Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Sacred Steel - Heavy Metal Sacrifice (2016)

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

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

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

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

(11 Tracks, 48:00)

8/10

Existance - Breaking The Rock (2016)

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

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

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

(10 Tracks, 46:00)

7/10

Face Of Oblivion - Cataclysmic Desolation (2016)

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

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

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

(12 Tracks, 34:00)

7/10

Vultures Vengeance - Where The Time Dwelt In (2016)

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

(5 Tracks, 26:00)

7/10

Throne Of Pestilence - Two Singles (2016)

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

(2 Tracks, 7:00)

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Adaestuo - Tacent Semitae (2016)

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

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

(4 Tracks, 20:00)

9/10

Karmanjaka - I Törnrosdalen (2016)

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

(3 Tracks, 10:00)

8/10

Netherbird - Pillars Of The Sky (2016)

For some odd reason, the Swedish black metal act then decided to release another single and this is where I begin to get just a little heated. The record releases on the 28th, but this single released on September 30th. They couldn't wait to just release the album? What's more, is that while we have another on-album cut in “Pillars Of The Sky”, (which sounds more like a folk-tinged melodic death than black metal, think Insomnium) we also have “Brazen Splendour.” Just like it's partner “Sculptors and Spectres” it will not be on the album either. I've also checked online and can't find any version of the disc where these songs would be added. Additionally, “Brazen Splendour” is a very strong song. I like it much more than the cut this single is named after. “Pillars Of The Sky” was a bit slow for me, but this cut is thundering, pounding and full of fine folk influence. It reminds me of early Amon Amarth, when they actually still took some folk and black metal influence. There was absolutely no excuse to not put a track this awesome on the full-length disc. It's not even on the vinyl. Wow, I'm just very disappointed. I guess when The Grander Voyage comes out, you can go pick up that one and then check out these other two tracks on YouTube or something.

According to what I've seen from Metal Archives, the length of the forthcoming is only around forty-two minutes. Adding both of these extra cuts will only increase the playing time by a mere eleven minutes. So there was definitely enough room for them on The Grander Voyage. Don't get me wrong, I don't want to sound “entitled” or anything like that, but I do feel that when a band records an album, they should just release everything on the forthcoming disc. Usually, there are at least special or limited edition versions of a CD where the bonus tracks are added to the performance. In this case, The Grander Voyage would have only benefitted from that. As I stated, I didn't care much for “Pillars Of The Sky” but “Brazen Splendour” is definitely one of my favorite songs in this genre, in quite a while. I played it twice in a row, that's just how good it was. So if we look at this in a reviewer's perspective, I would probably have given the full-length a better score if these cuts were added to it. “Windwards” was a strong song, I liked it quite a bit. Yet as I'll say again, I wasn't all that pleased with the main cut here and they should have just thrown it out and called the single “Brazen Splendour.” To be honest, if the band had released “Windwards” with “Pillars Of The Sky” as a secondary cut, that would have been fine. Then right before the album released, “Brazen Splendour” could have packaged with “Sculptors and Spectres” as a secondary cut, allowing people the opportunity to purchase the bonus tracks as a whole.

The single is only two dollars, so it wouldn't have been a bad price for the bonus cuts, if it had been marketed that way. In any case, you can pick it up and listen to “Brazen Splendour” as many times as you like. I was reminded of Once Sent From The Golden Hall and believe me, that's more than enough sometimes.

(2 Tracks, 12:00)

8/10

Netherbird - Windwards (2016)

The Grim Lord is a bit torn on how to cover this one. The Swedish synth/melodic black metal act have been around for a good number of years now and are about to release their next full-length in about eight days. But the problem with this single and the latest single, is that they each contain two songs which will appear on the record and two that won't. Problem is, these songs aren't simple cuts that don't really make a difference. They're full-lengths that should have really been on the record itself. On this particular single we have “Sculptors and Spectres” which to me, sounds like a pretty potent black metal cut. It also reminds me a little of Naglfar and Dissection and comes out far more interesting than Thulcandra's latest offering, which doesn't even need to be named. Needless to say, the song is quite powerful. “Windwards” itself was already good, and it'll sound great on the album – but this nickel and dime shit to me is just terrible. To be fair, the band did release this single in July, so it's a good teaser for the album. You'll like both tracks and they're pretty strong. I haven't heard much from Netherbird that I can recall, but from what I've heard here, it makes me curious to dig through their back catalog a little.

(2 Tracks, 13:00)

8/10

Chhinnamasta - Vajra Sarpa (2016)

The debut EP from India's Chhinnamasta comes as a mixture of raw black metal and atmospheric effects and although it does sound rather grim and evil, it is lyrically based on Hindu mysteries, metaphysics and cosmology. It also worth noting that the band use what we'd saw is the swastika in their logo. However, the meaning here is not at all the meaning attributed to it by Hitler and the Nazi regime. Since you have the Library Of Alexandria 2.0 at your fingertips, I suggest you research the original meaning of the symbol before Hitler appropriated it, much like several other things in his regime. The Nazis were obsessed with the occult and with speaking to a race of alien beings known as the Vril society, so there were a lot of symbols and ideas used from various belief systems in order to create his empire. It would be fascinating if it wasn't insanity. The band is a two-piece, with Chakravartin Vladcult performing the vocals, guitars, bass and keyboard compositions that you see here (I will warn you that this record is more keyboard and atmosphere-laden than it is based in black metal) along with Khaos Illuminant performing the drums. It's not a very long record, mainly sandwiching one lengthy black metal piece (In Search Of A Primal Light) right in the middle of two lighter soundscapes. As I said, the raw black metal feeling that one wants from the band, they'll get - but only for the duration of that one track. Vladkult has a near bloodcurdling scream that he utilizies, sounding quite pained and working rather well with the familiar tremolos in the piece. It's nothing new in that regard, but the mood created by the keyboards and effects here are well worth mentioning. I actually found more in those areas than I did the black metal, because it came off as something I've already heard done to death as it is. I still feel that there's something here however, and would recommend that you give it a listen. Not too shabby, gentlemen.

(3 Tracks, 20:00)

7/10

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Unexpected Announcement!

Denizens of the Tower, I feel I need to address some recent happenings. First of all, my good friend and colleague has been helping me handle promos as I never had a stable internet connection. He allowed me to hear the material and then review it, as I had no other way to do so.

As of recent, he went into an unexpected depression and felt the need to get proper medical help. Folks, his life is a bit more important than the work I do here, so that is going to mean that things will change a bit with The Grim Tower.

First of all, I just won't be able to download or stream any Haulix related promos. This is because Haulix does not have a mobile download feature and I don't have enough data to stream every album. If you want something reviewed, mailing it is the best option.

Secondly, since I won't be able to get any Haulix promos (can't get anything at all right now as I'm throttled) or any newer non-haulix promos and even digital submissions (I can't download anything at all until my data is restored) I have to work with what I've got. That might mean older albums, which to me isn't so bad. Many of these records just didn't get proper promotion and I'd rather use this site to promote artists that actually need it.

