It is safe to say that I am a huge Altarage fan. I mean as someone who has heard a lot of death metal in my time it is hard for me to really get overly excited about much of what comes out nowadays in the genre, however Altarage share that rarefied atmosphere with the likes of Gorguts and Ulcerate whereby I am liable to buy pretty much anything they put out without hearing it first.
This methodology served me well with their last effort The Approaching Roar but I was a tad caught out by the predecessor Endinghent when using this admiration of the band to drive my purchase. I broke away from this tradition with Succumb and played a track on a promo CD that came on a cover mount. I didn’t enjoy it one bit in all honesty and couldn’t quite figure out why until I refused to believe that the band had finally dropped a real dud and went and bought the gatefold vinyl anyways. Altarage are masters of performance art, whether that be a conscious effort on their part or not, this is how Succumb plays to me.
Each track is in effect a shift, a progression, a development on theme. The album runs like a play on stage with each track being an act, building constant depth and expansion to the proceedings and therefore the single track on the CD I mentioned gained no traction with me – it was completely alien when taken out of the context of the whole album piece.
This is a very tactile listening experience for me. Seemingly designed for that one sitting listen through for you to fully appreciate the quality of the album. There are no real individual parts to call out as such as despite there often being clear breaks between tracks it all feels interconnected and cohesive to the point of being conceptual almost. Track lengths vary and at first glance the format looks busy and confusing (which is part of the charm for me of listening to a complex release and trying desperately to unravel it) however this structure to the composition of the album track listing is devilishly clever. The build that gets created here is superb and it sets some tracks up to be real eruptions of powerful and cavernous death metal that simply vents at various parts of the album.
On more than one occasion the hairs on my arms stand up and I genuinely must stop what I am doing with the final half of the last track on side two being one such moment that leaps out at me. The permeance of the wall of sound just reaches an absorbing and almost comforting crescendo during some of the most horrifying noise to grace my eardrums.
The guitar tone has an almost bastardised sense of groove to it on occasion and makes real use of the blackened tremolo influences that have been a trait of the band from day one. The vocals sound completely otherworldly throughout. Their extra-terrestrial sound acts as paroxysms of scathing and terrifying lyrical outbursts. I also must point out the understated yet atmospheric importance of the drums. They vary superbly across the record ranging from blast beats to soft cymbal “tishes” to adapt to the pace, tempo and atmospheres of the album.
Succumb is an album that occupies the space around it as it plays, placing the darkest of voids and most cavernous of chasms in the room with the listener as it goes along. One of the standout releases of 2021 so far.
Genres: Black Metal Death Metal
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
As we get into October, I have already mentioned that I am in an unusual “mop up” phase of picking up on some key releases I have either missed or am yet to get around to listening to. One of the glaring holes in my year thus far is the latest release from Austin Lunn under his Panopticon banner. It is worth mentioning that I am still several albums light from Austin’s back catalogue and so I don’t have the luxury of being able to judge his latest offering in comparison to other more recent ones. There are most definitely some differences and enhancements to the sound on …And Again Into the Light, the majority of these being positives. As Sonny alludes to, if you have found a lusher and richer sounding album this year then you have done very well indeed.
Panopticon has managed on this latest offering to pose an incredible balance of the melodic and accessible sounds we know is within his repertoire already with some of the heaviest and alienating black, death and doom metal at the same time. It plays as a single entity still though, despite all these nuances that I mention it is not an album of two halves or individual thirds even. The tapestry that gets displayed over the eight tracks is vast but incredibly visual as well; unafraid to show his wares to all and sundry, Austin Lunn really does expel every drop of his creative and artistic ability on his tenth full-length.
I will drop in an early criticism which may iron itself out with yet further repeated listens, but the vocal mix here is not right on a few tracks where the harsher and scathing black metal attack is raging. I am used to vocals sitting behind other instruments in extreme music, but these fall into the category of being buried by everything else at times. Not that I am here listening to the album looking to follow the lyrics word for word, but there are times when I must check if they are the vocals are their or not. Their haughty breathiness is a great fit for the aesthetic, but the delivery is ever so slightly off for me.
