Sunday, July 31, 2022

Hooded Menace - Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed (2018)

Judging by the intro "Sempiternal Grotesqueries", you'd think that Hooded Menace were continuing to pursue the ponderous, slow path they laid out through Darkness Drips Forth, albeit with a less weighty and burgeoning guitar tone. And that funereal touch certain plays a part on this album, but at the same time, Ossuarium Silhouttes Unhallowed does wheel back a little to the sounds of Effigies of Evil and Never Cross the Dead. I don't wanna say it's back to the 'fun' of the Finns formative horror death/doom, the lyrics and atmosphere here are quite brooding and despair-drive, but the way the songs are structured offers a bit more variation and covers a broader network of doom influences. In fact, after the opening track, which is over 10 minutes in length, the rest are cut down to a more manageable length.

Of all their works, this one has some of their strongest traditional doom metal riffs, I mean there's a lot of stuff here that sounds like the death metal equivalent to Candlemass or Solitude Aeternus, and I for one think that is fantastic. Same deep rhythm tones, same eerie, lower guitar harmonies, but with a cleaner production than the last album, one that services both the sluggish architecture and the peppier riffing. The vocals are fucking great, really resonating off the lamentations felt through the guitar melodies, and the drums rumble and thunder like a subterranean space of collapsing rubble. Yes, the whole album conveys a 'cavernous' atmosphere much like the beautiful cover artwork implies, and there is certainly a streak of Incantation running through here, but where most of the bands copying that stuff become insufferably claustrophobic and cluttered, Hooded Menace serenade you with beautiful, elegant melodies that just drift about the cavern space ("In Eerie Deliverance"), occasionally remembering to crush your spirit, as they do so well within a "Cathedral of Labyrinthine Darkness".

The five 'main' tracks on this one are just beastly, among the better the band has written, and then they close it out with a shorter instrumental in "Black Moss", which nicely segues into some crisp acoustics that also stick around in the ear for awhile. At that point, you get the impressive you've just been whisked away from some dark, oppressive nightmare, so it's a nice touch. Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed, with its tongue-twister title, is further proof that Hooded Menace have transformed into, for my money, the most reliable death/doom band in the world. From the art and concepts, to the lyrics, to the delivery of the music, the massive production, and the willingness to toy around with their tunes just enough to keep them interesting and eschew the danger of monotony and repetition that is common in this niche. EVERY album they've put out is worth your coin, just save a few for the ferryman that will loom large over you as you're listening.

Verdict: Win [8.75/10] (lay waste and command)

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Hooded Menace - Darkness Drips Forth (2015)

Darkness Drips Forth sounds partly like an experiment by Hooded Menace to flirt with a more funereal doom sound, not that it's quick to abandon the trappings that had defined the band to its date, but you can see in the swollen song-lengths and the slightly more glacial pacing that they were going for what might be their most saddening and serious album to its day. Add to that the rather bland (if still cool) cover artwork and you come away with what might be the most color-leeching of all their full-length albums, also fitting that motif. Fortunately, the Finns simply don't know how to fail at writing great music, and Darkness Drips Forth, with its four tracks in 40+ minutes, is quite the grower. I may not have had the same upfront positive reaction as I did with all their other albums, but I can say in all honesty that it has grown on me the most, reclaimed the most ground and nowadays its one I consider when I'm in the mood for the truly monolithic, sluggish death/doom but not quite ready to take the next step towards their countrymen Skepticism (which require another level of pathos and focus for me to handle).

The riffs on this are just as huge as other records, but drawn out appropriately to fill up the epic song lengths, and they all feel like they are being slowly carved into marble or granite, just staggering and Gothic and forcing the listener to abandon all hope within moments. The bass is awesome, slow and spun with just enough buzz on it to contrast against the mournful harmonies that are so vital to this sort of record succeeding, and often left alone a bit which is where the album actually feels more the most funeral. There are some brief flashes of cleaner guitars that are tastefully melded into the slowly lurching obelisk rhythms, and of course the gutturals here sound enormous, the perfect accompaniment to the style. It's not all death-drudging; the pace does pick up to a mid, rocking vibe in some spots, important to prevent any real monotony from setting in, and you often get a warmer sequence like that melody which sets in deep into "Elysium of Dripping Death", but that's clearly not the dominant offering.

