Tuesday, February 28, 2023

The Moaning - Blood from Stone (1997)

Not only is Blood from Stone one of the better melodic black/death metal albums you've never heard of in that crowded Swedish scene, but it's also got one of the finer covers out there, a creepy forest scene with a color palette that rivals your Somberlains and Storms of the Light's Bane. And I make such comparisons on purpose, because while they don't sound exactly like the late Jon Nödtveidt's creative offspring, that is the first band I think of when I recall the detail they often put into their riffs, the blend of savage floods of dark chords sliced through by these waves of well composed melodies that add balance and completion to what otherwise might get a little monotonous or boring. Hell, there's enough breadth here that The Moaning will also appeal to fans of melodeath like Dark Tranquillity, At the Gates and earlier In Flames.

The emphasis is on faster material, from the blasting depths of "Dreams in Black" to the majestic clip of "A Dark Decade's Rising", but they round off the album enough with some slower to mid-paced rhythms that they won't come across as a one-trick pony. But it's clear that this is the zone in which they are most comfortable, so they spruce it all up with that great sense of unerring melody, adept at picking note patterns that will keep your glues eared even if you grow exhausted with the blasted drums. The bass is pretty solid, the percussion of the late Andreas Nilzon well on par with most of his peers in the scene. The vocals of Pierre Törnkvist have a nice, bloody rasp to them not unlike a Tomas Lindberg, but pitched a bit deeper and not as snarly. But as good as this is, it's the guitar tone and playing which really steals the show here, you are just hammered with great riff after great riff. I'm not saying they are quite as interesting as you'd heard on the first two Dissection albums, but if that band had put this one out instead of the lamentable Reinkaos, it would have hit cult classic status with ease.

Very unfortunate that this is a one-shot, because the album sounds fantastic, and once you've heard it good and loud you'll have no question of the Swedes' potential. Most of the members have been involved in a number of other bands like Helltrain, Devil's Force, Gates of Ishtar, Satariel, Battlelust and The Everdawn to name a few, so it's possible this was never meant as more than a fun collaboration, but I can say with confidence that this is superior to all of them, and I'd have loved a follow-up or two. The album was good enough to be re-issued through Century Media about a decade ago, so you can probably find it out in the wild, but if not, and you HAVEN'T already heard it, go and stream it and see what you've been missing. Legendary? Perfect? Maybe not, but it hits so many of the right buttons that I can't imagine you'll be disappointed.

Verdict: Win [8.5/10]

Sunday, February 26, 2023

Unanimated - Victory in Blood (2021)

Sweden's Unanimated has never released a bad record, and it wasn't about to start when time came around to release their fourth full-length in 35 years of existence. Victory in Blood reads like a tour de force of the black and death metal aesthetics heralded within its scene, leaning much heavier onto the former for the actual music, where the vocals are the element that straddles the line. This is an aggressive rush of a record, sometimes a bit predictable in its rhythmic ideas as are many bands who love to blast away, but nonetheless atmospheric and well-produced with a few memorable surprises waiting in the depths of its aggression. The band has not sought to reinvent itself by any means, you can trace the direct line of how they got from In the Forest of the Dreaming Dead to this one, nor do they stand out far from other groups like Marduk or Dark Funeral, but they approach this new material with brazen confidence and blazing competence.

They really like to emphasize the speed here, but tunes like "As the Night Takes Us" prove that they can play about in a mid-tempo sandbox, and they can even pull off another interlude piece in the acoustic "With a Cold Embrace" and its surprising clean vocal harmonies of some quality. The riff construction isn't terribly progressive, and they don't often stride into some epic chorus that will blow your testicles off, but Victory in Blood is certainly a flood of intensity with a group of musicians who work in lock step as they lay their Satanic brickwork. The volumes here are great, with epic drumming, swarthy bass that will turn around in your gut, and killer rhythm guitar tone that can balance out both the thicker chord patterns and the bleeding melodies so important within the Swedish black metal. The vocals are a broad hybrid of rasp and growl, and also sound tremendous within the mix. I find that the more technical they get with their riffing, or the more atmospheric, the more interesting the material gets, but there's no question that this is a professional, punishing effort which puts them near the very forefront of the survivors within this style.

