Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Vampire - Cimmerian Shade EP (2015)

I am not a vinyl collector. I've got a stack of old records from back in my youth, and a couple I've gotten through the years, or sent for review, but the CD is my format of choice, and things like the Cimmerian Shade 10" EP are some of the few reasons I regret that. Yes, I'm aware that this was available on a special tour edition of the debut, but I'm stuck with my normal copy of that disc, and a digital of Cimmerian Shade. So be it, but obviousy, you can already tell that I think this is fucking awesome, in fact a few of the tunes on this are among my favorite by Vampire, and that's saying a lot because the band is tremendous, and has yet to fail me in any regard, except for the arguable failure of not having an exclusive CD version of the EP for schlubs like this one...

Not as savage as the albums to follow it, but extremely compelling, melodic black metal ("Pyre of the Harvest Queen") that rages down much of the same roots, while the 'B' side tracks "Night Hunter" and "Hexahedron" are scorching examples of the band's more blackened/thrash, just nasty ass metal that blitzes on past you and leaves you branded with some catchy licks among chords powered by the classics like Hellhammer, Bathory, Venom, Slayer, and their ilk; only with that melodic black stuff mixed in there to make them even more multi-faceted. The instrumental "Sleeper in the Deep" is the odd one out here, a tranquil blend of ambient and acoustic guitars which is totally 'fine', but that's a crime when its matched up with all the rest of these songs. Cimmerian Shade is fantastic and played out like a quick and delicious notification that their excellent eponymous debut was not just going to prove a fluke. Curse you, vinyl collectors! By which I mean 'pity me'. :(

Verdict: Win [8.75/10]


Saturday, June 25, 2022

Miasmal/Vampire - Split EP (2014)

Miasmal and Vampire seem like a natural team up for a split 7". Both are Swedish, both are melodic and aggressive, and both are pretty good, although I'm not sure I'd place the former in quite the same class as the latter. But I certainly dig the Miasmal s/t and their later albums, and the potential for these two on Century Media was immense, and hopefully it still is, but we haven't heard from Miasmal in some years. I admit that I was most interested in this for "The Night It Came Out of the Grave", an exclusive Vampire track which is quite awesome and more in their blackened thrash vein, with heavy overtures of Slayer in the rhythm guitars and a bit more of a wicked rawness than their full-length albums, but mostly within the same wheelhouse and quite a good song, though I can appreciate that they'd cast it out for a collector's item like this one. The lead in particular is awesome, and the cool Hellhammer-groove breakdown at the end.

The Miasmal tune is also somewhat fun, propelled by the band's Entombed d-beat influence and then some riffs that rip forth at a faster, more lethal pacing, but it's not nearly as interesting for me because it does kind of blend in with so many other bands of this variety and doesn't do much to distinguish itself, whereas the other side of the 7" is much more fresh and evil. Still, "Queen of a Poisoned Realm" has some great leads in it and it doesn't wear out its welcome, but I prefer a lot of the tunes on their full-lengths to this one. All told, it's nice that these are exclusive tracks to this release, it has some value for collectors, and any chance to hear another Vampire track is a welcome one, over the last seven years they've grown into one of my favorite Swedish exports.

Verdict: Win [7/10]



Sunday, June 19, 2022

Denner/Shermann - Masters of Evil (2016)

It wasn't long after the Satan's Tomb EP that Denner/Shermann would drop their first (and only) full-length album, with a cover even MORE reminiscent of the Mercyful Fate classic sophomore. So the idea this projects is that maybe they'd be getting a little more archaic in sound to resurrect the legendary vibes we are still all feeling off that 1984 staple (which, let's face it...you shouldn't have the right to VOTE if you don't own a copy of Don't Break the Oath). And maybe the music pulls that off, but only about 1-3% more than the prior EP. Nope, this is still a hybridization of the guitar duo's heavy, distinct grooving metal guitars interspersed with the more uppity, energized style of power metal that came out of the US scene in the 80s, and the intensification of Judas Priest in 1990...

