Wednesday, December 25, 2019


If you're looking for the full list of my top 100 metal albums for 2019, check over here at my Rate Your Music page. Below is a tighter, more hierarchical list of my absolute top picks, taken from the brainbusting 1213 new albums, EPs, demos and splits I've listened through this year at least once. An insanely good year for black metal, another real strong year for death metal (especially in the EPs category), and a great variety of full-length albums, including material from some long-standing favorites, with some real surprises from bands like Possessed and Mayhem.

My Top 19 Metal Albums of 2019

01. Devil Master (US) - Satan Spits on Children of Light (95)
02. Blut Aus Nord (Fr) - Hallucinogen (95)
03. Aoratos (US) - Gods Without Name (93)
04. Gardghastr (US) - Slit Throat Requiem (93)
05. Borknagar (No) - True North (93)
06. Musmahhu (Se) - Reign of the Odious (93)
07. Crypt Sermon (US) - The Ruins of Fading Light (92)
08. Opeth - In Cauda Veneneum (92)
09. Vulture (De) - Ghastly Waves & Battered Graves (92)
10. Mystik (Se) - Mystik (92)
11. Mayhem (No) - Daemon (90)
12. Deathspell Omega (Fr) - The Furnaces of Palingenesia (90)
13. Arch/Matheos (US) - Winter Ethereal (90)
14. Sinmara (Is) - Hvísl stjarnanna (90)
15. Yellow Eyes (US) - Rare Field Ceiling (90)
16. Possessed (US) - Revelations of Oblivion (90)
17. Vargrav (Se) - Reign in Supreme Darkness (90)
18. Kadavar (De) - For the Dead Travel Fast (88)
19. Scumripper (Fi) - All Veins Blazing (88)

My Top 19 Metal EPs & Demos of 2019
01. Suffering Hour (US) - Dwell (90)
02. Hellripper (UK) - Black Arts & Alchemy (85)
03. Undeath (US) - Sentient Autolysis (85)
04. Dark Suns (De) - Half Light Souvenirs (85)
05. Délétère (Ca) - Theorovator: Babelis Testamentum (83)
06. Bölzer (Ch) - Lese Majesty (83)
07. Fetid (US) - Steeping Corporeal Mess (83)
08. Malignant Altar (US) - Retribution of Jealous Gods (83)
09. BAT (US) - Axestasy (83)
10. Ripper (Cl) - Sensory Stagnation (82)
11. Mordbrand (Se) - Döden/Efter Döden (82)
12. Engulf (US) - Transcend (82)
13. Ripped to Shreds (US) - Demonic Scriptures (80)
14. Grand Harvest (Se) - Fatehammer (80)
15. Sanguisugabogg (US) - Pornographic Seizures (80)
16. Palmistry (Ca) - Behold! (80)
17. Hexenbrett (De) - Erste Beschwörung (80)
18. Cénotaphe (Fr) - Empyrée (80)
19. Pernicion (UK) - Seek What They Sought (80)

Sunday, December 1, 2019


Taking my annual break for the Holidays! Will return in January for a new year of reviews, including the return of some full discographies for bands I surprisingly never got around to (or never finished). My year's end lists will be posted in the meantime. Thanks for reading as always!

- autothrall

Friday, November 29, 2019

Mock - Mock (2007)

Mock was essentially the predecessor to the longstanding Norse black metallers Kampfar, active through the early to mid 90s and releasing a demo (Cold Winter) and EP (Vinterlandet), both of which are collected for this compilation CD that Agonia Records dropped in 2007. I'm always interested in delving back into a band's backstory and seeing where its roots lies, especially one I enjoy, as I have through much of Kampfar's existence, so I was surprised to hear that the progression from this material flows quite naturally into where they were at when they the original Kampfar EP later on in 1996. That's not to say that there wasn't also a significant amount of progression in quality, because the Mock material is as simplistic as you might imagine from crude black metallers of olde.

It's also pretty poorly produced. Audible, but the levels are all borked to shit. Guitars are insanely minimalistic, but the loudest instrument, with an obvious Hellhammer influence that gleans through each series of brute chords blurted out. Once in awhile, they'll also hit a pretty evil groove, and that's a highlight of the material, but many of the riffs are just swollen sounding, primitive and boring. It's worse because the drums are quite cleanly produced, and lack the power to really contain that burly, raw guitar tone, and the rasped vocals often feel like weak whispers by comparison, while the bass just follows along to make that guitar even fatter sounding. The difference between something like this and Hellhammer is you can occasionally get a little Viking melody or something that shows these blokes were about to embark upon the Scandinavian path, and certain tunes like "Her af Vikingum, Black" are already boarding the longship, clear indicators of where Kampfar would get their own start, and the chord progressions are often 'warmer' in feel than evil or hostile. I'd also point out that on that particular track the bass is much more interesting, but that's ruined with a lame fade off that does the tune little service.

Once you move on to the EP's material, it's instantly more washed out and atmospheric, with some spoken word narrative and clean guitars set against the distant chords of the electric rhythms. This stuff is much more evenly produced and to be honest I rather enjoyed the three Vinterlandet songs, far more than the demo material. The vocals are more powerful, the use of the rhythms are certainly to be counted as another influence on how a lot of the Viking-themed black metal bands would travel, the keys are a decent, non-intrusive complement, and the whole deal just seems more potent, wintry and nasty. Unfortunately, these are balanced off with that humble, mediocre demo and aren't presented first on the collection, and the playtime is less, so it feels like you're getting a history lesson that doubles as an obstacle before anything you can truly enjoy. Obviously I think Kampfar is a major step ahead of Mock, but if you're a big fan of Norse, Blood Fire Death, Graveland or Enslaved's Frost then you might really dig the Vinterlandet material.

Verdict: Indifference [5.25/10]

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Labyrinth Entrance - Monumental Bitterness (2017)

Labyrinth Entrance is a solo project from a member of Poland's Stillborn, and for a one-man act it's got a high level of polish and production values that you don't simply associate with your stock bedroom or basement black metal act. Monumental Bitterness is split into six cantos, the first of which is a brief, ambient intro that seems to set up the band's namesake as it cedes into broad, patient, minimalist guitar elements and bass plucks that then assemble into the heaviness proper, which as it turns out, continues along a more slow to moderately paced course throughout most of its run time. I could dub this a Polish spin on the slower, glorious aesthetics that were prevalent in the original Greek BM scene, only with a darker mood about it that is split up only with brief strings of starlight.

A lot of the album could be characterized as blackened doom as it really clings to its moderate speeds, and this really allows each of the riffs to be fully felt in the listener's gut, but the riff set itself is quite broad, from eerie, winding dissonant riffs to more accessible chord patterns and captivating melodies that manage not to ever come off too sugary or positive. Vocals range from the expected harsh barks, to cleaner chants, even some effects-driven vocals that sound robotic in "Canto I", or murky subterranean echoes ("Canto III"). The riffs often devolve into patterns of frightening, droning ambiance ("Canto II"), which quite coolly set up the further metallic elements. Overall, the musician known here as Hunger does an impressive job of varying up his content so the 6-8 minute tracks have a lot of nuance to them and never become sprawling monuments to boredom. The project continues to live up to its brand as you can never be quite sure what will be lying around any of its corners, so you're best to keep 40 minutes of string handy as you explore its depths.

