Saturday, August 29, 2009

After All - Cult of Sin (2009)

Though new to my own ears, and possibly yours, After All is an established Belgian band with 20+ years and seven full length albums to their career. If their previous albums are as tight as this, I have to think it's a shame I didn't pick up on them sooner. Cult of Sin is a thrash metal album, largely, though the vocals of Piet Focroul have a vibe about them that recalls the dirtier European power metal vocals of Grave Digger, Excelsior, Paragon, and Piet from Iron Savior. They have a lot of character, and combined with the solid riffing in each of the 11 original tracks, they create a good album with some listening longevity.

The acoustic "Another False Prophecy" initiates the album, closing with some power/thrash guitars akin to Paradox. Once the chugging for "My Own Sacrifice" begins, you feel like you're about to hear the new Metallica. I'm serious, the riffing that opens the song sounds like something from Ride the Lightning. The verse and vocals change it up a little, with a slight melodeath feel to it and Focroul's distinct vocals. "Scars of My Actions" is a thrashing romp with excellent riffing and the perfect vocals. "Betrayed by the Gods" is a nice, slower thrasher with powerful grooves and a catchy bridge/chorus. "Devastation Done" uses some driving death metal rhythms and breakdowns for impact. The band's ability to mix diverse influences like this into a thrash core is what truly makes Cult of Sin a strong record. No two tracks sound quite a like, and all of them are memorable. "Embracing Eternity" and "Hollow State" are two more of the ragers. "Release" simply rules. The album ends with a cover of Dio's "Holy Diver", which has been covered far too many times and essentially a waste of space, but this is the only track I didn't care for. There are a number of guest musicians on the album, including Andy LaRocque, Joey Vera, Juan Garcia, and James Rivera.

Cult of Sin sounds down to earth, with powerful guitar crunch and excellent drumming. The bass takes a back seat to the rest of the band, but you'll still hear it plodding along. One of the more grounded and song-heavy thrash albums I've heard this year, it has provided me with more than enough reason to track down some of their earlier material. I definitely recommend this to any fan of quality thrash/power metal, nothing too showy but full of impressive hooks and a fairly original sound for the genre. It's the type of album that will stick with you for some time.

Verdict: Win [8.5/10]

Harbinger - Doom On You (2009)

Damn those Midwesterners for all their old school fun. Harbinger is a band comprised of members of Wastelander, Sauron and Wartorn. Doom On You is their debut, after a pair of demos back in 2005, and it's a bloody raw mess of 80s speed/power metal worship that feels over two decades late (and that's not a bad thing).

This is no slick German power metal recording, it's very filthy and at times the band feels like its about to fall apart at the seams, but in the best of ways. The sound they capture on this album is 'live'. Guitar squelch and tiny mistakes are just left there, and they give the album a lot of personality. The band is capable of both blistering, crunchy speed as in "Drivers to Hell", "Die For Metal - Live for Death", "Blood of Heroes", and the ability to slow down and rock the fuck out with "The Dark Ages" and "Black-Hearted Woman". Both sides evoke early 80s speed metal with aplomb. We're talking Walls of Jericho. Or the infant years of bands like Omen, Anvil, and Fates Warning.

The mix of the album is vibrant and live, these songs would not be hard to produce if the band showed up to your attic or garage and just plugged in. Crusty's vocals are just that....wild and crisp and crusty, he uses as much chutzpah and flair as he does lyrics to deliver home the truly old school experience. Doom On You isn't some instant classic of an album, but it's certainly enough to evoke nostalgia in those who remember the way it used to be done.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Bloody Lair - Vzestup Zla (2009)

When I think of Czech metal I tend to associate the country with its more avant-garde, superb black metal sect, the likes of Master's Hammer and the invincible Root. Bloody Lair are not quite at the level of these bands, but they offer an experience on this debut which can range from serene to painful and raw. There are some extremely mediocre moments on this album, in particular some of the sloppier, driving black metal sections. There are also others where the band begins to shape itself into something more.

The title track (translation: "The Rise of Evil") opens with angelic ambience, a sad choir of cherubim that contains a dark, mysterious longing to it. After a moment or so, the band opens with a drag of a riff that never goes anywhere. Though I like the slathering vocals of Necronuss, the rhythms are rather dull throughout. "Rasa Ohně" sets up with another mid-paced, warlike black metal rhythm, and the old school thrash/black bridge does little to uplift the track. The same goes for "Nastává Válka", and though the drums are a lot softer than the boxy guitars, the riffing seems a little off time. "Temné Stíny" is slow and atmospheric, I thought this song was a huge improvement with the dark melody that accompanies the verse. "Prokletí Krve" starts off alright, with an opening reminiscent of Bolt Thrower, but then descends into some boring rhythms. The doomed melancholy of "Yperit" makes it another of the best songs on the album.

Vzestup Zla sounds crunchy, raw and appealing, I do like the dense garage-like sound the band produces. The guitars and vocals feel considerably louder than the drums, and the bass feels like a blower and an afterthought. But aside from 1-2 half-decent tracks, there is little I would return to on this album. Recommended only for die hard fans of the more brutal Czech black scene. The band reminds one of Maniac Butcher but not as fun.

Verdict: Indifference [5/10]

Cristalys - Surémincence (2009)

Though I listen to a great many French bands, I am not accustomed to what Cristalys have produced with their debut album. Epic black metal: melodic, glorious and with a tone that really feels as if its being played at you from the mountaintop. The riffs are big, the synthesizers dense, and the chorus vocals and chants give the production an airy feel.

"Hymne" is a great intro, pianos and ambience, as if from some 80s fantasy film, accompanied by excellent, angry chorus vocals. Once they lead into the majestic, striding chords of "Gardiens & Conquérants", you can tell you're into a band that takes its time with you. The track soars with its speed picking, war drum and vocal choirs. Some of the riffs follow pretty basic chord patterns, but the atmosphere provided refreshes them. "Gallus Malleus" begins with some rolling acoustics, but the song picks up with some folklike metal pomp and spurts of wild drumming and near-chaos. "Par Le Lys, Les Armes, La Bannière Et Le Sang" again uses a nice but brief acoustic section to intro a fist smashing epic landscape of melodic black grace. Ditto "Force & Honneur". Other highlights include the gloomy but glorious "Baise Ma Hache" and the catchy "Kaiser Barbarossa".

Surémincence sounds great because despite the bold, open space of its production it feels ever so slightly raw. This gives the rhythm guitars some impact yet never detracts from the leads. The vocals of Northail are pretty wild, expressive snarls and of course there are a great many choirs used in most of the songs. We've heard epic black metal many times, but there is something different about Cristalys. At times it reminds me of later Bathory, but the vocals are better. This is a solid debut with some excellent moments spread about, and I'd recommend it to friends of glorious yet savage black/folk.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]

Friday, August 28, 2009

Ekron Cult - Queen of the Luxury (2009)

How many bands do you hear every day from Paraguay? How many of those can channel pure, dawn of the 90s death metal filth into an entertaining, brutal and thoroughly disgusting record? The answer to that question is one. Ekron Cult.

