Sunday, November 30, 2008

Slagmaur - Skrekk Lich Kunstler (2007)

What's this? A Norwegian's tribute to the black metal he grew up on in the 90s, done by a bloke who calls 'isself General Gribbsphiiser? Alright, I approve of his name. I also think the cover art for this is pretty awesome, so here goes.

Gribbsy may have made this as a tribute, and there's certainly a bit of Burzumic influence laying around, but this isn't the same stale worship we've seen for over a decade. Skrekk Lich Kunstler is a brooding work of haunting atmospheres heralded by martial severity and neoclassical perturbations. The black metal portions arise as almost funereal efforts: simplistic riffs crawling in distortion and reverb, even simpler drums pounding with a detached, unwavering focus. As you might guess, the worth here lies in the mood. The metal acts as an undercurrent, a solid anchor upon which all the murk builds and feeds upon. And what a murk, what a phenomenal stink the old miser Gribbsphiiser has built upon it. Aside from the thick ambience that hides in the corners of each song and the mad dementia of the vocals, the real lethality of Skrekk Lich Kunstler comes from the aborchestral tone blatantly portrayed on the cover. While "Norwegian Giant" sets you up for the garrote with its lurking strings and somber war horns, "Olderman Uhygge" openly stalks you, always remaining unsettlingly visible on the periphery. "Die Eldres Klage" has some strangely idyllic flute strains that gives it an air of righteous murder. "Mordfor" finishes the album on a tenuous note with a dissonant piano intro that quickly decays in favour of an urgent wall of unholiness. Trilling guitars seem to fight with themselves for their very existence, rising uncertainly amongst the confusion.

This is a dense, powerful trip through the blackened filth of Norway, and I would recommend it to anyone who loves the slow might of doom, the madness of black metal, or the depths of dark ambience. The only real weakness comes in the opener "Eik Som Klor", as it lacks the rich atmosphere of the other songs and gets a bit lost in repetition as it wears on, but this isn't enough to keep the album down.

Verdict: Win [4/5]

Untrad - Steel of Sin (2008)

It's always a pleasure to listen to some pure Japanese speed metal, and when a band is so unabashedly old school as Untrad then that pleasure is doubled. Horrible cover art aside, this is one of the better Japanese metal albums I've heard all year. They sound straight from the 80s, with a sound centered on beefy guitar riffing and infectious vocals. I was surprised this was only a debut album, though the band has been kicking around for a decade according to their site. I am reminded of the greats such as earlier Loudness, Anthem or Dead End, the latter at their best.

"The Gate of Sin" is a very simple intro, a few chords and choral male vocals to drive you forward into "The Sinner", which instantly opens the floodgates of nostalgia with its melodic speed metal riffing and excellent vocals. I was instantly reminded of listening my collection of 80s Metal Blade Records cassettes and compilations as a teenager. I also like the band's subtle use of the choral vocals which make this feel at times like a metal Western or something. "Till the End of Time" begins with a shrill metal clarion call, and the song is chock full of excellent old school CHARGE riffs. "God or Evil" starts with a meaner, slower groove but picks up into an anthem. "Walk on the Needle" is likewise dirty and groovy until the speed metal and vocal melodies kick in. Tracks like "Power" and "Into the Flash" are among the best here, this was pure bliss for me, though you might have to get used to the shrill lead vocals on the latter. Granted, "Striking the Core" does sound a little TOO much like a particular Judas Priest track during the chorus...

Untrad is a far cry from much of the metal coming out of Japan these days. It's not doused in synths and it doesn't sound like a Castlevania soundtrack. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but it's excellent to hear bands sticking to those earlier roots and carrying them forward. I have always maintained that good metal is good metal regardless of the particular era it is aping, so long as it is tasteful. These guys are tasteful. If you like 80s metal ranging from Dokken and Judas Priest to this band's national predecessors like Loudness, track this down, it's good!

Verdict: Win (8/10)

http://www14.plala.or.jp/untrad/

Paragon - Screenslaves (2008)

Paragon are one of the flagships bands of the German power metal underground. This is their 9th album, yet they've never really attained the status of popular peers like Grave Digger, Blind Guardian, Iron Savior, etc. In fact, one could consider them a 'poor man's' Iron Savior or Grave Digger, because they use a similar style of the more abrasive, dirty vocals rather than the higher pitched voice of a Gamma Ray or Helloween, as well as the traditional riffing inspired by Judas Priest and Accept.

That being said, Paragon are good at what they do. Very good. This is gritty, no-frills 'power' metal. Instead of adding symphonic elements and overblown big budget production, these guys sound more like they're performing right next to you in your living room. No gimmicks, just metal. "Hellgore" and "Disconnected" present an effective opening combo: pure German speed verse, melodic anthem chorus, and solid performance from all instruments. "Entombed" brings out the mid-paced Judas Priest and U.D.O. style. "The Blade in the Dark" has a nice thrashing edge. "Death Next Door" is a great song as well, pure Paragon.

Interestingly, the band has chosen to include a cover of the Backstreet Boys pop track "Larger Than Life". Now, I know what you're all thinking...why would anyone ever fucking do this, except to evoke ironic humor? Interestingly enough, the cover WORKS. It's difficult to think of the song as something OTHER than heavy metal once you've heard it. Admirable. The album also includes an Italian version of one of their earlier tracks "The Legacy".

Screenslaves isn't going to break the mold, it's not as good nor as catchy as countrymen like Grave Digger or the younger Savage Circus project. But it's still good, and those of you hunting for some more of that pure German power metal can't really go wrong. Also, that cover and title font are so Blade Runner.

Verdict: Win (7/10)


http://www.paragon-metal.com/

Virgin Snatch - Act of Grace (2008)


Much can be said for the vast Polish death metal scene, perhaps even so for the developing black metal scene, but what of thrash? Aside from a few classic bands in the 80s/90s, some of whom still exist, who carries that torch there?

Virgin Snatch has been developing their brutal thrash for years now, and their previous few albums have been pretty good. Act of Grace is their fourth full-length, and it's a mixed bag for me. On the one hand, the band continues to excel when they're performing the faster paced thrash/death, but the clean vocal touches, and more 'modern' groove metal elements on the album often feel unnecessary. Not 'bad', mind you, but certainly the weak points of the effort.

The title track starts off raging with some driving and exciting, thrashing speed, then some pit grooves before picking up again. The bass is nice and the leads are pretty good. "Slap in the Face" begins fast as fuck before breaking out into some clean vocal breaks and even a pseudo-Meshuggah breakdown. Some of the more exciting riff-fests arrive a little later on the album. "Through Fight We Grow" begins with some great riffing, as does the generally slower "Walk the Line". "Make Another Donation" is an exciting hybrid of melodic death and thrash, with again the exception of some of the clean vocals.

The mix on the album is decent though the harsher 'death' vocals are a little loud. The bass playing is good and the guitars evoke some worthy riffs. I hear more than a little Testament in the charging songs, harmonies and the way the bold vocals, even if they don't sound exactly like Chuck Billy. In fact, the album is far more reminiscent of Bay Area style 80s thrash than the Germanic influence you might expect from a Polish band. The songs here are decent but not really anything I'd return to often. However, fans of 'modern' thrash metal might just have something here to appreciate.

Verdict: Indifference (6.5/10)


http://virginsnatch.net/

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Kingdom - Unholy Graveyard (2008)

I'd like you to cast your thoughts back to the early 90s, when death metal was sheer and brutal and extremely evil sounding, yet never too wanky. When bands like Incantation and Vader were just starting to hit their stride and creating morbid visions so many others would follow. If you took one listen to the debut from Poland's Kingdom, you would thing those days of abyssal yore had never ended. Because this is a slugfest or monolithic old school proportions where there is no escape for your life. Total death!

