You may have noticed that I recently revisited 2004’s “Terrifyer” album from Washington-based grindcore trio Pig Destroyer; a record that I’d missed at the time of release but cottoned on to five years later & have thoroughly enjoyed ever since. I had originally secured “Terrifyer” in a digital format which included an immensely epic 32 minute bonus track known as “Natasha” in accompaniment; a piece that I regarded as not only an essential part of the release but also the clear highlight. In fact, it was actually that track that elevated my opinion of “Terrifyer” from a very solid & enjoyable grindcore record to a true classic of extreme metal so I’ve always regarded it as a part of the full album experience. But when I returned to “Terrifyer” through Spotify last week, it became immediately obvious that it was missing a key component. That’s right ladies & gentlemen! “Natasha” was nowhere to be found. Apparently the bonus track had been cut for subsequent reissues & I soon discovered that it had been awarded its own release as a single-track E.P. in a slightly extend 37 minute format in 2008. This left me pondering for some time over whether to include it under my “Terrifyer” review or not. I mean I hadn’t known the album without it & it had made such a major impact on me at the time. But I eventually decided to omit it & conduct this separate review of the “Natasha” E.P. as I feel that it’s definitely a very different beast to the proper album. Of course, this led to my scoring being slightly lower for “Terrifyer” but it just seems more appropriate.
For those that are familiar with Pig Destroyer’s grindcore pedigree but haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing “Natasha” as yet, please erase all preconceived notions of what you’re potentially in store for because this particular track sounds absolutely nothing like any of their albums. In fact, it’s very clear as to why the band felt the need to separate it from their proper albums as it was always destined to alienate some fans. “Natasha” sits in direct contract to the band’s short one minute blasts of energy & aggression & prefers a beautifully drawn out & slowly enveloping ambient approach that I find to be considerably more appealing. And when I say ambient, I MEAN ambient because a good portion of this release can be described as legitimate ambient music & some very high quality ambient music at that. As a long-time fan of that particular genre, I can tell you that Pig Destroyer have absolutely nailed the art of creating an atmosphere through the use of sounds, synths & samples & right from the very start I feel myself being swept off to a dark & eerie place where I’m enveloped in a shroud of menace. Despite the lengthy & drawn-out arrangement, there is never a hint at boredom & the composition has been perfectly tailored to accentuate the highlights & leave me feeling that this is the fullest realization of the concept the band took into the studio. When the guitars & drums finally chime in, I experience an all-encompassing feeling of power & realise that I’m amongst kindred spirits.
The production job on “Natasha” is nothing short of phenomenal & is spot on for this style of music. When you really break it down, this track is a series of different ideas that have been joined together to create a whole that’s clearly greater than the individual parts. Many of the segways between these parts really shouldn’t work either. Sometimes you’ll get a heavy riff section simply being faded out & a more ambient section faded in but the timing is absolutely spot on & it’s done with such professionalism that it seems entirely appropriate. The guitars & drums couldn’t be more crushing & if there’s not a bass player here then the producer has done a stellar job at beefing out those guitars. The stereo spectrum has been fully utilized which shouldn’t be a surprise as the track was always intended for a 5.1 surround sound DVD release (which is the format it originally came in when included with “Terrifyer”).
“Natasha” has nothing whatsoever to do with grindcore. It utilizes a number of different subgenres across its lengthy duration but its basis is in doomy sludge metal & a number of slow dirging riffs can be heard scattered evenly across the tracklisting. The earlier parts have a definite Godflesh feel to them (minus the industrial element of course) while the unaccompanied riff towards the middle of the track is a lot dronier & wouldn’t be out of place on an early Earth record. There’s a definite post-metal sensibility about how the whole thing is constructed that brings to mind the likes of Neurosis though with the ambience out-weighing the metal for the most part. I feel that Swans have been a definite influence on Pig Destroyer in this regard (particularly during the gorgeous female vocal section) & that synth-driven period two-thirds of the way into the piece is simply breath-taking in its ethereal splendor. But never fear all you extreme metal fans! The doomier sections are absolutely soul-crushing with drummer Brian Harvey contributing the perfect accompaniment to fully accentuate the overall heaviness of Scott Hull’s guargantuan riffs.
Interestingly, those of you that have already read my review of "Terrifyer" would be aware that J.R. Hayes' vocal delivery wasn't exactly my cup of tea but here it's a completely different story. Hayes offers much more variety with a number of different approaches being employed from whispered spoken word to a tortured & mournful style that reminds my of early 90's Anathema to a more aggressive & vicious delivery that sits somewhere between Ministry's Al Jourgensen & hardcore punk. So essentially we've seen J.R. expanding on Pig Destroyer's overall appeal levels for me & in the process becoming a tool to further enhance the atmosphere the band are trying to create. His vocals are by no meaning over-used though as they're used fairly sparingly compared to your average 1-2 minute blast-fest.
I can’t express how effective this all is. In fact, not only does “Natasha” hold its own against the elite releases from the sludge/doom metal subgenres, it actually surpasses the vast majority of them. And listening to it as an isolated release in its own right (i.e. without the blasting 32 minutes of grindcore in front of it) has only further enhanced its artistic grandeur. To say that “Natasha” couldn’t possibly be more suited to my tastes & interests is an under-statement. It’s pretty much the sum of all of the things that I love about organically created music & I regard it as one of very few metal records that are truly perfect. Make no mistake, “Natasha” is one of the most underrated records I’ve ever come across. It’s a genuine classic & should by all rights be place on a pedestal as the highlight of Pig Destroyer’s career to date.
For fans of: Thou, Grief, Harvey Milk
There's an art to good storytelling. I don't just mean the prerequisites we all got taught in school of ensuring all stories had a beginning, a middle and an end though. Nocturnus AD as a band are a story all in themselves after their name change way back in 1999. By that point we had already had the much lauded and praised The Key which had given us a first taste of what the band where capable of as far back as 1990. The complex, twisting, progressive and constantly shifting narrative that the debut album encapsulated was always going to be a challenge to build on and the band struggled to come close to matching the levels of mastery when it came to Thresholds and Ethereal Tomb.
The good news is that after some twenty nine years of waiting, fans of the group finally got an album worthy as a successor to The Key. Whilst not perfect and notwithstanding the fact that conceptual/technical death metal is a niche listening market, Paradox is grand in its scope and polished in its delivery covering lots of information and requiring close attention to detail to really enjoy. For the first few tracks I had to adjust to the production job as it feels underwhelming at first and lacking in power, but once you realise that this is deliberate so the style can flow as intended and let the power come from the leads and soaring keyboards to elevate the power organically then it all makes sense and instantly becomes more palatable.
The thought that has gone into this record is noticeable as it does not just tell a story for storytelling sake. Just as much attention has been paid to the instrumentation, arrangement and song-structure in order to ensure the album does not rely on just words to tell the tale. The musicianship is excellent on here with the band playing well collectively as well as also letting the individual musicians shine where needed. The guitar work is shredding perfection and the keys make a fine effort at trying to match them to give a real sci-fi edge to proceedings. Browning's vocals are measured enough to add the required depth to the songs but not entirely steal the show and his drumming feels understated throughout. The only mystery is Daniel Tucker's bass. The former Obituary man isn't present at all in the mix, I mean we are talking ...And Justice For All proportions of a lack of bass here.
It is a great album and I don't know if it is to be termed as a debut, a follow up or just a plain old new release. Whichever view we take the presence of the album is more than welcome regardless of how overdue it may be.
Now this band I've never listened to! I mean I tried listening to a few songs from Iced Earth but never got fully interested in that band. I thought their music were too dark and too thrashy for my earlier lighter power metal taste. Now that I'm currently tolerating thrash metal slightly more, I might enjoy this band a little more, but probably not enough to listen to them full-time. So let's check this album out, shall we?
Iced Earth has been recognized as one of the most top-notch 90s power/thrash metal acts, with their third album Burnt Offerings considered their best work, giving the band worldwide fame. The talented Matt Barlow is considered the band's best vocalist and he's definitely never a disappointment.
The opening title track starts with a spooky keyboard melody and a spoken line from the 1992 Dracula film. Then when you start hearing growling vocals from guitarist Jon Schaffer and Barlow's singing ("Offer me good omen"), you know you're in for an epic thrash metal journey in a similar style to the 80s material of bands like Metallica, Iron Maiden and Slayer. "Last December" is an excellent short track with good guitar riffing. Another thrashy highlight is "Diary" with some good Slayer-like riffing and great guitar leads. It's the diary of a thrashy band!
"Brainwashed" is more melodic while being a mean lean riffing machine. Same with "Burning Oasis" which has an awesome one-minute intro. "Creator Failure" is basically a Lovecraftian battle song that hints at the band's style in their next album The Dark Saga. That shrieking verse towards the end, though, like wow!! He's as impressive as that Nevermore vocalist Warrel Dane! (RIP Dane)
"The Pierced Spirit" is short slow moody ballad/interlude before the incoming hellish storm. "Dante's Inferno" is a 16-minute 3-part epic suite based on the Inferno segment of The Divine Comedy, with nothing boring at all. After a gloomy one-and-a-half-minute, we start rolling into the fire and brimstone of heaviness containing the finest moments of this album and Iced Earth. Any Mercyful Fate fan might think of all this as that band on steroids. The drums and guitars are all fast, often switching to slow before going fast again. And of course, Barlow's singing is tremendous! The epic lyrics really nail the topics in that book. The drum kicking sometime after the 10-minute mark is so brutal. After a few minutes of heaviness, it all goes down to an ominous buildup to a thrashy growling verse, and the dark heaviness keeps going until fading into inferno.
If you want an album with epic lyrics and great vocals, but with riffs and drums closer to thrash/speed metal than power metal, you gotta pick up Burnt Offerings, especially if you're a fan of Iron Maiden and Metallica from the 80s. Those kinds of fans would never regret this heavy offering!
Favorites: "Burnt Offerings", "Diary", "Burning Oasis", "Dante's Inferno"
In their work to blend the rabid sound of death metal with the punk/hardcore beats that so clearly influence them, Creeping Death spread a fair smattering of Swedish death metal over proceedings also to provide a release that I certainly want to listen to. Whereas never quite dropping into worship territory for any particular group or style the band pull together ten tracks and display an aggressive if not predictable performance throughout.
With songs titles like Blood lust Contamination and Peeled from Reality we know we are not listening to a band who are happy with the world at large with their album full of references to violence, war, insanity and death (perhaps not in that order). They had taken long enough to drop their debut full-length, with 2019 heralding their fourth year of existence and their fifth release to date including singles, demos and EP's in the near half-decade that they had been around.
In that time though the band have simply just blended the styles and not really done anything new or unique with their sound that a handful of other bands do just as well. Now that's not to say they have to do anything new or unique, they might be perfectly happy with this output. But all of the "old school" or retro tags that we apply to our death metal nowadays can lead to over saturation of the market with hundreds of bands all sounding the same or very similar. Yes this nods firmly to Entombed just as much as it does Gatecreeper and so it is obvious that the band have an array of influences, but I don't think Creeping Death themselves ever get to really shine on Wretched Illusions which is a real shame as they are a talented bunch.
Listen, boxes get ticked, i's get dotted and t's get crossed most definitely on this release. Will you remember it half an hour after finishing listening to it - probably not. But you'll have fun at least I suppose.
One listen to Mefitis and you'll soon hear where their heart lies. Mining the depths of Finnish death metal whilst espousing some melodic Swedish influences also the band have both feet firmly rooted in the early to mid-nineties scene. Even going as far as having their album artwork done by Rantanen (of Demigod, Demilich and Adramlech cover fame) the band wear their influences from this era of expansive and bold death metal on both sleeves, leaving just a little room for Emperor-like touches also.
Comprised of just two members, the American partnership of Alex Mitroff and Jake Dawson show a myriad of talent on the nine tracks on offer here. Full of galloping energy and racing speed pace they certainly do take you on a journey back through the last three decades to a time when brutality and heavy upon heavier just wasn't giving fans of death metal enough. The influence of early At The Gates is obvious more or less from the word go, but this is not just mere ATG-worship. There's enough of that Finnish influence in the sound also to add some further depth as well as smatterings of the more atmospheric and subtly flamboyant elements of In The Nightside Eclipse to really make things interesting.
Most tracks feel like they are always building with the guys making excellent use of the progressive elements of their songwriting prowess. In so many ways, when in full flow at least, the album feels like a sustained attack on the senses delivered in the most efficient and calculated manner. It's like bits of blades used in the frenzy break off and stay stuck in yourvwounds as a bloody reminder of the experience you have undergone.
The album has a range of instrumental tracks (three in total) that build the atmosphere and prowess of the record well, they never get showy or turn into guitar wank-fests but act instead to emphasise the lush darkness of the metal being played here. I should add that the band have been around since circa 2007/2008 and it took them twelve years to get a full-length released. I feel that during this time they have honed their skills nicely and given a complete and authentic death metal album that has real layers of nostalgia for the more experienced of metal fans to enjoy peeling back
I got on the Pig Destroyer train a little bit late to be honest. The Washington grindcore outfit began their recording career at a time when I was starting to temporarily lose interest in the metal scene & it wasn’t until 2009 that this delightful piece of blasting insanity would grace my ears but it made an immediate & lasting impression. Grindcore & I have had our moments over the years to be honest. I tend to find that for every energized burst of pure aggression comes a generic & artistically unambitious release of little consequence but when I hit on a gooden I get a great deal of enjoyment out of it & “Terrifyer” fits into this category very confortably.
For me, it’s always important that regardless of how brutal a band might be or how raw a sound they might be aiming for production-wise, I still want to be able to make out the nuances in order to give myself the chance to become physically involved with the riffs. And Pig Destroyer have done a fantastic job at achieving that here with the guitars & drums seemingly leaping out of the speakers, grabbing you by the hair & bludgeoning your cranium with a force somewhat akin to a sledgehammer. The rhythm guitars are right in your face & have an abrasive yet vibrant tone that’s chock full of life. They also possess enough weight to remove the need for a bass guitar. That’s right! Upon first listen I remember trying really hard to identify the bass lines but found that I couldn’t pick them up for the life of me. It wasn’t until I did a little bit of googling that I realized that Pig Destroyer don’t actually have a bass player at all. On the evidence of this record though, I can see why they didn’t bother with one as it’s simply not required. The layering of Scott Hull’s guitar crunch & the sheer athleticism of drummer Brian Harvey seems to fill out the sound adequately enough. I really love Brian’s drum sound actually. There’s so much electricity on his cymbal work & the blast beats are commanding & authoritative without ever becoming overly dominating. This is what a grindcore record should sound like in my opinion. It’s brutal for sure… but there’s an overall professionalism about it too.
