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Corpsessed "Impetus of Death"

It was 2014 when Corpsessed released their debut full length and mighty fucking good it was too.  Some 4+ years later and it is time for the sophomore release to land in my music stream and seek my attention.  When I say seek I actually mean possess my attention.  Although the album is by no means perfect, this record grabs hold of you by your very soul, dragging it off on a journey littered with horror, darkness and crushing heaviness to boot.  One of its main successes is the atmosphere that is obvious from the opening of "Impetus of  the Dead" and plays an integral part over the remainder of the release. It is a very well structured album too, with strong song writing that layers tracks up to behemoth size and proportions.  Yet at the same time there's a real sense of balance too, for every cavernous and mammoth like structure there's shorter and more intense bursts that whilst moving the pace slightly away from the heaviness, don't distract too much from it.  "Paroxsymal" and "Sortilege" are great examples of this, two well placed tracks that add a variety to the pace and increase the memorability of the whole experience. The album only has two weak points for me.  The penultimate track on the record seems just a random and not altogether necessary inclusion, especially given the quality of "Forlorn Burial" before it and the vast ending of "Starless Event Horizon" after it.  Secondly, the production does seem to give off a muddled sound on some tracks although the horror of the atmosphere and those lead guitars certainly do rescue the day on more than one occasion.  In a year that has struggled overall to bring many standout DM records, "Impetus of Death" will be a welcome addition to any fan's Top 10 DM Albums of 2018 no doubt.  It is one of the stronger records of 2018 and also a fine step up from their debut offering also which makes me excited for album number 3.   4/5

MacabreEternal

MacabreEternal

Soulfly "Ritual"

Surprises are nice aren't they?  I mean, not socks for Xmas type surprises.  Not even tax rebate on your birthday-esque proportions either.  I am more concerned with those times in your life where you tell yourself you will hate something before you even get round to trying it, convincing yourself in the process this unheard, untasted, unseen or unfelt thing would be a waste of your time.  When you eventually throw caution to the wind and give it go you find no repulsion, no bile in your throat just the recognition that you might just have been denying yourself some entertainment or genuine fun for a proportion of your life. This is has been my experience of "Ritual" by Soulfly.  You see I made my mind up that after "Arise" Max Cavalera was a spent force.  "Chaos AD" had its moments but largely left me a bit, "meh!"  When I tuned out of Sepultura activity entirely shortly afterwards I was aware that he had cropped up in various other guises over the years (Nailbomb, Cavalera Conspiracy) but understood Soulfly to be his nu-metal/world music project.  Twenty-something me had no time for his fucking around and since Sepultura offered nothing interesting the Cavalera contribution to my record collection was over as far as I was concerned. There's been 20+ years since Max and Sepultura went their separate ways and it's far to say that in those two decades, Soulfly have matured a bit.  Yes, there's still the fucking pointless moments ("Soulfly XI" - saxophone and acoustic nonsense that has no business being here) where styles get mixed up and world influences intervene unnecessarily.  Yep, there's still nu metal sounds too (the melodic parts of "Bite the Bullet" for example).  But there's also a fucking raging bull of anger, dissent and venom crashing through the political, social and religious delicacy of this particular chins shop in which we all live.  It kicks and charges relentlessly at times, and despite the risk of becoming speared by a horn or trampled by rampant hooves you just find yourself running alongside it riff by riff.   There's no wheels reinvented though.  Anyone familiar with the band might be going "just another Soulfly album dickhead!" but the point is that I had real fun playing this.  I pulled silly faces, made lots of silent shouts and nodded along appreciatively with all the catchy and familiar riffs on display.  It opens with the tribal sounding title track but this soon descends into a chugging monster of a track, well paced and accessible without sacrificing any momentum.  As the album plays we get groove, thrash and a fury long since thought gone from the Cavalera repertoire to my ears.  There hasn't been a lot released this year to really get my juices flowing and my blood pumping and Soulfly scratch that itch perfectly here.  In any other year with consistent high quality releases, "Ritual" would have much less of an impact I suspect, but as with most releases I have lauded this year (Judas Priest, Saxon..) it is the old guard doing a shift again and putting a lot of newer bands to shame in the process. 3/5

MacabreEternal

MacabreEternal

Behemoth "I Loved You At Your Darkest"

The first song I heard ahead of the full 2014 release ("The Satanist") from Behemoth was "Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel".  It immediately peaked my interest, setting the tone nicely for what was to become one of my favoured full lengths of that year.  This time around I heard "God = Dog" (which I think means the band are more cat people?).  It sounded blunted and frankly restrained.  Yes, there was a brief passage of some interesting string work towards the end but generally it just passed me by.  Sadly, just as my experience of the lead song/single from 2014 was an excellent benchmark for my expectation of the full length, the same has happened in 2018 but with a very different outcome. "I Loved You At Your Darkest" rarely achieves touching distance of the band's previous full length.  There's lots of things that stop it from doing this, indeed the list is as long as either one of my lanky and lengthy arms.  The songwriting is poor, it lacks any real structure the majority of the time.  As a result there is a constant sense of this just being a very hastily written, rush of ideas.  Tracks like "If Crucifixion Was Not Enough" and "Ecclesia Diabolica Catholica" show this in abundance, the former nailing the lid down on its own coffin with one of the laziest attempts at a menacing riff I have heard in a while. When we do actually settle into some sense of structure it actually works well.  "Bartzabel" is a sole triumph in the songwriting/structure stakes here and this is almost ruined by the annoying double layered, chanting backing vocals. Next on my list of grumbles?  The sound.  It is one of the most sterile and strained sounding mixes I think I have ever heard on a record.  The drums sound like they were tracked for a completely different purpose on some of the tracks, "Wolves ov Siberia" and "Rom 5:8" in particular.  I can't believe that this was the intended sound the band wanted to achieve.  I follow Behemoth on Instagram and they make much majesty and menace over their theatre and general pomp when performing live it seems.  Surely then they haven't listened to the final playback of this record? Now then.  I don't recall chanting children on a record ever working well?  But there's a couple of tracks here of children chanting their disdain for Christianity alongside Nergal and co.  It sounds frankly fucking ridiculous and trite even over only two tracks! In summary, this is a massive disappointment whether you enjoyed "The Satanist" or not.  Hastily put together, poorly arranged and mixed terribly to boot. 1/5 

Deicide "Overtures of Blasphemy"

