Turkey's Cenotaph have given us a pretty generic brutal death metal album here. It's fast & intense throughout but there is really very little to distinguish the tracks apart from each other. I'm not sure about everyone else but I find the vocals to be pretty annoying as it seriously doesn't sound like he is even trying to make any type of actual words. It just sounds like one long groan throughout the album. Plenty of pinch harmonics going on. Another area where Cenotaph need improvement is in song structure & overall tightness. The elite bands like Suffocation have a way of balancing the technicality with song structures that flow nicely instead of jumping around all over the place randomly. Cenotaph don't possess this skill yet. This album is not bad by any means but it's not something I'd listen to again.
Okay, I am going to be honest. This is my first taste of Memoriam, albeit the release that is purportedly their best; according to the internet at least. Things start well, on the riffing front at least. 'Shell Shock' motors like a fucking tank, being driven with precision through its destructive and relentless path. Similiarly, 'Undefeated' with it's groovy as fuck riff and chopping rhythm continues in a full on attack of the senses. The sophistication and poise both come up a couple of notches with 'Never The Victim', with its defiant mood and melancholic melody. By this point my initial concerns about the vocals being too buried in the mix appear to be just confined to the first track as they sit perfectly well by this stage.
The politically charged 'Austerity Kills' takes things off on a crusty/hardcore slant with the visceral hatred for the subject matter barked out by Willetts in an almost matter-of-fact way. It feels relevant, modern and appealing to listen to, whilst at the same time the echoes of Bolt Thrower still ring in distant chambers somewhere behind. The more melodic start to 'In the Midst of Desolation' soon builds into a chunky riff monster whilst maintaining a brooding sense of looming danger throughout.
The experience and ability is obvious here. Whale's drumming is on point from start to finish here. Willett's vocals are as strong as ever and the performance of Fairfax on guitars is nothing short of superb. Healy, meanwhile is a bit drowned in the mix which is not necessarily a bad thing that detracts from the sound in any way, it is just obvious.
As we get towards the final third of the record things show no sign of calming down. I will have the scathing riffs of 'Refuse to Be Led' on my brain for the rest of my time on this mortal coil for sure. There's no obvious drop in quality, energy or pace it is pleasing to note. The toying delivery of 'The Veteran' just marauds and mauls the listener's ears into submission. The title track just cements the foundations of what has been built over the seven tracks prior to it. Washing over the listener with wave after wave of brooding tremolo riffs. As the band launches into the defiantly titled 'Fixed Bayonets' with the gusto of a quickly forming infantry, those heady days of Bolt Thrower at their very best are inevitably rekindled. This is the only track that sounds like a Bolt Thrower b-side. Don't get me wrong there's hints throughout but on this track it is much more obvious. As the band closes proceedings with the instrumental 'Interment' there's a real sense of justice to the victorious, soaring guitars on show as end to end this album is a complete triumph.
One of the better thrash albums to emerge since the early 90's sounded the death knell for the genre that changed the face of metal forever. It seems that South America has now become quite a hotbed for "the genre that just won't die" and these Chileans may just have trumped most of the other Latin neo-thrashers with their neck-snapping, fist-pumping debut. It's no hyperbole to claim that Misconception doesn't feel hugely out of place when weighed against early classics by the likes of Kreator, Sodom and even Metallica - the Cliff Burton-esque bass work of Ignacio Arévalo is of particular note. Throwing out incredible riff after incredible riff then melting your inner ear with his searing solos lead guitarist Felipe Alvarado must be absolutely knackered after this, which is probably why he keeps the vocals to a minimum (although they are perfectly fine). It will take a bolt out of the blue to produce a better thrash album this year. Count me impressed!
Aggressive and muscular thrash that also borrows from death and black metal, similar to the band's compatriots Blood Tsunami. There are very few tempo changes or variation, but a guarantee that your ears will be relentlessly pummelled for thirty-odd minutes which, as you know if you are any fan of thrash, is no bad thing. The downside is that the production sounds muddied and blunts the assault a little but, to be fair, this is a minor niggle. Recommended for fans of Kreator, Slayer, Sodom etc.
With the majority of Katatonia's albums, I find myself describing the changes that have occurred between the current release and its predecessor. This has been due to the band’s habit of constantly editing their sound, evolving from their raw death doom of the early 90s through to the still doomy but far more commercial alternative metal of the band today. This constant change could also be due to the bands line-up changing regularly over the years. But Katatonia has managed to keep a solid line-up for the past 6 years, so it's not surprising to find the last three albums that have contained these members being somewhat similar in style.
This is not a bad thing at all as 2001's "Last Fair Deal Gone Down" was in my opinion one of the biggest highlights of a long and successful career, and I'm pleased that they've chosen to run with such a good thing. "The Great Cold Distance" may not be quite as crushing as that release, but the comparisons are still plentiful. Jonas' lyrics and vocals continue to be both emotional and honest, Daniel's percussion is still constantly interesting, and Anders' and Fredrik's guitar work remains breathtakingly melodic and full.
I hope I haven't made it sound as if "The Great Cold Distance" doesn't bring anything worthy to the table, as that would not be true. This album contains a wonderful, consistent quality that while not completely unique, still manages to be thoroughly enjoyable. The band have really matured and concentrate on writing constantly moving and interesting rock music that can still be classified as metal due to the occasionally heavy riff and a generally downcast mood. The previous album, 2003's "Viva Emptiness" was solid too, yet it contained a couple of awkward moments that slightly let it down. "The Great Cold Distance" holds a steady class throughout. The highlights would have to be "Deliberation" (with its superb rousing chorus), "My Twin" and "Follower" (with that intriguing percussive beat). Surely Katatonia are close to breaking into the mainstream as some of these tracks have real chart potential.
"The Great Cold Distance" is exactly what I expected from the new Katatonia album. While it's a tiny bit more-of-the-same, it's a perfectly produced, finely crafted album that showcases the Swedes sound in all its glory. I really enjoyed it on first listen and still do so after dozens more, so I'm completely satisfied.
"The Black Sessions" is the second of the two Katatonia compilations (the first being "Brave Yester Days") to be released in consecutive years. While the "Brave Yester Days" compilation covered the bands earlier period (from 1992 through 1998), "The Black Sessions" covers the bands output from 1998 through to 2003. There's no death / doom material here, it's all in the depressive rock vein that they evolved towards through the mid-nineties. The other striking difference is that this compilation contains not only two CDs worth of material, but also a bonus live DVD recorded in Krakow, Poland. Basically, the 2 CDs contain tracks from "Discouraged Ones", "Tonight's Decision", "Last Fair Deal Gone Down" and "Viva Emptiness". These are all great releases and so the level of quality amongst the tracks is very high.
But what most fans will be interested in is what rare and unreleased tracks are on here as well as what the quality of the live DVD is. As for rare material, there is only one previously unreleased track, which is "Wait Outside". This track was recorded in the "Viva Emptiness" sessions and is a decent one too, although nothing to get too excited about. There are also two tracks that were released as bonus tracks on the slip-case reissue of "Tonight's Decision". These tracks are titled "No Devotion" and "Fractured". These tracks are of less value, and I think it was correct to leave them off the original release of that album. Finally, they’ve included both the "Teargas" and "Tonight's Music" EPs in their entirety, both of which are difficult to get your hands on these days. The two original tracks on the "Teargas" EP are excellent, with "Sulfur" being a highlight. The two original tracks on the "Tonight's Music" EP are not really very good, which is a shame, since the title track is one of Katatonia's greatest moments. So, in general, there are only a few bits and pieces on here to get excited about, and for those (like myself) who already own the albums and EPs, there's almost nothing.
Which brings me to the DVD. Now don't get me wrong, Katatonia are a wonderful band. One of my favourites in fact! But they just don't seem to be able to recreate the atmosphere of the studio albums when performing live. Jonas doesn’t have any energy on stage and his vocals are a little lacking. The sound in general is decent enough and the track listing is also ok. There isn't much here for fans of their early material, which is expected since they've left that sound far behind. I don't have too many complaints about the DVD but can't say I found it tremendously exciting. I doubt I will watch it very often at all.
Overall, I'd recommend "The Black Sessions" only to the completists out there that must have everything the band releases, or the casual fan that wants a blueprint of Katatonia's output without collecting all of their albums. Then again, if you don't have the "Teargas" EP, try tracking it down or purchase this compilation for that alone. There's still an awesome array of quality tracks on here, but in my opinion, it just doesn't contain as much unreleased and rare material as the "Brave Yester Days" compilation, which is a tad disappointing.
"Brave Yester Days" is the first of two Katatonia compilations (the other being "The Black Sessions") to be released in consecutive years. But the two releases do not cover the same ground at all. "Brave Yester Days" covers the earlier period of the band between 1992 and 1998, whereas "The Black Sessions" covers everything from 1998 through to 2003. Both compilations are spread across two compact discs and include rare and unreleased material making them worthy of attention for any fan of this melancholic Swedish band.
This first compilation is of value for fans of the band during their death / doom period. It includes some of the classic tracks off "Dance of December Souls" and "Brave Murder Day". Since those tracks are readily available and most fans will already have them, the interest really lies in the rare and unreleased material, of which there is plenty. Firstly, there are 4 EPs included in their entirety, all of which are extremely difficult to get your hands on these days due to their limited release. Those EPs are "Jhva Elohim Meth" from 1992, "For Funerals to Come" from 1995, "Sounds of Decay" from 1997 and "Saw You Drown" from 1998. All of these EPs are well worth listening to for various reasons. "For Funerals to Come" and "Sounds of Decay" are of particular interest, as all the tracks on each were not released on full length albums, whereas "Saw You Drown" is worthwhile due to the original album being limited to only 1500 copies (it sells for hundreds of dollars on Ebay!). On top of all the above you get 2 tracks that were on the War Compilation in the very early 90s as well as a previously unreleased track called "Untrue" that was originally intended for the "Sounds of Decay" EP. This track is fantastic and I'm not sure why it was left off in the first place.
Is "Brave Yester Days" worth your hard-earned cash? Well, it depends on whether you own any or all the above EPs. If you don't own them and you like the band’s earlier, heavier sound, then this is essential. But even if you do, there's over 2 hours of great Katatonia music on here for the price of a single album and it flows well due to the tracks being set in chronological order. It's a great snapshot of a band evolving from a raw, aggressive, yet melodic band into the suicide rock that they play today.
"Viva Emptiness", Katatonia's sixth full length album, is really a continuation of its predecessor "Last Fair Deal Gone Down", with a few slight adjustments. Considering how much I love that album, this is a good thing in my book. They took a lot of the elements that worked on the previous album and have spiced things up a little to give "Viva Emptiness" its own identity. At this stage of their career, the Swedes can be labelled as a heavy rock band with elements of metal rather than a metal band with rock influences. Long gone are the death metal influences of yesteryear to be replaced with a much more commercially viable, yet still suffocatingly dreary (in a good way) atmosphere.
So, what are these little adjustments I mentioned above? For starters, there's almost a nu-metal feel to some of these tracks. Now don't get me wrong, I'd be pretty upset if Katatonia started sounding like Slipknot and they are a long way from doing so. Yet I can't deny that tracks such as "Wealth" and "Will I Arrive", with their shredding riffs and friendly clean verses bring that thought into my head. But then "Viva Emptiness" is filled with so many variations that I can't really apply that label to much else on the album. It's also noticeable that they have included far more swear words for impact than on previous releases and in general, I feel more anger in these tracks than the normal desolation and loss that pervades most of their material. But this is without a doubt a Katatonia album from start to finish. The vulnerable, almost awkward lyrics remain while Jonas' vocals once again improving. The gorgeous guitar melodies, while used far more sparingly, are still here, and the newfound percussion addition of the last album continues in full force. Many bands have copied Katatonia's sound over the years, but none have been able to keep up with their evolution.
But while I have a lot of good things to say about "Viva Emptiness", I must admit that a couple of tracks are just not quite up to their normally consistently high quality. "One Year From Now" and "Omerta" in particular are throw away tracks and drop this album slightly below "Last Fair Deal Gone Down". The highlights for me would have to be "Criminals, "Wealth" and "Complicity" along with opener "Ghost of the Sun", but there's over 50 minutes of material to dig into here.
