As I alluded to in the forum thread for this release, I had previously attempted to digest Achatius and found it to be a release that I couldn’t quite get my head around upon first attempts to unravel what seemed like a vast and serpentine soundscape. Upon repeated listens however there is a lot more to Achatius that appeals to my current taste in BM than first meets the eye.
A side from bountiful lashings of Darkthrone, with a seasoning of Bathory in those riffs there is the structural integrity of Mortuary Drape to most tracks. Achatius as such plays as a BM record powered by an Italian Prog Rock mentality. The style fits the song content perfectly (it is a story that is being told here after all) yet there is no sacrificing of the raw BM elements that cater for my more extreme tastes.
These song lengths that at first seemed so challenging (the shortest track being just over 11 minutes) are in fact superb chapters of this story made succinct that encourage you to move with the tale as it unfurls. What this does is help focus your attention, I find that I can stop listening after two tracks to digest what has just been presented and then pick up again later in the day the other half and still have that sense of flow to the record.
As well as nods to the classics there are also references to more modern sounds such as Malokarpatan and Master’s Hammer. The traditional/heavy metal credentials stack up well here amongst the other elements. For an album with eclectic artwork, it doesn’t actually come off as sounding the same as the cover art suggests. It is more of a well-balanced affair overall that can still stay true to its BM roots throughout. The blend of genres/styles is quite subtle and as such it is an album that requires much attention to truly get underneath the skin and appreciate the sum of all parts.
There’s chimes and bongs in the background that give an ethereal royalty to proceedings with their echoes drifting long into the ether of the record as it plays. The strength overall of the record though is its balls. To be able to take such an open approach to the delivery of such a strange theme takes guts and for a one-man project to manage to make it such a success is doubly impressive.
Genres: Black Metal
This is the work of a soul drenched in sorrow. Finding in the unimaginable weight of the darkness the creative ability to embrace multiple forms, styles and sounds of music to produce a work that is harrowing, avant-garde, expansive and above all else capable. Wrest is known for his work with his Leviathan project, rightly getting credit for the darkness he creates under that pseudonym for it's bleak ambience and death-hazy resonance. Lurker of Chalice was arguably the father of Scar Sighted and you will certainly pick up the vibes from Leviathan's 2015 release here.
I haven't heard many albums that in the midst of such organically generated fear and menace manage to still soothe and calm the soul at the same time. For all the perilous gloom Wrest creates here he blends perfectly elements of post-everything (I am not kidding) whilst adding doom like atmospherics and songwriting to the album at the same time. He concocts structures made out of pure desolation, emptying the contents of a damaged and fragile soul into a stark and arid desert of human misery.
In just less than an hour you will find yourself afraid, fearful of what lurks in every shadow of your own mind as this record twists and contorts itself around your very own psyche. Yet you will also find solace here. It is a dark dressing for the gaping wounds on all our characters, a soundtrack to all of our nightmares that rationalises and makes tangible their form. It is the nefarious voice in all of us that fears our ability to be anything other than pale shadows on this mortal coil.
Genres: Black Metal
My footprint in the Fallen clan is quite limited (there's good reason why I didn't pick it for my fourth clan during last year's challenge when the opportunity arose) and this is largely because I like the idea and concept of doom metal often more than I actually like the content overall. Albums like Epicus... and Nightfall make me want to listen to more doom metal. The constant sense of drama and pending tragedy appeals to my dark nature and I love the huge sound to the riffs and their looming menace. The fact is though that for me the genre doesn't always live up to the expectations that the Candlemass debut promised when I first heard it. Arguably, the first four Candlemass records broke the whole genre for me as I soon realised that there was very few vocalists out there that could live up to the talent and range of Längquist and Marcolin, or even match pound for pound the riffing of Björkman and harrowing leads of Johansson.
So, I confine myself to the odd review within the clan and tonight I find myself reviewing one the greatest doom metal records of all time. I think this rating comes from all of what I have mentioned above in relation to this record. The great vocals, the sterling instrumentation and that constant feel of dense sorrow hanging over proceedings make the whole experience so very memorable. Indeed it is a record you would struggle not to take some lasting memory away from after just one listen I would say.
The album not only perfects the doom sound it lives and breathes the very core of doom in all that it presents. Whether it is the haunting resonance of Längquist begging "Please let me die in solitude" on the opening track or just the staggering imagery the lyric sheet overall can conjure when you read it, it is obvious that doom was woven into the very fabric of this record from the off. It doesn't actually feel like an album either. It has a length in terms of a track listing that make it look like an EP and even at 43 minutes it is not a doom album that relies on repetition and fathomless song durations to get its point across. Despite the heaviness and the quality on show the album doesn't fuck around or risk outstaying its welcome. It feels almost concise to me yet still leaves me hungry for more which is what all good records should do.
Genres: Doom Metal
One of the great things about black metal is that just as I think I have heard it all and am exhausted with the genre I discover a dark gem from the past that I have somehow missed. Unearthing Nehëmah from their murky and yet mystical depths is one such treat. With a very much occult-laden tone to proceedings (the liner notes offer remembrance to Crowley and Lovecraft no less), Requiem Tenebrae is a sprawling album, shrouded in its own ethereal atmosphere with some good ol’ fashioned tremolo providing necessary brevity for the second wave aficionados out there.
The first thing that leaps out at me here is the unusual structure of things in that of the first three tracks, two are instrumentals. They sit astride the majestic The Great Old Ones and frame this dark masterpiece superbly. Track three offers up some dark choral effects that transfer into The Elder Gods Awakening perfectly. After just three tracks there is a real sense of cohesion already.
Clearly, track four is where the Darkthrone influence shows through as the band deploy classic “Blaze…” or “Transylvanian…” era second wave with a black ’n’ roll edge thrown in for good measure. Synths also play a big part in the cloying atmospherics of this record, seeping across tracks, adding mystery and a sense of depth to proceedings. I hear elements of Inquisition in hear also and I think the overall longer runtime on tracks adds to this influence. Tracks have that lurch to their progress which is also reminiscent of the aforementioned band.
This is well put together bm. Tracks can stand up on their own as well as be integral parts of the overall album. There is something memorable about all tracks, even after just your first listen and the album feels well-rounded and complete, like everything gets drawn to a natural conclusion. The only critique I can aim is that I am not convinced the drums are mixed at all properly and at times I only pick up their rolls (certainly the cymbals also), even when blasting they don't impress any authority really. Unafraid to wear their influences on their sleeves, Nehëmah offered a wonderful insight into how authentic and atmospheric bm could be delivered on the same record and it is a true shame that they are no longer together.
Genres: Black Metal
The last Akhlys release blew my fucking mind. It was intense to the point of being overbearing. Between the expansive song writing and layered atmospherics, the whole experience was a cloying and totally memorable one. As with most of Naas Alcameth's output, this project follows a familiar level of infrequency of output with a whole five years having passed since the project's sophomore release. The more recent venture he had undertaken with Aoratos last year made me aware of the continued quality of his work under whatever band name he was working under and so my hopes were high for Melinoë.
Using Evan Knight (or Eoghan as he is known here) for the drums following the success of collaborating on Aoratos, Naas continues to forge ahead with making Akhlys an exciting and terrifying project in equal measure. The blue print for this album differs only very minutely from The Dreaming I, instead opting to build on the "wall of noise" theme so prevalent on that record and make things just a tad more coherent and accessible in places on this one. That's not to say this record lets up on the momentum created by its predecessor in anyway, if anything it is a far more challenging record. But, I do find it a lot more sticky than previous output and this was obvious with the preview tracks - which after hearing just two of them I had the vinyl on pre-order.
Melinoë is a suffocating listen. Its main driving force the oppressive nature it imposes on you as a listener, whether through all out battery or utilising menacing atmospherics that would sit just as well on the soundtrack to most horror films, you can't help but fear the sounds it produces. The experience leaves you feeling like being lost at sea and having to swim for some distant shore and the tumult of the tide just endlessly pulls you down to the darkest depths of the blackest waters. Even when you manage to get your head above water again it is not long before you are pulled back under.
The melodies deployed are acutely distressing, swarming and mining at your very core as they circle you like taunting demons. These harrowing moments are what save you from getting totally lost at times, they are well-timed and the album deploys more atmospheric tracks and passages to great effect to give the overall feel of a well-paced record.
The only challenge I have is with the production on the first couple of tracks. It feels a bit stifling upon the first couple of listens and the impact of the music is blunted somewhat as a result. I don't recall this issue on the stream so appears to be a new challenge with the vinyl pressing I have. The fact that it is an album that is supposed to have that element of mystery and ethereal threat is what makes this almost passable (it certainly doesn't ruin the record at least). If you enjoyed The Dreaming I though you'll love this.