Some of that is undoubtedly due to the impressive musicianship of the two instrumentalists. Agoraphobic Nosebleed mastermind & former Anal Cunt guitarist Hull was clearly a well-seasoned veteran by this stage in his career & it’s very evident in his execution. The benefits of having a single rhythm guitarist performing multiple layers of tracks is clear as day on “Terrifyer” as it results in a very tight & focused delivery of the riffs. And wow! There are some serious riffs on offer here. Scott doesn’t ever dwell on the one thing for two long & despite the short duration of most of these pieces you’ll find that they contain as many riffs as most traditional metal bands can fit into a track that’s two or three times as long. The constant changing is a major contributor to the feeling of urgency that Pig Destroyer achieve & this wouldn’t have been possible without a class drummer of the caliber of Harvey. In fact, despite Hull’s riff-fest, Brian’s actually the best thing about “Terrifyer”. I find myself spending a lot of the album immersing myself in his interesting drum fills & precision blast beats. You won’t find too many better grindcore drummers to be honest. At least not for this particular band.
Stylistically, you’ll be left with little doubt that Pig Destroyer are a grindcore band but that’s not to say that “Terrifyer” swims only in that particular pool. Hull’s riffs showcase a variety of influences & I often find myself imagining that he’s been taking a peak at Machine Head’s groove metal playbook or is trying to emulate Cannibal Corpse’s techy half-time death metal assault. Often in the same one minute song too! And it’s ultimately the quality of these riffs that makes “Terrifyer” so appealing. There’s a genuine groove that the band locks into very regularly with the musical visions of Hull & Harvey seemingly being completely in tune & while these moments may seem fleeting at the time, it’s never long until you’re back there once again. Sure there are some more generic & less ambitious thrash & hardcore style riffs employed here & there but they never stay around for too long & are usually replaced by something a lot more exciting so I couldn’t say that there’s a single track included in the 21 of offer that doesn’t give me some sort of enjoyment. The short 32 minute album run time doesn’t leave any room for boredom either.
If there’s a weakness in Pig Destroyer’s sound, it’s the fairly monotonous shrieking of former Agoraphobic Nosebleed vocalist J.R. Hayes. Most grindcore bands go for a more varied vocal delivery than J.R. delivers here & you can see why too. Hayes spends the entire album screaming his fucking head off & I’m gonna have to give him an A for effort but it would have been good to get a few more attempts at variety. Fans of metalcore certainly won’t find themselves feeling alienated as Hayes would sound right at home on a Converge record but I can’t say that this really fits into my musical comfort zone if I’m honest. In fact, if I look at my score here, there’s a reasonable chance that I may have scored “Terrifyer” slightly higher had the vocals slanted a little closer to my preferred taste palate but that’s not to say that I find myself cringing or anything so this is just an observation more than a major criticism.
Overall, I think Pig Destroyer have delivered a top class grindcore record here. It’s blasting yet classy, abrasive yet professional, complex yet accessible. Grindcore may not be high on my list of extreme metal subgenres but “Terrifyer” may just sit at the top of the pile these days. Perhaps even usurping my beloved Terrorizer in the process. One thing’s for sure… if you’re a fan of the genre then you’re gonna love this shit. Play it very loud & only when you’re doing something physical. Otherwise you may just make a dick of yourself on the train or at church.
For fans of: Napalm Death, Brutal Truth, Nails
Finnish death metal has crawled onto my radar this week, completely unannounced. After my mid-week flirtation with Lantern today I am sat down with death/doom mob God Disease. With a range of influences obvious, from Paradise Lost to Incantation to Runemagick, there's little surprise at the melancholic and desolate tones of this record. Man those guitars club at the soul itself, leaving long-lasting bruises that take a while to heal. There's parts of this record that will be ringing around my head for days after just one listen.
It's fair to say they have that cold and yet somehow enriching Finnish dm sound in the bag here, if anything the album positively drips with it. The sadness from those guitars saturates the tracks, drowning them in their cloying viscosity. The vocals growl and grumble over the top in perfect Incantation worship and compliment the slower sections really well. The problem I have is with the bass. It is far too twangy in the mix to the point of being distracting, in fact it gives the tracks a very mechanised feel like we are all of a sudden listening to a Fear Factory record. I am not sure if this is by design or is an unexpected outcome of the mixing process, but either way it is a massive stumbling block for me.
The album is perfectly capable of standing up on its pillars of solid riffs and pummelling drums without this. On the occasions that the bass does calm down and allow the other instruments to breathe the album is in fact at its finest; dragging and lurching itself forwards nicely with the bass sat as part of the instrumentation, the rest of the time the bass is all I hear above everything else. It is a shame because there is real promise here but in a way you just can't get at it.
Some things cannot be digested, absorbed or truly understood in just one sitting. Most of my favourite records are ones that I glean something new from with each spin. Whether that is the “clicking” of a track that I have been wrestling with for some prolonged period of time and suddenly understand the brilliance of it or simply just hearing notes or even instruments that I had no previous recognition of.
Other records are simply too long for my tiny human mind to take in all at once. Bell Witch’s last two records are great examples of this. Rightly championed for their punishing and emotionally dredging output those albums set a theme and constantly progress it and evolve it whilst maintaining an absolute dirge throughout. I cannot sit through them in one sitting as I need the breathing space to absorb the music, process it and return for more.
Eremit, as well as sharing the shame artist for their album cover as Bell Witch also share this lengthy format to their debut album. Opening with a twenty three and a half minute track is a fucking bold move for your first release and certainly sets their stall out well for anyone in hearing distance. The dead march pace to the album encapsulates the very essence of sorrow and grief. Although not nearly as clever as the aforementioned Bell Witch (which is perhaps an unfair and inaccurate comparison on my part), the consistency to Carrier of Weight is undeniable and unapologetic.
For straight up, no thrills doom/sludge you could hardly hope for more. With an all-round sound that is very reminiscent of Conan the band still carve out an interesting niche just for doing such a solid and impressive job on their opening foray into the world of metal. Vocally, the style is almost blackened. Raspy and throaty utterances are the order of the day here and they match the pacing well across the three tracks. The hazy and heavy riffs are like huge waves smashing against rocks, their vapour absorbing into the atmosphere, adding thickness to the very air.
For a long while after listening this record stays with you, like weighty cobwebs or cold residue on your skin. If I close my eyes I can hear it still, and even pick out some of the transitions from the individual tracks. This is one of the albums key strengths, the three tracks all feel like separate entities, inextricably linked together though they inevitably are, they still feel like all have unique elements and bring their own value to the overall piece.
It may work better for me in piecemeal but inevitably you always end up appreciating the bigger picture that much more when the component parts are so well put together.
Maryland four-piece thrashers Indestroy first formed under the moniker of Fatal Sin in 1983 before renaming themselves three years later. Their musical career would be a relatively short one with just 1987’s self-titled full-length & 1989’s “Senseless Theories” E.P. seeing the light of day before they’d call it quits in 1990, just in the nick of time with the grunge movement about to throw a big cat amongst the thrash metal pigeons. My only personal exposure to Indestroy came through the self-titled album several decades ago now but it clearly didn’t make a huge impression on me as I don’t believe I ever entertained the idea of tracking down the E.P. afterwards.
Indestroy’s debut was released through New Renaissance Records in 1987; a very busy extreme metal label that would also release records from bands like At War, Wehrmacht, Dream Death, Necrophagia & Blood Feast within just a two year period. New Renaissance was a fairly low budget venture though & inferior production jobs were par for the course so you shouldn’t go into “Indestroy” expecting a bright & vibrant sounding album. On the contrary, the sound production would be the most disappointing element of the record with the rhythm guitars being too low in the mix & a noticeable lack of high end throughout. Jeff Parsons’ bass guitar sounds nice & full but the riffs aren’t given the chance to fully showcase their wares which limits the appeal of an album that’s really been built around them. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised though given New Renaissance’s track record & the fairly minimal level of experience of producer Chris Kozlowski who hadn’t produced a metal release of any note at that stage as far as I’m aware. It’s actually pretty hard not to let this element of the album dictate the scope of its scoring potential to be honest & I think that there’s a definite possibility that I might have reached for a more favourable rating had the sound quality been decent.
From a technical point of view, Indestroy were more than capable musicians & composers. In fact, the riffs possess a level of sophistication & complexity that wasn’t often seen in extreme metal at the time & it was clear that the band knew what they were doing. There’s certainly a looseness to the performances but it’s nothing that wouldn’t have been ironed out by a decent producer & production budget. Surprisingly for a low-profile debut like this, the guitar solos of Drew “Blood” Adrian are actually really shredding & show him to be a more than capable guitar hero. I actually find the lead work to be the highlight of the album as it adds some excitement to a set of songs that had great potential but are held back by the sluggish production. Rhythm guitarist Mark Strassburg’s vocals are the other career limiter though. His delivery is inconsistent & he doesn’t sit well in the mix on some tracks. During his better moments he sounds quite similar to Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine but at other times he sounds a little immature to my ears & I think Indestroy may have been better served by a dedicated front man.
Musically, Indestroy cover several subgenres across the tracklisting. The basis for their sound is built on US thrash metal with Nuclear Assault, early Exodus & particularly “Killing Is My Business… & Business Is Good!”-era Megadeth seeming to be the primary sources of inspiration behind tracks like “The Gate”, “Fatal Sin”, “Brain Damaged” & “Shadowlord”. During their shorter & more aggressive numbers like “U.S.S.A.”, “Dead Girls (Don’t Say No)” & “Dismembered” however, the band sounds a little closer to speed metal with a bit less complexity to the riffage. Then there are slower & less intense tracks like “Ground Zero”, “Justice Sucks” & “A.I.M.L.E.S.S.” which take a more measured & traditional heavy metal approach so the album certainly isn’t lacking in the variety department. I find that the bassy production & general ambition in some of the song-writing often reminds me of Danish heavy metal masters Mercyful Fate which is quite a compliment but the most obvious influence is clearly early Megadeth who also sported an impressive level of complexity for the time. Album highlight “Fatal Sin” is a obvious example of this as it’s clearly trying to emulate the class & prowess of Mr. Mustaine & his cronies.
Overall, I find Indestroy’s debut to be a frustrating experience. I mean there’s enough evidence presented here to suggest that there’s a more than decent album hiding in there somewhere. All that was needed was an experienced metal producer to draw it out. As it stands though, I don’t think I’ll be returning to “Indestroy” any time soon as (despite the best efforts of the instrumentalists) the product just sounds inferior. The B side also sees the quality of the song-writing fading noticeably which leaves me feeling a bit flat afterwards. It’s hard to overcome that feeling by remembering the stronger first half after sitting through the last four tracks which are all pretty lackluster. You get the feeling that the next release from the band could have been really good though as the groundwork had been completed here & all that’s required are a few tweaks so perhaps it might be worth checking out the subsequent E.P. to see if that ended up being the case.
For fans of: Nuclear Assault, Exodus, early Megadeth
There was some clamour around this release I recall when it was released. A few internet forum acquaintances waxed lyrical about it and encouraged me to lend an ear to it. At the time I felt it to be quite unremarkable, resulting in it being consigned to my pile of forgotten albums in the lower dungeons of Castle MacabreEternal. But still to this day I am haunted by the ghost of this record as I continue to expand on my knowledge of death metal releases as I get older and more bitter and twisted, the internet and peers still telling me there is something special lying in wait for me should I be tempted to pick up this record again.
Revisiting the album again immediately helped me understand why it didn't click a few years back. The mix is very unique in terms of it is not the incumbent style you would perhaps expect on a blackened death metal album. Its reverb shrouded mix makes for a very dank sounding record that feels in contrast to the frenetic tremolo picking of the guitars and the blasting of those drums. At first it is quite disorientating until after a few spins you start to grow accustomed to it, at which point it actually becomes the trick that sets the album apart from other releases. Imagine being hit constantly on the right of your body and also having to contend with a constant shroud of suffocating material on your left hand side. This almost juxtaposed pace versus mix is a battle that enriches the experience, it keeps you reassessing and re-positioning all elements constantly.
This compressed sound works well with the Finnish dm sound, with the band's home roots showing the influence of Adramelech-esque riffs and cavernous chords. Necrophilos’ vocals are grim and hint at Jon Tardy like breathy delivery minus the spewing part. They echo in the mix like dark incantations of the blackest magic. The pace of the lead work on here can be torturous, relentless in its level of melancholy inducing agony. At the same time the frantic riffing can also let in a fiery lick of lead work. The drums splutter in the background like some fleshy skinned tribal drum kit adding to this feel of density and weight.
Structurally the songs have a monolithic feel to them – even with the more up-tempo parts considered. As a result the album feels longer than it actually is when it times out at just shy of forty minutes. I have to say the revisit has been a success with a little more time to listen through a few times and understand the more complex elements of the release. I don’t know it well enough still to be madly in love with it and have a feeling that this will grow more over repeated listens.
It's hard to imagine where heavy metal would be today if it wasn't for Metallica. The chosen leader of the four horsemen of thrash metal, responsible for the most commercially successful heavy metal album of all time, and a crash course in what not to do once you chase the mainstream success. But none of this would have happened if it wasn't for Ride the Lightning, the second Metallica record I ever heard after the self titled album from 1991. Praised by many, but not praised enough in my humble opinion.
As I mentioned a few short moments ago in my review of Master of Puppets, many of the compositional techniques that were on display on that record, all had their seeds planted here. The soft, acoustic intro before a thrash metal explosion on "Fight Fire With Fire", which is copied almost directly on "Battery". "For Whom The Bell Tolls" serving as a far more energetic anthem piece than "The Thing That Should Not Be". "Fade to Black" as the stellar ballad that would be further explored and perhaps, eclipsed on "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)".
"Trapped Under Ice" is a straight thrash assault that sets up much of the popular thrash sounds of the late 80s and 90s. "Creeping Death" is the superior track to "Master of Puppets"; an incredible main riff, great guitar solo, and ferocious bridge. The album ends with "The Call of Ktulu", the nine minute instrumental that laid the foundation for "Orion" two years later.
Why is this album better than Master of Puppets? Well, it's very close, but something about this album just feels more complete. This album has fewer slow moments then their more popular follow up. Whereas Master does have the problem of having a less than stellar second half, even if "Orion" is there to save it. And honestly, I appreciate this album more because of its originality. Metallica weren't set on just releasing Kill 'em All again; they wanted to be trendsetters and boy were they ever.
Boy did Metallica make an impact with this one. Most people will remember the instantly catchy hooks from Master of Puppets, but this album planted the seeds and honestly, I think they did it better the first time. This is undoubtedly the best of Metallica's discography and I implore you to give it another listen if you prefer Master. You can't go wrong either way, but just trust me with this one.
You know, it's weird to go back in time and listen to an album that is considered by many as one of the greatest of all time when you know that it is not. That's how I feel about Metallica and their mega popular Master of Puppets, one of the great achievements in metal, not just allowing the genre to grow in popularity, but also as a movement. There are a plethora of artists who fall outside of the typical realms of heavy metal who have taken influence from Metallica, and my guess is that most of them were exposed through Master of Puppets.