"Viva Emptiness" is another solid album from Katatonia that further evolves their sound towards the mainstream, while never letting go of the intense nature of its content. They are a truly unique band that has miraculously kept the majority of their fan-base while completely, yet gradually, changing their sound over the years to something almost completely unrelated to its humble foundation. The reason they've been able to do this is due to the natural progression that has occurred. The members have a real understanding of the core themes and components that the fans love and have the integrity to never alienate them while consistently challenging themselves. I thank them for it with every album!
This is the second EP Katatonia released in the same year as the "Last Fair Deal Gone Down" studio album. Whereas "Teargas" was released a few months prior to the full length, "Tonight's Music" came out a few months afterwards. Once again it contains only 3 tracks, with one also appearing on the album, and once again the whole EP runs for less than 15 minutes.
The first track is "Tonight's Music", which is my favourite track off "Last Fair Deal Gone Down". It has the most incredible emotional impact from the very first notes. It's a perfect example of the way Katatonia utilize mellow moments and heavier metal sections to create such a sense of loss and despair. When the chorus kicks in, you will totally be convinced of the authenticity of the emotions involved. "What is wrong, not with the world, but me?" It's simply a beautiful song and one of my very favourite Katatonia pieces.
Up next is "Help Me Disappear" which unfortunately is of a far lesser quality. In my opinion it doesn't match up to the standard of any of the tracks on the full-length album and so I assume that it's a discard from those sessions. It contains all the typical Katatonia ingredients with quite a bit of melody and melancholy, but just doesn't manage to move me the way the band normally does with ease.
Finally, "O How I Enjoy the Light" is a cover by a band called Palace which I've never heard before. While it's clearly not written by the band, it does contain the darker, desolate tone that is the norm. But there's nothing interesting here either. The same tinny guitars, simple drumbeat and weepy vocals continue for just under 3 minutes. It's not a terrible choice for a cover but I don't find myself wanting to track down the original nor replay this version, which I guess suggests it doesn't do a lot for me.
While I highly recommended the "Teargas" EP, due to all three songs being great, I find it much harder to recommend "Tonight's Music". Diehard fans of the band will probably want to track it down for completions sake alone, but the remaining fans need only purchase "The Black Sessions" compilation, which contains all three tracks along with a whole bunch of other more essential Katatonia material.
Over the years, this Swedish band has simply refused to rest on their laurels. Sure, there are certain ingredients that have remained built into their output since day one, with the desolate sadness and despair mixed with exquisite melodies prevailing throughout their existence. Yet they continue to evolve with every release and "Last Fair Deal Gone Down" is no exception. Just as "Discouraged Ones" witnessed Katatonia shedding their skin and branching out from the wondrously hypnotic doom /death of "Brave Murder Day" into a drearier suicidal rock outfit, "Last Fair Deal Gone Down" evolves further still with a level of professionalism and maturity not prevalent on prior albums.
Almost every aspect of the band improved for this recording and I consider it to be one of their very best albums. It may not be immediately obvious what the differences are that I speak of, but it comes down to the basics. The percussion for starters is far more varied and interesting than ever before, which transforms the somewhat repetitive nature of the more hypnotic sections into a totally different beast. Jonas' vocals are superior to prior releases, leaving the awkward uncertainness behind for a much more confident and convincing performance, without losing the vulnerabilities that define his style. The guitars are heavier, have a much better sound, and contain some truly breath-taking melodies ("I Transpire" for example). There is much more variation in this new Katatonia, no longer relying on similar moods for each of their tracks. The assumingly tongue in cheek "We Will Bury You" and "Sweet Nurse" for example break up the more typically Katatonia "The Future of Speech" and the magnificent "Tonight's Music".
As you can probably tell by now, I love "Last Fair Deal Gone Down" and while I will always miss their old "Brave Murder Day" sound, I simply cannot complain when every album they record is so consistently good. They continue to evolve while staying true to what made them so unique and emotionally affecting in the first place. Which is certainly a lot more than can be said about so many other bands that either remain stagnant or isolate their fan-base entirely over the years.
The "Teargas" EP was released prior to the "Last Fair Deal Gone Down" full length album. It contains only three tracks and runs for only 14 minutes and therefore doesn't sound like such good value. Well there are a couple of reasons why that initial assumption isn't correct. Firstly, each of the three tracks found here are great. Secondly, two of the tracks can only be found on this EP as they were not included on the upcoming album. Well, that second statement was true until very recently. But more on that later!
The title track turned out to be one of many great songs on "Last Fair Deal Gone Down". Since it can be found on that album, it's of little interest when reviewing the Teargas EP, although it did serve its purpose at the time which was to be a taster for what was to come. The production had taken another crunchy, more metallic step up since "Tonight's Decision" came out two years earlier and Jonas' vocals are a little stronger than they were previously. All in all, things looked promising that the forthcoming album would be a good one, and that turned out to be correct.
But it's the other two tracks that were of more value. Sulfur is just a fantastic Katatonia track! It covers so much of what the band do so well and combines it all into a six-minute ripper. It starts off with tender acoustic guitars and harmonised vocals before cutting loose with two consecutive beautiful riffs. The verses are suitably depressing and desolate, while the chorus is both powerful and passionate. If Sulfur has of been released on "Last Fair Deal Gone Down", it would have been up there with "Dispossession" and "Tonight's Music" as one of the best songs on the album.
March 4 is not quite as good as the rest of the EP's high standard, but it's also a worthy listen. These tracks are the first that the band put out with Daniel Liljekvist on drums and what a difference he made. There's so much more percussive variation than in the past and March 4 is a great example of this modification. I think this track plays it a little safe to be honest with the very typical Katatonia riff and weepy vocals. It's just made interesting by Daniel's presence.
So, is it worth tracking this now rare EP down? A year ago, I would have said definitely for the track Sulfur alone. But now that the entire EP is available on the compilation "The Black Sessions", which is far more readily available than "Teargas", I'd have to say it's only for the Katatonia fan that must own everything. And yes, that would be me!
One of the great tragedies in this world is that the band Cynic only managed to release one album before splitting up. Their combination of death metal, progressive metal, jazz and mysticism formed a truly breath-taking album called "Focus". It's an album that makes my jaw drop in disbelief every time I hear it. Why do I bring all this up? Because Aghora contained three members of Cynic at the time of this self-titled album. That's reason enough to get excited for me and while it would be incorrect to expect Aghora to play music in the same style as the previously mentioned band, at least you can be assured that you will get fantastic musicianship and a high level of creativity.
Aghora play progressive metal that is more in line with Dream Theater than Cynic. All members of the band are wonderfully gifted musicians, and yet this album never enters the realm of pretentiousness that can often go hand in hand with this form of music. In particular, the brilliance of bassist Sean Malone and drummer Sean Reinhert really stand out. I must admit, I rarely praise the work of bassists. In so many cases, I find it difficult to focus on what bassists are doing. Whether that is due to my lacking musical education, or more to do with the habit of four stringers being relegated to the back-row, I'm not entirely sure. But Malone's work on this album is captivating!
The vocalist plays a major role in Aghora, with female vocalist Danishta Rivero doing a more than decent job. Her vocals have an eastern sound to them that fits in perfectly with the sound. She is not aggressive in any way, nor is she operatic, but simply sings very well throughout. If I am to complain about any aspect of her performance, it would have to be her range. When she sings high, it doesn't sound very convincing and there are a couple of awkward moments.
Every track is beautifully crafted, although I must exclude the 11 minute "Jivatma" from that statement. It appears to be highly improvised, lacks the structure and class of surrounding tracks, and in my opinion detracts from the flow of "Aghora" as a whole. But highlights are aplenty with "Immortal Bliss", "Satya" (check out that bass line!) and "Kali Yuga" really catching my attention. This is an album that lovers of progressive music will surely dig, and I'm ecstatic at the revelation that Aghora have just released its follow-up after a 6 year wait. I for one will be checking it out.
Winter were so far ahead of their time! While doom had been around in various stages ever since Black Sabbath recorded those first, down-tuned chords back in 1970. Bands such as Saint Vitus, Pentagram and Trouble took that sound, dropped most of the rock and roll, and gave it a metallic edge. Others such as Candlemass and Solitude Aeturnus gave it an epic, majestic atmosphere complete with operatic vocals. But it was Winter that took everything doom and made it something so much more sinister and darker. The invent of death metal had progressed the boundaries of morbid curiosity throughout the late 80s, and Winter took this oppressive aggression (and a huge dose of Celtic Frost) and placed it within the framework of doom. The result was by far the most depressive, apocalyptic sounding album the world had ever heard.
Joe Gonclave's drumming is so very minimal yet every beat serves an absolute purpose. While he does step up a gear at times, for the most it's a plodding yet destructive performance. Stephen Flam's guitar sound and John Alman's bass are both filthy and raw, quite often taking a backseat to the vocals and drums in the mix. The riffs are simple yet effective, creating an eerie, desolate atmosphere that runs right through the album. Funeral doom owes so very much to this album and it's no coincidence that Thergothen and Esoteric would release their first albums shortly after its release. The highlights for me are the amazing opening track Oppression Freedom (an instrumental that Esoteric would take a massive influence from), and the hugely crushing Goden. Into Darkness is a fantastic slab of death doom metal and should hold a place in the collection of any fan of the darker, more crushing side of extreme metal.
Alright, this is my first experience of Whiplash. I have to say first impressions (i.e. before I pressed play) were not good as that album cover is truly atrocious. Quite possibly one of the very worst attempts at artwork I've ever seen. But I decided not to let that get in the way of my listening experience and moved on. The result is that I've found Power and Pain to be an entertaining early thrash metal album, if not the classic that many below are suggesting.
The influences are all over this release. If it wasn't obvious from their name that they got into Metallica's debut album, then some of these riffs will ram the message home. But more than anything I can hear Exodus, more specifically their Bonded by Blood era sound. In other words, it's insane thrashing madness most of the time with some aggressive vocals. The problem for me is that I don't think Bonded by Blood is all that amazing, and Baloff's vocals grate on me so very much. The good thing here is that Portaro's vocals are much more enjoyable and at times quite venomous. Tracks such as Stage Dive and Last Man Alive are memorable more for his catchy vocal patterns rather than any impressive musicianship.
When I put Power and Pain into context of 1985, I have to say this was a very decent attempt to join the likes of Metallica, Exodus, Overkill, Slayer and Anthrax at the top of the US thrash metal pile. It's certainly worth cranking up for a bit of the old ultra-violence every now and then. Highlights for me are Stage Dive, Last Man Alive and War Monger. I notice they're about to release a brand-new comeback album too. Let's hope they hire an actual artist this time round.
The first Watchtower album didn't do an awful lot for me. The musicianship was perfectly decent, but I found the vocalist to be extremely annoying and the production to be rather underwhelming. I'm pleased to say that the second album is a much better offering, but I still don't love it completely as it falls down in the same areas as the debut.
The musicianship is still great, in fact it's gone up a notch. Extremely progressive metal with some strange timings, great riffs and good solid bass work. The middle section of the album is damn impressive with The Fall of Reason and Control and Resistance being awesome examples of dark progressive thrash metal. I can hear Into Eternity when listening to The Fall of Reason and considering this was released over 10 years prior, it's ground-breaking.
But the same vocalist is around. He's better on this album than the debut but he still sounds ridiculous on occasion, with his high pitched classic heavy metal squeals getting on my nerves. There are also some tracks that don't quite meet the brilliance of the previously mentioned epics. The shorter tracks such as Instruments of Random Murder, Hidden Instincts and Dangerous Toy all have nice sections but flounder in others. Finally, the production is much better than the debut, but still lacking the clarity that music of this quality deserves. All up I'd say this is an important, enjoyable album but let down slightly by the above flaws.
This is one of the very earliest releases to contain such a progressive form of thrash metal. The drumming is impressive, the guitar leads and riffs are technically and musically challenging, and the bassist is doing some really interesting things throughout. The band deserves some credit for being a fair way ahead of their time.