Queen of the Luxury is not the type of album that will in any way appeal to fans of brutal, modern, well-produced assembly line death metal. This is completely fucking evil, obscure, and raw. At times, it even feels sloppy, but more for effect than for any incompetence on the part of the trio creating this noise: The Attacker, The Antagonist and the Vandalic (yes....). The doomy, atmospheric intonations of "Re-crucity the Bastard" intro the album before an explosion into disgusting, primal death metal. The Attacker's gutturals echo over the raging torrent of axes and drums, like a necromancer warning all those who would enter his sewer lair of their impending demise. "Rot" is like a viral, hustling track which feels part ritual sacrifice and part surfing on the blood and guts of your enemies. Title track "Queen of the Luxury" is just fucking barbaric, with sick sliding guitar lines and disturbing, rumbling bass. One of the best songs I have heard this year. Other amazing tunes include "Disciple of the Horned" and "The Ancient Bringers of Sin". The band also covers "Burst Command 'til War", the Sodom classic, and it sounds pretty good.

You child of a Virgin whore
Rotten to the spine
Your reign will be no more

Sadly, this appears to be ANOTHER posthumous near-masterpiece, as the band's Metal Archives listing has them as 'split up'. It doesn't get much better than this though, so if you are a fan of disgusting, primal old school death/thrash metal like old Incantation, old Sepultura, old Sodom, old Morbid Angel, or old Venom, then you owe it to yourself to acquire this. I realize Queen of the Luxury will appeal to....myself and perhaps a dozen other people on Earth, but do the rest even matter? Get out of the fucking mirror, stop looking at yourself, grow a moustache, grow some horns, and listen to Ekron Cult. You are going to Hell either way.

Verdict: Epic Win [9/10]
(you have never played their game)

[no links...this band is that cool]

The Freezing Fog - The Freezing Fog (2009)

The Freezing Fog is another of those bands who very successfully reach into the past (late 70s/early 80s NWOBHM) and yank forward a refreshing style amidst an overcrowded metal landscape. Though most would simply pigeonhole this band as another 'stoner' act, they are really so much more, because instead of rehashing the same five Black Sabbath/Deep Purple chords they write some pretty busy songs, all of which are composed well.

"In the Company of a Genius" wastes no time in setting a foundation of flowing, bluesy metal rhythms with both melody and power. This is like Advanced Stoner metal 101, imagine a more complex Kyuss or Nebula with a more melodic vocalist. The result = something that can impress more than just some washout deep in his papers and pipes, but the avid metal fan who fancies the old school sounds of bands like Angel Witch, Diamond Head, Tygers of Pan Tang, Praying Mantis, etc, but with that modern Queens of the Stone Age vibe. "The Dweller Upon the Threshold of Time" features further superb riffing, with some beautiful, burning stony rhythms below the bridge. Some other great songs are "Dusk Chorus Blues", "Ride Them Gently", and the closer excellent closer "Horizons" with its great speed metal riff breaks.

Vocalist Longsden has a very straightforward, clean tone which works for most of the album, but I would like to hear him change it up. The style reminds me of Sweden's Hellfueled, though Longsden doesn't venture into Ozzy vocal territory. Some grit and growl would really benefit this band, as the vocals do feel monotous in some of the tracks, but it's not that his voice is bad. As for the guitars and drumming, all excellent, and the bass flows through like a waterfall. This is a tight band, and I find their material far more interesting than stoner heroes like Queens of the Stone Age or Fu Manchu. Check them out if you want to hear a hybrid of the old and new.

Verdict: Win [8/10]

Grief of War - Worship (2009)

Grief of War is a good signing for Prosthetic Records, who I generally associate with terrible, overhyped metalcore bands. These Japanese thrashers have a sound very much like the German gods Kreator or Destruction, and Worship is a solid sophomore slugfest. They don't create anything original or highly memorable, but if you possess testorone and two fists, you should find yourself headbanging to at least 50% of this album.

After a few seconds of static, "Crack of Doom" erupts like a volcano of razor honed speed, with vocalist Manabu Hirose evoking both Schmier and the wilder vocals of American Bay Area thrashers. The track is pretty straightforward, with some breakdowns after the two minute mark. "Disorder" is a little better, with some rhythms reminiscent of Sepultura and D.R.I. "Captured Soul Eternity" picks up the pace, a charging, glorious thrasher not unlike Kreator in their prime. Other tracks of note include the perky "Built My Brain", the pissed off "Revolt" and my personal fave of the album, "Into the Void".

Worship has a top notch mix, the guitars bulky and brutal but capable of small snippets of melody. This is an angry band, they don't slow down much and they possess the same visceral, from-the-gut hatred that fuels Destruction. The leads are pretty average, but they occasionally (as in "Revolt") transcend the mundane for a few catchy moments. Though the band doesn't construct a lot of A-list riffing, the overall intensity of the album is consistent and I'd recommend anyone who wants to hear some thrash metal with 80s aesthetics and modern production.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]

Hackneyed - Burn After Reaping (2009)

Hackneyed is a young German death metal band who released their debut Death Prevails on Nuclear Blast last year. I completely missed that album, but here they are with the follow-up. Burn After Reaping is a groove oriented album, with both USDM and thrash influences, but it's fairly brutal and executed with competence. Though there are numerous generic chugging bits on the album, these are almost always used with some interesting results, a couple of off notes thrown here or there. This is far from a perfect release, but it is refreshing and energetic all the same.

The intro "Burn" is just some drumming, a few chugs and grunts, but the album really begins with "Finger on the Trigger", a bruiser with some Cannibal Corpse-like rhythms. Though the verse is pretty dull, the chorus breakdowns use some more interesting riffing, almost like a slow thrash. "Deatholution" features more of those double bass grooves interspersed with a good selection of chords for the pre-chorus. "Weed Flavoured Meat" has a thrashing bite to it with more of those Cannibal Corpse guitar fills that this band truly loves. There are 14 tracks on this album, so I'll just point out a few of the choice cuts: "Kingdom of Thoughts" is a dense melodic death metal track which uses a familiar but non-failing, climbing rhythm. "Home Meat Home" is just fucking sick, and I wish the rest of the album had lived up to this. Beefed up, aggressive death metal with thrashing hooks not unlike something from Heartwork, and of course...the breakdown. "Last Man on Earth" has some sweet slower riffs, and I like the vocal sample.

