Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Acid Witch - Rot Among Us (2022)

Acid Witch has evolved into what must easily be one of my go-to Halloween bands and sounds. Sure, the aesthetics and influence were always present from their debut, Witchtanic Hallucinations, with its crushing, raw psychedelic doom, but as they've gone on patiently creating new content across the last 15 years, they've developed into a much more varied, progressive style, but without abandoning the down to earth, everyman production values and campy horror inspirations. Slasher Dave has been quite busy with his solo synthesizer/score work, pumping out some really great albums like Halloween Howls, Frights and The Jack-O-Lantern Murders, and I suspect a lot of that actually turns around and informs the direction that Acid Witch takes, but it's also why this material feels so fresh and original.

Evil Sound Screamers was quite an involved, trance-inducing slab of spooks and grooves, but Rot Among Us takes us even a little further than that. You don't really know what to expect with their newer material, because they no longer just settle for the crushing stoner haze of their first two full-lengths. Each of their cuts is like a weird narrative of their own unique horror cosmic, from the Carpenter-like synths that support the guitars and impish chants in "Gather Each Witch" to the chumpy chug and take of the title track, with its goofy and endearing vocals that adorn the more melancholic, melodic riffs. You still have some of those stock, swaggering stoner blues grooves in places like "The Sleeper", but they never bore you to death with anything that even hinges on predictable, they'll churn into a more thrashing riff, or slip in some minor instrumentation like cute little synth tone when you don't quite expect it.

All the while they can still kick out the deeper, bolder rasps, screams or growls, or the bigger riff, but they save these for specific moments where they'll have an impact. They just like to play around with your expectations first, like the antagonist of some cheesy B-horror film, and it makes for a really fun time, and an album that can appeal both to the horror/exploitation hesher and stoner rock fan alike, without taking itself too seriously. Combine this with that earthen, natural feel to the instruments, like they're giving a clean, personal performance of this in your basement while you smoke a bag and stare at all your posters under a black light, and there's really just nothing else quite like Acid Witch. They are their own entity, on their own terms, and the albums just keep getting incrementally better with each progression. This is also my favorite of Shagrat's album covers for them yet, how cool is it to have an artist like that in-house?

Verdict: Win [8.25/10]


Monday, October 30, 2023

Scolopendra - Those of the Catacombs (2020)

Like most horror and OSDM fans would be, I was attracted to the cover art on Those of the Catatombs, which reminded me heavily of all that great old Italo creep cinema of past decades, like a potential period piece incarnation of the Fulci Zombi franchise. You can just envision all these putrid, horrific corpses popping at you from cellars, crypts and tombs, and to their credit, Scolopendra does their bloody best to match the morbid imagery with their crud-clad, almost minimalistic approach to extremity. In fact, their crude songwriting aesthetics mirror those of another Italian export, the great Barbarian, only where that band metes out a mix of primitive thrash, speed and epic heavy metal, this is more of a carnal hybrid of pure 80s death and thrash without any frills...

Chugging, hammering riffs that you've probably heard many times before in various forms, with a few lapses towards doomier, slower material. Lots of feedback in there, fresh and unpolished like a blend of Hellhammer and Venom, but never too noisy or clamorous that it disturbs the clarity of the recording. The raw rhythm guitar tone is balanced out by the simple bass lines and beats, and then both of the vocalists just slather on this raunchy, gruesome barks and roars which certainly remind one of Chris from Autopsy or the late Killjoy of Necrophagia. Some of the sustained vocals have a decay on them like a death metal toad roaring its dominion across a stagnant pond, and it's all total nasty and straight to the face. There's also a very 'live' vibe to this album, again it's not too disgustingly distant or crude, but as if you were getting this really intense, balanced, loud performance right in front of you.

They use a few little details like organs and such ("First-Class Coffin"), or the horror synthns of the interlude "The Smell of Cadavers" to spice things up so they don't become too monotonous, and a few individual guitar licks stray from expectations, but by and large this is very old sounding worship of the bands that stood at the forefront of extreme metal in numerous of its categories. There's nothing too nuanced or progressive about anything here, it's just a big, rolling, pounding bevy of death metal riffs that sound like the style was just then congealing on top of the corpse of thrash, and if you're into those first two Autopsy albums, Usurper, Impetigo, maybe some other bands like Cardiac Arrest, this is perhaps a band you're going to be into, and a lot more rudimentary than the members' other group Abhor. For myself, I really admired the artwork, the themes, the huge sound of the project and the attitude, but I did find a lot of the riffs direly predictable and it didn't exactly light my fire, there weren't many tunes I wanted to keep returning to beyond maybe the synth instrumental.

Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10]

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Silver Bullet - Mooncult (2019)

Silver Bullet is another band that could be considered alongside the more pompous, heavily orchestrated Euro heavy/power metal acts, specifically a group like Sabaton or Powerwolf, albeit performing with a lot more speed and finesse in the traditions of the Euro power metal of the 80s and 90s like Gamma Ray, Helloween and Blind Guardian. I'm honestly shocked that they haven't become a bigger name amidst this towering scene, because they're quite good, across all their three LPs to date, with this sophomore Mooncult my personal favorite, the point at which they are best balancing these two halves, never becoming quite so goofy sounding as the former can attain, but definitely going for a more accessible and commercial sound than the latter. As a plus, if their name didn't tip you off, they focus exclusively on horror themes!

Mooncult being a conceptual album about the witch-burnings of the 16th century in Europe, as opposed to the normal Salem, Massachusetts trials. Now, I won't go and tell you that these Finns succeed on many level at making music that sounds actually creepy or frightening...it turns out that the very typical sorts of choirs, orchestration and pirate-shanty style backing vocals don't really breathe horror into the material, especially when affixed to such harmonious, majestic sounding metal. Maybe the intro to "Maiden, Mother and Crone", or the doomy swells and creeping riffs of "Light the Lanterns", but even that isn't exactly the darkest heavy metal you're going to hear. But what it IS, is excellently written, packed with good leads and melodies, and a vocalist in Nils Nordling who really stands out with a style that is somewhere between Dio's more operatic leanings and Ralf Scheepers' screams and sustain, he's a total package power metal frontman that maintains a personality through every track, even as he's backed up by lots of the gang shouts, synth-estrahs and choirs arrangements.

The rest of the band are no slouches, mind you, and this record hits like a truck when it needs to on a thundering mid-pacer like "The Witches Hammer" or a detailed, frenetic piece like "Burn the Witch". No, these guys aren't winning awards for unique song titles, but Mooncult is a well produced exhibition for its style, an album you can have fun with throughout, with plenty of variation as it ventures into its more operatic, narrative, or folksy segments, and while it's not as scary as it might have been were the band to tread some darker, more dissonant waters, the message behind the lyrics is strong enough, an aegis against paranoid persecution, delivered with glittering power and precision. Easily a band that should be considered more than some of their scene's other upstarts like Battle Beast.

Verdict: Win [8.25/10]


Saturday, October 28, 2023

Cult of Horror - Hermetik Heretik (2020)

Another impressive band in that South American blackened speed and thrash scene, Cult of Horror deliver the raw, pummeling goods as pioneered by their influences, in a compact, bludgeoning, evil form that will keep you headbanging in a dingy basement forever. Hermetik Heretik is their sophomore full-length, and while the first was pretty decent on its own, this thickens the blood of that style a little without losing any of the menace. Because that is key here, this Brazilian band actually sounds EVIL, they harness all of the creepy, frilly riffing that you love out of groups like Deathhammer or Hellripper, and they do it with some heft to hoist up the speed metal. I don't wanna say that they're d-beat, but they have a similar rocking out feel adjacent to the response I get to a lot of groups within that niche.

The vocalist Pazuzu really adds a lot, not because he's super-nuanced, but his growling, oblique delivery feels as if you're being smothered with rotten mummy-wrappings, there are simply no fucks given here as he growls out sustained lines over the more agile guitar parts, which are constantly catchy even where you've heard them before, but will throw out some surprises when they opt for a more distinctly death metal tremolo picked riff, or a boogie heavy metal groove like they lay down in the depths of "Philosophy of a Knife", even a doom tune in "Promethean Reign". There are often a few riffs that are borderline TOO derivative, such as the opening to "Murder by Witchcraft" which mirrors Slayer's immortal breakdown in "The Antichrist", but I'm willing to bet that this is conscious with no ill intent, rather an attempt to take that vibe and twist it off into some new configuration. This is an exception though, because while they don't exactly write original riffs, nothing else is so obvious, it's all pretty dark and dim and awesome.

