Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Misanthropic Rage - Qualia (2016)

A two-piece avant black metal act from Poland, there's certainly something worth chronicling here on the act's debut EP which is as textured and odd as you might expect. The title cut actually appears first and nearly encroaches on twenty minutes of great, pulse-pounding music that takes the listener on a journey through the bleak unknown. The drumming and the guitar compositions on the piece aren't always quite so stable and we're not really quite sure as to where the vocals will end up either. We do hear scowls and horrific shouts, but sometimes a cleaner and slightly spoken-word vocal approach is also utilized. These gentlemen are also no strangers to the keyboard nor the use of subtle background choirs. Qualia seems like the kind of record where the musicians made it up as they went along, but that to me is a wonderful way of composing music that doesn't have a set boundary or style in which it must be played. Even death growls could appear in the piece, which can change drastically from a cool glass of water to the blazing mass of volcanic magma that buried Pompeii. As a whole, this piece really tells the listener all that they need to know about such an interesting and adroitly composed piece as I'm currently experiencing. There is far more to it than this, like the more vicious and straight-forward approach of “Katharsis” (which is recommended to fans of more common black metal approaches over the title cut) which in itself contains a fantastic solo, but it only feels like a side-note to the title piece, depending on how you like your poison. Additionally, a cover of Satyricon's “KING” is included, but the timing is off slightly on the vocals and that irks me. That being said, such a song is pretty tough to record in keeping with the disco-black metal style. I could do without that piece in particular, but these guys have already offered more than fifteen minutes of astounding possibility. That's good enough for me.

(3 Tracks, 25:00)

8/10

Mountaineer - Coma Fever/Siren Song (2016)

If you choose to look up information using the terms “Mountaineer” and “Bandcamp” you will find a lot of bands oddly making a similar style of music. There's even another act in California (where these guys are from) called Mountaineer as well, and that artist has a few records. In any case, we are reviewing the dreamy sludge/rock of what I think is an absolutely killer band. They're probably getting a ton of reviews and promotion as it is, but one more for this short record couldn't hurt, right? According to some of the information I've grazed, the act contains ex members of Lycus and Secrets Of The Sky, which I've always thought warranting, so of course this is going to be good too. The band's frontman is of course awesome, with a voice like porcelain that gently glides along the wondrous harmony of shoe-gazey guitars. It's a very fluffy sort of album, a very airy sort of disc, the kind of thing that you just sort of zone out to and contemplate life. It doesn't even matter what the songs are about as far as the vocals are concerned, I've been paying more attention to just the delivery to really ascertain the lyrical matter. Maybe it might sound a little wimpier than some of the stuff we cover, but there's a softer side to the crazed madman that runs this page and these are just the kinds of records that the softer side prefers. I really can't wait to hear the act's full release as I feel that Mountaineer will make waves. They are a very “this generation” style of music, so older heads probably have already quite reading by now, but that is okay with me as I'm of course open to many different styles of music as it is. Suffice it to say, those looking for big burly men creating big burly music and singing about big burly topics should probably look elsewhere. This isn't “that kind” of Mountaineer. Leave your pick-axe at home. Oh, shit. That's Miner. Eh, I guess some mountaineers are miners as well. Check out the disc, it's only a dollar digitally on their Bandcamp and I doubt the full release will warrant much more than that. A fair price for a record that is worth far more than a mere dollar.

(2 Tracks, 10:00)

8/10

Noyades - Noyades (2016)

When I first heard this recording from France's Noyades, I honestly thought they were terrible. The production was very raw and it just sort of sounded like a poorly-recorded live performance from a small venue. Though as I continued to listen to the disc, the band managed to take me on an unsuspecting ride through realms that I cannot accurately describe. There is a definite factor of trip here, but it doesn't become apparent until a little bit after the second cut, “Bear Rider” in which the band pull out all the stops and just jam for about fifteen minutes. Yet when these get to jamming, well... they really jam. The experience of “Reflections” is something akin to being on LSD without actually being on LSD. It takes you through the same kinds of realms that musicians first discovered when they began tripping on acid and writing this kind of music, which has successfully made it's journey from the 1960's all of the way to 2016. That's nearly sixty years of trip, and hopefully it'll equal out to another sixty years of the same wonderful approach that doesn't require one to be under the influence to enjoy. At least for me. These hypnotic, proggy compositions are what intrigues me the most about the act and made me quickly change my tune. That's why I try my best to listen to every album I receive and make sure to give them all a thorough overlook before I decide on whether or not to write a review. Noyades are definitely worth it for those looking for something a little “out of this world” and wish to take a little bit of a trip without ever leaving the house. Reality is a bit overrated anyway.

(3 Tracks, 23:00)

7/10

Altar Of Oblivion - Barren Grounds (2016)

Releasing on the 30th of September, we have a new EP release from these Danish doom metallers which I found quite assuring. Aside from the familiar doom wallops that we're used to, there's a definite air of classic metal here that reminds me heavily of acts like Candlemass. But that's a good thing, as we can all do with more Candlemass. Maybe Mik Mentor's vocal lines aren't as good as Mats Levén's, but the guitar work of Allan B. Larsen and Martin Meyer Mendelssohn Sparvath is certainly worth denoting. That doesn't all the time equal out to a solo as the misty “Lost” showcases, but when these men do offer up a set of riffs and melodies, we often get a very classic approach that only reminds me of the best efforts in this genre. Sparvath also handles the keyboard work here too, which can definitely change the whole tone of the band (as in the aforementioned, which isn't even a metal track per se) and makes the whole performance much more than that of what might first appear to be a mere Candlemass clone. They've got the right idea here, leaving listeners with a good slice of doom that serves as a tribute to classics, as well as little bit more. Not bad for an EP release.

(4 Tracks, 18:00)

7/10

Bewitcher - Bewitcher (2016)

Seriously, what is with these electronic introductions to classic albums? Is metal changing over to wave music or something? I love both, but I find it quite odd that such a produced electronic wave would accompany such a rough and rowdy approach as is offered by this official debut from these US black/speed metallers. They're from Oregon – Portland, to be exact – but that's no reason for me to start throwing hipster jokes because of the wave introduction to the album. Right? Basically, we've got a Motorhead and Venom inspired act that you might also compare to bands like Midnight, Sodom, Toxic Holocaust, Power From Hell, Joel Grind and several others in this vein. There's no doubting the Motorhead here, which was just influential to Bewitcher as it was to Venom when they first started this stuff and called it “black metal” back in the eighties. The approach here isn't very different, but it's certainly a solid record that delivers a no-frills approach to black/speed metal. Guitarist/Frontman Unholy Weaver has been studying his early Motorhead records quite furiously, as I'm hearing quite a bit of that here, and I have no problem with it. It's more or less just classic heavy metal with a harsher bark than what Lemmy gave us and there's nothing wrong with that. Occasionally Diabolic Crusher will punch the kit into higher gear, showing off that more extreme “black metal” side, but I'm a bit more interested in the overall guitar-theatrics of the performance. It's all about the chugging atmosphere here, casting the lyrics aside as unimportant. I like this disc for the attention to detail, regardless of how some might say that these guys are kind of ripping off the classics. But can you blame kids these days? Some won't even listen to the greats because they've been somehow convinced that they're too old and dated, so we need bands like Bewitcher to come out with new records and take this new generation by storm. If you won't listen to the old shit, then here's some old shit repackaged as new shit. There ya go, embrace metal in 2016. Forty years and still going strong, metal is only further accentuated in it's awesomeness by bands like Bewitcher who we hope to hear for many years to come.

(9 Tracks, 33:00)

7/10

Endalok - Englaryk (2016)

Icelandic atmospheric black metallers Endalok will soon release this rather mysterious and unsettling release later in October. It is what you might consider close to something like Portal or the many bands that have been inspired by them, but not quite the same. First of all, there isn't any real bite here in the beginning. It seems like it embodies a brand of black or even death metal, but doesn't often resort to kit destruction or even what I would consider an angered vocal approach with the exception of the last two cuts. The enigma here deliver a sort of atmosphere that I would merely describe as something ancient. It feels like a dark ritual and with Iceland apparently reaching back into the roots of Paganism, there's a possibility that this release is a summoning to some ancient pantheon. One might think towards the realms of Hades, Loki, Persephone, or something far older and most-likely forgotten. Whatever it is, I hope it's successful in such a summoning. When the record kicks up a little more in the latter two cuts, we're introduced once again to that great sense of melody that Icelandic black metal has always been very successful with, with an added dose of ritualistic fright that feels truly unholy. Endalok are reaching into realms few traversed by atmospheric black metal, with a style and sound that will surely become greater recognized over time. There is little known about the act right now, but there will be. It's available on Bandcamp for a “Name Your Own Price” but you'll have to wait until October to hear it. It'll be worth it around that time, because I've always felt October the best month for frightening music like this. The Icelandic black metal scene has always been an awesome one at any rate, with an atmosphere all it's own. Englaryk is no exception.

