Saturday, February 26, 2022

Attic - The Invocation (2012)

I get it, Attic, I do. There hasn't been a King Diamond album in many years now, much less a great one, and that's a void you intend to fill, and I thank you for it, although others might not be so keen on a sound that so zealously guards the throne. But if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, you'll have Mr. Petersen up smiling through the night. Or at least I hope he stays up through the night, because I'd be disappointed if that were not the case. At any rate, you've got the falsetto voice, the classic riffing style, and a lot of ideas that thankfully do not always attempt to rip off our lord and savior on a 1:1 basis, so does your album leave the same sort of impact as those legendary works of that 1986-1990 period, which represented one of the greatest streaks in the genre?

Not a chance, but I have to give these Germans credit, because while there a lot of bands out there emulating King's present and alma mater, Mercyful Fate, it seems Attic is far more interested in the theatrics and Gothic/occult horror hysteria of his solo works, and I'm just the sort of heretic that SLIGHTLY prefers those albums to the classic Fate efforts, primarily because I am a huge fan of Andy laRocque's playing, just a fraction more than Denner and Shermann; the leads and compositions he comes up with alongside King himself are like a Bible to me. This band has a lot of the tools to make this happen, but they don't quite nail the feel beyond its surface aesthetics. 'Meister Cagliostro' certainly has some pipes to pull off the falsetto, but he almost seems a little too confident, even more than King at his most reckless, and the result is that it seems a little too loud and piercing which drowns out some of the riffing beneath it. And it's not because the guitars are weak, the riffing section is fairly solid with some heavy hitting chords and loads of melodic adventures, but it just feels a little too unbalanced and occasionally verging on caricature, and that's not what we want.

The leads also aren't that great..competent, and suited to the style of surging heavy metal that Attic is writing, but far from impressive, they're not going to hang around in your brain for 30 years like Andy's do, in fact they might not make it 30 minutes. The organs are nice in the intro and interlude, but that's almost to be expected, and the metal doesn't always live up to it. A couple of the songs do stand out, like "Join the Coven" and the excellent title track itself, but they're unfortunately not all created equally, and the album doesn't really achieve greatness in its emulation. There are also quite a lot of song titles which feel like direct proxies for King Diamond/Mercyful Fate tracks, and I really don't think that's necessary...come up with your own cool concept/horror story, folks, we already get who you sound like from hearing your SOUND. Now, having said all this, The Invocation is still a passable effort if you want some more in that King Diamond mold, there's obviously some love and effort that you require to attempt this style, and Attic will actually take their time and improve upon it a half decade later.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Chronus - Idols (2020)

If it was criminal that the 2017 Chronus debut didn't made greater ripples on the hard rock/metal scene, it's probably even more shocking that its successor, Idols, has yet to blown up. Granted, this one rode in on a little more buzz, I heard a few more people discussing it, though sadly that was usually only in a recommendation of what you'd like if you wanted more like Ghost. And there's no harm in that, but if I'm being honest, I actually enjoy Idols as much or more than most of Papa and the Nameless Ghouls' output, and that's saying a lot, because I do like most of that band's efforts quite a lot. This sophomore is just stuffed with sweet, sticky songs that you can't shake out of your ears, driven by excellent guitar hooks and memorable vocals. It's not pop, or punk, but it metal had a 'pop punk' contingent this would clearly belong in that categorization, and I don't mean that as any sort of negative criticism, because this is awesome.

The composition and riffing power of a lot of these tunes exceeds that on the debut, often more winding and complex like the epic opener "Mountains of Madness" or "Heavy is the Crown", with some cool vocal lines that occasionally reminded me of "Golem" from Voivod's Angel Rat. There's definitely a more distinctly metallic structure to some of the rhythms here than before, and they're actually quite unique even when compared to their similar, more famous countrymen. They can also pull off a woozy Romantic rock tune like "My Heart is Longing for You", which I suppose is about as 'ballad' as they'd get here, to my relief. A few tunes don't quite fit the mold, like the short instrumental "Sun" which is a more crunchy and searing, uplifting stoner morsel, but at least the guitar tone and drums on that one sound great. It really feels like Chronus has come into their own with a pretty original sound, the bedrock of which lies in a wide range of genres from heavy metal, classic 70s and prog rock, pastoral folk and psyche, maybe a little Goth in there for good measure, it's hard to pin it down too directly but it's an attractive hybrid.

