Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Grim Lord's Thoughts On The Demise Of Metal Hammer

There's no question in my mind at least, that Metal Hammer was for a period the world's most popular and it's most mainstream music magazine for Rock and Heavy Metal. They were so big in fact, that some of these issues would contain full-size posters and even full albums or rare compilation discs. The price per issue was quite a bit, and they always sold for more than any other magazine relating to this genre on the market. (Around the time of Metal Maniacs however, the prices were probably a bit similar.) Metal Hammer trudged on for a number of years after the demise on Maniacs/Edge and was the “magazine” to own if you were a metalhead in the states. Though instead of simply mourning them, let's talk about what they did wrong. Notice this is here on the Tower blog and not a major website, because often I can't really say what I want to in the mainstream media.

First of all, we have to take into effect the topics. Metal Hammer, like many other metal magazines, did not have a very strong social media presence. It started to seem as if they just hired a slew of what basically amounts to “clickbait writers” while at the same time partnering with a horrible subscription service, so that people would have to literally pay money in order to read these articles. Yes, there was no way around it – if you didn't subscribe, then you absolutely were not going to be able to read the article you clicked on. Sounds kind of silly, since there is no going price on articles these days and most; if not nearly all of them can be read for free. I never charged people to read my articles and the magazine I write for never charged people to view them online. In this day and age, it's just a bit comical. They were probably losing money from the clicks that they could have gained per article view (and yes, there were a couple I was interested in reading – during the trial I found some really strong material) and it's a bit sad that they've stooped to that level in order to preserve their exclusivity.

Because the magazine hired writers that didn't really seem to know much about metal, only very popular and common bands were mostly profiled and featured. It really did become downright offensive to readers with how many articles we received about Slipknot, Slayer, Corey Taylor and Kerry King. Not to mention the Phil Anselmo drama from a few years back. There were of course times when the magazine would feature some lesser known acts in the form of “Subterranean” but that was once in a blue moon, and most of those acts would be the kind that aren't unfamilair to even the most casual of metal listeners. Again, I was a bit insulted. If you read the comments on their posts, you could see that the fans were growing tired of it as well. This magazine (and several others) used clickbait articles to milk popular artists or new release bands to the point of insanity. Last year was BabyMetal. This year was Metallica. Both have been covered here with my thoughts given, and though The Grim Lord's weeaboo sensibility seemed to gravitate more towards BabyMetal (but I've heard some far better Japanese albums this year, and yes – even in the same category) than Metallica, it is true that neither of these albums were great enough to deem THAT MUCH coverage. In all of the Metallica, Slipknot, Disturbed and other mainstays that they cover; Metal Hammer wound up detracting so many other bands in this industry. More than half the scene, if not ninety-five percent of it. This music is absolutely not created by a handful of bands. It is created by hundreds of thousands of millions of acts scattered across the globe. It is high time that these large corporate media outlets discover that.

So if we count the fact that Metal Hammer tanked miserably with readers on social media, it could also factor into why people just didn't want to buy the magazine as well. The great Metal Hammer UK began to show that it really didn't have an idea as to what kind of music it was covering and people were starting to notice. Rome was on the verge of crumbling. On the other hand, the magazine that I write for is quite varied and we give readers a large amount of different artists from around the entire scope of heavy metal, rock, punk, indie music and more, which not only helps in promoting these bands, but it allows people to discover new music, which is why I enjoy this work in the first place. This is what any media outlet SHOULD be doing.

At any rate, this kind of confusion and downright pandering to what it thought was an audience is why it lost it's readership. Wouldn't you guys hate it if I just reviewed popular stuff all the time? What if I only covered albums that have received about thirty thousand more similar opinions just behind them, neglecting other bands out there who may have only been heard by a hundred or so people at the most? Especially if they're good acts? Well, this is what I feel Metal Hammer did. They weren't really covering metal anymore, and their moniker even became a little misleading. It was almost as bad as Revolver in that sense, even considering Revolver a little better in some ways. Now we all know that Metal Hammer has always been about the popular acts, they were a mainstream metal and rock magazine after all. But this is just a bit pathetic. Net-traffic makes up a huge amount of revenue these days, and Hammer just wasn't fucking cutting it. It's not even the writer's faults. Most of these guys probably don't even listen to metal all that much and consider the work just another day job. There's no real sense of passion behind it and I'm not even really sure if the pay was worth it at all. I know that clickbait is the way to go in journalism these days, but it's just obscene to me. I guess if I learned to not give so much of a damn, I'd bite the bullet and write pieces like that. But I just can't. Judging from what happened to Metal Hammer, people are also getting a little tired of it. Being inundated with ads and subscription recommends before one can even view the article that they clicked on is downright repulsive. It stinks. Some of these ads might even encapsulate malware and I've gotten a few notices on my mobile about “fake malware” and the like. I don't want or need that. Not just to view an article. Don't we understand how stupid this all is?

Well, just in case we haven't, a media giant just gasped it's last breath and left behind a very bold question in it's wake. How do we fix the problem of broken heavy metal journalism? How do we go back to real articles and real interviews with bands that we're actually listening to right now? I mean, I'm not listening to Metallica right now. I did when the record came out, but I don't want to hear about them months after. I'd like to hear about some of the bands I listened to today, like Disconnect, Diablerie, Deathspell Omega and Distant Sun (you can tell I listen to records in alphabetical order, hehe). Hail Spirit Noir came out with a record this year as well, but they didn't get any real coverage for it. A band mixes black metal and seventies progressive rock in a way that I've never heard before, and these rags just don't give a damn. Same with our top pic for the year, Aenaon. Terrific record, one of my favorite albums. Diablerie was quite incredible as well. But no one's hearing these bands in mainstream media aside from sources like No Clean Singing (where they actually aren't making money and should be) Lambgoat, Invisible Oranges, Transcending Obscurity, Metal Trenches and others. These sources seem to be the media in regards to metal and some types of rock music as well as industrial and other genres, but there's no real money in it. Ironically the guys who write about Slipknot and such are the guys actually getting a wage for this. As in, it's a paid job. Articles that people care about aren't getting any monetary compensation, but articles that people get sick and tired of hearing about are literally generating some kind of income. Are we in the Twilight Zone yet? You know, I knew that there wasn't a lot of money in this business to begin with, but to find out what people are actually making a dime for is quite unpleasant. It's repugnant, even.

Obviously, The Grim Lord is taking a step back from this work in the effect that I'm not going to kill myself over it and would like to focus on my books, and enjoying the rest of my life. There's no question that devoting myself to this kind of work was taking a toll on my life as a whole, so I'm not going to completely throw myself into this as I have done the past few years. Even so, at least I'm not going to follow in Metal Hammer's example. In that sense, I'll continue to give you reviews of bands that I find interesting, regardless of how “metal” or “klvt” they are. I hope you'll join me for this ride, as I do plan to cover some other aspects like games and movies as well. Just depends on if I'm feeling up to it, the amount of albums I receive and the mechanics of life in general. 2016 has been a rough year, and to be honest I would have never expected Metal Hammer to bite the bullet. Really, that was the furthest thing from my mind. But this year has been quite a bitch, indeed. Here's to a better and brighter 2017.

- The Grim Lord

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Precipitation - The Power Of... (2016)

The debut from this uncanny German melodic death/metalcore act definitely surprised me. But that's because Precipitation simply don't follow the rules. It's not always melodic death metal, it's not always core and it's not always metal, period. As a matter of fact, the record begins with blues and doesn't shy away from that. The Power Of... is simply a mixture of different styles that all culminate together to make a pretty interesting experience. It goes without saying that all of these guys are new blood, even though the band have been together since 2013. Sometimes it takes awhile to craft a record and this one is definitely the result of fine craftsmanship beyond anything that I would have ever expected. I asked for quite a bit of physical submissions to review over the past week and don't even remember this being one of them. That wasn't a problem though, as it actually turned out to be my favorite of the three.

If you listen to “Unavoidable” for example, it's basically crunchy melodic rock with some proggy touches, yet fronted with a hefty growl that you might not expect for the genre. There's also a clean vocal moment, which isn't the only one to appear and to be honest – they get better. There are some very strong clean vocal moments on the disc, which I'll mention later on in this review. Precipitation also take on a seven-minute monster called “Dazzled” which is pretty unexpected for a record like this, even though it is a re-recorded cut from their 2014 demo. You can hear as much classic melodeath as you can hear it retooled through the American incarnations of the genre. Yet as I stated in the genre description, you are getting some core moments as well as some breakdowns and whatnot. Though you should expect that, as these guys don't really play by the rules and in some places can come off with an unexpected amount of intricacy. The sound veers into almost progressive metal at times, though can also feature the kind of bluesy-solos that you might expect on a Zakk Wylde album (but are nowhere near as good as Zakk himself, of course.) One of my personal favorite cuts comes right after, called “Cosmic.” The band also tries very hard for some sort of space-faring sound as well which features a very strong clean vocal chorus as well as what almost looks to be a Devin Townsend inspired take on metalcore. Keep in mind, this song is a little over six minutes long and comes pretty early on by which point the song lengths start to normalize. I don't know why they decided to put some of their longest and most-textured tracks at the beginning of the record. This one would have made a great centerpiece and “Dazzled” would have done well to replace album clunker “Insane.”

