'Days of Purgatory' is a two-disc compilation of Iced Earth songs remixed and rerecorded with then current vocalist Matt Barlow. At the time, it was intended as somewhat of a greatest hits album, with the goal being to give new fans a taste of the bands older material, while giving older fans "improved" versions of classic songs.
As a whole however, I find this album pretty pointless, and continues a downhill trend the band had been on over the last couple of years. While their first two albums, 'Iced Earth' and 'Night of the Stormrider' are absolute classics of the power metal genre, I find the two albums prior to this compilation, 'Burnt Offerings' and 'The Dark Saga' to be hugely disappointing.
The honest truth is that I just prefer the original recordings. Gene Adam and John Greely's voices suited their material better, especially with the overall sound and production of their respective albums. I find all the new arrangements uninspiring, and more often than not, where Matt Barlow has recorded new vocal lines, I find his ones don't really suit the music as well as his predecessors.
It's not all bad though, I mean, Iced Earth still release some outstanding music, and even though they're not as good as the originals, the songs here are still decent efforts. 'Iced Earth', 'When the Night Falls', 'Angels Holocaust', 'Burnt Offerings' and 'Colors' are among some of the bands best works, as well as a reworked version of 'Written on the Walls' titled 'Cast in Stone' (though I'd stick to the original, myself).
Ultimately, 'Days of Purgatory' is a mostly irrelevant release. Personally I'd recommend the original versions of all these songs. And thankfully, judging by later compilations, these recordings are somewhat "non-canon", so they've not really replaced the originals, but merely become novelty re-recordings for fans and collectors.
1991's 'Parallels', which was my introduction to Fates Warning, is a continuation of where the band had been going with previous album 'Perfect Symmetry'. The power metal influences of their early days were long gone, replaced by a more technical and methodical approach, and with more emphasis on melody than speed.
I was fairly new to progressive metal when I came across Fates Warning, a band who were influential in the genres early days. Being a fan of bands like Dream Theater and Symphony X, I assumed the key element was technical virtuosity (and a keyboard player!). So it was a change of pace when I first stumbled across this album.
While the musical acrobatics won't impress as much as the aforementioned groups, it's the bands commitment to strong songwriting that carries them. In particular, Jim Matheos and Frank Aresti's guitar playing is impressive, especially when using distorted and clean sounds simultaneously. 'Eye to Eye'. 'Point of View', 'Life in Still Water' and 'The Eleventh Hour' are all examples of this bands solid chemistry, with plenty of tasty guitar riffs, interesting harmonies and powerful vocals all on display.
'Parallels' is a great album, and a good starting point for newcomers to the band. Heavy enough to appeal to metal fans, melodic enough to appeal to rock fans, and ambitious enough to interest prog fans, it's an easily accessible album that can be enjoyed by everyone.
Every now & then I find a major gap in my knowledge of a fairly significant player in the global metal scene & that was certainly the case with New Orleans sludge metallers Eyehategod when I realised that I’d never actually heard one of their releases in full the other day. I did actually have a ticket to see them play live at one point but they ended up cancelling the show so it never actually eventuated. Anyway, I went about filling this glaring hole in my understanding of the more significant metal releases over the last couple of days & I’ve gotta say that I really enjoyed the experience.
The term “Sludge Metal” is often misused in my opinion. Some people seem to think that it’s required whenever a band opts for a particularly dirty (read: “sludgy”) guitar tone which was never the intent of the label. What it’s really referring to are bands that use the aesthetics of doom metal & stoner metal yet give the music the vocal delivery, aggression & general abrasiveness of hardcore punk & you’ll rarely find a better example of that than Eyehategod. Much like California’s Dystopia, this band have taken the crushingly heavy stoner doom model & combined it with a never-ending stream of drug-addicted depression & depravity to create what can only be described as one of the most hopeless & discouraging atmospheres you’re likely to find. Front man Mike IX Williams sounds like a man possessed with so much spite & resentment that he’s about to tear his own limbs off start attacking people with them as he spits his words out with an enormous amount of malicious intent.
Musically, Eyehategod’s sound tends to drift between slow & crushingly heavy doom riffs & groovier Black Sabbath style stoner metal riffs with the occasional up-tempo hardcore section tossed in for a bit of variety every now & then but never over-staying its welcome. I personally love the doomier parts but find the stoner sections to be noticeably less appealing which is very much a reflection of my taste profile more than it is anything to do with the quality of the music on offer. There’s not a single track of the twelve included that doesn’t offer some level of enjoyment but I don’t think there’s anything here that I’d claim to be a genuine classic. Even the best material includes some element that brings it back down from the upper heights of my affection with album highlight & closing track “Anxiety Hangover” being a prime example of that as it taints its wonderfully doomy first half with one of those groovy stoner riffs right in the middle of the song. It’s also worth noting that the production doesn’t offer any sort of brightness or light which is likely intentional but it does make for a record that sounds pretty samey. Thankfully I enjoy the depressive atmosphere enough to make the whole experience a very enjoyable one though.
There’s no doubt that “Dopesick” is a quality example of the sludge metal genre as it ticks all of the critical boxes. Is it the classic release that many make it out to be though? I’m not so sure about that. Perhaps if I had of come across it 25 years ago I might think so but right now it would seem more like a record that you’d cherry-pick for those occasions when you’ve simply had a gut-full & want to fuck shit up to the soundtrack for your own self-destruction.
For fans of Acid Bath, Iron Monkey & Grief.
I think it’s fair to say that Brazilian thrash metallers Sepultura were more of an obsession than a passion for me from the time I first discovered their classic third full-length album “Beneath The Remains” in late 1989 right up until the release of this divisive fifth full-length. The timing of their infamous breakout from the underground was perfectly aligned with my own period of extreme metal discovery so they represented somewhat of a cult figure in my formative years & if it would have been up to me then the world would have waited until their arrival as a premier thrash act before deriving any sort of Big Four of thrash metal. But………. this brings me to the “Chaos AD” album from 1993, a record that would see the band dramatically altering the course of their careers via a fresh & innovative new sound.
I can still remember excitedly rocking up at Sandy’s Records in the Northern Beaches of Sydney on the day of release, racing home to experience “Chaos AD” for the very first time & the feelings of confusion I battled with as a result. It wasn’t that I found the music I was hearing to be unpleasant in any way. It was that it was so clearly very different from what I was expecting after the thrash metal icon that was 1991’s “Arise” album. The production job on "Chaos AD" is very solid with the rhythm guitars offering a chunky, heavy-weight platform that enables the fairly simple & uncluttered song-writing to do its work in workman-like fashion. Igor’s drums possess an organic depth, particularly the toms which were clearly meant to be a highlight of the record thanks to the continued focus on tribal rhythms that had been experimented with on “Arise”. There isn’t the brightness & energy to the guitars that I was expecting to hear though which is in large part due to the band having experimented with down-tuning their instruments for the first time. That’s not to say that the experiment didn’t work though as these more rhythmic & groovy riffs certainly benefited from the approach. It’s just that they sounded a little foreign to my fanatical thrash-trained ears at the time. You see, unlike the Sepultura of old, this Sepultura was in no hurry whatsoever with the songs given plenty of space & sticking predominantly to mid-paced tempos, the result of which was a more accessible product that was capable of seeing Sepultura crossing over into an as yet untapped market. Despite my initial hesitation though, I couldn’t deny that they'd managed to achieve this without losing much of their creative street credibility because “Chaos AD” is a long way from a sell-out.
Pantera had changed the face of the global metal scene in the very early 1990’s with their groove metal sound seeing a trillion bands adopting a more rhythmic approach to metal guitar playing & we can definitely see that influence on “Chaos AD” as there’s really very little that you can call legitimate thrash metal on this album. There’s an obvious hardcore punk edge to a lot of the material with Andreas Kisser having now turned all of his attention to creating dissonant, textured interludes rather than flashy, melodic guitar solos. The lyrics are predominantly politically focused which suits the material very well too. Igor is certainly the star of the show as far as the performances go as the groove metal platform afforded him additional room to move given the more rhythmic nature of the riffs around him. I saw Sepultura play live on the tour in support of the album back in 1994 actually & it was no surprise to find that the new material came across brilliantly in a live environment. I’d been lucky enough to see them two years earlier on the tour for the “Arise” album & they were just as impressive the second time around to be honest.
It didn’t take me all that long to find a level of acceptance for “Chaos AD”. My major challenge was accepting that the Sepultura I’d loved & adored was now a thing of the past & to treat the new Sepultura as almost an entirely different band. Once I was able to do that I found that it’s actually a very consistent, well written & professionally produced metal record that achieved a feat that so many have failed at. It had created something fresh & different that could draw the attention of a wider audience but still appeal to a large percentage of their existing fans (at least those with an open mind). I have to say that the New Model Army cover version of “The Hunt” was a poor choice as it stands out very clearly in an otherwise quite cohesive artistic statement & there aren’t many genuine classics here either but the majority of the album is very strong nonetheless with “We Who Are Not As Others” (the least popular metal track on the album unsurprisingly) being my clear standout. There’s no doubt that “Chaos AD” was a step down from the two classics that preceded it but I actually think it sits very comfortably next to the Sepultura’s earlier material these days. In fact, I’d probably take it over “Bestial Devastation” & Morbid Visions” & don't place it too far behind “Schizophrenia” either. Fans of the band’s earlier work really should give “Chaos AD” a chance as you may just find yourself buying what it’s selling.
For fans of Soulfly, Cavalera Conspiracy & Machine Head.
Tokyo’s Boris are an interesting artist in a creative sense as they’ve never felt confined to any one sound or scene &, as a result, people really struggle to pigeon-hole them under an easily understood subgenre tag. I’m not sure whether that’s been an advantage or a hindrance for them over the years in all honesty as they seem to have developed a huge cult following & always seem to draw positive acclaim from critics but have probably never managed to truly break into the sort of fanatical support that they so clearly deserve. Us metalheads seem to want to make sure they stay tightly wrapped within the banner of the underground metal scene however they’ve never really sat all that comfortably there & Boris' seminal 2002 fourth full-length album “Heavy Rocks” is a prime example of that.
The first three Boris albums were heavily directed towards a drone inspired sound & saw the band really building a niche for themselves through highly regarded records like 1998’s “Amplifier Worship” & 2000’s “Flood” but with “Heavy Rocks” we see Boris moving into new territory with a fresh sound that’s much more focused on traditional rock music than their previous records were. In doing so though, Boris lost none of their street appeal as they very quickly proved themselves to have a deep understanding of what it is that makes heavy rock music so exciting. There’s a danger in these sounds that we find so rarely in modern rock music & it takes me back to a time when rock represented an exciting escape for me as a youngster with the experience of the live performance taking on an almost transcendent stature in an artist’s creative image. You see, as with most of Boris’ lengthy back catalogue, “Heavy Rocks” really does sound like a recording of a live band with very few of the rough edges having been buffed out. You can feel the amplifier’s buzzing & almost see the kids leaping from the stage & thrashing themselves about in glee & that’s what makes a band like Boris so appealing.
Musically speaking, I have to admit that “Heavy Rocks” doesn’t sit as close to my musical comfort zone as Boris’ drone metal works though. Most people seem to want to lump it in with Stoner Metal which isn’t entirely accurate. There’s far too much of a late 60's blues rock influence in this material for it to sit primarily in the metal space. In fact, I really struggle to see why "Heavy Rocks is not unanimously tagged as Stoner Rock because it fits the description of that genre to a tee in my opinion. The loose vocal delivery is miles away from anything a metal front man might attempt while the overall feel of the instrumentation generally possesses a much noisier & bluesier outlook too. The psychedelic guitar excursions are brilliantly executed & are a real highlight for me personally, particularly album high point “Soft Edge” which is nothing short of spectacular (&, as is so often the case with me, is also the least popular track on the album). Boris simply seem to “get it” if you know what I mean & the fact that front man Takeshi doesn’t even try to stay in tune is completely overlooked in the interest of the elusive quest for heavy rock supremacy. There’s a deep-seated authenticity to this material that makes it inherently relatable but gives it some added x-factor as well. To put it bluntly, it's simply a way cooler record than the vast majority of the competition could ever hope to muster up.
