I must admit that, despite having a knowledge of the existence of Finnish doom metal trio Dolorian for many years now, I’d never gotten around to checking them out until my brother Ben nominated them for The Fallen clan feature release status a couple of weeks ago. From what I’d observed, the band were always referred to as a quality artist with their most recent outing (2006’s third album “Voidwards”) having been touted by many as a genuine classic so I came into this experience with considerable optimism, particularly given their high praise from my brother whose taste in metal I generally trust (with the obvious exception of Summoning who suck hard). I’d soon find though that Dolorian offered a lot more than I’d bargained for because their self-titled 2001 album is unlike anything I’ve ever heard before & that’s despite displaying a few obvious influences on their sleeves for the duration.
Firstly, I’d like to say straight up front that I feel that the tagging of “Dolorian” as a doom metal release is deceptive. Yes, Dolorian utilize slow, doomy riffs as a key ingredient in their sound however I’m not sure that it’s the protagonist here. There are many disparate influences being thrown around but to my ears this is predominantly a gothic metal release because the key ingredient that makes Dolorian so special is the consistently outstanding use of clean gothic rock & post-punk inspired melodic guitar work. These lines perpetuate not only the heavier doom sections but they also work to highlight the lengthy atmospheric excursions the band like to take with many of these seeing them hinting at psychedelia & even the post-metal of a band like Isis. The vocal delivery is very unusual for a metal band too with front man Anti Ittna Haapapuro opting for a whispered approach that sees him sitting predominantly in the background while the instrumentation takes the spotlight. In fact, Anti’s vocal contribution sees him taking on more of a supporting role while his ethereal guitar melodies maintain the listeners attention & this is one of the most significant talking points of the album. It really works if you ask me & it gives Dolorian a truly unique atmosphere. As does the repeated use of tribal drumming; a tool that I’ve historically found myself to have a very strong affiliation with as it tends to provoke a ritualistic & more primal feel.
The album kicks off with a beautifully dark three minute introductory piece called “Grey Rain” which I was delighted to find sounds exactly like Italian gothic darkwave exponents MonumentuM. I’m a HHUUGGEE fan of MonumentuM’s 1995 album “In Absentia Christi” & have never heard anything like it since so the hints at their sound that are scattered across “Dolorian” have nothing short of delighted me. “Grey Rain” is followed up by the first proper metal track “Blue Unknown” & it immediately tweaked my interest as it reminds me very much of “Wildhoney” era Tiamat. This is interesting because I’d find myself returning to that reference a number of times throughout the record but I’ve never seen Dolorian being linked with Tiamat before. Perhaps this link is why I have such a strong tendency to want to label the album as a gothic metal release but, to be fair though, the beautifully sombre clean guitar lines that dominate these pieces could have been pulled straight from an old record from The Cure or Joy Division & there simply aren’t enough tracks that offer that true doom metal atmosphere. The vibe we get here is surely dark & the tempos are inevitably slow but the everything feels much more gothic than it does doomy so I can’t even see myself being convinced to go with a both ways bet on the gothic doom metal tag here. Also, I’ve seen quite a lot of references to dark ambient being made online. Of the album’s nine tracks, three of them are short & particularly well executed ambient pieces but don’t expect them to fall into the dark ambient category. There’s nothing that sneaks outside of the more conventional ambient space here for mine but all of these tracks work beautifully within the context of the music around them. In fact, the two minutes of bliss that makes up “Ambiguous Ambivalence” may be the highlight of the entire record for me personally.
I find that my many years of DJing have left me with a bit of a knack for picking up the perfect setting to experience a record. With this one I knew straight up that I needed to listen to it through headphones while lying in isolation in a dark room &, as it turns out, it was only then that I managed to truly understand its ethereal majesty which enabled me to be completely swept up in it. The consistency of the tracklisting is nothing short of exceptional. There’s not a single track that doesn’t impress me in one way or another with the last four tracks representing a particularly spectacular run of high-quality art. You’ll notice that I chose the word art there & I did that intentionally because this is one of those records that feels like you’re experiencing genuine art rather than the regurgitating of some similar influences because, despite sporting some familiar elements, the sum of “Dolorian” simply doesn’t sound like anyone else & this makes this record a particularly worthy selection for a feature release. Dolorian” comes highly recommended from this ol’ metalhead as you won’t hear too many records like it. Just be prepared to give it your full & undivided attention & a good few listens to allow its charms to open up.
For fans of MonumentuM, Katatonia & “Wildhoney”-era Tiamat.
Genres: Doom Metal
Los Angeles groove metal outfit Grip Inc. are an artist that I’ve been acutely aware of since their inception back in 1993 but I’m going to have to admit that I’ve probably been guilty of making assumptions about their sound based on a subgenre box-ticking mentality to be honest. Dave Lombardo-era Slayer is undoubtedly the absolute peak of music (if not our overall human existence on this planet) as far as I’m concerned however I’ve simply refused to have his legacy tainted by his subsequent foray into a subgenre that (with the exception of its godfathers Pantera) I’ve always found to be predominantly underwhelming. That underlying fear has kept me from ever allowing myself to experience a Grip Inc. record in full to this very day & after going through the process of having my misconceptions removed & royally stuffed up my closed-minded & inherently stubborn backside over the last couple of days I’m feeling a little ashamed of myself. I’m also feeling particularly proud of my younger brother Ben who has once again nominated an incredibly underrated release for Metal Academy feature status. Most of you probably don’t know this but Ben is completely deaf in his left ear & knows very little about musical theory or technique but time & time again the dude has proven himself to have a greater level of discretion in that single ear than most packed metal venues do & refuses to let the masses influence his judgement too. The fact that Grip Inc’s 1997 sophomore album “Nemesis” has been such a wonderful surprise to me is simply further testament to that fact.
Unfortunately for Lombardo & co., my initial impressions of “Nemesis” were somewhat clouded by having listened to it directly after our The Guardians feature release in Grand Magus’ “Hammer Of The North” which sports a superbly thick & heavy production & this resulted in the feeling that the “Nemesis” production job was noticeably lacking. It’s certainly true that it feels a lot thinner in comparison with a lot more high end, significantly less bottom end & the drums & guitars not having anywhere near the same sort of weight but once I’d given myself a day to let it sink in & returned to it with fresh ears (this time through quality headphones) I was able to reach a happy place where those comparisons faded away very quickly. The other early talking point for me was about just how little generic groove metal I heard. I mean, I was expecting something similar to Pantera, Machine Head & “Chaos AD” era Sepultura but found myself struggling to make the link very often during my first listen. I heard a lot more thrash than I did groove metal to tell you the truth &, as a result, I made a point of giving that notion a strong focus on subsequent listens.
Given my life-long passion for classic Slayer, I often find myself scoring releases that manage to successfully harness that sound a little higher than your average punter & you can count “Nemesis” amongst those that do it exceptionally well so Slayer fans will be feeling quite emotional (if not violently so) from the word go with this record. Opening number “Pathetic Liar” is a sensational example of a band that’s taken that Slayer blueprint & used it to create a piece that may sound familiar but also rips you a new arsehole in no uncertain terms. The influence of Lombardo has no doubt played a big role in this however there’s a lot more to Grip Inc. than that as both Kerry King & Jeff Hannemann would have been over the moon if they had created some of these riffs. Vocalist Gus Chambers sports a wonderful voice for aggressive metal music too. It’s gruff enough to punish you during the more aggressive parts & his screams are used beautifully in highlighting the climaxes however he’s also got more than enough substance to handle the more atmospheric sections of the album so I actually think he’s a big part of the appeal of Grip Inc.
After pummelling you with those first couple of thrash-fests, we see the album settling down a little & taking you to more expansive & ambitious places than your average thrash or groove metal outfit are capable of. In fact, by the end of the record you’ll be left wondering how you’ve managed to take such an interesting journey without the slightest sign of any jarring transitions or sudden u-turns. I actually think this may be the best attribute of “Nemesis” to tell you the truth. It’s simply so much more than what it’s touted to be & I’m tempted to say that it hasn’t been done any favours by its having been pigeon-holed with the likes of Soulfly & Machine Head. There’s an amazingly well-defined use of texture & atmosphere here that is much more in line with post-metal than anything else with Lombardo consistently utilizing tribal drumming techniques to build tension & create drama. At first I thought he may be borrowing the technique from Sepultura who had been so successful in integrating their local heritage into their sound on a record like “Chaos AD” however the result is much more in line with the likes of Neurosis which is a big compliment if you know how much I adore that band. Guitarist Waldemar Sorychta often opts for dissonant open-string guitar work that would feel a lot more at home on an industrial metal record than a groove metal one &, when combined with the intelligent use of repetition, we see the tension building until an immense Devin Townsend-esque scream from Chambers will lead the band into a huge climax or a drum roll from Lomabardo will see the band ripping back into a chunky groove metal riff or a rip-snorting thrash beat. Wow! This is a group of musicians who well & truly know what they’re doing & are not to be over-awed by the presence of thrash royalty.
The tracklisting on “Nemesis” is extremely consistent as there’s not a weak moment across the entire duration but there are also more than enough highlights to see me reaching for the higher scores. Whether it’s the afore-mentioned opener “Pathetic Liar”, the tension-building tribal interlude “Descending Darkness”, the up-tempo thrash-fest “War Between One”, the “Seasons In The Abyss” feel of personal favourite “Rusty Nail” or the maturity & class of “Myth Or Man”, “Nemesis” offers tier one quality in everything it touches. It’s also worth mentioning that, when taken in holistically, it doesn’t really sound like anyone in particular & is subsequently fairly hard to categorize. I mean, I don’t think I’ve heard a thrash/groove metal act taking this more atmospheric approach before &, after sitting through this wonderful album, I have to wonder why not because it adds an additional element that increased my emotional & intellectual engagement. As a result, I also find myself wondering why I haven’t heard more about “Nemesis” over the years. There can be no denying that it’s horribly underrated & I can only speculate that the cheap cover art might have something to do with it as it really is a long way from acceptable. Please make sure that you don’t let that flaw taint your musical experience because Grip Inc. have the ability to satisfy a lot more than just your violent urges.
For fans of Slayer, Exhorder & Sepultura.
Genres: Groove Metal Thrash Metal
The Swiss black metal scene has always been more about quality over quantity. I mean despite providing the world with one of its earliest & most revered blackened thrash metal icons in short-lived Zurich trio Hellhammer in the early 1980’s, the Swiss failed to develop any other significant contributors for the remainder of the decade. The early 1990’s would see the arrival of Samael as a considerable underground force, just in time for the Norwegians to take the metal world by storm & make the genre into a household name with metal fans across the globe. But by the time the mid-90’s had arrived Samael had jumped ship & headed away from their black metal roots to take up an admittedly classy industrial metal direction & in doing so left a gaping hole in the Swiss black metal world with no suitable replacements in sight. I have to admit that I’ve always questioned Samael’s timing given that they’d just released their finest black metal album in 1994’s “Ceremony Of Opposites” & the buzz around black metal was at an all-time high off the back of our old mates Varg & Euronymous. Perhaps they didn’t get the memo or found it to be illegible due to excessive blood-soaking. Interestingly though, unlike the rest of Scandinavia, Switzerland had no real intention of cashing in on extreme metal’s newest fad. They were patiently waiting for a hero. A hero that would lead them through the next twenty-odd years of black metal history.
The Second Wave of Black Metal didn’t take long to branch out artistically. Just eighteen months after Darkthrone took the world by storm with their “A Blaze In The Northern Sky” album, Varg Vikernes & his Burzum project would begin hinting at a more atmospheric form of black metal based on trance-like repetition & textured lo-fi production. The next few years would see him not only developing but also completely mastering the sound which would peak with his 1996 post-incarceration masterpiece “Filosofem”. Other Europeans quickly took note with artists like Ulver, In The Woods…, Blut aus Nord & Summoning all releasing significant recordings between 1994 & 1997.
This didn’t go unnoticed by 19 year-old Swiss multi-instrumentalist Tobias Mockl who would develop a major fascination with Burzum’s music & would subsequently put together a solo project with the sole intension of replicating his idol. He called this project Paysage d’Hiver (which is French for “winter landscape”) & 1998 would see Tobias (or “Wintherr” as he would call himself moving forwards) releasing the first in a long series of demo tapes based around the theme of winter. The series would continue for 15 years with Wintherr apparently determined not to have his image & vision tainted by commercialism. For this reason, he was very strict about keeping each release officially labelled as a demo rather than a proper album release. Each demo would also see him telling different parts of the one epic story & not always in chronological order.
Wintherr would quickly become the leader that Swiss black metal been waiting for & his influence would see the local scene producing a number of noteworthy exponents of this more atmospheric black metal sound over the next two decades. The most celebrated of which would be his collaborative project Darkspace & the solo work of his Darkspace band mate Zhaaral which went by the name of Sun Of The Blind but artists like Vinterriket, Tardigrada, Rorcal, Can Bardd & Nordlicht are also worth mentioning. I wasn’t fortunate enough to come into contact with Paysage d’Hiver until 2009 when I investigated his self-titled 1999 release after being recommended it by Ben & seeing it receiving genuine classic status on a number of online resources. I was suitably impressed but perhaps wasn’t drawn into the fanatical sort of response I saw it commanding of others. My subsequent experiences with Paysage d’Hiver have certainly wet my appetite for what is supposedly the project’s first legitimate album release though & a 120 minutes marathon it is too. It’s been a full seven years since the last Paysage d’Hiver record so perhaps he’s making up for lost time. Let’s see what “Im Wald” is all about, shall we?
“Im Wald” is to be released through Wintherr’s own label Kunsthall Produktionen which he runs with Nimosh of the band Nordlicht. This is no real surprise as all of the Paysage d’Hiver releases have been through Kunsthall thus far. Apparently the version of that I’ve been listening to is a rip of one of the copies supplied on USB sticks to those lucky enough to have been in attendance at the pre-release listening party on 25th January 2020. The proper release date is slated for 26th June 2020 which means that we’re well ahead of the game here. “Im Wald” is German for “In The Forest” which is a pretty generic title for a black metal release it has to be said however Paysage d’Hiver have a stronger claim to it than most. The attractive cover art is certainly reflective of the title & it delivers a suitable amount of dark & foreboding atmosphere to the table straight up.
There’s not been any reference to a third-party producer being responsible for overseeing the production of “Im Wald” that I’m aware of so one would assume that it’s another self-produced effort. Given the attention to detail that Wintherr has shown with his art over the years, it probably wasn’t ever an option to involve anyone else in the recording process. Particularly given that the drums & synths are programmed rather than being performed live in a studio & also the lo-fi recording qualities that Paysage d’Hiver has built their reputation on. And that lo-fi element is certainly still here on “Im Wald” however there’s a clarity to this material that wasn’t there on previous releases. The riffs & instrumentation are more decipherable than we’re used to from Wintherr. He’s always used the intentional blurring of the instrumental tracks as a tool for creating a cold atmosphere & he’s certainly still approached his craft in the same way here only he’s allowed just enough definition to give these tracks some additional melodic context which was a master stroke in my opinion. You can still expect the noisy guitar tracks to come at you in sweeping waves with the vocals held back in the mix so that they sound almost like a tortured animal crying out in agony in the background though. Also, much like on the self-titled release, you can expect to hear some of those strange alternate instruments layered over the top of the traditional black metal that don’t seem to fit in with the rest of the track. This is by no means a deal breaker but I just don’t feel that he’s ever quite worked out how to fully integrate those elements & they often sound misplaced to my ears.
“Im Wald” takes the form of thirteen tracks totaling a full two hours. Four or five of those tracks are made up of shorter interludes that are invariably drenched in field recordings of bitterly cold ice winds blowing through the trees of the darkest forests but are each unique in their musical direction. A couple of them ooze of “Filosofem”-period Burzum whilst “Eulengesang” is pure Aphex Twin & “Verweilen” reminds me heavily of “Satellite Serenade” by Japanese electronic producer Keiichi Suzuki. I’ve gotta say, the dude has taste! Those are some high quality & impressively diverse influences & every one of these interludes is unique & of a very high standard. In fact, they really help to break up what is essentially a very long album for extreme metal & I’d actually suggest that the interludes & atmospheric tracks may be the highlights of the first hour rather than the genuine black metal numbers. The black metal tracks also offer a fair bit of variety with each piece possessing its own unique personality. So much so that “Im Wald” can sound a little more like a compilation of different material than a cohesive album during the first half of the album. Thankfully things come together much more tightly through the back end though.
The tempo is quite hectic for an atmospheric black metal release & certainly seems faster than I can remember from my previous experiences with Paysage d’Hiver. In fact, when you take into account the clearer production & the more intense style it does see me reaching for your more traditional black metal tag quite regularly. This is a noticeably more metal-oriented release than we’ve heard from Paysage d’Hiver’s more recent works & it’s chock full of your classic Norwegian tremolo riffs delivered in a similarly repetitive vein to 90’s Darkthrone . These can often be trance-inducing only the drum programming has been beautifully composed to highlight the changes & keep the tracks building. The guitars come in the form of a truly ominous & ever swarming mass that’s full of darkness & forboding. It’s interesting that the guitar performances aren’t perfectly in time with the programmed drumming on some tracks (particularly during the first hour) however this somehow seems appropriate with a raw & lo-fi black metal release like this one. In direct contrast to the up-front guitars is the use of synthesizers which are employed very subtly & are a major ingredient in the impressive tension & huge climaxes that Wintherr has orchestrated, particularly during the back half of the album where the synths seem to creep up on you very slowly until they're lifting the tracks to greater heights than you realized possible earlier on in the piece.
There are no weak tracks included here although the first hour is not nearly as strong as the second which is as close to perfect as you’ll find in extreme metal. Almost every track possesses traces of pure genius but the ones that fail to truly fulfill their potential tend to suffer from some inappropriate melodic or artistic decisions. “Stimmen in wald” is a good example of this with its consistent use of slightly cheesy “Hammerheart”-era Bathory style choirs managing to partially nullify some strong instrumentation while opener “Im Winterwald” sees some excellent groundwork being somewhat tainted by an ill-advised progressive electronic melody midway through the track. “Alt” suffers a similar affliction with what sounds like an apparently unrelated acoustic guitar arpeggio being layered over some blasting black metal. I made similar comments about the “Paysage d’Hiver” album from twenty years earlier so it would seem that Wintherr is a slow learner in this regard. He’s simply much more effective when he concentrates on the main black metal tools.
Whereas a lot of Paysage d’Hiver’s discography relies heavily on mid-90’s Burzum for inspiration, “Im Wald” sees Wintherr drawing on a wider range of classic extreme metal influences with traces of Emperor being found in the huge atmospheres & back-of-the-mix vocal approach while certain tracks sound almost like tributes to “Monotheist” period Celtic Frost (“Weiter, immer weiter”), Primordial’s “To The Nameless Dead” album (“Le Reve Lucide”) & “Transilvanian Hunger”-era Darkthrone (“Kalteschauer”). All of those tracks are spectacularly successful in these undertakings though it has to be said & are at least as effective as their sources of inspiration. Burzum’s underlying menace is still visible throughout, even if it can be slightly offset by some of those imperfect melodic decisions in hour one. There’s a rare majesty to this music when Wintherr gets things just right. He possesses the rare ability to create music that represents the truest embodiment of a snow-filled winter & his years of making this style of music have seen him mastering the art of building tension; the releases of which usually come through incredibly well timed & executed changes in drum beat.
Wintherr’s vocal performance is worth discussing as it’s noticeably more effective than it was on an album like the self-titled. He’s always used his voice more as an additional instrument than as a focal point & intentionally blends it into the instrumentation rather than pushing it out to the front of the mix. His shrieking screams often bring to mind “Under The Sign Of The Black Mark” era Bathory in tone here however their positioning in the mix gives them a slightly different but no less frightening timbre. Nowhere is this better highlighted than in the second hour of “Im Wald” which needs to be discussed in a bit more detail because it’s essentially the best thing I’ve heard come out of the black metal scene in many years, if not decades! Wintherr uses quality riffs & repetition along with subtle rhythmic changes to build the tracks subtly over long periods before gradually bringing in synthesizers & additional guitar tracks for huge & cripplingly dark crescendos that can only be described as black metal mastery. Wintherr has an incredible understanding of what it is that makes the black metal classics so great. That quality seems to have been lost over the years & I’m thrilled to hear that we still have artists that appreciate & understand these key elements & characteristics & don’t feel the need to hide behind disparate genre-crossing or dilution of the black metal model but instead bask in the glory of a more pure approach to black metal. You will simply not find a better example of this than the epic 19 minute closer “So hallt es wider”. It completely releases the shackles & drives home everything that is so great about elite level black metal. In fact, I wouldn’t hesitate to label it as one of the most sinister & genuinely intimidating pieces of music ever written. It almost defies belief that we’re hearing this in 2020. It’s the truest musical embodiment of Scandinavian winter you’re ever likely to find; Varg included. In fact, it may just be the best black metal track ever recorded & the previously mentioned “Kalteschauer” isn’t all that far behind it either to be fair.
“Im Wald” is an absolutely massive undertaking & one gets the feeling that Wintherr has been honing & refining this material over a very long period with the specific intension of making his first proper album a release of extreme magnitude. If that was the case, then he’s achieved his goal in no uncertain terms. This is certainly not a perfect record but I think there’s a case for it being labelled as a classic one given the consistent quality & the sheer quantity of tracks that are at that elite level. To keep the listener completely engaged across an entire two hours of extreme metal is an achievement in itself & I wouldn’t be surprised if Wintherr has intentionally loaded the back end with the best material in order to ensure that his audience don’t lose interest over time. I have to say, despite any negative statements I made earlier, the first hour is of a very solid standard that’s not too far from Paysage d’Hiver’s self-titled release in terms of overall quality but I’m disappointed that he hasn’t trimmed off the fat & released a one hour album here. If that had happened then I may just be claiming it as one of the top few metal releases ever recorded & I don’t say that lightly at all. This is absolutely essential listening for all fans of the black metal genre.
