Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Gipfelstürmer - Am Ende steht der Sieg (2009)

Gipfelstürmer is a pagan/black metal band from Germany with an influence of punishing thrash metal and some glorious warlike melodies that truly evoke the spirit of their ancestry. Information is rather difficult to come by on the band, and I haven't translated their lyrics, but the band does seem to be the 'proud' sort. If that offends you, stop reading this review!

If not, read on, because Am Ende steht der Sieg is packed with memorable, if simple, bombast and writing. "Die Schlacht Beginnt - Einklang" opens with some melancholic, mid-period Slayer-like melodies before the mighty chords and chugged verse of "Der Schmied" erupt beneath harsh, barked black vocals. "Ein Gruß Zur Ferne" starts with the sounds of rushing water before it becomes a gallop of pagan metal with some manly backup vocals. Again, nothing this band does is complex, but it's fun and loaded with meadhorn suckling power. Other great tracks include the majestic "Der Gipfelstürmer" and the raging "Stürmet Hervor", but I enjoyed most of what is here.

Perhaps the best element of this release would be the vocals. Whether they are snarling or clean, they sound fantastic in the native tongue. In fact, few German bands singing in German can compare to this. The guitar tone is sufficient for the band's lumbering, primal thrash riffs, and the drums are tight enough. Close your eyes while listening, and the band definitely evokes a primal pagan majesty to match the mountainous scene on the cover.

I rather enjoyed Am Ende steht der Sieg because it offered me pure pagan metal with little of the stupid folk drinking melodies that infest so many similar releases. This is pure and heavy, the ghosts of nostalgia conjured through its composition alone. The album is nothing ground breaking and few of the riffs have real lasting power, but as a whole it delivers.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]

Kowloon Walled City - Gambling on the Richter Scale (2009)

Kowloon Walled City is an aggressive sludge/core band from the San Francisco area, and they are offering this debut album for free through their website. This is a wise move which should maximize the band's exposure as they inject themselves into the rapidly overpopulating sludge scene here in the States.

Gambling on the Richter Scale is actually a pretty good time, with a slew of energetic, punishing groove rhythms that recall the best heavier moments of grunge and doom. The band's music is refreshing, it's not nearly as unapproachable as a band like Eyehategod but it's still disturbing enough to satisfy fans of the genre who are way off the deep end. "Annandale" anoints the album with a hypnotic pattern of churning chords under the tortured vocals of Scott Evans, who honestly sounded to me like a heavier, pissed off version of Mudhoney's Mark Arm. "Diabetic Feet" is another groover, with a very simple and satisfactory selection of chords that roil and fumble while you inject whatever poison you prefer into your stomach or veins. This band is like a hammer of sludge slowly being applied to the backside of your cranium. Other moments of flair for this record include the bluesy, wandering "Paper Houses", the crawling "Sleep Debt" or the slowly bouncing "Bone Loss" which will kill you.

The album has a dark sound to it which makes it all that much more perturbing amidst a sea of weaker, softer emo/sludge bands. I am oft reminded of the crushing ambivalence of the Melvins, or perhaps Iron Monkey, though the tone and vocals are different. Kowloon Walled City does not offer much forgiveness, this is best listened to if you are already depressed or seeking that level of negative emotion. But it's not entirely oppressive, and one of the better sludge releases I've heard lately.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]

http://inthewalledcity.com/

Red Circuit - Homeland (2009)

Chitral Somapala is one of my favorite vocalists in the progressive/power metal genre, so it's always a pleasure to hear him working with another new project. His work in Avalon and Ivanhoe was great, and if you enjoyed either of those, then Homeland is certainly an album you should check out. Rounding out the lineup here is a tight band that performs a heavier form of progressive/power metal with synthesizers and backing vocals from the producer Andy Kuntz. If you like the heavier side of Avalon or Vanden Plas, then this is a no-brainer.

Homeland is polished throughout, but there are a few tracks that really stood out to me on the album. "The World Forgotten Sons" escalates into a powerful, melodic chorus among its grooving guitars. "Absinth" ranges from balladic, melancholic guitars and vocals into emotionally charged power rhythms. "See the Light" has some great flurries of synth lines alongside the chopping guitars and Somapala's expressive vocals, which carry both melody and a mildly tortured edge. Other winners include the groove packed "Through the Eyes of a Child" and the agressive/angelic "Fall in the Skies".

Homeland has a thick tone to its guitars that makes it one of the heavier pure progressive/power albums of the year, and to its credit it can shift between these moments and those of tranquil respite with only a second's notice and you do not feel at all removed from the band's cohesion. The solos are well placed, melodic and memorable, and the vocal performance is, as expected, top notch. I don't hear many albums of this style each year that I enjoy, so if you're a fan of bands like Vanden Plas, earlier Eldritch (or a lot of other Limb Music acts) then you'll want to listen in.

Verdict: Win [8/10]


http://www.redcircuit.de/

Disentomb - Promo [DEMO] (2009)

Disentomb is an explosive, brutal death metal act from Australia who have issued this 2 track sampler demo as an omen for the destruction to come. They create a very punishing, busy style which reminds me of extreme USDM acts like Deeds of Flesh and Severed Savior. Beneath the carapace of chugging and grunting the band actually has the ability to develop some hypnotic grooves.

That said, I enjoyed one of the tracks here more than the other. "Gutted" is packed with momentum, from its blasting exterior to the sweeping arpeggios, and the riff that erupts at the :50 second mark is insane as it transforms into a molten pit groove. "Subterranean Burial" is denser and arguably the more brutal track, but there were no hooks which burrowed under my skin.

A sacrifice presented, one marked for burial
In this subterranean chamber his screams will serenate
Lowered into the pit, the soil begins to consume
Echoes spread through the architecture of the tomb


The promo truly sounds punishing, so if you're looking for a neck exercise and a fan of 'the more brutal the better' death metal, then this is a band you should be checking out. Again, this is just two tracks...it's a promo release to get their name out there. We'll have to hear what the band can offer with a full-length release. If the material has the quality of "Gutted", then sign me up.

Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10]


http://www.myspace.com/disentomb

Revocation - Existence is Futile (2009)

Normally I don't review bands that I'm personally acquainted with, but Revocation is one of our very best local acts and they certainly deserve a little representation here at the blog. Existence is Futile is their 2nd full-length as Revocation (they previously released an album as Cryptic Warning) and the first where I feel the band's explosive live energy and whirlwind technical playing are truly captured in the studio. If you've had a chance to see this three piece live, you'll know what I mean.

Existence is Futile is their Relapse debut and crushes its predecessor Empire of the Obscene (which I found a little bland). The album sounds intense, the guitars have the perfect punch to them and yet the fluidity of all the band's dense riffing is obvious. Stylistically the band ranged from complex thrash and groove, to a more straight laced tech death metal. "Enter the Hall" is a good thrashing instrumental to open the album, shredding included. "Pestilence Reigns" is frantic and punishing but laden in accessible grooves and driving rhythms. "Dethonomics" is a titan of winding riffs, and the title track plasters you with a barrage of deep thrashing and some slower, pensive pummeling. Yet, none of these are among my favorites, because the second half of the album truly picks up steam. "The Brain Scramblers", "Dismantle the Dictator" and "Leviathan Awaits" are all amazing tracks which number among the best death metal released this year, and "The Tragedy of Modern Ages" is a great seven minutes to close out the album.