In saying that, I do think that “Heavy Rocks” is a fairly top-heavy release. Despite not possessing anything that comes close to being a weak track, I have to admit that all of the best material sits on the A side with the flip side seeming to be a little bit lacking in comparison. Perhaps it’s simply a matter of taste as I would suggest that I was always going to be more drawn to the crushingly heavy stoner metal of opener “Heavy Friends”, the stripped-back psychedelia of “Soft Edge” & the more aggressive & dangerous rock outings like “Korosu” & “Dyna-Soar”. Boris would perhaps execute this stoner rock sound with slightly more consistency on 2003’s “Akuma no uta” album too but one can’t be too critical of a rock record with this level of potency. It’s all too rare that you encounter music that encapsulates what it means to be “rock” in such a clear & concise fashion these days so “Heavy Rocks” should be celebrated for what it represents as much as what it’s achieved.
For fans of Melvins, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard & Church of Misery.
When discussing the making of this album, the members of Dream Theater have said that their goal, inspired by all the "classic" metal albums by bands such as Metallica and Iron Maiden, was to make a record full of "live songs" that will work well in a concert setting. An album full of metal classics, that'll get energy flowing, fists pumping and heads banging.
As is always the case when bands stray away from their original sound, there are some who dislike this record for being more centered on metal, as opposed to the progressive elements that Dream Theater made famous in the early 90's. Being a metal fan as much as a prog fan, I love this record, and whilst anyone can see that they stepped away from a lot of their progressive roots on this one, the band more than compensate for it with these pumping metal anthems.
Of course, at the time this album came out (November 2003) I was still fairly new to Dream Theater, and definitely more of a metalhead than anything else. So why wouldn't I love tracks like 'As I Am' (that riff...), 'This Dying Soul', 'Honor Thy Father' or 'In the Name of God'? Each track perfectly demonstrates why Dream Theater can stand toe-to-toe with any of metal's elite.
As you would expect from this band, the musicianship is phenomenal. Most of the songs are definitely guitar-centered, with keyboardist Jordan Rudess taking more of a backseat in most songs. But he's there none-the-less, and when he's trading solos with guitarist John Petrucci, especially on tracks like 'Stream of Consciousness', you know that there's no one that can match these guys.
'Train of Thought' certainly has its prog moments, but ultimately, this is an all-out, straight-up, ballsy metal album. And it's a damn good one, at that!
I've really enjoyed this week's revisit to one of the more popular black metal releases of the 2010's. "Litourgiya" is essentially made up of some fairly traditional & simply structured but very well executed Polish black metal with the ground-breaking addition of some church-style chanted male vocals as a clear point of differentiation. This certainly making for an interesting combination but if I'm honest I'd have to suggest that it's not that component of Batushka's sound that I find most appealing. In fact, the weakest moments on the album generally match up with the less inspired chant sections. The best elements at play here are the searing black metal screams & the incredibly precise blast beats. For the record, I actually had to check I wasn't listening to programmed drums when I first encountered this album, such was the sheer confidence & control on display. The riffs aren't anything all that different to what you would usually expect however the guitars appear to be down-tuned which gives Batushka a slightly different tone to most of the competition. Closer "Ектения • VIII • Спасение" is the only track that I find to be a genuine classic but there are no weak tracks included which makes "Litourgiya" a very professional & high quality release with enough accessibility to appeal to broad cross-section of extreme metal fans.
For fans of Cult of Fire, Mgła & early Uada.
From the glorious country of Hungary, comes an unusual take on classic power metal. There's a certain audacity to the band, as this album is based off the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy. I vaguely remember how compressed Ralph Bakshi's movie and the Rankin/Bass not-sequel were, completely removing everything not directly related to the actual plot of destroying the one ring.
Well, despite that they've got a good album. It doesn't always work. The lead vocalist has a surprisingly sad voice for power metal. Kind of like if Alfred Romero drank heavily. A poor grasp on the English language and a bit off-key. Its somewhat amateurish. There's a lady vocalist who sometimes appears who's usually Tolkien-filled speech sounds not English.
There's a very medieval feel to the album. The music almost feels like that of a modern version of a group of traveling minstrels. Just with a cheap midi keyboard. Its not so much about the riffs as how each song comes out. There are only a handful of songs that feel straightforward in that regard. Songs are constructed in a very interesting way. The first song, for instance, has some interesting choices in it. Before the first chorus, the band holds off entering it for slightly longer than you would expect, before going into a long solo occupying most of the middle of the song. Then, when you think the song is over, we get a prog rock-ish outro, for over a minute. This doesn't account for their flourishs and constant switching between standard power metal and the more prog rock-ish aspects.
I think despite their audacity to tackle such a landmark novel, it works. There's a tendency to link happy things to fantasy. I'm guilty of this myself, as I tend to find films like Willow to be a quite happy thing to watch. We tend to lose sight that these high fantasy stories about about desperate fights against seemingly neverending hordes of evil beings bent on raping and pillaging.
Despite how it might seem at first listen, a very worthwhile album.
2018 was a rough year for Machine Head. Catharsis was a really bad album that managed to unite people on both sides of political spectrum in just how shitty of an activist Rob Flynn is. Lyrics that sounded like they were written by a Tumblr user, but were instead written by a 50 year old man, all performed over an alternative/nu metal soundscape that was the farthest thing from pleasing to the metal ear, or conforming to the Machine Head sound. Now I stood up for that album four year ago, claiming that there were some serviceable songs that maintained the Machine Head identity, while still pushing the boundaries of what this band could sound like (i.e. "Heavy is the Crown" and "Kaleidoscope"), while other experiments just spectacularly failed.
And so, it should come as zero surprise that following a release cycle that almost ended this band, the new Machine Head album, ØF KINGDOM AND CRØWN is a return to form (somewhat) for the band. It's groove centric, melodies are limited but respectable, dueling guitar solos make a triumphant return, and the overall intensity matches that of The Blackening and Unto the Locust.
One thing that Machine Head maintained from those previous recording sessions were extended runtimes. This is not all too unfamiliar in Machine Head's discography, but this album can be a slog at times. The opening track "SLAUGHTER THE MARTYR" is ten and a half minutes, but could have easily been suppressed to seven and said the same amount. When the album is at its best, Machine Head is calling back to an older sound, while still allowing for some alternative metal ideas to slip in; primarily in the vocal leads. "MY HANDS ARE EMPTY" and "UNHALLØWED" both do this with slower grooves and more somber delivery.
Perhaps that's because the previous songs are both closer to deathcore of all things! Machine Head have been no stranger to breakdowns in their music, but here they feel out of place and extremely unnecessary. Whether it be the dissonant chuggs of "CHØKE ØN THE ASHES ØF YØUR HATE", which also return on the closer "ARRØWS IN WØRDS FRØM THE SKY", or the unnatural tempo shift on "BECØME THE FIRESTØRM". Then there are the lyrics, which thank god are infinitely improved from Catharsis. There is some genuine reflection here that has allowed Rob Flynn to choose his words carefully in order to make an impact and possibly change people. But then "KILL THY ENEMIES" comes on and I hear Flynn speak about white privilege, fascists and cultists and I just tune out. What's more infuriating is that the narrator honestly believes that they are the good guy here when they unironically speak: "I'm asking you to heed the call, kill thy enemies". Whose side are you on: those who say naughty words, or those who carry the blood of their enemies on their hands joyously?
To say this album is an improvement from Catharsis is like saying 2022 has been a better year than 2020. Machine Head would have had to included the sounds of killing puppies and a dramatic reading of Mein Kampf to make an album worse than Catharsis. But that does not mean ØF KINGDOM AND CRØWN is a great album. It sounds more like Machine Head and the experimentation is not alienating to fans, but a lack of fat trimming, less than their best melodies and grooves and questionable lyricism makes it more lukewarm than anything else. The emperor may have a fig leaf, but he is still naked.
From Destruction To Hope
In retrospect, Gojira's notoriety within the fickle, turn of the century Metal scene makes perfect sense, but their overall success remains somewhat surprising considering their overall style. In the early 2000's the Death and Black Metal craze of the 1990's slowed to a mainstream crawl and left a perfect vacancy for bands like Gojira, Mastodon, and Meshuggah to capitalize on a more progressive, accessible, and slightly more modern style propelled by Death Metal influences. Given their popularity I stumbled across them around the release of their 2016 album Magma, which was an obvious turning point for the band that I still enjoy to this day despite its differences and flaws compared to their earlier material. My first introduction was L'Enfant Sauvage but it didn't take me long to land on From Mars to Sirius as my personal opus of theirs. At this point, it's withstood the test of time and, in my personal ranking, is one of the more important Progressive Metal albums of the transitional era of the turn of the century.
To any seasoned Death or other Extreme Metal fan Gojira may be a bit contentious due to their overall middling sound. They're heavy, but not too heavy. They're chaotic, but not too chaotic. They're melodic, but not too melodic. From Mars to Sirius is able to meld these overall average traits and combine them into an experience that sounds not only engaging and inspired but also confident and complete. Gojira's riffs and chugs have always been top notch with all manner of pinch harmonics and various squeals able to create satisfying grooves that build and release tension, but they're definitely at their best on this particular album on tracks like "Heaviest Matter In The Universe" and the opening "Ocean Planet". Although some of the riff structures can feel a bit too similar when looking at each song individually, the album has an incredible sense of momentum that never lets any of these riffs feel stale thanks to Gojira's adept songwriting when it comes to interludes and transitions. The deep and resonating chug resolutions within "Where Dragons Dwell" and "Backbone" are shining examples of how to have incredible and constant musical payoffs while maintaining compelling grooves, plus they're aided by a clean and satisfying production job that offers a ton of space for the guitars and kick drum to breathe. From Mars To Sirius is also able to flex its more melodic side on the sweeping "World To Come" and the unique closer "Global Warming", giving the album just enough variety and spice without detracting from what Gojira does best.
While Gojira's instrumental section could be considered pretty heavy to the uninitiated listener, their vocals are where they were able to separate themselves from the brutal back alleys of Death Metal and round out their signature sound in a way that was more accessible but still uncompromising. Frontman Joe Duplantier's vocals are the very definition of a Metal middle ground, even going past the vocalists who have a clean versus harsh separation. He gives his performance just enough vocal fry for it to be considered harsh, but is able to bend and augment his delivery to put emphasis and differentiation on his lines, allowing for a more varied and comprehensible output. His range and expressiveness shines on "Where Dragons Dwell" and especially "Ocean Planet", which helps to set the tone for the rest of the album. Although tracks like "To Sirius" allows Duplantier to go deeper into Death Metal growl territory, "World To Come" and "Global Warming" pump the breaks with clean and backup vocal sections that I can't say are particularly strong. I still appreciate the variety and don't necessarily think their inclusion is unwarranted given both songs have a very different feel to them, but I'm definitely left wanting a bit more despite the gradual, well-written timbre transitions in "World To Come". The middling vocal style is very effective throughout From Mars to Sirius since Gojira have quite a bit to say through their lyrics without it becoming overly preachy for the most part. The laments and warnings of a dying world serves as a fitting subject matter to accompany the album's overall atmosphere without being annoyingly blatant nor frustratingly ambiguous.