In fact, I think Victory in Blood is strong enough that I'm just as likely to pick this down off the shelf as I am In the Forest of the Dreaming Dead or In the Light of Darkness, and it seems like a re-haul of the aesthetics they were using back in the 90s, only clad in the denser, louder sound that studios are capable of producing in current times. Anyone into Sacramentum, Necrophobic, Diabolical, Thulcandra, Naglfar or Dawn should have a blast with this belligerent hellscape of a metal album, and they're another unit that proves there is no slowing down with age, that the vile imaginations that roosted over the 90s are still very much intact and relevant, and there's no need to stand solely on nostalgia when you can still lay a smackdown like this one. They might not be the catchiest songwriters, they might not be the stuff of legend like a Dissection, but they are God-damned, and damned reliable.

Verdict: Win [8/10]


Friday, February 24, 2023

Unanimated - Annihilation EP (2018)

In 2009, Unanimated had...animated itself from the dead and given us In the Light of Darkness, arguably their strongest album to date, but the idea of a productive, new phase of their career seemed to fold as the years rolled forward without much happening. Thankfully, this wasn't the sign of a new break from the band, and nine years after that damn solid effort they returned with a new EP in Annihilation, which shows no loss of energy or momentum from where they had been prior. There's a subtle air of modernity to the material on this, still a brazen hybrid of death and black metal, but they incorporate some different tones and melodies, and a little bit of atmosphere through the synths in the close of "Adversarial Fire", helping to round this new material out so that it sums up to something more than a blasting slugfest.

The production is virile and fresh, the performances on point, I believe they had just one new guitar player different than on the last album, and he fits seamlessly with their collection of blackish chords and evil melodies. Ander Schultz of Unleashed continues to hammer away behind the kit, and the trio of veteran members sound as invigorated as you're going to get, considering they were all playing in the 80s and early 90s. It's a shorter recording at around 20 minutes, with one of its four tracks an instrumental with lots of atmosphere, acoustic guitars, and such, but as a proof that the band was still very much alive, this would certainly tide us over, even if it's not their best. Song-wise, they remind me a lot of Necrophobic here, although not as catchy as that band's last two full-lengths, but if you're a fan of the one, or of Diabolical, this is directly within that category, and if you're somehow familiar with In the Forest of the Dreaming Dead, or your interest in Unanimated stopped there, treat yourself to everything they've done since.

Verdict: Win [7.25/10]


Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Gates of Ishtar - At Dusk and Forever (1998)

Three years, three albums released, but by the time At Dusk and Forever dropped it became tearfully clear that Gates of Isthar might not erupt like I once thought they would, that they might become another drop in the bucket of melodeath history. This was still right in that timeframe where At the Gates had taken over the universe because of some nasty vocals, a great guitar tone and one of the best breakdowns since Reign in Blood, so these Swedes were perfectly poised to succeed in that wake. But something was happening...bands like Soilwork and Darkane were about to arrive and make it all much more interesting, whereas this band were still playing it pretty close to the hilt when emulating the Big Three of that scene, and interest just seemed to dwindle.

It's not the fault of At Dusk and Forever, because if anything, this one gives the band an energetic kick that takes them back to the orbit of the debut, a little less washed out than The Dawn of Flames. The old cover art for this one looks absolutely fucking horrible, and I don't even think it was meant for this album, with the logo and title font looking like shit. Who in their right minds at Invasion or within the ranks of the band thought this was anything but an eyesore? They had a great logo. Fortunately, the sound is a bit better, they weren't using Dan this time, but still managed to get what might be their best, most propulsive guitar tone, which seamlessly infused the force and heaviness of the riffing with the actual melodies they're threading through it. The bass is a bit grainier than before, the drums perhaps not the best mixed of their catalogue, but it still seemed brighter than the previous album, and the band was just ripping through these tracks like they were blowing their noses...in a good way.