Idols also sounds outstanding in the mix, with the clear, powerful and organic rhythm guitar tones that are clean enough for all the little added melodies and flashy leads to shine through them. The tight, effective drumming and bass from the debut is carried through here, and Sebastian's vocals sound much the same, only catchier on a lot of tunes, hitting choruses that would should be instant hits were hard rock radio still some modern institution where bands like this could reach the masses. And the lyrics are generally pretty engrossing despite their simplicity. Now if this all sounds like a turnoff, and you're only interested in raw, distorted, aggressive or exceedingly melancholic metal, then I don't know if Chronus will hold much appeal for you, but if you're not opposed to a catchy record with just a hint of mystique and intelligence, absolutely give it a spin, I don't think this one has come off my rotation since I got it in 2020. Excited to hear where this can go next, though I definitely hope they keep the guitar focus and just that right balance of semi-heaviness.

Verdict: Epic Win [9/10]

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Chronus - Chronus (2017)

Whether you love them or hate them, one of the boons of the popularity of Sweden's Ghost is how they kind of helped open up the integration of classic pop and rock aesthetics into a largely metal-backed sound, and Chronus is a newer band, also Swedish, that is very often compared to them. I agree with this to an extent, because they perform in a very clean, accessible style of guitar-driven rock and metal that manages to inspired a similar sort of mystique. Granted, of the two albums they have released so far, the similarity is really towards Opus Eponymous, since this younger band has yet to incorporate as many synthesizers or other instruments that assist in the theatrics. They're not quite as 'pop' as their countrymen, and even their own costumes and such are toned down, coming across more like a group of Goth-tinged concierges or flight attendants or something...

Also, while there is clearly a SIMILARITY to Ghost, I don't want it to seem like this band is in anyway a ripoff, they just exist in a similar aesthetic spheres. They really do have their own sound, with vocals that are as smooth and soaring but also pretty unique on their own, and the excellent guitars, while focusing in on a cleaner distortion, explore a slightly different riff-set. Driving heavy rock anthems like "Baron" and "Setting Sun" are spiced up with layers of melodic metal riffing and quality leads that clearly escape the parameters of poppy metal. They feel like a blend of hard rock, blues, alternative and maybe even a little doom, but this in no way limits them, because they excel in spacey atmospheric passages, acoustics, and they are more often than not as catchy as fuck, with this eponymous debut already killing it. Sebastian's vocals have a memorable clarity to them, not terribly unlike Tobias/Papa Emeritus but also casting out inflections of 80s new wave singers like Simon le Bon, especially when he's sustaining his note. So if you wanted to hear that British pop stud singing over harder rock material, Chronus is a pretty good proxy that you might enjoy, it creates that same sort of clean-cut, dreamy vibe.

But as the guy is on the vocal, it's really the instruments that dominate this with an excellent riff set that feels like you've dived into some wistful fantasy. The bass playing is quite good, the guitars spacious and involved, and the drumming has the pure rock power to drive it all forward. There are no songs here weak enough that I'd want to skip them, but a couple do stand out a little further, like "Setting Sun", or "City of Light" with its desperate melody and almost Amorphis-like verse guitars. But there's plenty of variation throughout the debut that it's best absorbed as a whole, and at a brisk 32 minutes, you won't really have any chance to get bored, assuming you're open to the style. Great stuff that is, I fear, quite overlooked in the last couple years.

