Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Autothrall's Best Metal Albums of 2008

The Top 20 Metal Albums of 2008

01. Darkthrone (Norway) - Dark Thrones and Black Flags
02. Pharaoh (US) - Be Gone
03. Hammers of Misfortune (US) - Fields/Church of Broken Glass
04. Esoteric (UK) - The Maniacal Vale
05. Gojira (France) - The Way of All Flesh
06. Lifelover (Sweden) - Konkurs
07Falconer (Sweden) - Among Beggars and Thieves
08. October Falls (Finland) - The Womb of Primordial Nature
09. Stormwarrior (Germany) - Heading Northe
10. Enslaved (Norway) - Vertebrae
11. Septic Flesh (Greece) - Communion
12. Ofermod (Sweden) - Tiamtü
13. Protest the Hero (Canada) - Fortress
14. Opeth (Sweden) - Watershed
15. Paradox (Germany) - Electrify 
16. Spite Extreme Wing (Italy) - Vltra
17. Cult of Luna (Sweden) - Eternal Kingdom
18. Evilfeast (Poland) - Lost Horizons of Wisdom
19. Valient Thorr (USA) - Immortalizer
20. Cynic (USA) - Traced in Air

Not only the year this blog started, but a surprisingly strong year for metal in general. Two 10/10 scores sit at the top, especially the Darkthrone which was perhaps their most brilliant (and strangely divisive) in terms of sheer songwriting. The Pharaoh record was brilliant progressive/power metal and I still listen to that in its entirety all the time when I want some melody. A lot of excellent and eclectic black metal from groups like Ofermod, Spite Extreme Wing, Lifelover, and October Falls, plus a bunch of interesting progressive records, like the Hammers of Misfortune hitting their peak with this Floyd-like double album, the dextrous Protest the Hero and a welcome return from Cynic. When I think of all the great albums I had to leave off this list, tears start to well up. A lot of the reviews linked here are not mine, so they aren't necessarily the scores I'd have given, keep that in mind if you're clicking.

In October of the year I launched From the Dust Returned, as I had been out of writing reviews for a few years, and decided to improve upon the rather skimpy write-ups I had done in the past. Of course, the earlier critiques here (from myself and others) were themselves on the short side. I've bulked up in the ensuing years and thousands of reviews, but it was still a pretty positive start.


Magica - Wolves & Witches (2008)

It's no secret that I despise a great deal of the female fronted metal band explosion of past decade, the endless parade of shallow Nightwish clones is both trendy and tasteless. Now, to preemptively silence unfounded cries of 'sexism' , this has NOTHING to do with some belief that female vocals and metal do not go well together. In fact, in many cases, they go together extremely well. I'd love to hear a good female vocalist just as much as any good male vocalist. But it seems after the success of a few bands (Nightwish, Lacuna Coil, etc), thousands more have suddenly sprouted up with the hack female vocals, which might be 'in key', but simply cannot do the supporting music justice (or vice versa). Magica is such a band, and they're not exactly newcomers.

Wolves & Witches (give me a break) is the 4th album from these Romanians, and they seem pre-occupied with romantic horror/fantasy novels or crappy fashionista vampire films like Underworld or Blood & Chocolate which have all the substance of a strip mall manicure. It's possible the entire album is a concept based around a particular novel, film or original story, but I concede that my knowledge of the romance/horror genre is lacking. The music here consists of some straightforward melodic/power metal smothered in Ana's 'angelic' voice, which is sadly very monotone and lacks much expression and power. Frankly, it's fucking annoying, not for the accent, but for the needless layering and the fact that it sounds so separate from the music. She doesn't have the operatic hooks of a Tarja Turunen, but she meanders along with the same dreadful pitch. The lyrics seem to be a smorgasboard of other previous fantasy power metal stereotype lines with a gothic/vampire/werewolf theme, they come across completely goofy and I actually found myself laughing out loud numerous times, take a listen to "Just for Two Coins" for example.

The riffs might not be all that bad under a different set of vocals, but they're not very good of their own accord. These guys can play their instruments. They can shred. But what develops is a very light and feathery, average melodic European power metal. "Chitaroptera", an instrumental, is the most tolerable track I heard here. Actually, it's not just tolerable, it's decent.
But try as I might, I cannot find another silver lining on this album. This is the fairy bubblegum pop metal I can't recommend to anyone outside of people who read Laurell K. Hamilton novels or went to see that movie Twilight and then actually obsessed about how hot those guys were afterwards.

Stick a silver fork in me. I am done.

Verdict: Fail [3/10]
(listen to Darkthrone, you can thank me later)

Maledictum - Inhumana Muerte Negra (2008)

Some black metal albums are statements of sorrow and depression. Others are attempts to commune with the natural and forgotten world. Others still attempt to channel the faith of ancient ideals and cultures. But some, some are just completely fucking evil expressions of misanthropy.

The debut from Chile's Maledictum is just such an album, a savage and unforgiving assault on the listener with would probably burst the gates of Hell wide open if such gates were real things, just on the basis of the album having been conjured by human minds. Angels surely would weep blood if they heard this, virgins would suddenly cease to become virgins as the aural filth and impurity here prevent any possible virtue from existing. Arguably, this is the best kind of black metal album, since it can only be conceived through thoughts of sacrilege and hatred.

So...Inhumana Muerte Negra is a damned and damned good black metal album. Although I can't understand the customized Spanish tongue of the country, Misanthropo's hellish snarling communicates to be directly the dark deeds of his soul. The tracks are typically delivered at an extreme pace with buzzing guitar work and a storm of devilish drums. Some of my favorites on the album are "Crepusculo Ser", "Fuego Eterno" and "Suprema Vision de Purification". The sound is pretty lo-fi, but you can hear the tinny drumming quite well, the puking bass and the twisted guitars. Occasionally, the band will bust out some high pitched scream vocals akin to King Diamond. They are always at exactly the right time.

I may be condemning myself to Eternal Punishment with such a statement, but Maledictum rocks, and if you're in the mood for an onslaught to all good taste and sensibility, listen no further. I also recommend virgin blood and angel tears in that wine.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]

Ulcer Uterus - Agonized Degradation (2008)

I was mildly impressed by this Polish band's debut. They are able to take a style of death metal I tend to find dull (brutal blast-chug blast-chug with a ton of breakdowns and squeals) and churn out an album I actually like! This is no doubt due to the extremely tight musicianship and great mix of the album.

They also throw in tiny touches that I wouldn't expect to their riffs. For example, as subtle as it may seem, the tiny melodic suffix to the breakdown at the 2:30 mark in "Blood in Her Mouth". Other excellent tracks on the album include the unrelenting "Possession", the dense slower grooves of "Elite", and the epic, rolling "Call of War". They also include a good cover of Morbid Angel's "Nothing is Not". The lead work throughout is quality and creepy.

