You are the One, No One There
What the fuck happened to Holy Moses between debut Queen of Siam and this, the follow-up? I'm guessing someone locked them in a room and played Kreator and Sodom albums at them twenty-four hours a day. Well, either that or they heard Sacrilege's Behind the Realms of Madness and realised that if they wanted to be taken seriously as a female-fronted thrash outfit then they had to up their game. Luckily, that is exactly what they did as this is a million miles away from the NWOBHM-influenced speed metal of that debut. This is gritty and aggressive, neck-breaking thrash with incendiary solos and an impressively evil-sounding, hardcore-influenced vocal performance from Sabina Classen that shits on the likes of Angela Gossow and co.
The album's ten tracks flash by in a head-spinning blur and seem over in a matter of minutes, although it does actually last a little over half an hour and will have you leaping for the replay button, particularly if you are familiar with the debut, as you may not be able to absorb what you just heard. I really don't think you can overstate the improvement this album made over it's predecessor and is such huge leap it has actually made me negatively re-evaluate my rating for the debut. If you are any kind of fan of Eighties thrash you owe it to yourself to check it out... NOW!!
For my money Exumer are one of the great underrated 80s thrash outfits. This is probably due to the fact that they only released a couple of killer albums before calling it a day in 1991 (although they did reform for a one-off show at the Wacken Festival in 2001, then going their separate ways until 2008 when they again got back together as they remain to this day) and the fact that they didn't originate any particular style of thrash themselves, but built on styles developed by others. Forming in 1984 (as Tartaros) in Frankfurt, thrash metal history has seen them overshadowed by their more illustrious countrymen, Kreator and Sodom, but believe me, although their albums don't have the originality and fire of a Pleasure to Kill or Persecution Mania, they can certainly hold their heads high in such illustrious company and are well at the head of the second tier of thrash bands that features the likes of Exodus and Testament.
Rising from the Sea is the 1987 follow-up to the previous year's debut, Possessed by Fire and received wisdom says that this is the inferior of the two albums. I, however, wish to disagree on this point. The first is a fine record, no doubt, with some killer tracks, but this is a more consistent album in my opinion. Sure, it's not the most original thrash record ever, borrowing particularly heavily from Slayer, that in itself being the sole reason I don't give this a five-star rating (the lack of originality, not them borrowing from Slayer!) That said though, of all the albums the mighty Slayer have influenced, this is certainly one of the best. New vocalist and bassist Paul Arakari sounds a lot more like Tom Araya than Possessed by Fire's Mem Von Stein, probably the main reason for the comparisons, although the similarities appear in other areas too.
Arakari opens first track, Winds of Death, with an Angel of Death-style scream and we're off and running. This isn't really an album of breakneck, headlong thrashing, but is more of a chug-heavy mosh-a-thon. The solos are of the piercing, shrieking, tortured-metal-sounding, weaponised type championed by Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King. The bass gallops along, despite not being dominant enough in the mix and the drums are effective but could do with sounding a bit crisper. The tracks themselves, despite not being super-original, are pretty memorable and are definitely very enjoyable, Rising From the Sea, Decimation and Shadows of the Past being the stand-outs. This is physical, not cerebral metal and isn't meant to be thought about too deeply, but to be experienced in a way that leaves the listener sweaty and knackered! Neither is it supposed to be highly technical, so what more can you really want from an old-school thrash album than to feel like you've had your ass kicked, at which this is supremely successful... and I for one love this shit.
There's never a lot of death metal bands that can blend classical/symphonic influences so boldly into their brutality. While Septicflesh reigns as the masters of symphonic death metal, Fleshgod Apocalypse is almost their rival. Fleshgod Apocalypse achieves that great mix via songs and interludes. And yes, I tried listening to a few songs in my earlier epic taste, but the death metal was too intense for me at the time. But now, this doesn't sound intense enough! Mafia is an EP released after their debut Oracles.
Fleshgod Apocalypse presents what you would expect from them; death metal brutality, neo-classical guitar, and symphonic sections. If people think Oracles was a savage animal, Mafia is somewhat different. A couple members, drummer Mauro Mercurio and vocalist/guitarist Francesco Paoli were originally in another death metal band Hour of Penance, both of whom left that band for this one. However, Mercurio was only a session drummer for Oracles, and Paoli had to record drums as his primary instrument. Paoli gave most of his vocal/guitar duties to Tommaso Riccardi. Bassist Paolo Rossi adds high clean singing in a couple songs.
One of those tracks is "Thru Our Scars" (not feeling up to spelling it "Through", huh?). The song is memorable yet repetitive! So is "Abyssal", continuing the band's trademark usage of death growls, brutal riffs, neo-classical leads, and drum pounding.
"Conspiracy of Silence" once again has those male falsetto vocals, which can be jarring at first but make more sense the more times you listen. After 3 new songs, Fleshgod Apocalypse does an absolutely BRUTAL killer cover of At the Gates' "Blinded by Fear". It's different enough to be an interesting cover, and it's uncommon for covers to be that wild. Blast beats take over the drumming, stomping around and running like a cheetah stampede. Subtle strings are added to the solo. It's so interesting to hear a cover of a melodeath classic with its brutality boosted, but of course, they can't do the original justice. The EP ends with its title outro, consisting of only piano.
With Mafia, Fleshgod Apocalypse left a blazing trail of symphonic death metal while distancing from the brutality of Hour of Penance that they've eventually cut ties from. I still haven't listened to their debut Oracles, but I have a feeling that the starting point of the band's journey would also be a good starter for new fans. Mafia is an exceptional release despite being an EP with only 3 new songs. F.A. fans won't be disappointed by this bridge before the band's next offering. That At the Gates cover though, F*** YEAH!!
Favorites: "Thru Our Scars", "Abyssal", "Blinded by Fear" (At the Gates cover)
I’ve gotta say, I liked this a lot more than I thought I would. Back in the day ( the 1990s), I wrote Marilyn Manson off pretty quickly. They were coming from the Nine Inch Nails camp, as opposed to the Ministry camp (i.e. my team), and I just didn’t like a lot of the aesthetics involved. I thought old Brian Hugh Warner took himself a little too seriously (and the story about the rib removal, well...) But anyway, fast forward to 2020 and I gave “Antichrist Superstar” a chance, not worrying about any of the minutiae that dissuaded me in the past, and just listened. What I realized is this stuff isn’t supposed to be taken that seriously. Or maybe a better way to put it is that it’s not music to put you in a dark place. This record is supposed to be, and for the most part is, pretty damn FUN. Yes, the lyrics are over the top and purposely offensive (an N-Bomb is dropped within the first two minutes) but the music is poppy as hell, and in a good way. The sound is similar to a lot of the heavier alternative rock of the period, but the slutty, hedonistic vibe differentiates MM from their contemporaries. The theatrical aspect makes the music simultaneously more artificial and more entertaining. This music isn’t deep, but it’s cool the way a good stupid horror movie is cool.
It goes without saying there is a huge Glam influence at play here, particularly inspired by Alice Cooper and David Bowie. The former is evident in the vocals. Mr. Manson does a pretty damn good Alice, especially on “Tourniquet,” which has a super catchy guitar riff and chorus which has been getting stuck in my head lately (not a bad thing). The Bowie influence is most evident on the album format and structure. It’s a concept album, but instead of Ziggy Stardust, it’s the Antichrist. The fact that the lyrics go back to being about the same guy/thing ties everything together nicely.
