At one point I found myself over-saturated with black metal and consequently for the last year or so I have paid it very little attention, other than for a few releases from acts I was already familiar with. So to a new year and I feel ready to put black metal back on the menu and as fate would have it, the first release to cross my path was the new album from German atmospheric black metal duo, Imperium Dekadenz. My only previous contact with the band was via 2007's Dämmerung der Szenarien album which I found to be a solid, if not especially earth-shattering, effort, so it has been a while since I paid the band heed.
Well, even after a solitary playthrough, Into Sorrow Evermore had a firm hold on my attention as it was immediately apparent that this was a cut above your run-of-the-mill atmospheric black metal release and was one that demanded further scrutiny. Most of the tracks here tread a line between atmospheric and uptempo melodic black metal, erring more on one side or the other depending on the track and are atmospherically epic and expansive. There is plenty of variety, though, with a couple of tracks that have a slower tempo and a greater emphasis on post-metal-derived melancholy, almost channelling a doom metal sensibility, in the vein of the stuff someone like Deha produces on a regular basis. The riffs are great with a fairly meaty sound for black metal, with each being sufficiently melodic and memorable that they live long in the memory, a trick too many atmo-black bands are unable to replicate. Vocalist Horaz has a great line in washed-out shrieking that fits the blasting and riffing perfectly and it is always great to hear real drums on an atmo-black album, they just give it a natural authenticity that programmed drums are unable to reproduce convincingly.
Thematically the album is on solid ground, the lyrics comprising a philosophical contemplation of the implacable majesty of the natural world and Man's place within it, a subject any atmospheric black metal fan will be extremely familiar with. There is no compulsion on the part of the duo to push boundaries and you won't be overwhelmed with layers of dissonance or overly complex rhythms and song structures, but Into Sorrow Evermore bears the hallmarks of a band who have been honing their craft and songwriting skills within their own field of expertise and if you are a fan of classy, natural-themed atmo-black in the nature of Wolves in the Throne Room you will find much here to revel in. For me, Imperial Dekadenz have definitely given me a big push to climb back aboard the black metal express and for that I am extremely grateful.
It's 1998, and with nu metal slowly getting its footing and revitalizing what was, at that point, a dying metal scene, there's no denying that amongst the rap metal hybrid acts such as Limp Bizkit and Rage Against the Machine, and the teenage angst ridden beats of Papa Roach and Korn, there was one band who had a unique sound of their own, and that band was Spineshank.
System of a Down's self-titled debut album is literally all over the place, from calm to erratic in a heartbeat. It's raw and aggressive, yet at times can be soothing and melodic, whilst maintaining a take-no-prisoners "fuck the world" attitude. It's dirty, gritty, and full of rage and spite. Certainly not a record for the weak-hearted.
Vocalist Serj Tankian has expertly managed to blend all kinds of singing, from melodic clean vocals to shouting, a wide range of eccentric falsetto, something considerably theatrical, and what can only be described as "vocal effects", it could be seen as an acquired taste, but it's certainly unique! And his vocals are perfectly backed by Daron Malakian's guitars. Punchy, heavy and relentless. Frantically shifting from crunchy riffs to odd, out-of-tune bends and licks. It's a recognizable style that very few have been able to replicate.
Highlights to look out for include 'Suite-Pee', 'Know', 'Ddevil' (nope, that wasn't a typo!), 'Peephole' and of course the classic, 'Sugar'.
As a whole, this is a cracking debut. It shows a band with incredible chemistry and potential (which they would certainly live up to), and the only real problem with it today is that it seems a bit dated and overshadowed by what the band would go on to release later in their careers.
Esoteric as a word is defined as being 'intended for or likely to be understood by only a small number of people with specialised knowledge or interest' which is absolutely applicable to this monstrosity of a record. I do not think that I am an expert in funeral doom by any stretch of the imagination but the content I found on the six tracks present on this debut release is anything but confined to just one sub-genre of music. There is no doubt (even without reading the liner notes that Ben refers to in his review) that this was a record for an exclusive club and that you would not necessarily know whether you were in that club or not until you started listening to the record.
I like my music as extreme as the next cave-dwelling Metal Academy scribe but there are moments on Epistemological Despondency were even I begin to struggle. It may be the less than successful deployment of the death metal elements or the horrific noise intrusions and oddly muffled (maybe too down tuned) instruments - or in fact all of the above - but something is definitely off for me here. There are not a lot of moving parts I sense, yet they some how bash into one another far too much like an extra-large dodgem set up at a fair with only 6 cars on it. Logically they have a bigger area to move around in yet somehow they still continue to bump into one another.
It could be that I have come to this record too late and that the boundaries of acceptable extremity in my music have been stretched enough already at my age for me to be able to judge this record appropriately without the context of what it was trying to do in 1994. Whether I am 18 or 47 though I do not think that Epistemological Despondency is for me. There is too much to get through, being delivered by sparse component parts for me to want to get behind the cluttered arrangements and oppressive presentation to be bothered to understand what it actually wants to say about justified belief or opinion (if we take the album title by its intended definition of course).
‘Streets: A Rock Opera’, released in 1991, is the sixth studio album by American metal band Savatage. It sees the band further develop their unique style which incorporates huge influences from musicals and classical music, and features a concept based on the rise and fall of fictional musician D.T. Jesus. Coming at a time when metal was becoming stale to mainstream fans, it was no doubt a risky move by the band to continue this route, but the end result is one of their most highly revered and well-received albums.
Riding a wave of momentum from their previous albums, ‘Hall of the Mountain King’ and its successor, ‘Gutter Ballet’, and once again continuing their working relationship with producer Paul O’Neill (who wrote the original story for the album), the band have hit their stride here, finding their niche and sounding more confident than ever before.
Wonderfully produced, the sound of the album evokes many moods throughout its diverse track list. From heavy rockers, to melodic tearjerkers, the production perfectly captures the essence and mood of each song. At times haunting and eerie, melancholic and depressing, or uplifting, head banging metal anthems, O’Neill has done a tremendous job of capturing the right vibe which suits the style of the band, and gives each member ample space to shine.
With songs such as ‘Jesus Saves’, ‘Somewhere in Time/Believe’, ‘Tonight He Grins Again/Strange Reality’, ‘Ghost in the Ruins’, ‘You’re Alive/Sammy and Tex’ and ‘Agony and Ecstasy/Heal My Soul’, there’s no shortage of Savatage highlights here. Along with Jon Oliva’s hauntingly passionate vocals and Criss Olivas classically-inspired guitar acrobatics, this is a pivotal album for the band, which would see them continue to ignore musical trends in favour of their own musical and artistic integrity, making ‘Streets: A Rock Opera’, a worthwhile addition to the collection of all rock and metal fans.
It has been over eight years since the unholy Hellenic duo, Thy Darkened Shade, released the first part of their "Satanic Book", Khem Sedjet, but finally they are back with the second volume, entitled Mahapralaya. This latest instalment is an interesting combination of the accessible and the dissonant that has a distinctive Greek flavour and a progressiveness that gives the whole a narrative feel, as if the band are regaling us with an epic tale of satanic adventure. The songwriting is key to this feeling of progression through a narrative as it's complex and interesting structure leads us organically from one chapter of infernal doings to another.
Whilst there is a degree of technical dissonance employed throughout, the band are unafraid to resort to melodic passages and riffs, reminiscent of the recent, more accessible side of Deathspell Omega and symphonic flourishes to add a sweeping epic quality to the album. Personally, I find this more palatable than out and out dissonant black as I often find myself overwhelmed by that form of black metal and I find it difficult to fully absorb what is going on, but here I think TDS have struck a superb balance between the melodic and the dissonant which makes the experience much less alienating, although whether that is a good or bad thing depends on how unforgiving you like your black metal to sound.
Technically, the band sound excellent and with crystal clear riffs this is no raw as fuck demo-quality blaster. Drums are provided by guest musician, Hannes Grossmann, who is the current drummer with Triptykon and who provides a precision and skill that only enhaces the already impressive musical endeavours of multi-indtrumentalist Semjaza. Vocally there is plenty going on, from all-out black metal barks to almost spoken-word snarls and and on to choral flourishes that further expand the sound into more epic territory without ever sounding overdone or cheesy.
Overall, I found this to be a compelling listen with just the right level (for me) of dissonance to keep it from feeling too "cosy" without it tipping over into wilful angularity and there are sufficient hooks to allow it to remain in the memory after the disc has stopped spinning. The progressive songwriting leaves no possibility of boredom setting in as repetition is not an issue with Mahapralaya, yet it remains well-structured and coherent. I haven't been paying much attention to newer black metal over recent months, but with Thy Darkened Shade's latest my attention has been firmly attracted.
I recall being very pleasantly surprised by the 2004 debut album from German progressive metallers Disillusion when I finally got around to checking it out many years ago. I hadn’t heard all that much about it & just kinda stumbled over it a good five years after its release which left me wondering what rock it’d been hiding under for all those years. Ben didn’t hesitate in advising me that it was me that’d been hiding under a rock which is probably true but given the impression that “Back To Times Of Splendor” left on me at the time it’s a little surprising that I haven’t checked out any of the band’s subsequent releases until now, even more so after being thoroughly captivated & enthralled by this spectacular example of progressive metal music.
You see, “Ayam” is everything a prog metal fan could reasonably want from an album. The production is expansive & glistening, the musicianship is to die for & the song-writing is layered & ambitious. The melodic death metal component of Disillusion’s sound has almost completely disappeared since the debut but has been replaced by a stronger focus on melody, dynamics & atmosphere. This could be viewed as a negative by some fans but for me personally this has ended up being a positive. The instrumentation still reminds me of the less intense material from some of the premier extreme progressive metal bands like Opeth, Persefone & Ne Obliviscaris however Disillusion are a little more restrained & introspective these days. In fact, I’ve found myself making comparisons with Anathema’s more progressive works at times such is the refined sense of emotion in Disillusion’s modern sound. I simply adore the vocals of front man Andy Schmidt who sounds uncannily like Beck at times & possesses a tone that competes with Katatonia’s Jonas Renkse in terms of smoothness. Another highlight comes in the form of some wonderfully progressive guitar solos which refuse to be held back by traditional rock conventions & soar above the rest of the music with some truly angelic melodies that harness the exponent’s obviously impressive technique rather than being purely a showcase for it. Don't forget drummer Martin Schulz either cause the dude can play!
The tracklisting is without blemish with each of the eight tracks being very strong in its own right. Unlike “Back To Times Of Splendor” though, I’ve found that "Ayam" possesses a few truly transcendent tracks that enable the album to reach a higher level of adoration for me personally. Eleven minute opener “Am Abgrund” sets to tone beautifully & is probably the heaviest song included. “Longhope” is pure class too but it’s the most introspective piece of the eight that captured me to the highest degree in closing number “The Brook” which has probably ended up being the track that’s seen me tempted to push “Ayam” up into the running for my higher scores. Throw in some heavenly cover art that I can’t seem to see myself looking away from & you’ve got one of the best metal albums of 2022 & an essential release for members of The Infinite.