They have a sound decidedly more akin to brutal USDM than most of their countrymen, and it works. 2008 hasn't been an amazing year for Polish death metal, so I'd rank Agonized Degradation pretty high on the list of albums to check out from that scene. It's not amazing and it's not quite original but it's a consistent and punishing album which will please fans of brutal death metal everywhere.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]

Decrepitaph - Condemned Cathedral (2008)

Razorback has always had an excellent ear for releasing killer, fun old school death and grind metal. Texans Decrepitaph are no exception to that rule, and while I can't hold this record in such high regard as I would hold other Razorback bands like Ghoul, Frightmare, Crypticus, etc, it's a good time. And this good time is achieved through a delightful simplicity. 100% old school brutal death metal which sounds like it could have come out in 1987.

After a nice sample, "Possessed by Blasphemy" arrives with a wall of Satanic gore. Sludging, punching guitars performing the most simplest of rhythms to the plodding drums. The vocals are primarily guttural, but you can hear some of the snarlier vocals layered in there. "Unholy Crucifixion" is just fucking savage, you have to love that distorted tone on the guitars and bass, and once again, the absolutely lack of pretention, the utter simplicity to what they are doing. The album is quite consistent, but some tracks I'd pick out are "Morbid Ritual", "The Labyrinth of Bones", and the closer "Crawling Out from the Crypt" with its crushing doomy guitars.

This album isn't going to appeal to everyone. In particular, there is nothing remotely technical about it, the band isn't playing a million miles an hour. This may turn off younger death metal fans with a severe case of ADD, but if you remember the early days of Death, Hellhammer, Possessed, and their ilk, and long for bands that can take death metal by its roots and seed an entirely new forest of gore, then Razorback has delivered yet another band you will enjoy.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Khors - Mysticism (2008)

While their previous album Cold was a promising if forgettable work of Ukrainian black metal, the third album Mysticism is eloquent and atmospheric. Their style here would probably be better described as gothic black and doom, especially with the heavy presence of the whispered vocals and slight synthesizer touches. There are also a lot of acoustic guitars. It comes together well, though, so if you're in the market for something rather mellow to listen to, Mysticism is a pretty dreamy trip of an album, without losing the crushing black vocals and slower black/doom riffs.

A peaceful instrumental "Through the Rays of Fading Moon" is your first flight, followed by steadily paced "Raven's Dance", which immerses one into their somber and graceful style of soaring melodies and simple black rhythms. "Milk of Heavens" is a very gothic song with some whispered vocals. "Winterfall" is a nice, layered, melodic escape. "In the Cold Embrace of Mist" just might be my favorite here, an epic and sad track that balances their aggressive side nicely with the gothic landscapes they devour. "Pagan Scars" is an acoustic piece with some flute. The title track is another epic, and another of its best songs. The album ends with "Red Mirrors", a graceful gothic/black metal tapestry.

If you're into the mellow end of the black metal spectrum, with a folk influence, this is certainly an album you should give a chance. I think doom fans might also find a lot to enjoy, in particular gothic doom or folk doom. I'll also recommend to fans of Tiamat or Moonspell. It's not an entirely memorable album, but it WILL take you on a journey, if you just sit down, listen, and let it.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Defamer - Chasm (2008)

Another solid if not impressive death metal debut hath arrived, this time from Australians Defamer. Chunky guitars, good guttural vocals and an old school, loving touch are delivered across the nine tracks. Although it felt sloppy and disorganized in some places, the majority of the material represents what I am looking for in this style: creepy atmosphere and brutal delivery. However, the atmosphere on this album may somewhat exceed the quality of the riffs.

The keyboards and chanting of "In Umbris" open the album, followed by the tumult of "In Winter It Began" and it's alternation of grinding and slower breakdowns. This is not one of the better tunes. "The Inverse Dominion" is also average, it has a nice brutal edge to it but the riffs didn't really stand out, nor did the breakdown. "The Black Obscene" is a step up, with an evil and mystical opening riff. I'd have to say the best songs are "Of the Chasm", the epic "Chorus of Whispers", and the hostile "Endless Hordes Expiring".

Lyrically and conceptually, the band dabbles in brutal occult nihilism, always a good match for the style (and always more interesting than your pedestrian gore metal). The album has a very raw sound to it, the vocals may be a little loud, but you can make out everything well enough. The band is clearly in touch with its old school influence, I can hear pieces of Bolt Thrower in their sound, especially the slower riffs. The album's not incredibly entertaining but their overall sound crushes. If they can incorporate better riffing the next time out, they're going to develop into a pretty kickass band.

Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10]

Monday, December 29, 2008

Pharaoh - Be Gone (2008)

Pharaoh is quite likely the best melodic metal band we've got in the States right now. In fact, if I've got any criticism of the band at all, it's that they are TOO melodic. TOO catchy. To the point where it's painful to realize there are musicians this good writing such riffs you'll never have a prayer of beating. It should be a crime! Okay, this is hardly a real criticism...Pharaoh rules, and after two great albums they have produced their third and best yet. While I haven't been a fan of Tim Aymar's vocal work in other bands (sorry Control Denied), he excels here.

Each of the nine tracks on the album is an instant classic, laden heavily with melodic textures and Aymar's resonating yet harsh vocal performance. The songs are distinctly modern and original, yet they also capture the elusive quality which made so many 80s US speed/thrash metal songs so great...surely this band channels the spirit of Fates Warning, Watchtower or Helstar in ways that so few really can. This is also the riffiest metal album heard all year, if it were simply a matter of who has the most good riffs, this would be my #1 choice. Matt Johnsen is writing some of the best melodic material in the world. This album floors pretty much anything out of the 'power metal' scene in Europe, and there are single songs on the album which are arguably better than the entire Dragonforce discography. That a spastic and shallow band like that gains worldwide recognition while Pharaoh lies in relative obscurity is a testament to how the standards of the 'metal' community have been lowered to blindly accept speed, popularity and empty technical prowess over song craft.

"Speak to Me" is the perfect opening track, as the drums and guitars phase in they create a foundation for Aymar's clarion call vocals, which have an edgy tone to them reminiscent of bands like Omen. "Dark New Life" is an immediate anthem which wears its glory on its sleeves before breaking down into some grittier power metal riffing, and it also has an amazing solo section. "No Remains" starts with a winding guitar melody to die for, followed by some of the most excellent charging rhythms on the album, and a monumental chorus. "Red Honor" starts with an even more technical and awesome riff, and then proceeds to get even BETTER with the next riff. "Buried At Sea" is perhaps the most morose track on the album, yet still adorned in the graceful and epic feel of the rest. We're not even close to done here...the leading riff of "Rats and Rope" is fucking stunningly awesome, and the way the vocals and verse guitars interact is gorgeous. "Cover Your Eyes and Pray" is the closest you'll have to a 'ballad' here, and it's not quite a ballad at all, but a slower paced, driving melodic number which once again reminds me of Omen or early Fates Warning. "Telepath" is the most instantly catchy of the tracks, and why shouldn't it be with that insanely catchy, sad and melodic verse. The final track is of course the slowly developing "Be Gone" which is hypnotic and intense with its flowing guitar work.