Verdict: Win [8.5/10]

Friday, February 18, 2022

Archvile King - À la ruine (2022)

The blackened thrash/speed metal niche has been exploding for quite some time now, and rightfully so, because it presents some of the most exciting, dangerous, and authentic feeling music in the genre. But if I'm being honest, I can't recall a lot of such bands hailing from the French scene, a situation Archvile King hopes to right upon their full-length debut. To be fair, À la ruine doesn't go quite to the leather & spikes limit quite as much as many of their international counterparts...there is no real sense that this band is here to party on your skull like Venom did in 1980. No, this is more of a nasty, sinister early 90s black metal sound with a few rhythmic breaks that hearken to the classic Bathory years, maybe molded through a sense of rhythm and melody that was later expounded upon by others of the Swedish scene, like Dissection, Dark Funeral or more recently a Watain or Vampire.

It's another record that opens with some great, rustic acoustics and a female spoken word, that don't quite set you up for what's to come, but are quite nice sounding regardless (and the acoustics do return). The meat of this album, however, is mid-to-fast paced, searing and evil black metal delivered through streams of bleeding chords and the occasional serpentine sense for melody. Vocals have a harsh, repressed rasp to them which is often paired up with a more narrative, barking style not unlike the notorious Famine from the same scene, and I do like a few of these moments a lot, they stand out quite well against the rapid rhythmic substrate. As for the strength and quality of the guitars, there are certainly moments that stand out in cuts like "Celui qui vouvoie le soleil" or "Dans la forteresse du roi des vers"; even if a lot of what they play does feel rather conventional in structure, you are going to be slapped in the face with those 'moments' that will swell your appreciation for the effort.

Production is that raw/clear hybrid that was prominent in the classic efforts of the 90s, and I think fans of such classics as In the Nightside Eclipse, The Somberlain and Born of the Flickering will get a real charge out of it. The melodies and restrained leads are all well placed, the beats sound great forcing this forward like the undead army on the march, and yet there's a pretty good variety of tempos here, from the memorable acoustic, atmospheric guitar segues (like the title track) to the slower, double-kick powered sections that roll over you with their power. What's even more impressive is that this is, as far as I can tell, the product of a single musician...yes, the 'bedroom' or 'basement' black metal act continues to evolve into one that can rival even the most seasoned, full-rostered bands! À la ruine is really well put together, and an easy recommendation to fans of both the Scandinavian classics of decades past, or the more historical, Medieval French black metal circa Aorhlac,  Sühnopfer or Véhémence. This record kills, so check it out and boost the signal!

Verdict: Win [8.5/10]

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Devastation - Idolatry (1991)

Idolatry seems to be the crowd favorite among Devastation's records, and while I think a lot of that stems from the fact that a whole lot of fresh metalheads were discovering death metal and aggressive thrash in 1991, it's a legit great follow-up to Signs of Life, exhibiting a bit more variation and some more measured, clinical thrashing. It can still go off the hinges, but not so much as its predecessor, instead there's a bit of maturity creeping in. I did not warm to this one as instantly as others, though. I've mentioned elsewhere how I actually thought '91 was a fairly average year in metal, that for my ears, there was a personal 'Curse of 91', where I find a lot of the hype albums overrated. In this case, it's not so much that, but because it was one of the Scott Burns production jobs I'm not hugely fond of. In fact, the mix here reminds me a lot of Sepultura's Arise...

I'm of course referring to that very punchy, processed guitar tone that showed up on a number of the records he worked on. It just doesn't sound great to me, in fact it often sounds a little dry. Fortunately, Devastation has the chops here to overcome that, and so it doesn't drag it down for me as much as it did Arise or some of the earlier Deicide stuff. The songs kick their fair share of ass, like Arise but with better riffs on average, and tunes like opener "Deliver the Suffering" or the amazing "Souls of Sacrifice" with those great grooves, stand among the best that the band ever released. Like the previous album, they were now a two guitar attack, and it shows with all the force of the rhythm guitars in lockstep. They were also ramping up the game with double bass and drumming that totally fit the blooming intensity that death metal was bringing to the game. I don't think the bass tone here is all that great, and of course the aforementioned guitar tone is responsible, though you can still hear it somewhat; so it's more points in its favor that it can also overcome that. 