(4 Tracks, 17:00)

9/10

Excuse - Goddess Injustice (2016)

I thought we were going to have another electronic album on our list, but it seems that is not the case. For this record from Finnish natives Excuse only begins with a slight electronic glimmer as it transforms into a level of thrash that is right up there for fans of Sodom, Slayer, Sarcofago, Destruction and you know the rest. This being said, these guys really do kick some ass and I do mean that in the most tasteful way possible. Thrash bands are literally a dime a dozen and it's tough to find the kind that really break the mold, but these guys do exactly that, at least where composition is concerned. Sometimes there's a bit of black metal tinge and I even recall hearing a little bit of triumphant folk on the disc's opener “Obsessed... With The Collapse Of Civilization.” But don't get it twisted, because this is still a thrash record at heart. Goddess Injustice doesn't mind building layers to add more of an experimental quality to some of these pieces, which are of course, to my liking. I'm nearly tired of thrash acts that all seem to sound the same, so just the mere noting of a little more to the formula as I've heard here, is worth talking about. Finishing the review out, “Invitation From Beyond” works as a great instrumental opening to the unexpected seven-minute cut, “Baphomet” even though I'd say the track is just a straight-forward thrash cut, albeit with a killer solo. Worth checking out if you're sick of old thrash outputs that you've already heard, Goddess Injustice is like a breath of fresh air in what is increasingly becoming a rather stale thrash scene.

(4 Tracks, 18:00)

8/10

Kai Reznik - Scary Sleep Paralysis (2015)

French electronics composer Kai Reznik has released his first EP, even though technically this one came out in October of last year. I have no earthly idea as to why the artist's actual full-length, Unreleased (Feb '16) is priced at a thousand euros, but I don't think that's going to encourage anyone to buy it. So be thankful that this digital EP is fairly priced and worth listening to if you like the sort of ambience which might include chiptunes (Post) or even Europop friendly nodes amidst what can actually be quite foreboding (The Recognizer) depending on the mood. The disc also features guest work from Oll Korrect and Sasha Andrès. It's a rather solid electronic piece with loads of potential in it's rather unexpected sense of murkiness, but I feel that some of the high-pitched laser effects on “Monster5” can be a be a bit much for me. I think said cut would be better if they weren't quite so rampant in the mix. Sometimes less is more. There is a twenty minute cut called “Nails and Crosses” which seems to show the composition at it's best, but most of that is silence leaving us to more of those high-pitched theremin-like tones. I think I get the idea, but I'm not necessarily feeling it as much on the second listen. Check out the Bandcamp for yourself and give some of these cuts a listen if this seems like something you would be into. This would sound great in a game, but that's just me...

(5 Tracks, 38:00)

7/10

Pit Of Carnage - The Rise Of The Fallen King (2016)

Danish brutal deathers Pit Of Carnage have returned with their second full-length, just two years after 2014's The Beginning Of The End. The band are made up of just two guys, but GoreDrummer handles the drumming, guitars and vocals relatively well, while Peter Juelsgaard makes himself known in the bass department. He only plays the bass, but his licks are very much a part of the entire performance. Sometimes these guys break the forumal completely for some airy keyboard atmospheres, but I think that's part of the charm. They crush, but leave room for a little more, which is what I like. Even when I take a look at their compositions, I can see that there's quite a bit of technicality and groove as well as melody in some areas that you don't hear quite all the time in this kind of music. We also get some solos from time to time, which you may not ever hear in this genre, depending entirely on the act. There are more bands than I can count that give a stable performance (which almost always include the same song regurgitated in ten different ways) in the BDM genre, but Pit Of Carnage are standing out for doing their own damn thing.

Sometimes it sounds a bit Nu-Metal with the downtuning (which might upset people) and there are even some breakdowns here and there as well as some prog touches, but it's not a record that I feel has an absence of overall riff-matter or inspiration. When I mean “riff-matter” I mean that I can actually hear some riffs on the disc, not just an overload of bass and drums. Pit Of Carnage don't seem to be playing any kind of style beyond that of their own, which is something worth considering if you're looking for a record in this genre that goes out of it's way. It's not exactly perfect, but open-minded fans of technical death metal and brutal death should come together on this one. Just be sure to keep your ears peeled for the odd effect near the end of “Reflection Of Desire.” That's the kind of experimentation I'm all about. No doubt you'll hear several more of these little experiments incorporated in various places on the disc, so you'd better give it a listen if you're tired of bland bands.

(10 Tracks, 28:00)

8/10

Howling Giant - Black Hole Space Wizard Pt. 1 (2016)

Hailing from Tennessee, Howling Giant are the kind of stoner metal act that pushes the genre a little further than most. With a wonderfully catchy vocal end that features elements from all three of these musicians, as well as four distinctly different songs that take off in ways I wouldn't imagine, Howling Giant might be one of the best up and coming stoner/rock acts in the state right now. There is an obvious commercial edge to pieces like “Mothership” and “Clouds Of Smoke” but in my eyes, that follows in the same kind of territory as Mastodon's more accessible Crack The Skye release and I'm not complaining one iota. The band are able to craft what I'd consider rather complex, keyboard driven hypnotic atmospheres that even feature a little bit of H.G. Wells thrown in for good measure. Fans of various stoner acts, as well as stuff like Mastodon, Kyuss, Floor and maybe even Tool will find something here, but just keep in mind that there are a hefty amount of doom riffs to be found on some of the cuts here. I've listened to it probably around five or six times now and can't wait for the second part!

(4 Tracks, 21:00)

9/10

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Megadriver - Role-Playing Metal (2016)

The shortest disc in the set is also the last one I have here for review, but it is also my favorite. The theme of this one is something completely different than what Megadriver have done in the past, and it works well for them. Here we have several covers taken from various role-playing games, spanning both the classic and modern eras of the genre. The first is “Tristam” from Diablo II, which is a game I haven't played much of even though I've liked dungeon crawlers for years. I'm not very familiar with the source material, but this is one of the most bombastic (and yes, there are a slew of outside folk instruments utilized) and intriguing tracks that the band have ever recorded. It is more than just a metal track, and shows the compositional power of these guys beyond standard heavy metal pieces. It only gets better from here, folks. Next we have the Final Fantasy theme, here entitled “Prelude.” It sounds absolutely awesome to hear those notes played on a fretboard in this fashion, and I love the added elements to the piece which expand beyond it's rather simplistic (but wholly memorable) origin. Then we have “Still More Fighting” which is of course, from Final Fantasy VII. They're doing a solid job with it here, but I just don't think you can capitalize on The Black Mages version of it, which is of course Nobuo Uematsu's band. He composed the orinal cuts, so it goes without saying that his version of this piece is astounding. Even though I will add that this Megadriver version adds some interesting sections and a nice solo to the cut that work to their favor. This is also a pretty long song, so expect that. Next we have “Title Theme” from The Legend Of Zelda. I've heard this covered more times than I would care to admit, by more bands than you would ever believe. One of them even incoproated black metal blasts (Artifact) into the composition. “Gerudo Valley” is from TLOZ: Ocarina Of Time, which most people would want me stoned to death for not having finished. I've played it several times, I just became stuck early in the game and never finished it. I've heard this piece before from the band, but did not know it was from Ocarina Of Time.

Following that, we have “White Wolf” which is the theme for The Witcher. Yes, I have The Witcher. It is installed on my PC right now, but I can't get the hang of it. One of these days I might go back to it. The piece is thundering heavy metal, as we might expect – and it features loads of chugs and gallops. These guys love their gallops. They always have. The next cut is “Courage and Pride” which is the Guardia Castle theme from Chrono Trigger. This piece was done so well in the latter half of the song that my eyes nearly welled up. What was already a terrific melody became a fantastic lead. Without question, this might very well be the best piece Megadriver have ever recorded IMO. Even the solo fits, which I wasn't sure about at first, since this one is fragile. Break it and I'll be forever pissed. Next we have an equally popular piece, “Frog's Theme.” I've heard it covered in metal by several bands as well (but not Guardia Castle, that was a first!) It also seems to be played a bit slow, but the leads really shine here as they should – Chrono Trigger's soundtrack was all about melodies, melodies that the developers actually heard in their dreams. (That's a fact by the way, go look it up.) Even more special to me is the Chrono Cross soundtrack. Now I know that this one is a bit of a hit or miss with fans, but I've always loved the music. There were times that I would sit and just listen to the soundtrack, it's easily one of the best – if not the best RPG soundtrack of all time for me. “Scars Of Time” is the intro movie's music, which surprises me as they could have done Nikki's theme (which actually incorporated a real guitar.) As such, it's decent. Some of the melodies fit rather well here, the leads continuing to shine through. More could have been done, however. Plus, not even a metal cover could one-up the original composition for me here and there are just some things that you shouldn't touch.

