Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Mourning Soul - Ego Death Ritual I (2016)

Like many black metal projects, Mourning Soul have actually been around for a while (2003) yet have just now released their debut album. Sometimes it really takes a while to get your footing and that's what these guys show off pretty well here. The record was originally a one man project helmed by Sacrifice (Rovina, SID) but has since become a stronger three-man project with the addition of Decrepit (Legione, Tul, Velchans) on guitars and Nocturnal Fog (Exaltatio Diaboli) on drums. That leaves Sacrifice to handle the bass and vocals, which he does a fantastic job of. The vocal style here isn't the raspy sort of scowl you might expect and features a bit more depth and meat. It feels more mature and almost reminds me a bit of Nergal's vocal approach in Behemoth. Though the music is definitely a bit different from that of Behemoth, even though we're obviously hearing a black metal act that doesn't mind mixing in grooves and thrash instead of just tremolos and blast beats all the time. I like these kinds of records, because they give me something more to chew on then the same damn thing I'm offered time and again. One time a listening session comprised of three “classic style black metal acts” which all sounded the same and literally went in one ear and out the other. Yet when I hear an act like this, it's even tough to call it black metal and it might even piss off the purists, which is good. They need a little change every now and again, and another shade of grim. Again, I feel that what Mourning Soul is doing here is definitely more mature and surely more textured than the vast majority, even adding in all those French Deathspell Omega emulations. Just in listening to “The Cold Embrace Calls Me” I'm hearing several different layers, every one of them sounding no less forlorn or morose than the others. You can definitely bang your head and get a lot of frustration out with this sort of sound, even though you might hear a glimpse or two of keyboards. Granted, these aren't the starlight galaxy kinds of keyboards that create an atmosphere either. They're just there to add a little more depth to the performance and you might not even notice them. There's also a sort of demonic moan utilized on the record at times that make Sacrifice sound like a vengeful spirit.

Mourning Soul are also the kind of act that like to play around with electronic soundscapes in order to make things sound even more frightening, and I love that about them. There are some definite atmospheric pieces here like “Ultima Solitudo” and the unsettling closer to the album that follows after “The Judgement Of Gehenna” that will make the hairs stick up on the back of your neck. But even if you don't like these sorts of things on other albums, I think you'll appreciate them here. As I said, this is what I would consider a very mature and truly grim black metal release that sounds exactly like what we should be doing in 2016. It's also very thick, almost sludgy and definitely carries a bit of fog with it. The leaflet here recommends these guys for fans of Marduk, Temple Of Baal and Watain, but I don't think you even have to be a fan of those bands to like Mourning Soul. They stand on their fucking own and make the kind of music they want to make. If we weren't talking about the Tongue-In-Cheek notions behind our site's moniker and literally focused on records with a grim atmosphere, than Ego Death Ritual I would most certainly be one of the most grim and adventurous records I've ever heard. I repeat myself, if you're wondering what black metal should sound like fifteen years after it's birth in the mid-nineties, then look no further than what has been achieved here. Mourning Soul are by far one of the most interesting acts I've heard in a genre plagued with copycats. They're one band that I can say don't care about traditions or trends – they just want to play music, and they do a rather fine fucking job of that. Definitely one of the year's best black metal releases.

(9 Tracks, 45:00)

9/10

Church Of Misery - ...And Then There Were None (2016 Bonsai Bonus)

Japan's Church Of Misery never really have disappointed as far as I'm concerned and the stoner/doom metallers continue with their anti-trend/anti-corporate attitude in the vein of yet another potent doom release. Needless to say, doom isn't very popular in Japan for some reason and I haven't heard this approach from too many other bands in the region. Needless to say, quality is better than quantity and that's exactly what you'll get here. Musically, it reminds me of something like Corrosion Of Conformity, EyeHateGod, Black Sabbath, Acid Witch, Electric Wizard or Cathedral, except with a much coarser, almost demonic vocal approach at times. The band love playing around with psychedelics as you're going to hear in a few places (the album opener “Hellbenders” begins especially with psychedelics, right after a murder – it could be taken as the soul's ascension to the otherworld in a way) but more than anything else on this disc, I hear the good old blues. There's not a goddamn thing wrong with the blues, and there wouldn't really be a metal or even a rock music in general without them. Elvis certainly had his blues numbers, but what we're talking about is far from Elvis, even though the feeling is definitely still there. Take out the harsh vocal approach and the murder references and you've got yourself a thumping blues album. 

