Monday, July 31, 2023

Embracing - Dreams Left Behind (1997)

Ironically, the sophomore Embracing album Dreams Left Behind had slightly superior production to the debut, and in addition I thought that the artwork was also a little better...the band (or label) really likes its purple tones but, hey, that can look flashy with its razor-hone digital logo. That's the thing with a lot of these old Invasion Records releases, there was just this fantastical, dreamy quality to them, even some of the bad ones, which sparks my nostalgia. That said, the mix of this disc is still really weak when compared against many of the other Swedish bands performing in this style, in full froth as it was breaking out all over the world during this period, and while the music here is nothing to really scoff at, it just made me crave a better sounding version of the debut instead...

The volume's a little better with the instruments, from the cleaner strings to the clean vocals which aren't all that good performance-wise, but sound pretty smooth. Piano, synthesizer and other accoutrements are used liberally to contrast against the melodeath moments, which by this point all feel fairly standard and don't have a ton of payoff. In fact, some of the guitar tones in cuts like "Stolen Memories" still feel as if they haven't been mixed so well, a little thicker than on the debut, and not so disturbingly tinny, but neither are they exception. And in other places, like "Killers Nature", they mete out this great winding melody which probably deserved a better song overall. The harsh vocals here still seem a little on the loud side, and it makes it that much more awkward when they alternate into some of the cleans, but this wasn't really a band you listen to for that as much as the guitar-work.

And the guitars are pretty friendly here, perhaps too much in some places, as they almost flirt with a bit of softer rock on their attempts to create acoustic sequences worthy of "Moonshield" on In Flame's masterwork The Jester Race. There are certainly some decent moments spread throughout this one, with a lot of mood or melancholy, but they're almost always botched up by a clean vocal that just doesn't quite reach where it wants to be, or an issue with the mix. Embracing was just throttled by this problem throughout its brief sting, and while it's not as big of an issue with Dreams Left Behind, and this is pleasant enough, I simply liked the songs from the debut much more.

Verdict: Indifference [6.25/10]

Saturday, July 29, 2023

Embracing - I Bear the Burden of Time (1996)

I Bear the Burden of Time is the textbook example of an album that could have likely succeeded if not for a crippling production that rendered it little more than long demo. Embracing clearly had the chops to reach the next level with a lot of their Swedish peers, and even came up with a few riffing configurations or ideas that felt fresh to me as I was exploring all this stuff in the 90s, but damn does this album just sound rather weak in the execution of its mix. Now I say that as a fan, this is my favorite of their two offerings, and I think it's worth a listen even despite this major shortcoming, but to think what an AAA+ studio production would have done for all these catchy tunes. I'm vaguely aware of a digital reissue for this that came out like a decade afterwards, which may or may not have a remaster, but even worse cover artwork, so I can't really speak if that solves the problem or if it's even just too late to matter...

Early At the Gates or Dark Tranquillity would be your reference point here, with thin and melodic rhythm guitars as the rule rather than constant barrages of thicker chords. Sure, the latter are present when it matters, but this is a band that simply THRIVES on those old classic metal melodies coursing across the verses and chorus sections. Even with this tinny mix, the mood being created by those lines and the chords and bass beneath is ample evidence enough that this was some choice stuff neutered by the low-impact recording. The vocals are actually fairy standard for the style, a protracted rasp that falls more in line with black metal, but it's just too loud in the mix and that sort of grinds against the more beautiful performance of the instruments. You do get some other vocals here, distant shouts of torment as in "Shades Embrace", and those are automatically more atmospheric and interesting, but it's again not that the vocals are bad, they are spot on for the style, just given a little too much heft against the true gifts that the album has to offer.

Clean guitar parts, leads, synths, I Bear the Burden of Time had a lot to offer, total 90s escapism that feels like melodeath flirting with a bit of proggy/Goth atmosphere, but sounding like a bad demo tape that your friends recorded in your basement one soggy afternoon with the early version of some dated digital recording software. If you could bulk this one up like a Whoracle, a Rusted Angel, or even to the level of a Steel Bath Suicide (which was itself a little rougher than normal, but a masterpiece by comparison to this), Embracing would have had their feet in the door towards that upper echelon of Swedish melodic death metal royalty, or at least this debut would enjoy a cult status greater than just a handful of curmudgeons who complain about what might have been...