Chaotic Dystopia. A nucleus malign.
Blasting waves of discord, warping bounds of space and time.
Seething, grasping primal leech seeping throughout existence,
saps univcersal energy to shapeless, fearsome, fell:
A permanent apocalypse, beyond endless wastes, infinite vacant spaces must be crossed.


Not a lot of complaints with this album! I did feel the latter half was stronger in scope, but the earlier tracks still feature some great riffs. I'm not the biggest fan of Dave Davidson's vocals, but they sound loud and aggressive on this album and add a grotesque layer of percussion to the already bludgeoning instruments. All three of these gentlemen have an excellent grasp of composition; despite their technical merits they never shred excessively or add too many riffs into the mix. There are slight progressive touches to tracks like "The Tragedy of Modern Ages" that always score upon delivery.

Massachusetts has had some huge success in the past decade with metalcore bands like All That Remains, Killswitch Engage, Shadows Fall, etc, so I'm crossing my fingers that Existence is Futile grants this band the attention that has eluded it for years, since Revocation actually deserves it. Their sound will appeal to both riff hounding thrashers and death metal fans.

Verdict: Win [8.5/10]
(my fearful thoughts drowned out by the deafening artillery)

http://www.myspace.com/revocation

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Peste Noire - Ballade Cuntre lo Anemi Francor (2009)

Peste Noire have always been a bizarre band (left and right of center), from their roots in nationalism through the more depressive black metal of Folkfuck Folie to...whatever the fuck this album is. And I say that with no disdain or disregard, because if you can tune yourself out to all expectations of genre, Ballade Cuntre lo Anemi Francor is one of the most interesting releases this year.

Imagine a band trying very hard to be bad but failing at every turn, each questionable exploration transforming into a new wonder that steps beyond the borders of feasability. A hybrid of progressive and folk rock, unpolished punk and black metal with female vocals, samples, and bloodcurdling snarls, Ballade Cuntre lo Anemi Francor does not fail to fascinate through its 40 minutes of existence. The vocals of Sainte Audrey wail over a sparse, broken percussion while Famine's old ladylike rasp inaugurates a flow of noisy, garbled melodic picking, "Neire Peste", which surrenders to the hypnotic, deceptively disjointed, rocking "La Mesniee Mordrissoire". The riff at the minute mark is truly one of the most beautiful and terrifying things I have ever heard. "Ballade Cuntre les Anemis de la France - De François Villon" is a depressing piece with some jangling folk guitars over subtle crashing percussion that conjure you into some alternate reality of France in the Dark Ages. "A la Mortaille!" is a solemn, grim, wandering work, and "Soleils Couchants - De Verlaine" is a mesmerizing wave of sadness executed through pretty bass lines and a spacious ambience created through its cavorting snarl/female vocals.

If this album has a weakness, it's that a few of the shorter, interlude pieces simply do not live up to the amazing, normal length tracks. They're not at all bad, just not interesting. But the meat of the album itself is stupendously excellent, exceeding any expectation I could ever have had for this band and throwing down the gauntlet for unique folk-inspired metal bands to come. Ballade Cuntre lo Anemi Francor is important, and it's unreal.

Verdict: Epic Win [9.5/10]

Paradise Lost - Faith Divides Us/Death Unites Us (2009)

Many have been reluctant to follow Paradise Lost through the various 'phases' of transformation in their music, but the band has produced a long line of excellent recordings, through their early bone-crushing period (Lost Paradise, Gothic) to the transitive melodic doom of Icon and Draconian Times, and finally to the more accessible gothic radio rock of Symbol of Life. Having reached the end of such a gradual metamorphosis, Paradise Lost have decided with their past few albums to combine all of these stages into one concrete statement of intent, truthful to the band's origins but not forsaken to their flair for melody.

Faith Divides Us - Death Unites Us is the band's 12th full-length album, and an alternating monster of lumbering grooves and solemn streams of melodic sadness. Although few of the tracks here have the lasting power of dozens of past compositions, this is a solid and enjoyable listen through its entirety. Some of the more powerful moments include the flowing "First Light", the choppy "Living With Scars" (which has some of the band's most complex riffing ever...not saying much I suppose), and the somber "In Truth". That said, there really isn't a track here I couldn't sit through more than once.

Tears for a hopeless case
Outside is still, so vague
Frayed the landscapes of old
Cleared the indelible

I'm not saying this is the band's next Icon, but if you can picture that album with a groovier bottom end, more dynamic metal riffing and brief spurts of the more radio friendly fare on Symbol of Life or Believe in Nothing, then you have arrived. If you've followed the band and not been offended by their evolutions (forward and reverse), this has it all.

Verdict: Win [8.5/10]
(I am a dead man, I am a mistake)

http://paradiselost.co.uk/

Lifelover - Dekadens EP (2009)

Last year's full-length Konkurs was a pants-dropping affair which transformed my mild but bland curiosity towards this band into a tumescent state of attention. It was all at once graceful, sad, plucky, epic and ridiculous, ample evidence of a band on the fringe of the oft-suffocating genrification that is black metal, doom metal, banana metal, 'depressive' rock, and the like.

Not knowing what to expect, as you can really never know what to expect from this band, I awaited the follow-up EP Dekadens with 7 tracks and nearly 30 minutes of material. My reaction is about as mixed as the chaotic spectrum of emotions present here. Some of the songs are right on the Konkurs level, like the melancholic black rock of "Lethargy" and the go-go gothic "Androider" with its tortured vocal garbles. "Destination: Ingestans" is another bright moment with its spacious, droning guitars that recall the best 90s shoegazer rock, though it breaks for both sultry acoustics and a fucking THRASH riff of all things. Other tracks like "Luguber Framtid", "Myspys" and the more directly black metal "Major Fuck Off" were pleasing enough for the first listen, but I did not feel any pang of loss at their passing.

The Dekadens EP should provide enough cream to fill the cakes of any Lifelover fan as they await the next full-length. It sounds quite lovely, and I'd count a few of the tracks among the band's better material, but I wasn't left the same post-coital soggy mass on the floor for it as I was Konkurs. Still, "Lethargy" is like suckling a teat of sweet milky regret, and the EP is almost worth it for that track alone. It should be dropping very soon, unlike your credit card balance.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]

http://www.lifelover.se/

Mortifier - Tales of Torture EP (2009)

Ohio's Mortifier has followed up their 2008 debut Underground Noise with a 3-track 7" EP of riffy 80s thrash/speed metal that thankfully evicts the all too typical 'WE ARE THRASH METAL AND WE WANT YOU TO KNOW' blazon from its sleeve. No, Mortifier are simply a band loving and living what they do, with no need to insult the intelligence of the everyday thrasher.