This might sound controversial, but if you're being promoted by major sites like Metal Hammer, Blabbermouth, Metal Injection and others that populate my social media feeds with clickbait, what do you really need a little site like mine for? Some of these pages even offer full streams, which are better than any review I can write. Nothing describes a record better than actually listening to it, after all.

That being said, I found several albums promoted on much larger sites from acts I very much enjoyed. As much as I loved Veilburner and Polyptych this year, so many other more competent and well-known places have covered them. Am I upset? Of course not. They NEED and DESERVE that kind of promotion. I want to see these kinds of acts on the covers of magazines someday. Yet that's not entirely likely, as stuff like that new Amaranthe I was sent (I really thought it was a joke and felt that those guys couldn't be serious) will more than likely be plastered everywhere. Spoiler alert, Maximalism is a pop record.

But that's why this little site exists. To cover the little guys, the artists that people forgot. Those talented acts that get looked over by the media. The New Noise gig allows me to cover larger acts professionally on a more reputable page, but here we do things differently.

Thirdly, I have to announce something a bit major. Though I've been working with bands and labels for a number of years now, this time hasn't been very beneficial to me as an independent author. I feel like I've been trying to promote three to six year old novels for the past six years of my life as I spent much of that time reviewing records like a machine. Truth is, as much as I enjoyed that work, I never felt that this was my calling in life. I've been writing fiction since I was a child, and I just feel that in all that time, I could have put out at least five more books - different books that would show a side of me that people don't expect. I have so many characters and worlds to share with people, whether they're grown adults or adolescents (Y/A) with a penchant for curiosity and the unknown. (No plans for children's books as I feel that you must have children of your own before you can actually write a good children's novel. I more than likely will not have that option, but you never know.) Instead of being an author that writes the same old crap, I feel it is imperative to write all sorts of differing fiction genres. Keeps it fresh, so to speak.

When I started this work, I was twenty-five years old. I'm now thirty-one and have spent a good number of years putting a lot of effort into it. Now it is time to set this aside as a hobby project to handle just a few times a week. People online seem to be interested in my story concepts and character ideas, to the point where they are actually considering reading my books. That's the best you can hope for as an author.

Saying little more, I still think you can expect at least six to eight reviews a week and New Noise will have some as well. I'll try to deliver one interview a week, but I may not be able to come through on that all the time.  Remember that it is just me, a cellphone and a laptop without internet. I'll do what I can, I always have. Apps are a lifesaver, I will say that much. I can actually edit and post right from my phone! The phone itself was less than $100 as well, which was a much better deal than the one I had before.

Thanks for reading and look forward to some reviews tomorrow. I've spent most of the day at the doctor's office and will be going back and forth for a while as I undergo some physical and mental evaluations.

- The Grim Lord

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Xaon Talks Black Metal Beginnings, Album Composition, Bjorn Strid Guest Spot and Band Recommends!




Swiss trio Xaon are about to release their debut EP very soon. Having played in a successful black metal act for over a decade, this represents a new direction and what I'd consider a revitalized sense of purpose in many ways. Utilizing elements of melodic death metal along with more depressive structures, there is certainly something interesting to note here! 

Interview with Flo (bass/lyrics)

Let’s start by introducing the band. Tell me a little bit about yourselves and how you came to be. You’re about to release your debut EP in just a few days. How excited are you?

Just before Xaon, I was with Vinc’ in band (a well-known swiss melodic black metal band that existed for around fifteen years). We released our very last album, then did some tours and a lot of shows with them, it was some pretty cool. There were some very intense and rewarding moments but and I still don’t know why Vinc’ (the former guitarist of this band) and me became very disconnected towards each other during the latter stages of the band.

Time flew like birds escaping face of the first symptom of plague and the other musicians seemed to be fine playing without any devotion, any utter passion and any interest. They became totally disconnected from metal and it's dark and profound energies. Thus, we decided to wait for the past band's very first hiatus in order to jump at the opportunity to create a new band, Xaon. A new band dedicated to playing devoted, heavy, powerful and melancholic songs under the radiant aegis of some great names like MY DYING BRIDE, KATATONIA, WINTER, the mighty PARADISE LOST, TYPE O NEGATIVE, the German VALBORG, AUSTERE, DAYLIGHT DIES, SATURNUS, ULVER and SOILWORK.

This band was for us like a psychic cork-remover. As a dries fountain, to have a new band with musicians only devoted to heavy and gloomy music was a pure act of resurrection. We wrote the lyrical contents and compositions over a six month period. It was  very intense and pleasant. During the recording of the lead vocal parts, we stood astonished and thrilled by the vocal skills, presence and charisma of the Franco-American singer Rob Carson and we packed him up with us as a permanent member.

We’re madly excited for the release of the album! It’s a big step for us and regardless of how it will be received, we are already very proud of these compositions but we don’t want to hurry because we’re still at the beginning line of this promotional journey. We warmly hope that every metalhead will be able to find in our musical streams something that resounds positively in their inner cloisters and bring some power, courage, strength for his everyday life.

We are just at the inception of our story...

Tell me a little bit about this EP. What was the writing and recording like? It seems that there’s a bit of folk flowing through this, reminding me a little bit of early Disillusion (GER) or Solefald, albeit having a rather crushing edge as well. Then again, there’s also some elctronics. It’s a playful mixed bag.

As I may have said, to have the opportunity to work only with Vinc’ for the musical sphere and myself for the lyrical, textual, conceptual spheres was a complete freedom and we really needed it! To work and play with some musical unbelievers is very tiring, exhausting and frustrating. We both realized that we could just work and follow our hearts and our musical tastes without having to confront ourselves with people that have lost faith in both metal and music in general. We felt it roaring in our guts and in our hearts.

The different melodies, the lyrics and the concept are like some disparate pieces which quietly sleep or stridently infect our minds. These disparate things were coming so quickly that we had to take time to drink some booze in order to talk a lot about how this new music could be or how this next EP would have to sound but every time, we would stay both very prudent and discreet. Vinc’ didn’t play with his face to me during a lot of parts that deserved to be recorded in this EP and I never read to him any pieces of the poems or lyrics that I had already written.

In Xaon, the creation of some of the new musical pieces came from sessions when we were both locked separately in our ways. We talked about the EP’s main direction but we let our imaginations flow as we worked to create the details regarding the album.

So I must temperate my answer, as only a few pieces have been in a kind of locker for a while but for example, a piece such as: The Soulcleaner is a fresh creation, inspired by some bitter and hurtful experiences face to blind vanity of the warm youth.

During the recording process, everything was quiet. There was  some tiny tension between me and Vinc but it seemed normal to us because we deeply love the musical material that we handle. When me or Vinc started to make an incomprehensible manipulation on a musical detail that we already deeply liked in a certain shape, it gave birth to some tensions but I really like working with him.

It was a little bit tormenting when we were faced with the possibility of working with Rob. Like every human, we anxiously shiver facing the unknown, facing this kind of a leap of faith. It was a disagreeable and tormenting moment but by luck, very temporary (and the discomfort wasn’t given by Rob or his performance on our songs but simply as I already said, by our fear facing this decision and its fallout that it could be decisive for Xaon’s future).