One of the things that I can’t help but focus on with Industrial Metal records is the production. It sounds like the band had a huge budget for “Antichrist Superstar” and they had a lot of fun with it, and I love that. Every track has different effects, different panning etc. which makes the listening experience quite grandiose So why only 3 1/2 stars and not more? Well, like I said, this is bubble gum metal, no more, no less. I enjoy listening to it but I don’t think I’d need it on a desert island. And, as is so often the case with good-but-not-great records, there are a few too many songs. This is basically a double album, so they could have easily dropped the five weakest tracks and still have had a complete LP. Whatever. To wrap it up, I’d have to say my favorite part is the double-header of “1996” and “Minute of Decay.” The latter is a moody piece was a really cool, drowsey bass line. The former a super-anthem that would probably kill live. It also includes the lyric “I am the faggot Anti-Pope, ” and I can’t help but smile at that. Not sure if I’d go as far as to say I’m a Marilyn Manson fan, but I definitely appreciate them more than I did, and I think I “get it” now.
Delain was formed in 2002 by Martijn Westerholt after his departure from Within Temptation due to Pfeiffer's disease. His project recorded and released a demo that year but after that, he put on hold for a few years. Then he continued the project as kind of a supergroup, featuring well-known members of other Dutch symphonic metal bands like Epica and Within Temptation. Soon, Delain became a full band, and here we are at their 4th album, The Human Contradiction!
This album offers a lot. Every song sounds different while staying in the usual symphonic metal sound. Some songs head straight into symphonic metal while others have a bit of an electropop edge to them.
The opening "Here Come the Vultures" is the band's longest track at 6 minutes. Lyrics based on nightmares, the track is darkly varied. Fantastic heavy downtuned guitar riffs pound over creepy keyboard atmosphere with background choirs and growls. In the middle, there's a slow break with humming and creepy "la-la-la". This is one of the most interesting songs written by the band! Soon the orchestration returns, followed by a fantastic guitar solo, proving that this song is a symphonic metal cinematic epic, and with the dark specters from the nightmares vocalist Charlotte Wessels had been having, it helps turn the song into something from a Tim Burton movie. Charlotte is one of the greatest symphonic metal singers with supreme vocals of powerful passion and beautiful serenity. Her powerful vocals continue in "Your Body Is a Battleground" in a fantastic duet with Marco Hietala (Nightwish). That's another epic song, but with the aforesaid electropop edge. "Stardust" is closer to the band's symphonic metal roots, all in a catchy tune that you can't resist.
"My Masquerade" is another song in the band's more typical style, an insane catchy anthem with pounding guitars and heavy drums. The fantastic choruses have riffs worth headbanging over melodic keyboards. It is clear what a live staple that song was going to be, and it has the best vocals alternating between soft and powerful. "Tell Me, Mechanist" has beautiful keyboards and singing balanced with heavy riffs and incredible growls by George Oosthoek (Orphanage). "Sing to Me" reminds me of Nightwish when Anette Olzon was in that band (in a good way), especially since Marco Hietala is in this song as well.
"Army of Dolls" is another interesting song. It starts with the typical catchiness before breaking down into a slow strange midsection with electronic drums, creepy keyboards and groovy bass combined with pounding guitars for a dark atmosphere, before a fantastic guitar solo. "Lullaby" is an almost softer song with a catchy soft chorus. Last track "The Tragedy of the Commons" has Alissa White-Gluz (Arch Enemy) contributing inhuman screams in contrast to the melodic leads and beautiful choirs. Great ending!
The Human Contradiction is another great symphonic metal album. With many memorable songs, the album is definitely enjoyable. The tracks are diverse with catchy melodies and breathtaking singing. Even though I'm no longer attached to symphonic metal, I think a lot of metalheads should check out this release. Let it empower you!
Favorites: "Here Come the Vultures", "Your Body Is a Battleground", "Tell Me, Mechanist", "Sing to Me", "The Tragedy of the Commons"
This was the first of his releases that I recall saw the buzz around Tristan Shone first starting to reach the "What Are You Listening To Now" threads on the various metal forums I frequented at the time. This and the follow up Ursus Americanus had certainly seen enough cursory glances from me on Bandcamp to warrant at least a try of the music, but somehow I never got around to it. It wasn't until 2018's Beastland that I finally sampled some of Shone's industrial majesty, being impressed enough to retain it in my stream subscription for occasional replay. As with most artists, I rarely start at the beginning of the discography (and I haven't even achieved that yet here with this review - there's at least a couple of albums before this one for me to catch up with) preferring to just dip in here and there and build up my experience of an artist gradually.
I sensed promise in the Author & Punisher back-catalgoue for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the guy makes his own triggers, controllers and instruments himself from raw materials. I find this gives the music some primitive allure. Kind of like when as a kid you'd make drum kits out of oil drums and upturned boxes, only this is obviously light years ahead in terms of technical knowledge to engineer such machines to produce recorded output. The second hint of hope I had for Shone and his music is the fact that it managed to bridge the gap between industrial, mechanised torture and actual, discernable songs. Although the title of the album kind of gives away the content to some degree, this is not mindless droning or racket for racket-making's sake, it is thought out structures that cross over into the realms of drone metal just as easily as industrial metal also. Lust for Scales for example is like a monstrous, robotic Tony Iommi riffing around the studio with the expected familiar pummeling intensity.
On the whole, Drone Machines works. It lacks some range in terms of variety of its own varied niche in the world of music and although I acknowledge the fact that there are songs stood as structures, they don't all feel like they were bottomed out as complete ideas before being committed to tape. Tracks such as Beginning of End are just filler unfortunately and push the patience levels in me as a listener to the point of reaching for the skip button. But, whilst it needs a trim in a couple of places, album number three from San Diego's number one noise terrorist still has lots of legs to hold the attention for the record duration. Its most clever trait perhaps is the ability for it to generate so much power both in terms of sound and density at the same time. It truly "fills" your ears and your head at times, starting from some bone-jarring drone at the base of your neck that expands into auditory assault by intelligent use of rhythm and percussion alongside the more experimental noise aspects also deployed. Check out Blue Flame for a great example of this balance and smart application of opposing musical fare.
I might be a deacde late, but I am glad I got here in the end.
Vinland Saga continues the saga of Leaves Eyes, and I heard that it shows the band slightly improving from their debut Lovelorn. Leaves Eyes was formed after the vocalist couple Alexander Krull and Liv Kristine married and the latter left Theatre of Tragedy. Apparently, Liv Kristine only stayed with the band under the married condition because after the couple split up in 2016, she left the band. Too bad about that divorce though because now I ship that couple as the king and queen of symphonic gothic metal!
Anyway, the vocals definitely highlight Vinland Saga. Liv Kristine used to be one of my favorite gothic metal vocalists when I was listening to Theatre of Tragedy, and her voice is filled with peace and tranquility, in contrast to the powerful growls of Alexander Krull.
I kinda like the opening title track, despite starting the album with a ballad with Norwegian lyrics, except for the English lines, "The new world they found they called Vinland, the Land of Wine". I like it because it's seen as an intro to the album, like HIM's "For You". The faster heavier "Farewell Proud Men" starts the powerful action from beginning to end that fits with Kristine's beautiful vocals. "Elegy" is an elegant highlight. Same with "Solemn Sea", only darker with a great touch of Krull's growls.
"Leaves' Eyes" can be considered the band's theme. Actually it can't because it's a sleepy Celtic lullaby. "The Thorn" is one of the best darker songs of this album. Same with "Misseri (Turn Green Meadows Into Grey)", which is a brighter ballad. "Amhrán (Song of the Winds)" is another boring Celtic lullaby, this time instrumental.
