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Slowly We Rot

As intros to death metal go, mine wasn’t too shabby.  I bought “Slowly We Rot” blind, in the days of (me) having no internet and just a sick logo and equally sick artwork to tickle my pubescent fancy!  I had never even heard any death metal at that point but I instantly loved every fucking minute of this record.

I had to play it at my grandparents house and luckily my grandad had a great stereo set up.  When he first heard the record he though he had something wrong with his equipment.  I had to convince him for a good few minutes that it was supposed to sound like that.

I was instantly enthralled by Tardy’s vocal style and remember thinking how insane it was that a human could make such a noise.  It was like a dumped high school girl puking and sobbing her hatred for boys out with only the occasional word actually audible through all the hatred and vitriol.  

The atmosphere on the record scared the shite out of me, like some soundtrack to some mind bending horror film.  The record plays like a writhing, shifting mass of fetid, acrid evil just toying with the listener and taking great pleasure in doing so.  The riffs on here are fucking scathing too so any flesh left on your bones from the Tardy onslaught is soon detached once the riffs kick in.  Peres and West made a great partnership, leaving as much of an impact with their six strings as Tardy did with his vocal chords.

Although end to end this is a thoroughly ferocious affair it does lose me sometimes, not necessarily out of complexity more out of if sounding a little samey in places.  Still though this is a benchmark Death Metal album for me based on both nostalgia and the overall genre impact it had.

Regrettably I sold my vinyl copy of this record and now don’t even have it on stream but I can still recall every track and every terrifying Tardy howl.

MacabreEternal MacabreEternal / May 25, 2019 05:27 PM
Gates to Purgatory

The initial era of German heavy metal was dominated by two bands in Scorpions & Accept & we'd have to wait 'til the mid-80's before we'd see the introduction of another major contender. The artist I'm referring to is of course Running Wild & they’d go on to play an important role in the late 80’s & early 90’s metal scene. But for the purposes of this review, we’ll just be focusing our attentions on their debut studio album, 1984's “Gates To Purgatory”.

Running Wild first formed in Hamburg back in 1976 so they’d been around for a while by this stage & I think you can hear that maturity in the execution here. The band seem to know their sound quite well & don’t try to over-extend themselves on their first effort. Instead this four-piece outfit tend to keep things fairly simple & focus on the song-writing. The production has that authentic 80’s underground metal sound & I think it really works for Running Wild here.

Musically you can expect a fairly short album with just the eight songs included; three of which fall comfortably into the speed metal category with the other five being more in line with the classic heavy metal sound. As with most of the European metal scene at the time, the NWOBHM was certainly the major influence on Running Wild & I’d probably describe them as a mixture of Judas Priest & Venom with bits of Iron Maiden here & there. The Venom influence is really obvious in the speed metal tracks but also in the lyrics & image with “Gates To Purgatory” sporting mainly Satanic themes & imagery. It’s interesting because this is certainly not in line with the band’s later works which were amongst the first to tackle predominantly pirate-related themes. There’s a lot of Judas Priest in the riff assault on offer here while the dual guitar attack also reeks of Judas Priest's Tipton/Downing combo. The inclusion of guitar harmonies often leaves me thinking of Iron Maiden though. As does the obviously Maiden-esque “Genghis Khan” with its hilariously mispronounced chorus. This isn’t the only time you’ll hear that sort of thing on the album either. “Preacher” sees Running Wild taking a temporary side road through Black Sabbath territory while “Black Demon” seems to indicate that Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine might well have been a fan as it sports a pretty similar sound to some of Megadeth’s early-to-mid 90’s albums.

Front man Rock ‘n’ Rolf doesn’t sport the trademark high-pitched European heavy metal approach. He takes a much more gruff direction & I’d suggest that Venom’s Cronos & Tank’s Algy Ward might have been his two main influences. It’s interesting that I can hear a fair bit of the early European thrash metal bands like Sodom & Coroner in some of Rolf’s delivery & I’d be willing to bet that those bands were all over “Gates To Purgatory”. Particularly Sodom as you can hear it in the thrashier riffs here too.

But the big problem with Running Wild’s debut is in the song-writing I’m afraid. It’s just not a consistent enough album. I only like four of the eight songs with the B-side being pretty weak & seeing the album out in sluggish fashion. Many might disagree with me on this topic but I find the hooks to be too obvious & simple at times. I mean take a listen to the closing number “Prisoner Of Our Time” which is clearly the most popular track on the album. To my ears it just sounds pretty flat with very little energy & a chorus that’s trying way too hard. "Gates To Purgatory" is all a bit too accessible for a band with this sort of potential & I subsequently find it to be a disappointing listen even though it promised so much early on. 

Daniel Daniel / May 25, 2019 12:52 PM

After their debut full length Maiden immediately kicked up a gear or two on the sophomore release.  Retaining those memorable songs as well as the theme of tracks named after history’s/culture’s more dark figures (‘Genghis Khan’, ‘Murders In the Rue Morgue’), their second album was a near perfect natural progression from the previous year.  Showing an already increased maturity yet sacrificing none of the spunky attitude and energy in the process.  

Sadly, for me at least, this was Di’anno’s swan song but fuck me did he get to go out on a high note.  ‘Killers’ for me is Maiden’s finest hour.  Everything from the artwork through to the musical content is just brilliant.  Better arranged than the debut, with more tracks to play with the album feels like more of an experience.  As mentioned on my review of the debut, things didn’t go downhill as such after this but I never again felt the raw energy of the first two albums transposed into any of the releases after them.  

The punishing rhythm of ‘Wrathchild’, the nefarious structure of the title track and the racing melodies of ‘Purgatory’ all standout for me whenever I play this record.  Proud that have it on my shelves.

MacabreEternal MacabreEternal / May 25, 2019 12:07 PM
Heavy Metal Breakdown

"Heavy Metal Breakdown" was the debut album from a four-piece German heavy metal outfit going by the particularly metal moniker of Grave Digger. Now some of you might have heard of them before but I’d hazard to guess that most of you probably haven’t & what’s really surprising about Grave Digger is that they’ve gone on to release around twenty studio albums in their career which puts them right up there with the Motorhead’s of the world. It’s pretty astounding when you consider that they’ve been able to achieve those sort of numbers but have never really broken out of the underground. It’s a credit to their commitment to metal really but it’s also a little sad, isn’t it?

Grave Digger first formed back in 1980 & after making a few appearances at some small festival events they managed to get two songs included on the “Rock From Hell” compilation in 1983 which kick-started their recording career & was the catalyst for this initial full-length effort a year later in October 1984. The “Heavy Metal Breakdown” record is highlighted by a particularly brutal guitar sound which was amongst the heaviest the metal world had heard to the time. But it wasn't just the production that was heavy. There are some truly vicious riffs to be found here as well with several tracks bleeding over into genuine speed metal or even thrash metal territory.

Vocalist Chris Boltendahl has one of those abrasive screaming styles similar to Udo Dirkschneider from Accept although he often sounds like he’s trying to sing like Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson, only with very little success. Overkill’s Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth springs to mind too but just like Udo, Chris is definitely in his element when he’s going for an aggressive balls-out metal approach. He really does sound pretty ordinary when he attempts to actually sing & I’d strongly encourage him to leave that stuff to the Halfords & Dios & concentrate on what he does best which is shriek like there’s no tomorrow.

The rhythm section knows exactly what to do to further highlight the brutal riff assault & from a purely musical point of view “Heavy Metal Breakdown” is right up my alley. The heavier Judas Priest & Accept material is the obvious reference point & those two influences were the primary component of the German heavy metal sound overall really. In fact, if you pay close attention, the speed metal inclusions here seem to be custom-made replicas of Accept’s classic speed metal anthem “Fast As A Shark” while my album highlight “Legions Of The Lost” is a fully fledged thrash metal number that showcases some very powerful bottom-string triplets during the main riff that’ll really get your blood pumping. There are a number of riffs here that leave me with the distinct impression that Kreator may have been heavily influenced by Grave Digger & I could probably show you a number of similarities between these riffs & some of those from the late 80’s output of the Gods of Teutonic Thrash.

But don’t get too excited just yet people. The album’s dragged down considerably by one of the weakest metal ballads you’ll ever encounter in the God awful “Yesterday”. It truly is a repulsive abortion of a song with Chris doing his level best to reduce me to a cowering child just begging for him to cease with the barrage of cringe-worthy vocal cheese. As with most of this material, the lyrics are absolutely appalling & I can’t express just how badly this song effects my enjoyment of the album overall. But it’s not the only weak point either. The classic heavy metal sound needs not only quality riffs but some high quality vocal hooks as well & it’s this area that leaves “Heavy Metal Breakdown” languishing behind the better German debuts. For all the wonderful metal riffage on display, the choruses of most songs are decidedly average with some being downright repulsive. Just check out the song “We Wanna Rock You” for example with it’s chorus of “Wwwweeeeee wanna rock youuuuu….. weeeeeee wanna roll you… roll you”. That’s just total crap, isn’t it, & it’s this element alone that leaves me feeling disappointed at the end of each listening experience.

There was certainly the potential for “Heavy Metal Breakdown” to become somewhat of an underground classic given the sheer heaviness & aggression of this music & the production in particular but the song-writing hasn’t given it a chance with even the best songs on offer failing to capitalize on the quality of the riff assault. The title track is a prime example of what I’m talking about with regards to the vocal hooks as it possesses some great riffs but the chorus seems to give the indication that Grave Digger think their fans are lacking in the intellect department as it’s some lowest common denominator shit in my opinion. The main feeling I'm left with coming out of "Heavy Metal breakdown" is of missed opportunity.

Daniel Daniel / May 25, 2019 07:20 AM
Iron Maiden

I prefer Di’anno era Maiden to a lot of the Dickinson era if I am honest.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike Dickinson as a vocalist but I believe that the first two Iron Maiden Records capture a raw energy of a young band about to leave an obvious and indelible mark on music as whole let alone heavy metal as a genre and Di’anno’s vocals fit this aesthetic perfectly.

My main criticism of the debut seems perhaps harsh or paltry but still has stuck with me since my first listen some 27 years ago and that is the arrangement of the record is a little off for me. ‘Remember Tomorrow’ (great track though it is) sits too early in the track order for me and would a great track for the latter half (or side b if we are going old school) of the record although this would then endanger the impact of ‘Strange World’.

My OCD aside I simply love the content on this record and my only real regret is that I wasn’t around in 1980 to experience the release at the time (I was 4 when this came out).  There’s literally 8 memorable and well written tracks here with a feel of real grit to them.  Whether it is the grim characters referenced (Phantom Of the Opera, Charlotte the Harlot) or the tangible menace of tracks like ‘Prowler’ or the title track, the sense of threat remains a virtual constant that only gets tempered by the occasional dreamy if not creepy verse of the albums more looming parts.

MacabreEternal MacabreEternal / May 25, 2019 07:18 AM
Fire in the Brain

Finland may have gone on to become the country with the highest ratio of metal bands per capita (as per former US president Barrack Obama's speech in 2016), but up until 1983 they’d contributed very little in the way of noteworthy metal releases other than two fairly underground Sarcofagus heavy metal albums that didn't exactly set the world on fire to be fair. But things were about to change thanks to a five-piece outfit by the name of OZ who formed way back in 1977. By 1983 they’d already released their debut album & gone through various lineup changes however the planets were about to align for them with the release of their second full-length record entitled “Fire In The Brain”.

The band’s debut album “Heavy Metal Heroes” was a dour affair & clearly represented a group of musicians that were still finding their sound but several key lineup changes had resulted in the follow-up taking on a drastically different & substantially more metal sound. The hard rock influence has been completely dropped in favour of an all-out metal assault with the NWOBHM being the primary source of influence. It’s really quite an exciting listen due to a fairly savage guitar sound that greatly enhances the work of the dual guitar attack. Singer Ape De Martini possesses a powerful voice that often reminds me of Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson & Queensryche’s Geoff Tate too. He’s a genuine front man & his approach leaves me with the impression of leading his band mates into battle.

Speed & energy are important ingredients for OZ with Raven, Iron Maiden, Scorpions, Accept & Motorhead often springing to mind as influences. These are short & simple, no-fuss metal tunes with little time for extravagances. The guitar solos are short but highly effective with both axemen proving to own some fairly impressive chops. The tracklisting isn’t without it’s weaker moments however & I struggle with three of the eight tunes on offer. Thankfully the other five are strong enough to carry the album for me & I’m left with a predominantly positive impression after each revisit. In fact, I have to admit that I’m often left wanting to like the record more than I actually do due to its metal-as-fuck approach . It only needs a bit more consistency in the song-writing department to push it up into the next scoring bracket but all of the other elements are already in place. Just check out my favourite track in the slowest & most atmospheric number "Black Candles" for a clear example of what the band could achieve with its darker & more brooding sound being high on classic Mercyful Fate influence. The cover art even sports a photo of the arm of Bathory’s Quorthon holding a flaming skull & what could be more metal than Quorthon’s arm??