Verdict: Win [7.25/10]

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Non Serviam - The Witches Sabbath (2000)

Necrotical was obviously not meant to be the end of Non Serviam's trajectory, as they released another single around the turn of the century, and there was enough interest to get their demos out through Nocturnal after Invasion Records had pretty much folded. Having only a middling opinion of their 1997 debut Between Light and Darkness, I wasn't too excited by what The Witches Sabbath would represent, a re-issue of the two demos the band released leading up to that debut. Also, like the two albums, the band just never had good cover art, it was always a little bland or obscured, and this twisty digitally tooled image of some chicks lusting with the devil or a demon is just another prime example of how this style wouldn't age well whatsoever...

The demos sound fine, however, in fact they probably sound a little more engaging than the debut album, and most of the same tracks appear on both, so it's understandable why the band might want these put out there for the public to consume. That doesn't really improve the musical quality, they were gunning for that nexus between the Swedish black metal and melodic death all along, but I would say that the sounds here, perhaps being slightly cruder, favor the former genre just a smidgeon. A couple of cuts like the title track from that second demo sound pretty decent in this incarnation, wistful and erotic black metal with enough atmosphere to carry you back to that vital 90s era when so much of this was breaking new ground for us crusty old heshers. In fact, I'd say that if you could just track this collection down, and then head straight over to Necrotical, or the Hellspell album; that would be in your best interest, the tunes just seem a little more authentic in this format. But then again, it's not that inspiring when there were so many better choices during these years.

Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10]

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Miasmes - Répugnance (2023)

Although I have no experience with the band's prior EP from last year, I can say without hesitation that Répugnance is, as its title implies, an all out black metal assault with no fucks given. The very look of the album seems almost ambiguous as per genre, it could resemble anything from a grind or death metal, crossover or even an Assück record, but it does actually do justice to the music content itself, which is ripping, raw, and unforgiving violence. One can infer that Miasmes had a (leather-)vested interested in stripping back the genre to its most violent and primitive roots and then building a sound up from there, so it does bear very little resemblance to the more dissonant, atmospheric or Medieval strains of black metal that generally hail from their national scene.

That is NOT to say the music here is dumb in any way, in fact it's fairly well structured with solid riffing patterns, brutal drumming and most importantly, the blazing leads like in the title track "Délivrance" which add a much needed higher, wilder dimension to the ruthlessness. I would trace the lineage here back to savage, belligerent records from bands like Bathory or Marduk, or perhaps Gorgoroth's Destroyer, but it's also a very well balanced record rhythmically, there is little of the endless blasting patterns, they are instead interspersed with cutting middle-paced rhythms that allow the listener to feel the surge once those higher tempos break out. They also do a lot of great stop/start riffing framework which carries a bit of a blackened thrash feel and makes everything that much more exciting and fueled up. The vocals aren't exactly unique, but they've got a nihilistic, raucous thick rasp that splatters itself right up against the bombardment of instruments so that they can be properly noticed.

I can't say that the riffing selections are all that unique, but they certainly through enough of them at you and they almost all serve the songs, you'll clearly hear an old Germanic thrash influence circa Sodom or Kreator of the mid 80s, only clad in the more muscular rhythm section and black metal intensity. The bass lines are good and thick and clobber you alongside the kick drums and rhythm guitars, and there are a number of opportunities where they plod along solo and it's another great technique to keep the feel of the material brash and potent. This is a fun, ugly, barbaric and competent full-length debut, and another gem for the Les Acteurs de l'Ombre imprint which doesn't necessarily emulate any of its other acts.

Verdict: Win [8/10]

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Non Serviam - Necrotical (1998)

If Necrotical surpasses the Non Serviam debut in any way, it's that it just remembers to rock your face off much harder; the way they've taken the same elements they were championing on Between Light and Darkness and translated those into punishingly fun tracks. Perhaps they cranked up the death metal influence here a little bit, as you'll feel in a tune like "Hatred Unleashed" in the verses, but you've got still got plenty of that vintage Swedish melodeath, and some surges of obvious black metal. The sophomore doesn't really settle down for any one style more than its predecessor, but it doesn't actually need to, because this time the chords and vocals fit together in more memorable patterns, and they really lose nothing of the wider net they were casting just a year before.