Absolutely another quality Hooded Menace record, and it took me a little too longer to come to that realization, but I think this one is best when you're not interested in those little traces of horror kitsch humor that went into the earlier full-lengths. This is the band at its most ponderous and morose, cautiously crushing you through the certainty of their riffing strength and massive atmosphere. More of an homage to their old British Peaceville death/doom or funeral doom influences than their other efforts, perhaps, but still interchangeable with some of the material on the records that sandwiched it, Effigies of Evil or Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed. Realistically, you could dive into any of their works and come away comparably impressed, but just don't expect this one to give quite the same instant gratification that you'll find elsewhere. Persist, and suffer alongside it enough, and it will reveal its morbid magnificence.

Verdict: Win [8.25/10]

Monday, July 25, 2022

Hooded Menace - Gloom Immemorial (2014)

Gloom Immemorial is a fine example of what you get with a compilation when the band/label actually cares about the band's audience and attempts to offer them value and quality above a mere shell of a product. Someone could very easily take a handful of tracks off each of Hooded Menace's first few albums and then cash in, as the songs would likely sound great together and they could summon up some fancy cover art, but instead this is a collection of split 7" tracks and demo material that was probably unavailable to most of us that weren't right in on the ground floor of the band's career. That's not to say that some of the songs aren't available in other incarnations on records like Fulfill the Curse, but there's enough here to warrant inclusion on your shelf, and the Misanthropic-Art cover is also great.

For me specifically the split tracks are a treat, from the potent, limping cover of Anima Morte's "A Decay of Mind and Flesh", which they pulled from a 'mutual cover song' venture. Or the churning of "The Haunted Ossuary" from their split with the highly compatible Coffins, just a straight bruiser of a track that feels like a slow mosh through a mortuary. Or maybe "Catacombs of the Graceless" which is a fantastic track with a morbid groove that they put out on a 12" with Ilsa. Most if not all of the rare material on this is album-worthy, and that's just significant in that it shows us the Finns do not fuck around, and take everything seriously that they expect a fan might by. Now, you do get a few bits like The Eyeless Horde demo tracks which were also on the debut, but one can hardly fault them for that as a lot of folks probably want that collected, and it's, no surprise, strong material from a strong album. In fact, I'd even go so far as to say that, taking any redundant tracks off here, just a collection of the split stuff would have made a formidable Hooded Menace record...the aforementioned "Catacombs..." is one of my favorite tracks they've ever done.

This ALSO contains the two tunes from the Labyrinth of Carrion Breeze EP which was pretty recent to this, so you don't have to track that one down. Could Gloom Immemorial have been more complete? Only slightly, there was at least one EP with a few covers (I'll go over this one elsewhere) that I can recall, but with 75 minutes of slug-like, mighty death/doom like this, layered in great mournful melodies, eerie and somber leads, and measured grooves that will twist your insides into a knot, this is a pretty mandatory compilation from Doomentia and Hooded Menace, unless of course you already own all of the separate splits and such.

Verdict: Win [8/10]

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Order ov Riven Cathedrals - Absolute (2022)

The intro to this record had a really unexpected flair to it, a mix of almost cinematic, mounting percussion, operatic background and ritualistic chants that kept me guessing on what to expect, being that this was my first exposure to Italians Order ov Riven Cathedrals. Right away, though, the band's moniker almost translates directly into their style, epic and grandiose death metal which has a certain Eastern, ethnic flair to it which I could only compare slightly to acts like Melechesh or Nile, and even that might not be fair, because while the sum 'package' of the duo's style fits snugly into the technical and brutal end of its genre, there are plenty of original riffing ideas permeating this throughout which show that it doesn't take anything more than a healthy, scant dose of influence from anyone.

