Thursday, May 26, 2016

Fifth To Infinity - Obscure Transdimensional Soulfire (2015)

Formed in Stockholm back in 1997, this Swedish black/death act have apparently only released one album. What they were doing for the past couple of decades remains a mystery, but as of 2015 they released this groundbreaking release of which I am just now hearing via promo. These guys are on Avantgarde records, which also houses our spotlight album this year from Dagian and have since become a banner of quality in my eyes. Now the record didn't really sell me from “Reapers Wake” but when the tremendous thumping groove riffs of “Masters Unbound” came into view, I was taken from the first listen. It's quite interesting to me that Secrets Of The Moon are also tagged on the band's page, because there's a great deal to this record that reminds me of earlier Secrets Of The Moon, right before the change of style they pursued in last year's Sun. I wasn't the biggest fan of Sun despite the occasional couple of tracks, so it's quite natural that I'd look for a damn replacement for that style. Fifth To Infinity definitely seem to fill that void for me, with a definite reminder of albums like Carved In Stigmata Wounds, Privilegivm and my all-time favorite, Seven Bells. Even hearing something remotely like Seven Bells is cause for celebration in my eyes, especially when Fifth To Infinity sound like they've taken that hevaily ritualistic style of black death and made it their own.

What you might find rather interesting about this act are the players in it. For one, we've got the almighty Martin Lopez (Soen, Ex-Eternal, Ex-Amon Amarth hasn't sounded good since, Ex-Opeth might never sound that good again) on drums, along with Nader Jonas Reslan on guitars and vocals (ex-Vinterkrig – Martin Lopez was also in this band at one point) as well as David Lidh on bass, which is suprisingly loud and prominent on this record. Omnipotent Transdimensional Soulfire is the kind of record that revels in a sea of downtuned bass chugs, making them quite fearsome and less groovy, which is something I expect for a black metal record reviewed on The Grim Tower. Reslan's vocals are pleasingly volatile, with a mix between a growl and a rasp that sounds nearly threatening, matching the bleak and mystical presence of the music. If this is a magical ritual of some sort, than it definitely of the bleakest and most potent kind, truly usurping brighter efforts in the might of it's overbearing viscosity.

Perhaps certain sections of leads might become buried (Death Shall Wake Us All) within the weight of Lidh's bass riffs, but you can't deny that this record carries a sort of gelatinous evil with it, the kind that would eat a man alive in it's acidic grasp. The disc also has a long staying power and truly seems like the result of several decades of work. But if you're going to be around for more than twenty years and only release one record, then it had better be a great one. Thankfully it is, even beating Dark Funeral at their own game in this reviewer's opinion. A lot of times it does seem (and I'm borrowing from Alice Cooper here) that a lot of these black metal bands are trying to one-up one each other and see how evil that can be. While Cooper might find that silly, I find it quite interesting. I'm always ready and waiting to hear how evil an act can sound, and if they've managed to make a truly forlorn, hopeless and decidedly grim release. As long as I've been listening to this kind of music I think I've gotten the feel for how evil a record should sound, as well as for what makes a record seem evil. These gentlemen have the right idea as far as that as concerned, and if you're looking for something truly terrifying, you've come to the right place.

Depending on your listening methods, some of the leads will come out a little better than others (I remember the opening leads on “Secrets Of The Bottom” coming out much better in the mix on my headphones than here on my laptop speakers) and the device you listen to this record on can ultimately affect your enjoyment of it quite a bit. Having accidentally hit the play button twice on a few songs (I was moving appliances while listening to this one) I definitely got more of a taste for this disc than several others I listened to that day. But I didn't mind, as I was really enjoying this disc and to listen to the same song two and three times that day was certainly not an issue.

I feel that this trio completed something that should stand the test of time if enough people can get their ears on it and it doesn't fade away in the dark. It's just too damned good to get neglected in my opinion and I'd really like to hear the trio release another one if at all possible. There's even a shout out to the King Diamond style vocal approach here, so you'll need to pay attention for that. It's pretty easy for me to say that Omnipotent Transdimensional Soulfire is yet another one of my favorite releases this year (or should I say last year?) as with so many others. People who still complain that there isn't any good metal out there anymore (and yes, I hear so many comments like this online) really need to have their ears checked, because I've already highlighted three truly powerful albums this week alone, with more to come I'm quite sure. Being that I'm quite attached to this one, I'd certainly recommend it to you as well. This is black metal the way that I've always loved it, and I hope that you'll find something dark, fearsome and evil within this listen as well. If it doesn't make the hair crawl on the back of your neck, it's just not evil enough. That's what Fifth To Infinity manage to do here and I'm ever thankful for it.

(9 Tracks, 55:00)

9/10

Frozen Ocean - The Prowess Of Dormition (2016)

As I received this promo back in 2015, it had gotten dumped because there was no way at that point that I could review any more 2015 releases. These things happen, but due to his work being on a Groupees bundle, Russian multi-instrumentalist and project mastermind Vaarwel asked me to try to dig it out from the dump and review it. (He also requested Wormed, so that is featured this week as well.) So I have done that, and might I say, it's a good thing that I did. The artist's first release with Apocalyptic Witchcraft, this physical only release seems to combine his love of traditional melodic black metal with that of his more electronic and keyboard influenced work. But let's be honest, there's a bit more to it than that.

Let's take a trip through each of these four pieces, starting with the opener, “No Blizzard.” We're greeted by familiar tremolos, which certainly verge on the icy and feel worthy of the name Frozen Ocean. Vaarwel's gruff vocal approach comes in, sounding closer to death metal than black metal, but it fits the tone of the music perfectly and brings about a sense of sorrow that is even greater accentuated by the keyboard generated icicles. I like that it enters a jaunty little electronic section, which I found awesome. The next track, “Once Aglow” jumps right into sorrow, where I often find my muse in Torii. I'm reminded of Agalloch or Woods Of Ypres in the piece, which really seems to pile on the despair and makes me smile with glee. The vocal approach is still quite gruff, but it fits so well with the music here that I'm quite satisfied. There's a certain sadness here that the listener can feel and will appreciate. That being said, there's a great deal of black metal spirit here as well. It's not funerary black metal in the howls and nonsense, but it feels a bit more matured and natural. I can sense the depression, it doesn't feel like a joke.

Then we have “Det Siste Snofallet” which is an instrumental, but such a powerful piece that vocals were forming in my head just listening to it. As I've been doing this sort of thing for a long time, that just happens sometimes. I guess it's easy to say that the piece spoke to me. It definitely pays a sort of tribute to the Norwegian scene, with a nearly mantric tremolo that I can't get out of my head and have a million things to bellow forth as I listen. I've listened to this piece at least three times so far and it's definitely my favorite on a short disc with so many strong numbers. I only find myself a bit confused as to why there weren't any vocals, especially when they'd have had such a presence here. After that impressive piece, we have the finale in the album's title track. Carrying on much of the same feel as the rest of the disc, it's great to hear some vocal element fronting the tremolos again. Vaarwel knows his way around a melody, as is not only demonstrated by the composition (these are excellent) but also the vocal flow. Once again, this feels more like a funereal sort of death metal with black metal influence, but I'll most certainly allow that, just as much as I'll allow the laser lights that pop in so unexpectedly. If anyone can make a form of extreme metal that you can actually dance to a little bit, it's this guy.

The record could be a bit longer I feel, but I'm most certainly not upset with it. It feels like a good appetizer for what will be an even larger offering next time around. If you're a fan of depressingly melodic stuff that you can sometimes dance to, please give this one a listen. Frozen Ocean is a real trailblazer in the scene, trying out new things that most people would never think to do for some ridiculous reasons mostly harboring in the realm of elitism. It is 2016 and evolution needs to occur in heavy metal music, which is what acts like Frozen Ocean are certainly attempting with efforts like this one. Though it is just an EP, it is definitely worth a listen and I mean that. As I said, it inspired me and I didn't even see that coming!

(4 Tracks, 24:00)

9/10

The Lion's Daughter - Existence Is Horror (2016)

It's very difficult to get around the three word bands these days, as many of the poppier and trendier acts are using three word monikers and in the process turning off metal fans. It's become a sort of tag, telling listeners “you'd better be careful with that act as it has three words in it's name” but sometimes that isn't the case. Trust me, I felt that I was in for the same mediocre vapor music when I looked at the name of this Missouri based progressive blackened/sludge metal act, but it seems that that was certainly not the case or I wouldn't have spent my time reviewing them. A three-piece made up of Erik Ramsier on drums, Scott Fogelbach (Bastard) on guitars and bass and frontman Rick Giordano (Ssothm) on guitars and vocals, these guys sound like what would happen if members of Dark Funeral and Marduk got in a fight with EyeHateGod, Between The Buried and Me and early Mastodon. Most commonly compared to another great US act by the name of Coffinworm, these guys certainly provide both chilling and extremely dirty atmospheres. Check out the riff oddities that appear right in the middle of “Nothing Lies Ahead” and you'll see a band that's not afraid to experiment as electronic static somehow finds it's way into the mix as well.

