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As I sure is prominent by my listening history as well as my reviews of atmospheric black metal in the past, I am typically drawn in towards the more nature and folk inspired stylings of a Panopticon or Saor. But I was thoroughly impressed by Mare Cognitum last year when I reviewed their Wanderers collaboration with Spectral Lore, which focused more on the spatial part of the ABM tag. So I made a concerted effort to listen to more from Mare Cognitum in the future.

And what I found was some very solid atmospheric black metal, which includes this, the newest album. Much of the time I have found that most of my extreme metal preferences have been towards the slower side, allowing for the melodies to take center stage. Mare Cognitum has some technically impressive foundations, but the melodies and grooves are still heavily prominent; a feat very seldom achieved in extreme metal.

The sound of this album is very pretty as well. Even though all of these songs start with a very distorted guitar which do not sound pleasant, the bass entrance fixes the guitar mixing and the rest of these songs can proceed splendidly. The album's obvious standout is “Luminous Accretion” in the way in which the song is able to grow (subtly), the vocals and guitar leads are balanced and the stickiness of the guitar lead is not that far removed from a Saor project.

Unfortunately, the rest of the album does not have the same infectiousness. While songs like “Antaresian” and “Frozen Star Divinization” sound massive and epic, they do tend to run on a little too long, and in the case of the former, has to fade out because even Jacob Buczarski does not know how to finish it! I would say that the album’s weakest moment is “Terra Requiem”, not because it is bad; I quite enjoyed the change of pace placed right in the middle of this record, but because the return of the blast beats and change of pace during its second half do not feel rewarding or well prepared.

So while I did enjoy this quite a bit, I would be hard pressed to call this excellent. With the exception of one great track, much of this record just runs together for me. Still, this is high quality atmospheric black metal that balances the extremity with the melodic very well.


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saxystephens saxystephens / April 13, 2021 07:55 PM
II=I

You know a band has its work cut out for them when their first album is considered a masterpiece (in my eyes, anyway). With their debut, 'Extension of the Wish' being one of my all-time favourite records, Andromeda sure have their backs against the wall. And while 'II = I' (that's, "two is one"), doesn't quite match the quality of its predecessor, it more than stands on its own two feet as a worthy follow-up.

One of the main differences between the two albums is that with 'II = I' everyone collaborated together and shared writing credits, as opposed to the previous record which was written entirely by guitarist Johan Reinholdz. It shows a band that has bonded and formed a great chemistry amongst themselves, with the results being a more polished and well-rounded release.

As is always the case with progressive metal groups, the musicianship is impeccable, with each member being a true master of their respective instrument. How these guys are not the successor to Dream Theater's throne will baffle me until my dying days.

Unfortunately, there are a few fairly dull and lackluster moments, which prevent this release from achieving the same five-star rating as 'Extension...'. Songs like 'Mirages', 'Reaching Deep Within' and the title track are some of Andromeda's finest, and a great representation of what this genre has to offer. Sadly, the last few tracks seem to fall flat at times. They're not terrible, but it definitely sounds like all the best ideas were used up earlier.

Don't be deterred, however, as this is still a great album, and while it may not be as good as its predecessor, this certainly should not be seen as a step back for a band that are still evolving and developing.

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MartinDavey87 MartinDavey87 / April 13, 2021 11:14 AM
Inhuman Rampage

When you establish a tried and tested formula to your sound it is hard to break from that and allow variation and experimentation in.  Some would argue that there's no need for Dragonforce to do that as they enjoy a healthy fanbase already who lap up their rampant power metal in the thousands.  The point is though that I kind of knew what this record was going to sound like before I heard it all the way through and the regurgitation of ideas is almost like a washing machine stuck on the same cycle. 

The fact is that DF are catchy as fuck!  If I take three things away from Inhuman Rampage as positives it is the energy of the artist transposes brilliantly on to the recorded format, this is truly hi-octane stuff.  Secondly, the capability levels of the musicians (yes, especially the guitarists) cannot be denied and they apply a very clear level of sophistication and flair to proceedings.  The third and final thing I take is the high memorability factor of the record.  It is accessible and engaging most certainly.

These three positives however are its biggest downfalls also as they do all of the above to death.  Yes, the pace dips on some songs but all I remember still are those rampant, galloping and charging riff patterns that inhabit the majority of the record.  It feels like a sprint but over an incredibly long distance and as I listener I just don't have the legs for it to keep up.  Notwithstanding the fact that the guitarists are maestros of their art, I still don't need this much earshot of them.  Surely a couple of solos are enough in a track to showcase the talents of the guitarists without my feeling like I am being force-fed lead work?  Similarly, the memorability factor is so high because the vast majority of the album sounds exactly the same.  The attempts to mix it up with different use of keys/synths just come across as amateurish and almost feel forced, as if the band knew that things were shaping up to be samey and made some vain attempts to compensate.

As a result, I find Inhuman Rampage to be really tiring; draining in fact.  That tried and tested formula I mentioned at the start of the review works for about three songs max and then it just becomes one-dimensional.  I get why this album has problem sold in bucket loads, I really do.  However, this is just not for me.

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Vinny Vinny / April 12, 2021 12:05 PM
...on Chains of Doom

First off I've got to say the production on this album is first rate - the sound is crystal clear and every instrument can clearly be heard - in particular there are a couple of early moments when the bass shines throught to great effect, at the end of opener Falling Fast and during the chorus of Reborn in Flesh. The guitar sound is crisp and the drums have a great "snap" to them.
The songs themselves are fairly aggressive death/thrash, borrowing heavily from the Kreator template and in this comparison is sowed the seeds of TA's destruction, because compared to the Teutonic giants this will always come off second best. The songwriting is decent, if not earth-shattering, but to be honest it's virtually impossible to sound original playing a fairly limited style of metal like thrash after nearly forty years of the genre's history.
The vocals, whilst being mainly well-suited to the style are just too similar on every track. A slower track like the first half of Dead Souls for example, would really benefit from a different vocal style - Daniel Altwegg's delivery seeming to limit what is the album's standout track. In fact Dead Souls is the track that gives me some hope for the band as technically the members are all exceedingly proficient, but it seems like the songwriting (along with the vocals) are limiting them. However Dead Souls proves that they have it in them to write excellent thrash metal and if they can produce more in this vein then they can yet put out a great album.
As it is, this is good, if somewhat predictable, aggressive thrash metal from a band I feel are capable of more and I seriously hope they manage to take that extra step up.

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Sonny92 Sonny92 / April 11, 2021 12:43 PM
Addicted

Apparently I rated Canadian progressive metal maestro Devin Townsend's 2009 album "Addicted" (his second effort under the Devin Townsend Project moniker) around the time of release & wasn't much of a fan of it which really does show that my tastes in metal are still changing even 37 years after first becoming enamored with the genre. Or perhaps I've just developed the patience to give music that sits outside of my usual comfort zone a chance to dig it's teeth in. If I had to guess I'd suggest that it's a little bit of both but probably more that latter than the former.

Anyway... I've given "Addicted" a few revisits this morning & found that I quite liked it but wouldn't class it as essential listening. Sure it incorporates some new elements (like the electronic component & the addition of former The Gathering front woman Anneke van Giersbergen) but the end result still sounds like Devin with his trademark wall of melodic sound. Unsurprisingly, all of the various ingredients have been beautifully integrated. In fact, Devin really should send the album to Megadeth band leader Dave Mustaine so that he can see how albums like "Risk" & "The World Needs A Hero" should have sounded as the boys seem to have had similar ideas but produced vastly different results with a wide disparity in regards to quality.

Anneke has sat amongst my favourite female metal vocalists (if not THE favourite) for a very long time now so I welcomed the collaboration. She certainly sounds great here too but I do prefer to hear her voice being highlighted a little more than it is amidst Devin's huge soundscapes. The production is obviously outstanding though & this gives some of the middling tracks the grunt required to see them getting over the line. The guitar tone is heavy as shit while Ryan Van Poederooyen puts in a stellar performance behind the drum kit.

It's interesting that many fans seem to regard this album as an industrial metal record. Sure there are some electronic elements at play here but there's not a consistently industrial/mechanical atmosphere. "Addicted" is far more uplifting that that & I'm actually fine with the alternative metal tag as a lot of this material looks to remove some of the boundaries that separate metal from your more accessible styles whilst always maintaining a predominantly metal aesthetic. Despite the general consensus, when you examine the tracklisting as a whole you'll find that "Addicted" isn't really much poppier than Devin has dished out before either & I do think that saying it incorporates "dance music" is a stretch too as the electronics are used purely for colour & there aren't too many artificial dance beats included here.

Overall, I think "Addicted" had the potential to be a really great album given the quality of the production, performances & most of the hooks but there's a major flaw that prevents me from scoring it as highly as I'd like to. Unfortunately the tracklisting is let down by a couple of weak commercially focused tracks (i.e. "Bend It Like Bender!" & particularly the soppy ballad "Ih-Ah!") which combine to bring my score down by a half-star. Otherwise there's plenty of meat for Devin's fanatical audience to dig their teeth into here with the clear album highlight "Supercrush!" sitting amongst the best work of Devin's entire career.

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Daniel Daniel / April 11, 2021 12:36 AM
...on Chains of Doom

Some fifteen years into their career, Swiss thrashers Total Annihilation are only up to full-length number three. Indeed, last year’s release was their first for eight years and although I have no idea why such a lengthy absence occurred from the band it is obvious from the off that …On Chains of Doom is a record that is put together a band who know their stuff to some degree.

Perhaps predictably for me, I chose a band who play that more intense death/thrash style of metal for my first featured record on MA. That having been said, opening track Falling Fast has some passages that rely on the heavier side of that death/thrash sound and Daniel Altwegg performs in the death metal realm of the vocal spectrum. There is no high-pitched squealing from him as per a David Di-Santo for example, instead his gruff and slightly guttural tones impress a consistency that unfortunately becomes one of the albums challenges, but more on that later.

Riff wise, as you would expect, this is a chuggfest of a record. The tempos are driven well by the twin guitar attack of Nicholas Stelz and Jurgen Schmid, with the former giving some stellar sonics as well as the recognized lead guitarist in the band. He is absolutely superb on Tunnelratten with a blistering solo, full of energy and brimming with flair and talent.  The guitars in general sound clear in the mix without feeling blunted by the production and the drums thunder along nicely in the background albeit a little too far in the background, to the extent that they lack some degree of presence in proceedings. Even on slow-burner Dead Souls which builds and builds they seem to be a tad muted overall.

Despite the variety of pace and tempo on the record, I do not feel overly excited by much of anything I hear. On the aforementioned Dead Souls, the band build up to a good track of powerful and groovy metal but the build up just sounds redundant and almost stagnant at times. It is like they flog the concept as opposed to develop it and what should be a standout track on the album comes off as a let down overall.

Looking at that artwork I am expectant of a full-frontal assault but in fact I end up with the odd sortie into battle with little in the way of heavy shelling or machine gun fire. To keep with the war theme, it is an album that is more of a sniper than any artillery personnel. It takes pot shots at ideas it thinks it can hit and whilst it usually hits the target so to speak the penetration of the bullets only goes so far and the fire patterns are predictable. This leads me back to my earlier comment on the vocalist. If you are going to use this vocal style, then the consistency needs to be tempered by something, anything, to create sufficient distraction and avoid monotony setting in. Despite the obvious quality of the guitar work here, it is not enough to defer attention away from track after track of the same vocals and so the band are reliant on changes of pace and tempo in writing songs that whilst they try to develop and build, do not always deliver.

The two singles that turned me onto this record to check it out in the first place are by far the stronger of the eight tracks. Reborn in Flesh is a memorable blaster of a track and Black Blood continues to play to the strengths of the band. Other than that, penultimate track Tunnelratten is the only other real standout track with it’s clever variance of pace without the sacrificing of any energy.  It is these three tracks that save this album in all honesty and if the band can consistently hit the vein of form displayed on these tracks then they will realise their full-potential I am sure.


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Vinny Vinny / April 10, 2021 04:30 PM
Henbane

When it came to me choosing my first featured album for The North clan I already knew it was going to be this record.  It was one of the few modern bm releases of the 2010's that absolutely blew my away with it's illicit presence throughout, one that genuinely leaves me with a feeling of discomfort as I lidten.  I get the Mayhem references absolutely and by no means does Henbane reinvent any wheels.  It does the bm basics well though and despite the variation present on the record I always hear it is a bm record at its very core.

Poland has this penchant for producing some fantastic acts in extreme metal.  Former members of Cultes Des Ghoules (as in the H.P. Lovecraft stories) went on to form Doombringer, a blackened dm outfit of decent repute and the deranged vocals of Mark of the Devil have been present on Death Like Mass for three EPs worth of material also.  Henbane is heavy on the ritualistic and occult approach to bm though, playing like an old black and white horror movie (bordering on b-movie with those vocals at times, I grant you) with an element of tongue in cheek obvious on most tracks.  Like an old horror flick, it is a thoroughly entertaining record.  Yes, between the start and finish there are some passages that don't resonate as well as the rest but the levels of consistency on the record is superb.

Part of the appeal of the record for me is this sloppiness and cumbersome approach to songs.  Mark's howls and gruff screams I think add a lot to the record, even though I repeat my comment from above that they are supposed to be over the top, in fact nefariously grandiose by intent.  The album feels authentic and engaging as a result of the off-kilter timings and clunky clangs and sloppy shifts.  It all feels earthy and downright right filthy, like it clings to you long after the album has finished playing.  Riffs feel like they are climbing on top of each other, building into some putrid pile of unholy sacrificial flesh, sliced from bodies using the dirtiest of blades.

The pacing often slips into the realm of doom metal and I hear some 'eavy met'al riffs in there also as the record strays close to black 'n roll territory on more than one occasion.  All this builds this cloying sense of drama to skin itching proportions at times (Vintage Black Magic).  The use of spoken word passages over chugging and repetitive riff patterns add to this doom feel nicely yet still that thick air of black-market black metal is always there also.  This continuing sense of taboo is beyond the chaos of Mayhem though.  It is somehow more tangible here and dare I say it, better told.  

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Vinny Vinny / April 10, 2021 02:08 PM
Feeding the Abscess

So look... if you love highly technical, complex & precise yet still extreme metal then "Feeding The Abscess" should be a no-brainer as it's a beautifully composed, produced & executed record that almost defies genrification. If that doesn't sound like your bag then I'd advise you to steer well clear of it. Martyr are super talented & pull off some amazing rhythmic stunts but you really do have to be onboard with that idea or you'll likely struggle due to the reliance on showmanship over song-writing. Looking back now, Martyr do seem like a bit of a supergroup in that bassist front man Daniel Mongrain was formally of Cryptopsy & Gorguts & is currently with Voivod while drummer Patrice Hamelin is the current drummer in Gorguts & none of that is surprising when you hear "Feeding The Abscess" for the first time. These dudes fucking know their way around their instruments & the precision on display is nothing short of phenomenal.