Tales of Torture has influences from all over the thrash metal spectrum. You can hear a little German riffiness, a little crossover punk, maybe some Wehrmacht, and the dirty vocals of Brian Rex have a nice, harsh bite which finds a middle ground between Sadus or Juggernaught, and King Fowley (Deceased). Though the riffs are actually quite tight, the band aesthetically pulls off the sloppy fun of beercan-crushing, zombie decapitating 80s thrash metal decently. "Brain Freeze" is a moshfest worthy of early Tankard, "Satan's Attack" opens with some demonic melodies, then a chuggy Exodus-style riff and a flurry of vomiting speed. "Lord of the Seas" is the longest track on this 10 minute release, with most of the best riffs, and what I believe to be a Cthulhu theme. The lyrics are of the mediocre rhyme scheme sort, but this is also true to the roots of the genre.

Tales of Torture is nothing approaching mind blowing or excellence, but it's a quick volley of old school thrash metal that will appeal to lovers of the less pretentious 80s bands, in particular the US scene. I can rattle off a lot of obscure bands this one recalled, but it would take longer than it will take you to check this out. I'm all for a revival of this style, and unlike many retro poseurs, Mortifier are content to let the music do the talking (as it should be).

Verdict: Win [7/10] (unlocking my masters tomb)

http://mortifiermetal.com/

Azaghal - Teraphim (2009)

Azaghal is another of Finland's most enduring black metal acts, and Teraphim is their 8th full-length. Though they've had their share of decent records (Codex Antitheus for example), I am actually most impressed by this new material, which may have dialed down the aggression slightly, but presents itself with a refined sense for songcraft, structure and melody.

The album begins with a blast as "Elilum - Suuri Tyhjyys" takes much inertia, yet the song is so carefully twisted in soaring melodies that it takes on an almost transcendental vibe. The main riff in "XI Omega" sounds like "Painkiller" if it were condensed into pummeling, savage black metal. "Filosofi" is a slower, creeping piece with a diabolic groove and wicked bridge. The dual vocals in the chorus make for a nice effect. "Teraphim - Puhdistava Tuli" surges with burst of speed metal riffing intertwined with some glorious backing vocals. "Hänen Musta Liekkinsä" weaves chants and choirs into an ever descending black hook. Other standout tracks include the sweeping "Uhrattu" and the short but thrashing "Kyy" with its bluesy leads.

Tonally, Teraphim is a tapestry of darkness through which moon rays of melody occasionally shine. The album features plenty of core black metal moments, but rather than just the latest blastfest it's got many different tempos and rhythms to maintain your level of interest. Few of the songs are super catchy, but they flow together well as a whole and this is the most memorable Azaghal album to date. That said, if you're only interested in the grimmest, raw Finnish black metal, you may wish to start with their earlier records.

Verdict: Win [8/10]

http://www.blackterrormetal.fi/

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Immortal - All Shall Fall (2009)

It's been a long, hot 6-7 years since Immortal 'broke up' after releasing Sons of Northern Darkness, and ever since, their starving legions of fans have awaited the return of their cold, hoarfrosted tones. To be fair, we did get a taste of wintry paradise with 2006's Between Two Worlds album from Abbath's supergroup I (which really grew on me after an initial, mixed reaction), and this new Immortal full-length really combines that style with a little Blizzard Beasts and Sons of Northern Darkness to produce another monolithic milestone in the band's career.

Despite the torrent of internet mockery over photographs that this band has taken (likely in self-depredation), they've always been one of the very finest of Norway's black metal dynasty. They have never really faltered, and they certainly don't on All Shall Fall. The album is monstrous, with some of the best guitar tones I've ever heard on a recording of this type. The simpler, warlike riffing of their previous album remains intact here, each track a shimmering, accessible glimpse of desolate northern beauty that stains the mind long after the last beat of its drum. "All Shall Fall" leads the cavalry, a jackhammering white wyrm of grand guitar with subtle melodic textures forcing the line. "The Rise of Darkness" trots out with a pulverizing rhythm before its scintillating I-like hooks conjure fire and rain, sadness and glory. "Hordes to War" is forceful and brutal, recalling some of the material from Blizzard Beasts and In the Heart of Winter. "Norden On Fire" features deeper, melodic riffage (again reminding me of I), and "Arctic Swarm" scorches with some winding, thrashing rhythms and incessant drum battery. "Mount North" captures a lot of the savagery of the last album, and the album closes with it's 'epic', "Unearthly Kingdom", which is the best fucking song on this record and also very like what we heard on Sons of Northern Darkness.

Now proud all watch them by Nordlight we ride
Warriors with cold blazing eyes
Speeding on wind the fierce holocaust rises
Legions of black hold the sky
Hordes of war come storming forth
Coldblooded warrios of holocaust
Death stares out from their blinding fearless eyes
The sign of evil burns inside


It would be an understatement to say All Shall Fall sounds good...it sounds staggering, the rival of anything the band has released before. The material culls the best aspects of past works, and if you're a loyal Immortal fan, what more could you ask for? I'd be hard pressed to number it among their best works, after all this is Immortal and they have been kicking ass for ages, but it certainly fits in with their better material and is a truly satisfactory comeback.

Verdict: Epic Win [9/10] (who dwell as gods of ice, who rule the final realm)

http://www.immortalofficial.com/

Lick the Blade - Graveyard of Empires (2009)

Lick the Blade is an Ohio band who essentially channel Iron Maiden and a lot of melodic 80s power/speed metal into a mildly successful union that might tug at the heartstrings of old timers everywhere. Dual melodies, galloping bass guitars, and an expressive vocalist in Ted Anderson will all hold appeal to fans of other old school American metal bands like Twisted Tower Dire, Jag Panzer, Griffin, Fates Warning, Omen, Lethal, Lizzy Borden, and so forth. Mostly, they sound a LOT like Maiden, so much that certain riffs feel like mere variations...but hey, we have bands which sound exactly like Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Pantera, At the Gates, and Slayer without complaining...so why not Iron fucking Maiden?

In particular, the band's melodic energy really captures early to mid-80s period, which happened to be my favorite. You'll hear a lot of "The Trooper" in the charging "Thanatos", for example, but I think this band is at their best when they diverge a little, like the frantic "Resistance, Rebellion and Death" or the desperate "Red Warning". "Voyage of the Damned" would be this album's answer to "Rime of the Ancient Mariner", though not as long. Another good tune is the dirty, bruising "Stalker". In fact, there aren't any that I'd consider bad, it's just that some are a little more derivative than others and thus, less inspiring.

Graveyard of Empires even has a good old school tone to it which also brought back nostalgia for the Golden Age of metal music. Harris-like basslines flurry below the live sounding guitars and Anderson's voice, which can go dark and deep or shriek like a harpy. I'll be honest, a few songs sound VERY familiar, and this did somewhat dampen my enjoyment of the album, but if you can listen beyond this then there is enough here to potentially please the 80s diehard, and few enough bands stick so closely to the roots that you might wish to check it out anyway.

Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10]


http://www.myspace.com/licktheblade

Metalium - Grounded (2009)

Metalium is a pretty consistent band, especially with the amazing, crystalline voice of Henning Basse at the helm. Most of their albums have had a few good songs and then some filler pieces, and their 8th full-length Grounded tends to follow this pattern. There are some standout tracks that fans will enjoy, but sadly nothing as epic or legendary as "Steel Avenger" (from their 2nd album).