Don't get too excited, because this one can't exactly rub elbows with any of the A- or B-tier successes from that Swedish scene, but if you were into albums like Night in Gales' Thunderbeast or either of the Gandalf full-lengths from Finland, you might appreciate how this is just a simpler and rocking distillation of the black and melodic death metal ingredients. The harsh vocals are more sustained and carnal, and the scarce cleans sound better placed, though still a little awkward. The drums just sound like a thunder sustaining the rest of the instruments, and they'll tear out these brief leads like in "Which Eternal Lie" that soar over the remainder. When the band gets mellow, too, they actually do well to set up the transitions back into the crushing force, but my favorite bits here are tunes like "Haunted Domains" which are just catchy as fuck headbangers which balance off the evil and the melody.

Now two of the members of this band also released Hellspell's Devil's Might, which was clearly a better produced and higher quality extension of the black metal aesthetics from Non Serviam, and I would recommend that album before either of these, despite its ugly cover. But Necrotical is one I can listen to from time to time and won't switch off once it starts, it's very straightforward in catching your attention, and while its own production isn't much better than the debut, it's just denser and darker and effective.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Sunday, July 23, 2023

Non Serviam - Between Light and Darkness (1997)

Non Serviam was another Invasion Records act which was attempting to service a number of the dominant Scandinavian metal trends of the time, without falling too much into a single category. Certainly there is a giant amount of Dark Tranquillity or At the Gates going into this debut, from the melodic riffing heavily reminiscent of the former, to the main rasped vocal that resembles Lindberg. At the same time, they were obviously immersed in the melodic black metal of peers like Dissection, Dawn and Dissection, so you have these two represented in about equal measure through Between Light and Darkness, without either one ever winning out, and both performed competently enough that anyone who was seeking out some of the same on either end might have have a go at this for a couple weeks when it was new.

As for myself, I don't particularly enjoy the production throughout this debut, it's snarly and does the job enough to make out all the riffs and instruments, but feels a little dry and depthless. The keys and bass guitars sound decent, the drums a little too splashy, and the vocals feel a bit plain when they are supposed to be spitting such vitriol. Non Serviam was not a band that lacked competence in the riffs, and the selections here were passable for either of the main styles wound through this, but often they come off as bland and predictable. There are quite a few that feel like pure heavy metal progressions (as in the title track), but these have just been done before elsewhere and better. The synthesizers were wisely just used for some emphasis on atmosphere, but even then they seem a little dull, they border on transforming the album into pure symphonic black metal in places but never quite arrive.

There are also some obnoxious clean vocals that pop up ("Satan's Spree") which aren't necessarily a bad idea on paper, but come off a little rough. However, once can't really deny some of the positives to this one, like the excellent bass playing or the kind of dark, dingy mood to which they twine these styles together. Between Light and Darkness has lots of potential, and they'll have another chance to manifest that, but I usually only listen to this one in small bursts, it's just not an album I wanna visit from one end to the other. Still, if you're basically a living encyclopedia for all these Swedish sounds of yore, this is one you might want to at least sample since it forms like a nexus of so much of what was happening in that scene in the mid 90s.

Verdict: Indifference [6.25/10]

Friday, July 21, 2023

Golem - Dreamweaver (2004)

Although I can't say for sure whether the band has ever really broken up, Dreamweaver was their third and most recent offering, now almost two decades old, and while it certainly shares some fundamental influences with its predecessors, the first time I spun this one I almost thought I was listening to a different band. It's got a similar sense of melodic acumen, but it's as if somewhere along the way, Golem started listening to a lot more brutal death metal in the early 00s, which translates into a more propulsive, ear-rupturing experience, and coincidentally takes them even further away from that Carcass comparison which dominated much of the debut and some of the sophomore. Dreamweaver is tense, clinical German death metal, and like the rest of their catalog, underrated.

The riffs here really churn along with syncopated, punchy rhythms, full of weighty melodies that aren't so obvious as their earlier writing. The new drummer obliterates the performance on those old albums, blasting effortless when necessary, and they basically possess all the weaponry of your standard issue brutal/tech death metal band, though where so many of those struggle to find a soul for their music, Golem is just left of center incorporating enough progressive and melodic components to keep you coming back. No, it's not Cynic or Atheist, but if you're into groups like Lykathea Aflame that can balance off that exoticism and atmosphere with the brutality, then this is certainly an album you will want to track down. It might even be a little forward thinking when you imagine bands like Fallujah or Rivers of Nihil were still coming down the road about a half-decade after this came out.