I hope some of these groups can get some further exposure, I know acts like Whipstriker and Witchtrap have come around on tour, but I'd love a chance to check out Cult of Horror, Atomic Roar and some of the other underground gems from down there. This guy's voice is grisly and awesome, the material is in general quite oppressive, constantly catchy and well suited to the mix of occult fixation and horror smut that the band covers lyrically; Cult of Horror is certainly that, and what they write is the perfect companion to nights of bad booze, VHS exploitation flicks and an inescapable whiff of blood-drenched leather.

Verdict: Win [8/10]


Thursday, October 26, 2023

Revolting - Born to Be Dead (2022)

Has anyone come up with a comprehensive death metal discography for 'Revolting' Rogga Johansson yet? He must now have hundreds of albums under his belt across scores of projects, and while this was a thing I used to try and keep up with, I feel as if I've been left behind in the last decade. Revolting was actually one of the bands I would have considered among his 'core' projects once upon a time, along with a Ribspreader or Paganizer, but to be truthful these three and several of his others cross the streams a bit when it comes to cultivating a truly distinct identity. At any rate, Born to Be Dead, this project's eighth proper full-length, exhibits the same level of professionalism and genre knowledge that Rogga's spews everywhere, and it's the sort of album that, barring anything else available to you from the same niche, is a pretty good time that covers all the bloody bases successfully enough.

There is definitely a heavy, thick 'Swedish' sound to this one reminiscent of Entombed and Dismember, but with a lot of mournful, melodic playing attached which might be more akin to classic Desultory, but it all merges into a satisfactory package, assuming you aren't seeking out much complexity, or tunes that are going to roll around your memory for much time beyond that you spend listening to it. The low end churns along wonderfully, with perfectly balanced rhythm guitars doing their D-beat or tremolo picked riffs, omni present bass swells and thundering, precision percussion, all forming this seat that the simple melodies and the raunchy growls can settle into comfortably, but beyond just a handful of riffs, the tracks rarely go anywhere that exciting. All of them have been heard in similar configurations, even by this very same artist, and though they have a general timelessness about them that scratch my Swedeath itches, the tracks don't really stand out against one another.

If it sounds like Rogga can write 50 of these tunes in a single day, that's because he probably can...the guy LIVES death metal, in fact if we had to choose an avatar for this beloved medium on Earth, he might be the very one, but that doesn't prevent a bit of complacency and also-ran mentality from the meat & potatoes of this band's style and catalogue. I was a bit more fond of the earlier Revolting albums, but many of them have all started to blend together, not that this one is egregiously weak, or weak at all...no, most of us would happily band our heads along to the thick, syrupy production and purity of the style, but some of Johansson's projects have gone a little further out on the limbs in recent years, and while Born to Be Dead LOOKS amazing, and sounds very damn solid, it just can't cross the 'decent' threshold into something more impressive and impactful. 

Verdict: Win [7/10]


Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Atomic Witch - Crypt of Sleepless Malice (2022)

 Atomic Witch definitely draws you in with their ridiculous, colorful cover art, which promises all manner of cult horror homages, and it looks like something you might have seen as a poster on the wall in some black-lit corner of Rob Zombie's House of 1,000 Corpses. But the music itself is no joke, a brand of semi-technical, semi-brutal death metal which hits a number of references to some of Cannibal Corpse's more intricate material in the Corpsegrinder era, mixed with a dose of clinical thrashing which bounces between the punchy crossover of a Municipal Waste and the proficiency of West Coast late 80s masters like Forbidden or Vio-lence. Hell, I'd even offer that what Vektor does for science fiction death/thrash, Atomic Witch does for horror camp.

But as spastic, intense and engaging as the musicianship is on this record, and it's quite well arranged without ever going too overboard with flashy noodling, it's the performance of the two vocals which puts it well over the top. One's got a snarky, cruel bite to the mid-range delivery, a common trope in thrash and crossover, but then the other has the propensity to hurl all these wild shrieks and screams at you, some of them slightly sustained and eerie, reminding me of anything from the King Diamond falsetto to the raving excellence of the late Warrel Dane of Nevermore, or if I'm being a bit more obscure, Watchtower's Alan Tecchio and Realm's Mark Antoni. Perhaps the band Them is also an apt comparison, though this doesn't feel quite as conceptual. My first time listening through Crypt of Sleepless Malice I picked up that slight vibe of parody, but it's really not; where a band like 3 Inches of Blood is just something I could never get used to, always seeming like a caricature, with this album it really enhances the theatrical insanity of the band's musical style.