As we move into the album, we start to notice even more progressive leanings of which I'm quite a fan – I would just have never expected it. “Alone” even tries for a slightly gloomier approach, but nothing like album closer “Last Breath” which is kind of rough to listen to. “Hideout” pounds out hard rock with hefty growls, while “Philosopher's Stoned” sounds like progressive death with a little bit of hard rock influence to it as well. I'd definitely consider it one of the disc's best tracks, as well as several others here. Once again, these guys just popped out of nowhere and impressed me beyond what I would have expected from the band. You can't even tell what kind of genre they are, or music they might play by looking at the album. If you look at the below image and think that you're getting “space black metal” than you've already flunked. Though I've honestly heard enough “space black metal” in my life and I'm quite pleased with the kind of band that really doesn't show boundaries. These guys could have thrown it out to the mainstream years ago, like several other German acts I've reviewed for larger labels; but the fact that they didn't cut out the extremities or textures from this record makes it something of a diamond in the rough.

The album's last cut is “Last Breath” which as I explained, was kind of tough to listen to. It's a serious song about death and one's final thoughts before they die, which can almost be a gut-wrenching experience. It is most definitely a funeral doom inspired moment, even though some of the melodies might be a little more upbeat than what we'd expect on a funeral doom record. It still might come off a bit poppier than some might be used to but it certainly isn't the kind of track that you'd expect to hear on an album like this one. At the end of the day, I really hope that we'll hear more from Precipitation in the future and there might REALLY be something here. This is the sound of a band that has loads of musical potential, but they also have the potential to sell out and make millions or the potential to be a relatively strong force in the underground. It simply depends on what these guys want to do and I'll support them either way. Even if the next record isn't to my liking, I certainly won't forget this unexpected German metal treasure.

(10 Tracks, 51:00)

9/10

In My Embrace - Black Waters Deep (2016)

The debut full-length from Sweden's In My Embrace is a little short, but it's longer than their earlier released EP recording, Dead To Dust Descend. The material here is most certainly inspired by Dissection albums like The Somberlain and Storm Of The Light's Bane, but we could also equate them with acts like God Dethroned and Naglfar. There are also some modernisms here and there in the vein of core, but that's only in the song structure. Let's just say that some of this might feature a bit more groove than you're willing to wade through, but I personally wouldn't have considered it a detriment. Also, some of the tremolos come off with a notable potency as you'll notice on “Into Oblivion” which would have been a far more fitting way to open the record than the more modern-influenced title track. I think In My Embrace decided to incorporate more groove numbers onto the disc in order to differentiate them from Dissection, by which they can sound like a clone. Not that that's a bad thing, after all – some of the melodies seem to be right up there with some of Dissection's most memorable, as well as Naglfar who are as we know; quite similar. I could add Thulcandra, but we all know very well what those guys were trying to achieve.

So how much groove am I getting, Grim Lord? Well, let me tell you. Aside from the title track, you're getting “Of Ache and Sorrow” as well “Voyage Of Thoughts” which seem to also encroach upon doom, so it's not like these guys are playing blues. We also have a couple of traditional rock solos on the record, but they come backed by Tommy Holmer's session drumming, which is actually fantastic. Black Waters Deep is yet another case for why bands shouldn't be afraid to use a session drummer, especially in their case. When these guys move into black metal territory, Holmer's blasts really seem to accentuate that perfectly. Another piece of this puzzle that caught my attention was frontman Kenneth Larsson's ravenous vocal approach which fits very well here within the equally ravenous tunes that these guys can dish out. These performances are sometimes backed by guitarists Bosse Öhman and Johan Sjöblom which can add even more of a bite to the performance. The atmosphere of the record is rather bleak, but at times can be rather fierce and demonic depending on the piece. The disc can actually be quite bass-heavy as well, hence the groove sections I mentioned earlier. But even though bassist Jon Brundin is actually getting the kind of respect that most bassists deserve when it comes to this kind of music (this kind of blackened/melodic death metal has not been known for being very bass-heavy) there aren't any sections on this record that I feel take away from it's overall mood. Even when these guys channel their inner doom/death with “Next Chapter” it still retains an overall bleak and somewhat folk/black metal atmosphere, which is very important.

It can be clearly stated that there is at least some degree of variety here, but it's not so varied as to sound like a different band all the time. In My Embrace just want to showcase the fact that they are not a gothic metal act with a female singer, not a Dissection rip-off and not completely glued to one style of music. That to me says quite a bit and I feel that much was done within the span of thirty-four minutes. I won't say that all of the songs are my cup of tea and perhaps a little derivative of other familiar acts and styles, but I'm certainly not upset with that. You shouldn't be either. Black Waters Deep is the kind of record that only gets better with more listens, so give it at least one!

(10 Tracks, 34:00)

8/10

Marianas Rest - Horror Vacui (2016)

The debut album from Finnish melodic death/doomers Marianas Rest is definitely the kind of thing you'd expect Bleak Bill to review back when we had the domain site  but since that is not going to be the case, I'm covering it. So what have we got here? Something quite similar to acts like Swallow The Sun, Insomnium and Omnium Gatherum, by which they share the same keyboardist – Aapo Koivisto. All of the other guys are pretty much new blood, but that doesn't mean that they're bad blood either. The Finns have always seen their way around the doom genre and that can be assured with this record. There are points where I feel that maybe the rest of the instruments are a bit louder than the synths, which often makes it seem like Koivisto is trying to do battle with the other four guys in the band, especially when Harry Vainio's bass riffs and Nico Heininen's drumming comes into play. “Nadir” pounds and gets pretty spacey, but it's a much slower number like “For The Heartless” that really brings in that kind of Funeral and Saturnus vibe to this kind of music. Here we're not getting so much of an onslaught as it were; allowing more influence to come in from the keyboards which will often accentuate with Harri Sunila and Nico Mänttäri's near-shoegaze leads, which paired with Jakko Mäntymaa's gut-wrenching vocals amount to something worthy of the very name of the doom/death genre.

Sometimes Horror Vacui sounds like doom in space as well, which gives us something a bit new than what we're used to. While you're listening to the piece, try to imagine stars and galaxies being influenced in the leads and you'll see where I'm coming from – it just sounds like a band playing on top of an asteroid, looking at the remains of their former planet. Interestingly enough, sparsed in between the songs are actual soundclips taken from astronauts, which gives the record even more of a peculiar nature. Again – it's doom in space. The rest of the album sounds similar, but it's the kind of heavily melodic (we can even throw in Tower favorite In Mourning here) approach that makes for a good mix of light and heavy. If you've come here expecting great keyboard and guitar melodies, then these guys definitely have you covered. There's not a single song on this record where hope is offered, but it's all just so damn beautiful in spite of things. Perhaps frontman Mäntymaa's approach can come off a bit too overbearing in sections (less vocal, more music) but that's a very minor argument (and to some, it will be just that) in retrospect of what is a very powerful doom/death record at it's core. Horror Vacui is just so bleak that you really can't even think of it so much as melodic death in the vein of In Flames or Dark Tranquillity, which definitely makes me throw it into the realms of more thunderous and threatening act.

To me as a reviewer, I've heard several similar approaches to this kind of music before, especially with Swallow The Sun for example; but I don't want you to personally think of this record in the same manner that I'm reviewing it. If you're looking for meaningful doom/death with strong melodies and are curious to the whole “space” vibe I mentioned earlier, than you may want to give it a spin. You certainly should before the year is out, in any case. For a record that came out in October, it is pretty awful to see that no one has covered it yet on Metal Archives. You can't simply deny those leads, folks. You just can't.