In fact it even stands out against the band's countrymen like Hour of Penance, Hideous Divinity and Fleshgod Apocalypse, although fans of any of these would certainly be in for a treat checking this out, because it's written on the same level of claustrophobic ferocity and mechanical precision than any of those groups mete out. The production might have a similar level of bricked-out force, but the sole instrumentalist, '12', just flogs you with all of these intensely woven patterns of riffs that elevate above the punctual, pummeling substrate of the rhythm guitars. It's almost like you're listening to a classic late 90s brutal death record but with an added level of musicality cascading across its surface, bustling and busy and chop-heavy. The precision beats offer a stifling support for the rest of the insanity, but they're also packed with lots of fills and double-kick runs so that they can match the flexibility of the guitars, as in the chugging, awesome bridge of "Shameful Anthropic Principle" where they outpace the rhythm riffs until the sporadic splashes of filler notes that connect the moshing drudgery.

Perhaps the most anchored component of the material is the blunt vocal guttural of 'En Sabah Nur', but it's delivered at a volume where you can make out a little nuance and sincerity, even if the overall style does not distance itself from most in its genre. There is occasionally also a little bit of monotony to the overall pacing between songs, but the band hurls enough technical Cytotoxin-like flurries and melodies, and tricks through each of the compositions that it never becomes too much of a chore, and at an overall playtime of 32 there is simply no bloat in which it could wear out its welcome. The Order of Riven Cathedrals proves without a doubt (if they hadn't already) that they belong in consideration with some of the top shelf Italian death metal exports, if you want to be quickly and soundly destroyed by some no-frills tech pugilism then this is an easy go-to for the year.

Verdict: Win [8/10]

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Imperium - Ex Mortis Gloria (2022)

I am all about the Ancient World, and England's Imperium are all about taking all of that history, that conquest and culture and architecture, in particular of the Roman variety, and then filtering it through a lens of brutal whoop-ass that will absolutely be sending me to an appointment with my chiropractor. While at times the contrast between extreme modernity and thematic classicism can seem disjointed, there is just enough use of atmospherics to feel like it isn't out of place. But I will warn the potential listener: this record is almost suffocating in its total intensity, while the band is smart enough to let a few of the riffing sequences air out, to create some pauses amidst the pummeling, when this bands fires on all cylinders it can almost prove dizzying.

The main cause of this is the incredible interplay between guitarist Mike Alexander, a name that should probably be on everyone's lips after hearing his ceaseless volley of frenzied, fluid, complicated riffs, and the drummer, Swedish veteran Janne Jaloma (Night Crowned, Dark Funeral, Aeon, and many others), who is like caged thunder, battering his kit at levels of extremity that I hardly believe. Complement these two with a vocalist whose broad snarls, growls and howls make a necessary contrast against the sweltering complexity and you've got a force to be reckoned. I mean, Ex Mortis Gloria is really one of those albums you find yourself listening to and wondering if we've just gone too far? But then the band will reel you straight back in with a measured, elegant lead like that of "Indignitas" and keep you just grounded enough to not lose your shit entirely. If you've got a weak heart, however, this might be one you want to ingest in smaller doses, or at least turn it down a smidge from the volume I was stupid enough to experience it at.

I cannot imagine this album not taking Imperium places, for all its intensity it relies more on sheer musicality than dissonance, and while the faster material can grow exhausting, there is plenty more going on. It easily breaks the proficiency scale, its got that nice historical theming going for it akin to an Ade or an Ex Deo, and it ticks every brutal box, crumples up the test and asphyxiates you with it. Now if you'll excuse me I need some oxygen.

Verdict: Win [8.5/10]

Friday, July 22, 2022

Hooded Menace - Necrotic Monuments EP (2012)

Necrotic Monuments might play it a little safe in the cover department, choosing two tracks that are doom metal related and thus fit straight into the Hooded Menace wheelhouse, but the Finns still do a great job of converting them into cuts that would work among their own set lists, and if you weren't the wiser you might not even realize it wasn't their own material. To me, that's the hallmark of a quality cover song, one that honors the original but gets converted to something fresh, not just a bunch of karaoke bar doppelganger bullshit. To that extent, while it's really short like most 7" records are, this maintains the consistency of quality that the band is known for, and I enjoyed both tracks and think they'd probably fit in on most of their full-lengths...