The vocals still consist of guttural and snarls, but they only superficially resemble their original influence, and feel more like a blunt object being dispensed over your head alongside those choppy rhythms. Leads are good, often emitting jazz/fusion or bluesy vibes, but even more interesting are the points where they'll just throw out these simpler, atmospheric guitars over the more complex battery ("Breeder"). The bass playing here is the best of the three albums, grooving and compelling on its own without always copying the guitars at a 1:1, and like the title demonstrates, this is perhaps the easiest of their albums to get lost in. I enjoy this one nearly as much as The 2nd Moon, and if they had kept putting out material along this path and evolving it further, they'd be one of our hugest death metal acts of this sort today. I guess there's still a chance!

Verdict: Win [8.25/10]

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Vargavinter - Frostfödd (1996)

Back in the 90s there was a bit of an explosion in popularity around the AD&D campaigns I was running, and we somehow ended up with a few dozen players (some at my University, some in my hometown), and I bring this up because for some reason long lost to my memory, this particular black metal album became like a 'mascot' for our play group. Perhaps we were just being ironic because those of us who were also metalheads had become so inundated with the black metal genre that we found it a bit silly or cliched, but we were constantly lavishing praise upon this as some sort of gag. In the end, though, the joke was really on us, because Frostfödd is actually a solid, unsung Swedish black metal effort and one of the Invasion Records releases that I pull out most often when I'm in the mood.

It has all the staples: the purply-frost artwork mirrored photography, the glowing digital logo and title, and a sound which nobody would ever accuse of any sort of originality. There are times when I get this one mixed up with other Swedish -vinter bands, like Midvinter, or Vinterland, but in truth this is defined by a strictly straightforward, blasting black metal aesthetic which doesn't often attempt to leap out at you with severely catchy riffing, but will throw in a few surprises like the flute in the title track, or an oboe, or some spoken word pieces. When it comes to the majority metal ingredients, it's quite akin to a Marduk or Dark Funeral, blasting away with abandon, simple migrations of chords that get you fully in the mood for this old Swedish stuff, slathered with strong, impish rasping, intense drums that never need to let up, and a pretty swarthy low end with some audible bass, although it too often mimics the rhythm guitar patterns and doesn't quite stand out.

There can also be a folksy swagger as with the great initial riff on "Den lybska örn", but even that one cedes to the incorruptible blasting purity. However, where a Marduk might use such a constrained and aggressive style to convey imagery of warfare or Hell, you can subtly feel a more nature-oriented warmth coming through the chord choices on Frostfödd, and it simultaneously feels like the writing was not terribly original, but also a head of its time, since there are floods of notes here that feel like precursors to so much of the nature black metal or post-black metal of later years. Vargavinter had nothing on much more memorable, interesting bands like Dissection or Mörk Gryning in the same scene, but it's solidly produced, purist black metal that with just a little something extra for when I'm combing the shelves for a good frosty face-blasting...perhaps a poor choice of words.

Verdict: Win [7.75/10]

Monday, July 17, 2023

Golem - The 2nd Horizon (1998)

The artwork for the second Golem, while equally as cheesy as the first, seems a lot more innocuous, and its cosmic orientation gives off the impression that the Germans might be taking their slightly technical Carcass-like death metal into a more progressive direction. In fact, that is more or less the truth, although it's not yet as atmospheric, jazzy or new age as it might look, this sophomore does steer them a little further away from the worship that defined their debut. In fairness, there is still a lot of that influence gleaming through, largely through the vocals but also in a few of the spikes or more melodic riffing, but they definitely seem headed down their own path, and it's a good choice because this is probably my favorite album they've put out.

Part of that is the improved production, which is less punchy and digital feeling as their first album which went more for that Necroticism vibe. This is more balanced and organic, and works well with the denser melodic chord patterns. I don't think the lead tone on this album is that great, especially for the spacey harmonies they're infusing, but it's good enough to get the gist of their ideas, and there are a LOT of them, because Golem is easily one of the riffiest death metal bands to never ascend the throne, possibly because of that derivative factor which hovered over them for a few years. And it still does pop up from time to time, like the chugging breaks in "Departure" which might remind you of a certain tune from Heartwork, or the raucous vocal delivery, but where the Germans excel here is when they go full on with some of the most melodic material like "The Shortening of the Way" or "Heretics", the sorts of tunes that instantly embed into my memory.

There were definitely other great bands that took the Carcass stylings and ran with them, Exhumed and Impaled from here in the States come to mind, but Golem almost represented a potential strain of melodic death metal that might have thrived if more bands had gone that route rather than aping the In Flames, At the Gates and Dark Tranquillity. The 2nd Horizon is a really great example of that potential development, and strong enough to get this band to the next level, but somehow that just wasn't about to happen...maybe it's the cover art, maybe groups like Soilwork and Darkane were just doing more exciting material (they were), but this one definitely holds up even more than the debut.