Normally I go through these Bonsai Bonuses track by track, but this is one album where I don't really think that's necessary and that's not because this album is a sub-par disc or not worthy of such coverage, but because it's pretty straightforward and I don't feel the need to have to talk about or defend certain approaches. There's nothing about Church Of Misery that even feels normal for Japanese rock or metal and I don't even think the J-Metal term works to describe these guys. Trust me, the roots of heavy metal are found here, and seeing as these guys have been around since '95, there's really no need to introduce them. The listener is going to get a memorable doom experience that I feel is very classic, pretty grotesque and altogether fucking awesome. If you love really sadistic lyrics and catchy as hell blues, then you're going to eat this one up. It's the kind of disc that you enjoy for the base element (blues, groove, solos, psychedelics) but every now and again the band will add in some extra bits here and there to keep you entertained. You know, if I was looking for a good dose of bluesy doom with enough insanity for my depraved mind (guro, guro, guro!) then I'd definitely find this one a pick up and play. There's not a bad song here, with all six (not counting the instrumental section, “Suicide Journey” which definitely goes out there a little bit) delivering exactly the kind of classic approach we'd expect, with a little bit more modernism in the harsh vocals, and a little more imagination in some areas than you'll get with other bands. If you've got to have doom, you've gotta have ...And Then There Were None.

(7 Tracks, 43:00)

8/10

The Fading - Till Life Do Us Part (2015)

Israel's The Fading are a pretty promising melodic death metal outfit, especially having won the Wacken Metal Battle back in 2008. Their sound is unmistakable for fans of Soilwork, Scary Symmetry, Dark Tranquillity, In Flames and you know the rest. The record was recorded in Israel, then handed over to Jens Borgren who mastered it in Sweden. Now I'm not real sure if it's Borgren's mastering or the band's skill that really makes for a memorable album, but I will say that what I've heard here is definitely the genuine article. While these guys aren't really approaching anything groundbreaking with the record, it's still truly solid melodic death metal that I feel purists will completely enjoy. I've been listening to this stuff just as long as many of you readers have and I can tell right where the Dark Tranquillity, At The Gates, In Flames exc, influences are on each song. “A Moment of Insight” for example sounds a lot like Dark Tranquillity, maybe with some In Flames nodes in the chorus line that I wouldn't hear from the former. “Where Last Hope Dies” sounds just like In Flames at their prime and is not too heard to dissect, while “Solitude Express” comes pounding in with an At The Gates feel that could also be compared to Dark Tranquillity/In Flames. Are you getting the idea yet? Till Life Do Us Part sounds like a celebration of melodic death metal at it's best and I really think a lot of people are going to enjoy it, especially if they missed out on it last year. Paul Mitiyanine is the sole guitarist for this project, and he's pretty fucking amazing. Yeah, he hits the familiar melodeath notes, but he also lets loose on some really nice leads and sparkling solos. There are still some sections that could be brightened a bit and I'd really like to hear these guys do a song that's longer than four minutes, but what we're given is certainly not bad.

At least the cuts do have some sections where they break off and form something that doesn't sound so derivative. It's not a big leap as these guys tend to use too much of the same riff structures and I don't remember melodeath being that bland (or maybe it was, until the bright leads kicked in) but it does work for the formula and I won't in any means knock it. Ilia Badrov has a terrific mixture of scowl and growl, but his cleans still need a little bit of work. There are many times through the record where I wish it just stuck to the harsh vocals. Maybe with some clean vocal coaching the guy can pull off some better vocal harmonies, but he can scowl his fucking ass off, so it's not really a big deal for me. For most people, this whole record is going to be based purely on nostalgia and that's what it is for me. Till Life Does Us Part sounds like a classic melodic death metal album and that's it's biggest strength. These Israelis take an “if it ain't broke” approach that clearly works. Two albums in the bucket and they're still going strong. Melodeath purists need to pick up this one for sure. It's as bare bones to the approach as it gets. You're welcome.