“Dragonborn Comes” from Skyrim is a theme that I've never heard, as I never got very far in Skyrim, but I did play quite a lot of it. Oh, great. There's the band's frontman again... You know it's a bad sign when you dread hearing the band's frontman. This is basically a folk metal piece, but I won't put too much stock into it as the vocals really kill it for me. As for “Song Of Elune” I have only spent a total of ten minutes in the World Of Warcraft, when a friend was trying to get me into the game. I suppose the game's music is decent, and that cut does manage to do something for me near the end, when the shredding begins. Closing on the end of the disc, we have “The End Of The Millennium” from Phantasy Star IV, a game I haven't personally played (as I think it was fan-translated) but have been told was quite good. It has an electronic backing, which works additionally well with the amount of melodies and the shredding apparent. The last cut on the album is “Dungeon” from Phantasy Star. Out of all the others, this one could have also been on Rise From Your Grave as it was also a Genesis/Megadrive title.

My closing thoughts on Role-Playing Metal mainly consist of high praise, as this is one of the best records that the band have ever done. If we throw the vocal-laden “Dragonborn Comes” out into the ocean somewhere, we still have twelve memorable and lengthy cuts that show the band exploring and experimenting not only like they haven't done before, but unlike other bands in their genre have done before. The melodies truly shine on this record, which has always been the best thing about video game music, especially in those early compositions.

Closing my thoughts out on all three of these, (please read the reviews for Rise From Your Grave and Gaming Hell before you read this) it's almost unreal to think that these Brazilians have released such a vast compilation of music in such a short time. It has also been well-composed for the most part, and is being offered online for a price, or a free download if you're on the fence about it. IMO, Gaming Hell was hell except for a few strong cuts, with the Rise For Your Grave record being a bit more to my liking. Obviously, I like the RPG compositions the best, and you might feel a little bit different, as well you should. I'm starting to think that these guys are running out of things to cover as well, with so much territory having been covered on a regular basis. They keep releasing new music, which is something that will keep them relevant for a long time to come. I didn't see any real reviews for this band, nor any news articles about them since 2011's Metalhog album. It's been a long time since that record released, and these guys have gone unheard for a bit too long, I'd say. They're practically giving you these three albums on the Megadriver website (that's .br by the way) but if you could throw a little bit of support their way, I'm sure they would be grateful.

(13 Tracks, 45:00)

8/10

Megadriver - Rise From Your Grave (2016)

The next album in the set is the longest here, and it is also more in the vein of the band's traditional material. Simply, it's a Megadriver record of tunes covered from the Sega Megadrive soundfont. Every single tune covered here appeared specifically on the console, reminding me much of their early material. It's going to be that sort of “return to the roots” days that people were looking for and it certainly doesn't disappoint. There are twenty-one cuts here and the disc nearly runs to seventy minutes, but I'll try to go through it as best I can. First we have “Another Part Of Me” from Michael Jackson's “Moonwalker.” It's alright, and works as a decent enough intro. I never got into that particular title though, but I've played it a few times. “Rise From Your Grave” comes next, which should have actually opened the disc for some reason, but maybe they didn't want to do that as their Altered Beast album did the same. This is probably about the eightieth time I've heard these guys cover this track since the demo days, and I'd actually think Nino would be tired of playing it by now. Next we have “The Graveyard” from Ghouls n' Ghosts, which doesn't need a very long explanation. It is played a little slower than I expected, however. “Sunset Riders” also comes from the band's demo days, except this time we have a more produced version of the cut. “War Of The Clones” is from X-Men 2: The Clone Wars and it is an odd piece with some keyboard effects and record scratches thrown in to go with the slightly electronic feel of the piece. Clone Wars was a very odd game for me, I never really finished it, or got very far. It was one I had always sat on the back burner and never really understood it. It was an unexpected direction from the original, even with Magento playable.

The next cut comes from Vectorman and it's entitled “Day 1 Terraport/Day 6 Bamboo Mill.” It also has more added electronic effects to emulate the palette of the original. Keep in mind, these were more funk-induced electronic cuts, so hearing them in metal seems a bit bizarre – even though the band certainly seems to capture a great metallic feel to both. The next one brings back a lot of memories, as it's title theme to Battletoads & Double Dragon, here called “Dragontoad.” Probably one of the best (and toughest) beat em' up/platformers ever made, it's definitely worth a play for all of you old-schoolers out there and certainly had some great music in it's own right. The band captures that pretty well here and I'm quite pleased with the rendition. Definitely one of the best here. They even got the cowbell right. The next one is “Turbo Tunnel” from the Sega version of Battletoads. It's a remake of the NES version, but is still just as tough. Especially because of that bike section. This one's alright, but nothing truly amazing. Another game I remember is Aladdin, and we have “Agrabah Market” here, which is basically just a Middle-Eastern folk piece transferred into metal. I never got very far in Kid Chameleon, but it remains as a classic sort of launch-title for the Genesis. This is a decent number, but it doesn't really leave me with anything. It's just kind of there and I don't really love or hate it. “Night Of The Mutants” from Comix Zone (another good, but short beat em' up – it was a rare style of game that we haven't seen since) has some strong leads here and there and follows a good composition. It gets better with the listen and stands out as another one of the most memorable tracks here.

Next we have “Last Springsteen” from Contra Hard Corps. This is when Konami still made Contra games, instead of various disappointments. The track is heavy thrash, features a ton of shredding and even some alarm sounds in the background. A good game with a good soundtrack, so it's no wonder as to why this one also wouldn't be one of the best cuts on the disc. “Stage 1-1” from Mega Turrican has a bit of Neoclassical influence in it, it serves as a pretty strong cut and more or less represents the game. “Military On The Max Power” is from Gunstar Heroes, which enough praise cannot be given. The music to the game was pretty decent, but the gameplay delivered in spades. There are a lot of indie games these days that try to emulate that style, and it works to varying degrees. “From Duckberg To Transylvania” is from Quackshot, which I never played much. The track here is also a bit “there” and doesn't really leave me feeling anything. The second portion of the song is a little better though, and I'll raise it a point. “Alleycat Blues” was a good track, whether you heard it on the SNES or Genesis/Megadrive. This was actually taken from Ninja Turtles: The Hyperstone Heist, which was a poor man's version of Turtles In Time. It had some bits from the Turtles In Time Arcade game, but other than that, it felt terribly stripped down. These guys definitely did the rockin' piece justice though and it's one of my favorite cuts here. The next track is also a very strong piece called “Tornado Is Approaching” from a game called El Viento. I'm not familiar with this one, but I'll have to play it sometime. Without a doubt, this is another one of my favorite cuts on the disc. Those lead riffs are killer. After that, we have a cut from Splatterhouse 2 called “Back To The House.” As I said, this is from Splatterhouse 2 which was alright; but I would have loved to hear more extreme metal covers of many of the cuts from Splatterhouse 3. That game had such a creepy vibe and atmopshere that was only enhanced by tracks like it's boss music, which begs to be covered in a darker, more guitar-laden format. Splatterhouse 3 was extremely dark for the early console generation, due to all of it's depictions of blood, gore and grotesqueries. The first one wasn't much and the second one looked like a Friday The 13th Clone, but the third one really evolved upon that. Play this one if you haven't. The piece in general is alright, it manages to keep some of the creepy vibe from the original material.

Getting closer to the end, we have “Flash Of Sword” from the Syd of Valis Genesis/Megadrive exclusive title. They may have also made Valis 3 for the Genesis. Valis games have an extremely fascinating backstory. I used to love these, as the gameplay was very interesting as well as the story and it's characters. Syd Of Valis was a weird one with SD characters. The last Valis was Super Valis IV, which was on the SNES as an exclusive. After that, well... the entire fucking franchise became an adult hentai game. Remember those people that you had to fight? The tough bosses at the end of the game? Well, now you're fucking them. This has made me more upset with a franchise than anything else in recent memory. Valis, we barely knew ye. The piece retains the same memorable quality as with the original Valis tracks and many more should be covered from subsequent titles. But what would be awesome, is if someone could create a spiritual successor to the whole franchise. After that we have “Harrier Saga” from Space Harrier II. I sucked at these early shmups, so I didn't play very many of them and for very long at that. It is another strong cut with intricate guitar playing in sections that comes off without a hitch. Perhaps it goes on for a bit too long, though. The last track here is “Du, Du, Du” from Ristar. I'll admit that Ristar was a good platformer, but I think it came out too late in the life cycle of the console to be noticed. By that time, Sega were trying to add more weird peripherals to that thing than were wholly necessary. It's a nice send-off for the disc though, and feels rather dreamlike.

Rise From Your Grave is a much better offering that shows Megadriver doing what they do best, and have done for many years now. Some of the tracks are new, some of them are old favorites given a facelift and a bit more polish. It's definitely worth a listen, but some tracks do seem to just kind of sit there and don't really leave a real mark on you. But that's only because there are so many, and it goes without saying that we will have hits and misses on the disc.


