Thursday, October 29, 2015

Blizaro - City of the Living Nightmare (2010)

It's not uncommon for a band to specialize and excel in one area, but New York's Blizaro not only specializes in two, but wedges them up against one another in a union so strangely symmetrical that one wonders why they were ever separate? And if you think about it, they really weren't...Italian prog pioneers Goblin were always able to engage in either psychedelic grooves or harder rocking mayhem, and their countryman Paul Chain made a rather overlooked but extensive career out of taking Black Sabbath's doom metal foundation and then applying it to all manner of cinematic, atmospheric aesthetics cultivated from the 60s through the 80s, anything from Hammer Horror to the giallo to the more contemporary synthesizers used in fright films further West. Without sounding quite the same, Blizaro could be viewed as a successor to such hybridized traditions, and a damn fine one. They were also one of the more interesting acts to land at Razorback Recordings, a label long associated with cult and camp horror, but previously pigeonholed into the death and grind genres; having a band like Blizaro on the books was a chance to redefine that thematic relationship, to freshen up a roster which was sorta samey, if not exactly stagnant.

You'll notice immediately with the title track that this is perhaps not the most polished, professional production, but that this does not at all serve as any sort of detriment. More importantly, you'll hear that John Gallo's riffing is the polar opposite of lazy doom composition, a crutch that I readily admit I find with a lot of groups on the lower half of this niche. Melodic, inventive, never restricted to mere dime-a-dozen stoner rock chord progressions, he seems to season the material with influences from a broader spectrum of heavy/speed metal, progressive rock, and even the kitchen sink if it suits him. As a result, each of his recordings is a journey with a lot of left turns and no real discernible ending. Cuts like "Midnight Lurkers" and "Eyes in the Casket" directly channel the Cream, Iron Butterfly, and  Sabbath blues/metal tradition, while others take us on a further tour through the sub-genre's evolution through Pentagram, Cirith Ungol, Trouble and Candlemass. The mix is on the murkier end of clear, with down to earth rhythm guitar tones, porky bass lines and slowly grooving drums that create a live vibe to the process. The leads and melodies always soar well above the din, making for interesting prog sequences that stand aloft from the myriad synthesizers and choirs sounds that evoke a purple, psychedelic/Gothic Limbo...

And as much as I like the 'metal' aspect of the music, it's those very organs and synthesizers that really put this over the top for me, and even provide most of the record's most memorable moments, especially where they blend with Gallo's everyman, Osbourne-like croon. They range from very solemn and simple lines to orchestral elevations (as in the depths of "Mental Disease Overture") and simultaneously conjure up Carpenter, Tangerine Dream, and just about every horror score you've ever stayed up late at night with and become hypnotized by. This isn't complex, dissonant, or even highly experimental stuff, it just has a very hazy, theatrical vibe to it which makes you want to spin it over and over. The cover of Goblin's Suspiria theme is a nice touch, and while it seems an obvious choice, Blizaro screws with it just enough that it becomes more of a seamless component of City of the Living Nightmare itself rather than a superficial grab for credibility. At just over 60 minutes, this really wraps up into an experience I'd recommend to anyone who enjoys any comparison I've made throughout the review, and then I'd extend that to the Strange Doorways compilation (2013) or the John Gallow debut Violet Dreams (2014) which are this good and better. Vivid, morbid, flavorful, freaky, and fun. Third eyes open at all times.

Verdict: Epic Win [9/10]

Monday, October 26, 2015

Tribulation - Children of the Night (2015)

I am still of the mind that The Horror is the greatest thing Sweden's Tribulation has yet recorded, but that's not to say I'm any less intrigued when there's the announcement that they're releasing anything new. Yes, their explosive, rabid death/thrash origins have yet to be eclipsed by their experimentation, and the sort of constant reinvention they pursue is likely to earn the ire of many a purist; but The Formulas of Death was certainly an excellent departure into a murky swath of prog/death territory which hadn't been explored with quite the same sound. The album I'll turn to when I wish to listen more with the skull-brain and not the dick-brain spearheading my testicles. With Children of the Night, the Swedes have yet again morphed into a new state of being, one quite unexpected, and if you're in the mood for it, one quite poignant and passionate.

