Tuesday, October 27, 2020
The new tunes are ragers, although I can understand why the band felt they'd probably be better spent here than on one of the full-length records like Supernatural Addiction or As the Weird Travel On. "It's Alive" and "The Mausoleum" both contain many of the band's hallmarks, charging thrash/speed metal laden with traditional heavy metal melodies and an occasional foray into the faster elements of primordial death, in particular with King's vocals. They're well-developed headbanger tracks, not as righteously catchy as some of the material on the couple proper albums before them, but certainly enough to help tide one over for the next. More dynamic would be the 10 minute closer "Victims of the Masterplan" which is lyrically based on the West Memphis Three saga, and divided into a 4-part metallic narrative which for me had most of the best original riffs on the EP and a bit more of a dynamic spread than the openers. Especially I liked the moody breakdown with the samples which really kind of put this all into perspective, I mean that was a horrifying fucking situation for the victims and also for the accused, one that I don't think we've collectively shaken off as Americans. Child killings are traumatizing for me, but Deceased actually tackle this with an inquisitive respect, even at the risk of creating an unbalanced tone against the sillier originals and covers.
The covers themselves are decent, but a tune like Tankard's "Zombie Attack" is so great to begin with that it's difficult to live up to. King and crew make it even more murky sounding and throw on some more death metal growls, but otherwise play it fairly straightforward. "Reaganomics" is over in a flash of course so something like this pick is more to score a few points. On the other hand, I actually really dug their version of Anthrax' "Deathriders", in fact I might listen to it more than the original, this more aggressive style suits the riffing and lyrics well, although they still throw a few screams in there too. Same with their version of "New Age of Total Warfare" from British speed/thrashers Warfare, I'd probably reach for this before the original, it just sounds that awesome. All told though, you're getting almost a half-hour of material here, cool cover art, and really their best release while you waited it out in the 5-year stretch between Supernatural Addiction and As the Weird Travel On. Not as formidable as most of their full-length albums but some quality fan service nonetheless.
Verdict: Win [7/10]
Saturday, October 24, 2020
It's as much of a tradition for me to break out the first five Ozzy albums every Halloween season as it is to bust out my collection of King Diamond, Mercyful Fate, Deceased, Rob Zombie and other champions of the metal macabre. Not that Osbourne uses the horror genre as a particular focus in most of his lyrics, but clearly his feats of stage legend back in the prime of his solo career were focused around the shock-rock variety, and the cover art and aesthetics of a number of the songs clearly fit into the creepy category. Now, I'm a fan of the Randy Rhoads era just like the next guy. Like most of you, I thought he was a talent cut down well before his prime, and would have loved to hear what he could come up with through an extended career. But having said that, I've always been drawn more to the material Osbourne wrote with his next two guitarists, Jake E. Lee and Zakk Wylde, at least up until Zakk's debut on No Rest for the Wicked, which, perhaps heretically, is my favorite of his solo efforts. But if I were to hand out a silver medal it would be a tough choice between tidier, accessible The Ultimate Sin and this 1983 effort Bark at the Moon.
You really can't go wrong with any of his material during that 80s era, in which he firmly established that he'd be able to succeed outside of the Black Sabbath camp, bringing his familiar vocal style to a more contemporary set of metal and hard rock tracks which were arguably more arena-ready than his unshakeable alma mater. When I look at the lineup he had on this particular album, there was almost no chance I wasn't going to like it. Lee's six-stringing talent ranged from slick, explosive speed/heavy metal licks as in the title track or "Rock 'n' Roll Rebel" to the more caged, dramatic, bluesy feel he'd incorporate into a piece like "You're No Different" where he's almost playing second fiddle to Don Airey's keyboards. It doesn't hurt that Airey himself is a legend whose loaned out his talents to more memorable bands than you could count, or that Ozzy also had another rock god Tommy Aldridge on the drums, or Bob Daisley, formerly of fucking Rainbow (among others) on the bass. This record came armed and ready, and for my money, despite the tragedy of Rhoads' passing and the other troubles the band had gone through since the 1981 sophomore Diary of a Madman, it totally delivered on its promise.