(21 Tracks, 64:00)

7/10

Megadriver - Gaming Hell (2016)

The first of three full-length releases from the Brazilian VG Metal stalwarts, this compilation features a lot of material that differs heavily from their Genesis/Megadrive roots, as well as their 8-16 bit roots. There are still some classics to be found, but some of the stuff I found completely uninspiring and not at all memorable. “The Way Of The Assassin” features the band's frontman on vocals, and the guy has not improved any. It's a chore to get through and still makes me wonder as to why these guys have a singer at all. It's absolutely pointless for them. His tone is like an out of range Rob Halford and it's not pleasing to listen to. Most of you will probably skip that one right out. Then we get to “Revolution” which is also an Assassin's Creed track. I've never heard this one before, and am not sure if the original was done with guitar. It is however, one of the stronger tracks. We get a medicore cover of “Sons Of Liberty” from Metal Gear Solid 2, as well as the title theme for GTA Vice City. But then we get a real classic, which is “Streets Of Desolation” from Konami Batman (because that's just what it's called.) I'm thankful that the tune is faithful to the original and doesn't feature any clean vocal pieces from their frontman about Batman fighting the Joker. I'd have stabbed myself in the stomach and bled to death right then and there. I'll also add that this one has a nice solo on the end of it (not in the original, obviously.) Next, we have “Gank-Plank Galleon” from the original Donkey Kong Country. There was more of a funk and groove to the original when it kicked up to add guitars, but this rendition seems to carry more chug with it. After that, we get “Fire” which is actually from both the Ninja Turtles II Arcade cabinet (which you can play on your damn phone these days) as well as the NES port. It's quite close to the original and was one of the tracks that got me into heavier music, along with Konami Batman's “Streets Of Desolation” of course. Keep in mind, I was seven. I had no idea who Slayer or Metallica were. But I knew that I liked the sound of emulated guitars and wanted to hear real ones. Now here I am at thirty-one years of age, hearing more real guitars than I'd ever imagined.

The next one is “Wings Of Liberty” from Starcraft II, which is a game I've never so much as booted up. The next track we have actually has a funny story behind it. Here, it is called “Maximum Carnage.” But those of you who know your metal and rock history might remember the song's original title, “Carnage Rules” performed by Green Jelly. I've loved this song for years and have been chomping at the bit to do a vocal cover of the piece with more of a sinster and black metal edge – kind of like if Carnage himself had sung it. I also think that it's one of the heaviest punk songs I've heard, it has a ton of bite and remains on my playlist to this very day. I jam the shit out of that song and have for years. And yes, the lyrics are loosely based on Spider-Man. Now as for Megadriver's version, it is a little peculiar. I think Nino wanted to change the composition a little to sound different from the Green Jelly version and they also added some extra elements to it. It's not bad, but it has nothing on the original Green Jelly cut. After that, we have the worst abomination in the entire VG Metal genre and something I hope that I never hear again for the rest of my life.

Those of you who remember Valve's first Portal title might remember the little song “Still Alive” at the end. Well, these guys decided to give us a traditional metal version of the cut which is terrible. It has a one-star rating here on my WMP list and it will stay that way. This is just... cancer. I'll pretend that this one doesn't exist. Next we have “Get To The Choppa” from Tiger Heli and man, is it ever a welcome change of pace. After that we have “Area 7” from Blaster Master, and I've never gotten that far. It's a pretty traditional rendition and stands on it's own. Next we have “Warriors Of Metal” (almost to the end here, folks) which comes across as a very clean composition. It's definitely one of the stronger cuts on the record and fills with some very potent nodes in areas. Then we have “Brazil Stage” from a game called Sonic Wings 2. It's actually quite good, and stands as one of the best compositions on the album, if not the best. Now I'm not sure if that was because the piece itself was well composed, or that they added extra elements – but the end result comes off pretty memorable. Following this, we have another sung vocal piece in the form of “Song Of The Lonely Mountain” from The Hobbit. It's actually not too bad and the frontman manages to hit some pretty decent notes here. As you might expect, the track is a mixture of folk and power/thrash.

Finally, we have something a bit “interesting” for me to talk about, as I know this piece very well. Extremely well. I've put my own vocals on it and you can listen to the track right on my YouTube channel, except it'll be buried under gameplay videos. I recorded the cut for my solo record back in 2010 Black Therapy, and it was essentially done as both a hobby project and a way to get the word out about the bands that performed many of the instrumentals I used. Note the version of the track that I recorded my vocals to is a much lower quality version than this one, but comparing “El Origen De La Oscuridad” to “Into The Sea” leaves me with the feeling that I completely obliterated this guy. You can listen to both cuts back to back and let me know what you think. My version is a bit more chorus-heavy and possibly a bit darker than the one Megadriver did here, but they went for a more traditonal sound and style. It's a shame, because these guys did perform some much heavier material, like “Grim Lord Of The Mound” which was a sort of factor in how I got my title and named this place. It all started with an inside joke started from a demo instrumental I did to that cut and showed to a local guitarist I knew. The name “Grim Lord” stuck after that, and hence; the Tower. So I have a lot of respect to these guys, GWAR (which inspired the silly lyrics I was doing on that cut) and the guitarist I knew for helping to bring all of this to form. That being said, Gaming Hell is probably the worst of the three releases in this set, even though there are some strong and rather exceptional pieces to be found here and I certainly won't deny that.

(16 Tracks, 53:00)

6/10

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

TMHM - Stage Names (2016)

Canada's TMHM (The Man and His Machine) have been around for five years now and have self released three EP's as well as two live discs throughout their lengthy tenure. This recording marks the act's first full-length and official debut, which as of this writing is also a self-released recording. The only difference here, is that that album was recorded in Rain City Studios, where acts like Misery Signals, Japandroids and Baptists were also put through the three-step process of recording, mixing and mastering.

Although this is the act's first debut release, it still feels like an EP due to length, but I guess that is to be expected from a band who is most likely (and I'm just taking a guess – not even an educated one) used to writing and recording smaller albums in an EP format. It merely graces over twenty-two minutes of overall playtime. The sound I can describe as a mix of Nu-Metal, post, punk and core, which certainly doesn't turn me away due to the Nu-Metal elements alone. Those of you who've been with us a long time will know that I grew up in the age of Nu-Metal and first cut my teeth on this music. Though I've reviewed and enjoy more extreme approaches as well, I've always had a soft spot for this kind of music.

We start right with the very Nu-Metal style of “Bad Luck In Belleville” which seems to echo some of the heavier moments of acts like Primer 55. The vocal end of things is definitely a bit loud and even somewhat obnoxious in the mix, but I think that adds some real heart and feeling to the music. When we get into “Toxic Mix” we're listening to a post-metal piece which almost carries a bit of punk with it. The punk and groove elements punch up with “18 Oz” which might not be for everyone, but it's got a hell of a lot of piss and vinegar. “Threadcounts” changes the style of the band to a punk influenced core or powerviolence if you will. I guess I'm a bit reminded of Gallows without the sing-along parts. The powerviolence seems to carry right on over into the title cut, which is quite raucous, but I'm almost afraid that the frontman is about to blow a blood vessel.

“Better Half” changes the style a bit to aloow for more down-tuned bass, but the Nu-Metal influence has been removed almost completely in favor of something that sounds like more of what we've just heard. It's not a bad approach, but it makes me feel that the beginning of the disc might be a bit misleading to listeners. TMHM certainly have a lot of fight in them though, I can say that. The rest of the record doesn't offer much more than we've heard at this point, so you should already be aware of what you're getting now. Saying little more about the album, if you like incredibly noisy approaches that combine punk along with various metal elements, you'll certainly find something in what I can consider a rather solid and outspoken release.

It sounds like the voice of a generation, in which a cacophony of words amount to distress and frustration towards society and it's machinations as a whole. I believe this is the sound of the rebellion, though I'm not quite sure what the rebellion is against these days. The wealthy capitalist machine cannot be beaten in a physical manner, one will merely have to wait until it finishes it's tenure and goes kaput all on it's own. 

People obviously seem a bit disrupted by the current system of economics and government, which of course will bring about some sort of change in paradigm. Though that change in paradigm, I believe; had already been planned from the get-go. It is much easier to get people to rebel against and remove something themselves, than to just completely have it removed altogether – especially when they'll find that the next system probably won't work as well as this one. But what can I say? Progress has a price. Give this one a listen if you're full of rage and angst against the infernal machine.

(8 Tracks, 22:00)

7/10

Nox Formulae - The Hidden Paths To Black Ecstasy (2016)

Hailing from Greece, The Hidden Paths To Black Ecstasy is the group's debut release on Dark Descent. The act consider themselves to be a bit more than an act, actually and would consider The Hidden Paths To Black Ecstasy to be a “sonic grimiore” of some sort. As in, it is a literal book of black magic in the form of black metal. They also consider themselves to be Luciferian fanatics, and seem to have developed an entire foundation based on several orders of LHP. While that is all well and good, I'm not here to review the disc for it's occult qualities, but for it's musical qualities – and I found those to be quite pure and fresh. Nox Formulae sound like the kind of black metal act that actually has force and feeling behind it. It has that “raw yet produced” quality that makes it stand out, especially in craftsmanship.

