Thursday, December 29, 2022


As usual, a much larger list of my top 100 metal albums for 2022 is up over at my Rate Your Music page, and if that's not enough, here's the backup list with another 100 albums I really dug, including some of my favorite EPs and such. But below are my hierarchical top 22 for 2022 in both the full-length and EP/demo/split categories.

My Top 22 Metal Albums of 2022

01. Scalpture (De) - Feldwärts (98)
02. Voivod (Ca) - Synchro Anarchy (98)
03. Negative Plane (US) - The Pact (97)
04. Hammers of Misfortune (US) - Overtaker (95)
05. Blind Guardian (De) - The God Machine (95)
06. Deströyer 666 (Au) - Never Surrender (95)
07. Predatory Light (US) - Death and the Twilight Hours (93)
08. Messa (It) - Close (92)
09. Haunter (US) - Discarnate Ails (90)
10. Doldrum (US) - The Knocking... (90)*
11. Darkthrone (No) - Astral Fortress (90)
12. Satan (UK) - Earth Infernal (90)
13. Cosmic Putrefaction (It) - Crepuscular Dirge for the Blessed Ones (90)
14. Immolation (US) - Acts of God (90)
15. Final Light (Inter) - Final Light (90)
16. Gutvoid (Ca) - Durance of Lightless Horizons (90)
17. Heaving Earth (Cz) - Darkness of God (90)
18. Blut Aus Nord (Fr) - Disharmonium - Undreamable Abysses (90)
19. Dreadnought (US) - The Endless (88)
20. Mortuous (US) - Upon Desolation (88)
21. Daeva (US) - Through Sheer Will and Black Magick (88)
22. High Command (US) - Eclipse of the Dual Moons (88)

* Sadly, no CD for this one. Pretty please?!

My Top 22 Metal EPs, Demos and Splits of 2022

01. Plasmodulated (US) - Plasmodulated (92)
02. Death Breath (Se) - The Old Hag (90)
03. VoidCeremony (US) - At the Periphery of Human Realms (90)
04. Ekstasis (US) - Paralyzing Impermanence (90)
05. Deathfiend (UK) - Beyond Life (88)
06. Congealed Putrescence (US) - Within the Ceaseless Murk (88)
07. Moonlight Sorcery (Fi) - Piercing Through the Frozen Eternity (87)
08. Moonlight Sorcery (Fi) - Nightwind: The Conqueror from the Stars (85)
09. Rancid Amputation (Pt) - Vile Human Taste (85)
10. Sölicitör (US) - All Debts on Death (83)
11. Mistcavern (Hu) - Into Twilight (82)
12. Worm (US) - Bluenothing (82)
13. Ravenous Dusk (Au) - The Dead of Night (80)
14. Iron Tomb (UK) - Vile Retribution (80)
15. Napalm Death (UK) - Resentment is Always Seismic... (80)
16. Vigilance (Sv) - Vigilance (80)
17. Roots of the Old Oak (UK) - Blot (80)
18. Malthusian (Ie)/Suffering Hour (US) - Time's Withering Shadow (80)
19. Grotesqueries (US) - Haunted Mausoleum (80)
20. Cimmerian Possession (Mx) - Sadistic Storm (80)
21. Metalucifer (Jp) - Heavy Metal Ninja (80)
22. Seer (Ca) - Vol. 7 (80)

My Top 22 NON-Metal Albums of 2022

01. Old Sorcery (Fi) - Dragon Citadel Elegies
02. Anima Morte (Se) - Serpents in the Field of Sleep
03. Klaus Schulze (De) - Deus Arrakis
04. Boy Harsher (US) - The Runner
05. Brutus (Be) - Unison Life
06. The Hellacopters (Se) - Eyes of Oblivion
07. Börn (Is) - Drottningar Dauðans 
08. Hällas (Se) - Elusion's Gate
09. Slasher Dave (US) - Halloween Howls
10. Elyvilon (US) - Drums in the Deepwood
11. Long Knife (US) - Curb Stomp Earth
12. Tales Under the Oak (De) - Swamp Kingdom
13. Zola Jesus (US) - Arkhon
14. Ulk (Nl) - Restoration Magic
15. Aurora (No) - The Gods We Can Touch
16. Erreth-Akbe (US) - A Lantern Swathed
17. Știu Nu Știu (Se) - New Sun
18. The Mars Volta (US) - The Mars Volta
19. Crippled Black Phoenix (UK) - Banefyre
20. Deadlife (UK) - Tortured Waters
21. The Birthday Massacre (Ca) - Fascination
22. Dance With the Dead (US) - Driven to Madness

Thursday, December 1, 2022

All is calm, all is bright

Thanks as always for reading, folks! I'm off for the Holidays but will return for a year's end list, and then new reviews in January! - autothrall

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Sodom - Bombenhagel EP (2021)

Sodom contributes once again to the near endless stream of EP releases they've been using to keep themselves busy in between full-lengths, which I can't complain about too much, since those full-lengths have generally been good the last couple times out. The usual process is a new tune or two, and then either a cover or a re-recording or a tune from a neighboring full-length, and that continues with Bombenhagel, a disc centered largely about the re-recording of the Persecution Mania track. This is for me largely unnecessary, because I have no problem with the original and didn't ask for it, however I can give the Germans some credit because this version sounds a little more vibrant, messy and impactful due to some deeper bass in the mix, frilly and sloppy leads and the fact that Tom still sounds as pestilent as ever with his rasp.

That said, as a fan of Genesis XIX, you know I was eager to skip right past this to the new tracks, "Coup de Grace", which is a nice crossroads between their death/thrash side and then some of the punkyness that overtook the band's output throughout the mid to late 90s. "Pestiferous Posse" is also a nasty one with some of his most evil and raw sounding vocals that hover just behind the propulsion riffing, of which there is plenty in the five minute run track. On both of these new pieces, Angelripper also has some nice shouts that ascend or descend and make a good contrast against the dirtier, low-end vocals, or at least I think that's Tom doing those. Frank Blackfire also appears here as he did with the last album, nice to have him back in the fold for those seeking to channel the genuine 80s Sodom thrash, and you even get legendary producer Harris Johns contributing a lead guitar. Now, there isn't much essential here, and these tunes aren't exactly the quality to lead off a new studio full-length, but at the same time it was all 'fine', there were no throwaways and it sounds like the Germans are genuinely having fun so late into their career. The serious Sodom enthusiast who just wants more will be in ammo belt paradise, but I don't know that I'll listen through these more than a couple times.

Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10]

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Morgue Supplier - Inevitability (2022)

'If it ain't broke, don't fix it' is the popular expression, and had these Chicago deathgrind lunatics followed up their eponymous, excellent 2016 album with more of the same, I wouldn't have complained much. But Morgue Supplier LIKES to break it. They LIKE to shatter their style up against a concrete surface and then reorder the pieces, and thus Inevitability very quickly becomes their most fragmented, unhinged and challenging record to date, but one that doesn't leave its predecessors far behind in terms of stylistic foundation. If I described this to you as a hypothetical project in which members of Voivod and Godflesh teamed up to create a harrowing, grinding rival to Napalm Death, would you believe me? Because more than once in listening through this 38 minute frenzy of blasting and jerking, dissonant rhythms did such a comparison wrench itself into my brain.