The title track is probably in my top 3-5 of the Ozzy solo career, with ease, Lee's tasty playing leading the way for some of Osbourne's great verses. I mean once the Prince of Darkness cackles after that first chorus, if you weren't into this well... Other highlights here included "You're No Different" with its woozy, epic pace and super 80s proggy key pads, or tunes like "Centre of Eternity" and "Rock 'n' Roll Rebel" which were just awesome as hell heavy metal for a 9 year old to experience on his dingy old record player. I absolutely LOVED Jake's tone, it was just such a commanding and dominant force alongside Ozzy's voice, and you can clearly hear how it set up a lot of what Zakk would emulate a couple albums later, with the exciting, expressive squeals or flash put into every riff. "So Tired" is probably my least favorite cut on the disc, but even then it's definitely a catchy, dramatic big band style of ballad which channels Elton John or the Beatles and I can't say I ever feel I need to skip it when I'm playing through the album. And right after that he rights the ship immediately another cool pair of harder cuts, "Waiting for Darkness" a nice foreshadow for the sound on The Ultimate Sin.
Everything on this album sounds wonderful to me almost 40 years later, and I even appreciate some of the cheesier sounding synth lines which are unquestionably its most dated aspect. The lyrics are great, a few keyed in to the horror genre, but they were especially impressive to the younger me, and the cover photograph of the shaggy Ozz-wolf just perfectly captures this time and this content: we're going to be heavy, we're going to get dark, but we're going to have fun. And I did. And I'm still doing just that.
Verdict: Win [8.75/10] (living in a lunar spell)
Wednesday, October 21, 2020
Four Paths to Horror is a 12 track split CD featuring four bands, three of which are projects from prolific death metal gurus Kam Lee, Rogga Johansson and Patrick Bruss, who combined must make up a not insignificant portion of death metal releases these last two decades. The idea of course is that all of these groups have a heavy lyrical bent on the horror genre, something that can probably also be said for the wealth of that trio's constituent bands. That is truly the connecting ligament on this release, because individual, while there are comparable traits between the acts, they often approach their genre with different production values and songwriting quality, and while that's not always an unwelcome factor on a split recording, it sometimes works to the detriment here because the level of professionalism seems highly inconsistent.
First off you have Americans Cropsy Maniac blasting through four tracks and six minutes of Carcass spawned deathgrind, starting off with some samples to their namesake slasher and then just bludgeoning you at high capacity with only a few hints at tossing in some background guitar melody or something that could actually make the tunes mildly more interesting. It doesn't quite work, and though I could say these guys are the most energetic on the split, they also gave me the least return. Belgium's Burial Ground, a group that has existed almost entirely on the demo/split level thus far, dishes up some crude but evil old school death metal that I thought was quite cool, almost like a mix of Autopsy's raw and grotesque punk-death form and the more structural Germans Morgoth on their earlier recordings. The riffs didn't always stick with me so well, but I can at least say I experienced some fond flashbacks for that late 80s/early 90s era, they had some curious quirks like a loud bass tone and even some narrative on their paean to "Last House on the Left". Fans of old Autopsy, Asphyx, and the like might wanna track them down, I believe they've got a compilation out that might have all their split material.
Even uglier is Kam Lee's Grave Wax, who have an even cruder and uglier style than anyone else on the split, and though Lee's vocal effects are cranked up to almost caricature level, these tunes were also quite fun, almost as if you were listening to them live but Lee was too high on the mixing board thanks to some zealous dweeb sound guy that wanted to fuck with the knobs. However, just like Burial Ground, these are actually fun, especially "Transmuting Techno-Terror". Ugly, inspired, no fucks given death metal. And bringing up the tail end of the recording are two tracks from Rogga Johansson's Severed Limbs, a decent project with a chunkier Swedish sound, although not just an emulation of Entombed or Dismember, but a more American style to the riffs, simply dowsed in that familiar production. These are two of the stronger cuts on the whole thing, and like his album Sores Galore that I reviewed earlier in the year, if you dig his other groups like Paganizer or Revolting you are likely gonna enjoy this stuff also. It's not a project he puts much importance in but certainly a worthy one.