Ultimately, it's my least favorite of their three albums, because it all seemed to blend together for me, and still does now. It's possible that I just became too overfed with this particular style, hearing so many dozens of bands forming melodies in such comparable patterns, and finding nothing to really push the envelope anywhere beyond what I'd expect. This is fiery as hell, perhaps their most passionate and desperate performance, sort of a foreshadowing for the style Dimension Zero would adopt, and I do like some of the leads here and riffs in general ("Battles to Come", etc), but the Swedes seemed a little stuck in time and unable to really progress themselves forward or sideways into any more curious pastures, so they remained for their entire career a meat & potatoes melodeath band on that fateful second tier. Granted, a pretty damn good one, worth the hype they once stood on...AND may stand on once more, because ladies and gentlemen, the Gates of Ishtar are open yet again, we'll have to see what strides boldly forth from them.

Verdict: Win [7.25/10]


Monday, February 20, 2023

Gates of Ishtar - The Dawn of Flames (1997)

The one with the boobs flopping out. The Dawn of Flames arrived to me first as a promo when I was doing the paper zine thing back in the 90s, I don't believe it was the version where they had hooked up with German Invasion Records, but another licensed version. It was already a little surprising that Gates of Ishtar hadn't taken over the world in the year since their debut, and like that, I wasn't immediately smitten with what was on the album, but like A Bloodred Path, this is one that has aged well enough that it's become a backup when I'm seeking out bands in this mid-range melodeath genre, and I'm just not in the mood for my favorite bands of the form like Darkane, Soilwork or the 90s material from At the Gates and In Flames

The band hadn't really had a large amount of time to mature through their releases, but having said that, The Dawn of Flames is a little more laid back and seasoned, and even I dare say a little less intense. The band were settled into writing melodic songs with a clear heavy metal background, and wanted to go a little less pedal to the metal and instead branch out dynamically. So some of the rhythms in tracks like "Trail of Tears" might seem almost pedestrian by comparison, but they are still well-seeded with riffing ideas, patterns that attach right to any melodeath fan's ear-space, and even some guest synthesizers and pianos from one Dan Swanö, who also produced the disc. His mix here is a little more washed out, atmospheric, less straight to the grill than A Bloodred Path, but then I think that tends to suit the song selection here a little more, even if it might have felt disappointing to a few fans. When the material here does speed up ("Forever Scarred", "Dream Field", etc), it does feel like a direct extension of what they put out the years before, but there's enough of a minor difference to the sophomore that some 'growth' had been achieved.

As for myself, I slightly prefer the debut because I'm not entirely in love with the production to this, but for individual song quality they're on somewhat even ground. I like the cover for its color palette and mammary appreciation, but I don't think it fits the band's lyrics or concepts whatsoever. You'd see that and probably expect some barbaric heavy metal circa Manowar, Cirith Ungol or Holland's Goddess of Desire, but it's a little out of place with the introspective lyrics and melody here. Nitpicking though, because this is a solid if not wholly remarkable follow-up that I still value when I'm in the mood to wax nostalgic about all those underground 90s melodeath acts my friends and I used to follow.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]


Saturday, February 18, 2023

Gates of Ishtar - A Bloodred Path (1996)

Of all the many second string melodic Swedish death and black metal bands, Invasion Records or adjacent that I've been writing about lately, Gates of Ishtar might have had the most subcultural penetration around me in the mid 90s. This was a band of hopefuls that most of my metal friends knew about, even those who weren't heavily versed in the underground; many picked up their CDs at the local shops, and some even venerated them on a similar level to Dark Tranquillity and In Flames. I'm not going to claim that they were as distinct as their peers, in fact I think why they ultimately folded, but it's clear from even listening to this debut that they were solid, professional songwriters who knew the right balance for that particular strain of melodic death metal before it had even fully imprinted on the metal universe.