I really do think the technical death metal tag is a little limiting here because Martyr's sound never feels constrained by the death metal genre. Sure there are blast beats, some grindy death metal riffs here & there & the occasional death grunt but the majority of the album is much more progressive than that & Daniel Mongrain's vocals generally sit much closer to thrash than they do to death metal. In fact, they're really the limiting factor with this release as Daniel's monotonous tone & phrasing sees Martyr failing to reach the top tier despite the band's clear credentials. This is an outstanding record from an instrumental point of view & I can't help but think that the band would have been better served by employing a) a higher register clean vocalist that adds a layer of melody & memorability to the equation or b) a full-on death grunter who can accentuate the brutality in Martyr's sound. What they've gone for here seems to have taken an each-way bet that hasn't quite satisfied either preference.

The production is spectacular, mind you, & if you're a fan of progressive metal in general then you'll likely get a fair bit of enjoyment out of the no-holds-barred approach "Feeding The Abscess" takes with regards to composition. There are very few rules being adhered to here & the level of musicianship required to achieve the final result is nothing short of mind-blowing. I particularly enjoy the drumming & lead guitar work, both of which are accentuated by the outstanding production. Just listen to the depth in those kick drums for example.

Overall, "Feeding The Abscess" is a great choice for a feature album & with some more interesting vocals it may just have gone on to be known as a classic release. I'm just not sure The Horde was the right place for it to be honest because it's more of a progressive metal record than it is a death metal one in my opinion. The Voivod cover version that closes the album could have been a little more adventurous too because it's really just a straight reenactment & doesn't offer any point of difference which leaves it standing out a little bit from the rest of the tracklisting.

For fans of Atheist, "Dimension Hatross"-era Voivod & Death's more progressive releases.

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Daniel Daniel / April 09, 2021 08:40 PM
Dream Weapon

Numbed Recoil

Although I took the time to really appreciate Dead Mountain Mouth and attempted to prospect an opinion on Cybergrind as a genre concept, it seems like Genghis Tron didn’t exactly see a bright future in it after their 13-year hiatus. Their older material was dense, complicated, heavy, but still had enough restraint to create hypnotic electronic grooves between all the chaos. The restraints have been tightened on Dream Weapon even more than I thought, back when I first heard a new Genghis Tron album was on the horizon after all this time. These restraints were pulled so tight, in fact, that it squeezed all but a drop of their Metal influence out of them in favor of extended synth grooves and dreamy vocal passages. This sort of pivot was almost inevitable for them but it didn’t exactly pan out in the way I was initially expecting.

I’ve found myself listening to quite a bit of Darksynth over the past two years or so, which is a slightly more aggressive and horror-influenced version of modern Synthwave, so on first glance I thought that I would really dig this new direction Genghis Tron decided to go in. The tone and production of the electronics is eerily similar to certain Dance With the Dead or earlier Perturbator tracks, but Dream Weapon certainly doesn’t have the same energy or drive as either of those artists. Instead the atmosphere is more mesmerizing and narcotic until songs like the title track “Dream Weapon” and “Ritual Circle” add in some Post Metal-like background guitar riffs to help build towards the few climaxes this album has. Guitar in Synthwave isn’t exactly a new concept given the relative popularity of Dance With the Dead’s Out of Body back in 2013, but that album was more focused on aggressive dance grooves compared to Dream Weapon’s more mellowed out, atmospheric grooves.

It took me a few listens to warm up to what Genghis Tron were doing with this album; or maybe it’s better to say I figured out what they weren’t doing. Even though the chaotic Cybergrind of their past wasn’t really my jam, their sound came together in a unique and intriguing way. While Dream Weapon is still unique enough and has great and consistent sound design, I found myself not really caring too much about any of it after a while. Essentially the album consists of the more aggressive “Pyrocene” and “Dream Weapon” in the front of the album, followed by a long stretch of dreamy but stale electronic heavy tracks. While I still enjoy the overall consistent atmosphere Dream Weapon has, the extended song structures can get incredibly dull thanks to the lack of any massive moments. Genghis Tron show that they can make those moments happen on tracks like “Ritual”, but that great climax happens 5 minutes into a 10 minute track, causing the rest of the song to seemingly meander around until it decides to end.

Even though Dream Weapon has a great concept and a pretty solid evolution of Genghis Tron’s electronic sound, it’s missing a lot of pizzazz that would make it fantastic. I can see this being a massive hit for fans of more trancelike, dreamy Synthwave considering the slight Metal and Post-Metal surprises they throw in, but there’s so many skippable sections for me that I can’t entirely get behind it. While “Dream Weapon”, the first half of “Ritual”, and the undeniably catchy callback groove of “Great Mother” are what I wanted out of this iteration of Genghis Tron, the forgettable and boring “Alone in the Heart of the Light”, the slightly pointless “Single Black Point”, and the meandering “Pyrocene” don’t hold up in the same way. I hope this isn’t the last we see of these guys since I think they almost had something amazing with Dream Weapon and I can’t wait to see if they end up figuring it out.

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Xephyr Xephyr / April 08, 2021 04:10 AM
Dark Medieval Times

The Evil Knight's Folklore

With most of Scandinavia throwing whatever they could muster at the Black Metal evolution dartboard during the insanely dense and important years between 1992 and 1995, Satyricon's Dark Medieval Times proves to be one of the more middling classic releases in terms of inspirations. It sits in an unfamiliar zone in comparison to its peers as it's not as grandiose as something like In The Nightside Eclipse, nor as raw and evil as De mysteriis dom Sathanas, nor as fantastically atmospheric as Minas Morgul, yet it still shares all of these classic Black Metal aspects in one package. While Dark Medieval Times can be a mess thanks to nonexistent transitions and overall erratic pacing, the way Satyricon is able to merge extremely raw sounding Black Metal with folk and fantasy elements to create a memorable and vivid atmosphere is top notch.

Although Satyricon’s production is seriously grindy and abrasive, this album is surprisingly riff based instead of being a flurry of tremolo progressions. Tracks like “Into the Mighty Forest” have their fair share of blast beat tremolo, but the rest have ripping mid-tempo riffs that use the overly distorted guitar tone to their advantage with all of the longer sustained notes in their rhythms. “Skyggedans” and “Dark Medieval Times” especially show that Black Metal doesn’t always have to be aggressively fast or dense to have great riffs or build a ton of atmosphere. These grinding Black Metal riffs and flat but punchy drumming are layered with the rest of the fantastical sounding synths and choirs to great effect, creating the obvious atmosphere of the album’s namesake. Pretty acoustic passages also come and go throughout the album, giving it a distinct and folky sound that wasn’t too common at the time.

The album’s title track “Dark Medieval Times” is the ultimate example of Satyricon’s style, having abrasive Black Metal riffing randomly give way to synth-backed acoustic melodies that is supported by somewhat grand sounding orchestral aspects with a bit of flute thrown in there for good measure. The way the acoustic guitar comes in during the slowly, more deliberate Black Metal riffing is especially well done and fits the atmosphere of the album perfectly. “The Dark Castle In The Deep Forest” and “Taakeslottet” reprise this formula well enough, each having their own take on the mid-tempo riffing with whimsical flourishes that Dark Medieval Times excels at.

Throwing all of these different elements together is bound to have issues though and, for the most part, Satyricon don’t even attempt to hide the haphazardness of their songwriting. As much as “Dark Medieval Times” is the shining example of the style Satyricon were attempting to convey, the lack of transitions and the seeming randomness of the acoustic sections can put a damper on the whole production in general. These are incredibly apparent on “Walk The Path Of Shadow” and “Into The Mighty Forest”, with both tracks sounding like 4 or 5 different riffs and folk melodies tossed together aimlessly to form each track, held together only by the repeating synth and acoustic melodies in the background.

Even though Dark Medieval Times can be jarring and amateur sounding, I think there’s a charm in the haphazardness of it all. The album doesn’t necessarily come together as a cohesive whole objectively in terms of songwriting, but the consistent atmosphere and quality of the riffs and acoustic melodies is undeniable even if they don’t all exactly fit together. Even the instrumental interlude “Min Hyllest Til Vinterland” has a dark edge to it that is sufficiently captivating. It helps that I enjoy a bit of folk in my Black Metal, since I’d say that Satyricon’s debut is as close to proto-Pagan Black Metal as you can get with the atmosphere it creates and the melodies and instruments it uses. I have a lot of respect for this album given what it was trying to do, even if it didn’t fully succeed in giving me a fully realized, folky, atmospheric Black Metal experience.

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Xephyr Xephyr / April 07, 2021 07:00 PM
Meteora

Linkin Park's second studio album, released in 2003, comes at a time when nu metal, which the band helped popularize at the turn of the century, was in full decline. Fed up with the repetitive song structures, whiny lyrics and image-pandering "pop bands", fans were either drifting away from the fad, or moving on to pastures heavier. But 'Meteora' ensures that the genre would go out with a huge bang.

The band were all in their early twenties when their 2000 debut album, 'Hybrid Theory', made them one of the biggest acts on the planet. And three years later, you can see how they've matured as songwriters. While the music and lyrical themes are similar as before, there's just something in the songs that sound more polished and refined.

Taking the "less is more" mentality to the limit, the band have really hit their stride with their sound. Most of the songs barely hit the three minute mark, and the arrangements are almost identical in each track. But the Californian six-piece do it with such gusto that it's hard not to be impressed. In particular, vocalists Chester Bennington and Mike Shinoda have formed a duo that has become instantly recognizable, with both men's respective styles complimenting each other perfectly.

Highlights include 'Somewhere I Belong', 'From the Inside', 'Faint', 'Breaking the Habit', 'Don't Stay' and 'Easier to Run'. And of course, there's the absolute monster hit 'Numb', that has remained one of the bands most popular tracks. Even the unusual hip hop-inspired 'Nobody's Listening' is catchy, and really highlights the chemistry between the two singers.

While 'Hybrid Theory' had some absolute bangers, it also had its fair share of fillers. Which is where 'Meteora' is an improvement, in that it's a lot more consistent with a lot of really strong tracks. In fact, my only real complaint is that some of the songs could have been a bit longer. Regardless, 'Meteora' is a fantastic album that gave nu metal one last shot at showing the world what it was capable of, and sales in excess of 25 million copies says that they did the genre proud.


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MartinDavey87 MartinDavey87 / April 07, 2021 10:42 AM
The Damnation Game

Symphony X are back with their second album and a sound that will quickly distinguish them as one of the top prog metal bands in the world.

The differences between this and their self-titled debut are noticeable immediately. Besides the addition of powerhouse vocalist Russell Allen, who's incredible voice can easily switch between both melodic and aggressive styles, the production has been vastly improved and the songwriting is a lot more confident and refined.

The songs on 'The Damnation Game' flow so much fluidly than before. Michael Romeo's intense riffs and exotic solos are much more tasteful, and Michael Pinella's keyboards never sounded this beautiful on 'Symphony X'. While this is far from the bands most ambitious work, it's still a solid blueprint which the New Jersey quintet would build upon with future releases.

Featuring highlights such as 'The Edge of Forever', 'A Winter's Dream', 'The Haunting' and the title track, the reason this only gets a three-star rating is because, despite being a really good record, honestly, it just pales in comparison to what's to come. Such is the strength of the bands later output that I find myself very rarely listening to this one. Still, if you're a fan of Symphony X, then this is definitely an album worth owning!


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MartinDavey87 MartinDavey87 / April 07, 2021 10:38 AM
He Whose Name Was Long Forgotten

Fossilization is a death metal band formed by a couple of members of excellent sludge metal outfit Jupiterian and this 25 minute EP is their debut release so, considering my love of both old-school death metal and Jupiterian's sludge, consequently I went into it with very high expectations. Unfortunately maybe these expectations were unrealistic and, in truth, I found this a little disappointing. It has a great cavernous sound as any decent old-school doom-ridden death metal should, but somehow the songs just don't grab me like I'd hoped. V's vocals that suit Jupiterian's sludge so well don't quite pull of the OSDM growl successfully and it all sometimes gets a little too frantic. Maybe it'll grow on me more as time passes, but for now it feels like a missed opportunity.

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Sonny92 Sonny92 / April 07, 2021 05:21 AM
Escape of the Phoenix

Is it any surprise that Evergrey have been left behind by so many in the progressive metal/power metal scene's within the last ten years? As this band gets older, their power metal has become much slower and has been incorporating more prominent djent elements, meanwhile the bands very plainspoken progressive metal focus has become very tired over the years, and many have moved on to something that is more showoff-y and technically impressive.

But for those of us in the loop, Evergrey have been making some remarkably consistent albums over the past few years, even despite a brief hiccup with The Storm Within back in 2016. They did progressive pirate metal with The Atlantic in 2019 that almost made me forget that Alestorm existed. And following the bands thematic rain period, the ashes are now given their chance to burn brightly.

The question is how brightly do they light up the night sky? I would say about the same as the bands last album. This album is more brooding without going full on post-metal; many slower tracks that use gradual building through dynamics and melodic growth. You won't find much in the way of modulating time signatures or wank guitar solos. But the songwriting and the development of the melodic phrases and ideas from the band are well executed and never feel stale. Even on the albums worst moments, which I would argue are "Eternal Nocturnal" and "Run", they happen to feature unique song structures that still make them standout on their own. But most importantly, these tracks all sound like they belong together. There is no dramatic whiplash effect from one track to the next on this album. For a band to be able to pull that off with such efficiency is commendable. 

The albums weakest moments are less so full songs, but rather moments within each song. Some songs feature extended djent breakdowns which I was never a fan of on The Atlantic, the synth leads on this album sound like they have gotten worse since the last album, fortunately they only end up serving as minor speedbumps on songs like "In The Absence Of Sun" and "Stories". And while the bass/fundamentals on this album are very solid, it still suffers from the progressive metal/djent "problem" of having an overmixed kick bass drum.

But overall I do like Escape of the Phoenix. I think that Evergrey have fully recovered from their misstep of 2016 and have found themselves a very nice solid ground of easily accessible progressive metal, especially for those approaching this from a power metal background. The songs are nice and fluent, they never feel like they are overstaying their welcome, the album does not run out of interesting ideas, and it all fits together into a very nice package. It's a bit of a shame that this band has been so overlooked throughout the years. Perhaps we can help this Phoenix rise again.