My Fallen clan challenge starts to take me to come very different waters as I get into the final third. Having been a largely positive experience thus far, there has been some genuinely unexpected discoveries along the way. The 3rd and Mortal however present a very different experience, one that has its high points as well as its lows it has to be said. Considering what I normally listen to from the country of Norway, these guys are a few football fields away from my usual black metal fodder that I consume with the vigour of a rabid animal. When I got Tears Laid in Earth between my teeth however I instantly started pulling the face of a confused dog, tilting my head from side to side like I could not believe what I was hearing.
First of all, I cannot ignore how good a vocalist Kirsti Huke is. Although she is entirely the wrong fit for this band and indeed this genre, she has a beautiful and shrill vocal style that when considered in isolation is undeniably good. The challenge is that the rest of the band/the music just cannot fit around her. Listen to this album and what you will hear is the instrumentation doing its upmost to play some doom, using keyboards, pianos and atmospherics alongside the guitars and drums to create some haunting (although never oppressive) music. Meanwhile, whenever Kirsti sings, everything else takes a back seat. The structures to tracks become so predictable, so quickly that I soon start to lose interest. Indeed, the only thing that keeps me present with the album are the two instrumental tracks in the middle of the album (arguably the high point of the record for me) where Kirsti does not sing but cries out alongside the instrumentation instead - more evidence that the two do not fit together well at all.
Trond and Geir are perfectly competent guitarists, that much is obvious here. However, they clearly want to play doom metal - not some ethereal gothic metal - and as a result the album feels constantly short-changed by these opposing elements. Forget you are listening to a doom record and the album is not half-bad but I am on the Fallen clan challenge, not some easy-listening playlist challenge.
The follow-up to the highly successful 'Parallels', 'Inside Out' is almost identical in sound and style to its predecessor, so much so that it is often regarded as "Parallels Part 2", though I find it is an unfair assumption as this album does contain material of some merit, even going as far as to say it's some of the bands tightest and most consistent songwriting.
Musically, this album follows on where 'Parallels' left off, which a strong emphasis on duel-guitar melodies that allow both players to shine, Mark Zonder's incredible drumming that adds so much flavor to the music, without dominating or taking too much spotlight, and Ray Alder's vocals which truly peaked here, especially in terms of range and capability.
The production is neat and tidy, with no musician being given preference. It does a good job of being a metal album, while also emphasizing the melody of the band.
With songs like 'Outside Looking In', 'Monument', 'Pale Fire', 'The Strand' and 'Face the Fear', it's clear that 'Inside Out' is an underrated classic, which is often overshadowed by the strengths of what came before. It's got some of the bands strongest material and is definitely a worthy addition to the collections of metal and prog fans.
*Sigh*... I would've dived into more of this band Sigh's over 3-decade 12-album career if I had more interest in avant-garde black metal with Japanese lyrics. With that said, their new album Shiki has given me great surprises. There are many meanings for the word "Shiki" and this album focuses on two of them; the Vivaldi/Wintersun-like motive of "4 seasons" and the DSBM-like attitude of "wanting to die". However, do they really follow those meanings? Let's find out...
The instrumentation really supports the album well, with guitars and bass by ex-DragonForce member Frédéric Leclercq and drumming by Fear Factory's Mike Heller. Longtime Sigh fans know the band's unpredictable weirdness, but some of them didn't expect the band to take a more serious Eastern progressive metal turn here.
A strange 15-second demon ritual-sounding intro "Kuroi Inori" (Black Prayer) starts the album similarly to the aforementioned DragonForce's debut Valley of the Damned. But in "Kuroi Kage" (Black Shadow), instead of speedy power metal, we have Celtic Frost vibes of slow black-doom-ish guitars with a psychedelic background. It's the soundtrack to a haunting nightmare! The insane high shrieks of vocalist Mirai are actually given more significance by the Japanese lyrics. It's not just slow gloom in this album though, as the black metal part of the sound crashes in "Shoujahitsumetsu" (Death of the Living), one of the fastest tracks of the album. There's also some classic metal influence, especially in the soloing, which is quite amazing, consider Leclercq's occasional soloing contributions to DragonForce.
"Shikabane" (Corpse) thunders through with powerful kick-A drumming. Check out "Satsui - Geshi No Ato" (Murderous Intent - After the Summer Solstice) for more of those thrashy drums and classic metal vibes, all that depart slightly from the avant-garde extreme metal of the earlier tracks. One track that's slightly laughable is "Fuyu ga Kuru" (Winter is Coming), and as if that title wasn't the tip-off, it seems too much like something worth appearing in an Eastern adaptation of the Game of Thrones soundtrack. "Shouku" (Community) is the closest we have to the bass and drums of the band's earlier black metal, while the guitar and background cleans add more melodic variety.
"Kuroi Kagami" (Black Mirror) is another ominous interlude. Then "Mayonaka No Kaii" (Midnight Mystery), despite reminding some of a weird Japanese Jethro Tull tribute at times, is an amazing highlight. Surprising turns in the instrumentation makes this an unforgettable wild ride. Did I mention the amount of surprises this band can pull? The oriental outro "Touji no Asa" (Morning at That Time) will keep you on your seat for what would come next in the future, if there are any more weirdly fun standouts to come...
So, did this band really worship Vivaldi, Wintersun, or DSBM? NOPE. Instead it's based on Japanese poem about Mirai's perilous journey from Autumn, through Winter, to Spring. Interesting concept, and very interesting album. Should there be an English translation though? I personally would hope so!
Favorites: "Kuroi Kage", "Shoujahitsumetsu", "Shikabane", "Shouku", "Mayonaka No Kaii"
I quite liked Sigh when they first hit the scene back in the 1990’s but when I returned to them following my decade-long absence from the metal scene I found that they’d gone way too far with the weirdness & albums like “Scenes From Hell” & “In Somniphobia” left me nothing short of repulsed. As a result, my expectations for their twelve full-length weren’t exactly high if I’m being completely honest but I’ve been left pleasantly surprised because last year’s “Shiki” has seen them dropping their avant-garde side for the most part, instead concentrating on a beautifully produced & well-composed progressive metal sound that's full of chunky riffs, blackened vocals & well integrated references to space rock & traditional Japanese music. The recruitment of session musicians guitarist/bassist Frédéric Leclercq (Dragonforce/Kreator/Loudblast) & drummer Mike Heller (Malignancy/Fear Factory/Raven) have proven to be very positive moves but unfortunately the Japanese-language black metal vocals are somewhat of a limiting factor here as I don’t think they’re powerful or professional enough to allow “Shiki” to reach the heights it was so clearly intended for. As usual I find myself being drawn to the album’s least popular tracks more than its obvious drawcards too with the three shorter intro/interlude/change-up tracks being the parts of the tracklisting that appeal to me the most (particularly the stunning space rock piece “Kuroi kagami”) but there aren’t any weak numbers included & I found “Shiki” to be an intriguing & generally rewarding experience that's probably the best material I've heard from Sigh.
Album number eleven from Obituary comes a whole thirty-five years after their inception as the band we know today and actually some thirty-nine years after they originally formed as Executioner (later becoming Xecutioner). When I sit back and take stock of Dying of Everything it is good to see that although it most certainly not Cause of Death or even Slowly We Rot it does continue the consistent and still rich vein of death metal output that the band have managed to muster since they dropped Inked in Blood back in 2014.
Although a lot of the initial underground feel to Obituary dissipated decades ago, this is still quintessentially an Obituary record. Those abrasively charged riffs, John's spewing vocals and Donald's solid drum work alongside the drawn out pace and bouncy rhythms. I cannot think of many death metal bands from the late 80s and early 90s who can still produce a sound that they have owned for thirty years and proudly wear it like a medal of honour. In a world were I constantly find myself drawn to more blackened elements in my death metal, Obituary are simply the same sounding band I grew up with - minus some of the intensity they enjoyed in their heyday - and who still supplied me with my gateway into death metal back in my teens.
Dying of Everything starts off very strong. For the first five tracks it is consistent if not basic (no frills here folks) death metal. This consistency breeds an air of accessibility and there are elements of melodicism that creep into leads and riff patterns alike. The gunfire samples that are used on War are a little bit distracting (if not predictable) and the title track itself seems to run away with itself pace-wise a bit but is still a raging behemoth of a track. The second half of the album is a marked deterioration however. My Will to Live sounds a little to close to The Wrong Time for my liking and By the Dawn sounds like a clumsy return to the Slowly We Rot days. The leads sound tired and uninspired overall throughout the record and in all honesty would have been better off left out altogether for me.
Only Torn Apart stands out from the rest of the pack in terms of the latter half of the record. This track is a real galloping dm track that fully engages the early promise of the album again. Sadly, my overall experience of Dying of Everything remains less positive than on previous outings. I don't hate it by any means, indeed the first half is great but as an album it does lack completeness and indeed he ideas seem to run out quite quickly here. After nearly four decades of existence, this is hardly unforgivable despite the overall disappointment I feel from the record. I still rate Obituary highly and hope they can find the energy to put out at least a couple more standout records before they call time on things. Dying of Everything isn't one of those standout records though.
I really struggled with unusual American solo-act Effluence's 2021 debut album "Psychocephalic Spawning" as it just seemed to hold nothing of musical value so I've been very hesitant to return for another helping, despite the continuous stream of praise being heaped on them from my beloved underground death metal scene. However, the fact that Effluence's "Liquefied" E.P. is one of the top rated BDM releases of 2022 has seen me feeling that I simply had to give it a crack but unfortunately I'm now regretting that decision because this little release is right up there with the worst metal records I've ever encountered. It's essentially an attempt to make as much of a cacophony of silly noises as it's humanly possible to achieve & I've never been one that appreciated humor in my extreme metal.
The death metal component brings to mind bands like Defeated Sanity, 7.H Target & Dripping with the over the top blast-beats & super-deep, unintelligible vocals but every track might as well be the same because there aren't any themes or differences in atmosphere to grab onto. As absurd as it sounds for a death metal record, there seem to be several references to the kitchen here with the inclusion of blender sounds & the cover art & track titles being angled towards food preparation themes. I find it all so hard to tolerate to be honest & I also struggle to think of who the target demographic for a release like "Liquefied" might be. Perhaps they're not even metalheads but teenage stoners looking for a laugh? Certainly not any of our Metal Academy regulars & I'd encourage everyone to give Effluence a wide birth.
