Thursday, March 31, 2016

Temple Of Gnosis - De Secretis Nosturae Alchymica (2016)

Some might look at the symbols on the record and automatically assume that this is another one of those occult black metal albums. I thought the same myself, especially after having been thrown hundreds of them last year, few of which did anything for me. I am an occultist myself, but I feel that perhaps the whole “occult black metal” thing is a bit too cliché. Which is why I've rather enjoyed this third full length from the Serbian act, as well as it's more atmospheric doom/death approach to the same subject. De Secretis Nosturae Alchymica is the kind of occult atmosphere that has balls. It really feels like Hellraiser, with the vocalist reminding me an awful lot of Doug Bradley's iconic Pinhead. It even feels like the Coil crafted soundtrack was a part of this listen (but Coil were and still are very deep occultists) which sounds perfectly fine for the atmosphere we're trying to convey. The record is half horror film and half doom/death, which I'm simply delighted by. The vocals on this record are simply unreal and positively jaw-dropping. These filters are positively amazing, and without question something I'd expect to hear while trapped in the abyss. Of course, I've always been the kind of guy to marvel at things like that. There's absolutely nothing wrong with the “how evil can we sound” sort of ideal, which is something I've always loved about this kind of music. So seriously, how damn evil can we make it sound? Well, for me this record is pretty damn close. Though others might think it a little too theatrical and cheesy. Yet I think that ruins all the fun. Temple Of Gnosis personally might look at this review and see that I've called their very deep and mysterious record “fun” but I'm simply enjoying the hell out of this thing.

From a technical standpoint though, we're essentially getting symphonic and heavily atmospheric doom/death which utilizes an amazing vocal filtering software that I would abuse the hell out of had I knew what it was. I can't seriously blame this guy for utilizing it as much as he does and would have to thank the creators of such a program, as we're getting closer and closer to making man sound like the literal embodiment of a demon or perhaps even the devil himself. Temple Of Gnosis is the one record that I think a youth pastor would literally flip out over had a kid brought it in, with the whole congregation following up to the reverend himself. De Secretis Nosturae Alchymica is the living embodiment of what most Christians would believe “devil music” to sound like, and it would very much portray the kind of stereotype of a record that was made in the pits of hell. They might freak out over Marilyn Manson, but he's tame compared to something like this. Quite simply, this album feels to me like Clive Barker's world come to life. I even think that he might enjoy hearing something like this personally, even in his older age; just to know that it exists and that he may have inspired it years ago. Temple Of Gnosis have made the kind of record that seems more birthed in Midian than Cradle of Filth's disc of the same name, as it embodies the demonic underworld mindscape in which few dare to tread.

That being said, it's obvious from the lyrics that several occult topics are being discussed here in a non-joking manner. Though the grim (and I do mean grim) atmospheres are still here, if we took off all the filtering, killed the keyboards and muted the guitars, we might actually get some rather interesting occult philosophy in which to ponder. There's obviously a lot of symbolism here, as is in the best of music I find – and your job would simply be to listen and decipher it's meaning. Is it literal symbolism, or does it mean something else? You're just going to have to pick up De Secretis Nosturae Alchymica for for yourself in order to answer that question. Seriously folks, this is one of the best atmospheric death metal records that I've ever heard in my entire life, and would recommend it to anyone looking for the most “evil sounding shit” possible. This is the kind of music that will freak out most conservative parents and grandparents, it's the complete opposite of what anyone would want their kids to listen to. It's quite fearsome and might even frighten people, which is definitely a plus. I'm not even going to lie here folks, you might just give Granny a heart attack with this thing. In my personal opinion, I feel that De Secretis Nosturae Alchymica is a perfect record. I just can't say enough about how deliciously evil this one sounds. There are very few albums out there that are even remotely like it. Unfortunately, they aren't going to be able to follow this style up if they choose to continue it with another album. I wouldn't want to hear another De Secretis Nosturae Alchymica from these guys and would be very upset if that's what they were to give me in the next few years. In other words, this is literally as good as it gets and I hope they'll be able to floor me with something equally as interesting in the future. No pressure though, right? At any rate, please go pick up a copy of De Secretis Nosturae Alchymica if you're looking for something that sounds truly evil and don't mind something that might come off a little bit cheesy as well. That being said, I love this album and would consider it one of 2016's best by far. Please give it a listen.

(7 Tracks, 46:00)

10/10

Demise Of The Crown - Self-Titled (2016)

Hailing from Quebec, this project mixes together progressive power metal with elements of melodic death and thrash, matching heavily the Nevermore comparison, but not so much the others I have listed on my on my press release. So I'm going to junk those and throw in one that really reminds me of the fucking band – Mercenary. No, I'm not talking about early Mercenary or their latter discs, I'm talking about the stuff in the middle, particularly 11 Dreams. We could also compare them to Sanctuary, especially the version of Sanctuary that Warrel Dane is fronting right now. Additionally, let's throw in some chorus heavy power metal, stuff like Brainstorm and Nocturnal Rites. Yet there's a bit more song structure to some of these pieces than I've heard on a few of their records as of late and I feel that's worth mentioning.

Unfortunately, the disc is only about thirty minutes and feels a little short for a debut (they could have added about three or four more songs) even though it definitely shows what this band is capable of. Their Bandcamp page is a bit vacant, so I'm assuming that one man by the name of Kevin Jardine (Slaves On Dope) is responsible for most of this record, and he certainly shows his strength with the use of such muscular guitar compositions that make this act a hell of a lot more interesting to me than Slaves On Dope ever were. Not only that, but he commands a powerful vocal approach that amounts to mesmerizing harmonies, as well as some falsettos that remind me heavily of Rob Halford, Tim Owens, Stu Block and many others. Because the record plays in the worlds of groove, death, progressive and classic heavy metal; it's very hard to actually pinpoint and that's what makes it exciting. Most notably, the Nevermore and Mercenary comparisons will be made and fans will grasp this disc with a fervor because of that. The band truly sounds larger than life on this debut and I really hope that maybe we'll get more information out of them later, because people need to hear this one to believe it.

Demise The Crown still feels like an EP release, but it shows me that the act has an awful lot of promise, beyond what I can describe here in a review. If you want catchy choruses, hard hitting solos, more melodies than you can shake a stick at, and melodic death metal/groove incursions (that normally wouldn't work well with this kind of material unless they were done properly, which is indeed the case) then you need to look no further than this disc which you can pick up for seven bucks. A dollar a track isn't a bad deal at all, especially when several of these pieces are worth far more than a dollar. Give it a listen, I think you'll enjoy it very much. I can't wait to see what is next for the act.

(7 Tracks, 30:00)

8/10

Aluk Todolo - Voix (2016)

This is the newest of several instrumental releases by instrumental French occult rockers Aluk Todolo. They've been around for quite a while and have toured with several bands. Though this is the first time I've ever heard their music, it would be safe to say that listeners of the material here will find plenty to like in their previous albums as well. That's a given, as what the listener gets with this record are atmospheres. The record is described as a labyrinth of sounds, and it is truly very transitive. These guys make the kinds of instrumental soundscapes that we love hearing from bands like Tool and Sunn0))) and it comes without the catchy vocal element of the former. It certainly drones, but there's enough to do in the drum work to keep things punchy. I don't feel that there's any life in some of the earlier Sunn0))) that I've heard, with very slow drum work and equally slow guitar drones that sound more like a slumbering giant than a lively explosion of energy. Voix is different, because it gives me precisely what I want to hear, and that would be the kind of active cerebral landscape that I'd almost compare to Steve Roach's more upbeat work. You're getting a polar opposite of the drone that similar acts offer and instead are able to take a literal trip. Possibly even a subconscious one.

This is the kind of record where the musicians themselves and even song titles don't matter. We might as well call them all Banana 1-6 and be done with it, because the listener has come here for the trip and that's exactly what you're getting. To some, this might just sound like one big jam session and it probably is. Though that's the awesome part about it, I think – because it's truly surreal and again, so active compared to other acts that do this stuff. I don't even think the word “act” is the right term for some of those guys, because they're not getting the kind of musical exercise that Aluk Todolo are and it shows. If you don't like rambunctious things, you probably will want to stick with something slower, but since my mind is active 24/7, this seems right up my alley. I'd definitely consider it a solid disc and you'd do well to pick it up, but only if you're willing to forego the droning silence that these atmospheres usually offer. I'd say it's a worthy trade, so get out there and move those legs.