Now we have the one negative out of the way let’s get back to the brilliance of …And Again Into the Light. There is no doubt that this album remains an absolute triumph both as a standalone release in 2021 and as an addition to an already great discography. The balls required to open any album with an acoustic number are owned by someone with real confidence in their own ability and that there will be a connection with the audience instantly. The album itself does not drop one heavy note until around a third of the way through the second track and goes from a four-and-a-half-minute opener into a near eleven-and-a-half-minute epic before we have even gotten to unlocking the remaining six tracks to come.
The heightened since of frenzy and tension that A Snowless Winter builds into in the centre of the track-listing gives the album a real spur at the midway point as it then dives into the cavernous death metal style of Moth Eaten Soul which is perhaps the heaviest thing I have heard Lunn perform to date. Yet even during the albums heaviest and inaccessible tracks there remains a real sense of melody and rhythmic structure to hold the attention superbly. There are parts to the aforementioned Moth Eaten Soul that make me feel it might be the best death metal track of 2021.
Although not as abundant as in other releases, elements of folk and bluegrass do still flourish on the album. This time around the emotion that drives the song writing has seen a much more aggressive sound with a doom-like density applied to the whole album but the snippets of the more roots-laden music act as palate cleansers (or appetiser in the case of the opening track). I think the direction of Panopticon in 2021 is just superb though and if Lunn can continue to write such challenging and frankly raging extreme metal then long may it continue. Equally, the exuberance of tracks like The Embers at Dawn are so absorbing in their ethereal beauty that some of the most soothing music of 2021 for me also exists within these eight tracks. Again, the build on this track in particular before it becomes a blasting bm piece is excellent and heightens the sense of tracks always developing and flourishing.
Despite closing with two twelve minutes plus tracks, I sit right to the end of the album. I find I am just as eager to get to the next track as I am to uncover the detail of the current one playing at the time and there are very few albums nowadays that can hold that excitement for me. This has shook up my end of year list quite substantially.
Genres: Black Metal
Enforced must be the most unconsciously listened to band in my house for the past 6-12 months. As I approached Kill Grid, I recalled the many playlists I had heard around the internet with these guys on there, thrashing and bashing their way into oblivion like we are already in the throes of Armageddon.
Anyone who reads what I review or talk about in the world of thrash nowadays will listen to Kill Grid and instantly understand why this is right up my alley. Super-aggressive thrash metal done with an almost death metal attitude (without straying over into the territory sound wise) and a real talent for dropping those Power Trip-like chops in there to bring a real feast of crossover riffs in from out of nowhere.
This is just the same vibe and energy that captured my attention back in the day with the likes of Exodus, Slayer and Metallica. Crossover influences aside, Enforced have just as much fun in the relentless delivery of their thrash metal. It is like listening to classic era Slayer repeatedly at some points and is an album that leaves me with a fucking huge, smug grin on my face as I listen.
Relying less on blackened influences unlike some of their contemporaries, Enforced seem to have captured the real essence of thrash metal over the nine tracks on offer here. Wagstaff and Monahan are a pair of beasts on guitar and more than prove their thrash credentials with their chopping riffs and sonic wizardry. Knox Colby has a gruff vocal style that does not rely at any point on high-end screeching. The vocals are reminiscent of Max-era Sepultura and in fact the whole band can generate that level of power that I would associate with that era of one of thrash’s most influential acts. Bishop’s drumming is solid, and the motoring bass of Ethan Gensurowsky is audible throughout making most tracks feel tight and complete.
This is a thrash album I want to revisit as soon as it has finished because it heightens my mood superbly. There are bits of old-school thrash worship in here that can become exhausting perhaps for some, but I do not mind them at all. As a result of them I have so many reminders of albums and tracks by some of my favourite artists it is hard not to be impressed by the authenticity of Enforced.