Verdict: Win [8.25/10]

Saturday, July 15, 2023

Golem - Eternity: The Weeping Horizons (1996)

I admit I have a soft spot for awful digital photography covers from that late 90s/00s era, and Golem's debut is a prime example. Superimpose some topless, 80s-haired bombshells over a skyscape, inverted as if they were guarding the gates to some Middle-Earth city, and then slam your pretty cool logo right in the middle. This was one of the first Invasion Records releases my friend and I bought from a small import record store in Seabrook, NH, and one that we were pretty surprised with when we put it on the sample CD player. That cheesy, memorable artwork has literally nothing to do with the actual sound, and it would have been received better with a great old school death metal cover, which it later was when combined with the second album in a re-issued collection in 2014.

But I digress...Eternity: The Weeping Horizons is very much Carcass-influenced melodic death metal, like a blend of Necroticism and Heartwork, only not as quite as clinical as the former, nor meaty and amazing as the latter. I even here a few grooves present that bring to mind Symphonies of Sickness, only this is much cleaner in tone and nowhere near as grotesque. The lyrics aren't medical texts, and cover more esoteric or personal topics, but the vocal exchange between a rasp and guttural is also derivative of the evolving British goregrind gods. Fortunately, the Germans are all over the place here, with a lot of excellent writing and melodies, helping to balance out that morbid body end with the chunkier riffs that feel like you're about to be exposed to the innards of some cows and pigs as part of an anti-meat campaign. The first few tracks on here, like "Throne of Confinements" or "Mental Force" are really great, with lots of shifting tempos and memorable guitars.

The production is a bit dry, reminding me of Necroticism, and all the atmosphere here has to emerge from the guitars themselves, but it's rather well-mixed for its day, and the guys have no end to the amount of riffing ideas they can produce from that Carcass palette, nor do they ever lose steam, because there aren't really any duds among the nine tracks and 43 minutes. A couple of riffs here or there also remind one of Pestilence circa Consuming Impulse and Testimony of the Ancients, with perhaps a helping of Chuck Schuldiner, and there's certainly nothing wrong with any of that. A very easy one to recommend to fans of that 90s Carcass material, especially if you felt there was never enough of it, the guitars are the stars of the show but everything else falls in check.

Verdict: Win [8/10]

Thursday, July 13, 2023

Ninnghizhidda - Demigod (2002)

The Germans not only swapped labels to Displeased for their second full-length, but also had a slight shift in style, not that they abandoned the melodic/symphonic overtures of the debut Blasphemy, in fact they are still quite prominent throughout this peace, but the production is not quite as strong, and they have a penchant for a few more simple riffs that sort of thrash along through the lofty chaos. It's almost like they serve more as a basis for the orchestration here whereas on the first album the riffing and keyboards stood more side-by-side, and I think I preferred that approach. Ultimately, though, Demigod is a decent follow-up, and one change for the better is that the vocals here aren't quite so massive, and that they actually try some different tones with the orchestration and arrangements.

Surely this still has its similarities to the Scandinavian symphonic black metal of the decade before it, but I'd also throw out a Therion comparison since the band fumbles around with those same sorts of occult concepts, Gothic atmospheres, female backup vocals, and especially here with the simple rhythm guitars dowsed in quality melodic leads. That's not completely the rule here, since you've got tunes like "Mistress of the Night" or "Conquering What Once Was", which blaze right along like they belonged on Blasphemy, but there is a fraction more exploration in the songwriting and that definitely feels like a band maturing. This sophomore exudes a little more mysticism, and it's not quite as brazen or aggressive. They get creepy and erotic with "Rape (The Virgin Mary)", or really atmospheric and hazy with the title track. A couple instrumentals are back-ended, and both sound good, from the classical acoustic guitars to the closing, swelling ambiance.