This is essentially a brand of melodic, melancholic death metal with simple chord patterns that are infused with cleaner licks, pianos, and other means to conjure up a more emotional response from the listener, and it works really damn well as long as you're not just jonesing to chew out the band for simplifying its sound a few steps below its predecessors. I've seen descriptions of this as 'indie rock' with growled vocals, and I'm not sure there's much merit to that statement, but certainly the songs take a shift towards the dramatic minimalism of pure heavy metal or hard rock and occasional chord patterns wouldn't be out of place on a driving, melodic punk record. The difference is of course that the little leads ("Melancholia") and the snarled vocal anchors it into a shadier terrain which really holds the attention if you're tracking down something which is catchy and relistenable, reminding me of what I liked a lot about an album like Sentenced's magnificent Amok or a bunch of other Finnish bands whose balance of aggression and melody was derived from the Amorphis sophomore.

Rhythm guitar patterns are quite simple in structure, but the chords issued are quite nice in conjunction with the leads, and every song bears some form of distinction, while functioning near seamlessly on the whole. Every choice of mood and shadow seems practiced and deliberate, the tempos are fairly widespread across the track list, and Johannes Andersson's nihilistic rasp is a great contrast to the sadness espoused by the instruments. I couldn't even name a singular song on here which I'd hold above the rest, because it's all so consistently wrought over the hour-long experience, and it's an album I've come back to almost as much as anything else this year. Lyrically it's also a mesmerizing record, paying ode to the personal horrors of nightmares and other intangible unknowns, a 'ghost story' as opposed to a visceral death metal record. To that extent, Tribulation have yet another winner on their hands, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy this more than the sophomore. The rare effort where the sum is the equal of its parts but any individual piece of music would be a delight taken out of the context of the entire album. Something unexpected, ethereal, but never lacking in the underpinning darkness of blacks & grays, midnight signals from haunted columns and cobbles. Aesthetically, a 'Gothic novel' of the death metal medium, its dread patient, not punishing until that very last moment when the curse or loss is recognized.

Verdict: Epic Win [9/10] (So the earth and so am I)

Friday, October 23, 2015

Death Curse - Death Curse (2015)

On its surface, Death Curse really seemed like an album I was bound to enjoy. Razorback has, in my estimation, a pretty good ear for the splatter/thrash material it releases, bands like Ghoul and Frightmare providing many hours of enjoyment and camp with actual quality riffing and hellish energy to back it up. You've got the great R-rated comic book cover artwork, the obvious Friday the 13th slasher overtures in the logo, and some creepy swamp guy chasing down a stacked, naked woman in a swamp. How in the fuck of all fucks could anything really go wrong here? Well, I won't say that anything really DOES go just doesn't go very right either, and I came away a little disappointed if not wholly turned off by this Illinois duo's debut.

The goal here is boxy, chuggy Possessed-like thrash with a few escalations into speed metal, and I think the album at least starts out strong enough in that direction, with a Friday the 13th sample and a half-decent if generic death/thrash lick reminiscent of Possessed and Razor. The rhythm guitar tone is pretty raw and rich, the bass booming, the drums splashy and primitive, and the leads maintain that frilly, cheese feel to them which matches their modus operandi. The vocals definitely have a poor man's Jeff Becerra feel to them, only grainier and at times a little more visceral and unpolished, and this is one facet of Death Curse which does not work against them. In fact, when this album is all coming together, I am reminded of what I liked so much about albums like the debuts of Hallows Eve and Indestroy, and wouldn't be terribly surprised if all those were influences too. Tracks are pretty varied too, shifting between faster, nastier licks, creepy flowing proto-death metal pieces and then a few mid-paced headbangers ala classic Sacred Reich or Hallow's Eve's "Lethal Tendencies". Where Death Curse just doesn't stick the landing for me is in conjuring up memorable moments which can rival their precursors, and so it comes across as just a nostalgia trip that is more likely to cause its listeners to flip through their old records and relive those moments than to keep spinning this one endlessly...

