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
An injustice has been addressed during the writing of this review. Namely that I had paid so little attention to Paysage d'Hiver that I genuinely thought they only had one release (their brilliant self-titled) and their latest offering in 2020 to their name. A quick look on a wonderful new invention called "The Internet" soon revealed the monstrous levels of my ignorance and has now led me to the discography of one of my emerging favourite artists.
For anyone else existing in ignorance, Paysage d'Hiver is Tobias Möckl from Darkspace (where he is better known as Wroth on vocals and guitar). Paysage d'Hiver is his solo project harking back to prior the existence of Darkspace where he goes by the title of Wintherr, performing all instruments and vocals himself. The concept (literally) of his releases are that all of them form one big story, not always in linear narrative, with whole demos/EP's or sometimes individual songs making up parts of that story. The vastness of aforementioned story should not be underestimated as there are ten demos and (as of this year) one full-length that comprise this tale. And there's more to come.
I am quite partial to a bit of Darkspace and Tobias' influence on that band is never made more obvious than when listening to his solo outings. The sound is a dense and turgid mix of raging black metal, replete with blast beats and tremolos galore; yet also there is often atmospheric and ambient passages (sometimes whole tracks) that balance a very varied and intense offering like Schattengang. Track number two on here goes through various shifts and turns during the twenty-plus minutes that it stretches over, but never once does it get lost or boring. This is especially true when you have the knowledge around the story-telling aspect of what Tobias is trying to achieve here and the real neat trick is trying to place the events of Schattengang in the bigger picture.
For a second release that is now some twenty-two years old, this is strong stuff. The songwriting prowess is already very well established and the vision to be able to write such expansive and vast narrative whilst holding the listener captivated is nothing short of brilliant. The soothing and bleak ambience of the track that close this release (I have the three track version), Atmosphäre massages my actual brain as I listen to it. With my eyes closed it is almost trance inducing, feeling the rotation of the world type stuff. What a great discovery.
Genres: Black Metal
An album that I don't think I have ever (or will ever) fully fathom, Nespithe is certainly unique in both sound and delivery. From a vocal perspective it is indecipherable, genuinely sounding like the vocalist is so low that the sound must be resonating off the very walls of his own bowels. Although you cannot get away from them being the focal (or vocal point - get it?) point of the album they are but one piece of a very strange puzzle.
The whole album appears to lurch and flounder to me. That's not say it is out of control in anyway though, it just feels barely controlled, like the band have unleashed something that even they were not expecting on the world and aren't really sure what it is going to do next. Even for the more avant-garde side of DM there's some elements here that conjure up more than a few curved balls.
Tracks seem to veer and swerve a lot of the time and (again - not necessarily a bad thing) this has me constantly trying to ground everything and play catch up after what feels like multiple reset buttons have been pressed. In my day job I have to work with a lot of complex equations and sums and Nespithe feels like it is one that has multiple variances on how the total can be reached, like it needs looking at from different approaches and I am still never sure how I got to that figure. It's mathematical genuis is fascinating, like it sees things from angles that I cannot.
The ability of the muscians involved can't be questioned as they deliver a demanding yet clean and competent performance. I have no doubt that the challenges that I have with this record are with me and not the actual band/album. Sonics dive in and out of tracks like swopping songbirds, emitting some cosmic chirping that bends the very air around it. The drummer surely has more than two arms in order to be able to map the rhythm of such complex structures and the audibility of the bass at all times is a rare trait in death metal. You have to work to get all this though, there's no "background music" here folks, this is stuff that demands your attention. You have to listen to the detail to even begin to understand the bigger picture and that may be a bit too much for some death metal fans.
For a band with such a small amount of recorded output, Nespithe is a standout release not just in the discography of Demilich but it is also a very big flux in the biological mass of death metal as a whole. Take a shower in its madness whilst you try and figure it out.
Genres: Death Metal
I am quite particular about my power metal. I don't profess to be a big fan of it as a sub-genre by any means but I do know what I like and have found there to be a reasonably short list of preferred releases to revisit once I had gone through large amounts of pompous and overly grandiose nonsense to be honest. Blind Guardian actually are responsible for my favourite power metal album ever with their 1995 release Imaginations From The Otherside sitting top of my pile (well, more likely a slight bump) of such records. There are other releases that I have time for in their discography such as At The Edge of Time and Nightfall In Middle Earth which both have their moments but don't quite offer complete experiences.
Strangely enough I hadn't ventured much earlier than 1995 into their discography (given my general distaste for their latter day material, going back seems such a logical direction for me in terms of expansion of my knowledge and experience of the back-catalogue) so their 1992 effort, Somewhere Far Beyond was not familiar to me until this week. The first thing to mention sounds obvious to state, but this album is so very clearly a Blind Guardian record. Their trademark fluent and skillful musicianship shines through from the very start of the record along with their mastery of writing memorable and absorbing songs that take the listener on a journey.
The arrangement too is well calculated, structured to present a narrative of time travelling bards coming together to tell their stories as depicted on the grand and rather colourful artowrk that adorns the front cover of the release. As you move through the album track by track the dashes of brilliance that were to become virtually omnipresent on the follow up album leap out like sun flares, scorching the ether around the album, burning with the promise of what we know is to come in three years time.
As a result, despite these moments described above, the album doesn't feel complete. Perhaps if I had waited and listened to this record before Imaginations... I might have been more enamoured with it as a whole. In comparison it feels hindered somewhat and I find myself willing a bit more quality to ooze out of it that in reality was yet to be learned by this point in their careers. I found the 2007 remastered version to be entertaining enough still with the couple of demos/alternat versions of songs added on to the end. As a standalone album this is a great example of how Power Metal should be done, my messy timeline aside it probably does desrve a higher rating than the number of stars I have awarded.
Genres: Power Metal
For the first few seconds of the opening track of this album I was struggling to see how this had anything to do with Death Metal. Having heard only black metal style vocals over poppy guitar work, I am still no nearer if I am honest. The internet tells me that this is Symphonic Death Metal. I don't believe everything I read on the internet for a reason.
There's no power behind much of anything on display here and so I am left to hope that some catchy songwriting or sonic wizardry is awaiting me over the coming tracks. It isn't though! The tempo and structure suggests that this could be a folk metal album, except they forgot to write any actual folk parts to any of the tracks. As a result it just sounds like overtly jolly heavy metal with a black metal vocalist who has no friends who like black metal so he's had to join any band he can find.
If I am forcing myself to find any positives and not just look like a miserable bastard then I would say that the lead work is of actual note and clearly the work of an adept guitarist. The rest of I found a real struggle to get through with no spark or even palatable consistency to cling to I do confess to hitting the skip button more than once in search of something of interest.
The lyrics to track number three Sleeping Stars sum up the experience perfectly for me:
"Suddenly I feel a
warmth go through my body,
but I feel that a
part of me has died."
The "warmth" might have been wind though.
Genres: Death Metal Power Metal
More than a little reminiscent of early Opeth, fellow Swedes Edge of Sanity where a late 80's/early 90's progressive death metal band. They released eight albums before finally calling it a day in 2003 (after previously doing so in 1999). As I have already alluded to, the likeness to the sound of their countrymen is hard to ignore. It is not that one band copied the other I suspect. Sweden just clearly had a plethora of talented progressive metal heads throughout the 90's and they couldn't possibly all fit into one band.
Crimson actually is one song album split into parts depending on what version you look at. A one song album in 1996 was a bold and brave move but the fact that Dan Swanö's name is on the liner notes should tell you all you need to know. As with most things he touches Crimson is ambitious to say the least but is backed up by deft playing and clever songwriting. The progression on here is well measured, tempered almost to maximise the enjoyment. Considering it is just one song the record never gets boring as it changes pace and tempo well during its expansion over forty minutes.
It requires a close ear to be given to it in order to truly appreciate the vast and intricate nature of the entire offering. But anytime spent with this record is time well spent. It will take you through death, progressive and at times gothic elements of metal and blend all of the styles together with a real deftness. To date it is the only release from the band that I have sought out to listen to and such is my satisfaction with it I have not yet felt the need to venture further into their back catalogue. I really can't recommend this enough.
Genres: Death Metal Progressive Metal
Enter the avant-garde, bass twanging, bone-jarring branch of Gorguts that seems to cause equal amounts of praise and revulsion across the death metal fan base. I sit firmly in the praise camp. Not that I don't get the challenges that people have with this directional shift from the bands previous releases (all respectable enough DM records), but for me what impresses me the most about Obscura is the sheer range and scope of the album. It isn't perfect by any means but, as per my love of Colored Sands this record likewise retains death metal as its core source, despite the multi-layered influences on display here Obscura does still come across as a raging death metal record full of energy and rampant angst.