It's not all a crawl, as the closing piece hammers down some moderate blast beats, but even then you never get the sense that Monumental Bitterness is ever concerned with its velocity as it much as it is fleshing out every moment with appropriately bleak atmosphere. The focus here is ever on the guitars and vocals, the rhythm section has its moments, but is primarily a more mechanical bedrock to support the album's more creative ideas; the few exceptions are when the drum work gets more tribal and thunderous, providing for some of its better beats. Overall though I have few gripes, while there aren't a lot of truly memorable riff patterns or vocal lines, the material as a whole congeals into a moderately gripping experience, a subversion of slower to medium black metal much like Stillborn is a bit out in left field for the more intense death/black assault. Struggling a little to find comparable bands to this, but I think if you enjoyed the most recent pair of albums from Norway's Svartelder then you'd want to check it out, or the more modern Varathron stuff like Untrodden Corridors of Hades and Patriarchs of Evil.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]

Monday, November 25, 2019

Kraków - Minus (2018)

Kraków is often branded as 'stoner metal', but they don't really have all that much in common with the sound typical of that niche. Sure, I'll assume their music sounds as good stoned as without, but in reality these Norwegians have evolved into a happy place in the midst of the sludge, doom and melancholic rock, but peaceful to the extent that they rarely ever bring 'metal' into the picture, at least on this record. Minus is a calming experience for the most part, which occasionally boils over into something more extreme, but retains a level of focus and passion even when it's at its most mellow. It's a blend of pure escapism and inward psychedelia that is likely to appeal to a large crossroads of metalheads who enjoy works of deceitful simplicity across a number of sub-genres.

The beats are very pensive, tribal, almost like a drum circle of hungover people outside their dorm when a serious mood snags them throughout the air. The guitar tones are usually set to clean, and offer these sparse, beautiful string passages that flow alongside the percussion as they eventually contort themselves into some form of climactic sludge-lite or rock part where the vocalist wails on like a guy afraid to walk straight during a DUI screen. Once in a while you'll get some jilty little dissonant spike of melody which borders on math rock, but without the frenzied rhythmic spasms thta usually accompany such a lick. Or maybe a loosely snarled vocal to show they can still hang with all their corpse-painted neighbors. In general, their music is like a tide, ebbing and flowing from the sea to the shore and back outwards, each heavier section a mere intensification of those waters. When they offer up the group vocals, it returns to those feelings of a communal musician brotherhood sitting on some dim evening beach, or in some trodden field, musing at the stars, and as much as I am painting this out to be some hippy bore-fest, it's actually very striking, very effective, and very good.

I think I'd recommend this to fans of groups like Iceland's Sólstafir (2009 on) and Kontinuum in a split second, in fact they're almost like a Norse counterpart to that very style, so if you like vegging out to that this is a no brainer. However, anyone from the sludge fan, to the Gothic rocker, to the indie rock crowd might find a lot to like here. Do you dig modern [b]Katatonia[/b]? Check them out. Any artists on the Indie Recordings label? While Kraków might not have a style to common on that roster, they've got the same artsy, intellectual vibe about them that Enslaved and all their peers do, and they've even covered Enslaved on a tribute album, not to mention sharing the same country of origin. Really impressive album here, it's perhaps not the easiest to describe, but will stay with you for hours after the fire dies down, after the shore is left abandoned and you've made your way back to the smell and rush of civilization.

Verdict: Win [8.5/10]

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Ayas - Heaven and Earth (2019)

Armenia has had such a rough, tragic time of it throughout history that it makes for a potential hotbed for heavy metal of all varieties. Sadly, I don't hear a lot of material from this corner of the world, something I Hate Records has attempted to rectify with this highly elaborate reissue of what might be deemed a lost classic of the late 80s era, from a scene unfamiliar to so many. Ayas formed in the mid to late 80s, put out just one full-length and a demo, all of which has been collected here in a stunning, thorough retrospective which is wonderfully illustrated using a series of beautiful engravings made by Gustave Doré for Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and are strangely prescient towards the eeriness of this band's music, which with better production and distribution probably could have earned the status of a cult classic for that late 80s period.

I mentioned the production because it will probably prove a sore spot for those who don't know what they're getting into. The source material for the original album, Yerkink u yerkir, obviously didn't have a huge budget, and could hardly even be considered demo level even for many European bands of that era. The synthesizers are quite loud, overwhelming the atmosphere that they contribute so much to. The drums are really splashy on the high end, and weaker on the low end, not able to imbue the guitars with a lot of power. Speaking of which, the tone of those guitars seems a little heavily processed. You can make out most of the notes, which is good because these guys had a lot of killer riffs, and reliable if not exemplary leads. The bass hums pretty low in the mix, but it's audible as a shadow flitting along under the guitars. Vocals also lack some power, employing a very workmanlike ranting intonation that doesn't rely so much on melody or chorus hooks, but almost a more punk-like edge to it with some screaming thrown in. The 'Bonus Disc' here, featuring other takes on some of the album tunes, as well as other material, actually sounds superior, more like a passable rehearsal mix, although it's undeniably just as dated as the album disc.

I wanted to get that negativity out of the way, because if you acclimate yourself to what exactly this release is, a window into something so culturally obscure to us modern metal dweebs, Heaven and Earth has a really cool style and the potential to be so much more. It's more or less a mesh of hard rock and heavy metal, with some forays into doomier riffs, and a prog injection in how a lot of the synthesizers are implemented. There are definitely times that I think the music here would appeal to fans of anything from King Diamond/Mercyful Fate or Rainbow to Paul Chain and Black Hole, although some of the later demo material on the Bonus Disc almost forms a crude form of screaming, Priest-like power metal. It can be creepy, it can be inventive, or it can just start rocking out. There are certainly places in which the band is a little too rough around the edges, some of the vocals and some of the more frenzied guitar riffs, but I feel that if a large amount of money had been thrown at this group and they had been able to lay this all down with a great producer/engineer, Heaven and Earth would certainly have been an album more folks remembered, with the sort of imaginative atmosphere about it that would still hold up today.

Yes, the primitive nature of the recording could be a deal breaker for many who don't usually ply the waters of raw 80s recordings like demos or rehearsals, and it was an obstacle even for me, but as someone who had never actually heard the album before, I was pretty impressed by the vision that went into it, and that someone cares enough to release this and give a wider audience a chance to experience what was, what might have been...heck, what might STILL be, because the band has never seemed to fully dissolve, drifting in and out of existence over the decades. If this serves as a window to what they could pull off 32 years ago, who knows what the 21st century version could pull off?

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Friday, November 22, 2019

Jurassic Jade - Wonderful Monument (2000)

Jurassic Jade has always been one of those fringe Japanese thrash bands that I'd place alongside a Doom, Gargoyle, or an Aion, so clearly trying to shed the conventional European or American influences, or at least morph them into something more distinct and avant-garde. Some of these bands did this better than others, and I can't say these guys were one of them. Probably best known for their 1989 full-length debut Gore, and for their front woman Hizumi, who has such an angry, barking delivery style that I find it almost impossible to determine her gender from the vocals. Not that I need to, but I feel kind of bad about that, because she's just got such a crazy, spastic attack on her voice, flying in and out of pitch and structure...even when she's calming down and singing something more clearly and have a hard time telling. Credit to her for that.

Wonderful Monument is obviously an album that arrived well past the 'death' of the thrash genre, or at least the 'temporary' death throughout the 90s, so you can hear how they latch onto all manner of disjointed, influences, making for one hell of an ADD-riddled, insane record that uses thrash only as its core blueprint. In fact, a lot of this album seems like a mutation of metal, punk, grind, mathcore and even stuff like funk somewhere in its DNA strands. All of this is unified by Hizumi's vocals, which range from a raving, pissed off hardcore/grindcore bark to some punkish vocals not unlike a Japanese Johnny Rotten. The riff-set is all over the place, with lots of bouncy rhythms that embed a layer of generic and uninteresting dissonance into the chord selections. Whereas a band like Doom was capable of coming up with interesting stylistic fusions into the riffs, I find that the guitars on this album are one of its weaknesses, alongside the vocals that don't ever stick with me despite how raving and novel they seem. They just never break out into some killer guitar hook that is so desperately needed, even when they're channeling bands I love like Prong and Voivod.