Which is nothing to scoff at, in fact it's a great fucking idea, and to their credit, the Masters of Evil pull it off for the majority of this 42 minute run-time. Though they might seem slightly less frenetic than a few on the EP, these tunes are better structured, and Sean Peck is even more reserved, in fact this is one of my favorite of his performances ever on a studio album. He's got the pitch, the fierceness, and yet he reins it in at any opportunity, never losing himself off the top. He's a great compliment to the riffing might being manifest below him, and yet when necessary, like in the bowels of "Son of Satan", or the chorus of the title track, he lets go this amazing Halford scream which had me laughing and weeping tears of joy in unison. In fact, the mix and some of the lines he projects remind me a lot of Rob, just with the different natural timbre to his voice. Snowy Shaw is once again great on the mix, though I don't think his beats stand out from the other instruments as much as the EP (a good thing). 

I also really enjoy the penchant for lurching into some "Carmina Burana" operatic moments, as if you'd just stepped into the heavy metal equivalent of The Omen, it just spices up what is otherwise a fun record with rolling riffs like "The Wolf Feeds at Night" or the title track. Not every riffing pattern is legendarily catchy, but there's clearly a ton of effort that went into this one, and the performances are set at just the right momentum to let the shrill vocals shine, which has always been one of Michael and Hank's fortes (the rest is history, right?) Masters of Evil is no Don't Break the Oath, but it's a damn good time which takes the DNA from that masterpiece and then combines it with some of the metal which followed it, like a Jurassic Park of heavy/power metal. A well written record that I haven't gotten tired of in a half-decade, but sadly another swan song from a project that was probably cut down too soon. I mean, if they took this material and then cultivated it even further, who knows what limit they might have crossed. But I'm happy to take what we've gotten.

Verdict: Win [8.5/10]


Thursday, June 16, 2022

Denner/Shermann - Satan's Tomb EP (2015)

I can't have been the only one excited when this new collaboration between Michael Denner and Hank Shermann was announced. It had been a good 19 years since they worked together on Mercyful Fate's Into the Unknown, and another couple years added to that since their last truly GREAT Fate work on Time, so I think a project such as this was overdue. Add in their fellow alumnus and prolific metal superstar Snowy Shaw on the drums, and some artwork and occult aesthetics which mirror their formative years of Don't Break the Oath, and the frothing of the fandom would reach pure rabies. It was probably too much to ask that they could also hook in one Kim Bendix Petersen, because then it would have to have become a proper Mercyful album, but they did end up with US power metal crooner Sean Peck...

And he's a capable singer, having fronted a lot of the albums his Cage, and other acts, though I can recall a tendency to go a little too overboard. Thankfully, he's rather restrained here, sounding pretty nasty at his mid-range but then keeping his highs in the range of Harry 'Tyrant', who come to think of it, would have also sounded quite nice on this. The only issue is that his presence thrusts the music itself into a little more of a USPM space, which isn't what I expected. Don't get me wrong, lots of the trademark groove and lead harmonies you'd expect from Denner and Shermann are prevalent here, but the voice and the way the tunes are put together don't always mirror that classic Danish vibe. You get a little Painkiller riffing structure (especially in "New Gods"), and then a few of the lower, leaden heavy parts do tread dangerously close into more of a groove metal thing. That said, for the majority of the four tracks and 21 minutes of material, this is pretty damn exciting, with Shaw and the lead guitars in particular giving kickass performances, and Sean getting to flex those pipes with plenty of personality over new territory.

I do feel some of his chorus lines never quite end up where I want to be note-wise, and there's just a fraction of try-hardness, but nowhere near as much as a Tim 'Ripper' Owens-fronted album, and Peck is genuinely, insanely talented. If you direct that voice properly, you've got an intimidating weapon, and I think for the most part, they do here. I even like the few surprises in store that escalating sequence deep into "New Gods" with the backing choir vocals hovering in the mix. Ultimately, Satan's Tomb does play out like a combination of Mercyful Fate and USPM like Cage, Jag Panzer or the Bruce Hall-fronted era of Agent Steel, and I have absolutely no problem with that. Maybe this is what Liege Lord would have sounded had they originated out of Copenhagen? If nothing else, a strong promise of what this project might pull off with a little more effort.