Lemay's trademark demented shriek accompanies the instrumentation perfectly. I find the music twists and contorts perfectly throughout, taking the listener on a real journey. The only real downside to that journey perhaps is the length of it. Clocking in at an hour in duration, the record does meander a bit unfortunately. Although it is stylistically refreshing it is not controlled enough in its delivery to be able to sustain a presence for such a long period of time. To compare it with the aforementioned Colored Sands is a fair contrast really as the latter album absolutely nails the delivery of the avant-garde/experimental aspect by integrating it into the overall sound better, even though the run time is more or less the same the 2013 album feels more palatable.
From reading the criticism of Obscura there's definitely a feeling of the album being something that is done to the fans as opposed to being something they feel is introduced to them. As full on as it is, the record is still fun and an entertaining enough curved ball.
Genres: Avant-Garde Metal Death Metal
Albums grow on you for different reasons. As an avid fan of most of Death's earlier releases I didn't find the same levels of entertainment in much of anything after Spiritual Healing. Whilst I could more than see the talent and skill involved in the direction that Chuck was taking Death's sound, progressive elements of metal have only recently become of interest to me - over the last 12 months say - so for a number of years the majority of the bands later releases gathered some dust on my shelves. I now find myself oddly in the reverse mindset where I prefer the later output to the initial three releases. For me The Sound of Perseverance is the crowning glory in this more progressive style of death metal, largely because the whole thing just feels so natural and effortless.
Oddly for death metal, there are lots of feel good vibes for me on this record. The chords sound more open but the riffs are just as cutting as you would expect from one of the founding fathers of death metal. Whilst obvious, the time changes are not intrusive and feel clean and polished. Again these are traits i would not attribute to me gleaning enjoyment from in terms of my more extreme tastes but they work so well with the confidence and aptitude of Schuldiner, Hamm, Clendenin and Christy.
The band sound like they enjoyed making the record, such is the warm feel to proceedings. They almost tease the listener during Story To Tell, with their stop/start playing leaving you wondering if the track is over or whether another time change is due. There's an accessibility to proceedings that is reminiscent of almost rock music proportions, only Chuck's grim vocals and the chugging riff passages keep you of the understanding this is still a death metal record at its core. The creepy atmospheric bass and guitar interlude during Flesh and The Power it Holds also adds the necessary levels of menace you'd expect.
In terms of criticisms (what is keeping that half star off the score) I have two. Firstly, the cover of Priest's Painkiller is both out of place in the greater context of the album and also not a very good cover either. Secondly, the album is a tad too long with the cover on here. In terms of flow it is all mapped out superbly as an album but it just falls at the end unfortunately.
Genres: Death Metal
My melodic death metal tastes aren't really that wide in scope as I tend to dwell in the more extreme end of my tastes in death metal generally. Without wishing to generalise too much I find most bands that fall under this sub-genre to be underwhelming. Why would I want my death metal to be melodic, ergo more accessible is the question that has remained largely unanswered for the past 30 or so years of listening to metal. Dark Tranquillity were still a new band for me until today, but sadly they have brought little in the way of reasoning for my opinion of the melodic side of death metal to change much.
I mean it is very melodic, don't get me wrong. There's keyboards galore on display as well as melodious guitar parts, but none of it sticks with me. The riffs feel aggressive enough but they don't really set anything on fire for me and so come off as being restrained or blunted somehow. Stanne's vocals aren't awful by any means but just come across to my ears as being very generic ad tired sounding.
The album seems to go on and on as a result of my struggles it seems with only really track twelve standing out as the album closes with it's adept instrumentation bringing a memorable ending to proceedings. Again, I don't report that the band are doing anything wrong here, I know that the issue lies more so with me than anything they are trying to achieve. To a convert of the melodic death metal sound it probably will have more stars against it's name. I however struggle to give much of anything to the release.
Genres: Death Metal
As intros to death metal go, mine wasn’t too shabby. I bought “Slowly We Rot” blind, in the days of (me) having no internet and just a sick logo and equally sick artwork to tickle my pubescent fancy! I had never even heard any death metal at that point but I instantly loved every fucking minute of this record.
I had to play it at my grandparents house and luckily my grandad had a great stereo set up. When he first heard the record he though he had something wrong with his equipment. I had to convince him for a good few minutes that it was supposed to sound like that.
I was instantly enthralled by Tardy’s vocal style and remember thinking how insane it was that a human could make such a noise. It was like a dumped high school girl puking and sobbing her hatred for boys out with only the occasional word actually audible through all the hatred and vitriol.
The atmosphere on the record scared the shite out of me, like some soundtrack to some mind bending horror film. The record plays like a writhing, shifting mass of fetid, acrid evil just toying with the listener and taking great pleasure in doing so. The riffs on here are fucking scathing too so any flesh left on your bones from the Tardy onslaught is soon detached once the riffs kick in. Peres and West made a great partnership, leaving as much of an impact with their six strings as Tardy did with his vocal chords.
Although end to end this is a thoroughly ferocious affair it does lose me sometimes, not necessarily out of complexity more out of if sounding a little samey in places. Still though this is a benchmark Death Metal album for me based on both nostalgia and the overall genre impact it had.
Regrettably I sold my vinyl copy of this record and now don’t even have it on stream but I can still recall every track and every terrifying Tardy howl.
Genres: Death Metal
Candlemass 2019 are epic. I mean in terms of the sound at least. This plays more like an epic heavy metal record as opposed to a doom record. Yeah, the heavy drudging riffs are still there but there's a real sense sword-wielding, bicep popping warriors flanked by women in metal underwear sat on spiky horses type fantasy. Opening track "Splendor Demon Majesty" is an unashamedly dark opener full of occult promise that pulls of a perfect balance of menacing worship of evil deities whilst also pacing superbly to open the album strongly. Even the most doomy tracks here are still laden with such vocal stylings. "Astorolus - the Great Octopus" (great fucking song title) is an obvious choice here, even given Iommi's input it still doesn't stray to far away from the epic nature the song title and feels well balanced. It rumbles and rolls like a great Octopus would do assisted by some superb lead work along the way that stab through the menacing atmosphere. Likewise, the gallop of "Death's Wheel" drops down in pace to doomy depths for the chorus to become one of the nearest experiences to the 1986 debut heard on here.
Let's be honest though folks, this isn't "Epicus..." part two. Not that anyone really wanted that though, right? On its own, "The Door to Doom" stands up as a fantastic record for a band who haven't released anything notable since "Tales of Creation". It is not that recognisable as a Candlemass record though which will no doubt get the diehards moaning into their retro flares and skull effect candlestick holders whilst crying into their earthen drinking vessels full of mead. The only real reminders on here of the doom relationship is the fact that the record on the whole reminds me of a much better version of "13". As I sit listening to "Black Trinity" I hear so much similarity to numerous tracks from Sabbath's last full length that I had to look twice in the instrumental parts to make sure I didn't the library on shuffle.
That withstanding, "House of Doom" is a superb doomy romp with monumental riffage and pace and horror themed synths to build the atmosphere to boot. This was on the the EP of the same name from last year and is probably may favourite track on here certainly in terms of its authenticity to the Candlemass sound of old, chiming church bells ringing to fade as the track closes. If anything the record gets doomier the final 2 tracks. Check out the riffs on "The Omega Circle" if you still need your bed wetting from some punishing doom metal before the band signs off on a job well done.
There is only really two criticisms I can level at the record, one being the utterly pointless filler of "Bridge of the Blind", a crap ballad dropped in after just 3 tracks of excellence is just out of place both in terms of the timing of its placement and the marked difference in pace from the rest of the album. Secondly, too many tracks start the same way. There's about 3 or 4 that start with some slow picked strings and Languist crooning as an introduction to the tracks proper. It just gets old after the second or third time even though on each occasion the track is soon hit by an epic riff or stomping pace change,
Sadly, if it wasn't for the shit ballad this album would have afforded a higher rating as it makes very few bad steps along it's length. Buy it for the love of metal though, not just because it's Candlemass.
Genres: Doom Metal
Death/Thrash or Thrash/Death? Does it really matter? Whichever style you believe has most traction in the calculated attack of Opprobrium (known as Incubus to the older audience), it certainly makes for an authentic and entertaining listen. For me the Thrash elements act like explosions of flavour, giving notes of energetic bitterness. The menacing death metal atmospheric dirge is still the more prominent factor in the sound but both elements are akin to some acceptable collaboration between the genres with neither one ever truly outweighing or outdoing the other. Like two warring factions have decided to call it quits and just try and get along as best they can!
The authenticity comes from that sound on the production that gives the impression that this was recorded in someone’s garage, yet the quality of the songwriting leaves the listener with structures that suggest it may have been planned in the office of an architect.