And it makes complete sense; the album is an absolute joy to sit through. The way the album begins with a calm acoustic guitar, then taking the acoustic riff and reharmonizing it for full ensemble, all before the thrash explosion that is "Battery" is phenomenal. The title track is one of the most famous in all of heavy metal. "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)" is a wonderful ballad that speaks from the perspective of an asylum inmate, and the transition from soft beginning to ferocious conclusion is excellent.
"Disposable Heroes" is still an excellent tune, but one that goes through a number of different themes and patterns and stitches them together in a beautiful way. And I would be remissed if I didn't mention the stellar instrumental "Orion", featuring the coolest instrumental hooks in Metallica's discography and a bass solo from the great Cliff Burton.
I do think that the second half of this record does feel a little flat, with "Leper Messiah" and "Damage Inc." serving as my least favourite tracks. I also think that, while this album is superb, owes a lot to its predecessor Ride The Lightning. Many of this albums brightest moments were taken from that previous album and given a more refined sound. And personally, I do think that Ride the Lightning is the better album, if only because of it's originality.
Besides being a refined copy of Ride the Lightning, Master of Puppets holds up to this day as a monumental achievement in heavy metal. But is there really anything wrong with copying Ride the Lightning? There are very few flaws that exist on this album and they are very few and far between. Metallica deserve their place on heavy metal's highest pedestal because of album's like this.
Wow. Vulcano from Brazil enter the metal scene in a blaze of black fire. One of the earliest metal recordings from South America is a raw, aggressive mesh of Blackened Death Thrash, and it rules! Vulcano take Bathory as a blueprint and add some beefy Death metal riffs and harrowing vocals that end in a much more convincing product than even Bathory concocted. These guys would be a huge influence in the boom of extreme metal in South America, mostly staying under the radar as fellow Thrashers Sepultura broke the mainstream.
The production is awful a la first wave Black Metal, but with focused listening one can uncover a great amount of talent and some incredibly sick riffs and rhythm-work going on. Just an awesome, evil release.
Aside from perhaps Watchtower, this was the most technical, progressive, and impressive display of musicianship in metal as of 1986. Sure there were other guitar gods – Malmsteen, MacAlpine, to name a couple – and any one of them could be considered “the best.” Vinnie Moore could absolutely compete with the big names in terms of pure technical skill. However, Moore had two qualities that most guitar shredders lack.
First of all, Moore is not just a soloist – he is a brilliant songwriter. As far as instrumental metal goes, Moore doesn’t write songs that sound like no more than a showcase for his talent; they are complete compositions, entertaining throughout, memorable, sometimes catchy, sometimes evocative. I haven’t quite figured out why yet, but I do prefer my music to have vocals, and usually instrumental music feels like it’s missing something to me. Mind’s Eye does not. It is fully realized material that stands on its own.
Second of all, the backing band. This might as well be a supergroup – MacAlpine himself is on keys, just as proficiently filling the role as he does shredding solo – but every member is very, very skilled. Moore is obviously the bandleader, but he does not outshine the other members. They keep up, they are given moments to shine, and they constantly add unique elements under the masterful guitar playing. Not only are there no songs less than great, but there are really no moments less than great, as there is always so much going on in every given moment.
Unfortunately, it does have a ceiling. Instrumental virtuoso metal might not get better than this, but that style is still a limited, niche style best in small doses.
This album gets a lot of flack for being generally weaker than its predecessor, but I heard no drop in quality whatsoever. It’s exactly the same messy, thrashy, raw old school death metal as on the debut. Perhaps it could be critiqued for not innovating at all, but who needs innovation when the music is this good?
The similarity between this and their debut makes it rather difficult to review. If I have to nitpick, I could say some of the riffs sound a little less inspired, and generally repeat for a bit longer. However, the musicians also sound tighter, more focused and clearly in better practice. All in all, it’s just another really fantastic Death Metal album from the creators themselves.
One of those albums you know upon first listen as a masterpiece. Now, I’m going to start off by saying it’s only my second favorite Metallica album, and I wouldn’t put it anywhere near my favorite metal albums of all time or anything. There are hundreds of bands out there that cater to my taste more than Metallica – probably a hundred Thrash bands alone.
The thing is, this album just has that sort of magic anyone can identify. Dare I say, a sort of objective quality that one can appreciate, if there was such a thing. This is one of the closest albums I’d award the term flawless to. It’s not that every song is a 5-star masterpiece, however, there simply aren’t any glaring, or even hidden, flaws. The musicians, as always, are fantastic; the dual guitars deliver a combination of incredible riffs and solos, the bass gets time to shine, and Lars on drums sounds better here than he ever had before or would since. James sounds fantastic, using his melodic singing more here than before (and acing it) while still giving us a healthy dose of aggressive yelling. The lyrics here are all great too, referencing literature, war, mental illness, and more.
The music itself is very consistent for an album that mixes a lot together. There is pure heavy, thrashing aggression; there is slow, moody darkness; there are even emotionally compelling and beautifully melodic moments. Every song is a complete package with tons of great riffs, solos, and a couple have complete mood/tempo changes. Despite this, they are all very memorable and deliver something unique. No one can go wrong with this album when looking for a masterpiece.
As a huge fan of Thrash Metal, Megadeth strangely never hit the marks I love in this kind of music. To their – mostly Dave’s – credit, the songwriting and solos are great, and the riffs are not far behind. However, where the band always lost me is in their delivery and atmosphere. Dave’s not a good vocalist, but that’s not what bothers me, as raspy shouting is something I enjoy. The problem is that not only does he struggle to create any sort of memorable hooks or verses, but he also writes some bad lyrics. The delivery on most songs is sarcastic, sometimes angry but all too often it just sounds like he’s yelling for the sake of yelling without any conviction or thought behind the words.
The music actually matches this – while as I said, the musicianship is really good, there’s really no atmosphere or emotion being conveyed. There are great moments like the openings to Good Mourning and Bad Omen, both having a more ominous and serious atmosphere. However, most of the time it just sounds like the band is jamming out to earn their dollar, which is not something I want in Thrash. It’s not dark, and the anger present is only very surface-level “I hate paying my taxes” kind of anger.
To be clear - It is a great album. The music is well-written and expertly played, the production is about as good as 80’s metal gets, and there aren’t any actually bad songs, but I find it massively overrated, and rather empty compared to most contemporary releases in the genre.
Simply amazing. Iron Maiden continue to shock me with the amount of talent and songwriting ability they displayed at such an early time for metal. Every song has stand out riffs and fantastic vocals from Bruce, and more than a couple show off the individual talents of the rhythm section far beyond anything Maiden had done yet.
Some of the songs add a hint of progressive elements, technicality, and a bit more keys than they’ve used before. But there’s really no major change; this is Maiden just being Maiden, and instead of running out of ideas, they’ve simply gained wisdom and skill and created an entire album of bangers. No band at this time was using dual guitar harmonies to the extent and success of Maiden, and by the looks of how metal turned out, it’s pretty clear how influential this band was on the entire landscape of the genre.
It’s mind-blowing to me that Maiden, 6 albums into their career, were still crafting some of the most memorable songs in Heavy Metal. There’s not much else to say because they really aren’t doing anything different; just playing honest Heavy Metal, better than anyone else ever had, and maybe ever would.
For their third album, Fates Warning followed mostly the same sound of their acclaimed sophomore album, The Spectre Within. The band’s highly melodic and often progressive yet deceptively simple music offers accessible entertainment. Most of the power metal influence from their last album is gone unfortunately, resulting in a slower and more sustained delivery.
John’s vocals, while never outstanding, are certainly stronger here than ever before, and his passionate delivery accompanied by the somewhat neoclassical musicianship add a flavor of theatrical atmosphere to the music. The long songs are never boring, containing multiple movements and layered with harmonies. While I miss the speed of their previous release, they certainly check every other box of 80’s Heavy Metal very well.
Epicus Doomicus Metallicus. The name carries immense weight, even before hearing what lies therein. Often given the title of the greatest Doom Metal album of all time, bandleader Leif Edling carries the band with immense riff-writing prowess, and Johan Längqvist wields a powerful, epic operatic bellow. Here, he sets the now solidified trope of epic vocals in Trad Doom. His voice was very unique at the time, being capable hitting highs and lows and everything in between, but always remaining melodic and full of vibrato. The riffs here are reminiscent of early Sabbath, but heavier, groovier, and better.
Epicus Doomicus Metallicus has no shortage of quality riffs and vocals, and in fact, there is absolutely no filler to be found. Something Candlemass hadn’t expanded on for Doom, however, was the mood and atmosphere. The songs here remain rather generic worshippings of demons, god, and death in general, and apart from some nice acoustic sections, there is no variation in style or sound. Candlemass are no doubt gods at what they do, which is play straightforward Trad Doom. Unfortunately, to call this the greatest Doom Metal album of all time when the genre has expanded into something so much more than straightforward slow metal is rather unfounded.
The first Alternative Metal of all time comes from a band who started out doing Reggae infused Hardcore Punk. Shades of their past are present here, and this is still a very punky record. Nevertheless, making the jump to metal really improved their sound in my opinion, as this album is more melodic and much more focused than their previous Punk efforts. Whereas before they sometimes played Punk and sometimes played Reggae, here they do a much better job of fusing their punky Metal with a ton of other influences, and it mostly works.
The album is a genre in its infancy, and occasionally a bit rough around the edges, but it’s certainly never boring.
Billed as thrash metal/hardcore/crossover, New York's All Out War first appeared on the radar in 1992 with their debut release on Gain Ground coming five years later. The band had been around for seven years by this point and had undertaken various demo, EP and Split releases prior to committing a full eleven tracks to record. I am not a big follower of this crossover scene and therefore don't really have much to draw parallel with when reviewing it but I can tell you that overall it isn't very good.
Let's start on a positive. The band should get an A+ for effort as their blending of the styles works well, with breakdowns and thrashy riffs providing the required contrast. But herein lies the problem because that's all this record is. It might as well be one long track as unless you are paying any particular attention to it you won't notice one track stop and another begin.
The band just didn't have enough skill or invention at this point in their careers to really go for such a lengthy release, their material would have worked so much better in continuing with shorter format releases. In fairness, if I were more of a fan of this style it might work better for me but I am guessing most fans would struggle with this even. The punk/hardcore beat that the drums give keep the energy levels up nicely despite the laborious nature of proceedings and the guitars do stray into more mid to slow-paced territory on the odd occasion but still nothing to break the monotony overall.
I spent the morning looking for something different to review as I try to expand my metal horizons so All Out War just got unlucky perhaps that I dropped on them but other than the fact that vocalist Mike Score sounds like Steve Reynolds from Demolition Hammer, I found little to like.
I listened to a few Therion songs before during my earlier epic metal taste 5 years ago, but I was never really into them. I probably would've been interested in this band if it wasn't for the band's first earlier death metal albums, a style I couldn't tolerate but obviously can now. Reviewing this album, Theli is not really perfect enough, thus marking Therion as the only band in the "Goth Metal" part of my unofficial challenge that I would never listen to full-time. You'll see why in this review...
After last bit of death metal in Lepaca Kliffoth, Therion's 5th album Theli changes their course of history with symphonic elements and operatic choirs. This good combo works perfectly in most tracks, with only a few of them I really don't like that caused this imperfection. This album would've been perfect without those useless fillers.
The album starts with the intro "Preludium", which is actually very good and a necessary haunting prelude to the epicness you're about to witness. The symphonic epicness begins with the fan favorite "To Mega Therion". It's probably what many Therion fans believe to be the best Therion track, and it has one of the catchiest choruses to be implanted into your brain for eternity. A perfect combo of metal and symphonic music you would hear in epic trailer music companies! "Cults of the Shadow" is another great favorite with chilling pulsating keyboards. The bass solo and rhythms really build up an energetic sound wall. It's true golden alchemy of symphonic ecstasy! "In the Desert of Set" makes sure you're all set for Egyptian-like melodies slithering into your ears like hypnotized snakes.
The "Interludium" is an unnecessary interlude despite being heavier than the prelude. "Nightside Of Eden" has the best guitar solo here. The catchy interlude "Opus Eclipse" is probably the most memorable of the album's interludes.
Yet another one of my album favorites is "Invocation of Namaah". This is my second favorite song of the album (behind "To Mega Therion"). The chorus is very catchy, while having haunting atmosphere and guitar splendor. The chorus would be seared into your brain for a long time. However, there's the disappointing "The Siren of the Woods", the one song I really hate, not because of it's 10-minute length (nothing wrong with that) but because it never really moves along. Why do people like this song so much!? It's so weak! I mean it has a nice acoustic atmosphere, but it doesn't work that long. The "Grand Finale/Postludium" doesn't help at all, being too long of an instrumental.
Theli would definitely be better off without those two tracks. Without them, I would've added an extra half-star to the rating. Remove the "Interludium" also and that would be a perfect 5 stars. I guess this album is similar to Wildhoney in terms of the 6-song 4-interlude ratio. Anyway, those other 7 tracks are absolutely mind-blowing! Remember to take out those 3 filler tracks to completely imagine yourself in a symphonic world far beyond....
Favorites: "To Mega Therion", "Cults of the Shadow", "In the Desert of Set", "Nightside Of Eden", "Invocation of Namaah" (pretty much all the good full songs)
Type O Negative was a band known for creating some of the most romantic dramatic gothic metal you would ever hear, first getting some impact in Bloody Kisses then later gaining lots of praise in this album, the impeccable October Rust! I've listened to one or two songs from Type O Negative in my happier melodic past a few years ago, but like Katatonia, it was too dark for me at the time, and I thought the lyrics were too sexual and humorous. I'm glad October Rust got recommended to me because I'm really more in the gothic zone now and it's recommended, and I quote, "for fans of Moonspell, Paradise Lost & Tiamat", 3 awesome gothic metal bands! So how am I not interested in Type O Negative? But soon I will be after writing my review for October Rust, which I heard is a major improvement over their previous album Bloody Kisses, in terms of direction, music, and a few Easter eggs. This album can relieve stress with a more gothic rock atmosphere and keyboards while the doom metal elements grow.
This is the first Type O Negative album since Johnny Kelly joined the band. Sal Abruscato left the band on good terms to focus on Life of Agony. However, Johnny was, at the time, only a live drummer, and the band used a drum machine for this album, World Coming Down, and Life is Killing Me (the latter features the song "I Don't Wanna Be Me" which was later covered by Trivium, another good reason why I'm eager to listen to this band). Despite the suspicious drum machine, I still enjoy the drumming and don't care if its programmed. Josh Silver did a good job implementing pretty keyboards layers and samples, while Peter Steele and Kenny Hickey added choral distortion effect to their bass and guitars, making them more powerful. Peter also sings with more melody. Oh how I'm gonna miss his deep vocals...
