Friday, October 19, 2018
You'll instantly notice, upon first spinning the disc, how well the symphonics and choirs have been produced here, impressive since they're largely the work of a single keyboardist. Whether on their own or being used to decorate the straightforward, brutish rhythm guitars that populate most of the album, they feel so well-tuned and well-constructed that you really feel like you've spent a night at an opera which was crashed by some Ozzfest rejects, and I don't say that as an insult. As for the riffs themselves, they don't quite hit nu-metal levels of generic bounce, but there's not much to them other than serving as a foundation for all of those synthesizers, synth leads and the vocals, lower string chords most of the time with a few grooves and fills. Occasionally they'll infuse some higher pitched speed picking stuff that gives an impression of anthemic 21st century European power metal, but the majority of the time they are the element of the record that's striking the listener in the gut while the other trappings are more evocative of the imagination. Some slightly rave-like electronics are also incorporated into the harder riffs, so this isn't just some Gothic horror act living entirely in the past, even if the lyrics and overall imagery seem to point that way.
The real star of this morbid musical cinema, however, is Eleonora Steva Vaiana, who has a lower pitched, evil, wavering vocal style which so fluidly suits the punch of the music. At the cleanest of times she sounds like some sultry which summoning a hex, but she can also get even nastier with a near-rasp tone to accent a few of the lines, and kick in some power and sustain to the chorus lines. I'd liken her to an Agnete Kirkevaag of Madder Mortem, or perhaps Italy's occult scream queen herself, Cadaveria, but she totally makes this album, leveling out whatever elements you might find too overproduced or cheesy with a passionate and shadowy delivery that makes it difficult not to take seriously. Elsewhere, the band shines, with great drums, solid bass-lines, and a bevy of other instrumentation like the acoustics of "Vigor Mortis" that sound crystalline in execution. All of these are mixed in a beautiful balance that can go toe to toe with most 'modern' metal recordings in the fields of Gothic and power metal, without sounding too shallow or commercial.
It's not perfect, as some of the predictable guitars and symphonic melodies don't leave much in the way of a surprise lurking around any surface of this haunted opera. The music in general, while so painstakingly well produced, would not often be that memorable save for Steva's presence, but as an entire package it sounds great, and it casts such a potentially wide net that I could recommend it to fans of bands as varied as Nightwish, Benedictum, Ghost, Powerwolf, Cradle of Filth, Devilment, and of course their spiritual precursors Death SS. A good, solid album to pump out the speakers, not so much for metal seeking filthy, raw, flawed evil sounding material, but certainly could impress a lot of the squares and commercial metal receptacles who are more likely to let it find them than go out hunting themselves.
Horror-meter: Seven out of ten spectral orchestra pits.
Verdict: Win [8/10]
Tuesday, October 16, 2018
So a bit of a letdown thematically, but beyond that The Living Dead is yet another in a long line of competent, professional, Grave Digger records. Their 18th studio full-length overall, if I did my math right and am skipping the re-recordings album they dropped a couple years back. Like a lot of its predecessors, stretching back to around 1993 (The Reaper) when they truly solidified the German power metal sound they are most known for, the record does feel like its carved out of a lot of typical riffing progressions that the band have used time and time again, 'paraphrasing' them slightly on each iteration. You could honestly jump back 25 years to that and not notice a great degree of difference, other than what Axel 'Ironfinger' Ritt has brought to the table during his tenure, which is a little more Rhoads-like flash and flair to the guitar work that helps shepherd it away from redundancy or from the dire predictability it might otherwise have grown into. He brings a fraction of uniqueness to the decisions here, like the speed picked battery that inaugurates "What War Left Behind", and lots of anthemic little melodies all over the tracks that give it somewhat of a distinct personality.
