Last Rotting Christ album I enjoyed? "Triarchy of Lost Lovers". Last Rotting Christ album I bothered to listen to upon release? "Aealo". It is fair to say that the Greek stalwarts of the Black Metal scene now have a sound that rarely ventures into the territory so well tread on "Thy Mighty Contract" and "Non Serviam" but it is also fair to say that "The Heretics" sounds from start to finish like a band who firmly stamp themselves on the metal map for 2019. What album number thirteen from Rotting Christ does is take a measured approach to variation and repetition to build a memorable and lasting experience.
The sound itself goes from dark and brooding metal and hard rock to almost Gothic metal proportions. Yet at the same time that familiar melodic warmth remains in situ throughout. More often than not there's that big soaring melodic riff riding the vocals like a surfer with his board. "The Voice of the Universe" does this superbly as does "The Sons of Hell". The overall feel the record as a whole leaves me with is one of ritualistic allure, tracks like "Hallowed Be Thy Name" and "Fire God and Fear" build well like powerful incantations being cited from voluminous tomes, flooding forwards intermittently with flowing dark melodies.
It does remind me a lot of Behemoth ("The Satanist" Behemoth, not last years pompous bollocks Behemoth), with the theme of religion so heavily referenced but at the same time it feels like a much more cohesive effort than recent Behemoth keeping a level of consistency and restraint to the songwriting which holds the attention well. Only once does the album visit anything like Black Metal on "I Believe", here they base a poem by Nikolaos Kazantzakis at the centre of the chaotic and frantic pace and sadly it fails miserably on my ears, coming across as just filler. My only other criticism is that it does get a bit samey in places (namely the intros to each track). Otherwise it is a perfectly respectable piece of dark metal. C'mon, we can't this black metal anymore folks.
So here I am reviewing the new Drudkh album...oh...wait a minute...no apparently it isn't Drudkh, it is Windswept. A quick look on the internet tells me that Windswept are Drudkh minus keyboards in terms of members. Therefore Windswept is just a less atmospheric version of Drudkh? That's not really a question as I have heard "The Onlooker" and I know it is in fact a statement of truth.
I don't get it. If I want to hear a Drudkh record I will just put one on. Similarly, if I was a member of Drudkh and I wanted to make a new record, I'd just pick up the phone to my bandmates and start the writing process. The fact that the majority of the band have made a different band just to not have atmosphere seems a little grandiose to me, although I get that the stylistic integrity of Drudkh is maintained.
It isn't that the album is bad. Perfectly solid and driving, melodic BM cleverly framed by a music box intro and outro is what you get here folks. It just sounds so much like Drudkh I can't get my head around the fact that it is just a below par Drudkh offering. The one thing the record is crying out for is some atmosphere - THE FUCKING IRONY!
If you can forget the existence of a Ukranian BM band called Drudkh, or perhaps have just been born into the world of BM and have no previous concept of the 3 band members here being involved in anything else then you will no doubt easily spot the merits of "The Onlooker". For me it served no other purpose than to give me a really short review to write this week (and to put some Drudkh on).
Based on it's merit as a standalone album = 3/5
Hideously critical mind of a Drudkh fan rating = 2/5
When it comes to death/doom, variety is not necessarily top of the average listener's appeal list. Usually when I review such a release I find myself typing "doesn't reinvent the wheel but does the genre justice with this solid offering" or words to that effect. Ossuarium's debut full length falls under that banner most definitely. Nobody is fucking around here with a saxophone to make the offering standout with some eclectic and unnecessary deviation from tradition. If you like your death metal doomy or your doom metal deathy then chalk up a tick in your respective box folks!
As predictable as the "Incantation influences aplenty on show here" references are, what "Living Tomb" does do is show some variety in terms of the band wearing their influences on their sleeves. Yes, Incantation is an obvious comparison but I also get the clumsy and cloying lead work of Autopsy in here too. There's also clever, atmospheric structures in places you wouldn't expect, like mid-track on the superbly titled "Vomiting Black Death" which remind me of dISEMBOWELMENT.
What is also obvious after a couple of listens though is the production job, in terms of how bad it is on the whole. It sounds like the rhythm section has cloth over it and yes, I get that the genre is supposed to sound gloomy but this isn't good gloomy, this is (slightly) muffled gloomy and that detracts from the whole experience unfortunately as I find it quite noticeable. The slower sections of most songs suffer more obviously with this and so I find this is where the brain switches off or goes wandering.
Let's not get too bogged down in production though as the skill of the band is still obvious and we can just imagine how strong the sophomore release is gonna be if they get that production/mix issue ironed out. The potential of Ossuarium is as huge as the riffs and as intense as the melancholic leads that guide on this dank journey. The artwork here depicts perfectly what you get on the record. Big looming structures, menacing atmospheres and ugly sounds (check out the guitar at the start of "Writhing in Emptiness"). These boys can write and play also and you will struggle to find better built death/doom this side of Spectral Voice and Tomb Mold, it just needs a better environment to really show all these good bits off a bit better.