(12 Tracks, 44:00)

7/10

Coffin Lust - Manifestation Of Inner Darkness (2016)

When I was doing “First Impressions” on our FB page (that's an exclusive to our page, by the way) I had gotten a comment from what I believe to be one of the members of Coffin Lust, urging me to give their album another listen. The Australian act have been around since 2010, released a demo in 2012 and finally got this old slab of death metal together in 2016. According to Metal Archives, they're death metal and that's certainly what I'm hearing here. You know, just in case you didn't see my “old slab of death” comment until now. These guys definitely make that warm and fuzzy kind of death that's a bit old and crusty as well, but damn we can never really get enough of it. You know the bands, you know the sound – and Coffin Lust have it. Surprisingly, the album cover for this one isn't a black and white graveyard or ritual sacrifice scene, but it still looks and feels just as grim as the record itself. This two piece is made up of two gentlemen who are also playing in Azrael's Harem, Impious Baptism, Nocturnal Graves and Sithlord. Previously, they've played in (whoa, this is a lot of bands, folks) Funeral Twilight, Evilintent, Crucifire, Aphasia, Destroyer 666, Destruktor, Hobbs' Angel Of Death (accredited for being one of the first extreme bands in Australia) Cerekloth, Trench Hell and several live stints for Denouncement Pyre as well as Toxic Holocaust and Zemial. Did you see any good bands in that list? Because believe me, I saw a fucking ton of them. So it should go without saying that the crusty slab you're getting here is one made by quality musicians for quality listeners. It sounds classic, because it is classic. Now I will say that on the technical side of things I'm having a tough time discerning some of the more melodic sections of the record and they tend to get buried in the mist (you'll hear what I'm talking about) but that's not really enough to dissuade me from the record, and I'd say the same for you. Coffin Lust bring the worlds of death and doom together, and they do it with the spirit of the old days, which I think is going to appeal to practically every old head out there. I know that some guys are pretty serious when they say, “the rawer and the meaner, the better!” and that's what you're getting here. This thing is raw, it's vile and it's well-meant. It's the kind of record that someone's going to blast as loud as they fucking can, because it's the kind of unruly death metal that grandma used to make many years ago. These guys knew what kind of death metal they wanted to make and Manifestation Of Inner Darkness clearly cements that.

Once again, I'd really love it if I could hear some of the solos a bit louder, but I know there's some guy out there bitching at me right now saying something in the tone of “You can't hear them? Turn up your volume! I've been listening to metal for forty years now and I can't hear a damn thing! But when I turn up these speakers, you can bet that I can hear those goddamned solos!” so if that's really true, then I have to respect that. Manifestation Of Inner Darkness is indeed the kind of classic slab that you'd buy a vinyl for. I've expressed my thoughts on vinyl for a long time now, but there are those guys out there who just never quit listening to vinyl records and this is one of those that they're either going to want in their collection, or they've already got in their collection after having listened to it dozens of times. Sometimes when you make death metal, it doesn't have to have all the newfangled stuff to be relevant. I love experimental stuff, but I also like when a band kills it with a classic style. This record sounds like it was a product of a couple of beers, some great jam sessions and an all-around killer fucking time. If you like classic death metal discs, you'll definitely love this grooving, thrashing, doomy bastard child of Satan. Raise your horns, grab a beer and play it full-blast! Loud enough that not only you can hear the solos, but that the whole neighborhood can hear the solos. Loud enough so that the police aren't coming over to your place because someone called them, but because they can't even think straight due to how loud your music is. (Has that ever happened before?) Whatever the case might be, you'll definitely enjoy this one if you're looking for a truly old school approach.

(8 Tracks, 44:00)

8/10

The Burning Dogma - No Shores Of Hope (2016)