Rodney Dunsmore's vocals have also evolved yet again, not too far from Signs of Life, but here he has a roughness and sustain that remind me a lot of Ron Rinehart of Dark Angel and Jeff Becera of Possessed. But it's the songs that deliver the most here. They might not be unique or terribly nuanced, and certainly you'd already heard a lot of comparable riffs and records in the saturation of thrash that started during the late 80s and helped lead to its temporary extinction around 93-94. But it's rock-solid, mosh-ready songwriting with decent lyrics and an appreciable controlled anger to it that still resonates with me three decades later. In fact, it's just about on par with its predecessor, I think the songs are overall better, but I just like the production, artwork and nostalgia for Signs of Life a fraction more. Both need owning, and there have been a number of reissues, so they shouldn't be too hard for you to track down. Sadly this would be the end for the Texans apart from an extremely brief and fruitless reunion later.

Verdict: Win [8/10]

Monday, February 14, 2022

Devastation - Signs of Life (1989)

The difference between Violent Termination and Signs of Life is like night and day. That album was an insipid junkyard of dead-end ideas, with only its heart in the right place, and this sophomore is a record so bloody fast, fun and violent that it will literally remove your heart from your chest and grind it up in its teeth. In just two short years, Corpus Christi's Devastation had become pretty goddamn great, a natural signing for then-extreme Combat Records, and festooned in a damn cool cover by Tommy Pons (who also created the mascot for fellow Texan hard rockers Dangerous Toys). For a 15 year old autothrall, this was the sort of underground thrashing that buttered my bread, I must have nearly chewed through the cassette of this one along with Forbidden Evil, Leprosy, Leave Scars and Uncertain Future. Just an uncompromising good time, and one of the more 'extreme' albums in the genre, sort of a midpoint between Darkness Descends and Sacred Reich's Ignorance.

That's not to say it's perfect; it's wild but it does occasionally suffer from a sameness to the faster tracks that begin with the explosive "Eye for an Eye", one of my faves on the album, and the hardcore-like tint to the vocals definitely gives this a partial crossover feel, albeit with the more structured riffing. But almost all of the mid paced parts or evil Slayer-like breakdown riffs are pretty awesome, and there are a few good riffs in the more frantic passages too. Leads here are still not so memorable, but they freak out much better than on Violent Termination and sound far better in the mix. The drumming is far more coherent and intense, and the bass remains nice and thick to pulverize alongside the rhythm guitar madness. The vocals here are the biggest improvement, like I said they've got a punkish/hardcore feel to them but unlike the debut, the patterns he is spitting are far more aligned with the energy of the instruments, and he's mixed just right against them. Really, though, the whole band had leveled up and the one lineup change was well worth it.

Signs of Life also has my favorite production of their three albums, angry and fresh but still pretty clear, and comparable to other fast and nasty thrash records like Swallowed in Black by Sadus. This is the one which feels the most timeless to me, even sitting here writing this, I'm feeling the same affection for it as I did in those critical teenage years. It's no masterpiece, but one of those perpetual cult classics that deserves its spot in your tape/CD/record rack. And while it's not as short as Reign in Blood, it's only about 33 minutes, so it never ever gets the chance to wear out its welcome, the band just shows up, destroys and dizzies you to your thrashing satisfaction, and then takes a bow. One of the biggest turnarounds in all of thrash metal; they came up to bat, took their first strike, and then hit a home run, or at least a triple, and carried the bat with them, smashing all the basement in the face as they hurried on past.