Be ready. When you first spin this album you'll be presented with an immediate flurry of distorted bass and crazy tech grinding, almost enough to knock the wind out of you. I readily admit that when this band is going off the rails at full speed, it can become exhausting, but the real treat here is what lies in all the spaces between such spasms, where the material becomes more spacious, brooding and experimental, almost like the dissonant industrial apocalyptic landscapes that might surround the borders of what we see upon the late Marius Lewandowski's cover art. Loping, drudging Streetcleaner-grooves that split up the head-spinning violence, or airier guitar sections where the more open notes are allowed to ring out (as in the bridge of "Closing In") before they return to the tumultuous aggression. The drum programming is incredibly intense here, with all sorts of broken fills and patterns that feel like a claustrophobic puzzle you're trying to figure out, with each new track providing another painful peace. There are also these wild leads that erupt to keep you even further off-balance, and Stephen Reichelt's aforementioned buzzing bass-lines keep pace with the rest of the massacre.

The vocals of longstanding front man Paul Gillis are as sick as usual, trading primarily between a deep and resonant guttural and the impish snarling and rasping you might also recognize from his other projects Drug Honkey and Rabid Beast. It's a wild and hideous contrast that works very well against the razor-edged but scattered precision of the instrumentation, and you won't even get a chance to become bored of it as you'll constantly be questioning just what is this guy on!? Then, right near the center of the record you get hit with this instrumental, swelling, droning interlude which is just the perfect place to give your ears a rest while still feeling threatened. Some of Inevitability's best material actually comes through in the second half, "Existence Collapsed" with its wild riffing patterns, or the super clamorous and industrialized hell-scape that is "Thoughts of Only Darkness" which really hits that Godflesh/Treponem Pal feel but laced with the Voivod space-weirdness. The production is clear enough to convey the manic message of the death and grind aesthetics, but still malleable and raw.

Are there any chinks in the armor? Cracks in this already cracked mirror of an album? Not many. A few of the song structures feel a little overly random, spitting out idea after idea but sometimes forgetting to capitalize more on some of the better ones. And I think the more rapid-fire, spastic moments on the 2016 album hung around with me a bit longer, but Inevitability is a little more experimental, more deeply exploring other influences that weren't always as prominent before. Morgue Supplier is one of the better, more important grind or grind-adjacent bands out there because they don't rest on the dull laurels of the form...this isn't your garden variety collection of sped up four-chord hardcore rhythms, or a sample saturated gore-fetish platter; it's compulsive and cerebral and reminds us that this music can have a brain, even while it's hammering nails through yours. Put this alongside Poland's Antigama or some of the cooler, recent Napalm Death records as evidence that there's so much more to explore.

Verdict: Win [8/10]

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Rage - Resurrection Day (2021)

Resurrection Day proves that you don't have to get softer as you get older, because part of the appeal to this album is its reliance on the punchier, low end riffs which have a slightly more meat-headed and thrashing force to them than you might expect. Not that Rage hasn't flirted with this level of aggression many times in the past, and in fact you could argue they've got a lot more intense songs in their backlog, but this one doesn't waste any time in using that to get your attention, which it does...the problem would then be in KEEPING that, which was not always successful on this...twenty-fucking-forth full-length album, if I'm counting correctly? This is not a band with anything left to prove on this Earth, that has given me more great music than I could ever know what to do with, and maybe this isn't their magnum opus, but having said that, it's still well-rounded, professional and hits more often than it misses, and those of you tuned into the modern Rage catalogue will have little cause for complaint.

We're still pretty far removed from the shrieking, innovative speed metal of the band's 80s period, but Resurrection Day incorporates pretty much all of the band's tropes past that date. Arrangements that involve a lot of 'Lingua Mortis' orchestrated intros or backgrounds; the burly, unique, mid-range Peavy Wagner vocals that he's settled so comfortably into since the mid-90s; clean and potent production; and a crack team of musicians that make it all sound so simple. There are a few misfires here like the 'death grunts' which are obviously not confident enough to appear for more than a few intonations, and I do understand that this is all an attempt to feel cool or relevant, but while they don't muck up the works here they really aren't necessary. Jean and Stefan's guitars are mighty whether they're chugging along, or breaking into the sticky, dramatic leads, or even lots of little unexpected chords and/or riffs that they throw in here to counterbalance everything else. The rhythm section is fully on point and everything on the album is clear and distinct, in terms of polish this one is unquestionably one of the most up-front of their works, you won't be straining your ears for anything.

I think what this one comes down to is that it's another of their albums when, 'in the moment' I am almost constantly impressed and engaged, but once I've shut it off for the day I never think about it. Tracks like "The Age of Reason" or "Arrogance and Ignorance" prove that this band has every right in the stakes to be as blown up and popular as a Blind Guardian or Sabaton, other than the aforementioned 'extreme' vocals, but like a lot of the modern output from both those groups, it's just not sticking with me for an amount of time longer than it takes for me to get my fix, and then I find myself wanting that fix from earlier Rage records. Don't get me wrong, this one is a whole step above 2020's Wings of Rage, which to one of my least favorites in their catalogue (if still not 'bad)', and it's about on par with Seasons of the Black, but when I'm interested in listening to their post-1990 material, my modern Rage medicine is still going to be Unity, Soundchaser, or Carved in Stone, which most of the ensuing 21st century albums have more or less been trying to reiterate.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Killing Addiction - Mind of a New God (2021)

The Shores of Oblivion EP and Killing Addiction's signing to XTreem Records seemed to be an incredibly positive direction for the unsung Florida death metal troupe, but unfortunately the band wasn't able to immediately capitalize on that with an album the following year. Fast forward half a decade, and it appears we had finally gotten that album with Mind of a New God, which if nothing else delivers on some of that potential, and firmly establishes that this new phase in their career is by far their best in terms of compositional strength. I mean even the worst track you'll find among these is superior to Omega Factor and all the material on their early EPs, and it's another effort like Shores of Oblivion which is just a pleasure to sit straight through without skipping any of the tracks...this is consistent, bludgeoning, death metal that understands how to sound like a threat and not just going through 'the motions', even when it is.

The style is largely built upon the back of that aforementioned EP, only the palette is more adventurous by far, with a slightly less trudging early UK vibe, and even more emphasis placed on the middle and upper registers of the guitars through clinical harmonies and leads. The production is a bit crisper although you'll get plenty of that lower ballast through the steady gutturals, however this also plays to the strength of the guitars which are for me the highlight of the album. Style-wise it sounds like a mash-up of elements from Brutality, Monstrosity, Benediction, Morbid Angel, Malevolent Creation and even a bit of Pestilence in some of the more dissonant, interesting guitar parts, but I'm not citing that as some sort of limiting bracket of parameters, because there's a lot to work with in there, and Killing Addiction does. If you're thinking you'll miss out on some of the lower, knuckle-dragging death metal grooves, they've also got plenty of those in tunes like the end of the title track to sate your pit-punching needs. But really despite the commonalities of tone and structure between the tunes, they're all set up with a balance that continues to offer you a riff or two to take you off guard, which is the hallmark of good songwriting.

You've heard Mind of New God before through the band's backlog or its influences and peers, but that doesn't make this any less fun to listen through if you just want a dependable, entertaining death metal record that embraces the strengths of its genre. There is still plenty of good stuff coming out of those early Florida staples...for example the latest Cannibal Corpse and Cynic records are pretty good, and I even thought the latest from Deicide was a nice surprise, but the road to victory for Killing Addiction is much more redemptive since they've finally earned a spot at the table with an EP and album that should thrill a good cross-section of the death metal audience, between the more classic, atmospheric fans and those who were slightly more tech-savvy or into the brutal pioneers of the 90s out of New York or the Netherlands.