Single track E.P.'s are often found to be guilty of over-indulgence but this 25 minute piece from English death metal duo Qrixkuor has cast aside any potential for musical wankery by creating a unique & (at times) quite frightening soundscape that takes the listener through uncharted territory. The basis for Qrixkuor's sound sits in the darkest & swampiest depths of the death metal spectrum however they've managed to differentiate themselves from the crowd through the incorporation of symphonic elements in such a way that it reminds me of a horror movie soundtrack rather than any cheesy attempt at atmosphere. You see, Qrixkuor's dense wall of darkness is far more complex & possesses a lot more integrity than the vast majority of bands that are linked to the term "symphonic". The guitar & bass work is highly complex & layered, the drums are used in an almost military fashion at times & the growled vocals are as deep & cavernous as you could want. As the song structure runs its course, you'll encounter several acts that make up the overall piece but it's unquestionably the crescendo that takes place during the last 5 or 6 minutes that's the kicker here & it represents the culmination of all of the band's hard work during the build-up of the first 20 minutes or so. You'll rarely hear something more unnerving or genuinely scary.
"Zoetrope" isn't the perfect piece of art however. The drumming isn't as accomplished as it could be which is a shame because there's definitely some unfulfilled potential left here. I do feel that the piece could have been a little snappier & a little culling could have gone a long way here but it's hard to be too critical when as artist has created an horrific world that sounds like nothing you've experienced before. The purely death metal component will likely draw comparisons to the likes of Teitanblood, Portal & Antediluvian but it's presented in a way that pulls Qrixkuor away from their peers by giving them their own identity. I have to admit that I can't pick up any of the black metal influence that's seen Qrixkuor being tagged as blackened death metal on many competitor's sites. "Zoetrope" is as death metal as they come as far as I'm concerned & it comes highly recommended for devotees of the darker end of the genre.
There are times when I'm listening to heavy metal music (and as I have become older, those times have grown a lot closer) when I just need a break. All of the aggression and ruthlessness can become overwhelming and sometimes I wonder "are you guys actually having fun making music?" Well allow me to introduce to you to Fellowship, the newest power metal outlet making some of the cheeriest metal music of the 2020s.
My first impression of The Saberlight Chronicles was reserved as my first comparison point was Majestica and their 2020 Christmas album. And while I did enjoy Majestica a few years ago, something about this does not click the same way. Perhaps it was the promise of being uplifting, but then falling into a very comfortable, Rhapsody (of Fire) formula of songwriting, but perhaps without the indulgent guitar solo dominance. I find it to be adequate, but far from impressive, especially considering Blind Guardian and Avantasia have been able to push the power metal genre forward beyond over-the-top expansiveness.
At least the instrumentals are well performed. Unlike a record such as Pain Remains by Lorna Shore, the symphonic elements are clearly meant as supplements to the choruses. These backgrounds are well produced and compliment the leads well, instead of resorting to the Fleshgod Apocalypse approach of "MORE LOUD NOISES!" As for the compositions, songs like "The Saint Beyond the River", "Silhouette" and "Until the Fires Die" are likely to be complimentary mainstays in my metal playlists. The rest of it just flies over my head as sounding the same. The final two tracks "Still Enough" and "Avalon" are so basic and forgettable even after extending their runtime well beyond what was reasonable.
Perhaps Fellowship's brand of power metal is still in its baby steps and The Saberlight Chronicles is the band just getting their feet wet. Maybe the next album will sound completely different and Fellowship will set themselves apart from even the best that power metal has to offer at the moment. But for now, I thought The Saberlight Chronicles was satisfactory. There are touches of something greater, but too quickly resorts back to tired-and-true power metal formulas of Rhapsody and Nightwish.
Best Songs: Until the Fires Die, Glory Days, Scars and Shrapnel Wounds, The Saint Beyond the River
'The Game' was my introduction to Austrian symphonic/progressive metal band Dreams of Sanity, having snapped it up quickly after hearing some of their music online and loving it. Sadly, this, their third studio album, was also their last, as the group split up shortly after its 2000 release. Especially unfortunate as this is undoubtedly their strongest outing.
Falling under the subgenre of progressive, power, gothic or symphonic metal (pick one), Dreams of Sanity have that perfect blend of heavy, grooving guitar riffs with plenty of melodic keyboards and string sounds. The songs have complex structures with plenty of excellent interplay between all involved, but without the mindless shredding and endless soloing that the genre is sometimes (in)famous for.
The production is absolutely spot on here. While the band's debut 'Kömödia' was fairly average, it's follow-up, 'Masquerade' was a massive leap forward, and so building upon that, with 'The Game' the Austrian's have really nailed the rich, vibrant and clear sound that gives every instrument clarity and warmth.
With songs such as 'The Beginning That Lies', 'The Creature That You Came to See', 'And So (I Walk On)', 'We.II.Sea', 'The Empress', and... ah, you know what? Bugger it, they're all brilliant! Dreams of Sanity really hit their stride with this release, and it's an absolute travesty that the band fell apart shortly after. Still, I'm glad I stumbled across these guys, because this is an incredible album by a hugely underrated band.
I don't mind the latest release from prolific Swedish one-man atmospheric black metal artist Bekëth Nexëhmü. It was his second album for the year, following just two months after "De evigas gravrit" which is self-indulgent enough in itself if not for the fact that this new record is 104 minutes long which is just taking the piss, isn't it? You can expect a very raw, lo-fi production, the consistent use of tremolo-picked riffs & blast-beats & those distant, tortured Varg Vikernes style screams, kinda like a more brutal example of the cold & atmospheric sound that other solo acts like Paysage d'Hiver, Trhä & Burzum champion. There are quite a few interludes included which comprise of some post-black metal inspired pieces as well as a couple of lengthy folk guitar instrumentals. The black metal material is hit & miss for me as some of the tracks can sound a bit too consciously epic & triumphant, occasionally turning to glistening melodic riffs that remind me of blackgaze artists like Deafheaven. The brutality factor is a definite plus for me though & the quality of some of the interludes is excellent with a few of those pieces being my favourite moments on the album. Overall, this release will probably satisfy a lot of our The North members but doesn't compete with the top tier in my opinion.
The newest album from Katatonia is exactly what you should expect from this band and at this point in their career. That does not make it a bad thing by any stretch since Katatonia are some of the best when it comes to writing well formed progressive music, while still being able to fully elaborate musical ideas and structures.
This time around, the band are returning back to a time that included stronger gothic themes such as on The Great Cold Distance. The instrumentals are performed exceptionally well, with only the opener "Austerity" feeling a lot more disjointed than the rest. Part of that is the progressive tendencies that have been slowly making their way to the forefront of the compositions. Most of the time they are excellent; very Opeth-ian in the execution, but that opener just feels closer to Dream Theater than I am particularly comfortable with. The vocal melodies are in proper and consistent form, but as a whole, I found the instrumentals to be a less than vibrant palette; too much texture and power chords to compliment Jonas' vocals style, but that has been a consistent issue of Katatonia's since Brave Murder Day so I'm inclined to let it slide.
One thing that I notice while listening to Sky Void of Stars is how influential a band like Katatonia have become in alternative metal throughout the years. The biggest influence is modern Stone Sour, but textured guitars have a Deftones flare to them. It is also apparent to hear how much influence Katatonia have on a group such as Soen.
To be honest, talking about a new Katatonia record in 2023 is challenging because I know it's a good album, possibly great, but I cannot rank it anything higher. Part of this is their legacy status; coming out of Swedish death metal boom of the 1990s and transitioning to a hybrid of gothic, alternative and progressive music that is better than their acclaimed 1990s work. And as a legacy act, Katatonia have nothing left to prove and as such, have not really evolved much since Dead End Kings. It's more of the same from this band, but more of the same is still really good.
Best Songs: Opaline, Drab Moon, Author, Sclera, Atrium
Here is a band who has a ton of potential but somehow just can't quite manage to channel it properly to create anything truly memorable. Whilst there are some good tunes coming from the German group Ivory Tower, most of the time this, their self-titled debut album, seems to just fall flat on its face.
I'm trying not to be too critical as there are some good tracks here, but sadly most of the time you just feel that you've already heard the same songs played a thousand times better by another band. On a positive note though, 'Alive' is a pretty awesome, upbeat song, and 'She' has a nice steady beat to inspire some serious headbanging, and to compliment the heavier tracks we have the beautiful piano ballad 'Spring'.
But apart from these three songs, the others all have hit-or-miss moments, and instead of finding something new with each listen, you just feel more frustration at having to listen through a whole heap of uninspired boredom to get to the good stuff.
Overall this isn't a terrible album, but it's not something I can see myself coming back to very often. The musicianship is fine and the vocals aren't bad, although sometimes the lyrics can be pretty lame, but ultimately the problem with this album is that it just tends to be boring most of the time.
I quite liked Birmingham NWOBHM outfit Quartz' 1977 self-titled debut album & also their 1980 sophomore record "Stand Up & Fight" which saw them upping the metal significantly. I'd never ventured further forwards than that in the band's discography until now but thought I'd take on the third of their more well-known releases in 1983's "Against All Odds" third album. Quartz would split up later the same year, only to reform in 2011 & they're apparently still around today & have in fact just released a brand new album. Anyway... "Against All Odds" isn't as entertaining as its older siblings with the wishy washy production job & uninspired song-writing missing the mark they'd previously reached. You can certainly expect to hear the hard rockin' brand of heavy metal that became the calling card of the NWOBHM but the tempos are sluggish & the chorus hooks are a bit lacking this time, particularly when they attempt their more accessible numbers. The best moments inevitably occur when we find Quartz channelling metal idols like Black Sabbath & Judas Priest but there are a couple too many failures overshadowing the album highlights here in my opinion. My suggestion is that you stick to the first two Quartz records if you're looking to expand your NWOBHM horizons.
A Fiery Taste
It's somewhat unbelievable that I can look at the over 2,000 albums that I've listened to up to this point and still feel intimidated by certain bands. I've delved into the depths of Brutal Death and Goregrind, as well as enveloped myself in the chaotic static of underground Black and War Metal, but something about the reputation that precedes Frenchmen Deathspell Omega keeps me at a firm arm's length from truly spending time with them. I knew that their discography was daunting, but I was unaware of their secondary lineup of highly praised EP's that began to be released after their initial 2004 breakout album Si monvmentvm reqvires, circvmspice. Most consist of one twenty minute song or simple movements like Kénôse, but Drought asserts itself as a miniature Deathspell Omega experience that provides something more hectic, aggressive, and blunt than their standard winding and dissonant melodies. The slow and brooding opener "Salowe Vision" is able to lull the listener into thinking they may be in for another Paracletus experience, but "Fiery Serpents" bursts in and shelves all those preconceived notions. The clearer and louder overall production, the punchier drums, the sharper guitars, and the more balanced but haggard vocals see Deathspell Omega move into more traditional and slightly more Math-y Progressive Metal territory all while retaining their unhinged chaos in terms of their songwriting and rhythm structures. Drought brings a forceful heaviness that feels a bit alien for the band, especially since the fiery, evil atmosphere of Paracletus is historically what they've done best, but this short EP shows that their overall style is able to be shaped and wrought in slightly different ways to produce material that's just as compelling. Despite being an intimidatingly dense 20 minutes, I really enjoy the balance that Deathspell Omega has been able to create, with "Fiery Serpents", "Scorpions & Drought", and the first half of "Abrasive Swirling Murk" being absolute pandemonium and an obvious inspiration for later acts like the currently popular Serpent Column. "Sand" and "The Crackled Book of Life" slow things down a bit at the end without sacrificing any of the harrowing and jagged riffing that keeps Drought pushing forward.