A Bloodred Path still sounds tight in the modern age, with a roster that included Oskar Karlsson, who had drummed on a number of the Invasion and related acts, several in a similar style (like The Everdawn), and this was probably his most popular band. There was also the vocalist, Mikael Sandorf who would go on to continue this style with The Duskfall, which saw some success as well, but never quite struck me as impressively as this band once did. Essentially this is the band which had it all...intense drumming that seemed effortless, no end to the streams of melody they could tear out from their strings, a good mix of bass that stood itself out in places from the rhythm tracks, and a vocalist who was well versed in that At the Gates style of punchy syncopated snarling. Listening back on this debut today, it does suffer from that effect where the more Swedish melodeath I hear, the more exhausted I get with melodies that seem rather predictable, but 25 years ago this all felt much fresher, like these Swedes had resurrected the NWOBHM bands, sped up their melodies and harmonies, and cloaked them in a savage death metal influence which would keep them current and appealing to all the death metal, black metal and metalcore fans.

And this album is really damn consistent, so much that I wouldn't dare pick out particular songs over others, because they all strike at the same level of quality and emotion. They're not absolute earworms like you'd hear on The Jester Race, but they were close enough that you can understand why fans of some of the bigger Swedish acts in the niche would turn to this as an immediate backup. Fast, intricate, well plotted, there was no question that these guys were going to pull more attention, and thus no surprise when they finally did. While I wasn't as hot on them as the aforementioned friends of the day, A Bloodred Path definitely holds its own, has grown on me in time, and there's no way I can deny the level of talent they had in their midst.

Verdict: Win [8/10]


Friday, February 17, 2023

Morgue Supplier - Dead in Spirit (2023)

Coming off the frenetic Inevitability, Chicago's Morgue Supplier returns with something to further broaden its sound and scope, a track that balances off between a sense for melody and melancholy, and the spastic attacks the band has honed throughout 24 years of destruction. "Dead in Spirit" almost lulls you at first with its gently dissonant flow of chords, but Paul Gillis' savage slurries of rasped and guttural vocals, the ruptures of Stephen Reichelt's bass-lines and the crazy fills let one know that all is not right in paradise, and sure enough, the track swerves on and off the rails of sanity through fits of grinding intensity, tremolo picked death metal riffs and even further, spacy bouts with dissonance, even as a blanket that later covers the softer swerves. I'll mention again the effectiveness of the vocals and bass, the former sounding even more schizophrenic and gruesome over the calmer moments in the music, and the latter having a thick, hypnotic tone that would be fun to follow even if not for all the other band's weaponry firing off in tandem. There's quite a lot going on under the hood of this six-minute cut, perhaps more than what we're used to from many of the individual tracks off the full-lengths, and while I have no idea if there is more in this style coming, it's a good, singular excursion that keeps the palette of illness wet with some fresh ideas that fatten the band's sonic envelope.

Verdict: Win [8.25/10]


Thursday, February 16, 2023

The Everdawn - Poems - Burn the Past (1997)

Poems - Burn the Past moves even closer to its Swedish peers than the Opera of the Damned EP, and this definitely feels like an album you'd turn to if you couldn't get enough Slaughter of the Soul. I always liked the sort of swashbuckler or Western vibe the cover to this one gave me, but I suppose it's more to represent some Romantic poet or reader who is ready to execute himself over some lost or unreturned love? Don't know what that has to do with the thrashing, propulsive tunes on this disc, but I do think it has a classy aesthetic to it that I remember to this day, and not as digitally cheesy in graphic design as a lot of other stuff that was out on Invasion Records. But yes, The Everdawn's only full-length did feel like a bit of a clone of their better-known countrymen, only that's not enough to write it off due to its solid execution.