Verdict: Win [8/10]

Monday, November 21, 2022

Killing Addiction - Shores of Oblivion EP (2016)

The first time I heard the Shores of Oblivion EP I almost did a double take. I'd had few expectations based on the previous output, and yet was pleasantly surprised by how much tighter this material was than anything they had put out to date (including Omega Factor). The songwriting is catchier, the leads are good, the little details they put into the tracks are appreciated, and it barrels forward with a confidence not unlike its primary influences, which I've hinted at before carry some similarities not only to their Florida fellows, of which Brutality is certainly an apt comparison, but British mainstays like Bolt Thrower or Benediction, super evident in the first cut "Engine of Ruin" which is pretty much pure tank tread death metal, 'slow grind' with the great gutturals that crumble with a cool decay every time they are sustained for even a few seconds.

Take that bottom end and then glaze it with nice, creepy atmospheric guitar leads and you'd have what would be the best song in Killing Addiction's library, only the others here are just as good, like "Cult of Decay" with more good leads and a nice, loping groove that emerges deeper into the bridge, or "Into Shadow" which sets itself up with some nice, creepy cleaner guitars that ascend into electric melodies and some really nice, old school riffing circa 80s Death. Everything about this is just a step up, from the guitar work to the production, the rock steady drumming and most importantly, the ominous, dark but clean feel to the way the instruments are all mixed...certainly a bit more polished than the EP that had come two years before it that wasn't half this memorable. Shores of Oblivion is no reinvention of the wheel, and you could argue it's just quality, generic death metal, but it's also proof positive that persistence can really pay off, for however easy it might be write off some of their earlier material, this one is just 15 minutes of what you like in this genre...evil grooves, dark leads, well worthy of repeated listening.

Verdict: Win [8.25/10]

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Houle - Houle EP (2022)

Up front, I really like the approach to nautical black metal taken by this new French act. I believe 'Houle' translates to 'Swell', as the waves, and the primitive artwork with white waves and cliffs imposed upon the black background reminds me of a negative taken of some old art or etchings found in some old marine texts or books. The ocean, with its ebb and flow, its calms and unrelenting tides in juxtaposition, is easily one of the best inspirations you could have for the medium of black metal, and this EP attempts to capture that to a tee. The band also has a cool look resembling lighthouse workers or potential escapees from a prison barge. To this conceptual degree, I would say it is a success, since the melodies chosen and the overall attack of the band does sound like some sort of desperation at sea, the roiling guitar rhythms play out like a long stretch of choppy waters for as far as your eyes can gaze.

But it's quite straightforward, melodic black metal, with a little bit of sadness in there, and a nice mix of strangulated rasp vocals with some cleaner chants that have a lot of potential, often infused with a bit of a spoken word vibe. The guitars are constantly ushering in cycles of melody to offset the raging lower chords, and the production throughout is really great, with thundering drum-work and the vocals hovering at a volume just a fraction higher than the instruments to emphasize their emotion, which can often peak in some Burzum-like scream. Like a lot of newer black metal acts lately, Houle definitely dwells within that traditional 90s framework, only they don't use synths to create a vibe like vintage Dimmu or Emperor, instead relying almost completely on the guitars themselves. So to that effect they remind me a little more of Swedes like Dissection or Dawn, albeit with the neat nautical sound effects thrown in there to give this recording a clear place in the world.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]

Friday, November 18, 2022

Killing Addiction - When Death Becomes an Art EP (2014)

Killing Addiction might never have the hitting or staying power of so many of their better-known Floridian death metal peers, but the band has managed to survive the years with smaller transfusions of creativity that result in the long 28-year stretch of EPs between two proper full-length recordings. When Death Becomes an Art didn't arrive after a decade plus hiatus as its predecessor, Fall of the Archetypes, but at the same time it doesn't seem like much to advance the band, just a two-track offering of meat & potatoes death metal which channels the style they've always been more or less known for, with splashes of a Malevolent Creation or Morbid Angel, but not really the material to stand out. This was a self release at the time, digitally and with some limited CDs, so one would not maintain high expectations, but on the surface level there's nothing really wrong with this either...

It's straight up, rumbling death metal, perhaps a little more involved than an Obituary or Six Feet Under but not as wild or proficient as Corpsegrinder-era Cannibal Corpse and Morbid Angel. The band doesn't rely on any bedrock of cheap grooves, they actually incorporate a little grindier UK-sounding death that reminds me of an earlier Benediction or Napalm Death, and then a little bit of clinical precision along the level of the later Barnes years of Corpse. Deep, steady but average gutturals are accented by some snarls, and the whole mix keeps a very low-end sensibility, the band doesn't really go off to explore those frets until the lead sequences, which in "Promethean" are at least passable and offer another dimension to the ear clubbing sounds they offer. The band manages to sound exciting without actually playing riffs that bore into my memory, especially on that second track, so I'd have to say while this 8 minutes of content is nothing overly special, it at least gave me some hope that Killing Addiction might have a stronger future ahead of them than their past, which had peaked with 1993's JL America release of Omega Factor (which you're more likely to track down on it XTreem Music re-issue).

Verdict: Indifference [6/10]

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Wesenwille - III: The Great Light Above (2022)

After a quality sophomore effort last year and a reissue of their debut with some additional live material, the Dutch act Wesenwille is already firing up a third onslaught with some of their most savage material up front. The Great Light Above is another album one might fit snugly into the 'urban black metal' mold, its vibes do not holler at you from the side of a snowy mountain slope or a canopy of pines, but from the shadows of depressive cityscapes, shadowy back-streets throughout the history of strife-fraught human civilization. Musically it's just as gray as its two predecessors, and that can certainly limit the experience if you're seeking something more colorful and melodic, not that this album is void of such techniques, only that they are delivered in such a starkly desperate, dissonant armor which a nearly industrial certainty (though the music itself could not be dubbed industrial).

Atmospheric trapping abound like organs that help round the record out and give it a fuller body, but for the most part this is just savage, straightforward traditional blasting black metal which uses a lot of nuanced guitar techniques to dress up its tremolo-picked progressions that they feel bolder and richer than you're going to find off your garden-variety worship of Mayhem or Dark Funeral. There is always some direction this band is thrusting in, and when they break it up to slower, churning rhythms as in the track "Transformation", they become even more interesting and frankly, rather original. Would these components stand out as much if not placed against the scathing, bleak black metal battery? Probably not, and that's why this is yet another record which confidently gets its hooks under your skin and continues to pull until your outer layers are stripped, because it's just got the right balance between full force momentum and sparser, almost ambient segues which permit pensive escape.

If it suffers from anything, it might be a little of the redundantly dissonant black metal that we've heard so often these last 10-15 years from the wave of bands that follow the modern French masters, I mean you can tell their albums are going to go that way just by looking at the black/white artwork. It's a bit samey with their earlier efforts, sure, but looking at The Great Light Above from any sort of objective angle, it's sharp, raspy, cleanly produced, well-rendered and never lacking for effort, further cementing Wesenwille as one of the best up-and-coming genre acts on the Dutch scene, with ease.