Burn After Reaping sounds very professional; it is, after all, a Nuclear Blast release. Since this is a young band, I hope the label puts some money into their investment because these guys definitely have loads of potential to arise as a figurehead for the rapidly expanding German death scene. I wasn't as impressed with this as Decapitated's Winds of Creation, but that's a tall order for a younger band. Hackneyed is worth checking out if you like riffy, well-composed death metal that doesn't eschew the pit parts for all the inevitable meatheads they will encounter at shows.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]

Mistur - Attende (2009)

Attende is the debut from a Norse band called Mistur, whose membership is drawn from another band called Sigtyr. I might add that Stian Bakketeig of Windir plays the lead guitars on this album, and that 'r' sounds great when preceded by just about any vowel, doesn't it? If you couldn't guess from the cover image, Mistur is a Viking/folk/black metal band, but they differ somewhat than the usual crop in that they include heavily symphonic elements in their music. This creates quite a powerful atmosphere and an album bordering on epic.

"Slaget" is the first longship to shore, opening with an orchestral swell before weaving a dense hammer of melodic black metal. The band is excellent at weaving minor melodies into the main riffing while a synthesizer shines against the backdrop like a killing moon. This song is certainly a winner, a worthy charge into battle. The fray continues with the slower, powerful symphonic doom chords that initiate "Svartsyn", soon eclipsed by the driving mid paced rhythms and the inevitable charge. "Armod" uses some nice pianos amidst its blazing verses, as does "Skuld". In fact the pianos are so prominent in these tracks that they can often create a gothic/Viking hybrid atmosphere, which is pretty rare in black metal. You feel like you're in some old haunted manor where the souls of Norse raiders were left to rot in the basement. It's creepy. The band's namesake "Mistur" is a glorious six minute instrumental which is actually one of the highlights on the disc. "Skoddefjellet" is from the band's 2005 demo, and holds up quite nicely, with winding melodies and lush atmospheric synths. The 13 minute closer is the title track "Attende", which opens with a lengthy, sad piano composition before creating more of the band's latent, powerful melodies, sorrowful windows into a lost age of honour, warfare and tears.

Attende benefits from a bold production that captures each note like a fly in amber. Though the keyboards are omnipresent, their presence is always welcome and well-constructed. Busy during the piano parts, but purely atmospheric outside of those sections. The riffs are simple and perfectly carry the driving, somber weight created by the keys. The lyrics are all Norse. Mistur is not your average Norse black metal band, but they've got a sound which should appeal to fans of anything from Windir and old Enslaved to Mactatus and Moonsorrow. A very good debut here, especially if you dig pianos in your midnight wanderings.

Verdict: Win [8/10]

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Thundra - Ignored by Fear (2009)

Thundra is a Viking metal band from Norway who have released two previous albums, featuring current and ex-members of bands like Evig Natt, Throne of Katarsis, Einherjer, and Enslaved. The style here is adventurous, traveling between Borknagar-style epic Viking black, snarled and soaring clean folk vocals, and a fairly prevalent infusion of both melodic and brutal death metal. The result is a competent album, with varied pacing, but like their first two efforts, I found myself losing interest quickly.

It's not for a lack of trying, and the album is interesting in how it can so quickly shift gears within the confines of a single track. "Storm Within" soars from brutal, explosive death metal to glorious melodic black hooks, later to transform into bluesy leads over atmospheric, clean guitars. "Formed by Power" surges with old school Scandinavian black/death glory, breaking for folk vocal chorus parts and uplifting, tranquil sections of slowed, churning rhythms and expressive lead work. "As I" opens with lower register piano into a blitz of grinding melodic death metal riffs, with a progressive structure winding through its myriad riffs. This was my favorite song on the album, reminiscent of Borknagar, Vintersorg, Yearning, and perhaps even Winds. I also liked the savage, mug swilling album closer "The Gate".

The production of Ignored by Fear is dense and covers for its diversity well. The guitars transform from chugging to epic flowing chords with no strain, the and battery of the drums is constant. Vocalist Steven Grindhaug has a hybrid black/death metal voice which reminds me of old Unleashed or even old Moonspell. The cleans are composed well as both narrative and soaring male chorus parts. Thundra is a solid band, one of the more diverse of the Viking/folk category. Ignored by Fear is tight and professional, but I just didn't find the majority of the songs memorable.

Verdict: Indifference [6/10]

Iron Age - The Sleeping Eye (2009)

Iron Age is a very interesting band out of Texas who create a titanic wall of old school speed/thrash riffing that often lapses into a hybrid of hardcore, sludge and doom. The band's debut album Constant Struggle was likened to the Cro-Mags, with good reason, but this sophomore effort transcends that, forging familiar elements into a unique experience, devastating and well worth a listen.

To begin with, the thrash riffs on the album have a familiar feel to them, they are mild variations on primal 80s thrash bands (in particular, Overkill, Cro-Mags, I also hear a little Cirith Ungol!). The mix is superb, the riffs are vibrant, loud and powerful, and the vocal delivery is both disgusting and pummeling, oozing over the vocals with pure visceral hatred. They are good enough to carry many riffs on the album which might not be so effective otherwise. Though much of the album is delivered in this mid to faster paced thrash style ("Sleeping Eye of the Watcher", "Dispossessed", "Arcana Pt. I" are all great examples), Iron Age is capable of a wider range of exploration. "A Younger Earth" is primal, slower doom/thrash which recalls D.B.C. "Materia Prima" is a fine ambient interlude. "The Way is Narrow" is a seven minute epic ranging from desolate doom to thrash.

What Iron Age lacks in complexity is made up for by the band's atmosphere and the excellent mix of the album. The lyrical blend of earthen and prehistoric themes elevates them beyond the dim entertainment of lesser 'retro thrash' bands playing old riffs and singing about garbage that we just don't care about. Iron Age will have an appeal to fans of thrash, crossover, and doom/sludge metal, and they are one of the cooler bands to ever attempt such an ungodly union. Also, the band has taste (they covered a Flower Travellin' Band track on The Way is Narrow single). Definitely one to check out.

Verdict: Win [8.5/10]

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

U.D.O. - Dominator (2009)

I have a lot of passion for Udo Dirkschneider. He is truly one of the elder statesmen of metal music today, and his commitment and ability to release album after album of consistent, catchy material is rare for someone so far into his career. That he manages to stay completely true to his roots in the legendary Accept is nothing shy of a miracle. His grating, air raid siren vocals have not grown tired after all these years, and let's face it, he is one of the very CREATORS of power metal. So much of it is molded in his image, and so much fails to live up to it.