(8 Tracks, 52:00)

8/10

Friday, November 18, 2016

Metallica - Hardwired...To Self Destruct (2016)

Well, guess I have to listen to this one again. Yeah, that's probably the worst way to start a review, but it goes especially for this one. Now we all know Metallica as a thrash act and we were even sold three songs by the mainstream media: “Hardwired” came first, followed by “Moth Into Flame” and finally “Atlas Rise” which came so close to the release date that it didn't matter. As “Hardwired” and “Moth Into Flame” were both clearly different than “Atlas Rise” (even though I thought it was a fairly strong Iron Maiden influenced track) the majority of the songs on the record that we were sold are vastly different than what many of us might have expected. When we get to the disc, we find that “Hardwired” is really just a three-minute thrash track. When I first saw the video, I thought that it had been edited and thought that Kirk's solo was just a little on the short side. I assumed that when I'd get the full disc, maybe it would be a bit longer. There were two discs after all. Alas, Metallica fucked us again. The full playing time for this “epic two disc release” is actually seventy-seven minutes, which would have fit perfectly on one disc. Not only that, several of these pieces are in fact blown out of proportion, which often gives them unnecessarily long intros and long instrumental breaks. Most of these should have been cut-down from their garage jam lengths into something a bit more bearable.

To be honest, listeners are actually getting what feels like a dose of Load/Reload in the vein of blues and groove rock tunes that aren't all that thrashy. Some say it might be the record in between ...And Justice For All and The Black Album, but I'm willing to consider it the album between The Black Album and Load. It isn't that the record won't be enjoyable to fans of Metallica's more mainstream material, but it definitely has more of a modern approach that sort of rides the coat-tails of their most celebrated moments in the limelight and not so much the early thrash days that metalheads know and love. In addition to that, James Hetfield really wants to try singing on this one, which is definitely done with a more commercial quality. Don't go into this thinking that you're getting any hint of a thrash disc. After all, the only other thrash cut you'll get is fan-favorite “Spit Out The Bone” which I didn't find as interesting as others did. I will say that on a second listen, I can kind of see the appeal that black-era songs like “Dream No More” might have for others, but I've already heard that kind of material and wasn't necessarily interested in a rehash.

I also found it odd that the Lemmy tribute song, “Murder One” didn't have any actual Motorhead influence. I would have at least expected something of a Motorhead style solo from Kirk on this one. I guess this is Metallica's attempt at another grab towards the mainstream after not hitting so hard with Death Magnetic even though I found a couple songs from that one, including “That Was Just Your Life” and “Judas Kiss” to be among some of the band's best. Unfortunately, I can't really say that about this one which doesn't feel like the Metallica album I felt that I was marketed – a thrash record. The band shot a video for every track on the disc, even the B-Side “Lords Of Summer” so it's a little odd that they would lead us on with two thrash cuts first. Why couldn't they just have skipped the whole “Hardwired” cut and given us “Dream No More” or “ManUNkind” instead? These songs would have been more indicative of what kind of experience we were getting and I was quite dissatisfied with what felt like it was supposed to be something that it was not.

Comparing this to a video game marketing campaign, No Man's Sky also showcased itself as a product that it was not and upset several fans in the process. Oddly enough, because there are two different types of Metallica fans out there (those who prefer the thrash and those who prefer the more modern hard rock) the dissent between these groups has almost gotten to a near-political level, with others saying that it is outright terrible and others claiming that it's one of the best albums they've heard all year. This second listen has made the record a bit more listenable, I think – but I'm not going to say that it's one of my favorite Metallica discs by any means. Once again, I think that if most of these songs had been cut by about a minute of two at least, we might have had a more soluble listen that could have even done a bit better with the fans.

Keep in mind, some people just outright hate Load, Reload and The Black Album so this isn't going to sit in their wheelhouse at all. I've also noticed online especially, that there's a lot of fighting between this and Exodus's latest album, Brotherhood Of The Snake. I haven't gotten a chance to hear that record in it's entirety to back up the proof that it is superior, but I can say that as far as a thrash record is concerned, Megadeth's Dystopia barrels over this one. Metallica do manage to prove that they still have it, but the problem is that it's nothing really all that new. Hardwired...To Self Destruct is very safe and doesn't even seem to blend musically well with it's moniker. If you see the cover and look at the title, you might even expect a thrash disc. But just remember, there's more crunch here than we've heard from Metallica since the mid-era and that might not necessarily be such a good thing. I don't hate the album, but I certainly wouldn't consider it something of a modern masterpiece. Since it's in the mainstream media pop/rock category, you can pick it up at Best Buy for ten dollars. Or you can just watch the whole thing online in video form, which might actually be better than listening to the record itself. Some of the videos I'm told are quite interesting, so that would definitely give this record a bit more merit than other albums without such a heavy visual component. Of which there are several.

Regardless of what I say, you're either going to listen to it, have listened to it, or will never approach it at all. So this is just my two cents and you can do whatever you like. Not terrible, but not mind-blowing either... and what in the hell is up with Lars' drum sound on this one? Seriously.

(2 Discs, 12 Tracks, 77:00)

7/10

The Workhorse III - Closer To Relevance (2016)

Hailing from Philadelphia, this power trio combine elements of punk, classic rock, proto-thrash and even acoustic soft rock to make a very different kind of release with quite a degree of variety. This is actually the band's third recording, but it is one of ten releases on their Bandcamp page. Obviously, I was a little surprised when I was sent something like this, as I'm more of a metal guy and this is more punk-influenced than I'm used to, but it's really not bad and actually kind of catchy, which I like. Some of the tracks come off well as far as the choruses go, but the lyrics can be a bit off-key and that just seems to be part of the whole punk atmosphere.

I will say that guitarists/vocalists Lisa Christ Superstar and Steve McCarthy definitely bring the noise, as these compositions lremind me heavily of acts like Motorhead (“Soulcrusher” is a very good example) and Joan Jett and The Blackhearts. Sometimes these tunes get a bit more funk and blues-laden, but there's a sort of rebellious edge to Superstar that really brings out numbers like “What's The Point”, “Life Of Crime” and opener “War Torn City” and shows a no-nonsense approach to the album.

The Workhorse III really play whatever kind of fucking rock music that they want, which equals out to a record that doesn't get boring fast. What's more, is that there are actually two vocalists fronting this band. McCarthy sings on a few cuts like the aformentioned “Soul Crusher” and “Find My Mind” while Superstar handles most of the others, including the album's unexpectedly acoustic rock closer “I Can't Forget” who I believe is about the loss of former guitarist/vocalist “Foxy” whom the entire disc is dedicated to. As for what happened to her, I'm not really sure because the pictures here in the digipack show that she was still very young, but I can only assume that it was a horribly unexpected tragedy. The pictures seem to show that she went out doing what she loved, which was to rock and surely there can be no greater privilege in life that that.

For some, the vocal performances here might not be as on-par as something you'd see on an American vaudeville program, but there's a necessary rawness that I think truly makes the band stand out. There are those acts that go full-on mainstream and autotune their vocals to make everything sound perfect and then there are those acts that give it to you real and raw. These guys have played a lot of shows, which is kind of what you get here on the record. It sounds like a live performance in some places. But they're not a pop band, they're a rock, punk, blues and kinda thrash and whatever else kind of band. You don't get that often in this industry, which is why it's not even in the industry. These guys seem to do everything independently, but the digipack release that I have here shows a very professional quality record with awesome artwork. I wasn't sure what to expect looking at the artwork and was even more surprised with the disc and type oif band I was getting when I opened it up.

The Workhorse III are definitely more punk than I'm used to, but I can't shy away an act that has gone above and beyond to produce so many different types of music on one disc. Name me three pop artists that have done the same. That's the difference between the underground and the industry. Maybe there's less money, but there's more integrity to be had. You'll be able to pick up a copy of Closer To Relevance when it drops on December 9th.

(12 Tracks, 33:00)

7/10

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Scott Lawlor - Child Of Rage (2016)

An ambient musician from Texas sent me this one, which according to the Bandcamp page is one of several. When I mean several, I'm nearly talking Merzbow here. Why he chose Child Of Rage out of his many others, I don't know exactly, but I suppose as it is a bit more horror inspired than his other works (which constitute to around eighty million various pieces of drone and some weird act called Spank Hookers) he thought I would dig it, and indeed I do. Child Of Rage is actually a concept album based on a '92 CBS made for TV movie which is classified as a mystery, seeming like a very psychotic and strange thing for the network to air around this time period. How in the world do you even get ahold of a made for TV movie that goes back to my childhood years in this day and age? I was seven. I guess I'll not answer that question, but it resulted in this artwork and I think that's a good thing.

As for the disc, we certainly are offered quite a bit of drone as you might suspect based on the artist's repertoire, but that doesn't say anything about the creep factor of the disc, which certainly isn't wise music to play while you're playing a horror game with a bad soundtrack, or reading some sort of horror novel (with no soundtrack, obviously.) “Dark Repose” uses frighteningly distorted church organs in way that would raise the hair on the back of my neck during certain scenes in a visual novel (this has happened, with equally bone-chilling music) or while going through a certain area of a game in which you can kind of feel the fright of your surroundings. It almost goes from the sound of a church organ to something a bit more unsettling, which really kind of freaked me out. Really, you wrote this for a '92 film? You could have used this on a modern horror film and made a name for yourself in that industry, seriously. Holy shit, this is one of the most bizarrely uncomfortable pieces I've heard in a bit. I'm also reminded a little bit of the original Pennywise theme (now that we have a remake set to arrive next year) which only adds to the fright factor. Same can be said with the follow-up, “Unihabitable Conditions” which makes me wonder why this gentleman isn't composing for the film industry, or at least working with some independent filmmakers. Congratulations, Scott. You know how to scare the bejesus out of people, even with your more drone-influenced cuts.