"Psychopath" from Swedish death/doom cult Eternal Darkness is really close to the belt, of the two tunes present this one would required less manipulation, but it's spot on as a Hooded Menace jam...with slow, mournful riffs and melodies that immediately envelop you into the Finns' trodden atmosphere. The other, "Burning a Sinner" from Witchfinder General's debut Death Penalty was the more interesting pick, since I love that band, and yet they've managed to transform that NWOBHM doomy goodness into something more crushing and fitting to their own sound. Some of that pastoral trad doom groove is certainly maintained here, and its thus a bit simpler than most of what you'd expect from this band's own catalogue, but they glaze over some of those sad melodies and then all is well. They even bust out into the most rock & roll lead they've done, but that also just makes sense with the context of the original group. The bass sounds pretty good on this one and frankly I wouldn't mind hearing the Menace tackle a whole bunch of oldies like this if they were ever to promote a full-length of covers.

As an added bonus, this comes packed with a version of Effigies of Evil on Relapse Records, so that's probably how many of you would experience it. I do think there's a Digital version of that full album, however, that also has a cover of Claudio Simonetti's "Theme from Tenebre", which is cool and shows us another side of Hooded Menace's good taste. We know they love great metal, traditional and extreme, they're also inspired by a ton of cult horror cinema. So you're not left out in the cold if vinyl does nothing for you. But even as a collector's item with just the two tunes, this is worth hearing since they show the same respect to the covers as their own material.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Vampire - Vampire (2014)

Vampire is one of those obvious-monikered sorts of bands that comes around every few years and then offers a refreshing 'reset' on the style that they perform, almost like they've gone back to the basics, stripped away a lot of the distractions and bad trajectories that other bands have gone down, and then throttle fucking ass. Like a Ghost. Or Midnight. In the case of these Swedes, they exist on a crossroads of the black/thrash niche that has become so popular again in these last 10-15 years, and the more traditional Swede black metal penchants for great melodies. Even  beyond that, they offer a bit more of a horror-influenced mindset through their wicked note choices and occasional atmospheric relishes, and the lyrics, all of which live up quite well to their name and artwork.

All three of their full-lengths to date, as well as their Cimmerian Shade EP, have been wonderful, but it's the eponymous debut which remains my favorite due to the songwriting, and just the realization that dawned on me when listening through this that something great was happening. In fact, I recall writing about this one already for my friend's Codex Obscurum dead-tree zine under my human name, but it bears revisiting because it's a really awesome rush of these concepts. Whip-nasty riffing force glazed in eerily melodic little guitars and dissonant hooks dominates much of the material like "Howl from the Coffin", and here they do fall under some familiar patterns, but it's all the little details that matter, like the wildly different breakdowns in that particular song, which came at me totally unexpected. The raucous vocals here are absolutely wild, on the surface an uncaring rasp, but the mix of it with the reverb and sustained lines are absolutely perfect. These guys manage to pay tribute to all of the acts that formed their sound, from Hellhammer to Venom to the German thrash titans, but they splash on an added coat of vile, blackened paint.

All the songs are great, but my personal favorite in their entire canon is "The Fen", which begins will chilly acoustics and atmosphere that makes you feel like you're out on a moor under the moonlight, and then just erupts into some incredible 80s Slayer or Possessed-worthy riffing, and then this drudging little break which feels like you're repeatedly getting struck by some bog mummy with a hammer. This is just awesome horror metal all around because it actually sounds threatening, rather than just merely talking the talk. The song titles are also just incredible..."Ungodly Warlock"? "Cellar Grave Vampire"? "Jaws of the Unknown"? "At Midnight I'll Posses Your Corpse"? Everything fits to the music so thematically. Interestingly enough, while this is an excellent album (and so are its successors), I still feel like there's a good room for growth...not every lick is as catchy or evil as it could be, and I can only imagine how impressive it will be if they rise to that challenge. Fantastic debut that I enjoyed to begin with, but has definitely grown on me since I reviewed it that last time. If you're into any of the awesome current wave of death/thrash or black/thrash coming out of both sides of the pond, or even if you find yourself stuck in the 90s Swedish black metal, you want this. You do!