(6 Tracks, 43:00)

8/10

Sorrow Plagues - Self-Titled (2016)

A project from the David Lovejoy, this UK based experimental depressive and melodic black metal project comes off like something a little different. Intended to be catharsis, the melodies seem to counteract his anger and are sometimes “too pretty” for their own good. There's also a piece by the name of “Awaken” that makes me think of the music that plays at the start of a J-Pop song that comes right at the end of a visual novel. Yet there's also a metallic part there as with any other cut on the disc, which only have one drawback – they're all essentially the same piece. We get blasting drums, depressing synths, scowling vocals and maybe what sounds like a guitar in the background? The synths are far higher in the mix than virtually any other instrument sans the drums, which makes me think that Sorrow Plagues doesn't even need a guitar save for the occasional solo. If anything, Sorrow Plagues is showing us how you can make a metal album without the need of a guitar at all. Some of these “riffs” are even effects, so there's as much electronic influence here as there is symphonic. It sounds like it could play during the really powerful scenes in Umineko. I'm getting the same kind of impact from the synths here that I did while reading that, and if that's the kind of sorrow that he wanted to go for, then he's hit it as there are few things in the world that will make your bawl like a child then to hear some of Ryu07's sorrowful pieces. It certainly benefits the disc to say that it is beautiful in a melancholic sort of way and maybe this review will inspire Lovejoy to listen to some of the compositions I've talked about in Umineko, Higurashi or other visual novel pieces.

The record also has several moments in which an atmosphere is achieved without the use of metal, especially near the end of “Redemption.” While it also reminds me of a truly powerful Japanese piece, (does this guy even realize he's making this kind of music?) I think that the vocals on the very end of the track just aren't needed. There is already a lengthy atmosphere utilized with synths and electronics, where we're later serenaded by some powerful guitar melodies (which also sound like the kind you'd hear from Japanese melodic metal acts) and at that point, it probably would have been better to leave that part of the song alone. It worked as a strong breakdown and what was needed to be said, should have been said before the long break. Sorrow Plagues is a rather difficult album to completely describe, as sometimes it wants to focus on guitar melodies, and others would have the guitars completely reduced to the background by the synths. The vocals are just kind of there. I really hate to say it, but they don't provide half as much intrigue as the rest of the package here, other than the fact of it being “Rah! Rah!” black metal. The blasts and the scowls are just a bit overused, with no real rhyme or reason. I understand what he's going for, but perhaps a little more than just blasts would suffice in the drum department. It's powerfully melodic and tear-jerking enough to move you for sure, but there's still a lot of work to be done here. Three EP's proceeded this record, but it's still a debut full-length and by no means a final exam. Lovejoy is young and he'll get better if he sticks with it. Still, I never thought that anything would remind me of some of the saddest music I've ever heard in my life, so that's saying something. On the plus side, at least Lovejoy decided not to howl like some kind of brain-dead werewolf, an approach that I'm more than tired of hearing from various depressive black metal artists. That's just enough for me to recommend it to you.

(7 Tracks, 40:00)

7/10

Sarke - Bogefod (2016)

The best way that I can describe Bogefod is “old black with gloss” as that's more or less what you'll be getting within the admittedly short thirty-five minutes of play time on this full-length. Oddly enough though, Bogefod feels like a full meal in itself, instead of just a snack. This fourth full-length from a project started by Sarke and Darkthrone's Nocturno Culto, it literally sounds like black metal should in the year 2016. There's an obvious raw warmth to the record, but it doesn't sound like it was recorded in some cave stuffed with pillows. I can discern the very Satyricon friendly riffs (which makes sense, as lead guitarist Steinar Gundersen is known for playing live Satyricon gigs) as a style that closely resembles what most of us wanted from that self-titled record soon begins to take shape here. There are some very peculiar moments though, like the folky beginning of what turns out to be an awesome black/doom number in “Barrow Of Tolov” as well as the operatic female vocal fronted acoustic, “Dawning” which will have many a black metal fan eagerly hitting the skip button as they wonder exactly as to what happened there. It's a nice piece, but it doesn't really belong on a black metal record, I think. Nevertheless, anyone who loved Satyricon's Volcano and Now, Diabolical! Albums should find something to like here. There's enough black n' roll and punk influences working their way into this to make it stand out, especially when the band decide to expand a little bit beyond the simplicity that can exist within this kind of black metal. Perhaps a few of these songs might be a little too short and don't allow the keyboards (played by Anders Hunstad) as much freedom as I'd like (especially when the sections that they are utilized in come out rather well in the mix) but there's no doubt in my mind that they're trying to attempt something new (check out the surf rock riffs in “Burn”) with this style and I hope it's not too long before we hear more of it. Bogefod sounds classic, but it still has enough modernism to see this frosty old genre taking a bold leap into the modern age. This is the sound of new black, or as I said – old black with gloss.

(9 Tracks, 35:00)

8/10

Sea - Self-Titled EP (2015)

If you've ever wondered what Chino Moreno might sound like in a doomy, sludgy post metal act, then this demo recording from Sea might be just up your alley. Despite it being a demo, it's actually quite audible and I can discern all the riffs quite well. It's certainly warm and fuzzy though, which is what we should expect from a band of this nature, demo or not. There's a harsh, bear-like growl used during the thunderous parts of the record, much as we might expect and if it had been something like that completely, I'd have probably thrown these guys over shoulder. But the thing is, there's such a cool and glassy texture to the Chino Moreno influence clean vocal style here that it all balances out. These guys also don't mind throwing in a couple of those old fashioned blues solos too, as well as some interesting instrumental atmospheres. It's not full of heavy drones, and instead feels like a post metal disc with hints of jazz and blues. With “Moros” though, you have a more aquatic nature, which might be why the band is called Sea. It ebbs and flows as it begins with some very angelic vocals and heads towards heavier territory which might have even had a slight tinge of black metal influence (as in, if you blink, you'll miss it.) I'm saying that I half-heard a tremolo riff here. I also heard some computer sounds towards the end of the piece. (Was I supposed to hear that?) In any case, what I've heard here has enough in the vein of clean vocal harmonies to really make some waves. It still has a lot of thunder, but could make it big in a commercial standpoint, especially that high note towards the end of “Chronos” where said singer is channeling his Freddie Mercury. It's a pretty interesting little effort in the end and I'd like to hear where this one goes in the future. Sea is really shaping up to be a memorable band.

(3 Tracks, 20:00)

7/10

Friday, March 25, 2016

Duck Hunters - Extinction Road (2015)

I like France's Duck Hunters for some odd reason and I can't quite tell you why. There was just something rough and sludgy about this thumping fuzzy rock that had me jamming from “Killer Croc” all of the way to the unexpectedly lengthy, “Hands Of Doom.” But it also might be that these guys love their blues and I can definitely get down with thick blues rock/metal stuff. To say that it was “really groovy” wouldn't be doing it justice, especially when these guys have their share of doom moments here and there, especially on the aforementioned closer. There are also some nice melodies intertwined here, which make the music a little more entertaining than some might think at first glance. The vocal approach might not sound that great at first, but Manu clearly has a lot of power in his lines and I can hear that. These guys also love their instrumental soundscapes, where they pump in psychedelic jam sessions, which go perfect with the grooves already featured on the disc.

Surprisingly, these songs are pretty thick too. I'm not just talking about grooves and doom riffs either. We've got that already, I'm talking about in terms of meat and texture. There are a lot of sections on cuts like “Last Broadcast” and “The Bill” which goes almost into prog rock territory. Duck Hunters might sound like a bunch of really thick stoner/doom rockers and they probably are, but there's still no denying that all of this comes off entirely listenable. As you can hear from the disc, these guys really put a lot of hard work into it and that also gives the listener a lot of unexpected surprises. “Killer Croc” is a great, catchy little song – but it doesn't even help to explain the whole album or what these guys are truly capable of. That being said, there is an odd little ditty called “Exile” which makes me think of an Irishman leaving his homeland as he tips his hat and walks off towards... well, England I guess. Do Irishmen tip their hats?

In any case, if you're adventurous enough for stoner/doom rock experiments, then you're really going to love this one. Lyrically it might not be quite as lighthearted as you'd expect, especially on “The Bill” which can get about as gritty as some of my lyrics can be. Sometimes you just have to sing what people need to hear, and not what they want. In my opinion, there's too many songs out there telling people what they want to hear as it is. Extinction Road is pretty powerful stuff and I definitely recommend it. This is one of those records that caught me by surprise and maybe it'll do the same to you. Great stuff, don't let it get buried under the sea of other releases.

(8 Tracks, 39:00)

8/10

Ripper - Experiment Of Existence (2016)

The Sophomore effort from these Chilean death/thrashers reminds me a hell of a lot of the bands that are referenced right here in the press release – Death, Slayer, Destruction. But we could also compare these guys to acts like Sarcofago and Destroyer 666 as well. This is definitely that old school kind of beatdown that you get when old school thrash mixes in with extreme metal, whether that be the black of Destroyer 666 or the black or Sarcofago. The record is just a little over forty-five minutes in length, but that to me is perfectly fine as we pretty much get the idea and don't need it dragged out. There's even an instrumental called “Anatomy Of The Galaxies” and a bass solo (Chromatic Fantasies) put in there to spice up the performance. These guys seem to have the technical thrash aspect down, as you're going to hear a lot of fast paced, almost speed metal riffing with Death friendly vocal abhorrences placed over the top of it.