And, granted, you can argue that such catalysts are a good thing. Yet the riff patterns are almost always predictable, where a few minor changes or dissonant surprises could have fastened them to the memory, and the choruses just don't capitalize on the momentum leading into them. Not incompetent, by any means, but leaving me dry instead of blood-spattered. However, I DO like the grittier production style on this, it definitely shifts me back about 30 years to second tier formative death/thrashers of the mid to late 80s. The lyrics do a decent homage to the cult films the band worships. I appreciate the sandbox Death Curse is playing around in, but I'm going to cross my fingers that this will serve as a sort of jumping off point from which they can challenge themselves a little more. Ramp up the raw technicality of the riffing just slightly to increase the possibilities. Incorporate both more savagery, and more atmospheric breaks, samples, or whatnot, so that I really feel like my head is on the chopping block, and not that I'm watching some umpteenth slasher sequel which they practically have to pay the networks to air late at night during their Halloween marathons.

Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10] (I've got plans for this little town)

Monday, October 19, 2015

Root - Hell Symphony (1991)

Hell Symphony was not only my first Root album, but one of the earlier exposures I had to Czech extremity, around the same time I was discovering Master's Hammer and Krabathor. Of the three, this was by far the most compelling band, though The Jilemnice Occultist gave them a run for their money. But what I was truly fascinated by then, and no less now, is how they've chiseled out their place within the black metal medium with such a distinct sound that derives from influences other than the expected. I do realize a lot of 'first wave' black metal acts, and several in the second don't bear that traditional Scandinavian structure, or even the filthier production of old Venom, Bathory and Hellhammer, but along with the 'Greek style' pioneered by Rotting Christ and Varathron, Root has proven one of the most curious and compelling examples of a sub-genres parallel regional evolution, hinted upon with the debut Zjevení but fully fleshed out for this iconic sophomore.

The sound here is one of a clash between Floridian death metal riffing motifs with bursts of old Teutonic thrash intensity, with individual riffing progressions redolent of 'tidier' Death picking patterns and the angry, antique Kreator material which is oft considered just as important to the legacies of black and death metal as to its more commonly recognized form (thrash). I heard singular licks reminiscent of the clinical Pestilence debut, or even Voivod's cosmic wandering. You can occasionally hear fits of Celtic Frost or Venom adulation among the songs here, but what's so bizarre is how the Czechs took such a polished, cleaner approach to the production of the guitars, which you would more equate with American thrash/speed or even traditional heavy metal around the late 80s. Or you could try to envision a parallel, European Acheron, with a similar physical threat level, but far more personality, and infinitely superior songwriting. This was several years before the proper release of the sweltering, suffocating atmosphere of an album like In the Nightside Eclipse, and happening right alongside the raw ferocity and chilling vibes of Darkthrone during their transition away from death metal, yet Hell Symphony and its predecessor were untouched by those ideas. Slick rhythm guitars, leads that never shied away from a melodic hard rock flair, and drumming so tight that it almost seemed sterile compared to the rabid blasting and double bass which characterizes so much of the successful extreme metal of its era.

There is also a portion of this disc devoted to experimentation, conceptual and aural. Each of the cuts is devoted to a particular diabolic entity from religious or mythical history...and yet the lyrics are more heartfelt and interesting than the sheer antiChristian emissions of a band like Deicide. The tune "Satan" is essentially a percussion piece accompanied by Jirí Walter's maniacal raving narrative and a few little guitar sounds, while "The Prayer" is a lush, memorable acoustic piece with weird, faint high wailing voices occasionally popping in; foreshadowing a lot of the more atmospheric ballads they'd incorporate on future records. The choice to have an opener ("Belzebub") which is almost entirely instrumental also seemed bizarre, since it's comprised of a gamut of speed and thrash metal licks which would absolutely have benefited from lyrics. Yet, Hell Symphony is entirely engaging from front to back, without a dud among the bunch. I could point out again that I found the drums to be a little bit weak and even mechanical, and the bass is also not a huge factor here, but Root compensate with an enormous plethora of riffing and ideas which are always drawing the ear off in this or that direction, and they're anchored by one of the most inventive and unique front men the genre has ever shat forth from the fiery gates...