Verdict: Epic Win [9/10]

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Droid - Terrestrial Mutations (2017)

Take just about everything from Droid's Disconnected EP the year before, and then make it louder, better produced, more intricately designed and detailed, and you've got one of the best full-length Canadian thrash metal debuts in quite some time. Sure, there is still some semblance of standing in the shadow of those better-known countrymen performing in the same style, but this Ontario trio is wise to cultivate just a fraction of that Voivod influence and continue to shift it into something that becomes their own. The brighter, more powerful songwriting and mix of this album also highlights the contrast between the busy guitars and blunter, harsh vocals quite well, and both work better in unison than they did on the EP where it was a little rough.

It takes only the first moment of "Amorphous Forms (Shapeless Shadows)" to transport the listener off-world, with great melodic riffing, just the right level of effects, fluid bass lines and drumming that sounds a fuck ton better than the mix on the EP. Terrestrial Mutations is a phenomenal record because you simply don't know what's lying around each shift in its cosmic landscape; Jacob Montgomery's guitar playing is just that good, and he really brings to mind a lot of the more creative thrash axe-men of the later 80s and early 90s who populated records like Deathrow's Deception Ignored or Artillery's By Inheritance. Not so dauntingly brilliant as that stuff, perhaps, but constantly exciting, balancing out melody and aggression perfectly, and just alien and spacey enough to take me to that place on the cover art, and to many beyond. His vocals, while still a bit one-dimensional, have the right swell and mix of effects to feel like they are echoing angrily out through the empty hull of some drifting space-ship, and he's matched by a rhythm section of Michael Gabor and Sebastian Alcamo who are fantastic and both upped their game from the previous year's release.

This record just slays, from the Megadeth-meets-Voivod hooks of "Suspended Animation" to the more melancholic and mood-shifting title track, nothing ever sounds quite the same twice, thought it all seems to occupy the same envelope of style. They can pull off a ten minute composition with a lot more adventure in it as they can a shorter, more direct thrash piece, and when listening to this I feel like they could take on such an even wider scope, the stars are the limit!? In fact the one downside to listening through Terrestrial Mutations again is that I'm sad they haven't put out another offering in the 4-5 years since this one dropped. I know some of them are also involved in the retro metal/hard rock group Freeways (also a good band), but I can cross my fingers that they'll be called back out to the greater cosmos soon enough. Killer disc, familiar but fresh, and if you're looking for more stuff like Voivod's masterful 1987-1991 period or DBC's Universe then I'd advise you to give this one a go!

Verdict: Epic Win [9/10]

Saturday, July 16, 2022

Droid - Disconnected EP (2015)

Canada. Sci-fi. Thrash metal. The first thing that comes to mind is obviously Autothrall's favorite band in the world, Voivod, but the idea of hearing other bands from that same neighborhood perform their own spin on the concept is thrilling by osmosis. DBC's excellent Universe was a great example, and certainly we've heard that on the more technical death/thrash end of the scale with groups like Martyr and Obliveon, but the more recent Droid takes on a slightly less intense approach on their Disconnected EP which feels more like a fusion of classic thrash, heavy and speed metal with perhaps a handful of crossover strands in its DNA, and a healthy degree of involved or slightly technical riffing for an added level of depth.

While I'm not going to say that there isn't a little 80s Voivod influence in there, I think Droid does a pretty good job of establishing themselves as their 'own thing'. There are a lot of dissonant guitar chords that might recall Piggy, especially in "Cosmic Debt" which is their most punkiest, quirkiest, and the most similar to that influence; but also they use some other, warmer tones, and the agile licks that occupy tunes like "Breach Oblivion" certainly feel like they have more in common with other thrash scenes like the Teutonic school. The lead-work here is pretty outstanding, and they'll often throw up some nice atmospheric melodies that ring out over the busier rhythmic substrate. The bass-work is solid, grooving along not unlike a Blacky but nicely mixed in to support those crispier rhythm guitar tones. The vocals are a pretty straight crossover/thrash bark, not terribly interesting but certainly fit to the dystopian nature of the lyrics and concepts.