I should say that there is actually a streak of In Flames with a lot of the riffing, it sounds like its ad a median between Slaughter of the Soul and Colony. Thick rhythm guitars thrashing and thundering along, with some triplet chugging that alternates well with the more atmospheric, open chords that they will often use to back up a chorus. The vocals here are much more Lindberg-like than the prior EP, but they also remind me a little of Mille from Kreator when he's straining himself. Oskar Karlsson's drumming on this was fantastic, he is a missed talent from this scene, and he applies such an even and fiery force to it all that you can't help but get swept up into the riffing, which is itself quite good in tracks like "Needlework" or "Autumn, Sombre, Autumn", the latter of which has the vocalist screaming at an even higher pitch which is ironically a foreshadowing of how Lindberg sounds on some of the most recent At the Gates post-reunion releases. They also have a few places, like "Burn" in which they go for a slightly simpler, rocking pace and it works well in contrast to the more involved mamterial.

Poems - Burn the Past is certainly 'heavily inspired', and perhaps even a knockoff for those who don't want to give it the time of day, but it is a worthwhile album that builds upon their EP and hones in on the songwriting first and foremost. It doesn't rival a band like Darkane or Soilwork who took this formula into all new places, but every detail here is well implemented, from the leads to the drums and I can say little more negative about it than it's just a trendy example of the style. Fortunately, the music and mix are strong enough that it's a good, evergreen glimpse into a band walking in the considerable footsteps of an album that essentially changed the world of heavy metal, uniting the European and American sides of the genre and turning a universe of wallet-chained mallcore maniacs onto 'the good stuff'. Looks cool, sounds cool, I listen to it sporadically and it's another reason I miss Invasion.

Verdict: Win [7.75/10]

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

The Everdawn - Opera of the Damned EP (1996)

The Everdawn was an obscure melodic death metal act out of Sweden, and another of the several projects featuring the late Oskar Karlsson on the drums. This band took on a more standard style reminiscent of an At the Gates, although there were some marginal differences. For instance, the snarls here were only partly akin to Lindberg, they had more of a mealy-mouthed feel to them, but still some of that sinister bird of prey vibe that he mastered the year before this with Slaughter of the Soul. The tunes also have a more rock & roll vibe in a few spots, perhaps a bit more blues to the lead construction, but it's certainly not death & roll, because by and large the music here feels similar to that of their more popular peers, but by no means a direct ripoff of any one.

Opera of the Damned is a tight, intense EP with a good mix of fast and mid-paced EP that show the range they are capable of, and although their basic chord constructions might have felt a little predictable like many of the B- or C-tier melodeath squads, the 15 minutes of material is always exciting, the melodic outbreaks placed just perfectly to keep you hooked throughout. You want harmonies, you got them. You want to blast off, you got it, in fact I think the material here would even sate those tracking down some melodic Swedish black metal, like a more rock-oriented Dissection variant. It's not the most memorable stuff out there, and not even among the most memorable that would enter that Invasion Records family (after this EP), but this is timeless, effective, and produced well enough that it's still worth spending a little time with here or there.

Verdict: Win [7.25/10]

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Vomiturition - A Leftover (1995)

Vomiturition's only full-length album was a great payoff from the previous EPs, which were improving in quality, but nowhere quite near this level. While we heard a lot of Florida influence in the earlier material, A Leftover casts a wider net, bringing in a few influences form their fellow Finns and also the Swedish scene. Interestingly, the latter comes more through a sense of composition rather than the ripping Stockholm guitar tone that has remained so trendy over the decades. I can hear a little Dismember at times, but moreover this earns some comparisons to Seance's Fornever Laid to Rest, another European death album which cultivated a clear American influence. There are even some simple, grinding D-beat like rhythms, or death & roll parts to balance out the more technical or progressive components here.

The drumming here is pure thunder, so much going on at times that it can even come off a fraction messy, but it's clearly the beating heart of the material and gives it so much of its fiery impulse. The rhythm guitar is nice and pungent and dense, quite similar to the Head Tales EP, and the guttural vocals have a tone to them which works either as a gruesome guttural or a more raucous bark. The songs themselves are like a potpourri of death metal niches from the world over, sometimes shuffling and dark and progressive, others rocking your face off like a jam between Napalm Death and Wolverine Blues. It might not create its own unique Finnish death metal language like Nespithe or North From Here, but there's just so much happening that it builds Vomiturition into its own little corner of the Finnish scene. While not always catchy, it's always busy, and you can't quite tell what will arrive around any of the riff's corners, making for a fun listen in the mid-90s, and thanks to the potent production this one is still entertaining to listen through today.