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saxystephens saxystephens / April 06, 2021 07:43 PM
Henbane

The first thing that strikes me about this album is the somewhat unconventional tone of the guitars for a black metal album, sounding more akin to the tone of old-school death metal such as Autopsy, even down to the "looseness" of the playing. Add to this the ritualistic rhythms of the drumming in many places that give the album a genuine occult atmosphere and you do indeed have a unique black metal experience that, despite this, is still very much in the realms of black metal - the vocals in particular are especially tortured and unhinged-sounding (the deranged howls during The Passion of a Sorceress are indeed something to behold). In fact vocalist Urian's performance is possibly one of the most disturbed and disturbing I've heard since Silencer's Death Pierce Me - from demonic growls to piercing shrieks and the afore-mentioned demented howling this sounds like an artist on the edge (of sanity!)
There is a nice variation in pacing of the material, the creeping, crawling of Vintage Black Magic owes as much to doom metal as it does black metal and as such it adds an extra level of heaviness to the song. In fact the album as a whole feels more like a bludgeon than the usual sabre-like slashing and slicing of conventional black metal, even on the faster, more feral-sounding tracks like Festival of Devotion.
Overall this album is a great attempt to do something a little different with black metal that feels like the band have stamped something of their particular personality on the recording that goes beyond mere entertainment and into the realm of genuine self-expression (and presumably some kind of personal catharsis). What's particularly great about it for me as the listener is that I can't for the life of me pick out one particular favourite track - they are all brilliant, each in it's own way.

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Sonny92 Sonny92 / April 03, 2021 03:27 PM
Solar Paroxysm

Mare Cognitum is a one man atmo bm project from the US. Heavily invested in the themes of space and cosmic mysticism, Jacob Buczarski created the project in 2011 and since then Mare Cognitum ("the sea which has become known" in Latin) have grown into an established act on the atmospheric black metal scene.  We have been treated now to five reasonably well received full-lengths and a couple of splits over the past decade and for a computer programmer, Jake takes the listener far beyond the boundaries of the planet earth and explores the universe on each of his releases.

I read an interview with him when researching my review and he is personally influenced by all the classic bm artists you'd expect (Emperor etc..) but he also listens to a lot of film and video game scores which I think comes across in the vastness of his song writing on Solar Paroxysm really well.  The triumph of this release is the scope of the album which although immense in subject matter and content also does a really great job of focusing on the details, spotlighting the album's fantastic use of pace and tempo, aggression and melody, harshness and ethereal beauty to create a truly intricate painting of the mysteries of the cosmos and Jake's mind also.

I hear a lot of influences in the sound here.  From the lush tremolos of Fen and Drudkh to the warm and full melodies of the latter of the aforementioned bands.  But there's also the earthy dankness of WITTR present in the shift, passage and flow of tracks.  The sum of all parts shows a penchant for ethereal layers of atmosphere that build into entities reminiscent of Spectral Lore and Darkspace also.  I even get a smattering of Xasthur on Terra Requiem as Jake's vocals drop into a ghastly whisper riding over a rolling tremolo riff.  What you get here is a very textured and tactile album, you almost want that amazing artwork on the cover to be raised and ridged like the music itself so you can trace your fingers along the landscape as you listen to the music.  

I could go on for hours about how good this album is.  It has caught me completely off-guard as I didn't set out on the morning I discovered this to listen to any atmospheric bm that day and instead stumbled across this masterpiece of the sub-genre.  All hail Jake Buczarski.

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Vinny Vinny / April 03, 2021 11:03 AM
The Anatomy of Addiction

Wow! I had no idea what I was in for with this monster of a record. The scope & breadth of the "industrial metal" subgenre tag is simply not wide enough to encompass all of the elements at play here. I wasn't aware of it until now but God was essentially a supergroup project of sorts with approximately ten experienced musicians contributing to an epic 79 minutes of unapologetically experimental & highly challenging music made specifically for open-minded music fans with a taste for the cerebral & psychedelic. Most of the individual names were completely foreign to me but I can certainly hear the experience & talent in what they've delivered.

Many reviewers will probably suggest that "The Anatomy Of Addiction" is overly repetitive but I think that's just an indication that a lot of people don't have the patience required for this sort of art which aims directly for your cerebral cortex a lot of the time. Upon first listen you'll be left in no doubt whatsoever of the presence of Godflesh/Jesu mastermind Justin Broadrick as there are tracks here that sound exactly like classic Godflesh with some additional elements thrown into the mix. However possibly even more of the tracklisting is closer to the sound of Swans' more expansive experimental rock excursions with long, slowly-building & repetitive tracks that are full of tension & atmosphere. The jazz component is noteworthy with the more insane saxophone use reminding me of Naked City & the more laidback moments hinting at the influence of Miles Davis' late 60's/early 70's jazz fusion period. You'll also detect a significant dose of dub in the way that some of these pieces are structured, especially in the use of the bass guitar as a musical protagonist on some of the more extended & expansive tracks with the guitar & saxophone being used more for colour & texture than melody. There's a tribal percussion element at play too which really adds to the atmosphere without ever pushing things into ambient territory. Honestly, the vocals of Kevin Martin might as well by Justin Broadrick because they sound so similar that you'd be forgiven for thinking it was indeed him. Kevin's broken & repetitive phrasing & lyrical style is basically identical to Justin's trademark bark & it leaves me with a welcome feeling of familiarity a lot of the time.

This is truly intriguing & interesting stuff & I never find myself getting bored despite the excessive length of the album. There are no weak tracks with God exuding an air of class & consistency about everything they touch. The few highlight tracks are nothing short of magnificent & leave me disappointed that I can't rate the album a little higher than I have. I guess I just can't quite see "The Anatomy Of Addiction" becoming an all-time favourite despite the fact that I have difficulty in faulting it. I think that's because I find a good portion of the tracklisting to leave me thoroughly impressed with the ambition & execution but not quite drooling uncontrollably due to the lack of a knockout punch. Nonetheless, I can't recommend the album enough to people that are interested in a more cerebral & internally focused brand of experimental rock/metal music. That certainly won't be everyone & if you find that you don't get it then you'll likely be in good company. Those that do have the patience for a record like this one will being thoroughly rewarded for the effort though. And another thing... don't even think about giving it a one-off spin because it needs a little more time than that.

For fans of Godflesh, Swans & Naked City.

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Daniel Daniel / April 02, 2021 09:19 PM
Epicus Doomicus Metallicus

My footprint in the Fallen clan is quite limited (there's good reason why I didn't pick it for my fourth clan during last year's challenge when the opportunity arose) and this is largely because I like the idea and concept of doom metal often more than I actually like the content overall.  Albums like Epicus... and Nightfall make me want to listen to more doom metal.  The constant sense of drama and pending tragedy appeals to my dark nature and I love the huge sound to the riffs and their looming menace.  The fact is though that for me the genre doesn't always live up to the expectations that the Candlemass debut promised when I first heard it.  Arguably, the first four Candlemass records broke the whole genre for me as I soon realised that there was very few vocalists out there that could live up to the talent and range of Längquist and Marcolin, or even match pound for pound the riffing of Björkman and harrowing leads of Johansson.

So, I confine myself to the odd review within the clan and tonight I find myself reviewing one the greatest doom metal records of all time.  I think this rating comes from all of what I have mentioned above in relation to this record.  The great vocals, the sterling instrumentation and that constant feel of dense sorrow hanging over proceedings make the whole experience so very memorable.  Indeed it is a record you would struggle not to take some lasting memory away from after just one listen I would say.

The album not only perfects the doom sound it lives and breathes the very core of doom in all that it presents.  Whether it is the haunting resonance of Längquist begging "Please let me die in solitude" on the opening track or just the staggering imagery the lyric sheet overall can conjure when you read it, it is obvious that doom was woven into the very fabric of this record from the off.  It doesn't actually feel like an album either.  It has a length in terms of a track listing that make it look like an EP and even at 43 minutes it is not a doom album that relies on repetition and fathomless song durations to get its point across.  Despite the heaviness and the quality on show the album doesn't fuck around or risk outstaying its welcome.  It feels almost concise to me yet still leaves me hungry for more which is what all good records should do.

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Vinny Vinny / April 02, 2021 09:16 PM
Cleopatra

The Sun is shining over my Alexandria... Oh Cleopatra, You'll Live Forever

Symphonic Metal with operatic female vocals has become a popular and increasingly crowded niche in the last decade. It has also never really been my cup of tea. When I heard about this new Everdawn project, however, with names such as Dan Swanö (Edge of Sanity), Thomas Vikström (Therion), and Mike LePond (Symphony X) involved - and a cover featuring one of my favorite historical figures - I was intrigued enough to give Cleopatra a shot.

While I'm no expert in this sub-sub-genre, it's hard for me to image modern female-fronted Symphonic Metal getting much better. The immediate memorability and quality of this release outshines anything I've heard from the likes of Xandria, aside from maybe an Epica song here or there. Catchy anthemic choruses, impeccably sung with operatic highs and sultry lows... customarily wonderful Swanö production, all instruments given depth and interesting parts to shine... Especially the guitars. This is NOT one of those symphonic/operatic albums where the "metal" instrumentation is neutered.


While the brilliant singer, Alina Gavrilenko, brings the songs to life, what truly makes Everdawn stand out is the songwriting and variation within and between songs. Albums with operatic vocals can get monotonous, but this one never really does! The first half of the album contains the best material, rolling from strength to strength with the infectiously fun and eastern-inflected "Stranded In Bangalore", the delightful male-female duet ballad "Your Majesty Sadness", and the powerful, catchy and mysterious chorus of "Infinity Divine".


By far my favorite song here, however, is the title track "Cleopatra" - a true 5/5 keeper. After initially grabbing your attention with some speedy riffs/keys and an epic Power Metal chorus, the song then slows you down for a guitar solo dripping with emotion. The way the song then unfolds, building the energy back up with the guitars and crescendoing into a new climax vocal part, is executed perfectly... a treat for the ears no matter how many times you listen to it. You'll be singing along to the ending repeating lines with a big 'ole grin on your face. OH CLEOPATRAAA...


The second half of the album does see the level drop a bit, but that's only because the level of the first five or six tracks was so high. The remaining songs are all at least "good", and are broken up nicely by the brief but heavy instrumental "Toledo 712 AD".


Altogether, this is an exemplary debut out of New Jersey and an early highlight of 2021!

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illusionist illusionist / April 02, 2021 05:13 AM
For Those That Wish to Exist

I have never paid very much attention to bands like Architects, even if the majority of people that I know in metalcore spaces absolutely adore this band. I cannot truthfully say that anything I have heard from Architects to be abhorrent, but most of it just never stuck with me by comparison. That said, when I listened to their 2018 album Holy Hell, I was struck by how much passion was put into the music after the death of one of their integral songwriters. It really felt like this group could have written that album as a swansong and I’m not sure many of my friends would have complained.

That being said, when I heard the backlash from those same people surrounding their newest album, For Those That Wish To Exist, I was surprised to say the least. So I gave it a listen and… I don’t get it.

Oh I get where the anger comes from. For a band that has developed such a devoted fanbase, for them to go full on Bring Me The Horizon with their alternative, electronic leaning timbre that is not entirely devoid, but certainly limited metalcore roots, it would be a slap in the face to some. But as someone who was never a big fan of Architects in the first place, this is an entirely serviceable alternative metal pivot for the band, with many of the issues that similar bands have faced for decades.

Production wise, while the kick is far less prominent in the songwriting, the mixing has been blown up almost as compensation for slower moving parts. Many of the choruses on this album feel like they are about to fade out, but are followed by a typical melo-core breakdown. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it at first, but after the third time hearing it, it must have been added on purpose and it sounds disorienting.

While some of the songs sound decent, most notably “Giving Blood”, “Demi God” and probably “Dead Butterflies”, the lack of a bass independence from the rhythm guitar continues to infuriate me. And Sam Carter’s vocals are far less passionate than the last record as well. I guess I cannot count on the singer to have the same voice they did four/five years ago, but they still feel unpolished. Oli Sykes sounded better on That’s The Spirit and neither of these performances live up to the heights of Chester Bennington on Meteora.

On the surface, Architects are taking the steps to make their sound not only more accessible, but also sustainable. Sam Carter is not going to be able to record “Doomsday” for every song for the rest of their life. And while there may be glimmers of quality here, it is still relaxed enthusiasm from me. This is getting dangerously close to sounding like generic hard rock/heavy metal music, and I hope Architects can get off that path before it’s too late.

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saxystephens saxystephens / March 31, 2021 02:50 AM
The $5.98 E.P.: Garage Days Re-Revisited

Having barely mourned the loss of bassist Cliff Burton after his sudden and tragic death, Metallica were back in the studio, breaking in newcomer Jason Newsted with this short collection of covers.

'The $5.98 EP: Garage Days Re-Revisited' (bit of a mouthful, that) is a nice little E.P. that shows that even at a young age, Metallica were always good at doing cover versions, although the song choices themselves are quite obscure and certainly not the most exciting. I mean, let's be honest, how many people can honestly say they were Diamond Head fans or Holocaust fans before Metallica covered them?

With that said, the band are on point here, and although this release was mostly meant for fun, it still shows a band full of ambition and enthusiasm. With production that, whilst sounding rough in places, fits the music perfectly and gives just the right amount of punch and grittiness.

Any praise or criticisms aside, there's really no point in tracking this down these days. I say this because all five songs offered here appear on the 'Garage Inc.' album, a compilation of newly recorded and every previously released cover Metallica have done. And unless you're a collector looking to own everything, you're better off just getting that.


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MartinDavey87 MartinDavey87 / March 30, 2021 01:14 PM
Wild Obsession

You know what? I've sat here for ages trying to think of how to open this review, and keep coming up blank. So I'm just going to waffle, and whatever I type will do. I wasn't expecting much from Axel Rudi Pell's 'Wild Obsession'. I got into the band (band?) with their 'Oceans of Time' and 'Shadow Zone' albums, and this, their (or his?) debut, didn't really do anything for me when I first heard it, years and years ago.

Note: do I refer to "Axel Rudi Pell" as a band, or as a person? So confusing! Onwards...

Listening to 'Wild Obsession' now, it's not actually that bad. Sure, it's nothing amazing or fancy, and it certainly has 80's rock stamped all over it, but a lot of the songs do have some fairly catchy moments. In fact, for all the 80's cheese and macho fist-pumping anthems, the biggest detriment is probably the guitar playing itself. All of Pell's solos sound the bloody same. Every single one of them. Just a fast flurry of mindless notes that add absolutely nothing to the song.

Still, if you can get past that, there's some alright songs here. 'Cold As Ice', 'Slave of Love', 'Call of the Wild Dogs' and 'Call Her Princess' are all cheese-riddled 80's anthems that are about as cliché as you'd expect. But they're catchy enough that I don't mind listening to them.

Overall, Axel Rudi Pell (the man, the band, whichever), will go on to release some stellar albums in the future, but for the most part, 'Wild Obsession' is a decent enough, though not overly essential, debut.