Thanks for noticing the similarities between Disillusion (I’m a huge fan of the '04 album: Back to Times of Splendor. It’s a pure ears-crusher, a gleaming jewel) (It's also one of my favorite albums of all time - The Grim Lord) and the all-mighty Solefald (I’m a big fan of every album that they released. As you said, our music is a bit more “crushing” but they know how to make a guitar sound mystical and how to build superb melodies that carry our souls very far away, near the cold cosmic void!)

What was it like working with Bjorn Strid on “Discrowned?” That track really slays and seems to carry melodeath in a new direction. I’m a bit reminded of Blood Stain Child in some sections. 

We weren't thinking about BLOOD STAIN CHILD with this song, but we thank you for the compliment. We've always liked SOILWORK’s music and the powerful aura given by Björn’s voice. Just before meeting Rob, Vinc and me talked a lot about to have a very particular kind of voice on this song (of course, we especially didn’t want to use a golden, well-known name in order to promote our music. I always think that this kind of maneuver is fundamentally childish, pitiful and deserves a vehement, severe and viscid sputum straight to the face! For us, a guest-musician on a track could be only admissible when the band and the guest are some kind of friends (for example, look at the guest performances from Chris Barnes on the GORGUTS album Considered Dead on the tracks "Rottenatomy", "Bodily Corrupted" and "Hematological Allergy." Chris and Luc Lemay are some friends and I suppose this collaboration was friendly teamwork between two friends from two different bands) or if the band aren’t able to produce the effect or the sound that they’re searching and the only way to produce a decent result is to ask for help outside of the band. The case regarding the song "Discrowned" was the latter.

This song was the first that we wrote for this EP and I don’t know why we were very angry and corrupted by some intense feelings of malaise, powerlessness and solitude. We hardly wished to have a powerful and very versatile vocal line on this track. Nothing afflicted or sad or a kind of “boo-hoo” kind of feeling. It was supposed to be just pure violence, a feeling of useless revolt or a heavy and bitter weight on our mind and shoulders. We hadn’t met Rob yet and nobody in our close musical friends were able to give us what we desperately wanted then, so we thought about asking a professional musician to fill this position. (But I don’t remember clearly if it was said more with a half-smile instead of a serious visage).

A few weeks after that, Vinc went to a SOILWORK gig and crossed Speed’s path in an empty corridor. He didn’t hesitate to ask him if he want to scream some sentences in one of our songs and one or two months after, we received the song “Discrowned” not with just a chorus sung by Björn “Speed” Strid, or just a mere verse but the entire song!  He did such wonderful and amazing work with it! Every time I hear this track, I feel extremely honored to have these kinds of vocals on the song.

So have you been working on a full-length as well, or are you planning on playing a few shows first to see how well the material does in front of a live crowd? 

Actually, we’re working on some new stuff, as you can guess. So, Yeah, the next release from Xaon will be a complete album and we have already finished all of the compositions. We’re swimming into our stream of thoughts regarding the arrangement’s possibilities and the capability to maximize the dumping and the implosion of feeling with the adding of some unusual instrument in the realm of Rock’N Roll music.

As the lyricist and the bassist, I dream of a much heavier and  depressing, far darker music with gloomier panoramas conducted by the acoustic instruments (like we did with the cello) but –and it’s very important- without falling on the “gothic” or the “symphonic” style of music. We wish to stay heavy, mean, groovy and brutal as a metal band but with less catchier parts and more darker, complex and suffocating parts. Nevertheless, keep in mind that it’s only a personal wish. Xaon is a trio. When we will work on the draft's new material, we will find some agreement and a fair consensus between all composers. We will probably begin recording this new album around the beginning of 2017. If we –as persons- are still alive.

What are some bands that you guys are digging right now? Any artists you’d recommend we check out? (Besides yourselves, of course.)

Ah! A question about bands. I really like these kind of questions. If you don’t know about these bands just take a look and I promise you won’t be frustrated!

PAYSAGE D’HIVER: A famous Swiss black metal band. Murky, ghastly and cold music. Perfect tunes to die frozen, the eyes bathed by the lofty, white and powerful mountains.

CIRITH UNGOL: Heavy-doom horrific band with a mad and talented bassist and a devilish voice. The ol’ school band of my selection! Take a look (and let’s prefer the opus called: King of the Dead and One Foot in Hell)!

DUX: The French band of this selection. The last opus, Carnations was a huge and massive blast for my ears. A power trio black metal band. It's potent, melodic, tormented and wise music for the listeners that like the tasteful tunes.

FUNERAL FOG: The Canadian-one! You won’t be submerged by the disdain facing these tunes. You will float under what I will present as a profound devotion!

THERGOTHON: Perhaps the Finnish pioneer for funeral doom metal. Only one demo and one full-length, a complete fulfilment and a strangling voyage through obscurity.

A good selection can’t be called as good as it wishes to be if there aren't bands like: PLAGA, SVARTIDAUðI, DARVAZA, BEHERIT, DEATHSPELL OMEGA, HESYCHAST, MGLA and more!

What are some of the things that you guys do when you’re not playing music? Are there any other acts that you play in?

My life is structured by my love for music and my professional activities are near this interest but I like to wander through nature, to write some little stories, to read books about astronomy, mythology, the history of religions, philosophy, medical science, the history of art and I definitely enjoy reading some good novels or stories from writers like Edgar A. Poe, Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, Victor Hugo, H.P. Lovecraft, Goethe, Theophile Gautier and Gerard de Nerval.

To answer your next question, we do have some other bands that we still play in. If you like to hear good stuff in the melodic death metal sphere, don’t hesitate to take a look on the French band: BLOODSTORM where our singer Rob does the main vocal lines (http://www.bloodstormofficial.com/), if you like black metal stuff our second guitar player, Guillaume is your man. Don’t hesitate to check: ENOID (https://enoid.bandcamp.com/) and SERPENS LUMINIS (where I’m the lead singer with Guillaume behind his six-strings: https://www.facebook.com/SerpensLuminis/?fref=ts). If you like some rough stuff, I mainly sing in some swiss band: CALCINED (www.calcined.ch) and ERZEBETH DANE (https://www.facebook.com/erzebethdane/?fref=ts)

This is a very promising record and I’m now seeming to recall it after the first time I heard it a little while back. I wish you guys the best of luck, as I really think there’s a potential to go far and further carry the banner for Swedish melodic death metal into a new age!

Thanks a lot for these interesting questions and this interview! Never give up!  Stay totally proud and strong about what you are and became!