My one other small gripe is in the production, it's clear but fairly mundane and doesn't always emphasize some of the power of the guitars, but this is something they will improve upon their full-length, and to be honest, at worst this one just sounds like a great demo recording. It's authentic and sometimes dirty sounding, but never too splattery like a lot of Venom-worshipping black/thrash acts (which, to be fair, I do really love). I enjoy inventive, interesting thrash and speed metal, and while Droid don't reinvent any wheels on this, they're clearly distancing themselves from a lot of the more generic pizza party re-thrash outfits and coming up with good guitar licks that balance off mystery and melody, and Disconnected was a solid launching pad for something great.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Spell - Opulent Decay (2020)

I was so hyped up on For None and All that its follow-up, four years later, Opulent Decay, felt like a bit of a letdown up front. Not like its a far cry from the sophomore outing, but the band has once again taken a bit of a left turn, and molded a few new influences into their heavily retro metal sound. Namely, there are some guitars here that give off more of the classy Goth rock vibe, and the use of synthesizers seems more like something you'd hear on an atmospheric metal record than an old Boston disc. It turns out that was I was being a bit presumptuous, because this is actually another strong work for the Canadian trio, perhaps not their best, but showing that they can continue to move along in whatever direction their imagination takes them, and bear me along for the ride.

The album is like if you mixed some Rush and Sisters of Mercy with other Canadian retro metal bands like Cauldron or Freeways. It still sounds like something that could have burst out in the latest 70s or earlier 80s, Cam's voice is much the same as it was on the last album, maybe more moody and reserved, and the riffs are still densely melodic and metallic, a lot of them dwelling in that vintage margin between glam/hard rock and true heavy metal from decades past, but almost always well-thought and catchy. But the compositions here are far more liable to throw you for a loop, they'll be treading along lightly with a melodic metal verse and then go into something a little more bottom-heavy and jammy, and it's there that the slight prog rock touches really shine through. The drums and bass feel thicker and more syrupy than the album before it, and the material definitely casts a weird vibe much like that cover art...okay, maybe it doesn't sound like a Lovecraftian hell-scape, but its not the easiest to define.

The sense of adventuring with their style is probably just as strong here as on the sophomore album, and that's the real value of Opulent Decay. Cuts like "Sibyl Vane" and the epic "The Iron Wind" just ricochet off into a million little sub-styles, from prog to heavy metal to Goth to doom. Or they'll go with a different vocal as in "Deceiver", or the awesome, mournful harmonies of the vocal piece "Ataraxia". Who the hell would expect that? There are just a lot of unexpected components to this one, and that ultimately makes it worthwhile and ties into the more epic, mystical, fantastic themes the band is exploring. And who knows just where the hell they're going to take us next? It should definitely prove interesting.

Verdict: Win [8.25/10]

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Spell - For None and All (2016)

As fun as The Full Moon Sessions proved to be, there was a little sense of it being slapped together and lacking cohesion, something the Canadians Spell were quick to fix on the sophomore effort For None and All, which excels beyond its predecessor in just about every department. You've still got that sense of nostalgic 80s metal, almost like a collage of the obscure NWOBHM and Metal Blade acts from that decade, but this new album also has a bit more of an infusion of 70s hard rock and proto-metal due to some of the retro riffing, lead guitars and vocalizations. It all comes together quite wonderfully to be what I'd consider the trio's strongest work to date, obscenely catchy and just sounding tremendous coming through my car speakers. Yes, this is just another album I love to spin when I'm driving my sons around or just want a soundtrack for the wind through my beard (my old man proxy for having a head of hair), it's a highly mood-driven collection of tracks that sound just as good now as they did six years ago.