"New Found Land" is a direct description of the main concept; Leif Erikson discovering Vinland (a.k.a. Newfoundland). That song features background gang choir vocals. "Mourning Tree" is basically folk serenity. "Twilight Sun" is a beautiful highlight. Same with "Ankomst" (The Arrival), an amazing ballad to end the album. There's also two limited edition bonus tracks that are pretty decent; "Heal" and a re-recording of "For Amelie", from their debut Lovelorn.
All in all, "Vinland Saga" is another great album. It's less straight than most other symphonic/gothic metal releases. I still don't feel up to listening to their debut Lovelorn, but I have a feeling that both their debut and this album should be listened to by symphonic metal fans for a magical journey all the way!
Favorites: "Elegy", "Solemn Sea", "The Thorn", "Misseri", "Twilight Sun", "Ankomst"
Death's Final Revelation
I knew nothing about this unassuming record from Control Deined when I fired it up, interested to check out some random Progressive Metal from the late 1990's. I was obviously expecting something Dream Theater influenced, but my assumptions were dashed fairly quickly when certain aspects of The Fragile Art of Existence had me racking my brain trying to figure out what it reminded me of. When the opening track "Consumed" started up, the rumbling bass riff pushed forward in the mix coupled with the dropped chug riffs and choppy song structure fit the bill of a Progressive Metal album, especially with the vocalist attempting to mimic the effects of someone like Symphony X's Russell Allen. But something was still off. I couldn't shake the feeling that this album had some serious Death Metal influences in it, with the drumming and guitar solos having some seriously heavy breakdowns in tracks like "Expect The Unexpected" with its dirtier guitar tone. I wrote it off for a while, but by the time I got to the closing track I decided to look up the band and wouldn't you know, it's good old Chuck Schuldiner, frontman and guitarist of the vastly influential Metal band Death.
Sadly this was Schuldiner's unfortunate swan song, with The Fragile Art of Existence being the final album he would ever release before passing on. I'm sure a lot of fans would have preferred an 8th Death album as they were a band that could seemingly do no wrong with their unimaginable run of albums in the 1990's, but I think Control Denied showing Schuldiner tackle something slightly divergent from his usual material is fascinating to explore, even though it may come across as a bit of a disappointment. The Sound of Perserverance, Death's 1998 album, was already moving in a lighter and more progressive direction compared to 1995's Symbolic, so it's not too much of a shock that Schuldiner wanted to go all in on a more progressive release separate from the Death name. With the help of a different vocalist and less focus on being as heavy as possible, Control Denied pivoted Schuldiner's style in a very interesting way that is obviously still recognizable but admittedly watered down.
Although Death and Schuldiner himself are normally seen as the "Godfathers Of Death Metal", compared to the grotesque scene today I've always found them to be more progressively inclined than most tend to admit. The Fragile Art of Existence is an experiment to see what taking a detour in the Death style of Metal looks like, and it's a pretty mixed bag to be honest. The guitar work is phenomenal and Schuldiner is in perfect form, giving more complex riffs some of his signature heft and energy. The solos absolutely rip and the Death Metal influenced chugs really shine through with the more prominent and complex bass lines. Death's work was already inherently erratic due to being Death Metal, but Control Denied is able to lean even farther into those tendencies with abrupt changes in tempo, time signature, and feel coming almost at random. The transitions are well put together for the most part though, although it's hard to miss a beat when almost all of the base riffs in The Fragile Art of Existence are great. The vocalist has a ton of range, moving from a normal Power Metal style in "When the Link Becomes Missing" to full on screams in "Expect the Unexpected", but can get a bit awkward here and there with the way the vocal melodies and inflections are performed. It's also very overpowering in "When the Link Becomes Missing" and "Believe", taking away from the other, and frankly much better, aspects of Control Denied's performance.
There's just something about this album that doesn't quite pan out in the end though, and I think it just comes down to the package being overall less exciting than a lot of other Progressive Metal albums. Schuldiner's guitar performance and writing is stellar, the pronounced bass adds a new dimension to the more progressive sound, and the drums do a great job of sliding in some of that hulking Death Metal influence, but it never really comes together in a way that makes it better than average. The vocalist and somewhat repetitive guitar work bog the album down and the abrupt shifts and changes in the music are neat but never truly exiting. I'm glad I got to hear some more nasty riffs from Schuldiner, but that's about as far as The Fragile Art of Existence goes for me. It would have been interesting to see how Control Denied would have evolved as this debut was definitely solid enough, but some things aren't meant to be.
Once again, I was never really into Sirenia, even after listening to a few songs during my earlier epic metal taste, yet now I'm doing my second Sirenia album review for my Ultimate Metal Family Tree band challenge, this time for their debut album At Sixes and Sevens! Because of those negatively criticizing comparisons between this album and their second An Elixir for Existence, I knew the time would come. Maybe it would have the killer material and one of the most beautiful looking/sounding vocalists in metal history people keep talking about. The vocalist is French singer Fabienne Gondamin, and NO she isn't the siren model in the album cover, contrary to popular belief, though the siren looks kinda hot too. So in my dark "man-cave" on a sunny morning, I sit on my chair and begin reviewing this piece of righteous music...
Sirenia is a new project by Morten Veland after he left his previous band Tristania, and it sounds heavier with stronger guitar and bass, all played by himself. Most of the instruments being played by himself create an oppressive vibe that is combined with various vocalists and a violin, which is quite an ambitious task worth listening to entirely. The vibe might also sound murky, but the songs help turn the murky waters into cold dreamy atmosphere and, despite its basic skeletal structure, it f***ing works! Even the Latin choirs don't ruin the experience and instead become essential.
"Meridian" opens the album excellently with gothic doom melodies and death growls that perfectly lessen any off-putting effects that might come later. Soon the tempo would change mid-tempo lumber to occasional sudden blasting with clear punches that don't overpower the music. Fabienne doesn't come in until the 3-minute mark, and that means Morten growls most of the song's lyrics. Like the instrumentation, Fabienne's is not really technically efficient, but it's made with great sensuality. Her voice carries more weight than her octave ability and seems to be more influenced by ethereal pop than gothic metal. Fantastic vocals, though not appearing much in that song! The more minimalist riffs in "Sister Nightfall" turn that song into a driving classic. Then there's the more catchy yet complex highlight "On the Wane".
"In a Manica" starts with clean male vocals that sound closer to what I currently like in gothic metal, but this is the worst song of this album. The death growls in the chorus don't help though they should have. The violin, female vocals, and choirs lack the important emotion. Disappointing! Though the next track definitely isn't, the gift that is the title track! The excellent intro adds melancholic atmosphere using acoustic guitar, violin, and female vocals. Then the song gets more powerful with heavy electric guitars and drums alongside harsh vocals mixed with Latin choirs. The death-growled chorus is catchy and easily stays in your ears for a long time. The violin solo serves as a segue between the two halves of the song. The piano ends that small epic part of the journey. The best track of the album and a perfect gothic metal song! "Lethargica" starts strong with Morten's guitars making a good typical entrance. The vocals alternate a lot, through the song isn't very captivating. Still OK, nonetheless!
"Manic Aeon" once again has female cleans and male growls, though Fabienne whispers like a ghost. It has piano, guitars, violin, and drums, but not in its usual heavier state. The choir shows up towards the end. Good atmosphere, but not one of the best tracks. "A Shadow of Your Own Self" achieves well with its drum/guitar intro before the clean vocals (both male and female). Then the pattern keeps repeating including another growled chorus. The song is good, especially the choir which mixed with the female vocals are a great part of the track. A quite atmospheric song with synths and drums! The final ballad "In Sumerian Haze" is almost solely sung by Fabienne without any monstrous heaviness that still comes out as a brilliant highlight with dreamy vocals and impassioned violin. A fitting ambient ending to a compelling gothic metal album!