Verdict: Win [7.75/10]


Monday, June 13, 2022

Hell - Curse & Chapter (2013)

It's strange and bittersweet to be reviewing this sophomore album posthumously, because at the time this one dropped, Hell had top-of-the-world potential, and they could do no wrong unless massively fucking up, which Curse & Chapter does not. While I might not have been a worshiper on the same levels as others I know, I still really enjoyed the amount of effort they put into the production and personality of their debut Human Remains. The fact that it was a reincarnated NWOBHM band, being given a fresh kickstart by a huge fan (in Andy Sneap) whose own legendary band Sabbat were pretty much the only one pimping this group through their own career, is just icing on the cake. Glorious.

As I hinted, Curse & Chapter does not disappoint, even if it doesn't possess quite the perfect set-up as its predecessor. Insane, operatically-informed heavy metal which infuses whatever aesthetics of power and thrash it desires, the material relies heavily on the vocal strength of David Bower, who just owns it once again. His frilly, shrieking, manic sounding voice is once again an instant win for the amount of character he gives it. He can snarl, growl, and freak out, then just belt out something more powerful and sustained effortlessly, and he is always bending his lines to keep each fresh and fearsome. He can also do some nice counter vocals with the backups, or the deeper sort of guttural narrative that we all know Martin Walkyier probably would have used had he stuck with the Hell reunion. Apart from his performance, the twin guitar attack of Sneap and Kev Bower is formidable, bringing a good degree of variance, between choppy and powerful chords, to acoustics, wild leads, and it all sounds fresh and modern like a lot of Sneap's studio work.

As usual, the theatrics and orchestration play an important role, used to great strength in tracks like in "The Disposer Supreme" or "Darkhangel" before they clobber you over the head with the heavy-ass, thrashing riffs, and then shift again into an almost Maiden-esque vocal harmony. This was pompous, adventurous, unapologetic heavy metal which, while carried over into the live performance, wouldn't even have required costumes because it just rubs off so well on the studio recording. Another thing I really dug about this album is that at times it reminded me of a British Nevermore...Bower's delivery is in some ways reminiscent of the great Warrell Dane, and certainly some of the more involved riffs, which is probably no surprise since Sneap worked on a lot of the Americans' albums from 2000-2011.

Curse & Chapter isn't always extremely catchy or memorable, but it's timelessness comes from how it takes command of you from the operatic opener and holds your attention as it transports you into its world of occult revelations and clerical conspiracies (see what I did there?), with a brazen, polished production and a level of identity you just weren't going to find in the old geezer British metal bands of the time. If I were Iron Maiden coming off The Final Frontier, or Judas Priest scraping together the lukewarm Redeemer of Souls, I'd be pissing down my leg when I heard this fucking band, because it might have made them irrelevant if they hadn't gotten their shit together (which, to be fair, they did). Exciting compositions, bewildering musicianship, and just the right amount of controlled chaos, it's a bloody shame that in hindsight this would be their last studio album. History repeated itself. We never got enough Hell in its original incarnation, and while they hung on for some years after touring off this material, we never enough in this one. Resquiescat in pace.

Verdict: Win [8.25/10]


Friday, June 10, 2022

Hell - The Age of Nefarious EP (2013)

The Age of Nefarious EP is a limited run artifact that arrived around the time that Hell had really hit its heights, folks were stoked to hear the follow-up to the wildly popular 'debut' Human Remains from the reformed NWOBHM legends. It was largely a teaser, with the one title track that would be the first proper metal cut on the sophomore album, and then the rest of the this, the 'B-side', was a trio of live tracks. I'll go into "The Age of Nefarious" itself when I cover the album, but I wanted to cover the rest of this because it's not quite as disposable as one would think. In fact, the only thing limiting the quality of this is its short duration and low availability.