Wolfsbane 1.1 is a hell of a guitarist and he's capable of bringing out some very bright leads to what can at times be rather dark and oppressive soundscapes, just like we like them. Mezkal also stands out well in the mix, utilizing a large variety of drum frills which change the music from everything to standard-fare black metal, to something a bit more groove-laden, like mid-era Satyricon. If you're looking for something truly traditional from these Greeks, beware – because you're not going to find it here.

As far as the band's frontmen, they perform in much of the same fashion that we'd expect from occult black metal, like theatrical shouts and spoken word sections in addition to the harsh scowls (which are definitely the best point of their vocal work.) It's a bit unusual for a band to have three vocalists, but Monkshood 333 (which I am assuming is responsible for the scowls) along with added bits by Nightshade (probably not named after the NES classic) and Kurgasiaz seem to work well enough together to make a listener believe that these three voices are coming from just one individual. In my book, that's quite stellar.

The record itself is only about forty-five minutes long, but it's approach of mixing what at times can be bludgeoning black metal with more disco-friendly beats (and hey, I'm not judging here – I love that kind of approach) while at the same time peppering the disc with sections of atmopshere and lead melodies (we might as well call them guitar solos, even though they seem to be pushed towards the back a bit) makes for a listen that doesn't get old.

Most of what I've read as far as the concept of the record is concerned seems to mix various occult schools in with something like H.P. Lovecraft, but that to me represents not only a modernization of the sound as a whole, but of the occulticism behind it. It would not be foolish or erroneous to consider The Hidden Paths To Black Ecstasy a new-school approach to black metal, as by all means; that is what we are getting here. It still resembles black metal to me, but it doesn't leave me with many of the lumbering approaches that I have heard from hordes of black metal acts on a day to day basis. I still cannot tell you why most of the end sections of these tracks, which consist mainly of a notable guitar solo or melody, sound so muffled in the back – I'm still not sure why that is. Even the creepy melody that begins “O.D. Dominion” sounds a bit muffled, but it's really nothing to complain about too much. At least it is an audible melody, which is more than what I would get from some of the other bands in the genre.

Greece has always had a certain touch which black metal that I've always considered very interesting and efficient, which might have something to do with how popular the Luciferian archetypes have become over there within it's rock scene (keep in mind that Rotting Christ are considered a rock band in Greece, and are considered one of the country's best) and the possible influence that many of those could have within the collective subconscious of these musicians. Greek black metal aways seems to have a very artistic and sometimes even a beautiful approach, depending on the act – which I think has much to do with that beautified Luciferian egregore by which an entire belief basis has been molded from. Truly Greece is becoming Lucifer's country, which I see no issue with, especially if they continue to make impressive black metal like this for many more years to come.

It's worth mentioning that aside from the large number of atheists in France, there had been (and still is to some extent) a great deal of Luciferian related occult black metal acts there as well. I don't tend to like the French approaches as much as the Grecian ones though, there's just something truly unique about them. However, I do not think it's fair to say that Greek black metal has ever had a subpar release, or that French black metal has never had an amazing release. The reviews on this blog would allow a listener to discern both of those points easily.

In any case, I think Dark Descent really found a great acquisition here with Nox Formulae and they continue to show the strength of that mighty Luciferian archetype, by which I hope never falters or fails to inspire these great works of modern art.

(9 Tracks, 45:00)

8/10

Beyond Enclosure - Dungeon Of Total Void (2016)

Portugal's Beyond Enclosure is an S&M themed industrial project molded by the hands of Samantha Diabolik, who handles commands, devices, electronics, metal and research with additional influence by The Analyst (ex-Sektor 304), who is also responsible for some of the record's electronic pieces. They're recommended for fans of IRM (which as you remember, made me feel uneasy) and Sewer Goddess (although I wouldn't consider this record to be even remotely close to what I've heard from them.)

I've listened to gobs of industrial material from Malignant Records over the past few years, but this one proves to be a little stranger than some of the material I've heard previously. Aside from the whirs and industrial scraping that we'd expect, there's a very odd vocal element here, which makes me think that I'm almost privy to some sort of conversation between two or more humanoid robots. “Autoerotik Punishment” seems to throw me directly into an atmopshere in which a pained robot seems to be reflecting upon it's life while standing on a soapbox at the same time. A shouting voice in the background seems to work in tandem with this fembot, which seems a bit more human. Not all of the tracks feature such a heavy vocal presence (which I actually seem to prefer a bit more) and allow a steady metallic landscape to permeate throughout, leaving more of a traditional power electronics feel to the music as a whole. The weirdness of the aformentioned is appreciated, but sometimes it is the more subtle approaches that work best. Though I do have a major complaint about the level of feedback featured at the end of “Electronic Submission” and I feel that it is something worth letting you know ahead of time.

As I 've said, I have listened to several records in this vein of all sorts of different electronic and industrial landscapes, with very little issues as far as what I would consider harmful or damaging to one's ears. I'm not exactly sure what these two were trying to do, but while I was listening to this and reading a digital comic, I soon noticed an ear-piercing amount of feedback that was very painful to listen to. This is no fault of the band, but it is definitely a track that I would recommend cutting off before the ending, because it quite simply can harm your ears a bit. This is a first for me, I've never experienced a record that was actually able to cause pain in my eardrums before, so I'll have to give it to Beyond Enclosure for this one. I should also mention that there are a few more painful sets of feedback in “Vortex Of Steel Into Flesh” but not nearly as bad as “Electrical Surrender.”

As we continue with “Basement Paraphilia”, the approach becomes more mechanical with Diabolik using her natural tone of voice, rather than the pained robot I heard earlier. There are still some sections where effects appear to bring in a sort of robotic quality, especially towards the end. It often feels like many of the vocal sections are spoken word pieces, which is also not uncommon for the genre. Industrial seems to have always been a vehicle for opinion, in which the electronic elements have always explored quite well. “Forceful Aquisition Of Faith” sees Diabolik's vocals horrendously warped and changed to sound like that of a terrifying robot overlord. There is very little to be said in lieu of atmopshere here, it is just a slight muffle of static, but it sets the tone for the rustling winds. S&M is supposed to have a strong sexual nature, but from the sounds of the vocal sections that I've witnessed on here, I don't think I would ask for pleasure from the monstrous tank-like robots by which I'm witnessing on the disc.

Dungeon Of Total Void feels like the kind of indie S&M horror film that should be made, where alien robots attempt to dominate and submit mankind to all of their fiendish pleasures before taking over the world completely. I'm thinking about something far worse than the Decepticons as well, imagine if Giger had the chance to design these things – it would have almost been like another Alien. It's not like something I've heard from Malignant Records before, in it's slightly minimalist yet foreboding structures. What the electronics don't exactly accomplish, the vocal end of the performance does – and that's where industrial fans will find favor with it.

Definitely give it a listen, preferably while in the throes of a good science-fiction tale (book or comic, it doesn't matter) as this record could really spruce up that reading session and provide a proper atmosphere, especially if you happen to have gotten hold of something which literally involves sadomasochistic robots out to destroy the human race. I'm not sure if a story like that has been written yet, but I wouldn't count out that kind of subject matter so soon.

(8 Tracks, 56:00)

8/10

Skognatt - Landscape Of Ice (2016)

Skognatt is a German one-man symphonic black metal act, and having listened to it a couple of times, I've got to agree with some of the other reviewers here on the Bandcamp page. This record is just a ten minute taste, but it's enough of a taste to get you sucked in.

From those opening gothic organs, I immediately thought of Necromantic Worship and the vocal end of things didn't disappoint either. There's not much said regarding the man behind the act, and I feel that it adds to the mystique if I don't say anything at all regarding those details. If he wamted to be known, he would have posted that information on the page.

The atmosphere remains chilly, fronted with a bloodcurdling scowl that nearly sounds inhuman. Judging by those doom riffs, there's a little bit of dread to be felt within the performance, as well as some well-placed acoustic folk. The drums are programmed, but this is a situation in which the program fits the music quite well, and it is admittedly very tough for me to tell the difference with today's technology.

Both “Winter Nights” and “Landscape Of Ice” seem compositionally similar at base, but I'd certainly rather two strong cuts on a disc instead of just one. There are also some rather indelible riffs to be found within the recording, particularly at the very end of it's title cut. Those show real warrant, which I feel will be greater expanded upon with future outputs. Skognatt is a project which seems to beat at the very core of the frozen black heart of the genre.

Not only is it morose, but it also retains the metallic semblances that keep it both heavy as well as frightening. I'm certainly keeping my eye on what I'd consider to be an unquestionably grim and emphatically necessary act. The smile that crept across my face when confronted with such a gothic frozen treat truly said it all, and I merely wish to share the same devilish desserts with you.