None of this can excuse the horrible choice of cover art for this album. It is truly awful to behold, and worthy of a mass recall (and at least one termination of employment). But albums are fortunately more than just their cover art, and after a few listens, Dominator, his 12th solo album, does deliver. It picks up right where Mastercutor left off, and while it doesn't reach the height of that album, it features at least a half dozen excellent tracks. You will immediately recognize the mid paced hard rocking of "Dominator", "Infected" and "Speed Demon", they all sound like German Power Metal 101: The Accept Strain. But these are surprisingly not the strongest moments of the album. The throbbing, fist pumping "Black and White" revels in its true Priest-like glory. "Heavy Metal Heaven" opens with an excellent percussive section, I simply melt when I think how amazing this song would be at some outdoors arena festival. "Doom Ride" and "Stillness of Time" are glorious, the latter again a fist shaking anthem with lighter accompaniment. "Devil's Rendezvous" straddles the line between blues, power metal and polka folk, quite a unique song for U.D.O., and fun.

As usual, the man's voice sounds amazing. It has lost none of luster, though few of the songs have him wailing at full power. As usual, the lineup features veterans and rockers from the European scene, including Stefan Kaufmann (Accept) on guitar. The mix is clean and top flight. Like any U.D.O. album, the appeal will be limited for spastic youths hellbent on noodly power metal like Dragonforce or Rhapsody. But if you enjoy the pure strain of German perfection, as only bands like Accept, Grave Digger, Primal Fear, Helloween, Blind Guardian, Rage and UDO have delivered these many'll fit right in. It's not one of his best records ever, but it has enough good moments to keep me entertained until the next. Just don't look at the cover.

Verdict: Win [8/10]

District 9 (2009)

Recent years have seen quite the horrific drought in decent science fiction films. In an age where the rape of childhood IP's like the big screen adaptation tripe of Transformers and G.I.Joe: The Rise of Cobra (okay, okay, they both always sucked) top the box office, my assumption is that genre fans, both core and peripheral moviegoers have simply given up on quality, content to feed their complacency with a large popcorn and coo coo the abundance of soulless, computer animated special effects. EXPWOSIONS FTW!

From what I read of its origins, and saw through the trailer and viral marketing, District 9 promised something a little different. Perhaps a more visceral Alien Nation. Or perhaps another abortion of a documentary-style sci-fi flick like Cloverfield. I wound up impressed with many of the elements and decisions made for this film, but overall I was somewhat underwhelmed.


The film is essentially a fleshed out feature length modification of Blomkamp's Alive in Joburg short from a few years back. Alien refugees (I assume) have found their way into Earth's atmosphere, over Johannesburg, and have been kenneled off into a slum for both their own protection and that of humanity. The first 15 or so minutes of the film are told through a series of newsclips and interviews that hustle us into the story of Wikus Van De Merwe, an employee of MNU (Multi-National United, the 'evil corporation of the story'...insert eyerolls here) who becomes an important figure when something goes wrong during an attempt to evict the aliens to a new campsite.

The aliens, referred to as 'prawn' for their dirty habits of 'bottom feeding' and collecting garbage and food (they look like a hybrid of upright locust and squid), are interesting. They speak like droids in Star Wars, they eat rubber and cats' food, and have very little sense for personal property (putting them at odds with humanity). They are both vulnerable and dangerous, susceptible to anything that kills a human, but their chitinous limbs can detach a person's arm or head easily enough. The 'prawn' have been designed well, with fluid, consistent animation and plenty of character.

Unfortunately, the documentary-style newsreel tone to the film is soon abandoned in favor of a fairly by-the-numbers sci-fi action film. There is a lot of gun porn here, it seems Neill Blomkamp and Peter Jackson's involvement in the Halo franchise has translated into all manner of alien weaponry you'd find in the latest FPS. The violence is visceral and power packed, lots of exploding peoples, and they saw fit to throw in some fan service to all the mech fans in the audience, with a powered armor suit that puts all of Michael Bay's nonsense to shame. The film moves quickly and the charisma of its lead Sharlto Copley was enough to keep me entertained until the finale, but I can't help but feel disappointed by what this COULD have been: a full fledged science fiction mockumentary with impressive special effects that fully immerse the viewer.

As soon as the film transformed into The Fugitive with aliens, I found myself mindlessly awaiting the next big explosion and not caring about the characters. The film has numerous McGuffins and science fiction cliches which probably could have been avoided. Tractors beams, miracle elixirs that can both power up a starship and transform DNA, and the aforementioned gun porn do little to advance the story of social alien interaction and the broader rammifications on the population of Earth to know we are not alone in the universe. Seriously...this could have been much more than 'evil corporation wants to experiment and steal bio-technology to change the course of warfare for the highest bidder'. We've seen this plot a thousand fucking times. Even the Alien films had this plot when you think about Bishop, etc. The evil soulless corporations are getting a little tired. It's a shame District 9 had to go there.

Despite my disappointment at taking the easy way out, there are still numerous positive qualities to District 9 that should be noted. Though the placement of the story draws an obvious parallel to apartheid, it's never shoved down your throat. There are villains of all colors in this film. In addition to the generic 'blah blah' evil white men with shaved heads, you have the Nigerian vodoun criminals who think they can devour the aliens to gain their powers. Even the aliens themselves seems shady as they keep numerous facts from the humans (one of which, had they brought it up earlier, might have spared all the conflict and had them sent packing a decade or so before the events of the film). The special effects here were simply amazing, I never felt they went overboard or became so blurred that I couldn't follow the action on screen. The alien mothership was ominous and incredible, the alien weaponry (though very video game) was fulfilling when discharged, the score was passable, and the sound effects bombastic. Blomkamp was wise to use a South African cast for the film, it lent an authenticity that would have been immediately lost through the use of big name Hollywood stars.

District 9 was an enjoyable film for a single serving, but it's not one I will return to, as there is nothing interesting enough for me to want to see again. The mech suit was slick, but not much fun against stupid mercenaries who employ standard ordnance and motor vehicles instead of running in the face of obviously superior firepower (which they would have done in any realistic situation, and since this film's strength was its realistic take on the alien quarantine...yeah, what the hell). Though older, dated and often a bit cheesy, Alien Nation had a stronger storyline and offered a better glimpse into the cohabitation of humans and alien refugees. Still, this film was one of the best of its genre to release in some time. I hope Blomkamp's competence and special effects can be applied to a more interesting story in the future.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Monday, August 24, 2009

Korgonthurus - Marras (2009)

Throughout the near decade of its existence, Korgonthurus has released a number of demos and EPs, but Marras is the first stab at a proper full-length. This is a project involving Corvus of the mighty Horna, and stylistically there are similarities to another Horna project, Shatraug's crushing, unforgettable Mortualia. The tones here are a bit darker and dare I say denser than that other project, but I wasn't quite as destroyed by the end.

Marras features two tracks clocking in at nearly 40 minutes, and each is a slow, simplistic piece, using repetitious and familiar riffing to lull the listener into a hopeless, meandering despair. "Marraskyyneleet" is the longer of the two tracks, over 22 minutes, and the more hypnotic. Corvus creates a bloodied, desolate snarl that meshes wonderfully with the very primal tones. The band does take a pause for some sparse, psychedelic clean tones half way through the track. "Mustan Usvan Kohdussa" is perhaps the more eerie of the songs, conjuring a wall of tones and shimmering, sorrowful riffs. The haunting, ringing chords will continue to absorb you for some time.