The album starts with two really pointless tracks, starting with "Bad Ground" which is just low-level buzzing feedback from an amp without guitar. Then the untitled intro is a spoken introduction by all the members thanking the listener for picking up a copy of this album. The actual opener "Love You to Death" is an excellent starting example of the light side of Type O Negative and their different instrumentation approach. You might've heard the guitars from their earlier material that sound more like chainsaws, right? Well now they're cleaner, more refined, and sound like real guitars! Peter's singing approach is more improved as well. "Be My Druidess" is another great gothic song. Atmospheric keyboards and fulfilling samples add a perfect touch to the band's gothic direction. The power chords and riff melodies are fun to listen to, especially in the striking chorus. The distorted bass riffs really add amazing groove, once again especially in the chorus. Peter also has more clean depth in his vocals and lyrics, sounding more romantically melodic. "Green Man" is filled with bliss and sorrow with lyrics of struggling for freedom over the band's signature sound.
Try replacing your traditional Christmas carols with this song, "Red Water (Christmas Mourning)", taking inspiration from the music and lyrics in their previous album Bloody Kisses. It's filled with atmospheric power and unique depression! The main sound is the cold chilling keyboard melodies along with Peter's crushingly dramatic singing. The infamous pop-like song "My Girlfriend's Girlfriend" is shorter and describes a polyamorous relationship, keeping up the metaphorical humor. It starts with a keyboard intro, followed by more of the band's distinct grandeur. I think this song might've really inspired the band HIM. "Die With Me" is another gorgeous track with a chilling chorus. It's a great song to listen to when everyone you love is dead and you're taking a train far away from your old home to start a new life. Only problem is, that is one of those songs where the length gets a little unnecessary and ends up becoming a drag. Still doesn't affect the perfect album score! "Burnt Flowers Fallen" is another song that I have mixed feelings for because the lyrics lack variation and the music sounds repetitive. Not bad, just not memorable. "In Praise of Bacchus" is a song to praise for its composition. A powerful layer is added with female vocals by Val Ium of Pist.On sung together with the bass vocals, creating the scenario of two lovers stargazing in the dark wilderness.
The band's cover of Neil Young's "Cinnamon Girl" sounds way better and heavier than the original. Really! I'm not just saying it because of a metalhead. "The Glorious Liberation of the People's Technocratic Republic of Vinnland by the Combined Forces of the United Territories of Europa" is a ridiculously long title for a short interlude. Apparently, it's an anthem for Vinland, a country the band made up and made the flag for (a green and black Scandinavian flag). Heaviest anthem EVER!! "Wolf Moon (Including Zoanthropic Paranoia)" still has the band's gothic atmosphere while revolving in a doom metal structure, sounding both dark and enlightening, mostly by the keyboards alone. Peter does an incredible job in both the bass and vocals, trying to reach his higher notes for the essence of the wolf moon. The darkness carries on in "Haunted", the darkest song in the album. It's a sorrowful foreshadowing of the band's next album World Coming Down, and a flashback to the darker side of their earlier material. What makes "Haunted" more unique is both the 10-minute length and the multiple instrument layers including the keyboard melodies, the melodic vocals, the striking bass, and the distorted guitar chords. While the verses really have those keyboard melodies delivered, the more powerful bridge is played twice, first with Peter's deep vocals, then hitting high notes for a final climax... Then the untitled outro is a final closing statement from Peter. (What is with those spoken-word interludes!?!)
So there have been a few bumps in the perfectly smooth gothic metal road, those bumps being the short under-minute interludes, the rather draggy length of "Die With Me", and the overall sound and lyrics of "Burnt Flowers Fallen". Fortunately, this album's perfect 5-star rating is never deducted. It's all about the unique creativity of the band and the album. The majority of October Rust is more gothic metal than doom metal, unlike the band's earlier albums, and has a greater diverse balance of darkness and humor. Type O Negative had never disappointed their fans. Enjoy this gothic metal masterpiece, and until next time, take it easy!
RIP Peter Steele
Favorites: "Love You to Death", "Be My Druidess", "Red Water (Christmas Mourning)", "In Praise of Bacchus", "Cinnamon Girl", "Wolf Moon (Including Zoanthropic Paranoia)", "Haunted"
It has become seemingly more difficult every year to take progressive metal seriously. It seems as if every year, another group releases an album that is simply Dream Theater lite, is arbitrarily tossed into the "progressive metal" category and most people eat it up. I thought the term "progressive metal" was coined for a genre that wasn't normative or derivative; it was forward thinking.
So why are we stuck talking about Psychotic Waltz and their new album, The God-Shaped Void? This album is entirely dependent on nostalgia of other progressive metal records in order to maintain relevancy. Except that's not entirely true, Psychotic Waltz have apparently been around since the mid 1980s and The God-Shaped Void is their first studio release in almost twenty years. This isn't original or memorable outside of a couple of decent hooks on "The Fallen" and "Sisters of the Dawn".
It certainly isn't saved by production, which has the bass playing so softly that any momentum that this band is going for is muted, and not just because of the slow tempo choices. "While the Spiders Spin" is probably the only decent sounding instrumental, since it primarily employs alternate lead guitars and the bass is forced into pulling it own weight. The rest of the album is chugging guitar riffs that double the bass, rendering the low end mostly useless. Percussion is adequate and these vocals are very drawn out and tired. The implementation of flute during the second half is commendable, but the performance is weak. I understand why, but it would have sounded much better if someone knew how to mix properly.
I guess that this album has enough decent moments on it to make it slightly above average, but even then, I feel like I'm being generous.
It’s quite alarming to think that my relationship with the unusual Canadian metal institution known as Voivod is now pushing out past the three decade mark but their 1989 album “Nothingface” was where it all stems from. I can vividly still recall my first encounter with the band. It was through a late-night radio program around that 1989/90 period & the song in particular was the opening track “The Unknown Knows”. I’d read a little bit about Voivod through articles in metal magazines but this particular track didn’t sound like any metal I’d heard before & I wasn't entirely sure what to make of it at first. But I used to tape all of these underground radio programs as they were only on once a week & I’d give them repeat listens for the next seven days. I’d even keep the best songs on mix tapes that I’d make up. Needless to say that there was something about that song that kept me coming back even though it took me well outside of my comfort zone & I think that sums up the “Nothingface” album in a way too.
Voivod had begun life as a rough & ready speed metal outfit in the early 80’s with their influences ranging from Motorhead & Venom to hardcore punk with a little progressive rock thrown in for good measure. I didn’t mind their first two albums but things really started to take off when they began expanding on their prog rock influences & in doing so they created the critically acclaimed & seminal “Dimension Hatross” album in 1988; a record that had a particularly large impact on me personally. But 1989’s “Nothingface saw Voivod’s transition being completed with the band finally having reached a sound that was completely on the other side of the musical spectrum from where they first began.
The production job on “Nothingface” is exceptional. Music this complex & dissonant requires a level of audio quality to be fully appreciated & producer Glen Robinson has done an excellent job at representing the nuances of what Voivod were trying to achieve here. Piggy’s dissonant guitar riffs are always beautifully defined while bassist Blacky offers just the right balance of grit & clarity whilst filling out the bottom end & front man Snake sits in a nice little niche all of his own. The overall balance & separation is excellent throughout & it’s hard not to compare it to the noisy mess that made up Voivod’s 1986 sophomore effort “Rrröööaaarrr”.
Voivod have always been affiliated with the thrash metal movement but I have to admit that I’ve never been comfortable with that association to be honest. Their first two records hardly contained a single thrash riff & I’m much happier to describe them as dirty speed metal from a theoretical point of view. Those speed metal roots would become progressively more diluted with each effort though & “Nothingface” represents somewhat of a climax in the band’s musical & artistic development. Snake’s vocals take a cleaner & slightly quirky direction as he’s now completely dropped the abrasive edge of his early days. He still sounds a little bit wacky though. Kinda like he could be a combination of Faith No More’s Chuck Mosley & Mike Patton. His delivery won’t be for everyone but I think he suits the unusual sound that Voivod were pushing at this stage in their career. Guitarist Piggy has always had a unique & noticeably dissonant sound built on Motorhead & punk rock but his ability to take that into new & progressive territory without ever sounding like he’s losing control is a real highlight. His guitar solos are perhaps more sporadic than in the past but when they have their time in the sun they generally offer something fresh & interesting from a melodic point of view. I could argue that Piggy’s ALWAYS been the highlight of Voivod’s sound but that would be down-playing his band-mates a little more than I’m comfortable with. And besides, the performance of bassist Blacky is nothing short of phenomenal here as he’s stepped out into waters that are generally reserved for the elite musicians of the prog rock spectrum. Particularly Chris Squire of Yes. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it’s Blacky’s contribution that leaves the most lasting impression on me here.
Most fans would readily admit that “Nothingface” was the least metal & most light-weight album that Voivod had released to the time but I’m gonna go one step further & suggest that what we have here is no longer a metal release at all. It fits much more comfortably alongside the great works of King Crimson, Rush & Yes than it does the elite progressive metal releases. For starters, the guitar sound & style is completely devoid of palm-muting & the tone is much more akin to that of punk rock. The tempos are substantially more laid back than the band’s more ferocious earlier works & there’s nothing too intimidating about the overall atmosphere. There’s also a weird & adventurous feel to the music that I relate to bands like Mr Bungle (who were more than likely influenced by this record) & a less obvious but still apparent alternative element that makes me think of a band like Jane’s Addiction. It’s exhilarating stuff really & even though I don’t find any of this material to be genuinely classic, even the weaker tracks keep you on the edge of your seat in anticipation of what strange direction Voivod will take off to next. There’s a lot of talk on the internet about how ridiculously complex & technical “Nothingface” is too but that’s not exactly true when you put it into a prog rock context. The changes don’t sound forced & I never feel that the band are simply throwing out technicality for the sake of impressing despite the clear abundance of skill on offer. But what this added complexity does when combined with the quirky vocal approach is make Voivod's product less accessible & despite being a noticeably lighter Voivod record, there’s no suggestion that “Nothingface” is a sell-out. It’s still an extremely challenging record as you won’t find any hit singles amongst this lot.
A lot of the album’s marketing has been focused around the cover version of Pink Floyd but people need to remember that “Astronomy Domine” was taken from Floyd’s more psychedelic debut album rather than their radio-friendly mid-70’s to mid-80’s heyday & it’s a very good example of the cover version too. Some people seem to think that it interrupts the flow of the album but I disagree. If you forget that it’s a cover & simply listen to the music then I find that it works in the overall context of the tracklisting & is in fact one of the highlights of what is a very consistent album. There isn’t a weak track included although I have to admit that I don’t see a genuine classic here either & the high quality fades a little over the last three tracks which are still quite interesting but lack the hooks of the earlier material.
Overall, “Nothingface” is more of an intriguing record than a classic one in my opinion. It may not be a match for Voivod’s genuinely amazing “Dimension Hatross” album from the previous year but it’s certainly a worthy addition to any collection & I rate it comfortably more highly than the band’s early speed metal works.
For fans of: Rush, Yes, Mr. Bungle
Dungeons and Towers O'er Yonder Hills
As someone who tends to enjoy the kind of dark and epic theatrics that Metal can bring, Summoning was a massive discovery for me in terms of Atmospheric Black Metal. Fantasy and Tolkien inspired themes are normally left to the Power and Heavy Metal folks, and while early second-wave Atmospheric Black Metal hard the lo-fi, cold, and dreary aura down to a science I never really felt immersed with it. The feelings of frozen dread are all too apparent in Blut Aus Nord's Ultima Thulee and Burzum's Hvis lyset tar oss, but Minas Morgul completes this early trilogy of Black Metal by offering a corny but insanely epic journey through an immersive world with its clever and masterful use of Dungeon Synth.
I wanted to center my discussion about Minas Morgul around the Dungeon Synth in general, since that is what makes it so unique compared to the other early Atmospheric Black Metal titans. Synthesizers aren't new in the world of Black Metal, especially with Burzum using them heavily in Hvis lyset tar oss, but none were quite as epic and fantastical sounding as the ones Summoning employ here. It's immediately apparent they'll be a huge part of the album with the opening track "Soul Wandering" being a sort of demonic waltz before the signature Black Metal tremolo comes in during "Lugburz". The synthesizer sounds they use are normally akin to triumphant trumpets or a harpsichord and really help to sell the fantasy world they attempt to build, as corny as they may sound on their own. The opening of "The Passing of the Grey Compan" really showcases how these cheesy Dungeon Synth melodies can work together with the echoing and ragged vocals along with the tremolo chord progression of the guitar, since the song slowly adds in each element one by one before building into the second main melody. Summoning follow this same formula of really blending the Dungeon Synth elements into the composition as a whole, with each transition from synth instrumentals to the full Black Metal experience being smooth as silk.
If all the Dungeon Synth elements weren't enough, Summoning ups the ante with a strange drum performance that may sound a little too mechanical for its own good, which would be correct since it's computerized. While this is normally blasphemy, Summoning are able to make the poignant and slightly too crashy drums sound perfectly fine thanks to the help of the rest of the synths in the background. Minas Morgul is an album that is the culmination of all of its parts, since each part on their own is admittedly cheesy or mundane. While it isn't as aggressive or bleak as the rest of the early Atmospheric Black Metal offerings, it helped to begin the trend of more epic and slightly more accessible Black Metal. The album does drag on using the same formulas for a bit too long during tracks like "Marching Homewards", but the album as a whole just has that grandiose and epic feel that I personally adore. While Summoning will release more mature albums than Minas Morgul, this will be a personal favorite of mine to show how Dungeon Synth can really elevate the Atmospheric Black Metal experience. It goes past just using synthesizers to create an unsettling or chilling atmosphere, with Summoning using them to create an immersive fantasy experience that can be hit or miss for some, but for me it was a massive hit.
Blackened death/doom? Sort of like a more deathy Samael/Varathron-paced black metal album? It is hard to explain Christ Agony's sound to the layman as there are few like them in the world of metal, certainly around in 1993 anyways. For a (then) three piece they made a big noise, full of crunching riffs and spewing vocals. Granted it is lyrically naive but overall still offers something new and different nearly twenty years on.
What's that? Never heard of Christ Agony? Me neither until finding them here in the dusty archives of the "c" section under "Bands". Turns out they are Polish and have a lengthy career of some three decades (albeit on and off). Unholyunion was their debut after a couple of demo releases from 1990 onward and the band found a home on Carnage Records for their debut full-length.
Straight away something is different to your normal bm record. There's only four tracks, ranging from ten to fifteen minutes in duration and there's bone crunching riffs like on an Asphyx record. The pace varies as well so it is not all one-dimensional slow and laboured riffing, there's blast beats to contend with her also to liven things up. There's atmospheric passages to invoke a bit of drama and menace where necessary that give tracks some real sense of depth and density.