There's also just a ton of variation here, beyond the death and thrashing you can occasionally hear a passage that has a melodic death or black metal vibe, and they also set up some great intros to tracks like "She Drifts" which build an instant atmosphere and mood before they spin-kick you in the fast with the verse riffing. The leads are pretty excellent, always appearing at the right second to amplify the mood, and when he lifts off into a scream after one, like in "Cemetery Mud", it melts your face. Now, to be honest, there are quite a few of the individual riffs which feel a bit like you've heard them before, and some of the more surgical sounding stuff doesn't always impress, but there are a good 4-5 tracks on this debut that showcase a truly formidable band, and considering they've only got a few years and shorter releases behind them, their future should prove positively atomic if they can maintain this level.

Verdict: Win [8/10]


Sunday, October 22, 2023

Cradle of Filth - Existence is Futile (2021)

The cover art to Existence is Futile offers a lot to unpack, some sort of devilish orgy processing center against the burning wastes of Hell, with the unfortunate tortured and ravished souls farting ravens out of their butts before being fed to the Big Guy. A little unusual, but in that classic, literary sense that Cradle of Filth are such proponents for, and clearly the most interesting that Artūrs Bērziņš has yet created for the band. But what isn't nearly so strange is how absolutely killer this album is. They'd been cruising along with newfound success and critical respect for (in my estimation) the six albums before this one, but Existence is Futile is so dynamic and well-released that it almost instantly thrust to the top echelons of their entire discography, and it's since grown into my fave that they've written since 2000's formidable Midian.

By this point you know exactly what to expect, the Brits' hybrid of black, thrash, death and Gothic metal dowsed in synth-driven symphonics, poetic lyrics and the vocal array of a flight of imps of various shapes and sizes. But with this record, everything is just so flawlessly integrated that there's never a single second where I feel like a keyboard or effect oversteps its place. A lot of albums making such heavy use of orchestration run the risk of drowning out their metallic core, but not here, as every sinister lick is crystal clear, the bass lines brood along effectively and Skaroupka's drums are at their usual peak, like a storm hovering over a decaying castle on a rain-slicked hillside. The female choirs, the arrangements, this record is probably the closest they've come to a true 'symphonic metal' style, without going too overboard and ridiculous like a Dimmu Borgir or Fleshgod Apocalypse when they went into arguably hyper-orchestrated territory on certain efforts. This just feels 'right' the entire time, like you're signing up for a full, cinematic experience, a silent lost horror epic which has been given an entire score by the filthy libertines, and you are never jerked from its grasp.

In fact, though I won't say the album is perfectly catchy throughout its near hour of material, it is quite hard to pick out particular favorites because all the tunes are so bloody consistent. I love that technical thrash riffing that pulses below the orchestration of "Crawling King Chaos", or the Sabbat (UK)-like thrash and melodies that catapult into "Black Smoke Curling from the Lips of War", but even the softer interludes with their piano lullabies are good, and I loved the doomy swagger within "The Dying of the Embers". It's really just one that I'll happily spin fore to aft, with a great Scott Atkins production and the usual high standards for layout and packaging. It falls short of a masterpiece, perhaps, but Existence is Futile easily joins Midian, Dusk and Her Embrace and the 'Re-Mistressed' version of Cruelty and the Beast as a go-to album from these persistently entertaining ghouls.

Verdict: Win [8.75/10]


Thursday, October 19, 2023

Exhumed - To the Dead (2022)

Even after what must be my least favorite of their studio albums in 2019's still-decent Horror, I had little concern that Exhumed was a band to ever let me down, and with their follow-up, To the Dead, they haven't. Where the last record fully shot for a less evocative, but more intense roots goregrind experience, this outing heads back in the other direction, with an album-length a full third longer than its predecessor. There are still loads of grinding, blasting riffs here, but that horror death/thrash which defines so many of my favorites in their catalogue (Slaughtercult and  Anatomy is Destiny) continues to dominate, and in fact To the Dead sounds as if were a sequel to 2017's excellent Death Revenge, only tempered with more of the speed and savagery that oldschool fans who probably LOVED Horror would have asked for.