Korgonthurus makes the most of a barebones, honest mix. The guitars are raw and noisy but through this they convey much of the emotional power. Drums are tinny and just right, the bass does what it needs to, and Corvus creates a psychotic atmosphere whether he's using his Horna style vocals or the more talky, creepy expressions as in "Mustan Usvan Kohdussa". I'm not sure of the album's potential appeal to a wide range of black metal fans, but those that appreciate the desolate, the stripped down and penetrating, no-frills melancholy should give it a spin.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Old Betrayer - Clamors of the Infernal Beast EP (2009)

I don't hear Colombian black metal every day, but a few of the bands have made their mark (Inquisition, for example) and garnered international notice. Old Betrayer is a more recent band, having released only one demo before this, but they have a fun sound.

Clamors of the Infernal Beast is an EP with four tracks of occult black metal mired in a heavily thrash influence. The material has a lot more in common with the roots black metal (Venom, Mercyful Fate, Bathory) than the pure, grim sounds of Northern Europe. Still, it has a pretty raw jamroom vibe to its production which places it in the 90s nostalgic zone. The title track is fast and raw and mean. "The Force of Cruelty Madness" is a slower slice which picks up near the middle. "Liberación" weaves some crisp, mid paced thrash into grim melodic black metal. "Forged by the Hate of Vengeance" is another thrasher with vocalist 'Black Horde's snarling tongue at its finest on the EP.

Old Betrayer isn't going to impress a lot of people, but if you long for the simpler days of black metal when things were honest, occult and pure evil, and big budget production is not your cup of tea, then I think you'll have fun with this. The band delivers solid spite, with a truly grimy thrash influence (most of the members double in a thrash band called Beer Attack).

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Spawn - The Wicked Reincarnation (2009)

As further proof of Germany's evolution into a death metal contender, I offer you the third album from Spawn, a chugging, winding blitzkrieg of pit punishment with nary a dull blade among its implements. The Wicked Reincarnation is neither groundbreaking nor clever, but it is a brutal and effective enough use of 45 minutes.

After a horror-like intro featuring an Edmund Burke quote (it's a little cheesy), you are thrust head first into the spine shattering brick and mortar grooves of "One Presence of Terror", which shortly explode into a faster pace. I can hear a wide variety of good influences in this band: Bolt Thrower, Suffocation, Asphyx and Pestilence to name a few. There is enough modern brutality to sate the slam sect, yet a total old school core to the band's myriad of punishing rhythms. "Under the Blackest Sky" uses a more subtle shuffling of vile mutes, carnal melodies and straight blasting. Other noteworthy tracks on this album include the dynamic "Nothing Than to Kill", the desolate and lengthy "When the Crows Return", and the crushing "Friendly Fire".

The album has an excellent mix which anchors the monstrous, bleeding edge of the guitars. Though the vocals are the expected array of growls and grunts, they are delivered with fervor here, loud and ominous and disgusting. Death metal is a pretty broad field, with many thousands of bands churning out material. The Wicked Reincarnation may not be a top notch album in terms of songwriting, but it does deliver the goods for those seeking simpler, brutal death metal with a balance of grooves and blasting menace (Hail of Bullets, Bolt Thrower, and so forth).

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]

Vader - Necropolis (2009)

Poland's premier death metal outfit has been on a tear, producing album after album of superbly crafted, simple death metal with extreme drumming and the unmistakable power of Peter's vocals, which sound like no other. Necropolis is no exception, their 9th full length album and one of their very best to date. If you've been clobbered by any of Vader's previous work, you will know what to expect here: a complete commitment to songwriting painstakingly engraved into each track.

There has always been a heavy thrash influence in death metal (after all, it evolved directly from that genre), and thus Vader, but it feels cranked up a notch on Necropolis. The Slayer influence is once again abundant, but well executed. "Devilizer" surges open the album with a concrete battery of grim thrashing death. The song is perfect, each of Peter's lines delivered with agony and intensity. The lead breaks are slavering and venomous. "Rise of the Undead" is an onslaught of session drummer Paul's footwork and deliciously old school riffing. Love the breakdown with its bluesy twang to the guitar. "Never Say My Name" fuses blasting aggression with winding and flawless death breaks and more of the tantalizing, brief leads. The aptly titled "Blast" will pummel your jaw hard enough to twist your neck at least 720 degrees. "The Seal" is a sweet departure, glowering guitar ambience with some chants to lead into the hammering "Dark Heart". The remainder of the album is consistently great, with "Anger" feeling like the new "Hellelujah!" this time around.

The limited edition also includes rock solid covers of Venom's "Black Metal" and Metallica's "Fight Fire With Fire", modified to fit snugly into Vader's style as if they had been this band's properties for all these years. The mix of Necropolis is just about perfect, nothing new for this band. Crisp and heavy tones, steady drumming and some of the best vocals in death metal (though I wouldn't complain about a more powerful bass presence). Peter is the only 'core' member of the band left, but he continues to surround himself with the perfect roster to get the job done, included Vogg from Decapitated on guitars.

is yet another tight, controlled album from Poland's celebrated veterans. The sound is top notch and the writing is exactly where it needs to be at this stage in the band's career. It's not the best effort they've produced, and it falls short of timeless masterpiece status, but it is one of the better death metal albums I've heard (and am likely to hear) this year.

Verdict: Epic Win [9/10]

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Bliss of Flesh - Emaciated Deity (2009)

After a decade of low-key activity (consisting of some demos, splits and an EP), French Bliss of Flesh have arrived at their first proper album, a scorching hybrid of melodic black metal and brutal vocals and death breakdowns. They're actually rather refreshing for a hybrid of these two styles, most bands attempting the merge fall into a pattern of heavily recycled Dissection. Bliss of Flesh does have an ability to create powerful melody through their tracks, but this is meshed with a filthy, evil, sporadic style akin to countrymen Arkhon Infaustus.

"Perversion Domination" offers a soaring introduction to the band's brand of brutality. Epic rhythms are offset by barbaric snarling and a series of winding breakdowns. "Cursed Bodies" opens with a dark gothic metal vibe, picking up into some vile melodies and eventually the momentum of blasting drums, with some further cool breakdowns later in the track. "Apokalyptic Fields" weaves some grim but melodic rhythms into its onslaught of barking vocals, while "Annunciation of Carnality" is a slower, melodic sludge/doom instrumental. Other strong points are the raging barrage of "Entangled in Flesh" and the wild walls of guitar atrocity that comprise "Maccabees".