Experiment Of Existence doesn't exactly beat around the bushes about what it is, but it is colorful enough to stand out among several similar thrash albums of it's ilk. These young dudes can play pretty damn well and I think that's the selling point here. It's definitely technical, it's definitely brackish and it offers plenty of bite. Perhaps they utilize a lot of the same style, but you can tell where the proggy influences come from and as I've said, it has enough teeth for the listener to see beyond that. If you're looking for a technical death/thrash record that sounds like it came out of the past, you'll really enjoy this one. I don't know how in the hell they can emulate the classic sound and production so well in Chile and other South American countries, but I'm really glad to see that it can be done, and with the same sense of firepower that these records had in their heyday.

Perhaps it's still a bit too simplistic for me (and I wish that I could hear some of the noodling a little better, it does get buried in the mix) and I wish they'd change the tempo from nine-hundred miles an hour to something a little bit slower, but I know that some people want the fastest stuff you can possibly imagine and you'll get that here – it's just a little brainier than similar acts offer. Certainly nothing to pass by at any rate, these guys have definite talent and I'm sure they'll only get better with time. Make sure you give it a listen, especially if you really dig the old sound. It's amazing that these guys can be so young, yet sound so classic.

(11 Tracks, 46:00)

7/10

Resurrection Kings - Self-Titled (2016)

There's a lot of people out there who say that rock is dead, and at sometimes you can get a little overwhelmed at the lack of rock rock guitars in mainstream music these days. Yet when I hear a record like this one from California's Resurrection Kings, I soon become aware that all that has been told to me is wrong, and that rock n' roll music is far from it's final days. The band is a project from Craig Goldy, who used to play guitar for Dio and also features Chad West (Foreigner, Bonham, Tree Of Gypsies) on vocals, Sean McNabb (Dokken, Quiet Riot) on bass and Vinnie Appice on drums. Resurrection Kings certainly seem to do just that with this self-titled effort, as they're literally bringing back the spirit of the eighties rock n' roll kings in a big way. I never tire of these classic rock acts, because it's a style that I find is almost infectious – songs like “Livin' Out Loud”, “Wash Away” and “Had Enough” are just a few of the awesome cuts you'll hear here, where big huge choruses are the main standpoint, coming in with as much force as one might expect from a guitar-powered steamroller of rockin' might.

While it's true that some of the younger generation out there might throw out the dreaded “dad rock” and “old man rock” terms, many of us know that this is the way the music used to sound, and because of the dedication to the craft, it still does. I still feel that there are a lot of people out there who would enjoy this music if they knew that it was still being made today! So maybe the electronic effects on “Fallin' For You” sound a little more modern than what we might have had back then, but you're still hit with pumping power chords, and one of the most awesome chorus lines I've heard in a while. It's pretty simple, but the way he belts it out – that's what really gets me. Then we have a simply awesome solo piece, as if the song couldn't ascend to any greater heights. That's the magic of real rock music, folks – it's certainly not lost on me.

Resurrection Kings is not the kind of record that requires about four or five paragraphs to describe, and I'm sure not going to break it down that way. Any fan of rock from early Bon Jovi to Aerosmith to Rainbow to Motley Crue to Whitesnake will find something to like here, and that's more than enough for me to recommend it to you. We have our ballad “Never Say Goodbye” of course, and several thumping tracks right on top of that, but the whole listen is ultimately solid and full of what I remember from the genre back when I was just a boy. There's a reason that I didn't become a hip hopper or whatever they call them, and I think it's because I discovered the magic of rock n' roll music at a young age. Revolution Kings are single-handedly bringing back that magic and really hope that people will check out this record and allow that awesomeness back into their life. The eighties are far from over as far as I'm concerned, and this album proves it.

(11 Tracks, 53:00)

8/10

Demonstealer - This Burden Is Mine (2016)

I think it would be best to consider this one man Indian project with guest drumming by George Kollias of Nile as something of a modern/melodic progressive death metal. I'd say this, because the vocal approach utilized here reminds me very much of early Shadows Fall and later Jungle Rot – it is very lightened in the growls, which leaves frontman Demonstealer (Reptilian Death, Demonic Resurrection) with a very small amount of pebbles in his mouth. As far as the riffs are concerned, the work is heavily melodic and quite technical, but seems to offer much in the vein of clean vocal elements, which are delivered beautifully. The disc has a decidedly raw production value, but is audible enough that such a thing won't matter. The clean vocals really try for Garm/ICS Vortex territory, but seldom every reach that level of intrigue. But you'd better get used to the cleans, as you'll be hearing far more of them then you will the death metal sections. Even so, there's an obvious effort being put into practice here and a definite sign of passion.

Here, you get that kind of raw passion and energy that can't be filled with high quality gloss. There are no special effects here to aid the vocals, they come off just as realistically as you'd expect for a live performance, and much of it sounds like it's coming from a band whose members are all playing in the same room. Sometimes we have keyboard atmospheres, which help the performance just a little and would probably be a greater asset if they could be heard a little better. But the very fact that these guys are definitely taking cues from acts like Borknagar and Edge Of Sanity says something. Sure, there's a definite modernism to these cuts as I explained with the Shadows Fall earlier, but Demonstealer have a lot more to offer than that and I think we'll hear an even greater effort the next time around.

This Burden Is Mine is an awfully heavy record, but it's also a rather classy and clean one as well. You'll get a beating, but you're also going to get a slew of wonderful serenades. I don't think they're on the level as the (now defunct) Disillusion (GER) debut, Back To Times Of Splendour but this is definitely in the same vein I think and could become something just as great with time. I hear loads of promise from a young band like this, and I hope that I'm completely blown away the next time around. Even so, I'd still recommend that you give this one a listen, as you might really be able to get into it and there's a lot of meat to chew on here in lieu of song structure and length (in which these gentlemen truly excel). It's still good metal.

(9 Tracks, 57:00)

7.5/10

Omnium Gatherum - Grey Heavens (2016)

I thought the last disc from these Finnish melodic death metallers, Beyond; was rather boring to be honest. I couldn't really get into it at all. Maybe there was a song or two that popped out in the mix, but nothing more than that. In fact, that record was so bad that I was ready to consider the band all washed up. They had only really made waves with New World Shadows as far as I was concerned, and nothing else had been all that entertaining. I wasn't even all that fond of The Redshift nor debut Spirits and August Light, which are both heavily praised by fans. (Although I will say that I liked Spirits and August Light much more than the former.) That was, until I heard this unexpectedly brilliant album, which is what I would consider a return to form in the vein of true melodic death metal and quite possibly, one of the band's greatest efforts. It's safe to say that Grey Heavens surprised me and even though Autothrall's lone review on Metal Archives seems to state it as rather bland, I should mention that he appears rather biased towards anything from these guys that isn't Spirits and August Light, including their highest rated release, New World Shadows (of which I mentioned earlier.) Everything that one might expect from high water marks efforts from bands in the vein of In Flames, Dark Tranquility and Insomnium are here for your enjoyment, and this return to the roots performance is what I feel I needed after suffering through that previous effort.

On the second listen, I don't feel that “The Pit” is nearly as strong as it was the first time I heard it. It comes in and delivers a rather solid job of melodeath that sounds pretty much like virtually anyone, with a growled vocal approach that is also common. But the keyboard work seems to really shine here, as well as the clean vocals when they finally come into the mix and update the approach a little bit from melodeath's heyday. “Skyline” changes the tempo to welcome grooves, maybe reminding me a little bit of In Flames' “Only For The Weak” and it's very similar. Folk influenced melodies seem to compose most of the chorus line, albeit the chorus itself is quite strong on a vocal end. That's indeed where it hits, just as hard as anything that early In Flames did when they were engineering this style. It feels like a tribute, but it's a good one. “Frontiers” is the single, which caught my ear immediately. It's arguably one of the best songs I've heard from the genre in years. The mix of technicality and gravelly vocal grunts seems to really work well, but I think that chorus riff is pretty damn amazing. It's a pretty simplistic set of leads, but it really fucking hits – keeping in mind how well they expand upon it. The song is also a bit heavier than you might expect, with a lot of effort being placed in kit destruction, regardless of the fact that those leads can sound like a dream. There's a bit of a break here too, right before a rather awesome solo section that I sure as hell wasn't expecting. The song was already good enough because of that catchy chorus lead, but throwing a solo on the end of it really sold it to me. I also need to mention how well this song is broken down near the end, they really hammer it down as the solo comes into top it off. There's really no need in the clean vocal section at the end though, it seems overkill.

“Majesty and Silence” is nearly nine minutes in length, but such a measure is used so that the band can really spread their wings and utilize more atmosphere. It's a crunchy piece, but it gives way to more colorful leads and acoustic elements, a little bit like they did with Beyond, but not as overbearing. It was also nice to hear that some of those minutes were given to a flurry of solo efforts, which always seem to fill out such a lengthy piece quite well. For a number that feels so dark, evil, and dare I even say grim; there's something really mushy on the inside that doesn't come off quite so expectable. Don't forget about the clean vocals and the post riffs. The last one we're going to delve through is “Rejuvenate!” which comes off as an equally rather colorful slice of melodic death metal, possibly a bit more colorful than some of the previous efforts have been. It's decent, has a short solo and leaves it's mark, but doesn't really seem quite as potent as “Frontiers” or the lengthy piece I just heard.