I suppose Cam's vocals are the place to start, he's got a very authentic, natural mocking tone to his voice that sounds impetuous but perfectly suited to the music, especially when it comes against the more epic contrast of something like the choir that erupts in "Whipping Sigils". The way he delivers his lines does remind me of fellow Canadians Cauldron, who also use a very down-to-earth, guy-next-door sort of vocal style, but the pitch is higher, more playful and leering. There are a few tunes in which it can feel a little monotonous, a wider range wouldn't hurt, but they're still beyond adequate. The guitars are extremely melodic, running through a rich set of patterns in each tune with one of the most wonderful guitar tones. I'm actually reminded a bit of the first two Def Leppard records with a few of those great rhythm guitars in the mix, and also by the constant crest of melodies and harmonies, but really this guy is using all sorts of effects to add in bluesy, funky or atmospheric layers as well. Graham McGee is great here.
The bass pops along audibly with lots of nice grooves or fills to round out the amazing guitar performance, and the drums sound very natural and authentic to the fusion of 70s and 80s metal influences. They also use some cool throwback synthesizer pad lines, choirs, or really whatever the moment needs to sculpt tracks that go straight into your memory, and I very often found myself wondering what decade I was in, although the music here is strong enough to conquer the 21st century. For None and All is might not maintain the same level ten tracks deep, but there are no stinkers in the bunch, and this should be a go-to to any true heavy metal fans heavy with nostalgia for hard rock and metal for such formative years, being thrust into the present with a style just as fun as your latest power metal or Euro arena metal obsession. Easily one of my faves of that entire retro inspired Canadian heavy metal scene!

Verdict: Epic Win [9/10]

Thursday, July 7, 2022

Spell - The Full Moon Sessions (2014)

You always gotta wonder how a band lands on such an obvious, simple moniker as Spell and yet it hasn't already been taken by some legacy act for decades. I'm positive there are some other underground acts that have used it through the ages, but it's just so perfect to the type of metal these Canadians perform that it feels that the moons were really in some sort of magical alignment for all this to come together. Part of that massive Canadian blitz of the last decade that includes groups like Cauldron, Striker and Skull Fist, these guys make an strong impression right out of the starting gate with a series of NWOBHM-sounding hymns updated for the 21st century through brightness of production alone, and very little to any other nuance or evolution of the much-beloved roots of melodic heavy metal.

The Full Moon Sessions offer up a nice variety of proto-speed/power metal and then occasionally a bit that sounds a little more epic like a Manilla Road, Manowar or Omen, and they've got a nice mix here that never quite sounds the same, even the production sounds a little rawer and rougher on some tunes than on others, yet fittingly so. "Electric Witchery" has a big, booming epic metal anthem feel, where "Never Enough/Sisters of the Moon" is just a filthier force with some great little screams and picking passages. And then a piece like "Possessed by Heavy Metal" sounds like a raunchy, faster-paced Twisted Sister if Dee was using a higher pitch. The bass and drums are also good, but I think the real highlight of the style has to be the aesthetics and production which make this sound like you've stumbled across a box of old 80s heavy metal demos from bands that never really got to live the dream, or maybe a compilation tape mix that a few heshers were passing around those 30-40 years ago and now you can finally bring it to light and recognize it for the glory which its own creators never fully grasped.

It's certainly a little short, only about 25 minute if you were to clip off the acoustic instrumental "Zott Lee" from the ending. It's also little cheesy, a fraction generic, and sure you've heard every technique and probably most of the riffs on this album before, but for me it's just the right sort of tribute... intelligent in how its using influences below the mainstream of 80s metal, and unwilling to sacrifice its underground sincerity by going too polished with the production. Of the three Spell albums to date, this one was the loosest, you could argue the band might not have fully locked down where it wanted to be, but judging buy the differences between its too successors, I think this is a case of some guys who don't planning on resting on any laurels and writing whatever the hell they want at any point in time. If you want the trio's most structured and mature material, you'll want For None and All, without question, but if you love the charm and glitz of traditional under-the-radar North American heavy metal with a healthy heaping of British influence, this debut is a no-brainer too.

Verdict: Win [8/10]

Monday, July 4, 2022

Vampire - Rex (2020)

Vampire has been one of the more consistent Swedish extreme metal acts of the last decade, and they've got a pretty broad sound which can be seen as a successor to not only classic melodic black metal from that scene (Dissection) but also to the blackened/thrash legacy of a group like Nifelheim. And I wouldn't even limit them within those very parameters, because they've sort of developed a style of their own that is equally nestled between the black, death/thrash and black/thrash niches and provides them a lot of potential riffing attacks form many attention. Having said that, their third full-length Rex definitely leans mostly into the blackened thrash aesthetics, a hard hitting rhythmic undercurrent that is balanced off by a lot of excellent melodic guitars over the top. This one didn't give me the immediate thrills of their eponymous debut, but after a half dozen spins it's proven to be yet another excellent offering in their catalogue.