Glen Benton is 51.  Fuck I feel old now too.  Deicide are 30 years old (32 if we count the Amon era).  Album number 12 from the fathers of Florida death metal is a strong effort considering yet another change of personnel has occurred.  It is bye-bye Jack Owen, hello Mark English of Monstosity fame taking up guitar duties and ironically I like "Overtures of Blasphemy " a lot more than Monstrosity's effort this year. Whilst it can never make the "beast of a DM record" title I would give to the debut or"Legion" for example, "Overtures..." is entertaining.  Whether it is the melo-death passages that litter the streets and alleyways of this record or the more familiar sacrilegious blasting fury of Deicide at their (old) best, there's plenty to balance the experince over these 12 tracks.  Take "Seal The Tomb" for example, it goes immediately for the jugular, relentlessly chugging riffs alongside Benton's usual demented growls only to be tempered by menacing and interesting leads and sonics that carry the song along well.  Listen once to this track and it is in your head for literally days after. Then there's the vehemence of the lyrics of "Compliments of Christ" were you can feel the spittle from Glen's lips splattering your ears as he spews forth the vitriol he is best known for.  "Anointed in Blood" opens like a lead jam session recorded mid flow before developing into a hellish gallop of fiery hooves, again perfectly completed by some well placed and well timed leads. This is were Morbid Angel went wrong with "Kingdoms..." safe DM with little if any attention paid to the sonic wizardry of their sound.  Take a leaf out of Glen's book Trey! It is clear that this is no nonsense DM that is not out to reinvent any wheels it still has enough equal measure of extremity and assured and unapologetic attitude to hold it's own against most of the DM records released this year.  It is not perfect by any means.  I lose it on more than one occasion if I am honest ("Crucified Soul of Salvation" in particular hits my 'standby' button really nicely) and it is a couple of tracks too long making for an almost excessive feel to the running time.  Whilst it is a well paced record there's definitely some "filler" present.  But very any turkeys in here there is still thankfully the brilliance of tracks like "Consumed by Hatred" to snap you back to attention.  "Flesh, Power, Dominion" is one of the strongest things Deicide have ever put to tape btw. 3/5

MacabreEternal

MacabreEternal

Khemmis "Desolation"

I have heard a lot of metal over my 29 years of listening to little else genre wise.  I have seen the birth and death of genres and sub genres and even witnessed things come back full circle as the twenty teens (?) churn out the likes of Visigoth with their traditional take of heavy metal that was the audible catalyst for me at 13 years of age to go down this route as a fan. Khemmis are a band that embrace that "older" or more "traditional" feel to metal in 2018 that has been popular over the past few years.  Described as doom, in the same conversations that still include Pallbearer as thus also, I find Khemmis similar in sound to the Arkansas quartet with a more "catchy" nod to their sound. What's clear about "Desolation" is that it is well written.  There's little wobble to these structures folks, although we may have gone a little over the top in terms of the decor once the main build has been finished.  For 6 tracks we get consistent, melodic, capable and memorable heavy metal (not much doom here - sorry Mr Internet) which pleases the still present teenager in me.  42 year old me wants a bit more of a challenge though.  When something is well written you should be getting lost it in - like a King Crimson record for example - if you can see the quality of the song writing then it shouldn't be so easy to get distracted (in my book at least).  Whilst I enjoy a lot of what I hear on "Desolation", I don't love much of it.   The production, whilst probably delivered as intended does make things seem a little too clean for a "doom" record,  For example- when they kick in - far too much attention are given to the leads and the rest of the instrumentation gets little opportunity to support them.  Only on closing track, "From Ruin" do they get this mix right in my opinion.  It's an odd review to be writing, because although I don't hate anything on "Desolation", the continued hype and fervour on the internet for Khemmis just has my expectations set way too high. Capable musicians and solid songwriters sums up Khemmis perfectly but they just don't light the blue torch paper for me I am afraid. 3/5

Immortal "Northern Chaos Gods"

Behind every great man, there's a great woman.  Behind every camped up, shape throwing, garrulous Black Metal vocalist there's a great song writer.  Both of these statements are true, except the second one actually does not commend Abbath as being the imaginative, creative and artistic driving force behind Immortal.  This is blatantly obvious if you have heard his solo pop/rock record of a couple of years ago. What "Northern Chaos Gods" does is essentially pull off one of the best tattoo removal jobs in the history of "I Love Sharon" ink stains on most truck drivers (married to a woman called Rose) arm's being obliterated by lasers.  Despite a big character no longer being present on this record, I don't for one second miss Abbath.  Demonaz and co manage to put out an album that sounds so much like Immortal of old you could be forgiven for crying "Fake News!" at every mention of the turmoil and split between the founding members given the music is as strong as it has been in some while. Demonaz even sounds like a more in control albeit slightly more subdued Abbath.  But it isn't the vocals that will get you sweating like a blind lesbian in a fishmongers.  Nope, IT'S THE FUCKING RIFFS MAN!!!!!!  It is genuinely like getting twatted by an octopus for 42 and a bit minutes, listening to this record.  Utterly relentless in their delivery, Immortal just pummel away at you, occasionally throwing an atmosphere building intro before thundering off on hoofed steed to epic landscapes such as "Where Mountains Rise". There's no Judas Priest or Iron Maiden esque dip in output here in the absence of their established  frontman here.  Demonaz and Horgh have - to put it in layman's terms - just picked up and ran with the established format.  Don't get me wrong, it isn't anywhere near the quality of "At The Heart of Winter", alhtough it does piss all over "All Shall Fall".  Think of it as being the record "Damned In Black" could have been as a better precursor to the great "Sons of Northern Darkness". They have a song called "Blacker of Worlds"!!!  I mean what grown man with the mind of a pubescent boy doesn't think that is cool as fuck??? If the start of closing track "Mighty Ravendark" doesn't bring you out in goose pimples, you're dead inside.  Fist pumping, neck snapping metal right here folks. 4/5    

Winterfylleth "The Hallowing of Heirdom"

Okay, so I will admit that the prospect of an acoustic only Winterfylleth album didn't exactly fill me with joy.  The pagan, black metallers have long existed on the fringes of my radar but never somehow managed to make much more than a fleeting blip historically.  The fact is that this is one of the most heartfelt records I have listened to in quite a while.  I have more than once found myself stood stock still, completely captivated by the atmospheric beauty of what I have heard on this record.  The album opens up with "The Shepherd" a track which starts with a rendering of the Christopher Marlowe poem "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love" and this is an indication of what you are in for as a listener.  There's not one bit of BM on this record and it doesn't need any in any way, shape or form.  "The Hallowing of Heirdom" is more folk than anything even remotely resembling metal.  Imagine if Fleet Foxes dropped the irritation of that constant "hippy" vibe and showed some actual capable instrumentation also and you are loosely on the right track.   There's variety to it which is as unexpected as it is welcome and it means you never get bored despite the record clocking in at 55 mins plus.  Over 12 tracks you are actually taken on a journey that stays with you long afterwards, which is what all good journeys should do, be memorable for all the right reasons.  But don't get me wrong, it isn't OTT on the emotion front, that's not the strength on display here.  No, this is one of the most balanced releases in my recent memory.  It's like a picture album where the first picture is given to you (that cover) and then it takes over your head with numerous captures of the very essence of the land itself.  You can smell the pine of the trees, the earthy tones of the fields and almost feel the breeze on your face even though you are sat in your front room with all the windows and doors shut. As usual with Winterfylleth there's a theme of the old ways being lost, the album title itself harking back to the importance of "heirdom" as we all exist with clear ties back to people stretching far back into history but seem to rarely give that much thought.   "The Hallowing of Heirdom" seems a fitting tribute to the ways of yore regardless. 5/5