Unfortunately, there are two things that stop this album from being a classic in my opinion. Firstly, the vocalist is not very good. His high-pitched style, while used a lot back in 70s and 80s heavy metal, just doesn't work very well with this style of music. It's very off putting and distracting, and I feel something a bit more aggressive and less showy would have made this sound very different indeed. Secondly the production is crappy. It's not often that the bassist can be heard far above the rhythm and lead guitars, but this is the case here. Some of these riffs deserve front row attention but they are left floundering behind the admittedly awesome bass work.
All up I'd say this is an important album, but probably not something everyone should run out and purchase without checking it out further.
I'm rather torn when it comes to Tormentor's cult demo / album Anno Domini. On the one hand, this album is massively important and it’s hard to argue how influential it was to a scene just getting started. But on the other hand, listening to it today is not as entertaining as I'd hoped. While Bathory's albums still manage to move me over 20 years later, Anno Domini is more of a hit and miss affair.
Back in 1988, there had not been too many bands that had dared to take what Bathory started and push it a step further into the abyss. Tormentor created ferocious black metal with a massive dose of thrash, that certainly stood out from a very small pack as far as pure unadulterated wickedness. While obviously influenced by Quorthon and Venom, there's something truly feral about this release. A sort of chaotic madness that's missing from almost everything recorded since the mid-nineties. I guess a big reason for this is the inclusion of scene legend Attila Csihar on vocals. His accented style is both bizarre and hugely effective and it's easy to see why Mayhem plucked him up for the De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas recording after Dead...well...died.
Unfortunately, there are just not enough great moments on the album for me to label it anything other than important and cult. I enjoy Tormentor I, Heaven, Damned Grave and Apocalypse well enough, but the majority of the other 9 tracks range from extremely awkward to merely average. Most of the shorter tracks, such as Anno Domini, Transylvania and Trance are forgettable and even the classic Elizabeth Bathory comes across as a slightly clumsy (yet admittedly memorable) attempt at an epic, thematical piece. All up I guess this album certainly deserves its place in history alongside Sarcofago's INRI, and so I can't be too harsh. But I just don't think it holds up all that well today and, in the end, that's when I'm writing this review.
Extremely raw yet pioneering funeral doom metal both crushingly slow and beautiful.
There are often arguments regarding who exactly was the granddaddy of each metal genre. Was Bathory really the main instigator of black metal or were Venom the ones to kick it off? Should Death be considered the pioneer of death metal or did Possessed beat them to the punch? But when it comes to funeral doom metal, there's never any doubt that Thergothon were the instigators. Their debut EP was released in 1991 and the only band I can come up with that even remotely resembled this insanely and destructively slow doom metal would be Winter, whose 1990 release Into Darkness can certainly be considered an influence here, if not exactly funeral doom metal. The fact that it took Thergothon 3 years to follow up Fhtagn nagh Yog-Sothoth with a full-length album and yet no other band followed in their footsteps in between, shows how far ahead of the pack Thergothon were.
But rather than focus on how important Stream From the Heavens is historically, I've spent the last couple of weeks finding out just how good it is. The production is bad, but I can't say it lessens the experience at all. The guitars are for the most part just a buzz of distortion. The drums are kind of distant and murky, as are the growling vocals. But then occasionally some other sound will filter through (such as the beautiful acoustic guitar on The Unknown Kadath in the Cold Waste) and the effect is damn blissful. While the band tend to plod along in an extremely down-tuned abyss for most of the album, there are little melodies and clean vocals that transcend the darkness without ever letting go of the truly despondent atmosphere. It's pure funeral doom metal the way many bands still play it today and a great listen 15 years later after its conception.
Even though I obviously have a lot of praise for the album, I'm not going to give it full marks. I think funeral doom has taken further steps since and bands such as Skepticism, Esoteric and Shape of Despair have exceeded this initial blueprint in terms of production and song writing. But I will always be thankful for any band that helped to put this wonderful style of music on the map and find Stream From the Heavens to be a satisfying listen in its own right. Highlight tracks are Everlasting, Yet the Watchers Guard, The Unknown Kadath in the Cold Waste and Who Rides the Astral Wings. I see Peaceville has reissued this important relic once again this year, so it seems likely to remain the underground treasure that it is for a long time yet.
I'm completely torn on this album. On the one hand, it has some quite decent melodies and thrash riffing that I enjoy. On the other hand, it has Martin Walkyier's horrible vocals and a bunch of boring and awkward elements. Martin's vocals ruined what was otherwise decent thrash metal in the band Sabbat and his work here is just as irritating. His unfortunate lisp and tendency to sing repetitive song structures while emphasising one syllable at a time is just plain infuriating.
Anyway, if I can ignore him for long enough, tracks such as The Sky Beneath My Feet, The Cradle Will Fall, Skyclad and Terminus all have great sections that I enjoy. Unfortunately, while I see it as a good quality for a band to have variety and experimentation, tracks like The Widdershins Jig, Moongleam and Meadowsweet and moments throughout most other tracks just don't sit well with me. I'm sure this album has an appropriate audience that would find this amazing, but I can't see this as anything more than merely OK.
I haven’t managed to listen to Sanctuary’s debut album Refuge Denied, so this is my first experience of the band. I guess the first thing that comes to mind is Nevermore! But that’s hardly surprising as the vocalist, bassist and lead guitarist all started up Nevermore after Sanctuary closed shop. I happen to be a massive fan of Nevermore’s later work and so this album fell comfortably upon my ears. I guess I expected the song writing to be of lesser quality than the Nevermore albums I love as it wasn’t until about 1998 that they really hit their straps. How wrong I was!
This album is amazing! Just about every song is of the highest quality. The musicianship may not be hugely technical, but it’s just so emotionally moving and memorable. It’s been ages since I heard an album just a couple of times, and then found myself humming the tunes and singing lyrics in my head for the rest of the day. I’ve just been listening to it repeatedly. Warrel Dane’s vocals are awesome as usual and Jeff Loomis’ guitar work is just as good. This album is more heavy and power metal than thrash metal and yet manages to contain that power of emotion and intensity that normally belongs to the more extreme genres.
Highlights for me are Taste of Revenge, Long Since Dark, The Mirror Black, Seasons of Destruction and closer Communion. But there are no bad tracks on Into the Mirror Black and I simply can’t give it anything less than top marks. An essential album for anyone into heavy music.
Tremendously creative and unique album that overcomes some awkward misadventures.
Immense Intense Suspense is an album that showcases just how few boundaries the art of extreme metal has, despite what the outside world may perceive it to be. Bands within these genres very rarely have monetary or fame goals in mind when creating their music and so have a freedom unknown to the popular and mainstream. The knowledge that one will always be among the underground (as 99% of extreme metal bands are and always will be) must surely give them the strength to please their own musical curiosity without the concern of mass failure. That curiosity was obviously rather high amongst these Dutch maestros as one thing’s for certain… you will not hear another band like Phlebotomized.
Trying to describe their music to others successfully is near impossible due to its bizarre and schizophrenic nature, but I'm going to give it a shot anyway. Immense Intense Suspense is first and foremost a death metal album. It's got a chunky and raw death metal sound, which is totally at odds with almost all other influences to be found here. Extremely guttural death growls, a rather filthy bass sound and intense blast beats are combined with exquisite violin and flute, progressive keyboard passages and clean male / female vocals to form an utterly spasmodic yet entirely captivating album.
The only other band I can come up with that remotely resembles this would be Maudlin of the Well, but Immense Intense Suspense contains a lot more death metal than the often-cutesy approach of those US eccentrics. But if you're into Maudlin, then it's possible you're open minded enough to enjoy what Phlebotomized have to offer. Beneath all the brutality on display is a level of beauty and talented musicianship that overcome any awkward misadventures, of which there are quite a few. Each track has me switching between complete worship, wide eyed disbelief and grimaces of confusion. But considering how courageous this music is, I will forgive Phlebotomized for getting the odd section wrong. Barricade, Dubbed Forswearer, In Search of Tranquillity and Mellow Are the Reverberations are the most consistently brilliant tracks to be found here, but all 9 tracks contain sections of genius. I love this album and recommend it to any metal fan out there that's not afraid to venture out from the more safe and generic blueprints.
As a final note, I played Dubbed Forswearer to my very un-metal girlfriend (she does share my love of the melancholic though) to see just how at odds all these influences were to someone outside the scene and her response surprised me somewhat. She suggested that while the classical and progressive elements were much more to her liking than the death metal, they still contained an element of haunting morbidity and fit the musical context much more than I might realise. I may have to trust her on that one as I rarely venture outside minor key driven music, so this is about as bipolar as my listening journey gets.
An album filled with creativity and wonder, and a fitting finale for the unique Pan.Thy.Monium.
Today, the 11th of November, is Remembrance Day. It’s a day to commemorate the sacrifices made by so many soldiers and civilians during the First World War. Exactly (to the day) 91 years after the war ended, countries within the Commonwealth remember those that lost their lives by upholding a minute silence. As worthy as this token of respect is (and I don’t wish to downplay it), it is certainly not the only minute of silence we should spend pondering the departed. After all, it has now been 13 years since Pan.Thy.Monium left us behind (with a very fitting minute silence to end their existence) and their exodus is still mourned by multitudes of fans around the universe.
This Swedish death metal band isn’t particularly easy to describe. If I manage to portray their material as anything other than completely insane, then I’ve failed in my task. For starters, the band is made up of members Derelict, Winter, Day DiSyraah, Mourning and Aag. Thematically their albums follow the battle between the fictional (is there any other type?) Gods named Raagoonshinnaah (the God of Darkness, Rain and Emptiness) and Amaraah (the God of Light). This third and final full-length release appears to be both a celebration of Amaraah’s victory and a token of respect for the now vanquished Raagoonshinnaah. In reality, Pan.Thy.Monium was formed by the Swanö brothers (Day is Dag, DiSyraah is Dan) during a particularly confusing and difficult time for Dan. He decided to explore and release his feelings, no matter how strange or puzzling they were, into musical form. The outlet is both baffling and extraordinary and Khaooohs & Konfusion is undoubtedly the band’s masterpiece.
Khaooohs and Konfusion is a cocktail of exquisite melodies, brutal death metal, bizarre saxophone outbursts, extreme guttural vocals and abstract keyboards. Yet what should result in a chaotic jumble of strange ideas makes for one of the most captivating and unique experiences available to metal fans. The listener originally never really knows what’s going to come next and the tracks rarely return to previously travelled ground, preferring to tangent off in new directions without ever losing the outlandish tone. I’m certain most first-time listeners (I know I did) would find the whole thing a bit bewildering, yet strangely compelling. With each subsequent spin you’ll pick up new treasures, whether it’s great drumming time changes, a beautiful lead, or one of numerous awesome riffs. I don’t believe vocalist Derelict is saying anything, instead spewing out indecipherable vomits at regular intervals, but as with most extreme metal releases, it’s all about the atmosphere. Thankfully, Pan.Thy.Monium has atmosphere in spades and they certainly produced something very special indeed with this album.
Dan would release his magnum opus (one track Edge of Sanity album Crimson) literally 12 days after Khaooohs and Konfusion. One can assume that the demons he battled and defeated during the recording of the Pan.Thy.Monium material needed to be exorcised before he could produce such an important and monumental epic. While I’d certainly give Crimson the full marks it deserves, I can’t quite hand out the same rating for this album. For starters, it only actually has two real tracks, being the 11-minute opener The Battle of Geeheeb and the 14 minute Thee-Pherenth. Both are astounding and make this album essential on their own, but these 25 minutes are not quite enough to warrant full marks. The third track Behrial is an entirely keyboard driven ambient instrumental that’s quite rousing and uplifting yet doesn’t have the impact of the first two behemoths. Still, Khaooohs and Konfusion is a thoroughly enjoyable release that warrants multiple listens to really appreciate the creativity and talent involved. I feel a bit sad every time the final minute silence (suitably titled In Remembrance) brings the bands existence to a close. Lest we forget indeed!
A very competent continuation of Dissection's work that's just a bit monotonous for classic status.
