Thursday, October 31, 2019
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)
Sunday, October 27, 2019
And what a circus this debut is, a mix of black, thrash and groove metal dressed up in all the Gothic architecture and theatrics you would have expected just from looking at its evocative cover photo. A lot of people would probably liken this most to Cradle of Filth, and that wouldn't be too far from the mark, at least when the band is executing a faster, black/death riffing strategy as in "Le Theatre Du Vampire" itself, or "A Sleighride Through Transylvanian Winterland". But I found a larger portion of the record more measured, more inclined towards Gothic rock or doom metal influences laced with bigger, groove metal guitar riffs redolent of when a lot of thrash was jumping those hurdles earlier in the 90s. However, they don't exactly start kicking out the frantic Jonathan Davis vocals, these parts are still draped in a mix of manic whispers, female spoken-word or operatic sections, as well as mid ranged vocals that have a biting, creepy Gothic edge to them. I'm probably not doing well to sell the experience, but it's actually a fairly catchy combo even though it comes off slightly scatterbrained.
It's definitely hard not to start laughing through a track like "Black Birthday (Hip Hip Hooray)", but even then the band doesn't seem like its intentionally trying to amuse you, and because of that this disc can get a little awkward, almost as if there was some space here where more creative ideas could have been slung together, but Shaw and company just went for something a little more lighthearted and silly...meanwhile the guitars are still pretty cool there, thus the weird contrasts. The black metal rasps also get a little too crumbled, almost as if he's snarling them while eating cereal or his throat is literally drying up as he's delivering each line, and it's unintentionally comical even more than Dani Filth's mode gremlin-like moments. But despite the cringe factor present, Le théâtre du vampire rarely comes off as if anything less than a good effort was put into its composition. Even the 15 minute closer "Spiderella's XXX", which plays out like a sampling dish of everything else you find on the album, propped up with even more haughty Operatic garishness and weirdness, seems like there are a few memorable ideas tossed around. So this record just barely gets a pass from me, if you could imagine black metal being conceived at a Big Top or freakshow rather than a desolate castle or woodland, this seems to follow that angle of development.
Verdict: Win [7/10]
Wednesday, October 23, 2019
WhiteWorm Cathedral is possibly his best produced Necrophagia album, with a huge, plodding, and direct sound that fully embraces its simplicity. The riffs throughout the entire album are very basic, slow or mid paced thrash riffs with a bit of groove metal or doom in spots. It's not exactly laconic or boring, but when the speed picks up, as in "Elder Things", some of the personality is lost until you hit that breakdown. And that's really what this album is about...chugging, heavy as fuck rhythm guitars that won't let you stop moshing unless you've heard all the patterns before a thousand times and don't really care much about that. Guilty as charged on that count. Sure, I found my head slowly bobbing to some of the charnel grooves, but even when I got into the swing of things I just never felt rewarded with some amazing transition, chorus or elevation to what was happening. It's not exactly samey or redundant in terms of how the riffs are put together, there is some variation throughout, but they just never seem to hit an interesting chord progression, they just belt you across the jaw with what you'd expect, and in a way I feel like the strong sound quality here was partly wasted.
The samples, organs and other 'horror' effects are sparse but tastefully executed right behind the pump and pummeling of the metal instruments, and the bass is fat as fuck, with the drums sounding nice and snappy for the rock beats they are usually devolved into. Killjoy's vocals are probably the star of the record, enormous, powerful snarls that you can recognize right away, laden with some echo and reverb that really carries across even the potent, blockbuster rhythm section. Sometimes this album sounds so much like nasty death/thrash for cavemen that you can't help but feel its pull towards whatever mammoth hunt is taking place; like in the track "Coffins" where those tried and true vocal patterns and the bluesy segues really help drive the meaty chugging home; or "Rat Witch", with its little swerves towards dissonant mystique among the crunch of the palm mutes. Add in the bells and general atmosphere, and that last one is probably one of my favorite Necrophagia tracks, extremely straightforward but not really needing much else.
In a way, the album gets points for just doing its own thing. It's not emulating other elder bands because Necrophagia IS one of those elder bands, and it's not some technical brutal death metal or goregrind exercise...this music is brutal because it's just produced so fucking heavy with a minimal structure that relies almost entirely on that bonecrushing tone. It can be fun to break out, and it's better than other efforts like The Divine Art of Torture or Harvest Ritual Volume I, but I'm still a little saddened by the fact that, with a little more gestation and atmosphere, this could have been the album that knocked it out of the park for me, and now it's just not going to happen. That said, if you enjoy really simplistic, snarly, growly, evil death metal with no pretensions, or you like the cult films that inspired some of these tunes, then you might at least give this one a whirl.
Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10]
Saturday, October 19, 2019
As for the band's riffing, it's not quite as eloquent or catchy as stuff you'd hear coming from the camp of King and Andy LaRocque, there's a shoddier, crunchier power metal edge to it which is more redolent of Accept, U.D.O., Primal Fear, Running Wild ("Iron Heart") and Judas Priest, sometimes generically so. Which was an issue I had on this album more than any others, that so many of the rhythm guitar parts couldn't live up to or elevate Lex Thunder's vocals, and thus they both sounded a little desperate independently and in unison. Don't get me wrong, if you love every garden variety mid-paced Euro power metal riff you encounter, then there's no reason to think you wouldn't love them here. They also lace in a lot of smoother, speedier licks with a decent sense of melody to the chords which is more representative of their primary influence. But the fact is that there's just not a lot to this one you haven't heard before on the bottom end, and while the musicianship is coherent and would make a bad-ass background for a motorcycle ride or a leather-clad street fight, it doesn't stand out to me in such a crowded feel when other bands can put riffs and choruses together in a way I'll remember a lot more.
The production is brazen and punchy here, with the guitars up front between both their hammering mid-paced chords, little glints of melody and the more-than-competent lead-work which was one of my favorite parts of the record. It's all legit and energetic, and while the lyrics don't form quite a cohesive narrative style like KD, the images and subjects they capture are all perfectly gloomy and metal, not to mention that certain transitions feel a LOT like 80s King Diamond, almost as if they were paraphrased from the original. As I mentioned, though, the shifting vocals and the emphasis on more hard-hitting trad heavy/power metal riffs reminiscent of the German and Danish scenes do keep this band away from being labeled complete clones, and I think they'll improve even further if the singer drops the KD parts and hones in on the stuff he does below that which worked for me a lot more alongside these riffs. Loud, solid but unremarkable stuff here, good enough to get the heads banging but not a lot of my blood flowing. I do remember liking the eponymous debut album a bit more than this one, with the lyrics in Portuguese.
Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10]
Tuesday, October 15, 2019
That's not to take away from what the band accomplished here, a 56 minute rager of a record which played to me like a natural successor to their classic Dusk and Her Embrace, albeit with a better integration of the symphonic and haunted castle components and a broader selection of riffs which built upon everything the group had really accomplished in the years between. Most importantly, I think the production here was a step above so many of their works...generally I might have an issue with one or two instruments or vocal 'personalities' taking a back seat to the rest, but I cannot think of a better example than this of when they all were balanced so well together. The grunts, growls and gremlin snarls of Dani Filth, the professional if still somewhat goofy female operatic parts, the panoply of shimmering synths and organs, and rapid fire drumming of Marthus Skaroupka, and of course the riff selection, which continues to walk the line between thrash, death, black metal and even some more aggressive heavy metal parts. That Cradle has all this weaponry at its disposal and can seamlessly plug it all into the whole of their aesthetic remains impressive.
For me, the favorite aspect to this band has always been Dani's florid lyrical treatments, this idea that he was like a Wordsworth of occultism, dark mythology and salacious Gothic smut, and as usual, even on the band's weaker records, the stuff he's written here is a pleasure to pore over line for line. Lots of verses here in tunes like "Deflowering the Maidenhead, Displeasuring the Goddess" invoke Martin Walkyier's vile meter and inflection, but of course Filth partitions this out into the various little personas created by his gutturals and higher pitched, effeminate rasping. He reacts well to just about every riffing change-up through the album's duration, which is saying a lot because the guitar duo packs in a lot of value for each track...individually, they might not seem complex, but there's just such an exhibition of riffs flying by on any region of this recording that it's hard not to be floored by the sheer effort it must take at remembering them all. Bass doesn't always stand out here as much, unless it's given the chance during a break, but you can always hear it hovering along and keeping the few fractional spaces between the guitars busy and the ears trained. Skaroupka's drumming is just ridiculous, and that he's also performing the keys and arranging the orchestration goes to show how overall valuable he's been as he's evolved through the band over the prior decade.
Hammer of the Witches is a pleasure to experience on the whole, though if we were to really break it all down, it's a refinement of riffing progressions, and a set of balancing scales between aggression and eloquence that won't be new to anyone familiar with their output. I myself found few of the sequences here to be truly memorable among old favorites from records like Midian, but even having said that it's an effort that I continue to sit through on occasion and listen to entirely rather than just cherry-picking individual tunes. The creepy orchestration and operatic interludes are very well done if you want something to conjure up that Transylvanian landscape you no doubt associate with the British veterans, and the prowess of the instrumentation and cohesion of the compositions is undeniable when you sit back and realize the scale of what they write, and how much is going on in so many of these songs. Love them or hate them, this album doesn't sound like they've lost an ounce of energy since they dropped their debut over 20 years before it...in fact it sounds like they've only ramped up their lascivious frenzy.