At just one euro, you would be a fool to pass up on this one. If you were waiting for us to actually review something grim, well... here it is. Enjoy!

(2 Tracks, 10:00)

8/10

UFOsonic Generator - The Evil Sonic Possession (2016)

I wasn't really sure what kind of album I was going to get with this one, but it was actually pretty damn groovy – and really listenable. The band considers themselves a type of “Heavy Wicked Drunken Doom & Roll From Outer Space” and are influenced by bands like Pentagram, Uriah Heep and Lucifer's Friend as well as Candlemass and Cathedral. But I hear far more of that Pentagram and Uriah Heep feel to the music than I would Candlemass or Cathedral.

Unfortunately, I don't know much about the band other than the fact that the email contact I have for them here is Italian, so I'm guessing they are also an Italian act as with many Minotauro releases. But there's an interesting tidbit on the band's Facebook profile that considers frontman Gojira, “lustful screams from Japan.” I won't look too far into that however, because it's probably a bit foolish and I strongly doubt he is Japanese, even though that would quite surprise me. What you need to know about these guys is that they jam in the same vein as Orange Goblin or perhaps even something like The Sword. This is traditional Sabbathy jam-doom, and it's not all that foreboding. But it does make for a good time.

As far as Gojira's vocals are concerned, his wails are hit or miss and don't really matter as far as the rest of the performance is concerned. When I'm faced with the disc, I mainly hear the thick heavy bass with an additional drum front and some rather nice lead melodies from time to time. I'm often reminded of acts like Wolfmother even, just because of the whole rock n' roll tendency that seems to suffuse through the album. These guys love to rock and they love to roll, which is what this record proves pretty well. You have to appreciate the music before you come into it though. This is a decidedly older approach to the doom genre and doesn't contain all of the bells and whistles of more modern acts. There aren't any metal extremities or electronics, no female vocals or shoegaze riffs. It's pretty much the same sound that you grew up with, only filtered through the lens of even older music like Blue Cheer or Mountain. It's old, folks – but that doesn't mean it's outdated or broken. As I've heard it said; “being old is not a crime” and that's what I feel that UFOsonic Generator substantiate rather well with The Evil Sonic Possession.

There's even a little bit of a “heavy hippie” mentality here, which is I guess where the whole trip factor comes in, even though there aren't any huge atmospheric drug trip moments like you might expect. Many of the songs sound quite similar though, and the album seems to be the kind of disc that you can just play any cut from and get the same experience. I could easily hear Ozzy on the vocals here, which is what makes this collaborative effort of doom and rock courtesy of D.D Morris (guitar), Miguel Bell (awesome bass riffs), S. McManchester (drums) and Gojira well worth checking out.

I think I've listened to this disc about three times now and it was a very fluid listen the first time around. I found myself unexpectedly bobbing my head to the music, so one could say that it spoke to me. I'm not really sure about all the occult and Satanic terminology here, but I'd treat it the same as any Sabbath record really – it's all about the performance. Ozzy was so drugged up out of his mind that I had no idea what he was singing about half the time, and I'm pretty sure that he didn't either. Of course, I'm in so much physical pain right now that a disc like this certainly seems like good medicine. I'm not a doctor, but maybe it'll make you feel a little better too. It's definitely infectious, but in a good way. If you love music, that is.

(7 Tracks, 38:00)

9/10

Etrusgrave - Aita's Sentence (2016)

If you're a fan of traditional heavy metal in the vein of Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Saxon, Virgin Steele or UDO, then you will certainly love Italy's Etrusgrave. The band have been around since 2004, but released their debut record, Masters Of Fate in 2008. They haven't released an album since 2010's Tophet, marking Aita's Sentence the band's first album in six years. It is also interesting to note that their name is a combination of the terms “Etruscan” and “Grave.”

Not much has changed since the band's last record, aside from the addition of drummer Stefano Giugioli which means that these guys are pretty much the same band that they were six years ago. I really can't say, as this is the first release I've ever heard from them. Yet I can certainly accrue something from the listen – they're not bad. Not bad at all. As a matter of fact, they have some real staying power and will appeal mainly to those looking for a style of production that feels a little bit more organic. When I listen to this record, I can tell that there are actually musicians in the studio, recording their instruments live with little to no edits during the mixing process. As it sounds raw, perhaps frontman Tiziano Sbaragli won't quite hit every note perfectly and maybe Fulberto Serena's guitar will have a little bit more feedback and hiss than necessary. But those are just the sort of things that you should expect with a warmer performance, which almost echoes what the band can undoubtedly offer in a live setting. Fortunately, Aita's Sentence is a record I would love to hear in just that kind of setting, with the Priest meets Saxon feel of opener “Anxiety” or the Virgin Steele influence apparent in “Festering Slash” (yes, Sbaragli can hit the kind of almost feminine tones that David DeFeis is known for and it is sometimes to a startling degree) as well as the Queensryche aura that I'm getting from the album's title cut. Maiden riffs seem to appear “Coward” as well, showing that Etrusgrave are a heavy metal act who have done their research into what made the genre so memorable in the eighties.

Aside from Sbaragli, we also have quite a bit of compositional research coming right from the direction of Serena's guitars. The man can clearly play, and in so many different styles that I would say range from traditional heavy metal all of the way up to progressive and classic rock music. There's no doubt that listeners are getting a wonderful performance in this area, which is only peppered by the extent of his mind-guitar solo efforts. Yes, I said mind-boggling and I truly meant that. You will just have to listen to the disc yourself to verify that, and by all-means, a guitar solo nut like myself will challenge you to that.

Most of the time, I open up my mailbox and have no real idea what kind of records I'm going to receive when I open the packages, so there's no expectation in the very beginning. I don't even know what kind of bands I'm getting sometimes, so you just have to hope for the best. This one, well... it was pretty awesome. Not only does Serena play up a storm, but Sbaragli hits some extremely high and unexpected notes throughout. Most listeners won't even expect the degree of vocal perfomance that they're getting here and it's even more reason to check it out and give it a listen immediately if you're a fan of metal in it's golden age. I'm not even bored by the record after a long time listening to it, because there's just so much that I've noticed and I've liked about the performance. 

Admittedly to some, the record might sound a little thin and the bass isn't very thunderous in the mix, neither would I say are the drums. Though both seem to keep up a relatively decent pace and I wouldn't fault bassist Luigi Paoletti or skinsman Stefano Giuggioli for this issue, as they are merely crafting the tempo and building the foundation upon which the vocal and lead guitar end of the act truly soar. I don't think listeners will be checking this one out for either of those instruments, and feel that they would probably sound better performed live along with the proscenial elements of the act which altogether feel like they would truly take wing on the stage. Without a doubt, check it out. 


(7 Tracks, 48:00)

8/10

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Blog Update (8/21/16)

Went through the listened promos today. It took about an hour or so to give them a good-flip through and see which ones were actually worth eventual review and immediate review. I put a few in the current week folder (will be covering those this week) and some in the shortlist, but I ended up throwing twenty of them right into the abyss.

Why? Because I can't cover everything. I'm only one person here and I do have a life outside of writing album reviews. There's no money in this either, but I love to do the work and think of it as a hobby. That's why I feel it is only necessary to not only cover physicals and what you personally submit via email (and you will have to remind me sometimes) but those records that literally kicked my ass. There are a few records where I just know that "x" is something I want to cover. I get tired of albums that don't offer anything interesting and feel like something I've heard before. Decent, but run of the mill. I hear a lot of records like that and would prefer to leave them to the thousands of other reviewers out there throughout the world. There are full review teams that try to cover as many records as they can with many people, so hopefully these records I passed on will get reviewed by those teams.

Keep in mind that it is only me, reviewing 12 albums a week with an additional four for New Noise and weekly interviews beginning sometime in September. I'll boost that to single paragraph reviews for the monthly shortlists, in which I will cover twenty albums. I will also review the odd book or game. Films are a bit too cumbersome for me to review.

I will also be vastly limiting my social media time so that I can do other things with my life, like working on more reviews as well as novels and short fiction pieces. I promised myself that I would write a new novel every year, and have broken that promise for four years now. I utterly devoted my life to this work for a number of years, and did not feel that the return was worth the effort. I will now be doing this work at my own pace, in order to enjoy it a little more while still leaving room in my palette for storytelling. Thank you for understanding, and I hope that you'll continue to check our Mon-Thurs (when life does not intervene) updates starting next week. I'm showcasing new material as well as old, just as in the preview I offered this past week.