Verdict: Win [8.25/10]

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Deliverance - Neon Chaos in a Junk Sick Dawn (2022)

Generally when I see an album advertised as blackened sludge or sludge/black metal, I get the automatic notion that it's going to be very dredging, crushingly slow and heavy material with a rasping vocalist, and a focus more highly on the heaviness and production than on a sense of interesting riffing-ness. So I was pleasantly surprised to hear a band like Deliverance shrug off such preconceptions, with a highly varied third full-length in Neon Chaos in a Junk Sick Dawn (clearly one of the coolest album titles of the year). This is a group interested in pushing the boundaries a little wider, that's not to say that there aren't plenty of the requisite grooving doomy sludge passages throughout the staggering 62 minutes of content, but so much of it is well balanced, riff-strong and calculated to keep your brain engaged with more than straining the neck to which it is attached through leaden headbanging.

For one, the band implements synths tastefully throughout, little electronic pulses that serve mainly to complement the guitars and vocals, through a mix of brooding organ-like tones or more modern electronica vibes. They're never too brazen or dominant and they instantly give Neon Chaos another dimension forbidden to most such records, some added melodic drama. There are also cleaner, sparse minimalistic passages like the intro to one of the record's two leviathan-sized tracks, "Odyssey", which give you plenty of breathing space. When it comes to the crushing, they've got that too, but I feel that most of the nastiness comes through in the tortured intonations of the vocalist, whereas the riffs are usually well written enough to remain catchy (even when derivative), and you've got the glaze of those keys to distract your conscience while your chin nods along to those grooves. There are often little surprise chords or note patterns inserted through the rhythm guitars so they don't just become some repetitive afterthought.

The band is even competent with straight-ahead black metal progressions like they kick off the album with ("Salvation Needs a Gun"), where the organ works perfectly to saturate the moderate blasted speed with a mood of nostalgia, and then it breaks into the more arpeggiated sounding synth and groove and you're already off to the races with catchiness. The big challenge is the aforementioned titanic tunes, "Odyssey" and the finale "Fragments of a Diary from Hell", but rather than dragging on, they are clearly plotted, purposeful and loaded with cool hooks, and where it does descent into a little more space and experimentation, it's rather cool with some narrative vocals over the top, dissonant guitar ringing out, plunking syrup-thick bass strokes and other earworms that keep you satisfied until they break into the excellent climax (of the latter), which is probably the peak of the whole experience. The album isn't always on fire, but overall it's quite well done.

Verdict: Win [8/10]

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Darkthrone - Eternal Hails... (2021)

Darkthrone has long been one of my favorite bands on Earth for a number of reasons, one of which is that you never know quite what they're going to put out next, and their unwillingness to constrain themselves into a particular niche these last 30+ years has kept them strangely refreshing. Granted, there are 'blocks' in the Norwegians' catalogue which all conform to particular ideals, and I'd say that their most recent three-album run of Arctic Thunder, Old Star and Eternal Hails... has been attempt to bridge back to the rudimentary black metal aesthetics that not only defined their most popular career phase, but impacted an entire genre that now numbers several generations. And yet they retain some of the speed, doom, heavy metal and punk diversions that they've been exploring on the way to get back here.

Eternal Hails... makes an interesting contrast to Old Star, because while that was quite a bold and well produced effort among their discography, this album seeks to repress that, quash the band back to their primitive roots, to smoosh together a lot of their varied styles into a recording that sounds like they could have just hashed it all out on a Friday night. The rhythm guitar tone has a very Hellhammer feel to it, if cleaned up a bit, and then they combine this with the tinny, raw drums and some heavily effected and just barbaric vocals circa Nocturno Culto. The perfect example of all this is "Hate Cloak", one of my favorite tunes on the album with its super-simple central doom riff that yet still feels like the aforementioned 80s precursor to the black metal genre. Another I really enjoyed was "Wake of the Awakened", which has a faster pace and sounds like a mashup of stuff you'd hear on Old Star and The Underground Resistance, an extremely basic riff that propels forward and then zones out into something more haunting and doomed. Or what about that mesmeric, atmospheric melody deep in the "Lost Arcane City of Uppakra"?

You really feel as if you've stumbled across some lost demo recording as you experience this, and though not every track hits the same, it's quite hypnotic overall, which was my first impression. This duo keeps on reinventing itself, on a lot of their albums they manage to sound like a band which has just discovered dingy, extreme metal for the first time and these are the initial thoughts that they've laid out after learning a few chord and beats. And that is what makes Darkthrone so uniquely special, they can put out a new record that sounds even more primitive than their formative death metal Soulside Journey and still kick ass, because of the sheer magnitude of their authenticity. Eternal Hails... is the rare album that blows me away by NOT blowing me away, but just letting me recount my own early teenage delvings into heavy metal with a frizzy mullet, a Kramer Striker, and a 10-watt amplifier in my parents' basement, the drums thundering away purely in my imagination. Its raw imagination transfused into evil sounding, neolithic heavy/doom/black/whatthefuckever metal.

No, it's not a crown jewel in their catalogue, in fact I'd rank it among their less impactful works, but its still important, because even as I might try to marginalize it against my favorites like A Blaze in the Northern Sky, Transilvanian Hunger, or Dark Thrones and Black Flags, I'm still transported to a place that this band and few others can take me, to the very core of why I love all this metal to begin with, and that's why it's ultimately just another victory for a team with one of winningest records in my CD collection.

Verdict: Win [8.25/10] (the fabric lies torn)

Saturday, November 12, 2022

Pestilence - Exitivm (2021)

If Exitivm has one particular flaw to it, its that for most if its playtime it is revisiting or recycling a lot of the riffing tropes that originated around Testimony of the Ancients and Spheres, and that Patrick Mameli has also been more-or-less revising on all of the reunion era Pestilence records. I have seen this complaint launched at the band a thousand times for the last decade, and it does hold some truth to it, although it might be a little harsh to criticize this one group for doing so, when other legacy acts in the same medium are given praise for repeating the same riffs or records ad infinitum. But sure, a lot of the sequences here are modifications, half step intervals shifts or re-grooved riffs from the band's own lexicon, and that's the one hurdle that might hold it back from achieving the level of their formative masterpieces from before they adopted this approach in their 90s era...

But that's the ONE flaw for me, because Exitivm is otherwise a completely fucking awesome, exciting album that I must have listened through two dozen times since I got it, and I'd probably have gone more if I weren't constantly splitting my time between the tens of thousands of older records and the ceaseless flood of great new releases in the expanded metal-verse. This is a triumph for the Dutch-centered act which takes a lot of the lessons from albums like Spheres, Hadeon and Doctrine and then sharpens them into the best selection of chugs, grooves and atmospheric touches the band assembled this century (so far). Knuckle-dragging, jazzy chords splayed out in insanely catchy hooks, even if a bit predictable, while Mameli slathers over them all some of his grossest-sounding vocals yet, to the degree that I think he's just about as disgusting and distinct as van Drunen was in the old days, and the fact that Pestilence are writing such neatly-honed, almost accessible material makes them stand out that much more.

It's not so uncommon for Mameli to assemble entirely new lineups for albums in the way that Chuck Schuldiner messed around with, but this new unit locks together like perfectly oiled machinery, with Michiel van der Plicht splitting my head open with his clockwork, brutal beats. The synthed out intros and segues provide a nice escape from the hammering force of the dominant death metal, and I'd say they were the best of this sort the band has ever included, superior to the little instrumental bits on Testimony or the weirdscapes on Spheres. Because they're just better integrated into the tunes, offering a little escape and relief from the blunt force trauma that you're about to be faced with, and then even adding a little to those very brute moments ("Internicionem"). All the tracks are fairly quick, with just a few rhythmic ideas in them, normal for Pestilence, but really well plotted, and the fusion-like leads are also taut and well-executed, giving the compositions even more dimensional flair.