But similar to their countrymen Primal Fear, Blind Guardian or most directly Running Wild, they really don't require a lot of variation to kick your ass. You know what you're getting into when you pick up a Grave Digger effort, and there's some comfort in that, and some comfort in the fact that they are so committed, over such a long career to keep up the power level. The rhythm section here hits hard, an imbreachable foundation for Ritt's playing and Chris Boltendahl's gritty, unapologetic, accented timbre. The mix is quite good, putting the guitar right up front but not losing the swerving bass lines, the beats or the atmosphere brought in by the vocals. Speaking of Running Wild, you'll hear a number of cuts like "Fist in Your Face" which bring to mind the more layman's style of muscular hard rock Rolf & crew brought on certain songs on their first three discs, or the earliest Grave Digger albums like Heavy Metal Breakdown and Witch Hunt. But for my money there is this large chunk in the middle of the record, stretching towards the end, where its best tracks like "Hymn of the Damned", "What War Left Behind" and "Insane Pain" had me most pumped, the latter of which has a melodic guitar line nestled in there which sounded to me like "The Time Warp".
As for the album's single "Zombie Dance", while it's one of the few cuts that actually service the undead theme I was hoping for, it's more of a party polka folk tune that warps into chugging metal verses, and it's a little on the goofy side, which is obviously the point of it if you've seen the video (in which Chris plays a newscaster who looks like he's about to break down at any moment). I think if you've got a drunk or warm enough audience at some large European festival and break that out, people are going to have a blast swinging around to it, but it's just not the most serious tune here, even though it's far from awful, and develops a decent bridge-chorus. As the flagship for this album though, I might have made another choice, and there are several of them, because The Living Dead is yet another testament to why this band has the longevity it has. They rock the rotten soil off of your self-inflicted domestic coffin, crack it open and then kick your butt back to the land of the living. This is hardly their best album, even in recent memory, but apart from 1-2 tracks it's damn dependable.
Horror-meter: Four out of ten unnecessary sequels.
Verdict: Win [7.5/10]
Sunday, October 14, 2018
At any rate, Warfare perform a grimy form of speed metal that builds off a similar momentum to a Venom, Motörhead or Tank, but here on Hammer Horror you can tell they were aiming for a more structured thrash nervous system on which to apply all the bells and whistles of the concept. The riffs in tunes like "Baron Frankenstein" almost have a simplistic S.O.D. or Sacred Reich mosh style to them, interspersed with some darker pure old heavy metal progressions. To contrast against this, they use a lot of lavish intros that feel like they're plucked straight from imaginary cult horror films, the organ tones or the acoustics used briefly to frame up the next track, although they'll also throw you a big curveball like "Phantom of the Opera" which is almost all this spacious, atmospheric, theatrical sounding tune which is only borderline metal, features male/female dual vocals and other things you just wouldn't expect if you'd come at this band from their older albums. Normally, the vox are a dirty style which at times reminds me of Cronos or even Ron's garbled barking in Coroner, but he also uses a lot of straight talking, blander narrative lines or others that sound like someone with a tummy ache being tossed out of the local pub by bouncers. It's charmingly pedestrian in places, but also fairly scatterbrained and inconsistent.
This also goes for the riffs...it's a little difficult to really get involved with the better, harder hitting guitars when they're rubbing elbows with super cheesy, slower punk picking parts as in the verses to the "Scream of the Vampire" tracks here, which are strangely divvied up. The album seems to be split into three chunks: the large amount of intros and interludes, the harder headbanging cuts and then the broad epics like "Hammer Horror" itself which actually do a good job at capturing a guitar-driven sort of soundscape to a perceived film from that time and scene. There are a number of good tunes throughout, like "Plague of the Zombies" which is just some mid-paced, ballsy metal; or the title track I mentioned, or the brief "Ballad of the Dead", but others like the woozy slow dance number "A Solo of Shadows" are almost entirely laughable, though I get the feeling the band was right there laughing along with us when they were laying them out in the studio. As far as its pure metal content, I think the stuff is pretty good, some of their best in fact, with strong licks and cool atmosphere.