This is the kind of album that makes a consistent entry on thousands of music blogs about “Underrated/Unsung Classics” from the 90s. And the majority of those bloggers are right. There’s nothing here that is any dramatic step down from the nefarious and menacing death/thrash of “Seven Churches”. “Beyond...”punches well within its category but never quite reaches the furious delivery of Demoltion Hammer. The latter just works hard on the jab whilst “Beyond...” has a more varied sack of sucker punches that strike from behind its darker guard.
At just eight tracks, the sophomore release from these guys feels like a real clear cut, transparent statement of intent. Turn up, put it down and get it out there, and it is this immediacy of the record that really appeals. The band name may have changed but this album remains exactly as good as I remember it first time of listening.
Genres: Death Metal Thrash Metal
The debut full-length from Taake came at the arse-end of the second wave era of BM. By 1999 nobody was burning churches anymore, bands weren't killing each other's members and many stalwarts of the genre had already drifted to a more experimental sound. The success of 'Nattestid...' at first glance seems surprising, yet a couple of listens unearths an album built on a foundation of solid songwriting, supported by razor sharp steel riffage and decorated with a consistent theme permeated by some subtle yet lasting nuances to maintain its hellish Feng Shui.
For all the cold and scathing guitar here there's more than a fair share of melody, whether that is rooted in the viking style passages or just the more obvious folk leanings of the album. Whenever it is there, it seems effortlessly measured. It never takes the edge off the raw energy of the tremolo and nor does the cutting of the riffs blunt the impact of the more melodious elements. Throughout the album the bass and drums maintain a strong presence (especially on instrumental track, 'Vid IV ') and Hoest himself, shrieks and rasps along like some demented high priest undertaking some satanic and nefarious ritual. There is an edge to the guitar throughout more or less the entire record that sounds a little too hazy at times which I can only put down to the production job (yes I know it is a BM album, but nonetheless it remains my only gripe).
It is easy to see from the seven tracks on show here that Hoest's talent for accomplished and consummate songwriting was already well developed at this early stage of his career. Frostein's deft contributions on both drums and bass make these visions whole. Considering the two man line up it is an album that has a vastness in scope that belies the small number of contributors.
The menacing and creepy looking artwork on the album sums up the nightmarish soundscape inside perfectly. The minimal approach to the tracklisting earns kvlt/troo points by the bucket load.
Genres: Black Metal
A shuffle playlist in my hotel room this past week threw up 'Heresy' from this record and I have ended up playing the whole record through in my head before getting home and playing the CD. In the 90's this record occupied a near constant place in the top 4 of my 'most played', alongside 'Painkiller', 'Arise' and 'Seasons in the Abyss' it got span to death over nearly the whole decade. There was so much that appealed to my established taste at the time yet also equal amounts of new and enticing sounds to absorb, all delivered with a fervour and ferocity that was literally breathtaking. In so many ways, playing this for the first time was like listening to something that was nothing like anything I had heard before, yet at the same time there was enough reference points to breed the necessary amount of familiarity for me to engage with it instantly.
Although this does not retain the top slot in my favourite Pantera list, it holds enough nostalgia and tangible feelings still of the initial awe of the discovery to always have an important place in my evolution through the genre.
There has always been a real sense of cohesion to me about the sound of Pantera. They are like some well oiled machine with just enough AI in it's computer parts to deliver flare and panache instead of just routinely processing the same parts over and over again. Whether it is the shrill wailing of Anselmo, the chunky stick work of Vinnie, the rumbling current of Brown or the insane string wizardry of Dimebag you focus on, they are all there together as a unit. Yes, for me the overarching memory post-listen is those fucking riffs, but the structures they form part of are also key to their impact.
I enjoy the darker side of the album's sound. 'Medicine Man', 'Message in Blood' and 'The Sleep' stand out as a trio of tracks that add a real depth to an album that given its relentless approach could otherwise lose you towards the end. Pantera seem to "grow" with the progress of the record which is rare in most releases that have frequented my headphones since the 90s.
Does it stand up well as a singular release some 29 years later? Not quite for me, even with the memories these 12 tracks hold for me I can't avoid the need for a couple of tracks to be trimmed ('Heresy' and 'Shattered') to really cement five stars in the rating for this review.
Genres: Groove Metal
I am not a fan of compilations generally. I usually see them as opportunistic releases designed to boost the coffers of the associated record company who have been fortunate enough to scoop the demo recordings or greatest hits rights to a band's back catalogue. That withstanding, 'Amon: Feasting The Beast' actually has relevance beyond appealing to just the avid uber-fan of Deicide. It is a release that showcases the raw talent, energy and commitment of the band before they became the death metal household name we all recognise to be Deicide.
There's still some turkeys on here, the second attempt at 'Sacrificial Suicide' sounds like Benton has a lisp and is just ridiculous, for example. However, as a release of a piece of death metal history, 'Amon...' stands up well enough. It is hard to get too excited by it, likewise difficult to extend paragraphs enough to stretch to a full review of the release.
Genres: Death Metal
There are very few albums nowadays that I can recall track by track in my head. The fact that ‘Heartwork’ still plays through my memory some 26 years after I first heard it is testimony to it being a big part of my metal journey and also the catchy nature of the songwriting. I get that it is a departure from previous direction and that for many it was a step too far away from the more familiar sound of the band, but “Heartwork” was still a strong metal record and still recognisable as Carcass regardless.
My rating of 3.5 stars really only reflect my transition towards their earlier material as I have aged. “Heartwork” gets less rotation than “Symphonies...” or “Reek...” do, but at the same time will always have that element of nostalgia present to give it a solid rating. Whether it is the energetic start to the title track or the chop n chug of “No Love Lost” or even the spiralling maelstrom of “This Mortal Coil”, there’s still variety on this record.
As a melodic death metal album this just about has enough edge still to cut the mustard with my more extreme tastes. Often it gets criticised almost as an album that let the band down in some way, but I don’t think that is fair as it still stands up as a successful turn of direction for Carcass as well as being a defining record for the melodic death metal movement.
Genres: Death Metal
'Rituale Satanum' stands up as a glorious exploration of how true aggression can be ported onto an audible format with pure aplomb and genuine heartfelt hatred. Some of the riffs on show here are truly demonic and when coupled with those rasping and harsh vocals make for great effect on one of BM's most under-rated releases. The melodic elements whilst not always as obvious to the ear are there in the background like some dark, melancholic tidal current that churns up sightless, shrieking beasts in it's waves.
From the menacing spoken word to 'Intro (The Summoning)' we are instantly into the scathing guitar that opens 'Sota valon jumalaa vastaan" which straight up lashes away at the listener for its entire duration. 'Night of the Blasphemy', whilst no less intense in the delivery, offers that melodic element to give additional structure to the chaotic riffing and blasting. 'Christ Forever Die' with its more measured approach to the track offers a well-paced build to the track whilst losing none of the looming threat built so far over the first three tracks. The hatred and vitriol for the icon of the subject matter from the track title is obvious as ever in the vocals here. They act like some scorching wind that you could envisage peeling the flesh from the face of the holy one just by virtue of the wickedness behind them, spat like acid onto the face of the crucified man. I find that the instrumentation and arrangement of the song actual temper the vocals really well also.
One of the real successes of 'Rituale Satanum' is that whilst it remains unrelenting in delivery it never feels like a drain to listen to in one sitting. Rampant BM records like 'Battles in the North' or 'Pure Holocaust' do lose me at times despite my enjoyment of them. I think the unexpected moments such as the lead work on 'Towards the Father' keep things interesting and challenging without showing any dip in the fury on display.
The big build up to 'Saatanan varjon synkkyydessä' feels like the start of some epic heavy metal track but soon becomes that familiar slaughtering paced frenzy, yet there's great structure to pace the track out to retain some of the majesty built in the intro to the song, to bridge the chaos in between solid start and finish sections and add a funereal set of keys to finish.
My favourite track on the album is 'Baphomet's Call', it has an almost easy feel to how it drops around some light riffing into an almost foot tapping pace. It plays like some old rock track given the Satanic treatment with it's death metal like layered growls midway through. 'The Flames of the Blasphemer' is just as harsh as the track title indicates but again makes great use of melody to manage the flow of the track. There's also an almost NWOBHM feel to the pace here as well, although the return of the funereal keys soon stamps sufficient atmosphere on proceedings to remind me that this ain't no Diamond Head record.
The final two tracks work superbly to give a almost grandiose ritual(e) feel to the closing part of the record. The solid drumming of 'Blessed Be the Darkness' and demented shrieks of the vocals that share space with spoken word recitals midway through the track weigh a dense atmosphere to proceedings. By the time we get through the closing (and title) track with its slow pace there's a real sense of finality and closure, like as a listener we have been through some torrid and yet positively memorable experience.
Genres: Black Metal
If you have been paying attention to my musings in The Pit Clan Challenge then you won't be surprised to find that I have given this record four stars. It characterises that rabid and vicious thrash metal that I enjoy so much and only the fact that some of the production work on this is truly terrible (as in beyond being able to simply be considered kvlt or cool) then a full five stars would have been easily awarded.