*I will note for anyone planning to check out this album that something goes wrong around a minute and thirty seconds into the first track where the whole track just becomes muffled. This is the digital version I am listening to, so quality is by no means assured but this really throws me off course for a good few seconds before the sound somehow corrects itself.
Genres: Thrash Metal
Despite a poor start, Es grauet is an interesting and varied record, certainly within the boundaries of black metal. The less-than-ideal opening to the album just seems to be a poorly framed intro that is perhaps essential to the concept but does appear to set off on a rampant and melodic tone that then seems to be reset ahead of the first track (proper) only to soon start all over again.
In what I can only describe as a mix of folk-influenced black metal coupled with some traditional metal elements not unlike Malokarpatan (for example), Es grauet is the third full-length album from the Swiss duo. Deploying a range of conventional metal instruments alongside accordions, yodelling and a cello sounds like a recipe for disaster I grant you, however the dramatic yet never over the top vocal performance actually increases the entertainment value and underlines the conceptual value of the album perfectly. These “zany” elements all combine to deliver a lush sense of theatre without the album slipping into amateur-dramatics territory.
The overtly warm production values accentuate the story telling elements superbly and the instrumentation is dynamic when it comes to adding to the emotion, drama or atmosphere of key parts of the record. Granted, you are talking a good few listens before all of this truly clicks – certainly I am at listen number 7 or 8 as I write this review and Es grauet is anything but immediate. However, what it lacks in initial accessibility it more than makes up for in terms of the reward for the effort of spending quality time with it. There is no denying that even in the acoustic moments the energy level is a high still as the levels of enchantment in such passages.
As with all concept albums (or at least my experience of most) things do feel a little bit clunky in terms of the overall composition and given that I have no idea what the story is the sense of being a bit lost does occur more than once. That being said I can more than forgive this when I look at the quality of the album overall and I will admit to now needing to place this higher in my AOTY list for black metal than I first expected it to be located. It is as eccentric as the album artwork suggests it will be, yet it is also equally as colourful as Robbie C. Ward's painting hints it as being.
Genres: Black Metal
The ability to transcend traditional black metal borders into doom metal (or transcend traditional doom metal borders into black metal as it may just as well be) is still fascinating a concept for me. Since discovering Yith this past year and becoming instantly enchanted with his genre-crossing exploits I have frequently thought how odd it is that I had never even considered blackened doom to be a thing given how well the two genres seem to fit together. Part of the allure here is the ability for melancholy and sorrow to take many auditory forms. The dirge of doom metal makes for a protracted expression of such emotions whereas black metal's wailing tremolos can just as easily turn these feelings into a more confused and angry sounding response.
I think what Yith does best is balance the two styles perfectly so that regardless of the track you are listening to the consistent theme of the album is obvious without becoming overbearing. The repetitive elements of both genres also play to the strength of this emotional recoil also only here you get double your money as the choice is available to sample that repetition under varied pacing and tempos. Passage is a crushing experience without ever being overly reliant on the weight of the doom aspects of the instrumentation alone. It feels like an album with a depth of intensity that outweighs the sum weight of its more monolithic tendencies. With a fair old smattering of atmospheric black metal it is not long before I find myself with a choice of fathomless pits to hurl myself down to experience a particularly acute sense of darkness.
As a largely non-fan of doom beyond death-doom and the occasional sludge record this mixture bodes well in terms of me thinking that I have found an artist with a solid understanding of black metal as it is still this part of the equation that I find strongest; almost like the doom is asked to fit around the blackened core as opposed to the other way around. Comparisons with Mizmor are inevitable (Liam Neighbors was my vehicle to getting here folks) but I think by way of that comparison, Passage feels a lot more toned down on both key elements than Cairn was. If I had to make any criticism then it would be that it is a tad samey across the album but as I keep reminding you, there's a heavy doom influence here so at the end of the day, what do I fucking expect?