Circle II Circle "Burden of Truth"

I invite you to come with me to a time before 2008. It may surprise you to learn that at this point, Circle II Circle was actually a pretty damn good band. They did eventually become prog Godsmack, as history will record with bitter regret chronicling the storied tale of Savatage. For now, however, let’s make like boomers and complain about how things used to be better. Burden of Truth sounds like sentimentalism, at times. It feels rather like Skid Row filtered through Phantom of the Opera, in that characteristically Trans-Siberian Orchestra fashion. The difference, though, is that Circle II Circle crank the technicality and bite of their music significantly higher than TSO’s comfortable bombast. It’s certainly a little saccharine, but performed with such conviction and talent as to make that nearly irrelevant. Zak Stevens’ voice is vital to this whole undertaking. His overbored bass resonates unstoppably through every song, an unmistakably mature vocal delivery that dignifies even the album’s most banal emotional turns (“How can we learn to live as one…” “I walked by the church and saw the children, and the world through their eyes…”). Moreover, it is very identifiably American, and that’s the biggest selling point of this album. It’s worth noting he layers very nicely with his backing vocalists. The “The Black” and title track have particularly good harmonizing. One might be tempted to snicker at some of these lyrics and the melodies. How antiquated the notion of melodic music without dizzying rhythmic changes or production magic out the ass. Yet, the sheer power behind it all is impossible to deny. The piano line on “Heal Me” would be insufferable if it didn’t drag you in immediately. Despite the sugar content, Burden of Truth is largely fat-free. It doesn’t fall victim to most metal tropes, including the prevalence of vibrato. It’s endearing too, in a sort of Andie McDowell in Five Weddings and a Funeral kind of way, or perhaps of Joy Davidson in Shadowlands – very American. The opening to Revelations? Badass. The crunchy riffs of A Matter of Time? Some slick shit. The entirety of Evermore? One of the most masterfully tight, pointed pieces of prog metal out there that still pounds away at the ears like a cannon blast. If you wanted an aspirational American soundtrack, this is it. Songs for an endearing everyman with more behind his ears than you might guess.

Iceni

Iceni

Ministry "AmeriKKKant"

No matter how much you dislike Donald Trump, Ministry's overt and constant attack on his administration doesn't mean that "AmeriKKKant" is actually a good album.  I mean it isn't entirely a terrible album either but you will struggle to remember much of it after even a couple of listens, beyond the endless stream of frankly confusing and almost barrage like snippets of Trump audio bites that is, they are the only really memorable part. It isn't really an industrial metal album either.  It sounds more like a nu-metal band got sealed into a steel drum with their instruments and got rolled down a big hill.  It doesn't come across as particular caustic or aggressive though, just a bit of a racket made in a Republican nightmare.   Not long into the record the message you are constantly force-fed just gets bloating.  There's no rescue or reprise from it as the pace of the album is so inconsistent and frankly repetitive you have nothing else of worth to focus on as a distraction.  I mean you can be really angry and pissed off and still transfer it to audio without being boring (Body Count "Bloodlust" is a great recent example of this). Even if Donald Trump is listening, the message of this record is that it is too mediocre a response to the true horror of his administration.  The facepalm on the cover of the album is unfortuantely all too indicative of the quality of the record itself. 2 horns out 5

Judas Priest "Firepower"

When I was 14 I witnessed the video on Raw Power TV to the title track from Judas Priest's "Painkiller" album.  I hadn't heard any Priest up until that stage despite me having a good selection of Iron Maiden and Saxon records under my belt by that age.  "Painkiller" blew me the fuck away!  I mean, what was not to love?  Thunderous drums, a mix of gruff and shrill vocal antics and duelling lead guitars.  I went straight out that afternoon and bought the album on blasted it for consecutive days for the next 3 months.  All in all, not a bad gateway album to the band.  The final point to make about "Painkiller" was that the record kicked the ass of most other releases in what was simply a stellar year for metal with "Rust in Peace", "Cowboys from Hell", "Danzig II: Lucifuge" and "Harmony Corruption" all dropping that same year, to mention but a few. The real draw of "Painkiller" was the memorability of the experience, the intensity aside (which in itself was a fucking energising venture) one run through the record left seared scorch marks across your brain.  For years after I could run through the entire album in my head note for note.  "Firepower" is exactly the same.  A mere 24 hours after it coming into my life and I can sing along with the lyrics, air guitar to near note perfection and bash my fingers bloody to the drums on my desktop.  It's full of anthemic choruses and simple yet effective hooks that just pull you in. Now, here's where the "Painkiller" comparisons stop.  "Firepower" is not another "Painkiller" in terms of pace or intensity by any means (whoever expected as much is dreaming).  It is however really strongly written and the arrangement is damn near perfect.  Let's not forget that Priest formed in 1969.  That's 49 years ago and they can still put out relevant and exciting metal almost without effort. Try and not headbang to any of the opening six tracks, if you can achieve it you are almost certainly dead inside.  Try not to make ridiculous gurning faces to any of the lead work on here and again if you succeed, check your pulse!  Sad though it maybe that Glenn has confirmed his Parkinson's is now progressed enough to stop him from touring there is no doubt that he can exchange blows, pound for pound with Faulkner and barely break a sweat.  Travis is as solid as ever behind the skins and although all my attention is on those fucking guitars he thumps along well enough to lynch the sound to a rhythmic core, as Hill rumbles along moulding his bass lines to the rest of the instrumentation nicely.  Halford still sounds strong to my ears, not his old self by any means but he carries off "Firepower" brilliantly. There's no point doing a track by track description here, if you have read the review to this point you'll get the idea.  Criticisms?  It is too long, by about 2 or maybe 3 tracks.  However, you can easily suffer the dips in the quality here and there as you are rarely away from some truly great music.  It does get a little samey at times too but that's forgivable to me as nobody is looking to reinvent any wheels here this may cause issue with the longevity of the record though for me.  Right now though I love it, I fucking love it. 5/5

Portal "ION"

One of my favourite urban myths is that you will go blind if you masterbate too much.  Listening to Portal might make you go blind as you ears frantically take resource from your brain that was needed for mundane tasks such as vision and bladder control as they try to cope with the relentless auditory assault of "ION", however pulling your pud won't affect your eyesight boys.  Science bit over, on with the review. "ION" seems instantly more refined than previous outings.  Don't get me wrong here, there's no slick production values been applied and there isn't any venture into clean vocals for example.  It just seems that this time around things are more calculated.  "Phreqs" is like being attacked by a swarm of wasps, as chaotic as it seems there's some well thought out structure to the attack to maximise the impact.  One of the only criticisms I could draw against Portal of old was that sometimes the mental factor was up over 11 and things did tend to get lost.  "Vexovoid" remedied this a lot with its more "Horror" approach and "ION" seems to take that on a notch further combining dark alchemy and atmospheres perfectly.  The build of "Crone" for example is full of creeping dread and menace, finally arriving and proving to be as ghastly as I had hoped it would. For all the scientific intimation of the cover things are still more on the experimental as opposed to technical side of death metal.  There's still that pit of the stomach sensation of being dragged into some fathomless void by the spiralling darkness of those fucking guitars and the taunting evil of those drums - they are not just about all out assault folks.  The layers do genuinely seem to be being applied with more structure this time around and the instrumentation is used better than ever to produce real atmosphere.  Favourite release of 2018 so far. 5 horns out 5  