For sheer lack of fucks given the album scores about a ten at least, this is a record forged out of complete abandon of compromise. It starts off relentlessly and ends up the same without once letting up. Every aspect to it feels bestial and evil in the most primitive sense. Whether it is the menacing vocals with their sneer of derision and mocking undertone, the bashing fury of those drums or even the manic strumming of the bass underneath the charging dual guitar attack, it all has a fee for antediluvian values throughout.
Considering the band started out some six years before recording this by just playing Priest, Maiden, Sabbath and Crüe covers, what they eventually got to transcribe to record was far removed from their covers days. This is crude and unrefined music for ears of fans who genuinely don't care too much for compositional excellence or song writing prowess. Each track has one intention, to rip your fucking face off! And they do it, eight times in a row.
As I mention above, the main issue here is the production job sounds terrible. Notwithstanding the fact that it kind of suits the ideal in so many ways it is too obvious even for my extreme metal scarred ears for me not to notice. Instead of charging the energy in the record it kind of blunts it a little bit although I still get multiple lacerations after each spin of this record.
Genres: Thrash Metal
Blessed Are The Sick" is still as relevant now as it was 20 + years ago, with its sonic wizardry, beefed up guitar sound (when compared with its predecessor at least) and the furious thunder of Sandoval on the drum kit driving forward this beast of a record. The complimentary lead work of Richard and Trey (Richard and his more melodic moments to temper Trey with his swarming, chaotic and sonic shredding) works superbly and you get a real sense that this is band much improved ability wise from their previous outing.
The maturity is evident and the whole package has a more serious edge to it with the album artwork grotesque and twisted like the sound of the considerably darker music within. The intro is a perfect opener with the almost engine like noise of some hellish machine made from crying children and grinding bones being revved up to floor the accelerator and destroy all in its path. By the time it gives way to opener proper "Fall From Grace" you are sat bolt upright waiting for the assault to happen and your are not going to be disappointed as the track smothers you in glorious low end marauding DM.
The build up to the title track is varied with each track managing to stand out as individual points of brilliance. The fury of "Brainstorm", the sudden slowed technique of "Rebel Lands", the horror film soundtrack keys of "Doomsday Celebration" and the frantic pace of "Day Of Suffering" all cement the foundations of the stairway up to "Blessed Are The Sick/Leading The Rats". The title track is a slower but epic descent into the bowels of Hades themselves the bottom end of every note pulling you further down into the darkness before the flutey ending adds a bestial cherry to the top of the hellish cup cake!
The title track acts a central pin for the whole record, it is not that this is the peak of the album as what follows it is just as intense and powerful as the rest of the album so far, but the title track does exactly what it is supposed to. It is the pillar running through the atmosphere, direction and experience of the whole album. This brings me on to the structure of the album as a whole, the already mentioned intro starts things off perfectly but the changes of pace are brilliantly scheduled, the haunting beauty of "Desolate Ways" with its picked acoustic strings is like a beautiful woman with an underlying darkness lay in field of scarred and twisted corpses and it stays with you long after the album has finished. "In Remembrance" is the perfect ending to the album, an acknowledgement that although the chaos is over things won't be the same again as a result of it.
Genres: Death Metal
It is hard to quite put into words the monstrous fury of Ulcerate. The difficulty largely lies in the fact that for every bludgeoning riff, hammer blow drum hit or swirling wall of noise that the New Zealanders strike the listener with, there's a remarkable amount of deftness and skill in the calculations they invoke to deliver their assault.
There were times when I listened to "Vermis" (the predecessor to "Shrines..." for the uneducated reader) and that precision was off, albeit very minutely. The vocals for example on the bands 2013 opus felt some how lost in the mix and at times there was a sense of not actually being aware whether they had begun or not. They are some of course who thought this a clever use of the mixing desk to create that folly deliberately, but for me the storm of Ulcerate's sound needed that extra bit of definition vocally to turn a great album into an absolute classic.
Thankfully, here on the band's fifth full length offering, the vocals are prominent and whether you deem them visceral or based on intellect they are very much a centre piece of "Shrines Of Paralysis". Yeah, there's occasion when they do go under the churn of riffs, drums and bass but thankfully these are rare and do not distract.
As well as Paul Kelland's lyrical exploits being a point of particular note, the listener cannot miss the frankly fucking amazing performance of Jamie Saint Merat on the drums. They are powerful, punishing and utterly fucking relentless. The clever bit being that every other instrument is allowed to breath around them without any one detracting from the other. In a tornado of sound like the brand that Ulcerate stir up to say you can pick out the bass is testimony to their technical excellence at not just performance but at actual songwriting also.
Hoggard's riffs are of course merciless too. They are like being stabbed by a surgeon, with each slash designed to incapacitate whilst also make you nod in complete appreciation. There's geologists probably queueing up to take abrasivity tests on Ulcerate's riffs and they know the scores will be off the motherfucking chart.
Things get off to an explosive start with opening track "Abrogation" as it bursts out of the speakers like a soul of hell clawing for freedom from the burning fury of Hades itself. As "Yield To Naught" continues in much the same vein it is here I first start to note the clever use of melodic components of the tracks. These are there most of the time but instead of being drowned out by the thunderous roar of the band in full throttle, they are more marshalled by the riffs and percussion as if being constantly reminded of their place even though they are key still amongst all that is going on. Throughout the pulverising violence of the bodily harm inflicted you are never far from an atonal stab or dissonant tranquility as they bob atop the tide of the endless churn.
To have all that going on must require an almost military precision as never does anything seem confused or chaotic. Even at their most furious Ulcerate show clarity of structure and planning. The title track with its progressive build and eventual unleashing of all living fury proves this point perfectly.
One thing that is obvious throughout is the layering of the experience. "Extinguished Light" is like unwrapping a gift and finding exploding candy in each layer, each variety giving a different flavour and texture experience to the last.
To sum up "Shrines Of Paralysis", it is like an in depth documentary on the mechanics of Technical DM. As well as exploring the intense fury of emotions involved, it takes opportunity to delve into the skillset required, demonstrating along the way a work of real dark art done by true masters of the genre.
Last time Ulcerate and Gorguts released an album in the same year was 2013 and they both blew me the fuck away, with "Colored Sands" edging "Vermis". In 2016 they've reversed it for me. "Shrines Of Paralysis" is nowhere near as dense as "Pleiade's Dust" in content and style but it takes the raw emotion of the genre and hones it into an explosive, purposeful and memorable DM experience.
Genres: Death Metal
Behind every great man, there's a great woman. Behind every camped up, shape throwing, garrulous Black Metal vocalist there's a great song writer. Both of these statements are true, except the second one actually does not commend Abbath as being the imaginative, creative and artistic driving force behind Immortal. This is blatantly obvious if you have heard his solo pop/rock record of a couple of years ago.
What "Northern Chaos Gods" does is essentially pull off one of the best tattoo removal jobs in the history of "I Love Sharon" ink stains on most truck drivers (married to a woman called Rose) arm's being obliterated by lasers. Despite a big character no longer being present on this record, I don't for one second miss Abbath. Demonaz and co manage to put out an album that sounds so much like Immortal of old you could be forgiven for crying "Fake News!" at every mention of the turmoil and split between the founding members given the music is as strong as it has been in some while.
Demonaz even sounds like a more in control albeit slightly more subdued Abbath. But it isn't the vocals that will get you sweating like a blind lesbian in a fishmongers. Nope, IT'S THE FUCKING RIFFS MAN!!!!!! It is genuinely like getting twatted by an octopus for 42 and a bit minutes, listening to this record. Utterly relentless in their delivery, Immortal just pummel away at you, occasionally throwing an atmosphere building intro before thundering off on hoofed steed to epic landscapes such as "Where Mountains Rise".
There's no Judas Priest or Iron Maiden esque dip in output here in the absence of their established frontman here. Demonaz and Horgh have - to put it in layman's terms - just picked up and ran with the established format. Don't get me wrong, it isn't anywhere near the quality of "At The Heart of Winter", although it does piss all over "All Shall Fall". Think of it as being the record "Damned In Black" could have been as a better precursor to the great "Sons of Northern Darkness".
They have a song called "Blacker of Worlds"!!! I mean what grown man with the mind of a pubescent boy doesn't think that is cool as fuck??? If the start of closing track "Mighty Ravendark" doesn't bring you out in goose pimples, you're dead inside. Fist pumping, neck snapping metal right here folks.
Genres: Black Metal
Glen Benton is 51. Fuck I feel old now too. Deicide are 30 years old (32 if we count the Amon era). Album number 12 from the fathers of Florida death metal is a strong effort considering yet another change of personnel has occurred. It is bye-bye Jack Owen, hello Mark English of Monstrosity fame taking up guitar duties and ironically I like "Overtures of Blasphemy " a lot more than Monstrosity's effort this year.