For fans of: Burzum, Darkspace, Darkthrone
Genres: Black Metal
Most death metal fans know the story. 18 year-old drummer Chris Reifert joins seminal death metal legends Death in San Francisco in 1986 before taking part in the recording of one of the most important records in the creation of the death metal genre in 1987’s “Scream Bloody Gore”. Death band leader Chuck Schuldiner then decides to move back to Florida & gives Chris the option to relocate. Chris elects to stay in San Francisco & forms another one of the classic old-school death metal bands in Autopsy in August 1987. 1988’s “Critical Madness” demo sees the band signing with UK crust punk label Peaceville Records for the recording of their seminal 1989 debut album “Severed Survival” & the world rejoices. It’s somewhat of a fairytale for a number of reasons really. I mean for every band that goes on to critical & commercial success you’ll find a slew of failed musicians that fell by the wayside never to be heard from again & it’s actually quite rare to see this sort of success story (although there are definite parallels to the Dave Mustaine one with Metallica & Megadeth). And for Peaceville, it would be a change of musical direction that would quickly lead to the creation of a viable full-time business & one that is still going strong a full three decades later. But is “Severed Survival” all that it’s cracked up to be? Let’s find out.
The recording of Autopsy’s debut full-length would be a joint effort with Peaceville bringing in Metal Church guitarist John Marshall to co-produce the record at Starlight Sound Studios in California in January 1989. Marshall had previously produced not only Metal Church’s “Blessing In Disguise” record but also Sadus’ 1988 debut full-length “Illusions” so when Autopsy bassist Ken Sorvari made himself unavailable for the recording of the album for personal reasons, the now legendary Sadus bass virtuoso Steve DiGiorgio was drafted in to complete the recordings as a hired gun. I think it’s probably fair to say that Steve had no idea of just how prominent a role he would play in the way that Autopsy’s album would sound at the time.
The “Severed Survival” album would be released on 24th April 1989 & would sport some grisly cover artwork that depicted an image of some poor soul being torn limb from limb by a number of metallic hooks. Autopsy’s moniker would be displayed in what looked like raw meat which would be a further indication of the depraved sounds you were likely to hear within. It’s a fairly cheap looking effort it has to be said & later re-releases would see it replaced with a much more impressive illustration of some zombified surgeons peering down into the eyes of some unfortunate patient. I greatly prefer the look & feel of the re-release as it looks much more glossy & professional which would see it competing quite well in the extreme metal market environment of the time which saw every band & their dog coming up with increasingly attractive images of pure darkness.
The sound that was captured for the “Severed Survival” album was unlike anything the underground metal scene had heard before & it would go on to become a signature sound for Autopsy throughout their career. It was much sludgier & substantially less precise than most 80’s metal with a huge emphasis being placed on creating a genuinely disturbing atmosphere of death & torture that’s not too dissimilar to the image shown on the original release of the album. In fact, "Severed Survival" legitimately sounds like you’re inside the twisted mind of a serial killer in that it exudes an unsettling feeling of impending doom throughout. In order to achieve this, Marshall & the band have opted for a much sloppier & looser feel than most metal bands of the time were going for & in hindsight it was a stroke of genius. The drums were tuned quite loosely to give the toms & kick drum a deep tub-thumpin’ sound while DiGiorgio’s bass guitar would be elevated right to the front of the mix to provide additional emphasis to Autopsy’s already crushing riffs which were presented with a very distinctive & fuzzy rhythm guitar sound. The guitar solos of Eric Cutler & Danny Coralles seer over the top of the rhythm tracks thanks to a heavily filtered tone that was likely achieved with a stationary wah pedal if I’m not mistaken. Truth be told, it’s a really great sound for death metal & I don’t doubt that it was one of the primary reasons that “Severed Survival” would go on to be so successful for Autopsy.
Musically, Autopsy also offered the death metal community something a little different. The basis of their style was built on the “Scream Bloody Gore” model of old-school death metal that Reifert had played such a strong part in creating only Autopsy were a lot less sophisticated than peers like Morbid Angel, Pestilence or Death. There’s a much punkier vibe going on here than anything we’d hear from those bands & I put a lot of that down to Reifert’s drumming. I probably should have mentioned it earlier but Chris is one of the rare metal drummers that also handles the lead vocal duties & I’d suggest that his signature style is the logical outcome of that arrangement as it’s fairly simple. His best work invariably occurs when he goes for a more tribal feel during Autopsy’s doomier moments but I have to admit that his more up-beat & punk-driven beats are a bit of a let-down for me personally. They’re just not my thing particularly. I much prefer Autopsy’s strong use of slow dirge-like doom metal riffs with bands like Black Sabbath & Trouble clearly having made a substantial impression on the band. In fact, it can easily be argued that “Severed Survival” is the true birthplace of the doom/death subgenre as it’s such a major component of what makes Autopsy so appealing. I absolutely love the crushingly heavy & suffocating darkness in these parts & it’s the uneasiness it leaves the listener feeling that makes it so appropriate for a band whose lyrical themes are so heavily centred around serial killers. When you stick in the occasional off-beat arrangement with clever transitions & some very twisted lead harmonies you’re left with one beast of a death metal sound.
The performance of Steve DiGiorgio isn’t one of his most challenging & experimental but he certainly adds an additional layer to Autopsy’s already disturbing sound. His bass work is truly punishing & I particularly enjoy his use of bass chords at key moments which makes for something a little different. I’d highly recommend that you make sure you have a decent set of speakers before giving “Severed Survival” a spin though as you could be in for a rude shock otherwise. Cutler & Coralles show off some decent chops during their solos however I do think that there’s a little bit of a lack of ambition in their faster solos which tend go for a huge flurry of notes without really saying all that much. Their slower lead work is much more interesting as their note-selection can be quite unnerving at times.
Reifert’s vocals were always going to be a talking point because there’s been very little restraint shown in his approach. I wouldn’t say that he goes for your classic death metal grunt. His performance here sounds more like the crazed bellows & barks of an emotionally tortured & psychologically twisted serial killer. It’s almost like he’s too embarrassed for people to decipher the storylines he’s subjecting us to because I’ll be damned if he isn’t intentionally trying to make his language less intelligible. I have to admit that I don’t love his delivery & I’ve often wondered what Autopsy could have achieved with a full-time front man but it’s definitely worth dwelling on Chris’ sick, gore-soaked lyrical content for a minute because “Severed Survival” would be the record that would kick off a generation of subsequent death metal bands working predominantly with a palate of disgusting & offensive filth…. in a good way of course! Some may say that we’re better off for not being able to understand what Reifert’s saying & one look at the lyrics should tell you very quickly which side of the fence you fall on.
Ultimately I’m always left with mixed feelings about “Severed Survival” & it’s been that way since I first encountered it back in 1989/90. I love Autopsy’s swampy sound & the authentic atmosphere of pure death it pervades. They really did create something very original there & their talent for writing the eeriest doom metal riffs imaginable leaves me wishing that they would have taken that direction in more of a full-time capacity just the once so that I could see what it might have amounted to. Unfortunately, I just don’t find their bouncier up-tempo material even half as appealing & almost every track sees some glorious doom material being tarnished by one or two lethargic & unintimidating punk-driven beats. The overall result is that whilst I enjoy almost every track on “Severed Survival”, I very rarely LOVE any of these tracks. It’s only really “Charred Remains” & “Ridden With Disease” that manage to overcome this issue & for this reason I find this release to be the very epitome of a 3.5/5 release by my rating system. I’m not sure I’d say that “Severed Survival” is overrated. The influence it's so clearly had on a band like Carcass is undeniable so I think it's more just a matter of it not quite fitting in with my comfort zone despite being a generally rewarding listen.
For fans of: Asphyx, Abscess, Pungent Stench.
Genres: Death Metal
Music is such an amazing part of the world in that it can play so many different roles & satisfy so many urges depending on your mood & environment. Sometimes you just want something to throw on in the background in order to fill the space & create an atmosphere while at others you want to fully immerse yourself in the ambition & artistry of the composer by sitting in a dark room with headphones on or attending a live performance. There are times when you want to hear something familiar that doesn’t challenge you too much while the next day you may want to be opened up to something completely foreign. Well trust me when I say that Melbourne-based progressive metal outfit Lucid Planet’s 2020 sophomore effort (simply entitled “Lucid Planet II”) offers so much compositional complexity & musical ambition that you’ll be doing yourself a disservice by not giving it your full focus.
I’d never heard of Lucid Planet before one of our most highly regarded & valued Metal Academy members Xephyr nominated it for The Infinite feature release status a week or so back which is unusual for a band from my homeland & particularly for one of this quality. There hasn’t been a huge amount of buzz in the metal scene around the release of “Lucid Planet II” as far as I’m aware so I had absolutely no idea of what to expect going into it other than the general connections to Tool that seem to be a commonly used reference point. But having now sat through the entire 68 minute duration of the album in full a few times I can honestly say that I’ve been left dumbfounded as to why this artist is not a household name in the world of progressive music in general. Perhaps I’m just still too stuck in my extreme metal bubble to notice but I don’t think that’s the case & it’s left me a little saddened that a record like this one can slip through the cracks as easily as it could have if it hadn’t been brought to my attention by the wonder that is the Metal Academy website (see what I did there? I saw an opening & I took it.) This is a very real reflection of the impatient & unappreciative music market we now have in the age of internet streaming in my opinion although it's hard to deny that the internet has made up for it by drawing me to this release in the end anyway.
While looking at the album cover before pressing play for the first time, I was intrigued as to what image & identity it was trying to portray because it combines a number of disparate elements that shouldn’t really work together but somehow do. You’ve got the eye of “Lateralus”-era Tool, a band name that’s very much aligned with an ethno-ambient aesthetic & a highly complex & psychedelic image of a tunnel into a world that’s simultaneously both organic & alien. It seemed very strange for a metal release at first but after sitting through the album a couple of times it all seemed to come together beautifully & now I look at the same image in amazement at just how perfectly it has sums up the musical experience the album has in store for you.
You see, although “Lucid Planet II” is generally referred to as a progressive metal record, metal is only a piece of a much larger puzzle. Sure, it forms the basis for Lucid Planet to build their expansive array of ideas around but you certainly don’t have to be a metal fan to enjoy this record. In fact, I’d suggest that ANY fan of high quality, cerebral music & art in general should find interest in it, regardless of taste or demographic. It offers a superbly devised concept that’s been stunningly executed with the result seeing the listener taken on a journey through numerous fascinating & exotic landscapes without ever feeling unfocused or self-indulgent. It’s really fucking impressive that a relatively unknown band from Melbourne have been able to pull this off actually & I’ve been well impressed to say the least.
As I suggested earlier, the basis of the Lucid Planet sound is built around the rhythmically complex riffage of Tool & you won’t struggle to hear their trademark alternative metal crunch at numerous times across the tracklisting. But unlike most Tool copy-cats, it’s worth noting that Lucid Planet also have a good understanding of the art of tension & release & this sees them being able to build atmospheres slowly over time before reaching well-timed crescendos of significant weight. But at the same time, almost all of the eight tracks on “Lucid Planet II” incorporate a diverse palate of influences. The sounds of the natural world clearly hold a strong place in the hearts of the band because there’s a noticeably organic feel to most of this material with the tribal ambience of artists like Dead Can Dance & Steve Roach popping up time & time again, particularly on “Entrancement” which is made up almost entirely of this sound. The production style is super crisp & bright which may not highlight the heavier aspects of Lucid Planet’s sound but it certainly accentuates the psychedelic elements at play & often reminds me of artists from the electronic music scene. Just check out the second half of “Organic Hard Drive” for example where Lucid Planet don’t even try to hide their passion for psychedelic psytrance artists like Atmos & Andromeda. But the amazing thing about this is that they’ve managed to match their influences in terms of quality while also integrating the influence into their sound so beautifully that it not only sounds entirely natural (despite having likely never been attempted before) but becomes a highlight of the piece in general. “Digital Ritual” is another example of this as it wouldn’t sound out of place on an album from psybient artists like Carbon Based Lifeforms or Shpongle but also sounds quite natural when presented in the context of a tracklisting that includes melodic prog rock tunes like “Offer” which sounds more like Porcupine Tree than it does Tool but still manages to take a brief dalliance with the sort of dub that Leftfield liked to experiment with on their classic “Leftism” album. It’s astounding that Lucid Planet have been able to achieve this really, particularly given that they’re a band from my country that I’ve never even heard of & one that’s only on their second album. The ambition & musicianship here is nothing short of astonishing.
The vocal skills of front man Luke Turner probably aren’t anything truly special when viewed in isolation if I’m being honest & that could be viewed as a weakness but I think that would be a harsh assessment. Not everyone can possess a truly captivating voice as that requires a level of x-factor that really doesn’t have all that much to do with the ability to sing in key. But even though Luke may not reside in the elite tier of prog vocalists, Lucid Planet have managed to accentuate & enhance his contribution through some incredibly precise doubling & harmonizing in the studio & this proves to be somewhat of a master stroke. In fact, when combined with the addition of the gorgeous backup vocals of Jade Alice it becomes very easy to forget those initial feelings of skepticism & by the end of my second listen I was already finding Luke’s vocals to be a lot more endearing.
Overall, I simply can’t fault “Lucid Planet II”. It’s a complete musical experience that’s unlike anything I’ve ever heard before. The tracklisting is very consistent & it’s only the fact that the couple of the more ambient works (see “Entrancement” & “Digital Ritual”) probably don’t tick my boxes quite as much as the more substantial & heavier tracks that stops me from awarding full marks but trust me when I say that it was definitely something I considered & I don’t say that lightly. Epic pieces like “Anamnesis”, “On The Way” & “Zenith” represent perfect examples of heavy progressive music in my opinion & I challenge any member of our The Infinite clan to find a way not to love this album after giving it the repeat listens required in order to fully understand its unique charms.
For fans of Tool, Karnivool & Soen.
Genres: Progressive Metal
Back when the Metal Academy website first went live a few years ago now, I had the opportunity to choose my clans of choice & honestly thought it would be a complete no-brainer. I’ve always been an extreme metal fan first & foremost so the option of allocating myself The Pit, The Horde, The Fallen & The North was an obvious one. But over time I began to realise that my preferences within The North weren’t as broad as they were for the other three clans & I opted to drop back to three clans. High quality black metal still clearly sat amongst the most elite genres for me however the scope of the black metal sound had expanded significantly since the 1990’s & I found that the modern scene included a whole plethora of different variations or sub-subgenres that often offered me very little appeal. Sometimes I’d even find it hard to understand the appeal in an artist that was generally well-regarded by the audience for your more conventional black metal & 2019’s sophomore album from US multi-instrumentalist Funereal Presence is a pretty good example of this.
“Achatius” is made up of four lengthy pieces that all exceed the ten minute mark with lone member Bestial Devotion (also the drummer for fellow US black metallers Negative Plane) producing a package that offers considerable structural variation & always keeps the listener on their toes through consistent changes-ups. The Funereal Presence sound is certainly built on the old-school mentality of classic black metal bands like Darkthrone & Bathory however there’s a greater level of complexity in the use of melody here, at times even bordering on the melodic black metal subgenre. It’s this use of melody that gives Funereal Presence their own unique sound as it often feels a little unusual or avant-garde, despite the fact that there’s nothing all that obscure happening when you examine things closely. The use of non-traditional instruments like church bells also contributes to this & is a noteworthy feature of the album as a whole.
The production job is clear & accessible without ever moving away from the lo-fi black metal aesthetic & I think it does the material justice. It’s interesting that the performances are often pretty dodgy though, particularly the drumming which sounds very much like poor Bestial is pushing himself a little further than his technical limitations should really allow for & the same can be said for some of the guitar work which struggles for timing (check out the clean section in “Wherein Seven Celestial Beasts Are Revealed To Him” for example – yuck!), a flaw that was perhaps accentuated by to the inconsistencies in the drumming. For this reason, I definitely think that “Achatius” had the potential to be more than what we’ve received. The inclusion of some more highly skilled & instrument-specific third parties could have taken this material to another level however you would usually have thought that a one-man band would be very tight given that its conforming to just the one overarching vision. That’s certainly not the case here & I find myself struggling a little bit as a result. Perhaps Bestial Devotion simply found it tough to get his tracks down tightly without the backing of other instrumentalists during the recording of each track? It’s certainly possible from my experience in the studio.
The other thing I struggle with is the more melodic material which I find to not only take me outside of my comfort zone further than I’m comfortable with but also to sound pretty sickly at times. Bestial Devotion’s decision to utilize cow bell at various points across the tracklisting was never a good idea either. I’ve always been a strong detractor of that particular rhythmic instrument’s metal credentials & would actually go so far as to suggest that it should be banned altogether. It probably won’t come as any sort of surprise that the more extreme sections of the album offer me the most appeal though with second track “Wherein A Messenger Of The Devil Appears” being my clear highlight. The other three tracks simply fall short of the mark for me, particularly the two tracks that close out the album which were a clear step down from the A-side.
I don’t think too many black metal fans will have trouble with the vocals which sit comfortably within the safe confines of the genre however they’re also not particularly engaging & don’t really serve as the focal point at any stage in my opinion. If you’re going to buy into “Achatius” then it’s likely for the melodic complexity in the guitar work rather than the extreme nature of the vocals though. The occasional rough-shod yet psychotic Quorthon-esque guitar solo is a nice touch which probably could have been explored a little further although Bestial Devotion’s limited capabilities in this area are probably a large part of the reason for this & that kinda sums up my issues with the album to be honest. I don’t mind a black metal album that’s low on technical skill but caters for it with pure darkness & evil. “Achatius” aims significantly higher than that though & doesn’t stick within its technical limitations which leads to this ol’ metal musician sporting a fair few cringes throughout the 49 minute run time. There’s enjoyment to be had when Funeral Presence keep it simpler & more aggressive but I struggle with his more ambitious moments & this has led to an underwhelming overall impression of the album.
For fans of Negative Plane, Cultes des Ghoules & Darkthrone.
Genres: Black Metal
My knowledge of Liverpool-based metalcore outfit Loathe was pretty limited leading into my first sitting with their sophomore album “I Let It In & It Took Everything”. I’d seen their name tossed around the traps for a few years & had definitely noticed the attention that this record had drawn from the metal press however I’d never felt the urge to check them out before. Unlike many of my old-school peers though, I’ve always had a soft spot for high quality metalcore & the idea of cross-pollination with a Deftones-influenced alternative metal sound certainly sounded appealing as I’ve slowly become a big fan of Deftones over the last decade or so.
My first impressions of “I Let It In & It Took Everything” were very good. This was clearly a quality record that had been produced by an imaginative & ambitious group of capable musicians. Even the opening ambient piece “Theme” gave a strong indication that Loathe meant business. In fact, all three of the short ambient pieces scattered across the tracklisting offer deep & full synthesized tones that attest to a strong pedigree in atmospheric music & I found them to be a really nice contribution. Then once the proper songs kicked off I was surprised by just how intense Loathe can be. Up until that point I’d been expecting the more accessible Deftones-influenced alternative metal material to represent the stronger side of the equation based on the vast majority of the reviews I’d read however this was definitely not the case in practise. Loathe’s metalcore sound is not only well produced but it’s also as abrasive as fuck with front man Kadeem France absolutely screaming his lungs out &, in doing so, topping most of his metalcore contemporaries for sheer electricity & aggression. Then, when you throw in his ability to sing in a sweet Chino Moreno style you get a captivating & exhilarating performance.
In saying that, I can’t say that Loathe manage to match Chino’s classic material with Deftones. The hooks simply aren’t as strong & I find myself looking forward to the more abrasive metalcore material like the classic duo of B-side monsters “Gored” & album highlight “Heavy Is The Head That Falls With the Weight Of A Thousand Thoughts” which even features an intro section that sounds uncannily like Deafheaven style blackgaze. These two seem to press a lot harder on my musical sweet spot & remind me very much of a less complex Dillinger Escape Plan. As far as percentages go though, “I Let It In & It Took Everything” is unquestionably a combination of the two sounds with the alternative stuff often characterized by those signature down-strummed shoegaze chords & the more intense material regularly employing a simpler version of the rhythmic riff structures of Meshuggah’s djent sound. The way that Loathe combine their variety of different influences into the one glistening package isn’t always fluent & collaborative however it’s always of a high quality & never fails to lose my attention.
Overall, I find Loathe’s second full-length to be a very solid release that’s completely free of duds & has been particularly well produced, particularly the powerful bass guitar sound which drives much of this material. Loathe clearly possessed a broad palate of musical ideas by this point in their careers & I really enjoy their artistic vision for such a new band. I’ve noticed that the album also comes in an instrumental version & I have to question the merit of such a release when Kadeem France’s vocal delivery is such an integral component of the band’s makeup however it’s hard to deny that Loathe is capable of pulling it off from a purely instrumental point of view. “I Let It In & It Took Everything” is a high quality alternative metalcore record that represents the best example of that particular combination that I’ve experienced to date.
For fans of 36 Crazyfists, early Issues & the last couple of Northlane albums.
Genres: Alternative Metal Metalcore
Sometimes a release comes along that leaves you wondering what rock you’ve been hiding under. A release whose qualities are so profound that it immediately adjusts the way you think about the world & has you considering new directions that you previously didn’t know existed. I usually find these sort of recordings to be those that question the musical status quo by taking on our stereotypes & showing us that we don’t necessarily know everything just yet & the fifth album from Finland’s Oranssi Pazuzu certainly does that.
I’ve been aware of Oranssi Pazuzu since their 2009 debut album “Muukalainen puhuu” but haven’t really given them much time until now to be perfectly honest. I guess my experiences with other supposed “psychedelic black metal” outfits haven’t been all that positive over the years which is unusual given my huge fascination with psychedelic rock & its incorporation into other subgenres like doom metal, sludge metal, post-metal, stoner metal & drone metal. But the overwhelmingly positive critical response to “Mestarin kynsi” has tweaked my interest & its unusual subgenre tagging has finally convinced me that it would be an interesting discussion topic for Metal Academy so I’ve finally bitten the bullet & awarded it feature releases status for The Infinite off the back of its “avant-garde metal” tagging on other sites.