The opening track "Heavy Metal" begins with the lyrics 'We are heavy metal/if you don't like it, fuck you!'. This is pretty dumb, but should immediately bring the entire Deathklok audience on board for this album, right? Aside from the lyrics, the song is actually a pretty fun speed metal number with some glistening melodic riffs, and Basse sounds as sharp as ever. "Light of Day" starts with some dense distorted bass groove, building into a squealing, brickhouse hard rocker. "Pharos Slavery" is a nice, historic power metal song about the Egyptian slaves building the pyramids and serving the whims of their pharaohs (i.e. the cover art of the album). Other quality numbers are the melodic rocker "Crossroad Overload", the Priest-like "Falling into Darkness" where Basse lets the Siren out of his soul, and the bluesy arena rocker "Borrowed Time".

Grounded sounds fantastic, but doesn't every Metalium record? The songwriting here is as strong or stronger than the past 4-5 albums, even if every song doesn't carry the same excitement or equal some of the material from earlier in their career. There seems to be a drought for truly memorable power metal this year, but if you've grown tired of spinning the new Grave Digger or U.D.O. albums then this would be a good fit.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]

http://www.metalium.de/

CSSABA - Toxic CSSABA (2009)

So few industrial black metal bands (or industrial metal bands in general) succeed because they rarely possess the ability to go at these styles 50/50. It's always black metal with a touch of industrial, or vice versa. Poland's CSSABA is one of the few entities I've heard which can truly balance the two. The solo project of Massemord's guitar/keyboard maven Nihil, this may just be the best industrial black metal record I've heard outside of Red Harvest.

The album is a delight whether it's kicking your ass with an onslaught of grimgasmic riffing or fucking around in your head a little. The electronic influence is myriad, from hypnotic pulsing trance beats below the guitars, or old school factory style industrial machinery. It's both happy and evil at the same time, without sounding tongue in cheek or ironic, ever. Each of these six pieces is a unique episode that will immerse you, from the space noise and shuffling carnage of "A (A Date with Trees)", to the frenzied insanity of "S (Fuck Me Tender)", and the haunting, layered "S (Stitch, Stitch)". Despite the varied components, Nihil has a love for electronic music here that seamlessly matches them with the venomous black metal of his main band. Even the lyrics are good.

to fuck off with all of this, to whirl, to rustle, to clink
to see spots of blood married with smiles upon faces
to fall down, to ride without a grip, to mix colours with each other
to put fingers into the water without any single reason and without commitment.

Toxic CSSABA is a real rarity, and it has the sounds to match. The guitars have a nice crunchy middle tone while the electronic elements all reverberate wonderfully. The drums hustle and crash, the synths are always catchy and ring across the industrial cornucopia. The album is consistently inventive and interesting, you won't hear much else like it and it destroys about 99% of the previous attempts to bridge these musical genres. You would be a fool to miss out on this.

Verdict: Epic Win [9.5/10]
(even white coffins of black)

http://www.let-the-world-burn.org/cssaba/

Scythian - To Those Who Stand Against Us... (2009)

Another band which has come from nowhere to blow me out of my seat, Scythian is an English group that performs an explosive, energetic brand of death and thrash metal which is a great soundtrack to some serial killer's excesses. Beyond the fact that they induce frenzy with their sneering, fast forward delivery, the band goes one further to add layers of melody and atmosphere where many similar bands do not.

"Pray to War" strikes first with a volley of bursting guitars ala Slayer, Razor or Sodom. The momentum is crowned with S. Vrath's wild, throaty vocals that sound like sheer chaos. The bridge of the track features some choir/synths behind a melodic rhythm, a little unexpected but elevating the song into the stratosphere. "Astral Assassins" hammers out some dark grooves and blistering rhythms that recall Morbid Angel levels of insanity; and again this song is laden in the glorious evil of some well placed synths. "Shattered Idols" is a slower track with some huge majestic riffs, though not void of cruel thrashing. "Ares Guide my Blade" once again evokes a fast, cruel death metal, and "Spires to Ashes" has some excellent, soaring melodies. In all, this is a great debut album from a pretty killer new band...

The tones of the guitars are filthy and spewing forth a thrashing hostility. The drumming is tight and vicious, and the common use of synths really deviates this band from the normal old school thrash/death that a lot of Swedish bands purvey (bless their hearts). If I were to tell you that you could take Morbid Angel's "Chapel of Ghouls" and extend it into an entire album, would that excite you? Then buy this.

Verdict: Epic Win [9/10]


http://www.myspace.com/scythiandeath

Gravsahl - A Part of Nothing [DEMO] (2009)

Gravsahl is the project of one German Graf von Sahl, and he has recorded and issued this first demo for free (link below). There are five tracks to enjoy, and he performs a rather nasty, raw and dense black which often breaks for interludes of sorrow filled synth work.

"Redemption at Full Moon" is over 8 minutes in length, with some solemn pauses between the grim snarling and swerving guitars that create a dark and empty place for the mind to wander. The synth tones often feel 'warm' rather than 'cold', but this is not to say Gravsahl is soft. "Mountain and Forests" feels like a natural progression, with big bombastic synths and crude rasping vocals. It was interesting and felt a little like old Summoning. "Rejected" creates an emotional landscape with sad guitars and programmed drum battery, almost like raw black metal meets 80s goth pop gloom. "Blind Eyes" is eerie and atmospheric, and the "Color of Despair" is an instrumental piano outro which nicely caps off the demo.

The production of A Part of Nothing is average and homebrewed, but I felt nothing lost in the translation. There is a bit of romantic edge to Gravsahl, it is cult and dark yet not as bleak as indie black metal projects. I enjoyed the first three tracks the most, there is a good atmosphere to the material. Again, Graf is offering the demo for free, so if my musings haven't turned you off, it wouldn't kill you to check this out.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

http://www.myspace.com/gravsahl

Inferno - Black Devotion (2009)

While I may not hold them in the same regards as a Root or Master's Hammer, Inferno is nonetheless one of the finest traditional Czech black metal bands. If you're looking for a fix of Satanic darkness, you can usually count on this band to deliver, especially their full-length releases, of which Black Devotion is the 5th.

The album begins with a haunting "Prolog", harsh percussive synths dusting up an ethereal, ambient backdrop. "Superior Will" crashes forth with catchy Norse riffing, a sick verse with Adramelech's excellent, hostile vocals and some truly biting guitar lines. Next, "Whisper of Hope in Bloody Tears" explodes, blasting occult madness with a great guitar bridge. "Holy Poison" is another fast paced crusher, as is the careening "Eaten by Rats Forever". "Loyality of Honour" is anchored by another of the slower, creepy riffs like "Superior Will", and "Sign of Hell" is a thrust of carnal, abysmal fury. The rest of the album is very listenable, constantly dark. This is basically what 1349's latest album could have sounded like had they decided not to suck.