As we go further into the album, we'll hear a couple of other memorable pieces like “The Great Liberation” and the instrumental “These Grey Heavens” but I will say that during the second time around, I don't nearly feel as strongly about this record as I did the first time through. It's incredibly melodic and captures much of what traditional death metal is, and is supposed to be – but it doesn't really innovate as much as I thought it would. Yet I look at the band's past catalog and think to myself, “Should it?” There's absolutely nothing wrong with melodic death metal, nor what these guys have done here, yet I don't think it will stand out as one of the greatest melodic death metal albums in the history of man. I think they already achieved their best years ago with New World Shadows and would place this just behind that one, which says quite a lot about how much I still value this performance. As a longtime lover of melodeath, I don't feel that any listener of my ilk would be upset or disappointed by this album. Simply put, Grey Heavens does what a melodic death metal record is supposed to do. You shouldn't want anything more than that, and I don't think that I would ever expect anything more from these guys either. If nothing else, I think that Grey Heavens is a sign that Omnium Gatherum aren't ready to throw in the towel just yet and still have some tricks up their sleeves.

(10 Tracks, 56:00)

8.5/10

Morgue Supplier - Self-Titled (2016)

Chicago's Morgue Supplier features former members of Crematorium, but that's far in the past now. These guys have been together since '99 even though this is only their second album. You might be surprised to know that this is a side project of Drug Honkey, who band mastermind Paul Gillis also plays in. Along with World Of Sin's Eric Bauer and current bassist Steve Reichelt, these guys craft a mixture of death metal and grindcore that is the literal polar opposite of anything you'd find in the LSD trip gone wrong mixture of doom and death that is Drug Honkey. As a matter of fact, it more often than not feels like the auditory element of one getting beaten to a living pulp. The drums pound ferociously, even if the guitars have slowed down to an almost doom level and the vocals never seem to let up. There's definitely a bit of experimentation here and there as well, which keeps these fourteen pieces from becoming boring. Songs will range anywhere from a little over a minute to nearly five minutes in length, but the majority of the cuts here are close to a mere three minutes in length, which is pretty long for anything with the word “grindcore” in it's description box. This is the kind of grind that utilizes solos as well, but the record isn't really bombarded with any extra element other than the sheer brutality and vehemence that we might expect from such a punishing disc.

That being said, sometimes there's a lot of technicality, sometimes we get a few sections of doom atmosphere (like that of Drug Honkey, but not so psychedelic) and other times we just get unbridled mayhem. Morgue Supplier is the kind of record where riffs actually get the chance to stick out every now and again as well, so it doesn't always sound like a mass of monstrous mess. I can recall acts like Pig Destroyer when I hear this, and if you're a really big fan of those guys and similar, you're going to want to pick this one up. I'd definitely say that it's as good as Pig Destroyer record I've heard and like the aforementioned, it actually manages to do more with grind than just grind. Grind has always been a tough genre for me to get into, but certain bands manage to make it stand out, especially when they're adding new elements to the genre that make it worth listening to. That being said, there's really no black metal influence here (aside from some sections in the album closer) like you'll hear with another grind crossover act, Anaal Nathrakh. Though that's a good thing, as I wouldn't want a band like Morgue Supplier or even Pig Destroyer to traverse the same territory as their peers.

Morgue Supplier haven't released a full-length album since '04, which means that many have been waiting a long time for this one, but rest assured that your wait was worth it. I'm pretty sure that you'll end up playing this record more than just once and come back to it many times through, at least until they release another record. But let's give them some time, as this disc is more than good enough for me.

(14 Tracks, 40:00)

8/10

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Megascavenger - As Dystopia Beckons (2016)

Sweden's Megascavenger have returned with an oddity of a collaboration album, and I don't say that lightly. Nearly every song on the disc has a guest vocalist, even though Rogga Johansson is perfectly capable of doing this on his own as The Plateaus Of Leng displayed. Since there are so many collaborations here, it might be best to do a brief overview of the rather short (it's only half an hour), but intriguing experience. The first track, “Rotting Domain” features Fleshcrawl's Sven Gross in addition to what reminds me of a Fear Factory level of industrial death mayhem, just without the influence of clean vocals. Gross has a rather common vocal approach for death metal, which sounds like a veritable meat grinder of grain and gravel. Dave Ingram (Hail Of Bullets, Echelon) stops by for “The Machine That Turns Humans Into Slop” as we're introduced to the sounds of clanging anvils (more bands should really use the sound the sound of clanging anvils) as well as some samples. It's still death metal though, so don't let the electronic samples frighten you. Next we have Jocke Svensson (Entrails) taking the mic for “Dead City” which is actually a few seconds longer than most of the bite sized clusters of death that you'll find here. It doesn't really go too far out of it's territory and sounds just like a classic death metal disc. Aside from some slight electronic sections, it's another day at the office. Now the record might sound a little too basic aside from the industrial elements, at least for the first half – but I really like what was done with “As The Last Day Has Passed” which features Loch Vostok's Teddy Moller on vocals. But it's not the industrial element, or even Moller's vocal work (it is pretty great) that affects me, it's that damn sorrowful melody that plays throughout the whole thing. This is the kind of riff that we might expect from a band like Anathema or Katatonia, so it's interesting to hear it used here. It makes for a track that just isn't interested in sounding like many of the death metal sloggers on here, allowing for some needed variety.

The next cut “The Hell That Is This World” features Kam Lee (Mantas, The Grotesquery) on vocals, but oddly has more of an electronic influence than some of the other pieces have had. The electronic influence is very thick here, and a reverberating node seems to make up a large part of the performance as a whole. Electronic drumming opens up our next track, “Dead, Rotting and Exposed” by which Brynjar Helgetun (Crypticus) is featured. The industrial elements are pushed even further on this track, which is starting to make for a record that seems to be more industrial death than death metal, and that is fine with me. It's different, for starters. Sinister's Andrie Kloosterwaard is featured on the shortest track here, “Steel Through Flesh Extravaganza” which jumps from death metal into electronic drum and bass (DNB) territory rather quickly quickly. The final cut, “The Harrowing Of Hell” also features Kam Lee on vocals as a much different style of song approaches. This isn't death metal, it's a sort of industrial Goth metal that you wouldn't expect from Rogga or Lee. Some death metal fans will shit themselves over this in disgust, but chances are that if you've made it this far, you're going to accept this as well. Perhaps Lee's clean vocal approach isn't perfect, but it does manage to do what it set out to, regardless of what others will think. There's a long outro here in the form of the title track, but it's not really what you'd classify as a song. It's technically a revolting electronic atmosphere, replete with a demonic vocal that sounds like what a trash compactor might if it had been given sentience, fused with a horde of other appliances and decided to take out it's revenge against the humans.

Simply put, As Dystopia Beckons might not be Megascavenger's strongest record, but it shows more signs of experimentation, which even break the death metal barrier completely in some instances. It's definitely what I'd consider to be a decent performance, especially if you're looking for something that sounds both familiar and a little different than the majority of records you'll hear from the many guest vocalists and even Rogga himself. I'd recommend listening to a few tracks before you decide to pick it up, as the material here might not be as suitable for everyone and my colleague noted that he thought the album's production was quite raw and not to his liking. I didn't notice this issue personally, but you might, so I've included it in this review.

(9 Tracks, 31:00)

7/10

The Road Vikings - Requiem Of An Outlaw Biker (2016)

The Road Vikings are a crossbreed between metal and rock, but to me it just sounds like classic heavy metal and I love it. Coming straight out of California, (San Francisco to be precise) these guys have a hell of a lot of promise with this stunning sophomore album, which I'd recommend for fans of Judas Priest, especially when Tim “Ripper” Owens fronted them. Now there's also a hard rock semblance here, but it's nothing that I haven't heard on newer Priest records and is delivered with enough bite to matter. Seriously, these guys have got it and someone just needs to take note of that. Dan Bryant is the mastermind behind this project and he certainly can play just as well as he can sing (remember, he sounds like Ripper) which is why several of these cuts simply explode with frantic fretwork that you'll have to hear to believe. “Black Magic Knights”, “Full Moon” and personal favorite “I Burn In Hell” are examples of some of the best that this record has to offer and that's not just in the lieu of catchy choruses, which they all deliver pretty well on – it's also the song structure utilized, which you'll catch after listening to the disc for just a few minutes. As “I Burn In Hell” is literally the album opener, you're already going to bare witness to the sheer majesty of Bryant's playing skills, which are downright astounding and again, need to be taken note of. I don't care who you are, you can't tell me that this man can't play and exceptionally well. Not to mention that there are some keyboards and other things in the mix that bring a little bit of unexpected prog to the compositions and I'm certainly not going to turn that away if it'll put meat on the songs. I hate to say it, but not even Priest really delved into that territory as has been done here. Dan Bryant has been through literal hell trying to get a project off the ground, but with this one I dare say that he has has it.