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MartinDavey87 MartinDavey87 / March 30, 2021 01:11 PM
Breeding the Spawn

There are some truly indefensible and unforgivable crimes dotted throughout the history of mankind. Setting aside all the genocide, ethnic cleansing, mass murder and multitudinous cases of torture for a moment, one of the most heinous crimes of the last 30 years or so must be the production job Paul Bagin did on Suffocation’s sophomore full-length back in 1993. I should point out almost immediately as I start this review that Breeding… is still a great death metal record, a perfect bridge between the brutality of Effigy of the Forgotten and the more technical brutal attack of Pierced from Within. If you listen closely enough you can hear a sick death metal record rumbling along beneath the stifling layers of production that are heaped over it.

It is testimony to the sheer power of Suffocation that any discernible quality can be expressed from underneath the oppressive weight of Bagin’s appalling knob-twiddling antics behind that desk. In a way it feels like the band already could tell how shite the album sounded and were angry with this fact and it came out in the flow of the songs themselves almost organically. Sadly, for all the obvious brilliance going on here (and joking aside for a minute) the album is ultimately killed by the production. Sonics come across as sterile and (astonishingly for a death metal album) out of tune. The bass sounds like it is played with mittens on; although at times some genuine twangs break through, most of the time there is this oppressive rumble that smothers the rhythm work of the guitar almost completely.

The drums also suffer from a thinness which makes them sound like they are in fact made of tin foil. Only Mullen’s vocals seem to survive the massacre at Noise Lab sitting atop of the pile of dense and suffocating (pun intended) production like some indefatigable warrior, refusing to give in to this oppressive regime.

For the record - and for anyone unfamiliar with the true extent of the production issues - the band themselves demanded the album be re-recorded with Scott Burns and Morrisound Recording and Roadrunner refused to pay for the studio time. Although over the course of the rest of their career the band have re-recorded several tracks and included them on various albums, it remains a tragedy that record company bullshit killed this album. By comparison, the bands next album Pierced from Within was produced by Scott and was fucking superb!

The rating I give this album is by no means a reflection on the band themselves and it is painful to deliver such a low rating against a release by one of the stalwarts of death metal but a bad production job is just something you can’t recover from.


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Vinny Vinny / March 30, 2021 10:46 AM
Human Waste

The debut EP from one of death metal’s most influential bands is a real benchmark in brutality. Unrelenting in its delivery and unashamed in the frenzy of its attack, Human Waste is the rule book on brutal death metal. The world by this point had only been treated to the growl of Frank Mullen on the band’s 1990 demo and then a track on a split release via Roadrunner records, and as such this was the first opportunity for the band to bring that trademark vocal style to tape and allow it to embed itself over six raging tracks of gloriously intense death metal.

Along with Incantation, Suffocation are probably one of the most copied bands in death metal with hundreds of acts having been influenced by them with the effect being album upon album of pure Suffo-worship in some quarters. The difference between the copycats and the genuine article is never better exemplified by the New York band’s debut release. I look at it that most of the brutal death metal acts out there are coloring in by comparison to the masterpieces that Suffocation painted over the early part of their career. When his EP arrived, Morbid Angel had already dropped the sonic chaos of Altars…, Death had set a fire burning on the art of the possible over three killer releases and fellow New York stalwarts Immolation had yet to introduce the world to their own brand of imposing death metal. Human Waste was unlike anything else heard at the time, barring Cannibal Corpse who had a sloppier yet effective style that did not quite hit the same heights of sustained assault like Suffocation managed.

Suffocation knew how to play fast but also how to take the listener along with them along every step of the way. Listening to these tracks there is a genuine current that runs through them, electrifying the very air around the listener, charged by the very power of the rhythm and percussion section alone. The riffs just keep coming and coming, punctuated by blinding sonics that writhe in the mix like shapeshifting demons. Couple all of this with Mullen’s infamous growl, spewing forth fury and vitriol and it is the perfect combination. His performance on the title track is terrifying and borders on inhuman in sound as the demo sound really shows the raw evil in his vocals superbly.

I often overlook Human Waste and go straight to Effigy… or Pierced… for my Suffo-fix but it is frankly criminal how little rotation this EP gets on my speakers and I am off to hunt down a physical copy (please internet be kind to my wallet) immediately.


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Vinny Vinny / March 30, 2021 10:16 AM
Le tyran et l'esthète


Despite them having been around since 2007, this is the first time Les Chants de Nihil have crossed my path - and damn glad am I that they did so. In common with several other French outfits, it appears that they like to kick back against the confines of black metal and break out of the conventions that others follow doggedly. Le tyran et l'esthète (The Tyrant and the Aesthete) features a quite muscular sound that borrows heavily from death metal and as such is really aggressive sounding, with some powerful riffing. Despite that, it is still fairly melodic, but the band also incorporate dissonant elements which makes for a satisfying and interesting dichotomy.
This is obviously a concept album, the tracks feel like part of a greater whole, as well as being damn fine in their own right. Unfortunately the overarching concept escapes me as I'm not, in common with many native English speakers, very good at other languages. There is a deal of variety in the tracks as the band employ such elements as chanted sections à la Batushka, epic-sounding viking / folk metal parts and even a song based around the melodies from an Igor Stravinsky ballet (L'adoration de la Terre). These elements aren't, however, thrown together like some random hotchpotch just for the sake of it, the individual tracks are well-written and are tastefully woven together in a way that allows the album to flow seemingly effortlessly through it's fifty minutes or so runtime.
It would also be remiss of me if I didn't mention the crystal-clear production that allows each of the individual band members' contributions to be heard even during the most savage passges. So if you want some interesting and thought-provoking that also doesn't skimp on aggression or atmosphere, black metal that tries to do something "more" with the genre then give these Frenchmen a chance.

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Sonny92 Sonny92 / March 28, 2021 02:36 PM
Mystification

Manilla Road & I have had a hit-&-miss relationship over the years. I quite liked their progressive rock-driven 1980 debut album "Invasion" but found the follow-up "Metal" to be disappointing. Strangely, their third album "Crystal Logic" (which is generally regarded as their best work & an unmitigated classic) did even less for me but 1985's "Open The Gates" saw my interest being restored with several incredible pieces appearing across a generally inconsistent tracklisting. So I guess it's fair to say that I approached "Mystification" fairly tentatively which may be why I didn't give it a revisit until now.

"Mystification" may still sound very much like a Manilla Road album but it's also a very different beast to the other material I've heard from the band to date. For starters, this is the first time that I've had absolutely no question about a Manilla Road album's US power metal status. It's a noticeably thrashier affair than their early 80's records were with only a couple of tunes that fit comfortably under the heavy metal banner. The rest offer significantly more velocity & aggression than you'd usually expect from a classic metal band however Mark Shelton's higher register vocal performance generally keeps Manilla Road from completely crossing over into speed/thrash metal territory as he possesses a theatricality that definitely ties them to power metal. The short & high energy "Up From the Crypt" is probably the only exception with its slightly more grunty delivery & it's clear that bands like Slayer have had a significant impact on Mark & his band by this stage. Just check out that start of "Masque of the Red Death" if you don't believe me.

The performances are really quite brilliant, particularly Mark's lead guitar work & the exciting drumming of Randy Foxe who plays like a man possessed for the most part with his drum-rolls being a clear highlight. Unsurprisingly, I do struggle to connect with Mark's "epic" vocal delivery a little though & that's always been a bit of a stumbling block for me to tell you the truth. I'm always left wishing that he'd spend more time shredding away on his axe with that unpolished yet infectious technique of his rather than posing some dark & mystical question to me vocally. Some of his earlier works included more lower register grunt work than "Mystification" does & I think that's a shame as I do like that style a little better. Mark's guitar solos always sound like he's improvised the whole thing on the spot &, despite his clear command of his instrument, they're more to do with atmosphere than they are to do with chops which is something I have a lot of appreciation for. In fact, you could say similar things of the production job which gives Manilla Road that mid-80's underground authenticity that a lot of modern bands lack & that's always been a strength for the band.

Overall, this is clearly the most consistent Manilla Road record I've heard to date as there are no weak tracks included. But in saying that, I don't think we get the enormous highlights that a record like "Open The Gates" offered. I think perhaps the additional thrashiness of "Mystification" has seen Manilla Road losing a little bit of the psychedelia that I loved so much about their better earlier works. For that reason, "Open The Gates" still maintains the title of my favourite Manilla Road release however "Mystification" is another interesting album from a band that I generally maintain an appreciation for but are unlikely to ever quite connect with on the same level as the rest of the underground seem to.

For fans of Brocas Helm, Omen & Eternal Champion.

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Daniel Daniel / March 27, 2021 07:34 PM
Collapse to Come

Spurred on by my recent foray into death/thrash (see my Schizophrenia review this past week) I have been on the hunt for anything to scratch my love of extreme and energetic thrash metal of late.   Germany's Reactory are a raging torrent of ripping and rampant thrash metal that will take your face clean of the front of your head if you aren't careful.  Their third full length in six years comes out of the blocks like an Olympic sprinter on acid.  Razor sharp riffing and ear-catching anthemic rhythms and tempos are the order of the day here.  Tracks explode into existence and don't stick around for long enough to let any dust settle from the initial blast plume.  With no track clocking in at over 4 minutes 48 seconds, the band's intentions are quite clear.

Tracks such as Graves of Concrete are where the band really hit their groove, producing memorable yet unbelievably intense thrash metal that is as breath-taking as it infectious.  The energy levels are high and the style is rooted firmly in thrash metal as opposed to too much in the way of speed or blackened influences seeping through.  Vocally, Hans Hazard (yes, really) has a sort of gruff, almost hardcore leaning influence to his particular style.  It works though, reminding me ever so slightly of Hammerlord.

The guitar work at times touches Vektor like melodies (opening to Drone Commander) showing a respectful nod to contemporaries as well as the obvious copious amounts of Teutonic thrash metal from the history of their fine nation itself.  In some ways I want more lead work alongside the Anthrax-like riffage to break up the wall of chug that charges head on into me most of the time, just to break it up a little and towards the backend of the record they do seem to come alive more on the lead front.  However, this is the real appeal of this record in so many ways also - it isn't supposed to be pretty or delivering lashes of flair, it's just here to kick the living crap out of the listener.

Tracks like Evolving Hate do manage to showcase the wizardry on the six strings well and do so without getting too showy or detracting away from that raging intensity.  In all honesty it is hard to find any bad tracks or find fault in general.  For a band that so clearly set their stall out early on, Reactory don't waiver once in their devotion to that commitment to delivering a killer thrash metal record.  I would like to hear the drums just a tad further forward in the mix personally but they do still contribute very well overall to the record.

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Vinny Vinny / March 27, 2021 05:07 PM
Eternity

This is a fairly decent debut album by Kamelot, who at the time were nothing more than a generic power metal band. Progressive elements seen in later albums are rare and discreet, and the band are yet to develop a lot of the more exotic flavours heard in their later songs. But overall, there are still some great compositions on this record.

There are very few keyboard parts and the musicianship is nowhere near that of most prog/power metal bands, but that doesn't prevent a few memorable riffs popping up, such as 'Eternity' and 'The Gleeman', and 'Etude Jongleur is a nice, though short, melodic passage.

There isn't really much else to say about this album to be honest. If you're a fan of Kamelot then it's worth getting, and I think it's generally worth picking up for anyone if you can find it cheap somewhere. Kamelot didn't really hit their stride until keyboards became a more primary instrument and with the addition of vocalist of Roy Khan (who, if you're already a Kamelot fan prior to buying this album, you'll definitely notice his absence), but this still holds up well as a look at a young band who will definitely go on to better things.

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MartinDavey87 MartinDavey87 / March 24, 2021 01:56 PM
Steelbound

Igniting A Dying Flame

It has to be a difficult, maybe even borderline impossible task to choose to play no bullshit, traditional Heavy Metal in the more modern Metal landscape. The genre has been explored and refined so much since the late 1970’s and early 1980’s that it’s slightly pigeonholed itself compared to other, more flexible genres. For better or worse, you know what you’re getting yourself into if a band says they’re playing Heavy Metal with zero other modifiers attached. Brazilian Heavy Metal stalwarts IGNITED attempt to put their best foot forward with a debut that may appeal to blind Heavy Metal loyalists, but loses itself to stagnant genre clichés and slightly lackluster sound design.

Chug is the name of the game throughout Steelbound and while IGNITED manage to lay down a few decent riffs, the more modern choices on the guitar tone and the mixing of the drums really don't do them any favors. The more aggressive, more distorted guitar sounds decent on sustained power chords, but it loses its luster and starts to sound generally low quality on a good portion of the riffs. Coupling that kind of tone with extremely loud and sharp sounding percussion isn’t exactly my favorite thing since you lose a ton of depth and heft from the chug, so Steelbound fell flat for me in that regard. There are a few songs where it works out, with “Pain”, “Steelbound”, and “Rotting” being written in a way that complements their overall sound. Even though these riffs go hard with the traditional Heavy Metal chug, there isn’t much else there to latch onto apart from the occasional solo, especially since most of their choruses resort to generic power chords in order to support the vocalist.

IGNITED vocalist is worth supporting though since he’s very much the backbone of Steelbound through and through. Denis Lima’s voice has a ton of character as he pulls inspiration from the likes of Judas Priest along with injecting some early Power Metal tendencies shown in the delivery of his higher range notes and overall theatrics. Even though Steelbound fails to have very many memorable or fun choruses, Lima’s performance kept me interested throughout the album apart from one or two duds. “Shining Void” and “Time”, the two ballads of the album, do a fantastic job of showcasing his overall range since he exists in his upper range for almost the rest of the time. Honestly, I’d go so far as to say I’d love to hear Lima on Avantasia; he has a ton of power and range that doesn’t necessarily get utilized to its fullest potential.

As much as I want to say Lima’s performance saves Steelbound, there isn’t much here past the bare minimum of a modern Heavy Metal album. “Living in the Dark” emerged as my clear favorite and I think this song alone shows that IGNITED have some promise since it feels like it fully utilizes Lima to create a memorable chorus alongside the rest of the band. Maybe Steelbound can give Heavy Metal diehards an injection of hope that there are still bands continuing the legacy, but I can’t see myself getting much more out of this one.

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Xephyr Xephyr / March 22, 2021 08:53 PM
Voices

I like my thrash metal to be rabid and as close to death metal as it can be without quite ever completely straying over the boundary for a whole track.  Sadus managed this really well back in the day, making extreme yet coherent thrash metal that borrowed nicely from the death metal rule book to make things feel that little more nefarious and imposing when needed.

Belgians Schizophrenia started out life as Hãmmerhead in 2010, playing straight up thrash metal before undertaking an adoption of not only a new band name but also a more extreme edge to their sound.  As the cover artwork suggests, Voices is a dark and terrifying affair that carries it's cloak of frenzied energy well over its broad shoulders that stretch to encompass all of the good bits of Demolition Hammer and layer on lashings of Death-like sonics for good measure.