Overall though, the most succinct and comprehensive look at Gojira is "Flying Whales", which is far and beyond the strongest song they've written. The patient and gripping progression of the atmospheric opening groove allows one of my favorite riffs of all time to explode with incredible intensity. Every single aspect of the way this song progresses is in a satisfying way; even the second repetition of the breakdown riff adds consistent double bass leading into the extended chorus section before an especially satisfying reprise to the original motif. It then proceeds to perfectly transition into one of the heaviest and most complex chug-fests in the entire album, eventually giving way to yet another massive breakdown that showcases some seriously chilling sliding harmonics before transitioning back into the main chorus riff. Duplantier uses his entire range and then some, getting scarily close to full-on growling for one of the few times in the album. It's a massive showcase of everything that Gojira succeeds at with their style and it remains as my favorite song I've seen performed live. Despite "Flying Whales" being the highlight, none of the other tracks are too far behind in quality, leaving the overall floor of From Mars To Sirius sitting incredibly high.
Gojira have sadly gone off the deep end for me with their recent release of "Fortitude", but that doesn't change the fact that I'm still a massive fan given how often I find myself coming back to From Mars To Sirius as one of my gold standards of Progressive Metal. It embodies how Metal began to move forward into the 2000's with a slightly more accessible but still uncompromising sound that still has a ton of bite and doesn't feel pandering. Gojira's musicianship is crisp and imposing with almost none of the tracks having any sort of mundane filler, but I can admit that the final few tracks tend to drag a bit here and there. The album can be a bit long-winded at times given how repetitive Gojira's chug formula can get at times, but there's still some strong attempts at variety with the more erratic duo of "From Mars" and "To Sirius" as well as the slightly useless "Unicorn" interlude. Although they're less memorable, "Where Dragons Dwell" and "In The Wilderness" are surprising cornerstones to the album's runtime given their overall length. Mainstream Metal has seen extreme ups and downs since its inception and I'm glad that bands like Gojira are still able to showcase the best parts of this genre in their own, unique way without necessarily catering to anyone in particular. From Mars To Sirius has continued to fascinate me with its incredible pacing, production, and attention to detail within their grooves that almost no other modern Progressive Death Metal band has been able to accomplish. There may be bands that are heavier, more complex, or more dissonant and chaotic, but Gojira's streak through the early 2000's shows that Metal, just like any other genre, can be just as compelling through the sum of its parts.
Drama and more specifically theatrics need not always come in the form of sweeping symphonic structures or other such over-the-top gestures of majesty and grandiosity. It is possible to express the raw emotion of your art form with a fair old amount of restraint. In fact, if you get your timings correct and the flow of your music perfected then your messaging kind of takes care of itself.
Polish black metal trio (at the time of this release anyways) are not entirely living up to the literal translation of their name (means “war machine” in German) in terms of their style of black metal. This is no Marduk clone, for example. Parallels instead can be drawn with Mgla (with whom they share a drummer and a guitarist/vocalist) or Aosoth as the six songs on this album cover a fair old bit of ground from the more melodic stylings of the former couple with the more aggressive tendencies of the latter. Despite not living up to the literal meaning of their name in terms of all out velocity of the music they do bring with them the horror of war with their largely grim and relentlessly repetitive salvos of tremolos that constantly pepper the skies around them as if in mid-firefight across the darkest of no-man’s lands.
A decidedly more modern take on black metal as opposed to being more second wave focused, Enemy of Man captures that ringing use of melody span into an ever-present dissonance that heightens the senses of the listener into near perpetual anxiety. Farewell to Grace is a real marauding track in this regard, constantly molesting the ears with its serpentine-like form. The drum patterns of Asceticism and Passion are tribal and ritualistic providing a great sense of drama all by themselves.
All this ever-growing darkness makes for a great listening experience with the summoning of theatre that I referenced at the start of my review sounding largely effortless. I cannot recall many modern black metal albums that I have taken to so quickly after my initial listens. This reminds me of Behemoth without all the bullshit ceremony (and a lot less death metal of course) and just allowed the intensity of the delivery drive everything. For an album full of seven and eight minutes plus tracks, Enemy of Man never gets dull or boring as you can revel in the repetition given that its importance is so integral to the success of the record.
The combination of Darkside’s varied and consistent drumming alongside M’s marauding guitar work is a lesson in vibrant component parts being able to be played side by side without one being at the expense of the other. The vocal contributions of M. and Destroyer round off an excellent overall experience making this 2014 release one of the real overlooked gems for me.
After performing live with Dream Theater in 2004 on the 15th anniversary of ‘When Dream and Day Unite’ (the album in which he provided vocals), Charlie Dominici, the bands original vocalist, felt inspired enough to make a return to music. Sadly for fans, his initial rebirth didn't have anything to do with the genre which he helped pioneer in the late 80's, with 'O3: A Trilogy Part 1' favoring the acoustic guitar-laden singer-songwriter style over progressive metal.
Barely anyone paid any attention to it. But that's okay, because the second part of the trilogy is here to rectify that.
'O3: A Trilogy Part 2' is all-out balls-to-the-wall progressive metal, and takes the singer right back to the genre with which he is most well known. Full of some absolutely bone-crushing riffs, intricate song structures and the over-the-top musical passages associated with this style of music, Dominici's return/debut (as in, the man himself and the band respectively), successfully manages to make up for the shaky start this trilogy got off on.
With songs like 'Greed, the Evil Seed', 'Nowhere to Hide', 'The Calling' and 'The Cop', Dominici is a band who sound like, and will appeal to fans of... you guessed it... Dream Theater! Amazing vocals and top musicianship make this an album every progressive metal fan should look out for.
'Follow the Blind', the follow-up to 1988's debut 'Battalions of Fear', more-or-less follows in the footprints left by its predecessor in being nothing more than a generic, run-of-the-mill late 80's power/speed metal album.
While there are some very subtle orchestral elements dotted around here and there, a sign of where Blind Guardian would go with future releases, it's still a long way off from what would go on to become the bands defining sound. The songwriting never strays far from the speed metal clichés, and Hansi Kursch's vocals, normally a pleasure to listen to, have yet to reach their full maturity here.
The true gem of this record is no doubt 'Banished from Sanctuary', a song which remains a staple of any live set to this day. Otherwise, most of the songs sound pretty similar and it's hard to really pick out any specific highlights. The production sounds exactly how you would expect it to, giving the music a raw, harshness that it needs, and a guest appearance from Kai Hansen (of Helloween/Gamma Ray fame), is a welcome addition, though only further distinguishes this album as nothing more than a standard power metal affair.
Overall, it's not a terrible record, and I love Blind Guardian, it's just that this is a band still trying to find themselves. They'd certainly develop a sound to call their own over the next few albums, but otherwise, 'Follow the Blind' is one I'd recommend solely to the collectors.
I first came across Mexican one-man black metal artist Trhä shortly after the release of this debut album & generally liked what I heard so I always intended on returning to it for a more comprehensive analysis at some point. However I must admit that my poor experiences while reviewing Trhä’s follow-up release (the “Novej kalhnjënno” E.P. from later the same year) saw me delaying things a bit longer while I built up the courage. Thankfully “Nvenlanëg” is a much more enticing prospect than it’s younger sibling though & has left me feeling generally positive about its merits.
“Nvenlanëg” is comprised of three lengthy tracks that amount to a total duration of 55 minutes with the main component being a lo-fi atmospheric black metal sound similar to Swiss act Paysage d’Hiver. Despite a strong focus on frost-bitten winters though, this record isn’t half as cold as Paysage d’Hiver’s classic releases. There’s a dreamy positivity to a lot of the melodies with the synthesizers being the protagonists more often than not. At times you’ll actually find a similar atmosphere to a blackgaze artist like Sadness only Trhä never veers too far from the path of blasphemy, his vocals opting for the trademark tortured route of so many of his atmospheric black metal counterparts. The regular use of winter synth style ambience breaks the album up nicely & is quite effective in its enhancement of the themes.
I can’t say that “Nvenlanëg” hits my black metal comfort zone particularly. It’s a little too light-weight for that but I do find more than enough depth in its atmospherics to keep me interested. The epic 23 minute opener “Lhelhën Majlan” summarizes the album’s content well while 18 minute closer “Alandlhan ëlh Nítak” is probably the most fully realised example of the Trhä sound. The track in the middle “Nëlhlica” doesn’t appeal to me much though to be honest. It’s simply too melodic for my taste & seems like a step down from the other two tracks.
I can’t say that I feel the fanfare around “Nvenlanëg” is warranted but it’s not a bad record nonetheless. It’s certainly a good three levels up from the awful “Novej kalhnjënno” E.P. & hits the wintery atmosphere it was aiming for pretty well, despite not gathering the darkness & evil around it in the process.
For fans of Paysage d’Hiver, Bekëth Nexëhmü & Evilfeast.
Do not be fooled by that album artwork fellow academics. It may look like Tribal Gaze should be classified in The Infinite clan but let me assure you that no Hall of Judgement submission is required here folks. Tribal Gaze are death metal through and through and any thoughts of progression can get to fuck as far as The Nine Choirs is concerned. These five Texans make catchy as shit death metal on their debut full-length which I discovered via (yep, you guessed it) Maggot Stomp records, a label that continues to churn out savage, arcane and also memorable and accessible death metal on a consistent basis.
Think of an old school reference such as Morbid Angel then add a blend of more modern reference such as Frozen Soul and you are some way to understanding the kind of death metal that Tribal Gaze play. The riffs are infectious and cutting without ever quite catching 100% of that Swede crunch or being afraid in the albums slower moments to scrape at those sludgier riffs to boot. Vocally they deploy a cavernous death metal gurn that reminds me of Vastum/Acephalix, all sat on a concrete foundation of percussion and a chunky yet subtly mixed bass rumble to underpin it all.
You'll soon pick up their ability to mix it up and change tempo on the head of a pin, unafraid to accentuate the groove in those riffs at the sacrifice of a bit of blasting. Dropping in spoken word snippets and old radio music broadcast excerpts every now and again to emphasise the sarcasm behind their message, Tribal Gaze can let props do their work when they decide to do so. Over thirty-five minutes I just do not stop moving, whether it is exercising my face with a multitude of mindlessly ugly expressions or throwing my arms, head, legs...whatever the fuck can be swung or banged. A triumph for the simple format of death metal song writing, The Nine Choirs needs no frills and dwells not upon the fact that this most certainly been done before. It just does what it does best and I love it.
It is not news to anyone that I loves me some nasty, blackened death metal. I lap that fetid shit up, chomping on the meatier parts with a vigour rivalled only by my cat when she is annihilating the random fish head treats that she gorges upon each morning. Whilst she is in the kitchen having her daily treat I am up in my lair blasting the fuck out of California's Abhorrency. Yet another Maggot Stomp label discovery, this three piece celebrate three-years of existence with a debut full-length that is riddled with all manner of vile impurities, from sickening blastbeats to perverse, slobbering vocal exchanges that sound like the caverns of Hades themselves being expunged of their hellish phlegm, Climax of Disgusting Impurities lives up to its name for all thirty-two minutes of its run time.
Do not think it all just mindless bludgeoning here. Abhorrency mix up the tempo and pace here to truly emphasise the horror of their existence. Whilst that wall of noise continues to present itself in all its terrifying glory there are slower passages here that seem to prolong the torture for us all, to highlight that there is some thought and calculation behind all of this. The palate cleanser that is track six that sounds like a palate cleanser done with Ebola is proof of the measuring of the nasty intent behind this record. Yes it is Archgoat-ugly and Portal-chaotic but there is more here to expand the impact of Climax of Disgusting Impurities. In short, this climax keeps on going for a whole half hour.