MacabreEternal

MacabreEternal

Machine Head "Catharsis"

Fucking hell.  Where to start really? Nu-metal is apparently alive and well in 2018 and I don't like Nu-Metal, so the prospects for positive words in this review are slim.  It is not that I don't like Machine Head.  I mean I am not one of the mindless internet troll brigade who respond to every release with "These guys made "Burn My Eyes" and listen to this!".  Get over it bell ends, there's no more "Burn My Eyes" nor is there anymore "The Blackening" left to come.  Whilst I will openly admit to enjoying most releases since "The Blackening" there is no denying that the sound of MH has become increasingly diluted over the albums since their "comeback".  "Catharsis" is the end point for me.  It is so diluted it is like wearing my once dark black hoodie after it has been bleach hand washed and then boil washed - it kind of has lost all substance. The rapping is back, as if the first time round wasn't enough of a fucking car crash.  "Triple Beam" is without doubt one of the worst pieces of "music" I have ever heard.  When we aren't being treated to poor attempts at lyrical rhyming we are drowning in dreamy, hazy clean vocals that seem to be aiming (yes actually aiming) for harmony.  Yep, there's some catchy riffs but who fucking cares if you have to drink from the toilet to realise all you'll ever find in there is shit? Why this all has to go on for 15 tracks is a mystery?  I'll be honest, the skip button got used at least 13 times in writing this review.  For all the (frankly excessive) marketing that has been done for "Catharsis" I don't think I could feel anymore of an anti-climax.  Robb Flynn is all over every mag cover, web and video interview defending "Catharsis" and that's his entitlement, he didn't write any of this for me.  It is still terrible though. 0 horns out of 5  

MacabreEternal

MacabreEternal

Watain "Trident Wolf Eclipse"

Watain's last album "The Wild Hunt" got slated on one internet review for being "Nu-Dark Funeral with the heart of Bon Jovi".  Whilst a certain amount of butthurt contributed the scribe of aforementioned review choosing such a frankly ridiculous statement, it was unfortunately indicative of the direction change of the album that saw the raw and ferocious nature of the band be trimmed back to make way for more melodic, progressive and accessible aspects. "Trident Wolf Eclipse" is a return to that more traditional sound.  Although melody is obvious throughout, it is more restrained.  We have more Gorgoroth here than we do Bon Jovi that's for sure.  No wheels are reinvented on Watain's sixth studio album.  It is pretty standard BM fare, full of raw production values, tremolo leads and drums that can peel flesh from faces.  You won't find a lot here that hasn't been done by Watain before but then again the fan base has been crying out for a return that more "underground" sound for four years plus now.  As opposed to innovation let's just look at this albums raison d'etre as being to rectify the imbalance in their discography. Even the album is more BM than your average Bandcamp BM demo release nowadays.  Straight out of a 13 year old boy's maths jotter who gave up on trigonometry weeks ago.  So, depending on whether the kvlt legions of troo black metal want to put their sacrificial goat carcasses down for long enough to give them a chance, Watain are back.  Average at best, but back at least. 3 horns out of 5. 

MacabreEternal

MacabreEternal

Shining "X - Varg Utan Flock"

Two album reviews in one day today.  Boy, will I sleep tonight.  Although perhaps not as easily as I might think.  "X - Varg Utan Flock" has a bit flustered, a bit confused yet in a good way - like when I saw a magician at my friend's wedding and he wasn't just counting cards even though he didn't walk through a wall either. Shining's latest album twists and turns as it unfolds in front of you like some venomous snake.  Depressive tone? Tick.  Demented vocals? Check!  Sad piano track?  That's a roger sir!  All the stuff you expect to hear assisted by the usual clean and full production job we've all come to expect.  "Han Som Lurar Inom" reverberates though your actual soul as it lurches through eight mins plus of spat lyrics, Behemoth like riffs and hazy reprises. The classical keys of "Tolvtusenfyrtioett" are actually hauntingly beautiful and the bonkers vocal cabaret of "Gyllene Portarnas Bro" make it sound like a pisstake Eurovision Song Contest entry.  Unfortunately it is this varied nature to proceedings that does become a little off putting on repeated listens.  The latter mentioned track actually is more than a little awkward and closing track "Mot Aokighara" strays close to similar territory before a change of pace rescues it and takes it off in a much stronger direction. Crooning aside, there's still lots to like on "X - Varg Utan Flock" and there's evidence of some strong songwriting skills and instrumentation prowess also.  It might not all fit together perfectly but what is pieced together well is really solid. 3 horns out 5.

Summoning "With Doom We Come"

I call false album title.  There's no doom on here folks.  Any flare-wearing readers can stand down at this point of the review.  I imagine the doom aspect of the title refers to the medieval threat of some Tolkien inspired fictitious army that Summoning have kindly recorded a soundtrack for.  If you are familiar with Summoning there's little in the way of anything new here as the Austrians again bring their own brand of epic/atmospheric black metal to 2018.  I would be interested to know what @Requiem makes of it of course as I imagine this album could accompany many night of his sat at home alone playing Warhammer.   The problem I have with "With Doom We Come" is that it doesn't really "go" anywhere.  It could quite easily all be one track with seven pauses given the sound and structure varies very little from track to track.  That is not to say it is a bad album, it just drips into the water without ever making a real "splosh" at any point.  There's the usual gruff vocal style and occasional chanting over keys galore whilst the guitar just sits in the corner with a tea and some crossword books to bide the time one presumes. Sarcasm aside, fans of the band will like this albeit without any truly remarkable moments to cement it is a stand out album.  Usually, I can't sit and listen to Summoning without doing something else and this made a great accompaniment to some shelves I hung this morning, very rousing at times to the point of making me forget about my hangover altogether.  The atmospheric magic never really finds any identifiable peak though, beautiful though the record is at times nothing really stands out overall. 2.5 Horns out of 5 

Amaranthe "Maximalism"