Black Devotion sounds ominous and primed for wrist-cutting or hanging yourself from the nearest noose. It's musical enough to maintain your interest, though it does not depart from any tried or true black metal formula (the band never has). If you're looking for some solid, no-frills black metal in the vein of Swedish and Norse bands like Emperor, 1349, Dark Funeral, etc, then Inferno will certainly appeal to you.

Verdict: Win [8/10]

http://www.pureinferno.com/

Funeral Goat - Mass ov Perversion (2009)

Mass ov Perversion is the debut from the side project of two Sauron members. Since Sauron is one of the best Dutch black metal bands in existence, I held my expectations for this material rather high. But Funeral Goat is more of a fun, silly side project. Two men drinking and writing songs about Satan and goats. What could go wrong?

Not a lot does go wrong here, but I didn't get a lot of value from Mass ov Perversion. The tracks all feature old school riffing with a lot of fuzzy overdrive on the guitars, reminiscent of Hellhammer and early Mayhem. HerrAIDs' vocals are dominant, and they alternate between gruff choking and more tormented black wails. It's a good thing the vocals create such a sloppy fun to the tracks, because the guitars don't do a lot, preferring to hash out simplistic riffs we've all heard before. A few of the tracks such as "Kiss the Goat" and "Calling Forth the Storm" get pretty intense and powerful, but stylistically they do not stand out from the rest of the album.

Mass ov Perversion is beefy, the fuzzed out guitars cruising over blast beats while the charnel vocals of HerrAIDs bark off into the Satanic night. I doubt these guys take this band so seriously, just a way to kill some time and have a little fun. Being that they are in Sauron, they have little to prove here. Funeral Goat is going to appeal to fans of really raw, old school black. It's messy and charming, grim and nocturnal, but offers little in the way of memorable music.

Verdict: Indifference [6/10]


http://www.myspace.com/funeralgoat

Bright Ophidia - Set Your Madness Free (2009)

Previous Bright Ophidian albums Coma and Red Riot were an interesting departure from the typical death metal we've come to expect from Poland, but despite their ambition, they left something to be desired. I get this same vibe from Set Your Madness Free; while I can praise for sticking out like a sore thumb, it's a very sore thumb indeed.

When listening through this band's material, you must shuck all convention out the closest window and take them as they are. While there are the roots of death or technical/math metal within their writing, the band will simply veer in any direction they desire. The results, unfortunately, do not form any cohesive sense of abstraction. Take "Magma", which sounds like a more technically improvisational Korn. Groove metal parts alternate with silly whispering, and when the band builds up to the heavier moments, they sound very tough and 'bouncy' like any random band you'd find on Ozzfest in the late 90s. But remember...no two tracks here will quite the same. "Chanting of the Maniac" builds some playful riffs under some dorky sounding gothic whispered vocals. "I Can" has some decent riffing moments, like fusion prog heavily laden with metalcore grooves, but the vocals again do nothing and the track wanders into whatever ball field it desires to play on at the moment. "Die and Become" begins with a few seconds of ambience and strange, noodly guitar but then transforms into an ugly groove metal track.

I feel that if you could take a few of the album's stronger moments and extend them into experimental fusion tracks, Bright Ophidia would be a fascinating band. Sadly, there are so many unsettling nu-groove metal elements like repetitious 'tough' sounding Pantera vocals and dull slamming riffs that the cool moments are outnumbered. Weird does not always equal good, and I'd advise checking out the band's earlier albums before turning to this one, or Dominium, a pretty good Polish death metal band featuring some of the same members.

Verdict: Fail [4.5/10]


http://www.brightophidia.com/

Wormlust - [DEMO] (2009)

Icelandic Wormlust was previously known as Wolfheart, having released several demos in the past. With the change of name has come a shift in tone, and for this s/t demo the band has produced a single 12 minute track that travels from droning, aggressive black metal to periods of stark majesty across a desolate grey landscape.

"Seven Paths" is quite good and hopefully an omen for what is to come. The guitars are churning vortices of disturbing chords, and whenever the band breaks for some sort of interlude we are treated with introspective guitar work and ringing explorations. The vocals are hoarse and troubling, like someone whispering at you from a sewer while the sounds are amplified. I've been exposed to a great many underground black metal acts touting atmosphere or ambience, but Wormlust sounds quite original. Well worth tracking down this demo.

Verdict: Win [8/10]

Friday, September 25, 2009

Necrophobic - Death to All (2009)

Necrophobic has always been a standout of the Swedish death metal scene, even at their very lowest (The Third Antichrist) they were capable of delivering the goods. Previous album Hrimthursum was a scorching return to form, and Death to All is another. This is fast as fuck old school Swedish death with an occult aesthetic and snarling vocals that should also curdle the blood of the black metal afficionado.

"Celebration of the Goat" opens with creepy guitar intonations before the searing maw of hell widens and devours you. Though caustic and brutal, Necrophobic go one deeper with a nigh constant stream of melodic despair. "Revelation 666" and "La Satanisma Muerte" do not let up, the former a blast of melodic evil and the latter a more rugged, thrashing exercise. I was laughing at the title "For Those Who Stayed Satanic", but not the track itself, a grim grinder with some eerie, bleeding melodies and chants. "Temple of Damnation" and "The Tower" continue the onslaught of the first three tracks, but "Wings of Death" slows for a mid-paced battery. The title track is the last and possibly best thing on this album, almost 9 minutes of hellish abandon and arterial spray.

Emotional outburst beyond human sense
Eletric we hold to unite
The scent of your skin, the grace of your soul
Together we trepass the light


Death to All is crisp and incendiary, with each track exploding into existence, or teasing you for a few seconds and THEN exploding. Tobias Sidegård has really come into his own as the vocalist of this band, and the mix of this album truly captures that occult beauty of Darkside. I am once again impressed by the unswerving character of this band, and Death to All is further evidence of one of the better occult black/death acts in the world.

Verdict: Win [8.5/10]
(in a shroud of human skin)

http://www.necrophobic.net/

Omega Lithium - Dreams in Formaline (2009)

Do you remember the past few releases from Norway's Kovenant, kind of a poppy tinted industrial metal? Croatia's Omega Lithium recalls to me this musical style, with a young female singer the likes of Evanescence or Lacuna Coil. If you haven't already thrown up in your mouth, then I advise you: DO NOT look at pictures of this band.

Despite all these aesthetic nightmares, Dreams in Formaline actually isn't as bad as it could have been. But it is the sum of numerous unimpressive parts. To begin with, Mya Mortensen's vocal: mind you, she does not have a bad voice. It's crystal clear and not exactly annoying, but it always feels as if it's reaching for something it cannot grasp. The range isn't the issue, it's just her selection of notes is not very catchy. The 'vampiric' male goth vocals aren't much better. Below this, the other three members of the band write some pedestrian chugging guitar rhythms (kind of like Rammstein) alongside very synth-heavy atmospheres, which also never captured my attention throughout the record. While listening to the band's single "Stigmata", I found myself bored to tears. Of the songs that do not completely suck, "Snow Red" had its moments and "Angel's Holocaust" may have worked as a synth rock piece with the aggressive male vocals until Mortensen's voice appeared.