I also need to mention that the thumping bass riffs here are performed by Lisa Tonra who also heads up the backing vocals. These can sometimes make for strong duets on a few pieces like “Live To Ride” and “Lovebound.” We also have Dave Dab on drums, who adds that extra punch to these performances and makes his presence known just as much as anyone else. I will say that there's a sort of oddball in “Headwind” which sounds a little less thunderous and more like the prog-rock of Hawkwind, than some of the more piss n' vinegar anthems you'll hear on the disc, but it was obvious something new that they wanted to try out and you'll either love or hate it. As I said, progressive rock is as much of an influence here as the crunching metal side of things and I think that you'll appreciate that just as much as I have. What's not to like about tracks with more to chew on than just a verse and a fucking chorus? But if that's not enough for you, then you'll need to listen to the harmonica shredding on the record's title track. I think it goes without saying that The Road Vikings are something that the world of rock and metal needs to keep it's eyes firmly glued on, and even though I wasn't expecting much at first, I soon became blown away beyond all logical expectation. The record is ten dollars on CD Baby, but you can pay a little more for a physical copy. Either way, these guys are well worth supporting and promoting. Requiem Of An Outlaw Biker has a real sense of purpose, and that's what makes it stand out among the rest of the pack.

(10 Tracks, 46:00)

8.5/10

Eldamar - The Force Of The Ancient Land (2016)

Fans of Summoning will want to pick up this debut from Norway's Eldamar almost immediately. Not only is it Tolkien inspired, but it is also atmospheric/ambient black metal by which a female vocalist (uncredited but used quite a bit, is it even a real woman?) performs a heavy degree of chanting/vocalizing amidst the hefty scowls of project mastermind Matthias Hemmingby. The production is especially misty, but feels quite cool due to the use of crystalline keyboard sections. It feels like there might be a real drum kit here, but I'm not real sure and technology is pretty awesome these days, so it's tough to tell. As you might expect, this is a very tough record to sort of walk you through as it doesn't really seem like it's about separate experiences at all. Rather I feel like this album is one large piece, in which several sections seem to comprise the whole.

There are however, a few lighter and atmospheric moments like “Travel In Woods” which reminds me a little of the fairy music from Link To The Past, as well as “Valkyrjur Ancient One” which reminds me of a climb up a frosty mountain. I can literally feel the chill of the wind on my back from listening to this (seriously, did it just get colder in here?) and feel that it captures the atmosphere perfectly. We also have “Galadwen The Eldar” which feels almost romantic in it's ethereal and majestic nature. That's just plain beautiful. Removing those though, we're left with a rather solid mix of raw black metal, female vocalizing (is she an effect?) and the same chilly keyboard pieces – which definitely work in the mix. It does really sound like Summoning if they came from Norway and I think they'd be flattered to see their style passed onto the next generation of musical performers. Once again, if you like Summoning and similar acts, you will definitely want to have a copy of The Force Of The Ancient Land in your collection.

(8 Tracks, 73:00)

8/10

Destroyer 666 - Wildfire (2016)

If you don't know who Destroyer 666 is, then you've got a hell of a lot of backtracking to do. Their newest album and first in quite a while, Wildfire pretty much sounds like metal at it's best. But hell, let's just call it what it is – the better than Venom, Venom. I've nothing against Venom, they're still a pretty solid band, but Destroyer 666 are doing everything with this little ditty that I've wanted to hear Venom do for years. Did you like Welcome To Hell and Black Metal as much as I did? (Truth be told, I actually like Welcome To Hell more than Black Metal) Well, then you're going to love this awesome band. Of course, you should know that already. Classic thrash riffs pervade throughout the piece, but with enough structure and firepower to separate them from more than ten-thousand Venom clones. Chances are that you don't just know about Destroyer 666 because they're a signed band, but because they're a legitimately awesome one. I've yet to hear a bad record from the band and Wildfire just works to capture the mix of black and thrash that they do best. Searing solos, threatening scowls, the heat and warmth of the eighties coupled with today's modern production – that's what you're getting here. If you love heavy metal, you're going to want this record. Note that I said heavy metal, not the more modern stuff – Wildfire sounds like the genre used to and that's more than enough reason for me to recommend it to you. Now there's nothing here that I would consider really unique, but there doesn't need to be. I really don't want Destroyer 666 to employ pan flutes, didgeridoos or untz untz electronics. That's never why I've liked them. You see, when I get a record from these guys, I know that I'm getting the best of two great genres, coupled together with enough patience and hard work to make waves.

Sit down and listen to these guitar compositions folks, this isn't just noodling for the sake of noodling. It's not just shredding for the sake of shredding. This is the kind of music that plays in the background of a huge metal battle, in which guitar-wielding iron knights battle horrendous demons for control of the world. This is the kind of music that you want to blast over the bumping Hip Hop music from the guy next to you, while you're waiting for the light to change. This is the kind of music that you blast while you're in the parking lot as all the regular people give you mean stares. When you see a bunch of the younger crowd blasting their core or alternative rock stuff out the windows, you blast this. It really does start a fire, and just keeps burning on and on without control. Is it even worth it to tell you how each track sounds here? Of course not. You know very well what you're getting from Destroyer 666 and they've done nothing more than improve on their awesomeness with yet another killer metal disc. There's nothing else that you could call these guys other than metal, and that's just fine with me. To be honest, this is the kind of record that Vinyl was made for. Perhaps you might want to get a record player just for the classic, old-school sound. If you've got one, then chances are that you've been blasting Wildfire for days now and don't need my reassurance to grab it. While it's true that some bands are hit or miss, and many bands have a hiccup every now and again, but I don't see anything like that happening to these guys anytime soon, which to me is definitely fucking awesome. Be sure to vote for Destroyer 666 this year, a name you can trust. It's too bad that they're not on the ballots.

(10 Tracks, 42:00)

9/10

FT-17 – Marcellin S'en Va-t'en Guerre (2016)

France's FT-17 really have a lot of promise. I guess we could call them war metal, but they don't really seem to stick to one basic thing. They're actually considered “melodic black metal” by the scribes over at Metal Archives, which I suppose sticks well enough, as we're definitely hearing colorful piano pieces as well heavily melodic riffs. The whole performance does feel very classical in a sense, which fits the source material of a school teacher who was drafted to serve as part of the military during the first World War. The record (English translated: Marcellin Goes To War) reads like his diary and is probably quite passionate, but I can't get over that part of the language barrier. As you might expect, the lyrics are all in the band's native so you would need some education in that department to understand them properly. Though I'd simply have it no other way. I feel that bands should be able to perform in their native and respect their mother tongue. Let us not lose that along the way. I feel that it is worth mentioning that FT-17 is made up of current members of depressive black metal outfit Ad Extirpenda, yet I much prefer this approach to that of the other band. What I really like about this record is that the disc sounds just as grim as you might expect it as Misein's vocals are just as raspy and full of venom as we'd imagine. Yet the duet of piano (yes, not a keyboard – they have a real piano player here by the name of Khorto) and guitar (performed by Hrothulf) truly work to provide a rather Gothic, or at least gloomy overtone that only comes up in the oddly rocking solo sections. Despite the record being rather depressing, these incredibly powerful solo sections feature nothing but some of the best noodling I've heard, even though their very presence is somewhat astounding for such a disc. But I'm certainly not going to knock a good solo – I never have.

The record is spaced with a few spoken word moments in which the diary is read. These add to the story, but won't do much for you if the language is in the way. Once again, that isn't a reason for you to not pick up this album and I'm quite surprised to see that no one else is promoting what I found to be quite an appealing piece of work. The disc is a bit raw, but it's the kind of raw we want. The piano pieces are well mixed, and don't feel forced by any means. I do think that listeners might be taken aback a bit by the use of female vocals in the album's closer, but it is 2016 and people need to start opening their minds a little more to unexpected approaches in their music. She certainly does a good job mixing with the band's style, but let us hope that FT-17 doesn't become more of a female-fronted symphonic metal act than the wonderful mix of dreary melodic black metal and classical piano that we have here. In any case, if you are looking for something different and perhaps with a bit more class and intelligence than you'll find in the devil worshiping antics of other black metal bands, I believe that you'll find something here in FT-17.