After a dark holocaust intro piece, the band bludgeons you directly in the skull with "Riot in Heaven", and it is god damned heavy (no pun intended). A simple old school blast beat lays a foundation for grinding and chugging guitars. "Battle Eternal" is faster and meaner. "Crown of Thorns" is groovier, like a bit of Napalm Death, Bolt Thrower and Incantation mixed into a blender. If this band weren't already true enough to their roots, they cover "Into the Storm of Steel" by Angelcorpse. Sounds like fun to me!

Kingdom is NOT an original band, and they could not care less. Don't get me wrong, I love all the space edge and progressive death metal and the various things bands are doing with it, but it's nice to occasionally be reminded of the punishing and hopeless morass this all evolved from, and this young Polish outfit successfully capture that 90s death metal vibe with a tight mix and a notorious sense of evil. More of this, please!

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]


http://www.kingdom.glt.pl/

Krypt - Preludes to Death (2008)


A pair of ex-Tsjuder members reunite for another truly corpse painted kick to the teeth. Though the tunes sound slightly less vicious than their previous band, they do successfully reignite the black fires of hell throughout the 9 tracks on Preludes of Death, and if this is but a prelude one can only look to the future with revulsion and frostbitten anticipation, for the evil is thriving in their simple sound.

Put bluntly, Preludes to Death is like being stalked by some psychopath through a winter northern wood and then being repeatedly beaten in the head with a fucking shovel. It's aural black murder the likes of which few bands can just haphazardly capture to disc. There is nothing pretentious, it's unalive and direct. It's not perfect and it's not really catchy, even with the stranger tracks like their namesake "Krypt" and its swerving intro riff.

The real killer here is the tone. The vocals of Nag slice through the murderous miasma of Norse fog laid out by the drumming and razor slicing guitars. These usually manifest in simpler style songs like "Misfits" or "Death" which reminded me a little of other bands like Khold or Craft. If it is more of this primal sound with good production you seek, then in a nutshell, you want Krypt. I love this album's production and it can even make the more boring tracks shine. That said, there are many other reverberations from the necrocult of late that surpass this in song quality.

If you dream in Darkthrone and Mayhem blacks and whites and like watching your own breath in the winter, then this is for you. If you own a chopping axe and like to cut wood and imagine a neck and head laying over your cutting block, then this is also for you. Black fucking metal.

Verdict: Win (7.5/10)

http://krypt.tsjuder.com/

Arkenstone - Dead Human Resource (2008)

After converting a few demos into their debut album some years back, Greeks Arkenstone return with their sophomore effort, an album that spans the heavier and darker side of the power metal genre, with tortured vocals which occasionally erupt into death metal growling. The result is something quite cool sounding and unique for this genre. In fact, when the vocals go back into their more normal, clean tone they start to really lack. The band is really at its strongest doing this crazier style.

Riff-wise, the band performs a pretty simple, chunky power metal style, like something you might hear on the later solo albums from Halford or Dickinson. There is a little thrash to it, and a lot of groove. But the vocals completely steal the show when they are evoking the madness as on "Blame" or "Forevermore", which would suck without them. When the groovier riffs arrive, they do little for me, but when they are performing a faster song I usually perk up. "Majestic Tales Untold" is a little more of a melodic track with some acoustic guitars, very 80s sounding like earlier Queensryche. Two of the heavier and better tracks on the album, "World of Corruption" and the title track, are wedged away at or near the end of the album. Had the entire album consisted of this quality and perhaps less of the clean vocals throughout, you would have had a kick ass album.

As is, I can commend the band for originality. The album sounds good, though bass is very low in the mix. The crazier vocals are cool and I also like when the band does their gang shouts. They have something unique enough that, if honed to a finer edge musically, could really make ripples in the scene.

Verdict: Indifference (6.5/10)


http://www.arkenstone.gr/

Crocell - The God We Drowned (2008)


Hovering somewhere between the simpler Swedish melodic death of Amon Amarth and the more extreme death of countrymen Exmortem or Panzerchrist, is the debut from this Danish outfit. The God We Drowned is a solid slab with 11 tracks, each a pummeling statement of the band's intent to deliver grooves and breakdowns amidst decent riffing.

"Behind the Veil" begins with thundering drum fills over a simple, desolate guitar riff, it has an old school vibe which reminded me quite a lot of Bolt Thrower until the faster riffs picked up. "Apotheosis" has a lot more groove to it including a fairly weak breakdown. Things improve again with "Winter is Coming", a slow yet driving number with some catchy riffing. "The God We Drowned" and "Death Knell" are faster again and decent examples of Crocell's beefy, battering and simple style with an occasional foray into melodeath riffing. "The Chosen" could have very well appeared on the latest Amon Amarth album. "The Culling" thrashes it up with a very groovy melodeath gait akin to In Flames. "The New Blood" is the most bludgeoning bit of death metal on the album, one of the best songs with some nice choppy riffing.

This isn't an extremely original album but a good enough debut to those open minded death metal fans who don't mind a middle ground before the more accessible and the more brutal. The guitars sound good, its heaviness is never in question, and it's never quite boring. 2-3 of the tunes were weaker and ultimately forgettable but the rest of the album is worth hearing.

Verdict: Win (7/10)


http://www.myspace.com/crocelldk

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Fennesz/Jeck/Matthews - Amoroso (2008)


It's good to have friends. One of mine just hooked me up with Amoroso, a seven-minute 7" of dark ambient released by UK label Touch back in April of this year. An interesting combination of three musicians and one instrument, Touch composers Christian Fennesz and Philip Jeck each take a side and put their personal spin on a recording by organist Charles Matthews.

Fennesz is first up to bat and treats the pipes gently, his hand all but unnoticeable but for the heightened distortion occupying the middle of the track. "Jeck Plays Charles Matthews" on side B and plays him thoroughly, lending a harsher, chaotic feel to the organ's dirge that fans of noise music will appreciate.

The two tracks blend seamlessly and whet the listener's appetite for more, and I'll be on the lookout for more by these gentlemen in the future. There's not a lot of music on Amoroso, but what's here is well worth having.

Verdict: Win (8/10)

Grave Digger - Pray CDS (2008)

2009 will bring a new album from Germany's Grave Digger, Ballads of a Hangman. It appears to be yet another concept album, but this is a formula which has worked well for Chris Boltendahl and crew for the past 7-8 albums so why change it now?

"Pray" is the first single from the album, and though it comes off rather pensive and somber for the band, it's a good one, with a catchy main riff and a workable chorus. The single contains a decent cover of Motorhead's "Overkill", with Chris doing a pretty good Lemmy impersonation. There are also two other originals here. "My Blood Will Live Forever" is a fairly average rocker, but "When the Sun Goes Down" is actually a pretty good track, on par with "Pray" and possessing a similar feel.

As everyone knows (or at least, you do now), I'm not a huge fan of the CD single format, but Grave Digger offers enough of a teaser here that it should tide over fans until the album drops. What I've heard here definitely gives me a positive feeling that we could be in for another good one.

Verdict: Indifference (6/10)


http://www.grave-digger-clan.com/

All Hell - Knarkbrand (2008)


I was intrigued by the cover photo on this album, and I'm very glad I checked it out. For an unsigned band, Sweden's All Hell kicks quite a lot of ass! A fusion of hardcore, grind and pure rock and roll fury, try and envision a sound between Sick of It All and Entombed and you might arrive at this.