Italy's The Burning Dogma have been around for much longer than you may have expected, even though they've just now put out their first formal debut. The band began in 2006, released a live CD in 2010, followed by an EP in 2012 and then this recording of which I'm listening to right now. As with all albums I review, this isn't the first time I've listened to it, and I can still hear now how the whole “doom/death” moniker might need to be changed a great deal from what Metal Archives has for them. That's because ladies and germs, The Burning Dogma are so much more than a mere “doom/death” act. As a matter of fact, these Italians seem to write whatever kind of metal they want to play and care not for genre-constrictions of concerns. Melodic death metal? Check. Technical death metal? Check. Electronic atmosphere? You got it. Groove death? Yep. While the band never really jump into black metal, they still do quite a bit of genre hopping and really don't mind capping the heavy stuff at times for electronic melodies and whirls. Maybe the new branding for these guys could go something like “melodic death metal/electronic” and yeah, that also involves a female vocal approach at times. She's not credited, but she does a great job from what I've heard and will hopefully stay in the band. In any case, the frontman elicits either a throaty growl or a harsh scowl (which is expectable, but I seldom hear anyone trying a different vocal approach for this genre of music) that I feel definitely goes with the death metal aspect of the band, and certainly compliments the female vocals when they're utilized. He also uses a clean vocal sometimes, as we might expect and I've no complaints with either the harsh or clean approaches here. They're both solid and work with the material. But when you listen to No Shores Of Hope, you can't just expect a song to come off ungodly heavy at the start and to be honest, there are only seven real tracks of real metal on this thirteen track release. The rest of these pieces equal out to seven minutes of electronic interludes which some might find a little unnecessary until you find out what kind of band these guys are. Sometimes they'll throw in electronics for a second just because they can, but it certainly does work to an experimental edge. That really depends on the listener though. If you're willing to sit aside your heaviness for a few seconds while these guys play around with spatial atmospheres, then I think you're going to like what they've crafted here.

This being said, let's talk about what I haven't mentioned yet, the riffs and the playing. There are two guitarists in the band and both seem to give it their all. I'm noticing a great deal of memorable riffs and some rather light but noticeable solos. These compositions feel like the product of a great deal of time and effort, so I'm glad that they're finally getting their chance to shine on this release. When combined with the synths and electronic pieces, they seem to stand out rather well too, but these guys seem like they want to pile on the electronics and that might be too much for the death metal listener. These kinds of bands become more cult-natured than anything else and often lead listeners into confusion. We often wonder as to whether or not these guys want to be a death metal style act, or an electronic one and perhaps that will be revealed in time. They certainly have the elements of both and know when to make things menacing, as well as when to make them sound like they came out of a science fiction movie marathon. It will be a very challenging disc for the listener as it's not easily accessible, but perhaps that's a good thing. One of the lyrical topics that the band are accredited with is left wing politics (oddly enough) which I'm not completely hip to, but even being a bit of a red-pill, I'll recommend this disc. That's because I'm not here to judge bands on their political standings, I'm here to judge them on their musical performances. Saying little more, I think that metal listeners have something to look forward to from Italy's The Burning Dogma and I really hope that this won't be the last one they release. It's a strong debut, a little different (and that's okay) but strong nonetheless. There's quite a bit of promise here and I'd most certainly recommend it.

(13 Tracks, 49:00)

8/10

DAM - Premonitions (2016)

Brazil's DAM have released a new EP, a few years after the release of their latest album, The Awakening (2014). Now the last EP they released was also in 2014, right before the release of said album, so it is possible that they're prepared to do the same with their next disc as well. There's a slight differentiation from the band's previous material here, but it only lasts for about four minutes or so and doesn't really hold a bearing on the rest of the record. If you like Dark Tranquillity, At The Gates, In Flames and a whole lot of keyboards, then you're still going to find something to like here and that has not changed. As a matter of fact, let me just address the elephant in the room right now. That track in particular is called “Untouchable (My Past Mistakes)” and it has a bit of a Goth/death feel, maybe like they tapped into Graveworm or were a bit influenced by The Deathstars. There's no industrialization to be found here, but the track does feature an unexpected female vocalist. It almost feels like they're trying to be early Tristania/Sirenia and I suppose that's fine, but a lot of DAM fans are going to wonder exactly what the hell is going on and I couldn't blame them, as this piece is by and large different from anything else on the album. It's so different, that they should have just released it under a different band name altogether. Folks, when I say that this doesn't even sound like DAM, I mean it.