First up, it's an EP.  This format is perfect for the band's sound and song writing style.  Clocking in at under twenty minutes (just), Voices shows an intelligent penchant for referencing the past and showing the Sodom and Kreator influences without just being worship of aforementioned bands, taking the furious pace of Kreator and mimicking that style well without simply copying it.  Likewise it is clear that more modern bands have a say in the direction of the record with more than one track reminding me of Warbringer.

At this stage they are five years to their obviously well-honed death/thrash hybrid sound and you have to wonder what the hell have they been doing for all this time to only just get an EP and a single out during the first four years but who knows what the death/thrash scene is like in Belgium?  Maybe there's hundreds of bands just queuing up to get signed and so Schizophrenia have had to wait their turn?  Or (more the likely) they exist as a rarity in a scene and country that doesn't get enough attention?

Either way, this debut EP is a joy to listen to.  Really straight-forward, no fucking frills thrash metal attitude delivered with a death metal blueprint that showcases rather than smothers the thrash element.  New album please.

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Vinny Vinny / March 22, 2021 08:00 PM
Temple

Belgians Wolvennest's third album is not one for the impatient metal fan. It's eight tracks span 77 minutes, most in the nine to twelve minute range and the majority of the album is pretty slowly paced. This isn't an example of monolithic funeral doom however, but more of a ritualistic, cosmic incantation, drawing on elements of doom, drone, psychedelia and gothic rock for an hypnotic occult experience.


The vibe that the six-piece's music exudes is that of a cult or coven with vaguely sinister overtones in their conviction and devotion to whatever cosmic entity they revere and implore in their songs and to such end the album feels kind of threatening at times. Although most of the tracks are fairly repetitive in keeping with that ritualistic atmosphere, the separate songs are pretty diverse - Swear to Fire is heavily space rock infused and feels like a doom interpretation of a track from Oranssi Pazuzu's Mestarin kynsi album, Disappear could be from Sister of Mercy's Vision Thing, the menacing All That Black sounds like The Velvet Underground had released a long lost metal track and album closer Souffle De Mort ups the psychedelic ritualistic exhortations to finish the album on a disturbing, Manson-esque note (Charles not Marilyn!)


So despite the fact that a significant proportion of the tracks have that drone aesthetic, the album as a whole is exceedingly interesting and none of the individual songs are so long that they ever become boring. It is ultimately the kind of album to lose yourself in, but it never allows the listener to feel completely comfortable within it's embrace. A great example of how to make modern doom metal fresh and interesting with it's left-field take on the genre and it's embracing of diverse elements within it's grooves.

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Sonny92 Sonny92 / March 21, 2021 02:44 PM
Death or Glory

I have a lot of albums that I consider the "best albums" (5 stars) even though it's like a couple hundred of them, but no... THIS album, Death or Glory is one of the true best! Ever since the previous Running Wild album Port Royal, they've fully established a different epic lyrical theme...pirates! Though if you think this band isn't serious about that theme, wait until you hear Alestorm. Death of Glory sounds so glorious and I can't wait to listen to their previous two classics that started their pirate motive...

This album truly is a masterpiece made by some of the most genuine metal pirates around, especially a couple real highlights. But in order for me to get to those highlights, I'm gonna do what I almost always do; track by track! Hold on to your (barrel) seats...

The first track is the highlight "Riding the Storm". After the two-minute intro that sounds like it could've inspired the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack in the compositional sense, the vocals by Rolf Kasparek come in to shine, especially in the chorus filled with emotion. The riffs cross through like a violent thunderous typhoon into your head, as the charged-up verses and powerful choruses are brought together by the drums all in this unforgettable song. That's the pirate metal "Thundersteel"! Next track "Renegade" is a catchy tune, though a bit slower. "Evilution" is much slower, but never in a bad way. Near the one-minute mark, the guitar majesty starts, leading to a massive riff. Another solid song, for anyone wanting heavy metal similar to Sanctuary instead of the death metal invasion of bands like Edge of Sanity.

"Running Blood" (almost the band's self-titled theme track) is also great, giving the structure more style and the riffing more genius. "Highland Glory" is the instrumental intermission which has different diversity in an effective sequence of melodies. Then back in the speedy business, "Marooned" blinds you with awesome guitar rhythm, especially after the first chorus. The drumming is also some of the greatest here with interesting fills. There's powerful riffing in the outro as well. Yet another one of the greatest tracks in this album!

Then here comes the classic single "Bad to the Bone". You're gonna f***ing love this song whether or not you're a metalhead! SO AWESOME!!! Next up, "Tortuga Bay" is speed metal madness closer to their first two albums. The song itself is a h*lla d*mn fun headbanger! The title track has that same vein, though not as fast but still good, with a wonderous solo. The original vinyl version's last song "The Battle of Waterloo" is a big epic that you can't miss whether you're listening or reviewing. F***ING UNBELIEVABLE!! It starts with bagpipes during a march into a Napoleonic battle between French soldiers and pirates, then the battle rages on with mid-paced riff before a perfect transition into the marvelous majesty of the solos, especially the second one of evoking emotion. Then the song ends where it began, with the same great marching rhythm that began the heaviness. A true piece of pirate metal!

Similar to Blind Guardian's Somewhere Far Beyond, I say the original vinyl version is perfect as it is, but then comes the bonus tracks, starting with the one ending the CD version, "March On". This one is actually pretty boring and doesn't go anywhere. It would probably be decent in a more mid-paced heavy metal album, just not this one. The rest of the bonus tracks have appeared in the 1990 reissue and most other reissue afterwards as the Wild Animal EP, starting with the EP's own title track with a cool riff in the intro, but not a lot is special in this song. The pirate-themed lyrics are still cool. However, the vocals are weak and don't grab the listener as much as the album itself. All bad things aside, there's some more soloing greatness! "Chains & Leather" (re-recorded from Branded and Exiled) is the best, most kick-A song here! The riffing will have you headbanging in delight through the cool lyrics. This re-recording should've been the album's original CD bonus track! "Tear Down the Walls" is a cool song ranging from slow to fast, and the chorus riff is well-played. However, lame lyrics, weird-ish vocals, and a repetitive chorus demote the song to just OK. "Störtebeker" has f***ing awesome lyrics and riffs, the latter along with the soloing reminding some of Iron Maiden. Another fast song that should've been part of the Death and Glory album itself!

So despite that bonus track in the original CD version and half the Wild Animal EP being f***ing weaklings, the main part of Death or Glory has some of the best production. The ultimate pirate-themed heavy/power/speed metal album! Yo-ho, let's go!!

Favorites: "Riding the Storm", "Running Blood", "Marooned", "Bad to the Bone", "The Battle of Waterloo", "Chains & Leather", "Störtebeker" (the latter two from Wild Animal EP)

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shadowdoom9 shadowdoom9 / March 21, 2021 11:11 AM
An Angel and the Eternal Silence

My Threnody are the solo project of Brazilian multi-instrumentalist Jefferson Brito. This, his debut album, was recorded in his home studio and, to be honest, it sounds little better than a demo recording which, for this type of symphonic metal, is really going to adversely affect how successfully it comes across. An anomaly of the production is that the numerous gentler sections actually seem to sound louder than the heavier parts, which detracts from the effectiveness of both. It seems to me that Mr. Brito's songwriting ambitions are considerably greater than his ability to deliver them. He seems to be one of those doom artists who think that the best way to express loss and mourning is to throw the kitchen sink at it, keyboards that are laid on with a trowel, obtrusive sound effects, simulated classical instruments, variations in vocal style and gentle/heavy transitions that feel forced rather than organically flowing one into another. It's almost like the guy has too many ideas and wants to cram as much as possible into his hour's runtime without allowing any to become fully formed. With so many ideas, there are some that actually sound like they may make for a decent song if allowed to develop a little further and it's a shame that they are crowded out. I feel that sometimes these solo projects would be better as a full band where they can bounce ideas off each other and allow for a bit of self-editing. Sometimes less really is more.
Ultimately, I am no big fan of this type of symphonic doom even when it's done well, so this shoddy-sounding morass of competing ideas and underdeveloped songs really doesn't move me like good doom metal should and in a crowded field this has too many superiors to warrant too much attention.

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Sonny92 Sonny92 / March 20, 2021 04:18 PM
In Spite Of

Not being the biggest fan of this style of metalcore, let’s breeze through this one really quick: For Your Health pulls upon the brashness of Converge’s mathcore leanings while using really short song structures to create a hellacious atmosphere that closes in on you in record time. There is practically no room to breathe on this LP and plays into its benefit among its emo and hyperviolence themes. But the guitars and vocals lack presence and are cascaded beneath the drums. To be honest, when my personal favourite track is the instrumental “If Anybody Asks We’re Already Fucked”, I think it just goes to show how much of this sound I can tolerate.


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saxystephens saxystephens / March 20, 2021 01:55 AM
Animals as Leaders

I have very little patience for wholly instrumental metal and I don't hear anything here that will change my mind on that score. Saying that, I imagine that if it did have vocals then they would almost certainly be of a kind that I would hate (I'm thinking Steve Perry, John Wetton awful) so it's probably better off without any. Although there is plenty going on, I can't help but wonder what the point is other than for the musicians involved to feel they have showcased their technical proficiency for all us inferior humans to listen to in awe. I know sometimes it may sound like I detest technical proficiency, but this isn't true if said proficiency is used to serve the song (classic era Opeth for an example in metal, King Crimson or Yes outside of it). If the songwriting takes a backseat to ego stroking then yes, I will take against it. Add to this that Djenty chugging and that's it, I'm cashing out.

Look, if this is your bag, then good luck to you, being a non-musician maybe I don't "get it" and as such I only have my gut feelings to judge it by. That said, this really left me feeling very little at all, I can't even hate it as such because that would take more emotion than I can conjure up for it. But I think it's safe to say that I would never seek it out again for further listens. For me an empty and soulless experience, a mere placebo of a record and the antithesis of why I listen to metal.

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Sonny92 Sonny92 / March 19, 2021 10:19 PM
So Far, So Good... So What!

Young, brash, and pumped full of drugs, 1988's 'So Far, So Good... So What!' saw Megadeth continue along the path they'd started upon with 1986's 'Peace Sells... But Who's Buying?". While it originally seemed like the band had cleaned up their act and become more driven and focused, the reality was that a bigger album budget just meant more money to spend on drugs and alcohol.

Unfortunately, 'So Far, So Good...' doesn't quite live up to the standards set by its predecessor. The production is arguably weaker and the writing has clearly taken a backseat to drug-taking, as, while there's a few hits here that belong on any Megadeth compilation release, the overall quality of the songs is definitely a step down than previously.

As before, the music is fast and intense, accompanying lyrics riddled with hatred and spite. Thrash metal was in full swing in 1988 and this album goes to show why Megadeth were one of the top bands of their time. Dave Mustaine's vocals are seething with bitterness and sincerity, though lack the polish that they had on 'Peace Sells'. But his signature "snarl" is in full effect, and gives the music the rawness it needs.

One notable significance of this release is that we see the first of many (and I mean many) major line-up changes. With guitarist Jeff Young and drummer Chuck Behler replacing Chris Poland and Gar Samuelson respectively. Both would be ejected from the band soon enough, with neither man having any particular impact.

While songs like 'In My Darkest Hour', 'Hook in Mouth', 'Set the World Afire' and a cover of the Sex Pistols classic 'Anarchy in the U.K.' prevent this album from being a complete loss, as a whole it just seems like a pretty passable release, especially when compared to the bulk of the bands later releases.

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MartinDavey87 MartinDavey87 / March 18, 2021 02:39 PM
Still Life

Most albums that are made tend to be a collection of songs, and each one tells a specific story. Each song can be about loving, fighting, forgiving, forgetting, and more. However, what if the *entire album* shares a story, similarly to a novel or movie. This is the concept album: where each song is essentially a piece of the puzzle, and the whole album is the finished story. This is not to be confused with albums that is basically one song split up into multiple parts, like Crimson by Edge of Sanity, Catch Thirtythree by Meshuggah, or the second half of Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence by Dream Theater. When a concept album is done right, the entire album can be an unforgettable music adventure (if the story is easy to follow). I always said that my three favorite concept albums are Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From a Memory by Dream Theater (1999), The Crimson Idol [The Crimson Idol] by W.A.S.P., and, the topic of this review, Still Life by Opeth.But first, let me share my thoughts about discovering a band that I now hold in a very special spot in my heart: Opeth. When I first started listening to metal, I was turned off by the roaring growls of the singers, but I often enjoyed the incredible instruments. In the next few years, I became more fascinated with loud vocals and long epics, so I immediately fell in love with Tool. Their albums blew me away, so I wanted to discover bands that had similar long lengths. After some searching, I found a band that had lots of heavy instruments while having great lyrics and a great progressive style, which was... Opeth (like I previously mentioned). This was the band that completely flipped my opinion on the growling, which this band does wonderfully, and the band also blends it with beautiful, clean singing moments. Being someone who rarely gives 5 star album ratings, I was very happy to give two of their albums the full honor, Blackwater Park (2001) and Still Life (1999). I am going to try and share my love for this album, and if you have read any other review I have written, they can get very long and have written equivalents of rambling. I am rusty to the aspect of reviewing, but here we go!

To me, Still Life is more than an album. Everything they attempted was nothing short of perfect, and this was far better than most albums released in the 1990s. With this being a concept album, this is even more impressive. This is not the first time that Opeth did a concept album, releasing My Arms, Your Hearse in 1998. This was another fantastic album, but the problem was that the story was hard to follow due to the extremely poetic lyrics. Still Life is easier to follow, and is a complete step up from the previous release. Looking back, Opeth's albums from 1996 to 2008 can be considered as one of the greatest streaks of all time. When I initially finished this album, I immediately considered it as the greatest death metal record of all time, and in the top 5 for greatest albums I have ever heard. Not only is the story interesting and easy to follow, but the instruments mix so well with the lyrics that are being sung. Just a pure masterpiece!

Briefly mentioning the story and tracks:

The Moor introduces us to an "outcast" (that will be the name I will be using for the rest of the review), and he returns to a castle that banished him for 15 years for being an atheist. When he came back, he wanted to find the love of his life that he had to leave behind, a woman named Melinda. This shows off the basic concept of the rest of the album: a quest for love! As a song, it is absolutely phenomenal. The first 2 minutes are a bit slower, but once it begins, it goes crazy. The growling and the instruments mixed with the lyrics show off the level of anger that the outcast has for the rest of the castle. I was shocked when I heard this song, and it was only the first track. The album got even better from here, and this was an incredible opening track!