The cover art is obviously an improvement, and though there are 12 tracks, they keep it manageable at under 40 minutes. A Leftover is an easy recommendation because it sounds so fresh, and manages to pack together those elements of OSDM, grind, groove, and so forth into something that feels wholly coherent to its gloomy confines. But when I say 'gloomy', I don't mean it's necessary dull or dour, there is an inescapable energy to its design which is constantly rowdy and violent yet dark and oblique. This was yet another gem in the crown of that beloved, obsolete Invasion Records imprint, and a band that would have had plenty of potential moving forward, with this many tools in their torture chamber.

Verdict: Win [8/10]

Friday, February 10, 2023

Vomiturition - Head Tales EP (1993)

Head Tales was the Finnish band's first signing through Invasion Records, and while it might look just as dumb or dumber than the previous EP, the production here is far more brazen, the riffs better and it's just so much more promising, OSDM to the bone. While I still don't believe Vomiturition had as interesting an approach to their genre as several of their countrymen did, this was at least competent and catchy enough to warrant a little excitement. Considering how fans of this style aggressively comb through the ancient death metal texts to find gems of this nature, I'm almost surprised that Head Tales doesn't get more of a mention, it's exactly what so many of them are looking for, and the cheesy head-creature on the cover is worth a gag for 80s horror buffs.

Some of this is actually pretty catchy, like the tremolo picked rhythm in "Falling", or the dank rhythms and vile harmonies that pop up through the flesh of "One's Belief". Or the bass intro to "Ancient Psychotherapy". They get some thick chords here redolent of Obituary, the drumming is quite busy with a lot of solid double bass rhythms and fills, and the vocals are much more gruesome and memorable than on the release before. They even add in a few lines that are a step below, super-guttural like you might have heard on Symphonies of Sickness. It's not all killer material, but it's certainly not filler, and this was a brief, efficient setup for their sole full length effort a leftover that would follow a few years later. Probably impossible to find in any physical format these days, but worth a download or a stream if you can find one.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Vomiturition - Flesheater Musicians on Their Last Supper EP (1992)

Flesheater Musicians on Their Last Supper sounds like a title which might suffer from English as a second language, or Fingrish, but then again I find it kind of charming, and though Vomiturition's first EP was prior to them joining the Invasion Records roster, it already showed a fairly fun and pulverizing approach to death metal. Interestingly, this band didn't seem to take on quite a unique style as some of their peers like Demilich or Sentenced, but the tracks here had a loosely Floridian feel which felt like a bit of Obituary or early Death with a few nuggets of old Cannibal Corpse that might erupt from time to time. It's got a dingy, murky feel to it which definitely caries the charm of the old turn of the 90s death metal demo years, and enough talent in the riffing and drumming to at least pay attention.

That's not to say it's very good, as the band seem destitute for 'money riffs' that are earned by all the guttural barking, and crawling tremolo-picked rhythms. It never sounds quite as evil as it needs to be, and while it isn't exactly your garden variety brutal DM which was starting to show up here in the States, it does leave that sort of dry impression where you just listened to something that was muscular and forceful but not creepy, atmospheric or memorable. The production is fine for what it represents, with a bass bonging along in there, and thick enough guitars, but the vocals aren't terribly memorable beyond just the gruesome necessity. On "A Journey Through Life", they go for something slower and steadier but it ends up a little dull. But fear not, Vomiturition will improve over this.

Verdict: Indifference [5.25/10]

Monday, February 6, 2023

Scheitan - Nemesis (1999)

The biggest shocker is that Scheitan, based on the dominant style of Nemesis, seemed to have been signed to Century Media based on the 'black & roll' style they showcased on the first half of their sophomore album Berzerk 2000. You'd think the talent scout would have been a lot more interested in the black metal of the debut, but here we are on a much larger label, with a lot more exposure, playing the accessible rock music but with the same snarling vocals. Fortunately, Nemesis is a bit better developed and more committed to this style than its predecessor. The production is a slight step up and for the most part, the arrangements of the rock riffs are better, the bass playing is more noticeable, and his vocals just work better with the material than they did the last time out.