Genres: Black Metal
An injustice has been addressed during the writing of this review. Namely that I had paid so little attention to Paysage d'Hiver that I genuinely thought they only had one release (their brilliant self-titled) and their latest offering in 2020 to their name. A quick look on a wonderful new invention called "The Internet" soon revealed the monstrous levels of my ignorance and has now led me to the discography of one of my emerging favourite artists.
For anyone else existing in ignorance, Paysage d'Hiver is Tobias Möckl from Darkspace (where he is better known as Wroth on vocals and guitar). Paysage d'Hiver is his solo project harking back to prior the existence of Darkspace where he goes by the title of Wintherr, performing all instruments and vocals himself. The concept (literally) of his releases are that all of them form one big story, not always in linear narrative, with whole demos/EP's or sometimes individual songs making up parts of that story. The vastness of aforementioned story should not be underestimated as there are ten demos and (as of this year) one full-length that comprise this tale. And there's more to come.
I am quite partial to a bit of Darkspace and Tobias' influence on that band is never made more obvious than when listening to his solo outings. The sound is a dense and turgid mix of raging black metal, replete with blast beats and tremolos galore; yet also there is often atmospheric and ambient passages (sometimes whole tracks) that balance a very varied and intense offering like Schattengang. Track number two on here goes through various shifts and turns during the twenty-plus minutes that it stretches over, but never once does it get lost or boring. This is especially true when you have the knowledge around the story-telling aspect of what Tobias is trying to achieve here and the real neat trick is trying to place the events of Schattengang in the bigger picture.
For a second release that is now some twenty-two years old, this is strong stuff. The songwriting prowess is already very well established and the vision to be able to write such expansive and vast narrative whilst holding the listener captivated is nothing short of brilliant. The soothing and bleak ambience of the track that close this release (I have the three track version), Atmosphäre massages my actual brain as I listen to it. With my eyes closed it is almost trance inducing, feeling the rotation of the world type stuff. What a great discovery.
Genres: Black Metal
An album that I don't think I have ever (or will ever) fully fathom, Nespithe is certainly unique in both sound and delivery. From a vocal perspective it is indecipherable, genuinely sounding like the vocalist is so low that the sound must be resonating off the very walls of his own bowels. Although you cannot get away from them being the focal (or vocal point - get it?) point of the album they are but one piece of a very strange puzzle.
The whole album appears to lurch and flounder to me. That's not say it is out of control in anyway though, it just feels barely controlled, like the band have unleashed something that even they were not expecting on the world and aren't really sure what it is going to do next. Even for the more avant-garde side of DM there's some elements here that conjure up more than a few curved balls.
Tracks seem to veer and swerve a lot of the time and (again - not necessarily a bad thing) this has me constantly trying to ground everything and play catch up after what feels like multiple reset buttons have been pressed. In my day job I have to work with a lot of complex equations and sums and Nespithe feels like it is one that has multiple variances on how the total can be reached, like it needs looking at from different approaches and I am still never sure how I got to that figure. It's mathematical genuis is fascinating, like it sees things from angles that I cannot.
The ability of the muscians involved can't be questioned as they deliver a demanding yet clean and competent performance. I have no doubt that the challenges that I have with this record are with me and not the actual band/album. Sonics dive in and out of tracks like swopping songbirds, emitting some cosmic chirping that bends the very air around it. The drummer surely has more than two arms in order to be able to map the rhythm of such complex structures and the audibility of the bass at all times is a rare trait in death metal. You have to work to get all this though, there's no "background music" here folks, this is stuff that demands your attention. You have to listen to the detail to even begin to understand the bigger picture and that may be a bit too much for some death metal fans.
For a band with such a small amount of recorded output, Nespithe is a standout release not just in the discography of Demilich but it is also a very big flux in the biological mass of death metal as a whole. Take a shower in its madness whilst you try and figure it out.
Genres: Death Metal
I am quite particular about my power metal. I don't profess to be a big fan of it as a sub-genre by any means but I do know what I like and have found there to be a reasonably short list of preferred releases to revisit once I had gone through large amounts of pompous and overly grandiose nonsense to be honest. Blind Guardian actually are responsible for my favourite power metal album ever with their 1995 release Imaginations From The Otherside sitting top of my pile (well, more likely a slight bump) of such records. There are other releases that I have time for in their discography such as At The Edge of Time and Nightfall In Middle Earth which both have their moments but don't quite offer complete experiences.
Strangely enough I hadn't ventured much earlier than 1995 into their discography (given my general distaste for their latter day material, going back seems such a logical direction for me in terms of expansion of my knowledge and experience of the back-catalogue) so their 1992 effort, Somewhere Far Beyond was not familiar to me until this week. The first thing to mention sounds obvious to state, but this album is so very clearly a Blind Guardian record. Their trademark fluent and skillful musicianship shines through from the very start of the record along with their mastery of writing memorable and absorbing songs that take the listener on a journey.
The arrangement too is well calculated, structured to present a narrative of time travelling bards coming together to tell their stories as depicted on the grand and rather colourful artowrk that adorns the front cover of the release. As you move through the album track by track the dashes of brilliance that were to become virtually omnipresent on the follow up album leap out like sun flares, scorching the ether around the album, burning with the promise of what we know is to come in three years time.
As a result, despite these moments described above, the album doesn't feel complete. Perhaps if I had waited and listened to this record before Imaginations... I might have been more enamoured with it as a whole. In comparison it feels hindered somewhat and I find myself willing a bit more quality to ooze out of it that in reality was yet to be learned by this point in their careers. I found the 2007 remastered version to be entertaining enough still with the couple of demos/alternat versions of songs added on to the end. As a standalone album this is a great example of how Power Metal should be done, my messy timeline aside it probably does desrve a higher rating than the number of stars I have awarded.
Genres: Power Metal
For the first few seconds of the opening track of this album I was struggling to see how this had anything to do with Death Metal. Having heard only black metal style vocals over poppy guitar work, I am still no nearer if I am honest. The internet tells me that this is Symphonic Death Metal. I don't believe everything I read on the internet for a reason.
There's no power behind much of anything on display here and so I am left to hope that some catchy songwriting or sonic wizardry is awaiting me over the coming tracks. It isn't though! The tempo and structure suggests that this could be a folk metal album, except they forgot to write any actual folk parts to any of the tracks. As a result it just sounds like overtly jolly heavy metal with a black metal vocalist who has no friends who like black metal so he's had to join any band he can find.
If I am forcing myself to find any positives and not just look like a miserable bastard then I would say that the lead work is of actual note and clearly the work of an adept guitarist. The rest of I found a real struggle to get through with no spark or even palatable consistency to cling to I do confess to hitting the skip button more than once in search of something of interest.
The lyrics to track number three Sleeping Stars sum up the experience perfectly for me:
"Suddenly I feel a
warmth go through my body,
but I feel that a
part of me has died."
The "warmth" might have been wind though.
Genres: Death Metal Power Metal
More than a little reminiscent of early Opeth, fellow Swedes Edge of Sanity where a late 80's/early 90's progressive death metal band. They released eight albums before finally calling it a day in 2003 (after previously doing so in 1999). As I have already alluded to, the likeness to the sound of their countrymen is hard to ignore. It is not that one band copied the other I suspect. Sweden just clearly had a plethora of talented progressive metal heads throughout the 90's and they couldn't possibly all fit into one band.
Crimson actually is one song album split into parts depending on what version you look at. A one song album in 1996 was a bold and brave move but the fact that Dan Swanö's name is on the liner notes should tell you all you need to know. As with most things he touches Crimson is ambitious to say the least but is backed up by deft playing and clever songwriting. The progression on here is well measured, tempered almost to maximise the enjoyment. Considering it is just one song the record never gets boring as it changes pace and tempo well during its expansion over forty minutes.
It requires a close ear to be given to it in order to truly appreciate the vast and intricate nature of the entire offering. But anytime spent with this record is time well spent. It will take you through death, progressive and at times gothic elements of metal and blend all of the styles together with a real deftness. To date it is the only release from the band that I have sought out to listen to and such is my satisfaction with it I have not yet felt the need to venture further into their back catalogue. I really can't recommend this enough.