Imagine you're driving down the road at night while this is playing in your car. You roll up on a dead body in the middle of the road and all of a sudden a sharp effect starts playing from the disc. You'd nearly shit yourself or have a heart attack when you came upon that grisly scene while having this music play in the background. The same can be said of maggot covered roadkill (it doesn't have to be a human body, after all) which will still come off quite frightening when coupled with that sound. Yes, the record comes with it's own jump scares, which isn't something I can say I've ever heard from a horror-influenced ambient before. This thing is legitimately scary and people are going to think they're in a horror movie if you place this in the background. For all you collegiates reading this, (of which there are none) try switching out the party mix with that of Child Of Rage and then walk off into the background. Immediately, you'll freak some people out at the party, especially some of those who are drunk and start a sort of frenzy. Apparently certain sounds cause fright and among normal people who aren't used to this sort of thing, you can make them go pretty nuts. (Just don't do that right now as things are a little fucked up in this country, especially for collegiates who are no doubt playing a soundtrack similar to Child Of Fire in their heads while imagining horrifying scenes from our new president elect.) At the very end of the day, Lawlor proves that he can scare the shit out of me, and in a way that I've never experienced before. I'm not putting on this record EVER while I read anything frightening, as this disc will only add to it. But there are some rather sad moments to the album as well, which I can equate heavily with visual novel soundtracks of course, which contain quite similar music in tone and atmosphere. That being said, it's just as frightening as anything I've heard from the best horror visual novels (there are very few in English, unfortunately) and I'd certainly recommend it to those looking for a good scare.

(7 Tracks, 45:00)

9/10

Cult Of Fire - Life, Sex and Death (2016)

Let's not get this wrong twice, folks. Cult Of Fire are a Czech epic black metal act (not Indian, like you may expect) even though I'd hesitate to call them “epic black metal.” They feature members of Death Karma and Lykathea Aflame (have to bring up that underground legend) among others. They're very synth-heavy on this EP and even bring out an oddity called “Chinnamasta Mantra” which isn't anything like you would have expected from them. Perhaps. Not only do we have some female vocal chanting here, but what I'd consider to be a sort of keyboard ambience. In addition to this, chimes are used as well as backing element of light guitar melodies. Keep in mind, just before this very light and moody place plays on the disc, you'll hear a rather traditional slice of raw black metal entitled "Life" which entwines with some playful synths. The frontman also has a terrifying scowl, which feels very “black metal” and brings me that same sense of fright that I feel I should expect with the genre. Just remember that there are some lighter guitar melodies utilized within several of these tracks, which brings us a more light-hearted feeling as compared to something where hope is completely vacant. After all, there's nothing on the record that lyrically seems to speak to what one might consider darkness and evil and the whole of Life, Sex and Death seems to revolve around Hinduism and Vedic ritual.

It still pummels, especially three quarters of the way through “Death” but might be a little too twinkly for some of you, I'm sure. Cult Of Fire offer something different than most bands, which I think says a lot about them. It's a style of black metal that is certainly grim, but not necessarily filled with despair. As a matter of fact, the disc's last track (merely titled “Tantric Sex”) is something altogether different and nearly redefines the impact of black metal. I'm sure that some of the greats might be a bit upset with this happy approach to the music, but it comes off pretty damn refreshing. I'd also suppose that the massive influx of abrasive drumming is the climax portion in this musical sex act. Not too shabby. Let's hope that there will be more to come in the future, as I think Cult Of Fire is just the kind of thing that a stale black metal scene needs right now.

(4 Tracks, 20:00)

8/10

Anagnorisis - Peripeteia (2016)

Kentucky black/death metallers Anagnorisis have just recently released their third outing, which sees them still quite strong after the release of their last record, Beyond All Light. That disc actually scored a 91% (of two reviews) which would see it as a tough hill to climb. Like similar black metal records of the modern era, there are definitely post metal moments here, but also elements of more depressing doom acts like Swallow The Sun for example. It's decidedly a pained listen, which would probably come off a little bit better without the voice clips in opener “Disgust and Remorse.” I get what they were trying to do, but sometimes it's better to let the music speak for itself, without the clips. Or at least put them at the beginning/end of a song. I'd hope that a live performance of that piece wouldn't include the clips as I'd be pretty pissed at that point. Thankfully, the second part of the song merely observes atmosphere in the middle as it focuses more on the raw and unhinged black metal that this band seem to be quite proficient at. The sound is overly grim, a bit hopeless and feels just as I might expect a record of this nature to come off. It's quite sorrowful, like mixing a nineties black metal release with funeral doom and throwing in some acoustic bits, atmospheres and various soundclips to tell an equally depressing story. But seeing as these guys live in Kentucky, I'm sure there's not much to be excited about. It's the same here, really.

When we get into “5306 Morningside” I start to get a little bit more upset however, because these guys thought it would be a great idea to allow the vocalist to perform vocals while the soundclips were playing in the middle of the song. At that moment, I have to cringe just a little. Is the frontman not able to convey his feelings within the music well enough that you must pattern over that with sound clips? Are you a metal act or an industrial one? This is getting a little bit incessant. Soundclips can be very useful in softer portions of songs. Most bands use them to open and close pieces. Sometimes they are utilized during a soundscape to built the mood. But never are they useful right in the middle of a song, unless the form of music is electronic and these soundclips act as an instrument. Thankfully, the clips start to fade just as the song really gets in gear and only the first couple of vocal lines on the track are muddied by these effects.

“Night Skies Over Nothingness” actually allows us to hear the band clip-free and with a real sense of bite. There are some thick grooves in areas that work well with the harsh vocal performance and ghostly keyboard antics. A definite winner for me. The title cut features more clips in the beginning, but this isn't a problem as it really continues to show the band's strength, as well as their excellent keyboard playing. The death metal influence in the band also manages to shine through here, making for a surprisingly punchier sound than the first couple of tracks have offered, showing that these guys have the ability to get angry in addition to heavy moping. There's nothing wrong with a morose sound and style, I know that quite well – but it's good to see a bit of unbridled rage and seventies keyboard prog theatrics as well. It's also great to hear some real guitar shredding on “Metamorphosis” which seems to show that these gentlemen are actually a hell of a lot better than you might expect them to be. There's a section of the cut where drum blasts intertwine with a real bout of shredding and that has to be my favorite moment on the whole album. I don't think I've ever heard a solo that intricate playing at the same time as a kit that was completely on fire, at least from the sound of things. Usually, you're going to have a hard time being able to discern any bit of guitar while the drums are pounding as loudly and with such ferocity in the mix as they were here. But I have a feeling that these guys know what they're doing as far set-ups go, which is why I was able to hear that solo section pretty well in the mix.

Peripeteia is a realtively strong black metal album in my opinion, and it's probably a bit of a change from the prior. I don't know, I haven't heard it. But I feel that maybe some of the soundclips and things might have been a bit much for them this time around and might detract listeners a little bit. I'm not sure if they were trying to tell a story or not, but it's definitely a less is more situation as far as that is concerned. They do play live, so I would assume that's the best way to hear this one.

(8 Tracks, 53:00)

8/10

Chagall - Locust Spitter (2016)

Canada's Chagall are what I would consider to be a mixture of modern groove and death metal, along with some slightly progressive quirks here and there. Metal Archives just refers to them as “groove metal” and that I believe fits as well. Locust Spitter is their first recording since the self-titled EP (2014) and it comes off as most debuts do – the right idea, with a little bit of rough edges that need to be smoothened out. The very first thing that the listener will notice about Chagall is that they are kind of one-sided, especially as far as the vocal skills of Chris Fothergill are concerned. The guy is about as one dimensional as Devildriver's Dez Fafara, which amounts Chagall to a slightly more intricate Lamb Of God albeit with a rather unremarkable frontman. As for the rest of the band, I've noticed that maybe the sound is bit too clean as well, which doesn't really give me any bite. I'm not really hearing what sounds like an act that is playing at one-hundred percent in the studio and I'd expect these guys to deliver a little bit more on the stage perhaps. Also, the drums are too light in the mix as well as the guitars, which all sound very safe.