Long live Metal!

http://www.xaonmusic.com/

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Stench Price - Stench Price (2016)

Considered a “grind revolution” on their official Bandcamp page, this mostly Russian lineup contains several guests in order to make a sort of grind that is pretty much unparalleled to anything that I've ever heard in my life. Considering that I'm really picky with grind, that's a great thing. Featuring members of Escapethecult, Kamlath, Nebesbiesnami, Necrophagist and others, this three-piece is bound for some sort of unknown and bizarre glory that you'll never understand until you've gotten this record in your hands. It's quite short at just a litte under twenty minutes, but considering “The Vitality Slip” manages to play for an entire five minutes, that's a Nobel Prize moment for the genre. The best way to describe an album like this is to take it song by song, and we'll start out with “Living Fumes” which features Danny Lilker of Brutal Truth. The track starts out like black metal, before it teases us with hints of lounge music. Lilker's vocals sound absolutely scathing here and the track pummels before it goes right into elevator music. Guitars are played furiously, almost in a thrashy atmosphere which leads into machine-gun drum explosions, right before bringing us back to an elevator. It makes me think that there's a war inside of a shopping mall, and though people in the mall are fighting off and being devoured by ravenous monsters, there's still one group of people who are just patiently waiting to get to the floor where all the hell is taking place. Hints of solos appear, as well as one massive breakdown. Next we have “Furnaces Burn” which features “Revolting” Rogga Johansson of Paganizer (and several other bands, like the one in quotations.) This one is a little short, but it delivers a fast and heavy approach regardless of a hint of elevator music. They could have done a little better on this one I feel, Rogga deserved a much stronger track. I'm not really familiar with Karin Utomo of High Tension, but she appears on “Pressure” by which there's a video for. Being female, we actually get a little bit of a clean feminine vocal approach in sections, but when she's not doing that, she's tearing your fucking head off. This woman is simply ravenous, but at least she has the good nature to apologize for it. Next we have “4.27.15” which features Matt Phelps of Cynic who is proving his age here, unfortunately. It sounds like Phelps is trying his best Schuldiner impression, with the days of monumental debut Focus long behind him. It almost feels like a punk performance and more or less a common grind track. You wouldn't even know it was a member of Cynic if you hadn't looked on the Bandcamp page.

“The Genocide Machine” features Dave Ingram of Hail Of Bullets, and it more or less seems to back the death metal frontman rather well. His heavy growls give the drudging track just what it needs. There's some definite experimentation within the riffs, but then it flows right into blistering death metal where the performance just feels right. The album ends with what I think is it's best track, featuring an unexpected merit in Child Bite frontman Shawn Knight. I saw Child Bite back in '14 and they didn't really catch me, but I absolutely love this performance. I'm reminded of a cross between Mike Patton and Dave Brockie, which sounds as mind-blowing as you'd expect. The elevator music (ahem) bossa-nova that is featured here, actually works very well too. I'd love for project mastermind Peter Shallmin to make a bossa-nove album as well, as I quite like that kind of music and it's relaxing. I love the fact that he can create complete and total chaos, a veritable shitstorm of unruly fucking hell – but I can really get into these cheery tunes as well. Also, the ending of this one is pretty masterful. I almost feel like Brockie's there and it means a lot. Knight almost channels him right towards the end of this one, and I love it. I'm pretty sure that the former GWAR frontman would have given his blessed flatulence on this project and that makes it well worth checking out. Unless you've got a time machine, you'll have to wait until the end of November for this one. But don't fret folks, as it's definitely worth it for the most part. “The Vitality Slip” is worth the price of admission alone.

(6 Tracks, 18:00)

8/10

Viranesir - Dad's Choking On My Vomit Of His Semen (2016)

Viranesir went from being an obscure act that pressed it's own albums to a band that everyone loves to hate. Who's everyone? Well, how about Facebook and Bandcamp? The band have been kicked off of Facebook (which isn't a big deal as bands make new pages all of the time) but they did get removed from Bandcamp, which is a first for me. I'm sure it happens, but not often. So why am I reviewing these guys? Because this is absurdity, it gets under people's skins and makes them uncomfortable. Checkout the Merdümgiriz website and you can see mastermind Emir Toğrul's writings for yourself, in all of their interesting glory. Keep in mind that Toğrul also has a couple of other bands, and they've all created a new album this year as well – Blliigghhtted, Funeral Of God and Red Bible Black (compilation, but still a new release) all have new material to check out, so if you like this odd release, perhaps you will like those discs as well. Now Viranesir has had a history of explicit album titles, even though debut Fountain Of Uncertainty wasn't all that bad. I never really expected the guy to go this far, but hell – it got them attention and that's the best you can hope for in this industry. Let's see, we have Kill Your Repulsive Child, Shoot On Mom's Corpse, Raping Lesbians For Freedom, Kaos Garden: Burn The Homeless, You Jewish BastardsChildren's Suicide Music ((Ritual of (Love) Is The Key)) and finally, this one. Now most of this shit cracks me up, because I can take a joke and understand black humor. Then you have the Blligghhtted release, Into The Cunt Of The Witch (which really isn't all that bad, to be honest) which carries the theme onto other albums. Though I hope he would kind of keep it to Viranesir, as they've named albums like this in the past. The most odd thing about this record though, is it's name. I don't understand it. I understand what it's supposed to mean, but as an editor I'm confused. Is the semen vomit? Because how does that work? If someone coughs up semen, we don't necessarily call that vomit, like something related to food, blood or bile. I've never even heard the term, “vomit semen” before. So it has me confused. A better title for this might be, Dad's Choking On My Semen While I'm Vomiting On His Dick. I know, I just made that ten times worse and I'm a horrible individual. But as a writer, you have to work with what's presented.

As for the album, it seems to consist of a great deal of oblong keyboard mannerisms which more or less serve as the musical background here. It is not a guitar-laden release, nor does it contain any black metal. Sure, Viranesir might have been black metal in the beginning, but with this one, he decided to go for something of an electronic acid trip with weird squeaky vocals. It almost sounds like he's making fun of American pop music and homoeroticism, in a way that probably “triggered” a lot of writers. Better yet, I'm sure some emailed him back at the Merdümgiriz address and wondered what in the hell they had just been sent. It is certainly abstract, somewhat bizarre. I want to feature this in a print magazine I work for, but because of all the crap regarding the Bandcamp/Social Media situation as well as the title, I wouldn't want to be blacklisted. That's just the way it goes sometimes, so just consider this review to be more or less my article on one of their weirdest records ever to grace my inbox this year. If I want to put this into perspective, and even attempt to give you a proper display of the disc by which you're curious about (or you wouldn't be reading this review) then I could just tell you that the whole thing is like an out of body experience. It feels like you're on heroin or something. I just can't really put this atmosphere into proper form without telling you that it's demented. This isn't the kind of music that you play when you're looking to feel happy, it is instead a sort of record where it feels like something very wrong is occurring. If you play this in the background of well, I mean – I really don't even want to describe the scene in which a track like closer “Bourgeois Beleaguered II” would appear, but I'm sure that you can find such situations that may very well be going on from various conspiracy pages by which to decorate such unpleasant music. I don't believe that this is a bad record, it's just exceedingly uncomfortable. It feels like Toğrul has gone more into realms of horror than black metal here, which is great as Blliigghhtted more or less captures the early black metal element of this band. There's nothing wrong with changing hats and adapting new personalities and I do wish Toğrul the best on this one. I really don't know what that means as a whole considering everything that has happened, but perhaps these decisions gave the project a bit of an image booster and he needed it. 