Naglfar have never really received a lot of attention, despite releasing multiple decent melodic black metal albums. I think the main reason for this is that the band have never really produced anything particularly original, creating slight variations of what Dissection had already produced earlier. All that said, they were certainly one of the earliest bands to follow in the aforementioned Swedish legends footsteps, and their debut release Vittra is considered by many to be their very best piece of work. I'm certainly not going to argue with that judgement as it is most definitely an entertaining and at times beautiful album, but there is something slightly missing from Vittra that would take it to the next level for me.
All the ingredients are there for a classic. Numerous great and very melodic black metal riffs, light touches of keyboards that effectively add atmosphere and depth, perfectly venomous, raspy screaming black vocals and relentless, powerful drumming. But despite how good all of this sounds, Vittra just gets a bit...well, boring after a while. It's hard to put my finger on why the album tends to pass me by while only occasionally demanding attention. Most of these tracks on their own make for entertaining experiences, but overall, the album just isn't very memorable. All I can put it down to is that things start to become monotonous after about 3 tracks. Jens' vocal style repeats similar patterns repeatedly, the previously mentioned tasty melodic riffs all tend to seep into each other and the drumming doesn't do anything to stand out, taking the most efficient and least interesting route from A to B. I guess it's just one of those albums that you'll completely love or just not hugely connect with, but I'm not sure any fan of melodic black metal could really hate it.
Despite my obvious struggles with Vittra, I'm still going to rate the album well and I have every intention of giving it a few more spins to see if I can make that connection that has so far evaded me. When I force myself to concentrate on what's going on, it's almost always decent, and at no stage can I consider any track to be a failure. For this reason alone, I have no hesitation in recommending fans of Dissection give this album a listen or two and will give it 3.5 stars for now.
An underground gem that clearly influenced many future extreme black metal bands.
This is my very first experience with Mutiilation so I wasn't completely sure what to expect. It's not hard to figure after a quick look at the cover and track listing that these French morbids would be producing some form of raw black metal with titles such as Eternal Empire of Majesty Death and Ravens of My Funeral, but nothing prepared me for what was to come. The thing that's so surprising is not necessarily how good Vampires of Black Imperial Blood is, and it is good, but more how incredibly influential this album is. I had absolutely no idea that what I always considered a very American style of black metal originated in France.
RYM member chspiratecd (whatever that means) made the following statement in his review below: "for all you hooligans that discovered this through Xasthur's cover of Black Imperial Blood, smack yourself for listening to US black metal before the French" and I have to admit that he (or she) is bang on the money! Both Xasthur and Leviathan owe an awful lot to Mutiilation for the sound they would produce over 5 years after this release and Black Imperial Blood fit so well on Xasthur's awe inspiring Nocturnal Poisoning album in 2002 that I had absolutely no idea that it was in fact a cover version.
For anyone yet to experience any of the bands listed above, they all create an extremely raw and intentionally underproduced form of black metal with the main goal being rather macabre and unsettling music that seemingly drips with pure atmosphere. The vocals are unrestrained and emotionally impacting, the riffs and melodies cold and somehow distant. If you enjoy bands like Dimmu Borgir or Emperor but haven't delved too far into the extreme depths of the black metal abyss, you may want to check this out before assuming you'll find enjoyment here. I'm certainly not trying to be elitist here, but Vampires of Black Imperial Blood is not for the weak of heart.
So clearly, I think this release has a lot to offer and is certainly an important piece of history, although I wasn't aware of it until just now. But I'm not suggesting it is without flaws in the slightest. The main issue, and one that plagues a fair amount of Xasthur's work also, is that a lot of the tracks have varying recording quality. I'm aware that part of extreme black metal's appeal is that the musicians appear not to care one iota about the listener, but I have to say that it's quite distracting when the sound jumps dramatically between tracks. The guitars are almost hidden on a few and yet quite upfront on others which suggests it was all recorded at various times and with different equipment.
All up though I've discovered a missing link in my black metal knowledge with Mutiilation and I'm damn glad that I've finally made the connection. There's no doubt that I'll be coming back to Vampires of Black Imperial Blood every now and then although I do believe the apprentice overpowered the master once Xasthur rose from the depths. Highlight tracks for me are Magical Shadows of a Tragic Past, Born Under the Master's Spell, Black Imperial Blood and Tears of a Melancholic Vampire.
It's taken me a long time to finally get around to checking this band out. I'm a glad I did too as this is extremely solid, exciting death metal that recalls Vader and Morbid Angel. Death metal bands just don't sound like this anymore with all the overproduced, clinical yet stale sounding releases coming from every direction of late. This is dark and immense and filled with real power. It gets your blood pumping almost immediately and doesn't let go for the entire 9 tracks.
The riffs are very Altars of Madness period Morbid Angel at times, which can never be a bad thing, although I must admit that Immense Malignancy is awfully close to plagiarism. Check this track out and tell me it doesn't sound just like Maze of Torment! Anyway, Imperial Doom has a great, heavy sound that is immensely crushing while giving all the instruments room to breathe. Lee Harrison's drumming is excellent and there is a heap of blast beats throughout without ever overdoing it. And then of course, there's George "Corpsegrinder" Fisher's vocals. No wonder Cannibal Corpse pinched him to replace Chris Barnes in the mid-nineties. This guy can growl with the best of them and still manages to be reasonably intelligible. His instantly recognisable screams are used more sparingly in this band which I think makes them more effective.
All up I'm really impressed with Imperial Doom, but I can't rate it anything above 4, simply due to it not really breaking any new ground. It's just solidly written, well executed death metal that hits the spot right on the mark. I can't really pick highlights on this one as every track is of equal quality.
More cohesive and listenable than Archaeaeon, yet still seriously dense and brutal death metal the way it should be.
I’d been reasonably impressed with Mitochondrion’s debut Archaeaeon. The band showed in no uncertain terms that they have the brutality and darkness to match just about anything out there in the world of death metal, and there were some very nice ideas buried in the heaving mass for anyone not scared away from what is undoubtedly a frightening and bewildering first few listens. The album certainly had its flaws mind you, with the self-produced recording quality, stupendous running time, and general chaos of the whole thing marring the experience to the point where it’s hard to recommend. Thankfully Profound Lore Records saw the potential of these Canadians, as they agreed to release Mitochondrion’s second full length album Parasignosis. I for one was very interested to see whether the band could learn from their past mistakes, tighten things up a bit, and make the brutal, nasty slab of death metal that the debut merely suggested. It was good to see that after a rocky start with numerous line-up changes in their first couple of years, the majority of the guys have managed to stick around for the three years separating the releases, with only bassist Nick Gibas departing at some stage (guitarist Nick Yanchuk performed studio bass duties in his absence), meaning Mitochondrion were a three piece at the time of recording Parasignosis.
It’s amazing just how much noise three dudes from Canada can make. Parasignosis, which apparently literally means “knowledge from the parasite”, is once again a tremendously dense and vicious album, and yet it manages a higher accessibility and consistency than Archaeaeon. Everything that frustrated me on the debut has been sorted out for this recording, with a far superior production, a more easily digestible running time, and most importantly Mitochondrion have figured out how to harness the chaos and mould it into something more entertaining and cohesive. In doing so they’ve shed some of the influences found on earlier material, with no signs of grind and only minor smatterings of black metal popping up every now and then. In the end, Parasignosis is a true death metal album, and a welcome trip back to a time when the genre wasn’t polished up with crystal clear yet completely sterile production values that make so many modern death metal releases so lifeless. This is heavy and nasty, and likely to give all but the most devoted metal fans heart palpitations. Think Morbid Angel mixed with Incantation and you’d be somewhere in the vicinity of Mitochondrion, although the band and many reviews mention Australia’s Portal as an influence, whom I’m yet to check out. If they sound anything like this then I’m sure they’ll soon be spending some time on my iPod.
The themes on Parasignosis once again prove that the mortals behind it contain serious intellectual capabilities to go with their obvious musical talents. Touching on free will, disease, the supremacy of the parasite, alchemy, gnosis and suffering, the lyrics add to the feeling that you’re experiencing something significant, and possibly dangerous. There’s also a nice flow to the album where most tracks merge into the next with no real indication of change, making Parasignosis run as one monolithic movement. Thankfully the band have left memorable signposts to guide the listener along their path, with top notch riffs, awesome blasting sections, surprisingly cool leads and symphonic elements leaving their mark along the way. Highlights would have to be the immense ten-minute Tetravirulence, the sheer brutality that is Trials, and the monstrous closing instrumental Kathenotheism. Parasignosis is not a flawless or particularly pioneering album by any stretch (there are still too many layered vocals for my liking), but it’s one of the most enjoyable I’ve heard from the last few years, and I get the feeling Mitochondrion are still on the rise. If you like your death metal heavy and brutal but not necessarily overly-wanky or polished, go check out Parasignosis immediately.
Full of potential but the murky production and stupendous length make it too much of a chore to fully appreciate.
Mitochondrion? Nope, never heard of them! At least I hadn’t when I first noticed their latest album, 2011’s Parasignosis, getting decent reviews on Rate Your Music. For some reason, I thought I’d do something I don’t do all that often and check out the discography of a band entirely unknown to me, giving it the same level of attention and research I normally grant the bigger bands in metal. The first question that obviously needed answering was what the hell does Mitochondrion mean anyway? Wikipedia’s answer is “a membrane-enclosed organelle found in most eukaryotic cells”, but that really doesn’t help someone of my scientific level, nor does it explain why a brutal death metal band from Canada might choose the word as their moniker. I could go on, crapping on about how mitochondria have been implicated in several human diseases and how they play a role in the aging process, but the band themselves made it a heck of a lot clearer in an interview when they stated they chose the name because mitochondria (yes, that’s the plural of mitochondrion) is the power source of all living cells, which the band essentially view as a “power from within”. The band see the word as perfect way to encapsulate their atheistic beliefs that there is “nothing outside of oneself – no gods, no supernatural, no aetheric anything!” Strangely enough, since learning about this word I’ve heard it come up in science podcasts numerous times when referring to DNA.
With the definition out of the way, how did Mitochondrion the band form and why should we care? Originally a three-piece made up of Shawn Hache (vocals), Nick Yanchuk (guitar and vocals) and Nick Gibas (bass), Mitochondrion formed around 2002. At this early stage the trio utilised a drum machine, but already envisioned an immensely dense sound mixing elements from black and death metal. Eventually in 2003 a drummer was found in Jesse Anderson before Mitch Aramenko joined as a second guitarist in 2005. This incarnation of the band released a self-titled demo the same year which was primitive and seriously lacking on the production side. It wasn’t until 2006, when Karl Godard replaced Anderson on drums, that the band was “able to execute much more and actually put (their) thought forms into reality”. With this more competent line-up in place, Mitochondrion recorded a second demo entitled Through Cosmic Gaze, which is where the band first displayed their unique style in a slightly more cohesive form. Unfortunately, it was not enough for the band to capture the attention of a record label, so in 2008, after another line-up change (Aramenko departed with Hache adding guitar to his vocal duties), Mitochondrion decided to self-produce and release a debut album. Entitled Archaeaeon, this nasty piece of work was released in April 2008 and limited to just 666 copies.
How exactly should I describe the music found on this rare artefact? How about the jagged edge of Gorguts, mixed with the warped atmosphere of Incantation, the intensity of Bestial Warlust and the chaos of early Kataklysm, all coated with layers of demonic vocals emitting a range of dark occultist themes. Sound awesome? Well I guess it would if it had a kick ass production and was performed flawlessly, but that’s unfortunately not the case with Mitochondrion’s debut. Still, I wouldn’t spout all those band names around without some level of admiration for what these guys are doing and there’s a lot of promise to be found beneath the murky layer of dirt that cloaks this album. I must admit that my first couple of listens were a daunting experience. The frenzied nature of much of the material, combined with the inaccessible production and seventy-minute running time left me bewildered, reaching for hooks that just weren’t there while the cacophony bashed me over the head. With each subsequent listen I found more to enjoy, and I can only now say, after around six or seven full run throughs that I’ve tamed this beast enough to really hear what it has to offer. Should we the listeners be expected to put so much effort into what should be an entertaining experience? Well this is death metal isn’t it? Not some form of sugary pop music designed for mass consumption! Anyway, what was my reward for all this effort?