Daniel Daniel / May 24, 2019 11:58 PM

This really could have been a pretty decent brutal death metal E.P. with heavy emphasis on technicality & blast beats. The production is excellent & the musicianship is good. The death vocals are great & remind me of Johann Larssen (Seance) quite a lot at times. There are a couple of things that prevent this from living up to its potential though. Firstly, the neo-classical parts (clean vocals & guitar leads) are not to my taste at all & sound quite chessy to me. Secondly, they've overdone the blasting drums a bit & the tracks tend to blend together due to this. I think the overly clicky drum sound contributes to this. The At The Gates cover of "Blinded By Fear" (my favourite ATG track) is not in the same league as the original & the addition of blast beats doesn't do it any favours. The piano outro piece "Mafia" doesn't really serve any purpose in my opinion either. I'm afraid I can't quite look past the flaws.

Daniel Daniel / May 24, 2019 09:00 PM
Sentence of Death

By 1984, the Americans had well & truly planted the seeds of a strong US thrash metal scene that would go on to dominate the rest of the decade. However the Americans weren’t the only heavy-weights of the movement, & the second most important market place was just about to take off with arguably the first legitimate Teutonic thrash metal record hitting the shelves in November 1984. The only previous German thrash releases had come in the form of crude demo tapes from the likes of Sodom & Holy Moses but it was about time we saw a label put their money where their mouth was & release some of this material in a less primitive format. For those that are wondering what the difference between the US & the Teutonic models of thrash metal is, well the German model is much rawer & more abrasive with decidedly less polish. It has a more underground feel to it & was possibly more influential on the more extreme forms of metal like death & black metal. Sodom may have been the Godfathers of the German scene however it’s debatable as to who got their proper label debut out first. There are contradicting release dates across the various online resources in regards to Sodom's "In The Sign Of Evil" E.P. which makes it difficult to categorically determine whether it received a 1984 or a 1985 release but given that their “Victims Of Death” demo tape was recorded quite late in 1984, it's probably more likely to have seen the light of day in 1985. If this statement angers you then please…. do something violent…. it would please the metal Gods (no not Rob Halford). But there’s no doubt at all that Destruction’s initial effort, the “Sentence Of Death” EP, first saw the light of day in 1984 so let’s take a look at that.

Destruction first formed as a three-piece in 1982 under the awkward moniker of Night Of Demon. They wouldn’t change their name to Destruction until 1984, just before the release of their highly- regarded “Bestial Invasion Of Hell” demo tape which I used to have on a bootleg CD along with Tormentor’s “End Of The World” demo way back in the day. This demo would lead to a recording contract with Steamhammer Records who were also involved in the release & distribution of several other major metal releases in 1984 including Sortilege’s “Metamorphose”, Trouble’s “Psalm 9”, Metal Church’s self-titled debut & Brocas Helm’s “Into Battle”. The resulting “Sentence Of Death” E.P. unquestionably showcases a definitively German brand of thrash metal that’s easily identifiable over the US material that was around at the time.

The tracklisting is comprised of five songs & a short intro piece over a duration of just over 19 minutes but boy is there a lot going on during that time. Destruction cram so many riffs into each short track that the E.P. really does appear to be a lot more substantial than its short running time would have you believe. The production is suitably raw although this is hardly an inhibitor for the band. In fact, the sound suits Destruction’s image quite well. I mean if you look at the cover artwork you’ll see three young dudes sporting so many studs & spikes that you’re left wondering how they’d even pick up a guitar, let alone actually play it! It’s really pretty hilarious & I have to say that it appeals to me quite a bit on an old-school level. But despite the primitive nature of the production & packaging, you can comfortably make out all of the instruments & you don’t miss out on any of the nuances with the more complex riffs on offer despite a very messy guitar sound that’s lacking a bit of smooth distortion. And that’s interesting because Destruction are KNOWN for having pushed the complexity of their music much further than their German counterparts did during the early stages of their careers. I have to admit that I don’t buy into that concept as much as other people do though. Yes they certainly play a lot of riffs but I wouldn’t say that they’re overly complex apart from the odd legato lead run from guitarist Mike Sifringer. There aren’t any drastic time changes or riffs that are all that technically challenging to play here. It’s really just that they’re played at such a ferocious tempo all the time & that none of them stay around for too long that leaves the impression of complexity.

Destruction focused very heavily on being amongst the fastest metal bands on the planet at the time & the influence of speed metal on their sound is undeniable. Don’t get me wrong. You’ll never be left wondering whether Destruction are truly a thrash metal band or not. But you can definitely hear a speed metal component in the makeup of almost every track included. Surprisingly, I often see people referring to “Sentence Of Death” as an influence on early black metal too but I can’t say that I hear anything remotely like black metal here apart from the ridiculous attempt at evil lyrics & the over-the-top cover artwork so I wouldn’t pay much attention to that.

Instrumentally, this is all about the guitars. The rhythm section simply make as much noise as they can whilst keeping the tempo as high as possible. I wouldn’t say that there’s any particular talent being displayed there despite what people may say. In fact, drummer Tommy Sandmann pretty much plays the same beat throughout every track & doesn’t contribute much on an artistic level. This might not be such a bad thing though because his technical skills are really pretty limited with his double kick work being particularly scrappy which probably answers the question about why such a fast brand of thrash metal built on a speed metal backbone wouldn’t utilize one of the most prominent tools of the trade more readily. But guitarist Mike Sifringer has a unique ADD-fueled guitar style that steals the show anyway & you’ll never get bored waiting for something to happen. His raw energy reminds me a lot of Voivod’s Piggy in that he possesses a unique & abrasive style that doesn’t conform to the common thrash metal constrains. His enthusiastically performed guitar solos are quite accomplished too although I have to admit that his mainly pentatonic style doesn't appeal to me all that much because there’s not a lot of melodic experimentation going on. I suspect that he’s drawn a fair amount of influence from Motorhead’s Fast Eddie Clarke but a lot of the time it sounds like he’s playing predominantly the same scale & resorting to hammering the same intervals really fast. Bass-player Marcel Shirmer handles the vocal duties really well & his rough & grindy delivery is the other main focal point of the band. I really like his style actually. He reminds me a lot of a combination of Venom’s Cronos, Sodom’s Tom Angelripper & Voivod’s Snake & being a fan of the more extreme forms of metal I really enjoy a less accessible & dirtier vocal with my thrash.

All of these elements combined see “Sentence Of Death” taking the early thrash metal sound of Metallica & Slayer & smothering it in the speed metal filth of Venom & Motorhead only with noticeably less punk influence than a band like Sodom. Destruction certainly sound a little less dark than some of the other European bands like Kreator, Sodom & Bathory however I think a lot of that can be put down to the outrageous speeds the band insist on playing everything at. If you’re going to play at those sort of tempos all the time then you need a bad-ass metal drummer with real power & a dark feel. I don’t think Tommy is that guy to be honest & he does struggle to keep things sounding tight for the most part. Closing number “Devil’s Soldiers” is a prime example of this as it simply falls in a heap with the band all seeming to be playing completely different songs. I honestly can’t say what they were trying to achieve there. It’s an absolute mess & a terrible way to finish the EP.

Look…. I know I’ve said a few negative things about “Sentence Of Death” thus far which will likely shock many underground thrash fans as this is generally a very highly regarded record but be warned… I’m about to take things one step further & say that I’ve never gotten on with “Sentence Of Death”. It sounds like something that should have a fair amount of appeal for me on paper but there’s just something that doesn’t quite click with me in the execution. I struggle with the messiness of the compositions, the primitive nature of the production & the lack of genuine evil in their atmosphere. There are certainly a couple of solid tracks here (like "Mad Butcher" for example) however I don’t think they manage to overcome the few weaker ones & I’m left feeling disappointed at the end of each listen.

Daniel Daniel / May 21, 2019 08:26 AM
Detaching From Satan

The Italians hadn’t made much of a blip on the doom radar up until 1984 with only a few extremely underground demos & singles from acts like theatrical horror metal personalities Death SS & the progressive rock inspired Black Hole seeing the light of day by that stage. But the Italian doom scene was about to get a firm shot in the arm with this little E.P. representing the most important & highly regarded Italian doom release of the 80’s.

The catalyst for this landmark came in 1979 when Death SS guitarist Paul Chain decided that he needed another avenue to express his heavier & more experimental & improvisational side so he formed a side project by the name of Paul Chain Violet Theatre which gave him something to do during the long breaks between activity with Death SS. The bands co-existed until 1984 when Chain decided to disband Death SS & this enabled him to focus all of his attention on recording his debut solo release; a four song EP entitled “Detaching From Satan”, which seems to be a reference to the fact that Chain had grown tired of the Satanic approach that his former band had taken with their lyrics & imagery & was a clear sign that he was looking for a change of direction.

Interestingly, the Violet Theatre featured appearances from several Death SS members so Paul wasn’t trying to distance himself from the band altogether but one of the most unique aspects of the record was the complete lack of traditional lyrics. It’d likely go straight over your head if you weren’t made aware of it but Paul is actually using a self-devised language of made-up sounds or phonetics in place of actual words & I find it be very effective. Perhaps it even makes it easier to make the vocals fit the music if you think about it because there’s no need to jam phrases in just to suit a lyrical storyline. But that’s not the only unusual element of “Detaching From Satan” as it’s just as ambitious from a musical point of view.

The production is very raw & lo-fi but strangely this seems to give the music an authenticity & charm that it might not have possessed otherwise & I actually think it enhances the overall package. The drums are very loud in the mix & the rhythm guitar sound has that dirty layer of distortion that early Black Sabbath, Witchfinder General & Hellhammer were known for while the bass guitar bubbles away in praise of Geezer Butler’s more bluesy early 70’s outings. Sometimes the recording seems to show signs that the master tape has decayed somewhat… again having a positive effect as it adds a further layer of mystique to the atmosphere; only increasing Paul’s underground metal credibility. There’s a distinctly 70’s feel throughout with lots of experimentation & a very live feel; particularly to the improvised lead work. There are lots of effects employed during the over-the-top Hendrix-inspired psychedelic guitar solos & the unhinged vocal arrangements & the regular use of choirs & church organs gives the record a noticeably gothic atmosphere.

Vocally, Paul sounds quite similar to Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant during most of this material with the obvious exception being the closing doom metal epic “17 Days” where he employs an approach that’s much more in line with gothic rock artists like Bauhaus. I really enjoy his performance which has a lot of character & is a nice foil for the consistent procession of ultra-heavy Black Sabbath riffage. The overall package is almost reminiscent of a 70’s D-grade horror film soundtrack at times but the strong sense of melody prevents it from completely alienating the listener. There are moments of unbridled evil & others which exude a more epic feel but despite the unusual & often quite morbid atmosphere, I don’t think “Detaching From Satan” is quite as whacked out as most people make out. Especially if you’re already well acquainted with the highly ambitious & experimental Italian progressive rock scene of the 1970’s. In fact, on more than one occasion I found myself feeling quite similar to the first time I heard Norwegian avant-garde metal outfit Ved Buens Ende……

Anyway… I’d encourage all fans of Black Sabbath, Witchfinder General & Pagan Altar to give this one a crack because it’s a great little record.

Daniel Daniel / May 21, 2019 07:03 AM
Evil's Message

Danish heavy metallers Evil first formed as a four-piece back in 1982 & there’s very little information on them on the internet other than the consistent rumour that Mercyful Fate front man King Diamond was actually the band’s guitarist. Well I’ve done a bit of research on that topic & I can say right up front that this particular rumour has no factual basis whatsoever.  It simply stems from the fact that both bands hailed from the same city of København & that the guitarist in question sports the Christian name Kim which is well known to be King Diamond’s birth name. But to be honest it really doesn’t take too much effort to figure out that guitarist Kim Xmas’ axe-slinging skills are far too impressive for him not to be a full-time six-string specialist.

The "Evil's Message" E.P. would be one of the more underground releases from 1984. Unfortunately it would prove to be the only release we’d hear from Evil for a full 31 years when (just like so many other bands from the period) they’d elect to reform for a comeback album. I’ve got to admit that I’m forever being surprised by the bands we see participating in this reformation trend that's been happening in recent times. It’s not like many of them had much of a fan base in the first place so it’s certainly not for fame or money, is it? I guess it’s refreshing to think that it’s all for the love of metal music but it isn’t exactly encouraging to see a continual string of old names on festival lineups these days. It doesn’t indicate that we’ve got a strong underground metal scene if we’re still relying on the same old names but anyway… 

The production job on “Evil’s Message” is a really strong talking point because this record sounds much more modern than most of the other underground metal releases that were around in the mid-80's. It really does sound very polished & accomplished & is driven by a particularly clicky drum sound for the time. These days that sort of sound is par for the course for metal bands wanting the drums to cut through the mix but it wasn’t a common trait back in the mid-80’s so it really stands out here. It gives the band a clinical edge that won’t be for everyone but personally I really like it & when combined with a ripper of a guitar sound it gives us a product that could easily have been mistaken for a current release. Drummer Freddie Wolf makes good use of his prominent position in the mix with a strong display of precision double-kick-driven metal drumming that includes some impressive fills. He’s really quite talented & so are the two guitarists Kim Xmas & Pete “Popcorn” Hurricane who proceed to thrash out a procession of high quality riffage mixed with seriously professional guitar harmonies & searing lead breaks.