Genres: Black Metal Doom Metal
Falling into the bracket of melodic black metal occupied by the likes of Mgla, the sound of Spectral Lore has more depth than their Polish counterparts. The Canadians deploy a Behexen-like fury to their pace and tempos which makes for a strangely accessible yet equally frantic experience. Whilst I do not disagree that large parts of the record sound like they are the same ideas regurgitated and repeated, at the same time I do think that when you do maintain that same level of polish and quality to proceedings then some repetition is more than acceptable.
Setting their stall out early on, Spectral Wound slash open the melody wound from the off with the domineering Imperial Saison Noire which is as solid an album opener as you could wish for. It marks the arrival of the album perfectly, sets the pace nicely and whets the appetite immediately for more. This is black metal played with such a high level of fervid and dogged determination that I cannot help but be captivated from the off. To a large extent, I don't care if the album fails to vary all that much; when the output is this good why fix what ain't broken?
The sense of urgency and desperation in the song writing and pacing is positively tactile. Wave after wave of melodic and powerful riffs crash into the listener and still maintain those cold and harsh edges to them at the same time. Tracks such as Mausoleal Drift sound every bit as dank and doom-laden as the title suggests but it all comes to you so effortlessly as you listen, there's no need for any searching or lifting layers here to get to the detail, it is all laid bare for you in all its naked glory.
Genres: Black Metal
As mentioned elsewhere on here, Saxon hold a particular place of nostalgia in my heart for being the first band I ever played (but didn't own at the time) on vinyl. I am almost duty-bound to check out most of what they put out even though it usually means some level of disappointment on some of their modern output. However, like pretty much everyone else who has reviewed this so far I was caught off-guard by how good Thunderbolt is. It sounds like a band that are younger than he actual age of the participants yet at the same time exudes a level of confidence that only comes with years of experience.
The main things about this album are the consistency of the energy levels and quality of the tracks on offer. Riffs race across the record as the rhythm section maintains a pace of bash and rumble that allows for a bit of flair from the strings; the lead work being of particular note here. Quinn and Scarratt are on fire here and Glockler sounds equally imperious on the drum kit. Biff's trademark nasal vocals are distinct and almost haughty on the symphonic majesty of Nosferatu (my album highlight) and yet still have that down-to-earth twang and inflection to certain words that sound like a northerner trying to sound more eloquent than their accent permits.
I will not pretend to love all of the album, They Played Rock And Roll does not work for me as a tribute. Not that I expect lyrical genius in all honesty but the lyrics here sound naive and clumsy with the Lemmy excerpt not really ringing as authentic and nostalgic as perhaps intended. But you cannot deny the rampant battering of Predator even though the vocal effects get a little OTT for my liking, but where the majority of the quibbles arise on this record there usually is something of a much better quality not too far away.
Put Thunderbolt on for anyone just getting into heavy metal and they will lap it up. At the same time it is fully rounded enough of an album to please the more established metalhead and even raise a few eyebrows along the way.
Genres: Heavy Metal
In over six years of listening to The Dreaming I, on a near 3 monthly rotational basis, I still have to say it is one of the most impenetrable releases to grace my vinyl shelves. That having been said, it is one of the few records I can truly connect with on a spiritual level and truly feel metaphysically cleansed after listening to it. Ahead of me furthering my progress in the Modern Era challenge for the North Clan, I cannot think of a better example of modern black metal than Naas Alcameth’s 2015 release. It delivers a unique take on atmospheric black metal using a terrifying transcendence whilst at the same time offering of level of harsh and conventional black metal that is pitiless and monstrous in equal amounts.
The debut release under the Akhlys name (Supplication) was dark ambient affair – which I haven’t listened to in all honesty – and these elements are deployed here to great effect here on the sophomore which ramped up the black metal significantly. As such, you must wait for things to get going on The Dreaming I as cavernous depths are forged by the atmospherics that kick off most tracks. This can be a distraction for some but for me personally it lets me connect with the record, allowing me to sink to the depths where the main events take place and feel its stifling and fetid air against my skin. I am not a deeply spiritual person by any means, but I can truly switch off from the world around me when I listen to this album. Time ceases to be relevant, distractions become nigh on impossible and the ability to touch and sense the horrific, cloying, oozing mass that the record seems to grow in the palms of my hands is strangely soothing.