Verdict: Win [8/10] (pressed to confess from the pain)
Saturday, October 12, 2019
Sure, VHS fits pretty snugly into that largely West Coast US scene of schlock horror acolytes that includes the likes of Exhumed and Ghoul, with a healthy heaping of other acts like Cropsy Maniac, Macabre and Impetigo. They don't take things all that seriously, but they obviously love what they do, and without much sense of irony, even the cheesy films and stories to which they pay homage. The cartoon cover art only adds to the charm that these are a bunch of guys who might be hanging out in a garage or basement in your neighborhood, 80s posters on the walls, B-movie slashers on the TV, lighting up a joint or a cigarette, pounding some brews. Enjoying every moment of it. As you should be if you were hanging with them. Somehow, they manage to translate that feeling into a competent, entertaining mix of thrash, death, punk and grind aesthetics captured in a bright, loud, meaty production through which every neck-straining riff is felt straight to the face. I would say that the central style most relied upon is thrash, which comprises a lot of the energy here, from the more uptempo material to the breakdowns, but they certainly go off on whatever tangent they feel without the album ever feeling strained or like its trying too hard to please everyone.
The more gruesome elements are in the vocals, a set of low gutturals and rabid snarls which hearken back to the tradition of good ol' Carcass, which is no surprise when you saw the other bands I had compared this to above. All of these are performed quite well, although you could say they were fairly standard for their styles, not especially gruesome...maybe the sustain on the lower growls when they are sustained for more than a second, but otherwise just functional, fun vocals, and they go well with the bigger grooves on the album like in "Marine Monstrosity". When it comes to the more hard hitting, structured death metal riffs that alternate with the thrashier parts, you definitely pick up vibes of mid-paced stuff like Obituary, Bolt Thrower and earlier 90s Cannibal Corpse. Melodies and leads are no strangers to the Canadians, who spice up several of the tracks so you're getting a little more than a one-track beating, they clearly put a lot of effort into making the 14 tracks on this album varied enough that they all actually mattered, without one feeling too repetitive of another.
Toss in a tight rhythm section, some guest vocals from Matt Harvey (Exhumed) and Trevor Strnad (Black Dahlia Murder), lyrics about your not-so-guilty favorite films like Lake Placid ("An Old Lady and Her Crocodile"), or Creepshow 2 (or least I think that's what "Oozing, Bubbling Black Mass" is about), and you've got yourself a pretty good time. The focus isn't entirely on nautical horror flicks but certainly with the cover art and a number of the tunes that is a prevalent theme (they've even got a "Zombie vs. Shark" song). Have you heard a lot of this stuff before? Certainly with bands like Ghoul, Blood Freak, Frightmare, XXX Maniac, among others, but it doesn't really get old when you're having fun with it, and We're Gonna Need Some Bigger Riffs surpasses Screaming Mad Gore with exactly what it advertises.
Verdict: Win [7.25/10]
Wednesday, October 9, 2019
I'm not saying I entirely love the album, but when I'm in need for a grisly, high-body-count reel of death metal, speed metal, crossover and punk, graced with Reifert and company's unmistakable vocal ugliness, this one scratches my nethers. You could think of it as a halfway point between Autopsy and Seattle splatter-gods The Accüsed. Velocity meets carnage on a freeway of cult exploitation, but I don't want to mislead you into thinking this is monotonous. There are some faster, simpler cuts here like "Another Private Hell", or mid-paced like "Four Grey Walls", which are essentially pure punk adrenaline made different only through the vocal presence, but quite a lot of them have brief, slower sequences, sometimes just an atmospheric clench on a few dissonant chords, or some of the obvious death/doom that creeps back into the sound with a cut like "When Witches Burn", one of my favorites in their whole catalog. I love the guitar tone this time, not too abrasive but keeps its corpulence whether fast or slow, and sounds great with the rocking leads that often burst from the rhythms like a cannibal baby from its womb.
The drums and bass sound equally cool here, but all of this stuff is simply in support of the undead elephant in the room, those abusive vocals, just as loose and unhinged as Chris' mainstay, and thus more genuine feeling than most monotonous guttural orators which don't sound nearly as sick as they'd like. And even better, they sit equally as uncomfortable across whatever genre component Abscess is using at the time...the more accessible punk parts, the speed/death licks or the doomier sequences. Just enough effects on them at points to make them feel as if they're raving and barking at you from the sepulcher, or chasing you down a tight alleyway at night behind the butcher's shop. To some it might seem a bit garbled, but the energy there completely matches the waxing and waning of the musical muscle, or the oft-shoddy transitions between sub-styles. The instrumental title track is cool, as are the lyrics, simple and gory as they are. To be honest, there aren't a lot of truly catchy riffs, maybe a half dozen on the disc. But when those do appear, like the intro lick to "Hellhole", they do kick some serious posterior, and it's an album so compact I find no problem listening through the entire 35 minutes, as it congeals together so well like clotted blood.