Yes, 'Big Boss' is a character, but one you're unlikely to forget once hearing his blend of decrepit hag raunchy harshness, manly baritone, and even more mesmerizing, the harmonization of the two! As if Lucifer's odd and estranged uncle showed up at the family reunion one year and did some drunken renditions of hellish hymnals, the guy did not and STILL doesn't sound like any dime-a-dozen rasper you are like to encounter in this end of the metal canon. And that fact, along with the eloquence and attention to detail within the guitar riffing, are why this group shall forever stand among the greats for me. There are a few production guffaws with the rhythm section I've outlined, and even by 1991 standards some licks you'd already heard, paraphrased from a Death or Slayer, Possessed or Venom, but the complete package here is just too good to pass up, and as many good records as they've put out since this time, I'd still consider this one of their greatest moments, eclipsed only by offerings like The Temple in the Underworld where they took these components and ramped up on both the emotional impact, the note selection, the contrast between snarling menace and unusual accessibility. Anyone searching the back stacks of the black or death metal archives owes him or herself a favor in checking this out, especially one of the versions with the live bonus tracks, which sound even more magnificent in some cases than their studio counterparts. Root. Ever poignant, rarely faltering.

Verdict: Epic Win [9/10] (filling barrels with brimstone)

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Werewolf - The Temple of Fullmoon (2005)

Perhaps one of the joys of Werewolf is the duo's irreverent sound and atmosphere, almost as if the tidal wave of raw 90s European black metal had never subsided and raged on gloriously into the next millennium, and perhaps it really had, but there's no question that The Temple of Fullmoon sounds more the product of 1995 than 2005. And that's no reason to complain, because at its core it this might just be all that matters...raw, roiling guitars performing in almost unanimously potent and 'majestic' chord patterns channeled directly from bands like Bathory and Graveland, reinforced with tightly clinging organs and choirs, or other synthesizer tones to give the band that complete 'Transylvanian' feel, as if their namesake lycanthrope was marching to war against the walls and ramparts of Castle Dracula. Grim, grisly, gnawing upon the cliche but evergreen fears of cold wilderness eves on a haunted landscape, this is banner-wielding black metal which is in turns both predictable and endearing.

This was the debut of a two-man act, both members also the complete lineup of the slightly better known Iuvenes which explored a more dynamic range over a larger body of recordings. Personally, I have always preferred Werewolf, not because of its purity of purpose but just that raw nostalgia it evokes. Chord progressions flow from slower to mid-paced rhythms which don't really attempt much nuance or technicality but seem to tap into that primal conscience of the genre, which for me is not likely to ever get old when issued with some sincerity. The drumming here is a bit flimsy, you can make all the snares and bass out but it does at times seem like a fractured scaffold about to collapse beneath the weight of the storming guitars and airier synth lines. This is not exactly a project one would turn to if seeking out musical proficiency...these guys aren't Ihsahn and Samoth, and what they create is material that any journeyman or even novice could summon, but that's also the appeal. The rustic sensibility of the riff construction collides with the nocturnal cathedral organs to create a sort of impossible, larger than life space in which the mind reels in stereotypical black & white Gothic horror footage, Hellhammer starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Bass is just kind of hanging out with the rhythm guitar chords, but it does contribute to the overall mood.