This is basically a mid-point between such 'black & roll' and just standard, simplistic Gothic metal with snarls instead of deep, manly vocals. They still implement a lot of guest female vocals, probably even more than before, but they still sound awkward and lacking confidence to add an effective dimension of the ethereal or melodic to the tracks. Also, the band gets a little too cocky with dumb ideas like repeating "Emergency" over and over at the end of that track, a dick move that doesn't benefit in any way. A number of the tunes here sound a lot like Kreator's lamented Endorama, only the Germans could dial up their history and add a lot more gravitas to their compositions. There's also a vibe of some Sisters of Mercy, only with the rasping vocals slathered over the top and much heavier guitars punched in. The Cemetery side project Sundown is also a worthwhile comparison, only that project was vastly more catchy and utilized more of an industrial/electronic side.

If you condensed this down to 3-4 of the better tunes, it would be passable for the style, since I do dig the production and it's just catchy enough to warrant a few spins. Unfortunately, on the whole this album is just not much better than its predecessor...at least it's not split between the rock style and the lesser produced black metal which was a pretty big mistake on Berzerk 2000, but despite its slick sound and accessible energy, they just aren't churning out the memorable chorus parts and melodies that would be needed for this to put them on the same level as a number of other European Goth metal acts. So when it comes to my personal interest, Scheitan is a one-and-done, Travelling in Ancient Lands is the go-to and the rest are just shy of a disaster.

Verdict: Indifference [5.5/10]

Saturday, February 4, 2023

Scheitan - Berzerk 2000 (1998)

Berzerk 2000 hit me as quite a shock, as I found the Scheitan debut to be quite satisfactory and would not have expected them to pivot their style so soon. Scandinavian black metal was raging along, but not so much in the hearts of these guys, so they decided to transform the Nordic barrage into something resembling black & roll, or a blend of heavy metal and Gothic metal while maintaining the rasping vocal aesthetic. Normally I don't have a problem with this, as I enjoyed groups like Gandalf from Finland who were on a similar path with their debut, and truthfully, these Swedes are not so bad at it, but I imagine if you were a bigger fan of Travelling in Ancient Times you would have chucked this one out the window as soon as you cleared a couple tunes on the first half of this release.

The sound is still quite smooth, these guys had a grasp on studio professionalism and it continues through the course of their evolution. Simple, rocking chord patterns are layered with equally minimalist melodies to serve as a seat for the emotion of the vocals. Unfortunately, this particular rasping performance does not have a whole lot of range, which could have been more useful to hold the listener's attention when too few of the riffs can. There are some tracks here which actually do convey a greater sense of morose, spacious black metal, like "Soulside", but even there they toss in some female vocals which sound way too goofy, reaching for a sort of folk/Gothic metal mix. However, the snarls on that song sound quite nasty and protracted, and if they hadn't cocked it up with the guest vocal it would have been decent. "Sad to Say" is even more sparse and atmospheric, but here they make the same mistake with the female vocals...they're not awful, but just a little cheesy as they drift along.

I'm sure this was all calculated, as the band members had their hands in a lot of things going on at the current time, but it ends up sounding MIScalculated...like the track "Terror" which is just snarling, and then the return to fast black metal on the second half of the album, like they had had their fun and gotten it out of their systems?!? Had the whole thing sounded like "Bombraid Over Wastelands" or "Berzerk 2000", it would have felt like the natural, if underwhelming follow-up to Travelling in Ancient Times, but this sophomore is simply split down the center and incoherent, like a split EP between two separate bands, and it's not really good at either of its two personalities...so this one is unfortunately kind of a bust.