Now the bass playing on this album is actually fucking rad, a huge tone flopping all over the place with grooves that are more mentally stimulating than everything going on over them. When the band starts to space out with some atmospheric, jazzy, weird guitars over these lines, as in "This is Ma' Song", it finally starts to get interesting, to the point I wish it were all like that. The drums are good and flexible, usually playing some rock beat behind the weirdness but capable of picking up in intensity where needed, or laying in some jazzy groove or fill. On the other hand, some of the tunes create a departure entirely from their heavier sound, like "Itsuka (A Requiem for K)", which is more of an atmospheric ballad without percussion, and the whole thing just feels like a mess that can't play up to its strengths. Wonderful Monument is one of their more obscure albums that you'll never hear anyone really talk about, and there's a pretty good reason, it's just too scatterbrained and can't find its own way through the bouncing, pummeling oddity it has birthed. If you're checking them out for the first time, you're better off sticking to the more nasty, coherent thrash of Gore, which has more of a basis in bands like Slayer and then tacks on Hizumi's angry vox, and better riffs.

Verdict: Indifference [5.5/10]

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Deivos - Casus Belli (2019)

Long one of the more dependable second tier acts on the Polish death metal circuit, Deivos have now been in existence for over 20 years with no end in sight. Now, when I refer to them as 'second tier', I refer only to popularity, because if I'm being honest these guys are every bit an equal to many of the better known, veteran bands from the States or elsewhere, and Casus Belli is nothing nearing a letdown if you've been following them since their more transitional works like 2010's Gospel of Maggots. Like a number of bands on their scene, Deivos exist in a happy medium between the more brutal and technical death metal acts and those who follow the songwriting aesthetics of the late 80s and early 90s, although they don't quite subscribe to the more creepy, old school tremolo picking vibes or Swedish guitar tones and d-beat rhythms so eminent in this domain.

Basically it's as if they were a parallel evolution to what the New York death metal crews like an Immolation or Suffocation were doing in the earlier 90s, but extremely well balanced in terms of composition and dynamics. Loads of bludgeoning palm muted rhythms fired off at a number of clips both moderate and hyperspeed, but the band is never afraid to slow down for a few dreary, doomed passages where the chords are given more space to breathe. The footwork on the drums is intense, a lot of double kick and blast beats effortlessly wrought to carry along the frenzied guitars, and the guy uses his full kit, lots of skilled fills and higher pitched percussion to match the thunder. They splatter quality little lead guitars all over the place that help maintain a level of variation, balance and atmosphere that might be lost if they were simply charging forward in their battering rhythms to fill out every second of space on the disc. While the rhythms aren't extremely technical, they're just busy enough and non-generic enough that they keep your attention while they are clobbering away, and then the band will shift into some morbid chords that ramp up the evil.

The vocals are pretty straightforward as they always have been, syncopated gutturals that match in very well with the drumming and chugging, but still pretty sincere and gruesome if you actually listen to them closely. What surprised me were a few groovy little riffs (as in "Victims") which reminded me of vintage efforts from their countrymen Decapitated, you know, from back when that band was really good and had something inspiring going. In every vortex of blasting and pummeling across this entire album there is usually one or two sections waiting in the depths that will ramp up the catchy and thus make all the aggression surrounding them more impressive on the whole. Casus Belli is certainly one of the stronger efforts they've put out alongside Gospel of Maggots and Demiurge of the Void, and further cements the band's legacy of consistency...outside of the giants like Vader and Behemoth, you'll only find a few on the Polish scene that could throw down with  Deivos on an album to album basis. So if you're into Lost Soul, Calm Hatchery, or Decapitated and have somehow missed out, make the correction!

Verdict: Win [8/10]

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

In Shadows and Dust - Enlightened by Darkness (2018)

A one-man French act with four full-lengths under his belt, this latest, Enlightened by Darkness being the first released through Redefining Darkness here in the States. Like a lot of solo projects, the sheer magnitude and effort are difficult to deny, and I have to complement In Shadows and Dust on walking such an exact line between both the black and death metal genres. You hear a lot of groups identify with both, but here it's literally infused equally with both. Grinding, ugly rhythm guitars that can either brutalize with old school aggression or create some tremolo picked nightmares, a vocal style that kind of falls on the rasp side but can have a lot more of a flesh-ripping tear to it. Blasted drum patterns that live up to both extreme deathgrind and hyperblasted black metal.

To be honest, the album gave me kind of a headache, due to the density of the production. It also obscures a lot of the riff patterns to the point that I wasn't too excited as I couldn't pick out a hell of a lot of interesting chord progressions. On a tune like "Revenge", the project is clearly just aiming to pummel the fuck out of you...sure, there's a dim melody that erupts deeper into the track, but it's all about savaging and slaying, and doesn't care how it arrives at that grisly victory. While I can't deny that there is an angry personality to the record, and a tangible corpse rending atmosphere, I cannot say that it had much charisma that I would latch on to. The vocals are a little boring, the mix of the guitars is so grimy that there were just too few good parts for me to latch onto. The only stuff I was really feeling were those points I mentioned where there'd be a fraction of a melody spit out over the thundering turmoil beneath, and occasionally, as in "Dawn of a New Day", those types of moments would feature more prominently over a good chunk of a tune.

Of course, putting this all together deserves some accolades, because it's quite intense for just one guy, he's adept at getting the package assembled, if not so much with a production that could really deliver it home for me. The cover artwork is kind of fun, with a cool old undead king wielding his sword in a graveyard...and then what looks like a guitar pedal just...sitting on the side there. Looks like something suited to a proper, throwback death metal album, but this is only half that, since it really does blend in those mid to late 90s black metal influences so evenly. In the end, it just didn't stick with me for numerous reasons, but if you want something fast, dark, and meaty, maybe you're into old Swedish hybrids of the two styles, you might check it out to see if your mileage varies from my own.

Verdict: Indifference [6/10]

Monday, November 18, 2019

Hamferð - Ódn EP (2019)

The Faroe Islands fascinate me not only as a little nook of the world that I hadn't heard of growing up, but also as a place where a small but curious metal scene has sprouted, possessing a lot of variation within itself, but also some unique sounds when compared the world over. Of course I'm largely talking about Týr, whose Viking progressive metal is extremely distinct, but in this case I'll dredge up the atmospheric, oppressive Hamferð who really thrive in a niche between traditional Gothic/doom metal and something more otherworldly, perhaps like older Tiamat and Lake of Tears. I came a little late to this sextet's sophomore full-length, Támsins likam, but really enjoyed that when I got around to it, and this two track live EP, for all its format limitations, is phenomenal...

And there's an interesting story behind it. While the first, and newer title track was recorded live and filmed in Tórshavn, the second, "Deyðir varðar", a shorter version of a track of their full-length debut Evst from 2013, was recorded out of doors during a solar eclipse. Maybe a bit tacky, but when you watch the live videos of the performances (both available on the 'Tube'), you can see that this was done out of conviction and not just some soulless gimmick. Now the two cuts here are not cut from the same cloth; "Ódn" itself is by far my favorite of the two, and best fits the description I offered above, an 8 minute crawl of monolithic, measured pacing with gloomy power chords, and a mix of vocals between a potent guttural, wavering cleans mildly reminiscent of Candlemass, and then a style in between, a passionate, melodic howling which is more like a beefed up version of Primordial frontman Nemtheanga. Lean into this with some atmospheric organs that ride just at the edge of the chords' weight, and you've got a powerful statement that delivers more than a lot in its genre can muster in an actual studio.