Because these live tunes sound AWESOME. Taken from their 2013 Bloodstock performance, they sound almost as potent as their studio versions, with the caveat that you'll get some of that live noise in between having your head spun off by the great sound. I don't know if Andy Sneap was working some of his studio magic on the live mixing board, or if he just taught someone else well, but the rhythm guitars are punchy and powerful, the perfect force to drive Dave Bower's vocals, which also sound incredible here. I've seen videos of some of their live performances, including possibly this one, and they REALLY pull it off. All three of the selections are taken from the debut, naturally, they didn't wanna give too much away from the new disc, so you're getting "On Earth As It in Hell", "Blasphemy and the Master", and their cover of "The Oppressors". Intense, fun as hell, this all reinforces the idea that Hell was this nuclear explosion of unstoppable, unique heavy/power metal.

If this had been a full length live album I'd be raving about it, but alas it's only a sampling of what might have been, and the studio tune is just a 'single' for Curse & Chapter, a format that I could care less about. But the live songs here are wonderful and I'd highly recommend watching a performance if you can find one on video, it's unlikely you'll be seeing them in person again.

Verdict: Indifference [6/10]


Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Lucifer IV (2021)

I would have been content if Lucifer could keep putting out equivalents to Lucifer II and III for the rest of my years, but they had to go and do one better, with an album that continues their descent into a slightly darker territory, but still fully within the envelope of sound they had been developing over their first three. 70s cult hard rock and blues swathed in a blanket of doom and modern occult rock, from a band of musicians that simply do not make any wrong choices when they're picking which riff to sear out into the listeners' consciences, or up against Johanna's addictive vocal style. The reliance on simple but often subtly menacing title and lyrics also helps round out the aesthetic, and sure, the band's name might preclude them from the international stardom I think they deserve, but only because so much of humanity are a bunch of fucking squares.

The material here isn't outside the wheelhouse of the previous album, but notice right away that the tones are a bit heavier, some of her vocal effects a little more raw, and they waste no time introducing this to you with "Archangel of Death" or "Wild Hearses", both beautiful and ponderous pieces that slosh around in the bluesy murk until its time to enchant you with a chorus. And then they have to go and unleash my single favorite riff of 2021 with "Crucifix (I Burn for You)"...imagine Slayer wrote that one on an album just after Seasons in the Abyss? This track and "Bring Me His Head" are the 'fun' and arguably most radio rock ready tracks on the album, but by no means is this the end of its depth of riches. "Mausoleum" frights and delights with its funereal organ intro and spacious, almost Moody Blues atmosphere, while "Cold as a Tombstone" creeps along like a proto-metal spider across the covers you hide under at night, and "Phobos" makes for a surging, epic, climax to the whole affair. This definitely feels like Lucifer III with an added layer of grime and muscle to it, the poppy 70s inflections still intact, and still plenty of adventure as they field a number of guitar and bass lines that feel fresh for their catalogue.

It's simply unbelievable how good this is, and I remember getting the album right in the depths of my beloved Halloween season and instantly confused how they could have gotten better yet again! It just seems like such a simple curve that they'd lock it all in and produce their masterpiece within an album or two, and yet with each new record you get a little more weight and depth, songs that resonate even longer than the previous, and yet you can still trace even the extremes of Lucifer IV straight back to the toe-dipping on the first album. To me, that is the mark of a fantastic hard rock or heavy metal band, and Lucifer are easily one of the best to arrive in this past decade. Catchy and yet never cheap or cheesy, thoughtful even when they're clubbing you over the head with one of their harder rocking rhythms, and sometimes as beautiful as the light of the morning star. A delicate terror. May they reign under the tree of forbidden fruit forever.

Verdict: Epic Win [9.5/10]


Saturday, June 4, 2022

Kadavar & Lucifer - Split EP (2021)

This split combining the talents of two of our better 70s-flavored retro hard rocking doom bands was sure to be a treat, with the caveat that they weren't performing material of their own, or even covering each others' songs, but instead diving back into the 60s and 70s to highlight some of their influences. So this one isn't quite like the later collaboration between Kadaver and Elder, where they literally make a record together, but more of an aesthetic coupling, and it actually works quite well. As a fan of both these bands, I thought they did a good job at taking the tunes and molding them into their own sounds, and would not be opposed to hearing them both dive deeper into those record bins of olde and infusing a lot more lost classics with their contemporary energy.