So despite a couple small disappointments, At Sixes and Sevens has almost perfect material that is almost like; lethally cold while invitingly hot. While most "Beauty and the Beast" bands usually end up in the power metal cliche of orcs and fairies, the contrast between Morten's guttural growls and Fabienne's smooth singing unleashes a vocal exchange sounding closer to a siren warrior fighting a monstrous seabeast in waves crashing on the siren's island. Not a lot of albums can ever pull of that kind of caliber. At Sixes And Sevens is an interesting turning point of symphonic gothic metal!
Favorites: "Meridian", "Sister Nightfall", "On the Wane", "At Sixes and Sevens", "In Sumerian Haze"
Besides Therion, another band who has helped developed symphonic metal is Emperor. However, it's symphonic BLACK metal. You all know what black metal is, right? Of course you do, but I'll explain. Heavy guitars riffs, sinister keyboards, blasting drums, incoherent shrieking vocals, and lyrics praising Hell and Satan. That and most of the members being in jail for crimes like murder, assault, and arson, is why I try to avoid it. Wait, IS this symphonic metal? The keyboards are only used sparingly! Ohh man...
Yeah it's not easy for any person who would never rebel against religion to listen to this album nor take it seriously. But the music is never bad and has quite some majesty in each track. The lyrics, despite being Satanic, are more descriptive than just convoluted poetry. Emperor's messages are more understandable, as opposed to other black metal bands like Cradle of Filth whose convoluted lyrics would either confuse you or subliminally hypnotize you to join the Satanic horde. While most of the album is in English, it might not be their primary language because of their spelling/grammar mistakes ("I am the Black Wizards"), but I salute that kind of creativity.
It starts with the ominous "Intro" reminding me of a death march of soldiers. Then "Into the Infinity of Thoughts" blasts off as the band's 8-minute opening epic. It is one of the best of the album, with tempo changes and breaks to create the song's epic feel. Next track "The Burning Shadows of Silence" has less lyrics and is one of the bleakest songs of the album while speeding along. Highlight "Cosmic Keys to My Creations & Times" has a masterful blizzard of synths, building climatically to a mellow conclusion.
"Beyond the Great Vast Forest" is a slower song. Beginning the next track "Towards the Pantheon" is a simple synth melody that is torn apart by the song being one of the fastest in this album. Marvelous! Next one "The Majesty of the Night Sky" starts loud and mid-paced. Soon it has an amazing synth section before continuing the aggression.
"I am the Black Wizards" is one of the most popular songs by Emperor, beginning with pure aggression before slowing down as the song goes by, up to the end where vocalist/guitarist Ihsahn screams "I AM THEM!!!" over spoken narration. A total mind-blower! This is followed by the closing "Inno a Satana" (Hymn to Satan). There's actual clean chanting combined with the usual screaming to stir up something magnificent. The powerful climax is where all the instruments collide in a frenzy as Ihsahn cleanly screams "Inno a Satana!!" The remastered version includes two bonus covers; "A Fine Day to Die" by Bathory and "Gypsy" by Mercyful Fate. While both tracks have coherent vocals, they both are rather unfitting, so why did I include them in this review? Because I don't wanna end up giving this album 5 stars which would've made me too attached.
So who should I recommend this album to? Absolutely not to myself! Despite the odd production and being surpassed by other black metal bands, In the Nightside Eclipse is a good album for any black metal fan. I enjoyed this album, despite trying my best not to be an elite black metal fan. Perhaps the evil yet cohesive storytelling aims to please!
Favorites: "Into the Infinity of Thoughts", "Cosmic Keys to My Creations & Times", "Towards the Pantheon", "I am the Black Wizards", "Inno a Satana"
Hi and welcome to this new and exciting of edition of "the weird shit that Saxystephens listens to"! I'm your host, and this band is Neptunian Maimalism, a Belgian based avant-garde jazz ensemble who decided to take the plunge into heavier tones on Éons, their newest record.
Beyond that description, I don't really know how else to explain this album beyond "the kitchen sink". This album has it all from a sonic point of view. It's very avant-garde/progressive with its timbre of sounds, it's melodic, it has drone aspects, it contains the traditional polyphonic spiritual sounds, it's minimalist. And, dare I say it, it's one of the most compelling albums I've heard in a long time.
Now does that make it a classic? Well the production is phenomenal. Most of the melodic passages are taken by the saxophones and are complimented by what I will dubiously call "spiritual percussion". When the guitars and keys appear to play backgrounds, they are always undertones, but they do build over time, giving many of the extended songs on this albums second half some swell and growth. Of course, the guitar also gets some lead sections, such as the very nice "Ptah Sokar Osiris".
"Drone" might not be the best descriptor for an album such as this. This album has far too many grooves and melodies to fall into that category, although I do see why some would call it that. The compositions are very long and are deliberately slow, in an effort to ease the listener into their huge crescendos over time; you almost do not even realize how far you've come over the duration of one track. On tracks such as the opener, "Daiitoku-Myōō no ōdaiko", it is much more obvious what is happening. And while it does feel like "drone", it might not sound like it. The most drone song on the album is "Eôs", and even that song is far more developed than almost anything I've heard in the genre in a long time. The guitar, saxophone and vocal melodies are soaring and tell a beautiful story.
Like with many drone albums however, there is a caveat. And that is that this album is way too damn long! Seriously, this "concept album" of mostly instrumentals is over two hours and split into three parts. And I needed those breaks in order to get through this thing. I don't know how anyone could sit and actively be listening to this entire record in one session. And no, using mind altering substances doesn't count!
As a piece of music, Neptunian Maximalism is truly a marvel. It's a marvel in how this group was able to take all of these musical ideas and mash them up into this cacophony. It's hectic yet peaceful, drone yet melodic, powerful and soft. How does it work as a metal album? It lacks much of what makes an album metal. But then again, what makes a drone album "metal"? I had this discussion a few months ago in one of the MA forums and brought up the idea that too many people in metal communities scour when something is called "metal" and does not live up to their expectations of that word and its connotations. When you open your mind to the possibilities that "metal" can be more than just Black Sabbath, Metallica and Cannibal Corpse, you'll be amazed by what you may find. And unfortunately, this trend seems to be continuing with the metal communities reception to this record.
Now to answer my own question, is this record a classic? No. But goddamn does it open the door for infinite possibilities. This album is worth hearing just for the uniqueness, even if I should warn that this album will be an alienating listen for some.
Do you ever have an album shine so close to your heart? That's how I felt with the third Officium Triste album, Reason! It has helped me decide which music I prefer, melodic death-doom. Any fan of My Dying Bride and Anathema would love this band. They've stayed long in the shadows but came out with good quality to help spread their name.
Reason lasts 42 minutes, yet has only 5 composition with an average of over 8 minutes in length. You would be thinking way more of the subtle changes and impressive production than the massive length. Each song glides through melodic majesty that sets them apart from the dark doom tradition of the "Peaceville 3". To top off the doomy music is vocalist Pim Blankenstein who normally does warm grunts and serene narrations. Sometimes the rhythms reach dynamic acceleration, but most of the time, it's all just primary doom at the slowest for me to tolerate.
First song "In Pouring Rain" is the shortest at only under 6 minutes. The vocals immediately start, floating through good guitars and beautiful keyboards. The drums range from slow to mid-tempo. There's also some guitar soloing. Next song "The Silent Witness" is my favorite of this album. It begins with a one-minute keyboard intro before vocals join in. I really like the guitar riffs and solos. Some parts have spoken vocals that sound good.