Sometimes releases that challenge the listener’s existing understanding of what extreme metal can be can taken a few listens to fully grasp & can be real growers but “Mestarin kynsi” hit me from the word go, so much so that I immediately started wondering if I might have to rethink my album of the year nomination with only a couple of weeks left in the year. The sounds coming from my speakers were like nothing I’d heard before but also felt so fully realised that I never felt uneasy or required any sort of adjustment period & that’s the sign of a next level artist. The other thing that sprang to mind fairly early on was just how little justice the genre-tagging on other prominent internet sites has been giving Oranssi Pazuzu as they really seem to be clutching at straws. Psychedelic rock? Really? Can you see fans of The Doors or Jimi Hendrix going nuts over this release? They’d likely run for the hills in terror. Avant-garde metal? Well, yes it is avant-garde by the very definition of the term but that tag is usually reserved for releases that sound inherently weird & that require time & familiarity to get comfortable with. The combination of disparate genres you’ll hear on “Mestrin kynsi” is so well executed that you almost feel like you’ve been listening to this stuff your whole life & I found myself instantly comfortable so I don’t regard that tag as being particularly relevant either. And then there’s the black metal thing. There is absolutely no doubt that the vocals of front man Jun-His fall firmly into the black metal camp. In fact, I’d argue that they’re some of the most definitive & powerful in all of black metal & I think that’s a strong enough statement to warrant the album being lumped in with the darkest of metal genres but I hear very little else that hints at genuine black metal from an instrumental point of view to be honest. Interestingly, the subgenre that I feel has the strongest claim on “Mestarin kynsi” is post-metal & it baffles me that this element isn’t more readily referred to. The lengthy periods of repeated motifs while other elements gradually build around it, the huge crescendos, the use of atmospheric ambience, the fact that the music utilises the signature tools that of metal but has you questioning whether it’s metal at all… all of that is in line with the classic post-metal model & if you replaced Jun-His’ vocals with some sludge/hardcore ones I think you’d find that the public perception would change dramatically, particularly as there are various riffs utilised across the album that sound pretty similar in style to the leading players from the atmospheric sludge metal movement. The psychedelic component is worth mentioning but I don’t actually feel like it’s too strong for the post-metal tag to cover & the same can be said for the electronic element which beautifully colours the music in various different ways but never comes across as sounding overly quirky or forced.
Back to those vocals, one thing that I find truly amazing is that Jun-His can get away with growling & screaming like a demon over this music which doesn’t often hint at black metal’s darkness. The instrumentation has an ethereal beauty about it that I would generally have thought would have been in conflict with your more blasphemic of vocalists (think Deathspell Omega) but here they seem to work perfectly & I put that down to Oranssi Pazuzu having complete clarity of what they’re trying to achieve & total confidence in their abilities to make it stick. I’ve rarely heard a more imposing front man & he really does make this album a lot more appealing than it may have been with your standard black metal fodder. The way the instrumentation builds gradually in subtle ways underneath his unrestrained brutality is a talent that the band milk for all it’s worth with each track obtaining the required crescendo in different but equally abrasive & intense ways. It’s kinda their thing. Sure there are a few jerky transitions included here & there where it sounds like the band have attempted to paste two disparate sections together but those individual sections are simply so compelling that it’s very hard to argue a case against them residing in the same piece. The three tracks that make up the A-side are nothing short of audio perfection & you’ll rarely find a more gripping & transcendent side of metal. The quality does taper of just a touch at the start of the B-side with “Oikeamielisten Sali” being the clear low point of the album but even then it’s a very high quality piece of work & this only leads into further glories over the last couple of tracks with the final climax of long & repetitive closer “Taivaan portti” representing the most violent yet euphoric end to an incrediblly creative album.
“Mestarin kynsi” brings together a large quantity of influences that should have no place together in theory but in practice come across as pure genius. The jangly noise rock guitars, the Massive Attack style filtered electronic bass lines, the krautrock experimentation…. there's even a question around whether a lot of this stuff is even metal but it all works wonderfully well & has left me feeling somewhat embarrassed that I’m only just coming to this release now when it is so clearly something that I should have invested the time in earlier. Oranssi Pazuzu are an absolute breath of fresh air in a scene that’s so chock full of pretenders who are simply trying to emulate their idols. They’re not only ground-breaking but have also presented their unusual sound with such fluency that they still achieve a greater level of accessibility than most extreme metal outfits & this is the key behind their surprising success. I can’t stress enough what a magical experience “Mestarin kynsi” is for a music tragic like myself & I’m genuinely grateful that I’ve discovered it. Better late than never as they say. And yes, this is my album of the year. No one will catch it at this late stage & I’m not sure I’d want them to anyway. It’s a fitting & deserved champion in my opinion.
For fans of A Forest Of Stars, Hail Spirit Noir & Sólstafir.
Genres: Avant-Garde Metal Black Metal
The classic doom/death sound has always been something that I’ve been heavily attracted to as it combines two of my favourite sounds for a result that generally equals or transcends the sum of its parts. In fact, it could be argued that I wasn’t all that big on your more traditional doom metal sound until the more significant doom/death exponents appeared in the early 1990s with England’s My Dying Bride sitting amongst the most important & influential in my musical journey. It took exactly one song to leave me hooked with the title track from 1992’s “Symphonaire Infernus Et Spera Empyrium” E.P. leaving me completely soul-destroyed & begging for more, a task which they willingly proceeded to fulfill with aplomb over the next four years. My Dying Bride’s best work was not only gripping enough to play a significant role in the greatest period of musical discovery & exploration in my life to date but, so profound was their impact on me, that they also assisted in my emotional development as a young man. By the late 90’s however, the doom/death explosion had reached its peak & begun its descent & my interest in metal as a whole was starting to wane which would see me spending most of the 2000’s immersing myself in the world of electronic music. When I finally returned to metal in 2009 I had some catching up to do so I quickly turned to my beloved My Dying Bride for guidance. I would soon find that 2001’s “The Dreadful Hours” album was held up in the highest esteem by fans & critics alike so my hopes were lifted at the prospect of another life-changing musical highlight from the leaders of the game.
“The Dreadful Hours” can be regarded as an album that’s very much representative of what your average My Dying Bride fan was wanting to hear from them at the time & it depends on where you stand in regards to that statement as to whether you’ll be overjoyed or underwhelmed by it. When I first reviewed it back in November 2010 I found that I fell comfortably into the latter camp. I certainly saw some appeal in what I was hearing but felt that the band was simply revising past glories in a less-inspired manner, an opinion that was provided additional weight by the fact that more than 20% of the album was taken up by a re-recorded version of a past classic. It all sounded like a band going through the motions & trying to force out the album their fans were all wanting & the seemingly unanimous praise the album seemed to draw from the global metal community has left me confused ever since. My confusion reached a new peak recently when I discovered that “The Dreadful Hours” was My Dying Bride’s top ranking release on another prominent music ratings website, sitting clear of bona fide classics like “Turn Loose The Swans” & “The Angel & The Dark River”. I immediately raised my wretched face to the heavens & muttered “What is this madness?!” It was a clear indication that the time was right to reassess my position.
I once again found myself struggling a bit during my first listen to be honest. The production is excellent as you would expect but I wasn’t really able to connect all that well with the song-writing & delivery. It certainly sounded like My Dying Bride but…. there was something missing. That was until the stunning re-enactment of the epic fourteen minute “The Return Of The Beautiful” from their 1992 debut full-length “As The Flower Withers” (this time renamed “The Return TO The Beautiful”) which not only represents the clear highlight of the album but also sits up there with the greatest pieces of work for the subgenre as a whole. Yyyeessss….. there it is. That’s what I’ve been missing. I quickly returned to the start of the album to see if I’d just overlooked the quality in the other material & my second listen saw me starting to identify & come to terms with my qualms.
One of the most magnificent features of the classic MDB material was the inclusion of the violin which added a truly majestic aura & an overall beauty to the music. "The Dreadful Hours" is really missing that aspect. The band have attempted to replace it through the use of keyboards which generally work quite well but are rarely as emotionally engaging. There’s also not as much consistency in the quality of the riffs as there was during their classic period with some of them sounding a touch generic & this element sees most tracks falling a little short of their potential. I think "Black Heart Romance" definitely achieves the classic MDB sound best of the new material & after several listens I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a classic in its own right however the fact that "The Return To The Beautiful" clearly takes another step up from there shows that My Dying Bride aren’t quite what they were, despite leaving clear proof that they’re still a tier one player.
Probably my major gripe with latter day My Dying Bride is with Aaron’s clean vocal delivery though. On “The Dreadful Hours” we see him alternating between his powerful death growls & his more melodic & gothic-tinged clean singing & my feelings on the two are like chalk & cheese. Where his growls bring the more sombre material a genuine sense of desolation, his clean stuff comes across as very limited & repetitive. His phrasing is always the same & I feel like he’s about to cry a lot of the time. Now that may appeal to a lot of people but I’ve always found that sort of thing to be overly melodramatic & emasculating. Label me as the classic cold-hearted male that’s detached from his emotional side if you like but I don’t like to hear grown men whimpering & whinging all that much, particularly in my extreme metal. Aaron does a lot of rehashing of old material here too. The phrasing in "My Hope, The Destroyer" is simply too close to earlier material for example & the lyrics also make me want to kick him in the nuts & tell him to harden the fuck up. "The Deepest Of All Hearts" is a fine example of this too & the up-front position the vocals take in the mix doesn’t help much to be fair. Why do so many of the lines have to end with “me” & “you”?? It’s all a bit annoying as the death growls inevitably see my ears pricking up & my general attitude soaring but I have to admit that repeat listens have seen me able to look past Aaron’s performance a lot more than I used to.
Having had my whinge, this is musically a pretty heavy record. The instrumental performances are all very tight & chunky & there’s only the one track that I don’t enjoy in the dreary nine-minute "Le Figile della Tempesta" which sees Aaron at his worst over a repeated lead guitar motif that’s been pulled straight from their classic “The Cry Of Mankind”. I can easily see how “The Dreadful Hours” offers a fairly universal appeal & I do enjoy it more than I did previously, mainly because I’ve had time to get over my qualms a little bit & just take in the positives a bit more. I mean there is still a lot of the classic My Dying Bride sound here. It’s just that I’m left with a numbing feeling that cries out "you’ve heard it all before". I guess I just think that it’s a bit overrated rather than harboring any doubts about it being a strong record in its own right. It’s a high quality doom release & is deserving of a higher rating than I gave it previously but it doesn’t entice me to listen to it over their past classics & its closing masterpiece serves as a reminder of the real depth & magnificence that My Dying Bride are capable of at their very best.
Genres: Doom Metal Gothic Metal
The industrial metal sound was essentially invented by two fairly different but no less forward-thinking artists on opposite sides of the globe during the late 1980’s. On the one side you had former Napalm Death guitarist Justin Broadrick’s Godflesh project coming out of Birmingham, England which was potentially the first to combine a genuine metal sound with industrial music. And on the other side of the globe you had Chicago four-piece Ministry who had slowly integrated a metal component into their sound over many years after beginning life as something entirely different. Both have maintained their presence in the scene for the more than three decades that have since passed &, as is so often the case in music, the originators have not only retained their relevance but are still the benchmark with which all industrial metal is judged. I love them both but it’s interesting that the emotions they are each capable of drawing from me are quite different &, despite utilizing similar tool sets, I wouldn’t say that they sound particularly alike either.
Ministry actually predate Godflesh by many years, having first formed as a synthpop act way back in 1981. The band is centred around the musical genius of multi-instrumentalist Al Jourgensen who is a complex & constantly evolving human being, not only from a musical sense but also from a personal one. It’s interesting that he’s given drastically contrasting accounts of how his extreme change in musical direction took place. At one point Al had downplayed his early stylistic approach & he was quoted as saying that his original record label Arista Records had assumed total creative control over the product that Ministry were producing & that the musical direction was the result of Arista having engaged external writers & producers. During another interview he changed his story slightly by stating that Arista had pressured him into adopting a sound that was more likely to be commercially successful in the market of the day. Then thirdly, there are various accounts of Al simply saying that his discovery of hardcore punk in the mid-1980’s had led to him consciously making the decision to change his style which would indicate that he had actually never had any ambitions towards a heavier sound during the early 80’s. The third option sounds the most likely to me & also seems to be backed up by his ex-wife Patty Marsh. Regardless of which story is true though, Ministry’s transition to a new label in the Warner Brothers affiliated Sire Records would see the new wave synthpop of their 1983 debut album “With Sympathy” being converted into a noticeably more industrial, electro-tinged sound for 1986’s sophomore album “Twitch” with the influence of his co-producer Adrian Sherwood & some recent touring with EBM masters Front 242 having a significant impact on the result. It would see Al becoming progressively more open to aggressive & abrasive sounds over the coming years with 1988’s “Land Of Rape & Honey” testing the waters with a significant metal component before 1989’s “The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste” album took things to their next logical extreme with Ministry finally committing to a fully integrated industrial metal sound.
My first experiences with Ministry came through the singles that were taken from “The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste” with both “Burning Inside” & “So What” getting regular plays on late-night metal radio during the early 1990’s. I liked what I heard too. It all sounded so fresh & exciting although I have to admit that I was absolutely enraptured with the extreme metal scene at the time so I don’t think I ever sought out the full album until my brother Ben picked it & “The Land Of Rape & Honey” up shortly after becoming obsessed with Ministry’s 1992 album “Psalm 69”. Both of these records were very strong & important releases that played a huge part in the creation of a steadily growing US industrial metal scene that saw the likes of New Jersey’s Old & Boston’s Skin Chamber competing head to head with English industrialists Godflesh & Pitch Shifter.
So this brings us to the before-mentioned “Psalm 69: The Way To Succeed & The Way To Suck Eggs” album; a release that would see Ministry taking further steps into the commercial stratosphere & one that is generally regarded as Jourgenson’s finest hour. It would also be Ministry’s last full-length with Sire Records as its subsequent success would see them being promoted by Warner Brothers with their next couple of albums receiving major label backing. “Psalm 69” would be produced by Al Jourgensen in conjunction with full-time collaborator & bass player Paul Barker with recordings taking place in both Chicago & Lake Geneva over more than a year from March 1991 to May 1992. The album was originally intended to be titled “The Tapes Of Wrath” however this would change over time with Al eventually opting to go with a title derived from the 69th chapter of Aleister Crowley’s 1913 text “The Book Of Lies” which is essentially a reference to the 69 sexual position.
The cover artwork for “Psalm 69” was created by photographer Paul Elledge who had hit it off with Jourgensen after being employed to shoot the band on their tour for “The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste”. The two men had stayed up all night partying & this eventually led to a long-term business arrangement that saw Elledge providing the artwork for several Ministry releases over the coming years. Jourgensen gave Elledge a copy of the album recordings & Crowley’s book as reference points & the piece that eventually made the front cover was a triple exposure that Elledge felt best represented the imagery he’d uncovered in Ministry’s music & concept. It’s quite a striking image & I’m not sure it really suits the sound of the album as a whole but it certainly suits the dark majesty of some of the more easy-paced tracks like “Scare Crow” & particularly the title track. The image of the alien-esque angel has an uncomfortable quality to it that I find to be quite similar to David Lynch’s seminal “Eraserhead” film. It’s interesting that Godflesh mastermind Justin Broadrick has been quoted as saying that his classic 1989 industrial metal album “Streetcleaner” was the result of late-night “Eraserhead” viewing sessions whilst under the influence of LSD so the film seems to be in some way linked to the development of the industrial metal subgenre. It was a huge film for me personally too so perhaps that’s why I feel such an attraction to this sort of record given that the more industrial material almost mimics the tension & uneasiness of the film, although admittedly not as closely as Broadrick’s vision would. The front cover wouldn’t feature any reference to the band name or album title & I have to admit that I always question the sense in this practice as it seems to me to be a little self-indulgent.
As with all good industrial metal, the production job that Al & Paul achieved for “Psalm 69” is almost as important as the music itself & is a magnificent example of its type. Warner Brothers had given Ministry a huge budget to work with as they’d been anticipating a major breakthrough hit following the underground buzz around the band’s previous album. Jourgensen, his wife Patty & guitarist Mike Scaccia apparently proceeded to blow most of the budget by purchasing around $1,000 worth of drugs a day but it doesn’t seem to have had a negative effect on the result. The guitar tone they achieved is absolutely superb & it gives songs like “Just One Fix”, “Jesus Built My Hotrod” & the title track an electricity & power that is impossible to ignore. It really does announce the band in no uncertain terms & then proceeds to grab your head & stuff it down your neck. Paul’s bass tone only accentuates this effect as it possesses fantastic weight & ties in beautifully with the album’s industrial themes. Bill Rieflin’s drum kit sounds suitably mechanical but if there’s one weakness to this overall production I’d suggest that it’s Bill’s snare sound which stands out in the mix very obviously. I’d describe it as a tinny slap &, although this sound would be repeated on dozens of industrial releases over the years, I can’t help but feel that Ministry might have been better served to go with something a little more bottom heavy. But fear not… the wealth of professionally layered & processed samples are nothing short of astonishing & the use of doubled & heavily effected vocals is also a major selling point that adds substantially to the unhinged & drug-addled atmosphere of “Psalm 69”. The overall package is a huge feather in Jourgensen & Barker’s caps & it shows the advantages of having a diverse array of experience to draw upon across several disparate genres. I’m honestly not sure that the album would have been quite as successful had it not been presented in such a professional & cutting-edge manner. On a side note, I'm not sure if it's just the Spotify version of the album I've been revisiting this week or not but there's a noticeable difference in volume between the various tracks & this isn't something I remember from the CD copy I'd grown up with so perhaps it's just a quirk in the streamed rip.
Musically, this was definitely the fastest & most exciting sounding Ministry record to date with the metal component having been turned up to ten on the majority of the tracklisting. In many ways it represents the most perfect union of Jourgensen’s industrial & metal influences with both components playing an equal role in the success of the record. The drum tracks have been tailor made to provide a consistent (& at times hypnotic) pulse that gives the simple yet extremely high-quality metal riffs plenty of room to inflict maximum damage. I can only imagine that the increased involvement of Scaccia in the recording process has had an impact on the riff-heavy style of many of these tracks because there’s been a noticeable step up in this department, particularly in the repeated references to thrash metal in some of the tremolo-picked bottom-string chug riffs on songs like “Just One Fix” & “Jesus Built My Hotrod”. A couple of the slower & more lumbering riff sections strangely remind me very much of early 90’s Bathory which can only be a compliment & the level of variety that’s been achieved without ever feeling like they’ve sacrificed on focus is a real highlight.
Jourgensen & Barker were masters of tension & release & you can easily see that in their layering of the lead guitar parts which are used more as a textural tool than a melodic one most of the time. I can pick up more than the odd nod towards dance music in the band’s command of the dancefloor whilst never losing sight of their underground metal appeal. The transitions are a brilliant example of this with well-timed single-bar adjustments being used to introduce a switch back to the main theme in a similar way to that employed by techno producers. In fact, several of the big hits from “Psalm 69” would go on to become dancefloor anthems at goth & alternative clubs for decades to come given their strong beats & danceable tempos. The samples showcase a very well-defined theme with the whole record having a dark & ominous atmosphere but also dripping with a drug-crazed insanity that reminds me of a Rob Zombie horror flick. This would be an element that would be borrowed by not only Zombie himself but also by hundreds of industrial metal wannabes over the years. The slower material like the epic doom monster “Scare Crow” very effectively draws me back to my drug-fueled nights spent in Sydney goth clubs during the mid-90’s with Jourgensen seemingly tapping into the cerebral power of that sort of environment. He really is the clear ring-leader of this psychotic circus & there’s a unquestionable genius in his madness.
It’s interesting that the album gets more industrial as it goes on & culminates with the last couple of tracks being completely industrial-focused & offering very little in the way of metal. In fact, “Corrosion” is very similar to the intense & noisy industrial techno I used to play whilst DJIng in dark underground clubs during the 2000’s. Both of these tracks were produced by Paul Barker in isolation amidst stories of a significant divide between Jourgensen & Scaccia & the rest of the band with Al claiming that the two groups recorded their parts completely separately & that he & Scaccia erased 80% of the material the other three members had recorded. Given this information, you’d have to think that it was a minor miracle that anything of value was achieved, let alone a genre-defining classic like this one. Perhaps it was simply through weight of numbers given the lengthy duration of the recording sessions & the fact that we only end up with nine of the thirty tracks that would eventuate.
Personally, I find “Psalm 69” to be a very consistent & extremely high-quality metal record that doesn’t require flashy musicianship or an over-the-top image to make its point. There is a slight lull after the first couple of mind-blowing tracks with the short & gimmicky blast-beat driven “TV II” & the simple & thrash speed metal tune “Hero” both representing some mildly enjoyable filler, however the rest of the album is as classy, adventurous & breath-taking as you’ll find in this form of metal. For this reason, I feel that “Psalm 69” is worthy of its elite status amongst not only the industrial metal crowd but for metal music in general. It’s easily Ministry’s finest work with only Godflesh’s classic “Streetcleaner” album standing in front of it for the genre overall.
For fans of: White Zombie, Nailbomb, Strapping Young Lad
Genres: Industrial Metal
The 1991 sophomore album from Swedish death metal godfathers Entombed is a release that I’ve been looking forward to dissecting for some time now & much of my excitement is due to the fact that the development & subsequent success of the local Swedish scene was something that practically took place in front of my young teenage eyes. In the early 1990’s, my life almost entirely revolved around the underground tape trading scene &, as a result, I feel very well equipped to tackle this record within the context of what was going on around it. Things were happening so quickly & it would only be a period of four years that would see Sweden’s earliest forays with the death metal sound being transformed into a globally recognized sound that was being copied by hundreds (if not thousands) of bands globally.
For anyone that hasn’t already read Daniel Ekeroth’s excellent historical book “Swedish Death Metal” (& I highly recommend that you do), it’s probably worth noting that whilst Entombed are generally regarded as the originators of the Swedish death metal scene, that’s not entirely accurate. The true root of the scene was arguably fellow Stockholmers Morbid; a blackened death metal outfit whose reputation is mainly built on their association with their legendary front man Dead. Morbid’s 1987 demo tape “December Moon” would achieve somewhat of a cult status in underground metal circles however many people probably aren’t aware that it also featured future Entombed members Ulf Cederlund (guitar) & LG Petrov (drums), possibly because they took on the silly pseudonyms of Napolean Puke & Drutten (Swedish for “one who tumbles down”) respectively. Morbid would eventually peter out following Dead’s defection to Norway to join Mayhem with Cederlund & Petrov staying onboard for 1988’s “The Last Supper” demo before leaving to join Nihilist (i.e. the famous precursor to Entombed) a short time later.
