Sunday, February 16, 2020
As you've guessed from the title, this one's going to have a handful of Anvil's crushing sonic love letters to the marijuana, but despite the silliness with which their lyrics are often imbued, the music itself is no jokes, just some energetic heavy metal, starting out faster with the title track, and then going into one of their loping, mid-pacing, burning metal numbers "Nabbed in Nebraska" which will slightly remind you of fare like "Metal on Metal", "Concrete Jungle" or "Forged in Fire" only not nearly so legendarily catchy. But Robb Reiner's drums sound really powerful throughout, and they pull off a nice lead bridge and some backing vocals heavily redolent of old Twisted Sister. Other fun numbers include "Chemtrails", the rumbling "Gasoline" and the twisting "Talking to the Wall", a cool, darker, menacing cut which reminded me a lot of some of my favorite Anvil stuff on discs like Pound for Pound or This is Thirteen. Great riffs here, with a steady mid-paced tremolo picking and Lips sounding as bent as angry as he gets these years. And the hits don't stop coming there, in fact there aren't really any tracks here that I'd consider weak, and the vast majority of the material is hard hitting and memorable enough that I've been enjoying repeat listens.
Honest, blue collar heavy metal with a monumental rhythm section. The Lips/Reiner/Roberston lineup has really solidified over the last few years and they make this all sound effortless, not that it's particularly technical or nuanced for the genre but they clearly sat there and managed to come up with a dozen ragers at varied tempos, with no real filler. Hell, they even save the heaviest track "No Time" for the end, another one that throws me back to their darker sounding stuff from the past, and another killer lead sequence. Anvil has a distinct sound in their field, instantly identifiable, and this one plays to all of their strengths without ever drifting off into some of the mediocrity that has crippled more than half of the records they've put out since the early 90s. Should satisfy the long term audience as well as younger folks just looking for some bar-busting, catchy heavy metal with zero pretentiousness anywhere to be found. You might not be able to hammer out an effective weapon or tool on that glass mascot bong, but they'll certainly club your ears in with this record before fleeing town with your old lady and a bag of ganja.
Verdict: Win [7.75/10]
Friday, February 14, 2020
This one is out in a bunch of formats, from the basic CD or download to double vinyls, multiple CD or vinyl and Blu Ray combos, the works, so Nuclear Blast is making a pretty big push for it. It's from a late 2018 performance in England, and it sounds really good, with 17 tracks ranging from classics like "Pleasure to Kill", "Flag of Hate" and "People of the Lie" to fare that was recent at the time for Gods of Violence touring, like "Satan is Real" or "Hail to the Hordes". Of course with such a massive range of albums to choose from as Kreator has, they're going to miss a few things here or there, with some phases neglected entirely and others over-represented, but I'd say the selection of songs here is very much killer assuming you're an older fan who has continued to follow and enjoy their material. It's also cool that you get to hear more of the intricate, melodic recent fare mixed in with the more primitive 80s thrashers from their first few releases, and it doesn't actually sound all that bad by contrast, they can build a cohesive live experience from all of this without it seeming lopsided or like they're pandering to any one component of their audience.
The drums sound loud and almost machine-like in precision, where the guitars have a satisfying crunch to them that thankfully doesn't drown out the more melodic lead-work. I'd say if there was a weaker point, maybe the bass lines don't quite thrum along potently enough to make a difference, and you'll notice, as he ages, the more flaws and imperfections in Petrozza's delivery. That's not always a bad thing, though, because he retains that barking torment he pioneered back on the older releases, but you can tell the guy doesn't always spit out everything in the exact pitch you might remember it, and sometimes seems as if he's got an amphibian caught in his throat or goes a little too atonal with particular lines, or that he's running out of breath. Still, for all that, he'll actually bark out a few more sustained snarls and shouts on some tunes that prove he's still got a lot of energy, and there is some stage banter included here which really helps stoke up the audience.
It's better to experience with the Blu Ray on than without, since they carry that one off pretty well and you'll get the kinetic elements of the performance, like background screens, pyrotechnics and audience banging heads that help smooth over some of the little quirks you'd notice in the audio only. All told, London Apocalypticon is no joke, possibly the best Kreator live stuff put to disc, and while I would personally prefer hearing more stuff (or any stuff) from albums like Coma of Souls, Terrible Certainty and Extreme Aggression, I can't really fault their choices, it pretty much all sounds good. Will this be the live album that is held up through history like Destruction or Sodom's classics that I mentioned above? Time will tell, but although Live Kreation has a fraction more vitality to the performance, I think this is a damn solid offering for fans who still support commercial live releases.