It is hard to get too lost in it though because it is only four tracks and the track lengths all could do with a trim and they lack enough variation for the track lengths to make them really interesting. The pace never gets down to blackened drone/doom/death proportions but the track lengths could have you think the prospect is there. Vocally it is a bit guilty of some immaturity with a couple of parts were the word "Satan" gets growled ever few bars or so and it just feels amateur even for 1993. Although not a bad record there was definitely room for improvement.
Gatecreeper's debut full-length offers enough Swedish death metal references to please anyone sat reading this in their "...Everflowing Stream" pyjama set. It also cemented the bands relevance in relation to other styles of death metal including some elements of crust, death/doom as well as smatterings of thrash here and there. Upon first few listens the album sat high in my regard, more so because it blended all these elements together well and came across as fresh sounding and authentic. On reflection, spinning back through the album for the purpose of this review its longevity is questionable.
I think this is largely due to two things. Firstly, for an album with a lot going on in terms of styles it sounds generally the same throughout. Tracks tend to merge into one another as a result of this, and at times it is hard to find high points on the record. This I suspect is down to a bit of naivety in the songwriting department (so my second point) and the band trying to lavish the various influences across the record but not letting them fully develop into standout moments. I don't make any suggestion that this is easy to achieve mind. They are a talented bunch of guys in the band and they perform their art form well, it just needed a bit of restraint applying here and there to really let the influences shine properly.
For a nine track record it is over soon enough, clocking in at just over thirty minutes, yet it somehow feels longer like it is getting close to outstaying its welcome and your constantly looking at your watch and tapping your empty beer glass whilst yawning a lot to drop sufficient hint that the night is over for you. It still does retain that fresh sound though with the riffs being of such high quality that they alone provide enough memorability to make up for the other structural weaknesses present on the record. It will interesting for me to revisit the sophomore release now I ave spent some more time with this one and see if there are any obvious improvements in song structure and arrangement overall, but in conclusion the debut effort really tries fucking hard and shows a band full of work ethic but just needing to find their feet a bit more before starting to be able to truly perfect their offering.
Could any list of 'essential' FInnish BM releases be complete without the first full length venture of Impaled Nazarene present? Not that this is an easy listen by any means, even for the most extreme-loving metalhead, 'Tol...' is a full on assault that takes some unpicking before you can recognise the dexterity behind the slashes and blows it deals.
Upon first hearing this some five years ago, I immediately dismissed it. Not because of the sound but more due to the structure of the album. It had no flow, no cohesion and no rationale as a result. The fact is that this is one of the main raison d'etres of the record. This isn't meant to be an orderly, structured affair. 'Tol Cormpt Norz Norz Norz' is supposed to be an explosion of chaos, a nailbomb of perverse occult worship detonating in the ears of the listener. Nobody was ever supposed to feel comfortable listening to Black Metal and in that regard this delivers. 'Tol...' is one ugly looking, sounding and feeling motherfucker of a record.
If you need structure in your life then the only comparison I can think to give is to say that 'Tol...' is put together like a grind record. Short, sharp and abrasive bursts of musicality are interspersed with horrifying sounds of ritual sacrifice, occult procreation and hellish mantras. It is perhaps metal's one and only BM/Grind album in structure at least. It is cluttered to say the least yet the jumble and litter all has relevance and contributes to the aesthetic well.
It's claustrophobic, demented and at times downright terrifying. Yet somehow the mix lends the drums and vocals centre stage (on the actual music tracks) and as a result the traditional cold feel associated with BM is somehow warmer in atmosphere, like some vigorous worship is in constant performance against a backdrop of intense flames. The production job is actually quite good considering the genre and year this was released in. Although raw sounding, the uptempo pace of the tracks are solidified superbly by the drums and vocals being pinned at the core of the sound giving them more depth than the abrasive riffing might suggest available. At times it sounds like a death metal record but its delivery is recognisably BM, dripping with misanthropy and hatred throughout.
There is question about how seriously Impaled Nazarene should be taken with some identifying them as a band merely making a parody of the BM scene (they even stopped wearing corpse paint after deeming it "too trendy"). Regardless of the meaning behind the intent of the artist, 'Tol...' delivered a wake up call to the BM scene in 1993 that continues to alienate and astound new listeners in equal measure to this day.
This is my second encounter with the vocals of Jesse Leach in the Melodic Metalcore Clan Challenge, first encounter being when I reviewed Killswitch Engage's Alive or Just Breathing. Take the styles from that album and Leach's other band The Empire Shall Fall, and you have Times of Grace, a side project with Killswitch Engage guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz! Jesse L. and Adam D. reunited to make an album almost entirely by themselves, an exciting thing for Killswitch Engage fans to hear.
The influences are filled with curiosity. The Hymn of a Broken Man is a modern metalcore album similar to Killswitch Engage but with more experimentation. So are they gonna sound like Killswitch Engage or sound different enough for comparison? Let's listen...
"Strength in Numbers" is a strong start to the album, almost picking up where Alive or Just Breathing left off. One of my favorite "experimental" songs in the album is "Fight for Life" which has a great ethereal tremolo riff that reminds me Define the Great Line-era Underoath while giving stirring up nostalgia for the earlier Killswitch Engage fans. Next track "Willing" begins with good melodic riffs but sinks into melodic choruses that lack atmosphere or expression with inconsistent arpeggios. "Where the Spirit Leads Me" begins with interesting guitar lines and brilliant metalcore riff-wrath inspired by thrash and melodeath but once again gets lost in faceless melodic choruses that have typical Killswitch Engage arpeggios still sounding inconsistent.
The stylistic mix of dissonance and beauty in "Until the End of Days" really makes up for the poor quality of those last two songs. It starts with a nice soft intro before Leach switches his vocals nicely clean to tortured growling alongside heavier riffs kicking in. Those two guys really do a well-done job creating a song that flows so well soft to heavy to soft and so on. Whether it sounds beautiful and clean or ugly and harsh, you get to hear both sides in the best way possible. "Live in Love" has the aggressive chaos and calm melody both from the first two Killswitch Engage albums. The interlude "In the Arms of Mercy" sounds more familiar to anyone who has listened the instrumentals in Killswitch Engage, and acts as a nice tribute to fallen loved ones. After a suggestively gloomy intro, the title track has fantastic thrash riffs and an awesome tremolo melody, but those inconsistent arpeggios return again.
The acoustic ballad "The Forgotten One" showcases a sweet duet between Jesse and Adam, as good as Between the Buried of Me's "Desert of Song". Once again, a nice tribute to the ones we lost! Next up is "Hope Remains", another killer flashback to Alive or Just Breathing, now with solid blast beats. "The End of Eternity" is another song that follows the pattern of a soft intro before switching to heaviness and softness back and forth in a great way. "Worlds Apart" is once again driven by blast beats but it never really gets lifted off by the Killswitch Engage-style riff technicality. "Fall from Grace" has a greater rawer emotional feeling in guitars than ever before in metalcore.
The Hymn of A Broken Man is an album of wonderful hymns by two Killswitch Engage members. It has the stunning ability to please metalheads as they headbang. Adam did all the instruments and some vocals, proving his talented music skills. This is a nice standout point in his and Jesse's careers, all in chaos and grace!
Favorites: "Strength in Numbers", "Fight for Life", "Until the End of Days", "Live in Love", "Hope Remains", "The End of Eternity"
I listened to a few The Human Abstract songs before but didn't feel interested enough to really enjoy the band. They're a band that combines metalcore elements with classical influences, mostly in the beautiful chords and acoustic passages. Yeah, that was when I was moving away from the classical-influenced metal I lost passion for...
Nocturne is kind of a metalcore album with primarily Northern European-driven components. The dueling guitar harmonies and rhythms both have active skills combined with sweet melodies, all in a style that reaches out of Between the Buried and Me at the time while exploring the neo-classical grandeur of Symphony X. The band prefers to be more adventurous than safe, which is attempted by a very minimal amount of the bands, thereby emphasizing pivotal directions through roads less traveled.
Already when the first track "Harbringer" plays, the classical acoustic guitar really shines in the intro, sounding like a medieval bard's lute. Then the neo-classical heaviness carries on, featuring a great infectious clean chorus. "Self Portraits of the Instincts" continues the cool neo-classical metalcore mix while having clean choruses with catchy melodies and emo-ish clean vocals in contrast with the strong hardcore growls. The breakdowns are definitely worth headbanging! The title track is filled with impressively perplexing time changes. However, there's painfully clean singing in the middle that don't fit the heaviness ("No wonder here, just an echo resounding") He channels his inner Greg Puciato or Rody Walker better in the solid screams. "Crossing the Rubicon" continues the complex time changes while getting caught in guitar tornadoes.
Then there's the classic acoustic interlude "Sotto Voce". Choral keyboard textures enchant the fast "Mea Culpa", where the group really nails the blend of technical grace. The neo-classical soloing in celestial instrumentation is some of the most epic in this album. The "I failed and I don’t know why!!" breakdown is so d*mn emotional in the vocals. Epic song! Next one "Movement from Discord" once again has catchy clean choruses with unleashed clarity. "Channel Detritus" once again has shining classical guitar in the acoustic passages. Good mix of epic and extreme!
"Polaris" continues those soft acoustic passages and infectious clean choruses. However, the clean chorus starts to get a little hackneyed at this point. In "Echelons and Molotovs", the otherwise ridiculous drum fills are more appropriately placed where there's more speed and bass. "Desiderata" is another pleasant acoustic instrumental with classical guitar. Ending track "Vela, Together We Await the Storm" is an aggressive headbanger with the best guitars you would hear here, both flamenco and electric.
Though Nocturne is really impressive, its style isn't really as mind-blowing as it would've been in 2006. Still there's some fresh air of classical distinction. It's worth checking out if you're up for something a little more artful!
Favorites: Harbringer, Self Portraits of the Instincts, Crossing the Rubicon, Mea Culpa, Channel Detritus, Vela Together We Await the Storm
Was there ever a time when someone says something that is a line from the song unaware that a few years later you would hear that exact same thing in a song? "What would it take for things to be quiet?!" (from "Louder Than Thunder") yelled my mom who can't stand loud metal music, when I was watching the music video for The Devil Wears Prada song "First Sight" on TV, 5 years ago. Once again I wasn't interested in metalcore back then even though that was a good song/video. And during my great transition to metalcore a couple years later, I wasn't into this band enough to fully listen to them. Now, reviewing one of their albums, these guys are certainly never quiet!
I'm sure other metalcore fans have heard of The Devil Wears Prada (named after the novel, NOT the movie, which was released a year after the band's formation) as well. They stormed through a couple albums before this one and extensive live performances such as the 2008 Warped Tour. Then they reached the third chapter of their tenure, With Roots Above and Branches Below!
The opening track "Sassafras" already tells you what they're going for in this album. The vocals range from metalcore screams to death growls. Guitar breakdowns are often accompanied by synthesized piano/violins. The drums keep changing from slow grinding to furious rolls, as the bass runs. And it has a melodic clean chorus, a first for the band! But that of course means more of that mundane verse/chorus structure they've never had before. For a witty song title like "I Hate Buffering", that song has killer guitar melodies for everyone (except my metal-hating mom) to enjoy. Another nonsensical title, "Assistant To the Regional Manager" (reference to The Office) is still a great metalcore mix of epic and extreme. "Dez Moines" is filled with moments singing and screaming alternating between each other every minute.
"Big Wiggly Style" might look like a rap song title, but thank the Lord it isn't. It's just your friendly neighborhood metalcore! The riffs in "Danger Wildman" are just wild, inspired by A Life Once Lost. "Ben Has a Kid" continues the singing/screaming alternation. "Wapakalypse" is another witty song title with the song mixing melody and brutality.
"Gimme Half" is once again half epic, half extreme. "Louder Than Thunder" is a rather ironic name for the song, not just because it's a melodic mellow ballad, but also I don't think even metal performances can be louder than thunder, and that's why (don't laugh) I'm scared of thunder. Still an interesting album highlight! After that soft ballad, "Lord Xenu" closes the album in epic heaviness.
Even though this album isn't as perfectly executed as I thought it would be, With Roots Above and Branches Below is excellent and worth its place in any heavy fan's library. It's many Christian metalcore fans' love at first sight!
Favorites: "Sassafras", "Assistant To the Regional Manager", "Dez Moines", "Ben Has a Kid", "Louder Than Thunder", "Lord Xenu"
So here’s something I didn’t expect. A new album by a band which I have only ever heard from in passing. And I actually enjoyed what I heard. That’s not the surprising part; anybody who knows me knows how much I enjoy my post-metal. The surprising part is how big this group has gotten since their 2016 album Air. This new self titled album is receiving massive critical acclaim alongside the fanbase. So I decided to check it out and see if it holds up to that surprising 2016 debut.
And I’m here to tell you that it certainly does. This is the sort of new fresh take on post-metal that the genre has desperately needed. A knack for melodic songwriting, mixed in with some very stellar clean singing and a towering performance behind the drum kit.
So why don’t I like this more? Well I think that question can be narrowed down into three main parts, which we will get into as they become significant, but let’s start by talking about that songwriting. Many of these tunes have very simple melodies that are usually carried by the lead vocalist, but always have a countermelody, usually played by the tremolo picking lead guitar. And those countermelodies are typically more interesting than the vocalist. Take the opening track “A New Color”, where the vocals sound like they are being forced into the back of the mix. It allows for those sweet melodies and solo to really be heard and admired, same goes for “Fault”. Guitar solos are very few and far between on this album, but when they happen they sound beautiful.
Also on the subject of songwriting, I really love how Astronoid is able to incorporate other metal genres into their brand of atmospheric post-metal, such as the guitar melodies that borrow from progressive metal bands like Periphery on “Breathe”, or the straight up thrash metal elements on “I Dream In Lines” and “I Wish I Was There While the Sun Set”.
And that brings me to my first big problem: the incorporation of those ideas are flimsy. Yes, Astronoid have developed their own sound and I am okay with that, but when you have tracks like “Lost” or “Beyond the Scope”, that attempt to create a hybrid sound in the first half and then return back to the tried and true formula of Air. Many of these ideas just feel aborted for the dreamy atmosphere, it feels like a letdown. It’s the problem that I have with a lot of bands going the way of Imagine Dragons; don’t pull any punches!
Which leads me to my second issue with this record, the use of dynamics. And the fact is that there really aren’t that many at all. Most of these tracks are brooding heavy tracks with all instruments playing at all times to leave the listener in a dream trance, which it certainly does do that, but maybe having a quieter section here and there would make those thunderous sections more worth it. There is some dynamic edge on a song like “Fault”, but as I mentioned before, those dynamics are left behind in the first half for that atmospheric vibe. One of the better tracks on the album is “Ideal World”, as it is more involved than anything else and really requires the listeners attention.