The 'B-side' track is a calmer piece with cleaner acoustics and vocals, still quite great and folksy, but doesn't offer that same level of power if it still resonates emotionally. Again, the production is near pristine, you wouldn't know that these were live without a few minor details, and paired up with the stark, simplistic cover painting this is just one that will stick with you, or at least have you tracking down their older material which is very much worth it. While you'll find plenty of the band's DNA has been drawn from its primary genres, there just isn't an another band that sounds to me quite like this one, putting together these strands in this precise way, and they're another Faroe standout. As for the 12" as a product, I don't know if this band's style really jives with the format. Once you listen through "Ódn", you're going to want to hear a lot more than 8 minutes of that...and so it seems rather unfulfilling in that respect. So I'd bargain that unless you are collecting all the band's works, you could just check out the video versions of the tunes and invest your money in the full-lengths, past and future. If the second tune had been of the same weight as the first, then I'd ramp up the praise. Having said all that, this is still one of the finer, short live EPs I've come across in awhile, so if my rating seems a bit lowball, it's only because the 'product' doesn't match the musical vision. But the band is awesome.

Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10]

Friday, November 15, 2019

Godslave - In Hell (2013)

Despite over a decade of existence, five full-length albums and a number of appearances on splits and other recordings, I have not actually listened or really even heard of Godslave before I sat down with this third record, In Hell. There's an obvious reason for that, as the rest of this review will reveal, but I have to say up front that I wanted to get into this. A band clearly rooted in the 80s, with a whole slew of influences that encapsulate a whole lot of the B-list or below of bands making their rounds back then. There's nothing overtly 'goofy' or exceedingly retro about what they write, they take those same influences and thrust them into a 21st century studio production; they are topical, they aren't just some self-flagellating 'thrash' band that wants us all to know just how 'thrash' they are.

So here's the issue...if you took about 20 or more of those thrash bands from the 80s, largely US stuff like Whiplash, Sacred Reich, Testament, Exhorder, and Exodus, but also traces of groups like Artillery, Forbidden, Xentrix, Mortal Sin and Destruction, put them all in a blender, both vocally and musically, and then removed any modicum of memorable riffing and choruses, you would end up with an album like In Hell. This is appreciably competent stuff, from both the dynamic range of the rhythm and lead guitars, the flexibility of the vocals, and the clarity of production, but so little of it really registers to a thrasher that has been there all along. It occasionally lapses into some really baseline Exodus neck-jerking riffs, but often has a bit more complexity to it, and normally the amount of effort put into something like that draws my attention, but the numerous times I spun the material I just found it sticking even less on each successive listen. None of the vocal styles are bad, you get a smattering of Phil Rind, Zetro, Chuck Billy, Chris Astley and even some Schmier sneering, but despite the chameleon-like scope they don't exactly develop a personality on their own.

The Germans also know how to put a track together with a richly busy, slick bridge section, some leads that feel like time was spent on them, and some nice atmosphere to the intros and how they progress into their verses, but it seems like a puzzle in which not all of the pieces were slid fully to where they belong. Certain re-sequencing of note patterns could have turned this into an absolute smasher of a 21st century thrash disc that looks both backward and forward at the same time. I mean, granted, when you look at this it seems more like some melodeath or metalcore disc with the band's logo and title font, so I was kind of surprised that the guys were so well practiced in a whole range of older bands that informed their style, but the music overall really just can't hurdle past respectable tribute to a whole era into something worthwhile on its own. Clearly Godslave have their shit in order organizationally, but this set of tunes is just not so inspired beyond the format itself. Quite possible that their other works are superior, but I'm not sure who is paying attention.

Verdict: Indifference [5.75/10]

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Asphodèle - Jours pâles (2019)

It's a complete surprise to me that such a new band can come up with such a consistent and compelling vision for its music in such a short time, and while a good many might turn up their noses at the 'post-black metal' tag that France's Asphodèle clearly belongs under, they do a really decent job at covering the bases and standing out for that particular style. Just looking upon the lush, hazy cityscape of the album cover, you can kind of get an idea of what this sounds like...urban, personal, and highly melancholic, like French cinema, cool and hip as you pass it in the park on a dim evening, with a cigarette callously hanging from its lips. Alright, I'm being a dramatic asshole with some stereotypical notions of this band's culture, but I didn't actually mean that in a bad way. It's the occasional despondency, the lack of interest in Audrey Sylvain's vocal contribution, and the glorious devotion to the driving, textured, somber riffs that make Jours pâles such a strong debut.

Yes, Audrey is involved here, and I suppose the obvious comparisons for the band's sound is straight to Alcest or Amesoeurs, and those wouldn't be far from the truth, but the material here is a little more brooding. The riffs are strong, mid-paced with a lot of chord patterns or melodies ingrained in them that remind me of groups like Katatonia, On Thorns I Lay and other bands of that style, in addition to many of the group's better known post-black peers. There are some instances where they pick up to a more roiling pace, but even then the mood is affected by the tiny slices of piano and the melodies that erupt in any corner of the album like flowers suddenly sprouting from a plot of city soil. I was also reminded of the Swedes Lifelover, especially their album Konkurs, especially when they spit out the harsher male vocals or the angst-ridden cleans, but here it's all performed a little tighter. Audrey's vocals work really well here, not always structured to match the pace of the music but sometimes delivered in a more fast-paced spoken word narrative, or even a flightier, happier sense; in any case, a good reflection of the urban sadness so intrinsically wrought throughout the record.

The beats are solid rock rhythms which occasionally get a little more splashy and intense, and the bass is quite a simple anchor to the rest, standing out a little more on the tune "Nitide" which has more of an eerie shoegaze vibe than its neighbors. All told, Jours pâles has a very high production level, all the instruments clear and set at appropriate levels to drift along the sinuous streets. The vocals are excellent, always full of emotion, especially on a track like "Refuge" where the grimier rasping is allowed to reign for a spell. The synths and pianos are tasteful and never overused. There's enough rhythmic variation to keep the listener in check throughout the entire track list, although stylistically much of the material moves at a similar pace and with consistent rocking chords that push them along. It's not always as catchy as it might like, but this is nonetheless a solid debut if you're into Heretoir, Deafheaven, Myrkur, Alcest, etc.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Faceless Burial - Multiversal Abbatoir EP (2018)

Multiversal Abbatoir is one of those releases that ironically suffers from having such a strong opening piece, in this case the creepy and haunting, brief acoustic piece "Sluiced in Celestial Sewerage", just under two minutes, which is in my estimation better than all of the actual death metal tracks that comprise the rest of the EP. However, that's not to say the band's harder material is bad at all, it's indeed solid, it just lacks the potential that a return to such atmospherics might have lent it, and it's a cautionary warning, when kicking off your recording with something so starkly different, be prepared that you might be dealing in some degree of disappointment. It's a self set snare, but one that Faceless Burial don't fall in quite so much as a few other death and black metal bands I've come across.

Other than that, though, these Australians prove themselves a competent old school mashup of sounds you might recall from the Floridian scene, perhaps with a bit of the earlier Dutch masters, bands from Death and Obituary to Asphyx and Sinister, with a little Malevolent Creation and Morbid Angel mixed in for good measure. The guitars are chunky and clunky, cycling between clinical, evil harmonized riffs, fleshier low end grooves that almost remind me of a more jazzy and experimental, broken Blessed Are the Sick, with a dash of Gorguts' late 90s metamorphosis. They cram quite a lot into each tune in term of tectonic tempo shifting, living up to the cataclysmic cover artwork, and they keep the listener on the edge of his or her seat, straddling the abyss of their infernal creation. That's not to say they write all the best riffs, a lot of these will prove minor variations on others that you've heard many time, but they inject a lot of controlled chaos in how they pattern them out which at least keeps you interested since there's no chance they're going to repeat themselves unto oblivion...dynamism is the key to the compositions' effectiveness.