Whilst it can never make the "beast of a DM record" title I would give to the debut or"Legion" for example, "Overtures..." is entertaining. Whether it is the melo-death passages that litter the streets and alleyways of this record or the more familiar sacrilegious blasting fury of Deicide at their (old) best, there's plenty to balance the experience over these 12 tracks. Take "Seal The Tomb" for example, it goes immediately for the jugular, relentlessly chugging riffs alongside Benton's usual demented growls only to be tempered by menacing and interesting leads and sonics that carry the song along well. Listen once to this track and it is in your head for literally days after.
Then there's the vehemence of the lyrics of "Compliments of Christ" were you can feel the spittle from Glen's lips splattering your ears as he spews forth the vitriol he is best known for. "Anointed in Blood" opens like a lead jam session recorded mid flow before developing into a hellish gallop of fiery hooves, again perfectly completed by some well placed and well timed leads.
This is were Morbid Angel went wrong with "Kingdoms..." safe DM with little if any attention paid to the sonic wizardry of their sound. Take a leaf out of Glen's book Trey!
It is clear that this is no nonsense DM that still has enough equal measure of extremity and assured and unapologetic attitude to hold it's own against most of the DM records released this year. It is not perfect by any means. I lose it on more than one occasion if I am honest ("Crucified Soul of Salvation" in particular hits my 'standby' button really nicely) and it is a couple of tracks too long making for an almost excessive feel to the running time. Whilst it is a well paced record there's definitely some "filler" present. But for any turkeys in here there is still thankfully the brilliance of tracks like "Consumed by Hatred" to snap you back to attention. "Flesh, Power, Dominion" is one of the strongest things Deicide have ever put to tape btw.
Genres: Death Metal
There's life in the old dog yet it seems. In terms of original members only Phil Fasciana remains in the ranks of Malevolent Creation now and after the passing of Brett Hoffman last year you could almost forgive fans for thinking the curtain had fallen on Malevolent Creation. The fact is that whilst "The 13th Beast" reinvents no wheels it does exhibit the sound of a band in the throes of something of a regeneration phase. There's nothing tired sounding here, no dull interludes to build unnecessary atmosphere. As soon as the spoken word intro to "End the Torture" finishes it is straight up thrashing death metal until the very end, some 11 tracks later.
Although all debuting in the Malevolent full length stakes here, the 3 musicians that join Fasciana on this record are all clearly capable and qualified purveyors of their art form. Again, I highlight that this is not far above your average DM record yet it is so assured and solid you can easily forgive it to some degree. Lee Wollenschlaeger gives a good acquittal of himself as an established and competent vocalist, filling Hoffman's shoes nicely. Phil Cancilla is a machine on those skins, blasting his way across the soundscape yet also using the percussion well when the occasional let up in the pace permits. Fasciana and Wollenschlaeger work well together to keep the chug of the riffs motoring along whilst Gibbs plonks, twangs and rumbles his way through every track, allowed to be heard in the mix and show his variety without ever showboating. For a band together for only 2 years as a four piece they sound tight and committed.
There's no metal fan worth the denim their patches are sewn onto that doesn't look at that album cover and mouth a "fuck me, dude!" I mean, come on, it is fucking awesome. Like a more ornamental Predator head on a ghostly green background. I love it when album covers are matched by the content of the record inside, and whilst there are obviously some shortfalls here, still in the main "The 13th Beast" delivers. When they keep the track length short and succinct, Malevolent Creation are at their best. "The Beast Awakened", "Agony for the Chosen" and "Knife at Hand" all kick serious ass. By the same token "Born of Pain" at nearly 7 minutes long doesn't really do anything or go anywhere to justify the length attributed to it.
Overall, I would have preferred a shorter record. At 11 tracks the band cover a lot of ground in under 50 minutes but not all of it really needs treading. That withstanding, never does it get grating and still the accessibility factor remains consistent enough to forgive the extra excursions present.
Genres: Death Metal
Saxon's importance in the world of metal is often overlooked. As I mentioned before elsewhere on MA, their first four albums contain some of the most consistent material of the late 70's/early 80's and even Power & The Glory (although by no means terrible) holds a special place in my heart in terms of a nostalgic piece as opposed to the overall quality of the record. Enter Crusader which on paper showed so much promise but unfortunately served little purpose other than to confirm the golden run of albums was well and truly over and the commercial appeal of the band was at the forefront of proceedings, sacrificing quality song writing in the process.
Now let's be clear here, Saxon aren't epic song writers. A lot of the themes of their songs rest heavily on stereotypical subjects such as motorbikes, girls and partying. This simplicity in the songs was completely their niche and I loved them for it because the quality of the musicianship carried the basic themes perfectly. Once this dipped in quality then the holes where impossible not to fall through, and unfortunately Crusader is full of holes (craters arguably).
It is not to say that moments such as the sassy pace and enchanting lead work of just Let Me Rock aren't good enough, they are just not frequent enough. When balanced with the awful A Little Bit of What You Fancy you have to wonder if the same band wrote the whole album. The whole performance feels restrained even on the better moments of the record and there's a constant feel of each band member wearing a neon flashing light on their backs, blazing "Play Us On The Radio" in striking red font for all to see. As a result there's a feel of a complete lack of passion in the record and a sense that the old NWOBHM vibes just got dumped in favour of friendly hard rock for the masses.
Layered backing vocals milk harmonies for all they are worth and do nothing to actually better the output as Byford is probably the only consistent performer on here and certainly the only one recognisable/comparable to previous output. Not horrible, but a bloated album that craves attention more than actually earning any.
Genres: Heavy Metal
If variety is the spice of life then how do the wise ones of the world explain the quality of bands like Undeath? I mean there's literally no "spice" here, at least none that haven't been used before in decades of death metal recipes for sure, yet the palate can't help but be satiated by the familiarity of what it gets on Lesions of a Different Kind. I think the success of the album (which is limited I grant you) is largely down to both the effort and ability of these guys. Although it's not difficult to spot all the Cannibal Corpse, Incantation, Immolation and Finnish dm overtones of the record there's more to the album than just old-school worship. This be death metal done by some of its most learned students. In short they know their shit when it comes to death metal.
Not reinventing the wheel but doing that non-reinvention really fucking well is enough to ensure that the pressure of delivering something fresh into a genre that has seen it all is removed and there's a real feel on this record that the guys are having an absolute blast as a result. They approach the delivery of the record with an assuredness that would have you think that they have been playing these songs for years. Tracks flow brilliantly into one another, with subtle changes of pace and tempo deployed so smoothly that you feel relaxed by how well it all fits together.
I can't pretend it will be played hundreds of times during my remaining years on this mortal coil but it certainly does an excellent job of reminding me of all the good reasons of why I got into death metal in the first place. Check out those shifting riffs towards the end of Acidic Twilight Visions for some nasty, shiver-inducing chills down your spine (and then note how the same sound is there during the initial part of next track, Lord of the Grave) like the more horrific moments of Morbid Angel. If this album serves no further purpose than to give you impetus to go and throw on Close to a World Below then it's a rip-roaring success. On the flip-side, it holds its own against most of the stuff that influences the sound it celebrates. Sneak this into a radio playlist alongside the 90's most familiar purveyors of death metal and the uneducated struggle to realise it is not from the hey day of death metal.
P.S. that artwork is awful, the drummer did it but don't worry, he's much better at drumming.
Genres: Death Metal
By far one of the cleverest records ever written in the realms of black metal (and this is so much more than just a black metal album, with the genre only really being present as a sniff here and there), V-Halmstad is textured both on an emotional and instrumentation level, intriguing in the darkest sense of morbid curiosity you could muster and constantly exudes class.
Whenever I hear that an album is "depressive bm" I think of lo-fi production values and repetitive and (all too often sadly) monotonous tracks. The impending sense of desolation often being replaced by a habit of hitting the skip button as records fail to deliver the true emotional value of the subject matter that they promise. The smart thing about this record is that it approaches the depressive elements from a very much real-world view of how the illness manifests and distorts experiences that don't always start out as being that despondent in nature.
For large parts of the record there are pounding rhythms and a thumping pace, sultry lead work that is reminiscent of Judas Priest, almost progressive lead work, hell, there's even hooks on here. Yet at the same time there's forehead to dashboard style lunges on the brakes that allow this suffocating veil of dejection to smother the mood. Spoken word sections creep in over ethereal passages of dark and yet wonderfully melodic music, with harrowing words of misery, despair and hopelessness that cause the breath to catch in your throat. What Kvarforth has done here is manage to weave depression into the songs in a purely organic manner. His experiences of mental health illness are on display on all six of these tracks.