I think I notice something new with every venture into The Dreaming I (which I guess is the point). The wall of noise that greets the listener on most tracks needs taking apart slowly, blood red brick by blood red brick in order to start to comprehend the true mastery at play across these five tracks. Melodies undulate and stab into proceedings from behind the slabs of tremolos, like shrill screams at times they soar and elevate everything around them to ghastly heights of unworldly etherealness, whilst never allowing the coarse and crude darkness to release its grip overall. The bass seeps in, sloth-like at times, maintaining a subtle yet still somehow malignant presence. My only criticism of the instrumentation is that in the cacophonous fury of the mix the drums are a tad lost in places – namely on the opening track, whilst on other occasions they are clearly audible and making a definite contribution.
This inconsistency in the drums stops this album from achieving full marks, yet still this remains one of my standout records from the last decade. I do not always get on with everything Naas Alcameth records (or allegedly says), but The Dreaming I remains a pinnacle of success in terms of his output. Melinoë, from 2020 actually out does its predecessor but that is already noted by me elsewhere on MA.
Genres: Black Metal
I picked up Ordinance from a recommendation thread on another site, from a black metal fan who likes the simpler things in life. No progressive wankery here folks just straight up raging black metal with approx. zero fucks to give is the order of my newfound forum acquaintance. This penchant for no frills bm is certainly the main feature of these Finn’s sound as they rattle through seven tracks of consistent and authentic black metal exemplifying the primitive and grim nature of the genre superbly.
Except, there is more to In Purge… than initially meets the eye and you do not have to search that hard to find it. If you listen quite near to the surface, you will hear elements of traditional metal bubbling up through the depths of belligerent black metal that is the overwhelming impression the album initially gives. Gathering Wraiths is a perfect example of this, giving a rear-guard to the frontline assault of the more conventional black metal.
Throughout In Purge… you will hear Darkthrone (find me a modern bm record that does not seep this influence in at some point) but there are nods here to Immortal as well as a million other acts both historic and modern. The album is still a journey though, it just happens to be one that isn’t too big on rest breaks. It has the ethic of a black ‘n roll record without the ‘n roll part (although it does touch upon this sub-genre more than once). There is no attempt here to generate dense atmospheres, instead the album relies on nothing more than the dirty and formidable momentum of the music to create a level of cruelty almost organically.
As a fan who enjoys a bit of variety in their metal menu there is a lot to be said for a conventional black metal album that draws me into a physical purchase (CD arrived this past week) after just a couple of listens on the internet. I do not even think that the band are that unapologetic of their delivery, more that this style just comes so naturally to them there is an almost sub-conscious intolerance for any requirement to step out of this norm.
Straight up black metal for fans of black metal who like most black metal out there but occasionally just needs a palate cleanser to refresh the tastebuds with some kvlt bm.
Genres: Black Metal
The variety of the black metal genre is dizzying to say the least. However, whether it is the nihilistic fury of the genre in its conventional form or the catchy infusion of rock in black ‘n roll that floats your boat, any variance on the central theme of black metal for me can only be deemed successful if it retains that “spine” as the core of what it does. Atmospheric black metal has an obviously well-established presence in music already. With bands like Drudkh creating earthy and organic outputs under the sub-genre alongside more cosmic creations from the likes of Darkspace also occupying the same space. The infusion with the niche is also a recognised branch with artists such as Summoning taking a more symphonic approach to their version of atmo-black.
In the case of WITTR, we are on the more earthy side of proceedings, not in a foul or uncouth sense of the word though, more in the meaning that this sound close to nature. For clarity though, this feeling of proximity to nature does not rely on any samples of running water or birdsong. What we get here is all done using balance, repetition and consistency that breeds a real sense of evolution in each song.