The album begins with the adrenaline fueled "At the End of a Rope" before lashing out with the groove and angst of "My Name is Fuck You". "Wreckage Riders" is a sick ass song Entombed would be proud of! "Through the Thickets" is slower and groovier with a stoner doom edge to it. The band picks it back up again with "When the Shit Hits the Fan" and the great "Among the Undead". Other tracks like "Necroblazter" and "Territorial Murder" really round off the experience.

The production on the album rules, it has a comparable tone to many of the bands playing Swedish old school death metal, with that unforgettable distortion. The bass is distorted perfectly and pummels along below the grinding and grooving guitars. Einar Magnusson's vocals are the perfect angry hardcore/metal tone, and the lyrics are effectively straightforward and highly pissed! Hopefully this band will get some label interest soon, it's rare enough to get a 'hardcore' band that sounds effective anymore, even one with such a huge metal influence. Fans of Swedish grind, d-beat, or even NYHC during its prime will all find something to love here.

Verdict: Win (8/10)


http://www.allhell.se/

Gortal - Blastphemous Sindecade (2008)

After a slew of demos in the 21st century, Poland's Gortal arrives with its first full-length album, an extreme affair with an inhuman bombardment of drumming, yet the same emphasis on songwriting which ties them to their countrymen and separates them from the majority of dull, brutal bands everywhere. Just enough in this case.

"Perversity Rites", the first proper song on this album, did little for me, it's a blasting piece with some dull breakdowns. Gortal uses a pattern of vocals not unlike Deicide, grunts for the most part but very often they are accompanied by snarls. I was pleased to find the second track a lot better. "Black Purest Desecration" is propelled by some 'how the fuck did he do that' double bass from Desecrator. The speed flows into this sick groove in the middle with some creepy effects over the echo of the growls. Sick. "Forgotten Writing" has some pretty sweet, Arabesque death riffing under the lead which works nicely. "Unleash Hell" and "Deathamation" are both decent tracks with some great mid sections. "Obscene Nazarene" is perhaps the best overall track on the album. In the end, there is enough quality here to win the death metal fan over.

The mix on the album is fair, the vocals are present along with the very chunky guitar sound. I would have liked a little more from the bass, it's faintly audible with a little distortion on it. The songs aren't quite at the catchy level of a Vader or Decapitated, but not for the lack of trying. Gortal is an impressive band technically, some of them are/were members of Pyorrhoea so they are no strangers to the form. The first track is the worst on the album, once you get past that you're in for yet another shiny nugget in the ever widening Polish goldmine.

Verdict: Win [7/10]


http://www.gortal.pl/

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Hell United - HornoKracy (2008)

Formerly known as Eclypse, this Polish black/death cult has achieved a level of high intensity under their new nomenclature. With a sound somewhere between 1349 and modern Behemoth, you know you are in for a complete unholy racket. Fortunate these gentlemen write intriguing enough songs that this is a headache well worth attaining.

Hostile enough to flay Christian skin straight from their bodies, the album begins with the haunting bells toll of "Eucharistik Masochism". It's a shredder with some nice riffs, and I like the subtle guitar layers over the bridge. "Lamentations of Gods" continues to amass the destruction until the body count is almost incalculable. "God Father Goat Father" is a clarion call to victory for the LEGIONS OF HELL. Because surely this is the side these guys serve on, and they surely have achieved officer status at the least. And to think I haven't even gotten to the meat yet, because "Gospel of Havoc" is just fucking sick. "In the Name of Hellfire" slows things down a little, though its still quite evil. By this point, you need a slowdown, because you have to recover. "Insatiable Thirst for Injure" picks up the pace with some vile melody and pure oldschool grinding evil riffs. "Extra Strength of the Obscure" has a more sheer, black edge. The final two tracks, "Too Pity Too Insane" and "Great Expiatory's Suicide" are likewise sinister and blacker. And in fact, I love the use of the chanting sample and the ambiance in the latter.

The musicians are what you expect from the Polish scene: well honed and brutal cutting knives of slaughter metal. The drumming is off the wall but this guy makes it seem as if it's just Tuesday or something. If Behemoth simply isn't enough for you and you want something even more destructive, the debut from Hell United is an amazing effort and you should have already whipped out the credit card. Hail Satan mother fuckers! Or something like that. Buy this. And kiss your ass goodbye.

Verdict: Epic Win (9/10)


http://www.myspace.com/hellunited

Human Mincer - Degradation Paradox (2008)


Album number three for the Spanish brutes, and while I was expecting more of that middle of the road, throwaway guttural death I was pleasantly surprised by the whirlwind of razor edged chaos that was Degradation Paradox. Though the band has its fair share of chug and blast alteration, it also has a refined sense of the old school and a torrid of intensity to the songwriting which easily maintained my attention throughout the eight tracks.

"Flask Copper Deglutition" evokes the first holocaust with savage blasting accented by some Morbid Angel style crunch and squeal under a flurry of brutal grunts and snarls, which sound pretty fucking amazing in the crisp mix of the album. "Sculpturing Himself Atrocity" has some sick spurts of intense chugging with evil riffing to cap them off. The title track hit me like an 18-wheeler full of ballast-toting zombies. "Dyskinetic Martyr Modification" (what a name) just flat out leveled my brain, and then the album just continues to get even more intense and complicated as on "Scaphocephaly Status Error" and "Macromutation Overflowed".

Did I mention I love how they name their songs? Truth be told, there aren't a lot of extremely catchy riffs to be found on the album, yet it doesn't even NEED them, because it's such an intense ride that will have you banging your head for the very short time it takes until your neck snaps and you don't have to worry about catchy riffs anymore.

Pretty goddamn awesome, one of the best death metal albums I've heard from the Spanish scene. Recommended.

Verdict: Win (8/10)

http://www.humanmincer.com/

Castrofate - Cataclysmic Insanity (2008)


In the mood for some crunchy New York thrash with conceptual science fiction lyrical themes? Castrofate may be just what you ordered. The band has a remarkable ability to conjure nostalgic vibes without actually being cheesy, their sound reminds me of many obscure and cult 80s thrash/speed metal acts yet they have a brazen, bold production quality.

Cataclysmic Insanity is their second album, I haven't heard the debut. What we have is a pure hybrid of 80s power/speed metal with a harder thrash edge, tasteful yet simple lead work, and the dirty vocals of Dan Castro, which summon up memories of everything from Venom to Xentrix. The drumming is great, a lot of parts that might otherwise feel average are spiced up by the fills and beats. "Flying Blind" and "Fear" are pretty tight songs, and "Nightmares" is a total killer with great little guitar fills during the verse riff. That said, there are a few tunes where they use a groovier metal style ala Black Label Society/Zakk Wylde, and I didn't enjoy these as much. "Misguided Path" would be an example of that, didn't care for it.

As I mentioned, the lyrics are sci-fi related, it seems they are based on various books and films but without being too direct. There aren't a lot of 'sci-fi' effects in the music though, this is pretty much pure metal. When Castrofate is thrashing out is where they work the best, but there are a few songs here which felt like filler and dragged the overall album down. 5-6 of the songs show a lot of promise and are worth hearing if you like old school, dirty thrash metal with no regards for trendy nonsense.

Verdict: Indifference (6.5/10)

http://www.myspace.com/castrofate

Friday, November 21, 2008

Gardarika - Купава (2008)


When am I going to get on the ball and start learning Russian so I can translate all these releases? It's far past the hour. Gardarika is an interesting band performing a rather unique progressive metal, with some thrash to it as well as a hint of classic earlier metal.