Instrumentally, this is a very talented bunch of dudes & it’s just a shame that their unfortunately named front man Pearl Angel doesn’t have the same level of chops because that’s the only thing that seems to have stopped Evil from becoming serious players in the early European heavy metal scene. That’s not to say that Pearl’s ballsy delivery is particularly poor but I just find that I can’t quite give these songs the credit they deserve due to the distinct feeling that they’ve underachieved on their potential. I think one of those more classic higher register metal vocalists that seemed to be so plentyful in the 80's would have gone down a treat here but instead we’ve got one that sounds similar to Tank’s Algy Ward, only with less charisma & power.

Musically, Evil’s style swaps between traditional heavy metal & a thrashier & more exciting speed metal sound with the speed metal being the dominant partner in my opinion. In fact, I’m not too sure why “Evil’s Message” isn’t often referenced as a genuine speed metal release to be honest, as three of the five songs fall comfortably into that category as far as I can see. Many of the riffs possess a complexity that was rarely heard at the time too & the overall professionalism of the performances is very surprising for a debut release. For example, the Maiden-esque guitar harmonies have a precision to them that comfortably matches the class of the mighty Irons without ever approaching plagiarism. To my ears they sound more similar to the more epic European power metal bands that would follow or even the melodic death metal that would explode out of Sweden & Finland during the early 90’s. I can hear a lot of “Stained Class”-era Judas Priest in the molten metal riffage; particularly during the opening title track which is a classy instrumental with a progressive song structure & some quite technical riff construction. It’s the best song on the tracklisting for mine & I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the highlight track lines up with the only instrumental piece. But that’s not to say that the rest of this material isn’t strong because there are no weak tracks here with a lot of the material having an unusual similarity to the sound that Megadeth would champion through the 80’s & early 90’s. I even hear some Dave Mustaine-era Metallica in one of the songs too so I have to admit that I’ve dared to wonder whether there was some sort of link between our beloved Megadeth front man & Evil on occasion.

Overall, this is a very solid Danish heavy metal release & I rate it more highly than the more well-known Pretty Maids or Witch Cross releases that came out of Denmark the same year. It’s just a shame that the vocals aren’t of a high enough standard to take the band to the elite level because the musical talent is certainly there. If the concept of an amalgamation of the pure heavy metal of Judas Priest & Anvil crossed with the speed metal intensity of Acid takes your fancy then I’d encourage you not to hesitate in hunting it down. At the very least you should check out the closing track because any song with the title “Take Good Care Of Your Balls” is worth exploring in my opinion.

Daniel Daniel / May 21, 2019 06:49 AM
Medieval Steel

Up until 1984, Memphis, Tennessee hadn’t exactly been a hot-bed of activity as far as quality metal went but if this little E.P. is anything to go by then that was about to change. Medieval Steel formed as a five-piece back in 1982 & it took them a couple of years to get this debut release out there. Frustratingly though, it would be their only release for a full two decades with their debut full-length not seeing the light of day until 2014. That’s right… TWENTY YEARS people. And what makes that even more frustrating is that on the evidence we hear on their first-up effort, Medieval Steel may well have gone on to become household names in the underground metal scene had they kicked on. In fact, this short four-song E.P. may last no more than a mere 16 minutes but in that time it manages to achieve an impact that far out-weighs it’s minimal duration. 

It’s interesting that 1984 would be the first time that we’d start to hear US bands displaying predominantly US influences & that’s never more apparent than it is with Medieval Steel’s exciting brand of epic metal. Although it’s not hard to pick up the Judas Priest influence that seems to have been an essential part of every metal band's arsenal at the time, the strongest & most obvious influence on Medieval Steel’s sound is unquestionably Manowar. Medieval Steel represent everything that was good about the early epic metal sound & they manage to stay on the right side of the cheese line for almost all of these four songs with the obvious exception of the overblown spoken word intro to the band’s signature title song. Manilla Road is also a name that pops up quite regularly although this release is much more metal than anything the Road had released to the time.

The production here is very much in line with the classic 80’s heavy metal model. It’s raw & electric but never sacrifices on clarity & definition. I have a lot of time for it as it’s got a timeless quality to it that represents the underground metal scene of the time really well. Front man Bobby Franklin has a wonderfully pure voice that soars into the upper registers at times. He sounds a lot like Rush’s Geddy Lee only with more balls to his delivery & his higher register work often reminds me of Queensryche’s Geoff Tate. The guitar solos aren’t exactly virtuosic but they nicely balance melody with electricity in a way that seems to suit Medieval Steel’s style down to the ground. 

Of the four songs on offer, three take an up-front metal approach with the band’s opening title song being the more epic of the three & featuring a sound that’s not too far removed from the US power metal one that was being developed at the time. It's a particularly strong piece of work & I love everything about it with the exception of a strange out of key vocal melody at the end of the chorus. I can’t imagine how the band could have let that get through the production process untouched but it apparently did. Otherwise, it's strongly representative of heavy metal perfection as far as I'm concerned. Closing number “Echoes” is a little different to the other three as it's a melodic metal power ballad in every sense of the term, but a particularly strong one it has to be said. In fact, it sounds a hell of a lot like some of Dream Theater’s material from a decade later & it wouldn’t surprise me if this song was an influence. 

As you can tell, I’m a big fan of this EP. It’s a great example of mid-80’s heavy metal & it probably appeals to me even more because of the fact that it’s just so underground. Any fan of the classic 80’s heavy metal sound will love this stuff so if that's you then don't hesitate to get on it. 

Daniel Daniel / May 21, 2019 12:29 AM
Live Undead

1984 was a huge year for Slayer fans. Not only did we receive the classic "Haunting The Chapel" E.P., but Metal Blade Records also felt the need to put a live release out to showcase the sheer violence & electricity of a live Slayer show. It would be recorded in New York City but as with Warlord’s “And The Cannons Of Destruction Have Begun…” live album they'd released only a month earlier, Metal Blade had unusual ideas on how it would come together, not feeling any necessity for the record to reflect a truly live club show. The Warlord record was advertised as having been recorded in an empty theatre & was billed as the very first Warlord live show which ended up being completely inaccurate as it eventually came out that the whole thing was put together in a recording studio & was poorly mimed for the accompanying video that came with the album. Well the circumstances around the recording of Slayer’s “Live Undead” E.P. have a few more unknowns about them & it’s really up to the listener as to how much they let these effect their overall enjoyment of the record.

For starters, we know that this isn’t a legitimate live show. The band’s management have been open for many years about the fact that it was recorded in a studio with 50 friends of the band in attendance to add the audience noise. But what’s not 100% clear is whether that audience was in the same room at the same time that Slayer performed this material or whether they were simply screaming their heads off for the fun of it & inserted at a later stage. From the hints that producer Bill Metoyer has given in interviews it sounds like he wants us to believe that the crowd were in the room with the band but the audience noise didn’t get picked up well enough in the recording so it was re-recorded & pasted over the top of the band. This makes sense to me on the evidence on display on the recording so I’m gonna go with that story & I’d imagine that our audience will be a little divided about whether they can accept this as a genuinely live recording under those circumstances or not.

The other major talking point is the necessity to put out a live release at all given that Slayer had such a small amount of material at the time. I mean the original release of “Live Undead” featured six songs; five of which appeared on their debut full-length “Show No Mercy” from the previous year & the other one having seen the light of day only two months earlier with the “Haunting The Chapel” EP. And when you take into account the fact that these arrangements are all very similar to the originals & recorded in a studio it begs the question on what the point of the whole exercise was. Apparently the six songs that made it to the record were selected from 19 that were recorded in total across three sets that included a maximum of nine different songs with the tracklisting being completely out of order from their usual live sets.

Well……. now that we’ve got that all out of the way, it’s lucky for me that I’m able to see past all of those topics pretty easily & I subsequently  find “Live Undead” to possess some unique characteristics that make it an essential part of any Slayer fanatics collection. One of the bigs pluses is that the production is excellent for a "live" release. It really showcases the electric energy of a live Slayer with all of the instruments being well defined. The two guitarists sit at either side of the stereo spectrum & achieve tones that are both raw & chaotic & searing & modern at the same time, with the solos being presented in emphatic fashion. Tom’s bass guitar can actually be heard which is more than I can say for many Slayer studio outings & he sounds thick of warm here. And Dave Lombardo’s drum kit sounds more powerful than we’ve heard from him to date with a kick drum sound that went a long way to defining the path forwards for extreme metal. There’s more click to it than we'd heard previously which makes it more defined & gives the rhythms more precision. In fact, Lombardo’s performance is a big differentiator for “Live Undead”. His ability behind the kit at this stage in the game is simply light-years ahead of where it was for “Show No Mercy” & this gives these songs more life than they had previously. Particularly due to the drastically improved double kick work which is a real highlight & gives the songs a lot more urgency than they had previously.

The only “Haunting The Chapel” track included is “Captor Of Sin” & it benefits greatly from the cleaner production afforded over the original recording. Tom’s vocals are harsher & more evil sounding than they were on “Show No Mercy” & you would honestly never know that this wasn’t a real live club gig on the evidence of his performance as he genuinely seems to be interacting with the crowd. I actually think this performance places him way ahead of the rest of the thrash front men metal fans had experienced to the time. His ability to balance sheer aggression with melody is unparalleled & his between-song banter is totally bad-ass & would definitely leave a live crowd riled up & ready to attack each other. The sound of the audience certainly leaves you feeling like they actually do too. These dudes sound like complete psychos throughout the recording & that’s pretty much in line with what my teenage self always imagined from a Slayer club crowd. If you want to hear what Hell sounds like then this is as close as you’re gonna get with the audience being mixed a little louder than you’d usually expect for a live release which seems to be a bit of bug-bear for some listeners but personally I really enjoy it & think it gives the E.P. a unique character.

Perhaps the fact that I was introduced to “Live Undead” before I’d ever heard “Show No Mercy” or “Haunting The Chapel” has had an impact on my overall feelings on this release but I have to say that I fucking love it. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it just slightly eclipses “Haunting The Chapel” for my favourite Slayer release to the time. I honestly couldn’t give a fuck about how the recording came to be. I didn’t have any idea of those circumstances when I first became acquainted with “Live Undead” & I’m not sure it would have made a difference anyway. I just base my judgements on the music coming from those speakers & the way it makes me feel & on that basis alone it’s hard to deny that “Live Undead” is a showcase for the elite thrash metal of one of the greats of the genre when they were just hitting their straps. I’ll never get the opportunity to see them at this early stage of their career but this E.P. serves as a very nice insight into what a live Slayer experience might have been like at that point in time.

Daniel Daniel / May 20, 2019 09:53 PM
Sacred Heart

The early 80’s had been a prosperous time for the New York heavy metal scene with the likes of Riot, The Rods, Manowar, Virgin Steele, Wendy O. Williams & the Plasmatics giving local metalheads a fair bit to be proud of. But there can be little doubt as to who was the undisputed king of New York heavy metal during the first half of the decade, & that was a short Italian-American with an enormous heart & a monumental voice in former Elf, Rainbow & Black Sabbath front man Ronnie James Dio.

Ronnie’s first two records with his own band Dio (1983’s “Holy Diver” & 1984’s “The Last In Line”) had gone on to become instant classics so expectations were very high when it came time to release Dio’s third album, 1985’s “Sacred Heart”, which would mark the last time that Dio would sport their classic lineup. I have to admit that while I definitely enjoyed “The Last In Line”, I did find it to be very much “Holy Diver” part 2 only not quite as impressive. So the question was… would “Sacred Heart” be the record that saw Dio start to take some risks or would we simply get another by-the-numbers Dio record. Well the answer is very much the latter with the differentiators between albums only relatively minor in the overall scheme of things.

The production job on “Sacred Heart” isn’t overly polished & has a nice grit to it that adds a little rock ‘n’ roll street cred & the performances are all high class as usual with Ronnie’s classic vocal stylings being the clear focal point as usual. But despite his clear talents, it’s very hard to overlook that fact that he’d started to repeat himself over the last two records. As with “The Last In Line”, there are some very familiar sounding tracks & phrasings included on “Sacred Heart” with Ronnie seeming to subconsciously veer towards his comfort zones far too often & this leaves the record sounding more than a little like I’ve heard it all before.

I’ve often referred to guitarist Vivian Campbell as one of the most underrated axe-men of the 80’s & you can easily see why with another strong performance here. I’m a big fan of his exciting & predominantly shreddy approach & he’s always been one of the big drawcards of the early Dio records for me. Dio has often suggested that Vivian had already checked out mentally by the time the album was recorded & that the two of them were struggling to see eye to eye which doesn’t surprise me given Ronnie’s reputation for being somewhat of a control freak. This would be the last Dio album to feature Vivian who would later go on to a successful career with artists like Lou Gramm, Whitesnake, Thin Lizzy & Def Leppard. But despite all of the similarities to Ronnie’s previous works I mentioned earlier, there’s one clear differentiator with “Sacred Heart”… & that’s the inclusion of some blatantly commercial material.

Now Dio-fronted records have always contained a strong hard rock element. “Holy Diver” was roughly a 50/50 proposition between hard rock & heavy metal while “The Last In Line” saw that equation leaning further towards the metal side of things. “Sacred Heart” sees the ratio returning to the more balanced “Holy Diver” one only this time a few of the more rock-driven tracks venture further over towards a cheesy AOR sound & this is to the detriment of the album overall. Ronnie doesn’t sound comfortable singing over the more blatantly radio-friendly material & the two worst offending tracks (“Hungry For Heaven” & “Shoot Shoot”) are possibly the weakest of the first three Dio albums. The title track on the other hand is the equal of anything we’d heard from the band thus far & there are a number of other strong tracks included too. So I guess it’s fair to say that we’re lacking the consistency that was such a strong feature “Holy Diver” & while “The Last In Line” sported a similar quantity of weaker tracks, I don’t think they descended quite as far below an acceptable quality line as they do here.