Verdict: Win [8.25/10]

Friday, February 11, 2022

Devastation - Violent Termination (1987)

For such a huge state, I always felt like the Texas thrash scene was rather on the small side through the 80s. Sure, there was Cowboys from Hell in 1990 which was one of the biggest albums ever, and then you had a few cool bands like Rigor Mortis, Watchtower , Gammacide, and Agony Column, but there was no California/Bay Area-level explosion; a lot of it was no doubt relegated to an underground of demo hopefuls. One other band that achieved a fairly high visibility, but then fizzled out with the genre was Devastation, who released two strong albums through Combat, and really seemed to hit with the fans of that more excessive, aggressive side of thrash metal circa Dark Angel or Morbid Saint. But before we can get to that good stuff, there was Violent Termination, an album that sounds right in line with their speed and lethality, but one so rough around the edges that most feel it should probably remain forgotten...

And I don't necessarily disagree with that assessment, I just think I've probably heard worse. This album definitely sounds like a clunker in which the band really hadn't learned to gel together yet, but there are some positives to it, like the raw, scrapyard production aesthetics that make the guitars sound like they are being played in a studio full of rusted barrels and abandoned sheet metal. The riffs themselves aren't even all that bad if you're a fan of the Slayer school of nasty speed, but they tend to get lost a little under the trash can drumming, the fat, burping bass-lines and the unfortunate vocals. To be clear, Rodney was the front man on all three of their albums, but they just don't have that explosive, splattered vibrancy that he would adopt on Signs of Life. They instead feel like dull barking, with lines that syllabically don't even match up with the riffs half the time. I can kind of hear the comparable tone in his timbre somewhere, but if anything, you'd have to give him a reward for the most improved member as the band, 3/4ths of which appear on all three of their albums.

Sometimes the amateur rawness on these old thrash albums had a lot of charm to it, like Sepultura or Sodom on their early releases, but Violent Termination is just too dull. The riff patterns are certainly identifiable as a vicious brand of thrash, but the way the vocals are slung together, and the rather awkward mix of the drums leech of them of some of that potential nastiness we love from this old shit. You can clearly hear some of those Slayer influences, or even some Celtic Frost on the grooves of "Syndrome of Terror", but a lot of the writing is bland and half-formed, the vocals a little too loud, and the guitars, which were at this point clearly the most energized and competent part of the band, just don't stick the landing on a lot of tracks. The leads are spurious and appropriately whip-like in tunes such as "Death is Calling", and I kind of like the raucous tone on the guitars, it gets me pumped up but then there is simply no payoff. The lyrics are also comparable to a lot of other bands at the time, so there's no real problem in that area.

Ultimately, though, Violent Termination winds up sounding like an overlong demo from the average thrash band which jams over in that garage on your street corner, and listens to all the right shit, but has yet to really forge its own worthwhile identity or master playing together. I don't want to be too hard on it, because we all know in hindsight that they were about to quickly meet those goals, but this one's very much skippable, even if you're in the market for some of the crudest, most 'real' thrash and speed metal from the old times.

Verdict: Fail [3.5/10]

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Lunar Tombfields - The Eternal Harvest (2022)

The Eternal Harvest is a debut which throws you a curve ball up front: a beautiful, sparse ambient intro featuring ethereal female vocals straight and center, and not in the usual, pompous operatic manner, but much more folksy, honest and heartfelt. So the immediate question is how will the inevitable surge of black metal compare and contrast to this piece, and will they return to such calms throughout the course of this four track, 47 minute effort? The answer to the latter is simple, they do employ some lush, tranquil acoustic segments on some of the other tracks, but that vocal intro was singular. And as for the contrast, there is a level of beauty and melody to what this French duo creates, well balanced against these segues of lighter guitars, but the harsher and faster moments are quite gloomy, raw, spacious and washed-out.