Even though it's only 20 minutes long, there's a lot to take in when it comes to the beginning of Deathspell Omega's metamorphosis into their more modern style that they'd debut on The Synarchy of Molten Bones four years later. The band has since then gone through even more changes, sadly in a direction that leaves me less interested than something like Drought, so it's been exciting to finally sit down and be able to try and digest a bit of what Deathspell Omega has to offer. It's impressive how chaotic and crushing the riffs and drumming can be while still maintaining a sense of coherency, which is what is ultimately able to keep me interested given the jammed nature of their music. It's hard for me to say this is an absolutely outstanding release though, given it's length and slight pacing issues, but at the same time I think the length is what makes this album a standout in their discography. With the rest of their EP's being 20-minute single song marathons, having a bite-sized slice of Deathspell Omega isn't necessarily a bad thing at the end of the day. As someone who wants to appreciate this band more but never seems to be in the right mood, Drought is a fantastic gateway album that doesn't require as much commitment or focus as their more complex and sinister albums. Thanks to its less muddled production, it's able to pack a hell of a punch that highlights and elevates their classic sounding riffs compared to their recent, safer, and more balanced albums The Furnaces of Palingenesia or The Long Defeat. I think it's safe to say that I have some Deathspell Omega albums to catch up with now that Drought was able to successfully drag me back into their ominous and tumultuous inferno.
Katatonia is known as one of the finest metal bands to come from Stockholm, Sweden. So why am I not getting into more of this action? See, they started as a death-doom band throughout the early/mid-90s, and they made a couple of the best albums of that genre. But when I left the Fallen clan, I distanced away from this band (among other death-doom bands), and the depressive lyrics they've had throughout their career kind of boosted my moving out motive. Interestingly, their albums from Viva Emptiness onwards are in the clan I switched into, The Gateway, with those albums considered dark alternative metal with post-/progressive elements. When I found out about their newest album Sky Void of Stars (the title sounds like a depressing take on a Coldplay single), I remembered the decently well-made City Burials from 3 years prior and my subsequent wonder of whether or not Jonas Renkse and co. could do better. And they've done it! They've made something close to a masterpiece of creativity.
There's just so much to discover the moment this offering started playing. They've enhanced their sound in this ongoing alt-metal era, continuing the mellowness of City Burials while eliminating the plodding factors and climbing back up towards the top. My concerns about if the depressiveness becomes too depressing is now out the window, and instead we have what might just be the best album Katatonia made in 25 years.
Dropping in right away is "Austerity", an incredible 4-minute opener of progressive force, complex in the riffing and rhythm while staying melodic. Drummer Daniel Moilanen makes his way through an impossibly big amount of time signatures. Bassist Niklas Sandin impressively keeps up with the fast technicality, into a bridge of mellow jazz. Guitar duo Anders Nyström and Roger Öjersson are the masters behind the riff complexity, with the latter performing a beautiful soloing. Of course, we can't about Jonas Renkse's warm vocal melodies, but while the unpredictability of the vocals can level up the impact, right from the beginning, it might catch you off guard at times. "Colossal Shade" gradually slows down into mid-tempo with lighter catchy melodies and bouncing electronics. Of course, darkness still lurks in the heavy guitar dissonance, especially in the bridge harkening back to Viva Emptiness. "Opaline" calms things down further. It's easily accessible with mellow dark electronic keyboards, leading up to a chorus of melancholic majesty, bringing back memories of The Great Cold Distance.
Continuing the flow is "Birds", restoring more of the straight heaviness of their early 2000s albums like Viva Emptiness, within the sinister atmosphere and urgent melody. Softer again is the more psychedelic "Drab Moon". Adding more tension again is "Author", with a chorus that really throws back to dark melody of the band's earliest albums since abandoning death-doom, Discouraged Ones and Tonight's Decision. "Impermanence" will leave you spellbound as a power ballad where Renkse sings together with Soen vocalist Joel Ekelöf, as the beautiful guitar leads take you towards the doom-rock of Last Fair Deal Gone Down.
"Sclera" is an underrated highlight, as the subtle melody, drumming, and electronics evoke great effect. While that song's chorus is memorizing with perfect tension, it's not as much as "Atrium", another glorious melodic goth alt-metal highlight that should really have as much attention as their 2000s era while making a great dark throwback to their late-90s albums. The 6-minute progressive closing piece, "No Beacon to Illuminate Our Fall" changes things quite a lot with twists in the riffs and evolution in the bleak vocals. And after all that's over, the listener will be left wondering what's next for the band... Unless they get the edition with the bonus track "Absconder", which unfortunately sounds too much like they're trying to recreate the sound of Last Fair Deal Gone Down and doesn't come out as greatly as all the other tracks.
If you're not as experienced with Katatonia as I am (despite my break from that band for over a year), Sky Void of Stars wouldn't be easy for you initially unless you give a lot of listening time. Eventually, it will be worth witness the album's brilliance. Katatonia had finally made their way back on top in their discography, and I look forward to more!
Favorites: "Austerity", "Opaline", "Author", "Sclera", "Atrium", "No Beacon to Illuminate Our Fall"
I've never been too keen on these guitar instrumental types. You know the ones... Joe Satriani... Steve Vai... yeah, those types. While I "like" them, and appreciate and respect their talent, I've always found "shred" albums tend to get fairly mundane fairly quickly. But this isn't just another guitarist, no sir, this is John freakin' Petrucci of Dream Theater dammit! And this is an album I just had to have!
As a die-hard Dream Theater fan and a guitarist myself (my aspirations to be this good withered away a long time ago), I was super excited to hear this. John Petrucci has long been one of my all-time heroes, and it was about time we got to see him strike out on his own.
However, while there are some fantastic tracks here, 'Suspended Animation', like all the others, quickly becomes just another one of those guitar albums.
I mean, the positives are that the songs are well-written and performed perfectly. We all knew Petrucci's technique was impeccable and this album does nothing but prove what everyone already knew. 'Jaws of Life' and 'Glasgow Kiss' are probably the two tracks most people are familiar with, and damn right, they are good songs! But the absolute star of the show is 'Tunnel Vision', which is an incredibly underrated song and easily the best off the album.
Sadly, after that, the rest of the songs are fairly average. Good exercises in technique and everything you'd come to expect, just not overly memorable. This is why 'Suspended Animation' is nothing more than a good album. Other than the first three tracks, the rest mostly serve as material for guitar nerds to study and learn, or for Petrucci to show off how Godlike he is.
Mostly the latter.
And I'm jealous.
After 1982's 'The Number of the Beast' cemented Iron Maiden's prominence in the metal world, the band were quickly back in the studio to build upon their momentum with 'Piece of Mind', an album that many fans hold in high regard, but one that I merely consider the final step in the transitional period that would see Iron Maiden truly reach their prime years.
Continuing Iron Maiden's run of what many consider their "golden era" of albums (the inclusion of new drummer Nicko McBrain would cement what would be viewed as the classic lineup), 'Piece of Mind' is revered by fans as one of the bands finest releases. Though, much like its predecessor, I feel there's too much filler material for me to share that opinion.
As with previous outings, there are a few instantly recognizable classics, such as 'Where Eagles Dare', 'Flight of Icarus', 'To Tame a Land', and one of the groups most memorable hits 'The Trooper' (which I often find to be fairly overrated, to be honest), but other than these songs, I feel the rest are fairly bland and uninspiring. Not that they're terrible, but tracks like 'Quest for Fire' and 'Sun and Steel' just don't really do anything for me.
The verdict has long been out that this is a classic Maiden album however, and in fairness, if you're a fan of the band then it's got enough "classic" material and status going for it that it warrants being in your collection, but overall I just find this to be the final album before the band really hit their stride and go through a string of excellent releases.
It's decent enough, but from here on out is where things really start to get good.
The early 80’s releases from all-female London NWOBHM four-piece Girlschool have generally offered me a fair bit of appeal in the past. Their 1980 debut album “Demolition”, 1981 “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” split E.P. with Motörhead & their 1982 third album “Screaming Blue Murder” all possessed enough rock ‘n’ roll electricity to keep me entertained although I strangely found their most widely celebrated 1981 sophomore album “Hit & Run” to be a little flat in comparison. I’d never ventured any further into the band’s back-catalogue however, perhaps being scared off by the claims that they’d sold out by taking a more polished & commercially accessible direction with their subsequent albums, so it's high time that I investigated a) whether that is indeed the case & b) whether it’ll have a detrimental effect on their appeal.
The album cover certainly gives you a strong indication that Girlschool had moved on from their dirty Motörhead-inspired roots, doesn’t it? And opening track “Going Under” (the only genuine heavy metal song on the tracklisting) does nothing to turn that impression around as it sounds much more like Def Leppard’s over-produced post-NWOBHM releases than it does Girlschool’s much rawer previous albums with its use of synthesizers & meticulously harmonized backing-vocals not being the only time those tools would pop up amongst the ten tracks. It’s a catchy number though & sees the record getting off to an entertaining start. Unfortunately, the remainder of the album makes for a rocky ride with some of the tougher hard rocks songs (see the title track, “Rock Me Shock Me” & album highlight “Running For Cover”) getting me nodding my head & humming the chorus hooks while the filler tracks around them left me slightly bemused & a touch bored, particularly the god awful “High & Dry” which is nothing short of terrible. There are even a couple of songs that I’d suggest cross over into… *gulp*.. US glam metal territory which I don’t regard as a positive move & I much prefer the material that sticks to an AC/DC-style crunch over those numbers.
There can be no denying the quality of the production job here as everything sounds crisp & attractive. Perhaps that’s not a good thing with a band like Girlschool though as a big part of their appeal lay in their grimy, working-class attitude & care-free, punk-rock image. Both of those things have been cast aside with “Play Dirty” & it’s been hard not to let that fact taint my impression of a record that was clearly intended for the US market. Sadly, it’s ended up being the band’s weakest release to the time & Girlschool have apparently never managed to right the ship in all the years that have passed since as far as I can tell either. “Play Dirty” may not be awful as such but I’d nonetheless suggest that you stick to records like “Demolition” & “Scream Blue Murder” if you’re looking for a bit of danger in your hard rock music.
It seems like this is the album that has grabbed everyone's attention as far as thrash metal goes in 2022 and I know little about it or it's creator, so check it out I must. The opening track sounds so much like Planet Caravan that I'm surprised Sabbath's lawyers haven't slapped an injunction on it, so it is hardly off to a genre-defying start. The title track follows and this is much more like what I would have expected and really hits the spot, until... what the fuck is smooth jazz elevator music doing here in the middle of an ass-kicking black metal track? Oh, but things get worse my friend as that snoozy interlude is followed by a migraine-inducing neo-classical guitar solo that is less than welcome in my earphones and I'm left scratching my head as to what is going on here and whether I even have the right album on! So I checked and yes, Spotify confirms that this is the record everyone is so stoked by. I'd better stick with it then I think with a sigh, but this could be a long hour. Luckily, the title track is the most egregious, although not only, example of Autonoesis wanting to be everything all at once so the low point has been passed and it should be plain sailing from here on.