Genres: Death Metal Progressive Metal
Enter the avant-garde, bass twanging, bone-jarring branch of Gorguts that seems to cause equal amounts of praise and revulsion across the death metal fan base. I sit firmly in the praise camp. Not that I don't get the challenges that people have with this directional shift from the bands previous releases (all respectable enough DM records), but for me what impresses me the most about Obscura is the sheer range and scope of the album. It isn't perfect by any means but, as per my love of Colored Sands this record likewise retains death metal as its core source, despite the multi-layered influences on display here Obscura does still come across as a raging death metal record full of energy and rampant angst.
Lemay's trademark demented shriek accompanies the instrumentation perfectly. I find the music twists and contorts perfectly throughout, taking the listener on a real journey. The only real downside to that journey perhaps is the length of it. Clocking in at an hour in duration, the record does meander a bit unfortunately. Although it is stylistically refreshing it is not controlled enough in its delivery to be able to sustain a presence for such a long period of time. To compare it with the aforementioned Colored Sands is a fair contrast really as the latter album absolutely nails the delivery of the avant-garde/experimental aspect by integrating it into the overall sound better, even though the run time is more or less the same the 2013 album feels more palatable.
From reading the criticism of Obscura there's definitely a feeling of the album being something that is done to the fans as opposed to being something they feel is introduced to them. As full on as it is, the record is still fun and an entertaining enough curved ball.
Genres: Avant-Garde Metal Death Metal
Albums grow on you for different reasons. As an avid fan of most of Death's earlier releases I didn't find the same levels of entertainment in much of anything after Spiritual Healing. Whilst I could more than see the talent and skill involved in the direction that Chuck was taking Death's sound, progressive elements of metal have only recently become of interest to me - over the last 12 months say - so for a number of years the majority of the bands later releases gathered some dust on my shelves. I now find myself oddly in the reverse mindset where I prefer the later output to the initial three releases. For me The Sound of Perseverance is the crowning glory in this more progressive style of death metal, largely because the whole thing just feels so natural and effortless.
Oddly for death metal, there are lots of feel good vibes for me on this record. The chords sound more open but the riffs are just as cutting as you would expect from one of the founding fathers of death metal. Whilst obvious, the time changes are not intrusive and feel clean and polished. Again these are traits i would not attribute to me gleaning enjoyment from in terms of my more extreme tastes but they work so well with the confidence and aptitude of Schuldiner, Hamm, Clendenin and Christy.
The band sound like they enjoyed making the record, such is the warm feel to proceedings. They almost tease the listener during Story To Tell, with their stop/start playing leaving you wondering if the track is over or whether another time change is due. There's an accessibility to proceedings that is reminiscent of almost rock music proportions, only Chuck's grim vocals and the chugging riff passages keep you of the understanding this is still a death metal record at its core. The creepy atmospheric bass and guitar interlude during Flesh and The Power it Holds also adds the necessary levels of menace you'd expect.
In terms of criticisms (what is keeping that half star off the score) I have two. Firstly, the cover of Priest's Painkiller is both out of place in the greater context of the album and also not a very good cover either. Secondly, the album is a tad too long with the cover on here. In terms of flow it is all mapped out superbly as an album but it just falls at the end unfortunately.
Genres: Death Metal
My melodic death metal tastes aren't really that wide in scope as I tend to dwell in the more extreme end of my tastes in death metal generally. Without wishing to generalise too much I find most bands that fall under this sub-genre to be underwhelming. Why would I want my death metal to be melodic, ergo more accessible is the question that has remained largely unanswered for the past 30 or so years of listening to metal. Dark Tranquillity were still a new band for me until today, but sadly they have brought little in the way of reasoning for my opinion of the melodic side of death metal to change much.
I mean it is very melodic, don't get me wrong. There's keyboards galore on display as well as melodious guitar parts, but none of it sticks with me. The riffs feel aggressive enough but they don't really set anything on fire for me and so come off as being restrained or blunted somehow. Stanne's vocals aren't awful by any means but just come across to my ears as being very generic ad tired sounding.
The album seems to go on and on as a result of my struggles it seems with only really track twelve standing out as the album closes with it's adept instrumentation bringing a memorable ending to proceedings. Again, I don't report that the band are doing anything wrong here, I know that the issue lies more so with me than anything they are trying to achieve. To a convert of the melodic death metal sound it probably will have more stars against it's name. I however struggle to give much of anything to the release.
Genres: Death Metal
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.
Genres: Death Metal
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.
Genres: Doom Metal
Death/Thrash or Thrash/Death? Does it really matter? Whichever style you believe has most traction in the calculated attack of Opprobrium (known as Incubus to the older audience), it certainly makes for an authentic and entertaining listen. For me the Thrash elements act like explosions of flavour, giving notes of energetic bitterness. The menacing death metal atmospheric dirge is still the more prominent factor in the sound but both elements are akin to some acceptable collaboration between the genres with neither one ever truly outweighing or outdoing the other. Like two warring factions have decided to call it quits and just try and get along as best they can!
The authenticity comes from that sound on the production that gives the impression that this was recorded in someone’s garage, yet the quality of the songwriting leaves the listener with structures that suggest it may have been planned in the office of an architect.
This is the kind of album that makes a consistent entry on thousands of music blogs about “Underrated/Unsung Classics” from the 90s. And the majority of those bloggers are right. There’s nothing here that is any dramatic step down from the nefarious and menacing death/thrash of “Seven Churches”. “Beyond...”punches well within its category but never quite reaches the furious delivery of Demoltion Hammer. The latter just works hard on the jab whilst “Beyond...” has a more varied sack of sucker punches that strike from behind its darker guard.
At just eight tracks, the sophomore release from these guys feels like a real clear cut, transparent statement of intent. Turn up, put it down and get it out there, and it is this immediacy of the record that really appeals. The band name may have changed but this album remains exactly as good as I remember it first time of listening.
Genres: Death Metal Thrash Metal
The debut full-length from Taake came at the arse-end of the second wave era of BM. By 1999 nobody was burning churches anymore, bands weren't killing each other's members and many stalwarts of the genre had already drifted to a more experimental sound. The success of 'Nattestid...' at first glance seems surprising, yet a couple of listens unearths an album built on a foundation of solid songwriting, supported by razor sharp steel riffage and decorated with a consistent theme permeated by some subtle yet lasting nuances to maintain its hellish Feng Shui.
For all the cold and scathing guitar here there's more than a fair share of melody, whether that is rooted in the viking style passages or just the more obvious folk leanings of the album. Whenever it is there, it seems effortlessly measured. It never takes the edge off the raw energy of the tremolo and nor does the cutting of the riffs blunt the impact of the more melodious elements. Throughout the album the bass and drums maintain a strong presence (especially on instrumental track, 'Vid IV ') and Hoest himself, shrieks and rasps along like some demented high priest undertaking some satanic and nefarious ritual. There is an edge to the guitar throughout more or less the entire record that sounds a little too hazy at times which I can only put down to the production job (yes I know it is a BM album, but nonetheless it remains my only gripe).
It is easy to see from the seven tracks on show here that Hoest's talent for accomplished and consummate songwriting was already well developed at this early stage of his career. Frostein's deft contributions on both drums and bass make these visions whole. Considering the two man line up it is an album that has a vastness in scope that belies the small number of contributors.
The menacing and creepy looking artwork on the album sums up the nightmarish soundscape inside perfectly. The minimal approach to the tracklisting earns kvlt/troo points by the bucket load.
Genres: Black Metal
A shuffle playlist in my hotel room this past week threw up 'Heresy' from this record and I have ended up playing the whole record through in my head before getting home and playing the CD. In the 90's this record occupied a near constant place in the top 4 of my 'most played', alongside 'Painkiller', 'Arise' and 'Seasons in the Abyss' it got span to death over nearly the whole decade. There was so much that appealed to my established taste at the time yet also equal amounts of new and enticing sounds to absorb, all delivered with a fervour and ferocity that was literally breathtaking. In so many ways, playing this for the first time was like listening to something that was nothing like anything I had heard before, yet at the same time there was enough reference points to breed the necessary amount of familiarity for me to engage with it instantly.
Although this does not retain the top slot in my favourite Pantera list, it holds enough nostalgia and tangible feelings still of the initial awe of the discovery to always have an important place in my evolution through the genre.
There has always been a real sense of cohesion to me about the sound of Pantera. They are like some well oiled machine with just enough AI in it's computer parts to deliver flare and panache instead of just routinely processing the same parts over and over again. Whether it is the shrill wailing of Anselmo, the chunky stick work of Vinnie, the rumbling current of Brown or the insane string wizardry of Dimebag you focus on, they are all there together as a unit. Yes, for me the overarching memory post-listen is those fucking riffs, but the structures they form part of are also key to their impact.