Track #3, "This Inner Twist" once again begins with a one-minute keyboard intro that also includes guitar. And of course, it has a guitar solo and beautiful keyboard section that leads to another spoken narration. I love that song as well!
"The Sun Doesn't Shine Anymore" is the longest song at 10 and a half minutes. It has yet another keyboard intro that leads to guitar and, at the one and a half minute mark, vocals. You get to hear great guitars, drums, and keyboards throughout that epic. The final song is "A Flower in Decay", which beings with a piano intro that soon switches to keyboard, and one more time, the vocals start after almost two minutes. More of the good guitars, drums, and keyboards await!
I love this album. Reason is something to listen to entirely to experience the heavy haze of slow mid-tempo death-doom that reigns in unconditional sadness. One of the slowest most intense albums I truly enjoy! Well done, Officium Triste!!
Favorites: "The Silent Witness", "This Inner Twist", "The Sun Doesn't Shine Anymore"
So a couple weeks before this review, I change the tempo of really slow doom metal songs by 2x and uploaded them into a video, which some of you consider "nullifying" to the intentions of the genre. Yet here I am reviewing an album that has one of the songs that I edited in that video. This is a bit awkward... But hey, maybe I can enjoy some of the songs in this album, regardless of speed.
Saturnus' Veronika Decides to Die (named after the novel by Paulo Coelho) is what I heard is total improvement for the band. I like the wonderful vocals that including deep growls, agonizing shouts, and spoken words. The tempo is slow while beautifully combining melodies and chords. A melodic album of tragic despair!
The album begins with the piano intro that opens the song "I Long". This is the song from this album that was part of the doom metal mix sped up to 2x. Maybe it would still sound great to me at its original speed. And it does! It makes the listener fall into a great guitar riff void. I love the original tempo as much as my faster version, the lyrics that are about yearning for a solution that you end up failing and willing to escaping your life, and its overall emotion. "Pretend" is a well-produced song where the bass swims through waves of distorted guitars, and the marvelous keyboards float over the guitar tsunami without sinking. The drum sections are greatly influential for the near-future.
The lead guitar tone in "Descending" really touches me. Same with "Rain Wash Me", best listened to in early December when there isn't any snow yet but it rains heavily and you let the ambiance fill the sound. The rain continues in "All Alone" which starts with a piano intro over a distant thunderstorm. The despair is so atmospheric and beautiful that would make you wanna fly away to heaven.
Then there's another great song, "Embraced by Darkness". The melody that I love makes it sounds like another followup from the previous track. The genuine death-doom production works its magic in "To the Dreams". The final track "Murky Waters" is played in a similar pace to most of the previous songs but it's done as a nice recap to the album plus some more memorable moments. If it wasn't for the better lyrics and greater guitar sound, it would've been too similar to the rest, but fortunately, those lyrics and guitar sound make the recap sound fresh. An enjoyable ending!
In my opinion, the songs here work well as chapters in the novel that this album is named after, as if they all tell a great story. Even without sounding too similar, they make a strong connection and stay united. Whoever this Veronika is, she shall never die!
Favorites: "I Long", "Rain Wash Me", "Embraced by Darkness", "Murky Waters"
Death's Frigid Wake
For better or worse, I love melody in my Metal music. Pure, unadulterated aggression has its place and I'm a huge fan of it under certain circumstances, but at the end of the day I value a massive and memorable riff with a distinct beginning and end rather than a one-note onslaught of palm muted brutality. Black Metal has been a driving force that guided me away from cleaner and more progressive genres of Metal and into the pits of more extreme Metal genres because it can sit so perfectly between being relentlessly brutal and intriguingly complex. The blast beat drumming and higher-toned tremolo picking can be brutal, but also peaceful and atmospheric. Long story short, Black Metal has a ton of layers to it that have been explored over the years, but Dissection's Storm of the Light's Bane may have the best mastery over the most layers I've ever heard.
Hailing from Strömstad in Sweden, Dissection were active directly in the middle of the Melodic Death Metal uprising at the hands of At The Gates and Dark Tranquillity releasing their cornerstone albums in 1995 and In Flames releasing theirs shortly after in 1996. Due to music being pretty insular back then, it's no wonder that an upcoming Swedish Black Metal band would pull influences from what was around them, causing them to release a more Melodic Death Metal tinged form of Black Metal that is so cleanly performed that it's honestly hard to fully explain. Despite being slightly lacking in certain early Black Metal elements like lo-fi, grindy production and incessant blast beats, Storm of the Light's Bane still feels like a full fledged Black Metal release with its harrowing and icy atmosphere. Tracks like "Unhallowed" and "Soulreaper" dial the speed up to acceptable 90's Black Metal levels all while adding their own unique flair, like the layered acoustic guitars on "Soulreaper". None of these additions take away any of the energy and, if anything, they all add to the experience by giving the listener a new spin on something they've heard before. While the Black Metal segments of this album are top notch, Dissection went above and beyond adding other styles and influences that actually make sense within the genre.
The Melodic Death Metal influence in Storm of the Light's Bane is no secret, and that's why it's so phenomenal. Many Black Metal artists rose to fame due to their diligence to the purity of the Black Metal genre, delivering some truly chilling and chaotic experiences. While that's all well and good, lo-fi tremolo chord progressions behind ferociously quick drumming with chilling vocals and icy production styles can only be done in so many ways. Although I'm a big fan of Black Metal in general, I've always found the meat and potatoes of the genre to be pretty dull and normally look for bands that attempt to break the mold in interesting ways. Dissection decided that Black Metal tremolo needed a little bit more punch, so they added more melodic riffs that were more complex with their abrupt tempo changes and didn't sacrifice any amount of heft whatsoever. Not only is Storm of the Light's Bane a chilling Black Metal experience, it's a crushing Death Metal experience as well, with these two genres culminating together the best on "Night's Blood" as well as "Retribution - Storm Of The Light's Bane". The more melodious riffing is interlaced seamlessly into the more classic Black Metal riffing, and that goes for the drums as well, swapping between furious blast beats and slightly slower but more forceful rhythms to complement the ever-changing riffing. "Night's Blood", "Where Dead Angels Lie", and "Thorns of Crimson Death" even have a slight Folk Metal element to their melodies just due to their structure and the use of short but effective acoustic sections that break up the album in an unobtrusive way. It's incredible to hear so many different riff styles come together to form such a cohesively heavy and bitter product, all while having transitions that border on being magical.
Storm of the Light's Bane is the best of both worlds of Extreme Metal packaged into a unanimously incredible 40 minutes of high quality riffing, amazing song structure, and unbelievable usage of different genres and influences. It's been a long while since a riff has hit me quite like the first Death Metal drop in "Retribution - Storm Of The Light's Bane" or the many, many riff variations in "Night's Blood" did. While the vocals can be forgettable as a whole, they tie the entire album together neatly with their mid-range screaming quality that doesn't quite drop into Death Metal territory nor does it ascend to Black Metal shrieking. Add in the atmospheric intro track "At The Fathomless Depths" and the very pretty outro "No Dreams Breed In Breathless Sleep" and you've got a clear contender for one of the most unique and best crafted extreme Metal albums of the 1990's. Obviously more modern Black Metal bands have incorporated more clear riffing into their repertoires as time has gone on, but Dissection came out of the gates using the generally new genre of Melodic Death Metal in ways that still sound killer today. Storm of the Light's Bane is an essential milestone in extreme Metal and I can hardly think of a single complaint I would have with any of its choices, it's just that good.