So overall, whilst I find "Sacred Heart" to be a pretty enjoyable listen, there can be no denying that it takes Dio another step down from “The Last In Line”, which had itself taken a step down from the impressive heights of “Holy Diver”. It’s a long way from a disappointment but simply serves as a passable heavy rock record that’s overstepped its mark with regard to its commercial ambitions & subsequently fails to challenge its audience all that much. At a time when metal was consistently reaching for new levels of extremity, Dio would need to give us something fresh next time or risk disappearing into the realm of dad rock.

Daniel Daniel / May 20, 2019 09:36 PM
Violence & Force

Exciter’s 1983 Shrapnel Records debut “Heavy Metal Maniac” made quite a dent on the global metal scene with its brash & raucous brand of high velocity heavy metal. But while it certainly had some appeal for me personally, I wouldn't say that I was terribly enamored with it. Although I had a lot of time for the band’s sound, I don’t think that the song-writing was strong enough to allow Exciter to compete with the high quality thrash metal releases that were around at the time. It was certainly a fun listen though & it’s not hard to see its appeal for fans of high-impact, high-energy metal music. Particularly as it resulted in Exciter being able to upgrade their recording contract to a new & more appropriate union with Jon & Marsha Zazula’s Megaforce Records who were running white hot following their release of Metallica’s “Kill ‘Em All” & Anthrax’s “Fistful Of Metal”. 

Exciter was already being mentioned in the same terms as those bands so this arrangement would seem to make a lot of sense. It also resulted in a cleaner & more accessible production job for Exciter’s “Violence & Force” album which was recorded with the same lineup in November 1983 & released in February 1984 with The Rods’ Carl Canedy handling the production duties. Personally, I really liked the raw electricity of the guitar sound on “Heavy Metal Maniac” & although the drum sound in particular is noticeably more powerful here, I’m not sure I could say that I prefer the more polished production job. It’s certainly not an area of concern though & we see the songs being given every chance to fulfill their potential.

Musically, "Violence & Force" sports some minor technical improvements from the various band members with drumming front man Dan Beehler & bassist Allan Johnson having benefited substantially from the band’s heaviest year of live performance to date. The rhythm section showcases a newly invigorated confidence with Dan’s performance behind the kit sounding a fair bit more confident than before. His powerful kick drum work is a real highlight here while his chaotic vocals seem to be a touch more consistent. He’s still got that ripping high-pitched squeal that reminds me of Death Angel’s Mark Osegueda too. Guitarist John Ricci hasn’t changed his approach much with his primary focus being to play as many notes as he possibly can in the shortest possible time period. His technical limitations are still quite obvious but it’s hard not to be won over by his infectious enthusiasm, particularly during his psychotic guitar solos. His unusual aversion to palm-muting is still quite evident here & once again we see an uncommonly large amount of strummy power chord riffs which sees Exciter placing a clear gap between themselves & their thrash metal compatriots. If you look carefully, this attribute sees a lot of the tracklisting having a strong basis in punk rock which I didn’t notice as much on “Heavy Metal Maniac”. Songs like “Evil Sinner”, “Destructor” & “Saxons Of The Fire” are all fine examples of this idea & overall I think you’ll hear a little less of the Black Sabbath & Judas Priest influences of the debut with a stronger emphasis being placed on the punkier metal bands like Motorhead & Venom.

As with most early speed metal records, “Heavy Metal Maniac” didn’t focus all of its attention on the one subgenre. Sure the larger proportion of the tracklisting was speed metal oriented but there was still plenty of play time given to your more traditional heavy metal sound too. If I'm completely honest, my favourite song on that album ended up being the slowest one on the tracklisting & we’ll see something similar with “Violence & Force”. Of the ten tracks on offer I’d suggest that at least four of them aren’t actually speed metal with countrymen Anvil being a decent point of reference for songs like “Pounding Metal” & my personal favourite “Delivering To The Master”. In fact, despite the differences I’ve mentioned, this is really a pretty similar record to “Heavy Metal Maniac”. There hasn’t been a lot of musical development but I’m not sure I was expecting any either. This is not the sort of metal music I’d expect intellectuals to be dissecting at length (despite my apparently trying to do so here). It’s some pretty lowest common denominator stuff really but I don’t think it was ever intended to be anything more than some fun drinking music for kids to thrash around to.

Overall, this is merely a passable speed metal album in my opinion. The quality is fairly similar to the debut however if pushed I’d suggest that I marginally favour “Heavy Metal Maniac” over this one simply due to its slightly more raw & unpolished nature which gives it a touch more personality.

Daniel Daniel / May 20, 2019 09:22 PM
Heavy Metal Maniac

Speed metal legends Exciter first formed under the name of Hell Razor in Ontario, Canada back in 1978. They later changed their name to Exciter in 1982; presumably after the classic Judas Priest song of the same name. The only other Canadian band of any note to that time was of course Anvil so not only were Exciter sporting a brand new sound but they were also fairly influential in pushing the Canadian metal scene forwards. In fact, they seem to have hit a newly refreshed level of popularity in recent years off the back of the strong trend towards old-school metal with every man & his dog now sporting an Exciter patch on their metal armour even though very few would have been around to hear them back in the day.  

Exciter ended up signing with Shrapnel Records who would later go on to become the biggest label in the world for instrumental guitar shred records & Exciter’s first & only studio album for Shrapnel entitled “Heavy Metal Maniac” was released on 14th January 1983, the very same month that the self-titled debut from Belgium's Acid (the other initial speed metal release) would see the light of day in a vastly different part of the world. Exciter's debut would be the more highly celebrated of the two though, with the album generally finding itself included in most speed metal top tens still to this day. 

I have to say that the album title is pretty apt because it’s a metal as fuck record that’s a fair bit more intense than Acid could muster. In fact, there are a fair few sections of the album that are nothing short of full-blown thrash metal. The real talking point of the band though is unquestionably the fact that vocalist Dan Beehler is also Exciter’s drummer which is something we hadn’t seen in metal up until that time. And Dan makes a pretty decent fist of it too although it has to be said that his skills in either discipline are unquestionably fairly minimal. To be honest, his vocals could have fit pretty comfortably on an early thrash metal record from the likes of Dark Angel. They’re very raw & often miss the mark in the pitch department but they get the job done. Dan’s drumming lacks ambition but that’s hardly surprising. He does however keep Exciter moving along at a rip-roaring pace throughout. The guitar sound of John Ricci is perfect for this style of music. There’s no need for polish as John just goes for it & expends every drop of his limited ability in making a ferocious racket that’s both raw, powerful & exciting. His solos sound like he’s hell bent on playing as many notes in a short period as possible but doesn’t quite have the skills to pull it off. He does end up sounding pretty cool though. 

The overall production job on “Heavy Metal Maniac” is exactly what I want to hear from an uncompromising underground metal band & for that reason it may have stunted Exciter’s commercial potential to an extent but has in turn enabled the band to gain a lot of street cred in the process. From an influence point of view, Exciter seem to draw upon the NWOBHM much less often than some of their speed metal contemporaries with the classic metal bands of the 70’s being the more obvious points of reference. The impact that Judas Priest & Motorhead have had on the band is easily discernable & so is that of Black Sabbath during the slower moments. In fact, if I’m completely honest, I find the couple of slower numbers to be the most appealing tracks on the record but the rest of the album is pretty much pedal to the metal from start to finish which is what speed metal is all about of course. 

Unfortunately I’m just not sure that the song-writing is good enough to warrant the heavy praise that “Heavy Metal Maniac” receives on occasions. I do have a fair bit of time for the album but I don’t think the highlights are anything terribly mind-blowing. Plus there are a couple of weaker numbers on the B side that don’t do much for me so I have to admit that I prefer the simple fun of the Acid debut over this one. It’s still certainly worth a listen if you like 80’s speed metal though.

Daniel Daniel / May 20, 2019 09:10 PM
Power Games

With the NWOBHM starting to wind down a little with several important bands now starting to explore more accessible sounds in the hope of commercial success, it’s not surprising that we were also starting to see several young bands responding by heading in the complete opposite direction & keeping things raw & aggressive with a stronger emphasis on speed than ever before. Bristol-based four-piece Jaguar were one such band with their debut studio album “Power Games” being released in March 1983; a full four years after the band formed back in 1979.

The production on “Power Games” is particularly raw (even for a NWOBHM debut) but not in a bad way with the guitar sound being heavily distorted & very much in-you-face. It really suits Jaguar’s sound in my opinion. In fact, so many of these speed metal influenced bands of the time tended to end up with noisy productions that comfortably made up for their lack of clarity with unbridled enthusiasm & energy. Jaguar are not the type of band you listen to if you’re looking for flashy virtuosity or progressive extravagance anyway though. They’re a no-frills heavy metal band that doesn’t muck around with unnecessary nuances. Even the guitar solos are kept quite minimal & simple with a stronger emphasis placed on song-writing & bludgeoning the listener than showcasing anything too showy. Bass player Jeff Cox is probably the highlight instrumentally & I quite enjoy his style. He adds something fresh to these songs & isn’t afraid to contribute some melody here & there. Vocalist Paul Merrell has a really great voice too. He sounds a lot like Foreigner’s Lou Gramm & that can’t be a bad thing as I’ve always admired Lou’s voice.

Musically, Jaguar have listed the likes of Black Sabbath, Budgie, Judas Priest, UFO & Iron Maiden as their primary influences although I’d suggest that it would be more accurate to say that their sound sits somewhere between Iron Maiden's self-titled debut & the high velocity electricity of Raven with a strong punk & hardcore element thrown in for good measure. It’s pretty hard to deny the impact that the likes of the Ramones & the Sex Pistols had on the band on the evidence here. I mean a song like “Prisoner” is pure hardcore punk in my opinion while the rest of Jaguar’s material alternates between traditional NWOBHM fair & the exciting new sounds of legitimate speed metal, although I’d probably suggest that they sit more comfortably under the heavy metal banner overall. To be fair though, the faster songs are some of the fastest the metal world had heard to the time.

The song-writing is very consistent with only the one blemish. I’m actually surprised that Jaguar didn’t make more of an impact on the scene of the time because this is a more than decent heavy metal album. Perhaps Jaguar just arrived a little too late in the game.

Daniel Daniel / May 20, 2019 09:04 AM
Loose 'n Lethal

The appropriately named Nottinghamshire-based four-piece NWOBHM outfit Savage first formed way back in 1976 but split shortly afterwards following just the one solitary live show. 1978 saw the band reforming with a different lineup but as with most young New Wave bands the next few years saw a continual procession of lineup changes halting the band’s progress. But a few minor demo & single releases in the early 80’s saw Savage finally starting to get their shit together with 1983 marking the release of their first full-length album entitled “Loose ‘n Lethal”. It came right at the back end of the NWOBHM movement & is the sort of record that makes you stand up & pay attention. Once you hear it I’m pretty sure you’ll agree that “Loose ‘n Lethal” was a pretty suitable title.

The main element of Savage’s sound that people immediately pick up on is of course their over-the-top guitar sound which is nothing short of…. well… SAVAGE! I don’t think the world had heard guitars sound so completely out of control before with the distortion level set to 11 & the excessive volume levels in the mix providing even more distortion. In fact, you’ll find that the vocal performance of bass player Chris Bradley regularly gets dragged into the wall of guitar noise with his voice often displaying signs of distortion. Chris’ voice could be described as fairly typical of the New Wave. He’s not an enormous talent but he gets the job done. The same could be said for lead guitarist Andy Dawson actually as he’s clearly chosen the school of speed & ferocity over the college of virtuosity & melody. He just goes absolutely ape shit on every solo & doesn’t seem to have much structure or focus to what he does but it ends up sounding pretty cool nonetheless.

It’s interesting that Savage are often credited with influencing the thrash metal genre however I’m gonna be a bit controversial here (a shock for you all, I know) & say that there’s really very little proto-thrash or speed metal on offer here. In fact, it’s really only the guitar sound & the iconic opening track that can be considered to be influential on the more extreme forms of metal. "Let It Loose" has been brought to most people’s attention through the influence it had on a young Metallica who have covered it in various different capacities over the years. It’s clearly the fastest & most extreme song on offer with Motorhead’s more violent speed metal material being the primary source of influence. The rest of the material just benefits from the guitar sound which manages to make simple hard rock riffs sound like some ball-tearing metal. And honestly there’s a fair bit of hard rock about some of these songs. In general I’d compare Savage to fellow underground NWOBHM acts like Raven, Chateaux & Jaguar who were all pushing the limits of heavy metal extremity in their own ways but the most obvious influence I can hear on Savage’s sound is actually David Lee Roth-era Van Halen. In truth there’s a fair bit of Van Halen plagiarism going on in the riff & lead break departments. Just check the main riff from “White Hot” out & compare it with the riff from Van Halen’s “Unchained” for one of the many examples.