The Lamb Of God influence is pretty easy to see, but I'm just not feeling the same bite. The very first time I listened to this record while sitting in the hospital, I noticed that there wasn't much about it that came out to me as far as what I expect from a strong groove record. I think one of the biggest problems is that many of Randy Blythe's vocal aesthetics are being completely emulated, which doesn't give me the sound of any new band with their own style – it just sounds like an act trying to play around it's record collection, which is relatively acceptable for most debuts. When you step away from the record, it sounds heavily encapsulated in a kind of box. That isn't to say that nice leads do not appear on the disc, as well as some slightly more progressive elements (which you certainly wouldn't get from Lamb Of God) but aside from certain sections, the drums just don't really kick all that much and the guitars seem kind of constricted as well as the vocals. It feels like a box of fire. When you pick it up, it'll burn your hand. But when you leave it there lying on the ground, no one will even notice it. I can't say that these four guys don't have talent, because you can see the progressive elements melding quite well with the death/groove. It just sounds like something that will piece together better overtime. The record certainly has it's kicking moments, but Burn The Priest's debut and the first few Lamb Of God records had a lot more venom.

What needs to happen here is less restraint and I don't know how that's going to happen. I don't want to hear concrete, guys. I want to hear hard-hitting metal that doesn't all bleed into one performance. I don't feel that groove fans will be ultimately upset with this one, but definitely give it a listen on the Bandcamp before you decide to purchase it. It's a “Name Your Own Price” release, so if you liked what you heard, throw them a few bucks. I'm sure it would help. In any case, this one doesn't really catch me in the way that other groove discs have, but I'm definitely willing to hear more from them in the future. Let's see how this evolves.

(9 Tracks, 41:00)

7/10

Buzzard Canyon - Hellfire & Whiskey (2016)

Rolling in like a mix of doom, blues and rock n' roll, we have the warm and fuzzy sound of Connecticut's Buzzard Canyon. The quintet seems to offer a slew of catchy choruses, but there's also a great deal of thickness insofar as the compositions are concerned. “Louder Than God” actually allows for quite a bit of atmosphere, showing that the band can achieve a bit more than the bits of blues rock that you're getting for the majority of the album. Vocals on the record are actually doled out between a strong female frontwoman and a admittedly tough to hear male backing vocalist. Sometimes he takes over the vocal duties himself, especially during one section of the disc where he attempts a little bit of Danzig. If you'll listen closely, you'll hear some harsh vocal elements in the back as well. This kind of adds a bit more bite to the disc, but again – it's tough to hear. The frontwoman sometimes utilizes the same harsh vocal elements, which you can of course hear a bit better in the mix. Often these two duet, but you'd never know it because the male vocalist's mic is so low in the mix for a reason that escapes me. Also, the band is a little lower in the mix than it should be. I'm hearing my bluesy doomy thumps, but the vocals are just too clearly heard over them, which kind of kills the atmosphere that they were going for. It sounds like they were recorded in another room apart from the music (which is sometimes the case) but Buzzard Canyon like any good doomy bluesy rocky act, is more of a live band. You want the kind of feeling where maybe the lyrics aren't so audible because the thick thunder of bass and drums work to drown them out sometimes. When you see these guys live, you're going to experience just that. They currently only have one live show planned right now for December 3rd in their hometown, but maybe next year they'll really be able to take this show on the road. 

Again, this is a relatively stout and overly groovy little album, but it's definitely going to stand out much better on the stage along with some Sabbath and Manilla Road covers, perhaps. Buzzard Canyon aren't bad at all and this is a pretty good debut from my observation. It obviously has some rough edges, but that will be ironed out when these guys come back to the studio for the next one. Hellfire & Whiskey definitely contains some pretty impressive moments as far as some of the leads and solos are concerned, but there's not enough of them to really stand out right now. Again, this is literally the Connecticut act's first major musical output and I'm sure that they'll only get better with time. I do like that some of the harsh vocal moments are quite out there in the open, really pumping in some unexpected moments of groove and animosity where I honestly would not have expected it. Definitely give them a listen, but it's definitely going to work better onstage.

(8 Tracks, 35:00)

6/10


Friday, November 4, 2016

Aenaon - Hypnosophy (2016)

This record doesn't come out until Thanksgiving (November 25th) and that feels fitting as it is certainly something to be thankful for. Really thankful for. As in, we're about to replace the lighthouse wallpaper and by the time you read this, we'll already have a new background. So is this a ten, then? Is that what you're saying? You're damn right it is. But first let me explain a little bit about why that is. As far as Aenaon is concerned, The Grim Lord is no stranger to them as I believe we gave their last record Extance another unbelievably high score. So has lightning struck twice? Well, you already know it has and I'm just as amazed as you are. This Grecian combination of Arcturus and Sigh is just un-fucking-real, folks. There's nothing at all quite like it, and it only becomes grander as you continue through the record.

The soundscapes that these gentlemen create are nothing short of fantastic, which give us a record that not only traverses black metal, but several types of music in general. We will definitely hear massive amounts of horns, saxophones and powerful keyboard sections which remind me of all things, the mighty Sigh. The clean vocals and synth pieces also help to remind me of Arcturus, covering both their earlier days and their more bombastic periods. We could also mention Emperor/Ihsahn, Enslaved, Ved Buens Ende, Dodheimsgard and several others throughout the history of the genre – it's all here, folks. Hypnosophy isn't just a great album, it reminds me why it is that I love music in the first place.

That being said, let's talk about what the album does aside from pomp – it actually offers black metal. Huge, hefty mounds of it. Blasts still roar from the kit, harsh vocals still emanate from the mouth of the frontman and even if cleans are being used, we still manage to get that loathsome scowl that brings us face-forward into extreme music to begin with. Now there are some female vocals on this record in certain areas, but I don't feel that these gentlemen are shouldering their way into becoming a female fronted act with these pieces. They are just there simply because the guys felt that a female vocalist belonged on areas of the album. In my opinion, there's nothing wrong with that. We should embrace these sorts of decisions and allow artists to make the kind of music that they wish to make. Even though these fine gentlemen are signed to a label like Code 666, I really can't imagine those guys pushing the band in one diection or the other. Obviously these men are tremendously talented in their own right and there's no real reason to tell them what to do, or how to make an album. They've already got that pretty much downpact.

Again, Hypnosophy is still black metal (I have to stress that) and it is still rife with familiar tremolos, but there is just so much more here to explore. The solos alone are outrageous and that includes far more than what is done on the guitar. I can sense that some people might feel there is too much going on in this record for them and that's understandable. Some people just aren't open-minded enough for such brilliance, where music become more than music – it becomes art. I'm even reminded of extremely experimental acts like Estradasphere on this one, which just makes it all the more exciting. In all of the boring black metal acts I hear these days that are just playing the same thing over and over, it's good to hear such a refreshing hurricane of sound and style like this.
The record itself is only about ten minutes less than their last (which still rounds out to an hour) but so much is done within that time period that the hour often passes by without you realizing it. It's just such a good record with a memorable atmosphere that you'll get wrapped up in it. It'll take you away to a realm by which you'll enjoy any task that you're doing while listening to it. I'd recommend soaking it in alone, but if you'd like to play it while doing housework or while playing a game, possibly even while reading or writing – that would work as well. These guys just set up such a wonderful sort of aura with their music that really seems to put an already fantastic metal scene further on the map.

I recently discovered a copy of Metal Hammer Greece's A Tribute To Iron Maiden's Somewhere In Time buried out in the backyard and realized that there were just so many mind-boggling covers of what was already a classic album to begin with on it. Every single band listed was a Grecian act, which blew me away even further. What in the hell is going on in the Greek metal and rock scene? There are some real heavyweights over there and I'm not even going to mince words. We already know that acts like SepticFlesh and Rotting Christ are fantastic, but just from what I heard on that little sampler it soon became apparent to me that we've heard nothing yet.

So another new year, another good Aenaeon record. You know, I'd personally have to chalk Hypnosophy up as being one of the best moments of my year, even though it's been a decidedly shitty one all-around. It feels like this record is treasure chest full of gold and jewels, but is placed high on the top of a steaming mountain of manure. We all know that 2016 wasn't exactly a great time to be on Earth, but this record certainly seems to soften the blow. After you're done with Thanksgiving dinner, go down to the nearest record shop and pick up this one. Or go online and order it from your favorite retailer.

The disc is only seven euros and while The Grim Lord isn't really happy about having to buy a twenty-four euro special vinyl version for a bonus disc with six more tracks (Holy shit, there's six more songs here! What else did they do? That's like a full album) on accompanying CD (yeah, you read that right) there is actually more than enough material here to satiate you without having to pick up that version. (Kind of upset that the CD version doesn't have the bonus tracks either – why not? They might be great!)