Here goes another Amorphis album review, this time in their earlier era in the melodic death-doom part of my Ultimate Metal Family Tree band challenge. After the gruesome death metal of their debut and demos, their second album Tales from the Thousand Lakes continues their path with the brutality toned down and a more melodic sound that has spawned many talented classic songs!
Tales from the Thousand Lakes constantly delivers heavy guitar and steady drums. Following the melodeath/black/viking metal direction, the band had never forgotten the harsh deep vocals that are a must for any death metal genre. Even though this is seen as a true classic in metal, rating this album 4 stars seems to be enough for me.
The intro "Thousand Lakes" delivers peaceful piano and an operatic choir, setting your mind in an ocean of myths and legends, all in completely instrumental keyboards. Then it directly segues to "Into Hiding", a faster track with great guitar heaviness guiding the song through jumpy solo riffs. In the lyrics, a man runs away after a town threatens to have him arrested for his bad deeds then rides an eagle to fly to a remote island to hide forever. One of my personal album favorites! Next track "The Castaway" starts with a catchy guitar tune, then the guitar gets heavier while playing that tune. That section could've been done better to fit the song better. That tune goes for the first minute and a half then switches to heavy riffing and a steady beat, while lightly following that tune. The man riding his flying eagle soon magically merge to become one and soar over the mythical ocean. A long well-composed track that could've been made better! Next track "First Doom" isn't any better. It starts with slow doomy heavy drums and good riffs, speeding up after a while. The eagle-man flies back to the northern land, transforms back to human, and tries to ask the queen for forgiveness.
Then we have the melodic black/death classic "Black Winter Day"! It is a true combination everything in your metal wish list. It begins with a catchy keyboard intro before bursting into heavy guitars and perfect death growls. Later on, more guitar soloing comes in and the drums follow the song in perfect timing. This is a perfect and never boring track, and I knew it because of Children of Bodom's cover of the song. The man feels guilty of his bad crimes but feels like he shouldn't be. Next track "Drowned Maid" is almost as great as the previous track. It combines a heavy tune with guiding melodic guitars. Each of 3 tunes play in a different section. The lyrics deal with the man's first past crime; stabbing his maid wife and their pet hen and letting them sink in the ocean to drown, with their blood and flesh left behind. "In the Beginning" combines all great components but adds in singing together with the growling. The man realizes that the argument and murder of his wife might've been what began his criminal career.
Next song "Forgotten Sunrise" is interesting, starting with a beat following heavy guitars and a skilled solo, all in its first half. In the middle of the song, the heavy bass and leads make a good tune different from what was played earlier. Then the two tunes mix together for a good melody. The man's flashbacks continue on to when the man realized how corrupt modern times were and that was another contributing factor to plaguing the man into turning evil. "To Father's Cabin" is a different track that's a bit out of place but still well done. It starts with a clean catchy tune but loses its glory between the 40-second mark and the middle. The vocals within that section are poorly done and just boring spoken narration. After that mindless section, right at the two-minute point, the song has a great solo and flowing beat to end the track. The man remembers himself being a powerful old man who controlled the town. The last track in the standard edition, "Magic and Mayhem" starts with a graceful sad beat that isn't entirely entertaining. Then after the first minute, the guitars have some sinister grind. The man remembers his evil times when he was an evil rich man of power enslaving people and treating them poorly before being chased out of town. Back in the present, the man is now locked up in a dungeon cell, awaiting the "off with his head" execution.
So now the standard edition and that scenario is over, but there are a few bonus tracks from the Black Winter Day single/EP, starting with "Folk of the North", an instrumental track that acts as an intro to the bonus part. It starts with keyboards, drums, and bass before guitars join in, filling the song with magic and mayhem. Next track "Moon and Sun" is as slow and dark as the band's earlier material, but with a different beat. The tune isn't so catchy or exciting but it's pretty good. The lyrics tell a different story of a dark battle commencing across the land. The second part "Part II: North's Son" is more energetic. Catchy tunes and steady beats keep changing from fast to slow, and the lyrics talk about the land in desolated ruins after the battle. "Light My Fire" is a cover of a song by The Doors, excellently adding heavy tone and good guitar riffs.
All in all, the second Amorphis album that is considered is classic, Tales from the Thousand Lakes is an exceptional album with mythical lyrics. This is probably melodeath with hints of folk/viking metal. After listening to this album, it might encourage you to take a journey through different lands to meet new people, see great events, and discover the countries' greatest mysteries...after the current ongoing virus disappears, that is. Even though it's not the greatest classic for me, I would recommend it for anyone who wants something dark and heavy but not too deathly. It might just be worth expanding your metal library....
Favorites: "Into Hiding", "Black Winter Day", "Drowned Maid", "In the Beginning", "Forgotten Sunrise", and the two "Moon and Sun" parts that are bonus tracks
Convocation are a Finnish duo comprising multi-instrumentalist Lauri Laaksonen of death metal outfit Desolate Shrine and vocalist Marko Neuman of Dark Buddah Rising. They play epic and funereal death doom with great heaving, sorrow-drenched riffs and vocals that range from rasping, black metal-style shrieks to the more usual gutteral growling of traditional death doom and occasionally MN's unique, quite high-pitched clean style.
The album's four tracks span 45 minutes and as such are afforded the time to expound on their bleakly ominous atmospheres. The first two tracks, Martyrise and The Absence of Grief are fairly typical and really well done examples of this kind of epic death doom, taking their cue from bands like My Dying Bride, but shorn of the gothic overtones, which is just fine by me as I think it makes for a more pure doom experience. Third track, Misery Form, however, is a bit more ambitious, after it's unsettling intro it settles down into similar style to it's predecessors until just after halfway when it takes a more esoteric (small "e") turn and ends up sounding a lot like last year's Waste of Space Orchestra album, Syntheosis, of which Marco Neuman was part. Final track, Portal Closed, is an instrumental that again begins in conventional doom manner but which segues into a more reflective and calm finale, as if the listener has ultimately reached some place of tranquility after the myriad trials that previously beset them.
I really enjoyed this album, it's core of epic death doom is elaborated on just enough to sound fresh and new, whilst still retaining what makes death doom so appealing (to me anyway) in the first place.
A Viking Among The Giants
The early 1990's was a turning point in the story of Black Metal, with throngs of second wave artists crawling out from under the frozen ground of Scandinavia. Norway spearheaded most of this new revolution in Black Metal sound with material from bands like Mayhem, Darkthrone, Burzum, Emperor, and in this case, Enslaved. Personally, Enslaved was always overshadowed in my exploration of classic Black Metal in favor of Emperor, leading me to only check out their 17th studio album E released in 2017 until now. I hadn't realized how close and connected the second wave Black Metal scene was, at least in Norway, until doing my due diligence in figuring out what kind of climate this album was released under in 1994. Vikingligr Veldi comes after a 1993 split with Emperor, which explains the many similarities in sound, and directly in the middle of an absolute bombardment of insane Norwegian classic Black Metal releases. Emperor released their famous In The Nightside Eclipse merely one day before Vikingligr Veldi's February 22nd release, Darkthrone continued their reign over the scene with Transilvanian Hunger which released 5 days before, Burzum's pioneering Hvis lyset tar oss was released in April, and Mayhem's pinnacle release De mysteriis dom Sathanas followed in May of the same year. Since all of these groups are Black Metal titans, Enslaved is probably the least assuming and less known of the bunch, so how does Vikingligr Veldi hold up amidst the gargantuan competition?