Ninnghizhidda deliver the goods, and thought it might seem bittersweet, as this would be their last album, they can at least rest assured that both of their records should prove gems to fans seeking out the more esoteric, obscure symphonic black metal which has recently come back into style in a huge way. If this interest grows, it's possible we might even see some reissues, although who knows where the rights are being held for this stuff. Anyway, this is solid stuff, they don't quite lyrically match a band like Cradle of Filth but they definitely put some work in, and these remain standby albums when I'm in the mood for the more Gothic/occult-oriented end of that spectrum.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Ninnghizhidda - Blasphemy (1998)

I've never been able to pronounce this German black metal band's name, and I'm not about to start now, but they were another victim of the glut of acts emerging in the mid to late 90s during the explosion of black and symphonic black metal. Not that it's exactly 'victimhood', but they offered a sound here that wasn't entirely revolutionary and for whatever factors they never really managed to break out. That said, like a lot of the recordings on Invasion Records, this was some solid stuff for what Ninnghizhidda set out to do, and if you're looking to engage with that sort of symphonic black metal experience, you could do far worse, as the debut album Blasphemy at least sounds good and shows some competence for composition and a balance of metal and orchestration.

The obvious comparison here is Dimmu Borgir, so try and imagine those Norwegians around their 1993-1995 period if they also layered in some death metal growls along with the rasping. In fact, I hear a strong death metal influence just in general, a lot of the tremolo picking rhythms have that decidedly more morbid bent to them, but only to an extent. The growls are actually dominant here, but they also blend in pretty well with the more typical black metal vocal style, and they also will throw in some backing operatic female vocals which sound pretty exotic alongside the meatier harshes. The record is very well paced, around 42 minutes with lots of faster material interspersed with symphonic atmospheres, at least enough that fans of groups like Limbonic Art, Sirius and possibly even Emperor might get something from this, as long as you don't mind the more grumbling, dominant vocals. The drumming here is fast and snappy, the bass thick and fluid, and the synthesizers definitely blend in well without drowning out the tempest beneath them...

Vocals might be a tad too loud, though, and occasionally goofy against the far superior music. But the riffs help to balance this out, they're always well written if not super original, and they embody a good range of metal influences. The leads are also nice and have a bit of classical or folk influence to them. Overall Blasphemy would be an easy album to recommend to anyone into the symphonic side of things back in that decade, whether it be Cradle of Filth or Obtained Enslavement or Gloomy Grim, maybe even their fellow Germans Suffering Souls. There was just the right amount of production, ambition and musicianship potential here for another breakout, and the album still sounds fairly fresh and potent despite its few little flaws. Certainly one of the better kept secrets from that Invasion roster.

Verdict: Win [7.75/10]

Sunday, July 9, 2023

Fertilizer - A Painting of Annoyance (1994)

One of the stranger acts on the Invasion Records roster, and one of the earlier examples I can think of as a progressive death metal band out of Europe, Germany's Fertilizer put out an album that was likely looked over for being ahead of its time, or just too scattershot for what much of the metal crowd was looking for in the mid-90s. That's not to say that death metal bands weren't blazing trails all over the place, whether it was Amorphis or Dark Tranquillity there were plenty of new sounds emerging within this sonic space, but they were also a lot catchier and slicker than A Painting of Annoyance's clunkier disposition. The album's title is not accurate of its contents, fortunately, we're not talking any level of obnoxiousness, and there's somewhat of a direction to the whole thing, but some of the tunes' compositions seem randomly strung along.

It's choppy death metal with a lot of slower to mid-paced riffs that sound pretty thin despite the chunkier palm muting that drives them. Higher pitched melodies are spit throughout, but these also suffer from a tone that's too dry or clinical. The bass is decent, the drumming is often incredible as they mete out some hyperspeed kick drums that seem far too intense for the rest of the instruments. The vocals are your normal guttural but sometimes they sit in some reverb or effects and howl out over the mix, and they also implement some acoustic guitars, neo-classical note patterns, and clean harmonic vocals that give it a weird, pastoral folk prog feel in the opening to "Solar Vertigo" or the chorus of "T.U.S.C". There are a few points at which you think the band is about to go off like an Atheist or Believer, but then every stays rather reined in, I'm reminded a bit more of their countrymen Atrocity on some of their weirder records before they went Goth, or even the Dutch bands Creepmine and Phlebotomized who performed a lot in these similar tempos and vocals.

The album flows along and makes enough sense, unlike its fragmented cover imagery, but it just seems like the tracks aren't organized in a fashion to make them particularly exciting, and I just don't think the production beyond the drums and vocals is really enough to give this the 'oomph' it needs. Still, if you're in the market to track down some strange and obscure death metal which wasn't hung up on the trends of its times, Fertilizer's album might keep you curious for a spin or two, but if you put it up against something like Pestilence's Spheres or Cynic's Focus, it's nowhere near that same level of successful experimentation.