My final big issue with this record is the lyrical content. Mainly that there really isn’t anything to say about it. The lyrics are very minimal and spoken in broken sentences or phrases, which leaves me with very little to compliment. How can I appreciate your lyrical themes if they are pushed to the back of the mix so they can’t be heard anyway, and when I do find the lyrics, they don’t say anything at all? It’s really a letdown and pushes this album out of the territory of greatness.
So, while I do still like the album, there are some major issues with this record that need to be addressed in the future. Which beg the question: where does the band go from here? Seriously, I’m genuinely curious. Because a lot of atmospheric bands have to try something new in order to stay relevant without becoming the music that I use to help me sleep at night. Astronoid is fortunate to have melody in their back pocket and a great percussionist to keep them going for a while. If Astronoid wanted to create a straight up black metal track, they could do it, they just need to work at staying on track. And add in some more direct storytelling, maybe finding some outside help, and you would have a progressive metal band that could be a force to be reckoned with. I would bet money on this band being huge very soon.
One of the many bands that I flirted with the material but have never actually dipped in for ownership of any of their releases, Armored Saint certainly tick all the right boxes from a heavy metal perspective. Their 1991 release was the first of theirs I had heard after now familiar anthems like Reign of Fire and Dropping Like Flies got air time on BBC Radio One's rock shows on a Friday and Saturday night. Whenever I got around to attempting to sit through a full-length offering I found myself all too easily distracted though and soon gave up.
Symbol of Salvation starts off strong enough with the aforementioned two tracks opening proceedings well enough. However, I remember there being more power behind the sound back in the day and these now aged (and battered) ears don't get quite the same level of bite from these two former favourites of mine. That's not say that they are in anyway awful of course, just not aged well for me at least. Last Train Home carries on the familiarity of yesteryear with its catchy chorus still ringing in my head for days after just one listen.
The odd yet somehow addictive Tribal Dance continues the strong start to the record, the lead work's blistering delivery planting a smile firmly on my mug. The slightly flashy delivery of the track also adds something unexpected, I mean the song practically screams radio play list but I don't recall it from last visit to the record. There's definitely the prospect of some sleazy-edged (almost cock rock) metal to The Truth Always Hurts as it smoulders its way through four minutes plus of catchy licks and infectious hooks. Bush's strained vocal style works brilliantly on this track, trading blows with the guitars nicely, vying for space and both managing to steal their own slice of the limelight.
At this point the album takes a bit of a dip. The brief and pointless instrumental Half Drawn Bridge seems a half-arsed attempt at an intro for Another Day. The latter track itself is a half-ballad that does nothing other than show Bush's limitations until the guitars of Sandoval and Duncan rescue things with some more sterling lead work, the pace change around halfway through heralding an overall and much needed improvement in the direction and quality of the track. Thankfully the title track lives up to expectations somewhat better even if the chorus feels a tad laboured. The track stomps and bites better than the previous two that precede it most definitely.
One the main problems here is the album length, largely because of the quantity of filler that lines the album listing. As well as the aforementioned tracks that seem weaker, Hanging Judge has a similar story of a half-baked structure that is barely rescued by the guitar work. This is followed by the excellent Warzone which oozes classy songwriting with that sultry rock-tinged style again deployed to good effect. Burning Question tries to keep this fire going but comes up short with its clunky structure and unnecessary labouring on the verses. We don't need Tainted Past with its unnecessary length (I get the sentiment behind it for Prichard - his solo is the best part of the track by far) and album closer Spineless is a fine end to proceedings with its stompy rhythm and cutting riffs despite us having to wade through a bit of deadwood to get it.
Overall, a mixed bag but when the record is on point it is bang on point.
Dutch veterans Thanatos return with a brutal, high-powered album of thrashing death metal with a polemic against organised religion that will sate the appetite of any Possessed or Kreator fans looking for a shot of adrenalised metal to get them through these trying times.
The voice of the vocalist immediately leaps out at you from the opening of the full-on album starter Middle Ages, it's equal part Steve Souza as it is the more gruff aspects of Paul Di'Anno also. I can only assume there's two vocalists here as track two (the title track) seems to have a different style, more sung and rock-edged. This is the story of the album really, a mixture of galloping speed/heavy metal with Motörhead like rhythms thrown in for good measure.
The amateur vocals actually do suit the style of the album overall it has to be said. For all the comedy I find in them they suit the loose and bouncy song structures that do seem to indicate that whilst the writing process might not have been the most hybrid of systems much fun was certainly had by all during the recording of this album. The artwork belies a hint of seriousness that isn't actually present for the most part This is bashy heavy metal that is delivered with blunt force trauma to the listener as opposed to any calculated attack.
The other real standout part of the record is the guitar work with the dual attack working well to make the often average songs develop a whole new dimension showing skill that might not be as obvious on first spin/s. As mentioned, the drums just thump along in the background - perhaps a little too low in the mix actually - but you can hear their contribution to the metal frenzy on display for the majority of the album. The bass for the main part is lost though, either mixed in behind everything else or just overwhelmed entirely.
Pace wise, there's little let up. Tracks just charge on after each other like troops going into battle. The titles are in the main adversarial in naming convention, Steel Meets Steel, Highway Killers, Evil On The Road and the superbly named Kick On Your Ass all give a good indication of the mindset of this bunch of Belgian metalheads. Brute force aside though there's only so far that the relentless attitude can get you with an album like this. The token comedic value of the lyrics and vocals gets old real quick when every track is full of them and the attempt at a slower paced track, Lift Me Up, is just terrible and painfully shows the shortfalls of the vocal ability available on this record. The tits on the cover art are more attractive than most of the vocal content of the aforementioned attempt a ballad.
It still gets three stars just for the sheer bloody-minded determination to take a game plan, however basic, and stick with it for ten tracks. But this was something that they might have gotten away with at the early end of the eighties and this album was released in 1990 when most metal fans knew and expected much better.
The Agonist is another melodeath/metalcore band that I tried listening to a few songs from a few years ago in my earlier epic metal taste, but after nearly a minute of each song, I didn't feel like listening to the rest and left alone the band because I wasn't interested in metalcore yet back then. But what's different is, they have a female vocalist, Alissa White-Gluz who would later join one of my favorite melodeath bands at that time, Arch Enemy! Who knew a hot girl can do pig-squeal-like screams? Anyone who doesn't think metalcore is worth headbanging to should try giving this album a listen and prove themselves wrong, and I'll tell you why as the review goes on...
First off, this kind of metalcore is different in Lullabies for the Dormant Mind. Most other metalcore albums have songs that sound too much like one another, as if it's one song being repeated with little variations. The big difference in this album is how neatly different each song is. And they take influences from other different genres that are never boring, not just melodeath, but a bit of progressive metal as well.
Opening track "The Tempest (The Siren's Song; The Banshee's Cry)" is a song that is helped a lot by the powerful percussion. While the lyrics are usually self-righteous, it's much less focused on politics and more on darkness. "...And Their Eulogies Sang Me to Sleep" is so crazy with lyrics that are hard to describe, other than being memorable while also morbidly dark. The music has amazing changes between brutal riffs and beautiful melodies. In "Thank You Pain", Alissa does the brutal metalcore technique of switching back and forth between growling screams and clean vocals, as if she's voicing both the devil and the angel in a heated argument. The kick-A solo proves that heaviness can exist in Drop C instead of the B tuning other melodeath bands are obsessed with. The drop-C excellence continues in "Birds Elope with the Sun".
After those first 4 furious songs, "Waiting Out the Winter" falls flat as a really clean letdown. "Martyr Art" has higher octane in the heavy moments. "Globus Hystericus" once again contains hysterical metalcore with subtle Globus-esque background orchestration. Up next is an acapella cover of the "Swan Lake" theme completely sung by Alissa who really gives the theme a higher impact. Greater impact added than in their previous album! I still like Spanish symphonic power metal band Dark Moor's version better, even though I don't listen to that band anymore.
The pulverizing "The Sentient" returns us to the regular scheduled heavy metalcore. "When The Bough Breaks" continues the scream/clean combo that dominated "Thank You Pain". The concluding track "Chlorpromazine" ends the album on a perfect note with one of the most powerful breakdowns I actually love. It's at the last 45 seconds of the song sounding closer to symphonic black metal with colorful bass. The Japanese edition bonus track is a wicked cover of "Monochromatic Stains" by Dark Tranquillity.
Lullabies for the Dormant Mind is definitely from the usual metalcore you would hear nowadays. They actually have epic gothic/power metal influences from Nightwish that frequently overpower their main sound of melodeath/metalcore. Even metalcore haters should give it a try!
Favorites: ...And Their Eulogies Sang Me to Sleep, Thank You Pain, Birds Elope With the Sun, Martyr Art, Chlorpromazine
Still Remains is still remaining one of the few proper metalcore beasts of bands. The metalcore scene has been trapped in the repetitive invasion of emo bands that soil the genre. Of Love And Lunacy is one of those few incomparable metalcore releases, despite a few small similarities. This ain't the whiny sh*t-core scene, so Design the Skyline fans should leave this territory and design their own skyline!
Of Love and Lunacy contains a metal frenzy of intelligence with doses of hardcore added in an amount that people can respect, plus some interesting atmospheric sounds, all in a greater metalcore work of art than Converge. The vocals and instrumentation are always interesting, often brilliant, and sometimes progressive.
Starting off the album is "To Live and Die by Fire", beginning with drumming and bad-a** guitar riffing, complemented by interesting background keyboards. The lyrics are simplistic yet offer complexity in the vocals, which are in a frenzy of hardcore death growling. With all that, I thought to myself, "Wow... Now that's metalcore!" Next song "The Worst Is Yet To Come" is another one of the best yet to come with epic clean choruses that make the song storm across heaven. The typical verse-chorus structure is mixed around into something more exciting. "In Place of Hope" starts with drumming and riffing followed by a long "FAREWELL!!!!" scream with a cool pulsating effect. "White Walls" isn't as epic as Between the Buried and Me's "White Walls", but it has special leads and a great chorus that still makes this song an album highlight.
Another notable song is "Bliss", written in a careful progressive mix of Shadows Fall and Nightrage. The breakdowns never annoy or bore you, equally blending with the rest of the content. "Cherished" is a catchy song about "being only human" and "waiting for something more". It's like a cry for God for human perfection. "With Everything You Have" is just a piano interlude. "Kelsey" is I assume to be about a girl named Kelsey trying to break free from addiction and learn from mistakes. The lyrics treat the Bible like a gun, ordering to point the gun and pull the trigger so that "I'll soak it all in".
"Recovery" once again has the killer Shadows Fall/Nightrage blend and epic clean chorus in a more over the top fashion, complete with corny lyrics and dramatic keyboards. "I Can Revive Him with My Own Hands" is personally the absolute album highlight with all the album's flavor. It has a serious guitar riff and sick metaphorical growled lyrics. The lyrics are far more interesting than in that Killswitch Engage album I listened to, Alive or Just Breathing, making that album sound kid-friendly in comparison. The guitars keep your attention running. Brilliant drumming and mature metalcore vocals continue on as lyrics continue shivering down my spine with serious emotion. Hardcore growls really end the song in a killer band ("I can revive him with my own two hands!!"). "Stare and Wonder" is another song worth good listening. "Blossom, the Witch" starts with techno effects before unleashing more heaviness. It has everything; drums, bass, singing, screaming, growling, squealing, guitars, and time changes. Amazing!
Of Love and Lunacy is an album that has intense emotion, caustically great metal, and brilliant musicianship. The songs flow from one another and are never isolated. They all have the album's original flavor, but it's the uniqueness that makes each song different while still related, emphasizing the album's artistic luminosity. The riff-craft is all set in perfectly timed drumming and great keyboard synth moments. The clean vocals are as memorable and mesmerizing as the growls. I would certainly recommend Of Love and Lunacy for anyone looking for interesting metalcore brilliance. This band still remains!
Favorites: "To Live and Die by Fire", "The Worst Is Yet To Come", "White Walls", "Bliss", "I Can Revive Him with My Own Hands", "Blossom, the Witch"
Nearly two hours of blackened space metal from a couple of old pals in Spectral Lore and Mare Cognitum who present a modern metal take on Holst's Planet suite. Each planet has a track dedicated to it (except non-planet Pluto which has two) and each attempts to invoke the physical and mythological aspects of the planet it represents. Each band takes four planets, Spectral Lore having Mercury, Earth, Saturn and Uranus, with Mare Cognitum taking Mars, Venus, Jupiter and Neptune, both bands then coming together and collaborating on the final two-parter for Pluto (The Gatekeeper parts one and two).
Personally, I prefer Mare Cognitum's blend of visceral atmo-black and soaring post-metal to Spectral Lore's more avant-garde jazzy noodlings, but both bands are on fine form and this is a great example of an atmospheric and inspiring ode to the cosmos. Some bands make music and some bands write songs - this is most definitely the former.
I'm quite fond of Lucifer's first couple of albums, their blend of hard rock and heavy metal being a throwback to the heady days of the NWOBHM and particularly bands like Johanna Sadonis' countrymen, Warlock. I've got to say, though that this is a disappointing record, sounding devoid of any real passion or fire, it sounds like a band that has got very comfortable in what they do and are dialling it in a bit. The guitar sound isn't bad and the restrained keys are nice, but I'm just not feeling anything other than a band turning up to their day job and "putting in a shift". I'm sure the band would say "fuck off" to that and I'm sorry if you think that I'm being unfair, but hey, I hear what I hear!
When making a debut studio album, there are some things you need to think about deciding; the feel for the album, the central themes, and each song's style. Give them all some time so you can let the album grow and glow without forcing the beauty. That's exactly what Protest the Hero did! After playing some Happy Go Lucky punk rock, they decided to brainstorm an album and story to compose that's far different, and that took them 2 years. 2 YEARS!! A long time for a 10-song album! However, that's what makes some albums the best, by taking the longest time. With that and their more progressive sound, Kezia just made part of my top 10 of 2005!! And apparently, many metalcore fans and critics rate it the #1 album of 2005. Well sure, but there are other bands who also made awesome in 2005. Either way, what an accomplishment!
Kezia is not just an album but also a story, which is what concept albums are, right? It has everything you need for a story; interesting characters, plot twists, and poetic language. There are 3 parts of the story, and each part is in the perspective of a different character with their in the story. You'll see what those characters are as the review moves along. We barely know anything about those characters when we start the story, but as the twisted tale goes on, we learn much more about them song after song. I'll describe the song structures, how good they are, and the story analysis, all in this review. (SPOILERS COMING!!)