Giordano doesn't use a scowl or anything even close, instead preferring a brutal man growl, which sounds kind of like a bear bellowing because it's been caught in a trap. Though I'd simply expect nothing more from such a sludgy and quite intuitive act as this one, where the tremolos one hears are often accented by dark progressions that one might not expect (thus where I get the BTBAM influence) right before taking us right into Mayhem friendly territory, because why in the hell not? It's 2016 and if these guys don't want to have boundaries, then we won't give them any boundaries to play by.

For some of you, this style might prove too much as it is more experimenting and sludge madness than actual blast beats and tremolo riffs, but it allows the band to stand out a bit more than if they had just been black metal and sludge period. As a matter of fact, it says to me, “hey, someone's actually going to remember The Lion's Daughter because they stand out.” Take for instance the nearly clean shouts of “Four Flies” where it seems like Giordano is trying his very best not to go full clean and might try that on the next record. Even so, that would not be a detriment to me. Why hold yourself back? You've already kicked yourselves firmly out of the black/sludge corner and are moving into something a bit more interesting. Even Metal Archives seems to think so, with a 90% so far for the entirety of the record proving that The Grim Lord knows what the fuck he's talking about when it comes to these reviews and if I could, I'd split myself into four identical versions of myself, each with a laptop and the rest of the albums I couldn't cover.

Digging through all these can be an absolute nightmare, but when you find an act like The Lion's Daughter that really seems to make their presence known, you know that you're doing the right thing in this industry. I feel it's almost unfair to completely explain such a textured and volatile release as this one, but I can say that whatever experimental sludge record it is that you're listening to right now, I can guarantee you that this one's better. Season Of Mist signed these guys for good reason, and I really hope that enough people get their hands on an act like this as they should. To me, The Lion's Daughter sounds like sludge metal evolved into something far more intellectual and unique, rather than just dirt for dirt's sake.

Existence Is Horror is the kind of record I'd nearly bathe in, but I just don't quite have the time to give such an enthralling listen as much time as it truly deserves. This is an act I'd love to see live and I'd hope they head by my neck of the woods soon (and I can actually get to the venue as well) so that I can see this experimental black/sludge mindfuck in action. If you're sick of a lot of the same old things when it comes to metal and are looking for a crushing album that still speaks to you on some otherworldly conscious level, you might want to pick this one up. It's been out for a while now, but that's no excuse to pass it by if you're a fan of this stuff.

(10 Tracks, 40:00)

9/10

Serenity - Codex Atlanticus (2016)

With their fifth studio release, Austria's Serenity prove that heavy metal still excels greatly from the Germanic continent. It's no surprise as to why this latest effort scored a whopping 94% over at Metal Archives and currently stands as the quartet's best record in their lengthy discography. The band have been around since 2001, consisting of Andreas Schipflinger on both drums and vocals, Georg Neuhauser on primary vocals, Fabio D'Amore (Pathosray, ex-Mirrormaze) on bass and backing vocals, and the newly recruited Cris Tian (ex-Visions Of Atlantis, one might think that his moniker here is an anagram) on guitars. When I hear a band like this, I think of the symphonic power metal of acts like Kamelot, Sonata Artica, Evergrey and Nightwish and to me, that's a great feeling. There are parts of this album that remind me of classic Kamelot at their very best, and if for some reason you don't like the new version of that act (even though I feel that current frontman Tommy Karevik is just as potent as Roy Khan ever was) you'll find what you missed in Serenity. Though he's just joined, Cris Tian really seems to show his strengths on the disc along with Luki Knoebl's orchestrations, which combined with Fabio D'Amore's hefty bass riffs definitely give me that feeling of Once era Nightwish.

Codex Atlanticus is a heavy record, but it's full to the brim with pomp and mostly delivers in several piles of sing-along choruses. When you're buying Codex Atlantica, you're buying a record that you can sing at the top of your lungs to while you're driving down the road after getting home from the late shift. The disc will undoubtedly turn your vehicle into what sounds like a full orchestra, and despite whether these songs are hard-edged like “Sprouts Of Terror” or a bit more balladic like “My Final Chapter” you'll certainly have a lot of fun with it. There's even some Queen influence rolling into “The Perfect Woman” which I didn't expect to hear at all, even though it's certainly refreshing. I feel that nearly every operatic act owes their existence to Queen and hearing such a tribute like this seems quite fitting. Neuhauser is by no means a Freddie Mercury, but that man's voice has scientifically been considered something quite unique and I certainly would never make a comparison.

Most of all, Codex Atlanticus is quite uplifting for a heavy metal album and I think it's important to have discs like this that offer hope in such a bleak world as ours. Make sure that you pick it up if you haven't, as I'm sure you'll be quite impressed by what has been composed and what comes across as catchy as popcorn and hot sauce. (Trust me, try it.) As of late, the band seem to taking a very religious tone with the lyrical content here, but I don't feel that's a detraction for me as you may have even noticed me giving good marks to Stryper. I don't really feel that lyrical content has ever affected a record's score unless it is just poorly written and forgettable. The listener gets a lot of heavy metal and pomp, along with a wonderful vocal performance that also features guest spots by Amanda Somerville (Trillium) as well as Jan Vack (Serious Black) and others. When you purchase the limited version of the disc, you'll get two extra tracks as well as an orchestral piece. It should be sold out by now, but you might still get lucky.

In any case, this is one that I'd certainly recommend in the very bombastic synth/power/prog genre and you need to get your hands on it as soon as you can. It's definitely worth a listen. As I said, it seems to be the band's greatest record to date and you're truly going to love it.

(11 Tracks, 52:00)

9/10

Wormed - Krighsu (2016)

Spanish technical BDM maestros Wormed have returned with a new record three years after the release of 2013's devastatingly awesome Exodromos. Though the record is pretty short for a full length, (it's only about thirty-four minutes) it seems to offer everything that Wormed fans have come to expect from the quintet. Aside from new drummer G-Calero (Genotype) we have Guillemoth on bass (Human Mincer) as well as guitarists J Oliver (Unsane Crisis, ex-Hybrid) and Migueloud (Human Mincer, ex-Hybrid) which deliver much of the same technical onslaught as the previous records. Vocals are still handled by Phlegeton (Banished From Inferno, Unsane Crisis, Wrong, Human Mincer) and sound just as ferocious as they've ever been... like a frightening sort of space vaccum.There's seldom a silent moment on the disc and when one is uttered, it is usually in the form of a slight atmospheric piece that never even approaches the two-minute mark. Normally these might come across as a bit of a hurdle for some listeners, because god forbid there's a break in the mayhem; but on a release like this that is quite short and mostly atmospheric (I'll explain that in a second) I don't feel there's any real issue with these two differentiations amongst a disc with eight tracks of blaring, blistering and nearly incoherent but tatically composed death metal.

Wormed are definitely death metal and they've not changed here. There's no clean vocals, clean melodies or any such thing that you might consider vacant of filth here, regardless of the fact that frontman Phlegeton's vocal approach is still quite comparable to that of the Hoover vacuum that I used just last weekend, while giving the dungeon a well-needed clean. (I was afraid that I was going to have to be fighting off creatures in here!) Though as I mentioned, Wormed have an odd way of creating an atmosphere within what can seem like an obscure mixture of BDM and slam. Since these guys utilize quite a bit of technical riffing throughout the disc, it definitely packs more than just a punch as I almost find myself taken completely into these harsh intergalactic landscapes by which the band illustrate. Most consider Wormed one of the very best acts in the brutal death genre and they're a celebrated act by one of our tower colleagues. He absolutely loves these guys, and more than likely considers this record another good offering. But therein lies my issue. As much as I loved Exodromos, that might be because it was the first time I've ever heard this style and really appreciated it there. Krighsu feels like an extension of that record, except with a couple more slam portions which I certainly won't knock – after all, that's what fans of this genre love. It just doesn't feel like anything all that new to me, and doesn't really evolve the style in any way, shape or form. What I'm hearing here is no different than Exodromos, but that's certainly not a problem.