Nihilist was formed in 1987 by drummer Nicke Andersson, guitarist Alex Hellid & bassist Leif Cuzner with the “Premature Autopsy” demo tape being released the following year. 1989 would see it followed up with the “Only Shreds Remain” cassette with Cuzner exiting the fold shortly afterwards, but not before he had achieved a significant milestone in death metal history for it was Cuzner that had invented the infamous guitar tone that that the Swedish death metal community would make its signature for many decades afterwards. This had been accidently achieved by maxing out all of the nobs on a Boss HM-s Heavy Metal pedal which I’m sure every guitarist that owned one must have tried at some stage (me included). Clearly none had looked at it as a legitimate possibility before though. Interestingly, Leif would be replaced by Jonny Hedlund for 1989’s “Drowned” demo before Andersson decided to disband Nihilist altogether as a way of easily removing Hedlund from the group. Hedlund would subsequently form Unleashed while the other band members would adopt the Entombed moniker & record the “But Life Goes On” demo before the year was out.
“But Life Goes On” would see Entombed signing a recording contract with English death metal & grindcore label Earache Records who had risen from relative obscurity to become the leader in their field over the previous couple of years. After unearthing the UK grindcore scene through albums from Unseen Terror, Napalm Death, Carcass & O.L.D. in 1987/88, label head Digby Pearson had then cottoned on to the steadily growing death metal obsession that was simmering away in the underground tape trading community. 1989 would see him releasing a string of important records from bands like Morbid Angel, Terrorizer, Bolt Thrower, Carcass & Godflesh; all of which would have a significant impact on the global extreme metal scene & would see fans flocking to every subsequent Earache release as if their very lives depended on it. The death metal bubble was expanding ever further & it was this environment that would see the Swedish death metal scene exploding onto the scene in 1990.
Entombed’s “Left Hand Path” album is certainly known as the most significant point in that story. It really did pave the way for other Swedish bands to follow in Entombed’s foot-steps with many taking on similar attributes to give Stockholm its signature death metal sound. Many of these attributes would become attached to the work of producer Tomas Skogsberg & his Sunlight Studios in Stockholm with Grotesque’s “Incantation”, Carnage’s “Dark Recollections” & Tiamat’s “Sumerian Cry” releases all being products of Sunlight recordings at around that time. Things would further escalate for the Swedes in 1991 with Tiamat’s second album “The Astral Sleep” seeing the light of day along with a whole slew of debut releases from exciting new bands such as Unleashed, Grace, At The Gates, Carbonized, Megaslaughter, Sorcery, Therion, Authorize, Edge Of Sanity &, most notably, Dismember who were born from the ashes of Carnage & were close associates of Entombed. Dismember’s “Like An Ever Flowing Stream” album would gain them worldwide acclaim & would kick off a running argument in the death metal community as to whose debut was the best example of the Swedish sound for decades to come. It was in this creative environment that Entombed would not only need to continue making quality death metal but would also need to find another gear if they were going to hold on to their title as the premier Swedish death metal exponent.
Unfortunately for Entombed, drummer & band leader Nicke Andersson & front man LG Petrov were not seeing eye to eye at the time which culminated in Petrov being fired at an inopportune moment. Earache were keen to get some new material into the market to capitalize on the buzz around the Swedish scene though so Andersson employed Nirvana 2002 vocalist Orvar Säfström for the recording of the “Crawl” E.P. in April 1991. The union would prove to be short-lived however with the release receiving only a luke-warm reception & by the time band re-entered Sunlight Studios for the recording of “Clandestine” later in the year with Carbonized bassist Lars Rosenberg, Andersson had decided to take on the microphone duties himself.
It’s worth mentioning that my initial experience with Entombed was through a late-night metal radio program in 1990. “Left Hand Path” was somewhat of a favourite with the DJs who ran the show that I recorded each week so I was aware of the band quite early in the piece. I have to say that, while I generally enjoyed what I was hearing, Entombed’s debut never connected with me in the way that it seemed to with the rest of the death metal audience &, for this reason, it was one of the few Earache releases that I didn’t hurry out to buy. Instead, I would pick it up through tape trading & give it a few spins before moving on to sounds that were more in line with my taste at the time. The same can be said for Dismember’s debut actually. I put this down to my ears being far more interested in the more polished & proficient US strain of death metal being championed by bands like Morbid Angel, Death, Obituary & Deicide & the dirtier, punkier feel of the Swedish model didn’t interest me quite as much. When “Crawl” was released I gave it a passing glance but it also didn’t get past the cursory few spins.
“Clandestine” would be released in November 1991 & would make an immediate impact on the death metal market. The buzz around the record & the attractive cover art of Dan Seagrave would see me reconsidering my position with the band & it would become the first Entombed record that I’d purchase on release. Interestingly, my initial listens would prove that I’d timed my run very well too as this was a different beast to the ugly, stinking one that had assaulted our ear drums only the previous year. There is much more polish & precision about the production job on “Clandestine” with Skogsberg having achieved a more glossy & accessible sound by refining & improving the signature Entombed guitar tone & adding additional weight to the rhythm section. Although your ears immediately associate the guitar tone with the Sunlight Studios sound, playing “Left Hand Path” & “Clandestine” back to back shows a remarkable difference between the two. The “Clandestine” tone is noticeably cleaner & has much more definition. There’s less of a bottom end push & a greater dynamic range has been achieved through a stronger mid-range component as opposed to the noisier “Left Hand Path” sound which possessed more high end. The two sounds are equally powerful however I definitely prefer the fuller “Clandestine” one which seems to have more purity of sound. It engulfs the listener in a wall of distorted fuzz which I’m not all that comfortable to remove myself from.
Skogsberg had also employed a number of other production improvements too though. The drum sound on “Clandestine” is nothing short of phenomenal & is arguably the major selling point for the record. Andersson’s toms possess enormous depth & the whole kit is beautifully balanced while Rosenberg’s bass guitar sound is full & powerful & combines beautifully with the guitars & drums during the crunch moments to really accentuate the enormous heaviness of Entombed’s sound. Andersson’s vocals have received a lot of attention in the mixing phase too with individual phrases having been layered over the top of each other & coming from different positions in the stereo spectrum which is very effective indeed. As is the use of keyboards & movie samples to add additional atmosphere to the mix; an attribute that this record possesses in spades. To summarize, Skogsberg has dusted off a bit of the dirt from Entombed’s exterior, sanded off some of the rough edges, polished it up & given it a new coat of paint which has given “Clandestine” a lot more nuance. It not only sounds more polished than the other early Swedish albums of the time but It enabled Entombed to start competing with the Americans for overall professionalism & accessibility. I’d suggest that it really does depend on personal preference as to which model you’ll prefer but there’s very little doubt as to the one that floats my boat more & I think the production is one of the key factors in what makes “Clandestine” such a great & important death metal record.
A lot is made of the musical direction Entombed chose to take with “Clandestine”. Particularly from detractors who favour the debut. But in truth, the differences are much more subtle than we saw with the band’s subsequent leap into death ‘n’ roll territory with 1993’s “Wolverine Blues” album. In hindsight, I think it’s fair to say that we could see the early signs of that transformation here if you look closely enough. That cleaner production, the more accessible & melodic song-writing, the added groove in some of the riffs & the increased use of more controlled tempos were all elements that Entombed would draw on significantly in the coming years. But in saying that, there is really very little doubt that “Clandestine” is still a death metal record in the classic sense of the term. It’s just that some people see it as a dilution of “Left Hand Path” while others view it as an expansion on the foundations it had built. The punky back bone is still clearly visible with numerous examples of d-beat drum patterns being utilized across the tracklisting although there’s less of a reliance on it this time which can only be a positive for someone like myself that isn’t terribly interested in hardcore. Instead, Entombed have gone for a lot more variety in tempo & atmosphere which makes for a much more interesting listen in my opinion. I particularly dig the increase in doomier breakdowns with Autopsy having clearly been a big influence on the band. Some of those sections are crushingly heavy & are dripping with blood-soaked death metal pedigree. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the slower tempos work better with the signature Entombed guitar tone as the crunch is unbelievable. That’s not to say that the faster material has lost any of its potency though & I think it’s the two extreme ends of the spectrum that give Entombed the most bang for buck as far as tempo goes. Just check out the re-recorded version of the old Nihilist track “Severe Burns” for an example of just how much this band kills when they let the shackles fall to the ground & put the pedal to the metal.
“Left Hand Path” was relatively simple as far as song-writing & structure went but “Clandestine” sees Entombed lifting their game significantly in this regard with a noticeable increase in compositional complexity enabling the band to reach new heights of professionalism. Unlike the debut which was more of a collaborative affair, Anderrson was responsible for writing the entire album this time & I believe that this is significant. Nicke has often been quoted as saying that he had a strong fascination with US technical death metal masters Atheist at the time &, although you won’t hear anything particularly technical here, you can see the influence in the more expansive composition. He & Skogsberg really threw the sink at the arrangements with a whole range of frills & finer details being explored, particularly in the drumming. The album was already a total riff-fest but this extra attention to detail has really helped to maximise the impact of the transitions. The riffs themselves are generally still quite simple when viewed in isolation however they’re much more measured & deliberate in their attack & this is further highlighted by the quality of the production & performances. Even at their most brutal though, Entombed seem to have captured the perfect balance between melody & savagery here. The melodies are better constructed &, as a result, are more memorable. There are even some examples of riffs included that strongly indicate that the early Swedish melodic death metal bands like At The Gates may have borrowed a fair bit from “Clandestine”.
The vocal performance has always been a talking point when discussing this record & it seems to have been quite a divisive topic for many metal fans. There are certainly those that can’t stand Nicke Andersson’s more erratic delivery. Possibly because, despite the fact that he achieves a suitable amount of aggression, what he delivers isn’t technically a death growl. To my ears, Nicke meanders somewhere near the border of hardcore punk & death metal without ever really committing to either side. It’s interesting that Earache decided to try to fool people into believing that former Carnage bassist Johnny Dordevic was behind the microphone by showing him in the band photograph included on the album sleeve. It was true that Johnny had been performing live with the band but he wasn’t responsible for the vocals on the album. Perhaps this is an indication that Earache could see that the vocal delivery might not go down all that well with some fans & they wanted to shield Nicke a little bit? I dunno but I actually love Andersson’s vocal contribution to tell you the truth. I don’t think the difference between his & Petrov’s tones is as striking as many people seem to want to make out & I actually didn’t realise it wasn’t Petrov until I read it in a magazine some time after release. There’s a lot more variety in Nicke’s approach & he definitely brings a fresh vibe & accessibility to the table that saw Entombed becoming somewhat of a gateway band for potential new death metal fans at the time. I honestly have no idea why people get stuck into him as the vocals on a track like “Crawl” are miles better than the E.P. version with Säfström’s effort sounding weak & thin in comparison over the murkier production.
The value that Entombed placed on execution & technique seems to have increased dramatically since “Left Hand Path” too as this is a much tighter band than we’d heard previously with a substantially stronger focus being given to precision. The transitions have been expertly engineered to crush the cranium of anyone in the vicinity & the breakdowns show a true understanding of the death metal atmosphere at its most empowering & disgusting. Check out album highlight “Sinners Bleed” for example, with its “Raining Blood” style drum beat signaling the coming of something truly ominous. Entombed’s prime objective was no longer to out-violence the violent. It was to create an oozing atmosphere of pure death, in much the same way as their heroes Autopsy, only with a little more polish, class & finesse. The lead guitar work has been improved since the debut which was probably helped by the more musical platform they had to work over. They’re still not all that technically proficient but they overcome that by employing a stronger song-writing aesthetic in their composition & through the clever use of filtering in their tone. Rosenberg’s bass work is rock solid & plays a big part in driving the band’s sound to its heaviest possible extreme but it’s Andersson’s drumming that’s the real star here. This really is his record to be honest & his performance is nothing short of sensational! He brings Entombed so much of their energy & magic & it’s a credit to his technique that so many of his best moments go by without much fanfare due to his skillful compositional skills & pin-point execution. I’m certain that it was he that brought many of the interesting production additions to the table too. Some of which were a little risky like the outro section of “Crawl” which fades in gradually over the main track only isn’t exactly in key or in time, despite ultimately proving to be really effective.
So, given everything that you’ve just read, why isn’t “Clandestine” is no-brainer for full marks. Well in truth, it’s more of a decision based on taste than on quality. The remnants of Entombed’s hardcore-influenced roots still pop up just enough to prevent me from reaching complete musical euphoria which isn’t a major criticism as I still regard it as the pinnacle of the Swedish death metal sound & a good couple of steps up from its older sibling or Dismember’s debut for that matter. Where “Left Hand Path” had defined the Swedish death metal sound, “Clandestine” showed the world what it was possible to do with it. It’s a genuine classic that all death metal fans should own.
For fans of: Dismember, Grave & Carnage
Genres: Death Metal
By the mid-to-late 1980's, the Brazilian city of Belo Horizante had become a small hub of activity for young bands with an appetite for increasingly extreme music; presumably being encouraged by 1985’s split album from local heroes Sepultura & Overdose as well as Sepultura’s 1986 full-length debut “Morbid Visions”. This would see 1987 becoming an important year in the development of the local scene with the next wave of bands graduating to full release status in quick succession. Amongst the pack were several key performers in Sarcofago, Mutilator, Chakal, Exterminator & the subject of today’s review, Holocausto.
So ya know the old phrase that says that you can’t judge a book by its cover? Well it’s fucking lucky that this is generally accepted to be the case because I don’t imagine the cover art for Holocausto’s debut studio album “Campo de exterminio” would instill too much confidence within the context of a modern metal marketplace now, would it? I mean deciding you’ll go with that sort of moniker & then calling your record “Extermination Camp” & putting a picture of a Nazi soldier setting a vicious dog onto a naked & clearly emaciated civilian isn’t exactly something that people would commonly accept these days now, is it? Not to mention the two-minute intro track which samples historical Nazi recordings. But in a way it was a fine representation of just how few fucks Brazil’s extreme metal underground gave back in the 80’s. There didn’t seem to be any rules whatsoever & that is very well illustrated by the music this sleeve contains within too.
Now any Brazilian extreme metal release simply MUST possess a couple of key attributes & the first is a production job that sounds like it was recorded with a handheld Dictaphone & this is certainly true with “Campo de exterminio” but perhaps not to the extent that people seem to make out. Maybe it’s just that I’m revisiting this release through the digitally remastered version that’s available on Spotify (which also includes the bonus track “Massacre” which seems to be a precursor for the war metal subgenre) but I can’t say that I find it terribly easy to match up the online consensus that this is amongst the worst of the worst with the product that’s reached my ears this week. Sure, it’s raw as hell & sounds like a cheap demo tape but it’s not unlistenable by any stretch of the imagination. As is quite often the case with Brazilian death/thrash, the guitars are mixed too low & the drums do their very best to drown out the rest of the instruments but I find that I can make out the riffs most of the time & that’s no mean feat given the messy guitar sound. I mean if there’s one element that gives “Campe de exterminio” its necro feel it’s that ultra-ugly guitar tone which ensures that it’s pretty much impossible for single axeman Valério "Exterminator" to present the results of his toil in anything close to a tidy fashion. If you’ve already conquered the guitar tone on the early Hellhammer & Sodom recordings & are looking for your next challenge then perhaps this might be just the sort of thing you’re looking for i.e. a rhythm guitar tone that would see even the most skilled champions of their instrument struggling to lay down even the slightest hint at complexity.
The second key characteristic of any underground Brazilian death/thrash metal release is a very basic level of musicianship & once again “Campo de exterminio” is often highlighted as being on the more extreme end of the spectrum in this regard. Look I’m not saying that it’s not warranted but perhaps not for the same reasons as most people seem to think. I mean unlike Belo Horizante locals Exterminator, Holocausto do have the physical skills to perform at a reasonable level but this is often obscured by the fact that they appear to have received absolutely no theoretical training. To elaborate a bit on that point, the drum beats employed by Armando "Nuclear Soldier" are reasonably performed & are generally quite powerful however the riffs that they’re accompanying often have no correlation to them whatsoever so you’ll regularly find yourself wondering how the band members ever thought they’d work together. There’s probably not a song on the tracklisting that doesn’t include a riff that makes no sense from a rhythmic point of view & despite coming up with some pretty brutal riffs at times, it's very clear that Valério has never been taught how to count his beats through in his head. It’s actually a miracle that the whole thing doesn’t fall into complete mush a lot more than it does & it’s often up to front man Rodrigo "Führer" to help keep the rhythm of the riffs together through the use of his phrasing. In fact, I’m not even sure how he manages to stay in time himself to be honest so it’s a significant problem that’s been majorly impacted on by the muddy guitar tone which makes it almost impossible to produce a precise performance. Valério’s incompetent use of palm-muting is also a contributing factor though it must be said & it’s left up to Armando to try to hide his deficiencies.
“Campo de exterminio” is generally regarded as sitting somewhere between thrash metal & death metal however I’d argue that this is a legitimate death metal release with Holocausto’s sound being an amalgamation of Sarcofago, early Sepultura & the first couple of Sodom releases. Despite what you may read, there’s not many references to black metal included although the slower sections were almost certainly inspired by Hellhammer & there’s a noticeable hardcore punk streak to a lot of the more brutal tracks included. I think there’s really only one track where I find Holocausto working from a predominantly thrash metal palate (see “Vietna”) with the rest of the tracklisting sporting blast beats, death grunts & frantic tremolo-picked solos. The grim death metal atmosphere is definitely there & that’s the main source of appeal for an old school death metal fanatic like myself. In fact, it makes me really try hard to like this record even when the obstacles are blaringly obvious. Armando’s vocal delivery is a definite positive though & I really enjoy what was a particularly brutal performance for the time with the obvious reference point being the early efforts of Sepultura’s Max Cavalera. Armando’s holocaust-related lyrical themes are not exactly your standard grisly gore-ridden death metal fodder however they’re delivered in Portuguese so I don’t understand them &, given the subject matter, perhaps it’s better that way anyway.
To be honest, I can’t help but be a little disappointed that I haven’t been able to get myself over the line with “Campo de exterminio”. Given my background, I would have thought I was as likely as anyone to be able to get into this ultra-raw & super-primitive South American stuff but the lack of structure & cohesion in the riffs has proven to be too great an obstacle for me so I only end up enjoying about half of the tracklisting. Still… I’d take this record over the Exterminator, Vulcano & Chakal’s releases from the same period so it isn’t the worst example of Brazilian extreme metal I’ve ever heard but my lack of enthusiasm for it has meant that I’ve never considered checking out Holocausto’s other albums & that’s unlikely to change any time soon.
For fans of: Sarcofago, Vulcano & the first couple of Sepultura releases.
Genres: Death Metal Thrash Metal
I got on the Pig Destroyer train a little bit late to be honest. The Washington grindcore outfit began their recording career at a time when I was starting to temporarily lose interest in the metal scene & it wasn’t until 2009 that this delightful piece of blasting insanity would grace my ears but it made an immediate & lasting impression. Grindcore & I have had our moments over the years to be honest. I tend to find that for every energized burst of pure aggression comes a generic & artistically unambitious release of little consequence but when I hit on a gooden I get a great deal of enjoyment out of it & “Terrifyer” fits into this category very confortably.
For me, it’s always important that regardless of how brutal a band might be or how raw a sound they might be aiming for production-wise, I still want to be able to make out the nuances in order to give myself the chance to become physically involved with the riffs. And Pig Destroyer have done a fantastic job at achieving that here with the guitars & drums seemingly leaping out of the speakers, grabbing you by the hair & bludgeoning your cranium with a force somewhat akin to a sledgehammer. The rhythm guitars are right in your face & have an abrasive yet vibrant tone that’s chock full of life. They also possess enough weight to remove the need for a bass guitar. That’s right! Upon first listen I remember trying really hard to identify the bass lines but found that I couldn’t pick them up for the life of me. It wasn’t until I did a little bit of googling that I realized that Pig Destroyer don’t actually have a bass player at all. On the evidence of this record though, I can see why they didn’t bother with one as it’s simply not required. The layering of Scott Hull’s guitar crunch & the sheer athleticism of drummer Brian Harvey seems to fill out the sound adequately enough. I really love Brian’s drum sound actually. There’s so much electricity on his cymbal work & the blast beats are commanding & authoritative without ever becoming overly dominating. This is what a grindcore record should sound like in my opinion. It’s brutal for sure… but there’s an overall professionalism about it too.
Some of that is undoubtedly due to the impressive musicianship of the two instrumentalists. Agoraphobic Nosebleed mastermind & former Anal Cunt guitarist Hull was clearly a well-seasoned veteran by this stage in his career & it’s very evident in his execution. The benefits of having a single rhythm guitarist performing multiple layers of tracks is clear as day on “Terrifyer” as it results in a very tight & focused delivery of the riffs. And wow! There are some serious riffs on offer here. Scott doesn’t ever dwell on the one thing for two long & despite the short duration of most of these pieces you’ll find that they contain as many riffs as most traditional metal bands can fit into a track that’s two or three times as long. The constant changing is a major contributor to the feeling of urgency that Pig Destroyer achieve & this wouldn’t have been possible without a class drummer of the caliber of Harvey. In fact, despite Hull’s riff-fest, Brian’s actually the best thing about “Terrifyer”. I find myself spending a lot of the album immersing myself in his interesting drum fills & precision blast beats. You won’t find too many better grindcore drummers to be honest. At least not for this particular band.
Stylistically, you’ll be left with little doubt that Pig Destroyer are a grindcore band but that’s not to say that “Terrifyer” swims only in that particular pool. Hull’s riffs showcase a variety of influences & I often find myself imagining that he’s been taking a peak at Machine Head’s groove metal playbook or is trying to emulate Cannibal Corpse’s techy half-time death metal assault. Often in the same one minute song too! And it’s ultimately the quality of these riffs that makes “Terrifyer” so appealing. There’s a genuine groove that the band locks into very regularly with the musical visions of Hull & Harvey seemingly being completely in tune & while these moments may seem fleeting at the time, it’s never long until you’re back there once again. Sure there are some more generic & less ambitious thrash & hardcore style riffs employed here & there but they never stay around for too long & are usually replaced by something a lot more exciting so I couldn’t say that there’s a single track included in the 21 of offer that doesn’t give me some sort of enjoyment. The short 32 minute album run time doesn’t leave any room for boredom either.