The result is one of their most dynamic full-lengths, catapulting from one of the spectrum to the other, and kicking ass for much of its duration. If you like the clinical, thrash punch of Carcass records like Necroticism or Heartwork, this one has you covered with a bevy of catchy little licks, and not to mention the surgical solos are some of the best Exhumed has ever spewed forth. But the influences are pretty wide, for instance "Drained of Color" has a battering mid-paced riff reminiscent of peak Bolt Thrower, and some of the richer, blasting passages give even the most intense Napalm Death a run for its money. Bringing the full breadth of the rasped and guttural vocal interchange to play, the album is never remotely dull, and I even think the latter seems to have an added depth to it which reminds me of some of the montrous timbre of a Symphonies of Sickness, only more accessible all around due to the seasoned songwriting chops of Matt Harvey and company. The bass has a tone to it which pops along almost like late 80s Overkill, and the drumming flexes effortlessly between the component styles.

I do feel that the mix on To the Dead is a little overly suppressed, or processed, possibly due to the guitar tones, but it's neither a deal-breaker nor does it muddy up the instrumentation to the point where I can't still enjoy it. It's the songwriting that wins out this time, and while it's probably not going to crack my top 3 records from this band, it's just another sign of the stable execution and evergreen fun factor that Exhumed carry with them like a sword and shie...ski mask and chainsaw. The Marc Schoenbach cover is appropriately gnarly and gruesome, the lyrics bounce between sinister and gory, all written to the level that the music deserves. There are NO bad Exhumed albums, they are one of our most concussive and consistent American death metal bands to not only pay homage to their own heroes but to occasionally innovate upon them, and here's another reason why you should climb aboard this midnight meat metal train if for some reason you're still diddling yourself on the platform.

Verdict: Win [8/10]


Monday, October 16, 2023

Damnation Gallery - Enter the Fog (2022)

Another of the myriad horror-themed Italian heavy metal acts, and a fairly recent one is Genoa's Damnation Gallery, who I hadn't heard until this third album. The cover art here isn't exactly evocative, but at the same time it's not an inaccurate representative for the dark and chunky feel of this album. Where I was expecting some creepy heavy metal, this is actually quite a bit heavier than, with a grotesque edge to the female vocals which aim at snarling cruelty rather than melody, and in fact it almost seems like an extreme metal vocal bleeding over into a more traditional sound. That said, the writing itself is rather ominous, with a distinct presence of thrash or proto-death metal rhythms that flavor the songwriting.

They'll still bust out a pure heavy/speed metal passage (the bridge of "An Instant"), but in general this is a meaner, knuckle dragging spin, not afraid to spread its bat-wings wherever it needs to take flight, I even caught a few fills or riffs where they was a slight black metal aesthetic, and certainly a Gothic mood is felt in the cleaner guitars or narrative. That said, I think I actually like the material best in tracks like "Your Will Shall Be Done" where it comes off like early, Slayer-flavored heavy metal, or perhaps with a slight earlier 80s Teutonic thrash feel, and the band feels more coherent. Enter the Fog has a pretty natural sound to it, with grooving, corpulent bass lines, driving drums and a deeper rhythm guitar tone that has a live feel to it. They also leave a lot of the vocalist's imperfections to tape, which actually benefits their style, and the whole thing seems like it could be pulled off very close on a stage, with plenty of capes, top hats and cheesy horror props to emphasize the subject matter. 

The songs themselves don't always blow me away, but they definitely engage you with a style you mightn't expect, and though you can't say she's got the best vocal style or range, she's quite committed to the insanity, with all manner of tortured, strained growls and snarls that had me convinced. Despite the spread of styles, they definitely come together to create a consistent atmosphere which feels pretty unique to the band. I was occasionally reminded of America's Crisis, but rather than having that groove or hardcore backbone, this is one borne from more pure 80s metal worship. I'd love to hear more evil leads, maybe even some more synth added in to give the horror elements a bit more bluster, but Enter the Fog definitely sounds better than it looks, and it walks (flies?) its own path to honor its themes.

Verdict: Win [7/10]


Friday, October 13, 2023

Blood Rage - Welcome to Crimson Pines EP (2022)

The VHS cover reference, the obvious Friday the 13th parallels, and the title definitely seem like the setup for a fun slasher metal record from this newer British band. The retro-synth intro/sample is also great, and then they bludgeon you directly in the face with meaty, gruesome, old death metal which reminded me of ancient fucking Bolt Thrower of all things, with a slightly more contemporary sense of groove; or perhaps a less intense Mortician, with some more accessible songwriting and leads tossed onto there. Either way, Blood Rage doesn't really follow any of the trendier death metal waves of late, or perhaps it might fit in best with the caveman death popularized through cool labels like Maggot Stomp, but it's not quite the same.