Emaciated Deity is a crisp album with razor honed guitar lines counteracting the rather brutal main vocals, though Necurat also incorporates a great many bloodthirsty snarls into his style. Think of what a band might sound like if it were equal parts Slayer, Dissection, Arkhon Infaustus and Anaal Nathrakh. Does that intrigue you? If so, you'll probably want to give Bliss of Flesh a listen. This is a solid debut brimming with evil.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]

Decrepidemic - The Void of Un-Existence (2009)

The Void of Un-Existence is the debut full-length from Portugal's Decrepidemic, a brutal death metal band with a hint at technicality submerged throughout their extremely percussive riffing. The style is very similar to the crop of USDM, a heavy influence of Cannibal Corpse, Suffocation, Deicide and Deeds of Flesh can be heard here. I'd also liken them to Severed Savior except that this band has a muddier complexion to their material which is more likely a product of the mix than an intentional trait.

The biggest problem I have with this album is that it seems to move along at a single pace through a lot of its playtime. Don't get me wrong, the band throws in some stops in each of the songs and they have the talent to compose a decent breakdown, but they seem to thread the same needle repeatedly and create different patterns within, a fluster of quick and crisp technicality which does provide much of the better moments. Tracks like "The Prophecy Begins" and "The Wanderer" chug along and spew filthy, hypnotic riffing patterns which, at times, provoke the desired sore neck. Still, though the band is certainly a talented lot at their instruments, the riffs often feel mediocre. What they possess in abundance (busy, choppy, percussive patterns of notes) doesn't quite make up for the lack of memorable sections.

The Void of Un-Existence has a rather substandard mix to it, the tones don't quite bring out the best in the rhythms or leads. Still, it's listenable and the guitars, drums and vocals are well balanced. I've heard a lot worse in the field. Decrepidemic has the skill and energy prerequisite towards the making of a good technical death metal band. This is not a bad effort, but I think some added thought and variation throughout the tracks, perhaps a more adventurous approach, would truly work in their favor.

Verdict: Indifference [6/10]

Hyades - The Roots of Trash (2009)

While the timing of Hyades' string of full-length albums may coincide with the recent boom of retro thrash in the past few years, the Italians have actually been at it since the mid 90s (though they've transformed from power to thrash metal over that time). The Roots of Trash is their third full-length, and while I'm not sure if the title's double entendre is intended to mean anything, this is certainly rooted in the US thrash of the mid 80s. The meaty tone of the guitars and the tendency towards mid-paced plodding rhythms reminds me much of Anthrax in their prime, perhaps a dash of Fabulous Disaster Exodus.

Vocalist Marco Colombo has a pretty impressive voice that can shift between deeper Chuck Billy style and a more vicious sneer. Though the band might lean towards this simpler thrash style, the vocals suit it extremely well, as does the great mix which captures the crunchy guitars in all their bombast. Most of the material on the album is consistent, but there some tracks that stood out to me. "The Great Deceit" has some great wars and a chugging pit gait that meshes well with Colombo's throat and the quick bursts of leadwork. "United in the Struggle" carries one of those 'epic' 80s thrash metal vibes, and some of his vocals here remind me of a heavier Peavy (from Rage). "The Moshing Rage" features some great grooving rhythms which almost make up for the silly name. "I Belong to One" is another of the mighty tracks, which wouldn't have been out of place on Among the Living or Persistence of Time save for the much more aggressive vocals.

The band does wear the silly retro thrash memes on their sleeves, but they back it up with solid production, decent music and an excellent vocalist whose charisma translates well even over riffs that would otherwise be mundane. The cover of Offspring's "Come Out and Play" is something I could certainly live without, but The Roots of Trash is a better effort than the previous albums. Hyades prove here that they are one of the better Italian thrash bands in modern years.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Illusion Suite - Final Hour (2009)

Limb Music has found itself another emerging star in Norway's Illusion Suite, a power/progressive metal hybrid which summons up the finer elements of Dream Theater, Angra, Pagan's Mind and Shadow Gallery while maintaining a harder edge of harder Swedish power metal (Tad Morose, Morgana LeFay) and a vocalist whose charisma almost rivals Helloween's Andi Deris. Final Hour is an extremely well rounded album which is both heavy and melodic, glorious and skirting the edge of the dark simultaneously.

Although it doesn't hurt that the band is almost flawless in their ability to create good, meaty riffs and epic, atmospheric verses, vocalist Bill Makatowicz takes the album a step further. His silklike but varied range injects life and character into each composition, there is not a stinker in this entire bunch. For the harder side, tracks like "Scarlet Skies" and "The Adventures of Arcan" rock forth a fury of immense riffs, tasteful synth accompaniment and the sheer wonder you always feel when you're a fan of these styles. For a dash of the band's more theatrical, graceful writing there are tracks like "Pandora's Box" and "Once We Were Here" are both extremely memorable and powerful. Even the balladic moments of "A Moment to Remember" lapse into fine progressive metal with glistening vocals.

Final Hour is a big production with a quality mix that will compare favorably to many works in this genre. The musicians are great but reserved, performing only to what the track needs, with slight stretches of lead work tastefully summoned at the appropriate moments. It's a really good album that should impress fans of earlier Dream Theater, the past few Helloween albums, and most of what you'd find in between those two poles. If you're not into the big, sappy and smooth power metal vocals and the prog metal genre in general, I doubt Illusion Suite will change your mind. Otherwise, the album is an impressive debut for what it is.

Verdict: Win [8.5/10]

Cerebrum - Spectrum Extravagance (2009)

With cover art somewhat resembling that of Darkthrone's (death metallic) debut Soulside Journey, this album was bound to catch my eye. Thankfully, Cerebrum have more to offer on their debut: a tight and balanced assault of brutal 90s-style death metal with a technical death/thrash edge to it, manifest through the notably busy guitar work. Spectrum Extravagance also has a dark honesty about it, a direct album that lacks the mysticism of their countrymen (Septic Flesh, etc).

"Fragments of Illusion" intros the album as it transfers between old school pummeling death metal double bass to a choppier thrash segment. There are a few jazzy guitar breaks which do little to serve the song, but the remainder of the writing is solid. "Scatter-brain" is a better track with its frenetic, paranoid dual guitars and psychotic grooves. Here the band sounds their best, a hybrid of riffy death metal (Suffocation, Cannibal Corpse) and 90s technical thrash metal. There are a number of similar quality tracks, like the swinging "Intolerable Ado", the flowing "Thorns of Weakness" and the tough thrash of "Beyond Imagination". A few of the other songs like "Ephiphysis Thrive" and "Shreds of Remains" didn't come across as strongly, but even these have a few decent riffs. The guitars and drums (the latter courtesy of Nile skinbeater George Kollias) are well executed, and the gruff barks of Apollon Z. are solid throughout, as well as the additional, clean chant vocals.