If there’s a weakness in Pig Destroyer’s sound, it’s the fairly monotonous shrieking of former Agoraphobic Nosebleed vocalist J.R. Hayes. Most grindcore bands go for a more varied vocal delivery than J.R. delivers here & you can see why too. Hayes spends the entire album screaming his fucking head off & I’m gonna have to give him an A for effort but it would have been good to get a few more attempts at variety. Fans of metalcore certainly won’t find themselves feeling alienated as Hayes would sound right at home on a Converge record but I can’t say that this really fits into my musical comfort zone if I’m honest. In fact, if I look at my score here, there’s a reasonable chance that I may have scored “Terrifyer” slightly higher had the vocals slanted a little closer to my preferred taste palate but that’s not to say that I find myself cringing or anything so this is just an observation more than a major criticism.
Overall, I think Pig Destroyer have delivered a top class grindcore record here. It’s blasting yet classy, abrasive yet professional, complex yet accessible. Grindcore may not be high on my list of extreme metal subgenres but “Terrifyer” may just sit at the top of the pile these days. Perhaps even usurping my beloved Terrorizer in the process. One thing’s for sure… if you’re a fan of the genre then you’re gonna love this shit. Play it very loud & only when you’re doing something physical. Otherwise you may just make a dick of yourself on the train or at church.
For fans of: Napalm Death, Brutal Truth, Nails
2007's final release from Georgia-based US drone metallers The Angelic Process has always been a challenge for me. Whilst "Weighing Souls With Sand" has been universally claimed as a classic by the rest of the world, it's never sat completely comfortably with me for a number of reasons. Some of its defining characteristics represent significant obstacles for me & it's taken me just over a decade to be able to reach a level of acceptance.
For starters, The Angelic Process' material is based around several common elements with each track offering lush ambient sections interspersed with dinosauric walls of abrasive noise that seem hell bent on averting the listeners attention from some apparently sweet melodic content. Tracks often start & finish with a gorgeous sweeping ambience that reminds me of German ambient techno maestro Gas before the heavy guitars kick in & the musical soundscape changes extremely rapidly into one that sees the listeners head being continually belted with an unparalleled sonic barrage. There are moments when I fear that my eardrums simply can't tolerate any more noise & I find myself literally cringing to protect myself. But at the same time there's this unusual beauty sitting in the background that seems to be being intentionally masked by layers of analog fuzz.
The vocals of Monica Henson leap between innocent but soaring melodies & the sort of screams that cause me to wonder if she'll ever speak again. It's really pretty hard to tell if that's being achieved mainly by production trickery or not but I suspect it is. The riffs of her partner in crime Kris Angylus are very simplistic but the brutal & at times overwhelming production job sees them packing a punch that is sure to induce migraines in many listeners. If I'm honest I don't really enjoy the ultra-fuzzy guitar sound. It's not my bag at all. But it's the quality of the melodies that lurk beneath the surface of this abomination that draw The Angelic Process' audience deep into the hazy mist of their sound with the end result being that many people get lost & never want to return home again. The drums sound like they're programmed to my ears & I feel that this was an area that could have been improved as they sound a little bit artificial when the rest of the music around them is trying so hard to portray a warm analogue feel.
"Weighing Souls With Sand" is most commonly referred to as drone metal. I can see why but it's never seemed to me to be a very accurate label to be honest. There's a lot more going on here than there is in your average drone metal release. Particularly from a melodic point of view. The noisy analogue hiss that shrouds most tracks reminds me a lot of the noisier works of ambient artist Tim Hecker while the huge crescendos indicate a love for post-rock artists such as Sigur Ros. There is most definitely a shoegaze element at play here too with a lot of these tracks seeing Kris strumming open downstrokes repeatedly in a melancholic fashion that reeks of My Bloody Valentine's classic "Loveless" album. The droning bass notes take my mind more towards the ambient variety of drone only more from a textural point of view than a stylistic one. Overall I find that the post-metal tag is the more appropriate way to label the album & I'd feel much more comfortable if "Weighing Soulds With Sand" was separated from the drone metal charts as it inevitably fairs quite well but doesn't sound anything like the records scattered around it.
It's taken a very long time & many revisits to achieve but I'm only just now starting to see the value in The Angelic Process' piece de resistance. It nicely portrays its theme of the death of a partner with the instrumentation always possessing a melancholic grandeur that seems both sad & enlightened at the same time. It's simply heart-breaking to think that Kris made the storyline into a self-fulfilling prophecy when he took his own life the following year after falling into a deep depression following a severe hand injury that prevented him from playing guitar any more. Unlike my initial attempts with this album, I actually think I get some enjoyment out of every track now whereas I struggled to sit through it a few years back. I'm glad I've finally come round but there's still a limit to how much "Weighing Souls With Sand" ever has the potential to captivate me. I think I respect what it's trying to do more than I actually enjoy the result. It's certainly an experience that you won't forget in a hurry but it's also a very repetitive one with the same tools being used in every song. The Angelic Process are indeed a one-trick pony. It's just that no one else has even tried to perform that trick before. That's the appeal of a record like this one. You'll be sitting so far outside of your comfort zone that it's easy to forget you even had one.
Genres: Drone Metal Post-Metal
Motorhead’s “The Golden Years: Live” E.P. is a relatively unknown four-track live E.P. featuring recordings from their 1980 European tour. It includes renditions of the old Motown track “Leaving Here” which they’d previously covered on their initial studio album “On Parole”, “Stone Dead Forever” & “Dead Men Tell No Tales” from their classic “Bomber” record & the heavily underrated “Too Late Too Late”; an exceptionally strong B-side from the “Overkill” single which had been criminally overlooked for album inclusion. This release paints the perfect picture of Motorhead in all their glory, warts & all. Lemmy sounds grindier & nastier than ever before with a performance that highlights his abilities as a master showman. His vocals are a little soft on “Leaving Here” but this issue is rectified for the remaining tracks. That dirty yet powerful bass sound makes it perfectly obvious as to why Motorhead don’t need a second guitarist as Lemmy doesn’t need any assistance in filling out the sound beneath Eddie’s impressive guitar solos. In fact, the guitars are huge on this recording & take songs like “Leaving Here” & “Too Late Too Late” (my personal favourite) to another level from their studio counterparts. I really enjoy this E.P. & would thoroughly recommend it to any Motorhead fans out there.
Genres: Heavy Metal
I came into "The Work Which Transforms God" having never heard Blut Aus Nord before. My brother & I made a deal that he would review an album of my choice if I did one of his & this was what he chose. I had no idea of what to expect although I'd seen plenty written about the originality & weirdness of this band. But after giving it a few listens I am really glad I gave this a go because most of it is nothing short of genius.
The album opens with one of three dark ambient tracks spread across the album ("End", "The Fall" & "Devil Essence"). These are really effective & fit in nicely with the overall feel of the album. If anything they enhance the already crushingly dark atmosphere & I could see these pieces sitting comfortably on a "Silent Hill" video game soundtrack.
"The Choir Of The Dead" opens the flood gates & the intensity pours out. I haven't experienced a truly evil black metal atmosphere like this in quite a while. I would describe it as combining the cold, primitive majesty of "Det Som Engang Var"-period Burzum with the experimental beauty of Ved Buens Ende. One of the many highlights, it ends with some chilling church bells. "Axis" continues the black metal onslaught in fine fashion with some serious blastbeats & loads of twisted riffs. It leads into "Metamorphosis" which settles into a more progressive Ved Buens Ende-style sound that is both truly beautiful & very heavy at the same time.
Unfortunately "The Supreme Abstract" is the only real let-down of the album. It is just too twisted, dissonant & messy for my taste. Vocally it sounds like they've gone for an Attila Csihar (Mayhem) moany groany sort of thing but it hasn't worked & doesn't suit the blasting music behind it in my opinion. It just doesn't gel like the rest of the album & it's probably the only thing stopping a five star rating. "Our Blessed Frozen Cells" hits straight back though with a slower, deeper atmosphere that again brings to mind Burzum & also introduces a more industrial Godflesh-like drum style which can be heard on & off throughout "The Work Which Transforms God". After a dark ambient interlude mid-track it sweeps into atmospheric sludge/doom territory with soaring guitar melodies that are quite uplifting.
The intro riff from "The Howling Of God" strongly reminds me of "Transylvanian Hunger"-period Darkthrone which can never be a bad thing in my opinion. There are lots more industrial elements on show here too which are both dissonant & unsettling as well as captivating. Godflesh again comes to mind in the drum loops. "Inner Mental Cage" is truly bizarre & amazing. There is a definite druggy, psychadelic feel & a wall of sound that engulfs the listener as they descend slowly into Hell. It is probably the highlight of the album & will continue to intrigue me for some time yet. Truly original & beautiful! Finally the album ends with a gargantuan mammoth of a doom/sludge epic in "Procession Of The Dead Clowns" with effects-drenched guitar melodies demanding your attention. Immeasurably powerful stuff & a marvelous way to close out the album!
Overall I was blown away by the focus & depth of "The Work Which Transforms God". There is plenty of variety & the album flows surprisingly well when you consider the amount of territory it covers. There is also plenty of variation in the vocaleft me wanting more. I totally recommend this to all open-minded metalheads who don't mind a shudderingly dark atmosphere & a head-fuck or two.
Genres: Black Metal
Rage Against The Machine’s sophomore album “Evil Empire” was a bit of a disappointment for me. Their self-titled debut had been an impressive release from a band with a fresh, well-defined sound. A band that obviously had a lot to say & presented their message with an in-your-face delivery that was hard to ignore. Unfortunately the follow-up failed to capitalize on the solid platform they’d built for themselves. It was lacking a bit of bottom end in the production & the song-writing was pretty inconsistent. They’d tried a few things to add some variation to their sound but these experiments had some mixed results & the best parts of the album ended up being the tracks where they just concentrated on doing what they do best. Before giving it my first listen I was thinking to myself that RATM’s third album “The Battle of Los Angeles” could go two ways. They could either put out a safe album in the style of the debut or they could try some more variation & hope for some more successful results.
Shortly after pressing play it becomes obvious that the production is significantly better than that of “Evil Empire”. In fact “The Battle of Los Angeles” sounds very much like the debut. This gives the rhythm section a lot more clout & makes for a generally heavier experience. Secondly, the style of the song-writing sits very much within their comfort zone. There isn’t as much variety as there was on “Evil Empire”. The riffs & structures here are very familiar, Tom Morello is still taking his guitar “solos” to the weirdest places he can possibly come up with & Zack de la Rocha is spitting out his lyrics in his typical aggressive fashion. But this is not necessarily such a bad thing. If you liked the debut album then you should also get some enjoyment out of this one as they follow very similar paths.
If you look at the individual tracks on offer here you can’t see any obviously weaker songs. In fact I’d go so far as to say that this is Rage Against The Machine’s most consistent record. “Born Of A Broken Man” is clearly the high point of the album in my opinion. It’s a real monster of a track & is amongst the best couple of songs the band ever wrote for mine. “Calm Like A Bomb” is also a standout. The rest of the tracks are generally solid & engaging. They’re quite heavy & possess plenty of energy. It’s just that by the end of the record they’re all starting to sound a little samey & for this reason “The Battle Of Los Angeles” can feel a bit longer than it actually is. It definitely doesn’t have as many highlights as the debut album either.
I quite like this record & think it’s a pretty good comeback after the disappointment of “Evil Empire”. If you look at it on an individual track-by-track basis it’s actually not too far behind the debut album in terms of overall quality but the fact that it loses a bit of momentum late in the album due to a lack of variation causes me to rate it a little lower. Still… I’m much happier with RATM going with what they do best rather than throwing in outside influences that only end up diluting the aspects of their sound that make them great. It was probably a wise decision for them to leave on this note. Another similar release would definitely have been overkill.
Genres: Alternative Metal
I dunno why it's taken me so long to get around to checking out Massachusetts metalcore legends Converge's 2009 seventh album "Axe To Fall" as they've been a pretty big band for me for a long time now & never leave me disappointed. There's no exception being made here either as we see the band presenting us with their most ambitious offering to the time & collaborating with a number of mutually-respected musicians to great effect. The album really sounds very fluent & well-defined despite covering a fair amount of musical territory & I particularly enjoy the contribution from Neurosis' Steve Von Till given my strong affiliations with the post-metal masters.
Converge's classic metallic hardcore sound receives good coverage & is complemented by some straight-up hardcore punk tracks ("Effigy", "Losing Battle", "Dead Beat" & "Slave Driver"), a sludge metal monster ("Worms Will Feed, Rats Will Feast") & even a couple of more atmospheric & cerebral post-sludge excursions ( "Cruel Bloom" which reminds me very much of Tom Waits meets Neurosis & the epic album high point that closes out the album "Wretched World"). They've included just enough compositional complexity to keep the listener on their toes & reminded of the elite class of the artist they're indulging in without ever feeling overly showy or pretentious which is a rare quality in this form of art. The production & musicianship are unsurprisingly spectacular too, particularly my man Ben Koller behind the kit who is always the highlight for me. Front man Jacob Bannon puts in one of his best performances too which is well appreciated given that I haven't always loved his delivery. He seems to have gotten better with age with more weight behind his screaming violence.
Unlike most fans, I've never regarded Converge's early 2000's classics as their creative peak, despite the undoubted quality they offer. I've always found the band's appeal to grow stronger as they started to take alternative routes & expand on their sound with 2012's "All We Love We Leave Behind" representing a real highlight for the metalcore subgenre & my personal favourite. "Axe To Fall" very much leaves the impression of being the entrée for that main course & I subsequently rank it as my second favourite Converge release these days. It should be essential listening for all fans of more serious metalcore/hardcore.
For fans of The Chariot, Every Time I Die & Norma Jean.
P.S. The album cover is absolutely stunning too & beautifully compliments the music in my opinion.
No matter how much of a devoted metal obsessive you might be, there’s always going to those bands whose names are very familiar yet you’ve somehow managed to completely overlook over many years & Swedish heavy metal outfit Grand Magus are one of those for me personally. I guess it mainly comes down to my preference for the more extreme end of metal but I’m still fairly familiar with most other prominent heavy metal bands so it’s more likely just coincidence as there’s certainly not been anything intentional about it. Still… the band’s reputation as a high-quality heavy metal act with a strong front man & a hard-hitting sound was certainly something I’ve been aware of for some time so I went into 2010’s “Hammer Of The North” was a reasonable level of expectation.
My immediate first impression of Grand Magus’ sound was a resounding positive. The production job on “Hammer Of The North” is really full, really heavy & metal as fuck. Plus, front man Janne "JB" Christoffersson is a genuine talent & possesses a wonderfully powerful voice that’s tailor-made for classic metal. Sure, the riffage on display is nothing revelational but the whole album has a professionalism & class about it that’s hard to deny. The band hit onto a groove & know exactly how to milk it for all its worth as they’re as tight a unit as you’ll find. The word “solid” continually comes to mind actually. Solid song-writing, solid production, solid performances, just…… solid all round I guess. The overall heaviness is no doubt strengthened by the band’s tendency to down-tune their guitars & this is probably a contributing factor in Grand Magus’ links with doom metal along with their slow-to-mid-range tempos although there’s not really any genuine doom metal tracks on offer here. The faster material showcases a strong 70’s Judas Priest influence with opener “I, The Jury” being a fine example as it seems pay homage to “Dissident Aggressor” pretty obviously to me. Some of the more lumbering tracks bring to mind a band like Manowar & this is accentuated further by the lyrical direction.
Christoffersson’s vocal performance is a clear focal point of “Hammer Of The North” as he’s a rare talent in my opinion. I’d describe his tone & attitude as sitting somewhere between Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell & Armored Saint/Anthrax front man John Bush & that comparison can only be a complement as far as I’m concerned as I hold those two in very high regard indeed. (In fact, Cornell is my all-time favourite singer.) JB really does give some of the less exciting song-writing a greater level of appeal than it probably had any right to command & I get the feeling that it’d probably be pretty hard for Grand Magus not to give me some level of enjoyment even at their weakest moments as long as he’s behind the microphone & the production is so thick & heavy. As a result, there are no failures amongst the ten tracks on offer with even the less impressive numbers still managing to leave me feeling well satisfied. Once again, it’s a “solid” tracklisting. That word just keeps popping back into my head when I reflect on “Hammer Of The North” & I think that’s a reflection of the fact that the whole record is of a high quality however it rarely reaches the upper echelons of the top tier through truly transcendent hooks. Yep, it’s a great little record but it’s just lacking that elusive x-factor in the song-writing that can take a “solid” record & make it into a genuine classic. Only album highlight “The Lord of Lies” sees me taken to those places & I’d need a couple more songs of that quality for me to be reaching for the higher scores. As it is, I find it to be a very enjoyable example of modern heavy metal & would be quite surprised if it failed to impress any fan of the genre.
For fans of Judas Priest, Manowar & Atlantean Kodex.
Genres: Heavy Metal
I came kinda late to the deathcore subgenre. It wasn’t really a thing during my 1980’s/90’s heyday & would only start to develop as I found myself losing interest in the scene & defecting to electronic music around 1998/99. The first I heard of it wasn’t until my return to metal in 2009 & I have to admit that I was more open to it than most extreme metal fans at the time. Despite the generic elements at play on most releases, I found it hard not to enjoy the high-quality musicianship & clear & precise production jobs &, when you added in the progressive approach of some of the more expansive outfits, I found myself kinda digging it. Not to the same extent as your more traditional death metal mind you, but enjoyment was had nonetheless. Fast forward another twelve or so years & you’ll find that not a lot has changed for me in this regard. I don’t find myself racing out to track down the latest deathcore release but, when the opportunity arises, I’m up for the task & can see the merit when the subgenre is done well (as it is here).
My first experience with Chicago-based six-piece Born Of Osiris wouldn’t come until shortly after the 2011 release of this album “The Discovery” which was the band’s third full-length & is generally regarded as the pinnacle of the band’s career to date as far as I can tell. And it’s not very hard to see why either to tell you the truth because this is one outstandingly well composed & executed piece of deathly metalcore with a penchant for the more spacey & progressive end of extreme art. I wouldn’t say that it ever transcends the subgenre because all of the signature deathcore elements are at play for most of the album but there’s been a strong push for expansion & development of that sound too. For this reason, I find “The Discovery” to stretch the boundaries of my taste palate a little further than I’m entirely comfortable with but to somehow manage to keep from ever bursting out. Let’s start with the positives because there are plenty for your more open-minded metalhead to enjoy.
As is so commonly the case with US deathcore outfits, Born Of Osiris are a shit-hot group of musicians. I mean these guys can all really shred like bastards & their performances here are outstanding. They occasionally hint at crossing over into self-indulgence but I think they actually do a really great job of reining themselves in just before that occurs. Guitarists Lee McKinney & Jason Richardson are particularly skilled & show themselves to not only have the chops to match most high class shredders on the market today but also to have an impressive sense of exotic melody with some of the lead work pushing Born Of Osiris out further into progressive metal territory than they already were. In fact, I’d be very surprised if the boys haven’t been influenced by early Cynic because they’ve taken a similar approach to much of the melodic content & this is a real feather in their cap as I love a more expansive & exploratory style of guitar solo. Drummer Cameron Losch proves himself to be extremely capable with his powerful & high-precision double-kick work keeping the band sounding punchy & tight at all times. The continued use of spacey synthesizers from full-time keyboardist Joe Buras is also worth mentioning as Joe’s contribution sees “The Discovery” sporting somewhat of a sci-fi atmosphere & his short interlude pieces serve to break the album up really well without ever sacrificing on its overall heaviness. In saying that, I do think that the occasional electronic beat could be hard to stomach for some of the more traditional members of the metal audience & in truth I don’t think they add a lot to the album. You won’t be able to fault the production job as “The Discovery” ticks all of the boxes in that regard. If anything, you may be tempted to say that it’s over-produced however I think that would be a harsh assessment as I think the result generally highlights the best elements of Born Of Osiris’ sound.
Now for the album’s challenges & we’ll start with the djent component. As with many of the more progressive deathcore outfits, there’s very little doubt that Born Of Osiris have been influenced by Meshuggah or bands that Meshuggah have influenced. Now that’s not a bad thing in itself because I fucking love Meshuggah as they really are in a league of their own when it comes to the whole djent thing. It’s just that a lot of the band’s they’ve influenced do sound very samey due to the continued use of high-precision & purely rhythmic off-beat single-note riffs & you get a whole shit-tonne of those here. Thankfully they’ve been filed down to the sharpest point imaginable so as to ensure that they hit as hard as possible but they still do sound pretty generic at times. As do the trademark deathcore breakdowns which still permeate “The Discovery”. The band try to disguise them through the use of progressive colouring & they’ve had a reasonable amount of success to be fair but I still think I could generally do without them. And lastly, the most challenging part of the album for me is the dual vocal delivery which is over-used & continuously thrust down the listeners throat. As far as I can tell, front man Ronnie Canizaro employs the deep guttural death growls while keyboardist Joe Buras regularly chimes in with silly metalcore screams in support. These vocal lines have been brought right to the front of the mix & are used so consistently that they can sound fairly monotonous a while. To be fair, I don’t really like that vocal style to begin with but this is more of a comment on the overall genre than it is about Born Of Osiris in general.
Regardless of these flaws, I can’t really fault the tracklisting which includes fifteen tracks ranging from good to excellent. Unsurprisingly, it’s the more deathly tracks that float my boat the most along with the synth-driven interludes which are particularly well done. It’s kinda difficult to explain but, even though I struggle with some of the elements I mentioned above, the overall class of Born Of Osiris somehow seems to transcend my misgivings & sees me throwing myself in head first after the first few tracks. I guess I’m just a sucker for well-produced & precisely executed extreme metal so I can’t help but see through the more generic elements so that I can grab on to the more expansive ones & this sees me finding it very hard to be too critical of Born Of Osiris who are unquestionably at the peak of their subgenre. I mean if you like high quality US deathcore then I can’t see that you won’t love “The Discovery” because it ticks all of the boxes while adding in some of its own for good measure & in doing so has created the strongest & most interesting example of the djenty progressive deathcore sound that I’ve ever experienced.
For fans of After The Burial, Veil Of Maya & Within The Ruins.