Now this is obviously a for-fun project, and not too serious, so I can forgive a few inconsistencies in the production, like how the vocals just seem too loud and overbearing for the instruments (as in "He Came Back"). When you've got multiple guttural growls and then even some crumby sounding rasp behind it, and they just seem to drown out the visceral riffing and beats. The production on the guitars is awesome, just loud and crunchy as fuck, in fact the tone makes up for any lack of nuance in the overall quality of the riffs, and once the screaming samples and chainsaws show up you are having a blast. The titles and lyrics are hilarious ("Skewered with a Tent Stake", "Campfire Immolation") and appropriate to the slasher niche the Brits are paying tribute to. Ultimately, this isn't something you're going to spin repeatedly forever, but an engaging, brawling disc when you're in the mood to just shut down and mosh your mind. I can only hope they'll put out some other slasher hero tributes, perhaps theming one EP after each of the big guns. Just an entertaining beatdown and a reminder to survive the great outdoors by not being there.

Verdict: Win [7.25/10]


Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Lord Vampyr - The Vampire's Legacy (2021)

Italians and their horror go hand in hand, from the classic zombie and giallo films to a broad range of metal engaged with the genre. From your Paul Chain doom to the theatrics of Death SS, to the occult haze of a Mortuary Drape, they've got you pretty much covered if you're into the classic traditions and macabre mysticism. Not all of it is great, in fact a lot of it can get pretty goofy, but when I see an album cover this fucking awesome I am quite hopeful on the former. I mean this is artwork you really need to live up to...it reminds me of the first two Necromantia records...you've got a grisly looking Dracula that you don't want to fuck with, and a trio of ghastly brides that you wouldn't want to fuck with even with someone else's appendages. Lord Vampyr himself, Alessandro, has a long history in horror-themed bands like Theatres des Vampires and Malamorte, and while I found some of them a little cheesy, others certainly held promise.

I haven't heard a lot of his solo albums, granted, but I know he flirted around with some industrial or Goth stuff, which The Vampire's Legacy only dabbles in occasionally. For the most part, this is full-on vampiric black metal which does sound like an aesthetic mesh of the Greek style of groups like Necromantia and Varathron with perhaps a bit of Cradle of Filth's haunted house stylings. The tremolo picked riffs are dowsed in an attempt at creepy atmosphere through the note placement, and they mix things up a lot with some slower grooves that might be channeling a bit more of the Goth metal influence, but this record did surprise me with some great pauses/breaks that erupt into these excellent, smothering black metal riffs, with intense drum batteries, non-intrusive synthesizers, decent bass lines, and ecstatic leads that rip out of the creepy castle countryside that this album explores to the bone. Top this all off with Lord Vampyr's charismatic, gnarly vocals, a blend of your typical Dani Filth rasps and more haughty shouting, and there's a wide enough variety here to fill the space and time.

For instance, "Mircalla" starts off with this drugged out, Celtic Frost vibe to it before erupting into the lurching, stuttering blast kicks, where "Wicked" fully embraces the Gothic/heavy metal thing without somehow interrupting the harsher, faster elements of the album, and "Blood Ballad" is a violent dip into its namesake without losing some degree of heaviness. It all feels like it should exist in the same place, that Lord Vampyr is simply pacing things out so the listener can catch a breath before going back into the symphonic black metal depths, a few of which are well orchestrated with clean vocal choirs ("Mater Vampirorum", "In My Tenebra"). Nothing here is truly amazing, granted, and sometimes it does come off a little over overly committed, but I was impressed that this stuff at least made an honest attempt to earn that killer cover art, and there's no question that it's legit horror metal through and through.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]


Saturday, October 7, 2023

Tribulation - Putrid Rebirth EP (2006)

Although I adore the Gothic/melodic death metal evolution that Sweden's Tribulation has undergone, I was first introduced to the band on their 2009 opus The Horror, which was a much more explosive, energetic sound that felt like your trademark Swedish death metal getting a nasty, awesome thrashing kick in the pants. I would argue that that full-length debut remains their best overall album, a masterpiece of feral ferocity, though I take no issue with their later explorations whatsoever, it's almost as if they've given us at LEAST two good bands to worship over their career thus far (three if we include Formulas of Death as its own weird, psyche/death metal thing). Though I've reviewed a bunch by the Swedes, somehow it evaded my brain me to cover the band's EP PRIOR to The Horror, Putrid Rebirth.