Regardless of another awful maketing scheme, this is still a wonderful record and I'm serious – it's good enough that you actually don't need all that bonus stuff to check it out. Even so, the special edition vinyl version limited to ninety-six copies actually is pretty cheap (it's $26 USD – the price that the metal shop around here used to charge for one disc before it was shutdown) compared to what other bands charge for similar, and arguably the music here is far better than bands with special edition boxes that you've already purchased this year, so go for it if you have the money.  Make this purchase your last big one of the year.

Aenaon's Hypnosophy is definitely worth it for fans of experimental and avant-garde black metal everywhere, and I do mean everywhere. The Grim Tower highly recommends Aenaon's Hypnosophy and it's my favorite album of the year. I'd recommend it to anyone.

(7 Tracks, 55:00)

10/10

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Steel Hook Prostheses - Calm Morbidity (2016)

Texas's Steel Hook Prostheses have returned, but this new album is a bit different. Whereas the band's previous record The Empirics Guild (2013) created the kind of horrifying atmosphere that you might find in a horror film, or perhaps playing in the background of a Halloween spookhouse, Calm Morbidity is different. I won't say that there isn't still some semblance of horror here, but just not all the time. I believe the title really does work to describe the album here, in which pieces that are very ethereal coincide with pieces that are extremely frightening. This combination works rather well, as the creepier pieces (forgive the pun here) seem to creep up on the listener without warning. But then you could be listening to a track like “Sulphur Drip” which begin with a rather horrific vibe, as it flows into something a bit more electronic and spark-laden. Sometimes it even sounds like an electronic ritual, or a ritual composed by robots. If androids come onto the scene next year, as both Daily Mail and Inverse are reporting; and if their AI becomes advanced enough to form religion (God forbid, I don't really want to hear about Robo-Jesus) then this piece could literally be the sound of their worship. I just don't want to be sacrificed to the robot gods.

Then we have a cut like “Paresthesia” where ominous soundscapes are the literal name of the game. Harsh vocals might appear in it's follow-up, “The Medicus” but this piece alone makes me think of the spine-tingling atmosphere that one might face while walking through the abandoned hospital in Silent Hill. “Deep In The Marrow” seems to continue that robot religion, but it also feels possibly a bit more human this time around. For a band that seemed so sterile in terms of presentation, (there was nothing ritualistic or even somewhat spiritual about the band's last release) it feels like they may have gotten their hands on some acid and tripped out while making this album. That is not unheard of, by the way – I could only imagine these kinds of hallucinogenic substances taking the mind to extremely removed realms of consciousness, by which ideas that they would have never considered would come into place. Several of the greatest musicians, writers and even tech-giants of silicon valley have experienced slight bits of acid exposure in their lives (the techies actually call it micro-dosing) which I think might be responsible for some of technology's greatest achievements. These atmospheres certainly seem to feel as though they were inspired in the same manner. However you want to call it though, Steel Hook Prostheses have created a record that certainly feels like a logical step after their previous release and a more mature recording overall. As much as I enjoyed the horror atmosphere of the previous, Calm Morbidity gives me something a little more. Change is good.

(10 Tracks, 57:00)

8/10

Army Of The Universe - 1999 & The Aftershow (2016)

Italian born (now based in LA) Army Of The Universe are back with their first record in three years, even though just by judging from the band's last album title The Hipster Sacrifice (2013), I'm going to have to go back and check that one out. Getting back to the recording, I find that it seems to be a mix of electronic dance music and rock, much in the vein of earlier Prodigy. Yet then again, there are some more gothic moments as well, like we'll hear on “Late Detroit Nights.” Yet then again, we'll hear some rather annoying dubstep influence in the background on “Down Till Dusk.” Thankfully, that's the only song on the record that really contains that kind of influence, or as least so much of it. I can do with a little dub, but too much is too much. There are thirteen tracks on this disc though, so one dubstep track isn't exactly going to kill it for me and the band offer enough of a varied mix of styles to keep me interested.

“1999” might come in like a roaring inferno, but most of these pieces seem to take a little bit more of a groovy and more dance-laden KMFDM nature, which definitely keeps the listener's attention as there's nearly something for everyone. When you pick up this disc, you're not getting the same song every time and it'll often sound like several different types of electronic acts. On “Another Escape” we get electronic Europop with nary a guitar riff in sight, which might turn off some fans, but that's okay. It's pretty catchy and shows that they can do more than electronic rock. “Digital Slag” comes in right with guitars however, certainly reminding me not only of KMFDM, but E1M1 from Doom. It doesn't stay that way however, as beats come in and the piece takes a more commercial vibe. That's fine though, as this is the kind of commercial electronic pop-rock I can stand. Also, those small clean sections (they have a watery feel to them) played by the keyboards almost have that spacey Super Metroid vibe which reminds me in part of the game's intro theme right after you start a new game (this is essentially the music that plays during the briefing section of the game and describes the events of the past two titles) which is something that might even surprise the band when they realize how close those keyboards sound to the piece. I'm not sure if this is intentional or not. We also have “The Aftershow” which has radio single written all over it. That chorus reverberates more than is entirely necessary, but I'd be a fool to tell you that I didn't enjoy it. Perhaps some of the verse material there is kind of filler, but they have to throw something in there to balance out the chorus.

“Snake Was Right” seems to be an anti-censorship cut, and in the age of PC culture, we could very well use it. Unfortunately, it's not really so much of a song as it is a long interlude with KMFDM inspired spoken word pieces. “Nobody 2.0” gives off that kind of electro-goth feel, which once again comes off a bit unexpected, as with anything else on the album. I can't say that I'm crazy about the disc's last track, “The Albert Hotel” but I can't say that I loved everything on the disc either. I will say that I found the majority of it easily digestible and for the most part, it's a solid act who've been at this for a long time. I can't really talk about their prior releases, so I don't know if this is departure from that kind of material or not, but I can say that I'm quite pleased with such a uniquely diverse electronic act. Metropolis has a great one on their hands, that's for sure. Check these guys out if you haven't.

(13 Tracks, 48:00)

8/10

Finsterforst - #Yolo (2016)

Finsterforst went from making one of the most interesting albums I've ever heard to, well... this. I'm scratching my head just as much as you are, I'm sure. But this is definitely the same band. I don't think we're in a time warp. In any case, there's definitely more of a folk vibe towards this one, possibly more like that of Tyr or Ensiferum, actually. The record sounds quite mighty at times, yet it can also have a bit of an Alestorm style kind of pirate vibe. What's more, is that there are two very interesting covers here, which you may not expect. There's also a cover here that I thought Tyr and Cruachan did much better, but I'm very particular on covers of classic folk songs, especially “The Wild Irish Rover” (here called “Wild Rover”) and very few covers really work for me. I'd love to hear them take on “Spancill Hill” though. Despite the record being a bit playful and full of ten thousand horns as well as happy world music, lyrically it's quite harsh. The music itself might appear a bit cheery, but the frontman seems to have just went right on with the ferocious snarls as if he was still performing experimental black/death. Now the first cover we have here that I'd like to talk about is Miley Cyrus's “Wrecking Ball” which I've heard covered online by various bands as it is (I'm a junkie for metal pop music covers) even though I'll say that Finsterforst really knocked it out of the park. It does carry on the electronic pop nature of the original, but with the combination of strong lead melodies and unexpectedly powerful symphonics. Yes, that sounds silly that I'm even suggesting such a thing, but if you haven't heard the original, you'll like it.

Now as for Michael Jackson's “Beat It” I actually love this song better than the original. Yes, but there's one thing. The band totally ruined it at the very beginning with some weird dub-electronic shit. I actually recommend fast-forwarding the piece a couple of seconds until you actually hear the first set of riffs, which begins the song. This is actually such a big deal to me that I'm going to carry the track over to a program I have and cut the whole beginning of it off. I've done this before with cuts that I add to my personal collection and if it makes me enjoy the song even more, than it's worth it. As for the cut, the clean vocals are awesome here. I didn't expect the horns, but that solo is actually better than Eddie Van Halen's. I wish it was a little longer. I told you guys, I'm a real stickler about metal pop covers, especially since “Beat it” got me into guitar based music around the age of five. I'll applaud their experimentation, but less is more here. We also have some rapping on the record in the form of “Der durch die Scheibeboxxxer” which is definitely not something I would have expected from this band. The rapping is in German, but will probably turn off fans of their previous works for sure. It almost seems like they went from a serious act to JBO territory. In any case, this short but sweet little experiment is going to come at fans like a punch in the nose and hopefully they'll recover after such a hefty blow. I can't say that I hated it, but it wasn't a terrible record either. Just a bit different than I would have ever expected from the act. Definitely listen to a few songs first if you're on the fence. I still have no idea what came over them to make this recording, but it's definitely strange.