With the sturdy, but natural drumming, thick pummeling rhythmic underbelly and dour, sustained growls, I quite dug listening through tunes like "Piteous Sepulchre (of Amentia)" and "Fistulated Beyond Recognition", although again they don't pack in a lot of breakout riffs, just a lot that sound cool when they're crashing into one another. Overall, though they don't really offer that same blend of dynamic death and doom, I'd liken Faceless Burial to their countrymen Disentomb in how they never lapse into an excess of formulaic writing. This EP, despite its shorter length, keeps churning and blasting you in the face repeatedly so you feel as if you've just witnessed some seismic rupture of the Earth beneath you, magma licking at your chin and paranoia taking over that everyone and everything you love is about to be swallowed up into the crust, and a lot of the wild lead guitars are so hit or miss that it only snowballs the chaos. So while I really would have liked a few returns to those wicked, excellent acoustics to round this all out as an experience, this still gets my seal of approval as something in which the creators have expended some effort to keep you guessing and keep you terrified.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Pénitence Onirique - Vestige (2019)

The Pénitence Onirique debut V.I.T.R.I.O.L. back in 2016 might not have completely won me over, but it was unarguably a wall of ebullient, shining black metal force which approached from an interesting angle a genre which is too often defined by convention or cloning those to come before. Granted, there is a backbone of traditional atmospheric Euro BM behind what the Frenchmen are writing, but the unending wall of sound created by the guitars and vocals gave it a fresh feel without quite teetering off into that boggy stretch of the medium we characterize as 'post-' anything. Their new album, Vestige, might not possess such a transcendent look to it on the surface, but I found the subtleties and variation here a fraction more enjoyable than I found its predecessor.

The pacing here shifts between surging, blasting black metal textured with repetitious, higher guitar patterns that are constantly saturating the upper atmosphere of the album with an ambient or post rock flavor, and then more measured, longer pieces which accomplish much the same but through a more stolid, doomed approach. On occasion the band will drop out the beats and just let some of the melodic pickings ring out, and it's glorious, the entire album feels like this tide that is going to drown you, release you, and then drown you again. The vocals are primarily molded in the traditional rasp that was also dominant on the debut, however they'll throw some cleaner chants, howls and even some more brutal guttural vocals in there just to increase the diversity of emotions they can flatten you with. They don't repeat themselves too often rhythmically, I mean the blasted stuff is probably one of the higher percentages but even in that you'll hear little differences in the drums or the fabric of the guitars being woven above them that help distinguish them a little, even though as a whole the record is incredibly fluid and coherent. Drums are intense, bass lines are solid even if they don't really poke through the desperate mass of sounds above them.

Now I think, atmospherically, Pénitence Onirique has its style on lock, and there's a certain segment of the modern black metal fandom which just wants that snarling intensity measured up against a more shoegaze-like panoply of chord options who really aught to check this band out, and in fact to that same crowd I say also track down V.I.T.R.I.O.L. One area in which I still think the group can grow, however, is by writing catchier guitar patterns...while I love the sonic half of their approach, there aren't a lot of guitar licks here that truly wanted to draw me back towards the album. Even the instrumental 'interlude' piece "Hespéros" felt like it was just sort of drifting there, a fine backdrop for a morning rise from bed with the sun glaring upon your brown, but not possessing any inherent note patterns that stuck with me, no infectious melodies embedded in there. It's all just sort of competently crafted emptiness that suits an emotional notion, almost like incidental music, and there's a place for that, surely, but it still lacks the hooks to become much more.

Verdict: Win [7.25/10]

Monday, November 11, 2019

Erebos - Pesta kommer (2018)

Pesta kommer's biggest obstacle is that it's a very cool black metal record entangled with an entirely mediocre dungeon synth album. Its second biggest obstacle is that those lush, beautiful melodic black metal components lack vocals to embellish them...not that this is a complete dealbreaker, mind you, but you can't help but to think that an entire album with the memorable qualities of the opening title track, laden in atmospheric rasps, would really have driven this one to the phenomenon level. So desperate and catchy are those guitar riffs that they deserve a little bit more than what they're served up alongside here, and it's a shame the sole musician behind this project didn't feel the same.

Now, don't mistake me, not all the synthesizer parts are a bust. Where they flow to and from the metal parts they are actually quite nice. When they aim for a more militant atmosphere, as in the second tune, they are also pretty passable. But several of them fizzle out with exceedingly repetitious key lines, fit to their genre, but nothing that you haven't heard or that you'll really want to listen through much afterwards. It lacks the creepy medieval tones and ambiance of a lot of the classics in that field, and brings relatively little to the table other than sounding like incidental music from a B-grade video game or historical TV show. Once the music stirs back into those emotional, bleeding tremolo picked guitar lines, which are just so richly executed over the drums and chords, you'll wish that the album featured far more of them, rather than leaving some tracks void of them.

Production is overall very good, on either stylistic end, but once more the metal really shines above its pure synthesized counterpart due to the layering of the guitars. The absence of vocals might not actually prove so bad for some, I just think that it doesn't reach the maximum impact it might have, despite its inherent excellence. A tragedy, because a half dozen songs that good, maybe interspersed with some more formidable, memorable synthesizer segues would be all the rage with fans into groups like Summoning, Druadan Forest, Eldamar, and Caladan Brood, while an album with the quality black metal alone would make ripples with the atmospheric, nature-themed black metal audience.

Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10]

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Decem Maleficium - La fin de Satán (2019)

Here's an interesting six-piece out of Santiago, Chile which has been around nearly 20 years, but that I've not had the pleasure to encounter on a previous occasion. I generally associate their country's metal scene with an eclectic mix of doomier groups and blackened/thrashers, so Decem Maleficium stands out a little for doing something different. Certainly the Gothic chants, layout and melancholic nature of the music tend towards the former, but to be honest these guys have more of a pure black metal core weaving influences from the Greek and Scandinavian scenes and then dressing those up with eerier elements that wouldn't be out of place if they were playing a more purely doom focus. They also have the capacity to throw me for a few loops here or there that maintain a certain vitality and freshness to their songwriting.

Just as examples in the first time, the proggy, sparse synth lines that occasionally arrive over "The Ceremony", or the atmospheric, even New Age jazzy segments you'll find buried deeper into its back-end, perforated with spicy little shredding lead guitars. La fin de Satán is not going to be perfect in all ways for all people, but it's certainly adventurous, from these aforementioned elements, to the more urgent, operatic synths they'll lay out behind certain black metal passages, the tribal drumming on some sections, the multi-tiered vocal styles which merge together some death-growls with cleaner crooning, and even the solemn acoustic breaks. There might be some room for improvement in a lot of these areas individually, but the fact that they plotted this all out to begin with is impressive all on its own, and immediately created a uniqueness out of a lot of familiar components. The musicianship is all-around tight, especially the drums and lead guitars, and while the tremolo picked rhythm guitars that make up a lot of the structure aren't wholly unique sounding, they bend and explore enough ground that they are spitting out satisfying riffs more often than not.