So here I remedy this oversight, and to the surprise of none, this earlier material has the same propulsive and almost spastic energy to it that The Horror perfected later. This is some ghoulish death/thrash with a clear 80s ancestry, a blend of evil grooves circa Death and then the dizzying speed rhythms of a band like Morbid Angel. You can tell that the band was already adept at creating this shit, the only thing that Putrid Rebirth is really missing is a production as memorable as the debut, and to an extent the songs just aren't quite as catchy as what would come later. But it's all here, from the skilled drumming to the effective leads to the rabid barking. There's a bit of a jam room aesthetic to the mix, which is otherwise dry but fluidly captures all the instruments, it's not quite demo level (they have one before this I think), but on the level of some earlier 90s straightforward death metal records. There's not a lot of atmosphere for your imagination to work with, but the central thrust of the riffing and beats won't give you much time to notice.

The two sides of the EP have slightly different production, with the first more blunt and straight to your face, and the second a bit more atmospheric, kind of a bridge to The Horror but again, just not as skin peelingly amazing as that album sounds. Even if you have no interest whatsoever in the more dramatic style the band is exploring now, this and the debut are both fairly easy to recommend to anyone on the hunt for well wrought old school death metal. Putrid Rebirth is frantic and fun, especially if you've got no patience for bullshit and just want everything to sound like your buds' demos in 1991-92 that they were passing out before opening up for something like the Grind Crusher tour. There's nothing atypical about this, but if you like splatter, you like vintage death metal, get a copy.

Verdict: Win [7.75/10]


Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Witchnight - Old Steel Breath (2022)

Few would argue that they offer much by way of creativity, but so many of these South American bands seem like they are right on the cusp of excellence within the blackened/speed/thrash realm, which is obviously popular elsewhere in the world, but comes out in large concentrations from counties like Brazil, Chile, and Argentina. Witchnight's debut Old Steel Breath is appropriately titled and monikered, as a blast straight from the leather-clad 80s with all the appropriated influences, from Venom and Slayer to Bathory and Sarcofago, and an attitude and atmosphere to match. It's another record that could have come out 37 years ago and haunted the record bins until it was discovered as a sort of uncut gem, mainly for such pure devotion to its aesthetics.

It's got a rather clean mix to it, so it's not as muddled as those first two formative Venom records, and I'd compare it more to Brazil's Power from Hell, although it's also a bit sharper than their earlier work. The guitars have a savage but polished feel to them, nasty enough when they're spitting out chords, but also quite clear and strong with the more melodic tremolo picked riffs. The leads are a little more taut and structured than one might expect, and there's just a nice atmosphere to the mix. Drums are rather basic but get the job done, I think if they put a bit more thunder to some fills and breaks then it would strengthen the material, but it's not that I go into an album like this one expecting to hear them. The bass isn't doing much of interest, but you can hear it in there fluttering along to the guitars, and the vocals have a harsh bark to them which is offset by some Schmier-like screams, or perhaps a bit of Tom Araya's first couple albums with Slayer, you know those sorts of stereotypical screams for this particular style which seem almost caricature at first until you realize they are really awesome.

Things like the brooding synth/organ instrumental intro, and the atmospheric, creepy kickoff to "Revenge of the Vampire" really set an appropriate mood, and the metal itself does not disappoint, though they're not working with a very unique tool set. I think the difference Witchnight might have from other bands working in this field, like Midnight is just the clarity of their riffing, which is also a good contrast to the more smothering, mouthy vocals. This isn't super sleazy despite the great cover art, but it's well worth a listen if you're into this inescapable style, whether its contemporary heroes or the earlier works of the Teutonic thrashers or West Coast US dirt merchants. Add the band to a long list of talents including the aforementioned Power from Hell, Whipstriker, Atomic Roar, Cult of Horror and at least a dozen more from this burgeoning South American scene, and it's also a good time if you're into all your classic horror and exploitation from the 60s-80s.