Two Hunters has not been an instant connection for me by any means. As I write this review, I am about five listens in this time around and have previously tried to connect with the record on numerous different occasions over the past decade or so. What is obvious to me from these repeated visits, is that this is a record that rewards quality time spent with it. It is an album that is not written to grab the attention in a gawdy manner. I would go as far as to say that any attempt by me to do anything else other than sit in front of the speakers for a good few listen throughs of this would be futile. The beauty within the record lies within its simplicity and subtle variations (not all of which work, more on that shortly) in pace, atmosphere and direction. There is a steadfastness to Two Hunters that makes it the success that it is, coming across as an album written to be exactly what the artist wanted it to be as opposed to being composed with any appeal-factor considered.
Now, it does not always work for me in terms of them getting the balance correct. Jessika Kenney’s ethereal vocals are haunting and moving I agree, and their inclusion is a positive here, but I do not think they are positioned quite correctly on the beginning of Cleansing. I get the feeling that they could have layered the tempo change better with a better use of build as opposed to the hasty sounding interruption of the guitar which destroys the mood that has been so beautifully built by those clean vocals.
That is my only criticism though. In a life were time to sit down and enjoy a record seems increasingly stretched it is always endearing to find an album that can provide such immediate gratuity for you spending a shade over forty-five minutes of your day with it. Going back to my opening paragraph on this review, the sound of WITTR is obviously routed in black metal and it relies on little variation from that conventional sound, using mood superbly to deliver an authentic and textured listening experience.
Genres: Black Metal
As with a few thrash/death albums at the time, Into the Macabre suffers from terrible production. This is apparent from the start (proper) of the opening track. In some regards this adds to the charm and appeal of the music, in others it also fails to showcase the full potential of the band. The rabid riffs and face-searing intensity of the music overall sounds badly muffled. Whilst it does add to the “necro” and “macabre” traits of the act and album title respectively it does at the same time make things sound really rushed or hastily recorded (no doubt on a tight studio timeline).
In terms of death/thrash for the time though, Necrodeath can almost put no foot wrong. We did not really know any different back in 1987, did we? We had had Seven Churches from Possessed, the clumsy yet unquestionably authentic debut from Sepultura and were yet to experience a full length from Protector. The vocal comparisons to Millie from Kreator are inevitable of course so let us get them out of the way early on here. Ingo’s grim, blackened delivery has less high-end range than the Kreator frontman’s does and to that end the whole sound of the vocals makes them sound eviller than Mille’s. Against the backdrop of those (murky) thumping drums and raging riffs they are a perfect accompaniment and should be viewed beyond just being Kreator clones.
Even with the less-than-ideal production job you can hear the quality of the bands thrash metal. It is a raging torrent of maniacal and violent thrash metal that was to be championed by the likes of Sadus and Demolition Hammer that uses death metal sonics and leads (and occasionally vocals) to add an extra edge of extremity to proceedings. There is no let-up in the intensity, not even once. When the band do drop into a slower pace or tempo, they deploy atmospheric menace to great effect. As such it is an album that demands your attention and can therefore clearly live beyond whatever horrors got done to things at the mixing desk. In a way it is an album that demands your attention in a way were it almost seems to recognise it is trapped under ice somewhat on the sound stakes but doesn’t give a fuck anyway and can still get your attention regardless.
Genres: Thrash Metal
Once more unto the breach as I take on my second Oranssi Pazuzu full-length. The first foray into their discography saw a shiny gatefold vinyl copy of Mestarin Kynsi arrive in the post such was my level of enjoyment from it. On the basis of that experience I approached this record thinking I knew what to expect having digested the aforementioned release over many sittings. Although probably near impossible to predict let alone map, an Oranssi Pazuzu record does come with some discernible traits. Chaotic yet progressive structures, scathing black metal assaults and dense atmospherics, drenched in waves of psychedelic hysteria and near cosmic lengths of reach. All of these are present virtually on track one on Värähtelijä.