In all honesty, I would have dug the Grave Wax, Burial Ground and Severed Limbs contributions as their own individual mCD/EP releases, or at least maybe just a 2-way split from the first two. Cropsy Maniac's inclusion here felt a bit stylistically disparate from the others beyond also belonging to the death metal genre in some way or form, you might have more fun checking out one of their own recordings; and the production across the bands lends to an uneven sort of experience, which I'm not terribly fond of on split recordings, but if you love all the piling on of the retro death metal these last decades then I think there are certainly enough highlights that it just squeaks by on the quality meter.
Verdict: Win [7/10]
Sunday, October 18, 2020
Perhaps less distinct is that they tackle the popular subject of cosmic horror, the Lovecraft Mythos in particular, but they've definitely got a focus on the more post-apocalyptic approach vector. The Old Ones have already arrived, their cataclysmic destruction being wrought upon both mankind and nature itself, or at least this is what is captured in the songwriting. Their extraordinary debut Swallowed by the Ocean's Tide definitely had the aquatic/R'lyeh vibe going for it, but here, like the Ola Larsson cover artwork splendidly depicts, they're stretching their tentacles between sea and stars. Musically, it doesn't diverge a great deal from its predecessor, but Gateway to the Antisphere certainly plays around with a greater range of dynamics, from slower, roiling, rumbling atmospheric rhythms to thundering blast sequences which put them right on the same level of finesse as veteran groups like Behemoth, Septic Flesh, Morbid Angel, Nile and Vader which could all be considered peers in terms of skirting the sweeping, epic parameters of death metal's entire potential. Tracks like "Calls from Below" or "He is the Gate" lay it on thick, there is constantly something interesting going on...Daniel Dickmann's frenetic bricklaying, sheens of melodies in the guitars that contain both elements of Eastern influence and beyond, Martin's guttural dominance and sustained growls that mange to have just enough personality where he doesn't feel generic.
Gateway to the Antisphere feels like the aural accompaniment to a plane larger than this or any other, one of controlled primordial chaos machinated by minds older than the universe. A symphony of punishment and suffering. It's not the creeping dread and despair you might expect from a Lovecraft story, but the end-state of having the gates of reality blown apart and all humanity put to knee before its new masters that they cannot comprehend. It's not insanely complex when it comes to individual compositions, but once you weave this all together it's just a magnificent devastating force that maintains a fair degree of musicality amidst all of its violence. All told, I didn't think this one quite as catchy as the debut, but more balanced in tempo and presentation and thus nearly on the same level due to such well-roundedness. The lyrics are good, the packaging impressive, and there's really no expense spared to create a formidable sophomore that is worth every penny. Fans of the aforementioned bands, or others like Mithras and Heaving Earth, should make this one mandatory to at least check out, and really anyone into any mixed concentration of extreme metal and cosmic horror should follow suit.
Verdict: Win [8.75/10] (scolding summonings at night)
Thursday, October 15, 2020
Basically there's a bedrock of lush orchestration created with synthesizers, sometimes used, as in "Intro, The Mask of Sanity" to create a classic horror feel with some carnival-like keys and well timed strikes of percussion. The beats through the album are a mix of purely industrial/techno and then a few heavier ones more akin to its extreme metal origins. The rhythm guitars involve a lot of very simple, chugging and/or thrashing riff progressions which are semi-moshable, but not all that exciting if you were to take them out of the context that they're serving as anchors of aggression for the airier synth tones or Ripper's schizoid exchanges of black metal snarls, deeper gutturals and more acidic narrative cleans. This is often the most drugged out sounding album he's done, perhaps going a little overboard to the extent of self-caricature with the vocals alone, but then again some of the audience might have felt he'd been doing this since the two albums before. Every now and then you'll get this really fun overlap of these ideas, like the rolling chugs in the title track that are balanced off against the eerie strings, but the fact is that even by 2005's standards a lot of the lower end riffs on this album had been beaten to death.
The guitar tone is well produced though, and even though the vocals are often a little overbearing, most of the instrumentation is well balanced for the 21st century Gothic metal audience who will probably most appreciate this. The compositions are consistent to the point that you feel as if you could pluck a part out of one song, toss it into another and few would be the wiser. I personally enjoyed the guitars most when they were branching off into a harmony or some Eastern sounding passage, it made the album feel like it belonged in the soundtrack to some modern Mummy movie with all the lurching aggression. Tracks like "Shackled" and "Empty" have a great deal of potential that simply isn't realized when they devolve into some of the more rudimentary rhythm guitars. The lyrics here are focused more on generic concepts of death, pain and isolation, so it's not too detailed with horror theming. Although I'd hesitate to call All Dead Here... bad at all, it just doesn't really evolve or improve upon the style he had going on The Horror Grandeur or Sketch of Supposed Murder, it's not terribly inspired, and I can understand why he'd want to give the project a lengthy rest afterward. It's the least of the Morgul efforts, but there was an audience for this sort of sound if you were into stuff like the Napalm Records roster of that day and age.
Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10]
Monday, October 12, 2020
The aim here is create haunting, Romantic landscapes that evokes flashbacks to Gothic horror as well as the mid-90s European black metal that Stuurm no doubt listened to, and Par-delà noireglaces et brumes-sinistres is directly on target. Synthesizers are used to incorporate instrumental tones both Medieval and angelic, from brass and strings to organs and feminine choirs which are tastefully implemented to never drown out the darker visions being manifest through the beats, guitars and harsh raspy vocals. A lot of the more purely dungeon synth-like passages draw comparisons to the masters Summoning, but never to a degree of direct duplication, and where the flights of tremolo picked distorted passages and chords explode, they sound quite different than how the Austrian duo writes their own. Lots of melancholic harmonies and female vocals are mixed in to create this elegant sense of sadness and seduction, and the bass-lines churn wistfully below with just the right measure of thickness and groove. There's a good range of dynamic balance to most of the tracks, no endlessly cycling, dull repetitions but something fresh and new waiting around every corner of this antiquated, phantom-infested citadel that Stuurm conjures up in each of the lengthier tracks.
And let's face it, apart from the pair or shorter dungeon synth vignettes, these are some swollen tunes, ranging from about 8 and a half minutes to the 20+ minute title track. To the greatest credit of this album, I was never bored even for a moment: the musical arrangements perfectly mirror the excellent, spectral packaging of the CD and I felt as if I was lost for the full 70 minutes in this idealized nether-realm of cold stone, anguished spirits and elusive majesty. The riff-sets might not be perfectly unique in terms of this genre, but they felt as if they were trying something you simply don't hear on any newsprint necro record you encounter, and they're blissfully garbed in the more Gothic tones and instruments. For a group comprised of just one individual, I was extremely impressed, and while some listeners might find a couple flaws in the mix of the percussion or other nitpicks, the sum of Par-delà noireglaces et brumes-sinistres is nothing shy of magnificence that I'd readily recommend to anyone who enjoys either of the genres that birthed it.
Verdict: Epic Win [9/10]
Friday, October 9, 2020
If you couldn't tell by the lascivious cover artwork, A Feast of Virgin Souls kind of plays out like an X-rated alternate to a Hammer Horror flick: slow and steadily paced, not terribly action-oriented, with a lavish colorful palette for suffering. Atmosphere is established early on with the bass and synth-driven into "Dead Winter Resurrection" before you are introduced to the reverb-soaked, eerie doom riffing which traces its lineage back to stuff like Candlemass or Pentagram, with a few more Trouble-like groove riffs here or there. The beats are sufficient to create a genuine momentum along with a couple fills, but it's really Wardlaw's guitars and Vanessa's vocals that make this experience. I'm more accustomed to hearing her snarls or growls, which are here in abundance, but generally as a complement to her cleans, which are actually pretty good. In fact, they wouldn't be out of place in trendier groups like a Witch Mountain or Windhand, only Wooden Stake specializes far more in despair and lamentation than the more stoner-heavy vibes from those. In tracks like "Alzbeta: The Devil's Bitch", they actually sound quite effective being matched up with her sustained snarling.
Occasionally this record creates a hypnotic effect with a beat plodding along while William nails you with some of those good old bendy Sabbath notes (also in "Alzbeta") and Vanessa creates a sort of vampiric narration below. Quite evil and cool, but this record is also pretty effective when they veer a little more towards the group's death/doom origins on "Cross-Scalded Flesh". There are few songs that fall behind any others, with highlights coming in the title track, "Hanging from the Inverted Cross" and the finale "Curse of the Cauldron Countess", all stuff that would appeal to a lot of doom and horror fans if this band could ever get on their radars. The lyrics are likewise well written. The one weakness here is probably in the ability of the band to transition, they'll come in with a single pattern or tempo in mind, and offer you some variation, but it always feels uninteresting in its execution. They could also experiment a little more with the atmospherics, maybe some more organs, flutes and so forth could really help flesh this out. But A Feast of Virgin Souls is unquestionably catchy despite this roughness about its edges. I think with busier, organic drumming and maybe some more oversight and editing into how the tunes are structured, you could have a killer band.