Bizarrely, the album comes off in more than one place as being the darkest of cabaret; in its more slow-paced and melodic moments almost like some soundtrack to a gritty Scandinavian police drama. But when the riffs let rip there's real power behind them (helped in no small part by the superb production job), you can hear the rumbles and the runs of the bass clearly and the demented, shrieking vocals of Kvarforth range from outbursts of maniacal utterings to grim statements of the blackest truths. My only criticism of the record is that at times his vocal style borders on comical (once or twice). Beyond that this a creative masterpiece, laden with the heaviest of emotions and full of sullen meanderings.
Genres: Black Metal
To say that Black Curse are a super-group is probably a little too obvious a statement. Members of Blood Incantation, Khemmis, Primitive Man and Spectral Voice have come together and created a right old racket that mines the very essence of death metal from the bowels of Hades. Taking all their experience and influences and effortlessly ascribing them into one scathing and bruising death metal album, Black Curse manage to provide us with eight tracks of various levels of savagery, pace and weight.
Within mere moments of listening to this I had thoughts of bands such as Swallowed and Grave Miasma as well as the rudimentary nod to Incantation also that seems to be part of all death metal nowadays. I also get the atmosphere of Cultes Des Ghoules (particularly their Henbane album) during Endless Wound's more blackened moments. At it's core the band's debut release is a blackened wound with a rather thick and heavy death metal scab sat atop of it. This blackened edge is perhaps the most unexpected influence on the record given the stellar death and doom/sludge metal credentials of the assorted band members. But let's not forget that Antinom (Zach from Khemmis) has a background in black metal with Dagon and Dominion, as well Morris from Blood Incantation still being active with Stillborn Fawn. Tracks such as Seared Eyes are chaotic and blistering blackened attacks that undertake a frenzied stabbing approach, maintaining a constant level of threat throughout.
This omnipotent sense of menace and danger that you hear is one of the key successes of the record. It is a tone set early on, an intensity declared from the off in fact like some Teitanblood record. Whilst never straying to a completely Revenge or even Diocletian style of delivery you still cannot help but be impressed by the relentless attitude towards the performance that these guys deploy.
In its slower moments the album relies on painfully picked strings to continue to build the atmosphere before the inevitable weight of the percussion section crashes in to cleave all sense of reprieve in half. With its ritualistic whispered vocals the album continues to epitomise the darkness on all fronts. Yet at the same time check out the catchy yet sludgey sections of album closer Finality I Behold that positively charges the track with a pummelling and memorable ending that shows the variety of influences on show on this brilliant discovery.
Genres: Black Metal Death Metal
The rapture around the return of Benediction with their eighth studio release in the metal media was positive enough to awake me from my nineties death metal slumber and see what all the fuss is about. Having undergone extensive personnel changes since their last outing in 2008 the band have returned after twelve years with original vocalist Dave Ingram back in the frontman seat. Other than guitarists Darren Brookes and Peter Rew, none of the band members have been involved with any of the band's other releases over the past twenty two years (since Ingram left the fold), and this in no small part contributes to the renewed vigour that the scribes on the internet are all talking about. Except it isn't renewed really, it's just fans/musicians of a particular form of death metal doing it very well.
First up though, the album is far too long. I know you were probably expecting me to launch into something positive straight after that opening paragraph but the first thought that came to my head when looking at the twelve tracks listed was "this is gonna be trek". I get the band haven't been around for over a decade but not everything they had written during this time needs to be committed to tape this time around. Whist things never get to feeling bloated, there's definitely a feeling of filler present on more than a few occasions. That niggle aside, I don't actually have much of anything bad to say about Scriptures. I mean it's nowhere near the level of quality that some reviews suggest (dishing out ratings of 5 seems a bit premature) but it is an enjoyable romp down memory lane for fans of Bolt Thrower, Obituary and Grave.
Ingram sounds great and the stalwart six stringer duo of Rew and Brookes have never been in better form. Bate and Durst (no not that Durst) do a decent job on bass and drums respectively as the band gel together seemingly effortlessly in the delivery of some solid mid-paced death metal. The production lets things sound crisp and clear without sacrificing on the aggression behind everything and as a result there's a real feeling of power behind everything. Beyond being solid though there's nothing to set the world on fire here. I mean props to the band for showing a level of intensity that most newer bands would struggle to muster but the praise layered onto this record by the critics isn't by any means unjustified, just a bit excessive.
Genres: Death Metal
Turns out I knew more of this album than I ever realised. Despite never owning a copy of this record and only sitting down to listen in full today for the first time I found so many memories as each track played, unlocking a myriad of good times spent with friends in college that I had rarely revisited in my memory banks since the 90s. We weren't that interested in the curriculum that the college offered as part of its Performing Arts prospectus, choosing instead to do our own versions of musical theatre to the likes of Pantera and Metallica. We also undertook a particularly damaging performance utilising the Angel Dust album as a soundtrack and got banned from any future performances as a result.
It's understandable now looking back why I have this affinity with the Gateway clan that I had all too easily dismissed as being just full of nu-metal bands. In fact, thinking back today on my college days, bands such as Faith No More, Kings X, Living Colour, Helmet, Alice in Chains and Suicidal Tendencies occupied a big part of my listening time alongside some of my more extreme metal staples in the other genres.
Anyway, reminiscing aside, the point of my two paragraphs of nostalgia is that not only does Angel Dust represent an important time in my life, it is also an incredibly good album in its own right. Operating more or less exclusively outside of the realm of metal for the most part it is an album of smooth textures mixed with jarring adult themes that often border on the unhinged. As such it is a real "grown-up" alternative metal album that may always keep it's tongue firmly pressed in cheek but at the same time the aforementioned tongue has significant wounds from the teeth marks inflicted upon it also.
Abrasive at times and utterly bonkers on other occasions, you can't quite track the black comedy of Angel Dust without feeling a little dirty along the way. It has hooks and melodies that stick with you like carpets in seedy bars; like tobacco odour in the clothing of a long-time cigar smoker; like damp-stained walls in old houses. The killer part is how fucking accessible it all is. I mean the catchiness of Midlife Crisis is almost infectious, the chanting and anthemic nature of the chorus to Be Aggressive is like some really dark punchline to a joke you are already wincing at the outcome of long before it is delivered, but still you keep listening.
Taken as a whole, in lesser skilled hands Angel Dust would just come off as a collection of songs, thrust together to make more than enough for the loose title of being an "album". In Patton and company's hands though it is an end-to-end experience, unsettling and yet thoroughly entertaining at the same time.
Genres: Alternative Metal
I think it is safe to say that Warbringer have heard their fair share of Demolition Hammer in their time. Throughout Weapons of Tomorrow I pick up the rabid approach to thrash metal that I hear on Epidemic of Violence or Tortured Existence especially in the vocals of John Kevill. Likewise there's strong and obvious influences from the likes of Kreator, Exodus and more modern references like Havok.
Now, this isn't to say that Warbringer just regurgitate the old formulas of the aforementioned bands as they do apply their own musical abilities perfectly well throughout their sixth album. Overall, song structures are solid and vary well in terms of pace and tempo for what is in the most part an in-your-face thrash metal album. The bands hi-octane, no frills attitude to their art form is consistent across the ten tracks on display here and it is this in the main that I take away from my fifty minutes of time spent with it.
The band push their song writing abilities on occasion with tracks such as Defiance of Hate offering a more subdued approach which gives the track a real sense of build and momentum beyond just ripping intensity. The lead work is undertaken by a very capable guitarist in the form of Adam Carroll who adds real splashes of colour to tracks when things start to feel a little formulaic. When at full speed the riff machine is certainly the driving force on Weapons of Tomorrow and when combined with the rampant vocals of Kevill they make for one heck of a pairing.
Lyrically though, the album is poor and frankly needs a lot of work. This is especially apparent due to the focus the vocals have in the mix and their clarity amongst all the component parts make them front and centre for a large percentage of the time. That having been said, this is a thrash metal album and so doesn't necessarily come with an expectation that Tolstoy wrote the lyrics. I do have to note however that this is the band's sixth outing and so some level of accomplished lyricism isn't too much to ask I feel. My only other criticism is that although the song writing has clear merit, tracks do just seem to end all of a sudden like an early edit has occurred before the track has fulfilled its goal. Still solid stuff overall though.
Genres: Thrash Metal
Album number four from Barnsley's finest saw a continuation of their familiar blend of NWOBHM and anthemic hard rock. Following on from their greatest moment with the previous year's Strong Arm of the Law release this album had a lot to live up to. Whilst it doesn't quite hit the dizzy heights of its predecessor, Denim and Leather still lands its fair share of hooks and uppercuts over the course of the nine tracks on offer.