Verdict: Win [7.5/10]
Sunday, October 6, 2019
Home Sweet Hell... was their third and final full-length and it hits like a truck with a fat, imposing Sunlight Studio tone slathered in some sustained, raw-throated, angry fucking vocals which give the other vocalists in this one-limited field a run for their money. They're not all that different than how L-G Petrov or Matti Kärki hammered them out, but perhaps a little more snarled and outraged, and you can often hear some backups shouted alongside them which creates a mild variation on what you're used to. The guitar riffs are straight from the book of the first three Entombed records, or Indecent & Obscene, with an often heavy emphasis on the death & roll riffs, mixed in with some simplistic, chunky chugging parts that carry a lot of heft due to the straight to the face production of the record. The drum kit in particular gives it a lot of rock & roll feel, not to mention the implementation of wah wahs, lots of grooves, and chord patterns that are painfully simplistic. Dellamorte truly relies on the sheer volume and potency of what they play to impress the listener, they are about as far from subtle as you can get, and even if there were nuances you might not hear them because of how the album is mixed.
This is an effort that I've always wanted to like more than I do. The vocals are savage, the power is undeniable, but it ends up with a barely passing grade from me simply because there are too few riffs worth a damn here, most just being coughed up from the playbook of pre-existing Swedish death metal bands, or rather, duller versions of those played more intensely. On occasion it really rocks the fuck out, as in "Into the Fire", and if you're a fan of all things blazing and d-beat then I can't imagine tracks like "The Tombs of My Fear" would turn you off. I mean this album pummels the fuck out of you...the tone, the pounding bass-lines which hover just below the rhythm guitars, the grooves and the momentum that they shift between, but I just think the album needed a little more attention to the riffs...if there were another dozen or even half-dozen killer guitar parts on this one I'd get so much more mileage out of it, but at the very least it's a sobering blunt instrument to the eardrums when I'm in the mood for the densest, simplest and most pissed-off sound that this sub-style can mete out.
Verdict: Win [7/10]
Thursday, October 3, 2019
More accurately, there are parts here, like the track "The Dog and the Master", which sound almost identical to what fellow Norwegians The Kovenant were up to, so mileage is going to vary, and those who want nothing of these musicians beyond their black metal roots should probably stick a fork in Morgul beyond just Lost in Shadows Grey and Parody of the Mass. Despite the obvious cheesy or cringeworthy elements, I still enjoy this one a bit because the production is fantastic. Orchestrated or ambient components are these resonant tapestries against which the heavier frontal rhythms and snarled, goofy vocals balance perfectly, and just when you think some of the guitars might be too dull, or things are getting predictable, Ripper will throw some great new beat at you, or orchestral sweep, or one of the handful great choruses here. It's only rarely pure black metal, except the electrified blast beat in "Dead for a While", but the overall atmosphere throughout will certainly give a shiver or two to fans that don't mind when releases in this medium sound like they belong in a cheap, second-rate haunted house or carousel ride.
Programming is really great, as are the synths, organs, and guest violins. The guitars sound very good in the mix, but again with a lot of industrial metal or Neue Deutsche Härte they are extremely banal and only rarely involve any semblance of creative, instead settling for a percussive effect to keep this vaguely within the 'metal' realm at all. Over this, Ripper splatters all manner of grumbles, growls, goofy narratives, dramatic cleaner ravings ala Vortex or Garm, and some really warped vocal effects that create a psychotic phantasmagoria which lasts through pretty much all the original tunes here; he's also a little experimental in the use of the violins, crowd sounds, etc. The cover of "She" by the mighty KISS, however, is rather ill-advised, and although it's tacked on at the end of the album, it kind of botches up the cohesion of whatever came before it. I remember that dragging it all down for me when I first heard it, and even more so now. Not like it's an awful cover in of itself, but just has so little to do with the rest of the material.
I dig Sketch of Supposed Murder, and it makes a nice combo with The Horror Grandeur around this time of year when the Halloween decoration are up and you can feel all that anticipation brought on by both the holiday and the autumnal season in general, but can fully appreciate that it's not going to satisfy everyone. Think of it like The Sham Mirrors' weird older sibling decked out in mascara, Gothic hosiery, sipping absinthe while he's watching a marathon of noir mystery murders. If that sounds like a party you want to attend, then I think this is also an album you'd like to attend. But stop it after the 8th track.
Verdict: Win [7.75/10]