(11 Tracks, 43:00)

8/10

Mortiis - The Great Deceiver (2016)

Before we ask ourselves the simple question, “What in the hell has Mortiis done?” I think it's best that we should go back and analyze this album, as well as the processes leading up to it. Technically, The Great Deceiver is Mortiis' first release since '04's The Grudge. Metal Archives might tell you that the free album, Perfectly Defect was a full-length release, but that's actually not true. It was closer to an EP that served as promotion for this record. As a matter of fact, I remember getting a lot of promotional material for this record with that one, at the same time saying that it was due to come out the year after (which would have been 2011.) Well, something must have happened between the years 2011 and 2016 that stalled this thing, because it's about five years overdue and one of those records that we thought would never see the light of day. I was actually quite surprised to see it in a completed form, but that's still not saying much. A friend and Tower colleague introduced me to Mortiis back in '01 during The Smell Of Rain era, which I thought was remarkable. I also enjoyed The Grudge and was really getting into Mortiis' industrial era quite a bit. I even found some good material on Perfectly Defect. In any case, he happened to hear the record before me and thought that it was utter trash - basically a Ministry knock-off. I thought that at first when I heard “The Great Leap” but as I listen to this record again, I feel that maybe I needed to soak it in a little first. I'm noticing this introduction in particular to have more of that NIN feel that The Grudge had, rather than Ministry. Additionally, some of these songs don't even sound like Ministry nor Revolting Cocks nor Surgical Meth Machine material at all. If anything, they sound like NIN and The Grudge flavored Mortiis of '04. Not surprisingly, “The Ugly Truth” also seems to come off more like The Downward Spiral. As a matter of fact, I'm not really hearing anything here that really seems remotely like Ministry and even Mortiis' vocals remind me more of Trent Reznor than Al Jourgensen.

“Demons Are Back” of which there's a video for, actually caught my attention in the mix and on the second time through, I'll say that I like it quite a bit. I think it's a very good representation of the album as a whole. Next we have “Hard To Believe” where Mortiis actually decides to add some acoustic guitar influence into his industrial approach, which also works. The chorus is just as strong as anything I've heard on The Grudge and it does make a mark. “Road To Ruin” contains some odd filter effects on the vocals which I didn't care for in some areas, but I love the eighties industrial influence that he's pumped into this one. It would also take a while to soak in, but I think after a while I could come to accept it. It's certainly not a bad song and achieves what Mortiis has always done well. But we have to realize that this is post-The Grudge Mortiis and not The Smell Of Rain Mortiis, which were by and large different. Perhaps “Bleed Like You” is a little flimsy and doesn't really go as far as some of the other cuts, but maybe this could work better live as it is a high energy piece. There's passion in it, I can hear that from the vocals alone – but it doesn't come across well on the disc. “Scalding The Burnt” actually DOES have Ministry influence, which is definitely noticeable in the drumming, but it doesn't deliver nearly as well. I see what he's trying to do here and commend him for plugging into that approach, yet it doesn't seem quite as potent in a vocal sense. It just sort of falls flat and feels like gibberish.

“The Shining Lamp Of God” actually goes back to his more familiar industrial approach, where it really hits and extremely hard. Even though one might consider The Great Deceiver one of Mortiis' weaker moments as a whole, this is definitely one of his best songs. Again, I think a song like this could do rather well live and I'd hope that they do perform it in such a manner. It's also well-constructed as far as an electronic standpoint is concerned and I feel that fans of the style will appreciate that. “Sins Of Mine” is a little lighter piece, perhaps feeling a little bit like David Bowie or an electronic-era Billy Idol. There's a light vocal approach here, but I think that the main chorus piece of the song is oddly distorted and feels out of place. I think he was trying to distort this airy ballad like piece, which he certainly achieved even though it's certain that he completely ruined the main impact of the song altogether. “Feed The Greed” borrows a lot from NIN at their best, but I don't understand why he had such a long fade-in for the piece. It takes maybe about a minute and a half before the song even starts, to which it's rather strong, much like that of The Grudge. In fact, this song would be right at home on The Grudge. The last piece we have here is “Too Little Too Late” which observes a little more atmosphere amidst it's familiar style. It's nothing we haven't heard before, but the tweaks within it make it a little more interesting. It's a rather odd note to the end the album on though, but I guess it works as well as any other.

There's no doubt that Mortiis experimented far beyond what was necessary here, but the end result isn't quite as bad as I thought it would be, especially when a series of rather harsh text messages from my colleague seemed to consider this one of the worst records he's ever made. Even so, it's definitely not a complete wash as there are several songs that I think will grow on the industrial listener with time and a few more listens. The first time I listened to this record much of it fell into the background, failing to really come out to me. But that's because many of these tracks sounded a bit derivative of each other and it did feel in ways like a bit of an industrial mess. Yet as I've listened to it again with a greater focus put on the material, I have found a couple of tracks here that warrant it a little better than my original first impression. The Great Deceiver is a decent industrial disc that still achieves the same kinds of feelings we had with The Grudge and does feel like a slight evolution from that material. But I have a feeling that more material than just these twelve tracks was composed within the almost fifteen year waiting time between this album and The Grudge, so I think that we'll be hearing something else from Mortiis very soon. I also have a feeling that it might be a little bit different. There's no doubt in my mind that he wanted to get this material out as soon as possible, because he was more or less tired of it by now. I would've been as well. Though as to whether or not we'll get another album next year or a bit later, is still up in the air. Mortiis will surely release another when he feels up to it, and hopefully it will show a bit of a deviation from this The Grudge style material. I am quite sure that most other reviewers will say, “We've heard this stuff already on The Grudge” and yeah, they're right. We have. As to whether or not you should check it out, that is entirely up to you. I'd definitely listen to a few tracks first and get a taste for it, because it isn't something you can immediately soak in and will certainly take some time.

(12 Tracks, 57:00)

7/10

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Shroud Of Despondency - The Beast's Desire To Sacrifice (2015)

Though this record came out a little while ago, I'm kind of shocked as to it's existence. As you might remember, the band declared themselves dead after the release of their previous effort and apparent final release, Family Tomb. As you also may recall, I thought Family Tomb was a great send-off for the band and a surefire sign that they've left their mark. Nevertheless, the mere fact that The Beast's Desire To Sacrifice exists, says to me that these gentlemen clearly aren't ready to call it quits yet, nor should they. There's far too much damn talent here, just as this record displays rather well. Make no mistake about it, you're getting a black metal performance with elements of I guess one could say technicality and perhaps even a little bit of melodic death metal. It's just a hodgepodge of extreme, but feels a little closer to the source material. It also has a higher production quality than Family Tomb, which makes we wonder if the band literally recorded that record in such a lo-fi quality just for the heck of it. Even so, you're not getting another Family Tomb with this one. You're getting what I would consider the second step in that evolution. The Beast's Desire... is still Gothic, and it's keyboard usage is still as dreary and forlorn as we might expect. The drums still blast, the tremolos are still as frosty as ever and the vocals are still just as scathing as we'd expect them to be. There are even solo sections to be had, which as you know always work for me when done right. Now these are the kind of rock style solos that you might not expect to hear so much in black metal, but the fact of the matter is that the performance here never claimed to be purely anything and winds up instead being much better than a plethora of bands that would rather stick to one style. Shroud Of Despondency have never been a band to stick with one approach and it's kept their music from becoming stagnant. There are some death growls in use here every once in a while too, which gives us a little more than what could've been a very one-sided vocal approach. Even some clean and spoken word pieces appear on the album, as well as a short instrumental break called “The Hidden” which I'd consider a bit creepy. Keeping that in mind, there's also “To Get All I Need” which sounds like a completely different band altogether. As euphoric synths and piano excursions work to decorate various soundclips, we're definitely getting a taste of something that we surely wouldn't have heard on Family Tomb.

This kind of will to push further beyond the boundaries of what most people consider to be heavy metal, and what most people consider to appear on a heavy metal album is why I have an awful lot of respect for these guys. I have literally met people who feel that certain things should not appear on a heavy metal album, because they listen to heavy metal when they're expecting to hear something heavy. Their argument is that when they want to hear something that isn't heavy, they'll simply listen to another type of music. While that is all well and good, and perfectly acceptable; I still think that a musician should be free to write the kind of music that he wants to write, regardless of whether or not certain people will listen to it or consider it heavy metal. There's obviously enough black and death metal influence here to give the listener a pounding atmosphere, but it leaves room for tea; and In my opinion, there's always room for tea. A few alternate drum mixes comprise the bonus tracks for the album, but for the most part you are getting a memorable performance from Rory Heikkila and Ron Blemberg, just as we received on the previous outing and the one before that. As interesting as the Gust project is, I'm glad to see that these guys haven't closed the book on Shroud Of Despondency yet. I'd still consider this act far superior and can't wait to see what future efforts will bring.

(9 Tracks, 58:00 (Omitting Alternate Mixes)

9/10

Anger As Art - Ad Mortem Festanimus (2016)

These Californian thrashers, made up of current and former members of Bitch and Abattoir have released their fifth album here in Ad Mortem Festanimus. However, it would be wrong to consider them a mere thrash act, as there are elements of classic metal, doom and even some more extreme moments on display. You'll hear just what I'm talking about on the surprisingly punchy “Aim For The Heart” which features a serious of unexpected blasts from skinsman Rob Alaniz. Danny Oliverio's vocals also tend to go into what I would consider much fiercer territory for mere thrash, as his inhuman scowls seem to bring an almost death/thrash sensibility to it, making the band far more than a simple eighties throwback. When the thundering grooves kick in during “Tombward” an incredibly brackish performance is offered, which makes for a truly punishing listen that once again, is far more volatile than mere thrash. Truly, Anger As Art could be one of the few thrash acts that might find mass appeal beyond that of the mere thrash hordes who want the same old thing. As much as I love classic thrash done right, I also love it when bands explore beyond what is truly an aging form of music. We've done almost everything there is to do with thrash these days, so I feel that the polish and experimentation offered here is just what the doctor ordered to keep such an approach from becoming stagnant. Adding to that, we have the utterly explosive licks from Oliverio as well as Steve Gaines, who both manage to serenade us right into solo heaven. I mean, this is the way that thrash solos are supposed to sound.