Ambient hook. Beating. Alien hook. Beating. Repeat for a tight 39 minutes and lather with Latin song titles to create a uniform artistic vision which is both pretentious and loveable. There was not a single moment on this record that I was ever bored or less-than engaged, regardless of whether the riff motifs felt similar to their past works, or a little more novel (I'd say this is about a 60% to 40% ratio). The production is bright and perfectly fit to this futuristic sci-fi dystopian death, and it's got to rank among my favorite Pestilence works besides the obvious first two that remain high points in all of metal and music. Mameli might not be the best spokesperson for his own band these 30 years, but when it comes down to the music I am still positively thrilled by the combination of groove and cataclysmic, cosmic tension and anxiety that this causes me. Sure I've seen this steamroller before in pictures, but it still runs me over just the same.

Verdict: Epic Win [9/10]

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Kreator - Under the Guillotine (2021)

Not to be confused with the Under the Guillotine vinyl box-set, which allowed rabid thrashers everywhere to get these oldies on their hallowed plastic format of choice, this is instead a new 2CD compilation put out through the Germans' alma mater Noise Records, and is largely comprised of remixes, rarities, and some reprinted tunes from stuff you might not be able to find like the Out of the Dark EP...initially I viewed this as kind of a grift, preying on the usual nostalgia, but it seems that at least some effort was placed into getting a bunch of odds and ends in one place for fans who might not have even been around to get them in the first place. That's not to say there is much value for me personally in this collection, it's mostly useless, but I've certainly come across far worse efforts.

Having said that, there comes with this a bit of inconsistency in terms of pure content, because you'll be getting rare versions of particular tunes, or remixes of others, but not for the entire albums, so it still comes across like a grab bag. For pure listening, it's not unlike pressing 'shuffle' on the Kreator discography you might have uploaded to your iPhone. Although tracks like "Terror Zone" and "Terrible Certainty" are remixed, the production alone doesn't help them meld in quite so fluidly with "Flag of Hate" or "Extreme Aggression", and the end result is that it wouldn't be so different than just a pure compilation of stuff jerked off various recordings, since that's what is basically is, only a mix of the original records and then the remasters this company did once they became active again. On the second disc you get more live cuts, and some of these like "When the Sun Burns Red" or "Riot of Violence" sound pretty awesome. There's an early demo version of "Bonebreaker" which sounds a bit shit, but at the same it totally captures the violence of the band's style that they'd later impress upon the superior sounding Endless Hate.

If you're new to Kreator and can find this around in a bargain bin for a couple bucks, it's probably worth the effort because let's face it, all the songs here are pretty awesome, yes even the stuff from the sadly underrated Renewal. But for full price, avoid it and just start picking up the first 5-6 full length albums, or even most of their newer records, because this is a band that has been tremendous for much of its career (Cause for Conflict and Endorama aside). If you're a hardcore follower, then you likely have all of this material and probably even the re-releases with the remasters, so this then downgrades to utter dogshit, make your own compilation and enjoy. But if nothing else, Under the Guillotine tries to provide a cross-section of quality material showing the band's strength through all its time on the label.

Verdict: Indifference [5/10]

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Destruction - Live Attack (2021)

It seems like only a year and change ago I was reviewing another Destruction live album, and so I was: Born to Thrash. Perhaps it is a sign of these COVID times that bands and labels are helping fill the void by pushing out contractual fillers, live albums or compilations, and there isn't really a need for it beyond what limited profitability or collectible format they might manifest, or maybe the Germans just had a whole bunch of ideas for live albums they wanted to produce. Either way, the Live Attack hails from a live-streamed Swiss gig, it's available on audio or video formats, and frankly quite a lot of material is presented here, nearly two hours and 22 tracks worth that span a good deal of the band's catalogue, with a good emphasis placed on the classics but also no shying away from some of their more modern pieces.

The lineup on this was Schmier, Mike, Damir and Randy Black on the drums, and the production is packed with energy, although I found some of the mix levels a little sloppy. The drums are set at this perfect level, and the vocals are very loud and obvious, and they sound positively nasty. I do feel that the guitars suffer a bit, hanging just below where I'd like them, but you can still follow the contours and if you already know all the tunes it'll obviously help. The leads are a bit brighter and louder and cut right through where they need to. Where the drums fade out a little you can make out the rhythms better, but I just think they could have been cranked to give this thing even more power. I have absolutely no problem with the track selection, as its got a lot of the 80s stuff I adore, as well as giving me the two huge hits from my favorite Destruction album, The Antichrist. On size alone, this is also huge, so you'll get plenty of spin out of just trying to make it through the two discs just one time.

Of the half-dozen or so live albums Destruction has put out, though, where does this one rank? I was personally psyched to see a lot of the live streaming/performances these last couple years, there were some that really stood out for me, but I don't know that I needed them transformed into product, and while the Germans have done an elaborate job here, this one doesn't even stand out so much to me. Even the recent Born to Thrash sounded a little better for these ears, but to me the standard will always be Live Without Sense from back in 1989, one of my favorite thrash lives ever. It just sounded more virile and acidic back then, not that the band has lost its touch, but I think if I want to invest in a new live product from them, any average set just isn't going to cut it, I'd want an immaculate mix, a load of crowd energy and a performance for the ages. While elaborate, Live Attack just isn't that, at least not in the pure audio format I'm covering.

Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10]

Thursday, November 3, 2022

Varathron - Glorification Under the Latin Moon (2020)

Live records come and go from more popular acts stuffing up their contracts or feeling an overzealous need to shower such products upon the masses, but getting to hear one from the mighty Varathron is a treat, because it's just not something I'd expect. Recorded in Brazil back in 2019, this one also stands out because the band includes a full run though its classic His Majesty at the Swamp album from 1993, with a few other formative tunes on there ("Genesis of Apocryphal Desire") and then a few newer pieces. Fine by me, because this is not a band that has lost its touch, and efforts like Patriarchs of Evil, Untrodden Corridors of hades or Stygian Forces of Scorn are just as formidable as the efforts they produced during the rising tide of Hellenic black metal 20-30 years ago.

To top it off, Glorification Under the Latin Moon actually sounds pretty damn good, without ever sounding over-mixed. The drums, synthesizers and vocals are all prominent, but the guitars also shine through, especially since they're so melody-focused and the effects on the rhythm and lead tones just pop right into the atmosphere. This sounds like it was truly a treat to experience, with a solid chunk of picks from their most recent work Patriarch of Evil ("Tenebrous", "Saturnian Sect", "Ouroboros Dweller") all sounding fantastic, and then what everyone was looking forward to, a 40 minute odyssey into Greek black metal nostalgia which sounds like it belongs back in the dingy crypts of antiquity, and I mean that only as a complement. Stefan's vocals sound so gnarly and awesome, a natural product of that Tom G. Warrior gruff rawness, and the keys and guitar on tracks like "Son of the Moon" and "Unholy Funeral" really dazzle. I mean, guilty admission here...I probably enjoyed hearing these tracks in the live format even more than I did listening to them on the studio incarnation of the album almost 30 years ago...

In fact, this might be the best live Greek black metal album I've ever heard? Lucifer Over Athens from Rotting Christ was pretty solid, but this is just amazement. I mean Juanjo's cover art alone might be worth the entry price, giving it a vibe very similar to Walpurgisnacht or the first few Necromantia records. That the performance and selection is so great is merely icing on the cake. Varathron is not a band that makes many missteps (Crowsreign debatable), and this is top shelf. Hear ye this or suck!