Indeed, Raise the Dead is much more up my street with it's uncomplicated blackened thrash appealing far more to my palate. There is a short exuberant solo towards the end of the track, but it falls far short of the neo-classical excesses of that exhibited during the title track. Generally speaking I did enjoy the rest of the album, when it blasts and thrashes is when it appeals to me most, although the viking-ish instrumental Valhöll did manage to capture my imagination somewhat too. The washed out shrieking vocals were pretty decent and certainly sounded effective enough. I just get the feeling that there was too much of a concerted attempt to cram as many influences into the tracks as possible, which often sounded contrived and distracted from what should have been a fucking good blast.
As I have indicated often enough before, I don't like getting into discussions over genre minutiae, but I think if, for example, Moon of Foul Magics was to become The Pit release of the year then it would sit uncomfotably with me as I think it is much more of a black metal than a thrash record, although there are undeniably thrash elements present. Overall it is an interesting enough release, not always for the right reasons and when it is good it is very good, but there is just too much inconsistency of vision which ultimately I found frustrating.
Monstrosity sort of passed me by in the 90's. I do not recall that I even heard anything by them until last year when I went through Millenium over a number weeks, purely because I had only just cottoned on to the fact that George 'Corpsegrinder' Fisher started out in the band before he got in Cannibal Corpse. At the time of releasing In Dark Purity, three years had passed and George was gone having exited the band in late 1995. Replacement Jason Avery however was more than up to the job and I feel he filled the vocalist vacancy really well. His vocals bring Cannibal Corpse to mind a lot in all honesty which is ironic. Any fear of a lull in quality amongst fans of the band, having seen their long standing vocalist defect I would imagine were instantly quashed. Avery's bellows are just as demented as you like and accompany the horrifying backdrop of the instruments perfectly.
Musically, if you think of the fury of Deicide coupled with the sonic swarms of Morbid Angel, you could pitch In Dark Purity somewhere in between the two. Tony Norman certainly knew his way around the six strings he had slung around his shoulders, igniting tracks with an Azagthoth-esque sonic intensity whilst at the same time being able to give us a fair share of Hoffman-esque pacing and the riffing rhythm of a Jack Owen or Rob Rusay. The drumming of Lee Harrison is functional enough without him getting Pete Sandoval in ability at any point.
In Dark Purity is probably one of the most underrated death metal albums from the 90's. It is an improvement on Millenium, its predecessor, which is no mean feat and one that shows there was a lot more to Monstrosity than just their original vocalist. Whilst it may not be a lot different to most of what else already came out in the heyday of death metal it is well crafted and agile in its performance. There are occasional time changes and obscure signatures that herald the opening of a new section or sound that show this was a band with something extra in the tank to keep them slugging it out with the big shots of the scene. I would not go as far as to describe it as technical death metal but there is certainly some depth to it.
Yet another stunning highlight from a band that is now the clear leader of the post-sludge metal movement, “The Long Road Home" is an album that creeps up on you slowly, gradually attaching itself to your heart-strings & ever so gently increasing the tension until Cult of Luna have you strung up so tight that you feel you'll likely burst at any moment. The album starts off in fairly predictable fashion & (as Sonny spoke of in his review) you're very unlikely to be surprised by what you receive with a new Cult of Luna record however I simply cannot deny that the class & sophistication that this band possesses places them up above their peers when I experience the stunning attention to detail & compositional complexity they invariably produce.
Things only start to really get going with the glorious atmospherics of earie third track "Beyond I" but they rarely subside from that point onwards. As usual with me, it's the least popular tracks that I rate the highest with short post-rock piece "Full Moon" & closing ambient number "Beyond II" stealing the show from wonderful post-sludge epics like "An Offering to the Wild" or "Blood Upon Stone". "The Long Road Home" is perfectly suited to it's title as it's a lengthy record at 69 minutes but will continue to open up with each listen, offering increasingly greater rewards for the active listener's investment. "Somewhere Along The Highway" may still be Cult of Luna's crowning achievement however "The Long Road Home" isn't all that far behind their best work & I'd even go so far as to say that it has a slight advantage over their classic 2004 third album "Salvation" for me these days. Essential listening for post-metal fans.
When it comes to Darkthrone I have a bit of catching up to do. I have all the usual albums in my collection from the heyday of the second wave but I would not class myself as a mega fan or indeed rate the band as much as some of my peers appear to. To be honest, after Panzerfaust I lost interest. Barring a brief revival of my attention with Ravishing Grimness I just simply haven't bothered with any Darkthrone album since. I have sat from afar watching Fenriz go off on his many tangents, releasing albums and EPs in various side projects under a plethora of sub-genres that never seem to get beyond a couple of releases before dying off, never to be heard of again. It was always his standpoint with Darkthrone back in the day that the band would not be doing any experimenting with their sound and so it makes sense that he would need outlets for his various interests in music.
Recently, I have seen various internet acquaintances frequenting the forums I am involved with comment or discussion around more recent Darkthrone output and this past week I was tempted to sample some more current releases from the band. There is likely to be more reviews in the coming days and weeks so I will try not to give too much away in my first album review, but what has struck me after listening to a variety of releases from 2007 onwards is how that old viewpoint of Fenriz around keeping Darkthrone as a simple black metal band is now long gone. Whilst I will not profess to having listened to all of his side projects and experiments to know their exact pigeon hole in the world of metal and beyond, I can say with confidence that the breaking down of the walls I refer to above is much to the benefit of Darkthrone's sound. With the freedom to let their various influences expand across their records I would go as far as to say that they are in fact a better band for it.
Anyway, to focus on Old Star for the last part of this review. It is clear that their 2019 release is riddled with heavy metal. All the great sounds that I heard that got me into this fantastic genre of music over 30 years ago is encapsulated in this 38 minute, 6 track album. I would argue that barring the familiar grim vocals, there is no black metal content on here and that I find Old Star shines (see what I did there?) with more of a nod to doom and heavy metal than it does to black metal. Infectious tracks like The Hardship of the Scots and Alp Man do not need necro posturing. There is enough Manilla Road style riffing in here (a feature that grows on subsequent releases) to banish any reference to pretty much anything that Darkthrone put out in the 90s. Here be bashing drums and open riffs with melodies that chime in your head as they are introduced into tracks. What really is important though is how entertaining it all is. This is no-fucks to give metal made by artists who are thriving in their influences and revelling in the legacy of a whole music genre.
Hitting Sabbath, Bathory, Celtic Frost and countless other reference points, Old Star is a triumph for a band who's prime is still very much here and now.
The Howling Void is a funeral doom metal solo project and is the brainchild of Ryan Wilson, who is a member of many other projects, including the underrated funeral doom duo, Excantation, veteran grindcore band Intestinal Disgorge and black metallers Endless Disease, to name just a few. I have been somewhat of a fan since 2013's Nightfall album but whilst the four albums prior to this are solid slabs of mournfulness, I have never exactly considered The Howling Void to be an upper echelon funeral doom outfit. This isn't about to change any of that, but it is possibly my favourite release of his to date, although I have still to check out his more highly rated first three albums.
The four tracks crawl along at a snail's pace, but don't possess the crushing heaviness of an Esoteric, rather their mournfulness is expressed in a more wistful and reflective way than the often desperate-sounding and world-shaking grief of the genre's premier exponents. This is not a criticism, per se, there is definitely room in the funeral doom world for lighter and less crushing version and it gives a different perspective on the style that may appeal to those put off by the unremitting weight that they may otherwise be confronted with. I have said it before and it bears saying again, I feel there is a correlation between this lighter form of funeral doom and atmospheric black metal where both use very different means to achieve a similar airiness of atmosphere. Third track, Deeper, Darker Waters, even employs a tremolo picking technique reminiscent of atmo-black at various points, whilst retaining the plodding funereal drumbeats.
There is liberal use of keyboards, yet thankfully without overdoing it and straying into symphonic metal territory and theguitar work possesses a reasonably melodic quality. The vocals are servicable, although I prefer them a bit deeper and gruffer myself, but they feel a little buried in the mix at times and I find I really have to concentrate for them to register sufficiently. So, essentially a good album with some nice atmospheric touches that doesn't, for me, quite deliver the soul-crushing weight I love from my funeral doom, but is still nonetheless a reasonably satisfying listen and represents a different side of the genre that certainly has it's place.
Seven years since their last studio album, Stuck Mojo are back! But fans who were excited to have their beloved rap metal pioneers return were met with something different than what they'd come to love in the 90's. And we all know that in the world of metal, this could be a huge problem...
Having parted ways with original vocalist, the much-loved hardcore-influenced Bonz, Stuck Mojo were now fronted by the man known as Lord Nelson. The major impact this had on the groups sound is unmistakeable. Whereas Bonz was versatile in his ability to rap, growl and shout, whilst emitting boundless energy and emotion in his performance, Nelson was, by-and-large, a legit rapper. Not one to shout, or jump around stage like a lunatic, Lord Nelson comes from a hip hop background where most of his vocals are spoken word. I like it. Sure, it's nowhere near as exciting to listen to as Bonz, but it still works well with the bands new style.
Speaking of which...
Seven years is a long time to pass when you're a musician, and no doubt influenced by the sound he'd developed with his band Fozzy, as well as his solo Duke project, it's no surprise that band leader and songwriter, guitarist Rich Ward has evolved his own playing style from the endless barrage of brutal metal riffs fans were use to, to a more varied style of hard rock which had a wider pallet of influences to draw inspiration from.
As a result, 'Southern Born Killers' is a more modern, more "complete" sounding band. With a proper rapper on board and more emphasis on song-writing techniques. Tracks like 'I'm American', 'Metal is Dead' and 'Open Season' are all classic Mojo, while songs like 'Yoko' and 'The Sky is Falling' take the band into almost progressive territory, with longer song durations, complex arrangements and the use of keyboards and samples. Not all fans liked it, but I find it interesting to see artists experiment with new ideas.
Looking at the big picture of Stuck Mojo's discography, nothing can really top those classic years with Bonz in the 90's, but Lord Nelson does a good job on this incredible album. It's different than anything they'd done previously, but that doesn't make it bad. In fact, this is probably closer to the definition of "rap metal" than anything they'd done before.
"Welcome to the south, bitches".
‘Still, Alive... And Well?’ is a “compilation” released by Megadeth in 2002. It features a selection of six live tracks and six studio recordings, and is a completely pointless and irrelevant album to own. There’s no reason at all for this to exist save but one... in 2002 Dave Mustaine suffered an injury that forced him to retire and disband Megadeth (don’t worry... they’d be back a couple of years later). However, contractual obligations meant he still owed Sanctuary Records one more release.
Which brings us to this little nugget of joy...