Verdict: Win [7.5/10]
Tuesday, February 11, 2020
Unfortunately, now your up against the wall of the fact that there are already thousands of bands having done this by this point, and while Minotaur definitely holds claim to having been around near the dawn of the medium, they're not really writing songs that reach the level of either their more famous German countrymen or the many younger bands that have done an excellent job at crafting fiery, hellish black/thrash or death/thrash that feels just as virile as the stuff did when it was first pressed to record in the 80s. The riffs and even the vocals on this EP sound like an also-ran with elements of Sodom, Destruction, and Kreator in them, which is not a bad thing if you're into all of those like I am, but at an age when time can be such a precious commodity, there's not much of a chance I'm going to prioritize the material here over the many classics I own from the field, or even upstarts like Antichrist, Vulture, Deathhammer and their ilk who have done such a phenomenal run at making that savage speed/thrash of the Golden Era viable again moving forward.
But, what I will say is that Beast of Nations is not something I put on and really scoff at. As familiar as the riffing patterns are, and the structure of these four tracks, I was never yawning or bored as I listened through them. I think if the band took this production style and level of vocal vitriol, and then sat around writing up some really kickass riffs that glue themselves to your ears, they could probably write a knockout third full-length effort. There is little here that I find substantially subpar when compared to what a lot of the German B and C-team thrashers like Assassin, Vendetta, and Exumer are putting out in their recent configurations, but then again there's little to no innovation beyond what the band was already releasing in the 80s, just a tightening of the reins. Some might lament that the more accessible production here loses some of the character that they had on the Power of Darkness, and perhaps that's true, but I think this EP is a solid adaptation which only falls short in the lack of truly exciting songwriting.
Verdict: Indifference [6.25/10]
Sunday, February 9, 2020
Not that it would have made a difference had this launched in 1985 or 1986, because it's pretty much just a mess of sloppy, un-memorable riffs and raw production aesthetics that don't do it any service, and I'm guessing not by choice. I mean, I'm a card-carrying disciple of the first two Venom albums, and when something is unwashed, under-produced, but comes packaged with great songwriting, then that rawness can either intentionally or ironically prove beneficial, but here it just falls flat. The EP opens up with a half-decent, almost Maiden-esque style of melody with an appropriate Hellenic feel, but then "Multi-Morbidity" just falls right off the rails, a clusterfuck of boring chug riffs, and messy speed metal riffs peppered with Andreas 'Buschi's' barked vocals which are constantly trying to contrast these little screams and wavering evil lines against the harsher monotony. Props to him for trying to give a little personality to his delivery, and occasionally some of his upper register screams are pretty cool, or the unexpected lower pitched death barks, but with nothing catchy or impactful going on around them it's almost like he wandered into this drunken thrash jam session with the tape recorder on.
Few of the other songs are any more coherent..."State of Catatonia" is mildly superior, and "We Hate You" has a Tankard-like thrust to its verse rhythms circa The Morning After, but still feels very uneven, though the production does often remind of the first two Voivod riffs on this one because of the way the speed metal riffs play out. The B-side is slightly better, with "Wish You Were Dead" the best track on the EP, but even the peppy and cheerful "R.A.T." is too abrasive with the flaring guitar tone to really work. The rhythm section is fairly tight throughout the release, with a few points where the bass lines groove along admirably, but they don't really have the best riff set to work around and the entire affair still comes across like a set of songs that needed more development time, reining in the vocals and assembling the guitars into a more memorable structure rather than just feeling like they just rushed it all along, plugging one in after randomly.
I've certainly heard worse stuff in the genre, and there may be a little sliver of appeal to those that love tracking down rugged Teutonic thrash demos, or just want the music to sound sincerely filthy, but this stuff is inferior to their 1988 full-length Power of Darkness, which is itself not top-shelf, but has a more appreciable, nasty character to it. I'd even throw you a recommendation for their 2009 comeback album over this, which runs average-to-decent and doesn't sound as if much had changed for them in the 20 years between. Maybe if you REALLY love The Morning After and just want other things that give off a similar impression, but then this lacks the funny lyrics and certainly the amazing riffs and choruses on that one.