The disc offers a sense of unweilding brutality, savagery, devastation and whatever other words you'd like to use to categorize the material that these insane and intelligent (read: lyrical content) Spaniards are capable of devising. It's a record that can seem far longer than it actually is, which I think is a good thing for the BDM fan that wants to blast it as loud as can be and get what they feel is their money's worth. Just because the listen isn't all that lengthy in the realms of what humans would consider time, doesn't mean that you're being shortchanged for half a record or such nonsense. It's still well worth your time and investment, especially if you really love this kind of metallic approach. As with most of the disc, I sort of zoned out to it aside from a chugging piece by the name of “Zeroth Energy Graviton” which brought in a different feel than the record had prior. I feel that with most of these BDM albums, you can really sort of get absorbed into them where it's not so much about the brutality as it is the abrasive atmosphere and that's what I felt most. There are no guitar solos to speak of nor are there any sparkling leads that appear in the mix. The disc is especially drum heavy, with G-Calero really bringing a storm down on the kit that you're going to feel for a very long time to come. To some, Krighsu might sound like complete and utter noise – a vacuum cleaner doing battle with a passing eighteen-wheeler. To others, it might even sound like a battle to the death. It certainly captures the same feel of acts like Cryptopsy, Artificial Brain and 7.H. Target among others, and brings a bit more brain to the brawn.

Wormed aren't going to win any awards for this and it's certainly nothing unlike they've performed in the past. But fans know and fans will buy. If you're a fan of the above and you still haven't heard these guys, then maybe it's time to go out there and purchase all three discs in order to get the full experience. It's a good thing to see that Wormed decided to stick around after a rather lengthy hiatus to give us more than just one new offering, regardless of the three-year wait in between. Whether you love it or think it's the most unruly racket you've ever heard, Wormed are a true example of the extremely extreme. Very few bands even come close.

(10 Tracks, 34:00)

8/10

Hordak - Padre (2016)

Though their name was taken from a famous villain in the He-Man universe, these Spaniards have been since crafting a style of Celtic influenced pagan metal that they would consider very close to the Viking scenes of Scandinavia. Pagan metal has it's way of spreading throughout the world, as some people just seem to prefer the ancient archetypes to the more modern ideal and that's perfectly fine with me. Utilizing many of the same folk-influenced structures that bands like Moonsorrow, Einherjar, Enslaved, Forefather Helrunar and many others have adapted into their music, this five-piece is definitely blazing a trail for the scene in their respective country. I wouldn't have expected to hear much metal in this style from Spain, but things have a way of changing greatly with the passing of time. Padre is by no means the band's first album either, as they've been active since 2002 and have released three records prior to this one. I can't say much for those as I've apparently been hiding under a rock, but as far as Padre is concerned, this is definitely a great interpretation of the genre. The production might be slightly rough, but the acoustics shine rather brightly in the mix and definitely allow some light to come through in the midst of what can sound rather dark and frostbitten. The band is composed of a whopping three guitarists, which consist of Winter (ex-Folkearth), Autumn who also performs the rasps (Last Deception, ex-Folkearth) and L. Mansilla (Last Deception, Gotteron.) We also have A. Mansilla on bass (Frozen Dawn, all the other bands that these guys play in, ex-Folkearth) as well as J. Sierra on drums (Last Deception, ex-Folkearth, ex-Dawn Of Tears) rounding out the act. As you can see, many of these guys play in other bands together, so that might be another reason for the long wait, as they were simply working in other acts. That being said, this lineup hasn't changed since 2011's Under The Sign Of Wilderness, so if you enjoyed that one, you're hearing the same guys go at it once again. That being said, it's been a five-year gap in between this record and the last, so fans should definitely though that from what I've heard here, that time spent patiently waiting was not in vain.

Aside from the frostbitten folk metal tremolos, blazing drums and cheery acoustics, we also have some absolutely killer and somewhat out of place guitar solo efforts. As there are three guitarists, this makes a lot of sense, and I do feel that in most heavy metal acts a great solo can really bring out the best in your work. They've got the formula down as you'll hear here, and it sounds like a lot of work went into this composition. Perhaps “Sol” kind of sits there as a break from all the heaviness, but aside from that lighter number the band basically perform a very traditional form of black/Viking metal that truly embraces the black metal side of the performance. Sometimes the raspy scowls are accented to bring an even fiercer tone to them, which reminds me heavily of Bathory and even classic Burzum. You also have these rock n' roll solos in place that as I've said, spice things up a bit and really show that these guys are in love with traditional heavy metal just as much as classic blackened folk metal. I don't know about you, but tacking on a wonderful solo effort like the one they've used on “Eklepsis – Devourer Of Gods” and “Soaring” for example, are just the kinds of things that really get me interested in a band. I love leads, I love melodies, but I love to hear when bands really go out there and add such an uncommon element to the genre as of late in there, which is what the listener gets here. I should also add that Sig Ar Tyr did the same thing with their latest album Northern, which basically says to me that more bands are finding interest in spicing up their classic Viking anthems with a little bit of old school heavy metal. It doesn't hurt, and truly manages to make what already comes off as a great album, even better. When you hear the acoustic backed narration from guest Wulfstan on “Bloodline Of The Wolves” you'll get even more into the spirit of the material. In addition to the metallic instruments, we also will hear familiar bagpipes and flutes, truly bringing what I'd consider a real Viking metal experience form a place that you might not have expected. The Spanish metal scene can truly shine with an act like Hordak, who despite their rather odd moniker, show that they can successfully craft a brilliant and almost uplifting style of Viking battle anthems that I surely couldn't forget. Maybe you're not a fan of all the solos, but I'd simply have it no other way. If these guys are going to continue to beef up the genre in such a memorable style as they have here, then I'd wish them only the best of luck (which I'd wish them anyway) and hopefully we can hear an even more bombastic effort next time. Even though to be honest, this record is plenty good enough that they can rest on their laurels for a bit before rolling out another one, or work on other material in the numerous other acts in which they comprise. In other words, you've done a great job, men! Now you can go out there and kick some ass live before jumping back into what I'm sure will be great albums in other styles of heavy metal music. If you love the sound of classic Viking metal, you really can't go wrong with this one. I don't review the genre much, but seldom do I get an approach as noteworthy as this one. Go out and get it, it's been out for a while now!

(10 Tracks, 49:00)

8/10

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Schammasch - Triangle (2016)

Swiss avantgarde black metallers Schammasch have returned with their third full length, which actually comes packed with three discs this time around, making me think that the next release will have four and the one after five. I say this because the band's first album was just one disc, with the sophomore being two and this one being as I've stated. There are some of you that may have seen these guys get rather upset with me last time in the form of a comment on our domain site, but that was removed by some means of which I am not sure (and certainly did not ask for.) This is because I was quite an inflamed conspiracy nut back then and had tied much of this to the mysterious conspiratorial buzzword “Illuminati.” These days I hold a slightly different worldview and understand the occult nature of this act a bit differently. Some acts do the whole occult thing for an image, but these guys are very deep into it and I have no idea how far that goes into the private lives. In any case, Schammasch is something of a ritual and that's quite clearly seen here. Just in the first ten minutes of this listen I'm definitely getting that French occult black metal feel, albeit with obvious Behemoth-influenced death metal drumming and an approach that doesn't come off as a scowl, but a bit of an angered roar. Chris S.R. (ex-Totenwinter) handles the vocals and guitars, reminding me a lot of Nergal albeit with a very dark croon that sounds like it could find a place in Tiamat or Type O Negative. The minute I heard this vocal touch first used, I noticed an evolution in the band and I hope that maybe these guys will veer off into a little bit of Goth rock as he definitely has the voice for it. “In Dialogue With Death” is the main track to where this really comes right out to me and shows that the act have a lot more promise to be had than what was merely showcased on Contradiction.

Since there are three discs here, we will obviously talk a little about each of them and I've already delved a bit into the heaviest disc first, as that's the one that metal fans will want to hear. But is this completely metal, or is it something else? There's obviously a lot of weight here, as well as a great deal of brackish firepower, but the fact of the matter is that these gentlemen are crafting multi-layered songs and are more concerned with creating art than just music. Yes, you'll bang your head, but you'll find the listen fascinating as well. It almost begins to feel like one song, as M.A.'s solo piece on “Diluculum” sounds like it belongs tied with “In Dialogue With Death.” Don't expect much from the first disc, because it is only about EP length, but that's not a real issue as there's enough meat here to sell the Deathspell Omega worship and vere away from the slight core influences by which this band have almost completely shed. If you heard any core on that first disc, please let me know as I surely didn't and I think the band are much better for it. In other words, if you've put these guys aside for awhile because of their other works, it might now be time to pick them up. Prosthetic have dealt with a lot of core acts in the past, I am aware of their past just as much as the rest of you – but please believe me when I say that the label are transcending their core worship and have really cemented that with Schammasch. In just a little more than thirty minutes, these guys have offered a lot more depth than what I get from similar occult acts, which I feel makes them well worth checking out merely from the first part of the listen.