Things start lively enough with Princess of the Night , a memorable opener that sets the tone for the record well with its plodding rhythm and stabbing riffs. As we drive through Never Surrender and Out of Control this pace continues, it gets the blood coursing nicely and sets a consistent (if not predictable) energy level for the rest of the record that rarely drops. Oliver and Quinn's guitars weave wonderfully melodic tapestries alongside some straight-forward yet effective riffs and some tracks need these shots of lead work to perk them up a bit although sadly Play It Loud remains a sore thumb sticking out at the end of side one despite the six stringers best efforts.
Biff is on fine and familiar form, the Yorkshire twang just audible on occasion to add character to his nasal vocals. Dawson's bass is clear as day on And the Bands Played On with its high pulse strumming dancing along with the guitars as they fire licks everywhere, the two instruments really set side two off on a driven and determined tempo that maintains the groundwork laid down on side one. Pete Gill also delivers a consistent if unremarkable performance on the drums. It isn't like the song structures give much opportunity for him to make huge waves behind the kit but some flurries here or there would help keep me a little more conscious of his presence overall.
I can't help but think that Saxon's golden run of albums from Wheels of Steel through the aforementioned Strong Arm of the Law came to an end with Denim and Leather. Their classic live album The Eagle Has Landed served as an excellent dessert after a solid three course meal before it, but the studio albums never got better (or even as good as) the ones in the period of 1980-1981.
Genres: Heavy Metal
With Dark Medieval Times, Satyricon set a high benchmark for themselves. Not only was the album a triumph of minimalist majesty and tenebrous authenticity it really flowed also. Following it up was always going to be tricky. Whilst I don't believe The Shadowthrone to be a poor record in its own right, it does retain the same effortless flow and translates overall into a much less passionate experience as a result.
As such the album reminds me of all the reasons why I love the debut so much and the sense of disappointment is by no means overwhelming to the point where I rarely listen to the sophomore. Indeed, I still find 1996's Nemesis Divina to be the crowning glory of the Satyricon discography and find it graces my CD drawer more than either of its two predecessors, but this is more a reflection of how strong an album this is as opposed to how bad the others are. The Shadowthrone sits in some black metal no mans land, caught between two superior releases in my music collection. It lingers most definitely in the dust of the debut in terms of retaining that majestic sound, albeit with a slightly more restrained approach, it only really feels rugged on tracks like Vikingland though and this track in particular feels a little cumbersome to get through. The splashes of polish by comparison are infrequent and there's no real obvious hint of the fuller and more enriched tones of the album that followed this.
Due to this cumbersome edge it feels like the band are struggling to maintain the momentum built by the debut. The ideas are all still there and I repeat again that this is not a bad album, but the execution is slightly off and my interest in the tracks wanes all too easily as the album progresses. Even the robust and full-flavoured opening track, Hvite Krists Død can't shake the feeling that some of it comes together with a fair old amount of chance as opposed to a committed direction overall.
That having been said, the album is still full of the familiar sound of one of the genres most recognisable and well-established bands and makes a solid splosh in the dark waters of black metal. The ripples though just don't quite stick around for me and the album sinks all too easily in comparison with others in the same discography.
Genres: Black Metal
The Swedish BM scene has this glut of bands that stick with an orthodox interpretation of the genre. With Watain being undoubtedly the most well-known of these groups there's a good few hours' worth of quality material out there from the likes of Funeral Mist, Ofermod and also Ondskapt (amongst others). On full-length number two the Stockholm band send lush, rich and yet harrowing melodies into the air, surrounding them with dank atmospherics, ritualistic and iniquitous vocals as well as contorting structures to boot.
At times, the melodies really shine through, transported by tremolo riffs and the looming milieu on these occasions serve as a superb backdrop for that continuous undertone of egregious intent. The maniacal and unbridled intensity of the vocals is akin to Mayhem-like delivery in terms of style and they do well to stand out against such an impressive array of sounds from the instruments without ever feeling lost or intrusive at either end of the spectrum. Taken as a whole, the performance on most tracks feels like a constant build as songs progress to blistering levels of intensity coming from more doom-laden constructs in the first instance. Dödens evangelium is no one-trick pony. As an album it explores the authentic BM sound most definitely, but at the same time adopts elements from outside the genre to show a talent for song writing that is developed beyond just simple blastbeats and furious tremolos.
My only criticism would be that it does go on a bit and doesn't feel well-balanced overall as an album given that the first part of the album consists of longer songs that feel more accomplished and developed than their counterparts which occupy this final half of the record. From track seven onwards the shorter offerings kick in and the attention to detail feels reduced. I think these tracks would have fit better in between the longer ones (or may be even left on the cutting room floor in some instances). They are not bad per se, they just seem a little out of context and stray close to levels of succinctness that doesn't befit their overall strengths so well.
Genres: Black Metal
Opening your debut album with a fourteen-minute track takes balls. If you fail to engage me as a music listener within the first few minutes of an album, then chances are you have lost me before you even really get going. The human attention span is actually less than that of a goldfish someone told me recently so if eight seconds is my limit then fourteen minutes is a big ask. Thankfully though, In Midst She Was Standing is an absolute triumph. It is majestic and dark throughout its tenure at the start of the record, drawing you in to the rest of the album and now of course one of metals best known careers. It manages to shift as a track almost effortlessly and without falling over its own feet at any point. Espousing progressive leanings from the start, Orchid continues to wear these prog rock influences on its sleeve for the duration of what is a fine debut.
At the same time though the album is steeped in a haunting density, with passages of weighty atmospherics leading into subtle changes of pace to resurrect the progressive elements of the sound without ever feeling clunky or bloated either. There is an overall feeling of melancholy that never quite leaves the ether as the album works its way through each track. This melancholia can be heard in the twang of the bass strings, or the harrowing melodies of the lead guitar and likewise they appear via piano keys also. The only part of the instrumentation that feels sterile, even by these ethereal standards are the drums. They feel a bit lost in proceedings and struggle to make their presence felt most of the time. Oddly, this lack of oomph from behind the kit doesn't detract too much from the overall experience as there's enough going on to hold the interest anyways.
Akerfeldt's vocals range from the familiar rasping death metal style that he became famed for to the cleaner more diaphanous vocals of much of the bands later output. There is an equal mix of riffage and picked acoustics from the guitars also which change pace from urgent and busy fluency to more melodic and mellifluous sections that strike clean notes that seem to fill the very air around them. When in full flow though the band sound like a raging beast that always has surprising awareness of its surroundings at all times and controls itself immaculately well.
Genres: Progressive Metal
Arguably one of the most developed and expansive acts in metal at this stage of their career, Enslaved have continued their penchant for delivering thought-provoking and intelligent metal into their fifteenth full-length release. Utgard has a real assured sound to it, despite its title suggesting we may have expected otherwise (Utgard in Norse mythology is a landscape full of danger and chaos). Yes it has all the progressive leanings you would expect with time-changes dropping in from out of nowhere and a near constant sense of build throughout the record, but its success is more subtle than that.
There's a freedom to the flow of the songwriting, never better exemplified than on catchy riffing tracks like Sequence , a solid chug with excellent stabs of atmospheric keys and strings to add depth behind the apparent simplicity of the main driving riff. The lead work here flutters in like butterflies at first before becoming a maelstrom of hellish fire that scorches the middle section of the track for a few seconds before a calming ambience seeps into play. It is rare for such an array of ideas and styles to all be so comfortable alongside each other, but they pull it off brilliantly and hold the listeners interest well throughout a varied and memorable experience.
On this record Ivar relinquished most of the work he normally tried to always get through himself and delegated the labour out across the band. The outcome is an album that feels like it has had a high level of involvement. Even in its busiest moments it sounds cohesive and unified, no matter where a track goes to it is obvious that all band members go with it. The clarity of roles within the band has unlocked textures in the Enslaved sound that feel tightly woven together. At the same time they also feel like they are covering new ground and exploring new territory and structures.
Checkout the 80's pop vibe to the opening of Urjoturn that presents a dark, new-romanticism to the ears. As unexpected as it maybe, it works brilliantly structuring a haunting and yet catchy vibe that sits on the shoulder for long after the album is finished. Grutle's blackened vocals combine with cleaner passages that add further to the depth of the track, maintaining the bm threat of years gone by but tempering this perfectly with a musical edge to challenge their presence at the same time.
After nearly two decades Enslaved maintain an innovative edge to their music that shows little sign of abating. Utgard is bound to be a tough listen for some, but anyone who has been following the band's output over the last fifteen years will welcome the continued maturity and progression of their sound here. It isn't boundary-pushing as such, but it is a fresh sounding record which continues to slowly expand the sound of one of metal's longest-serving bands.