Once you get past the overuse of vocals, the distractingly wooden drum sound and the at times complete loss of guitar definition, there are some very cool things going on in Mitochondrion’s work. The opening track, Into the Pit of Babel, is probably the track where the more promising aspects are best displayed. There’s certainly method to all the madness and a bunch of memorable riffs and vocal patterns eventually take hold where initially it was difficult to appreciate them. They utilise a neat interlude mid-track, complete with a decent lead and effective piano, giving the track some much needed breathing space and variety. Track six, Oath in Defiance, is another excellent example where extra dynamics are allowed to develop and the guitars are given some focus. These good tracks show that the band can hold back on the chaos, slow things down, without losing the vicious atmosphere they were clearly going for with their sound. The fourteen minute 137 (Death's Hendecaratia) displays another side to the band, being a monstrous slab of doom, but it unfortunately suffers due to Archaeaeon having already run close to an hour before it gets its chance. Credit where credit’s due though and each of the abovementioned tracks gave me good reason to keep giving the album another go when my fight or flight reflex was in overdrive.
Other parts of the album simply fail to connect no matter how much attention I give them. Karl Godard’s drumming is complicated and at times impressive, but it can also be messy and distracting, which is probably more to do with the self-produced nature of the album than his talent. Sometimes I wish the band would just cut down on the multi-layered vocal approach too as between the excessive vocals and drums, there’s not a lot of room left in my poor brain to take anything else in. Fifth track Infernal Weapons Summon would probably be quite enjoyable if it didn’t come across as total Deicide plagiarism, sounding very close to what Revocate the Agitator might sound like if played by Suffocation after way too many drinks. Mitochonrion’s occasional use of noise is not completely unwelcome, although I have to say the four-and-a-half-minute Organum Exitus outro is a horrifying cacophony of random feedback infused with a toothache-inducing dentistry nightmare. The album was already way too long and challenging, so making the listener run one last gauntlet of torture is really pushing the limits of reason. Flaws aside, Mitochondrion show patches of serious potential throughout Archaeaeon, and I for one am keen to see what the band could do with a decent studio production and ideally a little bit of restraint. I’m off to check out their second album Parasignosis to see whether they live up to that potential.
A blatant attempt to make loads of money, Risk was an inevitable kick in the pants for all involved.
Megadeth’s previous full-length studio album, Cryptic Writings, was really the first time that I thought the band had started to seriously slide. While many of their original fans had jumped ship about five years earlier, I persevered through the likes of Countdown to Extinction and Youthanasia, finding numerous catchy and enjoyable tunes on the way. Those diamonds in the rough were far harder to find on Cryptic Writings however, with a lot of the album pushing the simplistic commercial rock elements a bit too far, so I feared that Megadeth’s run of solidity had finally come to an end. Further cause for concern arose with the news that the highly successful line-up of Mustaine, Friedman, Ellefson and Menza had finally been broken. As is often the case with anything involving Mustaine, drummer Menza’s departure was anything but amicable. On tour in 1998, Menza discovered he had a tumour on his knee and was forced to undergo surgery. Jimmy DeGrasso, formerly of Suicidal Tendencies and Mustaine’s punk side project MD.45, temporarily replaced him, but somewhere along the line that replacement became more permanent. Menza has since stated that he received a phone call out of the blue while in hospital, informing him that he no longer had a place in the band, whereas Mustaine has suggested that Menza was let go because he lied about having cancer (his tumour was benign). Whatever the case, Menza was out, DeGrasso was in.
My fears after Cryptic Writings were that Mustaine, on his eternal quest for worldwide fame and riches beyond imagining, would take Megadeth further into a commercially successful instant gratification zone, leaving the complex and exhilarating likes of Peace Sells...But Who’s Buying and Rust in Peace so far behind that comparison would become next to impossible. In the end this only half turned out to be true. Risk did indeed attempt to tap into the masses, detaching itself from anything resembling metal while ramping up the sugary pop sensibilities, and yet it failed to produce anything particularly catchy or memorable. The result is an album that finally pissed off any remaining faithful fans, while simultaneously failing to grab the attention of a new wider audience. After the inevitable critical and commercial bashing that followed its release, Mustaine was very quick to point the finger at others, suggesting that it was the granting of more control to producer Dan Huff and guitarist Marty Friedman’s desire to create pop music that led to disaster. Personally, I think one statement made by Lars Ulrich went a long way to influencing the outcome after he suggested in an interview that Mustaine needed to take more risks if he was ever going to reach the level of success he desired. Well, here was that risk, with the album apparently titled as such in an attempted middle finger to Lars that backfired in the most comprehensive fashion.
So why is Risk so bad? For starters, it’s so blatant in its objective that you can’t help but be completely turned off. Rather than concentrating on writing excellent, memorable music and allowing their fans to choose favourites and concert sing-along moments, Megadeth produced the Enter the Arena and Crush ‘Em combo, which is so obviously trying to manufacture a response (annoyingly it succeeded with the song being played at sport stadiums around America). More disappointingly, for a band called Megadeth, Risk has absolutely no conviction or aggression whatsoever. Even ignoring the overly sappy, tambourine tapping shockers like I’ll be There, Ecstasy and Seven, tracks like Prince of Darkness, which despite having lyrics that are full of venom and negativity, come across as some sort of uncomfortable parody of all things metal. There are only a few sections on the album where Megadeth come close to producing the accessible catchiness they were obviously going for, with opener Insomnia, head-filler The Doctor is Calling and the southern tinged Wanderlust all being at least mildly successful, but there are way too many grimace-inducing tunes to grit your teeth through to experience them. I must wonder what would have happened to Megadeth had Risk been the global sensation they were hoping for. Just how long would the talented Mustaine and Friedman be able to nonchalantly strum their guitars and tap their feet to simplistic beats? I for one am grateful we never had to find out.
Having never heard Massacra before, I looked forward to checking this album out. First impressions were not great though, with the album not only having dodgy artwork, but starting off with an extremely inappropriate intro. From this point on, the band push ahead with straight-ahead death metal, with little to no let up. The album has quite a raw, live-like production, but the guitar sound is quite chunky which is suitable enough. The band make mistakes occasionally and never bothered to clean it up, so that should give you an idea of the style of album Final Holocaust is. It's dirty, shameless death metal that takes no prisoners.
I've given this album about four listens now and I can't say it really does a lot for me. Any singular track is decent enough, with plenty of aggression, some nice riffs here and there and typical, yet effective death growls. But as an album, there's just nothing that makes me want to keep coming back for more. Most tracks start to blend into one by about a third of the way through. The dude below that calls this the "best death metal album ever made" is kidding himself. It's mildly average stuff that's certainly worth checking out for anyone that can't get enough of this style, but hardly an essential album.
Ambitious technical death metal album in the style of Death. This is an impressive if flawed debut!
I only very recently checked out Hopeless Hopes for the first time. My only previous experience of Martyr was their 2006 album Feeding the Abscess, which quite frankly kicked my ass. That album is filled with seriously technical and brutal death metal that I enjoyed enough to include on the Rate Your Music Ultimate Box Set > Death Metal that I put together last year. Ever since I heard that album, I’ve been very keen to delve into this Canadian band’s early discography to see what other gems could be uncovered. Given my previous knowledge of the band and the fact Hopeless Hopes was recorded way back in 1997, I guess I just assumed that it would be a more primitive effort and more than likely a substantially less technical one. What I discovered was something entirely different, being just as technical, albeit in a far less brutal style. While I won’t try to convince anyone that this is some sort of defining death metal album, it certainly contains enough good stuff to recommend to any fan of technical death metal. So, what exactly is Hopeless Hopes all about?
The first thing to say is that this sounds a lot like mid-nineties Death. Clearly fans of Chuck Schuldiner and co., Martyr didn’t exactly try to replicate the sound of albums like Symbolic and Individual Thought Patterns, but they undoubtedly took a great amount of influence from them. As anyone who enjoys great death metal would know, trying to match the quality of those albums is like attempting to transform your ceiling into a representation of the Sistine Chapel, yet these guys gave it their best shot. From a technical point of view, the members of Martyr are not embarrassed by their ambition at all. Daniel Mongrain and Pier-Luc Lampron display immense class with top notch leads and exhilarating riffs pouring forth consistently. When you check out the bands that Daniel has performed with when not on Martyr duty, it’s easy to see how well respected he is in the Canadian death metal scene. If names like Gorguts, Cryptopsy, Quo Vadis and even crazy thrashers Voivod aren’t enough to get you excited then you might as well stop reading this now. He also shares vocal duties with his brother Francois on most tracks, completing his Schuldiner-like performance.
Daniel’s vocal style is not all that typical for death metal and reminds me a lot of Jens Kidman from Meshuggah, having a deep holler rather than a death growl. It works well enough given the progressive elements of the music and is always completely intelligible. Francois on the other hand does have a decent growl, which is used sparingly for more impact. Speaking of Francois, his swirling bass lines are cool, having that non-linear freedom so often found in bands of this ilk without leaving the rhythmic structures behind. Francois Richard is just as impressive behind the drum kit and displays superb skills and variety throughout. Like other technical death metal drummers (Sean Reinert comes to mind), this guy likely has some sort of jazz training. There's no doubt that all four members of the Martyr line-up are more than adequate from a musicianship point of view. But...while Martyr may have no issue on the technical front, there are two main reasons why Hopeless Hopes doesn’t match up to the work of Death’s early to mid-nineties run, not to mention other technical death metal bands such as Cynic and Atheist.
Firstly, the production is lacking. Despite being independently recorded, the album does have a clear sound with each aspect of the band coming through perfectly well. But Hopeless Hopes just lacks the crushing power that would take this material to another level and while it is undoubtedly a death metal album, just doesn’t have the muscles or menace associated with that genre to make a dent in the scene. Secondly, the song writing, and lyrics are unfortunately not consistent for the entire 51 minutes. It’s not surprising that the two tracks that really fall flat (Ostrogoth and Ars Nova) are re-recordings of demo material written 3 years earlier. They have far fewer interesting structures and immature lyrics that stand out amongst the newer material. What is surprising is that the awesome Protoype is also from that demo, so I can only imagine that this was the track that set the band on their more developed direction. But I’m really nit-picking what is a thoroughly impressive debut from a band that would eventually find its own identity and get the recording values they deserve. The title track, Prototype, Elementals and The Blind’s Reflection are enjoyable, and Hopeless Hopes should be checked out by anyone into the more technical side of death metal.
A unique album where a drum machine and an emphasis on symphonic aspects over riffs results in cool black metal.
Limbonic Art have a lot of aspects that could make the average black metal fan write them off without a second thought. On paper, these Norwegians are a symphonic black metal band where the symphonic aspect is much more of a priority than the metal itself. In fact, for most of the album it can be a little hard to hear the guitars at all as they're so damn low in the mix. Surely a black metal band wouldn't relegate guitars to a background, secondary instrument, would they? Well that's pretty much what this band did! Add to this the fact that Limbonic Art use simple computerised drumming and one could very easily assume that an album like Moon in the Scorpio isn't worth wasting your time on. If you're unfortunate to make that decision, then you'll be missing out on something quite special.
Somehow, despite all the above features, this band produces extremely atmospheric music that is both dark and moving. The fantastic artwork by Morpheus (maybe someone can confirm whether this is band member Morfeus or a separate artist) gives one the impression that Limbonic Art will have a cosmic theme, and that certainly comes across in the sound. All the electronics give Moon in the Scorpio a kind of alien feel that is both timeless and intriguing. At times it is bombastic and operatic (such as the beginning of In Mourning Mystique), but for most of the running time it is dark, epic and majestic. The keyboard melodies very rarely enter corny realms and Morfeus manages a consistent, memorable quality throughout which is essential given the importance placed on this aspect of their sound.
But what about those simplistic, repetitive computerised drums I hear you ask! Well, as much as I would have preferred a little bit of variety to the percussion, the drum machine works perfectly well within this music. It has a pretty good sound despite being obviously computerised and adds a kind of industrial feel, which is not at all at odds with the atmosphere of Limbonic Art. I'm not the type of narrow-minded metal fan that refuses to listen to fake drums, even when they sound decent, which is certainly the case here. Special mention should also be given to Daemon's vocals which are consistently venomous yet varied. His typical black metal style is given great support by both clean male and operatic female vocals which is all tastefully and effectively done.