- The Grim Lord

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Darkend - The Canticle Of Shadows (2016)

Darkend are a synth/black act from Italy, relasing their third album with the help of four well-known and respected frontmen on guest vocals. It's much easier for artists to provide guestwork these days with the advent of file transferring, so let's revel in that for a minute. Alright, we're done reveling. Aside from a new addition to the band in bassist Vinterskog and the return of original (and longtime) keyboardist Antarktica, (also plays the grand piano and handles orchestrations) very little has changed from the original formula here and it amounts to a performance by which I could only describe as “classically fierce.” From the very opening in “Clavicula Salomonis” I'm already being hammered into submission due to Valentz's drumming. My only reprieve is in Antarktica's calm piano compositions, yet I still feel like I'm being beaten to death in a concert hall. The performance erupts into an even greater torment when “Of The Defunct” comes in with it's Filthy vocal inspirations and even Mayhem frontman Atilla Csihar who leaves his pteradactlyl scream at home this time around. I'll add that he sounds much better without it, but that is just a personal opinion on the matter. Don't kill the critic. Antarktica throws the keyboards right into those Gothic organs we're all so familiar with, as guitarists Ashes and Nothingness work together to perform an unexpected ending solo. The piece is kind of snipped afterwards (something I've never cared for) but I'll live through it.

The record is actually quite long due to the sheer length of each piece, with the shortest being “Ill Vello Delle Ombre” which features Labes C. Necrothytus of the Castlevania-esque doom act, Abysmal Grief. You may remember my review of their last album Strange Rites Of Evil, in which they were heavily praised. The piece in question actually feels a bit more airy than some of the other cuts on the disc, actually dropping down heavily in tempo to bring an atmosphere that might fit doom a little better. While the band's frontman Animae (ex-Artifact, do you remember them? Very underrated act) performs a very menacing and meaningful approach similar to Rotting Christ's Sakis Tolis on most of the material that he is featured in, I do find that the repetition of “Make you all pay!” feels just a little bit immature for the release. I'm imagining a sort of cartoon supervillain thwarted by the Justice League or Avengers reciting the line over and over again, which sort of kills the feel and impact of the song for me. But on a record that isn't afraid to get saxy (yes, there's a little bit of saxophone influence here) I don't feel that there's anything wrong with that level of experimentation. You see, the band seem to be open-minded enough to throw almost anything into their mostly Goth-tinged synth/black, which can sometimes come out sounding like Crade Of Filth or Anorexia Nervosa with a better vocal element for most people. The implementation of choirs continues to convey that feel, especially doubled with the violin in the Niklas Kvarforth (Shining) featured piece, “A Passage Towards Abysmal Caverns.”

There's a nearly spoken vocal element on “Sealed In Black Moon and Sun” which does take me out of the song a bit. It's obvious that they're reciting what seems to be an operatic performance, but I'm just not feeling it as well as some of the other songs. Regardless, I'm sure that some of you will find something in the piece, which once again features Csihar. At the end of the disc we have “Congressus Cum Daemone” and it actually features the man I've said Animae sounds so much like, which is probably why they've morphed his voice a little here to make it sound a bit more demonic compared to the legendary frontman, even though there is a section where both use their normal tone and it sounds a bit interesting. That being said, the record goes completely out with one more awesome solo effort by Ashes and Nothingness to be finished off with some frightening bells. There is a bonus cut on the disc which is actually a cover from an Italian black metal act called Fearbringer, and it's also longer than any single piece on the entire record. Oddly enough, the cover is not quite as long as it's original version, which was eleven minutes. I think that fans of the Italian “Fenice Nera” movement will be most delighted by this one, and it doesn't feature any of the guests vocalists either. I do not personally have the track, so you'll have to track it down somewhere or purchase the limited edition digipack for that particular piece.

Having given the record a thorough listen, I feel that there are several hits and misses, although I think it's safe to say that Darkend are going in the right direction. Bringing back their orginal keyboardist, pianist and orchestra guy really helped their sound quite a bit as well. They were going for something of a dark opera and they achieved that rather well with this release. While I have no idea what happened to The Grand Guignol – Book Two, this will certainly serve as a solid second helping for fans looking for more of the same great sound that they enjoyed a few years before. If it's not broke, don't fix it – and that's exactly what Darkend did with The Canticle Of Shadows. Anyone these days can make gothic black metal stuff, but it takes a lot of real know-how to make the kind of open-minded gothic black metal stuff that these Italians have crafted here. Worth a listen.

(13 Tracks, 48:00)

7/10

Sleep Of Monsters - II: Poison Garden (2016)

If you're looking for a good dose of Goth rock, then this sophomore release from Finland's Sleep Of Monsters should be just what the doctor ordered... assuming that doctor is Frankenstein, of course. Aside from the deep croons (but not so deep) of Ike Vil, we also have three female vocalists (Hanna Wendelin, Nelli Saarikoski and Tarja Ele respectively) which combine together seem to give this record a sort of theatrical goth-opera flair. Though just because we have a slightly more grandiose vibe to goth rock here, doesn't mean that the riff melodies have been forgotten. Rather the band's twin guitar team of Sami Hassinen and Uula Korohonen dazzle with the kinds of melodies that I feel echo the very best of this music, even if those aren't necessarily in the form of powerful leads. Posion Garden is the kind of record where great leads are utilized, but not the sole portion of the album. When we get to the ballad (and it's early on) “Golden Bough” we soon see the band taking more of a soft-rock and tambourine approach much like the progenitors of the genre (Sisters Of Mercy, Field Of The Nephillim) albeit with the addition of orchestral keyboard atmospheres (performed by Janne Immonen) that I feel are a bit of a new feature for the level of Goth rock that they're performing here. It's not that keyboards wouldn't have been used before, but I don't recall an awful lot of orchestral and theatrical bits as I'm hearing here. I won't say that they feel out of place here however,and they seem to breathe life into a much older style than you might expect. There can even be found some progressive melodies in both the guitar and keyboards, which doesn't sound too out of character considering that goth rock was a sort of bastard child of the progressive and soft rock movements of the eighties. A slight tinge of prog can be heard for just a second or two during “The Art Of Passau” but I'm hearing a return to the sixties on “Babes In The Abyss.” Of course, those proggy keyboard organs that I mention go back to Type O Negative as well. I'm starting to think that Sleep Of Monsters wouldn't even exist if not for Type O, (you can certainly hear it in Mäihä's bass) which brings me a bit of elation, as it means that such an act really left their mark on the future and that we'll continue to hear echoes of that work for several years to come.

“Beyond The Fields” is just one of several great moments on the record in which one stands in awe, even though I don't feel that the follow-up to that, “The Devil and All His Works” is quite as good. The verse is strong, but the chorus just feels a little bit too fluffy for me. It's just a bit too cheery compared to the mystique of the previous. You might like it though, especially near the end when they bring it home. But in all honesty, we can't expect every cut to be excellent. Fortunately, most of them are, which is more than good enough for me. Another thing I might like to add about the record is that it does feature some rather notable solos. Trust me, you'll be as surprised as I was. It pretty much goes without saying that when you're playing something in the vein of Goth music, whether that be rock or metal, the solo needs to come across a certain way and that's what I'm hearing done right here. I don't really want to hear an over the top thrash solo, because that isn't what Goth is about. The sound of the solo has to be something very beautiful, yet a bit dark as well. Bands like Moonspell are a good reference for this, but not even in the vein of solos – just the style of riff melodies akin to Darkness and Hope (2001) is something that I think many Goth acts should strive for when even attempting to perform a solo piece. Of course, even that style goes back to the greats, the legends who started this creepy kind of music back in the eighties, but that doesn't change my stance on the subject. Regardless of that, Sleep Of Monsters knock it out of the park more often than not and that's when people need to start taking notice. In all fairness, Vil's vocal approach is still a little thick in the accent which might not appear to some of the less-open minded out there who may not be interested in listening to foreign acts, but I often think that's a foolish way to behave, especially when variety is the spice of life. Even the band have utitlized elements not native to their own music, like the Spanish folk influence of “Foreign Armies East” which isn't some ridiculous cultural appropriation madness that you'll have to flame on Tumblr about. It's simply an act willing to step outside it's own cultural boundaries in order to perform a piece that comes off magnificent and worthy of respect in it's own right. Don't underestimate this act, because there is clearly a lot to be excited about on Poison Garden. It's not a very long album, but it does a great job with the amount of songs that it does offer. There's no doubt in my mind that this disc is the product of a massive amount of hard work and effort and might very well be one of the best Goth rock acts you'll hear this year. It came out a few months ago, but physical copies can still be ordered from the Bandcamp page, and those come with an extra cut called “Land Of Nod” which is actually well worth the purchase. I'm kind of surprised the track didn't make it on the original album, but it'll give you more incentive to support the bands you like by grabbing physical records for your collection. Poison Garden is a record that I would absolutely not mind having in mine.