Verdict: Indifference [6/10]

Friday, July 7, 2023

Hellspell - Devil's Might (1999)

Another forgotten album that haunted the Invasion Records roster, Hellspell's Devil's Might was a one-off Swedish black metal effort which resembled a lot of its peers for the day. The band's name was rather a catchy one, but perhaps it was the completely awful digital artwork of the devil himself that held fans back from checking this one out, or a saturation of Satanic black metal by the close of the millennium when the audience was starting to seek out something different. I feel confident though, that had this album dropped 3-4 years earlier, and been better-looking, it would be one of those gems we froth over akin to a Sacramentum, Lord Belial, or Setherial. That's not to say it's in any way unique or remarkable, but it's one that I can break out from time to time and enjoy listening through.

Part of that is the great production, which highlights every evil riff, snarling vocal, and the intense battery and blasting of the drums. Hellspell is like a more compact Dark Funeral, the songs tend not to wear out their welcome like some of their more elongated Swedish peers, they hone in on just a few riffs, dowse them in wicked chords and atmospheres and growling, and entertain. It's never just mindless blasting, the bands is fully capable of doing so, but always chooses to service the riff and structure rather than go on muscular tandems with no payoff. When they do opt for a longer tune, like "Reconstruction of a Lost World", the riffing goes wider and more adventurous, they play around with some slower tempos and mood over the more conventional black metal aesthetics, but you can already tell that it's starting to stretch itself a little thin, and thankfully there are fewer cases of this, and the nearly 6 minute closer "Devil's Might" is one of the best tunes on the whole album. The male clean choir to open "Demon Lord" is also sweet, but I wish that tune was a little more substantial to support more of them.

All told, though, Devil's Might is a scorcher that never really dulls other than perhaps that one longest track, and certainly strong enough that it should have garnered more attention than it got. Again, this might have been a question of packaging or the limited reach of the label, I personally found Invasion to be a fascinating way to connect with underground European black or melodic death metal acts that were new to me over in the states, but not a lot of bands emerged from that roster with much success. Still, they had a good ear for the second-stringers or third-stringers and I often have nostalgia to listen back to a lot of these, which is why I'm covering so many. This sole Hellspell album is no classic, but it's also got an evergreen feel to it that sounds just as potent today as it did when I first heard it, and it was also the work of a duo that was also responsible for another band on the same roster, Non Serviam.

Verdict: Win [7.25/10]

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Excrement - Scorched EP (1994)

After hearing records like Demilich's opus Nespithe, Demigod's Slumber of Sullen Eyes, or Sentenced's North From Here, I was quite excited for more Finnish death metal as it was developing parallel or just behind the neighboring Swedish scene. Seeing that Invasion Records had snapped up another upstart called Excrement for an EP, with a fairly cool cover (though a shitty non-logo) for the time, I was instantly on board, and glad so, because for a band with such limited discography, the material here is quite seasoned, having a good production to it that was honestly superior to some of their peers. Where they might fall behind a Demilich or Sentenced is in innovation, what's present here is pretty much an amalgam of classic Floridian style with a bit of that mournful melancholy you catch in the Swe-death melodies of groups like Entombed or Dismember.

It puts its strongest feet forward with the bleak melodies that inaugurate the battering of "Corpse Fucking Art", a track that itself consists of some roiling, chugging rhythms interspersed with flightier melodic passages, giving a pretty broad taste of what the band can pull off. I was even happier when in the midst of "Scorched", the band broke off into this segue with bass, clean guitars and keyboards which was a beautiful way to pull that track together, and though the rest of the fare is more easily forgotten, it still sounds decent when re-listening, and contains a lot of the same elements. The vocals have a brute growl to them which reminds me of Johan's grunts on Tiamat's Clouds, although the music is quite different, and there are some solid leads put together on pieces like "Sleep" or "Distortion", and at the end of the day, it's the atmosphere that rises this above the death metal average of its days. A pity that we never got a full-length or anything further, but the main dude has gone on to play in a bunch of good bands like Cadaveric Incubator and Slugathor that are worth a listen.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]

Monday, July 3, 2023

Indungeon - The Misanthropocalypse (1999)

Indungeon must have come to the same conclusion about their debut Machinegunnery of Doom that I did 25 years after the fact, because their sophomore effort The Misanthropocalypse is instantly more explosive and exciting than what they were writing just a few years prior. Now, they might not have really settled on a real direction yet, having just slapped it all together as a project, and the shift in quality here does come at the potential expensive that this could be considered a lot more trendy and 'current' with the melodeath explosion of the later 90s. With bands like Darkane and Soilwork releasing great statements in the wake of At the Gates, this group wasn't to be left too far behind, and thus there is very little sense of being deliberately old school as they were with Machinegunnery.