Verdict: Indifference [5.25/10]

Friday, February 3, 2023

ACOD - Cryptic Curse EP (2023)

ACOD's Fourth Reign Over Opacities and Beyond really put the French band on the map for me last year, an exposition of black and death metal and melody unafraid to do serve its songs above else. Just a few months after that, the band has returned with a shorter release with but three tracks, presumably continuing their apocalyptic and apocryphal tirade, and that is precisely what Cryptic Curse does. As with the last release, this is semi-symphonic, massively produced black metal as a base, but not afraid to adopt more death metal riffing structures, growls, even little tints of thrash and Gothic metal to round it all out. You can bet that around every corner of the 5-6 minute tracks you're going to find some atmosphere, melody and so forth, and while it's rarely so catchy you'd die for it, the material is constantly engaging and larger than life.

It's hard to describe...say a midpoint between Italy's Stormlord and Greece's Septic Flesh, metal that won't fail to use any tools at its disposal to sound enormous. The keys and choir-tones take this to that otherworldly level of escape, and the guitars and drums are massive and busy without any need for pointless wanking and showing off. They don't always play fast, but usually even the more steady pieces like the title track are muscled up with some double kick drum and fills that add some momentum while it strides towards that speedier, ethereal bridge. In the end, this material is right on the level with the last album, and if you found yourself enjoying that, you shouldn't feel different here. I wouldn't say it hits quite the memorable moments you'll find there, but for a band that embraces such enormous studio standards and an all-encompassing sound, they certainly keep your attention for these 17 minutes. If you dig Septic Flesh, Dimmu Borgir, Cradle of Filth, or that last Necromantia album it's worth hearing this and Fourth Reign.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]


Thursday, February 2, 2023

Scheitan - Travelling in Ancient Times (1996)

Scheitan is a band that occupied the Invasion Records roster for a couple of albums before garnering enough success to head over to the Century Media roster, and they're another example of a band who was quite far from unique, but skilled enough among the Swedish black metal underground to create competent, compelling material with a reasonable quality production that stood out amongst some of their shoddier peers. It's members, like the late Oskar Karlsson, sowed their seeds across a number of bands on this scene (and label roster) such as The Everdawn, Gates of Ishtar, Defleshed and Sarcasm, so there was already a massive creative impetus going into Travelling in Ancient Times, and perhaps explains why it sounds so damn professional even 27 years after it was first introduced.

Thematically it seems to be a mix of a paean to nature, with plenty of Christian slaughter involved, and I almost get a Viking thing going on, although the band's name is also a translation of 'Satan'. Basically, they've got all the important topics of the day covered, but you won't have time to mull this over, after a brief, pompous synth intro cedes into the straight blasting black metal of "October Journey". This one isn't a terribly interesting song, and that's one of the downsides to Scheitan in general, however they will often sate your hunger for a tasty riff as at :30 in "Autumn Departure" or the synth-laden, swaggering "Ride the Icewinds", or the Viking trot of "In Battle With Angels". There is plenty of payoff throughout this debut, so don't expect your drier Marduk-based experience where the volley of speed, blasting and intensity is really the whole point and any attempt at finer songwriting is an afterthought. Scheitan were going for the whole package, as interested in pleasing fans of their other bands' styles as much as the black metal core, and so there's a decent balance of synth atmospheres for folks who liked their use on Bathory's Blood Fire Death, and some muscular, propulsive rhythms to knock you prone.

The sound quality helps a lot, and I remember that causing this to stand out against labelmates like Skymning or Embracing, this one sounded as if was at a whole other level of competence. The drums, guitars and synthesizers all sound awesome, and while the raving bark hurled over the top of it isn't quite so potent or unique, it's fully suited to contrast the instruments. Basically I try to think of this as a more 'modern' (for the 90s) retelling of Bathory's shift into Viking metal, even though the original was still around at the time, so if you want a 'tidier' Blood Fire Death with a strong emphasis on balanced composition, Travelling in Ancient Times is a gem. I'd hesitate to call it great, but for an album that I just listen through once every few years it holds up.

Verdict: Win [7.75/10]