In Godhead's Lament, the outcast has an internal debate on the consequences of going back. He has no other motive but to see Melinda, who somehow knows that he has returned. When he sees her from afar, he notices that she has become a nun in the castle, and he tries to stay in the village unnoticed. This is another unbelievable track that beautifully tells the story. The growling is present more often on this track, which was another fantastic addition, but when the clean moments are shown, it is just as powerful. The blending of screaming and singing are excellent, which is a pattern that Opeth has always done with their albums. The clean moments in the middle of the song are nothing short of excellent, and only being two tracks in, the album is slowly becoming a "how to" on making an absolutely phenomenal record.

When I first heard Benighted, I genuinely thought that it was the greatest ballad track I've ever heard. The pacing on this song, even with being the shortest song on the album (5:00), is fantastic. I believe that this was the second *entirely* acoustic song (not including interludes) that they have done (the first, I believe, was Credence, from My Arms, Your Hearse) and it set another blueprint for the other ballads that they would make, like the entire Damnation album from 2003 (if you want to get technical, To Bid You Farewell, off of Morningrise, can be considered that, as it was *mostly* acoustic. However, that had a heavy portion at around the 7 minute mark). For their first attempt, this was a record breaking home run. In contrast to most songs of the genre, this song is more "typical" than the other ones, meaning it has a true chorus that is repeated multiple times throughout. When the final lyrics are stated, it felt like an extra musical journey in itself, and that was, again, due to the pacing. In terms of the story, this is where the Outcast and Melinda finally meet in secret. He basically tells her that he is more in love with her than she can ever imagine, and tries to convince her to run away with him. He also tries to tell her that any positive opinion that she has for the castle is simply a result of being brainwashed, and should basically forget about anything involving the castle. It becomes even more clear that the outcast is willing to risk his own life to be with this woman, and she seems to have an element of confusion. The peaceful, ballad style really works with this moment of the story, as a secret meeting with a lover should not require heavy instruments and growling vocals. Again, this song is incredible.

Moonlapse Vertigo is another important addition to the story of the album. The outcast, knowing the risk of being killed on sight, decides to hide and camp out in the castle. Similarly to the second track on the album, Godhead's Lament, he has another internal debate with himself. He is aware that he is running out of time to make his grand move of getting Melinda and escaping. He also feels that the Council of the Cross knows that he is there, as it is directly stated in the lines: “The council of the cross / Must have sensed my coming”. All he wants is for her to be safe and to be together with her forever. As a song, this is yet another incredible track. The band attempts almost a 55/45 blend of clean singing and growling, and it is nothing short of beautiful. The melodic intro verses lead into a growling and epic second verse, and it works every time. Mikael Åkerfeldt, lead singer of the band, is one of the greatest of all time, and this song is one of many that show off his vocal range. He can hit fantastic clean singing moments, and can growl like some of the best death metal vocalists ever. The fluctuating volume of the instruments (whether it is playing softly or loudly) also adds a nice touch to make the listener even more invested in the story, as the outcast is going through a roller coaster of emotions at this point in the story. No matter how many times I listen to this song (which has been a lot), the ending 2 minutes really hit it out of the universe. The vocals are unbelievable, and the shear feeling that I got from listening to it can only be deemed as excellent. Just another perfect track from an already perfect album.

Face of Melinda beautifully describes Melinda as a quiet person, and also shows off another meeting between her and the outcast. When he originally learned that he had basically failed to win her over, she committed to a life as a nun, but the outcast never gave up on his quest for love. She, in a way, betrays her moral feelings by telling him that she loves him, which temporarily fills the emptiness left in the outcast’s heart. The song ends with possible foreshadowing of what is to come. It seems like the brightest spot in the story so far, as it seems like the outcast has gotten the news that he wanted: Melinda sharing the love! As a song, the first 4 minutes are some of the best ballad moments you will ever hear. The clean vocals make another appearance, and this time, it is for the whole song. This is amazing, as it perfectly describes the tone of the story at this point of time. The instrumentals make you feel like you want to get lost in the music, but also follow the story at the same time. As I continue to listen to this album, it gets harder and harder to pick a favorite song on the album… until…

Serenity Painted Death is absolutely unbelievable, fantastic, incredible, and perfect, and there are not enough positive adjectives to use in order to describe this masterpiece. Not only does the story climax with this track, but, looking back, is definitely my favorite song on the album (along with it being my favorite song of 1999), and one of the best that Opeth has ever done. In terms of the story, the outcast learns that Melinda was taken away, and she was later sentenced to be hung for being “unfaithful to the church.” This leads the outcast on an absolute rampage, killing all of the soldiers that are responsible, and later, killing every soldier that he sees before collapsing from exhaustion (similarly to when Kenny Omega collapsed from exhaustion to avoid Kazuchika Okada’s “rainmaker” finisher at NJPW Dominion 2017). By the end of the song, the outcast is taken away, and the Council of the Cross is deciding his fate. Words cannot describe how excellent this *sounds*. The attention to detail in this song is second to none, having a dominantly growling singing style to symbolize the rage that he has towards the castle. In typical melodic death metal fashion, the instrumentals sound like they are from another planet, and it truly shows how this is one of the most *complete* metal songs ever written. If you can only listen to one of these songs, choose this one. While it might be compared to jumping to chapter 15 in a 20 chapter book (or watching the third Johnny Gargano vs Tommaso Ciampa match before the other 2), the listener gets enough information from the lyrics to *still* get fully invested in the song. That is storytelling at it’s finest! Music can be much more than simple lyrics and power strumming to a stock computer beat, and this is one of the finest examples that can be found.

This emotional roller coaster concludes with White Cluster, where the outcast is waking up from what happened in the previous track: his rampage that led him to collapse. The Council of the Cross is trying to make him show some remorse, but he is as stubborn as me when someone tells me to give modern pop music a chance. He shows no remorse, which angers the Council. Due to everything, he is sentenced to be hung, and he is led to where it will happen. Right before he is about to hang, he feels a touch on his shoulder, and he sees that it was Melinda standing there. They were together for the last time, as they both were hung, when the permission was granted by the council. They joined each other's death, and will be together in the afterlife…. forever. The only part that I do not like about this song is that it ends, and it also means that the album is ending. In all seriousness, this is about as good as you would expect, which means that it is an absolute masterpiece. The first half of the song has clean vocals, with instrumentals that are a bit heavier than acoustic, but not as heavy as a typical death metal track. It still blended well with the story, and was great. The second half is basically a verse, chorus, and a progressive- style instrumental break. It almost sounds like a completely different song, but is still equally perfect. The solos are unreal, the drumming is stellar, and the rhythms are so great that you *truly* want to get lost in the music; similarly to a Tool song. This was an all time classic song that closed out an all time classic album.

For an extra bonus for this album: read the lyrics as you go along. Some may say that reading can be boring, but the lyrics mixed in with the outstanding sound of the album, can legitimately be called one of the greatest musical experiences of all time.

Long story short: music should not be this good. As a concept album: it is the greatest of all time. In contrast to the other 2 that I consider classics, The Crimson Idol by Wasp and Scenes From a Memory by Dream Theater, this has a story that is *easy* to follow, along with having instrumentals that not only sound incredible, but perfectly blend with the story they are trying to tell. As a death metal album: it is also the greatest of all time. The only death metal album, in my opinion, that comes close to this is Blackwater Park, also by Opeth. I prefer this one over the 2001 album mainly because of how well the story was told, along with me preferring the sound a bit more. In general, this is among some of the greatest albums I have ever heard for many reasons, it is a complete life changer, and it should be not only listened to by everyone, but it should be CONSUMED by everyone.

Long live Opeth!

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FlowBroTJ FlowBroTJ / March 17, 2021 10:36 PM
Salival

If this is the first time you are reading one of my reviews, let me tell you a fun fact about myself: I am a huge Tool fan! I've given Ænima, Lateralus, 10,000 Days, and Fear Inoculum the honor of being apart of my "5 Star Albums Club", and I consider the band as one of, if not THE greatest band of all time. When I see various reviews on their discography, I often see this album not given the love that it deserves, or even skipped over entirely. Live albums in general are tough to rate, given how it is the same songs that have already been released, or better on the studio version. There are also live acoustic albums, something that MTV ran with bands such as KISS, Staind, Nirvana, and my personal favorite acoustic show, the MTV Unplugged Alice in Chains concert from 1996. It is rare that a live album accomplishes a new level of innovation that creates a different environment compared to the original, but an example of this is the S&M live album by Metallica, which featured the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. (Kiss also used a Symphony Orchestra for Kiss Symphony: Alive IV in 2003, but I feel that Metallica nailed it better). That felt very unique, and almost felt like an entirely new musical experience that showed off Metallica classics in a way that people would have never expected. Tool's live album was a bit different. At this point, the band were not the biggest fans of having their music easily accessible, and this lasted until August 2nd, 2019, where their entire discography (minus this album, for some reason (probably because of the No Quarter cover)), was made available to stream on services like Spotify and Apple Music, just in time for the grand release of the phenomenal Fear Inoculum. Out of the eight songs that are on here, six are live performances, and the last two are previously unreleased studio recordings.
But what makes this live album better than most other ones, and even the unique ones? While one song in particular (spoiler: its Third Eye) sounds relatively untouched from the 1996 studio version to the 1999 Salival version, each other song is either brand new, or has a unique difference that makes it different. It is not quite a dramatic change like Metallica's S&M, but it still has that famous "Tool sound" that progressive metalheads like myself fell in love with.
It has a refreshing sound that makes the newer versions seem a bit different than the original, but enough difference that makes the live versions seem like a legitimate way to change the style, rather than use it as a cash grab. This is an all time great live album that further shows how talented the band is.

Briefly going over the tracks:

Like I said before, Third Eye is mostly the same in comparison to the original version, which was on their 1996 album, Ænima. The original version had wonderful pacing that led to the explosive climax, as "prying open my third eye" sounded more and more aggressive as it was repeated. This version is the same way: but also has more "raw" vocals and a longer intro. In terms of this version compared to the original, whichever one is better is up to personal preference. Personally, I like the ending sequences of the Salival version better, but that is just my opinion.

Part of Me sounds way better in this version compared to the other versions, which were featured on both 72826 (1991) and Opiate (1992). It has a greater feeling of a heavy rock/ metal sound, and Maynard sounds even better at vocals here. While a very short song, it packs a punch. It kind of gives the opposite effect of a cool-down, similarly to when wrestling promoters book a slow paced match after a wild and fast paced one. While Third Eye took time to progress into the loud ending, this song took no time at all to become fast and heavy, and was like that throughout the entire 3:34 runtime.

In a song that they completely re-worked, this version of Pushit is a masterpiece: even better than the already incredible studio version that blessed the 1996 record. This version is about three minutes longer compared to the original, and sounds way more progressive. In the beginning stages, there are only vocals and guitar, then builds to the rest of the instruments. I do not want to use the word "peaceful" to describe this version, but it sounds very similar to what was later used on their 2019 album Fear Inoculum, specifically the intros to the title track, Pneuma, and basically the entirety of Culling Voices. While not lasting as long as the original version, the heavier moments pack more of a punch due to the build it takes to get there, similarly to a five star match or fight with a year long build. For close to fourteen minutes, the time flies by, and even adds some innovative things not seen on a Tool song before, like the sounds of bongo drums and parts where bass is the only thing that would be heavily prioritized for a bit. This would become a regular thing on the future albums, like Disposition/Reflection/Triad from Lateralus, Intention from 10,000 Days, and parts of Invincible from Fear Inoculum. While the original version is fantastic in itself and fits perfectly with the rest of Ænema, the uniqueness of this version makes me like it a bit better. Go out of your way to hear this song, if you have not already.

Message to Harry Manback II is the highly anticipated second part to Message to Harry Manback, an interlude from Ænema, which had the sound of an answering machine playing a message (no, really). In the sequel, it is pretty much the same, except different lyrics. There are no pianos playing in this version, but still has a "creepy" style to it. The first one served as an interlude to the 1996 album, and the second one is still an interlude on here. Nothing much more to say about this one, as it served it's purpose of cooling down the listener from Pushit.

You Lied is a cover from Peach's 1994 album, Giving Birth to a Stone. Fun fact: the bass player from Peach is actually Justin Chancellor, the current bassist of Tool! Little bit of foreshadowing? The world may never know. Anyway, the original version is awesome, and has a great rock sound. Tool's version is about two minutes longer, however it is played at a slower pace compared to the original. This is another song that builds up to the climax of heavy instruments and the chilling words "you lied" being sung. Besides Maynard's vocals, the song sounds very similar, but the band did a great job at covering it.

Merkaba is basically an instrumental track that has some speaking moments throughout. It has also been played in various concerts around the time of the Ænema, like at the Electric Factory in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on November 23rd, 1996. As an instrumental, it is great. This song almost seems to be ahead of its time, as it would probably fit really well on the Lateralus album. There are parts of the song where I see drum fills or riffs that could have been reused on future Tool songs, like Triad (2001), Descending (2019), Chocolate Chip Trip (2019), and the outro of this song sounds a bit similar to the intro from the title track of Lateralus. Danny Carey shines on this song, as his drum fills make it seem like he has more than two arms and legs. While I was not expecting a song like this, it was a very welcome surprise.

Tool's cover of No Quarter by Led Zeppelin is an all time classic. The band found a way to turn a famous song and basically make it one of their own, and that is exactly what a cover is supposed to do. There is actually a very fascinating story about this song: According to some sources, the track was originally made in around 1995 for a Led Zepplin tribute album. In 1997, after the song was released, Howard Stern, famous radio talk show host on Sirius XM, wanted the cover to be on his movie that was coming out that year, Private Parts. He loved the original Zeppelin song, and since Tool was becoming huge, he felt that using the cover was a perfect opportunity The band's record label at the time, Zoo Entertainment, allowed Howard to use the song without the band members knowing. Once the band members found out, they were not thrilled. Before the band eventually pulled out of the agreement because the record label did not have the rights to share the music without permission, Howard was promoting the soundtrack, which included that song, all over his radio broadcasts. Once he got the news that the track will not be used, and that the band actually did not want their music being featured, Howard took it very personally. To this day, he holds a grudge about the event that took place over twenty years ago, and still seems angry at the band, mainly Maynard James Keenan, over the issue. In terms of the song itself, it is simply incredible. In my opinion, this destroys the original version of the song, and is probably the best version of the song out there. While the MSG 1973 performance is an all time classic, this might even be better than that, however people that are not fans of the "Tool sound" would most likely disagree. In the beginning, the vocals sound like they were under a megaphone, similarly to how live performances of Eulogy are performed. For Tool, it worked great. From seven minutes on, it could seriously rival most songs out there, because it is so fantastic. This is the climax, which has an explosive verse, along with the chorus being sung one last time. The drumming on this one is especially great, as Danny Carey is one of the greatest to ever pick up a pair of sticks. The last minute or so has this great instrumental intro that highlights all of the instruments, and sounds like a grand jam. Overall, while I do not know if this is the greatest cover *ever*, but this is worth going out of your way to see.