Verdict: Fail [4/10]
Friday, February 7, 2020
To those approaching this disc from any of their modern releases, whether in the Vintersorg-fronted era, or the beautiful, blissful True North, Borknagar will seem a comparably harsh experience. When I first picked this up it was alongside the sophomore The Olden Domain, which I gravitated towards at first, due to its comparative accessibility and slightly catchier songwriting. The debut has a more scathing attack to its guitar tone, though it's just as diverse as its successor, but for whatever reason the songs just didn't gel with my brain at the time and I was only listening to it as a backup for the records that came later. Decades on, I've certainly warmed to this one a lot, it's well ahead of its time and already encapsulates so much of the musical DNA to what has long been one of the most reliable and legendary bands in my entire collection. That's not to say it's perfect, but what is most striking about the album is just how different it sounded to so many of its Scandinavian peers. There's a brightness, a melancholic desperation to Øystein's chord-streaming here that was truly rare, only the Enslaved album Frost even came close, but even as much as I LOVE that album, some of the riff patterns seemed slightly more conventional to the black metal fundamentals that were already in place back in the early to mid 90s. This band was writing almost a 'new metal language', if that makes sense, the way only groups like Voivod, Slayer or the like accomplished through the prior decade.
There is some precedent, of course, that being Bathory's awe-inspiring Blood Fire Death record, which certain segments of Borknagar seem to pay conscious tribute to, as in the warlike, steady row of "Krigsstev" with its somber chants and martial percussion. However, there are many more layers being added to this record, such as the glinting, beautiful acoustic guitars engraved into a number of the tracks, those hillside-echoed chanted choirs, and the very core of how the guitars are written. It doesn't hurt that the lineup on this is astounding. Garm (aka Kristoffer Rygg) provided the nasty black metal snarls here, and it's one of my favorite of his performances, alongside the older, harsher Ulver material, with some wicked, mocking higher pitches he throws into some of his lines to give them a lot of personality as opposed to other new black metal vocalists arriving at the time who were taking that style and transforming it into something banal and monotonous. His burly chanting was also important in how it would set up I.C.S. Vortex's style going forward, and how a lot of other bands would also approach their own vocals. Infernus, later of Gorgoroth, played some awesome bass grooves on this album that also deserve mention, as this was another difference between this band and a lot of its peers. Ivar of Enslaved contributed keyboards, which could vary from the pompous pianos and martial orchestration of the instrumental "Tanker mot tind (Kvelding)" to the eerier, woodwind pads laid out over some of the darker metallic fare.
There is a point near the midst of this album where it just becomes one of my favorite things ever, so much that the earlier tunes (including that aforementioned instrumental) seem a little trite by comparison. I'm speaking of the "Krigsttev"/"Dauden"/"Grimskalle trell" trifecta which is among the most immersive, varied and impressive Borknagar material. Somber and soaring, sullen and powerful, an impressive send-up to that 1988-90 Bathory influence. This brilliance subsides a little with the following instrumental, "Nord naagauk", and that's a complaint I might have with the album in general...half of the ten tracks are instrumental, and while they sound thematic, some of the background sampling sounds too shoddy, and the composition feels a bit sporadic, too busy to balance against the surging metal tracks. I also found the rhythm guitar tone on the album a little grainy in its saturation, which was probably my earliest obstacle. These days I don't mind it so much, and it does work well to contrast the more broad, glorious synthesizers and clean vocals, but I think with the debut in general you could tell there were a few production kinks to work out. Apart from those quips, though, this is still a timeless sort of experience, one that will row you over swell in a cold storm if you just lose yourself to its mesmerizing show of force, whether you speak its language or not.
Verdict: Epic Win [9/10]
Wednesday, February 5, 2020
I can't stress enough how much the element of surprise is important to me when I'm hearing a new record, perhaps not as much in very traditional metal styles, but certainly when I've got a band in a newer medium that gels as well as this one. To that extent, I found a lot of the chord progressions throughout this fairly familiar, though they're heavily saturated with a full bodied distortion, and a ton of searing passion in the rasped, black metallic vocals. Even where the band will just let the guitars trudge along by themselves, like in the depths of the title track, it becomes a little too redundant, expected and patience-draining. That's not to say these choices are bad, but there's just so little to actually snag my ear as I'm passing through. In a lot of cases, the band will shift between these mid-paced, driving chord sections redolent of stuff like Katatonia, and blasted black metal mode, but otherwise the mood of the sequences doesn't really change around so much with the tempos, it's all a wearying gray that, like many shoegaze or blackgaze artists, attempts to compensate with a wall of force in the guitars and beats, and that doesn't always translate into memorable compositions, though it's certainly pleasant and consistent.