There's nothing pretty about anything OP have done (I suspect - yet to experience all of their discography). Their 2016 album is absolutely terrifying yet immensely impressive at the same time. Throughout its seven tracks there is an ominous sense of being lulled into a false sense of security by the calmer, more organised passages that crackle with the tension that comes with knowing that an imminent disruption to this equilibrium is due. Things never feel settled on this record and that makes for a unique listening experience. As such, it is an album that bristles with tautness bordering on sheer panic. Sometimes the follow through of that threat never comes within the track that it starts to build in, instead you find yourself peering at the counter to see if a particular track has gone away or if the same one has taken some unearthly shift and you are yet to be hit with the next disorientating impact.
You can almost be forgiven for thinking that at times, two different tracks are playing. Like when you are streaming music and accidentally start an album on YouTube through the same audio source. This is the real clever bit as since the album overall has minimal direct black metal links, the ethos of the harsh and scathing nature of the genre is substituted by the band deploying the psychedelic sounds as direct contrast to rhythms or tempos to develop this sense of opposing forces or interests. The wavering sounds of a keening organ-like effect throughout the title track is a mesmerising example of this. What starts off as playing like some dark soundtrack to some Scandanavian detective drama soon takes on a real otherworldly slant. Likewise, the stabbing strings of Hypnotisoitu viharukous invoke this same sense of distraction from core elements of the track to offer unique contrast.
When in full on riff mode, the band are slapping Opeth-esque licks on the table like playing cards in a hi-stakes game of poker. Although they play their cards close to their chests for the most part of each track, I would suggest that the crippling combinations that (somehow) form such inspiring structures are down to one or two cards up their sleeves also.
Two records into the discography and I am completely sold on Oranssi Pazuzu. Their brand of psychadelic black metal with progressive influences is perhaps a genre all by itself, but wherever your genre boundaries land on this one it is still one of the best records to come out of Finland in the last decade, indeed maybe even out of Europe as a whole.
Genres: Black Metal
The levels of hope and positivity in many power metal bands' sound can be the difference between me turning off a record or sitting through the entire length. Many bands fail to live up to the "power" promised by the genre tag and as is already documented by myself here I fail to get along with most of what I hear within the boundaries of such music. It was with the same amount of trepidation that I approached Apex having heard very little of the band to understand whether or not I was going to be coming away from the venture with that bitter taste on my tongue again.
What is clear from the off is that there's an energy to UtA that more or less from the first track left me in no doubt that I was going to enjoy this album. This wicked blend of devilish lead work coupled with solid riffing and equally assured percussion remedied any fears that I had coming into my opening few sessions of listening to it. When you add into the mix the fact that the vocalist is capable of applying her voice to control perfectly the pace of both individual tracks and the album as a whole then you know you are onto a winner. Brittney has a real knack for leaping up a couple of notches on the intensity and key of her voice to drive a track further along its usually epic trajectory, keeping the vocals firmly in the driving seat alongside two clearly very talented and hungry sounding guitarists. Above everything I hear on the record it is her vocals that I take away as the main memory of the album. What is even more impressive is that there's none of that shrieking and piercing bollocks that goes on with most of her female and (more so) male contemporaries which just shows the confidence she has in her own ability and how that fits in perfectly with the rest of the band also.
On the flip side of the otherwise perfect vocals of Brittney, there's the really annoying attempts of growls from Grant which are at times laughable. Coming off as more of a hiss than any real growl of substance, they just add a comedy element where I expect they had been intended to add some real menace and threat. They are the one thing that kept this album from full marks in all honesty and I am genuinely so annoyed with them it is untrue.