I first encountered popular Los Angeles-based industrial metal outfit Fear Factory in late 1992 following the release of their debut studio album “Soul Of A New Machine” which was gaining high rotation on my local underground metal radio programs at the time. The band’s sound wasn’t exactly my usual cup of tea as I was firmly entrenched in the more brutal end of the extreme metal scale by that stage however I hadn’t heard anything quite like Fear Factory before with their foundations seemingly sitting somewhere between the death metal I was so enamoured with & a futuristic industrial metal sound so I found myself intrigued. This quickly led to me handing over my hard-earned cash at the local record store & “Soul Of A New Machine” fast became a staple in the household diet of not only myself but also my younger brother Ben. I was much more wary of 1993’s remix E.P. “Fear Is The Mindkiller” given that electronic music was still universally regarded as a dirty word with metalheads but the idea of a follow-up album was definitely something that tweaked my interest.
Fear Factory’s sophomore album “Demanufacture” would finally see the light of day almost three years after their debut which was a very long time between drinks by the standards of the day. By that stage my tastes had sunken even further into the dark caverns of brutal death metal & blasting black metal so it wouldn’t see me racing to the shops to secure my copy on this occasion. Ben wouldn’t waste too much time in securing a copy though & I’d become exposed to “Demanufacture” on a daily basis from that point on, an exercise that became increasingly enjoyable over the first month or so as the hooks & concepts became more familiar. This certainly wasn’t the same Fear Factory that had made a significant dent on the metal scene a few years earlier. It was a more mature & refined Fear Factory that had cast aside most of its death metal roots & was now pushing a more accessible & melodic yet no less potent approach that would see them breaking down any remaining barriers that might have previously prevented them from becoming a household name in the world of every teenage metalhead. The machine-gun rhythms & precise execution that had made “Soul Of A New Machine” sound so fresh a few years earlier were all still there only this time there was a much stronger focus on song-writing with a combination of clean & more aggressive vocals being employed by front man Burton C. Bell which added an entirely new element to the mix. Bell’s gruntier efforts were a little less deathly than they had been previously but seemed to fit Fear Factory’s sound a little better while the clean chorus hooks gave Fear Factory an all-new accessibility as they maintained & expanded on the edginess that had made the debut so popular without ever losing artistic credibility.
Dino Cazares’ straightforward & predominantly rhythmic approach the writing riffs wasn’t anything new by this stage with the likes of Pantera having already popularized this technique over the previous five or six years & it was all fairly simple when you looked at it closely. However, Dino’s execution & timing was impeccable & this would see him taking some relatively simple riffs that were based on only a few notes & making them into something much more substantial than they would at first appear. A major component in his success in this regard was his incredibly tight relationship with his rhythm section & bassist Christian Olde Wolbers & drummer Raymond Herrera deserve a lot of credit here. All three musicians were focused on a single, incredibly well-defined outcome & we see them throwing their entire focuses into providing the listener with a physical reaction that sees their body tying in with the tight machine-gun rhythms. Herrera deserves some special credit here because this outcome could only be achieved through an exceptionally precise performance behind the kit. In fact, his use of kick drum is just as much as much of a protagonist in these riffs as Dino’s guitars are & this would become even more noticeable in a live environment (as I would find out on the accompanying tour). The intelligent integration of Reynor Diego's synthesizers & samples at key moments is also impressive as it provides additional layers of colour & contrast.
Interestingly, time has seen my affiliation with the album’s more highly celebrated tracks fading a little to the point that these days I actually regard the opening title cut as the weakest inclusion in the tracklisting. It’s a touch more accessible & obvious than the rest of the material with the other major anthem “Replica” sitting in a similar space. I’m not saying these tracks are poor though by any stretch of the imagination though, only that they offer me less appeal than the rest of the album & in truth this is probably more of a compliment for the overall consistency of the tracklisting than anything else. I mean there’s not a dud to found amongst this lot & I actually think the deeper cuts in the back end of the album are its real strength. In fact, these days I’m the most closely tied to the closing two numbers “Pisschrist” & “A Therapy For Pain” & these are the only cuts that I regard as genuine classics, particularly the epic goth rock-inspired final number which sees Fear Factory taking their most melodic leap of faith &, in doing so, achieving a triumphant & quite majestic outcome. Almost all of the other tracks sit at a very high standard however Fear Factory’s style was never closely aligned enough to my own tastes for me to become as excited as some of the fanboys out there. Sometimes this was to do with the clean choruses not quite cutting the mustard after some seriously great introductions & verse sections & when listening to the album with fresh ears I’d have to suggest that Bell’s clean delivery is both the strength & weakness of “Demanufacture” as his contributions at key junctures in each composition would either make or break the song’s chances of hitting the top tier. At other times it was to do with the strong groove metal component which is not really my forte if I’m being truthful. Pantera & Machine Head had clearly made a very strong impact on the band on the evidence of some of the more straightforward riffs on “Demanufacture” & this gave Fear Factory a real crossover opportunity given just how popular those bands were at the time.
At the end of the day though, it’s very hard to be critical of “Demanufacture”. It’s a high quality metal record in every respect & if my tastes were slanted a little more towards the more accessible end of metal then I feel that I’d probably rate it a little higher than I do. There’s very little doubt that it represents the high point of the band’s career & they’d struggle to recreate its incisive vitality & hook-driven memorability for the rest of their days. I’m very glad that I had the opportunity to experience the band while they were still very much in their prime as my subsequent experiences with a live Fear Factory have been generally underwhelming, mostly due to the Bell’s complete loss of any singing ability. “Demanufacture” should be essential listening for all fans of the industrial metal genre.
For fans of Strapping Young Lad, Nailbomb & Ministry.
Genres: Industrial Metal
I can be a strange fucking creature at times. I mean I was a huge fan of Boston-based progressive metal legends Dream Theater from the moment I first heard their 1992 sophomore album “Images & Words” & there was a time in the late 90’s/early 2000’s when they were right up there with my favourite bands. So why in the actual fuck has it taken me this long to check out their 2003 seventh album “Train Of Thought”? Well, I guess it has something to do with the fact that I became completely obsessed with electronic music around the turn of the century & tended to focus all of my attention on my new obsession until I returned to metal a decade later. Since that time, I’d suggest that the generally middling reviews of Dream Theater’s later works have never really encouraged me to investigate them for fear of disappointment although I did check them out their live shows in both 2008 & 2014 & have always really enjoyed myself.
There’s been a lot of talk about “Train Of Thought” online & it’s reputation as one of Dream Theater’s most divisive albums was certainly well known to me before giving it my first spin. Many people claim that it saw the band trying to tap into the nu metal craze that was the flavour of the week at the time while others suggest that it was simply an attempt to make a classic metal record after getting great crowd responses to their cover performances of Iron Maiden & Metallica albums as well as their heavier original material on the preceding tours. Some say that the album lacks the ambition of past works due to the consistent focus on a heavier sound too & even suggest that some of the artistic license the band have taken has simply fallen in a jumbled heap. Then you have those fans with a slightly heavier taste in metal who claim this as one of Dream Theater’s best works so I really did go into the album having made a very conscious decision to keep an open mind & develop my own opinion.
The first thing I’ll say about “Train Of Thought” is that I can understand where ALL of those assessments are coming from. Dream Theater’s fan base is one of the most passionate & devoted you’ll find so it was almost inevitable that even the slightest change in direction would trigger some fairly extreme responses & whether they’re valid or not is really up the individual to decide. One thing that can’t be disputed though is that “Train Of Thought” was the band’s heaviest release to the time. John Petrucci makes full use of the lower register on his 7-string guitar & utilizes a bottom-heavy tone that you’d be more likely to expect from an alternative metal band than a progressive one. To capitalize on that, the band have given their heavier side an increased focus & you’ll get significantly less of the introspective atmospheric parts & poppier sections that perpetuated their past classics. This will no doubt please some metalheads & I probably fall into that category as I’ve always wondered what Dream Theater could accomplish if they simply tossed aside their shackles & went for broke. Unfortunately for your less open-minded fans though, there are a few sections that draw on nu metal for inspiration & those are generally the parts of the album that appeal to me the least however that only amounts to a riff or two here & there which isn’t out of line with Dream Theater’s history of toying with different subgenres, often within the context of the same track. The same could be said of the Metallica influence actually as there are some pretty blatant instrumental & vocal homages to them here, particularly their classic late 80’s period. I actually don’t think the band have even tried to disguise these parts as they’re so just so similar. To be fair, I’m not sure James LaBrie was up to a dirtier & more aggressive Hetfield style delivery though to tell you the truth.
But these moments are simply included to create interest in an otherwise very engaging & professional Dream Theater outing in my opinion. Despite what some people may have you think, “Train Of Thought” doesn’t really sound all that different to the Dream Theater of old. Mike Portnoy’s incredible drumming is as potent as ever with the unified rhythmic complexity being pulled off in a nonchalant fashion that thumbs its nose at the prog metal pretenders while the lead trade-offs between guitarist John Petrucci (my all-time favourite axe-man) & keyboardist Jordan Rudess are utterly ridiculous so there’s plenty here for the prog crowd as well as the metal one. So why isn’t “Train Of Thought” regarded as being in the same class as the classic Dream Theater releases of the 1990’s then? Well for me personally it’s about lack of genuinely anthemic vocal hooks. James LaBrie’s performance is certainly serviceable. In fact, he performs the role admirably however I can’t shake the feeling that he’s working within constraints these days & doesn’t explore his higher register unless there’s no alternative. This results in many of these long epics (there’s just seven tracks across the 69 minute run time) showing great promise but lacking the knock-out punch that would see you singing along with them in your head for the rest of the day like a “Pull Me Under” or “Take The Time”. You certainly enjoy them all while you’re listening to them & it’s hard to fault any of these tracks as this is a very consistent tracklisting but you have to wait until lengthy closer “In The Name of God” to reach the sort of heights you’ve become accustomed to from a top tier Dream Theater record. I actually feel like “In The Name Of God” is a magnificent piece of work that sits comfortably alongside the band’s best work but here it serves the additional task of reminding me that, while the rest of the tracklisting offered me some particularly solid progressive metal, it also fell a little short of what the band are capable of as song-writers. There certainly weren’t as many killer harmonized vocal hooks to dig their teeth in. Has the increased focus on the heavier aspects in their sound contributed to this? Perhaps but the closer certainly proves that the right balance can be achieved with that format.
So, the moral of the story here is that “Train Of Thought” is a rock-solid progressive metal outing that should well & truly satisfy both the prog & metal audiences if they can overlook the occasional inclusion of a simpler nu metal riff or laclustre attempt at more aggressive vocals. These moments are certainly the exception rather than the rule & have been overstated by many reviewers over the years. The rest of the album offers some chunky progressive metal performed by the very best in the business & if that’s not enough to float your boat then I feel that you’re hard to please.
For fans of Fates Warning, Haken & Pain Of Salvation.
Genres: Progressive Metal
I simply can’t understate the impact that West Yorkshire-based death doom metal outfit My Dying Bride had on a young & impressionable teenage me between 1992 & 1995. I’d discovered them very early in their recording career through their debut E.P. “Symphonaire Infernus Et Spera Empyrium” & had simply fallen in love at first sight/listen. Paradise Lost had already opened me up to the delights of death metal infused doom by that stage but the addition of grandiose violin/symphonics & a more consistent achievement of pure melancholy put My Dying Bride in front of them for me & the next few years would see my affiliation with the band only strengthening with 1994’s “Turn Loose The Swans” representing not only the absolute peak of that sound but also a pivotal moment in my musical evolution. So needless to say that the band were facing a huge challenge to follow that album up with something that would gain the same level of adoration from this stubborn metalhead but 1995’s “The Angel & The Dark River” would prove to be just what the doctor ordered, perhaps not in the way that I was expecting though.
“The Angel & The Dark River” represents a noticeable change of direction for My Dying Bride & over time it would prove to be one that would see them achieving the critical & commercial breakthroughs they’d been hoping for. Upon first listen it becomes immediately obvious that the album is significantly less imposing than the band’s previous material with the death metal component having been completely dropped with the exception of the bonus track that appears on some versions of the album. There’s a much stronger gothic streak running right through the centre of the tracklisting with front man Aaron Stainthorpe opting for a clean & considerably mournful delivery that reminds me of many an early 80’s goth rock outfit, minus the trademark lower registers that were so commonly employed in that scene. Aaron’s clean voice certainly seemed compelling enough during my first couple of listens &, despite the fact that I don’t find this approach to be anywhere near as exciting as Aaron’s inimitably dark death growls, I found myself going along for the ride to see where it’d take me. Looking back, I find it hard to believe that I didn’t experience any initial feelings of disappointment & dismay at this new vocal development but perhaps it’s just a sign that I was in a very enlightening time of my musical development where I was very receptive to new & adventurous sounds.
But it’s not just the vocal approach that changed with “The Angel & The Dark River” because My Dying Bride had made some less obvious instrumental adjustments too with all traces of their death metal roots having been shelved in order to open the door for a more melodic & inherently goth-tinged traditional doom metal sound that helped to highlight Aaron’s miserable odes to loss & disconsolation. The use of traditional goth tools such as piano, organ & symphonics are used tastefully to apply colour & highlights which give the material an added layer of melodic content & apply a nice contrast to Aaron’s quite insular & sorrowful performance. I have to admit that some of these elements do sound a touch dated by today’s standards, particularly the synthesized piano & electric violin sounds which were very much of their time, however the quality of the riffs & arrangements are strong enough to see those minor qualms being less significant than they might otherwise have been & all band members sound revitalized & right onboard with My Dying Bride’s new direction. Despite the limitations of the production tools I just mentioned, multi-instrumentalist Martin Powell (who handles the violins & keyboard) puts in a stellar performance which sees him pulling on my heart-strings at key moments whilst always maintaining a level of subtlety & sophistication & this is an element that was missing from some of My Dying Bride’s later works.
“The Angel & The Dark River” kicks off in emphatic fashion with two incredible examples of My Dying Bride’s new style. Epic opener “The Cry of Mankind” sees the band employing some interesting production techniques in the studio with the same continuous four-note finger-tapped guitar melody played repeatedly over the entire twelve minute duration & the use of an extended ambient section being refreshing inclusions. The quality drops back a touch for the middle part of the album which is still strong but lacks the sense of timelessness that the earlier tracks seemed to possess in spades. “Two Winters Only” then picks things up in a major way & represents not only the most stripped back track on the record but also the clear highlight in my opinion. It features the albums most introspective & heart-wrenching moments & the contrast of the clean, melodic guitar lines & chuggy church organ driven heavy sections is both stark & refreshing. Closer “Your Shameful Heaven” begins with probably the most beautiful & melancholic part of the record with Powell opting for a stunning solo violin part that transports the listener back to dark medieval times however the tempo increases drastically through the middle of the song to see it becoming the most bouncy & energetic number on the tracklisting, a fact that I find a little disappointing if I’m honest, despite my strong affiliation with the intro.
At this point I think I have to fess up that the version of the album I purchased immediately upon release was the one with the bonus track “The Sexuality Of Bereavement” i.e. a ridiculously dark death doom metal piece that draws inspiration from My Dying Bride’s earlier material & I believe was actually recorded during the "Turn Loose The Swans" sessions. Why is this so important to mention? Well, I have to admit that I think this track is not only a cut above the rest of the tracklisting but is also the clear high point of the band’s entire career for me personally. The sheer depressive grandiosity of this track is almost immeasurable & is further accentuated by the intelligent & artistic use of backwards reverb & decay on the drums. Why the band & its management have opted not to include this track on this or any other album is absolutely beyond me because it doesn’t sound so drastically out of place amongst the rest of the material that it compromises the flow of the album. If anything it’s only caused me to rate the overall album more even more highly than I already did & I just feel that it’s one of the world’s great travesties that some fans have had to go without this track for over twenty-five years & are probably none the wiser.
Regardless, “The Angel & The Dark River” is a fine example of an extreme metal band successfully reinventing themselves whilst losing none of their underground credibility. If I’m being particularly picky, I do find Aaron’s clean vocals to be a bit whiny & repetitive these days but this wasn’t such a big deal when I only had this record to contend with & the concept was still so fresh in my mind so I’m pleased to see that it hasn’t tainted my feelings whatsoever. I can’t deny the emotional attachment I have with these songs after all these years & will always remember the sense of strength & empowerment they gave me during some of the more challenging times of my life. Do I rate “The Angel & the Dark River” as highly as My Dying Bride’s previous album “Turn Loose The Swans”? Probably not these days but I certainly did back in the 90’s & that’s hardly a huge criticism given how highly I rate that particular album. This should be essential listening for all fans of gothic doom metal.
For fans of Paradise Lost, Type O Negative & The Foreshadowing.
P.S. Sorry to do this to you but is it just me or does the cover photo sit slightly further over to one side of the cover than it does to the other?
Genres: Doom Metal
I got on the Incantation train as an unsuspecting but enthusiastic teenager when their 1992 debut album “Onward To Golgotha” entered my mail box via a US tape trader shortly after release & it made a significant impact on me. I really enjoyed its dense, murky atmosphere & deep, suffocating vocal delivery although I had to admit that the production & performances were a little looser than I was comfortable with at the time which prevented me from placing it on the pedestal that some of my death metal peers seemed to. But never fear… Incantation would return soon enough & would bring with them a similar if slightly more refined sound for 1994’s sophomore album “Mortal Throne Of Nazarene”.
Interestingly, the band’s label Relapse Records were reportedly unhappy with the results of the initial “Mortal Throne Of Nazarene” recording sessions & asked the band to re-record the album in its entirety which they reluctantly agreed to do. The final product is the result of those subsequent sessions but the whole fiasco clearly left a bad taste in band leader John McEntee’s mouth. The original recordings would be released as “Upon The Throne Of Apocalypse” the following year, an album that I eagerly but unsuspectingly snapped up at the local record store only to find that it was indeed the same album with a different production job & the tracklisting reversed. It probably served me right given that I’d again secured the “Mortal Throne Of Nazarene” release through tape trading & therefore didn’t have easy access to a tracklisting. To be fair though, I actually prefer the original recording despite the obviously over-pumped levels & slightly more cavernous feel. It just seems to have a little more depth & power but both versions have their positives.
Now, fans of “Onward To Golgotha” needn’t have been concerned when going into “Mortal Throne Of Nazarene” for the first time because, despite some small adjustments to the band’s sonic arsenal, this was still very much the Incantation that they’d grown to love & adore with the debut. The guitar sound is noticeably thinner & less bass-heavy which gives the riffs more definition & enables the performances to sound a little tighter. More importantly though, the doom/death component that I found so appealing on “Onward To Golgotha” has been accentuated further & (much like their brothers in gore Autopsy) those parts have inevitably always lined up with Incantation’s most captivating material for me personally. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that they easily compete with the elite masters of the death doom metal subgenre with Aussie legends diSEMBOWELMENT often springing to mind, particularly during the second half of opening cut “Demonic Incarnate” & the epic eight minute closer “Abolishment of Immaculat Serenity” which is the clear album highlight in my opinion. The vocal performance of second guitarist Craig Pillard certainly helps to accentuate the overarching feeling of dread as his delivery is significantly more oppressive & suffocating than on the debut which saw my levels of intrigue sky-rocketing. When you place those vocals over the doomiest moments on the record you get some truly intimidating music that could only be regarded as death metal for death metal purists. I mean if you kinda like death metal because your friend played you some At the Gates, Behemoth & Death records when you were drunk after a party one night then you’ve got a lot to learn because this band takes the death metal aesthetic to extreme levels.
Much like “Onward To Golgotha”, the dirty production job can see the faster material tending to fly past you in a blur if you’re not paying close attention on your first couple of listens & this makes the album significantly less accessible than your average early 90’s death metal release but repeat listens see the intricacies of the riffs starting to become apparent & you’ll soon discover that McEntee has mastered a more angular take on the tremolo-picked riff that doesn’t conform to traditional rhythmic templates. He takes an unusually off-beat & angular approach to his melodic yet undeniably brutal progressions that catches your ear & leaves you wondering what it is that’s different about it. Drummer Jim Roe tends to focus more on power & brutality than complexity in order to allow the layers of guitars & vocals the room to fully engulf you without ever descending into a pit of sludgy noise while the thick sound of Dave Niedrist’s bass guitar provides further weight to an already imposing wall of corpse-ridden death.
I probably didn’t realise the class of this release upon first listen. I just knew that it appealed to my underground death metal ethos on a level that I wasn’t used to experiencing & was overcome by the urge to return to it over & over. In time I’d come to the realisation that I’m simply a kindred spirit of McEntee’s when it comes to this sort of music. I feel the same thrill that he does when I hear his riffs for the first time & I crave the same sort of atmospheres that he strives to create. For that reason, I find it hard not to rate “Mortal Throne Of Nazarene” as a classic release despite the fact that tracks two through six tend to be hard to differentiate due to a combination of the murky production & the similar song-writing concepts. But sometimes you just have to go with your gut when it comes to music & you shouldn’t have to explain yourself when a record sees you buying into the composer’s original concept in a major way. As far as Incantation’s overall back catalogue goes, I’d suggest that 1998’s “Diabolical Conquest” might be the band’s pièce de resistance however this record isn’t too far behind it to tell you the truth & it should be compulsory listening for all fans of the purest, grimiest, most grisly death metal in existence.
For fans of Immolation, Dead Congregation & Disma.
Genres: Death Metal
The European brand of power metal & I have had a particularly rocky relationship over the years. There are elements of most of the classic releases that I find appealing but (with the exception of one or two bands) they’re generally squashed by a whole crap-tonne of cheese. However since the Metal Academy podcast reached the 1985 period three or four years ago I’ve been making a lot more of an effort to give the more highly regarded power metal records a bit more time & attention in the hope that I’ll finally be converted & I have to admit that, even though I’ve had mixed results to date, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that I can actually stomach a lot more releases than I would have previously thought. One of those releases was our December feature release for The Guardians clan in Gamma Ray’s 2000 “Blast From The Past” double album which offered enough appeal to me to overcome some of the more dairy rich content. I was particularly keen on the material that took more of a traditional heavy metal approach as the band really managed to pull off a few stellar Judas Priest imitations. So this left me thinking… is it time to revisit Gamma Ray’s classic 1995 album “Land Of The Free” to see if I’d been too harsh on it in the past? Or perhaps my taste has now broadened enough to cope with the elements that were previously deal breakers for me? Time would tell but it’s worth noting that I started with a 2.5 star rating from way back in the day.