The lyrical concept to the album is the eventual eradication of humanity through our own stupid actions, but Pharaoh approach this with lyrical skill that amplifies the emotion of the music, such as:

Time running or
The hollow houses blooming
Faith now a falsehood
The only god is sickness
Just one way
To starve alive another day
Dying fed
By harvesting the dead

I can't find a single damned flaw here, the album is spotless. It's the type of classic people will hopefully be pointing to for the 'oughts' of the 21st century when making their future 'best of' lists. I know I will be. Few albums of this sort have come into existence since the Golden Age of 80s metal, and this is by far my favorite melodic/power/speed metal album of anno 2008. You owe it to yourself not to let it pass you by. Pharaoh, against all odds, have achieved perfection. A masterpiece. Get infected.

Verdict: Epic Win [10/10]

Nethervoid - Sirens of the Blistering Light (2008)

Iowa must be a pretty grim place. To whatever, wherever or whomever inspired this young USBM act to create these eight acts of glorious blasphemy, I say continue! I can't cite a lot of originality on this debut album, but what they create is a successful and driving form of black metal with grungy guitars, searing vocals and the perfect level of atmosphere.

Every track on the record is darkly consistent. It begins with the knockout combination of the epic title track and the thunderous "Wyrm of World's End". "The Nethers Nativity" is a wall of somber riffing, delightful bass note selection and a nice breakdown. "Southern Convex" is fucking eerie, with a dour acoustic presence accompanying the vile black guitars and terrifying vocals. "Of This Sacred Circle" rocks with a low end, menacing riff. "Vines in a Virgins Body" is a crawling morass of black doom. And for possible song title of the year, you have "1000 Hands of the Assiduous Specter", a killer track to finish the album.

This is seriously one of the better releases this year in US black metal. It's not totally original, it's not extremely dynamic, but it is expressive and goddamned evil sounding and I enjoy their choice of guitar tone. Recommended for those cold countryside evenings, digging graves and resolutely placing your hope and dreams in them. Hail the Midwest.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]

Tangaroa - One Hand for the Knife One Hand for the Throat (2008)

There is an entire scene out there to appreciate this spastic hybrid whirlwind of grind and death metal, but I've never really counted myself a part of it. For myself, the onus of the more complex end of the extreme metal spectrum lies in creating songs that I want to re-listen to for their structure and emotional impact, not just because of the mile-a-minute marathon of discordant, jarring notes.

Tangaroa is a technically adept band, and while not on the level of insanity of something like, say, Psyopus, they know their theory and deliver a hyperactive assault of maze like riffing, suffused between the realms of grind, thrash and crazier dissonant metalcore. Occasionally, this can be quite catchy. I thought the title track, "Swimming in the Sea", and the mellow post-metal of "Jupiter Sheep Farm" were all catchy and memorable, featuring diverse and well composed riffs. But there are other tracks I wasn't so enamored with, the more spastic fare like "Turn Off the TV, Shut the Magazine" and "Tick Tock Tick Tock".

The album sounds quite nice, the guitars and bass have excellent tone and are easy to read through the complex riffs. These guys are a lot better than many similar acts I've heard, focused on the devastation. Only a few of the songs here are actually annoying or spastic enough not to re-visit. However, if you're a less picky fan of this underground, technical death/grind/core scene, Tangaroa is a band worth the attention.

Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10]

Crawling Death - New Murder Art (2008)

The Polish death metal scene continues to proliferate with many new bands arising in the shadows of the greats. Crawling Death is not exactly a new band, they've been around for some time, but New Murder Art is their first full-length release. The band plays a brutal and dynamic style of death, not always technical, but judging from some of the crazier riffs on the later half of the album, they could probably adapt that strategy if they desired.

What manifests here is a lot of chugging, some groove, interspersed with some old school grinding, evil death metal riffs. The vocals are meaty enough to appeal to fans of Vader, Trauma and other great Polish death metal acts. The mix of the album compliments the lower end guitar chords yet allows for the leads to come through clearly. On to the songs, there are a few I liked and a few I could live without. I thought "I Carry the Dead" was the best of the lot with its barbaric groove trade-off with some pure death metal riffing. Some of the more technical tunes like "Salvation Through Rope" and "Vox in Rama" were decent. As for the rest, the songs sound good but just don't have enough aggression or memorable riffing.

I doubt Crawling Death is going to break into the top tiers of Polish death metal with this debut, but it's a solid foundation from which to build. This isn't at all 'bad'. The album sounds good and they're talented enough musically, I think they will write better songs than these.

Verdict: Indifference [6/10]

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Enslaved - Vertebrae (2008)

If you had told me as a young metalhead that one day I'd be hearing bands successfully infuse Norse black metal with progressive rock, I may not have believed you. Surely this arching over-genre has come so far when bands are capable of such a unique cross-pollination; to not only succeed at it, but to also find success with it. As such, Enslaved is a long way from 'home' (their earlier, Viking black metal years) without ever having left...

If you haven't already guessed, I think Vertebrae is a pretty massive fucking statement from a band already responsible for creating many masterworks. At once it is both a continuation of their recent style on Isa and Ruun, and a celebration of their previous progressive works like Monumension or Below the Lights. Sheer progressive black metal bliss. "Clouds" is the first step on this airy journey, a fusion of textured riffing and prog synthesizers with some of their best clean vocals yet. But don't fear ye, the snarl is still present during a pretty creepy riff sequence. "To the Coast" is a deeply resonating track, with an atmosphere as thick as its title. The vocals here switch between the Kjellson snarl and some of the Gilmour-like vocal layers you'll find on numerous songs here. "Ground" begins with a groovy, flighty prog metal riff, quite wonderful in fact, and then moves into a total Pink Floyd space. Note that I'm not complaining. The title track "Vertebrae" is like a dream, reminding me a little of Voivod's Angel Rat album. Again...not complaining at all! "New Dawn" is another stellar track, with a winding progression of notes and chanted, mellow vocals. The rest of the album is equally impressive. I loved the moody and mystical "Center" and that extremely catchy riff beneath the snarling of "Reflection".

Enslaved has such an amazing repertoire under their belts already that you expect no less than a monument to tasteful, original output every time they stroll into a studio. Vertebrae exceeds even that great expectation by immersing the listener in a flowing dreamstate which wonderfully manipulates the powers of pure psychedelic mood and thoughtful lyrics, without giving up the snarling ghost...simply unbelievable.