LAMC is a very tough song to describe. The instrumentals have a resemblance to Die Eier von Satan, an interlude off of Ænema . LAMC stands for Los Angeles Municipal Court, and the words in the song is an automated system that describes many buttons to press in order to get to various extensions. If you hate something like this when talking on the phone, then this would be an absolute nightmare. It relates to the people who have gotten outrageous traffic tickets, calling about it, and how the automated system can get VERY tedious. There is a point where numbers dial to reach somewhere, but the system does not understand, tells the caller to call back during normal hours, and hangs up. Once the caller talks again, the entire process starts back up, but quickly fades away.From start to finish, this was just *creepy*. While not a six star classic, this needs to be heard in order to fully grasp what I am talking about. Only Tool would be able to get away with this, and create some sort of memorable listening experience with a concept like this. If you like something strange, then this is an absolute home run. With four minutes left in the song, people can wonder what is next. It would actually be a hidden track at the end, called Maynard's Dick . This concept is not uncommon, as Staind had Excess Baggage be played long after Spleen finished, from the album Dysfunction. Another example is when Kid Rock put a remixed version of I Am The Bullgod after Black Chick, White Guy, from the album Devil Without a Cause. I have heard mixed feelings about this hidden track, but I think that it is actually quite good for what it is. It is a half acoustic/rock song that has Maynard describing his genitalia in the third person. It is extremely wacky, but if you know not to take it too seriously, you should get a positive listening experience out of it. I actually thought that this was a great closing track to the album. It perfectly describes the type of "fun" songs that Tool was putting out around this time. In a way, I can consider this song as an end of an era for the band. For example, in 2112 by Rush, the B-Side of that record served as a "farewell" to the shorter, less progressive side of the band that was seen on their first few albums. In future releases, they would either get more complex with their songs, or use synthesizers, like their albums from the 1980s. For Tool, this would be the last time where they would dedicate a song on such topics, as Lateralus was much more progressive, and some would say a more mature record. For some, 1996-2000 can be considered as the best era of the band due to their wild creativity and incredible live shows. No matter what era of Tool you pick, you will find something outstanding.

Long story short: What makes this "live album" better than most of the other ones out there? It adds a sense of uniqueness to the songs. It provides a new sound to our favorite Tool songs of that era, and also provides some great covers and a truly... different closing/hidden track. Some might say that this was the peak of the band, but I do not know if I would go far, as every album they made are on a scale from great to perfect; they have not made a bad album. As for some live albums out there, Salival does not ruin any of the original songs; it either sounds kind of similar (Third Eye)) or makes me like it over the original (Part of Me, Pushit). This is not just a great live album, but it is a fantastic record in its own right. This is an all time classic that should not only be listened to be every Tool fan, but for any fan of the progressive metal genre. Trust me, it is more than worth it.

Long Live Tool!

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FlowBroTJ FlowBroTJ / March 17, 2021 10:34 PM
Omega

After having to deal with two disappointing comeback albums from two of symphonic metal’s giants (Within Temptation and Nightwish) over the last couple of years, I was starting to get worried about Epica. This Dutch group has been among the most consistent over a near two decade career and it felt like we were long overdue for a followup to 2016’s The Holographic Principle.

Well here’s the thing: I am not opposed to long wait times between albums, as long as the end result is well worth the wait. And man did Epica deliver! Omega is Epica’s best album to date and does almost everything right when it comes to not only symphonic metal, but also developing the Epica sound to astronomical heights.

Now I will say this; Omega is not without its flaws. The trigger bass drum is still persistent in portions of this album, due to the albums high concept, it tends to run long, and you start to feel like Epica is running out of steam near the end of the record, even as they try to incorporate heavier death metal tendencies on “Twilight Reverie - The Hypnagogic State” and “Omega - Sovereign of the Sun Spheres”. But these are issues that have persisted not just in Epica’s music, but also throughout all of symphonic metal.

So if you can overlook the overplayed, bad trends of symphonic metal, what you will find is a splendid album. Simone Simons sounds better than ever and it’s the rest of the band that assists her immensely. I was floored by the opening three numbers: “Abyss of Time - Countdown to Singularity” through “Seal of Solomon” has excellent pacing of the guitar, bass, synth, orchestral and percussive elements, and Mark Jansen’s death metal screams are just an added bonus. The breakdown on “Abyss of Time - Countdown to Singularity” is ridiculous and hits like a Brock Lesnar F5. But it’s the ballad “Rivers” that really got to me. Simone’s transitions between conventional pop and operatic vibrato is impeccable, and the swelling instrumental is gorgeous.

The songwriting has made a huge level up by having some instantly catchy hooks whether from the guitar leads or the vocals. The further elaborations of the symphonic death metal sounds are rewarding, and they even throw in a couple of middle eastern folk touches that would fit right into an Orphaned Land record with “Seal of Solomon” and “Code of Life”. These divergences do not feel forced or cheap; they are well produced, well executed, and make up some of Omega’s top moments.

 I had heightened expectations for Omega; in fact I would say that this was likely my most anticipated early release of 2021, and did Epica come through in a big way! Symphonic metal has had a mostly lackluster handful of recent years, but no one told Epica that! This album feels fresh and original, while still maintaining the points of interest that keep fanboys of symphonic metal like myself coming back for more. This better not be Epica’s “Omega” because they still have plenty left in the tank to deliver.

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saxystephens saxystephens / March 17, 2021 07:08 PM
Ultraviolet

I've never really been a Kylesa fan, but I recently stumbled upon a couple of their songs, each from one of their albums, when searching for Spotify recommendations for my private-at-the-moment playlists. While the first song, "Tired Climb" from Spiral Shadow, was a restrained pop-ish metal disappointment, the second song which appears in this album, Ultraviolet (I'll tell you which one when we come to it) is heavier and more superior. This made me surprised that this album is considered non-metal, when I hear stoner metal all over in that song, but having learned my lesson after my Alcest review/judgement submission, I decided I won't submit this album into the Hall until I make a full review. So let's dive into this offering from a sludgy stoner metal band from Georgia!

I am quite curious to see if there's metal here or not, but while the metal strength is prominent enough to be in a clan, it seems more diminished than most other metal albums I've listened to. That might sound awful, but the approach works better than you might expect because it has way more psychedelic abstract than mainstream sugar. Instead of 21 Century Blink 182-inspired music, they've gone backwards in time with their influences ranging from 90s alt-rock to 80s post-punk to 70s Pink Floyd. Baroness and Kylesa stay king and queen of present-day stoner/sludge, but the latter's sound is more evident, proving that this album is, once and for all, considered metal.

"Exhale" sounds great with cool downtuned fuzz, but the lyrics can come out hilarious. The band's combination of heavy sludge metal with psychedelic trance is so obvious in "Unspoken", their most accomplished mission in reminding me of how metal they are. In fact, that's the song from this album I found when I was adding recommended songs to one of my playlists to my Spotify account, and the main reason for this review. "Grounded" is another great song.

"We're Taking This" is short but has f***ing intense vocals with insane lyrics. The guitars sound fresh, especially at the two-minute mark that reminds me of Mastodon, though not as amazing as "Unspoken". Except in this one, you hear massive atmosphere with amazing riffs suitable for metalheads. Seriously, those sinister vocals are awesome! You'll find a lot of sludge stacking up more than Red Fang or Stake, and did I mention the heavy uncompromising riff in the psych section. It's so short, unlike Mastodon's longer songs, but I love it! I also say h*ll yeah to the awesome "Long Gone". The short "What Does It Take?" is faster, but in a Placebo-gone-metal kinda way. Philip Cope goes solo when doing the vocals for that song. "Steady Breakdown" starts with what the title says, but over the stoner rhythm is a memorable melody. However, the melancholic passages make the band have a Beach House-like sound. Laura Pleasants returns with her vocals and riffs there.

"Low Tide" is a somber flashback to Joy Division. "Vulture’s Landing" continues the speed with Laura's vocals soaring through the air, along with a short solo trip. A killer heavy tune! "Quicksand" is a quick song with not a lot to note here. "Drifting" starts off sounding more suitable for stoner smokers before increasing heaviness.

Ultraviolet is a pleasant break from the extreme metal realm of growls and blast-beats, but there are a few outstanding riffs and heavy solos, though with barely any doom in the guitars. However, what's really missing that would make the album more appealing would be any tribal drumming jams that would make the dreamy soundscape and the heavy vocals more solid. Ultraviolet might not make Kylesa reach my interest, I love the mystique of this album! Kylesa have really evolved their sound along with fellow prog-sludgers Mastodon and Baroness. Ultraviolet is an album I would recommend to people with broader stoner tastes who might find this kind of metal fascinating....

Favorites: "Unspoken", "We're Taking This", "Long Gone", "Steady Breakdown", "Vulture's Landing"

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shadowdoom9 shadowdoom9 / March 17, 2021 10:29 AM
Relentless Retribution

My relationship with Death Angel is not the best and so me finding a release of theirs that I enjoy is a rarity indeed and so one that needs committing to a review. To give some context to my dislike in general of Death Angel I have struggled to get on with Mark’s vocals in the main but also find the “fusion” elements of the experimentation of their sound to be often quite bizarre sounding. Overall, I have never found an album that I could say even half of which was to my liking, this lack of completeness just births frustration and I gave up bothering a long time ago.

Relentless Retribution does present me with the same challenges as before only this time around the experimentation is paired back Mark’s vocals seem to fit better this time out. I also must commend the guitar work of Rob and Ted which is brimming with energy and flair (without getting pissy) and really helps pull the album back from the precipice on more than one occasion it must be noted.

As I say, the vocals do not always nail it still and it is at these points where they start to grate that the riffs and leads really elevate proceedings, even if they do not necessarily lift anything into the outer stratosphere in the long run. The point is that Relentless Retribution makes for a great thrash metal album that sounds like it is made by a band rediscovering their form or even by a band younger than the actual age of Death Angel themselves. At times it is sharp with cutting riffs and chugging engine-like passages that make you sit up and take notice and overall, it presents as a fun experience.

Yes, there’s still elements of them going a bit too far for me (what is the thought process behind the ending to Claws in so Deep??) and this constant exploration of genres I their music I guess will just never sit well with me. However, credit where credit is due, this is a solid album that entertains and there are not many of these in the DA discography to my ears.


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Vinny Vinny / March 17, 2021 08:11 AM
Peace Sells... But Who's Buying?

Surely I'm not the only one who disliked Megadeth's debut 'Killing is My Business', right? I mean, I didn't just dislike it, I hated it. I thought it was awful. It was boring, uninspiring, repetitive, grating, and just all-out rubbish.

That's why I'm happy that with 'Peace Sells... But Who's Buying?', Dave Mustaine and his band of merry musicians become the Megadeth we all truly know and love today. And that includes me!

Everything I hated about 'Killing...' has been rectified here. The songs are catchier and the guitar work has matured a great deal, the vocals have improved massively, in both lyrics and melodies, and the production finally gives the music some clarity, as opposed to their debut album where I felt the shoddy production made it hard to truly distinguish any of the guitar riffs.

Now, let's not get ahead of ourselves. This album is far from perfect, and for all the improvements it's made over its predecessor, there are still some fairly average songs that I don't find myself ever coming back to. However, there are also some early Megadeth classics in there that still hold up well today, such as 'Wake Up Dead' and 'Peace Sells'. And tracks like 'Devil's Island', 'Good Morning/Black Friday' and 'My Last Words' show a band who, despite the vast amounts of drugs and alcohol they were consuming, still had the wherewithal to produce something that would be considered one of thrash metals finest works.

Oh, and it happens to have one of the most recognizable album covers in metal! Not bad. Not bad at all.

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MartinDavey87 MartinDavey87 / March 17, 2021 04:00 AM
Les voyages de l'âme

I wanna make this really clear from the start that this IS post-metal/blackgaze. Really! I dare you listen to this album and see if you can't find any metal. Result? You definitely can and will! This is what Alcest is for this album. Black metal has its controversial rep of dark Satanism, and even though Alcest is part of that genre, they do the opposite of what most other black metal bands do; evoke hope and tranquil beauty. In Les Voyages de l'Âme, the songs have calm melodies and powerful riffs guided by ethereal vocals of Neige. It's definitely not like doom bands (except maybe My Threnody) because the atmosphere consists of uplifting melody, unlike the haunting darkness of those other bands. With every melancholic touch comes a hopeful aura. Instead of reminiscing the past of pain and suffering, I can let the beauty embrace my life energy.

So what's the album's problem then? Well without the beauty it already has, the album would be left with not a lot to enjoy. The ethereal soundscape is what keeps the music in shape, formed from Neige's imagination of the Fairyland (not to be confused with symphonic power metal band Fairyland, also from France). This seems both complete and incomplete. You have to put a lot heart, soul, and mind into your music, but it's the mind element that this album is missing. With that, this album is more based on mood. The ethereal soundscape will certainly teleport you into the Fairyland...

The starting track "Autre Temps" (Another Time) slowly grabs your attention as you experience the acoustic progression that you send you through a thousand winter fields beneath the blackened sky of Neige's vocals and guitars. "Là Où Naissent les Couleurs Nouvelles" (Where the New Colors are Born) has more black metal aggression in the guitar distortion and grim vocals. The riffs are so memorable that this can very well be the last thing to remember before you die, no matter what. Besides the dreamy vibe, the heaviness of this song is the main reason why I decided to review this album in protest against it being non-metal, and it was all thanks to a Spotify recommendation when assembling my own private-but-will-be-public-someday playlists.

We can notice more of the grim visions caused by guitar distortion in the title track (in which the title means "The Journeys of the Soul"). The tremolos are some of the best parts of the album and they use it well in this song in a different direction but the same effects. "Nous Sommes L'Emeraude" (We are the Emerald) adds more mist to the guitar riffing, along with great drumming. "Beings of Light" is, however, a filler 6-minute track with overused writing and unintelligible vocals. The otherwise killer bass and drums don't help the song get any better.

"Faiseurs de Mondes" (Makers of Worlds) has abrasive black metal screaming in the first half that reminds me of early Woods of Ypres. "Havens" is another filler track, this time being a useless generic interlude. Finally, the last track "Summer's Glory" is more triumphant in some parts, but in other parts, it has a commercial part that makes you think you heard it before in other albums from North bands or maybe in the mainstream. Not really a good thing...

Despite most of the second half being weak, I can't deny the music performed by Neige that gives most of the songs here absolute beauty and serenity. There might not be any progressive riffing or technical complexity, not even brutal destruction, but the album is so d*mn beautiful....