There really isn't a standout weak point on the album anywhere, other than perhaps that its overall impact is limited. It's not super memorable, just good. The rasp vocals aren't terribly interesting I suppose, but they're not bad and they are well enough placed to match the intensity of the faster riffing. However, despite having such a good range of ingredients to work with, I never thought that La fin de Satán was biting off more than it could chew. Some listeners might not be into the synth tones, they do seem a little sillier than what is happening around them, but I thought they brought a mildly psychedelic charm to the darkness and evil on exhibition throughout much of the compositions. If you're looking for a band which takes its primary genre and then tinkers a little at its boundaries, or you dig expansive, occult black metal which isn't afraid to mix up its instrumentation or try some new rhythms and flavors, then this is an effort I'd happily steer you towards.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]

Friday, November 8, 2019

Atavisma - The Chthonic Rituals (2018)

How many death metal records have you heard lately that begin with about a minute of crazy drum soloing? An uncommon strategy, but sure enough one employed by Frenchmen Atavisma on their Memento Mori debut album The Chthonic Rituals. Here's a record which does fall largely into the cavernous territory, with walls of claustrophobic, fleshy guitars that give the listener the impression he or she has been devoured by some abomination deep within the Earth and thrashing about to escape imminent suffocation. So, in other words, if you've been following the genre's trends for the last decade and change, or find yourself poring over the rosters of labels like Dark Descent, this album might be a given provided you are not already taxed beyond the attention span for the niche.

Incantation is the natural reference point, as it is for so many similar groups, but the saturation on the guitars here definitely has a more European vibe, raw and semi-Swedish without the band ever bordering on Entombed/Dismember worship. And I love the rawness here, how they'll leave some of the feedback in the mix to make it sound dank and evil, yet the production itself on the whole album is quite fulfilling, deep and dark but clear enough that nothing gets lost in the mix. The guitars roil and rend as they carve up a standard but effective slew of note patterns, and they ably blend the more blasted material with some slower, death/doom passages that they ingrain with melodies which instantly stand forth from the clobbering morass surrounding them. The drums are great, as you'll already know from that intro track, energetic and busy without any level of overproduction, and they give even the less interesting rhythm guitars a lot more pep to them. The strongest points of the Rituals for me are when they burst out into some hyper tremolo pattern where a lead-like melody emerges and get a little more atmospheric and extradimensional than when they're just gorging on the grindier rhythm guitars full-bore.

The vocals are fine if you're into the subterranean Craig Pillard style of nihilistic guttural, although I think that I've heard so many of this types of front man the last 10-15 years that they all sort of blend together, and certainly Atavisma is no exception in that regard, but they do get off some huge, ominous sustained growls and roars over some of the more chaotic points in the music, and I think anyone who's a real die hard for the style isn't going to have any problem with them. They're also often referred to as a death/doom hybrid, and I can certainly hear that in places like the end of "Invocation of Archaic Deities", or the trudging "Monoliths", just expect that some tracks are far more on one side of that spectrum than the other. All told, The Cthhonic Rituals is a worthy listen for fans into Dead Congregation, Father Befouled, Funebrarum, Ossuarium, and bands of that ilk.

Verdict: Win [7.75/10]

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Blacksoul Seraphim - Profane Devotions (2019)

Blacksoul Seraphim has been honing its brand of Gothic doom for years now, often infusing it with other of their influences like black metal, so the latest release, Profane Devotions comes as somewhat of a stylistic surprise. The band has stepped somewhat out of its comfort zone here with a focus on groovier, traditional doom riffs of the more direct Sabbath variety as channeled through their prodigies like Trouble, Pentagram and the like. That said, they haven't committed entirely to this edgeways evolution, retaining a lot of their core characteristics like the deeper male Gothic vocals, female backing vocals, organs, keyboards, and the polished, rigid, professional production style which is honestly hit or miss when you're exploring a more dirty, down to earth spin on the dooms so heavily prevalent in stuff like stoner rock. Again, this is not exactly trying to journey that far away from the band's earlier output, so what you're left with is a unique contrast.

A lot of pros here, but a few cons for me. The rhythm riffs are well-written and catchy, especially in "Doom Junkie" and "Bedlam Harvest", evoking that primitive, bluesy savvy you can trace back to the late 60s and 70s as Iommi and company were hitting their stride. Familiar, perhaps, as progressions of this style often are, but even then I think Blacksoul Seraphim does a damn fine job of keeping the actual structures of the verse riffs into chorus or bridge sections compelling enough that you can tell they've paid attention to how these mechanisms function and then translated them into their own tongue. Much of the musicianship is good on the whole...the drums keep the both the grooves and the choppier start/stop patterns in check, the bass sounds good and fat in the mix, and the way the synths are layered in against the riffs and vocals is balanced just right to enhance their power without any threat of intruding or outshining what is most important. The mix on the EP is quite good, which is no easy task when you're blending together the varied vocal styles and instruments here. It might even be too tidy, but again this band is not intentionally trying to sound as throwback as a lot of their peers, so there was little chance this was going to sound like a scratched vinyl from 1968 in a waft of cigarette fumes.

The lyrics are also quality, which is old hat to these guys, a mix of introspective despair as well as the hovering Lovecraftian influence that has long fueled them (and their former project Sorrowseed). But where I started to disconnect with this material is in the vocal choices. Now, to be clear, none of the vocals here are actually bad at all, if I were to isolate them from the whole they'd sound fine. The shouted, higher male vocals in "Doom Junkie" were quite good with the music, and where the male and female duet vocals were pretty well done. However, I just didn't jive all that much with the lower vocals over these groovier the past, when the band was playing with a more stolid, Gothic architecture to the songs, these fit more smoothly, but here they tend to drag down the grooves. I also wasn't a fan of switching over to the female lead vocals on "Priestess of the Deep". I reiterate, it's not that the voice is bad, or out of key, but somehow they seemed too constrained, too safe over the riffing, where I would have liked to hear her go a little wilder, which she actually does closer to the end of the song, enforcing my point. One other nitpick for me was that the lead guitars were a mixed bag, especially in the bridge "Priestess of the Deep" where the solo felt a little too sporadic and didn't go anywhere special musically.

In fact, apart from the core riff during the verse, and the decent lyrics, I just wasn't all that into the second song. Not a deal breaker, mind you, but it just stuck out a little in an awkward way. Ironically, if you were a fan of their earlier albums Alms & Avarice and Hymns for the Vanquished, you might actually dig that one the most. I was, but I didn't, and overall it limited my enjoyment here. Now, to be clear, this is not a full-length, but an EP which is dipping its toes into the waters of another branch of the genre they original set out to explore. Not a massive departure or experiment, but enough of one that some growing pains could be expected. To that extent, I think their riffs prove that they're capable of wrenching out those soil-encrusted doom roots. I was nodding my head appreciatively through almost all of them. But I'd like to hear them go dirtier, crazier, more hazy and psychedelic, soul hammering. A little less of that meticulous marbled Gothic structure and a little more raw, devolved freakout would go a long way with this strain of doom.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Cerebral Secretion - Infinite Realms of Decay (2018)

Cerebral Secretion's full-length debut has such an awesome cover that I instantly wanted to make myself like it, for the superficial reasons we always see such things and want to be immersed into a realm of horror and atmosphere. Judging by the logo, though, that wasn't exactly what I should have been expected, and indeed, Infinite Realms of Decay is knuckle dragging slam death metal of the Amputated Vein Records, not so meaty or brute-tastic as a lot of other bands in the field, and capable of some dynamic change-ups that actually rescue it from the sodden sort of mediocrity it could have suffered. Hell, this is even something I might recommend for fans of the style, largely due to the few differences it cultivates, but I was nonetheless disappointed at the disconnect I had between how it looked and how it sounded.

Right away, you get a sample about suicide and depression which isn't about a bunch of ghastly green-flame spewing cultists around an altar of cadavers in front of a haunted manor (and yes, I do realize there's a dude hanging from a tree behind the logo). So I was taken out of that notion immediately for some slow, chugging, grooving death metal smothered in the usual guttural stylings and some piggish snarls and squeals to offset them. This is the dominant form of writing on most of the tracks here, and they do it in a somewhat accessible fashion, not unlike UK's Ingested, although also not quite as memorable. This is balanced off with tech death excursions involving faster blasting, and spastic guitar melodies that go in one ear and out the other because they sound so much like so many others in the game. However, for me, the most distinct part of this is when they break out into these slower, atmospheric grooves with a simple, slightly effected melody that instantly created this feel of some slogging djent with a catchy line above it, the sort of area of a tune that would replace something chorus-like, and they do have a knack for making these specific parts stand out above the rest of the recording, so the listener is longing for them.