But thankfully I can look past all that because the energy & electricity of Savage’s music makes for a unique & interesting listen with only the one flat track amongst the eight on offer. I think they’re just lacking those couple of real classics to push “Loose ‘n Lethal” up into the essential listening category but as it is I’d still recommend that all fans of the NWOBHM give it a few spins.

Daniel Daniel / May 19, 2019 07:29 PM
The Heretics

Last Rotting Christ album I enjoyed? "Triarchy of Lost Lovers". Last Rotting Christ album I bothered to listen to upon release? "Aealo". It is fair to say that the Greek stalwarts of the Black Metal scene now have a sound that rarely ventures into the territory so well tread on "Thy Mighty Contract" and "Non Serviam" but it is also fair to say that "The Heretics" sounds from start to finish like a band who firmly stamp themselves on the metal map for 2019. What album number thirteen from Rotting Christ does is take a measured approach to variation and repetition to build a memorable and lasting experience.

The sound itself goes from dark and brooding metal and hard rock to almost Gothic metal proportions. Yet at the same time that familiar melodic warmth remains in situ throughout. More often than not there's that big soaring melodic riff riding the vocals like a surfer with his board. "The Voice of the Universe" does this superbly as does "The Sons of Hell". The overall feel the record as a whole leaves me with is one of ritualistic allure, tracks like "Hallowed Be Thy Name" and "Fire God and Fear" build well like powerful incantations being cited from voluminous tomes, flooding forwards intermittently with flowing dark melodies.

It does remind me a lot of Behemoth ("The Satanist" Behemoth, not last year's pompous bollocks Behemoth), with the theme of religion so heavily referenced but at the same time it feels like a much more cohesive effort than recent Behemoth, keeping a level of consistency and restraint to the songwriting which holds the attention well. Only once does the album visit anything like Black Metal on "I Believe", here they base a poem by Nikolaos Kazantzakis at the centre of the chaotic and frantic pace and sadly it fails miserably on my ears, coming across as just filler. My only other criticism is that it does get a bit samey in places (namely the intros to each track). Otherwise it is a perfectly respectable piece of dark metal. C'mon, we can't this black metal anymore folks.

MacabreEternal MacabreEternal / May 19, 2019 04:28 PM
The Door to Doom

Candlemass 2019 are epic. I mean in terms of the sound at least. This plays more like an epic heavy metal record as opposed to a doom record. Yeah, the heavy drudging riffs are still there but there's a real sense sword-wielding, bicep popping warriors flanked by women in metal underwear sat on spiky horses type fantasy. Opening track "Splendor Demon Majesty" is an unashamedly dark opener full of occult promise that pulls of a perfect balance of menacing worship of evil deities whilst also pacing superbly to open the album strongly. Even the most doomy tracks here are still laden with such vocal stylings. "Astorolus - the Great Octopus" (great fucking song title) is an obvious choice here, even given Iommi's input it still doesn't stray to far away from the epic nature the song title and feels well balanced. It rumbles and rolls like a great Octopus would do assisted by some superb lead work along the way that stab through the menacing atmosphere. Likewise, the gallop of "Death's Wheel" drops down in pace to doomy depths for the chorus to become one of the nearest experiences to the 1986 debut heard on here.

Let's be honest though folks, this isn't "Epicus..." part two. Not that anyone really wanted that though, right? On its own, "The Door to Doom" stands up as a fantastic record for a band who haven't released anything notable since "Tales of Creation". It is not that recognisable as a Candlemass record though which will no doubt get the diehards moaning into their retro flares and skull effect candlestick holders whilst crying into their earthen drinking vessels full of mead. The only real reminders on here of the doom relationship is the fact that the record on the whole reminds me of a much better version of "13". As I sit listening to "Black Trinity" I hear so much similarity to numerous tracks from Sabbath's last full length that I had to look twice in the instrumental parts to make sure I didn't the library on shuffle. 

That withstanding, "House of Doom" is a superb doomy romp with monumental riffage and pace and horror themed synths to build the atmosphere to boot. This was on the the EP of the same name from last year and is probably may favourite track on here certainly in terms of its authenticity to the Candlemass sound of old, chiming church bells ringing to fade as the track closes. If anything the record gets doomier the final 2 tracks. Check out the riffs on "The Omega Circle" if you still need your bed wetting from some punishing doom metal before the band signs off on a job well done.

There is only really two criticisms I can level at the record, one being the utterly pointless filler of "Bridge of the Blind", a crap ballad dropped in after just 3 tracks of excellence is just out of place both in terms of the timing of its placement and the marked difference in pace from the rest of the album. Secondly, too many tracks start the same way. There's about 3 or 4 that start with some slow picked strings and Languist crooning as an introduction to the tracks proper. It just gets old after the second or third time even though on each occasion the track is soon hit by an epic riff or stomping pace change,

Sadly, if it wasn't for the shit ballad this album would have afforded a higher rating as it makes very few bad steps along it's length. Buy it for the love of metal though, not just because it's Candlemass.

MacabreEternal MacabreEternal / May 19, 2019 04:26 PM
The Wings of War

Full length number 19 from overkill certainly makes a splash in the energy stakes, I mean there's some modern thrash bands that are a good two decades younger than Overkill who can only hope to achieve the levels of spunk that New Jersey's finest produce here. That in itself is an achievement, for a band of Overkill's stature and reputation to be able to still sound relevant four decades into their career is no mean feat. Even in the albums weaker moments it never gets redundant and the energy levels remain high. There's a real sense of a band in a state of some renewed vigour, helped in no small part by the addition of Jason Bittner on drums. The former Flotsam & Jetsam skinsman is nothing short of superb throughout "The Wings of War" and seems to have squeezed a little extra out of the rest of his peers.

The album kicks of with a great build to opening track "Last Man Standing" and for the first 4 tracks of the album the Overkill crew stomp, bash and groove their way to a solid level of consistency. The lead work is of particular note and Blitz sounds as sneery and scathing as ever. The album is well produced and mixed too with all parts of the thrash machine audible as the five piece hammer away at your skull with the usual blend of chugging riffs and infectious anthems. It isn't even all thrash either, one thing that is also obvious in abundance here is the melody present throughout all 10 tracks.

There are weak moments as mentioned but they are more a victim of how good the strong tracks are. In it's own right "Distortion" is a solid enough - if not slightly varied a journey from the last offering - but it just doesn't stand up well against a "Bat Shit Crazy" or a "Head of a Pin". As the album draws to a close you get the increasing impression that the last few tracks are rescued really by some great solos and stomping skin work which is a shame because trimming of a couple of tracks may have made this less obvious. That having been said, last track "Hole in My Soul" is a cracking finisher. As I said though, the energy level is consistently high and there's a real sense of the band having created something they can be really proud of.

I am scoring this a 4 out of 5 just for the fact that even at the mediocre stages the album is still another great example of the old guard giving a Metal Music 101 lesson to all aspiring young metal bands out there.  

MacabreEternal MacabreEternal / May 19, 2019 04:23 PM
See You in Hell

Grim Reaper were a four-piece NWOBHM outfit from Worcestershire, England that formed in 1979 & just managed to slip this debut studio album in on the tail end of the New Wave movement. Those of you that are familiar with Chateaux’s 1983 debut album “Chained & Desperate” would already be acquainted with the enormous talent of front man Steve Grimmett due to his having taken the mike on that particular record in a purely guest capacity. Steve ended up being the best thing about that album which is one that I regard as being a pretty strong debut but despite the high quality of Chateaux’s first-up effort, Steve didn’t want to commit to a full-time role with the band as his heart lay primarily with his main band. Whether you agree that this was the best decision or not is open for debate however there is little doubt that both records showcase some pretty high quality NWOBHM material.

The first thing you’ll notice about Grim Reaper’s debut “See You In Hell” is the striking artwork which depicts the Reaper himself riding high atop a mighty steed & wielding a huge death scythe. It’s a particularly metal image & one that I strongly suspect was plagiarized from some famous artist that I'm completely ignorant of. Well it’s not a bad representation of what you’re about to hear because “See You In Hell” is undoubtedly a very metal release. In fact, so much so that it’s perhaps the album’s major weakness because it can come across as pretty basic & meat & potatoes.

The production does the job OK but you could certainly argue that the rhythm guitar sound is a bit muddy. I don’t think it detracts from the listening experience though. Steve’s vocals are a touch loud in the mix too but I’m not really surprised because he’s the clear drawcard here. I absolutely loved his performance on the Chateaux record & he once again shows why I’m such a big fan although possibly not to quite the same extent. His voice is very powerful & he can really scream with David Coverdale from Deep Purple & Whitesnake being the obvious reference point.

The song structures are generally pretty simple with the traditional verse/chorus arrangement being the order of the day. This isn’t the riffiest of metal bands either. They favour simple power chord progressions as often as not with a higher emphasis placed on accompaniment in order to maximize the song-writing. And that’s where the strength of “See You In Hell” becomes obvious. The anthemic singalong vocal hooks are there on most songs & when you’ve got a singer that’s as strong as Grimmett you’d be crazy not to try to milk them for all they’re worth.

The guitar solos don’t tend to be too flashy & they go for a more melodic approach for the most part. I would guess this is as much out of necessity than it is a conscious decision because I’m not sure guitarist Nick Bowcott is the most talented shredder out there. Drummer Lee Harris is definitely the weaker link in the band though. Particularly his kick drum work which is pretty dodgy it has to be said but none of that matters too much. This record is all about the vocal hooks though & with the exception of a couple of dud tracks (including the long & boring ballad “The Show Must Go On”) I’d be surprised if you aren’t singing along with at least a couple of these anthemic songs after a few of listens.

If you like Deep Purple, Judas Priest & Dio-era Black Sabbath then you’ll definitely find a lot to like about “See You In Hell” & that’s never more obvious than on the closing title track which was the breakthrough song for the band. Much like the rest of the album, "See You In Hell" consists of some good solid meat-&-potatoes heavy metal that doesn’t try to over complicate things & works to its strengths.

Daniel Daniel / May 19, 2019 10:57 AM
Flesh Is Heir

I was always a big fan of this band. Their first two albums were outstanding examples of industrial-edged death metal & their live shows were a true spectacle. I class them as my personal favourite from the more recent crop of Aussie metal bands so I had very high hopes for this release & it certainly didn't let me down. In fact, they stepped it up to another level altogether.

The production is better than ever before & it presents the songs in the best possible light. If you don't like triggered drum sounds then read no further because they don't get much more mechanized & up-front than this. It really does enhance the industrial vibe though & the drumming is a real highlight. This is some of the most extreme metal you will find anywhere. Stylistically they sit somewhere between Damaged, Anaal Nathrakh & Godflesh. It's extremely dark & chaotic with the electronic component adding to the insanity of the atmosphere. The slower sections are outstanding & push this dark atmosphere even further. They've included a couple of high quality industrial tracks evenly distributed amongst the metal tracks to give you a little respite from the non-stop assault on your senses & they fit the purpose well.

I honestly can't fault this album. Amazing!

Daniel Daniel / May 19, 2019 06:04 AM

This 7" single was The Amenta's debut release & it showcases an extreme metal band that was already a very professional outfit even though they hadn't quite found their trademark industrial death metal sound yet. All of the elements are there but I don't think they'd quite figured out how to integrate their industrial influences into their death metal platform at this point. We would have to wait until 2008's "n0n" album to see that potential fully come to fruition however the early material filled that gap with a youthful energy that made just as much impact.

The two metal tracks included here were later re-recorded for their 2004 debut album "Occasus" however the rawer production on offer here gives them a slightly different feel. Opening title track "Mictlan" is the clear highlight with it's uncompromisingly brutal attack which reminds me heavily of faster Morbid Angel material like "Dominate". "Ennea" follows on in a similar fashion & both tracks incorporate the subtle use of keyboards/samples to add atmosphere; a factor that works as a nice differentiator to distinguish The Amenta from the multitude of blasting extreme metal bands out there. Closer "Nekvia" is a short industrial piece that's as classy as it is abrasive.  

"Mictlan" was a very promising introduction to a band that went on to become a favourite in the Sydney metal scene. It's hardly essential as it doesn't offer much in the way of exclusive material but it will certainly interest fans of The Amenta's later material.

Daniel Daniel / May 19, 2019 06:00 AM

An absolutely crushing release that is at times almost overwhelming in it's depth. The atmosphere that this creates is immense. I'm not familiar with their previous work so the lack of vocals was very refreshing to me. I can only imagine just how loud these guys would be live with so much noise. The drummer is seriously giving those symbols a belting. I must admit that I could've done without the faster drumming sections in the 3rd & 4th tracks which is kinda messy but maybe it'll grow on me. I have heard so much ambient music that has similar structural elements to this album. Possibly the heaviest album of 2010!

Daniel Daniel / May 19, 2019 05:53 AM
A New Era of Corruption

Whilst certainly not setting my world on fire, Whitechapel are much better than most critics will have you believe. The musicianship & production here is pretty good & whilst they're not attempting anything terribly original, there are still plenty of chunky riffs & gutteral death growls to dig your teeth into. There could certainly be more variation to differentiate between tracks & I'm not a fan of the occasional hardcore drum beats that poke their head out every now & then but the vocals are very deep at times & I find myself really enjoying the deathier second half of the CD more than the first half. Frankly, I'm a little tired of the deathcore/metalcore backlash. I'm generally not a huge fan of deathcore but giving crap reviews to bands that perform at this standard just because you don't like the subgenre in general is not cool when there is so much crappier stuff out there.