‘Still, Alive...’ starts off with six live cuts from Megadeth’s final two shows (pre-retirement, anyway). The choice of songs is a bit odd, and none of them flow. The sound is also pretty bad, especially with regards to the fact that Dave’s guitar seems louder than anything else. The liner notes sees MegaDave claiming to be honoured to share these songs with us... but we can all read through his lies. This album is a quick fix to a legal problem. Aw well...
The second half of the album contains six songs from the bands previous studio release, ‘The World Needs a Hero’. The likes of ‘Moto Psycho’, ‘The World Needs a Hero’ and ‘Dread and the Fugitive Mind’ are all good songs, but aren’t enough to save this supposed compilation. And the fact it’s six tracks all from the same album is a bit of a slap in the face. Whatever...
Not worth the price for the live songs, and the addition of the studio recordings makes this a bit of a mockery to fans that paid for it. Overall, ‘Still, Alive... And Well’ is barely passable as something for die-hard fans, and otherwise is something to completely ignore and forget it ever existed.
This was an historical live recording of a gig from 1978 & I get the feeling it was more of a cash-grab intended to milk the band's growing popularity than anything else as the production is pretty much radio quality & the performances aren't their best either although guitarist Fast Eddie Clarke consistently gives us a whole bunch of his most electric solos. I've never been a fan of Motörhead's pre-1979 work as it's a bit too rock 'n' roll based for my liking & "What's Words Worth?" is another example of that with songs like "On Parole", "Leaving Here" & "I'm Your Witchdoctor" sounding pretty damn flat compared to the much more exciting & visceral material we'd hear from the band the following year. "Iron Horse/Born To Lose" & "White Line Fever" have always been great songs so they manage to stand out of the pack but the rest of the album is pretty uneventful to tell you the truth & is a hell of a long way short of the standard 1981's classic "No Sleep Till Hammersmith" (my favourite Motörhead record) set. It baffles me that people might think this is a metal record too. It's fucking miles away from metal in my opinion.
Ultimately "What's Words Worth?" is an inessential release for completists only. I'd take it over Motörhead's 1976 debut album release "On Parole" (released in 1979) or the 1980 "Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers" E.P. but that's about it for Motörhead's back catalogue to the time I'm afraid.
Industrial metal always seems to be a fickle genre to get right. For a genre whose sole purpose is to sound mechanical, many artists in recent years have been unable to to get out of a habit of obliterating the listeners ears with unpleasant and overbearing percussion mixing that finds its way right to the front and drowns out whatever groove/texture/melody is being performed by the guitar, vocals or whatever other instrument.
Now this is around the time in my review where I typically namedrop Daughters' 2018 You Won't Get What You Want, but in this case, I realize that record has more than its share of overbearing percussion. So I'll instead refer to my 2021 album of the year, Frontierer's Oxidized with its unusual blending of industrial and crushing mathcore and how that percussive texture only elaborates instead of dominates. Author & Punisher have a very similar effect on Krüller, but this time the foundation is plainly doom.
And this record is superb. The slower tempos make this album foreboding in a way that is almost new to me. I do not know how Author & Punisher were able to get away with song structures and melodic motifs this sticky and with this much passion infused into them; it feels counterintuitive at times. The use of a true electronic percussion does drag some of this albums' intensity down, but it does get redeemed by some monotonous vocals that are direct from post-metal, and the aforementioned doom infused guitar lines.
Compositions are great in terms of scale. The album has a dark text and subtext, but the song "Maiden Star" sits right in the middle of the record and throws in some unusual, but very welcome major key harmonies as a quick divergence before plunging back into the abyss on "Misery". It does not feel out of place at all and in much the same way, the full on electronic interludes on "Blacksmith" and "Misery" feel very much at home, since they were prepared by what came before.
I was in the need for some hard hitting doom metal today and man did I get a ton of that here! This is wonderfully produced, performed and executed by all involved. It's a doom metal album for those looking to step outside of the comfy confines of My Dying Bride and Swallow the Sun, without diving head first into funeral doomers Esoteric or Bell Witch.
Best Songs: Drone Carrying Dread, Incinerator, Centurion, Misery, Glorybox, Krüller
Funeral doom metal is not for everyone. I can fully appreciate that some metal fans would find it boring and monotonous. It's actually difficult to describe why I love it so much, but ever since I first heard Esoteric, Skepticism and Shape of Despair back in 2001, I've found it to be the metal subgenre that I connect with the most consistently. That said, even I have to give many funeral doom albums a few listens before they wrap their tendrils around me and drag me into their heavenly depths. Colosseum's third and final release, Chapter 3: Parasomnia, is a prime example of an album that needs to sit for a while before it can be fully appreciated. What first seems to be an overly long and simplistic album has many subtleties that only work their magic with time, at which point you find yourself wondering why you didn't appreciate them the first time. In particular, the band utilises synths and strings in a very unobtrusive way and it's possibly more effective for it, as the doomy metal aspects remain front and centre throughout. Anyone that enjoys the beautifully crushing sound of fellow Finnish doomsters Shape of Despair will no doubt find euphoric pockets here, but Colosseum don't quite reach the emotional heights of their countrymen. As much as I hate to say it, given he committed suicide prior to the album's release, I do feel that frontman Juhani Palomäki's deep vocals are not quite as strong as I'd like them to be. Even still, this is pretty close to a 4.5 star album for me. It may even get there with a few more spins.
Temple Nightside were completely unknown to me prior to picking The Hecatomb for this month's Horde Review Draft (apart from noting the great artwork on this album's cover while adding it to the site). I'm so very grateful for the introduction, as this is way up my alley. I'm most attracted to death metal when it's dark as fuck and sounds like it was created by demons in the bowels of hell. Well that's exactly what we have here! With a really organic sounding production (particularly the drums, which I love) and growled echoing vocals that feel like they're coming out of the music rather than being placed on top of it, I find myself reminded of the legendary disEMBOWELMENT, despite Temple Nightside leaning far more into the blasting death metal spectrum. If that comparison seems odd, given this is listed as a death / black metal album, I personally think it contains much more doom than black, and disEMBOWELMENT were one of the few death doom bands that actually contained legitimate death metal. The riffs on The Hecatomb are also incredibly dark and heavy, not to mention memorable and genuinely effective, making this album one of the finds of the year for me. The fact that Temple Nightside, like disEMBOWELMENT, hail from my home country, make it just a bit sadder that I haven't discovered them until now. It's exciting to see that they have three other albums and an EP to sink my teeth into.
Rising from the ashes of various bands dating back to the late 90s, Belgian tech-death band Pestifer boast a three album discography of pretty much exactly what you would expect from any performers in this sub-genre of death metal. We have twangy bass lines, melodic and crisp leads and grim vocals uttered over racing passages. I will not profess to be a massive fan of technical death metal (unless it is done really well with some avant-garde and progressive elements at least) and so Pestifer do have a slight disadvantage in falling into my hands for Review Draft this month.
Getting the negatives out of the way first. Where are the drums here? There appears to a light (thankfully not clicking) tapping noise in the background but I am getting no real sense of inclusion from Philippe Gustin here (his brother plays bass btw). As a result, Reaching the Void lacks any power overall. The riffs are too sterile to carry any power and in all honesty the only prominent parts of the album are the vocals and bass. I do not think that the drums suffer from any issues with their placement in the mix either. It sounds like they were deliberately recorded to be timid.
Now, although I highlight the riffs as sterile, this is a common sound in tech-death to my ears and actually works as a standalone and memorable section to proceedings. The lead work though is the main success from the guitars. It resonates through the tracks it inhibits leaving a clean, intricate and rich experience as it goes. Although I might not be entirely onboard with all of what Pestifer do, I cannot deny that there is some talent here and this does shine through on a consistent basis. With a bit more strength behind those drums (just a bit of presence really) then I sense that Reaching the Void would present more of an intriguing listen.
I recently read Ben's review of this popular sophomore album from Tokyo, Japan & wasn't surprised to see him give it a thorough panning. I guess the blackgaze meets post-hardcore tag was a little scary for me too if I'm being honest & I suspected that it might not be for me either but that hasn't ended up being the case in the end. Despite the numerous examples of non-metal genres scattered across the tracklisting (post-hardcore, screamo, downtempo, etc.), "Island" is definitely a metal record; a black metal related one to be more specific. The shoegaze component may not be as prominent as it is on some releases but there can be no denying the generally positive feel to almost all of the riffs & melodies on offer because Asunojokai seem to be a consciously working against all traditional black metal calling cards here, even though they're clearly using black metal tools such as open-string tremolo-picked chords & blast-beats. The vocal delivery sounds very similar to Emperor front man Ihsahn & is pretty effective but it's the class in the executive & production that really shine here & make it hard not to enjoy "Island". The level of musicianship is outstanding which seems to be a prerequisite for most Japanese metal these days. It's a shame that the album peters out at the end with a couple of tracks that overdo the positive vibes because the majority of the tracklisting is really pretty comparable to bands like Deafheaven or Alcest, if taking things another step further in regard to the uplifting melodies. The cover artwork is also a little bemusing given that it's so clearly making a conscious attempt to push the elitists buttons. Regardless of these flaws though, there's easily enough quality (black) metal here to keep me interested, even if a record like "Island" was never going to make a play for my best-of lists.
The Metal Academy Review Drafts are certainly making me check out releases that I probably never would have otherwise. As much as I enjoyed Whiplash's debut album Power and Pain from 1986, I'd never considered delving any further into their discography. Having now spent some time with their third release, Insult to Injury, I don't think I've missed out on all that much, but that's not to say that there's no enjoyment to be had. By this point the band had taken a significant step away from the Exodus-like aggression of the debut and moved into more Judas Priest style heavy metal. In fact, there's so much heavy metal on this album that I don't think it would sound out of place in The Guardians. I think this transition is a bit problematic for the band though. When you can no longer hide behind thrashing intensity, songwriting ability becomes far more important, and unfortunately Insult to Injury is a bit hit and miss on that front. For every good track, such as the title track and highlight Essence of Evil, there's a less memorable effort, such as Hiroshima and the appropriately titled Rape of the Mind. In the end this is a decent listen for anyone that enjoys bands that straddle the heavy / thrash line (such as Metal Church), but it's an album I likely won't go back to very often.
Emphatic is another one of my brother's favorite rock bands. They made 3 albums, one of them featuring Bill Hudson who's known for working with Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Savatage, Nightrage, and Power Quest. Then the band split up, and like a phoenix, the members rose into a new heavier band, Through Fire!
Despite the band's name making you feel the urge to sing a certain DragonForce song out loud, Through Fire is a hard rock/alt-metal band with aggressive power in their crushing guitar and vocals. Justin McCain (guitars), Grant Kendrick (vocals), Patrick Mussack (drums), and Jesse Saint (bass) picked up where they left off from Emphatic, adding some heavier emphasis near metal borders along with motivational lyrics in their 2016 debut Breathe, plus a deluxe edition released a year later.