I enjoy the darker side of the album's sound. 'Medicine Man', 'Message in Blood' and 'The Sleep' stand out as a trio of tracks that add a real depth to an album that given its relentless approach could otherwise lose you towards the end. Pantera seem to "grow" with the progress of the record which is rare in most releases that have frequented my headphones since the 90s.
Does it stand up well as a singular release some 29 years later? Not quite for me, even with the memories these 12 tracks hold for me I can't avoid the need for a couple of tracks to be trimmed ('Heresy' and 'Shattered') to really cement five stars in the rating for this review.
Genres: Groove Metal
I am not a fan of compilations generally. I usually see them as opportunistic releases designed to boost the coffers of the associated record company who have been fortunate enough to scoop the demo recordings or greatest hits rights to a band's back catalogue. That withstanding, 'Amon: Feasting The Beast' actually has relevance beyond appealing to just the avid uber-fan of Deicide. It is a release that showcases the raw talent, energy and commitment of the band before they became the death metal household name we all recognise to be Deicide.
There's still some turkeys on here, the second attempt at 'Sacrificial Suicide' sounds like Benton has a lisp and is just ridiculous, for example. However, as a release of a piece of death metal history, 'Amon...' stands up well enough. It is hard to get too excited by it, likewise difficult to extend paragraphs enough to stretch to a full review of the release.
Genres: Death Metal
There are very few albums nowadays that I can recall track by track in my head. The fact that ‘Heartwork’ still plays through my memory some 26 years after I first heard it is testimony to it being a big part of my metal journey and also the catchy nature of the songwriting. I get that it is a departure from previous direction and that for many it was a step too far away from the more familiar sound of the band, but “Heartwork” was still a strong metal record and still recognisable as Carcass regardless.
My rating of 3.5 stars really only reflect my transition towards their earlier material as I have aged. “Heartwork” gets less rotation than “Symphonies...” or “Reek...” do, but at the same time will always have that element of nostalgia present to give it a solid rating. Whether it is the energetic start to the title track or the chop n chug of “No Love Lost” or even the spiralling maelstrom of “This Mortal Coil”, there’s still variety on this record.
As a melodic death metal album this just about has enough edge still to cut the mustard with my more extreme tastes. Often it gets criticised almost as an album that let the band down in some way, but I don’t think that is fair as it still stands up as a successful turn of direction for Carcass as well as being a defining record for the melodic death metal movement.
Genres: Death Metal
'Rituale Satanum' stands up as a glorious exploration of how true aggression can be ported onto an audible format with pure aplomb and genuine heartfelt hatred. Some of the riffs on show here are truly demonic and when coupled with those rasping and harsh vocals make for great effect on one of BM's most under-rated releases. The melodic elements whilst not always as obvious to the ear are there in the background like some dark, melancholic tidal current that churns up sightless, shrieking beasts in it's waves.
From the menacing spoken word to 'Intro (The Summoning)' we are instantly into the scathing guitar that opens 'Sota valon jumalaa vastaan" which straight up lashes away at the listener for its entire duration. 'Night of the Blasphemy', whilst no less intense in the delivery, offers that melodic element to give additional structure to the chaotic riffing and blasting. 'Christ Forever Die' with its more measured approach to the track offers a well-paced build to the track whilst losing none of the looming threat built so far over the first three tracks. The hatred and vitriol for the icon of the subject matter from the track title is obvious as ever in the vocals here. They act like some scorching wind that you could envisage peeling the flesh from the face of the holy one just by virtue of the wickedness behind them, spat like acid onto the face of the crucified man. I find that the instrumentation and arrangement of the song actual temper the vocals really well also.
One of the real successes of 'Rituale Satanum' is that whilst it remains unrelenting in delivery it never feels like a drain to listen to in one sitting. Rampant BM records like 'Battles in the North' or 'Pure Holocaust' do lose me at times despite my enjoyment of them. I think the unexpected moments such as the lead work on 'Towards the Father' keep things interesting and challenging without showing any dip in the fury on display.
The big build up to 'Saatanan varjon synkkyydessä' feels like the start of some epic heavy metal track but soon becomes that familiar slaughtering paced frenzy, yet there's great structure to pace the track out to retain some of the majesty built in the intro to the song, to bridge the chaos in between solid start and finish sections and add a funereal set of keys to finish.
My favourite track on the album is 'Baphomet's Call', it has an almost easy feel to how it drops around some light riffing into an almost foot tapping pace. It plays like some old rock track given the Satanic treatment with it's death metal like layered growls midway through. 'The Flames of the Blasphemer' is just as harsh as the track title indicates but again makes great use of melody to manage the flow of the track. There's also an almost NWOBHM feel to the pace here as well, although the return of the funereal keys soon stamps sufficient atmosphere on proceedings to remind me that this ain't no Diamond Head record.
The final two tracks work superbly to give a almost grandiose ritual(e) feel to the closing part of the record. The solid drumming of 'Blessed Be the Darkness' and demented shrieks of the vocals that share space with spoken word recitals midway through the track weigh a dense atmosphere to proceedings. By the time we get through the closing (and title) track with its slow pace there's a real sense of finality and closure, like as a listener we have been through some torrid and yet positively memorable experience.
Genres: Black Metal
If you have been paying attention to my musings in The Pit Clan Challenge then you won't be surprised to find that I have given this record four stars. It characterises that rabid and vicious thrash metal that I enjoy so much and only the fact that some of the production work on this is truly terrible (as in beyond being able to simply be considered kvlt or cool) then a full five stars would have been easily awarded.
For sheer lack of fucks given the album scores about a ten at least, this is a record forged out of complete abandon of compromise. It starts off relentlessly and ends up the same without once letting up. Every aspect to it feels bestial and evil in the most primitive sense. Whether it is the menacing vocals with their sneer of derision and mocking undertone, the bashing fury of those drums or even the manic strumming of the bass underneath the charging dual guitar attack, it all has a fee for antediluvian values throughout.
Considering the band started out some six years before recording this by just playing Priest, Maiden, Sabbath and Crüe covers, what they eventually got to transcribe to record was far removed from their covers days. This is crude and unrefined music for ears of fans who genuinely don't care too much for compositional excellence or song writing prowess. Each track has one intention, to rip your fucking face off! And they do it, eight times in a row.
As I mention above, the main issue here is the production job sounds terrible. Notwithstanding the fact that it kind of suits the ideal in so many ways it is too obvious even for my extreme metal scarred ears for me not to notice. Instead of charging the energy in the record it kind of blunts it a little bit although I still get multiple lacerations after each spin of this record.
Genres: Thrash Metal
Blessed Are The Sick" is still as relevant now as it was 20 + years ago, with its sonic wizardry, beefed up guitar sound (when compared with its predecessor at least) and the furious thunder of Sandoval on the drum kit driving forward this beast of a record. The complimentary lead work of Richard and Trey (Richard and his more melodic moments to temper Trey with his swarming, chaotic and sonic shredding) works superbly and you get a real sense that this is band much improved ability wise from their previous outing.
The maturity is evident and the whole package has a more serious edge to it with the album artwork grotesque and twisted like the sound of the considerably darker music within. The intro is a perfect opener with the almost engine like noise of some hellish machine made from crying children and grinding bones being revved up to floor the accelerator and destroy all in its path. By the time it gives way to opener proper "Fall From Grace" you are sat bolt upright waiting for the assault to happen and your are not going to be disappointed as the track smothers you in glorious low end marauding DM.
The build up to the title track is varied with each track managing to stand out as individual points of brilliance. The fury of "Brainstorm", the sudden slowed technique of "Rebel Lands", the horror film soundtrack keys of "Doomsday Celebration" and the frantic pace of "Day Of Suffering" all cement the foundations of the stairway up to "Blessed Are The Sick/Leading The Rats". The title track is a slower but epic descent into the bowels of Hades themselves the bottom end of every note pulling you further down into the darkness before the flutey ending adds a bestial cherry to the top of the hellish cup cake!
The title track acts a central pin for the whole record, it is not that this is the peak of the album as what follows it is just as intense and powerful as the rest of the album so far, but the title track does exactly what it is supposed to. It is the pillar running through the atmosphere, direction and experience of the whole album. This brings me on to the structure of the album as a whole, the already mentioned intro starts things off perfectly but the changes of pace are brilliantly scheduled, the haunting beauty of "Desolate Ways" with its picked acoustic strings is like a beautiful woman with an underlying darkness lay in field of scarred and twisted corpses and it stays with you long after the album has finished. "In Remembrance" is the perfect ending to the album, an acknowledgement that although the chaos is over things won't be the same again as a result of it.