Daniel Daniel / May 18, 2019 01:12 PM
Vol. 5: 1999-2009

I dunno what to make of this to be honest. I'm not terribly familiar with Forgotten Tomb (I've only heard their debut album "Songs To Leave") but they just seem to be missing something & come across as a little flat to me. I think it's a touch of class that they're lacking. The three cover versions (Black Sabbath, Discharge & Nirvana) are all fairly unnecessary & seem to detract from the atmosphere of the other tracks if anything. I only really find myself digging a couple of tracks which both reside on the second CD ("Entombed By Winter/House Of Nostalgia" & "Scars"). Both of those tracks seem to have a heavier sound to the rest. Everything else just floats past without making much of an impressive. The vocals are fairly weak & monotonous & need some variation. There's nothing really wrong with this but there's also not much to recommend it either. For the diehard fans only.

Daniel Daniel / May 18, 2019 01:08 PM
Morte(s) Née(s)

Hell yeah!! This is how metal should be. "Morte(s) Nee(s)" is one huge wall of sound with a suitably raw production that really enhances the atmosphere these Frenchmen create. Shrieking vocals & buzzsaw guitars are the order of the day here. These guys have energy to burn. Black metal, sludge metal & post-hardcore are all strong influences without ever taking over completely. There is not a weak moment. I can't imagine what these guys are like live. If you like your music to the absolute extreme then Celeste come highly recommended.

Daniel Daniel / May 18, 2019 01:04 PM

1983 saw a real upsurge in the contribution of the Swedes as far as classic heavy metal releases go with the likes of 220 Volt, Europe & Heavy Load all releasing noteworthy records however the self-titled debut album from five-piece Eskilstuna outfit Torch is my pick of the bunch. Torch first formed under the name Black Widow back in 1979 but changed their moniker the following year when they replaced their bass player & vocalist. The new outfit released a five track E.P. by the name of “Fire Raiser!!” in 1982 which went on to be a lot more popular than anticipated & subsequently impressed their label enough to convince them to finance a full-length album. Torch’s debut album was recorded in the same studio & with the same producer as the E.P. & was released the following year in 1983.

If you take a look at the cover art it’s unfortunately quite easy to dismiss Torch without ever giving them a chance as it’s an absolute shocker. The title of the album was always intended to be “Sinister Eyes” & the label employed the same artist that did the cover art for the E.P. to do the artwork for the album based on that concept. The idea was that he was going to paint a picture of a beautiful woman who had the misfortune of possessing some evil looking eyes but when Torch got the chance to see the final product they were horrified as the result looks more like an angry blue metal chick neighbor who has come to your front door to complain after being woken up by the loud grindcore blasting from your home stereo at an ungodly hour. And the band rightfully rejected it of course but the label had their hearts set on it & ignored their pleas for mercy.  In fact, they celebrated with the artist & by all reports you can actually see whiskey stains on the artwork if you look hard enough. To add insult to injury the album title was completely forgotten & we ended up with the cover art we see today & a self-titled record.

Thankfully the music contained within the album is high quality, well performed & particularly metal. It’s not the most ground-breaking of releases with Torch opting for a tried & true classic heavy metal sound that’s high on Judas Priest influence but it’s extremely consistent with no weak tracks included. Musically, Torch keep things pretty simple by taking a no-fuss approach to their song-writing. The performances are all quite strong with Torch taking advantage of what was a very good production for the time. None of the musicians look to push their technical limitations here. They prefer to stick to what they’re good at & it pays off in my opinion. There’s a strong focus on what is best for the songs with the guitar solos being kept short & sweet so as not to intrude on the vocal & guitar hooks & there are no unnecessary excesses to be found in the arrangements. I find drummer Steve Streaker’s use of double kick to be one of the musical highlights as he employs it a lot more regularly than most metal drummers of the time. But the main talking point of Torch’s sound must surely be the vocals as singer Dan Dark sounds EXACTLY… AND I MEAN EXACTLY… like Iron Maiden front man Bruce Dickinson; so much so that it caused me to feel the need to investigate whether it actually WAS him. And when you add that element to a pretty strong heavy metal band with a noticeably NWOBHM influenced sound & a good production it makes for a fun & rewarding listen; if not a life-changing one. All Priest & Maiden fans will surely find something to enjoy here.

Daniel Daniel / May 16, 2019 07:38 PM

This 1983 debut album from London three-piece heavy rockers Ritual is quite an unusual & interesting release for the NWOBHM. Ritual actually formed way back in 1973 & took a full decade to get their recording career underway but you can definitely hear that in their sound as this is not your usual Iron Maiden or Saxon clone. Ritual’s sound is much more organic than the more modern & flashy metal music that was popular at the time & has clearly been built predominantly around warmer 70’s influences.

Although they unquestionably deserve their strong ties with the NWOBHM scene, it’s actually debatable as to whether Ritual are a legitimate metal band or not. There’s arguably more hard rock here than genuine metal but that's not a criticism because the band certainly possessed a pretty unique feel. This is some particularly dark music sporting a sombre atmosphere & lyrical themes based predominantly on the occult. At no stage do the band members really try to shred. They’re much more comfortable laying down deep layers of moss-covered doom rock with a noticeable psychedelic component to the guitar playing. In fact, we’ve heard a real revival of this sound over the last decade or so but this was the genuine article.

I actually think I might find this record to be much more metal if not for a strange production job that sees the guitars sitting miles too far back in the mix. The bass guitar is much louder & all of the instrumentalists need to contend with a thick layer of hissy analogue tape noise that only adds to a general feeling of authenticity in my opinion. Most bands wouldn’t be able to recover from this sort of dodgy production job but strangely it seems to suit Ritual even though it sucks nearly all of the heaviness out of their music.

The musicianship is nothing special but it doesn’t need to be, as this record is more about atmosphere than the actual performances. Guitar-slinging front man Gypsy Re Bethe sounds like he might be the older brother of Diamond Head singer Sean Harris in that he decorates each song with inventive vocal phrasings that aren’t usually equated with metal, only with a deeper register than the whiny Harris. His lead guitar work is where the psychedelics come into play & I get the distinct feeling that The Doors were a strong influence as his style is quite controlled but clearly targeted towards drawing a more cerebral reaction from the listener.

The two best songs are clearly the doomier numbers with both of them paying obvious homage to the title track from Black Sabbath’s “Heaven & Hell”. I also hear a lot of classic early 70’s Sabbath here & there’s one track that makes no attempt to hide a clear Motorhead influence too. The more rockin’ tracks often have a bit of a bluesy boogie feel goin’ on at times but not in a bad way. It’s actually kinda cool & I find a lot to like about “Widow”. It’s a real shame that it took the band so long to get going because I bet they were an awesome live act & they definitely represented something a bit different for the NWOBHM.

To add to Ritual’s troubles there was a major error made in the printing of the album covers which saw a good half of the sleeves being released minus the band name so many potential fans may have given “Widow” a miss thinking that it was in fact a record from Ritual’s NWOBHM counterparts Widow. That’s a pretty bloody huge mistake & you would have thought that it could have been resolved before too much harm was done but apparently not. I suspect that it didn’t prevent a young Metallica from picking up a copy though because when you hear the opening riff from the song “Rebecca” it's very hard to deny the similarities with the main riff from Metallica’s “For Whom The Bell Tolls”. Ritual’s performance was admittedly very sloppy but I don’t think I’m out of line to assume that this was plagiarism.

There is some enjoyable stuff on this record & I think it manages to transcend it’s production issues. If you enjoyed Witchfinder General & Pagan Alter's early records then I’d recommend you check this out too. 

Daniel Daniel / May 16, 2019 01:24 PM

Well, I have to say this album caught me a bit off guard. I had heard about INRI many times over the years and had also heard that it had elements of black metal and thrash. But I never expected it to be this brutal and evil sounding. For 1987, this was a fair way ahead of its time. Bathory and Mayhem were the only other bands that come to mind that were creating anything closely resembling this during the mid-80s. There are screams of anguish, guttural satanic growls, evil lyrics and a general feeling that not everything is quite right with these individuals.

But that's not to say that this is an album you must purchase. The production is ordinary, the musicianship is fairly rubbish at times, especially the drumming. But credit where credit is due. These guys set out to write the most brutal music they could imagine, and I think they succeeded in their task. It's just not an album I will listen to very often. There are far better albums out there, that's for sure.

Ben Ben / May 16, 2019 06:34 AM
Paradise Belongs to You

A stunning death doom album with a melancholic mood and exquisite melodies throughout.

These days I don’t really need to look much further than Rate Your Music to find new bands that I might enjoy. But before this site became the popular choice for music fanatics around the world, I had to resort to numerous review sites and fan forums to try to track down appropriate music for my tastes. I recall visiting around 5 or so years ago and asking the knowledgeable members there if they had any recommendations for someone that loves death doom metal such as My Dying Bride, Katatonia and Evoken, but was struggling to find anything new and exciting within the genre. The response to this little query was unanimous in suggesting that Saturnus should be the next band on my “must check out” list. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank those kind souls that caused me to track this Danish band down as not only were they a perfect fit for my craving, they’ve become one of my very favourite bands, releasing a consistently excellent string of death doom albums to this day.

So, who are Saturnus and what are they all about? A quick search on the net suggests that Saturnus is a genus of butterflies in the grass skipper family, but that’s unlikely to have any connection with the band’s moniker. Further investigation led me to the discovery that Saturnus is the Latin name for the major Roman God of agriculture and harvest, also known as Saturn. There’s a Greek mythological story that involves Saturn castrating his father and eating his children before being overthrown as supreme ruler of the cosmos by Jupiter…or something. None of this gave me any insight into why the band might have chosen this name, until I came across the following titbit of information. From an astrological point of view, Medieval and Renaissance scholars associated Saturn with one of the Four Temperaments of ancient medicine, that being Melancholy. Maybe someone out there can confirm my suspicions, but the mood of Saturnus’ music and the word Melancholy fit together so snuggly that it makes too much sense to be mere coincidence.

Paradise Belongs to You begins with the soothing sounds of nature. But it’s not a case of a band putting the listener into a false sense of security before smashing them into oblivion. This calming theme repeats between each track and pervades both the lyrics and the mood of the album as a whole. There is next to nothing harsh or dissonant about Saturnus’ music, despite its connection to metal. I’m not suggesting that the riffs are not heavy at all, it’s just that the melodies are so exquisitely beautiful, the piano sections so tender, and the lyrics so whimsical, that the overriding atmosphere is one of romantic melancholy rather than the apocalyptic despair found in some other works of the genre (Winter for example). It may seem completely at odds with the above statement to describe Thomas’ vocals as extremely low and guttural, yet somehow these growls (that remind me a lot of Septic Flesh vocalist Spiros) don’t clash with the tone, and there’s enough variety for it to never become overwhelming, with whispers, spoken word and even female vocals being utilized throughout.

Without a doubt though, it’s Kim Larsen’s sumptuous melodies that make Paradise Belongs to You so mesmerizing. From the three-minute mark of the opening title track, I knew I was going to love this album! That melody crushes me every time I hear it, as do so many others throughout the near 70-minute running time. Along with the title track, other highlights are Christ Goodbye, Astral Dawn and I Love Thee. Also worth mentioning is The Fall of Nakkiel, which is a favourite of many Saturnus fans. This divine acoustic and flute composition are given a mysterious and mystical atmosphere by combining whispers and bizarre female vocals over the top. I can’t recommend this album enough to anyone out there that enjoys death doom metal. It’s close to an all-time top ten release for me, which should give you a good idea of just how highly I rate this. Maybe one day you’ll start a review by thanking me for recommending this beautiful treasure to you…or not. At least no-one can say I didn’t try.

Ben Ben / May 16, 2019 06:32 AM
Nemesis Divina

Satyricon's most ferocious and epic album that contains some truly classic tracks.

While I had no reservations in giving Satyricon’s debut album Dark Medieval Times a full 5 stars, I wasn’t quite as convinced by the follow-up The Shadowthrone. The band’s direction had shifted slightly more in favour of folk influences which took a little bit of consistent enjoyment away for me. It was still a good album with many fine moments, but I hoped that these Norwegian’s would produce something a bit more focused and blacker for their next recording. As it turned out, Nemesis Divina (which means Divine Nemesis in Latin) gave me the exact sound I was eager for, being the most ferocious album Satyricon would ever produce. It would also be the last true black metal album the band would produce before they began adding more industrial and, dare I say, mainstream aspects to later recordings. Thankfully, they unleashed this wonderful piece of destruction for their fans before the unavoidable and controversial shift in sound.