The intro "Reborn" has bizarre synth repetition as the drums and bass (NOT the genre) kick in. Then "Breakout" introduces the band's dynamic energy. Lots of strong aggressive determination! The stronger single "Stronger" is motivational, encouraging you to lift your spirits up and drop all the bad things in life.
Kicking things up higher, "Where You Lie" sounds more metallic at times with the screams and soloing dynamics. The title single is slower and apparently a hymn of desperate hope. It sounds so heavy yet has sentimental emotion. "Take It All Away" is one of the heaviest tracks here, complete with aggressive screams and crushing drums and riffing. "Dead Inside" starts with brief piano, but the vocals soar in quickly alongside the riffs and bass.
"Lights" is a cover of an Ellie Goulding hit, but sadly it's a sinful atrocity. I don't really like the original song, but the band's attempt to make it better only made it worse, sounding like the 80s-inspired vibe is too forced. The vocals don't really translate well from pop to hard rock, especially the background bridge. The DragonForce "Ring of Fire" curse continues there... "Blood On My Hands" makes up a bit for that sin, even saying so in the lyrics, "Take away all of my sins". The finale "Damage" is quite solid, marking a return to the strength of the first 7 tracks.
The deluxe edition of the album starts with the band covering Christina Perri's "Jar of Hearts", which is a much better cover by far! They turned a ballad into a rock song with an electronic intro and few growls, which is the kind of cover song I like. It's so emotional and they know what they're doing. The acoustic version of the title track is excellent as well. However, "Stronger" doesn't work well as an acoustic version, atmosphere-wise. And both original tracks have their own extended versions.
Through Fire is on fire with the new modern hard rock/metal scene. The powerful vocals and diverse riffs are pretty great, not to mention the excellent drumming. The light usage of electronics work very well too. Remove that horrid Ellie Goulding cover, and you have a hard rock/alt-metal must-have!
Favorites: "Breakout", "Stronger", "Breathe", "Take It All Away", "Damage", "Jar of Hearts", "Breathe (acoustic version)"
"Why do people have to live outside? In the brutal heat or when it's below freezing, there are people that are made to live outside, why?" Interesting question, and don't forget when the world is infected by a certain massive pandemic.
Desperate anguish has a home. A home that consists of a noise-ridden industrial sludge arsenal, ready for the listener to make a stinging dark descent. There is a rough edge in everything, rounded up by the only light grace that is some post-punk elements. Anyone stepping into this journey should be aware and not underestimate what's coming for them. Welcome...to God's Country!
The thundering "Slaughterhouse" takes you into the deep terrifying abyss in uniquely bleak production. Continuing the sludgy riff-rage, the nihilistic "Why" has those lyrics I've mentioned above that describe the need to live in a hole and hide from outside society. It eerily fits well with the times when the pandemic was at full swing. There's direct pain from the screamed fury when the lyrics detail that kind of denial. Stepping through in the leads and drums is "Pamela", leaning into melodic post-punk territory, with the vocals by Raygun Busch switching to baritone mumbling.
Continuing that is the more frantic "Wicked Puppet Dance", though adding some more growls and noise similar to Daughters, while the guitars might remind some of Idles. Keyboard passages give light to the pummeling darkness of "Anywhere", giving the song some change leading up to a final section of sharp guitar noise.
Raygun Busch in "Tropical Beaches, Inc." seems to have changed his vocal style a bit, sounding a bit soft while staying aggressive. Nonetheless, the sludge storm rumbles... "The Mask" departs from the album's post-punk-ish side, rolling into tearing screams. "I Don't Care If I Burn" is a short breather of spoken word. Then "grimace-smoking-weed.jpeg" is a sinister 9-minute industrial sludge metal attack, expanding on the percussion and screams until all fades to oblivion.
The album cover marks a good hint on the industrial sludge template, a bit similar to a few of Godflesh's cover arts, but the band's black metal-like intro might confuse the more extreme fans that are invited here. Here we have a nice dense dark forest to travel through as you retreat from the outer world of terror....
Favorites: "Why", "Wicked Puppet Dance", "Tropical Beaches, Inc.", "grimace-smoking-weed.jpeg"
Last year's debut album from this Oklahoma four-piece seems to be getting major attention recently so I thought I'd see what all the fuss is about. "God's Country" is being tagged as a noise rock & sludge metal hybrid but there's a lot more going on here than that. There's certainly a strong Sonic Youth/noise rock influence present but I don't think this a rock release so I find the use of a rock subgenre as a primary tag to be a little deceptive. This is more of a metal meets hardcore thing in my opinion with the vocals being firmly planted in psychotic hardcore realms & the instrumentation being predominantly metal with post-hardcore & noise rock leanings. The thing that most listeners seem to be missing though is that the biggest influence being championed on "God's Country" would seem to be Godflesh &, as a result, I'd suggest that this is actually just as much of an industrial metal record as it is a sludge metal one, perhaps even more so. There's even a noticeable Korn influence in some of the rhythmic riffage which is done very tastefully.
All that aside, "God's Country" is also a high quality release that's worthy of a lot of the attention it's receiving. The vocals are emotion-charged & meaningful while the riffs are heavy & intense. The field recording/acappella piece "I Don't Care If I Burn" is a bit of a waste of space but the rest of the tracklisting is very consistent without ever really hinting at any genuine highlights. Fans of Godflesh & Fange should definitely check it out.
2009’s ‘Liebe ist Fur Alle Da’ is the sixth studio album by German industrial rockers Rammstein. It comes four years after the fairly disappointing and disjointed ‘Rosenrot’, and not only does it completely make up for that last blunder, but it firmly establishes the band, not only as the absolute kings of industrial metal, but as one of the more prominent bands of the entire metal genre.
The most notable difference between ‘Liebe...’ and the previous two releases, ‘Rosenrot’ and 2004’s ‘Reise Reise’, is the production, in which here, Rammstein are a lot heavier, with a more clear and precise sound. The last two albums seemed a bit “muddy” in places, whereas in ‘Liebe...’ there is a better clarity and focus, taking the band right back to the sound of their 2001 masterpiece, ‘Mutter’.
As always, there’re some monstrously crushing guitar riffs which are interspersed brilliantly with keyboards, giving the music plenty of variety, at times either heavy or soft, with dance and electronic influences. Vocalist Till Lindemann pushes his voice harder than ever, from gentle singing to booming roars. But it all works to give the group their own distinctive sound.
With some of Rammstein’s heaviest, most intense or most interesting tracks, such as ‘Ich Tu Dir Weh’, ‘Rammlied’, ‘Pussy’, ‘Haifisch’, ‘Waidmann’s Heil’ and the title track, it’s clear that the German’s are still at the top of their game, and with the usual controversial lyrics, imagery, music videos and live theatrics, ‘Liebe ist Fur Alle Da’ is a sure stamp that Rammstein belong in the upper echelon of metal bands.
Three albums into their career and Blind Guardian have still yet to find that certain something that would make them unique amongst all the other power metal bands. Although there are certain hints of it creeping in, it isn't enough to make 'Tales from the Twilight World' truly stand out.
The use of acoustic guitars, more intricate vocal melodies and Tolkien-inspired lyrical themes are all signs of where the band are going musically, but sadly it fails to distinguish anything of this album from its predecessors. Songs such as 'Lord of the Rings', 'Welcome to Dying' and 'Tommyknockers' are some of the more memorable moments, but they're lost amidst an album of mediocre speed metal tracks ('Lord of the Rings' is damn catchy, though).
Much like their previous albums, 'Tales from the Twilight World' may be held in higher regard by enthusiasts of the genre, and whilst I absolutely love Blind Guardian's later material, to me, this is just another generic power metal affair.
I wasn't aware of New York progressive metal outfit Moon Tooth prior to Saxy nominating "Phototroph" for The Gateway feature release status this month but it's been a pleasant surprise for me as I've found them to be a capable & classy metal outfit. I'd suggest that they're probably more of a progressive metal band than an alternative metal one & "Phototroph" might have been a slightly better fit for The Infinite but there can be no denying Moon Tooth's alternative edge, particularly in the vocals of John Carbone who sounds very much like Sevendust front man Lajon Witherspoon to me. There's a strong Mastodon influence here with many of the riff structures being quite complex but there are also some tracks that take a more accessible alternative route. I particularly enjoy the lead guitar work of Riot V axe man Nick Lee who showcases a clear Eric Johnson influence in his fluent & speedy runs. The only track I didn't enjoy was the lightweight "Carry Me Home" but this was easily compensated for by the stunning progressive metal highlight track "O My Isle" which is a couple of steps up from the rest of the material (& is apparently the least popular track on the album according to RYM). Fans of fairly melodic & accessible yet structurally ambitious metal are unlikely to be disappointed with a record like "Phototroph".
The sophomore album from 108, Songs of Separation, marks metal's entry into the hardcore subgenre Krishnacore, where beliefs in the Hindu deity Krishna is the central lyrical theme to bands of the subgenre. Other such bands include Ray Cappo's bands Shelter and Youth of Today. 108 follows the stylistic path of the latter band, discarding the more punky sounds, in favor of the beats, breakdowns, and vocals, all mixing the aggressive early hardcore of Minor Threat and the deathly sludge riffing of Eyehategod. Of course, this is Krishnacore! Expect lyrics of the Krishna conscious lifestyle instead of the typical drugs and violence.
In saying all that, the metallic quality doesn't shine well in the album, causing massive turbulence in my enjoyment, though "Son of Nanda" has the best lyrics here of chasing dreams built on emptiness, "Worship the Son of Nanda sweet and become fearless". Though a tiring opposite is "Solitary" when it comes to those lyrics, "Each moment without you I die, oh Krishna". The closing "Pale" unleashes one more hardcore attack against the "9 to 5 scam".
I think what helps guide the members' transcending beliefs through the lyrics is the screaming vocals of Rob Fish and the dreamy background singing of Kate-O-Eight. It's a decent lesson for the metal and hardcore realms, but not worth my time of listening. Live and learn....
Favorites (only ones I like): "Son of Nanda", "Pale"
Allegedly written in four hours by a drunk Peter Steele after a relationship break up, Slow, Deep and Hard sounds exactly as you would expect it to under such circumstance. I have often marvelled at the praise that Type O Negative get in all honesty and this album has done little to change my opinion of them. There are moments during this record where I not only want to hit the skip button, I simply want to turn the record off and forget it ever darkened my speakers. I mean to talk about this being a collection of songs as opposed to an outright album is an injustice. This is a horrible mish-mash of ideas, poorly thought out and even more poorly delivered on what sounds like four guys just fucking around in the studio for an hour.
Even the atmospheric/ambient piece sounds accidental and uninspired. As for the minute or so of silence - well don't get me started. I get the irony, sarcasm and disdain that drips from the album but it is so wastefully applied that I do not feel like Steel has shared anything with me, more that this is a dump of random, drunken thoughts that he simply needed to offload regardless of how it sounded. When we do get form and structure to the record it goes on and on in the same mindless direction and regurgitates the same ideas over and over again performed by sloppy musicians who clearly had no fucks to give.