I honestly don't care for many of the high-pitched squeals as you might expect from my rather explicit thoughts on their usage in other records, but here it comes off as part of the atmosphere. Conceptually it's just a bunch of weird keyboard and drum compositions, with all sorts of vocal iterations that almost seem to parody DSBM. Yet strangely enough, it all works and brings with it the sort of atmosphere that feels much creepier than several of the horror-influenced soundscapes that I receive on a montly basis from various bands and labels. Considering there is no Bandcamp page for this recording, you should be able to find it on the Merdümgiriz site as well as the writings I mentioned earlier. I do have my own personal opinion on the entire Viranesir image, but I'll actually hold my tongue on this one, as I have an inkling of what is going on here and would rather keep that to myself. At any rate, bands like this who are out to upset the status quo and really distort the minds of common individuals are definite winners in my book. Maybe they'll call their next one Licking Out The Excrement From Christ's Asshole in order to continue on with this grotesque and uncomforting imagery. As for the record itself? It'll include accordions and xylophones. Why not?

(7 Tracks, 37:00)

8/10

No Raza - When Chaos Reigns (2014/2015 Reissue)

Well, we here (I guess me and all of my damn egregores at this point, because I'm the only one working on this) at The Grim Tower try not to review albums that are a couple of years old if we can help it, but someone sent me this No Raza promo from back in 2014 and it wound up in my Promise Pool somehow (that's where all the good stuff goes, folks). The record was also reissued on GS Productions and The Horror Dimension around '15, so that is probably one of the reasons it was sent my way. Granted, this one was sent in February (still doing the fall cleaning) yet it went practically untouched by the rest of the metal media. Why? I have no idea. These Columbians pound out death metal in just the fashion I'd expect, accentuated with equally potent guitar solos. I guess we could compare them to an act like Brujeria and that's certainly not a bad thing. Melodies are utilized on the record, but none that I would consider beautiful or uplifiting. Surprisingly, the production value here is quite strong, with the horrific growls heavily audible in the mix, amidst the guitar crunch and drum batallion. No Raza craft a very groove-laced death metal, quite common of their peers, albeit with some more complex structures in areas. That being said, this isn't a record that requires a scientific dissertation. Death and groove fans will enjoy the slightly melodic touch being offered here in all of it's many facets, from speeding moments like “Detonator” to punchier groove efforts like “Evil's Seed” that recall Bloodbath. Even the frontman reminds me a little of Akerfeldt when he first fronted the act. When Chaos Reigns is a very catchy and pretty solid death metal disc, which I think did deserve a reissue and could still hold it's own this year. Regardless of whether or not this one gets the kind of promotion it deserves, that isn't going to stop these guys anytime soon. Definitely give it a listen. If the physicals are gone, you can grab the disc from their Bandcamp page too. More than likely, the physicals can also be ordered there. I definitely think you'll find one hell of a wallop in this one and I don't mean that lightly.

(8 Tracks, 36:00)

8/10

Spreading Dread - Age Of Aquarius (2016)

Though you may not have heard of them, (and the only review that exists in English is a three-star from Metal Temple) this is actually the sophomore release from the Czech based power/thrashers. (Am I reading that right, Metal Archives?) So the idea of this review is pretty simple. Should I go along with what the temple scribes consider to be a realitively decent record, or should I look a little further? First of all, this record seems about the furthest thing from power/thrash. It sounds instead like more of a mixture between melodic death metal and modern metalcore. Except for the fact that it changes from that quickly after album opener “Devolution” and mutates into a more neo-classically influenced style that reminds me of a mixture between the music of Castlevania and Undertale. Of course, that's just the long intro. We later get clean vocals and more of a Gojira or Tesseract progressive metal feel to the music that I just wasn't expecting at the start. This is much better than the opening note and I personally think they should have thrown that one in the garbage.

Starting the disc on a note like “Oil Stained” (it comes with it's own intro) would have been a great way to open the performance as a whole. I know for certain that there are a few reviewers who have admitted to only listening to the first track on a record to see if they like it. Do you understand what that means, guys? I know it sounds pretty pathetic, but because some people can't be bothered to check out more than one track on a damn record, they probably missed out your more interesting material due to that unnecessary opener. As I continue listening to the rest of the album, it only gets more interesting and features more venturing out into different realms far beyond the normalcy of the opener. “Conspiracy” begins with a hypnotic riff as it goes into what I could consider something of a hefty death/thrash and then builds into a sort of atmospheric rock. Spreading Dread show us that yes, you can go from a death/thrasher into atmopsheric rock, but it's not common. Then the track carries us right into a core-influenced death pummeler that is far more brackish than the death/thrash offered in the beginning. They could have opened the album with this one as well. “Karmic Wheels” rolls right into technicality, as well as what could be a sort of filtered vocal.

You've got to hand it to these guys as they really are trying to make a complex record, which is exactly what Metal Temple reviewer Lauren Fonto had an issue with. She said, “I think they are trying to do too many things with one song.” Good thing there are second opinions, right? You see, the one thing that Fonto seemed to not care about, is what attracted me to this act. Sure, they seem to go a little bit radio on some of these cuts, but I like that. I still think that they should pretend that they never wrote “Devolution” because it doesn't really mirror the mostly progressive nature of what has been achieved here, the mostly technical nature of what has been achieved here – and even though there are sections of modern and core influence, much has been accomplished in forty minutes than a slew of similar acts have tried for in the past.

Once again, I do believe that more people probably would have picked this one up if they had put the melodic deathcore track on the bottom and gave writers a real example of their talent. I'm not going to mince words here though, as I've never been a fan of core atmospheres, especially a disc that crunches so heavily on deathcore when it wants to be heavy. I'd have to be a fool not to see that there was something promising budding out here, and Fonto seemed to say the same thing in her review of the disc. We both seem to agree that these guys have potential, but she thinks they're too rambunctious and I think they're just too damn core. Did you forget that death metal existed? If they would fuse with death metal, there might be more of an applicable palette for me, but all of these breakdowns and such can even take away from the wonderful progressives and astonishing solos that these guys manage to pull off. Spreading Dread didn't really get the respect they deserved this time around, and maybe if they decide to switch the tracks around next time (and I honestly do recommend several bands to do this, because it is true of several reviewers – this is why the single is normally the first or second track on an album) on the promo, they'll get more coverage. I definitely that you give Age Of Aquarius a listen though, as it is a real diamond in the rough that can cause as much surprise as cringe. It just depends on how you like your metal, because this record is a buffet of sorts.