Satyr and Frost are present as usual, with the only change in line-up coming with Kvelduv (Nocturno Culto from Darkthrone) taking the place of Samoth on guitar. The switch meant that Satyr took over bass duties to go with his vocals and lead guitar. I don’t know how much Kvelduv had to do with the writing process on Nemesis Divina, but there’s no doubt that his entrance resulted in a far more vicious sound. Frost is at the top of his game throughout this album. His blast beats are furious (not to mention perfectly executed) and he adds variety and power to every part of Nemesis Divina. It’s really the album where he put his name up next to the likes of Hellhammer as one of the very elite drummers in black metal. Satyr’s vocals are also at their most venomous, remaining almost completely decipherable while giving every word absolute conviction. Yet there’s no doubt that the reason this album is so gripping is due to the cold, yet majestic riffs. It’s like a tutorial on how to perform black metal riffs with classic after classic coming at the listener with endless intensity. The band may have simplified their sound stylistically, yet the underlying structures are quite complex, shifting in velocity and tone regularly.

With all the praise I’ve been spraying around over the last couple of paragraphs, it may seem a given that I’ll give Nemesis Divina full marks. Well I have to say it hasn’t been that clear cut. There are a few fluffy moments that really stand out as breaking the mood (the folk/piano piece at the end of Forhekset in particular) and the closing instrumental Transcendental Requiem of Slaves is basically a collection of (admittedly decent) leftover riffs clumsily flung together. Yet despite these flaws, there’s no doubt in my mind that the album contains some of the absolute best material recorded not only by Satyricon, but in black metal in general. The Dawn of a New Age, Mother North and Immortality Passion are just incredible examples of epic black metal, created by three individuals firing on all cylinders. Simply put, if you like black metal in the slightest, Nemesis Divina damn well should be part of your collection.

Ben Ben / May 16, 2019 06:30 AM
The Shadowthrone

Great black metal mixed with folk and Viking elements that I personally struggle with.

I have to say I'm a bit torn when it comes to The Shadowthrone. On the one hand, it contains well executed and interesting black metal, played with passion by a few inspired legends of the scene. On the other hand, it has just a few too many folky and Viking elements for my personal preference. I'm aware that the debut album, which I adore, contained numerous interludes and outside influences, but I don't think the riffs ever suffered because of it. Every riff on Dark Medieval Times is cold and very black metal, which can't be said for all of The Shadowthrone. There's a lot of great music on this album but I simply can't rate it as high as I do the debut. It reminds me of Enslaved’s Frost album, not particularly due its sound, but due to its schizophrenic nature of switching between great black metal and in my opinion, average Viking metal.

When Frost, Samoth and Satyr decide to keep things dark and black on this release, the results are stunning! Almost every track has fantastic riffs, drumming, vocals and song writing. Unfortunately, almost every track also contains Viking and folk metal influences that just don’t work for me. In the Mist by the Hills is a perfect example of all this. The first 2 and a half minutes contain what I can only describe as a Viking metal riff that really doesn't move me at all. It's a simplistic and almost bouncy riff with simplistic boring drumming to back it up. Then all of a sudden, the track cranks out a truly awesome black metal riff and Frost hits the blast beats with utter perfection. I've gone from one-minute thinking how much I dislike the track to absolutely loving it the next. It may seem petty to complain about those first 2 minutes as the track goes for over 8, but it’s a regular occurrence throughout the album. There always seems to be one or two sections within each track that drop the ball and stop me from considering The Shadowthrone as Satyricon’s best album when it could easily have been so with a little restraint. To make matters worse, Vikingland is basically 5 minutes of the Viking metal style mentioned previously so I don't find a lot of enjoyment there.

Personal preferences aside, I can see why anyone that enjoys both forms of music would find this album to be amazing. All the influences and interludes come together a fair bit cleaner than on the debut where they would occasionally feel pieced together. Tracks such as In the Mists by the Hills, Woods to Eternity and especially Dominions to Satyricon contain some of the most gripping music the band has ever come up with. The Shadowthrone is still an album I will listen to occasionally, but I will always tend to go for the more focused Nemesis Divina or the truly wintry Dark Medieval Times before delving into this one. Basically, if you’re a big fan of Viking and folk metal as well as epic black metal, add at least half a mark to my score.

Ben Ben / May 16, 2019 06:28 AM
Dark Medieval Times

Hugely atmospheric and majestic black metal from a time when Satyricon were truly great.

Satyr and Frost may be writing catchy, crunchy metal these days that works well live, but they are not even remotely as interesting or creative as they were when Dark Medieval Times was recorded. This album has so many dimensions thanks to Satyr's genius ability to create thick atmosphere and Frost's drumming virtuoso. The production is suitably raw and full, yet each instrument gets plenty of room to breathe. The riffs are cold and dark, yet epic and majestic. The acoustic interludes, keyboards and samplings are beautifully performed and chosen. Frost's drumming is never anything but perfect (as I can personally attest after witnessing them live recently) and Satyr's vocals fit the mood impeccably with a combination of venom and grace. It's a simple case of two kindred spirits working together to create a monumental whole.

Album opener Walk the Path of Sorrow is probably the band's finest moment along with Mother North off Nemesis Divina. The title track, Into the Mighty Forest and Taakeslottet are almost as good, and Min Hyllest til Vinterland is a beautiful instrumental piece filled to the brim with wintry atmosphere. It's very difficult for me to find fault within this work, but I guess some of the song structures don't fit as neatly together as they could, breaking from black metal riffs to acoustic passages and back without really transitioning in a pleasing way. But after a couple of listens, you come to accept these flaws as part of the unique, fascinating experience that is early Satyricon. An underrated album for sure!

Ben Ben / May 16, 2019 06:27 AM
North From Here

Surprisingly great death metal with more than a touch of melodic black metal.

What a huge surprise this album is! I've heard several Sentenced albums over the years, and I can't say I've really enjoyed any of them. The debut album was average death metal that didn't really do much for me and the later gothic albums I've checked out were quite frankly a bit crap. The vocalist on those latter offerings is awful and I find it hard to understand the fascination with the band. Anyway, I guess I expected North From Here to be somewhere in between the average death metal of the debut and the average gothic rock of later years. Instead what I find is a cracking album that's as much black metal as it is death metal!

North From Here sounds a bit like the combination of At the Gates, Dissection and Dimmu Borgir which is so far away from what I was expecting. The riffs switch between great tremolo picking and shredding sections with ease and vocalist Taneli Jarva (also the bass player) has a fantastic black metal styled venom that's perfect for the complex death and black riffs that fill this album. The drumming is for the most part excellent and the production is top notch as well so overall, I have to wonder why this album hasn't been given more praise, particularly when you consider it was released in 1993! Highlight tracks for me are My Sky is Darker Than Thine, Awaiting the Winter Frost and closer Epic. If you're at all into the more melodic (but still intense) side of death and black metal, then you should check this album out. Don't be put off by the name Sentenced adorning its cover.

Ben Ben / May 16, 2019 06:26 AM
Scorn Defeat

Intriguing yet flawed first effort from this crazy Japanese band.

Sigh have always been a difficult band for me. I'm always impressed with the fearless way they approach song writing. Basically, they take a genre (black metal) that many consider (un)holy and break down all the boundaries of what's acceptable. Even way back in 1993, Sigh included all sorts of wonderful creativity into their work with multiple instruments and bizarre song structures and for the most part they made it work.

The problem for me is that for every awesomely dark section or mesmerizing, beautiful moment, there are awkward misadventures and downright out of place noodling. Tracks like At My Funeral and Weakness Within manage to remain enjoyable and dark throughout their running time, whereas others such as A Victory of Dakini and Ready For the Final War are not so consistent. But I guess I refuse to be too harsh on these crazy Japanese guys because they always (and I mean always) try to do something different to what everyone else is doing.

I will listen to this album every now and then. While it's a flawed experience, it's different and intriguing enough to warrant more time. This is an album for only those black metal fans that contain a level of curiosity and an open mind. Think the simplicity of Samael's early albums mixed in with classical elements and thrashy chaos. Highlight tracks for me are At My Funeral, Gundali and Weakness Within.

Ben Ben / May 16, 2019 06:24 AM
Pierced From Within

First-class, flawlessly produced brutal death metal from the band that started it all.

Suffocation almost single-handedly (I guess Cannibal Corpse played a role) created what we now know as brutal death metal. Their debut album was stupidly intense with some of the most jaw dropping riffs and changeups your ever likely to hear. I recall my first experience of Effigy of the Forgotten and I must admit I wasn't ready for it. But it didn't take long for me to come to grips with the sheer violence and I was soon longing for more. Unfortunately, the bands second album Breeding the Spawn suffered from a repulsive production. This was more than just a pity, considering the tracks the recording butchered were undoubtedly Suffocation goodness, as can be seen by the later re-recorded versions of a few of them. But there's no doubt that they got things right for Pierced From Within.

In fact, the production on this album is frickin’ incredible! It's kind of like the poster boy for immensely brutal yet completely listenable death metal. Even the bassist gets a clear run to the line and has a much greater influence than on most releases in this genre. The drum sound is awesome, not to mention the drumming itself. I was surprised and concerned that the ever-amazing Mike Smith wasn't behind the kit for this recording, but I needn't have been worried as Doug Bohn does an awesome impersonation while displaying more variety. But most of all, it's Cerrito and Hobbs that steal the show, with endless shredding and crushing riffs, not to mention some more than decent leads throughout. There are so many riffs in every track, it can be hard to differentiate between tracks at first, but the song writing is varied enough to give you something to hold onto. 

Apart from the slight change in personnel, there are some differences to be found in Pierced From Within's song structures compared to previous Suffocation albums. There's a much larger emphasis placed on slower, chugging sections, but not only are these still brutal, they provide a great contrast to the up-tempo, labyrinthian slaying that you just know is around the corner. The other big change is in Frank's vocals. Gone are the vomitous burps that pervaded their early work, being replaced by completely decipherable yet still hugely effective death growls. I guess this change followed the lead set by Cannibal Corpse's Chris Barnes for The Bleeding album, but while it certainly makes the album a tad more accessible (don't worry, your neighbours will still hate you), it thankfully didn't cause Suffocation to lose any of their power. 

Pierced From Within is a fantastic album that will have any extreme death metal fan grinning from ear to ear. I'm not going to give it full marks, as I do find some of the tracks are not as memorable as they could be. But while you're in the moment, there are not that many albums out there that can top this one for controlled violence and excitement. Highlight tracks for me are the title track, Thrones of Blood, Depths of Depravity, Torn Into Enthrallment and Synthetically Revived.

Ben Ben / May 16, 2019 06:21 AM
Effigy of the Forgotten

Suffocation pretty much single-handedly took death metal to a whole new level of brutality back in 1991 (Cannibal Corpse also deserve some credit). Their Human Waste EP displayed what they were capable of, but it was Effigy of the Forgotten that crushed thousands of metalhead minds (in a good way of course) across the globe. I must admit that at the time, I wasn't ready for it. Having cut my teeth on Metallica and Pantera, then just made the move to Sepultura, this album was just a fist to the face that I wasn't able to swallow. To my 14-year-old ears, the death growls were indecipherable and brutally guttural, the drumming was chaotically fast and technical, the riffs were nasty and ever changing. It took me another step through Death, Morbid Angel and Deicide to be able to come back to Suffocation and take it all in. Once I connected with it, this album would never let go.

While the album doesn't have an enormous amount of variety, that's not really the point of Suffocation. They've just always had a God-like ability to create riff after riff of awesome death metal and when combined with Mike Smith's inhuman drumming and Frank Mullen's possessed vocals, it makes for a mesmerising experience. The only reason I can't give Effigy of the Forgotten 5 stars is due to several tracks not really doing anything to distinguish themselves from each other. That said, Liege of Inveracity, Infecting the Crypts and Mass Obliteration are some of the finest examples of brutal death metal you could ever hope to hear. This is essential for anyone into this style of music, but for those new to extreme metal, I suggest working your way up to it or check out Pierced from Within.

Ben Ben / May 16, 2019 06:18 AM
Human Waste

Suffocation took death metal and made it something so much more brutal back in 1991. Pretty much single-handedly creating what we now so imaginatively call brutal death metal, these US youngsters turned the intensity up a notch. The production on this EP is not all that great, but it was good enough to hear what they had to offer. Seemingly endless vicious riffs combined with incredible drumming and some of the most guttural and evil sounding vocals yet recorded announced that Suffocation had taken extremity to a whole new level.

A bunch of these tracks would be re-recorded on future albums with much better production (Infecting the Crypts, Jesus Wept and Catatonia), so Human Waste doesn't have as much to offer today as it did on release. But put into context, this little EP has an extremely important place in the history of extreme metal and offers over 20 minutes of excellent and brutal death metal.

Ben Ben / May 16, 2019 06:17 AM
Beyond the Crimson Horizon

I was so surprised by Solitude Aeturnus' debut album Into the Depths of Sorrow. It took Candlemass' epic doom approach and gave it a mystical element, in the process creating one of the most beautiful albums I've had the pleasure of listening to. It was always going to be difficult for me to approach Beyond the Crimson Horizon with anything but the highest expectations. While I can say straight up that this album doesn't match the debut in my opinion, but it is still a great, entertaining listen.

It's hard to say why I don't think this release matches its predecessor. All the ingredients are the same really, with Lowe's vocals still well and truly the centrepiece of proceedings. There are great riffs throughout the album and the drumming is a fair bit more interesting overall. Some of the leads are awesome and the doom element has been given a boost, but somehow these tracks just don't move me as much as classics like Dream of Immortality, Dawn of Antiquity or Mirror of Sorrow do. I find myself thoroughly enjoying every track, but never being completely overcome with emotion.