Act I: The Prison Priest - "No Stars Over Bethlehem" starts with a piano intro, the background noises begin to rise louder. Then the song starts right away! You get launched into an insane song filled with religious views from the priest. The main story has barely even started yet so you don't know what's even going on. Not the best song, but definitely not bad at all. The guitars are pretty epic, and you might very well feel like you're in Bethlehem. Nice tranquility! In "Heretics and Killers", the guitar playing sounds both different and similar to the previous song, and that's kinda a small problem. Despite the differences, the guitars have a similar sound, and as a result, the songs ends up being repetitive. Despite this, the song's still good. Rody Walker really nails the over-the-top singing over the acoustic section with background tranquility. The priest believes that after God has fortified life, God has forsaken him. The priest now feels like an impersonating beggar, leading to the central conflict. Again not the best, but still so good. "Divinity Within" shows the band finally thinking more about the story, and it's already the last song for this act. Once again, it sounds too similar to the other two songs in the act, but it gets made up by the incoming awesomeness. Some earlier said lyrics were repeated more dramatically ("I watch my temple fall to pieces"). Then the song gets slower and more melodic that makes me want to break into emotional tears. So now we know the priest's connection to the main character, Kezia, a young girl who has committed a crime so terrible that she was sentenced to death. The priest has to ask the "Any last words?" question and condemn her to death. He regains his religious plight but he's hesitant against what he has to do. He doesn't feel like has the right to keep or take people's lives. The "final words" question hangs in the balance when the song and act ends. What happens next? We'll have to find out in the next act. Anyway, that's a great fitting closure to the first act!
Act II: The Prison Guard - "Bury The Hatchet" starts the act fast and heavy, and you have a different feeling about this act. Based on the toughness of the guard, the guitars are more aggressive and the lyrics are gruesome. The guard is also the executioner who's responsible for killing prisoners. He's been trained to do his duty without remorse. Simple yet cruel. The heaviest song to attract metalheads! "Nautical" is the shortest and least important song here. It's just a tribute to the band's earlier political punk style. I suppose this was used as more of the angry guard's rants. The guitar work is too average. The worst song but not terrible enough to detract the 5-star rating. "Blindfolds Aside" is a catchy song. The guitar work isn't super impressive but it gets put aside for the amazing vocals soaring into an emotional climax. The solo and the bridge that follows are beautiful. You already know how profound Protest the Hero were thinking when composing. Similar to the first act, it's the third and last song in the act that's has filled with an emotional climax of power. There's even a beautiful acoustic ending with female singing by Jadea Kelly. The song is set in the same place as "Divinity Within"; the execution. After all that unnecessary ranting from the previous track, the guard actually feels some sympathy towards Kezia. So now we're seeing quite a guilt trip. Kezia gives the guard a choice of fates; kill her and feel guilt for the rest of his life or abort the execution and let himself control his life. The execution's about to start, and what does the guard to choose? Again we don't know, so this is it. We're down to one more act, and maybe then the story would be complete. Best track of the second act!
Act III: Kezia - "She Who Mars The Skin Of Gods" begins the story of Kezia herself, and boy is it a sad one! The melancholy is reflected in the usage of the slightly sad but still furious guitar. By the end of this song you would really feel it. The combo of both male and female vocals plus the slow guitar represents the feeling of sympathy for Kezia. It's not a pretty history for her. When she was younger, her mother was killed by possibly Kezia's father. That really sets off the actions later on in the act. Great emotional song! Next track, "Turn Soonest To The Sea" is filled with obscure sexist references, including a reference to Vesta, the Greek Goddess of empowerment. This is my second favorite song here and the longest of the album at over 6 minutes. Everything you ever hope for is thrown all over the place. The catchy sing-along ending is very catchy and my favorite part of the song. In the story, Kezia has grown up in a world where sexist men dominate. Every women has to live up to ridiculously sexist standards from social obligations to labels. The reason Kezia is in jail and about to be executed is more likely to be because she tried to empower females therefore causing treason against the male reign. The concept is so wrong yet interesting. It's an amazing track worth listening to so many times, but it leads to the last and best of this act. That song is "The Divine Suicide Of K.", the absolute best track here! This song is at the brink of making me cry and wet my pants. It continues the whole "best for last" technique for each act, and this is no exception! The song is so emotional and mind-blowing. Many different parts and placed around in amazing order. The male vocals are teary and the female singing is at its strongest. In the middle of the song, the guitars really float in clouds of emotion. The climatic perfection returns! The overlapping singing/screaming combo is more glorious than you can ever believe. And the female vocals really end the song slow and steady. So now it's really time for the execution. Maybe the ending would finally be clear. Will the priest neglect God? Will the guard free Kezia? Will Kezia accept her fate? The answer is... PSYCH!!! There was no proper ending! You took a journey that just stopped in a bang and a cliffhanger. The finale track, "A Plateful Of Our Dead" is just a separate message that clarifies the point of this album. Good satisfying finale!
Kezia is indeed one of the best albums in the Melodic Metalcore clan challenge and one of the greatest progressive metalcore albums in general. Protest The Hero are some of both the most talented musicians and the most amazing storytellers, greater than most other albums I've heard and stories I've read. I would recommend this album to any music listener and story reader out there. Thank you, Protest the Hero, for this grand-masterpiece. Not to sound like I'm in love with someone, but... I love you, Kezia!
Favorites: "Divinity Within", "Blindfolds Aside", "She Who Mars the Skin of Gods", "Turn Soonest to the Sea", "The Divine Suicide of K."
Killswitch Engage seems to many metalcore fans' favorite, especially their earlier albums. Those fans are probably gonna hate me for this; I was never a Killswitch Engage fan. Once again, I fear that some rude short-tempered metalcore fans are gonna be like, "WHAT THE F***?!? YOU NEVER LISTEN TO KILLSWITCH ENGAGE?! They're true metalcore and you can't be part of the Revolution clan if you don't care for them!!" Well during that time 7 years ago when I was listening to DragonForce and my alt-rock-loving brother was listening to Avenged Sevenfold, he was also listening to a few of the recent melodic songs by Killswitch Engage; "My Curse", "In Due Time", and "Always", the latter was in a music video we watched. And a year later, their former vocalist Howard Jones was in the song "Dangerous" by Within Temptation, another one of my favorite epic metal bands at the time. Once again I already went down the DragonForce/Within Temptation "Guardians" route instead of Avenged Sevenfold/Killswitch Engage "Revolution" route because back then I wasn't ready to join the metalcore revolution. And when I started my move to metalcore, I listen to a few more Killswitch Engage songs but I still didn't feel any interest. So let's take a moment to agree that my on/off metalcore interest should be respected... We good? OK, let's do this!
First off, the production for Alive or Just Breathing is in clean quality with the bass in an all right level of inaudibility. The first thing you would notice is the screaming vocals by Jesse Leach that has more edge. The clean vocals are OK but less common than in later albums. The music is a little more hardcore than metal, probably a good reason why I still wasn't into this band. The guitars are more focused on melancholy than heaviness and there are never any solos. And of course, the breakdowns appear too much. Sure I like breakdowns, but not in this excessive amount. The rhythm is mid-tempo on average while varying from fast and aggressive to slow and melancholic.
"Numbered Days" is a great offering of crushing yet catchy riffs and interesting drumming. "Self-Revolution" is much more worth mentioning, aggressive metalcore with melancholic twists. "Fixation on the Darkness" once again offers catchy riffs and vocals that makes that song a fan favorite. "My Last Serenade" is another fan favorite and the hit of the album. It has the best catchy chorus of the album. It's been known by people in and out of the metal community!
Flowing through nicely is "Life to Lifeless", another well-known song but not as much as the previous two tracks. Same with the semi-title track, "Just Barely Breathing" which has a great soft intro, and the rest of the song is OK except for that awful melodic break in the middle. "To the Sons of Man" is a thrashy short 2-minute song that pummels into aggressive riffs. "Temple from the Within" was re-recorded from their self-titled debut, which I guess it gets helped out by the newer production but it doesn't show a lot of improvement. Still fine though.
"The Element of One" sounds a bit like a power ballad in the intro, before unleashing some melodeath riff technicality similar to In Flames and At the Gates. The teary chorus returns to that emo power ballad vibe while still keeping the big riffs. "Vide Infra" was also re-recorded from their debut, but it's more pummeling with more riff aggression. "Without a Name" is another 2-minute song that's just a needless interlude. "Rise Inside" starts soft and sinister before having the last of their usual metalcore.
Overall, Alive or Just Breathing is a good album, but it would be better if all their aggression wasn't wasted on breakdowns. Metalcore is still my thing and I guess I can still headbang to heavy riffs, breakdowns, and screams. If you can too, then it's for you. Just be glad that they never discarded all their metal like Underoath at the time....
Favorites: "Self-Revolution", "Fixation on the Darkness", "My Last Serenade", "To the Sons of Man", "Vide Infra", "Rise Inside"
The tale of Belgian thrash metallers Target is only very short but it’s one that deserves to be heard amidst the wealth of unheralded underground thrash stories that have been lost in the annals of time since the genre’s heyday in the mid-to-late 1980’s. I first became aware of Target through tape trading in the early 90’s & remember being quite a fan of both of their late 80’s albums. Sadly, the band wasn’t destined for a long career though & would disintegrate by the time the 90’s rolled around. This is perhaps not such a bad thing for a thrash band given what most of their peers would go through during the grunge years it has to be said. But let’s start with Target’s debut album “Mission Executed” which drifted past most extreme metal fans radars without much fanfare amidst the peak of the thrash metal movement in 1987.
The album cover for “Mission Executed” is a typically low budget affair that wasn’t exactly going to instill faith in the casual consumer. It looks a lot like some of those ironically put together retro synth wave covers that are floating around these days & you wouldn’t know that what you were in for was a thrash metal record from the look of the sleeve. Given the climate at the time where most record-buying consumers had to take a punt on releases based on word of mouth or the attractiveness of the album cover, it’s not surprising that Target struggled to gain traction. It would have been interesting to see whether they would have been more successful had they had access to the sort of cover art that bands like Kreator were thriving on at the time but I guess we’ll never know.
The production job on “Mission Executed” seems to have copped a little bit of flack from online reviewers over the years but I have to say that I can’t see where those comments are coming from. Perhaps I’m listening to the remastered version which is apparently much better? I’m not sure but the guitars are rip-roaring & the drums pounding in all the right areas with front man Guy Degrave given lots of room to move so there are no complaints from me in this department. I particularly love the rhythm guitar sound which is nice & raw with a metal as fuck attitude running straight through its core. It certainly adds to the intensity of the band’s sound.
The delivery of vocalist Guy Degrave sits somewhere in the realm of your classic American thrash front men like Metal Church's David Wayne or Overkill’s Bobby Blitz rather than the more raspy European model. He possesses more than enough balls to make sure that Target’s heavier moments sport a suitably violent accompaniment but can also tackle some more melodic & traditional heavy metal moments without causing a detrimental effect. I really like him although there are a few examples of him overstepping his mark in the theatrics here & there. The twin guitar attack produces an absolute riff-fest though & any thrash fan should find more than enough to bang their head to here. The barrage of riffs are superbly accentuated by drummer Christ Braems who is the highlight of the album in my opinion. He was clearly very well versed in the finer points of thrash drumming because he makes every post a winner here in ensuring that Target receive every last drop of value out of some already high quality riffs. The guitar solos of Lex Vogelaar & Franky Van Aerde seem to get a lot of praise in other reviews but while they’re certainly serviceable I wouldn’t go so far as to say that they add a lot to Target’s music. They just seem to be an excuse to chuck a bunch of notes together without much thought of constructing any sort of sub-plot to the main storyline.
Target generally seem to be lumped in with the small group of bands that make up the technical thrash metal subgenre but their debut doesn’t really ever produce the sort of complexity required to fit the mould to tell you the truth. It’s much more aligned with the traditional thrash metal model that their American counterparts had cut their teeth on & you can easily hear the influence of bands like Slayer & Exodus. But as the album progresses you’ll likely also pick up on elements of your classic heavy metal sound being borrowed. I’d suggest that these influences are generally coming from the US power metal scene though as there’s still a noticeable crunch to the riffs that was more in line with the bands that fell somewhere in between heavy metal & thrash metal like Metal Church or early Laaz Rockit. You’ll also get a little speed metal thrown in here & there with some simpler & more melodic up-tempo material included on occasion but overall you’ll be left with little doubt that Target were a bunch of passionate thrashers & they were at their best when they were at their most unrestrained & aggressive.
“Mission Executed” gets off to an absolutely stonking start with the opening two tunes “Mission To The Andes” & “Hordes of Insanity” being genuinely classic European thrash metal anthems that fit right smack bang in the middle of my comfort zone. In fact, upon my first revisit last week I got quite excited, thinking that perhaps I’d uncovered an unheralded underground classic that I’d been forgetting about for all these years. But the quality certainly drops off after that initial onslaught & the music gets a touch less trashy for a couple of tracks. These are still very enjoyable mind you. Just not at the same quality as the earlier numbers. It’s interesting that Target’s less impressive output tends to match up with the songs where they haven’t quite nailed the song structures. They’ll sometimes extend the segways further than they needed to or try to include too many riffs in a song for the sake of it. But there are no real failures here because Target are a class act & the quality & professionalism of their music is able to get them by even during these less impressive periods. Closing track “Death Blow” is a great way to end proceedings & you’ll rarely hear a better instrumental track on a thrash record.
I have to say that I’ve been pleasantly surprised by “Mission Executed”. This is one high quality thrash record that’s been criminally overlooked in favour of a significant amount of inferior product, especially in the European market. I highly recommend you give it a few spins if you’re serious about your thrash.
For fans of: Deathrow, Metal Church, Flotsam & Jetsam
After going through a less-than-positive review for that Enter Shikari album, I wasn't really pumped up to review another synth-metalcore album. Yet here I am, taking on a band progressive metallic post-hardcore with 8-bit synths (or Nintendocore), HORSE the Band! Let's see how this one goes...
One exciting thing about this band is its challenging inaccessibility, which is practically unknown and sadly forgettable. You would have to be as good as you can for people to remember your band and their name. HORSE the Band is never taken down by that problem, with Desperate Living being memorable enough to hit the mainstream. I guess their music kinda rules, sounding like a decent mix of Enter Shikari, Machinae Supremacy, And So I Watched You From Afar.
The album starts a little anti-climatically with peace and fury switching back and forth in "Cloudwalker", featuring SNES synth-pads and aggressive screams. The title track is a greater display of HORSE's 8-bit metalcore power. They have more of their potential in "The Failure Of All Things", sounding like a Game Boy battle soundtrack. The rhythm at the end grabs your throat while the guitar punches your face that's already melting from those intense 8-bit synths. "HORSE the Song" crashes in with maniacal vocals and drums, before accelerating into thunder-crashing guitars and spiraling 8-bit melodies beyond control.
"Science Police" is a mind-f*** of Spandau Ballet-infused metalcore. That's an interesting example of HORSE taking a turn around the broader music spectrum. "Shapeshift" is indeed a shape-shifting song, not just in the instrumentation, but also the usual harsh vocals switching to the softer ones by Jamie Stewart from Xiu Xiu. "Between the Trees" shows a more psychotic side of intrinsic ambiance, keyboards, riffs, and versatile vocals. Then the instrumentation becomes surreal in "Golden Mummy Golden Bird".