The band has existed for quite some time, well over a decade, but this is their first full-length album. Two of the distinct elements are the traditional vocals of Alexandr Izgarniy and the busy bass of Sergey Kuryavin, they blend well with the guitar riffs and drumming. It may just be my own ignorance, but the vocals give it a folksy feel. You can hear a lot of great influences here, this is 'progressive' thrash metal after all so you can hear a dash of Voivod, or Watchtower, though the vocals take it into a whole new area. I can't say enough for the bass playing, which is amazing on tracks like "Незабвенная " where it becomes this dominating central force under some good leads and riffs.

The album's mix is quite good, you can hear everything nicely and it does have an earlier vibe to it. It's not perfect, but it's unique and engrossing enough that you can listen through without becoming bored, simply because the band's riffing is so adventurous. You don't hear much like this band anymore, they clearly have good roots and use them to craft something worthwhile. I am eager to hear how they will develop in the future, because this is a pretty good start! Download some samples from their site and check it out for yourself.

Verdict: Win (7.5/10)


http://www.gardarika.com/

Prevalent Resistance - Eternal Return (2008)


I was a pretty huge fan of this enigmatic Finnish band's sophomore outing To Live Again and Dominate, a very straight forward and glorious album, and even better than their great debut Dynamics of Creation. To an extent, Eternal Return is just par for the course. It's neither groundbreaking nor a masterpiece, yet it retains many of those same qualities which constantly draw me back into the form, even though I've heard it all a million times. Great fucking black metal, immersion through atmosphere and simplicity yet entirely desolate.

"From Beyond the Chains" is a cold and grim charge to open the warfare, followed by the excellent "Altars of Our Black Cult" with plods along at a Bathory pace before opening up the gates of damnation and spewing vitriol into the winter air. Do you feel the futility of your death as you rise the next crest into the enemy's waiting, bloodied embrace. FUCKING CHARGE. CHARGE TO YOUR DEATH. "On Wings of Steel" levels the battlefield with its altering glorious gait and ominous, rocking menace. The final two tracks are longer: the title track being almost 9 minutes of glorious mid-paced epic Finnish black metal, and "Apotheosis" clocking in over 11 minutes, even MORE epic. Five songs are all that is needed to give one a contentment, a grim fulfillment that you have been served.

And what more is there to say? If you are the type of person who loves true Scandinavian black metal with absolutely zero bullshit, zero attempts at any type of harmony or beauty (and therein lies its true beauty), then you will fucking devour this, as I have. During those cold stretches of barren New England winter, this is the type of album I will break out of the crypt to accompany me on pensive wasteland journeys. You can either join me or sit cuddly by the fire and listen to Fall Out Boy or something. In which case fuck you.

Verdict: Win (8.5/10)

Legion of the Damned - Cult of the Dead (2008)


Ever the heralds of death thrashing crossover, Dutch maniacs Occult changed their name a few albums back to Legion of the Damned and continued in the same general direction. In this, they've been steadily improving, and the last effort Feel the Blade, which was really just an altered re-issue of Occult's Elegy for the Weak, was a pretty kickass reminder.

So Cult of the Dead is the true follow-up to last year's Songs of the Jackal, and another offering of groin-punching savage thrashing death in the vein of earlier Kreator and Slayer with injections of blasting mayhem. There's nothing unique about it, but you do have to take into consideration the band has been doing this for many years, they're not riding some bandwagon. There are a few songs here which are entertaining, like "Black Templar" and "Enslaver of Souls" which are a lot of fun and had me pummeling my fist and thrashing about the room. "Solar Overlord" is also pretty good with the exception of a really generic, but thankfully brief breakdown. The rest are fairly average, and often the riffs feel just too familiar to derive a decisive and fresh sense of enjoyment. I preferred Feel the Blade, for what it was.

This is one of the most pure bands of the form. You get thrash and death metal, well balanced, with a solid mix, snarling vocals and some breakdowns that might just make your knee flex out and kick someone. But I'd like to hear catchier riffs, as they have offered in the past.

Verdict: Indifference (6/10)


http://www.legionofthedamned.net/

Tankard - Thirst (2008)


Beer stein in hand? Fat, unapologetic drunk on the album cover? Alcoholic Teutonic thrash. Ready. Set. Go. It's time for a new Tankard album again, and the band is coming off a series of some of their best work since the original trio of Zombie Attack, Chemical Invasion, and The Morning After. Though it would have been a tall order to ever match those masterworks, the band have been hitting it close with albums like Beast of Bourbon and Beauty and the Beer.

Does Thirst deliver once more? Not exactly, but it's a solid effort with well constructed songs and an emphasis on pure thrashing mood. Gerre's vocals are quite the same today as they were in the early albums, but the riffs aren't nearly as frenetic or punk fueled. The album begins with "Octane Warriors", a catchy enough track with busy riffing and breakdowns, a sort of tribute to wild stretches of open road and a craving for fucking beer! "Deposit Pirates" has a pretty steady pace, not one of the best songs here, but "Stay Thirsty" has some great riffs and it's quite fun even with the acoustics. "Hyperthermia" and "Echoes of Fear" are decent enough German thrash, but the songs almost feel too serious for this band. But then you read the lyrics and realize, nope, it's still Tankard: 2/3rds alcoholic joy and 1/3rds an almost futile attempt to write the more serious thrashing topics like war, society, etc. "When Daddy Comes to Play" seems to be about some abused child locked away in a basement for decades. "Zodiac Man" is about some anomalous cosmic superhero, or something. "G.A.L.O.W.", or "Gods and Legends of War" is one of the better songs here, a lot of fun. "Myevilfart" is, well, dumb. "Sexy Feet Under" is another of my favorite tunes on the album, a nice energetic number with some nice riffing, and it's about...a foot fetish!?

The production of the album is superb, much like the last three. Everything is clear and they've never sounded better from a studio standpoint. Unfortunately the album does lack some of that reckless and wild feeling that so saturated their younger days in hops and barley. However, it's still Tankard, it will still be waiting at the pub with another round, on the house, to give you a swift thrashing kick to your ass. And isn't that enough?

Verdict: Win (7.5/10)

http://www.tankard.info/index.html

Mechanical Poet - Eidoline: The Arrakeen Code (2008)


Though their albums have had varying degrees of quality, Mechanical Poet remains one of the most interesting Russian metal exports of the past decade. Originally they were a sort of potpourri of Harry Potter/Tim Burton imagery imposed over a hybrid of progressive metal and goth rock. But they've continued to evolve with each release, not content to repeat themselves. That said, the past few records have been good, just not great.

Now, let me ask, how many Dune concept albums have you heard in the metal genre lately? Individual songs, a few decades ago, by that OTHER metal band. But it seems Mechanical Poet have created a pretty interesting take on it. The material is fairly loyal to their roots. Heavier progressive metal with atmospheric synth lines and some goth overtones. Vladimir's vocals remind me quite a lot of Evergrey with that lower bite to them. This is obvious in the opener "Virus" with its driving guitars and fairly catchy chorus. "Fantasies" could very well be a Finnish gothic metal hymn, save it gets a little bouncier, but it builds to a nice vocal bridge. "Crawlers" begins with a groove to it, and again, their favorite part, the catchy chorus with the mid-range vocals. Most of the tracks follow this same tendency, and that is both their strength and weakness. Because, while aiming for those 'catchy' vocals, a lot become forgettable. The band also does some growling and screaming along the cleaner voice, tends to come off a little cheesy.