The second disc here takes us down a much different path and lends more into ritualism. Aside from some droning doom riffs, “The World Destroyed By Water” even features some unexpected industrial elements that I didn't notice the first time around. Boris A.W. (Cold Cell) does occasionally kick up the drums a little, but the listen almost brings us into something not unlike a more metallic Dead Can Dance. “Satori” is a ritual, which is apparent from the second I listen to it. It features a mantra which is repeated nearly in a fashion similar to Gregorian chants. That becomes even further relevant when the music is removed completely, leaving only Chris's vocals as the focal point. It almost becomes meditative at this point, even though we haven't even gotten to the real meditation. “Metanoia” is probably one of my favorite songs on the album, wherein a clean vocal fronts a blasting drum kit. Chris has the vocals to do this perfectly, and it feels pretty goddamned surreal. Chris and M.A. (Blutmond) truly deliver here, as these melodies really help to broaden and expand these powerfully ritualistic pieces even more. It's not just here, if you've noticed – they've been working very hard to turn the guitar into something of an ethereal instrument by which more than metal can be observed. If we continue to observe the former, we'll find that it has almost gone completely into synths, which feel deep and yes, meditative. Yet again, we haven't even reached the meditation yet. Next we have “Above The Stars Of God” which begins with a rock influenced guitar solo section that doesn't even sound a bit like black metal, and I can honestly say that I accept that wholeheartedly. I like the melody that M.A. plays with here while the vocal chants are being utilized, and it's quite catchy save for the fact that it ends and become a very difficult to hear series of spoken word sections. Maybe they went a bit too far here? In any case, the final vocal moment of the piece is uttered in a short acoustic piece called “Conclusion.” Spoken word decorates this, but no catchy clean vocal sections. Instead we're brought some very powerful leads and solos by which are a good note to end the experience.

Though we're not finished yet, as one more disc remains in this listen. This, is the meditation. Do not expect to hear any fiery guitars, blastic drums, vocals or metal on this one. It's a atmospheric meditation by which some metal fans will either love or loathe, depending on their tastes. You must leave your elitism at the door if you choose to traverse this record, as it's very much like the material I cover from Malignant Records (who just sent me two records in the mail today, as a matter of fact.) Most of the tracks here will either feature industrial synths or tribal chants with both male and female vocals. I am not sure if any of any of the band members are chanting here, but I can assure you that nothing here is metal, though it is highly deep meditative trance that fans of Dead Can Dance's more upbeat material will love. It's the kind of tribal atmopshere that you can dance to when things aren't quite so droning and cold, mixing two different soundscapes together in a very weird and difficult to understand manner. We do hear some electric guitar and Chris's vocals on album closer “Empyrean” which comes with a spoken vocal section and an ending chant that I feel I can discern much easier. It's quite deep, very spiritual and may put some people off – but that's fine, as not all art is meant for all ears. I quite enjoy it and I feel that you will too. The riff melodies are nothing special, they are meant as mantric as the trance and it's more about creating a soundscape in which to escape, rather than a catchy little song that you can raise your fist to. I don't feel that anything here will really come across in that fashion, as Schammasch have never been that kind of band. The lyrics here are very personal, transformational and without a doubt, ritualistic in a way that you only have to hear to believe. I feel that Triangle is a big step over Contradiction, and feel that whatever these gentlemen deliver in the future after this one will be by and large different. I feel that I'm ready for anything else that Schammasch will have to offer and would definitely consider it one of the best releases of the year. The listener gets three sides of the band, one of which no one ever saw coming. That's worth your hard-earned money, folks.

(16 Tracks, 103:00)

9/10

Erik Wollo - Visions (2016 Compilation)

For those of you who don't know much about him, Erik Wollo is a Norwegian composer who has been composing soundscapes all of his life. If you'll give his Wikipedia page a look, you'll be astounded by just how many recordings he has released in their “selected discography” which means that there is actually much more to be had. Here especially is a good introduction to his pieces, a collection released earlier this year by Projekt. As I love to do, let's take these song by song and try to convey the emotions displayed throughout each piece. As Wollo is most known for his electronic and ambient soundscapes, it seems perfect that the almost aquatic “Echotides No. 4” would start us off. It starts out rather light, like a flowing stream, but builds pressure as it increases to include a bit more activity and perhaps even a bit of a dancey vibe. It's very meditative however, but not so slow that I would recommend it for something of an astral projection attempt. “Revealed In Time” comes next, and it feels a bit eighties. That's fine with me, being a lover of that New Wave style. This feels like it could actually be used in a game title theme at first, perhaps during some silent story cutscenes. Like it's predecessor, it increases to add more activity an becomes quite dancey. It still seems like it could be the theme for a science fiction game or visual novel, and I've heard similar approaches there. It's pretty unreal, to be honest and I'm quite carried away by it. It certainly feels like it could introduce or illustrate something, which makes it an electronic soundscape with added weight. What the piece would introduce is up to people who are not I, but I do know that I'd love to hear as the soundtrack for an electronic medium in the future. It's beautiful. “Gateway” makes me think of being on the bridge of a ship, often reminding me of the soundtrack used in a space-themed RPG. It fits too, and you won't believe how well. It definitely feels trippy, but it also has a definite metallic vibe (as in steel, not heavy metal – I just didn't want to say industrial) and also features a guitar (also, not comparing it to heavy metal music.) This piece only reminds me of some of the best atmosphere music I've heard in games, and I'm sure there will be lovers of that kind of music more than eager to buy this record just for the first three I've mentioned. “Visions” brings back that aquatic feel (and there's still a guitar to be had here) which really makes it trip-worthy. This is the kind of track you'd want to listen to if you were looking for a good atmopshere while reading something very out there, perhaps as an instrumental backing to a muted film (not surprisingly, Wollo has provided many soundtracks to various films and documentaries around the world.) Like all of the others, it is a piece that I could listen to several times and not get tired of.

Now when we get to the second half of the disc, we'll experience “The Native Chant” which begins with an actual chant and then seems to go into the underground of some odd planet, or maybe I'm thinking of the quirkiness of the Earthbound soundtrack. As the piece changes, it adopts a bit more bumpiness, which makes it a bit dancey. Again, this is still a very slow and meditative track, which isn't the kind that one could properly cut a rug to. Perhaps this is more of a slow tribal dance, which I'm quite sure a few people have attempted whilst listening to the piece. “Misty Blue” features a bit of mystical whirring, some guitar and playful electronic beats that seem to make me think a little of Zeal from Chrono Trigger. You just sort of imagine the piece illustrating this massive floating island landmass, and you can sort of visualize that in your head. There are people on the island, and they live in these spectacular looking buildings, walking about their day as they work and toil in a realm that just seems incredible. The next piece we have is a remix of “Within These Walls” which has a bit of a saventies flair, with added guitar for good measure. I'm not real sure what the original sounded like, but I definitely like this remixed version and Wollo obviously thought it was better, which is why it is here instead of the original piece. I cannot stress how much lovers of atmospheric game music will enjoy these pieces. The final piece on this record is that of “Airborne 2” which starts out very misty. It later incorporates small crystalline melodies and eventually grows more upbeat as the listen continues.

It's pretty easy to see why Erik Wollo is such an accomplished composer, as with just an hour's worth of selected material, we're delighted by what we've heard and I'm quite sold on the man's ability. I've loved Steve Roach's work for years, but I really seem to enjoy Wollo's on a different level. As I said, these pieces sound like they could illustrate something and I can just picture the electronic mediums in which I'd hear them in. For the last time, if you love some of the electronic soundscapes used in video games today, you'll absolutely love this collection and undoubtedly much of his other work. I'm really quite surprised to see that in several decades of gaming, Wollo hasn't ever had a part in it. That could be due to personal choice, but I could definitely see a few games out there that would have greatly benefit from his work. Some developers can make great games with subpar soundtracks, and something like this could really, really help their causes. If you're new to his music, please pick up this compilation and experience these very catchy soundscapes for yourself. It's just a compilation, but I love it.

(8 Tracks, 49:00)

9/10

Dark Funeral - Where Shadows Forever Reign (2016)

Here we have the almighty Dark Funeral, a name well known in the realms of black metal. We can easily put them alongside acts like Darkthrone, Emperor and classic Burzum. Needless to say, this marks their sixth full-length release and first album in nearly two decades. Only Lord Ahriman remains as the only original member of the band, but guitarist Chaq Mol (Mordchrist) and drummer Dominator (Eldkraft, The Wretched End) both continue from Angelus Exuro Pro Eternus (2009). New to the band is Heljarmadr (Andreas Vingback) who you might also remember from Cursed 13, Domgard and a few others. He has a very common approach for the genre, sounding not unlike Dimmu Borgir's Shagrath and sometimes almost completely like him. This might be a turn-off for some fans as it might feel like Shagrath is in Dark Funeral now, but I can say that if this is what you think of the new Dark Funeral album; then it's definitely the most black metal disc that Dimmu Borgir have released in a while.