Favorites: "Autre Temps", "Là Où Naissent les Couleurs Nouvelles", "Les Voyages de l'Âme", "Faiseurs de Mondes"

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shadowdoom9 shadowdoom9 / March 17, 2021 01:13 AM
Transcending Misery

Time for the last bit of this project's nearly unknown darkness... There's no denying the power of "Denial", which is actually sounds heavier and faster, like a darker Persefone. Killer opener! Then it's back to the good melancholic doom misery of "Transcending Misery", though the structure can be a bit progressive. Excellent one! "Running to Stand Still" seems to run the light doom engine greatly, but it just comes out as a standstill. The EP would be perfect if that song was more improved....

So this EP, Transcending Misery is a bit heavier and more progressive while maintaining the doom in the last two tracks. The EP would be My Threnody's swansong until a new single was released 15 years later. But for now, let the misery transcend upon you..... (quite a short review, but the length fits well for this short EP)

Favorites: "Denial", "Transcending Misery"

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shadowdoom9 shadowdoom9 / March 16, 2021 11:08 AM
The Dawn of Understanding

The deepest darkness lies in the Dawn of Understanding...and it takes someone brave and experienced to reach that dark depth, let alone understand it. Once you're ready to face that level, you'll find the project's underrated greatness within.

The opening intro, "Epilogue - Tenebrae" (I'm sure they meant to say "Prologue") sets the dark slow mood. "Fading Away" shows that I can be pleased by the slow darkness of doom metal, as opposed to faster modern bands like Demon Hunter and In Flames. "A Dying Flame" also gives a melancholic vibe that never fails to please, adding beauty into the sorrow for a nice blend.

The track "Thy Threnody" (almost the band's theme) is so good, especially in the lyrics and orchestral parts. Throughout the 11 minutes, the song may sound similar to other tracks, but it maintains that power and stays strong, through it might start getting a little draggy a few minutes in. After those slow songs, the short fast "The Orchid" blazes in out of nowhere, adding to the mix the progressive black/death elements of early Opeth. Everything fits well, though that song isn't very long. Then the slowness comes back in the lighter "Butterfly on a Wheel".

Another slow song is "The Sorrow in Your Eyes", though just when it starts to prepare a fast dash towards the end, it doesn't happen, it just fades into the rain. That's probably the one thing out all of the band's songs that has bothered me. "Embrace the Pain" is what the beauty of this song does. The finale, "The Break of Dawn", indeed breaks the dark dawn with a bright sunrise. The bonus track "As the Autumn Comes" is a demo version of a song from the previous album, An Angel and the Eternal Silence.

So is this album different from their previous album? Not entirely. But is it still interesting. Yes! It is impressive how one man can do everything in this project, and The Dawn of Understanding would surely delight fans of dark orchestral doom metal put together in an hour-long album. A doom form that is both sad and beautiful!

Favorites: "Fading Away", "A Dying Flame", "Thy Threnody", "The Orchid", "Embrace the Pain"

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shadowdoom9 shadowdoom9 / March 16, 2021 10:19 AM
An Angel and the Eternal Silence

My Threnody is the brainchild and one-man band of  Jefferson Britto, formerly of Brazilian band Silent Cry. Based on what I’ve heard, Silent Cry (at least during Britto’s tenure) was Black-Doom, but I think My Threnody is much better categorized as Symphonic Metal. It’s mostly slow, but it’s also drenched in orchestral-style keyboards. While this is a little out of my usual territory (I haven’t delved in this genre much outside of Emperor’s “IX Equilibrium” LP), I can appreciate a good record as a good record, but “An Angel and the Eternal Silence” left me a bit dry. There’s sound effects or rainfall and bird chirps, as well as spoken word segments, with lots of  changes and dynamics. The problem is the parts aren’t very interesting. Too many of the more somber moments are just really bland. I also feel that a lot of the  guitar riffs could be improved with some slight tweaking, like switching from a major to a minor key, that sort of thing. The less heavy moments also take up way too much of the record, to where it sometimes feels like mellowness being offset by the occasional metal, as opposed to the other way around.  The music will start to get going, and then go into a piano break. I want to re-emphasize how prominent the keyboards are, they really soften things up a bit too much for me.There are only a few parts that are straight-up cringey    ( the opening lyrics to “ As the Autumn Comes...” are like something out of a 14 year old goth girl’s diary), for the most part this record is just forgettable. The only track I can see myself coming back to is “Tulip” ( the title alone should tell you something about this record), which has a pretty cool denouement that is, of course, very sappy  but also pretty catchy, with some good layered vocals. On the positive end of things, Britto does have a pretty cool “clean” voice, and when he sings like that (and the lyrics aren’t too shitty), those are probably the best parts of the album. His growl is just okay.  Considering how elaborate a lot of the compositions are - It definitely sounds like a concept record - it’s a shame the end result isn’t more memorable. To put it simply, I wish it was more DARK.

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Chris Van Etten Chris Van Etten / March 16, 2021 01:59 AM
An Angel and the Eternal Silence

Hello darkness, my old friend, I've come to listen to you again, because a vision softly creeping left its seeds while I was sleeping, and the vision that was planted in my brain still remains...as An Angel and the Eternal Silence. (see what I did with that first paragraph?)

After a break from the doomy darkness for the heavy metal light of bands like Accept, Riot, and Ignited, it was time to return with this album, starting with a short doom metal overture, "Lies". Then "Shadows Reigns" picks up the energy, sometimes going into thrashy velocity, but of course this isn't Trivium or Revocation in any way, it's epic extreme doom, that's what it is. "Like Roses and Thorns" really does have beauty and pain like roses and thorns.

"Tulips (And the Garden Looks So Sad)" sounds so sad, but having experienced doom for a few years now, I'm used to the sadness. "Songs for the Sorrowful Souls" is actually one track split into two songs, "Frozen Tears" and "Pact of Souls", and their both filled with sorrow, especially that second act.

I'm a little surprised these next two songs have been combined into one track since they fit like a glove, not just in the name, "As the Autumn Comes and the Night Falls", though I guess in order for that to work, the former would have to segue into the latter. I definitely enjoy the latter song, though. "Eternally" is the longest song in the album and by the project, at over 13 minutes. Another two-part epic, with the two parts being "Absence of Your Light" and "Painless Now"! I enjoy their melancholic sound inspired by the death-doom Paradise Lost and inspiring the dark lyrics of Before the Dawn. "In Articulo Mortis" is the outro to end this dark dream.

In conclusion and all honesty, An Angel and the Eternal Silence is none other than an epic dark doom masterpiece that would motivate any fan of doom metal and/or death-doom to return to the genre when they feel nostalgic after heading into the light of The Guardians. Say hello again to your old friend darkness!

Favorites: "Shadows Reigns", "Like Roses and Thorns", "Songs for the Sorrowful Souls", "And the Night Falls", "Eternally"

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shadowdoom9 shadowdoom9 / March 16, 2021 01:22 AM
Animals as Leaders

The "Soulless" Genre

When does an album become simple noodling? How many notes per second does the guitarist or bassist have to play before it becomes wankery? How many time signature changes and syncopated rhythms must a song have before it becomes soulless? When highly technical performers release a convoluted, technical album, it must only be because they want everyone who listens to bow down to their immense, obvious virtuosic prowess as they rub it in our simpleton faces. Truly, no one who is skilled at their instrument creates music that they find cool and interesting to listen to in ways that they’re able to because they’re incredibly skilled; that’d be absolutely absurd.

As someone who’s enjoyed listening to technical, instrumental Progressive Metal ever since I got into the Metal genre on the whole, the general disdain for acts like Animals as Leaders in certain corners of the music world can be perplexing. The obvious disclaimer here is that of course all music is subjective and I’ll never say that anyone is wrong for feeling any sort of way, but the blanket observations about instrumental, math-y progressive metal have worn on me a bit too hard. I make it no secret that I have a soft spot for music like this, even though I’ll almost never give a record like Animals as Leaders unwavering, glowing praise, save for an anomaly like Cloudkicker’s Solitude from 2020. Hell, over the past few months of checking out some releases from the newest math-y instrumental sensation Plini I can almost see what people mean when they say this genre can be “soulless”. I really don’t think that holds true for Animals As Leaders’ debut, though.

This record is basically a solo project for guitarist Tosin Abasi, with Misha Mansoor of Periphery only supplying drums and electronics for what Abasi had written. The guy is obviously extremely skilled, which is where most of the wow-factor comes from in instrumental records like this, but Animals as Leaders has always been one of the more compelling guitar centric albums to come after the age of the 1980’s shredders for me. I’ve always felt like this album shows any other modern shred album how its done with its great mix of progressive scale melodies, ripping solos, and Djent-y chugs. It can be unfocused at times, especially during the shorter interlude tracks like “Tessitura”, “Point to Point” and “Modern Meat”, but the rest of this debut falls into the positive side of unfocused for me. While Abasi doesn’t exactly write tunes that have obvious progressions and payoffs, the grooves and fleeting melodies that make up Animals as Leaders are still creative and fresh sounding. Even though “Behaving Badly”, “CAFO”, and “Song of Solomon” are the common highlights of Abasi’s acute playing, the rest of the tracks are nothing to scoff at. “Tempting Time” is an energetic introduction to the album, “Soraya” showcases some enticing bass lines, “On Impulse” and “The Price of Everything and the Value of Nothing” mellows things out for a much-needed change of pace, and “Inamorata’s” hefty middle section and soloing is just as impressive as the aforementioned, more notable tracks.

Animals as Leaders is far from a perfect album, nor is it a staggering revolution in progressive instrumental metal. The drum production is extremely sketchy throughout, especially when it comes to the ear-splitting snare at times, and the electronics could definitely be a bit more inspired at times. But all that said, it remains one of the more exciting modern shred-fests that helped to catapult this style of djent fused, jazzy progressive metal into the limelight during the beginning of the 2010’s. For just a moment, Animals as Leaders helped make nerdy, technical musings cool again to a pretty wide audience, and other groups like Intervals, Polyphia, and now Plini are riding that wave to varying amounts of success. To see all of these bands be sometimes dismissed as self-indulgent noodling sessions is absolutely disheartening as a progressive metal fan, though. These types of albums have so many excellent riffs and ideas that are categorized as sterile and soulless because, seemingly, the guitarist decided to play a few more notes out of the scale than the rest of the same chugs that metal has been using for decades. I love the experimentation and I’m always excited to see what crazy riffs and grooves people come up with, even though the songwriting of players like Abasi is admittedly historically lackluster. The point of highly technical records like Animals as Leaders is the same as any other album, and while it may not invoke some kind of divine emotion within my very being, immediately bending the opposite way and claiming it’s devoid of all life is something that I don’t think I’ll ever quite understand. I still get a ton of enjoyment out of albums like this and Animals as Leaders’ debut shows they have more than enough edge and character to be more than a showoff at a school talent show.

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Xephyr Xephyr / March 15, 2021 09:41 PM
Steelbound

On the surface, I understand why bands like Ignited take the safe route and write music that is indebted to traditional heavy metal bands like Judas Priest and Overkill. These are legendary acts with legendary albums; Painkiller and The Years of Decay respectfully, are not just great heavy metal albums, but also some of the best albums of their respective years. And so, it becomes an easy sell for those who grew up with that music, or the younger generation who were educated on the history of metal through these iconic acts.

Steelbound is that with almost no development whatsoever. Most of this album sounds like it could have been written for a late era album by one those bands like Ironbound or Firepower. I don't understand why Ignited play this plainspoken without any development of the sound in question, in order to make it their own. Heavy metal in the most traditional sense of the word has become remarkably stagnant in the last decade, and it's albums like this that prove it.

The songwriting feel formulaic and everything involved in that songwriting is paint by numbers: Denis Lima's belting vocals, the riffing in the guitar feel played out, and the song structures follow very static verse/chorus/bridge/solo formulas. The riffs are okay, the vocals and guitar solos are impressive without becoming over-indulgent, and some of the choruses are fairly catchy. That being said, I once again hear too many similarities to a band like Judas Priest instead of a sound that takes influence and transforms it into something unqiue.

And you know what? All of that could be forgiven if the production was decent. But what we end up with is a lifeless mix in which I wonder if the bass player (Sama Benedet) even had their amplifier turned on. I'm sorry, I cannot forgive "Living in the Dark" for giving the guitar a modest lead, only to find out that there is nothing anchoring that guitar lead in place. Meanwhile, "Roaring Gears" has a rhythm guitar chugging riff that is doubled by the bass boosted kick drum, which is usually my biggest issue with death metal records! The riffs on "Steelbound" and "Ignition" feel like they have been taken right out of a groove metal handbook from fifteen years ago. And the overall tinny guitar tone just puts it over the edge for me. No amount of Rob Halford pipes will save this one!

To me, Steelbound feels like an album that was created by a bunch of dads who could never get into the new trends of traditional heavy metal. So they decided to make an album under the guise of "hey fellow dads! Are you sick of all of these new popular trends in metal? You want something that is old school?" Their description for this album on Bandcamp reads "...straightforward with captivating and powerful songs!" It's straightforward alright! To the point of unrecognizable. Even Judas Priest's worst albums never got this far. You'll be better off sticking to the OG's.

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saxystephens saxystephens / March 15, 2021 08:51 PM
Steelbound

3... 2... 1... "Ignition"!!!! The 40-second intro of this song, and its album Steelbound, made me think of Trivium, with the fast speedy tempo and killer riffing, and it seemed like a reasonable thought...until the high screaming vocals come in to blow me away. As a recent fan of classic heavy metal bands like Accept and Riot, I definitely accept this! Ignited may have their own original heavy metal sound, but each of these 10 songs bring back memories of the power metal bands I used to enjoy. Helping me recall those brighter power metal memories is "Pain", allowing me to take a break from the darkness of gothic metal bands like Type O Negative and Lacuna Coil.

The title track is a kick-A speeder that is one reason why this album is bound closer to me than Riot's Thundersteel. "Living in the Dark" is a mid-tempo march that's slightly darker but still shines bright. "Call Me to Run" will have you running faster than a cheetah on steroids when you're having a morning run. "Times" shows the band going softer and mid-tempo while staying a bit chaotic.

"Ground Pounding" is a mighty pounder, that will have you stomping on the ground harder than a certain Queen anthem. "Shining Void" is another shining highlight that once again brings some of my lighter melodic metal melodies out of the void I've abandoned long ago. "Roaring Gears" is a killer song, in which the gears of instrumentation roar right through and the vocals have mighty power. "Rotting" is the last and longest song of the album at just around 5 minutes, and it kinda recaps some of their influences while staying true to the originality they have.

In conclusion and all honesty, Ignited's Steelbound is a brilliant offering of heavy metal that ignited memories of my epic metal past of the 2010s. It continues to fill my heart to become a heart of a Guardian. This band and album is so underrated and deserves to be heard and supported more. Let the power of heavy metal unite!

Favorites: "Ignition", "Steelbound", "Call Me to Run", "Ground Pounding", "Shining Void", "Roaring Gears", "Rotting"

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shadowdoom9 shadowdoom9 / March 15, 2021 10:58 AM