This is all well and good until you realize that for the rest of the record, the band more or less want to thrash as they had been doing on the last one, which was only relatively decent. They still manage a proficient job, but it's nothing compared to the rush one gets with the scathing vocal punishment unleashed towards the beginning of the record. I was at first hearing something that almost reminded me of my favorite era of Testament, but that quickly turned into something that just sounded like regular old Testament, especially when the squeals come in. It sounds like one of these guys is being stepped on like a squeaky toy and that doesn't gel with me at all. I do realize that this kind of vocal approach was used a lot in early thrash, which is why I guess such a thing is lost on me. Oddly enough though, things change to material that reminds me a little bit of, well... Iron Maiden. Yeah, I was just as surprised as you will be when “Praise The Firehead” starts up and while Oliverio is no Bruce Dickinson, he still tries his best to deliver that kind of vocal power. It's actually quite potent, but I'm sure some thrash fans will scratch their heads a bit as they wonder what this segue into classic heavy metal is doing on a “thrash” disc. It's a very good piece though and I certainly wouldn't kick it out of bed. Once again, they're experimenting and I think that's a good thing. If you don't like it, you can always skip it.

Following that, we have Castlevania style organs and neoclassicism that works to introduce a closer entitled “Dim Carcosa” that sounds like it doesn't even belong on this record. There's almost a power/thrash sense on here and to be honest, I'd rather hear this than those four or five basic thrashers in the middle of the album. I really like this change of pace right towards the end, and while some might throw up the “OMG, this band is fucking confused!” card (waiting on you, Autothrall) I'm just glad that I didn't have to suffer through a regular old thrash album. In conclusion, I'm quite pleased with Ad Mortem Festanimus and would recommend it to fans of not only thrash, but several other genres as well. There's a lot to chew on here, but I'm hoping that the next one will showcase even more of the band's abilities. They're only getting better with each record, which is definitely a good thing.

(11 Tracks, 48:00)

8/10

Toothgrinder - Nocturnal Masquerade (2016)

Fans of more modern acts like that of Killswitch Engage, The Dillinger Escape Plan, early Mastodon and Slipknot will find something here in Toothgrinder, which seems to put several of those bands in a blender and regurgitate out absurdly thick grooves, harsh vocal bites and an embrace of slight technical experimentation. These New Jersey natives actually consider themselves progressive metal, but it's quite clear that we're not talking about Fate's Warning or Dream Theater with such a nuanced and sludgy sound as I'm hearing here. It's not that what they play is “sludge” but it just feels very dirty. There are some clean cuts here like the ballad “I Lie In Rain” which could end up on the radio, but you're being mainly pummeled with technicality and djent influence on pieces like “The House (That Fear Built)” and “Blue.” Even some guitar solos appear on a record of this nature, which you wouldn't expect for a disc of it's type. I know that a lot of people will hear this disc and feel that the band aren't really covering anything new, but when I hear it, I sense some promise in the fact that perhaps a band of this type can actually transcend well beyond their peers. I feel though, that I would love to hear more of that progressive sense and not quite so much brawn for the sake of brawn. It's true that I expect metal to be heavy, but I feel that there's almost two mediums here – a fist to the face, or a radio rock sound with heavy moments, ala Five Finger Death Punch. I will say that I would much rather listen to a record like this over that of FFDP, but I can't really see too many extreme metalheads getting into it, honestly. Nevertheless, I feel that the disc is a step in the right direction, at least for the most part. Nocturnal Masquerade is chunky, dirty and sometimes even pretty damn catchy. It's the perfect recipe for accessibility, which I'd rather have covered in New Noise instead of a smaller format like here. But with a band as commercially viable as this one, there's no doubt in my mind that they're getting plenty of recognition for this performance. While it does have that “bro” vibe, there's enough staying power here to warrant several listens. It just depends on your tastes, and if you can deal with each song being relatively bite-sized. Toothgrinder have promise, but they could be so much more.

(12 Tracks, 43:00)

7/10

Maximum The Hormone - Mimi Kajiru EP (2016)

Mimi Kajiru is a mere EP from the Japanese experimentalists, who seem to mix together elements of everything from punk to Nu-Metal to djent and a lot of other things. They're not as obscure as they used to be, especially since performing for the first time in the US during last year's Knotfest event. These songs also incorporate J-Rock as expected, as well as some silliness. There's a lot of silliness utilized here on the vocals, almost the kind of thing that you'd expect from Mike Patton. This time around, these guys really tend to love their punk, which you'll hear utilized just as much as the heavier Nu-Metal sections, where the harsh vocals appear. In a song from Maximum The Hormone, it's not too out of character for a track to turn from a happy punk anthem to something that sounds like thundering metallic mayhem. Think Dir En Grey a little, perhaps towards their earlier era. It's obvious that they were having a lot of fun with this one and it feels like a good snack in between their last record and a possible upcoming release. There's just twenty minutes of music here, but between the many different shades of music the listener will digest, it's going to sound a lot longer. Unexpected things like the telephone message and the children's choir appear on this record as well, making for an even more random sense of things. It's not my favorite of their releases, but it's certainly not bad for an EP and gets surprisingly heavy during some sections. But you can't expect any one thing from Maximum The Hormone, nor would we ever want that. It's obvious that fans of Slipknot and their style would certainly find something in the down-tuned riffs and vocal delivery laden within these tracks, but they'll be forced to open up their palette to new ideas of which they might not be keen to at first - especially with all the roaring punk influence. I'd say to give it a shot if you can find it, because it is worth a listen or two. But they've delivered better in the past and will no doubt deliver even better in the future.

(7 Tracks, 20:00)

7/10

Steve Roach - Emotions Revealed (2016)

Atmosphere legend Steve Roach has never been one to sit on his laurels, and yet another one of his magnificent soundscapes is here in the form of this two track recording. Technically, it consists of pieces dating all of the way back to the eighties, and was previously lost. There wasn't even a name on the tape! But due to the magic of technology, these old recordings sound as if they'd been made just a few months ago. That being said, both pieces will require a large degree of observation, such as I will offer here. The first piece is the title track, which is composed of two separate pieces. A basic piece composes the background, whilst something that I would almost liken to a sort of guitar seems to go off in several directions throughout the mix. The reverberation in the simplistic foreground piece seems to serve as a sort of conscious conductor, which seems to hold more of my attention than the artistic wizzums of which I'm being exposed to in the background. But it oddly enough works, because of it's mantric nature. It's like clockwork and feels almost mechanic, yet in an ethereal sense of things. As the piece continues, the background gets a bit louder and mixes in with the foreground mantra, making something that sounds just like we'd expect from Steve Roach. The piece fades out rather quietly, yet still retains it's machine-like atmosphere up until the end.

The next piece we have is called “Firelight” and it's by and large different. Whereas the title cut was very artistic and moving, this piece feels like a trip of sorts. Though we're first assaulted by a rather grim sort of notion, the piece does lighten up a little to a sound which doesn't even feel natural. It feels inhuman, like something completely not of this world. The piece is not overbearing, it feels almost non-existent and almost like the mere ebb and flow of a galaxy. I believe I've heard similar approaches in a visual novel or computer game, especially the very deep ones, where such a piece might benefit the story. There's something ancient, powerful and removed from our world that exists within this piece. It drones for a bit, albeit in a pleasing way, until it finally explodes into what I can describe as a burst of color, where it finally explodes and fades out like a dead star... which still manages to glimmer brightly a few more times before it finally flickers out. All in all, you're getting two drastically different pieces from Roach, which embody everything we've come to expect from him. They're definitely worth your attention and the price of the journey.

(2 Tracks, 51:00)

8/10

Siegelord - Ascent Of The Fallen (2016)

Ohio's Siegelord, mostly made up of former members of Winterhymn, play a version of melodic death metal with a heavy dose of synths. It's Viking inspired, maybe a little like Amon Amarth though closer to their early era material. I also think it has a little more depth to it than some of Amon Amarth's recent material has had. These guys just don't jump to a chorus and reiterate it twenty times through, they actually give the music a chance to breathe and offer song structure, rather than pure filler. Let's face it, Johan Hegg can write lyrics about baking a cake, as long as he can cap it with a catchy chorus. Well, you don't find that with Siegelord. Sometimes these guys won't even utilize a chorus if they don't need to. Again, we get atmospheres and great vocal performances partnered with potent and memorable melodies. When I listen to Ascent Of The Fallen, I find that I enjoy certain sections of each piece rather than just a chorus number. I try to utilize the same thing in my own band and show that yes, you don't need a good chorus to sell a song.