There's not a lot here that I find worthy of taking the time to rate so a one star is the most accurate rating I can give. Not for me folks.
I've always considered myself a fan of this album, having picked it up on release. At that point in my metal journey, I'd become increasingly interested in bands that took the black metal blueprint and mixed in other influences. Bands like Ved Buens Ende....., Fleurety, Arcturus, Aborym and Dødheimsgard excited me greatly, so I had no issue at all with ...And Oceans giving their black metal a healthy dose of cyber symphonics. I've since listened to it many times while doing other things, enjoying its strange atmosphere and numerous special moments, thinking that one day I'll finally sit down and write a review to inform others of this hidden gem. Well, it hasn't quite worked out that way! Now that I sit down and totally focus on A.M.G.O.D. as an album, it's actually a hit and miss affair that I just can't rate as highly as I expected to. It starts strongly, with the first three tracks showcasing the band's interesting approach of injecting invasive symphonic aspects into otherwise decent melodic black metal (this sounds nothing like Emperor in case you're wondering), but sadly goes a bit downhill from there. By the time I get to the admittedly atmospheric but highly repetitive instrumental TBA in a Silver Box and the divisive techno beast that is New World Model, I have to admit that I was previously overrating A.M.G.O.D. as an album, if not as an enjoyable sideshow that has numerous great moments.
If I was backed into a corner and was forced to choose my favourite metal band, then I would probably choose Darkthrone. Not just because of their classic black metal albums (although that is reason enough), but also because of their obvious passion for and love of metal that I too share, their absolute refusal to compromise in their musical endeavours and their lack of concern as to how they or their music are perceived by the outside world. Let's face it, how many metal bands would dare even think of putting out an album with a cover that is merely a photograph of the drummer ice skating?
So, anyway, Fenriz and Nocturno Culto return with their 20th studio album and continue with their crusty, blackened take on doom and heavy metal that came to the fore on previous release, Eternal Hails. This one is a take on late-80's, early-90's underground trad doom fed through a blackened crust filter, but updated with better production and, in truth, it differs very little from it's predecessor to the extent that they could both have been released together as a double album and no one would have batted an eyelid. I know most metalheads now want to shit on Fenris and Nocturno for not endlessly recycling A Blaze In the Northern Sky, but this is what they do now. Is it as good as their 90's stuff? Well obviously not, but I quite enjoy this tiny niche that the duo have carved out for themselves and their more recent material is kind of quaint in it's lack of pretension and total disregard for trends or adherence to the zeitgeist. For those who know of it, Fenris and Nocturno Culto kind of remind me of Lance and Andy from the BBC show Detectorists with their dogged refusal to be affected by the world at large and their almost idealistic existence in their own little corner of the globe.
Where I feel Darkthrone succeed most, is in their ability to gradually reshape their music in directions that interest them whilst still embracing a unifying "sound", as in the blackened crust that still forms the backbone of what they are about, whatever other genre thay may be focussing on otherwise. This continuity gives us diehard fans a way into whatever it is they are doing and with it comes a kind of surety as to what you are going to get. Darkthrone seem uninterested in suddenly changing direction for the sake of it and are unlikely to throw out too many jarring curveballs to their audience. Of course, this is much to the chagrin of a lot of the online metal community, whose almost ADHD-like desire for continuous change and intellectual challenge (from albums the majority will only listen to once or twice) makes a band like Darkthrone anathema to them and attracts huge amounts of criticism as the keyboard warriors vent their spleen against the duo. But of course by then, Fenriz is off skating up some frozen fjord and couldn't give two fucks what some music know-all from gods-know-where has to say about it!
Astral Fortress start out very strongly with Caravan of Broken Ghosts which has a great crusty trad doom main riff that gets even better when the duo put their pedal to the metal on the speeded up section that used to be one of the staples of trad doom, the track as a whole coming off as a necroticised version of Pentagram or early Saint Vitus. I think Nocturno and Fenriz take their feet off the gas a little on the next couple of tracks, Impeccable Caverns of Satan and Stalagmite Necklace. They are decent enough and I really like the main black 'n' roll riff of the former, but they lack dynamism and start to drag the album down a bit, sounding as they do like outtakes from Celtic Frost's Morbid Tales that didn't make the cut. So, despite side one tailing off to some extent, side two is a much more convincing experience. Kicking off with the bizarrely named The Sea Beneath the Seas of the Sea, the track itself is bookended by an intro and outro that sound a bit like very early (circa Fly By Night) Rush - believe it or not! The track as a whole is Darkthrone's own particular take on a ten minute trad doom epic that sounds like it's been dug up after thirty or forty years of decay. Next up, Kervorkian Times is my favourite track on the album with a killer main riff and Nocturno Culto spitting fire and bile, proving that even in their fifties these guys are still underground metal legends. A short instrumental and we're into final track Eon 2, which doesn't on the face of it have anything to do with the instrumental Eon off of Soulside Journey, but which does contain a Maiden-esque galloping riff before it settle back into the doom-pacing of the rest of the album.
Nocturno Culto's vocals are undiminished by time and he still fires out riffs left, right and centre and Fenriz is a complete legend so, to me, the world is a much better place with a band like Darkthrone and their love of metal and refusal to compromise still in it. So what I'm trying to say is "fuck the haters".
From the heart of Savannah, Vatican has mashed up metalcore's different eras, such as the 90s hardcore era and the more tech-sounding new millennium, even adding a bit of post-hardcore, deathcore, electronicore. They have pretty much anything for every metalcore/hardcore fan! I wouldn't say this impresses me a whole lot, with a few factors including the album's short runtime of 35 minutes, but it's worth adding more to the modern soundscape of metalcore.
Ultra was released 3 years after their debut Sole Impulse (far shorter than Trenches' gap between albums), and they continue their move to their extending goal. There isn't too much of a significant problem with what they do.
The opening "Slipstream Annihilation" kicks off the highly aggressive strength. They stay strong in the subsequent "I Am Above". Then "Reverence" has more of the heavy rage expected by fans of metalcore. It's also the first song of the album to be a single and include clean vocals. Yeah, the singing appears sporadically throughout the album, hinting at Deftones-esque ether among the rage. The band makes a sudden turn in "Where Heavens Collide", a more radio-friendly track, with more of the clean vocals plus electronics. There's still some solid strength, but the album is better as a headbanging slasher, as it is in most of its remainder. "[ULTRAGOLD]" proves it right away with ultraviolent metalcore to blast you in the face without relenting.
The furious pace pauses for "Don't Speak", a brief electronic intermission. Exploding like a bomb is the brutal decimating "Decemeta". Then "Uncreated Waste" unleashes the tech-ish riff-wrath in just two minutes once again. The powerful fury continues in "Damage".
The unexpected "By Your Love" is a better clean-sung post-hardcore standout with an anthemic chorus. "Miracle of the Moon" is absolutely spiteful. "Mirror Dream" has more chaotic mathcore a la The Dillinger Escape Plan, and there no reason to complain about it if you're a true metalcore fan like me. "N.U.M.B. (Neutralize Under Maternal Bond)" hits you hard with emotion and violence. The finale "Did You Ever Notice I Was Gone?" adds piano and female singing to the electronic mix which sounds mediocre to me.
Softer speed bumps aside, Ultra is quite strong and heavy with half of the amount of songs impressing me. It would be nice if they can go heavier on the edges and not pull out too many sudden soft twists in such a short runtime for the album, but you can find very plenty to like here. The modern metalcore scene still thrives....
Favorites: "Slipstream Annihilation", "Reverence", "[ULTRAGOLD]", "Uncreated Waste", "By Your Love", "Mirror Dream", "N.U.M.B. (Neutralize Under Maternal Bond)"
There have been a couple bands that have broken out of their decade-plus period of inactivity, such as TOOL and Disillusion after a long gap between their 2006 and 2019 albums. Another band to end such a long hiatus is metalcore/post-metal band Trenches, having released their previous album, The Tide Will Swallow Us Whole in 2008. Their vocalist Jimmy Ryan was also the vocalist for Haste the Day, and in the years away from that band, he would focus on this one with the intention of spicing up metalcore with the post-sludge/post-metal of Isis and Cult of Luna. The band was signed to Solid State Records for their 2008 debut, but after their couple-year split, they decided to try a different method, crowdfunding. While it didn't work in Kickstarter, it worked in Indiegogo, so recording for the album is a go, though the production lasted over 7 years...
But the wait was worth it for many of Ryan's fans! The style remains as post-sludge while mixed with metalcore. Most post-sludge albums have atmospheric building songs that are always over 5 minutes long and ranging up to 10, 15, or even 20 minutes, enough to make sure that the album gets close to an hour in length and even above. However, Reckoner is only 36 minutes long, with the longest song being close to 6 minutes. The band can add different tempos and diversity without overstaying their welcome. Similarly to Knut's Challenger, the first few songs have more hardcore rage and catchy riff chaos, though this time there's more of a darker Zao vibe.
"The Wrecking Age" is a heavy way to remind you of what you're in for in this album. The low shouts and high screams are both essential for the intensity. "Horizons" continues the intense heaviness while planning out its transition in softer melody, a grand hint at how melodic the album would become as you get further. The post-sludgecore is still far away, as the one-two punch of shorter songs that can be a small suite "Ties That Bind" and "The Raging Sea" hit with more rage than dreadful mood.
Next track "The Death of All Mammoths" shines to begin the album's more atmospheric side. "Lenticular Clouds" is more melodic with leads to remind some of Deftones. One of the singles from this album, "Eclipse" shows the band emphasizing their post-metal side while sounding like the new Zao with the screamed vocals that you might find in Carcass. And they do it all in just over two minutes! Not too surprising, given the album's short length. The strong weight of that song is within the memorable chorus and the right of anger for good reasons. "Empires" has some goth-ish alt-rock groove with moshing dissonance close to Admiral Angry.
The longer yet more straight "Stillness" heads to Southern post-rock territory into the softer sections while stabilizing the dominant post-sludge. The title track sounds so simple yet immersive in the intro played by all 3 guitarists. Midway through, it's all stripped down to some riff crunch to keep you on your seat for one more buildup. The outro "Remnants" lays down the last guitar echoes and percussion hypnosis.
I'm impressed a lot by this album, and I look forward to checking out their 2008 debut The Tide Will Swallow Us Whole. Another grand Metal Academy discovery! Reckoner is a post-sludge record that is mixed with the hardcore/metalcore of Jimmy Ryan's roots while looking out for new ideas. I mean, some lengthier tracks still would've been nice for the post-sludge part of my heart, but this ain't Isis 2.0. Reckoner has lots of memorable diversity, and I wouldn't change a thing. Considering how difficult and long the recording sessions were, either they naturally speed up the process for their next album or we have to wait another decade. Let's hope for the former, for a reckoning sequel!
Favorites: "The Wrecking Age", "Horizons", "The Death of All Mammoths", "Eclipse", "Stillness", "Reckoner"