Verdict: Win [7.5/10]
Tuesday, October 6, 2020
On the other hand, despite all Ghoul has going for them this time, the songs themselves aren't quite so memorable as the packaging, or at least they don't start off the lineup of tracks here on the strongest of footing. This is still the same grab-bag of grind, thrash and death metal they've been serving up since the beginning of their mystery project, and it's more exciting than Transmission Zero before it, but the riffs don't always land with me, not because they're badly written or unfit, but just because a lot of the note patterns are just familiar to myself or others who have explored these sub-genres before. They still punch pretty hard thanks to the excellent, level production values that provide equal impact for the drums, guitars, and multiple vocal styles, but it isn't until "Dungeon Bastards" itself, or their fan anthem "Ghoulunatics" that I'm running into some riffs that really stick out to me, both well balanced attacks of their grinding guitars, fast-paced percussive battery, gang shouts and some really nice little metal leads, especially in the latter. I feel like these would have been better to kick off the whole album rather than "Bringer of War", not that it's bad but just suffers from some of the blander riff selections.
Verdict: Win [7.5/10] (taking names, then stomping asses)
Saturday, October 3, 2020
One Nation Under Ground was their fifth full-length album released through the now-defunct Root of All Evil Records, and while the production had come a ways from their earlier efforts like If We Had Brains ...We'd Be Dangerous or Rise of the Mutants, the style is roughly the same. Simplistic rock & roll riffs played with metallic energy and slathered in Bill Lindsey's signature splatter-punk vocals, which can range from a more meaty bark to something more petulant and punky, with lots of gang shouts thrown in there for good measure. The way he exaggerates his style with that grimy, constipated edge almost reminds me of Alice Cooper, one of his biggest influences, as enforced by the presence of a "Teenage Frankenstein" cover which is second-to-last on the album. The drums have a great tone to them, the bass and rhythm guitar are fairly clean in the mix, but manage to catch a little bit of that infectious punk vibe you'll recall from a lot of your faves in the 80s. There are plenty of lead guitars, too, usually with more of a bluesy, reckless hard rock feel to them, fitting to the rhythm riffs but not too memorable on their own.
There are 15 tracks here, almost all weighing in at around 2-3 minutes, with just a couple that go longer, like the darker, doomier sounding "Under the Dirt". Occasionally they'll incorporate a spoken sample, or some special effects like the bell and howl you hear in the depths of "Dead as a Doornail", to keep you on the page with their horror influences. Once in awhile the riffs can get a little bit more thrashy as in "Call of the Wild", but the majority of them are more rooted in punk and straight hard rock; almost all of them do feel as if you've heard them elsewhere, even by the standards of 20 years ago. Thankfully, the production makes up for this a little, the instruments and vocals sound brash and bright and energized. I guess my other complaint would be one that I'd apply to a lot of horror-punk, psychobilly or horror-influenced metal in that the musical choices themselves rarely evoke the more evil and dark side of the genre. There's nothing creepy ever happening outside of those aforementioned samples, effects or Lindey's gruesome vocals, the tunes could use a little more dissonance, atmosphere or 'evil' note selections to make them stand out...
...but again, I've had this issue since the Misfits. It doesn't make the music bad at all, but it's more like attending a Halloween party with your family, bobbing for apples, carving a pumpkin and having a good cheer rather than getting chased through an abandoned, dilapidated asylum by a serial killer or supernatural entity. The lyrics are fun enough for what you get, tributes to old or campy horror flicks and they even have a nod to Bill's love of wrestling entertainment with "Cage Match Tragedy". The Alice Cooper cover is pretty decent, and the material is consistent over the 41 minutes, but it just doesn't stick with me for long after I'm finished. It seems mostly built to go along easily with their live shows with all the blood, guts and debauchery that ensues, and there's nothing wrong with that.
Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10]