Some of the lyrics here are fucking TERRIBLE. I mean, like scratched-on-a-napkin-in-3rd-grade-lunch-and-then-saved-for-future-use terrible. For example:

You are the angel
Of all my dreams
And when you die
I'll be by your side


The album sounds pretty bright and loud, but unfortunately this cannot save the writing. Unlike the better female fronted gothic metal albums of the past few decades (most courtesy of Theatre of Tragedy), I simply hear no melody I want to replay. Dreams in Formaline is not the worst album I've heard lately, but it's nothing more than forgettable fodder that I'd expect to hear on the soundtrack to the latest shitty Underworld movie. While listening to this album, I kept thinking about the dialogue from a recent episode of South Park, which I will quote here in full:

Fellow students, over the past week, there's been a lot of confusion, and so we have asked this assembly to clarify the difference between goth kids and vampire kids. Let us make it abundantly clear. If you hate life, truly hate the sun and need to smoke and drink coffee, you are goth. If,
however, you like dressing in black because it's fun, enjoy putting sparkles on your cheeks and following into a cult while avoiding things that are bad for your health, then you are most likely a douchebag vampire wannabe boner. Because anyone who thinks they are actually a vampire is freaking retarded.


Digression is the sweetest distraction. Alas, if you think Evanescence and Lacuna Coil are great musical artists, then Omega Lithium will blow your fucking mind. If you actually have taste, avoid this like Hot Topic.

Verdict: Fail [3/10]

http://www.omegalithium.com/

Griftegård - Solemn, Sacred, Severe (2009)

Griftegård is a Swedish band with some members of Wolverine and Bokor, and they play a brand of traditional doom which ranges from emotionally crushing and melodic to solemn peace. The bands I am most reminded of are Memory Garden and Candlemass, but Griftegård are slower, almost moving at a funeral doom pace (though never quite so painfully dull as many bands of that niche).

The real strength of this band is the ability to let the melodies carry the riffs forward at this slow, tormenting pace while Thomas Eriksson just wails away with his vocals, his delivery always hints at an emotional burden, a sorrow that hangs upon his shoulders. You truly feel you are staring at the bottom of an empty bottle of spirits, and the world has not changed about you. Perhaps the most effective songs on the album are "I Refuse These Ashes", and the heavier "The Mire". I also really enjoyed the folk/ambient interlude "Noah's Hands" and the soaring "Punishment & Ordeal". As a whole, the album flows nicely, with some diverse moments to offset the ennui that this slower brand of doom can often create.

Your spine stoops
Then a crack
A whip wielded by ones greed
It can’t be held back
In the mire, in the mire


The album sounds excellent, with loud, crisp tones that crash forth from your speaker or headset, and the perfect melodic embellishment. This is one of those albums best experienced while you're in the proper mood. I suggest drunken loneliness or misplaced feelings of failure. It's a little sparser and slower than peers Candlemass, Isole or Memory Garden, but fans of any of those bands should check this album out.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]
(all my values broken down)

http://www.myspace.com/griftegrd

Qantice - The Cosmocinesy (2009)

As a lover of steampunk and Vancian worlds, campy science fiction and fantasy, I was immediately captured by the cover to this album. It's not amazing, mind ye, but has a bit of that 'sky pirate' steampunk feel to it that some of you may have experienced in JRPGs, etc. Well, as it turns out this French band are actual lovers of science fiction and fantasy and so use the subject in their lyrics, which is in my opinion a good thing.

Musically Qantice are a progressive metal band with a lot of classical influence. High pitched vocal range and song structures that wouldn't be out of place on an Angra or Dream Theater album. But there is an added level of depth to this album which is created through the band's ability to use busy symphonic elements and a violin player (Yosh) that always keeps your head spinning. In particular I enjoyed the faster tracks on the album, such as "Megantrop", "The Hero That You Need" and "The Question" for their fusion of speed metal and orchestration. But some of the slower pieces like "Ocean Eclipse" or "Best in the Well" have some delightful moments.

The album has an airy, flighty sound to it through which all the guitars, synths, and violins speed and collide. This meshes well with its theme. There are some points at which the album feels disjointed, and the higher vocal range of Vincent Pichereau did occasionally grate on me. The operatic female vocals sometimes feel a little goofy, but are welcome in other places. But the depth of ideas at work here are signs of a very promising band, and if you want a more sci-fi version of Angra it may be worth your time. The concept is still fairly novel, and speaking of which, there is a French novel which encompasses the events of the character in the songs.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

http://www.qantice.com/

Nargaroth - Jahreszeiten (2009)

Nargaroth is perhaps best known for having titles like "Black Metal Ist Krieg" or "Fuck Off Nowadays Black Metal", but in truth the career of Kanwulf has been quite serious and the band has released some decent wok like Prosatanica Shooting Angels. Jahreszeiten is the 6th full length of Nargaroth and I had a mixed reaction. There is a very corny anthemic feel to many of the riffs on the album that caused me to lose interest, but some of the songs do build to a satisfactory finish.

Jahreszeiten consists of only 5 tracks but it's over an hour of playtime. "Prolog" is an ambient intro with some German spoken word, and "Frühling" is the first proper track with some flangy guitars that create a pompous, 'proud' sounding melodic riff that felt quite silly. Once the riff changes near the middle of the track, it does improve. "Sommer" opens with some classical electric guitar work that shifts to Kanwulf's bloodcurdling snarls over some other classically influenced patterns. It's folkish, martial and demented sounding. "Herbst" is a little more depressive, but features everything from acoustics to spacy synths, and despite its 22 minutes of length, one of the better tracks on the album. "Winter" is a scorcher with full drum battery and didn't lose me even after 16 minutes.

The album is hissing and raw sounding enough to occasionally hurt your brain, but this would not be a problem for many black metal listeners. The bass playing is caustic beneath the streams of melodic guitar, and Kanwulf sounds suitably rasp and hostile in his vocal delivery. I didn't care for the album up until the last 40 minutes (last two songs) which were a major improvement that brought me around to what I enjoyed about some of his past records. "Frühling" and "Sommer" felt a little cheesy to me, though I admit that this rather pompous style of traditional melody is not something you hear all the time.

Verdict: Indifference [6/10]


http://www.nargaroth.de/

The Stooges - Fun House (1969)

1969 had an entirely different cultural mindset. One of happiness and world unity. However, that didn't stop The Stooges from releasing one of the most bizarre, fucked up albums of all time. It has a free wheeling rock and roll vibe, as we chase then-little known Iggy Pop through New York's seedy underground of old, this quite literally in the track "Down on the Street." The Iguana's unmistakable vocals struggle for purchase amongst the sonic miasma:

Yeah deep in the night
I'm lost in love
A thousand lights
Look at you

That sense of a heroin filled stumble through that city pervades the entire album. The instrumentation is relatively simple for today, but imagining sitting around listening to it on vinyl back in its time blows my mind. It was recorded to achieve the live energy of the band, and holy crap, does it ever sound great.