The decrepit snarling, possibly clotted with the Polish accent, doesn't possess a lot of dynamic potential or syllabic range, just sounds like some old creepy black metal guy living out of a cottage, narrating tales of terrible and hideous flora and fauna. I'm not fucking kidding, when you listen to this band's records, you can just picture Geralt the Witcher riding through the album with some top heavy harpy impaled upon his sword, trying to get to the local tavern and claim his reward before the night creeps too closely on his heels. The Temple of Fullmoon is far from brilliant, but it's got a great sense of time and place about it which makes it easy to break out and know precisely the sort of mood it's going to set for me. I believe the follow-up, The Order of Vril, released in 2009, slightly after Gray Wolf sadly took his own life, is the stronger of two albums, with a more magnificent blend of the band's symphonics and surging breakwater riffs, but it doesn't entirely fire this one. Recommended if you'd have loved a classic 1993-1997 era Graveland with stronger production, or if you're the sort to want to jam endlessly on Quorthon's mid-paced riffs circa Under the Sign of the Black Mark or Blood Fire Death. Big, dumb, carnal, engaging escapism.

Verdict: Win [7.75/10]

Monday, October 12, 2015

Warmblood - God of Zombies (2014)

God of Zombies struck me as interesting because it sounds like someone mashed up the progressive death metal finesse of 90s Chuck Schuldiner with the incendiary pep of Sweden's melodic death scene during the same period, and then seasoned it with just a modicum of tech death flair circa stuff like Necrophagist or Arsis. But WITHOUT all the overbearing excess wank that sort of fusion might entail. I was not expecting a lot from this, checking it out based solely on the cover art, and fairly ignorant of the prior two albums they had put out. But I'm glad I's hardly inventive and it's not the sort of thing I'll be listening to forever, but Warmblood's unwillingness to fit too snugly into any one corner of the death metal spectrum works in its favor and provides at least an engaging experience not void of some dexterity or dynamic range.

The album thrives on a contrast between it's thinner rhythm guitar tone and brute guttural vocals. The former isn't going to be for everyone, since it saps the music of some of its potential strength and brutality, but at the same time it ensures the listener is cognitive of each note sequence, of which there are many across the 10 tracks and 37 minutes. Tracks like "Unfaithful Celebrant" implement very clinical sounding harmonies and drifting, fusion inspired leads which definitely bring to mind bands like Atheist, Pestilence, Sadist, Death and Cynic, without sounding directly like them. A lot of sleek, patient thrashing riffs below, and a nice, rounded bass tone which deflects just enough from the rhythm guitar that it really contributes to the overall flow of the effort. Drums sound pretty clear and straightforward...this isn't material which requires the most intense and energetic of beats to function, but it once again invokes a sort of surgical aesthetic to the music which wants you to know exactly where each scalpel is making its incision on your ears.

Perhaps unconsciously, the album's better material seems to arrive at its mid and late points, but the opening few numbers are just good enough to whet the aural appetite and lock me into my seat for the rest. The synthesizer intro does well to evoke a little of an 80s horror aesthetic, though the cleaner classically focused guitars of the outro "Ite Missa Est" aren't all that great by themselves...they would have been a good setup for a song somewhere during the track length but don't really feel like an appropriate closure. But this is a minor scratch on an otherwise polished and attractive surface. The Italians will most likely have some appear for those who crave their countrymen like Gory Blister, Sadist, and Illogicist, or the final three Death efforts, but those brief infusions of goofier grooves, and the occasional insertion of At the Gates/Dark Tranquillity-like propulsion balances out the experience enough that not every song becomes an exercise in predictability. Potential here.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Graveyard Ghoul - The Living Cemetery (2014)

There's something so ripe and refreshing about unrepentant retro death metal which doesn't derive too directly from any one source, but attempts to tap into the genre's original pulse and jerk a semi original sound from i. Sure, if I were to scrutinize Graveyard Ghoul with a microscope, riff for riff, you'd be able to trace it all back to bands like Slayer or Autopsy or Death or Possessed or Cianide, but the last thing on my mind as I was checking out this sophomore disc is how it correlated to any particular band or scene, rather just serving as an amalgamation of all the dusty death metal records on your shelf. For that reason, and maybe that reason alone, this is a competent, genuine and enjoyable effort, if a little short on creating truly memorable, atmospheric moments that thrive due to their own brilliance.