Verdict: Win [8.75/10]

Monday, October 31, 2022

Bloody Hammers - Under Satan's Sun (2014)

North Carolina's Bloody Hammers is a band I've always wanted to like on paper and on principle, but something about the execution has held me back. Their ghoulish aesthetics read like a Hammer Horror film writ large into a Gothic doom mold, and they clearly have a whole lot of taste when it comes to the movie culture they immerse themselves into, as well as their own shock rock and classic musical influences. There's also the idea that this band doesn't sound much like any other celebrating the same sorts of horror idolatry...they're not a giallo-grind band, a brutal gore-death band, a Mercyful Fate worshiper, hell they don't even sound too much like the other Sabbath-styled occult doom metal bands that I would argue is the closest fit for them. Although the band clearly thrives off nostalgia, they don't sit and stew in it, they sound more like a band that would have been heard on more modern airwaves...a mix of hard rock, grunge and Goth that isn't necessarily offensive on the ears, but at the same time doesn't really stand out as far as it should.

Now, having said all that, I only recently exposed myself to Under Satan's Sun, their third full-length and I believe the first with Napalm Records, and I find it...alright. Very predictable rhythm guitars that are given just enough crunch and bite for the stoner sect, but occasionally they'll go off into a more interesting and eerie doom lick ("Spearfinger"). The rhythm section is quite simplistic, but effective for the style, and they are constantly adding a blend of keys, pianos, harmonicas, etc to cultivate the more nostalgic, throwback rock or black & white Gothic horror aesthetics. The one really strong point they've got is Anders' voice, which has a nice, higher-pitched edge to it without getting ridiculous, and this in particular works with their harder hitting, sludgier doom tracks like "The Moon Eyed People", which give off a Trouble vibe that I enjoyed. In fact, I wish there were a hell of a lot more like this, because the general rule for me is that when the Bloody Hammers increase to this angrier, heavier laden style of doom riffing, they become more memorable...

That's not to say this is the only moment to shine, because they have a few more anthemic heavy rock pieces like "Second Coming" and "Under Satan's Sun", reminiscent of Lake of Tears, even if the rhythm guitars don't quite get catchy enough. But all in all, while Under Satan's Sun doesn't really excel in its style, and suffers a lot from overly pedestrian chord selections, it's at least a listenable album, and not as awkward as a few other tracks I've heard from in the past. Their lyrics do the subject material justice ("The Town That Dread Sundown"), although I don't feel like the music end of things really translates the creepiness or atmosphere of these cult films all that well, but then again...neither do a lot of the horror punk bands who just write basic happy chord patterns and cover them in more thematic lyrics. This album hasn't quite sold me on the Bloody Hammers, but it's not too trashy either and I think if the stronger, heavier chops were more elaborate they'd really be onto something.

Verdict: Indifference [5.5/10]

Friday, October 28, 2022

Broken Gravestones - Let Sleeping Corpses Lie EP (2011)

Broken Gravestones is a collaboration between prolific cult growler Kam Lee and several Spanish musicians including Noel Kemper who is known from a bunch of bands like Gruesome Stuff Relish and Altar of Giallo. My assumption is that this was meant to be the sidest of side projects, just another outlet for these gentlemen to celebrate their love for all things horror, pulp and gory through their common death metal medium. It's also a collaboration between Sevared and Comatose, two labels better known for their most extreme, brutal death metal, but as I predicted from looking upon the EP, this is certainly a more old school offering which relies on primal riffing and songwriting rather than trying to spin your head off with rhythmic excess. 

You get your obligatory, creepy sample/intro to set the mood, and then the guys just dig in with some steady paced, roiling death metal which more than anything reminded me of a Bolt Thrower, down to the little swerves and grooves they place against the central chugging momentum, with rhythm guitars that have that eerie, downtuned feel that always feels grindy. Kam's voice is a bit more gruesome than Karl, and the lyrical matter is much more in theme with what you'd expect than about endless warfare, but there it is, and its an aesthetic that continues throughout the majority of the tuneage. The leads here are quite nice, chaotic and whipping little affairs where they play around with the whammy bar or whatnot and add a much needed upper level or dimension to what is otherwise a bit too plodding and monotonous. However, it's the total package with the ugly instrumental tones, bucket-kicking drums and commitment to gruesome vocals that might place it higher for some.

The last two tracks are repeats, or rather demos of "The Rising Dead" and "Zombies Don't Run" which don't add a lot of value other than the fact that they are rawer, uglier, and more morbid, but not in a good way as I think the newer versions are superior. All told, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie isn't one I'd really chase after unless I had to have everything Lee sings on, or if you were really deep into the Spanish goregrind and death metal scene, which frankly this doesn't quite mirror in style anyway. It's not bad...Broken Gravestones love their zombies and their ancient death metal, but they haven't written the most interest or memorable epitaphs here.

Verdict: Indifference [5.75/10]

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Cradle of Filth - Midnight in the Labyrinth... (2012)

Cradle of Filth's music already has such a natural sweep and bombast to it that converting the metallics into sheer orchestration only seemed natural to me around the time Midnight in the Labyrinth, or Songs for the Recently Dead and Arisen showed up. This has always been a band refined at marketing, putting out elaborate products, focusing in hard on their videos, image, and so forth, and thus you shouldn't expect any less when they drop the heaviness to release a two-disc, 2 hour 20 minute collection of cuts across transformed into pure symphonic cheese from across their catalogue to date (in 2012). Unfortunately, while so much of this release is exactly what they promised, I can't help but feel that only the second of the two discs was actually necessarily...

Now, both of them are nearly identical, with the first one track longer, but the issue for me is that I had absolutely no interest in wanting to hear the narration from Dani Filth and Sarah Jezebel Diva. Filth is still putting sinister filters on his vocals as if he was still singing to the Gothic/black metal version, even going into a growl or two, and the whole thing seems boisterous, blustery and tremendously goofy. Did anyone really ask for this? One can certainly argue for the choir parts, they definitely contribute to the rousing evil feel of these epic compositions, but I am more than happy with the second disc, which simply converts a lot of the band's great tunes into pieces I can now use as a backdrop for a Gothic horror RPG, or even a glorified and more heavily produced dungeon synth album. Hearing "The Forest Whispers My Name", "Cruelty Brought Thee orchids" and "Dusk and Her Embrace" in this format is wonderful, really justifies the product, and they even keep the choirs though they are placed a little lower against the synthesized orchestra.

You can tell that some of the tunes here would be better with more natural instrumentation, but despite that I still think their material renders down to this version quite sincerely, as its obvious when they're composing a lot of the metal material they've got a Dark Wagnerian vision in mind to begin with. The organs and other tones simmer against the roiling storm-clouds of the bands' twisted British poetic imagination, making this perfect for a period piece vampire battle or some other Transylvanian epic, it's not all evil and creepy sounding, so bear that in mind; it's not such a great score for some unnerving Lovecraftian horror, but for something more historical it's wonderful. If only a little of the ego had been held in check, and they'd instead given us TWICE the songs in the pure instrumental/choral realm, this would be a home run release, but it ends up partly as corny as the digitized cover photo. Maybe I'm wrong, maybe there's a group of CoF devotees who really want to hear Dani's lustrous, demented narration while they bob for apples and compare spider-web tattoos, but I think Midnight in the Labyrinth is brought lower than its potential for this overindulgence.

Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10]

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Boneyard - Fear of a Zombie Planet (2014)

Boneyard is a solo act of the Spanish musician Noel Kemper, who might best be known for Gruesome Stuff Relish, but also has a good number of other projects which all tend to fall under the realm of horror and exploitation worship, grind and death metal. You can already tell from the cover art that this debut album is focused on both ends of that, a paean to the zombie pioneers George Romero and Lucio Fulci whose seminal films of the walking dead are still venerated today. Kemper does all the instruments and vocals here, so expectations should be tempered; this is unlikely to provide some high budget, technical death metal, but rather one man doing the best he can with what's he's got as he pays tribute to the splattered guts and hollow stares of the monsters that helped define his upbringing.

To that extent, I actually think parts of Fear of a Zombie Planet sounds pretty amazing...he's got this super raw and ripping guitar tone which is a bit of a mix of the British grindcore legends and the classic Swede death metal, and he's unleashing a bevy of catchy hacksaw riffs in there, an awesome distorted bass tone, passable programmed beats and then a lot of undercurrent samples of screams and such. Even the wacky, amateur leads sound cool as hell when they erupt out against the rhythm guitars. Musically, this album is fairly on point at what it needs to be...but there is one major problem...the throaty, raspy, garbly vocals are placed WAY TOO LOUD in the mix, and pretty much destroy the production of this album. This is not uniformly the case, there are a few moments where they get a touch softer, but for most of the direction this is a massive distraction that spoils what would otherwise have been a good listen, it sounds like someone listening to an album in the background and then barking into a microphone over it with some effects pedals.

It's not even that the rasps are that bad, I think they'd work fine at a lower level where you just let those ripping fucking guitars take the center stage, because they are the best written and most professionally produced part of the recording. But at this volume the flaws become too apparent, and it just erases the value I could get out of the cool riffs, cover art, zombie and cannibal lyrics. To be fair, I have heard bits of a more recent album he did called Return to a Zombie Planet, and the vocals are mixed in much better there, though the songwriting was slightly different. I think this debut would probably be worth remixing and remastering with a re-recording of the vocals, maybe some better live drums, but keep the guitar and bass tracks; you could have a little cult classic here for fans of stuff like Exhumed, Ghoul, Impaled, or the rosters of labels like Razorback Recordings. As it stands, that one significant flaw just gets in the way, there is no escaping it but to shut the disc off.

Verdict: Indifference [5.25/10]

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Deathlike Silence - Saturday Night Evil (2009)

Having a band name in common with the notorious Norwegian black metal label was probably ill-advised around the time that this Finnish Goth metal act was active, not because there is some ownership of the phrase, but rather that you'd just want to avoid the comparisons or mockery they might manifest from the underground that you're still tangentially a part of. Then again, it's appropriate enough for a group using horror themes, and in facts its those themes, the cinema poster style album cover and promise of some 'grave digger metal' that drew me to check this out. Could it evoke some 'Jack the Ripper'? Burke and Hair? From Hell? In fact the group tackles a pretty wide net of horror subjects including Lovecraft ("Dagon"), and of all things includes a Mike Oldfield cover ("Midnight Shadow"), so Saturday Night Evil at least had my attention up front...

Unfortunately, it wasn't able to HOLD that attention, because while the lyrics and artwork might try to capture the Gothic horror aesthetics, it's really just another of so many bands that sound like a less ambitious Nightwish, but without the hooks that made that group famous. The main focus here is on simple chugging patterns, glazed over with atmospheric synthesizers half-reminiscent of 80s AOR, and then the vocal charms of 'Ms. Maya', because in true gentlemanly British horror fashion, all of the band members go under a creepy 'Mr.' heaing...'Mr. Gehenna', 'Mr. Catafalque', 'Mr. Lethargy', that last one an all-too apt foreshadowing of his keyboard presence. Now, mind you, none of this stuff is really all that bad if you're just in the mood for un-challenging, inoffensive Gothic rock with chorus parts that quickly fade off and over the edge the memory hole. They also shift up the speed for a few numbers that feel more like power metal lite, and in those cases they let Maya flex a little, and Lethargy will throw in some organs or some more fun keyboard tones, sort of a Halloween-garbed alternative to what groups like Battle Beast have become.

Her vocals are actually nuanced and have a nice bite to them, they just aren't configured into the most memorable sequences, but I don't mind listening to her. Another strength here is the lead guitarist, Mr. Cerberos, who injects some cool shredding into a number of the tracks that instantly elevates them beyond what they probably deserve. The tracks are split between the straight forward Gothic four-note chug patterns in moderate to slower pace, and then a few of the more upbeat songs that I mentioned, but there is just too little to get excited for. Now I've hardly been a connoisseur of this style, there were certainly a few albums I enjoyed by bands like Theater of Tragedy, Nightwish or Elis at one point in time, but I felt like it got too commonplace and an album like this is a symptom of such trendiness. The best I can say is that Deathlike Silence is professional-sounding, the singing is decent, the leads skilled, the lyrics passable, and the production is obviously very polished and presentable. It's not unpleasant...but that's the rub, this is HORROR metal, it's supposed to give me something unpleasant or unnerving...and these stock riffs, insipid chorus parts and the 'safety' of the whole thing really leaves me underwhelmed and unafraid.

Verdict: Fail [4.5/10]

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Mortuary Drape - Secret Sudaria (1997)

Although a number of the Italian black metal acts conformed quite heavily to the obvious Scandinavian influencers, there were a few exceptions to the rule which hinted at a unique approach to the genre that mirrors their Ionian fellows in Greece. Mortuary Drape is one of the primary among those, a group that has always thrived on both its formative horror influences as well as the 'first wave' of black and death metal rooted in the 80s, much like the Italians themselves. In the DNA of their sound, you can find a lot of the vile thrashing of Possessed, Slayer, Sepultura and Sarcofago, dealt with a bit of the gruff Hellhammer or Celtic Frost groove and vocal roughness. This is not a group thriving off blast beats and endless streams of tremolo picked notes or dissonant chords, but something primitive and malignant.

I remember when a friend first gifted me this CD, and though I was enraptured by the great, Satanic cover imagery, I didn't know what to make of it up front. I had heard of the band's earlier album and their name was whispered across the lips of the right people, but had not gotten around to experiencing them myself. At first, I wasn't entirely impressed beyond the cool packaging, for so much of this just sounding like a lot of dirty old black/thrash, but this one proved a 'grower' rather than a 'shower'; Secret Sudaria is for sure one of the band's most consistent, elaborate and evil works which transforms a lot of its own inspirations into something formidable. This sits right in the nexus between thrash, black and death metal as it once was, and offers a lot of barbaric riffing staples dowsed in great, organic guitar leads, with some fresh sounding drums, decent bass grooves, and a daunting vocal growl with is spiked with just the perfect amount of reverb so every line barks upon you like an occult preacher about to sacrifice your village's collective bones to the Prince of Darkness.

There are some really great, doomy sequences here too, like the climactic riff near the end of "Abbot", or the phased intro to "Evil Death" which almost sounds like it sets up an epic dark heavy metal track before it shifts into the Hellhammer-like Neanderthal black metal. Secret Sudaria is this brute of an album which sates both the first wave fanatic's desire for utter primacy and lack of compromise, and then those slight atmospheric touches which hint at so much more. Terrifying vocals, great lyrics that paint tales of black sorcery and supernatural entities, and one of those immortal production jobs which might not have blown me away back in the day, but really holds up when I listen to it now. This is almost always my go-to in Mortuary Drape's catalog; it's not entirely perfect, but its the summit of so many of the ideals I find from their unswerving approach to authentic black metal that remains loyal to its own forebears while tempering it with an Italo/cult horror aesthetic that made it stand out. You want the Mario fucking Bava of black metal? You've found it.