It pains me to break down and review individual songs, as the whole thing needs to be experienced as a whole to capture the full effect of the music -- perhaps something lost on today's digital-driven youth. However, I'll indulge. Personal favorites include "Loose" with its fuck-off-we're-having-fun energy:

I took a record of pretty music
I went down and baby you can tell
I took a record of pretty music
Now I'm putting it to you straight from hell

"1970" aka "I Feel Alright" is an overdose personified through music. The song begins normally enough, devolving into discordant saxophone and repetitive riffs as Iggy screams about just how 'right' he feels. "Fun House." Not a subtle song title, but The Stooges didn't give a fuck and neither should you:

I came to play and I mean to play around
I came to play and I play real good
Alright, hey! Let me in!
***
I'm callin' from the Fun House!
BLOW!

By the time the last track arrives I've fallen face-first into the dangerously polluted Hudson. It's nothing more than a fucking freak-out instrumental piece with piercing screams and an addict's cries for help, but I literally can't put it into words it's so good.

Overall, it may be the best album I have encountered in any genre. For its longevity, its influence on extreme music of all kinds with its carefree nihilism and drugged-out, discordant and heavy riffing. Please, if you've never heard this, you owe it to yourself.

Verdict: Epic Win [10.5/10] (out of my mind on Saturday night)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Horna - Musta Kaipuu (2009)

Though it has the packaging and consistent writing of a full-length, Musta Kaipuu is not actually a new album, but rather a collection of tracks off vinyl and tape sources that were recorded around the time of Envaatnags Eflos Solf Esgantaavne but not released on the CD version. There is nearly an hour of material here, so Horna fans should be able to dig deeply in. Though I certainly count myself as one of those fans (Horna stands alongside Impaled Nazarene and Barathrum as a favorite Finnish outfit of this sort), much of the material here on Musta Kaipuu is average at best, and I can hear why the band wisely chose not to include it on one of their previous full-lengths. Yet here it stands, and if you mine far enough into into the material you can find a few grim and disgusting bits like "Pohjanportti (Northgate)" or the lengthy "Marraskuussa (In November)".

This is raw black, done much like any other Horna recording of the past 16 years. No refinement necessary, no experimentation or progression, and no pop finish. Just hopelessness and malevolence caught in audio form, as true as it gets. By the mid-'oughts, the Finns were utilizing a lot of straight, slower to mid-paced driving chord patterns in place of the constant tremolo one expected from much of the scene (though they do speed it up on occasion), and in this way they certainly mirrored some of the earlier Darkthrone recordings which in turn had a direct influence from Hellhammer. The central riffs to tunes like "Piina (Misery)" could have just as well belonged to some grimy punk rock outfit, but Horna infuses them with moodier bridges and splices of haunting, steady metallic melody below the dismal din of the production. Often I would find myself involved with a particular riffing progression, only to become numb at its slightly excess repetition, and several of the tracks don't entirely justify their length, even if I enjoyed some of their constituent pieces.

The stripped, flayed flesh of its presentation does work in the disc's favor, because it's hard to imagine a more authentic and honest sound for this genre, which Horna have consistently clung to through their career. It might seem somewhat cruder than a few of their most recent full-lengths, but all of the instruments are clear enough, with the guitars and bass slightly overpowering the tinnier cymbals and the less booming double bass drums. The thick, decrepit rasp of the vocals is more or less what you'd expect, they've always had one of the most pure and savage deliveries in the field whether it was Nazgul, Corvus or the newer front man Spellgoth, though no one would accuse them of the style's innovation or evolution. Abusive, bloody barks resonate just above the level of the guitars and fit in resplendent contrast to even the most glorious passages like the airy pearls of melody that adorn "Unohdetut Kasvot, Unohdettu Ääni" (taken from the band's 2005 split with Tenebrae in Perpetuum).

Still, apart from the stylistic proximity this music bears to several of my favorite Horna records like Envaatnags... or the underrated Sotahuuto, I did not come away from this wholly satisfied. A lot of the riffs are mediocre, also-ran sorts and I never felt that same, spike-fisted, mounting excitement which I felt for the latter of the aforementioned full-lengths. The material here is internally consistent, while varied enough that I wouldn't exactly dub it 'boring', but there were certainly a number of times throughout in which I all too easily phased out of the experience. That said, if you're a diehard collector of the band, or an advocate for the purity of the Scandinavian black wrought by Darkthrone, Bathory, or earlier Mayhem, you won't be offended by what you hear on Mustai Kaipuu, and the songs are decent enough to be given a voice if weren't able to acquire them on earlier, rare issues (like the split 7" or limited double LP of Envaatnags... which the band considers the official version, including a number of these songs).

Verdict: Indifference [6/10]


http://horna666.com/

Skyfire - Esoteric (2009)

There are several Swedish melodic death bands that make excellent use of pianos & keyboards in their material, for example Dark Tranquillity and the early 21st century Soilwork. I've never found Skyfire's music to reach this caliber of quality, but the band have nonetheless produced some decent albums (Timeless Departure and Spectral). Esoteric is their 4th stab at a full-length, and it ranges from soaring to stagnant.

The symphonic "Deathlike Overture" intro is quite good, really building its momentum as you await the inevitable explosion. Instead, you get another piano intro that opens "Esoteric", a track that features Skyfire's range of grooving low-end, progressive riffs, harsh melodeath vocals and synth atmosphere. The chorus riff and choral vocals are quite good in the song, but the rest left no lasting impression. "Rise and Decay" opens with swirling pianos and semi-glorious melodies, reminding me of Dark Tranquillity if less catchy. "Let the Old World Burn" is fast but mediocre, but I did enjoy the slow, driving "Darkness Descending" and the catchy pianos that lead into "Misery's Supremacy". "Linger in Doubt" is a good song, and "The Legacy of the Defeated" is pretty pulse pounding, in fact they should have placed this at the beginning after "Deathlike Overture" for better album pacing.

Esoteric does sound glorious, and the ambient feel to its many pianos does grind together well with the thrashing low end guitars and vocals of Joakim Karlsson. There is a lot of musical proficiency in this band. The use of the female choral parts always feels fresh here, and with a little work they would make a formidable symphonic death metal band. Esoteric has just enough moments to pop with me, it's a fine production but still lacks the depth of songwriting to create a great album. In particular I would like to hear some catchier guitar riffs; these are all passable, but few would succeed without the swells of symphonic atmosphere surrounding them. Still, this is one of their strongest works to date.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

http://www.myspace.com/skyfiremusic

Axegressor - Command (2009)

I have some vague recollections of this band's EP Axecution from a few years, but the Finns arrive here at their first full-length. Axegressor is a band performing heavier thrash metal which often borders on death, and Command has a military aesthetic which falls somewhere between Hail of Bullets and cult thrashers At War and Sodom.

The mix of this album is vibrant and fleshy, catapulting even the band's more mundane riffs to headbanging fury. I personally found the faster material on the album to be its strong point, such as "Damage-Inked" (haw haw), the brutal "Barricade Command", and the flawless "Iron Will Executor" which recalls all of the very best elements of Sodom or Dead Head. The band's namesake track "Axegressor" is also fun, and for the slower material there were a few points of "Servants" that rocked.

From the world they close the doors
the whores of evil clad as sheep of god
practice their foul vocation
troops of doom – spill the blood!