Still, the concept alone is enough to drive curiosity here. I also liked that all the tracks had single word titles, an interesting approach to the subject material. There are a few interesting bits wedged into some of the tracks, like the almost annoying yet functional female vocals during "Witches", or the scintillating pop synths of "Sands". Had it been honed a little sharper, the concept and music could have conjoined to create one of the most original albums of the year. As it stands, it's definitely a good listen for fans of prog metal, but the music just isn't memorable enough to pull in anyone else.

I certainly applaud Mechanical Poet for trying, and I'll say it here: if this band can ever write the songs to match their vivid visions, they'll be a force to reckon with.

Verdict: Win (7/10)


http://www.mechpoet.com/

Sarkom - Bestial Supremacy (2008)


I don't remember much about the band's debut Aggravation of Mind, but this is a worthy offering from members of Pantheon I, Urgehal, etc. Expect nothing less than the vile excellence of true Norwegian black metal.

The album opens with a pair of slower, crushing tracks. "Inferior Bleeding" plods along with a nocturnal majesty, injecting a simple but infectious speed picked riff along the verse chords. "I Call Your Name" is both glorious and desolate, driven by Unsgaard's desperate snarls. But the band isn't limited by this pace, with the title track they blast away mercilessly. Some other tracks of note here are "Parallel to a Wall of Fire", a slow and haunting piece with a few depressing clean vocals and a wicked buildup. "Revival of Torment" is pure Norwegian evil with a nice thrash break to its lead riff. "Crushing the Retrospective Dominions" is another great tune with its mug shaking verse and excellent chorus riffs. The rest of the songs round off the album well.

This is a no-brainer if you enjoy pure Norse black metal with some provocative titles and lyrics. There are no gimmicks to be had, the mix of the album is straightforward and works perfectly for the genre. This is not an original album by any means, and it's not trying to be; but they're keeping faith in the darkness and have produced a beast of an effort.

Verdict: Win (7.5/10)

http://www.myspace.com/sarkom

Monday, November 17, 2008

Gears of War 2 (2008)

The original Gears of War was a simple, but satisfying, tactical shooter for the XBOX 360. Focused around a fast-paced cover system and exaggerated machismo, Gears 1 kept things visceral, most notably with the chainsaw-equipped guns used to render enemies into juicy piles of flesh. The story was cliche and plain, providing a loose motivation for the gameplay that never got in the way. Aside from an irritating vehicle level, the campaign for Gears 1 was a consistently engaging path of destruction through waves of enemies. Conversely, the multiplayer was poorly thought out and skewed to the host, causing it to grow stale quickly.

As you might expect, Gears of War 2 goes the Hollywood route of trying to expand every aspect. The graphics are prettier, the levels and enemies are bigger, the story has been filled out, and there are more characters and weapons. Sadly, the Hollywood blockbuster sequel analogy works all too well, in that Gears 2 dilutes everything that was good about the original. But before I get into that, let's see what did turn out good. The graphics are pretty, damn pretty. Some of the areas and enemies are gorgeous to look at, especially the outdoor scenes.

Some. Most of them are just copy-pasted rock and rubble sections or temple-esque buildings. Gone is the feel of fighting in the abandoned streets of your home, replaced by the feel of fighting in a bunch of really boring tunnels. There's strangely no sense of immersion to the levels. Although they can be stunning to look at, I never felt like I was really fighting in the burning ruins of a city or a cave full of luminescent fungi. This is partially from being whisked through each area and encounter, but it really comes down to the fact that the actual fights are never in these beautiful areas. Whether it's due to technical limitations or to help enemy visibility, or even because you mostly fight in underground locations, the encounters are always behind the same old rocky walls and pillars.

Ok, so how about the gameplay? Gears 2 sticks closely to the original, with only slight tweaks to the formula. Yet, somehow, it fails to be engaging or entertaining at all. I played on Hardcore, the hardest starting difficulty, and felt absolutely no challenge or thrill from the fights. A large part of the blame for this lies in the level design. Almost all encounters in Gears 2 are linear and rarely allow for flanking or any tactics more interesting than moving to the next closest source of cover. There is a strange feeling that the fights were made easy and simple to keep players moving, constantly encountering new situations. On top of this, Gears 2 has a large focus on "epic" encounters with large enemies, which means that you'll often be fighting from one platform or another using the scripted heavy weapon to defeat these behemoths. Slightly entertaining at first, these scenarios lose all impact after you've killed your tenth Brumak with all the care of an annoying fly. Oh, and remember the stupid vehicle section from the first game? Epic are proud to say they've addressed that by doing it even more, albeit making these sections as unchallenging as the rest of the game.

If that isn't enough, they had to go and force a "deeper" story into the game every five minutes. Every quick fight is capped off by a banal cut-scene or transmission. Rather than keeping the story unobtrusive, Gears 2 takes it upon itself to pretend it's important and meaningful. Be prepared to see Dom's softer side, which is about as involving as internet fanfic. It gets especially laughable when pivotal plot moments are essentially forgotten a cut-scene later. Marcus is thankfully more or less the same, never wasting time going beyond his hardened soldier routine, while new cliches Tai and Dizzy add absolutely nothing to the story. Now, you really wouldn't expect this to be that big of a hangup. It's a war-themed shooter based around testosterone and cliches, who the fuck cares, right? The problem comes in that it disrupts the gameplay too frequently. When the gameplay is already ephemeral enough, it doesn't help matters to break it up with mind-numbing story points.

As far as the campaign is considered, I give it an epic fail. There were only a couple fights near the end that I actually enjoyed, and I would never consider playing through it again unless I was extremely bored. Even Halo 3's campaign was far more entertaining than this.

But we can't forget multiplayer, and this is where the meat lies. The online gameplay has been tweaked to make for a more tactical flow, including the ability to plant grenade mines and stopping power for weapons to cut down on the roll-and-shotgun gameplay that rose out of Gears 1. Once XBOX Live irons its problems out, this should be a rewarding mode to keep the game entertaining. However, the real joy of Gears 2 is the Horde mode. This tasks a group of teammates (up to 5 people) to survive for as long as possible against increasingly difficult waves of enemies. Here, new additions like the portable shield and mortar rise to their full potential, becoming necessary for keeping down the relentless Horde. This mode alone makes the game worth getting, albeit maybe not until it's cheaper.

Many people, gamers and reviewers alike, seem to express opinions far different from mine, yet I found Gears of War 2 to be a huge disappointment. However, if you're looking for a worthwhile new multiplayer game to sink into, you should check it out.

Verdict: Indifference [3/5]
(ten shitloads indeed)

http://gearsofwar.xbox.com/AgeGate.htm

Fable 2 (2008)


There's a lot to be said about Peter Molyneux's latest baby, Fable 2. I'll start with the good things.

The meat of the Fable 2 is combat, plain and simple. Fortunately, combat in Fable 2 is actually quite fun. It almost feels like a Devil May Cry-lite, with surprisingly tight controls and highly enjoyable thwacks and bangs. To get the most out of the experience, you'll want to play a balanced character, which is good, because the game basically forces you down this path anyway. Headshotting Hollow Men with a flintlock pistol is a glorious thing, and combat is really the saving grace of the entire experience.

For all the speculation and pre-release hatred that the Dog was given, your Dog is fucking cool. It's great to put on an eyepatch and see your little pup grow a black patch of fur over their eye. It's even cooler when your pup limps around after taking some hits in battle and you feel a twang of pain in your heart, cursing the shitty "expression wheel" control scheme as you try and dig out your magical "heals all dog wounds forever" potion. You really and truly grow to love the dog in Fable 2, Molyneux wasn't blowing smoke on this at all. While I would've liked to see the dog morph a bit more, like your character, and maybe even adapt it's breed to match your ethos, it's a bit like asking for gold-flaked sprinkles on your already delicious sundae.