As far as these songs are concerned, it is very true to form and we're getting loads of frostbitten melodies, making for an atmosphere that comes off equally grim and positively chilling. Where Shadows Forever Reign reminds me of the days when black metal was still scary, and not a corpse-painted gimmick, which I feel is necessary for a genre that is dwindling in it's traditional format. Some might still say that this record is too produced, and doesn't feel as raw as the classics, but it is no longer '96 and in 2016, this seems a natural transformation. No one is forcing you to listen to it, but if you do decide to leave your corpse-painted elitism at that door, you'll find what I consider to be a very solid and well-meant black metal. Does it sound perfect? No. Will it reinvigorate the genre? Probably not. But what it will do, is to bring the sound of classic black metal screaming into the modern age. Dark Funeral have certainly not given into trends, making for a record that still feels very much like what we'd expect for them, or any classic black metal band. The blasts and tremolos that you were looking for are here, and for that you should be thankful. These guys could have went in so many different directions, but the fact that they at least tried their best to stick to their roots is something that I feel is going to appeal to fans most.

I'm not sure how Dark Funeral fans are going to take this one and I don't think that it will be a record that they'll play as much as some of the earlier and more treasured releases in the band's catalog, but it's definitely not a wash for me and I definitely don't mind listening to it. Perhaps there might be a few new things tried here and there, but this is a new age and thus, a new Dark Funeral. Take it or leave it, as they could have made a far worse recording than this and it's a good start for as long an absence as they've taken. I can't tell you what kind of direction they're going to go to with the next album, but if you're looking for something more traditional in terms of black metal, then you'll like what has been offered here.

(9 Tracks, 45:00)

8/10

Hatebreed - The Concrete Confessional (2016)

Whether you call them Hardcore or what the kids term “power violence” Hatebreed have always been a favorite act of mine. Compared to their previous albums, The Concrete Confessional sees the band going in hard and fast, like a loaded burrito from Taco Bell. Additionally, most of the songs on this record aren't even so much as three minutes long, with “Something's Off” being the longest at nearly four minutes in length. As a fan of these guys for several years, I can definitely say that this is a return to their burly hardcore roots and these songs are filled with enough angst and protein powder to put a foot right through your front door, and a fist-shaped bullet right to your face. Most of the lyrical content is quite empowering, much like the kind of music you'd want to listen to in order to prepare you for a fight. Jamey Jasta really tears through these pieces, whether they're fast-paced or stew in their anger and you really don't need me to tell you that. If you think that for some reason Hatebreed have slipped a little and wished that they'd go back to their ass-kicking hardcore anthems, then The Concrete Confessional is for you. I wouldn't consider this disc a very metal-influenced one like some of their past discs, but it seems like it was time to bring us back to Satisfaction Is The Death Of Desire or Perseverance. To be honest, this record reminds me a lot of Perseverance, which is where I cut my teeth on these guys and “I Will Be Heard” in particular. I don't think there's anything that catchy on here save for maybe “Looking Down The Barrel Of Tomorrow” or “Something's Off” which actually uses some clean vocal influence. There's not much in the way of guitar solos here either, but most hardcore fans won't care one way or the other. The disc is positively fucking brutal and full of the harsh lyrical content and vocal delivery that Jamey Jasta has always been known for. The disc is only about thirty minutes long, but it packs a punch that hits so hard you'll feel it for days to come. Trust me, when you spin this one once, it won't be the last time. With tracks like “A.D.”, “The Apex Within” and “Serve Your Masters” it's definitely the kind of record that I feel is filled with positive messages of enlightening rebellion. The Concrete Confessional is very definition of hardcore and a great representation of the genre in 2016. Definitely give it a listen.

(13 Tracks, 33:00)

8/10

Entropia - Ufonaut (2016)

Of the several acts with the name Entropia out there, (I found about seven on Metal Archives) this Polish five-piece creates a style of music that is considered “black/sludge/post” even though I'd certainly throw in experimental and electronic. With the exception of guitarist Kuba Colta, these guys have been together since the very beginnings back in 2007. Most interestingly about the band is their use of both a keyboardist (Damian Dudek) as well as a sampler (Michal Dziedzic) that makes for a pretty interesting mix of progressive sludge riffs and slightly spacial electronic elements. Sometimes the bass (Marek Cenkar) and strong drumming (Patryk Budzowski) can completely drown out the electronic elements, but that's to be expected with a sound as thick as the one I'm witnessing here. Entropia utilize vocals (Cenkar and Dziedzic) but they're often not necessary as this is the kind of record that is so textually superior that it doesn't even need working verses or a chorus. Ufonaut is an experiment in the very sense of the word, it is an atmosphere and it draws you in fairly quickly from it's out of the box and rather bizarre approach to something that I can't even call black metal. Other than Budzowski's occasional use of blast beats, there's very little here that I can even consider to be black metal – at all. I mean, if you're hearing black metal in some areas, that's fine; but I feel that with this release the act have become something far more than just black metal. There are very few acts that I just want to sit down and enjoy on a musical level like these gentlemen have delivered, and even if some of the leads and electronic bits have a rough time peering out from the thick sludge of it all, I still want to open my ears up to what I can discern as a rather potent and memorable sound. Why no one else really gave a damn about this one, I'll never know. I guess there were other things going on in January, like best of lists and whatnot.

That being said, anyone who purchases this record is in for a trip. It might sound cruel that I could literally care less about the vocal or lyrical element of this album, but I just consider Cenkar's screams to be part of the music and they don't have any bearing on the rest of the performance. Even when these guys utilize djent riffs I don't feel that I mind, because they're actually using the riffs in a style that focuses on more than just those damn riffs. Again, I feel that these guys have a few mixing issues but it could very well be my laptop speakers and you might be able to discern other things on your first listen. Ufonaut is definitely the kind of listen that I'd want to experience more than once, and at forty-three minutes you're not really devoting an awful lot of your time to it. Just don't go expecting anything familiar in terms of classic black metal and you'll be alright. I did hear some tremolos here and there and felt some nihilism in the vocals, but I wouldn't compare this to anyone else out there in the black metal scene. With some exceptions, I still stand behind my earlier observations and feel that it is very hard to consider an act like Entropia to be black metal unless they're trying very hard for that style. It's a shame that this one had to wait for so long, but I mean to cover as many of the older releases that stood out as I can. It's quite obvious that Entropia did and I'm really not in a hurry for them to release another one. They don't really have anything else that they need to prove after this sophomore and I think you'll agree that the material here on Ufonaut is good enough. Entropia are a good band and this a good album. That's a pretty simplistic description, but the album itself is most certainly not. Please give it a listen and experience it for yourself. I really hope that this one isn't too hard to find, considering that there are so many bands with similar monikers. Perhaps these Polish mad scientists will one day become the definitive version of that moniker, as this record definitely feels promising enough for them to do so.

(7 Tracks, 43:00)

8/10

High Priest Of Saturn - Sons of Earth and Sky (2016)

A four-piece mix of doom and heavy, psychedelic rock from Norway; this release marks the quintet's second since their demo in 2011. “Aeolian Dunes” comes on pretty thick right from the start with it's obvious Sabbath influence, but then Martin Sivertsen (guitars) and Ole Kristian Malmedal (keyboards) take it right into proggy Pinky Floyd territory, where trippy whirls, light keys and soft guitar nodes make for a trip through the subconscious. Andreas Hagen (drums) follows in tune along with bassist and frontwoman Merethe Heggset, as the band bring us right into church organs and groove that send us straight into the fourth dimension. When I first heard the piece, it sounded kind of like any female fronted doom (Demon Lung, for example) but when the band opened the window and let the air in a little, I had no idea that the wind was going to blow so strong that it pulled me literally outwards into the fucking stratosphere. It's also a pretty safe bet that I liked that feeling and hope that the other thirty minutes of this record will deliver the same or at least a similar feeling to that ten-minute metaphysical monster. “Ages Move The Earth” has a lighter vibe from the start, with an odd trippy effect coming from Heggset's vocals that make her feel like she's trying to communicate from another dimension entirely. There are still some thick parts to be had, but nothing that takes away from the atmosphere, which is most important. “Son Of Earth and Sky” continues to totally chill me out, while “The Warming Moon” has a little more thump, which doom fans will appreciate. Despite the fact that there are doom fans here, you've really got to accept the fact that most of the material here is really trippy, proggy and psychedelic as hell. There are comics I'd like to read while listening to this kind of stuff, just to enhance the trippy and metaphysical nature of them. When we come to the end, we're faced with another very slow moment in “The Flood Of Waters” which I can certainly say will extend your journey. The disc itself comes in at about forty minutes, so it's not quite a full hour of psychedelic doom/rock fare, but you're definitely going to appreciate what has happened here and I'd definitely consider it one of the best psychedelic experiences I've heard from a doom act in a while. If you liked that Tusmorke I reviewed earlier, pick this one up for a little more meat coupled with yet another amazing trip.