(10 Tracks, 41:00)

7/10

Quick Announcement Before Update!

Judging by the nature of things, including several dropped downloads and a record that was 455mb (wav) that I was NOT too happy about downloading (do not send me wav files) I am nearly out of data and the month has just begun.

What that means is simple. We may as well become a "physical submissions only" site. If you send me your record by mail, I'll review it. It's that simple. I know several other blogs and websites that operate like this, so just add us to that list.

I will be able to download digital submissions near the very end of each month, and I'm getting better with the dropbox app (mediafire no problem) so maybe I'll be able to get more stuff to review around the end of November.

Again, the best way to get your record reviewed either here or in the magazine (must be sent before release) is to send it by mail.

Other than that, this site will be a mix of old and new as far as the digital promos I have left are concerned. Thanks for understanding and I'll have some new reviews up in a few hours.

- The Grim Lord

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Sacred Steel - Heavy Metal Sacrifice (2016)

The first thing I noticed about this ninth full-length offering from German stalwarts Sacred Steel, is that I had to turn it up a little bit. I had a hard time hearing it as the production volume is a little low. That's fine though, as they're obviously going for a much more raw approach to their brand of epic heavy metal. If you'll look on Metal Archives right now, you'll see a whopping 93% on this album by slayr666 and though that guy seems to know what he's talking about, I guess I'm going to come across as a bit of an alternative to the positive review. That's not to say that Heavy Metal Sacrifice is a bad record, but that perhaps it's not THAT good. I don't know, folks – somewhere along the line this one tends to lose me. If I can be honest, it might just boil down to the fact that I don't like Gerrit P. Mutz's (Angel Of Damnation, Battleroar, Dawn Of Winter) vocals. You see, even though the band have been together since '97, I've never heard these guys before now. Not even one single album. Musically, I think the record seems to combine thrash, power metal and classic heavy metal in a fine fashion. The songs are also thickly structured as much longer cuts like “The Sign Of The Skull” and “Let There Be Steel” manage to allow enough breathing room for more acoustic and slightly somber sections. Current guitarists Jens Sonnenberg and Jonas Khalil (My Darkest Hate) absoutely kill on this record, with a memorable drum performance offered by Matthias Straub (Naevus) and some nice bass licks from Kai Schindelar(Lanfear). As far as Mutz goes, I am not saying that he is a bad vocalist, but his performance here isn't really working for me. On most songs, that is. I absolutely love the almost doom-like structures given to “Beyond The Gates Of Ninevah” which offers a completely different approach to the band and livens up the formula quite a bit for me. Of the several songs I've listened to here, this one really works well for me even though it's the technical closer to the disc (the less said about “Iron Donkey” the better) and it's a bit unfortunate that it took nearly the entire listen before I found something that I really liked.

Going deeper into the listen, I begin to notice that there are some good thrash cuts here like “Hail The Godz Of War” and “The Dead Walk The Earth” which reminds me a lot of early Sabbat, and that's always a good thing. I'm also reminded of early Slough Feg (back when they were The Lord Weird Slough Feg) which also works for me. Let's even go with Satan. Yes, Satan works for me here as well. I suppose that fans of Satan, Slough Feg, Sabbat and several more (MA gives me acts like Skelator, Helstar, Running Wild and even 3 Inches Of Blood, which I agree with to varying degrees) will certainly find something to like in what feels like a very English inspired German heavy metal. I even hear some Primordial in the riffing that makes up “Vulture Priest” which is not an infleunce I expected. There's definitely a tribal vibe flowing through that one. So perhaps now that I've given the disc a chance to warm up, I should change my answer, as it were.

That being said, I still don't think this disc deserves a 93% but I'd certainly feel right giving it a strong 80%. Maybe if I listened to it a few more times, I would consider it even higher. Heavy Metal Sacrifice brings us back to the days when an individual actually had to sit down and fully take in an album, which is one reason that I think it might excel above some of their others (the average MA review scores from the band range from 55% to 80% respectively, but it mostly hovers within the upper seventies) and could net them the first 80% or 85% score percentage since the band's debut. I know that most of this must be boring you to tears, but it interests me greatly as a reviewer as it could literally be one of the best albums that these gentlemen have ever recorded. Maybe I'll even throw in the fact that Mutz's vocals are actually starting to grow on me a bit now. I gave this record an inaugural listen and noticed a couple things that I liked, but on this second one I'm really starting to notice quite a bit of things that I do like. If I haven't said it enough already, this is what I would definitely consider to be pristinely written and genuine heavy metal. When we get into the softer portion of “Let There Be Steel” we begin to experience true emotion, beefing up and already potent number from the beginning. Even if Mutz's vocals don't catch on with you in the beginning, you probably just need to sit down and soak it in. Heavy Metal Sacrifice isn't a fly by night recording by any means. You're going to have to listen to it in order to really understand the kind of adventure you're being taken on. There is definitely some modernism in the downtuned bass here and there, but the overall aura of the disc feels grained in the early eighties, even though these guys aren't in any way an eighties act.

Noting all of this, the disc is not perfect. “Iron Donkey” should have been scrapped and I won't even consider it part of the album. It's just a little silly thing that the band did on what is a very strong and serious album. Especially since it truly ends on such a powerful note as “Beyond The Gates Of Ninevah” a track that I could listen to many times over. I think it was that cut that really convinced me to dig back into some of the earlier cuts and give this record a truly fair observance. I would ask that you do the same. There's definitely something here, but it might not make itself known in the very beginning. Sacred Steel fans will be happy to know that Heavy Metal Sacrifice was well worth waiting for. Just give it some time, alright?

(11 Tracks, 48:00)

8/10

Existance - Breaking The Rock (2016)

Right before October hit, I was on a big Sonic kick, which included going through a lot of the Sonic Adventure series and digging into Crush 40's music. Well, Crush 40 (which actually contains Hardline/Axel Rudi Pell frontman Johnny Gioeli – Yes, the frontman of Axel Rudi Pell has been singing about Sonic The Hedgehog for a number of years now, and that looks to continue) is inspired by many of the same bands that this French classic heavy metal act is also inspired by on their sophomore album (Priest, Maiden, Saxon, Accept, exc) and that equals out to a winning record for me. As you know, I've always been a fan of classic heavy metal in this vein, which Existance manages to translate pretty well into the modern era. It sounds like it came straight from the eighties golden age, with Juian Izard (son of H-Bomb frontman Didier Izard) wailing on the vocals along with Antoine Poiret shredding up a storm on guitars. Newly added to the act are the punchy drum acrobatics of Nicholas Martineau on the kit and the thumping riffs of Julien Robilliard on the bass. The listener is hit with track after track of what I can simply just describe as the chemistry of heavy metal in general.

Breaking The Rock features explosive guitar solos, catchy choruses and just plain strong leads in general. I hear a lot of discs like this, but these guys are putting more muscle into than I get with several similar acts. It's also the attention to detail in their bridges that really hits me – I like a song that offers more than just a verse, chorus and solo piece and if you'll really give it a listen, you'll understand exactly what I'm talking about there. Most of these cuts are also a bit longer than the normal three minute mark, which usually means that there's a bit more in terms of song structure and that equals out to a memorable experience that delivers far more than just a simple chorus line repeated from now to eternity.

“Sinner Of Love” actually gives the band a full five minutes to play with, which are quickly filled with the kind of classic solo indentation that we want from what is very much a classic hard rocker. “In The Name Of Revenge” truly soars, with Izard packing a truly notable vocal performance on what I'd consider to be a much heavier cut, and even though it's a bit shorter than the others, we are still treated to a truly awesome solo. That's just the kind of material that listeners will be presented with on this return to the eighties glory days of the metal genre. If you love classic heavy metal fused with hairy hard rock, then you're going to enjoy this one quite a bit. It's no secret that The Grim Lord loves this classic stuff and I'd definitely recommend checking out this effort from the Frenchmen, even if not all the vocal nodes caught with me as much as I wanted. The effort is there though and that's what truly counts in the end. Existance seem to prove that they should very much exist as a heavy metal entity and I'm sure you'll love them if you'll give them a chance.

(10 Tracks, 46:00)

7/10

Face Of Oblivion - Cataclysmic Desolation (2016)

Hailing from Minnesota, with members of Incinerate, Compulsive Mutilation and Acanthostega (which is a great band name and needs some more albums attached to it, oddly enough – it's black metal) we have death metallers Face Of Oblivion. To be fair, out of all the monikers that these gentlemen play under, they probably could have picked something a little better. To most, it might seem like these guys are a dreaded “three-word band” like Pierce The Veil or suchlike. Thankfully, that is not the case. Listener, you are absolutely not getting a fucking core record and I'd tell you that first-hand. Face Of Oblivion play a highly technical form of death metal that my former colleague would be quite interested in (thoughts are with him while under hospitalization) and it's a bit of a shame that he can't hear this one, as it's relatively strong. I actually didn't receive a digital promo for this one, so it took a bit longer than usual to review it as I had to make a personal rip of it.