Sorry deathstorm, I don’t like it. It took me a while to come round to Amaranthe. I first heard them when they were announced for the roster of ProgPower XIII and thought they sounded too poppy, sage musical critic that I was. I did entertain the idea that that was the entire point, but dismissed them as being too technically lacking in any case. Their second album, The Nexus, featuring the least inventive album art I’d seen in a while, was a marked improvement, with its title track nearly a total ripoff of the leading single from their self-titled debut but a demonstrably better take. Everything was more or less the same, just done right. The riffs were on point, there were a higher proportion of peppy bubblegum tracks that sounded like Cascada doing djent (or just a slightly less sugary Blood Stain Child) – it was their best album. They followed this up with Massive Addictive, a somewhat weaker but nonetheless slightly different album with a couple tracks that sounded like they could have been composed by MrWeebl. As far as third albums went, it wasn’t bad – and the slow songs were actually all rights, even on the acoustic versions. It was also a little closer to regular melodeath. That brings us to Maximalism. In principle, the concept behind this album is fine. Amaranthe always imitated pop, so why not imitate current pop? It could inject some life into this worthless moribund slurry of pink noise that the post-Trump miasma has been nice enough to slowly excrete over this most recent tax period. I mean, the only way this would could fail is if modern pop were so limp-wristed and ineffectual that even the nuclear cocaine infusion of metal failed to resuscitate its bloated heart. Whoops. It’s fascinating how one can avoid actually discussing the album for so long here just because of the hilarious incidental commentary. All of the songs here a poppy in an obligatory sense, rather like the current generation of pop. I remember hating Ke$ha back in 2012 when she was big, but hearing “Tik Tok” after a bleak slog through a bunch of mopey nonsensical dogshit and limp-wristed soggy whining is a godsend. At best, Maximalism is a poor man’s version of their previous output, and at worst it’s an imitation of modern pop in the sense that you don’t remember anything about it other than that it sucked. Anyway, what about the actual songs?  “Maximize” is a terrible opening track. On one hand, it’s a pale imitation of the band’s previous pop-metal efforts, with all of the elements watered down – and on the other hand, it’s about as close as they get to their previous work. Compared with the other songs on the album, it’s not bad, but using it as an opener sets the listener up for disappointment. I remember thinking “well, that was kinda weak – let’s see what else you got” and then Maximalism kinda shuffles its feet before presenting the listener with a couple of nearly uncut metal tracks. Well, that’s not quite true. “Boomerang” is pretty fun if a little repetitive. Watch the music video because it is definitely the funniest I’ve seen in years. Oddly, Elle King seems to have been one of the stronger influences on this album. The combination of rhythmic country/blues-type riffs and poppy choruses has been combined with metal plenty of times before, but that doesn’t mean Amaranthe aren’t willing to take a few whacks at the deceased equine. It’s OK, I suppose. “21” is passable. “On the Rocks” is good, although the “na na na” shit certainly triggered an allergic reaction that clouded by judgment of the song for some time. The other tracks are a relatively dull mixed bag. “Limitless” has a dreary false energy and an utterly forgettable chorus. In other words it’s an excellent imitation of the vast majority of Daya’s work. “Fury” is the least poppy song on here, more or less just a modern melodeath tune. It works on its own merits, but it’s not particularly interesting. “Faster” is attempting to be an Amaranthe song and sorta falling short. The chorus is melodic, but it doesn’t work for me. There’s one track on here that instantly distinguishes itself as the worst song. “That Song”, the same old song. Too damn right. It is the same old song, the same old song I’ve heard from those perennially overpublicized Nevadan jackoffs they call Imagine Dragons. I usually despise songs made by these guys on the basis that they're trying to make powerful music but invariably fail because they're imitating a genre that sounds better with distortion. Amaranthe were nice enough to prove to me that even a bonafide metal band can make a song worthy of an Infiniti crossover. Let me be a little more clear-headed here. This isn’t, strictly speaking, a bad album (except for That Song, of course). Part of the bridge from “Supersonic” is all right, sounds kinda like Queen. The fact that the best song on this album is “Break Down And Cry” is a semantic joke the band have made for me, but it’s good nonetheless. Pretty strong keyboard and a decent chorus. “Endlessly” is a genuinely good ballad if a bafflingly austere end to the album. These tracks are…sorta catchy, and competently performed. “Fireball” is a good example of what I’m talking about. It’s a perfectly good song. The problem is that it’s not a good Amaranthe song. An Amaranthe song should be an earworm that you have genuine trouble dislodging. None of the songs here have that quality. “Drop Dead Cynical” and “Digital World” from the previous album were quite memorable despite being relatively weaker than previous work, but nothing on Maximalism sticks out like that. If you want a modern artist to imitate, go for someone energetic and chirpy like Allie X or Ariana Grande and imitate their best songs. All I’m asking for is a metal version of Greedy, because that song’s sexy as hell. Bottom line, Amaranthe are at their best when they’re being as bubblegum as possible, and this album sees them stray farther from that aim.

Iceni

Iceni

Morbid Angel "Kingdoms Disdained"

Is there any success in avoiding failure?  I mean there are no bones to make about it, Morbid Angels last offering was fucking terrible.  In comparison to that "Kingdoms Disdained" is an absolute triumph with all hints at "experimental" (or just downright "shite" bits) thankfully lost to the annals of catastrophic album releases from 2011.  But is it enough to improve on one of the worst releases ever by harking back to what you know with such totally that, inevitably, you risk judgement of being considered to have just retreated back into the safety of straight up, no frills, DM?  Albeit done with a poise and guile of the band of seasoned musicians the world knows you to be. It is hard to criticise "Kingdoms Disdained".  The wave of favourable reviews already popping up across the metal community is already testimony to this and rightly so that these reviews are favourable, because at it's core this is as solid a DM release as you will hope to find all year.  No one with ears can deny the grinding death metal intensity of "Garden of Disdain" as it chomps away at your very being like some Pac-Man villain chasing the hapless yellow fucker.  The ripping pace, chaotic structure and mental sonics of "The Righteous Voice" will have any DM fan in absolute fucking raptures also.  The familiarity of tracks like "From the Hand Of Kings" as being straight up recognisable MA fodder will warm the heart of anyone wearing a "Covenant" tee also.  All over "Kingdoms Disdained" there's bits of great DM, I openly recognise this. Likewise, it is hard to write entirely positive things when in essence the whole thing is just too safe.  Whilst I can hear the chaotic writing of Trey here an there it just feels like it is constantly being reined in or somehow stifled.  Who wants to sit listening to an MA record and have to hope there's a blooping, looping, totally archaic piece of sonic fuckery just waiting to spin the planet off its axis?  They should be there on all tracks not scattered throughout the record like some afterthought.  In dumbing down/pairing back for this record MA seem to have dropped into some "pre-Altars" state of foetal development, only giving hints at what they are really capable of. There has of course been a significant line up change with Bonkers Vincent now a "Country Musician" in his own right having left the MA fray to allow the return of Steve Tucker.  Tucker is superb throughout the album, long may he reign (again).  The replacement of Tim Yeung with Scott Fuller also proves a positive step forwards.  Although at times a bit lost in the mix the drums are on the whole great throughout the eleven tracks here.  Line up improvements aside, the production feels a tad sterile and stifling at times also - "The Pillars Crumbling" in particular stands out as being riddled with this problem.  It is a similar production blueprint to the "Covenant" sound, an undeniably strong record with a sound that holds it back too much. The overall opinion I garner from this release is that MA have returned to form, which let's face it folks isn't that fucking hard.  There needs to be more here to hold my attention beyond the few listens I have given it so far.  I have an array of similar quality sounding DM records already in my collection and I really wanted this release to standout from them.  Sadly I find myself wanting to like it more than I actually do.