This is a band that weaves a lot of melancholy into their riffing and vocal structures which sync up well to their moniker, the song titles, and the stunning Denis Forkas cover artwork, which is likely to remain one of my favorites of 2022. It's largely traditional black metal with the usual patterns of chords, battering blast beats and desperate, echoed rasping vocals, but the atmospheric aesthetics cultivate a lot of sorrow, desperation and mystique more so than any sinister Satanic vibe. The riffing is rather simplistic for the style, and often compelled by the drum fills, acoustic layers, swerving bass rhythms, and even a bit of spoken word woven alongside the rhythms of "A Dialogue with the Wounded Stars". While the note selections can often feel predictable or unchallenging, they are also stark and beautiful, and there is usually a melody or two buried in each of the lengthy tracks that offers a little more payoff. The drums have a very natural, organic impact to them, and it's all mixed rather fluidly so that the hints of the upper atmosphere flow seamlessly along to the rhythmic underbelly. And the sustained rasp vocals, which seem like an overloud whisper in spots, just add a leeching, suffering quality.

What captured me most throughout The Eternal Harvest is just how wistful, shadowy and drifting the experience can be, it hits that mood of longing and regret early on, and then lets it seep through you as if you were sitting in a chamber of dreary, golden haze, much like staring at its cover. Lunar Tombfields aren't long on originality perhaps, but they're exceptional at marrying restraint to effective, emotional moments that will let you stew in a sodden, dark nostalgia. Production is great, both of the music and the album packaging, and we've got yet another promising indulgence from a burgeoning French black metal scene which shows no end in sight to exploring and perhaps expanding the boundaries of that genre. This one isn't in your face with blissful, earworm melodies or blasting brutality, it's neither progressive nor particularly inventive, but it's subtlety and mood are its real strengths, lending the sort of timelessness that one will be able to value whenever one needs a whiff of sadness and sincere obscurity.

Verdict: Win [8/10]

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Death Angel - The Bastard Tracks (2021)

The third Death Angel live album was recorded in their home turf San Francisco during the plague times, and boasts what I think must be the best sound they've ever achieved on one of these things. Seriously, your band has to have it quite together to sound so good during a live set, and whoever witnessed this in the moment was in for a huge treat, as the band tear through a fairly balanced set of material old and new. Now, sadly, they fail to represent the greatest album of their career, The Ultra-Violence, and for that reason I cannot give it my utmost recommendation, but for what they do include here, and regardless of what you might feel about their modern recordings, this is all delivered with the passion and fire that the band always reveled in.

Funny enough, since the reliance here isn't always on Mark screaming, but using his more gritty mid-ranged shouts, they sometimes come off like a faster, thrashing Armored Saint, which is not a bad thing, but then he'll pitch out one of those bloodcurdling lines and you'll be right back where you need to be. The rhythm guitars sound excellent, the drums mixed at a good level that keeps propelling the set along, and the backing gang shouts also sound quite fucking awesome. The bass isn't terribly loud but at least it's audible and you wouldn't want to get in the way of how excellent, clear and aggressive the rhythm guitars and leads sound. While I like a lot of the band's newer albums, some of that material tended to flow together for me in this set, but then they go into a few Frolic through the Park tracks like "Guilty of Innocence" or "Why You Do This", and even if I was never the biggest fan of that sophomore, they sound quite good in the presence of the more modern choices.

It's just a bummer there is no "Evil Priest", "Voracious Souls", "Mistress of Pain", in the set, or even "Bored" or "Seemingly Endless Time". The choices could be better, but maybe for one reason or other they're sick of all those, or I'm the only shmuck in existence that would want to hear them. Granted, I did see the band at the Channel in Boston when they toured around Act III, and they do include some of these on earlier recordings, so I'm just nitpicking, I've had my chance to hear my favorites performed. Maybe I don't connect as much with their choices, but regardless, The Bastard Tracks sounds very good, it's probably their best live album, and there's also a bonus DVD with live performance and commentary, some value for the fans who still shell out their coin for live recordings in the Streaming Age.