Rhythm guitar structures have a very soiled, raw power to them that instructs a lot of the straight up open chords they jam out. They do occasionally use the morbid tremolo picking and eerie death doom patterns that characterized Autopsy or the freakier Death moments on their old discs, or get a little more pumped and thrashing ala Possessed and 80s Slayer, but there's also a straight shot of riffs which were directly influenced by the flow of old punk/hardcore which inspired Hellhammer and Celtic Frost, and this is reinforced by the vocals, which very often feel to me as if you'd taken Tom G. Warrior's inflection and then caked it with layers of Chris Reifert's louder, barking graveyard grime. Just enough reverb for resonance, and this creates a stark, nihilistic tour guide for the afterlife. Drums are crashing and perky with a very live feel to them, and bass lines only seem to matter in so much as they fatten up some of the rhythm lines. Samples and synth lines are extremely sparse here, utilized only to add a tiny bit of a thematic horror effect, which is cultivated more purely through the lyrics and unremitting darkness of the entire disc.

It doesn't possess an semblance of nuance. It doesn't have a lot of catchy riffing which would help it catapult it onto the scene's radar at large. Whereas an album like Gruesome's Savage Land will live or die based on how many OSDM fans are nostalgic for something they once found so sincere, The Living Cemetery is more like a snapshot of an entire musical medium's evolution at one point in time, when it was creeping out of the cellars and basements to an audience seeking something more raw and gloomy than the ailing thrash metal of the early 90s. It's an album you don't really listen to for particular moments, but when you're in need of around 30 minutes of wayback machine. It's not even the greatest example of such a sound, but for what it's worth, this is very much functional and helps darken a room or a mood. Dinosaur death metal done for those without pretense or expectations, who will probably just appreciate it as a blood thinner for those clotted arteries of antiquity.

Verdict: Win [7.25/10]

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Blood Mortized - Blood Mortized (2009)

The haunted castle. The morbid fortress. The palace of exquisite tortures. So often do their images grace the albums of metal records to sound anything like they even belong in a courtyard or gatehouse of such a place. And yet, whenever I see an image like the fantastic cover of Blood Mortized's eponymous 2009 debut, I cross my fingers behind my back and hope I'm about to get that majestic, monolithic, vampiric evil sound I so project onto them through sheer imagination alone. These Swedes do not really sound native to such a vision, but to their credit, they could at least squat in the boneyard out front, or maybe around to the side. No more or no less worthy than any other Swedish death metal band adopting that aural blueprint of forebears Dismember and Entombed, they choose a fairly safe sound and just roll with middling if not entirely ineffective results.

Yes, you've already guessed what the guitar tone on this disc sounds like, so I can only add that it's a little more dense and roiling than several of their other peers that have popped up in the last half of a decade. Blood Mortized exist on a precarious balance between the more melancholic, driving melodic brand of Swedeath pioneered by groups like Desultory ("Devil's Vengeance") and a more churning spin on the Entombed death & roll style adopted during the transitions to Clandestine and Wolverine Blues. They possess an almost suffocating level of atmosphere once those fat, meaty rhythms are blistering along on some painfully simple rhythm pattern and all manner of leads, bluesy and/or evil leads ring out and provide most of my favorite moments on the entire record, like during the bridge of "Wishing Hell". Vocals come in two flavors, one being a slightly higher pitched snarl, and the other being the L-G Petrov guttural grunts with a Klas Morberg's bark, and they're fairly well done if merely redundant to so many we've already heard to death. There's also a very big, bossy, bassy feel to the record that helps compensate slightly for the fact that half the riff progressions are completely uninspired and boring...

So this is yet another of those many cases where the production serves to give a heavier sound to a slew of banal material that nobody would pay attention to otherwise. Yet ultimately, there's enough packed in there, enough distractions that this is far from one of the worse of the retro Swedeath records I've heard, and at its best I'd even claim it was spot on. Individual songs aren't memorable to the extent that I'd seek them out individually, but if I was down for an endless loop of bands in this style and had just finished Mr. Death, Revel in Flesh, Entrails and others, this would fit the bill. Indiscriminate fanatics for the sound could do a lot worse, and when the band hits a lumbering level of groove as in "Funeral Ride" where the harmonies and melodies are ringing out over some of the nastier chord choices, it becomes sweltering, satisfying stuff. At over an hour, there is also quite a lot of it, and half the dozen cuts are worthwhile or very near that. Just wish it sounded as evil and inviting as it looked.

Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10]

Friday, October 2, 2015

Powerwolf - Blessed & Possessed (2015)

The past three Powerwolf albums have felt a lot like I was in the film Groundhog Day, reliving the same experience over and over with only minimal tweaks based on my own actions. Stylistically they've been on auto-pilot since around the sophomore Lupus Dei, but that was an excellent record with almost unanimously catchy tracks that showed the Germans at the limit of what they are able to accomplish and offer us. But since 2011 (and arguably 2009), the songwriting seems to largely have run out of ideas or nuances that could take their bombastic brand of lupine power metal to unheard heights, and even the cover art feels almost exactly the same with each new effort...fuck, swap up the color palette or something? I mean, resting on your laurels is one thing, hibernating on them is another entirely, and even though Powerwolf is consistent with regards to its production and musical proficiency, the returns seem to be diminishing, the receipts adding up to nowhere, and it's impossible to anticipate their releases with much joy when I feel like I could just switch up a few riffs from the last one and experience all the deviance and variation I should expect. It works for Motörhead, maybe a few other bands, but once in awhile you've got to go a little further over the top or you'll start scraping the bottom.

Granted, things aren't that dire in this Wolf camp, and Blessed & Possessed proves a serviceable affair with all the proper QC competence boxes checked off: Attila's soaring, sustained Ozzymass vocals hold up just as much as before, but the melodies and note progressions he belts forth often feel redundant to those he's already brought us. The song structures alternate between the slower, stand stomping meters and faster Euro-power rhythms, always dowsed in organ tone synthesizers as thick as any lycanthrope's hide, yet even where the tunes become the most pompous and you can just picture whatever audience actually likes this band donning their Dracula 2666 LARP costumes and shaking mugs of red-dyed light beer, almost like a Korpiklaani gig with more furries and fake blud. The leads are adequate, often the best parts of the entire album, and the Germans make sure to incorporate as many variations upon "Carmina Burana" as possible to break up the thundering beats and nigh endless choruses that the album feels like it the point that even though verses and escalations are present, it still feels like there is little delineation betwixt the two. As a result, Blessed & Possessed too rarely gives itself room to breathe, it's so suffocated with self-plagiarism, vocal/percussion sequences that seem lifted directly from earlier tunes. Some tunes like "Dead Until Dark" and "Christ & Combat" still pluck at the silly strings that spawned my earlier admiration for just how absurd they were, but remain stagnant by the most glorious means.

You cannot, however, accuse the Germans of not giving you enough bang for your buck, if you are wise enough to pick up the Napalm Records 2CD version, which is comprised of ten cover tracks done up in all the requisite glory. These are all pretty obvious, like a pair of Judas Priest tunes off Painkiller ("Touch of Evil" and "Nightcrawler", of course), and some Ozzy and Sabbath, but they reach a little further with songs by Running Wild ("Conquistadores"), Chroming Rose ("Power and Glory") and it's quite nice to see them address that heritage. I actually prefer their version of "Edge of Thorns" to the Savatage original if only because I can't stand Stevens' voice and I like the emotional little trill Attila spits out here. A bigger shock is transforming Amon Amarth's "Gods of War Arise" into pure Powerwolf, it works as well as one might have hoped and solidifies the fact that, if little else, these gentlemen are professionals. They don't fuck around with lazy covers, even when making 'safe' choices, each are given a little of that personal spin...I'm not lying when I tell you that I dug the covers disc even more than a lot of the new material, and I think if you acquire this version it does increase the overall value of the package. Ultimately, Blessed & Possessed is by no means a 'bad album', assuming you just want more of the same, but I for one hope that Powerwolf conjures up a few more compelling ideas for its next moonlight symphony. I fear my interest was already waning with the last.

Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10] (cursed by our desire)