You might have encountered this album if you were digging deeper into the 'melodeath' of the era, or possibly the melodic Swedish black metal stuff like Dissection and Sacramentum, and that's exactly the crowd it would appear to. Workmanlike, but fast and involved melodic rhythms twisting about the shuffle of upbeat drumming, with the snarled, tortured vocals spilling all over it like fleshy entrails being torn from the carapace of some robot or Space Marine's armor. Yes, at its foundations you still have the 80s thrash influences, like most of this style, I can hear a little Slayer at the onset of "Sentenced to the Flames", for instance, but this one's meant for the brawling, boisterous weekend clubs where the band would presumably open up or interact with some of those bigger names in melodic death metal that were exploding all around the world, beyond just the Swedish scene. To that end, it's competitive, convulsing with energy, gang shouts and riffs that never suck even if they don't swindle their way straight into your memory.

It's furious, frenetic, and makes the debut sound like the tanks on its cover slowly treading along and taking heavy fire. The leads are serviceable, but there aren't enough of them and they don't stand out against the more brazen rhythm guitars crashing about the record's atmosphere. There's also a little bit of a bluesy flair that occasionally pops up like some of the licks in "Battletank No. II" that sound a fraction out of place and make The Misanthropocalypse sound more like a party than you'd hope. But considering that this would prove the project's swan song, you might as well go all out and bring your best Jimi Hendrix with the Bolt Thrower-meets-Nocturnus cover artwork. There is nothing really exceptional about the album, but if you're craving lost underground gems from this style and/or period, or you're a fan of perusing the good old Invasion Records roster (as I am), this one can still be a decent use of 35 minutes.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Saturday, July 1, 2023

Indungeon - Machinegunnery of Doom (1997)

Indungeon seems like it had the potential to be the sickest thing ever. A cool portmanteau band moniker. A clear nod to Warhammer 40K or some other sci-fi wargaming with a cover that belonged on a Bolt Thrower demo. The album title Machinegunnery of Doom, just how awesome is that? Then you look through the band's lineup and it's essentially a who's who of the Swedish underground, members of Indungeon had been involved with or would LATER be involved with Falconer, Thy Primordial, Vanhelgd, King of Asgard, Mithotyn, and Lucifer. This album also came around when bands were first starting to fish around in that retro territory with regards to blending vintage speed, thrash, death and black metal together much like their influences did during the Dawn of Time (otherwise known as the 80s). Sweden was ahead of the game in that regard, Bewitched being a prime example.

So with all that going for it, I am sad to say that Machinegunnery of Doom doesn't quite live up to all the expectations it created. It's competent enough, don't get me wrong, and has a well balanced production that lets all of its instruments and aesthetics shine, but it's absolutely the sort of metal import you'll bang your head along to a few times, appreciate the sincerity and execution, and then forget within a few moments, aside from perhaps the superficial details above. They basically play thrash metal from both the Slayer-ific and Teutonic schools, but it's very often meted out at a moderate pace and lacks many truly explosive or exciting moments. It might be that they were trying to give the material a more melodic, epic feel, almost as if Sodom around 1987 was dabbling around more with some NWOBHM influences like Iron Maiden, and it does actually pull that off, but the issue is that the riffs just don't really stick, and the nasty, gnarly rasped vocals, which are well-suited to a black/thrash or death/thrash outing, can't overcome the lukewarm songwriting.

I don't mean to bash on the thing, because again, it's got some solid production values, and if you were merely looking for some authentic blend of these seminal sounds, it's decent enough to spin in the background, but compared to something like Bewitched or the first two Witchery albums, both of which fall within the same mortar-shell scarred ballpark as this, the tunes come up short, like a bunch of average riffs strung together just to have another side project. There's a little bit of variation, with some slower grooving heavy metal tunes on there ("Desolate Creation"), but in either case it's just never all that heavy or aggressive or exciting, just competent to showcase the obvious proficiency of its constituents. Kind of a lost relic on the Full Moon Productions imprint, but they'll get another chance.

Verdict: Indifference [6.25/10]