(8 Tracks, 43:00)

7/10

Xaon - Face Of Balaam (2016)

Xaon are about to release this recording in just a couple of days, which is their very first EP offering. I know very little about these guys, and the leaflet I have here sounds like it was copied via a hook translator for a Japanese visual novel. Good thing I can decipher some of this. In any case, it (seems) that Xaon are influenced by nineties era Anathema, My Dying Bride, Disgrace, Paradise Lost, Type O Negative, Ulver, Soilwork and Demonical among others; even though I can scarcely even a catch a glimpse from most of these acts in the music being presented here. For a band that seems so closely tied to dreary soundscapes, I'm hearing very little of that. As a matter of fact, the Soilwork and Chimera influence seems to be a bit stronger here. That leads me to the problem as well – the vocals seem to follow along a gut-punch sort of hardcore style that just works as a bit of a turn-off for me. If I was given the choice today to wake up in a completely different dimension where the gut-punch style vocal had never been invented by hardcore and would never be invented for the span of mankind's existence, I would take that option right now. I just don't care for these throat-saver vocals, which sound to me like a scraping of the vocal chords. It's not catchy to me and sounds very adolescent. Pre-pubescent, actually.

That being said, Vinc (Ever Since) and Flo (Ever Since, Calcined, Serpens Luminis, Erzebeth Dane) actually have a strong grasp on musicianship here. Bjorn Strid (Soilwork) actually guests on “Decrowned” which is one of my favorite songs here, and his vocals actually fit within their compositions. I actually kind of like the harsh vocal point that comes right after Strid sings “I was looking for the face of Balaam” which utters, “But I only found his reflection!” Now this actually makes me want to find out who in the hell Balaam is. I'm either thinking some sort of ancient god or a daemon/djinn. It could also be some sort of Indian deity. I really have no clue, so check it out yourself! (Google = Library Of Alexandria 2.0) I also need to mention that the clean vocals are very strong here. I might be able to growl far better, but this guy can certainly sing much better than I can. (Unless you want to hear what sounds like a whipped choir boy.)

Since we have such a powerful clean vocal effort here, I tend to not mind the gut-punch segments so much. Also, the music in general is a little too cleaned up for hardcore fans, which made me think of earlier Chimaira, which I think metal fans can find at least one good album from of they looked hard enough. Adding to that are some wondrous melody lines as well as the all expectant solo, which is all quite befitting of the genre. Face Of Balaam is a heavy record for sure, but there's enough melody and clean singing here to appeal to fans of traditional Swedish melodeath, or should we say more modern Swedish melodeath, as neither In Flames nor Soilwork, nor Dark Tranquillity adapted clean vocals until much later. Give or take, two of those bands succeeded where the other failed in their attempt. Shame. I'd probably have gotten into this record a little more if there was a bit more gravel in the vocal area, but it's still worth recommending in my book, and it stands as a rather solid effort. Xaon are a new band and this marks their break into the heavy metal scene. You can certainly come off much worse this early in the game. I'm looking forward to their next output.

(5 Tracks, 26:00)

7/10

Grizzlyman - Grizzlyman (2014)

When I finished that review for Teorema, the publicist got back to me and asked if there was anything else I wanted to cover, giving me a list of bands. Well, I checked them all and couldn't find any in the Promise Pool (that Simulacro completely skipped right by me though, so I'll be listening to it shortly) except for this Grizzlyman record that I found in the shortlist. Apparently this one's a demo from a Swedish progressive sludge act and there aren't too many of those around to be honest, so I'm more than happy to cover it (regardless of the fact that it is a tape only release that goes back to '14). We're certainly getting a warm disc which has it's moments of hefty riffing, but that isn't all the band offer and sometimes it feels like we're getting a little bit of Pelican. That can be a bit of a detriment as there are already a dozen songs out there like “Last King” and hopefully they can throw some more vocals into the mix to offset what seems an unnecessary instrumental. Vocals do manage to slide their way in, but right near the very end where they almost seem just as unnecessary as the song. The same thing seems to happen on the demo's final track, “Beneath/Rebirth” which almost sounds bizarre to me. Why compose an entire song and only put vocals in towards the end? It literally sounds like a band just toying around with ideas to me and these guys aren't really sure as to what kind of band they should be. According to the lack of releases after this demo, they haven't been sure for nearly three years. I must admit that I'm a bit confused by this and wonder what I ever really saw in it. According to Metal Archives, they are still active and perhaps working on a follow-up to whatever this was supposed to demonstrate. Time will tell as to where they'll go next.

(3 Tracks, 15:00)

5/10

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Blasphemer - Ritual Theophagy (2016)

Italy's Blasphemer are another great brutal death act, showing that they've no signs of stopping after such a wonderfully competent performance eight years after the release of the band's original debut (On The Inexistence Of God '08) which is an awfully long time in between discs, to be honest. Additionally, this album is a bit short at only a little under half-hour of playing time, but that's not a real problem as the performance is proficient enough to warrant the short tenure of the disc. One of the first things that I notice about this disc is actually two things: the drums and the guitars. Though that normally goes without saying and doesn't count out frontman Paolo Maniezzo's monstrous vocal grumblings, I really feel that there's an exceptionally strong chemistry between that of Darren Cesca (Deeds Of Flesh, Eschaton, Goratory, Pillory, Virulence) experimental drum compositions and Simone Bringo's (Beheaded) equally experimental and rather precise guitar compositions. Both of these guys love to experiment, and the record comes off as more of an abstract death metal (listen to Clod De Rosa's (Modus Deliciti) bass tinges here and there too, he's trying to add his own chemicals into the mix) recording that seems to carry on not only it's non-religious themes lyrically, but musically in the form of what I would call “scientific death metal.” If you don't adhere to religion, then you would naturally gravitate more to science, or satanic science as what I'd consider here with all the praise to the dark lord within the disc's lyrical matter. Regardless of the band's stance there, it is certainly an impressive performance that seems to deliver far more within the scope of the progression itself.

If for some odd reason the vocal performance cheapens it for you, just try to focus on the piece on a compositional manner. Even without Maniezzo's vocals, this is a very interesting lesson in musical chemistry and I believe that is the main selling point. This isn't the kind of groove-pummeling New York death metal that I reviewed earlier with band labelmates Dehumanized. Blasphemer offer something completely different. Regardless of the fact that there are over ten different Blasphemer's registered on the Metal Archives, (some of them are defunct, though) these guys are certainly one of the best of those and they actually manage to add to the performance with their vocie clips. Clips are always hit or miss, but the way that these guys add them (in intros and outros) really seems to pepper the oncoming freight train of calculated Italian death metal in a way that comes nearly unparalleled. While there are a lot of bands out there performing this style, you can definitely consider the unbridled rage, tension and technicality (there are even some sections that resemble black metal, so pay attention to that) that comes packed into Blasphemer's sophomore record one of the best examples in this particular style. I'd certainly recommend it.

(11 Tracks, 27:00)

8/10

Dehumanized - Beyond The Mind (2016)

Hailing from New York, Beyond The Mind represents the second offering from this brutal death metal quartet (though it's technically their third album) since they reuinted in '12 with Controlled Elite. The listener can expect a powerfully chunky dose of groove-laden death metal here, which never lets up. These guys don't use voice clips or synthesizers or ambient pieces or electronics. They may reach into breakdowns, but the inhuman bear-growl of Lead vocalist Mike Centrose (Through The Discipline) and drummer/vocalist George Torres (Artery Eruption) are the perfect vocal embodiment for such utterances, and on a breakdown heavy piece like “Drawn By Blood” it even works to remind me a little of Dying Fetus. Now the production value here is a little high and it doesn't sound quite as warm as other death metal discs, but it still manages to deliver up some of what I'd consider to still to be a piping hot and ready New York pie (that's pizza for the rest of us) with your favorite toppings. As long as those topping consist of guts, gravel and grotesquerie – and that crust is filled to the brim with absolutely crushing riff matter courtesy of longtime guitarist Rich Nagasawa. By the way, Nagasawa hasn't forgotten about lovers of weird progressive landscapes, because they certainly do work their way into this chunky mound of dough, cheese and brain matter. Even the artwork for the piece looks sort of metaphysical, and you'd think it was a bit brainier than it is from seeing it at the record store. But that's fine, because it is still quite cognitive. Just not in the vain that you would expect.