On the more average tilt, the "social" aspects of Fable 2 are pretty much as uninteresting as they were in the first game. Yes, having a wife that you can fuck and produce offspring with is fairly amusing for a few moments, but that's really all there is to it. Villagers crowd around to watch you fart, or dance, or whatever, and you can choose to invest in property or businesses to produce some income every few minutes. I'm not really sure what the supposed point is of all this, because I never found one in all my time with this game. I suppose it makes for some good forum posts and it's a novel way to expand upon gameplay options, but it's just not nearly as interesting or rewarding as the combat.

Being a Lionhead game, Fable 2 has it's share of bugs ranging from the eyebrow-raising to the controller-tossing. Reports of broken quests, broken saves, and all manner of progress-blocking interface weirdness flood the internet, and although I didn't personally experience anything game breaking, I did cock my head a bit every time my wife would look at me with her big, whore eyes and say "Oh, I love you so much" and follow it up with an immediate declaration of "You murderer! I'll never forgive you!"

Though it will definitely have it's supporters, I found the story of Fable 2 to be abominable. It's a generic revenge tale with some highly predictable elements and some less-than-stellar delivery and pacing. The truly odd thing about the story is that Fable 2 will definitely make you feel emotion in ways that other games with far better story and delivery can't. It's almost like reading a children's book that you've read a dozen times already. You know where it's been and where it's going, but there are still some great moments buried in there. Unfortunately, there are also still plenty of moments that fall flat on their faces. Some, like the ending(s), are too significant to be forgiven.

Also on the list of detriments, the art style is still mostly uninspired and bland, and there just aren't enough cool hats or other clothing for your character. The co-op is so feature-starved - lacking even independent camera control and the ability to play your own hero for the second player - that I can't in good conscience recommend it to anyone. Ignore the pre-release claims of Fable 2 being accessible to non-gamers; it's not, at all. The combat can be very frustrating to beginners, and the interface is so obtuse and flat out crappy that only a console RPG player could use it. Even then, those of us raised on the NES-era menus will stumble from time to time.

There isn't a whole lot to say from a metal standpoint about Fable, unfortunately. I played through the first time as evil as I possibly could, sacrificing peasants and even a few spouses to the Temple of Darkness, or whatever it is. The unfortunate thing is that the "evil" elements, at least for the player, are played off as laughably silly. "Friday is poker night" you hear on your first visit inside the Temple. You gain entrance by eating crispy chicks, fried chicken nuggets. You sacrifice your victims with a giant spinning wheel that determines their method of death. You get the idea. Lionhead never really seems to nail "evil" in this game except for the portrayal of some of the villains. Note: some. Despite playing through the entire game as a murdering, thieving shitbag, I never really felt like a villain. I would love to see future installments get downright satanic, but I doubt it will ever happen.

Fable 2 is a conundrum. This review has turned up far more criticism than praise, and yet I really liked it. Each and every time I played it, I was having so much fun that I could easily ignore it's flaws, and yet when I wasn't playing, the flaws were all I could think of. Fortunately for me, I kept coming back for more and rarely stopped to reflect on the holes in the experience. I would be remiss not to deduct some points, though, for the awful co-op implementation and the miserable story. All in all, Fable 2 is a good game with hints of both greatness and mediocrity, and so I do bestow a "win" upon it.

Verdict: Win (7/10)

http://www.lionhead.com/fable2/Default.aspx

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Blood of the Black Owl - A Feral Spirit (2008)

The s/t debut from this Chet W. Scott project was a bleak and wonderfully (or should I say horrifically) realized effort of blackened Northwestern doom, drone, ambient, and a dash of folk. A breath of fresh air, regardless of how much carrion is carried on the scent.

A Feral Spirit is another meditative journey into the grim face of nature, as wholly American as it is disturbing. "Spell of the Elk" is an opening chant set to percussion and subtle ambient synths, with a few droning noises. "Crippling of Age" brings tortured black vocals, paced acoustic drums and a hypnotic wall of fuzzy distorted guitars. A terrifying track, yet it breaks for some scintillating guitars after the halfway point. "He Who Walked Away from the Fire & Laughed as He Bled" is a more psychedelic journey combining all the elements of the first two tracks. "Void" is a black cycle with some clever pipe organ segments dispersed within. "The Melancholy Article" is almost like a super minimal trip hop piece with flutes, horrid poetry and loads of atmosphere. "Unattainable Vistas of Our Remembrance" is a desolate, driven track with a great crescendo of sadly melodic guitars. "Forest of Decrepitude" and "Inter-Weaving the Beyond" are more typical of funeral doom/drone pieces, yet far more interesting than the majority of music in this sub-sub-genre. "Journey of the Plague Year" ends the album, just as hauntingly as it began.

In the end I enjoyed this more than the debut. While that was a pretty colossal effort, this feels slightly more fleshed out and I truly enjoyed the diversity within. It's a beautiful record from start to finish, a hypnotism that is guaranteed to steer your mind to places of longing, into the empty wilderness of both the physical and cerebral world. There is not much else out there like this, it's very much worth owning if you are a fan of any of its musical components. One of the most unique and entrancing 'metal' entities in the US today.

Verdict: Epic Win (9.5/10)

http://www.myspace.com/bloodoftheblackowl

Candlemass - Nightfall (1987)

Few bands can truly conjure despair through their music. But against all odds, Sweden's premiere gothic doom outfit, beneath the operatic vocals of Messiah Marcolin and the superb songwriting of Leif Edling, were one of the first bands to succeed. Overwhelmingly. In 1987, you didn't have today's widespread genres of drone, doom, funeral doom, and the like. You had Black Sabbath, Witchfinder General, St. Vitus, and a few other founders and contemporaries. The Candlemass sound embraces the heavier riffing style of Tony Iommi ("Symptom of the Universe", etc) and marries it with gothic lyrics of hopelessness.

Nightfall is their masterpiece, a flawless slab of crushing sadness drenched in Edling's archaic Christian lyrics. "Gothic Stone" is a short intro with some keyboards which perfectly sets up the grooving doom of "The Well of Souls". Immediately, the 'Mad Monk' Messiahs Marcolin's vocals offered a distinct alternative to basically ALL other metal music of the period with their operatic power. Yet these aren't calling at you from a theater balcony, but the walls of an abandoned castle, a decaying Medieval cathedral, or a roadside shrine in the Plague Years.

The instrumental "Codex Gigas" follows with its gorgeous gothic dirge, and after that comes one of the greatest doom songs ever written, one of the greatest METAL songs ever written. "At the Gallows Ends" begins with some sad acoustics under chords, then erupts into the best riff of its kind since "Symptom of the Universe". Jesus. When I first heard this song I was instantly hooked (I had picked up the single before the full-length). Marcolin's vocal line during the chorus is haunting, and the brief lead section near the close of the song is excellent. "Samarithan" is another beauty with its slow pace and story-driven lyrics. Chopin's "March Funebre" is covered with keyboards and guitars, and then the somewhat faster paced, groovy "Dark are the Veils of Death". "Mourners Lament", another slower song with some evil riffing. The last vocal track on the album is "Bewitched", one of their more popular numbers. And then "Black Candles" closes the epic, a haunting instrumental written by Mike Wead of Mercyful Fate.

The mix of the album was pretty much perfect for its day and it still sounds great to these ears. The band was a class act. This isn't a style of music where one expects any manner of virtuosity, but riff for riff it's one of the best albums of its type to date, if not THE best. The songs are perfect, even the instrumentals which may come off a little sappy. I hold the album as the standard for epic, crushing gothic metal, and the band's influence is still heard today as a landmark between Sabbath and most modern European doom.