Getting back to the positive vibes though, what UtA do over the ten tracks that make up Apex is balance the catchiness with the detail that the more learned power metal fan would enjoy. For all the memorability of The Matriarch there's heaps of fantastical lyrical content and storytelling to encourage you to get under the skin of those big feisty riffs and track the storyline of the album further. This leads me to that fucking superb artwork of course which is "The Immortal" - the main character of the album asleep on one of his 1,000 year slumbers. If ever an album had artwork that matched the quality of the contents inside it is Apex. In researching this review I read an interview with the headline of "Unleash the Archers: Escapism Without Regrets" which I think is a perfect summary of just how entertaining this band are beyond just the sheer capability of the artists involved, they have clearly poured themselves into this record and the thought and effort in song writing, composition and arrangement shines across this record.
I leave this record each time feeling thoroughly entertained. Feeling like I have rediscovered my mojo for the enchanted legends and the fantastical landscapes in which they take place. An immensely uplifting record and one that is going on the vinyl purchase list.
Genres: Power Metal
Hailing from Germany, Kanonenfieber (cannon-fever) have released a debut album that covers the expanses of both black metal and death metal over nine World War 1 themed tracks. The album was made to commemorate the countless victims of WWI and uses reports, documents and letters from the war to give real authenticity to the recordings. You get spoken word extracts from broadcasts at the time and also the artwork is an anti-war poster by Mihály Biró considered the founder of political poster art, so there really has been a conscious effort here to explore the subject matter of the album in as much detail as possible.
In terms of musical content you get hateful black metal vocals (which are all the more enhanced by being done in German which just adds perfect edge to them), interwoven with harsh blackened death metal that is used really well to ramp up the pace and add further intensity to tracks. There's even an acoustic, folk number at the end sang in a clean yet benign and resigned tone that really underlines the futility of the war. The artist/s (there's no much info on who the band are or how many of them there are in the band) uses the sounds of the battlefield to good effect without giving the feel that this is some Marduk record and they use pace really well with most tracks having some genuine traditional/heavy metal moments.
When you are dealing with such a sensitive subject matter that has been done to death many times before (Hail of Bullets and 1914 I am looking at you) it is easy to fall into some niche metal marketplace, but Kanonenfieber are too smart with their content. They reflect the controlled chaos of war in their song writing and structures. The superb pace change in Grabenlieder where they use gunfire to bring in the death metal part of the song is superbly timed. They even have some sense of melo-death to Grabenkampf as it plays out from within an almost doom style structure.
I literally stumbled across this album on Instagram when one of the journo's I follow there shared the cover on Bandcamp Friday and I have since gone and purchased the CD and t-shirt from the record label Bandcamp page. One of my neatest finds of 2021 thus far.
Genres: Black Metal Death 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
Blackened death/doom? Sort of like a more deathy Samael/Varathron-paced black metal album? It is hard to explain Christ Agony's sound to the layman as there are few like them in the world of metal, certainly around in 1993 anyways. For a (then) three piece they made a big noise, full of crunching riffs and spewing vocals. Granted it is lyrically naive but overall still offers something new and different nearly twenty years on.
What's that? Never heard of Christ Agony? Me neither until finding them here in the dusty archives of the "c" section under "Bands". Turns out they are Polish and have a lengthy career of some three decades (albeit on and off). Unholyunion was their debut after a couple of demo releases from 1990 onward and the band found a home on Carnage Records for their debut full-length.
Straight away something is different to your normal bm record. There's only four tracks, ranging from ten to fifteen minutes in duration and there's bone crunching riffs like on an Asphyx record. The pace varies as well so it is not all one-dimensional slow and laboured riffing, there's blast beats to contend with her also to liven things up. There's atmospheric passages to invoke a bit of drama and menace where necessary that give tracks some real sense of depth and density.
It is hard to get too lost in it though because it is only four tracks and the track lengths all could do with a trim and they lack enough variation for the track lengths to make them really interesting. The pace never gets down to blackened drone/doom/death proportions but the track lengths could have you think the prospect is there. Vocally it is a bit guilty of some immaturity with a couple of parts were the word "Satan" gets growled ever few bars or so and it just feels amateur even for 1993. Although not a bad record there was definitely room for improvement.
Genres: Black 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