Austrian (largely) one-man black metal project, Anomalie incorporate a varying spectrum of atmospheric and post-black metal stylings into their sound. With a heavy focus on dreams, spirituality, nature, urban life, emotions and social criticism you can predict that it is no Immortal clone. Instead it has an almost gothic undertone to the modern bm take that dominates the 6 tracks (including one NiN/Jonny Cash cover - which is awful) and manages to hit some rich veins of ethereal melody along the way. My main issue is with the vocals, they are too clean for my liking given the rather naïve and cringey lyrical skills that where on show for this debut release. It feels like too overt an expression of emotion that is dramatic for drama's sake and I found myself hitting the skip button at least twice during the listen throughs of this.
I have to say that after revisiting all three of Californian grindcore legends Nails’ full-length albums over the last few months I’ve come to the conclusion that they’re really out there on their own as far as the leading grindcore exponents go. No one can touch them in this space as they simply possess another gear to even the most highly regarded of opposition & this sophomore album may just be the high point of the entire movement. Once again we have an extremely short run time at just over seventeen minutes in duration but one that’s dominated by the inclusion of two lengthier sludge metal pieces that take up just under half the run time. Both of these tracks are utterly superb & you get the feeling that Nails might have been one of the greats of the sludge scene if they’d chosen their niche a little differently as they have serious talent in the elusive & highly desirable art of riff creation. The rest of the album is made up of the most extreme grindcore violence you’ve ever heard in your life, only with ultra-clinical performances & a wonderfully powerful production job from Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou. The drum sound & guitar & bass tones are all spectacular & go about tearing your face off in the most efficient manner imaginable. The performance of drummer Taylor Young should be highlighted in particular as the guy is an absolute beast. His blast beats are as pummeling as any in extreme metal & he’s a major contributor to making “Abandon All Life” sound so fucking tight. The only negative I can find here is that I’m not sure I dig the slight change in vocal delivery from front man Todd Jones as much as his other efforts but that’s a small price to pay for what has essentially now become my favourite grindcore release of all time from my favourite grindcore band of all time.
For fans of Full Of Hell, Dead In The Dirt & Trap Them.
Recently, another reviewer whose content I frequent gave a short review of the sophomore Holy Fawn album, Dimensional Bleed and gave it some of their highest regards. This intrigued me, so I gave it a few listens myself and... the result was quite solid. One thing that this album proves is that heavy metal music does not need to be at its most brutal at all times to be effective. Dimensional Bleed's post-metal elements are scattered throughout the album and likely never take up more than half of the full runtime. But when they do; those anchoring bass lines are titanic and carry the dreamlike guitars and reverb soaked vocals to the edges of the the human condition. I noticed on more than one occasion where this album was so pleasant and comforting that I'd get locked into a sway, before realizing that I need to focus on the music itself!
That can be a good and bad thing depending on where you approach this album from. On one hand, because each song seamlessly transitions from one to the next and each track is an excellent composition on its own, you could say that Dimensional Bleed has excellent structure, form and delivery. On the other, because each song is built around the same tempo and groove, you might find less variety in the grooves. The only notable exception is "Void of Light", whereas the rest falls into a very cozy doom-y, post-metal, blackgaze sound; a sound quite similar to more modern Deafheaven.
That Deafheaven comparison might be worrisome considering how little I resonated with Infinite Granite. But here it feels more developed and better executed. I struggle to put it in my short list for AOTY because like with a lot of good post-metal, the comfort does not always make for a mesmerizing experience. But for what it is worth, Dimensional Bleed is ethereal so it does live up to its own standards. I doubt many MA members will find much with this, but as a relaxing piece of shoegaze/post-metal, it's really good.
Best Songs: Death Is A Relief, Empty Vials, Dimensional Bleed, Void of Light, True Loss
This was my first focused attempt at an Amaranthe release & was mainly instigated by Andi’s Hall of Judgement entry to have “Leave Everything Behind” removed from The Horde & the Melodic Death Metal subgenre. It has to be said that upon first listen it became immediately obvious as to why I’ve never ventured here before though as the sound that Amaranthe were pushing is an exceptionally poppy one with a couple of the tracks sounding much more like Kelly Clarkson or Demi Levato than At The Gates or Dark Tranquillity. The band take a six-piece configuration including an unprecedented three full-time vocalists which combine uplifting female vocals, alternative/power metal style male vocals & more extreme metalcore screams. It has to be said that the two men must have struggled to know what to do with themselves on stage as they’re not contributing all that regularly when compared with your average front man.
This release is essentially a self-financed demo however you’d never know it from the quality of the production which is easily up to the task of presenting a band that had already nailed down a pretty professional & well-defined sound. I’d describe it as a very poppy take on Melodic Metalcore with a number of influences layered over the top including some clean vocal hooks that remind me of alternative metal bands like Linkin Park, power metal theatrics & symphonics, the technical riff structures of progressive metal & the more rhythmic staccato attack of djent. In truth there’s absolutely no Melodic Death Metal here so that tag would seem to be completely misguided. I’d also suggest that the Trance Metal one is a bit premature too as I don’t hear anything that reminds me of legitimate Trance music. Instead there are just some fairly accessible synthesizer lines employed in more of a supporting capacity which probably isn’t worthy of its own genre tag. Perhaps these elements were accentuated when Amaranthe returned to the studio to re-record these five tracks for their self-titled debut album? I’m not too sure but I think the Trance Metal thing is probably more of a link to the band’s later material than it is a reflection of what you can expect to hear on “Leave Everything Behind”.
One of the reasons I struggled so much on the first couple of listens to this E.P. is that the opening three tracks sound far less mature & are more overtly commercialized than the closing two tracks are in my opinion. As a result it took me a few spins before I became aware of the fact that I actually quite like “Act Of Desperation” & “Director’s Cut”. Early on I’d simply tossed them in with the bubblegum stuff that preceded it & it took a bit of familiarity before I could separate them enough to judge them on their own merit. That’s not to say that the earlier material is awful or anything. It’s just miles away from my taste profile & would likely be closer to that of my six year old daughter in all honesty (That's not a criticism. It's a genuine observation as my daughter loves Babymetal). I have to say that the shredding guitar solos are a real highlight & bring to mind childhood idols of mine like Joe Satriani & Steve Vai, particularly in the excellent use of legato. The weak point of the record is probably the metalcore vocals though as they add an additional layer of immaturity that reeks of a band that’s trying their best to find some sort of street credibility. I honestly think Amaranthe would have been better off limiting themselves to a more streamlined dual vocal attack.
At the end of the day “Leave Everything Behind” was never going to see me reaching for my higher scores or commanding that I investigate Amaranthe’s entire back-catalogue but I would hazard to guess that it more than achieved what the band had set out to do. Unfortunately the heavily commercialized approach that’s pushed down the listeners throat on the first few tracks really does stave off any chance of recovery for me & I’m forced to place the E.P. into the “None Of My Business” category.
For fans of Dead By April, Crossfaith & Blood Stain Child.
Dio, Scorpions, Iron Maiden, Twisted Sister. All these bands have one thing in common: They’re thieves!
After twenty years stranded in Japan, the true pioneers of heavy metal have returned, Fozzy!
It was a careless contract-signing that left Moongoose McQueen and the rest of Fozzy stuck in Japan, and with demo tapes finding their way all over the world, bands like Iron Maiden and Motley Crue were more than happy to steal Fozzy’s songs and claim them as their own, thus, stealing the very genre Fozzy created from under their noses.
Okay, comedy aside, Fozzy is a fantastic band, and for those who aren’t familiar with the group, they are really a metal band formed by wrestling superstar Chris Jericho and Stuck Mojo mastermind Rich Ward, mostly playing covers but using their humorous back story as a way of separating themselves from other cover bands.
As a huge fan of both Chris Jericho and heavy metal, it was only natural that when this album was released I had to snap it up, and what an impressive debut album. Jericho has a great voice, though at times it does feel a bit weak, but he definitely shows a lot of confidence on the two Fozzy originals, where he obviously gets to sing his own style with a voice he is comfortable with.
Unfortunately, I personally find the choice of cover songs a bit hit-or-miss. Songs like ‘Blackout’, ‘The Prisoner’ and ‘Riding on the Wind’ are all great songs that in my opinion far surpass the originals, and whilst all the other covers completely dominate the originals material, the choices are quite lackluster. I have to be honest, but songs like ‘Stay Hungry’, ‘Eat the Rich’ and ‘Live Wire’ are not the first songs I’d choose to cover.
The two Fozzy originals are great as well. ‘End of Days’ and ‘Feel the Burn’ are amazing samples of what this band are capable of, and a sure sign of the greatness to come.
The most recent full-length from Maryland death metallers Dying Fetus has seen me drawing very much the same conclusion as I have with the vast majority of their previous releases. While I certainly find “Wrong One To Fuck With” to be a more than decent brutal/technical death metal album, it’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect from them with very little variation on past themes. The production is very clean (almost as clean as the pristine performances from the trio who can no doubt play the living shit out of their instruments) while the band’s trademark hardcore grooves are still very much in effect along with the thrashier sections that remind me a lot of Slayer. Then toss in the consistent use of blast beats & slam riffs as well as those intentionally technical & often sweep-picked wanky parts that server very little purpose other than to show off the band members techniques & you get a Dying Fetus album…. any Dying Fetus album really.
Now that’s not such a big deal in theory as I generally love my brutal death metal & it doesn’t always need to be anything too original to get my juices flowing but the thing with Dying Fetus is that they seem to lack a bit in the way of soul. Everything sounds so intentional, calculated & precise but the song-writing is often where the band’s attention could have been better spent. Many of the transitions sound jerky & pieced-together while the groove sections are often a bit too basic. In direct contrast though, those technical parts I mentioned earlier are far too obvious & (as with every other Dying Fetus record) sound much more like practice exercises than they do actual music. Even the vocal phrasing is lacking in ambition as it often simply follows the rhythm of the riffs & lacks a bit of sophistication. Dying Fetus are definitely at their best when they’re simply blasting away with reckless abandon though & there’s enough of that to justify your interest if you’re a fan of the more brutal end of death metal.
Overall, I’d suggest that “Wrong One To Fuck With” is another decent but fairly uneventful Dying Fetus record that’s fun while you’re listening to it but doesn’t command much in the way of repeat listens. That’s very much par for the course in how I’ve felt about their albums since day one however I’d suggest that earlier releases like “Reign Supreme” & “Destroy The Opposition” still have a slight edge over this one. There’s an undeniable consistency of quality across the ten tracks included (eleven if you’re listening to a version with the bonus track “Induce Terror”) but sadly there are no genuine highlights here & the tracklisting does tend to sound a little samey as a result. Every track has great parts mixed in with flatter parts with the good clearly out-weighing the bad but never by an emphatic margin.
For fans of Suffocation, Nile & Cryptopsy.
Another year, another metalcore band going mainstream, another fanbase ready to defile a band and there legacy.
I never listened to Parkway Drive during their 2007 peak, but when they started incorporating more progressive techniques into their music during the mid 2010s, I was intrigued. Ire was a fascinating release and now we have Darker Still. It has to be the breakdowns that have got the negative blowback here because song structures throughout the record are quite standard on "Soul Bleach", "Glitch" and "Like Napalm", and the breaks are not nearly as frequent as previous albums. Some tracks like "The Greatest Fear" have the foundation of a symphonic metal track, but lacks... y'know, the symphonic elements. I found it unique since Parkway Drive are not looking to become symphonic metal, and so having a song structurally like symphonic metal, while still sounding like Parkway Drive is an interesting idea.