Verdict: Epic Win (10/10) (ring, brother, ring for me)

http://www.candlemass.se/

Friday, November 14, 2008

SIG:AR:TYR – Beyond the North Winds (2008)

SIG:AR:TYR is an oddly named one man act from the frozen tundra of Ontario. The one man goes by the name Daemonskald and delivers slow rocking, but consistently intriguing folk metal. It is a genre that is probably past the point of overdone but we don't get a whole lot of metal from Canada so give him a chance will you?

SIG:AR:TYR plays with a number of different moods, taking inspiration both from ambient and viking acts. The first track “King of the World” begins some nice Egyptian-sounding synth work before kicking into the mid tempo heavy chords that characterize much of the album. The rhythms get more interesting from there and occasionally give way to solid acoustic work.

The lyrics are viking in nature, probably derivative, but are somewhat interesting, and Daemonskald delivers them in a variety of vocal styles. He has a distinct voice and I thought there might be multiple singers at work the first time I heard it.

“Pale Autumnal Moon” and “Sword From an Unknown Hand” feature good acoustic guitar work, but really feel like filler tracks. That is, not bad, but skippable when you want to get to the meat of the album. Songs like the title track “Beyond the North Winds” and “Under the Mountain” each clock in at over eight minutes, and while that isn't necessarily bad, seem to reach that length in much the same way that Opeth would, playing each riff over and over. Still they each feature a number of interesting segments and so you have to listen through to get a gist for the song.

The album really hits a high note on one of the last songs “The Way.” This is where the song kicks from mid tempo to pretty epic, probably what that slower plod has been building to this whole time. Opening with a fast acoustic riff, the heavy guitars kick in, then give way to his most echo-y full singing yet. Daemonskald hits the high notes here and should elicit at least a head nod from even the most anti-scene scenester.

If he plays around with this sound more on his next album, breaking up the more monotonous parts with a little power and speed, we might have an Epic Win on our hands. For now he's at least worth checking out.

Verdict: WIN (8/10)

http://www.myspace.com/sigartyr

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Infected Disarray - Disseminating Obscenity (2009)


The latest onslaught to sign to Unique Leader, Infected Disarray are another in a series of super guttural, punchy chug chug brutal death metal bands. They have a sound so busy it almost comes across as messy, characterized by thick bass and insanely low register grunts, punctuated by some technical guitars. The band has members of Detrimentum and a former drummer of Gorerotted.

This is one of those bands who are enamored of the long song titles, kind of like early Carcass or Demilich. Would you believe the opening track was titled "Pre-natal Excavation of Diseased Ovarian Atrocity, Demonstrating the Necessity for Extreme Prejudicial Infanticide Within the Vomit Filled Womb"?

Because it is.

I didn't wind up getting into the material much. It's sufficiently brutal that I'd want to just walk up to and punch someone in the face, but lacks much in the way of distinct riffing and songwriting. Most of the tracks felt interchangeable and sloppy. Before it sounds like I am trying to totally slag the record, I'm not. There are a few moments of such swollen intensity that I found myself actually getting into it. I didn't enjoy it nearly as much as the new Deeds of Flesh or Severed Savior, but the style is comparable.

Make no mistake about it, if you like highly guttural slamming death metal with no concern for catchy riffs, but for sheer violent brutality, you'll feel right at home with Disseminating Obscenity. Buy this from Unique Leader when it drops in a few months. Otherwise, it may not be your extreme cup of tea. I should also point out this promo version of the album is missing some of the songs on its track list. So I should come across them, and they turn out better than the rest of the tracks, I will devour my own intestinal tract and update this review. How DO some of these CDs get out so early, anyway? It's gotta be the band.

Also, I think the cover art is pretty well done.

Verdict: Indifference (6/10)


http://www.myspace.com/infecteddisarray

The Moon And The Nightspirit - Regõ Rejtem (2007)

The second album by The Moon And The Nightspirit, a Hungarian folk band, features lyrics entirely in Hungarian, dealing with subjects like nature, spirits and other pagan concepts. The music features a large variety of ethnic instruments, and Agnes provides an absolutely beautiful vocal performance.

Regõ Rejtem contains nine songs, all of which are quite distinct, yet have a sound similar enough that they don’t stand out too much. This keeps the album interesting, without feeling disconnected, or any of the songs feeling too much out of place. The band has also been very wise with their use of instruments, as with an abundance of folk instruments, they never go overboard with them. Using only the necessary ones to produce the sound they’re looking for, they achieve more than if they tried to jam all the instruments they possibly could into the music. Some folk bands do not show this restraint.

The music throughout the album is relatively slow and tranquil, but dynamic enough to keep the listener interested. The songs are simply beautiful, and something about them speaks to the small primal piece deep inside, that embraces nature and times long past. Regõ Rejtem was also the first time I purchased an album based on hearing just one song. Éjköszöntõ convinced me that I have to hear the rest.

I could keep praising the album, but that isn’t going to serve any real purpose. I would heartily suggest checking Regõ Rejtem out if you can conceive any possibility of liking pagan folk music with beautiful female vocals.

Verdict: Epic Win (9/10)


http://www.themoon.equilibriummusic.com/

Ice Ages - Buried Silence (2008)

Richard Lederer’s one man project, Ice Ages, released a new album earlier this year. It’s a weird piece of music, as it relies a lot on what my mood at the moment happens to be, in order to work. Buried Silence is most effective when played as an ambient piece, and not scrutinized song by song. Indeed, comparing the individual songs leads to the eventual conclusion that a lot of the material on the album sounds very similar, with a distinct lack of highs and lows. This may make listening the album a relatively monotonous experience. Nevertheless, the industrialized, rhythmical progression of the album feels unstoppable, and doesn’t feel like the music is grinding at the same spot. There is a constant feeling of slow and purposeful movement.

I can’t recall any of the songs by name off-hand, and trying to listen to the album in any other way than as a whole didn’t seem to work for me. Credit must be given where credit is due, and Buried Silence excels at creating a palpable, oppressive atmosphere. The sound is cold, harsh, slow and purposeful as the album progresses from song to song. The distorted vocals only reinforce this, and as a whole, the music is very similar to glacial movement. The electronic elements serve to bring variation into the experience, but as a whole, their use is quite conservative.

When listening as a single experience, and when the listener’s mood is just right, the album does occasionally hit a sweet spot, resulting in a near cathartic experience. If this is the case for you, there’s hardly any reason not to own this album, if just for those few moments when Buried Silence is just right. My only complaint regarding this is how infrequently the right combination for this to happens.

The major failings of Buried Silence are its inaccessibility, as an investment of time is required to get into it, as well as its reliance on whether the listener can get to the mindset where the music works. This is not the case with everyone. In the end, if Buried Silence works for you, it works all the way. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t work at all.

Verdict: Win (7/10)

http://www.iceages.info/

Sequester - Winter Shadows (2008)

With the advent of affordable home recording and the one-man 'bedroom' band, we've been seeing thousands of such projects springing up in multiple metal genres (black, goth, goregrind, etc), but very few in the power metal field.