Dehumanized aren't about to pull the plug on their brutality here, so if you're worried by this “new age” kind of cover adornment, don't worry. This record is still going to tear you apart, just as the band's previous discs have been known to do. The imminent bass poundings that one will experience from Anthony Cossu serve as the majority of that crust, and this recording allows you the favor of eating the crust first. It's a great atmosphere – an absolute sea of slightly brainy brutality that I don't think I could help but to recommend. There's nothing better than a New York pizza pie, and Beyond The Mind is a fine example of that in a musical form. It's piled on with toppings, piping hot and ready to go – I don't think you can get much better than this. Grab the disc and a pizza while you're at it. I'm pretty sure that by the end of reading this review, you'll want to get a supreme with entrails and all. Just as these guys would've wanted.

(10 Tracks, 40:00)

8/10

Big Guns - Six Shooter (2016)

Sent directly from the man himself, this six track EP features Vaarwel (Frozen Ocean, Goatpsalm) on vocals and Postie handling the guitars, bass, drum programming, background vocals and mixing. It's a two man project, which of course I'm quite familiar with, also being in one. The difference here is that Big Guns is a much different record from that of Frozen Ocean or Goatpsalm, being that this is far removed from any kind of black metal, atmospheric pieces or electronics. The band consider themselves a rock n' roll band mixed with death metal and hot pepper, which is definitely what I'm getting here. The grooves are as heavy as the blues-influence, which really rolls in around “Pearl-Jammed” until the whole thing becomes that of a Cannibal Corpse-esque performance which I would have never expected. Vaarwhel has one hell of a growl, which is about as deep and mountainous as any I've heard in this business. I'm not a huge fan of some of the more spoken word portions, but these guys stormed past me like a runaway train during the first couple of cuts. From “Hard As Tin” to “Grammar Guerillas” you're be literally hammered with grooves, as well as a extremely thick drumming performance. If you hadn't told me that these drums were programmed, I'd have never guessed. This record in general sounds incredibly, warm, thick and meaty, like you'd expect from looking at the album cover. I would have never expected a death n' roll band to come from this group, but I can't say that I'm displeased with it. There are a couple sections that might need to be ironed out, but there's plenty of enjoyment here in it's eleven-minute playing time. The disc is heavily fast-paced, but it certainly has moments in which to slowly burn and remind me a little of bands like EyeHateGod, Down and Pantera. Except for the fact that it's a bit heavier. There's even a Six Feet Under similarity to the album's final track (a real groove-monster) called “Dragon Hedge” but it sounds far better than anything Six Feet Under have released in several years, certainly recently (but don't get me started on that again.) Short, but brandishly burly and incessantly pummeling, you're definitely going to want to give this one a listen. It's only three bucks, so pick it up!

(6 Tracks, 11:00)

8/10

Teorema - Teorema (2015)

Since nobody gave a shit about this Mexican duo, it's my turn to give it a proper review. First of all, Teorema is a raw, but audible death/sludge kind of like Acid Witch. Sometimes they even introduce more rock elements into their music, like with “Damned Country” which sounds like groove-rocker backed with furious grunts. Sometimes the grunts are in the background, but it's still the kind of disc I can behind. That's because I can tell that these musicians did the best with what they had. This self-titled is their debut and currently only release, which actually comes attached to a label (Lxs Grises). So I don't really know what happened or why when I type the band's name in, all I can find is some film by the same name. I will say that this oddly entertaining mix of death/sludge, rock and what can even become a sort of atmospheric soft-rock, is something worth checking out due to the sheer sporadity of it all. “Saint Place” might starts out rather burly, but it calms down to almost a meditation level. “Spiritual Madness” sounds like sheer death metal, but it also allows for psychedelics. Even “Times Of Sin” sounds a bit unique in composition, playing on some progressives. Seriously? You people aren't hearing this? I'm astonished. I know that the drums might sound a little far away at times, but these guys took a bit of a fuzzier and more organic route with their production. Again, I think they were just doing the best they could with what they had. Though in listening to this wildly textured release, I can't say that that is such a bad thing. I would have never expected such an airy cut as “Fuegos Fatuos” nor would I have expected such an intriguingly bleak closer in “Abysmos.” The guitars and drums were played in such a fashion to create the illusion of a vortex, adding in some unexpected drone to a disc that has played with death metal, groove, sludge, atmospheric soft rock and more. It makes me rather upset to see that there aren't any real English language reviews for this release, and it's definitely worth a listen for those of you looking for something a bit more from your sludge. I really hope that a lack of reviews and promotion doesn't serve as a detriment to these guys creating future albums, because there's something rather interesting in this one and I'd implore you to go seek it out.

(8 Tracks, 37:00)

8/10

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Movie Review: Magnificent 7 (2016)

Magnificent 7 was much better than I had anticipated. The trailer doesn't really show the depth of the film. There are more than a few moments of great acting by lead Denzel Washington, who pulled off the whole "black cowboy" thing very well. I could see him in the shoes of Roland Deschain for sure, and I feel much more comfortable now with the Idris Elba choice in that role next year. There are still some who might be put off by the idea of more racially diverse characters, but good acting is just good acting in my book. Regardless, the man was phenomenal. It was the kind of film I could watch and get really excited whenever he appeared on screen, because I knew that something great was going to happen. One of the best damn cowboys I've seen on film, but I haven't seen enough to truly judge. After all, I  haven't seen a lot of westerns, they never really appealed to me - until now.

Some might prefer the original cast to this one, but the newcomers all did a good job, except for one in particular - Chris Pratt. A cowboy he is not, and should never be. The magic trick in the beginning was unusually entertaining, but after that, his boyish silliness just felt out of place in the Eastwood-esque character that he was trying so hard to be. Stick to more modern fantasy work, Pratt. Loved you in Guardians, but you annoyed the shit out of me in this.

The film had decent bits of comedy, even though it opens and ends on both a crushingly painful note. Washington's scene with the villain in the church was mesmerizing. The villain's performance (I didn't catch his name) was threatening, but I felt that he was kind of a coward in the fact that he mostly stood around and let everyone else do the fighting. He was good at terrorizing people in the name of capitalism, but when it came to a gunfight, he was so painfully insulting that you felt good when he'd been put out of his misery.