"Lord Gold Wand of Unyielding" has a short yet big deck of power chords and melodic vocals sung by two of the other band members. "Big Business" makes me think of that Bette Midler film from the 80s my mom likes to watch. Speaking of the 80s, that song's bluesy section is more furious and twisted than any song you would ever hear from Eighties Matchbox B-line Disaster. The astonishing but dubiously titled "Rape Escape" is an expansive 7-minute epic ranging from mathcore to keyboard breakdowns to Mike Patton-esque emotional vocals. After all that madness, it ends with haunting reflective piano by professional pianist Valentina Lisitsa, playing the complex Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 2. However, the album doesn't end there. We still got "Arrive", a pounding anthem with life-force coursing into your body.
OK, so this is slightly better than that Enter Shikari album, having more technical imagination with exciting timbres and complex structures to keep your attention running. With this album, HORSE has been given enough distinction to be a special HORSE in the horse field. It's something not easy to achieve for a band that adds fury into good conventional music. Still I think this album would have a more complete effect if it had some use in its excessive weight. Desperate Living is a refined album with barely any spoken-word cliches or flat moments. It's satisfying yet never overpowering. Still doesn't spark up any synth-metalcore interests though....
Favorites: "Desperate Living", "The Failure of All Things", "HORSE the Song", "Shapeshift", "Golden Mummy Golden Bird", "Rape Escape"
When I was a high school young teen lad (NOT that I was ever in high school), I was still in my earlier epic melodic metal taste, but that was when I started to be interested in melodic death metal for the first time. One of the first melodeath bands I've noticed was Heaven Shall Burn, and that was probably because of their recent cover of the song "Valhalla" by Blind Guardian, one of the power metal bands I used to listen to back then. But after listening to that "Valhalla" cover and a couple other Heaven Shall Burn songs, I never gained any interest in that band, probably because they had a more of the metalcore sound that I wasn't into until the next year and some other controversial stuff like the cover art for the album that "Valhalla" cover was in, Veto (a nude lady riding a horse), and the band's name inspired by a Marduk album. The band said that their name wasn't because they were Marduk fans but it was meant to be more of a metaphor than a blasphemous statement. ...Right. Like I said in this review and other times before, it wasn't until a year after my turnoff from Heaven Shall Burn when I started listening to metalcore bands like Trivium, Lamb of God, Shadows Fall, and other bands in the new American wave of metalcore. So listening to Heaven Shall Burn for the first time in a few years, I can kinda notice what kind of style Heaven Shall Burn was going for; the metalcore of The Autumn Offering mixed with the death metal heaviness of Suffocation and a band name that sounds a bit closer to the ones from black metal bands like Satyricon. Heaven Shall Burn was never in a high enough level to be a part of my metal journey, and consider how low Antigone sounds for me, it doesn't help so much.
A German metalcore band that mixes hardcore with melodeath, they really unleash angst and rage in songs that sometimes kick a**. They know how to take their anger out of fascism and other political blah-blah-blah. Who cares about politics? Not me! Sorry, debate searchers... Really, I care more about headbanging to the music which is a great part of the metal tree, but they don't see prioritize that part of the content a lot. I guess the melodeath label get thrown around is kind of true, and sadly for fans of melodeath, that genre is put in the album as just hints. The melodic riffs aren't at full potential and the breakdowns are a little too much, making the melodeath-ish metalcore style sound too sludgy. And a lot of that sh*t happens in their formula.
The symphonic intro and outros are rather meaningless and don't compliment the music, even the "Echoes" intro. Then the anger is unleashed in the opening song "The Weapon They Fear" with headbanging groove, especially in the breakdown chorus ("Threw back the baseness, back from where it came"). Despite the breakdowns being overused, "The Only Truth" has one of the best I've ever heard. "Architects of the Apocalypse" is the only other song here to stand out besides "The Weapon They Fear".
"Voice of the Voiceless" is probably the last song in a while to have the true Swedish melodeath feeling similar to Nightrage at the time with fast guitar and drums and harsh screams. After that, the songs sound like they keep repeating the same d*mn things over 9000 times, even in "Numbing the Pain" which gets helped by the different keyboard hints. Still a good opening for that song, though. "To Harvest the Storm" also starts well, then ends up in a breakdown, kicks the song back to high gear, and finally ends up lost in a complete mess of a clean-singing cringe-fest. But it's not as cringe-inducing as its outro, "Rísandi Von".
"Bleeding to Death" continues the breakdowns with shred riffs. "Tree of Freedom" has better balanced aggression and melody. Same with "The Dream Is Dead", which was used in an episode of that MTV show Viva La Bam. Jolly good show, but I don't think I've seen that episode. Once again, those strange clean vocals return. Then all that's left is the outro "Deyjandi Von", which is passable, I suppose. Perhaps that interlude being two minutes longer than the other two gives it a little more use.
Go ahead and drink a lot until you have dead senses while listening to this album just for the h*ll of it, but nothing can consider this album groundbreaking. I wish God Forbid would still be active instead of this Scars of Tomorrow/Callenish Circle hybrid. Antigone is only a half-decent album. The other half shall burn....
Favorites: "The Weapon They Fear", "Architects of the Apocalypse", "Voice of the Voiceless", "Tree of Freedom"
Imagine taking a metalcore rollercoaster ride through a virtual reality dimension similar to Ready Player One which starts smoothly until later on when your stomach can't handle the incoming twists and turns the ride has. Each of the 17 songs in this album have structural schematics so formulaic it's depressing.
Still there are two points this album has that please metalheads and tick off their pop-loving mothers, which Enter Shikari would reduce in later albums; fast crispy guitars and interspersing singing and growling like other metalcore/post-hardcore bands, all loaded up by synthesizers and synthesized beats. You might think this would turn a little art class painting into a priceless Jackson Pollock, but half of it is more like a Jack-a** Pollock, if you ask me.
The introduction "Stand Your Ground, This is Ancient Land" begins their trance reign, and before you know it... "Enter Shikari"! The lead vocalist yells "SH*T!!" twice over a choir of screams. Great start to this virtual reality rollercoaster ride! Rou Reynolds stays true to his British accent while being swamped by Americanisms. He remains faithful to his screaming while doing his clean singing beautifully. "Mothership" takes your breath away through haunting synth woodwork. The closest thing to a highlight is "Anything Can Happen in the Next Half Hour..." with guitar/synth duels that sound like a battle between a Satan-worshiping guitarist and the Tetris theme composer. If anything can happen in the next half hour, let's really see how this half hour will turn out. Well I don't see anything happening in "Interlude 1"...
Then "Labyrinth" comes in sounding like synth-infused Euro-pop alongside 6-string workouts and vocals including sweet cleans and sour screams. When Busted and Poison the Well collide! Next track "No Sssweat" should have the subtitle "Yes Ssswearing" because they use a lot of the F-word in there, along with violent threats. "Today Won't Go Down in History" is softer with a melodic beginning before an epic buildup that would make synth-core history. Again not a lot happens in "Interlude 2". Next track "Return to Energiser" has some dance-trance in the background drowned out by the heaviness and vocals. "Interlude 3" is so short, it's almost pointless!
"Sorry, You're Not a Winner" is a perfect fusion of metalcore and synths that can cause a mosh-pit in a nightclub. Interesting Snoop Dogg impression towards the end! Once again, "Interlude 4" is too short to be totally noticeable. "Jonny Sniper" once again plunders modern post-hardcore into 80s synthpop. Odd way to mix hardcore with melody! "Adieu" shows the party coming to an end in harmonic power to knock Keane off their melodic throne. But it ain't the end yet! "OK, Time for Plan B" unleashes their metalcore flourishes in a final showdown to save the virtual reality universe. Then it all ends with a final song, "Closing", warning that they'll be here next time "standing like statues", as if they retreated from the showdown but they will be back...
Take to the Skies acts as kind of a bridge between almost teenager-friendly metallic post-hardcore and inquisitive electro-trance in a slightly greater vein than Machinae Supremacy. Enter Shikari chose to stay independent with their own record label Ambush Reality for their albums, yet there aren't a lot of penned positives for their credibility. It makes sense for those songs to cause a mosh-pit in a laser-light show, all from this CD people enjoy without realizing that they're re-recordings. Tough to say that I personally don't think this would make great synth-metalcore history in the slightest attention, or maybe I'm not to eager about it. Sorry Enter Shikari, you're not a winner....
Favorites: "Enter Shikari", "Anything Can Happen in the Next Half Hour...", "Return to Energiser", "Sorry, You're Not a Winner", "OK, Time for Plan B"
By the time 1996 rolled around I’d been aware of Brooklyn-based gothic doom merchants Type O Negative for several years already. My de-facto partner had been a huge fan of the band so their albums (particularly 1993’s “Bloody Kisses”) had gotten regular spins around the home we shared together. However that relationship came to an abrupt end under the worst possible circumstances just before the release of their fourth studio album “October Rust” & it sent me spiraling into the most difficult time of my life thus far as I tried to recover emotionally. So you can imagine that listening to a new Type O Negative album wasn’t exactly something that was high on my priorities list at the time. Particularly given the early reports that it was the band’s most commercially accessible outing yet & the evidence of the poppy single “My Girlfriend’s Girlfriend”. But when a good mate at work (who wasn’t a metalhead by any stretch of the imagination) pushed me to give it few spins after becoming somewhat obsessive about it I was left with no choice but to do so, if only to appease his continuous hounding. And boy was I glad I did because not only did I find “October Rust” to be a stunningly addictive record but it somehow managed to significantly assist me through the emotional turmoil I was going through.
Type O Negative have always had a very strange sense of humour & the start of “October Rust” is a prime example of this. The first 38 seconds of the album is made up of the sort of amplifier hum that’s produced when you pull the cable out of your electric guitar with your amplifier left on. It’s meant as a joke but it’s a long way from funny. It’s just a waste of time & space really. Then an even worse artistic decision follows with the band members expending one of the most pointless 21 second periods of my life in verbally thanking me for buying the record. No worries guys but can we get on with some fucking music now please?? If we skip right to the end of the album, the final untitled 9 second track is also a spoken-word thank you from Peter Steele & these musical missteps almost lead me to believe that Type O Negative have intentionally tried to self-sabotage their appeal. I mean what other conceivable reason can there be for this sort of misguided self-indulgence?? Thankfully though, the rest of this lengthy album (it totals a duration of 73 minutes) is made up of legitimate songs & some extremely high quality ones at that.
In a word, the production on “October Rust” could best be described as glistening. The band have incorporated a number of new elements to create a more expansive & ultimately more attractive & marketable product with Josh Silver’s use of synthesizers filling out, complimenting & enhancing Type O Negative's dark metal sound throughout. Kenny Hickey’s guitar sound is particularly fuzzy & distorted with a noticeable reliance on chorus FX & it works to become a huge unified beast when combined with Peter Steele’s impressively thick & heavy bass sound. The use of melodic vocal harmonies has the potential to isolate those of us that are averse to a bit of cheese but it’s done in such a tasteful & professional manner & the hooks are of such a high quality that it’s very hard not to be drawn in for the long haul.
Steele’s performance on the album is pretty phenomenal to be honest. His vocals are as deep & powerful as any he delivered in his career & they really suit the newly developed Type O Negative sound. It’s not hard to recognise the influence of gothic rock bands like Sisters Of Mercy on his style here & that’s a theme that runs through other elements of the album too. In fact, many of the melodic instrumental bridges scattered across the tracklisting appear to have an obvious connection to The Cure & it works beautifully. Peter’s bass playing is also a highlight with a post-punk influence being consistently visible in many of his bass lines. Again, this is perfectly amalgamated with the doomier sound that Type O Negative were previously known for & this diverse range of influences is one of the real strengths of “October Rust”.
Sadly, there are a couple of weaker songs included. The popular single “My Girlfriend’s Girlfriend” is much too quirky & commercially focused for my liking while the cover version of Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl” was a strange choice indeed. But thankfully these two blemishes are amongst the shorter tracks included with most of the other tracks exceeding the five minute mark. There are still a multitude of highlights to choose from with a good two thirds of the tracklisting falling into the classic category. Most of the material lies firmly within the realm of gothic metal but, as with many bands associated with the subgenre, the band’s doom metal roots are never too far off with tracks like “Red Water (Christmas Mourning)” & “Haunted” presenting some of the most depressively dreary & majestically heavy riffs we’d heard from Type O Negative to the time. It’s really interesting though that I often find myself thinking of early 80’s new-wave & pop bands like Duran Duran, Simple Minds & Tears For Fears when I hear the lush synth-driven melodic content & vocal harmonies that have been integrated into many of these songs. That might sound horrible to most metalheads but trust me when I say that it’s a big positive & one of the key elements that makes this release so unique.
Strangely, “October Rust” not only left me enamored with its hooks for weeks (if not months) on end but it also managed to help me recover from some extreme emotional trauma even though it should by all rights have been some sort of reminder of the root cause. In truth, I don’t think that would have been possible if Type O Negative hadn’t taken a fresh approach as it would have been too easy to link the album with my past experiences with the band. But even if I put my past aside & listen to “October Rust” with fresh ears in the modern day, I find that I’m often left in awe of its ability to balance sheer depressive heaviness with insanely beautiful melody. Sure there are a few misfires on offer but that’s Type O Negative for ya & the peaks here are astronomical. This is essential listening for fans of gothic metal.
For fans of: Moonspell, Paradise Lost, Tiamat.
The reality is that Accept where virtually untouchable at the time of this release. Coming one year after the general good reception to Breaker, their fourth album had a great foundation to build from and Restless and Wild summed up perfectly the flavour of this record. It is a fine display of brooding and rampant metal/hard-rock from a band brimming with confidence. This is reflected in the quality of the songwriting and the arrangement of the album as a whole. It's all on here from memorable anthems to slow-burning numbers that writhe and slither like hungry serpents.
Within fourteen months of this release the band would push on again in their quest for metal royalty status with the equally barnstorming Balls to the Wall showing that they were truly hitting their stride. The level of intensity that was now delivered on Restless & Wild had a maturity and control that made it more potent and compelling. The vigorous and authoritative poise of the playing showed this was a band firmly in the driving seat of their own destiny and they had their foot to the floor.
The title track alone with its rampant gallop stamps enough authority on proceedings to let the listener know Udo and the boys weren't here to fuck around. The real hook of the album though is how they maintain that intensity but manage to vary the pace of tracks, switching from chanting choruses and blistering leads to more moody atmospheres effortlessly. Always there is a feel of there being something on the boil here, simmering with a passionate and unwavering flame beneath.
Udo as ever is superb and it is he who steals the limelight on this record intermittently as he jousts for supremacy with the excellent leads of Hoffmann. The band as whole though are a tight and unified front, charging mercilessly forwards and delivering my favourite record of the Udo era.