As for the rest of the tracks? Business as usual, just like I said. Every single other piece is fast paced, full of atmosphere as well as ravenous drum tapping which is ultimately beefed by the guitar and keyboard compositions. What seems to have made DAM so great is their attention to detail in these areas, and I really think that's what the listener is going to hear as well. The clean vocals are strong as well, and they help – but as far as the harsh approach goes, it's not anything that I couldn't do personally and wouldn't consider it that amazing. Let's be honest though, I'm not promoting DAM's new EP among others because of the vocal element, I'm promoting it because they've got skill and talent, which they keep showing on each and every record. Premonitions is the kind of record that only shows the very best of what they're capable of and doesn't really need to be followed up with a full-length right away. Though that will probably be the case with this disc, it doesn't have to be and gives the listener more than enough quality material to chew on, even if we took “Untouchable” off the disc and threw it into the woods somewhere. Chopping away the cut, you'll still get thirty-four minutes of memorable music that sounds exactly we've expected from DAM and that's nothing to whine about. There are even some unexpected jazz and prog theatrics injected into closer “Frustration (Imprisoned Dreams)” which when combined with everything else turn it into a rather memorable moment, and a brilliant place to end the listen. I feel that the listener will feel satisfied after the record has ended, and as I said, we don't really need more right now after this. These gentlemen have literally put everything they've got into these tracks and you can hear that quite clearly. DAM are only getting better, which leads to experimentation that sometimes will work for them, and sometimes will not. As far as “Untouchable” is considered, I feel that it really is a strong song and I'd love to hear more like it in a possible different act, but it just doesn't sound like the neoclassical melodic death metal that we know and love from these Brazilian masters of the art. They've still yet to release their magnum opus, but whatever comes after Premonitions may very well be just that.

(6 Tracks, 39:00)

8/10

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Diamond Head - Self-Titled (2016)

As a first time listener of Diamond Head, I know very little about them. I had a tough time getting into their earlier work, but most of what I heard from them were singles on satellite radio ages ago. I was still a teenager and my tastes in music hadn't quite matured to what they are now (even though I'll admit that I still enjoy a lot of stuff I listened to as a teenager.) In any case, I wasn't expecting a heavy metal album from these guys, and it's not what I got from them either. Diamond Head come from the days when bands like Motorhead, Black Sabbath and even Mercyful Fate were just considered rock n' roll. Lemmy never considered himself a metal musician and he never thought of the band as a metal band. Motorhead were always rock n' roll and that's what Diamond Head has delivered here, flawlessly.

Now I've been reading the Metal Archives reviews regarding the bands last couple of albums, and never have I seen lower scores for an act. They're in the twenties and thirties, which is practically unreal. So I'm not sure what happened, but given the eight years after the band's previous release, What's In Your Head (2008) it would seem that they've gotten their shit together, as a bit heavier sound that's quite reminiscent of Led Zeppelin seems to have formed out of this one. Interestingly enough, the band was poised to become the next Led Zeppelin and failed miserably in that after being signed to MCA Records many years ago. But one thinks, if they'd released an album like this, they might have had a better chance. Simply put, Diamond Head is the kind of record that just sounds like the formula done right.

I'm hearing dozens of solos, loads of memorable rhythms, and a vocal performance from new frontman Rasmus Bom Anderson that I'd just consider pretty mind-boggling. There's absolutely no denying the classic Led Zeppelin influences here, and Diamond Head may as well have made another classic-era Led Zeppelin record with this album, but I think it's the kind of thing that will find a lot of appeal. As I said, you're actually getting riffs and solos here, especially on near-epics like “All The Reasons You Live” and the meditative trance, “Silence.” Yeah, I know. I'm already waiting for it – a reviewer is going to hear “Silence” and immediately think that the band might be completely ripping off Led Zeppelin, but even if it's obvious that things have been borrowed, it still sounds very good. It's like playing a very good fan made game, which manages to come in as as strong (or sometimes even stronger) than the original product. This record even features the orchestrations and oriental soundscapes that we'd expect from the band they're emulating, which isn't a terrible thing. If you're going to copy Zeppelin, at least be sure to do it justice, which has been done here.

As I said, I'm not familiar with the band's first two NWOBHM albums, Lightning To The Nations or Borrowed Time, so I can't talk about what they used to do or how great of a band they may have been in their earlier, heavier era. But what I can say here, is that the listener is getting a 100% classic rock-fueled record that feels very much like Led Zeppelin in their prime. It goes without saying that this is more or less what the band was attempting to do almost twenty years ago, and I'm really glad that they've finally been able to pull it off after a nearly forty year existence. Andersen is a fine new fit for them, as Brian Tatler and Andy Abberley play up an absolute storm. I went into the disc not knowing what to expect, but I found my toes tapping and fingers tapping along while I was buying groceries, and I think that several other listeners will find the same things happened to them. It's just good rock n' roll and it's done right, with the essence and spirit that make the genre what it is today. I'd definitely give it a listen, as it simply has to be better than the last couple of releases they've put out.

(11 Tracks, 48:00)

7/10