Verdict: Epic Win [9/10] (Read his book of doom)

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Diabolical Masquerade - Nightwork (1998)

By the time Nightwork came along, Diabolical Masquerade was already this underappreciated, quality Swedish black metal export, especially when you took into consideration that it was the work of just one man. Wait, does Blakkheim even qualify as a man? I've always fancied him as more of an immortal vampire prince who wrote some catchy Goth metal tunes and retro-death metal on the side as a day job; his is a rather singular genius across the genre borders and I doubt there's a metal niche he couldn't dig into with his considerable fangs and entertain us with. Each of the albums he wrote under this moniker had a nice degree of variation from the last, and Nightwork is no exception.

This is a bit more theatrical than The Phantom Lodge, more like something you'd heard in the background at some dark carnival with all its creepy pianos, and of course that cinematic nature would be honed in even further on the fourth record, and not necessarily for the better. But here, Blakkheim strikes just the right aesthetic between haunted house hysterics and worthy, varied riff patterns that are excellent at complimenting the spectral synthesizers and his awesome rasped vocals, which can be shifted around much like a Dani Filth but not quite so much a caricature. There's a refined, progressive nature to the writing here which often focuses on sinister chugging patterns interchanged with a dual narrative between vocal and keys, for example in "Dreadventurouz" which is a far cry from the more symphonic, thundering overtures he's written on previous albums. Those might have howled at you beautifully from a mountainside or castle, but here you're getting into the winding, nightmarish corridors of some fun house or museum. There are still sequences which bridge between the two extremes, yet Nightwork sounds tighter, more personal.

The use of the 'z' in song titles rather than an 's' seems goofy at first, but actually adds quite a lot to the charisma of the album, and the song titles are fucking great anyway: "The Eerie Obzidian Circuz", "Thiz Ghoultimate Omen", and of course "Rider on the Bonez" all convey the themes and moods set by the music, as well as the idea that Blakkheim is not taking it all so seriously. He's the rock star at the Halloween party, but he won't just flick his cape like a snob and ignore you, he'll have a few laughs with you and participate in the usual masquerade games. But that's not to undersell Nightwork's competence, this is an engaging, spooky and sometimes phantasmally beautiful black metal piece which was quite unique in its day, and holds up extremely well almost a quarter of a century later. What else really sounded like this? Maybe Entombed in the Midnight Hour from Dead Silent Slumber? Maybe bits and pieces of Emperor, Cradle of Filth and Dimmu Borgir, but this was every measure as interesting and worthy in the late 90s.

In fact, while there might be individual tracks on the albums before it that I hold in higher regard, I think this is quite clearly his strongest work with this project, and frankly I hope he himself will come back to Diabolical Masquerade one day, ignore the Death's Design, and pick up where this one left off. I love some Katatonia and earlier Bloodbath, but my October evenings are all the weaker for lack of new Blakkheim adventures.

Verdict: Win [8.5/10]

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Tribulation - The Dhampir EP (2022)

Having somehow missed owning "The Dhampir" due to not picking up the double vinyl or the proper CD edition, I'm stoked that this 18+ minute epic is now available for myself and all the other plebeians to enjoy in an economic digital version, and in three digestible chunks. It offers what might even be the most fulfilling blend of Gothic haze, proggy escalation and hints of Tribulation's death metal roots that can be found among the Where the Gloom Becomes Sound sessions, if not perhaps as catchy as some of the originals that wound up on all versions of the album. I can see why such a thing might be clipped, but after wallowing in the experience I'd recommend tracking down any of the physical media where it's present as opposed to where it isn't.

"Part I" definitely builds to a steady clip after a folksy introduction with some great drumming, a very 70s vibe offset with some riffing that almost feels post-punk in places, but also features most of the 'metal' riffs in a conventional sense, and gives a similar melancholic, uplifting atmosphere to some of the tunes from the album proper. "Part II" is a more spacious, doomy section with a lot more experimentation in the instrumentation, some anthemic guitar harmonies and no real vocal presence, and "Part III" returns mostly to the pacing of the first, but then segues out into some rather abrupt changes that range from cleaner guitars, to almost ghostly sheens of atmosphere. Though the tracks flow pretty well into one another, there are certainly an excess of ideas here that don't necessarily need to be experienced in conjunction, but work well enough when the tune is divided into these parts. I wouldn't say that the experience as a whole is dull in any way, but there are a few parts that don't match up to others.

The coolest thing about The Dhampir is that it hints at even more open musical spaces the Swedes might traverse on future could easily hear them going in a more prog direction (maybe not in the same way they did on Formulas of Death), or more psychedelic folk, or even using more cinematic soundscapes where the instruments drop out for haunting feedback. As a part of Where the Gloom Becomes Sound, or even independently, it helps round out a broad swath of influences, and provides a lot of gas left in the creative tanks even though parts of it conform to the general style of that particular album (or Children of the Night). A cool listen, although not immortally carving itself into my conscience like some of their other tunes.

Verdict: Win [7.75/10]

Sunday, October 9, 2022

Mystic Circle - The Great Beast (2001)

Mystic Circle has long been a band so invested in the law of black metal averages that it's no wonder they made so little impact. The Germans are by no means bad musicians, not even bad composers, but they just hit at a time in which the Scandinavian acts meddling in this sort of melodic and symphonic black metal were literally exploding across the map, and though this group kept churning out numerous releases, they just never garnered the same level of excitement beyond deep-diving BM fans who were snatching up everything in the genre. The Great Beast isn't quite as flagrant or interesting as Emperor's first three discs, or even as pompous and potent as the Dimmu Borgir catalogue of the 90s, but honestly it's one of the better Mystic Circle records and those who are really into the current wave of symphonic 90s black metal throwbacks might actually enjoy going back to this authentic, also-ran article.

The band is hardly sinister-enough sounding to really do their Satanic theme justice here, but I do like the bombastic swell of the mid-paced, roiling black metal against the near-constant orchestration which calls to mind Gothic castles and haunted landscapes. The riffing is quite steady, often with a thrashing facade to its structure, but very often the rhythm guitars feel like they're afraid to strike out on their own, but rather they support the ethereal sweep and strings. That said, there are plenty of leads and melodies that show the band hasn't entirely thrown out the guitar as mere support, and it's rather a well-rounded recording, because the symphonic are elegant and really immerse me into the occult escapism. The vocals are a fairly monotonous rasped guttural, a little deeper than some of their black metal peers, but they fit in well, and the rhythm section is more than capable, making The Great Beast an extremely well-rounded effort with a nice production that sounds clean without becoming neutered through over-polish.

There are lots of licks here that sound like a IX: Equilibrium-lite or a less dense Spiritual Black Dimensions, but by no means does it fall down to cheap impersonation, this was always a band that wanted to take that earlier symphonic BM style and run with it. While The Great Beast doesn't manifest the same personality as those comparisons/influences, it's a pretty good listen that only suffers from a slightly monotonous pacing, since this isn't a band prone to blasting off endlessly, and it might have benefited from a few more such indulgences. But everything is tasteful, from the spectral female support vocal to the endless nightscape of orchestration that is really going to sit well with the more Gothic-oriented black metal advocate. Definitely one of their better albums, along with its follow-up Damien; fits the bill when I'm in the mood for something that sounds equally graceful and aggressive, even if it lacks much novelty.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]