The roar has always been approaching. As far back as three years ago when Altarage dropped their debut full length 'Nihl', this scribe could already hear the threat of their ability, feel the menace of their presence from over hills far away and sense the nefarious intent as the raw fury howled over my skin. Sophomore effort 'Endinghent' further cemented the prowess of these blackened death metal Basque country residents. Although slightly less of an impact than the opening salvo of 'Nihl' it was obvious throughout their second offering that Altarage were refining their strategy and making the style of attack more calculated.
Album number three is no longer an approach though. It's an arrival. Arguably now on a par with the bastion of death metal chaos that are Portal now, Altarage are right up there with their own stamp on the principles of this most unwelcoming and inaccessible form of extreme metal. What they did so well on 'Nihl' was shift multiple times the pace, atmosphere and direction of a track. Doing so with such effortless and frankly unexpected subtlety that I just could not be anything but astounded. At the same time they could drop a grinding slab of unrelenting, blackened fury with scant regard for pacing or measure and still have my jaw on the floor. 'The Approaching Roar' takes those foundations and adds maturity, dexterity and skilled songwriting to them to produce some complex and yet - in parts - more accessible pieces of Altarage.
Last year's Portal release 'Ion,' saw the band's sound lifted out of the traditionally murky depths that familiarised their sound, in favour of a more coherent aesthetic - which worked well. Altarage are still firmly writhing in their own filth and murk here, despite the odd glimpse of a clearer stab of accessibility. The menacing flamenco promise of the acoustic intro for opening track 'Sighting' is the first flash of this but in mere seconds the full on face stripping fury that we all know is coming is right there, detaching retinas and bursting ear drums. Even just one track in, the shifting/morphing of pace is obvious and the hidden melody of the final minute is reminiscent of your mum playing Smooth FM in the another room, just audible over the chaos that envelopes you at that time.
'Knowledge' is a big, chunky riffing monster of a track that builds like an army getting into formation for some devastating attack on the enemy. 'Urn' takes a brave step at track number three on the record by building a hazy and funereal intro that sounds like a dial slowly being notched up over a couple of minutes. Eventually (of course), the gates of hell themselves are then flung open with abrasive vocals and churning instrumentation. It is at this point that I first fell the drums are a little to low in the mix sometimes, stifled of air a bit by being a part of the roaring chaos as opposed to being allowed to breath a little at times. Again the song-shifting occurs here with the final two minutes of the track being some of the most coherent Altarage to date.
As you take in the ebb and flow of 'Hieroglyphic Certainty' and obscure grinding riffs and tribal percussion of 'Inhabitant' it occurs to you that this listening experience is akin to a very cleverly engineered virus, the strain of which threatens to consume your entire existence. The deftness of the structure of 'Chaworos Sephelin' with its haunting, lo-fi cello tinged atmosphere that gives way to the crashing fury of waves of pummelling riffs and percussion is a joy to behold. The final two tracks finish the album just as we started it, still full of ideas and dripping with the promise of still better things to come.
Altarage might be shrouded in mystery with their secretive nature (the Members tab on their page of Encyclopaedia Metallum says "none") but the music that they deliver shows them sharing only the most potent and valuable artefacts from the darkness which they inhabit. The roar is now and always will be with you.
There's life in the old dog yet it seems. In terms of original members only Phil Fasciana remains in the ranks of Malevolent Creation now and after the passing of Brett Hoffman last year you could almost forgive fans for thinking the curtain had fallen on Malevolent Creation. The fact is that whilst "The 13th Beast" reinvents no wheels it does exhibit the sound of a band in the throes of something of a regeneration phase. There's nothing tired sounding here, no dull interludes to build unnecessary atmosphere. As soon as the spoken word intro to "End the Torture" finishes it is straight up thrashing death metal until the very end, some 11 tracks later.
Although all debuting in the Malevolent full length stakes here, the 3 musicians that join Fasciana on this record are all clearly capable and qualified purveyors of their art form. Again, I highlight that this is not far above your average DM record yet it is so assured and solid you can easily forgive it to some degree. Lee Wollenschlaeger gives a good acquittal of himself as an established and competent vocalist, filling Hoffman's shoes nicely. Phil Cancilla is a machine on those skins, blasting his way across the soundscape yet also using the percussion well when the occasional let up in the pace permits. Fasciana and Wollenschlaeger work well together to keep the chug of the riffs motoring along whilst Gibbs plonks, twangs and rumbles his way through every track, allowed to be heard in the mix and show his variety without ever showboating. For a band together for only 2 years as a four piece they sound tight and committed.