Cerebrum uses a dark and punchy atmosphere to the album delivered through very its very straightforward mix. The band's ability to bust out a juggernaut groove is equal to its capacity for pure old school death hammering. Spectrum Extravagance isn't a great record that I'll rotate for long periods of time, but it's a worthwhile debut if you long for crushing 90s punishment with no shortgage of a riffing whirlwind and technical awareness. It's good to hear more death metal from Greece and there is a potential in this band.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Augury - Fragmentary Evidence (2009)

Augury is one of Canada's finest death metal exports, with a progressive leaning far more adventurous than countrymen Cryptosy or Neuraxis. Fragmentary Evidence is a beast of a sophomore slab, with a technicality that will instantly impress, but more importantly: a depth of creativity which can please the appetite well beyond a few listens. The material is varied and engaging, the musical proficiency so precisely tuned that it fades right into the album's immense tapestry of sound. The songs can become so mesmerizing that you forget just how talented each of the musicians is at his respective instrument.

"Aetheral" is a stormblasting death metal shell surrounding the delicate and catlike grace of Dominic Lapointe's bass playing. Some of the aggressive riffing (i.e. the 2:50 mark in the song) will leave you scratching your head, though all is flowing and functional destruction. "Simian Cattle" opens with more of the playful bass, buried in a barrage of shifting chords and exotic rhythms. Again, there is a dazzling complexity overshadowed by the sonic imagery being produced. "Orphans of Living" storms forth like an outtake from a Theory in Practice album, only more accessible and rounded. The acoustic bridges in this song are excellent, Patrick Loisel's vocals a blunt meatwagon of disgust offset by rapacious snarls. "Jupiter to Ignite" is an 8+ minute epic of wandering, cyclical progressive licks which serves to showcase the full range of this band's talents. Though they differ in their overall sound, there are moments certain to impress fans of the recent Cynic material, a subtle and psychedelic fusion. In truth, the latter half of Fragmentary Evidence is even more impressive, with highly memorable hooks in "Skyless" and "Faith Puppets". The lyrics are interesting, elegaic and poetic, a rarity in a technical death release.

We will ascend to the heights
Setting other bodies in the sky
In hope to there sow our life
From created to creators
In the image of God, makers of worlds
An infinity of Babel Towers to defy Him
Free of morals and gravity, wandering
Higher, living lavishly the life of a god

The album sounds quite ominous and crystalline, leads winding through the carefully plotted, percussive riffing. The vocals are loud and center without ever offsetting the endless onslaught of riffs, and the breaks into bass or acoustics never seem forced or misplaced. There may be one or two tracks that drag slightly behind the remainder of the album in terms of catchiness or complexity. Regardless, Fragmentary Evidence is pretty damn tight. If you're a fan of bands like Cynic, Atheist, Lykathea Aflame, or Neuraxis, don't hesitate to track it down. You won't be sorry.

Verdict: Win [8.5/10]
(shocked before the horizon and its convexity)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Onirik - After Centuries of Silence (2009)

After Centuries of Silence is another of those albums which has taken me a spell to ponder. The third full-length from Portugal's one-man empire of sorrow Onirik (aka Gonius Rex), it is a crushing work of despair and romantic, raw black metal which is quite unlike anything else I've come across recently. It is unabashedly perfect in a way I'm not sure many will understand.

Don't be fooled by the basement/bedroom production of this album, its walls of titillating fuzz are 100% hypnotic. Each riff leeches love and emotion from the listener. That is can have such an effect with a droning drum machine, and Rex's cookie crumbling throat salivating across its tones, is nothing short of miraculous. "No Stars Will Shine" opens the sadness with a series of original and amazing riffs that created an instant attraction, romantic and hissing and fuzzy and more somber than a truckload of gothic and funeral doom kids at a Tim Burton film. What's more...this storm of savage emotion does not end on this album, ever. Close your eyes and let the "The Quest of the Dark Lord" crawl across the black & white landscape of your grim subconscious...a shadowed figure reaching up to extinguish the sun and drag the stars down into its essence. "Black Paintings in the Sky" creates the perfect, driving seaside hymn, like plague victims lain across the black stones of a rocky pier beneath an overcast sky. "Oh Chants Make Hear My Splendor" is faster, Rex has not forgotten that he is a fucking blackheart. I could write another paragraph for each remaining song on this album, I enjoy it that much.

After Centuries of Silence sounds like it was recorded on a four track in 1991. But it requires nothing more to convey the wealth of emotional impact. It's completely dead and evil, yet at the same time blissful and mesmerizing. Not a single note on this album removed me from its horrific embrace, and needless to say it belongs in the upper crust of black metal released this year, along with the latest offerings from Oranssi Pazuzu and Arckanum. Fucking staggering.

Verdict: Epic Win [9.5/10]

Druzhina - Kosmonoetika (2009)

Druzhina is a very interesting Russian band, with an uncanny sense for atmospherics. The sound is rooted in the pagan/folk/black common in Eastern Europe/Russia, but they're not afraid to incorporate big, cosmic black metal synths, and even a hint of progressive rock. If you enjoyed their previous album, Echoes of Distant Battles, then Kosmonoetika is worth tracking down, even though it's a little more obscure and spacey sounding.

"Eeriness of the Azure" opens the affair with a big wall of ambient synths, a lush atmosphere that rolls into a driving blast beat well before the churning guitars. Various flutes and synths are used to create abstractions into their riffing, so the guitars remain a driving elemental force and rarely become catchy on their own. "Tale of Xiosrev" creates a mood of despair and desperation during its opening synths over drums, and the use of light pianos is perfectly executed. "Without Return" returns to the pianos, over dark acoustics and very light background synths, before its glorious pagan folk riffing. Perhaps the finest track on the album is the final "Constellation", with gorgeous soothing vocal choirs, acoustics and soft ambient sections interspersed with seething melodic folk/black. Taken as a whole, the album provides a deep journey into the wild creative impulse of these musicians.

Perfect, it is not. As I mentioned, the guitars, while sufficient, rarely evoke any worthwhile riffs, trading in their individuality for a place in the greater puzzle. While this approach does not offend my ears, I feel a bigger guitar riff here or there would have strengthened the material. Overall, the metal sections of the songs are the weakest, whereas the ambient and progressive moments shine throughout. Kosmonoetika is a good second effort, and the band stands out because of what they attempt, but I get the feeling there is much better to come from Druzhina.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Construcdead - Endless Echo (2009)

Construcdead is essentially a Swedish all-star band that combines the popular melodic death metal style with a groove metal tone, not unlike The Defaced. Not surprising, since this, their fourth album, features Jens Broman (Darkane, the Defaced) on vocals. The band also features Thomas Fällgren (ex-Sins of Omission), Rickard Dahlberg (Face Down) and Niklas Karlsson (Soils of Fate). Endless Echo is a slightly above average album (their fourth), with a few exciting moments when they drift into the thrashier Darkane territory.