Now, occasionally they'll throw something over the top, some slight touch of dissonance created in the churning chords or the melodic shadows cast by the upper strings, and that creates immersion for me, but so many of the bottom end rhythm riffs on this record are just bleak and void of interest, such as the chugging at the heart of "Serpentine", where the same note is beaten to death (fortunately this is one of the shorter pieces). In other times, you'll get just a little bit of the unexpected like the drifty, dreamy vocals in "Canine Devotion", and that definitely helps to flesh out the experience. If you're seeking out something like a Slowdive or Hum balanced against black and sludge, I think you could do far worse than Sons of a Wanted Man. The murky production of the guitars is quite honest and raw, the lyrics have a nice philosophical, pleading style akin to intellectual hardcore, and the cover art and packaging is tremendous. Musically, it's solid, especially if you don't mind some familiarity with the basic building blocks, but I can tell from this that there's plenty of potential territory to grow into in terms of including more off-the-beaten-path melodic riffs or chords, or atmospheric passes that have a little more hypnotic effect that is crucial for this mix.
Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10]
Monday, February 3, 2020
This is one dramatic, unique band which perfectly melds the power of melodic guttural-driven doom with more graceful, airy passages that often consistent of cleaner guitars plucking along as they ebb and flow forth from the more distorted chord passages and endlessly beautiful multi-tier harmonies, some of which are more traditional for metal but others almost serve like an ambient, cloudy layer that hovers above it all. There are a few freeform, jazzy influences wrought through the saxophone, but the whole record feels like these repeated rays of lights piercing a foggy, hazy firmament, like a more metallic parallel to some of Pink Floyd's mellow, atmospheric 80s material. There's a near constant sense of elevation through some of the tunes, like "Ignite the Heavens (Part 1)", where it gives the listener the impression he or she has escaped gravity and is floating upwards, floor by floor parallel to some high rise building. It's a bit spotty and messy, especially how the transitions are clipped between certain tracks, but when you're actually embraced in the midst of one of this band's songs there is simply no denying the dazzling array they cast between fits of hope and melancholy.
I'm not a big proponent for all the cleaner vocals, they can get a little warbly or awkward, but they're thankfully not legion throughout this, and the death growl is perfectly placed to add some ballast to the lighter material. Tracks like "The Great Debate" are, well, monolithic, steady and weighted just right to keep the listener engaged even if they move almost entirely at the same pace. There's always some new hint of light, melody or eeriness about any corner of the compositions, a stray melodic note you didn't pick up, a shimmering, radiant atmospheric effect in the backdrop which constantly moves the music in more dimensions than it would have if they used less tracking. It's powerful, poignant, and a record that, like the previous Nebula Septem, which is trying to forge forward in a subgenre that often relies too much on the same old formulas or tricks. There are few if any other groups out there which sound a whole lot like this one, and while there are some stylistic similarities throughout their own discography, each album feels like a statement, an adventure all to itself. Hard to pull off so much character in a catalog that was once dominated by Roman numerated tracks or album titles, but Monolithe succeeds with room to spare.
Verdict: Win [8.25/10]
Saturday, February 1, 2020
Unfortunately, for myself, there's not nearly enough of an impact in terms of the riffing patterns, the vocals or the overall personality of the album. If you just described to me the average German thrash style of the 80s, this would check off all the boxes except for the one that makes me want to listen through it again. The way these guys lay out the guitar patterns is just really basic stuff you've heard from a hundred other bands, getting the job done without excelling, creating few sequences of notes that last longer in the memory than it takes to listen through them on the CD. They do a good job of affixing some competent lead guitars or smaller melodic patterns to help each of the tracks seem full and fulfilling, but I think the entire record of the 42 minutes of the album blew right past me without a single rhythm guitar part ever demanding that I play it back immediately. The mid-paced stuff is basically just Exodus 101, maybe cruising along appreciably in "Dust Eater" when the solo breaks out, but otherwise it just sounds like a paraphrased "Toxic Waltz". The faster tracks like "King's End" definitely have a nice crunchy thrust to them, sometimes swerving into power/thrash territory with Artillery-like riffs, but even when they burst out the melancholic sounding harmony for the chorus part it just doesn't hit that money shot you're expecting.