Nothing immaculate, but they did boost my estimation of the album overall. I also heard a few little glimpses towards old school progressive death metal that helped round it out, and it has a few tunes that I just outright appreciated, like "Chasms Carved from Darkness" with its pop-out, clinical melodic guitars. They also pepper the record with a few interesting instrumentsl like "Inconsistent Wiring" and "Passages to Vehement Planets", and their flangy, minimal, atonal guitars, or "Detach" which is like a super brief, 16 second injection of spastic mathcore dissonance. The Australians definitely excel at breaking up the experience and distributing the surprises so that you are never faced with some boring, exceedingly repetitive chuggression, and when you've got all that wrapped up into a 33 minute, concise experience, it's hard to feel too let down. So I did enjoy Infinite Realms of Decay to an extent, but you can help an old creep for wanting it to sound a little eerier, like the first impression you get when gazing at the great artwork. If you want 'catchy' slam that isn't too ridiculous or numbingly heavy, with a clear musical bent, check it out.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Monday, November 4, 2019

Maïeutiste - Veritas (2019)

The eponymous 2015 debut from these Frenchman was a torrent of ideas fashioned into a cohesive but often overwhelming whole, as they wove together a number of metallic sub-styles; melodic black and death, doom, folk and progressive touches were omnipresent through that experience, and from the sounds of it that aspect of the band has not really changed with the sophomore effort Veritas. So go into this expecting a fair depth of complexity, not that individual riffing sequences are necessarily the most technical you'll run into, just that combined into the overall package, there's quite a lot going on and by the time you've ingested one of its elements, they will be all ready to dazzle you with the next. Fortunately, they're both great players and writers, with a lot of quality riffs on exhibition and it's a pleasure to lose oneself in their labyrinths of flavorful, morose hostility.

For example, within the first minute of the second track "Infinitus" you're run over by a bustling and claustrophobic mesh of melodic black metal riffs, and then the tune devolves into compelling, deep acoustic sounds and cleaner male chanting vocals which should definitely please fans of a Mikael Åkerfeldt, or the cleaner vocals employed by Enslaved and their peers. Then the almost jazzy, rhythmic currents erupt and I'm once again reminded of a group like Opeth if they were embedded in more of a storming black/death metal context rather than a pensive, naturalistic atmosphere. You will never know what you're about to face around any corner here..."Suspiramus" is essentially a brief neoclassical opera interlude, while "Universum" clouts you with these bold, tectonic mid-paced rhythms that feel like the Earth is stirring beneath your feet while the melodies ring out over an ever dimming sky above the turmoil. There is simply no moment that passes upon Veritas in which you can accuse the group of not being inspired, of creating a depth to their material that is vastly more interesting than your garden variety melodic black metal approach.

The musicianship is fluid and incredible without ever bordering on any sort of arrogance or lack of self-discipline. Maïeutiste is great in the calmer periods, like the spacious guitars in the lurching, doomed belly of "Vocat", and equally potent where they get the most intense, guitars blazing along in all manner of melodies and harmonies that ensure payoff for the listener. The drums are well done, both the harsh and clean vocals are perfectly fit to the patchwork of material, and there is a great wealth of dynamic range to their compositions to keep this interesting through multiple listens. It's probably a little more coherent than their debut, and I like it a fraction more, to the point that I'd heartily recommend if you're a fan of groups that transformed their more fundamental black metal roots into a more progressive, expansive sound later on, especially the Scandinavian masters, or perhaps Spain's Foscor is a good comparison even if they've progressed much further apace. Good band that painfully few people that talk about, another gem in that creatively overstocked French scene which remains one of the most interesting in the world.

Verdict: Win [8/10]

Blitzspeer - Blitzspeer Saves (1991)

I remember first hearing Blitzspeer when a friend acquired their initial Live cassette out through Epic records, which I thought was unusual at the time for a debut to the public. They were kind of existing on that fringe edge of thrash metal, where they'd be associated in with other acts of that scene but didn't have a lot in common. I wasn't hugely impressed with that tape, but it's only now in exploring their sole studio album that I can really hash out why. These New Yorkers were essentially trapped between two worlds, a dirty hard rock band trapped inside a slightly heavier set of riffs that might occasionally place them within the punk rock or thrash ream. Not as outright cheesy or lame as a glam band, but you can hear just enough of that in the DNA to distract.

There's a lot of groovy hard rock here, and when they break out into some of those licks, as in the "Truck of Love" track, I wonder why they don't just do that exclusively, since it's their strength. The heavier, metallic riffs are a little dull, but when they get on more of a Guns & Roses or Skid Row meets Mind Funk trip they really sound like they're having a lot more fun. The guitar playing is solid, if only rarely exceptional since they have a lot of very dull riffs in their verses. On the other hand, when they do something like "City of Angels", which is more like a hybrid of punk and Sunset Strip rock excess, they are quite passable as a more sleazy alternative to Motorhead or the Ramones. Problem is the majority of the songs here have chord patterns that are quite uninspired, so no amount of glitz and attitude is going to edge that fact out. The drums are definitely poppy and rock-oriented, but the bassist is pretty good and keeps busy giving the lower end of the record a second of back alley boogie that makes you want to sell stolen watches from the inside of your leather jacket.

Vocalist Phil Caivano is an acquired taste, he's got a very grimy edge to his voice which works for some of this particular material, especially the chorus parts, but it's also a little hokey in spots. The leads are almost without exception bluesy and simplistic flourishes of rock & roll excess, but again they fit what Blitzspeer is trying to accomplish. Unfortunately, what they do end up accomplishing is in creating a record that doesn't quite seem to commit to either its heaviness or its sleeze, it never goes far enough over the top in either direction and seems to play it a little safe. I do feel that this sort of material would have gone over reasonably well at an 80s East Coast/NY club gig where you've got an audience mix of hairsprayed hard rockers, punk rejects and a few leather & spikes heshers, and perhaps that's the very reason they were inspired were hybridize their songwriting as such. Saves isn't without some degree of personality, it doesn't exactly suck, but it's more a throwback curiosity of a time when a lot of bands had to feel out where they wanted to travel sonically, and many got left by the roadside.

Verdict: Indifference [5.5/10]

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Numen - Iluntasuna besarkatu nuen betiko (2019)

Numen has always stood out among Europe's pagan/black metal pioneers for its use of the Basque language for its lyrics, and for conveying the beliefs and folklore of that region through them. Just looking through the song titles you're faced with letter sequences foreign to you even when you're used to seeing Finnish, Latin or Slavic, and it's a mark of distinction that permeates the band both superficially and in the subject matter of their songs. Alas, one thing I often found a drawback is that this was probably the only really unique thing in a lot of their music. If you're expecting an atmospheric or overtly folk-flavored experience, you might be left hanging since that appears only scarcely through the material and maybe not in the sort of melodic content you might expect.