We've reached the outer limits of this orchestrated vision
Some might think it can't be kept apart
Forgot to ask: where are we in all of this?
Trying to get off track ... Into the wilderness

Assuming you are not a fool, you will purchase this album immediately and lose yourself amidst its splendors. You probably already have. I'm just here to tickle the memory.

Verdict: Epic Win [9.25/10]
(gaze upon the waters and turn back again)

Mortifilia - Embrace (2008)

This is the sophomore effort from a Czech death metal band. They've got a melodic approach to their writing which reminds me of the heavier side of Swedish melodeath, ala At the Gates or other earlier stuff. The growled vocals do give a certain character to the album, and there enough decent riffs to make it a pleasant listen once.

"Arrival of Messiah" starts with one of those churning melodic sequences which capture the glory of bands like a Dimension Zero or old Dark Tranquillity. Occasionally the band will tip a little further more into the 'death' side of death metal, and I think they do a good job of this, as in "Curces Century" which has some pretty sweet old school riffing. But the majority of the tracks stick to the lighter fare, and not many stand out. A few exceptions though, I enjoyed "Downfall Up", the uplifting "Storm Slaying Misery Fear", and the pure Scandinavian melodeath of the title track "Embrace (in Cruel Arms)".

Unlike many similar bands, Mortifilia hasn't gone with some overproduced mix with the clean emotional vocals. No metalcore breakdowns to be found on this. The vox are strictly death metal, and the tones of the album are modest and speak for themselves. It's not an album I'm going to revisit often, but a worthy enough effort if you like earlier melodic death metal.

Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10]

Burning Point - Empyre (2009)

This is the fourth album from this Finnish power metal band, and they've got a very distinct, melodic sound. I've never been able to get into any of their previous material, and I'm not feeling this either.

The album certainly sounds great. It's crystalline and you can hear each instrument wonderfully. When the album gets heavier, as on "Face the Truth" which has a very Judas Priest/Primal Fear vibe, I even started to enjoy it. Unfortunately, there are just too many mediocre tracks here, like a few bluesy rock ballad types which I frankly wanted to skip. The band clearly has a hard rock/NWOBHM influence, which may not appeal to many of the melodic or power metal fans of the day. I personally thought this was a cool touch, just wish there were better songs written around it.

They do possess a powerful production with a lot of glorious atmosphere to it, and as I said earlier, they have a crystal tone. Pete Ahonen's vocals are decent if not impressive. His voice isn't so much the problem, it has some character to it, I just didn't find many of his chorus parts catchy. These guys have a cross history and have shared members with other Finnish bands like Ghost Machinery, Eternal Tears of Sorrow, National Napalm Syndicate and Kalmah. I found the album pretty average with very few standout moments; sadly not enough that I will want to return to it.

Verdict: Indifference [5.5/10]

Oracle of the Void - Further Steps to a Perfect World (2008)

I'll start by saying this band goes directly for the throat with their brand of atmospheric black metal. It's primarily in a necro style but they've got some light keyboard orchestration and they are quite good at setting off a dark mood.

This is the debut for these Australians, nine tracks of grim cosmic blasphemy. The first track "Absolute Love" blasts right the fuck out of the void into your speakers, with a somber pattern of hypnotic black riffs slathered in the vicious rantings of Gamaliel. But more fascinating is the breakdown into a slower, haunting riff. "Bone Devil" starts off with a winding riff under keyboards, it reminded me of something that might be found on Samael's Passage, except far more grim, and then of course until the blasting bombast enters the composition. Sick. "The Anatomical Commission" (what a great song title) is just swerving and disgustingly intense. The rest of the songs are likewise intriguing. The static opening to the grim "White Claudia". The ethereal vocal choir bridge of "The Valve". Or the barbaric acoustic breakdown in "302". Truly this is a band into some deep and creepy influences of the cosmic horror and occult variety.

Like most successful black metal albums, this one is an experience which is best appreciated in the right environment. I recommend a lot of darkness, and maybe watch some creepy old Twilight Zone or Outer Limits episodes in black and white glory, with NO volume. It's not the catchiest album nor is it among the more impressive you'll hear lately, but it's effective enough when consumed as a whole, much akin to what the Elder Gods plan on doing to you and your pathetic worlds. YOU WORMS!

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Blood Stained Dusk - Black Faith Inquisition (2008)

I'm not typically a huge fan of USBM, but there have of course been exceptions like Leviathan and a few of the Xasthur records that have blown me away and my perception of what we are capable of in a genre I tend to associate with a primarily European stamp of quality. Blood Stained Dusk is not going to change this for myself, but what they offer here is a competent album of atmospheric black metal with some gothic elements.

This being their third album, it really harkens back to the mid to late 90s when bands would mesh the sweeping gothic keyboards into a pretty straightforward, savage black metal snarl with blast beats and driving guitars. I reminisced of very early Moonspell or Cradle of Filth. There are certain tracks on this album that are of noticeably better quality than others. For example, I thought "Of Wolf's Blood" was a bore, but "Astrum Obscurum" was a decent track. I especially like that obvious nod to Bathory in the latter.

The mix here on the album is okay, I do feel like the leads and a few of the guitar rhythms are too weak sounding. The drums are fast and energetic but the sound gets lost, I feel like it's on a different wavelength and doesn't always agree with the rest of the instrumentation (the sound, not the beats themselves). The vocals are pretty well done here, they sound appropriately vile and very up front to the record. I also like the narrative/ritual bits, and they have a nice eye for cover art.

Not a lot more I can say. Few of the songs on this album were able to catch my attention, but if you're enamored with the gothic-tinged black metal of the late 20th century (Ancient, Cradle of Filth, old Moonspell, etc), you may get a lot more out of this than I did.

Verdict: Indifference [5.5/10]

Seance - Awakening of the Gods (2009)

Well, this is a band I didn't think I was ever going to hear from again...Sweden's Seance released two pretty cult death metal albums Fornever Laid to Rest and Saltrubbed Eyes in the early 90s which garnered them a bit of acclaim, but most of the members are better known for other bands they've been in. Do Satanic Slaughter and Witchery ring any bells?

So not only do we have a brand spanking new Seance album, but it's actually quite fact, it's probably their best yet. This is pure old school death metal but it has a nice blend of both the US brutal and Scandinavian styles, and Johan Larsson's vocals have a refreshing feel to them. The entire album sounds crisp, with excellent tone.

The energetic, grinding "Wasted" kicks off the album with an energetic slew of riffs. The baton is passed to the floor punching "They" and the the infectious "Your Time Has Come" with its old school death metal love. Other winners are the thrashing "Invocation", the maddening bass solo "Flight of the Wicked", and the melodic yet relentless "Murder". The entire album is a breath of fresh if rotting air...from beyond the grave. If you're into earlier Swedish death metal like Grave or....err...Seance! Then you should check this out.