MacabreEternal

MacabreEternal

Spectral Voice "Eroded Corridors of Unbeing"

The thing I like about Death Metal is that it is not something that (to my ears at least) always needs to be evolved/done differently/combined with the chants of Goatherders.  Don't get me wrong I like - what my old English teacher in High School would call - "a plethora" of DM styles/genres/sub genres/other neat pigeonholes and nicely labelled boxes, but motherfuckers a lot of the time I just want my DM rammed straight down my fucking throat by a large boot. In this instance I am talking Death-Doom.  That oppressive blend of two of metal's most imposing genres, brought together in a cavernous and atmospheric mixture so that bands like Spectral Voice can wash their Black Sabbath tees with their Incantation hoodies and not give two fucks if the colours run.  Now the internet (or more specifically my fellow MOD and font of metal knowledge, BAN) informs me that Spectral Voice are basically Blood Incantation under a different name.  I have never heard Blood Incantation so that kills this line of journalistic relevance in terms of comparing outputs, but based on Spectral Voice I am sure Blood Incantation are fucking good. The "erosion" on this album has been undertaken by some of the thickest, most cavernous riffs you will ever have the pleasure of hearing this side of dISEMBOWELMENT.  But the clever bit is that never once does that just become the sole deed of the record.  Ebbing and flowing with these riffs are dank layers of creepy and harrowing melodies that are arranged alongside slow picked strings and some bowel scraping, guttural vocals that strip plaster and stone from these heavily punished walls.  What Spectral Voice manage to achieve out of all these parts is an actual obvious structure, deftly built into some looming monolith within which exists a fathomless spiral into endless darkness.  Opening track "Thresholds Beyond" begins with a slow picked build and continues to use those strings to weave an atmospheric tapestry of hellish proportions to wrap the listener in. The melodic seepage that opens "Visions of Psychic Dismemberment" soon gives way to a rumbling chug yet maintains an almost arrogant poise throughout its near fourteen minute delivery as the band brilliantly pace and measure the track to hold the interest for the whole track for the listener.  Beneath the cavernous riffs and intense doom atmospherics of instrumental piece "Lurking Gloom" there's an undulating flow of near insipid melody whilst at times the same track almost possesses a punk invoking sense of rhythm.   It takes multiple listens to even start to unpick everything that is going on along each and everyone of the "corridors" travelled here.  Given the time the detailed textures of "Terminal Exhalation" and the sharp yet infectious needle picks of "Dissolution" all start to form an other-worldly core within the music itself that seems to take on form and life from these very dark and at times smothering nuances that you pick up on with repeated listens.  As 2017 draws to a close - and as with most preceding years - the list of great releases just continues to grow right up to the very death of the year itself.  "Eroded Corridors of Unbeing" is a neat discovery so late in the year (even though I am over a month behind with it) and goes to show the art of just sticking with a blueprint and building from there can still reap real rewards.  

MacabreEternal

MacabreEternal

Electric Wizard "Wizard Bloody Wizard"

"Wizard Bloody Wizard" is like the lifting of a thick fog.  From the off there's a feel of a dense weight being lifted from the band's signature occult/stoner blend of doom.  By the time I get to track two "Necromania" things almost seem like a dark cock-rock affair which is odd.   The over-arching feel though is of a band who have gone off the boil somewhat.  Despite the aforementioned lifting of the heavy atmosphere "Wizard Bloody Wizard" seems more of ground out effort made under some duress resulting in the album being robbed in the main of any feel. The stoner riff that opens "Hear The Sirens Scream" gets the attention but by the time Jus' vocals kick in it is already starting to grate like when your washer stays on spin for fucking ages.  Instead of being a great hook for the track in becomes a centre-pin that loops unnecessarily throughout.  The vocals almost sound too laid back here also, like they are almost too much trouble to have to do.  When combined with the one dimensional structure of the song it all just starts to sound more than a bit forced.  As a result the track completely outstays its welcome even managing to make near 9 minutes feel like 15.  It's like your nagging aunt phoning for a "quick chat" only to spend an hour of your life hearing whose died recently and why. The creepy organ keys of "The Reaper" don't actually fit the riff structure at all.  The attempt at perhaps a drug infused chaos just sounds a clumsy and unnecessary 3 minutes of filler on a record that's only 6 tracks long anyway. "Wicked Caresses" offers the only hope for an actual bonafide EW track on the whole album, buzzing with hazy stoner riffs and solid plodding rhythm throughout but bubbling over with atmosphere to hold the interest better than anything before it.  The vocals actually sound like they are being delivered with thought and meaning as opposed to a disinterested teenager delivering a presentation at school on "Geographical Inertia" done with minimal research and planning to ever hope of not getting to stand in the corner with a big pointy "D" hat on. Unfortunately closing track "Mourning of Magicians" is delivered with about as much enthusiasm as the current Brexit deal and I just don't understand why?  "Time to Die" wasn't flawless but at least it was alive - it had meaning and purpose, direction even - whereas the cold dead eyes of "Wizard Bloody Wizard" offer no icy spark of creativity or artistic merit.  It is one of the most tired sounding things I have ever heard.  I spoke to my Gran this morning, she's 91 and can barely walk anymore and currently has a cold and she still sounded more exuberant than all six of these tracks put together.  My noodles at lunch had more kick to them, etc, etc... I could go on for hours about how much I dislike this.

MacabreEternal

MacabreEternal

Cannibal Corpse "Red Before Black"

Whether you love or hate Cannibal Corpse, their penchant for churning out accessible, fun and consistent DM can't be denied.  Yes when they suck they really do suck (Gallery of Suicide), but even if technically never more complicated than most Kinder egg toys there's always a familiarity to CC albums that appeals.  I get those that hate that familiarity.  If you prefer to become lost in a Portalesque vortex when enjoying your extreme metal then the obvious churn of CC won't be for you.  However, for every complex and archaic DM record in my collection I like to have a fair amount of surety too (someone will be along in a minute to replace "surety" with "safety" no doubt) and "Red Before Black" is as familiar to me after a few listens as most of the band's previous outpyt. "Red Before Black" reinvents no wheels, either in terms of DM in general or the CC specific brand.  It is naive to say it has no variety as this simply isn't true, the pace of "Remaimed" for example goes from a slight itch to a raging STD style of a rash.  Opening track "Only One Will Die" comes for you like a deranged serial killer, devoid of any bizarre macabre master plan to use your body in some horrific piece of death art, just driven instead by the need to rip your head off and shit down your neck. "Firestorm Vengeance" starts like a thrash track, chopping away at the bars like a lumberjack on LSD defacing a tree.  The mastery of "Scavenger Consuming Death" is undeniable as it chugs away sitting imperiously glaring at you like some cocksure domestic pet who just shat in your sock drawer!  Sonically, the album seems a little more developed than usual without ever dissolving into the territory of "guitar wankery".  My only instrumentation grumble is the slightly soft edge to the drum sound which taps along instead pummelling in unison with the rest of the activity on display here. Whilst still being relevant (and it has achieved this without becoming "core" orientated either) and it staying in my head a lot better than the last two Suffocation records (for example)  it sets nothing alight.  As solid a DM record as this is my face isn't torn off at any point, my ears aren't battered and my neck doesn't get sore due to some over-exuberant headbanging session.  Most tracks do dip away unfortunately. Let's take nothing away from the effort though.  To not be producing shit metal at this stage in your career is an achievement in itself, I just start to question if motions are starting to just be gone through?  