The result of all this is an enjoyable album that manages to be quite unique through a simple change of emphasis. If I tried to give you some sort of comparison to other bands, I think I'd end up with the epic aspects of Emperor combined with the simple yet effective aspects of Summoning, that somehow reminds me of death metal outfit Septic Flesh. Which of course doesn't help at all! Check out awesome tracks like Beneath the Burial Surface, Through Gleams of Death and Beyond the Candles Burning to see whether Limbonic Art connect with you. It's also worth noting that the album was re-released with bonus track The Dark Rivers of the Heart which is a great track. I'm not quite sure why it wasn't originally included but I highly recommend finding a version that has it included.
Probably the least interesting of Katatonia's wonderful discography. Some nice moments, but just a bit bland to compete with the surrounding classics.
As concerning as it had been for a large portion of their fans, Katatonia’s Discouraged Ones album in 1998 had made it clear that the band had no intention of producing Brave Murder Day style death doom metal any longer. What was so surprising at the time is just how successful the Swedes’ first attempt at applying their depressive shades of gloominess to alternative rock was. Many of those anxious fans, myself included, eventually came to realise that most elements that made their earlier material so affecting were still entirely present in the new direction, only given a lighter and more accessible veneer. Peaceville Records clearly saw the potential of the evolution, as they quickly offered the band a boldly confident five album deal. Twelve months later and Katatonia once again entered Sunlight studio, albeit with a couple of considerable line-up changes. Firstly, Micke Oretoft’s short stay with the band came to an end, with guitarist Fred Norrman taking on bass duties for the recording. Secondly, and perhaps more significantly, Dan Swanö came on board as a session guest drummer, allowing Jonas Renkse to focus entirely on vocals. As with Discouraged Ones, Mikael Åkerfeldt assisted in the studio, helping to produce the vocals. With Anders Nyström still handling guitars and keyboards, it seemed all was in readiness for yet another brilliant Katatonia recording.
Did the resulting Tonight’s Decision live up to that prediction? I have to say that the answer for me is no. On paper, Tonight’s Decision would not appear all that far removed from Discouraged Ones. Just as the predecessor could be described as melancholic, doom-tinged, alternative rock with depressive vocals and a generally gloomy atmosphere, the same could easily be said for its follow-up. Yet despite being shaped utilising the same base ingredients, the resulting album is nowhere near as stirring or memorable. The reasons for this are twofold in my opinion, with the first being the band’s slight transition towards a more modern sound. Katatonia would eventually make great use of modern alternative riffs and production on their releases, but here their presence merely dilutes the tone, with occasionally disconcerting consequences. Going back and listening to fantastic tracks like I Break, Relention and Saw You Drown on Discouraged Ones makes it clearly apparent that their simplicity and focus ultimately works in their favour. The listener is immediately pulled in and all the elements work together towards a single goal of emotional efficacy, which is not something I can say for the inconsistent material found on Tonight’s Decision. Secondly, after praising Renkse’s switch to clean vocals for the last album, the increased complexity and emphasis unfortunately reveals the limitations of his ability (he certainly improved from this point onwards however).
There are fantastic sections spread throughout the near hour-long running time, most of which can be attributed to Nyström and Norrman. While the duo ventured further towards grungy alternative with some of their riffs, they still pull off gorgeous and memorable melodies to keep the listener entranced. Opener For My Demons is the highlight of the album, but other tracks like I Am Nothing, Right Into the Bliss and closer Black Session all have much to offer any fan of Katatonia’s later albums. Unfortunately, there are too many blah moments and even some painful ones in the likes of No Good Can Come of This, Strained and Nightmares by the Sea, the latter of which is a Jeff Buckley cover, for Tonight’s Decision to match the classic releases of this awesome band. Three and a half stars seems fitting to me as I still listen to this album from time to time, but there’s no doubt for me that it’s the least essential in their discography. As a final note, Tonight’s Decision is the first Katatonia release to contain artwork by the incredibly productive and talented Travis Smith. I think this cover, along with the one he produced for Opeth’s Still Life, really made a name for him, with his work now adorning literally hundreds of metal albums. It’s a relationship that continues to this day and a case of cover art perfectly capturing the spirit of the music contained within.
A brave evolutionary step for Katatonia where they dropped the death doom while retaining the despondent tone.
To this point, it appeared that Katatonia were going to release a stop-gap EP between every full-length album. Given that they’d already followed up the wonderful Brave Murder Day album with the Sounds of Decay EP in 1997, I was eagerly anticipating a new full-length death doom metal album when the band threw an unexpected curve ball, in more ways than one. As if yet another EP less than a month after the last one wasn’t surprising, the content of this one was enough to drain the blood from my face! How could the band change so much so quickly, and had one of my favourite bands just alienated me altogether? In hindsight I shouldn’t really have been so shocked. Their evolution had already been underway for a couple of years with Brave Murder Day having a vastly different sound to Dance of December Souls. More significantly, when you consider that Renkse and Blackheim had already temporarily ended the band in 1995 due to indecision about what direction to take in the future, combined with some experimental tracks being recorded such as the gothic rock track Scarlet Heavens (originally released on the Katatonia/Primordial split) and the depressive piece Day found on Brave Murder Day, it’s not hard to see that these Swedes just weren’t going to stay entrenched in death doom metal forever.
The changes between Sounds of Decay and Saw You Drown are numerous to say the least. There were some aesthetic alterations that suggested a change in direction for the band, with the most obvious being a new logo. While the new one was still arguably metal in tone, it was less extreme than the original that contained a pentagram and devil’s tails. Drummer Jonas Renkse had already dropped his pseudonym (Lord Seth) a couple of releases ago, but now guitarist Blackheim followed suit and would go by his real name Anders Nyström from this point onwards, once again suggesting that Katatonia were attempting to distance themselves from the death and black metal elements that were present on earlier works. If these minor changes suggest a transformation in sound, the modified line-up all but confirmed it. With the band wanting a full line-up that they could take on tour, Mikael Oretoft was hired as a bassist after Anders had filled that role on the previous album. The biggest news however was that Mikael Åkerfeldt, the vocalist from Opeth, would no longer add his death growls and that after two years away from the microphone, Renkse would take up vocals once again. Considering he originally gave up the vocal role due to the damage his harsh style was doing to his throat, it could only mean that Katatonia intended to leave the growls behind for good.
My first listen to Saw You Drown was not a particularly pleasant one. I struggled so much to get past the shift in style and the disappointment that came with my expectations not being met. I didn’t sulk for too long however, and slowly but surely these new tracks started to make an impression. I soon realised that this new Katatonia may have dropped the death growls and a few levels of intensity, but the depressive tone was as present as ever. In fact, Renkse’s dreary vocal delivery and the more plodding nature of the percussion if anything took their sound to a whole new level of sorrow and despair. Any concern regarding Renkse’s vocal abilities was quickly nullified by the brilliant Saw You Drown and Nerve, on which he displays unexpected ability and total emotional conviction to go along with Nyström’s subtle yet moving melodies. Quiet World is a nice change of pace, offering soothing, tender verses before the chorus soars to such heights, that any doubts I had previously about the new direction were washed away forever. Not even the overlong yet still mildly enjoyable Scarlet Heavens could convince me otherwise and I found myself filled with hope where before there was none. Saw You Drown was a valuable lesson and one that prepared me nicely for the approaching Discouraged Ones album. I’ve never doubted Katatonia since!
Kataklysm repeat the same mistakes as on Sorcery. Wonderfully violent yet entirely unstructured madness that's easily forgotten.
Kataklysm's debut full length album Sorcery, while being ridiculously brutal, annoyed me. On the one hand, it was impressive the way it so chaotically mixed melody into pure, unadulterated violence. But as remarkable as it appeared initially, the lack of cohesion in the song writing and the completely psychotic approach of vocalist Sylvain Houde didn't allow the music to really sink in. I was sure the band was one to watch though and figured the follow-up would find Kataklysm in a more restrained, refined form. It's immediately apparent on first listen to The Temple of Knowledge that this assumption couldn't be further from the truth. All that showed promise on Sorcery is still intact, but then everything I disliked about the debut has if anything, been ramped up to the max!
Once again, we have stupendous musicianship. Crushing riffs and nice melodies are backed by ferocious drumming with a focus on blastbeats. The production is ok, although the guitars get hidden behind the drums and vocals at times. When I'm allowed to focus on the riffs, I find a lot to enjoy and most tracks have moments where it all comes together nicely. But just as on Sorcery, there just isn't enough to differentiate tracks and the completely unstructured way of putting things together means it just isn't memorable at all. Worst of all though, Sylvain puts in the most laughable, over the top vocal performance I think I've ever heard. He simply vomits lyrics out in such a rush and so frantically that it makes absolutely no difference what's going on behind him. It's almost impossible to focus on anything while he's relentlessly screaming, growling and acting like a retarded demon for the entire running time.
There are plenty out there that think this is Kataklysm's best album and one of the finest pieces of death metal available to man. By now it should be clearly apparent that I'm not one of those people. Cryptopsy did the obscenely brutal thing way better than this and I don't think any album is successful if you can't remember any of it after the last track is completed. To be honest, I'd rather not! The best thing the band ever did was let Sylvain go after this release and simplify their music. That may sound like a copout, but sometimes it's clearly apparent that less is more. To prove that point nicely, I'll finish this review right here.
Totally insane, not to mention unstructured, death metal album with some of the most demonic vocals you'll ever hear.
Kataklysm have been releasing death metal albums for nearly 15 years now. Sorcery is the first of nine full length studio releases and really kickstarted the "northern hyperblast" that they would forever be known for. I purchased this album back in 1995 and got quite a shock on my first listen. It really is a bizarre album structurally with a fair amount of melody mixed into utter madness. There are plenty out there that praise this album for being incredibly chaotic and brutal. While I certainly won't argue that it isn't either of those things, I just don't think the result is cohesive enough for my tastes. It's one of those albums where I'm enjoying it immensely one minute and then wishing it would stop the next.
There are two aspects of note when I think of Sorcery. Firstly, the drumming is spectacular. Max Duhamel mixes extreme blastbeats with a whole range of variations thrown in all over the place. Secondly, Sylvain Houde's vocal performance is completely insane. He spews out whole paragraphs in seconds with no care for the musical backdrop whatsoever, then screams his guts out at random intervals. He sounds like he has effects added at times as it's all so incredibly demonic, but I don't think that's the case. There are plenty of good riffs underneath these two out of control individuals, but it's only when they get a little breathing space that we notice.
I guess that's the problem I have with Sorcery though. It's so over the top that it's like being smashed in the head repeatedly. I try desperately to come to grips with these tracks and when I manage, there's a fair bit of enjoyment to be had. But the rest of the time it's all just a bit messy and unstructured. It's an album worth checking out just to hear some of the insane musicianship and vocals, but I think perhaps fans of deathgrind may be more inclined to like this than the average death metal fan. Highlights are Sorcery, Mould in a Breed, Garden of Dreams and the closing instrumental World of Treason where the band finally get to play without the accompaniment of Satan himself.
Astonishingly awful folk metal with blisteringly awesome black metal tacked on the end.
I found a fair amount of entertainment on the Isengard compilation Vinterskugge. Working through the musical journey of Fenriz while he experiments with both folk music and black metal made for a challenging and inconsistent, yet captivating listen. Of course, I've always been more swayed towards his Darkthrone styled output than his folk noodling, but occasionally the folk inspired work surprisingly connected with me also. I figured the full length Hostmorke would be a far more focused and consistent effort, that might successfully combine the two genres in a neat way. I couldn't be more wrong.
The first 5 tracks are purely folk metal (apart from the occasional flourish in Neslepaks) and it must be said, some of it is just so astonishingly embarrassing. I Kamp med Kvitekrist and I ei Gran Borti Nordre Asen are appalling, no matter how much I try to "get in the mood". It obviously has an audience as the rating for this album is actually pretty good, but I find it excruciating to put myself through. The riffs are simplistic and bouncy and Fenriz's vocals are overly theatrical and well...just bad! Opener Neslepaks is by far the most interesting of the folk tracks and Over de Syngende Ode Moer has its moments, but the rest are awful.