Genres: Death Metal
It is hard to quite put into words the monstrous fury of Ulcerate. The difficulty largely lies in the fact that for every bludgeoning riff, hammer blow drum hit or swirling wall of noise that the New Zealanders strike the listener with, there's a remarkable amount of deftness and skill in the calculations they invoke to deliver their assault.
There were times when I listened to "Vermis" (the predecessor to "Shrines..." for the uneducated reader) and that precision was off, albeit very minutely. The vocals for example on the bands 2013 opus felt some how lost in the mix and at times there was a sense of not actually being aware whether they had begun or not. They are some of course who thought this a clever use of the mixing desk to create that folly deliberately, but for me the storm of Ulcerate's sound needed that extra bit of definition vocally to turn a great album into an absolute classic.
Thankfully, here on the band's fifth full length offering, the vocals are prominent and whether you deem them visceral or based on intellect they are very much a centre piece of "Shrines Of Paralysis". Yeah, there's occasion when they do go under the churn of riffs, drums and bass but thankfully these are rare and do not distract.
As well as Paul Kelland's lyrical exploits being a point of particular note, the listener cannot miss the frankly fucking amazing performance of Jamie Saint Merat on the drums. They are powerful, punishing and utterly fucking relentless. The clever bit being that every other instrument is allowed to breath around them without any one detracting from the other. In a tornado of sound like the brand that Ulcerate stir up to say you can pick out the bass is testimony to their technical excellence at not just performance but at actual songwriting also.
Hoggard's riffs are of course merciless too. They are like being stabbed by a surgeon, with each slash designed to incapacitate whilst also make you nod in complete appreciation. There's geologists probably queueing up to take abrasivity tests on Ulcerate's riffs and they know the scores will be off the motherfucking chart.
Things get off to an explosive start with opening track "Abrogation" as it bursts out of the speakers like a soul of hell clawing for freedom from the burning fury of Hades itself. As "Yield To Naught" continues in much the same vein it is here I first start to note the clever use of melodic components of the tracks. These are there most of the time but instead of being drowned out by the thunderous roar of the band in full throttle, they are more marshalled by the riffs and percussion as if being constantly reminded of their place even though they are key still amongst all that is going on. Throughout the pulverising violence of the bodily harm inflicted you are never far from an atonal stab or dissonant tranquility as they bob atop the tide of the endless churn.
To have all that going on must require an almost military precision as never does anything seem confused or chaotic. Even at their most furious Ulcerate show clarity of structure and planning. The title track with its progressive build and eventual unleashing of all living fury proves this point perfectly.
One thing that is obvious throughout is the layering of the experience. "Extinguished Light" is like unwrapping a gift and finding exploding candy in each layer, each variety giving a different flavour and texture experience to the last.
To sum up "Shrines Of Paralysis", it is like an in depth documentary on the mechanics of Technical DM. As well as exploring the intense fury of emotions involved, it takes opportunity to delve into the skillset required, demonstrating along the way a work of real dark art done by true masters of the genre.
Last time Ulcerate and Gorguts released an album in the same year was 2013 and they both blew me the fuck away, with "Colored Sands" edging "Vermis". In 2016 they've reversed it for me. "Shrines Of Paralysis" is nowhere near as dense as "Pleiade's Dust" in content and style but it takes the raw emotion of the genre and hones it into an explosive, purposeful and memorable DM experience.
Genres: Death Metal
Behind every great man, there's a great woman. Behind every camped up, shape throwing, garrulous Black Metal vocalist there's a great song writer. Both of these statements are true, except the second one actually does not commend Abbath as being the imaginative, creative and artistic driving force behind Immortal. This is blatantly obvious if you have heard his solo pop/rock record of a couple of years ago.
What "Northern Chaos Gods" does is essentially pull off one of the best tattoo removal jobs in the history of "I Love Sharon" ink stains on most truck drivers (married to a woman called Rose) arm's being obliterated by lasers. Despite a big character no longer being present on this record, I don't for one second miss Abbath. Demonaz and co manage to put out an album that sounds so much like Immortal of old you could be forgiven for crying "Fake News!" at every mention of the turmoil and split between the founding members given the music is as strong as it has been in some while.
Demonaz even sounds like a more in control albeit slightly more subdued Abbath. But it isn't the vocals that will get you sweating like a blind lesbian in a fishmongers. Nope, IT'S THE FUCKING RIFFS MAN!!!!!! It is genuinely like getting twatted by an octopus for 42 and a bit minutes, listening to this record. Utterly relentless in their delivery, Immortal just pummel away at you, occasionally throwing an atmosphere building intro before thundering off on hoofed steed to epic landscapes such as "Where Mountains Rise".
There's no Judas Priest or Iron Maiden esque dip in output here in the absence of their established frontman here. Demonaz and Horgh have - to put it in layman's terms - just picked up and ran with the established format. Don't get me wrong, it isn't anywhere near the quality of "At The Heart of Winter", although it does piss all over "All Shall Fall". Think of it as being the record "Damned In Black" could have been as a better precursor to the great "Sons of Northern Darkness".
They have a song called "Blacker of Worlds"!!! I mean what grown man with the mind of a pubescent boy doesn't think that is cool as fuck??? If the start of closing track "Mighty Ravendark" doesn't bring you out in goose pimples, you're dead inside. Fist pumping, neck snapping metal right here folks.
Genres: Black Metal
Glen Benton is 51. Fuck I feel old now too. Deicide are 30 years old (32 if we count the Amon era). Album number 12 from the fathers of Florida death metal is a strong effort considering yet another change of personnel has occurred. It is bye-bye Jack Owen, hello Mark English of Monstrosity fame taking up guitar duties and ironically I like "Overtures of Blasphemy " a lot more than Monstrosity's effort this year.
Whilst it can never make the "beast of a DM record" title I would give to the debut or"Legion" for example, "Overtures..." is entertaining. Whether it is the melo-death passages that litter the streets and alleyways of this record or the more familiar sacrilegious blasting fury of Deicide at their (old) best, there's plenty to balance the experience over these 12 tracks. Take "Seal The Tomb" for example, it goes immediately for the jugular, relentlessly chugging riffs alongside Benton's usual demented growls only to be tempered by menacing and interesting leads and sonics that carry the song along well. Listen once to this track and it is in your head for literally days after.
Then there's the vehemence of the lyrics of "Compliments of Christ" were you can feel the spittle from Glen's lips splattering your ears as he spews forth the vitriol he is best known for. "Anointed in Blood" opens like a lead jam session recorded mid flow before developing into a hellish gallop of fiery hooves, again perfectly completed by some well placed and well timed leads.
This is were Morbid Angel went wrong with "Kingdoms..." safe DM with little if any attention paid to the sonic wizardry of their sound. Take a leaf out of Glen's book Trey!
It is clear that this is no nonsense DM that still has enough equal measure of extremity and assured and unapologetic attitude to hold it's own against most of the DM records released this year. It is not perfect by any means. I lose it on more than one occasion if I am honest ("Crucified Soul of Salvation" in particular hits my 'standby' button really nicely) and it is a couple of tracks too long making for an almost excessive feel to the running time. Whilst it is a well paced record there's definitely some "filler" present. But for any turkeys in here there is still thankfully the brilliance of tracks like "Consumed by Hatred" to snap you back to attention. "Flesh, Power, Dominion" is one of the strongest things Deicide have ever put to tape btw.
Genres: Death Metal
There's life in the old dog yet it seems. In terms of original members only Phil Fasciana remains in the ranks of Malevolent Creation now and after the passing of Brett Hoffman last year you could almost forgive fans for thinking the curtain had fallen on Malevolent Creation. The fact is that whilst "The 13th Beast" reinvents no wheels it does exhibit the sound of a band in the throes of something of a regeneration phase. There's nothing tired sounding here, no dull interludes to build unnecessary atmosphere. As soon as the spoken word intro to "End the Torture" finishes it is straight up thrashing death metal until the very end, some 11 tracks later.
Although all debuting in the Malevolent full length stakes here, the 3 musicians that join Fasciana on this record are all clearly capable and qualified purveyors of their art form. Again, I highlight that this is not far above your average DM record yet it is so assured and solid you can easily forgive it to some degree. Lee Wollenschlaeger gives a good acquittal of himself as an established and competent vocalist, filling Hoffman's shoes nicely. Phil Cancilla is a machine on those skins, blasting his way across the soundscape yet also using the percussion well when the occasional let up in the pace permits. Fasciana and Wollenschlaeger work well together to keep the chug of the riffs motoring along whilst Gibbs plonks, twangs and rumbles his way through every track, allowed to be heard in the mix and show his variety without ever showboating. For a band together for only 2 years as a four piece they sound tight and committed.