(5 Tracks, 40:00)

8/10

Beelzefuzz - The Righteous Bloom (2016)

If you're looking for a sound that brings to mind acts like Uriah Heep, Black Sabbath, Pentagram and Deep Purple, you'll definitely find it here in the sophomore record from this Maryland based blast from the past. The first thing I want to stress is that the record actually has a pretty clean production value despite the obvious “fuzz” (see there, I made a pun) but it doesn't take away from the value of the work as a whole. Just from the album's opener “Nazriff” I'm already well-aware of what to expect and wouldn't wish for anything else. When the thicker “The Soulless” comes immediately after, I'm still getting a very jammy, groovy, proggy feel and it's not one I'd turn down with a good joint (if I had one) as the band's sound in style definitely falls under a bit of a stoner category for me. But that's okay, because they're doing a very commendable job here and even dish out some rather well-meant guitar solos in addition to the glassy clean vocals and mounds of bass fuzz. I'm currently listening to the album at a volume level of 78 and can't really hear the fuzz as much as I can the cleaner sections, but this could be due to my tuning or some other factor. I can't say for certain that the same could be said for your listening device or preference. In any case, the quartet have certainly focused quite a bit on the vocal elements as they are undoubtedly raised highest in the mix and are heard far before everything else. I don't know how many will sit with this, but it certainly can be said that their frontman has a rather passionate and classically trained approach that makes his lines come off in a pleasing manner. Not all of the songs here carry a pleasant tune however, with some pretty dark nodes coming in around tracks like the doomy title track and “Sanctum & Solace” which actually brings in some funerary elements in areas. I think this gives the band a bit of well-needed variation, though I'll admit that I'd rather hear a bit more darkness from an act by the name of Beelzefuzz. Even so, there's still enough for fans of doom, stoner and jam rock to really jump into and I'd certainly recommend giving it a listen. Just in my short time with it, I can tell that The Righteous Bloom is a product of hard work and that's what you're getting when you buy the record.

(11 Tracks, 46:00)

7/10

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Sarcoptes - Songs and Dances of Death (2016)

Having named themselves after mites, these Californian black metallers certainly have some fight in them. It's a bit unfair to call this style just plain old black metal however, and we see once again where the Metal Archives genre-tagging process could use a little work. The band have been around since 2013, to which they released a demo simply entitled Thanatos. Three years later, we have their first full-length embodiment in Songs Of Dances and Death which I can describe on many facets. As a matter of fact, what appears to have a quite simplistic cover is actually a very textured and intriguing product the whole way through.

“The Veil Of Dissolution” sounds like a mixture of twisted black metal, thrash and Gothic choirs that remind me as much of Emperor and Mayhem as early Graveworm. Following that, we have the continuing efforts of Sean Zimmerman's guitar licks, bass lines and keyboard orchestrations as drummer Garret Garvey (Jack Ketch, ex-Gary Busey Amber Alert – WTF?) also performs all of the vocals for this album. His performance on the kit is just as memorable as his performance on the mic, which features memorable scowls (that you can actually understand) that I'd consider right up there with some of my personal favorite black metal vocalists. “The Fall Of Constantinople” has some rather eerie keyboard leads in sections aside from it's thrashing assault, which make for a track that not only charges with a fervor, but delights in Gothic atmospheres that seem fitting for the subject matter. We hear the same things creep up during “When The Stars Hide Their Fires” as it continues to pound with an insatiable fury. The final two cuts on the record are “Barbarossa” and “Within The Labyrinth Mind” which both feature more of the same, though at this point, we're certainly not tired of it. Perhaps the airy keyboards are graining on you a bit by now (they do become redundant after a while) but when other samples are used, these pieces can become quite invigorating. As far as the tremolos and drum blasts are concerned, these seldom change pace, but the band obviously are interested in producing a symphonic style of black metal that has an obvious Gothic tinge to it. There's an unexpected section in spots of the album's closer “Within The Labyrinth Mind” that actually features real choir samples and truly shows how memorable these guys would be if they could find a literal choir to take the place of the keyboard sample they've used to death on this one.

In the end, I'm quite satisfied with the performance uttered forth here, but I still feel that it needs some work and I would love to see how this act evolves in the future. As much as I love what they've attempted here, I would love to see it pushed forward to levels of grandiosity unlike never before seen, bigger, bolder and even louder. I know there are those of you who think this might sound better without all the keyboard synths, but let's give these guys a chance as I think that something very promising is about to bud forth from this project and I'd like to see it reach fruition. These gentlemen are certainly skilled and I seem to enjoy the performance a bit more with every listen, so I'd definitely consider giving this one an ear.

(6 Tracks, 42:00)

8/10

The Zenith Passage - Solipsist (2016)

Coming from California and not some covert space colony that lies somewhere within the debris that makes up Saturn's rings, we have the progressive technical death metallers (just called tech-death over on Metal Archives, I guess progressive passages don't count as prog) full-length debut, which comes three years after the release of their EP effort, Cosmic Dissonance. For those of you interested, (and you will be once I start mentioning names) the act most notably features Justin McKinney of The Faceless on guitars. Yes, he delivers too – with every last bit of his might, making this record a bit more rough-edged than the previous Faceless release Autotheism, which many felt was a bit too clean and lighthearted. I'll admit that I dug the man's guitar work on the album however, especially his classic style guitar solos of which we'll also find here. But that's enough about McKinney, there are four other members here responsible for this little trip the light fantastic. On grunts and growls we have Greg Hampton, who also performs in Dog Eats Flesh and Zombie Corpse Autopsy. I don't remember dealing with either of those acts, but I can say that he more often than not hits a familiar cookie monster approach to the vocals that most technical death metal fans won't flail their arms and whine about. Drumming is handled by Luis Martinez, who is also in Oblivion and Feast of which I've never heard either. His drumming certainly brings the meat when needed, yet it is also able to convey more calm atmospheres, which you will certainly hear on this disc. You might want to read that line again, just to clarify: you will also hear calm atmospheres on this disc. The Zenith Passage create some rather heavy moments, but not all of the time and as far as this reviewer is concerned, that's a good thing. There are a lot of similar tech-death acts that already do give us the same pounding death metal frenzy for an entire record, and eventually things can get a bit bland. There wouldn't be anything to offer that I wouldn't have in my collection already. So when one wants to explore new bands (which is why you're here, reading this review) you expect to hear either something different, or something that reminds you heavy of an act that you liked. Lastly, we have Rob Maramonte rounding out the guitar section here in the band, and I'll believe that he's responsible for a lot of the crunch and groove here. You might not Maramonte for his work in Eviscerated and Fallujah, which I actually happen to recall.

As far as the album goes, we have a very textured approach to tech-death which comprises of more than just technical riffs and technical drumming. As I said, there are softer moments to be had here as well as more electronic sections that help to really decorate the record. Aside from that, we also have a level of technicality featured here that brings with it a great deal of diversity. I'm not getting a derivative performance, and sometimes certain sections completely die off in order to be replaced with completely different and unexpected pieces. It can be a bit mind-boggling for some listeners, especially when they're being taxed to listen to a mixture of technical riffs and whirly electronic keyboards, but then the bass pounds out heavy grooves and those are fronted with a menacing vocal style that opens up for a guitar solo. What? Yeah. I know that's a lot to chew on, but you have to understand that Solipsist isn't the kind of record that you can just devour in one day. With airy effects, devastating measures and all sorts of electronic gadgetry, it's safe to say that this near supergroup of musicians just might have crafted something that feels a little bit too rambunctious. Though if we get right down to it, this is nothing compared to an act like Sculptured, which literally confused listeners with their last album Embodiment (2008) so there's really nothing too far off-center, I think. It's just the kind of record that feels more like a test, just to see how things would flow together and how well listeners would accept it. The Zenith Passage definitely didn't get together to play the same old tech-death and even though the number of acts performing this style have gotten wider than is necessary for a thirty-man rumble, I feel that these four accomplished gentlemen have made something that truly stands out among the rest. Now I'm not sure if that's good enough for the heavyweight championship, but it's definitely a spot among the top ten combatants, and that my friends; is a very good thing. Give it a listen and see what you think. I'd certainly say that it is more than just a mere holdover for the next outing from The Faceless.

(10 Tracks, 39:00)

8/10

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

In Mourning - Afterglow (2016)

Taking off right where The Weight Of Oceans left off, Afterglow continues the Swedish melodeath/doomers onslaught. It's hard for me not to be biased with this one, as In Mourning have always been one of my favorite acts ever since the release of their debut, The Shrouded Divine. They are one band in particular that have never released what I'd consider to be a bad or even remotely mediocre release, really pouring everything that they have into one album. There are only seven songs here, but when you listen to the record from back to front, you'll find that is all there needs to be. Obviously fans of Opeth, Swallow The Sun, Insomnium, Daylight Dies and other acts will enjoy this one, but I don't consider the music quite so funerary or bleak, what with all the melody. While the record is death/doom, it never sounds like a literal death march, instead tapping into Opeth at their most melodic and beautiful. They've obviously taken a keynote from their Swedish brethren here, especially during the opening riff of “The Grinning Mist” which seems lifted right from Blackwater Park. That being said, the guys still pump some hefty guitar solos into their work, which are surprisingly speedy. You almost don't even expect such a sound to come out of In Mourning, but you certainly won't kick it out of bed either. 