MacabreEternal

MacabreEternal

Blut Aus Nord "Deus Salutis Meæ"

Like some journey whilst blindfolded and hogtied in the trunk of a kidnapper's car, you never quite know where you'll end up with Blut Aus Nord.  The blend of near poetic melody contrasted with their harsh industrial leanings and complimentary darkest of ambience across their discography can leave the average metalhead spinning on their metallic shoulders.  Counter-intuitively you end up waiting for the next change, chop, turn or trick whenever you listen to anything new by BAN and this almost starts to detract from the experience as you wait like some cowering wreck for the sucker-punch to arrive. Merciless though they are in the delivery of "Deus Salutis Meæ" (God of my Salvation) the twists and turns - although far from predictable - are as one would expect having heard anything by the band since "The Work Which Transforms God".  Where "Deus..." differs slightly to me ears is the more obvious structure to proceedings, which obvious use of ambient tracks to pace the album over the full experience. What occurs between these passages of dark reflection is just as chaotic and scary as you would expect it to be.  There's little obvious "Memoria Vetusta" styling here but some of it is still present amidst the clashing percussion, churning bass and dense atmosphere of what sounds like a natural extension of the previously mentioned "The Work..." album.  It is impossible to deny the power behind BAN's music and typically "Deus..." is a bashing of an affair.  The thunderous opening of "Abisme" for example causes you to stop whatever you are doing and listen - like some industrial riffing dictator at some vast and menacing stage, addressing their crowd of loyal subjects. Never content with just pummelling the listener with percussion there's a fair amount of mesmerising repetition also, like some endless coiling snake or fathomless vortex encircling the listener, crushing the very soul from their shell.  "Revalatio" fades away but the same intensity of the track just churns on and on as though still playing now in some parallel universe, long after the reels have stopped turning here in this one!  The void that "Ex Tenebrae Lucis" drops you into has no friendly alien lifeforms present as it taunts you like some inter dimensional bully after your cyber lunch money. Criticisms?  It seems over and done with too quickly, which whilst never coming across as disjointed or fractured does leave you stumbling a bit as the record just ends really suddenly.  You end up feeling like a sprint runner, expecting the finish line but then suddenly seeing a wall just after it and having to slam on the heel brakes.  The longest track on here is five and a half minutes and it almost feels like the album needs a couple of seven minute numbers to vary the experience a little.  That having been said, "Deus..." is a still a triumph for a band who despite switching genres more often than some people change their duds still manage to produce challenging and though-provoking music.   

MacabreEternal

MacabreEternal

Chelsea Wolfe "Hiss Spun"

Shut up, just shut up any naysayers out there already reading this going "Urgh, that's not a metal album and you can't review a non-metal album on a metal forum because it isn't HEAVY FUCKING METAL DUDE!"  I have a Masters degree in pissing on other people's chips and so no amount of brandishing your "metul blud" at me will make me not do this.  You frankly have more chance of setting up a successful business in North Korea selling BBQ's and Rimmel products (DISCLAIMER -other expensive face paint is also available). Chelsea Wolfe does sound like the name of a lawyer who fights cases for poor people against big multi-national corporations and donates her fee to Greenpeace upon successful prosecution of organisations more complex and shady than any John Grisham novel could dream of.  Thankfully, Ms Wolfe does not have any career in law and has instead dedicated her life to the ethereal, industrial, alt-grunge/death/dark rock stream of odd music to play at parties to make everyone leave early. Madder than a box of frogs and more cooky than Cooky McCooky Cooky  from the village of Cookyville, Wolfe once again spreads her virulent strain of poignant, emotive and melancholic vocals  to a soundtrack with more clatter, rattle and intensity than a most soup kitchens see in a month.  There's real pain here and thankfully it is measured superbly as it shifts form with each track, ranging from floaty, pop infused melodies through to harsh, industrial drone and onto reverb drenched grungey rock to boot. When you have a voice more haunting than the average mother-in-law's face you could quite easily rest on it as your main "thang!" and let the rest of the instrumentation, structure and form go to shit.  Not Chelsea Wolfe!  She is to music what Steven Seagal is to Martial Arts - fat, orange and dangerous!  No, I mean dangerous, edgy and unpredictable and this spreads throughout "Hiss Spun" as some tracks are accessible within a couple of bars and others are real slow burners that build into dark and solid forms of undulating, uncompromising and at times disturbing structure. Check out, "Static Hum" for its use of the guitar to maul and taunt the vocals as the track builds and builds.  Better still the well paced structure and subtle shifts of percussion that represent "The Culling" or the meandering, fractured and disjointed guitar style present on "16 Psyche".  All are examples of the true talent of the lady herself and the musicians she surrounds herself with.  It isn't flawless though.  Although I like them, the industrial/noise/dark ambient interludes that occur seem misplaced almost and some tracks ("Particle Flurry") are frankly directionless.  I don't see "Hiss Spun" making many appearances on the turntable but it is most definitely a record that requires exploration as opposed to just a listen as background music, whenever it does get a play.  