Then the album takes a turn for the last two tracks with Thornspawn Chalice and Total Death being venomous and pure black metal tracks, very much in the vein of Darkthrone. Both are blistering and filled with masses of conviction and darkness, and both kick serious ass! Thornspawn Chalice displays Fenriz in such a manic and passion filled state, it’s quite frankly one the best things he's ever created. The riffs are cold and evil, the drumming intense and his vocals possessed. I love this stuff!!!
Which all leaves me utterly torn by Hostmorke. I assume there would be stacks of metal fans out there that enjoy both folk and black in equal doses, and for them this album might be gold. Then again, maybe the folk metal really is just bad, and I need to give the genre more of a fair go. For me, I'm just not willing to put myself through the first half of the album and so the stuff I do enjoy is completely wasted here. In short, this is not the album I wanted it to be.
An intriguing yet certainly not painless trip through the evolution of Fenriz.
I can't say I'm much of a fan of folky black metal. The riffs are overly jolly, and the vocals can be very embarrassing if the person behind them are not exceptional. There’s something quite interesting about Vinterskugge though. For starters, it's three demos from different stages in the band's development combined into one long compilation. Secondly, there is a multitude of genre hopping going on here, with dark ambient, atmospheric black metal and even death metal also playing a role. Finally, it's all created by Fenriz, the drummer for cult black metal band Darkthrone.
Tracks 1 to 7 come from the 1993 demo Vandreren. By far the best produced tracks on the compilation, this demo treads more within the folk influenced black metal grounds than the other demos. Fenriz's clean vocals are ordinary to be honest and the bouncy riffs just don't interest me all that much. His black metal screams and riffs are much more effective in my opinion, but that could just be my personal preference towards the darker material. Gjennom Skogen til Blarjellene is a nice instrumental though that starts off with distorted guitars and finishes with atmospheric keyboards. In the Halls and Chambers of Stardust is another decent little instrumental, this time with more folk influenced instrumentation. When Fenriz dabbles in this sort of dark ambient material, he comes off a bit like Burzum, but never reaches that sort of quality. Ut I Vannets Dyp Hvor Morket is one of the better straight out black metal tracks on the compilation too, so there's quite a lot to enjoy on this section of the album, even if the folk material grates on me a fair bit.
Tracks 8 to 12 come from the 1989 demo Spectres Over Gorgoroth. These have a rawer production and are rather death metal in their approach. I guess that's not surprising at all since Darkthrone started off as a purely death metal project. The riffs are not bad at all and the vocals are quite cool and evil. There are only 5 tracks and the whole demo is over in under 12 minutes, but it's probably the most consistent part of Vinterskugge. I can't say I'd listen to this all that much due to the production, but it's worth checking out to hear the initial stages of Darkthrone's development, even if it was just Fenriz behind it all at this stage.
Finally, tracks 13 to 16 come from the 1991 demo Horizons. This material displays both directions that Fenriz would branch out with in the future. On the one hand, it shows the path that Darkthrone would take on A Blaze in the Northern Sky, letting go of the majority, but certainly not all, of the death metal riffs, and forging ahead with something very black. On the other hand, it unveils the first signs of the folk influence that Fenriz would utilize further in his Isengard work. The Fog is probably my favourite track on the compilation, being a brooding piece of work with blast beats and great venomous vocals. It truly is a sign of what was to come shortly afterwards and an important moment in the history of black metal. Storm of Evil changes tact immediately with pure folk metal complete with cleanly sung vocals and keyboards. I have to say the main riff of this track reminds me heavily of a Burzum track that would be released shortly after this demo. Bergtrollets Gravferd is the first dark ambient piece in Isengard's history and I'd have to say it's the best too, being a very dark and epic piece of work. Unfortunately, Our Lord Will Come finishes the demo, and compilation, with more crappy vocals, dodgy leads and simplistic riffs.
Overall, Vinterskugge is an intriguing compilation that clearly displays the evolution Fenriz went through in his early years and how his influences caused him to branch out into two very distinct entities. It's tough to listen to in one sitting though, mostly due to the varying quality of the material, but also due to the order of the demos not being chronological. The experience would have been better if it had started from the beginning and worked its way through to 1993. If you love death metal, black metal, folk metal and dark ambient, then I suggest you find this album and check it out.
An initially strange but thoroughly enjoyable mixture of Stockholm and Gothenburg death metal created by Japanese.
There were a few things for me that caused a substantial amount of scepticism when it came to checking out Intestine Baalism. Firstly, that name is average. From what I can figure out, the term could very well be associated with the worship of bowel movements, but it’s far more likely that the band members thought it sounded evil and cool (which it doesn’t). Secondly, Intestine Baalism comes from Japan. When it comes to metal, it must be said that the Japanese are more than just a bit crazy. A look at three of the biggest metal bands to come out of the Land of the Rising Sun should make it clear that the Japanese don’t like to play by established rules. Boris performs monstrous drone doom metal that will crush you with huge riffs one moment and then break out into bizarre Japanese rock the next. Sigh have ties to old school black and thrash metal but then they mix in influences from just about every musical form known to man at seemingly random times. Then there’s Gallhammer of course. Three chicks called Mika Penetrator, Vivian Slaughter and Risa Reaper cranking out black metal tunes. Enough said really!
I was both curious and apprehensive when pressing play to study An Anatomy of the Beast. This trepidation was wiped out soon enough though as old school Swedish style death metal came pummelling out of my speakers. These guys clearly enjoyed bands such as Entombed and Dismember in the early 90s and decided they’d have a crack at producing their own effort, with the obvious difference being that they didn’t have Stockholm’s Sunlight Studio to fully replicate the sound. But don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not suggesting that this Japanese outfit doesn’t add any of the crazy stuff that their countrymen seem destined for. In this case, chunky death metal riffs suddenly clash with sweetly melodic leads which are initially quite off-putting. I must admit that on the first couple of listens the sheer contrast between dark, low tuned riffs and harmlessly pleasant leads made me cringe, but as time went on, I’ve found that it works well enough, and certainly gives Intestine Baalism a distinct character in a genre not known for breaching established boundaries. While the band members are clearly influenced by past albums, they produced something different and thoroughly enjoyable for it.
Seiji’s vocals are done in a typical death growl style, but black metal shrieks are added on the odd occasion for a change of scene. Drummer Takeshi can at times get rooted down in that mid paced, one-two pattern often associated with Swedish death metal, but he adds enough variety throughout, so things never get boring. But it’s without a doubt the guitar work of Seiji and Atsushi that make An Anatomy of the Beast so entertaining. There are multitudes of memorable sections that will make you come back time and time again, and while the previously mentioned leads can grate occasionally, they never feel tacked on at any stage and work their way under your skin after a while. After spending a couple of weeks with Intestine Baalism, I’m surprised that An Anatomy of the Beast doesn’t rate higher than it currently does here. I can only assume that the mixture of Stockholm and Gothenburg sounds is just a bit troubling for many death metal fans to accept. But I’m thoroughly sold and am glad I gave the album a few listens before writing it off. Highlight tracks are Anatomy of the Beast, Cannibal Sodom and A Place Their Gods Left Behind.
Thousand Swords contains some nice melodies and atmosphere, but it's let down by a weak production and a lack of variety.
I only recently had my first experience with Graveland. I spent a couple of weeks listening to 1995's Carpathian Wolves and while it didn't set my world alight, I found it to be mildly entertaining. It certainly showed enough promise to get me excited to hear more of what this entity has to offer and there's a heck of a lot to choose from. Considering Thousand Swords seems to be the album of choice among Graveland fans, I guess I assumed that it would be a decent place to venture next. I also assumed that I'd probably get into this one right from the get-go rather than having to endure multiple listens before finding reward as I did on Carpathian Wolves. That didn't turn out to be the case at all. The production is very weak for starters. It's not that it's particularly rubbish or lacking clarity, it just doesn't contain much power at all, leaving the instruments a bit lifeless. Add to this the fact that there is nothing remotely technical or even tight about what's being played here, and first impressions are not very good at all.
But once again, this is one of those albums that slowly sinks its claws into you. Which each successive spin, I've found I enjoy it a bit more, but I've exhausted that technique as far as it will go now. The drumming reminds me of early Primordial, in that it has a very ancient, kind of medieval feel to it. It's an odd sort of gallop, but one that really works for this style of Paganistic music. It's damn messy though with some extremely distracting mistakes jumping out regularly. The riffs are particularly weak in presence but are somehow quite memorable and effective. This means about the third time you listen to the album, it all starts to become rather familiar and dare I say comfortable. There's a lot of melody to be found within the majority of tracks, but the album never approaches anything remotely bubbly or upbeat, more epic and grand). Rob's vocals are of the raspy, grim black metal variety. They're decent enough, but it must be said that they lack variety or venom and are just kind of...there.
In the end I think Thousand Swords has grown on me to the point where I can enjoy it, but I still find it hard to understand why so many hold it in such high esteem. Some reviews (check out some on Encyclopedia Metallum) seem to suggest that this is the finest piece of work in the history of music which is baffling to me. There are many great black metal albums out there that have a similar grand, warlike feel to them whilst containing a much bigger production, far superior talent and a heck of a lot more variety. As it is, I feel very similarly about Thousand Swords as I did for Carpathian Wolves. It's a decent listen with some nice moments and atmosphere, but in the end it's just nothing amazing. Highlight tracks for me are Blood of Christians on My Sword, Thousand Swords, The Dark Battlefield and Born For War.
A simplistic yet atmospheric album that's certainly worth checking out for true black metal fans.
This is the first time I've spent much time with a Graveland album. I've come across the name many times over the years, which is hardly surprising considering this Polish band have put out over 15 releases since 1994. But perhaps "band" is the wrong word for Graveland as this is really the work of Rob Darken for the most part, being the sole member on many of the previously mentioned releases. All this said, debut album Carpathian Wolves does have a separate drummer (Capricornus) and bassist (Karcharoth).
Carpathian Wolves contains simplistic black metal really and its production is rather weak. But as any black metal fan will know, those two features can often combine to form great albums, as this style of music doesn't always require technicality or clarity. In the case of Carpathian Wolves, I think it does end up being a rather atmospheric listen, but it does pale a little in comparison to other albums released around the same time (Ulver, Burzum, Darkthrone etc.).
The intro to the album is excellent and sets the mood perfectly for what's to come. It's followed by the highlight of the album for me being Barbarism Returns which has some nice riffs and very effective keyboard work. In fact, the keyboards are important on this album, often turning some average tracks into quite memorable and entertaining ones. Rob's vocals are in typical black metal form (i.e. raspy and evil), but I like them quite a lot. The drumming is adequate if simplistic as are the riffs but that's not really the point.
The real reason to listen to Carpathian Wolves is the atmosphere and, on that level, I think the album is entirely successful and worthy of a listen or two for anyone into black metal. As mentioned earlier, Barbarism Returns is great as are Witches Holocaust, At the Pagan Samhain Night and Unpunished Herd. If it wasn't for a couple of forgettable tracks in the middle, I may have rated this higher. I look forward to checking out more Graveland albums in the future.
I certainly haven't heard a lot of Gorefest over the years, but this album is by far and away the best thing I have listened to by the band. Compared to albums like Erase, which focuses on groove and accessibility, this Dutch band released an incredibly heavy album with False. All that said, it certainly contains enough groove and melody to implant these tracks into your subconscious for the rest of your life, without wimping out on the brutality. While there's nothing overly technical on False, their crushing death metal is extremely effective and keeps me coming back for more repeatedly.
The band gel together perfectly, but it's the vocalist and drummer that stand out. Jan-Chris De Koeijer's death growl is awesome, yet decipherable and Ed Warby's drumming is filled with variety and precision. Of course, death metal is nothing without riffs and there are some truly cracking examples throughout this album. The production is top notch overall and there really isn't anything to complain about from a technical point of view. If I'm going to be critical, I'd say the last few tracks of False fall away a bit after an amazing first half. The Glorious Dead, State of Mind, Reality When You Die and Get a Life are all brilliant examples of crushing mid paced death metal, while From Ignorance to Oblivion and The Mass Insanity tend to cause the album to lose its strength and fade away towards the end.