All this said, there is no denying that as far as epic doom metal goes, this is still right up there with the best. If you're at all a fan of the Candlemass style of doom, then don't hesitate to pick Beyond the Crimson Horizon up. Highlights for me are Black Castle, Beneath the Fading Sun and Plague of Procreation. Now onto the next Solitude Aeturnus classic, Through the Darkest Hour.

Ben Ben / May 16, 2019 06:16 AM
Into the Depths of Sorrow

In the mid to late 80s, doom metal seemed to be split into two factions. There were the traditional Black Sabbath inspired bands such as Trouble, Witchfinder General, Saint Vitus etc and then there was Candlemass, who managed to create an epic, dark, dare I say operatic style of doom. This was the style that really caught my attention and it would be 5 years before any other bands would follow this lead. Solitude Aeturnus are the band that took up the challenge and what a magnificent album Into the Depths of Sorrow is!

This album manages to create a mood of sorrow and loss (as all good doom should) while also uplifting the listener, taking them on a voyage into distant, beautiful landscapes. That may sound pretentious, but I can honestly tell you that this album is like pure escapism for me. I can't listen to exquisite tracks like Dream of Immortality, with its romanticised middle eastern flavours, without being swept off to another world. A few reviewers below have mentioned the drums as being a sour point. I guess they are a little simplistic at times but then this music doesn't really require much more than a pounding yet minimal approach. The riffs are monumentally good throughout, never venturing too far from the blueprint that Candlemass had already laid out, although there are the occasional trips into mild thrashy power metal elements. But it's Robert Lowe's vocals that really take Into the Depths of Sorrow to the classic level. He has loads of talent and is constantly captivating and powerful. Check out Mirror of Sorrow to experience just how beautiful his emotional performance is.

It's hard to pick highlights as the entire album is worth your time, but I'd have to pick Opaque Divinty, Dream of Immortality and Mirror of Sorrow as my favourites. If you're at all interested in doom metal and haven't given Solitude Aeturnus a listen, don't hesitate!

Ben Ben / May 16, 2019 05:58 AM
Tapping the Vein

Tapping the Vein is the most intense sounding album from German thrashers Sodom. When I put my MP3 player on random and one of these tracks comes on, the first thing I'm trying to figure out is which death metal band I'm listening to. While it soon becomes apparent that it's in fact Sodom, mostly once Angelripper's distinct vocals kick in, the drumming and riffs are all much more brutal than their previous solely thrash metal releases. Yet other than this slight change in style and production, Tapping the Vein is more of the same, and doesn't offer as much as I would have hoped. There are some good tracks throughout the album, but at least half of it is forgettable, making this one of the lesser respected Sodom records.

Some of the faster, more intense tracks are the album's highlights with Body Parts, Skinned Alive, The Crippler and Hunting Season all thrashing madly with good riffs and vocals. I also enjoy closing epic Reincarnation, which is an 8 minute slower paced track that even brings some symphonic elements into their sound. But tracks like Back to War and Bullet in the Head are just so stock standard. I don't generally expect Sodom to venture all that far from their thrashing roots, but at times they seem to be on automatic pilot, with no real inspiration or passion. Tapping the Vein is not one of Sodom's best albums, but nor is it completely worthless. Just make sure you check out Persecution Mania and Agent Orange first.

Ben Ben / May 16, 2019 05:57 AM
Better Off Dead

Better Off Dead has generally been hidden in the shadows of Sodom's previous two albums. Both Persecution Mania and Agent Orange are considered by many to be classic releases and really put these German metalheads close to the top of thrash metal in general. It was always going to be somewhat difficult to follow them up while still creating something new and fresh. While this is still obviously Sodom from start to finish, the band at least tried to add some experimentation and variety to their formula. It doesn't always work, but it's always interesting, and at times just plain great.

The more traditional thrash metal tracks on Better Off Dead are the best parts of the album. An Eye for an Eye, Shellfire Defense, Bloodtrails, Better Off Dead and Stalinorgel are all damn entertaining, typical Sodom tracks. They could easily have just created 12 tracks in this style and then the album would probably be remembered as much as the above-mentioned classics. But where would the fun be in that! Insteadm they crafted some slower, heavy tracks like The Saw is the Law and Resurrection and managed to squeeze 2 cover songs into the first half of the album, with Turn Your Head Around and Cold Sweat. It's here that Sodom's love of Motorhead and plain old heavy metal comes to the fore. While I must admit that I don't love these less-shredding sections as much, I think they make this album an interesting listen. The shifts in speed and mood make the true Sodom moments more potent. This is a neglected Sodom album and I for one think it's just a bit underrated.

Ben Ben / May 16, 2019 05:56 AM
Agent Orange

Agent Orange is a solid thrash album from these German legends, but it's nothing amazing. The title track is killer, that's for sure. There are a bunch of other tracks that are enjoyable too, such as Tired and Red and Remember the Fallen, but just as on Persecution Mania, there are a couple of tracks that let the album down, stopping me from calling it an absolute classic. Ausgebombt, while being a fan favourite for some reason, is extremely simple and not very interesting at all. The final track and cover song Walk Away is terrible. It's completely out of the spirit of the album and just not very well performed.

All up I'm going to give Agent Orange a generous 4. I don't see it as the masterpiece of thrash that others do but it's an entertaining release that's worthy of some attention.

Ben Ben / May 16, 2019 05:53 AM
Persecution Mania

Persecution Mania is where Sodom really hit their straps. While their earlier work has a certain charm, it's messy and immature at times. This album displays a more fine-tuned performance and kept Sodom in touch with bands such as Kreator and Slayer in a time when thrash was hitting its straps. Speaking of Slayer, it's clear that Reign in Blood influenced these German's between the debut full length and this one. Just check out Enchanted Land for complete Slayer worship.

While I do find the album in general to be really entertaining, it is a little bit up and down in quality. Nuclear Winter, Electrocution and Christ Passion are classic, yet Iron Fist, Conjuration and the close of Bombenhagel are less successful. But all up, Persecution Mania is a solid 4-star classic thrash album!

Ben Ben / May 16, 2019 05:52 AM
Slow, Deep and Hard

This is such a strange album. There are only 6 tracks (plus The Misinterpretation of Silence and its Disastrous Consequences which is humorously just a minute of silence), each running between 6 and 12 minutes in length. On each of these tracks I can find sections that I thoroughly enjoy. Type O Negative know how to create atmosphere when they put their mind to it and some of the doom sections are great. There are other rock parts that get me nodding my head and remind me of the greatness that Type O Negative would reach with their gothic rock in years to come. There's even an awesome 6-minute instrumental (Glass Walls of Limbo) complete with low chanting vocals and sound effects that could fit on any good dark ambient album. So, there's a lot that I like here!

But then there's so much that I really don't enjoy. These tracks move from doom to rock to a sort of sleezy punk sound that just about ruins everything. I know that this band (and Peter Steele's previous thrash band Carnivore which I can still hear in this release) have always been somewhat sleezy, with stupid cheesy lyrics, but I find it really annoying on Slow, Deep and Hard because I can hear so much potential for an album that I would love. I guess if I hadn't heard the band's more recent albums before giving this a spin, I'd probably see it differently. As it is, I don't think I'll listen to it all that much.

Ben Ben / May 16, 2019 05:49 AM

Tiamat's evolution began as a straightforward death metal band, then moved through to soft death doom metal, and finally onto the goth pop that they currently release to the masses. Clouds is certainly a transitional album between the rather average death metal of the early days and the more doomy, atmospheric period of Wildhoney. If there's one word I can use for this album straight off, I would say intriguing. There are some beautiful melodies, catchy choruses and a variety of styles within almost every track. Keyboards are used sparingly and quite well too, adding to the atmosphere of it all. But probably due to its transitional nature, Clouds often comes across as awkward and at times downright cringeworthy.

It probably doesn't help that I first came to Tiamat through Wildhoney, which is an exquisite album that manages to mix atmospheric, tender sections with doomy riffs and growls with ease. Clouds doesn't manage this mix as well, with below average vocals (Johan Edlund's clean vocals are just not very good at this stage and his accent comes across as just humorous at times) and some very mediocre sections mixed in with all the above-mentioned creativity. All of this adds up to an inconsistent, yet somehow entertaining experience. In a Dream, The Sleeping Beauty and Undressed are the better tracks on the album, but all the remaining tunes have their moments.

Final Note: I'm a bit baffled as to why so many RYM users keep labelling this as Death Metal. Don't be fooled into thinking this sounds anything like Obituary or Deicide etc. It's Death Doom Metal mixed with Gothic Metal. At the most, Death Metal might be listed as a secondary genre but that's even a stretch.

Ben Ben / May 16, 2019 05:48 AM
Beyond Sanctorum

I certainly wouldn't claim to be a Therion expert, but I can say that everything I had experienced from them prior to Beyond Sanctorum had next to no resemblance to death metal. I'd heard that their early albums were much heavier than their current gothic symphonic metal approach, but I guess I never expected it to be this intense. Beyond Sanctorum is Swedish death metal in the style of Entombed, Dismember and a whole bunch of other bands that come from Stockholm. But Therion clearly weren't happy to just replicate their countrymen's achievements and added a whole bunch of other influences throughout the 10 tracks.

The tracks that are more straight forward death metal such as Future Consciousness, Illusions of Life and Tyrants of the Damned are nothing all that special to me. Other bands do this style with far more success and with a superior production. It's when they let their creativity run free with the wonderful Symphony of the Devil and the epic The Way where Therion displayed what they were truly capable of. Symphonic elements, various speeds and hugely memorable riffs combine to produce stunning results. I also find a great deal of enjoyment in Cthulhu with its crunching discordant riffs and doomy sections, but unfortunately, at this stage of their career, the band were just not consistent enough to hold my attention for the whole album. Beyond Sanctorum shows definite promise, but with a little more focus and a better production, could have been a more enjoyable experience. I don’t know at what stage Therion left the death metal behind, but I plan to give their next couple of releases a spin to find out.

Ben Ben / May 16, 2019 05:47 AM
Live at the Fillmore

Flawless performance, good track selection and powerful production. Live at the Fillmore is how all good live albums should be.

It's not often I check out live albums. I generally prefer the more complete and "as it was meant to be" experience of studio albums. All this said, there are certainly some bands that really know how to perform when it counts, and Testament would have to be one of those bands. The other reason why Live at the Fillmore is a more interesting proposition to me personally is because I enjoy almost everything they've ever done to some degree. Even the albums that others don't particularly rate such as Souls of Black and The Ritual had roles to play in my teenage years, with many nostalgic feelings associated with them. The line-up here may not be the classic Testament blueprint, with Louie Clemente and Alex Skolnick missing, but their replacements do a fine job indeed. James Murphy is probably one of the only guitarists in metal that could possibly fit snugly into the shoes of someone as talented as Skolnick.

The track listing is good and it's not surprising that they decided to focus on their earlier material rather than on the more recent hit and miss work. In fact, 12 of the 14 live tracks are taken from The Legacy, The New Order and Low, meaning there are only 2 tracks (Souls of Black and Practice What You Preach) representing their other 3 albums, with nothing at all coming from The Ritual. This is a little disappointing for someone who likes all their albums but completely understandable considering the general preferences of most of their fans. Probably the only Testament track I can think of that's very obviously missing is Disciples of the Watch (probably my favourite Testament moment), but I can't complain too much as there are simply no bad tracks to be found amongst the ones they chose. 

The crowd is clearly into the band and the performance is very close to flawless. Testament have always been tight, and they were right on the money during this recording. The sound is crystal clear and there's enough power to make you feel part of the concert. If anything, Chuck Billy's vocals are even better live, and he raises the aggression levels to new heights. Tracks such as Apocalyptic City are so much more intense with this recording than in their original state making Live at the Fillmore more than just a "best of" collection. To finish things off, as if 14 well performed and crushing live tracks weren't enough, the band also included 3 acoustic studio recorded tracks. Return to Serenity, The Legacy and Trail of Tears were all partly acoustic to begin with, but these versions are entirely so, with female backup vocals added for extra ballady (there's a new word for you boys and girls) effect. They're all enjoyable but probably not entirely essential when one considers the hour of live destruction that precedes them.

Ben Ben / May 16, 2019 05:45 AM

A groovier, heavier Testament, but a slightly disappointing album.

Testament were right up there with my favourite bands in the late 80s. The New Order was awesome, and I even found some enjoyment to be had in albums that others don't appreciate such as The Ritual. But I remember distinctly being quite disappointed with Low and I still feel that way today. Sure, the band added a fair amount of groove and a powerful production to this album and Chuck Billy's vocals have never been this aggressive and awesome, but many of the songs just fail to make their mark on me.

This is all made even more surprising when I consider that the ever-reliable James Murphy took over on guitar (from the also godly Alex Skolnick) for this album. While there are some obvious Murphy leads on a couple of tracks (particularly on Urotsukidoji), for the most part he doesn't really stand up and be counted the way he normally does on that front. This is still a Testament album though, and there are still numerous good tracks such as Low, Hail Mary and the brutal Dog Faced Dogs. But the album falls away towards the end, with none of the last few tracks making any sort of impression. All up, Low is a slightly above average album that should have been more given all the ingredients.

Ben Ben / May 16, 2019 05:41 AM