Ontario native Ryan Boc is out to change that, and with his first full-length album Winter Shadows, he succeeds. Boc handles all the vocals and instruments, and has written a dozen tracks of catchy and I dare say unique melodic metal. Boc is a fan of layered vocal harmonies and guitars akin to what you might hear in Blind Guardian, and he constructs some good tunes around this concept. "Winter Shadows" has a great vocal line following a simple melodic, ringing guitar. "Apocalyptic Smile" starts with a great panning guitar riff and then another mid-paced rocker with some nice melodic textures. "The Erlking" has a slower, anthemic feel which actually conjures up a band like Vikings Tyr from the Faroe Islands, yet in a pure power metal shell. The instrumental "Firefly" opens up "Serenity". Yes. Like the TV show and movie, but more on that later. "Paths of the Dead" is a nice, sad track. "Heir to the Throne" feels more like a traditional piece with some very Blind Guardian guitars.

Lyrically the album is steeped in fantasy and mythological lyrics. He even has an instrumental closing the album called "Icewind Dale". One can tell he's got an influence from Forgotten Realms PC games and novels, as well as other popular science fiction and fantasy themes (though he largely leaves Tolkien alone...it's been done after all). Normally one might squawk at this, but he doesn't just mark his territory with the dull adoration of some geek's fan fiction, he actually writes pretty decent lyrics around his subject material:

Stir from your feast
Corrupt me
Take as you reap
Hauntingly
Never cry out to the sound and the feeling of dread—worship them
Live just a moment and soon you will see it has fled—fallen hope
No one hears me call out to the lost dream

This is good stuff, at least better than a myriad of other, shitty power metal bands' lyrics. I am impressed with this album overall, but there are a few things Boc could work with and undoubtedly improve. A few of the tunes just aren't as strong as others. The vocals do occasionally lack some confidence, but as he says on his website he has no formal training. These will get better; he's already got a good voice that will appeal to fans of the rougher German power metal (Savage Circus, Paragon, Guardian, etc). The bass and drums here suffice, but they could be stronger and give the music a more thunderous sound. Perhaps this could be done by filling out the band with some like minded individuals. After hearing this, I know if I were a local musician up north, I'd certainly get in touch with him! He's really got something here and I'm eager to check out more material. For one man, this is a very impressive debut album which fans of fantasy power metal owe it to themselves to hear.

I'd wish this guy luck, but it's evident he doesn't really need any!

Verdict: Win (7.5/10)

http://www.sequester.ca/

Thorngoth - Rauhnacht (2008)


Germans Thorngoth have improved from Thelema of Destruction, this being their second album. Eight hymns of foreboding yet triumphant black metal, about as pure as you can get before being crushed into dust. Original they are not, but they have sharpened this blade to a fine edge.

"Curse Them" begins with a crushing wall of hostility, then collapses into a mid-paced Bathory groove with a tasteful lead. "Kill for Paradise" alternates between blasting black punk and slower, discordant Norse riffing. "Shiachperchten" has a savage yet longing bridge. "Der Wanderer" is your perfectly pure, mid-paced black metal glory. "Nihilistic Visions" begins with an acoustic lick, then an evil, driving track worthy of Marduk or Dark Funeral. "Salvation in Silence" is beautiful, with subtle leads, my favorite on the album after the first few listens. The final track "Still, von Ewigkeit" is a longing, slower piece, somber and fulfilling.

In the end, Rauhnacht oozes class. The album sounds fantastic, a balanced mix fully expressed in both the rhythm and leads. Akhorahil has a suitably daemonic rasp to marinate each track in evil. Yet, one can't help but feel that the album overall also emanates a profound sorrow. Along with recent Lunar Aurora, Dark Fortress, Eternity, Wolfsschrei, and others, one can't help but feel Germany is developing the most potent black metal scene in the world.

Verdict: Win (8/10)


http://www.thorngoth.de/

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Lacus Somniorum - Tideshaper (2008)


Named for a lunar plain, Lacus Somniorum (i.e. 'Lake of Sleep') is a two-piece ambient collaboration between Gustaf Hildebrand of Sweden and Amanda Votta of Canada. It's a great debut, and Tideshaper is one of the more breathtaking pieces of atmospheric music I've heard this year.

Like all good ambient, this thrives on subtleties. There are no dominant melodies flowing through the eight tracks, just brilliant and distant soundscapes with the occasional, haunting accompaniment of Votta's flute and voice. The title track feels like a hidden, menacing force which conducts the delicate natural balance of the ocean in the underlying space between perception. "An Intangible World" is like the first discovery of some ancient civilization which spells dread and doom for humanity. "Hinterland" conveyed through me the feel of some solitary team of astronauts crossing a barren alien landscape, perhaps a mountainous region to only discover a vast and unexplored trace of long dead empire. "Beyond All Things is the Ocean" feels like the last broken rays of the moon shining through murky waters on the ruins of Atlantis. I've only covered half the album, but this is already enough that you ambiphiles (did I make that up?) can get a running start to check it out. My favorite track here, "Sentient Abyss" is a disturbing and dense vision of what is watching us all.

Again, these interpretations of the instrumental themes are mine alone, but they do fall in line with the apparent m.o. of the duo. The fact that I am free to associate them is one of the reasons I am so enraptured with ambient music as a whole. Lacus Somniorum is off to a great start and I hope they produce more themes in the future, whether similar or treading different tonal paths. I'm still trying to place the coordinates in the song title "11 22 N 14 36 E" if anyone can help I'd be fascinated to know.

Verdict: Epic Win (9/10)


http://www.myspace.com/lakeofsleep

Theriomorphic - The Beast Brigade (2008)


Theriomorphic is a melodic death metal band from Portugal, and this is their 2nd album. When I say melodic death metal, I'm not trying to infer they sound like the more common Scandinavian style, but these guys are more of a straight up death metal band with a melodic edge.

One thing I immediately didn't like about the album is the production. The guitars are chunky, but the vocals and drumming seem rather bland. The bass really takes a back seat, if it's doing anything interesting I just can't tell.

The songs are average. They like to mix it up between faster melodic riffing and very simple breakdowns, and aren't opposed to slower sections like in "Maledict" with some acoustics. This shows they aren't bad songwriters who don't want to bore you by rehashing the same pace again and again, but unfortunately none of the tracks stood out to me. In truth I prefer it when they are rocking out harder like on "Shadowlore" than the slower tunes which seemed mediocre. There is nothing necessarily 'bad' about this band at all, but between the average riffs and dull production, I found no excitement here and it's difficult to write much about the album.

Verdict: Indifference (5/10)


http://www.theriomorphic.org/

Wolfsschrei - Demons of My Inner Self (2008)


For their second full-length, Germans Wolfsschrei conjure up a suitably hostile environment of black violence with some glorious riffing and a cold but fulfilling tone. These are no newcomers to the scene, they've been in many other bands like Odal, Seelengrief, and Erhabenheit.

The title track begins with some bass, then the bombast of grinding black guitars and the snarling pitch of Taaken. What I find very satisfying about this band is the fact that almost all the songs have a very glorious, melodic riff in there. With "Demons of My Inner Self" it comes about half way into the track. "Of Hate and Man" is an excellent song, one of the best here, and it doesn't take long before they unleash this amazing, atmospheric riff (it's the second in the song). The rest of the tracks are likewise thrilling, "Penetration of Your Soul" rocks hard from the starting gate. "Your Painful Fate" is lush, driving and beautiful. "Where Dead Bodies Lay" is grim yet glorious.

Wolfsschrei prove here they have what it takes to join the upper crust of German black metal scene. I enjoyed just about every track on this effort. Groundbreaking they are not, but they deliver a quality not so common for this type of raw and straightforward black metal. The songs are more than capable of conveying cold emotions, the futility of hope in a world of despair, the dark comfort of diabolical hatred. It's all here. If you like true black metal, you will lap this up like an open sore on a Christian whore.

Verdict: Win (8/10)

http://www.wolfsschrei.de/