This is not a technical band, the riffs are blunt and straightforward, conveying to you the perils of war and archaic metal silliness simultaneously. Fans of traditional European thrash metal will no doubt enjoy the band's no frills writing. The album sound's great, but there are few songs here which are laden with truly memorable riffs, so plenty of room for the band to improve.

Verdict: Win [7/10] (sharpening my hidden teeth)

http://www.myspace.com/axegressorthrashmetal

Theatre of Tragedy - Forever is the World (2009)

While I really don't believe in 'guilty pleasures', some might remark that my adoration for a few of this band's previous, poppy works falls into that category. I thought Assembly was a prime example of pop meets gothic metal, with a slew of extremely catchy tracks. Before that, Aegis was my favorite release from Theatre of Tragedy, an album of elegies to various mythological females, well written, with Liv Kristine's unforgettable vocals (now lost with her poor post-ToT career choices).

Forever is the World is the band's 7th full-length album and the 2nd to feature new vocalist Nell Sigland. She's not quite the equal of Liv, but she tries, and her upper range creates a similar, elfin effect. Stylistically the band has found a cross-section of their earlier, gothic/doom metal and the poppish/industrial influence, and it's refreshing. Storm wasn't a bad release, but it dropped off my radar rather quickly. Forever is the World has more staying power, a mystique that snakes through tracks like "Revolution" and "Illusions". The band has not forsaken their potential for pop happiness on "Transition" or "Hollow", and they also reach back into their heavier past with "Frozen", what with Raymond resurrecting his old growls. Few of the songs are as catchy as the material on Aegis, or Assembly, or even Musique, but when taken as a whole the album does not offend.

Don’t save the day it’s not over
We fall for better or worse
I can see the sparkling ice is breaking
I’ve seen you got a speck of dust in your eye
Act as if there’s no tomorrow


The album sound superb, always a quality of ToT. Most of these tracks could be played on the radio instead of Rhianna and the Jonas Brothers and we'd all be the better for it. The lyrics are thankfully not so miserable. This isn't an outstanding album, but I'd dub it 'pleasant enough', and far from the petty fairy metal crap the European market is constantly spewing in the name of bad fashion. After all, this was one of the first bands to really make the female vocals work with gothic metal.

Verdict: Win [7/10] (promising a strong protection)

http://www.theatreoftragedy.com/

Nightmare - Insurrection (2009)

Nightmare were formed in 1979, but broke up after a few albums for a decade gap. They returned in the late 90s and have been releasing albums consistently since. The band has always been one of the stronger French power metal acts, and their recent albums exhibit an awareness of modern trends in metal, with a fusion of old school melody and modern low-end groove. Insurrection is their 7th full-length release and one of their heavier works. Most of the tracks are slow to mid-paced and vocalist Joe Amore (formerly the drummer) is not afraid to inject some snarls to affect a melodic death edge to the material.

"Eternal Winter" starts with a mid-paced, mighty anthem laden in melodies and steady chugging. Amore's vocals are very good here, with a gritty edge to them that recalls a male counterpart to old Chastain (Leather's vocals). I like his shifts in range which always feel emotional and powerful, and though the riffs are average, the song wouldn't be much without Amore's performance. "The Gospel of Judas" is a hybrid of Priest-like power metal and melodic death/thrash, while "Insurrection" itself is a wilder power metal track with higher pitched vocals. Neither of these tracks stood out to me, but "Legions of the Rising Sun" is an improvement, with a great verse riff and thrashing power breakdown. Other strong songs include the punishing "Three Miles Island" and the grooving "Cosa Nostra (Part I: The Light)".

Insurrection is bold and loud and straight to the face mix-wise. The bottom end guitars are loaded with spring coiled power, and this is one of the few power metal bands that could really get a rise out of a mosh pit. Amore's vocals sound great and the band manages to stride that border between tradition and modernism. But I really only enjoyed a few of the tracks on the album, and it's not at the level of predecessors like The Dominion Gate or the first two records. This is solid, heavy, mid-paced power metal that would appeal to fans of bands like Tad Morose, but it left little mark on me.

Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10]


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

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Onmyo-Za - Kongo Kyubi (2009)

It's safe to say that Onmyo-Za is Japan's very best female fronted metal band. While a recent crop of such bands have sprung up, vainly attempting to mix the symphonic style of Nightwish with visual kei aesthetics, Onmyo-Za sticks to their guns, performing 80s style speed/heavy metal and consigning their own visual elements (the band's traditional garb) to the stage and video. Like many Japanese artists, the band is prolific, releasing a slew of singles, DVDs, and albums. Kongo Kyubi is their 9th full-length in just a decade, and not the best, but it will appeal to fans of their j-rock/pop meets classic metal style.

Flowing, melodic and inoffensive, just about any of the tracks on Kongo Kyubi could be featured as an anime OP/ED (like their Basilisk theme a few years back). This is accomplished through their catchy hooks and the dual female/male vocals of Kuroneko and Matatabi, which interweave fluently throughout the tracks. Some of the better tracks on this album include "Soukoku", the very 80s hard rock of "Izayoi no ame" and the most metal tracks on the record, "Aoki Dokugan" and "Kuraiau". The band breaks it up for some bluesy tracks ("Banka") and the three-track mini cycle "Kumikyoku (Kyuubi)", which is quite good.

Enjoyment of Kongo Kyubi, like many of the band's records, will depend on how well you favor classic radio metal of the 80s, j-pop vocals and melodies that shadow the romantic energy of the band. Onmyo-Za is a pretty unique entity, and not for everyone. If you're new to the band, I'd advise you start with previous efforts like Hyakki Ryouran or the great Garyotensei, but if you're already enamored of the band's style and poise, there should be enough here to tide you over until their next album (you probably won't be waiting long.)

Verdict: Win [7/10]

http://www.onmyo-za.net/index.html

Obituary - Darkest Day (2009)

Like the previous album, Xecutioner's Return, Darkest Day is another attempt at a return to Obituary's roots: pure death metal, with deep grooves and horrifying vocals courtesy of John Tardy. Gone are the hardcore overtures which plagued some of their late 90s albums. Sadly, while it's superior to 2004's abysmal Frozen in Time, this album fails to deliver the quality moments of creepy riffing that permeated their classic albums Cause of Death and Slowly We Rot. Xecutioner's Return was proof that perhaps this horse hadn't been beaten to death, but this album is weak enough to overturn that evidence.

On the surface, this album does possess all the elements that made their old records so great. Even the mix sounds similar, with the band's signature guitar tone and lead outbursts. It just lacks in inspirational riffing. Tracks like "List of Dead" and "Blood to Give" could be outtakes from Cause of Death, but they lack the replay value. A few tracks later on the album come close, like the grooving "This Life" and the furious "Violent Dreams", but they fall shy of the mark.

At this point, I can't really call Darkest Day a disappointment. I've been underwhelmed by a number of the band's previous albums (The End Complete, Frozen in Time). Perhaps one day, the 'forces realign' and Obituary kicks my ass once again. Not this time around.

Verdict: Indifference [5/10]

http://www.myspace.com/obituary