When the band gets the most experimental though is when Darker Still is at its best. Perhaps ironically, the title track does contain some stronger symphonic elements, even though it has less in common with symphonic metal and more of Parkway Drive's more progressive tracks on previous releases. Songs like "Imperial Heretic" and "Land of the Lost" are closer to the standard Parkway Drive sound, but subtle intricacies make it stand out tremendously from Horizons era. But that would not be possible without the final track, "From the Heart of the Darkness", which made me do a double take; not just with who was performing it, but the rest of the album. My initial listen was not the most riveting and Darker Still would not be getting this score if I was basing this on my initial listen. "From the Heart of the Darkness" is certainly Parkway Drive, but has a special element that I can't put my finger on. When I went back, I realized how much bigger and expansive this album was, as well as how much Parkway Drive have grown up since Horizons, even on the back half of the record, which does lead into the albums pacing, which is top heavy and only saved by the final two tracks. During a time when every metalcore band wants to sound like Parkway Drive, the same named band wants to push outside of their comfort zone and succeeded. This was a pleasant surprise in 2022.
Best Songs: Like Napalm, The Greatest Fear, Darker Still, Land of the Lost, From the Heart of the Darkness
Well Age of Taurus are early evidence that doom metal might just be for me after all. Desperate Souls of Tortured Times is a hefty slab of epic doom metal that stretches its legs in terms of varying pace over seven tracks of lengthy yet never arduous duration. At their best they are a psychedelic-edged doom behemoth and the standout track by far for me is the mournful and dank Walk With Me My Queen which is superbly situated in the middle of the album. At the same time they are guilty of the odd meander as well with penultimate track Embrace the Stone not really bringing any value during its eight minute runtime despite a really promising start.
The racy Desperate Souls is an example of where the band can comfortably ditch the traditional doom metal tag and go a little more up tempo without sacrificing that looming menace that those twin guitars bring to the table. The vocals are actually a great fit for me and I like how the bass is just as audible as everything else here. It is albums like this that cast my recent history with heavy metal in a new light. I have a feeling that if I had pursued this path sooner with the more epic doom metal sound then I could have tied together the two sub-genres better without now having to explore one at the expense of the other. There is a rumbling coolness to DSoTT that sacrifices none of the youthful vigour of true heavy metal yet in fact manages to add a great level of esotericism to proceedings and although it is early on in my exploration of The Fallen clan this realisation of where my path has perhaps come to a premature end with heavy metal is certainly causing much reflection of my listening habits over the years when doom has gone largely neglected as a listening option.
There are lots of Master of Reality style structures here and this can only be a good thing in my book. That slumbering groove to the guitars scratches a real itch for me and when in full flow this is a razor sharp unit. I can see they underwent something of a line-up change for album number two (which is on my radar) so will be interesting to see how consistent these guys are, but with Leo Smee of Cathedral fame in the band there is an element of real promise ahead of me checking out their sophomore release, built from this solid foundation stone also.
And so after the success of Dream Theater's magnum opus concept album 'Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory' comes the dreaded follow-up album, in which endless possibilities usually lead to outcomes that divide fans. In this case, whilst the band had always tread a thin line that equally balanced both the metal and the progressive elements of their music, from this album onwards they would begin to shift more towards the heavier side of things, with harsher vocals and heavier guitar riffs.
Consisting of just six songs which are spread out over two discs (the title track taking up the entire second disc, at 42 minutes), 'Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence' sees the band tackling some serious issues, ranging from alcoholism and addiction, religion, scientific advances, moral dilemmas and mental illness. Every song full of incredible musicianship and intricate structures that flow smoothly without compromising quality.
The title track, a 42-minute piece split up into eight individual tracks, is the true centerpiece of the album. With a vast range of heavy and soft parts, huge orchestral arrangements and virtuoso musicianship, this is a true gem in the Dream Theater discography. And as evidenced in tracks like 'The Glass Prison' (one of my all-time favourites!) and 'The Great Debate', the interplay between all the members, in particular guitarist John Petrucci and keyboardist Jordan Rudess, is unmatched by any other band.
A truly polarizing album in the groups back-catalog, how much you like the metal aspects of Dream Theater's music will determine if you'll like the direction the band are going in from here, and while 'Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence' may not be as highly regarded as 'Images and Words' or 'Scenes from a Memory', it is still an essential addition to any music collection.
'Music Man' is the second EP released to promote Chris Caffery's 2004 debut solo album, 'Faces', and contains an eclectic choice of songs.
First there's the title track itself, 'Music Man'. A soft song with plenty of cool melodies and some really nice singing by Caffery. Not sure why this track was chosen as a single however. It's a good track, but not the best choice to reflect the album it appears on. Unlike...
... Straight up, two of the best songs from the 'Faces' album, 'Pisses Me Off' and an extended version of 'Abandoned'. Brutally heavy, with some thunderous riffs and insane vocals, these two songs alone make this EP worthwhile. There's also a censored version of 'Pisses...' which is slightly humorous to begin with, but quickly wears thin and becomes pointless.
There's also three non-album tracks. None of which are all that interesting though. Two of them are Christmas-themed, with a strong Trans-Siberian Orchestra (of whom Caffery plays for) vibe going on, but they're pretty dull songs. And there's 'Forever We'll Be', which also appeared on previous EP 'The Mold'. I wasn't too keen on that song then, and I'm not keen on it now.
Overall though, this is a decent EP. Chris Caffery is an incredibly underrated guitarist and songwriter and I can't recommend his solo material enough. And while this EP is mainly for collectors (I'd definitely suggest checking out his 'Faces' album if you love your music heavy), there's a few songs here that hold up as some of Caffery's finest.
A short eleven minute ride through a very faithful six tracks of Black Noise with half of the the tracklisting taking a pure Noise direction & the other half sounding like traditional Black Metal with the levels heavily overdriven to give it that white noise aesthetic. I do find a bit of enjoyment in the raucous Black Metal material which should appeal to those that like to blow off some steam with their mates after a few drinks but the pure Noise stuff is pretty redundant & is the very definition of filler in my opinion. It's a shame this release isn't on Spotify as the ideal outcome would be to add the couple of decent tracks to your playlist & turf the rest.
For fans of Wold, Mnima & Enbililugugal.
I'm not usually one for completely crucifying metal releases for the sake of melodrama however this 40 minutes of agonizing pain is something a little bit special. It essentially sounds like a bunch of extreme metal fans got together for drinks & things got WWAAYYY out of hand with the results being documented for all eternity. The song-writing is non-existent, the musicianship is completely absent & the production is a dog's breakfast. Essentially this is a bunch of sloppily performed black metal played with complete disregard for traditional musical values & produced in as noisy a fashion as possible with a dude screaming his guts out randomly over the top without any semblance of a lyric. I have no doubt that there will be those that think this is musical genius (Beherit fans, I'm looking at you) but for me it's a waste of time & effort from everyone involved. In the context of my Black Noise experiment, I'd suggest that it sits in between Black Metal & Black Noise with traditional Noise being a secondary influence.
For fans of Abruptum, Gonkulator & Beherit.
If you hold any hope for thrash metal in 2022 then stay away from The Sick, The Dying …and The Dead. Do not take the time to listen to its half-hearted, lazily written and largely flat compositions. Pay no attention to Dave Mustaine’s lacklustre vocal delivery (seriously – I know the guy has been ill and is getting on, but the vocals here are not good, it comes to something when the best performance he puts in is on the bonus track cover of a Dead Kennedy’s song). Dedicate no effort to listen to a band that wrote proficient music such as Hangar 18 at one time but now can barely string together any level of technical prowess beyond the occasional half decent solo.
Even during their less thrashy releases such as Youthanasia they still managed to breed an energy level that took their heavy metal musings to a reasonable level of intensity to be entertaining. In returning to their thrash roots in recent years at least, Megadeth had managed to bring some of that catchiness and memorability with them. However, on album number sixteen they somehow manage to lose both catchiness and ability in absolute droves. Structures all seem to morph into messy and directionless efforts at speed metal having started every now and again with the hope of some true thrashing fury that dissipates as the band try unsuccessfully to express the range of their skills.
Look, Mustaine and Loureiro can play – we know that. However, all the widdly wankery in the world will not save this album and boy do they try. DiGiorgio might as well not be here, as with most Megadeth releases, I can barely hear the bass anyways. Verbeuren just seems to quietly sit in the corner tapping his way through the album, not making any real splash in the pool barring an occasional burst on the skins. On the extended (pain) version I had the misfortune of sitting through there is a terrible cover of a Sammy Hagar song (fucking Sammy Hagar??) that features Sammy Hagar for some reason. And this is what Megadeth have become after nearly forty years of existence? Gone are the reputable sneers at society, politics, and culture. Replaced instead by laughable cabaret turns from special guest “star” performers who should have long since given up the ghost (although the inclusion of Ice T on a track adds a little bit of credibility to an otherwise reputational disaster of a record).
Dystopia was not perfect by any means, but after Super Collider and Thirteen it offered hope for the Megadeth machine in the sense that it had a fair old selection of decent chops and felt like it was put together with some meaning. By comparison TSTDaTD is a giant step backwards that fails to capture the vitality of its predecessor let alone capitalise on it.
Dave Mustaine is one of the most overrated artists/composers in all of heavy metal.
There. I said it. And god does it feel good! This is a man who was so salty about getting kicked out of Metallica that he went and started an anti-Metallica band whose 1980s albums lacked artistic focus and direction that Metallica were able to reproduce in spades throughout their golden run. And yet, Megadeth almost always gets a free pass while a bunch of revisionists will say "Metallica was always bad". Megadeth helped develop the environment in thrash metal where bands don't need to evolve or grow, and can reproduce Rust In Peace ad nauseum for their entire careers and elitists will eat that shit up.
Like Metallica, the 1990s saw Megadeth commercialize to mix results. Unlike Metallica, when their attempts at commercialization alienated longtime fans (or just failing miserably with Risk), they reverted back to an old sound as evidence that Mustaine and company didn't actually care about the music they were making. They basically paved the way for Slayer in the later portion of the 2000s and my complicated relationship with them.
And so, it should be no surprise that The Sick, the Dying... and the Dead! is exactly what you should expect. It's just more Megadeth; you've heard these riffs before possibly hundreds of times. The callbacks to Rust In Peace, Countdown to Extinction and Peace Sells... But Whose Buying? are blatant and have been done to death by Megadeth over the last five records and leaves me with nothing to say. The last Megadeth album that was worth giving a damn about was United Abominations for making a hybrid of the classic 1980s sound with influence from the bands best album, Youthanasia. If you enjoyed Dystopia, well you're in luck because this record is the exact same thing.
Best Songs: Sacrifice, Soldier On!
The Surinamese Black Noise champion produces another release that's blown me away with his twelve full-length offering a sound that sits right in between Black Noise, Black Metal & Industrial Metal. It's certainly the most Black Metal oriented record I've heard from him this month while the Industrial component gives the album its own identity, despite still possessing Maurice de Jong's trademark sound i.e. darkness, torture & general extremity. I can't tell you how much I've connected with Gnaw Their Tongues over the last week or so. It's like he can read my mind with the horrifying atmospheres he creates, the flourishes of ambient beauty, the clinical production, the complete focus on global nihilism in it's most confronting form. I don't think anyone sounds quite like him to be honest & this is another horribly underrated record in my opinion.
For fans of Abruptum, An Axis of Perdition & Vessel of Iniquity.
I feel enough has probably been said already about Electric Wizard on most internet review sites in terms of the (deserved) adulation they received for the likes of Dopethrone or Come My Fanatics. For a period, Electric Wizard seemed to be everywhere, occupying endless “What are you listening to?” or “Recent Purchases” threads on the various internet forums I frequented some ten years ago. There was a sense that they were a band who could do no wrong (although the same collective conscience on the internet all seemed to simultaneously recognise the failure that was Wizard Bloody Wizard), a group who had hit their sweet spot in the realm of occult-ridden stoner/doom metal and consistently churned out the cursed vibes to the baying masses.