There's no metal fan worth the denim their patches are sewn onto that doesn't look at that album cover and mouth a "fuck me, dude!" I mean, come on, it is fucking awesome. Like a more ornamental Predator head on a ghostly green background. I love it when album covers are matched by the content of the record inside, and whilst there are obviously some shortfalls here, still in the main "The 13th Beast" delivers. When they keep the track length short and succinct, Malevolent Creation are at their best. "The Beast Awakened", "Agony for the Chosen" and "Knife at Hand" all kick serious ass. By the same token "Born of Pain" at nearly 7 minutes long doesn't really do anything or go anywhere to justify the length attributed to it.
Overall, I would have preferred a shorter record. At 11 tracks the band cover a lot of ground in under 50 minutes but not all of it really needs treading. That withstanding, never does it get grating and still the accessibility factor remains consistent enough to forgive the extra excursions present.
Genres: Death Metal
With Erik Rutan now in the ranks as a fully fledged band member my hopes for Cannibal Corpse's fifteenth full-length were quite high. Acknowledging that he is an artist of vast experience in the death metal world it seemed logical to expect an obvious impact from him as he joined one of the genres most important bands. And, let's pick up on this point firstly, Cannibal Corpse are massively important to death metal. Their first three records really stamped a mark in the genre and although they never quite lived up to that standard (consistently) since, they have continued to enjoy career and that whilst it not my reek of variety they are most certainly not at Amon Amarth levels of predictability in terms of churning out the same record every time. Love them or hate them CC are virtually a household names and not just for the all the wrong reasons you might think.
Since Kill there has been the return of expectation with any imminent CC release. Red Before Black wasn't anything special, but it was a consistent record if not a little long and at times predictable. However, it maintained a presence with a sonic footprint to boot, so surely with Rutan now in the ranks this could only be built on, right? Well, actually no. No it doesn't. The tracks that Rutan is credited for writing are in fact my least favourite. They feel restrained and unimagined (pun intended - funny fucker aren't I?) in comparison to the few standout tracks on display.
However, even with tracks like Murderous Rampage, Inhumane Harvest and Surround, Kill, Devour the whole record still comes up short with a real feel of the band just going through the motions for another album (and would be tour in normal times) without taking any inspiration from having one of metal's long-standing six stringers now in their ranks. The fun element is still there but it feels a little tired this time around and as a result it is an album who's excitement levels are stunted somewhat.
Genres: Death Metal
Texans Frozen Soul play a cool (pun intended) brand of chunky death metal with a riff catalogue straight out of the Bolt Thrower playbook with a fair old likeness to the mining intensity of a Tomb Mold or at times even Sanguisugabogg. Having first caught their demo on Maggot Stomp a couple of years ago it is great to see them have progressed to a major label such as Century Media for the debut full-length. It's full of that nasty vibe of death metal that motors from track to track with a grinding yet powerful engine backed by a deep bass and cavernous drum sound. In a way it takes me right back to my first forays into DM back in the 90's, like some modern slant on a trip down memory lane.
Vocalist Chad Green is a fucking monster. A drummer by trade he sounds like he has been in front of the microphone for years already and has a real commanding presence on the record that doesn't dominate proceedings yet firmly places him at the helm of the sound supported by the huge riffs of Michael Munday and Chris Bonner. As I mentioned earlier though, this is a real band effort and Matt Dennard does a sterling job on the skins, pacing the tempos brilliantly whilst Samantha Mobley rumbles along with a thick and chunky bass sound that rattles the windows in their frame.
My main criticism is that it is all a bit samey overall. There's not a lot of variety to separate one track from another and after six tracks I don't necessarily feel that I need another four to get the point if I am honest. As a result there's a sense of a loss of steam even though the foot remains fully on the gas throughout, as some ideas get regurgitated over different tracks and I am guessing in a couple of more albums time the band will mature enough to understand filtering of ideas and variety in structures. It is still a fucking blast to listen through though to get the blood pumping.
Genres: Death Metal
Well, you learn something new everyday it seems. On a random purge of album suggestions this morning I stumbled across the fifth full-length from US death metal outfit Vital Remains. It took me a while before I realised the vocalist here is none other than Satan's left tit himself, Glen Benton of Deicide fame. Glen covered vocals for the band from 2002 - 2009 it turns out, and I had no idea.
What we get here is not a Deicide clone (entirely) as a result of Benton's involvement. Yes, it is clear that those bestial, layered vocals are exactly the same as what you would hear on any Deicide record from the previous decade to this release and at times the blistering intensity of Vital Remains matches that of the Florida giants of death metal. The opening track is also a not unexpected film clip around Benton's favourite subject matter, the Son of God. Comparisons aside, there are some fundamental differences in just a couple of areas that managed to hold my interest long enough to write a review.
Firstly, the sound on the guitars is really thin making them sound like they lack power. That aside they do manage to get this Morbid Angel-like sound right on a few occasions (At War With God) and are still able to generate a sort of grinding intensity when in full flow. Second major difference is the lead work is incredibly rich sounding, maintaining the requisite levels of sonics but at the same time sounding clearer and crisper than I first expected. This gives some welcome melodic respite from the scathing sound of the riffs and introduces some genuine traditional metal sounding leads.
Aside from the novelty of Benton and these leads there isn't a massive amount to get excited about otherwise as the trio just go through the motions under what feels like a stifling production job. I listened to it the whole way through more out of curiosity than anything else but if we stick with asking if it does what it says on the tin then it most definitely is a death metal album albeit a decidedly average one.
Genres: Death Metal
Königreichssaal occupy a niche in black metal, that although not necessarily an untrodden path is still a passage in which they leave firm footprints as they trudge on through. Here be references to equal part doom against equal part black metal. Equal part Cultes Des Ghoules against equal part dark cabaret.
Strong use of ritualistic spoken word is littered throughout the album and they are clearly artists who like to build atmospheres and draw out their impact, unafraid to use protracted track lengths in amongst shorter tales of putrid existence. Within this record you will hear choral verses, sang in hushed and nefarious tones. The threat of harm or at least an exploration of motives for harm never feels too far away here and this is one of the key successes of the band. This near constant menace and dark mystique embeds a real sense of foreboding.
The band use atmospheres to genuine build effect, often making the tension unbearable, agonizing sometimes in fact. Yet at the same time there is a beauty in this darkness, the glimpse of an ethereal and ghostly white face undulating through the murk. In the times of the slow tempos there exists still an urgency for the record to ignore this balancing act and still use the sheer compulsion of the record to push forward its grim and unrelenting traipse.
Königreichssaal lurch their way through seven hellish performances, keeping their heads immersed in the constant shroud of misery they emit throughout. Playing the occasional mind game along the way they have a distinct penchant for bring the uneasy ramblings of Mayhem and playing them off the most tortuous and repetitive structures you will hear for a long while. This brilliant combination of doom and black metal looms nicely throughout the album.
Yet, despite this menace and sense of dread, I never feel like the threat entirely comes to fruition. For every drawn-out moment of black metal tension, I need a crushing riff or ghastly howl just to emphasize the depth of the record. It all somehow ends up feeling a little too clean overall for me to ever feel like this threat is fully realized. Maybe that is part of the cleverness of the album, and it sets up nicely a harrowing and soul-destroying sophomore by never quite getting to the unstable heights of insanity on this outing. Guess I will have to wait to find out.
Genres: Black Metal
I loved Requiem for Mankind - the 5 star review on the site is proof of this. It had groove, intensity and a gnarly undertone that suggested real guts as well as a great sound. Inevitably the Bolt Thrower comparisons grew the more I listened to it and I am almost at the point of wondering if as time goes by, whether Memoriam or slowly just morphing back into that great old band inevitably.
Opener, Onwards to Battle could open any Bolt Thrower album in all honesty and if I didn't know any better you could pass this off as a lost or even new Bolt Thrower tune. Now this isn't a criticism by any means. I love the fact that this rich heritage from one of my favourite UK death metal bands runs through the veins of a band that cam into existence after the appropriate dissolution of the aforementioned legends. I simply wanted to highlight that the memory of this great band continues to live on and is being done great justice to by Willetts and co.
As To the End continues this theme continues (inevitably), however there's something missing this time around across the record and I have been struggling to put my finger on it as I have given the record a few spins. I can't help but feel that momentum that Memoriam built on their previous release doesn't continue all that far into To the End. This doesn't make their 2021 release terrible as such but I feel the band lacks much in the way of presence and identity this time around. Requiem for Mankind was full of groove and passion and its high points stood out from the legacy Bolt Thrower sound by virtue of this sense of confidence in who the band were and how they could progress out of those historical shadows. This time around I don't feel this footprint is stamped quite as well. The first four tracks make a good go of it but the legs don't carry the whole nine tracks over the finish line I am afraid and there's a noticeable dip from the middle of the album onwards.