The issue is just that it feels a little bit TOO corny and inconsistent to really squeak out more than a barely passing grade. You have to think, at this time we already had an act like King Diamond or his Mercyful Fate putting out one masterful record after another, with more coherent narratives, more complex and interesting and memorable music, so Warfare's approach felt a little too blue collar or primitive; nor is it even as interesting or unusual as something like The Exploited's Horror Epics, and its weird punk industrial metal death rock fusion. That aside, this is a delightfully goofy romp with some genuine good metal moments...just not enough to terrorize its way into greatness. And at the very least, we know Warfare had some ace taste in movies.
Horror-meter: Six sexy Sarumans out of ten.
Verdict: Win [7/10]
Saturday, October 13, 2018
It was 10 years ago today that I decided to start up my first metal 'zine' since the late 90s, when I had published several issues of a short-lived, self-published, stapled and photocopied fan rag during my university years. With the help of several fellow forumers over at Penny Arcade, I launched a site to hopefully sharpen our critique on metal and other music, taking the name from my favorite novel (and title) by the late Ray Bradbury. I had at that point stepped away from performing in metal bands for a few years, but wanted to still contribute to the music that had always been there to strengthen and uplift me since early in my childhood. A decade and several thousand reviews later, I've come to learn a lot more about this medium, what makes a write-up work for me, and what doesn't. The response has always been overwhelmingly positive, so to my readers, and the bands and labels that have submitted material for me to cover, I owe you a tremendous amount of gratitude! To receive a message that someone really connected with an album through a list or review here, to experience that trust, has always been the highest reward to me, and the reason I press forward. To those friends who also posted reviews back in the earlier years of the site, I am grateful. Of course, there was no way I was going to post such a volume of reviews without attracting some degree of heat and hate, and while I've happily ignored a scant amount of childish, homophobic keyboard warriors and useless 'metal' trolls since the site's creation, I would absolutely like to thank those critics that have kept it constructive, or folks who have mailed me errata on band line-ups, grammar and so forth, which I've always been happy to correct.
Thank you so much for stopping by, and let's share a toast to ten more years, and all the great sounds, new and old, that we'll discover in that time. Marriage and children might have slowed down my output since the glory days, but...2028? Hold my mead horn.
Friday, October 12, 2018
Thankfully, this debut album sounds just as interesting and mysterious as it looks. For a one-man project (that of one Sparda), the amount of effort put into Créatures arrangements and ideas is tangible behind each of its epic-length tunes. That's not to say that all of them are equally brilliant or distinct, but no matter what shadows you're playing in here, you're bound to come across some quirk or surprise that separates it from the chaff of pure, monotonous, trad black metal. At its core, the harsher elements here morph between a mid-paced, somber melodic black metal and a more savage, blasted variety. The rhythm guitars aren't mixed too raw, but neither are they too sterile, and many of the riffs are affixed with tinny little melodies that create a particular, treacherous charm. Bass lines are often splayed out into curious creepshow grooves, while the beats seamlessly stray between the mandatory metallic intensity and the sparser backbone needed for the album's more orchestrated, atmospheric components. The rasps here are protacted and tortured to the level of sickening, often bursting into Burzum-like screams over the more frenzied musical moments. There are a variety of vocals used, ambitiously, to represent different characters relating the ominous story.
This would be all well and good, but it's the further details that truly flesh out the experience. Flights of crazy jamming pianos hover at the edge of perception, or eerie little synth lines that sound as if they were penned from classic haunted house film scores. Where acoustic guitars appear, as in the first track "L'horreur des lunes pleines", they are wonderfully sad and evocative, especially joined to the animal and nature samples. Sparda very often shifts into a more garbled, narrative, clean and deep voice in place of the rasping, which might be one small nick on the album's quality, as these lines can become a bit jumbled; but even then, I can appreciate the versatility he's trying to reward to listeners. Minor flaws like these are also easy to forgive when you are beholden to the brilliance of the bridge of "Martyre d'un tanneur", the true highlight of this album, when he evokes this amazingly catchy string section and haunted vocal accompaniment of whispers, rasps and howls that is well worthy of its inspirations, much less other avant-garde horror metal bands like Sigh or Hail Spirit Noir. When the horns erupt deeper into that bridge, and then the blasting and choir-like chants, you feel like some sun of genius has just shined upon the dark woodland border in which the music dwells.