Welcome home.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]

Umbra Nihil - The Borderland Rituals (2008)

Since their excellent debut Gnoia a few years ago, I had been eagerly awaiting the next doom opus from one of Finland's weirdest bands. I have to say, while I couldn't get into this nearly as much as that earlier work, it's still an interesting piece which strips the form to its roots, re-visiting the psychedelia from which the prototype doom (and arguably all of metal) sprung forth.

There are only five tracks here, but a few of them are on the length side. "Welcome to the Borderlands" is a slow, psychedelic piece alternating sparse, spacious riffing with Vilpir's manly and creepy vocal slug crawling. By the end it picks up with a simplistic, heavier riff accompanied by highly fuzzy bass. "Open the Gate" takes a simple, twining, mystical riff with a folkish feel to it and drives it into a cradle of despair. "Leaving the Body" is a short song for this band at just about 3 minutes, starts off as an instrumental but the vocals come in half way through, while "Sea of Sleep" is a delicate but immersive instrumental with tinny leads and effective atmosphere. The closing track "The Sign of Death" is the album's longest, over 14 minutes, and easily the most powerful thing here. When he starts crooning the 'chorus' like sections over those evil as fuck riffs, and you can hear the slight use of the keyboard to accent the sorrow and grim majesty of the song, it's just magic.

The mix on the album is very simple and organic, they could be playing this live right in your living room. The instruments all sound great. The drums may seem a little thin but it feels intentional. In the end this is not as good as Gnoia but if you're a fan of avant-garde or 70s doom rock/metal then you should at least check it out for it's magnum opus, "The Sign of Death", which'll do almost any old Sabbath or Pentagram lover good.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Keep of Kalessin - Kolossus (2008)

Keep of Kalessin have been around since 1993 but it wasn't until 2003 with the release of the Reclaim EP that anyone took notice of them. While Reclaim is a great Death/Black Metal hybrid featuring both Attila Csihar (vocals) and Frost (drums), the true (in my opinion) line-up of Keep of Kalessin didn't come about until 2006 when Thebon (vocals), Wizziac (Bass), Vyl (Drums) and founding member Obsidian C. (guitars) made Armada.

After the success of Armada it was hard to imagine how Keep of Kalessin could follow that album up, but after the release of Kolossus, it's not that hard.

The lyrics of the album continue the story from Armada which tell the story of how with the conquering king has decided to take on the Gods. These lyrics are once again sung by Thebon and he seems to have gained a wider vocal range than he did on Armada. It's not pure black metal screams, there are actually fairly few of those on the album, but the growling singing Thebon belts out is outstanding.

With this album Obsidian C. has added a few more progressive elements into the songs, a few slower sections with acoustic guitars and keyboards doing their thing, and a really neat acoustic intro to "Escape the Union". But his great technical guitar and compositional skills are still there, and they are still awesome. Obsidian C. has also kept up the level of production seen on Armada giving the album a crisp and clear sound that I prefer in my metal.

In the drumming department Vyl has blasted out some fast, precise, and powerful drum/blast that give this album it's biggest claim to being an actual black metal album. Wizziac provides the bass which is adequate but nothing stands out in my mind to make it anything but. [Note from Narian: "Since acquiring a new (read: good) sound system, I need to say that I was completely wrong. The bass on this album is mixed into the chaos formed by Obsidain's guitars and Vyl's drumming really nicely, and acts as a great backbone to the songs."]

Overall, I loved this album and I think that it is one of my favourite of 2008. Every song had something interesting, be it a riff, a section of singing/lyrics, or a beat from the drums, that kept me coming back again or again. Not to mention that I really love this unique style of black metal Keep of Kalessin have cultivated - fast, epic, good production and great varied vocals - and hearing that Obsidian C. and the guys had enough material written for another new album in 2009 has made me giddier than a prepubescent schoolgirl at a Backstreet Boys concert.

Verdict: Epic Win [10/10] (My name is equal to that of destruction.)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Hidden Silence - Black Hearted Spiritual (2008)

I don't hear many melodic death metal bands from Malaysia, so I was rather pleasantly surprised by this album. This young act seamlessly combines a thrash influence with the 'atmosphere' of melodic or symphonic death metal and the result is a set of pretty kick ass tracks. I honestly liked this album.

"Night of the Living Terror" opens with an almost black metal feel, and then busts out into an excellent thrash/speed metal riff, later picking up the pace into a driving, keyboard-laden melodic death pace. The song also has some nice melodies near the bridge, and more thrashing riffs. "Necromenicide" has a dense, razor's edge to the guitars, which thrash and groove beneath Deadzid's evil death metal growl. "Blood World" has a more somber, melodic death metal feel. "Desperate Dog" has a classic NWOBHM riff sequence to it, really excellent, amidst some thrashing bits. "Cast Away" is an instrumental with some keyboards and acoustics, but it's a nice set up for the wonderful "Final Destination". The title track is perhaps the weakest here since it has a different production which is far more primitive, perhaps it is live?

The mix is quite nice, the songs reverberate and feel very epic, whether that was intentional or not matters little, it makes the album sound refreshing and different. The riffs are simple and catchy throughout, and the leads and melodies are always tasteful and memorable where they appear. If you're looking for more melodic death but are fed up with the Swedish bred style, this is a nice alternative, even if it's not as complex. Excited to hear more.

Verdict: Win [8/10]

Clairvoyants - Word to the Wise (2009)

This is the evolution of an Iron Maiden cover band, and you can hear the heavy influence in the vocals and riffs (and obviously the band name), but regardless these Italians have whipped up a pretty good debut album of originals. Melodic power metal with a very classic appeal, also this is a guitar band, you won't hear orchestration on this.

The strength of the album lies in its melodic rockers, like the first track "Journey Through the Stars", an uplifting and upbeat song fueled by glistening melodic guitars over central NWOBHM influenced riffs. The guitars keep it simple but they select their chords well, the bass is really quite good and audible here in the mix too. Some of the other great tunes here include "The Lone" and "Sheer Hate". The band does have a lot of ballad-like fare, and I didn't enjoy it as much. For instance, the piano & vocal track "Closure", while peaceful, was a little boring. The album is closed by a cover of "Hallowed be Thy Name", which isn't bad.

I doubt Clairvoyants are going to create a large wave in the power/classic metal scene, but to their credit they deliver a well-mixed, slick sounding album with some good melodies and very obvious talent. This is a good album and I can definitely appreciate the bands like this that stick to their guitars rather than slathering everything in keyboards all the time. Italy has always had a strong scene of bands who play classic speed & power metal with no shame, and when it works, as it does on this debut, it's a pleasure to hear.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Friday, December 26, 2008

Morlok - Escape From This Womb EP (2008)

The French death metal scene continues to explode, showering us with giblets of gory delight. Morlok is a new band, this is their debut EP, and they produce a sickly style of brutal death which is not much like the more hook-laden style of many of their countrymen. It is, however, extremely guttural and feels like the exhumed, stinking corpse of old school death and grind.