The first thing I noticed when revisiting “Land Of The Free” was the excellent production & musicianship on display. I mean Gamma Ray were clearly a well qualified & established group of musicians by that stage & you can hear it pretty easily here. The dual guitar attack were particularly impressive & their lead solos represent many of the highlight moments across the tracklisting. It’s also worth noting that front man Kai Hansen’s vocal delivery had improved remarkably since his time in Helloween & I especially enjoy the parts where he draws his inspiration from Judas Priest front man Rob Halford. No doubt he’d get better at that over the coming years too.
It has to be said that Gamma Ray’s sound was metal as fuck on this record. In fact, “Land Of The Free” really is a glorification of everything it means to be metal. Much like “Blast From The Past”, there are a few tracks that crossover into your more traditional heavy metal territory & there was a sense of inevitability about the fact that my favourite numbers generally line up with the moments when the power metal-ometer displays its lower readings. Given my strong penchant for the more extreme end of metal, I’ve always found the European power metal that’s built around a speed metal backbone to be less appealing than that which leans more towards your Priests & Maidens. I think it’s got to do with the simplicity of the faster tremolo-picked backing & the noticeable lack of riffs to an extent but those sort of tracks also tend to favour your more uplifting & cheesy choruses which are really the big elephant in the room whenever I’m sitting down for a power metal session.
“Land Of The Free” opens & closes with its strongest material in my opinion with the epic nine minute opener “Rebellion In Dreamland” seeing Gamma Ray kicking off with their biggest gun. Unfortunately though, that early promise doesn’t lead to an album of consistent merit (at least not for me personally) & I was disappointed to find that my improved tolerance for power metal hasn’t in turn seen me finding this record to be much less of a struggle than I found it to be previously. The faster speed metal driven tracks fit very comfortably under the description in the last paragraph & I almost invariably find their choruses to be pretty hard going. The chorus from “Time To break Free” sounds like it was stolen from a poppy country & western hit for God’s sakes while the ballad “Farewell” lays the cheese on in thick slices that see my stomach struggling with lactose intolerance. “All Of The Damned” is a pretty decent number & so is the thirty-nine seconds of “The Saviour” however there wasn’t really much else here to interest me besides the two bookends, despite there not being any real garbage on offer.
Ultimately it just comes down to taste though to be honest. I can easily see why power metal fans hold “Land Of The Free” in such high regard as it’s extremely well written & executed but I can’t see a time when I’ll be able to accept some of the elements at play here. There’s merit in most of this material however too much of it is tainted by obvious attempts to sound epic or simplistic gang-vocal led melodic chorus hooks. I did quite like the “Blast From The Past” double album though so perhaps all is not lost with Gamma Ray yet & a little persistence may see me being rewarded in other parts of their back catalogue.
For fans of Helloween, Blind Guardian & Judas Priest.
Genres: Power Metal
Wichita-based epic heavy/power metal outfit Manilla Road have always been an interesting one for me personally. On the one hand, I always find their records to be intriguing, mainly because they've developed their own unique sound, image & mystique. On the other, I never seem to find myself getting past that point. I find them interesting but not overly engaging so I don't often feel the need to return to them. Anyway... I recently realised that I had a small gap in my coverage of Manilla's Road's classic era releases as I hadn't rated 1986's highly regarded 1986 album "The Deluge" despite having generally enjoyed the records either side of it so I decided to remedy that.
"The Deluge" very much represents the missing link between my two favourite Manilla Road records in 1985's "Open The Gates" & 1987's "Mystification". It still sounds inherently like Manilla Road & offers all of the characteristics they built their strong underground following on however it's also significantly thrashier than the band's earlier records. In fact, you'll find very little of the doomier material that was evident in years gone past & there's also less of a reliance on their psychedelic/progressive rock influences, despite the obvious hints at Rush that are still fairly evident. The track lengths are mostly very short with only three of the ten tracks on offer breaching the three minute mark. The impact of more aggressive thrash metal of Slayer's "Show No Mercy" album is easily identifiable however "The Deluge" never feels like legitimate thrash due to the more epic atmosphere Manilla Road always manage to create, mainly due to the unique contribution of front man Mark Shelton whose higher register voice & transcendental lyrics place the Road into a space that only they have access to.
But despite the unique Manilla Road sound, I do think that "The Deluge" suffers a little bit from repetition as much of it sounds pretty similar & familiar. Shelton's lead work is always a major component of the band's sound & he doesn't disappoint here however there's a samey-ness to some his contributions this time. Perhaps it's due to the consistently higher tempos that push this record out into US power metal territory when I've always questioned the validity of that term with the Road's earlier works. Randy Foxe's drumming is very raw & energetic but I don't think he delivers quite the precision that made such an impression on me with "Mystification" from the following year.
As is usually the case with Manilla Road, it's the longer & more expansive tracks that end up being the most gratifying with the eight minute title track being the most captivating & adventurous. But in saying that, I still don't think it ever gets me out of second gear & that's a point worth noting about "The Deluge". There's a lot of good material here but I can't say that any of these tracks reach great status for me personally. Without any genuine highlight tracks, the tracklisting just seems to fly past fairly quickly as you wait for something that never eventuates. Plus, the album kinda peters out at the end with a couple of the weaker inclusions on the tracklisting which doesn't leave me wanting to race back to start it all over again.
Still... "The Deluge" is yet another interesting if comparatively uneventful album from Manilla Road. The thrashier approach certainly gave it a more incisive edge however it was at the expense of some of the components that I most enjoyed about the band's sound so I'm left feeling fairly neutral about it overall.
For fans of Brocas Helm, Omen & Eternal Champion.
Genres: Heavy Metal
As many of you would likely know by now, Florida heavy legends Savatage have never offered me much appeal & I've always regarded their immense underground popularity as somewhat of a mystery. I've given their supposed classics revisit after revisit over the years but still seem to be no closer to figuring out what it is that people see in them. Sure, lead guitarist Criss Oliva is an absolute virtuoso of the highest order but that's really all that they offer as far as I can see & you'll rarely find a better example of that than their highly praised 1989 fifth album "Gutter Ballet".
Rightly or wrongly, Savatage have always been tied to the US power metal scene for one reason or another. The term was first devised to label an early-to-mid 80's US movement that saw many bands dropping the hard rock backbone that the NWOBHM had been holding on to & blurring the lines between heavy metal, speed metal & thrash metal via a chunkier guitar sound & more aggressive riffage. It's always seemed strange to me that Savatage were attached to that particular movement as (unlike bands like Metal Church & Omen) they simply aren't any heavier than most of your major NWOBHM acts. It seems like front man Jon Oliva's overly theatrical delivery & the band's more progressive approach have fooled people into believing that there's some reason to differentiate them from the heavy metal masses but if you really break it down there's absolutely no need for it, even with their earlier works which were significantly more metal than "Gutter Ballet".
But despite their previous links to US power metal, "Gutter Ballet" sees even those who clutch onto that ideal with the firmest grip starting to loosen it a little because it was this album that saw the band starting to drift away from the rest of their peers by experimenting in some fairly uncharted territory. It's been pretty widely publicized that this album was heavily influenced by an epiphany that came over Jon Oliva while watching a theatre performance of "The Phantom Of The Opera" & this led to Jon making a change in his song-writing style that resulted in Savatage taking on an increasingly theatrical style. There are definitely some songs where that is more obvious than others but I think it's fair to say that it's one of the more noteworthy features of the album. The other is the stronger influence of Pink Floyd's 1979-83 concept albums & The Beatles' later material on the Savatage sound as it sees "Gutter Ballet" taking on a similar aesthetic during the more introspective moments. But unlike those two super heavy-weights of progressive rock & psychedelic pop, Savatage don't quite seem to know where the line between artistic expression & self-indulgence is. I don't mind the greatly increased use of piano & symphonics in Savatage's sound but it's Jon Oliva's clear lack of understanding of his own technical limitations & apparent passion for camp Queen-style operatics that really get my goat.
It's not all doom & gloom though. There are several really decent track included here, particularly those that see Criss moving closer to the forefront at the expense of his brother. The clear highlights for me are the three minute instrumental excursion "Temptation Revelation" (which serves as a nice platform for Criss to showcase both his technical artistry & an impeccable sense of melody) & the closing track on the CD version of the album "Thorazine Shuffle" (which is about as heavy as Savatage get on the album & leaves me baffled as to why they'd leave it off the vinyl version). A couple of the heavier filler tracks like "She's In Love" & "The Unholy" are pretty good too, as is Criss' short folk guitar interlude "Silk & Steel". Interestingly, none of these are the tracks that "Gutter Ballet" is known for though & it's a very clear indication that you don't get on with a band when their most popular songs are the ones that you dislike the most. My ears simply can't tolerate the sheer pomp & cheese that goes on in the ballads on this album. The title track & "When The Crowds Are Gone" seem to sit amongst the most popular tracks of Savatage's career but they give me similar reactions to hearing fingernails being scraped down a chalkboard & "Summer's Rain" doesn't fair all that much better to be honest. Heavier material like "Of Rage & War" & "Hounds" certainly sounded a lot stronger on the "Ghost in the Ruins: A Tribute to Criss Oliva" live album (as did the title track to be fair) but here they suffer from some seriously inadequate chorus hooks that sound very forced & leave me a little dumbfounded as to how people deem them to be acceptable.
Given my score though, it's clear that I appreciate the effort that Savatage have made to do something a little different here & those four or five tracks that I enjoyed do tend to overcome the less appealing balladry to an extent but it's not enough to save "Gutter Ballet" from being yet another Savatage record that failed to captivate me. It would certainly represent somewhat of a turning point in their career as the elements that were initially incorporated here would be explored further in the coming years but I can't say that this is something that excites this ol' metalhead too much as I don't honestly think I'll ever be able to cope with a Jon Oliva-fronted Savatage record if I'm being completely open & transparent. Oh well.... where the fuck is my Bathory collection when I need it??
For fans of Circle II Circle, Queensryche & Virgin Steele.
Genres: Heavy Metal
It's been many years since I've revisited Swedish death metallers Necrophobic's 1993 debut album "The Nocturnal Silence" but I still find it to be a very solid piece of work. Whilst you'll harbor very few doubts that they hail from Swedish origins once the needle hits the wax, Necrophobic (who were led by Dark Funeral guitarist Blackmoon) had a lot more feathers in their caps than many of their contemporaries & you'll hear all sorts of influences popping up here as they do their very best to name drop almost every great death/thrash/black metal band of the early 1990's & do it all with great aplomb too.
The early Necrophobic sound seems to have been put together by combining the various different elements they were hearing from their local Stockholm scene at the time as far as I can see. You had the classic old-school death metal of Dismember, the melodic black metal of Dissection & the melodic death metal of Unanimated, all fused together & mixed in with regular Bathory references & one-off hints at international acts like Death, Deicide, Obituary, Bolt Thrower, Slayer, Emperor, etc. In fact, I'd suggest that they've borrowed their evil lyrical themes & imagery from Dissection & Deicide too if I'm not mistaken. I wouldn't say that this results in a product that's particularly focused or well defined but the band certainly had the skills to pull it off &, when combined with a production job that offers a good balance of underground rawness & melodic clarity, the result is a fairly accessible yet energetic extreme metal release that's tailor made for an audience that favours a melodic, crunchy & undeniably Swedish brand of death metal.
For fans of Dissection, Unanimated & Dismember.
Genres: Death Metal
I can still very vividly remember the first time I experienced the stunning intensity of New Jersey mathcore exponents The Dillinger Escape Plan. It was some time in the mid-2000’s & I was completely immersed in the techno scene after having grown tired of metal & taking a break from it completely around 1998. My brother Ben had come over to my apartment for a visit & he’d come armed with a collection of tracks he’d been wanting to show me in order to highlight the best work the metal scene had to offer at the time. I’m not sure if he was hoping to lure me back to metal or not but I have to admit that I wasn’t terribly open to returning at that stage. I did however have a strong interest in seeing what I was missing &, of all of the material that he showed me that night, one track stood out from the rest fairly comfortably & would stay with me for all of the years that have followed. The psychotic blast of energy that is The Dillinger Escape Plan’s “43% Burnt” completely blew my mind that night with its unbridled ferocity, over-the-top complexity & sheer ambition. It certainly didn’t fall into my musical comfort zone but it did manage to leave me questioning if the metal scene still had some fresh new ideas for me after all. I’d eventually return to metal in 2009 & made a point of familiarizing myself with the Dillinger back catalogue with extreme priority.
In general, I’ve enjoyed everything The Dillinger Escape Plan have put out without ever really feeling that I could fully relate to their sound enough to claim any individual release as a genuine classic for me personally. I’m not entirely sure why that’s the case as I’ve managed to overcome that obstacle with several other mathcore exponents but with Dillinger I inevitably find myself to be very impressed but can never seem to find a higher rating than 4/5 & that’s still the case with 2013’s classic fifth album “One Of Us Is The Killer”. It’s a different record to anything they’d produced previously without ever seeming to alienate the band’s existing fanbase. The technical complexity factor is as spasmatic as ever with the band experimenting with some incredibly off-beat & mind-bending rhythms but there’s somehow a greater level of accessibility at the same time. The incorporation of some strong melodic hooks on songs like the title track & “Nothing’s Funny” will likely see the well-informed listener reaching for comparisons with alternative metal legends Faith No More, particularly the vocal performance of Greg Puciato who seems to have been heavily influenced by the off-the-wall yet incredibly capable vocal stylings of Mike Patton. He's an enormous talent really. I can't possibly imagine how shredded his vocal chords must be after recording an album like this one as he truly screams his fucking lungs out across a large part of the run time but he also proves himself to have a great understanding of musicality & melody when he chooses to explore it.
If you really look at Dillinger’s delivery closely here you’ll find that the band’s sound is built on hardcore more than it is on metal. There’s an uncompromising urgency & aggression about everything they do that keeps the listener on the edge of their seat at all times. The incredible intricacy in their rhythms is both their strength & their enemy in my opinion as not only does it ensure that I’m always interested & engaged but it also sees me often struggling to find a groove that sees me banging my head like I want to do when listening to good metal. In a way I think this sees a lot of Dillinger’s material simply washing over me in a wave of vitriolic electricity without seeing as much of it sticking as I’d like & this is never made more clearly apparent than when they finally get the balance just right. The final two tracks on “One Of Us Is The Killer” (album highlight “Crossburner” & “The Threat Posed By Nuclear Weapons”) are absolutely killer & fall very much into this category. To be honest, I think the key reason I feel that way is because they have simpler, heavier metal riffs interspersed between the chaos & this gives this old metalhead a little more meat on the bones of Dillinger’s spasmatic hardcore sound. It’s strange that they left those two tracks till right at the end but this isn’t to say that there’s anything like a weak song or even a half-decent filler track amongst this lot. It’s all high quality stuff but it’s only the final climax that sees me fully letting go & succumbing to The Dillinger Escape Plan’s incredibly detailed plan of escape.
Overall, I think “One Of Us Is The Killer” is another very strong DEP record. It’s pretty incredible that they managed to maintain their screaming intensity & ridiculous technicality whilst simultaneously infusing their sound with an additional layer of accessibility but it’s paid off for them big-time here. Is it their best release? Perhaps… but it’s hard to compare their records as they’re all so similar in terms of quality. If pushed though, I’d suggest that I’d take this album over a record like “Irony Is A Dead Scene” which seems to be extremely highly regarded these days. Dillinger represented a breath of fresh air for a scene over-flowing with followers & I’m not sure that we’ve found anyone to fill that gap since their unfortunate departure. I’ll always have the fondest memories of experiencing this material in a live environment as there simply isn’t anything to compare to the violence & excitement of a Dillinger live show.
For fans of The Callous Daoboys, Botch & Rolo Tomassi.
As a fan of the more intense European thrash metal sound, last year's third album from Swiss five-piece Total Annihilation (entitled "...On Chains Of Doom") ticks a lot of my musical boxes. It's beautifully produced with a seriously brutal guitar tone that's more in line with death metal than it is thrash. It's also very tightly executed with the band working well within their technical limitations to give us a relentless brand of thrash that's not afraid to slow things down for some crunchy doom style sections on occasion. Front man Daniel Altwegg has a grindy & fairly monotonous European style of vocal delivery that keeps Total Annihilation firmly situated in the underground & the total run time is just about right for a modern thrash record. So it's needless to say that I quite enjoyed "...On Chains Of Doom".
What's stopping me from reaching for the higher ratings is a few things. Firstly, the composition is lacking in ambition & the construction of the riffs is relatively basic which brings some of these tracks an element of heard-it-all-before. The song-writing is also a little lacking in the way of memorability with none of these tracks standing out as particular highlights despite only one track falling short of an acceptable standard (see "Experience The Terror"). And finally, the guitar solos are very ordinary & don't really serve much of a purpose as they don't enhance the music in any way. It's pretty obvious that this is merely a technical limitation & if I were in the band I would have advised against including them at all.
But, all criticisms aside, "...On Chains Of Doom" is a very heavy & generally enjoyable thrash record that makes up for its flaws with pure aggression & a good understanding of what makes underground thrash special. In fact, I'd take it over the more highly regarded 2020 Warbringer & Hexecutor albums we featured recently.
For fans of Legion Of The Damned, late 80's Kreator & "Agent Orange"-era Sodom.
Genres: Thrash Metal
Ok, so it'll shock approximately no one that 1997's "Enter" debut from Dutch gothic doom metal exponents Within Temptation wasn't for me but perhaps not for the reasons that many of you might suspect. I did hear bits of Within Temptation back in their early days but never paid a lot of attention to them given that my taste in metal was on the polar opposite end of the metal spectrum & that's still essentially the case. I mean, despite the link to the gothic doom metal movement, "Enter" isn't all that far away from the band's later symphonic metal label given that around half of the tracklisting would likely qualify for that tag when examined in isolation. Sure, the strongest element at play & the most comfortable way to pigeonhole "Enter" is via the gothic metal subgenre but there sure is a lot of synth work going on around it. Also, any metal fan worth their studded battle vest would be remiss to overlook the fact that the majority of the riffage is based purely on 1990's death doom metal &, given the inclusion of cookie monster vocals in roughly half of the tracklisting, it's no surprise that "Enter" is often linked with doom metal.
Surprisingly, the female vocals of Sharon den Adel are the clear highlight of the album for me & I definitely prefer the sections where she takes centre-stage whilst accompanied by predominantly clean instrumentation. The more extreme end of Within Temptation's sound was still very much an evolving concept at the time & is far less convincing here. In fact, the musicianship on display is a significant stumbling block for me given that the instrumentalists were so clearly still learning their craft, particularly the guitarists who suffered from a poor production job & aren't exactly convincing with their re-enactments of these slow-paced & simple doom riffs. Keyboardist Martijn Westerholt also struggles for timing on occasion &, more often than not, his chosen synthesizers sound pretty dated too. This isn't an attractive look given my pre-existing repulsion towards synth-driven metal. And finally, the death growls of guitarist Robert Westerholt rank relatively poorly when compared with other half-decent cookie monster wannabes.
So it might sound like there's really not all that much going for "Enter" & that's true to an extent however I still find myself enjoying a good half of the eight tracks included & that enjoyment inevitably lines up with the tracks that utilize less of the synthesizers & death growls & more of Sharon's sweet vocal lines. There's no doubt that Within Temptation cross the line into being over-dramatic a little too often for my liking but when they hit on something with a little more maturity about it I find myself struggling to maintain my general feeling of apathy. One can tell that there are some good ideas in there somewhere but the band are still a little too green to know what to do with them. Then there are a couple of real shockers in "Gatekeeper" & "Blooded" which see me genuinely struggling to keep from offloading a cringe-faced look of revulsion.
Ultimately, there's little doubt that I'm not the target audience for a record like "Enter" but, at the same time, there are far too many flaws for it to overcome here & I can't see myself returning to the album any time soon.
Genres: Gothic Metal
Apparently I rated Canadian progressive metal maestro Devin Townsend's 2009 album "Addicted" (his second effort under the Devin Townsend Project moniker) around the time of release & wasn't much of a fan of it which really does show that my tastes in metal are still changing even 37 years after first becoming enamored with the genre. Or perhaps I've just developed the patience to give music that sits outside of my usual comfort zone a chance to dig it's teeth in. If I had to guess I'd suggest that it's a little bit of both but probably more that latter than the former.
Anyway... I've given "Addicted" a few revisits this morning & found that I quite liked it but wouldn't class it as essential listening. Sure it incorporates some new elements (like the electronic component & the addition of former The Gathering front woman Anneke van Giersbergen) but the end result still sounds like Devin with his trademark wall of melodic sound. Unsurprisingly, all of the various ingredients have been beautifully integrated. In fact, Devin really should send the album to Megadeth band leader Dave Mustaine so that he can see how albums like "Risk" & "The World Needs A Hero" should have sounded as the boys seem to have had similar ideas but produced vastly different results with a wide disparity in regards to quality.
Anneke has sat amongst my favourite female metal vocalists (if not THE favourite) for a very long time now so I welcomed the collaboration. She certainly sounds great here too but I do prefer to hear her voice being highlighted a little more than it is amidst Devin's huge soundscapes. The production is obviously outstanding though & this gives some of the middling tracks the grunt required to see them getting over the line. The guitar tone is heavy as shit while Ryan Van Poederooyen puts in a stellar performance behind the drum kit.
It's interesting that many fans seem to regard this album as an industrial metal record. Sure there are some electronic elements at play here but there's not a consistently industrial/mechanical atmosphere. "Addicted" is far more uplifting that that & I'm actually fine with the alternative metal tag as a lot of this material looks to remove some of the boundaries that separate metal from your more accessible styles whilst always maintaining a predominantly metal aesthetic. Despite the general consensus, when you examine the tracklisting as a whole you'll find that "Addicted" isn't really much poppier than Devin has dished out before either & I do think that saying it incorporates "dance music" is a stretch too as the electronics are used purely for colour & there aren't too many artificial dance beats included here.
Overall, I think "Addicted" had the potential to be a really great album given the quality of the production, performances & most of the hooks but there's a major flaw that prevents me from scoring it as highly as I'd like to. Unfortunately the tracklisting is let down by a couple of weak commercially focused tracks (i.e. "Bend It Like Bender!" & particularly the soppy ballad "Ih-Ah!") which combine to bring my score down by a half-star. Otherwise there's plenty of meat for Devin's fanatical audience to dig their teeth into here with the clear album highlight "Supercrush!" sitting amongst the best work of Devin's entire career.