Really, it's almost criminal that Le noir village is not a better known album. While that deep underground status is certainly an attraction for scum like myself, this is top flight stuff with only a few cracks marring its surface. Not only would I recommend it to fans of horror-themed black metal in general, or Sparda's compelling countrymen (early Blut Aus Nord, Aorhlac, etc), but also as a 'spookier' alternative for fans of Quebecois black metal acts such as Forteresse and Neige et Noirceur. The French lyrics and vocals might be a turnoff for some imbeciles, but I found the album intriguing enough that I'd sit there trying to translate through them and better embrace the concept. One of the better albums I've interfaced with this Halloween season, and a great introduction to an act that I hope we hear more from in the near future.
Horror-meter: Eight spine-tinglings out of ten.
Verdict: Win [8.5/10]
Wednesday, October 10, 2018
The core here is a slightly more muscular Danzig style of simplistic hard rock and metal with a bit of Glenn's vocal antics being delivered through the performance of Landon Blood. The riffs are a sort of amalgam of very basic thrash, heavy metal, stoner doom and swaggering bluesy bar metal possessing the banality of a Black Label Society, only far less of the guitar proficiency. The riffs progressions are extremely mediocre across the whole album, with some predictable chugging and groove riffs meant only to work up the manliness of the vocals and the gang shouted chorus parts. It doesn't help that the tone of the rhythms sounds like crap, going for a noticeably more live feel but ending up rather annoying and amateur, especially when being used to perform some of the most insipidly boring chugs and squeals you've ever heard. There are some decent attempts by some backing synths and other atmospherics to try and dress this all up in a more appealing package, but it's really just a clutter of stuff that Pantera would have laughed out of their recording sessions back in 1989.
As mentioned, the vocals are real similar to Glenn Danzig, although once they pick up into a more howled, angry timber as in the depths of "Man or Monster", there's also a clear Rob Zombie style, strained growling influence, only nowhere near as harsh, memorable and charismatic. The drums are loud and clappy, while some of the bass lines seem a little too buzzy and filtered, used often to anchor the really bland bluesy swinging riffs in cuts like "Devilgirl". The lyrics are also very basic, but I wouldn't say they were one of the weak points, occasionally offering out some engrossing or titillating horror lines. Gorgeous Frankenstein is essentially a flesh golem stitched together by numerous other bands before it which have carved out excellent careers imbuing their hard rock, punk or industrial metal with the macabre, Gothic and kitschy traces of horror...but take away the life-giving lightning of catchy songs, or the distinction of those bands, for a fairly lazy and easygoing impersonation. It's not completely awful or incompetent, as there are a couple ideas here or there which make good sense, but I forgot it entirely in less time than the 35 minutes it took to get through the songs. You've got a lot better options out there, including some of the other albums members of this band have been involved with.
Horror-meter: Five gestalt corpse-things out of ten.
Verdict: Fail [4.75/10]
Sunday, October 7, 2018
I'm assuming the band drew its name from the LaVeyan concept of a 'psychic' or 'energy' vampire, or perhaps the film Lifeforce or some other source I'm forgetting, but regardless, they played the sort of heavy/power metal with excessive vocals characteristic of the 80s US scene, which makes a lot of sense as a followup to Stewart's alma mater. From the 'official' pics of the band, they definitely had a glam look to them, and there's also a bit of a nasty hard rock feel coursing through the music, most reminding me of Mötley Crüe if they'd stuck to their guns and gone more pure heavy metal through the remainder of their career. However, this is largely the sort of driving, anthemic riffing you'd equate with other bands of that region like Shok Paris, Breaker or Destructor, predictable in terms of the chord patterns, but always just messy and unhinged enough due to the way Stewart threw his vocals up over the metal. This s/t can be a bit of a clamor, especially where it gets the most ambitious in a track like "Pull the Stake Out" where they slather in some organs and unruly leads while John is just pouring it on. I mean, if 'overacting' were a musical concept then I feel he'd a clear candidate, but that's not to take away that he has some angry damn pipes, shrieking howls and would have been an enormous star if he just had a great set of tunes to use them over.