The sound on this EP is really raw, and really deep. The guitars grind so low that it reminds me of Napalm Death around the year 1990. The riffs are total old school grinding evil mayhem, and that's really all there is to this. "Sleepless Suffering" and "Escape from this Womb" were the tracks I enjoyed most. They also do some nice intro/ambient pieces like "The Hells Fire Pit Descent".

It's not a great EP, but it's definitely the start of something. Unabashedly brutal, they may appeal to fans of the early death metal scene where the raw and fearsome reigned. I'm thinking of bands like Napalm Death, Repulsion, Incantation, Cyanide, old Sepultura, etc. The sound they create is truly repulsive and disgusting.

Verdict: Indifference [6/10]

Blasphemer - On the Inexistence of God (2008)

It's not often that I am happy to have a headache after listening to a death metal album, but this is one of those cases. Italy's Blasphemer have concocted a dizzying display of misanthropic carnage, 10 tracks of nutty brutal death metal.

The sound here is not uncommon, extremely tense and brutal with blinding riffs battering you in the face with a ballpeen hammer at any given second. This band is fucking FAST. The bass pops along like Bootsy Collins playing at a million notes per second, you can barely even comprehend what the fuck is going on until you settle into its hyperactive pace. The first offense is "Kuru - Laughing Death" which is aptly named since I feel like a pair of grim reapers are having a joint and looking down on me as i'm being torn limb from limb by some organic flesh pit of hell. "Compulsive Obliteration" must sum up exactly how Blasphemer felt when they decided to record this album, because there will certainly not be much left of any listener to use as forensic evidence. "IX Son" also slays, and then you get to...well, a little surprise to introduce "The Killing Dogma". I'll leave it there. The rest of the album is equally destructive, in particular I'd point out "Nihilist Preachers of Death" and "Dining Upon the Unburied" as choice executions.

Stylistically this doesn't diverge much from the rest of the hyper tense brutal death metal scene worldwide, but Blasphemer delivers so much bang for the buck that it's difficult not to become immediately immersed in the paranoid frenzy they create. The vocals are jesus fuck brutal, the instruments move along so fast that you can do little but feel horror as you bob your neck to each little nook and cranny among the labyrinth of notes they create. There may be a few weaker riffs amongst the plentitude here, but you will be so fucking scared you will barely notice. If you like that new Deeds of Flesh disc, or bands like Spawn of Possession, then check this out too.

Devastation on disc.

Verdict: Win [8/10]

Ablaze in Hatred - The Quietude Plains (2009)

Oh, to evoke beautiful's not the easiest thing to do for a metal band, but Finland's Ablaze in Hatred is one that certainly can. Slow, churning, and graceful, their sophomore album consists of seven sorrowful tracks. Boasting members of Searing Meadow and Fall of the Leafe, they are no strangers to the use of the somber melody, and here The Quietude Plains excels.

It's not long before the album finds its pace. "A Walk Through the Silence" is a beautiful track to open the album, setting a framework of Mika Ikonen's rueful growling, the layers of light keyboard which conjure grace behind the rhythms guitar. There are also subtle female vocals here but they serve as more of an ethereal accompaniment than some gimpy fairy metal garbage. The end of the song is dense and atmospheric to set up "Perfection of Waves", super slow and sad and wonderful. "The Wandering Path" is another very slow, and bluesy bit of gothic, melodic doom. Other reapers of despair include "My Dearest End" and "Beyond the Trails of Torment". If you're all in for this style, there really isn't a weak moment on the entire record.

Fans of melodic yet crushing doom such as Shape of Despair, Isole, October Tide, earlier Amorphis, and earlier Paradise Lost will find much to love here. I was thoroughly engrossed for the entire playtime. Each track I could close my eyes and conjure some nostalgic scene of depression or beauty and I think you will too. Highly recommended.

Verdict: Win [8.5/10]

Eclipse Eternal - Ubermensch: Evolution Beyond the Species (2008)

Canada's epic black metal hordes return to guide the wolves by fire and iron through the masses of weakling Christian sheep. This is the second full length from Eclipse Eternal, who dabble in the necromancy and Nietzsche of the human ego. Musically they exist on the heavier spectrum of 'symphonic' black metal. Atmospheric keyboards are used quite heavily but only to augment the barbaric rhythms and snarls. The result is quite powerful.

The sacrifice begins with "Nihilistic Contempt for Optimism", the sample of a girl speaking works quite nicely over their driving setup, which recalled some of the simpler symphonic stuff you might hear on In the Nightside Eclipse or Stormblast. "The Dragon Has Come to Blot Out the Stars" is not just an awesome song title, but a pretty menacing song overall. Other highlights include "A Knife to the Throat of Life" with its savage slower thrash riff opening eclipsing into keyboards and growls. "7 Billion Dead and Hung" is ominous with its atmospheric intro, building percussion and then the inevitable black metal explosion. "Into Black Abyss" is another dark delight, and it has some nice piano work.

This isn't the most original band, and to be honest they don't come up with a great many catchy riffs. But they carry this style well, the sound of the crunching guitars and synthesizers dominate while the barbaric drumming echoes about, it truly sounds like the cover of the album looks. I like the nihilistic philosophical approach to black metal, and I like that it is paired up with such an 'epic' and symphonic feel. I'd hate to compare them to bands like Dimmu Borgir because they're not quite as technical, but I did feel some vibes of earlier Dimmu as well as the above mentioned Emperor. Ubermensch is a good album, and quite entertaining, if not perfect, and I'd recommend it to fans of symphonic black metal without the excess gothic cheese. For as atmospheric as it is, the album IS in fact 'grim', the highest compliment one can attain.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Silverlane - My Inner Demon (2009)

Germany has long been the heart of the melodic power metal scene, in particular the type of anthem heavy style Silverlane produces on this sophomore effort. As an example of that genre, the album shines, boasting a great studio sound, tight musicianship, and not a song goes by without some catchy melody. I'm almost certain this will appeal to fans of earlier Edguy, Freedom Call, and Heavenly.

The album starts with the rapid fire melodic hammering of "Wings of Eternity", the perfect opener since it pretty much sums up the spirit the band is striving for with this album. "Miracle" is more of a mid paced rocker with good use of backing vocals and the keyboards also deliver here. That's another point about Silverlane, Dodo's keyboards always fit the music with just the right amount of pomp and circumstance, never drowning out the guitars but complementing them. Some of the other choice moments on the album are "The Flight of Icarus" and "Full Moon", and "The Dark Storm" is extremely catchy as well.

There is nothing truly negative to say about this album. They know the style they are going for damn well and achieve it. I am usually underwhelmed by the lack of ambition in the lyrics and song titles with this sort of band, and Silverlane is no exception. Several of the song titles on the album you've already seen from dozens of bands, but this is a minor quip. At first I wasn't sure if I liked Ecki Singer's vocals at first, but they grew on me and as you'll hear he's got quite a range, suitable for the Germanic anthem style and with hints of classics like Dickinson.