Okay, I don't know that "The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown)" qualifies as a 'lost' classic, but Germans Kadavar give it a slightly doomier spin to distance their version from other popular covers, the obvious being Judas Priest. So this one probably sounds a more earthy and '1969' in tone, with these rich, raw guitars that vibrate and resonate in a wonderful tone, and it's also got a real looseness to it, with lots of space in there to just vibe on you. It's pretty cool and sounds like it could be pulled off live in this same configuration at a 1:1 ratio. For Lucifer's contribution, they revisit "Pull Away/So Many Times" off of unsung New York heroes Dust's sophomore album Hard Attack. This is really brought into the fold of their own sound, and with a tweak or two would have fit snugly in any any of their four Roman numerated albums. Joanna sounds enchanting as always, but I liked too that they had her exchange with a male vocals, and both the acoustics and the rocking electric parts here sound really great. 

The one downside is that this is here and gone in 10 minutes, while the covers are so tasteful and cool that I wish I could hear about an hour's worth of them from each band, not only to hear interpretations of songs I might already know diving through my own hard rock, prog and metal memories of that period, but possibly even to discover some new stuff I never explored. It probably isn't too costly to splurge for the 7" of this, and that seems the most fitting way to experience, but you can also check it out digitally, so do so, and then if you haven't already, check out all of Lucifer's albums, which are fucking ace (in ascending order of quality), and Kadavar records like Berlin, Rough Times, and especially for the Dead Travel Fast, which are also damn worthy. I think such influences really rub off on their own sounds and it's so great to hear this sort of heavy rock alive in the 2020s.

Verdict: Win [7/10]



Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Lucifer III (2020)

I like to imagine that the ascending Roman numerals Lucifer sticks on their successive albums are a 'leveling up' system, because within just the first few tracks, Lucifer III has already dominated the rock-solid earlier entries in their catalogue. A beefier tone, and a tendency towards some doomier riffs really helps round out their sound, making them feel, ironically, more true to their Rise Above Records roots than ever. The performances also seem to be a bit sharper, I mean we expect good things from all of these guys and gal, but it's down to the details here, such as leads, percussion choices and so forth that are just a lot catchier and better considered. That's not to knock the first two Lucifer albums, both of quality, but III is just jamming with memorable hooks, and it's not one I ever really want to skip through, even if I do have favorites.

"Ghosts" and the eternally groovy "Midnight Phantom" are just an awesome opening combo, the latter one of my choice cuts in their discography, but both have these doom breakdowns, the first some deep, evil riffs and a lead that cultivates a bit of Middle Easter mystique, and the latter just smoking with the clap percussion, the little howl that disappears into its nightscape, a smoking chorus and killer bridge groove which preludes a great little lead. And then, the hits keep coming as they stretch the net and welcome a lot of warmer 70s tones in "Leather Demon", "Pacific Blues" and "Flanked by Snakes". Or how about that "Coffin Fever", to which I could almost hear Lee Dorian laying vocals over...no wonder he originally signed this band! There is really nothing even bordering on a weak track here...it's a burning, soulful, bluesy and when it needs to be, heavy record in which every measure seems to have been well plotted. Lucifer is deceptively simple, but not as much as they could be, and so a lot of the little one-off bluesy licks, effects, pianos, or whatever you'll hear accompanying the central riffs are beautiful.

Johanna continues to dazzle, and I am continuously impressed by how much she pulls off with a range some might consider rather limited in scope. She's humble and emotive, like a lot of the 70s folk or female hard rock singers, and it's just a hypnotic contrast when paired up against the heavier, drubbing guitars or the wailing, bluesy solos. I love the clean tone they get, it's not terribly fuzzy, but super smooth and still feels just as 'stoner' as the messier psyche metal bands. The bass sounds perfect, locking in a fill or groove where it needs to stand out, and I don't think Nick's drumming requires any more praise than it's already gotten, but what is this, the fifth style the guy has excelled at in his long and illustrious career? Well I've gotta thank Nick and Johanna personally one of these days (maybe I just did), because they've put together one of the most bewitching, mellow and sneakily heavy retro hard rock bands I've heard in decades, and Lucifer III has gotten many plays over the last year. Bonus points for something my wife can listen to with me.

Verdict: Epic Win [9/10]