All up though this is a highly recommended slab of heavy death metal. If you like bands in the style of Bolt Thrower and Swedish death metal like Entombed and Dismember, then there's absolutely no reason why you shouldn't find some real enjoyment in this release. Check it out!
Wonderfully creative and experimental black metal that helped break down the firm barriers of all things "true".
Fleurety's Min Tid Skal Komme album sure is an eclectic piece of work. While this album is nearly always categorised as black metal, there are many elements here that are quite distant from the genre's blueprint. The mid-nineties was the period when adventurous musicians decided it was OK to merge the normally elite genre of black metal with other outside influences to well, see what would happen. I'm extremely thankful for this curiosity, as we ended up with wonderful albums such as Ved Buens Ende's Written in Waters, Arcturus' La Masquerade Infernale, Solefald's The Linear Scaffold and of course, Fleurety's Min Tid Skal Komme. This period in some ways saved black metal from an early over-saturated death, and this free and experimental attitude has continued right up to today.
There's something extremely organic about the Fleurety experience. It all sounds like it could have been performed live, with the drums feeling very unprocessed and natural. The music swirls between bizarre progressive soundscapes, experimental rock and atmospheric black metal without coming across as clunky or even strange. It just seems...right! It's as though the band were improvising at times and yet the result is too mesmerising to suggest there wasn't an immense amount of planning involved. One of the unique aspects for the time was the inclusion of a female vocalist and I have to say that Marian Aas Hansen's performance is outstanding, particularly when contrasted to the raspy black metal vocals that on their own may have been a bit too weak. She is apparently a pop singer from Norway and her talent is obvious, never entering overly-operatic tendencies that seem the norm for many female vocal additions in metal.
Alexander's riffs are immensely creative and discordant, and he switches between different styles easily, seemingly having no fear of what should go where. The bass is very audible and holds a much more prominent place than on most black metal albums. There's a lot of talent behind all this madness and I really wish the band had explored these avenues further over the next few years. Min Tid Skal Komme is one of those albums that gets better with time and the more I listen to it, the more enjoyment I find. Fleurety deserve a heck of a lot more credit than they receive for helping break down barriers and exploring musical realms formerly uncharted. Highlight tracks are Fragmenter av en Fortid and the genuinely amazing Englers Piler Har Ingen Brodd. If you like your metal experimental, you owe it to yourself to check this out!
Exumer were previously unknown to me, but I thought I'd give it a shot due to the decent rating it gets on this site and the comparisons to Sodom, a band a quite enjoy. After a few spins of their debut album Possessed by Fire, I've found it to be a simplistic yet mildly entertaining release. What these German thrashers lack in technicality they make up for in spirit, with good energy and an unexpectedly nice production. There are some great riffs spread throughout the album that pop up just when I start to feel a little underwhelmed, bringing my attention back to what is slightly above average thrash.
Yet for every good riff, there's an equally dull, uninspired one and there's absolutely nothing original about Exumer's work, with many sections reminding me of tracks from other more well-known bands. The choruses have a habit of just repeating the track title a few times before we're back into verse territory. But somehow this album, with all these flaws and by-the-numbers song structures, manages to entertain and excite. The vocals are a mix of Mille Petrozza from Kreator, Megadeth's Dave Mustaine with a touch of Paul Baloff, which may sound awful but is ok. The album is definitely top-heavy, with the second half falling away a little after a solid beginning. Still, Possessed by Fire is a recommended listen for anyone who just can't get enough 80s European thrash metal. Highlights for me are Possessed by Fire and the fantastic Fallen Saint.
A crushing improvement over Massive Killing Capacity, but the bulk of it just passes by.
If you’d asked me to put my money on what Dismember would produce in 1997, I would have first checked out what Entombed were up to before speculating. It may be harsh to suggest that Dismember are merely a clone of the Swedish death metal founders, but it’s hard to ignore when both bands seem to be on almost the same trajectory. The first two albums by both outfits were built on the same filthy riffed template and while all four albums are varying degrees of awesome, it was hard to listen to one band without thinking of the other. Entombed clearly knew that the style had a use by date, so they used 1993’s Wolverine Blues album to launch death ’n’ roll, a new subgenre that combines the same death metal sound with hard rock. Not to be outdone, Dismember’s third album followed suit, with Massive Killing Capacity containing elements of death ’n’ roll as well as some melodic death metal tendencies. By the time 1997 came around it became clear that Entombed were set on taking death ’n’ roll as far as it could go, so one could only assume that Dismember would tag along for the ride.
I’m glad I didn’t hand over any cash as Dismember threw a curve ball for their fourth album. Unlike Entombed, Dismember cut out (dismembered?) a lot of the softer commercial aspects that had crept into their music and went back to their heavier roots. One can only assume that the band really wanted their fans to know about it too as they gave the album the apt name Death Metal, which is a title that didn’t fit too comfortably for their previous outing. The cleaner vocals are gone, and the death ‘n’ roll aspect has all but disappeared. What Death Metal offers up is quite unique, at least for its time, being a mixture of Stockholm and Gothenburg death metal sounds. On the one hand, there are quite a few In Flames sounding melodies and leads going on, but then the enveloping and highly distorted sound is still firmly covered in old school Sunlight Studios grime. It’s not something many bands have attempted and Dismember almost pull it off. Unfortunately, a lot of the melodies don’t grip the way they might with more clarity, and they occasionally just sound out of place amongst the crushing fuzz.
All this said, there are quite a few tracks that forego this odd combination (Silent Are the Watchers’ transitions are terribly jarring) and instead focus on what Dismember do best. There’s a lot of presence to these tracks with huge riffs, relentless no-nonsense drumming and Matti’s aggressive vocals. Of Fire, Misanthropic, Bred For War and huge closer Mistweaver are really very good and are certainly better than anything off Massive Killing Capacity. But most of the remaining tracks are around three minutes or below in length and they’re over before they’ve done anything to distinguish themselves. I find myself clockwatching by about track six, just biding my time till the remaining highlights arrive. In the end, even though Death Metal has more variety when it comes to speed and style than the classic Dismember albums, it’s boring. As strange as it may sound, I’ve found this album to be both relieving and disappointing in equal amounts. It’s a lot better than I expected given the direction I thought the band would take, while still not coming close to the high standard set by Like an Ever Flowing Stream and Indecent and Obscene.
Dismember try for a piece of Entombed's death 'n' roll pie with boring results.
Unfortunately, I think I made an incorrect statement in my Indecent and Obscene review. I praised Dismember for sticking to their guns while Entombed departed from the Swedish death metal sound they helped create. I hadn't heard Massive Killing Capacity at that time, but I couldn't help assuming it would also be another filthy slab of brutality, particularly considering the title and the excessive nature of the artwork. As it turns out, Dismember clearly wanted a piece of the more commercial pie that Entombed were gobbling up, and recorded an album that sounds awfully like Wolverine Blues.
The big problem for me is that I really don't enjoy Wolverine Blues or death 'n' roll in general for that matter. Just as on that album, the vocals are far cleaner than before, the riffs are more melodic and less chunky than on previous albums and the drumming is completely boring and pedestrian. In my opinion, Massive Killing Capacity is a huge step down in quality from the band's first two albums and a huge disappointment. There are some nice riffs here or there, of course, as these guys are never going to be terrible, but in the end it's all quite forgettable and lacking in actual death metal. I can't even pick out highlights as none of it really grabs my attention (although the In Flames worshipping Collection in Blood is bad enough to do so) after multiple spins.
This album was always going to memorable, if nothing more than for its grotesque cover artwork. The title of the album itself was formed after they were described with those very words by a newspaper journalist. But Dismember certainly had a lot of work to do to stay relevant back in 1993. The Swedish death metal sound had already been done to death by a multitude of Entombed clones (themselves included). During the same year, Entombed decided to do something a bit different, with the death n roll album Wolverine Blues being the result. Dismember on the other hand decided to stick to their guns and went back to the standard Sunlight Studios sound for their sophomore release. They did however tinker with it somewhat, giving it a much cleaner production, while keeping those filthy chainsaw guitars. The drums are clean and crunchy and there's not as much of that noise of sound that was going on with the debut.
I think that while Like an Ever Flowing Stream will always be renowned as a genre classic, Indecent and Obscene would have to be my personal favourite album by the band. It perfectly combines fantastic melodies with an awesome level of violence. The leads are really nice, and the drumming is powerful while never being particularly technical. There are plenty of change-ups to keep you on your toes and I can't say things ever get boring throughout the 9 tracks. Highlight tracks for me are Case # Obscene, Skinfather and the fantastic closer Dreaming in Red. I can't give the album more than 4 stars, as there's nothing particularly original or creative about it, but Indecent and Obscene is right up there with Entombed's Clandestine when it comes to Swedish death metal at its finest.
Dismember to me will always be a band that sounds just like Entombed. This comparison in some ways may be unfair today as Entombed moved away from this sound a long time ago, whereas Dismember have stuck to the tried and tested formula for a long time now. But back in 1991, this sounded extremely similar to Entombed's Left Hand Path that came out a year earlier. But none of this is to say that Like An Everflowing Stream is not a good album, because that's definitely not the case. It's just hard for me to consider it to be influential or essential when it is easier to view it as a very good clone.
The main difference between the two albums is that Dismember's is a fair bit more brutal. The riffs flow thick and fast, the drumming is much more rapid with more blast beats, and generally, the production is heavier. In fact, I'd have to say that I enjoy this album more than Left Hand Path, but not more than Entombed's second release Clandestine. It's short and sweet at 31 minutes (at least it was before all the bonus tracks in recent years) and has enough classics to make me come back for more regularly. Highlights are Bleed For Me and in particular Dismembered with it's fantastic melody and blasting, but it's all pretty solid stuff.
Disincarnate are known simply for the fact that James Murphy was a member of the band. The genius guitarist adds a stack of class to just about every album he touches (although he couldn't save Cancer's Death Shall Rise) with massive titles by Death, Obituary and Testament to his name. But what makes this project different from just about every other band he's worked for is that Disincarnate is James Murphy's band. It's not a guest appearance like it so often his for James and it's not the 4th album by a solid line-up that James has just slotted into after a former member's departure. Dreams of the Carrion Kind is a death metal album the way James Murphy wants it to be and that means awesome, tight, old school death metal with obviously fantastic lead guitar work.
Many have complained that most of the tracks on this release sound like each other and I have to admit that's true. The vocalist doesn't really alter his style (typical but good death growls) throughout and a lot of the riffs could be transferred between tracks easily enough. But then it's all so tight and classy, with fantastic sections raising their head regularly out of the comfortable framework. Stench of Paradise Burning is by far and away the best track, but Monarch of the Sleeping Marches and In Sufferance are great also. I guess this is one of those albums that's unlikely to pop up in anyone's top 10 albums of all time but is certainly a good choice for anyone that enjoys old school death metal without necessarily requiring a level of experimentation in their music.
The writing was on the wall with Celtic Frost's prior album To Mega Therion. Little experimental flourishes had made their way into their music and made things more interesting than on their debut EP. With Into the Pandemonium, this flourishes have been given a major focus, with the result being an absorbing listen. Female vocals, gothic pop choruses, background symphonies, industrial elements etc. etc. These guys went all out and created multiple new sounds for their time.
When listening to the album, I can hear how influential they have been on gothic metal in general as well as doom metal, and yet they managed to integrate all that with the thrash metal they'd always been known for. The singing style in tracks such as Mesmerized reminds me of Anathema and Monumentum. The mixture of doomy riffs and poppy sensibilities reminds me of bands such as Tiamat.
But that's not to say that everything on Into the Pandemonium works smoothly. The industrial "One in Their Pride" with its industrial beat certainly hasn't aged well. Starting track "Mexican Radio" is an extremely strange choice of cover to start the album off. It's not terrible but it's by no means a highlight. And some of the female vocals are a bit well...crap. Yet there's an addictive quality to the album and tracks such as Mesmerized, Sorrows of the Moon and Caress Into Oblivion make this album, if not a classic, a damn enjoyable listen.