The major change in the line-up this time around is behind the drums, with Spikey T. Smith (of Sacrilege fame) taking over the stool from Andy Whale and this is one of the standout problem areas for me. The drums sound quite basic and lacking in real presence for the most part, with their only notable contribution being how rock like they sound as opposed to death metal. They just don't feel like drums recorded for a death metal album. But it isn't Smith's fault that I don't enjoy the whole of the album. The song writing lacks completion on more than one occasion, most notably on Each Step (One Closer to the Grave) which sounds really promising at the start but then proceeds to meander instead develop into the charging and steadfast assault it promised.
I had high hopes for this album (especially since I missed any news that the band had even been in the studio) but I am left disappointed overall and almost wish that they'd just done an EP instead.
Genres: Death Metal
In the world of thrash metal there are many artists I am sure with some USP (unique selling point - for the uninitiated) in their sound, look or ideology. I can't really name any that are too far out there but I don't know of any that count a mellotron amongst their instruments. Now, a mellotron is an electro-mechanical piano first produced en-masse in the 60's. Artists ranging from The Beatles through to King Crimson have used the instrument and so to see it listed on a progressive thrash album has some sense of irony associated with it, based on the King Crimson reference at least, as well as still being a curved ball in 2021.
If you want to hear an example of it, check out the opening of Mindscape on the internet and you will soon grasp its distinct sound. When deployed, it puts real depth in the sci-fi themed atmospherics that Cryptosis use throughout Bionic Swarm to good effect. Straight away the Vektor comparisons come in both by virtue of the sub-genre tag and also the construct of the music as well - there's a reason these guys did a split release! But whereas Vektor go for all out technical wankery and really progressive structures there is an element of that being paired back with Cryptosis and with positive outcomes to boot.
Vocalist, Laurens Houvast has a gruffness in his bark and doesn't try to overdo the ear-splitting shrieks at any point and as such his vocals compliment the flow and roll of the music perfectly. He drops in the higher end of his range to finish some sentences here and there but they feel part of everything else that is going on at the same time as opposed to some distracting piece that is trying to do out-do the rest of the sound. His guitar work is busy throughout in terms of riffing and his lead work feels quite restrained without leaving the record devoid of some flair and grandiosity, whilst his use of progressive structure and melody at the same time is virtually flawless. Meanwhile, the solid and consistent drum work of Marco Prij stands out as another notable part of proceedings. Although sometimes a little too hidden in the mix he still stands up well in the face of some of the more blistering moments from Houvast. Mellotron supremo, Frank te Riet also handles bass duties and you can here him firmly plonking away in the background across the album.
All in all this is great release to usher in the dawn of the band's new name having spent years as Distillator before their increase in progressive focus. It isn't perfect of course but it is going to be exciting to see where these guys go on subsequent releases.
Genres: Thrash Metal
With my taste for tech-death rooted firmly in the likes of Gorguts and Ulcerate, the third full-length from Canadian mob Martyr does leave me conflicted overall. As noted on other reviews/comments on the site, the album wanders from just wearing a tech-death uniform to testing the threads and treads of technical thrash metal also whilst retaining just enough elements of Death to feel the record is firmly rooted the right side of the divide to exemplify it's tech-death roots as being the core element of it's genetic make-up.
The fact is though that I really do not like the clean vocals that get deployed here and the technical mastery of the instrumentation, although enticing and well-developed enough still does not temper my overall dissatisfaction with the vocal style. That having been said, I am not a massive fan of Voivod either so this is hardly a surprise to me, given the close links to the aforementioned prog-thrash legends.
If I focus on the positives for a moment, there's an album of high quality and interesting tech-death/thrash instrumentation on display here that exercises the mind as well as the eardrums. It occupies a rarefied atmosphere that some may find it hard to breath or spend extended time within the confines of its climate, yet all will find some element of entertainment during however long they decide to stick around for.
Overall, it doesn't work for me. It relies too much using one element of its construct (the instrumentation) to distract me away from that vocal style that I figure I would still struggle with to some degree even in a more obvious thrash environment. Even the more ugly and guttural aspects to the vocals do not sell me the project all that well as there needs to be more of this to really get me focused.
Genres: Death Metal
As a person who prefers Mark Tornillo era Accept to Udo Dirkschneider era Accept I often look forwards to a new release from the German legends of heavy metal. There's something about Tornillo's unique style that sounds like he's got Brian Johnson stuck in his oesophagus and can't quite cough him out. Likewise, I am continually impressed by both Wolf Hoffman's and Uwe Lulis' guitar work and how they continue to sound fresh and invigorated on most releases and pleasingly Too Mean To Die is full of that vigour and energy. For a band who have now some sixteen full-length records to their name, Accept have still been able to sound relevant in the world of metal some 45 years after they first adopted the moniker of the band name.
Sadly, that relevance shows signs of slipping this time around and it is safe to say that Too Mean To Die is an awkward listen, certainly on the lyrical front at the very least. For the first time Accept are sounding their age. The bulk of the lyrical content on the album sounds clunky and forced if not at times completely ill-conceived. Writing a song about social media and the ills of it in general just makes the band come across as moaning old men (a title often courted by myself in all honesty but even have my limits) and so Overnight Sensation is a huge stumbling block just three tracks in. The anthemic chorus just feels cringey and makes me want to hit the skip button immediately.
It isn't just on the aforementioned track the band fall short either. Throughout the album you get more dip than hit and as a result there's a sense of the band meandering through the record occasionally uncovering something interesting but at the same time falling short (usually on the lyrical front). It plays like a Judas Priest album only without any prowess on the lyric writing front. Instead you have a strong instrumental foundation but are constantly recoiling over what sound like very amateurish vocals and lyrics ("but we understand, the Undertaker is a busy man" - erm really?) that invade most tracks.
Hoffman and Lulis (not sure what Shouse even does here in all honesty) do their best with their energetic string work, firing off leads and licks to try and impress the positives of the album but they are fighting a losing battle for me as I am so turned off that I can't see past the poor lyrical content. With an album cover that promised so much, the electric bite of Accept appears to be fading badly in 2021.
Genres: Heavy Metal
What's that? Another band project with Max Cavalera in it? Is his brother involved? Oh, no? You sure? Okay, but do we get just a regurgitated version of Sepultura still clinging to the alternative apron strings of Roots? Well actually, yes and no. I will go on record as saying early on in my review how this record has caught me off guard since my forays into groove metal early on in the 90s are not often revisited in my later metal years, however this album is actually very good. With the debut having passed me by completely (and having checked it out this past week it is clear I missed very little) I have to admit that I am all over Reluctant Hero to the extent that it has been on at least once a day over the past week or so.
The reasons for this enjoyment of the sophomore release are numerous if I am honest. Firstly, it is catchy as fudge. Yes, probably too catchy in terms of my usual extreme metal tastes but it is infectious beyond just anthemic choruses or chugging riffs. It is rich in depth across the vocal and musical styles it covers over the course of the record, so the opening track for example carries great use of hooks to pull you in to the momentum of the song whereas Dream Gone Bad feels like a real tussle between the clean and the more aggressive vocals and this is backed up superbly by changes of pace and tempo that run congruent with this ethos. As such this adds a predictable and yet welcome variety to the album that increases that memorability factor even more.
Secondly, Ben Koller absolutely bosses it on the drum kit. He mixes up runs and both complex and simple patterns to build structure on solid foundations on most tracks. He is responsive to the subtleties required on the slower tracks and never feels like he is imposing yet retains an essential presence throughout the album. In a band with a combined vocal presence such as Greg, Troy and of course Max it wold be easy to get lost behind that but one of the key successes here of the album is that (barring the bass) it all feels like a band effort, an album created by a cohesive unit.
Thirdly, each track offers something. Even the weaker ones have a strong passage or standout part (the filthy and ugly bluesy style lead on the appropriately named Filthy Vagabond is a welcome highpoint on an otherwise average track) that keeps the mind focussed. It is one of the few albums of late that I can remember all of the tracks. Yes, it uses the same ideas more than once but they work so well in the grander scheme of what is still a varied album in terms of pace and musical style that they are more than forgivable.
Safe to say that after me enjoying the last Soulfly record, Max is on a bit of run as far as my experience of recent output goes.