After a brief break from metal back in the late noughties I returned to the scene and decided it was time to bring Electric Wizard into my world. Never having really explored any stoner/doom metal before, Black Masses was the record that almost tipped me into the world we all know here as The Fallen. I played the shit out of this record, mostly because I was flat broke and my listening choices were limited (at least until I discovered Bandcamp anyways), but also because for the first time the hazy darkness and fuzz that emanated from this record soaked me up and I simply ‘got it’. Black Masses was one of those records that just clicked with me, better then anything else that I have listened to by the band – even the mighty Dopethrone.
To this day I still find desultory comfort in the arms of Venus in Furs, still feel a nerdy coolness to the b-movie atmospherics that imbue the whole hour run time of the record; Black Masses more than makes me want to shut all my curtains in the middle of the day and watch endless Hammer Horror! Rarely moving beyond a death march plod throughout eight tracks, Electric Wizard still manage to provide consistent entertainment without breaking that much of a sweat. What sounds lacklustre or half-hearted to some is in fact evidence that EW did what they did so naturally back then that they could afford themselves a little bit of arrogance in their playing.
Who cares that Patterns of Evil is more than a tad cumbersome in its arrangement, the multitude of component parts clashing with each other at various points, when it all sounds so disturbingly relaxing at the same time? A lot of the success here for me is down to Jus Osborn’s vocals. Dialled perfectly into the mix without getting lost in the density of the instruments they act as a creepy and pained accompaniment to the music. The combination of his and his wife Liz Osborn’s leaden riffs are imperative to the sullen and hopeless aspects of Satyr IX, seeped in psychedelia and gloriously comforting in their enshrouding nature.
If finding peace in darkness and dankly lit places is your bag, then there is plenty to go at on Black Masses. It is sombre without being draining, evil without being overtly nefarious and enriching without the need for ‘nice-to-haves’ such as variety and progression to unlock it rewards.
The Review Draft here at Metal Academy has again forced me to really delve into a release from a band I'd previously only dabbled with, only to find that I've been missing out on something great. This EP from English band Solstice is a pretty clear mix of heavy metal and doom metal and while that combination doesn't always bring me joy, the great production and epic atmosphere of these 4 tracks have put this right in my wheelhouse. I may not personally feel that the Epic Doom Metal subgenre is required, but surely the music on display here is exactly what the pushers have in mind. If the excellent riffs, melodies and leads aren't enough to make you think of times long past and glories well earned, then Paul Kearns' soaring vocals surely will. The band that most comes to mind when listening to this EP is Manowar, with slightly less cheese and a fair bit more doom. I'm actually fine with that, and now find myself eager to delve into the rest of Solstice's discography. As far as recommendations go, there's really only two tracks (along with lengthy intro and outro instrumentals), with the near 10 minute monster title track being the easy highlight for me. In fact, I think I'll request this track be included in the October Fallen playlist to share the glory.
As is apparent from the first few bars, two things about the US outfit Dream Death are clear. They really, really like Celtic Frost, and despite being a thrash band in theory, they have a very doom inspired sound.
Unfortunately, despite an interesting first couple of songs, this album doesn't have much going for it. They build up a nice atmosphere, but its got nothing behind it. They're not very good song-writers and musicians. At their best, the Celtic Frost sound, which seems like it borders on the scandalous. At their worst, they sound like an aimless doom band. The songs progress in such a way that feels mechanically aping other bands, this is how songs always progress, so this is how we should progress.
I feel like if I want something obviously inspired by Celtic Frost, the next time I'm just going to go back to Bloodstar. I think these guys have a good album in them, or at least the general concept is sound, but this doesn't work very well.
If the album artwork was not clue enough, Abraded play butt-fuck ugly death metal in the vein of pretty much all of Maggot Stomp’s roster. Not content with the bludgeoning best of what death metal has to offer, the Cleveland based trio throw lots of grinding goodness into the mix as well. Things somehow sound clean as a whistle in some places though, despite a filthy production job that gives the requisite levels of grime you would expect, the d-beats that thump away at you brain might as well be in the same room as you when you are listening.
Grisly and vile vocals rasp over mining riffs and rumbling bass lines to give the whole experience a complete feel. At only twenty-minutes long it is over all too quickly and you feel too fetid to put it back on without showering first. Put your scruffs on, this one’s a real platter of splatter guys! Ugly, extreme and straight to the fucking point! Fuck yeah!
As I have commenced my exploration of The Fallen clan it seemed sensible to pass comment on this month’s feature release, especially given the high praise it has received to date. The caveat I must add here is that I have sampled Solitude Aeturnus before now and found them not entirely to my liking. I saw these guys come up as a recommendation when searching for bands like Candlemass (who remain my benchmark in doom whom I usually chart my forays from). Stylistically the comparisons are usually spot on I must admit but considering the first four Candlemass albums are my genre-defining releases, Solitude Aeturnus have a lot to live up to.
On Alone I must comment on how nu-metal I find Rob Lowe’s vocals. Not to say that this is alternative or nu-metal in anyway, but I get flashbacks to listening to the likes of Life of Agony back in the 90s. That low vocal tone looms through in the slower moments and I cannot help but think of the sound of that very different sub-genre of metal music. Whilst we are on about the vocals, I do also find them incredibly whiny on here. Now, I know that is sort of the point and they are done deliberately like this to emphasise the melancholy of the music. However, whilst I can acknowledge the fine set of pipes that Mr Lowe possesses, I do find the vocals to be a real bug bear of mine.
It is not even as if the riffs rescue proceedings entirely. Huge though they are (and with a decidedly eastern/oriental theme to them for the initial few tracks here) I find that they are too melodic for most of the record, and I do find myself longing for the more heavy and bruising style of riffs I normally associate with this type of music. Rarely during the hour-long runtime of Alone do I feel like I encounter anything monolithic in terms of a crushing wall of doom, in fact for most of the time it plays like a heavy metal record with a heavy doom metal influence. Moments such as the opening of Is There and the Black Sabbath riff that opens Tomorrows Dead do fill me with hope but are mostly just empty promises.
Although it is all done well enough, I just do not fell that the band ever get beyond a jog here and that they should be capable of more given their obvious stature in the field of doom. Maybe with my recent departure from The Guardian clan, Alone is too near to that sound for my comfort nowadays and it would have perhaps sat better had I discovered it some years ago. Epic though it is, this record is somehow not captivating enough overall and I almost want to like it more than I actually do.
I think it’s fair to say that many outsiders can’t comprehend why fans of extreme metal spend their time searching for releases that essentially take them further & further into the depths of Hell. There are those release that do it in a subtle way by masking some of the intent through the use of melody & more accessible song structures of course. But then there are those that bask in & celebrate to sheer darkness & evil by steering as far away from anything your average music fan could understand as possible & in doing so ensure that they remain as underground as possible. Well, with his third full-length album Surinamese producer Gnaw Their Tongues didn’t only ensure that he’ll stay well within the unholy confines of the underground but he created an entire new level of musical horror. In fact, “Reeking Pained & Shuddering” may just be the perfect musical representation of Hell itself as I think it may just be the most evil piece of musical art I’ve ever encountered.
In my recent review of Gnaw Their Tongues’ 2018 album “Genocidal Majesty” I questioned the validity of it’s links to metal, despite the inherent darkness & power it possesses within it’s inhuman Power Electronics sound. I won’t be doing the same with “Reeking Pained & Shuddering” however as the glory of extreme metal runs thick in its veins & is the very core of its atmosphere. It certainly fits the criteria for Black Noise qualification as it harnesses both genres equally but also draws upon Drone Metal & Black Ambient to give it a more rounded position with which to spread its message of violence & torture. The riffs here are doomy as fuck while Maurice de Jong’s screaming vocals are as over the top & psychotic as you’ll ever find, even within the realms of black metal. Both represent sensational additions to the Black Noise sound & give the album additional layers. So too do the beautiful gothic ambient accompaniments which further compliment the horrors the listener is witnessing by adding a cinematic quality.
The black metal component is strongest on the record’s most popular song “Nihilisim; Tied Up & Burning” but I tend to find that track to be the least impressive of the six included with its programmed blast beats & more traditional black metal guitar work sounding a little too run of the mill to make the same impact as the other material. The wonderfully titled opener “Blood Spills Out Of Everything I Touch” kicks things off in transcendent fashion & is followed by the very solid & equally well named “Utter Futility of Creation” but it’s the second half of the album that sees Gnawing Their Tongues truly reaching the peak of his blasphemic powers. In fact, I’d suggest that I’ve never heard a more perfect side of metal in my life with the deep dark ambient of “The Evening Wolves” creating an imposing atmosphere for black noise masterpiece “Destroying Is Creating” & the ten minute album highlight “Transition” to capitalize on in the most emphatic fashion.
“Reeking Pained & Shuddering” is a visceral & cerebral experience to say the least & is certainly not for the faint-hearted. It’s audience will be limited even within the extreme metal scene as it simply doesn’t allow for any form of hope or light at the end of the tunnel. It presents the world as the most harsh, barren & generally disgusting place & utilizes the most sickening serial killer associated vocal samples on Earth to drive its point home. There will certainly be times when I won’t feel up to listening to a record like this as it’s simply that depressive. But when I feel the urge to get into nastier territory I’m not sure I’ll find a more blatant example of hatred in music.
For fans of Abruptum, La Torture des ténèbres & Nahvalr.
During my recent scrollings through RateYourMusic to see which hot new album was getting the critics panties all twisted up, I saw the newest album from The Callous Daoboys recently featured. And in all honesty, I was not really in the mood for another dose of chaotic mathcore, so I decided to find an album myself to take its place. And this album could not have come at a better time. I caught on to Swedish outlet An Abstract Illusion's debut record, Illuminate The Path in 2017 and was knocked back by how mature it sounded for a debut record. It's progressive death metal that I can only dubiously describe as "atmoshperic death metal". If you listen to black metal in the vein of Wolves in the Throne Room or Windir, or even the blackgaze trailblazers like Alcest...that might be your closest comparison point to An Abstract Illusion.
It's been a long time since that record came out and I have returned to Illuminate The Path much more than I originally anticipated. When the global lockdowns of 2020 happened, I started questioning whether we would ever get a new An Abstract Illusion album, but it's finally here! The band took their time to release some high quality prog death. A concept album rivaling Light of Day, Day of Darkness in it's ambition
The album begins marvelously with a short intro "The Behemoth That Lies Asleep" transitioning into "Slaves". It is not that dissimilar to how the last album began, and the change in pace is not forced. The intro has a short middle passage with lots of double kick pedals and open chord strumming in the guitars. That's followed by some vocoded leads, which remind me of older Between the Buried and Me. "Slaves" continues this comparison with its recurring short burst rhythm in the guitar over blast beat percussion, while the vocals try their best to match the intensity of Tommy Rogers distinguished gutturals. The bass lines are pronounced and given heavy prominence fundamentally allowing the guitars to soar above into some excellent melodies. The only gripe is the breakdown solo near the end; resorting to metalcore chugging riffs felt like a cash grab in my opinion.
Leading into "Tear Down This Holy Mountain", the listener is given a moment of reprieve following the previous track with ambience and a reverb soaked clarinet solo. The main them only begins after 90 to 100 seconds; a plentiful break before the return of the blast beats and tremolo guitar chords. The first half is a little disjointed for my taste, but the back half is where things get fascinating. Beginning with a slow guitar solo over electronic percussion is a unique choice and one I don't think works so well. Later on in the buildup, when the thick bass sustains come in, it switches back to a acoustic percussion, which sounds far more commanding.
"Prosperity" is another song with a clear divider about halfway through. The first half continues some of the BTBAM comparisons I made earlier, while the back half resembles a simplified Meshuggah track. I enjoy it's incorporation better than on the outro of "Slaves", but it drags on for too long and does not develop enough to warrant its extended runtime. "Blomsterkrans" is great; a melodically pleasing piano interlude to calm down the adrenaline that has been firing on all cylinders since the beginning of "Slaves" leading into the albums longest track "In The Heavens Above, You Will Become A Monster", and serves a similar purpose to "Viridian" into "White Walls" on BTBAM's Colors.