While reading Resident Evil comics, I found that the grueling atmosphere of the disc fit the biological horrors portrayed in the comics quite well and that to me, was a plus. Most of the records I listen to are while I'm doing something else (I'm a major multi-tasker) so barrelling through those comics was certainly more enjoyable while listening to Cataclysmic Desolation than while listening to the other discs that came shortly after. The music itself comes across as a truly fearsome sort of brutal death with bits of technicality injected in areas, most of it all flowing together in a severely twisted format which delivers as much gore as it does precision. Adding to that, we have some rather intelligent song-titles like “Seismic Anomaly”, “Paradoxical Undressing” and “Scaphism” to name a few. There's no “Head Smashed In By Bulldozer” or “Cannibalistic Organ Feast” to be found on these disc. You might even call it a bit more scientific. The disc certainly sounds that way. But it's definitely a “mad science” in that respect.

Most of the record is completely devoured by Eric Baumgard's (Acanthostega, Breast Ripper, Compulsive Mutilation) drumming, as with most discs of this type. Fronting that of course is Jesse Watson (Incinerate) on vocals along with Cole Gunther (Bass) who also provides some background vocal segments. Chris Hensley (Compulsive Mutilation) is the band's main guitarist, and he's responsible for much of the absurd technicality that you'll hear spattered about the release, but he also provides a little bit of background vocal here and there. I would assume that while on stage you should expect the same thing from these guys, something of a demonic duet that would come off rather well in that format (depending on the PA and such) even though most of the tracks bleed into each other. Cataclysmic Desolation makes for a good soundscape, but it doesn't really have any major changes in tempo that differntiate from it's peers. The list of bands that these guys like are pretty much similar to how they sound, and nothing really makes them stand out to me in that regard. They're worth checking out for techy brutal death guys, but if you can't get into technical death metal like this already, then this record will certainly not change your views on the subject. Face Of Oblivion offer a rather frantic atmosphere with a few guitar tricks and perhaps a handful of solos, but they should consider branching out into a fashion that might make them ascend beyond the style of some of their peers. The truth of the matter is that most bands never really do that though, and I suppose what is offered here is good enough for me.

(12 Tracks, 34:00)

7/10

Vultures Vengeance - Where The Time Dwelt In (2016)

Italian heavy metal act Vultures Vengeance have just released their debut EP and it's going to be a real must for fans of classic, galloping doom influenced heavy metal acts like Manilla Road for instance. Oddly enough, frontman/guitarist Tony T. Steele reminds me of a young Hansi Kursch (Blind Guardian) albeit in a much slower style of music. It almost feels a little bit creepy in that regards, making me wonder what kind of band Blind Guardian might have sounded like if they weren't thrash or power metal. Though the performance is a little raw and rough around the edges in some ways, there's still enough of a presence to leave a mark on me and that leaves me feeling rather confident that this act could succeed. One thing about the record that I have to mention are it's strong leads, which could be performed by both Steele or Nail (Necromancer) and certainly manage to bring a bit of beauty to the hefty bass riffs delivered by Matt Savage (Necromancer). The drumming performed by Kosathral Khel is quite commonplace to the genre, and it more or less serves as a common backbone for the heavily doom-influenced style. We're also getting a slew of memorable guitar solos that befit such longer pieces like “On A Prisoner's Tale” and if that isn't enough to demonstrate the kinds of things that this band can perform musically, we have an instrumental closing note in “Where The Time Stands Still” in which this very point is illustrated beautifully. I'd definitely recommend giving this album a listen, as these Italian heavy metallers are certainly onto something. This is a pretty solid debut and it's well worth an ear.

(5 Tracks, 26:00)

7/10

Throne Of Pestilence - Two Singles (2016)

As I was attending a release party show for some Little Rock metalcore act that I hadn't really heard of (there were several other bands though, one of which surprised the hell out of me – Legions Await) I wound up talking with a member from this metal act, which prides itself on being different. Considered tech-death, the only real technical death metal cut that I heard from this act was a piece called “Untitled #1” which was a real bruiser, I can say. Though people's names often escape me, I do know that the gentleman I spoke with is the guitarist of said act and he's definitely got his chops down. I particularly enjoyed the dissonant riffing structures prevalent in “Collapse” even though the piece really felt more like that of a death/groove session with a very hypnotic backbone, than that of a tech-death track. This being said, the man did inform me that he was interested in making each track sound differently than the others, a formula that I certainly stand behind. The drummer here is an absolute beast as he showcases heavily throughout the mix in “Untitled #1” but there are certainly places that could use a bit of growth. These aren't my songs, so I'm not going to make suggestions of that nature, but I will say that there needs to be a little bit more musculature here and I'm sure that this will come in time. “Collapse” actually feels a bit jam session in the latter half, which is where I feel that more needs to be added. Perhaps with vocals it would sound better as well, but unfortunately the band's former vocalist left. The mastermind behind this project is a very inventive individual and he even plans a sort of “alien music” side project, which sounds increasingly interesting to me as well. There's not much here yet, but there will be when the songs are further built and the vocals added. Still, Throne Of Pestilence seem to have quite a bit to offer and they do manage to stand out, like some of the other bands in our local Arkansas scene. Give them a listen and let me know what you think.

(2 Tracks, 7:00)

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Adaestuo - Tacent Semitae (2016)

Since I cannot find any information about where this band is from (Nothing on Metal Archives, Bandcamp and even Facebook page won't give me any info either) we'll just skip that part of the review. At any race, this black metal trio from “parts unknown” brings about a dissonant sort of black metal that comes with an unexpected element. Female operatic vocal, similar to Diamanda Galas. You have no idea how much that statement becomes a reality within this album. The album's ending cut and title track is nearly a tribute to the ritualistic Greek legend, with frontwoman Hekte Zaren performing nearly unrealistic chants that put the pop-singer turned black metal frontwoman Myrkur to shame. But it's not only that. Regardless of the frantic blasts and familiar dissonant riffs, there's an atmosphere of pure horror here. When I say horror, I do mean pure fright. Musically, the record comes packed with a mix of what I would consider an unsettling, yet wholly ritualistic vibe that you just won't hear from many, if really any other black metal source. Aside from this, the band can certainly play black metal with the best of them and sometimes the frontman adds to the harsh vocal element as well. That being said, you'll still hear Zaren's haunting chants in the background, further sprinkiling in bit of originality to what seems like a frighteningly progressive black metal backbone. 

Two of the songs on the disc aren't actually metal at all, and aside from the title cut we also have “Cicatrises Plexae” which is very similar to the industrial work that I review from Malignant. That being said, the black metal is definitely black and the atmopshere certainly feels like an atmosphere. None of this just seems haphazardly thrown together, as each style of music performed shows that it could work well enough to encapsulate two different bands which some listeners might feel should be the case. Even though it is 2016, some people still seem to have a problem with chocolate and peanut butter mixing, but it can also be said that those same individuals would have a problem with the female vocal approach as the frontispiece in the first place. I would much rather prefer Tacent Semitae to anything Myrkur puts out, and it shows that female fronted black metal and experimental approaches are indeed great things in the genre, which she embrace. Yet only if done with as much proficiency as has been utilized here. Definitely pick this one up in November, I think you'll be surprised with this unexpectedly potent debut.

(4 Tracks, 20:00)

9/10

Karmanjaka - I Törnrosdalen (2016)

The debut album from this Swedish black metal quintet, there's a sort of tribal and fantasy mystique pouring out through this one. Grond's drumming sounds like a beast from ancient times, while Skallagrim reminds me of an angry troll, and with a much more frightening approach than Finntroll for sure. I'm not sure if it's Tengil or Om, but one of these guys is reponsible for some unexpected melodic leads in the title cut that add almost a melodic death touch to it. But that's nothing, because the latter portion of the track fills quickly with the sort of acid jam you might expect from Tool or King Crimson, taking it far out of the realms of black metal. When we get to the last cut on the disc, “Katla” that black metal style comes back, featuring a lead section that reminds me heavily of a classic RPG theme. As the song continues, I'm noticing quite a bit of prog riffs on the track which remind me heavily of my favorite era of Enslaved. I'll also have to admit that I really love the main leads for this one, just sounds like a great game. Karmanjaka are an act that have the bite and feel of classic black metal, yet keep things far more interesting than I would have ever dreamed. If you love melody, prog and video game themes as much as I do, then you'll find something here. I really like these guys, so I'd highly recommend them even on this short demo. Please make more of this.

(3 Tracks, 10:00)

8/10