This is the kind of performance that we've expected from Opeth for years, making Afterglow sound a bit more like the record that might have come after Deliverance in some sections. As one might expect, these songs are quite mountainous in length, with the cut I just mentioned being the longest on the album, clocking in at ten minutes. Believe me folks, if I can get into a ten minute track so much that I don't even realize I've been listening for that long, then I'm quite sure that this entire record is worth recommending. Yet once again, I'm going to be a bit biased as these guys are definitely one of my favorite things in heavy metal, and I can say that I was pining for a new release for quite a while. They've only gotten better with time as Afterglow shows, with my only wonder as to why these gentlemen haven't gotten as popular or well-known as Opeth. Sure, maybe the cleans coming from Tobias Netzell (ex-Contortion, ex-Majalis, ex-October Tide) aren't as memorable as Mikael Akerfeldt, but these guys make up for it as they always have, with three powerful guitarists. Aside from Netzell, we also have Bjorn Pettersson (ex-Majalis) as well as Tim Nedergard (Forgotten Kingdom) all playing masterful lead melodies that really seem to stand out in the mix. If there's one thing I always remember about an In Mourning album, it's in the melodies – these guys never falter in that. Thick, doomy bass riffs are delivered by Pierre Stam (ex-October Tide) while uncanny melodies are delivered by three of this act's five members that are so earth shattering at times, you might feel that your head is going to explode. Yes, they are really that good, just as I've always come to expect. When you take a look at this lineup and notice that three men are actually playing guitar here, you soon begin to realize why it sounds so musically proficient and why the record took so long to make. Keep in mind, The Weight Of Oceans was released in 2012, back when everyone thought the world was going to end, and here we are three years later with another great disc longer after we realized that we're all still here.

I've no doubt that Opeth fans in particular are going to jump for joy when they put this one into their listening devices, as the band have borrowed so much from their playbook that it might almost seem ludicrous. For a band that began as Gothic metal, they certainly have reached a new turning point in this extremely progressive, yet forlorn sound and style. There's nothing here that will make you cry tears into a bucket, but the passion and emotion lodged deep within this record will surely make you weep tears of joy. Albums like Afterglow and Blackwater Park are the very reason why I was drawn to this type of metal, despite finding it awfully boring in my younger years. As I soon grew and matured, I began to recognize the level of heartfelt composition and the amount of time needed in order to craft such a record like this, which feels like a modern classical release at times. I feel that Afterglow is a sort of morose watercolour painting, albeit with very bright streaks of light and some rather ferocious undertones. Opeth worship aside, these Swedes have once again done what they've always done best – and you don't need me to tell you that. This is definitely a record to follow in the footsteps of The Weight Of Oceans, and seems to excel far greater in areas where the previous disc fell a bit short. It's the kind of record that you can listen to many times over, without getting tired quickly, especially if you're a lover of melody like myself. There are certain songs in particular that I could listen to for days, simply due to certain melody sections alone. That being said, I highly advise you to go out there and make this purchase as you will not regret it, and the band needs your support. Without question, Afterglow is a record that has exceeded my expectations greatly, and was well worth the wait. So we have yet another great album, from another great band.

(7 Tracks, 55:00)

10/10



Holy Grail - Times Of Pride and Peril (2016)

I can't tell you how many times I had written these guys off, but Californian modern heavy/power metallers Holy Grail actually managed to catch my attention this time. People really seemed to enjoy the band's last one (2013's Ride The Void) quite a bit, but to me I still thought it had too much of a modern core feel and was not all that pleased with it. That being said, it's got a solid 90% over there at Metal Archives and all three reviews are relatively positive. Times Of Pride and Peril however, sees the band playing this kind of metal the way it's supposed to be, albeit with more of a classic heavy mentality. There was that huge Dragonforce surge along with Guitar Hero III back in the day, and this band really took off on the heels of it. It's just a good thing to hear that it's gone, because these guys really seemed to suffer from that “modern power metal” feel and seemed to be directly eating right off the table of that trend. It's also interesting to note that these guys are made up of several members of additionally popular act Huntress. In particular, they feature drummer Tyler Meahl, and guitarist Eli Santana, who also handles the vocals for this act. Though I should mention that he only appeared on the group's newest release, Static (2015) and has not been apart of the act since day one. The same can be said for Meahl, which makes current Huntress half of Holy Grail. This interests me quite a bit, as I always wondered why the power/thrash sound had dissipated in favor of a more traditional style. 

For this album, Holy Grail really seemed to have dug into metal's ancient history, as influences from Judas Priest, and Helloween come into view. They still remind me of acts like Hybria and Skull Fist as well as radio rock acts like Avenged Sevenfold. Eli Santana definitely has that sort of youthful clean, which reminds me an awful lot of American radio 101 even though I'll definitely add that the record is constructed well enough that it comes across listenable to metal fans as much as it would for fans of professional wrestling. We get a number of singalongs here that would work well as the entrance theme for any wrestler or Pay Per View event, and that's where the real meat of the record lies. Times Of Pride and Peril is full of catchy, short and easy to digest pieces that ultimately make it an easy to digest and extremely accessible record. People who liked the last Avenged Sevenfold will actually find something to like here and it could be seen as a slightly harder gateway drug into the world of metal. If you don't expect any more out of this than what you should expect from such a band, you'll be pretty satisfied with it. As I said, I found it pretty catchy, and quite enjoyable. I wasn't going to review it all at first, but it's definitely worth mentioning. Your enjoyment of this record ultimately depends on what kind of person you are, and what you enjoy outside of less accessible heavy metal realms. Times of Pride and Peril straddles the lines between hard rock and classic heavy metal pretty well and there's most certainly an audience for it. It's worth a listen if you know what you're getting into, as it won't be everyone's cup of tea.

(10 Tracks, 48:00)


7/10


Orbit Culture - Rasen (2016)

Swedish melodic death groovers Orbit Culture have been around since 2013 and have consistently released a new album almost every year, which isn't quite so common, to say the least. You'll notice that the band took a little bit more time with this one however, as there's a year gap between 2014's In Merdias Res and this new album. From what I've heard here, the gap seems like just what the record needed, though I can't be for certain as this is my first excursion with the act. Disregarding all of that, I can say that fans of melodic death metal legends and recent greats will be quite pleased with the record, certainly just as much as I am. The opener “Svartport” seems like it might have influence from Testament's The Gathering, while “Sun Of All” certainly seems to carry that sorrowful tinge that Insomnium and Swallow The Sun brought to the genre. “Obsession” feels a lot like mid-era Soilwork, although you could also compare those grooves to mid-era In Flames. The album's title track sounds like it has some Gojira references behind it, while at the same time reminding me a lot of Scar Symmetry. Frontman Niklas Karlsson has a vocal bark that is almost completely comparable to that of legend Christian Alvestam, especially during his Scary Symmetry and Unmoored work. There is no doubt that the melodic death metal listener will find several references to his favorite acts here, yet they are all placed in such a way that they sound authentic, and not like some mere emulation. Occasionally Orbit Culture also throw in synths and cleans, which definitely help the performance and are certainly not unheard of in this kind of music. 

If you'll remember what I said when I was reviewing Israel's The Fading, Orbit Culture sound like a more modern tribute to the melodic death metal we have today, whereas the latter sounded more like a tribute to the melodic death of yesteryear. That's also why I feel that such an album is greater, because these guys aren't making a mere emulation of the same songs and artists that they like. They're reinterpreting their favorite acts in a style that befits them. Orbit Culture sounds like a new band, with a lot of great influences and that's what's important. Every great band has a lot of inspirations behind them, even Priest, Maiden and Sabbath had their influences. But what makes a band a great band, is when they can pool all those influences together to make something that just sounds monolithic, and that's what I feel Rasen is. While we might think it's a little funny to consider a record called Rasen very close to the English raisin, I can absolutely assure you that this disc is no mere dried fruit. The band still have some places where they can explore and expand what they're doing here, but if you love hard grooves, memorable melodies and an overall great interpretation of some of the best things that this genre has had to offer for the past couple of decades, then you should look no further than Orbit Culture. I should also mention that I'm quite happy with the production value here, and everything has been properly for what I'd consider the best possible experience of a record that I'm sure you'll play again and again. I surely wouldn't mind having a copy of this in my collection and I feel that most melodic death metal fans would feel the same – especially if you dig grooves as much as I do. Rasen is a definite win for these gentlemen and I hope that this won't be the last we hear from them. Yet after two prior records, I'm quite sure that they're only beginning to show off what they can really do. You're gonna love this one.