Bottom line is if you like your melodic power metal that is heavily hooky and perhaps a little shallow in the lyrics, Silverlane will not disappoint. They've got their rockers and ballads in check, and the album sounds great. If you long for what Edguy USED to sound like, before they decided to ride the suckwagon, then Silverlane will fill that void.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Yes - Close to the Edge (1972)

The so-called progressive rock movement, which flourished in the early 1970s and has undergone somewhat of a revival in the past decade, was intended to secure for the rock idiom the technical excellence, compositional depth and expressive subtlety then only belonging to jazz and classical music. In this movement, many groups have achieved great originality, depth and beauty in their short-form works. However, only a few, notably among them a group called Yes, ever reached the compositional cohesion and economy of means for which classical composers are known – an impressive feat, considering much of their material was written collectively rather than by a single composer.

Over the past four decades, Yes have made excellent recordings in various styles, but the group’s greatest music was recorded in the early 1970s, especially by their classic lineup of Jon Anderson on vocals, Rick Wakeman on keyboards, Steve Howe on guitar, Chris Squire on bass and the indispensible Bill Bruford (who also played with superb prog-rock bands Genesis and King Crimson) on drums. Of these classic albums, the best for a beginner to start with may be their breakthrough, Fragile, but adventurous ears have no excuse not to delve deeply into the group’s subsequent and greatest album, Close to the Edge.

Deeply uplifting and musically fascinating, Close to the Edge is the ideal example of Yes’s long-form compositional integrity. The title track, in particular, demonstrates the group’s unique way of constructing themes and achieving expressive subtlety. One of Yes’s interesting compositional techniques is the combination of seemingly unrelated melodic and rhythmic parts, often in different time signatures, which somehow form a highly musical whole. An important way in which themes are developed is via subtle and gradual changes not only in harmony but in the underlying rhythm as well. From the chaotic, gnarly Mahavishnu Orchestra-like introductory segment to the joyous conclusion of the eighteen-minute piece, melodies are transformed over constantly mutating riffs and grooves, and yet the parts are more cohesive than one often finds in a three-minute pop song.

While this piece crowns the album in terms of sheer compositional achievement, the other two ten-minute-long songs are equally beautiful. “And You and I” alternates between sounds of pastoral and majestic bliss, while “Siberian Khatru” expresses the profound playfulness and joyous gravitas of the wilderness; in both, Jon Anderson’s ethereal voice sings beautifully written lyrics.

Close to the Edge represents what this writer believes to be the artistic apex of progressive rock. The album not only meets but surpasses the unique ambitions of the movement, rivaling its own eclectic influences in depth and genius. It contains some of the most uplifting music ever written, music which can be listened to countless times without ever being exhausted of meaning. And it is one of those works which becomes greater, not worse, when viewed in the context of great musical traditions.

Verdict: Epic Win (10/10)

The Ugly - Slaves to the Decay (2008)

Sweden's Ugly offer a debut of hostile black metal with an excellent mix and blazing infernal energy, which should appeal to fans of the extreme Norse scene (1349, Marduk, etc) as well as countrymen like Lord Belial, The Legion, early Dissection, and Sacramentum. Most importantly, they understand the power of adorning each track with quality riffing to mark them as distinct yet unified pieces of a whole.

The chaos begins at "Seven Heads, Ten Horns" with a cavalcade of dark, shimmering riffs, socio-occultist lyricism and barbaric drumming. Then they bust into the grinding "Divide et Impera", a smorgasboard of evil guitars and fast as fuck mentality across a sweeping nightmarescape. "Crooked Serpent Salvation" starts off with some slower paced, vile guitars before fusing back into the blasterpiece. The rest of the album retains consistency, with some of my choice tracks being "Throne of Grief", the sadistically awesome "Hierarchy of the Undead", and the black anthem "Death Beyond Flag or Uniform". The way they combine lyrics of horror, sacrilege, and history awards them a depth not always common to this style.

Once more, the mix is quite fantastic here. There isn't quite enough bass for me in the mix, but it doesn't hinder the overall sound. The drums and guitars just sound intense, and Ingemar Gustfsson's vocals spit just enough of their vitriol to justify their loud presence. This is yet another devastating album of Swedish black metal in their long and fine tradition, and worth a purchase for any fan of the bands I mentioned above. Well executed.

Verdict: Win [8/10]

Human Filleted - Packaged Human Meat (2008)

This is a short album recorded in 2005 which has recently seen release. It should be noted that the production is almost rehearsal quality, yet I kind of enjoyed it anyway. Human Filleted is a brutal death metal band from Indiana, and they have all the traits common in extreme USDM: highly guttural vocals, a LOT of chugging breakdown parts, and blasting. Fortunately, they write lots of good quality riffs which exhibit a truly old school death metal reminiscent of Cannibal Corpse, Malevolent Creation and Death.

All the songs have decent riffs, in particular I enjoyed "Partial Decapitation" and "Remembering How She Bled", which has an absolutely intense breakdown death metal riff. It's one of those riffs where you wish you had come up with it, it's so damn obvious and cool. The material is consistent throughout. So my main complaint here lies in the's just barely audible, and that may only be my imagination. Seriously, with a good bass sound and quality studio production, this would be excellent. As it stands, it sounds more like a live set or rehearsal demo. The band does have another, newer release Hideous Sculptures of the Dead, and having heard some of the tracks, it does sound quite a lot better.

When the smoke clears and freeze dry truck arrives, Packaged Human Meat is a short album with some decent, brutal death metal songs that would be far more effective if re-recorded. The band certainly has the chops and the material to impress gore metal fans, so I'm eager to hear other material. Two of the members of this band are also in Catatonic Atrocity, watch for a review of their debut soon on these pages.

Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10]

Satan's Almighty Penis - Thy Foulness Cum EP (2008)

Witness the edification of the unholy! Three blasphemous tracks of disheveled aural holocaust channeled into loosely structured black metal with streaks of noise and ambiance. This is both the best and worst thing you will hear this Christmas. And there has been no greater evidence that Iowa, is in fact, the gateway to Hell. And you thought it was Las Vegas!

The EP opens with the devastating "Sacrifyx", bludgeoning busts of buzzsaw blade chords and speed lines intermixed with the horrific vocals of Syntax Function A. "Leper Apocalypse" is more metal in the face, though the noise still flows around the driving daemonic riffs and tortured screaming. This is serious fucking business:

O rich man in his tower
The holy bastard in a church
Starving wretch in his hovel
In death, all men are equal

The third and final track, almost four minutes in actual length, is "Scarred With Human Life", which boasts a different production, and is more of a straight black metal tune, and a decent, primal one at that. This third track does break into a somber, doom-like phase which is glorious like the death of all humanity.