This is riff-fucking-tastic from the starts, with loads of faster paced guitars that structurally resemble a lot of what you hear from many of the frilly, evil, post-Venom sorts of groups. Take something like a Craven Idol or Deathhammer, but then focus in on the more extreme ends of those, barbaric riffing meant to roll over you like a...reaper on horseback!? But then take all that business, and add the complex and furious layers of memorable melodies that defined so much of Swedish metal of the it the black metal end of the spectrum, melodic death, you name it. Beyond that, they also have a penchant for throwing in some tasteful and minimalistic synths right where it counts to elevate the black heart of the music to the next level. Rex is a beast from fore to aft, shifting between volatile, fast scathing numbers like the title track, or some more moderately-paced neck jerkers like "Pandemoni" which they spice up with rapid fills and dissonant little effects to add a layer of cinematic intensity. The musicianship is top notch, although I think it's really gotta be the guitars and light touches of synths that put this one over the threshold.

Vocals are a great, loud hybrid between a bark and rasp, almost similar to a Tribulation only matched up with the far more furious, thrashing music. They work especially well when they're barked out and sustained over the more shifting, ominous patterns as in "Moloch", but it's a top notch performance on every line across the record, spitting all kinds of horror/occult themed lyrics that you want from a band with the Vampire moniker. The production here is just right, kind of timeless and washed out rather than too punchy or bright or polished, and it just foments the perfect atmosphere for this level of grace-threaded violence. If you're a fan of bands like Nifelheim, Bewitched, or Swordmaster who were blowing up a bit in the 90s Swedish underground, this band is the most natural successor to much that they strove for, and in my opinion even more effective. Rex is their most purely punishing record to date, even if it's not quite my favorite, but it's the sort of aggressive/atmospheric mix that will sound just as good today as it's going to in a decade. Don't sleep on this. 

Verdict: Win [8.5/10]

Friday, July 1, 2022

Vampire - With Primeval Force (2017)

You only need a few minutes into "Knights of the Burning Crypt" to realize that With Primeval Force is truth in advertising, a more furious entry into the Vampire canon than the band's eponymous debut, and a purist continuation of the Swedish savagery of their 90s black metal scene, both the more brutal based style like Marduk, Sacramentum or Lord Belial, and the more thrashing side of things. That's not to say that this is a band to ever blast away monotonously, it's more that they carry forward the carnal riffing patterns, often somewhat predictable but still impressive just by the sheer force and consistency. But what places this band beyond that is their excellent use of atmosphere and melody to create such a well-rounded set of tunes that really bring honor to the album format.

There's also a nice influence from Germanic thrash here which becomes more obvious in a cut like "He Who Speaks" reminiscent of Kreator, and a lot of speed metal too inherent in the "Metamorfosis" riffing. Vampire is such a total package that they don't let a track pass without a few essential melodies and really ripping, excellent leads that bring to mind any number of heavy metal or thrash influences ranging from Mercyful Fate to Destruction. All of these wide array of inspirations are unified beneath the carnal and incredible rasping of Hand of Doom, and those little segues and moments of horror atmosphere that they first introduced on their debut, but are inserted expertly into the tunes like at the end of "Metamorfosis" with its acoustics and ghostly keys, or the synth and reverb that inaugurates the "Initiation Rite". The drumming is likewise excellent, just as strong as most of the rest of the mighty Swedish legacy acts, with strong double-kick, good fills and a nice natural mix that balances out against the more raw, vile power of the guitars.

With Primeval Force is certainly more of a beastly attack than the debut, yet it doesn't lose much by way of songwriting or intricacy, it's just excellently written music that services its black, thrash, and heavy metal components somewhat equally. If Dissection were more into horror movies, this might have been what they sounded like, and if that's not enough to tempt you into trying these albums I don't know what will. Metal music is such an embarrassment of riches these days that a band like this, which should be on the lips and in the ears of a vast swath of fandom, is just not one I hear spoken of much at all beyond those who are really into the mighty swell black/thrash emergent in the last decade. Vampire is on point, two points that will sink smoothly into your fucking neck. Invite them in.

Verdict: Win [8.75/10]