The album starts with "Sedated Morning", a groove metal tune with a few death-thrashing breaks that fail to capitalize on any sort of memorable riffing. The song sounds a lot like The Defaced but not as catchy as some of their material. "My Haven" is considerably heavier, could easily have appeared on the first few Darkane records with its callous and venomous thrashing hatred. "Endless Echo" is instantly more impressive with its catchy little arpeggio and the creepy clean vocals over the mute chugging of the bridge. And the remainder of the album is quite solid...with an occasional miss. "A Goddess Breaches Through Me", "Disfigured Beauty" and "No Exit" all feature some killer hooks, even the grooves shine.

Featuring the caliber of musicians it does, Endless Echo has a killer depth to its production which vibrantly captures all of the instruments and the multi-faceted vocals of Broman. The man sounds natural here, whether he's barking out his Darkane snarls or his bigger, burlier cleans. The musicianship is tight all around, but this isn't a band to go off into technical tangents. Focus is entirely on the thrashing, grooving chaos created in their riffs, a hybrid of The Haunted, Soilwork, and many of their Swedish peers. Though not every song here is catchy or a winner, I enjoyed this more than their previous output, and its probably worth checking out if you enjoy any of the other bands I mentioned in the review.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Lord Fuck - Exquisite Gutteral (2009)

Exquisite Gutteral is the type of album I tend to hate...extremely boorish and simplistic US death metal/goregrind. You know the type. More thought was apparently put into the shocking song titles than the actual composition of the music, and there are probably 250,000 bands just like this in the US alone.

Here's the kicker...I actually had a fun time listening to Lord Fuck. It's dumb and simple, intentional, and lacking any memorable riffs or much replay value, but it sounds like it was pretty fun to make. I can almost hear the laughter of musicians in between each take. The old school vibe of the cover and logos is also quite nice. So if you're bored out of your skull and need something to listen to, and you have a sick sense of humor...why not? "Rotting Blood Served Over Mannocotti", "Infant Daycare Car Bombing", and "I Probably Fucked Your Mother Nine Months Before You Were Born" should hit the spot. The band also covers Deicide's "Once Upon the Cross". There are a few sluggish moments on the album, such as the crepitating midpoint of "Rotting Blood..." which can create an almost hypnotic brutality, whether this is intended or by accident is beyond my comprehension.

In short...expect nothing from Lord Fuck, because you will get nothing but a fun 30-ish minutes of banging your head very slowly into a wall while you lower your genitals into a meat grinder. Prepare for anaesthesia and amputation. Beyond that, I can't recommend it.

Verdict: Goresoaked Indifference [6/10]

Neter - Nec Spe Nec Metu (2009)

Spain's Neter create a bludgeoning form of death metal focused tightly on their central riffing. A distinct power-thrashing edge lends some vital energy and semi-technical guitar work into the flesh of their creations. Nec Spe Nec Metu is their debut full-length, after a pair of demos a few years back. While many death metal acts are thematically rooted in gore and violence, or occult mysticism, Neter take on a more social and philosophical slant to their guttural rantings, with a taste for symbolism.

After the interesting sample "Prelude", the band erupts into "Baptism of Fire", a relentless and savage onslaught of winding and grinding that breaks for some catchy grooves. "Event Horizon" starts decidely oldschool, almost like something you'd hear on Scream Bloody Gore. Quite pulverizing. "The Death of the Liturgy" creates a rumbling, mosh pit epic, but often sobering and never cheap. Some of the better tracks include the punishing "Minotaur" and the opening volley of moshthrash that is "Prometheus". "Assembly Line" also has a nice Slayer-esque wrath to it.

Nec Spe Nec Metu doesn't bowl you over with its production, it's simple and honest and sounds fine. The bass plods along below chunky guitars and the drums create a level battery. The leads always lend a nice flurry of mystique to the concrete of the rhythms. Manuel G. has a nihilistic flatness to his vocals which might turn off some, but you definitely get used to them. In all, Neter reminds me a lot of Vader: a very basic, honest yet brutal death metal outfit. What you see is what you get, and what you're getting is your ass kicked &#@(&@.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]

Victimized - Self Destroy EP (2009)

Yet another face in the recent international thrash-back attack, Victimized have appeared on a few splits and have one EP prior to this, Brain Damaged in 2007. Their material is throwback 80s speed metal, cleanly produced but capturing a raw edge. The most impressive element of their sound is the vocals, which have a bizarre and memorable accent to them which reminds me of so much I loved about the German speed/thrash in the 80s.

As far as the five songs, they all have some decent moments to offer but little in the way of memorable riffs. I can hear a little influence from the more obscure Teutonic thrash...early Vendetta, Deathrow and Accuser spring to mind. "Cardiac Failure" and "LSD" come and go with wild vocals, spastic riffing and little else. I enjoyed "Envy" much more, with a constant barrage of powerful quality rhythms and nostalgia. "Back to Nowhere" is the 'thrash ballad', opening with acoustics and then focusing on a mix of slower riffs and the quick build-up. Again, reminds me a lot of the band Vendetta. "Drinking Team" closes the EP with a simple, thrashing gait below some mystical leads, parting way for a fun party thrash akin to Tankard.

I've certainly heard worse than Self Destroy in the recent explosion of all things old school, so if you're in the market for more fun retro thrash you may enjoy this. I had fun with a few of the songs, but it's not something I will likely return to.

Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10]

Witching Hour - Rise of the Desecrated (2009)

It's always good to hear so many bands in touch with their roots, especially when those roots include primal proto-type death/thrash bands like Possessed or the mighty Venom. Germany's Witching Hour is one such band, with a filthy old school approach that kindly ignores just about everything in the past 20 years. Rise of the Desecrated will plug you directly back into the 80s, with its garage/demo production and the twisted dirt of Jan Hirtz' vocals. The album has a few misses, but for most of its playlength its good opposite-of-clean fun.

Witching Hour excels when dishing out the speedier material. "Pedophiliac" and "Underworld Alliance". Frenetic and unflinching, with riffs that recall all the grit of that 80s time period, from Venom to The Accüsed. The band can break down into some meatier, slower riffs (as in "Underworld Alliance") with a wicked edge to their note selection. Other choice tracks include "Blood in the Alleys" with its proto-death metal opening riff, "Eternal War" which reminds me of Witchery, if that band were a lot more raw and playing in your basement, and "Cold Grave" which sounds like Venom and Whiplash jamming in a slaughterhouse. There are a few tracks like "Burn the Witch" which start off well but end up with some weaker riffing.

Rise of the Desecrated is obviously going to appeal most to those who crave those old sounds. This is not a technical band and nothing they produce is going to tickle your fancy for progressive or original material. The album is nothing I haven't heard before many times, but I admire the band's loyalty and love for its influences. If it isn't broken, don't fix it. Witching Hour has created a debut that, while par for the course, should stoke up those summer nights of bullet belts, leather and denim fury.

Verdict: Win [7/10]