Verdict: Win [7.75/10]

Saturday, February 5, 2022

Ghastly - Mercurial Passages (2021)

Finland's Ghastly has been thus far consistent at living up to its namesake, whether through the more ancient occult/psyche death metal stylings of the debut Carrion of Time, or its superior, spectral successor Death Velour. These guys distance themselves a lot from the traditional Finnish death metal roots, so if you're seeking more along the lines of a Demilich, Convulse or early Sentenced, you might be taken aback at how this band offers a more phantasmal, atmospheric, almost sparse on the genre. This is rarely if ever written straight to your face, but as a collection of foreboding or haunting death metal tracks that might play out in the background as you made some horrible discovery of your existence, or your lineage, or were prepping for some Lovecraftian cultist ritual.

That's not to say it doesn't get heavy and pound away in some capacity, like "Out of the Psychic Blue", but such surges are often short-lived, and it lapses back into the eerie ghost-like passages. Because of this, when the band erupt into a more straightforward tremolo picked guitar line, or when they pick up some speed, or the drums grow turbulent, it stands out all the more as a contrast, like that thing you were afraid of just surfaced as a conflict that physically threatens you. This is all glossed over by some appropriate, dissonant, airy chords, ritual melodies and of course the grisly vocals, which are delivered at a higher pitch than a lot of their Finnish forebears and their guttural muck. But I don't want to exaggerate too much...Mercurial Passages is a death metal album. If you're fond of the gloomier, cavernous fare that stemmed from old bands like Incantation, or the Paradise Lost debut, I think there's still plenty to admire, it just has a more laid back, ethereal quality to it and doesn't constantly beat on you.

I did think Death Velour was a more captivating experience, and there are some segments of this album where I find myself a little bored with the note patterns or riff choices, waiting for something more macabre or distinct to manifest in a melody or vocal line, and that happens all too rarely. The sound itself is comparable with the last, spacious and not terribly abrasive, the rhythm guitars have a slightly tinny feel to them that works with the faster melodic lines, and the leads stand out nicely against them. The cover art is once again interesting though the colors don't pop like the fantastic sophomore, and the lyrics are passable parades of images that gel with the tension and despair that the music creates. Still one of the more interesting Finnish death metal upstarts of the last few years...if you want a murkier, heavier sound or something more claustrophobic, then groups like Gorephilia, Corpsessed and Krypts have your number, but Ghastly goes along well with a group like Lantern as a more atmospheric, dimly lit adventure into morbidity.

Verdict: Win [7.75/10]

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Horde Casket - Plague Supremacy EP (2022)

Horde Casket is one of those brutal death outliers whose persistence is notable; a thousand other groups might drop an album or two and then disappear from the niche, these guys have been staying active in the underground these last 15 years, and are now five full-lengths old. While a few of these have been decent, like Slab of Infinite Butchery, they've hardly set my world on fire, but they're certainly competent, and this new digital Plague Supremacy EP offers an 18-minute whirlwind tour of what they bring to the table, with some fresh production, another of their great cover arts, and spoiler: their best songwriting to date. A few of these tunes were put out as singles to test the waters, but they're dressed up here with some decent instrumentals and introes, like the dark and brooding organs and slasher pianos of "Cast Into a Hellish Realm of Horror" and "Drowning in the Depths of Demented Illusions". It's almost like the whole thing is a brutal death metal giallo, although truncated like the necks of some of the victims.

But the real meat are the tunes like the title track, "Tyranny of Blood" and "Raining Chunks", swollen with the start/stop blast beats, roiling tremolo picked guitars and choppy momentum that are hallmarks of the brutal USDM scene which Horde Casket champions. Here they've got this all rather well balanced, it's nothing new, but constantly exciting and gets the hackles up and the pulse quickened. You've got some pinches, guttural grumbles, and lots of fucking chugging, with some ludicrous double bass that will spin your noggin right off your neck, but as flashy as some components might be, it's really how Plague Supremacy all comes together that will impress you, from the hammering verse rhythms to some really epic and awesome lead sequences (I'm lookin at you, "Tyranny of Blood"). This is seasoned, carnal craftsmanship, pure capability, produced just right, and I can't imagine some label like Sevared wouldn't snap this up and get a proper product out into your hands.

Verdict: Win [7.75/10]