Genres: Alternative Metal
So look... if you love highly technical, complex & precise yet still extreme metal then "Feeding The Abscess" should be a no-brainer as it's a beautifully composed, produced & executed record that almost defies genrification. If that doesn't sound like your bag then I'd advise you to steer well clear of it. Martyr are super talented & pull off some amazing rhythmic stunts but you really do have to be onboard with that idea or you'll likely struggle due to the reliance on showmanship over song-writing. Looking back now, Martyr do seem like a bit of a supergroup in that bassist front man Daniel Mongrain was formally of Cryptopsy & Gorguts & is currently with Voivod while drummer Patrice Hamelin is the current drummer in Gorguts & none of that is surprising when you hear "Feeding The Abscess" for the first time. These dudes fucking know their way around their instruments & the precision on display is nothing short of phenomenal.
I really do think the technical death metal tag is a little limiting here because Martyr's sound never feels constrained by the death metal genre. Sure there are blast beats, some grindy death metal riffs here & there & the occasional death grunt but the majority of the album is much more progressive than that & Daniel Mongrain's vocals generally sit much closer to thrash than they do to death metal. In fact, they're really the limiting factor with this release as Daniel's monotonous tone & phrasing sees Martyr failing to reach the top tier despite the band's clear credentials. This is an outstanding record from an instrumental point of view & I can't help but think that the band would have been better served by employing a) a higher register clean vocalist that adds a layer of melody & memorability to the equation or b) a full-on death grunter who can accentuate the brutality in Martyr's sound. What they've gone for here seems to have taken an each-way bet that hasn't quite satisfied either preference.
The production is spectacular, mind you, & if you're a fan of progressive metal in general then you'll likely get a fair bit of enjoyment out of the no-holds-barred approach "Feeding The Abscess" takes with regards to composition. There are very few rules being adhered to here & the level of musicianship required to achieve the final result is nothing short of mind-blowing. I particularly enjoy the drumming & lead guitar work, both of which are accentuated by the outstanding production. Just listen to the depth in those kick drums for example.
Overall, "Feeding The Abscess" is a great choice for a feature album & with some more interesting vocals it may just have gone on to be known as a classic release. I'm just not sure The Horde was the right place for it to be honest because it's more of a progressive metal record than it is a death metal one in my opinion. The Voivod cover version that closes the album could have been a little more adventurous too because it's really just a straight reenactment & doesn't offer any point of difference which leaves it standing out a little bit from the rest of the tracklisting.
For fans of Atheist, "Dimension Hatross"-era Voivod & Death's more progressive releases.
Genres: Death Metal
Wow! I had no idea what I was in for with this monster of a record. The scope & breadth of the "industrial metal" subgenre tag is simply not wide enough to encompass all of the elements at play here. I wasn't aware of it until now but God was essentially a supergroup project of sorts with approximately ten experienced musicians contributing to an epic 79 minutes of unapologetically experimental & highly challenging music made specifically for open-minded music fans with a taste for the cerebral & psychedelic. Most of the individual names were completely foreign to me but I can certainly hear the experience & talent in what they've delivered.
Many reviewers will probably suggest that "The Anatomy Of Addiction" is overly repetitive but I think that's just an indication that a lot of people don't have the patience required for this sort of art which aims directly for your cerebral cortex a lot of the time. Upon first listen you'll be left in no doubt whatsoever of the presence of Godflesh/Jesu mastermind Justin Broadrick as there are tracks here that sound exactly like classic Godflesh with some additional elements thrown into the mix. However possibly even more of the tracklisting is closer to the sound of Swans' more expansive experimental rock excursions with long, slowly-building & repetitive tracks that are full of tension & atmosphere. The jazz component is noteworthy with the more insane saxophone use reminding me of Naked City & the more laidback moments hinting at the influence of Miles Davis' late 60's/early 70's jazz fusion period. You'll also detect a significant dose of dub in the way that some of these pieces are structured, especially in the use of the bass guitar as a musical protagonist on some of the more extended & expansive tracks with the guitar & saxophone being used more for colour & texture than melody. There's a tribal percussion element at play too which really adds to the atmosphere without ever pushing things into ambient territory. Honestly, the vocals of Kevin Martin might as well by Justin Broadrick because they sound so similar that you'd be forgiven for thinking it was indeed him. Kevin's broken & repetitive phrasing & lyrical style is basically identical to Justin's trademark bark & it leaves me with a welcome feeling of familiarity a lot of the time.
This is truly intriguing & interesting stuff & I never find myself getting bored despite the excessive length of the album. There are no weak tracks with God exuding an air of class & consistency about everything they touch. The few highlight tracks are nothing short of magnificent & leave me disappointed that I can't rate the album a little higher than I have. I guess I just can't quite see "The Anatomy Of Addiction" becoming an all-time favourite despite the fact that I have difficulty in faulting it. I think that's because I find a good portion of the tracklisting to leave me thoroughly impressed with the ambition & execution but not quite drooling uncontrollably due to the lack of a knockout punch. Nonetheless, I can't recommend the album enough to people that are interested in a more cerebral & internally focused brand of experimental rock/metal music. That certainly won't be everyone & if you find that you don't get it then you'll likely be in good company. Those that do have the patience for a record like this one will being thoroughly rewarded for the effort though. And another thing... don't even think about giving it a one-off spin because it needs a little more time than that.
For fans of Godflesh, Swans & Naked City.
Genres: Industrial Metal
Manilla Road & I have had a hit-&-miss relationship over the years. I quite liked their progressive rock-driven 1980 debut album "Invasion" but found the follow-up "Metal" to be disappointing. Strangely, their third album "Crystal Logic" (which is generally regarded as their best work & an unmitigated classic) did even less for me but 1985's "Open The Gates" saw my interest being restored with several incredible pieces appearing across a generally inconsistent tracklisting. So I guess it's fair to say that I approached "Mystification" fairly tentatively which may be why I didn't give it a revisit until now.
"Mystification" may still sound very much like a Manilla Road album but it's also a very different beast to the other material I've heard from the band to date. For starters, this is the first time that I've had absolutely no question about a Manilla Road album's US power metal status. It's a noticeably thrashier affair than their early 80's records were with only a couple of tunes that fit comfortably under the heavy metal banner. The rest offer significantly more velocity & aggression than you'd usually expect from a classic metal band however Mark Shelton's higher register vocal performance generally keeps Manilla Road from completely crossing over into speed/thrash metal territory as he possesses a theatricality that definitely ties them to power metal. The short & high energy "Up From the Crypt" is probably the only exception with its slightly more grunty delivery & it's clear that bands like Slayer have had a significant impact on Mark & his band by this stage. Just check out that start of "Masque of the Red Death" if you don't believe me.
The performances are really quite brilliant, particularly Mark's lead guitar work & the exciting drumming of Randy Foxe who plays like a man possessed for the most part with his drum-rolls being a clear highlight. Unsurprisingly, I do struggle to connect with Mark's "epic" vocal delivery a little though & that's always been a bit of a stumbling block for me to tell you the truth. I'm always left wishing that he'd spend more time shredding away on his axe with that unpolished yet infectious technique of his rather than posing some dark & mystical question to me vocally. Some of his earlier works included more lower register grunt work than "Mystification" does & I think that's a shame as I do like that style a little better. Mark's guitar solos always sound like he's improvised the whole thing on the spot &, despite his clear command of his instrument, they're more to do with atmosphere than they are to do with chops which is something I have a lot of appreciation for. In fact, you could say similar things of the production job which gives Manilla Road that mid-80's underground authenticity that a lot of modern bands lack & that's always been a strength for the band.
Overall, this is clearly the most consistent Manilla Road record I've heard to date as there are no weak tracks included. But in saying that, I don't think we get the enormous highlights that a record like "Open The Gates" offered. I think perhaps the additional thrashiness of "Mystification" has seen Manilla Road losing a little bit of the psychedelia that I loved so much about their better earlier works. For that reason, "Open The Gates" still maintains the title of my favourite Manilla Road release however "Mystification" is another interesting album from a band that I generally maintain an appreciation for but are unlikely to ever quite connect with on the same level as the rest of the underground seem to.
For fans of Brocas Helm, Omen & Eternal Champion.
Genres: Heavy Metal
I'd suggest that 2007's "V: Hävitetty" album from Finnish folk metallers Moonsorrow is one of the most definitive releases for The North in that it really encapsulates elements of all three major genres housed by the clan. It never feels like black metal however it certainly borrows plenty of tools from its more evil brethren. To my ears it's just as much of a Viking metal record as it is a folk metal one though as it's not only got plenty of theatrical hints at longboats & the like but it's also got that rolling, epic feel you expect from Viking metal. You'll also find some progressive flourishes in the synthesizer use at times although anyone suggesting that this is a progressive release is overstating things.
I first encountered Moonsorrow very quickly after my return to metal in 2009. I'd noticed that their 2005 album "Verisäkeet" was very highly regarded so I thought I'd better check it out. Unfortunately I found myself struggling with it for all of the reasons that I struggle with folk metal in general. The folk melodies just don't appeal to me & I find that this takes most of the intensity out of the music for me. But after experimenting a bit more with the rest of Moonsorrow's back catalogue I'd find that they'd undergone a gradual transformation that would see me identifying more & more to grab onto with each subsequent release. I utterly despise their first couple of albums "Suden uni" & "Voimasta ja kunniasta" but 2003's "Kivenkantaja" & 2005's "Verisäkeet" both saw them edging progressively a touch closer to my affection without ever really threatening to become something I'd class as being genuinely enjoyable. Looking back now I can easily see that Moonsorrow's ability to provide me with any sort of value is generally dependent on what the ratio of folk-to-Viking is like. They seem to have gradually added more of the Viking-period Bathory influences in over time whilst toning back the folk metal cheese & that's definitely a good thing for me. And this bring us to their fifth album "V: Hävitetty" which finally sees Moonsorrow breaching my tough exterior & offering me some sort of appeal.
"V: Hävitetty" is a little bit of a frustrating album for me though. It starts off in the most awe-inspiring fashion with the first third of the immense 30 minute opener "Jäästä syntynyt / Varjojen virta" being nothing short of mind-blowing & leading me to question whether I'm in for a significantly more noteworthy experience. The next ten minute section sees the quality dropping back a bit but maintaining a solid level before the last third unfortunately signals the arrival of some of those cheesier folk metal extravagances that I find so grating. Overall it makes for an enjoyable listen but I can't help but feel that it was a missed opportunity. The other huge track "Tuleen ajettu maa" sees things dipping a little further with several sections that are just so consciously trying to sound epic & the heavier sections being almost cancelled out by the most unintimidating synthesizers & folk instrumentation. It's beautifully produced, performed & executed of course which is always the case with this band but it just sits so far outside of my comfort zone that I find myself squirming all the time even if I can appreciate the clear artistic value. So my main concern with "V: Hävitetty" is that I find it progressively less appealing across the span of its run time & it leaves me feeling a touch disappointed at the end even though I never feel my effort was wasted. Thankfully "Jäästä syntynyt / Varjojen virta" is strong enough to make this the first Moonsorrow album to offer me a reasonable level of appeal as an overall package.
For fans of Falkenbach, Finsterforst & Månegarm.
Genres: Folk Metal
This relatively underground late 80's release offers some very raw Colombian black metal that draws influence from Parabellum, early Bathory & "In The Sign Of Evil" era Sodom. I seem to recall receiving this & fellow Colombians Parabellum's "Sacrilegio" E.P. on the same side of a cassette from a Peruvian tape trader way back in the day. Neither release did much for me if I'm honest but if pushed I'd suggest that I have a slight preference for the insanity-ridden Parabellum sound. Interestingly, Blasfemia share some band members with Parabellum & if you like "Sacrilegio" then you'll probably dig "Guerra total" as well.
Two of the four songs presented on "Guerra total" are really pretty good & those inevitably line up with the moments when the band can keep their shit together (see " Presagio" & "Más allá de la ignorancia"). The other two songs show promise but end up falling in a bit of a heap due to the band's technical & compositional limitations. The band can't play for shit obviously but that's par for the course with early South American extreme metal. I really love the Quorthon style vocals on three of the four tracks. They're evil as fuck & suit the primitive nature of the instrumentation beautifully. The other track "Postmortem" has more of a blackened thrash sound than the rest of the material which is pure black metal.
It's so easy to hear where a band like Mayhem may have pulled the pieces of their genre-defining second wave black metal sound from when you hear a release like this as all the ingredients are already there, only they're presented in a much cruder format. The hardcore influenced sections are invariably the most relevant & over the years I've built a strong opinion that hardcore punk was the critical element in the creation of the modern black metal sound. I don't think the South Americans get enough credit for the role they played in that regard to be honest but that doesn't immediately mean that I have to like their music.
Genres: Black Metal Thrash Metal
I quite enjoyed former S.O.D. front man Billy Milano's 1987 comeback album "U.S.A. For M.O.D.". It may have lacked the overall impact of S.O.D.'s legendary "Speak English Or Die" album but M.O.D. certainly offered enough quality New York crossover thrash to keep me interested at that point. The same unfortunately can't be said for Billy's follow-up release from the following year with the novelty E.P. "Surfin' M.O.D." not only showcasing an entirely new lineup but also being a complete piss-take which is not really what I look for in my metal.
"Surfin' M.O.D." is based around a surfing concept with the A-side taking the form of a single 23 minute piece referred to as "The Movie". This epic work compiles a collection of six genuine songs (three of them disappointing cover versions of 60's & 70's pop songs) interspersed with humorous samples from the surfing movie "Back To the Beach". The B-side simply isolates the six songs & adds an additional cover version so it's hardly worth listening to other than for the added cover version of Scream's "New Song" which is one of the best things about the release to be honest.
In fairness, the samples are legitimately quite funny & I do find myself with a smile on my face a lot of the time however it has to be said that most of the cover versions are nothing more than novelties & offer very little replay value. The clear highlight is the original piece "Surf's Up" which has a truck load of infectious punk rock energy about it & sees me singing along to the gang vocals in no time at all. The production is generally very good which makes the E.P. a lot easier on the ear than it could have been & the band seem to having an absolute ball throughout which certainly helps too. The last couple of cover versions are fairly dire though & this sees the "The Movie" petering out when it could have gone out on a high with the inclusion of the previously mentioned "New Song". Strangely though, I can't seem to draw a terrible score out of this release. It's got just enough quirky fun about it to border on the endearing & to avoid suffering any major humiliations here.
For fans of S.O.D., Carnivore & Scatterbrain.
Genres: Thrash Metal
This one-off album from Sydney thrash metallers Massive Appendage may well be the earliest proper release to come from the Australian extreme metal scene & when I first got into thrash in the late 1980's the band had earnt quite a local reputation, despite the fact that they'd been split up for at least a year by that stage. Nonetheless, I became pretty familiar with my dubbed cassette copy of "The Severed Erection" & had particular attraction to the work of lead guitarist Jed Starr who possessed some pretty significant chops for the time with some blazing guitar solos & three or four very effective acoustic guitar sections.
One look at the cover artwork, track titles & lyrics will leave you with very little doubt that Massive Appendage didn't take themselves too seriously & I'm not usually one for humour in my metal but I was only very young at the time & didn't know anything about sex so it all seemed pretty exciting. The production job is unfortunately awful & it's this element more than any other that held Massive Appendage back from the sort of success that could have been achieved with a capably performed thrash metal record at the absolute peak of the genre. Thankfully there's enough quality in the song-writing to cope with it & I still find myself getting quite a bit of enjoyment out of the album, even if there are a few duds here & there. Front man Big Bird's vocals sit somewhere in between Suicidal Tendencies main man Mike Muir & Wolfmother's Andrew Stockdale. He's not amazing from a technical perspective but the hooks are really fun & the energy of the band's delivery keeps me engaged the majority of the time. I can take or leave the silly lyrics these days but it's hard to deny the attraction that a chorus like the one from the band's self-titled song had for a young & impressionable teenage me ("Massive cocks gliding through the atmosphere. Oh my God... They'll shoot a load in your ear.")
Massive Appendage's sound could be described as being similar to the more melodic US thrash metal acts of the time like Testament, Metallica & Overkill with a fair chunk of classic heavy metal influence (Sabbath/Maiden/Priest) & a few punky moments here & there. To their credit though, Massive Appendage really didn't sound a lot like any one band & this gives them an edge over other obscure & mostly forgotten underground acts. It's not just nostalgia that drew me back for a revisit. There's something about these silly songs that I kinda dig & if you can look past the dodgy production then you may just find some enjoyment here too.
P.S. Members of Massive Appendage would go on to form another couple of legendary Sydney metal establishments in the Fester Fanatics & Killing Time. Stories for another time.
Genres: Thrash Metal
I first had my attention drawn to long-time New Jersey death metal stalwarts Incantation way back in 1992 when I was still a teenager & at the height of my obsession with the genre. Their debut album “Onward To Golgotha” made a significant impression on me & received lots of play time over the next year or so although it never quite reached classic status for me personally. It’s dank & deathly atmosphere was the very definition of what death metal aspired to be though & ever since I’ve come to regard Incantation’s discography as some of the purest death metal you’ll find. I mean if you only have a passing interest in death metal then you may find a band like Incantation to be a bit of a challenge as they favour atmosphere & darkness over precise execution & memorable hooks. In fact, that approach was both “Onward To Golgotha”s strength & weakness if you know what I mean. I find that I’m always enjoying myself but the individual songs lacked the variety & definition to allow them to rise to the top tier of the death metal elite. I found just as much appeal in Incantation’s even murkier & sludgier follow-up “Mortal Throne Of Nazarene” & even invested in the alternative mix of the album known as “Upon The Throne Of Apocalypse”, both of which I found to really float my boat without ever threatening to tip me over the edge into genuine classic territory. So by that stage Incantation was still firmly entrenched as a high quality & consistent second tier death metal act; the sort of band I’d always check out but would rarely find myself gushing over for years to come. 1998’s third proper studio album “Diabolical Conquest” would see the band finally starting to meet their enormous potential though. Not by doing anything noticeably different to before (which is interesting in itself given that they only had one band member remaining from their debut by that stage), but through some intelligent fine-tuning & the sharpening of some already fairly deadly instruments.
Upon first listen it’s easy to discard “Diabolical Conquest” as just another Incantation record. I mean it’s nothing you haven’t heard before, right? The intentionally sludgy & mossy production, the gorgeously muddy guitar tone, the monstrous bass tone, the loose-ish performances that ooze of underground credibility, the ultra-deep & repetitive vocals (courtesy of The Chasm bassist Daniel Corchado in his only appearance with Incantation)... This is Incantation doing what they do best & being completely unapologetic for it but repeat listens will see the full weight of this album’s arsenal slowly becoming apparent. The band have taken the opposing extremes of their sound & pushed them further to give themselves a greater dynamic range while also returning with their biggest & best production to date which offers greater clarity without ever losing its filthy grip on the underground. I’d suggest that this is a more brutal record than Incantation’s earlier releases with a little more emphasis being placed on blast beats. There’s no time for guitar solos here. Incantation intend to bludgeon you into submission & I’ll be fucked if they don’t succeed. But then they also accentuate & take full advantage of the slow, dirge-like doom/death sections that highlighted “Mortal Throne Of Nazarene”, leaving the listener to wade through the mire whilst being almost overcome by the sheer dread of what lurks beneath. Personally, I’ve always felt that Incantation were at their best when they dropped the tempo as I feel their sound is better suited to the greater definition the additional space allows for so this element of the record was most welcome.
The tracklisting is extremely consistent with no single track coming close to being subpar or even dropping the quality level below the “high” marker for more than a few moments. “Diabolical Conquest” is very much the embodiment of a band that knows their craft well. If I’m being overly picky I could suggest that (very much like the band’s first couple of albums) there’s not all that much to differentiate five or six of the shorter tracks which tend to take a very similar approach, particularly the more blasting numbers. But if I’m honest, this album falls into unique company in that its acclaim is mainly drawn from its more substantial inclusions & rightfully so too. The clear highlight is the closing sixteen minute epic known as “Unto Infinite Twilight/Majesty Of Infernal Damnation” which sees Incantation fully embracing their doom/death side & producing one of the great works of the subgenre in the process. It possesses a very different feel to the rest of the album & leaves the listener wanting much much more. In fact, it may well be the crowning achievement of Incantation’s career to date &, given that its lengthy run time takes up a third of the album’s total duration, its impact on my overall impression of this release cannot be understated. The other genuine classic amongst the eight tracks is “Desecration (Of The Heavenly Graceful)” which once again sees the band working with more moderate tempos & accentuating their best elements. This is premium, peak-time death metal that will have your purists frothing at the mouth.
“Diabolical Conquest” may not offer a lot in the way of experimentation or originality but it never claimed to. It always wanted to be a death metal record & it subsequently achieves it in emphatic fashion by presenting one of the truest amalgamations of the death metal aesthetic you’ll find. I mean I literally find myself envisaging corpses climbing out of their tombs in the graveyard at midnight when I listen to this record & isn’t that what good old-school death metal is all about? Sure its fanfare is heavily reliant on its highlights but you could just as easily say that it’s the strength of the filler material that enables someone like me to score it so highly. I don’t think it’s worth over-thinking things when it comes to a band like Incantation though. They clearly do what they do for the love of it & there is rarely a fuck given about what’s trending right now or for what anyone else thinks. At my core I’m a death metal obsessive over any other subgenre & this album makes no attempt to hide the fact that it’s a death metal record for lovers of death metal. Is this Incantations’ crowning achievement? Quite possibly. I’ve swapped & changed my opinion on that a few times over the years but I’m gonna go with it for the time being given that I recently revisited “Onward To Golgotha” & couldn’t get above a very solid 4/5 rating. Perhaps it’s only taken me this long to come to my senses due to the fact that, unlike Incantation’s earlier releases, I didn’t get onboard the “Diabolical Conquest” train until a good eleven years after its release due to my wandering musical eye having taken me further afield by that point in time. Regardless, this is peak time, premium level death metal of the highest order, complete with a timeless authenticity & a deathly atmosphere. There will always be an audience for this sort of thing & it isn’t limited to one particular age group. Those with an ear for the underground will forever rejoice in such an uncompromising & punishing display of blasphemy.
For fans of Immolation, Disma & Autopsy.
Genres: Death Metal