You could also compare this to Lizzy Borden, not quite as shrill or consistent, in the vocals, but the music is far less eloquent, technical or effective. Energy Vampires throw you for a few loops, like the Meatloaf-ish opera "Rock 'N' Roll", over which Stewart STILL throws up some of those insane screams, creating an outlandish but amusing contrast, but I get the feeling that even for a demo, this stuff was in good need of a proper edit or a producer who knew how to take these ideas and ground them into phenomenal songs. The riffs are alright, but a little too standard for their style, and I don't know that I heard a catchy lead throughout, even though they are competent and atmospheric. The production is airy and era-appropriate, giving John a lot of space amid its vaunted ceilings to go ballistic, but every time I feel I get into a particular riff section it just sort of teeters out, almost like there's a drunken sheen to the whole affair, the undead authors tapping a few inebriated veins before heading into the studio. Tracks like "Different from the Rest" and the wailing bonus "On the Run" come pretty close to the quality I'd want, but overall it feels like it's all a VERY NEAR miss.
That said, I think if you want another example of what a potential weapon this guy was, Energy Vampires is no less of an exhibition than either of the Slauter XStroyes outings. I'm not saying in a world of Halfords, Udos, Dickinsons, Bordens, Danes, Dios or other screamers that Stewart brought a lot of novelty to the field, since there are a number of others with very similar characteristics to him, but this was a guy feeling around that upper air raid atmosphere, a caged animal that just isn't done service enough by the music, choruses, or lyrical line choices. With further development, meatier riffs, and hooks that got into the skin rather than deflected off of it, this could have been formidable.
Horror-meter: Four crouching banshees out of ten.
Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10]
Friday, October 5, 2018
Having said that, The Samhain Feast is hardly the golden apple in this band's orchard of rotting sadness. With just two tracks that largely pursue the same style, it doesn't really offer up enough room for the band to really absorb you into its aesthetics. The thick riffs, cruising along with an almost Hellhammer-meets-Nebula guitar tone, are very bare-boned and predictable, in particular for the title track which has a chord progression similar to a dozen or so desert rock tracks you've already heard. Drums shuffle along at a simple pace, with just enough fire in them to support the heavier guitars, and the listener really has to lean on the haunted house organ lead aesthetics and the deep, wavering creep-out vocals of Labes C. Necrothytus to win the day. To give an accurate description of his style, think somewhere between Jari of Root and Lee Dorrian from Cathedral, those flawed but unforgettable lower cleans which care nothing for being perfect, but accurately casting the audience into its world of wraiths, specters, catacombs and coffins left slightly ajar.
Some riffs are better than others, and I'd say that "Grimorium Verum" is the superior of the offerings here, especially where the guitars hit that late bridge riff and the lead breaks out over it. That one also sounds a little more Hellhammer due to the riff makeup, thus automatically more evil! Production on the EP is appropriate, with a very dark, molasses-like consistency to the guitars, and a shadowy murk through which no light penetrates, even with the female near-whispered narrative and the brightness that the organ usually brings as an instrument. Both the tunes are acceptable rockers, without being particularly interesting or inventive, but I definitely don't think this is the sort of format in which these guys can really bring their inner pallbearers to bear upon the audience. Instead I'd make a recommendation that new listeners head straight over to one of their first two full-lengths, the s/t and Misfortune to get a better portrait of what this Italian underground staple is really all about.
Horror-meter: Five out of ten tarnished vestments.
Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10]
Tuesday, October 2, 2018
Obituary is the closest reference I can make, simpler and grooving rhythm patterns that are potent nonetheless when splattered with the vocals. A little bit of a punkish attitude. Thread that influence with a little Swedish death & roll, and some well-crafted leads and evil melodies which recount classic Chuck Schuldiner. I'd also compare this to Six Feet Under, or rather, a Six Feet Under that didn't generally suck so much, because of that emphasis on rock-like rhythms, as well as one half of the vocals, which sound a lot like Chris Barnes grunts. The others that are often paired up with these are like a poor man's John Tardy of Obituary, and it's often quite hilarious what the two sound like in unison, an added layer of silliness that occasionally drags the album down a notch; especially when the Tardy-a-like seems to almost crack up at the end of a few lines. There's also a notable Autopsy influence, just in the massive, raw tones, the abrasion and ugliness that the record balls up like a cleaver-clenching fist and then beats on you before making some choice cuts.
The drums thunder along here, adding a lot of power to the simpler chugging rhythms, and the bass is also really enormous sounding and gives the whole affair a bowel-rumbling effect that is made even more fucking awesome when they cast out some simple, evil melody over the top as in the depths of "I Bury the Hatchet In Your Face". There are some screams and samples and narrations to further emphasize the themes in the lyrics, though once again they can feel a little too goofy if you just want your face flayed off by the great music, but not to the point they become a dealbreaker. Production is really great across the instruments, but I think perhaps the vocals are just a little too loud in general, and highlight some of those imperfections which in this case don't offer much positive charm.
As you can tell by the collage cover artwork these guys are huge on cult horror and exploitation flicks, so murderers and cannibals abound in the lyrics of Nailgun Massacre and that fits the mold well. Those who scoff at the simpler death metal of olde might not get much out of this, the leads and atmospheres created by the melodies are all very good, but otherwise the rhythms are so simplistic and bare-bones that they don't really offer any flashy surprises. Boned, Boxed and Buried channels film inspirations from the 70s and 80s through the death metal of the 80s and earlier 90s, and does a pretty cracking good job of it, with a handful of over the top moments that might have been snipped from the slasher reel.
Horror-meter: Seven out of...does your mom know you're up this late?
Verdict: Win [7.25/10]
Sunday, September 30, 2018
Unfortunately, Orloff really puts its best foot...fang? forward, because Apparitions feels like a whole slew of ideas programmed together into a 50 minute horror-trip, with little regard for whether they really fit or not, or to any consistency of quality. The transitions are almost universally weak. A lead or an organ section will arrive and depart with haste, like miniature interludes, only badly edited so they don't really deliver much of an impact, and just feel like they've been cobbled together from a bunch of riff ideas that were stored on a hard drive. The shredding parts are a mix of coherent and too short, or sloppy and uninteresting, where the rhythm guitars are also a mixed bag...ranging from evil, inspired vintage death/doom metal ("Nine Eternities in Doom") to the offensively banal chugging of "House Where the Beast Dwells", to "The Needful Revenge of Arthur Grimdsyke" which sounds like a pure, derivative heavy metal song with growling attached to it.
Some of the beats and fills are incredible, where in other places they feel like they're going to collapse in on themselves. Bass lines don't seem to serve much of a purpose to the music, apart from just a bulkier bottom end for the other guitars. In addition to the aforementioned organs, there are some more acidic synthesizer lines which sound like they could come from a giallo flick, only they're not very well implemented in the places they show up. Orloff also uses a few acoustic, classically styled guitar parts, which actually work out well on the instrumental title track, but feel a little jarring and wedged in elsewhere. The majority vocals are brutish and deeply guttural, while some higher pitched snarls are added in for contrast, but in either case, while they're a good fit for this style, they don't always bark out the most interesting syllabic patterns over the riffs churning out beneath them.
I'm not fully aware of the seriousness of the project, since after one demo and this album it seems to have vanished, but Apparitions Among the Graveyard Skies ultimately suffers from shoving together too many ideas which needed further gestation. Take out some of the dumber riffs that spoil it for the rest, align some of those beats and vocals a little better, and spend a long time fixing transitions, and you'd have yourself a pretty kick-ass Halloween/horror record. But as it stands, once you hit the waning moments of the album, it almost feels like the band is just as through with it as you are. Not a terrible album, just a lot of missed potential.
Horror-meter: Eight cemetery encounters out of ten.
Verdict: Indifference [6/10]