Oh, it's there a little in the chord choices and clamor of their song structures, or in little pieces like the instrumentation that closes out "Itzaletan solasean", but for the most part this is just a suffocation and often dizzying black metal experience. A blasting tumult that weighs heavily on its ability to beat your face in with its hyperactive aggression and the literal floods of chords that it creates. Now, these might take on a more flavorful, Romantic sort of atmosphere in of themselves, as in the depths of "Iraganeko errautsak", but for the most part these motherfuckers play fast, they play hard and you are not liable to forget that as you dig your way through the 47 minutes of material. There are some breaks where the band hits a slower or mid-tempo and simplifies the chord structures, and once the dust of the album clears they offer you an acoustic outro with narrator-like Basque vocals, but this is the sort of momentum and force targeted towards lovers of traditional, fast-driven Scandinavian or Scandinavian-influenced European fare like Marduk, Naer Mataron, 1349 and their ilk, only Numen have enough distinction through the cultural influence and chord choices that they can whip up a frenzy of their own that doesn't sound like a crass impersonation.

The production here is very straightforward, with the drums and guitars surging, bass filling in whatever gaps you might hear on the lower end. The vocals are a pretty standard rasp for the most part, and not a terribly interesting one, although to be fair they are being outclassed by those deluges of chords and tremolo picked black metal guitar passages which always shine brighter. I certainly thought that, while the tempo shifting here and dynamics are always clear, some of the tunes suffered a little encumbrance from trying to quash too much rhythmic change into a space that couldn't support it all, but on the whole you can tell these guys have been around for awhile and they handle the attack with sincerity and professionalism. Iluntasuna besarkatu nuen betiko is a solid effort with no question, and I found myself admiring the dedication and level of detail in the riff patterns. The production and the beautiful artwork are well suited to the sound, but I did feel that the material this time around wasn't the most memorable. Good riffs in the moment, but few moments resonating in my head long after the music ended.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Friday, November 1, 2019

Destruction - Born to Perish (2019)

It's amazing to think that we're already nearing two decades of the Destruction 'reunion' period, that is to say the new material being produced after The Least Successful Human Cannonball debacle, with the two main members of the band getting back on the same page and deciding to kick the world's ass ad infinitum, while other aged thrashers seem almost lazy in comparison to such an endless parade of productivity. That isn't to say that, musically speaking, they've been the envy of the genre since the new millennium. They peaked this new, furious thrashing attack and its production style back in 2001 on The Antichrist, and since that point have been sort of replicating that record with only minor variations in personnel, studio mixing and songwriting quality, even going so far as to put out two collections of re-recorded early material that sounds similar with the new era's material.

To be fair, all of these newer records have passed muster to the degree that they provide the anger, energy and Schmier's irresistible snarls their audience might seek. They never really shot any blanks, the sonic spunk concentration just receded for about 15 years. None of them were duds for me, but neither were they as exceptional as listening through The Antichrist again, or their earlier run of records throughout the 80s, which still feel more fresh and alluring than much of this ironclad, post industrial apocalyptic thrashing phase. Spiritual Genocide was my favorite of the later lot, and I was in the minority there, but it felt like it had the most outside influence going into it, perhaps a few shades of Schmier's beloved side project Headhunter. But I'm happy to say that Born to Perish is consistently firing off some of their strongest material in the last 18 years. Sure, it's not reinventing anything they haven't already been releasing over these last couple decades, but I feel it just has the best balance of memorable riffs, dynamics and musicianship of the lot. Whereas a bunch of the last 5-6 albums could all be thrown in a blender, with their track lists mixed up and you wouldn't always know the difference, here I find a lot more replay value.

Now a four-piece, the performances here are all exceptional. Mike's rhythm guitars still sound like beefy razors cutting down the opposition on a rusted landscape, with Swiss string-slinger Damir Eskic peppering on a bunch of spry and searing leads that add some character to the proceedings, a glaze of electric atmosphere, rather than just feeling obligatory. Even when they some cleaner bits like the intro to "Butchered for Life", they flow rather well and don't get upstaged once the distortion is cranked on. The bass lines are fat and potent, occasionally disappearing into Mike's power picking vortex but given some parts where they can stand alone. Skin-bashing legend Randy Black of Annihilator and Primal Fear makes his debut behind the Germans' kit, and he makes it sound effortless as he just rifles away, though I couldn't say I felt much of a difference from Vaaver's beats, but then again that's probably a good thing. There is no interruption of service on this album, if you've been enjoying the riff styles and general level of competence and professionalism that the band has maintained since All Hell Breaks Loose, then it's all par for the course.

All of the songs are decent if not outright fun, and while many of the rhythm guitar riffs can feel like they're paraphrased or disassembled and reassembled from older material, Damir's airier guitars actually go a long way in helping them feel slightly renewed. "Betrayal", "Rotten", "We Breed Evil" and "Fatal Flight 17" are probably some of those I was most magnetized towards, but they're not a whole lot more potent than their neighbors, so this is an album I have no problem sitting straight through for 50 minutes when I'm in the mood. The cover of Tygers of Pan Tang's "Hellbound" is appreciated, keeping its original heavy metal spirit, but given a little more thrust as its transformed just enough into the Destruction canon to earn its existence away from the original. Then again, Schmier is no newcomer to the style, having taken part in Panzer and Headhunter to great success. Overall, this was a very fun surprise to fuel me through the mid-to-late summer weeks, I wouldn't say it was some exceptional thrash album, but it's easily proof that the Germans' music still has some value to it nearly four decades into their career, much like their formidable peers Kreator and Sodom.

Verdict: Win [8.25/10]

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Mercyful Fate - Into the Unknown (1996)

Into the Unknown might be one of the duller looking albums in the Mercyful Fate catalog, but not the worst of them. This marked a point for me when the band's inspiration seemed to be drying up and they were releasing albums to seemingly fill out a contract, or at least that's what a tour through their 1996-1999 material feels like. Nothing they put out was necessarily bad, but a lot of the riffs and ideas felt like mere retreads of others you'd already heard between Fate and the King Diamond albums. And that's really the greatest crime committed on Into the Unknown, which might be one of the more ironically titled albums I've come across, because this one is as straightforward and unsurprising as they get, sort of a mix of Don't Break the Oath, In the Shadows and then Time's production values, updated to their day.

Now you might say that even an average Mercyful Fate record is still probably better than a lot of other metal out there, and I have no argument against that. This is one I can enjoy sitting through because for what it lacks in creative development it compensates for in the energy level. The band is firing up a set of classic MF licks, with enough grooves to sate the fans of their earlier 90s material but a classic feel to the leads and harmonies which kicks me back a decade. The rhythm guitars are some of the simpler patterns they've scribed, with a leaden, chunky tone to them that keeps them hammering above the thick, embedded bass lines which sound pretty fuckin' rad on their own. The leads are modest but worthwhile, and they alternate between a mid-paced gait and the slower grooves from tunes like "Listen to the Bell" which sound like outtakes from In the Shadows (the song even has a line 'deep in the shadows...'). The drums sound good, and the band still knows how to structure a verse-chorus transition quite well, and there are clearly a handful of riffs here like the opener to "Fifteen Men" which I think are pretty damn awesome.

King himself sounds quite good, perhaps not as jazzed up or intense as his performances on the earlier albums in both his mainstays, but he does some cool falsetto counterpoints, and still can deliver some chorus parts that stand out from the rest. The lyrics here deal with cool subjects like Caribbean pirates and other period horror which helps expand out King's lexicon of chills, even if the music might in places feel a little dumbed down or redundant with cuts from In the Shadows and Time. I also got a kick out of the intro, "Lucifer", which is a chanted bastardization of "The Lord's Prayer". Cheesy, indeed, and the most useless track on the album, especially when you consider some of the great intros he's had before, but you just have to get a kick out of King Diamond thinking this was such an edgy idea in 1996. All told though, this is a solid record that I wouldn't necessarily break out unless I was really sick of the first four, except if I wanted to hear one particular tune. Certainly better than its follow-up, but not as timeless or inventive as I'd have hoped.

Verdict: Win [7.75/10] (This is your time, not mine)