Drums are particularly peppy here, and sound great, while the bass just plods along with the rhythm guitar line, forgiven to an extent since Mem V. Stein is also handling the vocals, which still sound like a mix of stuff like Vendetta, Tankard, Slayer and Defiance, a pinched anger that sounds angry and nasally enough, and is often laden with some nice reverb and effects for emphasis, but just doesn't inspire as much as the thrash greats do. Structurally, I think this is a fairly solid album, it delivers the full package you're seeking if you want second tier 80s thrash done in 2019, with the exception of having really memorable songs or even parts of songs that you've already got sitting around your music collection in droves. It's far from rubbish, but even with the interesting choice of cover songs added in, for Scorpion's "He's a Woman, She's a Man" and Entombed's "Supposed to Rot", both rendered appreciably into Exumer's pure thrash style, this album just doesn't give me any more than the basic nutritional content I can get from the average, competent thrashing. Even the title feels very bland and obvious, like they just threw two words together that fit the bill. I mean I guess at least is isn't Peaceful Defiance. I can't even evaluate it more highly than The Raging Tides, because while it might have stronger production, I wouldn't say there was anything else that stood above its predecessor. I don't want to sound too down on the thing. Sure, it's good enough, but I want great.
Verdict: Win [7/10]
Thursday, January 30, 2020
Now, don't take that as a glaring recommendation, because I still find the band's style a little generic and indistinct when there are so many other options, but unlike some bands...say Onslaught, who took on a pretty heavily 90s influenced thrash aesthetic via Pissing Razors or Pantera, Exumer has dropped an effort here that would have fit right in after Rising from the Sea and blown that disc to barnacles...err smithereens. This is unrelenting, energetic, full of choppy Bay Area style riffing and never scums out into some Lolapalooza mosh groove for dudes with bad tribalz. Granted, there's not a single damn new or interesting thing going on in the riffing department, but the tone is decent, and the riffs are at least hooky enough that you won't complain about them sucking, with a balance between more frenetic, tremolo picked passages and beloved, mid-paced Exodus meatheadedness. The leads are all well-placed, if frivolous, and the drums have a nice snap to them that kicks you along. You could probably cut and paste this stuff onto any number of other recent thrash albums that are informed by the members' 80s record collections, and then swap those albums' riffs onto this without skipping a beat, but hey, it functions.
Vocally they still remind me a lot of a mashup between other bands like Tankard and Vendetta, but the vocals are actually really well produced, as are the backing gang shouts. The lyrics read as if they could have been written for any decade, timeless and not terribly topical. I also thought the cover art was cool, they gotta stick with their mascot in total 80s thrash fashion, so you've got this Jason Voorhees looking dude representing on what looks like an old illustrated horror poster, bursting from the logo, with some extra skulls, fire and...nooses to fill up that negative space. They also include a pair of covers that are weird...the doomier "Forever My Queen" from Pentagram, which they mange to thrashen up a little with a nice lead. They also really amplify their cover of Grip Inc.'s "Hostage to Heaven" and make it sound more fiery with some gnarly vocals that often border on Exodus sneer. This was one of my fave tracks on the disc, along with some originals like "Death Factory" and "There Will Always Be Blood", and it really fits in with their own material. A decent offering here, if not outstanding, a slight improvement over Fire & Damnation, which wasn't so bad itself.
Verdict: Win [7/10] (desecrate your lives in vain)
Wednesday, January 29, 2020
Now the material is here is literally 8/9ths of the Possessed by Fire debut album, as you might have guessed from this thing's title, and most of that is raw demo quality. I actually dig the mix quite a lot, with the crazy amount of reverb on Mem von Stein's vocals, and he sounds a lot crazier on these recordings, almost like a mix of early 80s Petrozza, Angelripper and Tom Araya. The rhythm guitar sounds pretty driving and awesome, and the drums very splashy, with the bass present enough to add some beef to the tunes, if not anything more interesting. I do think the lead guitar passages are a bit loud, and like a lot of these old takes it feels very compressed and muffled due to the tape transfer. I also felt a few points where something seemed to cut out a little in one or the other speaker but I suppose that's to be expected from this sort of throwback production. I can't imagine that I would ever listen to this over Possessed by Fire, an album I dig, just not as much as other thrash worshipers, but even in these more primitive passes the material sounds energetic and thriving, it simply does not stand out stylistically or by composition as much as the band's more popular peers did.
I would have liked it if they included the entire original demo, A Mortal in Black as a bonus there, one of the tracks is missing, but you're getting two of those songs anyways. Or maybe a couple of rare, unreleased tunes that never saw the light (maybe they all did, I have no idea). But for a limited press, to the few folks that will actually want their hands on this (it was originally tapes that the group just handed out to people), there's nothing really wrong with this release. It would do little but gather some dust for me, but if you're really in love with that debut album and want to hear it in a more rough around the edges or live context, this might be something you want to buy on CD or 12" vinyl and toss into your collection.
Verdict: Indifference [5.75/10]