The short answer is pretty damn well. The longer answer is that Enslaved's take on a more bombastic and theatrical style of Black Metal falls short of Emperor's signature atmosphere and complexity, but makes up some ground in terms of clarity and accessibility. While many other early 1990's Black Metal bands were recording their masterpieces on various root vegetables in abandoned, freezing cellars, Enslaved decided early on that the lo-fi style just wasn't for them. Vinkingligr Veldi has a loud and clear sound to it all while keeping the grinding Black Metal guitar tone mostly intact. Enslaved don't break any speed records on this album, with many riffs opting for a slower Black Metal chug, especially on the closing instrumental "Norvegr". Instead of trying to capitalize on chaos, each riff can be precisely heard above the blast beats of the drumming and uses slower but just as effective chord progression within the tremolo to create dramatic moments with the help of synths, acoustic guitar, and other symphonic elements peppered in throughout the album. These elements usually have more melody to them and serve as a stark contrast to the furious Black Metal tremolo picking that's going on in the background and while it can get a bit hokey on occasion, it's what gives Enslaved their signature sound.
While Vikingligr Veldi does a fantastic job of being a more theatrical and clear Black Metal experience, it definitely falls short on the songwriting aspect due to the four, 11-minute epics that make up most of the album. While there are a ton of good ideas in here, 11 minutes is a very long time to drag out the same tremolo picked chords with short, low quality symphonic intermissions before blasting back into the action. The album definitely has a flow to it, with there being enough slower and more impactful sections with less furious drumming to balance out the blast beats and enough memorable main riffs like on "Lifandi Lif Under Hamri" to connect the compositions in some way, but too much of it feels erratic and useless for what they were going for. For example, I personally don't think that "Vetrarnott" needed to be 11 minutes long, since the entire second half of the song is just a refrain of the first half with a few differences in the synth. For an album of this scale to function the time investment in the longer songs needs to feel like it's worth it, and even though the riffs and layering sounds fantastic, Enslaved don't do a whole lot past repeating the same ideas on most of these songs.
The Viking and mythological theme is still very well done though, with the album sounding less like a frozen wasteland and more like a communal or battle of the Gods. The higher production values obviously assisted with that, but Vikingligr Veldi still succeeds in merging a more theatrical and dramatic sound into the turmoil of Black Metal in a unique way compared to Emperor. The album slows down and gives some breathing room to these elements, allowing them to be more memorable rather than just part of the chaos. "Midgards Elder" has one of the more effective intermissions with its crushing chug riff, pounding drums, and strange but memorable warbly synth six minutes in before transitioning smoothly back into one of the previously used riffs. While each of the riffs they use are fantastic, they are just repeated and returned to way too much with too few modifications.
Enslaved succeeded in creating yet another unique and ripping Black Metal album that came out of 1994's Norwegian scene. Although a bit overblown, the production is crystal clear and easy to listen to, with even the bass getting some serious love in "Heimdallr". Vikingligr Veldi is simply a more appealing package at first glance with its fast, but not too fast, drumming and Black Metal riffs, suitably howled vocals used somewhat sparingly, and more epic sense of scale. It takes its Viking themes and spins them in a different direction than Bathory's Hammerheart did, trying to be a bit more subtle and stick to Black Metal's roots a bit more. Although this left them with songs that were a bit too long, I still really enjoyed Vikingligr Veldi and regret skipping over Enslaved when I first started to find out about Black Metal, since they absolutely deserve more time in the spotlight for a release that helped to diversify the early 1990's environment even more. It may not be as chaotically brilliant as In The Nightside Eclipse or as crushingly atmospheric as Hvis lyset tar oss to deserve its own genre, but I think Vikingligr Veldi can hold its head high against these titans as its accessibility and mix of influences creates an undoubtedly solid package that doesn't quite reach classic status, but deserves praise nonetheless.
The (current) middle release in the Vanum back-catalogue lacks any of the promised brilliance of the debut and feels like a half-arsed effort to just record a couple of tracks one wet weekend in March. The endless wailing tremolos just hang like some dense smoke in the air leaving an eventual acrid taste at the back of your throat. None of the three tracks on offer glean much in the way standout moments and so the experience just feels like a real drag to sit through - even if only for twenty four minutes.
Without anything in the way of song progression or expansion things just become staid and flat despite the melodic pummeling of the riffs seemingly trying to force some hope through the dull hue of a frankly pointless release. A step backwards following a promising debut whose potential is still not realised by the third release also.
The 4th Kalmah album The Black Waltz can be a bit of a shocker to me, especially after listening another album called Black Waltz by fellow melodeath band Avatar. I've heard a few Kalmah songs before but never liked them enough for full interest. Upon coming across this album again, I've found it excellent but still not perfect enough...
Kalmah isn't really easy to classify in a single genre. They're a melodeath band, yet their melodies are beyond melodeath, bringing them closer to the power metal category. Kalmah isn't the only band that I would describe as melodeath/power metal, see Children of Bodom and Norther. Newcomers listening to Kalmah once this album was first released might find it different from what they found out about the band in previous album reviews. This album definitely leans towards the thrashier side of melodeath.
When you start playing the first track "Defeat", you might initially think it's something you heard before. But around halfway through, you realize how great it actually is! The music might be a bit similar, but they've unleashed a melodeath monster. "Bitter Metallic Side" begins with dark keyboard before the ambiance gets destroyed by absolute riff-wrath and the shining growls of guitarist/vocalist Pekka Kokko as part of the bitter metallic side of their sound. Yes, there are much more of the death growls than the black metal screams from previous albums. And the melodic onslaught is only beginning... "Time Takes Us All" isn't entirely one of their best songs, but the opening is awesome! Furious drumming and synth roll in as a harsh angry scream impales the beautiful melodic atmosphere. "To the Gallows" is another killer favorite.
The acoustic instrumental "Svieri Doroga" is a heartfelt emotional interlude. The title track is a great one. It is slower but the symphonic operatic synths can be heard clearly. There are nice melodies and a moving tone that never feels repetitive. "With Terminal Intensity" is another brilliant track with a great intro. Excellent terminal intensity! Next track "Man of The King" really works well with a bit of Finnish humor.
Another killer cut "The Groan of Wind" just goes absolutely relentless through its one and a half minute opening before carrying on in melodeath greatness. "Mindrust" is a bit meandering and difficult to navigate. Saving the best for last, "One From the Stands" has melodies more intoxicating than swamp-water beer. Those guys have really nailed their melodeath talents. Of course, there's always the Japanese bonus track, this one being a kick-A cover of Carcass' "This Mortal Coil". I've heard of Carcass, but I don't ever dare to listen to them because of their goregrind history before becoming an early pioneer of the less gory and more tolerable melodeath.
Overall, The Black Waltz is an impressive album filled with brutality and beauty. It's not perfect enough to listen to the band full-time, but it's pretty close. I'm sure other melodeath fans would enjoy it more than I do. Keep Kalmah!
Favorites: "Defeat", "To the Gallows", "The Black Waltz", "With Terminal Intensity", "The Groan of Wind", "One From the Stands"
A four-track EP, inspired by spring and summertime that opens with a wholly new track entitled Doom for the Red Sun, which doesn't sound as you may expect from the title. It is a doomy-sounding track, but it is wholly acoustic and does have a certain ritualistic and rustic quality. Folky wicca doom that's more than a little Wicker Man. The second track, La sella del Diavolo, dates from the band's Cult of Black Friars sessions and is a fuzzy, psych-doom instrumental that drives along like an open-top motor down a country lane on a sunny day. Astroflower is a cover of an old track from guitarist and vocalist Kjxu's old band Wild Duck, another chunk of fuzz-drenched psych-doom that doesn't do anything special but does have a really satisfying tone. Final track The Hound of Harbinger God is remastered from a 2015 split 7" with fellow Italian doomsters, Bretus. This is a more straight-up doom offering of nearly nine minutes. It's a decent slab of doom, but for some reason it feels like the remastering has left the track feeling a little hollow. All in all not a bad way to spend half an hour, but the opener is the stand-out for me.