(10 Tracks, 48:00)

8/10




Brimstone Coven - Black Magic (2016)

West Virginia's Brimstone Coven are another occult/doom rock act that cite everything from Sabbath to Zeppelin to The Mamas and The Poppas as influences. What's interesting about these guys is the fact that they use three-part vocal harmonies, which we used to hear quite a bit in classic rock music. Listening to “As We Fall” right now definitely reminds me of several classic tunes that my mother and father used to enjoy and it's assured that (aside from the horror natured lyrics, even though the old man loved Sabbath) they'd probably enjoy a disc like this one as well. You just don't hear music like this anymore, and it has a production quality that literally feels like it came right out of that sixties/seventies golden era of music. There are still thick nudges of doom to be had, but this I more of a classic rock album that focuses mainly on the vocal melodies and choruses, when it's not mesmerizing me with such catchy leads as can be found on “Beyond The Astral.” Trust me, that's one song that you'll never forget. It's also one of the main reasons this album was brought to focus, as well as the catchy but unfortunately short “Black Unicorn.” As nice a chorus as it may be, I wish they could have beefed the piece a little more in the vein of many of these other cuts. To be honest, there's not much here that isn't five minutes or more and the fact that “Black Unicorn” barely encroaches three is a bit of a bizarre oddity to me. Still, it can't be helped and it's not too much of a deterrent as I'm making it out to be. There are nine chunky tracks here to make up for it, and each one of them delivers in the way that classic rock albums did. I mean, you can hear the influences here. Some of this shit goes way back to Thin Lizzy even, if not Cream, Pink Floyd and Mountain. Damn, talk about time-traveling. 

Even if you're not into the whole occult thing, there's still enough classic rock and trip factor here for you to enjoy this one. The songs make for great singalongs, the melodies are certainly something you'll hum, and there are some nice moments on the disc in which you can pull out an air-guitar. Some might not get the fact that the record is mastered in a style that might seem a little dated, could be compared to the dreaded “dad rock” millennial term and ultimately won't appeal to them. I'd hope they'd find something in this classic and nearly forgotten sound, but that's like asking for a miracle sometimes. In any case, those who know the sound will surely love it and think of it as a blast from the past and a well-needed refresher from the menagerie of derivative crap that gets released from rock and metal on an almost daily basis. It might sound a bit old, but there's some real magic here and I have a good feeling that you're going to be able to overlook the production as soon as you've noticed it for yourself. These guys are great and I hope we'll get to hear more from them in the future.

(10 Tracks, 54:00)

8/10



Friday, May 6, 2016

Rob Zombie - The Electric Warlock Acid Witch Satanic Orgy Celebration Dispenser (2016)

Obviously thrown together at the last fucking minute, this absolute waste of fucking time actually only clocked in at about thirty-one minutes and left me unmoved. Although there are few good ideas utilized here and there and it is a surprisingly heavier disc, the album seems like it could have benefited from longer tracks and possibly a little more initiative. Our intro is pretty forgettable, with only a reverberating thump to benefit “Electric Warlock Acid Witch!” which then goes right into “Satanic Cyanide/The Killer Rocks On” a track that features more electronics, but the same approach to Hellbilly albeit in a different style. Rob Zombie used to experiment more vocally, but he's trying to go back to Hellbilly yet again here and it isn't working for him. We've already heard it, Rob. We've heard it done twice now and there's no need to go back into it. “The Life and Times of A Teenage Rock God” sounds like Zombie might think he's a Rock God for the teens of the current age, which is bullshit as I don't even want to know what the teens are digging, but it's definitely not him. The chorus is strong, there's a nice solo (and an unnecessary clip from a stage show) but once again, it's just so damn formulaic and I've already heard it. When Rob finally tried to do something new with “Everybody's Fucking In A U.F.O.” it backfires on him drastically. The track sounds like a mixture of “Jesus Built My Hot Rod” and “Wynonna's Big Brown Beaver” smushed together in a vein that makes it's sound like an old drunk fool yammering about in complete fucking gibberish. Quite possibly, this is the worst song he's ever attached to his name. What in the hell was he thinking? “A Hearse That Overturns...” comes across as a relatively decent instrumental, where soundclips move into acoustic soundscapes and make a difference. You see, Rob's band is doing a great job on this record. The problem is, Rob Zombie himself isn't.

“...Gore Whore” adds seventies style keyboards to what sounds like sort of party rock. It's decent enough, kind of catchy. But nothing out of the ordinary. “Meditation For The Melancholy” is a little bit better, as it's a more hard-driving number, but it ends abruptly. One of the disc's only good tracks “...Get High” starts off oddly just like “More Human Than Human” and seems to deliver in it's Nu-Metal thumps, as well as an unexpected solo. Rob Zombie's actually on his game here, but the chorus I feel might have hit better if I was still in high school and not about to turn thirty-one myself. The chorus is literally nothing but “Get, get, get, get, high!” over and over, which sounds like it was just kind of slapped together. “Super Doom Hex Gloom Pt. 1” is another instrumental, but it works pretty well if you like keyboard soundscapes as much as I do. “In The Bone Pile” is a decent Hellbilly style song, but once again it shows that Rob is definitely overdoing it with that approach. There are already a bunch of songs that sound similar and this is truly formulaic as hell. “Get Your Boots On/ That's The End of Rock and Roll” comes in with a party rock feel, along with a weird chorus that doesn't really do any of his previous choruses justice. What in the hell was he thinking here? Even a decent solo section can't save this retread. The album ends with the unexpectedly interesting “Wurdalak” though, which actually distorts Rob's voice a little bit and has some threatening thumps. What I found was very odd and a perhaps foreshadowing a little about the man's music career, is the extremely forlorn piano piece that appears at the end of the record. It is definitely a sad piece, backed with wind and thunder which sort of seems like Rob Zombie's death knell in regards to his musical endeavors. He is starting to get a little older (that's obvious just from looking at the cover) so maybe he's lamenting his own demise, especially with so many celebrities dying as of late. There is the actual possibility that Rob might have felt that he was next or something, and wanted to hurry up and get this record out as quickly as possible. Maybe he thought that last track was supposed to be a remembrance piece to him, and was expecting to have died before the record released. In that case, it would have been fitting there.

If nothing else, this absurdly long album title and it's absurdly long track titles are very much reminiscent of classic Rob Zombie. If nothing else, this retread seems like a celebration of all that he's done over the past couple of decades and I can understand that. That being said, maybe it's time that he stick to movies and veer away from music for a while. His latest musical performance DVD was nearly unwatchable, as he nearly butchered classics in an effort to go through them as quickly as possible. I really hope this means that “31” won't be rushed through as well, because as of right now, that's the only thing from him that I'm looking forward to right now. I really wouldn't care if he ever released another disc, if this is all we're going to get. If you need to hear Rob Zombie, then La Sexorcisto, Astro-Creep 2000 and Past/Present/Future are really all you need. Everything else just seems to be retread at this point, which makes this record an unnecessary addition to your Rob Zombie collection. As a commenter on social media put it, “Rob Zombie needs to spend less time making ridiculously long song and album titles, and more time writing actual music.” That I believe, says it best.

(12 Tracks, 31:00)

5/10

Rotten Sound - Abuse To Suffer (2016)

The new album from Finland's Rotting Sound is just as we'd expect, an absolute molten mass of hatred and monstrosity and hatred with a socially charged rhetoric that boils down to “this corrupt world sucks, but we put up with it.” Even if these guys do indeed, “put up with it” they certainly make their grievances known with this jaw-dropping monster of an album. This isn't just grindcore, it actually has a sense or purpose and makes for an approach that comes of as in-your-face as is humanly possible. These gentlemen are clearly pissed about several things and they more or less want you to know it. The drums pound, the guitars rage, the vocalist screams and growls and grunts and groans and everything in between. This record seeks to rearrange your face with a soldering iron and that's just what it's going to do. Sometimes that approach is speedy, while other times it carries a bit of doom. These guys aren't glued to one style, which makes this record so damn memorable. There aren't any clean vocals, black metal tremolos or even hints of clean melody. The whole damn record sounds like a whirling tornado or piss and vinegar that is headed straight to your town in a violent fury of fists and feet. It is by far the literal action of violence as put into practice by sound. If you want to know what the equivalent of getting your ass beaten sounds like in the form of music, than simply put on this record and revel in the fact that you won't be able to sit down for a few days afterwords. Rotten Sound fans know what to expect, and I can assure you that you'll not be disappointed with this offering. Abuse To Suffer is literally some of the best grindcore I've heard all year, and that's coming from a person that doesn't really care for grindcore all that much. Definitely pick up this record, as it's worth it not just in terms of brutality or violence, but in terms of ingenuity. I'm very pleased with the performance here and certainly recommend it to all those unhappy with life and their current predicaments.

(16 Tracks, 28:00)

9/10