MacabreEternal

MacabreEternal

Contrarian - To Perceive Is To Suffer

Contrarian is a sometimes international progressive death metal collaboration featuring George Kollias of Nile on drums, and on "To Perceive Is To Suffer", their second full-length, he steps up to perform vocals as well. If you like mid-90s Death, there's a good chance you'll like this album. Comparisons to the early Floridian prog-death scene are obvious from the outset, but this recording is no mere hero worship; it offers a fresh and sincere take on the style, brimming with intricate yet memorable riffs, intelligent harmonies, a strong sense of melodic interplay between the bass and guitars, and a sterling drum performance. The mix is clear without feeling sterile, and the reverb and delay effects on the vocals lend them an atmospheric quality that's uncommon in modern DM. Technical chops are here in abundance, but the focus remains on concise and enjoyable songwriting. The vocals are mostly delivered in a harsh rasp; tonally, it recalls some black metal, but the vocal patterns and pronunciation show a strong influence from vintage Chuck Schuldiner. This album isn't flawless. The vocals are a bit lackluster; they fit the music well, both in tone and in placement, and they're certainly competent, but they lack a sense of emotive conviction that could make them truly shine. Kollias' high rasp on this album represents a change in direction from the guttural DM vocals of their debut, "Polemic"; I prefer the new sound, but fans of their earlier work may find it difficult to adapt. Also, as an album, it suffers a bit from being too much of a good thing. Nearly every song on here is well-paced and well-structured, but each of them hovers around the same length and tempo; they all kick ass in the same way, with the same mix of elements, and the result is that, despite the catchy and memorable nature of the riffs, no song truly stands out. The exception to this is a somewhat incongruous cover of the first half of "At Fate's Hands", by Fates Warning - a slow, clean tune delivered in a stilted but pleasant sing-song, that breaks up the riff-fest nicely but doesn't really add anything of its own. Regardless, this album is very good; I would highly recommend it to fans of old-school prog death, or any DM fan on the lookout for some exceptional melodic guitar work. Much like each individual song, it's short and to the point, clocking in at just under 35 minutes, and it's remained thoroughly engaging for me through many plays over the past several weeks. Get your ears on it: https://contrarianmetal.bandcamp.com/music

FatherAlabaster

FatherAlabaster

Akercocke - Renaissance In Extremis

Akercocke has always been an eclectic band. Eighteen years after the release of their debut, they're more eclectic than ever. "Renaissance In Extremis" finds their trademark pastiche of extreme metal, progressive rock, electronic textures, and moody atmospheres at its most varied and dynamic. Yet, for all of its expansiveness, there's still an evident connection with the brutish black/death metal of their early years. Longtime fans of the band (especially their previous two albums, 2005's "Words That Go Unspoken, Deeds That Go Undone" and 2007's "Antichrist") should feel right at home. For some newcomers, this album will be an acquired taste. The opening track, "Disappear", provides a fitting introduction to the variety of sounds on display: a thrashy DM gallop gives way to a short arpeggiated section that wouldn't be out of place on a late 70s Rush album, before dropping away into a lull of clean, atmospheric guitars and delicate vocals, and then building back up into melodic lead guitar excursions that swoop and dive through tasty chord changes. Later moments on the album offer dissonant black metal, restrained background keyboards, and even a lonely beach soundscape of birds and surf. In some hands, this kind of mashup could be a recipe for confusion; not so here. The songs are held together by excellent musicianship, a strong sense of pacing, and above all by the conviction with which they're delivered.  The production is tight and clear; guitar tones breathe, with more vintage grit than crushing gain. The band is deft and energetic throughout. Engaging riffs are underpinned by thoughtful bass lines and propulsive drumming, sometimes serving as a backdrop for graceful guitar solos that never outstay their welcome. The solos themselves are a highlight of the album, tasteful and technically accomplished to a higher degree than on their previous outings. Technicality isn't the focus here, though; the main point of this album is the passion and human drama conveyed by the vocals. Frontman Jason Mendonça's voice is one of Akercocke's most defining features, and his vocals are at their most expressive on this album - snarling growls, blackened shrieks, stentorian bellows, and strained rasps, side by side with haunting cleans, frequently bordering on frailty. The overwrought theatricality of earlier albums has given way to a genuine, sometimes intimate quality that (to my ears, at least) is more mature, and no less powerful, than anything they've done to date. This is partly due to the lyrics; the overt, religious Satanism for which Akercocke is known has been put to the side in favor of songs about loss, personal struggle, and even some kind of redemption. The subject of the lyrics isn't always obvious, but the tension between despair, anger, and perseverance is clearly drawn. It's tempting to wonder what could have inspired this internal strife, and maybe that mystery is part of the appeal. "Renaissance In Extremis" won't connect with everyone. The frequency of apparent genre shifts may throw some listeners off, and the vocals can be polarizing. I was introduced to the band through their third album, "Choronzon", and it took me several months of on-and-off listening to finally warm up to the vocal approach. I can also see how fans of some of Akercocke's earlier material might be put off by the comparative fragility of some passages on this album. If you find yourself in any of those camps, all I can suggest is that you give this album a chance to grow.  If, on the other hand, you're like me, this album may be the unexpected comeback you didn't know you'd been wanting for the past decade. In terms of texture, tonality, and vocal approach, it picks up where "Antichrist" left off; but it's far more focused, without the miscues and dead weight that made that album feel drab after the masterful "Words...". Akercocke may have been broken up for the past ten years, but they've returned with a vital addition to their catalog, retaining the essence of their sound while pushing their own boundaries. In terms of songwriting and production, this is their "lightest" recording to date; in my opinion, it's also one of their best, and my favorite release so far this year. They lost themselves in the wilderness, and now they're back to tell us all about it. Sit down and listen.  

FatherAlabaster

FatherAlabaster

Bell Witch "Mirror Reaper"

An hour and twenty three minutes is a significant period of time.  I could clean my whole house or prepare and cook a three course meal in that time.  Thankfully Bell Witch obviously have a cleaner and/or a chef as they decided to write one track during the time it would take most of us to commute to work.  Fans of Bell Witch will already know their sound to be unusual in the sense that there's no guitar and they produced one of 2015's best releases when they dropped "Four Phantoms" to the doom masses. Far from being an inhibitor, the lack of any guitar simply gives the Bell Witch duo opportunity to make the very best out of the bass and percussion, feeding them with atmospherics from varying sources and types to great effect.  I won't lie, this album is an acquired taste.  The layers going on here are oppressive both in terms of weight and the amount of patience (and time) required to simply sit down and truly appreciate them.   This is not your standard Funeral Doom/drone album.  In fact it is so much more than an album, something audible yet tangible at the same time to fingertips of anyone willing to lose nearly 90 mins of their day listening to an album consisting of just one track.  The bass guitar for Bell Witch acts as so much more than a stringed instrument.  Sure, the harrowing bottom end that dominates the majority of the track is an ocean of a million regrets churning its tide, smashing roll waves against roll waves, eroding cliff faces and laying ships to wreck.  But at the same time the bass sings to you, a song of sorrow and fathomless anguish like a Siren-esque accompaniment to the actual vocals themselves.  The delivery of the vocals is brilliant in keeping with the atmosphere of the record as they breathe in and out, formulating whispers, growls and clean, ritualistic verses whilst all the while the drums build their own crescendos of crashing cymbals and subtle rolls that fade and grow back like the embers of some undying fire. There's textures here too, not always obvious but certainly the variety on display takes the listener on a journey through every passage of crushing doom on and into post (post-doom's a thing right?) and ambient structures of peace and tranquilty yet still the hazy and murky dirge retains the atmosphere all through out. I am a sucker for any record that matches the artwork that adorns it's cover.  The artwork on "Mirror Reaper" is more than matched by the music behind it, I could stare at the artwork for the whole duration of the record and live out it's ethereal and menacing story to the full whilst doing so.  I am behind on my releases for 2017 but this is a firm contender for album of the year.  

MacabreEternal

MacabreEternal

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