This is actually a pretty enjoyable EP if you have less than 10 minutes to kill and you want to listen to a foul abberation of black metal and noise, which is both sadistic and entertaining. Having no exposure to their previous full-length Into the Cunt of Chaos, I can't draw any comparisons. Apparently this was recorded back in 2006. Hail Iowa. And hail Satan's demonhood.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Storming Darkness - Sin-Thesis (2008)

Desolate and haunting black metal from Russia, this is yet another impressive debut full-length I've heard of late. They've got a fairly straight approach to their style, yet the guitars create the perfect level of discord and sheen to create a real depth of darkness.

The album begins with the barbaric "V & R/Supreme Murdered Moral", a wasteland of thundering drums and dissonant, evil rhythms, furious and unforgiving. "Weaved of Worms" is a sinister, driving track, but with just a few shifts of bass and chords it takes on a cruel and wondrous atmosphere. "Awakening in Sin" begins with a killer old school black metal riff, somewhat melodic but still filthy. Other highlights of the album include the menacing "Black Night of Soul/Eschatological Hallucinations", the slow instrumental black/doom of "Necrofaith Song/Voiceless Decadence" and the ripping "Black Rapture and Furious Hunger of Darkness", which would be a good way to describe this whole album. Some of the dissonant riffing textures here almost struck me as a black metal Voivod.

I will warn that those outside the realm of black metal purism might find this album a tad monotonous, it does use a lot of similar blast pace in many of the songs, but then that is one of the reasons I enjoyed it. It's fast and hypnotic, a true black metal record in which one can lose oneself thinking of all the negative imagery it conjures. That it also has some great, subtle riffing textures is what catapults far beyond average. These guys are intelligent and know exactly what they're doing, they can immerse you with a simple twist of notes. The result is pretty devastating, perhaps not among the best of the year but certainly worth tracking down. An excellent debut.

Verdict: Win [8/10]

SCID - Injected (2008)

Unmatched Brutality has found itself quite a gem here from this German duo on their debut. Mixing the guttural vocals akin to what you might find in the brutal USDM scene with simpler, catchy and grinding guitars reminiscent of melodic Swedish death metal from its very early days of inception, unrelenting blast beats and gore soaked fury, SCID rarely lets up here, and even when they do, it's pretty damn good.

"Born to Devour" blazes forth after a brief intro, into a labyrinth of winding, melodic and dark old school European death metal riffing. "Purulent Bloodline" starts with a chug off to a blast beat, then busts into a killer Carcass style riff. "Solitary State" starts off with some melody, before unleashing its mid paced destruction. "Exit: Hate" operates on some wild chord progressions. "Who is to Blame" is once again very catchy with its melodic yet menacing riffs. They also cover Rage Against the Machine's "Killing in the Name" but have renamed it "Drilling in the Brain". A bizarre selection, truly, and while it may evoke a laugh or two it's not as fun as their originals. Fortunately, there are more of these, like "Voracious" and the slower "Final Redemption" to close off the album.

The guitars, drums and vocals sound great, though I wish the bass could have a bit more of a presence, but at least it's there. This is a promising debut album from a band that can take 'melodic', quality death metal riffing and actually keep the atmosphere tense and brutal. You won't find your typical annoying chug-chug-blast formula on this album, though they are capable of doing so they choose to actually write energetic and memorable riffs and I for one appreciate this approach. The cover song is pretty weak, but don't let it stop you from enjoying the rest!

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]

Ghast - May the Curse Bind (2008)

I'm always impressed with bands that manage to take an established sound like black metal, flay it to its bare roots and conjure an album of unspeakable evil and hostility. UK 3-piece Ghast have managed to do just this on their debut, with five great tracks of sludge mired black metal which occasionally lapse into powerful doom.

The guitars and bass are thickly mixed, giving the album a feeling of murk and sludge which complement the tortured vocals. The album opens with the ungodly warning of "Crawl, Blighted and Afraid" which should be the response of any sane individual upon first hearing this album. I am not such a sane individual, but I admit the thought at least crossed my mind, especially when the blasting died down into a thick wall of doom syrup. "Give Your Wrists" starts out slow, moving along at a truly doomed gait but accented with some very creepy speed picking guitars. A superb and devastating track. "Evoke Spiritless Hell" is once again fast, with a venomous vibe akin to early Mayhem, that sort of punk-fueled black riffing with a death metal influence. Yet, the song is highly atmospheric and solemn. "Pale Robe" is a crawling crusher weighted down in an unhealthy level of despair. In other words, beautiful. "Hexed Under Moon" closes the album with a twilit miasma of rushing black metal discord, like a knife shining under a killing moon. It then proceeds to break into the most amazing riffing on the album, a twisting hybrid of sludge bass and vile black metal riffing.

The sound here is phenomenal. Simple and raw but possessing a depth rarely heard for this style. It is the sound of waves of despair lapping at a cold shore of misanthropy. Yet as disturbing and grim as this album is, it's actually kind of catchy. Simply stated it's one of the best black AND doom metal debuts I've heard all year, and I am looking forward to a great many more.

Verdict: Epic Win [9/10]

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Aeon of Horus - The Embodiment of Darkness and Light (2008)

Australians Aeon of Horus have created an impressive debut in the field of progressive death metal, a balance of chops and musicianship and the restraint required in concocting tight, focused tracks. Though this is a band of ability who can unleash polyrhythms and arpeggios when desired, they never wank off with displays of unnecessary technical wizardry. I often detect a slight math metal influence in the songs, in particular the chugging sections, which reminded me of Meshuggah, but these are the exception and not the rule.

The album opens with "3C321", a collection of winding riffs, arpeggios and breakdowns which gets really interesting at its mid point with some of the faster paced riffs and the nice atmospheric break with the synthesizer and guitar lead. While decent, this is nowhere near the best on the album, as you'll notice soon enough when you hear the following "Conquering the Speed of Light", which features some killer speed/thrash riffs intertwined among the discordant breakdowns. "The Embodiment Part One: Of Darkness" features some killer drumming and a tense but reflective atmosphere, accented by some tasteful synth work. "Part Two" is just as good, if even busier, and has some of the better 'math' breakdowns on the recording. "The Pillars" is a nice acoustic track. The rest of the album is pretty consistent, with "Arrogantly Opposing Reality" and "As the Earth Shatters" also among my favorite tracks on the album.

The sound here is very direct...nice and clean so you can capture every note on the album. The band are all impressive at their instruments, but as I mentioned before, it's their restraint and focus on creating adventurous, riff-by-riff compositions that makes this an album worth the time of any fan of technical and progressive death metal. The album's use of Egyptian mythos and cosmic lyrical themes are always interesting. The Embodiment of Darkness and Light is a well balanced attack, a very complete debut. It should see the band a good signing and some attention.

Verdict: Win [8/10]