Genres: Alternative Metal Groove Metal
When you establish a tried and tested formula to your sound it is hard to break from that and allow variation and experimentation in. Some would argue that there's no need for Dragonforce to do that as they enjoy a healthy fanbase already who lap up their rampant power metal in the thousands. The point is though that I kind of knew what this record was going to sound like before I heard it all the way through and the regurgitation of ideas is almost like a washing machine stuck on the same cycle.
The fact is that DF are catchy as fuck! If I take three things away from Inhuman Rampage as positives it is the energy of the artist transposes brilliantly on to the recorded format, this is truly hi-octane stuff. Secondly, the capability levels of the musicians (yes, especially the guitarists) cannot be denied and they apply a very clear level of sophistication and flair to proceedings. The third and final thing I take is the high memorability factor of the record. It is accessible and engaging most certainly.
These three positives however are its biggest downfalls also as they do all of the above to death. Yes, the pace dips on some songs but all I remember still are those rampant, galloping and charging riff patterns that inhabit the majority of the record. It feels like a sprint but over an incredibly long distance and as I listener I just don't have the legs for it to keep up. Notwithstanding the fact that the guitarists are maestros of their art, I still don't need this much earshot of them. Surely a couple of solos are enough in a track to showcase the talents of the guitarists without my feeling like I am being force-fed lead work? Similarly, the memorability factor is so high because the vast majority of the album sounds exactly the same. The attempts to mix it up with different use of keys/synths just come across as amateurish and almost feel forced, as if the band knew that things were shaping up to be samey and made some vain attempts to compensate.
As a result, I find Inhuman Rampage to be really tiring; draining in fact. That tried and tested formula I mentioned at the start of the review works for about three songs max and then it just becomes one-dimensional. I get why this album has problem sold in bucket loads, I really do. However, this is just not for me.
Genres: Power Metal
Some fifteen years into their career, Swiss thrashers Total Annihilation are only up to full-length number three. Indeed, last year’s release was their first for eight years and although I have no idea why such a lengthy absence occurred from the band it is obvious from the off that …On Chains of Doom is a record that is put together a band who know their stuff to some degree.
Perhaps predictably for me, I chose a band who play that more intense death/thrash style of metal for my first featured record on MA. That having been said, opening track Falling Fast has some passages that rely on the heavier side of that death/thrash sound and Daniel Altwegg performs in the death metal realm of the vocal spectrum. There is no high-pitched squealing from him as per a David Di-Santo for example, instead his gruff and slightly guttural tones impress a consistency that unfortunately becomes one of the albums challenges, but more on that later.
Riff wise, as you would expect, this is a chuggfest of a record. The tempos are driven well by the twin guitar attack of Nicholas Stelz and Jurgen Schmid, with the former giving some stellar sonics as well as the recognized lead guitarist in the band. He is absolutely superb on Tunnelratten with a blistering solo, full of energy and brimming with flair and talent. The guitars in general sound clear in the mix without feeling blunted by the production and the drums thunder along nicely in the background albeit a little too far in the background, to the extent that they lack some degree of presence in proceedings. Even on slow-burner Dead Souls which builds and builds they seem to be a tad muted overall.
Despite the variety of pace and tempo on the record, I do not feel overly excited by much of anything I hear. On the aforementioned Dead Souls, the band build up to a good track of powerful and groovy metal but the build up just sounds redundant and almost stagnant at times. It is like they flog the concept as opposed to develop it and what should be a standout track on the album comes off as a let down overall.
Looking at that artwork I am expectant of a full-frontal assault but in fact I end up with the odd sortie into battle with little in the way of heavy shelling or machine gun fire. To keep with the war theme, it is an album that is more of a sniper than any artillery personnel. It takes pot shots at ideas it thinks it can hit and whilst it usually hits the target so to speak the penetration of the bullets only goes so far and the fire patterns are predictable. This leads me back to my earlier comment on the vocalist. If you are going to use this vocal style, then the consistency needs to be tempered by something, anything, to create sufficient distraction and avoid monotony setting in. Despite the obvious quality of the guitar work here, it is not enough to defer attention away from track after track of the same vocals and so the band are reliant on changes of pace and tempo in writing songs that whilst they try to develop and build, do not always deliver.
The two singles that turned me onto this record to check it out in the first place are by far the stronger of the eight tracks. Reborn in Flesh is a memorable blaster of a track and Black Blood continues to play to the strengths of the band. Other than that, penultimate track Tunnelratten is the only other real standout track with it’s clever variance of pace without the sacrificing of any energy. It is these three tracks that save this album in all honesty and if the band can consistently hit the vein of form displayed on these tracks then they will realise their full-potential I am sure.
Genres: Thrash Metal
When it came to me choosing my first featured album for The North clan I already knew it was going to be this record. It was one of the few modern bm releases of the 2010's that absolutely blew my away with it's illicit presence throughout, one that genuinely leaves me with a feeling of discomfort as I lidten. I get the Mayhem references absolutely and by no means does Henbane reinvent any wheels. It does the bm basics well though and despite the variation present on the record I always hear it is a bm record at its very core.
Poland has this penchant for producing some fantastic acts in extreme metal. Former members of Cultes Des Ghoules (as in the H.P. Lovecraft stories) went on to form Doombringer, a blackened dm outfit of decent repute and the deranged vocals of Mark of the Devil have been present on Death Like Mass for three EPs worth of material also. Henbane is heavy on the ritualistic and occult approach to bm though, playing like an old black and white horror movie (bordering on b-movie with those vocals at times, I grant you) with an element of tongue in cheek obvious on most tracks. Like an old horror flick, it is a thoroughly entertaining record. Yes, between the start and finish there are some passages that don't resonate as well as the rest but the levels of consistency on the record is superb.
Part of the appeal of the record for me is this sloppiness and cumbersome approach to songs. Mark's howls and gruff screams I think add a lot to the record, even though I repeat my comment from above that they are supposed to be over the top, in fact nefariously grandiose by intent. The album feels authentic and engaging as a result of the off-kilter timings and clunky clangs and sloppy shifts. It all feels earthy and downright right filthy, like it clings to you long after the album has finished playing. Riffs feel like they are climbing on top of each other, building into some putrid pile of unholy sacrificial flesh, sliced from bodies using the dirtiest of blades.
The pacing often slips into the realm of doom metal and I hear some 'eavy met'al riffs in there also as the record strays close to black 'n roll territory on more than one occasion. All this builds this cloying sense of drama to skin itching proportions at times (Vintage Black Magic). The use of spoken word passages over chugging and repetitive riff patterns add to this doom feel nicely yet still that thick air of black-market black metal is always there also. This continuing sense of taboo is beyond the chaos of Mayhem though. It is somehow more tangible here and dare I say it, better told.
Genres: Black Metal
Mare Cognitum is a one man atmo bm project from the US. Heavily invested in the themes of space and cosmic mysticism, Jacob Buczarski created the project in 2011 and since then Mare Cognitum ("the sea which has become known" in Latin) have grown into an established act on the atmospheric black metal scene. We have been treated now to five reasonably well received full-lengths and a couple of splits over the past decade and for a computer programmer, Jake takes the listener far beyond the boundaries of the planet earth and explores the universe on each of his releases.
I read an interview with him when researching my review and he is personally influenced by all the classic bm artists you'd expect (Emperor etc..) but he also listens to a lot of film and video game scores which I think comes across in the vastness of his song writing on Solar Paroxysm really well. The triumph of this release is the scope of the album which although immense in subject matter and content also does a really great job of focusing on the details, spotlighting the album's fantastic use of pace and tempo, aggression and melody, harshness and ethereal beauty to create a truly intricate painting of the mysteries of the cosmos and Jake's mind also.
I hear a lot of influences in the sound here. From the lush tremolos of Fen and Drudkh to the warm and full melodies of the latter of the aforementioned bands. But there's also the earthy dankness of WITTR present in the shift, passage and flow of tracks. The sum of all parts shows a penchant for ethereal layers of atmosphere that build into entities reminiscent of Spectral Lore and Darkspace also. I even get a smattering of Xasthur on Terra Requiem as Jake's vocals drop into a ghastly whisper riding over a rolling tremolo riff. What you get here is a very textured and tactile album, you almost want that amazing artwork on the cover to be raised and ridged like the music itself so you can trace your fingers along the landscape as you listen to the music.
I could go on for hours about how good this album is. It has caught me completely off-guard as I didn't set out on the morning I discovered this to listen to any atmospheric bm that day and instead stumbled across this masterpiece of the sub-genre. All hail Jake Buczarski.
Genres: Black Metal