Then we have the chick from Hunger Games, (good thing I'm not turning this into any publicists) who does pull off the kind of "rebel woman that doesn't want to take care of the women and children and would rather fight with the men" role rather well. She never officially joins the seven gunslingers, but she does deliver the last shot in the film. It feels like she was suffocated and tried to get in as many parts as she could, as the film apparently had no female lead before and she had to halfway fill that as an unofficial eighth member. Of the several roles in the film that fit, hers felt kind of forced. Maybe she was in it for twenty minutes at most? Thirty, perhaps?

Magnificent 7 is basically a revenge film, with what feels like an hour of gunfights and explosions behind what is an exceedingly long build-up. Though I feel that you get your money's worth. It certainly has a lot of action, but there's no real kung-fu aside from knife play and the only modern style weaponry is a gatling gun used as a villain's trump card. It feels like the gatling gun belongs though, as it isn't high-tech and was operated through a crank mechanism. This is not a spaghetti western and doesn't stray too far from it's western roots. Don't trust that shitty trailer, this is indeed a real western, with a western musical score as well.

I haven't seen the original, but this reboot is actually not all that bad. I can see how some would get as upset as I was over Pratt's dumb quips, but you could certainly be watching worse modern westerns than this. If you're looking for gunfighting that seemingly never ends until every man is down, and enjoy seeing the story of an unlikely crew joined together towards a common goal with a shocking ending note, then give Magnificent 7 a try.

(2hrs, 7m)

8/10

Movie Review: Suicide Squad (2016)

Suicide Squad was definitely the best DC film I've seen since the classic era. The film felt like the comic and I could see some scenes in panels. The Enchantress battle was one of the deepest and most rewarding battles I have seen in a film in quite some time. She actually felt like she wouldn't go down real easy, and she didn't. It was like battling a goddess. The fact that she was tricked into defeat was also very poetic. This is what I wanted from Apocalypse.

The characters had great back stories too. Aside from the romanticized Joker, and that weird helicopter scene where Leto tried his best Penguin impression, (WTF?) his performance was pretty great. Robbie was a good-enough Harley. Felt like the character. El Diablo had a great performance towards the end, and I can't believe I'm saying this, but - this is the best performance I've seen from Will Smith in ages. The movie showed me that he can still act.

We could have had a lot less of the zombie knockoffs that didn't really fight back and felt like fodder enemies, as the story suffered from what could have been more villains working under Enchantress. It was just her, her brother and a bunch of puppet enemies. Felt like they were fighting putties or brainless zombie things as they had no mouth or way to attack. Ayer must have just said, "fuck it" when he wrote those in. We have a whole thirty minutes of them killing fodder enemies. Enemies I could have killed. I'm not even sure they had any power or way to harm. Maybe strangling? I could keep one as a pet and wouldn't have to feed it. They were too dumb to fight and not able to shoot or use weapons. They just walked and died. Most useless enemies ever. If they made a beat em' up of the game, I'd be bored fighting enemies that didn't seem to attack. For powerful magic, that sucked. I guess she's been asleep too long to know how to use her powers.

All in all, I'd give the film a relatively high score and would recommend that any fan of comic book action and depth watch it. Forget what you know about the comics and you'll like how the actors made these characters their own. Even though some are pretty close to their comic counterparts - except for Captain Boomerang or whatever. He was absolutely useless and just wanted to run away. I was hoping he would.

(2hrs, 10m)

8/10

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Mechanik War III - Xtermination (2016)

Originally from Europe, these now California based industrial black metallers have released their debut album which is going to be a must for fans of Deathstars, Ministry, The Kovenant, Front Line Assembly, mid-era Septic Flesh and more. About the first thing you'll notice on the disc is how much it crunches, which Astaroth handles quite nicely. These are the kind of Ministry level groove/crunches that back with furious bouts of drums courtesy of Crucifactor, who brings off that hard-edge that listeners want from this kind of music. It's so competently played as far as the structure of these pieces is concerned, that it gives me the feel of classic industrial rock/metal in the vein of Psalm 69 with a touch of unexpected Goth that reminds me much of Deathstars.

Though Astaroth doesn't use as many tremolos on this record as you might expect, every song on the disc has it's own unique feel – especially the album's finale, “In Memoriam” which is definitely an unexpected and rather somber moment that doesn't sound like anything else in the band. Listeners might be a bit shocked by the ending as the rest of this disc is quite heavy, but even this piece contains hints of the Gothic organs that adorn sections of this record when the tremolos aren't being utilized. Astaroth also lays down a few unexpected melodic leads in areas, but nothing that really takes away from the performance as a whole.

When we look at a track like opener, “Flesh Reich” we can see how lyrically there's not much to it, and it almost feels like a long introduction to the album – but if we keep listening, we'll find that the ghostly keys and ferocious drum abrasions do help to add weight to this performance as a whole. Sometimes frontman Massaker will use a robotic voice filter which adds to the whole post-apocalyptic “Cyber Chemical Warfare” of the thing. It's odd when you can use a song title to describe the band as a whole, but this is definitely what we have here. Even if you don't like the Goth approaches in the vocal front, you might find something within the chunky industrial of the act as a whole. Mechanik War III do not beat around the bush about their Goth elements, but if you've always thought that bands like Deathstars weren't heavy enough, I think you'll find something in Xtermination.

I'll be honest. Even though I did an interview with Deathstars during the run of their last album The Perfect Cult, I still consider that record to be the single worst recording they've ever made. I was kind of expecting something a bit more like this. That's not to say there are too many similarities between the two acts, because as I've noted, Mechanik War III are a much heavier act. While Goth remains a huge part of the disc, Xtermination is still a thunderously brutal take on the genre and it shows some real muscle where I believe it is needed. Though the band use electronic elements, I couldn't call them a sort of “untz untz” act either. Even considering the dance-club friendly bits on “Apocalypse X69” there are so many crushing elements to this disc that fans of the genre are going to be quite enthralled.

Unfortunately there are no full-on guitar solos, but Astaroth does balance well with Crucifactor in the melody department, which offers a good sense of purpose along with the absolutely relentless drumming on this one. It's great to see proper symmetry within these two unlikely elements, especially considering the fact that the drums do not drown out the guitars here. That seems to happen one too many times on these kinds of records, so hearing a band that have made it work with just three guys is something of an accomplishment on their part.

Additionally, Mechanik War III creates a sense of equality within their Goth and industrial elements that doesn't see the album drained completely by either one. The black metal tremolos aren't overused either, and the record doesn't go into full blast beats often, which is great in my opinion. Several other bands would have done that, but the listener can tell just from listening to the album that these gentlemen have done their industrial homework. Perhaps it's a bit more industrial Goth metal than industrial black metal, and that's fine. We don't have an awful lot of bands that perform that approach, let alone bands that do it as well as these guys.

Xtermination isn't a perfect album by any means, but it is far better than I would have ever expected and could seriously put these guys on the map. We could have a real contender in the scene here, so definitely keep your eyes on this act. Without a doubt, Xtermination is one of the best Gothic industrial records I've heard all year. Yet it is also one of the only Gothic industrial albums I've heard all year, which is certainly not a bad thing.

(11 Tracks, 47:00)

8/10