There's no metal fan worth the denim their patches are sewn onto that doesn't look at that album cover and mouth a "fuck me, dude!" I mean, come on, it is fucking awesome. Like a more ornamental Predator head on a ghostly green background. I love it when album covers are matched by the content of the record inside, and whilst there are obviously some shortfalls here, still in the main "The 13th Beast" delivers. When they keep the track length short and succinct, Malevolent Creation are at their best. "The Beast Awakened", "Agony for the Chosen" and "Knife at Hand" all kick serious ass. By the same token "Born of Pain" at nearly 7 minutes long doesn't really do anything or go anywhere to justify the length attributed to it.
Overall, I would have preferred a shorter record. At 11 tracks the band cover a lot of ground in under 50 minutes but not all of it really needs treading. That withstanding, never does it get grating and still the accessibility factor remains consistent enough to forgive the extra excursions present.
So, having started slowly, January 2019 has finally delivered something worthwhile and a first physical purchase also of a new release for this year. 3/5
Variety is the spice of life, so they say. Someone might want to mention this to Legion of the Damned. Picking up right were Venom left off last week in the the generic stakes, "Slaves of the Shadow Realm" churns out largely unvaried, unremarkable and unmemorable thrash metal with the odd splash of death and black metal smatterings here and there. To give you some idea of how hard going this is I have to wait three whole tracks to here a lead guitar! I love good chug fest as much as the next man but when it is the only flavour in the dish its impact on the palette diminishes quickly.
I can't honestly tell if the album is supposed to be one long song accidentally edited to give gaps to give the illusion of it being several tracks? Some tracks just start very lazy (Slaves of the Southern Cross) whilst others just allude to some slight break of pace from the previous track before going off on the exact same pace, in the exact same direction (Nocturnal Commando).
The frustration is that when they get it at least half right and vary things just a touch, they can put together some enjoyable pieces (Warhounds of Hades) but the memorability factor still struggles to register much above a 0, even in these moments.
By far the pinnacle of the record is "Black Banners in Flames", a menacing thrasher of a track that allows for some relent in the ferocity stakes to apply some melody to create that aforementioned menace. Otherwise I feel that I have had a sub par meal at a restaurant. The chefs are perfectly competent (no Michelin stars here though folks) and the ingredients are all of reasonable quality, sourced responsibly enough, but there's little attempt at seasoning and so everything just seems bland. It sounds like the vocalist is holding this together really. Swinkel's performance on all tracks is obviously a notch up from his band mates' which is a shame because he deserves better really.
Painfully, I streamed the version with two bonus tracks on, which didn't help me digest this any better. That having been said "Priest Hunt" is way stronger than most of the regular tracks available here.
2/5 (2019 is not starting well)
So, my first review of 2019 is of the latest offering from UK legends Venom. 37 years after the debut full length and the band are still active, albeit as a much changed line up from that which recorded "Welcome to Hell". I'll be honest, I haven't bothered with Venom beyond "At War With Satan", so I really had a blank slate in terms of expectations when I put "Storm The Gates" on this afternoon.
To say it is generic is something of an understatement. Each track just morphs into the next, displaying no discernible milestones to give any track a shred of memorability. The instrumentation is capable enough and competently performed but to record 13 tracks of the same structure and format gains no favour with these ears I am afraid. Riffs become beyond infectious and hit pandemic levels of boredom when given this level of over play. Yes, they chug and occasionally show real promise of bite but this is fucking Venom guys, not some Friday night cover band down the Rams Head with a £2 a pint Happy Hour. Where's the menace? Where's the atmosphere? And, no I don't expect "Black Metal" part 2 or a follow up to "At War With Satan" but this at times sounds like Cronos is in a band with one of his kids and their mates, all competent musicians but not really doing justice to what is promised by the names involved.
If we look back at 2018 and to Saxon and Judas Priest, we can see easily two acts still writing entertaining and stylistically recognisable material without having to try that hard. It is hard to make 13 tracks of the same format sound like you are trying too hard, but the fact is that Cronos and Co. are doing such a monolithic job of flogging a dead horse it just comes across as exactly that. The overarching part of Venom I enjoyed was the fun, (dark) comedy edge to the band - even if they did take themselves seriously when I never could - but this has a real mood hoover run over the shagpile here, sucking any creativity, energy or integrity out for good.
I am supposed to balance my reviews with both positive as well as negative, but I am fucking struggling here folks. Erm...the artwork is competent and that band logo still gives me pangs of past glories. That's about as far as I can force the good vibes with this. So, there you go. Review number one of 2019 and it is a record that chalks up a rating that means the only way is up from here for the year (although, sadly the same probably isn't true for Venom).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.