(10 Tracks, 53:00)

8/10

Hidden Hierarchies - Self-Titled (2016)

Considered glitch/industrial/trip-hop soul, this odd five-track piece is recommended for fans of Chelsea Wolfe, Skinny Puppy (really?) Holly Herndon, Death Grips and Helen Money among others. I can probably throw Lycia into the mix if I wanted to, as well as Scream Machine, Dead Can Dance or Rhea's Obsession. Since there's only five cuts here, I'll talk a little bit about each of them. The first one we have is “Not Mine” which certainly does seem to liken to Ohgr soundfont, albeit with a female vocal approach provided by Jeye Daye. It's almost like a robotic anti-love song, which I find quite appealing. It has an electro-pop flair that I certainly find appealing. Then we have “I Remember” where I'm beginning to hear the trip-hop. Once again, we have the poppy, womanly vibe of Jeye Daye here, but Ethan Moseley's programming skills certainly capture the right vibe and mood, making me feel that this record was recorded in our not-so-distant future. “Liar” almost has a hip-hop vibe in the beats, and Jeye Daye even seems to rhyme in the fashion of rhyming. It's still a bit rough, and perhaps her vocals don't exactly meld with the electronic piece (it sounds like she's recorded them in another room, but that usually happens with computer mixing these days, it's very hard to get vocals recorded onto tracks to sound like they were recorded with the track.) Then we have “War Lock” which continues the trip-hop fare. Lastly, we have my favorite cut, entitled “Drone Thing” which brings on that whole Dead Can Dance sort of vibe that I feel these two really excel at. If there's one cut that really caught my attention, it's this one. Hidden Hierachies are certainly different, but I can't say that all of the tracks quite caught my attention. Still, if you're looking for trip-hop friendly electronic music with some trance-inducing drone on the end of it, you'll find something here.

(5 Tracks, 19:00)

7/10

Monday, August 15, 2016

Book Review: Swords Of Steel II (2016)

Released earlier this year by a small independent publisher out of Illinois by the name of DMR Books, we have the second chapter of this fascinating fantasy compilation. But before you go yanking my tongue and calling me a sellout, this isn't just any old fantasy comp – it has several poems and short stories (some truly stretch the very meaning of the word “short”) from a couple of guys that I think you might know at least a little something about. Guys like Bal-Sagoth's Byron A. Roberts, Slough Feg's Mike Scalzi, Manilla Road's E.C. Hellwell, Scott Waldrop of Twisted Tower Dire, Jeffrey Black of Scythia, Jaron Evil of Archspire and many more. But let's not forget the inclusion of one of the more non-metallic members of the crew here, David C. Smith. For those of you familiar with that name, you'll know immediately that he penned the Red Sonja novels which are still being crafted in the form of comic books. I should know, I just bought some of those books today during a Dynamite sale.

In any case, the reader is greeted to nearly two-hundred pages of varied and intricate material that won't only excite your fancy for fantasy (okay, perhaps I'm going a little too far on the salesman pitch here, but seriously, these are some fine works) but will also make you think. One story in particular that really grabbed hold of me and made me consider Slough Feg's Mike Scalzi in an entirely new light was “That Than Which Can Be No More Terrible.” After reading that story alone, I nearly shuddered and thought about something I thought I had put into the drawer and sealed off long-ago. It makes for an interesting philosophical debate, which makes things very interesting as it is something called “philosophical fiction.” Or in other words, fiction that draws from researched sources, rather than one's imagination and influences alone. I'll just put it this way – there are very few fiction novels in my collection where the author actually mentions sources at the bottom. You'd expect such a thing in a research paper, but the topic at hand is certainly fictitious... or is it? You decide.

Additionally we have Byron Roberts' tale “A Voyage On Benighted Seas” which is a continuation of his tale accounted in the first volume of the compilation. From those who've read the intricate lyrical matter that composed a Bal-Sagoth record, one would note that several stories were told, albeit few were finished. Sometimes new songs would tell the stories began in older ones. Bal-Sagoth were also one of the only metal acts I've ever heard to use narration as part of the performance. Rather than hiring some narrator as many power/traditional acts do, Byron narrated the records himself and brought a sense of true epic quality (in the truest sense of the word, not it's overused cousin) to these releases, which were unlike anything that I had ever heard before and still haven't heard anything even remotely close to in several years since the hexology completed. Just as you might expect from the lyrics, Roberts has a way with words the translates magnificently onto the printed page. It feels very much like the mixture of Howard and Lovecraft that Bal-Sagoth offered, bringing that whole Weird Tales vibe to another level entirely. In this tale we're introduced to Captain Caleb Blackthorne, in what I would consider a fantastical swashbuckler. Throughout the tale, ancient spirits are rattled, old gods are awakened and great battle ensues, leading into one final portion to be featured in the next compilation of tales. Though the first tale is merely summarized in order for new readers to catch up to speed, it might be better to just purchase the still in print first volume of the compilation if you're really finding yourself sucked into Blackthorne's world.

But not all of these tales are thrown completely into the realms of high fantasy as you might expect – as there are also quite a few tales in which to chill the bones as well. These tales were crafted by the likes of Jaron Evil (Darke Manor) as well as Scott Waldrop (Mystery Believer) and feature more supernatural and in particular, “ghost-like” elements. Forgive me, as I've merely glanced over these (but found the writing of a proficient level in both cases) as reading digital books wreaks havoc on my eyes (not comics, but books in general) and I prefer the good old paperback/hardcover book (trees be damned) to ebooks and PDF's. This review merely scratches the surface of the novel, but I feel that there is more than enough content to delight fans of pulp fiction works in a way that almost feels like a return of the iconic Weird Tales series, which I mentioned earlier in this review. It even comes along with a massive essay (David C. Smith's contribution) which now sees print for the first time in English. Though that's not all, as the book even features a foreword by heavy metal legend and Virgin Steele frontman David DeFeis!

So if by chance you missed out on this one, be sure to pick up a good old physical copy of the novel - both of them, if you can – and sit down with your favorite heavy metal albums as you read these positively epic tales of fright and fantasy. If you live in the states, you'll find that the books aren't all that expensive either, which has always been a detriment for me when buying new books. (Just thought I'd throw that in.)

As a matter of fact, this one is on sale for a mere eight dollars right now. (August 14th - 21st 2016)

(Paperback, 182 Pages)

Final Observation: Definitely worth a read for fans of high fantasy, pulp fiction and heavy metal. Proficiently well-written by highly educated individuals in their craft. You might need to use a dictionary in some areas, but isn't that a good thing? New words are fantastic! (Well... most new words.)

Chronic Hangover - Neo Inferno Italiano (2016)

Chronic Hangover are an Italian act that seem to mix what I'd consider a bit of rock, thrash, and other modernisms into the mix – one I particularly do not care for. But it's not the mix in general where the problem lies, it appears to be in the frontman's approach to screaming. Or I should say, his constant screaming. I also found it quite ironic that his name is Jacopo, who is also the name of the character in the visual novel The House In Fata Morgana that I always hated, even during the redemption stage. Odd remembrances aside, I'll agree that these gentlemen do pack quite a punch with their oblong approach to rock music which even reminds me of an act like The Murderdolls. There's definitely some air of a punk rock vibe going on here, but with more of a thrash edge and some surprisingly rocking solos courtesy of Mattia. In a way, it's more of a punk rock/thrash, except when it's not. Some unexpected blues rolls into “Sociopatia” and equals out to a punky blues, but still retains a hard-edge. Even though I don't like Jacopo's vocal approach at first, I feel that it does go with the act and after awhile, perhaps I could enjoy it. During this second listen, I'm finding that it isn't necessarily unlistenable and Mattia handles the guitar well-enough to keep my attention in spite of the vocals. The band almost feels a bit like grunge rock, but they don't really seem to play too often by the rules and it does make for a performance that shouldn't grate on one's ears. A track like “Regreludio” even features some non-screamy bits from the band's howling frontman, which is a welcomed paced after so much of his voice in my ears. At least he's got spirit though, which is going to count in spades when these guys take the show on the road.

Getting back to the record, we also get a bit of psychedelic doom (or that's what it seems to me at least) in “Alamut 2112” which seems to continue into an untitled instrumental piece towards the end. If I could sum the whole thing up, I would basically consider Chronic Hangover to be the kind of band who mix in rock with a little bit of grunge, punk, doom, blues and whatever else they feel is necessary. They're the kind of act that definitely have mainstream potential, but I just can't quite get over the vocal edge. Even so, there's enough intrigue within Mattia's guitar compositions, Fabrizio's thick bass chugs and Charlo's proficient drumming to make this an act worth checking out. Yes, you heard me right – even though I'm not entirely crazy about some of the lengthy vocal howls utilized here on the piece, I wouldn't shy this one away from rock fans due to the sheer amount of effort put into it. It comes in at forty-three minutes of playing time, which tends to stretch out a bit further when you listen to it, for better or for worse (depending entirely on the listener.) Go listen to a few tracks on their ReverbNation page and give it a listen for yourself to see if you dig it. There are about three tracks from this release here, though I am not sure if they were mastered the same way. Even so, it should give you just enough to chew on before you decide to take the plunge and pick up the record when it comes out later this year.

(10 Tracks, 43:00)

7/10