In regards to the aforementioned "In The Heavens Above, You Will Become A Monster", I cannot remember the last time I heard a more well constructed progressive metal song before this one. Every segment leads fluently into the next; the dynamic shifts are well placed, the tempo and style changes are built upon the previous sections, and each element connects the entire piece together into something marvelous. It is no surprise that this is the album's crown jewel, perhaps even surpassing "Vakuum" from the last album as the best song An Abstract Illusion have ever written. Which does beg the question: why didn't An Abstract Illusion put this much intricate detail into the album's shorter tracks?
Unlike BTBAM's opus, An Abstract Illusion embrace us with one final track on this album, "This Torment Has No End, Only New Beginnings" and does it hardest to live up to the sky high expectations the band just set on the previous track. This is another wonderful piece that is intricately composed and performed, leading into the albums inconclusive ending. It's potential is fully realized and ends the album in a way that makes me want more, which in this case, is not a bad thing.
The reason I continuously referenced Between The Buried And Me in this album review is because compositionally, Colors might be this albums closest comparison point. What makes it so remarkable is despite how much influence it takes from the source material, An Abstract Illusion made an album that is uniquely theirs. At this point, An Abstract Illusion have no comparisons; they make death metal by way of atmo black bands like Saor and Drudkh. Their compositional power is fantastic, their songwriting is beyond even the best of their progressive death metal contemporaries. Instrumentals are brimming with life; ranging from ebullient joy to the downtrodden of lows. The bass production is superb, the guitar solos, while plenty, are not glorified wank sessions or scale practice. When I think of progressive death metal, this is what I want it to sound like. It feels so close to perfect, but the faults on a few tracks that were ratified on others is a little disappointing. This might be the album to beat in 2022 so far.
Best Songs: Slaves, Tear Down This Holy Mountain, Blomsterkrans, In The Heavens Above, You Will Become A Monster, This Torment Has No End, Only New Beginnings
Aspid's one and only release is an album I've had on my radar for many years, but just never got around to checking out until now. Perhaps it's the technical thrash metal tag that caused me to put it off, having a somewhat rocky relationship with the subgenre. Or maybe I'd unfairly written it off, figuring it would likely be an overrated and underproduced record from a part of the world not known for its thrash metal. While I can't be sure why it has taken me this long, I can say that I'm very happy that I've finally made the effort. Not only does the album sound a lot better than I expected to, these guys have serious chops to go with it! Similar to what Sadus were producing back in the 90s, Кровоизлияние (which apparently translates to Extravasation, whatever that means) is filled with great riffs, a heap of time changes, really nice leads, impressive and very audible bass, and enough variety for it remain exciting for it's entire 48 minute runtime. Vitaly Kholopov's vocals are quite aggressive for thrash, particularly in his native Russian, and the music itself occasionally approaches death metal (the awesome blastbeats on track 6 make me wish they'd pushed things a little further).
As good as I've found this album to be, I don't think I can justify anything higher than 4 stars. For starters, I don't consider any of the 8 individual tracks to deserve a full 5 stars. I also can't ignore that fifth track Эй ты fails to make much of an impression, and the lengthy intro is both tacky and unsuited to what follows. Overall though, consider me a fan, and given how dead thrash metal was in 1993 (Anacrusis' Screams and Whispers excluded, but that was really a progressive metal album), this certainly deserves its high standing in the metal community.
Some albums most definitely fit into a sub-genre yet at the same time manage to express an alienation to the core sound that seems to make them seem like they do not really fit at all. I cannot think of a better example of this than Dream Death’s debut release. It most certainly has thrash elements but at the same time has a real slant on doom metal. Often listening to it like you are listening to two different bands or a band that is so torn with its influences that half want to do thrash and the other half want to do doom.
It makes for an interesting album in some regards but overall, you cannot get away from the fact that Journey Into Mystery suffers from a lack of direction. The songwriting is not particularly stellar either to boot and so there is a real sense of conflicting purposes over the eight tracks. It is not that any one element is particularly awful, more that no singular piece gets chance at a full exploration or development to its full potential. Personally (even with my fledgling doom metal ears) these guys are a better doom band than they are a thrash band. In fact, on certain tracks (The Elder Race for example) there are no thrash metal elements to my ears. Indeed, post this record saw the departure of bassist Ted Williams and the remainder of the band elected to change their name to Penance and become a doom band.
As far as I can hear, their hearts were never really into thrash at all and all Journey Into Mystery did was prove this lack of conviction made the music suffer. I hear a lot of Trouble in those riffs and at times I struggle with the vocals as I do with Trouble’s debut. The vocals here are so clumsy at times that I find myself cringing. Lines get rushed through often leaving the odd word iterated in isolation and completely out of context. Accepting that this is a debut album, the vocalist is far too forward in the mix and sounds like he is deliberately shouting over everything else which just comes off as amateurish and juvenile.
Whether it simply their own version of uptempo doom or genuine attempts into thrash metal, Dream Death are all over the place here and it really does destroy any sense of flow. The best track on here is the heavily Celtic Frost influenced Hear My Screams, it deploys a consistency (barring that awful, snatchy solo) that the rest of the album is sadly lacking. Maybe back in 1987 this would have more props but come 2022 it certainly has not aged well.
It's been quite a while since I last listened to Journey into Mystery, a lot of water has flowed under the bridge and a lot of music has flowed through my ears. As a consequence, I no longer feel as bowled over by it as I once did, it's doomy take on thrash metal not sounding as awesome as previously. I still love the sound of the album - the obvious Celtic Frost worship of a song like the cthulhian The Elder Race still chimes with me, the doomier sections will always find my favour and I am always up for a bit of punky Slayer-worship such as they dish up on Hear My Screams. The issue I have with Journey into Mystery (which was also an issue with the Dream Death's later iteration, Penance) is that the songwriting is very uneven with some great tracks sitting alongside some that, frankly, fall flat on their face. The two tracks around the halfway point, Black Edifice and Divine in Agony, just don't sound very well put together to my ears and come across as a bit messy, especially the latter of the two. When they do get it right, such as on The Elder Race, Sealed in Blood or the title track, then I am right there, all-in and along for the ride, but when they drop the ball it is a bit painful.
Although there is an undoubted doom metal influence upon Journey into Mystery, in common with the earlier Celtic Frost albums, I don't think there is enough out and out doom metal to cite it as a primary genre on the album, the thrash component outweighing it songwriting-wise, as oppossed to aesthetically. I'm guessing this sounds like a bit of a caning of a former favourite, but I still enjoy this album very much it's just that I am now more aware of it's limitations and so a rating correction is called for I think.
I was stoked when this Lunar Aurora album was still available for me to select in this month's Review Draft for The North. I'm a big fan of the band's later work, particularly 2007's Andacht, but had never managed to check out any of their discography prior to 2004. I'll say straight up that this doesn't sound like the band's later albums, which sit comfortably in the atmospheric black metal subgenre. This release is much more primal and raw, taking influence from numerous classic 90s black metal albums while forging a strong identity of its own. There's also a big symphonic aspect, to the point where I'm shocked no-one appears to consider Ars Moriendi to be a symphonic black metal release. Emperor is an obvious influence, and while the symphonics may not contribute to the whole album, they play a big role for much of it. There are lots of other sound effects that appear throughout too, such as wind, the howling of wolves and chimes, creating a wintry atmosphere that the majestic black metal riffs back up perfectly. I can also hear early Satyricon and particularly Abigor, putting this album into my absolute soft spot.
If you're at all like me, you like your black metal vocals to be really fucking evil sounding, and thankfully bassist Whyrhd really delivers on this front. Along with his fantastic, albeit traditional black metal shrieks, he at times sounds completely possessed, as though the demon from The Evil Dead escaped from the basement and joined a German black metal band. Add this manic performance to the top-notch riffs and intense drumming and you've got all the ingredients of a classic, but sadly it doesn't quite live up to that. There are just a couple of tracks that don't quite match up to the better parts of the album, and third track Kältetod inexplicably contains a pretty dodgy snare sound that I find really distracting. I can't fathom how this happened, but I have noticed that there are at least a couple of different mixes of the album available. Perhaps this track has a different mix, or maybe it was just recorded separately? I don't know, but it sadly stops me from giving Ars Moriendi the 4.5 stars that it otherwise deserves. Seriously, if you enjoy 90s black metal, and can handle some symphonics with your blastbeats, you should check this hidden gem out.
I first encountered Surinamese producer Maurice de Jong & his Gnawing Their Tongues moniker upon my return to metal back in 2009 & have had a long & often stormy relationship with him ever since. At times I’ve found it almost impossible to relate to his music which tends to be completely devoid of anything humanly relatable while at others he can create one of the purest soundtracks to the apocalypse you’re ever likely to encounter. For this reason I generally appraoch his releases with a level of caution & self-preservation, just as I have on this occasion with his fourteenth album “Genocidal Majesty”; a record that I’ve committed to investigating as a part of my Black Noise deep dive.
Gnaw Their Tongues’ “music” can be quite an intimidating prospect for the uninitiated. You see, it can often sound completely foreign to your average listener given that it’s very much at odds with the concepts that traditional music is built on. For example you’ll find very little melody here, if any at all. Instead you can expect to be assaulted with buzzing swarms of feedback, scraping metallic abrasions, ear-piercing static, high-pitched electronic data transmissions & big farty dubstep-ish bass tones which often amounts to the unpleasant experience of a close-range encounter with breaking glass. It’s futuristic & inhuman, cold & desolate. And when it’s all over it tends to leave you with a bleak outlook of pure loneliness & despair. Humans inherently need hope in their lives & you’ll find very little of it here in an industrial landscape that’s purely electronic & brings to mind images of suicide & torture. But just like a car crash, I find it so hard to look away because there’s something so visceral & powerful about this art that captivates me in a very different way to your average heavy metal anthem.
“Genocidal Majesty” is an extremely consistent record. Its run time is kept short at just 31 minutes with the entire tracklisting maintaining a very high standard & a finely honed sense of focus. There’s very little doubt that Maurice knew his sound very well by this point in his career as the album represents a fully realised & beautifully executed creative vision. There’s really very little reference to metal here though. The are no guitars or any other form of organic instrumentation included so the record sits far more comfortably within the realms of industrial music than it does within metal. In fact, you’ll rarely find a release that so perfectly fits the description of the Power Electronics subgenre so it very clearly belongs under that banner. Maurice’s insane screams are a definite highlight & offer a lot of appeal to me. I assume that this is where the links to black metal are drawn from but in truth they could just as easily have been lifted from a metalcore record. I could probably have done without the guest vocal contributions from The Body’s Chip King as I’ve never been a fan of his atonal, high-pitched squeals which don’t even sound like they’re vocals to tell you the truth & only end up contributing yet another uncomfortable & unnerving component to what is essentially the soundtrack to a horror movie that’s yet to be made. There’s a strong sense of cinematic drama about “Genocidal Majesty” with the rare appearances of synth pad sounds offering some minor relief from the relentless industrial battering you’re receiving from the remainder of the run time (see the bonus track on the Spotify release “Void Sickness” for example which is perhaps unsurprisingly my favourite track on the record). Given the general professionalism of the overall production though, I have to say that the snare sound could have done with a bit of work as it tends to remind me of chip tune a lot of the time which isn’t a positive comment.
I’ve been really impressed with “Genocidal” Majesty”. Its quest to alienate & isolate the listener has been unanimously successful so it certainly isn’t for everyone but those that seek refuge in the uglier side of underground music in order to take them as far away from every day suburban life will likely find a strange sense of pleasure in the universal unpleasantness of the experience. As far the Black Noise sound I came in looking for goes though there really isn’t much of a connection to this fine example of Power Electronics. I think us metalheads sometimes think we have monopoly on extreme music & like to draw everything in that bracket in under our metallic banner but I think it’s a stretch too far with this particular release.