One complaint that I have with Siegelord though, is that some of the keyboard sections are just a little too low in the mix. I can see that they're trying, but the guitars and vocals really drown those almost completely out. There also aren't a lot of solo sections here, sans maybe a couple of tracks. But that's a pretty minor complaint, especially when the band is opting for more structure and less choral filler. They also seem to prioritize spoken word sections quite a bit, which will either enhance or kill the performance, depending on the listener. Additionally, Ascent Of The Fallen also contains a few instrumental synth pieces, which add a bit more depth to the recording. Considering that this is the band's first release after only being together for three years, I'm quite impressed with the amount of skill and the level of musicianship put on display here. It's surprisingly well-crafted and caught my ear within the first listen. To say that there's promise here is a mere understatement. I have a feeling that only the best is yet to come from these guys, as they only get better with more time and exploration. Could we really be looking at the next Amon Amarth, Graveworm or Wintersun? Perhaps. But I'll leave that for you to decide.

(12 Tracks, 62:00)

8.5/10

Friday, March 11, 2016

Rotting Christ - Rituals (2016)

Well, looks like Rotting Christ are back at it again with one of their more controversial efforts yet. It's definitely not for everyone, but their fans seem to love it. I actually checked the comments for the band's Facebook post announcing the new album and found that sixty people were at least very thrilled and enjoyed the record. Yet in black metal groups, there were more than a few that seemed very disappointed, calling the record “the worst they've ever done” while others remarked that they wouldn't listen to the band past the first two albums (in trve black metal elitist style, of course) anyway and had no interest to begin with. So as you can see, opinions for this record have been heavily skewed. But why such a huge deviation of opinion? That's quite simple. Rotting Christ this time, decided to make a record that sounds, well... a little bit like a ritual. Not even a little bit. The entire album sounds like one huge ritual to achieve something by which I hope was a definite success. Could the album have been a sort of hypersigil of sorts? Well, yeah – probably. But I wouldn't think to call it something of a hypersigil unless you're dealing with new school occult terms. In the old school of magickal thought, I guess I could consider this all some sort of large incantation. Like an extremely large and intricate spell, which when listened to many times over by many people, allows such a form of thought-matter to gain energy. But what are these guys using it for? That, I cannot really be sure of. Obviously the lyrical content is heavily inspired by that of Satan, Lucifer, Old Scratch – you know the deal. It almost sounds like they've taken a trip back to 1993 with that line of material, which I thought they had graduated from when they began talking about ancient alien gods with 2007's Theogonia. That to me was a bit more interesting than the tired old egregore that I feel is used far too much in this genre of music.

We begin with “In Nomine Dei Nostri” which begins with chants, lightens up with drums and and becomes something of an epic scale. The chants you hear are something of a chorus, which to some might sound like the beginning of a song that never took off. But to me, it sounds quite complete and ends out with what I thought were some of the only memorable leads during the first listen. The track also features George Zacharopoulos (Necromantia, Principality Of Hell, ex-Thou Art Lord) on guest vocals. “Ze Nigmar” comes next with a much slower atmosphere, and it certainly works well with the ritual nature of the piece. It almost has a thick doom feeling, which is accented by the chants. Next came the single “Elthe Kyrie” which included the female vocal rantings that I couldn't get into at all on my first listen. I actually felt that is was the absolute worst thing I've ever heard from Rotting Christ and on this second listen, I still can't get above her quick vocal rantings. It's performed in the native Greek too, which is quite literally all Greek to me. There's a chorus line here as well, but the female vocal rantings just make this one very hard for me to approach. It's an experiment, sure. But it's just not the kind that I feel gels all that well. “Les Litanies De Satan” (Hmm, I wonder who that could be about?) actually manages to bite a little along with guest vocals from Samael's Vorph, while “Apage Satana” is more or less a traditional tribal ritual with strong mantric chants. A guitar comes in later, but the track does sort of seem more like an intro piece than anything else. I didn't even notice it the first time.

“Tou Thanatou” punches things up a little bit, adding bagpipes along with quickening drums and more chants. There's also a guitar solo here, which is the first one I've really heard on the disc. I'll also mention that the leads here are especially strong as Sakis shows that he's still got the chops, regardless of the obvious musical change. Now “For A Voice Like Thunder” surprisingly features Nick Holmes of UK Legends, Paradise Lost. It's also one of the strongest tracks on this whole fucking record in my opinion, and has an almost doom tone that reminds so much of the Rotting Christ of the nineties, back when they were making records like A Dead Poem. Holmes vocal performance here is masterful, whether he's doing the narration or filling in with a harsher vocal style, making for one of the best songs I've ever heard from the band, hands down. This alone shows that they haven't forgotten those old doom days and it was also one of the pieces in particular that stood out to me the most on the first listen. But after that, it just went kind of back to the background, unfortunately. “Konx Om Pax” starts out convincingly enough with earth-shattering doom riffs, but then it quickly goes back to Themis's pounding and a very familiar style of riff melody that I've been hearing for I'd say a good thirty minutes now. “Devadevam” features Rudra bassist Kathir on vocals, where he performs a much different approach than we might expect for what seems a very deep moment in the ritual. His chants work perfectly here, bringing something of an otherworldly and deeply spiritual sense to the record. It's pretty awesome, to be honest. The disc ends with “The Four Horsemen” which has a buildup of highs and lows, ultimately culminating in the choral moment. This piece becomes so majestic that it ends the record on a very strong note, leaving no real need for mention of the Aphrodite's Child cover that I have here as a bonus track. That particular piece, here entitled “Lok'tar Ogar” seems alright enough, with it's strongest point being in the horrifyingly demonic vocal approach. Sakis sounds unbelievably inhuman here, but the backing section is just one constant riff repetition, so it's ultimately a bit stale in that regard. You don't really need it to complete the experience I feel, but major fans will want to own it just because.

At the end of the day, while I don't think Rituals to be their most memorable experience, it's definitely not a terrible album as a whole. There are some strong moments here and some notable guests. I've obviously named what I feel is the strongest track on the record and hopefully they'll shift the gears a little more in that direction with the follow-up. I don't feel that it's as strong as the last one (and neither does Metal Archives) but it's worth a listen nonetheless. I just don't think you'll be playing it as much as some of their older albums.

(11 Tracks, 53:00)

7/10

Pil & Bue - Forget The Past, Let's Worry About The Future (2016)

This Norwegian duo (Bow & Arrow in English, just in case you were wondering) have been making a real mark in their native country, earning some high spots on the charts as well as loads of radio play. Their single “You Win Again” was also used in a cult film by the name of Dead Snow 2 (I haven't seen the first yet, but it's a Norwegian zombie-flick) so as you can see, they've really got something to offer. After having listened to this record, I'll have to agree. It was in my “Promise Pool” folder for a while before I was commissioned for it, so it's now been bumped up for a review now – and that's a good thing. Because now I remember just how great it is.

The press release says that these guys take from acts like Placebo, Deftones, current Anathema and The Mars Volta (even though I've always hated the vocalist from that act, I love the vocals here) and I can definitely tell. You also might be able to compare them slightly to acts like Tool/A Perfect Circle and Karnivool, as well as Chevelle in some instances. But what we're looking at is a mix of progressive and hard rock music, which has to be no doubt shortened for radio play, especially when the only song on the record that would fit the standard length of "3:30" is “Nevermind” coming in at a little over three minutes, even though you could probably squeeze the chorus heavy opener “No Is The Answer” or “Shakkakakka” down to fit the radio limit as well. These guys really want their songs to breathe, and they do – because you're utterly hit with mounds of atmosphere which in itself seems to contain just a little hint of post-metal. But there's no core, djent or anything really gimmicky to be found here. The record comes off as really memorable progressive hard rock. Now, I'm sure that a few people won't be able to stomach Petter Carlson's vocal approach as it's very glassy and fragile enough to shatter, but those same people probably couldn't get into Chino Moreno's clean tones in Deftones (no pun intended) for the same reason. It's actually a pretty short disc, all things considered – but it's the kind of disc where I think every song stands out in some way or another.

Forget The Past... can sometimes seem like a complete atmosphere, and it's essentially very chilly with slightly warm moments offered within the heat of the guitars. They believe in spontaneity, which I can kind of hear in this record, but there's also a definite choral formula to some of these tracks that make them complete earworms. I think “Afterlife” sees the duo at their most dynamic, as this artistic soundscape finally reaches it's denouement in the form of a post-rocker that really shows their power. They literally ended the disc with a track that doesn't just come right out and deliver the goods, you have to work for it a little bit and the end result is brilliant. If you're looking for an atmospheric hard rock act that you're going to remember a little bit more than some of the other stuff on the radio, then you can't go wrong here.

(6 Tracks, 30:00)

9/10