Life is too short for some things. I would class the much lauded 2002 release from Portland's Agalloch as befitting this description perfectly. I mean, don't get me wrong there's much debate to say how it is a masterpiece of post-rock/metal influenced blackened folk-metal as the album takes you through the complete tour of the sub-genre it manages to create with the release of this album. But at the same time it obvious (to my ears at least) that this is very niche and no matter how well it is done it is a lot to take in.
In all seriousness, The Mantle is simply too big for it's boots. It isn't consciously trying to be too smart or clever but I feel that somewhere along the way it starts to disappear up it's own rectum. The album feels like it is too personal for sharing with a wider audience, like it's direction could only be understood by a gifted few (who I doft my hat to) instead of any semblance of "mass" consumption. This is of course the risk most artists take when releasing anything and I can't discount the fact that this album is more or less universally praised virtually everywhere I look, but for me the reward for listening is more way off expectations.
Instead of coming across as expansive, the whole thing feels sprawling and arduous. The genuine feeling is that I am being burdened with something by taking the time to sit through the record and whilst that "something" is never unbearable it certainly is draining nonetheless. I can cope usually with vast soundscapes with atmospheric sweepings and wooshes, but here things feel uninteresting and unnecessary as the record progresses. There's no defining moments and as a result the whole thing just feels like one long-winded experience.
From what I have read about John Haughm and the demise of Agalloch this record feels like the circumstance surrounding that sudden ending to the band, uncertain and not entirely clear on what the hell's going on.
Zakk Wylde's drawling vocal style makes my shit itch. It sounds forced and fake a lot of the time and is one of the main blockers to me exploring more of BLS' music. For some reason though, on Mafia Wylde finds the correct blend of vocal nonsense and (albeit limited) levels of decent songwriting just enough to hold my interest. What develops over far too many tracks is a passable attempt at some energetic heavy metal that only really falls short due to a complete lack of filter on the quality control department.
I don't profess to know much about Wylde's career beyond Ozzy Osbourne, friends with Dimebag and he likes baseball a lot. His guitar playing style on what snippets I had regularly heard seemed to move between shredding and grooving with a lot of chunky riffs thrown in for good measure. I don't mind his six string exploits, in fact I would go as far as to say that on Mafia they hold my interest more than anything else on display here. I can actually remember bits of his work on the lead guitar and still have a discernable chug from the rhythm parts of his repetoire also having listened to the record a couple of times.
The first thing that starts to kill it for me is the production job (granted I am listening on stream so the rip quality might be the problem) but things seem clumsily mixed, almost to the point of distraction. There sounds almost like there is a flimsy membrane between some of the instruments and in the jostling to get heard only Zakk's guitar stands out. If I am honest Nunenmacher feels largely lost throughout the record and it feels like the songs are all incomplete in some regard, even in the more high-intensity moments.
Next I have issue with the tracklisting. This album doesn't need fifteen songs (and most definitely not a Lynyrd Skynyrd cover), in fact it needs around ten as a maximum as by the time I get past Too Tough To Die I need a fucking break. Just stopping for a minute to execute good ideas better, at the expense of a few filler tracks would have made this album a much more enjoyable experience.
Finally, there's no getting away from those vocals in the long run. On the opening track Wylde actually just makes noises in time with the music for sections of the track which is just nonsense. JUST PLAY MORE INSTRUMENTS INSTEAD IF YOU'RE THAT SHORT ON THE LYRICS FRONT. Other than the poor production, the inconsistent songwriting, the overburdening arrangement and the vocals of a blues singer trapped in a washing machine on a spin cycle there's not much wrong with this.
Winter has been a prominent theme found within the confines of the black metal subgenre since its inception. And everyone seems to have a different interpretation on what the titular season would sound like. Paysage D'Hiver have made it into a twenty plus year career.
I had heard a lot of things about this record through those who managed to pick up limited edition copies prior to its release (finally) on streaming services. And many had said that this was the return to form for Paysage D'Hiver; the one that would put Wintherr back on the map the same way the self titled record did in 1999.
This album felt like a throwback to the mid 1990s and the classic records by the band Burzum such as Filosofem, in which it combines the drone and ambient sounds with pummeling, lo-fi black metal to create something that is very repetitive, but somehow inescapably intoxicating.
And with albums such as this, I believe that the lo-fi production actually helps the artist get their desired atmosphere across. The way in which the vocals are so distorted behind a wall of guitars that are laden with static snow and reverb is very symbolic. The nature and field recordings that break up the metal portions are subtle and provide the listener with just enough recovery time before the next ten minute wave of black metal hits your ears.
I will say a couple things though. In the time between the self-titled record, Winterkaelte and this, the "winter" brand of black metal has changed drastically, and quite a few groups have come along and proven that this cold, dark atmosphere can be achieved through high quality production. As a result, this record does have a sense of nostalgia involved, but hardly lives up to the gold standards of ambient ABM. Also this album is too damn long! Seriously, I was struggling to find time just to listen to this thing in a single session with its two hour runtime. I was waiting for a rainy day to pop this thing out and almost three weeks later we still haven't seen any rain! I finally decided to just go for it, and I kid you not, we had a downpour by the time I got to "Flug".
I can make a lot of comparisons with this record. For one, it's atmosphere is very similar to Olhava's record Ladoga from earlier this year, although I do think this record is a more balanced experience then that one. The comparisons to Burzum are inescapable so if you like that branch of black metal, you are going to go gaga for this. For me, this record may never live up to the legendary status of Agalloch's Ashes Against The Grain or Fen's Winter, but the nostalgia factor is enough to grab my attention and keep it for as long as the titular season feels.
This EP, released as a single-sided 12" of 500 copies on Rise Above was only for sale at the Rise Above Records 20th Anniversary Show on Dec 13th 2008. It's single, eleven-minute instrumental track is a big departure for Electric Wizard as they dip their toes into the waters of ritualistic drone, particularly coming as it does in a fairly conventional period for the band, between Witchcult Today and Black Masses. There is very little variation throughout the entire eleven minutes, it's stand-out features being the heavily ritualistic-sounding drums and the eerily ominous organ. Jus Osborne's guitar is present, but very heavily buried down in the mix, so you have to work a little to hear it.
This certainly won't be to everyone's taste and has divided even die-hard Wizard fans, but I quite like the way you can get lost in the track and, to such end, it's eleven minutes may even be a bit short. It makes sense for the band to release this as a stand-alone EP rather than part of an album, although I think it would have made a great intro to Black Masses. Probably more likely to appeal to metal heads who dig on drone than straight-up stoners, but you never can tell!
Chrono.naut was a track from Electric Wizard's earliest days, when they were still called Eternal, and has also appeared on a split with Orange Goblin, but this release was a 10" EP released on Man's Ruin Records with the track split into two. Side one is the more structured part of the song, and it's stoner doom would even sound familiar to fans of later Electric Wizard releases (although it is a little muddy-sounding). Side two is a big contrast, a surprisingly mellow, laid-back, pychedelic jam that should be accompanied by copious amounts of acid and a Liquid Len lightshow. This second section may not really appeal all that much to fans of the later material, unless they are also big fans of hallucinatory, psych-jam bands (and why wouldn't they be?)
Listening tip: makes a for a great comedown if played straight after the drug-fuelled rampage of the Supercoven EP. Play the two back-to-back for a killer ride!