For fans of The Body, Utarm & Spektr.
I reckon I've listened to most of Insomnium's discography over the years, but never really dedicated the time to explore it well enough for a review. The Horde Review Draft gave me the opportunity to change that, so I took it with open arms. There is very little new in what this band do (it's easy to hear the influence of numerous other Scandinavian bands), but they work their craft in a very professional and palatable way. It's fairly accessible stuff, even with the brutal path that the vocals take on occasion, and the melodies consistently take priority over the more traditional death metal riffing. I have to admit that this particular album occasionally oversteps with this accessibility, particularly Through the Shadows, which I'm surprised to find is considered a highlight by many fans. Thankfully the teeth-grit-inducing clean vocal chorus, that comfortably make that track the worst on the album for me, isn't a sign of things to come. In fact, it's follow-up, Song of the Blackest Bird, makes up for it in no uncertain terms, containing fantastic death vocals and a heady mix of Dark Tranquillity and Amorphis. The rest of the album contains enough variety to keep things exciting, while rarely overstepping that personal accessibility tipping point.
I'm not at all surprised to find that Daniel gave this album 2.5 stars, as he's never been a big fan of Swedish (or Finnish) melodic death metal, and I can't see this album converting anyone that feels that way. As someone that's more than a little partial for this type of thing, One for Sorrow is a very solid and entertaining example, and one that I'll definitely return to from time to time. If you want a taster, check out the aforementioned Song of the Blackest Bird, Unsung or the epic Septic Flesh reminding closing title track. It's 4 stars for me.
The new album from I Prevail has the hybrid of sounds from a number of different nu metal, metalcore and industrial elements, but is unable to coalesce these elements into anything greater than the sum of its parts. I know a lot of fans will listen to the rapping on this record and will get a little bit squeemish, but it's not all that horrible, especially by nu metal standards. Sure, the triplet flows that close out "Self-Destruction" are out of place, but that does not happen on the rest of the album. In fact, one of the albums better tracks, "FWYTYK", is billed from the start as a rap rock song with a solid build up to a mostly satisfying finish.
Stylistically, the record sounds like a hybrid of your typical Spiritbox worship mixed in with the huge eight string guitar breakdowns of a Mick Gordon video game soundtrack. When you put all of these pieces together, True Power is an album that can hit like a truck, but not consistently, and not in the moments when I Prevail expects you to get hit. Credit to the band for experimenting with sounds and willing to step outside of their comfort zone, but this is not doing it for me. I Prevail have a sound that is promising, but misses the mark structurally in more than enough ways to really hold it back from anything other than mediocre.
Best Songs: There's Fear In Letting Go, Fake, FWYTYK, The Negative
The debut album from this cult Swedish artist is one of the weirdest & most ambitious metal-related releases you're ever likely to hear. It comprises of two enormously challenging 25+ minute pieces that seem to be completely improvised. If they're not then I have no idea how they were composed. They also bring into question the concept of what constitutes music because there's some absolutely random shit going on here & it often has nothing whatsoever to do with traditional musical theory. The idea of calling this a black metal or black noise release is questionable at best in my opinion too. There's no doubt that the First Wave of Black Metal sounds of early Sodom & Hellhammer (particularly "Triumph of Death") played a big role in Abruptum's DNA but there's simply so much more that falls WWAAYYY outside of conventional metal ideals going on here. In fact, I'd hazard to describe "Obscuritatem advoco amplectère me" as experimental/psychedelic noise rock meets avant-garde metal. Much of the admittedly pretty doomy guitar work is comprised of feedback & dissonant attacks on open strings which leaves the aesthetic sounding far more Bauhaus than Bathory while a lot of the drumming sits closer to rock than it does to metal. But then you'll get these sudden bursts of unaccompanied blast beats here & there & psychotic vocals that remind me of the Japanese extreme metal scene or a very young Tom Angelripper (Sodom). It's certainly noisy stuff but can I really say this is black noise? I don't think I'd say it's genuine noise music OR black metal to be honest. I think people are simply clutching at straws in a vain attempt to label this musical cacophony which is far more interesting than it is enjoyable.
For fans of Emit, Gnaw Their Tongues & Enbilulugugal.
It's hard watching a band that you once had so much favour with fall on hard times. Arch Enemy seem to have been on a descending spiral ever since Alissa White-Gluz took over as lead vocalist. Not by any fault of Alissa of course; she has filled in quite admirably for Angela Gossow. It is instead the compositions that have fallen flat in recent years. Arch Enemy have always been a band with some pedestrian song structures in the past, but at least they bothered to make each individual track sound distinct. Now it feels like Arch Enemy is trying to recapture a formula that made them popular fifteen years ago. I swear I heard callbacks to the singles on Doomsday Machine on this album at least half of the songs. Are "Nemesis", "My Apocalypse" and "Taking Back My Soul" good tracks? Yeah, but I want to hear 2022 Arch Enemy; this isn't 2006 anymore!
Compositionally, Arch Enemy have always followed the Dragonforce approach of letting the lead guitar have a very heavy foot, but here they seem less sporadic, which is a nice touch as many of the leads/solos match the tempos/styles of the songs they are associated with. The vocals can seem forced at times thanks in large part to the opening track, "Handshake with Hell". After giving Alissa the opportunity to perform some clean singing here, it's never heard from again on the rest of the album. A little bit more variety here would go a long way for this album, and Arch Enemy moving forward. Overall, it's a solid enough of an Arch Enemy record. They took their time to release following 2017's disastrous Will to Power, and longtime fans will likely enjoy it. It sure as hell won't be deceiving anyone with it's sound, which is why I'm so mixed on it.
Best Songs: Handshake with Hell, The Watcher, Sunset over the Empire, One Last Time
Throughout their careers, most bands go through a stage where they alter their sound. Sometimes it's something drastically huge, and sometimes it's just subtle little changes. It could be a huge improvement or a complete disaster, and it could last for only one album, maybe a couple of years, or possibly even a permanent decision in which there is no turning back.
Which brings us to 'The Immunity Zone', the fourth album by Swedish prog metal group Andromeda. The songs are a lot more stripped down than previous efforts, and there seems to be an overall darker mood throughout. So what's the deal? Are they trying to reach out to a broader audience? Are they experimenting with different ideas? Has guitarist Johan Reinholdz just decided he can't be bothered with endless noodling?
Nobody knows the answer to these questions but the band members themselves, but despite the change in direction, this is still one kickass release. It's probably their weakest effort to date, but it has some truly remarkable songs on it regardless.
‘Slaves of the Plethora Season’, possibly Andromeda's least ambitious song, is a good representation of the change in sound. It has no solos, no ridiculous time signatures, and terribly cringe-worthy lyrics (“who can get an erection?”), but none-the-less it has some very catchy, heavy riffs, that put most modern metal bands to shame. And that is one thing this album is overflowing with; riffs!!!
As expected with this band, all performances are of the highest standard, so even with the more relaxed playing and stripped down arrangements, these guys still play their hearts out, sounding tighter than ever, and Reinholdz cooling down on the guitar has really helped all the other members shine, in particular, drummer Thomas Lejon, who's an absolute beast behind his kit, truly dominates on this album.
Of course the true centerpiece, and most probably one of Andromeda's greatest compositions, is the 19-minute ‘Veil of Illumination’. There are no words that can do justice to describe how insane this song is. Featuring absolutely breath-taking playing, well thought-out lyrics and arguably the craziest instrumental passages ever recorded (check out the middle section of this song right now), this is one of the most insane pieces of music you'll ever hear.
And that's not an exaggeration.
In summary, 'The Immunity Zone' is probably Andromeda's weakest release, yet features some of their strongest songs. It's a bit of a mixed bag when compared to their previous releases, but this by no means make it a bad album. Probably worth the money just for that 19-minute epic, to be fair.
I never thought in 20+ years that I would be reviewing an Alexisonfire album on Metal Academy, but here we are!
St. Catherines, Ontario isn't known for a lot of things; lying about ten minutes west of Niagara Falls, it's far enough away from the bustling Toronto area that many of its major attractions are a proverbial "best kept secret". That is except for Alexisonfire. This post-hardcore band have become one of this countries treasures in the rock and alternative communities, even as most south of the border associate us with Justin Bieber and Drake. Their sound can be best described as atmospheric hardcore with hints of metal thrown in as they matured. The dual vocals between Dallas Green and George Pettit sometimes remind me of the dual harmonies of Layne Stayley/William Duvall and Jerry Cantrell oof Alice in Chains albeit more contrapuntal instead of being straight harmonies.
So for the bands first studio album post-hiatus (Old Crows/Young Cardinals was released in 2009), Alexisonfire want to turn back the clock a little bit, while still continuing the trend that later albums hard with more atmospherics and slower tempos. George is screaming more on this record than the sing-scream that ran rampant on Old Crows/Young Cardinals, but I do not feel like they hit with the same intensity or bombast as they should. And I think it comes from Dallas Green of all things. Dallas has always had a smooth, grounded vocal timbre in Alexisonfire, allowing for George's to give more firepower. But here, not only are the clean vocals pushed back in the mix, but they are also swamped out with reverb and other effects that never felt this intrusive. As a result, George's screams feel cheesy and rarely fit with the tunes, even when they are the first set of vocals heard, such as on "Reverse the Curse".
This album does have some questionable moments production wise and most of them are in the mixing of the guitar. I have mentioned in rock albums reviews in recent years that the buzzy, compressed, and overall unflattering sound that has become commonplace thanks to bands like the Black Keys is inescapable, and how no one has been able to pull it off. Even Alexisonfire fall victim to this sound on some of their crossover songs like "Reverse the Curse" and "Sweet Dreams of Otherness", even though their sound is best designed for the open, wall-of-sound approach. That being said, I still enjoy "Reverse the Curse" because Alexisonfire know how to write a hook all these years later. "Survivor's Guilt", "Committed to the Con" and "Dark Night of the Soul" have wonderful crescendo's that culminate in some very nice releases. Even as some tunes (especially the closer "World Stops Turning") get me in that comfy vibe state that the best Alexisonfire songs have always been able to do, a familiar vocal motif does not let these songs turn into background noise.
I was fascinated by a new Alexisonfire record and I was not disappointed. It contains many of their classic traits, while doing enough to make it stand out from the early stuff. The albums best moments are stretched out instead of one track after the other, and even then, they do not live up to the expectations of an album like Crisis. Whether or not this belongs in the Metal Academy...since it sounds so much like previous Alexisonfire records, it's easy to just say no. This is a post-hardcore album through-and-through; a very good post-hardcore album mind you, and I hope this record will open them up to a wider, international audience.
Best Songs: Committed to the Con, Sans Soleil, Conditional Love, Dark Night of the Soul, Reverse the Curse
Greek outfit Mnima has been around for a good few years now & have put out ten zillion EP's in that time but this debut full-length is the first release I've committed to checking out. For a supposed "black noise" release, I've gotta say that it offers bugger all in the way of genuine noise music though. In fact, this is really just a very raw & particularly lo-fi black metal release with vocals that sound a lot like Burzum mastermind Varg Vikernes & musicianship that's left at the door for the sake of demonic authenticity. The first half of the release is actually pretty decent with the admittedly generic tremolo-picked riffage possessing some reasonably enjoyable melodic hooks. Unfortunately the B side is noticeably weaker which taints the whole experience for me & I'm left wondering how my black noise experiment has found me venturing here in the first place. "Disciples of Excremental Liturgies" is nothing to write home about & there are much stronger black metal releases out there this year.
For fans of Black Cilice, Candelabrum & Burzum.