Verdict: Win [7.75/10]


Monday, October 2, 2023

Aset - Astral Rape (2023)

From its creepy, ritualistic artwork to its atmospheric embellishments, Astral Rape is one of the more haunting new records I've come across lately, and I think part of that is due to the pedigree of its constituents, much of which is unknown. But if you've members of great bands like French Seth or Finnish Oranssi Pazuzu in tow, you are bound to come across something interesting, and interestingly, Aset's debut could be seen as a median between those two styles, the scathing, traditional and melodic and the more psychedelic and terrifying. Above all, though, this is a well structured debut which never overstays its welcome, and though it does occasionally feel a little repetitive in its approach and attack, it's nonetheless unnerving as it goes the entire distance.

Obstensibly black metal on its surface and deep in its core, Astral Rape never feels too confined to those parameters, and there are certainly some precision tremolo picked sequences here which fall a little more directly under the death metal paradigm. But the blasting, incendiary drumming and much of the vibe is clearly from the former. The riffs are quite solid, but often slathered in the dissonance we often associate with the more prominent French black metal bands, however Aset doesn't quite go as far out into the cosmic left field as the recent stuff by Blut Aus Nord. There is a thrashing/black substrate they function off in tunes like "A New Man for a New Age", but what makes this album so thrilling is how it balances off the rapid metallic onslaught with a natural ambiance that is caught both at their most extreme and in the little gaps between. They don't go too far with this to the extent that it ever tampers with the metal itself, but a chant, or a brief cleaner passage ("Astral Dominancy") goes a long way to round out the experience.

The vocals are just gruesome, a blackened rasp but with a lot of weight to it, and there's a lot of attention paid to ghoulish phrasing. I already mentioned the killer drumming, but it's packed with fills and thundering that it might be a pleasure to listen through even void of the other instruments. The bass is likewise quite cool, with a bit more groove and progginess to it, shining especially in the slower segments, where the more pinpoint eeriness of the guitars offers it a great counter-balance. All seven tracks here are sleek and sinister, aggressive but intelligent, a nice balance of the band members' own backlogs, and this one is well worth tracking down as one of the better black metal debuts of the year.

Verdict: Win [8.5/10]


Sunday, October 1, 2023

Ancient - Back to the Land of the Dead (2016)

Ancient is a band that started out respectably enough, then swerved into trendy, goofball territory when they took their vampire shtick a little too far, and since that time have been in a recovery phase as they more or less returned to their roots as pure Norwegian black metal. The horror themes they've incorporated were never quite the issue, in fact I laud having bands like this one or Morgul who center in on the creepy themes, in this case Vampire the Masquerade-like mythologies of the undead, but the issue I often get is that the writing itself doesn't always translate those aesthetics so well into sound. Sadly, Back to the Land of the Dead does suffer a little from sounding too basic for its genre.... lyrically, this could be about Vikings, Satan, or walks through nature and you wouldn't be able to tell the difference...the scary themes are almost entirely restricted to the lyrics themselves.

The main force behind this particular record is Nick Barker's drumming, which is an absolute powerhouse that almost drowns the rest of the album with its intensity. As Ancient have always drawn comparisons to Cradle of Filth, it's only fit that the British alumni winds up in the studio ranks, and as you will hear through the blasting and kicks is that the man still quite 'has it', but beyond that he even grafts in some nice beats and fills to the albums more atmospheric segues (as in "The Sempiternal Haze"), which is cool because they'd be exceedingly bland otherwise. Most of the actual riffing here is entirely too predictable, a bevy of chord-driven grooves you've heard from the Darkthrone or Mayhem school, or the bleeding, faster patterns which unfortunately just don't provide memorable riffs like you'd remember from Emperor or Dissection or any of that lot. In fact I think the sound here overall seems like a midway point between Marduk and Bathory, with some decent thrashing breaks like the intro to "The Ancient Disarray".

Vocals have a good, rasping decay on them and occasionally a little reverb on the right spot which sends them soaring above the nightmarish landscape the band is attempting to concoct. Alas, too few of the rhythms guitars sound appreciably evil; without the army of zombies on the cover art, the title, you wouldn't even guess at the lyrics, which are actually one of the strong points of the release. I'd also say that the production is one of their strongest, especially on the drums and the rhythm guitars as they are churning out some of their lower string riffs. It's a muscular, tireless record, but the regret is just that it doesn't have much interesting to speak, so much of the material plays out exactly as you think it will before the guitar phrase has even ended for the first time. If you want a beefy, traditional Norse BM catapulting through the backdrop of your life, then Back to the Land of the Dead is acceptable, and far better than some of their later 90s offerings, but ultimately doesn't stick its fangs out too far.

Verdict: Indifference [6.25/10]