Genres: Progressive Metal
In a recent interview, Selbst multi-instrumentalist and mainman N, spoke of the myth that all South American black metal should sound bestial and primitive. This mindset is certainly obvious in the music of the band with Relatos de Angustia exhibiting a very expansive and varied take on the more melodic yet still chaotically busy style of black metal. It is a sound immediately recognisable to fans of Mgla, full and lush in the depth of its richness yet at the same time there is an aggression and rawness present that reminds me of a more Icelandic sound also.
I listened to Uada's latest offering before getting to this and by comparison the American's new opus sounds cumbersome and clunky. Pace changes on Relatos de Angustia happen with an organic sense to them and tracks build into cleverly detailed soundscapes that walk the thin line between accessible and authentic. Tracks like Let The Pain Run Through balance the searching and enquiring development of the band's style with an inherent darkness that makes the way forward suitably murky enough for the traditionalist black metal fan. The track in question drops one of the more melodic pieces of lead work heard by me on a BM opus for some time, blossoming the track (and album) into a cleaner, more clear finish from the tumult of the overall forty minutes that precede it.
The band proudly sit on the Debemur Morti label, that bastion of dark and forward-thinking black metal and death metal that boasts the likes of Akhlys, BAN, In The Woods and Ulcerate amongst its ranks. Selbst are a perfect addition to that roster with their thoughtful delivery, natural chemistry for songwriting and cold yet welcoming darkness that offers many discoveries should you dare to explore.
Genres: Black Metal
This undying (sub)genre of epic heavy metal continues to offer up a handful of bands that seem to further the longevity of a style of metal that has been around now for 40 years plus. Whether it is the flamboyant gestures of Visigoth or the more stoic delivery of Atlantean Kodex, the style keeps cropping up and the nerdiness just continues to maintain momentum somehow. It's a niche corner of the metal market nowadays and as such one that is so very easy to fall into the cracks between exponent of a "lost" art form and a mere tribute act.
What turns out to be Atlantean Kodex's third full-length (my first experience of them) sounds to me to be an album full of the necessary passion for true, epic heavy metal. The outliers are all here. Lengthy songs, chronicles in fact of heroism and monumental historic events in some far away land or world. At its core the album sound is big! There's enough elements of doom to fill the air with the density of the guitar tone, enough meat in the drums to pound a weighty and substantial rhythm throughout and carry that sense of majesty, pomp and circumstance that underlies most of the album. And then there's the vocals...
I think it is fair to say that the vocalist isn't a bad as such, but it is clear to me that his voice seems to pale in significance to the rest of the instruments being deployed around it. The fact is that whilst Markus Becker can hold a tune, he is not strong enough in the vocal chords department to hold his own alongside such huge riffs and thunderous drums. Even when layered and/or backed, the vocals just don't cut it. There are times when the lyrics are delivered in a very clunky (and definitely not cult-cool) manner which makes some tracks seem quite amateur if I am honest.
Still though the music does make up for it and some of the songwriting (accepting it does get bloated) is bang on in some places. Whilst the pacing gets a little cumbersome on occasion it never ruins any track, but it does make you wish for some shorter tracks everynow and again that aren't interludes or outros. So there's definitely work to be done still after class for these German metallers, but they certainly have the heart for it even if aspects of the delivery don't quite come off that well.
Genres: Heavy Metal
Manilla Road's sixth full-length continues their golden run of records that stretch back from a full seven years before this release. Launching straight into a romping and glorious opening track full of haunting lead work that leaves notes hanging in the very air around you it is obvious that the band are here to pick up where they left of with The Deluge. Not only does opening track Haunted Palace announce the arrival of the album it also sets the tone for what is to come over the next forty minutes.
Mystification literally has me spellbound from the get go, it is instant without being mainstream and varied without ever getting tied in knots. Tracks are well paced and the tightness of the band is superb throughout. Shelton's trademark vocals sound a little more hoarse than on previous outings and this adds depth to the vocal's sound, giving them an almost cool edge that is oddly soothing for such a unique sounding vocalist. His guitar work is excellent also. Whether it is the speed metal-like riffing of Valley of Unrest or Up From the Crypt or even the classy lead work he deploys across virtually the whole album, his work is front and centre at all times. His fret work feels emotive and full of passion for the subject matter it accompanies; it feels dark and mysterious as well as insanely vast in scope.
Mention has to be made of the superb drum work of Randy Foxe. He is the real engine room on the record with his galloping rhythms and studious fills matching the pace of the record perfectly throughout. They feel like a genuine accompaniment to the vocals and guitars adding to the suspenseful atmosphere of the record on the title track (for example) and although I think they are a tad too buried in the mix overall they still maintain a healthy presence throughout. When combined with the rumbling bass of Scott Park they make quite a fearsome duo.
It's an album that makes me want to play it again as soon as it is finished (I think I am on my third play of it today at least). Whilst not essentially full of hooks, it retains memorability for its relentless charge and urgent sounding narrative. It combines rampant heavy metal with atmosphere and a goofy nerdiness to boot and continues a fine line of albums. It's metal that makes you want to seek more like it, creating lust for similar sounds as I hit countless "similar artist" and "you might also like..." playlists in search of more, more, more. It's mania is infectious and it's lack of polish is utterly endearing. It is an absolute triumph.
Genres: Heavy Metal
It's hard to review Overkill's debut as being a thrash metal album. Rumour has it some of this stuff was written as far back as 1981 (more the likely 1983 though) and so it falls more in the category of speed metal crossed with the more obvious heavy metal influences of the band at the time. With no money and no record deal at the time of writing most of this, by the time Feel The Fire came out it was doomed it seems to be just a collection of songs released late and therefore paling in compariosn to the releases of their peers at the time.
What we got in 1985 was under-developed and incredibly simplistic in comparison to what was to come in subsequent years. You'd almost forgive the band for not releasing this and going straight to Taking Over, with the session that made the debut being released some years later as a demo collection for die hard fans only. However, since they obviously had little control over their own destiny Feel The Fire was the international metal community's introduction to Overkill. The opening salvo from the band is a poorly produced and clumsily performed record that just had to rely on the superb vocals of Blitz to lead the energetic and promising charge, trying to stifle the thin guitar sound and cumbersome drumming as best he could with his demonic range.
Fact is Ellesworth saves this record in the main, his vocals and Verni's bass are perhaps the most consistent aspects to this album. As mentioned they act as more of a distraction from what's wrong everywhere else on most tracks but still they deserve merit in their own right. Rat Skate on the drums often has little (if any) control of the double bass at times and it is only when the band are in full swing that he appears settled and cohesive with his surroundings. Otherwise his timing sends tracks off into catch-up mode all too soon when trying to build momentum.
Gustafson's guitar isn't exactly on fire either and I sense this isn't entirely due to production or mix issues (I have read that his amp blew and he had to "innovate"). As I said earlier though, when the band are hitting their stride it really works well and tracks like Hammerhead remain in your head for life after a couple of spins. Similarily tracks like Kill At Command show real promise of the true potential of the band. Sadly though there's no amount of glitter that can cover some turds sufficiently and for all the energy and sheer tenacity to try and record something the lack of ability and maturity at the time shows all too clearly.
Whilst Feel The Fire isn't a disaster, it enters the thrash metal arena and immediately finds itself chasing the competition with confused and slightly dated ideas that hinder the bands ability to stay in touch with the lead pack. In so many ways they have never been able to make up that ground despite their long and significant career.
Genres: Thrash Metal
Ursus Americanus is arguably where Shone truly hits his stride in his niche of industrial, droning horror and gazy and reflective electronic music. On his 2012 release the drones become brooding in sound and somehow no less impactful. They rise like gargantuan beasts from deepest and darkest depths, full of looming threat and menace. At the same time though there's tinges of emotion to proceedings that bring some personal feel to the album also. It's like a harsh assault with a prospect of a warmish hug when you least exepct it.
When in full-on mode the record is almost unstoppable as a force. Overwhelming the listener with a barrage of thumping rhythms and a smothering wall of sound is a risky venture (and certainly not for all listeners) but the skill here is maintaining interest in what you pitch up with, not easing people in gently to a safe place. For all the relentlessness of his sound, Tristan is still able to maintain entertainment at the same time to the point where I find myself welcoming each wave of abrasive and punishing (pun intended) industrial madness. Sustaining this level of intensity serves to give the albums more subtle moments a stronger impact, allowing them to fill the void of potential silence a sudden drop in drones or clatters can create with something varied yet never unexpected.
This doesn't feel like a juggling act either, in fact the whole album feels cohesive and planned to good effect. The downside for me is more due to my own personal tastes as opposed to anything Shone does wrong; I am not often a visitor to his style of music and find myself stumbling across it as opposed to actively seeking it. As such I don't consider myself a "fan" of this music in that I don't actually go out and seek it so repeat plays of Ursus Americanus are limited in frequency I suspect. Still, whenever I do get round to ot again I am sure it will still please me sufficiently.
Genres: Industrial Metal